Friday, August 27, 2010

Vermmmont 2010: Wood Stove Oyster Mushrooms

Chole's homemade Mexican food is not the only reason I like the Craftsbury, VT farmers market. I also like it for every other reason.

The market's produce is as picturesque as its backdrop: there are the Green Mountains, and then there are the mountains of greens.

Though it looks quaint, the Craftsbury market is a radical departure from the industrial food system that appears as though it keeps trying to poison us with salmonella. Maybe it's the fact that the market is a stone's throw from Sterling College, which teaches sustainable farming almost as a way of life, or the fact that's it's just Vermont.

This year I was surprised to find one farm selling gorgeous oyster mushrooms that they cultivate on inoculated logs. I bought a half pound (for half the price that I expected) and that night Peter cooked them up with a splash of sherry and some raw milk redolent of alfalfa.

It was a cold night for the summer, reaching down into the 40's, which made sleeping on the hammocks outside a little challenging for the same reason that bridges ice before roads. But that meant we had the wood stove going, and when you've got a wood stove going, why turn on the gas stove? Peter simmered the mushrooms atop it.

Locally grown oyster mushrooms simmered in local, raw milk, a wood stove, a communal meal, human interaction, no salmonella, community: this is precisely what Stephen Budiansky pretends to forget about the local foods movement.

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Friday, August 20, 2010

Local Peaches, Local Anesthetic

My recent oral surgery has imposed a challenging dietary constraint: a week of nothing but liquid. And to tell the truth, it hasn't been that bad.

Maybe it's just the painkillers speaking, but boy do my hands feel heavy.

What I meant to say was that the liquid diet actually has its perks. What Pollan famously called the omnivore's dilemma (figuring out what to eat in a post-modern food culture) becomes a little easier without the use of teeth. Suddenly the question is not whether fair trade is more important than organic, but will it fit in a blender? If the answer is yes, I've probably eaten it -- or rather delicately swallowed it -- in this past week.

My meals can generally be divided into smoothies and soups, meaning they tend towards sweet or savory with a base of either soy milk or chicken stock. I made a big batch of the latter using a summer's worth of frozen bones, the last, shriveled onions from our winter CSA, a couple of carrots, herbs from the garden, and a glug of sherry. It's been my best friend this week, excusing almost everything as soup.

The challenge of course is to make mug after mug not only bearable but also appetizing. The pureed can of seafood chowder and spinach pictured at top was no such success.

My favorite creations have allowed me to enjoy liquid foods just as much as their solid counterparts. There's something molecular-gastronomic about drinking a peach, and it does cause you to reconsider and appreciate the subject in a new light.

The pureed peaches I've been slurping have been one of my favorite "foods": two extremely ripe local peaches, a thumb of super-ripe banana for added sweetness, and just enough soy milk to enable a vortex in the blender. When you remove the lid of the blender, a concentrated wave of peach aroma clobbers your nostrils. You swoon, though again, this may be the painkillers.

Another success has been liquified beans and rice. Sounds awful doesn't it? And yet the concoction is flavorful, comforting, and somewhat mysterious. If someone put a bowl of it in front of you at a restaurant, you'd find it palatable, familiar and yet impossible to place. I make mine by browning onion and garlic, using stock as the liquid and adding about a teaspoon of cumin per serving. The rice yields a particularly velvety texture.

Heck, I'm sticking to liquids from here on out. I know that's a heavy handed statement, but remember that my hands really do feel heavy. Smoothie time!

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

More on Sumac

I just can't stop writing about sumac! See here for my short piece in the Globe on my new favorite spice/tea/wild edible.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Vermmont 2010: Mega-Brunch

Food is one of the many reasons I spend two weeks each summer teaching Shakespeare in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont (see here for this weekend's show listings).

The photo at top captures a runny poached egg yolk on the precipice, just one component of a meal our staff interns whipped up that they referred to as "mega-brunch." Also on the menu were homemade popovers, eggs from friends(' chickens), hollandaise, and, at least in my case, three mimosas. These made climbing Mt. Pisgah a little difficult later in the day.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I've said it before and I'll say it again: there is always spirited eating to be had in VT, thanks to the ingredients, the company, or both.

Heck, the compost pile that I overlook as I type has better produce in it than most supermarkets.

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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

When Life Gives You Herb Blossoms...

.... make herb blossom water. Sounds delicious, doesn't it? No. It sounds like nothing. But an infusion of basil and mint blossoms is ethereal, cooling, and a good way to use up part of the plant that you're supposed to remove anyway.

They say that pinching the blossoms from herbs makes the plant redirect it's energy into producing more of what you want: fat, juicy, aromatic leaves. I've never tested an unpinched herb plant against a pinched one, so I can't speak from experience about the effect on your harvest, but going out and removing the blossoms every few days gives you a fun little job that makes you feel like what you do in the grand scheme of things is important: I pinch the flowers off of the basil plants, therefore I am.

But what to do with those decapitated blossoms? Keep basil flowers in your pocket and they'll make your keys smell nice, but they'll turn black. Keep them in a pitcher (or glass) of cold water and their oils will wend their way about the water molecules, imparting a fresh and slightly sweet taste to the drink.

Another interesting test would be this cold brew versus a hot steep. My guess is that, as in cold-brewed coffee, this eliminates any trace of bitterness. Unless you're a pollinator.

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