Cast Iron Pan Roasted Peanuts

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The devotees of the pseudoepigraphical corpus of Hermes Trismegistus and the Winter King and Queen and the attendees of the Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and the other Protestant weirdos of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries carried forth manufacturing midnight puffs of smoke and alchemical incantations principally on the nostalgic and optimistic belief that God had long ago revealed the Transformative Opus to a series of ancient prophets by way of a lot of buried golden plates, receivething of visions in pajamas, and automatic writing sessions, and that those prophets thereafter generally mismanaged their prophecies by obfuscating them in secret handshakes, toga party sex positions, partial illuminated manuscripts, and fragmentary artifact burials whose locations were recorded on enriddled pirates’ maps that were then promptly lost, partially burned, or thrice-again enriddled, and that—even so—a polymath with a good chemistry set and an understanding of the movement of the stars could realistically reassemble the Transformative Opus and thereby unmoor the lost city of Atlantis and trigger a rapturous fireworks program that would illuminate the surface of this dim amniotic minor sea we currently float upon by cooking sulfur past its two boiling points as Venus transects Mars and while the dew is still on the grass, or whatever it was God had whispered in the pajamad prophets’ ears so long ago.

Alas, the sixteenth century party pooper Issac Casauban discovered the Hermetica to be linguistically appropriate to the second century, instead of to the more profound era of Moses, as had been previously assumed, and the alchemical practice deflated into history and was replaced by stark rationalism and the ruination of the eyes on theological movable type.

Until it was reawakened again recently by Brooklyn-based pocketknife curators and lifestyle magazines in the form of investigations into the seasoning of cast iron cookware. No sooner had grandma’s cast iron pan been rescued from the cultural basement than a strange mythology began manifesting everywhere that cast iron pans were objets parfaits that could be candied with unimpeachable non-stick finishes given the application of various oils and precisely-conducted candying techniques. You may have read the recent ballyhoo about the discovery of linseed oil as a superior cast iron seasoning agent, for example, given its flash point and hardening properties. And you may soon after have read about the revival tent full of crestfallen home cooks holding up gummied pans with plow-handle-flavored trouts glued to them.

Accompanying this alchemical desire to train iron pans to reflect the night sky and be slippery rinks for fried eggs is a suddenly voluminous apocrypha about the keep and care of cast iron cookware including various dish soap prohibitions, complicated drying procedures, and stern warnings about metal utensils, acidic foods, and dishwater temperatures, all of which is delivered in a way suggesting that these potions and procedures are the entrustments of olden folklore and family heritage, which they aren’t. My grandma had very nice cast iron pans that reflected the night sky just fine, but they got that way because she cooked a thousand fried trouts and pans of cornbread in them over a period of fifty years. She washed her pans in warm soapy water and came near to them with metal spatulas all the time. She saw to it that they didn’t rust, naturally, and she didn’t bang on them with an aluminum meat hammer, but she didn’t pamper them and worry over them and weigh in about the seasoning of her friends’ pans.

It shouldn’t amaze us I suppose that the cast iron pan has become a symbol du jour, given its heft and old-fashioned connotations: a bona fide monolith to stub one’s toe on along the existentially-empty container-ship spice route. However, I’m not sure how we hypnotized ourselves into believing our forebears were aclutter with this sort of dogma about the absolute secret best ways to do everything. As it turns out, grandma’s magnificent pickled green bean recipe was not so much secretly inscribed inside an ancient pilgrim’s hat band as it was unceremoniously copied from the label of a bottle of Heinz distilled vinegar. Just as the Hermitica was falsehearted, so there is no perfect pan-ointment buried by God a long time ago in a dirt hill, nor is there a God at all.

Even so, the emptiness of everything can be somewhat batted-in by frying Spanish peanuts in your frying pan to bottle up and give as Christmas gifts, which—as it happens—has the accidental affect of seasoning your cast iron pans perfectly, although so does accidentally frying five hundred trouts and cornbreads over a span of many years. This technique—the Spanish Peanut Technique—was passed down to me from my mom, although not in a wizardly way, and works simply because the frying oil is accidentally kept at the smoking point for a long period of time without getting too hot. It doesn’t get too hot because of the peanuts, which absorb the heat and take up the excess oil and also donate microscopic detritus that is welded into the pan in a not-very secret or noteworthy way, making it shine to high heaven, were there a high heaven, which there isn’t.

My mom’s Christmas peanut recipe, which is rigged with extraordinarily spicy chiles and chile powders is an ancient family secret that I cannot share here. Instead, I will take you a little ways into the recipe—through the pan roasting part—and then veer into an altogether different kind of peanut recipe.

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To begin with, we’re talking about raw Spanish peanuts with their skins on. Fill your cast pan pretty deep with peanuts on a medium-hot flame and then pour a glug of cooking oil in along with maybe a tablespoon of salt. You need to stir them more or less constantly for fifteen or twenty minutes, keeping them from charring too deeply and so that they retain a little of their rawness. If you want to know about the absolute secret best way to eat peanuts it’s eating them after they’ve been roasted and salted in their shells for awhile but not so long that they don’t still have a rawness inside them in the sunshine at a day game at Wrigley Field.

