sugar time

In New York City, its pot hole season, this time between winter and spring when the streets are pitted with holes from the ice and salt of winter. Not romantic. You have to watch out for the holes when you are on your bike. In the country, it is mud season. Also sounds not romantic except that it is sweet and magical because it is also the time for maple sugaring. I have visited my daughter at her college in Vermont when the snow is melting and the sap starts flowing in the maple trees.

The edge between winter and spring in Vermont

The edge between winter and spring in Vermont

MapleTreeBuckets

As I’ve always said to my daughters, there is nothing more energizing or more beautiful than to be amongst people who think they can change the world. Oona’s college is such a place. Sterling College is one of the seven colleges in the Work College Consortium, a tiny school with a big community spirit dedicated to environmental stewardship. The students work with both their hands and their minds. They have a farm. They eat the food they grow. They have their own sugar house where they process the sap collected from the maple trees and turn it into maple syrup. In the small village every maple tree you see has buckets attached to collect the sap.

MapleBucket

the sugar house at Sterling College

the sugar house at Sterling College

Sterling College maple sugaring at the Sugar House. Photo: Sterling College

Sterling College maple sugaring at the Sugar House. Photo: Sterling College

It is vital to support small farms and the people who are working them where ever they are. And so…

Our dear friend Rob Handel, Chef at Heather Ridge Farm in Schoharie County, New York generously sent me these maple recipes to share with you. Thank you Rob.

Maple Dijon Vinaigrette

4 Tbs Dijon mustard
5 Tbs maple syrup
1 Tbs pink peppercorns
6 Tbs apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup brewed tea
1 clove garlic
pinch of salt
optional – 1 tsp summer savory

Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until well emulsified. Store in the fridge for up to one month.

Maple Parsnip Chutney (Chef Rob says this chutney is fabulous on pork, chicken and cheese)

3 Tbs butter
1 diced onion
2 cups diced parsnip (1 to 2 parsnips)
1 apple peeled and diced
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp cracked coriander seed
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

Melt the butter in a medium sized skillet and add onions, parsnips and salt. Cook over medium low heat until well caramelized about 30 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and simmer until everything is softened and most of the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately or store in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Maple Panna Cotta

Chef Rob says: This panna cotta recipe only involves 10 minutes of prep time, can be made in a single pot and it is fabulously rich. Here we go.

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla or 1 Tbs rum
1 package (1 Tbs) unflavored gelatin
pinch of salt

Place milk in a medium sauce pan and sprinkle gelatin on top. Allow to bloom for 5 minutes, then add remaining ingredients and bring to a low simmer. Stir until the gelatin is fully dissolved and pour into molds. Allow to set for at least 2 hours or prepare ahead and refrigerate for up to 4 days.

Maple Bacon Popcorn

1/2 c popping corn
2T maple syrup
2T rendered bacon fat
2T brown sugar
2tsp salt

Combine all ingredients except salt in a stovetop popcorn popper and stir over medium low heat until the popcorn begins to pop. Keep stirring vigorously until the popping slows. Immediately tip into a large bowl and toss with salt, adding more if necessary

the year in books – march

I enjoyed my February read “I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp” by Richard Hell, an engrossing memoir set in New York city in the 70’s and 80’s. Its a history of downtown New York culture of the time when young people were free to live without the tethers of responsibility and moved through the streets with the freedom and loping grace of wild animals in a natural habitat. One of my favorite passages was the last one in the book, “My life is not different for having written this book – my life only comes into being by having been written here. What I have been given and what I have been and what I have and what I and what – all are only to the extent they all are only to the extent all are only to the all are only to all are only all are all. We know that we are constructed of time, not of sequence, and it is impossible to write time “not of sequence,” except maybe in poetic flashes. I didn’t want to write about a person through time, but about time through a person.”

For my March book, I decided to visit the new bookstore in the neighborhood. Bonnie Slotnick’s Cookbooks was priced out of its West Village home and the happy ending to the all too familiar New York story is that some book lovers offered to rent her space in the basement of their family townhouse in the East Village. And so, another bookstore has survived in New York City. On a very snowy Sunday afternoon, red-cheeked and with snow encrusted eyebrows, my friend Katy and I entered the warm and homey store.  Bonnie Slotnick welcomed us by pointing out where the radiators were so that we could warm up first. What a charming and inviting bookstore. I felt like I was in someone’s home, albeit a person with a lot of bookshelves. Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks specializes in Out-of-Print and Antiquarian Cookbooks.

