Counting down to homebound.

I’m originally from central Kentucky, and it will not be soon enough until I can get back to it permanently. Tomorrow morning, at around 0300, I’ll be on my way from ATL to the thriving metropolis of Paris, my little ol’ hometown. It’s about a 5.5 hour drive, but I’ll have the dog to keep me company. I can’t guarantee that I’ll be posting anything from tomorrow until 6 July (a week from this Sunday), but you never know what may happen. I’m going to try my damndest to get around anyway.

This may not have to do with food, again, but it does have to do with the beginnings of my love for food. And I’ll go ahead and say that I’m not sorry for anything I say here, because it’s all true. It started because of this article in my school paper. It offended me, just as any anti-industry sentiment expressed this way offends me. And I have a right to it. If you want to comment, pro or anti my position, go ahead. I’ll take it either way. Please don’t be rude or deliberately offensive to anyone in particular. That would be unnecessary.

Dad and Me - High School Era

Dad has long made his living as a cowboy – you heard me correctly. A cowboy. He came back from Vietnam and instead of finishing his forestry degree, he decided he was going to be a cowboy. He took off out West and learned from some old sure-enough hands, came back and made a life out of it. “Cowboyin’ is a damn good life, but it’s a helluva way to make a living.” He always told me that, and it never stopped me wanting to be one. Even in college, the pull is still there.

Growing up a farm kid, I lived close to my food, especially in the late ’80s when we were almost completely self-sustainable. We killed our own hog and beefs (yes, beefs) every year. We kept a full chicken house, complete with two hateful little roosters, for eggs and meat. We had goats and dairy cows for milk and homemade cheese. Mom kept a sizable garden that I was apparently fond of eating straight out of (dirt and all). We raised a small plot of tobacco and some corn that we sold for a little extra profit, plus Dad’s revenue, and we plowed by draft horses – we had a pair of Belgians and a pair of dappled Clydesdales, one of which I climbed under one day and scared the living hell out of my mother. When I got older, Dad took managed some feeder operations in addition to cowboying, and we always raised tomatoes and cucumbers in addition to sweet corn with the year’s sunflowers (for dove season, you see). We had parties that revolved around team roping, bulldogging and most importantly, team penning, that would last until the wee hours of the morning, when everyone would fall asleep with full bellies of good food and good bourbon.

I know where my food comes from. And it makes me unbearably sad, sometimes angry, that a growing majority of the public does not. I am a meat-loving omnivore. I know the meat chain process, from birth to slaughter. I know that corn grows on stalks and that beef has four legs and a head before it becomes a carcass. Produce does not sprout forth magically from behind the Astroturf-lined counter, nor does meat appear prepackaged in styrofoam trays and clingwrap. It is all real before it becomes your food.

No, the lifestyle is not glamorous. You get up early, especially in the summer, to beat the dawn to work your herds and your rows. You get home late, covered in cow shit and mud and tractor grease, to sit down and eat dinner. You are tired and achy, your feet hurt and you’ve probably burnt your hand on an engine or cut it with a knife but you are satisfied. You are doing something with the land, with your cattle, with your goats, with your tobacco or your corn or your soybeans. You are creating something and nurturing the earth. You are pushing the cycle forward.

People will damn you if you ranch. It is the truth, and I hate it, but can do nothing about it because there are louder anti-industry proponents than pro-industry. Yes, there are individuals in this world that will abuse animals. There are also people in this world that will abuse, even kill, other people, but we do not classify the entire human race by those individuals. We don’t say that because of a serial rapist, all humans are rapists; or because of a mass murderer, that all humans will kill wantonly. Yet if an industry worker is caught abusing a downer cow, the entire meat industry is cruel and deviant, a collection of killers and criminals. Maybe we should start applying that to our society, and see how well it shapes up to say that because of a few, the whole is damned, too.

