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Another “it seemed like a good idea at the time” farm lesson

29 Aug

We’re going to do some Before and After pictures here so that when Spring comes around next year we can refer back to our “lesson” lest we forget.

BEFORE – BEFORE: Nothing fun here, just work, work, work. The door to the hoop house in the back? Yeah, there’s an example of measure once, cut – never mind.

Springtime 2013: Pre-weeding, Pre-raised bed preparation and Pre-planting.

Springtime 2013: Pre-weeding, Pre-raised bed preparation and Pre-planting.

BEFORE: Weeded, planted and off to a nice start! However, our folly this year (and every year) is over crowding the beds. We just get so excited for our summer fruits!!! And the plant starts and seeds are so small…

Can't you just taste those ripe tomatoes and squash already?  Can hardly wait!!!

Can’t you just taste those ripe tomatoes and squash already? Can hardly wait!!!

We even gussied up the front of the greenhouse area and painted the old door, so we could just hang out and relax. Cuz that’s what farmers who milk goats and work full-time do, they hang out and relax.

Almost like, a destination!

Almost like, a destination!

AFTER:

image

Since we are no longer pig farmers, this is not really what we would consider a wildly fortuitous, fabulously abundant crop. More of a pain in the neck, really. Although the smaller zuchettas taste great sliced thin and cooked as the pasta in a pork sausage lasagna with chèvre, goat mozzarella and marinara (marinara from last year, mind you as this years crop of tomatoes had a little – ahem, competition for sunlight).

Squash lasagna with pork sausage, chèvre,  goat mozzarella and marinara.

Squash lasagna with pork sausage, chèvre, goat mozzarella and marinara. Prior to cooking.

So what to do, what to do. The goats are NOT interested in eating this forage. did I mention there are no pigs around?

A  local artist's impression of the fact that there are no more pigs on the property.

A local artist’s impression of the fact that there are no more pigs on the property.

One of my good friends who I actually met through Craigslist (bartering goats for pigs, what else?) has pigs. He, and his pigs are the lucky beneficiaries of this forest of Zuchetta in addition to numerous buckets of whey from cheese making.

The other day, I was talking to the artist who rendered the pig picture above and she told me that when she grows up and purchases her own farm, she is going to raise pastured pigs. Wow. I guess dairy goats might be too much work for our budding farmer who is calculating having stout fencing in place, lots of silly greenery abundance and gallons of whey (read: free pig food) at her disposal from her parents that don’t do a very good job of remembering “lessons” on the farm. Momma didn’t raise no fool.

Sunflowers, planted by goats.  Who tossed their dinner bucket on the ground, which included black oil sunflower seeds.  Maybe they are more work than pigs.

Sunflowers, planted by goats. Goats who tossed their dinner bucket on the ground, which included black oil sunflower seeds. Maybe they ARE more work than pigs.

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Confitted Duck: Spring Rolls

15 Oct

I knew that at some point I would preserve duck breast (duck prosciutto) as a part of the Charcuterie Challenge. So to plan for the prosciutto, we purchased six ducklings last Spring, of whom we’ve become very fond. The kids picked them out at the farm supply store and since we read that the louder ones were female, the kids boxed up the most obnoxious quackers. This was challenging since the tornado siren was going off at the time in the area and locals were panicking (namely me). We have often wondered if this siren was a bad omen. Ducks are trouble, stinky and messy and better left to be raised by a mama duck than humans (in our humble opinion) problem is, we’re told Pekin ducks make terrible setters and not so great mothers.

After our experience acting in the role of a mama duck, we decided we would never do this again! MESSY! However, we ended up with five female ducks and one drake and in keeping with the Pekin breed, all five ducks are laying prolifically. Therefore, no ducks on our farm were processed for this challenge. But we have duck eggs!

For confitting, we sourced two whole locally raised ducks, already cleaned and plucked but with head and feet on. After cutting up the ducks for confit, we were left with parts for stock and breasts for something else (maybe prosciutto?).

To cure them, we used star anise, white pepper, black pepper, Celtic sea salt, dried orange peel, black Nigella seeds, oregano, thyme, lots of smashed garlic and a few red pepper flakes. For the fat, we added coconut oil to cover the meat anticipating Asian flavors and spices for our ultimate recipe.

What we found out about confit(ting) aka preserving was that it’s easy enough to do during a work week. We cured at night before bed, left the meat for 24 hours in the fridge and then cooked the duck in the oven over low heat that second night, overnight, while we slept. It cooled in the early morning and was set in the fridge again, already encased in fat by the time we left for work. Our understanding is that the longer our duck sits in the fridge, encased by said fat, the better it gets.

Today, we were ready to make something delicious with our duck. However first, we sought some inspiration at our favorite Vietnamese/Asian restaurant.

We ALL love Spring Rolls, who doesn’t? Wouldn’t they be even better with duck instead of shrimp and pork and how about some fresh farm greens?

After our extensive lunchtime “field research”, we still had a commitment. Mr. Pink Guitar was scheduled to lay down some drum tracks on an EP, a compilation of five songs that a friend was recording in Nashville, at Prime Cut Studio. We thought it would be fun to hang out for a behind the scenes look at how an “album” is recorded.

Then, it was home to the farm to feed animals and get dinner on the table. Dinner would be duck confit in spring rolls with a homemade peanut sauce.  We were planning on crispy “wontons” of duck skin, one version of cracklins, but ran out of time.

Most of the ingredients came from our Asian grocery store, we love our Asian grocery store. First of all, we can find all kinds of unusual things to cook with, and more importantly, the food is much more reasonably priced than our regular grocery store, a great way to cut down on the food bill.

Homemade peanut sauce: Adapted from this recipe:

1 Cup peanut butter (we used crunchy)
½ Cup coconut milk
3 Tbsp lime juice
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp Sriracha
2-3 Tbsp sugar (to taste)
1 Tbsp fresh ginger root, minced or grated
5 large cloves garlic, minced
Tbsp fresh cilantro, minced

Mix all ingredients together except cilantro, add cilantro to the sauce right before serving.

Our spring rolls are a little different in Middle TN. Bear with us here…we’re using home-grown greens.

