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Fleshy medicine for mangled muscles

It’s my only option.

I’m inspired, somewhat desperate, and it’s all I’ve got.

I enter the store and make a beeline to the back of the building in search of high-density protein. Animal protein. Yeah, I know, I’m an omnivore — but this is no time for nuts and berries and all manner of fibrous, dry matter. Certainly no time for tofu and its bland brethren.

First stop: The fish case.

Whooweee. Most of this stuff hasn’t seen open water in … what? … a week or so? Plus, when I see a sale sticker on a pack of “fresh” fish, I head in another direction.

I find some pork where the label on the package touts the fact the meat is “natural.” That’s comforting: Unnatural animal flesh is trouble doubled. I move on.

Chicken. There’s packs of parts labeled as containing “no hormones, no additives.” Nice to know I won’t grow more excess breast tissue than I’ve already got if I consume a drumstick or four, but we’ve had chicken three times in five days. Enough is enough.

I’m in no mood to pay exorbitant prices for low-grade beef steaks (there’s prime, choice, then, a few steps down the grade ladder, you find plebe — a common grade of meat here in Siberia with a View). I don’t have time to braise plebe-grade cow. It takes a day or two.

The frozen fish products are just that — frozen. The few that can be thawed quickly in cold, salted water — shrimps, scallops, crawfish — Kathy won’t eat. She’s been reading the “Oh, my God, that’s not food, that’s poison” book of the month club selection and she’s on yet another dietary toot.

Her latest regimen also proscribes red meat of any kind, but I could care less. I’m down to the wire here. I need high-density protein.

I spot it from ten yards distance, gleaming like a traffic light from its place in the refrigerated case. A pack of scarily red flesh, the meat plopped in a perfect rectangle in a plastic-wrapped package — totally divorced from its charnel source, completely dissociated from the killing floor, the bolt, the volt, the brutally quick knife, the unforgiving grinder.

A pack of ground beef.

Four-percent fat and — thank heaven — clean of hormones and antibiotics.

Fresh as a spring breeze. If you could kill a spring breeze and grind it up.

Ground beef.

And special ground beef, at that — the package emblazoned with the image of a smiling woman. This is not your sinister, heaven-only-knows-how-many-cows-contributed-to this-chub kind of ground beef. Neither is it your we’re-going-to-hide-this-roll-of-chemically-enhanced-flesh-from-Nebraska-in-an-opaque-plastic-tube kind of ground beef.

Nope, this meat is in full view and comes from a smilin’ gal with an all-American name — Jenny, Bitsy, Muffy … I can’t recall. We can assume, though, she personally leads the happy animals to pasture every day then, when the hour rolls round, convinces each one, deploying her loving manner, that their sacrifice is justified — that it is, indeed, their destiny, the fulfillment of their role on this earth. Come, my little bovine buddies … it is time. Clara, Melvin, you first. Go on now, walk up the ramp. Everything will be just fine.

This is ground beef.

And, in Siberia with a View, there are times it is the only option.

It is particularly appropriate today.

I’ve been at the gym. I lift heavy objects and put them back down again for a couple hours. I hit the squat rack and rip off six sets, pyramiding up to a fair amount of weight for an old guy. I do six sets of lunges on the Smith machine and five sets each of hamstring curls and calf raises.

I pretty much demolish my lower body.

For stuff above the waist, some shoulder work: presses, side laterals, dumbbell front raises, work on the rear delts, bent-over dumbbell raises, again pyramiding up to some serious mass. Just for fun, a few sets of power cleans.

I pretty much demolish my upper body.

The inevitable next step? Cram some protein into the system to avoid complete muscular meltdown.

To the market.

And there I procure the ground beef.

But what to do with this stuff?

A loaf of some sort? No time. This is a certified Code Blue situation and I need protein, stat!

I could crumble and sauté the meat, season it with salt, chile, onion, oregano, cumin, garlic, cilantro, add tomato and beef stock, simmer it until the liquid is gone, cradle it into soft corn tortillas, add a wad of cheese, some chopped tomato, guacamole. Boring.

I could do a quick curry, sautéing the meat, adding salt, pepper, some of my Malay curry powder, a lot of chopped garlic, some basil leaf, coconut milk, a bit of lemon juice, cook it down to a thick and creamy goo. But, that would be a waste of some mighty fine curry powder. If I had a batch vindaloo paste, that would be the ticket!

Stroganoff? Why insult the noble tenderloin?

I could stuff sautéed, cored eggplants with a spicy beef and eggplant mix and bake them with a blanket of Parmesan-spiked bechamel. Maybe flip in some toasted pine nuts. Seems like a lot of work.

I force a decision. It’s gonna be the obvious: a patty of some sort. But, if I’m going to put this material in patty form, I am determined to do something to gussy it up.

M.F.K. Fisher writes about patties thrown into an extraordinarily hot heavy pan and crisped on both sides, emitting a fearsome cloud sure to set off the smoke alarm. The patties are removed and into the hot pan go fresh herbs, butter, then a liquid — red wine, tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, maybe even half a cup of strong coffee. The pan sauce is reduced and poured over the burgers.

But, I decide to climb a higher peak — hamburger a cheval. If I could figure how to put the goofy little accent grave over the “a,” I would. I’m an idiot and I can’t, so just imagine it’s there.

James Beard mentions this preparation in several of his works and it’s an artery buster of the highest order. Perfect for someone who lifts heavy objects and puts them down again — and wants to risk a heart attack and/or stroke.

That’s me.

I add a bunch of finely minced white onion and a well-mashed clove of garlic to the beef, along with some freshly ground black pepper and a teeny bit of kosher salt. I form a pound of the meat mix into two large patties. Yes, two. If I started with a pound and a half of meat I would divide it into two patties. Yes, two. I’m prepared to eat beef.

I heat a heavy pan over medium high heat and, since the meat is only 4-percent fat (without hormones or antibiotics!) I put a bit of olive oil in the pan and add the patties. I cook them on one side for about five minutes then, just before I flip them, I plop about three tablespoons of butter in the pan. When it melts, I turn the meat and cook it for five minutes on side two, then I flip back to the other side, just to take advantage of the butter for a minute or two more.

These babies are seared nicely on the outside, rare in the interior. (I’m sure, at this point, you realize Kathy will not be eating hamburger a cheval. She can warm a soy burrito in the microwave.) I’m also sure some of you will recoil in horror at the notion of rare ground beef, the specter of all manner of bacterial infection haunting your thoughts. Me, I don’t care. Like I said above: I’m an idiot. An idiot who knows how to eat well.

Here’s the kicker: The beef is removed to a heated plate and tented with foil. I turn down the heat under the pan, add a bit more butter to the pan and I fry two eggs, over very easy, salting and peppering the beauties. On top of a patty go two eggs. A sprinkle of rinsed capers and an anchovy fillet or three and it’s time to bust yolk and eat beef. A glass, or three, of red wine, a simple green salad with a mustard vinaigrette and the meal is pretty darned good fare. The vinaigrette is easy. Squeeze the juice from half a lemon into a shallow bowl and add twice the volume of extra-virgin olive oil. Add a bit of minced shallot, a bit of mushed garlic if you like, kosher salt, black pepper, a teaspoon of coarse mustard. If you’re in a precious mood, toss in a bit of dried tarragon. Whisk it up and its ready to go. The salad benefits from the addition of some cherry tomatoes, oil-cured olives and crumbled feta cheese.

But, it’s the beef that’s medicine for tortured muscles.

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