Tuesday, December 06, 2011

nice and easy does it

A 'tween holidays jigsaw puzzle provides the background for a moderately tiny cuppa
This is really not a time when we need to talk very much about food. I mean, this is the question:::: Who is Hungry? Not me, and not you, I’ll bet. Not that we’re aware, and certainly not for food.
Of course everybody is hungry for something. They’re hungry for approval, for peace, for meaning, but sometimes they couldn’t care less for a truffle, whether it be chocolate or dug up by an Italian hog from under an ancient oak.

So, let’s talk about something more important than food. As if there could be such a thing, because perhaps you’ve noticed that where ever you start it always comes back to food. That’s what I realized several years ago when I started to write about it. Several? Well that would be since 1978, which is thirty-some very odd years, I believe, and since then I have often been pretty much able to use food terms to translate life into something understandable.

For instance, I can only remember one time that I was hungry. A friend and I were lost. We had left Michigan in a 1965 Mustang and were wandering all over the east looking for Rosa Parks and Bob Dylan. We’d heard they were out there. What we didn’t know in that pre-instant-information-age is that they’d been here and already left. On a side-trip we got off on some logging roads in French-speaking Quebec. Finally we came upon a gas station out in the middle of nowhere whose attendant did not speak English and apparently had never met anyone who did, just as we, probably, had never met anyone who spoke French. We found things in this alternative universe that looked like milk and Hostess cupcakes, but the milk had cream pushing the cap off and the Hostess cupcakes were... like Hostess, but just a little different. Very primitive, it was. Oh, I was heartsick, and so HUNGRY. Finally we tumbled out of the Canadian forest onto a beautifully paved road into Jackman, Maine and were able to assuage our hunger on familiar homogenized junk food, American – albeit 1960s – style.  And that’s what I was starved for – familiarity – that mild Canadian strangeness was terrifically unsettling!

 Thanksgiving reminds me of that time. It’s a day when we stuff ourselves with – besides the blameless good local turkey and roasted vegetables –  all the starches of potatoes and gravy and dressing, not even to speak of pie. It’s a pure, longed-for carbohydrate binge. It happens every year at this time and we eat the same food that Grandma cooked – starches and sweets!

And then come the recriminations! By now we have got past the talk of what gluttons we were and how we stuffed ourselves, and are looking forward with various strains of trepidation to Christmas cookies and more pies and suet puddings and holiday breads and sweets.

What’s the answer? Let’s try this – just take it

For forty-nine years I have had at least one very large and potent cup of coffee in the morning.  A couple of months ago I quit drinking it, just to see what would happen. At first I substituted decaf, but soon realized I didn’t need anything! I had no headaches, no withdrawal symptom of any kind. Well, perhaps there was a kind of emptiness at the centre of my morning ritual; and, as I gradually realized, perhaps a certain lack of energy, a lethargy, in my morning activities. So I relented a bit.

I have beautiful little pottery cups made by Susan Leader from Weston. They’d never been used much because they’re so tiny. Now I often fill one of these miniatures with coffee and cream. I might even have two cups. That serves to ameliorate the tiredness and provide a bit of ceremony, and so, in the end I have not quit drinking coffee so much as I have explored the habit and moderated it, and brought more pleasure to it, too.

So let’s take heed of our feelings that we have overly stuffed ourselves, but let’s not excoriate ourselves for it. We might say, ‘Okay, wayyyy too many carbs, I’ll just cut them out for today.’ And maybe tomorrow we’ll wake up and feel really quite as though we’ll pleasingly exist on salads and cheese and eggs and maybe a hamburger for yet another day, and perhaps find ourselves at the end of a week having lost a few pounds and feeling far less bloated and round-footed. We’ll wake up and smell the coffee, so to speak.

Then of course in come the Christmas cookies and who can blame us if we cannot resist one, or two, unless we have an extreme allergy to gluten, which we may have since the flour we grow now bears very little resemblance to the flour that grew a few years ago. It has been so bioengineered that perhaps our bodies do not recognize it as a food substance anymore. Perhaps our bodies mistake wheat flour as a bacteria, something to be flooded with antibodies. It certainly is true that many people find themselves with a gluten intolerance. One has to wonder why.

In that light it is interesting that the country of Hungary has destroyed one thousand acres of Monsanto genetically modified corn. Other countries are taking these depredations seriously. Peru has likewise passed a ban on genetically modified seeds.

So perhaps you will not abstain from all carbohydrates. But perhaps you will try very seriously not to eat anything made with wheat, barley, or rye. Try that hat on and see how it feels.

I used to think of moderation as the habit of boring people. I don’t think that anymore. I will try to be thoughtful about my hungers and to take it, as Frank Sinatra sang in that era when I was following my hunger along Canadian logging roads, “Nice and easy does it all the time.” I have to tell you, I never did catch up with Dylan, and now I’ve developed this inappropriate curiosity about him. You couldn’t possibly have a gluten intolerance, could you, Mr. Jones?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

there’s rice in them thar hills

A sheaf of rice from Breezy Meadows Orchard showed up at an autumn farmers' market

It is another glorious November day and in the afternoon the phone finally rings. It is Meadow calling me to say she is “at home” if I would care to come up.

Meadow is Meadow Squire who, with her partner, Josh Brill, is farming land up in Tinmouth on plus or minus 70 acres that Meadow’s parents, Marshall and Melody, bought back-in-the-day and on which they built a log cabin to house a burgeoning family.

I’ll be there in twenty minutes, I told Meadow, and drove up 140, then up to their farm on a rough, two-track one-mile driveway, over boulders and through water-filled ruts in the heavy hard-pan or clay – the same stuff that comprises their growing fields. Given lemons they make lemonade; given clay – which does a good job holding water – they’re making paddies. Rice paddies, that is, right here on the side of a Vermont mountain, with a glorious southwestern view, and that steep mountainside acreage to complicate things. 

They also grow veggies, and  fruit, to feed themselves and sell at the Rutland Farmers’ Market,  on what they have named Breezy Meadows Orchards. And what that means is that they have instituted wildly innovative improvements to their soil. And the soil responds, gradually.

But Josh and Meadow, beginning again, are strong and energetic and young – Meadow is 21 and Josh is 27. He thinks.

But, if he can’t quite remember how old he is, he knows a tremendous amount about permaculture and rice paddies. Permaculture is the idea of nestling under Mother Nature’s ample breast and instituting agricultural practices without her knowing, without making her miserable or angry.  I think of it as cunning non-interference.

For instance, large piles of wood chips, Josh explains to me, are laced with tubing, the stack is soaked, covered, and left to decompose. When water is run through the pipes it is warmed by the heat put off by the decomposing chips and that water will be used to warm the greenhouses in winter and spring. When I ask what the piles of litre plastic bottles are for, he explains that when filled with water in the winter, allowed to freeze, and then stacked to line the mega-insulated walk-in cooler that they built, they will provide cooling well into the summer for the produce they take to the Rutland Farmers’ Market.

The 50’x20’ plastic coated high-tunnel greenhouse? Josh and his father bent the metal poles and coated them with sheet plastic. Its shape is slightly gothic so that the snow doesn’t pile up on it, and it can be moved to cover, in thirds, 150 linear feet of garden space. Another one is in the works for next year. The garden rows in that 150 feet are rounded raised beds – logs, trimmed trees, are laid down, those are covered with brush, the brush with manure and  compost, that with that clayey soil that we spoke off. The rows are planted, then covered with straw, and as the brush and logs begin their decomposition they give off heat to the soil and attract earthworms which continue to lighten the soil. The rows that were constructed first are nicely turning that clay into a wonderful lightened humousy soil.
The traveling high tunnel covers 150' in 50' intervals. Josh and his dad put it together.

Josh Brill: Works well with Mother Nature

It’s rough up there in spite of the solitude and the beautiful day and the view. It’s steep. Every movement seems to be up or down. All the hard work that is called for makes taming the wilderness – combing and whacking and giving it a spit and a polish – seem extraneous. But there’s energy in the air. These two young people are totally at home in their kingdom.

