Monday, July 30, 2012

Rain, Rain Goes Away

The rain didn't completely go away on Sunday - but it did share the day with us.   After a straight shot west on Route 23 from Hudson, NY- in the pouring down rain - I turned right onto Route 10 - in the bright sunshine - in Stamford, NY and continued until I reached my friends Rita and David's picture-perfect home in Jefferson.  The occasion for the visit - besides visiting my friends, at their country home, who I was accustomed to seeing with a kind of regularity when I lived in the city - was to visit with their daughter and grandchildren who now live in Uganda.   Zoe, her husband, David and their 3 children visit the States twice a year and it's my pleasure to see them, and watch the kids grow up and acquire a kind of British colonial accent.

I arrived in time to have an hors d'oevre selection of cheese from the nearby Harpersfield Cheese Co. Sunday's choices included raw milk, jalapeno, and black peppercorn.  The Brovettos - who own the dairy use Tilsit - a German, semi-firm cow's milk cheese that's tangy in a mild way, and fruity in that it's a welcome host to whatever other flavors are added to it - and there are many - as the basis for their cheese.  In Hudson, Cheese! at the farmers' market sells one that's aged in Ommegang ale (from the famed Cooperstown brewery).  But wait, here's the really cool part of this cheese story.  My friends have acres and acres and acres of  fields of hay on their property.  The Brovettos mow it, bale it and feed it to the cows who give the milk that makes the tasty cheese.

Lunch was served in a screened-in porch that overhangs a garden chock-a-block filled with hostas and the rest of the backyard view - it feels somwhat like sitting in a treehouse.  The table was draped in fabulous East African, purple and green tie-dyed cloth that provided a stunning background for John  Derian for Target leaf-patterned melamine plates.  (you may have noticed that last week, my outdoor table was set with the same ones - they are the perfect outdoor plate - and unfortunately they are no longer available - except maybe on eBay), and John Robshaw grass green napkins. These necessary accessories set off a generous offering of food, the ingredients for which came from the Oneonta farmers' market and Rita's garden.

There was selection of meat from various Oneonta market vendors that included pork hot dogs, spicy lamb sausages and ground beef for grilling into mini-burgers.

Zaide's Potatey Salad - made from several varieties of potatoes grown by zaide, or grandpa, David in his potato patch, green beans from the garden and freshly pounded pesto.
David's potato patch is guarded by a folk-art goat sculpture made by neighbor, John Jackson.

Rita's Cole Slaw was made with finely shredded cabbage and carrots, grated fresh garlic and dressed with half and half, a bit of mayonnaise, a whisper of sugar, salt and pepper.  Make it at least an hour before serving to give it time for the flavors to marry.

Steamed corn on the cob and sliced tomatoes completed the quintessentially summertime meal.

Our post prandial entertainment was provided, pond-side, by various swimming children and Frankie, the Golden Retriever who felt that it was her duty to stay close to those kids.  She was, in fact, their own personal life guard.  Not that she needed an excuse to stay in the water (she was born to swim) - unlike Allegra who goes in up to her knees only in order to chase frogs and bite the water.

At some point, after picking warm-from-the-sun raspberries, we returned to the porch for dessert.  I made the summer cake - already photographed for this blog - and recipe included.  The cake was served with vanilla ice cream.   Sound like a day that you might see described and photographed for a glossy magazine?  It was.  But, even better -  we were there.  

Lagniappe - or, what has Allegra's rapt attention?

 SUSANSIMONSAYS:    Come and meet legendary cookbook editor, and James Beard award-winning cookbook author himself, Roy Finamore at the Hudson Farmers' Market, Saturday, August 4th.  Roy will be signing copies of his classic books, "One Potato, Two Potato", and "Tasty", from 10:30am - 12:30pm.   I will continue to remind you that everyone loves a cookbook  as a birthday present or to celebrate a winter holiday.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Farm to Table times Two

