Tuesday, June 23, 2015


One of the most astonishing questions I’ve been asked lately is, “Where do you want us to put the porta-potty?”
“I don’t want you to put a porta-potty anywhere,” I answered. And then, “What porta-potty.”
“Well,” Charlie said, rolling his eyes toward the porta-potty truck that I’d just noticed out on the street, “There are five men here, and nature calls, or at least it may. Unless you want them using YOUR bathroom...”
Since my office is between the kitchen and the bathroom, I told them where to put the porta-potty, in no uncertain terms, and they put it there, and all the following questions, from other people, have been “WHAT is going on at your house? You have a...”
“Porta-potty,” I supply.
Dirty grins.
Especially since the scaffolding is all hidden on the other side of the house now and the porta-potty stands alone. Just like the Cheese, in the Dairy-O.
Speaking of cheese... or perhaps I shouldn’t.
Perhaps I should speak of compost, instead. It’s all part of the same system. I wouldn’t need a porta-potty if these men didn’t eat, and what do they eat? They eat what comes from the earth or they eat what eats what comes from the earth, grows in the soil, and what is soil but a lot of micronutrients that come from the stars and from the compost; and that compost is composed of all the things that are supposedly used up – dead leaves, grass clippings, vegetable leavings... and manure. Which, with a little microbial action come back as a fertilizer to grow things out of the soil again. Life, used up – death, but not really – then life again. At least that’s the way it always worked before Monsatan came along (it’s all very religious, isn’t it?). Which brings us back to the porta-potty. Or not.
The other day I was listening to the radio and I heard the novelist, Margaret Atwood, talking about age and she said something to the effect that ‘young people worry a lot more than we do because they don’t know their own life’s plot yet.” Yep, it could be anything. And it started me thinking.
All of my life I have known that there is really nothing, basically, when you get right down to it, more important than food. At this realm, at this layer of existence... food is supreme. It’s one thing you can do something about, practically. We need it three times a day or at least once every few days, we cannot live without it, and we have been given such bushels of nonsense and ill-truths about it by government and corporations and even doctors, because none of them knows anything about food and its relationship to the human body, that somebody has to try to keep the puzzle pieces straight, and talk about it and give it – food – the respect it deserves. The most we know is that real food comes from the soil and the better the soil the better the food. It’s important to remember what real food is, to keep the consciousness of it through the dark years. So that’s been my path. Nice to recognize it. Thank you Margaret Atwood.
Food connects everything. I heard Meighan Kelley belt out White Rabbit, that old, great, Grace Slick song, at a RAFFL benefit at Mary Ashcroft’s Standing Stones the other afternoon, and that, of course, put me in mind of Lewis Carroll and Charles Dodgson and Alice, and how logical everything really is but not in the way we think it is. Lest you think that Alice in Wonderland has nothing to do with food remember the pills, and the tea parties, and the little/big drinks. And of course there were, er, ah, those little girl picnics on the river.
Connectivity. RAFFL is all about food and farming and feeding. Meighan? I’ve known her since before she was born with that amazing power of voice. She now works for my old friends who gave us hippy-types a place to gather in Rutland back in the ‘70s, and who are now giving community a place to gather in Hinesburg. That would be Will and Kathleen Patten, the old, original Back Home Café on Center Street in Rutland, and now the Hinesburg Public House.  Grace Slick was loud and original and had nothing to do with food that I know of – none of us did back then – and the grin slid off the Cheshire Cat until only it remained. Mary Ashcroft’s husband, Harold Billings, was fascinated with the stones and collected them and stood them on a hillock behind their house and studied practical astronomy for placing them. Mary herself gave Radical Roots a start. And I sit here writing about porta-pottys and standing stones in a food column.
That’s the thing, Food is connection. Food is real. There couldn’t be anything more real than the box of new red potatoes, smaller than tennis balls, at the Rad Roots stand at Saturday’s Market. I scoffed ‘em right up, and it was only later that I decided to tenderly boil them in well salted.... well, let me just make up a recipe here and now. You deserve it for at least trying to follow my train of thought here.

