Archive for September, 2010

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The triumphant return of the farmer’s market

September 24, 2010

I finally made it back to the farmer’s market last week, after missing the last one due to some important errands out of town, and the previous eleven weeks because of, well, you know. I had a couple of recipes in mind as I scanned the stalls — I knew I wanted butternut squash soup, and I’d been thinking about ratatouille or some kind of minestrone — but mostly I was happy just to be there, looking at the abundance of brightly colored produce flanked by smaller tables of local honey, eggs, bread, and homemade soaps. I talked myself out of buying cranberry beans and I probably should have said no to the leeks, which were $1 each, and which I still haven’t used yet, though I think they’re destined for a leek-and-parsley risotto. Next time I’ll have to bring a camera; for now, here’s a not-too-well-lit portrait of the spoils:

I’m pleased that, while I hadn’t bothered to check what size squash the soup recipe called for, I selected one that seemed right, and it weighed in at almost exactly the stipulated 3 pounds. And I would like to note that the two eggplants were much prettier than they look in this picture, especially the lavender-colored one.

Even though I already linked to the squash soup recipe, the method is so simple that I might as well describe it briefly. You cut your squash in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and stringy pulpy stuff (if you want, you can clean and dry the seeds and roast them with olive oil and salt), brush the cut sides with olive oil, stuff the cavities with whole unpeeled garlic cloves (3 apiece), then roast them cut side down along with two good-sized onions, quartered, for about half an hour at 400 degrees. After the squash has cooled enough to handle, scrape the flesh into a food processor along with the onions and garlic (squeeze the softened garlic out of its charred peel), add 3 cups vegetable stock, salt and pepper, thyme, and a little nutmeg. Blend to desired texture, then heat gently on stovetop until hot. You can also fry some sage leaves and throw them on top, but I failed at this step and the soup was fine anyway.

My favorite thing about this recipe — which is from the Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special cookbook — is that it doesn’t overemphasize the squash’s sweetness, although roasting the garlic and onions does make them sweeter. I had a terrific butternut squash soup at Einstein’s Bagels once, but in my quest to replicate that experience, I choked down a lot of too-sweet, too-smooth concoctions with no savoriness or complexity to speak of. (Trader Joe’s soup-in-a-box, I’m looking at you.) So this recipe was the answer to all my butternut squash soup dreams. Yes, some of us dream about soup. Shut up. I had intended to turn the eggplant and zucchini into this ratatouille, but I’d neglected to buy peppers or parsley, and I didn’t have herbes de Provence or most of its components. By the time I got back from the store, without the spice mix because it cost $7 for a smallish bottle of probably dubious quality, I was no longer interested in spending 3+ hours on a fiddly, meticulous recipe for what’s supposed to be sort of a rustic peasant dish. I turned again to a Moosewood recipe, this time from the classic Moosewood cookbook, which you really should own if you’re at all interested in cooking vegetables. (But I’m a hypocrite, because I don’t own it. I bought it for my mother, and currently I have it out from the library.) Mollie Katzen’s recipe takes a mere 45 minutes and calls for no herbes de Provence, just four spices I already had — basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. I don’t know how authentic her version is, but it was easy and delicious, with bright, fresh flavors.

The tomatoes, I sliced and ate raw with salt and pepper. The corn was astonishingly delicious on its own, and I mean raw, sliced off the cob in sweet, milky kernels. But it was even better in this recipe for spicy sauteed corn. I substituted two chipotles for the fresh jalapeno, since I had some in the fridge already, and I would venture to say that might have been an improvement, though I didn’t try the original.

I think that accounts for everything but the green beans, which I’ll have tonight, gently cooked, alongside that leek risotto. It feels good to be back in the kitchen, and even better to have so many sources of inspiration.

