The Quiet Before the Storm

Tomorrow at 2 PM there will be more sound in my world than there is now. My new hearing instruments are in and I’m taking them on a two-week trial. I wonder what I’ll hear that’ll seem strange, unfamiliar or finally sensible? It’s been a long time since I’ve worn aids – nearly 7 years!

The trial pair in the office sounded way better than anything I’ve worn before so my hopes are high. Hope that I’ll be able to actually stand to wear them, hope that I can understand my 16 year old daughter and her rapid-fire speech, hope that I’ll be able to hear those folks in the office and not have to say “can you repeat that”, and hope that I can hear things that have simply dropped off into the silence these past 7 years.

Will it be noisy? Depends on what “noisy” means, I guess. I just hope there are things that I can enjoy listening to and people I can finally hear clearly. I’ll learn to “tune out” the other stuff (hopefully).

I’m excited!!

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CSA Weeks 5-7 :: Diversification

Week 5 Items:  Carrots, bunched beets, baby leeks, lettuce, spinach, green curly kale, garlic scapes, escarole, parsley, and peas.

Week 6 Items: Carrots, fennel, lettuce, green scallions, Swiss chard, radishes, salad mix, small head of radicchio, mizuna, green beans and basil

Week 7 Items: Carrots, beets, lettuce, baby leeks, zucchini and summer squash, cucumbers, Swiss chard, radishes, and basil.

If weeks 1-4 were about greens then weeks 5-7 have been about diversity. The greens are still there and in quantity but accompanying them are carrots, full sized beets (with greens), peas, beans, fennel, scallions and baby leeks. At not quite one-third of the way into the season, the variety is amazing.

To be sure there are enough greens to keep my salad habit satiated. Garlic scapes, which became a spring favorite after I discovered them last year at the Farmers Market, are wonderful sliced in eighth inch rounds, rough chopped (to open up their garlicky aroma) and tossed in a salad along with some freshly torn basil. Dressed with a bit of oil and balsamic vinegar, it is my daily lunch. I miss the garlic scapes the other three seasons of the year!

One green that I just can’t love, however, is Swiss chard. While the crisp leaves and stalks draw my eye, the deep earthy taste is not palatable by me. Raw is about the only way I can take the leaves and even those must be mixed in with other greens. Wilted with pasta or rice is a “non-starter” as the deep dirt aromas turn off my appetite. We’ll see if the two dozen or so leaves with stalks blanched and frozen go better in soups.

Baby leeks make great substitutes for scallions/green onions and the carrots are simply the best! They have a slight spiciness to them that is reminiscent of a parsnip. They are in great supply right now but like the scapes I’ll long for them after they stop coming in.

The summer squash along with the fennel and radicchio are great grill buddies. Grilling and greens didn’t seem like compatible partners at first, but radicchio (as with other endive type greens) is simply wonderful tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper and lightly grilled over medium heat. Used as whole head sliced in half or even just a few individual leaves, 2-4 minutes is plenty of time to impart great flavor. Served as a bed for other grilled veggies or tossed into a salad with a red-wine vinaigrette, it instantly became a grilling favorite.

I am taking the storage route for the snap peas, green beans, cucumbers and beets. Blanched and frozen the peas and beans will be great this fall and winter in stir-fries, soups and casseroles. And while I want to experiment with roasting a beet or two, it’s simply too hot outside right now to crank up the oven, hence into the pickling mixture both will go.

Coming out of this first 7 weeks it is pretty clear that my weakest area is greens – other than tossing them in a salad (and now grilling certain types) I really don’t know what to do with them. Growing up my family didn’t eat greens other than in salads. Cooked greens that I ran into (mostly elementary school creamed spinach) were not appetizing. So the hunt is on for resources that explore the culinary possibilites of greens outside of the salad realm. If you happen to know of any, please let me know!