Friends from Washington DC arrived on Friday afternoon to spend the weekend with me in my new hometown, Hudson, NY.   The choice of things to do in the area, in the summertime, is just about overwhelming. Not ever to be excluded from the great variety of Hudson Valley events are meals made with locally sourced ingredients - whether it's a home-cooked meal or one eaten at a restaurant.  The meals are right up there with a trip down to Bard College to see a play (part of their Summerscape series) or one over the Hudson River via the Rip Van Winkle bridge to Catskill, NY and a docent-guided tour of Thomas Cole's home and studio.
Friday night was an easy choice - The Red Barn - a Friday night trip out to the Red Barn has become a habit of mine.  I like to peruse - and shop - at the mini farmer's market that's set up there.  Actually, I buy heavier things there on Friday nights because I have my car and it's easy to take the everything home. I save lighter weight things for the Saturday morning Hudson Farmers' Market where I can walk and then carry stuff home over my shoulder.  I digress.  My friends,  Tom (from all the way back to 8th grade - and I can't tell you how long ago that was) and Sidney were luckily as charmed by the Barn as I am.  It's just a good time to sit at one of tables - have a drink (they do have a liquor license), chat with each other and the people at nearby tables too, and then think about ordering some perfectly sinful and delicious dishes from their "roadside" menu - a lobster roll, a fish taco, a fried clam or oyster roll, a cheeseburger....

Saturday breakfast included white peaches and blackberries (tossed with rapadura sugar and fresh lemon juice) from Loveapple Farm, Maple Hill Creamery's dreamy, creamy yogurt, house-made - this house - granola, etc.

  I had reserved seats for us to see Moliere's classic comedy, "The Imaginary Invalid" at Bard.  Dinner?   Hmmm.  I knew nothing would be open after the performance - that meant we needed to eat before it.  And just like that, Laura Pensiero, who signed copies of her book, "Hudson Valley Mediterranean" at the Farmers' Market Book Tent the previous week, reminded me that her
 Gigi Market, in Upper Red Hook, had initiated a new, weekend only, dinnertime menu at the market and named it agriturismo, a reference to the Italian traditional meals (and lodging) served on the farms where all the ingredients for the dishes are grown.  Perfect - and just 5 minutes from Bard.

The meal is served family-style.  Platters and bowls of food are brought to the table for everyone to share.   The fixed-price meal - the menu (which duly notes the farm of each ingredient's origin) includes a huge basket of Gigi's bread, a dish of olive oil, a bean and garlic spread; an antipasti loaded with lavender-scented cheese, cured sausage, blueberries, pickled daikon radish, steamed carrots with poblano peppers, and beet "carpaccio" - thinly sliced Chioggia beets (the striped ones) topped with olive oil; a choice of entree, vegetarian or meat - we chose two orders of vegetarian pasta, bucatini with greens and cherry tomatoes and other things, and one order of grilled poussin and sausage; dessert was still warm-from-the-oven blueberry cobbler topped with a dollop of whipped cream.  Without asking, the excellent staff packed up the leftovers for our future enjoyment.  Let me tell you, this place is a find.  The food is molto buono, you can rest assured the ingredients have a tiny carbon footprint, and the price is so reasonable that you will be very happy. The menu changes every weekend - check the site for updates.
I would be remiss if I neglected to mention that the production of "The Imaginary Invalid" at Bard was superb.  Yes, superb.  Well directed, good set design, wonderful costumes, hammy actors, and funny - funny, I thought that I would get so hysterical that I wouldn't be able to stop.  btw - I found the theatre very comfortable as did my 6'1" companions.  (I had read criticism that the theatre was small and cramped).

Okay, by Sunday the only meals that I had offered my guests were breakfasts - good ones - complete with a brunch that added on cheesy scrambled eggs and bacon to the the previously mentioned offerings. However, I needed to do a little cooking.   After we returned from Catskill I went into action and prepared some simple things with my market booty.  Because the weather has been so dry this summer there haven't been many mosquitoes around so we were able to dine outside.  Have I spoken too soon?

We had some Camembert from The Amazing Real Live Food Co. and some R &G goat milk yogurt, labane-style with sweet-as-can-be cherry tomatoes from Blue Star Farm with drinks - white wine, Negronis and  Campari with grapefruit soda.    Dinner included simply grilled, flatiron steaks - which I thinly sliced to serve.

A market salad made with roasted corn, steamed orange and purple carrots, baked red and golden beets,  steamed fingerling potatoes and lots of chopped dilled.  The dressing was made with Dijon mustard, creme fraiche, rice wine vinegar, salt and extra virgin olive oil - you can add freshly ground pepper too - I don't because it gets stuck in my throat.

I grilled pieces of olive oil-smeared Loaf baguette  to serve as a vessel for a soupy, fresh tomato salsa made simply with chopped tomatoes, chopped fresh (uncured) garlic, a chiffonade of fresh basil, salt, red wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.

