The Queen and Corgis

Queen Elizabeth, famous for her corgis, had a photograph taken of them for her 90th birthday.

Queen's Corgis
Queen’s Corgis

It’s not my 90th birthday, but I thought a picture of our corgi was in order.

Chuck and Debbie's Corgi
Chuck and Debbie’s Corgi

I’m hoping the Queen sees this and wants to come to visit. I’m also hoping that Annie Leibovitz, who took the pictures of the Queen, sees this and wants to hire me to take pictures for her.

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Makin’ Bacon

We went to Albright’s grocery in Corunna last Sunday. If you’ve never been to Albright’s you’re missing out. They have the most amazing meat counter you’ve ever seen, and prices are incredibly low.

We came home with an armload of goodies, one of which was a boneless pork loin roast. I’d stumbled across Michael Ruhlman’s recipe for Canadian bacon recently and I’d been hankering to try it.

I pretty much followed Ruhlman’s recipe step by step. When it comes to cured meat, I like to have a trusted source and to listen to them.

First was brining the pork for 3 days in sugar, salt, lemon, spices, and the oh so essential sodium nitrate.

Brining
Brining

After 3 days I removed the pork from brine and let it dry in the refrigerator. After drying I hot smoked it for about 4 hours at 225 degrees.

Smoking
Smoking

Now I’m a purist when it comes to smoking. I like to smoke over a wood fire with blends of hardwoods I’ve cut myself. But it was howling wind and blowing snow on Thursday when I needed to smoke the Canadian bacon and I wasn’t up to building a fire and babysitting it in those conditions. Instead I got out the electric smoker that I inherited from my Dad’s good friend Sam Taulbee.

The electric smoker is so easy to use. You just set it and it holds the cooking temperature exactly there. All you have to do is throw a few wood chips in every now and then.

Smoked
Smoked

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and it’s hard to argue with results like these.

Sliced
Sliced

Tasting something like this makes you realize how weird, unnatural, and chemical-y commercial Canadian bacon is. It was easily one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, let alone prepared.

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Keeping it Green

It’s February, months since harvest, months to go until planting. Nothing to do [1] except sit by the fire and think. I’ve been re-reading Wendell Berry’s “Our Only Earth” and I was struck by the following passage enough to get out of my chair [2] and write it down.

The predominant agricultural science of the universities, the corporations, and the government is still almost unanimously promoting industrial agriculture despite the by now overwhelming evidence of its failure: soil erosion, salinization, aquifer depletion, nutrient depletion, dependence on on fossil fuels and toxic chemicals, pollution of streams and rivers, loss of genetic and ecological diversity, destruction of rural communities and the cultures of husbandry.

In the farming community we’ve been nearly united against something called the “Waters Of The United States” (WOTUS), a plan by the EPA to define what waterways may be regulated. We’re enraged by ‘government overreach’, we assert that no one knows better than the farmer how to protect the waters of the United States.

All the time ignoring algae blooms in Lake Erie caused, at least in large part, by runoff from farm fields. Ignore that Grand Lake St. Marys in Ohio was unfit even to touch, because of farm runoff.

Sign  posted on Grand Lake St. Marys
Sign posted on Grand Lake St. Marys

Ignore that there is a huge dead zone at the mouth of the Mississippi, caused by farm runoff. Ignore that the drinking water in Des Moines is unfit to drink almost half of the year because of nitrogen from farmer’s fields ending up in the river.

Just what I’m thinking about on a February night.

1. That’s a slight exaggeration.

2. And that takes a heap o’ motivation to get me out of my chair, I tell you what.

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Keeping it Clean

I’m not a “greenie,” [1] but I was watching a cooking show tonight, one of my favorites, American’s Test Kitchen. They were making a curry and roasting peppers in the oven. To do that they lined a baking sheet with foil.

I like the idea of keeping the baking sheets clean. We scrub and scrub and scrub ours and they’re still blackened and pitted. It’d sure be nice to have pristine baking sheets that look like new. Maybe I should line my pans.

But if I line a baking sheet with aluminum foil, I’ve not only spent money on the foil, but the foil then has to be thrown away. I can’t recycle it with food baked on it. An irreplaceable natural resource headed for the landfill, all because I wanted a baking pan to look pretty.

I love my pans, I really do. And I wish they looked perfect. But does it really matter how shiny they are?

I don’t think so.

1.

green·ie
ˈɡrēnē/
noun informal derogatory
a person who campaigns for protection of the environment.

Ok, yes, I am.

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There’s more than one way to peel an egg.

