Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Cooking With Fire in Montague, MA

I've just spent a few days with some friends in Montague, Massachusetts, a couple of hours west of Boston, near the Vermont border. Among other things, we talked about (and ate) sustainable food. As always, part of the upside of eating sustainable food is that it tastes better than unsustainable food. Some pictures: 1) A fine-looking chicken-of-known-origin. She seemed irresistibly drawn to the brightly-colored buckets. She didn't really like having her picture taken, so she is on the move… 2) Some slightly less vivacious relatives of the above chicken, seen here with Chris Martenson. Chris has thought a lot about the changes that are coming to the world in the not-too-distant future. In three broad realms—economics, energy, and the environment—current practices may be reaching the end of their usefulness. We may be facing a convergence of pressures unlike any we have seen within our lifetimes. He explores these possibilities with awesome depth and insight on his website,, and in his video series, Crash Course. The less appealing this sounds to you, the more I recommend that you take a look. 3) Chickens roasting on an open fire… 4) Beef season. This was some of the most delicious steak I have had in recent memory, cooked just right. I was fortunate to get the pieces right around the bone. They were massively delicious. We rounded out the meal with shrimp (of unknown origin!), super-fresh in-season asparagus, zucchini, grilled bread rubbed with roasted garlic (I won't insult it by calling it "garlic bread"), mashed potatoes with a hint of cheese, home-made blueberry cobbler, local ice cream, and more than a few bottles of wine.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Cochon 555 Boston

This evening, I was fortunate to attend Cochon 555 at the Liberty Hotel in Boston. Cochon 555 is a traveling show mounted by Taste Network. Five heritage pigs, five local chefs, and five winemakers gave their all to feed the attendees. (One could argue that the pigs gave more of their all than the chefs and the winemakers.) The food was my main interest. Nonetheless, I enjoyed all of the wines. Four of the winemakers were from California. My special mention goes to the only local winemaker exhibiting, Westport Rivers, from Westport, Massachusetts. Westport Rivers had some really nice, clean sparkling wines, which went surprisingly well with the rich, fatty, and delicate pork flavors of the day. They make sparkling, white, and rosé wines, but no red wines. Their opinion is that red wine country starts around Long Island (New York) and stretches south from there; this sounds right to me. The food was uniformly good. I arrived about 45 minutes after the event had started, and some of the items had already been devoured completely. Given that, I can only write about what I saw and ate. I spoke with the organizer afterwards, and she confirmed that the Boston crowd was gluttonous and fearless in the face of some potentially intimidating pig dishes. Matthew Jennings from Farmstead in Providence prepared a Red Wattle from Lazy S. Farm in Cloud County, KS. He made some delicious carnitas (Mexican-style pulled pork), with house-made farmer's cheese, pickled onions, cilantro, etc. (See picture.) Jamie Bissonnette from Toro had bánh mì (Vietnamese-style baguette sandwiches) featuring five different pig preparations, all at once: roast pork, head cheese, mortadella, pâté, and ham (I think!). I've always found bánh mì delicious but a little scary; among other things, I've always suspected that the "pâté" was actually Spam. No such worries in this case. It was delicious, and was certainly Meat Of Known Origin. His pig was a Yorkshire pig from Adams Family Farm in Athol, MA. Jason Bond, of Beacon Hill Bistro, went whole-hog: He had several different preparations, including a pâté and a mortadella. But what got my attention was the pork loin roasted inside of the pig's head. (See picture.) The pig's face was modestly draped with leafy greens, perhaps so that no one would have to look at eye sockets with melted shriveled eyes in them. He also offered bacon marshmallows, plus sanguinaccio dolce, a preparation of chocolate, walnuts, and pig's blood, with cookies to spread it on. (See picture.) Nutella doesn't hold a candle to this stuff. His pig was a Berkshire from Newman Farms in Ozarks, MO. Joseph Margate of CLINK was provided a Tamworth pig by Metzger Farms of Lamar, MO. His vision was a sort of ultimate "soup and sandwich". He made a sandwich out of 18-hour-roasted porchetta; it was so tasty that it needed no condiments at all. He paired this with a shot of pork consommé topped with a cube of deep-fried head cheese and a dab of truffle aioli. Yum. Lastly, Tony Maws of Craigie on Main had at his disposal a Yorkshire Duroc Cross from PT Farm in North Haverhill, NH. Unfortunately, by the time I got to his table, all that was left were some toasts with pâté! They were great, but I'm sure I missed something interesting. There were a couple of other noteworthy items. There were some great big bowls of seasoned rendered lard, along with bread to spread it on. This was quite delicious. And for dessert, there was caramel-bacon popcorn, and a couple of types of bacon chocolate, at least one of which was made by Taza Chocolate (in Somerville, MA). My "best of show" award goes to Jason Bond, the executive chef from Beacon Hill Bistro. I dug everything he made, and I really admired how he pushed the envelope. The official judgment, based on a weighted average of audience votes (51%) and votes by the panel of judges (49%), gave the nod to Farmstead's Matt Jennings. He will move on to the finals! I definitely have a few restaurants to visit.

