Local wisdom

My fishing buddy, Barry and I have been threatening to go ice fishing since it first turned cold. Being a transplanted city boy I’ve never had the opportunity to ice fish and I’ve always wanted to give it a try. January was busy. In February it rained and we lost the ice.  Earlier this month there were colds and commitments and work to deal with. Sadly it never rose to the top of the list.

With spring having arrived earlier in the week along with the return of winter temperatures and ice, we decided it was either now or next year. Now seemed like the better choice so we both ditched work for the afternoon and hit the lake.

We went to a lake not far from his place in Quadeville and quickly set up our gear. Interestingly, on the way to the lake we drove down Wingle Road, right past the Wingle Inn. The place is all boarded up now but Barry remembers the long-gone proprietor Joe and wasn’t a bit surprised to hear of my family’s less than fruitful dealings with him 30 and 40 years ago. A trip down shadey memory lane 🙂

The appearance of snow, freezing rain, ice pellets, and pouring rain dared us to turn around and go home but instead I just put my rain coat over my parka and dropped my line through the hole in the ice. And I waited. And jigged. And waited. 

We were after trout and we only caught a couple. They were on the small side. Barry felt bad that we didn’t catch more, thinking that he had failed me as a fish whisperer. I was over-the-top pleased that I had finally made it out fishing before the ice disappeared and I missed yet another year. For me  it was about the process not the outcome. And the process was awesome. Big warm boots. 4 layers of clothes. A couple of hooks baited with minnows dangled through the ice trying to tempt the fish. From my perspective it could hardly have been better, fish or no fish.

Despite his insistence I let him keep the catch this time. I also left him and his family with 2 different kinds of my home made sausages to thank him for his ongoing efforts to get me out on the lake.

And the local wisdom, according to Barry: ‘fishing and catching are 2 different things.’ True enough, but that won’t deter me from taking every opprtunity to fish that comes way. For me, its all about the process.

A little bit of smoke

Smoked sausage, sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes. Renfrew County Gold.

I left half of the sausages from last week with Mario, about 10 kg. On the advice of our expert / co-conspirator, we planned to smoke them in Mario’s make-shift smoker for a day. The temporary smoker is made out of some cedar planks and vapour barrier. It works brilliantly and it’s a good stand-in until he has time to build a more permanent smoke-house this summer.

Today he delivered the sausages and I’m eating my first ones as I write this post. They are amazingly good. I wasn’t sure how I’d like the smoke but I’m a big fan. 

I currently have about 25 kg or so of various pig parts including a LOT of bacon sitting in a brine, waiting to hit the smoker. About 10 days in brine followed by 4 or 5 days in the smoker will make a whole pile of goodness that will get hung from the copper pipes in my basement for a couple of months before I eat them.  So good. Life is good. 

Among other things, I washed out and cleaned up my sap buckets today in preparation for the tapping of the trees tomorrow. Fun fun. More adventure awaits.

Because I had to…

The other white meat?? Not if it’s real pork!

It’s been bitter effing cold for the past week or so. On Sunday they said it was going to be minus 20 but it would feel like minus 32 with the wind chill. And it seems like it’s been that way for a month now (but I have a bad memory for these things). This evening it warmed up so it could snow. A balmy minus 12 and blustery.

I had set aside a couple of shoulder chops from the pig for just the right moment and I decided this was it. I fired up the bbq and stood outside in the blowing snow to grill these chops to perfection. The first bbq in months.

Served with squash and baked potato, both from Blakeney and Jackson’s homestead in Rockingham and topped with my homemade yogurt from local milk. A local meal in the middle of March. Nothing could be better.

On making friends and keeping New Years resolutions.

My approach, particularly since moving here to start a new life, has been to treat the people I meet like they are new friends and soon enough we’ll figure out if we are or not. Most often we are. I remember countless conversations over the years with my ‘deer’ friend  Katherine that started with her saying “I made a new friend today (…at the gallery, at the grocery store, at the gym, in the garden…).”  I get it! It’s a good way to live. Valentina and Mario are my new (ish) friends. Our lives kept intersecting all over town and we all just kept acting like we were friends. Now I think it’s official. 🙂

A few weeks ago I went to their place for a meal, my first. She is an amazing cook and we had cabbage rolls that that were baked on top of a bed of smoked pig parts – ribs, sausages, bacon, hocks.  So good – an amped-up Croatian take on chacroute garni, sort of.