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks on East 2nd Street

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks on East 2nd Street

BonnieSlotnickCookbooksInt

I picked out a 20 year old cookbook from the Florida Keys with lots of recipes for fish and rum cocktails. Standing there in my wet snow boots reading tropical recipes ringed with illustrations of palm trees felt good. I searched for a proper book for my March read and found “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals” by Michael Pollan. I’ll let you know how it goes.

BonnieSlotnickCookbooksEastVillage

the year in books – february

Alas, I did not enjoy my first Year in Books read, I am one of those people who likes tidy plots and I just kept wondering what the hell was up with Miles. I fought the urge to skip ahead until I finally just put the book down. Nevertheless, I did enjoy getting back to the practice of reading in bed. As it’s been snowy in New York and the roads are icy, I’ve been off my bike and have been riding the bus and subways which gives me another good block of time to immerse myself in a book.

I’m following Laura’s (of The Circle of Pine Trees blog) lead of only purchasing books from independent bookstores, thrift stores or borrowing from the library. This month I sought my  book at the Saint Mark’s Bookshop, a neighborhood institution. The relentless gentrification and “mallification” of my neighborhood almost claimed our bookstore on at least two occasions. Each time, the community rose up and closed ranks around the beloved bookstore, circulating petitions, fundraising and volunteering labor and services. Read here and here for news stories about the battle for the bookstore. Saint Mark’s was eventually chased out by rising rents, but reopened in the neighborhood this summer. It is much smaller than the old store, but I think it is far more beautiful. The design by Clouds  Architecture Office was a donation. The existence of St. Mark’s Bookshop is a testament to the power of community.

On East 3rd St. East Village, New York

On East 3rd St. East Village, New York

StMarksBookshopWindow

saintMarksBookStoreBookshelf

In my neighborhood bookshop, I picked up a book by a neighborhood author. This month’s read is “I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp”, an autobiography by Richard Hell. A cultural history of the punk rock era in New York in the 70’s and 80’s, in which Richard left an indelible mark as a musician and a writer.

BookRichardHell

the year in books

I used to be an avid reader. Then I became an avid knitter and that turned me into a slacker reader because you cannot knit while you are reading. I have become an avid knitter and TV watcher combo.

As now is the time for resolutions, I felt I should bring more books into my life. I’m a fan of Laura’s Circle of Pine Trees blog and her Year in Books project, so I thought it would be good thing for me to join in this year. The project is sort of a flexible book club where the goal is to read at least one book a month during the year and share thoughts about it.

I’m going to try to follow Laura’s example of holding to book buying from independent bookstores, thrift shops or borrowing from the library. So my start was to pick up the book Laura is going to read for January titled “There but for The” written by Ali Smith at the Strand Bookstore in lower Manhattan, a bustling jewel of a bookstore.

 

the strand bookstore on broadway and east 13th street

the strand bookstore on broadway and east 13th street

strand_bookstore2

strand_bookstore1

new year – 2015

It is a new year and it feels good. Fresh starts and a rubbing of the eyes – a time for shaking off the sort of cobwebs that don’t do us any good. From where I write (Northern US), every single day going forward, the sun will set later and later. We are on the other side of the light now. It will get sunnier. At the start of this new year, here are some words that my friend Katy Lyle wrote that I wanted to share with you. I found this passage to be all the things she said she wanted it to be.

moss_in_ice

 I want to post something encouraging, heartening, beautiful… Something to help us all lean into the wind if need be – or go with it if not – ever bolstered by hope and the presence of each other… May these days be good ones for you. May you be understood. May you be met halfway. May financial worries ease, and frictions too. May pains lessen and loss be felt less keenly. May friendships surprise you often and love undo you completely, friends – I wish you well!  

Katy Lyle, New York City, December 2014

moss_stick_in_ice

tree trimming party 2014

The weekend before Xmas is busy with parties. We had our annual tree-trimming party on Saturday. Oona is home from college and she has a good eye for picking out a good Xmas tree. Saturday morning we set out on foot to our usual Xmas tree spot on Houston St. where the French Canadian guys will deliver the tree to your apartment for ten bucks. Oona was lamenting about how much fun it was when we used to carry the tree home ourselves on foot. We reminisced about the time we brought one of our Toy Fox Terriers with a tiny Santa hat on his head and he was so cute walking next to us while we carried the Xmas tree, that we were not only photographed multiple times but also filmed by a passing video crew.

NYC_xmastrees

A toy fox terrier in a Santa hat - Millie

A toy fox terrier in a Santa hat – Millie

We carried the tree home this year. I’d forgotten how much fun it is. When people in New York see you schlepping a pine tree, they smile and wish you a Merry Xmas. Random men offer to help you carry it. People sitting in restaurants smile and wave to you from the windows. It’s a jolly trek home when you are carrying a Xmas tree in New York city.

NYC_xmasTreeornaments

This year’s party featured cocktails made with drinking vinegars or shrubs. Shrubs were popular in colonial America as way to preserve fruit and make a refreshing drink. Oona had concocted some at school and so we decided to make wintery shrubs for our guests.

Beet Balsamic Shrub (recipe from Ashley Marti of Local Haven)
2 cups raw beets, peeled and sliced
½ cup maple syrup (I used sugar)
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbs balsamic vinegar

Put beets in a quart mason jar and cover with sugar or maple syrup and shake it up to coat the beets. Put into the refrigerator for 24 hours and shake occasionally. After 24 hours, add the two vinegars and shake it up. Put back into the fridge for another 24 hours, shaking occasionally. Then strain the liquid into a clean jar and store in the fridge.

This makes a syrupy drinking vinegar which we then added to seltzer. Make it as strong or as mild as you like. This was especially good with vodka and a slice of lemon.

Cranberry Sage Shrub (adapted from Jerry James Stone’s blog Cooking Stoned)
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup Champagne vinegar
2 fresh sage leaves

It is the same steps as the beet shrub, except you should roast the cranberries to soften them up first. Put them on a baking pan and roast them for about 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven till they are mushy. Then put them into a quart mason jar, shake with sugar, let sit, add vinegar, shake and sit in the fridge – then you’ve got the wonderful syrupy tart sweet shrub to add to your seltzer and cocktails.

The flavor combinations are endless. Now that we’ve got the hang of it, the experimentation will begin. Happy Holidays, dear readers.

XmasBikeNYC

hello winter

We spent the Thanksgiving weekend at our rural homestead arriving on the heels of the first snowstorm of the year. We had the foresight to leave two snow shovels propped against a pine tree at the top of the driveway on our last visit when it was still autumn. The mountain greeted us with twelve inches of heavy snow. Fat snow – the kind that is perfect for snowballs and snowmen and makes for a very good workout in shoveling. We cleared out a parking space for the car close to the road. Then we shoveled paths to the trailer, the pile of stacked firewood, the solar power shed and the well. The snow was as tall as her so little blind Millie finds her way on the paths by following the crunching sound of your boots on snow.

The back meadow in winter

The back meadow in winter. All photos were shot with my iPhone using the Hipstamatic App (one of my favorites) with the Lowy lens and the Blanko BL4 film

Millie on a snow path. Nothing stops her

Millie on a snow path. Nothing stops her

 

Our lipstick red plastic Adirondack Chairs buried. See you in the Spring!

Our red plastic Adirondack Chairs buried. See you in the Spring!

photo 2 copy

I don’t cook on Thanksgiving, we are always lucky guests at other people’s elaborate and delicious dinners. This year, we decided to just drive upstate to the country and eat a regular meal. We ignored shopping and sales and just stayed holed up in the trailer feeding the fire in the wood stove. I curled up on the couch in wool socks with little dogs tucked all around for warmth and caught up on reading.

A French parlor wood stove from the early 1900's.

A French parlor wood stove from the early 1900’s.

 

A great read for the winter, with beautiful illustrations by the author

A great read for the winter, with beautiful illustrations by the author

At 4:30 in the afternoon it is already dusk on the mountain. The snow turns blue in the waning light. The sky is grey tinged with gold from the last rays of the setting sun. It is very cold now, the kind of cold that makes the edges of your nostrils numb. The air smells clean and it feels like you are inhaling snowflakes. Time to bring in more firewood.

View from the front porch at dusk

View from the front porch at dusk