Archive for May, 2011

Adventures in Pink #3: Peanut Butter Dreams

I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.

-George Bernard Shaw

I bought the pigs a Kong. I know it’s a dog toy and a dog is usually a pet and a pig is not usually a pet and this could all be very confusing…but I did it anyway. I got the biggest one I could find at the hardware store, brought it home and after wrestling with the package, filled it with a mixture of grain and peanut butter.

When I got out to the pen, the pigs were rooting merrily near their lean-to. They perked up when they saw me and I waved the peanut butter filled Kong under their noses. At first Walter didn’t seem interested. Flo, on the other hand, grunted with delight and immediately tucked in. Can I just say, a pig with peanut butter is hilarious! She loved it so much that she gobbled it up as fast as she could, obviously not realizing its palette cementing potential. She spent the next ten minutes smacking her lips and trying to get the peanut butter off the roof of her mouth. Eventually, Walter decided he wanted in on the PB and Grain, but Flo would have none of it. Normally they’re friendly and snuggly with each other, but the peanut butter seemed to make Flo insane. She defended her prize ferociously, bit Walter’s face and squealed crazily until he gave up.

In case anyone was wondering, when you mix grain feed and peanut butter it actually does set up like cement. The next day Cory had to dig it out with a stick, so we decided to forgo the Kong and give them some peanut butter straight. Cory dribbled it along the top of a log near their lean-to. Unfortunately, this particular log is Walter and Flo’s favorite climbing log. Within approximately 10 seconds, Walter was covered from head to tail in peanut butter, and Cory and I were speculating on the safely of leaving him alone with Flo. She had begun to chase after him licking her chops.

I checked on them today. Aside from Walter looking extraordinarily tidy and clean, he was otherwise unharmed.

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Weaving a Yarn #1

You see, when weaving a blanket, an Indian woman leaves a flaw in the weaving of that blanket to let the soul out.

 -Martha Graham

 Thursday night was my third weaving class. When I signed up for the eight-week session I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting. I had a short-lived experience with weaving when I received a small beading loom when I was far too young to appreciate a gift that required quite so much patience and dexterity. I could never quite figure out how to use it properly and therefore got little to no satisfaction from tinkering with it.

So, three weeks ago when I showed up at The Weaver’s Shed and Alpaca Farm in Fairfax, Vermont I was a little bit excited and a little bit nervous. Aside from my beading loom experience, weaving has been one of the few crafts I’ve kind of avoided. When I’ve seen large floor loom demonstrations it’s always struck me as a bit daunting, like it took a lot of equipment and experience.  I wasn’t wrong, but there’s also something supremely satisfying about the process. Well…I should amend that by saying that I haven’t actually started weaving yet. Yes, it’s taken me six hours of class time to almost thread my loom, and yes, I still say there’s something supremely satisfying about the process.

For me, it might have something to do with the medium of fiber itself. I love yarn. I love the way yarn feels, I love holding skeins of it in my hands, I love the way it smells. Most of all I love the potential it has. It can be anything. Yarn can be fashioned by knots, twists, folds and overlaps, (isn’t that really all fiber crafts consist of?) into seemingly endless possibilities. The process amazes me, and Thursday night after I’d spent two straight hours leaning over my loom threading 241 threads through tiny holes with a tiny hook, I felt very accomplished, and very excited about the possibilities of my still future, weaving project.

Foraging Fun #1

All mushrooms are edible…once.

-Anonymous  

Yesterday, Cory’s father, Danny knocked on my door. I thought it was to retrieve the dog, Chopper, who often comes up to the apartment to snuggle on the sofa. This purpose was only secondary however, and he first asked me if I liked mushrooms. I was a little surprised but I said yes. I dressed quickly and followed him to the house where he said he had 10 GALLONS (!) of freshly picked wild morel mushrooms waiting. ‘Morels’, I said, ‘Wow, 10 gallons of morels?’ I know next to nothing about wild mushroom foraging, but even I’m aware that morels are among the choicest mushrooms around. I also know that they’re not the most common, and 10 gallons would be an exceptionally huge haul. (An aunt of mine enjoys moral hunting and had recently imparted this wisdom.) When I looked into the two 5 gallon buckets in the kitchen I was sure that they were not the promised morels. They were mostly white and very fleshy, and they clearly had grown on the side of a tree like a shelf, not like a morel at all.

I pulled up some online pictures of wild mushrooms in an effort to identify the haul. Danny meanwhile, broke off a chunk and popped it into his mouth. I gulped and scrolled through pictures a bit faster. Next, of course, he handed me a bite. I pretended to eat, and when his back was turned, slipped it into my pocket (Cory found this hilarious).

I kept searching while he started rinsing the mushrooms. Finally I found the picture I was looking for. Dryad’s Saddle (Polyporus Squamosus), a common, easy to identify, kidney-shaped mushroom, often found growing on dead elm. It’s much more palatable when young and small, according to master forager, Wildman Steve Brill http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com/ , and many of our specimens were huge, 8-10 inches across. Even still we got to work cutting out tough bites and slicing up the tender edges.  We laid them on cookie sheets to dry in a 100 degree oven….7 hours later they had made little progress, so Danny put them into the incubator in the attic of the garage.

