anapia papas, part dorman
If there is one reader who would actually make a dirt-clod oven, it's my 11th grade English teacher, Mr. Dorman.
He is still the best teacher I've ever had. He led us through Moby Dick, read Of Mice and Men out loud (he does a better Lenny than Malkovich and had all of us bawling with him by the end), and somehow convinced us along the way that grades don't matter and that writing well does.
As happens with most good teachers, he was reviled by the administration. It's unclear whether he quit or got fired, but soon after I graduated Mr. D left beachfront La Jolla High for podunk Sedro Woolley, WA, where his wife had inherited a huge plot of old-growth forestland. The school administration hates him there too, but job security is guaranteed in a place like Sedro Woolley so he's building a log cabin and a tree house.
We keep in sporadic touch. In his last email, he noted that the article below was "submitted to Gourmet magazine, rejected, and thus submitted to the editor of OpenKitchen." Good move. The snobs at Gourmet wouldn't know a dirt-clod if it hit them in the face.
A true champion of the everyman, Mr. D is here published in full.
Dirt-clod Potatoes, North American Style: Or, Dirt, Fire, Spuds, and a Microwave
Sedro Woolley, WA
As our favorite Southern Californian continues his journey across South America, I know many of you will be tempted to try to make your own dirt-clod oven and roast potatoes. Well, you should. It's a wonderful experience in authentic cooking. What follows are a few helpful notes from someone just like you: i.e. someone who would starve to death without grocery stores and microwaves.
First, as you are constructing your 43rd dirt-clod oven (because the goddam thing has caved in on 42 previous attempts), don't feel bad: all South American farmers have advanced degrees in civil engineering and apparently nothing else to do but practice making dirt-clod ovens which have the same proportions as Saint Paul's cathedral.
List of necessaries (remember, Tradition is an important part of this adventure, so don't leave out any of the details):
1. Approximately 900 dirt-clods. It only takes 20 or so dirt-clods to construct an oven, but remember, you're going to actually build 43 of these bad boys before you complete one without the son-of-a-bitching roof collapsing in just as you lay the last clod on top. For a truly authentic oven, you should consult a theoretical mathematician to confirm that your clods are geometrically shaped so that, no matter how you rest them on top of another clod, they tip over. 2. A John Deere excavator (and, of course, the semi truck and flatbed trailer to get it to your cooking site). I made my oven the day after we dug out the basement of the house we are constructing. I had approximately 43,000 cubic meters of soil from which to select my dirt-clods, and I have to say that I couldn't have done it with less.
3. Thirty acres of land. The resulting distance to the next house will allow you to avoid offending your neighbors when your 42nd oven collapses and you scream out an apostrophic expletive involving a man in an unusually intimate relationship with his mom--a man who does not know the identity of his father who never married his mom--a man who, as a part of your loud exclamation, should be divinely disallowed from entering heaven.
4. Twelve potatoes. This will allow you to have one potato burnt worse than John Milton ever burnt a fallen angel, one potato as raw as the first time it was pulled out of dirt, and ten potatoes which will not fit in the tiny-ass oven you made.
5. A big, well-dried log of prime firewood.
6. A sharp hand-ax.
7. A flat-blade shovel.
Again, DO NOT OMIT ANY OF THESE NECESSARIES. IF YOU DO, YOU WILL FAIL.
The Basic Steps:
Step 1: Promise your wife a tasty, nutritious, authentic, South American dinner. Spend the morning boasting about how splendid a thing a dirt-clod oven is in the hands of a master chef.
Step 2: Spend about an hour walking around the gigantic piles of earth your excavator has dug up selecting just the right dirt-clods. You can collect all 900 at once, or just enough to make each failed oven. It's important that each clod be either the size of a golfball or the size of the statue's head in the Lincoln Memorial. The perfect clod is shaped so strangely that Salvador Dali would get seasick just looking at it.
