What is “Gamey”?

I hear this word tossed around frequently and I wanted to explore it for some people who may have the wrong impression.

First, the word “gamey” is loaded.  It basically means the meat has an off-flavor, but by calling it gamey it becomes tied to wild game.  This is bullshit.  You see, it’s all in how the animal is butchered.  If I wanted to, I could make a piece of cow taste gamey as all hell, which is not the easiest feat since cows are generally bred to have pretty much no actual flavor, but I’ll explain later.

Like I said, it’s all in how the meat is butchered.  Hang the animal for a week in perfect conditions if you want, this won’t affect the flavor (although if done properly it will have a drastic effect on the texture).  Deer, moose, and elk are not cows and pigs, and therefore should not be butchered as if they were.  Unlike those domesticated critters, the venison does not have good tasting fat.  In fact, the fat tastes funky as hell and it’s not meant to be eaten.

A good comparison is lamb.  Lamb fat has a strong flavor, almost earthy.  Personally, I love this flavor, but I understand why some people don’t since it’s just on the tasty side of funky.  Venison fat is even more strongly flavored than that.

Most good butchers know to remove as much as they can and they do a fine job.  However, they get inundated by wild game all at the same time and can’t possibly spend as much time and attention on the meat as a knowledgeable person only doing a few for personal consumption, specifically on the ground meat.  The steaks are usually final trimmed just before cooking.

The bottom line is to limit the white flecking in the meat.  If you see it, remove it.  The white is one of two things:  either fat or tough, chewy tendons.  Both have bad flavors and one contributes a texture that no one likes, so get rid of it.

All wrapped up in shiny white bits

All wrapped up in shiny white bits

The piece of meat above is cut straight off a deer and is destined for the grinder.  You can see some of the thicker tendons have been removed already, but plenty of white is still there and needs to be removed.  This is easy to accomplish, but it adds time to the process which is why people generally just toss this chunk into the grinder without the extra step.

eeek...i'm naked!

Eeek…I’m naked!

The next picture is the same piece of meat pretty much ready for the grinder.  After this I would cube it up, trim off any other little bits of white, and feed it to my deer-O-matic 5000.  The above step took around 2 minutes, at the most.  It doesn’t sound like much but it will add up to around a half hour over the whole animal, which is an excellent investment if you ask me. My wife and I have done this for several years now and it takes us 30 minutes total per animal to go from the large de-boned chunks of meat straight off the carcass to finished, ground deliciousness.

Since deer has  little intra-muscular fat, the finished product is very nearly totally deep red. Deer meat does not marble, as cows do.  It doesn’t have, and shouldn’t have, the characteristic white splotches that you find in ground beef.  Yes, this is why deer meat is so lean.

Om nom nom nom!

Om nom nom nom!

You can see a small amount of white in there because no one is perfect (and we butchered four deer that day), but as long as it is almost completely absent you won’t have any problems.  After shooting our deer in the woods, we remove the fancy meats (tenderloin and backstrap) and then de-bone the rest and freeze it.  Once hunting season draws to a close we pull it all out and finish the processing.

The other culprit of off-flavors is far more sinister, and much worse tasting, than fat.  The meat has various lymph nodes all over the place, just like you do.  They are important in proper immune system functioning. Consider them to be military bases for your body to send troops out of to fight an infection.  Some are easy to find and live inside the fat just on the top of the meat, so they get trimmed off normally.  Others can be better at hiding…

You sneaky bastard!

You sneaky bastard!

See the gray looking circle shrouded in fat but hidden under a cap of meat?  Yeah, that one little marble sized thing, if allowed to go through the grinder and mix with the rest of the meat, will funkify a whole batch.  This one was hiding just inside the front shoulder, essentially in an armpit.

lymph nodes are not good.  Ever.

I said I could make cow taste funky, this is how.  Include a few lymph nodes.

These are different than scent glands, which are just under the skin of a deer in certain spots and they exude funky oils into the hairs which allow the deer to rub their scent on various things to mark territory.  Some folks remove those glands (especially the tarsal glands on the hind legs) before even field dressing the animal, but I never mess with them. They are like little grease bombs and anyone who has ever worked on a car knows that once you get a small bit of grease on you, it spreads….everywhere.  It’s extra tricky in this situation since you can’t actually see the grease.  Cutting off a scent gland greatly increases your chances of getting that oily funk on the meat. Just leave those tufts of discolored hair alone and discard them along with the rest of the carcass.  If you like a musky, deep forest smell, take a strong whiff….

Some believe older deer taste worse.  This is simply not true.  The meat from an older animal can certainly be more chewy and tough, but a marinade, or even letting it sit on a rack in the fridge for a few days before cooking, can solve that problem.  The reason this is a common belief is because older deer tend to have more fat.  With more fat it becomes more time consuming to remove it all and corners tend to be cut during processing with more bad tasting white stuff making it into the final product.

A quick word about flavor:
Venison, like most wild game, has not been domesticated.  They eat a varied diet that depends on season and can be greatly different from year to year depending on the growing conditions of any given year.  Flavor is good.  Deer meat naturally has a rich, meaty flavor.  This is not gamey.  This is the opposite of gamey.  When you remove the funky stuff from the meat, you allow the true delicious flavor of the animal to shine through.  Here in the southern half of Missouri, our deer eat primarily acorns, hickory nuts, and other forest goodness.  In my opinion they are the best tasting deer anyone will ever find.  Acorn fed meat tastes delicious, just ask the Spaniards that make Jamon Iberico.  The deer in the northern half of the state eat lots of corn and lack the richness in the meat.  Some of them taste more like lean beef, which is to say they don’t taste like anything at all.  Flavor is good.  Off-flavors are bad.

I would love to start a campaign to stop using the word gamey entirely, but I feel it’s probably too ingrained now.  Instead, just try to remember that gamey doesn’t really have much to do with wild-game, but is instead a butchering error.  Blame the person with the knife, not the delicious animal.

Speaking of animals, you know what two hound dogs do while over 100 pounds of meat is sitting on large trays for hours in the kitchen?  Pretty much just this:

Drop something? Drop something? Drop something? Drop something? Drop something? Drop something? Drop something? Drop something? Drop something? Drop something?

Drop something? Drop something? Drop something? Drop something? Drop something? Drop something? Drop something? Drop something? Drop something? Drop something?

headjar

Posted in Meat Stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A log into a bowl

It’s been over a year since I have turned wood, so I’m trying to get back into the groove.  Like anything else, turning is a skill that must be nurtured.  Unlike some other things, turning is fairly dangerous and requires an amount of muscle memory in order to dodge the piece of wood flying through the air at 200 miles an hour.  

Anyway, to that end, I’m grabbing sub-par wood from around the house and making it into various things as practice.  

Below, is a series of pictures detailing the creation of a bowl from a piece of two year old firewood that had been sitting on the driveway for a long time.  My apologies to the gorgeous black widow who I had to shoo off the log.  

photo (62)

This is a chunk of black cherry (Prunus serotina) firewood

 

Once cut in half, I drew out a circle and then cut that out.  This allows the pith to run from side to side of the bowl instead of plunging my gouges into end-grain.

Once cut in half, I drew out a circle and then cut that out. This allows the pith to run from side to side of the bowl instead of plunging my gouges into end-grain.

This is my least favorite part.  It's roughing out the general shape and it tends to make my hands hurt.

This is my least favorite part. It’s roughing out the general shape and it tends to make my hands hurt.

All roughed out and the tenon is cut into the bottom for mounting in my bowl chuck.  Now it gets fun!

All roughed out and the tenon is cut into the bottom for mounting in my bowl chuck. Now it gets fun!

Once in the chuck, it's quick work to clean up the sides.  This isn't the shape I was hoping for, but the wood dictates what it is sometimes, especially when using mostly rotten firewood.

Once in the chuck, it’s quick work to clean up the sides. This isn’t the shape I was hoping for, but the wood dictates what it is sometimes, especially when using mostly rotten firewood.

Few things are as fun as hollowing out a bowl.  If you do it right the chips come off in long ribbons, even with really dry wood.

Few things are as fun as hollowing out a bowl. If you do it right the chips come off in long ribbons, even with really dry wood.

I have finishing gouges to clean up all the rough cuts from the regular gauges.  After this all I have to do is sand and finish.

I have finishing gouges to clean up all the rough cuts from the regular gauges. After this all I have to do is sand and finish.

And this is the finished product.  It's not a very exciting bowl, but it was mainly to work on my techniques.  I'll fill it with candy or chips or something.  Start to finish this took about an hour.

And this is the finished product. It’s nothing special but I’ll fill it with candy or chips or something. Start to finish this took about an hour.

headjar

Posted in Wood stuff | 5 Comments

Making A Board

I thought some folks might want to see the steps I go through in making one of those fancy cutting boards, so I took some photos while I was making one.  You have to guess at the design as we go along….

So…first things first…..we need music.

For today I have chosen some Paul Simon, but listen to whatever you want.

