duck duck pig

IMG_4986Thinking about bodies, and the soft flesh and puzzle of bones that enable us to stand, walk, smile, bend, wave hello, and say goodbye.

The first time I broke down a duck, I marveled at the difference between its structure and that of a chicken: the longer body, slenderer breasts, little drums.  This time, at Camas Davis of the Portland Meat Collective‘s duck and pig butchery classes in Eugene last weekend, I couldn’t stop thinking about the structures we share with the pig.  No, not in the sense that I could never eat an animal with a face or a clavicle or whathaveyou, but rather this unshakeable feeling of being part of the universe, a community of matter.  I can’t get over the metaphysical sense, lately, strangely, insistently, of the impermeability of bodies, of all things, and the wheel of fortune that spins these molecules into personhood, those into livestock, and yet others into mosquito netting or Prada clutches or a turnip or cat’s breath or frost. Why don’t we all just dissolve into the ether?

No, I haven’t been taking more drugs.  Thanks for asking.

Ever more firmly I believe I can’t eat meat without knowing more about how the process works, but my awe and respect for the workings of a creature, our very distinct matter, is kind of overtaking me right now.  I’ve spent an entire year completely (and utterly nonconsensually) focused on broken bodies and death, on dissolution and transformation, so to take part in the slow, careful, respectful craft of turning life into food is quite profound and healing for me.  Meat, somehow, even more so.

We broke down a pig and a half, totaling about 400 lbs. of meat, and a duck apiece, then we learned how to make some cured products, including bacon, rillettes, and duck liver mousse and prosciutto.

IMG_3547IMG_5029 The classes were wonderful, made even better by the gorgeous facility and commercial kitchen at Sprout! where the Springfield farmers market takes place on Fridays.  We were able to take home the meat we broke down, which added yet more value. The Master Food Preservers helped with the class prep and clean-up, and we had a great group of farmers, restaurateurs, home cooks, and teachers who eagerly participated.  Although someone confessed that she was initially nervous about sharing a table with me at the duck class, I laid that to rest quickly with my slow hands and jerky knife skills.  (Any mystique I might have held as a food guru was soon dashed as my knife slipped around a joint, the duck popped, and I sent a bowl of curing spiced salt flying across the room.)

Not only does one learn how the body works, and that you can actually do most of the butchery with a big knife and a small knife (and a hacksaw for the rest), but Camas teaches about cuts that we don’t really use commercially in the U.S.  I’m now on a campaign against loins.  No, sorry, the religious right shouldn’t get too excited — it’s a campaign against the soft, mild cuts that privilege the loin parts of the pig.  I’ve always been a big fan of the shoulder, but now I see even more possibilities for flavorful cuts of pig meat, thanks to the class.

Now I’m hungry.  Check out the full set of photos for both classes on my Facebook page.  If you’re local, you might want to follow me on Facebook while you’re there — I accept all friend requests and post local events and happenings there much more frequently than I do on the blog, which has more of a national readership.

And by all means, take one of Camas’ classes. She promised to come back to Eugene, and we promise to love it when she does!

feast portland part deux: 15 minutes of fame

My earlier post on Feast Portland is here.  You can view the entire photo set on my Facebook page, open to both friends and foes.

I can’t tell if it was the pain in my leg, my ever increasing crankiness, an academic underbelly, or just the speed dating format of the Whole Foods Speaker Series at Feast Portland, but I wanted more “craft, connection, and community,” as fellow superredhead Portland Monthly food editor Karen Brooks styled it.  I don’t know what I was expecting, a food geekout?  Technical bits?  A conversation among the participants?  More access for the actual community (this would have been a great free event in a very pricey weekend)?  I guess I was expecting to be charmed.  Or thrilled.  Or spoonfed something.

Speaking of which, the Whole Food nibbles were ok, with an unfortunate exception of “Rouge River” cheese, which makes this Detroit native shudder, and the Gerding Theater venue was really lovely, with reclaimed wood, cathedral ceilings, and LEED-certified whathaveyou.

The program was led by Portland Monthly Editor-in-Chief Randy Gragg, and broken sort of ineffectively into two halves of Local and Global, and punctuated by short films by wacky Boaz Frankel and chill guitar-strumming from Tom, a guy who served also as timekeeper.  The speakers were limited to less than 15 minutes, with no Q&A, disappointing.

The first half of the program was highlit by Brooks and her mini hobo-bag of Oregon treats to demonstrate three C marketing points of what makes Portland a good food city.  The talk was rather beautifully delivered and thoughtful; I found myself in a swoon over the little square of David Briggs’ brown butter chocolate and the slice of purple carrot from the volcanic soil of Joseph, OR’s Prairie Creek Farm.  (The third item in the bag, a coffee bean, did not cause a swoon, but I wouldn’t have said no to a cannele.)  Anthony Boutard of Gaston, OR (below, first photo), my favorite “farmer-philosopher,” spoke next on corn and other trials and tribulations of growing on the 45th parallel (“Oh, I’d like to grow that!  Bang. Dead.”).  And Sean Brock, Executive Chef of McCrady’s Restaurant and Husk in Charleston, SC, had some interesting moments in a casual conversation with Features Editor of Gilt Taste, Francis Lam (above).  I wanted to hear more about his breakdown of the class structure (high SC gold rice, low cowpea) in a bowl of hoppin’ john.  They dropped the ball not providing a slide of his heirloom seeds tattoo, though.  I’d rather see 10 shots of that than one more slide of a bean.

Then things took a turn for the snarky in the global half.  I read Lucky Peach like everyone else, but I kind of chafe at the machismo and fuckery of it all (here’s where I start getting old and crusty, sorry).  I thought Editor Chris Ying (third photo above) was shooting fish in a barrel when he took on the quasi-anonymous critics of “the moist brown center of it all,” Yelp (fourth photo).  Also, Jonathan Gold had already done it at the UO School of Journalism, when, last year?  It was funny and snarky, and usually I’m into that, but eh.  I did like hearing that the upcoming issue of LP is about Chinatown in fantasy and reality.

And again, the cynicism and hard sparkly edge (and footwear) of Gabrielle Hamilton (second photo) would have usually appealed, but I just wasn’t feeling it, especially in the interview by Adam Rapoport, a more comfortable interviewer than Lam but too corporate and conciliatory. (Lam’s own talk turned into a confessional/ethnic studies lecture that ended with a weird semi-accusatory appeal to Americans that their culture included authentic Asian food.  Yes, I’d like to tell that to anyone operating a Chinese restaurant in Eugene.) Hamilton rightly pointed out the limitations of “eating local” (traumatic experience with too much eggplant in a late Italian summer) and preaching the food gospel bill of goods (against the myth that “if you just eat a family dinner all together at the table, then all your f’d up problems will go away”).

The only thing I want to mention about the talk from Whole Foods’ co-CEO, Walter Robb, is that I found the slide of a Whole Foods going into Detroit amid criticism kind of unsettling.  Good luck with that, seriously.  Try the Rogue River cheese.

See?  I’ve still got the snark.  It was just an off day for me.

Anyway, with such a bad attitude and a scowl in my heart, I couldn’t handle the meet-n-greet afterward, so instead limped over to Powell’s, where I scored a used James Beard’s American Cookery and a new Steinbeck East of Eden, and mused mightily over small soufflé cups and a top-o-the-line Rösle food mill at Sur La Table*.  Then I fled to Beaverton, where I gorged myself on Taste of Sichuan*, the newish sister restaurant to Bamboo Garden in Bellevue.  Highly recommended!  (*Just send checks or a food mill and/or tendon salad for product placement to Culinaria Eugenius, Inc.  Thanks.)

olympic provisions pickles are alive in portland

Everyone is posting links to the new comedy show, Portlandia (dear producers, pls. send check for my part in viral advertising now, thanks!), and joking about the “dream of the nineties” still alive in our big sister city.

I am, instead, dreaming of a pickled Portland Christmas, where hipsters demonstrate they are way ahead of old fashioned LA in charcuterie.  Sorry, Cali. Our hipsters may sleep in ’til 11 and unicycle around town, but they craft artisan sausage and pickles before their two-hour shift at the copy shop.  Eat it and weep!

We had a delightful lunch at Olympic Provisions a few weeks ago. Above, two views of a salumi platter from a sushi-style check off menu: black pepper sausage, liver mousse, and pickled cauliflower, zucchini, onions, rhubarb, and cornichons alongside.

We also gobbled down all the vegetable dishes on the lunch menu.  Above, roasted beets and sweetly sour cipollini onions with walnut sauce, and an unusually vibrant brussels sprouts salad with sunchokes and bright green castelvetrano olives.  You can just barely see the braised leeks with pepper-red romesco in the background.

The only unpleasant experience at OP was, indeed, a Portlandia moment, when we were treated to the castanet rhythms of the dude with tree branch ear plugs seated next to us.  I’m not sure if he had pulled them out of a hole in his body, and I didn’t want to know, but repeated clicking is not an appetizing backbeat in any decade.  But we forgive you, Portland, for being so hip, if hipness means pickles.

And Eugene, take note!  Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Pickles, not plugs.  We’ll make it out of the eighties yet.