In an effort to donate something of value to the Barnard College Spring 2010 Auction, I thought long and hard about my options and assets. Nothing terribly exotic in my repertoire, no enviable luxuries, no access to movie stars - nothing terribly sexy about cooking - lots of food and setting up/breaking down parties day after day, night after night.
Or is there? Riding the tide of interest in the culinary arts and the seemingly unquenchable thirst to discover local food and my credentials as a farmer led me to create an experiential offer: "Allow me to take you and 5 friends on a tour of the renown Union Square Greenmarket where we will talk with growers, pick the best of the season, and nibble some goodies. After shopping, we will make our way to my commissary in Hudson Square (Great Performances), where we will cook our ingredients and enjoy the fruits of our labor."
Someone bought it! I was both gratified and mortified. Great for the school but now I would have to perform - and figure out how to prepare for a spontaneous group experience. I go to the market almost weekly, but no 2 trips are ever the same and I have never choreographed my time or my path. Would I be sharing personal secrets or revealing quirky characteristics? How do you take something personal, almost intuitive, and share it? And naturally, I wanted to be perfect.
The winner - the mom of a sophomore - gave the tour to her daughter and on Saturday, I headed downtown to meet Linden and four of her friends. It was a perfect autumn market day with high patchy clouds and welcome sunshine, especially after 2 rainy days. We met at Starbucks at 8:30 - a little late for me but probably way too early for college students on a Saturday morning! They were ready to roll, electronic devices stowed as introductions were made:
Linden: art history and dance
Camille: philosophy or English
Zina: political science and pre-med
Hopefully, we would all discover common interests; local food, cooking and eating.
We worked our way through the market braving the chill, not fun if you are sock-less in skimpy flats. I could not help but envision my sophomore daughter this brisk autumn morning up in Maine, no doubt going out without socks, gloves, scarf or sufficient layers. I tried to focus on my teaching role, ignoring motherly instincts (Who let you out half dressed?)
Cups of hot cider from Migliorelli Farm were the first order of business followed by a stop at the hydroponic tomato stand. Shushan Valley Hydro Farm sets up for business as all other farmers wind down their tomato season. They don't compete for sales in the peak of the season, opting for cornering the market late fall through spring when no one else has these charming red orbs. An interesting business model, as heating greenhouses through the winter is an expensive proposition.
Next stop - Keith's Farm- where Farmer Keith pauses to chat with us a bit. "What was the motivation in becoming a farmer?" - "To be my own boss!" he replied. I know it is so much more than that, but farmers clearly march to a different drummer. (What would Farmer Bob say?) Keeley asks a good question: what happens with all the leftovers at the end of the day? Answer: the perishables go to City Harvest.
The ladies begin to warm up figuratively as we make our way around the stalls: "Oh, let's get Cheese (Lynnhaven, great goat cheese)....free range chicken (Quattros's Game Farm)...what is a Husk cherry (@ $12/lb) (Norwich Meadows)...I love carrots (Paffenroth Gardens)...what are these greens? (Gorzynski Ornery Farm)....can we try more cheese (Cato Corner Farm)...did we miss the pickles? (Rick's Picks)....what are these fish? (PE&DD Seafood)."
We make a pit stop at Beth's Farm Kitchen where we sample her array of mouthwatering jams and chutneys and chat with my favorite market ladies. At Fifth Floor Kitchen we share a fabulous rice roll up - a new category of value added product for Greenmarket. And before long, each student is carrying a Katchkie Farm bag filled with produce as we are filled with little snacks. I fill a bag with apples for the week ahead (Locust Grove Farm, try the new Cameo Apple). We head back to GP where Chef Matt Riznyk is waiting for us. (Who wouldn't volunteer to cook with a group of co-eds?)
We lay out our haul and Matt guides our menu planning and directs the production. There are varying levels of expertise, but everyone jumps in - the warm kitchen is a welcome change of environment and we occupy a small table in a sea of hectic food production. Wash, chop, dice, peel - careful with your fingers - sauté, keep your work area clean, set the table - and we have lunch on the table, the fruit of our labors.
On the menu:
Sautéed flounder with a fennel and radish:
Dredge the fish in flour, sauté in butter/vegetable oil.
For the salad, shave the radishes and fennel; pull a handful of fronds from the fennel stalks. Zest with one lime, one lemon and one orange, toss with white balsamic vinaigrette and season with salt and pepper.
Seared striped bass with crispy skin and sautéed vegetables:
Marinate the fish in soy, sesame oil and mirin briefly. Score skin and sear skin side down, and then finish in oven (15 minutes) skin up. Chop the eggplant (skin on is fine) and slice the greens (we had a combo of lacinto kale, collard greens, tatsoi) into strips. Do a quick sauté of the braising greens and eggplant with ginger, garlic and scallions, till cooked. Greens should keep their deep and healthy color.
Arugula, tatsoi, mezzuna, red peppers, late season tomatoes, thinly sliced Jerusalem artichoke, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper
Free Range Chicken with vegetables:
We bought a whole chicken and broke it down into 8 pieces (carcass saved for stock). Marinate briefly with fresh thyme and garlic, then sear both sides on the grill, finish 25+ minutes in the oven, till juice run clear. New Potatoes, cubed and seasoned with thyme, salt and pepper, oven roasted till brown (25-30 minutes, hot oven, toss while roasting). Green beans (ends removed) and sliced zucchini and broccoli Romanesque blanched, shocked (ice water bath) and sautéed with a little of butter or olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper. Finish with chicken jus.
And with that, the baton is passed to the next generation. A previous generation at a women's college might have had a course in home economics and culinary arts as part of the necessary tools for going out into the world. In a few short hours, we covered all the basics; going to the market to pinch the vegetables, squeeze the meat, smell the fish, mingle with the farmer, and taste the cheese. Then we cooked as a community and improvising the meal around the ingredients we found. Pop the cork on some Dandelion wine (Anthony Road) on a brilliant Saturday afternoon and enjoy.
The leftovers were packed up along with a box of homemade sweets...and off they went, back to their dorms, homework and lives. I hope the seeds we planted will grow. I wonder what my kids are cooking today.