Foodie Tuesday: Mixed Grill Girl

I’m married to a person whose fondness for vegetables is, shall we say, somewhat limited. Fruits, yes; starches, yes; seafoods and meats, yes and yes. Veg, not so much. He’ll eat some quite willingly, but he’d make a fairly poor version of a vegetarian. Me, I love many kinds of vegetables, along with all of the other foods, but I am a pescetarian and carnivore as well, so I don’t mind having the occasional festival of meat kind of meal.photo

We had a friend join us for dinner today, a person whose leanings are not far different from my spousal-person’s, so it seemed like a fine time to indulge in a freezer-freeing festival of the mainly meat sort. I had a small but solid hunk of grass-fed beef waiting to be enjoyed, a quartet of all-natural bratwurst all ready for a taste test, and the goofy woven square of bacon lying atop my cheesy potato-mash dish in the freezer drawer in quiescent quiet to prepare for use as well. Now I have a lot of space that I didn’t have in the freezer. Of course, I’ve got quite a bit less space in my innards at the moment than before. Yup.photo

So we had our mixed-grill meal together and had fun. Bratwurst, simmered for a long time in a bottle of Shiner Bock, until the beer was syrupy and the sausages fully cooked. The potato mash was quickly heated through and ready to go to table. The beef got cut up into small steaks and pan-seared in avocado oil, with just a little sea salt. Yes, we did in fact have a vegetable, too: peas. Tiny peas, steamed and served with lemon-mint butter, sweet salted butter mixed with minced fresh mint leaves and grated lemon zest.

All of this certainly sated the hunger for savories. That can, in turn, trigger the sweet tooth response. So there was dessert. Probably the richest version of a chocolate pudding I’ve concocted to date, dressed with honeyed peach slices.photo

Rich Chocolate Pudding & Peaches

Pudding: blend 3/4 to one cup each of whole milk yogurt and coconut milk, about 1/4 cup of raw honey, a pinch of salt, a splash each of orange liqueur (homemade months ago from mandarins, juice and zest both, with toasted coconut and brown sugar and vodka), vanilla and almond extracts, and three large eggs, and cook them gently until thickened. Add a bunch of yummy dark chocolate pieces and melt them down. I used 14 pieces of Dove dark chocolate, and just let the residual heat of the thickened custard melt them as I stirred. The coconut milk left the mixture just a tad less than perfectly smooth, so I used the stick blender to make it all silky. A stint in the fridge before dessert time finished the thickening and glossing and it was all ready to serve.

With topping. I took 2 cups of sliced frozen peaches and cooked them gently with a pinch of salt, 2 tablespoons each of butter and honey, a teaspoon of almond extract, and spices to taste (I used allspice and cardamom). Spooned at room temperature over the chilled pudding, they gave just enough brightness and freshness to jazz up the rich pudding and fool me into thinking I wasn’t overindulging in dessert after overindulging in dinner. My style entirely, and I think you do know what I mean. Sorry? Not the teeniest whit.

Animal Rescue

Thanks to my handsome and perspicacious canine pal Rumpy over at rumpydog.com I was reminded again when I last visited his site of the complicated and, when it’s well-managed, fantastic relationships between animals of the human and non-human kinds.

The notion of animal rights and their humane treatment was enough of a fledgling concept in the broad public sense when I was a mere hatchling myself that it was represented in all of its wimpy glory almost exclusively by the catchphrase Be Kind to Animals. It’s not that no one had given a single thought to the necessary deeper commitment to conservation or species protection or rehabilitation or research or any of those other lofty and positive things, but they weren’t as widely recognized and commonly discussed as they are now. Does that mean we’re good at this stuff these days? Hardly. Progress is slow. Still, any progress is better than none, and gives me hope that we can continue to learn from each step forward.

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We humans are such silly geese; before we can fully serve other species, we need to get our own ducks in a row.

I myself make no pretense of being an animal rights lobbyist or animal care practitioner of even the most minimal sort. I haven’t been a biologist, nor have I ever farmed or been a veterinarian, or even, save in very brief intervals with housemates’ companions, shared my home with pets. My entire personal contact with animals beyond any local wild critters has been limited to meetings with so-called ‘domesticated’ animals–those whose lives and well-being are dependent upon the other humans who house and keep them in homes, on farms, and in zoos. And I must admit that I have always relished these times of interaction. Most of all I enjoy it when the animals, whatever their sort, are appropriately respected and properly cared for so that they, in turn, are healthy and content to do what comes naturally without being aggressive, destructive or self-destructive, because they don’t need to be in order to get along in life.

I wouldn’t have the remotest chance of saving a species, even a single needy animal, other than by means of supporting others in that work. I am, in fact, an omnivore, far from being a vegetarian or vegan; I don’t lobby actively for animal rights (or anything, being far from a political animal myself) and have no skills whatsoever in caring for animals. All I can say in my defense is that I think I understand pretty clearly the animal participation in this world of ours that makes the life of even a human like me with my exceedingly limited contact not only so much better but, frankly, possible. And I am beyond grateful for it.

