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Pans and Perspective

You provide the food and I will provide the perspective." – Anton Ego, 2007

Week 3: New Friends and Good Weather

My third week has been, the most productive by far! Probably most exciting is that David and I finished edits on my food philosophy. Monday was sunny but cold and we spent the morning with David’s neighbor, Dave. To make things easy we call him the maple syrup guy. We spent an hour discussing his most recent trip to California as well as the progress hes making with his sugar maples. Since it was too cold to melt the snow, we spent the day running errands in town. One of which included going to pick up David’s truck from the shop and I made a wonderful tomato sauce (check back this week for recipe). Tuesday climate was identical. I spent much of my day reading one of David’s manuscripts about the history of his family. It was a great story about “living life as art and art as life”. Birte, the newest intern, also arrived and spent time catching up with David as I attended another discussion about the book Democracy in Chains.

Wednesday proved to be disappointing as we received eight inches of snow, supposedly the largest storm of winter, spring. I spent the next day shoveling snow off the pea trellis so we could have the ground thawed later in the week. I met another one of the neighbors who has asked me to help cater an event shes hosting in early June. We went to town to buy some farm supplies and when I got home I prepared some vegetarian chili for Korbin. Check out how that night went. Friday was very hospitable and we used the time to transplant nearly all of the brassica varieties. We spent the night, after a fairly long day, enjoying a dinner of curry made by David.

We spent the following day finishing up the rest of the transplanting. Once finished David ran off to the local film festival and I stayed behind to catch up on some garden clean up. I managed to clear out the tomato trellises as well as the beans. I finished my evening by cutting down the rest of the tall grasses around the farm. Sunday turned out to be fabulous. We had full sun and temperatures in the high sixties.  Birte and I spent about seven hours in the garden. I managed to finish cleaning off the rest of the bean poles. I took down some bean tepees, pulled out many wheelbarrows worth of dead plants and then cleaned the perimeter fences of vines. By the end of the day Birte and I had managed to complete about 80% of the work in the garden. Next week Ellis, the final helper, will arrive and things will jump into full swing. Hope to see you back then!

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2018 Photo Gallery in Progress

Please frequently check the 2018 Gallery to see the recent happenings of this year.  Content will be updated regularly and will expand on some of the pictures found in the posts!

What makes a great meal?

One of the statements I frequently encounter when someone serves me food frequently resembles “I hope my cooking is good enough for you.” Usually there is some follow up with a remark about my occupation as a chef. And more often that not my response is always the same. It usually entails something like “I am just thankful that you would invite me to eat.” Sometimes I jest that its nice to enjoy a meal just sitting down, other times I say I’m grateful to not be eating it off a tasting spoon or directly out of a saute pan. While these statements are true, there is more behind it. Enjoying a meal with friends or even with strangers is something that I have come to recognize as sacred. Anytime someone offers to share food with me I’m honored that I have been chosen to participate. It takes a lot of courage to make a meal for someone, whether they are someone you are trying to impress, a casual friend or even a customer. It’s not something that I take lightly. So when I make these statements, in partial jest and out of consideration, I really am expressing gratitude.

Much of this is because the majority of the “meals” I have eaten over the past few years have taken place in the little stairwell at work. I relished the few minutes I had to simply sit down, let alone cram food into my mouth, simply so I could return to my work. I want to stress that this wasn’t a product of my environment, even worse, it was something that I chose. Some days, I would even forego the meal just to ensure that everything was setup for service. Often receiving flak from my manager to “Go eat!” I have had my fair share of real dining. In fact my friend Chris and I frequently enjoyed extravagant weekend meals to compensate, and my credit card can attest.

But even still, anytime I get to enjoy a formal meal I am overwhelmed by a multitude of emotions indescribable through words. This is compounded further if I am the one providing it. I personally believe that cooking, even sharing food, requires more than courage. It needs passion, precision and attention which if often summed up as “love” for the food. Just yesterday I was granted the privilege of making a meal. Nothing fancy: vegetarian chili and corn bread. I was joined by David, Birte, our new intern arrival here at Pepperfield, and one of David’s friends, Korbin. The meal started with a few light hors d’oeuvres prepared by David. Some homemade brie, a beautiful bleu goat cheese, olives, crackers and some local summer sausage. We spent the first part of the evening snacking and chatting over David’s homemade wine and grape juice. The conversation mostly involved catching up as we spent turns filling each other in on our history as well as how we were connected to Pepperfield.

