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Archive for the ‘Epicurean Events’ Category
Friday, May 17th, 2013
Spring has arrived and is barreling through my life and house faster than Bo “Bandit” Darville.
The dogwood in bloom (this is all since last weekend’s rain).
The 1st Annual Chicken Coop Tour I’m organizing has this poster, beautifully designed by the wonderful Anne Anderson.
The bees are bringing pollen into the hive like crazy! First hive inspection will be in a couple weeks, and yes I’ll be posting pics and writing about what I find. (p.s. you can find my birds and bees posts over on The Maine as well.)
Somebody got a super sexy new septic system. The 1950s one was removed. The guy w/ the shovel in the photo is in his 70s, and not sure if you can tell but he had a cigarette hanging out of this mouth – this was around 7AM.
The gals were not nearly as impressed as I was with the installation of the septic system. They essentially clustered together inside the coop for two days while the workmen were here. They only ventured out when I was near. Guess they know I’m one protective mama?
Just a wee bit proud of the fact that I shot this cover!!! Story goes I was at The Spotted Cat in New Orleans listening to this fantastic jazz band w/ my friend Amanda last summer. Well, I posted the pics to this here blog and wouldn’t you know that amazing band found the pics and sent an email asking if they could use one of the images for the cover of their new album. Um, YES!! I haven’t stopped listening to the album since I got it (they sent me several copies, so sweet). This is right up there with one of the coolest experiences ever for me. (Here is one of my many love letters to New Orleans, one of the greatest places on the planet it gives me breath, happiness, let’s me raise my freak flag high, serves me the most delicious food & the most refreshing drinks, introduces me to exceptional people and keeps me smiling.)
Wrapped up volunteering (for now anyway) with the Boys and Girls Clubs in Southern Maine. Those kids are exceptional, they’ve lived more than I ever will, survived what no one should have to, and they are absolutely beautiful. This was taken at an ice cream party I organized for them (my volunteering partner/amazing baking friend I. is having a baby = her talents were missed).
I published my first Local Grain Economy story (it’s a series of five pieces) and one on Maine Farmland Trust, a truly valuable organization preserving a way of life that’s near and dear to my heart and all our dining tables. *The blog is doing so well the paper is promoting it in the print edition. I could not ask for a better editor or outlet than A.M. at The Portland Press Herald.
It’s been a long few weeks and things are looking up. Life is good and full. I’m excited about all the wonderful things happening this summer, the amazing writing opportunities I continue to be presented with, the adventures including a trip back to Hardwick, VT. and some pretty cool stuff I’ve got in the works on the home front. Oh, dear readers thank you for joining me on this trip. ox
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Sunday, May 5th, 2013
A week ago about this time I was sitting on the back patio at the Lakeview Inn in Greensboro, Vermont reading books on foraging (for an upcoming post on my Portland Press Herald blog The Root) and getting a bit of sun. Cathy and Scott Donnelly, the trusting owners (who I have yet to meet) had left the place and a jar of Gummy Bears (do they know my not so secret obsession with that candy??) in my hands. I’d spent the past day and a half enjoying Hardwick and vicinity and was happy and relaxed.
Last fall, while having coffee with my friend SL we got to talking about bees (my friend A keeps his hives at her home), when an acquaintance of hers leaned over (it’s that kind of friendly coffee shop) and told us about this article he’d read recently on a guy in Vermont making vodka out of honey. My interest peaked I went home and promptly Googled the story. There it was…Caledonia Spirits & Winery, producers of handcrafted spirits including a vodka distilled from honey wine and gin made from local grains and flavored with local honey. I don’t remember exactly how the next few weeks played out, but in a nutshell I decided it would be a good next story for me to write about for the Huffington Post (all things crossed, it will publish in May) so I reached out to the company and somehow got hooked up with Andrew Volk , Owner, Portland Hunt & Alpine Club, Maine and a semi-official representative for Caledonia Spirits, who met me for coffee (I don’t know about you, but I get more done when drinking coffee) to talk about Caledonia’s unique place in the spirits world. It was then/there that Andrew (who along with his lovely wife Briana, are two of my favorite people in Maine’s food/drink world) and I hatched the idea for what would become the first of the Hush, Hush Parties (see here and here). We’d bring Todd Hardie, the founder of Caledonia Spirits, to Portland, Maine for a house party at which Andrew could work his magic with Todd’s spirits and I could do the first of a couple interviews with Todd.
Todd Hardie is a gentle soul with a brilliant mind and a heck of a lot of energy. He’s an advocate for Vermont agriculture, a lifelong beekeeper, and graduate of Cornell Agriculture School. When we met we talked about bees, sustainable beekeeping practices and the phenomenal amount of information a beekeeper is constantly trying to process to be responsible, Lewis Hill (a mentor to Todd and pioneer in Vermont’s plant nursery business), Hardwick (ag central in Vermont’s Caledonia County, which Todd seeing as a healthy and invigorating community chose as the base of his business), and how vodka is made (yours truly had no idea it could be made with anything other than potatoes).
By the time Todd left, I’d committed to return to Hardwick, VT (my third trip in a little over a year) for a tour of the distillery on the banks of the Lamoille River.
