Sunday, May 30, 2010

satiate the soul

Every year that day before Mother's Day in early May is SUCH a treat – walking into Depot Park in Rutland on that first Summer Market Saturday, greeting old friends and discovering new – friends, farmers, and, at this time of year, foliage. This year, however, there had never been more miserable weather than we had that day – rain and wind and mud and cold! Nevertheless my eternal axiom had to hold true – the Farmers are going to be there and, thus, so am I!

We had radishes this year! It's always been a joke that the mayor will throw out the first radish at the first Farmers' Market, and someone has to go over to the supermarket to buy one! This year we had a splendiferous display of radishes – most notably at Foggy Meadow's stand – and the Herald got a great photo of young Ben Horton and those radishes to display on the front page.

As difficult as it is to be transported when you are hunching against the rain, racing through mud, icy rivulets streaming down your neck and up your sleeves, we shoppers managed it, and were able to greet some great new vendors as well as all the old beloved ones.

Here are a few of the former and one of the latter.

Lindsay Arbuckle and Scott Courcelle are new vendors this year, and their Alchemy Garden stand is a work of art, so beautiful that you might not gather how much sweat of the brow it demanded and got. From their smiles and easy-going manner it seems that it effortlessly, as its name suggests, sprang into being.

Not so, though, as the Arbuckle/Courcelle duo are busy people who are also the managers of the new co-op at Pierce's Store in Shrewsbury. No doubt they were able to polish their farming talents when they acted as Paul Horton's interns last summer at Foggy Meadow Farm in Benson, and they're putting those skills into practice now that they farm/garden on a piece of land at Greg Cox's Boardman Hill Farm in West Rutland. Lindsay also coordinated this year's Locally Grown Guide (just out – look for it) for RAFFL.

Note the lovingly-created seed packets and signs by Lindsay. Whew, that lady is a busy bee!

Another new vendor is Larson Farm from Wells, selling, most notably, pasture-raised veal. Some of you readers have asked about humanely raised veal, and here it is. It is rosy colored, very tasty. I made cutlets out of it last week, pounded thin, lightly breaded, sauteed in butter and olive oil.

Erin Seward woman's the enterprise, and brings along, so far, her own wildcrafted ramps, fiddleheads and, these few weeks green garlic.

Probably many people don't realize that garlic can be eaten at any stage of the game. Right now it is simply bulbous, like a scallion, so tender it can be eaten all the way up the stem. Soon you will find cloves being formed, the outer skin toughens, and the skin surrounding the individual cloves easily splits to uncover the tender cloves inside.

Erin also offers a pesto, made out of green garlic, and homemade hummus. Soon she will add her own garden-grown produce.

One of the things that is most heartening about these new vendors is the pure joy they take in what they're doing.

This splendid new vendor is Radical Roots Farm. We have watched Dennis Duhaime and Carol Tashie all this long spring sweating it out on their land out on Creek Road. That sweat has paid off with, among other things, broccoli raab at the very first market on May 8.

Now there's a story behind that raab that dates back to when Dennis was the Co-op's produce manager and I urged him to get some in, offering to do a tasting of it if he would. It's one of my favorite vegetables but most people had never heard of it. Dennis fell in love with it and now, finally, we have it available at Market.

Here's the way I wrote about its preparation last year:
….. toss the raab into boiling salted water and bring it just back to boiling, hold it there maybe a second more, then drain it. In the meantime you’ve warmed about a quarter of a cup of olive oil in a sauté pan with a finely chopped clove of garlic. When the raab is drained, and the garlic has had time to flavor the olive oil without turning a bit brown, turn the heat to high under the pan, and when the oil is hot (don’t let that garlic turn) throw in the raab and shake, rattle and roll until the raab is hot, has cooked a couple minutes more and is, my goodness, coated with the oil. Sprinkle with salt to taste, then a teaspoon or so of hot pepper flakes, and there we go! Serve it warm or even cold, or put it in a sandwich of crusty whole-grained bread.

Don't you love that sign? It's the work of Carol's brother.

Carol and Dennis also had the earliest regular broccoli ever on May 22. Here's Carol with it in her hands.

Not a new vendor but one of my favorite old ones is Rebecca Worthing of Poultney who offers her incredible made-from-scratch-and-lots-of-butter pastries almost every week, winter AND summer at her Rebecca's Kitchen stand at the Market. They're fresh each day! You know what this means? She's up most of the night before Market.
The reason I haven't written about her before or even, I think, mentioned her, is that I was saving her for a feature article. Well, I just don't seem to get around to features anymore, so it's high time to tell you how wonderful she is while I'm writing about other wonderful people.

