Adam's Mountain Cafe

Adam’s Mountain Cafe

The last time I was here in Colorado–exactly two years ago–the locals raved about an eccentric cafe in Manitou Springs, that enchanted western town resting at the base of Pikes Peak. The Waldo Canyon fire was ragging then, and the normally  bustling town was nearly deserted (its evacuation status had only recently been lifted). My wife and I were amongst the only souls that morning in the highly popular Adam’s Mountain Cafe, an space which made you feel as if you were sitting in the parlor of an old Victorian hotel. The menu boasted a “Slow Food Manifesto”, something that only occurred to me last week as I made preparations from my home in Michigan to attend the Slow Meats symposium, beginning tomorrow in Denver. The Manifesto is an inspiring treatise of the animating spirit behind the Slow Foods movement.

This morning I learned that after severe flooding last summer, the cafe under whose spell we came two years ago had relocated. Both to honor the memory of that original, stately Adam’s Mountain Cafe and in commemoration of the Slow Meats symposium taking place in Denver this weekend, here is that treatise. May you find inspiration in it:

International Slow Food Manifesto

Our century, which began and has developed under the insignia of industrial revolution, first invented the machine and then took it as its life model. We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes, and forces us to eat Fast Foods.

To be worthy of the name, Homo sapiens should rid themselves of speed before it reduces them to a species in danger of extinction. A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life.

May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and long lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency. Our defense should begin at the table with Slow Food. Let us rediscover the flavors and savors of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast Food.

In the name of productivity, Fast Life has changed our way of being and threatens our environment and our landscapes. So Slow Food is now the only true progressive answer. That is what real culture is about: developing taste rather than demeaning it. And what better way to set about this than an international exchange of experiences, knowledge, products?

Slow Food guarantees a better future. Slow Food is an idea that needs plenty of qualified supporters who can help turn this (slow) motion into an international movement with the little snail as its symbol.

Gaining Ground

Gaining Ground

Over the Easter holiday, traveling to and from the lake shore where my father-in-law lives, my wife read to me from Gaining Ground: A Story of Farmers’ Markets, Local Food, and Saving the Family Farm. Erin has been increasingly vocal about living on a farm, and this has been her latest attempt at luring me to the countryside. On another, previous attempt–as a guest blogger on this site–she chose the agrarian life as her topic (please click here to read that apologetic).

There’s a quote toward the end of the book that encapsulates its main themes, themes that resonates deeply with me and, surely, many of you. They’re at once inspiring and convicting. As the author reflects upon the grass-fed meat farm he’s established, he writes:

The were no concrete feedlots, no antibiotics, no supplements laced with hormones. This was the very definition of ‘slow food.’ As I entered my late twenties, I found myself moving at a more tranquil pace as well, finding a rhythm with the subtle changes of the seasons. My definition of success began to fall out of step with the anxious hustle of modern life…I sometimes lay on my back in the soft, clean pasture, staring up at the blue sky, relaxing while the animals placidly grazed around me. The air was fresh, and the pastures thick and green…This version of productivity ran contrary to every business book I had ever read. Instead of taking, we were leaving. Green space was restored to landscape, and airborne carbon was recycled into the earth, building new topsoil for future fertility. We were literally gaining ground. It was an equation of increasing returns. Each year, the soil responded with more abundance. Almost by accident, I felt as though we had tapped into something much bigger than ourselves, a natural equilibrium that transcended culture and politics,” (Gaining Ground, 288)

Here are found the themes of a seasonality to life; good stewardship of natural resources; and both the tangible (and intangible) abundance that comes to us more as a gift for living this way: an “accident” he calls it, which can also be understood in the more classical sense of the term accident as something that naturally follows from the essence of something else. Something calls to us from this “natural equilibrium”, and when one responds one finds one’s footing.

Farming

My Dream Job, or “Will Work for (Good) Food”

 What if I told you there was a job that had the thrill of seeing life and death everyday…

a job that could provide some of the tastiest meals on the planet, a job that would replace your gym membership and perhaps keep you more fit, and a job that would leave you with the most entertaining stories to share at social events and family reunions.

Would you be interested?

Well… I sure am. That job is the job of being a farmer. When I grow up, I’d like to be a farmer.

And I’m not talking corporate. I’m talking small farming. My dream: Garden. Fruit Trees. Herbs by the back door. Milking goat. Bunch of chickens. Bee hives and Highland cattle out back. My farming friends have told me I don’t know what I’m talking about (aka: rethink your pretty picture) but that is where those challenges and difficulties will make THE BEST stories to tell at parties and to the grand-kids. Such as the pig escapee and the cow falling into the feeding trough (Whit, I am still having a hard time picturing how that one was possible). This is my dream. I am working on convincing my husband.

Why Farm?    Three reasons:

1. I want to eat the best food- I want it to taste good and feel good. And when you’re picking your own zucchini off the vine or getting your eggs from Two Sparrows Farm (our friends Dan and Whitney Belprez’s farm) there is so much more motivation for cooking and creativity.

2. I am called to be a good steward of the earth. Right now, we lay waste to the earth whether it be through the beef/corn/wheat industry or non-shade grown coffee or our consumption of plastic. Every time I consume these things, I am a little part of the problem.  Through (organic) farming, I want to sustain ably live. And let’s be honest, I have a smidgen of that “save the world” complex.

3. I want to share. I want to share the abundance of the earth. I want to have a table where all are welcome and none leave hungry.

But farming isn’t for everyone.

So frequent the farmer’s markets, get connected to farms (visit them!), find stores like Nourish (on Weathly Street), get a milk share (raw is the best), become part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), go explore orchards.

And what do you do if  you cannot afford local, organic, organic/local food?

First off, let me say, our budget is tight too… but there are ways. And unfortunately too many people are going hungry in a country that wastes enough food to feed them all.

What you can do: Become part of an (urban) community garden (or help build one). My friend Charlie is a ring-leader in this area. Learn how to can (that thing your grandmother used to do and many country folk still do). Many times in the fall you can find produce (the imperfect or abundant crops) for lower prices- buy it in large quantities and then can or freeze it. Learn how to container garden- whether on your roof, balcony, or back-yard. Some lettuce can be grown through our Michigan Decembers! Start with small things like herbs or (my favorite) tomatoes. By even growing or canning some of your own food… there will be months when you have just enough extra grocery money for that Heritage burger or another farmers’ pork.

In conclusion, CHOOSE one thing you can do to eat better (and usually that also means one more thing you can do to ease your footprint on the planet). DO ONE THING. Once you’ve mastered that, learn something else.

What am I going to do? Convince my dad to let me keep a pig on his property, visit farms this summer and learn skills, grow lettuce, herbs, and tomatoes, can LOTS of stuff, check out community gardens in GR, pick fruits at orchards… and Jeff’s going to learn to butcher.

meandleaves

Erin Duba

Pig Slaughter

Butchering a Pig (in More Ways Than One)

Bacon and ham moves from the abstract to the concrete when you butcher a pig, and butchering a pig is exactly how I spent the better part of the morning last Friday. And, at times, I really butchered it such that an appreciation for the art of butchery was engendered by the whole experience.

The pig carcass, a heritage Red Wattle, was picked up whole and brought to an industrial kitchen in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. After laying the carcass out on the work table before us, the knives and cleaver came out, assembled in a row like the instruments of a medieval executioner (or surgeon). The first order of business was removing the head with its bloodied toothy grin (which may have been more of a snarl).

Next, the leaf fat was peeled neatly out from inside of the pig (it comes out quite easily). Located near the kidneys, this is the highest grade of fat and the healthiest of the three types of fat found in pork. Leaf fat, when rendered into lard, can be extremely high in omega-3 fatty acids (perhaps more so than even salmon). This is especially true when it comes from heritage pigs which have been allowed to graze on roots and pasture grasses. Once the leaf fat is rendered into lard, it becomes a prized baking ingredient. Personally, I can’t wait for our next batch of waffles where we’re ditching the Crisco in favor of lard. A similar move was made years ago when we switched from margarine to butter.

The leaf fat removed, we set to carving the pig into primals, the segments from which the individual cuts come. And from these primals came the pork chops, the rib racks, and the pork belly–which is being cured as of this writing and will eventually become bacon. After deciding against making prosciutto out of the hams, we put them into a brine. If everything goes according to plan, once brined they will be rubbed and smoked for the classic holiday ham–just in time for Easter. The scraps went into the grinder and came out ground pork which will become sausage links for Sunday brunches and barbeque grilling sausages for the Spring and Summer.

Though, at times, my work was a bit of a hack job there’s something very satisfying about the early stages of hands-on learning: respect for an ancient trade and knowledge set (that of the butcher) and the thrill of new territory (the inside of a pig). It’s the sense of being a boy again.

D.A.R.E.

D.A.R.E. To Keep Farm Animals Off of Drugs

“Humans don’t consume antibiotics every day to prevent disease and neither should healthy animals.” (Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Director of the Food Safety and Sustainability Group at Consumer Reports)

 The above quote was shared with me today. What interests me most about the quote, however, is something that most people who read it will simply miss. To see it, let’s go behind the scenes to the board meeting of a regional heritage beef association.

It’s a meeting that took place last Fall on a brilliantly warm Saturday afternoon in the environs of a newly constructed barn. Maybe 10 or 12 were in attendance, all of them farmers, along with myself who was an invited guest. One of the farmers, who apparently had found a niche in the organic market, shared with the group that antibiotics and vaccines were never given to his animals–a required protocol, I’m given to believe, for a product to be labeled as organic. One of the other breeders, a veterinarian, maintained that the judicious use of antibiotics and vaccines is a tremendous boon to the integrity and health of the herd. In fact, not to do so would be “unconscionable”.

I left with an appreciation for the differing points of view that are present in the slow-food movement of which these farmers certainly are a part. Both farmers would agree with Dr. Rangan’s statement. And though it’s true that heritage breeds have developed a natural resilience to illness and disease through natural selection, they can still become ill. And when they do, some farmers–in fact, most of the heritage farmers I’ve met–turn to modern veterinary medicine. It’s the use of prophylactic antibiotics that are not used by heritage breeders: the routine, daily use of antibiotics that one finds in a feedlot setting. Their use is simply not needed on these robust, healthy animals.

Dry-aged beef

What’s All the Beef About Dry-aging?

My father-in-law worked for a Chicago butcher whose customers claimed he had the best beef around. The secret? Two weeks of dry-aging. Some of the finest steakhouses in the country boast dry-aged beef, wearing it as a badge of honor. But what’s all the beef about dry-aging?

Old world, artisan butchers dry-age beef, lamb, and pork for two reasons. First, it tenderizes the meat. Second, it concentrates and develops the flavor like a fine wine that has matured over the years. The process involves placing meat in refrigeration, exposed to the air, for a period of days or weeks. The other way meat may be aged is through wet-aging which allows meat to tenderize in Cryovac packaging. Wet-aging, unlike dry-aging, does not do much (if anything) to enhance the flavor of meat (though it does tenderize it). Unlike dry-aged meat, wet-aged meat does not undergo water loss or shrinkage, which is part of the reason dry-aged meats come at a higher premium.

When shopping for meat in the grocery store or butcher shop, when ordering a pork chop, steak, or lamb shank in a restaurant, how does one know that it’s dry aged? The same way that one knows whether meat is pasture-raised, hormone-and-antibiotic-free: nine times out of ten the retailer or restaurant will advertise it as such.

Temple Grandin

Temple Grandin, Pork, and the Vegetarian

Temple Grandin helped revolutionize the commercial beef industry when she engineered more humane methods for the slaughter of cattle. An autistic women, this very condition is credited in helping her to understand bovine behavior patterns that inspired her designs. She came to mind this week after we placed our first order for heritage pork. In Mark Schatzker’s book on steak, Steak: One Man’s Search for the World’s Tastiest Piece of Beef, he writes about the time he spent with Temple Grandin. Two excerpts from the book are particularly relevant as we ready ourselves to introduce a line of heritage pork in the coming weeks leading up to Easter.

The first excerpt concerns the time when Grandin became aware of the declining quality of American meat, a realization that was made by an experience with heritage pork:

“She first noticed there was a problem with meat when she attended a banquet some years ago and was served pork from a heritage breed of pig. ‘The hotel tried very hard to ruin it,’ she said, ‘by keeping it under a heat lamp all day and letting it get all dried out. But it was still absolutely delicious…’ Not long after, she visited a client who was raising genetically modern pigs with giant, fast-growing loin. ‘Though as hockey pucks,’ she said…’Quantity and quality are two opposing goals,’ Grandin pronounced, neatly diagnosing the central problem of today’s meat industry. It didn’t matter how quantity was cranked up—hormones, genetics, drugs—there was always a price to be paid in quality,” (249).

The other excerpt deals with contrasting human responses to the slaughtering of animals and highlights a most stunning paradox:

“Grandin has written that in large slaughterhouses, it’s important to rotate jobs so that the same person doesn’t end up doing all the killing. It can be unhealthy, she explained, to be around death all the time. ‘These people get warped,’ she told me. ‘They get nasty to the cattle and they have to be removed.’ As we stared at the grazing cows, I was reminded of Fleurance and the happy hours we spent together on the pasture. I thought about her death and remembered how unexpectedly reassuring and positive it was, for me at least. It still pleased me to think how stress free her beer-and-apple-filled last day was, and that surprised me. I mentioned the experience to Grandin. ‘That happens all the time,’ she said. When people raise an animal and kill it responsibly, they find it uplifting, apparently. ‘I think you can also get too far away from death,’ she observed. What people are getting too far from is nature, she believes, explaining that people in big cities are particularly susceptible. They have no connection to the meat that sits on Styrofoam trays on supermarket shelves. The mistake that vegetarians and vegans make, she told me, is that they confuse death with suffering,” (251 – 52).

When in two to three weeks’ time we receive our first shipment of heritage pork, I will be assisting in the butchering of one of them. This experience will be a first and, I’m sure, represent another step closer toward a deeper connection with nature and the food we eat. In addition, the heritage pork that we will be selling through our virtual storefront will boast a week of dry aging before it’s butchered. I’m very interested to see to what degree this will affect the already wholly pleasant flavor of heritage pork, a flavor that was the topic of last week’s post.

Red Wattle

A Maiden Voyage

The mercury read minus five degrees Monday morning–a jarring way to begin the month that observes the passage of the vernal equinox (here in Michigan, our memories are not too short to remember that two years ago we were treated to 80 degree weather this very month). The sun on this day, however, was as brilliant against the snow as the air was frigid, and I squinted in its glare as I drove to the small farm which sits across from the St. Joseph river in south-central Michigan. In the warmer months the river appears to idle in front of the farmstead, a characteristic that lends its name to the farm.

The purpose for coming here was to meet the couple who runs the farmstead and to return with samples of their their Red Wattle pork. The swine are named for the wattles that dangle on either side of their necks, protuberances that–so far as we know–serve no function: external appendixes, if you will (please see the above photo). The origins of the breed are mysterious. They were discovered in the 20th century, wandering the woodlands of eastern Texas (which, I suppose, makes them the perfect for barbequing).

Having read that the pork from this heritage breed is tender and flavorful, I was anxious to try the chops that were sent home with me. Rubbing with olive oil then sauteing them in a pan to about a medium-well temperature, we found the meat to be tender indeed. Further, it tasted like pork plus. What I mean by this is that it had all the characteristic flavor of pork but the meat presented a most unexpected and wholly pleasing flavor that reminded me of the ocean (and I don’t mean fishy). Instead, it brought me right back to some of my favorite Scotches: the Islay Scotches which are imbued with the flavor notes of salt water air. That’s what I got from our maiden voyage with Red Wattle pork: the mellow, meaty flavor of pork along with the notes of fresh, salt water air. And how I long to return to the sea (in the form of a thick chop of heritage pork)! Perhaps the idle river that winds its way through this Red Wattle farm is one of its tributaries.

