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Archive for July, 2009

Mmm…

Making a margherita pizza tonight with many scrumptious local ingredients.  It’s also sort of a Norwich Route 5 pizza, because Killdeer is just down the road from King Arthur Flour, and most of the ingredients were purchased at these favorite spots.  The fresh mozz is sold at Killdeer and made at Maplebrook Farm, in Bennington, VT–another of my old hometowns.  We lived on a straight-uphill narrow dead-end road preposterously, or optimistically, named Crescent Boulevard.

Traditionally, the only toppings on Margherita are sliced tomato and mozzarella, fresh basil, and olive oil.  I may jazz it up a bit, though.  It’s been a long rainy day.

I also want to avoid a scuffle with the carabinieri.  I think it’s illegal to call my pizza “Margherita,” which is a designation protected by the E.U.–like “Champagne” or “Manchego.”

Jazzed-Up Margherita Pizza

for the crust:
1 c. warm water
1 tsp. yeast
1 tsp. salt
1 tbs. olive oil
3 c. unbleached flour

fresh, local tomatoes
fresh, local basil (or homemade pesto)
fresh, local mozzarella
(And… stepping out of the locavore range by a long shot… kalamata olives or anchovies for kick)

Mix the dough, let rise for an hour.  Flatten and stretch on a semolina-dusted pan.  Pre-heat oven to 425.  Let the crust rise up a bit more, and then strew with the toppings.   Bake until the cheese is golden and sizzling.

za

Oops… I overloaded it.

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Another vegetable with architectural pretensions!

cauli

Like the costata romanesca, this one has classical roots, but its look is more minaret than column.  It’s a green brassica that tastes a bit like broccoli, looks a bit like its white cousin, and is a whole lot more fun than either.

cauli 2

I bought this one today at Killdeer on my way home from the mechanic’s.  Scott, the Farm Stand manager and a wonderful food photographer, suggested roasting or sauteeing the little spirals.  If it weren’t in the upper-80s today, I might roast it with some butter and garlic and a crust of breadcrumbs.  To beat the heat, I’ll just cook it quickly on the stove-top, until al dente.  I’ve also been marinating bone-in pork chops all day.  Mmm… it’s going to be a good meal.

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I am in wholehearted agreement with the motivation behind the New York Times editorial of a few days ago, “Farms and Antibiotics,” and with the legislation it promotes, which aims to drastically reduce the amount of antibiotics used in raising meat.   The figures in this editorial are staggering.  There are so many good reasons to pass this legislation: the overuse of antibiotics leads to super-resistant bugs that can affect human and animal health; the animals are given antibiotics not because they are sick, but to prevent them from getting sick, which surely would happen because of the crowded and confined conditions in which they are raised, and because of the unnatural diet they are fed to fatten them up faster than their bodies can handle; antibiotics in farm run-off (i.e. manure) leach into ground- and open water.

But the problem will not be easy to solve.  It would be simplisitic to think that it’s just a bunch of bad-boy capitalist farmers injecting their animals with too many drugs in the name of profit.   Those farmers are stoking, yes, but are also feeding an insatiable appetite for meat.  The change won’t come with legislation alone but with massive shifts in the American (and first world in general) diet–away from cheap meat–and toward more easy access to healthy, whole foods.  Legislation to limit antibiotic use on factory farms will need to be accompanied by some consciousness raising about the unsustainable scale of the meat industries, and with many more legislative actions. (Michael Pollan had some great suggestions for what these might be, in his pre-election open letter, “Farmer In Chief.”)

The road blocks to changing the first world diet might better be described as an intricate and incredibly strong mesh, made up of socioeconomic inequalities, socioeconomic history, and the history of the food industry and of the first world diet.  A century and a half ago, fresh beef was a specialty food of the wealthy.  That all changed with the invention of refrigeration in the late nineteenth-century.  First came the icebox in upper-class homes; then came ice-cooled warehouses, both of which were unreliable but which led to greater changes .  Then came compressed-air, and electric refrigeration–in homes, in warehouses, on trains, in steamers.  The growth of the refrigeration industry, which was directly related to that of beef, completely changed the culture of meat consumption.  Large-scale cattle farms, slaughter-houses, and warehouses, and the increasing demand they were set up to meet, displaced small-scale businesses of all sorts, and introduced the factory-farming of cattle.  This was when grain-fed beef and the first CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) were implemented.  As supply increased, demand increased, and prices fell.  And now here we are, habituated to a diet of cheap, abundant beef that we are finally recognizing to be unsustainable.  (A compelling and carefully researched description of this history can be found in the new book by Susanne Freidberg, Fresh: A Perishable History.)

