Plugging Away

  • Process

    I'm not good at recording what I do when I'm in the kitchen. I have tried to correct this quirk, especially with my preserving recipes so I can replicate it (or not) the following year. Usually my best strategy is to have a little notebook next to me, preferably one which can lie flat open and is just the right size to stay in one place while I'm writing. This notebook is used expressly for in-process recipes because it winds up too close to my projects and picks up spills, or at the very least, water spots from my hands all over the pages. Luckily, the recipe I want to talk about here doesn't need directions. It's a simple, one-ingredient wonder with a history.

    We planted St. Croix variety wine grapes several years ago from a friend's pruned cuttings. My husband built a lovely structure (Geneva double curtain) for them to grow into and has been vigilantly pruning and caring for them. Every year they produce slightly more fruit, and we are always at a bit of a loss as to what to do with the crop. Last year, I made grape jam and jelly, and I wasn't really thrilled with either. I happened to catch a tweet from Mario Batali giving advice on what to do with excess Concord grapes—he recommended making mosto cotto (also called saba and vin cotto). I checked out a few recipes and decided that it was a perfect use for the grapes and maybe a perfect condiment for us. It is also a traditional "slow food" which is not made very often anymore, even in Italy. After convincing my husband that we did not have enough grapes to make wine this year, we harvested them and I got to work. About 25 pounds of grapes were destemmed, crushed, strained, and cooked down for two hours to make about a quart of mosto cotto. It's good—sweet yet balanced with tart acidity, an unctuous texture, and amazing color.

    Not only did I create something useful and a product that will last well into the dark days of winter, I felt my husband's grandmother peering over my shoulder, remembering the process from when she was a little girl, growing up in the south of Italy. It's a food with a sense of history and a strong sense of place.

    **If you're interested and want to read more about mosto cotto, see the NY Times archived article here for recipes and sources.

  • Summer Lovin'

    I love the summer. I always have. When I was a little girl, I thought I was super lucky to have a summer birthday—I pitied the kids who had birthdays during the school year. They didn’t get to have a big outdoor party, complete with games like the peanut scramble, and mint chocolate chip ice cream cake from Baskin Robbins. Daylilies started to bloom right around my early July birthday, and I thought they were meant exclusively for me. When I got a little older, summers were long stretches of endless books to read….and then a summer job….and then a break from college. They always felt, well, summer-like until I had a regular job.

    These days, summer is my busy time. The farmers’ markets are in full swing and people are getting married and having parties, and they need sweets. Fruit is local and bountiful and finite, and needs to be put in jars as fast as I can keep up. Coincidentally, my husband is a teacher, so summers are his big break from work. This leaves me where I was last week, alone in the hot house, with lots to do. My husband was at the beach. Sometimes I long to be six again.

  • Finding the Sweet Spot

    If you know me well, you know that I can talk sweets with the best of them. I love what I do with flour and sugar. But sometimes I need a break. With another foodie deadline looming, this morning I went for a walk and worked in my garden. Most importantly, I didn't feel guilty about not being in the kitchen. I knew that I needed a little break, that the line between work and play is often precarious if you work from home. I know that since I officially started my little business, I want to do well, be profitable and productive. And that today, being productive needed to be something other than making sweets. I got back to work this afternoon with a little extra kick in my step. Soon, I'll have more than a few hours for myself. But for now, I'll look for the small moments in the day that I can claim as mine.

  • Market Update

    You can still find Paper Cake Scissors at the Walloomsac Farmers' Market at Bennington Station on Saturdays from 10am to 1pm. In addition, I'm at the Manchester, VT market on Thursdays, from 3pm to 6pm at Adams Park. I will be regularly updating my facebook page with what I'll have and when I am not able to be at a market—so , I'll see you over there!Image

  • Blur

    This is what life feels like lately. Days fly by in a cloud of flour and sugar, or words, or dirt (it's garden time, too). Life grows ever busier as we get closer to the summer. The days don't wait for me. They charge forward, second by second, willing me to keep up. I am forever counting the hours, adding and subtracting them like a bank account I could manage with the right budget. I want more, but instead moments must fit into what I have.

  • Summer Season

    The market is starting up for the season on May 5th! Please come visit me at the Walloomsac Farmers' Market on Saturdays at the riverwalk at Bennington Station from 10am to 1pm. I can't wait to see everyone again!

  • April Break

    PCS will not be at the upcoming farmers' market this Saturday, April 21st. I will be back for the Walloomsac market's summer season starting May 5th! As soon as I know, I'll let you know where else to find me this summer. Thanks for your support!

  • Turning Green

    This picture was taken about a month ago from a walk near my home. Since then, trees have sprouted tiny, bright buds that are slowly morphing into leaves. Afternoons have been pleasantly mild, but I've been running the wood stove just enough during the day to take the edge off of the chill that sets in when the sun sets. There are glorious clumps of daffodils blooming and forsythia burning a bright gold along the fence, and if you look hard enough, delicate white violets peeking out from timid leaves. It's an encouraging sight to wake up to.

    But already, I feel the urgency of summer biting at my heels. There are lists of things to do to get ready for the upcoming market season–supplies to inventory and order, a tent to check, and a myriad of little things to attend to. I look forward to those busy months ahead...and before they come charging in, I'd like to revel in the slow unfolding of spring.

  • Eye Candy

    I'm very lucky to know (and be friends with!) the talented local photographer Greg Nesbit. We had been talking about arranging a photo shoot for quite awhile, and finally he had time and I had pastries, and we were ready to go. While the purpose of the shoot was to get good shots of my sweets, I also wanted to show a little of my process. I'm sure most of my customers are aware of my dedication to quality, local ingredients, but they might not know that I infuse my own sugars and salts. I dry my own herbs to use through the winter in my baked goods. And yes, sometimes my kitchen feels like a laboratory, with experiments brewing in every corner. So, enjoy this peek into my kitchen and the secrets that are found there. And please get in touch with Greg if you are looking for a great photographer in the southern VT/eastern NY/Berkshires area.

  • Hoarding of a Surprising Nature

    In my everyday life, I am not a hoarder. I am not one of those people who squirrel away their obsessive collections that make others squirm. I am a reasonably organized person who regularly empties her purse and throws away old receipts and coupons. But I have a weakness: collecting culinary ingredients. No, this is not sensible. These things turn bad and unusable if kept too long. And yet, I ration the maple sugar because I know how expensive it is if I run out. I don’t use the pricey jar of coconut oil that I bought for recipe experimentation.

    As we’re nearing spring, I look at the things that I’ve preserved with the same eye. When the strawberry jam is gone, it’s gone until strawberry season finally rolls around in June. I want to hide those precious little jars and make sure that there’s enough to last. I’m trying to come to terms with using ingredients that I so carefully preserved before they turn into fossils rather than food.

    I’ve made progress in the last few weeks. I pulled out a jar of pickled pears to slice and serve with cheese. Frozen raspberries were cooked into a puree that I added to marshmallows. I defrosted rhubarb and cooked it down with tart dried cherries into a lovely compote; it filled pocket pies at the last market and I enjoyed the rest on top of oatmeal. The dehydrated corn that was languishing in the cupboard made a deliciously sweet addition to a roasted butternut squash soup. Despite myself, I enjoy these pure tastes of the season as my larder steadily empties and prepares itself for the bounty of the coming months.

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Plugging Away

I'm trying to enjoy the quiet stillness of winter. We've had lots of snow (and snow days) and rain, which has made for long weeks of nasty weather. I'm drawing daily and I can see myself steadily improving.