Monday, January 26, 2009

Simple Food for Pacing Tigers

The White Tiger paces its bamboo cage – “He was hypnotizing himself by walking like this—that was the only way he could tolerate this cage.” Those words are by Aravind Adiga, in his novel about India, The White Tiger. Ah, I look up from the page – has there ever been a better description of cabin fever? Just when I am dangerously bored, my imagination forsakes me and all I can see are walls. Thank god for people like Adiga whose words act as a pry-lever to flip me into another reality, make me laugh, demand my commiseration for those worse off than I.

not a white tiger
Not a White Tiger charcoal by Isobel Gabel Nimtz (with permission)
So I get up and go make myself a smoothie. I have never made myself one of those things – don’t really approve of them – but I have blueberries that Greg Cox picked last summer and froze in his prototype processing barn up at Boardman Hill. Prototype for the processing plant he and RAFFL want to build as part of the food HUB in Rutland whenever they find the property.

That Food Hub will one day consist of a Commercial Kitchen to serve as an incubator for small businesses and also for RAFFL to process foods under their own label so that Rutland area consumers can find local canned and frozen foods all year round. There’ll be a Flash-Freeze Operation, a USDA certified Meat Processing center, Storage for ingredients and final products, Distribution Facilities, and a four-season Farmers’ Market. That’s Greg’s dream, and RAFFL’s, too, and, come to think of it, mine as well.

Now wouldn’t it be nice to see that dream take on flesh right in downtown Rutland, on Wales and Center, surrounding Center Street Alley. That way the Co-op (Rutland Area Food Co-op; Rutland Natural Food Market: The Co-op – whichever name you know them by, they’re all the same entity) and the Farmer’s Market could stay together in what has been an incredibly fulfilling partnership so far, stretching out into the alley in the summer, and withdrawing cozily inside in the winter. And all those empty spaces on Center Street could be filled with the other components of the HUB.

The important thing to know right now is that Greg has done more than talk about the Food Hub, and installed display freezers at his booth at the Winter Farmers Market and is selling berries, melon balls, vegetables and meats there. You know, of course, that the Farmers’ Market sets up Saturdays from 10 to 2, and is reached through the Co-op’s Wales Street entrance.

About that Smoothie, er, ah, let’s just call it a shake. I spooned out probably about half a cup of Fage Total – that thick, creamy, Greek strained yogurt – into a glass, added Greg’s frozen blueberries, a spoonful of blueberry jam that my friend Ruth Ann made last summer, and some creamy whole unpasteurized milk that John Pollard gets from his little Jerseys up in Shrewsbury. Jumbled that up with an immersion blender, and didn’t so much drink it as spoon it out of the glass. MMMmm, delicious. I scraped it up.

Mark Bittman calls this a Sorbet in his blog BITTEN (think he stole the name from me??), combining 2 cups frozen fruit in a food processor, with 1/3 cup sugar, ½ cup yogurt and about 2 tablespoons of water. Process for just the right amount of time or, he says, “you’ll have a smoothie, instead.” Spoon into desert goblets and serve right away. Those are the proportions for, probably, 4 or 5 people – make as little or as much as you like. It should be eaten immediately, perhaps with a crispy shortbread if it’s a company dinner.

Well, that was simple enough, but so is this following – one of those slow-cooked winter dishes that permeates the house with tantalizing odors.

I talked about a book called France, A Culinary Journey, a few weeks ago. This recipe for Caqhuse (I do not know where the term came from, but isn’t it an interesting word) is one I didn’t mention then, but it makes an absolutely lovely dish and it’s as simple as they come – all it takes is oven time. And though I haven’t tried it, it could probably be made in a slow cooker. It’s simply a pork roast slowly cooked with a LOT of sliced onions, which melt down into a savory compote whose deliciosity is impossible to describe. It’s supposed to be served cold, and it IS good cold, but for that first supper I serve it hot, and in days following it’s eaten cold, usually with a good amount of that onion compote spread on good bread and covered with slices of cold pork.

