I haven't always made new year's resolutions. I try to not limit my aspirations to improve to a calendar. And this year, I got a jumpstart on both of my resolutions in the last few weeks of 2016. No need to wait until January, I figured.
But I do believe in the power of putting something out there into the universe. Mostly because if I say it out loud, other people might here me. And hopefully hold me accountable (even if that other person is just myself).
1. Be more creative.
I want to find more time to exercise the right side of my brain. I'm more analytical and process-oriented by nature. Couple that with a job in technology, which requires me to sit in front of a computer screen for most hours of the day (and a few hobbies which encourage the same... Hello, Spacehulk: Deathwing), and I can go for days or weeks without pushing the other, more creative sides of my self. My occasional fits of writing not withstanding.
I'm trying my hand at painting (my second ever oil is a work in progress above). And I will attempt to write a bit more this year. I'm not sure if I'm up for another NaNoWriMo (although, who knows?), and maybe pick up my instruments more frequently. I find that when I spend a bit more time exercising those muscles, it makes me better at the analytical & technical side of my life. And certainly more satisfied at both.
2. Make healthier choices.
I know, this is rather trite. But I'm certainly not getting any younger. And see the stuff above about "sitting on my ass in front of a screen most of most days." I don't ever expect I'll be in the same shape physically that I was way back in my early Army days. Or even when I was 30, when I realized that I needed to stop eating like I was still back in my Army days. However, I would like o not be out of breath when I bend over to tie my shoes.
(That's a theoretical, of course. I realized many years ago that I can't figure out how to keep my shoelaces tied. So i mostly wear cowboy boots. Or anything that doesn't require me to tie my shoes).
I'm figuring that I'm not going to be so good at restricting my food intake (mmm. Goose-neck sausage). So I've stepped up my visits to the gym - something between 2-4 times a week, with a real try for the upper end of that scale. We'll see how long it lasts. I hate working out with the fiery white heat of a thousand burpees. Or something. But I really like to eat. And something's got to give. So off to the gym I go. I find it helps if I whine and bitch about it before and after. (And during, except that I usually can't manage much sound while working out except for small whimpers, and whatever that sound is where ).
But it's not just about physical activity. A few years ago, I did some math to calculate how many of me-equivalents did I drink in Diet Coke per year. Hint: it was a lot. Sometime in the last few months, I figured out that I was not really addicted to the taste. I just really like the carbonation. Most days, I allow myself a Diet Coke in the morning to give myself a hit of caffeine (I don't drink much coffee), but otherwise, I drink sparkling water or club soda all day. Don't get me wrong, I'm the last person to judge anyone's cola habit, having supported my own for several decades. But there're plenty of studies that seem to support some link between even diet soda and weight gain, though they're not definitive. But I figured after having supported the stock price of my one of my favorite Atlanta based companies for so long (I'm such a loyal son), I've done my bit, and I can make a switch without guilt. My Bride has told me that since cutting back so much, the sales on Diet Coke are much more frequent at the local grocery. As if they're trying to make up for the loss.
...maybe that is a sign I should've cut back earlier.
Besides all of this, there are healthier choices I can make in other areas of my life. Stress. Relationships. Fatherhood. I'm not sure I've mastered any of those so far, and will keep working on them where and as I can.
So here's to a good year. For all of us.
Just before Christmas, my buddy who sourced our last goose sent me a note.
"Greg shot a pair of geese today. Much bigger than the last. Would you like one? This one has the head still!"
It has the head still? Well, of COURSE I'm going to take it.
Unlike the first one, I hung the goose from the rafters of the barn for 5 days. With game birds, the flavor can be a bit strong, and hanging them for a bit (3-7 days, per the experts) mellows the flavor.
I took it down and brought it in the kitchen to pluck. I knew I'd have a bit of mess to clean up, but it was 20 degrees outside, and that was a bit too cold for me. Fortunately, the Boy had some friends over, and I ended up with a few helpers.
This goose was really beautiful. I followed the same process as before - it was a bit quicker, and I was a bit more comfortable with the whole thing this time around. There's a point where the bird turns from "goose" to "meat" when you do this, and your brain switches into the same comfort level that you'd have in cleaning a turkey you brought home from the store.
I was, however, especially careful with the real prize of this bird: the neck.
Years ago, I had watched an episode of River Cottage, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall dress out a goose and set the neck aside for a special treat. A stuffed goose neck sausage.
I have since found several recipes for this, from River Cottage and Darina Allen. Variations on the theme and method, but they all start by peeling the fatty skin back off the neck, taking care to keep it intact as one long 'tube'.
We've bought several geese from the butcher over the years (goose is always on the Christmas dinner menu), but none of them ever come whole, or with the neck. They're prettily dressed and wrapped, just like the Butterball turkey you pick up at your local grocery. So this was a real treat.
The goose roasted gorgeously, shedding tons of crystal clear fat, and browning deliciously. It wasn't quite as pretty as a farm raised goose, but I have to say I'm pretty proud of the way it turned out.
I turned my attention to the neck - I stuffed it with a pork sausage (ground fresh from our pigs), mixed with diced bacon (again: our pigs), sage, thyme, salt, white pepper and a little brandy. Little bits of goose trim - heart, liver, etc. - cooked and chopped are also acceptable.
Tie the little end of the neck up with some kitchen twine, and I set it into some goose fat to crisp the skin a bit. 10 minutes or so on a side. Then put into the oven at 300F for 30 minutes.
The next step took me out into the snow for a bit.
I cranked my smoker up to 275F, and put the neck sausage in for 45 minutes, with some peach wood. You can see that I didn't seal up the 'fat' end of the neck (where the neck joined the shoulders of the bird). But that's ok. I just took care to fold the loose flaps over the sausage.
Oh this thing is beautiful.
Every time I opened the door to check (I had to force myself not to check every 3 minutes), my nostrils were filled with the delicious smell of the meat and woodsmoke. I was practically dancing in anticipation.
When I pulled it out of the smoker, I slipped it back into the fat and the oven to crisp a bit longer (maybe 10 minutes) while I carved the rest of the goose. (I've gotten pretty good at this by now, actually - taking out the whole breasts before slicing, and taking out the thighs and other meat pretty neatly.).
When I sliced the neck open, it looked like a perfect sausage. The skin was nicely crisp, and the meat inside savory and a little fragrant with the smoke and herbs.
I slices up the meat and sausage and we took the feast (along with creamed spinach and a sweet-potato & apple soufflé) over to my Bride's parents for dinner. The goose was a little tougher and I should have taken the time to make a gravy, but the meat was rich and flavorful, and the Boy went back for seconds and then thirds of the sausage. And then he asked if he could pack the res for his first lunch back at school tomorrow.
I'm guessing he'll be the only kid there with goose neck sausage.
