Thursday, November 26, 2009

Giving Thanks …

…for “Great Pumpkins” from Restoration Farm …

… that roast into deep orange pulp …

… and transform into Pumpkin Bread with Streusel Topping for Thanksgiving breakfast.

Giving Thanks for an extra, Thanksgiving CSA share distribution from Restoration Farm for members who’ve already signed up for next year …

There is red and green cabbage, onions, potatoes, beautiful carrots, sweet potatoes, still more Swiss Chard and kale, garlic and butternut squash. The excitement at the distribution tent is palpable as members gather their vegetables and marvel at the bounty. Head Growers Caroline and Dan promise that this is really it, until next season!

Giving Thanks for two kinds of pie for the Thanksgiving feast, because two pies are always better than one. The Pecan Pie is sweetened with dark maple syrup from Vermont and dark brown sugar, and the Sweet Potato Pie is made with sweet potatoes harvested at Restoration Farm. There is something to be said for enjoying a dessert on Thanksgiving Day that comes from that extraordinary place.

Happy Thanksgiving 2009!

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A State of Schnitzel

While I was off cavorting with the food carts of Portland, Mad Me-Shell and Zany got hungry. So, they hunted down the legendary Schnitzel & Things Truck without me. You think you know who your friends are, and then they go out and stuff their faces without you.

Suffice it to say, I am highly offended. I am now in the unfortunate position of being a “schnitzel neophyte,” the only person left on the island of Manhattan who has not gorged himself at the axels of the Schnitzel Truck. So I swallow my pride and throw myself at the mercy of Mad Me-Shell. “Show me the way to schnitzel happiness,” I implore.

She gives me that Zen, all-knowing look of hers and replies, “When Schnitzel summons, you must heed the call.” She’s also glad to hear I’ve got my truck food mojo back, as she thinks I have spent far too much time lately talking about organic vegetables.

The food truck gods have smiled on us. After hovering in the outer reaches of Brooklyn for way too long, the Schnitzel Truck now has a regular weekday slot right outside our office. The lunch hour is not yet upon us, and Mad appears at my door, somewhat agitated. “We’ve got to get down there. There are almost thirty people in line, including a guy with crutches. We’ve got to get ahead of him.” I grab my coat. Mad skips the coat and is off running ahead of me at a frantic clip. Zany is engrossed in some work project, poor thing, and gets completely left behind.

Down on 52nd Street there is indeed a feeding frenzy and a media frenzy as well. The Schnitzel Truck is the culinary darling of the New York press. Along with yours truly, there is a video camera crew and a news photographer accosting the lunchtime crowd.

Since this is my first, Mad Me-Shell recommends that I go with the basics - a classic Pork Schnitzel. “The Schnitzel’s approximately the size of your face,” she tells me.

Mad Me-Shell, on the other hand, has a black belt in fried food, so she’s graduated to the really serious stuff – and she’s ready for the Schnitzel Burger.

We get onto the slow moving line. It is a mostly male line up. Apparently, guys are into schnitzel.

At this point, I made a sweet discovery. The Street Sweets Truck is parked one spot away.

“It’s serendipity!” I cry.

“I’ve read all about this,” says Mad. “They’ve teamed up together. They’ve made friends. You can get your savory and your sweet. It’s like a curbside buffet.” She suggests – purely for the sake of time management – that I buy my sweets while she holds our place in line. I jump off briefly and purchase a Pumpkin Whoopee Pie and a Chocolate Whoopee Pie for Zany, since she had to stay behind.

We stand in line for nearly thirty minutes. “It’s not exactly fast food,” I suggest.

“But then you know it’s made to order,” retorts Mad Me-Shell.

The guy in front of us can’t decide on his choice of sides. I am about to deck him for taking so long, but I restrain myself.

We finally approach the window. The anticipation is killing me and we are enveloped in a waft of a buttery, fried, crispy and smoky aroma. “If you could eat Fall, I feel like that’s what we’re about to do,” says Mad Me-Shell, turning all meteorological on me.

Mad orders a Schnitzel Burger with a crispy bronze coating, and a pile of fries and chickpea salad.

I go for the Pork Schnitzel with Austrian potato salad and briny sauerkraut.

It is indeed, a Schnitzel to remember – piping hot, crisp and golden, paper thin, and meltingly-delicious. I devour it so quickly that it feels like an out-of-body experience. And, when I am done with the Schnitzel platter, I scarf down the Pumpkin Whoopee Pie and the Chocolate Whoopee Pie. I just can’t control my inner gluttonous self, and Zany gets nothing. Oh, well. It's the thought that counts.

“The smell of the schnitzel does strange things to you,” says Mad Me-Shell.

