Tuesday, January 31, 2006


One of the major criticisms of my cooking and lifestyle guru, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, is that normal, everyday people can't cook his recipes because the recipes are too dependent on homegrown, home-charcuteried artisanal foods. I am of two minds on this. On one hand, I figure I am a normal, everyday person, and if I can cook his recipes--which I do, several times per week--so can anyone. On the other hand, not everyone sets his or her priorities the way I do. Not every person is willing to cook goose legs from scratch, or to bring home half an organic hog and process it into hams, bacons, roasts, and sausages. For that matter, not every person even makes time to grow or seek out organic vegetables.

But then again, shouldn't everyone? Some people will say it's wildly unrealistic to expect people do do these things. But perhaps that very argument is a testament to how far removed we have become from the sources of our food. If that's the case (and I think it is), then every little step we can make toward connectedness with our food is a positive one.

So it is with mixed feelings, yet a deep sense of conviction, that I post the following recipe. If it's not something you can make right now, sock it away somewhere for future reference and think about making it a possibility in the future.

Okay. First you need a preserved goose or duck leg. If you are in the habit of roasting ducks and geese, you will have noticed that it's difficult to time the cooking process so that the legs are fully done without the breast becoming dry. The best way to deal with this issue is to remove the legs and roast the breast on its own. While you're doing this, pull out the extra fat from the cavity and skin of the bird and render it in the oven on low heat. Then you have the ingredients for...


2 goose or duck leg quarters
a handful of pickling or kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2-3 sprigs of thyme
2-3 bay leaves (dry or fresh) crumbled or julienned
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. olive oil
rendered goose or duck fat

Mix together the salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaves, and garlic, and rub them thoroughly into the skin and meat of the legs. Cover and refrigerate for 48 hours, giving the meat another rub after the first 24 hours. Scrape off and reserve the seasonings.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat and brown the legs on both sides. Place them in a deep ovenproof dish in which they fit as snugly as possible. Add the scraped-off seasonings and enough fat to cover. Bake at 300 degrees for 2 hours. Let cool.
At this point you can cover and refrigerate the fat-covered legs almost indefinitely. The fat will preserve them.

Now, as long as you have access to various pig parts, you are ready to make a cassoulet.


The beans
1/2 lb. dried navy, great northern, cannelini, or borlotti beans
1 smallish onion, peeled and stuck with 3 whole cloves
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 bay leaves
a small handful of parsley stalks
a few sprigs of thyme
up to 1/4 lb. diced pork rind

Put the beans in a large pot with water to cover by about 2 inches. If your water is a little acidic, as ours seems to be, it helps to add a pinch of baking soda to un-toughen the beans. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat and let soak overnight.
Drain the beans, add fresh water to cover by 2 inches, then add the remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil, skim off any scum that develops, then reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are tender but still retain their shape. This can take as little as an hour, or as long as several hours, depending on your water and the age of the beans.
Season with salt and pepper (go easy on the salt, since the beans will suck up some salt from the bacon later) and fish out the cloved onion and the herbs. Drain if there's too much liquid, but theoretically the beans should have soaked up most of it and you can leave it as is.

The meat and sauce
1 preserved goose or duck leg quarter, with a little rendered fat left caked on it
1/2 lb. fresh pork (belly, shoulder, whatever), cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 lb. unsmoked bacon, diced
3 good-sized garlicky, peppery sausage links (I would horrify the French by my use of homemade Italian sausages)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large tomatoes, chopped, with their juice (or a can of diced tomatoes)
1-2 tsp. tomato paste
salt and freshly ground black pepper
at least a cup of good fresh breadcrumbs (white is traditional, but I use wheat and quite like the effect)

About an hour from the end of the bean-cooking time, place the goose or duck leg in a large skillet over medium heat. The fat will melt off of it and provide you with something to fry the meat in. Brown the leg crisply on both sides. Remove the leg from the pan and set aside. Now use the same fat to fry the fresh pork and the bacon. Remove these, too, and set aside. Fry the sausages and set them aside.
Shred the meat from the goose or duck leg. Cut the sausages into 1- to 2-inch-long pieces.
Pour off and reserve all but a couple tablespoons of the accumulated fat in the pan. Now fry the onion and garlic gently until softened. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste and simmer about 20 minutes until you have a pulpy sauce.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
When the beans are cooked, stir the tomato sauce into them. Season if needed, again keeping in mind the saltiness of the meat. Put roughly 2/3 of this mix into a deep ovenproof ceramic dish (I am very devoted to my Emile Henry dish, pictured, which I received as a gift this past Christmas). Add the goose shreds and the pork and bacon pieces and press them lightly into the beans. Now add the remaining bean mixture.
Sprinkle with about 1/3 c. of your breadcrumbs, drizzle with some of the reserved fat, and place in the oven for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Every 30 to 45 minutes, break up the crust that has formed, add more breadcrumbs, and drizzle again with fat.
About 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time, press the sausage chunks into the top and add your final layer of crumbs and fat. The sausages should brown nicely in the remaining time.
I like to serve this with nothing except a fresh, crisp salad; Hugh suggests one made with watercress and oranges, and he's exactly right. The salad cuts the richness nicely. Even so, you should expect to fall asleep shortly after eating.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Tiny, tiny livestock

Anyone want to guess what I ordered this morning? Hint: They come in two-pound packages.

Sunday, January 29, 2006


The crabapple pie I made on December 10, while epic in its own right, is even more amazing with a little bit of rhubarb mixed into it.

I think I could eat pie for every meal. *sigh*

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Where has the week gone?

I'm still playing catch-up from being sick for a whole week! So it was a nice break to spend yesterday at a native plants symposium at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia.

I learned a lot in all the sessions, but obviously the one on native edibles was most interesting to me.

Must work. More soon.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The bats are back

Yesterday evening I heard the s.o.'s voice calling out from the foyer. "BAT IN THE HOUSE!"

We have a routine for this. We put the dogs in the bedroom and shut the door. We prop the front door open. For a while we wait for the bat to find the door on its own, but it never does. There is a lot of ducking and screaming. Eventually I get a broom and I try to intercept the bat in midair and gently but firmly whack it out the door. My little joke is that that's why they're called "bats." Although if you follow my logic, I suppose they should really be called "balls."

Anyhow. BAT IN THE HOUSE means that they are getting in somewhere, and that somewhere is probably in the attic. And sure enough, as I attempted to fall asleep last night, I heard eeking and scratching in the wall. Why do they like the wall right behind where my head rests when I sleep?!

Time to put the Bat Exclusion Plan into action again. We like them and we want them to stay, but we would prefer they nest in a bat house rather than in our wall. Guano stinks.

In other news, I made a cassoulet on Monday for Slow Cooking Day. But the process is somehow more cumbersome to explain than to do, and I haven't managed to blog about it yet. I will, I promise.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The beauty of having a greenhouse

You know, I could take pictures of radishes every day and never tire of them. They're the cheeriest objects in the known universe.

We are peas; see us sprout

We've had a rainy few days, and it's doing the early plantings a world of good.

Yesterday I was talking with a fellow non-southerner, and she remarked that gardening here was weird. When the seed packet says "Plant as soon as the ground can be worked," what's that supposed to mean? December?

The answer is, as soon as the days start to get noticeably longer. The Extension recommends January 15 for crops that don't mind frost.

The best-looking thing in the garden right now

Not that my photo is any indication!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Rural news report

Today Crazy Neighbor Ed and his son made a bid for the 2006 Darwin Awards. First we watched CNE as he balanced in a tree, chainsawing off the end of the branch his ladder was propped on. [Note to CNE: Physics dictates that when the weight falls away, the branch will rebound!]

Then we watched CNE's son trying to pull out a tree stump, first by tying it to his 4x4, then by tying it to the bumper of a pickup truck. The first time, he did a lot of wheelies. The second time, the top of the stump splintered and the truck jumped forward as all the bystanders scurried out of the way. We had hoped the bumper would just shear off, but this was almost as dramatic.

