Comes the Strange

Posted: November 15th, 2012 under Craft, the writing life.
Tags: ,

I don’t know if this will continue, but there’s a stuffed cow in Book V.    There’s a stuffed cow in Book V partly because of an email I got some months back, but also because, as soon as I got the email, the stuffed cow appeared in the book.  At first for no reason.  I stared (mentally) at the stuffed cow and it didn’t even look back.  It wasn’t a very good stuffed cow.  It was big, and badly done, and ugly, and smelled some.  WHY was there a stuffed cow in my book?    I understood it had something to do with the impetus of the email, but not what it had to do with the story.

Then one day it sort of did.  But that didn’t go anywhere.  A dozen times I almost erased the file with the stuffed cow in it.  Stupid stuffed cow.  Does not belong here.  This is not a funny story.   Or a story about taxidermy (good or bad) or….anything to do with stuffed cows.  There’s a plot problem hiding behind the stuffed cow…I want to ditch the stuffed cow and get on with it.

But there it was, and some instinct insisted that I not delete the stuffed cow.  Time went by.  I worked on other chapters.  But the part of that chapter that wasn’t about the stuffed cow was important, and needed work, and yet it wouldn’t go.  The stuffed cow was in the way.   The ugly stuffed cow I couldn’t delete, for no reason I could understand.

Finally, this afternoon, months later, while Pavarotti waxed soulful about having signed up to be a soldier and leaving home on my CD player  (Donizetti.  “L’Elisir d’Amore”)  the chain barring the way fell down.    Suddenly the stuffed cow had a purpose.  I distrust the purpose, as I distrusted the stuffed cow when it first appeared, but…it’s there.   The stuffed cow, in all its ridiculousness, has wormed  (shoved?) its way into the story.

I tell you this now, a terrible spoiler, in one way, because there’s still a chance that the stuffed cow won’t be there when you finally hold Book V in your hands (or the e-reader in your hands with Book V on a screen.)     Even if the stuffed cow is there, it may be used in a different way.  But a stuffed cow is representative of how things sometimes go with my creative process (so-called.)  Things appear as I’m writing,  and I toss many of them out (plaster rooster?  No thanks.   Pair of bright orange boots with fake silver toe and heel coverings?  No thanks.  Adorable kitten with a big pink bow?  No, thanks.   Etc.) while others, equally peculiar and unplanned,  fit immediately–the puzzle piece I hadn’t known was missing, because it arrived before I’d worked to that point.

One of these was the puppy in Vatta’s War.   While I was doing something else (getting Ky outfitted with a really good sidearm and bulletproof vest),  one of her less able employees turned around and–to my complete surprise–had a puppy in his hands.   I knew the puppy had to be there (though not why) and I had to defend the puppy from a very strong suggestion that I should “lose the dog.”   I had to promise it would bite a bad guy at a critical moment.  Which it did, besides having other useful roles to play.

But a stuffed cow that’s not even a good stuffed cow?  Not a toy stuffed cow but a life-sized cowhide over an amateurish framework?

For a high-five from me and three points…what do you think the stuffed cow is doing in Book V?   Or do you think it won’t be there when you read the book?


  • Comment by elizabeth — November 25, 2012 @ 8:04 pm


    Sam: I’ve always wondered what “gammon” is…chopped or minced meat, I thought, from the context of some book or other. Evidently not?

    A ham, in the US, means a large roastable portion of a pig’s hindquarter. (There is something called “turkey ham” which is not made from a turkey’s hindquarter and is artificially flavored to taste like the true, pork, ham. Usually sold in slices to people who won’t touch red meat.) Hams are sold in a variety of configurations–bone in, boneless, a cut of boneless compressed into a can, etc. Hams are processed to some degree before cooking–brined, or smoked, or both, and these days often pre-cooked. During the brining or smoking, they’re often infused with other flavors (locally popular–mesquite smoked hams.) “Spiral sliced hams” are an easy main dish for busy cooks–they’re pre-cooked, and often packaged with a glaze you can use or not, as you choose, and no one has to be expert at carving–the slicing’s already done. The hams I buy come with two glaze packets–a dry one of spices and crystallized honey, and a wet packet of chemicals and corn syrup, which I throw out immediately. The dry spice/honey packet isn’t too bad, though I always do something with it, if I use it at all. Typically, mush up some pears in a little apple cider and a lot of brown sugar and use that instead, or in addition to, along with mustard. Not YOUR mustard, but OUR mustard.

