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!

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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 Рher name is Stina Kutzer РI 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.
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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.

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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.