Coppa & Collards

Way back at the beginning of the year, some of our friends approached us to ask if we'd donate a dinner to the school fundraiser.  The non-profit association that raised money threw a party every year, and one of the highlights was always the auction. People donated a week at a cabin they had, or tickets from their season pass that they weren't going to use. One local orthodontist always donates a complete braces workup. That's worth lots of $$, and always draws in a good set of bids. 

Some of us have fewer things to offer, but we're always up for a good meal. And so when asked, we suggested a couple of different menus that might be fun for a dinner party. We suggested a Filipino meal might be fun - a la the tasting menu we had done last fall for some friends. Or, since we do love the charcuterie, I sketched out a literal 'farm-to-table-and-the-farm-is-about-200-feet-from-this-table' menu, drawing on both the meaty-experiments we had going in the cellar, and my Southern roots.

We called it "Coppa & Collards" 

The committee selected the latter, and my Bride and I had fun fleshing out the menu. 

For the auction, we sat back in awe and watched the bidding start. Fortunately for us, it was stacked in the back half of the auction, when people had gotten into the rhythm of the event. (and after the wine had been flowing). It got some good interest. And then suddenly, the bids took off. A group of our friends had taken up a collection, and started bidding in earnest. 

$1,100.

$1,200.

$1,700.

I think in the end it went for nearly $2,000. 

It wasn't the meal. It was the cause that our friends were giving money to. The school, and some badly needed technology and other things that would make the next generation smarter, more prepared, better dressed. I don't know. I was flabbergasted by the amount of money that was just raised. I was overwhelmed by the expectations that came with preparing a meal for ten at a price a top restaurant could command. From the things (and animals) we grew in our backyard. 

I leaned over to one of our friends and said, "You know, you could just come over to our house and we'll cook for you pretty much anytime you want. Right?"

"It's for a good cause," she said. 

Good cause, sure. But now I felt a new level of pressure. This meal had to be epic

We had specified in the description that the meal would be arranged at mutual convenience, sometime in the late summer. We'd host the meal at our home, and we wanted to take advantage of the harvest & the weather, and the abundant bounty coming out of the garden in August. 

We didn't know it at the time, of course, but a) we'd be in for a beautiful summer in Massachusetts, and b) I was going to decide to take a new job in a new state just about this time.  This was the last party we'd throw in our Massachusetts home. In fact, we ended up scheduling this party for the evening before I was to start my new job outside of Portland, Maine. 

Hey. What's a little pressure between friends? 

I brought the dining table and our chairs out to the backyard. What the hell. The packers were coming a couple of days later. We figured we'd pull out all the stops for this one. 

It was later in the summer, so I strung vintage-style lights through the yard to provide lighting for the evening, and we started working up the menu. 

We wanted to highlight the lovely flavors and combinations of some of our favorite treats. This was going to be a tasting menu. But we planned enough different tastes that we knew no one was going to walk away hungry. 

We welcomed our guests with a cup of peach gazpacho made from fruit that had ripened about 15 feet from the table. (I've shared the recipe previously here) 

I had been curing several different cuts for varying lengths of time, and I was excited to share this with our friends.

From left to right, that's lardo di colannata (rich, pure pork fat cured in a marble box), a classic prosciutto, two coppa and a lamb prosciutto.  The prosciutto had been curing for two years in my cellar. 

Maybe it was better that this was a meal for friends. You tend to feel pretty emotional about any piece of meat that's been hanging for that long in your basement. 

The coppa is made from a cut from the top of the shoulder - it's a fantastic part of the pig, with a beautiful marbling throughout. I had never made this before, but Mike & Maureen, my butchers, had gushed that I had to when they finished processing last year's peanut-raised pigs. The fat was rich and sweet, and slicing into these, I was super glad I followed their advice. 

Our first course was a sampling of charcuterie, served along side some fresh pickled vegetables from our garden - beets, okra & green beans -  and a boiled peanut & tahini edamame. 

It was a great start. We served these on slate tiles - everyone got their own, and they came back clean. 

Comparing the gamey lamb prosciutto to the sweetness of the pork, and balancing with the vinegar bite of pickled veg. I could have made a meal of just this. 

But we moved on.  We had balanced the menu to alternate our traditional Italian favorites with our more Southern dishes. 

Next up was an arugula salad with fresh radish & a pimento cheese dressing,  a cup of shrimp & grits & fried green tomatoes.  Both the salad and the grits were tossed with a scattering of home-cured pancetta, fried crispy. 

Frying green tomatoes up in cornmeal is such a perfect way to use up the surplus tomato crop towards the end of the season (or in my case, a great way to get some value out of the tomato plants that were struggling to recover from the attacks of the local deer population). And the eggs, of course, had come from our hens, and had that bright, golden yolk of chickens raised on good food and allowed to range freely. 

As an interlude, we had prepared another one of our favorite treats - roast beef bone marrow. served alongside a bright, citrusy gremolata and roast cauliflower - it's something that I order pretty much anytime I find it on a menu.

 

We hadn't been able to source bones sliced lengthways (that requires a pretty good bandsaw at a butcher, and Mike's had broken down), but even served this way, along with a little spoon to scoop the lovely marrow out as a spread for the toast, it was a hit.  

As our main, we had set aside a crown roast of pork from our backyard-raised pigs (it was Honeydew, to be specific). It was lovely and rich, and set off by collard greens harvest from our garden, and apple sauce we made from the last batch of apples we'd pick from our house in Massachusetts. 

There's something about pork & apples that work so well. And we served our collards along with a bottle of white vinegar we had marinated our crop of peppers in for a spicy kick, for the more adventurous. Our daughter, the Critter (who had helped us plate all of these dishes for our guests and was a perfect server through the night) won't eat collards without that fiery vinegar. 

That girl has good taste. 

We finished the evening with a simple desert of peach cobbler (again - the last we'd pick from our little Massachusetts orchard) and fresh, homemade buttermilk ice cream. 

My Bride and I (and the Critter) had acted as servers all night - for the money our friends had raised for the evening & the school, we wanted them to have the perfect experience, and enjoyed plating and serving each course, along with the explanation of what they were eating and where it had come from. 

All of our friends who know us well know how much we enjoy sharing our passions of good food & good conversation, and this let us combine them into an absolutely lovely evening. 

For desert, we pulled up chairs of our own and joined the group to share some final bites and laughs for the evening. 

As a last party in the home that we had loved and invited so many of our friends to enjoy over the years, it was a picture-perfect, blissful evening that will stand out in our memory as a favorite. 

And we'd do it all over again without charging a penny. 

The Wolf of Bedford Road

A few weeks ago, my 11 year old daughter came downstairs and told me, "Dad, I want a new phone." 

"Uh-huh, Critter. Let me know how that works out for you." 

We got her a phone last year. I was pretty much against it at the time, and I still have distinctly mixed feelings about it.  But she's involved in more after-school & extra-curricular things. She calls us when she needs to be picked up from the stables. She can ring us when she needs to stay later at the library. And we can use "Where's my phone" apps to check in on her progress when she's biking around.  The phone is handy, and she's responsible with it. She's never lost it, and she doesn't text or talk like crazy on it.  I'm just old-fashioned enough to begrudge giving a kid a phone.

We got her an older iPhone in one of those "free extra phone" deals when my Bride renewed her contract. It's serviceable. She doesn't have her own account. And she has to ask us to buy or download anything. The deal has been that if she breaks or loses it, she gets to pay for the replacement. And I get all the passwords, forever. And the stated assumption that I will read every mail, text or note. I'm in IT. I can do that. 

The phone she has is definitely slow, and it's more than one generation out of date. But whatever. It's a phone. And it's perfectly capable of doing phone-ish things. So when she came downstairs and said she 'needed' a new phone. I just laughed. 

"Go ahead an buy whatever phone you can afford, kid." 

"Ok. I'm going to get the gold iPhone 5s."

"OK, Sweeti -- Wait.  What?" 

Transient

She pulled out a hand drawn chart & a wad of bills from her pocket and started counting. She had calculated how much she'd need for the phone, the case she wanted, and sales tax, and made up a hand drawn spreadsheet.

Let's be clear: Our kids have never received an allowance. And that's not about to change.  Any money the Critter gets comes from collecting, boxing and selling eggs to our neighbors at three bucks a dozen, the occasional farmer's market scheme (she has sold duct tape wallets and doll blankets she had made a few times), and a little bit of birthday money from the grandparents.  Occasionally, I might throw her a few bucks to wash my car. (Very occasionally. I don't remember to wash my car more than once a year or so).

And? We make her take 1 out of every 3 dollars, and put it in the bank.  

When she was done counting, she had over $300 in a pile. This kid has more disposable income at 11 than I did when I was 31. 

But instead of the ~$100 dollars that would've gone into the bank, she kept back only $175. The rest she said would go into savings. Then she colored in her chart and hung it next to her bed with some stern warnings for herself. 

Transient

She printed out a picture of the phone she wanted, and tucked it into her own duct-tape wallet. "As a reminder," she told me. "That way, whenever I go to spend money, I'll see it, and maybe think more about saving the money instead." 

Then she went to the library and checked out a couple of books on small business ideas for kids, and announced to our friends that she was available to help tutor their young children. She talked to the Boy's tutor about techniques and started lining up gigs at $6 an hour. 

Next week, I'm going to ask her to review my capital project request that I've put together for our company Board of Directors review and give me a few pointers. 

And... then my heart exploded.

The Boy's teacher sent me an email this morning: 

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That Boy is going to get the very first, very best hug & kiss when I see him next. A hug for the ages. The Valhalla of hugs. A gold-medal Olympic sized, Pulitzer-prize winning hug. 

And when I'm distracted by what my day holds as I scurry out the door again - and it will happen - I will work on remembering this moment. Because this is the important stuff.