Monthly Archives: May 2013

Girls Don’t Grill Hamburgers, Really?

“Whaaaaaat?!? Girls don’t grill hamburgers!”

That was my 4 and a half year old daughter’s exclamation upon seeing this picture of me on Facebook flipping burgers at Saturday’s benefit party for the upcoming Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival.


(Thanks to benefit attendee “HR” for snapping this pic and sending it to me to post on my social media at the event…hopefully there will be some good professional pics to come.)

My jaw dropped, and I felt a bit queasy.

If ever I questioned what I am trying to do with the Burlesque Butcher character, these stinging words from my daughter heightened the necessity and deepened my resolve. Words from my daughter–a child who has watched me butcher and cook numerous animals (many of them over a grill), who has accompanied me to farms and slaughterhouses to pick up animal carcasses, who has helped me build things with real tools, who has seen me sweaty and grungy doing typical “boy” things as often as she has seen me in dresses with perfect makeup and heels. Where is she getting this stuff? Her incredulous comments speak to a vital need for far, far more active normalization of the equalization of genders in all forms of cooking and food preparation. When I think back…has she ever seen a woman other than me grill something? I don’t think so.

Why is most home cooking done by women (and expected to be done by women) yet ignored or even regularly maligned while considered necessary? Why is most restaurant cooking (especially at the celebrity chef level) done by men? Why do women not carve the turkeys and roasts they prepared at dinner parties but rather let that final glory be overtaken by men? Why does backyard grilling default to men?

When pressed as to where my daughter got the notion that girls didn’t grill hamburgers she revised her original exclamation, hedging, “Well…girls don’t usually grill hamburgers.” I resisted the urge to rant and built on the door she left open a crack to explain (in 4-year-old accessible language) that it’s totally okay for girls to grill hamburgers and that, in fact, they should do it more often!

At the event itself, while out there in the alley over the course of a couple hours (everyone entering and leaving the space had to walk by me, so ample opportunity for discourse), I had three different types of conversations, which also reaffirmed what I’m doing with this character. With men, most of the initial comments were along the lines of “it’s so fun/cool to see a woman manning the grill for once” (granted these were men at a performance art event, so more inclined toward feminism and breaking gender norms). I got a few, more lecherous, men who either ogled or made comments about how what I was doing was sexy…and, to be fair, it was, and I like to feel that I make sexuality approachable, so the ensuing conversations also ended up being positive because I used my sex appeal as an entry point to explain the critique–and given the context the reception was welcoming not antagonistic. In a non-art context, though, I shudder to think what the reaction from most men might be…what I do does walk a fine line between T & A and social critique. Most women, when they do grill, don’t do it in platform heels. Women mostly just said they “got it” (I assume meaning the critique), but didn’t really engage me in much discussion while at the grill (later, when back inside just socializing at the party they did). It was fascinating (and compelling) that while at the grill, the vast majority of my conversations were with men.

Just the other day I was at a backyard barbecue hanging out with two seemingly feminist-leaning men, one of whom was cooking burgers over the grill, when he turned to the other man and asked if he knew how to tell if the burgers were done. He didn’t ask both of us mind you (he didn’t know about my performance art or long history with meat so he’s somewhat forgiven). The entrenched gender association of grilling with men, thrown in my face so blatantly and unexpectedly, floored me, especially when I thought I was in a context in which we both would have equally been asked such a question. The other man admitted he was a vegetarian so had no clue as to how to assess burger cooking progress. So me being me, I (hopefully gently concealing my shock) mentioned my meat passion and showed him how to press slightly on the burgers to sense how cooked they were by how jiggly they felt (more jiggly=more rare, although it does take practice to really get a feel for it–those of you who have a hard time getting perfectly medium or medium-rare burgers, might start using an instant read meat thermometer in tandem with the press-and-jiggle method to perfect your technique). The questioner genuinely seemed to be paying attention, which is not the usual reaction I encounter when guys ask for BBQ help, and I offer it, rather than some neighboring guy. I have gotten into some nasty tiffs with mansplainer personalities over meat advice.

Women…please! Unabashedly take over your backyard grills this summer (and carve the Thanksgiving turkey and the Christmas roast—I can’t tell you how many times I have bitten my tongue watching some man who had no freaking idea what he was doing butcher a carving job acting as the star of the show after his wife had slaved over the meal all day). There is no reason men should be monopolizing these “showcase” cooking roles and receiving accolades for what usually amounts to subpar food (with all due respect to my handful of male friends who do cook some mean BBQ or grilled items…).

