This is stock I made from the bone we cut from the meat we used for the Thanksgiving Ethiopian-style chuck roast. Yes, real stock firms up like this under refrigeration, or real good stuff still at room temperature. I don’t know what I’d do without it. Eat a lot poorer, die probably. This, I just this moment thinned up with a little water and simmered up a couple eggs in, for breakfast. Pepper. With bread and butter, ideally.

To make stock you cover bones with water and simmer them up slowly for a day or two, skimming scum and fat off as it rises. Pour it into a container and let it settle, then pour it off its sediment and you can boil it down to high concentration, keep it in the freezer—a teaspoonful will go a long way. I make this in my biggest stockpot, many batches, every winter when the local slaughter renders bones cheap and readily available, and the excess heat and moisture from the simmering is welcome in the house. It is traditional to brown the bones of red-meat animals before simmering.

I use it constantly. To fortify sauces, deglaze pans, make the base of soup, to cook rice or beans, for anything savory that wants substance, really. And there are few ingredients so… wholesome. Did I just say that? Shall I throw in “nourishing,” to boot? But honestly, really, there is nothing like it when I’m feeling weak or tired, or sick, and the only comparison I can really draw, to how a food makes me feel when I’m like that, is raw milk.

I make it every time I have a good pile of bones, actually. I hate to see people throw away bones.

Emergency Thanksgiving Post

Save your vegetable trimmings!

Save your bones!

Save your wounded, wino soldiers!

You will need them for soup!

arrgg! Lynne Rossetto Kasper! Salt water!

While I am taking cheap swipes at culinary icons, Lynne Rossetto Kasper of The Splendid Table radio show just told a caller from Nantucket that it was a shame that there are no local salt producers there, because then the caller could use that local salt to make a brine to brine whatever it was they were calling about.

Well, a brine, my friends, made from rehydraded Nantucket sea salt, just ain’t so different from undehydrated Nantucket sea salt. Is it?

I feel a little bad about publishing three posts in a day when for many months I’ve barely managed one a month. What can I say?

Asimov on different ciders

Cider’s our indigenous drink, folks. It’s the best thing we can make ourselves, here on the east coast, cheap and easy. I try to make it in great quantity. This year, miserably, I’ve barely managed to put up five gallons.

Eric Asimov, one of my favorite wine critics, just did a column on different kinds of cider—very much worth reading.

Next year, barring natural disaster, I will fill a barrel.

Harold McGee, who I believe hates food, also would dethrone olive oil

As in I would also. Or have, in my own kitchen. I am referring to this new article in the New York Times, in which McGee shows that for the most part, different cooking oils subjected to heat largely taste the same. No point cooking with expensive olive oils, I agree. He says something vague about possible health benefits of polyphenols in olive oil, and something vague about people valuing “provenance,” and something telling about how the label ‘extra virgin’ “doesn’t signify much at all.” This may be true in terms of (raw) flavor, but it does signify that neither heat nor chemicals were used in its extraction—perhaps a factor he lumps under provenance. McGee himself uses Canola as his standard cooking fat, a word better rendered as CANOLA because it is in fact an acronym: CANadian Oil, Low Acid. Derived from inedible rapeseed oil, which makes a fine machine grease, highly invested Canadian farmers found demand plummeting after World War Two and needed a new market—so they bred the egregiously toxic bits out, renamed it something vague and more palatable, and sold it as cheap cooking fat. Incidentally, according to wikipedia, 80% of the crop is now genetically engineered. So much for provenance.

