Saturday, March 30, 2013

Log Lunch & So Much More...

Our home is now figuratively and literally a Piggy Heaven! 
I have been slacking, to say the least. A cyber-stack of photos has piled up, and the conclusion of Spring Break seems like the ideal time to get back up to speed. Here goes..
Yet another snowstorm impeded the weekly speaker from presenting at The Log, but luckily the much anticipated meal was not hindered by the volatile winter weather. In fact, the cold temperatures outside made the hearty lentil, barley and chard soup all the more appealing. Rather than a homogenous liquid, this week's "soup" was more characteristic of a decadent earthly mush, each bite bursting with varied texture and umami flavor. The salad boasted pungent flavors, as well - sharp arugula leaves coupled with succulent blood oranges, fresh carrot rounds and apple slices, crunchy pistachios, and creamy goat cheese ensured bites of great intensity, a light vinaigrette allowing the strong flavors to complement one another. The rosemary herb bread epitomized a savory side, the elastic dough coated in farm butter melting in my mouth. A final breath of winter - the apple gingerbread upside down cake was overwhelmingly warming, the spices reminiscent of a cozy hearth and merriment. Feasts like this make it difficult to acknowledge that my Log Lunch days are numbered...but for now, I'll live in the present and simply be grateful that less than one week separates me from another fresh, tantalizing meal. 
Lake Sonoma
A woefully incomplete and out-of order summary of Spring Break follows...
A "light" sampling of tripe topped with a fried egg at Geyserville's Diavola...
 ...accompanied by the restauran't specialty, pizza. Our "Bosciola" selection included house cured pork belly, sausage, mushrooms, red peppers, creamed onions, and some requisite greenery. Certainly thirst-inducing, but luckily I had some Racer 5 IPA from nearby Bear Republic Brewery to wash it down...
...and an alternative salad, charred romaine with decadent Ceasar dressing and sharp cheese, prawns on the side.

Subject to frequent documentation...Mom's chicken pot pie is a work of art. 
 A post-run lunch at Dierk's Parkside Cafe: Dad and I split the BBQ pork and bacon sandwich, and the "Gompa's" sandwich with bacon, fried egg and pesto.
Leftover pizza and Dad's specialty scramble with farm eggs, mushrooms, tortilla strips, cheese, salmon, and kale.

Hot cross buns? Wildflour Bakery's "bohemian" sticky bun, with apricots and walnuts

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Most Underrated Food in Europe, or Eating Well in England - 2/28/2013

Dr. Diane Purkiss, Fellow in English and published historian from Oxford’s Keble College, opened her presentation with audience engagement, questioning, “How many of you have eaten English food?” Many hands raised in the audience; Griffin Hall was filled with community members and students, fragrant wafts of English cheese—to be sampled and savored at the talk’s culmination—pervading the intimate atmosphere.
            “And how many of you enjoyed English food?” Diane inquired. Sheepish hands sunk into laps, and audience members chuckled discreetly. Thus began Dr. Purkiss’s presentation, titled “The Most Underrated Food in Europe, or Eating Well in England.” An “ill image” appeared on the screen: frozen and subsequently overcooked carrots and peas, limp “chips,” and heavily battered, gummy fish, the typical English meal as envisioned by many of us na├»ve Americans. This stereotype is perpetuated by exceedingly low quality, infamous tourist traps such as Aberdeen Steak House and “Ye Olde Cheshire Pub,” conveniently located on High Street to attract unsuspecting visitors who then document—Diane showed us some revolting website reviews as proof—and disseminate their unfortunate experiences.
            It was precisely this myth that Dr. Purkiss aimed to refute. The English, she explained, are deliberately secretive, and wary about being pinned down to one particular food culture. Dr. Purkiss neatly reversed the implications of wide culinary influence in her question to us, “What exactly is American food culture?” Just as our national cuisine reflects diverse immigrant culture, English food might be seen as a fusion, elements adapted from other locales on the European continent. Dr. Purkiss cautioned us that England should not be compared with France and Italy, as these two neighbors boast food cultures are cherished for their traditional dishes rather than lauded for innovative cuisine. English food culture, she claimed, seems to have fallen victim to the idea of authenticity; this has resulted in faux authentic products such as “Lymeswold” cheese that mimic artisanal French and Italian food but with none of the quality. Dr. Purkiss argues that English cuisine should celebrate its non-traditional incorporation of the food cultures of immigrant ethnicities—in many instances, people consume adapted dishes and do not realize that they are eating English food!
            Reputed restaurant St. Johns conveys a style of English cooking that has been preserved through the ages, maintaining aspects of ancient medieval cooking. St. Johns food is nose-to-tail—that is, all portions of the animal are celebrated and consumed—and the meat heavy menu lends to dark, masculine flavors. This is a “port and stilton cuisine,” rich, meaty dishes offset by pungent bitter greens.
Brent Wasser (Manager, Sustainable Food & Ag program)
Charlie Cao '13, and Diane Purkiss
            An interlude—“When Did it Go Wrong?”—presented detailed information about historical events that were formative, not always positively, for English food culture. By displaying old cake recipes, Dr. Purkiss also demonstrated the ways—often convoluted—that English cuisine has been passed down through the ages. Interestingly, these cakes connect directly with Dr. Purkiss’s visit to Williamstown. Avid food enthusiast Charlie Cao ’13 studied abroad at Oxford University last year, and sought Dr. Purkiss out for instruction in a food tutorial; this course culminated in Charlie baking five cakes from five centuries of British cooking. Dr. Purkiss’s sabbatical—Hemingway study on the East Coast—and Charlie’s engineering brought Dr. Purkiss to Williamstown.
            Dr. Purkiss certainly had the precise articulation of a season scholar, and her culminating descriptions of English cooking had me salivating. Umami is the definitive characteristic of English cooking—the intrinsic dark, strong flavors of pork pie and sourdough bread demonstrate that this is a man’s cuisine, not for the faint of heart. Indeed, Purkiss cited James Bond as epitome, one that preserves umami in his own person with the “Bond Breakfast” of dark, strong coffee, eggs, and hearty toast with artisanal strawberry jam. However, Bond’s adventures demonstrate that he is not an insular English person—in Turkey, he consumes traditional yoghurt, but still maintains his commitment to rich flavors and manly meal components. Menus from famous restaurants Dinner and The Ivy further conveyed these ideals. A signature “meat fruit” dish—listed as c. 1500—consisted of a mandarin, chicken liver, and foie gras parfait with grilled bread. Dr. Purkiss concluded with a testimony to English artisanal ice cream—initiated by Italian immigrants—and encouraged all us eager eaters to maintain an open mind.
Stinky Bishop cheese
            A brief word on the cheese tasting: first came long pieces of dark yellow cheddar, the body crumbling along striations much like those found in rock. This was not your supermarket cheddar, but rather Montgomery’s Cheddar, a single-family artisanal selection. “It smells like sweaty trainers, doesn’t it?” Purkiss remarked about the next cheese, aptly titled Stinking Bishop. This washed rind selection—washed with perry, pear cider—tasted mild, sumptuous, and sweet, much more delicate than its scent indicated. We finished with a Stilton, a cheese that does have a “locavore license” and must come from a particular region in Europe. The rich, creamy, and sharp cheese indeed seemed an embodiment of dark, umami flavors. Purkiss mentioned the practice of purchasing a round of Stilton, consuming the interior, and then filling the remaining external shell with port—I relished this wonderful thought for the rest of the evening. 