Because clearly, even with a strong, feminist presence in her life, my daughter has, at 4, internalized some abhorrent stereotypes. The vast, vast majority of other people have too. These subtle forms of misogyny need to be more actively fought!

(And remember, you can help support my upcoming Rapid Pulse Festival performance here! For a donation of just $10, you can receive a recipe booklet with my favorite lamb recipes, some of which I created myself.)


Why I Can’t Sell Meat

BBThisisnotmeatSticker copy

A number of years ago, when I first got into buying my meat farm-direct and butchering it myself, I had an interesting conversation with one of my farmers, when I asked why they didn’t just slaughter and butcher themselves (they were having a hard time finding a slot at a slaughterhouse for my order). She said that in Illinois not only can you not legally sell an animal you slaughtered (or butchered) yourself, you can’t even give it away.

I still haven’t been able to corroborate that “no gifting” rule, as, if I recall correctly, in Illinois hunters can donate the deer they kill and field dress to charity organizations (although there may well be some special rule that allows for that specific practice only). But clearly there are plenty of rules that pretty much prevent anyone small from being able to legally butcher and exchange money for meat.

One of the major impediments to a profitable life facing small farmers are the statutes in most (if not all) states against the sale of meat butchered on the premises due to a variety of one-size-fits-all rules and regulations (the fabulous Joel Salatin has done a lot of advocacy on this issue and still can only process chickens on his farm). Illinois (as a consummate nanny state) might be one of the worst offenders. Reading through, as one example, the IL Sanitary Food Preparation Act (410 ILCS 650), a few things clearly emerge that would prevent any small farm, much less an individual, from meeting the criteria. There are other regulations too (beyond just food-specific ones including business licenses, zoning regulations, etc.), but I’ll just highlight a bit from this statute for now.

(There is one fascinating exception written into the law. Small beekeepers producing honey are exempt from all the regulations (see Section 7). The bee-keepers’ lobbying group must be strong! But then again, beekeepers wear those scary looking suits, carry smoke puffers, and voluntarily walk into swarms of bees. I don’t think I’d want to mess with them either.)

Two particular highlights from ILCS 650:

From Section 3: “every building, room, basement or inclosure [sic] occupied or used for the preparation, manufacture, packing, storage, sale or distribution of food shall have an impermeable floor made of cement or tile laid in cement, brick, wood or other suitable material which can be flushed and washed clean with water.” [Now, I’m not saying something like carpet would be a good floor covering on which to butcher, but there are certainly plenty of other scenarios besides cement or tile, and flushing and washing clean with water isn’t the only way to properly clean a floor post-food prep.]

From Section 10: “It shall be unlawful for any employer to require, allow or permit any person who is affected with any communicable or sexually transmitted disease to work, or for any person so affected to work, in a building, room, basement, inclosure, premises or vehicle occupied or used for the production, preparation, manufacture, packing, storage, sale, distribution, or transportation of food.” [This is the one I’m going to research further to write about, because, you know, HIV or herpes or HPV, for example, are clearly food-borne illnesses and should prevent people from working. Right? No. Absolutely not.]

So, what’s an artist to do given these legal constraints? (For that matter, beyond small farmers who should have the right to self-butcher on site, the regulations prohibit, for example, a neighborhood food coop buying a whole animal and having a skilled member breakdown the animal into cuts to sell to others. It may even prohibit a group of friends going in on an animal together if only one of them is doing the butchery.) I think a lot about issues of risk and ethics (in fact I’m teaching a class called “Risk and Ethics in Performance” at SAIC next spring that covers food-borne illness risk, in addition to things like exposure to blood-borne pathogens, public nudity, civil disobedience), so I’ve given this a lot of thought both as to how to creatively circumvent these rules and allow people to determine their own risk level without government intervention.

The fear that drives the nanny-state laws to be one-size-fits-all, instead of making exception for individuals and small providers, stems from the question “but what if someone gets sick?”. When we get sick from food, we want to blame someone else. And often, blame can and should be placed (for example in clear-cut cases of negligence). From my perspective, as long as the consumer (or gift recipient) is aware of the circumstances of butchery, they can make an educated choice whether to buy from that provider or to use the gift. We all have our own levels of risk we’re willing to take. Sometimes people get inadverently sick. Life happens. Would you sue your neighbors if they invited you to a dinner party and unintentionally gave you food poisoning?

