Tuesday, December 09, 2014

...in the most delightful way

Last summer when I harvested my delicious, pungent, crisp and plentiful 2014 crop of garlic, small-headed though they were (a whole other story), I peeled almost two cups of the cloves and put them into a pint ball jar, salted them liberally and let them sit over night in order to begin the fermentation. The next day I rubbed them dry and covered them with local Rutland honey from Right Mind Farm. I put the lid and ring on the jar and set it aside in a hidey place over by the coffee pot.
Now, a recipe for this substance called Ninniku Hachimitsu-zuke from the book Quick and Easy Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes, does not call for the garlic being salted overnight, but just covered with honey and set aside in a cool place. Sarah Nelson Miller, who referred to that recipe on her blog, Killer Pickles, points out that not only is honey 80% sugar but it is also acidic, both traits that help preserve whatever’s in it. Like garlic. Miller also urges us to, “try using it in dressings, sauces, and marinades, and it’s a natural choice for many kinds of Asian cooking. I love to chop up a bit of the garlic and mix it with the honey and some raw apple cider vinegar and drizzle that over (a pork loin).”
This concoction was being raved about by posters on a Facebook thread called Fermenter’s Kitchen and another called Wild Fermentation (started by Miller) after the book by Sandor Katz. It was promoted as being, number 1, delicious and, number 2, a fantastic remedy for colds and flu due to the antibiotic and healing properties of both ingredients.
Truthfully, what I had in mind was an approximation of the delightful taste you get when you baste thin flatbread dough with garlicky olive oil, bake it off, and then drizzle it with honey and a sprinkle of coarse salt, and eat it while it’s warm. If you’ve never tasted this you must must must make occasion to try it.
But this was not to be, for when I tried the garlic and honey after it had fermented on the counter for a couple of weeks, the honey had watered down with the juices of the garlic, I guess, and simply did not have that unctuous mouth feel. And of course, then, also, there was the fermented taste, which is not to be scoffed at, normally, but in this instance was not what I was looking for. I left that jar alone after that, merely glancing at it balefully once in awhile, trying not to bewail the waste of valuable garlic AND honey......
But that was before this insidious little dry cough that came on slowly over a week or so became productive and near constant, keeping me awake at night and finally making my ribs hurt. That baleful glance happened once again on that little pint jar and this time lingered, and I thought well, what the hell, that’s what it’s s’pozed to be good for and I forked out a garlic clove and ate it! That was a treat! Then I spooned up some of the honey and swallowed that. Not bad.
Next morning, cough was still there, and still productive but with the air of clearing out and cleaning up rather than going deeper and despicable-er. Another clove of garlic and spoonful of honey – hot and sweet! there are worse ways of dealing with illness – in the morning and healing is definitely on the upswing.
Just proving that A Spoonful of Honey makes the medicine go down...
This Twice Bitten column first printed in the Rutland Herald 12/9/14 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

caramel alchemy

Partner-in-life has been on a too-long ice cream jag, which would be all right except for all the sugar carbs  that tempt me to share the jag, and two more reasons, #1 that he has eschewed Ben and Jerry’s creaminess (and priciness) for Second-Best-Local-Ice-Cream. SBLIC, which used to be really good, is now, due to a family quarrel regarding quantity vs quality, not as good as it used to be: It tastes icy instead of creamy.

P-i-L HAD brought home one of those B&J pints with a core of caramel down the middle of it. That was dicey in that it was TOO good. Next he bought the SBLIC Sweet Cream flavor, which sounds so good but was still icy, and a little jar of brand name (SureFine? Smuckers?) caramel which sported as first ingredient high fructose corn syrup. That was Reason #2. I put that little jar on the porch. I said, “You take that right back, we don’t eat that kind of Stuff in this house.” Dotter was home, knowing (as did he) that I was right. But. Caramel! “What do you think that caramel core in B&J’s was made of?” he whined. I hate to think.

Well, actually, I did think and so I looked it up. Ben and Jerry’s Caramel Core Ice Cream has about 23+/- ingredients but, though it does list corn syrup, it is apparently not high fructose corn syrup.

Twenty-three ingredients! Ice cream is best when you have three ingredients. In June those would be Cream, Sugar, and Strawberries. In July substitute blueberries for the strawberries. Caramel should have 2 or 3 ingredients: sugar, cream, and maybe butter. Added together that’s 4 ingredients, most of it sugar.