Fast forward to late April, when I pulled into Caledonia Spirits just as Todd and crew were unpacking from the day’s farmers’ market. Todd gave me the basics on the art of distilling and explained the distillation cuts – head (beginning, discarded), heart (what is drinkable), and tail (end, discarded). He explained it’s less chemistry than artistry and intuition. *My upcoming article in the Huffington Post will focus on Caledonia’s distillation process.
After a brief tour of the 10,000 square foot distillery, and look in on his hives, Todd and I climbed in his truck and bounded over to Vermont Soy, an organic soy milk and tofu processing plant run by his good friend Andrew Meyer. This is a person who looks at what his friends and neighbors are producing and if they have a byproduct tries to figure out how it can be turned into a value added product. Andrew’s business partner, Todd Pinkham, was taught how to craft authentic tasting soy foods by food functional Chinese scientist Dr. Guo., at the University of Vermont. Meyer and Pinkham share the noble belief in creating healthy food systems that support local economies and sustainable agriculture. I tasted almost everything and loved the soy puddings (look for “Soyummi” in orange or blue & white containers) and his brand new smoothies made with Coconut Milk so much I borrowed a cooler from Todd to cart some back till I could make sure the local Whole Foods Market carries them (note, Barbara and/or Shannon if you are reading this NUDGE NUDGE get anything/everything Vermont Soy in the cooler section please, pretty please w/ yummy stuff on top).
Since I had arrived late we moved quickly to get me situated at the inn before heading to Todd’s home he shares with Tanya, who should you be fortunate enough to be invited to a meal at her table accept basically just rearrange your entire schedule so you can sit there and eat her food. We ate (because I’m eating pork on very selective occasions now) an Asian inspired pulled pork Tanya made from a pig she and Todd had raised and had slaughtered on their property, along with a fresh salad made up of greens from Hardwick’s amazing Buffalo-Mountain Co-op. I had second helpings of both. Then, they invited me back for breakfast and sent me to the hotel with a large jar of honey.
Back at the ginormous inn (each room opens up to a new room, each worth of a spread in Country Living) I met up with a couple interns from the Cellars at Jasper Hill, who I thankfully found out were staying on the third floor = I would not be all alone in a country inn with all the doors unlocked. Additional bonus of staying with super sweet interns from the place that makes my favorite cheese (Cabot Clothbound), turns out if you are nice one of them will bring you some cheese in the morning. This combined with the eight hours of sleep I’d just gotten for the first time in months officially made it one of my favorite places on earth. p.s. no cell service, yay!!!
Post breakfast (pancakes, maple syrup produced by a family friend served in a gravy pitcher and bacon – my first pork bacon ever wow from their recently dearly departed pig), Todd and I were off. Morning service at a country church in Craftsbury, a couple miles from Pete Johnson’s vegetable/greenhouse operation. The minister paraphrased Kurt Vonnegut, brought up gun violence in our culture, the death of Medgar Evers, the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King being imprisoned in the Birmingham jail, and the idea of serving milk and Oreos in communion (hello, I liked this church). From there, a second cup of coffee at a terrific general store (in my opinion Vermont may safely lay claim to having the best general stores) where I found seed packets designed by kids and the entire Ben & Jerry’s ice cream collection of flavors, as well as my second cup of coffee for the day.
Fully caffeinated, we headed to Pete’s. Ben Hewitt, who wrote The Town That Food Saved (in my opinion, as important a read to anyone interested in local food systems as anything Michael Pollan has written), about the great strength’s of Hardwick’s food system (within a 10-mile radius of town you can find High Mowing Organic Seeds, Highfields Center for Composting, Claire’s (started as a community-supported restaurant), Jasper Hill and numerous vegetable farms including Pete’s Greens). Here’s Ben’s first impression of Pete Johnson “He was wearing tall rubber Muck boots, dirty (and when I say “dirty,” I mean dirty) blue jeans, and a similarly soiled Carhartt jacket. His fly was down. His hair (dirty blond, of course) was unruly to an extreme that should have been impossible without the benefit of an open-cockpit airplane.” This is why I love Ben’s writing – it’s so descriptive and intelligently styled. Anyway, my first impression of Pete was after I’d childlike given some thought to grabbing onto one of any of his greenhouses and hanging on for fear someone would remove me. Give me a greenhouse and I’m a happy gal. Had the day not been so beautiful I might have fought harder. His rows of greenhouses – they go and on and on, which is probably a good thing since his farm feeds several hundred people between the farm’s Good Eats CSA and booth at the local farmers’ market. Anyway, he was in his tractor and somehow when Todd first introduced him I didn’t realize who it was (mind full of coffee and greenhouses). A few minutes into conversation the bulb overhead turned on and I figured out who he was. Looking back I can see Ben’s description, but mine was simply of a person with a big passion for growing things and feeding people. It’s very easy for me to understand why someone would want to have his/her person in the dirt day in and out. My happiest days are when I’m filthy, carrying around chickens, gardening, and taking a break by the hives watching the honey bees bring pollen into the hive. Nothing compares.
We left Pete and his brother to deal with tractor issues and headed to Bar Hill, a 256-acre natural area owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy and maintained by dedicated volunteers such as Todd Hardie. The vistas inspired novelist and environmentalist Wallace Stegner, who wrote about the view from Bar Hill in his popular novel Crossing to Safety. Barr Hill is also featured on Caledonia Spirits labels.