Meadow calls the mother pig to her. She is named Regina, with a hard g. A beautiful spotted white Tamworth/Berkshire cross, she comes running out of the foresty scrub where she’s been rummaging for roots and grubs, and flops herself down to get a stomach scratch. Meadow pets her until she melts down into slothful experience (Regina, I mean), and when another pig comes running he is soon lying as blissfully under Meadow’s hands. Their ears flop down, porcine grins grace their faces. I mean, there’s Meadow with two contented hogs blissfully stretched out as if bacon at her feet. This woman has power! Meadow, I mean.
During her high school career I saw Meadow in many theatrical productions and she was marvelous.
She is just as marvelous as Daisy Mae. And Regina and Bacon are in porcine heaven.

Two beautiful brown Oberhasli goats from Consider Bardwell prance and amuse themselves – as only goats can do – in another paddock. One turned out to be pregnant when they got her. Meadow milks them and looks forward to a small herd of milking goats for yogurt, milk, and cheese. The chickens are “mutts” says Meadow, and they are the most gorgeous assortment of half-wild fowl – they’re roosting in treetops and fencetops – I’ve ever seen. They will be laying “at the end of next week,” the couple agrees. They seem to have everything planned out. Meadow and Josh, I mean.

Including the paddies. This year’s rice paddy is a rich little pocket dug into the clayey soil, about 10 or 12 feet square, the stems of the harvested rice rising in small symmetrical clumps out of a reddish mix of azolla, a water plant similar to duckweed. It’s edible, high protein, and it will not go to waste but will be fed to the animals. It suppresses weeds and forms a physical barrier between the water and mosquitoes so their eggs can’t hatch. Watercress is the third plant, also edible, of course, and can be harvested as a salad green. The waters also attract salamanders and frogs, as well as dragonflys and damselflys, all of whom eat lots of insects, and they are considering adding some fish, such as Tilapia. How about crawfish?  “What,” they wonder, “would happen if farmers planted rice paddies as a riparian buffer along rivers?” Hmmm. Lots of food for thought here.

This is the azolla, and it is that that gives the paddies their reddish hue -- their fall colors. It sets nitrogen in the water,
all the better to provide nutrients to the rice.

Rice seed is very difficult to get. They started this year with a handful of Haruka, a Northern Japanese hybrid. With the seed they produced this year, and money from a Kickstarter project, they will plant nearly an acre of paddies next summer, starting the seeds in late winter, early spring, and transplant them in the paddies in mid-May.

Hooray! There should be Vermont rice at the Farmers’ Market by next fall! Please go to their Kickstarter web page (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/840980225/growing-rice-in-vermont) and look at the cute video they made. And wish them good luck, even send them a buck or two if you can afford it. Check out their web page to get more detail on their projects at http://breezymeadowsorchards.com/
Josh and Meadow at one of the first of this summer's Farmers' Markets -- I don't think they missed a Saturday.
And look how handsome it is.

For those of you who don’t know, the Co-op’s own Peter McGann has been selling his wares at the Market. In the summer he started out with hand-chopped salsa and guacamole, which was very nice, but in the Winter Market at the Co-op he’s branched out dramatically. I bought a container of his lovely Red Cascabel Chili Salsa, as well as several potato and chorizo taquitos (small tacos). I mean! What a treat! You can’t get this stuff anywhere else. I spooned that salsa over some Hutterite beans from Yoder Farms – they are firm and flavorful – that I’d cooked up with a couple of beef shanks from Spotted Dog Farm. Sprinkled Breezy Meadow Orchard’s Cilantro over the whole thing. Yum.

And on a tragic note, our hearts and best thoughts go out to the family of Gary Miller of Castleton and the Miller Farmstand. He was killed in a tractor accident two weeks ago. He had set up his booth at the Farmers’ Market that very day from which he would have sold fresh herbs and my favorite horseradish. It was a sad day for the Market. We will all miss Gary.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

the thin season

Halloween, and the skin between the worlds is stretched as thin as a mosquito’s ... oh, I can’t say that in the paper. Take my word for it, it’s thin. So thin that you wouldn’t, for instance, want to take a paddle in a canoe on a glassine lake for fear of not knowing if the trees towering overhead were reflected in the water or the water in the trees.

Not that you’d want to take a paddle right now. It’s good, I suppose, that the leaves came off those trees before the snow came onto them. Yes, very good. And it’s good that we had the last rather subdued but nonetheless joyful Farmers’ Market out in depot park before we have the first – coming up this Saturday – of the cold season back in the medieval cave of the theater through the Co-op on Wales Street in Rutland.

Greg Cox of Boardman Hill Farm embraces Mother Nature at the last outdoor Farmers' Market of the year in Depot Park.
Mother was designed and constructed by artist, Grace Brigham, who hides under Mother's skirt.

People were complaining last Saturday that they weren’t inside out of the elements; and no doubt this coming Saturday will be so gorgeous that everyone will complain that they aren’t outside at Depot Park. Charlie Brown will be there, though, outside, jolly and plaid and sharp as a tack, selling his apples and cider and doughnuts to the faithful. He won’t come inside until the slice of daylight is so thin that even he capitulates.

There will be a few others out there, too, and I wish they would just relent and come inside the theater when the weather gets too bad. But no, they’ll probably decide to do their “own” farmers’ market instead of uniting with the other farmers in the theater. Which is a drag. It’s as if they never heard of the old saw, United We Stand; Divided We Fall, which is doubly true for farmers – stick together guys and gals::: You’re an endangered species, and we need you! Each and Every One.

It’s good the Winter Market will benefit the Rutland Area Food Co-op again this year – they’re two integral links in a healthy food chain. The Winter Market has brought immense numbers of potential customers into the Co-op each winter. Never mind that while the Farmers’ Market is cool and colorful and copacetic, and just makes you want to dance and eat at the same time, the Co-op is a little more... staid might be the word. Not quite as colorful. Of course there are wonderful people there, and I like to stop by and chat with Peter and Leah and Laura, among others. I’m sooo glad they continue to lend their hard work and personality to it  Stop by. The Co-op needs our support – our  laughter and even irreverence. One of the best ways of supporting it is to make our presence known as owners. And the way to be an owner is to be a member: That costs, last time I looked, $10 per year for an individual and $20 for a family.
Now for pumpkins, which are skeery things this time of year. You know those tiny pumpkins, about 4 inches in diameter? I’ve seeded them and par-baked them, and then poured a savory custard mixture into them, flavored with garlic and a little bit of nutmeg, and baked them until the custard was set. I believe I scattered some big orange grains of  salmon roe over them. They were outstanding!

The other night, though, Three Tomatoes stuffed baked ones with a risotto, nestling 3 large shrimp into the risotto, and scattering the whole with roasted pumpkin seeds. It was billed as an appetizer special, but it was my entrée. I didn’t know if I was in heaven or the nice dining room of Three Tomatoes. There’s that thin place again. It grew even thinner when, afterwards, we heard Jennifer Johnson Cano sing mezzo and soprano on the Paramount stage. Marvelous. I staggered out of there quite high on her wonderful voice.
Tiny Pumpkins stuffed with risotto, with shrimp and roasted pumpkin seeds was a highlight at Three Tomatoes on Friday night

I’ve written about Carol Field’s Pumpkin Risotto before. It’s one of my favorite dishes to make in this season. If you were to obtain say four of those aforementioned tiny pumpkins, some pumpkin seeds* which you then roasted in a little oil with garlic, and a pound of medium shrimp that you would simply steam in the shell before cleaning them, you could combine these elements into the cunning and delicious dish of which I spoke.
For the pumpkins: Cut the tops off as though you were making jack o’lanterns and clean out the seeds. If you have a serrated grapefruit spoon, use that to make short shrift of the cleaning. Bake the pumpkins upside down on a cookie sheet in a 375° oven  until the inside is tender, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the risotto. Note that pumpkin is a squash, and I have more often than not used a butternut squash in place of the pumpkin in this recipe:

Riso e Zucca: Pumpkin Risotto
Creamy Pumpkin-flavored Rice
From Carol Field’s Celebrating Italy

6 servings

•    1 pound minus 2 ounces uncooked pumpkin or butternut squash, seeded
•    ¾ cup minus 1 tablespoon (5 ounces) Arborio rice
•    2 cups chicken broth
•    4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
•    ½ cup (1 ¾ ounces) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
•    Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the pumpkin or squash in thick slices and cook in boiling salted water until a knife pierces the flesh easily. Drain, peel, and cut into small dice. Put the rice, diced squash, and cold broth in a pan. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook until the rice has absorbed the broth, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the butter and cheese, and serve immediately.

