Cooked: Synopsis and Review

Pollan starts at the Skylight Inn in North Carolina with hopes to discover the primal roots of cooking: fire. He meets Sam Jones the owner of the establishment who introduces him to James Henry Howell, the pit master.

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Synopsis

Howell is responsible for maintaining the fires, cooking the hogs, processing the meat and seasoning for service. Pollan learns during his visit that the Skylight Inn is one of the only placed practicing whole hog BBQ in the traditional manner due to being grandfathered in against the current health codes. After seeing the process of whole hog roasting he samples a platter and a sandwich, both composed of a mix of back, belly, shoulder and leg meat.

But, it became quickly evident that he wasn’t going to be able to learn much from the Skylight Inn, most of the work was done autonomously by the pit master. Pollan did managed to connect with Ed Mitchell, a pit master in Raleigh. Mitchell agreed to take him on and informed him about an upcoming event. Pollan got just a taste of whole hog cooking, this was done off premises for a shareholder event and he worked the first part of the day with Aubrey, Mitchell’s brother. This involved breaking down the meat, saving the skin, seasoning the mix, adding appropriate cuts and spices when needed, and finally crisping the skin for a final garnish. When the dinner seating arrived, Aubrey clocked out and Pollan worked the final shift successfully alone. The next appearance he makes is in Manhattan at the Big Apple BBQ block party. Mitchell divided the process, identical to the one on Pollan’s debut. He manned a chopping block and worked furiously to keep up. They started at 11am and by 1pm they were sold out. The total amount of product moved was 8 hogs worth of meat, netting 2000 sandwiches.

Pollan then endeavors to make his own BBQ. He orders a front leg of pork and a cord of wood. Then, he spends his day “cooking” wood into coals and butchering, with the help of a chef, the leg for easier cooking. Pollan discusses the technique, control and compromise in quest to produce authentic BBQ; his result is fantastic.

Pollan transitions to the kitchen, moving away from water to its opposite, water. After a brief explanation about the inner workings of an onion, he continues describing the steps of braising. Something he boils down to “cooking with water”. This process is divided into seven sections starting with the dicing of onions. Then he sweats them, while providing pertinent information on the chemical reactions taking place. The third step is browning the meat. With the help of his friend and instructor, a chef from Chez Panisse, Pollan sears various meats, and much like the aromatics, explains the reactions behind this complex step. Moving forward, he dissects the history of and the nature of the stew pot. Going back thousands of years, Pollan documents the traditions and rituals behind the pot. An interesting discovery that he notes is how the invention of the cooking pot was just as much a boon to civilization as it was to agriculture. By softening foods and rendering them more nutritious the cook pot acted as an external mouth and stomach for children, the elderly and all in between.

The next step, pouring braising liquid over the previous items, is as complex as the liquids themselves. He describes many different braising mediums and concludes that many of them return on one central taste sensation: umami. He describes its characteristics and various extraction methods, touching on stocks, dashi and even milk. The following step is to simmer the ingredients “for a long time”. During this lengthy step Pollan delves into the concept of time and cooking. He describes the reaction in a cook pot; braising for many hours allows the breakdown of collagen and proteins for a more tender and nutritious product. He also discusses the decrease of time spent preparing home cooked meals and the act of eating; both figures on a steep decline since the late 60’s. The seventh and final step is to skim the fat, reduce the sauce and serve. Pollan uses the simplicity of this step to test a theory. With his family he purchases and cooks two family meals. One made by him, the other in the microwave. His goal is to determine which method offers more saved time. His results are conclusive as he demonstrates the difference between the two meals. (This alone is worth reading Cooked!)

Pollan’s next adventure is cooking with the element of air. He beings this quest – a search for the perfect loaf of bread – by researching sourdough. Along his journey he discovers the book Tartine Bread, which gives a 27-page recipe for the bakery’s signature loaf. He dives into the world of bacteria and fungi and begins exploring the unique relationship between the two. He begins by attempting a loaf by himself. He creates his starter and after about a week produces a leaven, or sponge. He then tests his sponge to see if it gathered enough air by dumping it into a bowl of water. The objective is that it floats, and it does. He then adds his other ingredients and sets the dough to bulk ferment. This is where the gluten develops and the cultures in the dough begin to break down the proteins of the flour. After several hours he shapes his loafs and allows them to go through a final proof. His first attempt is mediocre and he is determined to make a perfect loaf. He enlists the help of the baker of Tartine Bakery to get some tips. Pollan meets with the owner and learns a few tricks about bread making. His second attempt is much better, although by his standards it’s still far from his desired result.

He begins to look farther into bread making and begins to research baking with whole grains. He begins to discover that there are many more specificities that are involved in baking with whole grains. In his research he meets with a few bakers who live by whole grain baking. He begins to learn about some of the science behind bread as well as a few different tactics to make his process easier. He tries for a final loaf and is fairly impressed with the product – this time using whole grains rather than white flour.

