Sunday, September 25, 2011

Old School

Blogger's note:  Please excuse all the blatant product placement found below.  It's integral to my thoughts today.  I have no affiliation with any company mentioned, nor will I receive any compensation for mentioning them.  I just like their stuff.

I'm at home this weekend because of some family obligations, which is rare for me.  You're much more likely to find me up north at camp, down south at Brian's place, or somewhere in between every Friday evening through Sunday evening.  There are so many gorgeous and fulfilling opportunities outside, I've been known to go months without a quiet weekend at home.  The laundry piles up and the lawn slowly begins to resemble a Central American jungle, but there is no glory in folding underwear and nobody has ever looked cool carrying a weed whacker.  Ever.  Even the name is ridiculous.

As a Madisonian food lover and cook with little to do on a Saturday morning, sleep in my eyes and flannel trout pants twisted in an unruly monkey knot around my feet, it was both my right and obligation to stumble up out of bed to sentience, and get my heiney to the farmers market.  I'm told the Dane County Farmer's Market, held in the shadow of the capitol dome, is the largest producer-only farmers market in the country.  It is a wonderful place to take in as a cook.  The bounty literally overflows.  It's one of those places that makes me wish I were a competent photographer, able to freeze all those vibrant colors and resplendent heaps of harvest forever.  From the sprawling, verdant capitol lawn down to the tiny first spring onion of the year, it's a place that makes a person excited to know the difference between spanakopita and spelt.

It was cold yesterday morning.  Not twenty-below midwinter cold, but it sometimes feels like that early in the fall before your uncovered bits adjust to the nip.  With all the root vegetables showing up, and the mercury plummeting, there was only one thing to do.  Comfort food.  I could have gone with modern, updated comfort food -- squid ink new potato gnocchi or some faux hawk, ear gauge, neck tat stuff like that, but I was cooking for me.  I listen to Elgar and get flipped off for for driving too slow, not exactly punk rock.  With no need to twist exotic ingredients into a Kubrick orgy scene, the decision was made.  Chicken soup, with all the down home charm that implies, it would be.

Chicken soup is the poster child for homemade simplicity.  How can such an easy combination of common ingredients transform into such a mythic, satisfying dish?  I have no idea.  Even in it's most simple, old fashioned preparation, it manages to comfort and sooth, not to mention taste downright amazing.  There's always an element of surprise for me, in that I can chuck a bird, some stock, a few veggies, and a handful of herbs and spices in a pot, only to be greeted later by a classic, elegant ambrosia.  Personally, I'm not a fan of noodles mucking up my liquid gold, but you may be.  That's fine.  As with many things from folk art to fishing lures, the draw is often a product of what the individual grew up with.  To me, that means keep your floppy noodles outta my broth, and don't cook the veggies to structureless mush, thank you.

Braced against the wind and rain by my hearty soup, family obligations out of the way, I fell back on my standard weekend distractions that evening.  The home version of which can include a bottle or four of local microbrew, college football humming in the background, and care of outdoor gear.  As I took to seeing after my tools, it occurred to me that perhaps the draw of unpretentious, traditional food can be linked, in some way, to equipment of the same ilk.  Some of my treasured possessions are old hunting and fishing equipment.  Maybe that fascination with the "they just don't make it like they used to" feeling applies to gear as much as it does to comfort food.

Let me be clear.  The vast majority of my gear is up to date, space age derived, polycarbonate and resin stuff.  I happily fish graphite rods, standing in Gore-Tex waders, wearing shatter-resistant polarized sunglasses with lenses that change their tint based on available light.  I once read something about the microscopic silver halide crystals impregnated in the glass lenses, and how they react to UV light... then promptly forgot most of it.  Not that I even know what silver halide is to begin with.  All I do know is that sometimes it's nearly dark out before I remember to take them off.   That's some cool shit, and I see and catch more fish in the stream because of it.  I know it's true because the advertisers told me so.

Amidst all the toys bristling with the latest and greatest, there are a handful of gems either truly old or based on old designs and technology, traditional tools made from traditional materials that just ring true in your hands or on your back.

As I paid vague attention to LSU stomping West Virginia in the background, I pulled out my hunting knives to sharpen them.  No motorized grinders or ceramic sharpening rods, I was armed only with natural whetstones and honing solution.  I've dallied with all sorts of modern sharpening tools in the past, had varying degrees of success and failure with them, and finally settled on a couple traditional stones and plenty of patience.  Fitting, as the first knife I went to is almost three times as old as I am.

