Current DaisyPatch stats:  1 gallon maple syrup, 199 plants, 0 mushrooms and I started the Edamame this morning. Wish us luck with that.

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Things have been a bit crazy. Our friend, Popper, invited us to dinner last week. He’s planning to open a deli/local food marketplace in Dover in the next few months which is very exciting for him. Funny, I am usually detail oriented, but the days up to the dinner were very rushed and I didn’t even get to read the directions to where we were having dinner until our car was speeding a mile a minute in the rain. (New Hampshire has been seeing record rainfall amounts, the President just declared disaster relief funds due to all the flooding.) Keith was driving while I was juggling my blackberry and using the travel lint-rolleron my Daisy-hair-covered black pants.

Dinner was fantastic. For appetizers, Popper laid out some Mortadella, Summer Sausage and Proscuitto along with some homemade bread slices and yummy cheese. There were some unique beers and about 8 bottles of wine (glad we brought one, my mother said to never arrive empty-handed). At this old NH farmstead, they raised pig, chicken, duck, and I think I heard turkey and guinea fowl. Give me a glass of wine and an audience and I’m just fine so while snacking and trying to not look like I was inhaling the food (that proscuitto was to die for) we learned about the other dinner guests.

This was a crowd I could relate to, or aspire to relate to. Several grew their own food and had read my two fave food-movement books, Omnivore’s Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle so there was plenty to discuss. One was a food writer and the other a web designer. Two were chefs (one of whom was Popper). All were good folk. I admired the frut-and-flower-covered lemon and lime trees in the living room and chatted with Maria, the homeowner, and got some growing tips.

The dinner was to die for. Confit-stuffed farm-raised chicken, rustic bread, vegetable Quark, roasted parsnips, a delish rice dish and chocolate/bacon ice cream. Let me break it all down for you. I thought it would have been rude to take pictures of the meal, so I’ll do my best to describe it (see if I have what it takes to be a food writer myself…)

First, the chicken. The white meat was obviously pounded, then stuffed with the most moist, flavorful duck stuffing, rolled up and cooked. It was juicy when I cut it, and I didn’t need a knife. The stuffing had an earthy, twinge-the-back-of-the-jaw taste that can only be described as Umami. Let’s take a side-road for a second and describe Umami, the story of Umami and how it came to be in my vocabulary – not necessarily in that order.

Remember in school, we were taught the senses of taste? Bitter, sweet, salty, sour. Can you see the drawing of the tongue with the locations of each taste buds? I can remember, I think it was in Ms. Black’s 4th grade. (Ms. Black’s name changed from Mrs. BiglongnamethatbeginswithD to Ms. Black sometime in the middle of the school year. I guess I also learned about divorce while  learning about the senses of taste.) Well, in 1908, a Japanese scientist discovered a 5th sense of taste called Umami. It is the sense of Savory. Keith and I discovered it quite by accident.

We attended a destination wedding in the Albany, New York area a few years ago. In our room were menus to local restaurants. One of the restaurants was called Umami Cafe. The Truffle Mac and Cheese caught Keith’s eye. We ordered take out via the phone and I went to the restaurant to pick up our order. I called a few minutes before closing and they were nice enough to put in the order for me. I waited in the lobby area while it was being prepared and, as is my nature, I sought something to read. (I’ll read anything. I once read everything on a  jar of Comet – ingredients and all. Don’t think I’m strange, this bathroom had no reading material and it was the only thing under the counter that was within reach.)

The restaurant menu explained the history of Umami and how it is used in all the foods at the restaurant. Umami can be described as  savory, meatiness, brothiness or “mommy food,” meaning, “comfort food.” We LOVED the Truffled Mac and Cheese. I have since purchased The Fifth Taste cookbook  as well as some truffle oil – an expensive splurge.

I hope you enjoyed my little scenic detour. Back to the main road – the dinner. The bread was obviously homemade and cut into slices on to which I spread generous amounts of the thick, cottagy quark. (I doubt “cottagy” is a word, but it wasn’t creamy, it was like super, super thick cottage cheese, hence “cottagy.” Don’t fight me, just go with it.  Accept “cottagy” into your life.) Oh look, honey, another scenic route, this time to “Cottagy Quark.”  Can we go see what’s there? Yes, dear.

I discovered Quark at the Portsmouth Farmers’ Market last Summer. One of the famers, I am so sorry I do not remember which one as I would like to give credit, had Quark. It looked like chunky cream cheese. It was “cottagy.” One was herbed and the other was plain. They had it out for sampling. Yuh-umm. Quark is an un-aged fresh curd cheese. It is much lower in fat than cottage cheese, but to me, had that nice little sour bite that cream cheese has.  I bought a jar, (wait, 9 bucks!, oh, jar deposit) and brought it home. Keith didn’t want any. All for me. I brought that jar back during a market visit a few weeks later and picked up some more. I didn’t try to cook with it, I just spread it on low-sodium Ritz crackers. Gosh, I could have lived on low-sodium Ritz and Quark last Summer. I think I’m going to try to make Quark this year.

