Lisbeth Firmin is a studio artist and the bitter Catskills winters present a chance to hole up and focus after a summer spent mostly teaching in upstate New York and New England. Although most of her subjects are in transit, either walking deeply in thought or musing by the window of a moving train, they are rendered indoors. “It’s cozy in the studio and there’s less demand on your time in the winter” she says, not to mention her steep driveway that becomes dangerous when it ices over, prohibiting visitors.
Being in the studio full-time is “like being in a monastery. It’s very ascetic: depriving yourself like a hermit, wearing same clothes every day and painting every day,” she says. “I think it was Milton Avery who said, in his work as an artist, if you just approach it like a job, even only just two or three hours a day every day, you’ll be surprised what you can get done”.
We asked Bebert for one of his favorite recipes and he submitted a chicken tagine, which we tried for the first time by turning it vegan a few weeks ago and you can find our recipe here. Here’s the recipe for the original chicken dish, using Bebert’s own preserved lemons and spices.
Chicken, Preserved Lemons with Olives & Almonds
1 Chicken 3-4 lbs, cut into 8 pieces
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6-8 cardamom seeds
½ teaspoon pepper
(Or substitute 2 tablespoons of Bebert’s organic spice blend for the above spices)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, sliced in half rounds
1-2 slices of preserved lemon including pulp and juice
(lemons are preserved in salt… not necessary to add more salt)
1 cup kalamata olives, pitted
½ cup dried raisins
½ cup sliced almonds
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup chopped, fresh cilantro
¼ cup chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley
Put all ingredients together in a tagine, Dutch oven or casserole. Let marinate in refrigerator for at least 20 minutes. Cook on 350F oven for 2 hours.
My last radio show of the year on WIOX focused on favorite winter recipes from colleagues, neighbors and friends working in the food industry. Jeanette Bronée is a nutritionist and health coach, based part-time in the Central Catskills, who has appeared on my show a number of times in the past few years inspiring listeners to take charge of their health. She’s author of Eat To Feel Full. A small book with a big message, it’s “a beginner’s guide to self-nourishment, offering a combination of food knowledge, insights into the habits that block our efforts to transform, and practical techniques for developing a mindful, healthy relationship with food”. She picked a recipe that’s sweet and spicy, more like a dessert than a side dish with roasted whole carrots and sweet prunes. We used unsulphured apricots instead of prunes because you can really substitute any fruit that you wish and added a half cup of wine to the recipe. We served it with a small side of braised, local venison. As Jeanette said on a previous radio show, she eats meat “like a condiment” and, excepting the occasional post-hike burger, we’ve been taking her advice ever since. This roasted vegetable dish is luscious: sweet and filling, perfect with seasonal game.
Today, December 21st, is Winter Solstice, officially the first day of winter. The northern hemisphere of the earth is pointed the farthest away from the sun and, tonight begins its slow return towards it until the June Solstice of 2017. The ancient tradition of Yuletide, one of the oldest winter celebrations in Europe began this morning and will end on January 1st, 2017. Yuletide was a fire festival celebrated by the Northern Europeans. Pre-Zoroastrian Persians and ancient Romans celebrated something similar before the common era. Hannukah, the ancient Jewish festival of lights takes place almost concurrently with Yule this year, starting December 24th. The most enduring British tradition from Yuletide is the Yule Log, a small firestarter from a larger bonfire that was shared with many households by landowners in England. Evergreen trees were fashioned into wreaths and other decorations for the interior of the house for their refreshing smell. The Brits still make cakes fashioned into Yule logs and, of course, we still bring in pine trees, decorate them with lights, but now we call it Christmas. Happy Solstice!
From the Imperial War Museum in London: in addition to being asked to “keep calm and carry on”, citizens of England were encouraged to start their own small farms and allotments during World War II to supplement their strictly rationed diet. In fact, we only have carrot cake because of war-time rationing. As sugar was almost non-existent in England for years, finely grated carrots were used instead. Of course, upstaters can use maple syrup or honey. Most upstate dwellers have at least a kitchen garden and, if you want to control the quality of your food, growing it yourself is the best way of doing it. It’s hard work, though, and tough lessons are learned. It takes trial and error to find places where food grows well on your property, and in a short growing season this kind of challenge can take years to overcome, but the rewards are infinite.
Amy Masters and Ted Sheridan share an elegant and softly lit studio in Arvkille, which they had built as an addition onto their Catskills home three years ago. This winter will be the third winter they’ve worked in it. Warmly inviting, the studio is decorated in muted tones, covered in art and filled with books and trinkets collected over the years. Winter is a time for thought and meditation, especially when there’s a foot or two of snow accumulated outside and your studio is the warmest part of the house, like Masters’ is.
Marcey Brownstein is the proprietor of Marcey Brownstein Catering serving the Hudson Valley, Catskills, NYC, the Tri-State area and beyond since 2001. She moved to the Catskills full-time in 2012, settling in Woodland Valley, one of the the most picturesque and historical valleys in the Catskills. Her favorite winter recipe is Shepherd’s Pie, a rib-sticking favorite.
My piece in Edible Hudson Valley’s Winter Issue on Wayside Cider was published this week. I wrote a long profile of owners Irene Hussey and Alex Wilson, a short version of which appears in the Whisk section in the front of the magazine. What I had not submitted for publication, was the results of the photoshoot I did with Alex Wilson of Wayside Cider, that took place in Andes. I followed him around with the camera, over hills and dales, while he foraged for apples. Edited out of the published piece was a brief paragraph or two on the humble Catskills apple.
New York State has been an apple state since before the first settlers decreed that each household should have its own orchard back in the sixteenth century. A wave of planting crept up and down the Eastern seaboard shortly after the settlers arrival, but Native Americans were cultivating apples long before then. Andes is, in fact, adjacent to the homesteads that were once historic Shavertown, one of the first settlements in the area and home to an ancient apple orchard that was planted hundreds of years ago by Native Americans. Sadly, both ancient orchard and town are now submerged under hundreds of feet of water that is the Pepacton Reservoir.
All over the Catskills you can find ancient shells, clam-like fossils and other marine life partially buried in the sandstone because, during the Devonian period, the Catskills were at the bottom of the sea, somewhere around the Bahamas. The Devonian Period was 400 million years ago and since then the Americas have moved farther north to the position they are in today. On hikes to places like Slide, Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain, the rocks look like they had pebbles thrown at them while they were molten. According to Catskill Mountaineer, Panther Mountain sits on top of a meteorite hit that happened 375 million years ago. In the middle of the picture above, taken on Slide Mountain, you will see what looks like the remnants of a curling shell.
Johanna and Robert Titus, local Ice Age experts, have written a book on the subject and you can also find a podcast of an interview with them that is available at the Catskill Center.
Bread Alone’s warm cauliflower egg sandwich was on the specials’ menu on Monday in two thick slices of their delicious health bread. This time it has some sort of orange sauce plus cheese. The cheesy cauliflower goes well with the soft, slightly chewy wholewheat bread and the warm scrambled egg just melts in the mouth. Scrumptious.
Chris Bradley has been Phoenicia Diner‘s executive chef since May of this year. He picked his favorite winter dish, which is currently being considered for the new menu that comes out next week and it’s delicious. The duck was tender and juicy, the vegetables perfectly roasted and not salty. A gorgeous winter recipe that’s rib sticking, but won’t sit heavily in your stomach. Plus, it’s no longer a mystery as to how their grits are so utterly mouthwatering. Here’s the recipe for it.