Step 3: Since no semi-literate South American farmer is going to kick your ass, start with a circle of dirt-clods big enough to make an oven for about 40 potatoes. Carefully select clods to begin building up each level of your oven. Since you were overconfident, your oven will collapse while it still looks like a primitive corral for a quadruplegic guinea pig.
Step 4: Scale down your expectations. Try smaller ovens. You will know that you've got the right size when it doesn't collapse until you are setting the last clod on top to form the roof.
Step 5: By now you are on your 28th oven attempt. A satellite photo of you would look like a seated madman surrounded by little dirt piles.
Step 6: Your 30th oven did not collapse. But you forgot to make a little door through which to insert fire material and potatoes. Try pulling out one of the bottom clods. Pick the one shaped like Marilyn Monroe's hips. Pull it out quickly. Your oven will collapse. Again, at the top of your lungs, make reference to that man participating in an unusually intimate relationship with his mother. Don't just yell it as four mere syllables. Put your dirty hands on your ashen cheeks like Edvard Muench's Scream and howl it out as four entirely distinct words.
Step 7: Your wife is becoming agitated--well, actually downright terrified. Go apologize to her. When she suggests that the neighbors might also need an apology tell her they can stuff a dirt-clod up their intolerant asses.
Step 8: Your 43rd attempt has remained oven-shaped. Unfortunately it's so small that there will only be room for some chips of alder wood and two medium potatoes. Nonetheless, you are a survivor, a man who could live off the land, a true dirt-clod chef. Do not sneeze, walk, or talk near your oven. If your wife gets near your oven, calmly warn her to stay away: the best way to do this is to frantically wave your arms over your head while screaming something incoherent prefaced with "Jesus H. Christ, woman!".
Step 9: Time to cook, baby. Since you are so covered with dirt you look like Caliban in a high school version of The Tempest, ask your wife to wash a couple of potatoes for you. When she asks why she should wash food that is going to be stuck into dirt, tell her she just doesn't understand authentic South American cooking.
Step 10: While the spuds are being scrubbed (which you realize is a stupid thing to ask of your wife, but DO NOT ADMIT IT), start the fire. Since the door in your oven is so small that mice could not get in, this will be quite a challenge. Use the tongs to put kindling and small chips of wood into the oven. Light it. Yell to your wife to close the windows of the house so she doesn't die of smoke inhalation. Continue using the tongs to add fuel to the ¨fire¨.
Step 11: Surprisingly enough, you've got a small oven full of smoldering coals. Congratulations. Now use the tongs to slide two potatoes into your oven.
Step 12: The next step is to collapse the oven on top of your potatoes so that they can cook more efficiently. You will not want to do this, since it took you seven hours to build this pile of dirt-clods. Be brave. At this point, you will discover that the oven refuses to collapse, which is surprising since the 42 previous ovens collapsed because a man in Australia swatted a fly. Push harder. Harder.
Step 13: Your oven has collapsed. Unfortunately it did not collapse on top of the potatoes and the coals. The steaming hot clods are rolling across the lawn, leaving your potatoes exposed. However, since you did not omit any of The Necessaries, you have a pair of good gloves. Grab those smokin' clods and pile them on the potatoes. Now strut around the yard as if you were the man who first invented food. Pump your fist once or twice. Speak calming words to your wife before she calls for help.
Step 14: The correct time for cooking as the South American farmers do it is nine days. However, you promised your wife dinner, so you only need leave them in for an hour. They're perfect when the whole neighborhood smells like roasted dirt. Pull those spuds out. They'll look like the derrieres of Renaissance angels on top and Hawaiian lava rock on the bottom.
Step 15: Place potatoes in microwave oven for five minutes. Ordinarily it takes eight or nine minutes to cook two potatoes in a microwave, so you can rationalize your 10 hours of work by explaining to your wife that it saved three minutes of microwaving.
Step 16: Crack them babies open and pretend like a charcoal briquet is your favorite food.
Step 17: Read openkitchenblog.blogspot.com at least once a week for good cooking ideas!