Dangerspouse Rides Again

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Nov. 11, 2013 - 7:15 a.m.

Kishke My Ass

Yesterday - Sunday - I brought home a bag of cow intestines. Living up here in Cow Country it's actually pretty easy to procure cow intestines. Nobody thinks anything of it if they see you holding a bag of them.

That is, until you get home.

"Whatcha got in the sack?" NewWifey(tm) asked as I walked in the door.

"A hudred and eight inches of cow intestines" I said. "And they're almost clean!"

"GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA -"

"Honey! Sweety, relax. It's for a recipe. Dave's coming over and -"

"-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!! You're making COW INTESTINES?! Have you gone completely out of your mind? That's sick! SICK! Get that sack out of my house immediately and bury it in the woods, then burn the woods down. I am not eating cow intestines."

"But honey, it's for our guest! You know Dave's Jewish. Horrible, horrible food is a very large part of their cherished tradition of suffering. So I'm making stuffed cow guts as a sign of respect. It's called 'kishke', by the way. Years ago, before I met you, the two of us were at a Jewish deli in the City and he ordered it for me as a joke. Now's my chance to pay him back."

I should mention here that one of my closest childhood friends was Ricky Rubenstein, a fellow dirt bike hooligan and the unrivaled Trivia King of our little clique. His dad had a Sabrett hotdog distributorship, reason enough to hang out with Ricky right there. But Ricky's mom was also an absolutely lovely woman who was quite fond of me (I said she was lovely, not discerning). She knew I liked cooking, so if she was making dinner when I went over to play with Ricky she'd let me sit in the kitchen and watch her work. I learned an awful lot about Ashkenazic food hanging out in Mrs. Rubenstein's kitchen...which is probably why I haven't made any of it since.

Ok, I'm kidding. A bit. There is a lot to like in that historic cuisine. For instance, the magic that is schmaltz. If I somehow retained only one thing from all those years in Mrs. Rubenstein's kitchen, and that one thing was my love for schmaltz, I would still praise her name to my dying day. But I also learned how to make killer kreplach - Jewish ravioli - and latkes. I love latkes. And (to my wife's disgust) soggy gefilte fish loafs with neon crimson beet horseradish. Cooking with matzoh meal can be a challenge, but well worth it in some of the dishes where it really makes a delicious difference. And a good tsimis - a good tsimis I'm talking now, not the bowl of dingy orange colored mush with a raisin in it I've been served at one too many diners - is a revelation.

But let's be serious: a cold climate cuisine based on hardship and institutionalized oppression is not going to be a cuisine redolent of sublime sauces and spectacular multi-step procedures. To a kid weaned on the cooking of Mediterranean Italy, full of seafood and bright sauces and lemon wedges and prime meats and explosive country wines and fistfulls of fresh herbs in every dish, the grub of impoverished northeastern European peasants seemed like gustatory hell. They ate organ meats, for godsake. Lots and lots of organ meats. And...Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda. Celery soda! Oh my god. It made me long for the organ meats.

But even beyond that, there was a sad, flavorless drudgery to most of the dishes that even the most cheerful family setting and the most optimistic and creative presentations couldn't disguise. Don't get me wrong, I'm not deriding the populace that came up with it. They did the best they could with the hand they were dealt. The fact that people put any thought at all into interesting recipes while their lives mirrored "Fiddler On The Roof" - or worse - is a testimony to the indomitable qualities in us all. "Triumph of the Will" be damned.

Which is all a roundabout way of saying that I knew what kishke was, I knew how to make it, and although I wasn't crazy about it, I knew my buddy Dave liked it. And since Dave was my guest for the evening NewWifey(tm) was just gonna have to shut her balony-with-mayo-on-white-bread shiksa mouth and be gracious about it.

So I spent yesterday afternoon cleaning cow shit off our soon-to-be meal. The intestines were *mostly* cleaned by the butcher, but "mostly" when it comes to fecal matter is not a good adverb if the context is dinner. I was looking for operating theater levels of ambient shit. So I cut the rope of intestines into segments and rolled them inside out, then scrubbed them and rinsed them and scrubbed them some more until finally I didn't see any black specks at all. And I used a jeweler's loupe.

Then I made a filling and rammed it into the inside-out meat tubes, then tied them off and cooked them. I also made mushroom barley soup, a side of tsimis - good tsimis - and for dessert: chocolate lokshen kugel. I knew I was mixing meat and dairy, but I'd also seen Dave wash down a bacon Whopper with a strawberry shake many times. I wasn't worried.

