muddy feet memoirs

The Chronicle of My Comeback

Month: September, 2012

Gifts from the Food Gods

When Jay was first diagnosed we bought a chest freezer.

We had just blended our family, and Jay was jumping feet first into the garden.  It was the June 2010 and the kids had been out of school for all of 10 days.  We had tomatoes, green beans, kale, broccoli…  it was lush and promising.  And Jay had cancer.  So we bought a chest freezer, because when he wanted to eat again – after this ordeal – he was going to eat his green beans.  The chest freezer seemed big at the time.

Our cancer story has shifted and changed over the last few years.  He was cured, he was re-diagnosed, it was bleak then he was “better.”  I’ve blogged about my reactions to our predicament before.  My stockpiling food as if we were preparing a bomb shelter.  But, like life, things have changed.  I have all the beans and rice and peanut-butter peanuts I need.  We’re swimming in fruits & vegetables and I can like a MOTHER.  But the gifts continue, and I would never say no!  It seems we may need another chest freezer.

This week’s gift from the Food Gods?  2 old hens, 2 geese and a turkey – all ready for slaughter – and 2 young laying hens.  We’re still trying to finish the amazing hog Noodles (see Nearly Free Meat) and we’re in the throes of the Fall Harvest, but here I am – presented with a turkey and two geese to slaughter – and my learning curve continues.

The kitchen floor is always sticky and the work is never done, but I would never say no to gifts from the Food Gods.  We accept what is given and understand we have many opportunities to share it with others.  This year I think I’ll understand Thanksgiving more than ever.

 

That’s it for now.  Thanks for stopping by.

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Nearly Free Meat

We all know there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but I am determined to finesse the most for the least – as long as its healthy for my family… and tasty.

I’ve already become the chicken lady, the one who will adopt and eventually harvest chickens for the table.  We ate a very delicious rooster name Pablo just a few nights ago!  But my latest escapade tops a million free chickens.  My latest was a pig.  A really big pig.  A pig called Noodles.  All 700 lbs of her.

It started as an innocent exchange.  The old mother of a woman I met had a pig as a pet that was simply too big for her anymore.  Noodles.  The cheese vendors at the Market where we met (the ones with, you know, the farm) kept saying they’d take Noodles, but my new friend had been talking to them for 3 months.  The big pig needed to go.  The farm-having, pig-avoiding, promise-makers were not being helpful.  Thankfully I was there to offer my expertise.  Which was really nothing, but I still made things happen.

So last Monday my friend Stan and I drove to Petaluma in his well-loved ’97 Toyota Tacoma, with a 4×8 U-Haul trailer attached to his hitch.  We left at 6:30am, which is damn early for hedonists like ourselves.  Anyway, we limped along in traffic and eventually arrived at our destination at 7:50.  The outskirts of Petaluma, where this old mother was actually running a decent small farm – complete with blacksmith quarters, a couple cows, geese, one nice and one mean dog, and a gigantic pet pig.  The old mother wore flannel and commanded her adult children to assist as needed.  Not the needy old lady I expected.  They were in charge of getting this pig into the trailer, thank god.  Which took an hour and a half.

The pig made crazy sounds as it was smacked with giant boards to corral her onto the trailer.  The easy way – apples, alfalfa and day-old bread – hadn’t worked.  “Come on, Noodles!  Good girl” hadn’t worked.  It took the super-studly, all-business blacksmith brother to smack that angry pig into the trailer eventually.  Thankfully we didn’t need a chain to get us out of the pen with the pig in the U-Haul.  We drove away at 9am, the pig slam-dancing in the trailer attached to Stan’s well-loved truck.  The family not asking too many questions about what they couldn’t bring themselves to do themselves.

10 minutes and we were at the slaughterhouse.

I expected the pig to charge out of the trailer once parked, but she sat with her ass facing us like a giant last fuck-you.  The old slaughterhouse guys weren’t going in there for her!  She eventually turned around and lumbered off the trailer onto the ground, the trailer and truck sighing with relief one hoof at a time.  She meandered into the room with the scale, and the slaughterhouse guys waged guesses.  56o, 620…  “700 even” the senior slaughterhouse man said as she was officially weighed.  The even older, more cynical men in the office said “She gained weight since you called.”  Whatever.  I paid them their $100 kill fee and took Stan out to breakfast.