It was a small goal, but totally worth holding out for. If you ever get the chance to order/make/try, believe me when I say: don't hesitate. It was delicious.
We've been in the farmhouse for a bit more than a year now, and while we still have a few projects left to do here and there, we couldn't be happier with to celebrate another Christmas in this house we've made a home.
A little greenery goes a long way towards welcoming the season. A wreath here or there and a fresh blanket of snow, and it's a welcoming sight at the end of a drive.
The house doesn't ask for much for decoration. And I prefer the simpler touches anyhow. I had made garlands of walnuts years ago that I store away and pull out each year. A few sprigs of greenery for the fireplace mantles, and the dining room is ready for family dinner.
I walk down to the woods and cut a few fresh boughs to hang on the house and the door. A few bows, and a simple garland on the bannister.
The library's beautiful murals and brick red paint are almost enough decoration for the season. Stockings hung, nutcrackers vigilant next to the fireplace, and a small tree wrapped in burlap garland to hang a few special ornaments.
The family room gets the big tree and presents waiting for Christmas morning. The house is cozy and warm, with a lived-in feeling that I can only imagine the more than two hundred years pf families and Christmases that have made this home has seen would approve of as well..
At least our pup George declares it good enough. And so do I.
Merry Christmas to all - I hope to see more of you in the new year.
This week my lovely Bride asked me why a pile of lumber had appeared in our driveway, thinking maybe I had some Christmas project in store.
“That’s for the garden beds,” I said.
“You do know it’s December, yes?” she replied. Which, from her perspective, was probably a perfectly rational thing to ask.
“Yes. But one day, it will be warm again. And I want to be ready.”
Every once in a while, someone asks me where I’m from. I’m always mildly surprised that my liberal usage of words like “Y’all,” “Ma’am,” and “It’s not breakfast without gravy” don’t give it away.
The guys in the local feed store know where I’m from. I’m the guy buying packs of vegetable seeds in March, a full two months before the locals put away their snow shovels. It’s the South in me that’s in an ongoing struggle with the length of a Maine growing season. Which is rather shorter than my Georgia roots feel is appropriate for anything called “summer.” I’ve come to love all the New England seasons (except maybe that six-week interval between Winter and Spring, which locals call “Mud”). However, calling the two and a half weeks of mild heat we get in Maine ‘Summer’ is more of a polite euphemism than accurate description.
This is not the South, where you can lazily decide to put in a tomato plant or thirty any weekend between April and June, and expect to harvest a bumper crop of red awesomeness to top your sandwiches with for months to come. You have got to be *ready* in Maine, or you’ve missed your opportunity and you’ll have to wait for at least one more Mud to come and go before you get to plant again. And like any good child of Appalachia, I like my winter pantry stocked full of the bounty of summer. My Bride will pickle and can corn, zucchini, beans, watermelon rind, and pretty much anything else that used to be tethered to a bit of dirt.
Last year, I managed to get a little early spinach in the ground, and some lettuce that was worth eating. But I got so busy that even the zucchini I managed to eventually get out into the garden struggled to grow.
When you’re struggling to grow zucchini, either you’re from Los Angeles, or you’ve something seriously wrong. I’m pretty sure there are Inuit families that can grow enough squash to get sick of zucchini bread before the 4 hours of Barrow, Alaska summer is over.
So yes. Garden beds in December.
It’s snowing outside at the moment. But I’m going to ignore that white crap falling from the sky and go build me some raised beds. Screw winter. And screw Mud.
Maybe I’ll plant a Christmas tree.
When you come visit, bring seeds.
Three days ago, my Bride and I were talking about needing to source a goose for Christmas, and then this morning during a meeting, a colleague sent me a note.
"My husband just shot a goose. Do you want it?"
HELLS YES I DO.
I have been a very good boy, and the universe clearly agrees with me.
He dropped it off in a cooler, along with a note.
I left you a delicious goose. It's in your cooler. I apologize for the lack of a head, but it was a damn good shot!
Hope you enjoy!
I was totally enthusiastic about this, but I'm going to let you in on a little secret.
I had not the slightest idea what the heck to do next.
So we did what the settlers did. We looked up videos on YouTube. A couple of searches later, and we found a quick 'how to dress your goose'.
God, I love the internet.
We took the bird out to the barn, and pulled out a garbage bag.
The down was as soft as they advertise, and came out by the handful. Even the Boy got in on the action. He gloved up, just in case.
We lit the fire and commenced to plucking. (the fire comes in handy later. Hold that thought).
Mostly, it was pretty easy. Everything except the wings and some of the longer feathers came out with a gentle tug.
Most of the 'how to videos' were focused on 'breasting' the bird - dressing it in pieces. Apparently, the skin is easy to peel off, and you can quarter the bird very easily. But we want saving this bird for Christmas, and roast it for our dinner party. So we were careful to keep the skin as intact as possible (though we found one or two tears from the shot that spread).
My Bride's mom laughed as we got into the groove.
She grew up taking out chickens and dressing them with little emotion. She took care of the rooster we had a few years ago.. She is not a woman to be trifled with.
After plucking all that we could by hand, I wrapped the legs up in wire and lit a bundle of paper up to singe the remaining quills off. Just a quick pass of flame over the skin and the remaining little bits of feathers were toasted right off.
Amazing how well that worked.
Apparently, you can believe stuff you see on the internet.
George was such a good pup the whole time - she was clearly interested (particularly in the bloody bit where the head used to be). But other than wanting to be close to the action, she was content to be near enough to watch, but not mess with the goose.
Now featherless, we took the goose back into the kitchen to dress it (which is a nice way to say "get rid of the gross bits you're not going to eat.")
With frequent checks on YouTube, cutting out the bloody inner bits and setting them aside was actually way easier than I thought it would be. (I had done something similar exactly once a few years ago, when I helped a buddy of mine harvest his turkeys. My job was to pull out the guts and toss them aside. It was disgusting for all of two minutes. Surprising how fast you get used to things).
I convinced the Boy to grab onto the esophagus.
As you can see from his face, he found the experience somewhat awkward.
Here she is, all dressed and ready. The heart, liver and gizzard has been cleaned and set aside for forcemeat stuffing. This bird was flying around this morning, and is now just about ready to be roasted and served.
I washed the bird thoroughly, inside and out (just a lot of cold water), and patted her dry. Bagged and vacuum sealed, this will be a special center piece of our Christmas dinner.
And probably a center piece of the stories our kids tell their therapist some day.
The sour corn turned out beautiful.
I actually kept forgetting about the crock sitting in the corner of the pantry for a week or so. It sat quietly fermenting in brine under a cheesecloth coverThe instructions on "when it's done" includes something along the lines of "it should take about two weeks, depending on the temperature, humidity, or your corn. Check and see if you need more time."
So I'm just going to say I checked, and it needed more time.
When I went to lift the cover, there was a thick film of fungus sitting on it. I was supposed to be skimming off the film every day or two, and I forgot that too. Underneath the raft of mold was an inch or so of faintly foggy brine, and then the corn, which was held down by a plate with a heavy rock.
I skimmed off that moldy raft rather easily and scooped up a spoonful of the corn. It smelled salty-sweet-earthy. The book describes the right flavor as something approaching taste like the last pickle from the bottom of the barrel, yet sweeter with the natural flavor of corn, with an overtone of "pleasant funk".
That's a perfect description. This stuff is gold.
Stored in a glass jar in the fridge, the corn will last weeks or even months in the refrigerator. It can be eaten as a cold relish on the side, or even better, the author recommends heating up a cast iron skillet scorching hot and frying it up a bit in butter or bacon grease. To be fair, I'd probably eat roadkill or a pair of slightly off socks if it was cooked up in enough bacon grease. But if you get too close to my little treasure trove of sour corn, I'll probably stab you with my fork.
Make your own. You won't regret it.
"Daddy, I need a top hat for a spirit week at school. Where am I going to find a top hat?"
"I have a top hat."
"Really?? Why do you have a top hat??"
"One is either the type of person that owns a top hat, or the type of person that needs a top hat. You are the latter. Fortunately for you, I am the former."
It's not often that I find a cookbook that grabs my attention and makes me want to read it cover to cover, word for word. Although, frankly, 'cookbook' is hardly the right word to describe Victuals, by Ronni Lundy which is probably why it's subtitled 'an Appalachian Journey... with Recipes.' It's as much about the story of the food featured as it is the recipes, and it is masterfully and beautifully written.
I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, but like the author, my mom took me 'back home' to Blue Ridge, Georgia every chance we got. Weekends that were more than two days, or long, hot stretches in the summer that lingered to the soundtrack of grasshopper crescendos behind the cornfield. I knew exactly what the author was describing when she recalled sitting on the back porch with aunts and her grandmother, threading beans to hang and dry in long, lovely strings, and visiting the canning factory every summer to put up the harvest. Apples were destined for apple butter in the fall, and the aforementioned cornfield nestled at the foot of the hill was where my grandfather would head to hoe and weed when he came home from a shift at the copper mine just a few miles over the border in Tennessee.
Some recipes I found in the book were new to me, and got me excited to try. Appalachia has a much richer and more multi-threaded history than most folks from outside the region suspect. There's a strong streak of Scots-Irish tradition in the hearty staples, and adaptation of the native staples like corn in food and drink. But there's also a streak of German, Hungarian, African and several other waves or pockets of immigration that worked the mines, the fields or found the hills to be an otherwise likely place to settle in.
So when I saw a recipe for 'sour corn' that was essentially an adaptation of traditional German sauerkraut which replaces cabbage with fermented corn, I had to try it. I love the tangy bite of sauerkraut, and we are just seeing the last fresh ears of corn for the season at the market. Perfect timing.
I scalded 15 ears of corn in boiling water for 2 minutes and set them aside on the counter to let them cool a bit before cutting the kernels off the cob. (The chickens get a double treat this afternoon of both the husks and the leftover cobs, which they go wild for).
The corn goes into a 2 gallon ceramic crock (in fact the same one I've made sauerkraut in). I mixed 8 cups of water with just a hair more than a cup of kosher salt until the salt was completely dissolved, and poured it in over the corn.
Slide a plate gently into the crock, and weight it down so that the corn stays submerged, and cover with cheesecloth. The crock is now resting in a cool, out of the way corner of the pantry for the next two weeks or so.
When the corn is ready, I'll ladle it into mason jars, and make sure it stays covered with the brine. Properly canned (and I'll draw on my Bride's expertise to make sure I get it right), it'll last through the winter season. This will probably make enough for 6 or 7 pints.
The author recommends cooking up batches of sour corn with a little bacon grease and serving along side, well, anything. But she promises it's just as good fresh out of the crock. Which is good, because I'm not sure I'm going to be patient enough to let it get to the skillet.
I love this time of year. This is the time of year that things like this start showing up in my mailbox.
We got our pigs a little early this year - they were born in early February, and we picked them up right around the first of March. So these little bacon seeds got to experience snow (it being Maine, which is about 3 miles from the North Pole, and snow being a thing that we can experience up through and sometimes into May.)
Oh how quickly they grow up. This year's pair of pigs were a Tamworth-Yorkshire cross. They were a nice, long 'bacon' pig.
I'm not making that up. There's math behind that truth. Long pigs == long belly. And pork belly is where they keep the bacon. This differs from our previous pigs, both sets of which were Gloucester Old Spots, which had a richer, thicker layer of fat, and were 'ham' pigs.
I mean, these also have hams. Just a little smaller by comparison.
In the end, I didn't really like these pigs. Not like the Gloucesters, which I'd gladly get again.
Beth (named by my 14 year old daughter who named her after the girl that dies in 'Little Women'), and Apples were constant rooters, and a fairly destructive. They tore the sill out of the back of the barn, pushed random boards in the walls until they cracked and broke, and pushed I'm not sure how many holes through their fencing. The never actually tried to escape, which makes them simultaneously a) idiots and b) far less work than our last set. But I kept having to patch the fence and generally grumble a lot more than I did in the past.
When I looked over at them a couple of weeks ago and sized up their hams by eye, I figured it was time enough for them to head to slaughter. It was not a tearful parting.
We had fed these on the same mix of peanuts and pig feed as we raised the previous sets. the peanuts are my American stand in for the acorns that the deliciously famous black Iberian pigs find in the oak scrub of northern Spain.
Another nice surprise about moving to Maine is that the peanuts in the shell are about a third cheaper than they are in the feed store in Massachusetts. I have no idea why that might be - I am left to assume that the Massachusetts state legislature has placed a stiff import tax on underground legumes and anything that goes by the common name of 'Goober'. Which is probably also why the Andy Griffith show never took off with the Boston crowd.
I called my buddy down the road and asked if he'd help me schelp the pigs to the slaughterhouse again this year. Actually, I was really hoping his wife would help. Joanna grew up on a local farm, and with their kids, she's a fixture at the local fairs, prepping and herding the animals for show. When she came, she pointed at Joe and myself and showed us where we could stand so we'd be more or less out of the way while she picked up each pig and threw them into the trailer with a gently frightening, backhanded toss of one wrist.
Or something like that. I've watched her in action twice now, and I still have no idea how that tiny little blonde woman gets them in there but they were loaded and ready to go in about 15 minutes.
I tried a new slaughterhouse this year - a local one just down the road in Windham, Maine. It was a self-service drop off on a Sunday morning: back the trailer up, pick a pen and settle them in. There's no staff around, you just fill out a form and fill out the instructions with a contact phone number. (Joanna showed me where the forms were. Of course).
The pigs were pretty much a perfect weight when we took them in - 241 and 242 pounds respectively. That's at the top end of where you want them, more or less. Though there were a pair of pigs in the pen next to these that must have been approaching 500 lbs. Not that I'm fat shaming. But anything north of 250, and you're pretty much just raising lard.
I was a little nervous about trying a new slaughter house. Most slaughterhouses will also butcher and package the meat - many (including this one) even offer smoking and curing. But the ones up here have a fairly limited selection of cutting skills.
I spoke to the owner when I called to schedule the slaughter and asked if he'd be able to cut prosciutto, and back bacon, and a few other traditional cuts. "Sure. We've done that a couple of times."
I mean, cutting a prosciutto isn't hard. It's actually easier than cutting, boning and trimming out your typical ham. Cut the leg off the body. That's pretty much it. So I figured I'd give it a try.
So I crossed out everything on the standard form (which pretty much consisted of "how thick do you like your pork chops" (no pork chops) and "would you like us to go ahead use Pappy's special cure on your sausage? (No). ) and wrote a paragraph or two of instructions on the back of the page. Which pretty much read like this:
"Hi. I make prosciuttos. DON'T CUT THE FEET OFF. Please cut the hip fairly high, because I will cure the whole leg. DON'T CUT THE FEET OFF. These will be things of beauty, which I will tenderly rub with salt and say nice things to. DON'T CUT THE FEET OFF. They will be hung in my basement and brought out to serve the most beloved of guests, to a kind of wordless, heavenly aria sung by small children garbed in white hired specially for the occasion. DON'T CUT THE FEET OFF. It will take two years, but that's ok. Because I believe in long term relationships. And also cuddles. DID I MENTION THE FEET? NOT OFF."
Guess what? They cut the feet off.
The rest of the meat was cut pretty well. The butcher was good, it's just that not a lot of people want to cure a whole ham. So they just instinctively reached for the feet chopper. And once they're off, there's no putting them back on.
I ended up with a lot of trim, and the butts were cut down a bit smaller than I would have liked (can't get coppa out of this). But the loins were handled perfectly - kept whole, with a bit of belly attached. Perfect for making English bacon. And the freezers are now crammed full in a sort of three dimensional meat jigsaw puzzle. And the meat overall looked lovely. Farm to table takes on a whole new meaning of delicious when the farm in question is your backyard.
A couple of days later, we had some guests over (for the Color Wars party), and I smoked up a shoulder to serve. Which was mouth watering.
"Hey kids! This pig was alive in our backyard a couple of days ago! Would you like a bit more Beth on your sandwich?"
I have learned a couple of things about early pigs. Mostly: early pigs get slaughtered early.
It turns out - there's a reason why pig slaughtering season is in the fall, when the air is cool. Because heat does bad things to pork, even with 40 pounds of salt spread over it.
The (footless) prosciuttos (above) went into my prosciutto salting boxes on a nice bed of kosher salt, and were liberally rubbed, coated and massaged with several dozen pounds of salt. And also: salt.
There are three things you can lose a prosciutto to, more or less. Bacteria, pests/insects, or fungus. Any or all is bad. I'd been working on my turning what used to be a dairy room in the basement into a curing room. The stone walls are still whitewashed, and I'd gotten the humidity pretty stable, hovering between 40-55%. I have been charting it out via a SmartThings monitor that would text my phone when it went outside of the range. Basically, I am turning my house into SkyNet in the quest for a good piece of prosciutto.
I visited my prosciutto often. I covered the boxes with a couple of layers of cheesecloth to ensure nothing would disturb them. I watched the humidity closely, and went to sleep each night feeling better that my basement was full of lovely pork.
Until my basement began to smell.
The cut feet not only made the potential-prosciutto harder to hang (you can cut a slit right behind the ankle tendon that makes a perfect place to thread a rope), and less lovely to present, but it doesn't actually affect the meat. So I went ahead with the cure. There's a formula about how long to salt the ham before hanging, based on weight and thickness, and how many letters from Leondardo da Vinci's name also appear in your name. But it is measured in weeks. The next step is to bag it (to keep the flies off for a while longer) and hang it to air dry until your 4th grader is ready for 6th grade.
Unfortunately, because our pigs were ready for slaughter so early in the year, I was starting the cure during the hottest week of the summer. It was in the 90's pretty much every day. And while the basement of this old farmhouse tends to stay a little cooler than that, it is not hermetically sealed. Or air conditioned. And that extra cut at the top of the leg with the bone sticking out provided for a difficult to seal entrance for more bacteria. It was kind of like a marquis board flashing: "HEY E.COLI! I GOT THE THING THAT YOU LIKE RIGHT HERE!" There's a reason that Pa Ingalls waited until the nights were cold and the leaves were falling to slaughter his pigs.
After ten days or so, my meat started to spontaneously juice.
Juiced meat is not a good sign. There's a book I read and keep handy on the shelf called "Ham: An obsession with the hindquarter". (I raise pigs in my backyard so that I can put their hindlegs in a box in my basement. Of course I own this book). In it, the author answers the question, "how do I know if my ham has gone bad" by explaining:
Trust me. You'll know.
He was right.
Sigh... ah well. The bacon's still good, and I have a two prosciuttos from past pigs that will soon be ready. Therefore, I hereby declare this the year of salami. I've got plenty of trim, and nothing but time to get it right.
Meanwhile, here's a picture of Apples, taking a leisurely soak.
The Boy turned 9 last week, and we were somewhat stumped for what to do for a party.
We've thrown a few different kinds of parties over the years, but they've all had a couple of things in common. a) It has to fit in our backyard. (or side yard. Or front yard. Whatever). And b) it probably will end up involving props of some kind. For the first few years of the Critter's life, her birthday was a Bluegrass BBQ that slowly escalated into a multi-band jam. And at some point I discovered that I could build medieval structures out of haybales, and then the fun really began. But this year, we were at something of a loss. 9 is tough, as the kid in question is beginning to voice an opinion about what kind of party he wants.
I ran the Tough Mudder a couple of weeks ago, and I was somewhat tempted to build an obstacle course in the backyard (but then I realized, we had already done that). But that led to another thought, and we thought - color run! Wait. No. No running. Color wars!
That we can do! I trotted out the pallets I had set up for last year's water battles, and made a team Red and team Blue fortification amidst the apple and pear trees. We looked up the recipe to make the color powder (turns out, it's just cornstarch and food dye, mixed baked and dried), but then we found an even better solution: you can buy the stuff for a few bucks. We ordered 100 packets.
We ordered a box of those little nylon footsies they provide at the shoe store to try things on, and set up a production line. One bag filled two footsie socks. Tied off, they became handy little grenades that shed lovely color when you threw them, and splatted satisfactorily when they hit. And they could be picked up and thrown again and again.
When the kids arrived, we divided them into a team Boys (made up of 8-9-10 year olds) and a team girls (which seemed to include a lot of older teens, and somehow, my lovely Bride, who wanted in on the action).
She naturally became a prime target.
We had only two rules, to keep it simple (just in case you want to try this madness at home) - One: you could only have one color grenade in hand at a time. And two, if you got hit, you had to retreat to your base before joining again.
We gave everyone a pair of safety goggles, and set them loose. The results were a lot of laughs, and some happy, exhausted, and very colorful kids.
We had a lot of baby wipes to help folks clean up afterwards. (I did find quite a number of handprints on the walls inside the house that evening - a quick wipe down made it disappear, no problem).
I'm not sure which team won in the end, but I'm pretty sure the dog ended up being the most popular target. Poor, patient George started out in the thick of things, but ended up on the sidelines pretty quickly. The kids found her anyway, and spent the last of the powder creating Maine's only tie dye English Shepherd.
Not sure exactly how we're going to explain this one to the groomer today...
Since we're Mainers now (well.. as close as a non-native person 'from away' that doesn't have roots going back three-plus generations in the state can get, anyhow), we've been talking about Camp.
In Maine, going 'Upta Camp' is a tradition. Families have a cabin or a house on the beach, or even a stretch of land that buts up against a river or a lake that they can pull their camper onto or pitch a tent. There's a lot of water in Maine, and more than enough to go around. And failing that, then a Camp near to one of the ski resorts up in the mountains will do nicely.
There are lots of varieties of Camp. Many of which are as nice (or nicer) than the primary house, with all the amenities of home. Which to me, kind of seems like cheating.
I'd been planting the seeds of an idea with my Bride for a while. We were watching HGTV and some 'small homes' show, and saw a little log cabin.
"Ooh. That looks good. Look - they have a woodstove for heat. None of that sissified electric stuff"
Then I'd turn on an episode of 'Naked and Afraid'.
'Put a tent in there someplace, and that would make a nice Camp, doncha think?'
Somewhere in there, I got my Bride convinced that we should rent a place for a week this summer, and try out a Camp. I found a place someplace between Portland and the Canadian border (about 5 hours away), and showed her the cabin (above). 'That looks nice, doesn't it?'
After she said 'yes', I explained that while you could theoretically get there by car - on a logging road, and only if you had some serious 4 wheel drive, and still had to pack in the last mile by foot - it would be such an adventure to take the float plane in.
That's our ride. It wasn't big enough to carry us all at the same time. So we took a couple of trips, along with all our gear. It was loud, and it only flew about 600 feet off the ground. There were hills going by above eye level as we flew in.
But when we landed, we were in Maine heaven. Not another soul nearby. It's the only cabin on the lake. The sounds of the loons, and the fish jumping in the lake were amazing. The cabin was built of spruce felled and peeled on the property. All of the forest around us for miles was private timber land, and there were no neighbors for miles.
Of course, there was also no electricity. Or cell coverage. Or running water.
There was a fresh spring trickling out from underneath a rock about 200 yards through the woods down a trail.
('I see a bear!' The Boy shouted this at me as we unloaded the gear and waited on the girls to arrive on the second flight in. I laughed, but I looked rather carefully down the trail towards the spring - which we still had not yet walked. 'It's moving there!'
It was a log and some dappled sunlight waving through the trees. But I admit, it was an exciting few minutes while I tried to spot what the Boy was seeing.)
Despite the 'roughing' it - the cabin was amazingly well outfitted. There was a kitchen cabin with 4 beds, and a connected 'sleeping' cabin with another 5. (Overall the place could've slept 16 people). Both cabins had a woodstove - we kept one of them going all the time. There was a propane fueled refrigerator and a stove top, and inside 'camp' lights with gas mantles.
There were packs of cards and leftover spices. A few cribbage boards and a half dozen hunting and fishing magazines to read if the mood struck. There were 2 canoes and a 2 person kayak, and plenty of trees near the lake to string our little portable hammock up in. And a pair of adirondack chairs to laze in.
And we had the best outhouse I've ever had the pleasure to sit in.
It didn't take long to slow down once we settled in. It was quiet and peaceful, and the lake was gorgeous and welcome to swim in during the early afternoon hours when the temperature reached 80 degrees or so.
We all read a lot, and hiked a lot, napped frequently, and just enjoyed the pace of the woods. At night, we'd listen to the cries of the loons, and once to a pack of coyotes ranging through the woods near camp.
All of our meals were either cooked over the fire down next to the water, or in the woodstove in the cabin. Every meal tasted amazing, with that earthy, welcome tang of fire and smoke. My Bride had planned every meal (there were spreadsheets involved, and cryovac packaged portions), and we still ended up with more food than we needed. The first night was ribeye and asparagus. And that was just a sample of how well we ate while we were there.
The kids both took to the woods readily. The Critter was just back from 4 weeks of sleep-away camp in New Hampshire (and not exactly thrilled at the idea of another week without access to her phone and friends), but admitted that the quiet was welcome after living in a cabin full of chattering 14 year old girls for a month.
She didn't move too far from the lake for the duration of the week.
The Boy and I were the ones to explore. The cabin backed up onto a 700 foot high peak (see my earlier note about how high the plane flew), and he and I climbed up and around and through the woods, finding and forging trails, and peeking underneath rocks and fallen logs. He asked me a couple of times as we were out exploring if we could stay there for ever. I'm pretty sure this boy likes the woods.
He got his very own pocket knife for this trip (he turned 9 a week after we got back), and took to carving and whittling. Only cut himself once. And it didn't bleed too badly. So we're declaring victory.
The morning after we arrived, we were all hanging out near the lake, and the Boy shouts 'Hey! Moose!'
I had a moment of '...probably right next to the bear you spotted earlier' until I looked up, and saw a 7 foot bull moose standing in the water at the end of the lake. Sure as shit. Our first moose. (Not just this trip. This is our first moose spotting since moving to Maine).
The moose proceeded to calmly walk out into the water and graze on the lily pads and water grasses, and then did something I never would've imagined. It completely submerged itself, diving down beneath the water for several seconds. It would pop its head up every once in a while, and we could see the water flashing and cascading off its antlers. It did this for about half an hour, before it got back up and wandered into the woods. The entire time, I think the four of us sat slack-jawed in awe, watching this gigantic beast.
The next day, we saw a cow moose and two calves a little further around the corner of the lake - that was early in the morning, and I didn't have a camera with me. Because the Boy had woken me up at 5:30 am to go fishing.
He has been wanting to fish for years - since before we left Massachusetts. And I finally ran out of excuses on this trip, and broke down and bought him a pole. He was so excited about this - despite the fact that I hadn't been fishing in over 25 years. My Bride and I were you-tubing videos of how to clean a fish on the drive up, as neither one of us had any real idea anymore.
We didn't catch a thing all week. The lake is full of brook trout and land locked salmon, and we got several good bites. But our skill or luck wasn't there, and we couldn't reel any of it in. But he wasn't deterred. He'd spend an hour or more quietly casting out and slowly reeling in, or letting his line sit in the water as I paddled us out in the canoe. He found the zen of fishing immediately. It was the coolest thing I've probably ever done for that Boy, and I was beyond myself with joy at being around him while he was having so much fun. I was also huddled around the hottest, strongest coffee I could make. It was 5:30 in the morning, and we were out on the damn water in a canoe, after all.
On our last morning, we woke up to a pouring rain, and all of us decided to back up in our sleeping bags a little longer, and listened to the rain hit the roof of our cabin. The plane couldn't get there through the weather, and we waited a few extra, welcome hours before our return to civilization.
I don't know if we'll ever buy something like this on our own, but I'm pretty sure all of us would be up for going back to this little spot of magic.
I can't believe I've never taken pictures of this spring ritual before.
With the weather finally (sort of) turning into warm weather here in Maine, we got the itch to have a get together. We've done this spring party several times before, back when we lived in Massachusetts, and this seemed like a perfect way to get our new neighborhood together for a low key way to welcome the change of seasons finally reaching this far north.
The Low Country Boil is the southern version of the New England clambake. Our version uses mudbugs instead of clams. And spices. Many spices. I'm not sure what Yankees have against flavor, but we keep working to introduce and educate them on the world beyond salt and butter.
I order live, farm-raised crawfish from a place in Louisiana. They ship them overnight in a cooler, along with a couple of ice-packs. When these guys get cold, they go dormant, and when you first open the cooler, it looks like a mesh bag full of still shells. But if you give them an hour or so to warm up, they start waking up and writhing around. The kids always love to touch them, and see them try and pinch with their little claws. And up here, it's easier to explain them as a 'tiny, freshwater lobster'.
In fact, crawfish (or crawdads, as we called them growing up) (or 'crayfish' if you insist on making my ears hurt at the sound of your voice), are native to pretty much anywhere. I am sure we have them in the pond behind our house. I used to chase them as a kid in the creek near where I grew up. We just have more of them in the South. Or we're more willing to eat something that crawled out from underneath a rock in the brook at the back of our property.
The recipe is pretty straightforward. I throw small, new red potatoes in a pot of simmering water, along with a bit of salt. They take the longest to cook, so I leave them be for a bit. After 30 minutes or so, I add chunks of andouille and smoked sausage, along with a pack of creole seasoning, which includes paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and some cayenne pepper.
After ten more minutes or so, I throw in corn (frozen is fine). And in the last ten minutes, I add crawfish.
I had ordered 20lbs (serving 40-50 people, along with other sides and goodies), and ended up having to do the crawfish in two parts. My lobster pot is big, but not that big.
It's one of the easiest things to serve.
Step 1) Spread out paper, and scoop out the crawfish and everything else from the pot.
Step 2) Stand around and eat.
You're going for the tail meat in a crawfish. Unless you get the occasional monster, there's nothing worthwhile in the claw. Snap the little guy in half, and pop that tail out, and chow down. If you're brave enough, you can 'suck the head' - pulling out the juices from the front half.
I toss a big pot on the table to collect all the shells - they'll go to the chickens, who enjoy the heck out of the treat. The rest of the goodies on the table (corn, potatoes, and sausage) make for nice treats in amongst the crawfish.
We ended up with a perfect day for the event. It was a rare 80 degree day in May, for Maine. Perfect blue skies, and plenty of cold beer. And a lot of good conversation. We had most of our neighbors pop round, and several treasured old friends from Massachusetts, as well as a few new colleagues.
The kids ran around until they were exhausted. The adventurous ones trying the crawfish. Our gardens are just really coming back to life, and we kept the iced tea and lemonade and ready to refresh the kids for another round of whatever game they were playing.
Even though it was 80+ during the day, as soon as the sun touched the tops of the trees the temperature started to drop. The house came with a huge, fantastic cauldron that doubles as a fire pit as needed.
Such a perfect day to have folks over, and an easy party to throw any time.
It's definitely starting to feel like an actual home now.
I love that our Maine farm came with a tremendous amount of edible things already in the ground and thriving. Peach trees. Blueberry bushes. Apple trees. Pears. Raspberries. Blackberries. Grapes.
A whole lot of grapes.
We actually decided we needed thin out the grape vines a bit. We have grapes in the yard. Grapes down in the cutting garden. Grapes growing in the greenhouse. Grapes growing over the arbor outside the kitchen door.
Altogether, there are 20 grapevines or so. All different kinds - cold hardy, seeded and seedless varieties of concord grapes, for the most part. We made jam with them last year - lovely stuff. But a bit much to keep up with, and we actually like to have some open space in the yard. So it was time to thin the stock a bit - I wanted to take out the two rows above and create a bit more space. So I posted a note on Craigslist last week "You dig 'em. You take 'em. Free to good home." I had a half dozen responses within half an hour. I love Maine.
While the young couple was digging up the grapes, I noticed the wild chives had already sprouted. If you brush them, the air was full of that lovely, spring scent. A grassy & onion perfume. Rich and heady.
I went out and clipped an armful
This is not to go to waste - soon enough, the rest of the lawn will rejuvenate, and I'd have to pick through it more to separate "lawn" from "edible" - as it is, it was simple to snip an inch or two up from the base, and grab whole clusters of chives.
I picked through the scrawny ones and tossed to the chickens (who never mind the tasty castoffs), rinsed them and spread them over a sheet pan. A couple/three hours in the Aga's warming oven, and I have fresh dried chives to chop & dice & add to the spice drawer.
Now I'm eagerly waiting for the fiddleheads to appear - those will go right into the sautee pan with some butter and lemon, and maybe a sprinkling of chopped chives to boot!
March went by pretty quickly. In part because I was traveling quite a bit for work. Which isn't my favorite way to spend my time, but it sort of comes with the gig. And it tends to come in waves, when it comes. I think this March was a particularly big wave. I was gone 3 out of the last 4 weeks. But on one of my few weekends back in Maine, I managed to go pick up two piglets.
The kids got to name them this year. The darker one was named 'Apples' by the Boy. The Critter asked if she could name hers after a character from a book. Sure thing, kid. The lighter one thus named 'Beth'.
(I didn't ask, but I'm pretty sure she was thinking of 'Little Women' - Beth was the sister that died later in the book, for the record. There's not much doubt about the fate of these little bacon seeds in our house).
A couple of days or so after the piglets showed up, it snowed. (Because: Maine). George is still trying to figure out what kind of dogs these things are.
The pigs this year are a different breed - they're a Yorkshire x Tamworth x Oldspot cross. A leaner, longer, bacony-er pig. Which is totally a thing. The Oldspot is a fattier, heritage breed, which grows great hams. A longer pig gives you more belly. Hence: more bacon. But I still fully expect these to make great prosciutto.
These particular prosciuttos will be ready for slaughter in early fall. In the meantime, we'll all enjoy their presence, and - when I'm not traveling - I'll get to enjoy my morning livestock rituals once more.
In Maine, spring is generally a long time coming. At least for this guy raised in Georgia. When we were renovating the house, we found several places where newspaper had been used as insulation between the walls or under floors. This 70 year old newspaper printed in May of 1956 warns against planting yet... "This is much too early for warm season plants..."
But we've had an odd winter this year - after last year's feet and feet of snow, we've had a spotty snowfall. And while I expect that we've not seen the last of winter yet, we've had a small stretch of warmth. Warm enough to tease me about what is to come in a couple of months. And while I am still only optimistically eyeing the seed catalogs, and dreaming of the vegetables I might plant, it is warm enough for me to get out and clean out the greenhouse.
The greenhouse is one of my favorite parts of the property. It allows me to extend the growing season a few weeks in either direction. Today hit almost 50 degrees outside - but it was just over 70F in the greenhouse.
I raked and trimmed and cut back the grapevine that grows up the brick wall (it provides some coolness during the heat of the summer, preventing the brick wall from radiating back too much heat and scalding the other plants).
The soil may rest for a little while longer, but it's time I start circling things in the seed catalog, and thinking about the fresh tomatoes, arugula, peas, and green things to come.
Over the past few months, I realized that we were streaming more and more of our entertainment content. Like 80%. For a couple of reasons. But mostly: because the interface on my cable box takes shitty to a new, epic level of suck.
Every other year or so, I've been looking to see if there was a better streaming service - Apple TV, Netflix, Hulu Plus. Then, just over a year ago, I got our first Amazon Fire TV. The same one that Gary Busey advertises.
'If you're like me, you like talking to stuff... Hello, Pants.'
That man is a genius. How did he know that I like to do that, too??
The interface on Amazon fire is so clean and simple and easy. If you can't find something, just talk at it. It'll show up. Plus, it integrated all of my other services into one, simple to navigate screen.
I realized that I was defaulting to Amazon 'On Demand' over Time Warner just because it was so much easier. Please, Bezos, let me give you my money, just because it doesn't HURT to do so.
Don't believe me? Here. Look at the difference in the remote controls.
Time Warner has like 1,000 buttons. I know what two of them do.
Fire has 7 buttons. I know what all of them do. And mostly, I use the mic. Which lets me tell it things like "Peter Falk", and have all of the Columbo movies magically appear in front of me.
And don't get me started on the screen interface. I actually had a long, reasonably patient conversation with someone fairly intelligent at Time Warner. Who determined that the cause of my frustration was that I was using an older hardware kit, and that my problems would be solved with a newer cable box. I thought my problem was that when I hit "CBS", it didn't take me to "CBS". It took me to a listing of all the major networks, and 'allowed' me to scroll over to "CBS" to select a program (which is what I wanted to do the first time I hit "CBS"). But I let him swap out my cable box anyway, which gave me a slightly faster version of the same crappy interface. Winner.
I know. This is a first world problem. And for a long time I just shrugged my shoulders and decided I had better things to worry about.
But then last month, I got my bill. And all the charges on it were doubled. Because I now had two cable boxes, right? One crappy old one. And one crappy new one.
Except I didn't. Because why the heck would we have kept the crappy old one? I called my cable provider's customer service line to calmly explain this to them. And then I walked through the charges. $3.00/month for the programming guide? $100/month for the extended line up of channels that I generally ignore?
Our normal cable bill is ~$150/month. That covers the extended package (because I like HGTV, and my Bride likes zombie shows), and a premium channel or two (which we only watch once a year or so).
We already pay for Netflix ($20/month) and Hulu Plus ($8/month), because it's easier to find TV shows there than through the cable on demand service (It does nice things like show a listing for "New episodes of things you've watched before" right up at the top. Imagine that.) And we pay for Amazon Prime (mostly for the free shipping on Amazon), which comes with its own set of content now. So we're already paying for more streaming content - that we use more regularly - than for our much more expensive cable service.
In a casual conversation, a buddy of mine mentioned that he had cut the cord, and shut off his cable service. This got me thinking.
I went home and talked to my Bride about the shows we watch, and figured out that we'd be missing maybe 3 things if we turned off Cable tomorrow. The Walking Dead (nothing in our lineup of services includes streaming AMC), Big Bang Theory (Hulu Plus covers CBS shows, but they don't stream this one, as it's their most popular comedy). And... wait. Maybe it was just two things.
Cable costs us $1,800 a year.
For two shows.
Yeah. Not worth it.
I called Time Warner the next day, and told them I wanted to cut our service off. Just internet, please.
I laid out the reasoning.
"But... doesn't someone else in the house watch cable?"
Nope. And if they did - they won't when I'm done with this phone call.
"But... what if we cut $30 a month off your bill?"
Your interface would still suck, and I'd still be paying $1,400 a year for cable.
"Well. Um. OK, then?"
It's true: I lost a few bucks of 'advantage' in the bundling of internet service and cable from the same company. But still, we're saving more than $1,500 / year. And that's after tax earnings. It's equivalent to giving myself a $2,000 or more raise. And who wouldn't be happy with that? Plus, I'm not left confused and irritated every time I pick up the remote control.
Still. I've got to figure out how to stream AMC now. Even if it costs me a few bucks. Because my cute +1 is a lot happier if she can scare herself silly with her favorite zombie shows...
Since Snowpocalypse 2016 decided to stick it to our more southerly neighbors this weekend, we took advantage of the time to get together with one of our dear friends who has been promising for years to teach us to make traditional Chinese dumplings.
I have long considered myself something of a connoisseur of dumplings. I try them at nearly every restaurant or opportunity I get. But my expertise only extends to the eating half of the work. I've certainly never made them from scratch, and was at somewhat of a loss as how to start. Our friend asked what kind I liked to eat (since that is apparently where my expertise stops). I like the pork & cabbage variety best.
During our conversation about what ingredients we needed to make sure we had on hand, I asked her if she used the frozen dumpling wrappers you can buy at the Asian market. I thought I was being pretty suave demonstrating that I even knew that there was such a thing as frozen dumpling wrappers. She made a face, and shook her head at me.
"No. We will start by making the dough."
Um. Ok. What goes into the dough? I was imagining a special trip to get the ingredients from New York.
Nope. Just all purpose flour and water.
"Really? Just all purpose flour? Like.. the all purpose flour I buy all the time?"
"What did you think it was?"
"Well.. I don't know. Magical dumpling flour?"
That prompted another 'are you ok?' face. I quickly moved on.
"OK. How much do you put in?"
"Enough for how many dumplings you want to make."
Well yeah. That makes sense, I suppose.
A lot of the directions took this form. There was very little measuring involved. It was done by feel, or heft, or my favorite - by smell.
The dough was rolled and kneaded until it was quite firm. Just room temperature water, and what I think was about 4 or so cups of flour. But maybe it was 5. Whatever it was, it was 'enough'.
"How much salt do you add to the meat?"
"Until it smells like it is the right amount."
The ingredients were simple:
- Ground pork (I ground it this morning from sausage trim left from on of our pigs. This was was named Rocky). We used about 2 lbs.
- Chopped ginger - only about a half a thumb's worth, chopped fine
- Chopped onion - only because I forgot to go buy scallions. I used one onion, and tossed it through the grinder at the end (a good way to push the last meat through the grinder as well). If you were using scallions, you should chop 4 or 5 very fine
- Chopped cabbage. I used about 3/4 head of a Savoy cabbage, as it's leafier and closer to Chinese cabbage. I chopped up about a quarter of it, and was told "finer". When I got the consistency right, our friend said "Good. Now chop more."
- A tablespoon or so of white sugar.
- Sesame oil. Just a few drops.
- Canola oil. Maybe an 1/4 cup, divided into two parts.
- Salt & white pepper
When our friend asked for chopsticks to stir the meat, I whipped out a pair I had bought on a whim a few years ago at an Asian market. "I will use these for stir fry's!" I declared. Which I did. Once. They have rested in our drawer from that moment until today. I was rather smug at how my laziness made me look rather clever and worldly when I could produce them on demand.
Our friend carefully mixed everything together until smooth.
The ginger, pork, salt & pepper were stirred together with the sesame oil and half the canola oil.
'Don't mix the salt & pepper in with the vegetables. It will leach the water out.'
The rest of the oil was mixed in with the cabbage (and scallions if you've added). And only then was everything mixed together. She would pause and smell the mixture occasionally to determine if the flavors were right. If it wasn't salty enough, you wouldn't smell the sesame correctly, she said.
When she said it was good, I leaned over the bowl and smelled the meat before nodding sagely.
With the dough done resting, we began to roll it out and chop it into the small balls for each dumpling. I got pretty ok at this part, though I was not nearly as fast as my teacher, who could whip out a flat, perfectly circular dumpling wrapper in about 4 seconds.
It's a two handed exercise - one hand on the rolling pin, and one on the ball of dough, stretching and spinning it a little as you go, leaving a little hump of thicker dough in the middle.
With a few done, we started on the really hard part: stuffing and folding them.
Each took a healthy tablespoon of filling, and with some magical twisting and finger sorcery, out popped a perfectly formed dumpling.
Not a "that looks pretty good" dumpling (which is about as well as I ever managed). But a "looks like it just came out of the restaurant kitchen professional level" dumpling.
She tried to teach me several times, and my big clumsy fingers managed to sort of get the knack. My Bride, on the other hand, managed pretty well after a couple of pointers.
We even had the Critter trying.
Even with a lot of practice, you could tell which were made by whom, when they lined up on the board.
We may, or may not have gotten a little competitive over whose looked better.
I'll save you from guessing. These weren't mine.
Once we had enough ready, we started test boiling a few.
"How long will they boil?"
"Put them in the water, and then let the water come back to a boil. Then add water again so it stops boiling, and let it come back to a full boil. Do that three times."
Wait... um. What?
I had to stop and replay that in my head, before I could make it out. But you know what? That totally worked. They came out perfectly done, with the great quality meat and the light, vegetable notes of the cabbage and spices all perfectly balanced.
We served them with a dipping sauce made from lots of finely minced garlic, soy sauce and chili vinegar. When making this at home yourself, use more vinegar than soy sauce.
I ate so many that I felt stuffed like a dumpling myself.
Not only were they absolutely amazing, but it was so much fun to be taught by our friend to make something her mom and grandmother had taught her (even if she did laugh herself silly at my antics trying to make my dumplings look reasonably similar to her professional ones). A wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Only two weeks until Chinese New Year's, when dumplings are a traditional food. I think this year, we'll be able to celebrate in style!
I cured this de-boned ham for 21 days in a cider brine recipe taken from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's book 'The River Cottage Meat Book'.
I took it out of the brine, and boiled it for 3 hours. Then roasted it for 1.5 hours wth a thick and lovely Dijon & brown sugar glaze.
Served with roast new potatoes tossed in a little sea salt. So damn delicious. Proving once again that time & patience can yield more delicious results than any fancy recipe.
The Boy was with standing in the kitchen when I pulled it out of the brine and asked, 'Which pig was this?'
This lovely girl was raised in our backyard about 50 yards from the oven she was cooked in. Her name was Tocino. That's some local food.
That'll do, pig. That'll do.
I am the CIO of a multi-billion dollar diagnostics & technology company.
If you don't know what a CIO is, that's ok. My mother doesn't either. It's shorthand for 'Chief Information Officer'. If that explanation didn't help clarify much, see the previous comment about my mother. It basically means I am responsible for IT, and all that computer and software stuff. I help automate, and create new ecommerce channels, and drive supply chain efficiencies, and new mobile apps, and other software kind of things.
Which sounds fancy. But the most typical question I get asked at work by my colleagues?
'How many pigs DO you have at home, anyway'.
One of our senior recruiters asked me that yesterday. She followed it up, sort of awkwardly with '... my 4 year old son wants to know.'
It's a hard question to answer. I have zero pigs. And one pig. And two pigs.
Zero: the number of pigs currently alive in my backyard.
One: the number of pigs buried near the woodline.
Two: the number of pigs in my freezer(s) or hanging to cure. Well. More or less. I've been working on cutting that number down lately. I just made ~18 pounds of mexican style chorizo (the soft kind you fry up with huevos for your tortilla), as the Critter pointed out that we hadn't made any in a while, and I had a lot of sausage trim ready for grinding. (That's not me in the picture above, by the way. But that's about the size of the batch I made). This weekend, I'll be making two different kinds of bacon - both English, wet cure and smoked streaky bacon.
Pigs are born in the spring, raised during the summer, and go to slaughter in the fall. Unless you're intending to keep a breeder, there's no reason for a pig to see its first birthday. You can read more about this in a fantastic book I picked up recently on the history of the domestication of pigs, Lesser Beasts.
'Er... I'm just going to tell my four year old that you'll be getting some new baby pigs in the spring.'
Wait. Come back. Why are you walking away? I am your CIO! We haven't talked about pigs feet and pork pie yet...