2 Feb 2011


Posted by annmcolford

On Saturday I cooked a dish that I’ve never prepared before: Texas-style chicken-fried steak. This culinary adventure was a tribute to my uncle Gordon Pinkston, a native of North Carolina who flew planes in World War II, spent a year or so building houses in Spokane in the late 1940s, then lived most of the rest of his adult life in Texas. Gordon died on January 22, after a couple of years of declining health. The last time I saw him (and my aunt Jean, my dad’s youngest sibling) was right here at my dining room table, sharing a meal during a visit a few years ago. Since I wasn’t going to be at his memorial service on Saturday in Texas, I decided to cook his favorite meal and share it with friends, along with some vintage photos and, of course, stories.

A toast to good company -- a very young me and Uncle Gordon, more than 30 years ago. Yikes.

I used to have a cookbook of traditional Southern-style recipes, but it disappeared in one move or another in my past. So, I turned to the trusty Interwebs and found a recipe right away at the Texas Cooking website. I found neither cube steak nor round steak (the options mentioned in the recipe) when I hit the Huckleberry’s meat counter, but they did have slabs of top sirloin at a decent price, so I went with that. I cut the steak into serving-sized pieces then tenderized them myself with the back of my chef’s knife. (A mallet would have been better, but that’s yet one more kitchen gadget that I don’t own. And the back of the knife got the job done.) After sautéing some greens (lacinato kale and red chard) with onions for the side dish, I assembled my mise en place (egg and milk, whisked together, in one bowl, and rye flour in another). When friends Dan and Linda arrived, I set to work cooking the steaks. It was a really quick process. Then I drained off most of the oil and made a quick batch of cream gravy (using mostly water with just a touch of cream as the liquid). And then we had a feast.

Dan grew up eating the dish because his mother was from Texas, and he says I did a right fine job with it (for a Yankee). I was pleased with the results—the breading wasn’t too heavy, the steak was tender with lots of flavor, and the gravy added a nice touch of decadence. So we ate our steaks and raised a glass to the memory of Uncle Gordon.

Linda and I have had a lot of discussions lately about the knowledge of the body—that is, the knowledge that can be gained only through a lived physical experience. Here’s an example: I can describe, in my most eloquent words, the experience of driving across the minimalist’s landscape of central and eastern Washington; I can even take photos to share with people who’ve never been there. But nothing will express adequately the physical sensation of sitting under that huge sky and letting my eyes circle the endless horizon in all directions, the instant realization of my own smallness, the animal instinct of being separated from my herd, and my simultaneous wonderment at the subtle shifts of light and shadow on the low rolling sage-strewn hills.

As someone who has lived the life of the mind and one who loves clever wordplay, I’m learning a new kind of awareness. Perhaps it’s an outgrowth of years of gentle yoga practice, or all that time spent as a pedestrian rather than a driver, but I now understand that there are ways of knowing that only the body can accomplish. I can know something intellectually, but until I put my body into its midst, I do not truly “get” it.

I love walking to do errands when I can, because I am then grounded, literally—my feet touch the earth. I am surrounded by the wild, uncontrollable natural world, and I experience the elemental common experience of being a human animal. I can smell the mud and the pines; in the summer, I catch the scent of sage on a southwest breeze. In my bones and my skin, I have instant knowledge of the temperature, the humidity level, the wind chill, even the barometric pressure, all without consulting the Weather Channel. My experience of the world is not mediated through a human-constructed shell.

Granted, walking in my urban neighborhood isn’t exactly a wilderness experience; most often, I’m walking on asphalt, following right-angle roads past homes and cars and other aspects of the built environment. But, still, I see no ceiling above my head, no walls to constrain me. I feel more open and vulnerable to the whims of the world.

The same thing can be said about face-to-face interactions with other people, as compared to the virtual contacts that are now far more common. At its best, communication is a full-bodied experience. Gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice and even the set of one’s shoulders while listening all reveal messages that can’t be found in simple text.

There’s a connection here to food, I think, especially to the sharing of food around a table. Eating food in the company of others is part of that body knowledge. Arguably, so is eating alone, but being with others adds another dimension to the experience: the dimension of memory. I seldom remember meals I’ve eaten alone, no matter how delicious the food. But having a meal with someone else opens the possibility of linking my memory of the food with the memory of my companion. Like Uncle Gordon and the chicken-fried steak. I remember going out to breakfast with Gordon in Dallas, on more than one occasion, and having a fabulous down-home breakfast of chicken-fried steak, cream gravy, beer biscuits and probably grits, too. My recollection of the quality of the food may well be generous, but it’s colored by my memory of the good company, so for me that meal will always be—as Gordon would say—larrupin’.

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6 Responses to “Larrupin’”

  1. Memorable tribute to your Uncle Gordon. Thanks for your remembrances. Eucharist.


    Jan Myhre

  2. Great Blog!! Very fond of the word Larrupin!! Crock pot full of Pork tender and fixins and for sure will be Larrupin on A cold Texas day!!!
    Craig R. Steketee


    Craig R. Steketee

  3. Thanks, Craig — I’m glad you found your way here and happy that someone Deep in the Heart of Texas enjoyed the post! Your slow-cooked pork tender definitely sounds larrupin’, too…



  4. Never A truer statement!!!!!
    What about good company? Many of my meals are taken alone — or in the company of Henry, my 10-year-old yellow tabby — and often that’s all the company I need. I can sit in a roomful of strangers and feel like I’m in good company, and I can sit at a table filled with people I know yet still feel an aching sense of isolation. I’m enough of an introvert (and enough of a snob) that no company beats tiresome company any day. But I love having meals with people who are fun, thoughtful, witty and insightful — especially those who like my company as much as I like theirs.

    Craig R. Steketee


    Craig R. Steketee

  5. How do I send pics????


    Craig R. Steketee

  6. Now about that recipe for beer biscuits….


    Barb Chamberlain

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