My Year of the Pig

According to the Chinese Zodiac calendar, technically, the "Year of the Pig" is not until 2007. For once in my life, I think I'm ahead of schedule.

Unlike my friend Della, I've never really considered myself a raving Team Pork fan, but this past year has had an undeniable reoccuring theme. I've affectionately called it my "Year of the Pig."

It started this spring when by sheer dumb luck, I attended a lecture by Fergus Henderson. If you don't know Fergus, he's the author of "Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating." He is also the mastermind behind England's highly acclaimed St. John restaurant guessed it, the menu is completely nose to tail! The lecture included a slide show featuring the butchering of a full detail. It was one of those moments where a picture truly was worth more than 1,000 words. Shocked and a bit appalled, I chided my friend for bringing me.

In a crazy twist of fate...that the lecture proved to be invaluable.

It also primed me for a set of other pig-centric experiences.

A few weeks later, I took a charcuterie class. It sounded interesting and I knew virtually nothing about the subject. I had no idea what I was in for. The class was my first encounter with hog casings and fatback. Luckily the casings were already soaked and prepped by the time I got to them. Since this was my virgin experience, I don't know if I could have handled cleaning them myself. I was already taken back by the entire sausage-making process. Learning works in stages and early on in the class, I'd hit my limit. I volunteered to make the only chicken sausage on the agenda. I'll also confess...I shamelessly found a different project to work on when it came time to stuff the sausages!

But the sausage was good....really good.

In fact, it was the best I'd ever had!

I was intrigued.

When friends gathered for a sausage making party, I hesitated, and finally agreed to go. Still unsure of myself, I stayed out of the pre-party planning and discussions. It was obvious everyone else was really excited...and enthusiastically read up on the subject both online and by reading Michael Ruhlman's "Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Curing, and Smoking." I, on the other hand, barely got my act together enough to be a worthwhile participant. I had my recipe, ingredients (sans casings), and waning confidence.

The group of us descended on the house. The room quickly filled with talk of sausage and smoking meat. I was content to be a fly on the wall, listening and learning. Although I had purchased the ingredients, I was secretly hoping to make myself useful and avoid making my own sausage. At just the right moment, a few nurturing soles took me under their wings and guided me through the process. Finally, lying in a spiral before me, were sausages I'd actually made myself! I vaguely remember someone even calling my sausages "beautiful."

For this foray, I revisited the chicken sausage recipe I'd enjoyed so much. Made by my own hand, I'm happy to report...they were just as good as I remembered!

Back at the restaurant, the chef teased me, "What if Jason (chef de cuisine) wants to put your sausage on the menu?"

To me, the idea was preposterous. I retorted, "Then I think he's got a problem!"

But the wheels started turning..."what if..."

I bought the "Charcuterie" book and it was exceptionally well written. I could actually see myself making sausage on my own.

After a couple attempts under my belt, my confidence was growing.

Next was the Porcella sausage making class. By this time, I was confident and it was fun to get a refresher. The best part about the class was meeting Porcella's charcuterie guy, Noah. As I mentioned earlier, I made it a point to work with him. Hence, the HEAD CHEESE.

Rounding out my "Year of the Pig" was a pig roast over Labor Day weekend. Two whole 75 pound pigs, who we affectionately dubbed "the twins," slowly roasted over charcoal for 9 hours. (See my next post for photos and details.)

So what's next for my "Year of the Pig"? At this point, that's anybody's guess. More sausage, for sure!

While the quantity of this recipe makes a lot, I recommend making the whole batch. The sausages freeze very well. If you want to skip the hog casings, you can easily form the sausage into patties instead.

Green Chile Chicken Sausage
From Culinary Communion

makes 11 ½ pounds

7# boneless chicken thighs, cubed
3 # fat back, cubed
6 T chili powder
5 tsp cumin
5 tsp sweet Spanish paprika
5 tsp oregano
5 tsp dried basil
1 ½ tsp onion powder
6 garlic cloves, minced
5 tsp Tabasco sauce
3 ½ oz salt
3 jalapenos, seeded and minced
12 oz poblano chiles, roasted, seeded, peeled and cut into ⅛” dice
12 oz ice-cold water
21 ft hog casings, rinsed

Process: Toss the chicken and the fat back with the combined seasonings. Chill well. Grind through the fine plate (⅛”) of a meat grinder into a mixing bowl over an ice bath.

Combine: Mix on low speed for 1 minute, gradually adding poblano chiles, jalapenos, and ice water. Mix on medium speed for 15-20 seconds, or until the sausage mixture is sticky to the touch.

Test: Panfry a test patty. Adjust seasoning and consistency before filling the prepared casings and shaping into 4” links.

The sausage is ready to prepare for service now by pan frying, baking, grilling, or broiling to an internal temperature of 150°F, or hold under refrigeration for up to 7 days.

Blogging has changed my life....

I'd like to thank all of you who encouraged me to start this blog--including those of you I can't call out publicly (you know who you are!)

Since I started The Blog, everything I see, touch, eat, or experience is considered for fodder. And now, I constantly have a running commentary going through my head!
I'm positively obsessed.

Of course, I have also added a camera to the list of things I never leave home without.



Cell phone...check.


Wait, camera????