(c) Dartmouth Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

Goldilocks and the Three Beeves

It’s official. Yesterday we announced our next heritage meat tasting event to be held at Cherry Hill Market, the quaint marketplace in the Cherry Hill historic district of Grand Rapids. Featured at the March 12th tasting will be three beeves, offered in the form of heritage burger sliders: Highland beef, Shorthorn beef, and Dexter beef (the modifier refers to the cattle breed). As two of the menu items of the three offered have never been tried by our customers, we’re curious what the response will be. In a premonition of the event, the nursery tale Goldilocks and the Three Bears came to mind.

In the version of the tale with which we’re most familiar, Goldilocks enters the lived-in–but presently empty–forest home of three bears (a momma, pappa, and baby bear). She finds in the cottage three chairs in which to sit (one massive, one tiny, and one perfect); samples three bowls of porridge (one too hot, one too cold, and one just right); and lies in three beds (one huge, a second far too small, and a third that suits her). The tale climaxes when the trio of bears return to find the girl slumbering in the mid-size bed.

As I muse about the tasting, I fancy those who try the three beeves will find one to be very mild in its flavor; one rich, earthy, and exotic; and one to strike a balance between the two. If you, reader, will be attending the event, you’re invited to play the part of Goldilocks: we’d love to hear what you think. And, if after trying all three heritage sliders you find yourself growing drowsy with food lethargy, a bench has been placed inside the front of the marketplace on which you may dose.

For all the event details (or to RSVP), please visit the Facebook event page by clicking here.

Author’s Note: Shorthorn beef, one of the world’s rarest and most-endangered breeds, was the subject of last week’s blog post, “(Re)Introducing the Shorthorn”.

 

Milking Shorthorn

(Re)Introducing the Shorthorn

It began with a call to The Livestock Conservancy in August of 2012, the organization dedicated to the preservation of rare breeds of livestock (heritage breeds) and which defines heritage meats.  The question posed to them: “Of the heritage breeds of cattle, which produce the best beef?” Among the breeds named was the Shorthorn–or Milking Shorthorn. In a few weeks time, at a tasting event we’re hosting at Cherry Hill Market on March 12, attendees will be able to taste Shorthorn beef from this, one of the rarest of the rare breeds. This week’s post is dedicated to the Shorthorn story.

At one time called Durham cattle for their origins in the English county of Durham near the River Wear, the Shorthorn was the most popular British breed. Brought to America in the 1700s, it became part of the colonial landscape and spread west with the settlers and pioneers who populated the New World. A dual-purpose breed, the Shorthorn became known for producing high-quality milk and beef, with some breeders focusing on dairy production and others focusing on beef. As a result, in the early 1900s two separate Shorthorn breeds were identified: Milking Shorthorns and Beef Shorthorns, the former falling into serious decline in recent decades. The Milking Shorthorn’s conservation status, in fact, is listed as “critical” by the Conservancy, the most urgent level of conservation priority.

Paradoxically, the survival of the breed depends on the eating of Shorthorn beef (eating creates demand, and demand drives supply). Happily, the Shorthorn beef I tried last July (in the form of a tenderloin steak from Tillers International) entices with its rich, earthly flavors. Typically a mild-flavored cut, this was one of the most delicious tenderloins I’ve ever eaten. If the flavors of the Shorthorn tenderloin are this pronounced, we may be in for a wild ride at next month’s tasting event which–along with two other beef breeds–will feature Shorthorn beef sliders from the aforementioned farm. Please join us Wednesday, March 12, from 11 AM to 8 PM, at Cherry Hill Market, as we re-introduce Shorthorn beef to the culinary world.

To read about our visit to Tillers International, producers of heritage Shorthorn beef, please see “Adventures in Agritourism”.

The author getting up-close and personal with one of the world's rarest cattle breeds, the Milking Shorthorn

The author getting up-close and personal with one of the world’s rarest cattle breeds, the Milking Shorthorn