On Fathers and Condiments.

I'd swear I was raised in a gypsy caravan in the English countryside. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth but as a child my imagination ran rampant with stories told by James Herriot and Roald Dahl. One of the first books I remember reading aloud with my Dad was Danny the Champion of the World, and that is where I turned from a tomgirl with waist-long braids into a full fledged boy living in a gypsy caravan with my Dad, bathing standing up in the sink (to avoid sitting in my own dirt) and drugging pheasants with spiked raisins so we could poach them, cook them, and dine like kings.

Both of my parents are really something special, people that I consider my friends as well as my life-givers. Many children naturally seem closer to their mothers, and now that I am a mother I can see why. The bond that forms when a life lives within you is really something indescribable. Mothers are the driving force of the family much of the time, certainly not in every case but often I'd say. In my world, my Mom did the cooking and stayed home with us, eschewing her own ambitions for what was best for the family, making soup from a pork chop when times were tough.

My Dad worked regular banker's hours for as long as I have known him, but always had time to take each of us fishing, mushroom hunting, on imaginary trips to England. He was the one to make us wild before bedtime, take us on bike rides and teach us about cars and trees and birds. It still seems to me that my Dad knows all of the answers, and I know that he would be able to point out a Spruce tree at a distance - something I wish I could boast as I painfully envied Peter cooking with Spruce tips this Spring. He understands plumbing and electricity, has built garages and other structures by hand, can understand and repair clocks and knows just what bird is singing when I don't even hear a bird at all. My Dad is the ultimate condiment to my life, and someone that I admire most in the world.

my first garden radish, ever. it's only the size of a marble so I have to wait a bit longer.

My Dad loves growing a garden, and I think I call him every year to ask him some question regarding planting or cultivating. This year, I called to ask him about thinning which I never really did before. I never really direct-sowed seed before, save a few peas that never really produced last year. My Dad also loves to eat, though not really to cook. It's well understood that my Dad likes to grill and make eggs, but other than that his hands slip into his pockets and he likes to observe. (He's also really great at washing dishes, but if you ever make the mistake of saying "I'll do that, Dad", he'll quickly say "OK!", and rush out of the kitchen!)

Since I seeded those radishes, I have seriously been hawk-eyed over them. I swear I'm out in the backyard 3 times a day, crouched over them, seeing if I can will them into growing faster. I'll bet even as an old woman, I will still be as excited about waiting and watching something grow from the ground, from something so small as a needle's head. Even more is my excitement since I can't seem to satiate the radish fixation I've had since about March. Yesterday when I saw beautiful local bunches for sale at my co-op, I bought one to pickle using this method from Eugenia Bone. I didn't intend to give them away, but after a taste, I knew I'd have to give them to my Dad for Father's Day.

All of a sudden, I seemed to be planning an all-food gift which is pretty much my favorite thing to give. The rest of the day I spent organizing and planning my attack.

I made bagels over the course of a day and froze them. I cooled them about an hour before slicing them almost all of the way through and freezing them.

I saw this recipe for BBQ rub at Well Preserved, another great blog that I never really read before, and before I knew it, I had a Pulled Pork Kit:

The spice rub is a blend of mustard powder, bay leaf, coffee, celery seed, garlic and onion powders. I added some cayenne, since we like spicy stuff, and kept tasting it to see if I thought it would be good. After I was happy with it, I decided that I should really make some kind of BBQ sauce to douse the pork with. I altered an Emeril recipe I found to use (my favorite condiment ever) Marisa's Tomato Jam, and I should mention that it is insanely good. It's vinegary and much thinner than corn syrup laden commercial sauces. Tasting them both together and using a bit of imagination confirms to me that this will be a good kit for making some pulled pork.

BBQ Pork Spice Rub (Well Preserved's ratio, a few minor adjustments from me)
yields about 1 c. spice rub
  • 2 T. dry mustard
  • 2 T. chile powder
  • 4 T. onion powder
  • 2 T. garlic powder (I used granulated garlic)
  • 1 T. celery seed
  • 1 T. kosher salt
  • 1 t. (maybe more) cayenne pepper
  • 2 T. ground coffee
  • 3 ground bay leaves (I ground them with the coffee beans, and it smelled herby and almost floral. I was almost curious enough to brew some into a beverage...)
Blend all together.

Tomato Jam BBQ Sauce (adapted from Emeril Lagasse)
yields about 2 cups
  • 1/2 c. tomato jam
  • 1/2 c. ketchup
  • 1 c. Bragg cider vinegar
  • 1 T. yellow mustard
  • 1 T. molasses
  • 1/2 t. crushed red pepper
Mix everything together. That's it. Store in a glass jar.

For a good primer on what to do to make stellar pulled pork, check out Well Preserved's tips. I have even had good results doing this type of pulled pork in a slow cooker, just rubbing a spice rub into a dry chunk of meat and not even bothering to brown it. But, I have also made a charcoal grill into a "smoker", and soaked wood chips and let it go all day and that was pretty fantastic. I'm going to make this sometime this Summer for us. I'll even go ahead and say that I'll bet it works fine for a pulled beef application too.

Continuing the theme of condiments, I knew that I'd have to make a mustard. A few weeks ago, I saw a recipe for Kombucha Mustard on the Cultures for Health facebook page. I do not have a bloated amount of information on my facebook, and I love it as a resource for updates from just my favorite places. Soaking mustard seeds in kombucha? How easy, and I would never have thought of it. Of course, I had to wake up my kombucha first.

I had put it into hibernation during all of the vinegaring, and let a new mother grow out of some plain tea. I think since our weather has been so wonky, it seemed to take forever to get a suitable batch of tea finished, and I bottled up what I didn't use to soak the yellow mustard seeds yesterday.

I only soaked the seeds for a few hours, since they seemed to swell easily and were soft when I bit into them. I added a glug of cider vinegar, some salt and pepper, a couple teaspoons of turmeric and some honey. It was so thick, I added some water as it spun in the food pro, and also a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. I kind of like the thick consistency, I think I'll use it on salmon since I once did that with non-homemade mustard and it was pretty great. Since I have more than 3/4 lb. of thick yellow mustard, I will have plenty to share and experiment with, and since it seems well fermented (mustard is a natural preservative itself as well), I'll be in no hurry to use it up. I'm considering taking some for a trip in the Vitamix with additional kombucha tea to make a runnier version too.

So it looks like a good food gift is taking shape. I'll probably also make a little something sweet later today since that seems to be one of my trademarks, though lately I have been doing better at cutting back on the sugar. I think that my parents are some of the best people to give gifts to. They are difficult to shop for because they don't really need anything, so I almost always end up making something for them that is consumed, which in turn makes me insanely happy.

I do wonder if the gypsy caravan in the English countryside is still there, and if I showed up with this gift basket would a sandwich made on a bagel with some poached pheasant, a spread of mustard, a tangle of pickled radish would emerge as we sat around a campfire enjoying our food fit for kings. I never stop being thankful for my Pop, his steady and unwavering demeanor, his expertise on all manner of things. The way he was when I was young and the way he still is as I'm aging: a dreamer who never once put his dreams ahead of his family, a traveler who gave us all roots in the most important things. For all of the enhancements you have made to my life: I love you, Dad.