Why I Eat Meat, or What My Nani Taught Me About the Importance of Food Culture

My Nani – my Italian-American grandmother – was brought up during the Great Depression. She used to tell the story of how her immigrant father would walk miles to his dangerous job building bridges on the outskirts of the small … Continue reading

Asparagus – Part 2… or Locavore on the Road: Portland, NY

Last year when I visited my hometown in Western New York  for my Papa’s 91st birthday my cousin and aunt handed out bags of fresh asparagus at the party.

“We picked them this morning!” They exclaimed. Really? Pick-your-own-asparagus? Maybe I had lived in the city too long, but I had no idea these kind of farms existed. In fact I hadn’t thought much about how asparagus grew at all, other than knowing that I saw it most frequently in the supermarket in late April through May. I vowed I would not miss asparagus season the following year.

Back in Boston in late April of this year I started my research…. and found only one small asparagus farm within an hour’s drive. A trip there yeilded barely a bunch of tender purple and green spears (although we did leave with a six-pack of rhubarb seedlings and a dozen stalks of mature rhubarb for our trouble). But with just one local seasonal side dish, my asparagus cravings were not quenched. Luckily Papa made it to 92.

Home again for our yearly family gathering, my cousin told me of the asparagus field that opens to the public for just one hour per week a few miles up the road in Portland, NY (really just a township between two slightly larger villages).

“We have to get there at least fifteen minutes early,” Jen said. “Otherwise the old folks start swarming as soon as they let them in.” Sure enough, we arrived about ten minutes after 9 (thanks in part to a train stopped on the tracks of a crossing, which required a five-plus mile detour – we don’t much get those kind of problems back in Boston) and there were folks spread out across the acre or so of asparagus rows. We jumped right in, mostly left to glean the shorter stalks that the quickest pickers left in the wake of their quick “snap, snap, snap” of the fresh tips as they walked briskly down the row. In the end I ended up with about three and a half pounds (I did have to get them home on the airplane the next day, after all) paying only $5.60 for the pleasure.

Jen and I rewarded ourselves afterwards with a cheesy-bottomed asparagus omelet.

Cheesy Bottom Asparagus Omelet

In small nonstick omelet pan sprinkle 1 – 2 tablespoon of shredded cheese on medium heat. Meanwhile clean and chop a dozen of the most tender asparagus stalks and saute them in a separate pan. Crack two eggs into a bowl and whisk them for a minute or so. Add salt and pepper. Once the cheesy bottom is set, pour the eggs on top. Let set for another minute, using a soft spatula to make sure the bottom of the omelet is not sticking or burning. Add a slice of local swiss cheese (or goat, or cheese of choice) and spread half of the saute-ed asparagus on top. Allow the eggs to finish cooked another minute or so more, fold in half and serve. Repeat, using the rest of the asparagus.

Local Ipswich Clams

Perfect Sunday: an afternoon drinking local wine in the backyard of an old friend (paired with bread and local cheddar and goat cheese). My best friends are in town, their husbands (and in one case, toddler) in tow. We drive to the beach and get our face whipped by the wind, watching the waves dance and glint in the sun. When we’re hungry we head to Woodman’s, in Essex, for local fried Ipswich clams, washing them down with a pint of Sam Adams. The clams are fat and juicy – the breading light, but hefty enough to give each fat belly a crunch. My friends, in town from Buffalo and Seattle, rave about the freshness of the seafood and the beauty of the north shore. I know how lucky I am to call ipswich clams local, and to share them with some of my favorite people.

Shell Beans: Cranberry and Tongue of Fire

shell beans

A delayed post from my pick-my-own excursion at the farm the other day. I filled half of a paper grocery bag with shell beans – from varying sources I found them called both Cranberry beans and Tongue of Fire beans. I got these for the first time last year and I was so pleasantly surprised! First of all, they are gorgeous. The long pink and white speckled pods each hold maybe 5 or 6 large similarly dappled beans. That these are fresh is amazing. I wouldn’t eat them raw, but when you cook them – depending on your dish, they become soft in about 10 to 15 minutes of boiling time – they have a great meaty-ness to them. I took almost an hour to shell the whole bag and then froze some (last winter I pulled out a container and made a great cassoulet), dried some in the dehydrator (just a  few hours), and then cooked some up with kale and garlic. The only downside is that they lose most of their dynamic color when cooked.

Tongue of Fire Beans and Kale

Boil the shelled beans in the bottom of a saute pan in enough water to cover them (and/or broth and/or wine) until tender -about 10 – 15 minutes. Keep an eye on them and add a bit of water if it starts to look dry. You want the pan to be wet but not have more than 1/2 inch of liquid on the bottom. Toss in some chopped fresh garlic and a drizzle of good olive oil saute until just tender. Add freshly washed chopped kale, salt and pepper, and cover the pan so the kale can steam. Toss with tongs every few minutes and finish with another drizzle of good olive oil and maybe a few pinches of smoky salt to taste. Yum!