Rendered Fat Content


I realized yesterday afternoon that even this sorry Deluxe Executive Home kitchen, with its forty watt Easybake® oven, could feel like home to me. I caught myself slipping into that state of mind where I find almost no separation between imagining and doing, perhaps the best possible manifestation of the elusive flow.

Around eleven, I realized that my old and dear friend Dan would arrive in a few hours. The Muse had supposed we would just eat out, and I’d presumed something similar until I flashed on the fact that Dan’s overnight on his way to Albuquerque would be my first opportunity to make a guest supper since before we left Takoma Park, nearly two and a half months ago. How could I pass up this opportunity?

I thought perhaps short ribs, slow roasted with veg, and a passel of those ping pong ball-sized golden beets.
Dan’s basically an old school carnivore from Chicago. He tolerates veg as long as it stays in its place, which is not too awfully close to the meat, which is always the purpose of any meal. He’s a home brewer and considers beer to be perhaps the original food group, and he has an exquisite beer palate, so I’d find some unique brews he probably hadn’t yet encountered.

An hour later, I was browning off the short ribs in the cast iron while prepping the background veg. Six sides, a short three or four minutes per, I completed the veg prep just as I turned the ribs to brown that final side. I’d salted them rather heavily before barely greasing the pan, leaving the dregs of the Schmaltz fat roasted potatoes I’d concocted for breakfast. The ribs browned almost crispy on the outside, better to seal in the juices for the slow oven and the braising liquid to reconstitute.

I borrowed heavily from leftovers for the veg background. A Ziplock with excess previously slow-roasted veg from that rabbit stew. Another with three fine fire-roasted Pimento peppers. Mushrooms unsuitable for any purpose other than melting into indiscernible background flavor. Four fine fresh baby red onions with tops. A whole head of sticky red-tinged garlic. I threw the dozen golden beets into the BIG stock pot, covered them with cold water, then placed that pot onto a back burner set to high, which means the full 40 watts of power.

I transferred the meat into the bottom of a deep enough pot then added dregs of my next to last quart of veal neck bone stock and about a half bottle of decent red wine. I deglaze the cast iron with the onions, quartered, and the mushy mushrooms. Once those had sufficiently blackened, I moved them in on top of the meat and added the garlic and pimentos to the pan, with a splash of red wine, which stained the garlic. I squeezed the leftover rabbit stew veg on over the top before turning the mushroom/pepper stuff in on top of that, then set the resulting mess into that slow oven.

I remembered those two Ziplocks full of Muse-made tomato sauce and put one to thawing to add a bit of sweet to the base. I removed the meat pot just long enough to slip the sauce burg in on top of everything. By then, the beets were about done, so I just turned off that pot to let them cool their own heels while the slow roast began, then I went to make some more headway in that James Lee Burke novel I’d just discovered. An hour later, I checked progress and found that the oven might have best been characterized as just a tad too slow as the sauce burg was barely thawing and the braising liquid barely warmish to the touch.

I pulled out the oven thermometer, which, of course, is basically unreadable, and frustrated, managed to drop it through the oven racks clear through to the forty watt heating element. I finally managed to determine that, indeed, the oven was humming along at the prescribed 300 degrees, more or less, but that this temperature was inadequate to cook anything at this altitude. I heated the meat pot to near boiling on the stove top while resetting the oven to what any flatlander would consider hotter than low and slow; 350. Once the meat pot started sweating a bit, I replaced it into the newly hotter oven then returned to Burke. Shortly thereafter, the Deluxe Executive Towne Home started smelling like a decent diner on short rib night.

I wash as I prep, so that by the time I’m finished prepping, I have exactly one bowl, perhaps, and the cutting board and knife left to clean. The kitchen felt pristine save for the slowly cooling beets. Even the many Ziplock bags were washed out and drying, stuck to the cupboard door. I decided to vacuum the floors in celebration.

The afternoon unfolded just as if scripted, except for the unfortunate incident with the three hundred degree oven, which I decided to reframe as a new class of preparation: the warm marinade. Each ingredient seemed to just appear as if merely needing to cross a chasm the width of a synapse to manifest. I’d inventoried the fridge just two days before and still held a true impression of its contents, and I could not have stocked it better for the purpose at hand. Perhaps more importantly, I lost the crushing self consciousness I so often feel when engaging in some creative effort. I was not just experiencing flow, but embodying it.

That big old brain scientists blame for our rise from the jungle muck can also enmire us in worse, for it’s active anticipation and passive reflection are fully capable of blinding any one of us from what’s right before our eyes. We get tangled up in musing, I guess. I certainly do. I might receive no better gift than the small package that arrives unbidden which I open to find not automatic action inside, but unburdened engagement. I am never even aware that I’m there, so enthusiastically and unselfconsciously engaged am I. I am not really anywhere at all, at least not the me I so familiarly recognize looking back out of my weary mirror. I held no mirror up to my self while prepping that supper. I thought not at all. The world simply did my bidding without me seeming to bid anything.

Oh, such a gift to be so completely unaware, so deeply engaged that I forget to fret, so thoroughly involved that I could truthfully swear the supper made itself! Screw the mindful, thoughtful, reflective life. I love to outrun the enclosing captions, to out-distance the alluring narrator, to slip past and by that skeptical audience of one. Nobody complained about the result, though I could not really rightfully claim much of any responsibility for it. Supper produced itself as if I was the tool of the ingredients and not the other way around.

©2015 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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