I like NPR. I like to get informed while I'm driving or gardening... You know that rush of modern-day euphoria that comes with successful multitasking... (usually the time-saving is a false reality) but sometimes... I listen to too much and go into a panic... things such as asinine conflicts of interest, preposterous injustice, mainstream America's penchant for tastelessness and choosing wealth over health... when coupled with dandelions and damn GNATS massacring one's gardens and greenhouse, can result in a dicey state of frustration and overwhelm...
I'm not claiming this is some sort of farm-wide epidemic or anything
Clearly we all have different coping mechanisms.
Some of us are granted nine-inch long ears.
I was granted a mother who exemplifies calm (enter fear of adoption creeping back in here). So I, rather than hiding under a silky-smooth built-in eye mask, take a deep breath and think of my mom (who is the protagonist of a famous quote originally verbalized one fine Caribbean sailing day by one fine old sailing buddy probably circa '76-ish... "I could take a xanax, or I could just hang out with Dana") reminding me to calm down and that all I can do is one thing at a time and I might as well quit stressing out, because stress in itself is a royal waste of energy.
ACTION, on the other hand, is the preferred modus operandi: When you can't save the whole world in five minutes.... You may as well begin with your own plate! So what better idea than to sharpen your knives and head down to your local USDA-inspected Food Hub and butcher some pigs. You know, as one does...
when they have a USDA inspected facility right around the corner!? (How cool is that!) The Mad River Food Hub. Actually, it is so cool that Barry Estabrook wrote about it already (I think Barry is awesome... I'll even forgive him for referring to my husband as "Don" ....Don von...!? oh dear...) Oh, and the knife bit, above, was just for effect; I don't really care for sharpening knives AND the beauty is that I didn't have to; butchering knives were included in our rental of the facility... extremely sharp knives tended to by this meat master--Food Hub manager Jacob Finsen, who led us through our double-hog day with encyclopedic knowlege
And style. And grace. And humor.
He wasn't even phased by my inordinately-excited-bordering-on-diabolic-and-obsessive enthusiasm for my future prosciutti... Or at least he made me feel like I wasn't alone in my world... which, I think, is what one really should look for in a butcher.
Cut-by-cut, we made our way through two VT Whey-Fed Pigs. Notice the spotless backdrop; contrary to popular layperson's belief, butchering is not bloody or smelly or yucky. It is clean and scientific and extremely interesting. If you are afraid of blood and guts don't participate in the killing part... or at least work up to it. And please for the love of meat remember to dress for the occasion
If you've never butchered before for fear of a gruesome bloodbath... you'll be pleased to know that by the time your animal is ready to be cut up, all the blood is drained out and you are simply working with food. I wouldn't last for five minutes if butchering were a more "medical"-type situation... You see I have a fainting tendency... so if I can comfortably and enthusiastically spend a day cutting up large animals who used to be really cute, then I am confident you can too.
The prizes are a major bonus too... There are expertly tied roasts of all sorts, there were pork bellies which we turned into incredible pancetta and the dreamiest bacon ever, there are country-style ribs and baby-back ribs and huge hams and ripping rib chops and gorgeous loin chops
We learned how to remove aitch bones, we saved leaf lard which I later rendered (easy as pie) for making pastry, we saved skinlets for future chicharrones, we made hot sausage with cayenne and smoky paprika and fennel, and sweet sausage with maple sugar and sage and black pepper...
And we learned that the key to spice dispersal in sausage is adding a touch of water to your spice blend and making it into a slurry. (ew, can we get a better word for that please!?)
Sausage is the easiest thing in the world to make. The simplicity : addiction ratio is favorable... probably dangerously favorable (I've seen drug-like mania-inducing attachment to sausage, many a time)
We didn't do any weinies or anything in a casing... (I believe we discussed my opinion on tube-shaped meat units last time and the fact that all sausages in stores are cased in industrial slaughterhouse-generated intestine casings, even if they claim the USDA organic label... ((sorry to burst your bubbles tube shaped meat unit fans but "all-natural" means nothing. Please do let me know if you find a source but I have searched high and low and will be making muslin tubes to use for saucisson experimentation in the future...)))
So we have delicious ground sausage... that we can form into any shape we please...(ducky shaped sausage bits anyone?!) and a vast array of new knowledge. Thank you Mad River Food Hub!
High on hog meat and enlightened by our positive food supply control action (those always bring enlightenment; trust me on this and try raising your own animals or planting a garden!) moonlighting season began (the span from April through November when "diversified" farmers attempt to invent more hours in the day and go through too many headlamp batteries despite the fact that night doesn't fall until after 8pm....
On Sunday we do things like this
And feng-shui the laundry room to be much more inviting...
And then I dug up approximately 10,613 dandelions. And listened to more NPR. And became infuriated with politics. And considered inventing our own favorable strict religion that forbades work on Sundays.
And then, voila'! The RAD people over at NEKTTA (Northeast Kingdom Travel & Tourism Association) informed me of their upcoming 2nd annual Farm & Food Summit at Jay Peak. Before thinking about the perpetual shortage of time, we just jumped in the car.
Two hours later I was renewed with unwavering optimism regarding the copacetic future of Vermont's evolving collective food system.
I was in a giant room with a ton of people who care so much! My smile was hurting my cheeks. I didn't even have time for my usual wonderments about why the carpet in every large hotel or conference center is, without-fail, nothing short of heinous. Always. Nope, I didn't even think about the carpet once. I was too busy scribbling ideas and picking up my jaw that kept dropping uncontrollably during Tamara's presentation. Tamara and Rob Martin are total badasses. They run the 600-acre organic Chandler Pond Farm in South Wheelock, VT. As she described their incredible and diverse farming operation that includes: running a CSA and a farmstand and selling at farmers markets, vegetables, hay, pigs, turkeys, broilers, eggs, Devon beef, bottled raw Devon milk, pick-your-own strawberries, sugaring, flowers, hay rides & a play group, hosting Feast in the Field dinners... and oh yeah, homeschooling three kids and even doing a bit of teaching at Lyndon State College in their "spare" time... I:
a) Had a new role model
b) Wanted her to organize my life
c) Googled how many hours exist in a day in the "magical" Northeast Kingdom...
d) Thought that she should create some time in her light schedule to give motivational talks all over the world to inspire future stewards of the land
e) Have reminded my dear woodsman at least eight times that the Martins went on vacation for three weeks this winter.
Thanks Chandler Pond Farm; you guys rock.
Thanks NEKTTA; you guys rock.
The only time I thought about the carpet-er-rather the lighting... was later on when I attempted to document another cool presentation
...it is never inspiring to take photos inside window-less conference halls. That is Michelle from Michelle's Spicy Kimchi in Craftsbury. She and several other cool food producers, utilize the awesome Vermont Food Venture Center (VFVC) in Hardwick. VFVC is a "shared-use kitchen incubator for value-added and specialty food producers." A similar model to our Food Hub. Small scale sustainable food production! I'm so happy!
My dandelion anger is no longer... Theres nothing like overwhelmingly inspiring spring days to remind me that yes there is a long way to go in the sport of collective food system consciousness, but, we have also come a long way and the Northeast Kingdom is doing a damn fine job of spreading the word.
I realized I really shouldn't be angry at such a miraculous plant... and the woodsman is still not that into dandelion greens... (secret: fry bacon first, then sauté dandelion greens w/ sweet potatoes. Douse with red-wine vinegar, tarragon mustard & olive oil)
I left the dandelion out of these tacos but I say go for it... nothing like pork and sauce to mask bitterness...
So let's talk Boston Butts. Contrary to the name, a Boston Butt is actually cut from the pork shoulder... go figure... and makes for some glorious pulled pork. And who doesn't like pulled pork. Well actually, in my opinion pulled pork is no good unless the sauce is good... Its all about the sauce. But I have very rarely had anything different than your normal old (yummy) barbecue sauced pp. You can easily make a mountain of pulled pork and have a number of varying experiences simply by switching up your accoutrement. Yay!
Asian Persuasion Pulled Pork (Tacos) ie: you obviously don't have to go the taco route but I do recommend!
1 Boston Butt (or any pork shoulder roast) approx 5lbs
Spice Rub (Anything comprising salt & sugar will be good... use your imagination here!) I used: approx. 1/4 cup Sucanat (dried cane juice that tastes deliciously molasses-y), 1/8 cup sea salt, 1 tbsp smoked paprika, 2 tsp cayenne, 1 tbsp mixed freshly ground peppercorns, 1 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder, 2 tbsp grated fresh ginger...I wanted Thai basil as well but it hasn't come up yet...)
Braising liquid: 1/4 c. Tamari or soy sauce; 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar; cilantro stems & leaves; lemongrass and/or Thai basil if you have it :)
1-2 apples (I think apricots would be a sublime replacement here if you have them!)
1-2 Red onions
Asian Persuasion Sauce for Pork
(as usual, I don't measure, I taste, but I just listed approximations for those measuring types)
1 tbsp maple syrup, 1 tbsp rice vinegar, 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar, 1 tbsp fish sauce, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 3 tbsp Hoisin sauce (normally I'd make my own but it is moonlighting season and I don't live in the NE Kingdom where days are 2x as long...) Season with cayenne & sugar to taste.
Cabbage & apricot salad: slice 1/2 head of green cabbage very thinly and toss with: a handful of thinly sliced dried apricots, a few sprigs of cilantro and drizzle with apple cider vinegar and toasted sesame oil. Salt & fresh black pepper to taste.
Good organic corn tortillas (I like Sonoma brand or make your own!)
1)Toss your spice rub ingredients together in a bowl and massage into the meat thoroughly. Let sit in the fridge overnight. (Or a couple of hours)
This was my first time using a slow-cooker... I was skeptical to say the least. But I thought it would be wasteful to have the oven on for 6-8 hrs... So I went for it. And do highly recommend. I just put it on "high" (there were only two options on that thing...) It was a bit of a tight fit...
If you don't have a slow cooker, you can braise this thing in a Dutch Oven, so preheat to 325.
•Slice the 1-2 apples (or apricots) and 1-2 onions in whichever shape (ducky!?) you'd like and place them in the bottom of the slow-cooker or Dutch oven.
•Place your pork on top. Roughly chop or tear a handful each of cilantro and Thai basil if you have it, and sprinkle on top. Slice 2 stalks of lemongrass (if you have it) into 1-inch pieces and mix with other braising liquid ingredients. Pour liquid over meat, add enough water so that the cooker is filled to 2/3. Cover and slow cook... I flipped this meat every two hours. At hour 5 I had to pour out some of the liquid as I was worried about an overflow. At hour 6.5 the meat registered an internal temp of 195 and was falling off the bone...
•Place meat on a platter to cool. Meanwhile, make the cabbage salad and Asian Persuasion sauce.
•Pull the pork. Literally, just pull it apart into strands, with clean hands.
•Heat a bit of coconut oil (or other) in a pan and crisp up the tortillas
•Fill tortillas with pork, drizzle with sauce, top with salad
Do it again.
Report back with tales of food enlightenment, tacos, dandelion greens or small-scale sustainable food production.