Tuesday, December 04, 2012


I'd like to dedicate this piece, written a decade or two ago,
to the important contributions of Green Mountain College
to the thoughtful and necessary procurement of food.

And, also, to Monte Winship, a consummate artist in that field.

It was a gray and drizzly dawn...  But three porkers in a pen were happy in spite of it, snuffling along the ground with their flat snouts and sometimes giving a happy-go-lucky jump when they found another bit of goodness, and a twisting squeal to warn the others off.  Life was good, but it was to be short.  

Because, meanwhile, a mere few hundred feet away, Monte Winship –  our partner in meat – bustled around his portable pig-to-pork production line that consisted of the bed of his one-ton truck, a rope-and-tackle hoist lassoed over a sturdy branch of the old apple tree spreading overhead, and a portable, car-battery-powered Kerosene heater that fed a fire in a used tire rim that supported a fifty-five gallon ex-oil drum full of water, heating.  Steam from the drum, which was suspiciously the size of a short pig, melted into the gray spitty air.

 "Used to try, huff, huff...," Monte yanked on the rope to make sure it was anchored, "...to use a tub, but found it wouldn't keep the water hot enough."  He's rusty bearded, in his late thirties, wearing a long yellow oilcloth apron.  "Been doing this since I was fifteen," he said, testing the temperature of the water with a thermometer.  So fluid and matter-of-fact were his movements that I hardly noticed he'd taken one of the rifles from the back window of the truck on his way to the pigs' pen.  It bode ill for the pig, but well for our freezers, which would shortly be full of whey- and apple- and corn-fed pork.  I turned away.


Soon Monte trudged back, apron flapping, dragging the pig with a hook that looked as though it had come straight out of Stephen King's horrors.  Without any fuss he'd hoisted the pig tail first above the steaming drum.  It was dunked and up and lowered again with the hoist, and sloshed by the handle of its tail.  Back out again, rope hoist half-hitched to the tail of the truck, the legs were cleaned of hair in the blink of an eye.  "Some people make the mistake of getting the water too hot," he said.  "Makes it hard to get the hair and that first layer of skin off."

A cookie cutter with a short handle was used to scrape the rest of it.  "They call this a candlestick," he said with a twinkle, unhooking the pig from the hoist and hooking up the other end.  Up and down, slosh, slosh, scrape, scrape, and what had been a pig was close to being pork.  Harsh, perhaps, but a fact of all meat-eating lives, only not hidden on plastic-wrapped styrofoam. 

A little girl with saucer eyes appeared.  "So you finally get to see this pig, eh Brown Eyes?" Monte bantered.  "She's been waiting since five o'clock this morning," he explained. 

The little girl observed, with unwavering eyes on the pig whose toes and between them Monte was delicately manicuring, that the pig couldn't talk anymore.  "But the pig never could talk, could he?" Monte chided gently.   This also is harsh – the process by which farm-children learn precariously to balance the two truths of life and death, and a third, food. 

By now the pig was gutted of the tumbling, hallucinogenically-hued machinery of life.  Almost all of this could be used, although not many people catch the blood for sausage or soup anymore, nor clean the intestines to use as sausage casings or to cook for chitterlings, nor do they crave the spongy texture of pink and gray lungs.  The kidneys could be skewered and grilled, and the heart - rich in vitamins - poached.  The liver should be sliced and sautéed with onions for a blast of iron and good taste, and the gauze of caul fat that wraps the stomach should wrap sausages or stuffed chicken breasts.  The cheeks should be smoked into tiny "cooking" hams, the hocks make soup and then, wrapped in bread crumbs, grilled for a delicate treat.  And for sure, the ears, the snout, the tail and the feet will make a wondrously elastic stock. 

By now the pig had become not-pig, the white gullies of its face like a medieval painting, an artifact, patient, symbolizing the human desire for meltingly rich, tender pork from scrupulously-raised and -killed hogs.  I'll use as much as I can, in honor of the life that went snuffling along, in honor of the pleasurable wriggle and the piggish squeal I've quietened by my demand.  And when I do, I'll give a little toast to the expertise of Monte Winship.
Monte and Paul Courcelle unload a carcass at the Wallingford Locker
photo by Donna Burke Wilkins (c. 2007)

Sunday, August 05, 2012

two good things

...both seasonal, well... this one's seasonal:::
Long-Cooked Zucchini

A fairly large zucchini cut into chunks thick enough so that they all fit into a cast iron pan into which quite a bit of olive oil and butter, or lard, or coconut oil, has been melted and heated over a small flame, a low heat, the chunks strewn with salt, the cover put on, and the pan left to caramelize one side of the squash, at which time they are carefully flipped, the cover put on so that it vents a little steam, and left again for perhaps half an hour. These get unctuous, and almost meaty, and sweet, and delightful. A bit of plain, full-fat yogurt with each bite brings them to perfection. 

Total cooking time? Could be an hour. Maybe 2. And it's an indication of how much I love this technique that I made them today on a steaming muggy day and did not begrudge the extra heat in the kitchen.

Of course, at the same time I was making this:::
David Leite's Milk Mayonnaise (or Portuguese Green Olive Dip)
I heard about this eggless mayonnaise on the Splendid Table radio show this past Saturday and was fascinated by the simple emulsion of milk and oil. I love this kind of old-world food technique, comparatively unknown in the larger world, because it works! It takes three minutes. And all kinds of flavors can be made of it. I just made the green olive one, but I'm thinking that roasted red pepper would be wonderful, perhaps with bits of cheese, so you have a kind of a pimento cheese dip. Oh well, give this a try as soon as you can. Do use one of these hand held blenders if you have one, although I hear it can be done in a regular, narrow-bottomed blender. It will not work in a food processor. And check out David Leite's fascinating blog post about it, and his suggestions for different flavors. cilantro-ginger, curry, anchovy, sun-dried tomato, for instance.