After a quick drive by of Jasper Hill’s famous facilities I was on my own….to sit in the sun. Life just doesn’t get much better.
When I go back for an event this summer I’m shopping at Pete’s Greens farmstand and hiking Bar Hill. Then I’m going to sip gin and tonics made with Todd’s gin.
For more information on Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom I’d recommend the attractive and informative book Kingdom’s Bounty: A Sustainable, Eclectic, Edible Guide to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom by Bethany M. Dunbar.
Here’s a link to a nice article in Edible Green Mountains on Caledonia Spirits.
Caledonia Spirits are available in Vermont, Massachusetts, New York (Manhattan, Hudson Valley, and Long Island), New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. You can also purchase them online in 32 states. From May through October, Caledonia Spirits has a booth at several farmers markets including Burlington and Montpelier. The distillery is open for tastings and tours Monday through Saturday 10am to 5pm.
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Wednesday, April 24th, 2013
My father taught me to share, and so I will…Recently, I returned from a maple sugaring weekend in Vermont and New Hampshire with a bucket full of maple syrup goodies from Coombs Family Farms. *My friend Rebecca has since beautifully blogged about the weekend here. I did here. Doing a giveaway was actually Rebecca’s idea (she’s a “sharer”). The best comment wins a 12 oz. bottle of Grade B Organic Maple Syrup from Coombs Family Farms…and a couple pure maple/pancake oriented goodies I’m throwing in to be extra nice. I’m in a good mood well, and I’m grateful as heck to have you as a reader!! ox
Contest starts now and runs thru Sunday at 6PM.
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Saturday, April 20th, 2013
Thursday night I took my country mouse self into town for Hush, Hush #5. My favorite bartender Andrew Volk of The Portland Hunt & Alpine Club was making drinks at Eventide Oyster Co., one of my favorite Portland, Maine restaurants, and I wasn’t about to miss it. Sure enough, the drinks, food, and crowd were wonderful. There are only two photos in this post, because I was having such a good time talking to people and trying to balance delicious drinks with delicious bites. Hey, I’ve only got two hands.
Shooter: Aquavit, Worcestershire, Horseradish. Far from your average shot. Not meant for sipping. It’s special, with all the romanticized characteristics of a fisherman at sea…I’d love to hire Andrew to do a lake side party…OMG the idea of his cocktails paired w/ delicious food this summer at a cabin in Maine…I can just see guests draped along the deck, laughter and intelligent (mostly) conversation enjoying the best life has to offer. Yes, I got that from this drink.
Mixing drinks…Oh, and I haven’t even gone into detail about his Winslow Sour (Bourbon, Lemon, Apple Butter, and Egg White). I’d say this would be my go to drink, but really (as I said the last time I wrote about Andrew) I just want to walk into The Portland Hunt & Alpine Club and let him make me whatever he wants. That’s trust.
p.s. Only bummer, no photo of his brilliant wife Briana who helps organize and run the Hush, Hush events and does a stellar job at marketing them.
Dear readers I cannot wait for their bar to open so you can go and experience what I have been fortunate to these past few months since I met them. ox
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Friday, April 5th, 2013
Since Jen, Matt, Joy, Rebecca, Ellen, and Ashley were all such excellent sports about flying all the way to New England to meet up with me for a weekend to learn about maple sugaring (thank you best host ever Arnold Coombs), I figured the least I could do is arrange for them to have a class at King Arthur Flour. What’s say I gush a bit about King Arthur Flour? First, you’ve got Jeffrey Hamelman the man who opened KAF’s bakery and teaching facility, and trained some of the finest bakers in Maine (love those bagels at Scratch in South Portland and the sweets at Standard Bakery in Portland…how about giving a nod his way). Then, there is King Arthur Flour’s longtime support of the local grain economy – KAF’s sponsorship of the Kneading Conference (two days of intensive hands-on workshops covering topics such as sustainable grain cultivation, bread baking and earth-oven construction) ensures it remains an annual event. Finally, on a personal level, there is the Baking Kit donated for the baking classes I’m doing with my friend Ilma (amazing pastry chef at Grace Restaurant in Portland) at two of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine centers.
Susan Miller, the Director of the King Arthur Flour Baking Education Center, arranged for our little group to have a pizza making workshop led by super sweet instructor Michelle Kupiec. We learned how to make Semolina Pizza Dough and Pizza Dough. Can we say intimidating?? Put me in a field and I’m in my element, but in a baking center surrounded by professional/semi-professional bakers…um…just being set up to fail. It was such a fun experience I didn’t even mind that my pizzas were not as pretty or likely delicious as everyone else’s…it was not a competition..it was a learning experience. For my part I was psyched just to get to share a table with my friend Rebecca..the uber talented/smart/savvy/sassy/beautiful spirit behind the hugely successful blog Ezra Pound Cake. Let me tell you, that woman knows what to do with flour and water. Darn!
Ashley and her divine looking/tasting pizzas. I kept having not to pinch myself (hello, ouch) that she was there. This is the woman whose beekeeping and raising chicken books helped get my own bee/chicken projects started. She’s an incredibly smart and interesting woman and such a terrific momma. If more mothers were like her this world would be a much healthier, safer, funner place. I am still learning from her…and just you wait till her party and drink books come out next year…oh some fun to be had!!
