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Butchery, Part III: Makin’ the Bacon

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 12 PMWelcome to the third and final part of my Butchery adventure. Check out parts one and two to get caught up. This blog was written in the immediate aftermath of the butchery lesson, but it’s taken me a while to up and post here.

Written: 3/29/13

A few years ago, a friend challenged me to do one new thing a month for the entire year. I think today would have impressed him, because today I helped butcher a pig.

If you’ve read parts one and two of my porcine journey, you’ll know I had serious misgivings about how I might make it through once the pig parts started to fly.

My friend and I made our way to the restaurant; we arrived a little after ten. After introducing us around, they asked what kind of experience, if any, my friend and I had in butchery. I haven’t had any; my friend had taken part in something similar with a lamb and had been studying pig butchery for weeks.

IMAG1143We were given chef’s jackets and aprons before being shown the pig we were about to butcher.

I’ve never been confronted with a pig’s head before. They’re not animals I’ve spent a lot of time with, and the pork shoulder that started this journey was, I now realize, probably not as high in quality as the one we were about to artfully dismember.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 19 PMBefore we started, the Chef was gave us some background on American and European butchery – for example, did you know that in Europe they cut pig according to its muscle structure, rather than trying to eek out every bit of a so-called choice cut? – and told us a little bit about his own journey to his present position.

Then we learned a little about the pig we were going to work on. It had been raised well and not filled with hormones or antibiotics, and just a few days earlier had been alive and in the fields. In other words, it didn’t get any fresher than this.

IMAG1137I could give a play-by-play of how the Chef walked us through each of the portions of the dissection, but I don’t think I could do justice to just how good of a teacher he was. Both my friend and I had questions, and the three of us chatted as the Chef explained how we were going to take the pig apart so as not to waste any of it. We felt organs and spinal fluid, removed strips of fat (set aside to be rendered), helped saw off limbs, trussed the pork loin, seasoned Bacon for curing and even got to sample a small piece of pork fresh-cooked with olive oil, salt, garlic and thyme.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 26 PMA lot of anatomy was discussed. My mom used to teach at the University at Buffalo Medical School (as did my grandfather) and as a child I was once treated to a visit to the gross anatomy lab in the middle of a class while my mom spoke with a colleague. I remember things like the spinal columns in a jar on her desk, and while I was never a crack student in biology, the physiology of a human and a pig are similar enough that it made sense to hear how pigs used certain muscles more regularly than others, and how, for example, a muscle a pig wouldn’t use at all would be much more developed in a human because of how we move and bend.

Giving an example of how little pig was wasted in the dissection, the Chef at first threw a few small pieces of “silverskin” – inedible tendon tissue – into the garbage, then changed his mind and retrieved a dish that might have held a cup in volume (though I’d be surprised). When we were finished, he assured us, the cup wouldn’t be full. That’s how much of the pig gets used. It was impressive.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 20 PMI also saw some first-rate knives in action, which (if you know me) I found pretty damn cool. Watching the Chef easily slide the blade under layers of fat and clean off the pork, I started trying to calculate how many years it will be before I could afford my own set. Way too many.

Once we finished the first half of the pig, which had weighed about 250 pounds when it was alive, we took a break.

Photo Mar 29, 9 58 33 PMBoth me and my friend had glasses of water, and the chef cooked up a “snack” – which he paired with a glass of beaujolais when I took him up on the offer of a glass of wine. (What, did anyone think I’d turn down free wine with a gourmet, freshly-butchered snack?)

When it came to the second half of the pig, the Chef worked quickly. My friend and I helped saw off the legs – the ham, or what would become it (and please note that all errors in naming parts of the animal are the fault of my memory and not poor delivery!) and trussed pork loin to make densely-rolled cuts that would cook evenly.

When both sides of the pig had been butchered into parts, we took a few minutes to prepare ourselves – washing up (though the entire process was far cleaner, and far less bloody, than what I had anticipated), getting our coats back, and stashing the aprons we’d worn – authentic chef souvenirs! – into bags the Chef provided.

Then,the question restaurant- and food-lovers love to hear:

Photo Mar 29, 9 59 01 PM (1)Did we want lunch?

Neither of us was about to say no. We took seats at the bar and agreed: everything on the menu looked amazing, and both of us were happy to eat whatever the Chef wanted to share with us.

It may have been the best meal of my life. We started with a charcuterie board, which featured different cured meats, head cheese, some kind of bacon-wrapped thing, porchetta (please God let me be getting this right) and more. And amazing bread.

Speaking of bread, a couple of guys were kneading gorgeous trays of focaccia beside us, under what looked like extendable heat lamps that hung from the ceilings. Before our eyes, they transformed a giant tray of kneaded dough into a salted and seasoned tray off carby-delicious-goodness.