This would be wonderful with the zucchini or a steamed fish. Oh boy.
1/3 cup whole milk, more if needed
6 oil-packed anchovy fillets
1 small garlic clove
Leaves and tender stems of 6 fresh cilantro sprigs (I used cilantro berries spn)
Pinch of freshly ground white pepper
3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used a bit of olive oil and the rest grapeseed
2/3 cup pitted green olives such as Manzanilla, rinsed quickly if particularly salty, roughly chopped
1. Add the 1/3 cup milk, anchovies, garlic, two thirds of the cilantro, and the pepper to a blender and pulse to combine. With the motor running, pour the oil in what the Portuguese call a fio, or fine thread. Keep whirring until the oil is incorporated and the mixture thickens, 30 seconds to 1 1/2 minutes, depending on your equipment.
2. Scrape the dip into a serving bowl and stir in the olives. Mince the remaining cilantro, sprinkle on top, and serve. If the dip thickens, stir in a tablespoon or two of milk. (I think it looks wonderful in a pint canning jar
Recipe © 2009 David Leite. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cilantro Berries: the secret ingredient

My garden is not exactly popping along. I didn't get started 
on it early enough -- after all, it'd been summer all winter, what was the hurry?
But one whole bed took it upon itself to grow cilantro and now it's all going to seed,
and what a treat that is.  Not that I wouldn't like some nice frilly cilantro leaves, but those
green berries do give a wonderful pop of flavor to your unsuspecting mouth and its concomitant
taste buds. 


And after the green berries turn brown, I'll plant them
  -- have already begun -- for my next crop of cilantro. And this year I am going to
cover it in the fall. It's very cold tolerant. If we have a mild winter I should be in cilantro
up to my ears all year long.

Today I used them in a dish that I only make for lunch
when I'm alone, for Leo doesn't like it.  Liver, that is, beef liver, 
a big slice of it that I bought from Pine Woods Farm at the Rutland Farmers' Market last Saturday.
And this is how I prepared it.it:

I sautéed some Foggy Meadow onion with a couple of cloves of my garlic, 
then added the strips of liver and sautéed them over a medium low heat, added some 
dry sherry and let it simmer off, then ground lots of sea salt and pepper over the liver and 
sprinkled the cilantro berries over the plate and... 

yes, it was delicious!

I ate it (almost) all up!
From Cilantro Berries: The secret ingredient

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

a summery meal

I was on my way back around the Rutland Farmers’ Market on Saturday, having thrust my full basket under Foggy Meadow’s table for safe-keeping. It was full and heavy with, among many other things, a sirloin tip from Spotted Dog Farm and some delicate organic sweet corn from Woods’ Market Garden.
I was going back around because I'd remembered I had to go back to pick something up. I couldn’t remember what it was that I had to go back to fetch but I was fairly sure I’d know it when I saw it.

Oh yes, it was the tagliatelle from DiPrinzio Pasta Company. It had been frozen and I wanted to keep it that way, though the boys said just to stuff it in the freezer when I got home.

The DiPrinzio Boys with Vermont's
Representative, Peter Welch    
The boys are back – I wrote about them last year, the two New York City DiPrinzio boys who summer in Shrewsbury and make their wonderful pastas and sell them at Market.

This day they were serving up samples of their spaghetti with their own pesto sauce, and it was so very good!

That evening I started up the Big Green Egg and grilled the sirloin tip and the sweet corn in its husk. And while that was happening I chopped parsley and garlic and marjoram and a Hungarian hot pepper, all from my garden, and then just warmed them in melting Amish butter.

When my daughter was here I'd noticed how she so calmly chopped some garlic and parsley for me, and how tiny and uniform the chop was when done. She didn’t say a word about this, I only learned by noticing her action and its result. It was a very gentle chop, not an act of vengeance. I saw how little you need to lift the knife with only the gentle pressure of one index finger on the very tip of it, and how quickly and delicately it can be dropped down again, and nothing jumps around into your eye or on the floor. It is as though she had snuck up behind the matter and petted it to bits. And holy of holies, when I tried it it reacted the same way.

Then I cooked the tagliatelle, and sliced the steak thin, and cut some kernels from one ear of corn, and  piled the pink steak upon the hot pasta, and the corn upon that, and drizzled the buttery herbs over all.

So many tastes! That pasta was so good, delicate but chewy, the herbs were just lovely, making every mouthful into a different treat.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

from wood to bread: Tradition Fires the Oven at Bear Mountain

(This article was first printed in the Rutland Herald April 23, 1992. Photos by permission of AJ Marro)

“I like piddling with wood – dry wood!” Ray Powers says as he looks up from his task of shoving 3-foot-long split slabs of damp-to-wet softwood into the firebox of his brick oven on Wallingford’s Bear Mountain.

In spite of the soaking a sleet storm gave the wood the night before, Powers’ customary serenity bears only an edge of impatience and belies the diabolical aspect of the scene: flames roaring and rumbling like a volcano, stretching through the fire-hole into the oven and licking heat into its arched roof preparatory to tomorrow’s bread baking. The fire heats not only the oven, but the 15 tons of sand surrounding it, which absorb and store the heat. The interior hearth is a hefty 4x5x2.5 feet at the arch’s peak. It can handle up to 40 of the round, rustic loaves – hefty in themselves – which are baked evenly by heat radiating from the arch and by Powers’ intricate system of rotation.

