The Old Chef

The old chef made his way through the soft snowflakes. The night was dark, yet still dimly lit by the suns afterglow on the first sliver of a waning moon. The only other illumination was from the candle and firelight flickering on the windows of the tavern to his right, dancing their day’s last dance in the fading aurora of a day past, a twilight gone and night approaching.

Snow was piled high in drifts to his left along the roughhewn sidewalk, all but lost in the winters repeatedly clearing of the pedestrian surface. Only a few weeks ago it had been wide and brightly lit and passable even in the dead of night, as the late night merrymakers finished the last of their drinks, ushering in a new rise with puffed cheeks and rosy noses. The women had been clad in skin tight leggings and furry boots, the fabric of the pants pulled tight to give what they hoped was the best possible image in the fuzzy, uncertain light.

The old man enjoyed the look, and the embrace of the young girls as they squealed and greeted him, one and all, with a hug and a kiss. Always the opportunist, he relished the chance to pat their behinds, smell their shampoo and marvel at how beautiful youth had become. His days of romantic liaisons with the young, desirable and sexy were now long behind him, but that did not mean he could not dream. He could reminisce of the days of his youth, before Father Time began his unavoidable pull. Men such as he felt age piling against their door differently than some and more quickly than most. Years spent in backbreaking toil, substance abuse of all kinds and the lifestyle of a famous, if not broke, rock star aged a fellow.

The sidewalk was not quite visible this far from his cottage, but he knew the path as he once was mesmerized by the dimples over a lovers ass. This little path was not as attractive as the previous recipient of his attention, but it deserved a little observation, even so. His shoulder throbbed, a constant reminder of a night not that long ago when he had trusted his balance on ice a little too much. He had fallen then, and broken three bones, as his calcium deficient skeletal system attempted to absorb the blow.

His dog ranged a bit ahead of him into the lot, where snow had been pushed away to provide parking for the fine automobiles that the financially astute would motor through the weather on their way to the place of fine dining. Their youthful frames were comfortable and fabulous in the heated leather seats, skinny jeans and scarves, all carefully askew. Hair mussed and iPhones plastered against their heads in perfect disregard for the cancer that it may cause, they were the new masters now.

In his day, a Chef, although revered in his own kitchen, was an outcast. A fringe character, sullied upon their chosen career more by chance and skill than by intention. More often than not, they were unspoken repositories of a past that took many shots of alcohol to pry out. Sometimes, they were criminals, unfairly cast upon by the system for crimes real or imagined. They were often victim of petty charges which, through negligence, took root and grew under the social framework. Another cook may be a recovering addict, paying the cost of his or her narrow escape from certain death in the comradery and unspoken rules of the kitchen.

A true Chef rose to the top of these miscreants, hard workers and talented all, by simply becoming the best. It was not enough to attend one of the many fine culinary institutes, although he had. Then, before the days of celebrity chefs and twitter and the ever-growing success of television reality shows where competitors, for real or not, cooked for the entertainment of the masses, there were no pretenders.

He had started cooking in a professional kitchen when he was twelve years old. An age when most adolescent males in the United States today are thinking of things like class, school, phones and girls. He had thought of girls, of course. A smile played across his face, followed by the drag of a match as he lit his pipe.

Puffing contentedly, he meandered along behind his dog, stopping when she did, pausing once to clean the remnants of her dinner out of the snow and place them carefully, still warm, into a protective plastic bag. He thought of the sunsets over the Aegean Sea, as the light, so different then, full of hope and dreams and the soft kisses of a beautiful young Italian girl, bursting with romance and so very in love with the young dreamer with the scars and aspirations for grandeur.

The scars had faded with time and travel, put there by his boss, an angry potslinger with a penchant for flame and razor blades, who had sadistically branded most of his young apprentices as they worked in his kitchens. The young men were blood relatives more often than not, inexorably tied to the tradition of serving under a master craftsman in order to learn a skill. Under this madman, Chef had transformed his fiery temper and tenacity into something hard and brutal, steel under the skin of a normal man. He had learned to ignore pain, hardship and the taunts of his fellow comrades as the only white boy in the arena. Perhaps more importantly, he learned flair and showmanship and demonstrated an instinctive command of the senses intuitively, without thought.

