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Posts Tagged ‘eat locally Vermont’

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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wagon

Strawberries were the totems of childhood today, at Cedar Circle Farm’s 7th annual strawberry festival.  Of the milling, stooping, picking, licking population, about two-thirds were fewer than four feet tall.  Many wore the totem on their shirts, hats, or cheeks. The folks at Cedar Circle make this day as much a celebration of childhood as of strawberries and local food in general.  There were three horse-drawn wagons, a mural-drawing section of the barn wall, a coloring station, face-painting teenage girls, a sandbox, strawberry smoothies and shortcake, coffee for the parents, puppetry, kite-making, tractors to sit on, and live music.  And, of course, picking.

tractors

wagon ride

We hit the face-painting table first; the boys both got trucks.

my son, the sceptic

my son, the sceptic

cheek truck

Then we walked around the food stations.  There were local sausages from Hogwash Farm on the grill, organic pizzas cooking in a wood-oven on wheels, and strawberry shortcake with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream from Strafford Organic Creamery.  In honor of this berry, which has been cultivated since medieval times, everything was very forward-looking.  The food was served on compostable dishes with compostable utensils; there was a complex trash station.  Near the coloring table there was a photo-and-text display (a low-tech, stop-time PowerPoint presentation hung with clothespins) about “The Real Costs of Cheap Food”, which included descriptions of chemicals that flow and leach from non-organic farms into ground water, lakes, and rivers, and a definition of food miles (how far a food travels from farm to table, with the fossil fuels required a big consideration), and some charming spelling errors.  There was also a photo-narrative of strawberry growing, from bed preparation during the winter to picking in June.  This display included lots of pictures with hay around the edges, in the middle, and present as a general tone (hay keeps down the weeds) as well as shots of very tan, lightly clad interns happily working the dirt.

real cost

Cedar Circle grows eight varieties of strawberries, and an array of vegetables—all certified organic.

and flowers

and flowers

My mom and I, with the occasional help of Jack and his cousin Jeremiah who preferred sitting on tractors, and my sister, Bridget, who helped them up and down the tractor steps, picked four pounds of berries.  We chose two varieties: Wendy, known by its petite size and light sweetness, and Mesabi, which is bigger, and almost raspberry-like in flavor. The plants were so high that lifting the leaves to look for spots of red was like opening the curtains—in a doll’s house.  The pleasure of discovery became addictive.  It’s hard to stop, even when the basket’s full!

Strawberries fresh off the stem, warmed by the sun, melted into juice in an instant in our mouths.  There were many worshippers.

worshippers

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Saturday morning, Norwich Farmers’ Market.  We got there too late for the golden beets: I saw the last bunch go at 10:15.  Maybe next week….

peas

But oh, the potatoes and peas!  The Fairlee, Vermont farm, coyly called “Your Farm,” had baskets upon baskets of sugar snap peas–the kind you can eat right off the vine, pod and all.  Jack was working it like a boiled, salted edamame pod, but was happy finally to eat the whole thing.

eating pea

These peas taste so good raw, they may not last until later, when I’ll make a salad of new potatoes, scapes, herbs and peas.  New potatoes are here in abundance: they are so tender and waxy it’s almost tempting to eat them raw, but lightly boiled will agree with tummies much better. I bought a couple of pounds at the Hurricane Flats farm stand.  (This farm is located on the banks of the beautiful White River, a tributary of the Connecticut, in South Royalton, VT.)

potatoes

New Potato Salad

Potatoes are a blank slate, upon which a thousand personalities can be written.  Bacon is always a good friend to potatoes, as are peas, corn, green beans, and fresh herbs like dill, tarragon, thyme, and parsley.   Caraway seeds are interesting additions to a potato salad dressed generously with a dijon-based vinaigrette.  Here’s what I’ll do with my potatoes, scapes, and maybe peas, today.

Boil potatoes until fork-tender.  Quarter them, and toss with a spoonful of vinegar (red wine, champagne, or cider are good) and two spoonfuls of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. (The quantities depend on how many potatoes you have; they should be dressed but not dripping.)

Then, add some crisped bacon/pancetta/prosciutto bits, and any combination of the above suggested veggies and herbs.  Today, I’m also going to add some lightly sauteed, then smashed, garlic scapes.

Let the salad sit and steep for awhile, and serve warm or chilled.