The recipe itself calls for “fresh ham”, which, of course, means unsmoked, a slice cut from the thick end of a leg of pork, but I’m going to make it with country – meaty – spare ribs tonight.

• 5 tablespoons butter
• 2 ½ pounds pork (or more), preferably bone-in
• 2 pounds onions, thickly sliced (or more)
• Salt and freshly ground pepper
• ¼ cup red wine or cider vinegar (I used the vinegar, here)
• ¾ cup water
• 2/3 cup white wine (I’ll use red wine, sorry)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Melt a lump of the butter in a large baking dish, place the pork in the center and surround it with onions. Dot with the remaining butter, season generously with salt and pepper and bake for about 1 hour, or until the pork and onions have begun to brown. Baste from time to time (I don’t).

Turn the pork over, add vinegar, water, and wine, and continue baking for another hour. Test to see if the pork is done by piercing the meat – if the juices run clear, it is done.

Remove from the oven and serve warm.

I think you will be astounded at the synergy of these two ingredients!

All right, so those are a couple of satisfying things to do in the kitchen that will interrupt your pacing for a bit, and sooth your cabin fever.
Here’s another – get out of the house and have a little lunch at the Co-op.
Yes, finally, after finishing the new kitchen oh, about a year ago now, the Co-op is utilizing it for more than a prep area for the store.

First of all, there’s a little series of cooking classes/demonstrations happening one Saturday a month during Farmers’ Market. There was a steamed vegetable soup there in November, a vegetarian chili in December, January’s offering was roasted root vegetables – all very good, and all given out at the end in small portions to vendors and customers. Coming up on February 14 is Vermont Breakfast Specials (French Toast & others), March 14 will be 3 Sisters and a Brother, corn, squash, beans and rice. And April 18 finishes this series off with Feeling your Oats (and Grains). You’re welcome to join the cooks say around 10 or 11 a.m., watch the whole process, and learn what you can!

As well, the Co-op has been making and selling lunch soups now on several days of the week. Highlights have been last week’s Yellow Split Pea soup. Clam chowder was a hit, as was the Salmon Miso Soup, and a Curried Coconut and Roasted Squash. Mike Muller, the Co-op’s General Manager, raved about the “Great Cabbage Soup,” from last week.

For now the soup – very affordable, by the way – is accompanied only by Westminster oyster crackers, but Mike told me that as he gets a handle on the operation there will be some good bread and/or rolls with it, and some experimenting with non-soup offerings such as oh, casseroles, chili, and Beans and Rice kinds of things, and then, perhaps, eventually, salads and sandwiches.

“We’re taking it slow, seeing what works,” Mike says.

It’s quite enjoyable to ladle out a cup of soup for yourself and head up to the tables by the windows. Maybe pour yourself a cup of tea or coffee. There’s always an interesting character sitting there already, or standing behind the cash register, to relieve your tigerish pacing!


Penny said...

Sharon, We seem to be in tangent mindsets. The pork sounds wonderful. We are following your weather and although I am in Florida, the Michigan and Vermont ingrained snuggle factor has emerged and I spent the day in sweats and socks. Hope the tigers stop pacing soon.

Anna said...

Please answer some questions I have. Do you cover the dish in the oven? Is this a big round of pork or something like a roast? Thank you!!

sharon parquette nimtz said...

Anna, I've used a regular pork loin roast, and the aforesaid meaty country ribs. I liked the loin better, but a shoulder (unsmoked) would be really good, too. I lay a piece of foil loosely over the whole dish, so the top onions don't blacken. That only during the first hour, and take it off after you've turned the pork and added the liquids.
Good questions, thanks.

And Penny, I got out of my PJs at about 2PM today, and am about to get back into them. Still snowing hard, though doesn't seem to be loading down the trees.

In Fla, I guess you could take the sun and balm and sand for granted after awhile...