Matt Armendariz is one of the savviest marketing/branding folks I’ve met in a long while and the maker of G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S photographs. That’s he’s as gifted and generous as he is says a lot of positive things about his mama (again if we had more like her, and him in this world). M.A., you’ll always be Mr. Baby to me, if that’s OK with you.
King Arthur Flour’s Baking Education Center classes run the gamut from introductory demonstrations to intensive, week-long courses for the professional, along with hands-on classes for children and home bakers. Fore more information visit their website. ox
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Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013
Upon my return from the Hudson River Valley, I had a couple days to catch up on work/homestead stuff before hitting the road for my next excursion….The Coombs Family Farms Blogger Maple Weekend. I’d assisted with the organizing, and some of my favorite people were going to be there so…with little sleep I essentially tossed stuff into a bag , picked up coffee (aka NASA injected fuel from Starbucks) on the highway and hummed my way to Logan Airport.
Here’s what went down from there…
After a few hugs at the airport….Rebecca (p.s. check out her Flour Bakery’s Coconut Macaroons post), Matt, Joy and I met up with Joanne Chang (she is so nice & I cannot wait for her new cookbook coming out next month) for a tour of the South End location of Flour Bakery and to pickup some yummy baked goods. My special treat was a Homemade Raspberry Seltzer (aka the most delicious thirst quenching drink ever and can anyone say Homemade Oreos…OMG OMG OMG).
Another trip to the airport and Jen (check out her gorgeous, thoughtful post on our trip here) and I were back with the gang plus Ellen at Barbara Lynch’s The Butcher Shop for dinner. By the time Ashley and her family joined us (after a harrowing parking ordeal courtesy of Boston) we had a long table full of boards of sausages, pâtés and terrines made in house. *One of the reasons The Butcher Shop is one of my favorite restaurants, is because of Chef Lynch’s attention to detail and her enthusiasm for producers (to the extent that she’s visited farms, developed relationships w/ certain farmers, fishermen…). The restaurant works with several farms in the surrounding states, and sources much of their raw meat from Brown Boar farm in VT and Burn Shirt Valley farm in MA. *The Pickled Vegetables and Marcona Almonds were lovely with the Parmesan!
Later that evening, after a snowy drive on quiet roads we arrived at the Chesterfield Inn B&B in New Hampshire. In my room I put up my feet and sat by the fire. Toasty!
Breakfast at the inn (oh you know pancakes, eggs, fresh fruit..lots of pure maple syrup), then off to a small sugarhouse in Guilford, VT, that Arnold Coombs cousin Ted operates (they have about 800 taps and a wood fired evaporator). When Arnold was four or five years old he would help Ted’s father tap trees near his house. Arnold’s family’s sugarhouse in Wilmington, VT boiled sap from over 26,000 trees. In the early 1970s, Arnold’s dad moved into a sugarhouse in Jacksonville, VT near Arnold’s childhood home, and they tapped about 800 trees with buckets. Some of those trees were tapped by Arnold’s great and great-great grandfathers (Arnold is the seventh generation in the industry).
If you’ve ever been to a sugarhouse and stood by an evaporator you know how wonderful that steam rising up out of it is – sweet, mapley ..comforting. I’d like a machine to reproduce that in my home every night. Ted welcomed us in, engaged us in conversation, talked about building up the fire, his years sugaring. I spend a lot of time with farmers, and what I always focus on are their hands – those beautiful lines, marks, smudges that define their hardworking days in and out for month on end. Ted’s were well worn and spoke of character, history, New England sugaring. He showed me how the evaporator sits up and the back doors to the sugarhouse only go down to about one’s ankles to allow more air in to help get the fire going. I wish everyone who enjoys pure maple syrup could meet people like Ted and Arnold, so they could appreciate how much physical labor and smarts goes into that golden bliss.
Being as we were visiting during the middle of their sugaring season (it was just getting going further north in Canada), we got to tap trees, gather some sap and boil maple syrup. We also got to eat Sugar on Snow!!
Sugar on Snow
Dill pickles are served to cleanse the palate.
Another tradition, donuts…for dipping! Cindy Finck made these, she’s a great cook and baker who works with Arnold. They’ve been family friends for years.
Next up…the Coombs Family Farms Maple Candy Kitchen in Brattleboro, VT. We saw maple candy being made and packaged by hand. (Let me tell you, so we’re clear…chocolate covered maple candy is about the sweetest…nicest…thing anyone could gift you – Cindy had some waiting for each of us in our rooms.) This is one of three (soon to be two) maple candy factories.
Maple candies ready for packaging
The crash course in sugaring took us to Bascom Maple Farm (Arnold is the Director of Sales and Marketing of Bascom, which is run by his childhood friend Bruce Bascom) in Alstead, NH. Bascom boils sap from about 75,000 taps (and purchases a great deal more from producers in New England and Canada), is the leading supplier of bulk maple syrup & bulk maple sugar, and is the largest distributor of sugaring equipment in the country.
As part of Bascom and Coombs commitment to sustainable maple forestry, they maintain and practice a sustainable forest management plan. They use tree-friendly health spouts, and never jeopardize tree health by over-tapping – two taps per average-sized tree is their maximum. They also use energy-saving reverse osmosis that reduces their energy consumption by 75%.