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When the peanuts are roasted put them aside and work on putting together your caramel. Put a cup of sugar, a tablespoon of butter, a teaspoon of Thai fried chile paste, and a 1/4 cup of water together in your saucepan and cook over a medium-high flame with lots of stirring until it begins to reduce and caramelize and vigorously boil. 

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You may not be the kind of person that likes their candied peanuts to taste sort of fishy, but I am and so I like to add a tablespoon of fish sauce to the boiling caramel. A little soy sauce might also give you some salty deepness, but it will not make you think of the impenetrably weird ocean and storm battered palm trees like fish sauce will.

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When the caramel is boiling and looking blonde and bubbly, pour your panful of peanuts in there and stir them for a little bit until things start to dry out and seize up. Sort of like sulfur, which has two boiling points as I mentioned before, your caramel will go from being soft and liquid to sandy and hard all of a sudden and it will be difficult to stir.

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The caramel has re-crystalized according to the movement of the stars and you need to just keep vigil and continue to stir until the second melting point is reached and things begin to loosen up again, which will happen in three or four minutes. At this moment, which is loaded with significance, take the pan off the flame and stir in a 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, which will put something of a spell on the caramel, lightening and leavening it.

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Then pour the peanuts out onto some parchment paper or silicon baking mats to harden. After an hour you can bust them up and put them into jars and give them to your friends for Christmas instead of having to buy them seasons of TV on DVD.

RECIPE
3 cups peanuts
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon Thai fried chile paste
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Camp Cochinita Pibil: Red Symbol of Spring

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It snowed cold perfect snow for three days and everyone darted around town on skis and popped into bars for hot drinks and nobody had to go to work or to school and everything was perfect. At night everybody watched the Olympics and were sleepy from skiing and from having such a happy time doing normal things like getting groceries and visiting around town. Then there was an ice storm that encased the whole town in ice and everybody had a good time slipping around in the ice-encased town and there were montages on the local news of everyone ice skating in the intersections and ski racing in the streets instead of the normal montages of fat people smoking cigarettes and teens eating fast food.

Then a warm front arrived and it started raining and the ice began falling off the trees and the snow melted and turned gray and we all had to go back to work. And everybody got back to feeling normal and awful and the local news got back to doing close ups of fat people eating hamburgers.

I decided therefore to make a poultice against the winter or rather an alchemical philosopher’s stone sort of object that would cause all the gray snow to melt and the minty spring to suddenly arrive warmly from underneath it. 

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I started out by dying a piece of meat bright red. 

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Then I wrapped the bright red meat in a gigantic green banana leaf. I put the bright red meat inside the bright green leaf inside a black iron pot.

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I covered the pot with hot coals.

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To make the red meat dye I blended a package of achiote paste, seven garlic cloves, a half cup of Kalamansi lime juice, a half cup of lime juice, black pepper, salt, cinammon, cumin seeds, and Mexican oregano according to the recipe below. 

In the Yucatan they use sour oranges for the purposes of marinating cochinita pibil, which can apparently be approximated by combining ordinary lime juice and orange juice. I happen to have some packets of Kalamansi lime juice from the Phillipines, which is practically the same thing as sour orange juice.

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Rub two small pork shoulders with the red marinade and let it sit overnight. Keep a half cup of the marinade aside for spicing the finished meat with.

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Wrap the pork shoulders in banana leaves, like a little package with plenty of the marinade inside to keep it moist while it cooks. Cook the pork for four hours, replenishing the coals every hour. Twelve coals on top and nine coals on the bottom.

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While the meat is cooking cut up some limes and cilantro and pickled jalapenos and radishes and cure some red onions in salt and lime juice so you can make little tacos.

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After four hours the cochinita pibil will be tender and ready to fall apart. 

MARINADE RECIPE

2 small pork shoulders

1 4 oz package achiote paste

1/2 cup kalamansi lime juice or valencia orange juice or 1/2 and 1/2 ordinary lime and orange juice

1/4 cup lime juice

7 or 8 cloves garlic

1 TBS black pepper

1 and 1/2 TBS salt

1 TBS Mexican oregano

1 TBS cumin seeds

1 tsp cinnammon

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Trip Report: Newton Clark Moraine

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The Sawtooth range, which is sometimes called the Swiss Alps of N. America by the spa correspondents at Sunset Magazine (who have a notable talent for, if nothing else, placing gigantic glasses of dude-ranch chardonnay in the foregrounds of sun-pinked western wildernesses), is a steep and glacier-pitted batholith rising from the desert floor. It is also my fond home range and chief contributor to my general outlook that wildernesses, desert and alpine alike, are characteristically spiritless and cold. If you have pitched camp at Imogene Lake, or Alice Lake, or Ardeth, or the twin lakes Edith and Edna, or Lake Ingaborg, or Spangle Lake, Little Spangle Lake, or Little Warbonnet, or any of the other hundred alpine lakes in the Sawtooths, you know about this strange spiritlessness and about the acoustic shadows that swallow up the sound of rock fall, and the delayed tertiary echoes of slumping shale fields, and about the thousand year old krummholzed whitebark pines and the other wind-dwarfed plant examples that appear to wish to be rocks. Even the resident mountain goats seem like lost impossible astronauts chocked on the range’s cloud walls and upper granite amphitheaters.

