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. 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. 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. 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

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! 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 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
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