Pollan’s next and final chapter concludes by cooking with Earth; more specifically the art of fermentation. His journey commences with a lesson and demonstration by Sandor Katz, a master fermento who advocates the use and consumption of live culture products. Pollan begins this exploration of fermented foods with a pickling recipe. He practices two types of pickling vegetables; those of the leafy variety like cabbage and those not, such as cucumbers and radishes. His first few attempts have mixed results and Pollan decides to visit a fermentation festival to learn more. During this festival he samples many products but also begins to learn about the health benefit of these foods. Pollan discovers that “9/10 every cells in our bodies belong not to us, but to…microbial species (most of them residents of our gut), and that 99 percent of the DNA we’re carrying around belongs to those microbes.” Another interesting fact he learns is, “Exquisitely reactive and fungible, bacteria can swap genes and pieces of DNA among themselves, picking them up and dropping them almost as if they were tools. This capability is especially handy when a new toxin or food source appears in the environment. The microbiota can swiftly find precisely the right gene needed to fight it – or eat it.”

Pollan proceeds on to cheese making. He takes an internship at an abbey in Bethlehem, Connecticut. With the help of a nun her learns the process of making a traditional French cheese. It starts with placing the milk in a wooden barrel with rennet where it coagulates for a few hours. Once solid, the curd is cut and herded into a solid mass. Then it is removed from the barrel and placed in cheese presses overnight to expel the remaining whey. Afterwards, it will be placed in a cave to cure for two months.

During his cheese education, Pollan learns a shocking revelation about live culture and raw dairy foods: “Sister Noella regarded her wooden barrel and paddle not merely as quaint antiques, but essential elements of the traditional cheese making process. The fact that the wood harbored bacteria was actually a good thing. She preferred to think of them not as contaminants but ‘more like a sourdough culture.’ So, Sister Noella designed an experiment for the benefits of the health inspector. From the same raw milk, she made two batches of cheese, one in the wooden barrel and the other in a stainless-steel cat. She deliberately inoculated both batches with E. coli. What happened next was, at least to a Pasteurian, utterly baffling: The cheese that had been started in the sterile vat had high levels of E. coli and the cheese made in the wooden barrel had next to none. Just as [she] had expected, the ‘good bacteria’ living in the barrel…had outcompeted the E. coli, creating an environment in which it couldn’t survive.”

Pollan moves onto the last form of fermentation: creation of alcohol. Alcohol is the oldest and most widely consumed fermentation. It is all responsible because of saccharomyces cerevisiae. Many species enjoy this fermentation ranging from elephants to monkeys. It is believed that the scent of alcohol was indicative of fermentation, which meant that food was at it highest level of nutrition. Pollan makes a first attempt at producing alcohol with mead. He dilutes honey in a water solution one parts to four parts and then lets it sit out for a few days, stirring it occasionally to gather natural yeasts. Once it began to bubble he transferred it to a carboy, essentially a sealed vented container. It results in a tasty, low proof beverage. His next attempt is beer; he purchases a kit from a local brewery and begins by boiling water. Then he adds malt extract and magnum hops, a bittering agent. The next step involves crushing some grains, tying them in a sachet – like a teabag – and steeping them in the liquid. After half an hour he adds some hops, allows the mixture to sit and then in another hour removes this mixture from the heat and adds more hops of a different variety. Once cool, it is strained, and the yeast is added, it is placed in a carboy. He lets it ferment for two weeks and then bottles it with a small amount of sugar to promote a final round of fermentation that produces the carbonation. His first attempt is deemed “pretty good”; both his son and him had a few critiques, but overall, they were satisfied. Pollan desires to make beer from scratch rather than a kit. He makes a connection with a friend who does home brewing and begins to learn the process. It is lengthier and more complex; it begins with soaking crushed malt in hot water. This breaks down the grains carbohydrates into sugars. That liquid – called wort – is then drained and the grains are sparged – washed a second time to remove extra flavor. The wort is then rapidly cooled to prevent any contamination. Then the wort is poured into carboys and pitched with yeast. The bottles are sealed and let ferment. One of Pollan’s bottles explodes during his fermentation process. The surviving batch is bottled in the same manner as before and when Pollan samples it he claims it ” as somewhat of a disappointment”.

Review

Pollan elegantly expresses “a natural history of transformation” with outstanding detail. Cooked offers the reader elemental knowledge about the transformative effects of cooking but also the transformation of those practices since their creation and discovery. He cleverly reduces several common methods into an elemental state and thoroughly explains the deeper meaning behind each. As always, Pollan applies firsthand knowledge and experiences pared with superbly extensive research to create a masterpiece. He has expertly crafted a narrative by detailing each step of his process while simultaneously weaving in fibers of pertinent information. He questions our changing eating – and cooking – habits, beginning to identify some of the causes and the shocking underlying effects. Pollan also makes fantastic observations about what really happens during cooking. With absolute brilliance and comprehension, he creates a piece of literature that does great justice to something so crucial to our everyday life.