Mt. Hood is very surprising, therefore, for its relative dynamism and psychological presence. Which I suppose should not surprise us since it, along with a handful of other major glaciated Cascadian volcanoes, represents a significant orogenic rupture and upwelling, which are analogous to psychological processes and therefore recognizable to our dumb human hearts. Mt. Hood, I mean to say, feels very much alive and expresses a spectrum of moods, calving noises, and a general range of sulphuric gasses.

The Newton Clark Moraine, which is a fairly uncommon medial moraine, is the mountain’s largest glacial feature. I have skied in the U-shaped Heather and Clark canyons via the Mt. Hood Meadows Ski Resort, but I have always wanted to enter the lower Clark R. canyon from below and climb Pea Gravel Ridge, which is the medial ridge formed by parallel ancient glacier flows, leading eventually to a close view of the Newton Clark Prow and its collection of psychologically-significant crevasses.  

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I parked at the HRM Nordic Center and set off at 7:30 a.m. with my heavy telemark gear, skins, and a sack lunch. It was 30 degrees, with a layer of surface hoar on the snow.

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The sun came up over the ridge and it got very hot. I arrived at the big open glade, which was pocked with sun cups. “Sun cups!” I said, and I drank a whole quart of water. 

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I skied along the creek for an hour before I came into view of the mountain.

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I had to cross the creek about a hundred times by way of all manners of crossing including snowed-on log.

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and ski bridge. 

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I skied and skied, stopping every once in awhile to dip my head in Clark Creek because of how hot it was.

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Pretty soon I got to the magnificent confluence of Heather Canyon Crk. and Clark Crk. where I stopped to drink about a gallon of water and lay around in the sun. Then I continued up into Clark Canyon to see about getting up Pea Gravel Ridge and skiing a few turns. The ridge and half the moraine wall was barren of snow so I skied right up the middle of the canyon run in order to give myself an OK set of turns all the way back down to the creek. Before I ripped my skins, I dug out a little place to sit and have lunch.

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For lunch I had sardines and crackers with jalapeño jelly and an Idaho Spud Bar. 

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Then I skied all the way back to car, making another hundred creek crossings and snowy maneuvers. I put Sweetheart of the Rodeo on the car stereo for awhile and had a private beer party in the back of the Subaru.

Deep Dutch Pizza

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I have never not lived along the Columbia River and its tributaries. I grew up on the Salmon and Boise Rivers, which dump into the Snake, and on the Snake itself where it toils in the bottom of a profound desert canyon at Chilly Desert before joining the Columbia later on at Kennewick, and on the Mackenzie and Willamette Rivers, both late forks of the Columbia, and on the mainstem Columbia itself, which flows at an impossible 250,000 CFS before it enters the Pacific Ocean at Cape Disappointment. I was born in the Salt Lake Valley, I should say, which is not technically part of the Columbia R. system and which, in fact, has no outflowing rivers owing to the fact that it is a Pleistocene lake basin. However, insofar as the Great Salt Lake is the last remnant of Pleistocene Lake Bonneville, and insofar as the Bonneville Flood’s flood-path of 17,500 years ago more or less authored the Snake-Columbia river course such as we know it today, I count my birthplace as a part of the Columbia system and in fact the originator of it, thereby preserving my streak of living exclusively along the Columbia and its tributaries, which would be entirely true if it weren’t for a short time when Robin and I lived on the North Branch of the Chicago River, which is a slackwater haunted by Methane Wraiths and Soulless Aldermen on the north side of Chicago.

Because I grew up in a gigantic canyon-split desert, I suppose, and am therefore attuned to the pertinence and psychology of water and watersheds, the first thing I felt compelled to do when Robin and I moved to Chicago was to develop an understanding of the city’s river system. On a perfectly nice afternoon in the early fall, therefore, while the Cubs were playing a day game and half the field was in shadow and half the field was in sunlight, Robin and me and my dad—a great navigator of western rivers—put in at the N. Branch Spillway under the Edens Expressway, planning to paddle eight miles to the confluence with the main stem of the Chicago R. at Lower Wacker Drive and continue through downtown under the Louis Sullivans and the Mies van der Rohes and into Lake Michigan via the shipping locks. And so we paddled under Western Ave. and next to the Gigantic Culvert That Pours Out Pink Foam and past the Culvert That Pours Out Sky Blue House Paint and by the Great Piles of Rusted Steel Rusting Pinkly Against the Sky and the Whirlpool of Wendy’s Hamburger Cartons and past Sudsy Eddy and the Vienna Beef Discharge until we got to the nose of Goose Island whereupon we had to make a decision to go left or go right and, standing up in the stern of our tandem kayak to sight the way, I ruined our center of balance and the boat capsized and Robin and I were pitched into the North Branch of the Chicago River.

