Local + Global = Glocal – Guest Post by Steve Mayone

  EVEN MORE IN THE SPIRIT OF COLLABORATION, I AM SO PLEASED TO FEATURE A GUEST POST FROM STEVE MAYONE, MUSICIAN, SONGWRITER, AND SELF-DECLARED “O.H.” THANKS FOR PUTTING UP WITH ALL THE FRUIT FLIES. – SUZANNE COPE     I … Continue reading

What Vermont Blueberries Helped Me Remember

Maybe a dozen miles as the crow flies, it took us nearly forty minutes to get there. We went up a dirt road and crested a mountain, down the other side until deep ruts turned to asphalt. And then we … Continue reading

Locavore (Kitchen) in the (Winter) City

I am certainly not in the minority when I state that I am sick of winter. There are still hefty drifts outside that haven’t melted despite almost two weeks where the temperature spend hours above freezing. Last night I watched the rain turn to snow – as in I saw that very minute that it happened – and it was almost beautiful. Almost. If it were a few months ago – hell, one month ago – I might have found it beautiful. But now I am done. And not just because of the weather. I am eager to get outside and do something, anything, with the earth. And the problem is not only the temperature, but the snow that still coats my tomato pots and provides obstacle to opening the gate and trudging to the compost bin at the garden. It is these little things that I did not anticipate in this particularly snowy and cold winter. And while I chose my home – the house itself and the location on which it sits – for many reasons that have to do with its proximity to people and places and things to which I want to be near enough to help weave the fabric of my daily existence – I also knowingly gave up space and traded open fields for fenced-in lots. But particularly in the winter, when my world always seems a little smaller and colder and darker, do I feel the import of these choices, both in the ways they improve my life, but also in the ways it is made more challenging. Below is a non-exhaustive list of thoughts, lessons and challenges of this year’s locavore winter kitchen – in the city.

– Root Storage 1: We are lucky enough to have a mostly non-leaking, and relatively vast and clean basement for a city dwelling. My husband has commandeered most of it for his music studio and the rest is filled with boxes and tools and holiday decorations and three studded snow tires and our tenant’s storage and our chest freezer. But in this one corner, right when one gets to the bottom of the stairs, there is a concrete shelf, about three feet high and equally deep, that runs along about ten feet of our foundation. A corner of this has been designated our wine cellar and root cellar. Who knows, maybe that’s what it was originally intended for one hundred plus years ago when it was built. I kept the red onions and butternut squash that I bought in bulk it separate, ventilated boxes, but some light got in and a few of my onions are sprouting. When they do that, they basically take the energy from the veg itself and put it all into a new, green shoot. The onion becomes mushy and inedible. I need to go through these boxes soon and chop up and freeze the squash I have left and sort out the good onions from the bad, maybe moving some to the fridge to slow the aging. Next year: better storage boxes.

– Root storage 2: I also keep root veggies (and a cabbage!) in separate paper bags literally throw atop each other in an area above our back stairs. It’s pretty chilly (but not as much so as the basement) but totally dark. The humidity is a bit less too, which shows itself in the somewhat wrinkled rutabegas and beets. But these are easily revived and I’ve successfully kept my winter farm share veggies here while I tried to cycle through them in stews and roasts. Next year, I plan to perfect this system, perhaps by storing some veggies hidden in wine crates filled with rice.

image

– Canning storage: I know I am not supposed to keep these out in the sunlight, but frankly I am running out of storage space. I think I hit upon a generously perfect number of quarts of tomatoes – by far the item I miss the most in the winter. My goal for the canned tomatoes: not to “save” them. I’m always debating whether some use or recipe is “worthy” of my home-canned tomatoes. I have been better this winter (probably because of the amount I canned) to just use them up when a recipe calls for it – such as stews, marinara and other Italian sauces, chili, slow cooking braises, etc. That’s why I canned them after all.

– Compost: I have been very good about composting, even in the depths of winter. What I did not anticipate was that I would have no access to our community garden compost bin for such a long time. I have a smaller counter top bin that I will empty into my back hallway mini-composter but depend on the community bin when my at-home system gets too full. Like now. There’s nothing much I can do at the moment except keep cramming in scraps (my system depends on a microbe accelerant and not oxygen) until enough snow melts where I can access the garden. Next year – try to start with an empty at-home bin when the snow starts flying – oh and pray for less snow.

