Saturday, November 20, 2010

Red Herring

Lunch yesterday was excellent. I could leave it at that. But I won't. The sun was out today and I have a glass of bourbon at the ready.

We ate a Basque Ranch center cut, bone-in, pork loin. Last week, Carol handed it to me and said "here, take this home and cook it for lunch next Friday". I became familiar with Basque Ranch when Pastaworks started carrying their products. The ranch brings in a number of protein products. The owner delivers fresh hook and line caught Chinook when the season is open. Basque Ranch is earning a reputation for a new American breed of cattle, the Red Cascade. They feed their animals the Triticale they grow. But lunch was pig.

The menu wasn't particularly difficult; roast pork loin with gray shallots, late peppers and potatoes in a clay pot in a wood fired oven. Green beans, applesauce, and fresh grated horseradish root. First course, a Mediterranean saag, of sorts, inspired by Patience Grey.

Yes, the wood oven and the clay pot are not standard today but still, this dish is easy enough in any situation, with any equipment. Especially with this pork. The fat cap on the loin was 2 cm thick, the tender still attached. The rest of the ingredients were fresh.

Meanwhile, a story is running around town about a certain "local" pork producer (?) who is selling IBP (Iowa Beef Product) pork as their own "local" label. This producer, "X", sells at area farmers markets and to retail stores and restaurants. People trusted "X"'s direct marketing and sales. And the businesses that trusted "X" passed that trust along to the customers. Gee wiz, betrayal has a long lame gait.

This kind of sloppy practice is crazy making and it makes me mixed up and mad. Then I remember working with Greg Higgins on issues around farm direct, good practices and building solid relationships. I think about the stupid useless noise in the media and how fast, ridiculous unfounded stories rip through our fragile communities. And how quickly we follow the stories and start talking trash. Then, I remember the great producers that fill my freezer and pantry. I read the hands and eyes of the people I buy from. I listen to how they talk about their food and the stories they tell about their production. I try to remember to talk to producers instead of about them and rely on taste, smell and mouth feel.

So please, accept my apology. I am sorry for leading you astray with stories that grow by their existence and steer us away from the good things worth mentioning. I am sorry for spoiling a terrific lunch by talking about bad meat. I'll try to remember my manners and talk about good things, like Basque Ranch pork.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Little gems drying on the counter.

Sweet Seduction and Interlaken grapes sat on my counter for four weeks before finding their way into a walnut and cornmeal gateau. They lingered on the middle shelf of the three tiered rack in the far corner, leftover from an open house at Ayers Creek Farm.

Things; food, equipment, jars, and memories sit on my counter for a time, longer than most people in my family would let them. There is a collection of knicknacks on the shelf above the wainscot. A painting of an outdoor market, feathers from a barn owl and acorn woodpeckers, a ball made out of the hair of my first dog, Toby and a collection of sprays; wheat, barley, sorghum, lavender. And a chain of six paper pockets that held six Italian prunes while they dried.

I was raised in a family that kept the kitchen counters clean and uncluttered. Basements are tidy. My Mom and sister hold annual garage sales to raise a little "mad money" and rid their households of the year's cumulative clutter and stuff. But I married a man who sees value in nearly everything. A man from the deep south who knows how to make things and fix them. It isn't unusual for Sam to ascend the basement stairs with an odd piece of wire or hardware in his hand and mutter "finally a use for this, I am glad I didn't throw it away". My basement overflows with stuff and I, like most married couples, have adopted my spouse's ways.

Ten years ago when Sam re-framed the first floor walls, he saved the studs and stashed them in the basement. The fir coasters that hold my evening cocktail are a birthday present he made for me. Amber colored, clear grained 100 year old growth fir squares from groves in the Pacific Northwest. Wood that was harvested locally and supported a local economy long ago. Every so often, pieces of the wood come out of hibernation in the form of a counter top, a cat scratch post or the frame around an old photograph of gill netters on the Columbia River. Never, ever, junked, it is beautiful, old and free.

The man I married would never pitch the grapes drying on the counter. As long as they don't mold or foster a fruit fly colony, they aren't in the way. So they sit and slowly dry, condensing their sugars, and waiting for a good use.