Exploring Food

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We continue cleaning, organizing.  Today Diane gave me a small booklet from a dinner experience at the Blue Hill restaurant at Stone Barns, in Tarrytown, NY.  It was titled, “Field and Pasture: four season journal.”  It showed what was harvested monthly and then served on the restaurant’s menu.

In February, there were javelin parsnips and ice spinach from the field; Berkshire pigs and hen eggs from the pasture; tapping maple trees in the forest; Belgium endive, cardoons, and guanciale from the cellar. In July, garlic, plum tomatoes, fennel, zucchini blossoms, Swiss chard, artichokes, summer squash, carrots, beets, broccoli, head lettuce, etc.  Free range chickens, Dorset lambs, pigs and broad breasted white turkeys, eggs.  Lots more from the greenhouse and cellar.  Each month was different.

Several times on trips to the Hudson Valley, we stopped in Tarrytown to explore The Center for Food and Agriculture at Stone Barns. It was founded in the 1990s by the Rockefeller family, conservationists and organic farmers.  Dan Barber, chef of Blue Hill restaurant in Greenwich Village was hired to open a restaurant in an old barn.  In addition to the main restaurant, there is a small “take out” and a few picnic tables.  We’ve stopped a number of times.  On one stop we had an excellent butternut squash soup, a baloney sandwich (was fantastic, recalled my fried baloney sandwiches when boating with Dr. Schultz on the Delaware River) and tuna on focaccia.  Raisin cake for dessert.   We usually walked around the grounds, planted field, barns and pens with animals being raised for the table.  We also visited the “foodie” gift shop.

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In 2004, we had dinner at the original Blue Hill.  We were in the Village, Washington Square Hotel, for a Cabin Dogs (my son-in-laws band) show at the Lion’s Den, a small dive on Sullivan.  I think Diane recognized the Blue Hill as a destination restaurant.  A week before we made reservations — Rob and Jenny, sister Cissi and husband Louis, Diane and I.  I had oysters — wasn’t paying attention to terroir then.  Complimentary shots of a califlower soup were excellent.  Diane and I had Artic Char (like salmon) in a beet, pine nut,  citrus sauce.  Chocolate flan to finish.  Although we had a good  experience, we only rated the Artic Char as OK.

In 2013 we finally made lunch reservations at Blue Hill,  Stone Barns — the brochure.  Farmer’s feast was either twelve courses for $208; 8 courses for $148; or 5 courses for $108.  I’m usually wary of chef’s choice, price fixe meals but usually willing to try new food experiences.  We chose the five course which turned out to be plenty.  The room layout was stunning.  We sat next to each other facing a center table decorated with flowers and food.  Penguin dressed waiters hovered nearby — surpringly quite unobtrusive and very helpful.  It was fall or early winter, so there were root vegetables.  Our waiter customized courses based on out interests and tastes.

We started with about seven “amuse-bouche” — small tastes, chosen by the chef.  The variety was amazing — blood sausage and beet wafers, pickled asparagus with egg yokes, yogurt granola with grated beet sugar, a tree of salami and chips made from kale, potatoes and of course beets, terrine and capers, beet sushi and beet burgers.  Wow.  We had Jerusalem artichokes and hazelnuts, large scallops (fantastic), beef with carrots and Brussels sprouts (too sweet), soft egg in something.  Then desserts and a sampling of chocolates.  We washed everything down with a sparkling wine — vintage not recorded.  It was expensive, but a fantastic meal, and we learned how to taste and appreciate small bites.  We would return.

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Last week I finished reading, “The Third Plate: field notes on the future of food,” by Dan Barber, Blue Hill’s Chef.  A great read.  Barber embarks on a search — how do we change our food culture to reflect sustainable, good food, and food for all.  Chefs, including himself, buy the best and then take credit for serving the best.  Barber says that’s not enough.   In order to feed all — high yield, mono-culture is not the answer.  He asks “how do we apply a ‘total farm concept,’  mixed, non chemical planting, seed and plants grown for health and taste, integration of the entire ecology of a farm.”  This is the “third plate, ” going beyond the current farm to table movement.