The next dish – the Chef asked if we wanted to keep going, and neither me nor my friend was about to turn him down – was a gorgonzola, Apple, radicchio and bacon salad.

Photo Mar 29, 11 31 28 AMNow, maybe you like bacon. But when you’ve just spent a week freaking out about whether you’ve got what it takes to butcher an animal, in the way of “not running screaming from the carcass” kind of way – and then found out that indeed, you may indeed have what it takes – the bacon tastes WAY FREAKING BETTER. Or maybe that was because it was freshly cured by a very talented chef.

It was probably the chef. 😉

The next course was spaghetti bolognese, which was the best pasta bolognese I have ever had in my life. Bar none. As my friend said, “that pasta was like a warm hug.”

Finally, the main course. Oh em jee. Butternut squash, kale and chanterelle Mushrooms, and a taste of a few different types of pork: tenderloin, pork belly and a little pork-sausage-type thing that I want to call a croquette, but I know that isn’t the name for it.

Did I mention the chef prepared each course himself?

Best meal of my life. Hands down.

Afterwards, we said our good-byes and expressed our appreciation. I think we left the restaurant a little before two. It was probably one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had in quite some time, and one I’ll treasure for a very, very long time.

Not only did I gain a new appreciation for where my food comes from, but now I know I’ll have the butchery skills I’ll need to survive a zombie apocalypse – and that if it comes down to me or a zombie, I don’t have to worry that I might be too squeamish to, as my butchery t-shirt said, “sever the head.”

IMAG1118

Although I might get the hand saw caught on a bone.

 

Happy New Year! Where I’ve been, and where I’m going in 2013.

Photo Credit: Leah Alconcel

Photo Credit: Leah Alconcel

I hope you and yours had a wonderful end of 2012 and rang in the new year with more enthusiasm than I did – I conked out a little after 11pm EST and didn’t manage to greet 2013 until about 9am this morning.

Time for a quick look back, and a longer look ahead.

2012 was a packed year. I published HOT MESS, had short stories featured on blogs and in Amazon E-Book collections, put together a collection of Zombie Haiku, talked a lot about feminism and vaginas (both here and in public), organized readings, took major artists to task over unethical business practices (with results!) and more.

It was a year of both excitement and disappointment, of keeping things in perspective, of working on myself and how I relate to the world. My cousin and his girlfriend got married, and I fell off the Low Sodium wagon hardcore shortly after (funny how having a size 14 dress to fit into can motivate a girl!).

I wrote about physics, I wrote about politics, I wrote about gun control, I broke 100K tweets (don’t know whether to be proud or embarrassed about that), I edited a novel, contributed to a round-robin short story, got some help prettying up the blog, shared my self-publishing experience, interviewed innovative theatre producers

In other words, it’s been a busy year.

What’s up for 2013?

For the first time in years, I’m kicking off with a more-or-less clean slate. The writing projects I had planned to carry into this year are either at good resting points, or they’re not going forward due to external circumstances. I have an idea for a feature I’d like to play with, and I’d like to do more theatre work this year (last year, my short play MILLENNIAL EX was performed as part of Glasgay UK in a program of short works on marriage equality, and that’s re-whet my appetite for playwriting after a small break for other formats). I’m going to continue publishing my produced plays, which will join POST and Playing It Cool over on Amazon, just as soon as I lock down cover art for the new pieces (and by the way, if you’re interested in doing cover art for my plays, please let me know).

As I normally do around this time of year, I’m moving diet and health back to center stage: went grocery shopping yesterday and have gone back to only buying low sodium foods and healthy, nutritious snacks. We’ll see if that lasts much beyond my first day at work.

I spent a lot of time in 2012 on my mental health and well-being, and plan to keep moving forward with that in 2013.  I’d like to travel more, and have started trying to reconfigure finances so this is more than a pipe dream. I’d like to get more involved in activism and political issues – something I did more of in 2012 than I had in 2011, but still an area where I want to contribute in the future.

Thanks to everyone who helped make 2012 a memorable year – here’s to making new memories in 2013.

 

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The Neverending Writing List

As we creep ever-closer towards the end of the year, it’s natural to look back and take stock of the plans I made, and which ones came to fruition – hopefully with just enough time left in the final quarter of 2012 to kick my butt into gear on a few of these projects.

The year started with a rush and a bang. My short story, The Tell Tale Tech was selected to launch a week of tributes to Poe, over on The Veillee Blog. Next, Sare Liz Gordy decided to put together “Sassy Singularity” – an anthology of short stories about strong single women, and my short story Sweetheart, kicked off that collection.

