Now In – Double H Pork!!!

I met Marga at feast!; over time we developed a rapport, attended a few food events together, and finally set aside a time to meet and discuss working together. She explains her position as the Director of Programs at the International Residential College at UVa, and also her professional and personal advocacy for mindfulness, yoga, and slow food. Over a series of meetings, she and I speak about bringing mindfulness and local food into the IRC in a manner that will be relaxing and educational and that will afford us the opportunity to work together. At the beginning of the process I can’t see where it is going, since I am not a formal educator nor do I consider myself qualified to ‘teach’ at UVa.

Marga’s encouragement and admiration go a long way, and in a few weeks’ time we have a proposal for an 8 week program that is to be funded out of the IRC’s student activity budget. The parallel programs will feature four documentaries, either food or environmentally-focused, complemented by smaller hands-on cooking classes with an emphasis on eating and discussing local food. Hopefully these programs will introduce young, smart, progressive and internationally-minded UVa students to current crises in the food world while providing them with small focused dinners based around local foods; this combination will provide a localized context in which to evaluate global issues, and will also build cooking, eating and discussion skills.

Beginning this course in January leaves me with very little fresh local product to choose from; I have already been making cabbage since November, and nothing else is on the horizon until the asparagus appears (please appear, asparagus!). Typical winter storage crops such as potato, onion, and carrot have not been available to me; I surmise it is difficult to grow these root crops in our red clay soil.

For the first meal I chose grassfed beef and made a local tomato ragout with simmered cabbage; egg noodles from Mona Lisa pasta; poached local apples and apple walnut cake from Breadworks; and roasted turnips and sweet potatoes.

The second meal (and first cooking class) I chose young chickens from the Shenandoah valley, Wade’s Mill polenta (prepared two ways – chilled and firm and spiked with cream, or fresh, soft and gooey with Everona Piedmont cheese); roasted butternut and acorn squash; and mixed greens and tomatoes from Roundabout. I take the time at home to prepare an annotated menu, including sources on the local food and a primer each on cooking chicken and cooking polenta. It becomes clear throughout the class that the students want to be cooking – chopping, washing, chatting – and I resolve to make the next class more hands-on. More work, less Lisa Reeder, although I love to talk about food and am impressed by their questions and their humor. The chicken is delectable; meltingly tender, flavorful, easy to pull apart into its component parts, and the frames go home with me to become delicious chicken broth.

Last night I cooked for 20 students. I called the Organic Butcher and secured a full pork loin and (perhaps most importantly) advice from the meat men. I feel fortunate that I have experts with whom to consult, as I seem to constantly be moving in unfamiliar territory! Robert helps me estimate the weight of the loin, the cooking time and temp, and provides the good-natured off-color comments that I have come to expect from meat men. According to my calculations 10 lbs will be the perfect quantity for 20 portions (8 oz per person, as opposed to the FDA’s recommendation of 4 oz, or the size of a deck of cards) and may even fit into the only roasting pan I have. When I go to retrieve the meat the guys tell me that they left the fat and the skin on it ‘because we thought you would think it was fun’. So true.

The loin is recognizable as a round piece about 3 inches across and 2 inches high; it is separated from a triangular piece of meat by a small ribbon of snow white fat; the whole business is sheathed in a 1 to 2 inch layer of fat and topped with the slightly pinkish skin. Ryan points out that the entire pig was scalded to remove all the hair; most slaughterhouses just have a small scalder (for suckling pigs) and so full sized hogs with fat and skin intact are rarely available. The loin weighs upwards of 13 lbs, but Ryan charges me for 10 lbs and gives me the fat for free. Looks like I’ll be rendering some lard…

I order mixed greens and cabbage (what else?) from Roundabout, and decide to make tangy coleslaw with carrot and red cabbage thrown in for color contrast. I assemble the coleslaw in a trashbag as I don’t have a container that is nearly big enough, nor suited to the divine smashing one can do in a bag. I purchase pistachios and Thompson’s raisins to make a jasmine rice pilaf, cooked on the stove and in the oven along with bay leaves, butter, olive oil and salt. I pick up some heart shaped cookies from Breadworks in honor of Valentine’s Day; the caveat to eating one is you must tell someone you love them (I tell the students). The students devour the rice pilaf and praise the pork; they seem to enjoy the coleslaw and the apple salad, and the cookies are a big hit. I admire all the leftover pork fat and begin to imagine what else I am going to cook in it.

food for thought…

Given our local grape production for wine, why don’t we have local raisins? What is the process? What about grapeseed oil? Huh?

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~ by a local notion on February 12, 2008.

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