Wednesday, October 12, 2016

October 12, 2016

Oxygen Poisoning

     Two weeks ago Katherine and I took time out from the endless routine of preparing the farm for the impending onslaught of cold weather and went for a long drive to the west coast of Vermont.

     Our mission was to pick up a half ton of certified organic barley from Adirondack Organic Grains. Getting there involves scaling the Green Mountains and descending into the Champlain Valley in order to take the ferry across the Lake and into that distant territory of New York.

     It was a gorgeous early Autumn day.  The brilliant foliage that greets us these chilly mornings was still green, with just the merest hint of the yellows and reds that would astound us a fortnight later, and the air was warm enough to warrant short sleeves as we stood on the deck and watched the New York shore grow nigh.

     Mark Wrisley and his sons have been growing organic grains for a number of years now and they have made an impressive investment in huge storage bins, a combine that would do credit to any farm in the western U.S., plus new buildings to house equipment.  This year is the second one that has seen dealings between Burelli Farm and Adirondack Grains and we are grateful for the presence of such an abundant and credible nearby source of feed for our pigs and chickens.

      After loading the grain in our pickup truck, we returned to Vermont the long way around, driving south to the new Crown Point bridge that spans the narrowest part of Lake Champlain, then northeast to Bristol for a light lunch and finally climbing the formidable Lincoln Gap back to Waitsfield, and finally over Moretown Mountain to the Dog River Valley and home base.

      The beauty of that leisurely trip and semi-sea voyage contrasts greatly with an experience I had just a few days before at one of the farmers’ markets that I have been attending each week all summer.

     On that occasion I was straining to hear what the gentleman before me was trying to say.  The musician was singing about being “down on the bayou,” to the accompaniment of his amplified guitar, with a drummer in the background, and the combination just about drowned out anything else.

     I identified him as elderly, although chronologically he probably was not much past my own vintage of 70-plus.  He was bent over one of those high-tech walkers, made of titanium, or some other exotic material, and he spoke with a thick accent that I couldn’t identify.  Italian, perhaps, or eastern European?  The music made it impossible to place.

      So as to make the conversation more audible for both of us, I stepped out from behind my table.  The music had now segued into something about the joys of riding the rodeo but the song was coming to an end and during the lull I could begin to discern most of what the bent-over codger was saying.

     “When I first came to the country, I was so happy to go into a supermarket and see all the fruits and vegetables and meats together in one place.”  (I’m unable to replicate the cadence and pronunciation of the fractured English, but that’s the gist of it.)

     “I told my mother and father that I wouldn’t need to work in the garden anymore.  I hated it.  They had a big garden and fruit trees and they grew most of what they ate.  But I didn’t want to do it.  I told them it gave me oxygen poisoning.”

     I looked carefully for a hint of a smile, but his face didn’t change. 

     It’s not often that I am at a loss for words, but this time I couldn’t think of any way to respond.  So after a short pause, he resumed his shuffled walk, bent over the walking gadget, and exited the market, without looking to the right or the left.  I noticed that there was no sign of a shopping bag on his walker, so it is safe to assume that he hadn’t purchased anything.

     Oxygen poisoning. 

     Wherever this gentleman’s life journey had taken him, earlier in life, working in a factory or an office or some other indoor environment, he had long been deprived of sunlight as was evidenced by the unhealthy pallor of his face and arms.

     I am an organic farmer and an unabashed enthusiast for locally grown food produced without manufactured chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, so the following is my admittedly biased opinion.  Here it is: the supermarket food that he found so much more convenient than the bounty of his parents’ garden was hormone laden, poison sprayed, and devoid of nature’s nutrients.  A lifetime of that kind of eating made a significant contribution to his currently disabled physical condition. 

     OK, it’s fine if you disagree or have a very opinion.  I’m aware that my position is one that is frequently disputed and debated.

     But we might agree that there is a connection between diet, exercise and health.

     Or is oxygen poisoning a threat to be aware of and avoided?
     I think about this phrase daily as I go about my work with the cattle, the chickens and the pigs.  I am outside in the chill of early October mornings, remove my cold-weather gear under the brilliant sun of the afternoons, and don it again as it begins to grow dark later on.  In the intervals between chores, when I am in the house, it is usually in order to cook wholesome meals, using organic ingredients from our land or that of other similar farms.  Of course, there is also the eating of those luscious creations.  And in the doing of all those things there is the breathing.  Good fresh air, lots of oxygen, deep in the recesses of my lungs, bearing the necessities that make life possible.

     Oxygen poisoning?  Well, I guess I can't rule it out, but I'm a skeptic.  

     We’ve got a good stockpile of certified organic government inspected chickens in our freezers and we will be offering them here at the farm for as long as they last.  Beef and pork are on the horizon as well, and we’re taking orders now for Autumn delivery.  Contact Katherine to get on our radar.

     There are almost an infinite number of ways to cook chicken.  For those folks who tell me that they don’t really know much about it, I start by suggesting that a whole chicken can simply be put in the oven for an hour or so and the result will be a meal that is both quick and easy, as well as delicious.

       When it’s as hot as it’s been this summer, I try to avoid heating up the kitchen, so for those that are just a wee bit ambitious, I suggest cooking outdoors on the grill.  Again, there are many methods for grilling our amazing organic birds, and you don’t have to be limited by anything but your imagination.

     Here’s one of my recipes.

     Butterflied grilled chicken.

     To butterfly the chicken so it will lie flat on the grill, I make two cuts lengthwise along both sides of the back, about one or one and a half inches apart, depending on the bird’s size.  You could perform this operation with a poultry sheers or even a good heavy-duty scissors.  I use a sharp knife. Cut all the way through the soft bones from front to rear, releasing the back so it can be entirely pulled out.  Save the back for simmering to make gravy, or feed it to your favorite dog, (s)he will love it.

     Open the bird so it lies flat, using the breast bone as if it were a hinge.  Coat the chicken with coarse salt and garlic powder, or place several whole garlic cloves under the skin along the breasts.  If you like other herbs or spices, go with your favorites.  Rosemary and tarragon are good choices for chicken, and there are many more to choose from.

     Pre-heat the grill to a moderate temperature, about 300 degrees F, coat with the surface with cooking spray, and place the butterflied bird skin size up on the grill.  Watch the temperature carefully.  Higher than 300 degrees will result in burning the skin.  After about 20 minutes, turn the chicken over and cook for an additional 20 minutes.  For a 3 ½ to 4 pound bird 40 minutes cooking time should be sufficient.  Use a meat thermometer, if you have one, and check to be sure that the thickest part of the breast meat has reached 180 degrees. If you don’t have a thermometer, pull gently on a leg bone.  When cooking is complete the bone should pull away from the carcass and the juices should flow clear. 

     If either of the above criteria are not met, cook a bit longer.

     I like to eat chicken cooked this way with small potatoes roasted on the grill, but any of a wide variety of side dishes will compliment the bird really well.  This time of year a big salad with the let of the heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers fresh from the garden is a must.