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Archive for November, 2007

Enough already

carrot and radish pickles

It really must stop.

All this roasting and mashing and gravy-making, this pie-baking and eating and socializing. So many delicious and impossibly heavy meals in the space of a week has my tastebuds kind of tired. Maybe–dare I say it?–even a little worn out.

As you may recall, it all started with a pre-holiday dinner with the boyfriend’s family, which was equal parts fun and exhausting. Sunday night we played host to “help us eat leftovers night” with friends, and we sat around the table like grownups and talked politics and drank lots of wine and argued the merits of the 100 dollar laptop program. Wednesday night found me in the bosom of my family in western PA, kibbitzing over matzoh ball soup and beef brisket and carrot cake. (Because, you know, everyone needs to eat a three-course meal on the eve of a major holiday.)

Then, only then, came Thursday, the day that’s supposed to be dedicated to this kind of feasting and merrymaking. Readers, I was worn out, feeling as though I’d flexed my gastronomical muscles a bit further than is advisable. Yet I prevailed, gobbling up my third–third!–turkey dinner of the week. I even topped it off with a slice of sweet potato pie with marshmallow meringue, made by yours truly. It was all delicious, but I do not recommend this practice of so many poultry-centric feasts in one week. I trust it will be well after our next presidential election until turkey passes these lips again.

[Because it makes me feel full all over again remembering it, I won’t even go into the meal we had Friday night in Pittsburgh at a pan-Asian restaurant (I know, I know), and our feast the following day at the Haven, in Johnstown, PA, which may have some of the best bar food east of the Mississippi. I’m talking onion rings, pizza, wings, burgers, and beer-battered fries of the highest order. Oops–I mean I ‘m not talking about those things.]

By Sunday, it was high time to give up the gluttony. I kept threatening to eat nothing but broth and seaweed, but there were Tantre Farm vegetables to use up–and pretty ones, too–for which I am truly thankful.

purple, green, gold

So Sunday evening was spent on my own, making some healthy and humble food out of the bounty of our last farm share. It was soothing to be back in my own space, my impossibly tiny but cozy apartment, making and eating simple food.

The cauliflower you saw up there, in Technicolor? They’re real; I promise. And were delicious cut into florets, tossed in lots of olive oil and coarse salt, and roasted till crispy at 400F, for about 15 minutes. And eaten with fingers.

But in that bowl at the top of this post contains the real elixir–the true counterpoint to my week of indulgence: pickled carrots and radishes, courtesy of a recipe from Alice Waters’s The Art of Simple Food. They are refreshing and tart and sweet, a delightful corrective to so much over-feasting.

The recipe is super simple, and can be used with any vegetable you think would taste good pickled. (I imagine so, anyway.) I have a mind to try this next with turnips, red onions, and maybe even some cauliflower or celery. It’s also very malleable, so use what you have in the pantry in the brine — different types of vinegar, fresh herbs, or chiles would all be great. And they’re just refrigerator pickles; no sanitizing jars and canning equipment required.

Fresh-Pickled Vegetables
1 1/2 c white wine vinegar
1 3/4 c water
2 1/2 T sugar
1/2 bay leaf
4 thyme sprigs
Pinch of dried chile flakes
1/2 t coriander seeds (I didn’t use these)
2 whole cloves
1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half
Generous pinch of salt

Combine ingredients and bring to a boil. Cook each type of vegetable in the brine, and scoop them out when they’re cooked but still crisp. Set aside to cool. Once all the vegetables are cooked + cooled, and the pickling brine has cooled, combine everything together, place into a container, and refrigerate. Should keep for a week, if you’ll leave them alone for that long.

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Butternut squash mountainFor a couple years now, food-conscious friends and co-workers have been telling me about their farm shares. For those who are unfamiliar, various local farms are part of the Community Supported Agriculture system. They generally practice organic or biodynamic farming methods, and sell “shares” in their harvest that participants receive on a weekly basis.

While intrigued by the idea, Lenny and I were tentative about the commitment. Is the farm share really worth the money? Will we be able to use up what we get from the share or will we end up throwing a lot of it away? I like to make what I want to make when I want to make it, but if we get all this other stuff what will I do? Will I end up spending more money on top of the farm share to get the produce I need to make what I want? Will we have time or be in town to pick up our share each week?