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Gorgeous green curlicues, Watteauesque arabesques…

scapes
Not to be confused with green garlic (long spring stalks with the bulbs attached) or ramps (wild leeks, whose season is earlier), scapes are the seed pod portion of the garlic plant that must be culled before they harden and pale from green to beige.  Snipping them helps the garlic bulb below fatten up.  Scapes’ season is fleeting, their flavor mere essence, evanescence.

Unlike the stronger-tasting bulbs, mild scapes can stand alone: blanched and tossed on a salad or ground into a pesto; sautéed with baby bok choy and thrown together with noodles; mixed in sneakily with green beans for an added dimension of flavor.

At the Hanover farmers’ market on Wednesday afternoon, I bought a small bunch.  Last night, my mom diced scapes and added them to her summery corn and edamame salad.  The night before, I sautéed them with local greens in a dish I make frequently, which is based on yaki-soba.  Here’s the recipe:

Garlicky Noodles and Greens
Serves 4

1 package soba (buckwheat) noodles
1 lb. fresh spinach, washed and torn up
2 heads baby bok choy, roughly chopped
5 garlic scapes, chopped
1 lb. flank steak or chicken breast, sliced
2 tbs. sesame oil
2 tbs. mirin
2 tbs. soy sauce
Thai hot sauce
Lime slices

In a small bowl, combine oil, mirin, and soy sauce; set aside. Sauté the meat until mid-rare, and set aside.  In the same pan, with a bit more oil, cook the greens and scapes, covered, over moderate heat.  After a few minutes, remove the lid, to let the water evaporate.  Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add the soba noodles, and cook for 5 minutes.  Drain, and pour into a warmed serving bowl.  Just before serving, put the meat back in the pan with the greens to re-warm.  Combine greens & meat with noodles, pour the sauce over, and toss to coat.  Add hot sauce and lime juice individually to taste.

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My favorite way to cook asparagus is to roast it.  The caramelization that happens in the oven brings out the natural sweetness of this grassy green, and the dry heat softens the stalks without turning them to mush.

Preheat oven to 425. Roll asparagus on a cookie sheet in olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Roast for about 10 minutes, until lightly browned but not shriveled.

Asparagus goes particularly well with the breakfasty flavors of eggs and bacon.  For a substantial side or light meal, you could roast the asparagus with bacon, pancetta, or proscuitto pieces sprinkled around, then dress it with a chopped eight-minute egg.

Asparagus is also great with a bit of lemon zest.

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radishes
After a stop at the Norwich Bookstore and Nana’s apartment, we went to the Hanover farmers’ market, on the Dartmouth green.  I’d had some pent-up desire for this kind of variety and plenty, and I went a little wild.  Jack and I ate half of the bunch of salmon colored carrots right away.
carrot

Then, after craning my neck to assess the competition, I settled on Fable Farm for my armfuls of kale, lettuce, and motley radishes.

fable farm

Then there was raw-milk cheese from Piermont, New Hampshire to sample.  I bought some of the manchego style “Manch-vegas.”  (Did it have that name because it was so over-the-top-flashy-flavorful?  It had to be followed by a full-bodied red.)

cheese

Strawberries!  Next weekend Cedar Circle Farm will have their annual strawberry festival, but we had to stock up before then.

cedar strawberries
There were sausages, pasture-raised chickens, eggs, breads and baked things of all sorts, fresh-squeezed lemonade, popcorn popped in an aluminum vat the size of a bathtub:

lemondae

beef pork

And asparagus.

asparagus I got a big bunch.  The vendor suggested grilling them, which we did later.  I usually roast them, and I have to say, I’m going to stick with roasting.  They were fine grilled, but they got a bit black.  It’s easier to control the cooking when they’re on a pan in the oven, rolling around in olive oil rather than errant flames.

Around here, it almost goes without saying that the produce, poultry, meat, fruit, and fungi are raised without the help of synthetic chemicals.  Here is a fiercely proud bastion of organics where the suggestion of doubt would be taken as an affront to the dignity of the farmer and her land.  The collective identity of this community, which is scattered across mountains and back roads, is strong in spite of, or because of, the old New England ethos of pioneering individualism and eccentricity that is summed up on New Hampshire’s license plates: “Live Free or Die.”

Jack, exercising his right to sit down wherever he wants to.

Jack, exercising his right to sit down wherever he wants to.

Later on, for dinner, we grilled sausages and the asparagus, sautéed the kale with some crushed garlic, sliced the walnut ficelle, and ate outside while the sun went down.

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