Low impact vacuum tubing helps them protect the fragile root systems of the trees. The vacuum tubes can carry the sap from thousands of trees to one central holding tank, reducing the need for roads to collect sap from buckets, and so minimizing the compacting of soil that can wreak havoc on tree roots and cover vegetation that healthy forests need to thrive.
Our minds full we stopped at L.A. Burdick in Walpole to caffeinate before heading back to the inn. We rested, recharged, and enjoyed a delicious dinner courtesy of Arnold including Maple Walnut Bread and Savory Muffins, Grilled Salmon with Maple Sugar Dry Spice Rub and Cinnamon Maple Butter (delicious!!), and a variety of dessert options.
More on our Sunday adventure at King Arthur Flour to come…. ox
p.s. Books I recommend for those who want to learn more on Sugaring:
Maple Sugar:From Sap to Syrup: The History, Lore, and How-To Behind This Sweet Treat by Tim Herd
Maple Sugarin’ in Vermont: A Sweet History by Betty Ann Lockhart
Suggestions on serving pure maple syrup from The Official Vermont Maple Cookbook 3rd edition: on hot cereal, on grapefruit or other fruit (I like this when broiled), on plain yogurt, on ice cream, in a milk shake, in coffee or tea (you haven’t lived till you’ve had a maple latte), poured over a butternut or acorn squash, in stir fry dishes (heck, yes), and baked in bread or muffins (don’t have to tell me twice). *Personally, I think it’s also delicious in granola mixes and in sugar form sprinkled on bacon and baked for 10-15 minutes..holy cow!!
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Sunday, March 24th, 2013
Two weeks ago I set out for the Hudson River Valley’s Kingston, N.Y., to participate in the third day of a Butchery 101 Workshop at Fleisher’s Grass-Fed & Organic Meats. Jessica Applestone, co-owner of Fleisher’s, had generously invited me to attend, so I could find out how to slaughter and butcher a pig from the best in the business… her husband Joshua. He has earned what Primal Cuts author Marissa Guggiana describes as “a rabbinical role among their growing community of (high-end butcher) peers.” I’d refer to him as a rock star, considering his reputation (I first heard of him in Maine). Heck, Julie Powell of “Julie & Julia” fame wrote a book based on her apprenticeship at Fleisher’s.
As part of my preparation for attending the workshop I attended an informal gathering at Giant’s Belly Farm in Greene, Maine where they broke down a hog (I was unable to attend the first day when they slaughtered the pig). I also read Guggiana’s Primal Cuts: Cooking with America’s Best Butchers, Basic Butchering of Livestock & Game by John J. Mettler Jr., and The Butcher’s Guide to Well-Raised Meat by Joshua and Jessica Applestone and Alexandra Zissu. At the last minute I also spoke with my friend Margaret (rock star mama/goat farmer/writer) about witnessing the death of an animal and whether she thought I could do it (I tend to be overly sensitive with animals). She did and that confidence sealed the deal.
By the time I joined the group in Kingston on Sunday, they had learned knife skills, how to steel a knife (honing the edge, not to be confused with sharpening), how to clean tools and work surfaces, wrapping/Cryovacing (think vacuum-packing), observed the breaking down of a lamb and pig, broken down a pork shoulder, Joshua had demoed sausage and bacon making, and discussed Offal. I didn’t end up meeting Joshua (next time!), but he’d mentored with a master butcher by the name of Hans Sebald, who was described in god-like terms to me, and that was who I was told would be doing the slaughtering and butchering that day.
We piled into cars and traveled out to Meadow View Farm in New Paltz, NY. Along the way we passed orchards and farms. Now we were talking…Hudson River farmland..this was where I wanted to be! We chatted about food, the class, how Meghan..a Fleisher’s apprentice/our guide for the day had come to be with us, and the return of old-fashioned butcher shops. As we approached the road for the farm the seriousness of what we were doing, the purpose of the day, began to sink in for me. I was excited and at peace. *For those who don’t know, I have not eaten pork or beef since I was a small child. For a few years I was a vegetarian. I was in the Hudson River Valley, because I feel obligated to learn about all things connected to eating locally and sustainably as an eater and a writer.
Shortly after arriving, Ryan, the brother of the farmer who had raised the pig, asked myself and a few of my classmates if we had ever seen a pig killed. “No” we answered somewhat in unison, and he responded that 60 years ago we all would have. That set the tone for the day.
Then I met Hans Sebald.
Hans apprenticed for a farmer/butcher in Germany from 15 – 18 years of age, then at some point in the 60s moved to New York, where he worked for a butcher (or small slaughterhouse) in Queens, and eventually made his way into a 20-year teaching stint at the Culinary Institute of America. Now he teaches (almost) monthly butchery workshops for Fleisher’s. At around 70, Hans is a true craftsman, he earned the title master butcher. Hans is part of a generation that can teach from life experience, but because people like Hans are older it’s really important we catch the knowledge now to bring it back.
While we were waiting for the water in the tank to reach 145, Hans gave a brief lecture. He engaged us by asking how many butcher shops we know of in our neighborhood, watch makers, cobblers, or tailors. A few of the folks who were probably a decade or so older than me raised their hands. All I could think was yeah, I live in Maine and there are a few tailors I’d trust in this country, and one cobbler in Maine who pretty much ruined my handmade Italian leather boots. Think about it, do you know any of these craftsmen?
