Stew evokes sense of warmth and safety
The gift of last week, the first week of the new year, was a prodigious amount of wind, the kind of weather that knocks at your door saying you are involved with the world whether you’re prepared or not, and life is a conditional promise.
The mountains are bright with snow. Parts of the river are frozen thick and cottonwood twigs with their stacked joints scatter the still surface.
Dark clouds may indicate dangerous conditions to come, but their darkness — with blue and gray bellies, and a dimensional cloud universe like a vat of charged paper pulp — is a beauty too uncomprehendable to define. Take cover, but peek out through the lined curtains that help to insulate your house.
Around a fire or at the lunch table, my friends and I used to trade ghost stories: “What’s the scariest thing that ever happened to you?” Hurricane Iniki always came to mind and I still have dreams based on my experience of that day. I wanted to hang on to the garage post with my arms and fly in the wind like a pennant and I readied myself to try before I was discovered. (I was an 11-year-old with brilliant ideas.)
Something in the calm air told me that the weather could turn specifically dangerous to me and I was afraid the roof over us would be ripped off, but it was so exciting. When the rain let up but not after the hurricane touched down, lots of people in Hawaii took their body boards to the grassy parks with standing water and had the best time. The sky was strange. With my sister and brother, I hunkered down in the hallway, the only place in the house with double walls, with all the comforters in the house under us and around us. We sat there with a big mirror on one side of the hallway and a big world map on the other, singing, punching each other’s arms, telling ghost stories. In the end, nothing really happened in our part of the island, but in the hallway, we were waiting to feel the house shaking.
Did I see the remnants of footprints — a strange gait of foot-sized pools — stamped into the ice on the river this weekend? Yes, I think that I did, and I strained my eyes from the muddy shore searching for the return tracks with no luck. The survival of this kind of activity may have been thankfully met with a plate of stew and if the use of electricity was advised during Hurricane Iniki, my family would have worked on a pot of it.
This stew, like many other foods, tastes like safety. It is warmth, calories, richness. There are thousands of stew recipes in this region, many of which I would love to know about. Here is mine.
Hurricane Iniki Stew
for the garlic paste:
4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
a dash or two of salt
for the pot:
1 1/2 pounds pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch pieces
1 onion, sliced
1/2 cup Madeira wine
1 small can plain tomato sauce
1 huge russet potato, 4 parsnips, 2 huge carrots, cut into similarly-sized big chunks
1 bay leaf
about five cloves
1. In a food processor or with mortar and pestle, bring garlic, a dash of salt and olive oil together to a paste.
2. With a sharp knife, cut small slits into the meat and fill with garlic paste.
3. Preheat a pan (I use my cast iron skillet) and sear meat on both sides in batches taking care not to burn any of the garlic. There’s no need to cook meat all the way though at this point. Transfer to a bowl.
4. In an all-metal stock pot, saute the onion in a little oil on medium heat slowly, stirring occasionally until the onions start to caramelize, 10 to 15 minutes.
5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and move the racks so that the stock pot will fit inside without touching the element. Transfer the meat to the stockpot and warm.
6. Turn pot to medium high and add the Madeira wine. Allow to cook down and when the alcohol smell is gone, add the tomato sauce, about 3/4 cup of stock and the bay leaf.
7. If stew is to be served in an hour, add the vegetables, cloves, the bay leaf and more vegetable stock to almost cover and transfer the covered pot into the oven.
If dinner isn’t for several hours, the stew can be cooked in the closed pot in the oven for up to 4 hours. Check the level of moisture in the pot every hour or so, adding more vegetable stock about a 1/2 cup at a time if moisture level is very low. Add the potatoes, parsnips, carrots and the cloves in a tea ball in the last hour to hour and a half of cooking, adding more stock, but not a lot.
8. The stew is done when the vegetables are fork tender. Serve over rice or noodles.
I recommend a longer cooking time, just so that you can savor the anticipation.
Enjoy and keep your feet dry.