I’ve discovered that often enough, when people accuse me of being an animal abuser, they have no idea what it means. They think because I give my herd shots and keep them in pasture that it means I hate my cattle and I want them dead. They’re idiots. I don’t hate cattle; how could I? Cattle fund my existence. Without my herd, I wouldn’t have clothes, food or shelter. I don’t beat my cattle mercilessly, without reason, into the ground until they’re a bloody mess. It’s not morally right, it’s not profitable and it’s stupid. If I hit a steer with a plastic paddle, it’s to save myself. Contrary to what you activists might believe, livestock are not made of sweetness and light. They do not have emotions. They survive on instinct. Sometimes instinct means trying to grind the person working them into the dirt. Go work at a feeder operation and tell me that you would stand in front of a charging 850-pound steer, let him throw you into the side of a barn. The lifestyle I lead is not cruel, it is not abhorrent, it is not a wicked lifestyle. More often than not, I will come home at the end of the day with more bumps, bruises, gashes, rashes, scrapes and lost skin, blood and sweat than my cattle will ever need to worry about. They will be eating their evening grass and grain, placidly chewing their cud and playing like calves after they’ve been vaccinated and moved, while I’m sitting in the house cleaning blood off my skin and wrapping myself with gauze and Vetwrap, applying Absorbine Jr. to my sore joints and muscles.

People have told me that they have the right to live their life as they wish. Don’t I have the right to live mine that way too? I ranch because I love it. I eat meat because I love it. I eat as local and as fresh as possible. I buy my vegetables from a friend who runs a produce farm. I buy my meat from the local processing lab on campus, and I know where every cut comes from: a producer within 50 miles of the university. I do the best I can not to leave my mark too deep in the earth. I will never be a vegetarian, or a vegan, but I’m okay with anyone who chooses that lifestyle, or whatever lifestyle doesn’t match mine. I don’t understand it, but I respect the decision to live a different way from how I live. Why is it so hard for other people to do the same for me and mine?

No cooking lately?

If it was feasible, believe me, I would be. As it is, all I’m doing lately is thinking about cooking.That’s about all you can do when your new place is full of boxes, you have no real cooking utensils or apparati, you’re still organizing your kitchen (and reorganizing the pantry for the third time), and you happen to be leaving the state in T-3 days to go home for a week. What’s the point in cooking when it’ll just go bad in storage?

I have a tiny kitchen that, while it kind of scares me with how tiny it really is, I’m itching to test out. (I’ve only made tea and pain perdu, currently. Nothing w.r.t. real food.) Will I be able to cook anything effectively? How am I going to have to change my techniques, my movements, my thought process, to better use my space? I would really like to use my island as it was meant to be used – a cooking and utensil storage space, not a ‘stack-stuff-on-top-because-there’s-nowhere-else-to-put-it’ space. I need a butcher block or cutting board to put on it, first, because I don’t want to slice through the polyurethane. 354 has a slab of white granite on the back of his truck, but I really only want a piece of it for a cold board. A 2’x1′ piece of it would be perfect for making homemade pasta, or slab ice cream scoops, or kneading bread dough… and I like it better than marble. Maybe it’s the country girl in me, but why should I want to pay obscene amounts of money for a slab of rock? Granite and marble are still heavy when you drop them on your foot, and granite is sparkly.

My mother is giving me the old Cuisinart ice cream maker, which thrills me to no end even though I’ll have to store all my freezer goods either in a cooler or clean the freezer altogether before making ice cream so I can store the container. Or use one of the other freezers in the building (I could trade scoops of homemade for freezer space, right?). But I want to make homemade ice cream before the heat leaves (which I never thought I’d say, and in Georgia, I’ve got time). I love making homemade, especially the powerful gourmet vanilla that I’m so fond of.

