Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Restoration Farm Thanksgiving

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy;
They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.                                                                        

-- Marcel Proust

Happy Thanksgiving to All!   
© 2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Demise of the Twinkie

It was not the kind of news I needed to hear at the end of a long, hard week.  I’d only been seated at my desk for a few moments, when I get the word – Hostess Brands is shutting down.  They will immediately cease production of a legion of iconic snack cakes.   While somewhere there is probably a registered dietitian rejoicing at the news, my reaction is dramatically different.  I feel an immediate and alarming sense of panic.  I leave my hot coffee on my desk, and rush to the lobby.   I’ve got to find Twinkies!!!

Quickly I make my way to three different Manhattan stores and I come up empty handed.   All I can find are bags of granola, Power Bars and gluten-free snacks.   Honesty, sometimes Manhattan is way too health conscious for its own good.

I'll be honest.  I may like to cook from scratch, but I am hardly a food snob.  I grew up in the 1960s when Swanson TV Dinners, Cool Whip, Shake ‘n Bake Chicken and Tang were considered haute cuisine.   And, then there was the Twinkie, that spongy yellow torpedo of cake filled with whiter-than-white marshmallow cream.   I would pack one in my lunchbox every day in junior high school.   The svelte blonde bombshell in eighth grade that I had a huge crush on would purse her lips, wink at me and call me “Twinkie the Kid.”   Twinkies made me a chick magnet.  

Much of the news coverage of the past 48 hours has rather cruelly categorized the Twinkie as “junk food,” but I have a different view.   The Twinkie sits squarely at the apex of edible art, culinary innovation and youthful sugar cravings.   Some culinary philosophers even see the Twinkie as a groundbreaking precursor of the molecular gastronomy trend.   I mean, foam is foam.   Why spend a lot of money if you can just pick up a pack of Twinkies in the deli. 

The Twinkie inspired some of my early culinary efforts.   I once served a dessert called “Undescended Twinkies,” a caloric suburban masterpiece created by Jane and Michael Stern for their book “Square Meals.”  A postmodern take on the trifle, eight Twinkies are floated on a lake of orange Jell-O blended with 7-Up, pineapple juice and vanilla ice cream.  The Sterns wrote, “If the gelatin is properly chilled, it will resist the Twinkies.  You will push them in; they will slowly rise.  It is a tense moment, like the scene in Psycho when Tony Perkins tries to sink Janet Leigh’s car.  But remember, you don’t want them buried.  Just semidescended in the lush, peach-colored ooze.”  

Don’t judge me.  Some of my dinner guests were horrified but I thought it was the coolest dessert ever.  If you dare to raise an eyebrow at “Undescended Twinkies,” you ought to check out “The Twinkies Cookbook”  published by Hostess in 2006 (Yes, I own a copy).   It includes recipes for “Twinkie Burritos,” “Chicken-Raspberry Twinkie Salad,” “Twinkie Lasagna,” and a “Ribbon and Bows Twinkie Wedding Cake.”   Enough said. 

But I digress.   Back at my desk, facing a bleak and Twinkie free future, I yearn to commiserate with kindred spirits.  On Facebook, my friend Allison says she’ll locate a stash of Twinkies for me in Pittsburgh.  I consider purchasing a plane ticket. Mad Me-Shell sends me a recipe for do-it-yourself Twinkies, and notes that her favorite poutine shop in Chicago will be paying homage by serving deep-fried Twinkies at their Sunday Brunch.   Zany is oddly absent from this conversation, but finally surfaces on Saturday morning with this comment:  “Sorry for the late reply.  I’ve been on a Twinkie shopping spree across Chicago.”   She also asks Mad what time she should arrive for brunch.   

Desperate times call for desperate measures.  I take to the Internet, and locate a box of ten Twinkies on    I am distracted for a moment before purchasing, and I note that the in-stock supplies are dropping like a stone.   So I hit the orange “Buy Now with 1-Click” button.   Better to be safe than sorry.  It’s a good thing, too, because when I get back to Long Island that night, I visit three more stores and the shelves are bare.   I’m too late.  The Twinkie addicts have been hoarding all day.   A last check of the Internet shows that Twinkies are now being auctioned at a premium price on ebay.   I’ll be pleasantly surprised if my box of Twinkies actually makes it into my hands.  There’s a lot that can happen between the warehouse and my front steps in this post apocalyptic Twinkie-less world.  

Which might mean I ate my last Twinkie this past April at a “Mad Men” style dinner hosted by my college roommate Ford MacKenzie.   I brought dessert – a platter of Twinkies served with Chocolate Pudding and Dream Whip.  The Twinkies were light and luscious – a little pillowy taste of heaven with a perky artificial aftertaste.  

Okay, so it’s not like I dined on Twinkies regularly at this stage in my life.  But, the thought of Twinkies going the way of the dinosaur, the Edsel and Gourmet Magazine is a bit unnerving.    It was comforting to know that the frothy, light Twinkie seemed to endure in an often dark and uncertain world.  R.I.P. Twinkie the Kid.  

