Daily Dilemma Plus Beef Bone Broth and Barley Soups

Shaken. Oh, and stirred. Whomever you voted for on November 8, this election has left a lot of us shaken and stirred up, to boot.

How plan the day when the president-elect snubs the Constitution, a delightful friend has invited me for coffee and pie, religious do-gooders chisel away women’s rights, and a mere twenty minutes’ drive could have me on stunning mountain trails in bright sunshine? img_0064“I arise each morning,” E. B. White said, “torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and an inclination to enjoy (or savor) it. This makes it hard to plan the day.” Hard, indeed.

Because the option to “get over it” and “just move on” isn’t a real one. This isn’t about winning and losing – as if the affect is momentary with no future implications. An election is not a ballgame, the duration of play being what it’s all about, done when the clock buzzes, with fans departing either to celebrate or to bemoan and then get on with their ordinary days. An election’s results are just the beginning, merely the launching point. What follows is what it’s always been about. Because what happens after Election Day reflects a vision for the future implemented and extended according to what-all the “winning” candidate represents.

I suppose good people of every time, every place have faced what feels catastrophic… and muddled through nonetheless. They carried on or resisted, persevered or fought back, as best they could determine what best to do. I suppose. But this feels different. Never mind the gross uptick in hateful rhetoric and ugly acts designed to bully and demean living, breathing individuals. That’s bad enough. But it’s not all.

In this case, the stakes are as high as the future of the planet – whether it will be sustained in health and well-being for future generations indefinitely,… or face ecological disasters so severe as to make any “other” issue, economic or social, pale to obsolescence. I write “other” with ocean-surfacequotes because they aren’t, of course, other. Economic and social, with all related matters (defense, education, justice system, and health care to name a few) are inextricable from the environmental issues we face today.

This feels different because for all the atrocities and injustices, disasters and grievances that lie real and accusing in human history, never before have we as a species had as much power to influence the planet’s basic workings as we do now. At its most stark, consider: with the proverbial flip of a switch or press of a button (think, nuclear), a single human being can obliterate in huge swaths of the planet all life and all hope of life for millennia to come. Less stark, but no less catastrophic, human increase with unchecked consumption of fossil fuels and runaway proliferation of non-degradable trash diminish or otherwise compromise such necessities as air, water, and food, not to say our non-human neighbors (with all that we depend upon one another), and threaten the security of predictable and manageable weather. This is already happening, deny it or not.

Never before have we stood at such a starkly clear crossroads of devastation and well-being, of chaos and order, of wisdom and folly. The degree is unprecedented, the implications far greater than any we’ve faced before. And this election’s “winners” have espoused and demonstrated willful denial of climate change and their intention to up the devastation. What’s a soul to do? That’s what I’ve been wrestling with, during the campaign and now afterward. I’m working it out, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it’s a moving target. That makes it hard to plan the day.

I feel a responsibility, an obligation, an urgency to devote myself to resisting the racist, misogynistic, xenophobic climate-change deniers, greedy billionaires poised to dictate policy and all that comes with that. At the same time, I want and maybe even need just as much to attend to the other myriad kinds of work that compose my day – from the regular chores of a middle class life to professional projects undertaken but not yet complete (not to say those that await the first thrust of initiative). To put it bluntly, there’s a lot to do. And all the while, there’s the impulse, nay the imperative to savor. After all, what’s it all for, anyway?

So what does it mean to savor the world? I’m thinking that if savor is taking time to be with those one loves, watching the moon rise, or scratching your dog to makecup-of-steaming-broth-soup her hind leg thump, if it’s reading tales to a sleepy four-year-old, musing with the sun on your back in bee-busy clover, doing cross-word puzzles, or just laughing, have at it. And if your work is your vocation, then you know that savor can sneak up on you in the very thickest part of the professional day – when you find yourself lost in the task at hand.

