Sunday, April 25, 2010


When I got my driver's license at age 16, my horse was no longer my only ride. Now, I inherited the family truck, a red 1974 Jeep Wagoneer in which the previous owner had installed glass packs. There was no sneaking home past curfew, but I loved it all the same. I loved its noise, its heft, its color. I loved that the entire beast was made from steel, and I could crawl up on its roof for a better view at a parade or just to catch some sun for a picnic. The blessed heater of the Jeep warmed the entire cabin in seconds, a miraculous feat in subzero Minnesota winters, and when my parents gave me sheepskin seat covers that I could sink deep into in the few moments the Jeep's cabin took to warm, I had comfort, noise, and freedom on wheels. I named the truck Scarlet. Graced with a bullet hole on her rear end, she wasn't pretty, but I loved her madly.

Scarlet got me to and from the barn, school, and work at the garden center. I drove kids I babysat to their myriad lessons, and I took truckloads of people to football games and movies. Sometimes during lunch, I would hop in Scarlet with a pack lunch and drive around Lake Minnetonka. I would make it all the way around and back just before class started. During the deep of winter, my brother and I drove across Lake Minnetonka. Scarlet was old, but still reliably ran, especially since I knew a couple gearhead teenage boys who could repair her when things went haywire. For a while, she wouldn't turn off and it wasn't a simple case of engine run-on; nope, I had to pull the distributor cord to get her to shut down. Once, while doing so, I shocked my hand so badly my thumb bounced and danced for hours afterward. But all of her quirks and flaws were, if not repairable, at least put-up-with-able. I trusted her.

I didn't go to many parties in high school. Teenage anxiety exacerbated the way I always felt new and foreign to Minnesota, even after I had lived there a couple years. But, one party I did attend—no alcohol of course, I was never cool enough to be invited anywhere were rules were being broken—was on the other side of the lake and through some pretty deep woods.

The party was a bust. I remember not feeling comfortable and wanting to leave as soon as I got there, but I stayed for a bit, tried to connect to people, talked and smiled and felt exhausted. I left.

About a third of the way home, in the deepest dark of the woods, Scarlet's headlights began to dim. As we progressed, they grew dimmer. Then she began to slow in a way that was hardly noticeable at first, but grew more and more pronounced the further we went. She stopped. I tried restarting her, and we rolled another couple feet before she died. She didn't start again.

Ah, the days before ubiquitous cell phones. I was a teenage girl on a lonely road alone in the woods. Terrified, I got out of the car to start walking back towards the party, a couple miles away.

Every rape scenario I had ever heard ran through my head. I moved off the road and into the trees and walked parallel to the road, figuring that at least I would not be visible to a rapist who might be prowling around in his car at night looking for teenage girls walking alone down the side of the road in the woods. Of course, that also meant I wasn't visible to anyone who might be able to help me.

The road was quiet. For the most part, the only sounds I heard were the night animals scittering away from my crackling foot steps. When I heard a car approaching, I ducked deeper behind the trees. One car slowed as it passed, slowing to a near stop—at this point, I was sure the rapist not only knew I was in the woods, he could see me from his car. But the car picked up speed and continued past. Walking wasn't good enough anymore, so I began to run, and I ran and ran faster as I got closer to the party. I cried and ran and hiccuped for breath.

I was met back at the party with warm sympathy and lots of hugs and back patting. I had been a lot more frightened of dying then I was of people I didn't know well, and any guard I had up towards those around me tumbled out with my snotty tears. Someone gave me a glass of water. Someone else, someone who became one of my closest friends for life, drove me home.


Everything lately has happened slower than it seems like it should; maybe it is part of my aging, maybe it is just being exhausted by all that happens in a school in the springtime; maybe it is that this time of year, the garden needs so much attention all of the time. I don't know, but I do know that I feel like I'm trudging away in leaky fishing waders against a fast current. Even as I work at moving faster, I just get slower. I feel like Scarlet on that last road, the last time I trusted her.

Though this time, I'm not alone in the woods.


Seven Hour Lamb
Adapted from the best meat book ever, All About Braising, by Molly Stevens.

The slowest roast ever is worth it. It's easy: it only takes work at the beginning, so after you get it started, you can sit back and wait for goodness. And the meat? By the end it is a perfect velvet mountain of silky lambyness. The vegetables, and I use more of them than what the recipe originally calls for, miraculously hold their shape and turn into tender explosions of sweet meat juices. This is one of those recipes that I'll hang onto forever. I wouldn't mind being known by it. I want someone, generations from now, to say, "You should have known Christina. What that woman could do with a leg of lamb . . .." Too bad I didn't come up with this dish all by my lonesome.

You will need:
An approximate 6 pound bone-in leg of lamb
Salt and pepper
1 cup (plus extra, if needed) white wine or vermouth
2 cups of any good stock you have on hand
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
15 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
2 cups chopped canned tomatoes and their juices
Lots of root vegetables, chosen to fit your taste (I used 1 1/2 pounds each of shallots, fennel bulbs cut into shallot-sized wedges, shallot length skinned carrot chunks, and small (you guessed it, shallot-sized) rutabagas (which is what I usually end up growing, but you could cut big buggers down to shallot size (hooray for parentheses))).

