Even in this fall, so generous with its glory, the time change has been painful. It’s bad enough that the days are getting shorter so quickly, without a whole hour suddenly yanked out from under you. So I’ve decided just to ignore it. Oh yeah, I changed the clocks, but instead of going to bed at 11 o’clock by the clock I’ll go at 10, or even 9, or maybe 8. I’ll get up when the clock says 6, or whenever I damned well please. Somewhere that feels like it would have been 7 a week or so ago. My natural wake-up time. We’ll eat dinner at ... well, maybe 7, still. The only problem is wine – I’d feel too guilty if I drank when the clock said 4, so I’ll just wait until it tells me 5.
This morning, the tiniest crescent moon in the dark eastern sky below the most radiant Venus I’d ever seen, then a beautiful pink sunrise, but only for about 10 minutes, that I would’ve missed if I’d gone by the new time. Like a sheep. The weather has been so clement that I find myself still outside digging Jerusalem artichokes or cutting down perennials until it’s pitch dark, and skunk-o’clock, I tell my little dog, Dakity. In we go.
Perhaps that’s why I have not experienced that moment, that happens each fall where I’m cooking pork chops and apples – something too substantial – and it’s dark, and we’re sitting reading at the table, and the storm windows have replaced the screens in the door, the fire is licking up the chimney, and instead of feeling bucolic I feel claustrophobic, depressed about the whole thing. But this year there’s been a variety or openness about the hours and the days, and a different headset about getting dinner on the table. What do I want to eat? What needs to be cooked?
The other night it was Late Fall mushrooms from the maple stump in the yard, baked butternut squash, some Brussels Sprouts’ tops (the new IN thing this year) in the sauté pan, and beets boiling forever, like nigh onto 2 hours. Maybe I stored them a little long in the fridge.
Not a bit o’meat here, you’ll notice, or at least Leo did. But the next day I started a three day stint of making bone broth. Got some beef knuckles and marrow bones from Bald Mountain Farm Store on Cold River Road at the Hubbard place, put them in a lobster pot, covered them with water and boiled them slowly all day. In the evening I mashed some of the marrow fat on bread and salted it. What a treat! The second day I went through the freezer and found some meaty shank bones, and some pot au feu juice, added them and boiled again, slowly, all that day, too, as well as the next. We had an Asian beef salad in homemade pita that second night, noodle bowls the third – soba noodles with scallions and shredded carrots, doused in boiling broth, and eaten. Because that pure bone broth is incredibly tasty, and some say very healthy. The only addition I made to it was half a carrot that was left over from shredding for the noodle bowls. And some salt.
After I strained all the bones out – they were falling apart by then – I simmered the broth down some more until it cooled and solidified into 5 pint jars. More bouillon than consommé, even.
The reason the idea of bone broth took hold of me is that nonsense – I’m sure you read about it – about red meat causing cancer. Really? Are we making any differentiation between grass-fed, organic beef and the gawdawful industrialized crap most people are used to eating? It made me mad, and so I made an essence of good beef – its very essence.
And, because I’d gone to Bald Mountain, I had those bones. And a lot of stories. I had emailed them in the morning asking if they’d be open that afternoon. Oh yes, they were always open, was the answer. When I got there, sure ‘nuff, they were all locked up, but with a note on the door saying someone was around to open up for me if I would just call this number. I called the number and ... left a message. And I was irritated. But then I began to look around.
The first thing I noticed were some big humped birds resting on the old red trucks in what must be the Hubbard truck graveyard. Turkeys? No. Peacocks. Or peahens. And then a big brown bunny hopped by (Theo told me later that there were white ones as well, and, well, of course spotted ones, too.) Big brown and black and white chickens were stalking about their fenced-in yard. A Big Old Dog (named Tank, I found out later), ambled by emitting a ferociously lazy grumble. Turkeys in the distance. Angus across the road. All the animals are BIG! And then Brigid came back – blond and chic and kind of shy and full of stories – and let me in. She is Theo’s mother, married to the original Ted R Hubbard’s son. Theo is the one who dreamed up this organic meats store. She told me that the original Ted R Hubbard, back in the 20’s (I may have these generations mixed up or I may’ve missed one) was raising hogs and he’d go to various houses and businesses around town to pick up their table scraps to bring home to feed his pigs. Soon a lightbulb went off and he realized there was money to be made in this going to people’s houses and taking away stuff they didn’t want anymore. Getting paid for it as well as feeding his pigs with it. So was born “Ted R. HubbARD, Trash Hauling”. All these years later there are pigs on the farm again, and chickens and beef and... well, peacocks, looking like nothing so much as big ole guinea hens. Or Aryan war helmets.
Next day or so I stopped by for a strip steak – it’s all grass fed beef, not an ounce of grain, and they’re proud of its marbling – and Brigid asked me if I would like one that wasn’t frozen. Apparently she thaws some and keeps them in a separate fridge for those who want to cook a steak for dinner and don’t have time to thaw it. When I asked about the birds – peahens or peacocks? – she told me the story of an old peahen whose mate had gotten squashed somewhere, she just pining away for chicks, and so Brigid took one of her hens’ eggs and gave it to the peahen and she hatched it and nursed it and is now followed around by a large brown chicken.
That number I’d called? Theo called me back just as I was getting in the car after talking with Brigid. It’s a little hit or miss but it works.
Those shorter days got me cooking more than beef broth, though. In interstices of time, I made three jam jars full of the simplest – and best – chocolate mousse in the world – recipe below. On a different note, I made a sauce with all the vegetables on the counter that needed to be cooked – mostly tomatoes that hadn’t ripened on the vine and a few peppers, and gnarly little apples.
I’d started that pita dough in the morning with a couple cups of flour, a teensy bit of yeast – ¼ teaspoon at the most – salt, some yogurt and enough whole, raw milk to make a rather stiff dough. I figured it would get a little more liquidy as the day went on and it fermented and rose, but it didn’t, and the pitas were not that great. I just took golfball-sized pieces of dough and flattened them out in a tortilla press before I griddled them. They worked with the shredded beef salad.
Then I added more flour and a little water to the leftover dough and let it sit out all night to rise. It didn’t rise much, but the next morning I tossed it anyway – I was tired of dealing with it – into a sizzling hot cast iron pan that I’d heated along with the oven to 450°, covered it and baked it for half an hour, then took it out of the pan, turned it on its top in the oven turned down to 350° for another 20 minutes until it sounded hollow when thumped. It turned out to be a pretty good loaf of bread, tender and tightly grained because of the milk and yogurt, but tasty and pleasant!
Turns out that bread – slathered with the butter I talked about last time, which is cultured by Ploughgate Creamery from Fayston, and available at the Co-op – when topped with the aforementioned chocolate mousse – makes a pretty good stand-in for Pain au Chocolat or even a chocolate croissant. And the mousse could not be easier to make (nor the bread, for that matter).
- 7 ounces very dark and good chocolate, chopped coarsely
- 1 can (13.5 oz) whole coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
Melt the chocolate over hot water – that is, heat some water in a pan, place a bowl over, not in, the simmering water, add the chocolate pieces, stir with a rubber spatula until the chocolate is just melted. Take from the heat. Pour and scrape the coconut milk into a blender, turn on low, scrape the chocolate into the coconut milk and then add the chia seeds. Process until smooth. Pour into 4 ramekins or 3 jelly jars. Decorate with dried, unsweetened coconut if you like. Refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.
The jelly jars make nice little gifts for your favorite people, and you still have enough for your ownself.
Food leaves its own crooked little trail, doesn’t it? Hungry or not, you gotta love it.