Meanwhile, back at dinner, (please tell me if you read that in your best Ted Knight voice I need to know I am not alone), I have to fill you in on the rice. I can not accurately describe the rice dish. I think it was Forbidden Rice. I am unsure, but will definitely be asking for the recipe. The rice was black/purple and had popped open during cooking. I think it was made in a risotto style. Here’s what I know was in it – duck fat, thyme and crisped chicken skin.  It was so flavorful and so savory and just damned bloody good. (I am not british and I do not mean there was blood in it, but the term “bloody good” seemed very appropriate right there.) Keith made chicken for dinner last night and I saved the skin from mine. It is crisping in the oven right now. I can’t eat it just yet due to restricted diet, more on that later.

Parsnips. I never met a parsnip I liked. Yuck and double yuck. Bitter (thanks Ms. Black, I know what that means), awful stuff. What person in his/her right mind would Eh-VER eat a parsnip? Dare I say my tastes are changing as I get older (gracefully) or were previously attempted parsnips not cooked correctly? Methinks both. I tentatively put two small ones on my plate in that, “I guess I should be polite and try everything since I am at someone else’s house and they made me dinner but if I put just one it’ll look like I don’t like it and am just being polite, so I had better put two, but I’ll make them small ones so they’re less conspicuous” sort of  fashion. They were whole and off-white, looking like a carrot that didn’t get any sun. Butter and a little rosemary can make styrofoam packing peanuts palatable, and neither were detected in the serving dish, increasing my sense of dread.

I have gotten more adventurous in the last few years when it comes to new food. About 12 years ago, I was thinking about becoming a vegetarian.  While wandering in the bookstore for something completely unrelated, I saw a book with a title akin to, “So, You’re Thinking About Becoming a Vegetarian?”, bought it and went cold turkey. No turkey, actually, and that was the problem. I stopped after 6 months – I just wasn’t getting it right. I didn’t like a lot of vegetables and I really missed turkey. I would say that now, I could be a successful vegetarian if I wanted to be, since I have tried and learned to like many different kinds of vegetables, but I don’t plan on it.  Turkey and I can never be parted again.

I hope you’re still with me, we’re talking about dreaded parsnips. Here goes. I loved them and went back for more. I can’t explain them. They were sweet. Not as sweet as cooked carrots, but a nice mild sweetness with a tone of what can only be described as earthy. It is obvious the trick is in the preparation. If you know a good parsnip recipe, please share. They will be on the DaisyPatch this year.

Onto the ice cream. The latest bacon craze has people putting bacon in everything. Keith saw a t-shirt that said, “Bacon is the new Jesus.” (Actually, I think the shirt will be arriving in the mail any day.) I think it is true. Maxim magazine (we get it for the articles) mentions a new bacon product every now and then, including bacon-flavored lollipops. We bought bacon band-aids for our friend, Jenny. Her gifts get wrapped in bacon-printed gift wrap. Get it? Having Popper for a good friend means that sausage and bacon, the good stuff, not the sodium-laden, bacon-favored, sizzle strips sold in your megamart, but the real stuff from a local chemical-free pig, is in our larder at all times. Yup, I said larder. Homestead word. Just trying it on for size.

This ice cream sounded weird, but then I thought about it. Insert bacon thought bubble.

My chocolate chip cookies have sweet milk chocolate chips in them. What brings out the sweetness of the chocolate? That extra pinch of kosher salt that I add. Why should it be any different in this ice cream? Picture tasting the duskiest, most chocolatey cocoa you’ve ever tried. Put that in a frozen sweet cream base. Now, at the exact moment that flavor is being deposited from the spoon into your mouth and you’re detecting the sweetness, you can sense, I thought I smelled it before I tasted it, the smoke from a bbq. Then, the saltiness from miniscule bits of bacon hit you, while your sweet taste receptors are still going off. (Despite what Ms. Black told us, you don’t just taste sweet on the front of your tongue, there are taste receptors for all senses throughout your mouth.) The saltiness, the smoky aroma, the dark, almost savory, chocolate and the sweet cream all mixed together into a little tiny dish of delight. I was not given enough, but after my gluttony with the rice dish, did not ask for more. The ice cream was paired with a little ginger shortbread cookie. It was good, but only got in the way really. I had to eat it just to get it out of the dish so my spoon could attempt to scrape up more of the ice cream.

This meal from heavenfarm occured one week ago today and I am still thinking about it. It is easy for me to understand why that is. I had my gall bladder taken out a few days ago, am home recovering and am restricted to a low-fat, bland diet (read: boring) during recovery. I asked the surgeon during the pre-surgery consult (which is basically the meeting where you hear all the ways you’re going to die on the table, then sign a sheet of paper to acknowledge you understand these risks), “Did I do this to myself? Did I eat wrong?” (thinking the Summer of Quark and Ritz sent my little gall bladder over the edge). He assured me that, no, gall bladder disease and gall stones are hereditary and quite common and I didn’t inflict this upon myself through my diet. I repeated this to myself during the farmstead dinner which was 36 hours before surgery. Perhaps the fact I knew I’d be in for flavorless meals for the next few weeks made me savor and appreciate every bite that much more.

I think it was more than that.  It wasn’t just the delicious new foods and flavors. It was new friends, new stories, and a newfound camaraderie as we all were there for one reason – to support our friend, Popper, and to support the idea that good food can come from our backyards.

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Since you hung in this long, with only one picture, and a stupid one at that, here’s a little treat. Make sure you have the volume way up.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTa3kfu4iRM

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