Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Listening to Mincemeat

...a friend gives me venison neck and I make the mincemeat...

There it was, that neck, calling out for action on my part. Perfunctorily, I sliced and cut the meat from the bone and chopped it with an enormous cleaver whose weight, alone, was enough to cleave the meat. I melted the suet, added the apples and spices and vinegar and sugar into the pan with the meat, and, as it cooked down, its wafted meaty-fruity-spicy scent said to me, “Take your time, Dear. Don’t you recognize me?”
I tasted and sniffed, and Yes, oh Yes, it was the synthesis of the season, it was the sun dipping low on the horizon and disappearing just after mid-day, it was snow piling up as it’s done this year, it was the inchoate nostalgia of the Christmas tree, it was the changing family, gathering one-by-one throughout the years, it was Grandma’s kitchen, it was bleak mid-winter, it was good King Wenceslas, it was old food, arcane food, food to feel lucky for and to celebrate by.

And, damn, but this was a particularly good batch of mincemeat! The meat is chopped, you see, instead of ground, so that, when finished, after simmering for a couple of hours, there are tiny shreds of it threaded through the fruitiness. And the suet is chopped, too, finely, before it’s melted, so that the rendered bits of tissue in the fat are small and undefined to the tooth rather than lumps of mostly rendered fat that have to be picked out. There’s a lot of cinnamon in it, and of cloves and nutmeg, too, whose tastes warn not to expect meat, but, to the initiated, not to expect non-meat, either, but rather a synthesis of all good things.
When Grandma died and I went through that kitchen door for one of the last times, I made a beeline to the cabinet by the stove and rescued the little book where she kept all her hand-written, tersely-written, recipes. It was held together with a rubber band, the sewn spine having dissolved, the pages yellowed and brown-spotted, its little brown cover blackened, and the insignia on it – the first time I’d stopped to read it – read, incongruously, Buster Brown Shoes: First because of the Last.

Mince Meat was on the second page, only the third recipe in, and it reads: 1 bowl chopped meat (2 lbs); 2 bowls chopped apples; 1 tc syrup [that means teacup]; 4 tc sweet cider; 3 tc sugar; 4 tbs. butter; 6 tsp. cinnamon; 1 tsp cloves; ½ tsp. pepper; ¾ tsp. nutmeg; raisins, citron & salt to taste. And then, again incongruously, a notation “catsup”.
Ick. No catsup on MY mincemeat, thank you very much.

...permutations of a recipe...

This was the recipe and suggestions as she’d received it from her sister-in-law (as I remember), my grandfather’s brother’s wife, my great-aunt Leah, probably around 1925.
The recipe she wrote out for me back in the ‘80s specified a few more things she’d realized from fifty or so years of making the stuff: “Spys are best,” she noted, for the apples; vinegar or fruit juices could be added to or substituted for the cider – I used all cider vinegar in mine this year – and she called for 2 “tc” of syrup and 3 cups of “B”sugar.
Only now do I realize that the first recipe did not call for suet, but for butter, and only 4 tablespoons, at that. Grandma always used suet, and called for ½ cup of it on her 80s recipe card. I was so taken with the distinction that suet made to the finished dish that I called for it in the Green Tomato Mincemeat that I developed for a book a few years ago.
Maybe it was just common sense, and suet, like water, needn’t be called for formally.

When I’d geared myself up to make mincemeat that first time, I called Grandma to clarify a few things. What kind of syrup, I asked. She allowed that syrup could be optional. Then, Three cups of brown sugar seems like a lot, I said. “Well, Kid, that was teacups – just try half that amount. That’s what I do!”
Like, “Kid, use your head!”
She also called for “¾ tc nuts”. Now I knew there had never been nuts in mincemeat, not hers, and never would be in mine. “Well then, leave ‘em out!”
Then, How many raisins? I wailed. “Well, maybe a cup,” she allowed, if I really needed to put raisins into a measuring cup instead of just adding them handful by handful until there were ‘enough’ or the box was empty, whichever came first.
So, as you can see, the recipe has evolved, all with the aim of creating the best, that first-tasted, mincemeat of yore. And this is the form of it I pass on to anyone interested:

• 1 bowl chopped beef (2 pounds) ( I love using the ratios) (Grandma and I almost always wait for venison neck, rather than beef, that we can beg, bully, or steal from some unsuspecting hunter)
• 2 bowls of chopped apples (spy and macs combined)
• 1 teacup sweet cider or cider vinegar or a combination (that’s about ¾ of a cup)
• 1 ½ cups brown sugar
• ½ cup suet chopped fine
• 1 cup raisins or sultanas
• 6 teaspoons cinnamon
• 1 teaspoon cloves
• ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
• ¾ teaspoon nutmeg
• salt to taste
• 1 ½ cups dark rum

Render the suet, then add all other ingredients except the rum. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until done – about 2 hours. Taste for salt and add more if needed.
When cool, stir in the rum, pack into canning jars, and store for a week or two in the fridge.
The rum, the sugar, the long cooking, helps to preserve the mincemeat, and I’ve kept it for quite a bit longer than two weeks – I hate to say just how long, but maybe from deer season to now. Or longer. It could be frozen, too, right in the canning jars packed full.
When the time is right, enclose 2 to 3 cups of this between two pastry crusts and bake it off.
Ah, but never mind, unless you grew up with it, anticipated it as the culminating aspect of Christmas, there is little chance that you will appreciate a slice of mincemeat pie. They have been a precious few, those to whom I have introduced it, whose eyes lit up at the first bite.
But no matter – this solstice season, this season of lights, this season of hitting bottom and looking back up is, for me, encapsulated in the mindful chore of the gathering and chopping of ingredients, and their generous return of scent and taste, and their reminder to slow down and let it happen.

...spinach in the snow...

I realized the mincemeat lesson again last night when I was tired and preparing some local swiss chard for supper. The Winter Farmers’ Market still has swiss chard, spinach, kale, and even arugula on offer and probably will have some of them all winter.

Thinking of a Richard Olney technique that I use quite often, I cut out the ribs from the chard with kitchen shears, washed the leaves and the ribs separately, par-boiled them just until limp, drained them, squeezed as much water out of them as I could, then chopped everything finely.

Two states-of-mind were at war in me – duty, and pleasure. Why is it that we have to remind ourselves to pay attention, to LET ourselves enjoy what we are doing?

I melted some butter in the sauté pan, noticing the bubbles in it, the golden mustard color it was turning, then added some olive oil and spread the chopped chard in the pan over a medium heat. When it had dried out a bit I sprinkled a bit of flour over it and stirred it in, watching it bubble and thicken.

It was then that I realized that it needed some liquid, but I couldn’t remember what was called for. I went to the bookshelf and took down Richard Olney’s “Lulu’s Provençal Table.” The book was heavy yet compact in my hands, a substantial book, beautifully made, with thick, creamy, but not glossy paper. The print is as fine and precise – almost embossed – as the words. It’s unimaginable to think of finding a typo in it. I opened it to Chard Gratin. The liquid was milk – plain and simple.

I stirred the milk into the chard and let it thicken.

Richard Olney, and the eponymous Lulu, never content not to make a good thing better, take this thick pudding-like chard and process it into a puree, then pour it into a buttered gratin dish, grate dry bread over it, drizzle olive oil over that, and bake it at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. That’s good, too, especially for a more formal meal, and it could be made up ahead of time and slipped into the oven a half hour before dinner. For our little supper with good hamburgers made from grass-fed beef, and some leaves of arugula sprinkled with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper, a dollop of it straight from the sauté pan suited me.

I knew, as I stirred in the milk – in fact had known when I watched the butter melt and bubble and brown – that this chard was going to be very good, because I had allowed myself to enjoy the process of making it.

Mincemeat taught me that – once again.

Monday, December 08, 2008

arcane december

My friend and neighbor, Photographer Lowell Snowdon Klock clicked her shutters and sent me photos

The mysterious nature of this time of year couldn’t have been more evident than during last week’s shining conjunction of Venus and Jupiter playing with the new crescent moon in the southwest sky just after dusk, bigger than life, just moments after that late afternoon sun had blazed there and made its fiery descent. Devastating!