To serve, stuff the pumpkins artfully with the risotto and allow some to overlap onto the plate. Nestle 3 or 4 shrimp into the risotto and sprinkle with the roasted pumpkin seeds. Serve on fall greens, such as arugula.
If you are going to fill the little pumpkins with the custard, which needs to be baked, itself, you want to just par-bake the pumpkins for, say 15 minutes, until just beginning to be tender.
Prepare the 4 small pumpkins (prepped as above and baked 15 minutes), and fill them, while still hot, with:

Garlic Custard
•    1 ¾ cups whole milk
•    ½ cup heavy cream
•    2 or 3 cloves of garlic
•    1 teaspoon salt
•    freshly ground white pepper
•    2 whole eggs
•    2 egg yolks
•    nutmeg
•    caviar (optional)
Very carefully and slowly heat the milk and cream until bubbles begin to form around the edges of the pan.  Turn the heat off but leave the pan on the burner. Grate the garlic into the milk and let the mixture cool until warm.
Whisk the eggs and yolks together gently until well combined – the strands are broken down  but the mixture is not frothy. Whisk the scalded and cooled milk into the eggs, add the salt and pepper to taste, pour into the hot pumpkins and grind (a microplane works great for this) some nutmeg over the tops.
Bake at 300° until the custard is set, about 30 minutes. Check at 20 minutes by sliding a silver knife into the center. The mixture should be almost set, as it will continue to set when taken from the oven.
This, also could be strewn with caviar or pumpkin seeds.

*About pumpkin seeds: I can never understand how people can rave about frying up the pumpkin seeds they scoop out of the jack o’lantern.  They’re tough, no matter how much garlic and oil you fry them in. And stringy. And inedible. Unless you’re one of those people, buy the raw pumpkin seeds at the co-op and have your way with them. They’re an entirely different kind of seed.

Here’s wishing you a wonderful thin season, Dear Reader. Be very observant of the edges!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

fall 'shrooms

If anyone can identify these fall mushrooms, please let me know. They are not in my repertoire although I wish they were, because they look delicious.

These are the ones in a fairy ring. They look like single oysters to me, and I believe they are rooted in some almost totally osmosed wood. These are quite large, as big as a coffee saucer, anyway.

Then there were these beauties::: I don't know them so I don't eat them. I barely touch them...

Now these I know. They are unmistakably Shaggymanes. I will eat them until the cows come home, or until they turn to black ink and drip themselves away. You can see some black on the bottoms of some of these:

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

apples and onions

and the occasional mouse
the Buddha onion
I just cleaned out my pantry.

It was way past due.

There were those widgety moths that get into live grains, and messes that mice made.

Don’t ever put one of those metal containers (most people call them cans) of olive oil in the pantry with mice.  They chaw through the little plastic neck of the stopper and climb in. You can feel the ass-over-kilter of them slosh heavily around in there when you pick it up.

Hopefully you sense it before you’ve chowed down on some truffled mice. Well no, that would be mice confit, left to bubble only slightly in its own or another’s fat. But of course there was no heat involved here, just room-temperature olive oil and a slowly expiring rat. I mean mouse.

Maybe it was only a really tiny one, practically pink yet, and so tender. Barely grazed by the world. But, what would a pink infant mouse be doing climbing up the slippery sides of a can and chewing through the slippery plastic of its mouth? Nope. Had to’ve been a big, fat, athletic male.

Yum. Lent such a tang to that fresh and crisp frissée and that fine balsamic vinegar, thick as molasses with age. Greek sea salt. Coarsely cracked black pepper. Tellicherry, even. Something rare about that flavor, like truffles, or that coffee that is collected after it has passed through a certain rodent’s intestines, or that awful cheese that is infested with maggots that appears on some very rare tables. Or that fruit that smells like death, or that fish that if it is not cleaned especially correctly will kill you. Disgusting foods. We pine for them. Put conserved mouse on that list, would you? Just below escargot, please.

Truth in advertising, no mouse got into my olive oil lately, but it did happen some years ago. I believe I discovered it before using any, and after much thought I buried the whole can somewhere in the yard. Ugh.

Now how did you make me get on that subject? Please remember, this is a food column. Let’s keep it cute and pretty. Put on your patent leather heels and straighten the seams in your stockings and don that sweet little ruffled pink apron. Now. We’re ready to cook. Sweet things, like chicken breasts in cream. Lasagna for the daring. Long cooked tomato sauce – here, take a lick from this wooden spoon. Careful, it’s hot. Good isn’t it? I do so envy those people, able to enthuse about simple things and not worry about the seamier side of food, like mouse confit and which kind of onion caramelizes to the rich sweetness best for French Onion Soup.

Because that’s really what I mean to talk about this week.

some perfectly normal and beautiful yellow onions
before they were made into soup
I stopped by Radical Roots Farm on Creek Road to get enough of their small storage onions to store AND to make a French Onion Soup. I’d googled for a recipe I saw on one of the blogs but couldn’t find it. But I did remember a couple of the main pointers. Namely, to caramelize a good number of onions; #2, that there was no need for a meat broth to be added to it; and #3, in no particular order, that sharp yellow onions were best for it. "Sweet onions don’t caramelize as well," Carol Tashie told me (as she was told by Dennis Vieria, chef at the Red Clover Inn in Mendon). But my thought is that sweet onions are TOO sweet. I love the flavor of Carol and Dennis’s sharp little storage onions. But keep in mind that Carol prefers to caramelize the sweet ones, and she IS the expert.

So, when I got home on the afternoon of the evening that my friend Dana, from Virginia, would arrive, I peeled a good number of those little onions and sliced them thinly and set them to begin lightly browning in a cast iron pan over a fairly low heat. Once I saw they were not going to burn I went upstairs and finished the vacuuming and changing bed linen, coming down to check every fifteen minutes or so to stir the onions and make sure they were becoming golden and limp and giving off their lovely juices. Altogether I think they were over that heat for a couple of hours.

Towards the middle I sprinkled them with some salt, and towards the end I added a couple of glugs of sherry and six cups of water to make the onion broth and let them continue to cook over that medium heat. By that time they were delectable, but when I tasted the broth a little bit later I could not help but add a heaping soup spoon of Better than Bouillon beef broth concentrate.

Now just hold your horses. I’m all for purity and stuff, but the fact that bouillon – blocks or liquid – is used often by French cooks was uppermost in my mind. Except for the bit of MSG in it, I can’t find anything wrong with this habit, and it does make everything taste a little better.

Dana arrived, and after greetings and a bit of a walk around the garden, we drank some wine with some Blue Ledge Farm Camembrie cheese, and when we were ready to eat I made a salad with a wedge of that melty Camembrie over the top, with some toasted pumpkin seeds and a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I cut three apples in half and cored them and set them into an earthenware baking dish with a dab of butter and a sprinkling of sea salt on each one and tucked that into the oven. I sent Leo to the store to get some ice cream.

And then I ladled the onions in broth (after correcting the salt seasoning) into 3 ovenproof soup bowls, placed a slice of French bread that had been griddled in olive oil over the top of the soup, and sprinkled that with a thick layer of Southwind Farm’s raclette-style cheese. A very nice plethora of it. Slid that into a hot oven and let it melt and brown.

When it came time for dessert I alternated layers of apple halves, ice cream, and some Fat Toad Goat Caramel in goblets and topped that with some crunched walnuts sautéed in butter.

What a nice supper!

French Onion Soup

Makes 4 servings
•    3 tablespoons olive oil
•    3 pounds of sharp yellow onions
•    2 teaspoons sea salt or to taste
•    ½ cup (or more) golden or dry sherry
•    6 cups water
•    1 heaped soup spoon of  Better than Bouillon beef broth concentrate (available at the Co-op) (optional)
•    ½ lb (or more) Southwind Farm cheese, grated (or other Swiss style cheese)
•    4 slices of good white baguette, cut thick and toasted in olive oil

Heat a deep heavy skillet or dutch oven over low to medium heat, add the olive oil. Peel the onions and slice thinly and spread in the skillet. Cock a cover over the skillet. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions give off some moisture and they seem to be browning nicely on the bottom. Adjust the heat. Let them cook for one to two hours, stirring often. Season with some of the salt.  Pour in the sherry and let them cook some more.

Add the water, bring to a simmer and let them cook for ten or so minutes. Stir in the broth concentrate if you are using it, taste for salt and add some if you like. Turn the heat to a very low simmer until you are ready to serve it.