So, if we are in sympathy, you and I, CANOLA is out, and good olive relegated to raw use. And even cheap olive oil—coming, here on the east coast, from a minimum of three thousand miles away—if you value provenancial factors like organicity and cold-pressedness, is not a terribly cheap thing. So, what are the temperate climate cooking oils? The non industrial ones? Off the top of my head, I’m thinking butter, animal fat, walnut and sunflower. Butterworks Farm in Vermont puts out a fine unrefined sunflower, is why I mention the last; probably there are other viable seed oils as well. Generally speaking, though, walnut and sunflower are not currently available, not locally nor cheaply. Butter is fairly expensive, for those of us without cows, and too rich for many uses—so I use it only where it shines. This leaves animal fat. Dirt cheap, versatile, deeply traditional, comes in many flavors—even from different parts of the same animal—it’s shameful how much just about everyone is throwing away.

Here I am again hammering away on one of my favorite topics. I wrote more practically on the subject last year, here. I’ll write more in the future, I’m sure.

why not more old birds?

I can’t buy old dead chickens around here. I could buy ’em live, I just realized, and cheap too—so I’ll do that. Grow my own old chickens, too, with the live ones I don’t eat right away. But it’s a shame; a terrible shame: young birds make inferior soups, stocks and braises. And it’s getting cold out here. And the wood stove’s going.

If you know what’s good for us all, go out and demand of your farmers tough old birds. The kind your egg producers have been eating themselves, in the belief they can’t sell them. Old layers are great, better than old meat-birds, as meat-birds have a bad light meat/dark meat ratio for optimal flavor extraction. In fact, I am in general not a fan of meat-birds.

Old layers are what is called an agricultural byproduct, and as such should not be expensive. If you find them expensive, because there is limited demand only coming at first from the sort of people who read blogs like this, you’re probably being milked. There is a lot of milking of us going on these days, and I don’t approve of it. It’s making good food expensive, and that is bad policy.

But that’s another post.

Eat old birds.

the end of my food specialness

It’s been interesting watching this current burgeoning interest in food burgeon (from Old French bourgeonner ‘put out buds,’ from borjon ‘bud,’ based on late Latin burra ‘wool’). Having a hereditary interest in food, and having long lived with a woman with a still greater interest, I’ve had a pretty long view on it. But now there are all these converts kicking around. Fervorous converts. Out here in the sticks, I’ve been able to ignore it, largely, but the other month I visited a Whole Foods in Annapolis and it brought me a little low. It had things I used to have to find in little shops in Montreal. It had things I’d never thought of, made me think a little. My only consolation was that, when I ordered a couple pieces of salami, they had to open new ones because the ones in the display case were stale.

Now, this is not to say that I’m suddenly unconvinced that I’m a better, and certainly more versatile, cook than nearly everyone (cough, cough). But it is a little strange to be suddenly overtaken by so many people in so many fields that, until a couple years ago, I was exceptional for having dabbled in. And that’s my problem here: I’m still dabbling. I’m curious, but mostly I’m practical. I rarely try for perfection. Lazy scion of a mainline church.

Since there is a part of my personality that is wrapped up in having food specialness, I considered stepping up. But it just sounded like a lot of work. So, I’m quitting. Nolo contendere. I let the tide wash over me; I hope it won’t wash back.

But, I’m sick of all the advertising. Feel gooding and politics. I saw a bottle of wine that screamed all the trendy anti-establishment buzzwords the other day, whose makers proudly blurbed about the fact that they were letting themselves remain anonymous. How authentic is that? How sick am I of authenticity? If I were an nth generation something picturesque, at this point, I’d consider hiding the fact. So sick am I of black and white pictures of salt of the earth.

The other day, for the first time, I heard someone use the term “sell out” with regard to food. As in, is it ethical for a small (“DIY”) producer to charge a luxury premium, over costs, for some product, if they can get it. Punk ethos in cooking. Fascinating.

Did a major label just sign my favorite band? That must be it. I went to the woods and Punk Rock died. On the balance it’s a great good thing, I think, and I shouldn’t maybe begrudge all the hard selling. Maybe it will normalize and the buzz will die. I don’t know for sure. It’s a little painful to think about. I’m not convinced.

I’m just going to have to grit my teeth and cook breakfast.