“Was your Dad going to hike the CDT this year, if not for the pandemic?”
This is what Stephanie asked me, innocently enough, after dinner on June 10th. Whatever prompted her question is lost to everything that came after, but this is where the story begins for me.
I wasn’t sure. But it made me wonder whether his having a hiking partner might be a motivator. I was near the end of my monthslong landscaping projects, and this seemed like a good alternative to finding a job.
So I texted him the idea and he seemed intrigued. But the following night we spoke on the phone and he decided that the risk of contracting the coronavirus (at his age) was just too great. So no hike. At the time I was secretly relieved because when I first proposed the idea, I hadn’t fully wrapped my head around the reality of leaving Stephanie for months at a time, of forsaking the comfort of our backyard gardens and nightly barbecues and dips in the pool.
I wanted to make refried beans, in no small part because I had two pounds of bacon fat trimmings in the freezer, which I had saved expressly for the purpose of making lard. I didn’t really have any intended vehicle for the refried beans, but Chef John suggested nachos, so I made nachos. Of course I didn’t have tortilla chips at the time (and I didn’t want to make a superfluous trip to the store), but I did have a large stack of corn tortillas in the freezer, so I turned those into chips. But I digress.
After straining the rendered pork fat through a cheesecloth, I was left with about 7 ounces of solid bits, known in the south as “cracklings” (ignoring the fact that lard is usually made with unsmoked, uncured bits of pork fat). The lard recipe suggested using these bits in something called “crackling bread”…basically cornbread with pork bits. I had a project!
In France they just call it Couscous (or occasionally Couscous Royale when it’s served with chicken drumsticks and merguez sausages along with the standard cuts of lamb). You can think of it as a vegetable-prominent, lamb and tomato stew served atop a copious bed of couscous grains, with harissa-spiked broth on the side.
When I looked up a recipe for black bean chili yesterday (spurred on by the odd can in our pantry), I only needed to glance at the ingredients to visualize how to cook it. Not because I’ve cooked this particular recipe before, or because I make chili frequently (I don’t—it’s not something Stephanie has ever really appreciated, until now), but I suppose just because I cook a lot in general. No humblebrag here, chili is obviously not rocket science. Most recipes consist of a simple 2-step algorithm: 1) brown protein in a skillet, and then 2) dump everything into a large pot and simmer for 2-3 hours. And I’m sure that would have rendered a perfectly serviceable chili using the ingredients below. Of course that’s not what I did, but what I did is based on my own personal relationship with each of the ingredients at this particular moment in time, and you might feel differently. So rather than try to codify what I did in prose, I’m just going to list the ingredients I used and leave the rest up to your interpretation and imagination. That said, the order in which I listed the ingredients is not by accident.