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A little less than a happy high
*At least for today

At the farm a few weeks ago, J was looking to expand his flock of chickens and in preparation, managed to score a free rooster on Craigslist. After promising that he wasn't just planning on eating it, he arranged to have it dropped off, sight unseen and relatively few questions asked. I had the responsibility of receiving it, and when he arrived, I knew right away that we were going to have problems. The new rooster was a Silkie, a half-sized bird who comes with a face full of vision-obscuring feathers and a remarkable lack of talent for flying. These are both unfortunate traits for a free-roaming rooster on farm plagued by foxes and hawks.

To make matters worse, he was kind of a pacifist. Every time I saw him over the next few days, he was doing a little dance for one of the much larger hens (and the dance was adorable), which was invariably cut short when the big Brahma rooster who ruled to roost launched at him loudly. Sadly, I only saw him over the next few days. On his third night with us, he managed to not find his way into the coop and, despite a concerted effort to find him as dusk fell, disappeared into the night. I like to think that he left to dance his way home, but he probably got et by the fox. Poor Morrissey, we hardly knew you.

flash forward. I got home this past week, and V and I were tagged by a neighbor on Saturday as the "chicken experts" (read "only people around with any experience with chickens") because there was a stray that was wandering around the neighborhood. At first, it was to make sure it wasn't one of ours, escaped and run amok in a WWII Navy veteran's garage. Then, it was to catch her.

She was a Silkie.

I had started this post thinking that I don't have the best luck with Silkies. At first, we chased the bird around, met a bunch of neighbors who were curious why we were poking around their yards or who wanted to offer help, and then utterly lost her in the brush between ours and the yard next door. We were sad because she was gone, and I was convinced that I had just witnessed another wee bird walking off into the night. I briefly gave up hope, but then I decided to go back outside. She was there, and with just a little coaxing she came into our back yard.

She hasn't quite been accepted into the flock yet, she still hasn't fully wrapped her tiny head around the coop as home, and still runs away when we open the door. That said, she laid an egg today in the right place. It made me extraordinarily happy.

Finding that half of my strawberries were fuzzy much less so, but that's a whole other story.
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Is there ever any sort of discussion about the environmental impact of the oil spills associated with tankers sunk in WWII?
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Last night's meal:

Veal sweetbreads from calves slaughtered that morning in a cream sauce made with wild garlic and foraged mushrooms.

I'm not even going to tell you about the brownies. My god, the brownies...
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I took in a bit too much sun today while driving around in the convertible.

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Aw, hell.
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We bought a house!
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I've spent eight weeks as an apprentice, and though I've been asked to stay on for a little bit yet, I've completed the official program of study. At eight weeks, I have a decent understanding of anatomy, different approaches for butchering each animal, and skills and techniques to draw upon as I work. I also have a keen awareness that I'm barely beginning. I learn things every time I pick up a knife, and that's amazing and intense and more than a little scary. I still make mistakes, I am slower than I should be, and I should probably spend the next couple of weeks doing nothing but cutting steaks. The absolutely crazy thing is that I don't care. It just feels so fucking right.
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...but frighteningly close.

Normally liver is cut to order and as a result not quite so readily available in the shop as, say, sausages or steak. The opportunity for this arose when the instruction, "cut this up" was understood by one of the hands to mean not "into 1/2" slices," but "into a bizarre assortment of irregular sized and shaped pieces." I jumped on it, and was dubbed the staff's favorite cook and eater.

I didn't stray far with this, but I promise the results were delicious.

