Friday, July 20, 2007

A Weekend in New York

I recently spent a long weekend visiting my brother Erik and his wife Eppu in New York.

Erik is not as interested in eating-local-as-a-hobby as I am, but he says that he does enjoy getting local produce and fish at his nearest farmers' market when he can. He is an enthusiastic cook, and while I was visiting, he prepared several dishes that were largely locally sourced. For instance, there was this berry tart, made with berries from the farmers' market and every bit as delicious as it looks:

There was also a scrumptious vinaigrette-type potato salad that included a mix of local vegetables; some local asparagus (last of the season!) wrapped in prosciutto and grilled; and a melange of other local vegetables (plus some non-local ingredients) to go with the asparagus. And we had bread from local bakers, although I imagine they get their flour from somewhere far away.

I arrived too late to share in the dairy goods from Ronnybrook Farm that Erik had gotten on an earlier market day. Here are the glass bottles:

On the Sunday that I was there, I got to go along for a visit to the neighborhood farmers' market, which is held just down the sidewalk from the gates to Columbia University. This photo shows more of the environs than of the market itself, but you can just make out the white pop-up tents of the vendors' stalls in the middle of this scene:

At that market, I bought four pints of gooseberries, which looked beautiful and were attractively priced. Erik helped me pinch off the stems and blossom ends, and I froze them in Erik and Eppu's freezer before transporting them back to Charlottesville with me. If I can get my act together, I should be making gooseberry jam or jelly soon.

In addition to chowing down on largely-local goodies at Erik and Eppu's place, we ate a few meals out, notably at Pisticci and China de Puebla. Both were really, really good, but I must single out the Green Jade Gazpacho at China de Puebla. It was amazing. This cold soup was made with coconut, zucchini, cucumber, jicama, honeydew and mint. Although I've been enjoying eating local in Charlottesville, it was a treat to savor this simple-yet-complex, fusion-y food made of ingredients from, presumably, far-flung places. (Don't see many coconut trees in New York.) The key word, I am starting to think, is treat: my diet is getting to be dominated by locally-produced foods, but I can still enjoy, on occasion, savoring a dish that brings distant corners of the world together.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Yogurt with . . .

As locally-grown fruits come into season, I've been enjoying delicious rich homemade whole-milk yogurt with . . .

. . . cherries . . .

. . . peaches . . .

. . . blackberries . . .

. . . mmmm. I think this crazy yogurt-making scheme was a good plan, after all.

(Technical note: all of the fruits that I've been stirring into my yogurt have been cooked briefly with a small amount of sugar, as detailed in this post about strawberries.)

Saturday, July 7, 2007


Last night I saw the movie Ratatouille. I wasn't planning to, but then I heard a Talk of the Nation interview with Ruth Reichl in which the movie's food critic character was discussed, and then after that I read this review at Megnut, and my interest was piqued.

Naturally after seeing the movie with its climactic ratatouille-related episode, I had to make myself a dish of . . .


I got almost all the ingredients fresh this morning at the farmers' market:

  • eggplant from the Farm at Red Hill

  • tomatoes from the Farm at Red Hill

  • zucchini from Waterpenny Farm

  • onion from Double H Farm

  • red bell peppers from the farmers' market

  • basil from Radical Roots

  • thyme from Planet Earth Diversified

  • salt and pepper

  • brown rice to serve on top of

The result: not too bad. I haven't been a big fan of ratatouille when I've had it before, but the fresh tomatoes and herbs made the dish.

I loved the fact that I could get every ingredient (short of the salt and pepper, and the rice, which is ancillary) fresh and in season from local farmers. This made me reflect on how nicely attuned traditional recipes are (because in the past they had to be!) to the seasonal and regional availability of produce. Lately I've been eating tortilla espaƱola and gazpacho on a daily basis; I've been making both almost entirely with fresh, local ingredients, apart from a few pantry staples used mainly for seasoning (salt, pepper, vinegar, olive oil).

By contrast, this afternoon I plan to try to make a fruit salad recipe from the recent issue of Cook's Illustrated. The recipe calls for both peaches and strawberries, which are not in season at the same time! As it happens, I managed to get a box of "last of the season" strawberries from the Farm at Red Hill, and of course peaches from Critzer's. Before I started trying to eat more local food, I would not have thought twice about a peach-and-strawberry recipe, but now, it looks a little absurd to me.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

A Couple Things I've Learned Lately

(Warning for Gentle Readers: minor food-related grossness ahead.)

1. A "picnic roast" cut contains the shoulder joint of the pig.

I bought a seven-pound "picnic roast" from Babes in the Wood (who raise delicious pork, by the way) thinking that the arm bone went straight through and I could cleanly divide the hunk of meat down the middle with one cut by a big knife. Hah! I ended up spending a good long while in the kitchen, inexpertly butchering my purchase. It was a much more involved task than I thought I had bargained for, but in the process I gained a food-education dividend. I learned that a "picnic roast" includes the shoulder joint bones going through the roast at a right angle, and I learned a bit about the anatomy of a pig's shoulder joint. I also learned to have some admiration for proper butchers, and some appreciation for the value of a bone saw. (I ended up cutting several smaller hunks of meat off the bones, but I could have made the straight-through cut that I had originally planned if I had had the means to cut through the bone.)

I also added a little bit to my very meager home butchering experience. This is good. I only felt a fleeting bit of light-headedness once, when I made a cut and heard the popping sound of the ball-and-socket joint dislocating. That's not too bad as my squeamishness goes. I would like to be braver and more capable when it comes to breaking down larger cuts of meat.

2A. You can add a spoonful of vinegar to your stock pot to extract more minerals from chicken bones.

2B. But you should be careful not to add too much vinegar.

I was mystified recently when what should have been a lovely, tasty chicken soup, made with a chicken from Double H Farm and vegetables from the farmer's market, turned out instead as this very unappetizing pot full of bland chicken slurry:

It's hard to tell from the picture, but the pieces of chicken became very soft in the broth and broke down into a porridge-like consistency. Yuck. At first I was at a loss trying to figure out what had gone wrong; eventually I remembered adding vinegar to the water at the beginning of the stock-making process, and I think I remember accidentally splashing in more than I had meant to. So, my theory of this disaster is that an overly acidic broth caused the pieces of chicken meat to become mushy, bland, and frankly disgusting.

I haven't decided yet what to do with the ill-fated chicken soup. It's not as easily redeemable as the strawberry rhubarb glop that I created through a similar moment of culinary misjudgment. I don't want to eat the chicken stuff, but it's not strictly speaking inedible, and I would feel guilty dumping the whole mess down the garbage disposal. I already regret having spent something like $15 on that chicken only to mishandle it. For the moment, the soup is resting in my fridge, awaiting sentencing.

Ideas, anyone?