But let’s be honest. Some savoring of the world taxes it, too. I don’t know what to say about the emissions-rich endeavor of driving an RV across the country, of shopping for cheap goods with high social and environmental price tags, of delicacies secured by cruelty, and hobbies that harm. I guess I do know what to say. You do, too.

So, I’d rather talk about soup. About making a soup to share, to linger over under candles after making love; or to ladle from bowl to bowl to bowl for raucous friends tearing into warm bread with sharp cheese; a soup that you can enjoy alone and “put up” (freeze) cups and cups to quickly heat on days too busy to prep much else. A soup to gather around, either friends or simply your own weary palms – for comfort and vigor, for solace and get-up-and-go. Here’s one. And oh, while you’re at it, why not bring a cup to your neighbor – Muslim, Mexican, gay, the old woman, that straight white guy who’s feeling scared and angry? There’s enough.

Beef Bone Broth and Barley Soups, Slow Mo

Now, I know there are some among you who’ll take issue with the animal aspect of this soup. Fair enough. Someone should. I hear you and understand. But if, like me, you have access to beef, raised nearby with attention to the sustainability of particular land and care for the comfort and well-being of the animal, who is in one moment slaughtered swift and clean, then you may wadventure-farmelcome this chance to use an underappreciated cut, to use what’s often overlooked and thrown away, in order to further nourish and sustain. I’m talking bone broth, straight up or integrated into beef barley soup.

It’s best to start with meaty bones from a cow that lived a normal, healthy cow life and that were delivered with minimal transport and packaging. That’s the ideal. For a lot of us, it’s within reach – by a farmer not so far from you tending a smallish herd on green grass acres. Bonus comfort: this is the cheapest cut. So, go wild. Go crazy. Use it up.

The other ingredients are no less incidental. (Or should I say “more incidental”? They’re equally important – in kind and source – that’s what I mean to say). Choose with the same kind of care for how their propagation, harvest, transportation, and storage affect the world – minimizing impact. Seems a lot to consider. It’s not. You don’t have to make a fuss about it. Just do consider. And accept, as in the case of the bones, that there will be compromises. Don’t beat yourself up; but don’t be careless and lax, either. Compost. I’m just throwing that in.

I call this “Slow Mo” mainly because its base is a homemade bone broth, which takes hours (and hours) – not much time in the way of prep, though. So you can get some other things done then, too, from watching birds to petitioning lawmakers. And on the fossil fuel front, appreciate that the heat required heats your house, too. (I.e., don’t make it if you have to run an air conditioner. There are lots of wonderful chopped salads to be had instead.)

Simply Bone Broth

about 4 lbs beef shank/soup bones

salt and pepper

1 large onion, peeled and cut into six wedges

1 carrot, peeled and cut into 3 chunks

1 celery stalk, cut into 3 chunks

3 garlic cloves

3 bay leaves

Shorter version of instructions: Roast everything except the bay leaves pretty hot until it’s brown. Scrape into a stockpot, add the bay, cover with water. Bring to a boil – barely. Skim and simmer partly covered for hours… and hours (4-24). Strain and let cool before refrigerating or freezing. Sip and be healed.

Longer version of instructions: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly oil a rimmed baking pan. Rinse the meaty bones, washing off any fatty specks, then dry them well. (I smoosh them between pieces of paper towel, which you can then compost.browned-soup-bones-beef) Lay the meaty bones out on the baking pan. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Add the vegetables, turning on the oiled pan to coat. Roast for 25 minutes or so, turn everything, and continue roasting another 20 minutes. Don’t rush. Everything should be nicely browned.

Put the meat and vegetables into a large stock pot, making sure to scrape all the browned bits and sauce from the roasting pan into the pot, too. You can use water to help that along. Then, add enough water to the stock pot to cover the meat and vegetables. Put in the bay leaves and another tablespoon or so of salt.

