I walked out the door today, headed for work, with a large bag, filled with food, of course. I had some roasted beets with basil and mint and sliced Armenian cucs. A rabbit soup with kale and onions. A jar of honey. Three sprigs of mint (for tea for later). A large apple. A jug of sangria for a post-work barbeque (my homemade wine is really sweet–sangria and mulled are probably the only way I’m going to drink it). It’s both a liberating feeling–I haven’t spent money on food in one month, I know the food I’m eating is safe and healthy, I grew it myself! And it’s a little claustrophobic at the same time–hmm, before I leave for any destination, I have to think about where I’ll get my next meal. When I’m driving truck, I’ll bring a jar of honey, for example: that’s my energy drink. I plan to keep the good and discard the bad when July ends.
Sad news. I went out to feed the ducks and they were all but one killed. Even the majestic geese. One had its head tucked under its wing, like it was sleeping when it happened. I’m not sure what ‘it’ was, but all the ducks had a bite taken out of their rumps, but that was it. They may have had heart attacks when they saw whatever it was bearing down on them. Our neighbors said in the early morning they saw some dogs running away from the direction of the garden.
So what do you do when life gives you two dead geese and five dead ducks?
Make duck confit and rillettes, of course.
I’ve spent the WHOLE day processing these fuckers. First I hung them in the bathroom, cut off their heads, and bled them (they were freshly killed). Then I plucked and cleaned each one. It takes about 45 for each bird. I salted them, to get out the blood, then got cooking. According to the River Cottage Meat Cookbook, you make confit by salting the legs (I did 6) with bay leaves, thyme, pepper for 48 hours. You need a shit-ton of duck fat to cover the legs, so in the oven, I have the three ducks roasting off their fat. Every 20 minutes, I go in and pour off the clear liquid fat. As for the geese and rest of the ducks, I’m going to make rilettes after I’ve eaten the confit (you can re-use the fat) so they’re in the freezer.
In a way, the predators just forced my hand: I’ve always wanted to make confit and have a preposterous amount of duck fat on hand.
I’m spending the rest of the day reading the paper, and snacking on roast duck.
Just had a lovely breakfast of green tea with mint and honey, zucchini pancakes (shredded zuc, an egg, nigella seeds, and coriander), drizzled with a tart apricot jam and thin slices of duck proscuitto. Yup, the proscuitto’s done! It was an 9 day process. First I killed the duck. Then boned the breast meat with the fat. Salted for 24 hours, then left to hang in a humid, dark, 50 degree spot (we have a little unplugged frig that I kept cool with ice). The meat firmed up after 8 days, and now it’s a nice little meaty snack. I don’t think everyone would like it–it’s very ducky. Of course it isn’t as good as the duck proscuitto I had in France, but it’s close.
Now for a confession: I ate out at a restaurant yesterday. One of my business partners and I met with a group of community activists at a local restaurant. The group choose this spot–BB’s restaurant on Sacramento in South Berkeley–because it would mean we were supporting a family-operated business. How I could I say, “Er, I’m on this weird diet so I can’t actually eat here.” That would have been so rude. So there I went: fish burger and a cup of tea. Was it good? I was so distracted by the conversation I didn’t get to enjoy it. It was a tough decsion, but I think I made the right choice. Sorry if I let you down. It was a good lesson that food isn’t always eaten for pleasure or necessity, that we are social animals, who use food to cue alliances, build trust, and community.
In celebration of the Tour de France, and the French foodways, I ate me a rabbit last night. I picked the fattest boy bunny from the last litter and used a very humane method I learned on the internet. You just break the rabbit’s neck then bled it out. I thanked the bunny for feeding me, but I forgot to save the blood (sorry Benji, my French brother-in-law). Killing and dressing a rabbit is much easier than its poultry counterparts. I put the pelt in the freezer for when I have time to learn how to tan the thing.
How did I cook it? Just like my sister–I dredged the pieces in flour and spices (in my case, fennel pollen), fried it in duck fat and some red wine, then baked it in the oven. When William tried it, he said, “Damn, that’s better than pork!” Must’ve been the duck fat. Plus, we feed the rabbits very well–only the freshest greens from dumpsters in Chinatown and organic greens from Berkeley’s dumpsters. I supplement that with rabbit pellets from Templeton Farms. I served the rabbit on a bed of home-made (of course!) sauerkraut that was spiked with wild carrot seeds (I gathered these in Wyoming last summer). Wonderful flavor combination!
In other news, I’m out of flour. I used the last of it to make a loaf of sourdough/onion/coriander bread. The loaf is very solid. I wouldn’t call it good, but it’s filling. This morning I ate my dream meal: two fried eggs, two pieces of toast and tea. Yes, tea. I’ve been fermenting some tea leaves (along with the duck proscuitto) in an old refrigerator. After five days, the leaves were so shruken, I only had enough for one cup of tea–but it was a good one. It tastes and smells like oolong. Yum.
Score of the week at the dumpster last night: A full-sized wheel of Roquefort. France is in the air!
Uh oh. People are starting to tell me I look very…gaunt. One friend made a sucking sound and concaved her chest to illustrate the point. I’m too muscular to be mistaken for an anorexic, but I guess my farm diet is taking a toll on my chub.
I think everyone has a special chub depository, for me it’s always been right above my hips. Yesterday I went to grab it and found most of it gone. I stood on a scale at Long’s drugstore and it told me I weighed the same as when I started, more than three weeks ago. Maybe I gained muscle?
One thing I hadn’t thought about when I started this 31-day project was finances.
I just graduated from Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism–so you can imagine, I have some debt to pay off (mostly to beloved family members). As a free-lance writer and a part-time biodiesel shop-owner, I usually have more time than money. Therein lies the genius of this project. I have spent almost no money on food (I did buy vodka for a long-term alcohol steeping recipe), and that has made it possible to pay bills and rent. I knew food was my main spending item, so to have it erased has been quite a relief. Enough so that I may stick with the diet even after July is up. Except for the following items:
-butter (when I don’t have a cache of duck fat anymore)
-hardtack (ha ha!)
-a few small loaves from Brioche Bakery
-one cheese a week
The ideal is to gradually find substitutes for all of these things. Not only is it a fun challenge, it really saves the dough. I mean, I’m poor, ok?
On the milk and cheese front, I’m brainstorming a way to have a goat collective. That is, I need a site to host a herd of goats. A group of friends will own them collectively, take turns milking them, feeding them, walking them, etc. Then we share the milk! I know a guy named Jim who does this very thing in Berkeley. My ideal is to find a place in Oakland. Holler if you have any ideas or know someone with land.
Yesterday was hands-down the best eating day of the experiment.
For breakfast I had some Full Belly Farm wheat berries, soaked overnight, then cooked with diced apples (the Anna apples, an early ripening, mild weather apple are delicious) and stewed plums. Drizzled with honey.
Lunch was green tomatoes dredged in some flour and fried in duck fat (!) with a fried egg. Followed by a jar of stewed apricots.
Yes, I have a very regular BM these days.
For beverages, my new thing is lemonade with honey and mint.
In the afternoon, I biked over to my friend Jennifer’s house and grazed a bit in her garden. She has physalis, or Cape gooseberries (which are a great source of Vitamin C) and green beans and grapes. Then we walked around Berkeley and picked blackberries. In a two block radius of her house is a peach tree (with peaches on the GROUND), an asian pear, an enormous plum and pear tree, walnut trees, and tons of blackberry brambles.
We picked a bucket of berries and talked about how we grew up eating. Jennifer’s dad took them strawberry picking and canned or froze tons of their food. William came by and we used the car as a ladder to access a whole bag of Elephant heart plums. They’re green with red centers.
THEN we picked green walnuts to make nocino, or vin de noix, a walnut liquer. You know how green walnuts smell really good? This captures their essence, with the help of some 95 proof alcohol like vodka or everclear. I’ve only had it once, when this fella named Adam brought some to a party. It’s a digestive. We picked them a little late, in Italy, most people get the little green guys on June 24.
Finally, for dinner I made zucchini pancakes (shredded and drained then mixed with cilantro and mint and coriander and a wisp of flour) with a large green salad (which included a new ingredient: armenian cucumbers). For dessert? I got totally Little House on the Prarie and made a blackberry pie, with a crust made of duck fat mixed and chilled with Full Belly Farm wheat. Who knew? I won’t say the crust was light and flaky, but it sure was tasty.