Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Promise

While going through old photo albums to see if I could find a photo to post that would distract you from the fact that I have nothing of real interest or substance to say today (and yet can still manage to write the world's longest introductory phrase--yay me!), I found this picture:

I miss green.

This photo distracted ME as soon as I saw it. Look at the grass. Look at the flowers. This is a perfect photo of spring, a season for which I have been experiencing an unusual degree of longing this winter. I took this picture around the end of April. I never posted it because Mia got her gigantic self in it and kind of ruined the pastoral beauty image I was going for. Not like the broken-down Jeep in the background (that was later cut up and hauled away for scrap) doesn't ruin the pastoral beauty anyway.

The point, however, is that this photo is a reminder that spring will indeed be here soon. The pasture will look like this again in a mere two months. I just gotta hold on through the inevitable spring snow storms, and then the spring thaw that results in flooding and mud up to my ankles, and soon, all will be green with the world again. Amen.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Belly of the Beast--It's What's for Dinner

A long time ago, in October of 2007 in fact, we bought a pig for slaughter. And when I gave the processing instructions to the butcher, I requested that some of the belly be kept, uh, plain. Raw. Not smoked. In America, the belly of the pig is the cut used to make bacon. But I didn't want it all made into bacon. The butcher thought I was nuts. He explained to me that that meant I wouldn't get as much bacon. I could see he was wondering what the hell anyone would want with raw pork belly. I should have told him to ask Gourmet magazine. Except I do not think Bill the Butcher (yes, Bill is his real, honest-to-God name) subscribes to Gourmet.

This was about the time period when pork belly was trendy*. It was hot. It was on all the food sites, in all the food magazines. It was everywhere. And so I thought I'd try it. Then I totally forgot that I had a big hunk of raw pork belly in our freezer. Until I unearthed it not long ago. I cooked it yesterday. Appropriate, since I'm usually two years behind the latest trends, anyway.

I will admit up front that the whole thing was greatly unappetizing until pretty much the very end. I basically boiled the equivalent of a whole, uncut side of bacon. It was pretty gross. I mean, there's more fat than meat on this cut. I knew that intellectually, but the reality is much more disturbing.

I bet my dad, the ex-vegan, is running for the bathroom right now to vomit.

That's what it looked like when I cut it into four pieces, en route to cutting two-inch squares. I am devoutly thankful there were no nipples on it. Nipples are not uncommon, as this is, in fact, the belly of the pig. Once, I was using salt pork (also from the belly of the pig) to make baked beans, and there was a nipple on the piece I got from the store. I still have nightmares about that.


So I cut it into the squares, following the directions from this recipe. Of course, I bastardized the recipe, because that's just how I cook. I didn't have the fancy Chinese wine, but a mixture of rice wine vinegar and sweet sherry worked just fine. I also added a little powdered ginger, because I really like ginger but didn't happen to have any fresh around. The recipe said to simmer the meat for forty minutes. It is at this point that I must respectfully disagree with the author of this recipe. After forty minutes on the woodstove (because all simmering at Blackrock in the winter occurs on the woodstove) it looked like . . . like . . . well, like boiled, fatty gray pork. It certainly looked like nothing I wanted to eat. So I left it on there for another hour or so, until it was falling apart a little.

The recipe also said nothing about removing any fat from the liquid in the pot. Again, I must disagree. I cannot imagine eating this fatty meat in a sauce that was basically two-thirds liquid fat. Call me a sissy American if you want, but I chilled the liquid and removed the fat from the top. If that much fat is authentic, then I have no interest in authenticity.

Then I returned the meat and de-fatted liquid to the pot and added two big bunches of collard greens to cook with it for another 45 minutes. All that green cancels out the fat, right? SURE.

At least it looks edible and not like a big pot of boiled lard.

I made some basmati rice (also on the woodstove, because that's my new hobby) and we ate. The verdict? Well, all three of us removed the thick layer of fat that was on every piece. Even A., and he loves fatty meat. It's just too much fat. The remaining meat was very good, though. The flavors in the sauce were just right. I'd use that sauce again for a different cut of meat, but I don't think I'll ever get plain pork belly again. I'd rather have the bacon.

Bill the Butcher agrees.

* Which just goes to show how ridiculous trends can be.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

G.D. Ice

You know one thing about winter I could definitely do without? Ice. I HATE ICE. It's worse than snow, worse than cold*, worse than mud. Well, okay, it might be tied with mud for The Worst, but at least I don't slip and totally eat it in the mud (usually).