In the meantime grate the cheese and toast the bread slices and, when ready to serve, ladle the onions and broth into four oven-proof bowls placed on a cookie sheet, top with the toastslices and lather liberally with shredded cheese.  Slide into a 400° oven for ten minutes until the cheese is melted and browned and the broth is bubbly.

Serve that up. Enjoy your dinner. Tomorrow? Clean out that pantry! It needs it.

Is that a frog in my soup?

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

going not gentle but sassy

For lunch a few days ago I went out into the garden and picked a large green tomato that was turning just pink in places. I sliced it and coated it with panko bread crumbs and fried the slices in coconut oil. Golden crispy on the outside and tender and puddeny on the inside. Sided them with a relish of roasted peppers of all decibels and a spoonful of crème fraiche.

Those fried green tomatoes and the peppers and crème fraiche were so wonderful that I wish I could eat them all over again! Which of course I CAN do until the tomatoes freeze off the vine.

Where did this mélange of peppers come from? You’ll remember I wrote about Hedie Francis’s technique of roasting peppers and freezing them? Well, when we had danger of frost a few weeks ago I picked all my Hungarian Wax peppers and added them to an assortment bought at the Farmers’ Market of all varying degrees of heat and sweetness – Lipstick sweet, big red bells, long green pasillos, small bell-shaped fiery habaneros, tiny glossy-green needle-like Thais, and I spent a Sunday afternoon grilling them in my Big Green Egg, and when they had cooled I stuffed them into freezer bags. As is. I did not rub the skins off nor did I seed them or de-membrane them.

I saved out an assortment and did clean them up and then chopped them in the food processor with a little water and some salt. That made a pint of deeply flavored relish with some heat, and I’ve been spooning it alongside everything I put my mouth around. It lasted about a week and a half. You could, of course, add a bit of sugar and vinegar, and they would last longer because they would be pickled and preserved. I’m afraid, though, that the vinegar would mask the natural deep roasty flavor of the plain peppers. You could also omit the roasting/grilling, chop the RAW peppers with the salt and water and leave the mixture on the counter, loosely covered, to develop its own ferment.

It’s not perhaps the intuitive choice, but pepper relish’s natural flavor partner turns out to be crème fraiche – its creaminess and tanginess against the full southern flavor of the peppers with their certain number of scoville units, is perfect with almost everything.

I happened to have some around because I’d noticed a bit of heavy cream that was about to sour, so I whisked some Cabot’s sour cream into it and left it to ferment into the kind of half-sour thickened crème fraiche that we all like. Overnight, in a warm place. That fermentation gives a much longer life to the cream. The ferment keeps the cells busy adapting and not rotting.

You wouldn’t think I would have to call for a certain brand of sour cream, would you? Since I almost always use Cabots I kind of took it for granted and didn’t always recognize what a quality product it is. But Leo brought home some ShurFine sour cream from a stay in the Northeast Kingdom – where he obviously couldn’t get Cabots – and so I’ve been using it up. The first thing I noticed was that its texture was not smooth, like Cabots, but rather curdley. And the next thing I noticed was that it had gone bad! I’d put spoonfuls on the German Cabbage and Pork Soup I made the other night and kept getting a whiff of the rottenness that only really bad milk products give off.

I never usually worry about sour cream going bad – it’s fermented, and it just keeps on fermenting unless it grows mold, at which point you throw it out. So obviously this ShurFine stuff was not naturally fermented, probably had more ingredients than you would think it should have, and was doing something not in the natural way of milk.

As a matter of fact, isn’t the web wonderful, I was able to Google the ingredients in ShurFine sour cream:
Milk Non-Fat Cultured, Food Starch Modified, Whey Sweet, Cream, Propylene Glycol Monoester, Color(s) Artificial, Sodium Phosphate, Agar, Xanthan Gum, Cellulose Gel, Locust Bean Gum, Cellulose Gum, Flavor(s) Natural & Artificial, Sorbic Acid Added as a preservative, Potassium Sorbate Added as a preservative, Vitamin A Palmitate, Rennet
Ingredients in Cabot sour cream?
Cultured Milk, Cream, Skim Milk, Modified Corn Starch, Guar Gum, Carrageenan, Locust Bean Gum.
Hmm, that’s like five too many, too, but just about as good as it can get in the commercial marketplace.
So, after you’ve made this crème fraiche what do you do with it? Oh yes, make a potato salad or butter roasted pears.
Crème Fraiche Potato Salad
Wash russety or Yukon Gold type potatoes, cut them in quarters and boil them in salted water to cover until fork tender.

(The best way to test potato doneness is with a silver fork, a regular dinner table fork. A thin-tined cooking fork or the sharp tip of a paring knife are way too sharp to test for real tenderness.)

Drain the potatoes, put the pan back on the burner to sear off the little bit of water left, then crush them with a fork as you add olive oil that has been infused with garlic. Don’t crush them too much – they should be chunky – and use just enough olive oil to coat them and flavor them with garlic. Finally, fold in a luxurious amount of crème fraiche. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Butter-Roasted Pears
(you could use apples, instead, or even bananas!)
Cut pears in half and core them. You needn’t pare the pears. Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When the butter starts to brown lay in the pears cut side down and let them brown and caramelize undisturbed for some minutes.

You can peek, lifting one edge with a spatula, and adjust the heat accordingly, but if you start moving them around before the underside is caramelized they will tear apart.

When they’re quite browned, turn them over. You might slant a cover over the top of the pan now, just to keep some heat in. When the pears are tender and caramelized they are done.

You may serve them dolloped with the crème fraiche as a dessert or as a side for meats, or simply as a mid-afternoon treat. You could sprinkle them with a mixture of spices that have been toasted and then ground (a coffee-grinder is good for this) – a bit of cinnamon, cumin, and, say, cardamom. Sky’s the limit here, Readers. Try different mixtures. They add interest.

Stable whipped cream:
Folded into whipped cream, Crème Fraiche keeps the latter from weeping – about 4 tablespoons crème fraiche to 1 cup of whipping cream. Whip the cream and then gently whisk in the crème fraiche.
But above all, and for now, side everything (how about maple baked acorn [or other] squash) with crème fraiche and peppers, saying adios to summer and going not gentle, but sassy, into autumn!


Thursday, September 22, 2011

bleu, blue, and more buttermilk

After dark last Saturday I took out the corn husks and cobs wrapped in the Monday’s  Herald that never got here until Tuesday, whose headline read Mean Irene. When I laid that paper down I read the headlines again and a bit of the text, and I wondered if I should save it along with the JFK Shot and Nixon Resigns headlines, and then I went on using them as a wrapper, and when I got to the compost bin I slid the cobs and husks from them like a sailor’s body at sea and then shredded the papers into the compost. I think I’m angry at Irene. I don’t want to remember her and all that suddenly vicious water.

Ironically, we are just back from satisfying a yen for more water and gazing at the abyss that the ocean is to us, that other world, the twin of our land, about whom we know next to nothing.

We stayed in an oldly brilliant contraption of rooms on a glorious beach, with concrete patios and plastic tables and chairs and blue umbrellas. On the North Cape, so much more connected to the city than wild and primitive Cape Cod, a regular urban kind of shambledown Brooklyn.

Who in their right mind would go in search of yet more water after what we have been through with Irene? But that water is anarchic, matriotic, from whence we and all other waters came. Perhaps we needed to go to the source. Yes, I think that’s it.

But now we’re back and the velocity of fall coming onto us is rapid to say the least::: It leaps and bounds, shedding leaves and leaving piles of tomatoes and peppers on the porch, where the houseplants crept to, too, at forecast of frost.

In the meantime, before, during, and after Irene and Cape Ann I was visiting cheese makers. I was doing that for two reasons – firstly because I like to visit farmers and farms and food people, and it’s part of my job description for living on this earth; and #2, because I was trying to fast talk them into donating cheese to RAFFL for the Twilight in the Meadow Dinner that happened on 9/11. Oh, I had called them, but finding cheese makers and other farmers who use a phone and don’t think you're trying to sell them a bill of goods is a full time affair.