After dinner, we got the newspaper. The headline read: "Two Heavyweights to Open Near I-20 in Near Future--Home Depot and Wal-Mart."

The site is 10 or 15 miles away, at the Greensboro exit.

How should I feel about this? I hate Wal-Mart. Their employees make crappy wages and get crappy benefits. They squeeze small businesses out of existence by demanding cripplingly low wholesale prices. They kill local businesses. On the other hand, unemployment in our county is sky-high, the majority of the people are living in abject poverty, and the downtowns are already completely deceased. I guess it can't make things worse...right?

Home Depot--well, fine. But their timing stinks. Do you know how many round trips to Athens we could have saved if they'd opened, say, four years ago? ;-)

Never a dull moment!


Nearly a week ago, right about the time I got this blasted cold (which is starting to get better, and it's about time!!!!), Ilva tagged me with this meme. Since my head is still a big ol' dextromethorphan balloon, bobbing around on a string just above my shoulders, I'm going to tackle the meme rather than attempt to write anything on my own.

I think almost everyone's done this one, so I'm not going to tag anybody. But take it if you want it!

10 Things You Never Knew About Me

1. I really like Bollywood movies. And military history movies. There's probably a Bollywood military history movie somewhere out there, just waiting for me to discover it.

2. I subscribe to both Vogue and Scientific American.

3. When I started college, I was absolutely positive I was going to be an art major. I ended up becoming an English major. Then I went to grad school and got a Master's degree in paleontology. To this day, I continue to have a short attention span on a grand scale. I am interested in everything on earth...for a day or two.

4. I am a Gemini. See #3.

5. Some of my grad school research was conducted on a weapons testing range in southern California. I had to get special permission from the government to go there, and only on the condition that I be escorted at all times and NOT TOUCH ANYTHING METAL.

6. The rest of my grad school research took place in Costa Rica, where I experienced several earthquakes. I don't like earthquakes. I started dreaming about them every night while I was there, and it took a long time for the dreams to go away completely.

7. The first vehicle I owned was a 1973 Ford F250 pickup truck. I described the color as "toothpaste aqua." I paid $550 for it. I had a policy of listening to only country music when I drove it.

8. My hair has always been pin-straight, but now that some of it is turning silver (shhhh....I get it colored), the texture is changing. It has a teeny little bit of natural wave. I can't complain, because it's what I've always wanted.

9. I love old architecture and would not consider living in any house or apartment that was built post-1950.

10. I think the Assyrian folk singer guy who tried out for American Idol this year got robbed.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Back soon

I have a rotten cold and am spending all my time on the sofa, watching reruns of CSI.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Who left the door open?

Oh, wait, that is a door. A most excellent door. It's a brand new storm door that blocks road noise and stops the heretofore incessant whistling-in of drafty winter air, yet is almost completely invisible.

The metal part is grey-blue to match the house. I'll show you the view from outside once we get the trim back on.

The dogs love this, obviously.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


Yes, it's really good. I know it's silly, but I'm kind of aghast that it could be this easy to make bacon. I didn't even miss the smokiness...although the s.o. might build us a smoker for future endeavors.


I just realized I never did say exactly how to make bacon. Basically, you make up a 2:1 mixture of plain uniodized salt and brown sugar. Grind in plenty of black pepper and crumble in some bay leaves. Some smashed juniper berries are a nice addition, too.

Rub this mixture into your pork bellies and stack them in a Rubbermaid tub. Every day, drain out the liquid that has accumulated, rub more of the salt/sugar mixture on the meat, and re-stack it with the slabs that were previously on the bottom on the top. After 4 or 5 days, you'll have a lightly cured bacon, ideal for breakfast. Just rinse it, blot off the water, and air-dry it for a little while. It will need to be refrigerated or frozen. A more heavily cured belly (say, 8 days) willl keep for weeks if wrapped in muslin and hung in a cool place.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The dogs must be crazy

When she was here for the holidays, my mom loaned me How Dogs Think by Stanley Coren. I loved it. It has had an indelible effect on the way I see the three canines who share our home.