Filling:

4 Confitted duck legs, deboned, meat chopped
1 bunch arugula
1/2 head Napa cabbage, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
3 medium carrots, grated
1 package vermicelli noodles (cooked and cooled)
1/2 cup chopped peanuts (optional)
1 Tbsp grated or minced fresh ginger root
2 limes, juiced
2 Tbsp soy sauce
White pepper to taste

1 package spring roll rice wrappers softened in hot water for about 20 seconds just prior to wrapping the filling.

Mix all of the above ingredients together except the spring roll wrappers. Put about a 1/3 cup of the filling in the center of the wrapper and roll up burrito style.

Dip in the peanut sauce and enjoy.

Yes, we thought about doing the white beans and greens with the confit.  Actually the beans are already cooked for tomorrows dinner, but it makes sense to mix it up with some unexpected flavors every now and again…

Three. Day. Pate.

15 Sep

When the charcuterie challenge was announced for September, I immediately went on-line to check out the fancy hinge-bottom pate pans. Then I saw the price, so I went to a local antique store in search of a hinged pan or something with similar dimensions that might be modified or engineered to work, in lieu of said expensive pan. You see, the trick of the pate en croute and the reason for the fancy pan, is that before baking, it must be flipped: allowing the seamless bottom of the pastry-encased pate to become the top (without tearing the dough) and exist as a perfect little package of browned smooth crust with spiced meaty goodness surrounding a little seasoned and seared tenderloin surprise.

The local antique store (mall) has multiple dealers and in one booth, I found this cute little bread-pan.

It was $8.00 and I was willing to pay that. When I went to purchase it, I was informed of the deal I’d gotten, it was a remarkable 75% off, so I owed two bucks. Well, heck yeah! I stopped the transaction and ran back to see what else I could find. Who doesn’t love a bargain? When the kids got home from school, I showed them my loot. Turns out, I’d been shopping at my son’s elementary school teachers’ booth. I informed Jack of this fact and what cool stuff his teacher had for sale. The next day at school, Jack told his teacher all about the deals I’d gotten (how his wacky mother cleaned out her booth). News travels fast when you’ve got an eight-year-old, huh?

I’d wanted to ask my hay guy to weld a hinge on it (he’s also a welder and blacksmith in addition to holding down a day-job AND cutting hay) but hay season is in full swing so I had to figure out other ways to MacGyver the pan.

After a few sleepless nights (yeah, kinda embarrassing, really) I was inspired by wax paper, which did the trick…well, for the most part. I’d like to get the “real” pan at some point in the future. Wax paper works for the flip, but gets stuck on the bottom so it has to be tediously peeled off the crust prior to serving.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here, because what I REALLY wanted, was to share the charcuterie experience with some friends who were visiting from California and had been following the challenge through my monthly posts. I cannot think of a better way to make a tough recipe (that is quite INVOLVED), than to delegate tasks to willing, kitchen-savvy friends. Truth is, when you come to visit Pinkguitarfarm, we’ll put you to work; either in the kitchen or on the farm and if there was ever a recipe you’d want to delegate, this is IT.

I have the best friends in the world, however, making this pate with them just didn’t work out like I’d hoped. We made other things that involved fewer steps and could be eaten right away. Frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The food we ate over the long weekend visit included a spicy Thai pork/sweet potato/coconut milk dish over brown rice, pulled pork in a Louisiana style sauce with homemade stone-ground corn biscuits and a Napa cabbage slaw, then, the last day, some soulful greens with macaroni and cheese and a skinless fried chicken. It was a three-day eating festival of goodness and friendship, recipes to follow soon. All meat from Pinkguitarfarm! Did I say that we love having visitors? Especially when they cook every meal AND play with the livestock!

After the long weekend, our friends traveled north to Louisville before heading back to Cali, and I assessed the pate situation. I re-read the recipe for the nth time and decided to develop a flow chart (too ambitious – not enough time!) opting instead for a detailed list, to help prioritize the tasks required in pulling this dish together.

1. List, and procure ingredients
2. Thaw meat. Prep and keep in semi-frozen state
3. Freeze blades and grinding tools.
4. Sear tenderloin(s)- mine came from a smaller pig so I used both.

5. Make pastry dough

6. Make garlic/shallot mixture
7. Make pate spice

8. Make panada
9. Grind meat
10. Prep garnish, if any

11. Prep pate pan if you don’t have the hinged type
12. Roll out dough
13. Assemble ingredients into pan

14. Make egg wash
15. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees
16. Flip assembled, encased pate with COURAGE!
17. Administer egg wash
18. Pinch yourself, you are almost there!
19. Calibrate meat thermometer
20. Bake pate, the first of two times

21. Allow pate to rest, turn oven down to 325 degrees
22. Bake the second of two times
23. Check internal temperature
24. Allow pate to cool to room temp.
25. Aspic? No aspic for ME.
26. Refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.
27. Plate (if you’ve been disciplined enough to wait, it smells like a dream while cooking!)

I believe all of this prep, etc., took MORE than 3 days, but all told, give yourself at least that much time – unless you are a pro, that is.

I asked my daughter Sophie what she would like to eat with the pate. This was while it was cooling out of the oven after the first baking (of two). The kids could hardly hold themselves back from the smell of rich, cooked pork and browned pastry mingling with aromas of cloves, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon. It was just too much to look at the pate in the pan cooling, it was way too tempting, even for me! And what a let-down to be informed that, for dinner, they would be eating boring old pasta with tomato sauce. They protested that the smell should match the dinner and they are correct. My bad.

With the pate BACK in the oven for its second baking, I suggested a lentil salad and Sophie stated that she wanted it WARM. Okay then. Warm lentil salad would accompany the cold meat pate and the pate would also be externally garnished with minted peaches to compliment the internal garnish of “pit-smoked pecans” from the Loveless Café (a gift from our friend Cam). Thank you, Cam!

Here is the recipe for the warm lentil salad we prepared:

Warm Lentil, Goat Cheese and Tomato Salad

2 Cups lentils, cooked
1 red onion chopped
3 ripe home-grown tomatoes, chopped (we used a red and two yellow Roma tomatoes)
1 bunch parsley, chopped
4 oz goat cheese

Mix the first four ingredients together in a saute pan with the vinaigrette (see recipe below) and cook over low heat until just heated through. Dot the lentils with goat cheese and stir until goat cheese melts into lentils. Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately.

