Tuesday, May 24, 2011

rode hard road food

Driving U.S. Route 81 to Virginia and then to western North Carolina is, for us Vermonters, a little like wood nymphs slipping out of their forest homes to do battle with dinosaurs or giants in an alienating landscape.  We both need a truly imperative destination or else we’d just stay at home nestled comfortably among our tree roots.

But since U.S. 81 divides us from our daughter and other friends, warmer latitudes, and the south – the south as culture and landscape and, inevitably, food – the battle must be waged periodically.

Now look what I just wrote there – that U.S. 81 divides us instead of unites us as is no doubt the proper role of any highway worth its salt. But I’ll stick with my original description, for it is a veritable river of humongous trucks, and not a smooth one at that – up and down it goes – straight up and then straight down again, again and again, over destroyed mountains. Harrisburg. Scranton. Dead deer and concrete fields. Acres of Wal-Mart – distribution centers, headquarters, and trucks. With our wants and trivial pleasures we turn swathes of our earth gray and unproductive.

We come from Vermont, though, where the stresses we put on the earth are comparatively benign, and where WE certainly would not allow acres of our soil to be cemented over for junk storage. Would we? How about Williston? Or, closer to home, Rutland Town?

The first day we drove ten hours so that we would not have to stop until we got to our friend Dana’s kitchen in the serene rolling mountains of Virginia just north of Charlottesville. I’ve been enjoying cooking in that kitchen whenever I get a chance since it was created, maybe 20 years ago. Its centerpiece is an – oh – five foot long well-used butcher block work space, none too level,  and its many windows look out over beautiful productive gardens.

As we’d left Vermont that morning it occurred to me that Virginians didn’t, probably, grow rhubarb, so I’d picked enough for a pie. The next morning I wandered into that kitchen in my pajamas and got my first cup of coffee and started making a rhubarb pie, while partaking of conversation with Leo, who’d already been out birding, and Dana, who was making breakfast. I love that kind of cooking, in a kitchen that accommodates more than one cook and function.

A couple of soothing, recouping days in Virginia and it was off to Asheville, a mere seven hours more of playing games of wit – certainly not of force – with the mega- and mono-liths, the eighteen or twenty-eight wheelers: Pass ‘em on the way up, get out of their way on the way down.
But once there, with my magnificent daughter Zoe and her partner Jesse, again we ate from a beautiful garden, under a canopy set up right beside it, accompanied by the chickens clucking in their sing-song soothing way from their chicken tractor, surrounded by the sharp spires of Western North Carolina mountains. We ate eggs sneaked from under those chickens everyday, and those eggs sat right up in the frying pan as though the whites had been molded around that bright plump yolk.

And I got the honor of pulling the first head of garlic out of Jesse’s garden, and it was a thing of beauty.

Zoe was graduating from nursing school, and so there were lots of people and parties and eating. There was the pinning ceremony, a dinner before it at the Tupelo Honey Café, and a couple of gigs that Zoe and Jesse played, and then, all too soon, time to set out on the return trip.

We were making good time until, in the valley between two verticals, the traffic slowed and stopped. There had been a clash of titans on some distant destroyed mountain top, and we peons were creeping through sixteen miles of back-up and incipient pile-up – who knew which of those many smoldering brakes would reach its breaking point and when.

After a couple of hours of this we crept up upon an exit, and Dana – now see, I’m not really a Luddite – was able to guide us over a little road, all hilly and curvy, without a center line or even a name, for about twenty miles, around the pileup. Thank god for cell phones and computers!

We made it to her house only two hours late. She fed us homemade spring rolls, fresh asparagus from her garden, cous cous, and lamb shanks. I’m not sure if I’ll ever have more delicious food. Then I sliced fresh strawberries from her bushes over the ice cream we’d made on our previous visit, and sprinkled it with balsamic vinegar and maple sugar. Not too shabby for road food, eh?

