Dec 04

Of cabin fever and deep-fried kale

No. 1 Quality deer-in-the-headlights iPhone food fotography: Verlasso salmon at Cafe Josie.

I got the heck off the farm last night.

Whooo-wee! Away to Austin I did hie, to hook up with my erstwhile sidekick Stingray for a bite of dinner and a few glugs of the good stuff. And not a moment too soon. My cabin fever was reaching critical mass. After pulling hay out of my knickers and dodging exploding horse boils and staring at the same tired old breathtaking view of the same tired old magnificent Milky Fucking Way, day after day, night after night, a brief sojourn into the heartwarming HDHU (hi-density hipster universe) is, to a crone, like slipping a grateful ass into an old, frayed pair of sweat pants. I grew up in the country, but I got old in the city. It’s the old what took hold and my id it did mold.

Austin’s HDHU is just one invigorating tableau after another. Cocky hippies on $5000 bikes run circles around silly little Cars2Go. Schizophrenic dudes with deep bronze homeless tans mutter at bus stops advertising sexist-ass American Apparel. There’s nowhere to park, ever. Strings of white lights festoon every festoonable thing. Young gay dudes wear gay little trilbys and gesticulate extravagantly on coffee house patios — you don’t see that in Dripping Springs. The entire downtown seems ever so slightly tilted toward the event horizon of sanctimonious yupper-middle classumerism, the gravitationally indomitable Whole Foods mothership at 5th & Lamar. Where, incidentally, you can get a pretty decent bean and cheese taco, if you can bear to walk past the displays of flawless, gleaming fruit and aisles stocked with nothing but organic fair trade dark chocolate smoked fleur de sel caramels. But I warn you, stay away from the pizza.

My point is that, in the city, the things that are likely to kill me — armed robbers, terrorists, city buses, rogue cops, Whole Foods pizza — are all cozy and familiar and unlikely. Whereas out here at Dreadful Acres, the dangers are continuous, alien and weirdly probable. Dead skunks in the cistern. Maverick longhorn cattle in the carport. Brown recluse spiders in my bed. Black widow spiders in the barn. One of my nutjob Arabians objects to the drunk neighbors conducting semi-automatic weapon target practice, has a panic attack, and crushes me into a fence before sprinting off and getting tangled up in the one scrap of bobwar left on the property. I never know when I’m gonna step on a venomous serpent. I never know when I’m gonna come off a horse and land in a cactus. I never know when I’m gonna be impaled by a surly wild boar. I never know when my horse is gonna step on a venomous serpent, spook into a cactus, and chuck me off onto a surly wild boar.

Give me a drug-addled intruder any day. One time, here at the farm, it was about 10 PM when a half-naked, foaming wild dude from the meth lab about ½ mile down the road showed up, bleeding, soaking wet, freezing, babbling, and banging on my kitchen window. Finally! I said. Here’s a threat to my personal well-being that makes sense! Incoherent drug addicts on the porch in the middle of the night? Pah! Child’s play to an old South St Louis hipster such as myself. I can handle that shit with one hand tied behind my back, backwards and in high heels. But rarely are the horrors at Dreadful Acres so obligingly mundane.

Like the time my bare leg brushed innocently against a fencepost. Stab! The most agonizing pain ever! It turned out to be a cute little furry caterpillar. Its cute little furry spines, full of venomous alien acid, seared a perfect caterpillar imprint onto my leg, which continued to burn and itch like some profligate, untethered hemorrhoid for — I do not exaggerate — months afterward. A year later, the burn scar on my leg is finally fading, but its doppelgänger lives on in my embattled amygdala, seething with the venom-fire of a thousand cute furry worms!

Aside from the cronicidal impulses of Mother Nature, one of the most unsettling things about living so far from town is that I never know where my next dish of overthunk, preciously-plated food is coming from. So I treasure these little forays into Austin.

