Archives for posts with tag: Middlebury

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“I like to hang out with people who make me forget to look at my phone.”
-quote I heard recently

I’m in the middle of my summer sabbatical. As some of you know, each summer I take time off from my life in New York City and retreat to my on-again off-again childhood home of Vermont. This is the loveliest time of year in one of the loveliest places on earth. (That’s a fact by the way, not some silly opinion; seriously, check wikipedia.) The Champlain Valley of Vermont: the western side of the state, close to Lake Champlain, and not as far north as you can get, but pretty up there. It is where my heart feels most at home, most at ease. My father and stepmother have the good fortune of calling this place home year round. Up here in the summer I can swim in their pond, shower outside under the stars, read in the hammock on the back porch, and this month, play—or attempt to play—with the three new kittens that were born in their garage. We pick chard and kale and cukes and tomatoes and dill and basil from the garden.

It’s been a good summer for me so far but not without its challenges. I have been working harder than almost any other time in the past few years, while also tending to a tender heart. As you may have noticed I have not been too focused on making or writing about food and I miss it. Although I am editing a cookbook this summer and it’s been both a great pleasure and challenge and once I’m done with the manuscript can hopefully share some of the recipes here.

The only hitch in these lovely summer sojourns is that my time in Vermont must come to an end, and as much as I like Brooklyn, I never want to return to my 400-square-foot apartment or riding the subway or meetings or general lack of lakes to swim in.

While up here though, I, on occasion, leave what we call “the compound,” and venture out to swim in the lake, meet friends for dinner at Black Sheep Bistro, get pastries at Vergennes Laundry, shop at the Middlebury Food Coop (where I worked in high school!), eat ice cream at Lulu’s in Bristol (slumdog millionaire ice cream flavor anyone?), or, like I did today, go blueberry picking. Pelkey’s is the go-to place to pick blueberries in this part of the state in August. I’ve been doing it every summer for the last number of years in a row. Here’s a blueberry cobbler recipe on my blog from July 2011 (and an unrelated potato and green bean salad from July 2012, and a summer roundup from Vermont in August 2012).
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I picked six pounds of blueberries today in just under an hour. I would have stayed and picked double that but I was with friends including a one-year-old in need of a nap and it was about 85 degrees and I was without a hat to block the sun. So, what to make with all these blueberries? My friend Emmanuelle gave me a great idea the other day: Nigel Slater’s Cake for Midsummer, a not-too-sweet peach-and-blueberry inflected cake with hints of almond and orange zest. Slater, being from the UK, writes in the metric system of course, but so does the chef I’m working with and so metric to imperial conversions have become a snap for me.

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A Midsummer Cake

adapted from Nigel Slater
serves 8–10

175 grams unsalted butter, room temp (about 1 1/2 sticks)
175 grams sugar (orig. recipe, I reduced to 2/3 cup and used half white half brown sugar)
2 large eggs
175 grams flour (approx. 1 1/4 cup)
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
100 grams ground almonds (scant 1 cup)*
1 tsp grated orange zest + splash of orange juice
a few drops of vanilla extract
200 grams ripe peaches, roughly chopped (1 peach)
150 grams blueberries (approx. 1 cup)

Grease and flour an 8- or 9-inch round cake pan. Preheat the oven to 340 degrees Fahrenheit (170 degrees Celsius).

Using an electric or stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. (Use good butter if you can, it makes a difference here in the flavor.) One by one add the eggs and beat until combined.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and almonds then add, gradually, to the butter and sugar mixture. Add the orange zest, splash of juice, vanilla, and incorporate. Then fold in the chopped peaches and blueberries.

Transfer the mixture to the cake pan and bake for 50 minutes to an hour and ten minutes, depending on the size of your pan. My 9-inch pan required about a 57-minute baking time. An 8-inch pan might take an extra five minutes or so. Stick a toothpick in and it should come out clean. Let the cake cool before sliding it out onto a serving plate. Some unsweetened freshly whipped cream would be a nice accompaniment, as would a strong cup of tea.

*I think a neat substitution would be cornmeal in place of the almonds. Or, buckwheat flour in place of the all-purpose flour.

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Last Wednesday I was waiting for the F train at Jay St-MetroTech, trying to make a 9 am meeting near the Flat Iron. I forgot to bring reading material for the train, so wandered over to the news and candy kiosk in the middle of the platform. For a couple years I’d buy the Times every Wednesday just for the dining section. The crossword was a bonus (Wednesdays: not too hard, not too easy), the arts section a boon. It was definitely worth the four quarters I’d plunk down on the tall counter of the Marcy Ave. newsstand before dashing up the stairs to catch the J train.

Then the price of the paper creeped to $1.50, before becoming $2 and $2.25. And this past year, the price went up to $2.50. Now it’s a rare Wednesday when I get ink on my hands in pursuit of the latest restaurant review. But I was glad I splurged this week, if only for Melissa Clark’s treatise on figs, “Italy to Brooklyn, Fig by Fig.” Did you know there are fig trees growing all over Brooklyn, in large part a holdover because of the borough’s influx of Italians in the first half of the twentieth century?

On Friday, when hastily throwing a bag together for a last-minute trip to Vermont, I tossed the paper into my duffle, wanting to try Clark’s recipes for financiers and lamb-and-fig skewers. If figs can grow in NYC, I reasoned, surely someone in Vermont is growing them. So yesterday morning I woke up early, stopped off at Vergennes Laundry for a chocolate croissant and coffee (my Saturday morning ritual when I’m here), then drove down to Middlebury for the farmer’s market. Got the requisite pan au levain from Good Companion Bakery, tomme from Twig farm, bacon from Kate (North Branch Farm), eggs from Doolittle, all the while keeping my eyes open for figs. I saw none. Apples and plums of all varieties. Watermelon even. I considered using local plums in place of figs in the recipes, but decided to try the co-op. They had them! Black mission figs. Unfortunately they were from California, not Vermont, but I picked them up anyway. I had my heart set on those recipes.

My last errand in town yesterday was to pick up lamb for the skewers from a sheep farm, outside of town, down a dirt road. Kate tipped me off to the farm, and its honor system — you walk into a little room filled with glass-fronted freezers, write down what you’re taking, leave cash in a little plastic cup, and you’re done. I found the farm, which is completely unmarked, no signage, and pulled into the driveway. There was an old farm house on the property, and a few sheds. I wondered if I was in the right place. I heard voices and laughter coming from one of the sheds, and made my way over. The door opened as two people were on their way out, and I asked if I was in the right place to buy lamb. Tom, the farmer, said I was and invited me in. He explained how the system worked. He didn’t have boneless leg of lamb so he walked me through his other cuts. In the meantime we got to chatting, and I mentioned I was up from Brooklyn, but that my parents lived nearby.

“Brooklyn?!” he exclaimed, in what I took to be mock horror. “That’s terrible,” and he sort of chuckled nervously. I chuckled, thinking I’ve heard this before. Everybody wants to live in Brooklyn these days — it’s so cool, so young, charming architecture, farmer’s markets on every corner, beautiful people riding bicycles in skirts, or with bow-tied collars, on their way to work. Then I got the sense that maybe Tom wasn’t kidding. So I asked if he was. “No! I’m not! That’s a terrible place to live! So crowded, so many people.” Then he shook his head like he was sorry for me. Sorry for my choice of residence, sorry I didn’t get to see the sun set over the Champlain Valley every day. Sorry I didn’t get to smell dirt and farmland and manure. I remember my friend Kate visiting me from Vermont some years ago when I lived in Park Slope, and she said that while she loved visiting New York, she couldn’t live there because she has to see the mountains and sunset everyday.

It’s true, we have bow ties, bicycles, and brownstones. BAM, beaches, bagels, and some of the best new food being made in the country. But it’s not Vermont. It’s so far from Vermont, despite how hard Brooklynites like me try to bridge that gap, by pickling and fermenting and gardening. But hey, at least my local farmer’s market back home has figs. For now, that’ll have to do.

Fig-Almond Financiers
adapted from Melissa Clark, The New York Times
Yields 18

Financiers are tiny French cakes made with browned butter and often almond flour. They’re traditionally made in shallow, rectangular molds, resembling small bars of gold, but can also be made by filling muffin tins part way. I didn’t have that many figs to spare so I decided to try some local plums in addition to the figs, for adorning the tops. They worked liked aces! Both the fig and plum financiers were equally good. The original recipe also calls for 1/2 c of hazelnut flour. I scoured town for hazelnut or almond flour but found none. So I decided to cheat by adding some almond paste and using a combination of pastry flour and all-purpose flour.  I cut the sugar from the original 1 1/4 cup to 1 cup, and next time I make these I’d cut it even more, to 3/4 c or even 1/2 c.

1 stick butter, plus extra for greasing the pan
1 c sugar
1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 c all purpose flour
pinch of salt
1 1/2 tbsp almond paste
4 large egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 ripe figs (and/or Italian plums)

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small saucepan, melt butter, cooking until it smells toasty and just starts to brown. Pour into a heatproof container and let cool.

2. In a large bowl, combine sugar, flours, and salt. Beat in egg whites until the flour mixture is damp. Add the almond paste, combine. Add the butter and whisk vigorously until very smooth, about two minutes. Beat in vanilla.