    I prefer the dry cured smoked hams, but they’re very expensive, the good ones. I practically fainted in ecstasy the first time I had Serrano ham. But. Cost here, guilt-making. So we mostly eat the others. When it’s not for holidays, I rub a ham (not paying extra then for spiral-slicing, though there are sales), and rub the ham with a mix of herbs and spices, and don’t use glaze at all. Any part of a ham that doesn’t slice easily (quite a lot, often) is then pulled off the bone, cut into cubes or diced or shredded (I’m thorough!) and packaged for later use in 2 cup lots. Many uses for such in many kinds of things. The bones, of course, go in with pots of beans.

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 25, 2012 @ 8:09 pm


    Genko: The term “ham” in the US always refers to the pig-type ham, unless prefaced by the other animal’s name. (Turkey ham–an abomination, IMO.) Glazes are often sold with hams, but are not usually part of the curing process…they’re added in the final cooking. When I was a child, we got an entirely different kind of ham (dry-cured, smoked) that had to be first boiled, to remove the heavy salt from the curing, and then baked. Now the hams I buy are fully cooked, not salty at all, and need only “warming” in the oven and then a short time at a higher temperature to caramelize the glaze on the outside.

    The same cut from beef is just called a roast (with many specific names for exactly where on the beef butt it’s taken from.)

  • Comment by mikelabb — November 26, 2012 @ 8:36 am


    Ginny W. Yes, a slow cooker is the same as a crock pot. It’s a usually a ceramic pot which sits in an electrically heated case, and cooks for a long time at a low temperature (or something similar to go in the oven
    ). I have a 2 litre pot, into which I chop meat, vegetables, stock and spices etc., then switch on and forget till the next day. As I am single (and not a good cook!), this provides two large meals minimum. I am going to buy myself a Slow Cooker recipe book for a Christmas present; I should be able to make assorted desserts as well with any luck. Hope you all had a good Thanksgiving.

  • Comment by Richard — November 26, 2012 @ 10:24 am


    your childhood salt-cured ham sounds like what I’d call gammon (after the boiling).

    In the UK ham now comes from the supermarket’s deli counter in pancake-thin slices to be eaten cold. In the days of butcher’s shops the slices may have been thicker. (Cross-section slices of the thigh, I guess.) One way to eat ham is as filling in a sandwich. Gammon is served hot, in thicker pieces. Maybe only a pedant can distinguish a joint of gammon from one of bacon. (Bacon much more often coming as rashers for frying, of course.) Ham, gammon and bacon are all pink, quite different from roast pork.

  • Comment by elizabeth — November 26, 2012 @ 11:19 am


    Bacon comes from a different part of the pig…that’s why you get a “side” of bacon (if you buy that much) and a “joint” of ham/gammon. A lot of US bacon is made from the belly (not “high on the hog” at all) but bacon is also made from the top (back bacon) and sides (with no special name except “side of bacon”–though that term is used for the slab that’s then sliced into bacon strips (or rashers.)

    My dictionary (which I finally looked in, after lazily not) says that “gammon” can also be the “lower end of a side of bacon.”

    We can buy ham sliced in various thicknesses, including the paper-thin “deli-sliced” ham for sandwiches, and the thicker slabs intended for frying or grilling. Pan-fried ham with red-eye gravy…YUM. Both ham and bacon are cured meats, and thus very different from fresh pork.

  • Comment by NancyNew — November 26, 2012 @ 11:43 am


    Could it be a Trojan Cow?

  • Comment by Ginny W. — November 26, 2012 @ 2:24 pm


    NancyNew: The way this thread is going, probably a corned beef.

  • Comment by Sam Barnett-Cormack — November 27, 2012 @ 3:51 am


    True gammon is hindquarter, either as a sizeable joint for roasting, boiling etc, or as steaks. It may be smoked, I assume it’s cured (otherwise it wouldn’t be salty as it is), and it’s usually sold near the bacon in the supermarket. Sometimes bacon gets dressed as gammon, and there is a bit of overlap in the areas, but it would usually be back bacon; the area that meets the hindquarter. Bacon and gammon have the main point in common that they are cured, AIUI (and both from pig, of course).