We’ve had laying hens for years. Eggs from your own chickens are the best thing in the world. They’re fresh and rich, the yolks are creamy yellow and the whites are thick.

But the one bad thing about fresh eggs is they’re nearly impossible to peel when you hard boil them. We’ve tried every trick under the sun, all guaranteed to produce easy to peel eggs, and every one has failed. We always ended up spending minutes per egg, prying the shells off in tiny pieces and taking chunks of white with them.

Until yesterday that is. We finally found a method that worked. We hard-boiled 3 eggs, very fresh eggs, gathered this weekend. And they peeled like a dream, large chunks of shell coming off at once leaving the whites smooth and intact behind. Amazing.

Here’s the technique, from Cooks Illustrated.

Bring 1 inch of water to a rolling boil in a pan. If you have a pan with a steamer, put the eggs in the steamer and put the steamer in the pan. Otherwise lower the eggs carefully into the boiling water. Cover the pan, turn the heat to medium-low, and set a timer for 13 minutes.

After 13 minutes put the eggs in an ice bath for 15 minutes to stop the cooking. After 15 minutes you can peel the eggs, or put them in the refrigerator to peel later.

According to Cooks Illustrated the method works because starting the eggs in hot water or steam causes the membrane separating the white from the shell to draw away from the shell, making them easy to peel.

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Donuts

Watching the Cook’s Country TV show on PBS tonight and they’re featuring homemade donuts.

And I’m remembering making donuts with my Grandma. She’d set up a card table in her kitchen, cover it with newspaper, and away my brother, sister, and I would go. The donuts were the biscuits that come in a paper tube. We’d punch the center out, fry the biscuits in hot oil, and then douse them with powdered sugar, granulated sugar and cinnamon, or even dabs of jelly.

Lord, can you imagine the mess?

50 years gone by now, it’s a beautiful memory and legacy.

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Thanksgiving 2015

We had Thanksgiving with Debbie’s family on Thursday and with mine on Friday.

The young’uns in our families are the millennial generation [1]. We’ve watched them grow from infants to the young adults they are today.

My generation loves to bash the millennials. The opinions run from the millennials are the worst generation ever and the world is doomed to the millennials are the worst generation ever but the world may survive their awfulness.

I don’t get it. I look at these kids, and they’re all right [2]. They’re smart. They’re more than smart; they’re bright, they sparkle with intelligence. They’re ambitious and hard-working. They’re tolerant and kind. Now I’m not looking through the world with rose-tinted glasses. They can be dumber than a bag of hammers and you just shake your head at the wonderment of it.

But these are good kids, and it’s been a pleasure to share in their lives.

We’re handing off the world to good hands.

1. Millennials are those born roughly between the early 1980’s and the early 2000’s.

2. Or “the kids are alright” as my g-g-g-generation would say.

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Shorty’s

I haven’t written about restaurants for a while. Honestly? I’ve been too discouraged and disappointed to write about it. zumbrun.net is a happy place, I don’t want to dwell on the negative here.

I’m talking about, for example, Eddie Merlot’s. Nice enough, but the last time I was there it was 48 dollars for a New York strip – just the steak, sides are extra. Around here you can buy a New York strip that will make you weep with joy when you eat it at retail for 8 dollars a pound. A 6X markup over retail is banditry. It’s good, the food is generally cooked well, the service is ok. But it’s not 48 dollars for a steak good.

Or, for another example, Joseph Decuis used to be our go-to spot for celebratory dinners. Amazing food, perfect service. It was expensive, but you got what you paid for. But recently Joseph Decuis seems to have returned to its roots: Pete Eschelman’s private club. Joseph Decuis started out as the private dining room for his business. The last few times we’ve been there it’s been like since we’re outsiders we get ignored. Service has been indifferent. The last time we were there we ordered, got a glass of wine, and then were ignored for 45 minutes. Literally ignored – no wait staff visited our table until I finally got up and hunted them down. Food has been inexcusably bad. Debbie got a piece of fish that was raw in the middle. It seems like all attention of the kitchen and wait staff was going to groups that they knew.

Discouraging.

Which brings me to my happy place – Shorty’s in Garrett.

Shorty’s is located in the heart of Garrett, just south of the train tracks. It’s just a neighborhood place. There’s a beautiful old bar as you walk in, and incredible pressed tin ceilings and then just some vinyl-clad booths and diner style tables.

The Beautiful Bar
The Beautiful Bar

It’s not fancy, but the food is oh so good. If I don’t know or trust a restaurant I order a steak cooked medium. I like my steaks medium rare, but at too many places medium rare comes out rare [1]. At Shorty’s every steak I’ve had (unlike Joseph Decuis) has come out perfectly cooked.

Shorty’s full name is Shorty’s Steakhouse, and that’s fair, because their steaks are worth top billing. But they run specials every weekend (they have a Facebook page you can check for the specials) and they are at once as delicious and innovative as anything anyone is doing, and still hometown.

Debbie and I went up there last weekend for one of those specials: bluegills.

Bluegills
Bluegills

Debbie and I normally order different things so we can taste each others [2], but when it came to bluegills we both ordered them. And like everything at Shorty’s they didn’t disappoint. Which is saying a lot, because we take our bluegills seriously. They were just lightly breaded, dusted I’d guess with a bit of flour, cornmeal, salt, and pepper. And then fried until crisp outside and still tender and juicy inside. Served with red cabbage slaw and another side of your choice.

We got there early and by 6 pm [3] the place was packed. But despite the crowd, Shorty’s was ready for it, and unlike Joseph Decuis, the service was spot-on. Every plate hit the table exactly when it should, the wait staff checked back often, and our glasses were never empty.

Our most recent visit, and everytime we’ve been Shorty’s, was just splendid.

1. Medium rare is warm, red, and firm in the middle, rare is cold, red, and soft. If you want a steak warm through and get it cold, it’s just gross. It ain’t rocket science, it only takes a modicum of care and skill to get a steak cooked right.

2. As usual, when I say “we”, I mean “me.” I taste Debbie’s and any attempt by her to taste mine is met by growls and threatening gestures with the silverware.

3. Here in hillbilly heaven 6 pm is late for supper. And we have dinner at 11:30 am, in case you were wondering.

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Cold and Tired

Spenser [1] spent several hours today digging down through the snow

Snow
Snow

into the unfrozen ground underneath. He can’t hear, and his eyesight’s not that good, but he can still smell rodents under the ground. He came in with ice and mud caked on his paws and has been resting ever since.

Warm
Warm
When I come home
Cold and tired
It’s good to warm my bones
Beside the fire
– Pink Floyd

1. The Wonder DOg

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Chicken Excitement

I went out just before suppertime to shut the chickens in. It was getting dark and it was cold and windy. I wanted to get cleaned up and have supper and not have to go out again.

But the chickens were all still in the outside pen, clucking their stupid heads off, and one of them was throwing itself around the closed in pen, fluttering and banging off the fence. What sort of chicken drama was playing out in their tiny chicken brains?

I got closer and realized the “chicken” throwing itself about in the enclosed pen was actually a sharp-shinned hawk. It had flown in there somehow and couldn’t find a way out.

Sharp-shinned Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk

That’s a generic picture of a sharp-shinned hawk. We’ve had one hanging around our place all fall. He hangs on the wind over Skunk Hill and captures rodents in our native planting areas.

While the hawk was bashing about in the enclosed pen, our rooster was on the other side of the fence, throwing himself at the hawk, quite willing to take on the predator to defend his hens.

Our Rooster
Our Rooster

That is a picture of our rooster. He as full of himself as any creature can be. But he went after that hawk without a thought of himself, despite the fact that the hawk would’ve surely have torn him apart if he had gotten through the fence. You can attribute that to his chicken sized brain, or to the insane belief in their own immortality and invincibility of all young males. Whatever the reason, it was impressive to watch.

I opened the door to the pen so the hawk could find his way out, and Spenser the Wonder Dog immediately dashed in. Spenser is deaf as a post, so he didn’t hear me screaming at him that the hawk would tear his eyes out. Spenser trotted over, sniffed the hawk, evidently found it not interesting and wandered into the chicken coop to look for eggs – which he finds very interesting.

In the meantime the rooster continues to throw himself at the fence to try to get to the hawk, and the hawk flies into the fence right by me and hangs onto the fence with its talons and stares at me, evidently wanting to rip my throat out.

Being only slightly smarter than the rooster, it took a while for me to realize I should move away from the open door. When I did the hawk burst through the open door and disappeared over the roof of our house like a fighter jet on afterburners.

I went into the coop to retrieve the Wonder Dog and there was one dead chicken that the hawk had killed. Spenser, being senile as well as deaf, didn’t notice it until I picked it up.

As soon as I stepped back outside the hens and the rooster bolted for the coop. I sealed the doors up, and as I did I heard the contented, interrogative “chook, chook, chook?” noise they make as they settle onto their perches for the night.

Minus one chicken, all was well again.

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