Vinaigrette:

Combine all of the vinaigrette ingredients in a mason jar and shake it up.
¾ Cup olive oil
¼ Cup apple cider vinegar
¼ Cup honey
¼ Cup stone-ground mustard
Fresh thyme leaves, salt and pepper to taste

Minted Peaches were made using a recipe from the “Putting Up” book by Stephen Palmer Dowdney. We made them earlier this summer from a bulk order of peaches purchased through a local food coop; and the mint came from our garden.

Pink Guitar Farm Minted Peach Preserves

When I think of a pate like this I wonder if it was something originally created in a rural farm kitchen with extra ingredients and leftovers or did a talented chef conjure it up in a famous restaurant? The more I cook food from the farm, the more some of these French and Italian recipes make sense to me. In other words, unless I raised pork I wouldn’t have the tenderloin, shoulder and back-fat on-hand just sitting in my freezer waiting for the alchemy of such a recipe. Also, I doubt I could afford to purchase these items (or if I could find them humanely-raised) and would be reluctant to put tenderloin in a meatloaf covered in dough. I would simply cook it to stand alone as tenderloin by ITSELF. One of the things I realize about European cooking is that recipes with mixtures of meat types and varieties are commonplace and must have originated from having access to many parts of the animal, different kinds of animals, and creatively using them…up. Bon Appetit, indeed!

pork pate en croute with a warm lentil tomato goat-cheese salad

Meanwhile, I’m off to visit the antique store again to see what other treasures I can find to make and serve my farm food with!

Charcuterie Challenge July: Emulsified Sausage – Black or White?

15 Jul

“Stop singing!” I said to my son, exasperated, calling from the office over the raucous (false) tenor bouncing and echoing off of the pine ceiling obliterating all semblance of creativity or rational thought, for those of us forced to listen to Jack, anyway. Was he an opera singer in a past life? I’ve never met anyone with such a call to wail indecipherable words out with such abdominal abandon. He also sings to annoy his sister, which was the case today so I felt somewhat justified in cutting off the “music” even with the nagging irony that we ENCOURAGE singing most of the time. Parenting…always a new challenge – and the issues are never black or white.

Which brings me to the Charcuterie challenge, black or white? Though I did not follow the apprentice or charcuterie challenges, I was compelled to ask blanc or noir regarding boudin. After some quiet time away from the “opera”, I decided I really wanted to try both of the boudins. The choice though for today was obvious, blanc, as in Boudin Blanc. Why? Because I have eggs, lots of free range eggs, even with a hungry fox out there chasing hens this morning right past the LGD’s. The fox, skinny and desperate was not afraid of the LGD’s or me, until I turned the Dane out. Funny that Lucy, the Dane scared the fox away just by her presence but didn’t see the fox, as she was otherwise too busy chasing doves, again,…sigh. At least she leaves the chickens alone.

Boudin Blanc would also work since I had pork shoulder from the farm, chicken breast from the farm, and spices and milk (local) on hand for this intriguing recipe. Though I also have that elusive ingredient for the Boudin Noir as in “Boudin Noir with Apples and Onions” the ingredient that makes the sausage distinctively noir “on hand” on the farm… no one around here is up to procuring said ingredient right now. Nuff said.

We got home mid-day after some local shopping, ready to start up our fabulous sausages. But before we eat, our farm eats. So as we walked the farm, doing the regular afternoon water and welfare checks prior to feeding, we heard a strange noise from the woods where some of the pigs are kept. A baby piglet noise… As Sophie and I got closer, we noticed that there was a strange looking but very small, very dark animal in the pen with Wally, Roselle, Willow and Dixie. Hmmm. It squealed again, jet-black and wobbly, raising a ruckus with Dixie (the alpha) who was investigating, this little newborn piglet caused Dixie to promptly direct the other pigs away, leaving Willow, the momma, alone to labor on.

Goodness, more piglets! These were a surprise… 6 born today, 4 boys 2 girls. The little black piglet is a girl. She was obviously the first-born and most sassy! I sense trouble with this one… she’s already been investigating OUTSIDE the enclosure only hours old, she’s got attitude.

With an unexpected piglet delivery crowding out our evening (we wanted to be there, just in case) we started sausages late but we were ready this time, we had organized and prepped, and all of our machine parts were pre-assembled with our grinder, and our food processor (which gets used daily) was sparkling clean and ready for action.

Here is how my little Pavarotti and I made Boudin Blanc:

We ground the 1 inch cubes of pork and chicken breast through the meat grinder, then added the ground meat, salt, pepper and Quatre Epices into the food processor. We added the remaining ingredients per the instructions in the Ruhlman Charcuterie book. After a quenelle check, we added a wee bit more salt, stuffed the meat into the casings and poached the sausages. They were ready to partake in this evenings entrée.

Boudin Blanc with a Beet, Amaranth, Cucumber Chopped Salad and Yellow Squash with Red Onion, Basil and Garlic.

It’s summertime so we’re trying to balance out this rich sausage with a light, beautiful purple salad and fresh yellow squash sauteed with onions, basil and garlic.

Beet, Amaranth and Cucumber Salad:

1 Cup Purple/Red Amaranth leaves roughly chopped (use only the smallest leaves)
1 large bunch or 8 small peeled finely chopped beets and beet greens (process with metal blade)
2 medium sized pickling cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 bunch flat leaf parsley chopped.
½ Cup Walnuts chopped

Dressing:
1 heaping tablespoon of good quality stone ground mustard
2 teaspoons honey
1 tablespoon olive oil
Splash of apple cider vinegar
Fresh Thyme, leaves only, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a bowl. Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a small bowl or shake up in a mason jar. Add dressing to the salad and serve (this salad can be made a few hours ahead of time, the flavors will develop).

Yellow Squash with Red Onion, Basil and Garlic.

4-5 meduim yellow straight neck squash sliced
½ Red Onion Sliced
1/3 Cup packed Basil sliced into very thin ribbons
3 cloves of garlic minced.

Sautee red onions with yellow squash until al dente, about 3-4 minutes. Finish the dish by stirring the basil and garlic into the hot squash. Serve immediately.

Brown Boudin Blanc sausages until re-heated (they have already been poached to an internal temp of 160).

