A few weeks ago, my friend Fil and I drove from Brooklyn to Maine, taking an unplanned detour through New Hampshire, where we came upon this farm,
and this roadside restaurant,
which led to a tasting of grape nut ice cream,
and a bucket of native (in this area of the U.S., “native” is used for “local”) chicken and fries that really tasted like potatoes.
Shortly before our destination, we celebrated crossing into Maine with lobster rolls,
and shortly after, we hugged our friends in Camden, watching the light play off the water at a big dinner at a lake house with wonderful people we cannot see often enough.
When I am in Maine, I usually wake with the sun in Keryn and Mike’s cheery sunroom, looking up at the star lanterns and daydreaming about how long I could extend my stay.
When Fil woke we ventured to my favorite store of local products, Farmer’s Fare, and went silent sitting outside, rapt with the crunchy crust of their focaccia,
and the glorious raw milk of my favorite dairy producer in the area, Keene’s.
We made our way to the Camden harbor a bit later, napping in the sun as all good long weekends away require,
and waking, we followed Keryn and our friend Emily to Harbor Dogs,
home of the dog with apple chutney (very good),
and a solid fish taco.
Emily surprised us with an invitation to take our lunch to her family’s boat docked in the harbor,
and she skillfully maneuvered us onto the dock next to the gleaming hull,
and we had such a fun hour talking and laughing in the shiny interior.
For our afternoon adventure, Fil and I decided since everyone had told us we had to visit Beth’s, we should drive out to this expansive market full of local food, (after a brief photo shoot on the lawn with a photographer who approached us admiring Fil’s jaunty hat).
Marveling at the piles of garlic,
enchanted by the fancy cream,
delighted by the real popcorn, we threaded our way down each aisle, stopping to read the signs with personality and stocking up on bacon.
That night, we went to the new Shepherd’s Pie restaurant in Rockport,
and Keryn joined us after a first round of blueberry-rosemary gin cocktails,
and rosy oysters,
leading us around the harbor and back to the house, where we rested for another day of Maine adventures…
Last night, I tried bacorn for the first time: little bits of bacon with a homemade caramel on the kernels…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Just before I left for Linz a few weeks ago, my wonderful friend Mike of RoadTrip Nation was in town, and since Roadtrip Nation puts college students on the road to meet their heroes, I thought it appropriate we swing by the mobile @waffletruck (Mike’s naturally infectious energy was heightened by the sugar and the possibilities of the food truck movement) on our way to a house party on an actual back patio in Manhattan (seems they do exist).
Now Virginia homesteaders, Jay and Ryanne of Ryan Is Hungry have been leading lights in videoblogging for years, and they invited interesting fellow videobloggers (it was so nice to finally meet food vlogger Grace Piper of Fearless Cooking) and other friends over to the house they were sitting for the week.
Dean Jansen of Miro, the open-source video and podast player you should certainly download for watching (ahem) video blogs, brought his friend Winnie Yang, who casually mentioned when we were introduced that she works on The Art of Eating, the watchword in publications for serious food geeks (and my favorite food magazine since I discovered it seven years ago).
Winnie is Managing Editor of AoE, besides blogging and running the film-and-supper club Choice Cuts with Matt Pendleton (who paid this blog a lovely compliment to be shared in a future post). Last night was this year’s BLT party, a genius event idea where guests can truly bring useful gifts and contribute to the table.
Assembling quite a team, Winnie was, seemingly, everywhere while Matt took pictures, Tim cut bacon (this was cured by the Char No. 4 chef, a restaurant I really like in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn),
someone talented associated with Momofuku mixed bacon-infused bourbon into Old Fashioneds,
near the bread station and table with juicy tomatoes piled high, homemade mayonnaise in plain, basil, garlic, and olive-anchovy flavors, bowls of gleaming lettuces Tim tore into pieces just the right size for sandwiches with the star ingredient—Benton’s, of course, but many local curings from New York farms,
that Winnie directed in cooking, placing, and labeling—she moved too quickly to catch here (but with any luck, she’ll appear in many upcoming posts).
As I left this party full of fascinating people (including food blogger Ganda) and smoked beer, trays of bacon continued to emerge from the kitchen, and the beautiful bacon haze followed me back down the stairs it had lured me up.
The end of a lovely day that began with salted radishes with butter on bread while proofing the loaf I brought to the party,
and Sancerre with salmon cakes, aioli, and allium flowers,
I walked down the stairs last night thinking the best description of the BLT party’s food, guests, and especially the hosts is the language at the bottom of this sign at Evolutionary Organics yesterday morning at the Prospect Park Market—”seriously, they are awesome.”
and as we stood in the kitchen looking out over the chickens and orchard, they told me about the local butcher shop they plan to open in the spring—and an upcoming fund-raising dinner to that end.
So last Saturday afternoon, I pulled out a long dress with flowers as bright as those in Emily’s garden, adjusted the three strands of a vintage necklace from the Brooklyn Flea, and drove with determination through four hours of rain to the inaugural dinner of the Meat Market.