To all who eat: Michael Pollan’s Cooked is a must read. A composition of skillful writing, exciting experiences and relevant information to the world of food and its eaters; I highly recommend Cooked with tremendous respect.

Final Remarks:

Cooked offers valuable information to the trained chef, seasoned cook and even the humble home cook. The information is clear and concise providing details about each reaction as well as the outcome. It simplicity outlines the complex steps of classic cooking methods and provides key connections between the how and why. Pollan has infused me with a new spirit of excitement for trying new recipes and techniques while also providing me with more foundational knowledge – historical and technical – for my career.

Week 12: Rain and Recovery

The wedding and lodging of one of the families occupied most of our time last week. While we were hoping to get a start on farm work when the week began we were drenched by rain and forced to recover from the busy week prior.

Monday started with the final breakfast of the groom’s family. It went late into the morning and as they rolled out, we began to clean up the house. The rain was light, but persistent so I spent my afternoon helping clean and then did some reading. Pippin – David’s son – and his family came for dinner and he made us pasta primavera. I added to the meal by making some fruit sorbet and we spent the evening catching up and discussing the wedding. The following day the rain had become more intense. We had breakfast with Pippin’s family and spent the day lounging around the house. It was probably one of my more unproductive days but I enjoyed with reading, napping and chatting with some of our guests. It was just Ellis, David and I for dinner so we finished off leftovers. Wednesday we caught a reprieve in the rain. David and I went to the hospital to plant celery and then ran some errands in town. We had planned again to dine with Pippin and family so David made a vegetable curry over rice. I left early to go to Humble Hands farm to help them roast another sheep. When I arrived I helped tend the the fire, then Hannah – the owner of the farm – and I scooped out the coals and rocks. We seasoned the sheep, wrapped it tight in a sheet and buried it in the ground. It cooked through the night and the following morning I went back to the farm to help them carve the meat. It wasn’t as tender as the one we had done previously but still had great flavor. I made a quick trip into town to go to the Depot – a small second hand store – to see if I could find a pair of shorts. I returned home shortly after and Ellis invited me to go out and grab some Chinese food in town.

Friday I made a sourdough starter for bread. I made a quick trip back to Hannah’s farm to grab some equipment we loaned them for the sheep roast. When I got back I helped David cover peas in the garden as a means of bird protection. Then I tied tomatoes to trellis and spent the afternoon weeding. The few days of rain, with no involvement from us, had allowed the weeds to explode; rather than our usual routine we had to hand pull the larger ones before we could come in and clear out the others with tools or the tiller. We had been given a lot of food from the wedding so we were still enjoying leftovers. After dinner I moved some chicken feed to the coop and then helped cover the squash plants from more bird assaults.

Saturday we had bed and breakfast guests staying in the cabin. I spent the morning enjoying their conversation with waffles. I made my dough and let it proof before heading to see a play in Lanesborough. When I returned I worked in the garden pulling more weeds. After about an hour I left to go to a Sankt Hans Aften – a Danish social gathering that occurs around the solstice. I spent my night enjoying various Danish dishes: smoked arctic char, cod liver and eggs, anchovies on rye, and a spread of cured and smoked meats that I still don’t know the names of. Sunday we hosted our guests at breakfast again. David made a squash blossom omelette and I enjoyed the leisurely morning. I spent the rest of the morning catching up on weeds before going to see another matinee showing in town. When I got back I made some tomato sauce and sauteed squash for dinner. We enjoyed it as the sun set, offering a bounty to the various flying pests that emerge at that time of day as well. I’m still scratching.

 

Creating and Maintaining Cycles in Food

When you go to the supermarket and gaze out over the pasture it is, on the surface, beautiful. Bright red, perfectly round tomatoes and bushels of corn in tight rows in their bright green husks sit on the shelves.

