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.


Cindy said...


Nice post. Yes, I-81 is a terror. I know, for I live fairly close to it, deep in southwest Virginia.

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