So on beautiful late summer days I’d get into the car.  One day I went to a yoga class being held in the living room of the Weston Playhouse, where we did our downward dogs with glimpses of those lovely quaint little falls that would rise up a mere few days later and demolish said living room. Afterward, I saw the sign for Woodcock Farm – it’s a ruffly sheep with a woodcock sitting on its back. So I stopped by and bought some of the last of this season’s ultimately delicious Blue Cheese and asked Mark Fischer if he would donate some cheese to Twilight. He would, he said; yes, he would, but he would not be able to attend in person. And the cheese he would be glad to donate – because RAFFL is so integral an organization to farm and farmer health –  would be their Summer Snow – a soft, bloomy-rinded, melty cheese much like Camembert.

Then I drove over to South Londonderry because I had heard that The Pantry was open again, and there is something about that angular country store in that tiny town that I like very much. When it was being run by various French and perhaps Austrian or Swiss men it was eclectic and packed to the gills and offered a lot of haute cuisine deli items.

The new owners haven’t quite worked up to that fullness and variety, but lots of things are happening there that are very nice. I picked up a container of one of those – broccoli in a buttermilk blue cheese dressing, and the blue cheese was Woodcock Farm’s. I told them that Mark had told me his blue cheese is almost gone, and they said yes, they were getting the last wheel of it. After I tasted the dressing I wanted to know how it was made. I guessed sour cream and mayo and buttermilk. And chopped shallot and...garlic? Maybe a white balsamic vinegar?

They wouldn’t at all mind giving me the recipe, said one of the women. But when I waited, she asked me to call in the morning so they could check with Mark for his permission. Whatever. I called back several times but they were being downright finicky about giving out that recipe. 

So I Googled Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing, and I came up with one from blessed David Lebovitz that calls for sour cream, buttermilk, lemon juice or white wine vinegar and then a few drops of red wine vinegar. He also extols bacon in this piece. What a sweet boy he is. He is going to pour this dressing over iceberg lettuce – a man after my own heart.

I figure I’ll use a few drops of Gordon’s Pond white balsamic vinegar and see if I can stay away from the mayo. Would garlic be overkill? Woodcock’s blue cheese is tender and subtle and sweet and pungent. It marries well with buttermilk, I am imagining. All that delicate fermentation going on in your mouth. Does it need much else?

Okay, come to find out, Blue cheese, buttermilk and sour cream? Say a ¼ cup to ¼ cup to ¾ cup  proportion? Fabulous. You need nothing more. Add two teaspoons of the white balsamic and the whole balance shifts. Now you want some garlic, smashed into a paste, maybe –  a whole, fresh clove. And you want freshly ground pepper – but you want freshly ground pepper anyway.

Last Sunday I made more of that basic dressing and I roasted a Singing Cedars chicken in a clay pot – a story in itself – and  built this salad:

Onto a plate, lay down leaves of romaine lettuce from the farmers’ market that you have found in the fridge. Mine was  from Alchemy Garden or Radical Roots. Then, strew with slices of very soft pears, yellow in color. Then strew with crumbled Woodcock Farm Blue Cheese, or, since it’s rather hard to get right now, with whatever blue cheese you have. Then, slices of red onion. Then take a walk outside into a beautiful fall evening and look at the sunflowers spiking the sky yellowly, so captivating this year. Think about that salad. It needs crunch! Nuts or croutons?  Back in the kitchen throw a couple handfuls of walnuts into a pan with melted butter and brown them very slowly.
To the salad, add a sprinkling of baby basils, so enticing, from Foggy Meadow, and then dollop the buttermilk/sourcream/blue cheese dressing over top, and then warm, melting slices of chicken breast. Scatter the walnuts on top. Hmm, what else does it need? Fruit? No, remember the pear slices. Another scattering of the baby basil. Grind of black pepper! That’s all! Okay, let’s eat!

The cheese board at Twilight in the Meadow turned out to be a glorious thing. As did the whole affair, but I just need to talk about cheese here. First we had a hefty round of Southwind Farm’s buttery Swiss-like cheese. I’ll call it a raclette. This is a new to me cheese and it’s fabulous, made by Jeremy Russo down in the Pawlet/Rupert area. But he makes it at Woodcock Farm’s cheeserie, with Mark’s tutelage. Farmer to farmer generosity, that!

Next to Southwind, Kim Farrar served up some of Crowley’s best and sharpest. I don’t think there’s a better Cheddar/Colby style cheese in Vermont OR the world.  Next came a selection of Consider Bardwell’s Rupert and Pawlet aged cow’s milk cheese and a handsome round of Manchester, an aged raw goat milk tomme – all, of course, stunning!

Leicester’s Blue Ledge was represented by a selection of their delectable fresh chevres, some with a pepper or herb coating, and lovely rounds of their signature, ash-veined Lakes Edge cheese. Next came Woodcock’s Summer snow camembert-style cheese; and finally there was Maplebrook Farm’s fresh burrata, which is mozzarella stuffed with sweet heavy cream and mozzarella shreds. And to show that off exquisitely, Fat Toad Farm sent us a selection of their goats’ milk caramel to drizzle over.

Thank you, you lovely cheesemongers. You really came through!

thursday lunch in misty wallingford

I went out into the garden and picked a large green tomato that was turning just pink in places. I sliced it and coated it with panko bread crumbs and fried the slices in coconut oil. Golden crispy on the outside and tender and puddeny on the inside. Sided them with a melange of different hot and sweet peppers that had been roasted and then chopped with a little cold water and salt, and a spoonful of crème fraiche .

I spent the other afternoon grilling those peppers and packing them in freezer bags.  The flavor will be wonderful all winter served with... everything.

I had some heavy cream and a bit of sour cream left over and so I mixed them together and let it sit in a warm place overnight, and that's where the crème fraiche came from. 

Those fried green tomatoes and the peppers and crème fraiche were so wonderful I wish I could eat them all over again!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

a mighty mighty rain

The rain that we’ve been getting all summer? It’s not a plop plop plop kind of rain; it’s fine but heavy, like a block of mist, an image that is almost as strange as the idea of a black hole. All summer I thought there was something weird about it... you’d look up from a meeting or work or reading on the porch and you’d say, 'Oh, it’s raining.' It was a silent rain, almost sneaky. And it WAS different.

Irene’s rain was that fine rain, too, and it started at 10pm on Saturday and finally let up around 6pm on Sunday. We got... what? anywhere from 4.5 to I don’t know, I’ve heard people say... 12 inches? 17?

About 3 in the afternoon I put on a yellow slicker and walked down to where Roaring Brook – usually a brisk and charming little stream – was snarling and biting the air under 140 and leaping at and over – all thunderous brown curls – the railroad bridge and then attacking Otter Creek. The Creek then thundered on, fed by a million Roaring Brooks – doesn’t every town have one? – dug out the approach to Elm Street Bridge and rolled up over River Street, taking out the basements and first floors of houses along it.

That’s when it began to sink in. But it was FaceBook and updates from the Herald and VPR that brought home that Vermont today was not Saturday’s Vermont. Oh my goodness, yes. I mean no. And the theme became – How can we get there from here? We used to be so cut off from each other  but connected by roads. Now it’s the opposite. If we do now live in a dystopian world, it may be happy to the degree that we do not feel alone in our endeavors, in our efforts to stay alive and nurture ourselves. We're all, you'll excuse me, in the same boat. Perhaps we will have to nuance our meaning of dystopia. Perhaps it’s working together in the face of a violent Mother Universe -- for this was no doing of Mother Nature -- this was the outrage of the universe.
A few days after Irene, I took a right turn on 103 towards Cuttingsville from Wallingford and felt a faster thrill of the heart – as though we were heading to the edge of the known world! And we were – to roads just barely passable and a farm that had been completely wiped out by a mighty rain.
Kara Fitzgerald and Ryan Wood-Beauchamp of Evening Song Farm came on the Market scene absolutely
gangbusters at the beginning of the season.
 By now you’ve all heard about the seven-acre Evening Song Farm whose lovely little stream-turned-ferocious-monster reduced it to two acres. It leapt from the back of the farm, behind the tree line, to gobble up a 15 foot rise and carry all those acres of soil downstream. It miraculously left the house and barn – in which the summer’s garlic and onions were safely drying – looking out upon an idyllic river beach instead of cabbages and tomatoes. The river has moved. It intends to stay in its new home. I know these words are in vain... you cannot imagine this without seeing it.

