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an article I wrote for Edible San Francisco

  

 

“It’s not Lambie-pie, it’s Jimmy-John.” I said to my older brother over dinner.

“It was Lambie-pie, but now it’s Lambie-chops, and you’re eating him,” he replied.

Lambie-Pie was an orphan that we bottle-fed with a glass milk bottle and a big pink nipple the size of a finger on a pair of rubber gloves.  He walked right up to you in the pasture when all the other sheep fled in a frantic stampede. Jimmie-John was the mean old ram. My dad is the only one who speaks endearingly of the dull-witted menace. “If he got it in his mind to charge you, you could see it on his face way up the hill. By the time he got up enough speed and got close to you, you had enough time to pick up a two-by-four and whack him. Then he’d go rambling back up the hill.”  Once he butted my brother so hard he flew head-over-heels into a feed bin. Jimmy-John wasn’t missed. But we didn’t eat him. 

 

In 1968 my parents decided to leave the city and move “back to the land.” I was two, my brother was four, and we stayed on the two-acre farm outside of Sebastapol all through the seventies. We planted a vegetable garden, and built a chicken coop and a goat shed. In seventies fashion, we also built a sauna in the redwoods and a sundeck up on the hill. My plywood mud pie kitchen was next to the water spigot and centrally located for gathering the ingredients needed for my complicated terrines: driveway gravel, creek silt, decomposed leaves and bark, and rich garden dirt.

Most of our land was pasture, which previously housed a different steer each year. But my dad wanted to be a sheep-man like his old Greek relatives. Gerald, a sculptor who lived a mile up our road, was my dad’s shepherding partner. I fed the sheep. I was too short to bend over the rim of the galvanized metal trashcan and reach the green pellets of food if the level was low. So I went in headfirst, got a coffee can of food and then climbed out. The sheep came running down the hill, shoving and jumping over each other for the same slots in the center of the manger even though there were spaces for all. I separated a flake of alfalfa from the bale and had no choice but to sprinkle it on top of their heads. They’re not like dogs that will look up if food is falling from the sky.

We had Suffolk sheep, the kind with the pretty black faces.  There is a picture of a cuddly one in a book I read to my baby, “…touch the lambs soft fur.” We pet a nice little spot of clean synthetic wool. I must have become one of those “city kids” that my friends and I used to criticize so harshly. Close up, sheep smell and are crawling with ticks and little black bugs. Their fur is full of sharp twigs, foxtails and thistles from the pasture and their backside is encrusted with poop. If you catch a sheep it freaks out: bleating, kicking its sharp hooves and its bloodshot eyes roll around in its head. You get covered in greasy lanolin.

Catching a sheep is not an exulting run through green pastures that causes you to raise your arms and break into song. Hippies can’t run nearly as fast as sheep. The green pastures are full of landmines: a trench for the septic tank leach line, gopher holes, and the rattlesnake that we found on second base during a pasture baseball game. It’s like being a soccer goalie with ten balls on the field each weighing two hundred pounds – your teammates scrambling through the mud wearing Frye boots and bellbottoms. Our small farm didn’t have the help of professional dogs that bring the sheep too you if you whistle the right way. We had Jeff. He, like all the neighborhood dogs, would chase the sheep straight into a fence, killing them.

One day each spring dad got us ready to herd the sheep. My brother chose a long crook and I got the second best weapon. I would have been outfitted in armor of the times: a phesant dress over hand-me-down corduroy pants that were floods with iron-on patches on the knees and rubber boots. Dad said, “Now go stand in that gate. When the sheep come near you jump up and down, wave your hands, and yell.”

The flock of sheep came down the hill like an unpredictable swarm of giant bees with hoofs. The panicked thundering stampede shook the ground and pounded right through me as I guarded my gate. I don’t remember having a chance to yell or shake my stick. As I got up and stumbled toward my dad and Gerald, my dad grabbed a lamb out of the frenzied mass. In seconds, he straddled it, put one foreleg behind its head to calm it, hit it on the head with a sledgehammer knocking it out, took a knife out of his belt, and cut its throat. The heard was back in the upper pasture. It was quiet and still.  There was red blood in the gash in the lambs white fur as it lay with its head cocked at an impossible angle. My dad and Gerald were busy working.

