Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Devolution + Oven-Dried Jerky #FoodieReads


Let's start with this - Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre by Max Brooks* isn't a book I would have chosen to read on my own in about a million years. But when Jake asked me to read it - because he really wanted to talk about it - I obliged. It's his 'bookless book group' pick and is significant in that it's the first book this has ever been chosen in the decade or so that all of these guys have been friends. We used to joke when they started to get together for man cave activities, that it was their version of a book group. But, as I said, they have never read a book together. Ever. Until now.

And, then, let's also say that this isn't a foodie book. However, there's a surprising amount of food in it. Plus it inspired me to make jerky in the oven. I'll get to that soon.

On the Page

When Jake asked me to read this, I had no idea what to expect. The only thing I knew was that it was suggested by a friend whose recommendation, years ago, had me reading about the zombie apocalypse - World War Z by the same author.


That adventure had me making Red Wine Gummy Brains. The zombie-inspired gummies were fun, but I didn't care for the book at all. Obviously I was reluctant to read Devolution. Then I saw my husband reading diligently every evening and that was intriguing in and of itself. So, when Jake asked me to read the book, so we could talk about it, I had to do it.

The book is a slow burn that snowballs to a frenetic crescendo that is the sasquatch massacre. That's not a spoiler, it's in the title! 

In any case, for the first third of the book, I didn't think I would care for it. I was disturbed by Brooks' literary device of infusing his novel with interview "transcripts." Think real journalists and imagined interviews. My eyes stuttered over names of radio journalists I hear on NPR all the time: Kai Ryssdal and Terry Gross. The use of their names in connection with a completely fictional event was deceptive and I had to keep reminding myself: Nope, this is fiction. Kai Ryssdal and Terry Gross never covered this tragedy because it didn't really happen!

Additionally, I didn't initially find any of the characters particularly likable. They were a group of techno-hippies living in a planned community called Greenloop in the rugged forests of Washington; they had no experience, or even interest, in wilderness survival. You can see where this is going, right? A natural disaster - Rainier's eruption - isolates Greenloop from the rescue efforts and draws another group out of the forest in search of food. That group was a troop of sasquatch. Sasquatch plus people in the forest...yeah, you definitely see where this is going now.

The story grew on me as it turned creepier and creepier, devolving into a horror story that serves as a cautionary tale and timely commentary on our dependence on technology and retreating self-sufficiency. Devolution: A Firsthand Account of the Rainier Sasquatch Massacre was well-written and thoroughly researched. I can respect that. 

In the end, I'm glad I read this. Now if Jake can hurry up and finish so we can talk about it! Then I plan to look up the sasquatch movies Brooks references in his novel. I've never really gotten into that genre, but my curiosity is piqued, and it appears that everyone has a bigfoot story.

"You’ve got the Almas in Russia, the Yowie in Australia, the Orang Pendek in Indonesia, and a bunch of Sisimite stories from Latin America. And that’s just today. The Judeo-Christian Bible has Esau, the primitive brother of Jacob. And the Epic of Gilgamesh, the first written story, has “Enkidu,” the wild man. Show me a culture anywhere on this planet, and chances are, they got something. Including this one, and by this one, I mean mainstream pop culture. Bigfoot’s as American as apple pie and guns in schools."

On the Plate

I mentioned earlier that there was a surprising amount of food in this book. Katie describes the dinner that the neighbors prepared to welcome her and Dan to Greenloop: "It was such an idyllic setting, and the food! Black buttery edamame salad, quinoa with grilled vegetables, and salmon right from the nearby rivers! We started with this amazing soup course: vegetable soba made by the Boothes. They live two houses to the left of us. Vegan foodies. They actually made the soup, not just mixed and cooked it. The soba noodles were from scratch. Raw ingredients delivered fresh that day."

Katie forages wild blackberries during her hikes and others turned the bounty into "...lavender berry lemonade pops. ...Summer, that’s what it tastes like."

Once they are cut-off from their drone-food deliveries, they take inventory of their supplies and food becomes currency. Katie trades Dan's handyman services for food. "Little things here and there. I kept my own list. I’m charging them in rolled oats (we’re out of cereal). While Dan bopped his merry way between tasks, I went meticulously through the Boothes’ pantry, cataloging everything they had, down to the last drop of Lucini Italia premium olive oil. A lot of calories in olive oil. I don’t think I’m overcharging them. Maybe a little."

While I typically read and write about food as a delight, Devolution has food as basic element of survival. When discussing food sources, "Dan brought up the time he’d tried a dish of fried crickets at this restaurant in Santa Monica. (I’d been there and politely declined to partake.)"


I've made Jake eat crickets at a restaurant in Carmel. Fresh Chapulines, they were called. Wait are crickets and grasshoppers the same thing?! Maybe not.