Though not quite undaunted, the two twenty-six year old owners – Kara and Ryan – found themselves beached upon a heartening shelf of community concern and activism. Standing with Kara I motioned to men chain sawing log debris and piling a lifetime’s firewood chunks: Friends of yours, I asked? “I have no idea who they are,” said Kara. “People just show up and do what needs to be done.”

Kara and Ryan are so community minded – they often wondered if their vibrantly successful first season working alone was what they really wanted to do – and the Shrewsbury community so helpful and welcoming that I can see another Shrewsbury institution being formed here. Kara and Ryan may be to Shrewsbury Farm what the Sarckas were to Spring Lake Ranch and the Pierces to Pierce’s Store.
Indeed, Ryan wrote on the website, “Our long-term goal when we began the adventure of Evening Song Farm was to create a true community farm over time: to develop deep and meaningful connections with the people who are nourished by our food.” That sounds like it was made in Shrewsbury heaven.
If they didn’t lose their very soil, as Evening Song did, many farms lost all or much of their 2011 harvest. Only about 2 weeks ago I attended a NOFA-NY conference held at Kilpatrick Family Farm over in Granville. They had 7 acres under cultivation and Michael Kilpatrick led a caravan of cars into Granville to 4 beautifully planted acres of sweet potatoes and kale and Brussels sprouts. Carrots.

A few days later, when the Mettowee finished its Irene rage, well, here is what Michael Kilpatrick wrote: “During it's watery, violent rampage, it covered our entire Granville production field, tearing through winter squash, cucumbers, and carrots and flooding our beets, Brussels sprouts, leeks, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and a multitude of greens.

“Almost as quickly, by Tuesday noon, the water had receded, but left around (preliminary estimates) $80,000 in destroyed and damaged crops.”

The young Kilpatricks kept the first Rutland Winter Market well supplied with an amazing array of fall and winter veggies back in 2007/8 and again the next year. They have since ceased vending in Rutland, being ultra busy with nearer-by markets.

Closer to home, Yvonne Brunot’s and Ed Safford’s Right Mind Farm in Wallingford was ruined for the time being when Otter Creek, which lies possibly a quarter mile away behind their farm, spread its maw over all their fields and up to the house. Onions and garlic were already harvested, and they’ll be selling those at the Farmers’ Market along with fresh sprouts, soaps, and flowers. Their tomatoes and potatoes and squash – anything that was not harvested yet – is all a loss!

Mort and Mary Brown’s Timberloft farm store in Center Rutland was flooded, almost a total loss, though both were at the Farmers’ Market Saturday and seemed in good spirits. They’ve been through it before, although not perhaps quite this bad, and they know there’s a lot of hard work that they’re intent on doing by themselves at this point. When they need help they’ll ask for it. I bought eggs from them, and some jam and pickles!
Jason Martin from Woods Market told me at the Rutland Farmers’ Market Saturday – by the way, very well attended by both vendors and customers – that many people were questioning whether or not the produce offered for sale was safe to eat.

What? I said. Where would they get this idea?

“Well,” he said, “they’re not to blame for asking the question.”

Did some state office or official actually caution people not to eat local produce because it might have been contaminated by floodwater? Or was that the interpretation of a clueless reporter.

“That’s JUST why you buy from your local farmer or market,” said Jason, “and not from a grocery store. Your local farmer knows whether his or her own product could have been contaminated by flood waters – or whatever else is out there – and they would never in a hundred years offer contaminated produce to their customers. You go to your local farmer to get the best and the healthiest. What are they talking about, don’t buy local?

“Sheeshhhh!” he finished.

Well said!

Woods Market Farm is just one of our many farms that were minimally harmed by Irene. We’ve got lots of good fresh produce going on into the fall and winter. So let’s just remember to Buy Local. It’s more important now than ever before.
What can you do to help, besides BUY LOCAL.
  • Check out Evening Song’s website for the best way to help them.
  • Go to the RAFFL  website to find other ways, or give RAFFL a call at (802) 417-1528.
  • And this, from RAFFL's website: “The Vermont Community Foundation and Agency of Agriculture have built the Vermont Farm Disaster Relief Fund to help farmers through the current crisis. http://www.vermontcf.org/give-now . If you want to make a donation specifically for Rutland County through the Vermont Community Foundation (it's possible!), please call RAFFL first (802) 417-1528.
  • Fat Toad Farm is donating all of this Wednesday's 9/7) on-line proceeds to Evening Song. Their goats' milk caramel is wonderful! Drizzle it over chèvre or burrata. Or peaches.

Yes indeed, Irene was a mighty mighty rain. And instead of being a once in a lifetime happening it may just be an omen of things to come, even if we were able clean up our carbon footprint Ps and Qs immediately if not sooner!

For some of us, our whole ability to reside in this world with any equanimity at all depends upon thinking that we are perfectly capable of feeding ourselves outside the jurisdiction of the federal government’s industrial food system. If events even worse than Irene continue to happen, if our rivers rise up in black mutiny and eat our fertile farmland, then we won’t be able to feed ourselves. And you know for yourself, whoever controls the food chain controls the world. I’d a hell of a lot rather it was our local farmer than Monsanto.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

where kick meets mellow

In which we create aCorn and Chili Salsa with fresh cilantro berries in the garden
Hot, hot, but definitely not haute (see below) did not assuage my yen for chilis -- or peppers or pimentos in other words. For I’ve been scouring the Farmers’ Market for ripe (not green) peppers, from mild and sweet to incendiary, but all flavorful. For I find I have a dawning and realizable fondness for that flavor so difficult to describe and yet addictive. You sense it, I think, way up at the top of your nose, almost between the eyes: It’s thin, almost windy, it’s sweet, it’s spicy to different degrees. I handled a very dangerous little red pepper at Woods’ Market Garden at the Farmers’ Market the other day, having been warned “Careful,” and could sense the hotness of it from it’s very outside unbroken skin. My fingers were slightly spicy when I let go of it, and when I licked them there was that hotness winding up my nostrils.
these little peppers were sweet and good, as was the eggplant next door
On the other hand, I bought some little round red peppers stuffed with a cream cheese filling – or was it fresh goat cheese – which were as sweet as candy. That was at Costello’s Market at the Marble Works in Middlebury.

The Farmers’ Market is as overflowing with Hungarian wax peppers as is my garden, and by diligent searching I have been able to find a long red sweet pepper called a bull’s horn, I believe, and jalapenos –  no Thai yet – and mildly spicy poblanos – which I adore – and little fat elongated pale green sweeties.

I had a selection of these the other day, and some day-old uncooked corn on the cob when I decided at the last minute to make a spicy and sweet, mild and gentle mélange of these things to be dipped up by tortilla chips. It would be my offering at Sundays-at-Five at the lake.

Sunday had been a busy one and by the time I was ready to get into the kitchen it was 4 o’clock, and I had one hour to make the dish and take a shower! Could I do it?

I asked Leo if he would shuck the corn while I put  pumpkin seeds toasting in a little coconut oil and garlic over a low heat. Meanwhile I blackened two poblano chilis and the long bull-horn one over the gas flame and slipped them into a paper bag to steam. I seeded and sliced two Hungarian wax peppers – I deemed their skins too thin to char and rub off – chopped up some onion that had been charred on the grill the night before, and two cloves of garlic. Cilantro was minced.

I put those aside while I cut the kernels from the six ears of corn, making  short and neat shrift of this usually messy and onerous task with my trusty Benriner mandolin, and put them to sauté in coconut oil over low heat. Remember, this mélange of tastes was to be oh-so-fresh-tasting, barely cooked, not fried. In a word, mellow!

Meanwhile I rubbed the charred skins from the peppers, seeded them, cut them into small squares and threw them into the pan with the corn. I cut a long yellow – vastly sweet – tomato into squares and tossed some of those in the pan. Ditto a small juicy red tomato.

Cilantro berries and flowers. They appear after the cilantro fronds, and when they
are dried turn into coriander::: Smart little things. They are a treat  available
only from the homemade garden

Added the onion, garlic, and Hungarian peppers. Sautéed just a bit more, drizzled that with the juice from half a lime, added a sprinkle of cumin/cinnamon/chipotle pepper I’d ground together, and the chopped cilantro. I scraped this mixture into a wide bowl and layered cubes of feta cheese over the top. Then a good scattering of the toasted pumpkin seeds that I’d intermittently shook and stirred until they were golden and began to pop like popcorn. As a lagniappe I tossed in some cilantro berries from my garden. They pop between the teeth juicily, giving  a surprising fresh touch of something between cilantro and coriander.