    It’s rare for gammon to be sold on the bone, though; pretty much the only mammal joints sold on the bone here are lamb ones, mostly legs, and even that is available with the bone removed. Lamb shoulder, too. Traditional butchers will sell other on-bone cuts of various things. Beef on the bone was banned for a while, I think it’s been re-legalised now, but it’s not popular any more. Various smaller portions will have small amounts of bone in, but not joints so often.

    We only call it ham, generally, if it’s cured, cooked (one way or another), and sliced into a sandwich meat. It’s the same parts of the pig as gammon. The two words are very much cognate, of course.

    Most bacon here is back bacon, but you can buy streaky (which is the style of bacon pretty much universally meant in the US if you just say ‘bacon’), and some traditionalists get middle bacon, which is the back and the streaky still attached to one another. Occasionally, you get bacon medallions, which are well-trimmed, roughly the same part as Canadian peameal bacon, but prepared differently. Then there’s bacon steaks, which are not the same as gammon steaks, coming from a different part of the pig. They’re basically back rashers or medallions, but much thicker.

    Yes, a slow cooker is a crockpot. Marvellous for me and my fiancée because the effort takes place so long before eating, so whichever of us cooks isn’t too tired to eat.

  • Comment by Richard — November 27, 2012 @ 4:03 am


    my dictionary confirms the word “gammon” is related to French gambon, so it is another of those posh words from the castle like “mutton” and “beef”.

  • Comment by Sam Barnett-Cormack — November 27, 2012 @ 4:07 am


    Of course, Elizabeth’s post at 51 brings up another difference in terms between US and UK – here, ‘cider’ is an alcoholic beverage made from apples, and the terms is sometimes applied to that made from pears as well (more traditionally called ‘perry’), sometimes other fruit. I believe American’s call that ‘hard cider’. What Americans call cider, we call cloudy apple juice or pressed apple juice.

    We make cider glazes and sauces as well, but if it’s called that, it’s made from the alcoholic stuff.

  • Comment by Sam Barnett-Cormack — November 27, 2012 @ 4:09 am


    Richard @59: ham comes from the same routes as well. Pork comes from Norman French as well, from the term for the animal itself. A lot of English meat words come from Norman French, as it was the nobility who got to eat more of the meat.

  • Comment by Ginny W. — November 27, 2012 @ 11:07 am


    Sam, “Cider” means different things here. If you order cider in a bar, it is alcoholic (and probably imported from England). Otherwise it is sweet, pressed from fallen apples. As a child, I lived in the New York State apple country (mid-Hudson Valley) and we would visit the local cider mill, and cider was available only in the fall. Cider (sweet) is still much more available in the fall, but preservatives being what they are now, you can buy it any time of year. Then, we would buy it in the fall, but if there was any left after Christmas, it would turn hard (alcoholic). Hot cider, with cinnamon and cloves and just a hint of nutmeg, was and is a favorite “come in from the cold drink” for me and my family.

  • Comment by Sam Barnett-Cormack — November 27, 2012 @ 1:26 pm


    I make mulled cider (in the alcoholic sense) in the winter, and some make mulled apple juice (usually using what would be called cider in the US) as a absolutely-non-alcoholic version. Slow cooker is great for that as well, mulled booze made in the slow cooker loses less of its alcohol, as best I can tell.

  • Comment by Linda — November 27, 2012 @ 1:40 pm


    In Vermont one of the old, old cider mills, owned by Willis and Tina Woods in Weathersfield, makes cider jelly. It is sweet cider which has had so much of the water boiled out of it that it becomes syrupy and thick. Great on toast and so forth, in recipes, and yes, as a glaze on ham. They also do a cider/maple syrup combo, and so forth.

    They sell it on-line these days and their website is a cool look at things still being done the old way.

  • Comment by Naomi — November 27, 2012 @ 3:23 pm


    Here in Brussels you can get ham hocks, leg of ham that is carved from the bone (delicious) and gammon steaks that are thick slices of a ham joint… ah well.

  • Comment by Elizabeth D. — November 27, 2012 @ 11:50 pm


    Back to the cow: I immediately thought of the Medieval “La Vache Qui Ri,” the laughing cow, that was fattened and thrown out to hostile forces to prove that there was still plenty of food inside a sieged city. The hostile forces went away.

