With an iced tea spoon, I take some strained bacon drippings from the jar we keep in the fridge. T has this cute habit of frying bacon and draining the rendered fat through a paper towel into this clear glass jar which ages ago held jelly. The various layers of cold fat remind me of the stratification of earthly sediment, each ring delineating old and new and dating the time of deposit.
When I scoop the cold lard from the jar, it balls like a delicate ice cream. I toss it into my cast iron skillet and watch as it starts to soften instantaneously. Fat can seem so revolting and stubborn but also so graceful and useful.
I think about how I once would have died before saving bacon drippings, much less using them with gusto. I consider that my scoop of fat skating slowly across the bottom of the iron pan (our stove top is slightly off-balance and so I’m often fighting a decline) makes me feel awfully hipsterish. I mean, if I grew a handlebar mustache and started roasting coffee beans in the pantry, we might as well move to Brooklyn. I say that with tremendous affection.
But what really drives me, and the sincerest hipsters who, by the way, are owed a debt of gratitude for making excellent coffee easier to come by, is the simple realness of my task. With my trusty, multipurpose pan and the reuse of a foodstuff that already gave generously once before, I will make something wonderful for dinner.
T is coming home to eat with me tonight, a treat that’s all too rare these days. I want to feed us well for doing so is not only pleasurable but also an elemental way of showing love for another. We have both been working so hard, and to sit together and appreciate a beautiful meal, to share that offering and to connect over it feels important and right.
I like feeling linked to things: to processes, animals, people, communities and self. It’s important to me to know that the pig whose bacon feeds my family at breakfast and whose fat continues to flavor and nourish our food was happy and free to roam and treated well while alive. I need to know that she was treated humanely, in life and in death, because only then can I cook and eat her in good faith.
When I cook, I consider these life cycles. The way I take from one to give to another and how I teach my family to do the same with the utmost respect. Recently, Oliver said, “This chicken is from a real chicken, right?” And I said, “Yes, honey, it is. So let’s give thanks and be sure we make sure that chickens like it live well.”
The same should be true with our non-animal, non-familial relationships. The internet complicates the ways in which we interact with people. On the one hand, it enables us to meet people with whom we have much in common except for geography. On the other, it’s easier to be mean from afar, hiding behind firewalls and avatars, and so we learn to treat new and promising connections with some skepticism. I remain hopeful though and despite the few bad apples, I feel lucky for all the terrific people I’ve met and become friends with online. Connection is such a rudimental need, and online capabilities have broadened so many of our worlds.
As the bacon fat heats and becomes transparent, I ready some mustard greens and asparagus, envisioning a saute of both topped with shaved Parmesan, lemon and basil-infused oil. It results in a perfect dish, and we finish the bowl as if it were dessert.