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CSA Week 3 & 4 :: Enough To Share

Week 3 Items: 2 heads lettuce, spinach, beet greens, scallions, garlic scapes, salad turnips, radishes, parsley, peas and strawberries

Week 4 Items: 2 heads radicchio, Napa cabbage, daikon, red scallions, escarole, butter head lettuce plus PYO strawberries, sugar snap and snow peas.

Leaving for “The Cape” on Saturday June 25th meant that week 3 and 4 CSA pickings would travel with us. Not to mention that I had to pick week 4’s share up at the farm – which provided an opportunity to explore the PYO peas and glean for any remaining strawberries. Two hours later, week 4 was in the truck and headed home. Leftovers from week three were mostly the salad turnips, garlic scapes and radishes, along with about 3/4 lbs of spinach. That combined with the fresh stuff made the trip south to Cape Cod along with our other 4 house mates.

First thing Sunday the strawberries were macerating – after all home made Sangria needs berries! By Monday the spinach was gone – some went into a green salad and the rest on chicken salad sandwiches along with the daikon and a few scapes. Marinated slaw consumed the Napa Cabbage and a few scallions as well, although the slaw would pickle until Wednesday. Tuesday some of the greens, snow and sugar snap peas and bell peppers from the store made a wonderful stir-fry. Escarole, some ground Italian chicken sausage, pasta and seasonings went into a very yummy soup on Wednesday. Friday was clean out the fridge – roasted butter head lettuce and radicchio made a great salad to go with roasted chicken breast and a rice salad.

All that went home were the left over salad turnips, radishes and garlic scapes. Not bad for a week at The Cape with friends. We really “veg-ed out”!

 

 

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CSA Week 2 :: It’s Full of Green

Items in Box: 2 lbs spinach, bok choy, arugula, butter head lettuce, mustard greens, salad turnips, dill, and  strawberries.

Learning by making mistakes is a well trodden path for me. Last week’s lessons revolved around grit and dirt. After munching on a few dirt clods in my salad, there was plenty of resolve in the system for finding a better way to wash greens. Three washes in the salad spinner didn’t get the job done. This week it’s swish washing twice in a large bowl followed by a spin wash and dry cycle. So far it’s working much better – less soil, more taste. Wonder what the water bill will look like?

Tuesday evening is mostly taken up with settling the CSA haul into the fridge and trying to think how all of it will be used. Last week was pretty easy as Garden Risotto was already on the menu. My wife suggested Frittata for a Saturday evening meal so by the following Monday, Week 1’s veggies were mostly gone – only the bok choy and some green leaf lettuce remained. There is no need to purchase salad greens at the market this week as there are plenty to go around.

This week’s strawberries were quartered and macerated right away. Two night later, there was nothing left of them. Must. Have. More. One pound of the spinach went toward a veggie pasta and chic pea recipe from A Pot On The Fire, by John and Matt Thorne – great food writer by the way. Only addition I made to the recipe was a bit of lemon juice to pump up the acidity.

The mustard greens and some of the bok choy will go in a shrimp stir fry this coming Monday . That will leave about one-half pound of spinach, the salad turnips and dill carrying over into week 3. I’m hoping for a dill dip recipe from a friend of mine to help clear the dill back-log.

Hope my family enjoys eating salad and greens!

 

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CSA Week #1 :: First Crop

Items in Box: Bok Choy, Green Lettuce, 3/4 lb. Salad Mix, Cilantro, Radishes

Feels like Christmas picking up and unpacking the first CSA delivery of the year. You’ll be spared the remainder of the unboxing photos. Actually this isn’t the first food-stuffs from Picadilly Farms, my “farmers” for the next 27 weeks. An email in May alerted CSA “share holders” to the availability of over-wintered spinach, spare Kennebec potatoes, fresh chives and sorrel.  Making the 40 mile round trip put needed spring miles on my motorcycle, but given gas prices was probably the most expensive set of vegetables ever hauled home. Still, this is why I opted to sign up for a CSA share.

Reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by  Michael Pollan early last year profoundly effected the view of our food chain. His politics and enthusiasm aside, there’s no denying the fact that our food chain and the “western diet” that it supports isn’t really as healthy as its proponents would like us to believe.

There’s no getting around how commercialized meat is produced and brought to market or how vegetables are grown and processed. It’s not a pretty picture when looking at it from a personal health angle. As a consequence grocery shopping trips started to include the weekly Farmer’s Market (from May to October) and our local natural food store, Blueberry Fields. Not content to just bash away at the food chain, alternative food suppliers were discussed, including the CSA movement.

Getting involved with a CSA seemed like a lot of work- how do I know who provides good food and who doesn’t? Do I go organic or just local? Are there ones close to me or will I have to drive a long way? Thankfully over the winter Stonewall Farm put on a CSA “fair”. On a cold January day there we nearly a dozen CSA farmers willing to explain their process and give you handouts.

After looking at them all I ended up selecting Picadilly Farms, primarily based on raw numbers – they offered the longest harvesting season at the lowest price. While it’s 20 miles or so from home, its closer than some of the other, plus they deliver to a pick-up location less than 2 minutes away. What closed the deal was the ability to sign up “on line”. While it wasn’t exactly ecommerce the web site explained the details and made the process nearly painless.

That was January. Now in June the first box is here and I can’t wait for this adventure to begin! OK, here’s a box shot.

 

If nothing else using a CSA this year will provide fodder for writing each week!

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Pasta, Polenta, and Horseradish Cheese

Trying new things is one of the pleasures I enjoy when dining out. Where a meal becomes really interesting is when a classic dish is prepared with local/regional ingredients or specialties turning the familiar into something new and exciting – not to mention tasty!

Take Lasagna – classic Italian dish with wide noodles, cheeses, tomato sauce and perhaps ground beef or pork all baked together. Enjoy it at restaurants, fresh made at home or in conveniently packaged frozen containers. But what if you made it “Vermont” style? What would a Vermont Lasagna have in it that would make it say “Vermont” – no not maple syrup!

One take on Lasagna “Vermont Style” can be found at Ye Olde Bradford Tavern at the Fullerton Inn in Chester, VT. Their “Stone Ground Polenta Lasagna”, offers an interesting twist on the traditional classic. In between the pasta layers, the polenta’s texture compliments a wonderfully smooth blend of Vermont crafted cheeses including a Horseradish cheese that brings an unexpected “kick” to the experience. It wouldn’t be Lasagna without a tomato sauce and the house marinara provides just enough sweetness and acidity to round out the dish.

Saying that I “enjoyed” it would be an understatement. It was a uniquely Vermont take on a classic Italian dish, despite the fact that Polenta Lasagna isn’t all that unique – there are a number of recipes for it out there. That aside, the combination of the setting, ingredients, and regional food made the dish and meal one for the books.

If you are out and about the Chester, VT way, stop in at the Fullerton Inn for a meal. It’s worth the trip!

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YoCheese and Whey

Wanting to try a frozen yogurt recipe using the Kitchen Aid Ice Cream Maker attachment I ran across this Vanilla Frozen Yogurt recipe. The yogurt required straining and rather than putting out $18 for a “Yogurt Strainer” that may be used once, I suspended coffee filters in containers to hold and strain the yogurt. 24 hours later I had “Yocheese” – yogurt minus the whey.

Prepared according to the recipe (OK, I admit substituting agave nectar for the corn syrup), the main difficulty was getting the “batter” (as it were) into the “maker”. The Kitchen Aid is a non-tilt head mixer and must be running when the batter is poured in otherwise “bad things happen” – trust me I know.

Eventually most of the yogurt batter went in the maker using a combination of swear words and a long handled rubber spatula. 20 or so minutes later, Voila! Frozen Yogurt. Made about a pint. The expectation was the addition of air would create slightly more volume like it does with ice cream, but evidently that’s not the case with frozen yogurt.

