Monday, January 31, 2011

Warm Thoughts on a Winter CSA

A winter CSA requires a bit of imagination on the part of the member. You can’t go to a place. You can’t see the vegetables sprouting, you can’t pick them, and you can’t feel the sun on your back. The experience of picking up the share is unremarkable. It is a cold winter night, and I park my car just outside a gourmet food store in a neighboring town. Inside, I put my signature on a list of roughly 30 names – people who have committed to support New York agriculture through the winter months. I am quickly handed a bundle of frozen vegetables that includes broccoli florets, pureed butternut squash, winter greens and raspberries.

There’s no actual farm experience and the food is frozen. It’s not sexy, or evocative, but it infuses my winter cooking with the best of New York produce. The simply labeled packaging gets you to think about greens and bright colors and the farmers who tilled the soil at a time when one might rather be hibernating. Each package includes the name - the personal brand - of a specific farm. The broccoli florets come from Hepworth Farm in Milton, New York. Hepworth Farms grows certified organic produce, is a seventh generation family farm, and is a business owned and operated by women.

Winter Sun Farms has organized nearly 30 winter CSA shares in the Hudson Valley and New York City regions now through April. There’s a little bonus with every share – tender, sweet, pea sprouts – an infusion of fresh greens that I gobble up on a dark, winter night. It’s a harbinger of spring in January.

All these ideas and images move through my mind as I work in the kitchen. I’m able to think about the origin of the food and the farmer. Chef Rozanne Gold, author of the new book “Radically Simple” has some thought-provoking ideas on her blog about cooking in silence, and considering the people who brought you the food and those who will eat it. She says it makes the whole cooking experience more fulfilling.
Indeed, if I am to be more thoughtful about my ingredients, a healthy, wholesome recipe for brown rice with chicken and broccoli makes a delicious showcase for the produce from Hepworth Farm. I tinker with the recipe and add a little seasoning, and some organic chick peas. The frozen florets steam in the rice liquid until they are bright green and crisp-tender. The vivid flavor of the broccoli is evident.

All the discussion of eating local makes me smile. Does it work? Is it worth it? Will it last? The membership in Winter Sun Farms makes me a more thoughtful, conscious chef and eater - and that works for me.

©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fresh and Local, Even in Winter

Long Island sisters Jaime Greci and Lona Graepel may have a touch of the farmer in their DNA. While most would be inclined to hibernate during these months of cold and darkness, they have sown the seeds and sprouted Long Island’s first winter farmers market.

It’s the coldest Saturday of the season yet, but the parking lot is full and people are streaming into Sweet Hollow Hall at the West Hills County Park in Huntington. The surrounding area is blanketed with fresh snow. Inside the hall, a musician plays guitar, pasture-raised meat is sizzling on a barbecue grill and visitors sample from vats of pungent homemade pickles. There are seniors tasting artisan cheese and kids having fun with crafts. It’s a community event.
Summer farmers markets are now so ubiquitous that one rarely considers how they come together. There are two-dozen summer markets on Long Island. Many communities offer winter markets, but it took Jaime and Lona to notice that none existed on Long Island. From the moment the idea took root last summer, they set to work planning and spreading the word. The “back-of-the market” logistics were all-consuming. They needed to confirm locations, and secure approvals, licenses and insurance. Once the details were in place, they also needed to recruit farmers and food artisans to participate.

Sisters Jaime Greci (l) and Lona Graepel (r) have created
Long Island’s first winter farmers market.
“We went to all the outdoor markets over the summer and approached different vendors,” says Jaime. “It was all word-of-mouth.”
“People were hugging me and kissing me” says Lona. She points out that after November, the opportunities for small farmers and food artisans on Long Island are quite limited. “They have no place to go in the winter and no outlet to sell here,” says Lona. “We wanted to create a nice environment, fun for the whole family, where you could bring the kids and the grandparents.”
“It’s important that we house the farmers during the winter, so they can continue to support themselves and their families, and to have a sort of community,” Jaime explains.
G&G Long Island Winter Farmers Market opened January 8th at Sweet Hollow Hall. Attendance far exceeded expectations with residents traveling from all parts of Long Island to visit. They’ve already seen repeat visitors, and some linger for hours.
“The phone’s been ringing off the hook,” says Lona who became a true market advocate during a summer stint in upstate New York working with her brother who organizes farmers markets in the region. “I would wake up each Saturday with a big smile on my face.”
A walk through the market is like a taste of Long Island, but there are also food artisans from the Hudson Valley and beyond. The team from Horman’s Best Pickles in Glen Cove sample delectably hair raising horseradish pickles and bright “Red Flannel” pickle chips garnished with sweet red peppers.

Lee’s Bees of Huntington offers a tasting of pure, raw unfiltered honey harvested by season, from the lively flavors of spring flowers, to the mellow, toasty caramel flavors of fall.