I looked at my watch. It was 4:35. Time for a shower.  The beach is 3 minutes from home. We arrived at a stylishly tardy 5:10pm. When people asked me what this dish was called I hummed and hawed::: what was it? Finally, I think it’s a Corn and Chili Salsa – where kick meets mellow!

Caveat: Do not try this at home with the same kind of deadline – you’re bound to spill your wine and take fifteen minutes to mop it up – as I did last night::: Drat!! – or something equally time consuming. This time I didn’t get the pans too hot, Leo didn’t come in and mess about cutting cheese and leaving the crumbs all over my work space. The stars were aligned – although Mercury was indeed retrograde, which seems to be a good thing for me. Anyway, I doubt I could do it again.

Check out my post from August of 2008 for Elizabeth David’s method of preserving red peppers here.

And then I found this pepper story --  one that hasn’t made it into a Twice Bitten column yet -- about my old Mexican food friend, Hedie. It was published in another column, my Small Bites, in 1993, I believe.

Those long green peppers – chilis – that I spoke of a couple of weeks ago, ended up strung in a heavy swag by the fireplace to dry.  Slowly, they are turning red.  But I wish I'd had Hedie Francis' note before I did that.  The way she treats a big batch of them is to roast them on the grill then place them, one by one, on a sheet on the ground by the grill, then cover them with towels until they've cooled.  Without picking off the blackened skin, she puts about 12 chilis in a ziplock freezer bag and that into the freezer.  "When we're ready to eat... I'll take a bag or two out to thaw.  Then I peel the skins off and pull off the stems," which pulls out most of the seeds and membranes, too.

With those peppers she might make...  Green Chili Enchiladas with Sour Cream:  Chop the chilis with garlic and salt, add water until saucy but thick, lightly fry corn tortillas and drain, then make layers of tortillas, chili, grated cheddar cheese, onion and sour cream.  "Delicious," she says.

 She also keeps a bowl of chopped green chili in a bowl in the fridge, with a little water and garlic and sometimes stewed tomatoes, to put on any old thing, such as eggs.

Now listen to this!  This is the way Hedie chops her green chilis – not in the food processor, and not with a knife, but "I use the lid off a vegetable can," the way she used to watch her grandma do it."  She has other suggestions too, because green chili preparations are a staple in Mexican and southwest cooking and eating, and Hedie is the expert on that... (this was published in my former Herald column, Small Bites, on 10/18/93).

I miss Hedie. She was a wonderful and generous Mexican food neighbor – she once brought me a quart jar of menudo when I was feeling off-kilter one winter. It saved my life, I think, thrillingly hot with chilis, with the unforgettable umami taste of  tripe. I would LOVE to find some good, grass-fed tripe!

Well that's it for peppers this August, folks.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Interns and Garlic

photo by Bailey Schreiber

One of the more exciting things we look forward to with the beginning of the summer are the farming interns who will earn their stripes over the season. They  bend their backs and minds to learn from some of our most experienced and successful farmers, and we get to know them at the Farmers’ Market. Their enthusiasm and hard work is often so enticing that we become fast friends.

Bailey Schreiber is interning with Paul Horton and Sally Beckwith at their Foggy Meadow Farm in Benson. She, with her cohorts,  follows Caroline Kimball and Conor Falcon from last year, and our own Lindsay Arbuckle and Scott Courcelle from the year before.

Bailey hails from Jackson, Wyoming, and has been writing about her interning experiences on her blog called Turnips and Tators. She is an uncommonly good writer. I took my licks and lessons from MFK Fisher, Laurie Colwin, and Elizabeth David, to name a few mentors. When I read Bailey’s post about garlic and the process of coming to love the earth I knew that I had to be the first to introduce her to my readers.

She titles her piece,
Garlic as Legacy
Bailey Schreiber
About nine months ago, last year’s interns – who are to me just names, not faces – helped Paul and his son, Jimmy, plant about 2,500 row-feet of garlic. On a cold fall day, they threw a bunch of seed garlic in the back of the truck and headed up to the south meadow. The bed was tilled and marked, and they poked a little clove into the soil at eight inch increments. After this was done, they likely looked over their work briefly, then threw their tools and themselves back into the red truck.

If they were anything like me, as they made their way back to the barn they thought about how this was one of the few crops they will sow but not harvest, how it will be one of the first plants to reach up and greet next year’s interns, and how it will be tended, harvested and planted again by yet other hands.

These other hands are, of course, my hands. And Katelyn’s hands, Nate’s hands, Grace’s hands, Sandy’s hands, and Kayce’s hands. The garlic was there in the spring to greet us and, as we slowly and sometimes painfully learned what it means to farm, it grew for us too. Early in the summer, I’d walk the rows looking for a double shoot – a spot where two cloves had been planted instead of one. To ensure a full head of garlic, one stalk had to be removed. And eaten.
Scapes provide a welcome taste of garlic before the young garlic
is ready to be pulled. They can be eaten raw or sauteed or made
into a vibrant pesto. (photo by spnimtz)
In late June, I watched and waited impatiently for the stalks to send up scapes. When they finally started to appear, we’d walk up and down the rows, baskets in hand, snapping off the early garlic blossoms. These whimsical, green garlic curls, when removed, encourage root growth. They also provide a taste of what is to come, a little sneak preview.

After weeks of scape-snapping and -snacking, I watched as the first few leaves of the garlic stalks began to brown – an indicator that the bulb is shaping up. Paul would pull up a plant now and then to check progress. “Getting there,” he’d say as we watched in anticipation as he pulled back the outer layers of the bulb to reveal the developing cloves. We waited until one day, after he examined a head, he said, “Well, I guess we’ll be bringing some garlic to market this week.”

We were a little train of garlic harvesters: one person loosened the soil and roots with a broadfork, two people pulled the plants from the dirt, and a third cut the roots and stalk from the bulb.

We were a well oiled machine, pulling and cutting over two hundred heads in an hour.
A couple hundred heads the first week and a few hundred more the next, we piled fresh garlic on the bed of the truck and on the table at market. As I told many a curious customer, fresh garlic is milder than the garlic you find in the store. As garlic cures, its flavor intensifies. Fresh garlic, though, can be sliced thinly with a pocket knife and eaten in the barn between tasks. It is important, however, that all workers are fond of and partake in this practice.

Garlic cultivation, as I’ve discovered first hand, is very labor intensive for about two weeks of the season. This is the primary reason farmers don’t grow more of it. It is important not to leave the garlic in the ground for too long as the heads will start to rot rather than cure. As a result, lots of hands are needed for a week-long window. It took four or five of us about twenty hours to get fifteen hundred or so heads out of the ground, trimmed and set up to dry. We did it in two- or three-hour increments stretched over a week and a half, but even so, it felt good to have it all under a roof and out of the field. One day before the garlic was harvested, Paul asked if I was going to market with Sally the following day. I replied, “No, I’m staying here to make sure we get all the goddamn garlic out of the ground.”

Once harvested, we set up the stalks in a small old garage on simple yet effective drying racks. We put fans up to promote air circulation and closed the doors in the evening to keep out the dew. After a few weeks, the outer layers of the bulbs took on a papery feel, flaking off in your hands as they were cut and cleaned for market. Again, we cut a few hundred at a time as was needed for market, until yesterday, when Paul decided they were as cured as they were going to get. I clipped over two hundred pounds of garlic, setting the largest bulbs aside. We’ll sell the regular heads at market for the next few months, but the biggest heads have a different destiny as breeding stock.

Come October, we’ll separate out the cloves, sitting on buckets in the barn. I’ll probably be wearing long underwear beneath my Carhartts and my fingers will be cold. We’ll load the truck up, drive to the prepped bed and we’ll poke one hundred pounds worth of garlic cloves into the ground at eight inch increments. After this task is completed, I’ll look out over the field, hands warming in my pockets. I’ll think about next year’s interns who will watch the garlic poke up through the soil when the snow melts and the ground thaws; who will excitedly snap the scapes; who will pull, trim, dry and eventually replant the thousands of new heads these little cloves will grow to be.