A massive 9-foot cube of brick, lined by a thin layer of vermiculite, encloses the whole thing. It is a replica of a 17th century French bread oven, built in 1983 by Jim Scialo of Harmony, Maine. Powers and his wife, Christine, hired Scialo to build their oven on the recommendation of Jules and Helen Rabin of Plainfield. Scialo had built their own dome-shaped oven.

An article about the Rabins in Country Life Magazine came at a propitious moment for the Powers, who were then living in Connecticut with their two small children, Kate and John. A company cutback put Ray out of his customer relations work with General Electric Co., and suddenly old dreams surfaced, of moving to Vermont, of cooking something, of using wood.

Why wood, for heavens’ sakes? Why this long, drawn-out, demanding process of firing up the big oven with wood when gas would do just as well for the finished bread, with far less physical effort? Well, besides the pleasure of working with wood, it’s cheap. Sweet, clean “junk” softwood slabs, the rounded sides sliced off logs preparatory to cutting them into planks, are used for little else but provide good heat for the oven, burning with so much heat that there is little residue, almost no pollution, says Chris.
Besides, Ray says, “Jules uses wood.”

When Rabin was asked how he and his wife chose to use wood, the answer turned out to be simple yet intricate. “We found ourselves saddled with a wood-fired oven,” Rabin recalled in a telephone conversation. Once again, good bread had been the result of an economic cutback – this time from Goddard College where Rabin was an anthropologist. During the first OPEC oil crisis in the early ‘70s, a group of Goddard people built a community oven. It proved underused, and so the Rabins began baking bread in it.

“We feel it a pity to use exotic fuels when Vermont is so rich in wood,” Rabin said. “We burn wood in the same spirit that we recycle glass and cardboard.”

And then there is the picturesque history of baking bread with wood. In France, where it’s an art form, bakers are worried that government environmental agencies will be closing down their wood-burning ovens. But some say that in the rustic unevenness of the crust you can see the flames. And they say, incredulously, that ignorant people think that bread can be made in a machine.

It is Sunday afternoon. Ray will feed the firebox every 15 or 20 minutes for about six hours, until a sensor deep in the sand registers 500° and one in the oven, itself, a whopping 1,000°. Each year, he burns 25 cords of wood in this manner. Around 10pm he’ll close the dampers to the two flues that lead out the back of the oven, fit a cast iron slab over the fire hole, lever the heavy outside door down with the counterbalance, sealing the heat into the oven, and retire.

During the last few hours of firing, he’ll be joined by Chris, who will come down the few steps from the kitchen into the scrubbed, quarry-tiled bakery to begin mixing the 330 loaves of Bear Mountain Bread for tomorrow’s baking. The bakery is toasty and sweet smelling as she stone-grinds the organic whole wheat and rye flour, tips a lump of natural leaven sourdough starter into the old 80-quart Hobart mixer, and adds salt and unbleached white flour. No milk, no butter of course, and no commercial yeast.

The use of a sourdough starter, or “mother,” in place of commercial yeast is another aspect of the wood-burning baking that appeals to the Powers. It’s the way it was always done – regular yeast was not available commercially until the late 1800s. It’s a personal thing – the starter is alive, and while retaining a whiff of its origins (in this case the Rabins’ Upland Breads Bakery), it will gradually form a distinct personality where it lives. Eating bread made with it is like eating a slice of life.

The big, ponderous Hobart makes quick work of the dough as Chris flicks finishing touches of flour from a scoop, watching the dough with a critical eye as it puffs and becomes elastic. "I still like that moment the dough takes on its own identity,” she says. At that point, both of them lean over the stainless bowl and drag and roll and coax the live, swelling dough up over the lip of the bowl. Batches drop into white 50-gallon pails like bodies being dumped into a well. SCHLUMMMMPHHH! The dough smells fresh, tastes lemony. Chris saves a lump of it for Wednesday’s starter and begins to mix the whole wheat dough. It will rest and rise throughout the short night.

On Monday they rise around 4 a.m. and after swabbing traces of last night’s inferno from the oven, Chris forms and Ray bakes the loaves. “That’s when,” says Chris, “we have THE discussion: If the room/dough/oven is warm enough in winter or cool enough in summer.”

After driving up twisty Route 140 out of Wallingford, and almost straight up the steep, rutted, dead-end road the bakery inhabits, a visitor is rewarded with small pita rounds that Chris rolls out of hanks of dough and Ray Bakes, slathered with apple butter.

“Our friends from out of state think it’s so romantic that we just chucked everything and came up here to make bread,” Chris says. “But you know, sometimes it is wonderful early in the morning when the kids are still asleep. It’s romantic in a way when we’re working quietly together watching the sun come up and the birds wake.” She shakes off the thought and begins to pleat long white French loaves into a length of heavily floured canvas for the last rise. Next she forms the round loaves of country white French, raisin, whole wheat and rye, in bannetons. This spring, along with a new logo and label, designed by artist friend Clare Bornarth, which features a woodcut of a real bear, they will introduce a honey oatmeal loaf.

Chris might deny it, and Bear Mountain Road’s mud-season might make them forget it, but the couple’s story is a classically romantic one, for in the beginning they each “took to the cloth.”
Ray entered the Order of the Jesuits and taught at a Jesuit boys’ school in Baghdad through the 1950s before he became headmaster.

During the 1960s, Chris entered a missionary order of nuns. Although she knew Ray as a friend of the family, the later reality of marriage to him, a life in the country, children, and the oven itself would have required an incredible leap of faith. But leaps of faith have become familiar to them – first when Chris left the convent and went back to school to get her degree at Fairfield University, where Ray, back from Baghdad, was dean of graduate admissions. There, their acquaintance deepened into friendship and beyond.
Ray rejoined the secular world he had left so long ago and they were married in 1977.

