Third Annual Locavore Dinner

locavore dinner setting

On a lovely late summer Sunday, Cheenius and Mr.Dr. Cheenius graciously hosted a group of enthusiastic locavores for the third annual Locavore Dinner. The first two dinners (recapped here and here) were incredible successes with our small group of ethical-foodie friends and we eagerly anticipated a third dinner. We were not disappointed!

locavore dinner scoring

The Locavore Dinner is not just a potluck; it’s a competition. Dishes were scored for localness again this year, but the math was simplified, due to Cheenius and her garden always winning the most-local awards:

  • 1 point if an ingredient came from within 100 miles
  • 2 points if an ingredient came from within 50 miles
  • 3 points if an ingredient came from Charlottesville/Albemarle County

In addition to Most Local, two Best Tasting awards were also up for grabs.

As in years past, entries were mostly veggie-based, with the notable exception of Mr. HP’s sausage, which we thought was a shoo-in for Most Local (gaming the system again–see our entry from last year)… until we saw that the point system would not grant full credit to an item from just over the Albemarle County line in Nelson.

locavore dinner appetizers

For appetizers, we enjoyed Annie’s bruschetta (made from local tomatoes purchased at Integral Yoga), truffled goat cheese from Caromont Farm, homemade homegrown tomato jam that I received as an instructor gift when I gave an entomophagy presentation to a local environmental group, deviled eggs from Cheenius’ own chickens, and bread purchased from the Charlottesville City Market and MarieBette Bakery.

locavore dinner dishes

The main event featured Mr. HP’s sausage from Rock Barn; roasted potatoes with rosemary, both from Cheenius’ garden; and Roger’s sweet carrot and apple dish, with carrots and apples from Charlottesville City Market.

Dessert was Melissa’s delicious crumble starring Saunders Brothers peaches, which I voted for as Best Tasting; she was edged out by Mr. HP, who voted for himself four times to secure the victory. My tomato jam with MarieBette bread was the controversial winner of Most Local. Yay math! Prizes included a jar of honey from Cheenius’ bees, a felted wool pouch from a City Market artisan, and a special t-shirt from Cheenius’ childhood with a theme quite unrelated to this event.

locavore dinner japanese soda

No award was given for least local, but Jay would have won easily with his contribution of Japanese octopus-flavored soda. It was surprisingly inoffensive.

As we ate and caroused, we sipped local beer, wine, and cider. The Charlottesville area has no shortage of local alcohol. See: Brew Ridge Trail, Monticello Wine Trail, and the Virginia Cider and Apple Trail. We also have a few distilleries, none of which I have visited yet, but as I take my job of reporting on local culinary happenings very seriously, I will have to check them out soon.

The Locavore Dinner just gets better and better, thanks to the Cheeniuses’ generosity and gorgeous venue, and the participants’ creativity and conviviality. Can’t wait for Year Four!

locavore dinner setting

Don’t chuck that shuck!

Did you know oyster shells can, and should be, recycled? I recently learned that the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program is active in Charlottesville. Why is this a thing, you ask? Read on…

The wild Eastern Oyster, or Virginia Oyster, in the Chesapeake Bay is in trouble, due to pollution, over-harvesting, and loss of habitat. The population is estimated to be 2% of the historical peak; that not only hurts the local coastal economies, but impacts the Bay ecosystem.

Why are oysters good for the Bay?

Oysters serve two important functions in the Bay. They are little water filters, straining particulates and nutrients from up to 60 gallons of water a day. Removing particulates, such as suspended sediment and algae, clears cloudy water and aids the growth of aquatic grasses, a habitat of young fish and crabs. Nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen from fertilizers are washed from farmland into waterways and eventually into the Bay, where they can cause algal blooms or dead zones, blocking sunlight and sucking oxygen out of the water. Secondly, oysters tend to grow in stacks, creating reef habitats for fish, crabs, grasses, and the oysters themselves: young oysters attach to the oyster shell reefs to grow and mature. Offshore reefs help buffer the shore from waves, limiting erosion, and as the shells decompose their calcium carbonate helps to regulate the pH of the water.

oysters cleaning water

image source

How does recycling oyster shells help?

To help revive the oyster population in the Bay, the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program (VOSRP) collects shucked oyster shells from participating restaurants around the state, cleans them, seeds them with baby oysters, and returns them to oyster sanctuaries in the Bay to help build up the important reef habitats. The program was started by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Rice Rivers Center in 2013 with the help of several Richmond government and environmental groups and a few local restaurants. It’s now active in Charlottesville, Hampton, and Newport News, and is working to expand into other Virginia cities.

Instead of sending oyster shells to the landfill, restaurants dump shells into VOSRP-provided buckets, which are picked up by volunteers and emptied into a central receptacle, where they await transport east.

oyster shells

buckets of oyster shells

oyster shell container dumpster full of oyster shells

Which restaurants in Charlottesville are recycling oyster shells?