This other bit of useful wisdom with which I credit my uninformed self could be simply translated as a recognition that the phrase Animal Rescue, commonly used to describe the magnanimous salvation of non-humans by humans, is more aptly applicable when used to describe the opposite. They save us.

The green earth that provides for our survival could never do so without the animals that keep its lovely recycling services operational. Animals, even those domestic beasts treated the most kindly, account for a large slice of the labor force that keeps our world operating on a practical basis. Animals act as medical and physical guardians and assist persons with sensory deficits or health challenges to let them live in a world that’s not otherwise adjusted to meet their needs. Animals have been and are part of police forces, search and rescue teams, security operations, transportation teams and more; they contribute to all kinds of research and behavioral studies and provide wool, fur and hair used for a wide variety of woven, filled or lined coverings, many of them over long productive lives.

Top of the list, if you ask me is companionship and comfort. These are the characteristics that we admire most in our fellow Homo sapiens. We look for warmth and unconditional acceptance from friends and loved ones and even from acquaintances and colleagues, and many kinds of animals willingly give us these in return for very little demand on their part as well. This gift alone makes me grateful for animals as much as all the other great treasures with which they grace our lives.

For all that I’ve had little animal presence in my life–or possibly, because of that limitation–I learned very early that each happy time spent in the company of contented, healthy animals makes me feel immediately new-and-improved. I don’t know if other folk would confirm that I am any better than I was before, but I feel better inside. It’s as though every five-minute increment in company with animals makes my blood pressure drop, my spine straighten up and my mind clear of unhappy junk and fill with peaceful, more meaningful, more creative things. Suddenly, thanks to having a goat come up to me in a field and beg for a good head-scratching, I’m thinking the sun got brighter and my lifespan just got extended, stretched another two days’ length or so; because a dog lay quietly by my feet while I was taking care of the day’s correspondence I gained not only the direct warmth of him against my shins but also, the warm glow of his trust and calm confidence in being around me makes me feel more trustworthy and confident myself and strengthens me to get my task wrapped up well and swiftly.

What I take away from this contemplation is twofold: I sincerely believe that I must do any and every small thing I can to improve the lives of animals by avoiding thoughtless approaches to them and simply by treating them appropriately whenever the opportunity arises. And I need to learn from them as well. I know I can benefit from being more, if you will, ‘beastly’ in this way–by approaching life a little less cynically, not thinking of the rewards I expect or desire in return for my actions but rather of the pleasures that being kind, just, helpful, hopeful or appropriate can give me in and of themselves. If the very act of making others happier can make me happier, how could I not love that? Seems to me like we can all benefit from ‘behaving like animals’ in this sense.

A wonderful daily photography blog, PhotoBotos, just published the spectacular photo that won the prestigious National Geographic contest in 2012, and besides being a truly distinctive and powerful photograph of a gorgeous tiger, the image marks a significant story (included in the post and comments) regarding people’s contentious attitudes toward others of the human animal when it comes to how we treat non-human ones. I find it sad, surprising, maddening and poignant that sometimes those who are sincerely motivated by a desire to protect and conserve wildlife are so unwilling or unable to see a need to extend the same courtesies to their fellow human creatures and the animals whose lives intertwine in less wild circumstances with theirs. It’s just possible that we ought to be learning better–as creatures with the ability to consider the needs of others in a supposedly rational way–to rescue ourselves and our fellow humans before we can more truly accomplish the care of and respect for other animals. They enrich our existence without any particular expectation in return. Imagine the possibilities when we do the same.

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Perhaps when we treat both humans and other animals with the proper respect and love, we will all soar like eagles.

Owl be Seeing You

I’m fond of the idea of animal companions and the way that various spiritual and philosophical schools of thought have incorporated the concept of human-animal affinities as talismans, symbols, totems and the like–never mind the opportunities presented for animal appreciation in contacts with pets, farm animals, zoo denizens and the serendipity of wild meetings. I simply find animals intriguing and appealing, and the chance to be in friendly contact with any of them pleasing and attractive. When they become boisterous, and especially when they are threatened or threatening, not so much of course, but even in those states they are compelling subjects of interest.

Animals are beautiful, mysterious, sometimes cuddly and affectionate, sometimes regal and dramatic, and always rather miraculous in my view. As I’ve lived much of my life in proximity, one way or another, to interesting animals but never had pets or been a caretaker of animals directly, there’s a tinge of the exotic even in the most common and frequently seen birds, bugs and beasts, fish or fowl, tame or terrifying, that perhaps people having more direct relationships with the creatures would not see. Somehow, despite the frequency with which I may see them sitting on the road-lining fenceposts, dead trees and light standards, hawks become not only the focus of my attention but messengers and comforters and guides that reassure me and inspire me simply by appearing where they do and catching my eye. When the call of a full moon brings out more of the neighborhood creatures to enjoy its bright benefits, I am moved to feel that the presence of more animals (the wild ones from our wooded ravine and even the neighbors’ straying house pets) has some meaning and purpose and must be meant to please me as well.