At around 4 o'clock Dave showed up. We both started at Radio, Inc. at about the same time, and for 7 or 8 years we hung out constantly with each other in between shifts. But then he got married and moved to Long Island, and I didn't. So although we still chat and send each other horribly offensive e-mails, I really haven't seen the guy in just about a decade. We had a lot of catching up to do.

And by "catching up", I mean "play video games". Dave and I used to have no-quarter-asked-or-given, attaque outrance video game marathons whenever we could - which was basically every day. We didn't have a particular favorite game, either, although we did sometimes go through phases. Mostly though we would just pop in whatever game was near the top of the pile on our respective bachelor floor, and away we went. Loser gets a punch in the arm. Always.

So for the first hour, hour and a half, Dave and I didn't converse at all. We were too busy trying to push each other over a cliff in Mario Cart. NewWifey(tm) sat stonefaced in the corner, not believing that someone I hadn't seen in 10 years just drove three hours to see me and the only thing he'd said for the last 90 minutes was "Princess Peach SUCKS!"

But then the oven timer dinged that the meal was ready, so I plated it up and we all sat around a nicely set table, ready for an old school Ashkenazi throw-down. Dave looked at the expanse of mostly beige food and his eyes bugged. He also gave a brief "Baruch" before we started, which surprised me. I'd never known him to do that when we were slamming down buckets of KFC and raw Pop-Tarts all those years.

The first course, the potage of mushrooms and barley, was a hit. I have a particular fondness for soup, and being an ex-saucier I'm especially adept at the stocks and other libations on which they're based. If you ever come to my house and see a can of soup in the cupboard, you'll know I've died. Soup is made from scratch, or it's not made. Period.

Then I unveiled the kishke. For such a disgusting thing, it certainly looked good. I did a colorful presentation on a bed of greens and other frou-frou - Mrs. Rubenstein would have been proud - and set the open Le Creuset pan of tsimis next to it.

Dave looked at it all and smiled broadly. But as he reached for his first portion, he hesitated. "You used matzoh meal in the stuffing, right? No white flour?"

I assured him I did. He grabbed three of the long, fat tubes and set them on his plate, adding a pile of steaming tsimis next to them.

"I can't believe you found a kosher butcher up here" he said.

"Kosher butch...?"

Dave stopped the fork just before it reached his mouth.

"You did go to a kosher butcher for this derma, didn't you? Didn't you?" ("Derma" is the Yiddish name for the intestinal casing.)

"Er..."

He put his kiskas, one by one, back on the serving platter. Then asked for a new fork.

This really threw me.

"Dave" I said, "what the hell? Since when do you keep kosher? We used to go out for bacon cheesburgers!"

"Well. I married this Orthodox girl, see, and...." he trailed off.

I sighed.

"But this tsimis is excellent!"

Great.

NewWifey(tm), meanwhile, watched this all play out without saying a word. From the corner of my eye I could see her with her elbows on the table, chin nestled in her interlocked fingers, looking back and forth between us as we spoke. I knew it was taking every ounce of self control she had not to laugh. Loudly.

Dave said, "Hey listen, don't let my dietary restrictions ruin your meal. Please, eat. I know you went to a lot of trouble to make this, and it really does look and smell delicious." He looked imploringly at NewWifey(tm). "Please, eat, both of you."

Now, NewWifey(tm) would put our dog's cock in her mouth before she put a piece of cow intestine in. She told me that specifically before Dave even showed up. So she had an answer already formed as to why she wasn't partaking.

"I'm sorry, Dave" she said. "I recently had gastric lap band surgery and my stomach is now only the size of Tom's brain. That bowl of soup filled me to the brim, boy howdy. I couldn't eat another bite, sad to say." She cast her eyes down, looking for all the world like it was the greatest disappointment in her life that she was not going to be able to devour a stuffed segment of cow bowel. The bitch.

"Gastric lap band surgery?" he said. "But...but you don't look like you weigh more than 120, 125. Why would you need weightloss surgery?

"How do you think I got this way?"

"But Tom's e-mailed me pictures of you - LOTS of them. And you haven't changed a bit!"

She smiled. "He knew how sensitive I was about my weight, so he only sent you thin ones. I have the most considerate husband in the world. Now why don't I let you boys talk without me getting in the way. I'm gonna go downstairs and do some embroidery. Have fun!" She stood up and carried her plate to the sink, then went downstairs to her craft room. Where I knew she'd stashed a pepperoni pizza.

That left just me.