This meal was delicious.  All of the produce  ingredients in the salad and squash were picked the same day and were bright and sweet tasting, a perfect compliment to the nutmeg and cinnamon in the sausages.  If I were to serve this in the winter, I would serve the sausage with mashed sweet potatoes and a simple radish salad.  This recipe is a keeper, the kids loved it!

I have fond memories of “Blood Pudding” (similar to Boudin Noir) a cow or pig blood pancake that I used to enjoy a long time ago served up as an entrée during elementary school lunch – in Stockholm Sweden, while my family lived there on sabbatical.

When evaluating recipes for the challenge, I was tempted to go for it with the Boudin Noir, it has been on my mind because of my childhood experience. My courage was bolstered after a chance meeting with a woman from Sweden, named Maria during a gig downtown when my husband played with Todd Bolton a few Sundays ago. We started talking after the show and the discussion quite quickly turned to Blood Pudding. I had been interested in researching the dish and thought she might have some insight regarding the name, etc. She was very helpful. Perhaps if I see her again downtown I can enlist her help in making some, they have just moved here from Austin and her husband is a singer…

Nothing around here is always either black or white. Parenting, cooking, animals – except maybe today when it comes to sausage and newborn piglets… Thank goodness for shades of gray!  And the Boudin Blanc was fantastic…I mean really, look at the ingredients, how could it not be?

Garlic scape cilantro pesto

12 Jun

Pesto is the word around here this summer, or pistou or pestare whichever you prefer. We’re going to grind up a lot of good stuff to make delicious sauces with bright, healthy flavor. Most of these sauces will be flavored with garlic.

There are many varieties of garlic out there, all of which seem to be very easy to grow. I love that it gets planted in October when many of the other garden chores have subsided. Garlic likes the cool fall to set down roots and when spring arrives, your first crop is already in for an early summer harvest.

I’ve got all kinds of ideas beyond the traditional basil/garlic/pine-nutty varieties of pesto. The key is flavor. It’s vibrant and summery and can be tailored to any cuisine.

This year, I will save some pesto for the winter months by freezing it. I plan to experiment with freezing pesto in ice-cube trays to thaw for dressings; in wide mouth mason jars for soups and stews or as a pizza/focaccia sauce and also large batches in freezer bags for pasta sauce or a quick hot or cold potato salad.

My first pesto of the season utilizes garlic scapes, which come from the hardneck variety of garlic as flowering stems that shoot up in the spring. For the bulbs to keep the energy and mature into garlic cloves instead of making seeds, the scapes must be broken off before they flower. For us, this happened right at the end of May and early June this year. Almost overnight we noticed curling stalks in comical ringlets winding around as if confused, looking for the sunshine. We intervened and found quite a bounty!

Note: break off or cut the scapes and wait to harvest the hardneck varieties until the bulbs are ready, up to several weeks.  In the picture above Jack has harvested some softneck (the type you find braided) garlic.  The kids enjoy harvesting both scapes and garlic.

I knew garlic scapes had good culinary use and flavor but had no idea how delicious they could be as a substitute for garlic cloves in pesto. I will grow hardneck garlic next year for the scapes alone! This year, we planted Rosso di Sulmona from GrowItalian.com.

The Viola Francese has always been my favorite because I like large purplish cloves and the flavor is wonderful but when I planted the Rosso seed garlic, I could tell this would be a keeper. The cloves were smaller and firmer with a nice reddish color, I also liked the pungency and the more assertive garlic flavor. I think it might hold up a little better in marinara or other sauces that cook a long time.

With all of those scapes, I decided to make pesto. My recipe is adapted from this article.

It is still somewhat early in the season so the basil isn’t yet bushy, but with the heat, the cilantro is starting to fade so I opted to use cilantro; you can use parsley or basil or a combination of several different types of herbs depending on your ultimate flavor goal.  You can make pesto with multiple herbs including dill, oregano, sage, fennel, marjoram, thyme, mint, etc., you get the picture. There are no hard and fast rules, be creative!

Garlic scape and cilantro pesto

2 cups Garlic scapes flowers removed and chopped into small pieces.
1 cup walnuts
1 bunch cilantro
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup grated Pecorino cheese
Squeeze of lime
Pinch salt, pepper and cayenne to taste.

3/4+ cup olive oil

Put all ingredients in food processor fitted with the metal blade and add olive oil slowly as you process it.  Stop adding oil when the pesto is the consistency you desire.

This recipe makes a very garlicky pesto and with the cilantro it has a clean, fresh flavor. It can be used to season hummus, sour cream or plain yogurt for dips or dressings. I wanted a pesto with a strong enough flavor to hold up to ground up chicken for a chicken pesto stuffed sausage aka my June submission for the Charcuterie Challenge…

On farm, all farm breakfast…

15 May

This morning we rushed to finish chores and make breakfast in order to get downtown for a Mr. Pink Guitar gig on Broadway with Todd Bolton. We’d originally planned an obligation free Sunday for our breakfast sausage-making for the Charcuterie Challenge/Charcutepalooza the apprentice challenge this month (due today – nothing like waiting until the last minute…). However, Mr. Pink Guitar got a call late last night to fill in for the Sunday show, as the other drummer had canceled. So suddenly our Sunday was wiped out. Ruh, roh.

Waking early, we opted to divide and conquer. Mr. Pink Guitar and Jack finished the morning feeding chores while Sophie and I harvested tatsoi and collected eggs.

Oh, and herbs,

Tatsoi on the right, Napa cabbage on the left, onion “companions” interspersed:

We’d hoped to harvest our February planted fingerling potatoes…but alas they were not ready. So, no starch today for breakfast. With feedings done, we cubed our pork, chopped herbs and sprinkled seasonings;

ground our sausage;

Cooked the patties; wilted the chopped greens in sausage drippings (yes, the tatsoi has a few bug nibbles, we don’t spray insecticides).

fried up some farm fresh eggs;

And ate the most delicious, satisfying and nourishing breakfast ever. No kidding.

All of the ingredients came from our farm except the balsamic vinegar, butter (local) salt and pepper. That, my friends , feels like quite the accomplishment. Mr. Pink Guitar wants me to do a post on how hard the work is on a farm, how it is every day work that is a labor of love and costs a fortune. He’s correct but that stuff is boring.