Marble Safety Axe Company began as a one room manufacturing facility behind the home of founder Webster L. Marble, legendary timber cruiser of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, in 1898.  They went on to produce knives and a great many other things, under a few different names, for about a century.  My model is called a Marble's Ideal, handed down to me after my grandfather, "Boompa," passed away.  With a stacked leather handle and blood groove, it was forged somewhere around 1922 in Gladstone, Michigan.  More than that, it belonged to a man I loved and admired.  It's a little shorter and wider than I usually like, and the handle is too stumpy for even my moderately sized hands.  Still, as much a talisman as a tool, I was thrilled to use it for the first time on those crop damage deer we harvested last weekend.  Just thinking of all the things it has been through, with it's slight pits and pocks, makes using it a pure joy.  It was embarrassingly dull last weekend, but I'm proud to report it is blunt no longer.  After plenty of time on the stones, resisting the urge to press too hard or go too fast, concentrating hard on angle and cutting surface, I'd like to think it now possesses an edge close to that which it carried when it first came off the line.  Ready for the next challenge, Boompa.

Of course, such important undertakings as knife sharpening and gun cleaning cannot be undertaken out of uniform.  In order to achieve the proper mental state, you must be dressed accordingly.  I think Buddha said that.  So I donned a Stormy Kromer, and got to work.

Somewhere around the turn of the last century George "Stormy" Kromer came up with the idea for the hat that still bears his name.  With a decidedly northwoods fashion bent, the stormy is not exactly Madison Avenue material, but man, is it ever comfortable.  As their poster says, "For fishin', huntin', or just plain wearin'," the simple wool and canvas construction, true to the original, never fails to warm the noggin, and always stays on in a stiff breeze.  The peculiar looking flaps rest in place around the back of the hat until that breeze takes on winter's bite, at which point they easily slide down to cover the ears.   It was a great design back then, and it still is today.  And I think the ladies secretly really like the look of a Kromer man.  I've had my eye on a new one in a cool newer pattern for a while now, as matter of fact.  They're practically required up north in the winter months.

After the zen-like repetition of sharpening a bunch of knives, it was time to get messy, time to wax the bibs.  C.C. Filson founded his company in Seattle in 1897, catering to the hordes of Klondike Gold Rush fortune-seekers with a line of tough-as-nails outdoor clothing and gear.  Filson's trademark Tin Cloth, basically canvas impregnated with paraffin, remains the toughest waterproof cloth you can find today, at least in my opinion.  In order to maintain the waterproof qualities, wax must be applied occasionally.  You take a heat gun or hair dryer, and just get in there with your hands, smearing warm wax into all the high wear areas.  It's a fun job for a formerly obsessed mud pie builder.

If I had to pick a single piece of outdoor clothing for the rest of forever, my Filson Double Tin Bibs would be the obvious choice.  If only because they might last that long.  They are the best of all worlds, and have been for more than a hundred years.  A boon for the upland hunter, they withstand the thickest stands of Prickly Ash, briars, and Buckthorn with ease.  Where synthetic waterproofs would be shredded, where Cordura brush pants would be soaked, Tin Cloth outshines them all.  If you're looking for gentle comfort, look elsewhere.  These things practically stand up on their own out of the box, the closest you can come to wearing aluminum siding, they need some serious breaking in before you stop walking like the Tin Man.  But you can charge through the nastiest cover in them without becoming an involuntary blood donor or drowned rat, then plop down on any convenient stump for a water break without getting a soggy bottom.  Totally worth it.

The "Good Old Days" should not always be lovingly fawned over through rose colored glasses.  Times were often tough, with hardscrabble men and women barely squeezing out a meager existence.  Modern life definitely has it's advantages.  I like modern dentistry, anesthetics, and using the loo indoors when it's colder than hell outside.  That being said, occasionally men like Filson, Kromer, and Marble really hit the nail on the head.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Comfort and Redemption

We hunted last weekend.  Finally.