I’ll give an example from the non-meat world as to how ridiculous regulations agaist gifting self-butchered meat are (people tend to have a particularly weak fear threshhold for meat items, due to media hype over mass, industrially produced food-poisoning incidents). I have received plenty of jars of homemade canned items over the years, some of which I know have a pathogen risk (being low-acid and thus at risk for botulism, which in my mind is a far scarier risk than something like E. coli). Given this, if I don’t know anything about the person’s food preparation background, I’ll gently ask what cannning method the person used. If such items were pressure canned, I’ll happily consume the contents. However, if water-bath canned, I’ll graciously accept the gift, but won’t use it—too risky in my mind. How many people use gifts of home-canned food without ever considering the circumstances of production? The gifting of jars of preserves is not banned by law (at least as far as I know…in Illinois, it wouldn’t surprise me if it was!).

People who take on projects like home canning and home butchery, from my experience, have really done their homework (I’ve never asked about canning procedures and gotten the wrong answer). No one wants to get anyone sick. Small farmers and small butchers can’t risk their reputations by getting people sick—so they have to take extra precautions. They also don’t have the profit margin to absorb the losses, like the giant, unethical, commercial-industrial producers.

For thousands and thousands of years people have been butchering meat under conditions quite different from what the IDPH (and the USDA) specify. And they’ve been fine. There are unwritten rules that need to be followed. Meat can only sit out at room temperature for so long before problems start. (You’d be surprised how long that is—I know I was surprised when I started reading butchery and food science books and articles. How many of you have traveled outside of the first world and seen animal carcasses hanging outside butcher shops all day? Believe it or not, that’s totally ok, because those animals were almost definitely slaughtered that morning.) Meat raised under proper conditions (or wild, hunted meat) does not have the same pathogen risk as animals in CAFOs (concentrated animal-feeding operations). With the advent of things like ice and refrigeration and soap and bleach, risk can be virtually eliminated.

So…how, as an activist, can I work within our fear-based, nanny-state system that prohibits me from butchering meat and selling it (or even giving it away). Well…I can transform it into “not meat”. I can transform it into art. Thus the “This is not meat, this is art!” labels were born. I am clearly labeling my artistic product as not meat. The person who voluntarily takes (or, through the Indie Go Go campaign, signs up for) a meat gift knows the circumstances of the artwork’s creation. If he or she decides to eat it, than that’s his or her decision. There are no laws against, for example, buying a million-dollar painting, then cutting it up into tiny pieces and eating it. You, as meat-art recipient, may do what you will with your gift!

Meat Perks and Performance Support

I’ve been announcing on The Burlesque Butcher Facebook page about the very exciting performance I’ll be doing on June 3 at Dfbrl8tr gallery as part of the Rapid Pulse International Performance Art Festival. I’ll be fully butchering a lamb, and two assistants will be packaging the cuts into “meat gifts”, in the windows along busy Milwaukee Avenue in lingerie and heels. The durational performance runs from noon until 7 (approximately).

For those of you in the Chicago area, you can participate in the performance too! Through IndieGoGo, you can donate to help support the costs of the performance. In return, you can sign up to receive particular cuts of lamb as your perks.

For those of you outside Chicago, you can also support the performance. There are three low-cost donation levels with mail-able perks.

Really looking forward to this performance! It’s been in development in my head for over 6 months.

And yes, I know this is a picture of me butchering chicken, not lamb, but since a blog post without a visual is kind of boring, this should spice things up a bit…

Recipes from the Chicago Home Theater Festival Event on 5/2/2013

I’ve got a lot to post in coming weeks with respect to the wonderful Chicago Home Theater Festival event I hosted at my home last week, but I promised to get recipes up asap, and so here they are!

But first…a few of the many great shots from the event:




The premise of the event was that the Burlesque Butcher would both be hosting and performing, and my performance involved creating meat-based passed hors d’oeuvres, a main course of roasted fresh ham sandwiches (accompanied by a demonstration on how to carve a skin-on fresh ham plus this particular ham’s “meat story”), and a small palate-cleansing dessert (necessary after all that meat!). The festival organizers paired me with three other performers (magician Tricky Ol’ Puss, burlesque dancer McKenzie Gilliam from Les Soubrettes, and singer/songwriter Dylan Wright), and McKenzie also served as my sexy appetizer-passing assistant.

Sadly we don’t have any pics of the hors d’oeuvres part of the evening (I’ve recreated a few pics below of individual appetizers à la tv), but look at all these happy eaters in my kitchen trying pieces of crispy ham skin!



The menu:

Venison-sausage crostini with fig paste and caramelized onions
Smoked whitefish salad on radish rounds with fresh dill
Prosciutto-wrapped Medjool dates
Roast fresh ham on pretzel rolls with condiment assortment (garlic-wilted spinach, red pepper jam, caramelized onions, honey mustard, mayo)
Lemon brownies


Venison sausage crostini with fig paste and caramelized onions

(This recipe is incredibly easy–it’s mostly an assemblage of separate constituents.)


