Archive for November, 2009

Snippet: Biking in Sweden

Biking in Sweden

Biking in Sweden from melissa mac on Vimeo.

I finally managed to upload videos I took with my camera (not a video camera, hence the crappy quality) while I was in Europe. Here you can see a bike path near the Swedish Agricultural University in Uppsala. This was a great path: isolated from cars, winding through gorgeous fields of grasses and canola. At night it looked positively spooky, as the lights only lit the path and it seemed like you were biking on the edge of some dark abyss.

I think it’s obvious that the US lags in bicycling and even bicycle advocates here seem to miss the point sometimes. Painting some lines on a road and calling it a bike path might attract some of the intrepid risk-taking set of young people that populate NYC, but it’s not going to attract mothers taking small children to preschool or grandpas carrying home groceries. Everyone biked in Sweden and the reason why everyone biked was that the Swedish bike paths made biking fun, rather than scary and death-defying as it is here.

First of all, they were separate from the roads for automobiles, which have the unfortunate tendency to weight 100 times more than bikes. Second, they were often far away from those roads and in nice places, so not only were you not crushed by cars, you were biking through a peaceful forest and didn’t have to hear them.

It was nice to get that sort of exercise without toiling in some dreary gym. Needless to say, Swedish people are not as umm…round as their American counterparts and while some of that can be credited to better food, I think biking plays a big role .

It would require a major infrastructural overhaul to have this kind of system in the US, which I dare to hope for, but in order to get to this point I think we have to stop taking it for granted that cars are king and start taking bikes seriously.

As a post script, it’s also easier to get a cheap practical bike in Sweden. It seems like all the bikes around here are racing or mountain bikes, but when a bike is a vehicle not for sports, but for shopping and getting around, those bikes are unnecessary and impractical. A simple one speed one gear road bike with ample basket space is what you need…and those can be hard to find in the US:

Biking to the Håga Valley from melissa mac on Vimeo.

Biking in Sweden II from melissa mac on Vimeo.


It Takes a Village To Make a Sausage

I admit that I actually don’t know much about New York state. I could identify the shape, but I am just starting to comprehend its vastness and distinct regions. I had no idea where I was going when I took the train on Saturday morning, just that I wanted to learn more about meat. I was pleasantly surprised as the train made its way along the Hudson river, its banks gleaming with fall foliage. As I got closer to wherever it was I bought the ticket for(…was it Rhinbock, Rhineshore?), mountains appeared blue in the distance. I was suddenly filled with the urge to take the train through what I imaged were several impressive mountain ranges and on to Montreal. I’m still getting over the fact that I’m not traveling much anymore. Those Icelandair ads on the subway with a couple along Iceland’s eerie rocky shore never fail to bring a tear to my eye. Let’s not even talk about the Delta ads that beckon me to Asia and other exotic locales, even if they are tainted with the implication that I would go there to make business deals.

Despite my wanderlust, I got off at scenic Rhinecliff at the edge of the water. Soon enough I was meeting wonderful people, including Amanda and Coco of the Greenhorns posse who picked us up and drove us to Mead Orchards in Tivoli, wherever that is. Oh, and while I’m at it, maybe I should explain why I was there.

I was there because Smithereen Farm, which is run by a group of enterprising young farmers, slaughtered their Tamworth pigs and they invited a butcher to come break them down into a feast and teach everyone about pork in the process. I’d participated in the butchery of rabbits and poultry before, but not pigs and in fact I almost never cook pork. If you know me well, you probably know that I’m pretty much the opposite of squeamish and have no problem with blood and guts. When I told people in NYC where I was going some of them reacted in horror. I figure if you are going to eat meat you might as well be intimate with the process of dismantling the animal that died to give you food and to acknowledge it as an animal and not a chicken breast. I think people who can’t do that should be vegans, vegans because vegetarians eat milk and eggs and if you think old brown cow Bessy goes to a retirement home when her milk production lags you are delusional.

I guess I’m up on my soap box now. Having experience with dairy and egg production, vegetarianism never made much sense to me. In fact I feel much more comfortably eating meat, since the animals I ate spent their entire lives outside doing what they want and raising their young as they pleased. Dairy animals work every day and their young are taken away and either slaughtered or bottle fed. Some people say I’ve missed the point, which is that vegetarianism is largely symbolic, about not consuming the flesh and blood, not whether or not your diet causes death or not.

I’m curious to read Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book Eating Animals. I’ve read Peter Singer’s pro vegan books and recently read The Face on Your Plate: The Truth About Food” by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. I respect vegans highly and often order vegan food when I’m eating out, but I’ve decided from my experience with agriculture and my own body that I do best with some meat and fish in my diet and I’m comfortable with eating animals.

That said, I don’t eat loads of meat because the meat I eat is expensive, and rightly so. Raising a quality animal humanely and feeding it right is hard work. There has been lots of talk about how meat is “bad” is a global context, but these pigs we broke down and ate were a perfect example of grey areas. They didn’t eat food that would have gone to humans in a third world country, pigs eat trash. There food didn’t pollute our waters, it went to fertilizer. Pigs can also live in the woodland perfectly well, so there is no need for deforesting land. In the case of this, parading around UN papers to which are largely irrelevant to small scale farm like Smithereen to bash meat consumption is disingenuous of animal rights activists at best.

Enough soapboxing. The weekend was far more than just a meditation on the eating of animals. It was a celebration of delicious food that attracted an incredibly awesome and diverse crowd of people from cooks to poets (and everything in between). The apple harvest was over, but a few apples hung on the trees beckoning us to eat them. We also gleaned these raspberries, miraculously juicy despite the late autumn chill.


The butcher, Bryan Mayer of Brooklyn’s Green Grape, showed us the process of breaking down the pigs into cuts. It was extremely useful to see that. I’ve seen diagrams, but there is nothing like seeing the dismantling happen to help you remember what comes from where. What was truly amazing was how much meat came from just two pigs. It easily fed all 20 of us during the weekend with meat to spare. Being such valuable and lovingly raised animals, every single edible part was put to use.


After the pigs were cut up, we all went to work harvesting turnips, chopping up vegetables, and cooking up the pork into a giant delicious feast. We had ragu (it’s a delicious pasta sauce made from pork!), pork belly, pie, mashed turnips, roast tenderloin…everyone was stuffed as we ate by the campfire.


But the work wasn’t done! The next day we rendered lard to fry apples and doughnuts in. I like stirring things and the process of melting down lard fascinates me in the same way churning ice cream does. It’s a defiant alchemy that things like ice cream and lard can be created. Whenever I make ice cream I can’t help staring at the machine as it somehow makes an essence of the liquid, magnifying its wonderful creaminess as it whirls rope upon rope to beckon it to become something the milk must have never dreamed possible. As I cut down the pieces of fat and we pulled them through the grinder, it seemed impossible that they could melt into clarify. But after stirring the pot over the fire and filtering out the delicious smokey crackings, a pot of clear hot fat bubbled up demands for battered apples and dough to ply its alchemy on. Anything put in the pot became a zillion times tastier. There are not many other substances that can do that.

Finally, any part not used by now went into sausage, which was expertly spiced by the team of cooks and chefs.

Awesome links to people I met
Pdo Foto
Link My Balsamic
Hudson Grown
Cricket Bread
Shafer Hall
Hudson Valley Food Network
The Greenhorns
Open Bicycle
Pound Sweet

But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.

Robert Frost