Ray now supposes that if he had not met Chris he would still be a Jesuit. Given that history, how long could they continue to lead the middle-class life in Connecticut? The leap to Vermont, to the oven, seems much more in character. The decision, by these innately religious people, to make bread, was both pragmatic and romantic, practical and transcendent, and humorous, to boot. The former priest who would have placed wafers of bread representing the body of Christ on penitents’ tongues now kneels in the very infernal heart of the bread-making process, and the woman who married him puts the sourdough to start new life in good, earthen flour, then kneads and forms and nurtures the loaves smooth as babies’ bottoms. Why bread? Why bread, indeed.

When Ray begins baking, the oven will have lost 50° since last night, down to a comfortable 450° for the long French, and down to 300° for the last whole wheat loaves in early afternoon – a remarkably small loss when one considers the number of cool loaves constantly peeled into the oven, the number of times the small door is opened. But there IS that 15 tons of hot sand.

When the baking is done – about 1 p.m. – there’s still paperwork, meeting the UPS deadline in the evening, and Ray’s 120 mile delivery run the next day. They ship to many out-of-staters, including ones allergic to commercial yeast.

Ray will start firing again on Wednesday, and again, in summer, on Friday, to sell bread at the local farmers’ market on Saturday. He is the coordinator of the Rutland County Farmers’ Market. Chris is busy driving children to extracurricular activities and music lessons, and is one of the founders of the new Lakes Region Children’s Orchestra.

After some very lean years, the business has achieved a level of success. “We’re together and we’re doing what we want to do, as much of the time or as little as we like,” says Ray. “AND, we call our own shots.”

There must be a worm in the apple somewhere?

“Only one,” Ray allows. “Wet Wood!”

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

alimentary, my dear

On a chilly, grim and dark April morning you get up at 4 am and drink a liter of noxious salt and sweet substance and then, by 5:30,
finish topping that off with half a liter of lukewarm water.
That’s a lot of liquid, Honey.
Virginia dogwood and tulips are blooming. It's spring, and time, perhaps, for spring cleaning.
Then you doze, gurgling and sloshing, before rousing yourself to shower and travel – with your immune system depleted – to the hospital. There you are prepped by nurses who take time out from early morning chat and snacks to slam widgets into your veins and string you like an Easter bunny with colorful plastics in preparation for the doctor, who will make sure you are probed via your nether regions to within an inch of your life in an attempt to make sure you are not the victim of horrid diseases.

For a week now you– or perhaps it's me – have been eating things we don’t normally eat. Apparently that 7-day-diet should consist of soft and white substances. I say apparently, because the hand-out exhorts you to eat a low-fiber diet, but neglects to list the foods you should eat, only the foods you must NOT eat: no beans or other legumes, nothing crispy, no nuts, seeds, or whole grains, no corn, oatmeal or granola, no dried fruits, raw fruits, or vegetables from the cabbage family, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage or Brussels sprouts.  Ironically, this boils down to Eat Nothing Local! To my limited imagination, it boils down to eating mashed potatoes and wonder bread, perhaps some boiled white rice. 

Eat these foods for the whole week before the day before our procedure, which happens this year to fall on Easter Sunday, usually a feast day, a day of sociability with friends and family, of chocolate bunnies and locker ham – the day on which you are not allowed to eat anything at all but only to swallow white grape juice and water (and, in my case, if I were to be truthful, several sips of white wine), until at 5 pm we are directed to consume the first liter of that salt and sweet substance. And to stay near the toilet if we know what’s good for us.

I follow this regimen as faithfully and as truly and as purely as I can. There is only a moment, on the day itself, as we near the hospital, that I am tempted, as I never am, to stop at McBurger’s and wolf down all the McCrap that I can. To ruin all my hard work. It is almost like the times, as children sitting in the movie theater balcony, that we felt the draw of that balcony railing. But McBurger’s sails safely on by.

As the nurses prepped me I may’ve wondered aloud if this colon cleanse has been refined to a much lauded science or are we directed to drink half again as much as we need, over half again as much time as needed? Must it be swallowed at 4 am? Must the fast day be scheduled on a feast day for much of the world?

Well, er, ah... no, that would be my fault, the nurse reminds me. And it’s true, I didn’t realize when I made the appointment that the 8th of April, which would  turn out to be my fast day, was the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox, namely, everybody else’s Easter feastival.

Pondering aside, at 4:35 a.m. there is still evidence that I am not sufficiently purified! I had defied directions and eaten mashed potatoes (good girl) with the skins in the mash (Bad! Bad person!) a few days before. So drink the potion! Clean it allll out!

About this time it begins to seem to be all about morality. Goodness and badness. Being judged. Cleanth and filth. Oh the ire of that doctor if she finds potato peel from two nights ago plastering the pocks and polyps of your colon. She’ll swear and she’ll yank. And well she should, because you will have ruined all your good preparations. How is she to pronounce you well or ill if your insides are still coated with goo?

The potion drunk, the directions read, “Nothing more should pass by your lips until your appointment.” (How very very Biblical!) That takes care of the hours 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. By the time you come out from under it will be noon and you will be ravenous.

But the morality lingers on: After your procedure, you should take it easy, the directions say, eat some rice pudding or other soft white stuff, flan, anything your heart desires so long as it doesn’t desire a hamburger.

Dear God, Don’t cram a rare hamburger –  bloodied with catsup, creamed with cheddar, sweet with crisp onions –  down your immaculate craw. Don’t smoke. Don’t drink. Don’t muddy it up, Girl. Don’t think a smutty thought. Don’t, don’t, don’t!

