Sunday, April 29, 2007

Prepping for a Remarkable Encounter with Churchhill

I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.
- Sir Winston Churchill -

Despite all the earnestness of last Summer's determination to raise a pig this Spring (and my hopes to name him Churchill and feed him whey), we don't have a pig. The project, alas, has lost momentum.

Fortunately the enthusiasm is still alive and well. Ok, that may be a bit of a stretch too. But the resource library for the project is doing well.

Therefore, I'm glad to report to my Walk-the-Pig Committee (which, if you allow me my soapbox, I must sadly exclaim became simply too far stretched out across the State of Alaska this Winter and you are sorely missed 'round these here parts), the arrival of its most recent addition. I should also report that I expect the imminent arrival of the next addition - Jane Grigson's book on charcuterie and French pork cookery.

Do we get credit, dear The Magistrate's Wife, for this purposeful collection in anticipation of the day that our project actually gets underway? Would it help to show our Churchillian progress if I finally got around to posting about that slab of Oregon bacon (seriously, an honest to goodness slab of it - what fun to be surprised at the A.C.!) that was braised in boxed wine and the vinegars you gifted (with a few dried cherries and bay leaves from my pantry and, of course, the requisite lemon zest) and that turned out so delicious - so surprisingly so - that I'll probably be guilty of telling my future grandchildren that it was this 8 hour braised slab of bacon (an Oregon slab of bacon, by the by) that prompted...........? Oh goodness, for the sake of propriety, I can't finish that sentence. I'm trying to avoid the post-modern conundrum of mass-generated announcements, at least until I find a way to relay the excitement in a more one-on-one way to a few more people.

(Just to stir up some extra inducement, I'll preview with the confession that I did actually cartwheel of glee myself right into the mud of the Kuskokwim River. Muddy, giddy, and pork blessed. Oh the glee of it all!)

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Glance into the Life

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Just in case there is any doubt out there, that big "ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE" is not a display of my personal decor. It is, in effect, a compliance with a law that is a little….well, unique. How many other towns require arriving travellers to have peppered their luggage with such loudly screaming bumper stickers?

But I don't want to complain. At least not too much. Because of that sticker, I have some assurance that I can pack a few boxes of wine into a suitcase otherwise packed with cheese (and produce!) and not be greeted upon arrival by hyper-chested troopers intent on charging me with the criminal offense of bootlegging.

Does all of this sound melodramatic? weird? gauche (keep in mind that I haven't started to explain how travel outside of Alaska all too often requires the fashioning of duct-taped, home-fashioned substitute stickers)? Let me explain. The State of Alaska has a "Local Option" law. In effect, this state law allows municipalities to implement local laws which restrict the availability of alcohol within their own boundaries. My local law outlaws alcohol, sort of. My town is "damp." We can't buy, sell or make alcohol. But, we can drink it here. In comparison to my "damp" town, there are "dry" towns and "wet" towns. "Dry" towns prohibit it all - the buying and the drinking. Almost all of the towns in my region are dry. (Hence, my often lament that the nearest package store is 500 airmiles away – in Anchorage.) "Wet" towns, like Anchorage.....well, they don't have any of these restrictions. They even have bars and stuff like that. Alas, poor things, their locals are deprived of all the judicial excitement of bootleg charging troopers and all the entertainment of bootleg defending Bush Alaskan trial attorneys. And it all sort of works, I guess, because very few of the dry and damp towns have roads leading to other other towns. (Perhaps I could convey this better if I simply stated that my tundra island is damp.)

One notable nuance to our local law that allows us to drink an ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGE that we are not allowed to buy, make or sell is what I like to call the "public humiliation" tariff. This tariff is based, I'm guessing, on the humiliation-equals-persuasion concept. In my mind, it's a bit akin to my mother telling me that I can shave my legs if I ask my gruff, military-retired, country family doctor to show me how to. (For the record, he was a strong soul and I had great respect and awe for Dr. Pettit. My mother was a smart woman - that tariff cost me at least a good 2 years of smooth shins!)

