It’s a strange feeling trying to acclimatize to a new culture, new meal times, new language, while also planning for our return to the states. For the past year, we’ve moved from one country to another and learned a new set of customs every month or so. Next week we’re returning to what we call our home, what is supposed to be normal, except it hasn’t been our home for a long time.
When traveling, you’re always planning the next step. In Indonesia, we were looking into how to get a SIM card in Nepal. In India, we were making plans for Turkey. You are booking flights and researching hostels, looking at exchange rates, local foods and significant cultural sights.
But planning for the next chapter of our lives is much different. Our planning involves researching health insurance, used car prices and reading profiles of cities in the US that might be our next home. We have been doing all of this from farms in Spain. In the morning we have been working outside harvesting beets, sorting dried beans, or cleaning out silos. But at lunchtime, I’m Skyping with Leticia at the Maryland Health Connection office and Zach is sending out applications for farm internships in North Carolina. We are returning to our country, but starting something new.
I have to admit, I have a whole boatload of feelings about coming home. I’m dying to see my sister and my niece that I haven’t yet met. I’m ready to have a living room again. There are bits of American culture that we haven’t seen (or eaten) in a year and a half: chicken wings and a Lagunitas IPA, Netflix and Midol and well paved highways. But every country has it’s pros and cons and spending time living with folks in other countries has helped me realize that there are more ways of living than the go get ‘em culture that is so common in the US. In New Zealand, we learned to slow down and have a chat with the neighbors. This often involves tea and cake. Nepal made me realize how easy and comfortable and clean we have it in the States, but also how many regulations we have (you’d never be allowed to take a sheep on a bus at home).
I’ve come to enjoy the small towns that we’ve stayed in and hope, as we transition out of our backpacks, to make our home in an adventurous place where kind people work hard and enjoy their lives. So though our trip abroad is coming to a close, our travels continue as we find a new hometown in the US of A.
We didn’t know any Hindi when we got to India. We were helpless when ordering food in a restaurant and often just pointed to something. On our first few days, dinner was usually a complete surprise. “Oh! Okra! Did you know they eat okra here?” Didn’t see that one coming. There were times when we wound up with rice, naan, and potatoes. But others when a beautiful, mystery dish showed up. For me, that was Sahi Paneer, a rich, creamy, ever so slightly spicy tomato curry style dish with chunks of cheese (paneer). It was delicious and I knew my dad would love it.
The thing is though, I don’t usually cook Indian food. I don’t really know how the spices work together, but know that one dish often has tons of different spices. And what makes it so saucy? How’d you get so tasty? I silently ask the plate in front of me. I wanted to be able to come home and make Sahi Paneer for my family, but didn’t really know where to start.
There are signs for Indian cooking classes all over Rishikesh. We went to a few restaurants that were advertising cooking classes to test out the kind of food we’d be learning to make, but were disappointed by the results: too rich, too salty, or just plain nasty. But we all know that the best kind of cooking is home cooking. So that is where we took our class, in a home.
Our class was about an hour and a half and ended with a delicious lunch of Sahi Paneer, Aloo Palak (potato in spinach sauce), Aloo Parantha (potato filled flatbread) and Vegetable Biryani (spiced rice with vegetables). All of the chopping was done ahead of time and the measuring done with a single spoon. Our job was to take pictures and write down how many teaspoons of turmeric goes into each dish. Our teacher claimed that his English was “not so good,” yet he knew all of the English words for spices, vegetables, and tools. Maybe it was thanks to the English- Hindi picture charts hanging around the room, or thanks to his daughters who speak English very well and were assisting with explanations.
Our teacher’s cooking style was “a bit of this and a bit of that,” “a big spoonful of salt, a half spoonful of garam masala,” though he did give measurements for our sake. Every dish started by heating oil and cumin seeds and at some point, a bit of chili and garam masala were added. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the very rich Sahi Paneer wasn’t made with cream, but with cashew nut milk. Who knew?