We were hunting deer on alfalfa fields.  It's a vastly different operation than our gun deer hunt in the woods up north come November.  Here in Wisconsin, farmers can apply for crop damage deer shooting permits, allowing hunters to shoot antlerless deer on their property.  And "shooting" might be a better term than "hunting" in this case.  There isn't a ton of strategy involved.  Generally speaking, the farmer knows when and where the deer tend to come out in the fields.  We simply hunker down in a blind or behind some bales, and wait.  It's a good system.  The farmer gets relief from some of the damage caused by the deer nibbling away at his livelihood, the hunters get to stock the freezer.

I enjoy being the one of the youngest men in this particular crew.  I don't think we need to go all new-age here, proclaiming the virtues of hunting with and learning from one's elders, but there is an element of that.  There are plenty of opportunities for me to shut up and listen to the older guys, but more so, to laugh along with them as they tell the stories of the camps, the decades-long narrative of that thing that brings us all together up there.  Over the past 15 years I've even managed to insert myself into a tale or two, but I enjoy the ones that occurred when I was still toddling around with my hand in my mouth more.  They have a sort of mystical quality about them.

Those old stories... nobody bullshits their friends on purpose, but we all know that the great tales have a tendency to grow a bit over time.  The feats of strength and endurance tend to take on a life of their own, while the misses and defeats fade away.  It's one part how we cope with life in general and one part plain good story telling.  And there's nothing better than sitting around the fire or table, and just listening.  These guys have lived up here.  They know the country, they know the people, and they have decades and decades of great stories.  Every once in a while I even hear a new one, and that's just gilding the lily in the best way possible.

One of the only drawbacks to being just about the only one in camp with all my hair is that most of these aging buzzards are retired.  So by the time I arrived to join them on this trip, they already had one doe in the freezer.  Fair enough, three permits to go.

They were out on one of the fields when I pulled in.  After a four hour drive, I was more than a little antsy to get started.  I was in that adrenaline spike zone -- excited, trying to remain calm, but just the smallest bit shaky.  The zone where you have to take that little moment just to be sure you aren't tying your bootlaces together.  I had to make a couple trips back to my truck after hastily changing clothes in the driveway, but finally, I got my act together and it was time.

I stopped by the bales at the end of the field to check in with Rog before I went out.  As I cut through the woods to get there, I caught a glimpse of him through the trees.  I could see he was in the zone too.  A different one.  Completely still but alert, he was leaning against the bales, eyes intent on the field in front of him, rifle laid out at the ready.  A picture of a happy guy, content to be doing something he's comfortably good at.

It was time for one of those small details I think many hunters overlook in their memories, but I adore -- the whispered skull session afield.  You stand a little too close to each other, kind of stilted over like old men.  Being careful to minimize movement and sound, you whisper the plan.  We aren't curing hunger here, but there's an intensity to the information exchange.  There are guns involved, and hopefully death.  With multiple hunters hunting together in the area, we need to be sure we know where everybody is sitting and who is shooting which way.  This hushed conference, men making a plan, is almost always the final prelude to the actual act of hunting in a group.  Basically hunting foreplay, with all the same butterflies and endorphins.  Just don't start taking your clothes off.

I slowly walked around the corner of the irregular, hilly field.  Taking care to check all the angles for deer, I eventually took a position on an edge of the field, attempting to melt into the cover of the woods.  I sat back in with the secrets of the trees, just trying to be still at first.  There is no switch you can throw, no button to push to force yourself into that quiet state after spending so much time in town, racing around with nary a care to quiet and stillness.  Sure, we are out there to gather meat.  You can't paint with a wide Rockwellian brush here.  This is a bloodsport, and we do it to kill animals and eat them.  There's no getting around that.  But I think, even more than that, most of us are hunting for that quiet.  That bit of serenity that only comes in the midst of wind and sun, trees and grass.    While your eyes and ears remain on full alert for the duration of the hunt, the back of your mind is free to wander.  It continues on at full speed for a while, tumbling through lists and goals, objectives that must be reached.  But then, as if calmed by your surroundings, it subsides.  When all goes well, you are soon simply just being.  Sitting there taking it in.  This is why I do it.  Buddhists and yogis would call it meditation, and I suppose it is.  Meditation with a loaded weapon.

I settled in, rehearsing in my mind all the probable shooting scenarios that might present themselves, to enjoy one of the other perks of the first hunt of the year -- cold.  It was a gorgeous sunny day, but tucked merely feet back into the forest, you could feel the damp chill.  Winter lying it wait for us, just as we were for the deer.  It's so deliciously life affirming, that first chill up your spine.  After a long summer of sweat in your eyes, a few goosebumps are welcome.