– Food: Like last year I rarely go to the grocery store. I depend primarily on our storage veggies, canned goods and frozen meat for most meals, supplementing it all with fresh greenhouse greens from our deep winter farm share that we pick up every two weeks. For additional items we try to hit the new winter farmer’s market that sets up camp on Saturday mornings about six blocks away. Dairy and eggs come from Sherman’s along with occasional grains, beans and lentils. We’re still picking up ten pounds of meat once a month from Chestnut Farms. I’m not militant – I drink coffee (locally roasted Rao’s) every day and go through plenty of peanut butter (locally produced Teddy). I buy a scone. We always have olive oil on hand. We go out to eat on occasion. My husband brings home dark chocolate and wine from the store where he works. I live a pretty delicious life.

Looking over this list, I am pretty proud of my decisions and I can honestly say that none of this is hard. Shopping locally is no harder than shopping at a grocery store. Eating locally sourced beef stew with root vegetables is no harder, and arguably more delicious, than eating anything else. Sure this depends on some planning ahead and general willingness to cook (planning and cooking being two things I genuinely enjoy) but now it is all second nature to us. And while the costs are more than if I were a pure bargain shopper (buying the cheapest eggs and meat and dairy are, well, much cheaper, but don’t at all coincide with my political or health beliefs), they are by no means extravagant and certainly within reach of a working musician and adjunct professor’s budget. Being locavores in the city (and I often use the plural because my husband is an active participant) – even in the winter – is relatively easy, certainly more kind and generally more healthy and delicious than however we used to eat in the depths of winter.

Duck Prosciutto

image

My grandfather was a hunter. I recall playing with his duck call (a palm-sized wooden box with a paddle that you rubbed across the top to make a quacking sound) and remember hearing about the times (yes there was more than one) when he returned home from his day in the woods, reeking of skunk. Grandpa didn’t have a sense of smell – a congenital condition that kept him out of the armed service during World War II – and he didn’t seem to care who or what he startled while stalking his game.

My grandmother was a good sport about this all. She had to be. They had five kids and for the first decade or so of their marriage were barely making enough to keep clothes on their backs and food on the table. Grandma was a housewife – a stay-at-home-mom who never finished high school. But she grew most of the family’s food in the large garden out back – rows of cucumbers, zucchini, watermelons, raspberries, carrots and onions – that would be eaten fresh, canned or frozen. Grandma crocheted blankets and sweaters, darned socks and made dresses, cut the grass and shoveled the walk. And she would, without flinching, pluck and clean the birds grandpa brought home from his hunting trips. On at least one occasion I remember her clearning a turkey on Thanksgiving morning, and while the green beans and corn bread and pumpkin pies were cooking she sent her skunk-sprayed husband to sit in a bath of tomato juice and then prepared the freshly shot bird from feather to stuffing. That year we were all told to watch out for bird shot when we were chewing.

But despite seeing Grandpa’s hunting paraphernalia every fall, and being warned away from the locked cabinet where he kept his rifles, I don’t recall eating much of what he brought home aside from that infamous Thanksgiving turkey. By the time I came along hunting was more for fun than necessity, after all, and a few duck or pheasant wouldn’t go too far in a family whose dining room table was being set with nearly two dozen places.

Grandpa has been gone now for nearly a decade, his final breaths taken in the garden that provided sustenance for his family for so many years. I never gave much thought to the shelves of jars in their basement, the back corner root cellar, or whatever else Grandma and Grandpa’s old farmhouse held in its nooks and crannies. But these past few weeks, when I was looking for the perfect spot – not too warm nor cool, with moderate humidity – where I might hang my curing duck breasts, I thought of my grandparents and their sprawling rural homestead.

Making duck prosciutto was surprisingly easy. I buried two one-pound moulard duck breasts in kosher salt for 24 hours and then dusted them with black pepper. Then I hung them, wrapped in cheesecloth, from a rafter in my basement for a week, or until they felt firm and their flesh had turned a deep red.

I cut them down from the night before a snow storm was expected, impressed with my own resourcefulness and the ease of preserving something as… fragile… as raw meat. There were certain scientific processes that I didn’t fully understand that were happening to prevent the meat from rotting or molding that made them edible and perhaps even more delicious than roasting or sauté-ing. Considering the shelves of preserved vegetables in my grandparents’ basement, I wondered if they ever cured their own meat after Grandpa had a particularly good day of hunting. That night I sampled a small slice, leaving some of the thick fat in favor of the rich meat; just a taste to help me dream of what extravagant meal I might create the next morning, an almost certain snow day.

