Nobody knows the odor.
But seriously. A couple weeks ago, I had just made a monster batch of chicken stock. We are talking 4 gallons of liquid gold. It was glorious. And rich, and gelatinous, and all of the things you want chicken stock to be. And after it had simmered all night, I got up to vacuum seal and freeze it. As the vacuum sealed baggies of stock set out on the counter to cool down to room temp, I decided to construct a flat spot in the chest freezer to set the baggies to chill and freeze. So I went into our laundry room and flung open the door to the freezer, only to be greeted with the unholy stench of rotting flesh. The freezer was not cold. Based on the state of things, it hadn’t been in quite some time. I checked the outlet to verify that it was working (it was), and the little light on the front was still blinking, but for some reason, the compressor must have bit the dust.
It was upsetting. Not only because the chest freezer was only like 4 years old, and we would have to buy another one (I like to horde food projects like gyoza, cakes, and bread, also, we have some meat to replace, and our current fridge is 14 years old, making it essentially a ticking time bomb), but also because we had a pretty soul crushing combination of meat in there. The ducks that I raised from ducklings and then slaughtered? One of them was in there. My favorite one. The portion of the steer that we bought and split with friends? The first deer that Craig shot? Portions of them were all in the chest freezer. So in addition to the putrid odor of weeks-old death, animals that I felt personally responsible for, and was doing my best to honor every time I cooked had gone to waste. And not even in the “oops, I made this dish and it was icky” sort of way. In the “we literally let this animal die and then just sit there and rot” kind of way. So in addition to feeling somehow responsible for the freezer dying (I was not at all responsible for that), feeling upset at realizing that the freezer had died 20 minutes before I needed to leave for work, and trying to process that I’d have to do something different with the huge volume of chicken stock I had just made, I also began a sort of mourning for those animals who had lost their lives so that we could eat them, and that apparently wasn’t going to be happening either.
And with that, the freezer was closed back up, and I figured out where the heck to jam all of the chicken stock I had just made before heading off to work, knowing full well what awaited me when I returned. While at work, I found out that the trash collection company that we are switching over to after the first of the year, and we’d have to hold onto the freezer til then. That meant that it needed to be cleaned out. It was not something that I was looking forward to. But when I got home, I rolled the trash can into the garage (near the laundry room door) got out a few trash bags, and went to town. I filled 3 kitchen-sized trash bags to the point that they were difficult to lift. And then I had to suck about 2 quarts of rotten blood liquid out of the bottom of the freezer with a turkey baster because the drain in the bottom clogged almost immediately. I dry heaved multiple times while trying to accomplish this task. After I got most of the liquid out, I soaked and wiped up everything I could with paper towels and sprayed the inside with bleach. Then I put the lid back on, and it is STILL in the laundry room, waiting to get picked up by the new garbage company.
And now that I am done being negative, let’s discuss what we lost, and what we didn’t.
I had been meaning to reorganize the freezer situation for a few weeks. The fridge-freezer was packed full, and I wanted to rotate things out to the chest freezer, but I just hadn’t gotten around to it. (Thank GOD!)
What we lost:
~10lbs of ground venison mixture
2lbs thinly sliced and ready to be marinated venison jerky cuts
~20lbs of beef soup/dog bones
9lbs of beef heart
3lbs of beef tongue
2lbs pork liver
2lbs beef liver
6lbs of gorgeous beef marrow bones
2 lbs beef shanks
1.6lbs t-bone steak
.75lb filet mignon
3-5lbs ground beef
2 duck breasts from my favorite duck
2 duck legs from my favorite duck
back, neck, wings, from my favorite duck (stock!)
2 dozen meyer lemon cupcakes
2 loaves homemade bread
2 gallon sized ziploc baggies full of falafel patties (probably 65-70 patties)
Other misc freezer items that I have blocked out
What we did not lose, because I am too lazy to organize my freezer space:
ALL of the really high quality deer parts. This includes:
2 gallons grassfed beef stock (this stuff is like gold)
2 duck breasts from the scrawnier duck
1 dozen chocolate stout cupcakes
I am pretty bummed. We have taken so many steps this last year to make better decisions about our food sources. We have switched over almost entirely to purchasing ethically raised and slaughtered animals, or doing the hard work ourselves in a responsible and respectful manner. We go to the effort of making even convenience/junk foods from scratch most of the time (falafel, cupcakes, etc) in bulk in order to know what is going into what we are eating, and all of our hard work, money, and emotional investment has been rewarded with such a devastating loss.