A ravening mind muses about what is smutty about the synergy of the good sun-made beef fat and texture, the crisp phenerols, sweet and juicy, of the onion? What happens when they get down into your digestive tract and meet your digestive juices and begin to ferment – which is a part of life, like rot only in a good way?

Life happens then, and that – come to think of it – is the difference between good food and bad food -- even my own mind makes the moral distinction -- Good food from the ground and the pure air and the water and the fire of the sun – that is what makes us good(!) and healthy,  like cheese, like sauerkraut, like soy sauce and honey.

It’s when the industrial, the chemical, the commercialized, the deadened, the invented, the GM’d,  meet in your colon that bad things start to happen, for they do not meet and greet – they rot, separately, and they rot the inside of a person, too.

But there’s nothing morally good about being spick and span clean. You’d be dead, your exudations cleaned out of you by a forensicer, not a part of earth anymore, of natural processes.  Embalmed.

Of course, on the other hand,  there’s nothing that guarantees that good, whole, able-to-ferment food is certain to make you healthy, either. Which makes it important to jump through the hoops every once in awhile and get that colonoscopy behind you! No pun, of course, intended.

You only have to do it every five or ten years... Maybe never again, really, depending upon your luck.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

the many many beans of Crescent Dragonwagon

I know, I know, I can’t seem to get shut of beans! And, really, why try! Pennies per serving, a talent for being transmogrified (and Eastery kind of word, don't you think?) by olive oil or chilis, beans are versatile and delicious and there are times in one’s life when they demand to be the main show in town!

Not feeling the enthusiasm? Pick up Crescent Dragonwagon’s new book, Bean by Bean – yes, I mentioned it in my last column – and work your pleasurable way through it. Subtitled “More than 175 recipes for fresh beans, dried beans, cool beans, hot beans, savory beans, even sweet beans,” it’s a go-to book for everything from hummus to chili to dessert.

Crescent’s name is not only striking but familiar – I must have begun hearing it when she published her first bean book, back in the ‘70s. Or was it The Commune Cookbook way back then, too? Certainly her Cornbread Gospels is a name familiar, as is Dragon’s own – familiar AND unforgettable! Audacious.
Although I’ve never met Crescent, I know she lives in Westminster West now and regularly traverses the co-ops and farmers’ markets, art galleries and grocery stores in that area. And, because we are Facebook friends, I am recipient (along with nineteen hundred and fifty other ‘friends’) of her many involved and interesting status updates from which we’ve been able to follow the finishing and publishing of this book, her visits to her famous mother, THE Charlotte Zolotov of children’s literature, and Crescent’s own leadership of Fearless Writing Workshops. We ‘friends’ have gotten to know her husbands (late and present), her cats, and her ponds, what she’s had for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, what time she goes to bed, and wakes up, and what she considers a strong way of life, which must include walks, work-outs, yoga, and naps. Generous she is about her life. Transparent.

Her writing style is warmth personified, sometimes lyrical, her vocabulary colorful, her recipes imaginative. Savor this: Tanzanian Black-Eyed Pea & Coconut Soup... with Bananas! Doesn’t that sound wonderful? But never fear, the book is also a complete and well-organized compendium of beany dishes from hummous through soups, stews, chilis and salads (Yes! nothing better than cold white beans with fresh sage, olive oil and garlic sprinkled over), all the way to desserts – she is proud of her  Rose of Persia Cake.
In my last column I told you I would post her recipe for Chile Mole on my blog. Instead I decided to give it to you up-front and here it is. I was about to say that you would not find a call-out for chili powder in this recipe, because the long list of spices and seeds preclude it, but... there it is, 1 tablespoon of hot chili powder after the chilis, cumin, coriander, oregano have been added. Well, Dragon, I guess I’ll have to add idiosyncratic to my list of descriptives!

(I’ve left this recipe almost entirely in Crescent’s words and formats. The “fixins” she speaks of are any garnishes you like – cheese, sour cream, avocados, salsa, raw onion, cilantro...)
 CD’s Chili Mole
Serves 8 to 10 with Fixins

If you’ve gotten a little bored with the regular old bowl of red, try this. It’s pronounced “MO-lay,” as in the famed Mexican sauce, not “mole” as in little pesky animals who leave holes in your lawn. This is a superb chili. Its taste is indefinable and elusive, its texture decidedly rich. Although you can certainly serve Chili Mole with all the traditional Fixins, it works beautifully served in a more minimalist style, the better to approach the complex parade of flavors that rolls over your tongue with each bite. Please promise me you won’t be put off by the length of the ingredients list—it’s mostly spices—or the seeming peculiarity of some of the ingredients: This is one you will not want to miss. Note: I adore the crunch of the occasional whole coriander seed in the finished chili. If you don’t, omit the coriander seeds, or use 1½ teaspoons ground coriander instead.

For the beans:
  • 1 pound dried black beans, picked over, rinsed, and soaked overnight
  • 2½ to 3 quarts any well-flavored vegetable stock (or a 12-ounce bottle of beer plus enough water or vegetable stock to make up the difference)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 ancho chile, stemmed
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3  cup dark raisins (I like monukkas)
For the sauté:
  • Vegetable oil cooking spray
  •  ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeds left in for heat or removed for mildness, chopped
  • 1 poblano pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  •  ¼ teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon aniseed
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Tiny pinch of ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika (if desired, ½ teaspoon can be smoked)
  • 1 tablespoon hot chili powder
  • 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
For the finish:
  • 1 can (16 ounces) chopped tomatoes in juice
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 1 to 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, diced
  • 2 tablespoons creamy, natural, unhydrogenated peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (or 2 tablespoons freshly toasted sesame seeds)
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo, stemmed, with 2 teaspoons adobo sauce
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey (optional)
1. Drain the soaked black beans and rinse them well. Place them in a large, heavy pot and add enough stock to cover them to a depth of 1½ inches. Add the bay leaves, ancho chile, jalapeño, and lots and lots of freshly ground black pepper (you can hardly add too much). Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook, covered, for 1 hour. Lift the lid and add the raisins. Continue cooking until the beans are nearly tender and the raisins have more or less disintegrated, 30 to 60 minutes more.

