Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Hog from Hell

Happy Halloween! So this is pumpkin #2. I carved it yesterday with a dremel. This was my first time using a power tool on a gourd. It was remarkably fast, but I definitely had to be careful because a slip of the hand would have been disastrous.

I decided to carve a butchers diagram of primal cuts of pork as an homage to our famous pork chop at 29 South. I spent the afternoon working on it and Chef whisked it away to the restaurant when the clock hit 5.

At around 8:30 he called me to report that they lit the pumpkin, and the word "hell" was blazing through the design. My response, "Perfect."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Jack O' Lantern Boos

I carved a pumpkin Sunday. I find the process of carving pumpkins really cathartic...coming up with a design, transferring it to the pumpkin, the first stab of the knife to make the lid, scooping the gook, and the careful chiseling. All of it I enjoy. There is something wonderfully primitive about carving a gourd. I have carved spooky, animals, ghosts, ghastly faces... all the usual characters into pumpkins, and some unusual things as well. One year I even carved Dick Cheney's frightful mug into a gourd. Too bad I only make time for this type of activity once a year.

Halloween is my favorite holiday. It is one day out of the year where we let loose, celebrate the bizarre and supernatural. It revolves around trickery and sweets and I love it. Any day where we are expected to become something other than ourselves...costume our identities...I think is good for the soul.

Chef, Lil' Bit and I went to Conner's A-Maizing Acres with friends and cheated our way through the corn maze, drank sweet tea, pet cows, talked to chickens, and Lil' Bit and her best play pal spent a good 45 minutes playing in a giant corn kernel pool with a multitude of other children. It shed a whole new light on yet another use for corn the ever resourceful industrial grain.

It was wild seeing all these kids blissed out in a sea of golden was like a farm style sensory deprivation chamber...or whole grain cesspool. Needless to say this little jaunt involved a lot of hand washing. At the end of the trip, we bought two pumpkins from the Conner's pumpkin patch...glad to support our farming partners in any small way possible.

This year for our pumpkin at home I cheated and used a stencil. With time constraints, and a pumpkin to carve for the restaurant as well...I chose a witch from the stencils that came with the carving tools. I spent two hours carving the crafty Wiccan into the face of the pumpkin. I proudly set it out for display on our porch and went to bed. Looking, back I hate to say it...but how wonderful would it have been to carve Michael Jackson's face into my pumpkin. A whole new meaning to the word Jack O' Lantern. There is still time....

The following day Lil' Bit and I went to visit family and friends in Sarasota for 2 days. 2 days. When I returned Wednesday my pumpkin was moldy and was full of flies. The 90 degree weather and rain were a recipe for rot. Although, the mold does give it a special effect don't you think? I didn't even get a chance to light a candle in it. Boo.

Jack O' Lanterns actually come from an Irish folktale about a belligerent drunk named Stingy Jack. He liked to play tricks on anyone/anything, and one day he tricked the Devil into climbing an apple tree. He put a bunch of crosses under the tree so the Devil was stuck. He cut a deal with the Devil. If the Devil did not take his soul when he died, he would let him down. The deal was made...Satan freed. Stingy Jack died a lonely drunk and when he went to heaven he was turned away at the pearly gates for being such an asshole. So he went to hell, and the Devil was true to his word, but he gave him a little ember to help him light his way through limbo. He put the flame into a hollowed out turnip, his favorite veggie...and wondered limbo for all eternity.

The Irish actually carve out gourds, turnips, rutabaga and beets and put candles in them. Irish immigrants brought the tradition to the USA with them. Little illuminated beets sound fabulous...hmmm...something to think about for next year.

Good Life Quest #9/ Carve a Pumpkin

Get a pumpkin, and a carving kit. The right tools are important to this job...if you want to go hi-tech use a dremel. Think of your pumpkin as a little sculpture. Think of an unexpected design. As you scoop the gook think about the texture. Perhaps save the and toast the seeds. As you carve it, think about the last time you did something creative in 3D. Think about this tradition and what it means to you. Any memory associations? Light it with a candle and take a picture. Set it out in a place of prominence and enjoy.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sleep Soup

The photo above sums up my state of mind this past week...namely it has been a doozy.

I mailed off six revised manuscripts of the book I have been working on for years now...and it felt so good. Until I left the post office, after a twenty minute wait in line, and realized that in a relatively empty parking lot I parked the car in the handicap space...and the short bus was waiting for me to move. I felt terrible. The bus driver threw his arms up at me as I raced to strap Lil' Bit into her car seat. I mimed an apology and sped off to the nearest coffee shop. Sleep deprivation had obviously taken its toll, and caffeine seemed the only way I could feasibly survive the day without drifting into total oblivion.