A few hours later I woke to blowing snow and no power. I could see a pine tree had snapped in half a few houses down the hill from my house and took the power lines with it. Utility trucks struggled through the accumulating snow while the thermostat dipped to 55 degrees. The power must have been off since dawn. By candlelight my husband and I lit a burner of our gas stove to heat up day old coffee. My plans for the prosciutto – in an omelet, with a bit of melted fontina and sprinkled with sal de provence – were foiled. Instead I took the duck fat from the night before and rendered it in a cast iron skillet. Once it was crackling I fried up two eggs. I placed them on top of toast, also heated on the stove top, with a slice of the prosciutto in between. A breakfast sandwich that grandpa himself might have made out at hunting camp – as delicious and satisfying on a cold and dark winter morning in the city as it might have been looking out the window of his hunting cabin – a shack really – as the late fall sunrise started to burn the frost off the leaves of the trees. Had Grandpa, brought up by a Holland-born lumberman’s son in central Pennsylvania, even heard of the word prosciutto? Probably not. But knowing that we might have tasted the same simple meal, even decades and a world apart, made me feel closer to him than I had in a long time.

Eating: It’s A Family Affair

I tend to take the holidays off from eating locally. Not that I ever claim a 100% success rate, but when I return to my hometown a day or so before Christmas Eve I quickly realize that I would starve and/or alienate my Italian-American extended family by NOT eating the oyster stew, sausage bread, carbonara, cheese & sausage, veggies & dip, cookies etc. that populate my mother’s home. Eating, you see, is a family affair. To eat (and to cook) is to show love. If it weren’t for this reciprocal action, our familial emotions would probably be quite stunted.

Regardless, I did have a few revelations about our collective consumption this holiday, and despite my mostly NOT local eating, I feel pretty good about the decisions I make overall and how they might be helping others think a bit more about their food choices.

#1 – I actually do a pretty good job of eating  – and shopping – locally. I rarely enter a major supermarket and haven’t bought meat NOT raised by someone I’ve met since sometime in 2009. Sure, when I’ve been at friends’ houses or out for a meal I haven’t been so careful. But in general I can find the farm that produced most of the products in my home on a map of New England (and stretching a bit into upstate NY). I feel really good about that. (Of course then I have to try very hard not to judge when my mother has maple syrup or honey that COULD be easily sourced locally, but isn’t.)

#2 – It’s about quality not (ok, sometimes and) quantity. Food I ate with abandon in the past doesn’t interest me. A few years ago if I was offered scalloped potatoes sprinkled with Doritos (who knew my NASCAR-loving step-brother was such a semi-homemade cook!?) I would take a helping with a smile. But this time I took a forkful to be polite and moved on to something else. Sugar-free cookies or fat-free muffins? I appreciated the cook’s resourcefulness, however I couldn’t stomach the aspartame or processed non-fat butter substitute. As often as I could this time around, I chose quality small-batch cheese over store-bought hunks eaten mindlessly. And I tried to bring the ingredients I cared about (see aforementioned “fancy” cheese) and stuck to items that I felt good about eating – even if I ate them immoderately.

#3 – Despite some incredibly sugar-laden and super-processed foods being eaten with abandon by the dad’s side of my family, in some ways they are inspirational as the original locavores. Grandma featured home-grown, -canned and -cellared pickles, sauces and roasted veggies on her Christmas buffet alongside the misnamed whipped topping and candied fruit salad “ambrosia”. Recognizing the mutual interest in local and minimally processed food – albeit for different reasons – has helped us find a way to connect. My grandma has lived in the same house for the last 50 years and didn’t finish the ninth grade, but she and I can talk for hours about how late beets can be harvested and how the caterpillars are predicting a cold start and finish to the winter.

#4 – Much of the extended family (on my mother’s side) cares about humane, local and/or sustainable eating as well. My mom’s two brothers shared a locally born and bred cow this past year (named “D” for “Delicious”) and most of my cousins, their spouses, my aunts as well and my mom and I all grew at least some of our own food and canned local vegetables, pickles and jams this past year. My cousin and step-father both hunt as well – although not exactly to decrease their carbon footprint. We had a locally caught and smoked fish on Christmas Eve and a platter of pickled and canned veggies for Christmas. This attention to local, sustainable and healthy eating by no means originated with me: my oldest cousin has long worked for a non-profit environmental agency and her sister is a vegan blogger. And while our approaches to healthy and humane eating can be quite different, what we realized over a glass (or three) of local wine was that we all want the same thing: for people to be more conscious and thoughtful about what they eat.

And that is my continued goal for the new year.

Pickled Strawberries

I dragged my husband along for our yearly strawberry-picking adventure. I supposed I could do it alone, but it seems less of a chore and more of an outing with someone else. We arrived at Verrill Farm in Concord, MA (where last year we had a semi-celebrity sighting: Doris Kearns Goodwin! How did we even know what she looked like? And she was in the farm stand area, not in the field) less than half an hour before they were to close for the day. The berries were perfect: fat with rain and sunshine and as sweet as they would get before bursting and becoming insect food. Six pounds of perfect (although smallish) berries only took us until closing time to pick.

I let them sit for a day, only slicing them into yogurt, before I figured out what I might do with six pounds of berries. Sure, jam was great, but I had made jam for the past few years, never quite giving away or finishing each season’s efforts. My parents and friends were getting tired of the same gifts. On the second evening that the berries sat on my counter, covered lightly in a vain attempt to keep out fruit flies, I met a friend at Garden at the Cellar, one of my favorite small plate restaurants that specializes in farm to table and seasonal food. The bartender (who, at one point plucked basil from a plant on the bar to make my cocktail) described the specials, one a pate that came with pickled strawberries. I asked her what the berries were like – salty or sweet.

“The pickling doesn’t make them salty, really, it just brings out the berry flavor. They’re amazing, really,” she told me. I didn’t order the dish, but I did make pickled strawberries the next day, inspired by her description alone.

This recipe is loosely interpreted, and of course relies on small berries that are incredibly sweet, and not at all bruised or rotting. The result is tangy from the vinegar, but sweet and complex from the spices and the berries themselves. An interesting condiment to fancy cheese, I would say, or even pate or fois gras.

Pickled Strawberries

In a saucepan I combined 4 cups water, 1 cup white vinegar and 4 tablespoons salt. To that I added a teaspoon each of mustard seed, black pepper corns and vanilla extract (I would have scraped a vanilla bean if I had one), two bay leaves and one cracked cinnamon stick. I boiled for five minutes and let cool to room temperature.

After sterilizing my jars (the brine would fill about four pint jars) I filled the jars loosely with the best strawberries, stems still on. When the brine was cool, I filled the jars, using a clean butter knife to help release any air bubbles and cap them. I tried some after a few hours in the brine and they were tangy and sweet and totally unexpected.

The flavors are so strong, eating within a week would be great. Although I did process two jars for future gifts using the technique described in Blue Ribbon Preserves my canning bible. In this cookbook, Linda Amendt recommends boiling the jars (with fresh lids on of course) at between 180 and 190 degrees for 30 minutes. This lower temperature helps keep the color and texture of the pickles. I did this and the berries did shrink a bit and were a bit paler than before, but I do trust that the jars will keep longer – by months or even years if unopened. The brine turns a nice magenta though, obscuring the pink-grey berries. An interesting experiment.

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.

Thinking Spring – While Cooking Split Pea and Ham Soup

I just finished ordering more than ten seeds varieties for my community garden and yard containers. I cribbed heavily from an article on growers from around the country in the NY Times a few weeks ago and took some advice about hearty tomato varieties and good web sites for seeds. In the end, however, I bought from two sites: seedsofchange.com (whom I had already purchased from once) and rareseeds.com. Every year I learn a bit more about timing and what might actually work given my location (zone and literally what the soil and sun situation is). I expect to have the following growing in my garden a few short months from now:

dinosaur kale (I like this variety so much better than the curly kale I’ve been planting), beets, red onions, lovage (a celery tasting herb – see a previous post), eggplant, purple pole beans, lettuce mix, three kinds of tomatoes, rainbow chard and fennel. I’ll have some herbs that winter (sage, rosemary and lavender, hopefully), and others that re-sow (dill and maybe the parsley) and I might get bold and try peppers again. Sigh. This all gets me thinking spring. I can’t wait!

Meanwhile, I threw a ham hock (Chestnut Farms), 1 pound of dried split peas (Baer Farms, purchased at Sherman’s Market), and 2 slice onions (Red Fire Farms) and covered with a mixture of water and the last cup of some wine locally made by my dad in Upstate NY, and turned the slow cooker on high. In another hour (4 hours total) I’ll be eating my local winter stew, dreaming of my spring garden.