The photos in this post almost made me tear up, they were so vivid. I wish that I could actually lick the screen and taste the vanilla, because that is what those photos say. ‘Eat me, I’m real!’ Sadly, no; at least, not in a tangible kind of way for me, just for Hannah. (And I’m supremely jealous of her because of that.) After I pushed away all my sadfacing over a lack of that gelato-looking beauty, I read the entry and it got me thinking: How would coconut cream do as an ice cream base? I have two cans sitting in my pantry, waiting patiently to be used in tom kha gai or a silky curry, but it’s too hot as far as I’m concerned. What would the effects of that coconut cream be in my gourmet vanilla? Or a Dutch-process cocoa? Or in a Vietnamese coffee-flavored frozen treat? Cookies and cream? The possibilities could be endless! And delicious!

But what would you have to change?

In the meantime, I bought bologna and cheese last night after karate, so I’d have something to eat for the next few meals of the week while I’m still in Georgia. (Don’t knock it. I’m well aware that bologna, like hot dogs, are made of chicken lips, phonebooks and pig knuckles, and I love it anyway.) I told myself that I wouldn’t buy anything that wouldn’t keep while I was gone – and then I bought a ready-mix bag of salad, and some limes, and two mangoes, and a red onion. I didn’t buy dressing, because I was convinced that I’d make my own damn dressing and it would be tasty. And then I realized that I have no dressing recipes, and my olive oil vinaigrettes never turn out tasting like anything but oil and vinegar. So I’ve been perusing the Internet for salad dressing, and come up with some pretty basic – and some not so basic – recipes that I like. They’re posted with credit under the cut. Tonight I’m going to go home, hard boil some eggs, open and drain a can of black beans and a can of beets, sliver up some sharp cheddar and grate some Parmesan and have a little salad party of my very own. That is, in between unpacking boxes and doing financial accounting spreadsheets and packing my bag(s) for next week.

Never heard of a salad party, have you?

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This might be stupid.

It has little to nothing to do with food. Except for that the blog has to do with food, and this has to do with the blog, so in a six (three?) degrees of Kevin Bacon kind of way, this has to do with food.

I’m new to blogging, specfically food blogging, but also to blogging for an audience. That is, after all, what I’m doing: trying to create a reader base to share my recipes, poor-quality photos and anecdotes with (and to read yours in return). So there are some things that I’m unsure about.

Maybe some of you have noticed my apparent penchant for changing the layout every other week. Or that I can’t decide how I want to format my replies to comments (via email, via another comment with attn to the commenter, or inside the actual comment). There are a few other things that I can’t think of that have to do with WordPress that I just need to figure out, and will do with time. But I’d like to ask you, instead.

  1. What kind of theme would you like to see on here? Is the current one okay? Readable?
  2. How should I respond to comments? Inside the original? With a reply-comment? Via email?
  3. What kind of camera would you recommend for a poor, budding food photographer?
  4. What tips and tutorials would you recommend for someone who wanted to learn the best way to photograph food?

Okay, so those last two have little to do with the blog directly. But I’d still like to know. Please respond! I’d like to know your thoughts.

His birthday supper.

(From here on, DB is dubbed 354. So may it be.)

354’s birthday was last Thursday; he turned 24. :) And while he usually has a family get-together, and he did have one, I got the actual birthday. So I felt that supper should be special, being as it was the actual birthday. It took me over a week to come up with the menu, partially from fretting over the meal itself and what I wanted to create, and partially because he’s kind of picky. I didn’t really want to do steak (even though I had a flank steak in the fridge, begging to be grilled), and he raised pigs with his granddaddy, so pork chops seemed like a reasonable choice. He’s going to Mexico on a mission trip next week while I’m home in KY, which reminded me of the two trips to Jamaica he’s made before, so a Carribean theme was in my head. I finally settled on a lime-and-cayenne sort of marinade and set my menu:

  • Thin-cut boneless loin chops, marinated in lime-cayenne and grilled
  • Grilled corn on the cob
  • Baked potatoes
  • Homemade white rolls
  • White chocolate creme brulee

Creme bruleeWhen I started, the dessert was the only thing I’d settled on beforehand, so when I finally had a menu I felt better. I threw the pork chops together the night before and let them settle in the fridge.

