Sunday, May 27, 2012

Cultivating Life at Restoration Farm

The sun rises on a singularly bright and clear spring day, and the gates of Restoration Farm swing open welcoming members old and new.  It is the start of the 2012 growing season.  
Everywhere you look, the hands of dedicated volunteers have been at work cultivating life at the seven-acre farm.   Volunteers are always encouraged, as working outdoors promotes the health of the farm community and the health of the individual. 
The area surrounding the herb garden has been expanded, and a map board has been added to help members navigate the fields.   The herb gardens are already lush with greenery, and picnic tables have been added to encourage community. 
Head Growers Dan Holmes and Caroline Fanning bring us up to date on the continuing evolution of the farm.  They lead a procession down the path toward the fields.  
Our first stop is a new area where Glenn Aldridge is crafting an edible forest garden.  
It is playfully nicknamed “Voodoo Garden,” as Glenn is looking to create a bit of magic with the landscape and edible varieties.   He has already planted red currants, horseradish and Asian pears, perennials that flourish in the forest and provide tasty forage.  The plants will be ornamental and edible so they provide beauty and nourishment.  
We emerge on the fields and a warm and lively perfume dances in the air, a sweet mélange of soil, manure, pollen and fresh greens. 
Peach trees, planted three seasons ago by Glenn show signs of bearing fruit.  
Sprightly red lettuce is popping out of the soil.  The first distribution in June will hopefully include heaps of fresh, tender greens. 
We stop where heritage meat birds are free-ranging.   The first batch of chicks arrived in February and will be ready for our tables at the end of May.  This is a different type of bird than last season.  They take longer to mature and are leaner and more flavorful.   Caroline says the integration of chickens into a vegetable operation is a puzzle that they embrace and are still working to solve.   Dan reminds us that “eating is an agricultural act,” and that we need to open our palates to new experiences.  We’ll have opportunities to learn recipes that take advantage of the distinctive flavor and texture of these special breeds.  
At Apple Trace – the line of eight heirloom apple trees planted in memory of my Dad – what were just bare twigs weeks ago, are now clustered with small leaves.    
I hear from a reliable source that my friend George Garbarini has kept the saplings at Apple Trace well watered during the recent drought.  
The old Hewlett Apple Orchard, which we worked so hard to prune back in March, is filled with nicely shaped, mature trees.  Compared to the young saplings at Apple Trace, these are old characters.  The spring flower blossoms have fallen, giving way to the potential for apples this summer.
Donna Sinetar’s flock of laying hens has grown in number.  While Donna’s “girls” still don’t lay enough eggs for the entire CSA membership, there are enough to sell them through an honor system at the distribution area and they are in great demand.   
The strawberry patch is a blanket of white blossoms, promising bright, juicy red berries in just a few weeks. 
Another team of volunteers is building a trellis of netting to protect the blueberry bushes from hungry birds. 
Back at the distribution tent, we enjoy a banquet of homespun sweets baked by longtime member, Lulu McCue.  
A group of smaller hands engage in a touch of creativity, splashing farm carts with paint and adding color to the landscape of Restoration Farm.    

And so, another season begins again – marked by a community of members cultivating life from the soil and nurturing the growth of each other.

©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Daughter and Dad Cook Up “A Taste of Long Island”

It is a perfect spring weekend in mid-May, the kind that inspires leisure activities like boating or biking on Long Island.   Yet Courtney Thompson and her father Jim are working feverishly at a storefront location in Farmingdale.  They’re focusing their energies on creating a new kind of iconic Long Island experience. 

Courtney’s hair is pulled back and she is working on a cupboard that reaches from floor to ceiling.   Jim is sponging freshly painted caramel colored walls with a lighter paint, creating warm dappled effect.  The back room is filled with sinks, refrigerators and crates containing professional kitchen appliances.   They have invested months of sweat equity, and there is still much work to be done, but shortly they expect to cut the ribbon on a uniquely Long Island enterprise. 

“A Taste of Long Island,” located at 211-A Main Street in Farmingdale, will offer a retail market for established artisan foods crafted on Long Island, combined with a shared-use commercial kitchen for aspiring food entrepreneurs looking to produce and launch new local food brands.  The venture is the first of its kind for Long Island, whose spirited food culture is often concealed by suburban sprawl.  

“There’s so much food made on Long Island and people don’t even realize it’s made here,” says Courtney who approached her father – a successful small business entrepreneur – to partner with her on a new venture when the economy became challenging and jobs were scarce.   