These are the standards. Who would want to eat a ribbed tomato or one shaped like a pear? (Especially if it were green, yellow or black.) I had an interesting discussion with David that resonated heavily with me. Commercial agriculture has mastered the art of satisfaction. Through enormous marketing divisions and years of research they know what “we”, the consumer, want. Let’s talk about the “tomato”. Rock hard, brilliantly red, smooth and spherical. Even the challenge of year round availability has been overcome. Varieties have been crossbred for certain characteristics – texture, color, and anatomy – to make transportation, appearance and harvesting easier. Crossbreeding only solves a few of these issues though, it fails to address the issue of growing seasons. But fret not, commercial agriculture has cracked nature’s code. One of the primary reasons the tomatoes from conventional markets are as hard as the packed soil they’re grown in is because of a clever trick: sometimes on the vine, others “freshly” picked, the “tomatoes” are force ripened by blasting the fruit with copious amounts of ethylene gas. This is a byproduct gas that fruits and vegetables produce once picked; it is the reason fruits ripen quicker when placed in a paper bag. But this forced process is far more removed than the one that takes place on your kitchen counter. The fruit, still unripe, go through the desired colored change but the flesh, bred additionally tough for transit, isn’t at its peak and stays locked in a state of un-ripeness. Enjoying that “tomato” in January? That’s how it’s made; that’s how the cycle starts. Conventional supermarkets – Walmart and company – have a bountiful produce section placed conveniently at the front of the store. As you walk in these bright red rocks – “tomatoes, strawberries, peaches” – placed among the palette of other colored smaller rocks catch your eye. It doesn’t even take a purchase, the brain begins to recognized this monstrosity as a “tomato” or “plum”. Come back in the winter and there is the “tomato”, gleefully shining its red brilliance, still looking identical to its earlier counterpart. But supermarkets aren’t solely to blame; restaurants do it too. How many times have you ordered a hamburger out of summer, or in it for that matter, served with the classic, lettuce, “tomato” and onion? That “tomato”, and iceberg lettuce for that matter, are the same thing, tasteless, failed imitations of a beautiful, natural product. But by proliferating this idea of a standard – tomatoes that look a certain way and available year-round – consumers begin to develop expectations; these push out the other possibilities.

Another example of this concept is with corn. The genetic diversity of the available corn in the markets is practically nonexistent for the same reason as tomatoes; a different set of characteristics dictate this but the results of such reinforce standards and expectations creating and perpetuating the cycle. The corn in stores is a hybrid version of other species bred to be incredibly sweet – and that’s it. Commercial agriculture has taken something that used to sustain ancient civilizations and turned it into a cob of sugar with little to no nutritional value. But who would enjoy the taste of a less sweet red corn? Who cares that there are other species that provide far more nutrition? So the cycle continues; uber-sweet corn breeds the next generation of corn eaters with contorted expectations of what corn should taste like; “tomatoes” are expected year round even if it means they taste like shit. The expectations are set, the standards are reinforced and the expectations continue.

But we deserve better food than that. Hundreds of species of these common fruits and vegetables occupy our planet. Some cultivated, others preserved and some rampaging wild through fields and forests. Each unique species provinding some unique trait or characteristic; exciting textures, ethereal flavors, numerous health benefits, longevity of storage and the list goes on and on. Maybe I hold as bias, but after tasting a real tomato it is impossible to go back. It is our job, to tear down these standards and begin to promote real food; to recognize that seasonality, bioregionality and biodiversity are far more important to genuinely good products, that benefit not only the consumers but the planet that these consumers occupy. It’s is a challenge. The proliferation of the “tomato” can be blamed equally between commercial agriculture and the consumers that enjoy – if that can even be said – them. Expectation of certain standards will continue these cycles. Avoiding these products, tempting as they might be are crucial. We – maybe not you directly, but our culture, desires and people – are the center of this; we were the start, and we can be the end.

One of my goals is a “devotion to creating a healthy, knowledgeable, compassionate and sustainable future by teaching the [people] about food…and conscious consumption.” I strive to create content that helps challenge the food paradigms. And by reading these posts and joining the Pans and Perspective community you are too! My hope is that next time you go to the store, restaurant, maybe even a friends home, and you see a “tomato” that you share these concepts. The future of good, real food is within our grasp.

Week 11: Pepperfield Principles in Action

I have always been interested in prinicples – ideas, concepts or beliefs – that people avidly stand behind. David has many of them that I respect and witnessing them unfold is truly amazing.

The week started with an early breakfast with some overnight guests. During which Bobo, aptly named, stirred up quite a ruckus in the woods. When David went to investigate the disturbance he happened upon a bright orange mushroom that I came to know as chicken of the woods. After our quick foraging adventure David and setup a trellis for melons in our last isolated bed for seed renewal crops. We took a quick trip to town to do some maintenance at the hospital garden which involved tying up the tomato plants. Afterwards we went to the store and ran a few miscellaneous errands before returning home for lunch. Since all of our tomatoes are on the same clock I ended up tying up more of them here as well. I then sickled weeds between the grapevines, something that has to be done by hand because the mower won’t fit between the vines safely. I did some light weeding as well and then came back to the house for dinner. I cooked up the mushroom and it was glorious. As it hit the pan the house filled with this haunting floral aroma, completely different than any mushroom scent I have experienced. The taste was even better, a combination of light earthiness, scrambled eggs and a gentle nuttiness. It is a rarity in nature so just like the fawn pate I was honored.

