Wednesday, January 08, 2003
I was born and raised in Alaska, but when I was seven, my family moved down to Humboldt County, California. We were only there four years, and then circumstances brought us back to Alaska
We didn’t have anything. We didn’t have much even in California, but we could only fit so much in the car. I think we each were allowed one box for our things. We had left the rest of our things behind, to be shipped up later when we had enough money for it. Dad had gone there ahead of us, to prepare the way.
The dear friends we had left behind, those wonderful church people, helped him out. He found a temporary job working as a shoe salesman. When the rest of the family made it up the Alaska-Canada highway in our 60s VW bus, they took all five of us in. Afterwards, another family rented the finished half of a duplex to us and we had a more permanent place to live.
Before the school year started, we got an excited phone call Pastor Frank. It was the first Moose Kill of the season, and they were giving it to us! All that beautiful moose meat, enough to eat on for months. All we had to do was come butcher it up.
Moose were killed all the time, hit by trucks or cars or on railroad tracks. Moose are big; a half-ton of meat and bone, so the state had developed a road kill list to salvage the meat. An organization, be it a church or charity or whatever, could sign up to be called when a dead moose became available.
Pastor Frank had been called, and had picked up the moose carcass. It was hanging up in his garage when he called us.
Welcome back to Alaska! Trying their hardest not to look the gift moose in the mouth, mom and dad gathered up their children to receive it.
I was confused about what was going on. “We’re going where?”
Mom said, “There’s been a moose kill, and we get to have the meat.”
This explanation in no way prepared me for the sight of a dead moose hanging on a hook in Pastor Frank’s garage. It was bloody and hairy and amazingly intact.
My 11-year-old mind was boggled. What were we supposed to do with this animal?
Pastor Frank knew exactly what to do. He was an avid hunter. I’m sure he enjoyed hunting, but a certain amount of practicality was involved: he had 8 children to feed. He got out all the butchering tools that he always used: several kinds of knives, a meat grinder, and a chainsaw.
He told us the first thing to do was to get the hide off the animal, and then cut it into smaller pieces. Then he would come back to tell us what to do next.
Take off the hide? We were at a loss. None of us had done this before, but this was not the time to be fainthearted. Frank had taken a knife to the edge of the moose’s abdomen, when it had been opened and gutted, and made some quick cuts, easily separating the skin from the muscle.
After he left, Mom started laughing in amazement and disbelief. She took up one of the knives. "Well, okay.." she said. I was right behind her with my own knife, and stood by trepidatiously as she pulled at the skin.
She bravely pulled the hide back, where Frank had cut. She stuck her knife in there, and made some stabs at it. I watched her, dumbly amazed. After a second or so, she said, “Oh, I see! If you use the knife to cut in the right place, it comes right off.”
She moved over so I could get started. I tried to cut in with my skinning knife, but for the first few times, I cut into the skin or the muscle and I couldn’t get it. She showed me that I should aim for the soft tissue in between the two. She was right; it was really easy when you cut in the right place.
Moose aren’t very clean. The hide was dirty, and when I cut into the muscle accidentally, there was blood. And there was a lot of goo involved with the tissuey parts. I washed my hands as often as I could
But the blood had only just begun. My father was eyeing the chainsaw. After we got the hide off, we had to cut that beast into manageable pieces. It had to be quartered, which meant cutting it into four pieces of one leg apiece. The chainsaw was the tool that the pros used.
My dad was not a pro, God bless him, but he fired that chainsaw up, gritted his teeth and set to it. VVVrrrr! He pushed that little chainsaw through the moose’s heavy bones as his wife and children stood around him with horrified and awestruck faces. We cheered when he finished, and he smiled at us above his bloody rubber apron.
Now we had manageable pieces to work with. But we didn’t know what to do next. None of us had done this before; my father was not a hunter. Any wild game that we'd eaten had been a present from someone else. We’d never gone through the whole process.
Pastor Frank must have heard the chainsaw, because he came back around and solved our dilemma.
“This is great!” he congratulated us. “It’s coming along fine.” He showed up how to string up the quarters on other hooks in the ceiling, and put containers beneath to catch the blood that dripped out.
He was going to throw away the hide, but my 13-year-old brother had plans for it. Pastor Frank was a cheerful man, and thought that was alright. The hide was set aside for later.
It was amazing that, even though the hide was completely removed, there still seemed to be hair everywhere.
The muscles of the skinned meat were pink and they shined like opals as they dripped blood down to the floor. They hung like nightmare wind chimes in the air. I poked at one. It swung a little.
