Monday, November 30, 2009

The Magnificent Seven

In honor of the TV show that we never knew existed staring, among other people, Ron Pearlman as a gunslinging preacherman here are 7 things I did recently:

  1. Cut one of my fingers wide open when carving the turkey on Thanksgiving. Fortunately, my blood didn't overwhelm the delicious briney goodness of our Turkey.
  2. Bought a new washer and dryer for the apartment. I guess Black Friday deals also work over the interweb at Home Depot. WHOO BETTER WASHING MACHINE THAT DOESN'T WIGGLE THE ENTIRE BUILDING.
  3. Read books at the library about how people "manage" to live in houses that are less than 3,000 sf. Oh, and all the cute design-y elements that help them live in said confinement.
  4. Found tile I really like: (it's 12 in x 24 in porcelain tile) below.
  5. Emptied my dehumidifier daily. It fills up every day, to its 6 gallon capacity. I am amazed at the moisture up here, still.
  6. Paid our really huge electric bill. Our all-electronic radiant heat has been on for only about 1 month and it is sucking the juice. We like to go outside and watch the little meter spin. It's like throwing money down a toilet and watching the coins swirl. WHEE.
  7. Moved 20 5-gallon buckets of drywall mud we had delivered. Each bucket weighs 62 pounds so I managed to move 1,240 pounds of mud. This is about 9.5 times my body weight. In doing this I pulled my right bicep. Oh, and as an added bonus they almost had to use the child's blood pressure cuff on my at the doctor today because the adult one seemed a bit too big. (I didn't tell them about my awesome mud-bucket work, though.)

Isn't that tile neat? I want to get it for my house. love love love.

Oh, and the magnificent seven was sort of awesome/terrible. All the tired western drivel, but some key actors from Northern Exposure were there. I don't care what they do, Maurice will always be Maurice (even on One Tree Hill or whatever) and Holling will forever be Holling (Heard he started working on stage again? Maybe?).

Monday, November 23, 2009

Crank and File

At work today, I wondered how many people were between me and the President, authority-wise?

President/Vice President (Since I'm not sure of direct lines of supervision)
Secretary of Agriculture
Deputy Secretary of Agriculture
Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment
Forest Service Chief
Regional Forester
Forest Supervisor
Watershed Staff Officer
Forest Soil Scientist

So, what did I learn here? Not much but I was entertained for about 3 minutes.


It's hard to believe that another year has gone by and it's holiday time again. Thanksgiving is on Thursday and I am not so ready for it. I came up with a plan: make pie crusts tonight, let turkey thaw until Wednesday when it goes into its brine, make pie and cranberry sauce on Wednesday, Turkey and potatoes and gravy on Thursday, then eat until I burst on Thursday.

I made a huge mistake, according to my dear husband, I invited 2 people over to eat with us. He's upset that he may have to share a 12 lb turkey with anybody else. We are pretty lonely folks up here and he's used to my cooking for 8 on holidays for just the 2 of us. The man likes his food.

My trouble is in the vegetable realm of the menu. I can't get excited about any of them. And I don't want to spend a lot of time on prep/cooking. Oh, and tDF thinks orange food = the devil so no sweet potatoes, yams, squash, cooked carrots or anything else orange. He wants steamed broccoli with cheese sauce like his mom makes. I asked what's in the cheese sauce and he thinks it's velveeta. I tried not to hork.

In the middle of all of this food angst we're trying to get the vapor barrier up in the house so we can begin drywall. This laborious process included squeezing black goo from a broken caulk gun into every crack and taping the edge of plastic with really expensive tape. I am so glad to go to work on Monday because I won't be covered with black stickiness and fiberglass.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Spicy Italian Sausage

I tackled sausage this year. This was not my first time at this particular rodeo. A few years ago I made a batch of exceptionally bland deer sausage that languished in the freezer until I finally tossed the little chubs out. Now, armed with my fantastic Charcuterie cookbook, I made a pretty fair batch of Spicy Italian deer sausage. (seriously, if you like salty dried meat as much as I do you should totally at least look at this cookbook at the library/bookstore. It's amazing.)

Our biggest hurdle in the sausage game is the fat we need to add. Deer is exceptionally lean and you need to add a huge (up 30%) amount of fat to make a decent sausage. Up here, we can really only buy feed-lot pork that totally takes away from the clean, wild game we're eating. It would be like washing your face and then smearing dirt all over it. I solved this problem by buying extremely expensive uncured bacon. I need a slab of nice, farm-raised pork back fat. Yes. Merry Christmas to me (HINT).

Anyway, so I trudged home from work (in the snow because it finally snowed) thinking about what type of sausage I would make. My first thought was to make 2 different types but then laziness overtook me and I settled on the spicy sausage.
This is 3.8 pounds of deer scraps as measured on my new Ikea $11 scale! I seriously love having a scale. It will make baking so much more interesting. (I am a boring.) Since the recipe calls for 4.5 pounds of meat I had to have the calculator out to make sure everything was proportional. Sausage making seems a bit like chemistry to me, it's important to get the right ratios.

I measured out all the relevant spices. This recipe calls for toasted fennel and coriander and fresh basil and oregano. I had no idea what 24 grams of fresh basil looks like. It's a frickin' pile of basil.
I tossed the diced meat, bacon, and spices together before letting the meat chill. In the past, I've always spiced the ground meat rather than grinding the spices with the meat. It's a technique that seems to distribute the flavors much better.
More tossing. I just wanted you to see how much basil this actually was. I've only added about half of it at this point. My poor basil plant looks shorn. (Also, these picture commemorate the first time my husband took pictures of me cooking VOLUNTARILY. He makes fun of me for blogging about the nonsense in my life. This is a step forward. Progress.)

The whole mixture was cooled in the freezer for about 20 minutes so the fat would grind easily.
We then ground the meat through the grinder attachment for my kitchen aid. I used the small die to get a really fine grained sausage. TDF really got into pushing the plunger "into the meathole." He wouldn't let me grind meat anymore because it was "[his] meathole." Sigh, we live a very isolated, strange life.
Finished sausage. Deer meat is naturally very red and all the paprika, cayenne, and red pepper flakes helped make the meat an especially brightly ruby color. Overall, the sausage was a bit salty--because I used the called for amount of salt plus I used bacon for the fat. It wasn't too bad after the sausage had mellowed overnight.

I didn't stuff the sausage into casings because I don't have a stuffer. Thus, I froze the sausage into logs for slicing or crumbling. We had it for breakfast yesterday and tDF made a burger with it for lunch. It was, he noted, a bit too spicy for a burger but was good all the same.

Now, I want to make more! MORE!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Processing a deer

When I got my first job in Wrangell, the district office there send my a packet about what it's like to live in Wrangell. The first item on the list of recreational activities was berry picking. My future in-laws (mostly the Dirty Fisherman's brothers) hooted wildly at that one. Just how fun could berry picking be? Turns out a lot. What began with berry picking and fishing has grown into a deep need to catch/shoot/grow/gather as much as our food as possible. The most recent addition is deer.

We are meat hunters, exclusively. I know that there are many people out there that can't abide shooting any animal, and I understand that. This is our choice, and we understand it's not for everybody. So, please, if you don't want to see raw meat, click somewhere else.

Garrison Keillor quipped that Alaska has the only state where democrats hunt. I'm sure that's not true, but everyone I know up here at least hunts for deer. (I tend toward the liberal myself, so hunting does not have to equal redneck.) If I may soapbox for a moment: I believe that having more liberal/lefty people hunt will liberalize the hunting world, rather than conservatize those who participate. /end soapbox.

Ahem. So...processing a deer. It thrills me to no end when tDF rolls up the hill with a deer in his pack. It means red meat through the winter--stir frys, stews, roasts, and sausage. Recently I've begun making demi-glace from the bones (more later, have 2 deers worth of bones to turn into meat jelly).

This is how the deer comes home--Field Dressed. Mostly, the tenderloins, backstrap, 2 shoulders, 2 legs (hams), and any organ meats we eat are skinned, placed in a pillowcase and packed out of the woods. We are really careful to keep the meat away from any organs/misc gross gut material. The skin and guts stay in the woods where they are consumed by the ravens and bugs.

The meat is then placed in the fridge for a few days to age. Some people haul their whole deer back and let it hang. We don't have a place cold enough (35 degrees) for me to feel safe about hanging. That's two deer in our fridge, each in their own pan.