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Tuesday we began cleaning the house for the wedding guests. We were hosting the groom’s family and we had a fair amount of work to do. Shortly after David and I planted some walnut seedlings down at his creek for erosion prevention. When I came back I weeded the berry patch, a monstrous job, and then did some more weeding in the vineyard. I felt pretty good still so David and I built a compost pile. I made a quick stop by the wedding site to finalize plans with Carina and see the venue. The day after I went to town to get some errands done for the catering. I picked up equipment from Ruth, the caterer I worked with last week at village fire. I then went to the local produce store to pick up most of our ingredients for the event. When I returned I ate a quick lunch and began some light prep. I made mustard and the vinaigrettes for the wedding. I also pickled some red onions for condiments. I returned to my afternoon with more weeding and finished of the my work day with cooking quinoa for a salad. We have our first vegetables coming in to harvest, so I grabbed a few bunches of kale and braised them with bacon and onions. I was pleasantly surprised that they held up in the pot and had a fantastic flavor, very reminiscent of collard greens. Thursday I helped clean around the house by vacuuming the upstairs rooms. After I cooked potatoes for potato salad and then spent my afternoon napping. When I got up I did some weeding in the main garden.

Friday, David and I went to the dump to drop of the accumulation of trash from six months. Surprisingly it was only a pickup truck bed full. More of it recycling than anything else. When we returned we collected some hay from one of his mowed fields and then I spent the afternoon preparing food. I made the quinoa salad, finished the potato salad, made some coleslaw and packaged a few items. We all went out to the local pizza farm to get some great coal fired pizza. In preparation for our guests I made a sourdough starter and let it begin to ferment overnight. The next day I spent exclusively working with food. I started my day cutting melon for the event. Afterwards I went to town to finish my final tasks before the wedding. I through a few loaves into the oven when I returned home as our guests began to arrive. The aromas of the whole wheat wafted through the air. It must’ve smelled good because as the family arrived they ate nearly an entire loaf. Later in the afternoon, Pippin – David’s son – and his family arrived and I made an introduction. Carina was holding a pre-wedding reception that lasted for a few hours. When I got home I finished the roasted squash and went to bed. Sunday started with breakfast for the groom’s family. I got the car loaded later in the morning and began to get organized. I went to wedding a few hours early to do my setup and help out with anything I could. Then I picked up some of the food from one the restaurants in town before returning to brief my servers and greet guests. I made one last stop at the house during the ceremony to grab all the cold food; we had to store it all at the farm because we have a massive refrigerator. The party went late into the evening, everyone enjoyed the food and I got bombarded with various compliments about my service and the food. It felt great.

One of the Pepperfield principles is “Do what you love, do it to the best of your ability [and you will be rewarded]”. David has frequently told me this and it has always been significant to me. I also strive to give me all when I do anything. I got a perfect taste of this in action during this last week (really the last day of this week). I received a multitude of compliments but also a fair amount of tips for my work. Not only did I take this catering job on as a challenge, I offered it as a gift to David for all the work and help he has given me over the past 11 weeks. One of the comments was in appreciation of the work I was doing. It felt even better because the gentleman told me he too worked in the industry and enjoyed watching me “fucking kill it”. As he discreetly handed me a $20 bill, tears welled in my eyes. I was overcome with a tremendous amount of pride and sanctification that not only was my cooking something to be commended, but that my work ethic and service did not go unnoticed as well. He wasn’t the only one either, many people came up to me over the course of the night and slipped me various tips while feeding me compliments about the food. It really was this surreal experience – one that I have never actually encountered before. Each week here has seemed to increase in greatness; I’m making strides in my growth of my body, mind and spirit but also beginning to see the different experiences and rewards that derive from food itself.

Check out what you may have missed this week here!

Eating Better than Kings and Queens

The fawn pate wasn’t just a delicious item. It was something sacred, unique and provoking.

It brought ingredients together in a way that highlighted their individual value but also the value of their sum. It was rich, creamy, delicately smoky, laced with fruity notes with undertones of onion. The prevailing flavor, a slightly gamey profile that exploded on the palate creating a dance of flavors that were earthy and ethereal at the same time. The pate was a complex beautiful example of the possibility of local food; sourced almost entirely from the farm, shared with its farmers and neighbors, providing enjoyment, energy and nutrition for future plantings and harvests. It helped make future creations possible.

We gathered, seven of us at different times, to enjoy. Each leaving impacted in some way if nothing more than satiated. It destroyed stigmas about eating liver and opened new gateways for consumers of the myriad of possiblities of food. We shared conversation, thoughts and reflections that may have never surfaced. Ellis rightfully stated, “Even kings weren’t served fawn pate”. Something that provided superficial humor but also a deeper discovery. We were transcended beyond royalty; being able to create, share and taste something more valuable than any mountain of gold or gems. We had no responsibility other than to enjoy it to the fullest with no fear of judgement. We provided a purpose for an accident, a mistake. It was the transformation of death into the birth of something new.

Beyond the food is an idea; concepts, recipes and traditions all swirling together as if in a pot to create a greater understanding of our past and glimpses into our future. This food brought us together to share and enjoy. It was indifferent our differences and beliefs, acting as a medium for new connections and the creation of unique experiences.

I am humbled to have worked with such ingredients. Even moreso honored to have been given the privilege to do so. Pepperfield – the land, the people, the idea and experiences – has provided me with a memorable gift that I may never receive again. But I am satisfied, having eaten better than a king. To me it’s not just food, it is life.

What is Village Fire?

Last week I indirectly participated in a unique event. My capacity was significantly food related by I still witnessed many amazing things at the event.

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Village Fire is an annual four day event that takes place in the driftless region of Decorah Iowa. It is an “intergenerational” gathering of individuals who come together to sing, dance and create. Each day as I walked from my car to the kitchen I observed basket weaving, wood carving, percussion and song circles and much more. When I first signed on to help cater this event I had been warned that this crowd was unique, that was an understatement; a plethora of dietary restrictions, openess to all things – nudity, LGBTQ and more – people in wizard shirts, just to name some of the traits I witnessed. I began to get a better sense of the demographic as I spoke to the volunteers and participants.

People had come from across the United States, California to the Appalachians, some had biked – to conserve fossil fuel use or even just because of the enjoyment of the sport – many people camped out on site and everyone was genuinely kind. They were the kind of people who promoted their psychic abilities, got lost during a conversation only to stare deep into your soul and ate honey of spoons rather than put it in their tea. They lived on sustainable farms, cooked off the land, prioritized reducing environmental impact and sought to better themselves in the body, mind and spirit. (Oh wait that’s me, but I wasn’t alone.) Needless to say, I fit right in, and much to my surprise I loved it. I was able to share my stories and experiences here at Pepperfield as well as my Food Philosophy to a crowd that was very receiving.

Village fire was such a valuable experience for me on so many levels. It gave me new insights towards my future in food. I worked with some fantastic people in a great environment and thoroughly enjoyed myself. As I mentioned in the week 10 post there were even a few times where the kitchen felt busy. The atmosphere came alive and it was a living example of Stress vs Pressure. I went through a perspective shift of what the kitchen environment was (and what it could be). This was in part due to the awesome chef I worked with, Ruth Hampton. She too has a food philosophy, chants and recites mantras while cooking and shares some of food ethics as well. (I have an interview scheduled and I am very excited!) I also began to see new parts of myself and what I hope to achieve. Sharing my Food Philosophy to a receiving audience was so rewarding. I was promoting something that, not only am I passionate about, but sharing a set of beliefs that I truly stand behind. I experienced many of the same sentiments I encounter when I share my stories and these beliefs with you. This whole event left me more awake, refreshed, excited and very optimistic towards the future.

I can’t fully explain what the event was with just words, hopefully this will do it some justice.

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Week 10: Faun, Fireside Gatherings and Food (Lots of it)

This week was a beautiful orchestration of events – entrenched in food – that was probably the most rewarding to me, as a chef. I had unique experiences, practiced and enjoyed cooking so closely related to my Food Philosophy that I felt complete and at peace and made connections with people – chefs and otherwise – that I will remember for an eternity.

Our week commenced on Monday with an early trip to the hospital garden. I spent my time mulching planting beds and then transitioned to transplanting flowers. Work was swift and we returned to the farm shortly after where I did some weeding in the rhubarb patch and around fruit trees. Afterwards I mulched leaves around some of the seed saving crops to prevent future weed assaults. I then moved down to the main garden to tie up tomato vines so they wouldn’t fall over into the dirt. I had the village fire gathering to prepare for so I began to get my tools in order and tried to get ready for bed. It wasn’t that easy though. The dogs found a fawn nestled down in the woods and killed it. This became an ordeal that I was then involved in. David dressed out the carcass with my help – mostly observation, the occasional steadying of the animal too – and then butchered it. Since the kill was fresh I decided to make a quick pate out of the liver before I really went to bed. No sooner did I have the liver browning in the pan that the phone rang at quarter past nine. Hannah Breckbill a CSA farmer who was donating food to my event the following day was on the line. She asked if I wanted to help them season the ram and help put it into the pit to roast. I couldn’t decline, so I hastily finished my pate and ran out to her farm. (This experience was so complex and I plan on expanding on it in more detail this week!) Things went late into the evening and I finally got into bed about two and half hours later than expected, or desired. Nevertheless I slept well and awoke early the next day to finish my final details before leaving the house for the campground. When I arrived, I got the ovens cranking and roasted spaghetti squash. I also chopped and blanched some other vegetables while simmering a curry sauce for lunch. Around 11, the sheep that I helped season the night before arrived and I broke down what I needed for lunch. Shortly after I cooked wild and basmati rice and then began my buffet setup. Lunch went quite smoothly and then I transitioned to my dinner prep. I started with slicing cabbage for a coleslaw; I wanted to get it salted to purge some of the excess liquid even though it was for the following day. I then cooked some potatoes for breakfast, setup beans to simmer for dinner and made a corn bread for a light dessert. Someone dropped of a large supply of rhubarb which I promptly turned into a cobbler and a simple compote to go with the cornbread. I served the mutton, gravy, roasted potatoes, sauteed spinach and more rice for dinner. It was quickly devoured and I was glad I had made a few desserts. Those two were crushed in minutes and the campers left satiated and happy. Wednesday morning I arrived at camp around seven in the morning. I had initially been told breakfast was scheduled for nine, but within minutes of arrival I was informed that breakfast was at 7.30. I ran around and prepared eggs, hashbrowns, setup a granola and yoghurt bar, made a pepper onion mix and reheated beans for an added boost. I am proud to say that I managed to have it all ready by the required time. (Thanks in part to a gracious volunteer who helped keep the details in order as well as chop some vegetables.) Lunch was much easier because I had two extra hours. I cooked more potatoes, finished the cole slaw, made a rice salad from the previous days leftovers, cooked more rice – again, both kinds – and also reheated some of the leftover curry. Many people had made donations as well so I also put out ram organs, smelt, various salads and a mix of sweet items. With no rhyme or reason people ate way less than both the day and night previous so there was plenty of leftovers. I spent my afternoon cleaning and left around three. I returned home just in time for wine time where David, Ellis and I shared some of that faun pate. Two words: Holy Shit. (Again more expansion required!)

Thursday I was scheduled to do some catering with Ruth, she was in charge of feeding people for the actual event. I arrived a little early for my shift and was stunned by the sheer number of people and the activity in the kitchen. I started by helping out with dishes and once they were caught up I was put on mixing a chili lime slaw. Then I portioned soup between the five warmers and added in some corn as well. A couple more people rolled in to help and then I sliced cornbread for lunch. As I was finishing we began setting up the lunch buffet. The menu was pozole, cornbread, molasses butter and chili lime slaw. We spent the next hour managing the buffet and refilling items before moving onto the next segment. Ruth only had me work the morning afternoon shift so I returned back to Pepperfield. David and I left for town to plant basil at the hospital garden and then returned back to the farm to repeat the same process. Birte returned from a day in town with a friend, Christie, and we spent a long evening with great food, wine and conversation. The sky opened up late in the night and continued to rain through the morning. I left the house early to make it back to the campground. The vast crowd of 300 was now all huddled under the main pavillion making the numbers seem even larger. I squeezed my way into the kitchen and began by chopping potatoes. As I completed that task I dropped them into water and portioned more soup among warmers. As each batch of potatoes were done I put them in the soup warmers. Ruth, TJ – the other chef, and I took turns going around tasting each soup and seasoning them. Afterwards I shredded cabbage for coleslaw for the following day and then began lunch buffet setup; we offered mulligatawny soup, hummus, whole wheat bread and quinoa salad. Again, I only worked the afternoon segment and I returned home early. Ellis and I went to town to complete some errands and then spent about an hour at the library. We then drove out to a small town called Sattre, the kind of town that if you blink as you pass through the town square you miss it. We went out to a prairie and valley that had been placed in conservation for a self guided tour. We returned home after a quick walk about and were surprised to see Jane and her husband Guy – professors from Luther College, acquaintances I have made before – as well as Christie over for dinner. In stunning Pepperfield elegance we put out a spread of various hors d’oeuvres, pate included, and enjoyed wine, brought by our guests, and a fantastic meal late into the evening. I wrapped everything up with a pear sorbet, something I have come to love because of its simplicity but also deliciousness.

Saturday I awoke to the surprise of Anthony Bourdain’s death. I was, by no means a fan, but it was both shocking and disappointing because I know how many people’s lives he touched and I appreciated his work. I started my day by helping cook lentils for lunch. I then spent much of the afternoon preparing potatoes, celery and peppers for various preparations later in the day. Afterwards I processed carrots, onions and celery for a fried rice mix to be used later. Ruth wanted some extra help so I stayed for dinner and helped by roasting vegetables and seasoning the mix. With the help of a few others we setup our dinner buffet and just scraped by with food. Ruth had crafted a menu of red beans, rice, coleslaw, roasted vegetables and a rhubarb crumble with vanilla ice cream. It felt like the guests were getting hungrier each day. I stayed for another couple hours to help clean and then departed and went straight to bed. Sunday was an easy day, Ruth and I started lunch by reheating leftovers. Our only addition to lunch was fried rice. Ruth did a couple of batches as demo and then was called out to complete some tasks and make announcements. I took over as we were slammed by people for lunch. The hunger had only increased and we ended up heating up many more leftovers on the fly to feed everyone. It was the first time in nearly four months that I felt the pressure (not stress) of being in a restaurant kitchen; it was surreal, I had forgotten how much I enjoy it. Lunch went later than usual and as people began to leave the event we started our cleanup. Ruth and I worked late into the evening and completed most of the breakdown by six. I went back to Pepperfield where I spent the evening unwinding and reflecting on this awesome week.