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Garlic Planting at Restoration Farm and a Roasted Garlic Spread

No sooner have I pronounced “twilight” at Restoration Farm when I am reminded by Head Grower Caroline Fanning that there is plenty of activity still to come at the CSA. “With the exception of December and January, when we’re mostly hibernating, there is always something happening at the farm,” says Caroline.

Indeed, for everything there is a season. While the harvest has concluded, planting has quickly begun again, which means that on a crisp and clear autumn morning, some thirty members stream onto the farm to prepare the soil and sow the infamous “stinking rose.”

A few culinary and historical notes about garlic – the bulbous plant is known for its restorative powers, and has been cultivated since ancient times. Garlic likely originated in central Asia, but its fame spread to Europe during the Crusades. It was thought to be so powerful that it could ward off the plague and evil spirits. Raw garlic has a pungent aroma that becomes sweeter when cooked.

The garlic field is tucked between the red Dutch farmhouse and an apple orchard at the northern end of Old Bethpage Village restoration. A table is covered with flats of garlic bulbs, and we sit in a large circle wrapped in coats and wearing wool caps, and learn to divide the bulbs into individual cloves and discard the center. There are children, seniors and singles all pitching in to help, but not a single vampire in sight.

Dan and Caroline are working with a group in the field to rake the soil and they roll a cylindrical device over the soil that creates perfect rows of dimples.

Groups of people follow behind with baskets full of pearly-white cloves. Each clove is tucked into a dimple, about as deep as the knuckle on your hand. The root of the clove goes in first, and the tip of the clove points towards the sky. With so many pitching in, eight beds of garlic are planted in three hours.

Multiple cloves will cluster around that single clove when the bulb matures. Each row is neatly labeled for harvest sometime during the 2010 season.

Somehow, all that garlic leaves one craving more. I roast two Restoration garlic bulbs in the oven for a simple golden roasted garlic spread of rich and buttery consistency.

Roasted Garlic

1. Place two bulbs of garlic in a small crock.
2. Add about ¼ inch of vegetable stock.
3. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
4. Cover tightly and roast at 375 degrees for 20 minutes
5. Uncover, drizzle with additional oil and roast about 7 minutes more.
6. Squeeze the roasted garlic from the bulb and spread on toasted bread rounds.

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Drop In & Decorate – 10,000 Cookies and 10,000 Smiles

Wally Amos. Debbi Fields. Lydia Walshin.

The names are all synonymous with cookies. But, Lydia’s cookies have some premium ingredients and a team of bakers across the country that you’d surely want to have as neighbors.

Lydia, food writer and author of The Perfect Pantry, created Drop In & Decorate based on a simple idea: bake some cookies and gather a group of family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, your worship group or book group to decorate the cookies together. Then donate the cookies to a nonprofit agency serving basic human needs in your own community. It’s a simple idea in a complicated world, and something anyone can do.

Lydia has spent her life dedicated to community involvement, and the growth of Drop In & Decorate, a tax-exempt nonprofit organization, has touched an extraordinary number of lives. Now, the sweet movement which began in her kitchen and enters its eighth year of cookies-for-donation is anticipating another milestone. As 2009 draws to a close, Lydia anticipates that the ten-thousandth cookie will be decorated and donated, the time and location still to be determined.

From her rustic log cabin retreat in the Rhode Island countryside, Lydia shares her thoughts on baking, the mission of Drop In & Decorate, a bit of cookie trivia and the upcoming milestone of 10,000 cookies donated:

T.W. Barritt: If, as you say, you don't have the baking gene, how did you end up leading a campaign devoted to baking cookies?

Lydia Walshin: I laugh every time I think about that, but I think it just proves that life takes you where it wants you to go. I'd never decorated a cookie before I tried my hand at these, and I had no intention of ever doing it again. Not only did it challenge my limited baking skills, but also it seemed impossible that someone with no artistic ability could ever decorate a cookie that would look like something Martha Stewart would have made. Yet I knew as soon as I saw the first batch of cookies -- which, by the way, didn't look anything like Martha's reserved and elegant cookies -- that they were special. And when I delivered them to a family emergency shelter in Boston, and saw people's eyes light up, I knew I was right.

What I didn't know at the time was how powerful the simple gift of a cookie could be, how much joy that beautiful cookies -- and all cookies decorated with love are beautiful -- could bring to the life of someone in difficult circumstances. Our cookies are donated to agencies serving basic human needs for shelter, food, health care, employment -- but there is more to life than just meeting those needs. A cookie lets people know that someone in their community is thinking of them, doing something for them, and values them.
T.W. Barritt: Do you have any idea how much flour, royal icing and good will equates to ten thousand cookies?