In a couple of ways, the book inspired empathy. The section about stoicness in dogs was rough for me, considering Silver's recent troubles with her knees.* Also, it turns out dogs lack heat receptors in most areas of their skin, so when they seek out sunbeams, they're just trying to turn off their cold receptors. As a person with Raynaud's Syndrome who is forever trying to turn off her danged cold receptors, I practically teared up when I read that. They're like me! I thought.

But of course, they're not like me at all. They only have two of the three kinds of color receptors we have in our eyes, so they see colors in a spectrum from blue to yellow to brown. That happens to be, with almost no exceptions, the spectrum our house is decorated in. I may have unwittingly created a House That Dogs Can See...except for a couple of red chairs in the living room, which shall forever remain a dark-grey mystery to them.

Mostly, the book made me feel a profound respect for my furry housemates. It's one thing to know that dogs can find escaped criminals; it's another thing altogether to start to understand how they do it. They pick up scent on teeny little rafts of escaped skin cells. By the concentration, they can tell which direction a person is moving in. They can tell which part of the body the smell is coming from. And they can even tell identical twins apart, providing that the twins haven't eaten exactly the same diet. Holy cow.

With this in mind, I've been thinking about the dogs' reactions to all the pork around here. I handle the bacon daily in order to massage the cure into it. Every day I open the ham tub at least once, usually twice or three times, to swap out the freeze packs that keep it chilled. Last night I cooked a really good stir-fry with one of the unnameable cuts of meat we ended up with because we aren't professional butchers.** I must smell like pork CONSTANTLY to our dogs, no matter how much I wash. They must be going bananas.

And now I really, really smell like pork because I took out one of our big slabs of bacon, rinsed it off, blotted it dry, and stuck it on a drying rack in the fridge to air-dry until tomorrow morning. You see, there are two kinds of homemade bacon: the very salty kind that can be stored in a cool place almost indefinitely; and the kind that's optimal, taste-wise, for breakfast. This particular slab was rescued from the cure because it is destined to be the latter. It's not cured deeply enough to keep well, but we need it now, for egg accompaniment purposes.

Tomorrow is Bacon Eating Day.

* By the way, Silv went back to the doctor after two weeks on the Rimadyl and the gluc/chon, and her knees were still popping right out when the vet flexed them. Surgery looks almost inevitable. However, we've now hit the three-week mark, which is when the gluc/chon should be starting to kick in, and I swear I can see a spring in that dog's step. She seems pretty happy. I will keep you posted.

** I wish I had better words to describe how delicious it tasted. Despite the leanness of whatever cut it was, it was tender yet substantial, and it had fabulous depth of flavor.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Global warming?

This morning I rubbed my sleepy eyes and looked out the kitchen window to see...a robin.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

As I peruse the seed catalogs...

...the s.o. is outside with a flat-bladed shovel, scraping up turf. He is roughly doubling the size of the vegetable garden. He is my hero.

Oh, and I planted a few peppers in the greenhouse, just to see if I could get away with it.

Today there was a high of 60-ish degrees outside, but I know there will be a whole lot more frozenness before all is said and done.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Early plantings

In the greenhouse (already lush with young radishes and lettuce): Cherry and Yellow Jubilee tomatoes.

Outdoors: Sugar snap peas, shelling peas, and sorrel.

I need to get off my butt immediately and order seeds for spring planting! That may very well be my favorite shopping activity of the year...the time when all fantasies are fulfilled. I've already been making (and subsequently misplacing) lists for months.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Action shot

Stuffing sausages with a KitchenAid mixer, the grinder attachment, and the sausage stuffer attachment-to-the-attachment, is a two-person job. One person needs to keep the casing flowing at the right rate, while the other person pushes ground meat into the hopper.

Note the plastic containers labeled "hog casing" in the background. I was able to get the casings off the shelf in the meat department of Moon's Grocery, Greensboro, Ga. Bobby Fries would have sold them to me, too, but in much larger quantities. This way I got exactly what we needed for less than $6.

Cure for what ails you


Well, we did it! And there was a lot of "it" to do. Our half pig weighed in at 112 pounds.