This week, on Friday, the moon will be full at noon, and Uranus, Mercury, Mars and Saturn will be at the four points of the sky, right over the Guts of the Universe, otherwise called, by some, the Great Attractor. Don’t take your eyes off it!

It’s the perfect time to remake the acquaintance of an old friend.

...a friend comes to stay...

An old friend has come to stay, for good this time, I think, and she is nothing as I remembered. Oh, she can still cook – some of the earthiest, most elegant, yet down home dishes I’ve ever tasted with eye or tongue. Like Grandma cooked, but without the flour, and with a good deal more butter, a twist of wine, a kick of herb.

We’ve had Pot-au-Feu, the French boiled beef, rendered with technique so simple and transparent that the finished product is divinely so. That was followed by Boeuf Moroton – the perfect follow-up for the ‘leftover’ beef from the Pot-au-Feu.

She offers a garlic soup with up to a head of garlic for each person, depending upon our need, and a sugar tart made of yeasted dough and a bit of filling that flicks off the fingertips like water dampening clothes for ironing. All favorites of Parisians and people in the north of France, she tells me.

For she is French, of course, and generous with her secrets if you will only pay attention. But what I remember as a compact little thing with old-world shadows around her eyes, gray-streaked hair pulled back into a neat chignon, her pretty brown wool cinched snugly between pillowy bosom and ample hips, proves instead to be an angular tall person with jeweled fingers and a wisp of white hair, with faded velvets hanging from her shoulders and slim hips, a little like my old friend, Ms. Bomblatt who, like she, proves to be much more agile in the kitchen than she looks. But such is – not the failures of, but the permutations of – memory.

The last time I saw her was about 1995, and she was lent to me by Chef Stanti at the Inn. I used her mercilessly, not only for the Pot-au-Feu but for a lovely cabbage stuffed with, among other things, chestnuts, from the Auvergne – the central region of France – and a Breton poundcake (Gateau Breton), that was too delicious, from Brittany, for whose raisins I substituted, later, green tomatoes, and made a good thing of for a book.

What I like about my old friend is that she does not skimp on the things that make food taste good. She is unapologetic when ordering a teacup of rum to 6 large egg YOLKS, and 1 cup of the best butter you can find, to the 2 ¼ cups of flour of this poundcake. She does not make it every day, but when she does she will not skimp. No pale imitations for her.

On the other hand, another thing I like best about her is that she can take good simple ingredients like that homely cabbage and turn it into a silken offering, saying, “As far as cooking is concerned, poverty can be a hard but effective taskmaster. For it is a curious fact that the richest regions do not always produce the finest cuisine,” but that the poorest may.

Ever since I returned her to Chef Stanti over a decade ago I have regretted that I did, for when I questioned him about her he could not remember her. He squinched his eyes thoughtfully, but “No, No, do you not mean...?” and he would mention someone else I was not the slightest bit curious about. I could not remember her name and, as you see, I could not even remember what she looked like. It was hopeless.

But not too long ago I looked up one of her recipes from my files – the Tarte au Sucre, actually – and there I had included her name. I googled her, and found her, and ordered her back here poste haste.


...memory versus reality...

I had been expecting a large book, and thick, a brown-covered compendium of classic French recipes, serious, about the size of that Complete Shakespeare we all have mouldering in our bookshelves. But “France, A Culinary Journey” must have been one of the first oversized, over-beautiful books to’ve been published, or at least one of the first in my experience, because I did not categorize it as I would now, at first glance, as mostly a pretty face with mediocre skills. And no earthly good because I don’t have a free counter big enough to lay it on. Open, at least. It’s not even a coffee table book – it’s a dining table book! The only other one I own of that size and breadth is Provençe, The Beautiful Cookbook, and the only reason I own that is that it was compiled and written by Richard Olney, who is one of my favorite writers and one of the best food minds, in my own mind. It, like France, was published by Harper Collins.

She, or rather it, that is, France, A Culinary Journey, is divided into sections of that country, with comparatively short but in-depth intros into the geography, history, farming, and people of the region. Then, with no further ado (or would that be adieu) – dives directly into the serious recipes, the techniques of which are marvelous.

Each section is written by a different person or team of persons, and they may be individuals but are not the least idiosyncratic but together make a seamless whole, as though each had been asked to seek out the most classic and true foods of each region, and paid accordingly, so that each truly did not fall prey to worries about time and expense, but were free to do their best work. See if you can find a copy: France A Culinary Journey: Classic Recipes from the Regions of France, and invite her or inveigle her, or pay her to stay forever.



The broth of this is a sparkling, clear, flavorful distillation of the ingredients. Absolutely wonderful.

The following is another distillation, of the authors’ – in this case, Philip and Mary Hyman – words and my own. Mostly theirs. Mine I would bold, but I’ve also extracted, so just read this and trust me:

The goodness of a pot-au-feu depends on the cuts of meat, the quantity and quality of water and, especially, the proper salting of the water in which the beef is cooked. Use about 1 ½ quarts of water for every 2 pounds of meat, and 1 teaspoon of coarse sea salt for every quart of water (this is the most important thing). Only a few rules apply to the vegetables: cabbage is never cooked in the broth, and potatoes are best boiled separately. Only a few simple root vegetables are cooked with the meat, the amounts being left to the discretion of the cook.

A Pot-au-Feu should be served with a wide range of condiments – cornichons and other pickles, mustards of all kinds, and freshly grated horseradish – and a little coarse sea salt should be sprinkled over the meat and vegetables on each plate.

Leftover meat and vegetables can be served cold with a mustardy vinaigrette and the meat can also be made into another Parisian favorite, boeuf miroton.

  • 4 ½ to 6 pounds of boiling beef, such as thick, lean short ribs, brisket or chuck. (I used a 3 pound eye of round.)
  • 1 ½ quarts of water for every 2 pounds of meat
  • 1 teaspoon of course salt for every quart of water used
  • pinch of peppercorns (maybe 6 for every 2 quarts of water
  • bouquet garni: 1 bay leaf, 2 thyme sprigs, 2 parsley sprigs
  • 1 bulb of garlic
  • 1 onion stuck with 3 cloves
  • 1 lb carrots quartered
  • 1 lb young turnips, quartered
  • 2 lbs. leeks, halved, or quartered if large, tied into 2 bundles
  • 6 celery stalks, halved and tied into 2 bundles
  • 1 lb starchy potatoes (russets)
  • 6 1 inch sections of marrow bones tied inside a cloth (I omitted this)

Place the meat in the bottom of a large pot and add the appropriate amount of water. Bring to a boil, skim off any foam that rises, then add the salt. Skim again, if necessary, then add the peppercorns and all the vegetables. Bring to a gentle boil, cover and cook over very low heat for 3 ½ to 4 hours. About 30 minutes before the cooking time is up, add the marrow bones, and cook the potatoes, if using, in a separate pan in boiling salted water.

Lift the meat, the vegetables and the bag of marrow bones out of the stock and keep warm. Discard the bouquet garni, the garlic, and the onion, and strain the stock. Leave it to rest for about 15 minutes, then skim off as much fat as possible. (Do not discard the fat. It can be used to make boeuf miroton.)

Reheat the stock and serve as a first course. Place the meat on a large platter, top with the marrow from the marrow bones, surround with vegetables and serve with an assortment of cornichons, vinegar pickles, mustards such as Dijon or Meaux, coarse salt, and a little extra stock for those who want to moisten the meat and vegetables.

Serves: 6

Tarte au Sucre (Sugar Tart)

I think of this as something served to children in their nursery by their governess, but it is an elegant dessert for grown-ups, too, and might even bring a nostalgic tear to the eye of someone who has experienced it in the aforesaid manner.