So one night, right after the marvelous shrimp dinner that I wrote about 2 weeks ago, that he and she had cleaned up after, with SBLIC Sweet Cream looming, almost without thinking I plunked the black cast iron skillet on the burner and turned it up to medium-high heat and, when it was getting there, poured a cup of white cane sugar into it, then shook it a bit, and turned the heat down a bit and stood looking at it, as did dotter.

“What...?” she said. “Just sugar...?” she said, as the edges of it browned and sank and ate at the interior, and a couple of hot spots in the center began to spread.
“Yep,” I said, “caramel.” A gasp. “I didn’t know it was such alchemy,” she said.

Alchemy, yes: When you think what different substances ice cream and caramel are, both made with almost the same ingredients.

I modulated the heat, picked up the skillet to that end, put it back down, turned the sugar with a silicone spatula, and when all was melted, white turned to amber and that turning dark reddish brown, watching witchfully, as soon as it “was just past the point when it starts to smoke,” (David Lebovitz) I turned the heat off and added heavy cream that I’d warmed in its own container in a bowl of hot water, Thomases again, and stirred carefully as it rose whoosh up the sides of the pan (silicone gloves are handy) stirring with that silicone spatula. I turned the heat back on low and when all was incorporated I turned the heat off again and added a couple lumps of salted butter and swirled them in. It was gorgeous. 

Ice cream sundaes were made with that Second-Best-Local-Ice-Cream’s Sweet Cream flavor topped with fresh, pillowy red raspberries and then that Surprise Caramel Sauce that astonished me as well as them, because it disappeared over the berries and ice cream only to be re-discovered in the process of spooning it up where it had formed its soft, round, buttery mouthfuls deep in the ice cream and berries.

Chemistry. Ain’t it grand?

Post Script: This is privileged stuff, having the sugar, the pan, the stove, to cook. How many people don’t. I can’t imagine. But I know it happens and so I give my money to people who can help those who haven’t even the basics, Vermont Foodbank. Please give to them this holiday season and every other season. 

Monday, November 03, 2014

Shrimp with a Snap

Let’s just say that flaccid shrimp are not my cup of seafood!

I found the following instruction in a recipe posted by a popular cooking show: 

"Immediately drop in the shrimp (to a moderately hot pan) and stir for another 1 to 2 minutes, or until the shrimp are turning pink and are barely firm. Turn the shrimp into a serving bowl..."
Did you say UGH as loudly as I did?

A friend told me of his dear friend who habitually brought rather limp shrimp to events, so that one time when he forgot to cook them at all no one noticed. Flaccidity in shrimp is not your friend; as a matter of fact i can't think of an instance when it is a good thing. If you have anything in your home that the word flaccid could apply to it is probably a good idea to get rid of it.

But that wasn't the only thing that was wrong with that recipe. It called for the shrimp to be brined in a mixture made of water, 1/2 cup sea salt, 1/3 cup cane sugar, and 1/3 cup medium-hot chile powder! Soak for twenty minutes and then dump all that chili powder and sea salt out? I don't think so.

Sometimes we glom onto old advice that does not benefit us. For instance it is certainly possible to handle pastry dough too little and it is probably done quite often simply because everyone is paranoid about "handling it too much," advice that benefits only the makers of store-bought pie crust. After all, the stuff has got to hold together. 

Ditto about cooking shrimp and lobster for a short time "so as not to make it tough". Well, I'd rather have it tough than flaccid. But most of all I'd like it firm and with a bit of snap when you bite into it. A juicy snap.

A few weeks ago my daughter was flying out the next day to drive a u-haul back here from North Carolina with her significant other and all their belongings. That night called for a special meal for her to remember and come back to and that's why I picked up her favorite, shrimp, that had been imported from an Ecuadorian shrimp farm by Green Mountain Fresh down on State Street.

I'd been talking to Ingrid Wisell there about the advantages of farmed shrimp versus wild shrimp when owner, John Schramm, walked out and said he'd stack up his farmed E-Z Peel shrimp against wild-caught any old day. So I ordered 1.5 pounds of E-Z Peel. 