This post created in collaboration with the Williams College Sustainable Food and Agriculture Department. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

"March into the Sea" Log Lunch - 3/1/2013

I titled this post "March into the Sea" after a notable Modest Mouse song - it seems appropriate simply because Friday's Log Lunch ushered in the new month, and the speaker gave a disheartening yet intriguing presentation on rising sea levels that, most recently, threaten to engulf New York and New Jersey. Modest Mouse would approve of the title's mild morbidity, and I successfully skirted the generic "March Madness" heading..
I couldn't resist snapping a shot of the vibrant chalkboard
Before William alum Peter Howd spoke about "Sandy, Sea Level Rise, and Taking on Risk," we enjoyed a toothsome thai peanut sweet potato coconut curry, a rich homogenous puree that warmed me to the core. I overheard one of the head cooks mention that the vegetable order arrived with a scant six sweet potatoes, yet the addition of white bean and carrots ensured that the liquid was sufficiently hearty. Always a sucker for creamy coconut, I eagerly used my brioche roll to soak up every last drop. Indeed, the menu boasted elements from varied cuisines, and the rich yet fluffy brioche rolls were a testament to French culture. The salad was a decadent Mediterranean mix, fresh spinach coupled with roasted red peppers, garbanzo beans, sharp feta, satisfyingly salty kalamatas, and toasted pecans, a light vinegar dressing delicately infusing the melee. I failed to document dessert - somehow, it vanished! In a move of admitted insanity, I decided that in anticipation of some cookie-esque dessert, I would bring a jar of my creamy raw milk from Cricket Creek Farm to complement the sweet culmination of the meal. I lucked out. Two soft peanut butter cookies encased a tantalizing peanut butter-honey-cinnamon mixture; I gingerly ripped nuggets from the main mass and alternated sips of milk with satisfying bites. And thus, I March-ed forward.. 
Peter Howd gave an informative presentation, displaying colorful visual representations that effectively depicted the dangers of sea level changes. I happened to make eye contact with my GIS/Remote Sensing professor while Mr. Dowd was discussing a lidar - an optical remote sensing technology that analyzes spatial information based on laser light return after hitting a particular surface - map, and we shared a wonderful moment of excited recognition. Howd's presentation covered many dimensions of the damages associated with the changing sea level. He distinguished between damage potential and vulnerability, the latter pertaining to structures that are likely to be damaged by these changes and house populations that are economically at risk. Moreover, he pointed out that in this case, greater investment means greater risk - waterfront property captures the highest house prices, but these investments are becoming increasingly risky. 

And just because I'm a meals today have been too good to be relegated to the back of my iPhoto. 
Leftover noodle from Mezze's Friday night "Noodle Bowl Special," my additions consisted of roasted squash and cabbage from Mighty Food Farm
A fresh dinner salad of baby kale and spring mix, roasted squash, carrots, beets, and potatoes with rosemary, all from MFF, egg and cheese from Cricket Creek Farm