Currently in Charlottesville, Rocksalt, Public Fish and Oyster HouseFossett’s at Keswick Hall, Boar’s Head Inn, and Blue Light Grill are participating in the VSORP. Patronize those restaurants to show your support for oyster shell recycling! And if you visit another local restaurant serving oysters, ask them if they know about the VSORP.

oyster facts

Read more about Bay oysters and the VSORP:

Yoder’s Country Market, Madison VA

Yoder's Country Market

Coming home from a recent work trip to DC, I stopped (as I am wont to do) at one of the big Mennonite country stores on Rt 29 north of Charlottesville. Yoder’s Country Market moved into a huge new location earlier this year, now with more than twice the space for baked goods, bulk items, groceries, gifts and gadgets. I hadn’t been to the new location and was wowed by the variety of local products available, including meats, fish, fruits and vegetables, beverages, prepared foods, and body/health/home goods. It’s a great stop on a road trip for a snack, or to pick up some groceries on your way home.

Here’s a quick tour of some of the happy meats and local products Yoder’s carries:

Local trout from Madison Rainbow Trout, which is also sold at the Charlottesville City Market!

Madison rainbow trout

Natural chicken from Sunrise Farms, producers of grass-fed beef, and free-range chicken (and eggs), turkey, and pork. They also sell non-GMO feed and honey at their farm store in Stuarts Draft.

Sunrise Farms chicken

Happy beef from Wolf Creek Farm: born at the farm, raised on pasture only, antibiotic and hormone free, and not exposed to chemicals in fertilizers or pesticides.

Wolf Creek Farm beef

Salsas, tzatziki, dill dip, and pesto from The Farm at Red Hill, a small organic produce farm in North Garden:

Salsa, pesto, dips from The Farm at Red Hill

A huge selection of local honey of all sorts of types and flavors, including their own Yoder’s honey:

Local honeys

Gray Ghost Craft Soda, all natural, caffeine-free sodas in creative flavors (cotton candy?) from Madison.

Gray Ghost Craft Soda from Madison

Sugar scrub made with essential oils, from Raindrops in Virginia, a Charlottesville company:

local sugar scrub

And, of course, bulk goods as far as the eye can see.

so many bulk goods

Bulk goods

Yoder’s is worth a stop on a trip through Madison on Rt 29 whether you need car snacks or want to stock up on local meats and other goodies. I’ll be back on my next DC trip later this month!

Yoder's Country Market

Second Annual Locavore Dinner

Last year’s Locavore Dinner was such a stellar success that the public demanded a Second Annual Locavore Dinner, which was celebrated at a local lake late in the summer. Again, there was a complicated/clever/rigged scoring system created by Cheenius, and again, Cheenius won. Hmm. Scoring went as follows:

4 pts. if you grew/raised it yourself
3 pts. if it came from within a 50 mile radius of your household
2 pts. if it came from within a 100 mile radius of your household
1 pt. if it came from VA.

Freebies: you don’t have to count herbs, oil, vinegar, salt, or pepper.

Estimate each ingredient’s proportion of the whole and multiply by the point value, so the total for the entire dish is out of a maximum of 4 points.

And show your math.

The rules were promptly amended thusly by the non-Cheenius attendees: if you don’t (want to) show your math, you must submit a haiku.

Cheenius won again this year for Most Local with a potato strata created primarily of ingredients grown in her own garden; the Tiny Twosome won Best Tasting with an amazing biscuit-based peach cobbler; and, in the absence of other voters, I hereby declare myself the winner of the haiku competition with a heartfelt poem that is not fit to print on this site.

Thanks to the Cheeniuses for getting us organized and hosting another successful Locavore Dinner! Let’s do it again next year!

Locavore Dinner in Photos

The gorgeous setting, complete with local flowers from a City Market vendor and beeswax candles made by Cheenius herself:

table by the lake

We enjoyed local beverages from Blue Mountain Brewery, Champion Brewing Company, Bold Rock Hard Cider, Barboursville Vineyards, and Prince Michel Vineyard.

local beverages

Nadia’s bacon-wrapped cheese-stuffed jalapeños were a close second in the Best Tasting category.

bacon-wrapped jalapenos

Mr.Dr. Cheenius made an addictive fruit dip with Caromont Farm goat cheese and honey from the Cheeniuses’ own bees. Apples and peaches came from Carter Mountain Orchard.

goat cheese dip

Mr. HP and I brought local beef purchased from JM Stock Provisions, thinking we weren’t just providing a delicious dish, but also crafting brilliant a strategy: our dish had a single ingredient (plus freebies salt and pepper) sourced from within 50 miles of our home. That’s a solid 3-point entry, with no math required!

local flank steaksslicing the steaks

Can you tell we were a mostly vegetable-based group? The winning potato strata, Ewe-nique‘s egg muffins (with sausage!), Annie’s veggie kebabs, and Melissa’s marinated green bean salad were all delicious.