I enjoyed watching someone cook easily and comfortably with flavors and spices that are foreign to me. The benefit of the cooking class, versus trying out a recipe from the internet, is that we had the pleasure of spending an afternoon in someone’s home, cooking with their dad who is a good cook. Subol was laid back, friendly, and an informative teacher, which is exactly how my dad taught me how to cook. Except I had to chop more in those lessons.
“Here, chug it.”
“We’re chugging wine?”
“Yes. Someone get Alfie. Rikki! Leave the dishes and get over here. Cheers!”
And down the hatch it went. Chugging red wine from paper cups on my last night of work in the kitchen.
Except, holy shit, WTF is that sludge in the bottom of the cup?! Gulp gulp, gulp, tastes like vinegar…. ABORT! ABORT! Definitely vinegar.
“Fuck! What was that!?”
And just when I thought, Was there soy sauce in there? Am I going to barf? an onslaught of condiments came hurtling toward me. Cream pie to the hair, a heavy dusting of cocoa and a shower of oil from squeeze bottles had me cowering in a banana box, yelling expletives while normal people had lovely desserts at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen. Laughing and crying and dripping, I got got. Apparently you aren’t supposed to trust anyone on your last day in the kitchen. I didn’t know that.
I had an awesome job in Wanaka. I worked with people who helped me make a career change from teacher to chef (though I don’t feel comfortable using that title quite yet). I made friends with four chefs who taught me everything I needed to know. How to use the meat slicer, segment oranges, make sabayon, skin a ham, trim a filet, make pastry cream, plate food and do that little smear of caramel on a dessert plate.
They taught me what its like to work in a kitchen, to use scales and timers, to label things and always be looking at tomorrow. They showed me how to work during those in between moments during service, to prep more lettuce for the next rush, or get the hazelnuts roasting so tomorrow you can just come in and get started on the praline. Or to caramelize apples in the middle of service because people are eating twice as much dessert tonight (they do that when its cold).
I loved learning skills and spending my whole day working with food. In New York, I looked forward to preparing food when I got home from work, but now I get to do that for work. But the thing is, I don’t care too much for stress. And I like eating dinner. Neither of which jive too well with making many other people’s dinner all at the same time. Despite not loving dinner service, I’ll probably wind up doing it in several more restaurants, as it is an awesome arena for learning new skills.
I decided to send my knives home and will pick up an all purpose knife along the way. I’m going to miss the scales, kitchen aid mixer, and easy answers from experienced chefs, but as a going away present, my kitchen fam gave me an awesome travel spice kit so I can still work some magic over the camp stove or in the communal hostel kitchen.
Hopefully our paths will cross again. Maybe next time it will be in front of a pig on a spit at our farm
My friend Gunta travels with a hair straightener and heels. She bops from city to city, Queenstown to Bali to Tokyo, and can jump off a flight, check into a hostel and hit the clubs, lickety split. Courtney is a badass rock climber and currently lives out of her van. She travels with mascara. Meike carries nail polish and a tiny bottle of remover in her backpack. And my friend Fran tried to argue with airport security when they took her tweezers, “You just don’t take a girl’s tweezers!” It’s true. You don’t.
There is a whole spectrum of packing and traveling that ranges from your ultra light backpacker, not concerned with showers or shaving (known more commonly as a dirty hippie) and a super posh vacationer, loaded down with bags of shoes and accessories. Some of how you travel and what you carry is based on the length of travel and what you plan to do. Obviously, you can’t cram a business suit into a backpack, but you might be surprised what some folks pull off. Most of what you pack has to do with being comfortable. Pack too much and you’re uncomfortable trying to carry stuff. Pack too little or don’t pack what you actually need and you may find yourself feeling a different kind of uncomfortable. (The kind of uncomfortable you’d feel when you’re trying to go out to dinner in running shoes.)
When I left New York, I left behind bras and bangles. I chucked my Diorshow mascara, hair spray and beloved bronzer. My saggy crotch long underwear doubled as leggings, I embraced my missing tooth and experimented with not shaving for extended periods of time. I learned just how feral I can go. But somewhere in there, I forgot how good it feels to feel good about yourself. I forgot that some little things (like razors and dangly earrings and the occasional haircut) can make a big difference. That Lululemon leggings make me feel like Lara Croft, like I can conquer the world, even when I wind up wearing my hiking boots in a city.
We have been away from home for a year and are packing our bags again. We are packing for a week in a hip city, summer in the jungle and winter in the mountains. All in one bag. The key is in having versatile layers, things that are functional and lightweight. Each item has to make you feel comfortable, fit well, and be able to be work with anything else in the bag. What this means is that your long sleeve shirt should be something that you can layer when hiking and also wear to the bar because when you only have one and it is cold outside, you’re going to wear it. May as well like it.
Some of the things that WILL be in my bag:
- One of very kind of shirt (tank, 2 tees, longsleeve)
- Lululemon leggings. Judge away, they’re stupid expensive, I love them, the end.
- Patterned tights and a black mini skirt (to be ditched after Melbourne and Bali)
- Shoes (hiking boots, running shoes, Vans)
- Socks and underwear, including a thong
- A real bra. Just one. Uniboob is fine 80% of the time, but sometimes you need two. Like when you go out to dinner.
- A scarf that doubles for style and warmth
- A pair of dangly earrings
- Fleece and rain jacket
- Electronics (Kindle, Computer, Phone)
- Toiletries (Toothbrush and paste, Khiels SPF face lotion, Mach 3 razor, emergency medical kit, small stash of daily contacts, sparkle nail polish)
- Ziploc bag of of important things (passport, vaccination records, visas, back up Credit Card, etc)
Some things that WILL NOT be in my bag:
- Books. Heavy. I came to NZ with 3, but am fully wedded to my Kindle.
- A purse. Pockets do just fine.
- Shampoo. I’ve been using baking soda instead of shampoo since November. Easy to pack, doesn’t spill, works the same and you can get it anywhere.
- Nice sunglasses. I’d rather have cheap ones that I can lose or break.
- Camping gear. Didn’t use it at all this year. Having talked with others, we won’t need it in SE Asia or India, either.
I feel pretty confident about living out of a backpack, but I am also quite aware that I’ve only ever lived in a 1st world, non-Muslim country. My Czech friend Iva told me a story that started with, “I used to say ‘ay fuck’ to the Muslim way, but after week in Turkey, I say okay, it’s easier just to cover the body.” So on that note, I’m looking forward to seeing how this incarnation of my lady traveler evolves as we set off to explore totally different cultures.
I’ve written this post four times in the past week. The titles have evolved from: Seriously? The Marathon? WTF? to On Being Mad at America to It Happens Just About Everywhere to the final and very profound title I settled on.
A few months ago I asked an American friend, who has been living on this side of the world for a few years, if he would ever go back to live in the states. “Maybe when they stop shooting one another,” he replied, only half joking.
Hmph. Good point.
Since we’ve been gone, our country has experienced the Newtown shooting and the school shootings that followed, tons of shit I haven’t kept up on, and now the Boston Marathon bombings. I mean schools? A marathon? Is nothing sacred? It’s infuriating. I don’t want to live in a place where you can get blown up for doing something commendable and challenging. Like teaching. Or running a marathon. It’s not normal, but it seems like it is becoming so. As normal as going to see a movie.
Living in New Zealand while my country goes through traumatic times feels a little like standing on another planet and peering out at what is going on over there. It is easy to forget about the rest of the world while living in a small (hobbit) town in the middle of the ocean. There aren’t massacres, guns are for hunting, and the media isn’t totally insane. It’s refreshing, but also uncomfortable when I know friends are hurting. You can’t give hugs from half a world away.
For a minute there in the week of feelings, I was starting to think that America is totally effed. That I couldn’t go back. Canada, maybe. I was pretty down on our country and our government (as if we are the only country that has problems). But then I started talking to our friends here in Wanaka, who are from all over the world. Our friends from Northern England who won’t walk home after dark, or those who have traveled in Africa and China and listened to stories of violence and fear all over the world. Listened to friends describe the kinds of things that I skim over in the newspaper every day (okay, once every two weeks when I look at the newspaper). The kinds of things that happen to them, in those countries, where this kind of stuff happens all the time. And to many people, this stuff happens all of the time in America. People shoot each other. Things get blown up. Unfortunate, but those things happen there .
I guess the point is that it has been an interesting experience being surrounded by non Americans and seeing the spectrum of reactions from my own quiet, livid feelings to compassion to totally not surprised. Or maybe the point is that it sometimes being away is hard. I don’t know what the point is, which is why this post is titled The Boston Bombing Made Me Feel Feelings.
Laura McClain, Matt Ford, and friends in Boston, I’m sorry we aren’t there to do some sorrow-drowning shots and have some hugs. You guys have been on my mind lots recently.
“Two rocket salads, gorgonzola salad, one anti board,” Head Chef Matt calls out as the new ticket comes through.
“Got it,” I tell him, while brushing the bread with garlic oil, before putting it under the salamander to warm. I grab two bowls, one for each type of salad and start putting the lettuces in that I washed earlier in the shift when I hear the printer again and listen for which part of the next order pertains to me.
“Tiramisu, two lemon, one chocolate,” he calls.
“Yup.” Okay, Two rocket, gorgonzola, antiboard, tiramisu, two lemon, one chocolate. Shit, get the bread.
Thankfully, one of the other cooks has already moved it to a lower shelf where it won’t burn and has started on the desserts. The kitchen at Francesca’s Italian Kitchen is tiny, as is the kitchen staff, but there is a creative, all-hands-on-deck, let’s-make-this-happen kind of vibe.
I’ve been washing dishes at Francesca’s since it opened at the end of December and have just started training on the larder station. When I applied for the job I said in my cover letter,
“I have never worked in a restaurant kitchen, but I am passionate about food…I have come to New Zealand to learn how to grow food and raise animals, to learn where my food comes from. My goal is to return home to the United States and start a farm-to-table restaurant. I want to create a friendly space that provides healthy, delicious food to excited patrons. Working in a restaurant kitchen is my next step to achieving that goal.”
While I didn’t have the experience to be a prep cook, they took me on as a “dishy” and said they would train me up to work on a station, which is precisely what is happening right now. My schedule here in Wanaka quickly changed from lazy days by the lakefront to working 40 hour weeks again. Work clothes, work shoes, after work drinks, payday, staff meal, it’s all coming back to me now. But I picked it and it is an exciting thing to pick a new job.
I’ve started splitting my time between washing dishes and training with another cook during dinner service. I help prep for dinner service and scrub massive pots of Napoli sauce all afternoon. If I am dishing, you can find me standing in a puddle, up to my elbows in gray, chunky water, rinsing ramekins of aoli and scrubbing cheese off of the forks from 7 until 11pm. Knowing that this job is temporary and that it is opening doors to something that I want to do makes it far more bearable.
When I am training though, I get a little taste of the excitement. I practice making multiple orders at a time and when it gets really busy, another cook will hop in and help out. I’ve quickly realized that working dinner service isn’t really cooking, but more listening, assembling ingredients and staying organized. It is both terrifying and interesting, and time flies by when I’m not dishing. Needless to say, this will be a challenge, but one that is really exciting.
I don’t know if I want to be a cook for ever, but I do want to be one for now. I want to learn what makes a good cook and collect skills that will help run a successful, efficient kitchen when it comes time to launch the Master Plan.
It’s not all tomatoes and bacon, people. We’ve been in New Zealand since August, and every one of our WWOOFing experiences has been awesomely positive. Until now.
It began fine. The first few days of any relationship, let alone one that insists on working and eating three meals together, can be rough. We’re accustomed to a short “breaking in period” where conversations are a little awkward and we’re walking on eggshells. This time there were a few condescending comments sprinkled in here and there from the male head of the household, who shall remain nameless. We shrugged it off. We thought we were being overly sensitive.
But our host had continued difficulty controlling his frustration, and that manifested itself as anger towards us and his family. We talked with him about changing his tone around us and he was receptive, for a short time. We gave it another week, but little changed.
Yesterday was the last straw. He and I were moving cows to get ready for slaughter and he berated me for not moving quick enough to block the path of an angry heifer that didn’t want any part of this activity. Oh, and it was 6:30 in the morning. I’m a pretty agile guy any time of day, but diving in front of a hostile 800-pound animal is something I’m instinctually wired to avoid. No, thank you very much. He flew off the handle.
I told him that there is a nice way to give instructions, and a not-so-nice way, and I preferred that he used the former. He became more disgruntled, words were exchanged on both sides, and he stormed off, leaving me alone to move the agitated cow into the adjacent pen, where she most definitely didn’t want to go. I tried in vain to get the cow to cooperate, nearly getting stampeded multiple times, before he returned and told me to stop because he didn’t want the beast’s adrenaline to effect the quality of the meat.
This interaction proved that this situation was not tenable. First, this was the latest in a string of moments in which we were treated with disdain and condescension; not the pastoral ideal of a working environment. But most importantly, leaving a greenhorn such as myself alone with a massive, angry animal is grossly irresponsible. I could have been seriously injured, had I not been quick enough to dive from the path of the cow. So rather than endure a moment more we decided to it was time to pack up and leave before breakfast.
Now we’re sitting on a riverbank, surrounded by wildflowers, listening to the gurgling water and wind rustling the trees, about
to eat a fine feast of beans and veggies. A huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Why didn’t we do this a week ago?
If it were another situation, I might have stuck it out. Sometimes one needs to grin and bear it for professional reasons. But this was no paying gig. It was a short-term work-trade arrangement on a farm. I felt no loyalty here, no reason to fulfill my intention of staying the full three weeks. We have the means to move on, so we rid ourselves of this source of stress. Suddenly, I feel powerful again.
I’m not free of regret, though. In the heat of the moment, I was so blinded by emotion that I couldn’t properly articulate the damage he’s doing to those around him. I felt as if my blood might actually boil. And I had grown fond of his wife and child. They were pillars of kindness and compassionate throughout this ordeal, and remained graceful and sympathetic when we told them that we were moving on. I hope they understand that it’s not them we were fleeing, but their arrogant, delusional husband and father. We’ve learned a lot from this experience, but my suspicion is that he, unfortunately, hasn’t. Good riddance.
“Something isn’t working,” I said to Zach, while staring at the road ahead of us.
“I know. What is it?” he replied, as we continued driving through the fields of sheep, toward the Castle Hill climbing area.
I sat there and thought. I could feel the lump in my throat. I hate these conversations. Zach and I usually have them about once a year, but since we have been on the road, we have had to talk about what’s working and what’s not working more often.
“I don’t know,” I said, feeling stupid for not having the answer. At home, if I were in a funk, I’d go to the gym or grab a drink with a gal pal and after a day or two, things would be back to normal. But in the van, if one of us is in a funk, the other has to endure it as well.
“It doesn’t feel like we are on the same team.” It sounded totally pathetic to say it out loud.
“It’s just business, we are dealing with a lot of stuff and making a lot of decisions.”
“Maybe…. but that doesn’t work for me. I’m still your girlfriend.”
“Okay, yeah. I know that. I’m sorry. I’ll work on that. I love you.” He took his eyes off the road to glance over at me, smile and squeezed my hand.
I sat there still feeling incomplete, knowing that it takes two to tango. “So what is it that I’m doing or not doing that is making you frustrated?”
“We just have a lot of decisions to make. I need you to be clear about what you want and how you’re feeling. And to be decisive.”
“I can do that.” And like that, our team of two was back on track. There wasn’t much conversation for the rest of our drive, but we both smiled and breathed easy as we wound past lakes and through mountains back to our campsite.
