Dirty Joe was a crow and a friend of my father’s when he was a child. When my father was nine years old he took an egg from a crow’s nest, hatched it, then raised Dirty Joe to be his pet. My dad would feed him cereal to give him strength when young, and kept him inside a cardboard box until Dirty Joe could fly and fend for himself. When that day came Dirty Joe would sleep outside in a tree while my father left his window open on the second floor of his family’s farmhouse in Chilmark. My father had no alarm clock then. It wasn’t necessary because Dirty Joe would fly first to his window sill, then to his bedpost and rouse him from his dreams of baseball, or whatever a nine year old dreams of, by cawing until he was out of bed. Once my father was up for the day, Dirty Joe would retreat back out to the world and the day would start. They would spend the morning together taking care of whatever farm chores were necessary and my dad soon learned that if he forgot to close the window in the morning Dirty Joe would borrow anything convenient to bring back to his nest for himself: toys, handkerchiefs or coins were commonly borrowed items.
Dirty Joe was playful once the chores were done and one of his favorite activities was to wait with my father by the side of the road for a car to pass. He would then latch on to the roof of the passing vehicle to go for a joyride with the wind whipping through his feathers while he hung on for dear life, letting go half a mile down the road to then fly back and do it all over again.
My dad grew up on a farm with pigs, cows, chickens and sheep that were raised for the dinner table, so having a pet that was separate from this was unique. He and Dirty Joe could spend time together, just one boy and a crow knowing that they were equals, and a true friendship was forged from this.
Unlike a domesticated animal that is reliant on its owner for food and security, having a wild animal as a pet like this taught my dad the value of letting those in his life spread their wings and explore the world on their own. In Dirty Joe’s case it was literal.
When I was young we had pet raccoons and when I was in college my younger siblings raised two geese named Honker and Daisy. Eventually the geese decided to migrate far away, but not before my two sisters claimed them as companions and friends.
Bridging this gap between wild and domesticated animals can be difficult, though. Dirty Joe was a thief and would never have fit in to the normal day-to-day activities of a captive animal like a dog or even a chicken, whose personalities pale in comparison with that of a crow. But in our modern world where everything is controlled and for the most part scheduled by the responsibilities of the day-to-day, having a semi-wild animal in your life gives it excitement and spontaneity. When Dirty Joe stole my dad’s favorite baseball card and brought it back to his home in a nearby maple tree, was it really that much of a burden to climb the tree and retrieve it? Animals in general give us perspective on life and wild animals give us an opportunity to know that we can’t control everything in our environment. This is the approach and lesson I take into the kitchen as well.
No matter how much you plan, something will always foul you up and you have to be ready. The ingredients you want are not always at your fingertips, especially when you aren’t shopping exclusively at a supermarket. There are always mishaps with equipment, whether it be a wrongly calibrated oven or pans that refuse to be nonstick. A carpenter once told me that as you gain experience you never stop making mistakes; you just learn how to cover them up. That lesson has served me well at almost every meal I have cooked since. A grill is not hot enough or a roast is not cooked properly and as time goes on and you experience these mishaps you learn to make what goes on the dinner table the best it can be by learning to deal with the hand that you are dealt, which is especially valuable when you are the also the dealer.
When you cook a chicken for your family and it is cooked to the point of leather, learn a few tricks to moisten the meat and make it not only palatable but delicious, with, most likely, a gravy or fat-based sauce. And when that pork loin you spent hours preparing isn’t done enough, don’t serve it anyway, hoping nobody will notice. Carve it up and finish it under the broiler to perfection and I promise you those eating your food will agree with your decision not to serve compromised food.
I guess I can only offer a few words of advice to live by in the kitchen. If something is bland, especially a vegetable, add more salt first. If that doesn’t work, try an acid, either lemon juice or vinegar. As a last-ditch effort, try fat in the form of olive oil. If a vegetable or protein is over-cooked, mash it or shred it. If you undercook meat, cut it up into smaller pieces and cook it over a hot flame, either a broiler or hot grill very quickly. These lessons have never failed me and could help take an overcooked crow and make it into a decadent meal.
I forgot one last lesson: always present your meal with confidence; that is the deciding factor.
*Authors note: I have never cooked a crow.
Any amount of overcooked chicken
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
Pick the meat from an overcooked chicken, either whole or from any cut of chicken, cover with water in a stockpot and simmer for at least 30 minutes with salt and chili flakes. Stir frequently to ensure nothing sticks and burns on the bottom of the pot. Reduce the liquid to the point that it coats the meat but is not separate from the chicken, squeeze fresh lemon juice over the top to season as desired. Serve over black beans and rice with corn tortillas on the side and ample hot sauce. This recipe is also good for leftover chicken.
Undercooked Pork Loin
1 three lb. pork loin, preferably bone-in
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 anchovy filets
1/2 cup fresh Rosemary, removed from its stem and minced
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Mince the garlic and anchovy together and mix with minced rosemary in a bowl with olive oil. Rub the pork loin all over and season with salt and pepper keeping in mind that the anchovy will supply some saltiness to the dish. Place in a roasting pan on the middle rack of an oven and roast for at least 45 minutes to an hour, or until the pork loin reaches an internal temperature of 150 degrees. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Carve into ¼ inch portions and if they are under-cooked, place in the cooking juices from whole pork loin under broiler for at least a minute until cooked through. Serve over a vegetable capable of absorbing the unctuous flavors of the pork like mashed potatoes or roasted celery root. If you have leftovers, treat them as you would the over-cooked chicken and serve alongside black beans and rice.