Over the course of my travels I missed the first two outdoor Farmers’ Markets in Depot Park in Rutland. I know – this is such an unlikely happening that some of you could not be blamed for thinking I must’ve met my maker. But all is well, and the markets were extensively covered, I found, when I went back over two weeks worth of Heralds. I was especially  pleased to note the new Market Watch column written  by Kris Smith of RAFFL. Welcome, Kris.
Kara is helped by her mom at this market
So this third market was especially colorful and festive to me. As well as greeting all the tried and true friends, I was pleased to see at least two new produce vendors. Ryan Wood-Beauchamp and Kara Fitzgerald from the poetically named Evening Song Farm in Cuttingsville have a burgeoning CSA business as well as attractive booths at several markets. They got off on the right foot with me because they had beautiful broccoli raab for sale!

Then there was Meadow Squier and Josh Brill manning their Breezy Meadows Orchard and Nursery from Tinmouth. They had something I’d never seen before – a snappy pretty little curly cress that is not a watercress. And it’s Yum. We knew Meadow when she worked at the Co-op and also at RAFFL.  Welcome and good luck to all!

It was really nice to see two older businesses with new booths at the Market. I was thrilled to see a Crowley Cheese presence – its extra-sharp is one of my favorite Colbys in the world, and the price was extremely reasonable.  And Jia Indian Restaurant from the service station on West Street was there with some delightful potato and pea samosas, amongst other delicacies.

Finally, I just want to remind you that the celery-like herb, Lovage, is such that no-one should be without and it’s available in the pot at Second Nature Herbs at the Market.
Some of my "finds" at the 3rd outdoor Rutland Farmers' Market are fiddleheads from Radical Roots; a tiny can of smoked jalapenos (chipotles) from Alchemy gardens; a pot of lovage from Second Nature Herbs; salad turnips from Evening Song; a new white balsamic from Gordon's Pond; Broccoli raab from Evening Song; Blue Ledge Farm's plain chevre; half a wheel of Crowley's extra sharp colby; and a bitey little cress from Breezy Meadows.

And, this just in::: Happy Seventieth Birthday to Bob Dylan, who said, when we were young and pretty and in good voice and thought we knew everything, 
“Well you know something is  happening/ but you don’t know what it is/ do you, Mr. Jones.”
That's truer, I'm sure Bobby would agree, now than it ever was before.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

the merry merry month of

Spring makes me think of  Grandma’s screen door and Grandma’s clothesline.

That screen door – screen blackened and patched; patches sewn with strong cord in places where the dog’s front feet had rested, where children’s forearms slammed into it. Further trussed up – that flimsy frame – with wooden diagonals nailed in, and squares of plywood here and there. It was a sorry sight, yet satisfying. It was the signage of spring. Its sound, as small bodies hurtled through it, the incantation of summer in my memory.
Take this lovely remembered shabbiness off the house and place it atop a green meadowy hill. The thud of small, grimy heels comes to the ears, a small body hurdles, nearly naked, toward that door, smashes into it, through it, and bolts onward: The child flies over the hill and disappears into the valley of... adulthood?

Meanwhile, the door, alone on the green hill with only its frame to make it visible, to give it meaning, and to give the sound of it resonance when hit by the small and grubby left forearm of the child upon the special square of plywood set there to reinforce it against these repeated onslaughts, extends open to the magnitude that the black wire spring across its top will allow – like a bullfighter who, with a twitch of the hips, avoids the bull – and hangs there yawning, suspended, stretching, before reaching its final and furthest extent, pauses, then begins inexorably, to close, slowly at first, then overcoming inertia to shut with a resounding slam if it is sturdy, or a splatty slap if it is not.

But who hears? The child is gone. Only memory remains.

A voice began before the child appeared. It warned, “Don’t slaaammm...” The child appeared over the crest of the hill, left forearm at the ready, hit that door running, and was through it and over the hill before the voice finished, “...the doooor!” which was followed, of course, by the slam of the door.