By Saturday morning we had lost Ted to a golf trip, but we had also harvested our deer.  Shots were made and shots were missed, but we got all that we deserved, I believe.  Rog and I had were smiling and giddy by the time the last deer was loaded.  Hunting with a long-time, competent partner has a kind of easy cadence to it.  Like walking your favorite path, you know what's coming, and slide along happily right in the groove.  It's one of the most comfortable feelings I know.  And I knew from the look on his face when we got back to my truck, right in that perfect little moment surrounded by leaves just beginning to turn, he and I were both back in the sweet spot.  Happy and comfortable, wind burned cheeks and a job well done.  As we cased up the guns, I locked that memory in the place they don't disappear from.

We went to the local watering hole to register the deer after that, a tradition when hunting this spot.  It's one of those small town places that never seems to change.  If you told me the same bartenders had been working there when Washington was crossing the Delaware, I'd probably believe you.  It's dark and solid and perfectly rough around the edges.  Hot food, cold beer, and college football added to the comfort level then.

We made the drive back to camp, and I began to prep for the evening meal.  As I posted a couple weeks ago, I'd committed the sin of overcooking venison the previous weekend.  I felt the need to wipe that one of the scorecard, so I brought along the ingredients for the exact same meal.  Different people, different place, but the chance to redeem myself.  After a long, lazy afternoon hanging around the cabin, I finally got off my butt and did it up right.  The boys enjoyed the meal with the hunger and zeal that comes from the combination of a couple days outside and a few cold drinks.  As they tore into it, I sat back in my sated, very comfortable state, and gave one little shout out to the gods of the kitchen...

... redemption is mine.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monkey Time

Versatile.  Proprietary.  Ultralightweight.  Aggressive.  It's a pair of boots, for the love of Dog.  I don't know about you, but the image of an aggressive pair of boots can conjure some slightly frightening mental images for me.  I have no wish to wear Ray Lewis on my feet.

They love to foist the gear on us.  Most of my hunting interests will be peaking very soon, and the dudes over at Guns-n-Rods-R-Us ain't dumb.  They know I'm sitting here all jacked up, waiting with bated breath for the chance to go, for the wind to swing around from the north and the leaves to start changing.  And they know I can do little about it, outside of sitting on my wallet while I read their articles and surf their websites.  So my inbox fills with their emails as fast as my mailbox fills with their catalogs.

If you were to believe them, you could leave the house an expert in the woods without ever having visited them.  Why worry about wind direction on a stalk?  Simply slither into this activated charcoal cocoon, and bumble out the door.  Can't navigate cross-country with a map and compass?  No problem!  Just purchase one of theses handy-dandy GPS units, guaranteed to save a brazillian waypoints and locate your butt anywhere on the planet.  Until the batteries die.  Want to catch a bigger fish than that knothead, Mike, down the hall in accounting?  This $20 crankbait should do the trick.  If you know where to throw it, not to mention when and how.

All that being said, gear is good.  Tools of the trade are necessary, and sometimes downright cool.  Some of them might even save your bacon one day, if you're dumb or unlucky enough to get in a pinch.  But the whole purchasing of them can easily spin out of control faster than a freshman farm kid on spring break in Cancun.

Picture the outdoor gear retailer's greatest dream.  It's easy --  I'm over there on the right in the beard and bomber hat, a self-admitted gear nerd.  As a patriotic American, I'm duty bound to genuflect at the feet of consumerism, to acquire the latest and greatest gear every year.  If I don't have those Gore-Tex bibs with the new, NASA-inspired shoulder strap system, the terrorists win, right?

It's not that bad for me now, but it nearly was once upon a time.  Thankfully, most of my friends and I have been in this game long enough that we no longer feel the need to run out, and blow our hard earned checks on this season's avalanche of camouflage crap.  Of course, the temptation lingers.

Fly tying is the worst.  There are literally thousands of products and materials out there, all so shiny and inviting.  My fly tying bench looks like a a bomb went off at an all chicken disco party.  Cluck Cluck Cluck Cluck... Stayin' alive!  There are any number of these tiny baubles and doodads that are integral to the flies that I tie.  There are also dozens of these little things that I've purchased, and never used.  Why did I need stainless tarpon hooks?  I have no idea, but I bet they were in the bottom of some bargain bin, just waiting for the next sucker to come along.