He left on a cruise ship, bound for other destinations, other ports of which he had dreamed, as any young man will fantasize of, no matter their current location. He left the young girl sleeping in her bed in the humble abode they shared, years before the tourist hordes descended on the Amalfi Coast in their tour buses, disembarking to waddle from the safety of the air conditioned seats under the watchful and bored eyes of their captors, who loudly informed them that “This is where the locals eat!”

He went away, traveled the world, never settling down as so many chefs are still inclined to do, wandering in the search of something else, something better to taste and learn and enjoy. Another girl or three, aging as he did in the graceless but seemingly infinite space of life.

He awoke one day to find it all changed. In his twilight years, he had been dethroned, removed from command. As all old generals are forced one day to serve dissident, disenchanted witness to the new champions of the kitchen. Tattooed and manscaped, they were a far cry from the cooks of his youth. They rarely, if ever, had endured the hardships of years of toil. Sporting six-pack abdominals, groomed hair and hip beards, they were ever conscience of their image. To them, their visage was everything, their iPhones a constant presence, their attention spans attuned to the twelve second sound bite. They knew nothing of true hardship, of poverty or desperation.

Frankly, he found them and their relentless posturing annoying at best. But he had long learned his place. Yet, like an old prizefighter, staggering and weak, he still felt he had one good fight in him, one more monstrous kitchen moment, fighting for the glory of the line and the admiration of the female wait staff.

He watched the driving snow and turned around to his lonely cabin, where his brandy and fire waited patiently. He could wait. He could dream.

He could remember. His dog followed him as she always did, the faithful companion that he had always dreamed of. Along with the sweet, salty scent of the girl by the sea.

 

Racism, Social Stratification and $5 Twine.

$4.99. I stared at the label, not quite believing my eyes. My kitchen was sacked, resembling what I imagine Carthage must have looked like after the Battle of Zama. The dishwasher was askew and looked ready to escape the madness. Loose heavy gauge wire snaked behind the cabinets like giant spaghetti. The sink was freed from its moorings and the faucet was scattered about on the floor. Chicken stock and jam were simmering and boiling, in that order, on the range. The crock pot was bubbling with soup and empty jars littered every available space. Sourdough bread was rising in the chaos, destined to fail from want of attention. The oven was set on 400 degrees and I was dangerously close to a full kitchen fire. Just add grease.

This time of year renders everyone insane. Those who do cook feel responsible for every mention of a Holiday dinner. The non-culinarians feel obliged to still contribute to the feasting in some way and so overspend at Whole Foods and Boston Market. At this point in time, the promise that this year, somehow, I will spend less on Christmas is shot as the Absolute Delivery Date From Amazon pursues us across the calendar is abandoned and largely forgotten.

The money crunch seemed more real this season. With one house empty on the market and another occupied by our small family, we were monetarily stressed. End of year costs for the self-employed are extremely shocking. Rising health care and all the myriad of fees, taxes and levies are leaving small business owners raped and broken as we front the money required to employ a host of government employees, whose sole intent seems to be declaring the day after Christmas a Holiday.

I looked at the war zone of a kitchen, dashed over to the range in time to keep the jam from boiling over and considered the real cost of eating in our country. It is ever popular to piously choose healthy food choices over packaged ones as more of us have the opportunity to do. Supply is rising in response to the social self-justification of high quality food products. High-end box stores such as Whole Foods are nearly neighborhood fixtures catering to the middle and upper class, primarily white, population. Fish markets are now part of a hip culture as consumers pose with product and hawkers gain reputation not for their fish, but their ability to toss them for their customers. Butcher shops, although still trailing their seafood and produce brethren, are also on the rise as the millennial horde discover what humans have intuitively known for thousands of years: Meat is good.