The reduction of antibiotic use in cattle will have to go along with a reduction in beef consumption, but because of the socioeconomic realities of beef consumption, this won’t change easily.  We all know that highly processed, “fast food” is cheaper and easier for many to get than fresh, whole foods.  This socioeconomic disparity will have to be addressed as well. (Salmon and shrimp are fast becoming the new beef: the prices are dropping and the antibiotic use is going up.  The Times had a chilling article the other day about antibiotic use by salmon farms in South America.)

If you have the means, switching to grass fed beef is a good idea, but it will only help to keep beef production sustainable if the beef is local and eaten infrequently.  Speaking of which… it’s been a few weeks since I’ve been to Cloudland Farm….

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The other day, I went back to visit friends from high school, whom I hadn’t seen in about fourteen years, in the town I haven’t visited much since then.  Why not, I can’t really explain.

It was one of the strongest experiences of sense-memory: watching the curve of the off-ramp come into view; feeling the curve in the tilt of my car; knowing when to slow down.  Driving from the Putney Road strip into the little downtown: they’ve redirected traffic, one way past the Common now, so where I expected the stop sign I’d failed to stop at during driver’s ed.—with the bulldog-owning bulldog of a teacher jamming on the breaks—there was none.  Past the library on the right, where I’d spent so many after-school afternoons.  Down the slope.

I can’t believe how much has stayed the same over the decades. The same businesses with the same awnings, not updated in twenty years. (The sign remains for the Common Ground, though the restaurant is no more.  It was a true hippy spot: a cooperatively run restaurant, on the second floor, with creaky floorboards, a bottomless bowl of salad with great tahini dressing, and dense, buttery cornbread.)
common ground

Over other storefronts, new signs : shiny, with spiffy, computer-designed lettering, but keeping in the spirit of the town–a store selling natural body products, another new-age bookstore.  I parked on Main Street, across from The Shoe Tree—there for as long as I can remember.  Above those buildings to the left (east) I see the top of Wantastiquet, that huge hump of a mountain I’d walked up and down with these friends so many times, (and remember parking in its secluded parking lot at night), rising up abruptly from its foot in the Connecticut River.
wantastiquet

I looked up Elliot St. and saw that familiar block between Main Street and the Harmony Lot, where we’d always circled slowly a few times before finding a spot.  There was McNeill’s Brewery on the left, Maple Leaf Music on the right, where I had my first real job (lots of dusting and re-alphabetizing of sheet music).  Just across Elliot Street, down the beginning of the steep hill to Flat Street, was the slanted storefront of Mocha Joe’s coffee shop, where I had my second, and probably favorite, job.  Everything inside was exactly the same.  Four steps down to the counter, display of Bodum pots, tea things, and tee shirts on shelves on the left, a little round table to the right, and the milk-sugar station, the high counter straight ahead.  They were playing The Smiths.  That sounds familiar.

I saw Shannon first at a table at the center of the same ancient-stylized floor painting of a bird’s head in a circular design.  She looked like Shannon.  She said, “you walked right past Ham.”  He was at the counter.  We gave each other a big hug.  I was shaking!  Shannon said she’d reached Amy, who had said she’d be here.  We waited just a few minutes and saw her coming down the stairs, looking exactly like herself.  She said, “I saw you on the street, and thought, yup, that looks like her.” It’s hard to express the feelings in all of our looks and hugs.  We’d known each other so well, and then had been so far apart.  We all felt as if we couldn’t explain why we’d lost touch. We stayed there for a few minutes and then walked down the hill toward the bridge to New Hampshire to the Riverview Café.  We sat on the deck above the river, looking over at Wantastiquet—that mountain that figures so prominently in my memories of high school.
wantastiquet bridge
Our personalities were the same, though we were all more comfortable in our own skin, and talked more like adults, less like self-conscious teenagers.  I remember all of their voices so well. And their laughs, mannerisms, bodies.  It was like seeing distant cousins you used to know well, but more complicated.  We didn’t do much reminiscing in part, I think, because our group memories weren’t always happy.  There was also the feeling that we didn’t need to repeat old stories: the stories were in the air around us.  We had so many shared memories, they were there in our looks more than our words.  We had a decade and a half to catch up on.  The fourteen years when we became “grown-ups” and made our lives what they are now.

