To Roast a Pig: Reflections at 50
“All you need is love. But a little [pork] doesn’t hurt.”
–After Charles Shultz
Because I am a Taurus and prone to culinary extravagance—I’ll spend my last $100 buying a free-range veal roast for a dinner party; I pick fresh sea scallops for ceviche instead of picking up salsa and chips—when I turned fifty this spring in Paris, it wasn’t enough to celebrate with a handful of girlfriends, my mouth wide open to pate de maison, pastel plates of macaron, and many coups de champagne for a few days in the City of Light.
|Cochinita Pibil from the pit|
No, what I required was a production, something Cecil B. DeMille in scope. For fifty, I needed an epic undertaking, a quest, the holy grail of culinary events.
So I roasted a whole pig.
What ensued was two weeks of party planning and preparation, including designating and digging the pit away from pine trees and wildflowers, searching for enough bricks to line it, finding scrap metal to cover it, and calculating its size if I needed an 8 inch buffer around and over pans I hadn’t yet acquired.
None of these things was fun.
“Why do you do this to yourself?” My keep-it-simple boyfriend asked. I tried to explain the pleasure pain principle of party planning.
“It’s an edge,” I said, shrugging.
|Rick Bayless-inspired pit|
But about a week into the preparation, I was miserable. I kept approximating different dimensions each time I measured the pit, and I had no idea how many bricks I’d need. I hurt my back shoveling gravel the first day and had to flesh out the rest of the pit with a spade and a garden claw. The roasting pans had to be collected from four different households in Boulder County. And turns out, big sheets of scrap metal are rarities. Two days before roasting was to commence, I still hadn’t gotten enough solid bricks and the metal I picked up might, I was told, “off gas” when heated. I was an angry wreck. But it was too late to pull out. The pig had been ordered and paid for.
This is not the point in the story where I tell you it all ended well (it did) and that I am glad that I did it (I’m not), shoveling out a tale of gastronomic triumph over adversity. Instead, it’s the point where I reflect, at fifty, on my need to do such things.
|Pit roasting make the pig juicy, juicy!|
Over my life I have cultivated a competence that is, well, intimidating. Think Sisyphus forever rolling his rock: I live alone in a cabin heated by a wood stove at a very high altitude in a remote party of Boulder County and my boyfriend lives a hardly-available-at-the-spur-of- the-moment 55 miles away. I have juggled jobs, an ailing pet, a parent in hospice for 18 months and counting, and I manage to pitch in for my professional and artistic communites and still entertain friends on a regular basis. I’ve let everyone (including myself) think I’m unsinkable, and apparently, I take pleasure in pulling off the impossible. Recently, I was rejected for a grant for a project in which I planned to install 6 poetry stations in my mountain community’s park, coordinating artists, poets, college students, and community members to design and implement the project over 9 months. The grant committee’s objection? I couldn’t do it all by myself. Ha.
What made this party-cum-Sisyphean rock different has to do with the very fact of fifty. For over half my life, I have been invested in being in charge and in proving myself both in and out of the kitchen in the most dramatic ways. But, with over half the water of my life under the bridge, this M.O. seems frankly tired.
In choosing to roast a pig, I wanted a symbol of the big, rich life I’ve lived—and I got it– but I also got a reminder that I repeatedly pick huge rocks to shove up hill. It’s not the act that was wrong; it was the intention. Looking back, I might have felt more “celebrated” if I gone on a yoga retreat.
I’m not the first to say that food is love, but it took a 60 pound swine buried in my yard to get me to see the person I’ve been trying to love all these years is me. In the most circuitous way. Contrary to what I’ve believed, I don’t have to do anything to deserve it.
|The chochinita pibil falling off the bone|
A wise woman once told me, in response to an image I’d conjured of life as a rushing river and me rooted firmly on a rock amidst the turmoil, that I “needed to learn to surf.” That means learning to let go and breath in.
For the next half of my life, that’s just what I’m going to do. There is a saying that “one does not feed a swine for its own sake,” but in remembering to put myself and the pleasure of cooking first, I plan to fatten and celebrate that pig as a true thing of beauty.