An Eating Weekend: Epilogue.

I’m scared to step on the scale now, after having had two flavorful and filling party meals, but I think that can easily be postponed for a while.  Waiting for the right time to check my weight is an activity I’ve gotten quite good at, I must say.

As for the weekend itself…  I had a fantastic time.  Food is something I clearly enjoy in all forms and at all venues, but I honestly do think it tastes better in the company of friends, under the warm blanket of good conversation and with a cool drink within close reach.  So this is my summertime resolution — eat well, with more.

An Eating Weekend, Chapter Two: Dinner at Small Farm.

It’s so nice to get something in the mail that isn’t a circular or a bill, which is why a few weeks ago I was so excited to find, amongst many circulars and bills, an invitation from Amanda to dinner at Small Farm in Stow.

Dinner at Small Farm, 1Small Farm is owned by Barbara and Dwight Sipler… who also happen to be Amanda’s parents’ cousins, so my friend has had the enviable pleasure of visiting, working on and reaping the benefits of the farm for most of her life.  In fact, after everyone arrived and mingled a bit late Sunday afternoon, Amanda herded us into a circle and spoke briefly about her Small Farm memories; she then asked Barbara and Dwight to talk about their history as farmers.

The farm, Barbara told us, started out as a hobby.  “So be careful of your hobbies,” she said gravely, looking each one of us in the eye.  She then informed us that, over the years, she and Dwight have come to think of the farm as “a ministry,” which I found utterly fascinating.  What a wonderful way to describe something you love, don’t you think?

Dwight provided us with a few interesting facts.  There are, for example, over 3000 other small farms in Massachusetts, meaning they fit the USDA’s definition of such based on their gross sales below $250,000. Middlesex County is is ranked first in the state for direct sales of farm produce to consumers, a tidbit that made me feel very fancy and important.  Something else that made me feel fancy and important was the fact that Keith and I didn’t get lost on the way to the farm (even though I was navigating), a feat I proudly announced when Amanda asked us each to share something that we were grateful for.

Dinner at Small Farm, 5While many people rightfully said that they were thankful to be at the farm that day, I’ve got to confess I agreed the most with Chris‘s statement: “I’m grateful for tomatoes.”

Small Farm grows a ridiculous amount of tomato varietals, many of which are planted in a “maze garden.”  Types include the Sun Cherry and the Wapsipinicon Peach, the name of which we all had to ask Dwight to repeat several times before we could manage it ourselves.  I love tomatoes — one summer, Darlington gifted me with thumbnail-sized orange tomatoes that she had picked from the farm; after one taste, I immediately ate them all.  They were like tomato-flavored candy.

It was a bit too early in the season for tomatoes to make an appearance on either our dinner menu or the vine, but it didn’t stop many of us from traipsing through the still-growing maze.  Sure, we could all see over the tops of the leaves and stakes, but it was easy to imagine what the plants will look like in a few weeks’ time.  Even if the tomatoes don’t grow to be six feet tall, it doesn’t matter; the maze is geared towards young children — who, I’m told, are shorter than me.  They’ll do just fine in the maze (though Heather did suggest I shuffle through on my knees for a more authentic maze experience).

Dinner at Small Farm, 2After we all expressed what we were appreciative of (seasons, friendship, sunny days, film), Amanda quickly described what it was we would be eating for dinner.  As the meal was meant to be a celebration of the summer ahead of us, she had picked numerous pints of strawberries — which I personally consider to be the summeriest of summer berries — and turned it all into a sweet chilled soup, into which she directed us to drop a dollop of sour cream.*  We also had several different kinds of salads, (one of which also featured strawberries).  Most of the greens came from Small Farm’s lettuce beds, though I can’t say the same about the two  delicious and colorful pasta salads, or the hearty salmon/asparagus/peapod salad Amanda provided for additional protein.

Dinner at Small Farm, 3Oh, and you can’t tell from the photos here, but my plate was much fuller than it seems.  I didn’t think to take a shot from the side.  Had I thought of it, the picture would have looked like a veritable mountain of edible green.  It’s taller than it appears.