Obviously, this little bitch-fest has its origin in an actual event. Yesterday I slipped on some of the UNAVOIDABLE BECAUSE IT'S EVERYWHERE ice. On the driveway, specifically. And I went down hard on my knee. Then I leaped up as quickly as possible, despite the searing pain in my kneecap, because the dogs were out with me and saw me go down. You'd THINK, being collies like Lassie, they would be sensitive to pain and suffering. You'd THINK they would stand by with great concern, waiting to lend a fuzzy back for support when I was ready to stand up again.

You'd think wrong.

What they actually do when anyone falls down is assume the fallen human is trying to play. So they jump all over the fallen person, oblivious to any additional pain they might be causing, because human! At our level! YAY!

That's why I got right back up. Then I hobbled around for a couple of minutes, moaning and gasping and cussing like a truck driver. It wasn't pretty. And there was no one around to sympathize with me, because those useless dogs just kept racing around like morons, tugging at their stuffed Odie toy and completely ignoring the possibly-crippled-for-life-but-what-do-THEY-care person in their midst. I still managed to gimp my way down the rest of the (ICY) driveway to get the mail, which was my original reason for traversing the (ICY) driveway in the first place. Because I'm a HERO, dammit. (Also, just a wee bit dramatic, but you already knew that.)

And yes, my knee still hurts like a bitch. You may commiserate with me now.

* Speaking of cold, it is currently 28 degrees in the north bedroom. I just thought you would find that interesting. Excuse me now while I weep frozen tears, because spring is NEVER GOING TO COME.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Pillow Talk

I love my pillow. A lot. It's one of the most important things in the world to me. Without the right pillow, I can't sleep well and end up with horrific pain in my neck and shoulders, which translates to terrible headaches and one Kranky Kristin. A. loves my pillow, too, because he does not like Kranky Kristin.

Back when we were living in Albany and driving out here to visit with some regularity, I would always bring my pillow with me. That's because Blackrock is almost exclusively a feather pillow household. I cannot STAND feather pillows. Even if they're plumped up nicely before sleeping, they always slowly flatten throughout the night, resulting in no support for my neck. And that, of course, results in pain, headaches, and Kranky Kristin. A., unsurprisingly, won't use anything but a feather pillow. He's definitely a product of his Blackrock upbringing.

My current pillow is one of those foam ones that's supposed to be molded and softened by your body heat. It is NOT one of those weird-ass contoured ones with the dip in the center. I hate those. I tried one once and it was worse than the feather pillows. No, mine is just a regular pillow, except made of foam. It's firmer than a normal pillow, with no flattening. It keeps my neck, shoulders, and head happy. And me. It certainly keeps me happy.

I know some people (like me) have very strong opinions on pillows (NO FEATHERS--EVER. FEATHERS ARE OF THE DEVIL). So tell me: What's your pillow preference?

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Garden Update--Winter Edition

More snow is forecast for today, more single-digit temperatures for tomorrow. So why in God's name am I doing a garden update now, when winter is quite obviously still kicking our asses? Because the seeds have been ordered. Wheee!

The MiL and I sat down at the dining room table on Sunday and . . . made a big ole mess.

That right there is hundreds of pounds of food . . . assuming I can get them all in the ground and keep those goddamn rabbits from eating it all.

First I sorted the seeds, tossing aside the flower seeds, because pfffft, flowers. I want the edible stuff. Flowers are the MiL's gig. Then I threw out, at the MiL's direction, some really old seeds that would be a waste of time to plant, because spinach seeds from 2005? Are not going to germinate. And then, I took note of what we had left. We had a lot left. Including far too many packets of cabbage and pumpkin seeds. Really now, why do we have four different packets of cabbage seeds? Who the hell plants, and eats, that many cabbages? No need to buy cabbage seeds, then. Noted.

Then I sorted these packets into Seeds to Be Started Indoors, Seeds to Be Sown Directly in the Ground, and Seeds We Might Not Have Room For*. And THEN, I wrote down a schedule for the seeds that need to be started indoors (like hot peppers and eggplants get planted first, around the beginning of March, then bell peppers at the end of March, leeks at the first of April, etc.).

And then we could FINALLY actually make the lists of seeds we needed to buy. There were quite a lot we needed to buy. We had no lettuce seeds, no beet seeds, no corn, radishes, peas . . . well, you get the idea. We ended up ordering from four different companies (Pinetree, John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds, Harris, and Burpee--I always giggle to myself when I see this name) to get all the varieties we wanted.

Seed ordering is such an inherently hopeful activity. It's a sign that winter really WILL be over sometime, that it will eventually be warm enough to plant and grow green (and purple, and red, and yellow . . .) things again. I'm always filled with giddy optimism at the sight of all those seeds. It's the only time of year when the garden is nothing but a joy, because, of course, no actual WORK has to be done yet.