I wanted to make a fruit something dessert but it was getting late and really hot in the kitchen.  I couldn't stand it, so I got out and asked Tom if he would go over to Lick and get a pint of ice cream.  I asked for the raspberry chip that I had so enjoyed on Friday eve - but they were out of it - they cycle through flavors at demon speed.  Resourceful Tom made an executive decision and came home with a pint of beet ice cream.  Yes beet, a perfect coda to our beet-full weekend.  I served the ice cream with the blueberry sauce that I make every week during blueberry season, just to have for emergencies like this one! (the hot weather melted the ice cream before I could take a proper photo - realism)


I double or triple this recipe as it freezes very well.  It will be a delight to pull it out of the freezer when the ground is covered with snow to use to remind you of summer days.  In the meantime, use it with plain yogurt, as a topping for ice cream, as part of a short cake or as a sauce with fresh cut up fruit and berries.

1 pound fresh blueberries, rinsed and picked over
2 tablespoons pure honey
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
 In a non-reactive saucepan over medium heat, combine the blueberries, honey and lemon juice.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the berries release their juice, about 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:  Come meet Mindy Fox at the Hudson Farmers' Market on Saturday, July 28th and let her sign a copy of her new book, or two or three - remember how everyone enjoys the gift of a cookbook for their birthday or on a holiday - "salads: beyond the bowl".  She'll be at the market a bit  past 10am until 12:30 pm.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Tri-State Day Trip, and A Welcome Gift from a Stranger

With each day spent living in Hudson I've grown more smitten with its location.  It's practically tucked into the point where New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut meet. Adventures abound.  The other day, in 50 short minutes I drove through two states, New York and Massachusetts, to reach my final destination in the third, Connecticut.  It's uncanny, but true that although these states are attached to each other with no visible boundaries the character of the landscape changes as soon as you pass by the individual state's "Welcome to..." sign.  This is most decidedly evident when you enter Connecticut from Massachusetts.

I was invited to visit my friends, Louise Fili and Steve Heller (his daily newsletters, The Daily Heller and The Nightly Heller are endlessly entertaining and the information within will make you feel smart and informed) at their lush Litchfield County property.  Their house had its start as an Agway corrugated metal barn and all new additions were built to appear as if they were part of the original, including the silo shaped two-story master suite - designed by the late architect, Mark Foster.

The property is filled with Louise-designed flower gardens, a vegetable garden (mostly enjoyed by the chipmunks) a small orchard and the center-piece/ conversation piece, the GLACIAL ERRATIC - the rest of which has slipped down to "somewhere in Long Island" according to Steve.  It took me a few minutes to get it.  Here is this remaining bit of the ice age where, according to my friends, the property's former owner used as  wine-making platform.

Louise, besides being the world's best designer of food packaging and restaurant logos - you must check out her website just to see her latest, and stunningly beautiful, designs for chef Marcus Samuelsson's new line of tea - is a wonderful cook in grand Mediterranean-style.  Louise is an ardent - no, not a strong enough word - is an uber-Italophile. In fact part of our friendship is based on the fact that we speak Italian to each other - and sometimes play Scrabble in that language.   Her choices for the lunch that we shared were the just the kinds of things you might eat on a warm summer afternoon under a pergola in the country outside of Florence, Rome, Genoa, Venice, or Milan - you know, anywhere in Italy. 

Sweet, winy fresh figs wrapped in salty-sweet prosciutto; tender, saffron-laden risotto cakes - made with Marcella Hazan's recipe for risotto alla Milanese which  were formed into patties, covered in breadcrumbs and a few fresh thyme leaves, then gently sauteed in a bit of olive oil; a insalata Nizzarda - Louise's version of the classic salade Nicoise made with freshly poached tuna, cucumbers, tomatoes (from her garden), olives and hard-cooked eggs; and Marinated Eggplant from one of everyone's favorite cookbooks of the 1980s , Viana La Place & Evan Kleinman's Cucina Fresca.  And, all the way from Hudson, The Red Barn's sweet potato chips.  We finished the meal with strawberries macerated in red wine and a bit of sugar served with "bird food" (mixed nuts and seeds held together with honey) bars.  Beverages included sparkling water water, sparkling pink lemonade and chilled Campari - we each made our own versions of a mixed drink with different combinations of the selection.   Beautiful rosy drinks - all of them.
I'll bet you didn't even notice that this whole meal was lactose-free and gluten-free.  And who missed anything?  To the contrary.   Deliziosissimo!

