Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Unadulterated drinking water – a necessity for civilized people

(This was an op-ed that appeared in the Rutland Herald Wednesday, February 10. 
I'll leave it as it is, though I would make it much stronger if I were to write it today)

When I was a child growing up in Michigan, I visited Genesee County every summer to stay with relatives at their farms in the area. I also visited my Aunt Nina in the city of Flint where we were prohibited from taking the teensiest sip of tap water. This was in the 1950s. Old iron pipes, corrosion and high lead levels evidently have only grown worse as Flint tragically transitioned from a healthy metropolis into an impoverished ghetto whose water is shaving children’s intelligence down to a nub.  The drinking water was a sign even then, though, that Flint was not husbanding its citizens well, respecting their right to clean, unadulterated water. That right must supersede money and industry in a sustainable world.

As a child, however, I had no shortage of good water. We had perfect, icy cold, good tasting well water at home and on the farms, and of course Aunt Nine would bring a gallon or so home with her every day from Pa’s farm, to cook with and brush teeth, and drink in a pinch.

Keeping filthy Flint water in mind, let’s switch back to present-day Rutland, whose water has never had a very good reputation either. When we lived there in the ‘70s, we were told Rutland water was bad, and it tasted bad. Again, old pipes – ancient, even – iron and corrosion. Don’t know if we even knew what the lead levels were then. As I remember, there wasn’t much we could do about it. Bottled water was not a thing yet and we didn’t know the area well enough, and our brains hadn’t evolved far enough to think it was so important as to haul water from a spring. Besides, there was chlorine added to it to kill all the bad things and, if we had but thought, good things, too. But chlorine was necessary, so we accepted it.

Chlorine is one of those devilish blessings we’ve had to contend with in town water supplies ever since it was found effective in the early 1900s for combating the waste that humans create when they gather in groups. In that, we apparently resemble beavers, although beaver poop does not probably sicken beavers, only humans. Human waste sickens all of nature, not least because we ingest so many chemicals. Like chlorine. And fluoride.

We add chlorine to the water because if we didn’t it would make us sick. We would not be able to drink the water and we would die. Simple as that. Water is perhaps the most important nourishment of human life. As I said before, the right to clean, unadulterated water should stand far above industry and politics.

DPW workers in our cities and towns and villages have the tremendous responsibility to add the right amount of chlorine to our water – enough to kill the bad things; little enough not to kill us. But a visit to Rutland’s Water Filtration Plant web page will tell you that they have the responsibility for adding more chemicals than chlorine to the water supply. Under the heading the “Slow Sand Water Filtration Facility” is this information, “At the facility, we filter the water then add the following chemicals:  Chlorine for disinfection, Hydrofluorosilicic Acid (Flouride) for dental care, and Zinc Orthophosphate for corrosion control.”

Dental care! What an idea! Adding chemicals to our water for our choppers! In that vein why not add anti-depressants, anti-biotics, anti-psychotics, or Shalimar, for that matter. Might as well smell good while we’re all being medicated whether we like it or not. Or wait! Tranquilizers, to quiet us all down so we can’t object to things like fluoride being put in our water. S/he who controls the water controls the masses, to paraphrase... some wise person.

I don’t live in Rutland anymore. Sometimes the smell of chlorine in my village water is overpowering and at those times I take a big jug up to the Church Street spring and bring home a few gallons. We voted down fluoridation of our water many years ago. I don’t think our teeth are any worse than Rutland’s, and, most importantly we are not medicating people with fluoride every time they take a drink of water.
We could take a side trip and ask, What is this fluoride stuff anyway? An article in The Lancet Neurology newsletter dated 2/14, Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity introduces its findings by saying, “Neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and other cognitive impairments, affect millions of children worldwide, and some diagnoses seem to be increasing in frequency. Industrial chemicals that injure the developing brain are among the known causes for this rise in prevalence.”

Further on, the authors, Grandjean and Landrigen, both MDs, report that “A meta-analysis of 27 cross-sectional studies of children exposed to fluoride in drinking water, mainly from China, suggests an average IQ decrement of about seven points in children exposed to raised fluoride concentrations. Confounding from other substances seemed unlikely in most of these studies.”

That’s 7 points shaved off your child’s intelligence by something put into drinking water. On average.
Elsewhere in the same article the authors point out that “...the presumption that new chemicals and technologies are safe until proven otherwise is a fundamental problem.” I would take that little word “new” out of the mix and make this retroactive. Fluoride is not new but it has not been proved safe, especially when it is put in our water.

Lancet, as you probably know, is a highly respected publication.

My children and their families do live in Rutland. I want their water to be as pristine as possible. Whether fluoride is effective in preventing tooth decay or not is beside the point – it has no place in our drinking water.
My daughter, Isobel, who discussed this article with me and did some research for it, said, “This is about a population’s right to choose not to have dental treatments in their drinking water.” As a nurse studying for her master’s degree, she is well aware of the fact that medical and dental treatments must be performed only by choice. “Consent is the key here,” she told me. “I’ll take my water free of everything it can be free of, and I’ll get my dental treatments at my own discretion!”

