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. . 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.