Oh yeah, The Blog.


Somehow, I never manage to eat anything anymore...without first taking a picture of it. My dining companions wait patiently while I snap photos of our food. Again. And again.

"Oh, that one had the flash on. Let me try it again."

"I just can't get this detail in focus...wait...wait...wait...."

"Okay, just one more..."

And it starts all over again when the next course comes out!

Then last night, I saw a good friend of mine who just moved back to Seattle. I took 20 (or more) photos at dinner, and exactly NONE of them included her!

What is wrong with me???

Oh, wait. I know.

The Blog.

We went to Union and ordered off their happy hour bar menu last night. Many thanks to my friend...who waited oh-so-patiently while I took these photos. Luckily, you reap the benefit.

How's this for food porn?

Seared Ahi Tuna on Avocado Puree with Heart of Palm and Parsley Salad

Fried Quail with Fingerling Potato Salad, Pancetta, and Chives

And this beauty was from the dessert menu...

Strawberry Sorbet with Lemon Marscapone and Toasted Pine Nuts

HTT Part 1: Western and 1st Avenue

In an earlier post, I discussed my home turf tourist philosophy. My theory is simple. Paying attention to your city, getting away from the obvious, and peeling back the layers often reveals the most rewarding experiences.

Years ago, I realized that while on vacation, I'd stretch myself and wander off the beaten path, regularly. I am not an avid map I just incorporated 'wandering' as part of my plan.... But as luck would have it, I'd end up having the most amazing experiences.

And yet, I often wondered why didn't I have these incredible experiences back at home?

The simple truth was, I acted differently on vacation. I was prepared for an adventure, and while on vacation, I was determined to have one! At home, the mundane routine of day to day living suppressed that adventurous spirit.

When it finally dawned on me what the difference was, I made up my mind to change things. Now, even at home, I'm constantly on the hunt for a new experience--whether it's meeting new people, deliberately seeking out a new adventure, or exploring my city in a different way.

I'd like to share my Home Turf Tourist explorations with you. This is the first of what I hope to be many installments. Come along with me...

Mural on Western Avenue

Orcas are revered here. Three pods of Orca whales reside in the Pacific Northwest waters. One pod decidedly makes its home in Washington waters, another resides in Canadian waters off Vancouver Island. The remaining pod, lives between the two, straddling the waters of both US and Canada.

I've seen all three pods in unique circumstances far from the swarm of tourist boats. The Canadian pod, I saw on a scuba diving trip on the inside passage between Vancouver Island and the mainland. The Orcas were feeding. With fierce determination, the orcas were were chasing a group of Dahl's porpoises that had passed by our boat.

When I saw both the Washington and the more nomadic pod, I was out motoring with friends on a chartered boat. Converging right before us, the two pods came together and formed what is known as a "super pod". This, apparently is very rare. In total, we watched over 50 Orca frolic for hours. It was amazing watching them breech and then with a huge splash, crash into the water.

Mural on Western Avenue, same building on the east facing side

These are Dahl's porpoises. Occasionally they can be spotted from the ferries. They often play in the waters at the bow of boats. Although they are smaller than dolphins, their movements are the same.

Mural, Western Avenue

I love this picture. Behind the barbed wire and the "Danger: High Voltage" sign, there is an image of salmon. For me, this photo visually represents the Pacific Northwest salmon quandry. Is the fence corraling the salmon like big net? Or is it a source of protection...keeping external forces at bay?

Danger: High Voltage. The subject of salmon is a hot topic here. While salmon is still considered the quintessential Northwest delicacy, our wild salmon runs have declined to dangerously low levels--and some are in jeopardy of complete extinction.

The wild salmon population has been deeply impacted by a number of society-driven factors, including: damming, population growth, and pollution. And yet, there are currently over a hundred non-profit organizations attempting to preserve, if not restore, the salmon population.

Hammering Man at Seattle Art Museum, 1st Avenue

The Seattle Art Museum's Hammering Man is a major Seattle landmark and ordinarily, I wouldn't consider it HTT worthy. However, the museum is under construction and things look a little bit different with the Man.

According to the SAM website, Hammering Man is an artist's representation, celebrating the worker. Typically, the hammering arm strikes 4 times a minute, from 7am to 10pm. The mechanism is designed so the Man rests at night and during Labor Day.

While the museum has been undergoing renovations, Hammering Man has been bound and constricted, confined and without movement. Every time I pass this site, I wonder if that is not a more accurate representation of the working man....

"Pi in the Sky" at Harbor Steps, between 1st and Western

The blasted steel sculpture "Pi" is a curious piece. The title is a pun on the phrase "pie in the sky" -- an American expression for things lofty and unobtainable. It is situated next to Harbor Steps Apartments. When these apartments were first built, they were some of the most expensive in the city and they attracted residents including sports team players, the affluent, and the up and coming. Harbor Steps was THE place to live downtown.

A friend of mine lived at Harbor Steps in a microscopic apartment with dead on view of hammering man's arm, striking....4 times a minute...14 hours a day....And she paid a ghastly premium! She couldn't really afford to live there...but she was chasing the pie in the sky life...or was it...pi in the sky?

On a lighter note...I'll leave you with this...

Oriental Lilly, Pike Place Market flower stall