We left Noodles to meet her end at Rancho Meat Co.  They would kill her with a shot to the head, then skin her and probably quarter her – she was too big for the machine according to senior slaughter man.  I did not want her head or “offal” (guts), though I did want as much of the fat on her back as possible (Hmmm, sausage!).

I chose the slaughterhouse because it was in the same city as the pig.  So naturally I agreed to have the pig delivered to the trusted butcher that the slaughterhouse delivered to for free…  not the one closer to my house that they would charge $100 for delivery.  I chose the friendly butcher in Cotati:  Ibleto Meats.  Free delivery from the slaughterhouse to the butcher made sense.  I’m willing to drive.  It is part of the adventure.

Stan had to work on the pick-up day, so my friend Shelee and I arrived at Ibleto’s to collect the prize around 1pm Thursday – 4 days after slaughter.  The butcher (like all the guys we’ve dealt with regarding this pig) was  flabbergasted.  “It is unbelievable” said Freddy, the young butcher at Ibleto’s when we arrived.  We entered the walk-in where the hogs hung from meat hooks.  From the back he wheeled out a wrought iron “tree” of hooks, each hook supporting a massive section of pig flesh.  I couldn’t believe how much there was!  Then he wheeled out the second tree…   holy frijoles.

He laid butcher paper in the back of the Nissan Pathfinder and started stacking giant slabs of pig one on top of the other.  The mass was covered by another sheet of heavy brown paper and, after paying Freddy $75 for the “primal cut” break-down, we were off.  The car has no air conditioning.  The gas light came on.  But I knew the food gods were smiling on us.  We sputtered into our alley, Jay met us at the garage, and we squeezed every piece of meat into the extra freezer and fridge we just happened to have.  All except one giant shoulder.  I carved 9 lbs of fat off it (which I cubed and froze) and cooked it for 5 1/2 hours.  I wish I could share it with you right now.  There’s plenty to go around, and it is quite sublime.

In total, rounding up, we’ve spent just under $250 on 500 lbs of pork.  There is a lot of fat, which will serve us well when we start raising rabbits and want to make sausages (and who doesn’t?).  The ribs look like something from the Flintstones.  We expect this pig – Noodles – to feed our family for at least a year.  Thank you, Noodles.  I will now spend the next day or two figuring out how to best cut, smoke, render and store you.

Survivalism: My life as an Apocaloptomist

I’ve never been one for Doomsday fantasies.  I know the shit is hitting the fan – global economic failure, peak oil, climate change, rising cancer rates, poisoned food – but somehow I still think it’ll all work out for the best!  I realize I sound naive.  I know I don’t have the chops right now to ensure survival for my family if it all came crashing down tomorrow.  Still, I’m working on it.  Other people I know are working on it.  And the ways we’re working on it are both similar and dis-similar to folks you might call Survivalists.  Some call themselves “Preppers.”  The smartest online discussions I’ve found argue there is no difference in spirit between the two terms, just in degrees of actual preparedness.  Either way, I’m starting to realize they are talking about me – minus the doom.

Until recently my stereotype of Survivalists has been of paranoid separatists who surround their compound with trip wires lest their stock of powdered milk and Dinty Moore’s be raided by their….   neighbors.  I realize this is exaggerated and unfair.  Survivalists (and Preppers) are developing skills that I too would like to have, but it is the issue of separatism where we split.  It seems Survivalists believe it’ll be us against each other; that the best response to a major crisis is to assume the worst in people and hoard what’s yours.  I don’t know if Preppers have an opinion on this necessarily.  I think its bunk.

I know things are unraveling now and that increased self-sufficiency is the best plan for the future.  I assume this would put me in the more liberal category of Prepper.  Things are bad and they are going to get worse, and I am both responding to and preparing for that.  But we are all already living within the crisis, and my experience is that it will be generosity and community that will ensure our future.

For instance:  My family has all the fruit we’ll ever need by harvesting local trees through our non-profit Food Rescue.  We have a fine garden, generous friends and now Farmer’s Market excess for veggies.  We’re canning madly and have every expectation to freeze and preserve all the produce we’ll need until this time next year.  We purchase bulk from our friend Linda through her food buying club.  I have organic staples such as bread flour, brown rice and steel cut oats stashed in big food-grade buckets.  We are managing to provide what we need for our family pretty well with very little.  But we are slaves to our mortgage, and our garden could be a true mini-farm with a little extra room.  Our chickens provide eggs for about the price of eggs at the store, considering the feed costs.  We would like to be a little more independent.  We would like to have meat rabbits, milking goats and maybe a pig.  We’d like to make cheese and sausages.  We’d like to work harder and need less.  These are our current goals. We’re Baby-Preppers I guess, but prepping as a community with a lot of combined talents and resources.

When Jay was re-diagnosed in December it was hard for me to work on the garden or on Food Rescue at all.  I felt resentful that this homesteading plan we’d developed together was going to be left to me, alone.  But our friends rallied and helped with the harvests.  Jay planted vegetables in early Spring that he had every intention of enjoying, and here we are – investing in our future at a time we could have been planning more unhappy things.  Our personal survivalism renounces our personal doomsday, and Jay’s health seems to be following suit.  I don’t see why the Big Picture should be any different.

One thing many doomsday-types fail to recognize is the importance of trust and community.  We do not need to grow everything we eat, we just need to know where those things are and create an economy of generosity.  Is the shit hitting the fan?  Yes it is.  Is it the end of the world as we know it?  Well, it’s the beginning of the end of something…  personally I think oil depletion will be a good thing in the long run.  If you think it means the Apocalypse then I guess I’m an Apocaloptimist.  I’m sure it’ll all work out.

Ratatouille: Redemption of the Eggplant

Eggplant is something I’ve avoided most of my life, but lately it has been unavoidable.  Every Saturday we wind up with at least 50 lbs of the aubergine beauties.  I shuttle them off to food agencies, neighbors, friends…  but this week there were 6 lbs left behind, challenging me to treat them like any other vegetable – an opportunity to feed my family.  My biggest issue with eggplant has always been the texture – it can be so easily over cooked!  Determined to overcome the mush-factor I forged ahead, and I’m glad I did.

For this experiment I combined a number of recipes and concocted a deeply flavorful ratatouille with fabulous texture.  Of course I made a giant batch – 19 cups! – so you’ll probably want to reduce the measurements.  It froze well and kept its meaty texture when reheated.  My ratatouille-loving friends are saying it is the best they’ve ever had (which I take as a sign of success!).  Bon appetit!

Ingredients:

6 lbs. eggplant, peeled and cubed 1/2″

6 lbs. zucchini, cubed 1/2″

4 lb. diced tomatoes

3 lb. seeded and diced yellow and green peppers

3 lb. caramelized onions (see blog post “More on preserving Onions”)

12 cloves garlic

3/4 cup olive oil

Salt

Instructions:

Place eggplant and zucchini in large collander and lightly salt, tossing vegetables for slight coating.  Allow moisture to drain from vegetables for about 1/2 hour.  Do not rinse.

Place drained eggplant and zucchini on baking dishes at 375 (F) – set timer for 1/2 hour, then rotate pans, stir, and bake for another 1/2 hour.  Eggplant and zucchini should be dehydrating very slowly.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in large stock pot.  Add garlic, then tomatoes, peppers & caramelized onions.  Cook over medium-high heat for 10-30 minutes – you want a stew consistency, not soup!  Again, the goal is to reduce moisture.

Remove eggplant and zucchini from oven when finished and let cool.  When “stew” is done, also let cool.  Combine only after heat has dissipated, so as to avoid over-cooking the eggplant you’ve worked so hard to keep toothy!

Season to taste after combining.  I found no need to season because the eggplant and zucchini were so well salted.

I froze the ratatouille in 3 cup increments – recycled yogurt containers are the perfect size! – and enjoyed the remaining cup with dinner that night.  I have also since snuck it into my kids’ pasta by blending it smooth in our food processor and serving it as a sauce.

Enjoy!