Flint serves as an extreme example of disrespecting people’s need of clean drinking water. We simply cannot afford to take the tiniest step down that road. We must not adulterate our water any more than absolutely need be. Clean it up, please. Let’s begin by getting the fluoride out!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016


I can get a little intrigued by recipes, and though none come to mind just now some of them that sound bad simply are bad. Some are bad but you see possibilities. Some you just have to try in spite of knowing they can’t be right. Adapt them. Make them right.
I subscribe to a few on-line food blogs, some by friends and some by people such as Ruth Reichl, the former restaurant critic and head of Gourmet Magazine. The New York Times has one called What to cook this week that appears in my inbox a few times a week. Last week they had a technique that they said was for those gawdawful store-bought winter tomatoes (first, of course, they had to give us a lecture on how sick and tired they were of the ‘eat local’ imperative): halve them and put them in a casserole, add some herbs and a Bunch of olive oil – way too much, like 5 or 6 cups (who would do that?) and roast them at 250° for a couple of hours. Well, I would never go out and buy 2 ½ pounds of grocery store tomatoes but I had a 2.5 pound package of end-of-season Pratico tomatoes that hadn’t been perfectly ripe when I froze them, and I got them out and halved them and put them in a clay casserole and sprinkled them with rosemary, bay leaf, and thyme, 6 whole, peeled cloves of garlic, a couple of slices of ginger, then poured over maybe a cup and a half of olive oil. Roasted them for a couple of hours.
The result was about 2 cups of jammy tomatoes, about 1+ cup of tomato-y olive oil, and a couple of cups of tomato broth. A long time ago – in the parlance of credulous seekers of whatever was new— it was called tomato water and it made a big ‘splash’, ha ha, but I will simply call it tomato broth.
A lot of the jammy tomatoes were smeared onto a pizza, along with a drizzle of the tomato-y olive oil, but what was really good were some cod loins that I seared in the tomato olive oil, then plopped into bowls of the tomato broth along with some of the tomatoes and some of the buckwheat noodles called soba. Now that was delicious.
What are cod loins, you ask. This, from Great British Chefs: “As cod can be a large fish, the fillet is often too big for a single portion. It is therefore possible to buy the cod loin, which is cut from the middle section or fattest part of the fillet. Succulent loins are short and fat compared to longer cod fillets and they are considered the prime cut.” Doh!
This circumvents the problem of cooking the skinny end – the mermaid fin – along with the fat breast meat of a regular fillet, the mermaid swisher needing far less time to cook than the brawny chest. The loin, for the privileged few, for a buck more, is a piece of cod about 1 ½ inches square and maybe 4 inches long. It is amazing how good fresh well-treated fish can taste when done right.
You can find these at Green Mountain Fresh on State Street across from the courthouse in Rutland. GMF really is the place to buy your fresh fish nowadays – Boston Harbor one day, on your dinner table the next. They have frozen and farmed fish, too. I usually prefer frozen fish, as they are flash frozen on the ship when caught, but these are so fresh... why take that extra step.  The E-Z Peel shrimp are more delicious than I like to say, and they are farmed in Ecuador. What makes them so delicious? I wonder!
And I’m not saying this because John gave us passes to the Boston Seafood Show in a couple of weeks, either.
Anyway, that little fish stew/soup/broth was really good.
If you have some frozen whole tomatoes or want to buy some at the grocery store or hydroponic ones from somewhere fairly close, try out roasting them with quite a bit of olive oil and garlic and herbs as I outlined above. And use them any way you like. But do try this:
Cod loins in Tomato Broth
(serves 2)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato olive oil
  • 1 lb cod loins cut in squares
  • 3 cups tomato broth (you can flesh what you have out with chicken broth or other veggie broth
  • some pinches of the jammy tomatoes
  • 6 large green olives, pitted
  • 3 scallions cut diagonally including the green tops
  • a small bunch of cilantro, chopped finely
  • 3 ounces soba (buckwheat) noodles cooked to package directions
Heat the oven to 375°.
Heat the olive oil in a hot sauté pan over medium heat, scatter in the cod loins, let them cook for a minute and turn them. they’ll get slightly brown on all 4 sides. Don’t cook them too much. Take from the heat. Add the broth, the tomatoes and the green olives. Place in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Don’t overcook the cod. Make sure they’re still translucent in the center.
Meanwhile, cook the noodles. The usual directions are to add them to a sufficient amount of boiling water (not 7 gallons as the package says, but sufficient) and cook for 5 minutes, drain, refresh in cold water and drain again.
Ready to serve? Divide the noodles into two bowls. Divide the cod and broth into two bowls, scatter with the scallions and cilantro. Eat up.
PS: You may drizzle the hot soup with a little Jeon sauce – equal parts of soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil.
Adaptation – it’s the name of the game!