All this has its repercussions. We are still single consumers amongst billions that need sustenance to survive. If we are so lucky to have our own small gardens, access to local farms, waterways, apiaries, backyard poultry farmers and sustainable meat, then we should count ourselves blessed. What we proclaim as a right, access to good food, is in fact a privilege.

With all this in mind, as news coverage of demonstrations against racial and social prejudices plays silently on my open laptop, I sat stunned on the floor with my five dollar ball of twine. $4.99, plus tax, to be exact. It was in fact adorned in the appropriate wrapper. The label designated it as Gourmet Kitchen Twine. Was it so different than the twine used around the world by the working poor and upper class alike, which is available in most food supply stores and other bulk stores for about the same price as their gourmet counterpart, only for FIVE HUNDED feet of it?

I unwrapped the twine out of curiosity. What was the actual cost of this stuff? A rough measurement confirmed what I had suspected; the size of the ball was correlated to the length, as is every other rope-like product of similar diameters, regardless of the price. Brown twine, which widely available at most, if not all Asian, Latino, Middle-Eastern or the myriads of other “ethnic” supermarkets, works out to a penny a foot. The shit being sold to pretentious wealthy white shoppers in search of the most seasonal and local vegetables to go with their imported cheeses and wines: About $0.25 per foot. You pay a lot for the packaging and marketing that goes along with being a foodie these days.

What irked me the most was that it was in our kitchen. That means that either my wife or myself, most likely me as badly as hate to admit it, had purchased it. One or both of us had thought so little of the costs associated with wrapping our sourdough starter, homemade butter and meat products that I simply had not checked the price. Such a thing is unthinkable for most Americans, regardless of color, but would be particularly nauseating for one of our ethnic minorities. I have dared think of people watching the price of their groceries mount on the blinking screen as they weigh their options as just not as smart as me. As I smugly stand in line with my frivolities, organic seedless grapes ($10.99 a pound at Whole Foods) and Kombucha ($5.99 per 12 fluid ounces at a local gourmet grocer), these people are weighing the cost of surviving until the next paycheck or government assistance installment.

The truth in the escalating price of wholesome food, health care and reality of the aptly labelled food deserts is not in the lack of education: It is in the lack of options.

I shamefully utilized my ball of twine. But not before I put up a length of it in my workshop. Six feet, six inches. Just a little over a $1.50. To measure the growth of my son, and to remind myself that food options, for now, are a luxury of the fortunate and a miserable truth for others.

The Lonely Battle

Snow fell, silent and thick. It shortened space and rendered all sound muffled. My four wheel drive truck was essentially useless without the tire chains I had not thought to put on. The internet, a model of communication, went out first. I managed a quick call through to my wife before the phones went down. I felt isolated, but comforted. My wood stove raged with firewood cut, split, stacked and dried the year before. White oak deadfall, mostly, it provided me with heat in its last gasp in recognizable form. The ashes would rejoin the carbon cycle in my gardens and supply the lye necessary for building rudimentary rock walls and joining long-forgotten bricks, pushed aside in the forest for nearly fifty years into a path to be trodden by my infant son in the spring.

The electricity failed soon after. There was a blink, as swift as the eye brushing away a microbe of irritation. The inevitable click and whir of computer backup systems was the only sure sign that our power grid, if you can call a solitary line on a pole such a thing, was doomed for failure. The hush of the falling snow made the fall of a small pine onto the conduit silent. The power blinked off, sure to be lost for a few days.

I stared into the fireplace, alone in a warm house with nothing but memories. Aching moments of time past, of beaches and mountains and the distant pounding of surf. Recollections of past loves, all trodden under the wheel of time, jerked into the present like a sudden bed of lemon grass in the early spring as the plow passes through the wet earth for the season’s first planting.
The house was still and unbearably silent. The tick of a teapot, set over the glowing cast iron, was the only sound, save that of the popping of the firewood as it reluctantly released its heat for my comfort. Left to my own devices, with no one to cook for, entertain or monitor my actions, I thought of the bottle of bourbon I had hidden away nearly one year before.