After about 2 days, we take the meat out and butcher it. It takes about 2 hours to move a deer from this to little butcher paper-wrapped nuggets. We separate Stew/stir fry meat from anything good enough to roast or pan fry.

Here, tDF is cleaning up a fillet from the shoulder (the chuck). The meat is separated from the bone and all the pellicle is removed. The meat from the shoulder tends to be tougher than some of the leg cuts. I prefer to use it is stir fry or in braises.

My job is to package all the cuts and to clean the bones for burger/sausage and turning into broth. This is the shoulder shank that I'm pulling meat off of. All the meat scraps are placed in a bowl for later grinding and spicing.

This is a backstrap which is the same cut as a tenderloin in beef or pork. I think it looks like one of those critters from the movie "Slither." (Note: I have not seen that movie but the cover fascinates me at the video store.) This is larger-than-average backstrap from a very fatty doe. Can't wait to turn it into medallions later. (Please excuse my Alaska-white arm. That is not an overexposure, that's really my arm color.)

All cuts (This is a leg roast, most similar to a round roast) are covered with plastic wrap then butcher paper, labeled and frozen. It takes a long-ass time to wrap everything up but the meat keeps surprisingly well for about a year to 18 months.

Cute little package, all ready for the freezer. I date them because we usually get a few deer a year and we try to eat the oldest first.

This is the result of 2+ hours of work: about a grocery bag full of meat. A deer can yield about 20-45 pounds of meat. We have been able to stretch 1 dear over a year and one year we ate 5 deer. This year we have 3 in the freezer and that should do us really well for the year.

Whew, so whatchu think?

Friday, November 13, 2009


Organ meats. How does a person begin a blog about eating viscera? By telling a story! Out hiking/working with my friend we were discussing the best recipes for deer, butchering strategies, and whatever. He asked what I did with the liver and heart. Nothing! The ravens got that icky part. Stricken, he wondered why I would throw out the best part of the deer. (I then remembered about our work trip to Portland where he spent most of the time looking for sweetbreads.)

This conversation then devolved into Why-women-hate-organ-meat-and-men-love-it. You know, typically field work talk. I salted this away until Tuesday when my old man and I were looking at my new cookbook, I Know How to Cook, he began talking about venison heart and liver (He'd just shot a really big deer with an appropriately large heart). Why not? We decided. Life's to short to leave perfectly good meat in the woods.

Wednesday I went into work and he went out hunting in a "new" spot. I left work early, and was hunkering down with a sammich and beer when I heard our exhaust-leaking car scream up our hill. Sure enough, he was home with a pack fulla deer. Complete with heart. No liver because, "It looked gross."

Our first heart. Couldn't this be a valentine?

The heart was cleaned and placed in a bowl with 1 tsp of salt overnight. It really looked like a meat if you got past the part where it had valves and chambers. OVERSHARE ALERT: in 7th grade my friend, Merissa, were chosen to dissect sheep/lamb hearts for a science project. This little foray into eating one reminded me of our heart-on-a-stick dance from those heady times.

Cleaning the heart (mostly scraping the fat and pericardium off)

X-section of a deer heart

Thursday, we ate heart. Now, I fully admit to kind of ruining it by cooking it a bit wrong. In my defense it was my first heart and all the recipes said to braise it for a long time with wine or broth. I will do it better next time.
Browning the heart with shallots

Braising Heart

I sliced the heart into about 1/2 inch strips, browned them in a pan with shallots and garlic, added about 1 cup of red wine and a sprig of rosemary and let it cook for about 30 minutes. I think the rosemary was a bit much and the red wine turned the meat into an unfortunate color (tDF called it coyote scat). BUT, it was nice. Way nicer than eating a critical organ should be.
tDF saying something saucy, to be sure.

Cooked meat. Looking less than yummy.

When cut open, isn't it better?

Next time I'll use a light broth or white wine for the braising liquid, no rosemary and dredge the slices in flour before browing.

Calling my brother to brag about my gateway organ meat, he reminded me that I have eaten heart before. In France. They were duck hearts stuffed with Foie Gras. Also, I ate an astronomical amount of foie gras that trip (also an organ meat). Dang it. I guess this is my first organ meat I've prepared.

Anybody got any good recipes for heart? I'm all ears.