Then I found out about the Community Farm Kitchen. The CFK is a new program (as of this year) started by Mary Wessel Walker, an intern at the Community Farm of Ann Arbor. Here is how it works (from the CFK website):

Members of the Community Farm Kitchen are members of the Community Farm itself. Farm members pay at the beginning of the season for a share of each week’s harvest at the farm. The Community Farm Kitchen Staff collect the Kitchen Members’ vegetables at the farm each week and prepare, (cook, can, freeze, and/or refrigerate) the vegetables to create dishes which can be finished and served with a minimum of preparation at your home. Thus, rather than receiving their share of the harvest in the form of raw vegetables, Farm Kitchen members come to our kitchen at the Anthroposophical Society house on Geddes Ave to collect their share in the form of preserved vegetables and delicious home-cooked meals and from the Community Farm Kitchen Staff.

The CFK requires that you pay an additional fee on top of your farm share, so it took some effort to convince my husband that the price was worth what we would be getting. But I think in the end he would concur that it was a worthy experiment. We found that we really liked having prepared foods in our refrigerator every week to take for lunches or make into dinner sides/entrees. And the harvest was so bountiful that our freezer and pantry are filled with tubs of tomato sauce and soups and other dishes that we couldn’t manage to fit into our weekly menus. Also, as much as weekly trips out to the farm to pick up our share of vegetables sounded idyllic, knowing us and our crazy schedules, it would have just ended up being another pressure. So the convenience of Friday night pickups at the Anthroposophical Society also worked out really well for us. While on the one hand we sometimes found the prepared food to be a bit bland, we could usually figure out how to doctor things up to suit our tastes by adding some cheese, salt, spices or maybe some fish or meat (we found we couldn’t go wrong with a drizzle of truffle oil in a vegetable soup). And in Mary’s defense – she was preparing dishes for over a dozen (or more?) families, many with children – so she sensibly kept her spices and salt to a minimum. We definitely had our favorites – including the dill hummus, zucchini fritters, walnut pesto, gazpacho, groundnut stew, and the asian greens. You can see the menu for each week on the CFK blog.

Participating in the CFK requires that you also be members of the CFAA, and while opportunities abound throughout the season to visit the farm, Lenny and I didn’t end up getting out there until the final harvest weekend (“Grand Finale”). As usual, Mary was picking up our shares for that week. But during the final weekend, after all the non-CFK farm members have picked up their shares, there was still a huge surplus of vegetables. So at the end of the day all members can come to the farm and receive a share of the surplus.

Out at the farm for the grand finaleWe decided we couldn’t miss out on this opportunity, so we drove out Scio Church Road to the farm. We brought plenty of bags to hold our booty, while others came with wagons or used the farm’s wheelbarrows. Lenny and I looked a little out of place among the other visitors – decked out in our typical urban wear (“what is appropriate farm apparel?” we asked each other. “Probably not in our wardrobes so let’s just not worry about it.”). As we wandered around the farm and into the barn with the giant, lounging bull, and adorable baby goats, my ‘city’ husband, asked me, “where do they put the animals in the winter?” When I asked what he meant, he said, “well, are there heaters? Won’t they be cold? Do they transfer them to another facility?” I think he thought the animals should be sent off to Florida for the winter.

Who wants a hubbard?The distribution of the surplus was a ceremony like I’ve never experienced. Different “stations” were set up – some with greens, some with pumpkins and squash, others with garlic and other roots such as turnips, rutabaga, daikon radish, cauliflower and brussel sprouts. The group would gather around each station and the ‘station master’ – either Farmer Paul, or Farmer Annie, or other farm workers would ask the group – “who wants acorn squash?” One representative from each share would raise their hand if they wanted some. The station master would count the hands and then, based on the amount of the vegetable available – decide – “ok, you can each come and take 3 acorn squash.” Then after everyone took their share, they would see what’s left, and those who wanted could come and take one more. We went through this for each surplus crop. Sometimes things would run slightly short, so for instance 2 people didn’t get their desired bunch of arugula. In each case, others in the group would rush to pull a few stalks from each of their bunches in order to come up with a proper share for the ones who missed out.

Final bountyWe were admittedly farm slackers this year. Everyone is encouraged to visit the farm throughout the season, and there is a discount if you commit to volunteer hours. At the beginning of the season I had fantasies of weeding and helping with the harvest, but in the end we satisfied our volunteer hours by working on the final CFAA newsletter. But while maybe too little too late, that experience plus the Grand Finale convinced us we want to join the CFAA again next year. We aren’t sure if we will do the CFK again, although we were thrilled with the bounty of what we received from Mary at our final pickup the following Friday. We like to think we can commit to getting the raw vegetables and cleaning and preparing them ourselves – but I suppose we will decide based on what is happening in our lives next year. Either way, we have become converts to the CSA model, and introducing ourselves through the Community Farm Kitchen was a great way for busy people like us to become acquainted with and committed to this concept.

