Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Best Gifts

The best gifts are those that come when least expected.  A couple months ago I was shopping at the Norwich Meadows Farm stand at the greenmarket.  After inquiring about an unusual looking artichoke on display by the cash registers, I found myself the lucky recipient of it.
Of course my primary interest in such a cool vegetable specimen was aesthetic.
For most of my subjects, I stop at only the one drawing.  But out of gratitude for this surprise gift, I felt compelled to make the most of it.  So I kept drawing...
 … and drawing - until I had an image I was truly proud of.
study alongside regular globe artichoke
Some gifts just add to the recipient’s store of material possessions, the best ones can actually improve the recipient.  Thanks to the generous guys at Norwich, I was motivated to push my drawing skills to a higher level.  
In the days I spent observing it, I noticed the artichoke was slowly splitting apart.  At first I thought I thought it was deteriorating, rotting from the inside, but the slightly stale but otherwise inoffensive aroma suggested otherwise.  It opened slowly, like a bloom and it occurred to me that this may not be some heirloom breed, or deformed artichoke, but an artichoke flower - something I had never seen before.  My suspicion was confirmed days later, when my gift blossomed, revealing a heart of teensy purple petals.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Very Piggy Birthday | Charcutepalooza, challenge no. 9

I am participating in Charcutepalooza, a year of meat which entails twelve monthly challenges to prepare dishes using various charcuterie techniques.  For more information about charcutepalooza, click here.  To read why I decided to partake in the meatmaking festivities, read my first post here.
This past month, I turned 30.  My birthday always falls around labor day, which used to be a huge pain in the ass back when I had to start school around the same time.  But now that I am several years out, it has become something to look forward to (aside from the getting older part), and usually involves a full three day weekend in which to celebrate. This month I was blessed with a particularly perfect weekend - an oasis of good weather during a month of floods, rain and earthquakes.  

I planned to spend the weekend upstate with my parents, but my weekend started much earlier than expected when ken returned home from work, only a couple hours after he left, and hustled me into the car.  Forty minutes later we pulled into the site of every farm to table foodie’s wet dreams: Blue Hills at Stone Barns.  It turns out ken and my parents had been plotting this outing for weeks, and managed to keep me completely in the dark until the very last second!

We got there early enough to check out their farmers market, and walk around a bit before our 5:30 dinner.  This place was the platonic ideal for what every farm should be: bucolic & pristine.  And the animals were all happily doing what animals do.
And of course my favorite...  
The baby pigs were particularly adorable.  So much so that I couldn't pick just one photo to share:

After exploring the grounds, we changed into proper dinner clothing, and ate the eight course farmers feast.  It was a very good start to a very delicious and porky birthday weekend.

The next day we consumed our bounty from the blue hill farmers market which included pork hot dogs and a simple tomato salad.

On Sunday, in a combined celebration with my cousin whose birthday is one day before mine, we planned a lunch party.  I’m not a huge fan of sweets so instead of a birthday cake, I planned to serve a meat pie.  I had made Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s raised pork pie back in February, and briefly considering finding a new recipe.  However, the first pie had been such a hit that I decided not to mess with what was already a very good thing.  I hoped that by repeating the same recipe, ken and I could improve our technique, and start ourselves on the path to the pork pie nirvana.  This time around, we put in more herbs (last time we had accidentally left out the thyme), and made it far enough in advance to let the gelatin set.  I also think I improved on the decorations!

Back in February we had procrastinated and baked the pie on the same day we planned to eat it, hence the failure to gel.  This time around we prepared the pie the Thursday before we left, to be eaten on Sunday.  (I now know why ken insisted we finish it Thursday night, rather than my original plan of doing it during the day on Friday... sneaky boy!).  I think the time made a big difference in the final product.  While delicious, the February meat pie tasted a bit like an encased meatloaf, while the filling in this one was much more reminiscent of a real pate.

The pie was served with mustard, green tomato and pearl onion pickles (recipe from the blog of charcutepalooza’s co-founder, Cathy Barrow), a german potato salad and grilled eggplants.

And finally , as a bonus, a close friend, and a loyal reader of this blog (thanks, marc!) included these apropo office supplies in his birthday gift to me, perfectly rounding out my very piggy thirtieth birthday.