Then, in as not a judgmental way as possible, Hans took us down the path of feedlots and factory processing. As part of his job with the CIA he’d been to the biggest meat processors: #1 Tyson Foods (they do an estimated 5400 cattle/day), #2 Cargill, #3 Smithfield, and #4 ConAgra. He said one slaughterhouse he visited did 18,000 pigs a day. At one he hadn’t been to he heard they did 22,000 a day. Those might be bigger than normal days, but I’ll leave you to get a cup of coffee and let those numbers sink in.
Regarding processed foods, Hans said it was scary if you asked him. Damn right, I don’t care how many health inspectors you have on the floor – that’s not right, safe, humane, or anything remotely healthy sounding.
School lunches, Hans touched on those too (he’s a dad as well).. “I could talk all day long about what should, and shouldn’t be done,” he said. He added these days it’s all about convenience, and who suffers? Kids. Once they are hooked on certain prospect (junk/fast/highly processed foods), it’s hard to get them away from it.
Yes, he went there (conversation wise)…”McDonald’s Angus Burger – what is it? Ask no one knows, you’re given an 800 number no one answers,” Hans said. “Could be anything.”
Without in any way sounding condescending, Hans said it’s up to the people…we have the power to ask, to make change…and we don’t. Not as a population. We are so far removed from the source of our food, most of us don’t even know to ask those questions!
The water was ready, time to begin.*There is a lot of preparation and equipment/tools required for pig slaughtering, and it is definitely a two person job (in this case Ryan assisted Hans).
The pig was in a trailer so it would be calm, and thus easier to handle. We were permitted to sneak a peak so I did when one of the women at the farm, who could tell I was curious, motioned me forward. I love pigs..they have to be about the cutest darn livestock…and at times remind me of myself..yes when I’m hungry I might take out a fence or barn door. Back on track….I leaned over quietly so as not to wake the pig, and there he (she?) was sleeping all cute and sweet with no idea what was going to happen. I thought this is right, this pig has had a great life (foraging, yummy scraps, fresh air) and now he’s being honored by having the best in the business attend to him personally. Everything had been thought out. No one, least of all Hans, wanted this animal to suffer.
Hans said (without any judgement) we could walk away, that we should if we could not handle it. No one did. Me personally, I was going to stand there and take whatever came my way…I was there to do this…fully committed..and to me being there in the moment of death was the best/only way I could honor that pig. He reminded us this animal was raised for food. Somehow him saying that made me more comfortable, and sounded perfectly sensible.
Hans entered the trailer, closed the door, and shot the pig in the head with a .22 single-shot stunning it. The sound got me more than anything I saw that day. I’ll never forget it, and I’d do it again. Ignoring death doesn’t make it go away, or make it more pleasant. For Hans part, he was so calm, so completely focused on that pig and making sure he took its life as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Once the pig was stunned, it was dragged out of the trailer where Hans slit the throat (because of the angle I didn’t actually see this part) and bled out. Then the pig was dragged to a tub where Hans and Ryan poured boiling water (temp 145) over it. Hans used a thick rope, wrapped around the pig’s body, to keep it moving and help take the hair off. Using a bell scraper he and Ryan got most of the hair off (think Gillette shave), and using a hook removed the pig’s hoofs and dewclaws. When 90% of the hair was off, Hans noted things were proceeding well.
What I realized then, was that for all the pigs I’ve seen on farms, it was only when the hair was removed that I connected this naked pinkish skinned animal to what is served at restaurants. Farm pig. Restaurant pig. Disconnect.
Using the farmer’s John Deere tractor, the pig was raised the to eye-level view. The remainder of hair was scraped off with knives (think barbershop), and the carcass was rinsed again (Hans was very attentive to the constant cleanliness of the pig and it’s environment). Hans then cut the tongue out so he could get to the intestines, which were oddly beautiful when he pulled them out.
As Hans removed each organ, he placed it on a folding table, then he went through the anatomy. Hans was part butcher, veterinarian, and biologist. He spoke with us about muscle development – softer vs. tougher areas = the more muscular areas are tougher so how/where you cut them makes all the difference.
He removed the head, and using a meat saw split the backbone from the tail to the neck.
Hans and Ryan working the pig in the field took over an hour, but in a slaughterhouse…15 minutes! Try to (not) imagine processing lines 200 feet long with animals being broken down in sections, and a conveyor belt for trimmings, bones…
Never, not ever, no matter how hungry..would I ever eat anything from a factory/industrial slaughterhouse. Me personally, I can say I’m fairly certain I’d rather starve. Man I tell you I was angry, so angry at Tyson, Cargill… and on the other end so full of respect for Hans, Joshua, and people like them.
We departed the farm, took an hour for lunch, and headed back to the shop for step-by-step instructions with Hans on where to cut, how to trim, remove skin, and debone. Note *we did not butcher the pig from the field. It was hung to air dry for somewhere from a day to a week. At Fleisher’s Meghan said they hang the halves in the cooler unwrapped for a week. She said (and this is also in their book in the Pork section) this concentrates the flavor and allows the muscle fibers to soften, break down a little, making them easier to cut and the meat tenderer.
Using butcher paper and a Sharpie as his Power Point Presentation (love that), Hans worked to connect what we had seen earlier in the day with what would end up in the butcher shop, and for most (all) of us our refrigerators. He reminded us there is “no life without death.”
