How to Cook a Wolf (or just a chicken)
In MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf she says: You can still live with grace and wisdom, thanks partly to the many people who write about how to do it and perhaps talk overmuch about riboflavin and economy, and partly to your own innate sense of what you must do with the resources you have, to keep the wolf from snuffing too hungrily through the keyhole (25). The wolf here throughout her text represents both the inevitability of hunger (referencing Shakespeare: Appetite, a universal wolf.) and the increased stressors of this hunger as impacted by, in her case, wartime scarcities. The wolf is a looming figure of lack, uncertainty, and need. Everyone must eat, and in times of strife, eating can be both an enormous anxiety and an enormous comfort.
Our current circumstances, though we are not yet taking for granted having an “icebox” and that it is not an annex for the local red cross and filled to bulging with blood plasma (18), are still very strange times. It is true, I think for many, that it is a comfort to read the words of those who have come before us, whether they are fairly benign in their reference to the rationing of sugar or more serious in their reference to the disaster of cause—it is nice to know that bad things have happened before and people have lived on.
Reading the work of women like MFK Fisher gives me a great sense of comfort. I am a fan of people (well, some people) speaking with so much authority and confidence that I briefly forget nobody fully has all the answers. For a moment—whether it is Fisher on what to have for dinner or Duras on the inevitability of death—I can breath and feel like somebody has their shit together and can guide me, at least for the length of several paragraphs. Relieving me of my not-knowing-anything-for-sure feelings for long enough to carry on. Fisher gives me a task, she makes me feel proud of the fact that I ran out of buttermilk and butter at Petra this weekend, and turned instead to making cakes with a mixture of the milk, yogurt, and olive oil that we had on hand.
I have worked since I was very young and supported myself since I left the house at 18. I have been extremely privileged and lucky in many many ways, but I have also lived precariously. Like a HUGE portion of society I have nearly always lived pay-check to pay-check and usually without health insurance. Which brings us to now, wherein we are living in a moment where class discrepancies have rapidly become even more stark than they already were, where whole industries (and of course the jobs of all the people they encompass) have been basically obliterated in less than a week's time, and where the prospect of becoming ill cannot be treated as an individual’s issue.
And still, we must all eat.
It’s true that I don't know anything for sure. Certainly not about what’s going to happen now or soon, in the wake of COVID 19. And yet, I can speak with a lot of confidence about certain foods and ways of eating and what I’m finding helpful in my own kitchen during this mess. It is obvious that many people, restricted to their homes, and a lot with suddenly diminished incomes, are finding themselves in their own kitchens more. So, I am here to write my version of “how to do it”, likely talking “overmuch” about vitamin K2 and bioavailability. I still highly recommend MFK’s How to Cook a Wolf and Duras' newly released Me & Other Writing, for a good dose of economic cookery and relief of existential dread—but perhaps I too can lend some comfort in at least the space of time it takes to make a broth.
When things get really bad I put lavender oil on my pillowcases, lie down on my bed, and stare at the ceiling. I highly recommend. This week I have added some CBD to that ritual. Somebody’s mother told me we don't all have the receptors for it, and that shit is expensive, but I bought it on a whim a few months ago, and I haven’t googled if the mother was right, merely half-fretted over the possibility and taken it anyway. I think it helps. The point is, whether it’s a walk, CBD, a glass of wine, lavender oil, talking to your mom, or all of the above—before you start cooking anything it’s important to try to calm down. On Thursday, upon getting back to Petra to try to start cooking for weekend delivery I was frantic and dropping things everywhere and burning my hands at every turn. It is not a good idea to cook in a panic. As tall of an order as it may now be, try to steady your breath and hands before you begin anything.
I was a vegetarian for 10 years and I am not anymore. I do however pay a lot of attention to where my meat and dairy is coming from. It’s true that pastured and grass fed products are more expensive and frequently not accessible. However, if you are able, it is an investment in your own health. With the forty dollars you might spend eating and buying a few beers out you can bring home a few staples that can transform into lots of meals and get your money's worth.
It’s as simple as this: when animals don’t get the right nutrition we don't get the right nutrition from eating them. It is important to consider all the unwanted additionals like hormones, pesticides, and the like, but it is also important to consider what is lacking. When cows, pigs, lambs, chickens and so on don’t roam freely eating grass and other greenery they don’t get Vitamin K1 (we also need this and get it from leafy green veg). Their bodies naturally convert Vitamin K1 into Vitamin K2, which is a calcium and vitamin D director that gets the good stuff into our teeth and bones. When animals don’t get K1, their flesh doesn’t contain K2, so the nutrients we get from them gets misdirected. Hence the link between grain-fed meat, high cholesterol and heart disease—all the stuff is being misdirected into people’s arteries. This is just one example of why it is so important to look for words like “pasture raised” and “grass fed” on our meat, eggs, and dairy products. I will also say, if you don’t eat animal products it is possible to get vitamin K2 by consuming fermented products. Just make sure you consume them in hearty quantities (not just an occasional fun-flavored kombucha).
Here are some ideas about what staples to get on your next grocery trip:
1 pasture raised chicken (I know the price seems steep running $16-$20 but this chicken is going to turn into multiple meals and then be turned into a broth used for more meals still)
1 dozen pasture raised soy free eggs (usually between $6-$7 but we’re looking at 6-12 meals here, so an incredibly healthy addition to a meal at 50 cents to a $1 per meal)
1 square (2 sticks) grass fed butter (we’re looking at something a little pricier again like $5-$6 but it goes a long way, cooking with fat is important bc many vitamins and minerals in foods are fat-soluable)
The freshest beans you can get your hands on (farmers market or rancho gordo brand are good bets, looking at $4-$6 per pound. A pound of beans can go a long way, I estimate 4-6 meals depending on your appetite.)
1 bunch organic swiss chard (in season, about $4)
1 bunch organic kale (in season about $4)
4 sweet potatoes (about $4)
1 lb organic carrots (about $3)
3 organic white onions (about $3)
So all together, and this is airing on the priciest estimates, you’re up to $57, but this alone can make upwards of 12 meals.
Some additions if you can swing it:
Corn tortillas (try to get non-gmo corn and organic if possible, easier to digest for many people than wheat and great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner recipes).
Shiitake Mushrooms (I much prefer them over button or cremini and recently found out they have antiviral properties)
Avocados (a great source of healthy fat, also, don’t bother buying organic avocados, analysis from the US department of agriculture and the food and drug administration have shown avocados to be one of the least sprayed crops in the country)
Olive oil (a reminder to all that extra virgin olive oil should never be used for high heat cooking)
Lemons or vinegar
Small cuts of beef (great to freeze)
Any seasonal vegetables that excite you
Parmesan Cheese (always raw-milk which is easier on your gut and great to top things with)
Sprouted grain bread (also great to freeze into segments or if pre sliced just freeze all-together)
I’m going to be posting some of my favorite recipes over the coming days and weeks but to start I’ll explain how to roast a chicken and then make bone broth with the carcass.
Easy Roast Chicken:
Bring home your chicken and preheat oven to 375°. Remove giblets from the cavity of your chicken and set them aside (unless whoever you bought the chicken from has robbed you and kept the giblets for their own stock and/or wrongly assumed that the masses fear and/or don’t want them. Don’t fear the giblets!). Sprinkle salt inside the cavity and rub around so well coated. Stuff both halves of a peeled and halved onion inside the cavity. Set in a cast iron or oven safe pan in the most intuitive pose...
sort of like this terrible computer drawing I made, flat side down.
Next, make small incisions in the skin and tear a little, loosening skin from flesh enough to rub salt underneath, all around. That is all! Now leave in the oven for an hour, then check on it. If you have a thermometer stick in the center. Poultry needs an internal temp of 165°, after an hour it probably won't be there but nice to check progress. Most chickens you find at the grocery are about 4 pounds and take about 1 1/2 hours to complete. If unsure you can always give it an extra 15 minutes, if it's a healthy little pastured chicken its own fat will prevent the meat from drying out. Once finished let sit ten minutes to cool slightly. Dig in. Don’t throw out any bones, save them for the broth.
*I also love to stuff chickens with lemons, apples, pears, and whole heads of garlic.
Easy Bone Broth:
Once you have either eaten all the meat off the bones, or let the chicken cool and stripped the meat off all at once to save for later, put all your chicken bones, skins, excess juices etc. into a large stock pot. Oh and the aforementioned giblets, throw them in too. I usually use an 8 quart pot, but truth be told it can stretch even further than that, it may just take a little more time for the broth to finish, as more water will take longer to pick up the weight and flavor from the bones. Put the carcass into the pot, fill the pot with water and throw literally whatever you have into it. Parmesan cheese rinds, chili peppers (be careful), turmeric root, onions and garlic (I don't even peel them just slice a little so flavor can more easily come out), herb stems, lemon juice or half a rind, miso, peppercorns, carrot tops, vegetable ends etc. You can also throw in a generous amount of sea salt, or if wary, wait until broth is finished and just salt to taste. Cook on very low temp for 10-12 hours. Sometimes I cook it for 5 hours, turn it off but leave it on the stove, and then the next morning just turn on again for another 5 or so hours. Try not to bring to a full boil because that boils off the collagen (which is very good for you), but don’t despair if it does happen (it’s been known to). Now you have a wonderful broth to cook with, and also just sip on. Sometimes, after I put the lavender oil on my pillows, I drink a mug of bone broth while I stare at the ceiling.
More recipes to come. Take care xx