One has traveled all over the world and lives in New York City, where he writes headlines for The New York Times; another lives in her childhood house, farms the land of Circle Mountain farm, and sells her organic eggs and produce to the locals; a third is a scientist studying the impact of climate change on different species, and on humans.  I’m working on a Ph.D. in literature and writing a blog about local food, living in Alabama, and moving to Rome.  All of these endpoints, and the paths that took us there, make perfect sense for who we were and at the same time seem paradoxically outlandish.  When I told Amy my dissertation was about eighteenth-century British literature, we both started laughing.  Shannon laughed at herself for knowing so much about the different beetles that are killing off the trees of New England.  Hamilton laughed about having a job that feels like professional ADD, and Amy said, “I’m a farmer,” and we all laughed.

Walking with them, back up to Mocha Joe’s, where Ham went in for another coffee, and then up Elliot St. and around the corner into the Harmony lot, felt so familiar.  My feet, legs, body, eyes remembered all of the little details: even the concrete sidewalks haven’t been updated. There was the little triangle of grass at the corner of the lot and the street that always gets trodden down to mud. The lot, and the back doors of old buildings leading to the same shops (The Book Cellar, Galanes’) were exactly the same.

As I drove up the hill, I remembered—in a deep mind/body memory—the little y intersections and nineteenth-century houses along the streets that led up to Western Ave.  I took a right onto the interstate, but if I’d gone straight, the third right would have been Orchard Street, the hill I walked up and rode my bike up so many times, to Meetinghouse Lane, and home.

Incidentally, the food we had was mostly local: goat cheese salads, grass fed cheddar-bacon burger, pulled pork.  We ate and talked.   The hours went by, and we barely noticed.

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Roving is a romantic way of saying moving from place to place.  At one time, the word contained more layers of significance than it does now, including something like “lookin’ for love.”  This sense finds its beautiful epitome in Byron’s love lyric, “We’ll go no more a-roving.” More than a poem of love, this is a poem of eros.  The short, simple poem, which Byron wrote while in Venice, speaks of the sweetness of longing and nostalgia as it relishes ironic double entendre.

Today, I’ve had a decidedly more banal, and boring, experience of roving: I drove all around this spread-out rural center of civilization in the northeast—seemingly just to keep the car capable of more driving.  It was a day of logistics: dropping the boys at camp; driving to White River Junction with my sister to get her tire repaired for $13, which took all day; driving to drop off my sister at my dad’s office so that she could use his car; driving to the library for two hours of 1794 literary journals on microfilm; driving to pick up my boy; driving to CVS and the Hanover Food Co-op; driving back to the back roads of Norwich to drop off the cold food; driving to my dad’s office to pick up my sister; driving to the mechanic’s to pick up her car.  On the way out of there, my automatic transmission problem alert signal came on.  It’s an orange-lighted gear with an exclamation point in the center.  Whoa!  So, then we drove, in caravan, to another mechanic’s, who directed us to another, farther south along route 5 in Vermont.  This will probably cost me quite a bit more than $13.

And then we drove back up route 5, which, happily, leads to Killdeer Farm Stand.  I dropped off my sister and the boys at the UPS warehouse to see the trucks (my nephew’s current obsession) and drove to Killdeer.  After a day of aggravation, this was bliss.

The vegetable baskets are more bountiful every day.  I wanted to make a pasta dish with a classic combination of vegetables.  I bought an eggplant, sweet green pepper, sweet onion, costata romanesca.  I looked at everything, admired everything, knew I’d be back tomorrow.

spring veg

I left, reluctantly, to do more driving.

For dinner we had farfalle with all of the above, and some sweet Italian sausage, flavored with fennel seeds, from Cloudland Farm, which we’d had in the freezer.  It was warm, green, springy, delicious.