“I’ve always worked in his stores,” she explains.  “I always knew people can own their own business.  You don’t have to work for someone else.”

Originally they hoped to launch a food truck, but realized that the food would need to be prepared in a licensed kitchen, and no such facility was available for rent in Nassau or Suffolk counties.  

“We realized there’s really a need,” Courtney says.  They floated the idea on several message boards and found an enthusiastic response from potential kitchen clients.   Since locating the store and beginning renovations, cooks, bakers and canners anxious to rent the commercial kitchen space have approached them.

The kitchen is equipped with state of the art professional appliances, including a 10-burner range, a double deck convection oven and 30-, 20- and six-quart mixers.     

Courtney explains that many of her family members are teachers. She sees the chance to work with new food entrepreneurs as a teaching opportunity and a convergence of all her skills.  She has an undergraduate degree in marketing and public relations, she’s worked as a new business consultant and has a teaching degree in family and consumer science.  

Courtney and Jim plan to sell a range of established Long Island products in the storefront market, including goat cheese, honey, chutney, specialty pickles and locally roasted coffee. Jim calls the selection planned for the market, “an eclectic collection” of the best of Long Island food products.      

“A Taste of Long Island” provides a valuable opportunity for entrepreneurs just starting a food business.  Beyond access to the resources of a professional kitchen, the retail food market offers an additional advantage.

“By having the market, we have the ability to give our kitchen clients who are just starting out their first storefront,” explains Courtney.   “By allowing them to sell in our store, they’re building their customer base.”     

“A Taste of Long Island” will also offer training and recommends that all clients starting out prepare a business plan.   The food market will be arranged boutique-style, and each business will have the opportunity to create a retail area within the store that educates the public about their specific product line.  

Courtney and Jim thought the Main Street site was idea for it’s central location and hometown village feel.   Future plans call for “A Taste of Long Island” farmers market on Saturday’s that will showcase home grown produce from local farmers.  

So what does Long Island taste like?   

“Fresh!” Jim answers without hesitation.  With farmers and vendors located just miles away, Jim says the products they’ll carry are “as local as local gets.”  

Contact Courtney and Jim Thompson at     

©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Zany Goes International – A Tale of Authentic Russian Cuisine

I used to travel to far-flung locations and eat exotic food, but these days I’m usually found trudging through domestic terminals, with my most unusual food option being a bag of Peanut M&Ms.     So, I was more than happy to live vicariously when I received this intriguing travelogue from Zany, although I’m still patiently waiting for the bottle of vodka she promised me. 

Dear TW,

I think I’ve finally caught my breath – or at least adjusted back to the Central time zone.  You see, I recently spent a week under Moscow Standard Time so there was quite a bit of time difference.  And although I traveled to Russia for business, you know I had to eat at some point!  And so my adventure begins…

It was Friday late afternoon and I had just finished a week of meetings and trainings.  Before my departure back to the Windy Cindy, my Moscow colleague Natsya decided on one last Russian escapade (she had already taken me sightseeing earlier in the week).  We were in her car driving toward the city’s center and she began rattling off ideas.  Concerts, more sightseeing…and then she mentioned food.  During the week I had ATTEMPTED to indulge myself on authentic cuisine, but my non-existent dictionary of Russian words and having mistaken a currency exchange shop for a food truck left me discouraged.  So, obviously I jumped at the chance for a native to show me the city’s culinary side.

Natsya knew just the trick and after a serious Moscow traffic jam, we parked near what looked like a beautiful park.

It turns out this wasn’t park, but a convent – the Novodevichy Convent and Cemetery.  Natsya was a very well-informed tour guide and as we walked through the paths she explained that many important people were buried at this cemetery, including Boris Yeltsin.  As we walked along the convent’s wall I gasped as I saw people with markers vandalizing the wall.  Natsya whispered that these weren’t graffiti artists, but rather people writing to Saint Sophia – the convent’s saint – asking for help.  We stopped and Natsya translated some of the requests – help for sick family members; help for finding love; and a request from an elementary student for help with his math. 

My awe of the gold-topped convent began to wane as my hunger grew.  It turns out that Natsya just wanted to burn some extra calories for what we were about to encounter.  We crossed the street and approached an odd-looking building that reminded me of an old train car.  This was our culinary destination?

I was even more perplexed by the restaurant’s aura – interesting artwork and a quartet of singing men.

I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into as we were ushered to a table, but then I noticed a number of framed photos showing famous people in the restaurant.  Bill Clinton was here? 