It's cheaper than wild-caught –  about $12 a pound that day as against just about $17 for the wild-caught –  and Ingrid had told me that most of its food is swept over it in the wild ocean, and that food is supplemented with appropriate other wild food. "It is definitely not fed chicken feed," she said, rather offended, but dispelling my greatest fear.
To prepare that shrimp I set my oven to 450° and placed a heavy cast iron griddle in it and as it heated I peeled the shrimp. E-Z Peel means the shells have been cut up the back, which makes them perhaps E-Zier, but not really E-Z, to peel. As I peeled them I lined them up on a flat, rimless pan so they would be easier to slide onto the hot griddle when it was time. 

I have an old oven so by the time it had come up to temp I had prepared the shrimp and thin-sliced the last green tomato from the garden and fried it in some lard (rendered by Pine Woods Farm in West Pawlet) in a heavy cast-iron frying pan. 

I removed that flaming hot griddle from the oven ever-so-carefully, drizzled it with just a bit of olive oil to prevent the shrimp from sticking, then slid the shrimp onto it and placed it back into the oven for about 2 minutes. Back out they came to be doused with half a stick of melted butter and 2 or 3 cloves of finely chopped garlic. Back in for another 2 minutes, and when they came out this time I sprinkled them with the juice of half a freshly squeezed lemon, some coarse sea salt, and covered them with a bit of parchment paper and let them sit and sizzle and drink up the flavorings for a few minutes. 

They were served atop polenta made from a bit of masa harina that I'd cooked down for a long time until it was positively gluey, then thinned with Thomas’ heavy cream and grated cheddar. Slices of that wonderful green tomato went on the very top, juices were drizzled and chopped fresh parsley was strewn over everything.

It was exquisite, the shrimp snapped with flavor and texture, and the meal did its job – Daughter showed up safely, right on time a few days later and again lives in Rutland. 

Good shrimp'll do it every time!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

wild apples and rutabaga

Apples gone wild -- Good taste and, seen with your taste buds, beautiful.

 Last September I went to a friend’s house and picked apples. They’d planted heirloom trees back in the ‘70s, a dozen or so different kinds of them, specimen trees, I think they’re called, but no matter what you call them they produce a lot of apples each year. But unless it’s an exceptionally bountiful year, my friends don’t bother picking them; if it IS a bountiful year they have a cider pressing party, and that’s all good, too.  But, because these apples don’t appear to be beautiful with their spots and blotches, my friends don’t pick them to eat.

But I had discovered that the imperfections were superficial and did not affect the taste, and I enjoyed comparing the offerings of the different trees – the hues from magenta to chartreuse, the sizes from golfball to almost grapefruit, and the flavors from sweet mallow to spicy cinnamon, bland to intense. And once I took them home I found that they really were beautiful, not in spite of and not actually because of the spots but because they were all just... beautiful together.

Just a week or so ago I saw some of these spotted apples at the Dorset Farmers’ Market with a little sign that said that the spots did not render the apples inedible but were indicative that the trees had not been sprayed. And that might be the best thing about the spots – when you eat the apples they are on you are not ingesting yet another, and apparently totally unneeded, industrial poison! That’s not to say, of course, that all apples with black spots have not been sprayed – they may have been sprayed with something that does not affect black spots – but I knew for a fact that my friends’ apples had not been sprayed or ‘aided’ in any way whatsoever –  I’m actually pretty sure they’ve never even been pruned.

Fall crept on from there – actually it flew by, but then all time does at this age – until it was almost Thanksgiving. The Winter Farmers’ Market had been going on for a few weeks at the Vermont Farmers’ Food Center down on West Street and I had already bought some Brussels sprouts, some of which had taken me an immense amount of time to snap from the stalk and to prune out the bad parts only to end up with a small bowl of them for all my work. And that’s when I spied some pale green rather small orbs on stalks at the booth of a new vendor, and when I took one of those stalks home the sprouts snapped off and needed very little paring. As I believe my apple anecdote shows, I am as accepting of imperfect organic food as the next purist but this perfection was a welcome thing as it made them so much easier to render edible, with so much more to show for my effort.

Next Saturday – the one before Thanksgiving – I sped to his stand again to find people buying up his veggies higgledy piggledy as they were from all the vendors –  the Saturday before Thanksgiving being the busiest market of the winter. By the time he got to me there were only two stalks of sprouts left and I took both of them, then sold one to the next person in line who had been crestfallen at my purchase. I used them – delicately steamed – to complete the casserole of  root vegetables I’d roasted for Thanksgiving dinner. Mixed with a bit of quinoa and topped with melty, creamy, cheese, it was a very good dish.