During lunch I told them about my New Years resolution to learn how to make strudel. Strudel has always kind of intimidated me but it’s never fallen off the to-do list. I prefer to make resolutions that excite me (making strudel) rather than those that sound like punishment (going to the gym 10 times a week!). Valentina said that her friend Jelena would be visiting in a few weeks and that Jelena would teach both of us. Another perfect Killaloe coincidence. 

This story gets better. Way better! I bumped into Mario in the diner last week and he asked me if I wanted to get in on a deal. Their friends (the strudel-making Jelena and her Yugoslavian butcher husband Goran) were planning to visit. Mario invited me join them for a pig and pastry extravaganza.  I was in.

Mario picked up 3 naturally raised and freshly slaughtered Mennonite pigs (600 pounds in all) from the abattoire on Friday afternoon and we all gathered around the table in their basement to butcher and process them. After 7 hours on Friday evening and another 11 hours on Saturday we had finished the bulk of the initial work. My take was 45 pounds of sausages,  15 pounds of stew meat, 15 pounds of yummy shoulder chops and nearly 20 pounds of ground meat. Tenderloins, loins, ribs, belly,head, skin and all manner of other bits are waiting to be dealt with. Lots of it is getting cured and will end up in the smoker for a week and I have lots of plans for further processing throughout the week (lard, head cheese, wieners…).

It was amazing to work along side a European butcher and it was truly a family affair with all three kids getting involved.. So many tips and new approaches that I will incorporate into my piggy-loving future. 

The pastry lesson came mid-day on Saturday. We actually were making borek which is a meat-filled phyllo pastry that dates back to the Ottoman Empire  -apparently a different Turkish delight:). The method is the same as strudel. We made a soft dough with flour, salt, and water and kneaded it for a long time to develop the gluten so that it was strong enough to stretch. Then we rolled it out and gently stretched it until it was paper thin. In La Varenne Practique, Anne Willan says that you should be able to read a love letter through the finished  sheet of pastry 🙂 I expect I’ll get lots of love letters when I master this skill.

She sprinkled it lightly with lard and then put wee bits ground pork mixed with sautéed onion on top. It was gently rolled into a loose tube, turned into a coil, brushed with more lard and baked in a hot oven. Brilliant.

It’s a skill I will need to practise a lot. I’ve set an intention to make it every Sunday until I can turn out a good product. True to my word, I woke up early on Sunday and started the process while I was rendering lard, making scrunchions, making stock, and vacuum sealing pig portions in the background. . The pic above on the red sheet it my first attempt and it was pretty good and pretty thin. More practise is required for sure. I got lots of encouragement this morning at work to keep trying and trying 🙂 They promissed to continue to be my taste testers as long as I need to practise.

The word for the week is Zivjeli. Sounds like ‘Giggly’ with a v instead of the gg’s. And it means cheers in Croatian.  Zivjeli!. 

I didn’t see my shadow

From time to time, when it makes sense, I cook dinner on the woodstove. Tonight it was sausages and sauerkraut,  both homemade. It’s a nice feeling of security knowing that I can feed myself  and heat my house ‘off grid’. My thoughts are with the people in New Brunswick who have been without electricity for over a week now since the ice storm.

January was busy and good. My freezer is full with pig, goat, lamb, bear, deer, moose, chicken, and turkey. There’s also some squid and shrimp. I’ve made sausages for me, some for a friend, and this batch of breakfast sausages to take to a spinning retreat. In all I think I’ve made 44 pounds of sausages recently with more to come.

I’ve been spinning a lot lately. A group of us rented a cabin in the woods  in Brudenell and went on a spinning and knitting retreat a few weekends ago.  It was awesome. I made a pot of moose stew  as my dinner contribution and the sausages for breakfast. The whole weekend was a feast.

I also had the chance to do some public spinning at Bonnechere Provincial Park last weekend as a part of their winter festival. So much fun and such a conversation starter.  So many people have memories of their grandmothers (and grandfathers !!) spinning and knitting.  

