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Posts Tagged ‘Vermont grass fed beef’

Everything was burning yesterday evening.  For the most part, in the best way.

First, I roasted the two bunches of beets–chioggia and golden–and some of the juice oozed out of the foil onto the cookie sheet.  The whole house smelled of burned beet slime.  The result of roasting, however, was delicious: warm beet salad dressed lightly with vinaigrette, sprinkled with chives, salt, and pepper, and covered with crumbled local goat cheese.

My parents’ best friends, the Ashleys, came down the steep driveway from their house for dinner.  Dad mixed martinis and mojitos (for different people–we didn’t mix).  We sat in the sun on the deck.  The tiki torches were flaming.  We snacked on corn chips and hummus, and the tender, nutty Cobb Hill cheese named Ascutney Mountain (for the Green mountain just south of here).

Ascutney chs

Along with a colorful salad made from our farmers’ market haul, we had sweet corn on the cob from Killdeer Farm, and those sausages from Hogwash Farm–Beer Bratwurst and Chorizo–which promptly caught on fire when Dad put them on the grill.  We moved them around, and the flames gave chase (it always cracks me up when baseball announcers use that phrase!).  In the end, there were some spots of char, but not too many, and the sausages were succulent.

This pyromeal was followed by a campfire, up on the hillside behind the Ashleys’ house, at their well-used fire pit.  The grown-ups nursed our drinks and constructed perfectly melted s’mores, while the boys torched marshmallows, pinecones, leftover Christmas candles, anything that would burn.

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A good time was had by all.

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The morning started out cool and foggy.  I went for a run on the hilly dirt road here, and the air was so chilly and moist in the shade of the tree canopy, that my glasses fogged up.  Turnpike Road follows the course of the Blood Brook, which winds this way and that through culverts under the road (and is named for an old area family, not for early-American battles with Indians).  Normally, in the summer, the brook is just a trickle between dry stones, but lately, because of the uncharacteristically (well, insanely) wet summer, it’s been raging.  The rain has made it hard for all of the farmers around here.  Haying has to happen in the spots of sun between storms.  Vegetables are coming in later than usual.  Sweet corn only just arrived.

By the time we got to the Norwich Farmers’ Market, the fog had burned off, and the sun was getting hot.  We bought an array of goodies from the warm end of the spectrum, from dark new Peruvian Purple potatoes, to pork sausage and rainbow carrots, two kinds of beets, and pale yellow Fingerlings.

bratwurst

The potatoes all came from Hurricane Flats Farm, on the Connecticut River in South Royalton, Vermont, as did the beets.  I bought two bunches: the concentric-striped Chioggias and mango-colored Goldens.  I’m roasting them now, and will quarter them and toss them in some kind of salad later—probably with local goat cheese, again.

As we strolled from their stand, we stopped at Hogwash Farm’s to sample their beer bratwurst. (They raise beef cattle, pigs, and laying hens, and are located here in Norwich.)  It was so tasty, that Jack and his cousin continued to sample while I looked through the freezer and picked out grass fed ground beef and chorizo.  We decided to get a package of the bratwurst too, before the boys cleaned them out.

Hogwash T

From there, we made our way to Your Farm’s stand, and spotted the dazzling rainbow carrots!  We each tried a color.  I’m partial to the purple-skinned-orange-centered kind.

rainbow carrots

After the Farmers’ Market, we stopped at Norwich Square, where all the shops were having a little outdoor fair.    There were musicians, made-to-order crepes, book-signing, and Silkie chickens pecking the grass.

chickens

Jack went into one of his favorite places in Norwich: the little house.  Sometimes, while I drink a coffee and eat an almond croissant from Allechante, Jack brings his snack in there, sits in the rocker, munches, and hums a little hum to himself.

J in little house
I left the boys with my mom in the bookstore, and ducked into Zuzu, where I found the snazziest dress!  Here’s a shot of the fabric:

dress

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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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We had the most delicious meal last night.  Sauteed broccoli raab, beet greens, and green garlic from Killdeer, polenta, and spicy grass fed beef sausages.  After our morning with the Jersey cows at Thistle Hill in North Pomfret, Vermont, yesterday, we drove up and down the winding roads and along River Road in search of more cows—this time the black Angus steers of Cloudland Farm.

cloudland steers
“Cloudland” is an appropriate name for the farm at the top of the mountain road of the same name.  There are some long tunnels of trees along this climb that then break open into gorgeous vistas.  Before the twentieth century, the whole hill was most likely a cloudland—open pastures that seemed to touch the sky, for sheep and cattle and countless stone walls.  New growth forest has filled in some of this land, but Cloudland Farm still maintains a thousand acres of pastureland for its herd of grass fed steers.  (They’ve farmed this land for one hundred years.)  Like the population of grazing animals, that of farming families has thinned over the decades, too.  This empty hilltop school is evidence of a once-thriving community:

cloudland school
(The bigger Pomfret school down in the valley is underenrolled, now.  Old farmhouses are being bought up by wealthy non-farmers whose kids have already grown up and stayed in the cities.)

While I shopped around in their farm store, Jack and his cousin stood in the driveway admiring all of the vehicular activity. There was a big John Deere tractor, a skid steer, two ATVs, and a kid-sized pedal tractor.  The boys were happy.

cloudland sign
So was I.  I bought a whole variety of frozen beef, and started thinking about dinner.  Outside, the sun was streaming down at intervals between the big cumulonimbus clouds that have covered this region for over a month, drenching it again and again.  Bill Emmons, the Cloudland farmer, was talking about how little haying he’s been able to do, because of the constant rain.  He was enjoying the chit-chat, but was also twitching to get away and grab this sunny moment to hay.  “I hope I remember how,” he joked.

Visit their website here.

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It’s a comfort, shaping meatballs.  Only my fingertips touch, shape, nudge, they are so delicate. Unlike the muscle and torque involved in kneading bread, the pressure here has to be slight.  The way you might hold an infant’s foot.

Yes, I know. I’m talking about raw meat.  But I love making these meatballs in part because I use a recipe from a friend I’ve lost touch with, and they remind me of the dinners he cooked for us–at once so scrupulous and so lax.  Jonathan was exact about ingredients, cooking temps and times, the composition of courses.  And relaxed about the way the evening stretched late into the night, about lipstick marks on wine glasses–from previous drinkers–about the terrifying mess in the kitchen.

We had a delicious rivalry.  He would cook us a multi-course meal with wines to match, and we’d follow up the next weekend at our apartment, just up the hill from his, on Euclid Ave. in Berkeley.  It went on, as we attempted amicably to one-up each other.

The meatballs were one of the best meals.  Here is his basic recipe, as I remember it, which came from his Nonna, his Italian grandmother.

Jonathan’s Meatballs

1 lb. ground beef
1 egg
1/2 eggshell water
1/3 c. fresh bread crumbs
small handful chopped parsley
4 cloves garlic, minced
plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper or some red pepper flakes for spice

Combine all ingredients, and shape gently into meatballs, either large or small.  Cook over moderate heat in an oiled or buttered pan, turning occasionally, until done.  Serve immediately.

Tonight, I had the luxury of local grass fed ground beef, local fresh eggs, and of course local herbs.  I substituted blanched garlic scapes for the garlic cloves.


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