Spring Pasta

Get the water boiling for pasta.  Meanwhile, break a half-pound of sweet Italian sausage into chunks, and slice half of a sweet onion, one or two Japanese eggplants (their skin is more tender), one sweet green pepper, and one costata romanesca.  Sauté the sausage until mid-rare and let drain in a bowl lined with paper towel.  Sauté the vegetables, beginning with the onion, followed by the eggplant, pepper, and eggplant.  Cook the pasta.  When the vegetables are lightly caramelized, spoon in a couple of big spoonfuls of pasta-cooking water, and cover for a minute or less.  Put the sausage back in the pan, and then combine pasta and vegetables in a big bowl or pot and toss with grated parmgiano  reggiano.  Serve with extra cheese at the table.

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romanesca
The Italian heirloom summer squash posing as a fluted Roman column.  Striated and flecked with green on shades of green.  When you slice it crosswise, the shapes are floral in a stylized, modern design kind of way.  It maintains a firm, tender-bite texture unlike its more watery cousins, zucchini or yellow summer squash, and has a sweeter, nuttier flavor.

A bit of pork flavor—in the form of browned pancetta or proscuitto—complements costata romanesca beautifully.

We bought some of these squash at Killdeer Farm stand in Norwich to go with our grilled chicken legs last night, I sautéed the flower-shaped discs with some sliced prosciutto and olive oil.   First over moderately high heat, until they started to brown, and then over medium-low heat until they softened a bit.  Seasoned just with sea salt and black pepper.

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bring your growlers

It was an indulgent day with the in-laws.  First this happened:

cones

Then this:

sticker

We decided to heed this advice by visiting the local Buzzards Bay Brewery for a tasting.  It was a low-key event.  A version of “Desolation Row” was playing as we stepped into the simple plywood-floored room.  There were four taps: my favorites were the Summer Wheat ale and a dark English style ale called CIA (Colonial Independence Ale).  The other two, a basic ale and a basic lager, I have to admit I’ve already forgotten.  And not because I drank too much of the others.  Here’s the wheat taste:

summer wheat

While we sipped, the beer guy filled the growlers of a steady stream of regular customers, and the beer guy’s friend the wine guy (he wore a shirt from the local vineyard) told us about the difference between lager and ale.  Lager is made with bottom-fermenting yeasts at cold temperatures; ale is made with top-fermenting yeasts at cool temperatures.  I’m partial to ales.  Maybe it’s the Anglophile in me.

We viewed the tanks:

tanks

Obeyed the commands of stickers:

stickers

Thought about buying a t-shirt:

t shirt

And, of course, checked out the tractor:

tractor

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cukes
Cucumbers are on that list: the dirty dozen.  These are the fruits and vegetables that, when grown with synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, involve the heaviest use and retain the heaviest residues of these chemicals.  Many of these are the sweetest, most thin-skinned, or most water-dense of our favorite produce.  Remember my posts about peaches and grapes?  Cucumbers are just as bad.  Out of fifty pesticides typically used on cucumber plants, nineteen are PAN “Bad Actors,” which means that they are proven to be highly toxic.  These include several organophosphates, which can damage the functioning of nerves.  I gave a taste of William Cowper’s advice on how to grow an organic cucumber in my last post… which won’t really help you if you’re a novice gardener who’s also impatient with eighteenth-century poetry.  My advice about shopping for cucumbers is much less complex: always buy organic.

Cucumbers are such a versatile vegetable for the cook who likes to play with many different cuisines.  There are old-school British cucumber sandwiches, there’s cucumber dressed simply with sesame oil and sesame seeds, there’s raita (the cooling Indian yogurt sauce made with cucumbers, mint, cumin, and yogurt), there’s cold cucumber soup, there’s tzatziki (yogurt, cucumber, dill, garlic), there’s so much more, all of which is good.  One of our friends served just a dish of thinly sliced salted cucumbers along with his stiff martinis.

Jack and Peggy spent some time weeding and harvesting in the kitchen garden this morning.  The yield was high!

herbs
J&P

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cukes
“If you think I am going to make
A sexual joke in this poem, you are mistaken.”

So says Robert Hass, in his playful poem, dryly titled “Poem With a Cucumber In It.”  The poem contains etymological musings on “cumbersome” and “encumber,” musings on the Berkeley sky, memories of travel, and a rough recipe for cucumber salad with dill and yogurt.

Perhaps the most famous poem with a cucumber in it is “The Task,” published in 1775 by William Cowper.  Like Hass’s, this poem contains something of a recipe: for growing a hothouse cucumber.  Cowper meditates for pages on the challenges of growing this sun loving plant in the English winter.  He describes the construction of the greenhouse, the creation of fertile soil out of a “rage of fermentation,” the coddling of seeds and sprouts, the fertilization which in winter requires that “assistant art/ then acts in nature’s office.”

