Allium Green: 09.09


Sunday pancakes

There is a tradition in my family of making pancakes on Sunday mornings. Growing up, my dad was the pancake maker - and I have no memories of him ever using a written recipe. The best part of the event was how he customized them for everyone. Mom likes bananas in hers. Dad likes butterscotch chips. I liked chocolate chips. Sometimes there were blueberries, sometimes nuts. He'd divide the batter into several bowls, adding the goodies according to request.

The recipe has undergone serious changes in the last ten years or so with the onset of allergies in my family. First a batch with no cow dairy. Then a batch with no cow dairy and one with no gluten. Then no dairy at all, no gluten and no eggs. I can't imagine that the recipe looks much at all like the original. But it's still customized according to request with fruit, candy, nuts.

My grandfather, however, is who started the Sunday pancake tradition. My grandmother cooked all meals for the first thirty years of their marriage. On their 30th anniversary, she told him he could cook her breakfast for the next 30. He made breakfast every day of their lives together since then. I don't know if he's still doing it since her passing this spring, but I hope so. It was never a simple affair. His breakfasts were always hot, always elaborate, often with complicated place settings and cutlery. You have to appreciate the effort and artistry involved.

When my husband and I went to visit my grandparents in Colorado several years ago, he modified his recipe to accommodate my inability to eat gluten. Those pancakes were half cornmeal, half buckwheat flour with chopped walnuts. I came home from that trip and made pancakes the next Sunday, and Ralph and I have been eating them most Sundays since.

True to form, my recipe changes a lot, mostly according to what's in my refrigerator. I never have buttermilk, which is what the original recipe calls for, so I use plain yogurt or ricotta. I started off with a combination of buckwheat and corn meal and have since shifted to corn meal alone after running out of buckwheat and deciding I liked it better with just the corn. I've used frozen raspberries, purchased on a whim (10# of them) last fall from Adam's Berry Farm, or fresh blueberries. I've made them with diced nectarines, plums, and peaches. I've made them with bananas, walnuts, frozen blueberries. When our first strawberries were coming out of the garden, I chopped them and added them to the batter. I hesitate to say it definitively, but I think the peaches might have been my favorite.

Ralph laughs at my constant adaptation of this recipe. Each Sunday, I open the door to the refrigerator and announce, Oh, we don't have any...(cornmeal, buckwheat flour, yogurt, ricotta...). He laughs at this but it's really what I like about them. Just about the only ingredient I haven't done without or substituted for is the single egg. Though given my dad's current recipe, there's no reason I couldn't, I suppose. I don't usually offer actual recipes on this blog, but with the assumption that if you try this one you'll change it to suit your taste, here's the one I made today.

Cornmeal raspberry pancakes

1 egg
1 c. plain, whole-milk yogurt
2 T. grape seed oil
1 c. coarse-ground corn meal
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
~1 c. frozen raspberries

Whisk egg, yogurt and oil together in a mixing bowl. When smooth, add all dry ingredients at once. (Yes, I know, bakers would shudder that the dry ingredients aren't mixed together first. This is what I like about this recipe- one bowl. You are perfectly welcome to adapt it to two bowls, but I can't imagine why you'd want to). Gently mix the dry ingredients together, stopping as soon as they're blended. Add fruit and mix gently.

Heat non-stick griddle over medium low heat. Spread spoonfulls of batter onto griddle and cook on the first side until bubbles appear and start to pop. Flip and cook for another minute or two until sides look firm. Don't smoosh them with your spatula. Transfer to a plate in a warm oven. Repeat until all batter is done.

We eat these with butter and maple syrup. My parents skip the butter. My grandparents ate them with jam. This recipe serves Ralph and I with leftovers to toast the following morning. I double the recipe when we have more than the two of us. Enjoy.


An equinox harvest

The first day of fall ushered in another kind of harvest for us. Today was the day that the pigs our friends raised this summer were slaughtered. They raised two of them- one for our freezer and one for theirs. I woke up this morning, forgetting that today was the day until Ralph mentioned it. I was significantly ambivalent about whether I wanted to go or not. And I hadn't really intended to. But I suppose, in the end (and it was most certainly an end), I am glad I did.