When I got home the night of, I let the dog out, changed clothes and went straight to cooking. The brulee was first, since I figured it would have time to set properly while I cooked and we ate. It ended up taking longer than I remembered, probably because I forgot to split the recipe. I ended up making four of them (which wasn’t a bad thing), which kind of threw me off because I don’t have multiple glass dishes for bain-maries. I ended up baking two of them in my usual 9″ square glass dish, and the other two in a 9″ non-stick loaf pan. I was hoping for the best with the loaf pan, because it was the only option I had. It worked, but I won’t be trying it again without having a knife at my throat. The brulees didn’t set as quickly as they were supposed to, but that might’ve also been because of my oven (which I am thrilled to no longer be using, the temperamental thing). In any case, by the time I got the brulees in the oven, it was probably too late to really start the bread, but being hardheaded, I did it anyway. I got it all mixed up and let it sit, covered, on the stovetop. I greased up my potatoes with olive oil, pierced the skins and threw them in the oven on the top rack to do their thing. I don’t like to waste foil or anything like that on veggies; I should’ve left it off the corn and done the same thing I’d done with the corn.

All said and done, I enjoyed cooking the supper for him. He was pleasantly surprised with the tang and heat of the pork chops, and he liked fixing his potato as he pleased. The potatoes were probably my second-rated pride of the supper, preceded only by the brulees. They were soft and fluffy after sitting in the oven for an hour or so, and perfect. I like hot fluffy potatoes.

Raw corn, white and yellow

Corn before being foil-wrapped and buttered. It was good-looking, for grocery corn.

Pork chops, pre-grilling.

Pork chops still sitting in olive oil-lime-cayenne-garlic marinade.

Creme brulee in the oven.

Creme brulee, in the oven and halfway through the baking process.

Finished plate.

A plated meal, ready to be consumed.

Tablescape.

The tablescape, waiting for us to sit down and eat. He brought flowers. They smelled delightful.

Finished creme brulee.

The finished brulee, before going into the fridge to set more completely. Man, they were tasty.

You can obviously serve these when the custard is still warm but we prefer the chill of the set custard and the warmth of the sugar topping. The best part is cracking the sugar top with a spoon after it’s set fully and still warm, then digging out a spoonful of that silky, not-too-sweet but utterly rich and sinful custard and letting it melt on your tongue. It is orgasmic.

Finally moved; want cookbooks.

That’s right, I finally got the apartment moved from one to another this weekend. I’m living in a sinkhole of cardboard boxes and chaos right now; I have a cleared bed, an organized bathroom, and that’s about it. Everything else is surrounded. It makes turning the TV on and changing channels rather difficult. The only part that I haven’t moved yet is the kitchen. All my food is still in the fridge, all my pots and pans are still in the cabinets (except for my large pan and a baking dish or two). And I have to get most of it out of the way and moved before Friday night, because I will be leaving to go home for a week at 0330 Saturday morning. (I’m so excited I’m like to jump out of my skin!) I never realized just how much stuff I had until I put it all in boxes. I’m still trying to figure out how to organize a 7.5’x2′ pantry

I meant to post about DB’s birthday dinner last week, and I have photos uploaded and ready, but I just haven’t had time. Seriously. Trying to get a living space where you can actually live in it is tough work! I’m going to try to post about the birthday dinner as the day goes on. The creme brulee was particularly spectacular… and I have the recipe to share. I tried making up the buttermilk loaf as dinner rolls, but it failed because of me. I couldn’t bake it that night because it was too late; the loaf ended up rising three times. DB’s mom actually baked it and said that it never rose and was hard as a rock! I don’t have pictures of my baking failure, but suffice to say that I will be more careful from now on about picking my bread-making times.

