June 25, 2008 · Updated 1:22 PM
"If you're a vegetarian, you're not worried about either the mad cow or hoof-and-mouth scares currently wreaking havoc throughout most of northern Europe, nor are most of us in this country, I suspect. After all, it's far removed from our shores, right? But when I read that Ireland had actually canceled St. Patrick's Day because of the fear of foot-(hoof)-and-mouth, I began to understood how serious the threat is.No St. Pat's? In Ireland, of all places? They'd been expecting more than a million people to come to the Emerald Isle to participate in various parades and festivities but, suddenly, all except small, local celebrations were canceled, erased from tourist itineraries, and obviously the loss of millions of tourist dollars amounted to nothing compared to the possibility of allowing the dread infection to invade the thus-far healthy livestock of the country. Already reeling from the effects of the mad cow disease epidemic, especially in England, the onset of the highly contagious hoof-and-mouth infection will likely deal a death blow to thousands of farmers and ranchers who watch helplessly as entire herds of their sheep and cattle are slaughtered and burned to prevent spread of the disease. Apparently the hoof-and-mouth infection, harmless to humans, spreads like wildfire in dry grass among animals, wiping out entire herds within days, and is easily carried from one area to another, even one country to another, by people who simply walk where an infected animal has walked (and defecated) and who may have traces of matter on their shoes. Thus, travelers throughout Europe and now in Australia and South America are being both inspected and disinfected as they pass through train stations and airports. And for those who are willing to take the risk and eat beef in Europe, the price of a steak has now gone out of sight.Here in the USA, we've already had enough e-coli scares and hair-raising stories from the media about conditions on feed lots and in processing plants to put us off our beef, and the threat of mad cow disease certainly added fuel to the anti-beef sentiment. Even though we've no sign yet of hoof-and-mouth in this country, I suspect just the graphic television and newspaper shots of the piles of dead animals in England and France will be enough to send many beef and lamb eaters to the seafood counter instead. Of course, chicken is always an alternative, but one can eat only so much chicken without squawking, and let's not even think about chicken farms, OK? As it happens, we have two daughters currently living in Europe, one in Austria and one in Italy, and both tell us they've not eaten beef in weeks. Although neither of them is a gotta have my beef person, they've both commented on how much they're missing a good hamburger right about now, that even a MacDonald's would taste wonderful.Isn't it funny how one's perspective changes due to circumstances? Thanks to hoof-in-mouth, our two daughters would be happy to be munching on a MacDonald's hamburger, lukewarm and soggy though it may be, while many Whidbey Islanders are gagging and nauseated at even the thought of a MacDonald's.RecipesPersonally, I like beef, veal and lamb very much and have no intention of giving up any of it, but I should also tell you that for quite some time, we've been buying our meat right here on the island from people we know, which means we know exactly where it's been, what it's been eating and who processed it. If you're at all queasy about your meat, I highly recommend our method. One possibility worth considering is the 4-H auction of animals after the Island County Fair. Meanwhile, if you're off beef or red meat altogether for awhile or permanently, there are wonderful alternatives besides tofu or soyburgers. Among our favorite non-meat dishes is this recipe for that tried-and-true Italian dish, gnocchi.Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi4 pkgs. (6-oz.) of ready-to-use spinach leaves (or about 1 1/2 lbs. fresh spinach)2 cups ricotta cheese1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese1/2 cup flour2 egg yolks1/2 t. salt and freshly ground black pepper, to tastePinch of nutmeg1/4 cup butter, melted1. Steam spinach or cook in a small amount of water until just wilted. Drain, squeeze out liquid, then chop spinach.2. In a large bowl, combine spinach and all other ingredients, but use only 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese. Mix until a slightly sticky dough forms.3. Dust a baking sheet with flour. Dust a work surface with flour and flour your hands. Then, working in batches, roll about 1/4 cup of the dough into a rope about 5-6 inches long. Cut the rope into 1-inch pieces, rolling each piece between your palms to make it oval shaped. Place formed gnocchi on the baking sheet and repeat rolling and cutting and shaping with remaining dough.4. When ready to finish preparation, bring a large pot of salted water to boiling and drop gnocchi into boiling water. When the gnocchi rise to the surface, continue cooking for 4 minutes (unless you've made your gnocchi larger and thicker). Use a slotted spoon to remove gnocchi from water and place in a warmed serving dish until all are done. Pour melted butter over gnocchi, tossing lightly to coat with butter, sprinkle with remaining Parmesan and serve immediately. (These can be made up to a day ahead; cook, then cover and chill, and when ready to serve, reheat in a 400 degree oven about 8-10 minutes.) With a bowl of soup and/or tossed green salad, this is a meal, although in Italy, it's always just a first-course. Serves 8.A vegetarian's delight, this next recipe is a variation of the old zucchini, tomato, onion casserole many of us grew up with. It's easy, delicious and a great spring/summer dish for supper or to take along to a potluck. Love My Vegetables2 eggplants (medium size), peeled and cut into cubes4 zucchini, cut into cubes2 onions, chopped2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced1/2 cup olive oil8 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped6 eggs1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese2 T. minced cilantro1 T. chopped fresh basil (or to taste)1 t. minced fresh oreganoSalt and pepper, to taste1/2 lb. mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced1. Heat a frying pan on medium heat, then add olive oil. Saute the eggplant, zucchini, onion and garlic in the oil until softened (add the garlic toward the end to avoid burning). Add tomatoes, cover and simmer about 20 minutes. Transfer to a bowl to cool.2. In a bowl, beat the eggs together with 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese and herbs, then add to the vegetable mixture, combining well. Salt and pepper to taste, then pour half the mixture into a greased 9x13 pan or dish and top with 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Add remaining vegetable mixture, top with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan, then top entire dish with sliced mozzarella cheese. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until well set and golden on top. Allow to cool before cutting into squares to serve. "