Barber introduces us to a number of people who seem to be contributing to his concept.   In Spain, he meets Eduardo Sousa who is raising geese, allowed them to roam free on the same land as the prized Iberian pigs, grazing on acorns.  No force feeding for these geese; but delicious foie gras. He also learns of and visits a fish farm in Spain where the fish aren’t being fed but are eating naturally in the wild from  a series of canals.  The Sea Bass was fantastic but Dan was also amazed at the taste of the Grey Mullet — not a trendy fish.  He introduces us to Klaas Martens, a grain farmer in New York who explains how good soil contributes to quality and taste.  Anson Mills in South Carolina that is milling historic corn and other grains organically and commercially.

Food books frequently inspire me to grow, cook, or just eat something.  Decades ago I bought “Beautiful Swimmers,” the story of the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab, by William Warner.  I had never had a soft shell crab and couldn’t wait to try one.  I remember asking one of the Giordano boys — South Street Italian market family, when I could get a soft shell?  They were out of season.   It was months later in Cape May, we were visiting with Jerry and Kate Alonzo.  Jerry and I took a walk and bought soft shell sandwiches from a food truck.  Hooked ever since.

Since reading “The Third Plate,” I bought some Iberia jamon (ham from the Spanish acorn fed pigs).  Despana Restaurant and Tapas Cafe in Princeton sells it.  Not cheap.  This week we bought Sea Bass at Hellers seafood market in Warminister — I fully realize it’s not from that sustainable Spanish fish farm but it was oh, so good.  We also got some crab meat and small imported lobsters.

My interest in food is interdisciplinary.  I like gardening, cooking, eating, reading, writing and photographing food.  Diane and I can spend a day driving from farm to farm from market to market in Bucks and New Jersey.  We like to cook but also enjoying eating out.  We have our favorite restaurants (Hamilton’s Grill in Lambertville, The Pineville Tavern) but we also have been trying out new places on weekly lunch explores.

 

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I’m hoping this year my garden can reflect a greater understanding of the total ecology promoted by Barber.  Not exactly “a third plate” but at least a greater awareness.  We recently put in raised beds.  My garden neighbor-partner had the mushroom soil we purchased tested.  It was too rich in nutrients.  She trucked in some leaf compost to cut it. More awareness.    I’ve been reading “Four Season Harvest” by Eliot Coleman, the organic gardener guru we met in Maine in the 1970s.  My food explore continues.

 

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Greetings from Asbury Park

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I just finished reading “Born to Run,” Bruce Springsteen’s recently published  autobiography.  I have fuzzy recollections of my first encounter with Springsteen, probably in the early 70s.  I liked what I heard — a bit of Dylan, a singer songwriter; some of the Stones stage craft.  And of course I liked the local New Jersey shore connection,  “Postcards from Asbury Park.”

“Born to Run” is an easy read.  Short focused chapters keep the story moving.  I was intrigued with the similarities and differences with my own life.  Springsteen was born in 1949  (he’s two years younger than me).  He was raised a Catholic and went to a Catholic elementary school.  Irish-Italian middle class background.  Grew up in a small Jersey town, Freehold NJ; my small town was Bristol, PA. Bruce writes about the youth cultural divide — the rah, rahs (preppies) and the greasers.  I remember a similar devide preppies (black socks, Catholic school) and publics (white socks).  There were fights behind the Levittown Shopping Center between the two groups.   Bruce claims he somehow bridged the divide.

Then there was the music. 45 rpm records.  Early rock and roll. Elvis and the Beatles on Ed Sullivan.  With friends I danced in a small courtyard off Mill Street in Bristol.  Jerry Kline where are you?   There were elementary school dances when I was in 6th to 8th grade.  Bruce was rocking in Freehold.   Bruce saw Chubby Checker  (“The Twist”) at The Steel Pier in Atlantic City; I saw Jerry Lee Lewis at the Grand Theatre in Bristol.  But there was a big difference.  Bruce got a guitar and started playing; he formed a HS band, “The Castiles.”  Music wasn’t central to my life.

