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Dispatches : Books

The Death of David Oliver Relin

According to a just-released report from the Multnomah County (Oregon) Sheriff’s Office, Three Cups of Tea co-author David Oliver Relin did not leave behind a note or an email explaining why he chose to commit suicide last month, but his wife believes that problems stemming from antidepressant withdrawal may have been a factor.

Relin’s wife, Dawn Relin, did not respond to an interview request from Outside, but in an interview with detectives done on the day Relin died, she said he had been depressed for more than a year, had been seeing two different counselors, and had been taking several medications as he searched for a combination that might prove consistently effective. In a follow-up email to detectives, she speculated that Relin’s attempts to withdraw from one of the drugs—which wasn’t named—could have influenced his decision to end his life by putting himself in the path of a moving freight train.

“David had recently stopped taking an antidepressant—one that is notoriously difficult to get off of,” she wrote on December 4. “I have since learned that one of the possible side effects of the medication may be an increased risk of suicidal thoughts.”

When Dawn was interviewed on November 15, the day Relin died, she mentioned that Relin had aired the topic of suicide in the past, but not lately. “Dawn said that David had made suicidal comments before, but nothing recent,” detective Kenneth D. Yohe wrote in his report. “ ...Dawn talked about how David was a successful author ... and that he ran into problems when there were questions raised about the source of the book and subsequent law suits were filed against David who was a co-author.”

Dawn told detectives that David gave her a list of passwords and pin numbers the night before he killed himself, but she clearly didn’t see that as a signal he was planning something drastic. As the report makes clear, she was utterly shocked and devastated when detectives told her the news of his death at their home, in part because the worst of Relin’s legal problems appeared to be behind him. “[W]hile I mentioned that David had been depressed about the lawsuit, things had started to improve,” she wrote in her email. “The case had been dismissed, and we had reason to believe its dismissal was going to be upheld.”

In addition, Relin had finished work on an important new book about the Himalayan Cataract Project, an effort to treat preventable blindness through affordable cataract surgery in remote parts of the world. In her email, Dawn said he was “looking forward to its publication.” Titled Second Suns: Two Doctors and Their Amazing Quest To Restore Sight and Save Lives, the book is still scheduled to be published by Random House in June 2013.

In her reference to a lawsuit, Dawn meant the civil suit brought by several plaintiffs in 2011, after 60 Minutes and Jon Krakauer aired and published reports showing that Three Cups of Tea contained numerous fabrications. Relin was named in the suit along with co-author Greg Mortenson, the Central Asia Institute, Penguin Publishing, and MC Consulting (a company owned by Mortenson). It was thrown out of a federal district court in Montana last April but is currently under appeal.

Relin never publicly commented on the suit, which alleged that fabrications in the book amounted to criminal fraud against readers who purchased it. In an interview with Outside done at the time of the 60 Minutes broadcast, Mortenson offloaded some of the blame for the book’s shortcomings on Relin, saying that “omissions and compressions” in the text resulted from long-distance back and forth between them and the use of literary license by both men to streamline stories.

Relin apparently had his own set of grievances about Mortenson. In a New York Times obituary about Relin, his agent, Elizabeth Kaplan, said that he and Mortenson had had a difficult professional relationship, and that Relin thought Mortenson should not have been named as a co-author of Three Cups of Tea.

The county sheriff’s report also fills in the grim details about how Relin chose to end his life. Sometime after midday on the 15th, as a 4,000-foot-long Union Pacific freight train rolled by on a rural stretch of track near the Columbia River east of Portland, Relin lay down close to the track and apparently positioned himself to be struck fatally on the head. The conductor of a second train, Jeffery Brown, saw his body on the track a few minutes later and called 911. Officers were on the scene within minutes. Relin, dressed in blue jeans, a black jacket, and gray athletic shoes, had suffered a large trauma wound to his head and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Before long, other deputies, detectives, and a medical examiner arrived, emptied Relin’s pockets, and put his body on a gurney. Relin was carrying credit cards, his driver’s license, a daily/weekly pill container, an iPhone, and one seemingly odd thing: $2,000 in cash, all in hundreds, tucked inside a bank envelope. There were no last words, just a note with his home phone number, instructing whoever found it to contact Dawn in case of emergency.

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How to Gut and Cook Tree Rat

"Staying in the house breeds a sort of insanity always." —Henry David Thoreau

SHORTHAND
Cook gutted, skewered squirrel 12-18" over a bed of coals, rotating every two minutes. Remove when joints in back legs separate easily, about 20 minutes

TOTAL TIME
Approximately 35 minutes, plus time to start the fire and find your skewers

GEAR
Kindling; Coleman fire-starting paste (optional); knife; one-two sticks for skewering; two-four forked sticks

OPTIONAL MUSIC PAIRING
"Animal Rap Instrumental" by Jedi Mind Tricks

Perhaps you think that squirrels are cute, mute little creatures.

Not so. They produce a chirp-squeal akin to a Jack Russell digging through a chalkboard. I know this because the little devils woke me throughout college from a branch outside my window at 6 a.m. or earlier. In Princeton, New Jersey, rumor has it, squirrels were once part of a breeding experiment at the university. The result? Thousands of racket-making rodents with odd coloration straight out of Pimp My Squirrel—dots, zebra patterns, racing stripes, and so on.

Just before Steve Rinella and I rendezvoused in South Carolina, where I could order a hunting license online instead of spending weeks on paperwork (in California), he sent me the itinerary via email:

"OK, we'll shoot rifles on Friday. Saturday morning we'll go for deer. We'll hunt pigeons during the day with shotguns. Then we'll do deer again if we want that evening. Sunday we can hunt deer or squirrels in the morning or else concentrate on our meat packaging and preparations."

Reading this, I felt like Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride. Did he say ... squirrels?

COOKING SQUIRRELS
Steve once lived on a beach in Mexico (literally on the beach) for a month with his brother. The routine consisted of catch-and-release fishing for bonefish, and catch-and-kill fishing for barracuda and snapper, which they cooked on spits. They drank water from coconuts, and dried coconut husks served as fuel for the cooking fire.

Under more luxurious circumstances (i.e., having a decent backpack), he would have packed a multifuel stove like the Whisperlite or Optimus, sometimes referred to as "slut" stoves sine they take anything: diesel, unleaded, propane, kitten farts, etc.

We'll explain spit cooking (a la vara in Spanish) with squirrel. The explanations under each step are Steve's.

00: GET THE FIRE STARTED
"I carry Coghlan's fire-starting paste. It's a great product for starting fires quickly in wet conditions. Good, dry kindling can be found beneath the canopy of pines and evergreens. Use the small, dry limbs, and start with match-size pieces. If it's very wet, use your knife to whittle toothpick-size pieces from the core of larger dry sticks. If the ground is soaked, you can also create a platform out of green branches, which you then build your fire upon." (The MacGwyer replacement for fire paste is cotton balls rubbed in Vaseline and carried in a film canister.)

01: IN THE MEANTIME, GET YOUR STICKS FOR THE SKEWER
"Make sure your skewers are green, taken from a live tree. The ideal size is 2ft (60cm) long, and 3/8" (9mm) to 1/2" (13mm) in diameter. Willow is a traditional skewer material, but almost any wood will work. Generally, hardwoods are better, as they are more durable and less prone to burning to nothing. We used maple."

02: OPTIONAL: CUT OFF THE FEET AND TAIL
"I did this for aesthetic reasons, as a long, singed tail is a nasty sight and there isn't any meat there. Ditto with feet. However, this does not affect the process. It's a matter of personal preference."

03: ONCE THE FIRE IS READY, BURN OFF THE HAIR
"The fire is ready when you have a bed of coals the size of a dinner plate and a couple of inches deep. They should glow brightly. Now, toss the squirrel on the bed of coals, but where you can still reach the animal with a stick without getting burnt to hell. Keep it rolling and moving around, so that you burn off the hair without burning through the hide. Imagine toasting a marshmallow without catching it on fire. You wanna keep it moving."