The meal casually transitioned to the dinner table. I heated the the chili, prepared some garnishes and sliced the corn bread. Within moments of serving our small group descended into light mumbles, of which I thought were satisfaction, and the light clanking of spoons against porcelain. Everyone finished their plates and went for a second helping, some even thirds, on the chili and the corn bread was decimated. I felt pretty good. My personal critiques, which I later shared were that the beans were lightly under-cooked. And much to my surprise I was met with disagreement. Both David and Korbin noted that the texture in the beans was perfect because acted as a nice contrast against the backdrop of the chili. I’m gonna chalk up Birte’s silence as agreement. As our appetites began to subside we returned back to casual conversation. Korbin began to
talk about part of her day at work. She had spent much of it on the phone as customer service for the Seed Saver’s Exchange. One of her calls, from what she referred to as a “Doomsday Lady”, involved an hour long exchange. Most of which was spent listening and answering general questions about sorghum – this is mostly due to a recent news segment on China’s new tax on the grain. Although the conversation slowly devolved into abstract questions like: which crop can I grow to feed the nation? David went on to reminisce about the time he spent with his first wife out in California, where the two of them were regarded as Mr. and Mrs. Naturalist. This set the two of them up, David in particular, for a wide variety of similar phone calls that would come in all hours of the night. Two of which David remembers quite well: “Um, hello. I have this turtle and hes sick, should I brush his teeth” and after a fit of hysteria from myself and all gathered
at the table “I found a snake in my bedroom, can you tell me what it is?” “Sure”, David replied, “Can you describe it for me?” “Sure, it looks like a shoelace.” Again we all roared with laughter. The only time I’ve shared that same level of laughter was over meals with my family.

We shared great food and many laughs all among strangers. (Sure I have been around David for a few weeks, which really is no time at all, but I just met Birte and Korbin within the last 24 hours.) Nonetheless, this was one of the greatest meals I have had the fortune of enjoying and sharing. I was proud of the great flavors and judging by everyone’s consumption, I had every right. But the laughter, the kind where you’re stomach aches and you cant breathe, that’s what i loved the most. It made me realize, that the food is almost irrelevant. Sure it helps that it tasted good, but we all genuinely enjoyed the experience of each other, even if the beans were under-cooked. For probably the first time in my life, I took a step back and let myself enjoy what the food provided, rather than the food itself. Sustenance, yes, but fabulous stories and the joy of hysterical laughter shared among almost complete strangers.

Next time you cook, for a chef, for your friends and family or just a stranger remember that food is only the medium for sharing a great experience. It doesn’t define the experience of a meal, it only enhances it.

Food Philosophy page now live

Please take some time to review my new food philosophy.  I want to personally thank David Cavagnaro for his edits and support.  This category will be reserved only for discussion and further elaboration on some of its points.

Enjoy!

My Quest to Slow Down (and Ultimately Calm Down)

Intense.  Wound-up.  Excited.  These are just a few of the adjectives used to describe my personality.  In the kitchen these traits manifest themselves in different ways.  Almost acting like the flour in the dough that is, what I recognize, as the chef attitude or mentality.  But in the “real world” for lack of a better term, this perpetual state of being “amped” can be quite a hindrance.  It lends others to believe that I’m angry or upset, when in reality, I’m focused or serious.  Where it really causes my issues is in calm social interactions.  Let me give you some insight into my perspective of what happens when I get excited talking to anyone.

My pulse starts to increase, and my adrenaline levels climb.  My forehead gets almost electrified as my mind starts to race searching for details, facts and stories relevant on even fringe levels.  My vocal volume drastically increases while the pace with which I launch words, at whoever has the fortune (or misfortune) of being in my line of fire, climbs proportionally.  At this point, which may have only elapsed 60 seconds, I’m “In the shit”.  I begin to interrupt my own thoughts and sentences creating a jumble of almost unintelligible words tossed together like a pot of stew.  The final product or thought might be amazing, but the preceding dialogue can be confusing and sometimes intimidating.  Somewhere along this ascent, my emotions become quite overturned, and this is sometimes a contrast to my resting demeanor.  Normally when I get excited this is fine.  In fact, it helps further involve the participants of the conversation.  But, I’m sure to some extent gives them some uneasiness as well; there are times when all of this becomes quite overwhelming to all parties involved.

The magnitude of these traits is amplified when I get frustrated.  Take what has just been detailed and tune it up further by 50%.  I begin to obsess, usually over the insignificant, I stop listening both physically and emotionally and as a result, my judgement lessens.  I tend to become impulsive, or as I have been told, explosive.  By the end, my frustration has usually evolved into full blown anger.
I am embarrassed, but grateful, to say that it has taken me nearly a decade to identify this.  Partially because of my own ignorance, but I believe because it has been comfortable.  “Comfortable” is an interesting word choice because it is by no means comfortable for myself, and I’m certain anyone who gets involved.  I mean comfortable in the sense that it has been my mode of operation for quite some time.

