Learning to Pay Attention

For years, I went about my life pouring my focus and brain power into my job in software design. This wasn’t a bad thing, necessarily… in fact, looking back, I had true Camelot moments where everything clicked, everything felt right throughout my time in the software industry. Friends and coworkers would celebrate or commiserate together… my whole world revolved around the ups and downs at work. The rest of my life, well, it sat in the shadows awaiting the day that I’d come along and pick it back up.

It’s been over a year now since I left that world, and started paying attention again. Paying attention to small, but important details in my life. Time spent quietly by myself in the garden, time spent with friends talking about world problems instead of software glitches and work squabbles, time spent doing pilates with my daughter or going for a walk, time spent playing with food and photography.

Paying attention changes you. You notice things you might never have noticed, and you can no longer accept trade-offs that once were so easy to accept. Even before I started food blogging, before I read Omnivore’s Dilemma, I was making changes. And now, I am even more aware of each decision I make and don’t simply accept the easy or more luxurious option. We traded in our gas-guzzling SUV for a more efficient biodiesel-powered Jetta. I food shop at the local co-op and farmer’s market, and less at Whole Foods (which I still swoon over) and hardly ever at traditional industrial supermarkets. I walk and bike more, and drive less. I turn out lights. I open the windows and turn off the A/C. And, while I don’t do it right all the time, I make deliberate choices about my food, and think about where each bite came from and whether it was produced with ethics that I can live with?

All of which is a long way to explain what led me, along with Cam, ferrying out to Vashon Island to spend a beautiful (hot!) sunny day, riding our bikes along the little roads and big hills in search of farming done right. Specifically, we were headed to Sea Breeze Farm which practices true pastural farming of cows, chickens and pigs. If you want their meat, dairy, eggs or wine, you’ve got to make the trip out to Vashon… they don’t ship and they don’t offer their products in stores. But, you can get what’s fresh from the Saturday farmer’s market on Vashon Island, or from their self-service store.Sea Breeze is only about a quarter mile from the ferry terminal, but we wanted a bit of exercise and to see the island before we made our stop there. Plus, it was a bit after noon when we arrived, and we needed a quick stop for lunch. Heading into “downtown” Vashon, a strip that is home to a few dozen businesses and a stop sign, we decided on Zoomies for burgers made from local organic beef and strawberry lemonade. It was the first beef burger I’ve had in years, and it was delicious.


Bellies full, we continued our pedaling through the farmland to see what we would see, hoping to find a farm selling some produce. We soon learned that “signage” isn’t really popular on the island… and that unless you know what you are looking for, you are unlikely to simply stumble upon it.

We kept biking through rolling forested hills winding our way northward back toward the farm and the ferry terminal. A few turns on small roads lined with beautiful homes, and we were where we thought the farm should be. Again, however, there was no indication that a farm or farm stand was there. After about 10 minutes of wandering, we headed up a little dirt path by some happy looking cows, where we were greeted by a very friendly border collie and a little hut that was marked Sea Breeze Farms.

Inside the hut were a few bottles of wine, two big freezers filled with frozen pork stock, lard, and meats as well as a refrigerator with goat and cow milk, fresh goats cheese, ricotta, and the most beautiful eggs in shades of beige and green. Not that it was all perfect. We were really hoping to get some kind of meat we could have as a main course, but all they had at that point was ground pork or things like pig tails, feet and kidneys. No ribs, loin, steak, roasts… not even a whole chicken. Despite the great eggs and dairy products, it’s a long way to go for pig parts. We made our selections (2 lbs of ground pork, a dozen eggs, a 1/2 gallon of raw cow’s milk, and some cheese), marked down our purchases and left cash in the bucket. Packing our goods into our backpacks, we rode back to the ferry, contemplating the day, talking through which hills were worse and wondering how we ever found the farm.

The next evening I used one pound of the pork to make homemade sausage for a pasta ragu. The pork was fabulous. Tender and flavorful. It tasted like real food, and I felt that we had truly earned the experience.Some day, probably not too far in the future, I’ll be rejoining the work force. But this time, I have no intention of losing those little details that I’ve found along the way.

Homemade Pork Sausage Ragu

I don’t have much of a recipe for you yet… while it turned out delicious, I was in experimental mode and didn’t do a good job of noting measurements while I cooked. I simply added a little of this and a little of that to the ground pork and let it sit for about 4 hours before cooking off, draining and adding to cooked tomato sauce. For seasonings, I used red wine, fennel & corriander (which I dry roasted first), fresh garlic, black pepper, a touch of cayanne, and some sea salt.

To make a simple tomato sauce, combine a large can of San Marzano crushed tomatoes, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons garlic, and simmer on low in a medium pot for about 2 hours stirring every 10 minutes or so. This allows the tomatoes to caramelize slightly and brings out their sweetness. Then, I added a handful of chopped fresh basil and the pork in the last 15 minutes of cooking.