Lil' Bit is learning how to fall asleep on her own this week, which has been a nightmare. There is no other word for it. Watching your toddler cry and scream for you to pick her up out of her crib for 45 minutes straight is a true trial of love. Chef and I sit and sing and talk to her until she finally gives up and settles down to sleep. It is my fault for having rocked her to bed every night of her fresh life, but I would not give up that bonding time with her for a million sleepless nights.

Now that shades of reason are slowly beginning to wrinkle her brain, she has become more adept at understanding and it is time for her to understand that drifting off to sleep is a lovely skill, and totally necessary to sanity for all concerned.

The weather finally broke. For about 36 hours the temperature dropped 20 degrees and it felt like fall. It was wonderful. The windows at home were thrown open and the curtains billowed in the cool breeze. I wore scarves and sweaters and was just about to sport boots when climate change reared its ugly head. Alas, the brief respite from heat is over, it is now back in the 80's. The wisp of seasonal change was such a tease. For those of you living in cooler climates, the following statement may seem a bit naive, but I long for winter.

Chef made a delicious pozole on one of those fleeting fall nights. It is a dish that his Hispanic kitchen staff has made him as a treat throughout his career, and it is one of his favorite comfort foods. We both love Mexican food, and this dish was perfection.

Pozole is peasant food, a soup made of pork, hominy, and dried red chiles. A classic Mexican supper. What makes it fabulous is that it is topped with radishes, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, onions, ...and usually eaten with a tostadas. The cool crisp toppings blended with the hot hominy stew creates the perfect balance of light and hearty. It is like soup and salad all in one.

Chef chose a Rick Bayless recipe, because it's rooted in the true anthropological nature of peasant food. Pozole comes in many variations, this recipe in particular is for red. If you are not into eating pigs head, you can substitute pigs feet, if you are not into pigs feet, you can just double the quantity of meaty neck bones...which is what I requested Chef to do being that as a pregnant lady I can only stomach so much.

Good Life Recipe # 13/Pozole Rojo/Rick Bayless from his book Authentic Mexican

Makes 10-12 large servings


  • 4 quarts of canned hominy, drained and rinsed
  • 3 medium (2 1/2 lbs) of pigs feet well scrubbed and split lengthwise plus 1 1/2 lbs of meaty pork neck bones
  • 1 1/2 lbs lean, boneless pork shoulder, in a single piece
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 4 large (about 2 ounces total) dried chiles anchos, stemmed seeded and deveined
  • 4 large dried chiles guajillos, stemmed, seeded and deveined (if you can't find the two mentioned chiles use 9 California or New Mexico Chiles)
  • Salt, about 1 tablespoon
Ingredients for condiments:
  • 1/2 medium head of cabbage, cored or very thinly sliced or 1/2 head iceberg lettuce, cored and very thinly sliced
  • 8-10 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
  • 1/3 cup dried oregano
  • 2 to 3 large limes, cut into wedges
  • 15 to 20 tostadas
  • Measure 7 quarts of water into a stockpot and add the pig's feet and neck bones, the pork shoulder, garlic, and hominy. Bring to a simmer and cook until the corn is tender

  • Tear the chiles into large, flat pieces and toast them, a few at a time, on a heavy skillet set over medium heat, using a metal spatula to press them firmly against the hot surface until they crackle and blister, then flipping them over and pressing them down again. Remove to a bowl, cover with boiling water, weight with a plate to keep them submerged and soak for 30 minutes.
  • Drain, place in a blender and add 1/2 cup of water. Blend until smooth.

    Strain through a medium-mesh sieve into the simmering soup, then mix well.
  • Generously season the soup with salt, and let simmer for another hour or so.
  • Remove the bones, feet, and shoulder from the simmering broth. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones, feet, and shoulder. (For pigs feet remove and discard the cartilage and bones, then chop what is left into 1 inch pieces). Roughly shred all meat
  • Just before serving season soup with salt. Add the meat to the pot and let simmer for a few minutes to reheat.
  • Ladle the soup into large bowls, top each one with a portion of shredded cabbage or lettuce and some sliced radishes. Pass the onion, oregano and lime wedges separately for each guest to add to his or her taste. The tostadas are a crunch accompaniment to enjoy between big spoonfuls of the soup.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Small Farms, Big Ideas: The Dirt on Pigs

Today is a good day. Namely it is in the 80's and the weatherman is promising it to drop ten degrees this weekend. It is about time. This Saturday we have the First Coast Slow Food Chapter coming to 29 South for a field trip. Perfect timing, the radishes, carrots, beets, and collards are all sprouting in the garden thanks to Jeannemarie's handiwork, and our first bed of salad mix is almost ready to harvest.