The cucumber takes on social significance as well.  It is the object in a meditation on two main topics of eighteenth century political economy: value (“when rare/ so coveted, else base and disesteemed—/ Food for the vulgar merely”) and labor (“To raise the prickly and green-coated goard/ So grateful to the palate […] is an art” requiring intensive, careful labor unappreciated and unacknowledged by the wealthy purchasers of winter cucumbers).  Cowper advises “ye rich” to “grudge not the cost” because:

Ye little know the cares,
The vigilance, the labor and the skill
That day and night are exercised, and hang
Upon the ticklish balance of suspense,
That ye may garnish your profuse regales
With summer fruits brought forth by wintry suns.

Cowper’s socioeconomically-conscious advice might sound familiar to those of us who write and think and read about our current food culture: learn about how the foods you take for granted are grown; don’t take them for granted; consider the farmer’s labor; grow some food yourself; keep a compost heap; build a cold frame; consider the social and economic costs of unseasonal foods.

To read this eighteenth-century meditation on the economics, culture, and cultivation of cucumbers is to be reminded that our current “good food movement” exists in an historical context.  Skepticism about and moral indignation toward the modernization of food—whether that means hothouse-cultivation, refrigeration, or genetic modification—is as old as modernity itself, and probably older.   Praise for farmers and their ancient art—and injunctions to praise them—are as old as the art itself.

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We had to ditch plans for the beach when we heard the constant rain pouring down as we dozed this morning.  But Jack’s Uncle Grady arrived just in time for a big lunch at Bayside, just off of Horseneck Beach.  Bayside is an officially “green” restaurant certified by the Green Restaurant Association.

green cert
The greenness in evidence took the form of compostable soda straws and many local ingredients, including a range of seafood from lobster and crabs to cod and striped bass (which, around here, is called striper, and further down the East Coast, in Maryland, where we lived for a short while, is called rockfish).  The local beer menu offered many choices; I had an IPA made on Martha’s Vineyard by Offshore Ale Company: it was amber and hoppy, as I like it.

MV ale

IPA & chowdah

We quickly polished off a plate of fried calamari topped with spicy banana peppers.  I tried the Rhode Island style, brothy quahog chowder, but remain a fan of “New England” chowder, with its cream and whole clams.

calamari
Grady and I ordered the lobster rolls, which in normative New England parlance means a warm, limp hotdog bun lined with a lettuce leaf, and a pile of lobster chunks and diced celery held together with a dollop of mayonnaise.   Bayside serves a pared down version which gives the consumer more control (in the manner of the Starbucksification of to-go food consumption) and evokes the simplicity of “sustainable” eating.  The bun lined with lettuce holds a generous heap of lobster meat, and a little dish of mayonnaise or melted butter sits on the side.  I liked the lobster, of course, but missed the celery and mixed-up-edness of a traditional roll.

lob roll

Also on the table were fried clams, a salmon-asparagus wrap, and a gingery salmon salad.

We were full of good food, but had seen the pies on our way in.  The Bayside bakers make at least four kinds of pie every day.  Today there was lemon meringue, blueberry, apple, and strawberry rhubarb.

pies

We ordered “Indian Pudding”—a traditional New England custard made with milk, molasses, eggs, butter, and cornmeal, and seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, alspice, and cloves, and topped with a spoonful of melty vanilla ice cream—and one slice of strawberry rhubarb, which, curiously, was spiced with cardamom.   Now we were really full.

My first move when we got back to the house, was to brew a big pot of strong Gorilla coffee, a bag of which Chris and Kate brought us from Brooklyn.  I finished The City of Falling Angels, Jack watched the classic version of Winnie the Pooh, others took naps, Peggy baked banana bread…

A satisfying rainy day.

I also looked into green restaurant certification.  There are seven areas of greenness in which a restaurant must qualify:

1. Water Effciency
2. Waste Reduction and Recycling
3. Sustainable Furnishings and Building Materials
4. Sustainable Food
5. Energy
6. Disposables
7. Chemical and Pollution Reduction

For more information on this worthy cause, check out the Green Restaurant Association’s website.

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