I was slightly stunned but not horrified. Since no one acted like anything was out of the ordinary, I walked over to watch.

No one told me to cover my eyes. My folks shrug it off saying “you lived on a farm.” My mom didn’t participate. She was old enough to be disturbed by the sight of death. The grass in the pasture needed to be kept down, and we needed to have food. She didn’t like to think about what happened in between. She had her goats to tend to. At least we made it better for the sheep then the feedlots and the slaughterhouses.

My dad uses the word slaughter. He thinks words like harvest are “bullshit.” He says, “If you’re eating meat, you’re not just having a dinner party. You’re taking the life of an animal.” The old-time Greeks always made the sign of the cross before killing or eating an animal. Tribal people who live close to the soil all knew that killing an animal was significant and they had rituals. My dad just wanted to do it as painlessly and swiftly as possible. A professional had come out to the house the first time to show them how.

Sometimes the lambs drained and cooled in the woodshed and sometimes in the sauna. Even in death we had to protect them from the dogs. Then they were strung up by their hind legs on the post that held the clothesline. My dad and Gerald had a chart that showed the cuts of meat, sharp knives, and a handsaw with a special blade for bones. They had to concentrate and work quickly. Everything had to be kept as clean as possible out in the wet grass and mud between the goat shed and the chicken coop. Dirt from the outside of the animal would contaminate the inside. Certain parts had to be removed or they would poison the meat. 

 They started at the top with the hind leg ankles, carefully slicing the fur and skin from the body. It folded inside out as it slumped into the waiting wheelbarrow below. Then they cut open the belly and the stomach and everything else fell out on top. They dumped the contents of the wheelbarrow into a big hole out behind the garden, sprinkled it with lime, and buried it. I used to use that same bag of lime to make icing for my mud pies.

I stood nearby, eating an orange, and watched the lamb being transformed into meat. Occasionally they asked me to hand them something. They never wore gloves. As I got older I sometimes felt a little sorry for the lamb. But I was reassured that he didn't know what was going on because he had a very little brain, which was true. I could see the little brain right there inside the head and it was very small.

After making a big mess in the kitchen, the freezer in the old garage with the dirt floor was filled with white paper packages of meat. On Greek Easter we roasted a lamb whole on a spit and seasoned it with salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, lemon, and olive oil.  Dad put the organ meat in a Dutch oven and buried it with in the ground with hot coals. I thought the pot of cooked innards was disgusting, and wouldn’t go near it.

The meat had a stronger gamier flavor then what we buy now. The chops were thicker and the texture of the cut bones was rough from the handsaw. Except for my brother’s son who tries to gross-out his little sister, we, like most people, try not to think about the fact that we’re eating an animal. Our farm experience hasn’t validated our right-to-eat-meat ticket. None of us has witnessed commercial meat production so our memories don’t count as guilt-free bonus points.  We take the familiar white paper package out of the refrigerator, flip through a few glossy cookbooks, imagine what it is going to taste like when it is seasoned and succulent, and lick our lips.

 

 


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illustration & Graphic Design

Cleo's illustrations have been published in Taste magazine, The Bark magazine, The San Francisco Examiner, and Edible San Francisco.

Comfort Queens - is a licensed property based on best selling author Jennifer Louden's books and illustrated by Cleo Papanikolas. Visit www.comfortqueen.com for more details.

Graphic design; mural painting; web design and text for artisanbakers.com.