As I get older I’m finally learning to let others make decisions without a lot of suggestions and tweakings from me. I’m finding that really relaxing.  
A couple years ago I was putting the finishing touches on a very simple dinner for just the four of us, when I noticed dotter Zoe fashioning a table covering out of many seldom-used lace-edged, embroidered, and/or pulled-thread table scarves and doilies that I’ve acquired over the years.
“I know you’re thinking ‘what a ramshackle tablecloth,’” Zoe said, “but relax! You might come to think of it as charming. Because when do we ever get to enjoy this handiwork.” And it was charming, especially when we used Grandma’s Limoge on it. We left it there until Ramadan or at least until Zoe got on a plane back to North Carolina.
Now she lives here again, and when she said wasn’t it time to go strawberry picking I didn’t say I thought it was too early, I said Yes. And when she said we’d go down to Danby I didn’t say Oh I always go to North’s, I only asked which farm and when she said Yoder’s I nodded, mentioning that I knew that Ryan and Rachel would have grown their strawberries organically even though they would not have had them certified organic, because that was expensive.
You do want them organically grown, because conventionally grown strawberries are liable to have been sprayed with really ugly pesticides and fungicides. Never trust mid-winter California strawberries for heaven’s sake.
I confess I began to fret a bit: What if Yoder’s Farm was too hard to find; what if the strawberries were too small and far between; what if they were not as tasty as others? What if it rained?
“Oh, do relax,” I told myself. “Be in The Moment. What does it matter?”
We had a few minutes of uncertainty about the exact location of the farm, but I knew where the Smokey House Farmstand was, just past Danby Four Corners and down Danby Mountain Road a bit, and we knew Yoder’s had to be somewhere near. It was, and was identified by a large PARKING sign as well as a very faint signal on Zoe’s iPhone. 
We were the second car. One of the most satisfied people I’ve ever met in my life was just leaving with her flat heaped with incredible strawberries. We found the field itself was just steps away on a plateau surrounded by a whole range of rugged green mountains – the sun shone golden, the sky dark blue and clear, a breeze blew, the strawberries were so large and tasty and sweet and juicy and plentiful I almost cried.
When I’d eaten my fill and filled my flat – adequately but certainly not over-achieving – and my back and knees were crying enough, Zoe was simultaneously ready to go with a heaped flat and we paid – $3 a pound! Which I thought very reasonable. On the way home she wondered what people in olden times would have done about strawberries. Gorged themselves in season, we decided. Fermented some, we thought. And dried them, no doubt. If they had sugar, jams would have been made.
I left them covered with a newspaper on the porch that night and next day washed my cache lightly, then sat on the deck and de-stemmed them. It was another lovely day – who cares if it ever reaches 80°.  I ate one every time I walked by the big bowl of them in the kitchen. I froze 3 or 4 quarts, made strawberry shortcake with James Beard’s Cream Biscuits that night, and the next day mixed the remaining ones with heavy cream and sugar and froze them into ice cream. Way to take advantage of a short strawberry season!
When I started out today, I really wanted to write about avocados but how could I when there were these strawberries? So I’ve been spending this Father’s Day trying to find a segue into avocados. I asked Their Father who art Leo about the problem: “How many gallons of water does it take to grow a strawberry,” was his koan.
So I’m going to do what writers are always told not to do: Quote myself.
“Oh, do relax,” I told myself. “Be in the moment. What does it matter?”
I forgot to say that I made a strawberry salsa, with tomatoes and jalapenos and cilantro. And an avocado (segue accomplished!).
You don’t need a recipe for that, or for avocado toast, but a push in that direction might be in order. Because that, too, is delicious if not particularly seasonal.
Toast or griddle or grill a piece of grainy, seedy bread. Butter it liberally. Halve an avocado, cut one half into slices in the shell with a table knife, scrape it out onto the toast, squash down with the tines of a fork, salt and pepper liberally, and eat it. That’s what I had for breakfast/brunch before we went strawberry picking, and when Zoe came out and said she was hungry I knew she wanted me to make her an omelet with sorrel but I made her the avocado toast instead. And then I had to make her another. Lucky I had lots of avocados because she was hungry for another AFTER strawberrying so I made one more and we shared it.

Perhaps this had gotten lodged in my mind after my friend Barbara brought her version to one of our Fridays@Fives. Her dish that evening consisted of thin, grilled, oiled slices of baguette piled with mashed grilled avocado and grilled slices of shiitake, topped with snap peas thinly sliced at an angle She scattered baby mesclun over the top. It was a beautiful presentation and delicious as well. 

She adapted it from this (rather fussy) recipe:
Warm Avocado Tartine with Morel Mushrooms and Pea Salad
Recipe adapted from Ben Ford, Ford's Filling Station, Los Angeles, CA
Yield: 2 servings
·         ¼ pound morels—cleaned, trimmed and sliced into rounds
·         5 tablespoons, plus 1 teaspoon, olive oil, divided
·         2 garlic cloves, 1 smashed, 1 left whole
·         1 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
·         Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
·         1 avocado, halved and seeded
·         1 tablespoon, plus 1 teaspoon, fresh lemon juice, divided
·         Two ½-inch slices of whole wheat bread
·         1 cup (about 3 ounces) snap peas, stemmed and thinly sliced at an angle
·         ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
·         3 tablespoons hazelnuts, roasted and chopped
·         1 tablespoon honey
·         Flaky sea salt, to top

1. In a mixing bowl, toss the mushrooms with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the smashed garlic clove and the thyme. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat and add the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic.

2. Meanwhile, brush the avocado halves with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and grill alongside the mushrooms, flesh-side down, until lightly charred, 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Remove the mushrooms and avocado and set aside.

4. Scoop the avocado into a bowl and smash with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and salt. Set aside.

5. Using a pastry brush, brush both sides of the bread with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Grill until the bread is lightly charred, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Remove and scrape both sides of the bread with the whole garlic clove. Season with salt.

6. In a small mixing bowl, combine the snap peas, remaining lemon juice, lemon zest and 1 teaspoon of the olive oil. Season with salt and toss.

7. Spread the avocado mash on top of the toast. Top with the morels, pea salad and hazelnuts. Serve the toasts with a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt.


FYI: According to Mother Jones magazine, one strawberry requires 0.4 gallons of water, which would be about 13 gallons per pound. One pound of avocados takes 74.1 gallons. Just ramshackling here...

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

no morel in these mushrooms

Morels, hateful to say, exist in a state of non this year, or if they exist they are those yucky little thin and smooth skinned ones that hardly seem to be morels – and those I only saw in a photo on Facebook; who knows if they really did exist. It was that burst of heat a few weeks back that did them in, and the arid May. Morels need a mellow rain preceded by April and followed by a humid heat – a morel-breeder, we call it. And you need to spot one to begin to believe your own eyes, and bend over, and with your nose pointed at the one you saw you let your eyes roam in a circle and they seem to pop up before you. Instantaneously. If you’re lucky.
These eyes have not spotted one morel this year and so my contention is that they do not exist. It is not quite too late, though, and hope still blooms, if dowdily.

Not really as a substitute for morels but good in their own right are the shiitakes I’ve been buying at the Farmers’ Market from Heather and Jim at Foggy Meadow’s stand and, although they are grown purposefully on logs and can be gotten at any time of the year, I’m finding them very tasty. Leo was gone for a few days and, finding myself able to feed myself what and when (not to mention where) I wanted without considering anyone else, one night I fed myself shiitakes in cream, Thomas’s heavy cream, with good buttered toast from the French baker at the Market. At about 8:30 at night. While watching Still Alice – which wasn’t a very good movie, in my opinion, compared to the book.
But, what was I saying?

