Friday, August 19, 2011

Y is for...

Today's NaBloPoMo prompt is, "Do you like paper books or e-readers?" My answer is, "Yes!"

It was the answer to yesterday's prompt that led to the incident about which I am going to write today. Yesterday's prompt was, "What was the last book you read?" and my answer was The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball. As I mentioned yesterday, Kimball's writings on fresh, local food, and the at times joyous preparation of it, had me dreamily picking up bundles and bags of all kinds of unplanned things at three farmers' markets last weekend. I erroneously wrote yesterday that we'd made a stir fry with yam leaves. I did buy yam leaves, but I completely forgot to use them in the stir fry. What we actually stir-fried the other night was half a bunch of lamb's quarters that I'd forgotten I'd bought. When I was searching for greens to complement the purslane in the fattoush I was making last night, I thought, "It's weird that these yam leaves have flower buds on them that kind of look more like amaranth flowers than anything else." And then I realized there was another, larger bundle of greens at the bottom of the crisper drawer, hiding under the celery. Oops.

I told you that I'd purchased two three letter words that begin with "y-a" at the farmers' market that weekend. Yam leaves (which we still haven't eaten) and the second was to be a surprise.

Pine Mountain Ranch has a table at our local farmers market. It was from them that I bought the chicken about which I raved back in the fall. They also sell beef and meat from a variety of other animals such as bison and yak.

In addition to waxing poetic on the pleasures of eating pasture-raised meat, Kristin Kimball also writes, in a short section of The Dirty Life, about her forays into nose-to-tail cookery, making it sound more pleasant than you'd expect. She writes particularly complimentary things about Rocky Mountain oysters made at home. Her description of that experience made it sound, to someone who has had that dish at a restaurant only, kind of like an appealing adventure. It was with this in my head that I approached the Pine Mountain Ranch table last Sunday, originally planning to only buy a steak.


I hadn't actually planned on buying them. I just commented on their presence on the price list, and the girl said, "Oh yeah! we have those!" and grabbed them out of the cooler, an innocuous-looking package that belied the blood and flesh within. She plopped them next to the package of skirt steak I'd already picked out. The white paper of the package was stamped with the word, "YAK," below which was written in neat black Sharpie, "testicles."

Nose-to-tail cuisine appeals to me in theory. It's something I've tried to get myself to toughen up and start doing. It's one thing to eat organs and such; it's quite another to make them yourself. It's not the amount of blood in the package, but the appearance of the meat itself, looking less like a steak and more like a disembodied fragment of something that was once alive, that makes this act feel a bit strange. Even though, I tell myself, it should not be strange. What is really strange, I say, is not acknowledging that the thing you are eating is a formerly living animal. That disconnect is strange, and the reconnection is what is truly normal. Yeah. In theory.

I talked about my yak ball ambitions throughout the week; I may have even boasted about them. Until Wednesday night, after a discussion with Handsome Man in which we decided we'd have them for dinner tomorrow along with the fattoush (Lebanese purslane and pita salad) I'd planned to make. At this point, I started to get a little nervous about our planned dinner adventure, and thought I'd better do some research and perhaps find a recipe. This blog post, reporting on how, of all the balls you can eat, yak balls are the greatest!, alleviated my concerns a little bit.

Then I opened the package. [Note: I made the picture extra small, since most people don't want to look at pictures of raw animal junk. But if you're reading this for some information on cooking this very thing, then go ahead and click the picture or the link for some pictures. So you know what to expect.]

From Yak balls

I'll spare you most of the details, but I will tell you that, based on what I remember from having Rocky Mountain oysters at a restaurant, I sliced them. Which was weird. I made a simple batter out of flour, cornmeal, salt, pepper, a beaten egg, and--when I realized that you're supposed to dip the thing you're frying into the egg and then the flour, not make one cement-like batter -- I added yogurt whey to the batter to make it thinner. This is not because I have an affinity for yogurt whey. It is because we are out of milk, cream, soy milk, almond milk, or anything faintly resembling milk other than the watery whey that had separated from the rest of the contents of a Brown Cow container. Then, I fried them in canola oil.

They were delicious.

We are going to ask the farmers' market staff for advice - such as if I was really supposed to skin and slice them - and we are going to make them again.


Meg said...

They actually look pretty good! And I am fascinated by this nose-to-tail thing; recently I've been eating more and more vegetarian because I can't come to think about what I'm eating as a living thing. But this way of eating seems far more appreciative of the animal and its purpose--I think I worry most about my meal living a miserable life; I'd almost be happier eating an animal that enjoyed its life! You've got me thinking for sure! Miss you!

Ellen said...

People eat nose-to-tail here and it's been probably the most interesting food-ish thing I've seen while I've been here...but I'm not sure I could ever go back to eating meat, let alone organs, at this point. it's kind of incredible/awesome to go from the States, where we only buy our meat once it's been shrink wrapped and doesn't look much like a part of an animal, to macedonia, where my family will be slaughtering a cow, a neighbor will stop over, one of my brothers will race off for a plastic bag, and they'll put a few organs in the bag for the neighbors to take home.

I did like reading about what you actually do with some of these bits and pieces, though. As always I love your cooking posts the best.