Our dessert was equally strawberry-centric; Amanda had set aside a large bowl of berries for us to spoon atop vanilla ice cream from Erikson’s Dairy up the road.  For our huge group, I think we had something like ten gallons.  I may be overestimating here, but I honestly doubt it.  Regardless, most of it — if not all — was eaten.

Aside from the strawberries and (ice) cream, there were also chocolate treats: two different kinds of cookies** and the densest, richest, most perfect little brownies I have ever eaten.  I went for seconds, which means that one of Amanda’s other guests probably missed out because of my gluttony.

I should take a moment here to note that this would have been a bad photo for the side-view angle; my bowl was extremely shallow, so anything would have appeared monstrous from the side.

That may or may not be a cover-up for my ravenousness.

Dinner at Small Farm, 6Prior to our eating, Barbara explained that the day before the dinner had been Small Farm’s 2009 opening day, which was why the crops “still look so pretty.”  She then kindly said to us all, “Today, Small Farm is yours,” and encouraged us to pick flowers, fruit and vegetables to take home.

While I wanted to make a run for the fields, I showed restraint and held back; Keith and I have a weekly CSA box, after all, and besides, I’m looking forward to returning to the farm as a paying customer.  I’ve got to do my part as a Middlesex County resident, haven’t I?

I instead ambled towards the assorted herbs, plants and vegetables, brushing my hands in the thyme creeping along the ground and fingering the downy fuzz of as many sage leaves I could.  I thought about stretching out under the morning glory teepee but worried about mudstains and impropriety; instead I pointed out to Keith where the amaranth would come in, in time, and where the blackberry patch was, brambles and bees and all.

At one point, we debated over this funny little figure living in the middle of the cherry tomato maze.  I think it’s a hippo; Keith and Melissa think it’s a polar bear.  I’ll take a gander and say that no matter its species, it’s pretty damn cute.

Dinner at Small Farm, 4Small Farm is now open for the 2009 growing and harvesting season.  While the farm does not offer a CSA program, it does have a farmstand; hours are from ten in the morning until six in the evening.  There you can purchase whatever produce Dwight and Barbara have chosen to grow, as well as pick your own flowers.

Like many of the nation’s other small farms, Small Farm is an uncertified organic farm; this means that while Barbara and Dwight have always followed organic farming practices as defined by the USDA’s National Organic Program, they have opted not to apply for certification.  To do so would mean to pay a not-insignificant series of fees, which would result not only in a certificate from the NOP but also in an equally not-insignificant increase in prices for the consumer… something Small Farm isn’t interested in.  Should you have any questions about Small Farm’s method of growing their produce, feel free to email them here.

Certification or no, take my advice: make the trip out to Stow and stop by the Siplers’ farm.  You’re bound to love it.

Need more convincing?  Check out the photographs I’ve taken during my visits at Small Farm here, and some far more impressive photographs Dwight has snapped over the years here, including of the party itself.

Small Farm
184 Gleasondale Road
Route 62
Stow, Massachusetts 01775
978.897.5996
small-farm.org

* Amanda doesn’t know it yet, but she’s going to give me the recipe.
** One of which I baked.  I hate going to parties empty-handed.

An Eating Weekend, Chapter One: Supper Club.

German supper club, 1It had been a while since the supper club group had gotten together, so Stephanie and I decided to take the initiative and rally the cooking troups.  It’s hard, finding a night that eight people can meet up for dinner, but it so happened that this past Saturday night worked… so we all gathered at my house for an evening of German(ish) food.

See, supper club was Stephanie’s brainchild; the general idea is that we would have a themed dinner at someone’s house every month or so*.  Themes could be something as silly as “things made with flour” or as simple as a chosen country’s cuisine.  Once the theme was set, we’d then all brainstorm courses or dishes to bring to dinner, as well as beverages to share.

So, after a little caucus, Saturday night’s dinner was made up of with Käsespätzle (a sort of macaroni and cheese with bits of fried onions), potato salad, a lot of obscene-looking bratwursts**, Zwiebelkuchen (an onion, bacon and cheese tart) and a green salad.  We also made a bunch of radlers — which, while delicious, would have been much more refreshing if the weather actually began acting like June…

I’m getting off topic.