MARINATED EGGPLANT  from Cucina Fresca (Harper & Row, 1985)

Serves 4

1 eggplant
coarse salt
olive oil for frying
1 bunch fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
 Cut a slice off the stem and blossom ends of the eggplant. Cut length-wise into thin slices, about 1/4-inch thick.  Lay out the eggplant slices on paper towels and salt generously.  Let stand until beads of water appear on the surface.  Dry the eggplant with additional towels.  Heat a non-stick skillet over high heat.  Pour enough oil into the skillet to just cover the bottom.  Fry the eggplant slices at moderately high heat a few at a time to avoid crowding the pan.  The slices should brown quickly so that they do not get mushy.  As the slices brown, remove them from the pan and place on paper towels to drain.
In a glass or enamel baking dish, make a layer of eggplant slices.  Sprinkle some of the basil, garlic and vinegar over the eggplant slices.  Make another layer of eggplant slices and repeat sprinkling with herbs and vinegar.  Refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, for several hours, preferably overnight.  The marinated eggplant will continue to improve in flavor for several days.

The day before the heavenly Connecticut adventure I was, as is my habit, pursuing the Saturday morning Hudson Farmers' Market - and keeping an eye on the Book Tent's (see link for future schedule) author  - when a stranger, to me, a man, approached me with a bouquet of vegetables wrapped up in damp newspaper (the Arts section of the New York Times - if you were wondering) and a printed sheet of paper somewhat describing the most unusual selection of the group.  "I want someone who appreciates food to have these," he said.  "They're from my garden".  I unwrapped the paper to find frisee - a highly-flavored, slightly bitter salad leaf, purple and green string beans, and the mystery ingredient which my donor called "strawberry spinach".  Thank you.  As soon as I got home I Googled "strawberry spinach" and found hundreds of recipes for salads with strawberries and spinach - but nothing that resembled the misshapen little red globes attached to sparsely-leafed branches that I was gifted.   I referred to the sheet of paper that was part of the gift and found the botanical name of the  plant is chenopodium capitatum which is more commonly known as blite goosefoot.   Yeah sure, when was the last time you bought a bunch of blite goosefoot?  Further exploration led to the discovery that quinoa, the high-energy grain is also chenopodium (quinoa).  Feeling confident that this was truly an edible plant I popped a few of the berries into my mouth.  They were surpringly pleasing.  Dare I say they tasted like fresh, juicy quinoa?  But what to do with them?   I didn't dare cook them for fear of loosing their saturated red-orange color and perhaps disintegration of their shape and flavor.  So, I made my own kind of salade Nicoise because the other ingredients suggested it to me.   I thought about adding tuna, as in the real version - but when I thought about those berries - there was all the protein you might need.

I made a dressing with a bit of prepared mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, and fresh lemon juice to contrast the bitter leaves.  I added blanched beans - the purple ones turn dark green when cooked - and tossed everything together with some chopped Kalamata olives. Garnished it with tomato wedges and covered the salad with the strawberry-like fruits and enjoyed one of the most unusual, and unusually good salads that I've eaten in awhile.  Thank you stranger  - whose name I later discovered is David.  He pulls up his station-wagon every Saturday on the south-east side of market offering the harvest of his garden.

SUSANSIMONSAYS:  There's plenty to do in Hudson this coming weekend.  Two outstanding events include Severine von Tscharner Fleming signing copies of a book that she edited, "Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmers' Movement" in the Book Tent at the Hudson Farmers' Market. 10:30am - 12:30pm.

and a wine and chocolate tasting from 5 - 7 pm, #1 Warren Street next door to The Chocolate Bar.  Fortunately these two events don't compete. You can do both.

Monday, July 9, 2012

That Other Whaling Town

This isn't the first time that I've dedicated a posting to the emblematic whaling spot, Nantucket Island and it won't be the last - even although I now live in another whaling town founded by disgruntled islanders, Hudson, NY.  Nantucket has been part of my life ever since my late mother read Moby Dick and decided that we should visit the island 26 miles out sea instead of our usual Cape Cod vacation.  We never looked back.  Author Herman Melville  who came to Nantucket for the first time a full year after the publication of Moby Dick  wrote this often repeated description of the island; "Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it.  See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely than the Eddystone lighthouse.  Look at it - a mere hillock, and elbow; all beach without a background."   He got his information from, yes, a map and but also from his trusted friend, and island visitor, Nathaniel Hawthorne. 
I go to the island when ever possible.  I go there because of my HUGE sentimental attachment to the physical aspects of the island including the the way the light, reflected from the ocean that surrounds it and  intensifies all its natural colors; pink rugosa roses, pea soup green beach grass, cobalt hydrangeas, milky-tea colored sand, and the ocean itself which at some moments appears to be Caribbean-island turquoise and other times true north Atlantic olive green.  I go there because the fragrance of those roses knocks me out with its heady aroma and the salt air makes my nose tickle - right now the privet is blooming and you might succumb to its exaggerated sweet scent.  I go there because I have family and friends there.

