When something is wild, I think of something beautiful and majestic. Something untamed, unrestrained and happy. I think of undomesticated animals, wildly pursuing a simple life of freedom. Orcas frolicking through the saline waters of this world, teaching their calves to hunt as their parents once did. Raptors preying on rodents or scavenging carcasses of road kill mauled by innocent vehicles. Worms burrowing deep into the nutrient-rich earth concealed by the layers of pavement under our shoes and under our socks and under our feet. Fuzzy green and white mold staking its claim on an old jar of jam hiding deep within the confines of the refrigerator. Wild and free.
It is incredible to think of all the things that humans can cultivate. We can domesticate mammals of all shapes and sizes (ruminant or not), teach them to do tricks, or coax them for all their bodies are worth. We can raise lined acres of strawberries or carrots or cauliflower year after year after year. We can even squeeze and pulverize shredded fruits & vegetables with salt, pound them until they are saturated and held beneath their own liquid brine, and wait until they are inoculated with bubbling lactic acid bacteria. It is incredible to think that we, mere human beings, have learned to preserve foods by the aid of beneficial bacteria, which then aid us in digestion and absorption of our food. We can cultivate colonies of microorganisms that we can’t even see!
Traditionally, this has all been passed down through the generations and civilizations of worlds past and present. Nowadays, we have books and YouTube videos and guided workshops by fermentation wizards – all this information available to virtually anyone in the world at the touch of a button. I have opted for books and trial-and-error in my culinary education in regards to the rich cultural history and experimentation of fermentation and hope to one day share this information in the traditional way: word of mouth, hands-on experience, and personal teaching.
As for now, I practice fermentation in the comfort of my own comfortable 6’ x 5’ kitchen without knick-knacks or unnecessary gadgets. Instead using my hands to thrash shredded vegetables and reduce them to sloppy vegetables, wet from their own waste; fermentation crocks; nesting jars; a digital scale; and a cast iron dutch oven, and little else.
I share my products with the household (myself, lover, & dog) and work to make them in silenced meditation. I think about the importance of building such nutritious foods myself and not relying on the dogma of nutrition bestowed upon us by science-folk and the food industry (which is an industry, not a nurturing, healing institution). I think of the simplicity of the whole act and how time is really the most difficult ingredient when fermenting foods because in this current day-and-age of instant gratification, waiting for ferments to adequately ferment is often the most difficult part. This doesn’t just apply to fermentation, it applies to any application of food.
This hit me yesterday. It was a 24th birthday. I spent the day, literally the whole day, making egg pasta dough, rolling and cutting it into the shape of pappardelle; pounding toasted bread into bread crumbs to squish into a pound of local grass-fed beef along with parsley, oregano, parmesan, garlic, shallots, salt, pepper, and a locally crafted egg; simmering homemade tomato sauce with floating parmesan rinds and stirring to keep the bottom from burning; forming and searing off those little beef meatballs in browned butter before deglazing the pan with a splash of deeply vanillaed Shiraz (and pouring myself a small glass to sip on as well); depositing each meatball into the simmering tomato sauce before using a rubber spatula to harvest every last bit of wine-soaked bunt pieces of meat and garlic and shallot into that sauce; boiling those long floppy noodles until al-dente; all the while, not having noticed that I decided to wear a black long-sleeved shirt, which now gave me the appearance of a person who crawled through the dusty attic on her stomach. I realized festivities were about to start, bolted to the bedroom to slip into a dress and my only pair of black stilettos, and decide on some mood music.
And after all of this, we take our seats at the table, pour the wine, and there is no visible sign of dinner ever being on our plates within 15 minutes. This meal took me literally all day to make and it was gone in the time it takes me to mindlessly get out of bed in the morning.
This is what struck me: food takes time and love and care to come together in a beautiful symphony, yet can be demolished by chomping and chewing in no time flat. Thus is the issue of immediate gratification. And the answer to this problem takes the form of prepared meals coming from a box or plastic holding vessel, requiring nothing but your fingers to press the buttons on the microwave oven and 2 minutes of your busy life, instead of this tangled glory of meat, sauce, and noodles:
Sometimes it seems almost funny to see just how skewed human priorities can be. Work before family, family before dog, dog before self, money before everything. In this one-way hierarchy of importance, there is (seemingly) little time for what truly makes us happy. Our time is seen as being “better spent” performing other tasks seen as essential. Time is the only real currency. What we make of our time defines each of us and the priorities we hold further dictate how we spend that time. So for me, which may be completely different from you, I decide to spend my days deeply involved in where my food comes from, how it is prepared, and how to nurture relationships that I care about.
Time is the ingredient that means the most (in both life and food). It means that your time is worth it. If everything were easy and instantaneous, then nothing would be quite so rewarding. I urge you to think of the effort put into your meals and your life and savor them accordingly. Revel in each and every bite, each and every moment. You might find a heightened sense of enjoyment beyond nutrition, hunger-haulting, or taste. You might be surprised to instead find a profound sense of gratitude and humble thankfulness, a sense of belonging and wonder. Vocalize it when you feel it. You might find that food, in many ways, is almost synonymous with love.
PAPPARDELLE W/ MEATBALLS
garlic – 2 cloves
tomato paste – 12-oz
water – 4 cups
oregano – 1.5 tablespoons
parsley – 2 tablespoons
parmesan rinds – 3
salt & pepper
Fry whole garlic cloves in olive oil. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered for at least 3 hours, stirring occasionally. Season with salt & pepper to taste during last 30 mins of simmering.
adapted from The Kitchn
unbleached AP flour – 1 cup
whole wheat flour – 1 cup
sea salt – 1/2 teaspoon
eggs – 3
Combine dry ingredients. In the center, crack in the eggs and mix with a fork to combine and begin pulling in the flour. Use enough of the flour to create a soft, supple dough.
Knead the dough, incorporating flour as needed (if needed). Slice into the dough with a knife – when you see few air bubbles, cover with damp towel and rest 30 mins.
Divide the dough and roll as thin as possible. Use plenty of flour to prevent sticking. Loosely roll the dough up like a yoga mat and slice into ribbons.
Boil noodles until they all float (check one every now and then to test for al dente.) Drain and toss with a ladle full of sauce.
grass-fed ground beef – 1 pound
egg – 1
homemade bread crumbs – 3/4 cup
garlic – 3 cloves, minced
shallot – 2, minced
fresh parsley – 2 tablespoons
fresh oregano – 1 tablespoon
parmesan – 1/4 cup
salt & pepper
Squish all of the ingredients together with your hands. Form into 1-inch balls.
Sear the meatballs in olive oil and deglaze the pan with a glug of Shiraz. Finish cooking in the simmering tomato sauce for about an hour. Be sure to split one open one to be sure they are fit for consumption.