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Like everyone else in the food blog world this week, I greet you with tales of Thanksgiving dinner. Although mine is already cooked. You read that right: my turkey, gravy, stuffing, and all the usual suspects have already been prepared. No, I wasn’t trying out some new fad in holiday cooking–make everything 48 hours before you serve it. Rather, Michael and I offered to host a pre-Thanksgiving meal at his house for his Michigan family members since we’ll be with my folks for the holiday. When I agreed to the plan, I believe he thought I was just being the accommodating, food-obsessed girlfriend he’s come to know. My oh-so-secret agenda, however, was that I’d never headed up a Thanksgiving dinner before, so I jumped at the chance. In my family, there is an unwritten rule that Thanksgiving must be hosted by, like, married people who own their own homes. And, preferably, a set of china. Single girls–especially apartment-dwelling single girls–need not apply.

So we hopped to it, and the plans were proceeding beautifully–ahead of schedule, even!–thanks in no small part to the lovely and talented Anne, who helped me conceive a menu that would be relatively straightforward and would accommodate the range of palates of our guests.

Appetizers

    Assorted Cheddar Crisps
    Roasted Chestnuts
    Bacon-Wrapped Dates
    Salami and cheese plate

Dinner

With the addition of some store-bought Avalon Lafayette Baguette Rolls, some sides brought by the guests (mashed rutabaga, creamed onions–family favorite, both) and some pies (pumpkin, apple), it felt like all was under control.

So, armed with a plan

i mean business

A man (who is capable in the kitchen at things I’m wimpy at, like carving a turkey)

michael, carver

And a gorgeous, new roasting pan

aaaah, allclad

we were ready to Put on a Thanksgiving Dinner.

We were not ready, however, for the following, uh, complications. Here’s a list of our lessons learned, some kinks to work out the next time I wrangle my way into Thanksgiving dinner planning:

  • Lesson #1: A 17-pound turkey takes up lots of room in the oven. I mean, LOTS. So no room for the oyster stuffing to bake in its pan. This is why it is good to be friends with your next-door neighbor. (Thanks, Chris!)
  • Lesson #2: A 17-pound turkey is really freaking heavy. And it’s hard to speak kindly and not be kinda bitchy bossy when you’re cradling said 17-pound naked bird in your arms, trying to rinse it and pat it dry. (Sorry, Michael!)
  • Lesson #3: Children under 10 aren’t super keen on salami caliente and homemade cheddar crisps. They do, however, really dig sparkling apple cider.
  • Lesson #4: The timing of the last 30 minutes of the meal are crucial, people. Taking the turkey out of the oven, tenting it with foil, making the gravy, getting the mashed potatoes ready, carving the bird, placing the bird on the platter and plating up all the other dishes WITH serving utensils. And getting said platter and dishes on the table while the food’s still hot.
  • Lesson #5: The Thanksgiving meal, for me anyway, will always yield up a bit of disappointment. It’s a hell of a lot of heavy food, mostly of the same texture and consistency and color (the “tan group,” I like to call it). Eat a lot of salad.
  • Lesson #6: Remember that you wanted to do this in the first place. Appreciate your mothers and aunts and cousins who have worked at preparing Thanksgiving meals for your family forever. Be secretly glad that you aren’t yet grown up enough (according to them) to host Thanksgiving yourself.

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The subtitle for this post might be “an antidote to Thanksgiving.” Or it might be “the opinions stated here are entirely Maria’s and do not reflect the opinion of the management of G3.” Because this is the deal. I just Don’t. Get. That. Excited. About. Thanksgiving. I’ve been trying the past couple of years. How could I not like a holiday that is all about celebrating the intimate connections between community, cooking, and the realities of physical survival? Last year, I participated in deconstructing and brining a turkey, and I roasted parsnips and turnips with rosemary. And it was all good. But not that good. Somehow I can’t shake a snarky cousin once muttering that Thanksgiving was a memorial to unknown root vegetables. Or I remember how a hard-drinking Chicago Irish family — with whom I at one time spent many festive evenings — eschewed partying on New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day, dismissing them contemptuously as “amateur night.” That’s the feeling I get about Thanksgiving. Amateur night. Lots of pressure to perform, lots of expectations about the way to do things, lots of not so great results. Pass the grilled cheese, please.

Mostly though, Thanksgiving makes me feel claustrophobic. Too many associations of too many people in too small, overheated rooms, and way too much food. It’s all just really . . . crowded.

So back up a week, and I’m just starting to think about Thanksgiving, and I’m home with Nick and his runny nose and persistent fever. He goes to sleep, and I consider taking the respite to finally get out of my pajamas, but instead settle down to a moment of quiet and a book. I hustle up some lunch and open up Jenni Ferrari-Adler’s edited volume, Alone in the Kitchen With an Eggplant, a book I picked up at the district library because I liked the title and because I’d been sort of seeing it around. I’m almost finished with a bowl of reheated Trader Joe’s Joe’s Diner Macaroni and Cheese and a bowl of hot and sweet pickles (washed down with apple cider) and I’m all finished with M.F. K. Fisher’s “A is for Dining Alone” and Marcella Hazan’s “Eating Alone” when I flip to the introduction, and, a paragraph or two in, find the lines “this book has its genesis in August 2004, when I spent the first of many . . . nights alone in Michigan . . . It was unsettling to be without a job or roommates, to have so much time alone in my tiny house in Ann Arbor.” This a surprise, a bit of local pleasure in the middle of my long day at home with little in the fridge and my sick child. It’s always nice to find yourself in books, so when Ferrari-Adler tells us “I lived near the farmer’s market, a cooperative grocery and a butcher shop,” I get excited thinking “hey, that’s MY market, MY co-op, etc.”

I was inclined to like the collection from home-town bias alone, but it earned my affection and rapid reading (it’s a book that can be consumed quickly, read with one hand while the other is busy with potato chips) on its own merits. Some of my favorite parts of the book are the little descriptions that illuminate and celebrate the divine weirdness of the ways we eat when we eat alone. I’m a girl who spent part of a summer happily subsisting on tortilla chips and cheese, so I know what I’m talking about, and although I don’t think I’ll ever make Laurie Colwin’s “sandwiches” of fried eggplant rounds, muenster cheese and fermented black beans or Anneli Rufus’s “white on white lunch” (spaghetti and cottage cheese), I understand and applaud the hungers that lead to such meals.

What I like best about the essays are the way in which they describe and reflect upon the loneliness and triumph of cooking for yourself. Meals for one can be miserable and desolate or they can be the ultimate expression of caring for yourself, and the essays reflect the full spectrum of feelings toward solo dining. I wince in recognition when Laura Calder declares, in “The Lonely Palate,” “let’s face it: the truth about eating alone is that, despite our best intentions, nine times out of ten we eat badly.” But I also agree with Laura Dave that while you can say that cooking for yourself will save you time or save you money, what it really saves is you.

Cooking for myself saved me. One particularly cold and dreary winter, I recovered from the worst heartbreak of my life and spent entire days on my couch, immobilized by futility and loneliness. But I fed myself. Just me, after twelve years of someone else sharing my table and my life. I was as poor as a church mouse and utterly depressed, but I thought that every day I ate was a day that the world would not come to an end. Through January and February, I progressed from frozen pizzas eeked out to three meals to big bowls of pasta. By March, I was turning out increasingly varied omelettes. And one day when it was finally spring, I scraped together my bottle deposit money and bought a crisp white wine, a small high-end ham, a bunch of fresh asparagus and some new red potatoes. I warmed the ham, I steamed the asparagus, I boiled the potatoes. I set the table and opened the wine. I made myself a creamy mustard sauce and drizzled it around the plate. From there on out, things got better. Steadily, if not quickly.

I’m not a total Thanksgiving curmudgeon. Tomorrow, when Naomi is at the house, we’ll roast a chicken and make some autumnal dessert, and I’ll have the kids decorate the table. I like cooking, and I like my family. But to those of you about to begin crowded holiday weekends, I’d say find a little time to hide away and eat spaghetti with hot sauce or a lunch of just potatoes and gravy. Indulge your solitary food craving. Spend a little time with someone you’re truly interested in — yourself. And a grilled peanut butter and bacon sandwich of course.

Two recipes for single dining:

Deconstructed Nachos:

Tortilla chips. Preferably high quality, but probably whatever’s on sale.

Cheddar cheese. New York Extra Sharp White Cheddar if it’s handy.

Jarred salsa. I prefer Green Mountain Gringo, but, again, whatever you have.

Tear open chips. Spoon a dollop of salsa on each chip. Top with chunk of cheddar. Eat. Best eaten standing up, at the counter, with cupboards open.

Creamy Mustard Sauce for spring vegetables and ham:

1 T butter

1 T flour

1 cup milk, brought almost to a boil

Good quality Dijon mustard

Salt, pepper, paprika, worchestershire sauce to taste and in combination as you prefer.