My sister Laura, and her husband, Jim have lived on the island for decades, and for decades they have gardened.  Oh, this is no commonplace, run-of-the mill garden - there are gardens, plural. The most important garden is a third of an acre that is fenced in to shelter fruit trees, berry bushes, vegetables and herbs from rabbits, deer and other pests.  The garden is meticulously organic and has been chronicled by Laura in her lauded book "Dear Mr, Jefferson, Letters from a Nantucket Gardener" which unfortunately is no longer in print but still available from sources like Amazon and Alibris and other sources that sell out-of-print books.

Nantucket gardens are a few weeks behind most Northeastern USA gardens but then they last a bit longer than most mainland gardens do.   My most recent 4th of July trip found Laura still planting her garden.  Actually, still moving plants from the potting shed to cold frames too.

The partially nude garden gave me the opportunity to view the still empty trellises which are themselves the kind of environmental sculptures that you expect to find photographed in fancy magazines for stories about other people's sublimely decorated homes and gardens.   Laura describes this rectangular-shaped trellis "in the lower trio bed, the coolest bed I have, is for cucumbers.  This it's third year.  My variety this year, as last, is 'Super Zagross'.  It's an Israeli bred cuke of a type  that grows wild in the Middle East - very heat tolerant, thin skin, not at all bitter."   She and Jim construct the trellises with branches found in the woods which surround their home.  They are among the fortunate few islanders who have a woods.   The island was once covered in woods until the settlers began to cut down it down for lumber to build homes. It has never recovered the growth because saplings have been constantly thwarted by the wind that sweeps across the island.  However, Nantucket town is a living museum of magnificent wooden homes in all sizes.

Laura's attention to detail is on full display in the property's various garden buildings.  The Tool Shed is home to the neatly arranged - well - tools.  Laura's has a lot of small tools because, "I garden on my knees."  And for the many,  many small bamboo rakes? "I have so many small rakes because they are very useful and often there are several people using them."

There's a shed that contains terra cotta pots and baskets.  "The baskets are for harvesting - mostly tomatoes.  Clearly delineated and no more than two varieties per basket and obviously they all don't get harvested at once, but over succeeding weeks.  This year I think I have 13 varieties."

My brother-in-law is a beekeeper.  Of course, he's no ordinary beekeeper.  Aside from his clear affection and respect for his honey producers he is an expert in their care and feeding.  He is also the town's go-to person when an uninvited swarm inhabits someones attic, wall or eaves.  He will do the removal with expertise and then increase his own hives with the newly collected swarm or convince an islander to become a beekeeper.

Laura had just harvested her China Stripe garlic when I arrived.  Here it is getting ready to be tied and hung up to cure.  We kind of built part of a meal around the fresh garlic which I sauteed with beet greens and tiny little beets - no larger than an inch or so which got pulled up with the greens.   While sauteed garlic in olive oil with the addition of the tiniest beets whole, and thinly sliced larger ones, and rinsed greens is not a particularly complex dish - it certainly becomes one when using ingredients just dug up from the earth.  Oh man.

A visit to the island is not complete without dinner with my friends Steve and Anna.   I've known Steve since - dare I say - two wives ago.  His present, and best wife doesn't mind the description.  Swedish with the kind of Scandinavian calm that allows most turmoil to pass over her, Anna is a weaver par excellence and a great companion at the beach.   Multi-talented Steve has had many careers - right now he's an oyster farmer.  Talk about good.   However, for dinner he rapidly sauteed small sea scallops (about the size of large bay scallops) in olive oil, added fresh sage leaves, capers, and fresh lemon juice, set the whole thing aflame and then dumped it on spaghetti.  Great choice.

It seems that every summer has a signature beach sandwich.  Last year I couldn't get enough of  Motorboat and Banana's fried fish sandwich out at Rockaway Beach.   This summer it's the Sicilian from Provisions on Nantucket.   Preserved-in-olive-oil Sicilian tuna on an olive oil soaked ciabatta roll with house-made bread and butter pickles, capers and a whole field of arugula seemed like the best sandwich ever this year.


COMING UP, JULY 14th - at the Hudson Farmers' Market Book Tent - Laura Pensiero of Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck, and Gigi Market in Red Hook will sign copies of her book "Hudson Valley Mediterranean".  And she'll serve a little sample from a recipe on page 97 of her book.  10:30am - 12:30 at the corner of 6th and Columbia Streets.