Archive for November 2008
I was especially thankful for turkey this year, because I hand-selected our bird at a local farm and participated in its slaughter and butchering in a visceral, almost spiritual way. Why would I subject myself to the blood and gore? And how could that not make you go vegetarian and swear off poultry forever?
But I am increasingly convinced the more we know about our food — where it was cultivated, who tended it and under what conditions — the more it fully nourishes us as we humbly accept our place in the web of life. Our massive tom turkey came from Afton Field Farm on the rural outskirts of Corvallis. Little did I know I could take part in the butchering when we ordered it at the farmers’ market in October.
But the farm’s young proprietor Tyler Jones invited us out and so I went. The Corvallis native and OSU grad learned how to run a small-scale sustainable livestock operation while interning with Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Virginia, which featured in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
Afton Field Farm raised about 55 turkeys this year, slaughtering, cleaning and packaging them on the Friday before Thanksgiving on the grounds of Jones’ wooded childhood home near Bald Hill Park.
The first bird I pointed out seemed too wimpy, but little did I know the next one I selected was a whopping 26.8 pounds, the second biggest the farm sold. We’ll be eating turkey tacos, soups and casseroles for the next year!
Then its neck is slit in a pain-minimizing kosher-style way that people have used to slaughter their meat for thousands of years. It just felt right. These turkeys had a good life at Afton Farm and are hopefully meeting a relatively painless end.
Feeling and learning about the turkey’s internal organs were another treat (and the warm cavity felt good to the hands on the briskly cold day). I helped them rip the head off, cut the feet, remove the esophagus and wind pipe and gut the bird. I also cut open the giblet gizzard (what’s the difference between the two, again?) to remove the sack of grass and rocks and other debris turkey and chickens ingest when they peck at their food.
Though trying, the experience didn’t gross me out. I came to the Thanksgiving table with a renewed sense of reverence. And the turkey, which we gave a salt rub the night before, tasted better than ever this year.
We’re having a spiced pumpkin tiramisu-like cake for Thanksgiving dessert. But I do love sweet potato pie, especially the praline-topped ones my former colleague John-John used to make. It’s also our President-Elect’s favorite kind of pie. See this video on the best sweet potato pie around D.C.
Another former colleague, Rona Marech, wrote a deliciously descriptive features story about that Henry’s Soul Food place near D.C. They can’t wait for Obama to come try some.
We didn’t know who to root for: Dan’s alma mater or his current employer? The scrappy land-grant institution or the snooty Ivy League? But Oregon State played a sloppy, clumsy game. They can’t shoot. These guys are just choking under pressure. So Yale won 52-53. It shouldn’t have even been a close game.
Man, does Robinson wish he had never left Brown? Can he turn things around? Is everyone just too distracted by the football team’s success? Or by the Obama win? And how many of the 3,413 fans at Gill Coliseum tonight were more interested in seeing Robinson than the team? Wonder who will last longer in Corvallis: him or us?
There’s nothing like a party to make your living quarters feel tight. And we thought our two-bedroom home was way too spacious for us. Our neighbors, Dan’s economics colleagues and other Corvallis folks we’ve befriended made merry with us for several hours this evening.
But with Oregon’s growing hunger crisis (third highest rate in the nation), all celebrations are tinged with sadness this time of year. We asked folks to bring donations we will deliver to the Linn-Benton Food Share. It was a simple gesture people really seemed to respond to. Our guests also came bearing gifts of Oregon pinot noirs. We will enjoy those over Thanksgiving!
We served those lamb meatballs I mentioned, chanterelle mushroom and delicata squash pizzas, pecan goat cheese balls, other cheeses and pickled grapes and prunes. Tangy, spicy brines really transform those fruits, which go nicely with a cheese plate. Read more about making the unusual pickles here. They were a cinch to make!
We grabbed a late dinner at China Delight here in Corvallis, since we had a two-for-one coupon. And we heard the Sesame Tempeh was incredible. And it was: a heaping portion of sticky-sweet, crispy coated perfectly fermented cubes of soy that pack as punch of a protein punch as meat. China Delight’s wait-staff was super-friendly, they served local draft beers and the eclectic menu (from Szechuan to Cantonese) featured ample vegetarian options.
Funny, because perhaps our favorite Chinese place in Baltimore was similarly called Chinese Delight. We went there for the Peking Duck. Neither place should be judged by its non-descript, tucked away exterior.
Last night I learned that among Oregon’s predominantly Mexican farm workers, some 70 percent hail from the indigenous state of Oaxaca, the one state we’ve visited in Mexico. Half of those Oacaquenas speak languages other than Spanish, like Zapotec. That makes organizing the workers to stand up for their rights quite the logistical challenge, said Ramon Ramirez, president of PCUN, Oregon’s only farmworkers union, during this talk sponsored by Slow Food Portland and Ecotrust (scroll down).
Sure, organic labels ensure an absence of pesticides but they don’t reveal labor conditions under which the produce was grown: whether the farmworkers were paid legal wages, for overtime and under safe conditions. The movement is just now starting to push for fair trade or union-approved agricultural products in the U.S. We will have to pay more for this. But what about the indigent farmworkers, who then ironically can’t afford to purchase the wholesome produce they themselves help grow? And what about the small farmers who often barely make minimum wage themselves and live in fear that an immigration raid will shut their livelihood down.
You can read more about these weighty issues that the food community is just now starting to wrestle with, even here in oh-so-progressive Portland. See “Hand Picked, Row by Row, Day After Day” in the Summer 2008 issue of Edible Portland.
Red Curry Chicken, Green Papaya Salad, Peking Duck and Pho. We had this Asian feast tonight for just $7. The catch? The meal was served in an OSU dining hall, to celebrate the university’s International Education Week.
The meal wasn’t quite restaurant-quality or perfectly authentic, but it was well worth the $7. The best part? The feast included full-size Vietnamese coffees, made with local Allann Bros. Coffee and condensed milk. The worst part? We weren’t allowed to go back for seconds.