By the time the North Branch reaches Goose Island the river is hemmed in by tall concrete seawalls instead of muddy banks and so we had to swim a long time in the oily water before we found a place where the seawall was cracked and slumped into the river, giving us enough purchase to crawl out. For awhile Robin was unhappy about being pitched into the North Branch of the Chicago River. For about two years she was unhappy and she did not like it when I painted the episode at parties according to the episode when Rosemary and Dick Diver swim out to the dock in the French Riviera at the beginning part of Tender is the Night.

When we got up the seawall Robin tore off a few different parts of her sopped clothes and slapped them down onto the ground and then declared that she was going to catch a cab home and she climbed over the fence of McGrath Lexus of Chicago and walked past all the smirking Lexuses and onto Division St. and got into a cab. And the cab driver didn’t say anything about how she was sopping wet or about the gasoline rainbows arcing on her cheeks, being hardened to wet t-shirts and shimmering cheeks from driving the Wrigleyville beat for so long I suppose.

Then two years went by and Robin looked up from a magazine and declared that the time we capsized was a baptism of a kind and that she was in fact head over heels for Chicago and then me and Robin and Max, who was barely just born, walked to Queen of the Angels Catholic School in the dark to buy a Christmas tree and we dragged it home in the snow.

One time I was on an airplane and I was talking to a young lady who was returning home from college for Christmas break about all kinds of dumb stuff and then somehow I came to mention that I lived on the North Branch of the Chicago River, which gave her entrée to start into a speech about how she could never live in a city like Chicago since cities are filled up with so much “perfume shopping” and “ant hill commuting” and that sort of thing and while she was still in the middle of the fascinating speech I put on my headphones like Russ and Audrey do when their dad is explaining about the preeminence of family or whatever as they’re driving in the southbound lanes of Lake Shore Drive, only instead of the Ramones I put on the album One of These Nights by the Eagles which comprises probably the most important critical rendering of the techno-plutocracy we currently inhabit—which I suppose the returning undergraduate would’ve had something to say about. Even if it is a city, Chicago is endlessly magnificent and I don’t tolerate very well speeches about how awful and inauthentic it is. Obviously the returning undergraduate hadn’t found out about Nelson Algren while she was at college, who said about Chicago so famously, “you may well find lovelier lovelies. But never a lovely so real.”

And there is no artifact so real and so heavy as a Chicago deep dish pizza, except for maybe a cast iron camp dutch oven, which is a funny coincidence since I am about to tell you about cooking a Chicago-style deep dish pizza inside a cast iron dutch oven out of doors.

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Chicago deep dish pizza dough is not supposed to be well developed and chewy like ordinary pizza dough. It’s supposed to be cakey and soft. Basically you just assemble the dough and let it rise for a few hours without kneading it an awful lot. The other thing to know about deep dish pizza dough is that it is swimming with vegetable oil and that it should probably have some corn meal or corn flour added to it, to contribute to the cakiness. I leavened the dough with regular commercial yeast and sourdough, which turned out to be a good idea. 

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I pushed the dough into the bottom of the greased 12” dutch oven, making a tall edge. 

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I put mozzarella cheese in first. Then Levi threw green peppers onto the cheese. One time our wonderful friends Jessica and Matt visited us from Chicago and we let our gang of kids assemble the pizza even though they looked like coal miners and had saggy diapers and then everybody got sick and had green faces and it was awful. I washed Levi with a stiff brush and some powdered soap before I let him work on the pizza this time. 

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We put some sausage and onions in after the peppers and then a lot of sauce and some parmesan cheese. 

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I put the pizza to bake with fifteen coals on top and eight coals on the bottom, turning the pan every so often so as not to burn the bottom of the crust.

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It baked for forty minutes on one set of coals.

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There have been maybe lovlier lovelies but it looked perfectly fine to eat. 

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We took off our shirts and slapped them on the ground and then we ate the pizza with forks and knives and gigantic glasses of milk. 