I tie here in the computer room, more aptly titled, "the fly tying and fishing shit tornado room," where the fur and feathers glacially migrate across the desk, and calve onto the floor, until I finally beat them back to various drawers, bins, and peg hooks.  While not nearly artwork, and not even artisan's work, the flies do occasionally appeal the the eye of both fisherman and fish enough to make wading through drifts of deer hair and chicken feathers worth it.  The vicious strike of the smallmouth on a topwater I've spun and stacked is reward enough for sometimes finding trimmed deer hair in my dinner, on my sheets, and even in the shower. 

The fishing rods themselves also contribute mightily to the wallet suck that is outdoor purchases.  Non-fishers often gawk and comment when they spy the thicket of rods sprouting in the corner or sprawling across the bed of a pick up.  They don't understand that fishing rods are a lot like golf clubs -- there's a rod in the bag for every shot, so to speak.  You don't cast for little native brookies on a massive 9-weight thunderstick, nor to do you chase muskies with dainty little bamboo trout rods... and all the permutations in between.  That's not even considering all the conventional spinning and bait casting tackle of similar ratings and uses.  It can grow to quite a number.  And once you settle on a rod maker of choice (I'm smitten with a certain famous rod company from here in Wisconsin that shares it's name with a famous river) those rods seem to have the ability to reproduce in the dark secret places we store them.  I can't possibly have purchased that entire stack, they must spawn in the back of the truck after a few too many cocktails around the campfire.  It's been known to happen.

Clothes are bad too.  I'll admit I'm a bit of a clothes horse.  Fortunately, I'll never be mistaken as a dandy or metrosexual as most of my purchases hail from the Filson and Woolrich end of the spectrum.  That doesn't mean they don't pile up. Closets erupt with fleece and wool.  To open certain drawers, stuffed to their limit with Thinsulate and Polypro, coarse language and the strength of Thor must both be employed.

Honestly, part of the problem here seems to be that for a few years there after school, everything always shrank in the off season.  I must have been drying everything on high.  Or eating everything in sight.  One of the two.  Thankfully, I've managed to settle into a more comfortable zone now, roughly maintaining the mass of a red dwarf star, but there's still one pair of waders out in the garage that I no longer wear for fear of being mistaken as a giant, overstuffed camouflage bratwurst.  Yummy!

Of course, the subject would not be complete without addressing the random gimmicky crap we fall prey to on occasion.  Don't look at me like that.  You know what you've done as well as I do.  It was a plastic piece of crap purchased from Satan's colon (based in Bentonville, AR) that broke inexplicably when you looked at it sidelong the first time you took it out.  Or it was some completely useless trinket, purchased on a whim for no discernible reason.  We all have a box of them in the basement or garage that should go on E-bay or in the garbage.  I find one in a tackle box, backpack, or vest every once in a while.  Nothing to do but hang your head in amused shame at that point.  You got me with your fancy advertising.  What a rube.

I purchased a knife sharpening kit years ago.  I won't name the brand or the online retailer from which it was procured, but this thing may as well have been made from confetti and spit.  I'm pretty sure the knives actually sharpened the stones they were so soft, and the rickety little joke of an angle guide imploded faster than a game of drunken Jenga.  I could write for an hour on these little debit card catastrophes, but I won't.  You've been there at least once yourself.

Buying and using the gear is only half the fun.  A great deal of the joy comes from simply pawing it up at home, getting ready for the next excursion.  Hours, days, entire weekends have been frittered away painting and sharpening, sewing on buttons and tweaking baits.  Most of the time it's a perfectly harmless way to pass the time while you dream of the upcoming adventure.  You show me a man on his first trip of the season, I'll show you a guy who spent an hour playing with his toys like a monkey in the zoo the night before.

I'm going deer hunting this coming weekend.  As my departure approaches, long underwear will have to be located, outerwear will need to be packed, my rifle and ammo will need a good ogle, boots and knives and any number of things will have to be sharpened, re-waterproofed, and generally dinked around with.  Before I sat down to write this, I spent a good two minutes looking at faucet handles, across the house in the kitchen, through my binoculars.  Just like a monkey in a zoo.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


I committed one of the cardinal sins on Saturday.