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Blue Hills and blueberries

September 16, 2010

I did a bit of hiking today in the Blue Hills, and noticed a couple of interesting things: 1. The trail feels a lot different in early fall (and probably summer) from how I remember it in late fall/winter/early spring, when the trees are mostly bare. All those leaves take up space, so the trail gets narrower, and it actually feels a little claustrophobic. I think I like it better when I can see more of the sky. It’s noisier now, too, with lots of little blue-gray birds (nuthatches, I think) and crickets and wind. And I very rarely encounter other people on the skyline trail, but today while I was sitting on a rock on my favorite hill, a guy in an orange shirt and backpack meandered by. He didn’t say anything to me, possibly because I was wearing a green shirt and sitting behind a green bush and not moving, which is good because I was busy having my semiannual existential crisis and wouldn’t have welcomed the interruption.

Speaking of which, if anybody’s reading this who lives in New York or another big city, what do you do when you need to get away from people? Not a specific person, just the species as a whole? Or does that not happen to most people?

2. I never noticed before, but most of the stretch of trail I hiked today is lined on both sides with blueberry bushes. I wouldn’t have been sure that’s what they were, except I looked closely enough to find some berries, overripe or possibly frostbitten, so dark they were almost black. They didn’t look terribly appetizing, but I probably would have tried one anyway, if not for the existence of at least one person who is convinced that any berry outside of a supermarket is probably poisonous, and who, if I were to sicken and die on account of such a berry, would doubtless show up at my funeral just long enough to say “I told you so.” If I’d been here a month ago, though? You’d better believe there would have been a lot of muffins at my house. And some scones and maybe even a pie or two.

I couldn’t be sad about the blueberries for long, because there was already a bag of Wyler’s wild blueberries in my freezer, destined to be made into these muffins.

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Dairy discoveries

September 15, 2010

I went to the Whole Foods in Bedford last weekend with the intention of buying exactly four things – couscous and granola in bulk, crusty bread, and whatever interesting cheese was on sale. Naturally, by the time I made it to the store, I thought of a bunch of other cheapish pantry-staple type things I needed, so it was a more expensive trip than originally planned. BUT I made two very happy discoveries.

1. Whole Foods carries eggs from Chip-in Farm, which is a little silly since you could just go down the road and buy them there yourself, but that wouldn’t have occurred to me. We have often bought our Christmas trees there as well as the odd tomato or chicken pot pie, and as a child I liked to visit the pigs and chickens – I’m pretty sure I thought it was called Chicken Farm. Anyway, it’s nice to see a small business represented someplace accessible, and it’s nice to know where to buy super-local free-range eggs while supporting said business. Next time I’ll probably even buy them at the farm. (For the record, they cost maybe a dollar more than your basic supermarket eggs, but they were the cheapest dozen at Whole Foods.)

2. Whole Foods also now offers an assortment of “snack-sized” cheeses – little bits that are smaller than how they normally package things, and therefore cheaper, allowing broke people like me to try things they couldn’t otherwise. I had been longingly eyeing a big wedge of something creamy and seed-studded with a red rind, only to discover a smaller chunk in the snack bin (as well as some aged Irish cheddar, and I am a sucker for good cheddar). It was labeled “leyden with cumin seeds,” which it turns out is redundant because leyden, a traditional cheese from the Netherlands, is always flavored with cumin. It struck me as something like a drier, less creamy Gouda, fine by me as I find Gouda a bit overwhelming; apparently this is because it’s made with lower-fat milk, and the cumin seeds absorb some moisture as well. And are delicious. Especially served with chickpea stew.

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Thoroughly appropriate

September 14, 2010

So the show I’m working on this fall is Willy Wonka, based largely on the older Gene Wilder movie but with some additional music and a couple of other differences, and my project for today was making a bunch of recordings for the choreographer to work with. While taking a break, I also read through the script, only to come across the title of this blog. Not to spoil the ending for anybody who hasn’t read the Roald Dahl book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (though really, shame on you), but there’s this elevator,  see, and:

Mr. Wonka was reaching for a button high up on the glass ceiling of the elevator. Charlie and Grandpa Joe both craned their necks to read what it said on the little label beside the button.

It said . . . UP AND OUT.

Up and out,” thought Charlie, “What sort of a room is that?”

Apparently Willy Wonka and I have a couple of favorite words in common. I certainly wasn’t thinking of Roald Dahl or the glass elevator when I picked my blog title, but it seems a thoroughly appropriate coincidence.

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Summer recap, part I: Extracurricular activities

September 11, 2010

How do you summarize 11 weeks of practically nonstop activity in a couple of blog entries? Well, first you start by writing about the small stuff, namely the stuff you weren’t doing 80 hours a week. And then you only talk about things you have pictures of, mostly. So here goes.

At the Weathervane, we work hard, play harder, and take our fireworks very, very seriously. Having grown up close to Boston, I have pretty high standards for 4th-of-July fireworks, and while these may not be the most precisely choreographed I’ve ever seen, you really can’t beat sitting so close that you get ashes on your nose.

Yes, that’s a cat on a leash. When I decided to take Avocado with me, I didn’t want to keep her shut up in a smallish shared bedroom in a communal house all summer long, so I got her a harness and leash so she could go out once in a while. She’s not crazy about wearing them, but as soon as she gets outside, she forgets about it and runs around happily chewing on plants, to the amusement of all. And the derision of some. But those people just don’t understand.

This butterfly kept us company while five of us played mini golf on one of our Sundays off. The major activity of that day, though, was lunch at the Woodstock Inn Brewery, where we tagged along on the daily brewery tour before sampling several of the offerings. I’d already tried all the options while visiting with my family the previous weekend; I liked everything I tasted but was particularly floored by the Old Man Oatmeal Stout, which boasted a strong, smooth coffee flavor with a slight sweetness. They don’t bottle the stout – you can only enjoy it on site – but they do bottle my second favorite, the Red Rack Ale. It’s even sold in a couple of stores in Massachusetts, including one in Quincy and one in my hometown, so I’ll know where to look next time I need a taste of the North Country. (Ha. They should totally pay me to write ad copy.)

On the way home we stopped for coffee at the Cascade Coffeehouse in North Woodstock, a cozy, rustic place that sells flavored coffees, sandwiches, ice cream, and used cookbooks. Yes. If I lived in northern New Hampshire, you would probably find me there all the time, sipping something cold and hunting through the shelves (well, there or Miller’s or the Maia Papaya. It’s good to have options).

I have learned that sometimes when I take pictures with my phone, the colors come out unnaturally bright or oversaturated. I think this happens when there isn’t enough light or I’m too close to the subject, and usually it kind of ruins the picture, but in this case I really like the results. I found these amorous-looking trees while hiking a bit of the Appalachian Trail (I was a little confused by the trail markings, but I think this section was called Liberty Springs). It was a hot day and the trail was pretty steep and rocky, and since a) I was hiking alone and b) I had no idea if I was anywhere close to a summit, I didn’t stay out for more than an hour or so. I did have the pleasure of passing by a group of kids with a couple of women as I was heading off the trail. I noticed the kids were mostly wearing flip-flops, and one of the women asked me if the trail went uphill much. I assured her that it did, and maybe I should have also pointed out that the flip-flops were a really bad idea, but I imagine they figured that out pretty quickly.

I went on to climb two actual mountains later in the summer, Mt. Pemigewasset and Mt. Sugarloaf. Both times I was accompanied by a friend from the theater, which meant I was a little embarrassed about being out of shape and needing to stop and breathe often, but he was very patient, and it was nice to have someone to relax with at the top. And getting caught in the rain halfway up Sugarloaf would’ve been a lot more unpleasant alone.  Also, I’m pretty awful at self-portraits, so it’s exciting to finally have pictures of myself on a mountain.

More to come…