The Lamb Shank Debacle

CHRISTMAS morning of 2017 started out rotten. Literally. I had visions of braising lamb shank in pomegranate juice. The shanks would naturally make stock in this process and later I would make a rich roux to thicken the stock for a savory pomegranate gravy to serve. Normally I cook the shanks in the slow cooker until the meat falls off the bone, but this time, I wanted to serve it on the bone for our friends Marlee & Bryan and for the sake of presentation, so a braise would be better. I did a three day mise en place and was very excited about my dish. The Dutch oven with the shanks had to go into the oven on a low temperature at 8 am in order to be ready for serving at noon. I cut open the shank wrapping and the stench of rotting meat nearly knocked me onto my butt. I felt about ready to burst into tears. My gorgeous dish and three days’s mise en place down the toilet. It’s not unusual for me to be faced with such a situation. While living in third world Africa, blue bread and green meat was almost a daily occurrence and not a day went by where I didn’t have to be resourceful in what I made to eat, so I packed my knives, went for a shower and came out with a plan. The whole Christmas menu had changed. Not as rich, hearty & home style as I would’ve hoped for, but not too bad either.

The whole situation took me back to the time we lived in Botswana. We were bikers and each of us had a Yamaha FZ6, a light monster of a super bike that got you places in a jiffy. On weekends, we often used to go riding to interesting spots and one Saturday morning early we were sitting on our farm house veranda, overlooking the African bush, having coffee, when I said, “I’m bored. I feel like doing something exciting.”

Husband: “Let’s hop on the bikes and ride to Vergelegen for lamb shank.” Now, Vergelegen is a boutique guest house in Kakamas near the Augrabies Falls on the brink of the sublime South African wine route. The guest house has an amazing restaurant that makes the best lamb shank I’ve ever eaten. (It was the memory of these shanks that inspired the Christmas shanks.) This means a seven hundred kilometer iron butt bike ride, crossing the Botswana border into South Africa to eat the lamb, spend the night and ride 700 kilometers back on Sunday morning so Stan can make it back in time for work. “Let’s do it!” I said excitedly.

This is Africa and good ideas can quickly become nightmarish. Suddenly, we’re lost. It’s almost 700 kilometers later and we’re in a town we do not recognize and nowhere near our destination. It was the days before GPS and we were struggling to find our bearings on a map, because of roadworks everywhere and the sign posts for detours were non-existent. “Do you want to turn back?” asks husband. “No, I don’t like going back,” I say, so we pull into a gas station to ask for directions. “You have to do another 300 kilometer loop to get to where you want to be,” says the attendant. Oh well. 300 kilometers forward is better than 700 kilometers backward, so back on the bikes we go and as the sun starts to set, we arrive, just in time for our shanks and a great bottle of red. We parked our weary thousand kilometer iron butts in our dining chairs, ate and drank with great gusto, fell into bed, woke up early and back onto the bikes we went for the 700 kilometer ride back to Botswana.

Thousand Seven Hundred Kilometer Bike Ride in Two Days Completed for Lamb Shank? Check. My Instagram profile says I will travel for food. I mean it! Happy 2018.

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