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Friday, December 29, 2006

Select Northwest Fruit; or, Snowed In

We spent the last week at my folks' house in Washington. It snowed and snowed, and the bug's first Christmas was white. My dad tied an apple box to a toboggan and pulled her up and down the driveway.

It made her sleepy and maybe a little bit worried.

Her grandma and her dad held her while my dad and I tobogganed down the steepest hill I've ever gone down, complete with bumps and terrible dropoffs. On one run I yelled out as I went over the worst of the bumps and apparently the bug got concerned and I had to call up to her from the bottom of the hill so she'd know everything was alright. Mr. Chalmers came partway down the hill each time to help me drag the sled back up.

When the roads haven't been plowed and you live in a no-man's-land, as my parents do, there's not much else to do but cook and eat, so that's what we did all week. My mom had made a ton of cookies, so there were always jars and crocks of them on the counter: raisin spice cookies, poppyseed hamantaschen, Norwegian nut cookies (nöttgifflar, I think they're called), some kind of sesame-seed cookies, and, my all-time favorites, springerle and anise pizzelles. She and I made two pies with lard-butter crusts and great sour cherries my uncle and his wife had picked at the WSU orchard. There was also a lemon meringue pie.

Mr. Chalmers smoked a buffalo brisket one day on the Weber out in the snow. (My parents tend to buy meat by the animal or half-animal: the brisket was from a half buffalo they bought from a rancher up the road a while back.) It was beautifully smoky and flavorful. Buffalo's an unforgiving meat, but Mr. Chalmers did it right. That night he sliced up the rest of it and we threw it in a Crock-Pot with some canned tomatoes (my parents had gone down to Pasco to load up on vegetables at the truck farms at the end of the summer), chopped onion, minced pickled serranos, and some of the pickle juice. It was ready to have with eggs and toast for breakfast the next morning when we got up with the bug at her usual two-thirty, five-thirty EST. Breakfasts were eggs, waffles, steel-cut oats, venison fish (Dad got two bucks a few weeks ago and saved the tenderoins for us), pann haas, ham, sausage, etc.

My dad made a big pot of okra gumbo with andouille he'd made, wild turkey he'd shot this fall on the hill behind the house, and filé from sassafrass Mom had collected, dried, and ground in Virginia.

The highlight of the visit, foodwise, was the ham from the hog my parents butchered this fall. They'd brined the two hams for six weeks, then smoked them in their Little Chief, one at a time, at about 100 degrees, for 48 hours each. Which meant they were feeding hickory onto the fire every couple hours for four days and nights, during which it rained, sleeted, and snowed. I think they agree that it was worth it. The ham is absolutely amazing.

The Fredleys and the Chalmerses exchanged copies of Fergus Henderson's The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating, and the Chalmerses were also given the excellent Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. At my mom's request, I made a caraway mustard from the latter to go with the pork loin roast that came out of the freezer for Christmas Day. It was really good with the pork, with the brisket, and on ham sandwiches we brought for the long, long trip home. I know at least one of my eleven occasional readers made mustards recently, so I'll post the recipe here.
Caraway-beer mustard: In a double boiler, combine 2 tablespoons Colman's dry mustard, 6 tablespoons beer, 1 1/2 teaspoons Worchestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon toasted crushed caraway seeds, 5 tablespoons malt vinegar, 2 tablespoons honey, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3 large egg yolks, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Cook over simmering water, stirring constantly but gently with a whisk, until thick. (This will take a lifetime, but just keep going; it's worth it, I think.) Cover and chill.
When I wasn't eating, I was reading the Ruhlman-Polcyn book; if nitrites were safer to eat on a daily basis I'd seriously consider doing with this book this year what, for example, Minnesotan Marie Wolf did with Rose Levy Berenbaum's The Bread Bible last year. I think I'll start with the duck "proscuitto," and when my pink salt arrives from Butcher and Packer I'll move on to a fun new sausage, perhaps jagerwurst.

I still haven't finished the bug's sweater, but I'm getting there. At the meeting of knitters the other week, Carrie was kind enough to take a close look at the sleeve and body, and she thinks it should fit just right as it is, so I'll try the seaming yet again. She suggested starting at the shoulder and seaming down instead of starting at the bottom and going up.

She's nine months old and making all sorts of progress in her quest to become less like a dog and more like a person. With almost no hesitation, she climbed the flight of fourteen stairs in the grandparents' house (we don't have stairs here for her to practice on), and did so at every opportunity. (This is more than we can say for Cooper, who once had to be carried up and down a steep flight of stairs in Brooklyn.) Up was no problem, but she hadn't figured out down by the time we left: she was still trying to do it head first. She had her first pork chop bone. (Are babies allowed to gnaw on pork bones? She sure liked it, anyway.) Somewhere over North Dakota on the way out, her dad noticed that her first tooth had come in, her lower right front. She played with sniffling, coughing cousins for a day and seems to have come away from it healthy. First, second, third, and fourth snowstorms. First real Christmas tree, a fourteen-footer my dad poached from someone else's property up the hill.

I guess you can't always just cook and eat and read cookbooks. My dad, who may have been a little stir crazy, blowtorched his finger to demonstrate the effectiveness of Barricade fire-blocking gel, the product he's selling as president of Northwest Barricade.

It's a nontoxic, environmentally sound alternative to the other fire gel on the market, and more effective than the red stuff they drop out of planes. You basically just spray it on your house or property before a fire, and get the heck out of the way of the fire. It completely protects whatever it's sprayed on, and washes away afterwards with plain water. Firefighters trapped in a forest fire could spray it on their truck, get in the truck, and wait until the danger passed. It also puts out super-hot magnesium fires in about a hundredth of the time it would take with water. We heard a lot about Barricade over the holidays.

It's great to be home with Cooper and Wagner, and we're all especially happy that the final, nightmarish leg of our plane ride and the Atlanta-area traffic jam are receding farther and farther into the past. Happy New Year, everyone.


Deborah said...

Aw geez, can ya cover one's youngins with your dad's gel? I could have used it 11 years ago when my then 4 year old son had nothing better to do than test a hot weber grill with his elbow - third degree burn! If the pediatrican wasn't a friend, DYFS would be his daddy now.

And to hear you speak of your mom's sassafrass reminded me of a book I read decades ago, Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo by Ntozake Shange. It was the first time I heard the word sassafrass and I have coveted it ever since (tea, soda, hard candy...)

I loved your christmas stories. That trip alone sounds like a great book!

Courtney said...


I got your slow-cooker book for Christmas, so I'm excited to try recipes--it's part of my goal to cook at home more and take leftovers to work, since I can't afford to eat Chick-fil-A anymore. We'll see if I can pull them off . . .

Glad you had a great trip, and glad you're back in my neck of the woods!