2. Meanwhile, about 20 minutes or so before the beans are done, spray a large, heavy skillet with oil. Place it over medium heat, add the olive oil and, when it’s hot, the onions. Sauté the onions until they start to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the bell pepper, jalapeño, and poblano and sauté for another 2 minutes. Then add all the remaining spices, lower the heat slightly, and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until it just becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove the sauté from the heat.

3. Scrape the sauté into the simmering beans. Deglaze the pan with a little bean stock, stirring to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Return this liquid to the beans.

4. Add the tomatoes and the tomato paste to the bean pot, and stir well. Simmer for another 10 minutes, then maintain at a low simmer while you continue with the recipe.

5. Place the chocolate, peanut butter, tahini, and chipotle in adobo in a food processor. Add a generous ladleful of the simmering beans (including the whole ancho and jalapeño, if you can find them), and buzz to make a thick, highly seasoned paste. Scrape this into the bean pot, turn the heat down as low as possible, and add salt to taste—it will take quite a bit. Simmer slowly, partially covered, until the seasonings are well blended, about 20 minutes longer.

6. Just before serving, pick out the bay leaves and the ancho stem. If you like, mash a couple of ladlefuls of the beans against the sides of the pot to thicken the chili slightly. Taste for seasonings: You want heat (perhaps a little more cayenne or adobo), richness (more chocolate), a little sweetness (add agave syrup as needed). Serve, with the optional Fixins, right away, or let it come to room temperature, then refrigerate it, covered, overnight and reheat it very, very gently (or in a slow-cooker) the next day. (It’s much better after an overnight in the fridge.)
Thank you, Crescent! Bean by Bean is a lovely, complete, energetic, beautifully rendered book!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

honing in on the bean

Eating a low carb diet can be heart-breaking when you have a yen for beans, because beans, though excellent food, are not low-carb by any stretch of the imagination. But virtuous? Oh Man, are they virtuous! Full of vitamins and proteins and all kinds of good things. They even nourish the soil they grow in, setting nitrogen, if you remember. And they can be eaten sprouted or fermented, fresh and green or dried; of some you can even eat the leaves – think peas, which are beans, or legumes. Peanuts are, too.

So it was that I was fascinated when I stopped by Ryan Yoder’s stand last week at the Rutland Winter Farmers’ Market where another customer told me that his wife was on a so-called Slow-Carb Diet that included lots of beans as well as (grass-fed or pastured) beef and even pork, and chicken, and cruciferous vegetables, but not many greens,  because apparently olden people did not, really, eat many greens. And olden people were not fat, either, nor did they have cavities or tumors or fibrillations of their hearts or needy kidneys. “It’s a bit of the paleo diet,” he told me, and as well he said said wife had apparently lost sixty or so pounds in a matter of weeks, or at least months, by eating lots of beans and beef, as many as she wanted to, as a matter of fact.

When I googled this so-called “Slow-Carb” diet it seems to be based upon a book called The 4-Hour Body, by Timothy Ferriss and it makes remarkable claims, none of which I quite believe. One of the tenets of it is that you can have one day a week to eat all the white things and sugar that you want to, so many, in fact, that you would not want to look a white thing in the face for the next six days, at which time you were not only free, but encouraged, to eat them all over again. Think Mashed potatoes and Cherry Garcia Ice Cream.

I ran across this memorable quote from one of its fans:  “Just for fun, another reason to avoid the whities: chlorine dioxide, one of the chemicals used to bleach flour (even if later made brown again, a common trick), combines with residual protein in most of these foods to form alloxan. Researchers use alloxan in lab rats to induce diabetes. That's right-it's used to produce diabetes. This is bad news if you eat anything white or "enriched."

Well, be that as it may...

The reason I was stopping by Yoder’s booth is that they – Ryan and Rachel – grow a lovely variety of beans, all of which are freshly grown and dried this year, and they also grow two delicious and effective varieties of popcorn, with which I keep myself supplied all year. Too, I wanted to stock up on his little round black Coco beans, first because they are really good and second because Ryan doesn’t think they’ll grow them again because they are so difficult to shuck, to thresh, to pick over, and all that must be done to get them to your kitchen. I also wanted to pick up a supply of  his King of the Norths for their very nice beany taste. Yum.

The fact that Yoder’s beans are fresh this year means that they will cook up to a nice texture, their taste is much better than old beans, and they have fewer of the fartiness chemicals that are sometimes associated with beans. So there.  (For more in-depth explanations of beans, their history, their various uses, etcetera, etcetera, pick up Crescent Dragonwagon’s new book, Bean by Bean. It is fabulous!) Look for her mole (MO-lay) recipe at the end of this post. Or maybe I'll make it a separate post.

One of the nicest things about beans is how easy they are to prepare. Simply pick them over in the evening, cover them with water and soak them overnight and until you want to cook them. At which point, drain them, put them in a pan with some water (2 cups of beans equals about a pound and require about 6 cups of water). Add a bay leaf. Bring them to a boil, turn the heat down to medium low and let them simmer. Fresh dried beans will probably take about 45 minutes to an hour to cook. I salt them when they are almost done cooking.

Often I cook them with a beef shank, which is just a section of beef leg about 1 ½ inches thick, a bone with some meat on it. I put that into a pan and cover it with 7 cups of water, bring it to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer it for an hour before I add the beans. Cook the beans the way I told you above. And then there is:


Pick through 2 cups of black beans and remove any stones or ugly beans.  Soak them overnight. Drain them in the morning, add 6 cups of water, one chopped onion, a sprig of epazote and a few tablespoons of lard (Mangalitza if you can get it) or bacon drippings. Bring to a boil, cover, turn the heat down and simmer for a couple of hours until the beans are tender.  Remove the epazote, stir in a teaspoon of salt, a very healthy glug of cream sherry, a few splashes of soy sauce and another splash of balsamic vinegar.  Taste for seasoning.  These will keep in the refrigerator for a week - but mine never last that long.

Note: Epazote is a Mexican herb that we can grow right here in our gardens. I do. It looks a lot like ragweed and it tastes bitter but imparts a recognizable Mexican taste that some of us long for.
Now, some of you might be wondering if I’m going to give you a recipe for sweet baked beans. Not really!
Sweet baked beans seems kind of perverse now. I do have a recipe that is most like the baked beans I grew up on, which involves a great deal of granulated sugar. I made them last summer and they made my teeth itch with their sweetness.

Because, to my present taste, sweet, smoky, hot and sour is a nicer way of putting it, where a bit of maple syrup nudges beans toward the sublime, coupling sexily with bacon smoke and unctuous fat, with a nice smoked jalapeno (chipotle), and a bitsy sprinkle of  pungent cider vinegar showered over it at the end to tame the various unions from fierce to fancy. Yes, that’s where I’d go if I were, like a bird-dog, honing in on the real sense of beans.

About that word “hone”, before some of you get to the chase, claiming that it should be “home in” of all ridiculous things, let me just say that I am older than most of you and from the time I was a tiny child I have been hearing and even saying the phrase, “Honing in on...” some kind of prey. That’s because to find something difficult you must hone, or sharpen, your senses to the object of your quest. Your gaze starts wide and discards non-essentials as it narrows, and sharpens (you hone a knife), and then finally hones in on that cowering little rabbit. Or whatever. Our original ‘hone’ had nothing to do with ‘home’. It was wild and of the country, of darkness all around and skies full of immense mystery. It was not suburban. It was not village nor town nor city.

But perhaps you are unaware of this controversy in a bean pot? I asked Leo about it and he’d never heard of “homing in”. “That’s ridiculous,” he said, “Of course it’s ‘hone in’!”

So just eat your beans, and never mind!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

it IS only February yet

I didn’t write a column last week for a myriad of reasons, first on the list being – it’s February and we’re eating low-carb, which is only exciting when you ARE eating low-carb and not filling up on bread. That’s when a well-massaged salad of spicy spring greens (yes, fresh from your farmers’ market) with gorgonzola and an anchovy and some lemon juice can make your day. A hamburger from Pine Woods Farm done exactly right so that it is caramelized on the outside and pink to red in the middle, smothered with more gorgonzola and perhaps a pat of butter, can be orgasmic.

Simply skip the white or refined starches. They’re like a narcotic – you want more and more. Perhaps Monsanto -- Monsatan to the initiated -- has done more than genetically modify our wheat – they may be slipping addiction into those grains as well (Actually, one reader of this Twice Bitten column told me that Monsanto is definitely making its grains addictive).

There comes a point when bread, or toast, begins to perform the most trencher-like activities: In the morning it transports butter and jam to your mouth and mid morning can perform the same for a spoonful of peanut butter. Lunch is a sandwich – two pieces of bread or halves of a roll slathered with mayo and mustard, layered with... well, you know the drill. Mid-afternoon? How about some of the stuff squashed into garlicky olive oil, or toasted and buttered and sprinkled with sugar when your kids come home from school. That’s bread for me, when I allow it in.

 Doing without it is a mind-blower. Get bread out of your life and you discover that other things taste GOOD! So many tastes, so little time.  And what does my scale say? It says, “Doing good, Sharon. Stay away from the bread.”

Compliments of Molly's website
I’ve been experimenting with Molly Stevens’ new book, All About Roasting, even though I don’t own it yet because it wasn’t immediately available in our local bookstores. I heard Molly on The Splendid Table a few weeks ago and she had some advice about roasting a perfect chicken, and that was to get a good local one (Yes, she did say that -- why waste your time with an inferior chicken) and a day before you’re going to roast it rub it with sea salt, about ½ teaspoon of salt per pound of chicken, and put it in the fridge uncovered for 24 hours or so. The skin dries out and becomes shiny, and the salt migrates into the body and seasons it and through some kind of magical transmogrification makes it moister – like brining but without the mess.

That was welcome news, for I often think that some of our free-range chickens stay a little muscular around the joints (although Jeff at Sunset Farm disagrees with me, and the barbecued chicken that he used to sell at the summer market was always tender. Which begs the question – Why does he not sell it anymore? If I recall, it was some kind of misplaced politicism on the part of the Farmers' Market.

So I tried Molly’s advice – she makes the point that she spent five years researching the book, which means that she IS the expert on roasting refinements!  I might’ve had a 4.5 pound chicken, and I roasted it at 350° for about 1.5 hours, and the thing was delicious. Perfectly cooked. Crispy skin, juicy breast! Salting it and leaving it uncovered – what is essentially dry aging – worked beautifully.

Another of Molly’s recipes is Blasted Broccoli, wherein a head of broccoli is dismembered, tossed with olive oil and garlic, arranged loosely on a flat pan and roasted at high heat -- about 425° for 15 minutes, flip, another 10 minutes. Molly was on VPR last week and Jane Lindholm was Jonesing about that broccoli. So I tried it, again.

Some of you know that I am not entranced with broccoli – it’s either mushy and gray or bright and so springy your nose is in danger of being mangled by your jaw when you chew it. The most important thing about this technique is that the broccoli  – I quartered the stems lengthwise, and peeled them, of course – gets nice and tender on the inside while crisping around the edges. It’s very good.

So what reasons have I covered here for not meeting my column deadline last week? Mainly, just eating low-carb and being uninspired, but that doesn’t really hold up because look how much I’ve written about that already!


The second reason is that while I used to be the only one writing about local food we now have the amazing Kris Smith writing about Farmers’ Markets and local food almost every week on this page and she does a very good job of it. I must mention that she writes free for the Herald, as a function of her job at RAFFL and as RAFFL’s volunteer to Sustainable Rutland.

Here might be the place to say that when people give away their writing it makes my teeth itch – it makes it hard for those of us who try to eke some kind of living from it -- but still I’m very grateful to have Kris’s column almost every week.

It was because of Kris’ enticing description of the Dorset market not too long ago that I found myself visiting it – for pleasure instead of out of duty – and it did provide me with an assortment of riches that I miss even at Rutland’s magnificent market. I’m sure you’ll appreciate the fact that I was able to buy a pig’s ear from the Lewis Waite Farm, as well as some liverwurst – free ranging pork and beef liver made into one of my favorite foods.
The lovely Stina Kutzer with the
cultured butter she makes at her
Gammelgården Creamery in Pownal
From a beautiful woman from Gammelgården Creamery in Pownal – her name is Stina Kutzer – I bought farm-made cultured butter, sweet, tangy buttermilk, some fresh creamy cheese, and a lovely skyr, or yogurt. I thought I was in heaven!

And from Earth Sky Time, Oliver and Bonnie’s Community Farm, I bought a small loaf of bread(!) absolutely stuffed with different grains, seeds, and fruits. You can imagine how ecstatic I was with that bread, that butter, and that liverwurst. The combination of gratifications was simply confounding, and when it was gone? That is when I decided I needed to get bread out of my life. Again. For awhile. Until my pants fit again.

Another local writer who is taking some of the pressure off me is Gordon Dritschilo, who sometimes takes a breather from walking the halls of the City to write about goings-on in his kitchen on his blog and occasionally in these pages. 

Gordon’s take on food is no-nonsense, the very opposite of lyrical (I saw his blog post titled  Kielbasa Stir Fry the other morning and laughed out loud. I knew it must be his before I even looked for his name). As for local?  When he can get a pig shank from the Davis Farm at the Farmers’ Market he will, but if they don’t have one he has no compunction about getting one at Price Chopper or Hannaford, hormones, antibiotics, and pig misery be damned.

His writings are directed at the working cook who wants something  good to eat,  perhaps needs to feed a family, but with limited time. Occasionally he jaunts off into longer techniques that you could spend a Sunday doing, and some of them are just downright esoteric. His last one was Pickled Tongue Tacos. I will have to try that.  Check him out.  I think you’ll like him.

Having good writing available about local food is inestimably important and perhaps takes away the sense of urgency about my own writing.

I have to admit there is one more reason I have been a bit disheartened about writing for the Herald. And that is because they let my favorite editor in a long time, Randal Smathers, go. Go, that is, into the wild blue yonder to fend for himself, he of the family and two children, no doubt soon a new dog, and two houses, one that he and his wife, Katya, are selling and one that they had just moved in to.

The Smatherses are just the kind of people you want to move to Rutland and to stay here, because Rutland needs their energy, their youth, their willingness to give their all. Randal is such a gung-ho and generous lover of Rutland Downtown, the City, the Area, Vermont; and, as well, he is a serious and experienced journalist ... it just seems very short-sighted of the Herald to have let him go. Without, of course, any press about it since they are the only show in town.

Given the facts, though, all we can do is wish him well, and invite them out to dinner some night.


Just an addendum here. I learned about Gordon's blog from another reporter took me to task (not to my face) for my rudeness to one of our Rutland restaurants in my last column when I found that they did not serve local meats – not even a hamburger. I agreed with him – I had written the segment in haste and was surprised when it came out in print at how clearly my distaste and exasperation were expressed. But in another way I was glad I wrote it. Why don’t these restaurants support their local farmers, and why don’t they bone up on the detrimental effects of non-local produce and meats? I am not going to support them until they support their customer and the farmers!
I have not heard any ire from the restaurant. Well, I did get an anonymous telephone call the evening after that column appeared. After a few Hellos, with only silence on the other end, I groused, “God, that P****s me off,” and then some subdued laughter in the background. Sounded like a bar to me. 

No matter. They were good sports about it, and several times I have seen the owner coming out of the Farmers’ Market just as I arrived. Each time his arms were empty. Now I simply cannot understand how you could come out of the Farmers’ market, in February, with your arms empty. But, no rants here.


It has been SUCH a very weird winter, warm, no snow, but still it is surprising when the fresh greens start coming back into the Farmers’ Market, a sign of spring, a cause for Huzzahs. No doubt inspiration is just around the corner as the days lengthen and, I was about to say, things green up. But remember? I have to pinch myself to remind me -- and the farmers who are talking about early planting already  -- that...

It IS only February yet!
The Super Fruity Multigrain from Bonnie and Oliver's Earth Sky Time Farm in Manchester that set me on the no carb highway.