The next month, Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change came out. Millennial Ex, a ten-minute play about marriage equality, was given Honorable Mention at a festival in the US before later being picked up as the centerpiece for ANY OBJECTIONS? the upcoming Glasgay Festival in Glasgow, Scotland. (I also have another dozen or so plays from other entrants to read through before the selection committee makes its final decisions.)

I put both Restaurants are Rated Out of Four Stars (a foodie romance, which appeared in RJ Astruc’s collection, The Fat Man At The End Of The World, several years ago) and my first Edinburgh Fringe play, Playing It Cool up. Ran a promotion for that on Kindle Select last week, and the play was both downloaded and reviewed favorably by many. Miranda Doerfler and I oversaw the publication of Haiku of the Living Dead, Zombie haikus collected from contributors around the internet.

I started a Pinterest and a Tumblr and a Goodreads account. I learned how to use InDesign well enough that I could make book covers that weren’t completely embarassing (you can see an example on the Playing it Cool cover on Amazon). I edited Eric Sipple’s first novel, Broken Magic. Got a couple interviews about my work published on a few different websites. Helped organize a massive political protest along with Eve Ensler and grassroots activists from around the country.

You’d need chocolate, too.

But it’s not enough.

There are projects I want to do that still aren’t done. And I wanted them to be done before the end of the year. There’s my AI collection, which will take both The Tell Tale Tech and Sweetheart and pair them with a number of original short pieces pondering alternative and artificial intelligences. I have partial drafts and sketches for a number of these shorts, including some pretty extensive drafts. But there’s more work to be done there.

Next, there’s Electalytics, the 30K novella I said I’d write in thirty days back in July. Currently hovering at about 27.5K, I’m tightening up the rest of the draft before going on to write the final parts of the story. I had wanted this piece to be up in time for the 2012 elections, but at this point I think it’s safe to say that would require rushing it out. So I’ll pick my way through it carefully and I’ll keep making slow progress.

There are two more projects I would very much have liked to complete this year, including the play that kicked me off down the AI collection road, a full-length three-hander called Process0r, about collaboration and language and technology.

So what gives? What’s holding me back? Why aren’t all these pieces done so I can scramble ahead to the next thing?  Aside from the blog updates, the social network building, being interviewed, contributing to charity fundraisers and more?

Life. That’s what. That messy, wonderful, horrible, ever-drumming thing we call life. The saying talks about the best-laid plans of mice and men, but writer’s best-laid plans often go astray as well. Coping with this fact? Not something I do especially well. When I have a plan, I want that plan done. And when it doesn’t get done, I start getting agitated.

So that’s what the next three months are for. It might seem as though the things I’ve already done this year would more than make up for the pieces I still want to finish – but they don’t. When I distill the list down and hold it up against the “life” things happening between now and December 31st, it looks a little like this:

1. Finish the first draft of Electalytics.

2. Create covers for Stuck Up A Tree and Mousewings (video), so I can put them both up on Amazon alongside their fellow Edinburgh Fringe play, Playing It Cool.

I want to add, “Finish AI Anthology” and “Finish Processor” to the list, but given the two solid goals mentioned above and a third, more ephemerous goal I haven’t been specific about, I feel like sticking those two on the list would be a great way to get overwhelmed. So for now I’ll save those two projects for 2013, which – as far as I can tell – still offers twelve months of unspoken-for time.

This is a totally realistic plan.

Right?

Haiku Of The Living Dead – Publication Date Announcement!

Flesh & Bones

Remember about a month ago, when I posted a call for entries for an anthology of Zombie Haiku to be submitted?

After collecting over 100 submissions from around the world via channels including email, blog comments, Reddit threads, twitter hashtags and more, it’s time to announce our publication date. We also discussed ways in which this collection could have a positive impact. After much debate, Miranda and I agreed that the charity beneficiary for HAIKU OF THE LIVING DEAD will be the organization Doctors Without Borders. We figured it kind of made sense – infection, survival, etc.

If you contributed to the blog, please make sure Miranda has your email address so we can keep you informed as far as downloading your free e-copy of HAIKU OF THE LIVING DEAD once it comes out. I got to read all the submissions and it was *great*. Loved it. Looking forward to sharing this alternatively hilarious and horrifying collection with all of you!

Friday, July 13th, HAIKU OF THE LIVING DEAD will be coming to an e-reader near you. Stay tuned. 

Time is running out.

In Which I Am A Cold-Blooded Killer

If you’ve read my story “Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom.” in Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change, you may have an inkling of my feelings toward cockroaches (warning: graphic link).

Those feelings are only intensified when, while working on a web series I’m putting out later this year, I see something moving out of the corner of my eye – and it turns out to be a cockroach the size of my thumb scuttling its way up the wall.

Two inches from my head.

(Warning: this story gets graphic from here on out, so if you’re squeamish and want something to read, just go buy the book because its cockroach content is far less disturbing.)
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