On Gaining an Understanding of Connectivity, Pocketbooks and People

We don’t have a lot of extra money. Sure, we get by. LB and I have some savings now, finally, which is nice – because for a long time, we didn’t. We basically lived life paycheck to paycheck, and for the most part still do (for when you make more, you spend more...and it always seems that life throws some unexpected expenses your way, like broken down cars or moving to a very expensive island in five weeks!), and that’s with two jobs. Each.

Yet, I can still justify (to myself, mind you, as LB is a sweetheart and doesn’t say anything about it) buying a gourmet food item here and there or a nice bottle of wine when I come across one I like. I buy high-quality food for our meals, mostly organic, and I’ll pay more for local ingredients too, especially if the humble farmer is willing to deliver organic eggs to our doorstep or sells us incredibly delicious hormone-free free-range pork like the gorgeous entire tenderloin we got recently from him:

This means that nearly as large a portion of our budget goes to food as it does to rent (yikes!). We have been known to buy wine to compliment a meal we’ll be having (usually on the recommendation of a very competent wine guru whom I completely trust), have spent upwards of $25 on appetizers (which we enjoyed thoroughly and completely, by ourselves, and “just because”), and I’ll often impulsively buy ingredients (or wine) at food festivals simply because they are there and I just might never see them again. All of this for one day (or meal) to be shared eating, drinking, and laughing. And you know what?

It’s worth it.

Do we have the extra money? Sort-of. We do each have two jobs. So, you could say we treat ourselves occasionally. But then again, the car needs fixed, there’s the move looming soon (very soon – another yikes!) in the future, there’s debt to be paid off and retirement to start saving for...so should we be spending our extra money? No. Could we spend less or settle for less? Probably. Will we? No...not while we’re in Eugene, anyhow (Hawaii might be a different story). I’ve tried to reason why this might be... why we might be so willing to spend our limited funds on food? Food is transient – you eat it, it’s gone. Some of it is wasted (think of those vegetables sitting in the crisper...). Is it the taste of the food? Is it a fear of what goes into our bodies? Is it a desire to spend, spend, spend, consume, consume, consume? No, no, no...well, maybe a little yes on the question of taste and pesticide-laden foods, but for the most part: No. What is it then?

It’s the experience.

It’s the connection with each other and with other people. The connection shared with our friends and family at the table, over a glass of wine or some incredible cheese – elbows up, smiles and laughter all around. It’s the connection with the people that sold the food to us, with the land and the farmers that grew it - many we have met here and many we know share the same soil and the same practices and philosophies as we do - and the hands and hard work that created it. It’s the romantic notions of how an amazing meal should unfold - not necessarily how it’s “supposed” to be in the imagination of Martha Stewart or Miss Manners (ie. perfectly folded napkins, fine china, proper couture...), but the idea that when we have that wine again or that cheese or that chestnut stuffing some Thanksgiving down the road, it will recall the memory of all the connected experiences once more...that we might remember the encounter of buying the food or wine, the shared familiarity of eating it... and it's the belief that later, we might just gain a few extra moments of happiness from that day, even though it is in the past.

Human beings are blessed with memories – we are the only creatures that live in our past as much as our present. The memories of the people we have known, of history and of places we have been, of things that make our hearts sing and our mouths speechless – these are all a huge part of who we are and the stories we share with others. Take wine tasting, for example. The adventure of traveling to the hills of the Willamette Valley, the whole experience of sipping, of quiet afternoons spent talking (sometimes about the wine, most of the time not) and gazing out across the grape vines. And the way a bottle in the wine rack at home calls forth the memory of being there. You just can’t get that when you buy a box of wine at your local convenience store or similarly, from an out-of-season, perfectly round, cardboard tomato at the grocery store (not that I haven’t bought my own fair share of those, of course).

You see, I buy more when I connect with the people who are selling me the food or wine. It’s not because I’m tipsy and thus looser with my money (well, I keep telling myself that). It’s not because I’m rich and have the money to spend (I don't). It’s because I so enjoyed the experience of being there and of talking to a certain tasting room manager about the Library of Congress releasing the Years of Bounty exhibit that I ended up with that $25 bottle of 2004 Pinot Noir from High Pass Vineyards (and oh yes, I have ended up with far more expensive bottles of wine other times and at other places, each one unique not only in taste but in memories) that I won’t be going out for a movie the end of this month, or that my savings is more meager than might be thought respectable at almost 30 years of age. But do I care right now? No. Will I later? Perhaps. But the memories will be what I remember, and I would never trade those for more money.