You will need per person served:

A sense of nostalgia, adventure, or both
1/2" slice of calf's liver
1 onion, sliced fine
1-2 slices of thick cut bacon
Salt and pepper
Olive oil or butter

  • Cook the onions on low heat until they soften. When cooked through, bring the heat up to brown them slightly.
  • Meanwhile, use a second pan to brown the bacon over low heat. Wish that you had some ventrèche you made instead. That's what I used, and it was brilliant.
  • When the bacon is finished, remove it from the pan, turn up the heat, and brown both sides of your pristine slice of liver in the rendered bacon fat. 2-3 minutes per side should do, more if you prefer it less pink and more grainy. Season with salt and pepper as it's browning.
  • Be thankful your liver doesn't look like a set of polyhedral dice.
  • Stack on a plate with some lightly dressed greens and mashed potatoes.
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It's snowing (hard) again here in the Catskills, and a woman's voice, singing something old and unidentifiable, is coming from somewhere deep in the woods above. It's beautiful and not a little eerie.
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"Proof positive that a bout of insomnia does not lend itself to whole animal butchery."


"You'll only ever try to catch a knife once."

I'm fine. I just managed to get a nasty gash on the end of my finger (see user icon to get a clear idea which) which relegated me to trimming skirt steaks and fillets all day rather than learning to break a chuck as was originally planned.
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In celebration of seeing V for the first time in two months, I simply had to cook. And because he had detoured on her way home from a conference in barbecue country (Lexington style, iirc), secured transport into the hippie hills in the wee hours, and braved the treacherous path up to the cottage on crutches and in a boot, I wanted it to be something special. Enter the dry-aged ribeye.

The shop does its own dry aging, setting aside whole joints for a period of roughly 21 days. During this time, various natural processes shed moisture, tenderize muscle fibers, and concentrate and improve the overall flavor of the beef. When it's finished, it's trimmed, cut, and sold dear. The result is steak that tastes like a little bit of magic.

I riffed on David Chang and Fergus Henderson for this one. I think what was most fun about this process was that adaptations and departures seemed to suggest themselves based on what was on hand and entirely on the fly.

You will need for a generous dinner for two:

2 marrow bones (center-cut, roughly 2" long)
3 shallots, one sliced paper thin, the other two peeled
Bunch of parsley
Olive oil
Meyer lemon
Bone-in dry aged ribeye steak, cut to 1.5"
Thyme (sprigs are best, but make do)
Salt and pepper

  • Let steak sit for roughly 30 minutes at room temperature.
  • Slice one shallot as thin as you can, chop parsley leaves, and toss the lot with olive oil, salt, and the juice of your lemon. Cool in the fridge.
  • Pre-heat oven to 400F. When you reach temperature, place the marrow bones in a roasting pan large enough to hold them and eventually the steak and put them into the oven for 12 minutes.
  • Liberally season both sides of the steak with salt and pepper.
  • Place pan with a hint of oil over medium high heat. When oil just begins to smoke, sear each side of the steak for 2 minutes.
  • Transfer steak to roasting pan with marrow bones and return to the oven for approximately 10 minutes.
  • At your mark, remove the steak from the oven and set aside. Cover and rest for 10 minutes.
  • While your meat rests, take the pan the steak was seared in and place it over medium low heat. Add a knob of butter and a splash of oil and scrape any fond from the bottom of the pan. Scoop the marrow from the bones and whisk it into the resulting mixture. Add shallots and thyme, reduce heat to low.
  • Cut main muscle of the steak away from the bone and cut on the bias into 1/2" thick slices. Place several of these onto each plate with a hint of the heavily flavored butter and a spoon of the parsley salad on the side. Serve with a green salad and savor.

Chang actually does this whole process in a large cast iron skillet, with no transfer, and with a spoon basting of the meat after it comes out of the oven. Conceptually, it's rather lovely, but equipment being what it is and wanting to introduce the roasted marrow to take it that much more over the top, I opted for a departure from his method. Dinner was brilliant, and all the more so for V's smile and quiet enjoyment.


Some naming criteria as shared by one of my mentors:

1) Get over the "What the hell am I doing?" (or in my case "I'm the Junior Team Member!") hump
2) Lose weight
3) Notice that your hands hurt almost all of the time

and as a special optional bonus...

