My Year in Food

There are advantages to living in a small community with local farms. Aside from the summer farmer’s markets and farm stands, the local restaurants can make good on serving local produce. I can now choose from two Winter Farmer’s markets, with greenhouse/hydroponic greens, root vegetables, cheeses, and meat. One of them is less than a half block from my house, beating the CSA that is slightly over a half block away. I can buy raw milk easily, as long as I put in an order before the Tuesday and Friday deliveries. And meat. I have a freezer full of sustainable veal and some local pork, in addition to the 30 pounds of meat from my butchering class this fall and some venison that a friend’s husband shot. In my fridge, I have two quarts of pickled ginger from Amherst-grown fresh ginger, you know, the young pinkish ginger that cookbooks always tout. You got nothing on me, New York, in the local foods department.

On the other hand, the only food trucks I see are Arnold’s Meats, delivering to the local restaurants. You could easily believe that only snow peas and broccoli grow in China and that carrots are the biggest addition to Chinese cuisine in Thailand. Foam? In my latte, sure, not much on my plate. My cousin, a denizen of the Upper East Side, has access to more variety of ingredients than I’ll ever see here, even in my local Whole Foods and gourmet food shops. Since I stopped reviewing restaurants, I haven’t eaten out nearly as much, and when I do, I find myself being more critical of poor execution and less forgiving of good intentions.

I took 30 lbs of cayenne, Serrano, jalapeno, and habanero peppers into hot sauce this fall. Some of it was pretty damn tasty, some not so much. I have some plans for the next harvest, however, based on what I’ve learned. First and foremost is a good lab notebook. I’m not using my laptop in the middle of hot sauce production and the scattered notes I took as I worked this year proved inadequate when I sat down to analyze them this past week. Second on the list is to do a line of hotter sauces since that is the largest criticism. Third is some ingredients changes—white wine vinegar rather than white vinegar, is tops. Some better bottling. And I have an idea about how to ferment Tabasco-style sauce without the dreaded white fuzz. That one’s top secret until I test it out.

The plum tomatoes I chopped and froze have turned out well, though they typically need another chopping before they go into the pot. The last veal stock I did was some of the best. That, coupled with a roast chicken stock is definitely on the winter list. Nothing beats cooling a vat of hot stock in a snow bank just outside my kitchen door. (Actually, floating a plastic bag of ice in the stock is better, but messier.)

What’s on the horizon for the new year? Handcrafted food. My 2011 project is to take the products I’ve been making over the last few years—hot sauce, pastrami, mozzarella—and nail them down and write them up. Ketchup is on the short list and granulated garlic. Both are good winter projects since I can use canned tomatoes and imported garlic for testing until the next harvest.

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