So as I sit downtown at Layla’s Bluegrass Inn on Broadway, writing this post, worlds away from the farm, my gratitude for the animals, vegetables, hard work and time it took to bring this incredible food to the table is a bit overwhelming. The brick walls of the venue, the worn plywood floors, the tiny front window stage and music reverberating around my head and through my core inspires me; but the farm food sustains me.

My friend Farmer Joe always shares words of wisdom whenever he delivers hay to the barn or when I see him at the elementary school where both our kids attend. He tells me stories about hog killin’, making lard, the design of their scalder (it was set in a hill) how it was an event for multiple families and brought the community together. He says… “we ate really good for being such poor people”. Joe is one of the smartest farmers around, we’re lucky he shares his stories, insight and wisdom with us.

And he’s right, the food is so undeniably delicious, it doesn’t seem fair. If you want access to the freshest ingredients, meet your farmer, lend a hand, help out, the rewards are immeasurable.

Sausage recipe: (Adapted from Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s breakfast sausage recipe)

1 Pound Chopped pork (we used what would be pork chops along the back bone from a primal cut) so there was already a lot of fat on the meat
1/4 Pound Pork fat (see primal cut reference)
1 small bunch sage
1 small bunch oregano
1 small bunch parsley
1 small bunch thyme (no stems)
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 Generous shake of kosher salt (be liberal if you like salt)
Many grinds from the pepper grinder (you decide)

Mix all ingredients together and grind into sausage. We used a manual meat grinder.

Form patties and fry in lard until browned, flip and repeat. Wilt the greens in the sausage drippings, remove and then fry about 6-8 farm fresh eggs in a little butter.

Enjoy!

Pastrami or Corned Beef? Either way, it’s delicious!

28 Apr

We’d purchased a half cow and as I unloaded the packets of meat into our freezer from my giant ice chest (beer cooler is the proper nomenclature hereabout) I came across the brisket.  While providing cutting instructions to the butcher, I mentioned that I was especially interested in a nice center cut brisket because I wanted to make pastrami.  She thought that was interesting and I ended up with a nice, fatty, well-marbled hunk of beef, perfect for pastrami.

I’d already brined, simmered and roasted corned beef and was so impressed with the results that I had to try pastrami and learn more about these two methods of preserving the same cut of meat.  What’s the difference?

Well, using recipes from the Charcuterie book the brines are a bit different, the pastrami brine contains more ingredients, it sits in brine for less time and is hot-smoked (best if done for a long time slowly getting up to temp) versus simmered on the stove as is the corned beef.  Along with the hot smoke, the pastrami is covered in a coriander/pepper crust and prior to eating, it should be slow roasted in the oven at low heat over a water bath to reheat and re-hydrate it.

Heck yeah, we made Reuben’s!

Recipe for Reuben Sandwiches:

Rye bread
Sauerkraut
Russian Dressing (see recipe below)
Thinly sliced pastrami
Swiss cheese

We slathered the sliced bread on one side with butter placing it face down on a preheated pan.  Stack the cheese, pastrami, sauerkraut as thickly as you’d like and put a nice dollop of dressing on top.  I added another slice of Swiss cheese to melt into everything and hold it all together.  Top with another slice of bread, buttered on the outside.  Grill sandwiches to a light brown (mine were too dark but still very edible).

A neighbor of mine has perfected homemade caraway rye bread and also ferments cabbage to make his own sauerkraut.  I might be able to talk him into making some Swiss cheese too.  I hope to visit him and write a post about all of the wonderful food he creates…  This guy is an expert Breadmaker and Cheesemonger.  Maybe if I make some more Pastrami he’d be willing to trade for some bread and cheese… This is the beauty of eating locally and getting to know all of your neighbors!

Russian Dressing adapted from this recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/the-best-of/zingermans-reuben-sandwich-recipe/index.html

1 Cup Mayo
¼ Cup Crystal Louisiana Pure Hot Sauce
2 Tablespoons Sour Cream
½ small red onion minced
2 Tablespoons sweet relish
¼ Cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 Tablespoon prepared horseradish
A couple of shakes of Worcestershire sauce
A squeeze of lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

The ability to source quality meats (humanely raised) allows the freedom to make all kinds of amazing preserved food that prior to joining the Charcuterie Challenge I may never have tried.  The rewards are hugely empowering and the flavor is hands-down amazing.

Once you try the recipe, it’s easy to play with the spices and flavors to your own taste.  I never thought I could make pastrami or bacon and now that I have the know-how it has opened up all kinds of possibilities in my kitchen – no longer am I dependent on the deli…  And as they say, if you start with the best ingredients you will end up with the best food.  To that end, learning to make my own pickling spice is next, I have a feeling I’ll be using a lot of it this summer.

Bootleg Bacon, so good, it might be illegal.

15 Feb

Since joining the Charcuterie Challenge our farmhouse has been all a-buzz about meat and preserving. We missed the duck prosciutto challenge but will make that up later, however, when the apprentice challenge was announced with a salt-cured BACON we were ecstatic, the kids got all silly and wiggly with the idea of it, after all, bacon IS a food group!

Our family got right to task with our bacon recipes. The kids lobbied for bacon dipped in dark chocolate, I figured lardons with baby chicories/endives and housemade farm cheese with a nice vinaigrette, Mr. Pink Guitar wanted to showcase his famous bacon-wrapped sweet peppers stuffed with bleu cheese.

We are newbie hog farmers, so we have pork! Or so we thought, we were ready, the hog was ready, finished on sweet potatoes (rooted right out of the field), the appointment had been made with the processor (no easy feat during deer season). Then the snow came, the truck got stuck and we missed our window. No worries, we would just go buy some local belly from someone else around here…and this is where we hit a little snag.

Local butcher shops have closed down. Most of the local processors butcher deer and the occasional farm animal, not for resale. Availability of specialty cuts of meat appear to be a thing of the past. Even with our own meat, I’m challenged to find a processor that will scald the hog, i.e. keep the skin on and get rid of the hair. Most processors around here only skin the hog, which is non-traditional and wastes a lot of wonderful fat and also means you can’t smoke your hams (hams must be smoked with skin on, or so I’m told).