You would think that was the end of the story, but you would be wrong. Remember that straining process? Straining produces 2 things: the semi-solid “yogurt cheese” and whey. What can you do with the leftover whey (other than toss it)? Turns out that whey can be recooked to make Ricotta cheese. Ricotta mean “recooked” – whey cool!

Just recooking the whey from the strained yogurt won’t make Ricotta – I know, I tried it. Guess there’s more to it, but there are serveral adventures in the making here:

  • figuring out how to make Ricotta cheese from yogurt whey + ???
  • making mozzarella cheese

Should be a fun adventure! Perhaps I will need that yogurt strainer…

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Best Under $10 Sauvignon Blanc :: Redux

I put together my first Best “Under $10” Sauvignon Blancs back in February when I thought I was at the end of the line. Since then I’ve managed to find a few more so it is probably worth redoing the list.

In looking back I see that I neglected to review one that I really enjoyed – TerraNoble’s 2010 Sauvignon Blanc. From my notes I see that I gave it 89 points and this writeup:

Clear and green-to-straw yellow in the glass, there is strong apple and grass on the nose. Crisp, steely acidity compliments the fruit and blends nicely with the modest citrus accompaniment. The balance is quite good and the finish hangs in there for a reasonable amount of time. A wonderful quality-to-value ratio. I’ve already bought my next bottle.

I really did go out an get another bottle. Needless to say that bottle is gone as well.

So, here’s the revised list, in order of preference, of favorite Sauvignon Blanc wines in the “under $10” category:

Look for this list to be updated on the “Wine” page going forward. Now I think it is time for something completely different.

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Pinot & Popcorn :: Sterling 2008 and Castle Rock 2009

After being on hiatus for the last several weeks, Pinot & Popcorn returned this past weekend and to our surprise we hit some really nice Pinot Noir: Sterling Vineyards’ 2008 Central Coast and Castle Rock’s  2009 California Cuvée. Perhaps we’re on a “hot” streak now that the “pretenders” are out of the way.

Of the two, the Sterling was our favorite, with richer fruit and more complexity both on the nose and palate. Rich black cherries and berries with background hints of wet leather on the Sterling side contrasted with less complex, sweeter and silky cherry/berry Castle Rock. I was really surprised at the complete lack of detectable tannins in the Castle Rock while the Sterling got silkier after being open a while. In hind site I should have decanted the Sterling.

Overall the Sterling got 88 points while the Castle Rock garnered 83 on the enjoyability scale. I would have no problem purchasing either wine again but would prefer the Sterling. Oh, and the movie – The Way Back via Apple TV.

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Are We Not Better Than This?

I don’t write very often about current news events, including politics, mainly because I find that statement about them, like religion, tend to divide more than they tend to unite. I can find other things that are more worthy of nice debate than what’s going on at the center of governments, news, or church.

That said, I’m saddened to a degree concerning the “celebratory” aspects that we as a country are exhibiting over the death of Osama bin Laden.

Let me get this out of the way. I’m not “sad” he’s gone. The world is a better place without him. I won’t mourn his passing and I’m extremely proud of our men and women in uniform, in particular Navy Seal Team 6, for the manner in which they carried out their raid/mission. I’m not a radical Muslim apologist. I believe that what happend on 9/11 was an act of war and that the response from the USA has been appropriate, even if it’s a protracted battle.

What I find disheartening is the public euphoria over his death. If I didn’t know any better I’d swear that the cheering throngs outside the White House and other places were radicals celebrating a successful terrorist attack. Are we not better than that? Do we seriously delight in celebrating the death of one man? Isn’t that something we deplore about Muslim radicals? And yet here we are acting in the same manner.

I won’t say “shame on us” since I too feel a sense of closure that he’s gone. What I will say is that I’m disappointed that we as a great nation find it acceptable to publically revel in the death of a man. I thought we as a people, as a nation, would be above this type of theatrical reaction. Stoicism was what I hoped for instead of the resulting carnival.

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