Pounding Beef


I walked into the kitchen today and found my wife engaging in the primitive practice of pounding on a slab of round steak with the edge of a saucer. Every so often she would pause and sprinkle flour over the meat, then savagely attack it with the saucer again. I have witnessed this strange behavior for so many years, first by my mother and then by my wife, and I have generally taken it for granted. But suddenly it struck me as so Neanderthal that I should maybe ask some questions. But questioning someone who is pounding meat with a saucer can be dangerous. When my mother used to do it she had that same fierce look on her face that she had when killing a snake with a hoe. One learns to address beef pounders very humbly and gently because they are liable to be in a bad mood from having to do such base work. In fact, one of my millions of theories about the human race is that people who decide to pound beef with a saucer are already in a bad mood and are taking it out on the poor round steak.

“Honey, shouldn’t I be doing that?”

Cold stare. “No, you won’t do it right. Go out and bring in some potatoes if you want to help.”

I don’t want to do that either. “Why don’t you use the regular metal meat tenderizer?”

Even colder stare. “That thing doesn’t do the job. And the flour plugs up the teeth. Go get some potatoes out of the pit.”

Thus it shall always be.

I like to talk about pounded round steak in this holiday season of eating high on the hog—or cow— mostly because

Another Advantage Of Backyard Hens



I have a hunch that the following scene happens only on one farm in the whole wide world so pay attention. You are driving down a two lane highway in Ohio when you pass a farmstead with a chicken coop in easy view through your windshield. In front of the coop stands a middle-aged woman with a kind of vacant air about her, cracking an egg on a fencepost and gingerly letting the white stuff ooze off onto the ground to separate it from the yolk. She tosses the shell back to the hens to eat. By now you probably have slowed almost to a stop because surely the poor woman has lost her mind from the hectic pressures of modern farming. She seems to be rubbing the yolk between the palms of her hand. A dog laps at the egg white drooling to the ground. By the way, she is also barefoot.

Unless you are an artist, and then maybe only a certain kind of artist, you are not going to believe what is going on here. The woman in the hen yard is Pat Gamby who with her husband Steve, has been farming at this location for 22 years. This is your typical Midwestern dairy farm except that it is organic, but neither Pat nor Steve is typical in any ordinary sense of the word. Besides being a farmer, Pat is a professional artist who started drawing at age four and, without any formal training whatsoever, was actually painting pictures on commission when she was still in high school. Steve, besides being a farmer, played minor league baseball until he got smart and realized that farming (and playing softball on my team) was more fun. I’ve found excuses to put them in several of my books, most recently Holy Shit, so readers might be familiar with them already. I thought I knew them fairly well too until I heard about

Look Out, The World Is About To End Again



Last summer I started to fall for the old Doomsday Disaster Doldrums again. It didn’t rain from the middle of May to September. Crops didn’t grow and pasture dried up. I was once more painfully reminded of how close we live to the brink of disaster at all times. The food cliff, if not the fiscal cliff, lurks just one misstep away, or so it seems. Of course the rains did come in September and more in October and now going into December, the pastures are lush and I don’t think I will have to feed hay until January. The latest weather roundup says rainfall in Ohio for the year is about normal. Ho hum.

I never learn. I got a good case of the DDDs in 1988 when it did not rain one drop here from April 11 until July 17. And I can remember my parents and grandparents in the 1930s despairing when it seemed that every other year the weather was taking us to the end of the world. And they didn’t have global warming to blame.

But it was back in the 1880s when the worst (so far) weather came our way. Our Sandusky River, here in northern Ohio, got a crust of ice on it in July, so the old papers say. A huge volcano had erupted in Indonesia in 1883 (Krakotoa) and it sent enough ash and debris into the atmosphere to shade the sun for several years even as far away as Ohio. But not many people here knew that and probably would not have believed it anyway. From every pulpit came the old DDD refrain: the end is nigh.

Can you imagine