sausage muffins and veggie kebabsa very local plate

Drumroll… the winning dish, a peach cobbler. It was fantastic.

peach cobbler

peach cobbler

To celebrate local food, you need local spirits. Cheenius, ever resourceful, curious, and talented, shared some homemade mead and blackberry wine with us. They were… not so good. But A for effort, Cheenius!

homemade mead and blackberry wine

Winners chose prizes from a variety of environmentally-themed goodies: magazines, books, the best honey around, and local Gearharts chocolate.

the locavore prizes

And finally, where better to pass around samples of Soylent than at a gathering of folks interested in eating REAL food? Mr.Dr. Cheenius ordered it out of curiosity and mixed up a batch at the end of the evening. It could have been that we were all too full from feasting, but it was fairly unanimous among those who tasted it: Soylent is terrible. I thought it tasted like pancake batter, if the pancakes were made of cardboard.

soylent: not local food

For more of Cheenius’ wacky adventures, see:
Cheenius’ adventures in homemade wine
A visit to Vermont’s Shelburne Farms
Cheenius fights the law: Urban Chicken Keepers vs County Planning Commission
Cheenius in Missoula: The Good Food Store
Cheenius and the Mushrooms, Part I

Tips for feeding bugs to your family

I mentioned a special surprise dessert in my satay post.

chocolate-dipped crickets

You may recall from my birthday gathering last fall that a chocolate shop in Charlottesville sells chocolate-dipped worms, crickets, and scorpions. Mr HP and I thought it would be fun to surprise the family, which includes a brave 4-year-old girl and a slightly timid 7-year-old boy, with some crickets. Mr HP and I made a big show of savoring our cricket treats, but alas, nobody else would try one. The other adults wimped out completely, and after careful consideration, our niece asked to take hers home “to eat later.” (We have not yet received confirmation that it actually happened.)

my niece vs the crickets

Our nephew asked to take his home too, and then burst into hysterical tears. He was so torn between wanting to do this thing that seemed really interesting and cool, and his general fear of bugs. It was kind of adorable.

The bugs were packed up and conversation moved on.

Five minutes later, through his sobs, he declared he was ready to eat the bug and proceeded to stand in front of us all, bravely pop it in his mouth, tentatively chew, and then triumphantly open his mouth for inspection. He said it tasted like chocolate.


Fast-forward one week, and my sister and her husband were visiting. Since the adults of Family Weekend #1 passed on the chocolate crickets, we presented them on a dessert plate to the adults of Family Weekend #2. My brother-in-law didn’t hesitate, eating one with zero fanfare. My sister, however, wavered. She stalled with questions (“do I eat it cricket-side up or cricket-side down?”) and made all sorts of dismayed sounds while alllllmost pulling the trigger. Finally she did it… and said it tasted like chocolate.


What is the moral of this story?

Feeding your family bugs is fun for everyone. Chocolate helps the process. Read this post to learn more about why eating bugs is a good thing to start practicing. If you haven’t tried a chocolate-dipped bug and have them available to you (ahem C’villans), you should try one, and tell us how it goes in the comments!

Malaysian satay recipe

My mother-in-law spent two years in Malaysia with the Peace Corps in the 60s. During that time she was exposed to all sorts of wonderful food, and fortunately for our family, she brought many cooking skills and recipes home with her.

One of our favorite dishes she introduced us to is satay: meat marinated, skewered, grilled, and served with a dipping sauce. Preparation is long and involved, so it’s a special occasion dish, best saved for when it can be tackled as a team effort. This past weekend was just such an occasion: the family was all together!

I bought several pounds of steak and chicken breasts from JM Stock, a local, sustainable butcher in Charlottesville, my brother-in-law provided the marinade and sides, and he and Mr. HP supplied the skewering labor and grilling prowess.

Typically we use flank steak for satay, but JM Stock recommended a bavette steak, which I hadn’t heard of before, and it worked perfectly.

bavette steak

The beef and chicken is cut into thin strips and threaded onto skewers, basted with coconut milk, and grilled, then served with a peanut dipping sauce and accoutrements such as rice squares, cucumber salad, and pineapple cubes.

beef and chicken skewers ready for the grill


basting the chicken

cucumber salad and rice squares

beef skewers

SO GOOD. Thanks, family!