For today I have chosen some Paul Simon, but listen to whatever you want.

Now….I suppose….we need some kind of plan.  So scribble some stuff down if you’re into that kind of thing.

My handwriting is sort of like a code.  It works for me.

My handwriting is sort of like a code. It works for me.

Now I will cut a bunch of rough stock to about 28″ in length, which means I will be able to make two identical boards with very little extra work.

This is (top to bottom) padauk, bloodwood, walnut, and sycamore

This is (top to bottom) padauk, bloodwood, walnut, and sycamore

Then I run those boards through my planer to get them all to the same thickness.  FunFact…bloodwood is super hard so the planer is deafening when you run it through.

smooth and pretty!

smooth and pretty!

Next I look back at my handy dandy scribble sheet and I can easily see how many boards I need and at what width they should be.  Before cutting to final width, I joint one side of each full size board because gaps are where the devil lives.

Got them all cut...still have my fingers...hooray!

Got them all cut…still have my fingers…hooray!

With the boards cut it’s time to make sure the idea is feasible….

Yep, that's pretty much what I was looking for.

Yep, that’s pretty much what I was looking for.

So then we just glue our three boards up, clamp them good, and wait 24 hours.

I really should clean my shop up, but that's winter work!

I really should clean my shop up, but that’s winter work!

After 24 hours the glue is fully hardened.  In order to make a perfectly fitting end-grain board, these three boards need to be planed dead flat and also the exact same thickness as each other.  So they get run through the planer again.

After that, it’s time for final slices!  To get cuts without any burring or splintering along the cut edge, you really need a nice crosscut blade.

a crosscut sled helps a whole bunch too.

a crosscut sled helps a whole bunch too.

With all three boards cut to the same width, all we have to do is flip them onto the end-grain and start assembling the pattern.

See the pattern yet?

See the pattern yet?

Once we have the pattern set, we very very carefully align everything and then glue it and clamp it another time.

This is just before the final glue up

This is just before the final glue up.  It’s a double helix!

After 24 hours it’s time to take it out of the clamps yet again.  Glue will have bubbled up in places and hardened and no matter how careful you were certain boards have raised a millimeter or two.  Cutting boards need to be flat, so flatten the end-grain however you see fit.  some people use a planer (a subset of these people then break their planer), some people use a router, some crazy folks just sand it flat (which takes a very very long time), other have a drum sander(which I really want to buy).

After it’s flattened all that is left is some finish sanding to make it silky smooth and then apply a finish like mineral oil, beeswax, salad bowl finish, or any other product out there.  They each have positives and negatives, I usually grab a bottle of whatever is closest to me, which is either mineral oil or salad bowl finish.

It's all done!

It’s all done!

If you have any other questions about how to make these, please drop me a line in the comments section or bring over a six pack of Ruination IPA (and something for yourself if you want) and I will run through the whole process again.

headjar

Posted in Wood stuff | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Optimism, it’s what’s for dinner!

Amazon has announced that it will have a book borrowing program called Kindle Unlimited.  Quick explanation:  For ten bucks you can borrow unlimited ebooks, but only those in the Kindle Select program (the ones you could borrow once a month if you had a Prime account).  This borrowing program also allows for audiobooks for those that have that option.  Got it?  Okay, great!

Now….I have many authors as friends on Facebook (probably too many).  The response to this has been disheartening.  I have heard a few people just outright saying it was a terrible idea while shaking their fist at the clouds.  Others just saying they thought it probably wouldn’t work and they (the authors) were getting ripped off of sales.  Another camp of folks seemed to tremulously say “we’ll have to see how it goes”.

Hasn’t Amazon earned just a bit of faith at this point, people?  Truly though, faith in Amazon isn’t the main point here…where is the optimism?

My view on this whole thing is “Hell Yeah!”  I hope it’s awesome for readers and authors and I choose to go into this assuming that it will be.  Maybe I’ll be wrong. I won’t care, I’ll just move on to the next thing.  I would much rather head into something with a positive outlook and hope for success than dip a toe in, worried about failure.

I’m sure Abraham Lincoln has a quote about worrying about ebook failure inhibiting success or something along those lines.  Maybe it was Ghandi.  As far as I can tell, all quotes get assigned to those two gentlemen.  I’ll find one and get back to you.

The point is that we’ve never had an unlimited borrowing service from Amazon, much the same way as we’ve never really had a post-apocalyptic survival situation.  Why must people just assume it will be terrible?  C’mon, look on the bright side.  Drink from the half-full glass.  You may be shocked how it changes your entire outlook.