I had no intention of eating a kishke either. My original plan was to take one, cut it into miniscule cubes, then when Dave looked over to chat with NewWifey(tm), push those cubes all over the plate until it looked like I'd devoured one. It's a skill I developed in childhood when my mom used to serve her Cauliflower Mackeral Surprise. But Dave was watching me intently, determined that I should not be deprived of treif bovine innards because of him. So...I sliced one open. Then stuck my fork in. But I angled the fork so it would only pull stuffing out, leaving the awful poop-tube unscratched.

Dave wasn't gonna let me slide, though. "C'mon, get a good chuck of that derma" he said. "It looks nice and brown. You really did a great job!"

So I angled the fork back over, closed my eyes, and pressed down. The fork broke through the intestinal wall with a "snap", and a moment later I had a one inch square of GI tract heading for my face. Oh my god. Is this what it's like to be a dairy proctologist?

I opened my mouth.

It went in.

Did you ever spend an afternoon prepping your dinner by scraping shit off of it? Let me tell you, even if you cleaned it so well that if you sent a sample of it off to a lab and they sent it back labled "Sterile", you would still know that YOU HAD TO SCRAPE A LAYER OF SHIT OFF YOUR FOOD before cooking it. And that's all you would taste.

And so that's all I tasted. Shit. Shit with a very nice matzoh stuffing.

I smiled. "I'm really, really sorry you can't taste any of this, buddy."

"That's ok" he said. "The look on your face was priceless. Makes me feel good to see my old friend enjoying a meal again."

I kept the smile glued to my face as I slowly, deliberately, cut off miniscule squares of that alimentary tract and polished it off. Even though I buried most forkfulls under a mound of carrot/prune/raisin tsimis, the piquant notes of fresh cattle excrement somehow shone through.

And then it was all gone. I did it.

"Let's have Scotch!" I said.

I originally wasn't going to offer any, since all I had left was a bottle of 18 year old Macallan that I was saving for a special occasion, like my funeral. But it was the only thing other than gasoline I could think of that would get the taste out of my mouth. And considering the price of gasoline these days....

Fortunately that Hebridean "water of life" did its job. And the chocolate noodle kugel helped, too, even if it was disconcertingly brown. Eventually the urge to vomit subsided, and by the end of the night I'd even regained most of the color to my face. By 2 a.m. Dave had sobered up enough to start his 3 hour journey home. He couldn't stay the night, since he had to be at work by 6.

When he pulled out of the driveway NewWifey(tm) came back upstairs.

"You want a piece of pizza?"

"No. Thanks. Let's just go to bed. You can clean up the kitchen in the morning."

"WHAT? Me clean the kitchen? Are you out of your fucking head? Dave is YOUR friend. YOU made the mess. YOU clean the shit stains out of the sink."

"But honey - you're my wife! That's what wifes do, right? It's why I love you - that, and your red hair."

She gave me a very intense look. ""What, did Dave convert you to Orthodox Judaism while I was downstairs? I'm warning you, you pull out that 'wives are made for cleaning' line again and I'll leave such a bad taste in your mouth that your kishke will taste like honey by comparison. Now shut up and get to bed."

I did.

As it happens I'm on vacation this week, so I got to sleep in this morning. But I still got up earlier than NewWifey(tm), who rarely rouses herself before the crack of lunch. I walked out to the kitchen, saw the mess from the night before, made myself a cup of tea, and walked out of the kitchen. The memory of 2 hours prepping partially unevacuated cow bowels started to flood back, and I just couldn't face it. I turned Mario Cart back on.

Finally NewWifey(tm) shuffled out of the bedroom and made for the coffee maker. She took one step into the kitchen and stopped. Without turning she said, "Why haven't you cleaned the kitchen?"

I knew this was coming. Early on I decided I'd play the pathos card. "Gee honey, couldn't you at least give me a hand with it? I'm soooo hung over, and my thumbs hurt from playing all this Mario Cart, and...and...and I love you so much that I want to share everything with you, even cleaning cow shit stains."

Silence.

Then, "Wait right here."

She turned and went back to the bedroom. A minute later she emerged, wearing a pair of sweats and her Ugs. She grabbed the car keys off the hook and ran down the stairs. Seconds later she was gone.

I went back to Mario Cart. I was playing Bowser. I always play Bowser.

I probably got 4 Grand Prix rounds in before I heard NewWifey(tm)'s SUV come roaring back up the driveway. Then the thup thup thup thup thup of her slippers as she sprinted the stairs.

She came in, stood between me and the TV, and shoved a small plastic bag in my chest.

"Here" she said. "Just what you wanted: a redhead who does dishes."



And that's how our kitchen got cleaned this morning. No shit.

.

ps. Anybody want a hundred and two inches of leftover kishke? They're really good....

.

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