Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Tough Stuff...

Every month, I pick up a box of food from Angel Food Ministries. $30 for a box of bulk-purchased food that they say will feed a family of 4 for a week, but I have no problem stretching it out for my family of 5, even if some smaller people are eating more than the bigger people. It's easy to incorporate the contents of one of these boxes into our monthly meals, and makes a huge difference for our food budget. Often there is an ... interesting... package of chicken in the box. One month the was a frozen package of "chicken breast pieces" that was exactly that - pieces and bits of breasts, scraps I imagine, but all good meat. This month it was bone-in leg quarters. Usually when we get the bone-in chicken, I just fry it in whatever odd cut comes out of the package. This time I decided I'd boil it down for meat and broth.

Now, I'd never done this before, as much as I'd heard how much money can be saved by buying whole chickens or irregular cuts and boiling them. I'd never done it because I get a bit squeamish with meat, especially when bones are involved. I had the same problem last summer when we were bringing home fresh-caught catfish every week or so. After seeing the fish alive, then picking out bits of bone or skin missed in cleaning, soaking (and smelling) the fish overnight, and handling it repeatedly, I was so grossed out I'd convinced myself the fish was nasty. I couldn't make myself swallow it.

I thawed this chicken and cooked it for a couple of hours in a big pot full of water with a lid. After it had cooled for a while, I pulled the chicken out of the stock to find the meat "falling off the bone". (This term might make a lot of people's mouth water, but in my case, it makes me a bit ill to think about.) I stripped off the skin and picked the meat from the bones with my hands, and for the first several minutes I really thought I might hurl. I was a bit surprised (and not pleasantly, I can tell you) to find other stuff with the meat. Like a bit of spinal bones and a couple of unidentifiable (to me anyway) organs. When I started to feel faint, I called Vic in to help me.

The work was tedious, because I was being extremely careful not to leave any teeny bits of bone or cartilage in with the meat. But I noticed after a while that it was getting easier and easier for me to handle. I was no longer fighting my gag reflex. I realized it was because the more I focused on the job at hand and its benefits, I was thinking less about the gory details. I happily realized I had enough meat and broth for two or three meals here, instead of just the one meal of fried chicken I was used to. I was chatting with my husband, laughing even, feeding bits of skin or whatever to the desperately begging cats at my feet. Holy crap, I was actually having fun. Considering the amount of meat and broth I'd gotten out of the deal, heck.. this was easy. I should do this every time.

There is a homeschooling lesson here. A life lesson, even. If you keep your eyes open, there is always a lesson, isn't there? Because sometimes the idea of doing something you're not used to, have never done, or don't know much about, sounds horrifying. You can pretty easily become overwhelmed with the details, even if it seemed like a good idea when you started. If you focus on all the nasty bits, you become so disgusted that you completely miss the point of doing it in the first place. But when you concentrate on the job at hand, focus on the benefits, all the negatives are at least worth dealing with. If you're lucky, you'll stop seeing them as negatives at all. Just tiny details in a bigger picture - the benefits are what matter.

So now I have about 3 pounds of meat and enough broth for a few meals tucked away in my freezer. I have 3 kids growing into intelligent, wonderful people, even if raising them sometimes seems hard and homeschooling them sometimes doesn't seem worth it. I have a great marriage, even when the stress of inlaws and disagreements make it seem unbearable. The benefits are what matter. We're doing great, and it was easy.