    But as this is a stuffed cow and wouldn’t fool anybody, I thought it might be more symbolic, as in the fight between two swineherds, or rather magic users, in the Irish epic, “The Cattle Raid of Cooley.” (Look up “The Tain.” I can’t spell the rest in Irish.) This was the source of the phrase, “How now brown cow?” and is a good source to look up on various (and horrible) forms of warfare. The dun cow was the only item that was not equivalent in the fortunes of a husband and wife, so they went to war over it.

    The price of a milk-cow was the highest price paid to a bard for the most complex rhyme and rhythm structure in an epic poem; the cow was by far the greatest gift a person could receive. Because bards became too expensive, they were licensed so they would not be disbanded. For saving the bards, a poem was written about St. Columba, but the meaning was well hidden at his request. Other than interesting references, I am fed up with current news from Ireland (moment of silence for Savita).

    A relic of Gird or anybody else wouldn’t smell bad, and if it did smell bad, it wouldn’t have lasted from his time. I couldn’t see it being used for blood magic, as there are plenty of unwilling human victims. A cow could be a fertility symbol too: or just an old sign from a cheese store that was put away and forgotten. It seems like a waste of good shoe leather, so there must have been a very good reason for it. Something to try to bring fertility in desperation?

    I’ve heard of cows gathering on alpine hills to listen to the long alpine horn, but I would think that a cow skin would keep other cows away… a “scare-cow?”

    We do turkey at Thanksgiving; my husband isn’t supposed to have nitrates or nitrites, which would make one of those organic hams too expensive. We only had 13 over (some couldn’t make it), but they almost finished a 16 lb. bird (and potatoes, cinnamon-ginger yams, green beans, creamed onions, stuffing, gravy, and of course pumpkin and minced-meat pie.) We insist on everything homemade, which means that I sleep a lot afterwards. At least Pamela did the pumpkin pie: she used up all those pumpkins that Aedan insisted he had to buy and hadn’t cut up, and now we have frozen pies.

  • Comment by Iphinome — November 28, 2012 @ 4:28 am


    @Elizabeth D

    *giggle* Murum vaccas attigit!

  • Comment by Sam Barnett-Cormack — November 28, 2012 @ 6:46 am


    Linda, that sounds like apple butter minus the most solid bits. Interesting.

  • Comment by Richard — November 28, 2012 @ 7:13 am


    yes, pork comes by way of French from the animal in Latin – according to my dictionary which cites an Old English origin for ham along with a related word in German (dialect). Then there is venison by way of French from, in Latin, not the animal but the activity of hunting it. Just as we can have “game pie”.

    Thinking about “gammon” I missed the fine distinction between buying ham and buying a ham.

    But why pig, hog and swine?

  • Comment by Richard — November 28, 2012 @ 7:31 am


    Elizabeth D,
    I took your advice and found

    Had you heard the suggestion (how seriously meant I don’t know) that Calatin Dana and his sons all fighting as one man were Roman soldiers (javelin-armed Auxilia Palatina) who’d somehow found their way into the story?

    you don’t have to specify your cow’s color if you don’t want to.

  • Comment by Jenn — November 28, 2012 @ 11:10 am


    Elizabeth D

    If the cow was just from an old Girdish cheese store do you think they would have sold Girds and whey?

  • Comment by Ginny W. — November 28, 2012 @ 11:57 am


    Elizabeth D.: Tain Bo Cualinge (accents on “a” in Tain and “o” in Bo. Bo means cow. It translates as “The Cattle Raid of Cooley (spelling variable on the last). Thanks for the reminder of an epic I really love!

  • Comment by tuppence — November 30, 2012 @ 12:23 am


    A thought on your question about stripes: in a world where society is very structured and had either formal or informal sumptuary laws, individuals who dressed in random colors were signalling that they were outside the norms of their society. Medieval fools were frequently dressed in pied colors, and then there is the Pied Piper who was a magical trickster. The proper merchants of Hamelin should have taken one look at his clothes and known that he was trouble-even more than the rats!

    Said thoughts triggered as I was knitting with stripy yarn. You tempted me into socks!

  • Comment by Wickersham's Conscience — November 30, 2012 @ 2:41 pm


    It’s been a long time since your last post, Ms. Moon. Are you okay?

