North on Northwest
The pressure is on.
Abra has asked me to guest-blog for this entry of French Letters … an honour to be sure, since I’m a real fan of French Letters and Abra’s view on food and life. She’s been to Vancouver a number of times, but this was our first visit to their home on Bainbridge Island. And since we had already planned on visiting Seattle for the Sounders game against Chelsea FC, the timing was perfect.
If you’ve never been to Bainbridge Island, I encourage you to visit. It’s a lot like the Gulf Islands in BC, but nowhere near as hilly. I imagine it would be a cyclist’s paradise. The car ride (complete with pork, the Weber Bullet smoker, and a bag of charcoal) from Vancouver, BC will take you through Edmonds, nicely avoiding the parking lot that is the I-5 on a Friday afternoon. From Edmonds you take an easy 30 minute ferry ride (be prepared for a couple sailing wait) and get a chance to slow yourself down to Island time.
This is as much a story about the sausage making party as it is about arriving with ingredients in hand. For the guests who lived in the area, it was no issue. In fact many showed up with their own Kitchen Aid mixers with meat grinder attachments. True, the 30 minute ferry from Seattle meant some car-pooling and cooler consolidation. But there’s no international border to cross on the way to Bainbridge Island.
Try to bring raw pork into the United States from Canada. Or more to the point try to find the laws regulating such an import. That was no easy feat, and even after some thorough investigations, we found no definitive answer. Our best guess was that as long as we could prove the pork had been purchased in a country the US deemed an acceptable inspector of pork, we were home free. I was able to procure a receipt as proof, and much to my amusement discovered the meat I needed to prove wasn’t going to cause another outbreak of Swine Flu, was in fact from the US.
The Sausage Fest, it was explained to me, was going to be much like our annual Cookie Exchange. Everyone makes one type of sausage, making enough for dinner and for a small package for each of the other guests to take home. The result? 9 lbs. of a wide assortment of sausage. Strangely enough, Abra and I both decided not to make sausage.
Abra’s contribution to the afternoon would be a recipe from Michael Ruhlman for Shortrib Pastrami. I was going to repeat the coppa bacon experiment I had done back in May (follow the link at the end for full details of the curing process). I think my favourite part about the coppa bacon process is tying up the meat. This ensures an even shape and even smoking, but what appeals to me is how it makes me feel a bit like a real butcher, adding his own artisan touch. And it looks cool too.
The morning of the Sausage Fest began with yet another amazing breakfast of coffee-master Shel’s espresso, fresh fruit and coffee cake before it was time to smoke. I have to say, the quality of the fresh fruit we ate this weekend was off the chart. The raspberries and cherries in particular were juicier and sweeter than anything I’ve had in recent memory. If this is a result of terroir I’ll be making regular berry pilgrimages to the area. Unfortunately, border regulations prevent us from bringing it home to Vancouver.
This flamethrower is how one lights charcoal on Bainbridge Island. Personally, I just think that Shel likes to play with fire. And if I’m completely honest with you, I’ll be buying one myself as soon as I track one down in Vancouver. I typically allow 30-40 minutes for a chimney to become fully lit. With this bad boy you’re looking at half that time. And it’s a total RUSH to boot. Once the smokers were lit, Abra’s pastramis and our coppas were under way.
Guests began arriving just after noon with various assortments of meat, fatback, spices and sausage casings. Before I continue, let’s just get this out of the way … yes, casings resemble a really long condom, and the image of stuffing sausage meat into the casings is wrought with sexual overtones. Now, if we can stop the snickering …
I love cooking with a group, provided everyone knows what they’re doing and arrives prepared. This group was one of the best examples of this I have ever seen. Abra was a bit concerned before everyone arrived that all these people in her small kitchen would result in any number of minor catastrophes. This was not to pass. Each guest knew his/her job and did it with speed and efficiency. To add a Canadian touch to it, it was like watching a hockey team working a well-practiced power play.
Here’s the list of what was produced. Keep in mind it was made from wine-blurred memory, so please leave any corrections or additions in the comments section:
Margaret (and Jan) – Knackwurst
Della and Greg – Cognac sausage, buttermilk dip and veggies, grilled asparagus
Steve – Bratwurst, Caesar salad
Eden and Bill – lamb and lavender sausage and some kick-ass sorbets!
Tamara and Rick – pork and apple breakfast sausage, hot Italian sausage
Lauren – Kielbasa, sauerkraut
Abra, Shel, and Maryse – short rib pastrami, Walla Walla Onion Salad, Texas chocolate sheetcake.
Arne & J – coppa bacon. (Abra made me use this picture, and no, that’s not J!) (Abra’s note: and just in the interest of protecting the innocent, I feel compelled to add that it’s not me or Maryse either!)
By the time 6pm rolled around, the sun had started to dip behind the trees making patio dining a pleasure. 3 tables were pushed together, bottles were uncorked and the days efforts were brought forth.
The wonderful thing about food is that its flavour is improved in direct proportions to a) the amount of fun you had preparing it, and b) the quality of the company enjoying it. This has been proven to be true at the Luau and Cookie Exchanges J & I host at home, and the Sausage Fest was no different. Through the evening we shared recipes with the same enthusiasm others share gossip and fed our stomachs and souls with food and friendship.
(Abra made me use this picture of myself too.)
I am grateful to have had this opportunity to share this day with you. My thanks to all involved, but especially to Abra and Shel who I am proud to call friends. Be on the look-out for me to return to French Letters, next summer in France, and for Abra’s appearance as a guest on my blog I Could Eat.