German supper club, 3My contribution to our communal table was dessert, something that made me a little nervous.  On my trips in Germany, all we ate after dinner was gelato, of all things, and the only other possibilities I could think of was  either a Black Forest cake or an apple strudel… neither of which got me overly excited.  Luckily, I found a recipe for a Gugelhupf, a traditional marble cake; I’ve always loved a marble cake — there’s something about the swirly cross-section that I find so endearing.  This cake had not only lovely whorls of chocolate and vanilla, but also fantastic flavors and a nice texture.  I served it along with some berries and mint sugar (two parts mint leaves to one part sugar, blitzed in the blender) and schlag, which is German for whipped cream.  Doesn’t everything taste better with schlag, after all?

Oh, and not to toot my own horn — toot toot — but I’m quite pleased with my invitation-making handiwork.  The photo from Keith and my trip to Bavaria a few years ago; it’s of the Neues Rathaus in Munich’s Marienplatz, the square in the city center.

Tschüss…

Gugelhupf (Marble Cake), from German Pastry Baking
Makes twelve portions.

for the batter
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1¾ cups sugar
4 eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup whole milk (though I used cream)

for the chocolate batter
3 tablespoons cocoa
3 tablespoons dark rum

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.  Butter and flour a 9-inch bundt cake mold.
  2. Cream butter, sugar and eggs.  Add vanilla.  Fold in half of the flour and baking powder.  Add the milk.  Mix in the remainder of flour, stirring gently but thoroughly.
  3. Stir cocoa and rum together in a separate bowl until smooth.  Remove one-third of the batter and fold gently into the cocoa mixture.
  4. Pour half of the remaining vanilla batter into the prepared pan, smoothing it with a spatula.  Add the chocolate batter to the pan, followed by the rest of the vanilla batter.  If you wish, run a knife blade through the batter to marble it further.  (I wished, and did.  Just be careful not to actually mix the batters together, just to swirl them.)
  5. Bake on the lowest rack of a preheated 375°F oven for 55 to 60 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before unmolding onto a cake rack to cool thoroughly.  Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.
* Disregard the fact that we haven’t had a dinner since January.
** Really obscene-looking.
It had been a while since the supper club group had gotten together, so Stephanie and I decided to rally the cooking troups and make it happen.  It’s hard, finding a night that eight people can all get together, but it so happened that this past Saturday night worked… so we all gathered at my house for an evening of German(ish) food.

An Eating Weekend: Prologue.

I’m not the kind of person who jams a lot of activities into her schedule, but sometimes things don’t go as planned.  This weekend is going to be a very busy one — for my stomach.  First up is a supper club get-together on Saturday night, followed by a dinner at Small Farm in Stow.  I’ll be writing about both meals soon, so check back to read about them…

Lunch at L’Espalier.

L'EspalierlogoThere’s a saying, I think, about the people you know or knowing the right people.  There may be more to it than simply that, not that it matters; I’m terrible at idioms and I don’t really have a lot of so-called connections — except at the relocated L’Espalier, which shares kitchen-space with the newest Sel de la Terre, where my cousin Niki works, which means she gets a healthy employee discount at both restaurants…

I hope you can see where I’m going here, since I’m dangerously close to confusing myself with my own addled sentences.  What I’m trying to get at is this: it helps to know people, and because then you sometimes get to eat meals like this.

L'Espalier 1We had gone to L’Espalier for the set-price lunch, but once we placed our orders the extra courses began to arrive.  Actually, now that I think of it, before we placed our orders,  first the complimentary glasses of L’Espalier’s reserve sparkling wine arrived.  The week before, some of my visiting Filipino relatives, Keith and I received similar treatment at Sel de la Terre — otherwise, we wouldn’t have been prepared for the utterly absurd amount of food we were served over what became a two-and-a-half hour lunch.  This oyster with caviar was just the beginning.