As I have mentioned Pepperfield and David promote the idea of growth of body, mind and spirit.  I personally refuse to allow my time spent here to be wasted because of my known, and unknown, limitations.  David has observed, as have I in the past, that this erratic behavior and attitude that I demonstrate on a nearly daily basis never occurs when I cook.  I have said frequently that cooking and food provides me with a rush incomparable to that of anything else.  It is something where I can transcend beyond my faults and channel this state of mind into something spectacular.  In fact, it is one of the areas where external pressure doesn’t matter.  I am proud to be able to field problems and conflicts on the fly when I’m cooking, especially during a busy shift of service.

Using all this information I have begun creating a plan to, as the aptly named title implies, slow down and calm down.  David has recommended a few things.  First, that I slow down my speech, something that is naturally quick and further exacerbated when I get excited.  By constantly thinking about this I can use it to remind myself to remain calm.  Next, is to recognize my triggers.  I can use them to warn myself that I will be interacting with something that has the potential to make me excited.  This can additionally help as a preemptive measure to avoid becoming excited in the first place.  This is probably the most crucial piece of advice because I have identified that I struggle to observe my responses as they build.  It’s only after I have plateaued with excitement or anger that I realize what has happened.  One of my personal goals is to remain constantly aware of how I feel and sound to gauge and manage my overall intensity.  The final point seems like the most difficult to employ: Let time take its course.  Think about a watch.  The spring starts off wound extremely tight, but as time flows the, tension lessens until it is relaxed.

In some of our “Wine Time” discussions, David has mentioned how young people lack patience.  Living in an age where I can research the scientific name of asparagus, play –  in my case mock –  the latest video of our “President” delivering a speech and simultaneously download the latest app, I have noticed patience and the respect for time have been thrown to the wayside.  I, alongside my generation, live in the perfect storm of variables that breeds impatient, instant gratification seeking, entitled individuals.  My excitement or intensity is exacerbated even more by being in an industry that is notorious for being stressful.  But, I am no longer making excuses because I want to actively change this part of myself.  My intent over the next year is to: maintain my level of intensity but manage it so it is both appropriate and beneficial; enjoy life at an appropriate pace; consciously unwind so I can further appreciate and create a future that doesn’t move at the speed of light.

Week 2: Spring is (Almost) Here

As it stands David and I are currently in a blizzard with an additional six to eight inches of expected snowfall.  Good thing we don’t need to be working outside…The beginning of the week looked promising.  Monday, Pepperfield was graced with only a light dusting.  This allowed us to complete a few errands in town and even manage to fit in a sauna session.  The week continued with promise as the temperature began to rise out of freezing.  The following afternoon I tested a recipe for Corn Pudding, inspired by time at my last job.  It turned out to be quite fantastic.  I was also fortunate enough to be able to attend a lecture on Democracy in Chains, a powerful piece of writing that outlines the rise to power of people like James Buchanan and the Koch Brothers.  The points made were fascinating and I highly recommend the book to anyone who is curious about how we, as a country, have ended up in such a predicament with our political system.

The following day was excellent because I got to experience my first seed planting.  David and I worked for nearly two hours planting nearly 25 varietals of tomatoes.  Thanks to some decent weather, we even managed to move outside to clean up around the garden.  This is when I noticed the first indication of spring.  Daffodils and snowdrops were just starting to peek through the ground give some much-needed optimism that spring was on the way.  (Looking back, I couldn’t have been more wrong.)  Thursday was our first full day of sun.  David and I graciously used this time to complete a myriad of outdoor tasks: pruning, training grape vines, cleaning up debris from the vineyard and tidying up the perennial gardens, just to name a few.  I also spent a good portion of my day cutting down dead grasses and hauling off the refuse to compost piles.  Unfortunately, the sun didn’t last for long.  Friday we were hammered with rain and spent the day back inside dealing with domestic chores.  I managed to get a few meals prepared for the week by making some pasta as well as cream of broccoli soup.  Saturday proved to be worse as the day started with hail that gradually turned into snow.  I did a fair amount of reading – and napping – before I moved back to the kitchen.  This worked out well because David spent the time of my absence to make a delicious squash bread, which I am in the process of acquiring a recipe.

David and I have been trying to figure out a way to use the surfeit of garlic he grew last season.  I had initially planned to turn it into black garlic but discovered it was far to cumbersome.  First, the process required at least two weeks of steady heat around 140-160 degrees, something David was not to keen on, as he likes to watch the electricity usage.  I had thought that black garlic was a created during a process of fermentation but upon researching the method I learned that I is something entirely different.  Black garlic undergoes a chemical reaction, Maillard reaction, which is usually something that takes place in meats to further develop the flavors.  It’s the whole reason why crispy duck skin on Peking duck tastes so delicious and complex.   With all this in mind I decided to craft a real fermented garlic recipe that is currently sitting on the counter letting time work its magic.  Our night ended early as the light patter of snow and rain reverted to hail.

Toady has been quite similar.  I have spent much of my day reading and cleaning as the snow has steadily accumulated around the house and gardens.  It really has put a damper on the gardening, mostly because, on top of inhospitable working and growing conditions, we must wait for the snow and ground to melt.  This wouldn’t be so bad if the upcoming weekly forecast didn’t look identical to this week’s.  So, we will, as we have, continue to putter around the house, test recipes and twiddle our thumbs as we wait for spring to truly arrive.

Simple Cream of Broccoli Soup

Ingredients

2C onion

1ea clove garlic

4oz butter

2C water

2C whey or milk

1 bayleaf

1.5# broccoli peeled

1C half and half or cream for a richer soup

1T salt

1t pepper

 

Method

  1. Sweat the onions and garlic in a medium sauce pot in butter. Once translucent add water, whey and bayleaf.
  2. Cook for 30 minutes stirring occasionally.
  3. Add broccoli and cook for another five minutes just until broccoli is tender. Remove 1/3of the broccoli and set aside as garnish.
  4. Puree in small batches in a blender and finish with salt, pepper and half and half. Add in the remaining broccoli and serve immediately.

The vibrant green of the soup will dull if broccoli is overcooked and if soup is reheated. But it doesn’t change the flavor at all.

Whole Wheat Angel Hair

This recipe is hearty.  It will stand up well in your favorite tomato sauce or pesto.

Ingredients

2C all purpose flour

2C whole wheat flour

7ea eggs

Semolina flour for dusting

Method

  1. Mix flours well in a bowl and create a well. Crack eggs into well. Incorporate with a fork by first beating the eggs and then gradually incorporating flour from the inside of well working outwards. This dough will look dry but do not add water.
  2. Turn out onto floured surface and knead until dough is uniform in texture, springy and slightly tacky. Allow to rest for 1 hour.
  3. Roll to 1/4-1/8 of an inch in a square. Cut dough into 2×3 slabs. They should be just about the width of the pasta machine.
  4. Starting on the 1 setting, slowly roll dough through machine. If it rolls out with waves or divots repeat this process. Repeat these steps until you reach setting 5. It is hard to get the dough thinner than this because of the coarseness of typical whole wheat flour.
  5. Using the angel hair attachment slowly crank the dough sheets through. Immediately place noodles on a flour surface, semolina flour is preferred but any flour will do. These can be cooked as is, dried or frozen at your convenience.

If you don’t have access to a pasta machine you can hand roll the dough even further. Follow the above steps for rolling and cutting the sheets then proceed. You are looking for about 1/16 if an inch. This will take considerably longer. Once you have reached your desired thickness lightly flour the dough and gently roll it up across its entire length. Using a sharp knife as quickly slice the dough in 1/16 in strips across your roll. Cooking and storage remains the same. You can also use this dough for your favorite stuffed pasta recipes.

Please note: this is not real pasta, but a variation on a classic dough. These noodles will significantly more texture and flavor. If this is undesired you can change the recipe to 2 pounds of 00 flour (double O) or alternatively all purpose and 8 eggs.

Corn Pudding

Yield 8 Portions

Ingredients
1.5C onion minced
1.5C corn kernels
1.5C cheddar
1.5C ricotta
4ea eggs
.5C milk
3floz whey, or more milk
.5C butter melted more for cooking
.25C brown sugar
2t salt
1/2t pepper
1/4t nutmeg
.5C cornmeal

Method
1.  Sweat onions in 1T butter. Once translucent remove from heat.

2.  While cooking the onions combine ricotta, eggs, milk and whey with melted butter. In a separate larger bowl mix sugar, salt, pepper, nutmeg and cornmeal.

3.  Slowly whisk in the wet mix as you pour it into the dry. Fold in corn, onions and 1Cof cheese, reserving some for garnish on top.

4.  Bake at 400 for 40 minutes checking after 30 minutes. When done this pudding
should be golden brown on top and slice with a knife leaving no liquid behind.

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