Today also marks the first of my Small Farms, Big Ideas posts. I asked Del Conner of DelKat Family Farm, the pig farmer that supplies the restaurant with the most delicious pork, a few questions about his life and the world of grassroot farming. I feel like he and his fellow farmers have so much to teach about food, life, and American heritage...small farms have spend the past sixty odd years dwindling in numbers, but thanks to localvores across the country there is a rekindling of interest. So, here I give them a platform to share their knowledge...enjoy.

Question 1: Tell me about your farming heritage? How long has your family been farming, and what have you learned from previous generations?
My great-grandfather purchased the property of our farm in the 1800's. He had 15 children, 13 lived to adulthood. They grew vegetables and raised beef, pork, and chickens to provide for the family. They also grew sweet potatoes and made syrup from sugar cane. These were the 2 products they could sell to generate income. My grandfather, David Hodges, was born in 1908 and he was the only person in our family that had a job during the great depression. After the death of his parents he purchased the property from the other children. My grandparents reared me from the time I was 7 years old. My grandfather worked in construction full time. We grew and canned many kinds of vegetables and raised all our own beef, pork, and chicken.

Question 2: Why pigs? What makes the Berkshire breed special?
Pigs are intellegent and inquisitive. Each pig has a different personality. All children love a littler of nursing pigs. Hogs can make me mad because they can destroy anything if given enough time, but the overall enjoyment weighs out the bad. This is a seven day a week responsibility. I could not do this if I did not enjoy it and belive that there is some value. (side note: Del works full time at another job as well). I raise Berkshire hogs. They are one of the few breeds that has not been influenced by factory farming. Packers want animals the same color, size, etc. A good safe healthy piece of meat cannot be produced like parts in a factory. The Berkshire breed originated in England. The meat has some marbling because those traits were not bred out of them as in other breeds. There are minor breeds such as Mulefoot, Hereford, and Tamworth that remain as they were many years ago. Berkshire and these breeds do not fit the mold for confinement agriculture.

Question 3: What traditional methods do you use in raising livestock and why? New methods?
Traditional methods are common sense to me. Let a hog be a hog, outside in the sunshie, freshair, and mud. They have shelter, but hogs love rain and mud. Animals are here to provide meat, but it is our responsibility to treat them humanely.

Question 4: Why is it important to you as a farmer to raise animals without chemicals or other pollutants?
Farm animals do not need medication or antibiotics. Like people, they do not need medicine unless they are sick. Feeding hormones for faster growth is unnatural. Confinement farms feed antibiotics because so many animals are kept in close quarters with poor air quality that one animal will spread a sickness to other animals. Antibiotics should not be fed as a precaution...sunshine is very good at cleansing bacteria.

Question 5: As a small farmer, what are some of the challenges you face today that previous generations of farmers didn't have to deal with? What can consumers do to help?
Government regulations that supposedly protect the consumer basically protect the interests of agribusiness. Government subsidies are welfare for the large Ag corporations. All I would like from the government is for them to leave me alone and not regulate small farms to death. Salmonella and Ecoli always come from large vegatable farms or packing houses that slaugher 20,000 plus animals per day. Consumers should realize that products produced on small family farms are a totally different product than is produced in factory farming.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Californiamastication: The Final Chapter

It is wild to think that I was in California on Wednesday. It seems like eons ago. The South just sucks you back in, sops you up like mud in a marsh.

Last Monday was a magical day of eating. Above is a beet salad I had for lunch at Chez Panisse. Chez Panisse is one of those place where I think it is truly impossible to have a bad meal. Alice Waters and her kitchen know exactly what to do with fresh organic, local they should since the restaurant has been in full swing for over 30 years. Namely, they don't do much to them because they are more or less already perfect.

At our garden at 29 South our beets are sprouting, and butter lettuce is on the way. I plan to recreate this salad come December from our homegrown veggies. Can you believe the color of that beet above? Nature's candy.

After lunch at Chez Panisse, that evening we had a romantic dinner at Kokkari Estiatorio. You know a restaurant is going to be fabulous when there is a huge fire place with a rotisserie laden with meat slowly turning above the flames. Chef and I celebrated our anniversary at this San Francisco hot spot over unbelievably delicious Greek food. As much as I love our daughter, after literally 20 meals in restaurants over the course of a week with her by my side, it was wonderful to be able to sit and have a meal without the little barbarian.