–smoked venison summer sausage (or any other kind of sausage similar to a summer sausage that does not need to be cooked and can be sliced into thin slices)
–fig paste (I like the organic brand available at Whole Paycheck in the cheese section)
–small crostini (I like the 365 brand organic “party toasts” from Whole Paycheck–yes…sometimes WP is not such a bad place, they have a few good things…and so, Whole Paycheck, you do want to be a Burlesque Butcher sponsor, right?)
–3 or 4 yellow onions
–neutral oil, like sunflower
–balsamic vinegar
–salt and pepper

1) Slice sausage into small wedges no wider than the size of your crostini (I like to cut the summer sausage into wedge-shaped pieces so that you can see the onions and fig paste below on the square toast and to give visual interest in the play between the square and the wedge shapes)
2) Make the caramelized onions:
2a) Slice 3 or 4 onions in half and then into thin slices (the thinner, the quicker they will cook)
2b) Sauté over medium heat, covered, in a couple tbsps of oil; add a dash of water if they start to dry out
2c) When nearly soft, add a few splashes of balsamic vinegar, a couple tsps of sugar, and some salt and pepper; keep cooking (covered) until the onions are completely soft and translucent making sure they don’t dry out
2d) Crack the lid, and cook over low heat until all the liquid evaporates (keep a close eye on them at this point to make sure you don’t burn the sugar); taste to check for a good acid level (you should be able to taste the vinegar but not too heavily) and check seasoning—cook a bit more if you need to add more vinegar so all liquid is evaporated
3) Assemble crostini:
3a) Spread toast with a thick, even coat of fig paste
3b) Top with a thin bed of caramelized onions
3c) Place a piece of venison sausage on the top

(Note: you could garnish this further with something like a wisp of roasted red pepper or, as pictured below, dried craisins.)


Smoked whitefish salad on radish rounds with fresh dill


(Note: this “made for tv” picture was mocked up using tuna fish, as all the whitefish got eaten at the event! The original was whiter in color.)

–smoked whitefish (you can use your own smoked fish or purchase some—Costco, at least around here, often has whole ones available in vacuum-sealed bags)
–finely diced celery
–good mayonaise, please no crappy soy-based mayo (I use Hain safflower oil mayonaise—my favorite brand…yes this is shameless product placement*)
–dried dill
–onion salt
–black pepper
–lemon juice
–large radishes
–fresh dill sprigs

1) Make whitefish salad:
1a) Cut off a reasonably sized portion of the fish and flake the flesh from the bones, being very careful to remove any tiny bones; place in a mixing bowl
1b) Add the celery, enough mayo to evenly coat the fish flakes and celery (kind of like tuna-fish consistency), and add spices (dried dill, paprika, onion salt, black pepper) to taste
2) Slice the radishes into rounds crosswise about ¼” thick
3) Right before assembling, add a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice to the whitefish salad and mix in (I like to wait until just before serving as the lemon juice’s brightness wears off pretty quickly)
4) Assemble hors d’oeuvres:
4a) Spread a mound of whitefish salad on a radish round
4b) Top with a generous sprig of dill

Prosciutto-wrapped Medjool dates

(This could not be easier!)


(Yes, you could make these look a bit more appetizing with a fancy toothpick and some sort of garnish, but then you end up with a bunch of toothpick garbage…and these are so delicious just as is, in their slightly homely state of being)

–Medjool dates (Costco has value-packs of these for a great price)
–Prosciutto slices

1) Pit dates (I usually just sort of break open the dates with my fingers and push the pits out, although you could do something fancier like push them out with a skewer)
2) Wrap dates in prosciutto (I usually cut the slices in half and wrap one date with a half slice for my optimal meat-to-dried fruit ratio)
3) Cut in half for bite-sized pieces (this last step is optional, obviously, but they last much longer as passed appetizers this way!)

Roast fresh ham

(Adapted from Bruce Aidell’s Complete Book of Pork)


(And just a small feminist note…this is what a real, non-photoshopped, 5′ 7″, 127 pound, size 4 to 6 body looks like. Yes, I look chubby by magazine and fashion-industry standards. Which gives you an indication of how misleading and manipulated most commercial images of women are.)