ETA: when I hit publish for this, a little google ad came up for deer butchering DVDs and a Cabela's camo plug. Am I on a redneck list now? Frack.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Just so you all know, the Canadians will save us all. Actually they're from Quebec (so they're SUPER Canadians). They just had their piece published in Forest Ecology and Management Volume 258, Issue 12. ahem.

"Modelling the effect of climate on maple syrup production in Quebec, Canada"

Hey other scientists, get on your modeling of climate change on other important food products to me:


If you can't tell me that a warming planet will do to my favorite food products, better go research chemoautotrophs at the edge of deep sea thermal vents.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Where I'm from

We all come from somewhere. If we're lucky, it's somewhere really cool. I would really like to be from an Xtreme place like, I don't know, Newfoundland. Unfortunately, I'm from a little known place in California called the Bay Area. At one point, there were actual towns separated by actual green space. Now, it's a jumble of highways and ugly strip malls. The weather remains fantastic if a teensy little bit smog filled.

San Jose (my illustrious home town) used to be a major agricultural powerhouse and home to many, many orchards. Over the past 40 years of Silicon Valley Fever, these beautiful stone fruit trees have been dozed into glass-fronted monstrosities ringed with parking lots. The last orchard by my house was plowed into highway 85 in about 1993. Sadness. Progress.

One little hold out remains. My mom's friend found this place, buried in the middle of stucco behemoths and 85. It is Santa Clara County's last working orchard. An oasis in the desert of consumerist expectations and raped prime agricultural soil. Much of it was destroyed via eminent domain, but it stands defiantly selling produce on the honor system.
The stand
The honor system of payment

The list of produce through the season (April through November) is impressive. What this valley could produce due to exceptional soils and good climate is nothing short of an Eden. Berries, 4 types of peaches, olives, apples, guavas, pomegranates, persimmons, grapes. You name it, they grow it.
The lovely, pointed note.

The pomegranates and olives were just coming in. It smelled alive there. This field is owned by the Cosentino family. They also own my very favorite grocery store (of the same name). I went there and just had to pet all the produce that was not only varied, abundant, and fresh but reasonably priced. I also had to buy very expensive cheese (REAL English Stilton, Humboldt Creamery blue goat cheese, and Imported Pecorino) and charcuterie (Prosciutto, Coppa, and Landjaeger).

Pomegranate tree. Don't they look like jewels?
Olive tree, heavy and fragrant.

Sorry to crab about soil related destruction. Between a movie about the 3 gorges dam and spending my childhood wildlands turned into infrastructure I'm feeling a bit adrift in the world. It breaks my heart to see food-producing areas turned into a parking lot. There's only so many years we can shoot ourselves in the foot before we lose our ability to walk.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Shopping for pants

I am currently in the Fabulous Bay area visiting my family. Whee. Today my mom and I went to Ikea, to the mall, and ate some Cambodian food. (OMG I DREAM ABOUT THIS PLACE WHEN STUCK IN MY TINY ALASKAN ISLAND TOWN. Chez Sovan is the best place EVER.) If you do go to Chez Sovan, order the watercress salad. It is amazing.

The foray to the mall was to buy actual clothes from an actual store for me. I have not bought new clothing from a store that didn't also sell camo or lumber for a few years. This is a relatively foreign experience. Mom got me a gift certificate to the Gap for my 30th birthday. I was pretty excited but I have no idea what size I am in the real world. I can tell you what size slicks I wear (small) and the size of Carhartt pants (30x30) but nothing else.

Turns out I'm a 4. This is nearly meaningless because clothing sizes are not standard among manufactures. This is endlessly frustrating for someone who needs to shop online if they want to stay even remotely in fashion. (not that I do, but there are only so many more years I can coast on the thriftstore chic.)

Also, wtf jeans makers. Why is there spandex in all of your already-too-thin denim? Also, why are they all super tight through the thighs and loose around the butt? And, why do they need to be pre-distressed? I can distress them by actually wearing them. I am a cranky old coot from Alaska.

I didn't end up with any jeans because they were kind of meh. Most of them had those weird wear marks around the hips/crotch area that feel like they're shouting, "HEY! look at my cooter! Did I zip my fly?!" Not a fan.

Better luck next time (in another 3 years).