©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ode to a Bundt Pan

There was a time when I was the King of the Bundt Cakes.   My venerable Bundt pan was the very first cake pan I purchased when I was outfitting my post-college apartment.   I remember baking a luscious, slightly tipsy sherry cake for a Christmas Tea.   That impossibly tall and beautifully sculpted creation made for one festive holiday cake.  

The Bundt pan is a post-modern work of art and engineering.  The concentric design of wide and slender scallops creates a buxom mountain range of sheer confectionary delight.   Let’s be blunt about the Bundt – it requires very little talent to achieve success.   Be it a scratch cake, a boozy delight, the renowned “Tunnel of Fudge” or an otherwise pedestrian cake mix, the Bundt pan delivers perfect results every time.  

Some traditionalists scoff at the non-stick surface, but I reveled in the results.   Imagine the sheer delight hearing that inverted cake effortlessly “thump” onto the cooling rack. 
In thirty years, my Bundt pan got a lot of mileage – family dinners, church events, holiday celebrations, birthdays, and potluck suppers.   It was the perfect contribution cake - easily portable, and serving hundreds, or so it seemed.   For anyone with even a slightly unsteady hand, those lovely ridges delineated both a slim line and super-sized portion. 

Then one day, the magic died.   There was no effortless “thump” onto the cooling rack.   The cake split in two, and I had to scrape the remains from the pan.   It happened again, severely challenging my “Bundt cake for Dummies” theory.   Here’s the distressing truth – a non-stick surface does not last forever.  

It took me some time to come to grips with the fact that my beloved Bundt was just past its prime.   Finally, I came to the grim realization that the Bundt pan would have to be retired.   I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, headed for Target, and shelled out 15 bucks for a spanking new non-stick Bundt pan.   
And, for an added level of insurance, I picked up a can of Pam for Baking on the way home.   
Now, we’re in the midst of a Bundt Cake renaissance.  A blueberry buttermilk Bundt Cake was dense and delicious.
A Pumpkin Spice Cake towered at the Restoration Farm Pot Luck Dinner.  
A Blood Orange Yogurt Pound Cake released from the pan in so stealth a manner that I didn’t even hear it drop.  
I’m already debating the Christmas Cake.  What will it be?  An Eggnog Bundt Cake?   A Pumpkin Pecan Cake?  Or a Noel Fruit Cake?   Whatever the recipe, I know the curvaceous lines will never fail to impress my guests.

Thanks to my new purchase, I’ve regained my title as the King of the Bundt Cakes again.   But, I can’t seem to part with my original pan.   I’ve considered donating it to the Smithsonian, but I’m not sure their curator is on the edge of his seat awaiting my call.

But, I think my original Bundt has earned a place of honor on my family room wall.   There were an awful lot of sweet celebrations that rose from that old Bundt of mine.

©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Harvesting Life at Restoration Farm

The morning dawns through silver mist at Restoration Farm.   Before the sun has burned through and stretched into the sky, human hands are already harvesting cabbage and kale, and counting sweet potatoes and butternut squash to divided among members.  It is the final spurt of growth.  Shortly, the 2012 growing season will draw to a close.  
The annual growing season passes all too quickly.   While the fields burst with life, the season feels timeless.  And then, it is done.   At the end, we fondly remember the meals, the beauty and flavor of freshly picked vegetables, the friendships, the conversations, the successes, the mishaps and the life that happened along the way.  
As is my custom on this day, I set out into the fields for a final look.   Steam rises off manure that sits in wait to nourish the soil. 
Some of those hills of “fertilizer” are already sprouting new life.
Up above Williams Field, I encounter Jay Mussman and George Garbarini doing clean up chores.     George has discovered dozens of overlooked flat beans still growing on the vines.  Even though the calendar says the growing season has concluded, there is still plenty of life to be harvested in the fields.  
Jay calls down to Dan Holmes to bring baskets for harvesting the beans.  We snack on handfuls right in the field.  The fresh, crisp taste is incredibly sweet.   Somehow that brief moment – sharing fresh beans in the dew-soaked field – stays in my memory more vividly than most of the events of the past week.  
At the distribution tent, Leslie Steinman places an overstuffed bucket of emerald green kale on the table.  
Even as the farm anticipates a brief time of slumber, the bounty is staggering.   There are rows of butternut squash and Long Island cheese pumpkins.
And, for the first time, gorgeous full heads of broccoli.  
My friend Maria weighs out five pounds of sweet potatoes.
Hearty root vegetables abound.  
And as always, there is crisp, lively lettuce to delight the palate. 
The distribution tent is always a hub of activity and conversation. 
Saturday distribution manager Susan Salem is braiding garlic with Ada.
Glenn Aldridge is gearing up to head into the fields.   He’s trying out a new pair of rubber boots to keep the feet dry.
I linger to drink it all in.  Farming, food and friendships.  That is the stuff of life at Restoration Farm.
It even seems that the dahlias are drenched in color to celebrate another successful season.  
Just for the moment, the cycle of life at Restoration Farm is complete.  
We look forward to the harvest celebrations to come, and then – after a brief rest – the time to sow seeds again, creating new life.  
 (Note:  The final pickup at the farm for the season occurred before the arrival of Hurricane Sandy.  Reliable sources tell me the farm successfully weathered the storm.)

©2012 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved