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.
Downtime? Not for me! Time to wash the—wait! Where’s the drinky-poo? Lordy, I’m slipping in my old age! Into a snifter goes a bottle of double IPA. Ah! Look at that! Almost as good as the back pocket on a pair of scrubs! O IPA: our love … holds on … holds on!
Time to wash the greens and prepare the salad. Nothing to it.
Out back a wren lights upon my bird feeder, eats, sings her song nonpareil, and darts off to the house I’ve made for her. My heart stirs for this bird—the achieve of, the mastery of the thing! Too soon these trees will be the bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.
And you, Mr. Groundhog down below, enjoy your clover, you fat blind bastard, you! Soon you’ll be groundhog stew. I don’t raise tomatoes to fatten you, my big-toothed enemy-friend. You undermine my operation here.
But digging under my foundations is only one of your offenses, you cowardly ravenous ugly S.O.B. Did I not catch you in my parsley pot just the other day?
Parsley! I almost forgot the gremolata!
Zest a lemon, mince a clove of garlic, and chop up a few sprigs of parsley: gremolata. I’ll sprinkle it on the lamb shank just before serving it—to myself. This is typically used on ossobuco, but I’m not cutting my shank crosswise to make a lambsteak. And tonight, notwithstanding the back pocket, I’m above riffing on the translation of ossobuco. No amount of double IPA can induce me to hit the fat slow curve of “bone with a hole.”
Out of the oven with the shank, which I remove to a separate bowl and cover. Time to skim the grease and reduce the juices with a slurry.
This process requires corn starch, which behaves like flour and cream-of-wheat: badly. It lumps up like fat–the fat on the underside of an old thigh. So: a couple of table spoons of corn starch into a bowl, into which I add a couple spoons-full of the liquid from the pan. Stir. Stir some more. Add more liquid. Then, as the pan now boils and reduces over heat on the stove, I stir in the corn starch. This is one fine glaze—or will be once I add two tablespoons of butter—one for me and one in honor of my cardiologist.
Ah, butter: Do I miss you? Am I lying to myself again? These things I do … it’s all because of you … all I wanted was to eat you … I won’t be alright without you.
Onto the plate goes the shank, onto the shank the gremolata, and beside them both the glaze. Behold! A lamb of God, which taketh away the hunger of the day, which included two brutal hours in the office.
Mix the bowties, the greens, the feta, and the croutons, and pour on the dressing; uncork the shiraz, serve the chicken to the non-shankers.
Not bad for a Tuesday.
But why lamb shank “redemption”? you ask.
Well, I was walking through the farmers’ market on Saturday when I was accosted by a teen-aged boy behind a table. “You, sir! You need a whole chicken!” he said.
So I stopped. “In fact I don’t,” I said, but, reading the board that advertised his wares, I noticed lamb shanks. “I suppose I could use a lamb shank,” I admitted sheepishly.
This boy was no rookie. “How do you prepare it?” he asked. “I’ve been hearing several interesting recipes today.”
This smooth-talking silver-tongued schemer had me already. I bluffed my way through an answer, which he feigned to find interesting. Next thing I knew I was parting with $9 for a lamb shank.
Who’s cryin’ now? Not he.
Whereupon I called my pal G—-, who’s actually been to culinary school, to find out what to do with a lamb shank.
Now both the Scriptures and Henry IV (Part One) would have us “redeem the time,” and I’m no one to argue with God or Shakespeare, so I’ll go ahead and consider this another Tuesday evening redeemed—and own up, of course, to any errors that may be found herein.
But, now, time to lug my guts up the stairs to bed, where lies a goddess in the strong loving arms of my great rival: Sleep.