Pastry :

  • ½ teaspoon dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons lukewarm water
  • 2 cups (8 oz) all purpose flour
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup (4 oz) softened butter


  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter, in small pieces

Dissolve the yeast in the water. Place the flour in a mixing bowl, sprinkle with salt, make a well in the center and place the sugar, egg, butter, and yeast mixture in the well. With a fork, whisk all the latter ingredients together in the well, then begin to incorporate the flour, working very quickly with the tips of the fingers until a smooth, homogeneous dough is produced. Pack the dough into a ball, cover with a damp cloth and place in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Roll out the dough and line a 10 inch pie pan or flan ring, then roll the edge of the dough toward the inside to form a sort of rope around the edge. Prick the dough base all over with a fork.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

For the filling: Mix the milk and egg together. Spread the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of the tart – it should be about 1/8 inch thick.

Flick the milk and egg mixture over the sugar, using a pastry brush or fork, or the tips of the fingers, as if sprinkling laundry to be ironed. Place dabs of butter all over the top and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the pastry has browned lightly. Serve warm or cold.

...what’s cooking, rutland?...

More good delicacies will be coming our way when Ann Clark, of Ann Clark, Ltd, a company that makes cookie cutters in a multitude of shapes and sizes that have found an enthusiastic audience world-wide, is the next guest on What’s Cookin’ Rutland, the PEG TV Show that will be taped next Monday evening, December 15th. We’re making it a cookie swap for those who would like that sort of thing, and if you are one of those people bring a dozen of your favorite cookies to the taping.

Ann will share a few of her favorite cookie recipes and techniques while chatting with host, Whitney Lamy.

The show is taped at PEG TV Studios in Howe Center starting at 6PM. Doors open at 5:30 for the seating of the live audience. A $10 donation is suggested, and reservations may be had by calling 508-813-8114 or emailing whatscookinrutland@gmail.com


A shoreham sun setting over a winter cornfield, by me

Monday, November 24, 2008

squeezing out thanks

Judy Dow upper left and right, Mr. Labate middle,Justin Morse, new principal of Wallingford Elementary
on lower left, and Julie Kuhn Fredette, Wallingford's art teacher, lower right

It was a serendipitous time of year for my new friend Judy Dow to be holding a short residency at Wallingford Elementary School. It’s Thanksgiving season, after all, and Judy, as A Child of the Dawn, which is what “Abenaki” means, a Native American, one called Indian by most of America, and therefore a partner with the Pilgrims on that first Thanksgiving Day, was about to dispute some of our soft and mushy feelings about the history of that holiday that some of us might hold.
Judy pronounces Abenaki in a way I’d never heard before – ahBENicki. She told me in her soft, drole voice that the pronunciation depends upon which family you come from, what strain of Abenaki produced you, and hers is French from over the border.

In her early 50s, with a round face, large, expressive eyes, and dark braid that hangs down at least to her waist, Judy is a master teacher and an award-winning artist whose hand-woven baskets are currently on a three-year national museum tour. The art teacher at Wallingford, my friend Julie Fredette, wrote the Vermont Arts Council grant, funded by the Vermont Folklife Center and the National Endowment for the Arts, that brought Judy to Wallingford for a second residency to teach the third and the sixth grades weaving and other Native American arts, and, as well, a few home truths.

Friday afternoon I entered Chris LaBate’s 6th grade class and looked over some of Judy’s primary sources, such as the letters that William Bradford wrote when he was Governor of Plimouth (sic)Colony. I took some notes, while she handed out Thanksgiving story books to the children, and then she said, “Please open your books and find words or pictures that exemplify Myth Number 1 - that the First Thanksgiving occurred in 1621,” and the children did. Then Judy explained that for as long as people have existed they have given thanks and feasted in the giving of them and that “to refer to the harvest feast of 1621 as ‘the first thanksgiving’ disappears Indian peoples in the eyes of non-Native children.”

Regarding another myth – that the colonists came seeking freedom of religion in a new land – Judy explained that by 1620, hundreds of Native people had already been to England and back, most as captives, so the Plimoth colonists knew that there were people who lived on this land, but since they had not put up “private” and “no trespassing” signs or wrecked it in any way... but what Judy said was that “nevertheless, their belief system taught them that any land that was ‘unimproved’ was ‘wild’ and theirs for the taking; that the people who lived there were roving heathens with no right to the land.” Some religious freedom, huh?

She explained that when the storybooks tell of the “Pilgrims” (never did the Plimouth settlers call themselves “Pilgrims” – another myth), “found” corn they actually had found the seed corn that the Natives had buried to save for spring planting, and took it away with them. At the same time they “found” several graves and “brought sundry of the prettiest things away” from a child’s grave.

Myth # 11 says, “Thanksgiving is a happy time.” Judy explained that for many people Thanksgiving is a time of mourning, of remembering how a gift of generosity was rewarded by theft of land and seed corn, and of remembering the extermination of many Native people via disease and guns. “As currently celebrated in this country, Thanksgiving is a bitter reminder to Native peoples of 500 years of betrayal returned for friendship and generosity.”

At the end, one little girl asked, “How did all these untruths get started, and why don’t we all know the real truth.”
Mr. LaBate said, simply, “The victor writes the history.”

As for the food the “Pilgrims” and “Indians” ate at that “First Thanksgiving”? It was probably venison (the Natives brought five deer), wild fowl, and a dried corn pounded and boiled into a thick porridge called nasaump, and, possibly, cooked, mashed pumpkin. There would have been no bread nor biscuits because there was no wheat. There were no potatoes nor even sweet potatoes, since they didn’t appear in New England until the 18th century. There would have been no fruit, for most had gone by, no clams because it was too cold to dig for them, no fish because the season was closed, and no boats nor traps for trapping lobster. There was no sugar, so cranberries were out except, perhaps, for the most dour, and no pumpkin pie.

Judy Dow returned home to Essex on Friday Evening. She expects a house full of extended family this weekend, and there’s something about building a longhouse.

...support your local restaurant, of course...

We find ourselves in the position of having to rescue businesses and people we didn’t want in our lives anyway. As far back as the sixties, I looked at those little beetle shaped cars that were appearing on the roads and said – that’s what I want! Guess what, American Car Companies never built them. ACC built BIG. ACC built gas-guzzlers. They built and aggressively sold those big honking vehicles with the enormous carbon footprints that make it impossible for our small cars to drive down the road without the fear of being runover by one teenager in charge of one of those things and a cellphone at the same time.
“And,” says Leo, “they sold like hotcakes!”
Well, there is that!

Nevertheless, there are some businesses we can support, and we’d better support them if we want them around when this awful spiraling mess is sorted out.
Talking to restaurant owners and chefs nowadays, I hear words like “shocking,” “flabbergasted,” and “floored,” about the downturn in business.
Say you usually go out to dinner on Friday night, and one Friday you look at the headlines about GM and investment bankers, and you say, “Hon, maybe we better tighten our belts a bit. Let’s see, what can we eliminate?” Say you usually toddle on down to Sabby’s, or Hemingways, or the Victorian Inn, or Tapas on Friday nights. You might say, “Hell, we don’t need to do that. We can cook something at home. If we get desperate we can go to MickieD’s and get us something cheap.” Say two or three parties have this discussion amongst themselves. SabSal’s Café Inn is now down three or six customers in one week. You think that doesn’t hurt? You think ONE doesn’t hurt?
It hurts.

So here’s my suggestion. While you’re having a candlelit conversation at your favorite restaurant, talk about continuing to support your local farmers and the financially challenged people in your neighborhood and state. Make out a check – for $50, for $10, for $5 – to the Vermont Foodbank , call your town office and find out what is being done to feed and help the poor people in your own community. You never know when it’ll be YOU who needs help.

Shop at the Winter Farmers’ Market and the Co-op – don’t leave your farmers in the lurch or they won’t be there when you deem your finances in order. And then, buy into the Localvore Thanksgiving that I wrote about last week or so.
Finally, we can’t forget to support the Paramount Theater with our presence. We’ve put a lot of effort into getting it on its feet but it doesn’t have a lot of resources in times of downturn. Comfort it with your presence and your money.