Deep Dish Pizza Dough

500 grams bread flour

4 grams instant yeast

10 grams salt

1 1/3 cups warm water

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup corn flour

2 TBS sourdough leaven

(combine ingredients, knead for five minutes, let rise for three or four hours)

Deep Dish Pizza Sauce

1 large can crushed tomatoes

3 garlic cloves

1/2 grated yellow onion

salt, oregano, chile flakes

Cuisine d’Altitude: Sauerkraut Baked Pheasant

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I do not have a particularly penetrating intellect and am not very good at making money, which I don’t complain about since I am otherwise smart on the tennis court and smart at recognizing tragic and magnificent facets of ordinary life, which amounts to a kind of Newtonian equilibrium. The British ethnographer Victor Turner, who found it “eminently soothing, during (his) fieldwork among the Ndembu of northwestern Zambia to sit in villages before a calabash of millet or honey beer and collect numerical data—on village membership, divorce frequency, bride wealth, labor migration rates, individual cash budgets and the acreage of gardens and the dimensions of ritual enclosures,” also recognized that—“from the standpoint of value—life appears as an infinite assortment of positive and negative existence values…a chaos of harmonies and discords.” For example, I was woken up very early this morning because my two young sons—who have commandeered my bed while my wife is visiting coffee orchards in Nicaragua—began to wrestle each other, which they are compelled to do as soon as the sun comes up each day, which was discordant. Then I fell asleep again and I had a short dream that my wrestling sons were a dark scribble on a sheet of white paper, which was harmonious. Then I woke up again while my sons were still wrestling like a discordant scribble and I saw a cold, clear morning happening outside and there was frost on the grass and the car window and the raspberry bush.

It is normal to think that each of us is doled an equal measure of harmonies and discords—every ice cream cone paid for with an arid airport sandwich, as it were. On the other hand it is normal to think that some people skate through life and others experience incongruous Upanishadic suffering. Surely a man on a sailing yacht eating a birthday cake has a different deck of cards than a teenage girl eating not much of anything in a refuge camp. But maybe the birthday cake on the yacht is existentially empty and the light fanning out behind the penumbra of great suffering is beatific and spiritually transforming. In any case, our daily and monthly rations of frustrations and fulfillments appear to zig and zag unpredictably on a seismograph’s spool, sometimes drawing shallow suburban swales and sometimes euphoric spikes and sickening dives. Which I suppose is why we set about enthusiastically rigging the scales and subjecting ourselves to counterfeit poverties, wildernesses, and monk’s robes in order to manufacture diametric periods of luck, and why, it happens, I set about cooking unpleasant dinners inside cloddish cast iron pots in an awful gale out of doors.

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Pheasants are admittedly very beautiful and expensive-looking when they clatter up from the ditch. But they taste godawful in my opinion and—stewed in sauerkraut and prunes—are a sure bet to swing the Dharma bell into a shadow so that later it will swing back into the light.

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Pheasant study, acrylic on bamboo cutting board: Pilsener, palomino, rust, royal green, gold, christmas red, etc.

We mostly always have a pheasant or two frozen inside milk jugs in the freezer, which Robin’s dad harvests each winter from the blonde ditches of N. Dakota. There is some kind of Jungian something that happens when you look into a block of ice in your freezer that has a field-dressed pheasant inside it.

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I cut the pheasant into pieces and gave it a looking over for buckshot. 

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Then I wrung out two large handfuls of sauerkraut to constitute a brine for the bird to soak in, saving the dry sauerkraut for the bake. I enriched the brine with juniper berries, bay leaves, and a glass of white wine.

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I started thirty coals. Me and Max and Levi watched the fire leaping out of the charcoal chimney. When the coals were ready I piled them all together under the 12” dutch oven and seared the bird in a little butter. 

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I put the dry sauerkraut from before into the sizzling pan and arranged the pheasant on top of it to bake with fifteen coals on top and nine coals on bottom for a little longer than a half an hour.

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I made a dish of potatoes with bacon, scallions, and cheddar cheese from the Washington State University creamery to bake in the little dutch on top. We ate the pheasant and potatoes in the dark and then Max and Levi wrestled for awhile and we all went to sleep in this brand new year.

Trip Report: Gunpowder Crk. Hotsprings

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Because of the way one day meaninglessly abuts another, and because, apparently, the total light that has been gathered by all the world’s great telescopes since the invention of telescopy in 1607 (which roughly comprises our universal ontological and cosmological understanding) is equal to the energy a solitary cigarette ash posesseth as it makes its mute voyage to the saloon floor, and because of our common compulsion this time of year to want to drown in a lake reflecting those dumb stars and be transformed into a silver fish, as Jung more or less proposed, or similarly be transferred into the cult of Isis or, anyway, to lose fifteen pounds and stop drinking so much beer in the New Year, Max and I made our semiannual hike to Gunpowder Crk. Hotsprings, wherein we die and are reborn each year amongst a cast of shifty seekers, libertarians, and general devotees of nude endeavors and the moods of the planets. Gunpowder Crk. Hotsprings is not, I should say, actually named Gun Powder Crk. Hotsprings. Nor does any other hotspring we frequent nearly resemble itself in our literature. Which is a simple codex that keeps you—dear reader—from coming near our sacred pools, and saves us from sighting your unsightly genitals and overhearing your compensatory Jungian kitchen-remodel narratives while we soak.

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You may have heard of the Voynich Manuscript of the early 15th Century, which is a cyphertext so ornately encoded that it has eluded decryption for more than five hundred years, including efforts of the war-time alchemists, code-breakers, and super-computers at the NSA. Even the manuscript’s botanical illustrations appear to be herbal chimeras that are, themselves, encoded puzzles. It is generally assumed that the book is so painstakingly encoded because it expresses the workings and theories of a heretical scientific society—as the recently solved Copiale Cipher proved to do—or, more interestingly, because it contains an alchemical bomb recipe capable of sending compression wavelettes across the durable surface of Reality, as it were.

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Besides several thousand lines of undecipherable text and hundreds of apparent astrological and pharmacological diagrams, the Voynich Manuscript contains a long series of illustrations depicting women bathing in variously described “digestive organs,” “suicide machines,” and “dimensional holding pens”. I maintain these are, in fact, depictions of normal wilderness hot tubs and that, furthermore, the entire Voyninch Manuscript is an encrypted guide to the hotsprings of 15th century bohemia. There is no other group that guards its secrets so mischievously—and draws such spurious maps and elaborately equivocal driving directions—as wilderness hot tubbers. Except perhaps steelhead fishermen and sleucers for gold. 

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With that in mind, and because of the dimmness of the stars and the rites of Isis, me and Max parked at milepost 72 and took the cable across Sleuce Crk., of which Gunpowder Crk. is a chief tributary, six miles up river. 

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We ate lunch at the Opal Crk. Pool, which was opalescent and partly frozen. We ate salami sandwiches and candybars for lunch. We drank cups of cold water from the partly frozen creek.

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After lunch Max held up our family’s peep stone. The raw sun shone through the stone and then through the opalescent lens of the pool. 

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We suddenly came in sight of the old bath house and the long hollow log that carries the sulfurous water to the tubs. 

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Max and I got to work mixing hot water from the flue and buckets of cold water from the creek until our soaking water was too hot to stand and therefore just right. Max let out a whistle as he crawled into the hot water. A nice cow dog heard the whistle and wiggled under the door to visit us for awhile.

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We painted an encrypted botanical example on the bathhouse door to go next to an unattributed penis etching and several untoward chestnuts and aphorisms.

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We soaked and ate oranges and Max hosted an Olympiad of Spitting Into a Bucket at Various Distances and Obstructed Approaches. Then we walked back down the trail and crossed the river in the dark.

Cuisine d’Altitude: Western Juniper Boeuf Bourguignon

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At approximately the same moment Gérard de Nerval and the other nineteenth century noms-de-plumes were spoonfeeding Boeuf Bourguignon to a cast of Fancy Dans, Coxcombs, and Popinjays, Zane Grey’s rockyfaced cowboys were camped in “the beautiful rounded bare mountains of gray sage” shoveling beef stew—which is the same stuff as Boeuf Bourguignon—from dutch ovens. If you ever can’t sleep at night, think about Gérard de Nerval walking his pet lobster on a silk ribbon in the Palais Royal garden in 1855 and then pan over the dark ocean for a few thousand miles and over the blots of light that are the cities of the eastern United States and the blot for Chicago where the Lager Beer Riot is unfolding and the coal fires of the Dakotas, etc. until you get to the rockyfaced cowboys out there in the gray sage in the dark and beyond them the silent presence of cows and then the crushing darkness of the Great Basin Desert. It should feel, as you pan over things this way, the way it feels when you’ve been drinking beer at a bonfire and then you wander out into the darkness to piss and are suddenly pierced by the world, which is dark and cold and tensed like a trap. 

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To make boeuf bourguignon it is nice to have good braising stock made with roasted bones and water. I roasted these bones for awhile and then simmered them for eight hours in the crock pot.

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Then I cut up a cheap beef roast and some carrots and onions and fried them in bacon grease in the dutch oven on twenty roaring coals. I threw in a few cloves of garlic and a handful of flour to toast.

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I poured two glasses of regular red wine into the pot and covered the meat with the beef stock. I added a half-handful of salt and pepper and set it to simmer for four hours with five coals on bottom and twelve coals on top. You’ll have to start three sets of coals to braise for four hours.

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When the stew was cooking me and Max and Levi went to the soccer field and flew our kite.

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Our kite is called Take Me To Your Dealer.

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When we got home I got out another dutch and filled it with peeled potatoes to roast on top of the stew dutch.

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While I was fixing things for roasting the potatoes I added a half handful of juniper berries to the beef stew, which made it taste like the dark desert, instead of the Palais Royal. And I added some springs of thyme and rosemary and a little bit more salt and some pearl onions.

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We ate the beef stew and potatoes with bread and salad.

Cuisine d’Altitude: Vinegar Jelly

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When I was a young boy my parents and their friends were always holding slide show appetizer parties. If you made a winter circumnavigation of Yellowstone on skis, for example, or if you traveled to a far away island with platter size bullfrogs and leaf-cutter ants, you would shoot the trip on slide film and, upon your return, invite your friends over and serve Sorrel Stuffed Mushrooms and Buckwheat Broccolli Godunov and treat them to a photo-essay about the Christmas Islands or wherever, which was a world away.