Also upon this meadow, you notice, is a clothesline, and the spring breeze that tugs at the door in its frame – succeeding at times in opening it a whisk against the black metal spring’s determination –  billow the sheets around you, the fresh-smelling, pristine sheets, and the yellow sunlight slants down upon the crown of your head and you are the sheets, you are the sun, you are the billow and you are Spring. You are the voice, “...don’t touch...” warning the muddy hands of the child (also you), returned from the valley beyond the hill, “...the sheets!” But it is too late.

Ah May! The month of my birth, the month that ramps are born – wild leeks – and fiddleheads, and morels. Even dandelion greens! What good company we keep!

I couldn't resist adding this photo of the latest pie. I used basil leaves as an herbal counterpoint

And there is rhubarb, and on May Day I make the first rhubarb pie. And this is the way I did it is here.

The leeks? Eat them raw or put them into a fiddlehead quiche, found here (scroll to the bottom to find a humble pie for gentler chiders).

Morels? I dip them in flour, very lightly, and fry them in butter and olive oil. I don't stuff them into anything and I don't stuff anything into them. I like to taste them, and only them! Because they may be my favorite taste in the world.

The other thing that people don't think of as a spring food, is overwintered parsnips. Spring is when parsnips should be eaten. My friend Kathleen cookes them with a whiskey/mustard glaze, with a hint of maple, that is tremendous!
These are my spring parsnips -- quite small yet

Spring Parsnips in a Whiskey Mustard Sauce
This is the original recipe. See note below.

1 pound parsnips, scrubbed, peeled, if you like, cut into 1/3 inch diagonals
3 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons Dijon or other distinctive, coarse-grained mustard
3 tablespoons half honey and half maple syrup
1/2 cup bourbon, whiskey, or rum
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Heat oven to 450°

Steam or boil the parsnips in well-salted water until just tender. Butter an ovenproof gratin or 8 inch round baking dish and arrange the parsnip slices in it. Roast for 10 minutes. This draws out the natural sugars to caramelize in the high heat. You could also grill them.

Combine the butter, mustard, honey, maple syrup and whiskey in a small pan and cook over medium flame, stirring, for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and fold in the parsley. Spread over the roasted parsnips. Lover the oven temp to 350° and bake for another ten or fifteen minutes.

Note: I've been making this dish for years, but never looking at the recipe. It seems unnecessarily fussy. I just simmer the parsnips in a little water and butter, and salt, until they have absorbed the water and are just becoming tender, then add the other ingredients and simmer until they are very done. Then I put them into an oven-proof serving dish and run it under the broiler until browned.

Live and learn.

... Notes...
•    First of all, Congratulations to Roots the restaurant for their award from the Preservation Trust of Vermont as Vermont's most important new downtown business. If you haven’t eaten there yet, Vermont Restaurant Week is this week, and Roots is offering 4 courses for $25. Leo and I did that Friday night and were very pleased. Highlights were a fabulous Kale salad (that I ordered on a dare, kale not being my fave veg) and a very nice grilled mozzarella appetizer. The Crème brûlée is the best I’ve ever tasted.  747-7414

•    The Rutland Farmers’ Market will move back outdoors into Depot Park this coming Saturday, the 7th,  so let’s say goodbye to the winter vendors who do different farmers’ markets – like Norwich and Londonderry – in the summer, hello and welcome back to those vendors who only do the Rutland Summer Market, and let’s salute those marvelous ones who celebrate the whole wonderful, year-around Market.  And let’s hope for a gorgeous day!

•    The following week – the 14th –  there will be an official moving day parade meeting at  the Co-op on Wales Street at 10 am to escort the farmers to Depot Park. Join us. Mayor Chris Louras will throw out the first radish.  I hear there will be a raffle that Saturday, too, with a drawing every hour.

•    On one of those weekends many of the vendors will donate 10% or more of their market proceeds to Carol Tashie’s  Farmer-to-Farmer:Vermont-to-Japan campaign that has gone viral, to include most of Vermont’s farmers and perhaps our neighboring ones, too!  Support them generously, won’t you?