Archive | October, 2011

Fall’s Harvest: Carrot and Turnip Soup & Pumpkin Pilaf

24 Oct

Cascade Farm School, my new veggie source

From the beginning, we’re all searching for our happy. We look for it from our parents, then our teachers and friends and finally, the razzle dazzle of the world outside. Almost inevitably, we all decide that we need more things, shinier baubles, glitzier clothes, bigger digs to get to the happy place we see glistening in glossy magazines and on TV shows.

So we go to law school, or go for our MBA, or just dive into 70-hour work weeks, a slave to our smartphones, just so we can hope to someday afford to buy a bigger apartment into which we can place more impressive works of Bauhaus furniture, complicated post-modern artwork that we don’t understand or like but feel we should, closets full of designer goodies.

But somehow, the constant striving becomes our lives, and suddenly … all of the energy we’re expending to stock up future parcels of happiness is wiping out any chance of happiness in the here and now. Stressful days and nights turn into bad weeks, terrible months, years that streak by in blurs under florescent lights.

When I got into a bad car accident more than a year ago, Stephen and I totally reassessed our lives, where we were going, how we lived, what we wanted. Recovering from the accident was (and still is) one of the hardest things I’ve done, but it’s given us a rare opportunity to live day-to-day, to try to focus on the little, silly things in front of us, instead of the improbable goals we had when we first got married, like retiring to Tahiti at 50 to sell smoothies out of a truck on the beach (it could happen!).

We closed the door on New York City and decided to move to the country. So far, so good.

Living closer to the natural rhythms of the earth, and ignoring the glittering distractions of la vida loca seems so much easier out here. Surrounded by towering evergreens, chittering squirrels, howling coyotes, packs of deer and hordes of field mice and frogs (and that’s just in our backyard), living and eating seasonally and locally seem obvious, instead of the intellectual / analytical project it became while we were living in Brooklyn, and even White Plains.

Penny checking out the fish and frogs

It has its downside too though — it’s Fall, so all kinds of critters are attempting to hole up in our house. On Saturday, Stephen bludgeoned two invading field mice to death with a shovel – that’s the kind of environmental stewardship and locavore spirit I knew I married him for. I’m looking forward to his next business trip, when Penny and I will be forced to deal with Franny the Field Mouse, Sammy the Salamander and Sonya the Squirrel by ourselves.

This is when the gun my Uncle Tom offered me would have come in handy. (Thoughts on mouse confit? Mouse mousse? Mouse stew? That has a nice ring to it…)

As the leaves fall, our view of the neighbor's rather interesting landscape choices, is enhanced

The family we bought our place from has been amazingly helpful in getting us situated; from the horror stories I heard, I was mentally prepared for a set of nine-headed monsters to emerge at the house closing, dragging primordial ooze in their wake. But instead, I got a giant packet of invaluable tips, a map of trails around the home and about a dozen contacts for a dog walker, a veterinarian, oil guy, chimney sweep, you name it.

Stephen and I are still waiting to find a pile of bodies buried in the basement or a forgotten stash of used torture devices. In the meantime, I’m going to keep enjoying the goodwill they showered us with.

These days, instead of staring at the shining windows at Saks that house a bunch of stuff that I’ll never be able to afford (and somehow makes me feel incompetent because I can’t) on the way to work, I’ve put heading over to the farm and picking up a few boxes of just-cut produce with tiny clods of dirt still clinging to their roots on my agenda.

Per the former house-owners tip, I bought into a CSA over at Cascade Farm School. I am spending less than I would at Whole Foods, but getting more organic, sustainably grown produce than I know what to do with (literally).

Happier than a ...

This week, I got about a dozen different vegetables, including carrots, herbs, a cooking pumpkin and a bunch of gorgeously colorful turnips.

Into the soup

I wasn’t sure what to do with the pumpkin, and I didn’t feel like making a pie, so I decided … pilaf. The pumpkin was much easier to peel and chop than butternut squash, and sweeter too. Who knew? Click on for my Carrot and Turnip Soup and Pumpkin Pilaf recipes.

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WTF Mexagna & Bread Bourgignon

17 Oct

Beautiful train ride to visit Helen, Lorraine and Paula in Manhattan

Do you ever stand in the middle of the grocery saying to yourself, WTF?

I’ve been having one of those weeks. (Years? Lives?)

I’m re-learning how to drive again after 10 plus years of riding the iron horse to work every day in the city, and it’s been a doozy. It’s kind of like Ms. Daisy fired her driver and took the wheel herself. I was lucky enough to end up with a hand-me-down, very gently used 2004 Honda Pilot, a veritable tank of a car, a piece of machinery that makes me, a strapping 5’9” woman, look like a midget-waif. I perch behind the wheel with my gigantic Elton John pink sunglasses, high-heeled boots and a highly impractical get-up that pinches me in at least five places, somehow rev it up, and it all goes downhill from there.

In the past week, I’ve:

  • Ended up accidentally off-roading twice (only minimal, aesthetic damage done, primarily to my pride, but also to the paint job).
  • Screamed and sobbed at the same time while doing a white-knuckled, quaky brake-panic-water plane-and-skid through torrential downpours on the highway at approximately 40 MPH as normal drivers passed me buy shaking their fists, heads and other body parts at me in rage.
  • Been forced to drive with the tip top of my tippy toes on the big, bad highway because I couldn’t figure out how to adjust the seat and I didn’t realize how far back I was until it was … too late (it was my first day of driving, I had to follow Stephen because I wasn’t sure how to get to the highway, we were both running late, yadda yadda).
  • Burst out crying at three, count it, three gas stations in Bumble Backwoods, New York because I was lost and late for dinner, and when I’m hungry my level of self-control and ability to behave in a decorous, mature fashion (already dangerously low under the best of circumstances) seems to dissipate entirely.
  • Pulled over to the side of deserted roads and flagged random cars down, begging for directions (my iPhone was low on juice, ok?)

I’m just like Alicia Silverstone’s character in that hilarious scene in Clueless when she’s careening around down the highway just barely avoiding gigantic 18-weelers, kicky sports cars and SUVs? Except without the freeway and the trucks, the sunny weather, fabulous blonde hair, awesome car, sassy sidekick, sprawling manse or youth! Yes, just like her!

You know what I’ve discovered through the tear-induced dehydration and panic attacks? People around Carmel and Kent Lakes, New York are super-scary nice! At first, I wondered if the nice people offering to let me follow them to the route I was attempting to find were evil miscreants with sinister plans for me; if the five people piping up behind me in line were going to yell at me for wasting their time; if the truck beeping at me from across the road had merely pulled over to chastise me for taking up half a lane with my truck. But soon I learned, no – they were just totally credulous people who actually … wanted to help me out.

It’s a shock to the system, and I’m still adjusting. I’m used to being faced by anonymous globs of angry people who look like they spend all of their free time practicing hostile expressions in the mirror (and these are the people who are actually paid to be nice to me; you know, waiters, shopkeepers, salesmen.)

Between the driver’s re-ed, endless hours trolling MapQuest and a much-needed brunch date with Lorraine, Helen and Paula, I haven’t spent as much time daydreaming about food. I went to the grocery store cold – no list, no clue. I left with a handful of my favorite things – cheese, avocados, milk, butter, corn tortillas, mushrooms, onions and jalapenos. I didn’t know what I wanted to make, but I knew I could make something comforting, but slightly sophisticated, with pantry staples as backup. And I did. I put together a decidedly Americain play on the inimitably French Bread Bourgignon, and a dish that combines my favorite elements – veggies, a bit of light meat, tons of cheese and carbs. It’s WTF Mexagna, perfectly imperfect, just like my driving skills.

Luckily, the view out the window is gorgeous, even when I’m screaming and crying!

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E-Z Meal: Mom’s Chicken Tortilla Soup

9 Oct

Sunrise over the lake

New York City gets under your skin. Live there for a decade or so, and getting bottles of urine thrown at you on the subway becomes fodder for light dinner conversation. Catching someone’s hand inside your bag and around your wallet while pushing past stands selling half-dead pet turtles and knockoff Chanel bags on Canal Street is just part of your average Sunday morning routine.

The Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, dinner at Le Cirque, sudsy mugs of beer on the Bowery, shopping on Spring Street, browsing for books in the Strand. It’s all around the corner, it’s available, it’s background noise, baby. You live in New York.

As John Updike put it, “The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding. ”

And then I moved. I realized that, holy crap, life doesn’t come to a grinding halt when you leave The City. That, sometimes, it gets a hell of a lot easier. E-Z. Yes, it’s pared down. Pho with pickled tripe is not a good idea in Kent Lakes, New York; spicy wings eaten on the lake with a bunch of Harley dudes — we’ve gotcha covered. And space? We’ve got it in spades. Big blue skies, wide open roads, towering trees, fields as far as the eye can see.

I haven’t started getting my coffee from drive-throughs (or spelling it drive-thrus) yet, but I’ve definitely thought about it.