04: SLICE OPEN THE BELLY AND GUT
"It's important to save the gutting procedure until after burning the hair, as a gutting incision will allow the introduction of ash and debris. Start the incision at the squirrel's brisket, or sternum, and work toward the belly. Be careful to keep your knife just beneath the muscle and abdominal lining. Do not cut or nick any of the internal organs, especially the stomach. Run the incision all the way down to the pelvis bone, but do not split the pelvis in two. Next, grab the squirrel's heart and pull the whole package of innards downward. The lower intestine should pull out and disconnect from near the squirrel's anus. At this point, the squirrel is gutted."

05: SKEWER THE SQUIRREL AND PLACE IT OVER EMBERS
"When doing a single squirrel (or rabbit), it's best to run a skewer through the pelvis bone, up the abdominal cavity, and then into the throat and out the mouth. It is very secure this way, and can be supported on just two forked sticks. When doing multiple animals, you can use two skewers. Run one through the rear legs and another through the front shoulders, so that the animals are positioned in a parallel fashion: two skewers require four forked sticks."

"Position the squirrel over a bed of coals, not over the open flame. Cooking height depends on intensity of heat. Try to keep it where you can only hold your hand for a count of two or three. Could be anywhere from 12-18" (30-46cm), typically. Rotate frequently, every couple of minutes. The entire process could take upwards of 20 minutes. Remove when the meat is cooked so well that the ball joints of the rear legs begin to separate with a light twist, like how the leg of a well-cooked chicken can be removed with minimal effort."

06: THE PAYOFF: EAT YOUR LITTLE MORSEL, WHICH WILL TASTE LIKE, YOU GUESSED IT, CHICKEN
"Most of your meat is on the back hams, followed by the loins [along the spine]. Front legs are certainly worth the effort. In a pinch, cook and eat the heart, liver, and lungs."

TAKE IT SLOW
The key to fire cooking is to not speed-cook. Charring steak directly over a raging fire might seem manly, but it's also the route to burned on the outside and rare on the inside. This might be tasty (to some) as a blood-rare steak, but blood-rare tree rat won't win any Diners' Choice Awards.

Excerpted from The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life (New Harvest). Copyright © 2012 by Timothy Ferriss. Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

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From Modern to Mallmann

Interviewer: "If your house were burning down and you could take one thing, what would it be?"
Jean Cocteau: "The fire."

"'Fire cooking' is actually a misnomer. You're cooking over the embers," said Joshua Skenes, chef-owner of Saison in San Francisco and one of Food and Wine's Best New Chefs of 2011.

Sometimes, you don't even need the embers, as he demonstrated:

1. Use a broom to compress the mbers in the corner, clearing just enough space for a small pot.

2. Use the cleared space, the hot bricks, as a "stovetop" for cooking.

Josh has become famous for his use of fire. He has classical training and loves his high-end Japanese Nenohi knives, but nothing captures his imagination quite like the open flame. The back of his business card sports three words, stark on ivory white:

Play with fire.

"One of the first things that I cooked in a fire was a leek," Joshua recounts. "I gently turned it in the ash, and it got carmelized on the outside. I sliced it and put it on a plate with amazing olive oil, local sea salt from Monterey, and Meyer lemon juice. (Meyer lemons have an intoxicating aroma and sweet taste, almost like a blend of lemon and orange.) I ate it and thought, This is out of control. The way fire pulls depth of flavor out is magical."

Joshua, who's tried everything from fruit woods to fig woods, now uses almond wood from a farm in Northern California as his fuel of choice. He starts his fires with an Iwatani Torch Burner, and the flames are tended all day in the large brick oven outside of the Saison dining room. Much like the Olympic torch, it almost never goes out.

The Iwatani works beautifully, but let's look at how they do things in the world capital of grilling.

THE GAUCHO METHOD
I don't have a long history of wielding fire, but I am a seasoned consumer of parrallada, as grilled meat is known in Argentina. I've witness many all-day Sunday feasts—asados—in the provinces outside of Buenos Aires. These asados are a cultural mainstay and serious business. Roasting a whole lamb, as common in Patagonia as a stuffed turkey in the U.S., often starts at 6 a.m. and finishes near 2 p.m. Argies assume 4lbs (2kg) of meat will be eaten per person at such affairs. Bring your Pepto-Bismol.