Friday, April 3, 2009


This post was inspired by a conversation with a high-school friend. We had been out of touch for decades. One of the reasons he contacted me was that he was planning to do a triathlon, and he knew that I had done one. In fact, I've done exactly one. I don't believe that this qualifies me to say anything at all about triathlons; nonetheless, I plan to do just that. Originally I was going to send him my thoughts in an email, but I decided I would post them here, so that others could benefit from them (or not). Here goes, roughly in order of importance:
  1. Get lots of sleep. People need different amounts of sleep, but if you don't get enough sleep, you'll be tired and achy, and it will take you longer to recover from your workouts.
  2. Eat healthy food. If you are working out regularly, you will burn thousands of extra calories per day, and you will be building muscle mass, so I grant you free license to eat however much you want. But definitely not whatever you want. I try to eat according to the guidelines in the book Nourishing Traditions, by Sally Fallon. This book provides the best nutrition information of any resource I've encountered. In particular: I try to eat coconut oil, butterfat, fats from well-raised animals, and olive oil; avoid most other oils and fats, including vegetable oils (eg., canola, safflower, soy); consume unpasteurized milk products; eat raw, fermented foods, like traditional pickles and sauerkraut; make bone broths and use them as the basis for soups and sauces; and avoid grains that have not been fermented, soaked or sprouted. If this doesn't make perfect sense to you (which it probably doesn't, out of context), or if you want some explanation, with assiduous footnotes and references, plus delicious recipes, then please buy the book and read at least the first 80 pages.
  3. Find training partners. Personally, I find this especially helpful for the biking; biking with folks who are a bit faster than you can help you to get stronger, and can also keep you from getting bored or restless. (I have found a great group for me: the Harvard University Cycling Association. These are the kinds of folks who will never leave you alone to change a flat tire. And I do not have enough kind words for the three team coaches—they are a gift. I feel a lot of gratitude toward HUCA.) Running is less social for me: I usually have a specific idea of how fast I want to run, and being pushed to run faster is not generally helpful; nevertheless, it can be nice to have a running partner. The social aspects of swimming seem quite limited to me. But no matter what the sport, commitment to a group of people will often get you off your couch. I did my first (and only) triathlon as part of Team In Training. Another super, super bunch of people. I recommend it very highly, especially for a first triathlon.
  4. Instrument yourself. I have a Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS (with cadence sensor). The Forerunner is inexpensive right now. It displays and/or records pace, heart rate, location, and elevation, for both biking and running, plus pedal cadence for biking. When I get home, I can review the entire session in conjunction with a street map, compare it to previous sessions, and so on, using third-party software called Ascent. Most importantly, while I'm biking or running, I can monitor my heart rate for a quick read on how much effort I'm exerting, and I can pace myself accordingly. (Fancier cycle computers can show instantaneous power output in real-time. But they cost several times as much as the Garmin.)
Oh, is anyone out there looking for an occasional, slow running partner around Cambridge, MA?