http://www.flickr.com/photos/nickdawson/5909000576/in/photostream What is it they say about stuff? You don't own it, it owns you. I get that. Did I mention we hired an organizational specialist recently? But sometimes there are things which do matter in our lives. Quality things. Important things. Sentimental things.
I'm a big fan of quality in stuff. Sure, who buys junk, right? Maybe I'm a little more obsessive than most. When I get into something, I tend to research the heck out of it. I keep buying the same make and model of car because I did my research and really like how well it is made. I wear one brand of dress shirt because after 10 years the first one I bought still looks crisp and presentable. I'm a Mac because they tend to break less than other computers I've owned.
Quality doesn't have to mean expensive. In fact, some of the best made things may be the least expensive. Take cooking, you can spend $300 on a single pan (don't ask me how I know). Lately, I've been cooking on cast iron... like a lot. Cast iron is cheap, you can get a great Lodge brand pan at your local hardware or Amazon for $20. Its thick, heavy and feels substantial. You know the handle isn't going to melt in the oven or break off. When properly seasoned, they are better than any nonstick pan for eggs. You can crank the heat all the way up on cast iron pan and never worry about it warping or discoloring. You can smash garlic or pepper corns with the bottom, turn it upside down to heat up tortillas, take it camping and stick it in the fire... see what I mean? These things rock!
I have memories of staying with my mother's parents in the summers as a kid for a week or two each year. My grandmother got up every morning at 4:30 AM. She made breakfast, worked a crossword... well, I'm not entirely sure what all she did. I don't think I've ever been up at 4:30.
By the time I was a kid, biscuits came in vacuum tubes and pancakes in boxes. I think my grandmother probably used those store bought items. I've often lamented the current state of packaged foods as an interesting mix of marketing, generational apathy (get off my lawn!) and connivence. If there was a time when my grandmother got up at 4:30 AM to make biscuits, I'm pretty sure it wasn't because she enjoyed being up that early. Making biscuits is hard work and takes time. When someone came along and put them in that fun , explosive tube, well, game over, sign us up, no more kneading dough! Still, doing things the right way matters. You can't really make southern biscuits without cast iron and you can't really fry a catfish in anything else.
A few months ago my grandfather passed away. He had not been well and I'm truly sure he is in a better place. My grandmother had passed a few years before. When it was time to clean out their home I was asked if there was anything I wanted. "Find me the cast iron pan please."
"Nope, just the pan."
Truthfully, I don't know if my grandmother ever made biscuits in this pan or if grandaddy ever fried a fish in it. It may not be that old, although the markings suggest it is. It was pretty banged up and in need of some care. I ran it through the self clean cycle of my oven and have begun the process of "re-seasoning" it. Its not my only cast iron pan - I have lots. But I find myself using it more than the others. Maybe its the size, maybe its the memories; it just feels right.
Oh, and so this properly qualifies as a food post for me...
The other night I made the most amazing lamb's liver in the pan. I find lamb's liver is pretty mild and doesn't need a soaking. Sprinkle with sel gris, and dust really well with flour. It helps to really push the flour in like in this pork chop recipe. Let it rest for 10 minutes while you render some pancetta and melt the onions in the pan. Remove the pancetta and onions. Crank the heat to high. Use the pancetta grease in the pan and lay the liver in. When you see crimson pools of blood just starting on the uncooked side, give it a flip. You want liver to be rare; anything else is chalky and tough. When you see crimson on the cooked side, take it out of the pan.
I reduced the heat, splashed in some port and sherry vinegar, added the pancetta, onions and some home cured sauerkraut and warmed it through.