4) List "apprentice butcher" as your occupation on a passport application
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Between the clunky interface that throws ads at me whenever I try to log in, a home page that I don't believe is customizable and filled with useless crap, and an utter lack of control over spam accounts that seem to respond to everything I post, I am rapidly losing patience with LJ.
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As I had been warned by the two gents before me, beef is simultaneously precisely the same and a whole other thing altogether. Four ribs and two loins for me today, and I left for lunch feeling a bit dazed. Tomorrow we'll hit rounds and a chuck if we have the time. I've little doubt that I will be tired and sore.

Rumor also has it that there's a 400lb pig coming in (most I've worked with have been a little over the 200lb mark) which is prompting an early start for me. Seems the guys have decided to time my breaking on this one. Wish me luck.
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On the left is a chunk meat variant of a spicy coppa. On the right is saucisson sec. In the center is a beef sausage we crafted on the fly. All are test runs to try to get a sense of what works and whether the conditions in that back basement hall are favorable to larger scale experimentation. With any luck, they'll be ready for sampling some time around April 7.
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Today, Tom Schneller showed me a new way to remove the hock from a ham, and I hung sausages to age on a aged steel bed frame in a move that was deemed "too rustic" by my colleague. Pics of the latter are sure to follow.

I was also put in charge of showing the new apprentice how to break a side of pork. Tomorrow, I'll be taking him through lamb.
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The other apprentices in the shop came to the program as steak guys. At the outset they may not have been able to identify where on the animal a steak came from, but they knew about the steak, how best to cook it, and usually a number of accompaniments to serve it to best effect. By contrast, I've been tagged as a pork and offal guy. I don't have the greatest grasp of my beef cuts, but I can generally think of a half dozen uses for something like tongue or trotter that don't involve grinding them into pet food or worse, tossing them.

I promise this is going somewhere.

Because of where it's located, the muscle that makes up the hanger tends to pick up flavors usually associated with offals, and the result is a tiny piece of beef that packs a lots of flavor. The manager who stayed behind to tend the shop while most everyone else took the field trip to Montreal gave me two this week. The first because he wanted my opinion on a "real" hanger, and the second because I managed to leave the first in the bar across the street and then called the owner and told her to take it home for dinner. I may have had some booze-ahol while I was at the bar, but she seemed happy to have a plan for dinner.

In any case, I brought the second with me on a visit to friends in Boston, cooked it as simply as I could conceive, and it was a delight.

What you'll need:

One hanger steak (roughly .5 lb, or 1/2 of the actual muscle)
Salt & Pepper
Olive oil
Cast iron skillet

  • If you don't already have a 10"cast iron skillet that either belonged to or was gifted from your maternal grandmother (and preferably both), go out and get one already. You can skip this step, but man, it's brilliant.
  • Season the meat with salt and pepper and leave at room temperature for 15-20 minutes.
  • Put a little oil into your skillet and heat over medium high heat.
  • Place the hanger into the hot skillet and cook for a little more than 90 seconds and no more than 2 minutes per side.
  • Remove from heat, wrap in foil and let rest for 5-10 minutes.
  • Slice thinly and place on a plate. Squeeze the barest amount of lemon juice over the slices, serve and relish.

You've probably noticed that this makes a tiny amount of food, but keep in mind that the hanger is and should be a rare treat since there is typically about 1 lb of it a full grown steer. The sustainability set has ranted far more eloquently about this than I can, but it is interesting to keep the scarcity of the cut in mind when you see hanger offered as a regular menu item at high volume restaurants.

Edited for spelling...
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I was at the door on my way out of the shop already laden with a bag of stuff for cooking when I heard Rosa (whose name has been changed for purposes of this story) calling after me. I turned around to find her handing me a bag containing a whole, bone-in chicken breast. Rosa is a lovely young woman who is a joy to have around, but she doesn't speak much more English than "thank you" and "for home." Needless to say, in spite of my protestation ("muy mucho," which, let's face it, is about the extent of my Spanish and likely incorrect to boot), I ended up bringing even more meat home.

