Monday, December 18, 2006

Porcine excess

So this is the article that started it all. I read it in the Washington Post over 2 years ago, and I was entranced by the idea of being able to roast a whole pig. Maybe it was because I knew Pam, the butcher at Brookville Market, and I thought she was an awesome professional--just like the kind of butchers I'd grown up with in Italy and in Japan who knew just about everything about meat, except she was a woman! Or maybe it's because my Japanese upbringing will out and although as a culture we're obsessed with food and plenty, most of us don't have the type of room to actually be able to roast a pig in its entirety--and that just really made it exotic for me (while those of you who grew up with pig roasts here in the US think nothing of it except that you have to get up at hte crack of dawn to do it.)

In any event it stayed with me for 30 months until Dennis's brother Dan asked me what could we do differently this Thanksgiving, and I blurted out, "cook a Cuban pig in a Chinese box." So Dan drove up a 60lb pig from Carrboro NC, and Jane was an amazingly good sport about it all in spite of being a vegetarian, and we set to work assembling the Chinese box, injecting the Mojo Criollo into the pig, and resisting the urge to open the box for 3 straight hours while the magic box did its pressure cooker imitation. (The metal lined box holds the pig and all the steam inside, while the heat is applied from the top of the box.) And sure enough, 4 hours later, we had a fuly roasted pig.

I don't know if other cooks feel this way, but I love the transformation that cooking involves. I also love the things that go into cooking--the rich smells, the textures, and the freshness of stuff--but I love the fact that in many ways cooking is like a perfect black box; inputs go in, outputs come out, and what happens in between is something that the cook needs to be able to visualize and imagine and predict. In my best cooking moments, I can feel and imagine the ingredients transforming under the heat or the pressure or the chemical reaction, and I know exactly when things have to be taken out of the oven or tastes have to be corrected. This wasn't quite there--we didn't fix the pig right in its little holder, and we forgot to add another batch of coals at 2hr 30min as the instructions did say, upon closer reading--but it was quite the tour de force anyway.

So two tips for other Caja China rookies:
  1. Coals need augmenting at 60mins, at 120 mins, and at 150 mins before you can open the oven at 180mins. We missed the 150 mins mark, and I noticed the external temperature of the coals had dropped by the time we opened the box at 180 mins. If we had remembered the 150 in fillip, I think the pig would have roasted in 3hr 30 mins as advertised. As it was we were done in 4hrs.
  2. The Caja China comes with 2 wire racks that you fix on the outside of the pig by way of 4 s-hooks, and the wire racks have little legs. In our haste we faced the legs into the pig instead of out, which made it harder to actually latch the s-hooks on, but more importantly, it meant the pig didn't sit above the metal floor of the box, so that parts of skin on the bottom got soggy rather than dried out, and didn't get perfectly crisp after it was turned to the heat source in the last 30 mins. Legs out.
Can't wait to try it again, though. Dan, I hope you're bottle feeding the next Thanksgiving piglet.

And in late breaking news (well, not so timely, but I just found it), here's the article that should cap this experience--the Piggy Confessional.

Why I blog

I hadn't quite realized it's been over 45 days since I last blogged about anything ... but it's time to get back. And if nothing else the hiatus has helped me figure out why I blog.

In no particular order:
  • I blog because it reminds me of a time when I was in junior high, and my best friend was in 6th grade. We didn't get to spend any time together at school even though our school was K-12, so the only time we got to spend with each other was on the long train rides back to each of our homes). So to make up for it we kept an "exchange diary," (trust Wikipedia to have a reference for an obscure Japanese custom common among high school girls), and writing my blog feels like keeping an exchange diary, except with all my friends
  • So fundamentally I think of my blog as a relatively public journal. And as such, I like to write about all sorts of different things that shape my view of life, rather than going narrow and deep about one particular thing, even if that thing is as important as GlobalGiving.
  • This is in contrast to other people like Elisa Camahort, whom I admire greatly, and currently maintains, at her count, 8 blogs. I had the privilege of meeting her in person last week, and asked her how she did it, and understood more clearly that Elisa's audience is segmented into different elements of who she is and what she does and is a maven about so she actually feels responsible to keep her blogs on topic, as it were. This is why I'm not a professional writer, much less a professional blogger, like she is. I'm in awe.
  • And because I'm an amateur, I do stupid things like set my blog comments to be moderated (because I had been warned about spammers), and not realize that the moderation requests are going to an email address I had set up solely for the purpose of setting up a Google account and which I do not check at all. So Tim, Elisa, Daniel, and Beth--public apologies for letting your comments lie fallow for so long. And here I was thinking nobody read my blog anyway ...
And one more thing. Because this blog is really about my life, but the part of my life that I am willing to show anyone in the world, it's not deeply personal in that it doesn't expose anything about anyone else that they would not make public themselves, or about anything I wouldn't mind some stranger coming up to me and talking to me about. Which means that sometimes things or events dominate my life that I don't really care to blog about, which relegates blogging to 10th or 12th place in my life. But then time passes and you have to blog again, just because it's fun to share your thoughts.

Motome, are you reading this?