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Posts Tagged ‘gravy’

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I love game — venison and the like — but I have zero clue where my affinity for it comes from. My family was into watching MTV or sitting on the flagstone patio eating Carvel ice cream while my dad puffed on a pricey cigar. We were not and are not sportsmen. Living a mile from the Atlantic, we were more inclined to have our bare feet in the sand, not in camo boots and sitting in a deer blind*.

The craziest thing I used to eat at as a grade-schooler was snails. Escargot. I genuinely have no idea what compelled me to order them at a restaurant; I wasn’t exactly an adventurous kid. But I adored them.

My mom couldn’t stomach the thought of game. Just the mention of it made her turn a delicate shade of chartreuse. Once I ordered pheasant at a French restaurant and she practically retched right there on the 400-thread-count white tablecloth. I’m not ashamed to say that was part of the fun of ordering pheasant in the first place. And it was pretty tasty to boot.

Since then I’ve had alligator sausage in Florida, moose and elk burgers in Colorado and most recently, venison here in the great state of New Jersey. Loved it all. The gamier, the better. My cousin’s husband is a fervent hunter and fisherman, and we barter deer meat and striped bass for baked goods.

Again, I really need to emphasize that most people here don’t go looking for their food anywhere that doesn’t feature rewards cards. Many wouldn’t even venture to a farm — and this is the Garden State, no less. When I told my friend Brian that I buy eggs at a farm, he reminded me that Wegmans sells eggs, too.

I recently came into an old edition of Joy of Cooking that includes recipes and directions for large and small game. (The copyright page is missing; the publishing date is unknown. But in true Don-Draper fashion, the book’s first chapter is Drinks and it unironically offers several recipes for canapes, so it’s likely mid-century**.) And there are six pages devoted to game. They feature rabbit and deer along with opossum, muskrat, boar’s head, woodchuck, porcupine, beaver, raccoon, peccary — which, as everyone knows, is also called a javelina or skunk pig — and bear. There is also a page and a half devoted to airy and casual discussion of eviscerating the above, as if it’s something you’d mosey out to the woods and do before Don Draper’s cocktail party at six.

Never have I done this; never have I even seen this done. I was so unnerved at the thought of dissecting my fetal pig in Bio 101 that my college prof did it herself. But I am transfixed reading these directions.

Every piece of meat we omnivores eat comes from the big-box store’s refrigerator, wrapped in Styro and celluloid. Where is it from? Under what conditions was the animal killed and processed? We don’t know; we don’t want to know. We pluck chicken thighs from the fridge bin as dispassionately as we choose paper towels or shampoo. We cook and eat it the same way. From a connection standpoint, it couldn’t be farther from the source if was FedExed from Jupiter’s 37th moon.

Maybe explaining how to process and prepare an animal as something you and I can do, something people have always — directly — done, feels like reconnecting ourselves with our food.

Maybe — and I know I’m going into fraught territory here, but I’ve come this far — processing and preparing meat ourselves is the most honorable way to eat meat.

I came by this venison secondhand. But I can tell you eating it feels profound, even with that one degree of separation. I am reminded with every bite of its provenance. It feels right and proper. The gap closes.

As far as the pot pie recipe goes … there isn’t one. I winged it. To the farm carrots I froze last September I added potatoes and red onion. Found some wild chives on a walk to the lake and tossed in some dried wild purslane, also squirreled away from last summer. Browned the meat partway. Made a thick gravy with chicken broth, Worcestershire, malt vinegar, and hot pepper flakes. I loaded up my mom’s little 1970s earthenware pots, topped them with my pie dough, and baked them for half an hour. She’s nauseated, looking down. But I had a great, and grateful, lunch.

*Just Googled ‘hunting hideout.’ Do you sit in a deer blind or behind one? Are camo boots even a thing? I know my hunting prowess is shining right through. I’m practically Artemis.

**It’s apparently also a book that Point Pleasant Borough High School librarians have been missing for 24 years. I won’t name the perp, but I will say his homeroom was Room 207. Doing you a favor, Mr. 207. Shirley Jones’s Marian would have been all over Robert Preston’s case.

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Flying in the face of tradition today, kids. I’ve decided I’m going to make New Year’s resolutions that I can get stoked about. Why should I come up with some gruesome list that will make me feel panicky and guilty? I might as well stay behind in 2012 with a pocket flask of Tanqueray in my hand and the covers over my head. I refuse.

Instead, here are a bunch of good resolutions; and not surprisingly, they’re all food related.

I’m going to…

1. …bake bread more often. I miss punching down dough, I miss the smell of it browning up in the oven, and I miss pulling apart warm chunks of it and scooping up butter with it.

2. …cook some classic treats from the UK that I have always wanted to try—Dundee cake, Cornish pasties, pork and apple pie, maids of honour pastries, game pie and toad-in-the-hole with onion gravy.

3. …illustrate recipes for my posts, along with photos. I want to get back to where I started: with Ebony and Berol Prismacolor pencils.

4. …get my paring knives sharpened.

5. …freeze more of summer’s fresh produce for the winter. I used to do that and it saved me extra trips to the supermarket, was more nutritious, was better for the environment, supported local farms, and even saved money. Just took an hour of prep time each week. I’m chicken, because Hurricane Sandy just defrosted my freezer for 11 days. But I’m going to do it anyway.

6. …keep up with making up vanilla extract. I don’t buy the stuff from the supermarket because there’s a much cheaper way, and that is to buy a bottle of plain vodka and some vanilla pods, slice the beans in half lengthwise, and stick them in the vodka. Every few days give the bottle a shake, and after a couple of months the extract will be brown and murky, with happy little bits of pod and seed floating around in it. The bottle lives in your fridge and will always be there for you. Unless you’re me, and you’re down to the last 16 drops and don’t have a backup bottle ready to rock.

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Lame.

7. …bake treats on Valentine’s Day to give to my teeny town’s local cops and volunteer firemen. I had a stressful December and was only able to make a small plate of cookies for each over Christmas. When my boiler blew, the cops came over inside two minutes and duct-taped off my most hysterically spouting radiator. The firemen cheerfully changed the battery in my smoke detector, at 1am, on my narrow, hairpin-sharp angled steps. They’re amazing, selfless guys, and deserve more than I gave. I’m making it up to them in spades.

8. …have company over more often. There’s nothing like sitting around my dining room table with my favorite people, eating something sweet, and splitting our sides laughing. I want to have a chocolate-off with one group of friends this spring and a local hard-cider-off with another group this fall. It’s so much fun to gobble and sip, compare and contrast, and write about what I learned.

9. …make little coconut souffles for my sister’s birthday. You take them out of the oven and then you dig a little hole in the middle of each and pour warm chocolate goo into it. I have a sneaking suspicion she will find this appealing.

10. …figure out a way to make food—writing it, editing it and shooting it—a full-time gig.

11. …go out for Indian food again because I miss those flavors, try authentic ramen noodles in NYC, and have the lardo pizza—which is exactly what it sounds like—at Porta in Asbury Park, NJ.

12. …try not to roll my eyes when, at a restaurant that prides itself on serving genuine Italian food, the pasta carbonara sports a cream sauce with little bits of ham in it instead of egg and pancetta. (No promises, though. I’ve already fouled this up this once.)

13. …learn to make an old-fashioned candy called divinity.

14. …buy my eggs from local farmers once they’re in season, when the weather turns warm.

15. …make pumpkin butter with nutmeg, cinnamon and brown sugar and eat it straight out of the pan.

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Coming soon, to a kitchen near me.

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