Weeks went by, it’s the new year by now – 2014 – and I notice that John – for that’s his name, John Falk of Neshobe Farm in Brandon, partners with Hannah Davidson – is back to the market sporadically and that his veggies  – he does not have a great variety – have dwindled as the canning jars have increased, until finally there are only two gigantic rutabagas on his stand amidst the jars of zucchini relish and pickles and jams. And who needs a gigantic rutabaga? But these rutabagas are so fresh and lovely that I am intrigued and after a little chat and a weighing I actually buy the smallest of these monsters even though it weighs six and one half pounds!

I don’t even like rutabagas, do I?

And as he’s weighing and I’m buying and we’re exchanging money for rutabaga I’m also raving to my friend about John’s blemishless Brussels sprouts when John jumps in. He has an eager, open, laughing demeanor, friendly and talkative, and he gives us a little lecture on how you should never judge organic vegetables by their looks because no matter how delicious they are, and good for you, organic vegetables may be just a little ugly. He is, of course, preaching to the converted – my food sense developed in the ‘70s, don’t you know.

Oh John, I think, Shut up! If the goodness of vegetables were to be proved by their ugliness then you would lose, hands down, but this is getting so convoluted that I cannot even begin to open my mouth and I bid the boy adieu!

Above: Not so difficult to pare
Below: Simmering in water and coconut oil

That enormous rutabaga? It was perfect, of course, thin skinned, smooth, not gnarly, not a lot of trouble to peel, not fibrous; tender, sweet, golden orange, and plenty enough to prepare every which way. First I cut it into cubes and steamed it until crisp tender, then froze at least half of it, probably more.  But even before that I took a goodly portion of the raw cubes and simmered them with a little water, some salt, and a nice amount of coconut oil and, when they had absorbed the water and caramelized in the oil – I stirred them as they did that – I mashed them together and perhaps I added a bit of coconut mash and corrected the seasonings – more salt? – and maybe I grated a bit of nutmeg into them. Oh yes, delicious. (Note: Coconut mash is the whole ground coconut, and although it does not contain sugar it does lend sweetness and flavor.)

A few days later I put some of the steamed cubes into an earthenware dish in which I had melted some coconut oil (yummy stuff), salted and peppered them, dotted them with a few spoonfuls of coconut mash, tucked parchment paper around them for a porous cover, and put them into a low oven for half an hour or so until they were caramelized on the outside. I served them with slices of orange. Scrumptious.

Leo said, “Yes. Very good, but how much more rutabaga do we have, exactly?”

 “Oh don’t worry. We won’t run out,” I said. 

Tonight will be the third time – two suppers, one breakfast, and numerous snacks – that this first one-quarter of a rutabaga will be eaten in our house. There are only two and one/tenth of us, for little dog Dakity loves a good rutabaga herself.

And really, who could protest having a beautiful, wonderfully-grown, bright-tasting vegetable in the February of a frigid winter

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Sfef: a holiday whodunnit

Recently, I came across a recipe I got from Priscilla Martel, whose All About Food business was serving Mediterranean delicacies at a James Beard Awards ceremony many years ago, and though it is called Sfef – a North African Wedding Cookie, I decided it would make a delicious and somewhat mysterious and multicultural addition to a holiday cookie plate.

It also provides a refreshing change from other cookies in the way the dough is put together, as each ingredient is cooked before being combined, including the flour, which is roasted in a dry pan. My next thought was, Hmm, I wonder how this was made in the olden days, before Moroccans became so first-world as to take white flour and confectioners sugar for granted, and so I burrowed into the past a little bit by going online and asking some Moroccan cooks what they could tell me about sfef.

There was a thundering silence and then, “Do you mean sffouf?” Well of course I had no idea if I meant sffouf, but I went along with it.

“Sffouf is not a Moroccan wedding cookie!” Oh, well, what was it then?

“It is served only on the naming day of newborns and in Ramadan.” The more nuts you add, they said, the more flavor you get, and each Moroccan state makes it differently from the others. “I, personally,” one cook said, “don't add any flour. I make it with just nuts, fennel, and pure organic honey.”

Another cook added, “For the history of it my information is they used to give it to the woman that is breast feeding,” and when I hazarded a guess as to why that might be I was told that it was to prevent colic, as fennel (and anise) are both good colonics and digestives; and furthermore sffouf was said to increase the flow of mothers’ milk.