  • 3-4 lbs. thinly sliced meats (flank steak, chicken breasts, tofu)
  • skewers
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • Large ziplock bags


  • 2 T curry powder (Malaysian/Indian brown)
  • 1/2 t anise
  • 1/2 t coriander
  • 1/2 t ginger powder
  • 1/2 t cumin
  • 1/2 t turmeric
  • 1/2 t cayenne pepper
  • 3 T lemon juice
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 c vegetable oil
  • 1/2 c soy sauce
  • 4-5 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 T sugar


  1. Mix marinade ingredients; add to large ziplock bag with sliced meat and marinate for 1 day
  2. Thread marinated meat onto skewers
  3. Grill skewers, brushing them liberally with coconut milk while on the grill



  • 1 c peanuts
  • 1 large onion
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 in piece ginger
  • 4-5 dried red chiles
  • 3 T vegetable oil
  • 2 t coriander
  • 1 t cumin
  • 1 t curry powder
  • 1 can light coconut milk
  • 3 T brown sugar
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 2 T soy sauce


  1. Puree peanuts and set aside
  2. Puree onion, garlic, ginger, chiles and set aside
  3. Heat oil in saute pan over medium heat. Cook onion mixture until it smells of onions and garlic
  4. Stir in coriander, cumin, curry powder and simmer on low heat for 5 minutes
  5. Stir in coconut milk, peanut puree, brown sugar, lemon juice, soy sauce until combined



  • 1 1/2 c short grain white rice
  • 2 1/2 c water


  1. Boil water
  2. Simmer rice, covered, for 25 minutes
  3. Press cooked rice into a glass dish; refrigerate at least 2 hours
  4. Cut chilled rice into cubes



  • 3 cucumbers
  • 2 shallots
  • 4 T sugar
  • 4 T white wine vinegar


  1. Chop cucumbers and shallots
  2. Mix sugar and vinegar
  3. Marinate vegetables in mixture overnight

skewered meat with peanut sauce, pineapple, and rice

This post got too long so I’ll save the surprise dessert for another day.

Have you ever made satay? Let us know in the comments!

The next big thing in sustainable protein: Bugs!

I recently had a birthday, and Mr. HP surprised me with these:

chocolate bugs


What a lucky girl I am!

Mr. HP set up a chocolate-dipped bug tasting for six at a Southwest Virginia winery. The accompanying pours were less for wine appreciation and more for steeling of nerves.

no bugs thanks

The buggy treats came from My Chocolate Shoppe in downtown Charlottesville, which has created quite a buzz (get it) locally with its chocolate-dipped worms, crickets, and scorpions. The bugs are farmed and baked in California, shipped to My Chocolate Shoppe, and hand-dipped on site.

bugs and wine

As insect farming is a rising trend in sustainable and ethical protein production, I felt compelled to write about my entomophagy experience here.

Sustainability of insect farming

We all know factory farming is bad for the atmosphere, waterways, local community, resident animals, facility workers, and potentially consumers of the end product. Production of traditional livestock (chicken, pigs, and beef cattle) contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than the transportation sector and consumes vast amounts of freshwater. Factory farms pollute waterways with fertilizer, pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics. CAFOs are blights on their surroundings and poison their neighbors with chemical runoff and manure lagoon leaks. Antibiotic use in livestock is causing the development of resistant strains of bacteria that are difficult to treat in humans. See my notes from a US Food Systems course I took last year for more horrifying details and appalling statistics.

As the global population continues to expand, there will be more and more pressure on the land to produce enough protein to feed everyone. Insects can fill this need with a much smaller footprint on the environment; they simply don’t require the land, water, and food resources that chickens, pigs, and cattle do. Insects produce fewer greenhouse emissions, their containers can be stacked on shelves, and insect farming doesn’t involve the hormones, antibiotics, fertilizers, and pesticides that CAFOs rely on.

It takes 2,900 gallons of water, 25 pounds of feed and extensive acreage to produce one pound of beef and just one gallon of water, two pounds of feed and a small cubicle to produce a pound of crickets. – “Edible insects a boon to Thailand’s farmers


Thus, considering all factors, the actual food conversion efficiency of insects may be 20 times that of cattle. This means insect farming — along with other forms of “microlivestock”, could be one of the elements of a sustainable global agricultural future.- “Edible bugs and insects: Are these high protein critters the future of food?

Bug farming ethics

Are the bugs treated ethically while alive? Are they humanely slaughtered? I believe so. Farmed insects are raised in dark colonies, as they are found in nature; they are provided food, and protected. When harvesting time rolls around, they are chilled to a natural hibernation-like state, and from there the temperature is lowered until they die quietly.

Insects raised in farms live in teeming dark conditions (preferable environment), with ample and abundant food supply, no natural predators, no risk of outside diseases or parasites, and when they’re culled we lower the temperature so that there’s no violent death or change in state (because insects are exothermic their metabolism slows until they go into a coma-like sleep without any pain). I can’t think of a more humane way to raise our meat. – Robert Nathan Allen of Little Herds, via NPR

Bug nutrition

Bugs are a high protein, nutrient-rich, low fat and low cholesterol food. Insect protein is a complete protein, meaning all nine essential amino acids are present. Bugs are also are significant sources of zinc, iron, and vitamin A.