    When it was a long time between Rich Burlew’s updates to his Order of the Stick webcomic, it turned out he’d sliced off the thumb on his right hand (it’s reattached and he is doing well).

    But the incident has made me anxious… We understand your have a Real Life, and that it is none of our business. But still.


  • Comment by Ginny W. — December 1, 2012 @ 11:45 am


    Wickersham’s Conscience: Sometimes silence from the Author means pages of prose for us. … Wishfully thinking. But thank you for expressing the concern, which I also share – especially in view of the not-entirely-harmonious bicycle relationship in Elizabeth’s life. But perhaps there is a transcendentally harmonious relationship with Christmas music that is taking up her free time.

    I am wishing blessings on us all, and Elizabeth especially, since the Advent season starts tomorrow for those of us who celebrate it.

  • Comment by Daniel Glover — December 3, 2012 @ 7:36 am


    Wickersham and Ginny (and everyone else)

    Our good author has posted on her blog link about bikes etc. Take a look at the link for the “Live Journal” feed on the homepage here.

  • Comment by elizabeth — December 4, 2012 @ 6:34 pm


    I’m sorry–things got very hectic, but I’m fine. I just lost all track of time. Will try to do better.

  • Comment by lisa — December 6, 2012 @ 8:29 pm


    A pig is a young porcine animal. A hog is said animal grown, annoying as allhell, and ready for slaughter. Swine are what you have when you have a bunch of them, and the group is called a sounder. Herding swine is much more annoying than herding cats, and just as difficult.

    Bacon here is the middle third of the belly, usually from just at the ribs: I cut off the cartilaginous ends when I’m butchering–to close to the nipples. I usually trim it there and use the rest for saltpork. Bacon is salted and cured and then smoked for flavor: here, over applewood in a very rickety homemade smokehouse with much swearing required to keep smoke up.

    Ham is the hindquarter which is trimmed, injected with brine because my hogs are huge, rubbed repeatedly with dry salt and hung. I refrigerate them—we are in the south–until the cure starts to take. I have a feeling that what you call “back bacon” we might call loin.

    Corned beef is beef packed in a barrel with salt and cure and spices. It makes its own brine and is yummy. You usually use the tougher bits as the process tenderizes it.

  • Comment by Sam Barnett-Cormack — December 8, 2012 @ 8:21 am


    Back bacon comes from the loin, with a little bit of belly attached (traditionally), but we don’t use the term loin for it once it’s made into bacon. “Pork loin” implies that it’s prepared some other way than bacon – usually just butchered to make chops or joints or whatever. Though we also get ‘bacon chops’, where the loin and a bit of belly are cured and (optionally) smoked into bacon, and then sliced much thicker than bacon rashers.

    Then there’s middle bacon, where the loin is attached to a full strip of belly – so it’s like back bacon and streaky bacon combined. Not as popular as it used to be.

    Whether I use back or streaky bacon depends on what I’m doing with it (and who I’m cooking for). Streaky gives the best flavour when you’re cutting it up and making sauce or soup with it, but my OH is a bit fussy about the fatty bits. Cooking for her, I use back, cut the meat out from the fatty bits (and cut the meat up), render some of the fat out of the fatty bits (for flavour), then cook with that fat.

  • Comment by Barry Carter — January 6, 2013 @ 11:27 am


    Holy Cow!
    Just noodling about and became enmeshed in “Stuffed Cow” and all the gastronomy which is fascinating. Just wending my way through the porcine bits…
    While ruminating on cows in general, I wondered if the “cow” in question might not be a domestic bovine but, rather, a female of another species and that led me a bit further afield to a bit of woolgathering regarding references to cows in general which led me to a consideration of cash cows and, obviously, pinatas which might be filled with cash and could indeed be over-large and even shaped like a bovine (or other)”cow” which, when suitably hoisted and whacked sufficiently, might yield considerable cash which would knock the stuffing out of mere candy and the trinkets more often associated with pinatas.
    This then led me to a consternation of camels and the challenges of dromedary milking, wayward kicking and the necessary consideration of single or dual humps. Humps which may be revealed as elder Dragons who are known to occasionally encourage the meeting and subsequent transport of tongues which may result in all manner of revelation on a near-biblical scale.
    And so, I found my way to “Holy Cow”.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment