Tuesday, January 03, 2012

future tense

ingredients for peasant cuisines found inexpensively at your nearby co-op: spices, fruits and nuts, beans, lentils and rice. plus a little bit of maple sugar
Two thousand eleven was the year that the cat clawed herself out of the bag! Finally everyone seems to know they need to be eating clean-raised local food, and they seem to know where they can find it, too.

Thank god for Roots, say those of us who are disgusted by the idea of a burger made of the ground up flesh of ten, a hundred, maybe even traces of a thousand cows who were fed antibiotics and hormones like gruel in their last days, and then were all ground together into a vast vat. Roots, the Restaurant, on Wales Street opened last winter and has made it their point of pride to serve food sourced from our local farmers – all across the menu.  They've bought almost $70,000 worth of local food from our farmers in the first 11 months they've been open! They have succeeded. Wildly!

We also recognize 3 Tomatoes, which has long made a valiant effort to serve a lot of  food grown in Vermont, which is to say pretty organically, and they do so beautifully. Dennis at Red Clover in Mendon is a pretty faithful Farmers’ Market customer. Downtown Grocery in Ludlow serves spectacular home-grown food – for spectacular prices, it must be said.  Splurge there, though, when you can. And both Cafe' Provence in Brandon and The Victorian Inn at Wallingford source local food, though Chef Stanti at the Victorian Inn balks at local meats.

But other restaurants are slow to catch on. When we all stopped by Sabby’s the other day I was told that local food was way out of their ball park. People didn’t care. We stayed anyway, but I’ll tell you that eating a pile of anonymous animal protein is not a very appetizing thing anymore.

Even the New York Times’ Mark Bittman, whose food politics have been somewhat middle-of-the-road until the last year or so, understands that studies finding that eating meat is an unhealthy habit are not studying locally grown grass-fed beef, pork and fowl. In other words, they’re not studying the effects of meat-eating on human health, they are studying the effects of the antibiotics and hormones the meat is fed on the health of the eater. So Bittman, realizing that most people do not have access to grass-fed meats, suggests abstaining from meat on certain days of the week and simply eating less. And he's not alone in this fall-back stance among food experts who are talking to a large number of people. And it is not an unappetizing idea.

Peasant and ethnic cuisines that rely on a preponderance of vegetables and spices with very little meat to produce great flavor are a fantastic place to start. We can teach ourselves their ways by picking up a book or looking online.

If you are as ignorant as I am you might start by picking up a copy of Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook – It’s chock full of inexpensive and for the most part simple recipes and techniques. After all these years since it was published, this is the first time I’ve really examined it. I made a little ‘garlic dip’ she wrote about and it was not bad. It was not good, either – it involved boiling some potatoes until very tender and then fo-proing them with lots of garlic and some mayonnaise into a slithery mass that tasted like very garlicky potatoes. Of course it did.

If you really want to fix something good to eat, quick, and cheap, try this, one of my favorite meals: It’s basically red lentils and rice, with perhaps a sausage. The lentils are rinsed, put into a pot, covered with cold water, and cooked over medium heat until tender but still (if possible) retain their shape. This takes only about 15 minutes. Add a little salt to the water towards the end of cooking. For the rice, bring two cups of water to a boil, add a teaspoon of salt, pour in 1 cup of white rice, stir, bring back to the boil, cover, and turn the heat very low. Cook for 20 minutes. When these two foods are done, they’re piled into a plate, dolloped with plain yogurt, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds, and drizzled with a little garlicky olive oil. Salt and pepper. Maybe some hot peppers. You could sprinkle with Asian seasonings such as 5-spice powder. Add any crunchy vegetables you might have lying around. It takes about 25 minutes to make and costs about 3¢ per serving. It’s good, plain, proletarian, peasant food that can be gussied up.
This one from last summer included sausages and lots of fresh veggies. Yum.
Of course, for home cooking there are few places more liable to supply good makings for our kitchen than the Farmers’ Markets and Co-ops. Here in the Rutland area we are blessed with the best year-around Farmers’ Market in the state, probably in the northeast, possibly in the country. It’s impossible to walk through without engaging in many conversations with people ecstatically commenting about the good feeling there, the wonderful food, the festive atmosphere, how lucky we are, yadda yadda. Shopping at the Farmers’ Market is just a very uplifting experience. Here are some vendors and foods that are new favorites. 

I LOVE having Peter McGann – who used to give away samples of his food free at the Co-op – offering his Mexican fare – all the way from tamales and enchiladas to the lovely cascobel pepper salsa, guacamole, and tomato salsa, as well as his Tortilla Espagnol – a thick potato omelet. His orange scented rice pudding studded with big plump raisins? Well...

Too, I enjoyed Maya Zelkin’s steamed tamales there one Saturday, and she will be back with more the last Saturday in January. I keep nattering at her to supply us with freshly made tortillas, but they are labor intensive and she does not see her way to doing that just now.

Pine Woods Farm is also new this year, with their excellent beef and pork. I bought pig fat there that I rendered down into the best lard I have ever made – creamy white and solid. It’s a once-a -year process I go through, and so worth it! You can also get organic suet – for cooking or for the birds. After all, why would you feed birds suet with antibiotics and excess hormones in it?  Love their sausages and roasts, too.

Meadow Squire is there with her Breezy Meadows booth from which she is still selling baby greens, most especially fresh cilantro, as well as the bibelots she puts together, like the tiny jars of maple sugar last Saturday. I wrote about their rice crop here.

Meadow is just one example of the biggest boon the Rutland region has going for it right now – a preponderance of young and very determined farmers.

A few years ago Greg Cox told me, “We’re getting tired. We’re getting old. We need nothing less than an influx of young people going into farming.” Guess what? Suddenly we have them, and they are committed to the land (even when it slides out from under them as Evening Song’s did during Irene). And Greg, who has hosted many beginning farmers on his land at Boardman Hill, is very responsible for this resurgence. He has long worked with RAFFL to offer an incubator space for new farmers and POW, we look back and what do we find? He has, perhaps unwittingly, provided it on his own land!

I hope that 2012 proves to be the year that the Rutland Co-op assumes its diversified and indispensable roles for Rutland, for instance as a teaching venue for people who want to learn to shop the Co-op and the Farmers’ Market and learn to cook the food. There is a very nice kitchen that was built a few years ago expressly for that purpose. Now there’s a “Private” sign on its door most market Saturdays.

I’m not grousing about 2011.  I still have not needed to get up from my supper table, pack up a few things, and walk down Rt. 7 to get away from the enemy. Wars always take place upon other people’s soil, isn’t that true? All I really wish for in 2012 is peace and a contentment with what is without losing the edge that makes us do better. A less tense future. And I wish that for you, too. That’s not much to ask, is it?


connee's corner said...

A less tense future or even present....what happened with the "private" sign on the kitchen?

connee's corner said...

Are there 4-H groups in your area? When our kids were young and we had a big extended family we always bought a side of beef at the county fair. I'm sure the meat would get freezer-burn with just the two of us...it was always good, grown locally, I'm sure it was fed both grain and grass. We also have a local organic cattle operation from which you can purchase beef...but again...just the two of us now.