It’s not surprising, then, that animals appear in so many of my artworks, both in their expected forms as portraits of a kind or characters in my visual stories, and often in more abstract influences on the pieces. As a carnivore myself, I am not averse to eating animals as well, but my appreciation in this regard is enhanced the more when I can make complete use of the animal’s sacrifice, say, in using not only all of the meat but also cooking down the bones for delicious and healthful broths and then still having the beauty of the bones that have not been utterly disintegrated in that process as potential art materials too.mixed media mask

Some marvelous turkey bones, for example, not only supported the original bird that became the crowning glory of a roast-turkey feast (or, more accurately, two or three feasts at the least), but then became soup and sauce base in a long slow cooking and then, as the bones came out of the broth, beautiful and earthy and sculptural objects that in turn made me think not only of the turkey itself but also of all sorts of other creatures whose bones and skeletons and exoskeletons make them so remarkably lovely and strange. That is how a turkey breastbone became, in my mind, first a nose and then a beak, and finally, when the ‘beak’ was matched up with other bones having the right shamanic shapes, combined and decorated and gilt and otherwise conglomerated, the bones became the structure of a different bird altogether. In a turkey I found an owl–a Great Horned Owl, or to be even more precise, the Spirit of a great horned owl–and perhaps that reflects best of all how I see animals.mixed media mask

For I would include the human animal, naturally, in the list of perplexing and amazing and funny and marvelous creatures that capture my imagination and that, in its own way, is a species full of exotic mystery and charm. That makes my own life, presence and bones a collation of possibly only practical and ephemeral and biologically ordinary, yet even in those regards, mythic, parts that fit in their infinitesimal way quite neatly enough into the grand scheme of existence. I suppose it’s a reflection of that, after all, that I see and seek in admiring animals as I do. Perhaps it’s legitimate that I should make shamanic masks and look for meaningful appearances from the many winged and hoofed and spirited beings surrounding me daily and nightly, throughout my life.mixed media mask

 

Foodie Tuesday: Big Pigs Like Figs

photoBig pigs: who, me? Yes, I’ve admitted to it many a time. Being a food-loving piggy myself, and being terribly fond of the gifts of the pig to food-lovers. I fully understand that vegans, vegetarians, Muslims, Jews, those with health restrictions, and any number of others have valid, legitimate and honorable reasons (philosophical, physiological, religious, ethical, etc.) for not eating pigs; my own litmus test for foods is also personally derived and has much more to do with how much respect has been given the plant or creature in question in its tending while alive, in its preparation when being readied to eat and, especially in how it is used for sustenance and, often, the building of community. So no, I would never dream of knowingly serving pork to any of the aforementioned friends. But I am content to obtain and prepare and consume it myself with respect and gratitude. I have no wish to offend, any more than my abstemious friends would judge me for my being a carnivore. Those who wish to do so are of course very welcome to skip this post entirely.

Meanwhile, back at the board, I will say that I am often quite happy to eat vegetarian style too. I never feel deprived when the food pleases my palate, no matter what the range or contents of the menu, and I can easily be just as blissful about a superb salad, an ounce of outstandingly fresh pistachios, or a pan of colorful mixed roasted vegetables (on tonight’s menu again, as it happens). And good fresh fruit, well since that combines the flavor and vitamins and juicy joys of good health-giving food with the sweetness of dessert, why, you know that I am happy to plunge right into that when it’s offered.

No surprise, then, that I was so delighted when that scrawny little $4 twig I bought this winter first burst into leaf and then, to my great amazement, produced lovely, plump Brown Turkey figs. It inspires me to think that perhaps I shall be able to grow some produce of other kinds if I put my mind to it, despite the challenging temperatures and soil character here in the roasty-toasty land of north Texas.

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I am *not* the only ham in my kitchen.

But to return to my porcine loves, I have eaten pork in almost uncountable ways and have loved a great many of them. One standby favorite is a well-made ham. I will happily bypass any of those artificially ‘enhanced’ varieties that are injected with water and so many other, less savory, ingredients and often are processed to the degree that they are no longer recognizable as meat, let alone pork. But a good pit-smoked ham, well, there’s a sweet-and-savory treat of which I am immensely appreciative. I love oven roasted and glazed hams, too, even boiled ones, but I think my affections are most readily given to an unadorned and slightly fumy beauty right out of the smoker.

One of the benefits of being in Texas is that I do have access to a few places that produce such ethereal goodness. As a result, I can often indulge in a meal of simply sliced ham with vegetables or salad or, on a wintry day, perhaps with mashed or roasted sweet or russet potatoes. Or, as I did the other day, with a heap of fabulously fresh and sweet fruits. And of course any leftover bits may be tossed into other welcome meals of the same. Or into sandwich fillings. Or casseroles. Or, as on the day following the feast of ham and figs (and avocado and strawberries and pineapple), next mixed with minced roasted chicken, dill and pepper and stirred into eggs for a quick frittata. Because if ham is good one day in my kitchen, it’s probably a treat for three days in a row if I’ve shopped wisely enough.photoJust now, though, I guess I’d better dash out and check the baby fig tree to see if I can beat the raccoons to the next ripe piece of tree-candy.