Another cook remembered, “My mom used to make huge buckets of sffouf and zomita for my father when he was in Army to take with him because during war they can't cook. So those were the only things they ate.”

Being a real pain, I then asked what Zomita was, and was told, “Zomita is the cousin of sffouf , but more healthier and has lots of seeds, whole wheat, nuts, and you toast everything and you grind. It’s popular in Fes, Meknes, Rabat, and Sale' and we have a very famous song called Zomita. All Moroccan people know about it.”

Okay. All right. I thanked the Moroccan cooks profusely and came back to my kitchen and made the original recipe I had from Priscilla. All she’d done to alter it in the last twenty years was to halve the recipe. I was glad of that because forming those little cones is a time intensive, backaching business. I was half done when I realized that a small, cone-shaped coffee scoop could do a much neater and faster job. 

These things are absolutely delicious! They’re even better frozen, which in my household is a severe drawback to the longlastingness of Christmas cookies.

Although nothing about this is very local (except the flour, butter, and, possibly, fennel seeds), all ingredients are available at the Co-op.

Note: Times for baking and roasting and mixing are highly individual. Keep a sharp eye out not to burn and/or over process.

Sfef (or Sffouf)
adapted from a recipe from Priscilla Martel

Yield: about 2 dozen

•    1/2 cup (3 ounces) hulled sesame seeds
•    1 cup (5 ounces) whole blanched almonds
•    1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds
•    1 cup (4.5 ounces) all purpose flour
•    1 cup (4 ounces) confectioner’s sugar
•    1/2 pound unsalted butter, melted
•    grated whole blanched almonds or blanched almond flour for garnish

Preheat oven to 350°
  1. Place the sesame seeds on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for 3 minutes. Pour them into the bowl of a food processor and set aside while toasting the almonds
  2. Place the almonds on the baking sheet and bake 8 +/- minutes until they darken slightly Add them and the fennel seeds to the food processor along with the sesame. Process this mixture for 3 minutes until it is finely ground and well blended.
  3. Cook the flour in a large, dry, skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly until the flour develops a pale yellow color.
  4. Add the flour to the nut mixture along with the sugar. Pulse to combine.
  5. Pour in the warm melted butter and pulse until it forms a pliable mass.
  6. To form the cookies, place a large teaspoon of the mixture in the palm of your hand, form it into a small cone about 1 1/2 inches high and slightly pointed. Place the cookie on a tray and proceed with the remaining dough (or use a cone-shaped coffee scoop like the one pictured).
  7. Let the cookies set for at least 2 hours before serving, then dust them with freshly grated blanched almonds or almond flour.

These will keep, well covered, in a cool place for about 1 week or in the freezer until you need them or have gobbled them one by one. 

This little article was published in the Rutland Area Food Co-op Newsletter , Winter, 2013

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

too many recipes, so little memory

A recipe card fell out of a book today, so timely, so true, for a delicious and provocative appetizer that Diana Kennedy scribed in her Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico, which, if you don't know, is a classically beautiful book and worth acquiring if you haven't already. Especially if you like Mexican food, are literate, know anything at all about Diana Kennedy, and have a buck or two to spend and an hour or so to read.
People have been known to do that with recipe books, and perhaps you are one.

I've been making Sikil-P'ak for probably thirty-five years, and I can say that because I remember taking it to a party in Shrewsbury and JP asking me if it wasn't Sikil-P'ak. I stared at him: how would this person, a lawyer for gawd's sake, know what this ground mash of roasted pumpkin seeds and tomato was? (He could because he had/has a quite sophisticated palate; a bit like James Beard's, both gotten at the ends of rich apron strings belonging to mother, father, or further.)
And since we were all young and beautiful then and could stay out until 4 and get to work by 8, and since it's been thirty years since JP and I've found anything at all to say to each other, it had to've been thirty-five years ago. At least.

But I have not made it in several years because it had fallen from my memory, absolutely.
Cilantro berries and flowers

What makes this appetizer so timely is that tomatoes are ripe just now, or at least ripening, and the cilantro berries are perfect for using before they harden into seeds. (BTW, I wrote last year about cilantro berries here.) 

Never mind that the recipe doesn't call for cilantro berries, it does call for cilantro and the berries just go the extra mile, adding a bursting juiciness to the texture of the whole thing.