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PAINTINGS

all paintings: oil, ink jet print, thai mulbery paper, crinoline, rabbit skin glue.  Soup 48" x 64"  Spoon 26" x 39"  Pasta with Clam Sauce 47" x 70"  Cupcake 56" x 38"  Banana Split 53" x 54"

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Reviews for "Cook Until Desired Tenderness"

sautewednesday
I love Cleo Papanikolas's new book, " Color Cook Until Desired Tenderness".
Here's an excerpt:

I knew he wouldn't like the avocado and almond butter on sprouted wheat that I used to dredge out of the cooler in my childhood...I cut two delicately thin slices of a fresh pain de mie, lightly spread them with a cream of sweet butter and freshly grated horseradish, then laid on transparently thin slices of bresaola. I unclipped the sharpie marker from my dirty apron and in a delicate script on the top slice of bread wrote, "Bite me!" Then I threw it at him.

superchefblog
By JULIETTE ROSSANT

Cook Until Desired Tenderness (North Atlantic Books 2005) is a curious and interesting book about food, life and love. The author, Cleo Papanikolas is a painter and the book is filled with her illustrations. Her bio says that she "has earned her living painting pictures, murals, and decorative finishes on almost any surface." The book is described as a fictional journal of a culinary artist and it is written with rich and imaginative prose.

The first chapter takes place in a family's summer digs at a commune named Karma Clan Ranch, previously the MacKlaran Ranch, which the kids nickname Karmicland where the main character, Sugar discovers a tin recipe box in the neglected kitchen. Inside are recipe cards, many reproduced on the page along with illustrations of the dishes Sugar reads about straight out of a 1950s American home: Jell-O molds, sugary salads and Baked Alaska, completely opposite to the non-sugary food she is fed:The refrigerator never had a functioning light bulb. Inside its dark interior, only useless food: lecitin, tahini, wheat germ, brewers yeast, opened plastic bags of miso paste, Postum, canning jars of blended things like goat's milk or nut milk (whatever it was, it was once frothy but had separated and formed a skin on top).

Sugar longs for the unavailable, processed foods she reads about on the recipe cards. Among the recipe card are collection of letters and cards by Mrs. McKlaran about how she courted her future husband with food. These letters cover the pages with an elaborate script with so many flourishes and smudges that it's not clear the reader is suppose to spend the time deciphering them or not, and yet they are tantalizing. The recipes have aphorisms from the chef printed on the recipe cards like: "Appetizers are the introduction to the meal, and as the name suggests, are intended to tempt the appetite." Sugar mulls over the aphorisms and the long ago ups and downs of Mrs. McKlaren's as she reads the recipes smuggled into bed with her at night.

The next chapter is about a boyfriend whose favorite food is Jell-O and lives off of packaged foods stolen from fast food restaurants and convenience foods. "He neatly wrapped the marinated chicken in tinfoil packages with some herbed frozen vegetables and popped them into the oven. The food never touched his hands, dishes or counter, which left him free to work on me like the winning calf-tied in the rodeo." (p. 31) Sugar ends up cooking his family a Thanksgiving dinner in the boyfriend's kitchen, creates a mess, and then flees with the food. The rest of the book continues such adventures.

Cook Until Desired Tenderness is lavishly illustrated – spoons hanging from wall and chandelier, drawings of walk-ins and dishes.

This is an adult's novel-cum-picturebook. While you could just read the story, you feel compelled to marvel over the illustrations. Still, Cook Until Desired Tenderness is a coming-of-age story for Foodies that revolves around the way we eat and cook.

bigsweettooth

My Book of the Moment: Cook Until Desired Tenderness

Notebook thin but packed to the rim with hotshot (and often hysterical) one-liners, Cleo Papanikolas' new book is a beautifully illustrated sketchbook/walk-of-life about falling in and out of love, in and out of the kitchen.

This book is the sort of small treasure that had me plopping on the couch when I got it and not moving until I'd digested every single word and actually touched the pages covered with absolutely breathtaking drawings (all food-based, of course).

Cleo's character (though this is fiction, why do I feel like Cleo herself has lived to tell some of these stories?) waxes poetic throughout the book on the madness of relationships (that crazy high when you first meet someone and then, the heart-piercing low when it's time to get the hell out...and fast) and how she blazes her way through the kitchen (or not) to match each fellas personality. Who can't connect with that: Certain guys make you cook yourself silly and others have you not cooking at all.

There are no recipes in the book, but it never claimed to be a cookbook--it's more of a wild adventure into love, via the ups-and-downs of recipes (some turn out, some don't).