Here we are, pushing thirty and we are still working on being nice, sharing, and talking about our feelings.
Before we left for our trip, I was a little nervous about spending all day, every day together. Quite simply, I was worried that I would annoy him and he might annoy me. We work great as a couple; we bring different perspectives and strengths to the table. Zach is careful, systematic, analytical. I am impulsive, creative, and light hearted. But we have never spent this much time with one another. When living in the city and working separate jobs, being greeted at the end of the day with this other personality was a great reprieve from one’s self.
Living in a van and spending most of every day together is totally different. As expected, it’s been a challenge. We work together, eat together, climb and play together. We’re constantly planning, budgeting, reworking our travels and looking at one another’s writing. It’s a lot and it is usually pretty easy. But that kind of sharing, critiquing and communicating requires an open and comfortable space so that amidst the working relationship, we can still have a romantic relationship.
When a problem does arise, there’s no avoiding it. It sits in the center seat of the van and makes it feel crowded. We have to address it. Things like being nice to one another when frustrated, creating alone time, being organized, and communicating clearly have come up as issues that wouldn’t otherwise come up if we weren’t living in a small space and spending all of our time with each other. I can’t make a pile of my stuff in the corner because the corner is the whole room.
We’ve been together for a long time and had been comfortable in a routine, but this trip is making us face new challenges. Though it isn’t always comfortable, we share an understanding that change is a good thing and there isn’t anything we can’t do. And for that, I am grateful.
We’ve spent the past four days up to our elbows in either pig or pork. Literally. Part of me thought that the process of slaughtering and butchering a pig was going to be sad and disgusting. But it just wasn’t. It was intense and it was challenging and there absolutely was one sad part and one disgusting part. But that is nothing compared to the rest of the process, which was absolutely invaluable. This is the story of how it went. Note: I feel that pictures are absolutely necessary to this post, but some images are quite graphic.
Around 2pm, Lyndal and Steve’s friends came over to shoot the pig. After discussing whether to use a .22 or a shotgun, and how to kill the first pig while keeping the second calm, the six of us headed out to the pig pen. Lyndal gave Squeak a pile of acorns to munch on while their friend quickly and calmly loaded the gun and BANG! Bubble let out a short squeal and fell to the ground.
GATE! EVERYBODY GRAB A LEG! NO CHRISTINA, LET THE BOYS! DRAG HER OUT, QUICK! SOMEONE MAKE THE GUN SAFE! BUCKETS, GET THE BUCKETS!
Bubble was dead within seconds of being shot, but the muscles in her legs continued to thrash violently, making it tricky to grab on. Squeak barely noticed that anything had happened. She was eating acorns while we were outside the pig pen, holding Bubble still and collecting the blood from Bubble’s jugular, both to drain from the carcass and to use for blood sausage later. The four guys loaded the pig on to the back of the trailer and drove her around to the front of the barn to hang in the gallows. “You alright?” Lyndal asked as we walked across the warm, sunny field, back toward the barn. “Yup. Just a little adrenaline-y” I said, as that was the only way I could describe it. Watching Bubble get shot and collecting the blood was uncomfortable. But after that, the pig stopped being a pig and became a carcass.
After the pig is killed and before it’s butchered, it has to be either skinned or scalded to remove the hair and then gutted. Otherwise we would have hairy bacon and our tenderloins might smell like poo. If a farmer is going to sell the meat, slaughtering, scalding and gutting must be done at an abattoir. Since this meat is for personal consumption, it can be done at the farm.
The boys took Squeak to be scalded in a bathtub full of hot water while us girls skinned Bubble, who was too big to fit in a tub. Using a skinning knife and starting at her ankles, Lyndal and I carefully cut the skin away from the fat and meat. This took about an hour and required intricate knife work since we didn’t want to damage the meat or puncture the belly, where the organs were held. When we got to the head we stopped, cut a circle around the head, and removed the head and the skin from the rest of the animal. This went into a wheelbarrow to bury in a hole.