According to Chapul, makers of cricket-based protein bars, insects have:

  • 15% more iron than spinach
  • 2x more protein than beef
  • as much B12 as salmon

The table below (source) compares insect nutrition against that of chicken, beef, and salmon:

Warning to those with a shellfish allergy: bug exoskeletons are made of chitin, which also makes the shells of shrimp, crabs, and lobsters.

But how did they taste?

We decided to eat the worm first, as it was the least intimidating, and we’d eat in in a single bite so we wouldn’t have to see any innards. It was… not bad. The worm had no flavor, so it just added a rice krispie-like crunch to the chocolate.

Next was the scorpion, which was a similar no-flavor-big-crunch addition to the chocolate as the worm. No problem.

The cricket had the biggest gross-out factor, in my opinion. Its body is meatier than the other two. And sure enough, I didn’t like it. It had a bitter flavor along with its crunch.

plates of bugs

It was a fun experiment. But – surprise – we Americans have been eating bugs all along in processed food. The FDA allows certain amounts of insect parts, including pieces, larvae, eggs, and sacs, in foods like dried herbs, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables, coffee beans, flours, peanut butter, sauces, and more. This article estimates that “on average an individual probably ingests about one to two pounds of flies, maggots and other bugs each year without even knowing it.” Sorry to break it to you, but you’re already an entomophagist! Congrats!

I had no plans to eat more bugs in the immediate future, but while researching this post I enjoyed reading the Exo “Why Crickets” page so much I ordered a couple of their cricket-flour protein bars to try. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Babe(s) in the Wood

Here is the first guest post from the fabulous Ewe-nique!

Since the HPs, Cheenius, Mr. Dr. Cheenius, and the Tiny Twosome were all off to more exotic locales over Labor Day, it fell squarely on my shoulders to ensure that at least one of us attended the 2014 “Meet Yer Eats” Farm Tour. I accepted this self-directed mission with gravity and pride. In fact, I was so stealthy in my plan that the whole thing was unbeknownst to HP until I sent her this guest post and begged to be featured.

Meet Yer Eats

For those not familiar with the “Meet Yer Eats” Farm Tour, it is an annual Central Virginia event where a number of local farms roll out their welcome mat and offer the general public the chance to explore and “meet” their food sources. As an avid cook, locavore, and conscientious (i.e. picky) eater, I think that we can all benefit substantially by learning about and being aware of where our food comes from.

I must admit that my choice of farm this year was driven by an ulterior motive. As a longtime vegetarian, and more recently a pescatarian, I’ve been considering including other meats in my diet again for the past few months. However, one of my chief objections to the carnivorous lifestyle has long been the manner in which the consumed animals are raised and slaughtered. Thus, I decided to truly meet my eats and visit Babes in the Wood, a farm out in Dillwyn, Virginia that raises free-roaming, forest-foraging pigs.

The drive out to pastoral Dillwyn was winding, warm, and sunny. I’d been out VA-20 South many a time, but never this far south. I knew that I had ventured into uncharted territory when I passed a larger than life inflated chicken outside of an establishment called Lumpkin’s.

Since this was a solo expedition, I played one of my favorite alone-time games on the drive out: Rockin’ Road Name Revue. Believe me, people get creative on the backroads of Virginia. I won’t bore you with the entire list, but here were my top favorites:

  • Troublesome Creek Road (That pesky creek is forever making mischief.)
  • Little Heaven Road (Leading to a trailer park, but… perhaps a reference to the Tiny House movement as chronicled by the Tiny Twosome on HP back in June?)
  • B-A-H Road (I can only assume this name is in reference to sheep or that it is one Bad Ass Homestead.)

I arrived at Babes in the Wood in time to wander around before we began a tour of the farm. In addition to sighting the piggies from afar, I also ventured over to the chicken coop and a small barn where there were a few calves hanging out.

Farmyard scene

Bill Jones, the owner and founder of Babes in the Wood, took us on an excellent hike in the farm woods, where he answered a bevy of questions from our curious group. Here are the highlights of what I learned:

  • Bill raises English Tamworths, a breed that is well suited for forest life. The Tamworths have a lovely red coat and enjoy foraging for their food.
  • The sows give birth approximately twice a year (although if a sow had a very tough birth or large litter, Bill will only breed her once during that year), and the average litter size is eight piglets.
  • The pigs are fed at the farm once a day, and then are free to forage as they like throughout the forest.

Forest scene

  • Quite a few of us were eager to know how Bill keeps track of his pigs since they are free to wander. The simple answer is, he recognizes them when they arrive for the daily feeding, and if they don’t show up, he goes looking for them.
  • Unfortunately, I did not bring my pen and paper, so I don’t recall the exact number of pigs that are currently being raised on the farm. The numbers tend to vary with the seasons. However, Bill does keep the number proportional to the acreage of the farm (only two to three pigs per acre). If there are too many pigs per acre, their extensive rooting for food exposes the roots of the trees and can cause the trees to fall.
  • The pigs are approximately 12 to 15 months old when they go to slaughter.
  • Pigs are considered ready for butchering based on their weight, with about 300 pounds generally being the desirable weight.