When I think of the people and places that I will miss the most when leave here and move to Hawaii in 5 short weeks, I realize that for the most part they are all connected to food or wine. My closest friends and I have spent an incredible number nights sharing bottles of wine together, my winery friends are near and dear to my heart, and the places I will miss the most are the farmer's market, the restaurants, and the food stores where I have spent so much time over the last several years – getting to know the proprietors, the bartenders, the waitresses and the farmers. Not to mention the incredible local ingredients...hazelnuts, chanterelles, wild salmon, and so many more (and Pinot – oh God, they don’t make Pinot in Hawaii!). At least there will be new and wonderful people and things to explore, and I do find solace (and excitement) in that.

Ultimately, I think that food and wine are as much about people as they are about taste – people eating, drinking, talking, blogging, telling stories and connecting with each other. The people I share food with (or the experience of making it or buying it) are what make it all worthwhile. I think that’s why I fell in love with all things culinary, with blogging, and with my job at the winery. Because truly, when it comes down to it, Life is really all about the people we share it with.

This is a recipe for a roasted fresh ham (ie. a "ham," or pork leg roast, that has not been cured). The recipe is simple, easy and pretty enough to serve to company so that you can enjoy those precious moments (or hours) at the table with the people you adore. The pork leg roast came from Paul Atkinson, who owns and runs Laughing Stock Farm locally. The pigs were cared for with love and respect, and it shines through in the meat...it's the best pork you can find in Eugene, in my opinion, and we've been buying meat and fresh eggs from Paul (who graciously delivers everything to our doorstep) for over two years now. There's nothing like it, and I will most certainly miss it when we leave!

Roasted Fresh Ham with Onion Jus, serves 6
**amounts are approximate, so use your intuition too!

1 fresh pork leg roast (approx. 2-3 lbs)
1 tbsp. salt
several grinds of fresh pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp dry rubbed sage
2 tsp herbs de provence
2 cups dry white wine
1 cup water
1 large sweet onion, thickly sliced

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Rinse the pork and pat it dry (thoroughly dry) with paper towels. Carve diagonal lines into the fat cap on top of the pork roast approximately 1 inch apart - you can do this both directions to make a diamond pattern (like I did), but it's not necessary. Try not to carve into the meat! Place the sliced onions in the bottom of a roasting dish or pan. Mix the herbs, salt, pepper and olive oil in a small bowl to form a sort of wet paste, then rub the paste into the meat on all sides and place it in the roasting dish on top of the onions. Pour 1/2 cup of the wine and 1/2 cup of the water into the bottom of the dish.

Put the roasting dish in the oven and roast for 30 minutes at 425F. Turn the oven down to 350F, and roast for approximately 1.5 hours more (or until the internal temperature reaches about 155F), turning it around once and putting a sheet of foil over the top of the roast if it begins to burn (ours didn't). As the wine and water evaporate, add the rest of each to the bottom of the pan and baste the roast occasionally to keep it most.

Remove the roast to a plate and cover it with foil, letting it rest for about 20 minutes before slicing. Meanwhile, pour the juices and onions into a small saucepan and let it simmer gently until it reduces and begins to thicken - you can also blend a few of the onions into the sauce to make it thicker or add a bit of arrowroot or cornstarch in some stock if you want a heartier sauce. Enjoy!

12 comments from you:

Atajev said...

I agree, it is all worth it!

Good luck with your move! We're also moving 3000+ miles in 5 weeks, from Boston to Southern California. And you know what I'm already missing? My fabulous organic produce delivery service and apple orchards. I'm moving to the land of plenty (it's even in wine country), but already mourning the loss of the good food I've been able to find here. *sigh*

I know it'll be wonderful, but it's always hard to say good-bye to the wonderful, unique things that can be found in any region.

Anonymous said...

Mmm I am making the roast tonight is sounds so good. Is that King Estate Winery in the picture it looks so familar. I am leaving Oregon also in a few weeks for Arizona this has been my home for over 18 years now it is very hard to say goodbye not to mention its hard to face all the boxes all over my house right now. Good luck to you in your new home. I hope you have many new adventures there to post about.

