• 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.

  • Marmalade, In The Style of Vermeer

  • Bread Love

    People like to ask me what my favorite thing is to bake. I tend to stammer and stutter "cookies? cakes? depends on the day, really." But lately my answer to this question would definitely be bread.

    Making bread is evoking kitchen alchemy at its finest. There is nothing more satisfying on a cold, gray morning than the soft, yeasty scent of a rising loaf, other than the toasty smell of that very same loaf baking. One of my goals for 2011 was to learn how to make bread using a natural starter instead of commercial yeast (and apparently, this is not a common goal for non-food obsessed people–my husband laughed when I told him). Thanks to Doug, bread baker extraordinaire at Murray Hollow, I acquired some established starter that was already making fantastic breads for him and was able to get to it. Although I generally reinvent a recipe every time I make it, I've stuck with and tried to perfect the "My sourdough" recipe from the River Cottage Bread Handbook.  My only adjustments have been adding some rye and whole wheat flours to the dough, and adding enough water to make an exceptionally moist loaf. It's amazing how good only flour, water, starter, and salt taste when they are combined and allowed to rise slowly, then are baked quickly in a very hot oven.

    I'm going to recommend that if you haven't made bread yet this winter, do so now. You will instantly feel satisfied. And if you need some recipes to try, start here or here with focaccia or rye bread recipes that I developed for Culture Magazine. Although they are meant to accompany cheese, they are equally good slathered with butter or served with soup.

  • Tough

     

    This place where I live makes me tough. It makes me push past my fear repeatedly with a desire to lead a normal life, a desire to not be limited by bad roads, animals, accidents.

    I have a perfect walking trail right behind my house. On days when the weather cooperates, I happily head out for an hour, knowing that my mind will be clearer and I'll be more relaxed when I come back. My walks took a sinister turn a few years ago when my neighbors' dogs decided I was threatening to their owners as I went to walk around them.  Both of the dogs bit me, hard, and I limped home with tears running down my face. I was injured first of all, but I was most upset that my sense of peace had been shattered. It took me awhile to go out alone for a walk. At first, I carried a stick, or sometimes rocks, weapons in both of my hands. Finally, I felt comfortable enough to carry only mace, first clutched into my tight fist at the ready, then tucked into a jacket pocket. I felt comfortable again. This weekend, from inside, we spotted a large coyote standing on the trail and I felt a little crack in my rebuilt confidence. I debated whether to go out today.

    But I did. I had to. If we let fear rule our lives, no one would enjoy anything. Nothing would get done. My walk today was a little victory. I clutched my bright orange whistle in my left gloved hand and had the mace readily accessible to the right. I felt alive in the damp, cool air and dull light of January.

  • Baking Instincts

    I would like to say that I've wholeheartedly embraced the idea of a new year. However, I still feel like I'm on the cusp of wrapping up 2011 and readying myself for this year. The good news is that I feel headed in the right direction.

    In early December, I had a bit of a revelation. I hadn't baked since the November farmers' market, and I was starting my holiday truffle extravaganza. Brainstorming flavors and garnishes had started weeks earlier, but it wasn't until I was actually in the kitchen that I felt entirely at peace. Happy to be back in the kitchen, making, happy to be working towards a goal, and happy to be working for myself.

    This was a huge discovery because I've always enjoyed doing lots of different things (those of you who have known me for awhile might have taken out some of my origami cranes to hang on your tree this year!). Sometimes I still wonder what would've happened if I had followed my initial path of music or continued to make jewelry. I was not a naturally talented musician (and even verged on tone-deaf to some degree), and I really had to work at being an oboist. And it pains me to admit it, but I don't think I'm a natural artist, either. I love making books (and I loved making jewelry), but everything I craft is too analytical and almost stubborn in demeanor. I couldn't quite express myself in any of these pursuits.

    Somehow, baking seems to be the most natural of all the things I have tried. I never took making sweets seriously because it was such an easy part of my life. I'm starting to come to terms with the baking thing and even expand the idea of it this year. I see 2012 as a challenging and fulfilling year for me once I'm ready to push full steam ahead.

  • We Were Not Alone

    As I mentioned previously, it was just me and my husband for the holidays this year. We did not travel, and no one ventured to Vermont to visit. Despite the lack of actual family, our holiday were rich with familial memories in the form of food. There were Christmas cookies inspired by my Aunt Barb, peanut butter blossoms topped with milk chocolate Hershey's kisses. Christmas dinner was an ode to Matt's family, an Italian feast modeled on Ma Mia's braciole, accompanied by fresh pasta, a winter caprese salad (made with our very own sun-dried cherry tomatoes), and a Meyer lemon semifreddo.

    I got the urge to make latkes–my dad is Jewish, although this meal was generally the extent of our Hanukkah traditions while I was young. I followed this fabulous recipe and managed to utilize my CSA parsnips which would have languished in the veggie drawer for some time. For a New Year's Eve get together with friends, I made trifle for dessert. My mom makes this nearly every year for Christmas Eve, so I had been scheming on how to fit it into the holiday festivities, preferably when other people could also enjoy it (and it wasn't just us eating an entire bowl of dessert). Although I took some liberties with fruit choice and construction, the foundation of a pillowy hot milk sponge cake was my mom's time-honored recipe. It tasted like home.

    So, to those loved ones who I wasn't able to see this year, you were with me anyway, despite the many miles of separation–I hope to see you soon.  I wish a bright and happy 2012 to all.

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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.

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