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Archive for the ‘Local food’ Category

A coworker of mine has goats, and she very generously brought in some milk for me last week. It sure felt like very precious cargo as I carried it home- what a treat! I probably would have cast some sidelong glances at someone who was lovingly cradling a jar of milk on the bus like I was. I mean, yeah, I looked like a weirdo.

Anyway, I decided to make yogurt. The idea of making yogurt and cheese is very appealing to me, but the thought of going to the grocery store and buying a half-gallon of milk and then making yogurt out of that has always seemed not that exciting. I don’t know. I just couldn’t get into it. So this was my chance!


To make yogurt, you heat your milk up to 120 degrees, add a couple tablespoons of already-made yogurt, and then keep the mixture at about 115-120 degrees for six to twelve hours.

In order to maintain the temperature, I put the jar full of hot milk in an insulated cooler with two jars full of water as hot as the tap gets. I did a little research online before launching this experiment about ways to do this, and the jars-of-hot-water-in-a-cooler method seemed like the simplest. So that’s what I decided to do, and I filled up the jars and tucked in the milk for the night and went to bed dreaming of delicious, creamy, homemade yogurt.

The next morning I scampered to the cooler and, wiping some excited spittle from my chin, cracked it open. And what did I find? A jar full of lukewarm milk! It was absolutely not yogurt, nor did it have a single yogurt-like characteristic. So, I refilled the jars with hot water and let it sit for the day, thinkin a little more time would do the trick. I got home from work really late that night and went to bed again, having by that point completely forgotten about the yogurt. The next morning, a solid 36 hours after starting the experiment, I finally gave up and put the milk back in the fridge.

I really, really didn’t want to just throw the milk away. I mean, it came from someone I know. So I turned it into a quiche (which was extra-delicious, by the way) and now I’m just really hoping I don’t get food poisoning. How’s that for an illustrious ending to the story?

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There’s this idea floating around that the next president should turn the White House lawn into an edible garden. This is the sort of idea that, at first blush, seems a tiny bit ridiculous. Totally impossible, and also kind of pointless. But I read that, during World War Two, when victory gardens produced 40% of the food consumed in the United States, the Roosevelts had a victory garden too. During the first world war, President Wilson had sheep nibbling away at the White House lawns to free the groundskeepers up for the war effort and to conserve resources. Sure, these were symbolic gestures, but I agree that these types of statements actually mean something. It was definitely a statement when Reagan took the solar panels off the roof of the White House. Maybe it’s time for a positive symbolic gesture about food? There’s information about this at ondayone.org and kitchengardeners.org.

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So, the rows aren’t exactly straight, but look- peas! I planted sugar snap peas and shell peas, so I should have a nice variety in a few short weeks. I can’t wait for sugar snaps right off the plant, and last year the shell peas I’d frozen were a highlight of my winter. So, these little plants are super-exciting. Look at them go!

 

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People get really, really excited about fiddleheads, which I think is mostly a function of fact that they’re pretty much the first thing available locally in the spring, and also because they’re foraged and therefore something of a novelty. If someone tells you that fiddleheads taste like asparagus, that person should be treated with distrust. They do not taste like asparagus- only asparagus itself carries that distinction. Fiddleheads do taste very green, though, which is very welcome by the time they find their way into the stores in late April or May.

So, I’ve only ever seen very simple preparations for these little ferns. They need to be washed and trimmed and cooked thoroughly, since I’ve heard they have the potential to make you sick. But what doesn’t, really? Boil the fiddleheads for five minutes or so and then saute them briefly in some butter with garlic, and they’re pretty tasty. Not asparagus tasty, but they do remind you that asparagus is right around the corner!

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I signed up for a plot at the Northampton Community Garden this year, so now I have my very own little 20×20 space to grow whatever I want. There’s a picture of it. That compost barrel was left by the previous tenant, which was an unexpected bonus. Ok, so maybe it’s not breathtaking quite yet, but rest assured that in a few short weeks it will be.

The truth is that I’ve been super anxious about the garden, probably because I imagined that there are lots of really experienced gardners all around me, and I fully expected to be mocked and derided by them for making foolish mistakes. Emily and I were joking that I should do all my gardening by headlamp to avoid prying eyes, but the plan is complicated by my failure to actually own a headlamp. God, I am the worst gardener! Plus someone would probably call the police if I was stumbling about with a headlamp on in the middle of the night, and that would be even more embarrassing than putting in my snap peas too late.

On Saturday I raked up the hay left behing by the previous gardener, loosened the soil with a fork, spread and spaded in some compost from Martin’s Farm in Greenfield, and raked it all smooth. On Sunday I put in peas, both sugar snaps and shell peas, and bok choy, spinach, and swiss chard. Very exciting. Oh yes, very, very exciting indeed.

I should say for the record that everyone I’ve encountered there so far was supernice and helpful. They did not seem interested in identifying my weaknesses and drawing attention to them for their own amusement.

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Well, I think this is the end of sugaring season for me. There might be a few sugar shacks that’ll be open for another week or so, but I’ve gone to one every weekend for six weeks straight, and that’s a lot of pancakes for one girl to eat, and I don’t think anyone is boiling anymore anyway. The final sugarhouse we hit up this year was Gould’s, which is right on the Mohawk Trail in Shelburne. It’s really popular and probably the best-known sugarhouse in the region.

The wait was over an hour, and our morale fell with our blood sugar while we waited. The waiting area is a kind of kitschy little gift shop, and the parking lot was full of Connecticut and New York plates, so the whole thing had a touristy feel to it. Sort of like a very tiny Yankee Candle. They weren’t boiling anymore, since it’s so late in the season, so maybe I would have had a different feeling if we could have gone in and checked out their evaporator.

But the restaurant itself is a really pleasant place to be, once you make it in there- big windows with a nice view, lovely handhewn beams, and the sweetest little old lady ever (Mrs. Gould herself, I think). Unfortunately for us, by the time we actually made it to the restaurant we were all so hungry that we gobbled down our meal in 10 seconds and we’d been there for so long that we were ready to bolt. The pancakes that I got, though, were probably the best sugarhouse pancakes I’ve had all year. Fluffy and delicious.

My feeling was that they have carved out a niche that works really well for them, they draw a lot of people from all over the region, and they’re definitely taking advantage of their wonderful location. Great! But for me, I think I’ll stick to places that are a little more off the beaten path. People from Connecticut can take a much-needed break from needlessly tailgating their way up 91, tighten the skis affixed to the roofs of their SUVs, and eat some delicious pancakes there. I’ll be elsewhere.

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The Farmstead at Mine Brook in Charlemont, which produces Goat Rising goat cheeses and Jersey Maid cow’s milk cheeses, is really onto something with their ricotta. I tend to think of ricotta as being basically the most bland cheese in the whole world, and usually I don’t even know why I add it to things. Just to increase the fat content of whatever I’m making, I guess. But their ricotta is delicious and has a flavor all its own. I’d eat it on a cracker. Would you do that with Sorrento? No, because that would be disappointing and a little bit gross. Those of us who live in Western Mass now have yet another reason to rub our bellies smugly and be thankful for our local farmers who are producing such lovely, special products.

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