So much of day-to-day life confounds and amazes me. What makes my phone vibrate? How does this text appear as I press the letters on my wireless keyboard? How in the hell did this turn into my shirt? Some people understand this stuff. I don’t. Although, I sometimes wish I lived closer to the answers — that there was less distance between me and these processes that operate in the background. Sometimes my daydreams consist of making this a reality: No middleman. My friends and I are the process. And suddenly life gets a lot simpler because we’ll know how stuff works, or we’ll do without.
I recently had the opportunity to understand how chickens become meat. While some people are compelled to learn the inner-workings of cars, I want to understand my diet. I want to know how milk becomes cheese, how yeast makes bread rise, how wine becomes vinegar. This goal seems attainable enough, especially since a few of my friends are already doing it, and my motivation comes easily.
I didn’t eat meat for about three years during my mid 20s. Finding meat sources from humanely raised animals changed that, since I missed eating bacon and burgers and I wasn’t a very healthy vegetarian. Once I found meat sources that resembled old ways, rather than industrial meat-making machines, I embraced meat with gusto. Getting closer to my food source led to a greater awareness of animal anatomy and waste, in turn leading to interest in all the animal parts, not just the familiar cuts.
For years I’ve wondered if I could kill an animal for food, and now I know that I probably could. This experience was lighter in that I wasn’t attached to these roosters. And perhaps it’s even more difficult with mammals. But even so, I fully expected to cry, cringe, and seriously question my meat-eating ways, but that didn’t happen. It was a learning experience I shared with some close friends. And we killed roosters that had an easy life, thanks to their caretaker, Doug.
With some reservations, I decided to photograph the process. I think there is value in the educational nature of the photos, even if it’s only as a memory aid. If you’re interested, you can see more photos here.
Growing enough beans to make a meal feels like an accomplishment. Even with their ubiquity, bean varieties mystify me a bit, what with the terminology — some beans are called “peas” — and confusion about beans grown for drying and beans best eaten fresh. And then there are the beans and peas with edible pods and those bred for shucking. For most of my life, beans came from a bag or can, but I bet my understanding will broaden now that I garden.
I was nudged into bean-growing territory last winter by way of a Transition OKC seed exchange where I got a handful of beautiful beans from Shauna. I recognized them from the cover of Animal Vegetable Miracle. But they have even greater significance for Shauna: a reminder of her father, a devoted gardener, who grew them every year.
The beans are Christmas butter beans (limas) a.k.a. speckled butter beans — that’s what we called them when I was growing up. My dad grew them every year without fail and we canned and froze them — so satisfying in the middle of winter to have a pot of them.
left: I’m growing Christmas butter beans again this year
right: Okra and dry beans harvested last September
I planted those six or eight beans and they grew! I loved looking at them so much that my harvest sat in a mason jar for six months before I finally cooked them. Or maybe the delay had more to do with intimidation? Cooking a cheap bag of beans always seemed like a no-brainer, but I only had about two cups of these speckled beauties. And Molly, Matt, Lynn and Deborah describe cooked beans with words like “velvety,” “luscious,” and the like. Would my beans elicit such admiration?
Christmas in April: Christmas butter beans with ham hock meat
The technique I used — a combination of tips gleaned from those bean-lovers — was very simple. I boiled the dry beans for 10 minutes. I put the strained beans in the slow cooker and covered them with fresh water. They simmered on low for about 8 hours, which wasn’t quite enough time. (My slow cooker is at least 20 years old.) I added a smoked ham hock and turned the slow cooker on high. After about 2 hours, the beans were perfectly tender (luscious, even!) and the meat had fallen off the bone.
Part Two: Corn bread
Could somebody dim the lights?
Who knew that making sausage could be so overtly sexual? Jim suggested we get some mood lighting as he twisted the long rope of meat into links.
A couple of weeks ago, I got together with a group of friends for a day of re-skilling, or learning skills that were ubiquitous a couple of generations ago. I cut down a tree! And then I got addicted to chopping firewood using a splitting wedge and sledgehammer. It felt so good to use all my might. And the cracking wood was deeply satisfying. Of course, as Doug reminded me, these activities are much more fun when they aren’t routine chores. Still, I haven’t had my fill.
After the tree-felling and firewood-gathering at Rose Ranch, we went to Hill Farm to make sausage from Doug’s 575-pound momma pig, Irma.
Doug picked up casings at Kamp’s meat market. They were silky with bits of grit that might have been salt. I triple-rinsed them and then Doug and Marcy loaded a piece on the sausage stuffer funnel.
Jim and Callie seasoned the ground meat. We made bratwurst and Italian sausage.
I’m sure the novelty of making sausage eventually might fade, but by the end of that evening my cheeks ached from giggling at all the sexual innuendos.
More photos here.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but a tradition began in 2010 when I and my then husband, Matt, and our friends, Chelsey and Jeff, shared a beef heart as an experiment and commemoration of Valentine’s Day.
This Valentine’s Day some friends crammed into my house to eat chicken hearts. We got together to share the novel experience, trade seeds, drink lots of wine and catch up on each others’ lives. It was a warm, wonderful evening and I am thankful to have many adventurous (or at least obliging) friends. I can’t wait to do it again next year.
My friend Julie fine-tuning the batter.
She dredged the hearts in a mixture of flour, salt, pepper, paprika and chipotle powder. Then she dipped them in egg and again in the flour mixture. We fried them in lard (from Doug Hill’s pigs) that I rendered the day before. Golden, bite-sized and delicious!
The incredible spread! I hoped the ranch dressing might comfort those that were particularly nervous about eating hearts.
More photos here.
Postscript: If you’re curious, there was a heart party in 2011. I failed to document it, but it was quite memorable. My friend Julie (same Julie! Isn’t she awesome?) and I sautéed strips of lamb heart, which we ate in little sandwiches with aioli and arugula. There was also a potluck and the amazing poetry of Lauren Zuniga.
I pulled a ham hock out of the freezer and read the label: “ham hock.” “Are all ham hocks smoked?” I wondered. I sniffed it, but detected no smoky goodness. Apparently not. I didn’t know what to do with a fresh ham hock. My cookbooks provided no guidance, so I went to the Internet and found a couple of recipes for braised fresh ham hock (also called “pork shank”).
I used this recipe for Chinese braised hocks. The braising liquid calls for dark salted rice wine, which I didn’t have, so I used sherry.
I wanted crispy skin and melty fat, so after it was in the slow cooker for about nine hours, I moved the hock to a 450˚ oven for about 30 minutes. While it was in the oven, I attempted to reduce the braising liquid into a sauce. I didn’t have enough time for it to noticeably reduce, but it still worked fine drizzled on the meat, rice, and greens. (The meal that keeps on giving! Later I made soup by adding kimchi, bok choy, and rice to the remaining broth.)
Ham hock, sautéed bok choy, and brown rice.
The meat fell off the bone and this former vegetarian wanted to scarf down every bit, along with the skin and fat! However, I had some restraint, but only because I needed leftovers for the next day’s lunch.
The flavor and textures were incredible and comparable to pork belly, except with more meat.
I’ve gone from being unsure about fresh ham hock to actively seeking it so I can cook it again, but in a milder liquid so I can get a better sense of the cut’s flavor.
“This unctuous, giving gastronomic tool will become all chefs’ and cooks’ friend, finding untold uses in the kitchen. No fridge should be without its jar of Trotter Gear. … Nuduals of giving, wobbly trotters captured in a splendid jelly. One can sense its potential even now.”
—from A Healthy Jar of Trotter Gear in “Beyond Nose to Tail” by Fergus Henderson and Justin Piers Gellatly
I did sense the potential, but mostly I was intrigued by the seemingly magical ingredient listed in many of the book’s recipes. And how could I resist that delightfully descriptive language?
Even as I embarked on this cooking adventure, the ambiguous description left me unclear as to the end-product. I imagined it spread on a baguette. I actually planned on taking trotter gear to a potluck! However, I didn’t give the trotters enough time to cook, so I ended up resorting to Plan B: a carton of Braum’s ice cream. Thank goodness, because trotter gear is essentially a concentrated soup stock made gelatinous from the slow-cooked bones. It is pork jelly or aspic, and — I’ve learned — it is intended to add flavor and “mouthfeel” to sauces, gravies and soups, or perhaps a pot of greens.
I let the trotters cook until they were “totally giving,” about eight hours in a “gentle oven” (which I deciphered as 250˚). I did not have “nuduals of trotters.” The recipe directs the cook to pick off all the flesh, fat and skin, but I couldn’t find any flesh and decided against keeping the bits of fat and skin. I poured the liquid into jars. Once chilled, the fat rose atop the jiggly pork Jello. I scooped off the fat and reserved it for frying some greens pies. Or perhaps I’ll make some biscuits with it.
And a “healthy jar,” indeed! The recipe yielded about three quarts of trotter gear, most of which I froze. I shan’t be without trotter gear anytime soon.
Feet from Doug Hill’s pigs in Jones, Oklahoma.
I don’t know the details of my conception — and I’m quite fine with that — but in 1979 my mom and dad were stationed at Taegu Air Force Base in South Korea, and love was in the air … along with fragrant kimchi, burning kerosene, and pit toilets. I don’t often get the opportunity to share this bit of Tricia trivia, so I thought I’d take advantage of this blog post about my recent toe-dip into two Korean mainstays: kimchi and bulgogi. And my birthday, which is of course directly tied to my conception, is coming up in nine days. So, there’s that.
I’ve been exploring fermentation, and thought I’d try out kimchi, since it’s something I’m familiar with and fond of. Turns out it’s really easy to do and satisfying, too. You can tweak it however you like. For instance, I love ginger, so my kimchi has substantial bits of ginger amongst the cabbage, bok choy, onions and garlic-pepper sauce. For several days my house smelled very ripe — so much so that I had to offer an explanation when I had guests: “It’s the kimchi, I promise.”
To go along with the kimchi, I made a batch of bastardized bulgogi. “Bastardized” because bulgogi means “fire meat,” and I used a slow cooker. I uncovered some Downing Family Farms beef stew meat from the depths of my freezer and used this recipe as a guide for the marinade. After six hours in the slow cooker on the low setting, the meat was tender and flavorful and produced a delicious broth that I used to wilt amaranth greens and drizzle on couscous.
Sweat dripping down my face from the fiery kimchi and fiery July evening made my cold, frothy beer taste even better.