A Different Sort of Education

Honey Bees Polinating Silver Queen Sweet Corn

If the number of dumb ass things you have done in life stops with the number of fingers you have you can consider yourself lucky. Since dumb ass is a matter of objectivity you may need to throw in all your toes too, even so, you should still figure yourself rightly finishing on the high side of exceptional if the number doesn’t surpass twenty.

Thus far I feel I have been lucky.

So the day I went to pick up a hive of bees and planned to put them in the back of the 4Runner I had to scratch my noggin and ask myself if I was putting myself at risk of being downgraded on the DA scale.

You have to understand I spent the better part of a day searching out a hive body full of bees that might be for sale, notice I said might. First off finding beekeepers that use a phone or those that don’t think your the census man is full time affair.

Beekeepers are borderline off-grid-aphrenics. They are skeptics at the very least or they think the world is going to end and if the world isn’t ending they are just planning for hard times. It is just their nature, a lifestyle in fact, and it is all in the oral handbook of beekeeping just ask a beekeeper.

So you have to take a Woodward and Bernstein approach when looking for a hive and start with the officers of the local beekeepers association only to have them give you a list. As you work your way around the call list they gave you you quickly learn a few things. You can never get a definitive answer from a beekeeper, you feel as though everyone is using aliases, at some point you expect to see the name Deepthroat on the call list, and they all have a perfect mid-state Hoosier accent where neck is pronounced nick and next is nixt. This is when you realize the linguistics classes you took in college weren’t for naught, even though it is some twenty years later, but that they still have no real world use.

Meanwhile you hear this lady yelling, and I mean yelling, out the front door of the house for her husband because they still have a phone with a cord that attaches to a wall and you are listening to this yelling but also thinking about linguistics and somewhat thinking your day would be complete if she only let out a hog call. A big suewwwwwwee somehow would take it over the edge.

“I don’t know where he is” she said, then instantly “Oh here he is.” like an apparition appeared before her very eyes.

“This is Garland” he says.

I go through my hole explanation of what I am looking to do only to get to the end of why I need bees, that I have a small orchard, and a huge garden, to hear Garland say he doesn’t keep bees anymore.

And I say, “but I was just talking to Orville Hegemeyer and Orville said,” I get cut short.

“How is Orville, is he doing better? I knowed he was sick for a bit. You know I don’t keep bees on a professional basis anymore I got sick a few years back, had a case of bone shaves. Sold everything but people have been calling me to get swarms, well you know if you got one hive your soon to have ten. Now that my back is better I got a few hives. This spring I am gonna put together a few hive bodies if all goes well I should have three or four to sell.”

I gave him my number, said I would buy a hive, and would wait for his call.

That spring I watched the pink and white blossoms of the apple and pear trees open, brown and drop to the ground. The asparagus came and went as did the morels. Peas and spinach were done.

The phone rang, “I got that hive body ready ‘n full of bees if’n you still want ‘em.”

“Garland I thought you forgot about me!” I said.

“No sir, this weather put things behind almost two months. You still want it.” he said.

He gave me directions.

So that is how it came to pass that I am sitting in a gravel drive with my car window cracked listening to a man with a bee veil on telling me I might want to park on the other side of the house since he really angered a bunch of bees over on this side, another reason I guess to have a door on every side of the house. So I do.

Garland lived in a small white clapboarded ranch in the middle of a small town. It was like the town was built around his seven acres though. He had it all fenced off with that woven wire fence that was big in back yards in the seventies and the house butted up to a big woods but then it was like a regular subdivision for miles surrounding him. At his house though he had peas growing up the fence and green onions planted around the fence row too. He had stuff growing everywhere. Rows and rows. He had two sheds, one for squabs the other for chickens. And bee stuff piled everywhere and hives everywhere.

He was proud of his place and gave me the grand tour as if he had been stranded on a desert island an I was the first person to come along. I enjoyed the three hour tour until finally we wound up at the hive he was wanting to sell me. Eighty bucks.

Funny thing is when I left his place I left with four live squabs, a mess of white raspberry starts and a head full of useful information just because I showed up. I figured with the raspberry starts alone I was down to twenty bucks for the hive.

The hive. I had no bee suit. I didn’t own one. I did all this stuff in such a hurry I didn’t really plan things out. Garland told me I didn’t need one that we would screen the hive entrance and that the sides were stapled to the bottom board and top. He stapled it shut with screen but bees were still flooding out of a small hole at the corner of the entrance. Seems sealing bees in royally pisses them off. I pointed this exit hole out to Garland and he shot another staple into the screen and everything seemed fine. He said besides you will want to drive with the back window down and the two front passenger windows open to keep the airflow going out the back just in case. Then he laughed which didn’t really ease my mind.