(I should note that prepared or not, I couldn’t keep up with our server’s detailed descriptions of the gifted courses.  The oyster, for example, came topped with a foam and rested on a gelée, but what type of foam and what flavor gelée?  I don’t know.)

L'Espalier 2Our second freebie (not counting the wine) was by far the table’s favorite, but let me take a minute here to state how this actual bowl was my favorite; I love Royal Copenhagen, and while I participate in the “white plate” school of thought — food looks best on a plain white plate — I would happily expel myself for just one place setting of this design.  I would, obviously, be even happier if that place setting included not only this bowl but this bowl of soup: cream of Vidalia onion over ham, fava beans and a seared diver scallop.  Honestly, if you think the bowl is pretty, you have no idea what the word means unless you’ve tasted this soup.  It was smooth and complex, and if I were forced to eat exclusively this for the rest of my life, I’d die a very contented woman.  (If you want to judge for yourself, know that the soup is currently a part of the dinner service prix-fixe.)

L'Espalier 3After our oyster amuse-bouche and precursor  course, our ordered starters arrived.  I had chosen the black pudding with chanterelles, spicy mayonnaise and a fried egg, prioritizing my love of black pudding above my dislike of spicy food and condiments.  You know, I’m so happy that I didn’t chicken out about the mayo, mostly because 1) it wasn’t that spicy after all; and 2) the black pudding was fantastic.  It was deeply flavored and incredibly textured.  I don’t think it’s that clear in the photograph, but the pudding was just barely holding itself together, breaking apart with the slightest pressure of my fork.  It was exceptionally creamy, almost like a pâté — which is one of the foods I like best in the world, so obviously anything that reminds me of it is going to get high praise from me.

L'Espalier 4At this point, I was already comfortably full.  I had purposely skipped breakfast that morning; the last time I went to L’Espalier, my skin felt stretched beyond its limit, and I really wanted to avoid that uncomfortable gorged sensation.  The folks in the kitchen, apparently, wanted to get me to that point as soon as possible, sending out yet another gratis dish of food.  This time it was a fried soft shell crab glazed with chili and served over a pickled carrot slaw (which is, as I type, now on both the dinner and lunch menus, which do change quite frequently).  If the idea of eating a crab shell and all freaks you out, try it fried, my friends.

L'Espalier 5I’d never really understood the mechanics of muscle memory before this meal, but somehow I think the arrival of my entrée just made something click in my mind.  My stomach distinctly remembered the way it felt in L’Espalier’s dining room last March.  I mean, if I was on the brink of awesome discomfort prior to the crab’s arrival, my duck confit put me over the edge.  Let’s not even go into the spring succotash or the baby carrot and pea shoot salad.  I can’t even think about the leg’s sweet and crispy skin without groaning a bit, even now.  I was definitely groaning at the table, perhaps a little too audibly.

L'Espalier 6I managed to keep my moaning on the inside for the cheese plate our server put together — it’s cheese, people — but this predessert was another story altogether, even if it was just a a pretty little scoop of sorbet, a dollop of pineapple essence, a fruit-flavored gel and a strawberry half.  I love a sorbet, so even in my almost-bursting state I managed to chase a spoonful or two around the plate.  The gel, however, stayed exactly where it was minus an exploratory taste, only because I’m a glutton for both punishment and food, it seems.  Interestingly, I wasn’t the only martyr at the table…

L'Espalier 7See, we had a bit of a time constraint for lunch; Niki had to go to work, and L’Espalier’s generosity already had her behind schedule.  Luckily, her commute from the dining room to the kitchen was a short one, but she had been anxiously checking the time even before the arrival of the cheese plate; regardless, she ended up dashing out during our final dessert after having a bite of pain perdu, a slice of panna cotta and a taste of crème anglaise.  We, of course, were able to stay behind and linger, luxuriating in our plush chairs — though I was preoccupied with not slipping into the deepest “food coma”* ever.