Upon entering the house, this charming bartender (I’m told he makes a mean cup of coffee at Rubiner’s, the local cheesemonger you should certainly visit) mixed a vodka cocktail for me with a homemade rhubarb concoction Chef Jeremy created from the large plants in their backyard,
and everyone clustered around a long table of charcuterie and then bread that Emily baked, sipping as the rain fell outside.
Then we all began to move down toward the tent, passing the fire pit and peach tree with branches hanging heavy with fruit.
Entering the tent, I met Emily and Jeremy’s neighbor Ken, who divides his year between the Berkshires and Miami—you will likely see him on kthread again, as we are old friends although we’ve just met. (Linked photos throughout this post are by Kit Latham, a photographer who shot for Martha Stewart, which explains their beauty.)
Finding my placecard at one of the three long tables, I sat quietly at first, knowing only the hosts.
As she sat down next to me, Kathleen, owner of a cloth-screening business in Southfield that made the beautiful tablecloths printed with chickens (image at the bottom of the post), began to illuminate the fabric of the group beginning to settle into chairs.
Image copyright Kit Latham (borrowed for this post).
After that, it was all delight.
Orbs of yellow hovered above the tables until clipped, and mushrooms, scissored off, landed softly in soup bowls below; a beefy onion broth poured underneath lifted them. We all turned to each other and lifted our spoons.
Next, Jeremy’s famous ravioli filled with rooster (yes, rooster) on top of lettuces and baby rainbow chard dressed with a citrus – a clever combination of courses and unusual presentation appropriate for summer.
Jeremy thanked all the farmers sitting among us (there were many) and introduced the next course of sausage, pickled beets, more of Emily’s good bread, and braised cabbage.
We served each other, passing plates, the rain continuing as a part of the evening’s show,
and I remembered Master Chef Gerhard Schmidt, who carved a little later, asking me how I had stayed so dry with the rain,
as the table was prepared for the Murray Grey beef that had been turned for hours on a welded device of Jeremy’s fashioning,
and we marveled over the beef, the tomatoes, and incredible roasted corn as Dominic Palumbo stood and made an impassioned argument that a local butcher shop represents a significant step for this community of local producers. He tapped all dinner guests as co-producers:
Shortbread cookies in a basil crème anglaise with eggs from the chickens half a dozen yards away and a peach from the nearby tree accompanied by eau de vie and dandelion wine ended the meal, and guests lingered in the tent lit with tea candles between sunflower bouquets.
The next morning, the special tablecloths had withstood the night of revelry and looked ready for their next event,
as the flowers leaned from the rain,
the lilies heralded the evening’s success,
and all the way back to this borough I hold dear, I thought about how a community celebrates its own.
Heading to a neighborhood full of pizza places ranked competitively with long lines for tables, I sat down on the asphalt with other Flea Marketers to the finest white pie I’ve tasted, cooked at 900 degrees in an oven that travels on the back of the Pizza Moto truck.
The pepperoni made this pizza sing, but then so did the others sitting around me, crunching their crusts, breaking the slices apart—superior products still need serious, supportive demand.
Best of luck to Emily, Jeremy, all involved with the Meat Market, and all of the lovely people I met at the dinner. For more wonderful images of the night, see Kit Latham’s Flickr collection, and for a comprehensive, detailed review in a source I now read compulsively, bookmark Dan Shaw’s articles on Rural Intelligence (here’s the one on the dinner).
What to do with the pile of beautiful zebra tomatoes I returned to this sweltering afternoon?
Past ripe, the green streaked with gold became a fresh Bloody Mary:
Purée quartered ripe tomatoes in a food processor with a dab of sun-dried tomato paste, a squeeze of lemon, a hearty pinch of sea salt, and—this is optional—a few pitted Kalamata olives and the tiniest bit of anchovy paste;
Pour an ounce or so of iced vodka in a glass, add ice cubes, pour the tomato mixture over and garnish with celery and a tomato wedge, cracking pepper over the top (add regional variations as compelled).
Rather than salt, the tomato flavor comes through in this lighter version of my fruity drink of choice.
I like to simmer the remaining tomato mix and serve it under crab crakes (add a little vodka to the pan as it cooks).
Note: If you are relying on the drink for its restorative lycopene, you will want to simmer the tomatoes for ten minutes before puréeing.
I heard a knock at the door, and opened it to find one of the homeowners handing me four mangoes–two that are ripe, two that need another day or so.
We started talking about the coconuts that he harvests from the street, and that led to a machete and a handmade, welded striking implement cracking open coconuts on the porch, draining the milk, admiring the meat (which you score and then scoop out), and an explanation of how to make coconut milk—blend quite a bit of coconut water, a little coconut meat, a date and a dash of cinnamon for sweetness.
As a storm rages outside, intermittently lighting up the cottage, I am drinking it all up and in, sipping the milk (fresh coconut water tastes infinitely better than the packaged product, as you can imagine) and shaking my head at all the years I let a terrible cake experience with sweetened, shredded kind of coconut hold me back.
I prescribe fresh coconut.
If we can imagine meat—the word itself, without its weighty moral baggage and simply referring to these hairy things that hang from tropical trees—as a delightfully firm, silky white layer hidden inside a shell, perhaps spritzed with a little lime, we may all feel a little better…