Lydia Walshin: That would be a lot of math, but here are some fun statistics from our last Drop In & Decorate holiday event here in Rhode Island. We used 35 pounds of flour, 22 pounds of sugar, 27 pounds of butter, 27 pounds of confectioners sugar, 2-1/4 pounds of meringue powder, 3 dozen + 2 eggs, a bit of vanilla, salt and baking powder. Good will? As the ads say, "Priceless!"
T.W. Barritt: Do you have a favorite cookie, or cookie decoration, and why?

Lydia Walshin: At our events here in my kitchen, I always make 20 or 30 (and sometimes more) different shapes of cookies. I encourage people to make the cookies into whatever they see in the shape. So sometimes a tree turned on its side might become a fish; a whale turned on end becomes a cat; a heart turned upside-down becomes a chubby-cheeked Santa. My personal favorite is a square with a fluted edge. I've seen people turn it into a frame for a picture, a house with a door and windows, a package wrapped with a bow, and a tartan quilt.
T.W. Barritt: What do you think the occasion of ten thousand Drop In & Decorate cookies signifies?

Lydia Walshin: Ten thousand cookies is a wonderful milestone. It means that this idea has spread far beyond my own kitchen, to groups of friends, parents and their children, office mates and church groups all across the country. I think of it as our sweet sixteen party -- just the first of many milestones we hope to celebrate. In the coming year we'll be working on partnerships with some national organizations, so that no matter where you are, if you want to host an event and don't know of a nonprofit agency in your own community, we'll be able to match you with an agency that would love to have your cookies. Now that we are a tax-exempt nonprofit organization, we hope to be able to provide financial support. Pillsbury is helping us do that, by offering coupons that can be used to purchase flour, cookie mix or icing, and Wilton has donated some cookie cutters for people who are planning to host their own cookies-for-donation parties. I hope our next milestone is 100,000 cookies donated from events in all 50 states and across Canada.

If you’d like to host your own Drop In & Decorate® event, Pillsbury and Wilton would like to help.

Pillsbury has donated 50 VIP coupons, worth $3.00 each, off any Pillsbury product -- including sugar cookie mix and icing -- to be distributed, first come, first served, while supply lasts, to anyone who plans to host a Drop In & Decorate event (max. 5 coupons per person). And we'll include a Comfort Grip cookie cutter, donated by Wilton, to people who plan to host cookies-for-donation events.

Write to lydia AT ninecooks DOT com for more info on how to get your free coupons and cookie cutters.

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Twilight at Restoration Farm

The sun sets low in the sky on the 2009 growing season at Restoration Farm. The final distribution of shares has been harvested. It is Halloween morning, yet beneath the distribution tent, it looks like a Thanksgiving table.

There is lots of talk about sustainable agriculture, but relatively few people get to experience its full rewards. It is really no surprise that tucked inside the word sustainable is the word sustenance.

Sustenance came with every visit to Restoration Farm. It came in the beautiful and seemingly endless bounty of vegetables. Even today, there is chard and kale, golden beets, cabbage, peppers, seven pounds of sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, turnip, daikon, garlic, butternut squash and even pie pumpkins in honor of Halloween …

If, as head grower Dan Holmes has said, their goal is to delight and surprise the CSA member, they have not failed to please, even on this, the very last day of the season.

Sustenance came from the sense of community at Restoration Farm. The winter will seem a little colder without the friendly conversations shared with Caroline, Dan and Susan at the distribution tent – conversations that taught me so much about the farmer’s perspective.

Sustenance came from working in the fields when time permitted, digging my hands into the soil to retrieve potatoes, picking berries in the midday sun, and walking through the fields. As has been my practice, I set out on foot again, not sure when I will next return. Taupe leaves dance through the air on whirlwinds. Emerald green cover crop has sprouted in the fields that will provide protection and nourishment to the soil throughout the winter.

George’s Pole Bean Kingdom, alas, has withered away.

And by the historic red barn, the trees appear to be on fire.

Sustenance prevailed in my kitchen. For months now, most of my lunches and dinners, and even some sweets contained ingredients from Restoration Farm. I couldn’t begin to write about all the things I actually cooked from the produce grown there. There were so many dishes you didn’t get to see - lasagna with Swiss chard, raspberry buttermilk ice cream, cinnamon zucchini bread, acorn squash with mushroom cranberry stuffing, roasted sweet potato soup with jalapeños and red bell pepper, creamy potato leek soup and lentil soup with kale. I became quite skilled at finding ways to incorporate those ubiquitous leafy greens into all sorts of recipes.

I also got better at wasting less and learned how to blanch and freeze greens for use in weeknight recipes. Although, some weeks, there was so much that it could be challenging to cook it all quickly enough. Next year, I’m going to try and overcome my fear of canning, to see if I can preserve more.

Still, for now, my freezer is well-stocked. Memories of Restoration Farm, the vegetables that sprang from the soil nurtured by Dan, Caroline and others, and the sustenance of the food and the place will carry me well into the winter.

©2009 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved