My Own Private Portlandia – Thanskgiving edition

Tuesday evening I picked up our pasture-raised, heritage (Bourbon Red) turkey from Blackberry Pines Farm, a lovely place run by Jim Ekhardt and Ron Thompson near Pullman, MI. Last time I was out here was a couple of years ago. On that visit, they gave me and my then six-year old son a tour, which included visits to varicolored chickens, turkeys that looked like feather puffballs gliding above their legs, and peacocks in exotic colors I’d never seen before (did you know they lose those long tail feathers all at once?). That time we left with several small chickens (just the right size for frying) and a whole lot of feathers for my son. Maybe it’s a seasonal thing, but there weren’t a lot of feathers laying about this time, so the only thing I brought back was 13.04 pounds of turkey and the newfound friendship of four and a half cats. That same evening I spatchcocked the bird, sprinkled it liberally with a salt and baking powder mix (the b.p. helps crisp the skin), and let it sit until Thursday morning.


I cut off the leg quarters so I could pull the breast out when it hit 150 deg. (checking with my new Thermapen mk 4!), put it all in the oven at a low 250, and by 3:45 had an  almost perfectly cooked bird. It came out to rest, then, at a little before six, once the sausage-cornbread-walnut dressing and roasted green beans were done, I gave it a few minutes at 500 to warm it and crisp the skin, and the result was the juiciest, most perfectly cooked bird I’ve yet done, dark and white meat alike. (The dark meat is a bit tougher with the pastured birds, but the flavor makes the jaw workout worth it.) Besides the dressing and beans, we had garlic mashed potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts with fennel brought by friends. While everything was cooking we laid out a spread of appetizers that included six cheeses chosen by my now almost 8-year old son (we’re raisin’ him right!), some home-cured prosciutto (old and new), an orange-walnut sausage leftover from last year that my friend Joan and I made (still good after 12 mos. in the freezer), tomato jam and various pickles my wife made, and more besides. Family and friends gathered and, with the help of more than a few bottles of wine, we worked things over pretty thoroughly, from all of the above to the pecan and apple pies my mother-in-law brought to bring closure to the meal. The only thing lacking in the evening was light from artisanal bulbs.


Hola mole!

Poblano apple moleWe had an excess of Brussels sprouts in the fridge from a recent farmers’ market trip, and I saw this Lucky Peach recipe that suggested mole-ing them up and serving them over quinoa. Then I realized that the recipe called for a special mole negro paste from a restaurant in L.A. Stymied – but wait! Why not make my own mole negro? I knew that would be a little labor intensive, but, well, I’ll work for mole. I checked a couple of books for recipes, and did a little googling, but I ran up against a wall of Trumpian proportions: I needed multiple kinds of fresh chiles that I knew would be almost impossible to find here. On top of that, the recipe that looked the best, from Roberto Santibanez’s Truly Mexican, involves steps like taking the seeds from the chiles, toasting them, and then setting them on fire. Like Beavis, I’m in favor of fire, and someday I will makes this mole, but I needed something a little easier. Fortunately, Santibanez had another recipe for a pasilla and apple mole, and I thought the apple-Brussels combo would be lovely and seasonal to boot. My pasilla procurement failed however, so I had to substitute poblanos. The picture above is of the pan before the stock was added and it was all blended together. You can imagine how those roasty-toasty nuts, onions, tomatoes and peppers danced with the sweet, lightly caramelized apples in the chicken-broth ballroom. Perfection. Some of it was made into a vinaigrette, which the sprouts were tossed with before roasting, some was blanketed around pieces of pulled chicken — The Lucky Peach recipe is for two servings, and we had eight for dinner, so when I quadrupled it, I subbed chicken for about a third of the Brussels — then all was mixed together and served over the quinoa. A broccoli salad with lime-cilantro dressing from my wife was a perfect side, and tortillas rounded things out. In a word: wowza. The best thing? We have a solid quart or more of leftover mole.

Higher ed, lower pay? (Serious Sunday – well, now Monday – Blogging)

I wrote most of this a couple of days before the election when, like most, I was pretty sure we’d be seeing a President Clinton. Obviously that’s not how things turned out. What was expected to be a time of post-election Republican-party soul-searching and regrouping has turned into the opposite, as people begin to take seriously the question of how the Democratic Party has lost the support of working class voters (a nice piece on this here). This post isn’t directly diagnostic in that regard, but it does resonate with that problem, and so I offer it as my own small contribution to thinking about what direction progressive ideas should be moving in as we figure out how to operate in Trumpworld.


In the Bill Clinton years, as George Packer describes in a piece last month on Hillary in the New Yorker, the idea took root in the Democratic Party that being progressive meant getting people out of the working class, rather than simply making the conditions of the working class better (through better pay, safer workplaces, protection of collective bargaining rights, etc.). In other words, Democrats came to believe that the mission of social policy should be to give non-elites access to what elites have, and so in effect to transform them into elites. And they thought the primary way to do this was to educate them more. This has been the reigning ideology of the Obama administration too. College is for career; the future is one for educated workers. This is not the same as, but it resonates with, the conservative drive to purge the “liberal” from the liberal arts and see higher ed in purely careerist, job-oriented terms. The mission of the university has thus come to be very widely seen as the economic transformation of the working class.

As a professor at a regional state university, my job is basically to carry out this mission. And every day I question it.

Continue reading “Higher ed, lower pay? (Serious Sunday – well, now Monday – Blogging)”

Garlic, Ground

Tilled soil feels soft and welcoming when you push a clove of garlic deep into it. But after two and a half hours and 1000 row-feet at a clove every 8 inches, soft dirt means worn down and sore fingertips. At least, it does if you don’t work in it every day. I don’t, but yesterday I helped Dennis of Blue Dog Family Farm plant his yearly garlic crop, and once I’d washed the dirt out of the creases of my fingers, I realized just how many creases there are. Even as I type this today, I can feel the abrasions of worn skin rubbing against smooth plastic. It’s a small reminder of how much my food depends on others’ bodies and the wear and tear they take. But as for myself, I’m not complaining. It was much needed sun-and-dirt therapy at a time when it’s hard to feel like we’re part of a world that’s growing and thriving. Knowing that each clove will bring forth six more next year balances just a little that growing pessimism. Alliums for all!

Great A, little a, this is . . . POTATO DAY!


Well, yesterday was. We had some volunteer plants in our small front garden from spuds we obviously missed in last year’s digging, and we’d added a few others from extras my dad gave us.  They’d died back weeks ago, so we were worried they’d have been gobbled up by under-the-surface critters. But no! Only a few bad spots on eight-ish pounds of Kennebecs. We microwave-baked a couple for lunch and had more in potato salad at dinner (along with burgers and slaw, ’cause it was a summery kind of day). Excellent in both instances. Naked with just a touch of salt and butter they’re moist, a little flaky, and have a slightly earthy but oh-so-potato-y flavor; dressed they happily socialize with their crunchier neighbors. (They also make great fries, so maybe this weekend we’ll have to do a steak frites night.)


Like fat on a pig…

…I’m back!

Last year’s blogging was a sabbatical project, which ended abruptly when I somewhat unexpectedly had to take over as department chair at the beginning of July. People keep saying ‘congratulations.’ ‘Condolences’ is more appropriate. It’s mostly administrative work that no one wants to do. But it’s okay – new tasks, new challenges, and a chance to put my stamp on my program. I’m teaching too, doing a new course on Philosophy in the Food System, which is a little rough as all first-time-offered courses are, but pretty fun (for me, at least).

But I’m finding I miss writing about food-related stuff, so I’m going to make an effort to do something once or twice a week here, using my teaching as the springboard for a lot of what I write, and my kitchen time as the basis for most of the rest.

And if I can manage more farmer profiles, I will. I loved doing those, but they took a lot more time than I thought they would.

So stay tuned!