My favorite is that bearclaw. I've never eaten better – flaky and rich and perfectly balanced between shaley savory crust and nutty, sweet filling. Perhaps an interesting sidelight here: a year or so ago I asked Rebecca how she made her pie crusts. She uses sweet butter in everything else, but she said that was too expensive for pie crusts so she used a no-trans-fat shortening. I was probably visibly disappointed, because, as you all know, I advocate for natural fats – preferably half butter and half lard in my crusts – and she was also visibly distressed, as any artist is at even a hint of criticism.
Recently, though, she confessed to me that she had taken my advice, and now all her pastries, including pies, are butter rich. Right on, Rebecca.
She picks all of her berries and apples fresh and in season. She has a young family, too. I don't think she sleeps, ever.

What else is new at the Farmers' Market?

These lovely little salad turnips (from Foggy Meadow) are exquisite out of hand – halfway between a radish and an apple; sweet and juicy – or simmered slowly in butter, with a bit of tarragon, along with their greens. What an unctuous, sweet, meltingly fresh, lovely vegetable this is, either alone or curled around a perfectly grilled porkchop.

And these beauteous young beets:

Really, there's nothing better in spring than young beets and greens. Last night I cut the stems about 2 inches long and simmered the beets until they were almost tender – for as little as 10 minutes, really – then added the greens to the pot and simmered for perhaps 10 minutes more. I drained them, slipped the skins from the beets (but saved the stems), and added the quartered beets, stems, and greens to a saute pan in which I had steeped over a low flame some fresh green garlic in a plethora of olive oil, turned the heat up a bit and tossed just until the beets had absorbed that lovely, garlicky oil.

At that point I may have sprinkled them with a few drops of vinegar, showered them with grated hard-boiled egg, salted and peppered them, or strewn them with hot pepper flakes, but whatever I did (and I've done all for different suppers this month), they all satiate the soul!

Okay. What's missing here? Oh, of course, Greg Cox, the Grand old Man of the Farmers' Market, the Philosopher-Farmer. Where's Greg?
Well, Greg's recuperating from long-delayed and well-deserved knee surgery!
About time you took care of those knees, Old Man! You're going to need them for many years to come, and maybe now that you're pain-free and agile as a gazelle you'll quit grumbling like an old bear and accomplish even more for Rutland and its food and farmers!

Satiate the soul. Hie yourself to the Farmers' Market wherever you be!

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

warmer than in air

Saturday was that first day that, when you walk out the door, the air is warmer out than in. Not that the air conditioner is on in. Not that we have an air conditioner, at least not if you don’t call fireplaces and chimneys and cellars a natural form of air conditioner, which they are. If those builders in 1809 didn’t know how versatile they were making this house in terms of keeping it cool in summer and warm in winter then they were at least more intuitive than they would need to be now.

From blog warmer than in air
Leo came in as I went out and I mentioned in passing that I had no ideas for supper, and then I continued out to the deck and sat down in the chair that tests my ability anew each year to be able to get up out of it, and picked up my book. Pretty soon, though, it nearing 6pm, I felt a stirring – not of hunger, but of a need to cook.

Cooking gives me space and time to think, to combine, to surprise myself, to get the juices flowing. Cooking and music are a divine combo; add a glass of wine and you’ve got a pretty heady process going on.

In the kitchen was a vase of ramps – I had garlic and shallots, too, but you don’t need them with ramps, which you may know as wild leeks – and a handful of fiddleheads. There was a bit of spinach, too, and some coconut dal I’d made the other night. I had eggs, in more ways than one – which is always a good thing – and good multi-grain bread. Cheese. There was smoked polish sausage from On the Edge Farm, but did I need it? And what else?

Tarragon, basil, & lovage are luxuries of the season, that make me smile every time I cook and walk outside to pick some. Last Sunday I couldn’t resist chopping two stems of tarragon into the filling of a rhubarb pie. There were people who noticed, with questioning and, I think, with real pleasure. Herbs that we think of as savory do indeed go nicely in sweet pies. Rosemary in apple, for instance. Basil would be good except that even a touch of heat reduces its taste to nothing. I decided to make a simple frittata – an omelet of sorts – with ramps and fiddleheads, lovage and tarragon.

Do you know the best way to get those coppery husks off fiddleheads? It's this: Put them in cold water and bring them to the boil and then immediately (almost) tip them into a sieve. The husks have turned into coppery fibers unrelated in any complicated way with each other. Spray the green fiddleheads to take the husks to the bottom and lift the green things out. Dump the husks in the compost. No quicker way to stop up a sink than fiddlehead husks.
I tell you this from experience.