Every addict, at first, has a secret stash. I told myself, as do so many others, that it served as a symbolic reminder of what I had become. In reality, it is like a beloved blanket, hidden away by a teenage boy, who knows that comfort can be found if the night becomes too dark, or when a broken heart becomes too painful.

That night, as the snow fell and only the trees to serve witness, I thought of my stash. It was an excellent bottle of bourbon, I remembered. The fire seemed to agree, as the flames bobbed and nodded in agreement. I tried to think of my son and wife, but I reasoned with myself that they would never know.

That I had been pointedly and repeatedly admonished by doctors that even one more binge could, and most likely would, kill me seemed to just not matter. I began to wish for company, half believing that I would hike out of the snow covered mountains and make my way the three miles to the nearest store, where I could stay busy pouring wine and preparing comfort food for others.

The other half, then the stronger counterpoint, argued that I should celebrate my sobriety. After all, it argued, everyone else had forgotten. It had been nearly a year, so of course I could handle just one or two drinks. I pondered this as my beloved Manx cat stood silent guard, restless as usual inside. As wild as his ancestors, he distrusted anything that may be a trap, a trait inherited and fostered by his experience with man.

His gaze was impenetrable as I made my point aloud to him. He seemed to not care, as I felt abandoned by all the people who had begged me, pleaded with me and cheered for me before, during and just after recovery. I had beaten the odds, as a staggering prizefighter might do, stopped drinking in the midst of Delirium Tremens, surviving the worst the disease had to throw at me, at least for the now. After the immediate horrors had passed, I had been diagnosed with terminal liver cirrhosis and given only a short time to live.

I refused to think of this that night. The draw of the bottle was a tangible, physical thing. I could taste it, feel the familiar burn. As the snow deepened and wind began to howl across the mountaintops, I gave in to the familiar and ventured outside to retrieve my Elixir of the Gods. I reasoned that I would only have a taste, just one. Something to relax me and celebrate my solitude. A quick jigger to render the memories distant and harmless, where they could bay as lost hounds into the dark, hungry for recognition and companionship.

I journeyed by landmarks burned into my memory. It was a long walk, as I had intended when I stashed the bottle. The driving snow should have obscured signs of my self-immolation, but I am a woodsman. Even as a child, I could find my way through the heavily forested mountains of my home at a dead run, rarely pausing for direction, often at night, when the moon and stars would draw me out of the comfort of my room and into the mysteries of the whispering dark.

The bottle was where I left it. Carefully concealed in a small cast in the trunk of a small hickory, it had gone unnoticed, as I knew it would. Few people walk the mountains these days, content to roar about on fossil fuel fired machines. Even fewer see, or care to look.

Stubbs watched me from a safe distance, sitting as all cats do despite his lack of a tail. He was mysterious, felines can be. I seated myself in the snow, brushing the tiny miracles from a log now buried in the white drifts. I uncorked the bottle.

The next morning found me helplessly vomiting blood into the still snow. Wrapped into a blanket and trapped in the throes of withdrawal, I ate as much snow as I could, my presence violating the still beauty of the morning.

I lost that fight, but I did not give up. I stubbornly clung to consciousness and fought through the sickness and pain, the fevers, the lost passage of hours as my tired brain and tortured body followed my will to live. My wife returned two days later and I drove her SUV through the trackless snow up our tiny dirt drive. She looked at me oddly and carefully inspected the house for anything out of order. Her photographic memory could be at once miraculous and vexing, as she could remember the positioning of every item before her departure. Her searching gaze fell upon the china cabinet, where rocks glasses were kept, shut away and formerly dusty from misuse.

My heart dropped as I spotted what she had only seconds before: One glass was clean. Gleaming cut crystal winked at us as I pretended to have not noticed what she had seen. My eyes were damp with tears as I played with our son, praying that she would not do as she had promised after my last betrayal and turn me away.