Bring the pot to a boil, watching carefully at this point not to let it roll. In short, a rolling boil will make cloudy stock, which isn’t the end of the world; but it’s not optimal. And phoofy French cooks will get exercised over such so-called carelessness. Between you and me, don’t worry too much about it. But as it heats, do skim what you can of the nastinesses that tend to bubble and collect on the surface. Again, there’s nothing dangerous or particularly problematic about it, but for that elegant beauty of a clear, clean broth, it’s nice to skim what you can before you set the whole to simmer.

So, when it reaches a boil, turn the heat down so that the pot bubbles just enough to remind you that it’s still cooking. You can put a lid on it at this point – partly. Just leave it off kilter enough to release some steam as it simmers. And that’s about it. I let mine cook along for 16 hours.

Turn off the heat, remove the bones and sieve the rest. While the broth cools, grab a crusty baguette and a little fork to have on hand. Pick the bones for meat to keep (for future soup, e.g.). And if there’s any marrow (soft stuff in the middle of the bone), use the little fork to get what you can, spread it on the baguette and enjoy. Unless you know you’re going to be using the broth for strictly gluten free-ers, dip hunks of baguette into the top of the broth to soak up some melt-y fat with beefy flavor.bone-broth-in-pot

Strain the broth. At this point, you can keep on making soup with the lot of stock. Or let it cool until it’s only barely still warm. When our outside temps are considerably cooler than the kitchen, I put things like this loosely covered in the dogs’ kennel, which as conveniently keeps the pups out (and other wascally wilderbeast things, too) as in, and cools with no extra energy. It’s like using a clothesline: solar power to dry your clothes.

Refrigerate or freeze in handy, date-labeled containers.

The broth is great all by itself. I’ve learned it’s quite the hipster cure-all these days. Whatever its other benefits, it’s super tasty even all on its own. The beef barley part of the soup doesn’t take very long at all to make.

Beef Barley Soup

makes about 3 hearty quarts, a nice 6 servings.

2 quarts strong beef bone broth (if it’s not strong, use more broth instead of the water below – no worries, precision ain’t necessary here)

1 quart water

1/ 2 C. pearled barley

1 T. salt

2 t. ground pepper

2 t. dried thyme (In a different batch, I used about 1 T. fresh rosemary minced. yum.)

½ C. chopped celery, with a few leaves, if you’ve got ’em

3 carrots, peeled and diced

½ onion, diced

3 C. cooked beef in small-ish pieces

2 C. green beans and/or peas

Quick notes: 1) Taste for seasoning along the way. 2) The whole goal of cutting the items in this soup is to make them of a size so that a soup spoon could hold a bit of (almost) every thing – barley, each veg, beef… Yum.

img_0886Some recipes suggest sautéing the vegetables before cooking the rest. That’s great, if your stock is already in discreet packages – jars, cans, plastic containers. In my case, I had stock in a soup pot already and didn’t want to dirty another pan just to sauté vegetables. (Lay-Zee!) So I didn’t. I just put the vegetables into the stock with barley. It cooked up nicely and tastes great.m But hey, if you’re starting with a clean soup pot, go ahead and sauté the vegetables in a bit of oil, butter, or – shoot –if you’ve got beef fat skimmed from home-made stock, whoo-eee, use that, and sauté away.

Otherwise, and pop everything except the green beans/peas togethbowl-of-beef-barley-soup-with-breader, bring to a boil, give it a stir, and lower the heat so that it can simmer for between 45 minutes and… a lot longer. With my most recent batch, I ended up holding the soup, waiting for hubby-love-doctor-man to finish yet another case. It went for 2.5 hours. You can eat a whole lot earlier than that.

Five minutes or so before serving, add the beans/peas. (Then they cook but only enough to stay bright green. It’s pretty that way, but not the end of the world if you end up cooking past green. Still tasty.

It’s not a plan. It’s just soup. But a soup of balance – responsibility and delight, nutrition and pleasure, for a moment’s savor and maybe even a wee bit of world-saving, too.

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