Whilst traipsing through the woods, we kept keen eyes open for Kevin Bacon, the farm’s boar, but he regrettably did not show his snout. Bill mentioned that Kevin had decided a day or so ago that he was going into the woods and not staying in the pen. Apparently, one cannot persuade a 400 pound boar to change his mind if he has other intentions. Another fun fact: Kevin will grow to approximately 1000 pounds!

On our forest tour, we wandered down to a creek in the woods in hopes of sighting a few pigs, the creek being one of their favorite hangouts. However, the piggies must not have been in the wallowing mood, because we did not spot any near the creek. We did see a large sow hanging out in the woods by herself, and Bill mentioned that she had been feeling under the weather for the past few days. During this conversation, I learned that the primary health risk that his pigs face is pneumonia. The onset of the condition is sudden, and the pigs can die within three days of showing symptoms, so it must be caught and treated quickly. Thus, Bill had been keeping a close eye on this girl.

sick piggy

As our hike drew closer to the farm’s estate, we found many pigs hanging out near the farm’s fence. Many of the older pigs were relaxing, quite sensibly, in the shade of the trees, while the younger ones were cavorting together in a large group.

pig digs

Though the pigs are somewhat skittish around visitors (there was a lot of oinking and running away as I drew near), they are very social among themselves and establish a clear pecking (or perhaps porking?) order that lasts throughout their lives. The pigs are no stranger to putting a fellow pig in his or her place, and sometimes squabble amongst themselves to enforce this social hierarchy.

I’d like to present an analysis of the traits that can determine an individual pig’s status within his or her drove:

pig trait analysis

Toward the end of the tour, I got down to the nitty gritty and asked Bill about the manner in which his pigs are slaughtered. Interestingly, Bill is not allowed to slaughter and butcher the pigs himself if he is going to sell the meat to the public. Instead, by law, he must have the pigs processed at a USDA-approved facility. Hearing this initially raised my hackles a bit, but after I received the full story, my worries were abated.

Bill, as I mentioned, knows his pigs by sight. Every few weeks, he identifies the ones that are ready to be butchered and catches them (which is usually just the case of closing the gate when they come to the farm pen for their daily meal). The pigs then spend a few days in the pen, where there is plenty of space and lovely mud to wallow in, so that they can get used to the enclosed quarters.

mud wallow

When it is butchering day, he personally takes the pigs down to Blue Ridge Meats, his butcher in Front Royal.

Bill mentioned that his butcher is certified humane, but as we both agreed, like “certified organic”, “certified humane” can encompass a variety of abattoir environments and practices. Here’s the skinny on what goes down for the Babes from the Wood:

  • The pigs are slaughtered individually, and the other pigs are not exposed to the death of their fellow animals.
  • The pigs are killed with a single shot to the back of the neck/head, and then they are bled out and butchered. I thought that the “shot” was an electrical shock of some sort, but I forgot to clarify, and after doing some Internet research, it might also be a captive bolt gun. The common alternative to this practice is that the pigs have their throats slit and are bled out while they are still alive and, quite literally, screaming.
  • At Bill’s butcher, on a really, really, busy day, they may butcher up to 20 pigs. Contrast that with a typical commercial factory farm, which may slaughter thousands of pigs per day.
  • I checked out Blue Ridge Meats’ website post-tour, and was pleased to see that they clearly support and adhere to the humane butchery of their animals.

Thus, in my opinion, if you are trying to source humanely raised and slaughtered pork, you need look no further than Babes in the Wood. These are happy, healthy pigs who are extremely well cared for and have the chance to lead a natural, piggy lives before they are butchered with consideration and compassion. [Ed: And Mr. HP assures you that Babes in the Wood pork is DELICIOUS. You can get a sandwich at their tent at Charlottesville’s Saturday City Market, in addition to buying packaged meat.]

Having exhausted Rockin’ Road Name Revue on my way out, I found time on the drive home to reflect on my visit and compose a few pig-related haikus, also known as hamkus:

meat on cloven feet
bacon, ham, sausage, pork are
names for pigs we eat


My dear porcine friend,
I’m glad you had a good life
up until the end.