“Oh, that’s right,” Pastor Frank said. “We have to be careful of this one leg.” He pointed his knife at one spot we hadn’t noticed. There was a big black blotch on the hindquarter. It looked like a marker had bled its ink. “That’s where the moose was hit when it was killed.” We were supposed to cut around it and toss the bad parts. When he cut into it to show us, the meat was all black and pussy.
“Oh, you’re really lucky!” he told us. “This one wasn’t banged up hardly at all. Sometimes, they are all torn up and you can’t get much meat of them. This one has plenty of good meat on it.”
He told us that we had to save the moose’s lower jaw to give to Fish and Game.
“Why do we have to give them the jaw?” my two brothers and I wanted to know.
“Oh, that’s just what they decided. You have to prove you didn’t get it illegally. They probably picked the jaw because it isn’t much use.”
So we pulled and hacked and got the jaw off the moose head and set it aside. The rest of the moose waited.
There was a lot of moose. Pastor Frank told us about his favorite cuts of meat, and how we should take the meat off the bones in certain ways, depending on how we were going to use it. When we had a family portion size, we had to wrap it in plastic wrap, and then wrap it again in freezer paper. We’d tape that into a neat package, and write on it what kind of cut it was.
Pastor Frank would rattle off different kinds of meat we could have. He kept saying, “It depends on what you like.” In our state, we were not up to making aesthetic dining choices. Dad finally asked him what he would do if it were his moose.
“Oh, I like to make it into mooseburger. You can always use mooseburger.”
As it turned out, mooseburger involved a few extra steps. You had to grind the meat up, which was not such a problem since there was a meat grinder installed in the garage. But you also had to add fat to the meat. Moose is lean meat, and hamburger is not lean. Apparently, we could go to the store and ask for lard.
Supermarkets in Alaska were prepared for this. I went with my mom to the store, and we asked for lard for mooseburger. They gave us several brown grocery sacks full of cubed fat pieces, charging us a nominal price per pound.
It took a lot of fat chunks to make hamburger. I think the ratio was half and half. After one person had sliced off pieces of meat from the bone, they would give them to the one running the hamburger grinder. The meat and fat chunks were put into the grinder, and had to be pushed down while someone worked the big metal handle in a circle. It took some strength make that handle go around. The meat was not always willing to be ground and squished through the holes at the end. We’d have to take the grinder apart and clean it out periodically before it would work again.
Every so often, someone would poke their head in and say hello. The grown children of Pastor Frank, neighbors, and church parishioners came by and chatted with us. Most of them had been through this before, and they told us stories of other moose butchering or hunting expeditions. We were happy to talk with them, even though we were covered in blood and elbows deep in moose meat. At that time, it was hard to think of interesting topics of conversation. Most of my brainpower was concentrated on not paying too much attention to how disgusting this whole process was.
Some of these experienced visitors had advice, which we really needed. One neighbor told us that we could make steaks and roasts out of larger cuts of meat. When we realized that we didn’t have to grind all of the meat, there was much rejoicing. Things went a little faster after that.
After the second day of butchering, it felt like quite enough. But we were not finished yet. One of our difficulties was that it was August, still summer. Moose kill in the winter kept better, because it was cold. But our meat would spoil if we did not deal with it quickly.
My poor father still had to go to his shoe salesman job during the day. Mom and us kids would work on the moose while he was at work. When he was done at with the shoes, he came straight over and starting cutting with the rest of us.
The third day was tough. We had seen a lot of meat and blood and muscles and tendons and cartilage and connecting tissue and arteries and moose anatomy. It was hard to go back and do it some more. And dad had to face all that after a day at work.
That last day we gave up on mooseburger. We made a lot of stew meat in chunks. We cut big roasts. Even some extraordinarily large ones. “It will be our Christmas roast!” we said. I think we had five Christmas roasts by the end of the day.
I was so glad to see the end of that day.
We ate a tremendous amount of moose meat that winter. Moose stew. Moose burger. And everything seemed to have a few brown moose hairs in it. The stray hairs were especially insidious in the stews. They would float away from the meat and rise to the top. When you would bring your spoon to your mouth for a sip of broth, suddenly you would feel a wiry two-inch hair on the roof of your mouth. We all had little collections of discarded hairs next to our plates.
The full moose hide had been saved by my brother, because he wanted to tan it. He was quite excited about it. He had read that you could use Alaskan Sourdough to tan hides. He informed everyone that sourdough would do the trick and he was going to be the proud owner of a tanned moose hide.
