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, particularly enjoying my fat tire bike, 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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