The Lamb Shank Redemption

Rock Island, IL

I walk through the door after a hard two hours at the office. Whew! That damn-near killed me. Good thing I had time to stop at the campus garden to harvest a little red romaine and arugula. And good thing I’m the faculty advisor to this great unremunerated, unknown, and unappreciated project.

Nothing like occupying an endowed chair and enjoying the same status as the groundhogs and rabbits.

And good thing I arrive at the garden in time. The heat later this week will render the arugula certainly, and the lettuce probably, too bitter even for the rabbits—well, maybe not for those fur-bearing varmints, as Yosemite Sam called them—but tonight these fine leaves will feed me and mine.

And what else will feed us?

Interesting you should ask. I see that the little missus, the goddess excellently bright, has boiled some bowtie pasta. This means two things: that bowties were made for eating, not wearing, and that she wants a green & pasta combo salad tonight.

Happy to oblige! (She’s upstairs painting. Long may she paint. That’s work I dislike with the intensity of a million suns.)

So there will be a red-and-green-leaf starched salad with our local- (as opposed to world-) famous vinaigrette—olive oil, balsamic vinegar, strawberry freezer jam, Dijon mustard, salt, and pepper—plus a little feta cheese and maybe a few homemade croutons.

Me, I’m having a lamb shank. The goddess in scrubs upstairs, lathering a wall, doesn’t eat agnus—another one of those great mysteries that marriage is heir to—but I most decidedly do eat it. Lemmings aren’t led astray, or brought like the sheep they are to the slaughter, so that we can wear sweaters and itchy socks. If we’re not supposed to eat these creatures, why are they made of meat?

But my sweet precious, so sentimental about little lambs, isn’t quite so watery when it comes to chickens, so it will be a gournay stuffed chicken breast for her and the youngest urchin. (The other two have been shipped off to a camp. May God have mercy on the master and mistress of their cabins.)

No time to lose! Into the pan goes a drizzle of olive oil. I’ve got to brown the shank, lately o’erspread with salt, black pepper, and Italian seasoning. That done, I remove the shank and add to the pan—wait! There’s no music!

Onto the hi-fi goes the music of the greatest rock band ever—just as the scrubbed, sweaty, and paint-bespecked goddess descends to retrieve a spackling knife. Though on the issue of the main course we’ve touched and gone our separate ways, there’s still room for a little huggin’, touchin’, squeezin’.

Guess not. She’s a woman on a mission, and I’m no pool boy. I’m just the cook.

(“Greatest rock band ever,” it shouldn’t need saying, is meant ironically.)

“Just so you know,” she says, “I hate this music. You play it all the time.”

“You said the same thing about the choral music I was playing for only the second time last night.”

“You play everything all the time.”

“That’s the Eagles, ‘Life in the Fast Lane,’ which I don’t play all the time.”

“Yes you do. You play everything all the time. Every time I come down here you’re playing the same thing again.”

“But this is different from what I was playing last night.”

“No it isn’t. It’s the same different thing,” she says and vanishes up the stairs. In the background I hear “I’ve been thinkin’ ’bout the time you walked out on me.”

What a girl! There’s no combination like beautiful and irrational! It makes my blood boil like an unwatched pot. I swear the back pocket on a pair of scrubs is the best-made thing in the world. I’d sacrifice a lamb to it if I could find one.

Lamb! How could I forget thee, even for the least division of an hour? Back to the kitchen!

I add to the pan a diced mirepoix plus some chopped garlic and then, after a fine aroma fills the kitchen, about a half-cup of tomato sauce (we have, as yet, no fresh tomatoes, alas) and a cup or so of red wine.

I sing along, a singer in an aromatic room, smell of wine and cheap perfume.

I sprinkle in some rosemary and thyme and pour in some chicken stock. The juices reach three-quarters of the way up the shank. Perfect

Cover and set at 200 for about two hours.

Time to clean the golf clubs I’m borrowing after a thief left me with aught but a hickory-shafted mashie, a niblick, and a baffing spoon.

About an hour into the bake I place in the oven two chicken breasts, both having been cut open and stuffed with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and gournay cheese and then seasoned with salt, black pepper, and oregano.

I’m husband of the year! When the lights goes down in this city, and the sun shines on the … on whatever it shines on, who wouldn’t want to be here?

A woman on a mission, apparently.

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