Mom said, “You can do whatever you want, but make sure you keep it away from the house.”
This was something of a disappointment to Chris, since he really wanted to nail the hide to the side of the house. That was the way real trappers did it. But he got over it, and tromped off to the woods with a crock of sourdough and the moose hide.
I had had enough of moose in the raw for a while, so I did not follow him. But a few days later, I thought of it.
“Hey Chris, how’s your Moose hide? Did you cover it with sourdough?”
He looked down. Apparently the tanning process is harder than it looked. He said that he had covered it in sourdough and left it hanging over a tree branch. But he went back in a day, and it was covered in maggots. Since it was turning green and festering, he had to give up the project.
I don’t know where he put the thing. I think he buried it.
After many months of moose meat and moose burger and moose stew, when Christmas came the Christmas moose roast was less special. But everytime one of us went to the freezer to get more meat, we reminded each other that we had a package in there waiting, labeled "CHRISTMAS ROAST." There was no way around it, when Christmas came, we were obligated.
Mom cooked it up really good. She had enough practice with moose meat by now. It was pretty good.
posted by Murphy 1/08/2003
Tuesday, January 07, 2003
My friend Tantek made a list of what he did for his first day back at work in the new year.
He took a much longer holiday than I did. Must be nice!
BUT he also worked a TWELVE HOUR DAY upon return. GEEK!
This is what I did on January 2nd, my first day of work in the new year:
*Got in at 8:30. Habit. It's nice to come early, so I can leave early.
*Check my email. Both work and yahoo. Yahoo comes up faster and is more interesting than my work email.
*Noticed that one half of my co-workers were gone.
*Went to coffee room to get coffee and Microwave my Kasha cereal
*Ate and drank the above.
*Called all the telcom companies who my company uses and who are irritating me.
*Ordered a new cell phone for someone.
*deleted the 5,000 odd spam emails that were in my Inbox. Including one about a teenage girl and a horse that I REALLY wish had not passed in front of my eyes.
*Answered my personal email
*Started a really interesting email discussion about which movies of the '80s were great, and why films buffs ignore the '80s so much
*Did some other work stuff
*Answered a phone call, giving answer #32 of my arsenal, describing the difference between a phone conference and a video conferene. "In a phone conference, you use a phone and you only hear the other participants. In a VIDEO conference, you see the other side. There's a TV in the room, and it talks to you."
*Started a video call
*Deposited my paycheck
*Checked my bank account online.
*Perused my Y-T-D totals sadly, contemplating that taxes were only getting worse and that I made a lot more last year.
*Watered my plant
*More work stuff
*Left kind of late, because I was waiting for a phone call about the next day's meeting.
*Worked 9 hours
I've left a few things out, but that pretty much covers it.
I think in my next post, I'm gonna lie.
posted by Murphy 1/07/2003
Monday, January 06, 2003
I had a fabulous weekend. Lots of fun and fun people.
Sunday was the day I caught up on all my errands and chores. While I was out grocery shopping, I decided to give myself a treat and go to Eastside Records. It's a great record shop near where I live. My co-worker had recommended it. She said that poeple who work in the industry sold their extras there, and they were cheap.
Cheap is good! They had a lot of different things for sale: CDs, Vinyl, VHS and DVDs. There was not very much organization; they are really set up to browse. They only have the mediums organized into general categories, such as rock & pop, COuntry & Folk, etc. No other order is imposed on the stacks. But there is a lot of room, and things are cheap.
I was thrilled to pick up the latest Alanis Morrissette CD and the latest Counting Crows. I'm gonna get pissed and depressed really good!
Anyway, I didn' t have a chance to listen to them at home, so I brought the CDs to work. I have a huge set of headphones plugged into my computer.
My boss jokes that I look like I'm landing planes. I tell him that at least no one will talk to me and THINK I'm hearing them when I'm really listening to music.
Whatever. I'm not buying new headphones to please him.
So I pop in the Alanis CD into my CD rom, all set to be pissed.
I pop in Hard Candy, ready to be depressed if I can't be pissed.
KNOW WHY? The stupid record execs, who had made these two enhanced CDs, have forgotten to put a listening link on the menu of choices available.
Didn't they realize that people who would use the enhanced CD technology would be the same people who use their computers to listen to the CD?
Yes, thank you very much, I can access the "secret website" from the CD, i'm thrilled, yadda yadda.
HOWEVER, I cannot listen to the CDs I paid for.
Sheesh. Get a clue.
posted by Murphy 1/06/2003