So…we’ll just have to wait and see.

Adventures in Pink #2

Edible, adj.: Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.

-Ambrose Bierce

Walter and Flo have become very friendly. Ever since I accidentally gave Walter some red wine (more on that later), their attitudes have improved dramatically.  

Flo has become a shameless tummy-rub-lover. Yesterday I went over the fence and peeked into their lean-to. They were still sleeping, nestled in a pile of hay in the corner. They sleep late; actually they sleep most of the day. It’s been suggested that they’re lazy, but my argument is; what would constitute a non-lazy pig? What productive industries do pigs engage in besides rooting, eating, sleeping, and shitting? Anyway, when they noticed I had come for a visit Walter, made a beeline for my feet and immediately began chewing on my shoelaces. He succeeds in untying them if I don’t double knot. I gave him a scratch and looked over at Flo. She had taken a mere two steps out of the hay pile and promptly lay down, rolling onto her back and gazing up at me expectantly. I patted my leg in an effort to get her to come closer. She got up, took three more steps and again rolled over. I reached over the plywood and gave her a rub for her efforts.

I’ve tried to give Walter and Flo scraps from the kitchen on several occasions. Each time they’ve turned up their snouts and continued foraging. I guess I can understand that they don’t want my old, moldy, way-past-its-prime, garbage, but they even refuse fresh stuff, like carrots and strawberries. This was a bit of a myth-buster for me. I’ve always heard that pigs would eat anything, perhaps even (ahem) a dishonest business partner or an adulterous spouse. My only other pig feeding experience was terrifying. I wasn’t sure I could get out of the way fast enough. They ran at the food with such energy that I threw the bucket and leapt over the fence.

I think most of the pigs I fed, the only other time I’ve ever fed pigs, were pregnant at the time. According to Storey’s Guide to Raising Pigs, by Kelly Klober, when pigs are pregnant it’s wise to not let them gain too much weight. It will be easier to carry the piglets. So a pregnant female’s diet might be slightly restricted, not much, but enough to make them hungry at mealtimes. Walter and Flo have access to grain whenever they’re hungry.  They just lift up a little flap and dig in, so they can be choosy. They also have plenty of room to forage. I don’t really care that they won’t eat my garbage, but I do wonder if more of a variety of diet would be beneficial.

The only thing Walter would ever take from me was a glass of red wine. I didn’t really mean for this to happen and I was certainly concerned afterwards. I mean, he weighs thirty pounds. I have no idea how much wine it would take to get a pig drunk and I didn’t want him to get sick. It was after dinner and I was outside in the pen with Cory and our friend Jay. I had a glass with a small amount of red wine left from dinner. Walter came close to my legs and started to sniff my boots. This was still during the running away and squealing phase, so thinking to cultivate his curiosity I bent down and let him sniff my glass. He inhaled deeply, closed his eyes and grasping the edge of the glass gently with his teeth, tipped back the contents without spilling a drop.

After that he let me rub and scratch his belly freely, and we became fast friends.

Adventures in Pink #1

I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.

-Winston Churchill

I woke up Tuesday morning and the pigs were here. By the time I’d dressed and rushed down the back stairs they were already installed in their pen, shaking and grunting warily. The electric fence we’d built the week before wasn’t plugged in, but I was still careful when I stepped over. The two piglets cowered in one corner of their lean-to like frightened children. I reached my hand over the plywood Cory’s father, Danny had used to pen up the young pigs. Squealing, they quickly trotted to the opposite side of the lean-to. I stepped back to give them some space. They looked up at me with disconcertingly intelligent, piggy eyes. Then, they began to root. Cautiously at first, testing their snouts, and then with increased vigor. They had decided to ignore us for the present. I went inside the garage (we live in an apartment above) to do dishes, and Danny went into the house.

Three minutes later I glanced out the window and down into the pig woods. They had climbed over the plywood and were rooting merrily dozens of yards from where we had left them. Danny got the net and after much squealing and panic we managed to get them both back into the pen.

When Cory got home from work we named them. We probably shouldn’t have but we did. The small, skittish female he named Flo. The name suits her; she’s very much the neurotic secretary.  For the sturdy, spotted male I chose Walter. Cory agreed right away.

We’ve slowly begun to win them over. After the third or fourth day they stopped cringing and running away at the sight of us. It’s all very strange. Here I am, trying to gain the trust of two feeder pigs. This fall they will be killed and eaten. There is no other agricultural reason to keep a pig.

But how do people do it? How do they separate the pig from the bacon? Cory would say, with a very sharp knife, but the real answer is, most pork eaters who’ve never raised a pig don’t have to try very hard. Pigs live on farms and bacon lives in the refrigerated section of the supermarket. The question I have is, now that I find myself in the position of pig owner (or perhaps merely pig fattener), should I still attempt to separate? Is it necessary to act like I don’t care about the individuality of Walter and Flo? Or should I give in? Care with all my heart and still eat them? How will it taste to eat something I cared about? Will it make me more reverent and conscious about the meat that I eat, or will I go vegetarian at the end of it all?