Migliorelli Farms of Dutchess County offers bins of blushingly-beautiful apple varieties as well as a selection of ruddy winter squash and root vegetables.

Old Chatham Sheepherding from the Hudson Valley serves up a smooth and peppery blue cheese that makes you wince with pleasure.

Jaime says the winter market is a win-win for the farmers and for food lovers on Long Island. “It’s fresh and it’s yummy stuff,” she says, beaming.

G&G Long Island Winter Farmers market runs every Saturday from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. from January through April, and alternates weekends at two locations. Check website for specific dates or the market's Facebook page:
Sweet Hollow Hall, West Hills County Park, Gwynne Road, Huntington.
St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 270 Main Street, Northport.

©2011 T.W. Barritt all Rights Reserved

Monday, January 17, 2011

Focaccia? Gotcha!

It’s a cold winter day, a little too chilly to spend much time outdoors. I’m in the mood for a simple kitchen project – maybe a new variety of bread to expand my repertoire.

I browse the cookbook collection and settle on focaccia. What could be simpler? It’s actually pizza dough – water, yeast, olive oil, flour and salt. All I need to do is prep the dough, and sprinkle it with parmesan cheese, rosemary and coarse salt. I can even use dried rosemary. I have everything in the pantry. I won’t even need to leave the house.

I search high and low for the dried rosemary. It’s gone. When did I use it all up? Come to think of it, the flour canister looks pretty low. I bundle up and head out to the supermarket. Standing in the seasoning aisle, I am bewildered. I can’t find dried rosemary. Head slap. As long as I’m already out, I might as well buy fresh rosemary.

Back home at the hearth, the bread baking project comes together nicely. I get in some good, vigorous kneading and the dough rises nicely. I make those cute little dimples in the bread, and the house is fragrant with the aromas of yeast, olive oil and rosemary.

The recipe requires two risings – about three hours in total, not counting the prep and baking time (and the supermarket run). I’m also now looking at a stack of bowls and utensils in the sink.
The focaccia loaves are magnificent – a perfect accompaniment to dinner. But, on second thought, such a magnificent, rustic loaf would be ideal to make a rustic country sandwich. But, all I have in the pantry is peanut butter.

So, I’m out to the market again. This time, I buy fresh basil, marinated roasted red peppers, provolone and prosciutto. The price tag is 15 bucks.
Of course, a glorious rustic country sandwich needs to be consumed with a hearty glass of red wine.

Fortunately, I’ve got plenty of red wine in stock.
Sometimes the simplicity of bread baking can get a bit complicated.
©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Bribe from a Pie Visionary

I used to like to travel for business. But, after more years than I'd like to admit, the novelty has worn off. You could blame it on so many things - the seismic changes in air travel security, the weather, or the horrendous in-flight dining choices billed as "food."

Sadly, I am no George Clooney.

Sometimes, I need a little push to get me to a meeting in another city. Here's a recent phone conversation with my friend and colleague Miss Tera, who is based in Chicago.

Miss Tera: (Brightly) We’d love to have you at our meeting next Friday!

TW: (Peevishly) Chicago in January? It’s freezing. Is that the best you can do? If you were suggesting Miami, we might have some room for negotiating.

Miss Tera: (Undeterred) How about I bake you a pie? Would that help?

TW: (Brief Silence, Then Rapid Improvement in Attitude) Pie? What kind of pie?

Miss Tera: (Sweetly) What kind do you want?

TW: (Checking Flight Availability) You take requests? Deal!

Yes. I can be bribed. Especially with pastry. But, there is a difference between a bribe, and an embarrassment of riches. I arrive in the Windy City and learn that Miss Tera has baked me not one, but THREE pies. And, she baked all of them on a weeknight. For that reason alone, she qualifies as the Wonder Woman of pie.

Miss Tera is also a bit of a soothsayer when it comes to pie. You may have read in the New York Times that pie is the next big thing. However, Miss Tera predicted the big pie trend right here, more than two years ago.

She serves up the pie at a lunchtime sampling (yes, I ate pie as the main course for lunch) and we indulge in the sweet luxury of Joyce Carol's Black and Blue Pie, Sister Chestermae Hayes's Apple Butter Pie and Aunt Betty Jean's Lemon Pie, all from the book “Sweety Pies” by Patty Pinner, “An Uncommon Collection of Womanish Observations with Pie.” We’re joined by Liz, The Crazy Cook who gave Miss Tera the cookbook as a holiday gift. The cookbook has already been broken in, as there are berry stains splattered across the pages.

The “black and blue” pie is a luscious concoction of blackberries and blueberries frozen from the summer farmer’s markets, the tart lemon pie has a crackling good sugar top, almost like crème brulee, and the apple butter pie is a velvety, old-fashioned classic.

