Sunday, April 29, 2007

our day at the farm, part 2

Picking sorrel at the Hauters' farm:

We missed the asparagus -- it went fast -- but came home with some eggs, rhubarb and herbs in addition to the aforementioned sorrel. We picked a decent-sized bagful, enough for a pot of soup, I think.

Anyway, we had a great time. You can tell Leigh really enjoys having customers come visit. He's a talker! We were thanking him and preparing to leave when he said, "Wait, can I show you around the greenhouse?" :) And we shareholders are all invited out again in a couple weeks to pick up any extra seedlings he doesn't put in the ground. I also heard him say something about potlucks for shareholders later in the season, which I am totally up for. I'm so glad we signed up for this!

The peacock that roams the farm:

meet our farmer

The guy who runs the CSA farm where we're shareholders this year, Leigh Hauter at Bull Run Mountain Farm, keeps a blog. He writes about what it's like when your livelihood depends on the whims of nature, he keeps us updated on the progress of this year's crop, he tells stories about the history of his land and the neighbors, and he's a pretty decent storyteller to boot.

It's no small thing to say these are the people who'll largely be feeding us this summer and fall, and I love it that we're getting such a unique link to where our food is grown. Today we're going out to the farm to pick some asparagus and sorrel, as it's sort of a designated "come out and see the farm" day. So we get to meet our farmers! I'm excited.

Friday, April 20, 2007

best beer-bottle label ever

I adore cool, vintagey labels and frequently keep random found knickknacks around the house for no practical reason. When I recently visited the Brickskeller, a 50-year-old D.C. bar that boasts a dizzyingly encyclopedic beer list of over 1,000 brews from around the world, I ordered a Piraat ale because I asked our server to suggest a good Belgian tripple. I had no idea I was getting such an awesome label -- had I known, I would have ordered it for this alone:

I wish I had a poster of this. Anyway, look in the lower right-hand corner. Can you read that, where it says "Alc. 10.5%"? Yes, this beer packs a punch, which I noticed the next day. Ahem.

Anyway, the Brickskeller is great. It's practically in our backyard, it's very cool and laid-back and not meat-markety, and if you'd like to try a beer from, say, Estonia, Bolivia or Vietnam, you're in luck. (Fort Collins, however, is snubbed: no New Belgium beers, no Odells. I would have ordered an Easy Street Wheat for old times' sake.)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

more on canning

Check out the following link for an article I wrote about my canning woes and joys:

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Happy Easter, uh, I mean Candy Day

I went to visit my family for Easter weekend. And today while my family went to church, I stayed home to read Steve Almond's Candyfreak while eating Easter candy. Everyone has to worship in her own way, I say.

Why, why haven't I read this book before? It might be the same sort of logic that has kept my brother from trying the deep fried Snickers at Brooklyn's Chip Shop --it would just be too good. Steve Almond is my soulmate. Truly.

I love candy--more than I usually feel comfortable admitting. But with Candyfreak I feel like someone understands. It is my manifesto. A few examples from my life that illustrate my own personal candy freakness:

1. As a child, I once found a half-eaten sucker in the road. I took it home, rinsed it off, and ate it. I am sure this happened more than once.

2. My parents weren't very good sugar suppliers, so my lack of candy often forced me to eat jello powder. One day, seeing a small pile of green powder on the kitchen counter, I scraped it into my mouth thinking it was green jello. It was comet.

3. I have a very distinct memory of stopping at a gas station with a boyfriend and buying Idaho Spud bars. I can remember the candy, but I can't remember who I was with.

The only point of disagreement I have with Almond is that he hates Peeps. Probably it's only because he hasn't eaten them the right way, aged and slightly stale. Peeps are glorious and anyone who thinks otherwise is missing out on some serious candy joy. Oh well, more Peeps for me. On subject of Peeps, Tara informed me that they are now making sugar free Peeps. WHAT??! Please, don't they understand that the reason that Peeps are so good is because they taste like sugar? Really, that's the only flavor. But I did decide to buy a pack just to make my disgust official.

First, let's talk economics. For 99 cents, I can either get three sugar free Peeps or 15 regular Peeps. And then there's the taste. I know some of you think Peeps are gross, but you are wrong. They are soft and crunchy and sugary. What's not to love? Sugar free Peeps, however, are gross. The main reason they don't work is because there is no crunchy sugary coating. It's just a sad approximation. I even tried letting them dry out a bit, but even that didn't improve matters.