To prepare the lamb:
Using a slender knife, cut off excess fat and any remnants of the fell (dry, white, papery membrane) left on the leg. Place it in a large roasting pan and shake salt and pepper generously all over it.

Place the roasting pan in the oven under a high broiler and broil until the top surface of the lamb is sizzling and sprinkled with tasty browned spots, about 8 minutes or so (depending on how hot your broiler is). Carefully remove the pan from the oven and flip the leg over; you can do this with two large forks, with a silicone oven mitt, or with folded over dish towels. Return the lamb to the oven and repeat the browning process for another 8 or so minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and turn the heat to 275 degrees Fahrenheit.

Using your trusty large forks, oven mitts, or dish towels, place the lamb on a large platter or pan. If there is much fat left in the pan, pour it off, leaving only a tablespoon. (I had very little fat left in my pan, so I left what was there.) Set the roasting pan on the stove, straddling two burners, and set the burners to high. Pour the wine into the pan, scrape up any browned bits and stir them into the wine, and let the wine reduce to a syrup. Once it is well-reduced, add the stock, bay leaves, thyme, garlic, and tomatoes and their juices. Bring the mixture to a boil and let it cook down a couple minutes.

Using caution (because now you've got hot pans and hot meat and hot juices everywhere!), place the leg of lamb in the middle of the roasting pan, settling it into a bath of yummyness. Set the shallots and shallot-sized vegetables evenly around the meat, cover the pan as well as you can with foil, and place it on a rack in the lower part of the oven. Don't forget to turn the burner on the stove off now that you have the roast in the oven.

The meat will cook for two hours; every two hours, remove the roast from the oven and use your meat-turners (whatever you were using earlier) to turn the roast over. The longer it roasts, the harder it will be to turn over, for the meat will becoming more and more tender. Don't worry about keeping the leg pretty. Stevens recommends turning the oven down to 265 Fahrenheit if you worried that your oven may run at all hot; I'm not sure mine is hot, but I turned it down anyway, nearly guaranteeing perfection at the full seven hours of cooking time.

After seven hours, remove the pan from the oven and carefully transfer the meat and vegetables to a large platter; wrap the foil over the platter to keep the meat and veggies warm. Using caution, pour the juices from the pan into a gravy separator. Let the juices sit for a few minutes to allow the fat to separate out, then pour the good juices into a small saucepan over low heat. Taste the juices, and add salt, pepper, a little white wine, or whatever you need, if you need anything at all, to balance the juices.

Remove the foil from the platter, pour some of the juices over the meat and vegetables, and pass the platter around the table with a large spoon and fork to serve.

I served eight adults and one young child with this dish and had plenty to spare. The next day, I followed Stevens' suggestion and made homemade pasta to toss with the shredded meat and vegetables with some olives added for sharpness. Silky meat, silky pasta. Delicious.

Since I have no pictures of the lamb for you today, here are some gratuitous springtime garden shots.


Lucy said...

There's that magic word again; Slow.

Beautiful piece, full of You.

"..trudging away in leaky fishing waders against a fast current.."

Glad I am not alone.

Kalena Michele said...

Great post :)

Wendy said...

Beautiful. Going to share this with some of my classes tomorrow.
Hope the current goes your way soon. x

Jean Z. said...

Wonderful! What an enthralling story. Gotta ask, though -- how did Scarlett get the bullet hole?

Shae said...

Lovely post. I promised my partner leg of lamb for his birthday coming up, and I've never made it before. I think I'll make yours, so thanks for that.

ann said...

I like it too. I'm actually happy to be going slow right now. The past few months have been such a sprint!

Christina said...

Lucy: Thank you. And, you aren't.

Kalena: Thanks!

Wendy: What a compliment--to be shared with students! Many thanks.

WHTTC: I don't know how Scarlet got the bullet hole. My family bought her second-hand, and she came with the very well-defined hole. I think that people we bought her from had used her as their hunt-trip truck, so maybe it happened in a hunting accident. It's fun to imagine, though.

Shae: Oh do make it, I think you'll love it. It isn't the rosy-pink regular lamb roast (which is wonderful, by the way), but is something completely different, and much richer.

Ann: Well, you've had PLENTY to keep you busy lately, lady. And that picture of the two of you--it just makes me grin!

Chef Dad said...

I had a Jeep CJ (think today's Wrangler) for my first vehicle. It was a rusty bucket of bolts, but it was mine.

Rack of lamb is one of my specialties, but so far the leg has escaped me. My son and I are having a "guy's weekend" this weekend as my daughter and wife are away. Maybe we will experiment. Slow and moist sounds good.

Anonymous said...

Right now, my garden doesn't need attention, it needs a crew.

Christina said...

AH: Tell me about it. I'm so behind . . ..

Unknown said...

I miss my old rambler..white. Great story! I could see it, smell the woods, feel the fear.

Slow lamb.

Love bottlebrush too..and the hummingbirds it attracts.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

My friend Mary (a sometimes commenter on my blog) is from Minnesota. Daughter of a dairy farmer. She hasn't a good thing to say about the place. I'm glad you do. We need a little perspective here.

I was a horse girl too (Arroyo Seco Stables; my horse) and my car was a 73 mustard colored vega. I didn't get abandoned in the woods but on freeways and less then stellar neighborhoods.