Let me just say that dining out with Stingray is awesome. Not so much because her conversation scintillates (last night, for example, her theme was “Jill, You Are Really Fuckin Old”), but because she’s a professional wine nerd and seems to know every fancy chef in town. This always results in free fancy food and lots of fancy service. Bring it on, I say, plucking the hayseeds out of my teeth. So last night Stingray and I hoofed it on over one of our favorite joints in Clarksville.

Dinner was superior. We nibbled like hedonismbots on crispy fried oysters and Verlasso salmon, which came with fried kale, cake-like cornbread that had been fried — praise the lard — in butter, and a fried chorizo gastrique.

These wacky young chefs today! After they’ve crispy-fried everything in sight, they’ll make a gastrique out of just about any old dadgum thing, and then they’ll crispy-fry something else. To prove it, the chef, Stingray’s dearest old chum, sent us out a plate of crispy fried duck sweetbreads with arugula and ancho aioli, a dish he’d invented on the spot to use up some leftover innards that were otherwise destined for the dumpster. A much appreciated gesture.

Fried duck dumpster sweetbreads, eh? You don’t scare me, chef. I’m an old campaigner, a restaurant critic from way back. You name it, I’ve eaten it, and if I haven’t eaten it, by all means lead me to it, and I will eat it, and then I will write about it.

It is impolite to look a gift fried pancreas in the mouth, so of these crispy duck sweetbreads let me just say that if the earth were engulfed in some gastronomic cataclysm, and the only snack choices left were Whole Foods pizza and crispy duck sweetbreads, I’d take those little sweetbreads every time, hands down.

Absent the cataclysm, though, I might stick with the oysters.

Anyway, you might suppose that, after I’d medicated my Urban Deficit Disorder in the above-described manner, I’d have woken up this morning with a glad cry, ready anew to shovel manure, a song in my heart and a twinkle in my eye. Sadly, I did not.

Why? Because at 2 AM an unexpected rain came crashing down. Which meant, if I didn’t want my poor mare Stella to die of exposure, I had to de-stuporize myself toot sweet and stumble out to the barnyard to rearrange all the horses so she could get under a roof. Naturally I couldn’t get back to sleep after all that midnight livestock-wrangling, so I turned on the TV. It was a Wesley Snipes movie where a hottt young chick was repeatedly smashed into a mirror, hurled onto the floor, and eventually shot severally in the chest. The actor playing the mangled victim spasmed realistically with each gunshot. Her final blood-gurgling breath was captured lovingly in a lingering closeup, and the whole mirror-smashing sequence was then replayed in slo-mo.

That’s entertainment!


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  1. TotallyDorkin

    “We nibbled like hedonismbots”

    I spy with my teeny little eye, a Futurama reference.

  2. Pinko Punko

    I only can express les sighs.

    Mentally all that stuff feels like my brain at the end of the semester, physically nothing even touches the caterpillar acid. HDHU is equally distant from the different kind of dreadful acres where Subway wins best sandwich every year in the Best Of poll.

  3. buttercup

    Yikes, I remember the acidic caterpillars. Also, blister bugs.

    I would not eat sweetbreads, or grocery store pizza of any variety if I could help it, but what is so heinous about Whole Paycheck’s pizza?

  4. Pinko Punko

    buttercup- they make it while wearing skinny jeans



  6. Laura

    Ahh the updates from a Spinster Crone gladden the cockles of a heart, and to hear tales of moving from city to country is a refreshing change from this noveau hipster’s move from the land of spiny caterpillars to car windows getting smashed in. I am truly familiar with the former and this whole “city” thing where other human beings are the real danger is utterly novel to me- still remembering to actually lock my door when I leave.

    /cool story sis

    Love your prose, love your POV which is novel from mine

  7. Comradde PhysioProffe

    I am glad to now know that those little funky hats that my friends who are gay dudes wear are called trilbys! Now instead of being all like, “Dude, where’s your fucken hat?!?!?”, I can be all like, “Dude, where’s your fucken trilby!?!?!?”

  8. Ron Sullivan

    I personally miss Stingray, and I’ve never even met her.

    She still Wino Valleyin’?