Next, a line was cut down the center of the body to expose the organs. Not going to lie, this was the disgusting part. It smelled like hot poop. Because it was hot poop. Most of what is inside the pig is a gigantic large intestine that looks like a very full balloon, about to explode. Lyndal asked me to press against said warm, gigantic poo balloon to keep it from falling out. This way, she could remove the organs that she wanted to use for pate and terrines. I stepped to the side and gingerly put one hand on the large intestine.
“No, I mean really hold it,” she said.
So I lifted the other hand and leaned into the sack. Am I going to barf? No, you’re not. We’re cool. You got this. FUUUUCK that smells bad. Oh my god. Stop being a baby. But my finger is sliding in. And if it explodes… A few minutes later we were done. It didn’t explode. The mass of intestines slid into the wheelbarrow. It was bad, but the impending shit storm never came.
Shortly thereafter the boys returned with Squeak. We compared pigs, shared about what each technique required, cleaned up and collapsed with a glass of wine and a plate full of cassoulet, made from last year’s sausages.
To get ourselves warmed up for the Day 2, day of marathon butchering, Zach and I had watched Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Pig in a Day, a DVD about butchering and preparing cuts of meat. The DVD was an hour an a half. While both instructional and exciting, it turns out they skipped some parts.
The first step to turning our two pigs into pork was to saw the pigs in half down the middle and then in to quarters so that they could be carried into the house where they would be butchered into cuts of meat. They skipped this part in the DVD. This first step took two hours. I was pretty bad at sawing. The handle got slippery with pig fat and it was a very awkward task, moving in and out of the gutted body cavity, but I tried. Zach picked up where I fell short. (Thanks, Zach!) I do think that we will raise and butcher our own pigs, but I am also keen on getting a fancy electric saw to make the job a little more bearable.
Once inside, we were set up so that Zach and I each had a half a pig and Lyndal had two halves. She would demonstrate on one half and we would watch, then we would each make the cuts on our pig. After staring at my pig for a few seconds, I had a Eureka! moment, “OOH! I think I found the tenderloin!” I did a little dance and pointed at it, nestled next to the ribs. I was very proud of myself for recognizing it from the DVD. “Cool, cut it out!” Lyndal told me. What? Stop. These pigs are their livelihood. They will provide meat for the next year, and here she is telling me, a totally inexperienced non-butcher, to go cut out one of the most prized cuts of meat. Just go do it. You’ll be fine. If you need help, just ask. That is kind of how they run things around here. They trust us to do a good job and to ask for help when necessary. It is wonderful to be trusted, but I often feel like, Who? Me? Do that? Okayyyy…. Which is exactly how I felt as I carefully cut away the connective tissue that held the tenderloin in place.
We cut tons of bacon sliced noisettes, deboned hams and removed ham hocks. We trimmed cuts from the belly and back and rolled them up for roasts, butterflied loins that would later but stuffed with pate, and cut up bits for stir fries, stews, and sausages. They butcher for the cuts of meat that they like to eat, which meant no chops and no ribs. Because they had not had good ribs. Okay, fair enough. But I make good ribs. So I took on making convincingly good ribs and Lyndal let us butcher them out.
This went on until both carcasses were gone, which was about 7pm. The sun had gone down and the foot and a half tall piles of bacon were threatening to fall over. Cutting boards and piles of fat littered every imaginable surface and each of us just stared at each other, knives dangling beside us, totally exhausted. Time to call it a day.
I by saying that this experience was intense and challenging. Carrying a quarter of a pig, or sawing through bone requires strength and the tiny knife work it takes to debone a piece of meat requires focus. It is no wonder that I was wiped out at the end of each day. I just had no idea how much work went into making something as commonplace as bacon. Just throw it in the pan, right?
We feasted on plates of huge ribs, mashed potatoes and Caeser salad. After a few bites, Lyndal pointed at her bone and said. “I like these.” Simple as that, and yet it meant loads to me. I represented Amer’ca well and won the approval of a farmer, our teacher, and fabulous chef.