I’ll feel a sense of relief knowing I will not be responsible for these tasks, but I’ll also feel melancholy. This farm now feels a lot like home. As I’ve worked in the fields, I’ve come to know and love this land. I feel a small sense of ownership and liability for its care. But, while it will be sad to leave one day, I am thrilled to know someone will be taking my place in the spring. And I’ll know, on that chilly fall day, that the garlic will be there to meet, excite, challenge and feed them.

I think you'll agree that we'll be seeing much more of Bailey's writing in the nation's food future.
For garlic lovers, scape pesto is made by chopping scapes with pine nuts or walnuts very finely, then folding in
grated parmesan cheese and enough olive oil to make the mixture creamy. Season with salt . (photo by spnimta)

Monday, August 08, 2011

Hot and Hot, but definitely not Haute

One of the things that survived the maple tree falling on my garden were several Hungarian pepper plants. I planted several because I loved them so much last year; and not only did I plant the yellow kind but I planted the black kind, too, which so far seem to be much smaller than the chartreuse ones that look like horns of some kind of bull. The black ones look like the nubs on calves that might some day turn into horns.

If left on the bush they will turn red and incendiary, but they are most often picked when yellow -- when they can still be spicy to very spicy.

My favorite dance with them is to split them lengthwise along one side, leaving the stem end intact, and carefully remove all the seeds and membranes. Do this over a sink and then tap the pepper on the wall of the sink to loosen the seeds so they can be shaken out.

Take out a big block of Cabot Cheddar super sharp Cheese, cut a half inch slice of it and cut the slice into half inch strips. Stuff a chunk of that into each pepper and lay into a gratin dish which can be put into a 425° oven for as long as it takes to melt the cheese and tenderize the peppers, turning them coppery and charred in places.

Oh Yuuuuummmmmmmm!

Let them cool and serve them at room temperature (or beach temp) as appetizers. If you were to have any left you could slice them into mouthfuls and serve them as a side/relishy kind of thing to accompany oh, whatever -- meats, for sure, sandwiches... or just as a non-carb snack.

They are sweet and spicy and creamy and have that nice pepper vegetable taste.

You could definitely use a different cheese -- for instance a blue cheese or Gorgonzola, or Stilton -- I think that's what I used last year. I would try a new melting Swiss raclette type cheese from Southwind Farm down in the Rupert/Dorset/Pawlet Vermont area. And I wonder how a maply, garlicky chèvre would be!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Expecting Lysander

Oh, the garden. 
It was only a few days after I spoke of a dystopian world here that the sudden storm came up, the wind blew like hellions, the temperature dropped 20 degrees in five minutes, and I, picking peas in my garden, looked askance at the flailing trees and told myself to get into the house. Now! I dashed and darted, with an eye on the maple and even the writhing Royalty crab, and got there, and while I was closing windows upstairs – where I paused to watch half-inch hail rattle on the tin roof of the porch – a third of a very large maple blew down onto my tomatoes, the basil, and a decades-old perennial garden.
Dystopian indeed. Picking through the rubble later, I was demoralized, close to tears, rendered suddenly without energy. But when I heard about the losses of a couple of vendors at the Farmers’ Market I felt a little ashamed of myself.  That hail sliced up Alchemy Garden’s beautiful lettuce so that the first Saturday after the storm their booth looked pretty bare. By last Saturday, however, their lettuce was again beautiful. Farmers roll with Mother Nature’s punches.
On Sunday I was looking forward to a visit from dear friends who would be escorting the infamous Lysander child, who must be five years old by now, if not in college! Could that be possible?

Because of the spiraling inferno of heat I’d made cold dishes – beets in a vinaigrette (beets first cooked in the cool of a morning), raw zucchini salad, cucumbers in sour cream, and grilled corn cut from the cob. And I grilled fat tomato slices and even some mozzarella in order to make the toasted quinoa salad, the idea for which I’d borrowed from Chef Donald of Roots the Restaurant. And when they got here -- that would be Cary, Dana, and Lysander --  I would grill some chicken for the non-vegetarians among us.
And there were red raspberries from Saturday’s farmers’ market with which I thought Lysander and I might make some ice cream if there was time.

Oh, but it’s summer – of course there would be time.
I have a new tool that I’ve used to slice the beets, julienne the zucchini, make a carefully tiny shred of some garlic cloves, and even to cut the corn off the cob. It makes an attractive job of slicing cucumbers, too, and would do awesomely if you had a finger that needed to go. It’s called a Benriner mandolin, and it’s a little cheap plastic job (well, $19 from Amazon) with a flat blade for simply slicing, and three interchangeable julienne blades for a tiny shred to a fat ¼ inch, julienne. It even shreds cheese, it’s so sharp and thin. And dangerous! But if you’re a careful sort and not accident prone it is a fun plaything.
Lysander, chewing on his drumstick, first asked me what the stick was that was sticking out of his chicken, and then informed me that “most people take the sticks out of their meat before eating it.” He also wondered what kind of animal this could come from: “It must be a very small animal because its bones are teeny,” said Lysander. This child needs some farm visits!
Lysander’s mother is a vegetarian so I hope she was pleased with the selection of vegetable dishes Sunday evening, especially the toasted quinoa salad. Lysander was not very interested in the vegetables. "He likes cucumbers and he likes sour cream, but not all mixed up together," his mother told me.When we tried the beets – and they were a shock – his expression asked “WHAT is this vile stuff?” It made me wonder what this little family ate for dinner every night if not vegetables. "Perhaps some bread," said his father, looking worried. We found some bread and butter and that seemed to fill Lysander up. 
But Lysander was very bright at the mention of raspberry ice cream.
“I kind of made it for boys who have eaten all their vegetables,” said downer I, for at the last minute I HAD made one pint in my small Donvier, thinking that we would need to make another.
But the ice cream – and who could actually withhold ice cream from a boy so viscerally disgusted by vegetables – was a great hit. After everyone was served, with extra berries and a drizzle of heavy cream over the top, Lysander was allowed to keep his arm crooked around what was left as he spooned up his own serving. Every once in a while he peeked into the container and a big, blissful smile spread over his pretty little face.
There must be a recipe here someplace, don’t you think? Well, not much of one. I striped the cucumber skin off with just the flat blade of the mandolin, and then sliced them rather thinly and tossed them with salt and let them drain in a colander. I dressed them with sour cream into which I folded some lemon juice, chopped dill and garlic, and ground pepper. The residual salt on the cucumbers was enough. 
The raw zucchini salad is a real eye opener. I dressed it with vinaigrette made with white balsamic vinegar (from Gordon’s Pond in Shrewsbury), shaken with a very garlicky olive oil, seasoned with  just salt and pepper.  That very garlicky olive oil? I made it by rubbing a clove of fresh garlic (flooding the Farmers’ Market these days) over a rough surface like a garlic grater, or pounded in a pestle, and left to macerate in a good olive oil. Dressed with this, the raw julienned zucchini turns into silk. Instead of balsamic vinegar you could use plain rice vinegar with a slight drizzle of maple syrup.  Then I’d add some thinly sliced onion rings to the mixture.
I’m still refining the toasted quinoa salad, but in a nutshell it involves toasting the raw grain in a cast iron skillet over a medium heat until it’s golden and giving off a toasty smell, and then adding 2 parts boiling water to 1 part quinoa, covering, and simmering until tender, about 15 minutes. Cool, and then dress with the vinaigrette we made for the zucchini salad, and toss with grilled tomatoes and mozzarella.
To grill the tomatoes, cut in inch thick slices and grill over a hot fire, turning once. Then cut them into bites. To grill mozzarella, cut into ½ inch slices and put them on a very hot griddle. As soon as the edges melt – not more than a minute – turn them over briefly and then remove to a cutting board. Use a rigid straight-edged spatula to handle the melting, sticky mozz. Cut into cubes and toss into the salad.
For inspiration you might order the Toasted Quinoa Salad at Roots the Restaurant. Remind Chef Don that mimicry is the sincerest form of compliment.
I have just finished reading Iris Murdoch’s The Book and the Brotherhood, in which one character reflects, “Was there in the end nothing but breakage, liberty from obsession and nothing enduring of the spirit?” In the dystopian mood I have been in for awhile that plaintive query slammed into my heart. But now I realize there are absences in that book – an absence of children and, perhaps not coincidentally, of hope!
All this weekend, of course, I was getting my Lysander fix. And in our meandering conversations full of wit and whimsy I didn’t at all mind when he slipped and called me “Grammy!”