It was raining when we arrived to find Earl milling around his dooryard watching two drunken pigs. Apparently, giving the pigs a quart of vodka mixed in with their feed dulls their senses enough that the process is less traumatic for them. They were staggering and visibly drunken, eating from their trough while slumped onto their haunches. Is this how it ends? I was disconcerted to find that it was a little funny and a little tragic and thinking shouldn't it be a little more solemn than this? I guess not from the pig's perspective. A half-hour later, Joe rolled up in a blue pick-up truck, donned his rain pants, and with a .22 in hand said, "Well, no time like the present." Indeed.

When you have someone come to your house to do them in, the animals get shot in the head. I could not watch this. I was firmly planted in the shed, fingers in my ears, trying not to pass out. A peek outside after the first shot confirmed that it was definitely not something I wanted to see if I also wanted to appreciate pork in the near future. It was pretty grim. There's a lot of movement after they're dead- a lot more than you'd think. Enough said about that. The second one was not as simple as the first, apparently. The shot missed it's mark and then the gun jammed. It was unpleasant- I could tell just by watching Ralph and Earl's faces. But eventually, they pigs were both dead and still and at that point, I eased out of the shed to watch from the periphery.

And the rest was physics and knife work. The animal is skinned, disemboweled and the head and feet cut off. It is then cut in half and taken to a butcher who breaks it down into cuts and packages it into something you'd recognize from the grocery store. Ralph and Earl were right in the thick of it the whole time. They're both deer hunters and no stranger to skinning animals they've hunted, but even so, they both felt there was something different about the pigs. More deliberative, harder to imagine carrying out, and they both said they'd likely not do it themselves in the future. Was it that they'd spent time with these animals, feeding them, watching them root around, listening to their grunts? We'd had a fair amount of discussion about doing the slaughtering ourselves. It would have taken us all day, at least, and I'm definitely glad I wasn't in there with a knife.

Joe worked efficiently, quickly, and considering his kidney stones ("they get agitated when I bend over,") I was seriously impressed with how hard he worked. Moving a 250# dead weight from where it fell to where it was strung up on a tripod looked like back-breaking work. But Joe had his system perfected and his motions were economical and swift; the motions looked like they came from muscle memory rather than something he had to think about. I was likewise impressed with how often he honed his knives. Any cook who has used someone else's dull kitchen knives can appreciate that. And as he skinned it, it definitely started to look more like the kitchen and less like the barnyard. What a strange transformation this is.

Well, until Joe pulled out the guts. That was seriously disgusting. By that time, I was sitting 20 feet away under cover in the garage and the smell hit me like a ton of bricks. Good lord, it was terrible. I can't even describe how awful that was- I've got nothing to compare it to. I had started to get a little bit accustomed to it- I forgot to be guarded. And I seriously wished I'd been prepared for that. I was queasy all morning and that was the peak of it.

And getting accustomed to it was strange. Definitely by the second pig, I was less queasy, less concerned that I'd disgrace myself by vomiting on my sneakers or passing out in the dirt. The blood-stained trough that first thing in the morning made me turn aside and hold my breath was just part of the landscape an hour later. The steaming gut pile on the ground a couple of feet from where Joe worked lost a bit of it's chilling hideousness and again became just part of the process. I suppose it lends weight to the argument Michael Pollan cites in Omnivore's Dilemma- that it's good not to participate in the killing too often so as not to become callous about it. It is taking a life - or two - and that should be noted rather than passed over and worn thin with familiarity. It certainly felt significant today but I can see how it would become routine.

When the second animal was loaded into the truck and Joe pulled away, we all looked at each other and shuffled into the house. Ralph and I were sitting at the kitchen table working on the cut list- the sheet you give the butcher, telling him how you'd like your cuts divided - and Earl called his wife to tell her the deed was done. And as he was relating the events of the morning to Tami, I saw him reach into the liquor cabinet and pull out the tequila bottle. I laughed at the time, but it felt just about right. We had tequila and orange juice at 11 in the morning, and then had tequila and limeade when the orange juice ran out. We sat at the table for an hour or more, talking over how we wanted the meat cut, rehashing the process, slowly getting buzzed on tequila as the sun came out.

