The Vegetarian Butcher Makes Sausage

Every other Tuesday throughout the summer, Matt helps with the processing of a batch of chickens at a friend's farm. They call him The Vegetarian Butcher.

Matt has been a vegetarian for all of his adult life, and involved in the food business in one way or another for even longer. So while he has no taste for poultry, he helps with chicken dispatch because he has a deep, reaching interest in food and farming. And also, he just likes hanging out with Farmer Pete.

These days, Matt's vegetarianism is broken by exactly one pig a year. Said pig grows up where the chickens do - on a mountaintop farm with 360-degree views of blue horizon, steep cloud banks, and pasture that is thick and deep like water.

Our friends Pete and Eliza own Clodhopper Farm. Each year they host a gathering of friends called Sausagefest, which begins with an ending (pig's). Pig becomes pork, while men wield spices and knives and beers.

Todd and Pete grinding fat

This year I saw the pig hanging in the back room, and it was oddly lovely. Clean and pink and ripply. Granted it had no head or guts or skin, which I expect makes the experience of seeing it strung from the ceiling sort of G-rated.

In the weeks leading up to Sausagefest, if I notice a faraway look in Matt's eye and ask what's on his mind, he answers, "chorizo." There are recipes going on - adding, subtracting, curing, aging. Little pinches of smoked paprika going in and slugs of red wine coming out. Minced garlic is whirling around in his skull like a snow flurry.

Bacon in waiting

In two days, a pig was divvied up into Mexican chorizo, sweet and hot Italian sausage, breakfast sausage, salami, Spanish chorizo, bacon, ribs, and pate.

The bulk of Matt's share is in our freezer, except for the salami and dry chorizo, which are hanging in the coldest corner of the house, atop the bedroom wardrobe. Sometimes the dog sits in her bed at the foot of the wardrobe, gazing up with longing.

Spanish chorizo and salami curing

You can read about last year's Sausagefest at Pete's blog.
You can find a couple of the recipes Matt used here: Spanish chorizo and pate


The Princess and the Pea

Say it's a breezy June afternoon, and I've got paperwork to catch up on. This is the view from my desk.

We like to remember such times, now that we are confined to our chairs... nothing but our dearest friend, blanky, to warm us.


The Ice Skater

When we left Scranton for a whirlwind holiday drive-a-thon, I was looking forward to wilder lands - deeper forest, taller trees, more birds... the smell of ice and bark and thaw, instead of the stink of city.

We returned home a few days ago, and I felt the mountain calling. We walked up the hill, past where the guinea hens live, past the projects and the oyster mushroom log and the muddy path. Matt stopped to see if the (possibly useful) gas tank had been stripped out of the recently-bonfired, upside-down Jeep in the creek. We walked up to the ridgeline, where there are oaks and hawks and wild blueberries, and I sighed an "oh, is it good to be home" sort of sigh.

Every place I've ever lived, I've connected with the nature there. I can close my eyes and call it all up: train trestles and cherry trees, bone piles and bear scat, boreal bogs and seaweed beaches.

Here in Scranton, I've spent too much time pining for countryside, and not appreciating that I have come to love the two wild mountains that flank route 81. They are far from unspoiled, even further from quiet, but they are home, nonetheless.

Occasionally, we run into a hunter or a scrap metal collector out there. Less often, some kids. (The last ones gleefully greeted us with "we fell through the ice into the lake!" They held out their arms to display the entirely soaked state of their clothes, and the relieving fact that they were alive, and ambulatory. I expect their adrenaline-induced glee subsided when their mothers got a load of all this.) But usually, it's just us, the roar from above (the wind) and the roar from below (the highway).

Today there was an ice skater. He was sitting on a rock, tugging on a pair of battered old skates. He had gray hair and a snow shovel, and just enough light left in the day to clear off the tiny frozen swamp, which is swaddled in greenbriar. He was surprised to see us, but seemed pleased to match the people to the footprints.

He told us the wild highlights of a whole life spent observing this slim strip of woods. Foxes, fishers, bears. A young bobcat that he feels remorse over: He brought chicken wings left over from the Saint Joe's picnic out here and put them in a pile. The next day the pile was gone, but in its place was blood, and the bobcat's tail.

the skating rink, a day later

What I'd assumed were just deer trails are actually maintained by the ice skater: worn ruts through the lowbush blueberries to overlooks atop the boulders. He once saw a smoke ring in the air, near the cave. He attributes it to god.

I didn't know anyone else was out there. I have seen his footprints, too, but what I mean is... I didn't know anyone else cared. I am so happy I know, now.