Thursday, June 28, 2012

Grace –– like a scalpel

Okay, I'm going to say something that's totally unrelated to New York/farming/crappy food, so brace yourself: I love Anna Kamienska. I love her so much, I can't really explain it. And it's mostly unfounded, because all I've read by her are her Notebooks (trans.: Clare Cavanagh) from two separate issues of Poetry, probably less than 30 pages total. I don't even know that much about her, besides that she was Polish, taught in underground schools during the Nazi occupation, studied classical philology, appears to have taught herself Hebrew, and converted to Catholicism. 

This is a picture of her:

And she writes some of the most beautiful things, like this:

"To suffer. It means God is near. Grace –– like a scalpel without anaesthesia."

And this:

"God is the present tense. That's why it's so hard to seize the moment. God is the eternal now. We either chase the past or escape into the future, place our whole hope in the future. Whereas faith, hope, and love must ripen in the present. That's why we ignore time, waste it, kill it. We're killing God."

And this:

"Mrs. M. says, 'Right here, sitting at this table, I pitted thirteen pounds of gooseberries. Only to find out I didn't have to. But I told myself: you survived the uprising, you were wounded, you'll get through this too."

And it goes on and on like that. Her Notebooks almost feel like Pascal's Pensees, only with less effort and more elegance. Can someone with a little extra time and a background in Polish please translate everything she's ever written and then write a biography of her? Please?

Blood, death, and fresh local meat

I really respect vegetarians. While I may not approve of Betsy's fake-steak-eating tendencies (ew?) I respect the principle--which is why I have my own principle: I will not eat anything I would not be willing to kill.

But principles are meant to be fudged, yes? Not living by our principles is what lets us live in the world, I say, and happily chow down on rare steaks, well-seasoned pork chops, and steaming fried chicken. I really like meat. If I actually held to my principle, I wouldn't eat any flesh except fish, because a fish is the only animal I'd killed. And bugs, but I don't eat bugs.

Now, however, I can eat chicken in good conscious. Today I helped process 200.

Complimenting our veggies-only operation, the neighbors raise chickens (eggs and meat), duck, rabbit, swine, and (in the near future) sheep. I've been wanting to put Le Principle to the test, and so I had mentioned to them that I wanted to come over some time. 

Yesterday, the summons came; they would be short two hands today and would I please show up at 8:30am in rubber boots.

WARNING: This post may not be for the squeamish.

So this morning, I tromp through the woods and waddle up in my semi-water-resistant cowboy boots after the 8:00am discovery that leaving rubber boots outside leads to fire ant nests. Oops... I wish I had pictures of the operation, but I didn't want to be the tourist with the camera and also they told me to wear rubber boots for a reason: killing things involves lots of water for cleansing, and we all suited up in this huge black butcher aprons which trailed on the floor on the kids (the family has 5), making them look like maniacal choir choirboys. One of the kids wears a curling rooster feather in the back of his baseball cap like a war trophy. Here in the country, everyone helps with chores and no one seems to be squeamish about little kids darting around the squirts of blood from dying chickens.

I'm not going to swagger around say that it was easy. Full disclosure: I was slightly nauseous the whole time, and thinking back on it makes me more so. I helped with the final stage--inspection--and I still haven't killed a single chicken, but I have gutted several while their little organs were still warmly quivering and I think that counts for something. The worst part is watching; once you actually have your hands in there (literally), it's not that bad. You buck up and get to work. My hands and arms still smell like chicken grease. 

Here's the picture: 200 chickens in crates on the bed of a pickup truck backed into a roofed and mostly wall-less structure. Over a sink-of-sorts to the right, there are about seven metalic cones, glinting like humane and antiseptic guillotines. The slaughterer loads a chicken into the cone, snips the veins on either side of the neck with a knife, and leaves the chicken to gargle and kick away while he moves away to the next. This happens very quickly.

Fun fact: 7-week-old chickens make a noise very much like screaming. They go, "eeeek! eeek! eeeeeeeek!" And then there is silence and thumping and coagulating blood because they've had their little throats cut.

After they stop kicking, they get quickly boiled to loosen the feathers and then they go for a spin in this rotating drum with rubber knobs which rub off the feathers. Next, they get slung to the other side of the table where their feet and tailglands get cut off.

Each of these steps can be easily performed by one skilled person. The following step, gutting, is rather tedious and requires a team. The little boys are quite good and the little anatomy lesson fascinates them. I won't describe gutting for you, except it's actually pretty fun and very interesting. I'm with the boys here. Popping off the heads is kind of gross, but you get over that.

It took us about 3 hours, and we left the neat little bodies market-ready and bobbing around in cool water to chill down while we cleaned the place up and went up to the house to eat chicken salad. It was delicious, and my appetite was none the worse for the great slaughter. If anything, I respected that meat more. 

My boots are still decorated with little strands of entrails. I'll brush them off tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

RE: The Pictures Of My Food You Were Secretly Hoping For

Since Seth called into question the integrity of my posting such an unflattering photo of my Dunkin Donuts sandwich -- thanks for holding me to a higher standard, you're a good friend -- I thought I'd put up a few more snapshots, just to make sure this is an authentic characterization.

Here's a bird's eye view of my veggie steak/egg bagel (mmm, doesn't that melty cheese look delicious?):

And here's a cut-away shot (literally, haw haw):

Serena, I'm sure your farm-fresh eggs and barely-dead radishes taste okay, but I have trouble imagining anyone doesn't want to eat one of these culinary wonders right now. Just kidding. Sort of.

Also, unrelated, I saw this today and thought it was funny, because it looks like they're advertising Corona Lite Soup, which maybe isn't the best idea ever.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Pictures Of My Food You Were Secretly Hoping For

Serena's great post on the magic of insanely fresh, organic produce inspired me -- after all, what's more interesting than looking at pictures of stuff other people eat? So here's a quick photographic tour of my latest gustatory delights.

First, though: This is actually a little, uh, sad, because my stove is busted (remember, I almost blew up my apartment when the gas got stuck on...average day in the life) and I'm really adorably broke, so everything I eat has to cost very very little money and be cookable by toaster oven, or be from Dunkin Donuts, this is an elitism-free zone.

That said, here's my food situation.

First, this is the inside of my refrigerator. 

Second, this is the meal I've eaten at least 6 times for lunch: a whole wheat bagel with "egg" (I'm pretty sure it's egg) and fake steak from Dunkin. No pity, please; fake steak tastes exactly like real steak. At least, as far as I remember -- real steak tastes like salty, crunchy-on-the-edges moosh, right?

And, of course, toothsome canned split pea soup, heated to perfection in the toaster oven. It didn't look exactly like the picture, but I'm an adult, so I can deal with disappointment. Upside: it's just like Serena's split pea soup, except it doesn't actually taste very good. 

Anyways, that's my life, food-wise. I had Trader Joe's Organic Joe's O's Pasta for lunch today (look, Serena, organic! Put that in your hippie pipe and smoke it!), and got mixed reactions, including a lecture on protein deficiency. It was worth it, though, because I also found out that one of NR's senior writers is a pretty big fan of canned pasta as well. Who knew? 

Monday, June 25, 2012

A dragon on the hill

Forgive the hipster photography--the sunbursts, the bad colors, the poor contrast. It's my camera, not my taste, I promise you.

These photos are all from the route I run a couple times a week. It's about 3 miles total if I take the short route; almost double if I don't. The country is just gorgeous: farmland falling over steep hills, the road winding down the wooded gorge, a narrow field full of grazing milk cows.

This morning--these pictures are from yesterday when it was considerably sunnier--I managed to haul my sorry self out of bed at quarter to six. The world was just beginning to warm after yesterday's thunderstorm. Thick fog roiled off the hillsides and rose up. As I panted up to the top of the ridge, coming out of the woods, the surrounding hills for miles around seemed like little islands in the mist before I dove down down again. I could only see about 200 feet in the fog, and everything shone, drenched in morning dew. When I turned around, the sun was just beginning to burst over the ridge top from my perspective down in the valley, and it broke out between two hills just where the road wound down. There at the top, some kind of huge truck--perhaps utilities, delivering propane--was parked on the narrow road, headlights on, lights dotting down the back. I could only see the lights there in front of the sun like some huge dragon, floating in the morning steam flanked by barely visible grey banks of trees, staring me down as I tucked my head down for the long trot up.

I never heard the truck and by the time I reached the top it had gone, and the sun had nearly burned the mist away.

Some milk cows are sniffing the back of my neck as I take this picture of the pasture opposite the family dairy:

Taking the shortcut back home. My shoes are really wet from high-stepping through the poison ivy:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Floyd County: Part I

"Remember to sweep off the concrete after you mow," Ron hollers as I effortlessly haul the lawnmower up and down the hills and vales of Seven Springs Farm with my perfectly farm-toned and -tanned arms. By this point, I'm in pretty good shape. Actually, the best shape I'll probably ever be in. Not to brag or anything.

"I know," I reply. Ron is always reminding me of thinks I may forget, and I always work up a little resentment in order to distract my ego from the fact that I usually do forget. 

"Marcel forgets sometimes, so I'm just reminding you."

"Well, what do you expect," I answer. "He's a man."

Silence fills the spaces of the barn not already occupied by sawdust.

The guys sort of swagger out from the shadows and stare at me, and there's a moment when I try to imbue my grin with equal parts of waggishness and repentance, unsure about the whole situation I've just set up. 

"Well, you keep talking like that and you'll fit right in here in Floyd." 

They laugh and walk off to fill organic garden supply orders.

 Floyd, you see, is an interesting place. Once upon a time in the 70s, the long-haired and bare-footed Back-to-the-Earthers jetted around the country in little RVs, looking for little spots of agricultural heaven in which to commune with one another and with nature. Much to the chagrin of the old timers with their boots and barebacks under overalls, they settled right here in Floyd County, VA and haven't moved since.

According to one local source, the town of Floyd (population 500, county seat) hosts three basic types of local human fauna: the hippy, the old timer, and the redneck.

In reverse order, the redneck drives jacked-up trucks (preferably red), listens to country music, hangs out with other rednecks at a certain Designated Gas Station, and smokes lots of mary-joo-wana. 

The old timer is the most indigenous of these species, though some speculate that the redneck is simply the immature young of the old timer. The old timers congregate every morning to feast on biscuits at chicken fried steak at the Blue Ridge Cafe, the local greasy spoon which only employs the attractive daughters of old timers (who probably fraternize with the rednecks). 

Lastly, the hippy: the hippy can never be from Floyd. Even if s/he has lived her for 30 years, unless s/he has lived here for 5 generations (some hippies do believe in reincarnation), s/he is not from Floyd. Old timers may spawn rednecks, but they do not, apparently, produce hippies, and only the descendents of old timers can be Floyd natives. Hippies like Floyd because the abundance of cheap farm land and just how gosh-darn honest and self-sufficient everyone is. They are kind, exuberant people who wear large amounts of beige and cotton, eat non-sweetened peanut butter, star in local theater productions, and may or may not live in one of the many "intentional communities" which dot these parts like a mild case of the chicken pox. Supposedly, they also throw fantastic and frequent parties for every possible occasion, though I have not yet been to one. I have, however, attended the Floyd Friday Jamboree, but more on that next time.