Charcuterie:an alternate way to spend time–and money– on the links

Breakfast sausage with Fresh Ginger and Sage

The aroma of freshly grated ginger, minced sage and garlic has my mouth watering for the sausage that John is preparing.  The man-cave, where John works his culinary magic while watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes, smells amazing.  This is serious aroma therapy.  This can waft through the house any time.  As for the apes, well, that is what a man-cave is for.  And they usually waft in after a few hours hunting from a deer stand.

“The organ donors are here!” With that pronouncement, a hunter hands me a plastic bag containing a fresh deer heart and liver.  Delighted with the gift, I immediately put it into the man-cave fridge.  The hunters used to toss out the heart and liver, but now that John is into charcuterie, the organ meat is a special treat.

John launched his interest in charcuterie with his (in)famous venison liverwurst.  Then he wowed us with his pepperoni-like jalapeno venison sausage.  Now he masters non-venison sausage.  Last week we had turkey-dried cherry sausage.  It was amazing for dinner with some roasted potatoes and sautéed brussel sprouts.

LEM sausage stuffer with the breakfast link attachment

With the success of the ginger-sage pork sausage, we are now hooked on these little breakfast links.  I’ll use them in the Thanksgiving Day stuffing.  They will be featured at the Christmas morning brunch menu.  What’s left from this batch will be gobbled up by Harper for breakfasts.

My husband can spend time on the links whenever he wants.  Sausage links, that is.  (He doesn’t play  golf–ever.) He’s gotten really quite good at making sausage and we really enjoy the quality and taste of his homemade charcuterie.  However, like anyone addicted to links, his hobby requires the necessary toys…  I mean, equipment.

Heavy duty Waring Pro meat grinder–no plastic parts on this baby.

First he needed a meat grinder.  A good one.  So he got one for Christmas.  Then he needed a smoker.   Well, those are a bit pricey, so he made his own with a few inexpensive items bought at Home Depot.  Yeah, it’s pretty red-necky but I think that’s part of the charm.  Plus, it works.  The meat grinder came with a sausage attachment, but it was annoying to use.  So…next came a sausage stuffer.  And then an attachment for doing the breakfast links.  Now he’s talking about converting a fridge into a humidifier to replicate cool Italian  caves for making  dry-cured sausages.  You see where this is going.  Oh, he’ll get his fridge, but I’m insisting that it be the old fridge and that I get a new one for the kitchen.

The right equipment helps produce good product.  That doesn’t rule out an occasional sub-par performance, from which John has learned some things:

1. There is such a thing as too much fat in sausage.

2.  Not everything tastes better smoked.  This was a hard lesson to learn.  Ten pounds of meat went into a smoked liverwurst that was so bad we didn’t even offer it to my sister’s dog.  To make the loss even worse, John stood over the smoker in the rain protecting it with an umbrella to finish it.  He not only couldn’t eat it, he got cold and wet in the process.


3.  A good cookbook is invaluable.  Recipes for Breakfast Sausage with Fresh Ginger and Sage, Turkey Sausage with Dried Tart Cherries, and Summer Sausage all  came from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn (W.W. Norton, 2005).  The book gives excellent instructions on the basics of sausage making and the recipes produce delicious sausages you just can’t buy, as well as sauces and relishes and such to go with them.

If you come over one day and find a new fridge in my kitchen, you’ll know John has gotten his “Italian cave.”  But it will  be a win-win-win situation–I’ll have a new fridge, John will have a new “toy” and there will be more sausage curing in the man-cave for us all to eat.

Sure beats golf.

On Labor Day and Hobbies

Work should not rule one’s life.

This is just the pile I keep at home. There’s a bigger pile at school.

I say that one week into the school year with a three day weekend to run errands, take a nap, exercise, and play around with beeswax.  But I mean it.  And I’ll mean it in October when my body is screaming at me and I’m stressed for time–although I may have to come back to this post to remind myself.

I’m not a serf.  My job is not my lord.  My husband is not a slave, although his work treats him like one.  That’s why we take the phone off the hook when we go to bed.  If we didn’t, a call center in the Philippines would wake us at 2 a.m. about a service call that could have waited til morning.  Really.  And that’s why I finally drew a line at work and said “I can do this much but no more.”  Really.

I’m being simplistic, I know.  There’s a good reason I’m not paid by the hour.  I’m paid to fulfill a responsibility, whatever time that may take me.  BUT…there have to be limits or work can be all consuming.  An imbalance of work can make us sick.  And then, when we do get sick, we often ignore our physical needs because we can’t take time from work.  Talk about a vicious cycle.

We need things to do besides employment.  A job is a job.  Fortunate people have jobs that are vocations, true callings.  But even if we really love what we are employed to do, we need avocations, diversions from work that bring us pleasure.

So, on this Labor Day, let’s hear a cheer for hobbies.  Hobbies, the anti-work.  Hobbies are what you do when you are not working.  Hobbies are what you do to not think about work.  And yet, hobbies are why you go to work…to earn money to pay for all your hobby supplies!  (Ok, ok, there are also those minor issues of housing, clothing, and food.)

I like having a hobby that yields concrete, visible, I-can-count-’em results.

Honeybees are our hobby.  (Don’t tell the bees, though, because they don’t stop working to have hobbies.)  Actually, the bees started out as John’s  hobby but I got sucked into it and the beekeeping has since spawned several sub-hobbies.  Bottling honey is the most obvious.  Making things with beeswax is a logical second.  Both of these activities will keep me going long after I would otherwise have crashed for the night.  But these have led me to another activity that could potentially get out of control–ordering online.

I love ordering containers and stuff to fill them–jars, tubes, bottles, labels, body butters, sea salts, fillable tea bags and, oooh…shrink wrap.  It makes me really happy when FedEx or UPS comes down the road with a box filled with push-up tubes for my beeswax body balm.  I know that doesn’t give a big  thrill to most people, but it’s like Christmas to me.  I don’t get that same excitement from the delivery of a book order at school.  And it wouldn’t be as exciting if I could zip down to Target to get them.  There’s something about it being an unusual thing to order that makes it so much fun.

Friends ask, “Where on earth do you buy lip balm tubes?”

“From a lip balm tube company,” I reply.  Duh.  I google “lip balm tubes” and, voilà, a plethora of choices awaits.  Then, after getting trapped in the internet time vortex and exploring everything from soap molds to organza gift bags, I place my order for lip balm tubes and shrink wrap.  And wait for the delivery.

I understand if you couldn’t be bothered with my hobby.  Chapstick and Burts Bees is available at every checkout counter in the country.  But after a long day teaching, I love slathering my bee balm on my feet.  I love buying the packaging to put it in.  I love looking at a box filled with my finished product and thinking, “This is what I did.”  And if I sell a few tubes of it, that’s fun, too.  That’s what hobbies are for.

It’s Labor Day, the traditional end of summer.  Don’t let the fall schedule take control.  Leave room for a hobby.