We just won't think of all the digging and planting and weeding and watering and sore muscles to come. No, for now, we'll just focus on the seeds and their promise of spring. Amen.

* The MiL actually said during this process that our garden is TOO SMALL. Have you SEEN the size of our garden? If it were any bigger, I'd need a tractor and a couple of laborers to deal with it all.

Monday, February 2, 2009

I Love You, Man

ALL of you. Really, I'm so glad I have clever, amusing readers. That's so important. I mean, how ELSE would I ever find a good name for our lawn tractors and cocktails?

The only problem is, I have so many clever, amusing readers, that I have a hard time choosing which suggestion I like best. The cocktail names were no exception. Every one I read, I was all, "Oh! That's so good! How come I couldn't think of anything like that?" Because I am not so clever and amusing as all of you, apparently.

But in the end, the honors have to go to RLS. Again. In fact, she may be something of a miracle worker, because A. and I agreed on the name we liked. And we never agree on anything. I'm telling you, I think I saw pigs flying when he said he liked the very name I had been thinking was the best.

And so the cocktail shall be christened the Slippery Slope.

I don't think RLS even realizes how clever that name is, but I'll tell you why I liked it. As was mentioned, the mulberry tree is on a slope. But what you couldn't know unless you had ever tried to gather these mulberries is that the fallen mulberries quickly turn to mush on the ground, thereby creating a literal slippery slope. More than once last summer while gathering mulberries I slipped on this slope and went ass over teakettle in a patch of red goo. FUN.

I also liked the possible secondary meaning to the name: Having one of these cocktails will start you on the slippery slope to drunkeness, because they're SO GOOD.

So thank you, one and all, for putting your nimble little brains to work for me on a matter as important as naming a new cocktail. And thank you especially to RLS. I lift my glass to you. My glass of Slippery Slope.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Edible! Not Too Mangled! Success!

Yes, the Great Pasta-Making Adventure was successful, in that we all ended up eating and enjoying the pasta made by our own little hands. Oh, there were a couple of mishaps (small child falling off a high chair in the kitchen, the dog snatching some drying pasta when no one was looking . . .), but overall, easier than I thought.

It took a little while for my friend Alyssa and me to figure out the dough, the best way to position the pasta roller on the counter, and the easiest way to do the rolling. In the beginning, there were a lot of comments like, "Is the dough supposed to be this dry?" and "Am I turning the handle the right way?" Yes, it takes two brains and four hands to make pasta for the first time. Because we were using my very own chickens' eggs, which are about medium-sized, instead of the huge ones from the grocery store called for in recipes, we had to fiddle with the dough a little, adding a little more flour here, incorporating another egg there, until it was the right consistency. But then we got to roll it.

The very first roll-out. You can't see my face, but I'm pretty sure I had a look of intense concentration on it at about this point. Also, everyone say hi to Alyssa! And her kitchen.

One recipe we had said to let the dough rest. One said to roll it out right away. So one batch rested, and one batch went straight to the roller. I don't see the point in the resting, frankly. I would eliminate that step in the future. Also, there was a lot of discussion in the recipes about folding the dough in half every time you put it through the roller again. We did that a couple of times, and then stopped. In addition, we were not particularly careful about making the pieces of dough to go through the machine perfectly rectangular. So that when they were cut, some strands were longer than others. We Fail at following directions. But you know what? In the end, it didn't matter.

Exactly like a Play-Doh machine. Except the end result is much more palatable.

Then we hung them up to dry, on a clothes drying rack conveniently placed just outside the kitchen. Unfortunately, it was also conveniently placed for the dog, who was later let into the kitchen unattended and decided to be our official taste-tester.

Of course she grabbed the longest, nicest-looking bunch there on the left. A discriminating dog, that Lulu.

Anyway, when WE finally got to eat some, the consensus was: good pasta. It had a much different texture than the dried stuff. More chewy. Although the sauce I made for it had two cups of heavy cream in it (I doubled this recipe), so I think we could have poured that over some twigs and everyone would still have stuffed themselves.

And THEN, our hosts made us crepes with all kinds of sinful fillings. (Would it be possible for me to just run away with Nutella? We would definitely live happily ever after.) And then we waddled off home.

So, in conclusion, I would say: If you have access to a pasta roller, go ahead and use it. It was not at all daunting once we finally got down to it. The machine in particular is stupid easy. And it was a lot of fun. Of course, that might have had something to do with the fact that we were swilling these cocktails while we were working. Which brings me to the teaser for tomorrow's post . . .

Tomorrow on Going Country: The winning cocktail name! Stay tuned.