Ann said...

Wonderfully expressed! I'll be reading about your adventures in Hawaii... and I know you will find new connections and new friends and new food memories there.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Two jobs. Hard work. Just to earn money. That's probably not worth it.
Two jobs. Hard work. To earn good times with friends. To earn good food & wine to share with those you care about. That's absolutely worth it!!
Don't have Pinot in Hawaii . . . I look forward to learning about what you find in Hawaii that you can't find in Eugene.

glutenfreeforgood said...

What a great post, Michelle! I agree with you completely. Without being wasteful, money should be spent on nice things, even if it's an occasional bottle of fine wine or the organic eggs or fresh vegetables. Yes, it's more expensive, but like you said, when you factor in the "experience" of sharing a meal or glass of wine with special friends, you gain so much from the exchange. It's a great way to build friendships and fill your memory banks with lovely images.

Plus, you not only take in the nutritional energy from the food, but also from preparing it and sharing it. That goes a long way.

What a nice post! And thanks for the recipe! Looks good, very good.

Take care,

Astra Libris said...

Your post is so lovely - I couldn't agree more! You perfectly captured the magic that is food and the sharing of meals - I was even getting teary-eyed recalling wonderful memories as I was reading your post... Thank you for the beautiful reminder to savor the taste of every day.

Congrats and good luck with the move!!

Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

Michelle, this is a beautiful post, and so true.

And we're with you: we spend about $100 less on food per month than our rent costs us. It's worth it.

When I think of moving, part of what pains me is the idea of losing those connections with the local agriculture and having to create new ties with new farmers, markets, etc. That will be fun and exciting but also WORK. No wonder it used to be harder for people to move than our convenience-based society makes it.

katiez said...

I so completely understand!
I was trying to explain to my sister (a non-foodie - eat because I'm hungry - doesn't cook person) why we spend so much on food. It can't be done... She just didn't get it.
I remember dishes and wines from years ago - who they were shared with, what the restaurant was like... I may be broke when I'm old but I'll be rich with memories... And I'll worry about eating Hamburger Helper when the time comes...

Greg said...

Oh, I just found your blog. Terrific! A girl after my own heart. Scientist, cook and wine lover! I'm looking forward to reading more and catching up on your past posts.

Michelle said...

Strange! I swear I replied to all of these comments and blogger must have erased them!! I apologize for my delay in responding then and as soon as I get back in town and have a few minutes, I'll respond to all of them - I promise!

Michelle said...

Whew - back home and trying to catch up on all of the things I haven't had time to get to yet! Sorry about the delay in responding!

Atajev, Best of luck with your own move! I know, every place certainly has it's incredible little gems...but it is so hard to leave one thing you love, even if you are trading it for another that is just as wonderful.

Anon, It's actually Iris Hill Winery in the picture. It's difficult to leave after 6 years - I can't imagine leaving after 18!! Good luck in your new home and all of your new adventures to come too! I hate being at home with all our boxes (and mess!!) right now too - it makes everything seem so real and so soon!!

Ann, thanks! I hope you'll still come by too!! It will be nice to take all of my blog friends with me no matter where I go!

Tanna, Definitely!! Me too - I know there will be lots of fabulous new things to explore and try out!

Melissa, so true! And I fully believe that nutritional energy is just as important!

Astra Libris, Awww, shucks, thanks!! I love how you put it though: to "savor the taste of every day" I'll remember that in the midst of all this moving craziness!!

Sally, thank you! I completely agree - I've spent countless hours and years building the relationships with the people in the food and wine industries and it's definitely a lot of work (enjoyable work of course, but still) and it's hard to rebuild that in another place.

Katie, Ha ha - yeah, I don't even tell people how much I spend on food...but they spend it on other things or if they're really frugal then I can't help but think they're totally missing out on the rest of life that doesn't have to do with just having money. Maybe we can share a box of HH someday when we're old!!

Greg, so glad that you found my blog then! I look forward to seeing and hearing from you again!!

Dawn said...

Ok, first of all...holy crap. I had no idea you were moving to Hawaii. Guess that tells you how long I've been out of the loop! When you email me back, tell me all about it! I agree with your article. I only wish that I had some good friends or a LB of my own to enjoy some experiences with. Because you're right, it's about the experience, not the cost or the food or the wine. They're great, too, don't get me wrong!