Francis Mallmann is the Argentine figurehead of grilling, the capo, the Mickey Mantle of meat.

Raised in the Andes as the son of a preeminent nuclear physicist, Mallmann trained at the most famous French kitchens in the world, later becoming South America's most venerated Patagonian cook. But, in his own words, he was "tired of making fancy French food for wealthy customers in Buenos Aires" and so returned to his mother tongue: fire.

Patagonia is, as he describes it, still much like the Wild West was 100 years ago. Andean gauchos (cowboys) and the Indians before them used methods that he still recommends. For wood, he prefers, in descending order:

1. Oak
2. Maple
3. Birch or hickory

If you have to use charcoal instead of wood, use half the volume. For a serious, large-mammal meal, a minimum of 5lb (2.5kg) of charcoal is needed.

All this in mind, Francis does the following:

LIGHTING A FIRE NEAR CIVILIZATION
00: Start with a crunched-up piece of newspaper or by making a small pile of wood chips.

01: Place a handful of small twigs over your newspaper or wood chips to create a cone.

02: Create a second layer around your cone using slightly larger wood pieces, such as kindling.

03: Gently place a few rolled sheets of newspaper through the gaps at the bottom of your cone; five should be sufficient.

04: Arrange a final layer around your cone using quartered logs no larger than 6" (15cm) thick and 1 1/2ft (0.5m) long.

05: Ignite the rolls of newspaper and let your fire steadily build until the quartered logs are burning efficiently.

06: Once your fire is burning well, add larger sections of logs or even whole logs up to 1 1/2ft (0.5m) long and 10" (25cm) in diameter.

To gauge the heat, hold your hand just above where the food will be placed. How long can you keep it there? To confuse people, you can count as they might in Argentina: "uno matador, dos matador, tres matador, quatro matador" and so on, just as Yanks say "one Mississippi, two Mississippi...."

A GENERAL GUIDE
Two seconds: High heat
Three-four seconds: Medium-high heat
Five-six seconds: Medium heat
Seven-eight seconds: Low heat

Seem complicated? Use Steve Rinella's rule of thumb: once you can hold your hand there for roughly three seconds, but no more, you're ready to start cooking.

Excerpted from The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life (New Harvest). Copyright © 2012 by Timothy Ferriss. Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

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How to Butcher a Chicken

"If skill could be gained by watching, every dog would become a butcher." —Turkish proverb

TOTAL TIME
8-10 minutes

GEAR
Boning knife (ideal) and/or chef's knife; 1 whole chicken

OPTIONAL MUSIC PAIRING
"Genesis" by Justice

Kingo (pronounced "KING-go") was a one-year-old Labradoodle with black-and-white patterning, including little while boots. He looked like a tiny cow.

He was frenetically jumping in front of me, begging for attention, so I put down my rum and Coke to play-fight. Steve Rinella was seated next to me on the couch, watching the Sportsman Channel and explaining how the Fu Manchu is the mullet of the 2010s. I gave Kingo another paw swipe, which led to wrestling, as it always does. Then I suddenly found myself giving the little 23-lb creature a deep-tissue massage. Mmm ... nice backstraps, I thought (this is another name for the loin of the deer, which runs over and along the spine, above the tenderloin). Moving on, I noted that the flank wouldn't yield much, and that's when I creeped myself out. I turned to Steve: "Is it normal to start seeing backstraps in everything?"

"Oh, yeah. The same thing happens to me when I'm giving my wife a backrub."

Once you start butchering in any capacity, your selective attention will be weird for a while. I'd broken down my first deer that afternoon, and now all I saw was cuts—shank, flank, and so on—in everything that moved.

Chronologically, killing comes before butchering, but psychologically, butching is better to learn first. It's a skill you can practice far more frequently.

With experience, butchering a chicken becomes an intuitive process. The bird's own anatomy guides you through the snaps and slices that reduce it to the familiar components. You need only your hands and a few low-finesse cuts with a chef's knife (a thin boning knife is helpful, but not necessary).

