Monday, June 28, 2010

Who Let the Dogs In?

Local Food: Hushpuppies, a Southern staple, are now a Hardwick snack. Hushpuppies were named for the bits of fried dough tossed to the yard dogs to keep them quiet. As a starter, hushpuppies calm your appetite in anticipation of more. Steven bases his hushpuppies on cornmeal and buttermilk from Butterworks Farm, deep fried for a crispy outside and a soft and chewy inside. Smoked cheddar (also from Butterworks) and bacon from Winding Brook Farm in Morrisville add rich flavor. Moving from the South to Southwest, the hushpuppies are served with cool cabbage slaw and refreshing salsa of tomatoes, onions and cilantro from Pete's Greens.

Today, the Center for an Agricultural Economy hosts a tour of the Hardwick area for delegates from Latin America working in rural communities on women's rights, racism, poverty, and social justice. Arranged by Meridian International and including representatives from Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, and Mexico, the group will be at Claire's this evening, so stop by their table if you come in for the Monday specials.

Around the Galaxy: Ben Hewitt's book The Town That Food Saved continues at the top of the Galaxy bestseller list. Our next event is Tuesday, July 6, when we host James Tabor who chronicles the world of deep cave exploration in his book Blind Descent. On Thursday, July 8, we are pleased to welcome award-winning novelist Howard Norman in celebration of his novel What is Left the Daughter.

Music Notes: Katie Trautz, Director of the Summit School in Montpelier, returns Thursday July 1 at 7:30. Don't miss her old-time inspired melodies on fiddle, guitar and banjo.

Local Events: Summer music season is almost here. The Craftsbury Chamber Players Summer Music Series begins in Hardwick on Thursday, July 15 at 8:00. The concerts at the Hardwick Town House will continue on Thursday nights until August 19. The Chamber Players perform in Burlington on Wednesdays at 8:00 as well.

Summer Music from Greensboro celebrates its 32nd season every Tuesday at 8:00 at the Greensboro Church of Christ, opening on Tuesday, July 20th.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Time to Ketchup

Local Food: Tomatoes are back, and so is tomato ketchup for your burger and fries. Steven slow cooks the tomatoes with a variety of herbs and spices, including cinnamon and allspice, adding a dash of vinegar for acidity. Onions, scallions and green garlic provide "bite" to the ketchup, and dried peppers heat it up for a spicy note. Ketchup is extraordinary when it is prepared with patience to concentrate the flavors, making something quite complex seem very simple.

Around the Galaxy: Join author Stephen Kiernan at The Galaxy Bookshop on Thursday, June 24th for a discussion about American ideals, how they've been abused and how they have been reclaimed. Kiernan's new book, Authentic Patriotism, introduces ordinary Americans who have embraced progressive action and embody the true spirit of patriotism. The event begins at 7P.M. on Thursday.

Music Notes: Singer/songwriter Jay Ekis returns this Thursday, June 24. Enjoy his infectious alt-country and rock originals and covers beginning at 7:30.

Local Events: Circus Smirkus opens the season on Friday, June 25th in Greensboro with two shows. Tickets are available at The Galaxy Bookshop (cash or check only) or here.

Woodchuck's Revenge will perform Saturday, June 26 at The Music Box in Craftsbury at 8:00. The group includes Kristina Cady on fiddle, her husband Peter on guitar and Sandy Morse on mandolin. Their repertoire includes songs about Vermont, mountains and life in New England. Admission is $10, $5 for students and seniors, children are free.

Tour the High Mowing Seeds trials garden in Wolcott on Wednesday, June 30 from 4-6. Learn and share information about growing specific crops, handling pests and disease and get a sneak preview of new varieties of organic seed that may soon be available.

Rhubarb Chutney Recipe

Yield 1 Quart

1/2c maple syrup
1/4c molasses
1/3c cider vinegar
2T water
1T ginger, peeled and minced
4ea garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 1/2t lemon zest
1ea cinnamon stick
2c chopped 1/2-inch pieces fresh rhubarb
1/2 c dried currants
1/2bu thyme, picked and chopped
to taste salt

Bring first 7 ingredients to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer 5 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high. Add rhubarb and currants-bring to boil. reduce heat to low and simmer gently until rhubarb is tender, about 5 minutes. Season chutney with salt.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Summer Iceberg

Local Food: Temperatures are expected to rise toward the end of the week, which means a cool salad of iceberg lettuce might just hit the spot. If you've given up anything but local greens, do you remember the crunch of sturdy iceberg? This year, Pete's Greens has brought the iceberg to Northern Vermont. Steven serves the succulent pale green leaves with chunks of juicy beefsteak tomatoes, also from Pete's, doused in a creamy blue cheese dressing from Jasper Hill's Bayley Hazen Blue and Butterworks Farm tangy buttermilk - cool, creamy, and bright summery flavors. Crispy bacon pieces from Winding Brook Farm in Morrisville can top this classic salad (or not, if you're a vegetarian).

Around the Galaxy: You may have heard her commentaries on VPR, now meet Deborah Luskin in person when she visits The Galaxy Bookshop on Tuesday to read from and discuss her debut novel, Into the Wilderness. Set in southern Vermont, in 1964, Into the Wilderness tells the tender and witty story of romance blooming between an unlikely pair, both of whom thought they'd given up on finding love in the golden years of their lives. Come to Tuesday at The Galaxy Bookshop at 7P.M. and check out the calendar of great summer events.

Music Notes: Jazz/Latin/World quartet Cosa Buena return this Thursday at 7:30. Stop by and support local music.

Local Events: Help a new farm get started at open farm work days at Peace of Earth Farm in Albany on June 19 from 1-5. Learn by doing every third Saturday of the month from May- September. For more information contact Rebecca or Frey at 755-6336.

World Cup: Our television will be tuned to the World Cup. Keep up with the schedule here.

Local Art: We are featuring the work of two artists this showing. George Selleck's Forbidden Fruit series is hung alongside the works of Ann Young. Meet Ann at the opening reception Monday June 14 from 4-6.

Reminders: We are open daily after 2:30 for coffee, bar service, and baked goods, with dinner reservations available from 5-9 (until 8 on Sunday). We serve our special Blunch menu Sundays from 11-2. Claire's is closed every Wednesday.

We appreciate it when you reserve a table with us, as it helps us plan a relaxed and hospitable experience for you and all our guests. To show our appreciation, when you call, email, or stop by to make a reservation, you will be entered into our weekly drawing for a $20 gift card for your next visit.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Camp, Compost, and Cluster Flies: A New Memoir Undresses the Rural Renaissance

On The Bucolic Plague: From Drag Queen to Goat Farmer (Harper Collins 2010). Reviewed by Mike Bosia

Granted, I had mixed feelings from the moment Linda loaned me a preview copy of The Bucolic Plague: From Drag Queen to Goat Farmer, a new book by Josh Kilmer-Purcell. In addition to being the titular character, Josh was raised in rural Wisconsin and was most recently a contemporary version of the New York advertising execs in Mad Men. With his partner, Brent, who was once among Martha Stewart’s TV entourage, Josh bought the farm. In their case, it was a 200 year old Federal-era mansion in a faded resort in upstate New York. So all the attention Hardwick agriculture has received had me doubtful about what could just be another entry in the chic new “back to the land” renaissance.

But as I began his memoir, I was struck by something uncanny, as if another couple was actually living my life, only more fabulously and gayer. The surface similarity was readily apparent. On the cover, Josh is lanky and tall, like Steven – my partner and Claire’s chef – and I can only describe Brent with a word Steven (unjustly) uses about me all the time: short. But where Steven is known for tie-died flair and a penchant for vibrant colors and patterns, and I still haven’t broken from the jeans and shirts professorial look, Josh and Brent are pictured on the book’s cover as an Edwardian fantasy from a Merchant Ivory production, like the class-crossing game warden in the filmed version of E.M. Forester’s Maurice. Their “farm” is an historic estate called the Beekman Mansion, bought already restored; ours, a two bedroom house on a small village lot once owned by our State Rep, Lucy Leriche. Hardwick’s “little Chicago” reputation contrasts with the dowager elegance of the Bucolic’s Sharon Springs. Our value added business is a restaurant on Main Street, while they launch an internet line of mail order goat milk soap. Though we share Planet Green network experience, their most proximate celebrity is Martha Stewart, and ours was Emeril.

With this in mind, it was the camp and the compost that quickly drew me in. In Hardwick terms, The Bucolic Plague starts somewhere between Judith Levine’s Not Buying It, her account of a year without shopping, Ben Hewitt’s The Town that Food Saved, and those famous cartoons by Eugene Fern, husband of our Claire’s namesake, published in the Gazette long ago. With a friendly mix of self-deprecation and self-indulgence, Josh (and Brent) try to find their better selves just off a country road paved by happenstance, genius, and bickering, facilitated by a coterie of magical if lightly sketched characters worthy of any Green Acres urban-meets-rural story of redemption. In the process, they bicker over raised beds (as Steven and I once did), laugh at fashion models frolicking in goat manure, Josh urinates in Martha Stewart’s garden, and they both enjoy Sharon Spring’s favorite holiday cocktail, called pink stuff.

Without a hint of Bill McKibben or Thoreau, Raj Patel or Polanyi, Josh begins his story about a disgruntled ad man firmly committed to the rediscovery of his better self in a community that values mutual support and reciprocity, teasing us along the way with that mystical relationship to the soil and the seasons that can bring you back from middle aged angst. But if the Bucolic Plague reads at times as a rejection of modern consumer culture, it also explores dreams of an internet business and reality TV show. Their story is familiarly American in its uncertainty, starkly “now,” timeworn, and ripe for the picking.

This is mostly because the other half of the title, after Bucolic, is Plague. Along with their fantasy, Josh lays bare the reality of their existence. The hard work (which he loves), the disjointedness of living two lives, and the implausible financial expectations of new farmers, things you rarely read about in the media’s recent obsession with everything “rural,” from rooftop urban farms in Brooklyn to foraging chefs. He mocks the dreamy urban perfectionism that can undermine the natural experience. The gossip, wrong turns, insecurities, life confusions, and even ill tempered boorishness get exposed. All this comes crashing down in a pile of mutual recriminations and bitterness along with the crash of 2008. Instead of a bucolic fantasy of rediscovery, we peer in on a gothic nightmare of cluster flies and unruly press opportunities where urban and rural clash, culminating in the fear that they have indeed replaced their manufactured urban existence with a bygone fantasy. But instead of “gentlemen farmers,” they are lost in the Depression era uncertainty that haunted Walton’s Mountain, still trying to dig their way out through marketing.

As we peek into this melancholic underside of the last decade’s promise of consumer redemption, lifestyle perfection, and personal actualization – told with irony and humor behind the doors of a large house in a small town – we are left with Josh and Brent, and their struggle to do something differently given the people they are. Josh, always uncertain about how he fits in, eager for a sense of authenticity, hails from small town Wisconsin and so he seems to feel just a bit of the imposter in the Big Apple; Brent, a son of the rural South who lost his father when he was 11, worked to put himself through both medical and business school in search of elusive stability. Josh puts on the sparkle to make himself special, while Brent strives for the perfection that brings order out of life’s chaos. Revealing their story down to its depths, they repeatedly fall short of the flawless heirloom dazzle that will bring the money rolling in to preserve a bygone way of life; in the process, Josh finds that their authenticity is not in the completion of an idyll, but in the embrace of their talents as part of the struggle for it. "From drag queen to goat farmer."

Which leaves the reader wondering about one more grand effort. Can this memoir and a reality TV show debuting on Planet Green this month save the Beekman and redeem Josh and Brent?

Emphasizing local news, menu updates, and recipes, from time to time New Vermont Cooking also will feature reviews and ideas. In addition to being a co-owner of Claire’s, Mike is a political scientist who works on both food politics and identity politics.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Champignon Dreams

Local Food: Magic comes from the darkest corners of the woods. That's how we like to think of oyster mushrooms from Wild Branch Mushrooms in Craftsbury. Cultivated in beautiful bunches, the oyster is named for its shell like appearance, not its taste, which is earthy and has an almost meaty texture. Rich in essential vitamins and protein, the oyster mushroom adds a unique and healthy component to any meal. Steven folds these soft petals of earthiness into his wheatberry risotto.

With our innovative local farming, tomato season gets off to an early start. The current issue of Vermont Life Magazine sings the praises of tomatoes and includes Steven's recipe for Green Tomato Upside-Down Cornmeal Cake, equally good as an early or late season tribute.

Around the Galaxy: Thanks from the Galaxy to everyone who came to hear Bill McKibben last week. There are still signed copies of his compelling new book Eaarth on the shelves. If you were intrigued by the Sunday New York Times review of cookbooks, come see the many available in the store, and remember that you can order any others.

Music Notes: Blue Fox returns Thursday, June 10 at 7:30. Don't miss "one of the few authentic blues musicians in Vermont," according to the Times Argus Newspaper.

Local Events: History Lives Here: The Hardwick Historic House Fair is Sunday, June 13 from 11-4 at the Hardwick Town House. Learn about the history of your house and speak with restoration experts and architectural historians. For more information, visit the Northeast Kingdom Arts Council.

Reminders: We are open daily after 2:30 for coffee, bar service, and baked goods, with dinner reservations available from 5-9 (until 8 on Sunday). We serve our special Blunch menu Sundays from 11-2. Claire's is closed every Wednesday.

We appreciate it when you reserve a table with us, as it helps us plan a relaxed and hospitable experience for you and all our guests. To show our appreciation, when you call, email, or stop by to make a reservation, you will be entered into our weekly drawing for a $20 gift card for your next visit.