Smiling, Natsya explained we were at U Pirosmani, a famous Georgian restaurant.  With menus in hand, Natsya inquired what I liked.  I didn’t open the menu and simply stated – “I’ll try anything.”  Shocked, she leaned forward and asked, “Anything?”  I leaned in closer.  “Anything.  Show me the authentic Georgian experience.”  Natsya relaxed in her chair and for three minutes spoke in Russian to the waiter who occasionally looked at me in surprise.  I started to get nervous – was she doing the one-of-everything approach on a full restaurant menu?!

Fifteen minutes later my suspicions were confirmed – I think she ordered one of everything (at least of the small plates!).  

A thin bread with goat cheese (similar to Naan), a bean satay, an artichoke and grass spread, baked chicken in a flour sauce and pickled garlic decorated the table.  With Natsya’s guidance, I used the bread to eat the satay and spreads. 

I marveled at the color of the pickled garlic for quite some time.  It reminded me of your adventure at the Stinking Rose!  About seven cloves of garlic in, I contemplated what I might smell like on the flight home tomorrow and resisted finishing the plate.

Just as I opened my mouth to express my fullness, the waiter delivered round two.  Natsya laughed.  We were presented with grape leaves stuffed with cheese, rice and veal and the day’s “tender meat” – which also happened to be veal.  I buckled in for round two. 

As we waddled out of the restaurant Natsya exclaimed, “One more stop!”  Of course, no dinner is complete without dessert.  Natsya drove us to the Sky Lounge, which used to be an aviation museum that is now mostly empty but uses its top floor as a restaurant and lounge.  From the lounge there are incredible views of the city, and our table positioned us in the direction of Moscow University.

In keeping with my focus on traditional cuisine, Natsya guided me in the direction of Chinese pu’er tea, which tasted thick and smoky.  We also decided to split a dessert with the translated name of “Bird’s Milk.”  When it arrived, I anticipated a silky smooth ice cream texture, but was shocked to taste that the filling had a spongy texture that wasn’t overly sweet and overwhelming.  It was the perfect ending to an adventure with many distinct flavors. 

I returned to my hotel with three hours to spare before my car came to collect me. I reflected on my amazing authentic meal as I re-packed my suitcase. But, before too long I recalled that pickled garlic and decided to shower and change before I left for my 12-hour flight!

©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Like the Robin of Spring, Street Dining Returns to NYC

There is a feeling in the air – a certain crispness, or vitality.  A sense of new life.

It is like witnessing the first signs of Spring.  You’re walking along 50th Street, and a bright robin redbreast flies across your path.  You turn, and you can’t help but notice a bright magenta vehicle at the curb, a whimsical illustration depicting the Eiffel Tower, and the savory scent of crepes wafting from the window.

Yes, it is Spring, and the food trucks have returned to Manhattan!  The annual ritual of street dining has begun anew.

 My jaw drops.  I had thought the food trucks were banished from Midtown forever, due to an arcane law enforced by a peevish and dyspeptic judge, but here I am staring at a line of colorful vehicles, and my nose is immediately drawn to The Crepes Truck.  
I quickly whip out my iPhone and put out an APB for my pal Marie Antoinette.   Alas, she is MIA.  A French epitaph escapes my lips.  Most of the time, Marie Antoinette is MIA.  I mean, what’s the point of having a cool French nickname, if you can’t even be available when the Crepes Truck is in town?
I step up to the window and order “A Frenchman” -- two savory crepes filled with Swiss cheese, goat cheese, tomatoes and shallots.   I can see the man in the window cooking two lacy-thin crepes on two giant flat steaming skillets.   
As the crepes cook, I consider the menu.   There’s also a selection of sweet crepes, and the Butter, Lemon and Sugar sweet crepe sounds mighty tasty.  I do what Zany would have done.  I order that too, because skipping dessert is just foolhardy. 

Just for fun, I ping Zany, who is probably having lunch at her desk in her drab office in Chicago.   I send her a photo of The Frenchman. 
“You’re killing me today … you know that?” she writes.  “I’m wasting away on a Spring salad over here.  It’s just not fair.”   

I, however, am in my own little Parisian paradise.   The Frenchman is indeed superior to a humdrum salad.  The hot, gooey cheese is wrapped in fragrant, nutty buckwheat crepes.   
And, I can’t resist the lemony citrus taste of the dessert crepes with just a slight, sugary crunch.   Magnifique!
Welcome to The Crepes Truck.   The sweet smell of Spring and crepes is in the air!
©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved