Monday, March 23, 2009

Extreme Cuisine

I did it!! I ate things I never want to eat again (at least this week). I was so excited to participate in the Extreme Cuisine class at the Oregon Culinary Institute in Portland. I met with the chef/instructor, Melinda Casady, last week to talk about my attending as Miss Snail Pail with my snails and slugs to add to her huge array of offal and mealworms, kangaroo meat, lamb tongue, pigtails, oxtail, rocky mountain oysters, frog legs, ostrich, crickets, blood sausage, chicken feet...It was A LOT of food from animals that I don't usually eat, so it was a day of expansion and exploration. A day of fun and feasting!

Melinda wants us Americans to remember that if you eat chicken breasts, what about the thighs and the feet? Why do people waste so much of an organism that has died for one small piece of cuisine? And hey, mealworms are great protein! Just avoid the really big ones because they are fed hormones. As I was biting into the mealworm chocolate chirp chip cookies, I was expecting the chocolate chip love I wanted. It was there, but so were the crunchy crispy tubular worms to keep me from binging on sugar. One was great!!

I did love the lamb (pig?) tongue thinly sliced in this amazing warm salad with vinegar, onions, ginger, lemon. And after my third slice of pig testicle, I was nodding my head, "OK," this is definitely food. The kangaroo meat was delicious with that oregano. And the curried ostrich I prepared was tasty. Since I promote foraging for slugs and snails in our yards as a local source of protein, as well as a sustainable way to avoid losing plants to the slimy mollusks, I had to learn more about what people eat around the world. A couple people in the class from Asia said that oxtail, the duck eggs, and balut, were all pretty common fare. Balut being an expensive delicacy. I had to watch, but not able to bite there. Just a personal hang up. The durian and mangosteens are Asian fruit with mixed reputations. Mangosteens remind me of lychees a bit.

The purpose of the class was founded in a real desire to get people to remember that we take animals and food for granted, and perhaps we just don't know how to prepare them. We don't know how to get to the bones.

As a chicken, fish, and garden mollusk eater, with a love of fruits, grains and vegetables, I took huge leaps eating those fatty pigtails and trying to bite into the tough rattlesnake. Oxtail was like good old home cooking from my Hungarian grandmother, and if my Polish grandmother was still alive, I am sure she would have brought in her sausage recipe and whipped up some pickled pigs feet. In her last days, she craved them.

We made so much food, enough for many other culinary students to try, and to bring home for our housemates:
"I've got leftovers, guys. Mealworms," I try to sound tempting.
"I know who loves mealworms, you'll make them real happy," Rebecca says smiling, pointing to the chicken coop, "the girls." The hens do love the grubs.

I ate some more of the unusuals last night and shared some with my hungry little Plum dog. Wow, he couldn't praise the delicious creations enough. That said, he will eat raw lettuce and chunks of carrot too, so perhaps the lesson is enjoy the bounty and don't be too picky. Variety and balance. Tune in to nature. And "Love the slug."

I just got an email today: a new Miss Snail Pail is posted on YouTube.