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Plenty: more than enough

Leo gave me a book for Christmas that I had limited interest in reading – it was the autobiography of Gloria Steinem –  so I exchanged it for a cookbook. I do consider myself a feminist but am more interested in cooking than how Gloria stays cute in spite of her feminism and her age.
I seldom buy cookbooks – has anything new been written since Elizabeth David? I’d wanted this one for a while, though, Ottolenghi’s Plenty. Why? Vegetables! I’m tired of my usual treatments of them. I bought my son, Jerusalem, also by Ottolenghi, for the same reason. If you buy locally you need to work to put some excitement into beets and parsnips in the wintertime. Different spices, treatments, combinations. Presentations. Ethnicities. “And,” I explained to his quizzical look, “it’s not as though you need to spend a mint on spices. The Co-op has a fresh and inexpensive quality selection in their bulk department. Best buy in town.”
Plenty was a couple bucks more than the $29 Steinem book and deciding not to belabor the fact that you could feed a person for almost a week for that price, the prevalence of hunger on the streets, the... well I DID say not to belabor, right... I think I would concentrate on the vibrancy of its photos and the usefulness of its suggestions. This is not a baking book, where you need to follow a recipe perfectly, it is a vegetable book, and suggestions do quite well, putting even direct orders to task. For instance, in Roasted parsnips and sweet potatoes with caper vinaigrette, I really liked the combination of those two vegetables with cherry tomatoes and a vinaigrette of  lemon, capers, maple syrup and dijon mustard with a garnish of sesame seeds. My note to myself, though, is to “cut parsnips and sweet potatoes the same size, put all in the roasting pan at the same time and don’t forget the sesame seeds.” I did follow directions to a T the first time but now would spread out to make this dish my own. Little Moroccan oil-cured olives would be good in it. Whole heads of garlic cut in half and roasted along with everything else are just so. darned. good! And gorgeous.
Another idea, this of adding almonds and Medjool dates to arugula with a crumble of Turkish sheep’s cheese (I would use feta) with some dill and basil and red chard leaves? And adding pomegranate molasses to olive oil for the dressing? I really need that little February push of pomegranate. And dates. I think you can get most of the ingredients at the Co-op.
The photos are luscious: Small, thin watermelon wedges drizzled with some olive oil, basil leaves, Turkish cheese and thinly sliced onions with some coarsely ground pepper look wonderfully messy aside a scooped-out wedge of rind but I scarcely need a recipe for it. Oh, but doesn’t it sound good on this February morning?
I’m working from the back of the book forward as I write here, just as I worked from the front when I first got the book, cooking as I went. Supposedly I would meet myself in the middle if I continued in this manner, but the front of the book is more seasonal, so I may just have to go back there. But first, here’s a Quinoa salad with dried Persian lime, and I remember that someone told Leo to tell me that she wanted to know what to do with quinoa. Ottolinghi has lots of ideas. Dried lime skin, though, may not be available to most people. I happen to have slivers of it that I’ve had for a hundred years and now I’ve put some into a clean coffee grinder and made the powder the recipe calls for. Way to spend a half hour or so, Sharon. But Ottolenghi tells us that it is addictive, this dust, and so I will try it out.
As for quinoa, wouldn’t you agree with me that it should be used in the same way rice is, as a little starch, lighter than most? To cook it, Ottolenghi tells us, “Place (1 cup) quinoa in a saucepan with plenty of water, bring to the boil and simmer for 9 minutes. Drain in a fine sieve, rinse under cold water and leave to dry.” Here’s another quinoa recipe on page 228, “a simple salad for a spring brunch,” involving avocado and fava beans. Oh yum, especially when adding in lemons, garlic, and radishes, with cumin, olive oil and chile flakes. Another reason to anticipate spring.
In a recipe for Fried lima beans with feta, sorrel, and sumac, he tells us to use spinach and double the amount of lemon juice if you can’t find sorrel. That’s handy advice but I say get some seeds and grow it in any crevice you can find. The spear shaped leaves are wonderfully sour in omelets and stews and even salads and they are the first green in spring and the last in fall. I wouldn’t be surprised if I could still find a good leaf or two in my garden this weird winter.
Lentils and chickpeas, rices and quinoa are his starches, along with several kinds of beans, as in Mixed beans with many spices and lovage, another of the herbs I’m constantly urging you to grow for its celery/tarragon taste. Here’s another treasure – Caramelized fennel with goat cheese. I hope I remember this in fennel season. Yes, I am aware that the supermarket is liable to have it now. I may have to indulge.
Let’s face it, I’m not going to get back to the beginning of this book where I especially love a Spicy Moroccan carrot salad, which I may make tonight because I do have some of those big sweet Farmers’ Market carrots from either Greg or Paul, I can’t remember which. I loved the Beet, orange and black olive salad except for the olives. I think I’d substitute those little Moroccan ones next time. It’s served on bitter radicchio. But right now I am going to give you a recipe I haven’t tried yet but will as soon as I can get some endive.
Nutty endive with Roquefort
from Plenty, by Ottolinghi
  • 1 ¾ oz Roquefort cheese
  • ¾ cup Crème fraîche
  • white pepper
  • 1/3 cup roughly chopped pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup roughly chopped walnuts
  • 1 tsp butter
  • salt
  • 2 endives
  • a few leaves of radicchio, Treviso or baby chard
Grate the Roquefort on a coarse grater and place in a bowl with the crème fraîche and some white pepper. Use a whisk to mix thoroughly to a thick mixture. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
In a hot frying pan lightly toast the nuts with the butter and a pinch of salt. Keep shaking the pan to get an even golden color on all the nuts. Leave to cool.
Trim the base of the endives and pick off the outer leaves. Trim a bit more to remove more leaves until you get to the core. Using your hands, smear each leaf with plenty of the Roquefort mix. Form bundles of six to eight leaves pressed together each leaf partly encased in a larger one.
Line a serving dish with some red leaves. Place a few bundles of endive on top, stacking them or leaving them standing against each other. Sprinkle generously with the toasted nuts and serve.
Ottolenghi suggests this as a ‘starter’. I think I would arrange single crème fraîched leaves on a platter and scatter the nuts over all the leaves for an hors d’oeuvre.

Ottolenghi’s Plenty! I think this kind of book is worthwhile when you need to put some vegetable energy into February. Is it worth all the coggs being jogged, the immense environmental and energetic expense that it takes to make a book like this? That’s up to you to decide. But remember that you can pass it on and around to family and friends. You might even get to taste the results.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Making bread can be hard work. First you have to measure all this flour and decide to salt or not to salt at this stage of the game, or when, and how much sourdough (first making the sourdough, which takes lifetimes) or yeast – and if yeast what kind of yeast, the little blocks of it you get at the grocery store or the granules you get at the Co-op; then water – how much, you don’t want dough soup – and then there’s the mixing. A backbreaking undertaking. Kneading, too – you need strong hands for that, fighter’s hands. Also time, oodles of time, to let it rise and punch it back down and let it rise again. Sounds like a war, doesn’t it. And then, do you cover it or not, put it in a warm place or cool, for how long.
And then the question arises, Is it good for you? So many people seem to have some ‘gluten sensitivity to all those white carbohydrates. Even brown ones, or rye ones, or seedy. Doesn’t it all turn to sugar in the intestines? And how do they grow wheat these days, and what have they done to it before they plant it. Maybe better just to grab a loaf at the grocery store and pretend you didn’t –“Let’s don’t and say we do”, as my weary grandmother used to say. And we’re not talking Wonder bread here, we’re talking artisan-of-some-sort bread, at anywhere from $5 to $10 a pop! It’s expensive, man, and you don’t want to see it turn blue so you eat it up without further ado.
But I dunno, there’s just something about bread...  I can’t let it go, and neither can you. I know you! And that’s why I keep mentioning it, writing about it. Good bread, I say. The best bread is, I say. And that’s why I keep trying to find MY method of making it.
I make a decent pizza dough with a lot of yeast and a lot of warmth in a very short time. It can also be formed into a loaf and it tastes really good as bread – kinda like the French baguette, but I’m sure it simply is not a nutritious thing. Too danged easy. Too danged fast, too much yeast. That loaf or crust simply explodes into being!
I loved Bear Mountain Bakers’ bread and cried with the rest of you when Chris had to shut it down just months after Ray died because of the deteriorating wood-fired oven. Their bread had the physicality of their own souls and the taste of their lives, but it is no more. Grandbabies have taken Chris over. Ooh La La Bakery at the Farmers’ Market makes wonderfully seedy and chewy bread, and there are other makers, too, but something goads me into trying to make my own.
Chris gave me some of the Bear Mountain starter when she closed down. I tried that, shared it with a friend who’s keeping it going a good year after I gave it to him, but mine got away from me, and my bread in the meantime didn’t translate into Bear Mountain’s. Even Chris found it simply wasn’t the same without that big brick oven.
I’d had pretty good luck with the no-knead bread, but still wanted something more like sourdough but easier. But just as good. And nutritious.
all mixed up and ready to go
cover with a damp cloth
but not all the way
Well, hold onto your hats. I think I’ve found it. The bread I’m making now could not be easier  and its flavor is the best, with a texture so similar to Bear Mountain’s Honey Oatmeal it’s not even funny. And instead of $$$, it costs ¢¢¢.

I use a tiny amount of yeast – 1/8 teaspoon to 1 ½ pounds of flour – and I let it rise anywhere from 17 to – so far – 24 hours, and I don’t touch it or worry about it in between mixing it and baking it and I do not  add any more flour after it’s risen, so that every speck of it has been fermented. That transforms the wheat into something more easily digestible, some say, and develops the flavor exponentially.  When I put it to rest I cover it with a damp clean (duh) dishtowel, but not completely – I fold it back a tad so that whatever microbes are in my kitchen have a chance to add their power to that little bit of yeast. It takes me 10 minutes to mix it up and 5 minutes to get it in the pan when I’m ready to bake it, and it bakes for give or take 50 minutes. As I say, I don’t touch it in-between. I mix it up at my convenience, and I bake it off the same. At this rate I could make a loaf every day and give 2 out of 3 away. If we all did that we’d be able to feed the hungry. It makes a big loaf (for 2 people) so I can cut it in half and give half to a friend.
19 hours later i'm going to bake it
In the roaring hot pan, dotted with 
olive oil, sprinkled with coarse salt,
put the hot cover on and back into
the oven
half done, take it from the pan with tongs and put it back into the oven top down to finish baking

As for ingredients, so far I’ve been using King Arthur’s white but will begin to experiment with Vermont grown grains such as Gleason’s, available at the Co-op. I’ve begun to add seeds – nigella, cumin, hemp hearts, sunflower and sesame seeds, usually a combination of 2 or 3, and not too many, considering all the time the strength of their comparative flavors – and shortly I’ll begin to add in handfuls of different grains – buckwheat and rye, semolina and/or whole wheat. I haven’t added in nuts yet, nor dried fruits, but I can’t wait to experiment with them.
I use a stand mixer to make the dough, but it certainly could be done by hand. I would not use a food processor because the dough needs the action to be stretching and kneading, not cutting. I use a deep cast iron frying pan with a cover to bake the loaf in.
Here’s a basic recipe:
Sharon’s Loaf
  • 1 ½ pound flour (about 4 ½ to 5 cups)
  • 1 rounded teaspoon sea salt – don’t skimp
  • 1/8 teaspoon yeast – skimping allowed
  • scant 2 cups distilled or filtered water
  • 3 or 4 tablespoons sunflower seeds plus 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
    or1 heaping teaspoon nigella seeds plus 2 teaspoons of cumin seed and 1 tablespoon sesame seeds.  
In the bowl of a mixer, if you have one, measure the flour, salt, yeast and optional ingredients. Whisk them up and, using a dough hook, add enough of the water to make a moist ball of dough, firm, not runny. If you add too much water just work it a little longer and it will probably come together. If that doesn’t work then add a bit more flour.
Mix it well, then set the bowl aside in a cool place. Dampen a clean dish cloth and cover most of the bowl. Leave it undisturbed for 17 to 24 hours. It will rise to at least double and perhaps even triple its beginning bulk.
When ready to bake the bread, heat a heavy covered casserole in the oven to 450°. Take the pan from the oven and scrape the dough into it– do not add anything to the dough at this point, just scrape. Don’t arrange it or tamp it down. You may drizzle it  with a little olive oil and sprinkle with flakey sea salt, put the cover back on, put the pan in the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Take the pan from the oven, the loaf from the pan (it will have almost filled the circumference of the pan, be nicely domed and the crust nicely lapped and cracked and golden brown) and put it back into the oven upside down. Turn the oven to 400° and let the bread bake for another 23 minutes. It will get dark but watch that it doesn’t burn.
Place the loaf on a rack and let it cool, if you can wait. I’m not quite sure what the difference is because the longest time i’ve waited to cut into it is maybe ten minutes.
This produces a very distinct crust that will soften when stored in a bag. The grain will be close with a nice distribution of small air bubbles. It will be moist, not dry. And the flavor will be mellow and grown-up, nicely dressed, nothing raw or fluffy about it. It keeps well.
Imagine a person living in 1375, for instance, who gathers herbs and seeds and nuts and grains and pounds and moistens and mixes and leaves to rise with microbes from his or her own environment and then bakes in embers. That’s a lot of work.
I can imagine that’s what I’m doing except that in my loaf the ingredients are much easier to obtain and I’m leaving the work to fermentation. It would be most interesting to compare loaves made in exactly this way from different environments. I imagine the taste would vary rather stunningly from your kitchen to mine, but I dare say it would all be manna from the gods.
Remember to share.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

rather a burger

A big gray ghost of a pumpkin has been lurking around this household for several weeks if not months. Foisted on me by my friend, RuthieAnnie, as a doorstop or a centerpiece, it has taken legs and moves from the center of the dining room table to the center of the porch and has even been glimpsed out on the deck. I expect, given time, it would be haunting the beach or down by the ponds.  It was a ghostly jack-o-lantern on Halloween; then, a few weeks ago, I said to my dotter, I think we should celebrate Thanksgiving by breaking open this big, gray squash. Her exultant answer was “Yes”. Turns out, though, that she thought I was talking about shooting it or using a sledgehammer, not making Thanksgiving more difficult by actually butchering and then cooking it. 
Few nights ago I decided to break into it in a civilized manner, if that was even possible. Finally, thinking I might lose a finger or even an arm, and just short of disemboweling myself, I put it in the sink over the drain, to keep it from rolling and to get it down to my level, and with the help of an ice pick, a cleaver, and a hammer, finally extricated two lovely crescents. They were a rich orange, moist but not mushy. Wiping the sweat off my brow, I was pretty proud of myself, still breathing hard while trying to listen to Leo, whom I had not seen all day but who had chosen those moments of physical extremity to talk to me about, oh, I don’t know, something about what to do with the Costa Rican coffee he gets from the Audubon Society: should he freeze it?
Why don’t you just do what you’ve been doing with it for the last year or so, I said. Why are you asking me?
Hurt, he said, “I’m just trying to include you in the decision-making process.”
I give you that it is excellent coffee and I will back you up in whatever decision you make, I said. But, Excuse me, I add, do you not see what I’m dealing with here, this monster I’ve managed to break into?
“Yes,” he says, “I hope you win.”
Well, I’d better, I tell him, because this is dinner. Or, if you want something else, you can order it. I was thinking pizza, of course.
“...order it...,” he muses.
Or scramble it yourself, I mutter, disturbed that my squash butchering heroics have gone under-recognized. I was thinking eggs, of course.
“No, that’s fine with me,” he says. “I’d rather have a hamburger, but...pumpkin’s fine.”
A hamburger! How long have I lived with this man. No matter how good it sounds, deciding to have a hamburger at 6:30 on a Saturday night, without prior thought, is pretty impossible. In the olden days (but even then not on a Saturday evening), having a hamburger would involve no more than dashing up to the locker by 4:55 at least and buying a pound, then grilling it. But those days have been gone a good 5 to 7 years, and now the only hamburger I buy is frozen, from the farm. It needs to be planned on in the morning because it needs to be thawed.
It’s only 6:30, maybe you can get a hamburger from Evie at the Wallingford Deli, I suggest.
“No. No,” he says, holding up a brave, forbearing hand. “Squash it shall be!”
I melted a very good chunk of butter in the cast iron frying pan, placed the squash crescents in the butter, sprinkled them with salt and pepper, added 4 very large whole cloves of garlic with the skin on, a couple of bay leaves, threw over all some sliced shallots, put the top on the pan and put it in the preheated oven. About 400°. Baked it for about 20 minutes, took the pan out, turned the crescents over – they were tender – sprinkled with more salt and pepper, basted with the pan juices, scraped a bit of nutmeg, then drizzled a few drops of maple syrup over, put it back in the oven, uncovered, for another 15 minutes.
In the meantime I garnished two plates with the most exquisite little ruffled leaves of baby kale that I’d got from Josh and Meadow Squire at the Farmers’ Market, then placed a squash crescent on each plate, garnished with a neat creamy scoop of chèvre, poured the pan juices over the whole thing, added the roasted cloves of garlic, and we did, I have to say, feast.
Half way through I said, Oh, look at this, it’s a spaghetti squash. That rich burnished, orange flesh was indeed separating itself into the spaghetti texture, a fact that I don’t see mentioned anywhere in reviews of the squash, which goes by the name of Jarrahdale.

“I noticed that,” said Leo.
I noticed that he was treating those precious roasted cloves of garlic as plate-detritis and I asked him if he knew how to eat them, treating them like artichoke leaves, scraping out that unctuous paste from the husk with his teeth.
Not only could we each not clean up our plates of maybe a tenth of that humongous squash (good thing Dakity dog loves squash), but there the rest of it sits on the counter grinning at me like a mal-formed jack-o-lantern, and after I steam enough for a pumpkin pie, I do believe I know where the rest of it’s going to appear next:  in the compost bin!
One must choose one’s battles in this festive season, and mine will be wrapping presents not exploding pumpkins.
Copying a farmer making her last appearance at this winter’s Farmers’ Market on Saturday, I say to you all,
Happy Everything
And thank you ever so much for reading.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015


Up there, near the fork, a little spoonful of smelt caviar to go with my eggs and toast soldiers
Shopping Saturday occurred last weekend – that’s the first Saturday in December, on which my favorite bazaars and Christmas fairs occur, when I get my wreath for the front door, usually at the school Christmas Bazaar, but this year from a selection across the street at St. Patricks church – it was a short walk to bring it home to hang on my front door. Too, that’s the weekend that the Rutland County Farmers’ Market has its holiday fair at College of St. Joseph, and I have to stop by there before or after the Winter Farmers’ Market simply for old times’ sake if nothing else. Remember the years it was held at the Unitarian Church, all the farmers united, so colorful and chaotic? Well, it’s different now but I always find several dear people to catch up with.
I make discoveries, like just how oblivious I can be. I stop to look at the knitted items that Wendy Cijka (pronounced Chicka) of High Pond Goat Farm has for sale. A few years ago I bought a gorgeous black shawl from her for a nice amount of money to be spending on myself with Christmas just around the corner, wrapped it up and put it under the tree. I opened it Christmas morning to my utter delight! This year I emerged from my oblivion an eensie bit to realize that she offers a delicious fresh chèvre made from her goats’ milk. It’s a family operation with her husband, Stephen, son, Joseph, and daughter, Emma. You can find it at Gourmet Provence in Brandon and the Middlebury and Rutland Area Food Co-ops.
I could have eaten the whole container of it, and that in spite of being fresh from the Winter Farmers’ Market, on West Street, where I’d scarfed up quite a large Vietnamese steamed dumpling from Good Karma Kitchen. This was a pale, pillowy thing drizzled with just the right amount of soy sauce and dabbed with the perfect sear of  red pepper. I wish I had one of those right now, but Oh!, I do have some chèvre. Excuse me a moment...
All right, I’m back. I’m a little scattershot today because I had meant to write about butter, as usual, so best to get going on that subject, right? Because butter makes everything better, as does wine, and, come to think of it, egg yolks, especially when there’s a prune filling involved. Damn, the french are good with these things. What other country would dare to boast prunes. I learned of their luxness from my grandmother, who simmered them with a little water then put them into a sauce dish and doused them with fresh heavy cream and ate them for breakfast, delicately slipping the pits back onto the spoon. Now, of course I’d never do that! Would I? Way too lux, wouldn’t you say?
Last August I wrote about clafouti, some of you remember – an eggy, buttery, fruity dessert, somewhere between an omelet and a cake. That set off a round of different versions of clafouti among me and friends, including the one in Larousse  Gastronomique, that was clearly the loser, until finally I tried David Leibovitz’s Far Breton, which in my opinion was clearly the winner, with its prune filling and eggy batter.
Not to mention ease. These sweet things are so simple to make, not what you think of when you think  ‘French’ at all. Shame on you, Julia Child, for inculcating the idea of difficulty in our French food consciousness.
So when I came upon Melissa Clark’s recipe for Gâteau Breton in the New York Times cooking newsletter, I had to make it. Why? Because, usually simply a butter cake from Brittany, this one, along with lots of butter and egg yolks, has a filling aux pruneaux.
Clark mentions a soft, buttery crumb, but I found it had a crisp bite. Both of us thought it resembled shortbread, however. She bakes it for 50 minutes or until golden. Mine was a little browner than golden at 45 minutes. I’d go maybe 40 next time. For prep, factor in the time it takes to chill the dough, about an hour, although I found myself dealing with two hard hunks so I might try not refrigerating them at all next time. I don’t pie crust, which no one can believe.  
I didn’t have superfine sugar so I just put granulated sugar –  with the flour, as it happened – into the blender and processed it fine. Maybe that fine flour made my finished product crisper. I used a tart pan with a removable bottom and didn’t use parchment paper, just buttered it well. I might spray it with pam next time. And then butter it.  And finally, you know, if you don’t have a kitchen scale, think about gifting yourself one. So much easier and much more precise. Mine is a Mira digital, about $17.
Gâteau Breton
adapted from Melissa Clark in the New York Times.  Outrageously easy and so so good.
  • 2 ¼ cups plus 2 1/2 tablespoons/300 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup/200 grams superfine sugar
  • scant teaspoon of flaky sea salt
  • 8 ½ ounces/240 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon), diced, more for buttering the pan
  • 5 plus 1 extra-large egg yolks
  • 16 nice sized pitted prunes
  • 2 tablespoons rum
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons water
In a food processor, pulse to combine flour, sugar and salt. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles bread crumbs. Add 5 egg yolks and pulse until mixture comes together as a dough. Divide in half, form into disks, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill at least 2 hours or until firm.
Meanwhile, in a small pot over medium heat combine prunes, rum and water. Cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed (about 5 minutes). Use a fork to mash into a thick purée. Let it cool.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line an 8-inch round cake pan with parchment paper. Between two sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap, roll one of the dough halves into an 8-inch circle. Transfer dough to prepared cake pan, pressing into edges. Spread prune or apricot purée across dough, leaving 3/4 inch border around outside edge. Roll the second piece of dough into an 8-inch circle, transfer to cake pan, press around outside edge to stick the pieces together and seal in fruit purée.
In a small bowl, combine the remaining egg yolk with 1 teaspoon water and beat lightly. Brush over top of cake, then use a fork to score a crisscross pattern into the dough. Bake until golden brown, about 50 minutes (cover with foil if cake is browning too quickly). Cool in pan 15 minutes. Flip onto a plate, then invert onto a wire rack and let cool completely.
I did not let mine cool completely but sliced it when quite warm into 4 quarters, then cut each quarter into half-inch slices. Half slices of this would fit easily among cookies on a platter.
unfortunately, I did not remember to take a photo of it. It was gorgeous, though. 
I guess that just about covers my food fortnight. Well, I didn’t touch on the caviar I made out of Donna and Hunky’s smelt roe, nor Zoe’s incredible scalloped oysters, nor even Robert’s lovely venison, not to mention the fact that if you do make the Gâteau you’ll have 6 egg whites needing to be made into meringues, but we’re out of space!
Enjoy this holiday season, okay? Relax, and Bon Appétit!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

numinous sproots

little Dakity brings her 3 year old Irish Jack Russell intensity to the sere woods of this autumn

This sere stick season leads up to my favorite holiday, at least in part because Thanksgiving has been the only one devoid of the threat of gifting, that horrendous word for shopping until dropping. But more than that it is the gathering aspect of it, of family and friends, in the kitchens and around the tables, and I won’t mention the television and game aspect, although that’s part of it too, or it was. People still do gather, right? And cook? And feast?
Well that’s the thing – gardening is about done so it’s time to think of feasting, at least until the light starts coming back again. For now, I’m still picking sorrel and mint and swiss chard and kale, and the occasional dig yields crisp Jerusalem artichokes. But the onerous fall chores are pretty much done. The leaves are ground up and in the compost along with Ruth Ann’s and Rob’s sheep poop and the occasional rodent that has given new meaning to Dakity’s days. Exhilarated, she backs out of her hole at my call, ears alert, paws muddy. Marc has made trellises for me that will give new life to the Nimtz roses when the ground warms up next June. Fingers crossed. The garlic is planted and maybe I even have time to get some spring bulbs in before the ground freezes.
But all is not well in the world. Zoe sat right here the other day and asked me if I didn’t sense a certain element of doomsday in the air. And of course there is, what with Paris hysteria, the ignoring of other even more severe tragedies, the Big Lies certain politicians propagate to a massively gullible populace, and its mood of selfishness and NIMBYism. Isis. Trump. Ben Carson. Syria. Refugees. The world is insane. But it always has been and we always, with some halts, keep on going.
I responded that I was glad she was above DC, which is kind of like I’m glad she is above the Mason-Dixon line, or maybe the target area. Somehow it seems like going north would be safer than going south when it becomes necessary to get up from the supper table and move on up or down the highway. Because, I mean, fewer of us would head toward even more cold.
Or maybe what I really mean is that things get simpler the colder it gets. Heat brings all kinds of complications. I mean, self-rising flour? Something slightly indecent sounding about that, isn’t there? Self-rising, indeed! Too lazy to put some baking powder or soda into the bowl with the flour, are you? Then get on down south, Dear. Make some of those biscuits out of that lily-white, silken-soft, self-rising flour. Be sure to put on your frilly apron while you’re at it.
Funny, isn’t it, how when faced with doomsday the mind can just so easily swing back to food. ‘What are we going to find to eat,’ is the sentiment, because one does need to eat, doesn’t one. And someone needs to be figuring that out, the other way is hunger, pure, unsolicited starvation. How do you think we’ve survived all these years if not because someone took it upon themselves to think about feeding everybody. Pilar comes to mind, in the cave, in the mountains of ... Spain, wasn’t it? We cook on a heated rock or stone if need be. Because isn’t it much pleasanter to cook a meal than build a bomb; to sustain by life rather than by death?
In light of troubles in the world, and especially at this time of year you wonder about your own gluttony – the extravagance of being able to think about what specialities you are going to contribute to the Thanksgiving table, whether Jasmine will really find the good kind of oysters (I have been shocked at the sudden awfulness of those I used to buy in little pull-top cans at grocery store fish departments), if Nathan will get the consistency of the dressing right – when there are so many people in the world who are hungry, who die of hunger, or who are addicted to fast food, or who have no kitchen. No bowl. No chance.
Nevertheless, we go on, we incorporate changes, we help where we can. It is not the first year I haven’t done Thanksgiving in my kitchen, no, not at all, but it is the first time my daughter and her partner, Jesse, are doing it for the family, in their own house! Jesse’s baking a ham, a Wallingford Locker one, of course, and he’s preparing squash and mashed potatoes.  Zoe will make her traditional scalloped oysters (these are ordered from Green Mountain Fresh, which guarantees they will be the good ones). Me, I’m bringing the Italian Green Tomato Mincemeat Tart with crème fraiche, a lovely Brussels sprouts casserole, and... whatever else seems to need to be done. Zoe will make another pie, maybe apple, and maybe P2 will bring the requisite green bean casserole. It will be delicious. There will be mountainous leftovers. We will eat for a week.
The idea for those Brussels Sprouts in béchamel came from a recipe Ruth Reichl tweeted recently. It was a cauliflower casserole that I adapted to Brussels sprouts because that’s what I had. Next day Carol Tashie posted a similar recipe on her Radical Roots Facebook Page. Of course I used Radical Roots Brussels Sprouts. The ham trimmings came from a Plew Farm smoked jowl that I keep in the freezer and shave off what I need. It was sweet creamy Larson’s unpasturized milk that I used, and though Ruth called for a different kind of cheese, the raclette I’d gotten at Ooh La La bakery was perfect. The hard cheese was a Champlain Valley Tomme from Bridport Creamery. Everything available at the Rutland Winter Farmers’ Market.  Last minute shoppers note that there’ll be one more market before Thanksgiving on Wednesday from 3 to 6 at the Vermont Farmers’ Food Center. Remember that who controls the food supply controls the people. Buy local!

Ruth called her recipe Cauliflower a la Joe Beef. I think hers is the slightly easier one and why mess with perfection.  Nevertheless I’m calling mine,
Radical Brussels Sproots
Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
To make the sauce, combine 1 1/2 cups of milk with a bay leaf, a chopped clove of garlic, 1/4 cup ham or prosciutto trimmings and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let cool for 10 minutes.
Make a béchamel by melting 3 tablespoons of butter and whisking in 3 tablespoons of flour and cooking, whisking, for a minute or so. Slowly add the milk mixture, whisking constantly. Continue until it’s thick, then stir in a quarter cup of grated raclette and a quarter cup of grated hard cheese. Add salt and pepper and keep warm.

Salt a large pot of water, bring it to a boil and toss in a pound or so of trimmed Brussels Sprouts. Cook for 3 minutes. Drain.

Toss the sprouts with the cheese sauce, pour it into a casserole dish and scatter a mixture of grated cheese and bread crumbs over the top. Bake for about 20 minutes until bubbling and golden.
I have to say every beautiful step of making and eating this dish is totally satisfying. Leo and I had it for supper last week. With just a tiny green salad and homemade bread. Absolutely numinous.  
Numinous is a puzzling word, having nothing to do with numbers but denoting, for some reason, the spiritual. It comes from the Latin word  nūmen, which means ‘nod’, in a divine way I guess, and it might be what you feel when you are surrounded by trees and the mysteries of wildlife and the workings of your own legs as you climb a path through them. I think that’s what keeps you going in stressful and tragic times. We continue to use our bodies, to bring new souls into the world, and to eat. It’s what we do. Have a wonderful and numinous Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

crooked little trail

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).
Chocolate Coconut Mousse
  • 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.