And with that, I’ll turn, appropriately, to the words of Porky Pig to sum up this post: “Th-th-that’s all, folks!”

happy pig

The Great Locavore Dinner Party Challenge

We all agree (right?) that there are environmental, societal, nutritional, and taste benefits to getting your produce and animal products from local farms, but how many locally-sourced ingredients are actually in *your* average dinner? The always-entertaining Cheenius, Mr.Dr. Cheenius, Butter Boy & Butter Babe (aka the Tiny Twosome), and friends challenged themselves with a special dinner party to see how local their cooking could get. Here’s Cheenius to tell you more…

lakeside dining

Locavores . . . eating local . . . blah blah blah local.  Cheenius and friends decided it was time to meet the challenge head-on and hold a Local Food Only Dinner.  Each guest made something that was primarily sourced from near-by foods, which gave us an interesting menu:

Local beer, wine, and cider (duh)
Baba Ganoush
Deviled Eggs
Tomato Mozarella Salad
Potatoes Au Gratin
Roasted Corn/Black Beans/Peppers/Tomato/Feta Salad
Roasted Potatoes
Blueberry Pie
Peach Honey Ice Cream

(No main dish, but did we really need one?)

local beverages

local caprese

Everything was quite tasty, especially the Potatoes Au Gratin from Butter Babe, and we were having fun (discussing Ebola, etc.) until Cheenius ruined it with . . .


She and Mr.Dr. Cheenius made everyone score their dishes as follows:

  • Grown or made yourself = 3 points
  • Grown within 50 miles = 2 points
  • From anywhere in VA = 1 point

It was a weighted average, so you had to consider the percentage each ingredient made of the whole dish, and then multiply by the point system, and then add them up.  All this on a Friday night?  Ridiculous.

corn, tomato, avocado, bean salad

local blueberry pie

Obviously Cheenius, with her own garden and eggs, won, but she graciously bestowed jars of local honey as prizes to the 2nd and 3rd place winners.  One lucky guest also won for most local human (if you count Northern VA as Virginia).

Good times, may have to make it an annual event!

Coursera course “The Meat We Eat” meat cooking project

Over the past several weeks I’ve been participating in a basic overview meat sciences and technology course from the University of Florida, via Coursera, called The Meat We Eat. The course description, from Coursera, is:

The average American is now at least three generations removed from production agriculture.  This leads to the disconnection between how the public views agriculture and how scientists and producers view it, resulting in consumer distrust of science and commercial food production.  It is this lack of trust which leads to consumer confusion and the urge to grasp at multiple solutions.  However a growing number of consumers in developed countries are aspiring to “know where their food comes from”.  Animal agriculture needs to explain the technology which will be used to sustainably feed 9 billion people by 2050.

As a proponent of sourcing meat and meat products from local, sustainably run farms raising pastured, ethically treated animals rather than from massive industrial operations where output, rather than animal/environment/worker welfare and product quality, is prioritized, I thought it was important that I understand more of the details of large-scale commercial meat production. I’ll type up some lecture notes in another post; here I will discuss my final meat cookery project.

The Assignment

Document preparation of a meat recipe, discussing the details of the type and cut of meat, its packaging and appearance, storage, cookery method, sanitation, and food safety issues. I chose to cook a steak dinner, as beef is currently the only non-fish meat I am eating, and as an extra challenge, I wanted to grill the steaks. I’d never grilled steaks before, myself. (See here for another recent foray into cooking steak–I’ve only recently added steak into my pescatarian-for-over-ten-years diet.)

What I cooked

The Charlottesville, Virginia farmer’s market has several local meat vendors; I chose Wolf Creek Farm based on their wide variety of cuts of beef, and a prior positive experience. Wolf Creek breeds and raises their own cows on a pure (chemical fertilizer-free) grass diet, without antibiotics or hormones. They value environmental stewardship, healthy animals, and happy workers and community, while creating products customers will enjoy.

Wolf Creek Farm

Wolf Creek Farm’s website describes the stark contrasts between their small-scale beef production and typical industrial beef production:

“Our grass-fed, natural beef is a result of carefully selected herd genetics, that:

  • enjoys animal husbandry based upon intensive personal care and respect with no force-fed hormones and no antibiotics
  • is finished only on lush natural grass pastures with no grain or other supplements
  • is processed calmly with artisan skill in a small and clean rural abattoir with no need for irradiation and no antimicrobials
  • produces cuts that are dry-aged, safe, and nutritious

Contrast this with the beef produced by the industrial beef conglomerates who control 98% of the US beef production, where:

  • animal husbandry consists of force-fed hormones and constant antibiotics in a mechanized process
  • finishing is accomplished in confinement feed-lots by feeding grain that is produced under significant chemical fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide loads, combined with feed supplements containing antibiotics such as Rumensin to inhibit rumen gas build-up and bloat from the grain and Tylosin to reduce liver infections caused by bacteria from pH imbalanced rumens, ionophores, synthetic estrogens to promote growth such as Revlar which are banned in Europe, liquefied fat, and other protein supplements
  • processing is accomplished in an industrial slaughter-house with minimum wage labor on a disassembly-line where the emphasis is on speeds reaching over 400 animals per hour and requires irradiation and hot steam chamber antimicrobials at the end of the line to ensure the meat is “safe”
  • cutting these tens of thousands of wet-aged carcasses produces co-mingled meat containing high levels of saturated fats”

Beef prices by cut

Not being very steak-savvy, I asked the purveyor to recommend a steak for grilling. His immediate response was “rib steak.”

Beef retail cuts

How is a rib steak different from the better known ribeye steak? They’re basically the same, but the rib steak is bone-in while the ribeye is not. Rib cuts are harvested from the rib primal, which covers the upper rib cage. A rib steak is comprised of three major muscles, Longissimus Dorsi, Spinalis Dorsi & Multifidus Dorsi, and as this area of the cow is not used for locomotion or weight-bearing, the meat is naturally tender and marbled with fat.

Rib cuts

The meat is butchered at the farm’s abattoir, hung in cool storage for 21-28 days to dry age–wherein natural enzymes tenderize and flavor the meat–and then vacuum sealed and flash frozen. The steaks at the market were stored frozen in clean coolers. I chose two steaks: one was 0.98lb, for $16.57, and the other was 0.82 lb, for $13.87. Rib steaks are $16.50/lb plus tax.

Frozen steaks

In addition to the two steaks, I picked up some shiitake and oyster mushrooms (1/4 lb for $4), and an avocado ($2), and two tomatoes ($1.50) to go with some cucumbers from a friend’s yard.

How I cooked it

My initial plan, based on the meat purveyor’s suggestion, was to sear the steaks over high heat on the grill for 10-15 seconds a side, and then let them cook a couple minutes per side over 250-300 degree heat. But then a friend told Trusty Sous Chef Mr HP and I about reverse searing and we were intrigued.

‘A small but vocal population of steak lovers swears by the “reverse sear” technique. The theory behind this method is that cooking the steak in the oven first will dry the outside of the steak while slowly cooking the inside and keeping it tender. If the outside of the steak is dry, it will then sear faster and more efficiently in a hot pan.’ — from Mark’s Daily Apple

The new plan: start the steaks in a 275 degree oven until they reach 100-110 degrees, and then move them to a hot grill to sear the outsides.

Step 1: Thaw the steaks.

In the fridge, overnight. Our fridge is around 38 degrees.

Thawed steaks

Step 2: Unwrap the steaks and pat them dry. Then wash hands.

Pat the steaks dry

Step 3: Salt and pepper both sides of the meat.

Salt and pepper the steaks

Step 4: Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Preheat the grill to high. When the oven is ready, load in the steaks on a rack to facilitate air circulation around the meat.

Steaks go in the oven first

(Meanwhile, chop cukes, tomatoes, and avocado. Mix in a large bowl with a bit of olive oil and balsamic or wine vinegar.)

Chop the veggies

(Then chop up the mushrooms, keeping the shiitakes separate from the oysters, as cooking times differ. Heat a dry skillet to medium, add the shiitakes first, and then the more delicate oysters a couple minutes later. When the mushrooms are almost cooked, add some butter to the pan for a boost of flavor.)

Mixed mushrooms

Step 5: When the steaks reach 100-110 degrees (not the 87 pictured below), remove them from the oven onto a clean plate.

Checking temperature in oven

I found that when the steaks hit the target temperature, they took on a grayish color (see image below), which I will use next time as an indicator that it’s time to check temp, rather than the paranoid stabbing of the steaks every couple minutes that I employed here.

Steaks out of the oven

Step 6: Drop the steaks on the hot hot grill to sear for 2 minutes each side.

Grilling the steaks

Check the degree of doneness using a meat thermometer. As we learned in class, palatability is maximized at 145 degrees, which is right between rare (140 degrees) and medium rare (150 degrees). My steak, being smaller than Mr HP’s, would be a little more cooked, but that was ok with me as I’m just getting back into the eating steak swing of things.

Checking temperature of steak

Step 7: Move the steaks to a clean plate and cover loosely with foil for ten minutes, to let the juices reabsorb into the meat.

The picture of that wasn’t interesting so I am sparing you.

Step 8: Serve and enjoy!

Dinner is ready

Cooked rib steak

Storing Leftovers

The steak was fantastic, and the only “leftovers” were fatty bits and the bone from each steak; luckily we knew a certain dog who would be very interested in helping take care of those. The gristly pieces went into a sealed container in the fridge to be portioned out over the next few meals, but he got to enjoy a bone right away.

Steak leftovers

Leftover rib steak bone

Leftover rib steak bone


This experiment was a great success. The quality of the steak, the ease and results of the reverse-sear cooking method, and the simple but complementary sides (which were completely local except for the avocado, so that’s a potential place for improvement) all exceeded our expectations.

Estimated costs

Steak 1: $16.57

Steak 2: $13.87

Mushrooms: $4

Cucumbers: free

Tomatoes: $1.50

Avocado: $2

Total meal cost: $37.94

Total meat cost: $30.44

Meat’s percentage of total cost: 80%