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  • http://n/a Kathleen

    Hi L.,
    I reeeeeeaaally enjoyed reading your blog today –the trip to Vashon Island & the farm — ugh!!! It makes me ache to be in your part of the country, but then I am reminded by reading what you wrote to appreciate where I am & what I have in the here & now (in Southeast Missouri, USA).

    I stumbled upon your blog a few weeks ago & I INSTANTLY fell in love with your love of food (that perfectly mirrors my own love affair) and the way you photograph the food. My husband lovingly calls it my ‘food porn’ and yours is some of the best I have EVER seen!!!! Thank you SO much for doing this blog!!! I look forward to every entry you make & have you set as our ‘home page’ :)

    By the way, I made the rustic cherry tart you posted a few weeks ago & it was utter heaven!!! Thank you & know that I’ll be trying more of your recipes as time allows.

    Kathleen

  • http://www.tastinglife-julia.blogspot.com Julia

    Hi Lara,
    I totally agree with Kathleen! You write so nice and relaxed…
    and may I say your current world sounds a lot better than your old world full of rushing…!
    It sounds maybe a clich?ɬ© but you appreciate the little moments and small things really the most…loved your post!

  • http://www.mattbites.com matt

    What an amazing post!!! Thank you for sharing your outlook & history, and THANK YOU for sharing this excusion with us! Wow, it sounds absolutely amazing!

  • http://www.culinaryconcoctionsbypeabody.com/ peabody

    There is something about the Seattle area that makes you even more “green”. When we moved to Seattle from Phoenix almost 2 years ago now I was already “granola-ish” but in moving here I have become so much more. We already had eco friendly cars but we gave up one of them and went to just one. My husband takes the bus to work and we try as much as we can to walk to stuff close by.
    We have yet to go to Vashon but after reading your post it seems like something we should do.

  • http://www.beaskitchen.com/blog/ Bea at La Tartine Gourmande

    This is the type of place I know I would love very much! Great post L!

  • http://healthycookscompanion.blogspot.com/ May

    A Vashon-related question Cookbook 411 may know the answer to: Have you ever hiked the trail (of sorts) from one end of Vashon to the other? Last summer in a free community paper on the Bainbridge Island ferry I read a piece about the writer’s day hiking from one Vashon ferry terminal (accessible from Tacoma, perhaps) and the terminal at the other end. Foolishly, I didn’t save the story and am now left wondering how long it takes and where the walk starts.

  • http://www.fishcreekhouse.com Cid

    We are also transitioning from the computer software design careers (altho we just another big gig) to opening and running The Fish Creek House Bed and Breakfast in Southwest Montana. The change of lifestyle from the stressed East and West Coast places we lived is still a work in progress…. Owning the bed and breakfast and being first time horse owners…. mindfulfness and being present.

  • http://www.cookandeat.com/ L

    Thanks Kathleen! I definitely think there is something to the whole discovering what is in your own backyard! We were just kind of near your area (well, not southern, but mid-Missouri and into Illinois) and there’s definitely lots to see!

    Hi Julia… there are times that I miss the chaos, but not too many of them! Thanks so much for your visit and nice words!

    Thanks Matt! You know that you are one of my biggest blogging influences! All your trips to see the inner workings of farms and such… I had to go do one of my own!

    Peabody – I can’t believe I’ve lived here so long and never made it over. It’s definitely a good little day trip.

    Bea – Yes! It’s a great trip! Thanks!

    May – Nope, I haven’t done that, but it does sound like a nice excursion! Also, NWHerbs.org has some nature hike/plant foraging workshops that look kind of cool. You might also check on vashonparkdistrict.org.

    Cid – Looks like a cool little place! Good luck with it.

  • http://maegabriel.com/riceandnoodles Mae

    This post is just so lovely. Thanks for sharing your trip to the island. That cow looks so similar to a ‘Jersey Cow’. You wrote about marking down your purchases and putting the money in a bucket. Wasn’t there anybody minding the shop? It sounds so like the honest boxes here in Jersey – if that’s how it is.

    Glad to know a little more background about you too.

  • http://thejeffnextdoor.blogspot.com the jeff next door

    Sounds delightful. Have you read the article in this week’s NYTimes about the increasing percentage of supermarket meat that is injected with a salt, sugar, and water solution?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/09/dining/09well.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

    It seems diametrically opposed to your state of mind in this post. Perhaps if more people took your attentive approach to their lives, and food, such things would be much rarer.

  • http://www.cookandeat.com/ L

    Mae – Yep, completely honor system. How refreshing, eh?

    Jeff – Wow. What a frickn scary article. Thanks for adding!

  • http://teaandcookies.blogspot.com Tea

    What a wonderful post! My mother spent last year on Vashon and I’ve visited often, but I didn’t know about this farm. I will definitely have to check it out.

    I relate to so much of what you’ve written about slowing down and paying attention. Thanks for putting it into words so eloquently.