–A non-cured “fresh” ham half (this is also called “leg of pork”—you can use either the knee (aka shank) end or the hip (aka butt) end—-but I prefer the knee/shank end because you end up with more crispy skin

1) Take a very sharp knife, like a utility knife (clean before using), and score the skin on the ham into diamond patterns; then use the tip of the knife to make tiny perforations all over the skin—this is so optimal fat can bubble out and make the skin properly crispy
2) Roast at 450 for 20 minutes; then turn the heat down to 300 and roast for 2 hours more, turning the pan around halfway through
3) Keep roasting until the internal temperature reaches 145-150 degrees (use an instant-read meat thermometer in the thickest part (check every 20 minutes or so); keep turning pan every hour or so to ensure even cooking
4) Let ham rest for at least 30 minutes before carving, if not longer, draped loosely with foil

(Note: Many fresh ham aka leg of pork recipes suggest putting an oil rub of some sort on the surface. I’ve never really found this to be necessary. IMHO, just add complimentary flavors to the pork in the condiments and/or sauce(s).)

(Also: see a future post for how to carve a fresh ham roast!!!)

You can serve this really any which way…I like to offer small rolls and a variety of condiments so people can make little sandwiches and try out different condiment combos, but you can also slice and serve as a main course with sides (mmmmmmm homemade mac ‘n’ cheese and some sort of yummy greens). You can even make a pan gravy out of the crud in the bottom of the pan (but be prepared to drain off a lot of fat to get to useable drippings).

Some condiment ideas:

–sautéed greens of any sort (see recipe below for garlic-wilted spinach)
–red pepper jam (see recipe below)
–caramelized onions (see recipe above)
–honey mustard (either purchased or just mix some dijon with honey to taste)
–mayo (see above for my favorite brand)
–barbeque sauce of any sort, homemade or purchased
–Chinese plum sauce
–sautéed peppers and onions
–very, very thinly sliced lemons, rind-on (cuts through the fat well)

The meat, in the process of being cut up, with rolls and condiment selection:


Garlic-wilted spinach:

–olive oil
–minced garlic
–rice vinegar
–salt and pepper

1) Sauté spinach in olive oil with a tiny bit of water so the leaves don’t burn or stick to the pan
2) When spinach is starting to wilt, add garlic, salt and pepper, and a few dashes of rice vinegar
3) Cook until spinach is fully wilted

Red pepper jam

–red bell peppers
–neutral oil like sunflower oil
–rice vinegar
–salt and pepper

1) Slice peppers into thin slices or small dice
2) Saute in a bit of oil over low heat until peppers are very mushy
3) Add a couple tsp of sugar (depending on how sweet the peppers are naturally), a few dashes of rice vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste
4) Cook for a couple minutes to meld
5) Let cool, then purée in a food processor; check seasoning and add more vinegar or salt and pepper if necessary

Lemon brownies

(Ever so slightly adapted from this recipe)


(Yes, I am multi-tasking drinking wine and serving dessert…a girl needs to do what a girl needs to do toward the end of a party!)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (I use Organic Valley cultured butter…makes a HUGE difference)
3/4 cup flour
2 eggs, large
2 tbsps lemon zest
2 tbsps lemon juice
3/4 cup granulated sugar (the fair trade, slightly brown sugar gives these a better depth of flavor)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

For the tart lemon glaze:
4 tbsps lemon juice
1 rounded cup powdered sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Grease an 8×8 inch baking dish with butter and set aside.
3. Zest and juice two lemons and set aside (if they are large lemons you can get away with juicing just one of them).
4. Beat the flour, sugar, salt, and softened butter until combined.
5. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, lemon zest, and lemon juice until combined.
6. Pour it into the flour mixture and beat for 2 mins at medium speed until smooth and creamy.
7. Pour into baking dish and bake for 23-25 mins, should turn golden around the edges.
8. Allow to cool completely before glazing. Do not overbake, or the bars will dry.
9. Filter (aka sieve) the powdered sugar and whisk with juice.
10. Spread the glaze over the brownies with a rubber spatula and let glaze set. (The original recipe calls for glazing with half the glaze, then letting that set, then glazing with the other half, and letting that set more, but I found it just fine to glaze in one step.)
11. Cut into bars and serve.

*Shameless product placement…Hain???? Care to sponsor me??? You know you will sell so much more mayo with a lingerie-clad tattooed lady actively hawking it…

(Also note: Hain’s corporate parentage got a lot better when Heinz pulled out in 2005…)


(Yes I am doing the classic advertising “cut of the model’s head so that you can put your own head on her body” thing…mostly because I didn’t like my expression in this picture! Sadly lost the magnetic letters spelling “mom” on the fridge in the cropping…see the very top picture for such hints at my suburban mom alter ego.)

Note: Many of the lovely photos in this blog post came from the talented (and very sweet) Mark Zoetrope. Follow him here and here! (All but the three appetizer photos are his.)