Use the butter and flour to make a roux, whisking over medium heat until you have a smooth paste. Pour the milk into the roux in a steady stream, continuing to whisk as you go. Let cook over medium heat for about five minutes until thick and creamy. Add mustard, about a tablespoon at a time until you have reached the balance of sharpness and creaminess that is right for you and your dinner. Season to taste. Drizzle tastefully over warm vegetables such as spring carrots, asparagus or new potatoes. Ham if you have it. Remember that life is full of possibilities.

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This is mostly a post for the locals (and some local wannabes . . . Hello Ann Arborites in exile — or at least those of you having nostalgic moments!). I’ve had several little things come across the wires this week, so wanted to do a quick round-up of food news from the AA (online world).

  • Thursday, November 15, The HIV/Aids Resource Center will be holding its second annual Ann Arbor Wine Cellar event. “Win an instant Wine Cellar during the main event – a raffle of nearly 60 bottles of wines donated and signed by local personalities!” The event is hosted by Everyday Cook. Tickets are 45 dollars in advance, 55 dollars at the door. Raffle tickets are ten dollars apiece and there is also a silent auction for particularly rare and interesting bottles.
  • Some of you may have seen the coverage in the New York Times in August of the Edible Communities umbrella organization that gives rise to locally specific magazines about local food scenes and sustainable living. From the Times:

The goal of the magazines is to help create the kind of community where local is, if not king, at least an heir to the throne. It’s a place where small farmers can make a living practicing sustainable agriculture; where the environment is everyone’s concern and locally grown and locally made food is readily available. Better still, the magazines are free at some restaurants and food stores, though paid subscriptions are available.

We knew it was only a matter of time before we saw Edible Ann Arbor. It’s not quite that specific but Edible WOW (Washtenaw, Oakland and Wayne) has announced its December debut. The web site is a little thin right now, but it looks promising. And they’re looking for writers and advertisers. Check it out.

  • In another relatively recent addition to the Ann Arbor food blogger scene, The Farmer’s Marketer is doing some nice coverage of local growers and producers with a particular focus on, you guessed it, the farmer’s market. This is a segment of our world I’ve been wanting to learn more about so I’m excited about the blog (and of course jealous that she got there first).
  • And here’s one very close to home. As I think I’ve mentioned, my partner in crime, child-raising and cooking has certain, um, obsessions. Two of his strongest are library technology and making pizza. While not too many of you may be interested in the former (although there are a few of you out there, come one, I know it . . .), most of you are probably intrigued by what goes into a good homemade crust. If so, you can follow John’s occasional blog on these topics. First pizza post just went up last night.

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We recently told you that Mary Campbell of Everyday Wines and Everyday Cook would be speaking at the city council meeting, but we had the wrong date. Mary will be speaking on Monday, November 19 (not the 12th) regarding her pursuit of the one available liquor license from the city of Ann Arbor.

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From our friends at everyday cook in Kerrytown:

Hello everyone. We typically reserve these emails for announcing upcoming classes and events, but today we are asking for your help.

As many of you know, the city of Ann Arbor has one liquor license available that has been eagerly sought by more than 30 businesses. As many of you also know, Everyday Cook is seeking a liquor license so that we can offer wine tastings, wine classes, wine and beer with our meals, and much more. Also, we’ll be donating fifty cents for every glass of wine to Food Gatherers, a local nonprofit organization. But what you may not know is this: We are a finalist.

Here’s where we need your help. At this coming Monday’s Ann Arbor City Council Meeting (Monday, Nov. 12), Mary Campbell, owner of Everyday Wines and Everyday Cook will be speaking. As we understand it, having people there to show support for our cause will seriously help our chances. So here’s the deal: It won’t take much time. Come to the city council meeting at 7:00 PM, leave by 8:00 PM. Clap, whoop, and shout when Mary speaks. Then you’re done.

So, if you have an hour to show your support for the Everyday Cook experience, we’d really appreciate it. Here’s the pertinent info:

City Council Meeting Monday November 12
2nd Floor, City Hall. 100 N. Fifth, Ann Arbor
7:00 PM to 8;00 PM
Plenty of free parking across the street at the Bank of Ann Arbor

And while we’d love to see you in person, if you can’t make it and would like to support us by sending an email to your city council representative, you can scroll down this link:
http://www.a2gov.org/government/citycouncil/Pages/Home.aspx

Thank you very much for your support,
From the folks behind the counters and in the kitchen at Everyday Wines
and Everyday Cook

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