What has happened, here in the South where people love BBQ and pork? Cheap meat, that’s what. Some of the best Southern food comes from living frugally. These days that frugality has been won over by the supermarket mentality and cheap prices due to volume discounts. It seems unlikely that price competition will ever be a component of specialty shops, so what about awareness of humanely raised meats and subsequent health benefits? Not likely on a mass scale, but locals I talk to are aware or coming around with regard to the lack of quality meat at the store and have concerns about what actually goes into the meat.

What a conundrum and depressing outlook for a new hog farmer! I did finally find humanely raised pork belly from a local farmer (a story in itself) so as you might imagine, I was quite relieved to have my pork belly, as I also began rethinking my farm business plan.

When we moved to the South I figured meat preservation was a given, that every town had a Benton’s, that I would be immersed in a culture of unique and imaginative tasty uses of the whole hog. Well, Benton’s is quite busy these days, but their clients are definitely not all local. The Internet and a few famous chefs just might have saved Benton’s, and if that’s what it takes, so be it! I hope more specialty shops follow their lead in this niche.

We were lucky to find our huge pork belly. We sat looking at it in awe wondering how big that pig must have been to make such an exquisitely ginormous cut of meat. No doubt, worthy of a Lady Gaga dress.

When we got our belly, we kept checking the picture in the Charcuterie book identifying the different parts of the pig to comprehend where all the goodness originates (page 34). It’s really astounding to think about the range of flavors that can be coaxed out of the pig. We are even more enamored with our Pink Guitar Porcine’s now that we sit on the cusp of comprehending their vast culinary potential.

No wonder the pig is such a huge part of history, life and culture in the South. The three words that come to mind regarding the settling of a varied unforgiving terrain, a hard farming life and long barren winters could be distilled down to: corn, whiskey and pork. Not necessarily in that order. Not only is the hog part of our biodynamic, holistic farming program as in tilling and amending our soil but the gifts provided afterward are nothing short of amazing. That is what our bacon was: AMAZING. Here is how we did it:

We opted for the salt/brown sugar cure with as many spices as we could find. The aroma of the juniper berries alone was enough to make me reach for the martini glasses.

Note to self, when preserving, one can never have too much salt, brown sugar or spices on hand. We did not try the pink salt this time. We avoid chemicals as much as possible, however, after researching pink salt and understanding that nitrites occur naturally in things like celery, we will keep pink salt #1 and #2 in the pantry to be used according to the minimums required by a recipe.

Isn’t it lovely? Like a layer cake except one with so many delicious future possibilities…

Oddly, I’m finding unexpected similarities between homemade bacon and moonshine here in Middle Tennessee. Of course there are books about how to make moonshine, just like there are books about making Charcuterie. Not to say that there are similarities between these two books, we’re talking completely different leagues here, but, both books are about a craft that is being forgotten, or rather, disappearing from our kitchens/backwoods, one legal, one not, crafts that are somewhat esoteric – definitely not mainstream. Both of these crafts were common practice not too long ago – when BOTH were legal.

When I went out and talked to locals about my Charcuterie Bacon Challenge I encountered skepticism, concerns about difficulty and danger – regarding curing bacon… but not about making moonshine.  Say what? How about being empowered to make superior food at home with incredible texture and flavor that is downright delicious?

Ironically, the conversations I had about bacon always seemed to turn to, what else? Moonshine. All of the locals I talked to have a greater knowledge and willingness to make moonshine than bacon (okay, I get it, I think, a cost savings? A romanticized rebel factor?  Use of real fire vs. smoke?  Whatever it is, it doesn’t translate to bacon, or does it?). Meat prices are going up. Commodity prices are rising, and that affects everything. I had a discussion with another farmer who stated that he doesn’t believe locals will be able to afford meat or meat products to the extent they are used to, in the not so distant future. I concur, the last time I checked, cheap, generic bacon was $6.00/pound. We both speculated as to whether that would help or hurt the local farmer who raises his/her own grains and inputs. The consensus was that if meat got too expensive and the regulations on smaller, local farmers became too onerous, meat could go underground, just like moonshine did, and where raw milk may be headed…

So what, exactly, are the similarities in comparing the crafts of curing bacon and making moonshine – in addition to both being methods of food preservation?   They require similar inputs: corn goes into the pork and is used in the production of moonshine.  Sugar may be used in the curing of bacon or in assisting with the fermentation of the mash/beer for moonshine, advance planning is required, timing is important and attention to detail is critical for safety. The end product can be wonderful if done correctly, or dangerous, if done without care. Both of these crafts are rarely attempted at home (as far as I know) and yes, one of them is illegal. And no, I don’t intend to ever break the law.

Lost art or not, dangerous or not, I found my home cured and smoked bacon to be so incredible that I don’t see myself purchasing that squidgy, cloying stuff pumped full of whatever, passed off as bacon at the grocery store EVER again. I’m a bacon snob now and it’s not about expense (well, within reason) or pretending to be a foodie or considering myself special because I found some long-lost artisan skill. I’m a bacon snob now because it’s a no-brainer, especially if you buy a whole or a half hog, it’s just BETTER.

Applewood smoked

The smoked result smelled fantastic. I looked at it, cut off the rind, examined it closely and smelled it again. It begged for greens. I don’t know why and wasn’t planning on preparing greens. I have a deep respect for Southern Greens. As you may know, Southern Greens are traditionally prepared with stock or water, a ham hock or bacon drippings, greens and some type hot pepper sauce or pepper spice. I have the utmost respect for a dish that was inspired by destitution and scarcity, but this bacon compelled me to make my own version (perversion) of greens, so I hope this is not seen as a gross misinterpretation of a traditional recipe, rather, a way to eat tender collard greens with a potlikker so good, you might want to drink it.

Bloody Mary Bacon Greens

2 Bunches of collard greens, (I used collard – they stand up well to the heat, you can use kale, mustard or cabbage greens but these will change the flavor. If you use spinach, Swiss chard or beet greens make sure to add them chopped just a few minutes before serving).

Chop a 3 pound slab (or so) of home cured, applewood smoked, bacon that has been rendered at low heat in the oven at 200 degrees for a few hours.

2 tablespoons mustard seeds
¼ cup mustard (regular or spicy)
1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
As many cloves of garlic you can stand, smashed, chopped.
2 medium yellow onions, chopped.
As much of your favorite hot sauce as you like
A splash of Worcestershire

Sea salt to taste
Seasoning salt to taste
Cracked black pepper to taste
½ a bottle or more of your favorite Bloody Mary mix.