I have even had the kids in my cooking class at school make Cricket Chip Cookies.


And we made Cricket Pizza once, too. But what Devolution inspired me to make was jerky. The significance of the title is Scenario Four. "But my gut tells me it’s Scenario Four. 'We have to kill them all.' That’s what she wrote. That’s what she’s doing."

Katie devolved from a sophisticated albeit neurotic Angelean into sasquatch hunter and Greenloop avenger. At least that's one possibility.


"When I think about the time it took for her, the two of them, to dig that miniature cemetery, scraping out the frozen earth, collecting the bodies, covering them with rocks…and still having time for the 'other' corpses… We found a lot of meat in the Common House freezer. Newly cut steaks—well butchered, I might add—along with pots of stew. And in the cabinets, these endless Ziploc bags of jerky. They must have had the dehydrator going night and day. Some of the guys in my group, they…yeah, me too…we kinda kick ourselves for not sneaking just one of those little dried strips. I mean, c’mon, who doesn’t want to know what Sasquatch tastes like?"

This was inspired by a Korean bulgogi marinade. You can find one of my versions here. Admittedly, my jerky was made from cow meat, not sasquatch meat...

Jerky
  • 2 to 3 pounds thinly sliced sirloin (here's a secret: I get the butcher to slice it for me!)
  • Also needed: baking sheets with cooling racks nestled inside of them

Marinade
  • 6 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 Tablespoons organic dark brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons rice cooking wine (mirin)*
  • 1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 organic onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
  • 1 organic pear, peeled and grated
  • 1 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

*Mirin is a sweet, tangy Japanese wine made from rice; mirin it is different than sake.  You can easily mirror mirin’s flavor profile by mixing 1/2 teaspoon of sugar in per 1 Tablespoon dry sherry, sweet marsala wine, dry white wine, or rice vinegar.

Procedure

Marinade
Whisk together all of the ingredients for the marinade. Place the meat in a container (I used a flat, lidded glass container) and pour the sauce over the top. Hopefully the meat is completely submerged. If not, you'll need to turn the meat every couple of hours. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for, at least, 6 hours.

Jerky
When you're ready to oven-dry the jerky, remove beef from the refrigerator. Let it come to room temperature for about 30 minutes. If your oven thermostat allows, preheat oven to 175 degrees Fahrenheit. Mine has a bottom temp of 200 degrees Fahrenheit, so I set it at that, then leave the door propped open during drying.

Brush oil on the oven tray or wire racks and line the inside of the pans with foil for easier clean-up

Remove the meat from the marinade and gently blot away any excess marinade with paper towels. Arrange the meat strips side-by-side across the trays or racks, leaving a little bit of space between strips.

Place the trays in the oven and cook until completely dry. The drying time varies greatly with the thickness and moistness of the meat...and also how chewy or dry you like it. At 200 degrees Fahrenheit with the door propped open on my oven, mine took just 2 hours. The time depends on the thickness and moistness of the meat and how chewy you want the jerky to be. 

It should be dry, darker in color, and break gently when bent. If it snaps when you bend it, it's overdone. And remember: the jerky will firm up as it cools. 

Blot any residual moisture from the jerky with paper towels and cool completely on the racks before storing. You can store the jerky in an airtight container. I have read that beef prepared this way will last 2 to 3 months. But mine never lasted more than a few days with my happy omnivores noshing on them whenever they walked by the kitchen!

*This blog currently has a partnership with Amazon.com in their affiliate program, which gives me a small percentage of sales if you buy a product through a link on my blog. It doesn't cost you anything more, but it helps support my culinary adventures in a small way. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to go directly to Amazon.com and search for the item of your choice.


Click to see what everyone else read in July 2020: here.

7 comments:

  1. Your review is fascinating, but I'm not sure it makes me want to read the book! Just one thing: mirin is made from saki, which is rice wine. But mirin has other ingredients. The Asian grocery store where I shop says it's higher quality to buy saki and make your own mirin in the US, though there are high-quality mirins in Japan.

    be well... mae at maefood.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mae, you can certainly make your own. The bottle I have in my kitchen reads: MIRIN, rice cooking wine.

      Delete
  2. Great read—-up here in the far north, north of the Yukon River, there’s stories of Inukuns—-(not sure the exact spelling but it sounds like in-you-coons).
    It is curious to me how humans through the ages have had an appetite for a higher power, one way or another.

    You’ve inspired me to make jerky. I have to admit, it was the grated pear that pulled me hardest

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hii dear:)! Yeah, most of my wishes are yours blog-related. Awesome blog!!!!
    Thanks to sharing this with us! Thanks a lot!!!!!!!!!
    France VPS

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well, I'm glad Jake convinced you to read this book because it made for a very entertaining blog post.

    ReplyDelete

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