We started with Dolmathes, grape leaves stuffed with rice, mint and dill. I am a bit of dolmathe snob and these were the best I have ever had. Next course, I had an appetizer of grilled artichoke and eggplant that was simple and exquisite. It was sprinkled with herbs, drizzled with olive oil with house made Greek yogurt on the side that was the most creamy yogurt I have ever tasted. Main course, I had a fish similar to snapper, but can not recall the name through my pregnancy fog...Chef the lamb. For dessert, we had 2, but the most memorable was a fig tart topped with some sort of cheese that was unbelievable. To make the experience even better, the service was fantastic. Kokkari. It was the best meal we had during our entire trip. Kokkari. Remember it if you are in the Bay Area.

Now we are back in the dirty 'Dina. It is 90 degrees in October. Why?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Californimastication: Part II

Above is one of the best chocolate milkshakes to ever grace my mouth. Chef, Lil' Bit and I dropped a pretty penny on this small classic American meal. $50 bucks with soda and water at Taylor's Refresher. This burger joint always has a line, and for good reason. It is a place where you can get the traditional burger with special sauce alongside a $150 bottle of wine. A little something for everyone.

We have had a number of great meals on our trip thus so far, one of which Chef cooked Friday night. I will be posting that feast in its entirety sometime in the near future. Today we are going to catch a grape crush in the garage of the next door neighbor's house. Pete and his wife Meg make Shypoke wine...and it is phenomenal. Then off to brunch at Thomas Keller's family style restaurant, Ad Hoc, wrapping up the day in San Francisco.

It is a rough life I live.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Californimastication: Part I

Wednesday was delicious. It was our first full day in Napa, and it began as our first days here usually do...a caffeinated beverage and pastry at Dean and Deluca. Lil' Bit and I shared an apricot brioche that would make you slap your grandma it was so good.

Chef and I celebrate our anniversary every October in Northern California. We stay at my dear friend Meghan's gorgeous family home in Calistoga, and truck it back to San Fran for a few nights at the end of our visit. I look forward to this trip every year...this year makes number 4.

There is nothing like waking up at dawn, which is Lil' Bit's morning ritual here since she is stuck on EST, and watching the sun rise over a gentleman's vineyard as quail scurry about pecking at mounds of fallen grapes scattered under their vines. Megs and I have been in cahoots since we were ten years old and she is family to us, Lil' Bit's godmother to be exact. Her father has been in the wine business as long as I can remember, which is not a bad business to be in from what I can tell, and we are so lucky to have such remarkable folks in our lives.

Lunch at Mustards, Cindy Pawlcyn's Napa flagship restaurant, is a new must for us every time we are in this part of the country. Sean Night, Pawlcyn's partner, is a friend of Chef's from growing up in Atlanta whom he reconnected with on our last visit. The food at Mustards is quintessential California cuisine fresh, casual yet elegant simplicity. Basically, perfection. One of the most famous dishes on their menu is the Lemon Lime Meringue Pie, which is pictured above. The meringue on top is something Suessean in nature. You have to see it to believe it, and yes it tastes better than it looks. Lil' Bit couldn't keep her hands off it. She is such a trip to eat with. Mustards has a fantastic kid's menu, from which we ordered her a chicken panini, but she preferred our duck entree to her infantile fare.

We schlepped to Sebastopol to meet our friends Marcy and Roger, who recently moved back to California from Amelia Island. Two smart people if you ask me. We met them and then drove to Sonoma to have dinner at The Girl and Fig. The menu was classic French infused with the pioneering California spirit. Owned by Sondra Bernstein, this restaurant is a gem. We dined al fresco on a lovely patio with lanterns draped about and fires blazing in table side pits and out door fire places. We sat next to a minimalist water fountain that held Lil' Bit's attention off and on through out dinner. Lil' Bit immediately engaged a man whom I supposed was the manager of the restaurant with her girlish wiles. She knows who to work in the room. Lil' Bit targeted the manager at Mustards earlier in the day and was awarded a special plate of sesame seed crackers which she splashed about in as if it were a dog bowl of water.

When we arrived she was in a bit of a mood after a long car ride, but as soon as the little dish of olives hit the table she was cracking the whip. "More. More. More." I couldn't pit them fast enough, and had to enlist Chef to help. She devoured all but five olives, and a caper berry which she sucked on like a lollipop for a while. Quite a palette our little one is developing.

I am not sure if it is pregnancy, well that is a lie, it is the prego factor that is making me dessert obsessed. At the end of this lovely dinner I had three scoops of fig and port wine ice cream nestled in a homemade cookie bowl, which Marcy summed up perfectly after a spoonful exclaiming, "Holy shit that is good!" Actually, she basically described our entire day of dining with those five words. It was a wonderful, wonderful Wednesday.