3. Trim the stems off of figs, and slice each one crosswise, into thirds.

4. Butter and flour muffin tins. (Makes 18, so unless you have lots of muffin tins you may need to re-butter tins for a second rotation.) Fill each muffin cup scant halfway and top each with a slice of fig. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Lamb and Fig Skewers
adapted from Melissa Clark, The New York Times
Yields 4 servings

The original recipe calls for boneless leg of lamb, but I think this may be hard to come by. And if you do find it, it will likely run you a pretty penny. So I think you could use lamb stew meat or a bone-in cut (like the steaks I used) and cut the meat into chunks.

4 garlic cloves, minced
2 large sprigs rosemary, minced
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp honey
1 1/4 tsp coarse salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp tamari
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
12 ripe figs
1 1/2 pounds lamb meat (boneless leg of lamb, chops, steak, or stew meat), cut into 1-inch chunks

1. Begin by making the marinade. In a large bowl, toss together garlic, rosemary, lime juice, honey, salt, pepper, and tamari. Stir well to dissolve the salt, then stir in the oil. Set aside a few tbsp of the marinade. Add the lamb to the bowl with the remaining marinade and toss well. Marinate if you have time (makes a difference!), in the refrigerator, for a few hours, or at room temp for 30 minutes.

2. Thread the figs on skewers, making sure to leave a little space in between each one. Brush with the marinade you set aside.

3. Get your fire started. [If you’re not grilling, you can put the figs and lambs on a baking sheet instead of skewers and bake.] Thread the lamb on the skewers, leaving space in between each piece. Grill for three to five minutes, turning once.

4. Serve with fresh mint and lime wedges.

I’ve been having a ball in my home-away-from-home state of Vermont. I drove up last Friday with my sister Emily and her dog, Julius. I’ve swam almost every day in Lake Champlain or Goshen Dam, avoided stepping on zebra mussels, eaten sweet and drippy peaches, visited the Middlebury food co-op (3x), walked around the Middlebury College campus with Arianna and Rafa, read and napped in a hammock, eaten maple cremees, accompanied friends on a blueberry-wine tasting, and tonight might go to the drive-in. I love summer!

 

I’m usually in Vermont this week every year, and in this post and this post from last July 4th I blogged about living the good life in Vermont too. In fact, I think I’ll make that cashew spread again. Why am I returning to Brooklyn tomorrow?

Before arriving last week I told my stepmom Bonnie that I wanted to make a French potato and green bean salad, like the one David Tanis wrote about recently in the New York Times. Think of it like an improved upon summer potato salad, with a mustardy vinaigrette instead of mayo, tossed with green beans, olives, and lots of fresh herbs. I made it Vermont-style, meaning, whatever Bonnie had in the garden and local eggs. From the garden I picked chives, purple and green basil, thyme, and flat-leaf parsley. I wish I’d remembered to toss in the remaining scapes we had, but used garlic instead. This salad can be prepared ahead and served room temp or cold, perfect for a summer picnic or barbecue.

Vermont Potato and Green Bean Salad

1 3/4 lb small red potatoes
Salt and pepper
1 bay leaf
1 large thyme sprig
1-3 garlic cloves, mashed to a paste, to taste
1 tbsp anchovy paste
1 tbsp chopped capers
2 tsp Dijon mustard
4 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound small French beans, or green beans
4 large eggs
Handful of chopped herbs: chives, parsley, basil
1/4 cup pitted, cured black olives

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the potatoes, a bay leaf, and the thyme. Simmer for about 20 minutes until the potatoes are still firm but can be pierced easily with a fork. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and cool. Don’t drain the water because you can use this later for the green beans.

2. Make the vinaigrette: In a bowl combine the garlic, anchovy paste, capers, mustard, and vinegar. Whisk in the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

3. When the potatoes are cool, cut into thick slices. Season with salt and pepper, and cover with half the vinaigrette. Set aside.

4. Trim the ends of the beans and simmer in salted water for 3-4 minutes. Drain and cool under running water.

5. Cook the eggs: bring a pot of water to boil. Add the eggs gently and cook for about 8 minutes, 9 for a firmer yolk. Crack and peel immediately to cool. Cut each egg in half and season with salt and pepper.

6. When ready to serve, coat the green beans with the remaining dressing, and add to the potatoes. Arrange the eggs and olives on top. Garnish with the fresh herbs and serve.

Below are shots of the purple basil in the garden; ice cream from Middlebury; and I just had to have a picture with this teal green bug in town. There was a summer in California I drove around in a bright yellow one, I’ll see if I can find a photo of that. Happy 4th people.

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