She studied my ashen face, jaundiced eyes and gaunt frame. I was painfully lean from no food or water for days as my body ate itself in retribution for the damage I had once again rendered. Our infant boy, carrying my name, tucked his hands inside the space between him and me, where our hearts beat the same blood and for better or worse, our souls shared a bond that could not be broken.

I met her hard gaze beseechingly, pleading silently with her. Not to forgive. The time was past for that. I silently begged her to just let me be. To just allow me this time and space allotted to spend with my son. To allow me some dignity as her husband, to not cast me out, where I would wander alone once more, into the inevitable oblivion of shame and death, casting my shadow on some lonely mountain or losing myself in the pounding surf of a distant land. Our small family was all I had left. My career as a teacher was shot, drowned in a pool of forgotten mistakes. My corner office in an engineering firm was a distant memory and in a remote time, rendered extinct by my alcohol fueled orbit.

Her gaze slowly softened as she watched us. I wept into the blonde curls of my only begotten son, thankful to be allowed this chance, yet again.

She acknowledged without speaking a battle lost, but a war not yet done. Inevitably, we all must fight alone. We must spare our loved ones the knowledge of our own ignorance and fallacies. Her faith in my scarred core, beaten and bloodied by so many years of selfish acts, where I had never known fear or defeat, only despair, carried me through the moment as the sun played across the melting snow.

For me, that was the only way out of the fog. Out of the snow. Out of the weeds. Once, they had blocked the stars. Now, I could see the horizon beyond.
Where love, trust and friendships could be earned once again.

B.S. and Calamity

B.S. on a plate!

B.S. on a plate!

There is a moment in every cook, chef or restaurant workers day when they feel like they should just quit. For the front house employees, it can be after Another Complaint rolls in from a table of eight who have just decided to split the tab into an aggravated octagon. Each one wants to pay only for what they have eaten, and arguments ensue over who ate most of Grandmom’s food, rustled drinks from the bar while they thought no one was looking and the dreaded tip calculation. Water service somehow becomes a big deal to these holiday scrooges, as does the timely delivery of bread to the table.

Exasperated to no end with her shift and very life at that moment, a server has two options: Roll with it or make a scene. Either scenario can play out in an instant, which is why God made front house managers. These are people who can swoop in like Batman, render justice as necessary, and most importantly, make sure that no one is permanently injured. The server is usually left to sulk, the guests are given gift certificates and rounds of promises that the next time they come in things will be better and a big sigh of relief goes up from the kitchen as they depart, huffily and deeply admired with themselves by the acquisition of free cake. They don’t know it was left over from three days ago, picked over by busboys, dishwashers, starving servers and the delivery guys, and, honestly, it wouldn’t really matter to them anyway. Their private war with the underlings has been won, and they can retire to the nearest McDonalds to glory in one-dollar cheeseburgers, which they all really wanted anyway.

Cooks can have their own meltdowns, which are generally confined back of the line, where the fallout is initially limited. Bodily harm is threatened, pots are hurled and insults are vehemently delivered in several languages, usually directed at the perpetrators lack of penis girth or lack of the described organ all together. It blows over quickly, but like a nuclear weapon, long fragmented in the explosion, continues to leak radiation over the entire restaurant. Potatoes disappear, cooks begin to insist they take regular breaks and everyone is suddenly aware of every employee protection law in existence. Tears are shed, cigarettes and weed are vigorously abused and house alcohol and wine vanishes at an alarming rate.

I stepped into one of these situations one night as a new cook. The situation was further complicated by sexual and emotional relationships and the unexplained truancy of the house side dish of grits and gravy. By this time, Chef was three sheets to the wind and the G&G was gone. Vanished. Faded into mist. Caput.

Chef demanded a new side dish. Pronto. The other cooks made their way into the land occupied by the immensely popular misplaced house G&G. Unaware of the calamity, I was perfectly happy mincing and dicing and julienning vegetables while secretly scribbling in my notebook. Somehow, it became my responsibility.