Here's how chef Marco Canora learned to carve his chickens into thighs, legs, wings, and breasts:

00: STRETCH SKIN
Marco ensures good skin coverage by pulling on the legs and pinching the breast to spread the skin downward (see pic 1A). Later, if roasting the breast skin-side down, you'll be glad there is a good spread of skin to prevent the breasts from drying out.

01: BREAK BACK
Make slanted side cuts into the skin between thigh and breast on either side with a boning knife (see pic 1B), then use a chef's knife to cut down the center toward the spine at an angle until you hit the spine (see pic 1C). Finish the job by holding the breast and the thighs in either hand and then bending the chicken open so its back snaps at a vertebra (see pic 1E). You now have two pieces of chicken: 2/3 with two thighs and two legs; 1/3 with double breast and two wings.

02: REMOVE THIGHS FROM BACK
Position the lower half of the bird with the thighs spread open and the legs toward you. Ride your boning knife into the crease at the hip and slice partway along and toward the backbone, trying to keep as much meat as possible (see pic 1F). Set aside the knife and use your hands to pop the hip toward you and expose the ball-and-socket joint. Slice the thigh away from the back completely, using the middle of the joint to guide you. Repeat on the other thigh.

03: SEPARATE DRUMSTICKS FROM THIGHS
Find the knee—the joint between the thigh and drumstick (leg). You can detect this seam by running your finger along the joint and feeling the slight gap in the bone. Use the boning knife to separate each drumstick and thigh at the sem; there should be little resistance as you slide (see pics 1G and 1H).

04: CHOP OFF KNUCKLES AND WING TIPS
Marco suggests removing the nubby ends of the legs; as the drumsticks cook, the exposed bone enhances flavor. Position the heel of the chef's knife just above the knuckle and strike the spine of the blade with the palm of your hand (see pic 2A). Repeat. Similarly, Marco recommends slicing off the mostly meatless wing tips, which are better as stock. Slice off each wing tip at the wrist joint (see pic 2B).

05: CUT OFF WINGS
As with the knee, feel out the sliceable joint between the breast and wing of the bird (the elbow). Slice through the joint and repeat on the other side (see pic 2C).

06: SEPARATE DOUBLE BREAST FROM BACK
It's time to remove the rest of the backbone. Things get more difficult here. Position the double breast so that the neck is pointing away from you, chest side up. Fully insert the chef's knife into the chest cavity and point it directly into the cutting board with the bird draped over the knife's spine. You'll be making two diagonal, internal cuts to the left and the right of the spine—Marco calls it "a leverage-snap-through-the-bone kind of scenario." Using your off hand to hold the chicken and knife point against the cutting board (you can use a kitchen towel for safety), crunch downward through the middle of the ribs on one side of the rib cage (see pic 2D). With the knife's point still in contact with the cutting board, repeat the same crunching, downward cut on the other side of the rib cage. (If the crunch doesn't cut through the ribs, drag back with a few hard slices afterward.)

07: DISLODGE THE KEEL BONE
While you could split the breastbone in half at this point, you'd be skipping Marco's favorite step: pulling out the semisoft breastbone, or keel bone. Removing the keel bone makes it easier to serve the cooked breasts later. Turn the double breast around so that the wing nubs are nearest to you. Place the heel of your knife along one side of the keel bone and give the knife's spine a little point—light enough to cut only the semisoft edge of the keel bone, not the breast itself (see pic 2E). Make the same light cut on the other side of the keel bone. Splay the double breast open, pop the keel bone up (see pic 2F), then gradually run your thumbs under the ridge of the keel bone toward the tapered front, separating the keel bone from the breast until it can be pulled out completely (see pic 2G). Slide the double breast into two with a chef's knife by cutting through the recessed area where the keel bone was (see pic 2H).

NOTE: Directly under either side of the keel bone are the two tenderloins. In some cases, if the keel bone is removed with special care, the two tenderloins will be beautifully encased in a silver skin that keeps them attached to the breast for cooking.

Excerpted from The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life (New Harvest). Copyright © 2012 by Timothy Ferriss. Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved.

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