Lets be honest, I probably committed half the seven on Saturday.  Or more.  I know I ate like a glutton then lay around like a three-toed sloth.  There's two right there.  Pretty sure there was some lusting in there somewhere as well.  Whether over a woman or a juicy cut of meat, there usually is.

But we aren't referring to the whimsy of man's interpretations of heaven and hell here.  I'm talking about sins of the kitchen.  From processed ingredients to under-seasoning, there are plenty of ways to anger the gods of the knife and board.  And I just couldn't refrain from tempting them into smiting me down last weekend.

For as long as I can remember, Saturday night has been "steak night" at my parent's house.  Not only are ginormous, high quality ribeyes acquired from a local meat market, as the name implies, but an open-invitation party always takes place before and after dinner.  There have been as many as a dozen people feasting around that table on any Saturday night, enjoying some bovine protein in any number of different preparations.  Wine flows, and laughter abounds.  Outdoor speakers have been installed just for this weekly occasion, carrying the tunes out to the bonfire pit after the meal.  Friends of the family often end up crashing on various spare beds and couches.  Actual howling at the moon has taken place.

My first misstep four days ago, my initial taunt of the gods of the kitchen?  I changed the menu.  I had a bad need for some venison tenderloin au Poivre.  Brushing off years of tradition without so much as a wink or a Hail Mary, I decided to serve Bambi over Bessie.  Not the end of the world by any stretch of the imagination, but it was just the first of my many transgressions.  Transgressions that would eventually lead to the gods raining down their disapproval.

Next, I invited guests at the last minute.  Ingredients had been purchased, veggies had been prepped, peppercorns had been pestled to pieces, charcoal was very nearly glowing orange to match the fading light of the western horizon.  I thought, "What the hell.  I can stretch it."  More starch!  More veg!  I got this.  Again, not exactly the culinary equivalent of clubbing baby seals, but still, the lords of cast iron would soon set forth the furies of caramelization on their terrible steeds of vengeance.

Lastly and most egregiously, I thought it best to perhaps sample the wine before sitting down to the table.  This is one of the minor sins of cooking with family.  Not normally a harbinger of horrific karmic mojo in a home kitchen, opening the bottle when you have three courses to cook for the clan, is nonetheless, seldom a good idea.

Having gone out of vogue in restaurants sometime around the moment Al Gore created the Internet, Steak au Poivre can still be the prom queen at home.  And despite it's seemingly self-aggrandizing title, at least to the ear of Joe Beergut, Steak (or venison) au Poivre is pretty damn simple to make.  It's a one pan entree.  With the Frenchy name and big showy fireball when you dump in the booze, it's definitely a crowd pleaser in the kitchen.  Throw that rich silky sauce over some gorgeously cooked meat, and you won't get any complaints at the table either.  Vive la France, and pass the Lipitor!  Fellas, if you want to impress your lady friend with minimal mental investment, I can teach you to knock this one out of the park in three beers.

A monkey could do it.  So I poured another glass of red, and got involved in a deep discussion on the merits of the Butt Out Tool

And the gods struck down with furious anger.  I'd thumbed them in the eye one too many times, and had become their cosmic pawn.  In my confidence and pride, I'd squandered my talents and responsibilities.  So they manufactured a hiccup in the fabric of space-time, and at their hands, I committed the single worst sin of the kitchen.  I overcooked the venison.

I knew what I'd done before even turning to look.  You can hear it in the sizzle when the meat has tightened up too far.  That gorgeous cylinder of deer flesh I'd been lusting after for hours, ruined by insolence and inattention.  I was pissed off.  I rested it while I made the sauce and finished up the sides, and sure as the dawn, when I eventually cut into it, there it was, approaching medium well.  Not even medium well, but miles past approaching medium rare where it should have been.  It felt like getting the dreaded cheek turn when you go in for a first kiss.  All anger and disappointment and embarrassment.  It wasn't the first time I'd made that boneheaded move, but it will hopefully be the last.

Dinner was a blast.  All three courses were good, and  nobody bitched about my vulcanized medallions of whitetail.  I'd served the center of the loin, the least overcooked portion, to the people that would notice most.  We love each other, and the company matters more than the food anyway, but I couldn't help taking a moment to ask forgiveness from the gods of the kitchen.  Then we went out back to howl at the moon.
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