And to try to bring this back to something a little positive: Planning for the future! We will get a new chest freezer, probably the next size up. This will allow for us to get 1/4 cow ourselves, and still have enough room to store that and the next deer that Craig harvests. In order to prevent losing all of everything in the eventuality that this freezer dies, I am going to get a thermometer with a probe that sits in the freezer, that has an alarm that sounds when it hits a certain temperature. If I set it to something like 10 or 15 degrees Fahrenheit, that should give us enough time to either figure out what’s wrong with the freezer and fix it, or get things moved around, or buy a new freezer and transfer stuff over before it thaws. So now to keep my eye out for appliance sales!
I am no stranger to homemade potstickers. They are one of Craig and my favorite snacks. Usually they have meat in them. These didn’t. I didn’t have any homemade sausage, and to be completely honest, I didn’t want to monkey with meat. So I started throwing things together, and these ended up pretty delicious! All amounts are loose. I wasn’t even referencing a recipe, so I added things as needed, and was not in a frame of mind to take meticulous (or any) notes. This was my post-Christmas-craziness emotional therapy meal. I needed it. After 30 hours in a very warm house with 13 extended family members and 7 dogs, and all of the stress that comes along with trying to stick to any kind of timeline; all I wanted to do was binge-watch Netflix and meditate over the task of getting the flavors right and mindless assembly of dozens of little dumplings. So I did. And it was wonderful.
*Start with your tofu. Open the package, drain, wrap in paper (or super clean lint-free) towels and set on a flat surface (I like to use my cutting board). Set something else that’s flat on top (I use another cutting board) and set something heavy on top. This squeezes extraneous moisture out of the tofu, making the texture firmer and helping it crisp faster. I usually let it sit for 30-40 minutes. When you are sick of waiting, remove your contraption and towel, and cut into 1/4″ or thinner slices. Pan fry in neutral cooking oil in a nonstick pan(I usually opt for medium heat, though I trust you to know what works for your stove at home) until they’ve gotten golden and crispy on one side, flip, repeat. Remove to a cutting board and cut them into little cubes.
*Peel and cube your carrots. Try to either match or dice smaller than the tofu pieces. Gently saute over medium low heat until the carrot softens up.
*Slice your cabbage and then chop into small pieces. Once carrots have softened, add to carrots and stir/flip to incorporate. Splash a few tablespoons of rice wine in there to create a little steam.
*Grate about 2 tablespoons of ginger and garlic, mix with a couple tablespoons of tamari, and a splash of rice vinegar.
*Finely mince everything but the very ends of 3-4 scallions, set aside.
*Once your carrots and cabbage are wilted and not liquidy, add into bowl with crispy tofu cubes.
*Wash and chop your mushrooms into pieces equal to or smaller than the tofu. To do this, I sliced the mushrooms, made a pile, and then ran my knife through the pile, coarsely chopping. Add your mushrooms into a hot pan and begin to saute. Once the mushrooms have begun browning (remember, every bit of browning is flavor, and it is supremely difficult to actually burn just mushrooms and oil, so really give it some time), turn the heat to med-low and toss in a couple of tablespoons of miso paste. Also add a few tablespoons of rice wine or rice wine vinegar (I trust you). The miso paste is pretty much the only thing that acts as a binder for all of the ingredients, whereas in a meat-based filling, the meat acts as a binder. Once it’s all wrapped up, it’s no biggie, but it’s kind of a pita to seal without something holding it all together.
*Mix everything up in a bowl(drizzle in a tablespoon or so of sesame oil at this point too), then get set up to wrap. I like using a spray bottle to moisten the wrappers, but a little bowl with water and your finger works too (it’s just infinitely more time consuming).
*My method is to lay out a grid of 16 wrappers, place a scoop (I think my scoop is 3/4oz) of filling in the center of each wrapper, mist everything, and then get to sealing. I don’t have photos of the process, but here’s a link with some good instructions. Occasionally, partway through, I’ll need to re-mist the wrappers. No biggie. I set all of them aside on a sheet tray. Once it was filled, I put it in the freezer for 2 hours, then transferred them to a resealable gallon sized freezer bag.
*Doesn’t matter if it’s from frozen or from fresh, instructions are the same. Heat a nonstick pan over medium heat with a little neutral cooking oil. Place your gyoza, flat side down, and pour 1/4 cup water (about) into the pan. Cover with a lid, or, if your pan doesn’t have a lid, some foil.
*Allow gyoza to steam for 3-5 minutes. When the wrappers have taken on the translucent look of cooked wrappers, remove the “lid” and allow the remainder of the steam to escape. Continue cooking another few minutes until the bottom has browned. At this point, they’re ready to eat, but I like turning them and getting a bit more crispiness, so I do 2 sides. When cooked, remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain/cool a little before eating.
*To make sauce, combine equal (about) parts tamari and rice vinegar. If you like sesame oil, add a bit of that as well. If you like spicy, add some gochujang or sriracha. I personally think these are better without it, even though I put hot sauce on everything.
A few weeks ago, I came across some block printed tea towels for sale online. They were $20 apiece. And I am crafty. So I thought to myself “Self, you could make these for way less than $20 apiece.” And when I was in high school, printmaking classes were my favorite elective, so I have some experience, but it’s been a while! So I went to Dick Blick (they didn’t sponsor me, but I wish they would….ahem!) and ordered all of the stuff I thought I’d need, and then eagerly awaited the arrival of my package. When it came, I jumped in with both feet. I drew out designs and carved several blocks. When I had time, I went to the Costco business center and picked up a few dozen flour sack tea towels, and then did nothing for a little while. I’ll write a real post with better photos about the start-to-finish process at a later date, but I mostly just wanted to show you how the towels turned out!
As a way to dust off my skills, I started off small with some gift tags and a 5 golden rings design that I’m using for labeling Christmas gifts.
Rolling and mixing the ink. I went with a yellow-green-red combo for the artichokes.
Depending on how much ink is on the glass, how sticky it is, and how hard I press with the roller while I’m inking the block, I have some control over the darkness of the print and whether ink goes into the lines between flat areas.
This was a canvas bag that I did. It is much more 3 dimensional than the tea towels, and it was the tail end of my green ink, so it ended up printing much lighter than I had desired. The bags will take some additional practice.
I’m really happy with how the broccoli turned out. I wasn’t expecting much from it when I carved, but I think it’s pretty neat.
This octopus proved to be a bit challenging. I had to have a very light hand with the tentacles, as the “back sides” with the suckers had a tendency to get blacked out with too much ink.
My stand mixer print actually looks better than the photo (it was a weird perspective), but the block does need to get fine tuned a bit. The ink was just too thick and ended up filling in all of the voids. I am pleased with myself that I was able to get the color almost exactly what I wanted. The mixer print that I ended up getting on a canvas bag actually turned out beautifully.
This one’s my favorite. I love the happy llama. 🙂
Sock cat is more of a personal joke that I have with Craig, and I thought it would be a funny block. It is. I mean, it’s pretty creepy, but also pretty funny.
The beets were toughies. They were the only thing that I printed with 2 different blocks. I did an awful job of lining them up properly, but I think if I come up with some sort of index mark, I’ll be able to figure it out. Also, I lost a lot of detail in the leaves, so that is going to take some fussing with in the future.
Here’s the brisling (sardine) print that I did. Above you can see it on the tea towels, and below it is printed on the back of a piece of scrap paper. There is a huge difference in the clarity of the lines between fabric and paper. This was one of the few prints that I tried to work with a gradient. I wanted the belly of the sardine to be lighter than the top. It kind of worked, but wasn’t as dramatic as I’d have liked.
Here some of the prints are drying. Once they dried overnight, they were still a little tacky (the ink is oil-based, which makes it capable of handling a wash cycle, but it takes a long time to dry). Based on the Speedball Ink’s recommendation, it doesn’t need to be heat set, but many fabric inks do, so I figured it couldn’t hurt. The next morning, I hit each piece with an iron, and it did seem to help set them a bit. I’m excited to give these to my friends and family as Christmas presents!
That’s a true story. The only other time we’ve had a veterinary emergency was when Boris ate the ibuprofen and nearly died. And that was over a Memorial Day weekend. This time, it was Helo’s turn, and it was on Thanksgiving. We spent all day at my in-laws’ place prepping food, eating, merrymaking, etc. When we got home around 6:30, I fed the dogs the front legs of the deer that Craig shot, and noticed that Helo’s seemed particularly bloody. His bed(he takes his food over to his bed to eat it) had gotten splotches of blood on it, but that’s not too out of the ordinary, some pieces of the deer that ended up earmarked for the dogs tended to contain a bit more blood than others, so I didn’t think twice. But when I went into the bedroom to change the sheets, I noticed that there were some new bits of blood on the dog bed that Helo had just laid down on (sans deer leg), and investigated further.
His dew claw was bleeding, quite a bit. He wouldn’t let Craig and I touch it, but otherwise it didn’t seem to be bothering him too much. But the bleeding also wasn’t slowing down, and since we couldn’t get in there to do any first aid, it became clear that we probably needed to pay someone to manage his toe. So after 20 minutes on hold with the 24 hour vet clinic, they finally gave us the “yeah, you should probably just bring him in.” So we did. And poor Boris. We had been gone for 8+ hours, came home for 45 minutes, and then promptly left, with his only buddy in tow. He melted the heck down. But unfortunately, Helo needed to get handled. So we loaded him into the car and went on our merry way to the clinic. And then we waited. And waited. And waited some more. After Helo had bled all over the floor of their lobby, they showed us into a private exam room to wait some more.
And I got bored and took photos to post on facebook. If you look in the photo above, you can see Helo’s dew claw bent out at a 90 degree angle to the rest of his leg. Not a great look. We eventually were able to get a close up photo of the dew claw and zoom in to determine that he’d torn the nail off of the quick (that’s the nerve bundle that bleeds if you cut too far on your dogs’ toenails), but that it was still kind of hanging on. They eventually came in and brought Helo to the back to get him some painkiller, and hopefully sedate him enough to get him to let them manage the toe. And they eventually got him drugged up enough that they could hold him down and deal with it. Helo is surprisingly strong and capable of escaping your arms when he puts his mind to it. They got the toenail removed, and then had a heck of a time stopping the bleeding, but with the aid of some clotting agent, a compression bandage, and some time, it eventually slowed to the point that they let us take him home. At 1am. The added bonus was that our bill was surprisingly inexpensive, just $250. Beats the pants off the $1800 that Boris cost us a few years ago!
The next morning, Helo was pretty high. Based on the paperwork from the vet, they gave him a pretty high dosage of the doggy version of dilaudid, which I can attest to being a pretty awesome painkiller. So the entire next day, Helo laid on his bed, making this exact face. I deep cleaned the floor that day, so I eventually had to make him get up on the sofa or into the bedroom, but if he didn’t have to move, he didn’t. He just sat there, not blinking, with his tongue partway out of his mouth. It was ridiculous.
And a couple days later, I took off the bandage, and his toe looks… OK!
Craig had this cold/cough combination that was pretty rough on him for a while. Just as he began recovering, it knocked me on my ass. Fever, chills, exhaustion, phlegm, coughing, decreased appetite (this part was a net positive), aches, etc put me down. I made a nest on the sofa and only got up to make more tea or get more tissues/cough syrup/sudafed. Boris and Perry took advantage of my incapacitated nature and enjoyed my nest as well. They did an excellent job of keeping me cozy and preventing me from getting up and doing too much. I burned through a season of Top Chef and got a healthy start on The Amazing Race as well. I also passed the time by taking photos, and I would be derelict in my blogger duties if I didn’t at least share the photos.
In case you were wondering, I am a sucker for slightly fussy things. Not fussy like little paper wrappers on the ends of bones, but more fussy like process-intensive ways of cooking things for the ultimate in reliable and great end result. As such, I use the Serious Eats apple pie recipe. The trademark of this recipe, besides using the right kind of apples, is parcooking the filling to set the apple’s pectin, resulting in a firmer and more robust filling. It works. Their base recipe calls for pouring boiling water over the apples to bring them to 160 degrees, but I’ve never been much for adding water to my pie fillings, and I have the equipment to hold the apples at a steady 155 for an hour, so I vacuum packed my apple slices with a little apple cider, and sous vide cooked them for an hour at 155. After draining the extraneous cider off of them, I mixed in the other filling ingredients (I made 2 pies worth, I hate going to all of the effort and mess of making pies only to make one, so I made a second one for the freezer), and filled the crust, baked off the pie, and we ate it for Thanksgiving the next day. As you can see, the filling did not shrink, I don’t have a big gap between my top crust and the filling, and the apples are firm, appley, and bright.