Now go sign up for Kindle Unlimited.  I think it’s going to be awesome!!
headjar

Posted in Book stuff | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Hi Blog!

To be honest, I sort of forgot this existed.  Gimme a break, I have other stuff going on.  I mean, I’m not necessarily doing that other stuff….but it’s still going on.

Anyway, HANDRO is off at the editors being all chopped up and what not.  It’s a good thing, trust me.  It will be out in the future.

I promise to post on here when it is coming out.  I have some really cool giveaways in store for release day.  I will post all that in order to keep you all informed.

That’s all for now.  Mostly, I just wanted the landing page to not be the Fred Phelps post anymore!  Enjoy yourselves, people.

headjar

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Why Fred Phelps Actually Helped Humanity

First off, I’m not defending the man at all.  He was a monster.

That’s kind of the point though…He really was a monster.

If you are reading this, I will assume you know why he was a monster and we can skip that part.

I have taken a little bit of flack for the optimism present in my books.  People have said I must go through life with rose-colored glasses and things of that nature. For the record, my sunglasses are Stihl Blackwidows, they keep the sawdust out of my eyes and can handle some serious damage.
My logic has always been that when the chips are down, most people will stand up for one another, even if they are strangers.  Even if they live different lifestyles.  Most people are good. Plain and simple. Yes, some jackwagons exist, but the majority of humans are good people, maybe a little misguided in some ventures (why do we keep cultivating caraway seeds?!?!) but generally good.

This is what Fred Phelps proved.  When his little “church” thing would protest a funeral or a pride parade, every different shade of American would show up to form a human shield.  We’ve all seen the pictures.  Big bikers with long awesome beards standing shoulder to shoulder with gay men and women, sometimes holding signs of their own, but generally just forming a wall to shield the grieving from the assault that was Fred Phelps disciples.

Those images, the ones of the people lined up, the ones of the funny signs other folks made to mock the ridiculousness of the claims of the Westboro loonies, they are seared into my brain.   They show the heart of humanity, albeit with just a touch of scum that was scraped off our boots.

By wearing his intolerance on his sleeve, this man created far more national conversations than most organizations dream of, only it wasn’t the direction he was hoping for.  I can imagine people all over the country, maybe being “on the fence” about their own homosexual beliefs, agreeing that the shit Phelps was pulling was simply wrong.  It was “Extreme bigotry” and no one wanted to be compared to that.  Maybe some folks saw that hatred and took a look inside themselves at their own objections to same sex relationships.  That’s it, that’s the start.  I suspect that what that man did was pull a great many people off the fence and onto the side of defending gay rights–probably because of the monster making insane signs and shutting down small town funerals.

This is what Fred gave us.  Yes, he caused hurt and suffering to many grieving families and that is atrocious, but he also lifted us up, he gave us an obvious villian to focus on.  It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the military, all you needed was the ability to read.

Often times things like bigotry and racism are hidden or quietly shied away from in conversation.  Phelps made so many people angry, so many people fed up, he made us yell as a group.  He made us stand up for our brothers and sisters no matter what, because people don’t deserve to be treated like that.  Now we just need to start standing up for some of the less obvious forms of bigotry, but at least we’re on the right track.  We have a monster to thank for uniting us, but instead of actually thanking him I’ll donate some money to the No H8te campaign or the It Gets Better Project.  If you have a little bit of extra cash, maybe you could do the same.  The monster may be dead, but that doesn’t mean the fight is over.

headjar

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Cherry Slab Table

I was at a friend’s house picking up some lumber a few weeks ago.  I grabbed some rough walnut, pear, cherry, and oak.  As I’m leaving, he points to a big pile of rough cut slabs of cherry and asks if I want one of those.

Naturally, my curiosity is piqued.  I’ve never worked with big slabs of 4″ thick wood before.  The ideas start flooding my head and I go ahead and grab one of the smallest ones.  Questions are raised if all that wood can actually fit in the Jeep (the slab is pretty damn heavy), but I don’t listen to that malarkey.  I just want to take my new slab home and hug it.

We had big fun that night

We had big fun that night

Then reality set in.  What was I really going to do with that thing?  I had never worked with slab wood, I didn’t want to mess it up.  I had only gotten one…what was I thinking?  I should have grabbed three! Much less pressure if I had three.

After a couple weeks, I decided to do something with this gorgeous piece of wood.  After all, even if I messed it up (kind of a certainty), I could go get another one.  The dude had about 30 of them.

What do you want to be, darling?

What do you want to be, darling?