Bone-in chicken breast is reasonably easy to work with, but it's not exactly the best mover because there seems to be logical disconnect between it and the boneless skinless breasts called for in every other Cooking Light recipe. There's also a degree of squeamishness around bones because they suggest a living animal in a way that a fillet under plastic on a bright yellow tray does not. And while I wouldn't recommend reaching the point of my mania, I'll encourage each and every one of you who hasn't crossed from omnivorous eating to work with bone-in chicken every now and again.

In any case, rants over. For this ample meal for two, you will need:

1 whole bone-in chicken breast from a humanely raised bird
Onions and garlic left over from flavoring the Trotter Red Sauce
Salt & Pepper
Olive oil

This is about as simple as prepping a meal gets:
  • Pre-heat oven to 450F.
  • Heat some olive oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat. Prepare the chicken by splitting it in two with a sturdy knife and seasoning each side of the two pieces with salt and pepper.
  • Place the breasts in the skillet skin-side down and let brown for a few minutes without disturbing.
  • Line the bottom of a oven-safe dish just big enough to hold the breasts with the onions and garlic. When chicken has browned, place it on top of this layer skin side up, sprinkle on some thyme and bake for 15 minutes.
  • Turn the breasts over and cook for roughly 15 minutes more.
  • Remove breasts from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Eat and be happy.
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This weekend, driven by an urge to recreate a tagliatelle in trotter ragu I had on a visit to 'The City' last week, I found Nate Appleman's riff on Ragù alla Napoletana and provisioned. I grabbed a couple of trotters and a hock off the pork I started cutting last week, stopped at the grocery store for additional supplies, and had at it.

Should you have the urge to follow this path, you will need:

1/4 cup olive oil
2 T bacon drippings
1 large onion, peeled and cut in half across the middle
1/2 head of garlic, peeled
2 pig's feet, split down the middle
1 ham hock (smoked would probably be delicious, but mine was not)
2 28 oz cans of whole peeled tomatoes
1 bay leaf
Salt & Pepper
Some sort of flat noodley pasta
Plenty of time

  • Heat oil and drippings in the bottom of a large pot. Reduce heat to low, place the onion halves in the oil and cook slowly for roughly 45 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 15-20.
  • Meanwhile, pour tomatoes into a large bowl and crush with your hands or some other handy instruments. Consider that this may turn out to be much less refined than what you were served in the restaurant. Stick blenders can be wonderful things.
  • At the end of roughly an hour of cooking, remove the onion and garlic and set aside for another use (I opted to use them to flavor chicken breasts that were thrust upon me as I left the shop, but that's a different story).
  • Add tomatoes, herbs, and porky bits to the pot and bring just to a boil before reducing the heat to a gentle simmer. Find something else to do while you wait four hours as the sauce cooks.
  • Cook for an hour more because you're crazy like that.
  • Once the simmer is over, remove the hock and reserve for some other use. (My plan is for a pork hash with sunny-side up eggs, but you may have other ideas.)
  • Similarly, remove the trotters and carefully pull the bones from the skin and meat. Discard these, and chop the remaining bits finely before returning them to the sauce.
  • Taste and season. Do not skimp on the salt.
  • Cook noodles and serve with the simplest of green salads.
  • Do not be surprised to see the leftovers turn into flavor jelly when it cools. Word of warning: this stuff is rich.


Something else of note: there's a new apprentice in this week, so while I am not necessarily on the All Beef, All the Time track that the two gents ahead of me are on, I'm also not the new guy anymore. To highlight this, my week so far has been prepping requested cuts for orders or in preparation for sales tomorrow rather than any sort of intensive instruction. It's all been about using what I know and refining techniques. That, and supplying the new new guy with lamb necks to de-bone. Poor kid.
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This past week we were given advanced sausage making basics at the shop. The "advanced" bit included thoughts on equipment, costs, and strategies around large scale production. "Basics" focused a little more on crafting recipes, techniques to use, choice of meats, and just how f&cking simple it is to make sausage. I agree, but only to an extent. Truth is, in spite of Ruhlman's catastrophizing over "broken" grinds and his insistence on a step by step method to ensure success, making a seasoned ground meat that may or may not be stuffed into a casing is a rather trivial affair. I do have to depart from my mentor a bit insofar as I believe that crafting a great sausage requires a little more skill.