10 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, about 5 pounds, chopped and boiled until tender, smashed with butter, a little milk, salt and pepper (and, if you like, chopped garlic or nutmeg). You want these mashed potatoes firm.  These are prepared separately as a way to mop up that awesome potlikker.

Saute the onions until tender (in bacon drippings if you wish) add the bacon and the greens and fill the pot half way with water.  Cook down on medium heat for about 10 minutes.   Add seasonings, spices and Bloody Mary mix and cook for about 20 to 30 additional minutes, until the greens are tender.

The smoked bacon should dictate the salt and seasoning, remember, it may be different every time you make it due to the nature of the size of meat that you cure and the way it is cured.

This pot of greens was soulful, harmonious, delicious, decadent, and sumptuous, and the little bits of fat were square silky pearls – like finding treasure! No, I did not feel guilty.

The idea behind using local humanely raised meat is to use more parts, sparingly. Any left over potlikker? Add it to a cooked pot of black-eyed peas or navy beans! This dish was stretched over several meals and we enjoyed every bit of it.

Not only has the Charcuterie Challenge encouraged me to step up my blogging and get outside my comfort zone in the social networking scene to “meet” and discover a wonderful community of like-minded meat lovers, it has also gotten me off the farm and “out there” to get to know and interview my own community here in TN. After talking to one local – a fixture at Pucketts in Leipers Fork last weekend, he offered to teach me how to make moonshine. I was talking to him about bacon, and looking for a Zen Master Charcuterie mentor…But, of course the conversation turned to moonshine. So, this local, someone I’ve talked to several times, stipulated that if I research how to make “shine” legally and get all of my paperwork in order, he would teach me. I hope this is not my equivalent of “when the student is ready the teacher appears”. I’m waaaaay more interested in Charcuterie! He thinks I should start my own Micro-Distillery (now how do you think the market is out there for Pink [Guitar] Label Whiskey?). Maybe I can negotiate a trade, I learn to make moonshine legally and in exchange, teach him to make his own bacon.

The way I understand it, moonshine is just like cured bacon, whiskey is similar to cured and then smoked bacon – they are the same thing, one is just aged in smoky barrels which gives it more color, depth and flavor.

Oven roasted

So, in the spirit of supporting my local peeps, here is a little bacon dessert (with a touch of moonshine)

I ended up with 4 slabs of bacon out of that big belly. Two of them were cured and smoked, two of them were cured and roasted at a low temp. I liked the smell of the baked bacon because the spice was noticeable, yet subtle – better for dessert!

Roll sliced bacon and place on skewers.  Bake until brown and crispy.  Top it off with a moonshine cherry and then spoon some homemade or processed caramel over the top.  What is a moonshine cherry, you ask?

Moonshine cherries

The above cherries were purchased in a Tennessee liquor store and are made in Gatlinburg, TN.

Citrus, hazelnuts, truffles.

21 Jan

Until I have my own orangery (chances, slim to none) I’ll have to buy Florida citrus or hope my friends and former neighbors in zone 9 out west continue to take pity on my decided lack of bright yellow and orange food hues during the winter season here in Tennessee, where I am trying to eat local.

A few weeks ago I ordered 40 pounds of red navels and 40 pounds of ruby red grapefruit from a local food coop that has citrus shipped in from Florida in January. I suppose when you’re going to cheat on the eat local thing, make it count.

I’m a little late getting in on the whole canning/preserving lovefest. I tried this summer but had so much fresh produce to grow, harvest and sell (much of it to canners, no less) that I didn’t get a chance to put up much for myself.

Looking at canning recipes for citrus I found a gorgeous marmalade, Christmas Marmalade in the Putting Up book by Stephen Palmer Dowdney which I will try, but it calls for more sugar than I had on hand. I am trying to cut down on sugar and since I couldn’t help but want to preserve these gorgeous fruits and hold on to the vibrant colors – RIGHT NOW, I continued my search.

The description for Sliced Orange Pickles in The Joy of Pickling book, by Linda Ziedrich (pg. 243) goes like this: “chewy, sweet, tart and slightly bitter”. Assuming tart means sour, we’ve hit 3 of the 4 types of taste buds in one go. I like that for some reason, it seems thrifty, plus the recipe only called for 4 cups of sugar, so I went with it.

Since I’m new to canning, I didn’t trust my canning/sterilization methods with the first batch (confidence issue) and I thought the slices were too large to snack on (rationalization). The instructions called for slicing the segments rind and all, but they didn’t come out clean so I had a lot of pulp in my syrup.

I don’t care about the pulp, but wanted smaller slices and to ensure sterilization. Instead of putting that fist batch in the cupboard, I gave it to Wally, our Red Wattle boar. Pigs don’t typically like the rind of citrus but in this case, he ate it ALL.

Future truffle hunters. NOT!

Speaking of feeding pigs, although they eat grass from pasture or nuts, plants and roots from the woodlot, they still require additional food inputs, especially during the winter months. This can get expensive so the alternative is to generate the additional food for them on-farm in keeping with a more sustainable production model. The benefit happens to be tastier pork. I’ve researched nut trees to plant this year and have settled on hazelnuts. Obviously if I plant hazelnut trees, then they MUST be inoculated with tuber melanosporum, black truffle spores to make “black diamonds”. Can truffles be grown in TN? I guess the answer is yes, but it’s complicated.

Sorry, back to the oranges, this time I halved the oranges and sliced them, here is a picture of the finished product:

It looks a bit like marmalade. I see these petite spiced orange pickles as a smart garnish on all kinds of roasted or braised meat dishes. This recipe also makes wonderful syrup for vinaigrette’s and marinades. I even like the idea of putting a small slice in my tea for the aromatics of the cloves and cinnamon.

I highly recommend The Joy of Pickling, there are all kinds of unusual recipes and unique ingredients, like pickled nasturtium pods which, according to the book make better capers than capers. My nasturtium seeds have already been ordered; can’t wait to try that one.

Next, I turned my attention to the grapefruit, which was not disappearing as quickly as those beautiful red navels. I was thinking Moroccan Lemons but with grapefruit. Funny how my Joy of Pickling book doesn’t have any recipes for pickling/preserving grapefruits at all. There might be a reason for this, I shall find out.