For years, I had the same “hard is better” philosophy with food preparation; instinctively, I felt that any meal prepared with pre-made ingredients in any form was a horrifying Duncan Hines-sponsored, partially hydrogenated oil-dipped Sandra Lee cop-out.

And then I had my Mom’s Chicken Tortilla Soup for the 700th time. But this time, I asked for a recipe. It’s so rich, full of complex textures and layers of kicky spice and gooey umami goodness, I was sure she spent hours over the stove, roasting the perfect bird and building each component of soup separately.

“How do you do it?” I asked, expecting her a session of coy reticence on her part, wheedling on mine and eventual surrender of a five-page recipe after hours of back-and-forth and several glasses of wine.

“I use a rotisserie chicken!” she crowed. The woman will never cease to surprise me.

It doesn't get any E-Z-ier

This soup is a snap to throw together. Perfect for a hearty cuppa’ while you’re unpacking boxes, figuring out the feng shui of your cute little foyer and constantly running out to the backyard to see how your city dog is adjusting to life in the country.

Click on for the recipe.

My new pet, Sammy the Salamander, lives in that grim hole in our basement. Bon appetit!

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Who Moved My Cheese? Deli Mac and Cheese and Pickled Carrots

3 Oct

Livin' the life

Are you part of the solution? Or part of the problem?

I’m pretty confident that I’m part of the problem – in countless ways, but this week’s litany of offenses against the environment and common human decency has been especially lengthy.

You see, Stephen and I are moving this week. We have been slowly shuttling boxes of whatnots and thingamajigs up to Kent Lakes for weeks, but D-Day has arrived, and we are so not prepared. In the madness of packing, most of my cooking utensils have been tucked away in heaving piles of boxes and bags, along with most of my spice cabinet, not to mention my will to live.

They say moving is almost as horrifying and traumatic as a death in a family or divorce. Not quite, but almost. Whoever “they” are, “they” are on to something. And the empirical evidence that I have gathered this week shows that moving may lead to one, or both, of the other major life stresses “they” are always rattling on about.

Stephen and I found ourselves craving super-fatty foods this week. (Fear that sinking our life savings into a pile of timber is a bad idea, driving us to hit the Twinkies harder than usual? Burning more calories by putting large objects in cardboard containers and repeatedly lifting and setting them down? The tingling, almost effervescent sensation of giddy, apocalyptic, murderous mania that always sweeps me up in a funnel cloud of personality disorders and impulsive eating when I move? Don’t know, don’t care. Give me that tub of butter and a big wooden spoon, or move aside.)

Every time I look over at my better half, he seems to be cramming something vaguely grotesque yet droolingly delicious into his mouth, and I’m right there with him: on Saturday evening, we each managed to put away granola bars, Tootsie Rolls, cups of steaming hot coffee, the last juicy nectarines of the season, quivering trays of chicken and shrimp dumplings, a giant vat of curried udon noodles swimming in a seafood-flecked oily broth, a thick bacon grilled cheese sammy, generous slices of carrot cake and toasted salt bagels with warm slatherings of veggie cream cheese. Unfortunately, some of the gluttony occurred in front of Brenda and J., friends we met in China, who were hanging in NYC for the weekend. While they delicately sipped green tea and sampled a few dumplings, Stephen and I guzzled German beer and attempted to cram the entirety of FoodParc into our mouths.

No ordinary joint of meat or tub of dressed noodles would do this Sunday. We needed food fit for construction workers, pyramid-builders, Michael Phelps. (Did I mention that we’re moving everything ourselves? Don’t be jealous. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds.)

Strangely, I have also been craving pickled carrots – I love homemade pickles because I can control the level of tang (I like lots of bright acidity), the heat (crank it up) and the overall texture (crunchy, but not hard as a rock). I just love pickles, okay?

An open jar of pickles on the floor adds a much-needed touch of class to moving day

To silence both cravings, I made Deli Mac and Cheese and …. Pickled Carrots.

The crimes against the environment, basic tenets of Epicureanism and common human decency were committed due to the disappearance of many of my knives, my grater and my casserole dish, in addition to the time, patience and care required to gather ingredients from a market. I hit a deli next to my new job and asked them to slice up Cheddar and Mozzarella cheese, thin, and I made do with that; I bought overpriced, dodgy deli macaroni, the cheapest one they had; I shamelessly raided the coffee station in my (now former) apartment building on three separate occasions for tiny plastic, evil vats of half and half (hell’s no was I paying $3.00 for a quart of milk at the deli), and gathered the rest of the ingredients from the remnants of my pantry.

Click on for recipes!

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