Friday, October 29, 2010

Whole Hog

Since there’s often a waiting list for such commodities as pasture-raised pork, I went ahead and contacted Liz, our meat farmer, about a whole hog. And what do you know? October is a great time to get a pig. Despite my deep abiding affection for the Little House on the Prairie books, I know next to nothing about what time of year hogs are ready to harvest. Ma and Pa did their hog butchering after the snow was deep, so I guess I was figuring that here in the temperate zones, we at least were supposed to wait for the rains. But no, my pig is just standing around in the yellow-dusty pasture waiting for his fate to meet him.

Along with the “good news” that I’ll need to send a big chunk of change sooner than I thought, Liz asked me two important questions: skinned or scalded? And even more daunting: do I want the offal? Well, heck, I don’t know. Scalding sounds somehow cleaner, until you find out that scalding is what you do when you want to take home the head, skin and lard, none of which seems like something I need in my freezer. So, skinned then. But do I want the offal: the heart, liver, kidneys & who knows what else? Well, honestly, no, I do not. But it seems like a waste to have it thrown away when the nations top chefs are all finding novel ways to serve organ meats. So, okay, we’ll take it and do our best. Worst case the dogs get it, right?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Connecting: 10/10/10

How do you combine a kid who wants to put on a show and a mom who wants to constantly harp on saving the earth? Put on a show as a 10/10 Global Work Day event! It's so hard to help the kids feel empowered to make a real difference, but seeing their picture in the slideshow on was a big thrill. I think it's one of the few times I've felt as if all this internet "connectivity" made us feel really connected to something real and important. Plus, it was a bonafide success, in that my neighbor came, and said that he didn't know what the significance of the 350 movement was, but now he could tell his friends. Each one teach one, even if it means you give a party and have to endure the torture of freaking out that too many people will come and you won't have enough food, and then the last minute panic that no one at all will come and you will be forever marked in the eyes of your children as a failure and a social outcast...

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Learning Curve

“Our cow,” as we affectionately call the butcher-paper wrapped parcels in the deep freeze, is nearing the end of its useful life. Its breathing-eating-shitting life ended a while back, when a man called The Harvester arrived in the bucolic rolling hills where this beast reputedly lived a fully realized bovine life. The Harvester proceeded to “harvest” the animal, and deliver it in large chunks to our local butcher, who carved it into smaller chunks and gave it to me to cook for my growing, insatiably hungry kids.

Having spent a crucial period of my young adult life as a vegetarian, I’m a little behind the curve when it comes to the heating to essential temperatures and serving of meats, preferring to rely on precooked sausages for a great deal of our animal protein intake. But the hip eco-eaters are all getting their own deep freezes filled with happily harvested meats, and I’ve got to keep up with the Van Joneses if I want to ever claim the elusive title of eco-mom. So I picked up the little flyers on cooking grass-fed meat and sent a big check to the farmer. (The self-same farmer from whom I bought my fabled twenty-dollar chicken. See June, 2009.)

After I picked up the cow in the minivan and packed it into my freezer, I went on a culinary stampede of the simpler beef dishes: burgers, meatloaf, pot roast. These were universally popular, especially the meatloaf which I made from an old Joy of Cooking recipe which might more aptly be titled Fatloaf, seeing as it contains both ground up bacon and a significant dose of heavy cream. But once the roasts and ground beef were gone, I was out of my league. Somehow, despite having grown up with a constant supply of beef from our own cows, my youthful foray into vegetarianism has left me not having the slightest notion how to cook a steak. My kitchen shelf is packed with vegetarian cookbooks, and when you browse the internet looking for instructions, all the recipes involve a grill, which I don’t have. So I did my best, and the innately carnivorous Mr. Mixed Media ate it no matter what, but The (more discerning) Percussionist quickly began saying, “Steak? Yuck. I don’t like cow.”

This all came to a head last week, when I pulled out two parcels labeled “short ribs.” Well, I thought, people barbeque ribs, so as they thawed I bought a bottle of barbeque sauce and told the excited kiddos we’d have barbequed ribs that night. (I thought I could pull it off on my cast iron stovetop faux-grill.) When I unwrapped the packages, the contents didn’t look like what I was expecting, but I gamely chopped apart the chunks of bone and slathered the pieces in the sauce. I had a huge pile of these cooking just in time to feed my son’s friend before we took him over to his soccer game, but when I placed a couple of the better-looking ones on his plate, he politely began dissecting them without ever touching his mouth with the meat. Then I served up Mr. Mixed Media, who gnawed away with delight, and then The Percussionist, who, more intimate with the cook, picked one up and declared it “disgusting,” to my great disapproval. Bright Eyes hadn’t yet flitted toward the table, so I served a plate for myself and sat down. As I picked past the huge chunk of fat attached to my bone, I bit into a frankly repulsive piece of meat. I immediately apologized to The Percussionist and snatched away the plate from his friend, throwing the scraps to the eager dogs.

We had quesadillas. And Mr. Mixed Media asked for some of the ribs in his lunch the next day, the dear. The dogs have been in heaven all week. Sometimes the learning curve is steep. But I have learned this: (almost) everyone prefers pork. So I’ll look into getting a pig. After all, I’m a single mom now, so I have to bring home the bacon. I just have to work through the remaining mysterious parcels of the cow first. Oh, and maybe buy a carnivore’s cookbook. I’m sure the pig will have some mysterious parcels of its own.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


As September approached, I was dreading the start of school. Seriously, even more than Mr. Mixed Media, whose entire vocabulary during the month of August was reduced to seven (and a half) words: “I do not want to go to school, duh.” The Percussionist, on the other hand, was counting down the days in avid anticipation—“I just want to find out what third grade is like.” His enthusiasm for the structure of school quashed my fantasies of just skipping the whole thing, continuing the summer schedule of relaxed long mornings and fluid bedtimes. If one of them is in school, then we have to get up anyway, so I might as well get some kid-free grocery shopping time. But I wasn’t looking forward to the rushed mornings, the last-minute packing of lunches, the picking up and shuttling to after-school activities, just the whole school year routine, which tends to leave me exhausted and cranky, escalating the ceaseless “PLEASE put on your shoes NOW,” like a CD on repeat with the volume slowly turning up.

Early in the summer, my mother presented me with what she thought would be a question requiring some contemplation to answer. She had been reading “green living” exhortations to simplify as a means toward living more sustainably, and she wanted to know what that really would mean. So she asked what would be the biggest thing that would both simplify my life and have ecological benefits. My mouth answered before my brain even registered the question: “Stop all after-school activities.”

“Because of the driving, right?”

“Well, that, but really because when we are running around all afternoon, we are not only driving, we are also away from home.” As the boys would say: Duh, mom. I tried to recover from my self-evident & idiotic previous statement by adding, “So, I don’t get time to work in the garden, or to prepare non-processed suppers, or hang out the laundry. And we end up grabbing non-organic burritos or pizza way too much. And the kids don’t get time to work in their gardens, either, and it defeats the whole purpose of them having gardens if I do their harvesting while they are at school. ”

So, two months later, there I was, dreading the school year, and the “duh, mom” lightbulb went off: extracurricular activities are actually optional! We can just skip them, and afterschool can be a time to hang out and garden and cook and play. Whoa, Nellie! Who knew? It totally rocks. And the kids still haven’t harvested their gardens very well, which means their main crops will be seeds for next year, but we are all so much more relaxed and fun, not to mention well-fed on cooperatively cooked suppers.

So to my own mom, for giving me that “Duh, mom” moment, I owe you a “thanks, Mom.” (Well, duh.)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In praise of legwarmers: final(ly) installment

In an “Eco-Literacy in Action” workshop last Saturday (sadly, mostly nice folks preaching to the choir, when I could have been out weeding my garden, you know, like “in action”), we talked a lot about the necessity of including tenets of social justice within environmental education. You know, like making sure local organic foods aren’t inaccessible to people without trust funds. Which brought us to the importance of building local communities, which brought me (well, yes, my mind was wandering a bit) right back around to legwarmers. And the schoolyard, my most immediate regularly encountered community, and Chris sitting there on a stump, knitting.

Knitting is a de rigeur activity at my kids’ school. All the kids knit. I, however, do not. But Chris does, and she rocks at it, using large numbers of needles at once, giving the impression that she is fondling a pet porcupine. So of course, when I wanted a new pair of legwarmers, she was the obvious person to ask. She immediately supplied the idea of a much-nicer-than-I-had-in-mind wool, and emailed me several websites with patterns to chose from. And then she sat in the schoolyard working on my legwarmers. Which meant everyone was a part of it, not just me and Chris. Community legwarmers. So when I wore them for crossing guard duty, multiple parents would stick their heads out of their cars to cat-whistle (or, well, at least say “those turned out so great!”). Despite her underestimation of the skinniness of my legs, which meant there was some initial stretching required, the legwarmers from Chris are even cooler and more fun than my other favorite (recycled cotton, stripey, excellent) pair.

So, can legwarmers save the world? Apparently, they can—they meet the strict criteria of being good for individuals, community, and the planet. So, forget Irene Cara, and say it with me: What a feeling!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Better short than never

(I'm trying very hard to figure out how to write something that's actually an appropriate length for a blog post. There's a reason they don't call them "blog rambles," right?)

Anyway, legwarmers. A great word, almost as comforting as "comforter" and "fireside throw." What could be better then warm legs? When I had my temporary medical-writing job last year, my co-writer and I initially discovered our compatibility by comparing our extremity-warming accessories: I had been given this awesome pair of wrist-warmers and he responded by pulling up his pantsleg to show me the socks he had cut the feet off of so he could pull them up his calves and wear them above his other socks. When I told him that legwarmers are having a comeback and you can actually purchase a pair without yarn falling out of one end, he countered, "Not for men," and I realized he was probably right. Not that I'm in Men's Hosiery that often, but I imagine there aren't the racks of legwarmers that the women's section currently has. We worked in a small room with an inadequate electric heater, but That Didn't Matter because we were warm. Simple, knitted conservation of body heat canceling out our need for electricity (except for, um, our laptops). Since then I've taken to wearing them to bed and haven't even minded turning the heater way down at night (plus, I recently had a revelatory experience when I happened to have them on for an x-ray appointment, and I discovered that they are the absolute must-have accessory if you are forced to don a hospital gown and lie on a cold table). Next time you're in Women's Hosiery, check out how you too can give legwarmers a chance to change your life for the better. I mean, how often is saving the earth this fun?