Even though, this year brought the nadir of Peeps production, I also encountered the zenith: Dark Chocolate covered Peeps. And not just any chocolate. I found the treasures while visiting the Jacques Torres shop. Oh, the joy. The only problem with the chocolate covered Peeps is that they lost a bit of their sugary crunch. If you could keep the coating in tact and still have the chocolate, life would be perfect. But really, I'm not complaining. I only wish I would have bought more.

Note: The fabulous Peeps basket pictured above was a gift from Sarah's mother-in-law.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

recommended reading

This week, the New Yorker featured an article by Adam Gopnik about cooking in novels. He speaks about the evolution of food in novels, arguing that cooking is to current novels what sex was to novels in the sixties and seventies: "the thing worth stopping the story for to share, so to speak, with the reader." He also considers the use of cooking as a vehicle for contemplation, arguing that cooking and thinking (at least broad thoughts about the nature of life, etc.) are incompatible. He references a scene from Ian McEwan's Saturday where the protagonist is cooking bouillaibase and thinking. Gopnik argues that one cannot think and cook a bouillabase. There is just too much concentration involved in the cooking.

Monday, April 02, 2007

I'm never buying grocery story tortillas again!

One of the best parts of working in the Foreign Language Department of a university is the potlucks. Teachers from all over the world usually bring food from their countries, and oh, we eat so well--tamales, sushi, fabulous cheese, spaghetti with mussels....

One of my friends and colleagues, Maura, offered to show me how to make tortillas from scratch last year. (She's from Paraguay, where they don't eat tortillas, but she learned from her daughter's Mexican nanny.) It took two separate sessions, but I finally got to the point where I could make my own corn tortillas, and confidently enough to invite my in-laws over to partake of them this past weekend! And oh, they're so good. Rich, bursting with corn flavor, hot, pliable--I won't ever go back to grocery store tortillas again. I am so spoiled now!

The beauty of the fresh homemade tortilla is that you can do anything with it. Maura even eats them with Asian stir-fried veggies! All it takes is some shredded cheese, a little salsa, maybe sauteed shrimp or grilled fish. So simple, so good.

Interesting, though, that for a foodie gringo like me, this dish is exotic, requiring a special tortilla press, lessons, lots of "oh that one didn't work let's try it again," yet for millions of Mexicans it's breakfast, lunch, and dinner, made by women who are so practiced that they don't even need the tortilla press--they just pat the dough with their hands and end up with a uniformly flat and perfectly round piece.

Here's what Maura does, with my best guesses at proportions:

With your hands, mix 3 cups masa harina, 1 tsp salt, and 2 1/2 or 3 cups hot water. The batter will be very wet. Form it into balls a bit larger than golf balls and place them in a plastic bag. (The photo is of Maura and her daughter at one of my "lessons.")

Wrap the plates of a tortilla press with a cut-open plastic bag or plastic wrap. Place a dough ball inside and press down gently. Open the press, turn the plastic 90 degrees, then close the press more firmly. Open, then place your hand over the dough and press down firmly enough to leave indentations in the dough.

Put the tortilla in a hot cast iron skillet. After 3o seconds, turn it over. After 60 seconds, turn it over again. After about 30 more seconds, take a damp cloth and start pressing quickly all over the tortilla. Ideally what happens here is the top layer of the tortilla adheres to the cloth, pulling the it apart from the bottom layer apart as the cloth lifts. This puffing is highly desirable--it makes the tortilla less heavy and dense, and also permits you to fold the tortilla without it's cracking or breaking in half. After it puffs adequately, wrap it in a kitchen towel. Keep adding hot tortillas to the stack inside the towel, and they'll stay warm until you get them all eaten. Serves about 5 people.

At our tortilla party, we served them with the following choices for toppings: sauteed shrimp, pan-fried haddock (both seasoned with garlic, ancho chili powder, cumin, and salt), three salsas (mango-pineapple, tomato, and tomatillo), quesadilla cheese, chopped cilantro, sauteed mushrooms, guacamole, and sour cream. The side dishes and drink were pineapple-cilantro rice, vegetarian cast iron skillet beans, and a citrus spritzer with pineapple juice. (Unfortunately I can't find links for any of these--let me know if you want the recipes.)

Our dinner party was an unequivical success! My father-in-law made this analogy: grocery store tortillas are to fresh homemade tortillas as sliced sandwich bread is to artisan loaves. We all agreed! And even our nephew ate two tortillas all by himself.

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