Now, my biggest quandary is – do I use the little hydroponic tomato or stick to the wild, just-grown things? My instinct says no, but my palate says yes.

Instinct is a good thing to follow, especially in spring. A week or so ago I began to think about shad roe. Shad is a river herring, very bony, and its egg sacs are prized by anyone who loves seasonal food and, probably, fish eggs. Its availability works its way north until now we’re getting them from somewhere in Pennsylvania and New York. I stopped into Earth and Sea in Manchester and those expert and friendly people told me they’d call me when they got some in. They called last Thursday, so I did a little carbon footprint thingy and drove down to Manchester and got the roe and, while I was at it, a Branzini, a whole, small European sea bass with white, sweet flesh. Apparently it’s farmed in a very sustainable way, feeding on plants and algae, its waste eaten by microbes instead of by other fish.

Which is quite something to think about – the sustainability of fish – when in the next breath I think of what we are doing to that very strange world that comprises the majority of OUR world, and ALL of theirs – the underwater world and the ocean floor – which is killing great swathes of it completely mindlessly.

I found one of those papery brown moths the other day in the kitchen. They look like tiny, dried-out tea bags when they’re dead. I put him under a jeweler’s cup and saw that he had a monkey face and all kinds of differentiated markings and feelers and little feet not intelligible to the naked eye.

Why do we always look up and go outward when we could find just as many worlds by looking down and within and into the tinier and more and more microscopic levels?

Is that why we haven’t concentrated on exploring that ocean but do concentrate on outer space? And is that why, even while we know next to nothing about that land covered by water, we are content to destroy it in the name of BTUs and so-called progress. Shame.

The Branzini was beautiful to cook and to eat. I zested a lemon over it, diced some preserved lemon, sprinkled salt and pepper and olive oil, stuffed it with chopped ramps, wrapped it in parchment and baked it at 400 ° for about 20 minutes.
In-parchment is a very good way to cook almost any fish. It encloses it to keep the air out and the juices in, and the parchment browns to a coppery mess. It’s always an adventure tearing it away.
From blog warmer than in air
I served the Branzini with a coconut dal, the recipe for which I’d found in a big, beautiful, expensive cookbook at the Northshire that very same day. I did not buy the book but, while flipping through its pages, spied the recipe and memorized the ingredients – it was easy, they were mostly c words. Except for garlic and shallot, for which I substituted ramps, it has coriander, curry leaves, chile, and coconut milk. Along with those little orange lentils that cook so quickly. (I did buy David Chang’s Momofuku, which I will give to Jesse when I’ve had my way with it.)

For the Coconut Dal, simmer a cup of the lentils in 2 cups of water for 20 minutes or so, until tender. Meanwhile, sauté the garlic and shallot, or ramps, then add in the ground coriander, the curry leaves and the crushed hot chile until browned and amalgamated. Add a cup of the coconut milk (I used the whole can) and stir in the lentils. It was delicious but it needed cilantro, which I added to the leftovers. Those are good dipped up with corn chips.

The shad roe were two pretty pink crescents that I prepared Friday night after looking up Jasper White’s technique, which is to braise them in enough butter to almost cover in a slow oven – 350° for about 10 minutes a side. Handle them very carefully so that the sac doesn’t split. I used some of the leftover butter in the mashed potatoes that sided it, and still have some left, and I had the leftover roe the next morning for breakfast.

Which was interesting, because the skin on the cold cooked sacs is thin and brownish pink and veined all over with a web of what looks like black silk thread, and reminds you of other thin-skinned sacs you’ve seen, of a deeply personal nature, though those are not usually cooked. Inside, the eggs are grainy and briny and solid and healthy as surely all eggs are that hold the beginnings of life. Mineral and fascinating.

The frittata was not nearly as fascinating, but it was good, made out of what was on hand, and filling, and Leo liked it.

By the way, I went with my palate instead of instinct – which is just another kind of instinct, I guess – and used the little tomato. I’m glad I did. But when choosing which kind of cheese to top it with – that took me awhile. I thought Swiss, but once I opened the cheese drawer the choice was easy – all I had was cheddar ends, so cheddar ends won out.

So this is quite a bit about eggs and fishes, and sacs and other gelid things, and I’m reminded of what Oscar Wilde said one time, and that was "An egg is always an adventure; the next one may be different." I believe he could be talking about any kind of egg, but especially fish eggs.

My little brown moth lay under the jeweler’s cup all day, and when I lifted him up when I was ready to make the frittata, preparatory to sweeping him into the trash, he came alive, teetered on my finger, flew into my hair, and when I ducked outside he flew away into that warmer than in air.