And then, adopt a cat – get rid of those mousetraps.

As my friend Wendy Jackson of the Red Brick Grill in Poultney told me with characteristic frankness, “We’d love to see you but, if we don’t, pretty soon you won’t be seeing us.”

...better times aren’t here again, but they’re on the way...

You may, like me, have read the Letter to the next Farmer in Chief that Michael Pollan wrote in the New York Times Magazine on October 12 but, like me, you may not be able to keep the talking points close to hand. To that end, Michael Ruhlman, one of my favorite bloggers, writers, and food activists condensed those points and posted the following on his blog. Cut it out and hang it on your fridge:

  1. —Train a new generation of farmers, spread them throughout the land, and make farming a revered profession.
  2. —Preserve every acre of farmland we have and make it accessible to these farmers.
  3. —Build an infrastructure for a regional food economy—one that can encourage and support the farms and distribute what they grow (rebuild or create regional distribution systems).
  4. —Provide cities grants with which to build structures for year-round farmers markets.
  5. —Ease federal production regulations, designed to control multi-national food companies but that hog tie small producers.
  6. —Create local meat-inspection corps so that we can create more regional slaughter facilities, perhaps the biggest impediment to our being able to find local hand raised meat. (This is huge.)
  7. —Establish a grain reserve to prevent huge swings in commodity markets.
  8. —Require federal institutions that prepare food (school lunches, prisons, military bases, etc.) to buy a minimum percentage of that food locally.
  9. —Create a Federal definition of food, to encourage people to think about what is food and what is not, stuff we consume that has no caloric value (“junk food” should not be considered food).
  10. —Food stamp debit cards should double in value when swiped at a framers’ market; give farmers’ market vouchers to low-income women and children (why does he exclude men, I wonder; a different subject perhaps).
  11. —Make changes in our daily lives: teach children how to cook; plant gardens in every primary school and equip them with kitchens; pay for culinary tuitions (or forgive loans) by requiring culinary graduates to give some service back to such undertakings such as teaching kids how to cook; increase school lunch spending by $1 a day; grow more of our own food and prepare and eat our food together at a table; accept the fact that food may be more expensive and eat less of it.
  12. —Make our food production system as transparent as possible: have a second calorie listing how many fossil fuel calories went into its production so that consumers could discourage production of fuel expensive food by not buying it.
  13. —Finally, there should be a White House vegetable garden and our President should set the first example. Our founding fathers were largely farmers. This would be a good symbolic return.
...now about that longhouse...

I asked Judy if her family and friends just ignored the 4th Thursday in November, and she wrote back to me Saturday morning: “We do celebrate thanksgiving. We always celebrate the weekend before the National Thanksgiving day. Of course we are thankful for a bountiful harvest just as others are. We moved out into the woods Friday night. We built a long house for about 15 people to sleep in. Most of the man power comes from my husband's boy scout troop. We spent the day building tables and preparing food for the feast tomorrow. I just came in to clean three 25 pound turkeys. Tomorrow about 5:30 in the morning we will start the turkeys, prepare the venison stew, cook the baked beans, squash, gravy, pumpkin fry bread, stuffing, wild rice and berries and desserts. Everything will be cooked outside over an open fire or in a ground pit. About 12:30 PM we will be joined by friends and family for dinner. There will be about 70 people. You are more than welcome to come if you would like.”

I would have loved to’ve been there, wouldn’t you?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Roasted Apples and Radicchio Salad with Blue Cheese


Last March Leo and I took a mini-vacation in Portsmouth. I heartily recommend a visit to this pretty little city off-season, when, even though the crowds are nonexistent, hordes of people seem to descend on the restaurants in the evenings, and thus the restaurants exist and the food is fine, the walks are bracing and full of sea-air, and the oysters are wonderful. We ate one night at Jumpin’ Jays, whose claim to fame is really fresh fish and wonderfully prepared. I recommend the Buck a Shuck oysters, and order the Malpeques, if you can. The fish was wonderful, but so was a roasted pear and radicchio salad with blue cheese.

Roasted Apple & Radicchio Salad with Blue Cheese

When it arrived, it didn’t look like a salad in the dim light, but I dug in, and that baseball sized thing turned out to be the radicchio packed with pan roasted pumpkin seeds, blue cheese, dried cranberries, with rosemary in a balsamic and port reduction, nestled against the pears, which were candy, so sweet, and somehow, peculiarly, dry, as though they had been made from dried pears, but not quite – too tasty for that, with some juice and bulk.


When we returned from the little trip, I called Jumpin’ Jays and talked to Jason, the chef, who very kindly told me how these were made: A caramel is made, by melting brown sugar and butter in a heavy pan, and the pears – halved and cored – are pan roasted in this caramel. This is a very hot operation, and you have to keep moving the pan and moving the pears “Move, move, move,” exhorted Jason. For the radicchio part, the radicchio is shredded very fine, then mixed with the pepitos – pumpkin seeds that are pan roasted with a little peanut oil, then seasoned with salt and pepper and a little cayenne – and some softened blue cheese, and dried cranberries. “Mash this mixture together with your hands, and form them into mounds the size of hardballs,” said Jason. Then you arrange each on an individual plate with two pear halves, and drizzle with a port and balsamic reduction.

Now I filed this recipe away to try in late summer when pears and radicchio were in season. Of course I forgot it until now, but I think it would be a really nice, and festive Thanksgiving salad. Pears have gone by, but I could use apples instead of pears, and maple syrup instead of brown sugar. Pumpkin seeds could conceivably be local, and definitely local are blue cheese and cranberries – did you know we have Vermont cranberries, even dried and sweetened ones? Port and balsamic? You can get balsamic vinegar that is locally aged by Shrewsbury’s Gordon Pond at the Co-op. And the localvore challenge allows you to include 3 wildcards of non-local ingredients and the Marco Polo exceptions of salt, pepper, and spices. I could almost consider those Marco Polos. By a stretch. And I already have them in-house.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

no bore localvore

When it comes right down to it Thanksgiving is as much about memories as it is about food. That’s why it’s no child’s favorite holiday – they’re in the process of making memories, not looking back wistfully upon them. Making memories can be fun, too, in the actual event, but anticipation? That has to be learned!

Standing on tiptoes, peering through the window above the sink in my grandmother’s kitchen, watching the big Buick full of Flint relatives pull up the drive – that was Thanksgiving to me. Grandma turns from the window and, drying her hands on her apron, trots across the linoleum floor to welcome aunts and uncles as they stream through the kitchen door, stomp snow off their boots, hold out covered baskets, platters, and bowls, offer chill cheeks for kisses.

Thanksgiving was standing at Grandpa’s elbow as he carved the turkey, offered choice slivers from the flat of the knife, paused it while I tore at crisp skin. Grandma shared the gizzard and liver with me, pre-dinner, at the kitchen counter.

Thanksgiving still is the mincemeat pies she fashioned of venison neck from the family’s latest hunting season and apples from her tree, and flavored them with pinches of the cinnamon and nutmeg she hoarded in her small spice cabinet. The pumpkin pie was made of her own pumpkins, the cherry from cherries “stolen from the birds” in her orchard. When asked for their choice of mincemeat, pumpkin, or cherry pie, all the menfolk in that house said, “Yes, please.”

Talk about Localvore – we grew up that way long before the word was coined, though there were notable exceptions, and ‘bought’ ingredients collected through the year, hoarded, mostly in the little cupboard behind the kitchen door that I would raid as often as I dared – raisins, Campfire marshmallows that came perfectly formed in little white paper boxes with two layers of them, boxes of bouillon cubes I would nibble on while reading my latest book, getting my daily MSG quota. No matter how sneaky I was, Grandma would often hear those low doors open and would appear, snatch up the yardstick that stood on top of them, and flail it at my fleeing legs.