I took quite a few pictures of the process, intending to post them here, but looking at them now, I'm not sure they're entirely appropriate. They're pretty grim. If you're interested in seeing them, let me know and I'll send you a link. It's not something I'd like to do again any time soon, but I am grateful to know that they lived good lives, had swift deaths, and that they will never travel far from the place they were raised throughout the whole process. I suppose that's as good as it gets.


Trying to love kale and other autumn tales

Do you live in Vermont? If you don't or if you aren't here now, please come visit. This is the most beautiful time in this state where each season has its individual magic. This one, this last burst of color and light and clarity before winter's grays, this one is the best. We have a guest room, and we live right in the middle of all this beauty. I can't possibly capture it for you, photos don't do it justice, you'll have to come and see. It is a little bit frantic, full of an almost desperate need to fit it all in, to finish the last things before winter. Everything smells good, food tastes better...have I convinced you yet? Are you sick of my ravings about autumn yet? Well buckle up folks, we've got a few months to go before I sink back into seasonal affective disorder and I warn you, I may be prolific.

I came home from work today and hubby and I took a slow walk down the road, enjoying the cool air and checking out the leaves that seemed to change overnight. It was a nice walk, and we caught each other up on the events of the day. As we were coming around the curve of the road, two barred owls starting calling to each other over our heads, one on each side of the road. It was magical. Then one joined the other on the right side of the road and it sounded like they were chatting with each other- the calls were almost conversational. I'd never heard that before. It was a little spooky, a little exciting, and made it feel even more like fall. Why do owls feel like fall? I don't know, but see what you think. Here's a link to their call.

I spent some time in the garden with my camera today after the rain. Things are looking good- this spell of chilly air has made all the cool weather crops explode. The kale...I tell you, we've been eating kale since May, and I've never been a huge fan of it. It's nice enough in small doses. But we didn't plant a small dose. We planted an army of kale, and it has tripled in size in the last couple of weeks. So I'm trying to love it. Here's my first attempt, beginning with photos. And this recipe might help. I'll let you know.

I've been thinking a lot today about writing generally and about posting to this blog specifically. I never explained why I started writing this. So many blogs have some explanation of who the author is and why they sent their thoughts out into the world. Well, I've been thinking about it. Why do I write? Because I hope that you're reading. Because the idea that I'm writing to a potentially unknown audience thrills me unspeakably. I write for you known readers, Bill and Jenn and Dwight and Sara and Ralph and Tara, and the rest of you who have been checking in. And I write for those of you who I don't know who could possibly be reading (oh, the thrill of that!). And I want to share how I see my corner of the world. So much of that is food and growing and green things but it's also traveling and seeing friends and the sound of an owl on a Thursday night in September. This is my attempt to capture my life in ways that will resonate for me and hopefully for you. And your feedback has been so, so important to me. Thank you for that.


Monday night s'mores

The air is chilly and the sliver of moon hasn't risen yet. It definitely feels like fall when the neighbors call to invite us for a campfire and s'mores on a Monday night and we need jackets and sweatshirts. We sat out at the foot of their hill, adding wood to the fire, catching up on the last several months, and mushing toasty marshmallows with chocolate between graham crackers. My strategy is to shove my piece of chocolate into the center of the warm marshmallow and end up with a gooey, melty mess, sans graham. Delicious. Is it really fall now? Is summer really over already?

The dog, Rudy, is wagging his tail and avidly staring at his ball-on-a-rope, hoping that I'll throw it for him. Dogs always seem to misread me as a lover of mutts, but no luck, they've found a cat lover instead. So Ralph pulls the toy away and tosses it over and over and Rudy streaks off, all speed and muscle and energy. Elizabeth, our friends' toddler, who hasn't quite decided we're trustworthy enough to talk to, has marshmallow in her hair, and their newborn boy makes smiley eyes at us and chews on his fist. I forgot how good this sugar and chocolate mess tastes, all sticky and smokey tasting. It started to rain a bit- a cool, chill rain that makes the fire feel even better. Can summer really have passed so soon?

Walking back across the street, I can't believe how deep the darkness is. It's only by the feel of the gravel underfoot that I'm confident we're still on the driveway. My hair smells like campfire and I'm looking forward to flannel sheets on the bed and a down comforter. Sleep always sounds better when there's cool air coming in the window. It's when we finally close the windows that I'll give in to the end of summer, but tonight will not be that night.


Borlotti beauties


Borlotti beans shelled and in their pods. The plants look like Christmas with the bright red beans against the green leaves. I simmered them in water with olive oil and pepper and we ate them alongside risotto with leeks, wood ear mushrooms and chard.

End of summer

It is the first grey morning in recent memory. The lovely string of clear warm days with almost no humidity has been beautiful but I'm secretly a little glad for some clouds. It keeps the sun feeling like a gift when it comes. The season is changing, it's unavoidable now. The red maple outside the kitchen window has a whole branch that has turned red already. I'd love this season with even more intensity if I didn't know that many months of winter are around the corner. But I do love it nonetheless.

I love it for the sound of the school bus early in the morning. For the fog in the mornings that the sun takes so long to break through. For the increased energy I have and the quickening of events and harvest celebrations and weekend plans. There's the sense that summer's sluggish August haze is over and now it's time to get back to work, head back to school, start over again.

A couple of weeks ago we took a two day trip to Montreal. And I'll be frank, I'm not sure our intentions were ever really anything other than to eat our way through the city. My husband and his parents are the best eaters for a food trip because all three of them have discerning palettes and a genuine enthusiasm for most anything edible. A friend suggested the Jean Talon market in Little Italy (fervent thanks, Bill, for that recommendation) on Saturday morning. And that is exactly where we started. It was cold and raining and people were dressed in coats. But that was okay because the cold made us hungry.

The Jean Talon market is the largest open-air market in North America (according to its own website) and I've never seen such care taken to make all that food look beautiful. There was a totally different style there than we have at our farmers' markets here. It was orderly, geometric, symmetric. We were disappointed (well, sort of) that we were eating out for two days instead of taking all those glossy fruits and vegetables home to cook. But we spent a long time looking anyway.

We tasted ice cider at a tasting at the edge of the market- we spent some time here, tasting, comparing different orchards' varieties and appreciating how much more common cider is in Quebec than in Vermont.

We ate frites with flavored aioli that was pretty damn incredible. Bison sausage on little sticks, fried cheese from a cheese maker. Ralph tried wild mushrooms, and I had a crepe. The crepe was heaven- buckwheat batter, smeared with nutella. This flavor reminds me so much of our family trip to Paris when I was fifteen that I have to sit down for a minute (post-crepe picture below, note the smile). It was heavenly. I loved every second of it and if I'd had the opportunity, I would have eaten another one before we left.

The rest of the weekend continued in the same vein- fancy drinks before dinner, dinner at a Greek tapas place that looked suspiciously empty of patrons but turned out to be incredible. And the waiter knew exactly what I was talking about when I said I couldn't eat gluten. For that, I am willing to forgive a lot of flaws, but there was no need because it was amazing.

Our last morning there, Ralph and I got up early and went down to the river with our cameras while his parents went to church at the Notre-Dame Basilica. I love this photo of him because it's exactly how I like to think of him- camera in hand, absorbed in the moment. It was quiet and cold that morning, not many people around and lovely to be out and appreciating the city.

And so that trip felt like the beginning of fall- abundance at the market- the need for sweaters and jackets. Trees starting to change color. And the capstone was the chocolat chaud with cayenne- yes, it was cold enough for hot chocolate- from Suite 88 Chocolatier on Rue St. Denis. Note the urban intro on their website.  And this stuff was amazing. They melt dark chocolate and blend it with cream (not milk, cream) and add enough cayenne to make it difficult to stop drinking it- the heat catches up with you when you stop. It was decadent and lovely and we bought some to take home. I haven't made any yet- I'm waiting for another cold day that needs some heat.  

Photo credits to Ralph except for the morning fog photo and the photo of him, which are mine.


More corn?

Why did you get so much corn? Ralph asks me looking at the huge burlap bag I've carted around to the deck for shucking. Well, fair question, I suppose. The freezer, already pretty full in general, has plenty of corn from when Ralph was the one coming home with dozens of ears. And after thinking about it, I shrug. It's summertime?

There's a new farmstand on my way home from work. I watched them build it over the course of the summer and when they finally put up a sign advertising sweet corn, I stopped and have been stopping every few days ever since. I like it. It's less Vermont and more Ohio. They fill your bag for you. They have the borderland French Canadian accent. They push tomatoes and cucumbers and squash along with their corn. But I'm there just for the corn.