Regardless of whether you’ve got an in at either L’Espalier or Sel de la Terre, the former has excellent deals on prix fixe lunches.  Even without Niki’s employee markdown, forty dollars for three courses here is a real deal, as is the twenty-four dollar “power lunch.”  We clearly had a stunner of a meal, discount or no, and while chances are incredibly slim that I’ll ever receive so many culinary tokens from a kitchen staff ever again, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t book another L’Espalier lunch and happily pay full price.  I’ll just make sure to wear elastic-waist pants.

L’Espalier
774 Boylston Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02199
617.262.3023
lespalier.com

L'Espalier on Urbanspoon

* This is a phrase I hate, but here it’s unavoidably apt.

CSA 2009, Week Four.

CSA 4Normally I’m not much for clichés but you know what they say: it’s a cliché because it’s true.  Well, you know that one about time flying?  I’ve seen it in action, friends, most recently with my CSA box.

It’s only week four of CSA season, and already I’ve seen a significant increase in the amount of produce Keith has been bringing home from our pick-up spot.  This week we had mostly leafy greens that I’ll be tossing into assorted salads, but soon we’ll be eating peppers, melons, cucumbers, potatoes, onions and eggplants.  I can’t wait, though our haul this week happily was made up of the following:

  • Arugula
  • Carrots
  • Garlic scapes
  • Lettuce
  • Rainbow chard
  • Salad mix with red lettuce, green leaf lettuce and tat soi
  • Summer squash

cous cous w. feta + chick peasThose green tendrils curling like pigs’ tails in the upper right corner of the box are garlic scapes, something I love.  How could I not, considering that I generally tend to double a recipe’s suggested amount of garlic?  Scapes are much milder than their grown-up siblings (Do you consider garlic to be masculine or feminine?  Or am I the only one out there that anthromorphizes her vegetables?  Excluding speakers, of course, certain languages that have gender-specific nouns. But back to the matter at hand…) so I had no qualms about chopping them fine and then dumping them into my couscous.

The following recipe is perhaps one of the easiest I’ve ever made, and the end results are fantastic, scapes or no.  It’s a perfect dinner for when the warm weather finally hits Boston — if it ever does — as the only hot ingredient you need is water.

Couscous with Chick Peas + Feta Cheese, adapted from The American Heart Association’s Low-Calorie Cookbook
Makes six portions *

2/3 cup uncooked couscous, preferably whole wheat
1 1/3 cups boiling water
juice of 1 medium-sized lemon (though I love lemon, so none of mine are medium-sized)
1 15-ounce can of chick peas, drained
1 large bell pepper (I used red, but any color is fine)
½ cup finely-chopped fresh basil leaves
½ cup finely-chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced (I used my six beautiful scapes, chopped)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled

  1. Pour the couscous into a large heatproof bowl, then pour the water and lemon juice over the couscous.  Let the mixture sit for about fifteen minutes, then fluff with a fork.
  2. Add the chick peas; stir.  Add bell peppers, basil, parsley and garlic.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with feta; stir.  Salt and pepper to taste.  May be served at room temperature, or chilled.
* 298 calories per 1 ½ cup serving, in case you were wondering.

An Inspirational CD for Writing.

A while ago, I mentioned my renewed obsession with making mix CDs, specifically thematic ones.  Well, here’s what I listen to when I need a writing pick-me-up.  Let me know if you want a copy and I’ll drop it in the mail.

  1. Panic” by The Smiths
  2. It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career” by Belle + Sebastian
  3. “Out of Gas” by Modest Mouse
  4. No Sleep Tonite” by Slumber Party
  5. Changes” by David Bowie
  6. Freak Scene” by Dinosaur Jr.
  7. Personality Crisis” by New York Dolls
  8. That’s When I Reach For My Revolver” by Mission of Burma
  9. The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism” by The New Pornographers
  10. Wake Me When It’s Over” by Longwave
  11. Lonely Lonely” by Feist
  12. The Trick Is To Keep Breathing” by Garbage
  13. Move On” by The Rentals
  14. Leave Me Alone” by New Order
  15. I See a Darkness” by Bonnie “Prince” Billy
  16. Amateur” by Aimee Mann
  17. Hopeless” by The Wrens