The fawn pate, village fire – and its eclectic mix of people – and my time with Ruth all had many different details worth sharing. Please check back this week to see some of these fleshed out in greater detail. Check out what you may have missed this week here!

Sourced (almost entirely) from the garden. Pickled spring onions and lovage, purslane, baby spinach, asparagus, mustard flower, chive flower, onion blossom raspberry vinegar and extra virgin.

Post from my Instagram.

Week 9: Over the Hill, Climbing the Next One

Spring planting – the big push to get all of the transplants into the ground – has now come to an end. We are still doing various tasks to finish out this period but the majority of the work is done.

Monday brought a collection of people to breakfast. We had our bed and breakfast guests, two women and two children, Peter, David’s acquaintance, and even Jim, “the syrup guy”, conversation was lively as we all gathered around the table at different intervals and the morning was off to a fantastic start. I spent the day at the hospital garden with the crew. Most of my time was spent setting up planting beds for future transplants. But, David and I did manage to get both summer squash and cucumbers into the ground before we left. Still plagued by early summer heat, we took an extended lunch where I spent time corresponding with some people via email. My upcoming weeks have me involved in a few catering events so I have been planning menus, managing logistics and getting ingredients sourced from local farmers. Later, I continued the bed setup, this time at Pepperfield, while David tilled. I also helped set up some isolation beds for David’s seed crop of peppers placed near the main house. Ellis and I put together dinner from various leftovers and shared it with all in the warm evening heat. The following day I started late. There were errands to run in town and Ellis, David and Birte went separate ways to complete these various tasks. I spent this part of my morning reading. When the team returned, I worked in our garden here doing more bed setups. The heat was brutal and between the sweat pouring off my brow and the humidity that lingered it felt as if I was in a perpetual shower. I did transplants of cucumbers, melons and summer squash before a much needed lunch break. Afterwards I spent the afternoon with Birte transplanting summer and winter onions as well as leeks. We worked well into the afternoon and retired to another round of leftovers in order to clean out the fridge.

Wednesday morning was very wet. There was a solid rain the previous night and the ground was well soaked. David and I cut covers for the rutabagas and turnips as pest protection before moving into the hoop house. Our first task was to clean it up so we would have more room for the next round of plants. Afterwards, I spent the late morning with David and Birte transplanting flowers, tobaccos and basil into larger flats, the final stage before they get put into the ground. We called it an early day and we all spent the time enjoying the cloudy cool weather. I took this opportunity to go to the library in town to acquire a library card as well as pilfer some wifi. When I returned to the farm I made Tom Yum soup for dinner, a dish I thoroughly enjoy, and it was some of the best I had ever tasted. (No bias of course.) Thursday was spent at the hospital garden, I was tasked with transplanting marigolds along the paths for the edible landscape. I wasn’t the only one though, we brought the full team and completed our tasks in under and hour. We returned back to the farm and I worked in the upper vineyard while David dusted the grapes for a fungus. I was tasked with mowing the vineyard that had grass nearly a foot tall. I am embarrassed to say, but I feel it is my obligation to report, that I burned my stomach when I lifted the mower back into the truck. Sweaty, burned and somewhat defeated I returned home to make dinner, a vegetable lasagna, in the style of the one David made the last few times. I was pretty impressed although it could have used some more seasoning.

Friday started early with some manure hauling for squashes. Shortly after we went to the hospital garden for some flower transplants and more mulching. David and I went alone since it was a small task and we finished up our time there with a planting of winter squash. David was satisfied with what we had accomplished so he told me I was off for the rest of the day and I took a lengthy nap. Saturday I awoke early for some shopping at the co-op for one of the catering events I have on my itinerary. The farmers market was happening right next door so I browsed some of the items for sale. I did purchase some fudge which was surprisingly excellent. The recipe listed on the package said it had cheese in it, when I asked the purveyor what kind of cheese he told me it was a soft cheese his wife made. We didn’t have anything on our list for the day so I spent the mid morning reading and writing. After lunch David and I covered some of the plants in the garden just like we did the root vegetables for pest control. David and I attended a music event at Luther College that was fairly interesting. The Norwegian-American Association of Singers presented, by a group of over 200 men, a few soloists, a pianist and a small scale orchestra, a show of classic Norwegian folk songs and some American choral arrangements as well. Sunday was spent mostly in leisure. We got started around 11, much later than usual, in the garden. David and I covered the rest of the susceptible plants and in the midst of this, I collected some rocks to help hold our covers down. Then I moved on to weeding some of the beds we had planted early on in the spring, the mulch had already begun to deteriorate and some weeds had found their way to the surface. We had a late lunch that slowly transformed into a leisurely evening. I went to town to catch a matinee showing of the new Star Wars movie and returned home later for some reading before bed.

Check out what you missed this week here!

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