All we had in the walk in in mass quantities were Brussel Sprouts. A fifty pound bag of them. During the week following the insanity of Thanksgiving, someone, who was also occupying the great beyond with the missing chefs and corn grits, had ordered fifty pounds of Brussel sprouts.

Nobody likes these little green monsters. Not even me. Vegetarians don’t even care for them. Vegans avoid them. People with gluten allergies shun them as if they were a by-product of a bagel factory. Children are bewildered when parents try to make them eat them, as all children have been since the beginning of time. This was probably why we had fifty pounds of them. A highly perishable, dubious vegetable of unknown origins. In a burlap sack.

That night, I proved my worth. Our new side dish, appropriately labeled B.S., flew off plates and earned itself a solid place as a keeper on our seasonal menu. Here is what some desperation, a few ingredients and a house full of angry guests cogitated.
House Brussel Sprouts (B.S.)

(Serves 20)
• Five pounds of Brussel sprouts, halved;
• Two whole heads of garlic, peeled, smashed and finely chopped;
• One pound of bacon, diced (see below for tips on dicing bacon);
• Three medium shallots, finely diced;
• Four red onions, finely diced;
• One tbs. of garlic powder;
• One tbs. of celery salt;
• One half cup of crushed red pepper; and
• One glass of good red wine, for yourself and one glass for deglazing. (Meiomi, California, 2013)

• Sautee the onions in butter and olive oil until translucent, ten minutes or so.
• Add the shallots and garlic and continue cooking until lightly browned.
• Add the bacon and brown, stirring constantly until the bacon is cooked through and crispy.
• Deglaze with the wine.
• In the meantime, bring two quarts of water to a boil. Have a sieve and a bowl of ice water ready.
• Dump the spouts into the water, salt liberally. Boil for five minutes. If the leaves begin to separate, remove immediately.
• Drain through the sieve and place immediately in the ice water. After thirty seconds or so, remove the sprouts from the ice bath and strain once more.
• Add the sprouts to the pan and cook quickly, stirring gently, for about five minutes. Toss with the garlic powder, celery salt and crushed red pepper. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Pairs well with venison, flank steak or goose.
• Watch your kids eat the B.S.

The truth of the matter is this: When the chaos clears, the kitchen is clean, the wait staff have divided their tips, the cooks have sharpened their knives and hidden their most treasured ingredients from one another; everyone descends on a local bar and eatery, celebrates another shift won and battles conquered, there is nowhere else any of them would rather be.

I miss all of this. The hurled dishes, the heat, burns, cuts and calloused hands. These are small things in the face of a shared comradery. Like fellow blue collar workers all over our country, we appreciate the small things.

Tip: Partially freeze the bacon before dicing and make sure your knife is SHARP! Otherwise bacon is extremely annoying to dice evenly. Enjoy!

Hunting and Thanksgiving

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As a child of the coalfields in the 1970’s, Holidays could be stressful. Valentine’s Day required that you have a girlfriend, a terrible burden for a youngster to handle. Easter required new clothes and an interminably long day spent in church services while all you could think of were all the new creatures cavorting in the forest, following the old trails. July 4th meant that I must, must, play baseball. I hated baseball. Any chances of my enjoying a sport that incorporated a small, but deadly ball hurled at my person at speeds in excess of a speeding car were ruined by my father’s insistence that I catch it.

One such Holiday, which included a demolition derby (loved it!), a lot of locals performing antics on newly acquired dirt bikes (equally entertaining), lots of hotdogs, Chow Chow, homemade chili, pickled eggs and peppers (the highlight, really) really stands out to me. As usual, a brisk and competitive game of baseball was initiated by some of the younger men and older boys. Sides were chosen, with me being picked last and banished into far left field, where I was happily captivated with the natural wonders of rocks, soil and the marvelous ecosystem of insects.

To my dismay, just as I had discovered a small anthill occupied with the eusocial little creatures, all rushing madly and in perfect synchrony, I heard my name being called. I looked around. There, to my greatest of horrors, hanging in the sky like a bolide capable of rendering the next greatest extinction, was the baseball. Headed straight for me. Solutions danced through my young mind. Pretend it’s not there? I was quite deaf, hence the yells; so could I imagine I couldn’t hear the calls? Walk away? Continue eating my hotdog, abandoned and previously forgotten, now covered in the tiny relatives of wasps?

Through it all, my Dad’s commanding whistle shattered my contemplation of possible paradigms, which included a black hole and parallel universes. I knew what he was ordering, but hoped for the impossible: For him to order me not to catch this incoming meteor. To just walk away. Run, even. I sighed. He signaled in no uncertain terms that I was to catch the ball. I did. I walked to the pitcher’s mound as the small crowd cheered and screamed, for I had apparently won the game. I handed the ball to my Dad and vanished into the comforting silence of the forest, where there were no such emergencies, only the peaceful cycle of nature.

Christmas had its own horrors. It drug on forever and the buildup to the BIG DAY was insufferable for a child. With my head spinning in glorious, delirious, fantastical possibilities that are driven into the very souls of bambinos by the relatively new Hollywood-Inspired wave of commercialism, I was inevitably disappointed in the reality of Christmas.

Thanksgiving, to my mind, was the most glorious of Holidays: A simple celebration of thanks. An opportunity to cook, taste new foods, open jars of pickled treats wafting of summer. It was a time for peach jam, which we were not allowed to touch until then, spread on Sourdough Bread, a reminder of long days of hazy sunshine, whippoorwill calls and the sound of tiny insects celebrating their short existence as only they can.

It was a time to sing Christmas Carols early in the season, a day of prayer and most importantly, food. My Mom would prepare a glorious turkey, fresh cranberry sauce and sourdough stuffing. She would have pickled eggs, onions and late season ramps, redolent with the smell of fall.

It was also a time of hard labor. Pigs were selected and harvested, rendered into manageable parts and parceled out in a division of work. Fall Capons, fat from acorns and rest, were quickly dispatched and plucked. The final cords of dried oak would be split, usually by my brothers and I, a satisfying task in the cold of early winter. The staves would resist our mauls with their shrill creaks of protest, but we were hardy and strong, in those days before video games, flat screen televisions and social media.

Thanksgiving was also a day to hunt. I was never cursed with the fever that grips some in the primordial task of the kill. My parents recognized in me at an early age a tenderness and reverence for living things that was unusual in a seething soup of manly activities. I preferred feeding the chickens over eating them. I loved the piglets, the occasional cow, tiny chicks in the spring and all growing things. I was often bullied for my projected weakness, which could rapidly become a terrible mistake for the perpetrator. I was not afraid to fight.

Nor was I hesitant to harvest animals when need persevered over the Anthropomorphism that was rapidly becoming part of our society, for better or for worse, coupled with the popularity of Disney movies and a disconnect from our food sources funded by capitalism, government and demand. My family had taught me to be a woodsman. By age seven I was at home in the forests, knowledgeable of the ways and haunts of every member of the constant cycle of life and death in nature. I had no illusions of where our food came from; just as I had no misconceptions of the reality of Santa Clause.

This Thanksgiving, my health relatively stable and feeling well for the first time in two years, I participated in a goose hunt. I was happy to be a part of the tradition of the Eastern Shore and contribute to the accumulation of nutrition for the rest of the winter. I also found, with great relief that my childhood traits were still with me. I still shoot only to kill. I appreciate each magnificent animal for what they have given us and the ultimate sacrifice in what was to our ancestors a serious venture to provide nutrition for their families.

I enjoyed it very much, and I was reminded of how blessed we are in this country to have a choice between supermarkets and harvest. We can choose how we wish our food to arrive on our tables and in our larders. Not many countries can replicate this feat. It gives me pause as one who is inherently distrustful of food that is not prepared by myself or loved ones: We still have a choice.

Which includes medium-rare goose marinated, cooked and served over a cranberry, red onion, Black Twig apple, garlic and shallot reduction sauce!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!

RM

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