Besides the stuffed mushrooms and the Tante Malka’s Deluxes and the other appetizers in the yoghurt spectrum invented by Molly Katzen, these slide show parties almost always featured sophisticated vinegar jellies that were served over bricks of cream cheese and eaten with Triscuit crackers. Common jalapeño jelly chiefly, and herb jellies, tomato jams, and various pungent chutneys swimming with black mustard seeds. If, as a young boy, you tip-toed into the living room at night you could listen in the darkness to the ratcheting slide carousel, and see the light from the projector traveling through glasses of wine and beards and motes of dust. And the leftover light would be enough to put the vinegar jellies glowing like rosy galaxies on the dim folding table at the back of the room. Rosy galaxies with twinkling chile seeds for stars.

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We have been suffering an awful abundance of tomatoes and are tired of inventing ways to eat them. Our tomatoes are beginning to crack because it has been raining a lot, so I picked ten pounds of them and made them into tomato jelly. To make the jelly, start by peeling ten pounds of tomatoes using the hot water bath method. Using a food mill or a potato ricer or a wire sieve of some kind, pulverize the tomatoes and strain out all the seeds. Add the strained tomato juice to a pot with five cups apple cider vinegar and 1/2 cup lemon juice and bring to a boil. Dissolve six cups sugar and a 1/2 TBS salt and then add 1 and 1/2 packages low-sugar pectin. Boil hard for a minute, then pour into jars and process the normal way for 10 minutes. 

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Since I had all the canning shit boiling and whistling, I decided to make some basil jelly too. And then I had the idea to make some roasted Hatch green chile jam with some of the green chiles from our gigantic box of green chiles that arrived last week from Hatch, NM. To make the basil jelly I harvested an extraordinary amount of basil. Then I put it in a bowl and poured four cups of hot rice vinegar over it. I had supposed the hot vinegar would stand a chance of keeping the basil leaves from turning black, but some of them turned black anyways. I let the basil vinegar turn into a kind of tea that could be used to break a fever for about a half hour. Then I strained out the basil leaves and put the tea to boil. When it was boiling I dissolved five cups of sugar into it, and then a packet of low-sugar pectin. I boiled it hard for a minute and then jarred and processed it the normal way for ten minutes. 

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I ordinarily buy enough green chiles from New Mexico to last the winter, roast them on charcoal, peel them, and then freeze them in little tupperware containers.

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To make chile jam, simply put four pounds whole peeled and roasted chiles in the blender jar with four cups of cider vinegar. Blend for maybe four seconds, so there are still some little chunks of pepper floating around in it. Bring the mixture to a boil, add six cups sugar and one packet of low-sugar pectin. Bring to a hard boil for a minute, fill your jars, and process for 10 minutes.

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Each of these jelly recipes makes about 8 1/2 pint jars each.

Winter Count: Metolius R. Camp

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According to Barry Lopez, “among several tribes on the northern plains, the passage of time from one summer to the next was marked by noting a single memorable event. The sequence of such memories, recorded pictographically on a buffalo robe or spoken aloud, was called a winter count.”

The Metolius R., which is a flash of silver inside a roomy ponderosa forest, has chalked itself on our winter count for the last several years, as the angle of the sun, the hard feeling of the air, and the empty lake beaches (such as those Don Henley so wonderfully described) manufacture the last mournful parts of summer.

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We arrived at camp at night, and walked out onto the big strainer log in the river. We could hear bats licking around in the air, and the percolations of the river. We went to sleep like a family of deer in a mashed down spot in the tall grass.

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Me and Max went fishing before breakfast.

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Robin and Levi were still snoozing in the tent when we got back from fishing. Me and Max made a pact to make biscuits and gravy and coffee for breakfast without making any noises or saying any words to one another so as not to wake them up. Pretty soon the pact became irrepressibly hilarious and we had a hard time keeping our laughter tamped down. The swishing of Max’s windbreaker, and the hardship of having to gesticulate instead of talking was cracking us up. Likewise, the dutch oven wanted badly to clang and croon, according to its nature, and the coffee pot wanted to whistle and rattle, so we had our work cut out for us.

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Max had the idea to put a Tabasco packet on everyone’s plate, next to the biscuits we had hatched so quietly. Good morning Robin! Good morning Levi!

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Robin took us to a stormy lake inside a forest that she had visited a long time ago when she was a moody teenager. When we got to the lake I watched Robin remembering herself from a long time ago. A stormy girl next to a stormy lake. Max couldn’tve cared less about the counterfeit moodiness me and Robin were trying to institute. He chose a florescent Panther Martin from his tackle box and cast it unceremoniously into the stormy lake.

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We made club sandwiches for lunch and went on a walk along the Metolius. I had some obvious things to say about how wonderful the river is, and so did Robin.

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We made chiles rellenos for dinner and drove to the general store for ice cream cones.