I drove with the concentration of a winning Indy race car driver on the last lap of the Indianapolis 500. Got home safe and sound. Got the hive safely to its new home.

Now, how to get that screen off with 30,000 angry bees behind it and me without a bee suit.

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Fried Bologna Sandwich on Challah with White American Cheese Sauce

Fried Bologna with White American Cheese Sauce

I was probably thirteen or fourteen years-old the first time I had a fried bologna sandwich and I will never forget it. I was watching some TV show and they ate it on the show. I thought I had seen the most amazing culinary treat ever. I went to the kitchen and made one and was shocked to find bologna was even better hot.

I used to save my school lunch money, for things I shouldn’t have been buying, and came home from school starving. My mom wouldn’t make me anything to eat because it was my fault I was hungry.  That said, she didn’t care if I made something for myself and from that moment  on  fried bologna became a staple.

This is my ode to the days of old, I don’t eat one of these often but when I do this is how I want it served.

SERVES  1

4 thin slices of good garlicky German bologna, French garlic sausage, or mortadella

2 slices of Challah, toasted

1 large egg

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 teaspoon Nathan’s mustard

3/4 cups grated white American cheese

3 dashes Worcestershire sauce

2 dashes Crystals Hot Sauce

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 green onion, sliced

1. Place a small sauce pan over medium heat and add the cream and mustard. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat. Add the Worcestershire, hot sauce and cheese. Stir to combine and continue to heat until the cheese is melted. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

2. Place a medium saute pan over high heat.

3. Fold each piece of bologna in half and then into quarters so it looks like a triangle. Place the four triangles into the hot saute pan and sear until it looks like a hot dog that was over cooked on a campfire. Remove the bologna and place it on the bottom slice of Challah and top with the remaining toasted bread.

4. Reduce the heat on the pan and add the oil. Fry the egg to your desired doneness.

5. Pour the desired amount of sauce over the top slice of bread and then top with the egg and green onions. Serve with an ice cold Pepsi, or Coke if you must.

The Hayseed

The sleek, shiny, deep-red locomotive, its coupling rods churning and drivers slipping, trying to get traction, billows out black smoke from its stack as if getting up the nerve to leave the station.

It’s a beautiful train with a long line of passenger cars trailing behind. Each car is bursting with people who, dressed in their best, are buzzing in quiet anticipation, waiting for their adventure to begin. A collective sigh goes up at the first jolt of forward motion, and a surge of no-turning-back-now adrenaline triggers manic conversations about new destinations.

Somehow, old things always look new when you see them from a different angle, and traveling by rail, rather than the usual streets and highways, is definitely different. The passengers move from one side of the car to the other, looking out the windows at their familiar city, chattering excitedly about things they’ve seen a thousand times.

The train moves beyond the edge of town as the late afternoon sun turns the sprawling farm fields golden. Not too far from the track, a farmer stops his work and looks up at the train. He leans an elbow on his pitchfork, puts his other hand on his hip, and casually crosses his ankles, as if he wants to drink it all in. Many of the passengers wave as they pass by, marveling at the farmer as if they’ve never seen a man in a field. The farmer smiles and waves back a few times. He knows most of these folks are looking at him like he’s missing out, or just some hayseed.

Truth be told, he used to travel, a lot. He’s also plenty smart, but, anymore, he couldn’t care less what anyone thinks. Not that he’s bitter–no, he’s content, happy just to stand in his field and watch a train full of people looking for the next big thing pass him by and not remotely feel like he’s missing out. Some people might wonder if he’s made a deal with the devil, but he knows different.

Before the train’s even out of sight, he turns and starts walking up the fence row to the house. His wife will have dinner about ready. The long shadows from the fence posts stretch across the ground. He carries the pitchfork over his shoulder and, this time, instead of counting the posts (since he knows there are twenty-five from here to the house), he counts the steps in between them. He likes this comfortable, predictable game.

When he gets to the barn, he goes inside, hangs the pitchfork in its place, takes a look at the veal calves, then heads for the house, passing the garden full of late-fall greens.

He smells it as soon as he opens the mud-room door–the unmistakable goodness of one of his favorite dishes: deviled veal tongue with braised mustard greens and potatoes. The smell alone is nourishing. It’s a dish that not only tastes God-damn good, but you can feel it healing your soul with every bite. He looks at his beautiful wife, hears the kids giggling in the other room, and smiles, glad that he has no other destination.

click here for the deviled veal tongue recipe

Meyer Lemon Tart

Meyer Lemon Tart
Meyer Lemon Tart

I have been making lemon bars for many years now from a recipe by John Taylor also known as Hoppin’ John.  A while back I thought it would make a great tart, and guess what, it does. If you like Low Country cooking you should search out his cookbook Charleston, Beaufort & Savannah: Dining at Home in the Lowcountry. It seems like a good time to share this recipe.

SERVES 6 TO 8

For the crust::

1/4 cup sugar

1 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup semolina flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

For the custard:

2 to 3 Meyer Lemons, zested first then squeezed for 1/3 cup juice

5 large egg yolks

3/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup ussalted butter, room temperature and cubed

zest from two Meyer lemons

powdered sugar, for dusting the tart

1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. In the bowl of a mixer, or in a bowl and mixing with a wooden spoon, cream the butter with sugar and salt. Add the flours and mix well. The shortbread crust will look crumbly and like cous cous or cornmeal. Turn the dough out into an 8 inch tart pan and press it evenly into the pan starting with the sides and working toward the center. Place your index finger over the top of the flutes and push the crust upward using you index finger as a back stop.

2. Slide that tart shell into the oven and bake it for 20 minutes.

3. While the tart is in the oven combine the eggs, sugar, zest, 1/3 cup Meyer lemon juice in a heat proof mixing bowl and whisk to combine the ingredients.

4. Place the mixing bowl over low heat, if you are worried about this you can most certainly use a double boiler, and whisk the custard until it starts to thicken. It takes about 13 minutes on low so it will take longer in a double boiler. Once it is very thick, like warm pudding and leaving ribbons as you whisk, remove it from the heat and whisk in the butter.

5. When the tart crust is done remove it from the oven and add the lemon curd. Bake the tart another 10 minutes or until set.

6. Remove the tart from the oven and let it cool completely. Once cool sprinkle it with powdered sugar just before serving, slice and serve.

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Edna Lewis: The Taste of Country Cooking

Bacon Fried Rabbit

The difference between Edna Lewis’ book The Taste of Country Cooking and countless other cookbooks is she truly celebrates food. Not only is it a celebration but it is the gospel of farm to table eating, a hymn of fresh, great tasting, whole food that should be sung loudly as the new testament of eating seasonally. In short, it just might save your soul and at the very least it is extremely soul satisfying.

What drew me in the first time I opened the book was a breakfast menu that simply read Fall Breakfast and the second item listed in the menu was smothered rabbit. As if this wasn’t enough the first time I made Miss Lewis’s pear preserves I became teary eyed because it reminded me of the taste of a long-forgotten-that-was-now-brought-to-mind memory of my grandmother and the pear preserves she made.

When you realize this was published in 1976 it becomes apparent this is a last bastion to how rural America once ate. It isn’t the French influenced food made in a California restaurant kitchen that now stands as the talisman of sustainable eating, but rather, it is 100% American food made with ingredients had on hand and in season. It was written at a time when women wanted out of the kitchen instead of in and the burger joint was still a treat but unfortunately fast becoming a standard.

The book is not a retrospective of days past and food that is dated by out of style trends but it is a classic that is as current and in touch today, maybe even more so,  as it was when written.

Miss Lewis does nothing short of pen a rural American classic that treats food with respect and knowledge of how to use the ingredients at hand and get the most out of them. There is nothing fussy about her food and there needn’t be because its simplicity and freshness is what makes it delicious.

In short if you care about sustainable local food you should get yourself a copy. It will fast become your how to manual.

This recipe is based loosely on Miss Lewis’s fried chicken recipe.

Bacon Fried Rabbit

Serves 4

2 fryer rabbits, cut into 6 to 8 pieces

1 piece of slab bacon, cut about 1/4 inch thick

2 cups flour, seasoned with 2 teaspoons black pepper, 1 teaspoon each of thyme and paprika, and 1 teaspoon of salt

buttermilk

peanut oil

kosher salt

1. Season the rabbit with salt and set it aside to let the salt dissolve into the meat.

2. In a large cast iron Dutch oven add enough oil to come up the side by no more than a third. Add the bacon.

3. Turn the heat to medium high and place your fry thermometer into the oil. Place the seasoned flour into a plastic bag with the rabbit. Toss the rabbit around to give it a good coating. Remove the pieces from the flour and let them soak a in the buttermilk. Remove each piece and let the excess drip off. Put the pieces back into the flour for their final coat. Don’t do this to far in advance or the coating gets brittle when fried.