As we bask in the pie afterglow, Miss Tera shares her thoughts on the power of pie. She brushes off my assertion that she is a pie visionary and modestly refers to her razor-sharp prediction of 2008 as “pie in the sky thinking.”
But, I still want to know, what is it about pie?
“Hominess,” says Miss Tera, “that’s what it is about pie. It’s the epitome of homemade and it actually isn’t that hard.”
So says the woman who made three pies in one night. What about us average mortals? Miss Tera recommends composing a detailed shopping list, reading the recipe thoroughly and planning ahead.
“The custard pies are the easiest. You just mix up the filling, dump it into the pie shell, and bake it. But, I don’t think people appreciate them any less.”
She says pie has a magic all its own. “When you serve people pie, it’s different than when you’re serving them a cupcake. It’s different because it’s homier, and it’s got maybe a little more love baked into it somehow.”
Miss Tera tends to favor berry pies. “Blueberry pie is always my favorite, and I always put a little extra lemon and lemon zest into it. When you chew into that zest, there’s a little bit of punch to it. I love using farmer’s market blueberries. I live really close to Michigan, so we’re always getting really good Michigan blueberries, and what I don’t use I freeze.”
I ask what inspired this love affair with pie. “My Grandma Lodgson was a wonderful pie baker,” says Miss Tera. “My memory of her was that she baked pies every week. I distinctly remember being with her when she was baking pies. She made pie from blackberries in her garden and all sorts of pies.”
Miss Tera says her grandmother is still with her in the kitchen. “I have her rolling pin, so it’s very evocative for me to bake a pie because it’s all about my Grandma Lodgson.”
What happens next for pie? “I hope that someone invents a really great pie carrier, because they can be difficult to transport. It’s not like a cupcake,” says Miss Tera. She predicts that we will see a flurry of pie accoutrements, similar to what came with the cupcake revolution, as well as a lot of pie restaurants opening up.
As for Miss Tera, she plans to keep focused on the more spiritual aspects of the craft. “I just hope to keep baking Grandma’s pies, keep enjoying the pie and keep the pie love alive.”

Most business experts say a productive meeting starts with a well-crafted agenda. I disagree. Good meetings begin with pie. Really excellent meetings start with three pies baked by a remarkable friend.

©2011 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Monday, January 03, 2011

Behold the Winter CSA and a Fiesta Soup

The parties are over, it’s back to work, and things might be looking a tad blue.

My case of blues results in part from the fact that my community farm is slumbering, and fresh, local, revitalizing greens are a long way off. By my calculation it is approximately a full five months, or 22 weeks, or 154 days until the 2011 season begins again at Restoration Farm. Sobering, to say the least. Granted, the basement chest freezer is filled with soups, stews and breads that were the result of last year’s harvest, but over time I’ve learned that it wasn’t just the food, but the sun, the soil and the community that mattered as well.

I’m not sure anything can quite fill the void in my kitchen or my psyche, but when I learned of the existence of Winter Sun Farms – a novel CSA model that runs from December through April – I decided to give it a try.

Winter Sun Farms is the brainchild of Jim Hyland of New Paltz, New York who I profiled last autumn for Edible Hudson Valley. Jim purchases surplus produce from Hudson Valley farmers, freezes it, and distributes it monthly to CSA members throughout the Hudson Valley, metro New York and Long Island region. The first distribution for Long Island, which occurs in Rockville Centre, offered a bright selection of colors to chase away the winter blues:

The produce included Sweet Corn from Migliorelli Farm, Blueberries from Greig Farm, Butternut Squash Puree from the Poughkeepsie Farm Project, Green Beans from Markristo Farm and Stick & Stone Farm, Dice Mixed Peppers from Hepworth Farms, Phillies Bridge Farm and I & Me Farm and Plum Tomatoes from Hepworth Farms and Millers Crossing Farm. The membership supports sustainable agriculture and helps these Hudson Valley Farms and many others continue to thrive and develop new markets for their produce.
An influx of local food in the dark of winter is reason to celebrate, so I’ve whipped up a “Winter Fiesta Soup,” thick with sweet corn, black beans, colorful peppers and plum tomatoes. Inspired by the recipes for Penny’s Winter Sun Farms Veggie Soup, and Corn Chowder found on the Winter Sun Farms website, the soup is more than enough to fill the belly and warm the soul as I await the spring thaw on Long Island. And, local farm families throughout New York State benefit, too.

Winter Fiesta Soup
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion chopped
1 medium carrot diced
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 bay leaves
4 to 6 cups vegetable stock
24 ounces frozen diced plum tomatoes
12 ounces frozen diced mixed peppers
16 ounces frozen sweet corn
2 cups cooked black beans
Salt and fresh ground pepper
In a large soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Sautee onions and carrots until tender. Add garlic and continue to sautee until golden. Add the vegetable stock and spices and bring to a boil. Add the frozen tomatoes and frozen peppers and sweet corn. Simmer until the vegetables have defrosted. Add the beans and simmer another ten minutes. Remove the bay leaf before serving. Season to taste.

©2011 T.W. Barritt all Rights Reserved