Hot peppers are also coming into season, and because Diana, Ms. Kennedy, explains that she has added the habanero pepper on her own – it is not traditional – I have taken the liberty, in addition to adding the cilantro berries, of changing the pepper to one jalapeno and one pepperoncini, because that is what I found at the Farmers' Market Saturday. Habanero, as you may know, besides being flavorful, are excruciatingly hot. I would NOT know, because I'm chicken. But I love the green taste of jalapeno, cool and juicy and crisp, as well as hot, but not as hot as habanero. I preserve that coolness and that greenness by not charring them, but carving them up into tiny squares, a brunoise, if you please.

As for the pumpkin seeds, you would not want to use the big tough pumpkin seeds from your Halloween pumpkin – you would want to use the tiniest "unhulled" pumpkin seeds you could find. The ones in the Co-op bulk section are perfect.
With all that said, in case you are reading this because you want to make this traditional Mayan dish, here is the recipe.

My own notes: 
  • Although I pour the pumpkin seeds into a heavy dry skillet, I sprinkle them with some olive oil into which some garlic has been macerated. Not too much. heat them over medium-low heat, shaking or stirring constantly.
  • I cover the tomatoes with boiling water, cover, and let them sit for 15 minutes. Skin and chop them when they have cooled a bit.
  • As mentioned, I cut the peppers into tiny squares and combine with the chives and chopped cilantro and whole cilantro berries before stirring them into the tomato/seed mixture.
  • Correct for salt.
  Ms. Kennedy notes that the correct name for this dish is ha'-sikil-p'ak: ha' (water), sikil (pumpkin or squash seed), and p'ak (tomato). As for how you might pronounce it, I simply say "sickelpack." It's served as a dip "(horrible word!)", she comments, and dipped up with tortilla chips.

That's about all. Bon apetit!

Thursday, January 10, 2013


When it comes to endeavors such as writing, no one else cracks the whip, so lest one be left standing on the far side of a wasteland on the day of one's death, it behooves one to sit oneself down in front of the computer and say that life might commence only after the act of creation has taken place. That, anyway, has been my practice, and it usually works.

But with this article, when sat before the machine, Mind simply went elsewhere and, when drawn back bodily to the task at hand, deigned barely to give it a dismissive glance; said, "Poof, I'm not interested," and, arms akimbo, went away again.

"Mind," I pled, "what shall I do without you? We have responsibilities. You cannot desert me now."

And Mind glanced back and said, "If you are so fond of me, jailor, follow me awhile."

And so, with reluctance and with a sense of impending deadlines, I humored the poor emaciated tyrant.
Our first stop was an upstairs window where we contemplated the village laid out below, the chimneys spewing white pillars straight up through frigid silver air that looked dense with diamonds, taut with cold, as though it might chime if we were out in it.

But, "It's not summer," I said, "Oh woe is me, I only like summer." Mind regarded me with disdain, and I began to leave.

"Wait!" said Mind, breathing deeply and forcing our body into the mountain asana, fingers fluttering upward into a relaxed tent.

"This feels too good," I said, trying to keep my edge and breath shallowly, "and times a'wasting."

But Mind said, "I hate to get tough with you, but if you want something from me you'll have to give me something to work with. Now slow down and breath," and I obeyed.

When finally I went to sit down at the machine, Mind thrust paper and pencil into my hands, "Let's wander," it suggested. I looked at Mind oddly. It was not usually such a levitous thing.

 "Ha, Ha," I said.

"Seriously." Mind began to leave.

"Wait, wait," I said, "I have to get all this on. It's cold out there." Heavy sweater, down coat, boots, leggings, muffler, hat, gloves...

"C'mon, Josie," I said, and the old Airedale got up lethargically, then paused in the door and declined.

"Walk? You don't want to go for a walk?" I said. "You love walks!" but she declined still, and I rushed to catch up with Mind. "Dog won't go," I said, shivering, "Too damned cold."

"Her loss," said Mind absently, and I trudged in its wake, stupefied by the bright cold. "I wish I was in the Caribbean," I said bitterly. "...sand, sun from six to six, turquoise waters..."

"You see," said Mind with delight, ignoring me, "the air does chime. Everything is pillowed in white, the sun shines so brightly through the silver air, the sky is so densely blue... Ahhh, I've needed this. Now lean forward," it said, "and let your feet follow."

It didn't work, I was almost running, and a sense of balance almost overtook me, as though a silver wind were running through all my bones, connecting them. I breathed hard and my lungs seemed to expand. I began to sweat under all that wrapping. My mind shone luminously. "I'm going to get hypothermia," I cried in gasps, "my arthritis will act up. I need a cigarette," I finished.

Mind flinched. "The body''s been crying out for exercise. I can hear it perfectly well, I don't know why you ignore it so, you slave-driving..." Its voice deteriorated to a mumble. But we'd reached the apex of the little-traveled hill and Mind let me slow to a walk in order to gaze out at the town laid out below.

"Say," said I, with inspiration that came from I knew not where, "If you're over there, and I'm over here, and you speak of our body as something totally outside, then who am I?"

"Wuh..." Mind puzzled, "...you might be soul if you had any sense, or you might be sense if you had any soul, but since you have neither you must be id/ego, that is super and know-it-all and... lost without me."

Mind beamed with insincerity, then took a skip and a jump, and I heard a skitter behind me. Ah, the dog had come after all, I thought, but when I looked around only one little tan leaf was skittering merrily along beside me. I looked closer to see if there was not a black leaf too, to imitate the dog's colors, and then I looked accusingly at Mind. "You're playing tricks on me," I exclaimed.

"Hee, hee, hee," cackled Mind with uncharacteristic merriment; then settling down said, "Now take out your pencil and lean here against this fence and let me look around and enjoy this moment. Perhaps I'll have something to give you."

"It's too cold!" I was horrified. "I'm liable to go to sleep and freeze to death." But I obeyed, and Mind came up with a first sentence of article. I wrote it down with excitement, Mind cautioning me, "Easy, easy, don't get too excited. I can't work when you get too excited."

Another sentence. And another. And finally there was the first paragraph. "I've got it!," I said, jumping up. "I've got it, by damn I've got it," I hurried on my way. "Let's get back down to that infernal machine before I don't got it."

Gasping with exertion, Mind followed in my tracks, muttering, "Lunch, I think I need to be fed, and then, okay, we can sit down at that machine, but if it doesn't work, I warn you, you're going to have to follow me some more."

Lunch, however, was not a simple thing. Mind insisted that I smell and feel and see the salad of tofu and cucumbers I had left over from supper last night, as well as taste it; and cut some fresh bread and, "Now," said Mind. "sit down, breath deeply and chew it well. There's not anything much more important in this life than chewing well and breathing deeply."

Finally, lunch over and well-digested, we got to the machine. Mind immediately took a nap, so I played solitaire while it dozed. "All right, all right," I said when I heard it stir, "can't we get on with this?" And with a yawn, Mind began.

After spending some hours at the machine, Mind, having lost its oomph and vibrancy, again got up and wandered. My fingers slowed. "Come back here," I said impatiently. "You get back here now!"

But Mind had become insatiable. "I wish to see the snow in the woods," it said with insouciance, "Kindly clamp the skis onto our feet."

"Oh, but Time passeth, Deadline looms, and Responsibility calls," I protested weakly.

"Screw Them," snapped Mind," and I rose to get the skis, having learned, we hope, a valuable lesson -- that Mind without play is rather a dull and vicious fellow.

In the following days, or should I say weeks, Mind had me shoveling snow, hauling wood and helping out our neighbors, all strenuous activities that seemed illogical for Mind to be concerned with, but it was adamant. "You are not working just to get aerobic exercise; you are also going for the neurological benefit of cross-patterned movement and the visual, tactile, and proprioceptive stimulation that exercise affords me," Mind said.

"You read that somewhere," I accused.

"With all that cross patterning, you might even find a waist, or even a thought, down there amongst all the detritus of holiday stress and greed and Mince Meat Pie..."

"The Buddhist meditation masters know how flexible and workable the mind is... everything is a question of training and the power of habit. Devote the mind to confusion and we know only too well...that it will become a dark master of confusion, adept in its addictions, subtle and perversely supple in its slaveries. Devote it in meditation to the task of freeing itself from illusion, and we will find that with time, patience, discipline, and the right training, the mind will begin to unknot itself and know its essential bliss and clarity...
"...Our minds can be wonderful, but at the same time they can be our very worst enemy. They give us so much trouble. Sometimes I wish the mind were like a set of dentures, which we could take out and leave on our bedside table overnight. At least we would get a break from its tiring and tiresome escapades."

Tuesday, December 04, 2012


I'd like to dedicate this piece, written a decade or two ago,
to the important contributions of Green Mountain College
to the thoughtful and necessary procurement of food.

And, also, to Monte Winship, a consummate artist in that field.

It was a gray and drizzly dawn...  But three porkers in a pen were happy in spite of it, snuffling along the ground with their flat snouts and sometimes giving a happy-go-lucky jump when they found another bit of goodness, and a twisting squeal to warn the others off.  Life was good, but it was to be short.  

Because, meanwhile, a mere few hundred feet away, Monte Winship –  our partner in meat – bustled around his portable pig-to-pork production line that consisted of the bed of his one-ton truck, a rope-and-tackle hoist lassoed over a sturdy branch of the old apple tree spreading overhead, and a portable, car-battery-powered Kerosene heater that fed a fire in a used tire rim that supported a fifty-five gallon ex-oil drum full of water, heating.  Steam from the drum, which was suspiciously the size of a short pig, melted into the gray spitty air.

 "Used to try, huff, huff...," Monte yanked on the rope to make sure it was anchored, "...to use a tub, but found it wouldn't keep the water hot enough."  He's rusty bearded, in his late thirties, wearing a long yellow oilcloth apron.  "Been doing this since I was fifteen," he said, testing the temperature of the water with a thermometer.  So fluid and matter-of-fact were his movements that I hardly noticed he'd taken one of the rifles from the back window of the truck on his way to the pigs' pen.  It bode ill for the pig, but well for our freezers, which would shortly be full of whey- and apple- and corn-fed pork.  I turned away.


Soon Monte trudged back, apron flapping, dragging the pig with a hook that looked as though it had come straight out of Stephen King's horrors.  Without any fuss he'd hoisted the pig tail first above the steaming drum.  It was dunked and up and lowered again with the hoist, and sloshed by the handle of its tail.  Back out again, rope hoist half-hitched to the tail of the truck, the legs were cleaned of hair in the blink of an eye.  "Some people make the mistake of getting the water too hot," he said.  "Makes it hard to get the hair and that first layer of skin off."

A cookie cutter with a short handle was used to scrape the rest of it.  "They call this a candlestick," he said with a twinkle, unhooking the pig from the hoist and hooking up the other end.  Up and down, slosh, slosh, scrape, scrape, and what had been a pig was close to being pork.  Harsh, perhaps, but a fact of all meat-eating lives, only not hidden on plastic-wrapped styrofoam. 

A little girl with saucer eyes appeared.  "So you finally get to see this pig, eh Brown Eyes?" Monte bantered.  "She's been waiting since five o'clock this morning," he explained. 

The little girl observed, with unwavering eyes on the pig whose toes and between them Monte was delicately manicuring, that the pig couldn't talk anymore.  "But the pig never could talk, could he?" Monte chided gently.   This also is harsh – the process by which farm-children learn precariously to balance the two truths of life and death, and a third, food. 

By now the pig was gutted of the tumbling, hallucinogenically-hued machinery of life.  Almost all of this could be used, although not many people catch the blood for sausage or soup anymore, nor clean the intestines to use as sausage casings or to cook for chitterlings, nor do they crave the spongy texture of pink and gray lungs.  The kidneys could be skewered and grilled, and the heart - rich in vitamins - poached.  The liver should be sliced and sautéed with onions for a blast of iron and good taste, and the gauze of caul fat that wraps the stomach should wrap sausages or stuffed chicken breasts.  The cheeks should be smoked into tiny "cooking" hams, the hocks make soup and then, wrapped in bread crumbs, grilled for a delicate treat.  And for sure, the ears, the snout, the tail and the feet will make a wondrously elastic stock. 

By now the pig had become not-pig, the white gullies of its face like a medieval painting, an artifact, patient, symbolizing the human desire for meltingly rich, tender pork from scrupulously-raised and -killed hogs.  I'll use as much as I can, in honor of the life that went snuffling along, in honor of the pleasurable wriggle and the piggish squeal I've quietened by my demand.  And when I do, I'll give a little toast to the expertise of Monte Winship.
Monte and Paul Courcelle unload a carcass at the Wallingford Locker
photo by Donna Burke Wilkins (c. 2007)