Here's how it works here. You can import (yep - that's the word they use: import) the alcohol that you can't buy, make or sell, but the whole town gets to know that you are the type that would do so. That less-than-subtle, big, huge, undeniable sticker that proclaims "ALCHOLIC BEVERAGE" on what could otherwise be a sleek, little black bag – that's the price for obtaining wine 'round these parts. And, trust me, in a town that still gathers at the airport for every arrival/departure of every jet, everyone does know. Just in case anyone thinks that you are merely jesting and that there really aren't ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES in your bag, local law also requires you to "declare" on the outside of your luggage all the types and manner and quantity of ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGEs you're attempting to import. Failure to do so, or failure to do so accurately, could result in your arrival being greeted by the troopers.

But the paperwork doesn't stop there for me. I also pack a declaration or two inside my bag. Admittedly, these declarations are not required by law. But, after the mysterious loss of the case of Two Buck Chuck I attempted to import from California and a rather down-the-rabbit-hole series of conversations with too many people that wine cannot be confiscated from my bag as an unlawful hazardous substance, I also make sure to stash inside my bag a copy (relevant portions emphasized with pink highlighter and underlined written summaries in the margins) of 49 CFR 175.10(a)(17). Without this assistance, I understand that the TSA might reasonably (and - as far as a lost luggage agent is concerned - only arguably mistakenly) declare my boxed wine to be a HAZARDOUS SUBSTANCE doomed to confiscation (aka looting).

And if you think that this is a ridiculous amount of work just to be able to drink boxed wine from a jam jar, well - imagine, just imagine, if you found yourself one day resorting to your lowest point. Oh, it's horrible. But, I did it. Yes. I dissected the box, and cut the bag, and squeezed out the last drops. Oh dear. It's all so horrifying.

But typing all this – trying to explain all this – I suddenly realize: All of this could be so dignified, and simplified, if Alaskan Airlines could just persuade my town to adopt an ordinance adopting a "WINE AND CHEESE" sticker. Let it be white and loud. But if we are to be taxed in humiliation, at least let us proudly declare the true contents of our illicit luggage: WINE AND CHEESE.

Yes – I do believe I might just have to make a personal appearance at the next city council meeting with a proposition to adopt a "WINE AND CHEESE" sticker. Maybe I should start a petition……

Meanwhile – check out my bounty! It's been non-stop cartwheels of glee for days!

(yep! That's radicchio - and there is a post to come about just how delicious radicchio and anchovies can be! In the meanwhile, check out Louisa's more eloquent tilt at the anchovy/radicchio treasure. Genevieve - try it! you'll find yourself with all sorts of new appreciations for the potential of lemon zest! And, yes, you are seeing sunchokes too! I'm still trying to figure out the best way to celebrate those sunchokes. I'm still doing leaps of joy that I found them during such a sprint through Anchorage. Oh, I will always have a special place in my heart for New Sagaya!)

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Top Secret Tartar, and a Weekend of Blessed Buns

I won't deny it.

My boyfriend has a secret recipe. He makes tartar sauce. From scratch.

He makes it, as noted above, in top secret. Apparantly it is a family secret. I don't know the recipe. Even if I did, I am under the strictest of orders not to blog the recipe. In fact, I wasn't even allowed into the kitchen when it was being concocted. For the dramatic flair, I do like to believe that those strict orders not to enter the kitchen whilst he made it were to prevent me from taking real world suspicions, however, he was probably accurate that it was the best way from preventing me from taking photos. In any event, I don't remember any restrictions against blogging about my boyfriend making homemade tartar sauce from scratch.

While I'm generally of that type that can't resist sleuthing into culinary secrets, I was so swept off my feet by the seriousness of this boy's insistence that tartar sauce be homemade that I was more than happy to sit back and simply doing my little cartwheels of glee over the discovery of what may just be a new Good Friday tradition.......

Fish Stick Hoagies !!! with Henry Weinhard's Rootbeer !!!

Yes, folks. Fish stick hoagies. It takes me right back to childhood comforts, dolloped with the more mature memory-building moments of my boyfriend contributing the homemade tartar sauce and me contributing the idea of fresh (read a little, just a splash, of irony into that) spinach leaves and a few poignant bites of cherry tomatoes.

Apologies. No recipes to share. The tartar sauce is secret. And I wouldn't even dare to insult your intelligence with a recipe that we all must know, in some form or other, from childhood memories. So, for sharing, I have only this glimpse into a good, no great, Good Friday.