Cleo is a talented writer and I just loved the whimsical nature of this book. It left me wanting more, more, more by the end of the read and wishing that I could draw like that...oh, where life might have taken me with an ounce of her talent.

My favorite part is toward the end of the book where she is living in a one-room apartment and literally sleeping on a huge dining room table (she was too lazy to move it out when the previous tenants left), surrounded by silverware she's collected along the way to this existence. Sounds right up my alley.

slashfood

Book Review: Cook Until Desired Tenderness.
Posted Dec 3rd 2005 9:09AM by Andrew Barrow
Filed under: Books

What a wonderfully illustrated book. Absolutely packed with delightful coloured sketches by the author Cleo Papanikolas.

The back blurb says this is "an enchanting journey of reminiscences, drawings, and morsels of prose in which food is a love story..." There are five chapters; each telling a fictionalized food related story. Each is enchantingly written. The story covering food preparation in a restaurant kitchen is delightfully realised - the stress, the pressure, the fixation with a customer glimpsed through the serving hatch while the spoon collection - a short piece on a low point in a life has a quirky, sad edge with a touch of surreal madness. The story of trying to impress a lover with culinary extravagance is at once funny and also quirky. A lovely little book that would make a nice gift.

The author draws on her own restaurant experiences where she worked for many years. She resides in California.

Cooking With Amy

Remember the Griffin and Sabine books by Nick Bantock? They were beautiful, filled with the most amazing collage-style prints and illustrations. The stories were romantic and magical yet never mushy. They were like children's illustrated books but for adults.

Now imagine a culinary version and you have Cook Until Desired Tenderness, by Cleo Papanikolas. It's a gorgeous keepsake book that reads like a personal journal. Our heroine is Sugar, a girl growing up in the 70's in a household where refined sugar is forbidden. The story begins with her discovery of some old recipe cards and ends with her finding her place as a garde manger in a restaurant. But baked into the story you'll also find flirtations with spoons, a bite me sandwich, a nail cake, dinners gone awry and pots of butternut soup. A modern culinary fantasy, it has heartache, humor and a happy ending.

The illustrations are like a scrapbook of recipe cards, guest checks and watercolor creations. No actual recipes here, but a nice rainy day book to curl up with and savor over a cup of cocoa. If you crave a poetic mix of passion for cooking and cooking for passion, this slim volume is just the thing.

foodmusings

December 12, 2005
A Whimsical Book

"A delightful read, and a playful one." -- Catherine Nash, blogger, foodmusings.typepad.com This is how my review capsule might read on the back of Cleo Papanikolas's Cook Until Desired Tenderness, an illustrated "journal" about one woman's love of food. It's the kind of book that is handwritten in parts, and typeset in others; where old recipe cards are reproduced with watercolors on the pages and whimsical illustrations of cakes and pies, of chickens pecking in the dirt and of tarnished silverware run along the border of every page. In its decorated pages, a young girl grows up, discovering the world of food her hippie parents hid from her (no sugar!) as she discovers herself. It's a quick read, and one that I enjoyed plenty. It would have gone nicely with a cup of tea or a bowl of vanilla ice cream in my lap.

My favorite scene tells of a Thanksgiving meal eaten with a group of strangers on the hood of a 1964 Lincoln Continental. Prepared in a boyfriend's house, then packed up when he behaves badly, the turkey and mashed potatoes are shared on the road after an unseen accident stops traffic. People pile out of their cars at sunset, offering up whatever they had planned to contribute to the dinner they were driving towards.

"We were a dozen Thanksgiving stragglers: last-minute invites to even up guest lists. In front of us was the first calm, warm sunset on the bay -- with a view of the city and all the bridges -- that any of us had seen in a long time."

A few loves are won and lost, then mourned before the heroine finds herself a job in a restaurant kitchen, and this is when she falls in love for good. There are no recipes, but one thought caught my eye: she whips up a chocolate cake batter, then pours it into a large silver serving spoon and bakes it in the toaster oven till it's cooked outside but still molten inside. Doesn't that sound lovely?

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