On Thursday, when I stopped for corn for dinner, I honestly don't know why I asked her to reserve four dozen for me for Saturday morning. Sometimes, I think that abundance is important. It's been a bad week- the loss of our tomatoes, and the near-constant pressure and anxiety about work culminating with a very bad meeting Friday afternoon- well, abundance feels good.

After sleeping in and lingering a long time over coffee, I drove over and picked it up. When I saw the size of the bag, I did briefly think... uh oh. I stopped at the hardware store for a bigger canning pot, and at another farmstand for cabbage and peppers, and hauled it all inside.

I used half of that corn for corn relish. It's a vinegar relish with corn, peppers, onions and cabbage from the Ball Blue Book, aka canning bible. The nine pints of relish didn't really make a dent in the pile of corn I sliced off 54 cobbs. I admit, I stuck three more quarts in the freezer (don't tell hubby) and there's too many quarts in the fridge really to use. But I'll make more corn chowder, spoon bread with fresh corn, maybe a corn salad. It will be abundantly sweet, and that's just fine with me this weekend.



I don't know why I thought we'd get away with it. Everyone else has succumbed to the blasted blight. The early summer's cool and rainy weather made ideal conditions for late blight. This disease hit northeastern farmers hard in the early days of the summer, wiping out tomato and potato crops completely. But the last month or so has been warm and dry, definitely not ideal conditions for blight. And the buzz has abated a bit. And as the big, fat Cherokee Purple beauties started rolling in from our garden, I really let myself think that we might miss it. I was injudicious with my tomatoes. I was flagrantly adding them to everything- white beans and sliced cherry tomatoes, salads of nothing but tomatoes, basil and olive oil, pot of beans simmering on the stove? Add some tomatoes. I forgot that they are rare this summer. And now they're all gone.

Friday of last week, we harvested a whole flat of tomatoes from the garden, handfuls of Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, beautiful Cherokee Purples, and the start of the Gilbertie Paste- the tomatoes I was counting on to stock our basement shelf with canned tomatoes. We spent two days in Montreal with my in-laws and came home to half our plants dead or dying. Those two days we were in Montreal - and which I'll get to in a later post, there was amazing food there - were cool and rainy. On Monday, I took the day off to spend it with my in-laws. We went out to the garden to harvest some tomatoes and I was shocked to see how quickly everything had deteriorated. It was awful. I had to sit down and just look for a while.

The leaves were spotted with brown lesions and so were the stems on the worst looking plants. They looked pretty terrible, especially given that they were beautifully vibrant and heavy with fruit three days earlier. So my mother-in-law and I spent the day Monday picking green tomatoes, pulling out plants and bagging them, taking down the trellis, and cover cropping the bed. We also cut off the potato plants at the base and I'll harvest the potatoes in a couple of weeks, hoping that the disease hasn't made it to the tubers. If it has, we'll have potato mush in our root cellar this winter.

This breaks my heart in a million little ways. I know that there are worse things that could happen, but we had thirty tomato plants and they looked healthier than they've ever been for us before. The whole landscape has changed in the garden. It looks empty without the tomato and potato plants. The beans are the only thing left out there with any presence. It has taken summer and turned it into fall in one weekend. The work of garden clean-up that we'd normally do in October, we did at the tail end of August. There is one more flat of tomatoes sitting on the kitchen counter. I am trying to ration them, but they'll go bad before we can eat them all. That's right about when we'd start canning except there aren't any more waiting to be picked in the garden. Summer's over with an abrupt, unanticipated halt. And we'll hope for better things next year.

A part of me is glad to move on. To shift to the sweetness of fall and cooler air, to appreciate the culmination of a summer's work and to see the smooth earth, seeded with rye, waiting for the cold. The slow cooling period, the flaming trees and crisp air is like a final gift before winter sets in, something to tide us over between summer's lushness and the winter grey. But I'm not sure I was quite there yet. I was looking forward to the canning and even the fruit fly haze from too many tomatoes on the counter to eat fast enough. So I'll spend this weekend making green tomato chutney, fried green tomatoes, maybe a green tomato pie - I saw a recipe for that somewhere recently. And I'll freeze some more corn and then that will be enough. The onset of fall and the end of the garden for the year. Damn blight.

Photo credits to Ralph.