I can't say enough about the meat processor we went to. It's called Fries Frozen Foods, and it's in the town of Millen, Ga., in the uncharted region south of Augusta. "Fries" is the family name, and it's pronounced "freeze."

The proprietor, Bobby Fries, graduated from Auburn University in the early 1970s and was accepted to Mercer Law School. But he went home to work for his father that summer (as he had done most of his life) and just couldn't leave. Meat processing was in his blood...and, he figured, the world probably had enough lawyers.

He does things right. The plant is small and so clean that you could probably eat off the floor. There's a real smokehouse on site. Mr. Fries disapproves of the way the majority of processors inject hams with artificial flavor, paint them with liquid smoke, bake them for an hour, and call them "cured." He cures and smokes his meats the old-fashioned way. A giant stack of bagged hickory chips in the storeroom bears witness to this fact.

He commissioned a spice company in Texas to make a proprietary sausage mix for him. He tested scores of samples before finding the perfect one. He had to go out of state to find a producer, since most sausage mixes are made with extracts rather than real spices.

Bobby Fries's son had meat processing in his blood, too, and decided to work for the family business rather than finishing college the way his father encouraged him to. But he was killed several years ago, so now Mr. Fries figures that when he retires, the business will close. No grocery-store butcher can do what he does; they simply don't have the skill set, because grocery stores receive meat already cut up from the big corporations.

I don't know why I'm writing this, except if anyone's looking for a direction in life, you could do a lot worse than apprenticing with Bobby Fries. I really hope these old-fashioned ways don't die out.

Anyhow, the pig. The first order of business was to put the liver, half head, and trotters in the freezer, because there is plenty to do on processing day without even beginning to think about those things.

We put the s.o.'s laptop, with the Pig in a Day DVD loaded in it, in a handy location on the back porch (AKA processing area), sharpened the knives, made up a tub of bleach water, and started cutting. When all the cutting was done, we did a little charcuterie. Here's what we ended up with:

• One giant rack and one mini rack of ribs
• Three big slabs of bacon (currently curing in a salty, brown-sugary rub)
• A 19.5-pound ham (currently submerged in a giant bucket of cidery brine)
• Eight one-inch-thick loin chops
• Four thin boneless shoulder chops
• A tenderloin
• A gigantic boneless rolled loin roast
• Several other rolled roasts whose names I forget
• A hock
• 81, yes, 81 sausages (Italian, English breakfast, and a few experimental chorizos)
• I'm probably forgetting a whole bunch of other things

Yesterday we never had a proper dinner--it was sort of beside the point. Late in the afternoon we fried up a piece of belly and reveled in its deep, porky flavor. Several other times we fried up little patties of sausage mix for quality control purposes. I would make the Italian sausage a little less salty if I had it to do again. Otherwise I am more than pleased with our efforts.

At this point, the majority of the excess fat is in the oven, rendering into homemade lard. The dogs have been sniffing around obsessively for a full day, trying to figure out if there's a way they can get sausages off the ceiling hooks on the porch (but that chance is fast fading...everything but the chorizo is done hanging and has been moved to the freezer).

The half pig cost us $237 including processing. If you do the math, I'm sure you can see how profitable this venture was. Even if it were not a free-range pig with an organic diet that included everything from cowpeas to corn, it would still be an incredible bargain.

I will post a few more pics of the processing as the mood strikes me.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


How is half a pig like a custom screen door?

Both are things we ordered in December that are just now coming to fruition. We pick up the half pig at the abattoir tomorrow morning. The installation date for the screen door is yet to be confirmed.

I will try to post a lot about the half pig. We're getting it in primal cuts so we can cure our own ham and bacon and make our own sausages. Tonight we'll be reviewing our Pig in a Day with Hugh and Ray DVD so we will be on top of our game! This is new for us.

By the way, sorry for the lack of new posts lately. We've had family visiting--good timing on their part, since the weather was idyllic! We've had a wonderful time, but not much time to spare. And now I have a deadline, arrrrgghhh...