I forged forward using the recipe for the Moroccan Lemons, again, in The Joy of Pickling book, by Linda Ziedrich (pg. 156). While I was preparing this very easy recipe, I thought about what goes with grapefruit. Crab, chicken, halibut, avocado, lemon thyme, parsley, cloves, cinnamon and why do I keep seeing a fresh red-orange papaya chopped up with the rinsed, preserved grapefruit, Italian parsley, red onion and fresh squeezed lime over Mahi Mahi? Must be hungry.

I put the salted grapefruits in the jars with the salted fresh squeezed juice. I left one of the jars plain and in the other jar, I added cinnamon sticks and peppercorns. I used 2 grapefruits per jar and 2 more for the juice. I topped both off with olive oil and marked the calendar for 3 weeks, at which time they will go from my counter-top to the fridge.

This is an experiment, if they taste awful I can always clean the bathtub with them. Or make bath salts. Preserving is fun, but still a little scary.

How about a nice easy limoncello, but with grapefruit, this seems fairly foolproof ahem, well, something proof. I did a quick search for pompelmocello and THAT’S certainly not an original idea! It would make a SAweeet salty dog though! When I make mine I’ll post it. It will officially be called a “Salty Hog”.

Next project: Pompelmocello!

Cousin Itt? Nah, just onion seedlings.

16 Jan

Farm seedlings for January: Onions

I went a little crazy with the onions this year. I’m told that onion seeds lose a large percentage of viability after the first year so I gathered up all of my old (and new seeds) and planted them. They all germinated! Now the challenge is to figure out where to put them all when spring planting time comes.

I believe that all great meals start with something from the allium genus. Good for companion planting with cabbages and in helping to deter rabbits, onions are a must in any garden.

Here’s a little preview of what we’re growing this year at Pinkguitarfarm.

Rear, left to right:
Scotland Leeks – an heirloom variety from Scotland this leek is described as “hardy, short-shanked, (with) excellent flavor and texture.” Seeds of Change. I bought this because it is a good variety to overwinter or keep in the greenhouse. I immediately envision a creamy potato leek soup when I see the picture on the package. However, this spring I’ll be indulging in some roasted baby leeks with an herb marinade and baby leeks with fennel braised in cream, hmmm, I wonder if they will all make it to winter.

Shimonita Negi – Japanese Bunching Onion Single Stalk Type. From the packet: “(365 days) King of the Negi, this single stalk Japanese bunching onion is worth the wait in seed to harvest time. It doesn’t get better than this for flavor which only gets sweeter with cooking! The short and fat white root makes the Shimonita Negi look more like a leek than a scallion. The chunky shape means this variety does not need deep soil mulching and a lot of extra work around harvest time. From the sowing to harvest (typically December)this is a one-year crop….The Shimonita Negi is popular throughout Japan, but particularly so in its place of origin, Shimonita Town, famous for its produce. Tourists are advised not to miss a particular Shimonita rest stop where the onions are sold during their season.” Kitazawa Seed Co. I’m a sucker for this kind of marketing, what can I say? Hope it’s worth an entire year of raised-bed real estate!

Mini Purplette Bunching Onion. From the packet: “The first purple red-skinned mini onion. Early maturing with delicate, mild flavor. Attractive either topped or bunched and can be harvested very young as baby bunching onions with purple pearl ends. Turns pastel pink when cooked or pickled”. Seeds of Change. Mmmm pickled!

Ed’s Red Shallot. From the packet: “Red skin with red interior. One bulb will produce up to 30 bulbs. Unique flavor is great for flavoring soups, salad dressings, vegetables and grain dishes”. Seeds of change. Cool! No more buying shallots at the grocery store…

Garlic chives. From the packet: “Heirloom, medicinal…Popular in 16th century European gardens for adding garlicky flavor to soups and salads. Hung inside homes to ward off malevolent spirits. Green seeds impart rich flavor to cooking oils. Leaves and flowers add spice. Also used in Chinese medicine to warm the kidneys and treat lower back and knee pain”. Seeds of Change. This one is indispensable for the garden, kitchen, household and body! Don’t you love the word “garlicky”?

Center, left to right:
Red Beard – Japanese Red Bunching Onion Splitting Type. From the packet: “This popular specialty red-stalked bunching onion has a mild pungent flavor and tender leaves…The red color is stimulated by cold temperatures. Mature plants can reach 26” tall. Used in stir-fries, salads and as a garnish. Red Beard makes an unusual and attractive addition to the garden”. Kitazawa Seed Co. Hmm. Wonder if it will be a big seller at the local farmers market, I may have to bring some recipes with this one. Can’t wait to see how it looks at maturity.

Texas Early Grano. From the web-site: “Texas heirloom, ‘The Mother of All Sweet Onions’ This Vidalia-type onion is a good choice for the Mid-Atlantic and the South. Best started in the fall or winter and transplanted in early spring. Large top-shaped bulbs, thin skin, soft white flesh, with sweet mild flavor. Good resistance to splitting. Short keeper”. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Sweet onions are my fave, French onion soup anyone?

Japanese Bunching Onion Splitting Type – Menegi. From the packet: “This delicate white green onion is a young shoot of the wakegi scallion. Specially cultivated to produce young shoots that are used as a sashimi and sushi garnish. Menegi are harvested very soon after planting when the scallion has grown to a height of only 3”-4”. Because they are harvested when they are young and thin, Menegi need heavy planting”. Got the garnish, need the sashimi! Oishii desu ne!

Front, left to right:
More Scotland Leeks, see description above.

Cipolla/Long of Florence. From web-site: “Long (4 inch) narrow red onion. Wider in middle than the ends. Mild sweet taste. Beautiful. Medium/long day type. Mid season harvest. Use in salads but stunning grilled or on skewers”. GrowItalian.com I LOVE, love, love ALL my Franchi seeds!

More Cipolla/Long of Florence, see directly above.

More Texas Early Grano, see above.

Bunching, Deep purple. From the web-site: “A new development in bunching onions. This reddish-purple variety develops and retains its color throughout its growth period and through high and low temperatures”. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. I like purple.

Here’s to a great year of onions! Onions are easy to start and grow. From quickie chives to large bulbs there are enough varieties to keep you in onions year round in your own garden, so people, please start your onions!

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