Hans recommended purchasing a copy of the North American Meat Association’s book whether a professional or home cook. It’s $79, so yes a little pricier than most books on your kitchen shelf, but in the long run, could be well worth it considering the extent of meat and poultry identification information (cuts…).
Pork Primals (division of pig carcass): Ham, Picnic, Loin, Butt.
- Ham – Options for preparing include roast, sausages, prosciutto, smoked or air dried, boneless.
- The Picnic is, as I understand it, the lower part of the shoulder. It is a lean cut and can be sold boned, rolled, and tied for roast. It can also be cured and smoked as a picnic ham.
- Loin – Options for preparing include roast (top sirloin), Canadian style bacon, baby back ribs…
- Butt – Pulled pork, sausages, ground (least on a return for a butcher), pork steaks, and you can even grind the bones for dog food
Each cut Hans made was strong and graceful. The way he handled the pig (alive), the carcass, and the cuts was so incredibly graceful.
I left with my head full knowing I have a long road of education ahead, and feeling a sense almost of urgency that I – we – need to be present with people such as Hans so we may learn and preserve arts that are becoming extinct along with etiquette, types of vegetable seeds, certain foods, animals, and vegetation. We must work to use our bodies to do physical work, to learn skills, and to connect with the sources of our food. Being lazy with our bodies and/or minds isn’t going to help anyone other than the medical insurance companies who like to rake up those rates on an annual basis. We, dear readers, are being led to the slaughter..and our end will be nowhere near as humane as the one the pig had with Hans.
Federal law prohibits the sale of pork, beef, and lamb not slaughtered at facilities under federal or state inspection. Therefore, most classes like this with the slaughter component, will do a pig vs. a cow = less money is lost (pig = less meat than a cow = less money). It’s legal to give the food to family and friends.
Two books I did not include in the primary part of this post, but should be noted as excellent resources for learning more about meat and cooking with it, are Good Meat: The Complete Guide to Sourcing and Cooking Sustainable Meatby Deborah Krasner (I’ll be digging into my copy later this week) and the Culinary Institute of America’s Kitchen Pro Series: Guide to Meat Identification, Fabrication and Utilization. I saw the latter during my visit to the CIA in Hyde Park (that post is coming), but it was so overpriced I didn’t purchase it (Sam, Don if you are reading this I’ll be coming to you to see about getting a copy new or preferably used.) From what I could tell it’s pretty thorough, no doubt likely because of persons like Hans.
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Sunday, March 24th, 2013
I cannot wait to tell you all about The Portland Hunt & Alpine Club once it opens. The owners are doing great, wonderful, delicious, thoughtful things with food and drink. One day, hopefully soon, I can share with you the first Hush, Hush party, which featured spirits from Caledonia Winery & Spirits. *There will be much on that venture combined with a honey bee influenced road trip to Hardwick, VT….oh I can hardly keep the stories in…but must wait, cannot share it all now… SO, to the present…or we should say the past, as it was Friday night I ventured from my country abode into the “big city” for a gathering of palates at head bartender /Hunt & Alpine owner Andrew M Volk’s home (which, it should be noted he shares with his equally wonderful wife Briana) for small plates and original cocktails all devised specifically for this event.
Andrew plied me with a Tryphon Tournesol (Jonge Diep9, Royal Rose Lavendar-Lemon, Lemon, Luxardo) and I sampled guest chef David Levi’s Radish with carrot, ginger and miso. I am not a food critic, nor do I know much about cocktails, but I would consider myself a fairly well traveled individual who has eaten her fair share of food from award-winning chefs and drinks by some of the best in the biz….that said I’m one for comfort and simplicity. Give me fresh, robust ingredients with the dirt wiped off, and I’m a happy gal. Andrew’s cocktail was light and refreshing, it felt storied and social. The opposite of those sugary nightmares shoved in one’s direction at a crowded “hot spot”…you know them… Andrew is a bartender. He is someone who is part chemist part magician part historian. His is a craft and each drink from tradition with spirits that have a place in history. Do yourself the biggest favor – go to his bar and let him make you the drink he wants to not the one you think you want. Trust me, I’ve no reason or interest in leading you, dear reader, astray.
David Levi is someone you’ll be hearing more about – from me, from restaurant reviewers…He is the executive chef of Vinland, a restaurant opening in Portland this summer. His resume includes a stagiaire at Noma (the two Michelin star restaurant in Denmark) and an apprenticeship at the world’s most famous butcher shop, Antica Macelleria Falorni in Tuscany. Yes, really…right here in Portland. His food is innovative and playful, delicious and meaningful…as is shown in the photo below of his Haddock (I’m 99% sure that’s what it was), butter, wakame bites. Oh, and huge cool factor for me…nothing goes to waste in David’s space, as was proof of the portable compost bucket he brought with him for scraps.