  9. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    Stingray is back in Austin, I am happy to say. I’m sure she misses you, too, Ron.

  10. quixote

    Mmmmm. Fried kale, crispy, with just the right amount of salty something coating the leaves. Ahhhh.

    And, Pinko, thanks for the inside info about Whole Paycheck’s pizza bakers. Whatever they were doing, I knew it was something pretty bad, but I never thought it was as bad as that.

  11. buttercup

    I want to know what happened when the bleeding, babbling, methhead showed up. How does THAT story end, Aunt Croney?

  12. The Crone of Cottonmouth County

    I want to know what happened when the bleeding, babbling, methhead showed up. How does THAT story end, Aunt Croney?

    Dude was lost. Apparently they’d thrown him out of the meth house (creative differences, I suppose) and he’d been wandering around in the woods. He fell in the creek, crawled through my perimeter fence, and staggered around in circles until he saw the lights in my house, whereupon he banged on my window to ask for help. It was close to freezing outside and he was only wearing a pair of wet pants. But, you know, foaming and bleeding and high as a kite, too, so I didn’t want to let him in. I made him throw his ID on the porch and take several steps back. I cracked open the door, threw him a coat, and called the sheriff. They came with an ambulance, treated him for exposure, and hauled him off to lockup. Easy peasy.

  13. Bushfire

    I am constantly amazed at how well you can write. PLEASE get a book deal!

  14. Ruby Lou

    The bit about the meth guy stumbling into your place – I laughed so hard I coughed up my brains. Love it. AND I learned what a gastrique is – looked it up. Stingray is a pro wine nerd, huh, that’s deep.

  15. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    I have so missed tales of your exquisitely prepared and presented chi-chi princess-and-pea meals. Knowing your love for tater tots and artificial whipped goo makes the reading all the sweeter. Brava, brava, bravissima!

  16. Mary Caulkins

    I go to Austin off and on. I want to come see you at Dreadful Acres pluuueeeez ! Email me! 😀

  17. 2DogsFarm

    Ah, Crone – I wandered over from COTH to enjoy more of your homespun drollery.
    And I find a Sistah!

    I too relocated from Da Big City (Chicago) to the Kuntry (NW IN) and find my trips back oddly nostalgic.

    I mingle with my city friends and gaze slackjawed at the Wonders of Civvylyezayshun I have left behind.

    *Parking spaces apparently sized for Smartcars that my LargeMarge F250 would take at least 3 of.

    *Whole Foods selling Organic Freerange eggs for $.70 APIECE!

    *Produce sections of groceries in the ‘hood that carry cherimoya, cactus paddles and other outerspacelike edibles.

    *stores located shoulder-to-shoulder on walkable streets (with sidewalks!!!) NOT in a mall

    I could go on and on…..

    The flipside is my friends LOFF coming to the farm, feeding ridiculous amounts of apples & carrots to the horses, raisins to the chickens and “helping” me feed.
    One guy – a retired chef – was profoundly touched when I held a weenie roast and made s’mores.
    He had literally never had a hot dog roasted over a fire or tasted the grahamcrackerhersheymarshamllow goodness.

  18. polarcontrol

    This is too funny!

    I sometimes entertain the idea of moving to the country. You know, to see the fucking stars and the Milky Way and enjoy all that heartwarming nature crap. And just to get away from it all, and all the rest of the platitudes.

    But then I remember how cozy I find this well equipped city apartment, and just sitting reading Jill’s magnificent prose with a bottle of Médoc.. and not having to worry about things like
    midnight livestock-wrangling, or lets say, shoveling snow, as in this country the winters are cold, for months below zero (celcius, obviously).

    But then there is so much entertainment value in country life! I mean, at least for us readers!

  19. Kokovoko

    I’ve tracked you down yet again, my friend! This was one of your best… I love it. Will you please call me when you head into civilization sometime? I know the vengeful cutesy little caterpillars. Aaaargh, they’re a nightmare!
    Hugs to you. I miss you bunches.

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