The next morning we had muffins and watched a movie I won't disclose lest the FBI feel compelled to initate a dossier. (For the record, we did rent it from the local video world -albeit with cash - and there were enough scratches to indicate that we weren't the first.) They were banana muffins. Banana Coconut buns, actually. Yes, they came from a borrowed recipe for banana coconut muffins. But I'm not the biggest muffin fan. Some bias, from some unknown reason, that I should probably look into and introspect over. But now that the sun is back, and the fish will be running soon, and my dogs carry into my hovel at least 10 pounds of mud/dust a day....well, I suspect I won't have much time for introspection for approximately 7 months or so. But here's my promise, dear reader. When it's dark again, I'll sit down long and hard and try to figure out what it is about my past that I need so adamantly to categorize muffins as buns.

In the meantime.....

For Easter Sunday, in what had become the blooming Bun theme for Easter Weekend 2007 (minus the hot crossed part, which - ironically enough - was the actual intention when I left work Friday evening), we celebrated with pulled pork sandwiches (see link to recipe below), lime zested potato salad (see gushing rave below), and a lemon dressed ragout of cannellini beans, spinach and cherry tomatoes (why, yes, it is my favorite sidedish and I am quite the fan, separately, of each of spinach, beans and cherry tomatoes).

(First person to guess who's who with the two styles of plating up pulled-pork sandwiches will be the lucky recipient of a special prize!)

I borrowed the recipe for pulled pork from Williams and Sonoma. Truth be told, they called it Pulled Pork with Mint Julep Barbecue Sauce. It sure was delicious. Simple. Humble. Comfortable. Aromatic. Slow-Cooked (I did stretch out the cooking time to, well, yes, 9 hours). And all those other good things that made it a perfect fit for a low-key holiday weekend.

It was the perfect way to cap the kind of weekend I was in need of. After what feels like months of emotional whirlwinds - ups & downs of excitements, festivals, great losses, inspirations, last-minute travel, cancelled travel, celebrations, and heart-breaking scares, I had just what I needed: a quiet, low-key, comfort-fed weekend at home. The continuous compliments from my culinarily ecstactic tartar sauce making, pulled-pork-loving boyfriend were rather nice as well. Of course, I am fairly certain that it could be even better if one had all the ingredients called for! But not bad, at all, with what he had. Quite good. And it makes a ton. A ton, I tell you! I halved the recipe, we've been eating pulled pork fairly steadily since Sunday and yet, nonetheless, I'm on my way out the door to drop off a small ton of it at Tom's.

Happy Spring Holidays and Buns to all - belated, but all the more earnest for the delay!

p.s. Genevieve - you have to try that lime zested potato salad. I think it might be my new favorite! I'm going to take some over to Tom's for a second opinion!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Pork, Vanilla-Brined

My boyfriend grew up in Iowa. I grew up in Oregon. Somehow I think that explains all his glee at the prospect of pork-featured dinners (or corn-featured dinners, indeed-oh! his cartwheels of glee if there are both pork and corn), as well as all the cartwheels of glee I get from serving that pork with side dishes he wouldn't....well, that he wouldn't order in a restaurant. But it's because I have been hyping one particular pork recipe to certain friends (one of which who grew up in California climes and two of which who grew up under Montana's expansive blue skies), that I am writing this particular post about a particular pork-recipe-inspired cartwheel of glee that joined our Iowa and Oregon versions of cartwheels.

It's not my pork recipe. But I liked it. And, like almost every other recipe posted on Matt Bites, I liked reading about it too. In fact, I hadn't even finished reading Matt's recipe for Vanilla Brined Pork Chops, before I was planning a copy-cat pork feast up here on my tundra island.

Choosing what else to make with such a dish, however, was a little more difficult. It couldn't be too predictable - after all, you wouldn't want a dull companion for such a flirtatious adventure with pork and vanilla. You wouldn't want a novel or distracting side-dish. The instinctual curiousity arising from a pork and vanilla combination needed to be the highlight. And, I needed - for my own ego - to marriage someone else's creative recipe with something of my own. I couldn't be all copy-cat. Somehow all this over-analyzing resulted in a cast-iron skillet of spaghetti squash noodles dressed with lemon and poppyseeds.

Truth be told, my spaghetti squash idea was not simply a burst of creativity. No. It was a culmination, I suppose, of many factors. There was a lot of practicality involved. I had a spaghetti squash that needed to be used and a bag of poppyseeds that I was determined to make my way through. (I have 4 more to work my way through when I finish this bag. Yes. Sigh. I did get a little overzealous with my bush order for poppyseeds.) And there was inspiration from The Red Cat Cookbook, which has a recipe for a pasta dish with zucchini and red bell peppers. (The Red Cat is a restaurant that, in worlds past, was a favorite haunt of mine and one that I can confess I still pine for. Imagine, oh! imagine, my glee to discover that they had come up with a cookbook - with ingredients I could actually obtain....though the zucchini and red bell peppers that could be obtained on this particular day did inspire me adjust the ingredients.) And there were the memories of pasta al limone dating back to even more ancient, yet equally loved, worlds of mine, when I was newly post-collegiate and attempting to be a free-spirit in Tuscany. Finally, as I mentioned before (and as I have a hard time forgetting), there was this world's pantry in a far corner of the Great White North that contains more bags of poppyseeds than any one girl could probably use in a lifetime of worlds.

Nor is the experience of lemon-dressed spaghetti squash with poppyseeds finished. Alas, while thrilled with the prospect and potential, I was not satisfied with the results at my first attempt. I figure I'll work on it a bit more and see if I can't get the spaghetti noodles to be lighter, less gummy and starchy. Then I'll post more than a mere (albeit verbose) reference to it.

In the meantime......

Vanilla Brined Pork Chops - for 2

(based upon Matt's recipe, which came from The Complete Meat Cookbook by Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly)

3 cups hot water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 of a 1/2 cup of rock salt (sorry if that is confusing - obviously I'm not good with the division of fractions)
1/3 of a 1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoons cracked black peppercorns
a bay leaf (this was my addition: I love the vanilla/bay leaf combination)
2 (1-1/4-inch to 1-1/2-inch thick) center-cut loin pork chops (Matt recommends that they be 1-1/4-inch to 1-1/2-inch thick, I used what I could find - which was, alas, much thinner the recommendation)

  1. Come home for lunch because you realized that in your uncaffeinated morning state you utterly forgot to make the brine before you rushed to work. Survive the greeting at the door from the dogs. Make grilled cheese sandwiches. Realizing how the lunch hour, like the morning, has passed all too quickly. Jump up and start making the brine: stir the hot water, vanilla, sugar, and salt together until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Add the black pepper. Add a bay leaf. Cool to below 45 degrees F.. Matt recommended that this cooling process be done in the refrigerator. Living in Alaska and being near-late for the return to work on a Spring day that was a tropical 9 degrees above, however, I simply stuck the brine outside for a few minutes. I find that the seat of my snowmachine makes a perfect outdoor pantry shelf for such purposes.

  2. Trim any excess external fat from the meat. Submerge the pork in the cooled brine in a large bowl or small crock. Make sure the meat stays under the surface during curing by using a heavy plate to weight it down.

  3. Refrigerate the pork in the cure. The chops should take 4 to 6 hours in the brine.

  4. Remove the meat from the brine and let it come to room temperature. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. The is a good time to walk the dogs and enjoy the Spring weather.

(The recipe continues after the gratuitous pictures of "my boys" enjoying the Spring sunshine.)

5. Turn off your fire alarm, put on a coat, and open your windows. Put a castiron grill skillet in the oven to heat. When the oven and the skillet are sufficiently hot, pull out the skillet and stick it on a medium-hot burner. Dry off the pork chops, and brush on a bit of olive oil. Toss the oiled side down on to the hot grilled skillet. It should sizzle loudly, and leave picturesque little grill marks. Flip it over, and let it decorate the other side. Toss it into the oven for a few minutes until it is popping and sizzling, and cooked to whatever degree you feel comfortable.

[Matt grilled his vanilla brined pork chops. And while this sounds delicious, and I did contemplate it, I eventually decided to wait to bring out our grill until the temperature reaches the sweatshirt weather of the 30's or 40's. For those who live in different climatic conditions, or who deal better than me with my own, my guess is that Matt's outdoor grilled version would be far superior to the oven version. And for everyone, regardless of climatic conditions and/or heartiness, I would recommend checking out his website.]