NEW ENGLAND, 14 DAYS IN OCTOBER, 2013
At age 30, we moved from Virginia to Massachusetts. Our sons were five and three. At age 54 we moved to San Francisco. All but one year of that time, we lived at 48 Harrison Street, Newton Highlands MA 02138. 617-969-3359 It was the time when we embraced adulthood, raised our children and forged lasting friendships. A time like no other in our lives. This is about revisiting New England, not for reflection and nostalgia, but for activity and exploration.
Our visit was centered around the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) annual Nose to Tail Pig Processing Workshop during Columbus Day weekend. Before, we made our way to the Belfast Maine environs, and after, we drove across the whole of New England to Cooperstown, New York, and from there to Newton Highlands.
The story has a beginning, middle and end. This is the beginning, “Getting to the Pig.”
“We left home more than 12 hours ago, and we’re still in Reno,” I said to Carol.
We were waiting to board the 5am shuttle bus from Grand Sierra Resort to the Reno Tahoe airport. Brian and Natasza had picked us up Tuesday evening for dinner and we stayed over due to our 6:05am flight to Denver and Boston.
For locals, the Room is $58 and they paid the first $25 at Briscola, Charlie Palmer’s take on Italian. And they provide a free shuttle to airport. Not bad.
DAY 2 WEDNESDAY 10.09
Our Southwest flight was EZ. About an hour out of Denver, I had my second Bloody Mary. It is good. In Denver we had just enough time to grab some eats at Lefty’s Grill. It’s an airport place, so I didn’t expect much, but how could I pass up the Sausage Gravy Biscuits for brunch? The biscuits were thin and soft… nice, and all the gravy needed was salt, pepper and Tabasco. Not photogenic, but… Yum.
The continuing flight to Boston was without incident and I recounted the cool things I had learned about Southwest Airlines on two previous flights.
- The no-assigned seats. Who knew? It’s so simple, get on, pick a seat, sit down. OK… pay a $12.50 fee to be in the first 60 to board, guaranteeing an aisle seat. What else do you need?
- Flight attendants take your order for drinks and bring them to you NO AISLE CARTS and as many assorted snacks as you can eat; peanuts, pretzels wheat crackers, etc. They come back for empty wrappers, glasses, etc and say, “Would you like another Bloody Mary? Yes, thank you.”
- Two bags per person fly free. I noticed some airlines are now charging $75 per bag.
- And when we got to the baggage claim at Logan Airport, our bags were there.
Logan airport has a new feature since we were last there: Go to the blue curb for a shuttle bus to rental cars… all rental cars are in one building. Check in on one floor, take the escalator to one of the two floors above. Get in your car. Go. From touch-down to the Ted Williams tunnel, under an hour.
Eric and Alison had arranged to meet us in Portland for dinner, since we couldn’t get their house until almost 10pm if everything went perfectly. And we would be tired. He got that right.
We followed Eric’s directions to the Franklin Street exit off I-295 and as he said, went up the hill and down the hill through several traffic signals until we reached Commercial Street and the Hilton Garden Inn. Meet them in the bar at the Fore Street Restaurant, just behind the hotel. That was EZ.
Fore Street is a New England kinda place of wood and brick. The centerpiece is a wood fired brick oven built by the same guy that built Eric and Alison’s oven/chimney. The building, food, service were all of a piece — everything in harmony to produce sensory satisfaction.
Long day, good day. I woke with the sun at 7am.
DAY 3 THURSDAY 10.10
Brian and Natasza’s Kyiv Wedding Anniversary: 10.10.10
I went for a long walk on the non-cobbled part of Commercial Street on this bright, crisp morning.
Carol and I had a morning bun and coffee at Standard Bakery. YUM. Not too sticky, not too sweet. Ought to be good, Standard Bakery is owned by colleagues of Eric, Alison and Brian from Clear Flour Bakery in Brookline. Alison and Eric joined us to sit on the front porch in the sun.
Eric needed to get back home to write computer code (one of his other lives) and Carol kept him company. Alison and I headed north on the coastal route for a leisurely drive that Carol and I had made many times before over the years, but Alison took me to places off the beaten path. We stopped at the Frontier Restaurant in Brunswick for lunch. Good choice. It’s in an old mill building with a spectacular view of the Androscoggin River. It remindes Alison of Campo in Reno in feeling… airy and open with interesting food choices. I had Fish and Chips (real Haddock filet) and Alison, the Fish Chowder and a Fish Taco. Fish is great and fresh and EZ when rivers and streams and the Atlantic are all around you.