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We devoted all next day to hot tubbing in a very secret hot springs along the river. I thought about the hundred hot springs me and Aaron soaked in when we were highschoolers and skipping parties in order to search out wilderness hot tubs. Instead of having the times of our lives at the buoyant beer parties of our hometown, which blinks on and off in the sable desert like a magnificent knot of Christmas lights, we cussed and carried on in scalding tubs along the River of No Return like busted prospectors.

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We put Levi in his miniature sleeping bag and me and Max and Robin stayed up and talked about the football season and the first grade. And then the fire hypnotized us and everyone didn’t say anything for a long time.

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In the morning we crawled out of our tents and drank coffees and hot chocolate.

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Before very long Max and Levi started to grow half wild so we made for home.

Cuisine d’altitude: Tarte à la tomate

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One diamond summer I worked on a BLM archaeology project with the University of Oregon Archaeological Field School near my hometown in Chilly Desert, Kingdom of Deseret, performing pit excavations in the floors of lava tubes in the long ago most lost parts of the desert. In the morning when it was still cool I liked to walk gigantic transects in the desert looking for arrowheads and pot sherds and glass trade beads. The arrowheads and other stone tools I found in the region were made of poor, milk-grey chert mostly. Chert does not flake beautifully or predictably like obsidian does, and it is very often dull and veined and crumbly in parts. It is always special to come upon an arrowhead and to run it around in your hand and to try to come to terms with it.

Since then, whenever I am walking in an open area, even if it is the weed pasture next to Bi-Mart, I dumbly scan the ground for arrowheads. I am also, as you might know, always looking into old barns and sheds and junk shops for cast iron dutch ovens and pans, which I have a jeweler’s eye for. 

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These are my cast iron pots and pans, which I’ve inherited or discovered in improbable places. I enjoy hauling my pots and pans out to the back yard from time to time and photographing them.

The other day I was lucky to find a Wagner dutch oven from the 1960s, which presents an ok occasion to say a few words about identifying antique pots and pans, and appreciating their characteristics. 

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As you can tell the oven doesn’t bear a Wagner logo. All the major pan foundries like Griswold and Wagner and Favorite and Lodge and Birmingham Stove & Range used to manufacture “no name” cookware that was sold for modest prices in normal hardware stores. As is the case with this nice Wagner, “no name” pans were—except for a missing maker’s mark—very often entirely identical to their logoed city-cousins sold in catalogues and department stores. Therefore all the Wagner tell tales apply, in this case, which I will presently point out. 

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First off, a pan’s age can be crudely reckoned by its heft and finish. Generally speaking, the thinner and smoother a pan is, the older it is. Let’s compare a ubiquitous, contemporary Lodge skillet (on the right) to my 100-year-old Griswold skillet (on the left). Present-day cast iron cookware like the Lodge has a bumpy, “cast” finish and a dim, bovine heft. Whereas the old Griswold is wonderfully slick, light, and canny. The difference between these pans is an exhibit of the influence of global free-market capitalism, and the ersatz craftsmanship and diminished materials our pocketbooks have come to cherish.

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Old American pans were made with excellent midwestern iron and were machined and polished after coming out of the cast. If you have concentric machine scars in the bottom of your pan, it was likely made before 1965. Notice the relatively deep machine scarring in the bottom of this Wagner oven. 

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If the scars have been “healed” and polished smooth, as you can see in this old Vollrath skillet, the pan had been subjected to further polishing, and is likely a fair bit older. You should set great store by pans like these as well as by any baked eggs or chicken drumsticks that are lucky to get cooked in them. 

Wagner used a wonky all-caps font, which is a sure identifier, and the presence of “MADE IN USA” marks it as a post-1960 example. By 1960 American makers had begun distinguishing their wares from foreign imports.

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There are more magnificent pans, like the hammered Chicago Hardware Foundry pans of the turn of the century that appear to have been smithed by orb-eyed Kyklopeans, but Wagners are particularly wonderful for their plain utility. Consider the bail on this Wagner oven. It has been bent in such a way that it will stand up, which is a nice convenience and keeps the bail from getting roaring hot.

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In order to break in the new oven, and to invent another way to eat our bountiful tomato harvest, I built a little tomato tart. I made a normal pate brise for the crust except I put some chopped basil in the dough and made it a little bit saltier than usual. I wanted the crust to be salty and the tomatoes to be young tasting and plain. I lined the oven with parchment paper to make it easy to lift the baked tart out of the pan after it cooked. I made a layer of fresh mozzarella on the bottom, and then a layer of tomatoes. These are Paul Robeson tomatoes, which we planted because our friend Jessica thinks they’re the best, and because of their namesake. Even as they sit quietly on their vines, Robeson tomatoes seem more sonorous and insurrectionary than the other brandywines and beefsteaks.

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I baked the tart for 25 minutes with 15 coals on top and 9 coals on bottom. I used three golf-ball sized rocks as oven “legs”.

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The tart was perfectly fine to eat like this. 

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But I thought it would be nice to put on a layer of fresh tomatoes too, like this, and put a little stack of pickles next to it.

 

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