Since the fall of Tastespotting, I now look at FoodGawker more than once a day for my food porn fix. I was greeted this morning with marinated flank steak, mac n’ cheese, Hillary Clinton’s chocolate chip cookies and pho. The last entry, from Jaden, also showcases a cookbook, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. Now, if I had the cash and the patience, I would be like Heidi and have a bajillion cookbooks that would probably serve to make my little bookshelf look pretty. I only have a few as it is: my trusty BHG paperback, Barbara Tropp’s Modern Art of Chinese Cooking, Maryana Vollstedt’s Big Book of Easy Suppers, The South Beach Diet Cookbook, several pamphlets from the Beef Checkoff that include some super recipes and various other odds and ends from local papers and printouts that don’t exactly count as cookbooks. My ‘collection,’ as it were, is woefully inadequate. From now on, I’m requesting cash, vehicle upkeep and bookstore giftcards for birthdays and holidays. I have a running list of cookbooks in my head that should add themselves, however mysteriously, to my repertoire.

  • The Joy of Cooking – How could anyone survive without this classic turn-to cookbook? This was my mother’s staple in the kitchen and continues to be so. I learned to cook as a youngster with her old, well-kept version of Joy. I consider it a necessary staple of any cook’s kitchen, and in some ways, a coming of age. I will not buy Joy of Cooking because it is, to me, almost the culinary equivalent of my great-grandmother’s pearls: I am still waiting for my mother to give me one and say ‘here, honey, this is yours.’
  • Kentucky’s Best by Linda Allison-Lewis – My stepmother has a copy of this in her collection and I’ve used it with abandon. It ain’t my grandmother’s Bourbon County Ladies’ cookbook, but it’ll do. (I would really like to find that Bourbon County 4H cookbook, speaking of, but I have no idea who got it after she and Grandaddy died – or if it got thrown out.) This cookbook has old favorites (cheese balls, sausage balls, hot browns) and new wonderments (cheese-chutney pâtè? cashew-curry spread? None of these ever show up at my family’s Christmas table.) However, I will note that I do not use Linda’s recipe for beer cheese, though I can’t say that you shouldn’t. We just have our own family recipe and we like it that way.
  • Shuck Beans, Stack Cakes, and Honest Fried Chicken: The Heart and Soul of Southern Country Kitchens by Ronni Lundy – I’ve never used this one, but I like the way Ronni talks to her readers. It makes me feel at home. I figure her recipes can’t be too far off the mark.
  • The Blue Grass Cook Book by Minnie C. Fox – Never read this one either, but I’d like to.
  • How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman – I am more or less still a fledgling cook. I’d like to always be a fledgling cook, so that I can never learn enough. But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t have accessible, informative how-to books on hand, does it? In fact, it requires it.
  • Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking by Jeff Hertzberg – I’ve heard so many awesome things about this must-have book that I must have it. Especially now that I no longer fear bread-baking, but am well on my way to embracing it. Now, if I could just get another loaf pan…
  • Perfect Scoop: Ice Creams, Sorbets, Granitas, and Sweet Accompaniments by David Lebovitz and Lara Hata – Again, another book that I’ve heard so darn much about that I crave it almost as much as I crave homemade ice cream. I love homemade ice cream! Especially vanilla ice cream made with Reyna vanilla… ooh-wee, that stuff is powerful.
  • Room For Dessert : 110 Recipes for Cakes, Custards, Souffles, Tarts, Pies, Cobblers, Sorbets, Sherbets, Ice Creams, Cookies, Candies, and Cordials by David Lebovitz – Another Lebovitz book that I need to own. It beckons me with its cakes, its custards (I love custards) and cobblers. I’m convinced that Lebovitz will not disappoint me.
  • The Best Of Cooking Light by Holley Contri Johnson – Despite all the artery-clogging, sinfully caloric recipes no doubt encased in the above cookbooks, I do often try to keep my cooking on the light and easy side. Cooking Light would be my anchor back to the mindful cooking that I should be doing (and away from that wicked and dastardly pair of Perfect Scoop and Room for Dessert…)


Of course, that is by no means a complete list, but it’s a good start, right? I’m open for suggestions, too, if anyone is willing to speak.

I’ll save the list of kitchen gadgets that I would love to see cluttering my counter for a later date.