I'm thinking I managed merely "good" with my project (there were compromises made in the name of expedience), but it has some potential.

What you'll need:

Some basic equipment like a grinder and a large bowl
3.2 fluid oz. coarse sea salt
3 lb lamb
5 lb chicken
2 lb smoked bacon
10 oz bag of frozen spinach
1/8 cup meyer lemon juice
1/4 cup garlic (in granules)
1/8 cup black pepper
1/4 cup oregano
1/8 cup red pepper flakes
2 cups of red wine
1 cup roasted red peppers
An unmeasured quantity of ice

What you'll do:
  • Gather your ingredients, cube the meat, and mix everything together with your hands. Don't worry over naysayers questioning the addition of greens into the mix, but do ask plenty of questions about their behavior in grinds. (Note: unblanched greens tend to turn black.)
  • Grind the meat.
  • Add a "scoop" of ice to the mix (in my case, this worked out to rather less than a quart container) and grind again. Beam a little when the boss says, "This looks fucking great, by the way..."
  • Let grind sit for 24 hours, then stuff into some 20 feet of casings.

To be honest, the volume measures bug me a little, but that's the method currently in use at the shop and I'm there to learn how they do things. On tasting, I thought the grind could use a little more zing (I'm thinking lemon zest) and might be a little on the salty side. I'm also tempted to go all-lamb even though I've been warned against it.


In other news, I have dined with Joel Salatin (who is amiable, funny, and has a notable weakness for ice cream), and spotted Julie Powell (who's taller than I expected) in the shop.  In a more curious twist, I may be traveling to Montreal at the end of this week for a filming of Bizarre Foods and dinner at Au Pied de Cochon.  I probably won't have time to ask Mr. Zimmern about my concerns about his approach.  I am, however, very much looking forward to the possibility of having Picard's Poutine au Foie Gras because it just seems so very, very wrong
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In keeping with the "one pot, many meals" theme I've followed since I've arrived, and with an eye to the crazy amounts of lamb I've been working on, I grabbed a shank and some stew lamb on my way out of the shop on Saturday. I looked to Darina Allen of the Ballymaloe Cookery School for inspiration, but veered wildly from her to coax a little more out of the dish.

You will need:

4 strips of bacon
2 pounds of lamb stew meat (preferably from the neck, but shoulder will do nicely)
1 large lamb shank
2 large onions, diced
5 cloves of garlic
7-10 smallish carrots, peeled and cut into thirds
2 small turnips, peeled and sliced
8 or more potatoes, peeled
4 cups of water
1 bay leaf
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp thyme
Salt and pepper

The work:
  • Wake in the morning and cook the bacon until it is just browned and the fat has rendered. Enjoy your rashers with a pair of sunny-side up eggs. Be thankful that your dietary choices do not require you to forego simple pleasures like eggs and you don't always have to eat at the popular vegan breakfast place in the center of town. (Admittedly they make tasty food, but I just can't wrap my head around french toast with no eggs or milk. My biggest issue, though, centered on the fact that they to serve me almond milk for my coffee without inquiring about allergies. I mean, really...)
  • Set the bacon grease aside, make a shopping list, and gather up your laundry for your coming adventures.
  • Visit the crazy good bakery on the way to the laundromat and try to get the stoner kid behind the counter to grab the right loaf for you. Keep trying. He'll get it eventually, even if his first couple of choices were neither sourdough nor whole wheat.
  • Gather your ingredients from the previously referenced organic produce market while your laundry is in the washer.
  • Change your laundry, strike up a conversation with the older woman you met the previous week and watch as her interest turns into a kind of polite horror when you explain that you are in town learning how to cut meat. Note that she does not stick around to fold.
  • Return home and reheat the bacon grease over medium heat. Place stew meat in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Brown the stew meat without crowding the pan and transfer it to a very large pot. Do the same with the shank.
  • Cook the onions in the same pan until just turning translucent. Add to pot.
  • Add enough water to cover the meat and onions by about 1". Add bay, thyme, Worcestershire, and garlic.
  • Bring to a simmer on the stove top. Cover pot and transfer to a 200F oven and cook for about as long as it takes to watch two episodes of the X-Files on Netflix.
  • Prepare vegetables and add them in rough layers on top of the meat in the pot. Do not expect the liquid to cover all of the added vegetables. Return pot to oven and cook for 1 hour more.
  • Strain liquid, skim and degrease. Remove shank and strip the meat from the bone and fish out the precious bits of marrow. Return everything to the pot and adjust seasonings. Generously serve with a sprinkling of chopped parsley or chives.
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"It's dead, and you have a knife. Guess which one of you is going to win."

I broke five lambs into primals today, deboned shoulders, frenched racks, and tied roasts. I'm tired and I rock.
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Caldo Verde, or "green soup" is the national dish of Portugal. It's based around a few simple ingredients that create a humble and comforting pot of meals to be enjoyed throughout a week of what's been deemed the "snowiest winter ever" by the locals here in not-quite-Upstate New York.

If you're following along at home, you will need:

Olive Oil
3 links of Chorizo or Andouille
1 large Onion, diced
3-4 cloves of Garlic, minced
5-6 Russet Potatoes, peeled & diced
7 cups Water (or even better, Chicken or Pork Stock)
3/4 lb Kale, finely shredded, stems removed
Salt & Pepper to taste

...and here's what you'll need to do. Make adjustments as necessary to reflect your own circumstances and experiences:
  • Acquire a handful of sausages from the shop, resisting all attempts by the manager to give you additional meats. If it helps, keep in mind that the soup you are planning will keep you well fed and happy for much longer than it will take to return to the shop in a couple of days. Chorizo would be the most "authentic," but I opted for chicken andouille because it smelled amazing.
  • Stop at the organic produce market and collect the rest of the ingredients. Explain to the helpful and inquisitive staff that you are, in fact, just making soup for the week and not preparing for the Super Bowl.
  • Return to your adorable cottage and realize that you are incredibly sore and may be nursing a touch of carpel tunnel from all the cutting you've been doing over the course of the week. Opt to recuperate for the next day or so, or at least as long as it takes to get feeling back in the tips of your thumbs. Content yourself with Annie's Shells & Cheddar or some other suitably low-thought dinner substitute. Sleep like a stone.
  • Take the largest pot you have and pour in just enough olive oil to cover the bottom. Heat the oil over medium-low heat.
  • When oil is just shimmering, add whole sausages and brown on all sides.
  • While sausage is browning, figure out a clever way to sharpen the only suitable knife (in my case, a 4" sheepsfoot Ginsu) on the the butter dish cover. Once you are satisfied with the edge, prepare the vegetables.
  • Remove sausages and add onions to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5-10 minutes or until onions are translucent.
  • Add garlic and cook for a minute or two more.
  • Add potatoes and water or stock, and return the browned sausages to the pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a gentle simmer until potatoes are just cooked.
  • Remove sausages again, and use the back of a cracked wooden spatula to mash the potatoes against the side of the pot as best as you can.
  • Cut sausages on the bias and return the sliced links to the pot. Add shredded kale and continue simmer for another 5-10 minutes or until kale is tender. Season and serve with a crusty bread (or Broa, if you've thought ahead and were feeling particularly ambitious).
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It's official.

I am no longer hip enough for Davis Square. That is all.
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Guess who's got two thumbs and will be back in Boston on January 17th? This guy.

I'll be in town for roughly two weeks before disappearing into the wilds of upstate New York, and would love to hang out and catch up with folks. There could be adventures, too! I'll need to find my way up to Maine to pick up a car at my folks place, and I'd gladly trade a Duckfat outing for a ride.
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