4. When the temperature gets to 350F˚ remove the bacon if it is crispy and start frying the rabbit until golden brown and delicious. If you need to do this in batches do. Don’t over crowd the pot or you will have a greasy mess. So to do this heat the oven to 250˚F. As the rabbit pieces come out of the grease place them on a sheet tray fitted with a wire rack and keep them in the oven till all are done.

5. Serve.

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J.R. Craves Tex-Mex

J.R. stands on the metal folding chair, stretches up on his toes, and exhales pot smoke into the air vents just to be an asshole. He jumps and lands on the floor with a resounding thud. The shaking floor is felt two apartments down by a Hispanic woman making cookies. He’s annoyed that the apartment next door was rented to some dude. He liked the hotty girl who lived there before; liked to watch her shower through the hole he made in the wall. Now it was some dick-weed kid who he already knew he didn’t like.

That’s not all he’s pissed about today, though. He can’t believe the super gave him an eviction notice. Not after the words they had at his apartment door when the super came knocking and tried to collect the rent. J.R. told him if he evicted him he would kill his wife right in front of his fucking eyes. He isn’t going to do it–kill the super’s wife; he just knows threats will get him what he wants if they make him seem scary and crazy enough.

He paces. He thinks. He gets more pissed off the more he thinks. He stomps a foot on the hard tile. He’s fidgety. He grabs the speed off the counter and shakes the last two pills from the bottle into his mouth, then quickly snaps his head from side to side, trying to crack his neck. He paces more rapidly now, in anticipation. His pulse picks up.

He grabs the ball-bat that some former tenant left in the corner and jerks open the door. He looks around the courtyard. No one’s out. He is barefoot, shirtless and lean like a feral cat. His jeans are too long, worn and stringy at the heels where he walks on them. He shuffles down the second-floor walkway, the denim scuffling against the concrete.

At the corner a sudden flurry of action catches his eye. His neighbor the dick-weed, propped in a chair outside the ground-floor laundry room, is falling backwards but catches himself, arms and legs flailing around. J.R. stops and thinks about going down and beating the living shit out of him, then thinks again, smiling at the thought that he’ll get to it at some point. He watches as the dick-weed takes an amateur swig of his beer and returns to his bout of bad foreplay with a burrito. The goop inside shoots out, all over the ugliest pair of new boots J.R. has ever seen; in fact, the burrito stains might be an improvement on the turquoise and red shit-kickers, which were reminiscent of a Nudie suit in the most God-awful way. The kid takes another chomp and more goop falls onto the foil sheet. J.R. thinks he should have left it wrapped around the burrito. You only peel back the foil and the deli paper as you go. It’s what keeps the whole thing together. But he can hear the kid moaning with each bite, like he’s getting laid.

J.R. sees the to-go bag and understands the moans. He knows the place that burrito came from, knows they’re that good–even makes the same sounds when he eats one. A stack of napkins, dozens of them, is starting to drift around in the wind. J.R.’s stomach growls. He smiles again at the ground-floor folly and his mood lightens, but he still has business to attend to.

By the time he finds himself at the super’s door, though, his plans have changed. He was wound up enough to bust a couple of ribs with a swing or two of the bat, but he’s lost the will. Instead, in what feels like a more half-assed attempt to make his point, he chucks the bat through the front window of the super’s apartment. The door flies open.

What happens next reminds J.R. of the time when he was a kid and he climbed a tree with a pocket full of rocks and started throwing them at a big, papery hornets’ nest hanging like an out-of-place Christmas ornament. Nothing happened until a rock finally punched a hole in it and the whole nest emptied, the hornets stinging relentlessly, and J.R. couldn’t get out of that tree fast enough and finally just fell.

And just like that time, J.R. ends up on his back. The second blast from the super’s shotgun knocks him over the railing and he lands on the hood of a car. He feels the hood ornament puncture his thigh. His head lays back off the side of the car, and he looks at the world upside-down. He stares at the kid with the burrito. His stomach grumbles, his eyes shut, and he imagines the smell of the mesquite smoke mingling with the lesser cuts of beef. They become a rich, tender kiss that makes him feel like he’s crossed the railroad tracks to the intoxicating land of the forbidden.