One of the notable exceptions to home-grown food was the White Salad – a special treat, it was composed of cans of white cherries and pineapple chunks, marshmallows, almonds, and a curious dressing that I have never seen elsewhere: The juice of one lemon is combined with a little thick cream and the beaten yolks of 4 eggs and cooked very slowly until thickened; cooled, then folded into the scant pint of whipped cream. We loved its elegance, as we thought, then, and it was good. My mother developed the tradition of Broken Glass Cake – probably a recipe from a woman’s magazine, it was composed of squares of different colored jello held together with whipped cream and crisp, sweetened graham cracker crumbs. That became a favorite, too.

Those early Thanksgivings were, in a very real sense, localvore, but out of necessity rather than intellectual or economic decision. And that’s where our wild hunger for exotic foods such as pineapple and marshmallow originated – because they WERE exotic to us. Modern. Just Like Downtown! But the turkey and stuffing and mincemeat pie were also cause for excitement, for they were reserved only for the holidays.

As we get older, and have cooked so many Thanksgiving dinners that we can’t count them, that desire for something different has developed full-blown, so that many of us scour magazines, google wildly away, and search the supermarket shelves for different ways of preparing different foods. Preparing Thanksgiving dinners is tremendously time consuming – we want to come out on the other side with something to show for those hours.

...no brainer: a localvore thanksgiving...

So when Carol Tashie came up to me at the Winter Farmers’ Market and, with that inimitable flashing smile, asked me to sign up for the Sustainable Rutland Thanksgiving Localvore Challenge, I said, “...Sure! Piece of cake! It’s what we always do!”

I hadn’t made plans yet – all the old people, who had began to pull into MY Vermont driveway years after those youthful ones I’ve told you about, are gone; but not the memories, including ones of that year when a whole circle of friends whose extended families were arriving for Thanksgiving decided to do it together. We took over the Back Home Café – the original one – and made it a community day. That was special. But then most Thanksgivings were – and are – communal, there’s always room for one, or six, more. Those first Vermont Thanksgivings were full of children – our children. But nowadays my daughter calls from North Carolina for cooking advice, and my son is often with his girlfriend’s family. Still, these are days when we have friends to be thankful with and for, either at our house or theirs. And, fingers crossed, maybe their grandchildren will be at the table, forming memories galore.

...wait, now what is this localvore challenge?...

By definition, it would appear that the locavore, localvore (Vermont’s down-to-earth twist on the word) way of buying and preparing food that is grown or raised, or even prepared, within a hundred miles of one’s kitchen and dining room, would prove an insular way of eating, one without the awareness and practice of using certain worldly ingredients and techniques. But, not so!

The term ‘a terroir’, in widespread use just now, is certainly insular in that it refers to food that is more than just grown or raised on a certain soil, but prepared, too, by people who have lived on that soil for generations, and have learned the best way – or their favorite way – of growing and preparing, say, a little lamb grown in the hinterlands of Benson, that munches on the microflora of one pasture, with that pasture’s particular microclimate of rainfall, elevation, exposure to sun or shade, and that is bathed by a particular little creek that winds through them bringing micronutrients from upstream. That lamb, or it’s milk or it’s cheese, will be prepared in a kitchen in which certain bacteria and yeasts have developed over years, and served with the herbs, vegetables and fruits grown right beside it. And if this land was farmed by people who learned their techniques from parents and grandparents, or an insular village of people, often over centuries, a micro-cuisine might have grown up from it. Amazing meals can grow out of that insularity, and they are hard to duplicate by new owners and new farmers without the availability of advice from people who have lived on that land, for their time and mindset are diluted by google, the telephone, cooking shows, and cookbooks written by people with no sense of that place.

So, while terroir can denote a cuisine in itself, localvore cooking can borrow to the cook’s heart’s content from techniques, if not ingredients, of other cuisines.

Therefore, if you have taken up Sustainable Rutland’s Thanksgiving Localvore Challenge, or are tempted to do so, don’t despair that your Thanksgiving dinner MUST be boring and ordinary, for localvores have many alternatives to adapt their home-grown foods into special treats you wouldn’t make every day.
And it’s not totally exclusive to local foods – the Challenge allows 3 non-local foods, as well as the Marco Polo exceptions of salt, pepper, and spices.

...and now to dinner...

I have, as always, ordered a locally grown turkey. It can grace whichever table we sit down to on November 27. I always use Baba-a-Louis bread for the stuffing, and local onions and celery, as well as sausage, all of which are available at the Winter Farmers’ Market, or the Co-op, which are the pre-eminent markets for finding local foods.

This last Saturday I made a bit of an inventory of suitable ingredients there, and found absolutely no lack of potential excitement and good taste. Of course there are potatoes and turnips galore. And since I seldom make mashed potatoes during the year, the prospect IS exciting to me. I like to cook potatoes with turnips in a 3 to 1 ratio, and then mash them together with lots of butter and some buttermilk. I could use the rest of the buttermilk for a delicious and idiosyncratic buttermilk pie. There’s a tremendous variety of root vegetables, of course, and a nicely seasoned casserole of roasted root vegetables is nothing to sneeze at.

Kilpatrick Farm has big purple heads of radicchio, which could be cut in half and seared in butter, and served with a sprinkling of pan-roasted pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, and blue cheese, and dressed with a balsamic and port reduction – a deconstruction of a dish I had at a Portsmouth restaurant last spring. Perhaps that could take the place of the White Salad on my table. I wonder how a waldorf salad, made of local apples, would taste with the White Salad’s creamy dressing?

Nancy, at Tweed Valley Farm, has little, immaculately-dressed quails that could be incorporated here somewhere, as well as oyster and shiitake mushrooms that could be used in the stuffing or as a separate dish, perhaps creamed, or in a risotto.

Tweed Valley also has little jars of quail eggs hard-boiled, painstakingly peeled, and pickled in beet juice, which turns them red, of course. Quail eggs have a sumptuous richness, which contrasts nicely with the sweet/tart pickling solution, and My, don’t they look festive! You know Nancy – she’s the cowgirl from whose homemade peanut brittle you must avert your eyes each Saturday. She’s taking orders for gift boxes of it now!

The Co-op carries butter from Vermont Butter and Cheese, Vermont-grown cranberries and dried cranberries, and Jasper Hill Blue Cheese, as well as a locally aged balsamic vinegar. Too, they have Heleba sweet potatoes. No marshmallows (where do they come from, anyway; shapeless, and in bags; and what are they made of) on the sweet potatoes, but I’d rather have a bit of maple syrup cooked into them anyway. Sunchokes, or Jerusalem artichokes, are in stock at both places.

I guess we’ll have to do without scalloped oysters, unless I can get my ocean-side sister to bring them. Or they could be a wild-card.

...thanksgiving through the ages...

After centuries, as it seemed to me, of growing up and getting to and then beyond the age of five, Thanksgiving became me driving into the yard, diving through that kitchen door – first from college, then from whatever desultory far-flung place I was living at the time. Later, still, all that extended family drove a thousand miles and into my Vermont driveway, Grandma still carrying the mincemeat pies, and the suet pudding if it was Christmas. By then I’d learned to roast a turkey, to assemble Grandma’s stuffing, and could even make the White Salad.

I’ll never forget the feeling of inevitability, of sadness, when Grandma suggested it was time I learn to make the mincemeat pie and suet pudding for myself. It was unthinkable! “No, I can’t,” I said. I was intimidated by the mysterious chemistry of the dishes themselves but also by the hateful knowledge that she wouldn’t always be here to make them. These were special – nearly arcane – dishes. No one made them but Grandma. “You’re gonna have to do it sometime, Kid,” Grandma said with sad surety, and I had to admit that she was right. I’ve been making them since 1987, when she segued out of this world and into the next on Halloween a few weeks before her 88th birthday.

It turns out that they are the simplest – if time-consuming – things in the world to make. But they take arcane ingredients, and arcane tastes. Here are a couple of simpler ones – albeit ones that you might not think of making – with all ingredients produced locally.

Buttermilk Pie
  • 1 ½ cups (6 ounces) unbleached flour
  • 1 scant teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup (4 ounces) butter (or lard and butter)
  • 3 tablespoons (+/-) cold water

Cut the shortening into the flour/salt mixture, stir the water in until the dough starts to come together into a ball, scrape onto a well-floured surface, knead lightly into a patty, roll out and fit into a nine-inch pie plate. Fold the overhanging edges under and crimp. Set aside in a cool place while you make the filling.


  • ½ cup butter
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar (now there’s a wildcard, come to think of it!)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 ½ cups buttermilk
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Cream butter and sugar together until light. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then stir in the flour, buttermilk, lemon juice, nutmeg, salt and vanilla. Pour into the pie shell and sprinkle with more nutmeg.
Place in the oven and turn heat down to 325 degrees. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until golden brown, and when gently shaken proves not to be jiggly.
Serve warm.

The following is by the wise and practical Dan Barber, executive chef and co-owner of Blue Hill in New York City.

  • 1 ½ lb sunchokes, washed and peeled
  • ¼ cup chopped dates (definitely worth a wildcard!)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Generous grind of black pepper
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1 clove garlic
1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Using a Japanese Mandolin or the slicer attachment of a food processor, slice the sunchokes into 1/8” rounds.
3. Toss the sunchokes in a large bowl with the dates, cream, milk, thyme, salt, pepper and nutmeg.
4. Gently smash the garlic clove and rub the inside of a shallow, 1½ qt casserole dish to season with the garlic. With your fingers, rub the casserole dish with the butter.
5. Add the sunchoke mix to the casserole dish; press down on the sunchoke slices and, if desired, shingle the top layer of slices. Pour any remaining cream mixture from the bowl over the sunchokes.
6. Cover with foil, place on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 25 minutes.
7. Remove foil, increase the heat to 425 F, and cook for another 15 minutes, until the sunchokes are tender and the top of the gratin is golden brown.

If you haven’t signed up for the Thanksgiving Localvore Challenge you can do so by stopping by their booth at the Winter Farmers’ Market on Saturday, or email them at info@sustainablerutland.org

I have a lot to be thankful for this year! The entire world has a lot to be thankful for this year! Let’s make some joyful and sustaining memories!

*since my column appeared several people have asked me what a sunchoke is. It is a tubor that looks like a misshapen potato, that grows underground under those tall tiny plants that look like sunflowers except that the flower is only about 3 or 4 inches in diameter. It is also called Jerusalem Artichoke. They are available at most farmers' markets and co-ops. Though they are starchy like a potato, they are sweeter, and slightly softer, I think. I have them growing wild in my yard.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Thin Place


This season of Halloween is said to be the time when the skin between worlds is thin and sensitive souls just might be segueing and sashaying back and forth over the line. It really is the new year to us northerners, should be thanksgiving, with harvest in and lots of food that needs to be eaten – to fatten up before the long winter fast. That thin place between the worlds lasts for awhile, at least until the winter solstice – there’s no more beautiful and spooky light than that of December when the sun is low over the guts of the universe.

...while the ghouls come...

I may have been testing that thin space between the worlds when I foolishly made tortillas in black bean sauce – or enfrijoladas – on Friday evening, starting them before the small monsters started knocking on the door and finishing them up after the bulk of them had visited and I’d turned out the porch light and blown out the candle in the pumpkin.
There was one perfect little spook who came in and hovered over the candy bowl until suddenly he fell to his knees and then rocked back onto his butt. “Oh no, honey,” I said, “you don’t have to worship it, just stand up and take what you want. Maybe an apple?”
“Got to poop,” the little spook said. In scant moments I had his costume off – thank god his father was standing right there – and said, “there, Daddy will take you right through there to the bathroom.” I’m trying to think then, what’s in the bathroom, loose, waiting to frighten a little guy who was overwhelmed already by the occasion. After a long time, they came out, and I gave him a lollypop that a friend had made. He grabbed it gratefully, took a bite of the soft thing, and spat it out on the hearth.
Halloween can be a trial for some of us.

...local mexican...

The worst thing about Mexican cooking is the scrim of grease that covers everything afterward – of lard if you have your authenticity and taste wits about you, or of canola if you prefer manmade crankcase oil to healthy animal fat. You wonder how the fastidious Dame Diana Kennedy – whose recipe this is – could stand having her beautiful Mexican kitchen all scummed up with grease, but her housemaid probably didn’t mind cleaning it. I don’t have one, though, and Leo was home with every flu symptom possible and touchy as a bear with an ingrown toenail. I felt like slinging the comal through the ventana.

The Tortillas in Bean Sauce – “enfrijoladas means,” says Dame Diana, “that the tortillas are immersed in a puree of beans,” but I say they are actually a kind of enchilada – were worth it, though. I wolfed them down, while Leo was merely satiated. Too bad for him!

You know, I love Mexican food but I guess it was the technique of it that made it so hard for me to follow Dame Diana’s or Rick Bayless’ recipes, as well as the terminology. That’s why Peter McGann’s Mexican cooking classes at the Co-op were invaluable. Once I saw him fry the tortillas lightly, then slide them through the sauce and fold them into enchiladas, my world of Mexican cooking brightened, as though that scrim of lard had been scrubbed off.

In “The Tortilla Book” Dame Diana explains how to make a tortilla, of course, that flat circle of yellow or white, limestone-slaked, ground corn that is the flatbread underpinning of so much of Mexican food, though most of us will buy them frozen. For those of you who are as ignorant as I was of what is meant by the various forms of tortilla, here is a short synthesis. Quotes are Lady Diana’s.

When a tortilla is “fried almost crisp and piled high with lots of shredded meat, lettuce, cheese, or whatever you have around,” it’s called a tostada. It’s like a little plate – you lift it up and eat it, and that’s why you don’t want it too crisp, or you’ll be eating the filling out of your hand. A taco, in Mexico, is a “fresh, hot tortilla rolled around some shredded meat or mashed beans and liberally doused with any one of the endless variety of sauces for which Mexico is justly famed.” Our frozen ones must be defrosted and fried gently and briefly to soften them before rolling. Or steamed.

Tortillas are sometimes cut into strips, fried almost crisp, and put into soups, or ground up when stale and formed into balls to make dumplings, after which you may call them gordas – little fat balls – kind of like my little Halloween guy. Dry soups are made by stacking tortillas and cheese and other fillings in layers in a casserole, covering with broth and baking. Chilaquiles are, in their simplest form, stale tortillas cut into wedges and cooked in a picante sauce. Sometimes served with breakfast eggs (literally, chilaquile means broken-up old sombrero). A Quesadilla is a simple snack made by folding a fresh (or flexible) tortilla around a simple filling – cheddar cheese, for instance – and griddling or frying until golden. Chalupa means “small canoe,” an oval tortilla pinched up to make a boat and filled, then fried. An enchilada is a tortilla wilted in hot fat, dipped into a cooked sauce, filled and rolled – sometimes they’re dipped into the sauce and then fried.
Dame Diana does not extend herself to explain burritos, perhaps because, as WIKI says, they’re made from a flour tortilla, not corn, that is rolled around a filling.”

But that, in a nutshell, is the simple explanation of what these things are.

For these enfrijoladas you may look on page 34 of Dame Diana’s The Art of Mexican Cooking for the original recipe, but here is my version. You’ll need 4 to 6 tortillas per person, the black bean sauce, and for garnish some shredded cheese such as Jack, Cheddar, or Feta, chopped onion, and chopped cilantro.
Take the tortillas
out of the freezer and lay them out on a towel or the counter in a single thickness to let them thaw while you make the black bean sauce.

I had already cooked up a vast batch of dried black beans, but you could use canned. Mine were not old beans, and they were Vermont-grown, so I did as Lady Diana suggested, cooked them without soaking, and without any additions except plenty of water to cover. They took about an hour to cook. I added a good amount of salt – to taste – towards the end, then let them cool in the liquid before I packed what I wouldn’t use immediately in quart freezer bags and froze them.

To make the black bean sauce, melt 1/3 cup of lard (or a gasp, gag, tasteless vegetable oil) in a large heavy frying pan, preferably with rather high sides to contain splatters. When that’s hot, add all at once 3 cups of black beans and their cooking liquid. Begin to mash the beans with a potato masher or mallet or any heavy, broad, flat utensil. Think Brick here. If you lack that utensil you may put the beans and liquid into the blender and chop them before adding to the hot fat, but you won’t get the nice bean texture that way. Cook the beans over medium heat, scraping the bottom so they don’t burn, and mashing as you go. In the meantime, chop half a white onion, 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, a handful of cilantro (add a stem or two of epazote if you can get it. I can’t, and dearly want it – hint, hint), and a small hot pepper out of which you’ve scraped the seeds and membrane. I used a dried Serrano from the intense crop I grew this summer, and Dame Diana uses chiles de arbol, which I did not have. Stir this chopped mixture into the beans, and continue to cook, stir, scrape, and mash until the mixture is becoming quite dry. Add enough water, maybe a cup, maybe two, to make the mixture saucy enough to be able to dip the tortillas into it and have it coat them. Taste for salt and remedy. Turn the heat very low while you fry the tortillas.

Bring enough lard or oil to hot but not boiling in another frying pan – a medium heat will do well. If it’s too hot the tortillas will crisp, which doesn’t work, and if it’s not hot enough they’ll get soggy with grease. Fry the tortillas one by one for a few seconds on each side, until cooked but not at all crisp – indeed, they should be as flabby as one of those rubber things you use to take off bottle caps – using a wide slotted spatula to turn them, then let them drain on paper towels or a newspaper while you fry the rest.

One by one, drag the tortillas gently through the hot sauce, or place one on top of the sauce, smudge it around a bit, spoon some sauce on the top side and smear that around, and when the tortilla is nicely coated, fold in half and then half again, and place on a plate or a wide soup bowl, garnish, and serve. With a fork. Delicious. Sumptuous. Earthy. Greasy – I’m still Orange-Plussing my kitchen.

Dame Diana also calls for “a small bunch of tender avocado leaves,” which are not a local delicacy. Good luck. Perhaps if I get to somewhere they DO grow this winter, I’ll try Dame Diana’s original recipe. Loca-Voca-Do! Then I couldn’t resist using slices of avocado in the garnish!

...book party...

My friend Betty Ann Lockhart will be at Annie’s Book Stop on November 15th , at 1PM, to introduce her new book, Sugarin’ in Vermont: A Sweet History. Betty Ann’s a maple sugar sweetie, an excellent story-teller, and no-one but no-one knows what that woman knows about sugaring, its history, its sweet offspring, and its perpetrators. She was one of my sleuthing partners when I wrote about sugaring season in one of my first Twice Bittens, and helped me track down the origin of the concoction known as Maple Syrup Grandfather, or Grandperes au Sirop d’Erable. Looks like an early trip to the Winter Farmers’ Market that day, and then a stop at Annie’s!

...oh, that winter farmers’ market...

Last Saturday was the first day of the indoor market back behind the Co-op, and the place was as medieval-festive as ever. More so, in fact, because the vendors have more confidence that this is a done-deal this year and have really spiffed up their booths. There are a few new vendors – notably, we want to welcome Sarah Seward who offered a potpourri of small quiches and Cinderella pumpkins and apple pies and the absolutely best scones I have ever had the pleasure of putting my tongue to. Flaky, crumbly, handmade Maple/walnut fudge! She was there one Saturday last winter, but she says she’ll be a permanent fixture this year. The Kilpatrick brothers are back with an incredible array of vegetables – they have a fascinating story behind them that I’ll have to delve into to tell you one day. On the Edge Farm is back this winter, with assorted meats and the occasional small batch of, say, a sour cherry jam made with a little almond flavoring, that’s offered for as long as it lasts, maybe only one market day. This week I bought their Chinese spiced sausage. Lovely subtle tastes.

Many of our best summer market vendors are there – Paul Horton with his gorgeous greens and root crops – prettiest carrots I’ve ever seen, and sweet fall parsnips; Greg Cox, the genius behind the winter market, with produce, and chickens, et al – when it comes to spinach Paul and Greg will have to duke it out, or we all just have to buy from both. What a luxury.

Ann Tiplady from Red Houses Farm is there with beef and mutton, some of the best I’ve ever had. The wine guy, Ray Knutsen, is there, offering his delicious tasting-tipples of his Montcalm Reisling, as well as bottles of that and a very nice red, and a new rose. The folks from Consider Bardwell and Blue Ledge Farm segued between worlds with their magnificent goat cheeses.

Dutchess Farm will be joining us with their excellent produce soon (and to join in the spinach joust), as will Charlie Brown with his apples and cider. Pour la nonce – during fine weather, which Saturday was, sunny but chill – they continue to set up at Depot Park with a few other vendors.
The Winter Farmers’ Market. So fabulous it’s almost spooky!

...choice between two worlds...

I’ve been ignoring this fact as well as I can, but the day this column appears is election day – talk about thin places. If we are treated, hopefully not transiently, to a person, or persons who can talk intelligently and get things done and unite us, a smart human person who doesn’t rely on the politics of fear or bullying, but of reason, it will prove to be a thin place between that and the eight years of big lies and raping the American citizenry that preceded it. I have my fingers crossed, and I’m sure you do, too! And of course I know YOU will vote!

I’m indebted for the title to this column to Kathryn Davis who wrote an incredible novel entitled The Thin Place.
Twice Bitten columns are archived at www.thriceshy.blogspot.com Thanks for your comments and questions, emails and calls. They reach me at the Rutland Herald, P.O. Box 668, Rutland, 05702 or by email at snimtz@gmail.com
– 30 –

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Tales of Vermont on Gourmet.com

Two great articles by Ben Hewitt on Gourmet.Com, one of them about the Hardwick area, per se, entitled The Town that Food Saved, and another about Jasper Hill entitled A Giant Cheese Cave. Don't miss 'em -- the writer does an excellent job.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

October Nasturtiums


Yes, I know it’s Friday, the 17th of October as I write this, but Nasturtiums still frolic on while their ancient – gaunt, pale, and sinewy – protector, Hosta, melts back into the earth. Tonight, possibly, they will join him when a sudden jolt of cold wilts them in the active old age of life. And by that they might teach us a lesson: live till you die. Have fun doing it. Give pleasure to others. And, if its in your nature, taste good.

Nasturtiums don’t seem to mind giving up a few of their pretty round leaves to round out a salad, and their piquant, peppery taste adds dimensions to one. As do their flowers, which in texture are a combination of velvet and crunch, with the same peppery taste. Their unripe seedpods have been compared to capers, and I have pickled and bottled them as such, or just eaten them out of hand. Several times this summer past I’ve lined vine and leaf, flower and seedpod between fried green tomatoes or eggplant on the oval black cast-iron griddle to serve as appetizers with cocktails, and perhaps this evening I’ll do that one last time before their night falls.

Dear little things! I thank you – two or three starts – for completely taking over one new flower bed this summer, tumultuously traveling, leafing and flowering, setting off and encouraging two new hosta divisions and Leo’s grandmother’s repotted hibiscus, all superintended by the wooden giraffe pretending to munch the leaves of the taller plants. Perhaps he encouraged you. I wondered if you wouldn’t reclaim the whole garden. But so long for now – knowing you, you’ve probably reseeded yourselves and I’ll see you next spring!

...no doldrums here...