I started by chopping off about two feet.  This way I could get two tables out of it, one big one and one smaller, side table sized one.  Then, because this chunk of wood is wider than any planer I have access to, I spent an afternoon manually sanding the rough cut wood.  It sucked.

I really hate sanding.

I really hate sanding.

I put a light chamfer on the edges with my block plane and started thinking about the legs.  I knew I was going to use the 3″ square cherry timbers I had, I just wasn’t sure how I wanted to join them.
Here’s the sneaky thing about working with slabs of wood.  They move.  A lot. Normal changes in humidity throughout the year will cause the slab to flex and shrink.  If you have a standard apron built onto the bottom of the table to house the legs, the top can’t move and it will twist instead, wreaking all kinds of havoc.  I’ve never seen this happen, but it makes good sense to me.  This is the reason so many tables and things are made of smaller pieces of wood glued together.  Those tops are just much more stable in the long run.
Sooo…….The wood will try to break itself if I don’t allow it to move around a little.  This means I needed free legs, by that I mean legs that attach directly to the slab rather than each other.  This should allow the wood the freedom to swell and shrink without distorting the top.
Seems easy enough, then.  I’ll just cut some mortises into the top with my forstner bits and chisel them out.
I learned a few things really quick at this point.  First, my nice set of chisels aren’t really made for clearing 4″ of wood.  Second, when you force them to do it (because that’s how I roll), it will peel the wood off the bottom of the mortis.  Ugly, but it’s the bottom, I don’t care.
So, I drill a bunch of holes into the area to chisel out, hoping that makes it easier.

Well, that didn't work.  Shocker!

Well, that didn’t work. Shocker!

And here we are.  I’ve ruined the damn top.  Just what I feared. This thing is now ugly as hell,  No way will the tenons fit snugly.  It will be the ugliest through tenon ever.

Yeah..so….Fuck. Self-fulfilling prophecy?  I don’t care.  I grab a beer.  I say Fuck again.  I walk back to the woodshop to sit on my stool and wallow in my failure.

While sitting there, sipping a Hopslam and laughing at myself, I see the small purpleheart board given to me by a professor who is studying rates of decay among various woods, native and exotic.  This was the one piece she had leftover and she gifted it to me over four years ago.
I took another drink of the Hopslam.  Could I use that wood in this project? Did the tenons have to be through tenons?  Could I just inlay that pretty wood and cover up my shame? 60% of the time my beer addled ideas work every time!
I grabbed my router and tried to figure out how to actually inlay wood. I use some 1/4″ plywood to make a guide for my router and then a straight bit to clear out the wood and make the hollow area (this probably has an official name) in which I lay the purpleheart.  I snuck up on the thickness of the inlay and actually got it to fit in there pretty nice.  Damn, that was easy!
The biggest problem was that I barely had enough wood to cover the existing mortises.  (Yeah, I went ahead and mangled all four of them.  Why stop at one?)  Then I glued and pegged the purpleheart into the cherry and weighted it down overnight to dry.  Because of the natural edge of the cherry it was impossible to clamp it down due to the curvature of the outer edge.  My clamps sat there….sad and unused.

The wax paper keeps the glue from attaching to anything else.

The wax paper keeps the glue from attaching to anything else.

Then all I had to do was attach the legs, glue those into place and run a peg down into them to help strengthen the joint between the leg, table, and inlay.  I left the legs pretty simple.  I entertained the idea of putting neat angles on them with my band saw or turning neat patterns on them with the lathe, but I really wanted this table to be more simple.

Oh, and sand more.  A lot more.

The grain really turned out nice.  Sanding has a purpose...I guess.

The grain really turned out nice. Sanding has a purpose…I guess.

After all that, I put on three coatings of semi-gloss polyurethane, sanding with 220 between each coat.  And she’s done.  It’s not a perfect table, far from it.  It’s functional, unique, and pretty, though.  Plus, the purpleheart and the pegs almost look like straps running over the table top, which I like.
One of the best things about woodworking is that nothing is set in stone.  If you have the right tools, you can adapt when you make a mistake (or four mistakes).

Finished product

Finished product

Different angle

Different angle

This was a fun project.  All in all, it took maybe 7 hours or so, but thanks to the whole “glue needs to dry” business, it needed to be spread out over several days.  They say you can work with the glued objects after an hour, but I tend to be rough on things and I have pulled them apart when I try that.  Plus, I’m not in any kind of rush, ever.

If you stumble across a slab, don’t let it get past you.  Grab it, crack open a good beer, scratch your head a bit, and figure out something to do with it.
Have fun!
headjar

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