After, we split off inland and stopped at Morse’s Sauerkraut and Deli. WELL. WOW. This is one of the best Deli’s ever. It reminded me of that Amish place in Jackson, Ohio near Mark and Jannie. Jars of pickles, 20 kinds of candies, tins of this, bottles of that. We got a few things to go with our cabbage soup dinner.
Alison drove on the back roads to Sweetwater Wines and Spirits featuring wine, port, vermouth and gin made from apples, blueberries and cranberries. There are a couple of sweet wines, but most are remarkably dry. Eventually they will have whiskey, but it must age another five years in oak. I bought a sparkling pink and a white for dinners, and an Apple Brandy to take home.
Alison drove my rental Impala home through the back roads of the Maine countryside. I sat back and enjoyed.
Back “home,” Carol and I were treated to all the remodels that had taken place since our last visit. This included a walk out to their Airstream ‘guest house.’
We had a great dinner of Cabbage Soup, an adaptation of Jack Nicklaus Cabbage Soup published in Sports Illustrated back in the day, all the vegetables fresh from their garden.
After a trip to Pittsburgh, where we ate Pierogies at the Pirates PNC ballpark, I made Pierogies from Marlena Spieler’s recipe in her story “Lower East Side Potato Pierogi” in the SF Chronicle in June of 2007. My notes say: “These are really good and I love the story, but brother Tom turned me on to Mrs. T’s frozen Potato and Onion Pierogis. I served them at SB XLV Party… damn fine and done in minutes.”
DAY 4 FRIDAY 10.11
Faintly heard the living room clock bong at six, rolled over. Got up at seven. Pretty good sleep after two days of traveling and three time zones.
Today is Friday, the day before the First Day of the Pig. For Eric, it’s also a day to make his Yogurt. I rode with him to the dairy where he gets his organic milk, a mom and pop operation milking 12 Jersey cows a day out of a heard of about 40.
Carol joined us for the 12 mile drive through the bucolic countryside to the MOFGA Common Ground Education Center in Unity to meet Grace, the Events Coordinator, and go over preparations for the weekend.
I have worked in commercial kitchens — mainly the one at CUESA in the Ferry Plaza Market Building in San Francisco. There, I would be one of three or four volunteers working with Sarah, the Market Chef. We were a pretty tight group and pretty well trained to use the kitchen. Here at MOFGA, folks that work in the kitchen are not “regulars” and may or may not be trained. During the GIANT event (Common Ground Country Fair in late September every year — 50 to 60,000 people attending) the Kitchen is used just about 24/7 for three days cooking meals for volunteers at the Fair. For the Pig Processing Workshop there will be 15 students plus workers and volunteers in the kitchen as well as the two farmers, Eric and an assistant (I am a volunteer assistant).
So why should I be surprised and fascinated by all of the handcrafted signs hanging around the kitchen?
After going over the check-list with Grace, Eric made a list of supplies — mainly herbs, spices and vegetables — we would need to make meals out of pig parts. After that, we walked out to pay a visit to the honored pigs.
The two farmers, Paul and Everett, who will be leading the parade to get the pigs from this state to “sides” in the cooler, described the breed as “pink pigs…” cross-breeds raised to grow quickly and be tasty once they hit the meat case of your market or your home freezer. Their quality will depend on what they’re fed and how they are raised. The students in the MOFGA workshop will raise one or three hogs at a time for their own butchering and consumption (homestead animals). If they wish to sell the meat, the pigs must be slaughtered at a USDA approved slaughterhouse. There are two in Maine.
One of the handouts provided is entitled “MOFGA FACT SHEET #16, Raising Organic Pigs” It describes housing, handling and feeding the pigs in detail, with a comprehensive list of resources. MOFGA Fact sheets can be downloaded at http://www.mofga.org
On the way back, we passed through Belfast to get the supplies at the Belfast CO-OP.
Tomorrow, we get to work.
Keep your eyes peeled for the middle installment, The Pig.