 Oh right. You might think that was a recipe for indigestion and you might be right. I believe I took a teaspoon of Yoder Farm raw cider vinegar in a little glass of water a while after that extravaganza, in the way I’ve come upon to keep the body alkalinity in balance with the stomach’s acidity. All was good.
Speaking of heavy cream – and I did back in October of 2010, in a column about Thomas Dairy– dotter Zoe and I were down in Cape Cod (we left the day after Leo got back from the Northeast Kingdom – which provided a nice vacation from each other for both of us), when she picked up a pint of Kimball Brook Farm Heavy Cream for our morning coffee. We were glad to see an excellent Vermont product on shelves at the Cape, but we did wonder at the print on the bottle – it said it was homogenized! Heavy cream needn’t – indeed, cannot – be homogenized because homogenization means putting back together the centrifugally separated cream and milk in certain percentages to make skim, 1%, 2%, half and half, in such a way that they won’t separate again. It’s done by passing the liquid under high pressure through a tiny orifice, making the fat globules smaller, increasing their number and surface area, which keeps them suspended throughout the more watery substance and prevents the cream from rising to the surface (and there is some evidence that the smaller globules of fat produced in this process are able to get caught on the walls of the arteries and can clog them). Heavy cream has nothing to be combined with so the word homogenized on the carton is nonsensical. Sure enough, when I got in touch with Cheryl DeVos at Kimball Brook I found that the label is standardized, with just the name of the item – in this case heavy cream – differentiated.
It is the process of homogenization that has made me advocate for non-homogenized cream-line milk from dairies, and Kimball Brook offers an excellent one but you have to ask your grocer to stock it. That Thomas’s doesn’t offer one has proven to be less important with the advent of the new raw-milk rules passed by the state in this last legislative session that make it possible to buy raw milk – naturally unhomogenized, naturally cream-line, naturally unpasteurized – at Farmers’ Markets. I bought some Saturday in Rutland from The Larson Farm. Talk about fresh. Talk about creamy. Talk about mouth feel. Well. Quit talking and drink. It’s delicious, and healthy in ways differently from other foods.
If you have a distrust of unpasteurized milk but still want unhomogenized, please ask your grocer to stock Kimball Brook’s cream-line. Because, if no one buys it they won’t make it.
The Cape provided us with a powerful dose of ocean that we badly needed, and we came back from all that beautiful blue to beautiful green Vermont in time to get to the Market where I bought the good milk and even more shiitakes from Heather and Jim. I think I’ll make a pizza with them tonight – sauté them first in olive oil with some of my green garlic, a plethora of them, really; and strew them thickly on the pizza dough (over some fresh oregano leaves) with some added sliced green garlic, then towards the end of baking strew grated parmesan and a few drops of heavy cream over to finish baking. That sounds good, doesn’t it?
So now, a recipe. How about one for
A Cream of Mushrooms
for one
Take the stems from 4 ounces of shiitake mushrooms (or other mushrooms, or mixture of mushrooms, but not morels*). Put the stems in a saucepan and cover with water and bring to a low boil or a high simmer and leave them there for half an hour, adding water to keep them covered. Reserve.
Slice the shiitake tops and add them to a sauté pan over medium heat into which—when it’s hot –  a knob of butter has been melted with a glug of good olive oil until the oil becomes wavy. Once the slices are added turn the heat to low and let them simmer until they have let off any liquid and, in turn, simmered the liquid back off. Then add a glug – 2 tablespoons, say – of sherry or marsala or port or... something flavorful, and strain in the reserved shiitake stem broth and cook until almost dry. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. By all this adding liquid and cooking it off, we’re concentrating flavor.
Meanwhile, make some good toast and butter it well and cut it into fingers.
Finally, add heavy cream to the mushrooms – as much as you like: do you want a sauce or a soup? – and heat until just beginning to bubble. Grate some nutmeg over it. Stir it in.
Ladle the mushrooms into a sauce dish or soup bowl, scrape the pan out good, place the mushrooms on a tray with a nice napkin. Put the toast on a plate on the tray. Pour a glass of wine or sherry and place it on the tray. Do you have a flower? Take the tray to your favorite space at the moment and be mindful of every bite.

*Morels –should you be lucky enough – should be sliced in half, the critters brushed out of the stem and the craters; dusted with flour, and fried in butter until crisp. That is all. Respects must be paid.