I so enjoy meeting people like Andrew, Briana, and David…persons who have seen some of the world and understand the importance of the experience. They don’t wander blindfolded through a Disney Land or stay put thinking life can be learned from books. They learn by opening themselves up to the bigness of this planet and doing. Thank everything for people like that!
p.s. as the party winded down we each ventured to Damian Sansonetti‘s brand new venture Blue Rooster Food Co. at 5 Dana Street in Portland. GO!!! I had the Schooner Tuna (olive oil confit tuna, white beans, kalmatas, pickled onions, herbed fennel for $6.50) and sampled the house made potato chips (garlic dill pickle) and…yes the double chocolate chip brownies (so good I had to ask Damian if his famed pastry chef wife Ilma made them…nope those are in house too and I got to meet the maker/baker). Next time I’m going for the tater tots and maybe Seoul Dog (Maine made natural casing local beef & pork hotdog with house made spicy kimchi, toasted peanuts, and roasted garlic mayo for $3.75)…oh, yes I’m eating a tiny bit of meat here and there…which we’ll get to in the next post.
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Sunday, March 24th, 2013
The first week of Spring where I am is signaled by the start of (wild) turkey mating season, more outside time for the gals of Great Cluck Egg Farm, the sorting of clothes that are not needed for these milder days into storage and donation piles, an increase in greens from my winter CSA, and the signing up of a share of John Bunker’s 2013 Out on a Limb (Maine) Heritage Apple CSA.
Turns out Mr. Bunker, who between traveling all over New England cutting scion wood (reportedly he has collected over 2 miles of it when laid end to end!!), has begun climbing around in apple trees and well…that got him thinking about the upcoming apple season. Having just read my friend Rowan Jacobsen’s insightful piece on Bunker in Mother Jones and David Buchanan’s beautiful memoir Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter, in which Bunker makes several appearances,I am ready for his apple CSA too (though not fall..not before several weeks of t-shirt weather).
This will be my fourth year as a shareholder and I’ve finally decided to give in to the reality that there is simply no way I can use the 11-12 pounds of apples a member of the CSA receives every other week, from early September to early November. So, this year I’ll be sharing with friends and fellow food bloggers Kate M and Shannon O. I’m sure in addition to cooking up (Kate is a Master Preserver) sauces, doing cheese and apple pairings (Shannon is soon to be a Certified Cheese Professional), and baked goods we’ll be collaborating for some super fun posts. I can already taste the Gray Pearmains and Fameuse.
The Apple CSA will be opened up to the public for shares in coming weeks. Please help support Maine’s Apple Heritage by spending $150 on a share. **Can’t afford that or don’t think you’ll consume that many apples…do what I am and share. We need to protect foods in danger of extinction…and people like John Bunker without whom this world would be a much emptier less joyful space.
My meeting with John, after several email exchanges, was brief but fun last year at MOGFA’s Common Ground Country Fair. No matter how many people he has to see, he takes the time to pull up a stool and listen. A rare breed he is and as sweet as those rare apples he shares.
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Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
A few weeks ago I was invited to a cooking demo and book signing with Chef Chad Sarno at Whole Foods Market in Portland. Chef Sarno’s latest project is the New York Times bestseller Crazy Sexy Kitchen, which he co-wrote with Kris Carr (one of my new food heroines). Having met Sarno and read Kris Carr’s blog I can only imagine the fun and adventures these two got into while putting this book together.
Let’s step backward for a second. Carr is a cancer survivor, or as she puts it a cancer thriver. On Valentine’s Day in 2003, she was diagnosed with an incurable (slow-growing) cancer. After a WTF moment (or more likely two) she took-charge of her diet and switched from processed foods to a “plant-passionate diet,” and wrote two successful books – Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips and Crazy Sexy Cancer Survivor – about cheerleading one’s way through a cancer diagnosis with little more than goji berries and spunk (a LOT of it). Carr is beautiful (I thought she was a former model till I read about her), funny, likes to cuss, and is the only 41-year-old I know (no, not personally) who can look cool with a streak of hot pink (her trademark) in her otherwise blond dyed hair. She’s made vegan the cool kid in the classroom.
Sarno is currently the senior culinary educator for Whole Foods Market’s healthy eating program, which he helped create and launch in 2009. His accomplishments range from launching a boutique chain of international restaurants in Istanbul, Munich and London to being a featured expert in the documentary film, PLANEAT. Oh, and yes he’s handsome.
The demo was far different and better than most I’ve been to, because Sarno was fun – I mean he engaged the audience. He was fast, conversational, well-spoken, and did I mention fun. He made all the ladies laugh (that’s right, you can see it now can’t you – a room full of ladies who either are vegan or seriously thinking of converting). For my part, I was impressed by all of it and though not a vegan or someone who is considering giving up dairy, I found myself tagging recipe after recipe for smoothies, purees, scrambles.. So far I’ve made Crazy Sexy Goddess Smoothie (who knew avocado and banana could taste so yummy), Avo(cado) Toasts, and Crostini with Artichoke Puree, Garlicky Mushrooms, and Horseradish.
What’s say we kick our nutrient deficient, veggie starved tuckuses into a crazy sexy goddess like frenzie with the following… ox
Crazy Sexy Goddess Smoothie from Crazy Sexy Kitchen by Kriss Carr and Chef Chad Sarno
1 cup blueberries (wild, frozen)
A fistful of kale or romaine or spinach
Coconut water (or purified water)
Stevia, to taste, and/or a sprinkle of cinnamon or some cacao (optional)
*If desired, use coconut meat, raw almond butter, or nut milk in place of avocado. You can also add super foods like cacao (to taste) and/or 1 or 2 Tbsp of E3 Live.
In high-speed blender, blend all ingredients until smooth.
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