I’m getting close to the finish line of spinning this Alpaca. In all I have 5 natural colours and I’m spinning it very fine. Soon I’ll need to decide what to knit with it. Maybe a striped sweater. 

And lots more. The days are noticeably longer and the sun shone in a blue sky today. Except when it was snowing.  Happy February!

Kale Snob?

December went by in a blink and it’s already next year. All the usual pre Christmas things went as planned and the time off in between was low key and greatly appreciated. For a twist, this year my cousin in Hamilton hosted our Christmas gig so my time off included a trip to southern Ontario. Molly and I spent 3 nights in a row in different beds and, while thankful for all the good visits, we were both happy to be back in Killaloe.

As is often the case by this time of year, my house is stuffed with food. In my freezer I have pig, lamb, goat, bear, deer, turkey, chicken, squid, and shrimp along with various bones and bits  and treasures (including some of the sweetest corn ever from my farmer friend David). My cupboards are filled with lots of home-canned treats: stock, beans, tomatoes, sauces, and a bunch of relishes, fruits, and jams. Life is good.

It’s no surprise to anyone, least of all me, that I’m a food snob. I like simple food that’s as local as possible. The reason is simply that it tastes better. And when I have to wait for things to come into season, they taste even better because of the anticipation. Try eating a spear of asparagus from Chile along side a spear from your garden in Ontario and you’ll know what I mean. 45 weeks isn’t that long to wait to eat the best asparagus in the world every day for 7 weeks 🙂

Today I decided to make my version of harira – a middle eastern lamb soup that is traditionally eaten to break the fast at the end of Ramadan. I had picked up kale at the store the other day for the first time in ages. Kale has always been a winter staple for me but I hadn’t felt the urge to buy it lately because I ate it fresh from my garden almost daily from June to November. I was floored at how different it was from my garden kale. I hadn’t really thought about it before but it’s the same as all the other store bought intensively grown food. A little bland. A little tasteless. A little disappointing. 

51 years old and I’m still learning new things about me all the time. A kale snob! Who would  have thought?!

Welcome 2017! A truly special year lays ahead… I’m sure of it.

Pig day at the farm (graphic – consider yourself warned)

Back in early September my friend Chris picked up a couple of small 35 pound Tamworth pigs at the auction barn. He figured that if he fed them well they would put on about 5 pounds a week. I was in for the adventure.  I chipped in some money for feed and offered to help out on slaughter day. 

Today was the day. I arrived at 10 and we started to gather the necessities while we waited for neighbour Ed to show up to help. Chris lives off grid on a small very rustic farm. He fetches water from a well with a bucket and heats his cabin and  cooks his food on a small airtight woodstove. He grows fantastic veggies that he sells at the Combermere market and raises lots of critters. Dogs, cats, horses, goats, and a few types of pigs. The pics get pretty graphic from here on so stop reading now if you wish. 

Once Ed arrived we got right to work. he and Chris went into the pen and caught the first pig. They passed the squirming beast over the fence to me and we took it into the horse barn to kill it. 

Chris was quick with the knife and the pig died instantly. We repeated with the next one and  then hung them on a scale. 88 pounds each. 

The first task was to skin it and  we did the first one on a table out of necessity. Using the weight of the animal for tension, it was pretty easy to get the hide off. Next up we slit the belly and took out the guts. I wasn’t sure how I would react to it all but none of it phased me at all.

Next we took the legs off and hung them to age for a few days. Then it was tea break. We  started over with the second pig except we were able to hang it while we skinned and quartered it. it was much easier.

By the end of it there were 8 legs and  2 torsos hanging in the shed. There was also a bucket with 2 heads and 8 trotters in it that Chris plans to scald and de-hair in the evening. 

All of it will hang for a few days until Chris brings it to my place to butcher. My take will be one front and  one hind leg. Definitely some sausage and maybe a cured ham. Time will tell.

I took a big step forward today in my Real Food Adventure and it pleases me greatly. Living in town I can’t raise critters but experiences like this bring me closer and closer all the time. I am what I eat 🙂