Appreciating the nasturtiums may not be quite the same as smelling the roses, but it takes a welcome moment to do so, thereby escaping the chaos in this season’s kitchen to revel, briefly, in them.
Okay, so here’s what’s going on: yesterday, the 16th, a Thursday, I start thinking seriously about my next column. But I’m totally engrossed in making clotted cream because I’m reading Milk, the new book by Anne Mendelson which is subtitled The Surprising Story of Milk Through the Ages with 120 Adventurous Recipes that Explore the Riches of Our First Food. (I used an Amazon link there, but please order it through your local bookseller.)
Now this is a wonderful book, a very timely book, so timely, in fact, that I had done some beginning research with the idea of writing it myself. If I had written it, it would have been well-researched, historical, knowledgeable, insightful, elegant, personal, with a few well-placed recipes and techniques and lots of pictures of farmers and barns and cows in fields.
It would have taken me ten years, and then it wouldn’t be timely anymore.

So I am now breathing a sigh of relief and appreciation, for Anne has done a tremendous job of research, and she has written elegantly and personally and knowledgeably, and insightfully of that marvelous substance. As for the brouhaha over unpasteurized vs pasteurized milk – she side-steps it, instead calling for non-ultra-pasteurized milk and cream, but especially unhomogenized milk, cream, and cheese. I applaud her magnificent effort, while regretting the fact that there are no pictures, which was probably the publisher’s decision, not hers.

But why was I making clotted cream?
Wouldn’t you if you had a recipe and four or five hours that you could let half a gallon of rich milk heat on the stove and end up with a cup or so of the unctuously delicious cream you’ve read about for so many years and hardly tasted?
Yes, of course you would – that is, you would if you hadn’t yet remembered that you needed to make spanakopita-for-thirty for the Friends of the Library dinner Saturday night, and that you were going to be out of town all day Saturday for the first meeting of the Vermont Chapter of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association, and that, by the way, you needed to make something to offer for that day’s lunch. And, oh yes, the column.

Not to mention that fat chicken sitting in the fridge waiting to be poached, or the bread dough rising at that moment because you’d made the most luscious yogurt the day before and had strained it overnight and had sweet and tart whey that needed to be used.
And the column?

You open the refrigerat
or and there are three grilled-whole eggplants that you need to do something with.
That’s the position I found myself in on Thursday. Looking at those eggplants, though, I thought – I’ve just made yogurt, using as a starter the expensive and delicious Greek strained yogurt which is sold at the Co-op under the name of Fage Total, and I have never made yogurt so creamy it tastes almost like the best crème fraiche. The roasted innards of the eggplant combined with some of my yogurt, along with some hot
pepper and garlic,
cilantro – hmmm, that sounded good! It would be awfully synergistic, or perhaps incestuous, slathered on that whole grain bread I needed to bake off soon that was made from the whey of the yogurt that will be mixed with the eggplant.

I hardly knew where to start.

I sat down at my computer, but the desk was littered with Mexican cookbooks – one by Rick and Deann Bayless, another by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz, and several by the doyenne of Mexican food writing, Dame Diana Kennedy. What were they doing there? Well, I’ll tell you what they were doing there – I’d found a very neat little Tuesday night Mexican bistro and had realized that I didn’t really know much about how the food was made. Seemed everything started with a tortilla... or a poached chicken, so I was doing a little research.

My Tuesday night outings are not really to a bistro, though it seems it. Last Tuesday when I walked into the Co-op’s kitchen, Peter McGann was just frying tacos rolled around chicken and mushrooms and fastened with a toothpick, and Tomas was serving them to about a dozen of us with a side of piquant tomatillo sauce spiked with Serrano peppers, onion, and cilantro.


It was the second installment of Peter’s Mexican cooking class being held on each of this October’s Tuesdays. The tacos would be followed by Arroz Verde – rice with poblano chiles, onion, garlic, all cooked in chicken stock (from that poached chicken that was pulled apart for the tacos). A lovely Sopa De Elote followed that – made from pureed corn and milk, and garnished with roasted and skinned poblano peppers cut into a brunoise, or tiny squares. What a perfect combination! As was the final dish we prepared – Peter doing most of it – that of Tostadas de Tinga Poblano, or shredded savory pork mounded on fried tortillas. Tinga translates as “vulgar” or “disorder” notes the author, but it was a delicious disorder!
By that time, most of the class was involved in pureeing the corn or putting it through the food mill, roasting peppers and rubbing the skins off (works better if you wear those disposable plastic gloves), chopping onions, cleaning up here and there, with lively conversation and questions of Peter and his thoughtful replies. What delicious fun! This series is sold out, but I’m sure he’ll do it again – first come, first served, and this time we didn’t even advertise. Perhaps he’ll start a list of names and telephone numbers of people who want to make sure they get in on the next series of classes. Let him know.

It strikes me, sitting in front of the computer, thinking back on the class, that I will have some really nice cooked milk after I ladle off the clotted cream tomorrow morning, and corn in the freezer. And that’s when I decide the canoers will be tasting Sopa de Elote on Saturday.

But then I realize – this is Thursday, and I’m sitting at my computer looking at the Mexican cookbooks – that I don’t even have the recipe for spanakopita and no doubt I’ll have to shop for it, and that’s the way the rest of that day is spent – shopping for specific ingredients, which is something I seldom do, poaching the chicken, and baking the bread – which turned out fantastic, by the way, with a crisp, crinkly crust and whole-grain goodness, and no kneading!

Today, late afternoon, I’ve made the corn soup – using my cone-shaped chinois instead of a food mill: much easier – and everything’s ready to make the spanakopita. I’ve even written a bit of my column.


Whoops! Forgot about supper. I believe that spanakopita is going to serve only 28 tomorrow after I snitch a couple of squares for Leo and me tonight.


Later I’ll roast the poblanos and dice them, and I have some great Consider Bardwell feta that will make a nice additional garnish for the soup.
Oh, those lucky little nasturtiums frolicking out there with no inkling of the cold ax that is going to fall one of these nights. I, on the other hand, seem to have foreseen (my back hurts) what needed to happen and made it happen. For now.

...it all comes out in the wash...

Sunday afternoon I sit here finishing up the column.
The nasturtiums were frozen in place Saturday morning, caught still bright and beautiful, the frost on them glistening in the rising sun before they melted and turned to mush. The filo dough for the spanakopita was as arduously difficult to handle as I’d suspected, which is why I’d never made it before, but Friday night’s little supper of it was luscious, as was Saturday’s when we attended the dinner.

The canoers seemed to like the corn soup. I have two liters of solid chicken broth in the fridge alongside a quantity of shredded chicken to fold into tortillas tonight. The bread, as I said, was wonderful. And the clotted cream? Well... absolutely disgusting. Waxy. Vile. And when I stirred it to see if I couldn’t disperse some of the wax, it turned to waxy butter. It’s at the bottom of the bowl of chicken skin and sinews I’ve saved for the dog. He’ll love it.

But I shan’t give up. We’ll have delicious clotted cream yet!

Try the soup. It’s easy and extremely tasty.
Sopa de Elote (Fresh corn soup)
• 3 tablespoons chile poblano or canned, peeled green chilis, diced
• 4 cups corn (1 ½ pounds frozen corn or kernels from 5 ears)
• 1 cup water
• ¼ cup butter
• 3 ½ cups milk
• ½ teaspoon salt or to taste
• 6 tablespoons crumbled cream cheese or diced feta
• tortilla chips.
If using fresh chiles poblano, impale them on a long-handled fork and roast them over a gas flame until the skin is black and charred, then place them as each is blackened in a paper bag – the steam will help to lift the skin. Then rub all the skin off them, and I think that using those disposable plastic gloves really helps this process. Dice in a tiny dice, or chop them.
Put half the thawed corn into a blender with half the water and process until molten. Pour into a food mill (I like to use a chinois) and process the other half of corn and water. Press through the mill into a bowl. In a soup pan, melt the butter over medium heat then add the corn puree (what’s in the bowl, not in the mill) and let it cook while you stir it for about 5 minutes. Add the milk and the salt and bring it just to a boil, lower the flame and let it simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring from time to time so it doesn’t stick. It will thicken slightly.
To serve, put about ½ tablespoon diced chili and 1 tablespoon of the cheese into each bowl. Pour the hot soup over them and serve with tortilla chips.

This is a twice bitten column published in the Rutland Herald here.