In high school, Bruce was breaking into the music scene — where ever he and his band the Castiles could play.  Early on he knew South Jersey wasn’t enough.  NYC and Greenwich Village beckoned across the river.  He spent his high school graduation day wandering around the village.  He would play at the Cafe Wha.  But home was Jersey,  by the late 60s, the Upstage Club on Cookman Street in Asbury Park was the place.

Springsteen and I were both affected by the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam War, and cultural upheaval happening in the country.  High School graduation, however, sent us in very different directions.  I went off to Boston College an English major, Vietnam protester, leather bookbinder, married in the summer between Sophomore and Junior year.  A few weekends I hitchhiker to NYC to hang out in the village clubs.  Was Springsteen there on those weekends?

A car for me was strictly transportation, my father frequently lent me his maroon Tempest.  In his twenties, Bruce didn’t even have a driver’s license, let alone a car.  Traveling was a bicycle or hitchhiking.  His friends, however, sometimes had cars that cruised the streets as in “American Graffiti.”  I don’t think I ever cruised.  Bruce and I both received induction papers.  And both  of us faced down the draft.  Bruce failed the physical exam in Newark; I fought three inductions and always succeeded in getting a deferment.

From the beginning, Bruce was totally dedicated to a career in music.  Despite the call of youth culture, he didn’t drink alcohol or do any other drugs.  Girls and sex also took a backseat.  Bruce writes, “I was a faux hippie (free love was all right), but the counterculture stood by definition in opposition to the conservative blue-collar experience I’d had.  I felt caught between two camps and I didn’t really fit in either, or maybe I just fit in both.” Although I drank in college, I wanted drinking to be social and I was cautious about drug use.   Similar to Bruce free love wasn’t part of my experience.

By 1970 Bruce had a new band — Steel Mill.  They headed to California.  They played a few gigs, including Fillmore West.  They recorded a demo but the big deal never happened.  Around the same time, Diane and I were doing Peace Corps training in Bisbee, AZ.  When the program folded (Gaddafi Revolution), we spent months on the road with PC friends.  Bruce and friends returned  to the safety of home gigs; Diane and I returned to Bucks County and jobs as teachers.

By the early 1970s, I was on a career track as a teacher.  I wouldn’t deviate.  Forty years as an administrator and teacher in private education.  Earned a masters degree in educational media and a doctorate in educational leadership.  Bruce meanwhile went on to form the E Street Band and become a rock an roll legend.  Greetings from Asbury Park (1973); Born to Run (1975); Darkness on the Edge of Town (1977); The River (1980); Born in the USA (1984); and Tunnel of Love (1987). He was a star, tours, international following, money (although he had agent issues).  Despite amazing success,  he always returned home to South Jersey. A hometown boy.

For me there are many interesting stories and new biographical details in “Born to Run.”  Bruce had major issues with his father and mother; he needed counseling and was medicated for years.  He wanted to maintain control of his bands; Springsteen’s name is upfront.  He always wanted to be true to his working class roots. He was dedicated to writing. A bit of a workaholic.

In the tradition of Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Bob Dylan, Bruce was drawn to speaking out, writing and singing about social issues — Amnesty International, music for the Jonathan Demme AIDS movie “Philadelphia,” labor union concerts, Vietnam veterans, “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” 9-11 concert. Political involvement: I enjoyed rocking at Springsteen’s concert at the Obama inaguaration.

According to “Born to Run” as he got older, Springsteen reflected on his commitment to stability and family. His first marriage to Julianne Phillips ended but his second marriage to Patti Sciafle has endured. He has three children and I believe is a “family man.”

After reading “Born to Run” I’ve committed to carefully re-listening to all of Springsteen. I also thought a “Boss” tour of South Jersey would be fun. Diane and I have visited Asbury Park several times and Springsteen was always on our mind. A quick look on the Internet and I found a tour based on “Born to Run.”

Stay tuned.

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