Tag Archives: Brooklyn

Battle Hymn of The Goat Father, Part 2

5 Dec

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Battle Hymn of the Goat Father, Part 1

2 Feb

I pulled Jake out of school for two days so we could go to Montana and turn some goat into meat. He’s six. I don’t expect him to become the best butcher in the whole world. I am not starting him young so he’ll have years of practice when it comes time to write his personal statement. I just thought it would be fun to sneak out of school for two days and have a Western adventure. It was a bonus that imbedded in this adventure would be the teachable moment: How meat gets to the table. So, Friday lunch time instead of horsing around with his pals in the cafeteria, we’re waiting for our connecting flight through DEN.

cross-country hooky, the adventure begins

Jen’s the real hero in this story. After all, they’re her goats. She raises them for milk, but every winter the herd needs culling. This year there are eight on the roster.

For a few years, early on in the goat project, the meat truck would be summoned. When it pulled up to the coral and Jen and her husband, Tex would add their goats to the unhappy, bleating load and that would be that. The meat would be gathered up in boxes some days afterward and no more would be said about the missing.

Eventually they thought better of this abdication and resolved to do the culling themselves. And so every winter, sometime in January Tex and Jen call on a few stalwart friends and the occasional eager beaver, put the chili from last year’s goats on the stove for lunch and get to work. “This way,” says Tex, with only the slightest apology creeping in behind his assertion as he started again. “This way at least they know us. Know that we’ve never done anything to harm them before.”

It was my intention to have Jake join in the activity. I figured it was time he understood what getting meat to table involves. He is six, after all. Lisa didn’t think Jake was ready for such a revelation just yet. She is over-protective. I think so at least, and I said as much. We went back and forth, but eventually she relented with the drop-dead caveat that Jen get the final word about whether Jake gets to participate.

The plan was to park the two tractors outside the barn, hard-by the entrance to the pen, position the earth-moving buckets above our heads so that we could hang the goats by their back legs at about six feet so we could do the bulk of the work standing up straight. This is a luxury you don’t often get hunting. Another luxury is that the goats wait eagerly by the fence watching as we proceed with the set up.

Watching, curious, while we park the tractors in position outside their pen

After our arrival, I put it to Tex and Jen about whether Jake should participate in the harvest. I tell them about my disagreement with his mother back in Brooklyn. In the course of the day both find ways to gently plant the seed of doubt. The next day, when the appointed hour draws near, feigning disappointment and radiating relief, Jake is bundled off to the Museum of the Rockies with their boy B and his babysitter for the duration of the grizzly bits.

It takes a village.

Using the tractors as an edifice of an outdoor abattoir, the crew can harvest two goats at a time.

It's not that you get used to the work, but after the first two goats are converted to meat a churning routinization dulls the marquee emotions associated with taking a life. And once the goat is upside down an undeniable anatomical logic eclipses any lingering grief or doubts about the way the goat shucked his coil: Well, first the hide’s gotta come off, and we gotta make the little hole bigger if we ever hope to get all those guts out of there and into that garbage can.

There another one done.

Jen, fetch up another goat.

Nobody noticed that the temperature never climbed much above zero

What happens between Jen fetching a goat and it hanging upside down, well, least said, soonest mended.

Within two hours there are eight carcasses cooling in the barn and Clint even has time to scrape a hide for me to take home to Brooklyn and tan.

Clint dismisses my protests that I will not be able to find a taxidermist in Brooklyn who will finish the job. He says I can just keep the hide in the freezer while I’m looking in the Yellow Pages. Never mind that a salted goat hide stowed in the fridge is incontestable grounds for divorce in my jurisdiction.

Coming up in Battle Hymn of the Goat Father Part 2, watch while Young Jake digs the gut hole with a back hoe and find out how to cook all this goat.

Dog Eater

1 Feb
Fresh cut meat for Korean BBQ Category:Korean ...

Image via Wikipedia

My English grandmother insisted on returning to her local Chinese restaurant after the Board of Health found the hind quarters of a german shepherd in the walk-in refrigerator. My family was outraged but, over the horrified cries of her children and grand children, she insisted on going back. “I liked the food before, so I must like dog,” she told us. “I just hope they havent changed the menu too much.”

My grandmother didn't care that inspectors found half a dog on the walk-in, she liked the food.

It first occurred to me to eat a dog myself while lobbing center-cut pork chops over the cinderblock wall in my back yard. On the other side of this wall lives a ferocious Doberman Pinscher. We are a machine, this dog and me. I toss a pork chop. She gobbles it up. She is not my dog. I don’t even like her, though I like her owner less. But I figured that if I get her used to pork chops sailing over the wall then maybe she will take a liking to me and stop barking whenever I open my back door.

Every time I enter my yard there is a frenzied scrape of fore claws as the monster scrambles from her basement lair. The barking begins and does not stop until a few minutes after I’ve retreated back into my one-room apartment. I’ve tried to reason with the fellow next door. Each time I complained, though, he patiently explained that he’s gotta have a guard dog or someone will steal his shit. And there is little point in having a guard dog if the dog does not bark. It’s fierce logic, and unassailable in its simplicity. So I stopped bothering my neighbor. Now it’s just me, his dobey bitch and The Law of The Jungle.

I toss a pork chop over the wall and wonder idly what the penalty for killing your neighbor’s dog might be. My mind turns to reruns of late-model police dramas. We learned from Quincy and MacMillan and Wife and even Miami Vice that it’s not murder if they can’t find the body. But what does one do with this much dead dog? “I could always eat it I s’pose.” The sounds of greedy gorging from the yard next door what’s this refer to? drowns-out my own sinister musing.

Far from a bland and detached academic interest, this murderous moment is the grim source of my obsession with eating dog. [this graph needs expansion, you have to show the small seed taking root & growing into a full-fledged obsession]

Captain Cook wrote in his ships log after supping on his first roast dog leg that it tasted like mutton. Some people say it’s more like pork, though they make the point that it is much more tender than the other white meat. Connoisseurs say that black dogs have a warming power and they’re best eaten in winter to guard against the bitter cold. The dog best-suited for this purpose is a black lab puppy: very tender and, because it’s been bred for hunting trips in freezing cold marshes, it’s meat is well-marbled with a protective layer of fat. Both Black-Tongued Chows and Mexican Hairless Dogs (or Xoloitzcuintlis) were originally bred specifically for their flavor and tenderness but most of the dogs consumed in the world are that familiar mongrel, the default dog. Two-thirds as long as it is tall, the default dog is so many furtive, brachycubiatic generations from a pure breed that it has reverted to an entirely unimpressive squinty-eyed shades-of-beige beasty at the bottom of it’s own family tree.

I’m ready to settle for the default dog, but I am more particular about where I get it. If I just wanted to eat dog, a quick trip into the world could fix that jones. People familiar with far-flung foodways will direct you to Hawaii, Samoa, Burma, the Philippines, Indonesia, East Timor, even Belgium and Switzerland if you’re looking to eat dog. There’s Tan, a neighborhood in Hanoi on the banks of the Red River where all of the restaurants specialize in canine cuisine. I’ve seen dog meat for sale in what passed for an open-air market in Haiti just after the ‘996 revolution. Skinned and strung up by their back feet, about half a dozen ten-pounders stared, sightless, through a veil of flies into the hot, late afternoon sun. I wasn’t even tempted. The whole point of this adventure is to eat a dog here in New York City. I’ve eaten snake, turtle, even guinea pigs in restaurants in this town. It stands to reason then that if you could eat a dog anywhere in the America, it’d be here.

But I know better., Sure, there’s plenty of diversity, but this isn’t Disneyworld. Ethnic New York is a club and you absolutely [not really absolute…you can get certain kinds of access, just not full access] have to belong before you can gain access. Have you ever tried to trade in some tired old bacony-looking strips of beef at a Korean barbecue restaurant without being able to curse proficiently in Seoul barrio slang?  Well, it can’t be done.

Fasteddie is a great big Jew from Brooklyn back when being A Great Big Jew from Brooklyn meant something. Except that he’ll tell you pretty much the first chance he gets, you’d never know from looking at him that he speaks a fistful of Chinese dialects and has had a piece of the action or consulted on the openings of most of the important Chinese restaurants in New York City since the ‘60s.

Fasteddie figures he’s gained and lost a couple of fortunes and he often tells a story about losing his first. Cheated out of his restaurant by some mobbed-up hoods from a marquee-name crime family who broke the news of their dissolved partnership by knocking him over in his chair, kneeling on his neck and threatening to remove his left eye with one of Fasteddie’s own hand-picked teaspoons. Yes, Fasteddie’s bona fides are in order. If I was ever gonna get that dog dinner, Fasteddie was going to have to do the talking.

Dress For Success in the meat market

 

The first place Fasteddie and I tried was Yuan, a restaurant on Bayard Street. No English is written, never mind spoken, anywhere in this narrow storefront. Masking-taped to the wall behind a stump of a counter sheathed in battered formica, some of the glyphs scribbled in black and blue marker on yellowing sheets of curling copy paper look like they’ve been there for a lifetime. Others have the crisp appearance of today’s special. None of them mean shit to me.

Fasteddie barks something at the pimply young man studiously ignoring the only two Europeans in the tiny room.

Fasteddie figures he’s gained and lost a couple of fortunes and he often tells a story about losing his first.

The kid nods, clearly surprised and embarrassed, answers a series of rapid-fire questions in halting phrases. Fasteddie smirks. “We’re in luck,” he stage whispers. “They have fox today. You want to try some armadillo? They have that too.”

No dog, though.

The warren-like streets of Manhattan’s Chinatown bustle, but the broad boulevards and well-manicured garden streets of Brooklyn’s Chinese and Vietnamese neighborhood, Sunset Park, positively saunter. I got a call from Fasteddie late one morning. He said he was pretty sure he could guarantee some dog for lunch at a Hong Kong-style banquet hall called Hang Kong Banquet Hall up on Eighth Avenue. In Hong Kong dog is proudly called “fragrant meat.” Here at Hong Kong Banquet Hall it’s not even at the menu. When, after Eddie inquired about what his sources said was the specialty of the house the manager started speaking excitedly and using chopping motions with his hands. Fasteddie turned to me and shrugged. “He says he doesn’t serve dog, but it says ‘dog’ right there on the posted specials,” says Fasteddie pointing to a glyph scribbled in magic marker on a piece of festive pink paper. “He thinks you’re some kind of Animal Cop.”

“What kind of Animal Cop?” I ask.

I began to understand the Animal Cop paranoia in June, when a pair of state legislators introduced a law specifically outlawing the killing of dogs for the purposes of consumption. What’s going on here? Is everybody in New York eating dog but me?

Then, one sweltering day in August, Fast Eddie drops by my office. He says he has some business with Chinese guys in Queens who might know something about dog-eating. “Sic gao!” Fast Eddie shouts. Sic fan is what a host says to his guests at a banquet in Hong Kong. Literally translated from the Cantonese it’s an exhortation, almost a command, to “eat rice,” but it’s offered in the same cheerful spirit as buon appetitto. Gao is Cantonese for dog. Whenever Fast Eddie tires of talking about dog-eating he begins to bellow the battle cry of our mission: Sic gao!

It was funny the first time. Sort of. But from what I observed, many of the Chinese people in Chinese restaurants speak Chinese. In that kind of crowd, a great big Jew from Brooklyn commanding everyone and no one to Eat Dog never seems to go over all that well.

China joins the UN in 1971, at the time the average salary was ten cents a day. Dog meat cost nearly $2 a pound.

We drive out to a critically acclaimed restaurant on Queens Boulevard in Flushing, where Allen, the general manager, speaks matter-of-factly about dog-eating in Mainland China in the seventies. “You never ate dog in a restaurant. Always at home,” he explains. “Dog cost maybe $2 a pound and the average salary then was—what? Ten cents a day? It was very expensive.” As a kid, he was the designated dog killer for his family; he recalled making a dog casserole with fermented bean curd and peanuts. “We chop it on the bone and cook it with the skin. In Mainland China the dogs bred as food eat rice. I would say I would never eat a dog in America because it is not fed right.”

“How long do you cook a dog?” I ask breathlessly, realizing that my search had reached a new frontier. I am standing on the mountaintop, looking down on the promised land.

“Depends on the age. Normally about two and a half hours,” responds Allen.

Then he deadpans, “You get the dog, I’ll cook it for you.”

Suddenly my view from the mountaintop collapses and I am looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Far away, through water maybe, I hear myself asking, “If I bring you the puppy will you kill it for me?”

 

Then he deadpans, “You get the dog, I’ll cook it for you.”

“Fuck no!” Allen says.

 

I hear Fast Eddie laughing deeply—basking in the satisfaction of a job well-done. “Sic gao! You gonna do it?” he taunts. “Not-so-good job you’ve gotta do first, huh?”

Is that me heaving the puppy into the back of my Volvo wagon and stuffing him into a gunny sack? Is that me wringing its neck, as tradition requires, gutting it, chucking its gore in a dumpster behind a Dunkin’ Donuts

“No problem,” I respond, regaining my composure enough to vamp a bit. But what are my options? Is that me plunking down a credit card at the pet store and pointing at the plumpest puppy in the window? Is that me heaving the puppy into the back of my Volvo wagon and stuffing him into a gunny sack? Is that me wringing its neck, as tradition requires, gutting it, chucking its gore in a dumpster behind a Dunkin’ Donuts and then pulling into Allen’s driveway a few hours before dinner?

No. That isn’t me.

And rather than being relieved, I’m disgusted with myself. After all, that was me killing and butchering a sheep during an unsuccessful bear hunt in the Ukraine. That was also me offing a pair of whitetail doe in Montana and then gutting the grunty beasts right there in the field—innards steaming in the cold of predawn. I’ve shot and gutted a goose and turkeys and ducks, and pheasants, and grouse. I’ve killed a wild boar using only a knife. I’ve even shot a chipmunk–not that I’m particularly proud of it, but that was (still is) me.

Yet here I am, staring at the man I’ve been seeking for nearly a decade, and you know what? I’m going to tell him thanks but no thanks. All because that puppy peeing in the pet-store window of my mind is—what? Cute? Chipmunks are cute. Sweet? Sheep are probably sweet—even  Russian ones.

No. Though I try to fool myself that I just need time to clear my head, I know right then that I’ll never shake the notion that dogs are something other than meat. Never mind that half the world disagrees.

“Let me get back to you,” I say.

Allen smiles. “No problem. You know where to find me.” We shake hands before parting company.

Back outside, squinting against the sun, Fast Eddie mutters, “Sic gao?” Then asks: “So, you gonna get your new friend a dog?”

“You know I’m not.”

“Good,” says Fast Eddie, gripping me by the shoulder. “This thing over now?”

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STUNTFOODISTS UNITE!

9 Mar

As you know, foodways is the term social scientists use to organize and understand the social, economic and cultural practices integral to regional production and creation of food. Once upon a time  the foodways of Kurdistan was the focus of serious study, nowadays every neighborhood in Brooklyn claims its own foodways.

In 2011, food media burrowers and hucksters alike, along with self-anointed gastro-zealots use the term way too casually–as though uttering it might also serve to warn off rivals and attract a mate.

Here in this sanctuary, use of the term without the qualifying call to action in polite (even earnest) conversation is punishable by death. From this day forward let STUNT FOODWAYS be understood simply to mean a dedication to the fair and honest treatment of ugly and ungainly food,  a fondness for feeding unruly crowds, and a commitment to cooking hard and well beyond your pay-grade. So, fellow stuntfoodists, know that when the grass gets tall, the terrain unrecognizable,  and there’s nowhere to go but forward, you are no longer alone. Remember, In dubiis constans!