Sunday, October 1, 2017

Friends, Family, Food & Fall

Somewhere along the way I decided that I had a favourite season, and that autumn was it.

I'm grateful to live in a part of the world that has four distinct seasons, and they all have something to like about them, but fall is by far my favourite.

Part of it is the weather - the crispness in the air, a balance between the fleeting memory of summer's warmth and the impending chill of winter. Alberta in autumn tends to be a bit on the dry side, at least compared to my memories of Ontario. Every dry day beings to mind some task or chore that needs to be sorted out before the arrival of snow. The raking of the lawn, the digging out of the garden, cleaning out the rain gutters. Today we put away the patio furniture, in anticipation of putting Frankentrailer on the pad after Glory and I take it to Jasper for 2017's last camping trip next weekend.

The turning of the seasons also means another delightful Geekquinox experience. This year's theme was "Big Pig", a procession of pork-based plates, each progressive platter more pleasing than the previous - a veritable porkstravaganza!

Earl's blog entry has far better pictures than mine, but I feel compelled to immortalize the evening here anyways, for my own memory if nothing else.

The bacon-wrapped shrimp cooked on Pete's Big Green Egg carried all the smokiness you might expect, offset by the saltiness of the bacon.

Did the potato-prosciutto roses taste better than they looked, or look better than they tasted?


Pete busted out the largest pot I had ever seen in a private residence in order to cook the highlight of the evening: porchetta.

I'd never had porchetta before, and this is probably for the best. This Italian pork roast is symphony of flavours, but the percussion section that backs up the orchestra is full of lipids, and the strings are made of sodium, but it is so good, I would eat it again in a (rapidly slowing, irregularly rhythmed) heartbeat.

Pete had taken a full pig belly with the skin on, seasoned it with pesto and suchlike, then cooked it in his sous vide rig for an astonishing 36 hours. Now, at this point, a man with no teeth could have eaten the roast with little to no difficulty, but Pete was intent on a crispy skin, which is what necessitated the purchase of a pot big enough to cook up several children in the style of a Germanic fairy tale.

With a few inches of oil in the bottom, Pete fried the outer surface of the roast to a savoury golden brown, sliced the roast up and served it alongside bacon mashed potatoes and grilled cabbage.

Now, I should mention here that I am a big fan of pork. I like beef and chicken too, but if you told me I could only eat one animal for the rest of my life, it would be pork, without hesitation. Chops, roasts, ham, bacon, sausages - these are the staples our household menu rotates upon.

But Pete's porchetta is, hands down, the tastiest serving of pork I have ever had in my life.

That life may now be significantly shortened, since Pete generously gave the leftovers to Audrey and I, and since she found it too rich, I ended up enjoying it three times in the space of a week, which is probably two times too many. In my defense though, there just wasn't time to arrange to attend a twelve-step, and now there is nothing left to tempt me.

As great as the meal was though, the real highlight is always the conviviality. Such fellowship, set against a backdrop of brilliant eating and drinking, always makes me wish we got together more often as a group. On the other hand, between the porchetta and the liters of porch crawler Pete had on ice when we arrived (30 cans of beer, 40 oz. of vodka, and pink lemonade concentrate), maybe it's safer that we don't.

Pete's latest culinary escapade has also had a lingering effect on my on kitchen ambitions. I lack both the skill and patience to attempt the extraordinary dishes he makes look so easy, but at least I rediscovered my willingness to experiment.

An excess of leftover communion bread from church got me looking for bread pudding recipes, and I found one that could cook all afternoon in the crock pot. Jeff had told me about the wonders of planking meat loaf, so I prepared to do that as well. Audrey prepared a spaghetti squash, one of seven she grew in her garden this year. Then I made Audrey and I an autumnally themed cocktail with pumpkin spiced whiskey, apple liqueur and ginger ale, which turned out to be delightful.

While the girls cleared the table, I made a whiskey cream sauce for the bread pudding, again using the pumpkin spiced whiskey to good effect.

With Glory's dance, and Fenya's demanding schedule for work and university, family meals are becoming a bit of a rarity, so it was nice to have the four of us around the table for a change. Much smaller in both scale and scope than Geekquinox, it shared much of the laughter and joy of that event, and even with the chill in the air and overcast skies, the warmth in the house was unmistakeable.

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