Last night, Rob Handel, chef at Heather Ridge Farm, impressed a large crowd packed into the Catskill Center with his knowledge on wild edibles and foraging. After conducting a talk on how to incorporate wild vegetables into our diet by producing tinctures, ferments and syrups, he brought out some delicious, earthy, wholesome food to taste that made the taste buds come alive.
Endive stuffed with porcini mushroom pate topped with ramp pesto accompanied by carrot, burdock root and garlic grass salad (pictured above).
A pickled milk weed pod
Forsythia Syrup with Soda
Some of the ingredients in last night’s tasting were foraged recently: forsythia is available now and ramps are coming up. The nettle soup was fresh and exquisite. Some ingredients were preserved; the pickled milk weed pod tasted like a larger, yet much more subtle, caperberry. The crowd was so large for this event, not only because Rob is so knowledgable, answering everyone’s follow-up – and non-follow up/general experience – questions with ease, but because wild edibles are becoming very popular. Gradually, people are turning away from traditional foods and taking a keen interest in the wildly diverse tastes of foraged herbs, funghi and vegetables that they can find on their property like garlic mustard, burdock, nettle leaf, sumac, dandelion, sheep sorrel, milk weed, porcini and more. This kind of rare, unusual – and FREE! – food excites the taste buds. Plus, it’s fun to forage. Rob recommended a few books, one of which was The Joy of Foraging by Gary Lincoff.
On my jaunts around the neighborhood, I regularly bump into people who love Upstate Dispatch. Last week, a reader told me: “I love the site! I just wish there was more of it”. Me too!
Upstate Dispatch takes hundreds of hours per month to research and write. All of the food and drink you see reviewed here has been paid for, with one exception, and where tickets are sold to local cooking, foraging, writing and art classes, they have been purchased. In the past, when we’ve had contributors, we have paid them. As I a writer, I believe artists and writers should not have to work for free. We are also an advertisement-free site, so we rely on donations.
If you love reading Upstate Dispatch, please consider donating. Future donations will fund a small summer arts and literary studio in the local village for Upstate Dispatch. We want to expand our coverage over the summer, move into the community, and revive the Catskills Conversations series, shedding more light on our local luminaries and their stories.
Lastly, I want to thank our past donors who have expressed their appreciation of Upstate Dispatch in a meaningful way. I’m sincerely and immensely grateful for the love!
We’re proud to announce that a framed Daily Catskills print will be offered in a Silent Auction and Art Exhibition at The Emerson in Brooklyn this Saturday organized by Melissa Irwin. It’s a privilege to be able to use this medium to raise money for charity. All proceeds from the event will be donated to Planned Parenthood, a 100-year-old institution that provides reproductive health services and cancer screening for millions of people every year. It was “founded on the revolutionary idea that women should have the information and care they need to live strong, healthy lives and fulfill their dreams”.
Half a pound of Angus beef served with either fries or salad; it’s the jalapeno mayonnaise sauce that gives this juicy burger a hearty kick to the palate with melted smoked gouda cheese, sliced dill pickles and lettuce. The bun is also up to the challenge, remaining steadfast despite the onslaught of sauce, which will run over and douse the perfectly cooked fries: crispy outer shell and fluffy potato within and possibly the best fries in the Catskills (along with the steak fries at Boiceville Inn). The Mean Green from Catskill Mountain Country Store and Restaurant is wholly delicious.
Gusty winds bringing isolated snow showers all night and into the morning, coating the landscape once again with fresh powder after a warm week. 25F by mid-afternoon with high winds and dappled grey sky. Dangerous wind chill warning for this evening.
Bread Alone’s Banh Mi sandwich on their signature health bread, although it usually comes on a baguette: pulled pork with kimchee that’s the perfect balance between salty and spicy: juicy and delicious. The health bread is coated with seeds, thick and chewy without being dry like other thick whole wheat breads.
“York state’s richest men wagered their principles
while her poorest hacked life from a hillside farm.”
I had lunch with Bill Birns, literally and literally: last week in person and today with a selection of his written works. A Catskill Catalog, borrowed from my local library, is an anthology of literary history, giving details of the stories behind local roads and place names, many of which are named after families and individuals who have lived in the area over the last two or three hundred years, or still do. For example, I didn’t know that the man after whom a nearby road was named, Basil Todd, was a short-form memoirist.
Saturday February 25th: A group reading of Macbeth with beer at Reynolds & Reynolds in Woodstock.
Cosmik Ice Cream, maker of freeze-dried ice cream that will never melt, visits Woodchuck Lodge. In these temperatures, nothing is melting up here, but for us trustees of Woodchuck Lodge, this is lovely publicity.
The Zephyr in Pine Hill is a meat-and-potatoes restaurant in the metaphorical sense that it offers all the fundamental, everyday dishes without the stodge: very generous portions of hearty staples that aren’t overwhelmed by heavy sauces or congealing in butter. (They do offer some vegetarian and vegan options). Zephyr’s dinners are your regular squares with extra care: refreshing versions of your favorite meals. The “deconstructed” chicken pot pie consists of a lot of braised chicken in a gorgeous pan sauce tumbling over a hill of creamy mashed spuds, all topped with a wedge of puff pastry. The advantage here is that you can pick up the crust and dip it in the gravy. If you’re not used to eating such huge portions, this dish passes the overnight test and came out of the fridge the next morning ready to put in a sandwich, the chicken and mash having retained their softness without being fatty.
For a leftover chicken sandwich, cut the chicken chunks lengthways into small slices; butter two pieces of toast and lay the chicken on both slices of toast. Put the mashed potatoes into a small milk pan with a small knob of butter and mash with a fork until warm. Pile the mashed potato on top of the chicken and close the sandwich. Use the leftover gravy to dip the sandwich in. Delicious.
Spillian hosted a cheese tasting last Saturday for friends and neighbors who took a first look at Two Stones Farm’s new batch of cheese. I wrote an extensive account of Alan and Robin White’s Two Stones Farm in Halcottsville over a year ago in a piece entitled The Fine Art of Cultivation, which you can read here. The White’s farm is its own ecosystem and they are breeding goats that will eventually be perfect for the Catskills climate and terrain. The goats live in barn that’s heated by manure and are protected by two self-sufficient guardian dogs who have been known to fish out of the river: a fascinating place and worth a visit. From the goats’ milk, they are now making cheese.This delicious local cheese is produced naturally without synthetic hormones or antibiotics. Alan wanted to supplement the goat’s milk with cow’s milk, but was obliged to obtain the milk in multiple plastic bottles and because he didn’t want to put all that plastic back in the environment, he bought a cow. Presently, they produce soft cheese like a feta and a chevre, plus two types of tomme and a gouda-style cheese without the wax coating.
“…what a severe yet master artist old Winter is… Ah, a severe artist! No longer the canvas and the pigments, but the marble and the chisel.”
Back to Slide Mountain, a favorite of the writer John Burroughs and on a mountain range named after him after having inspired prose and poetry. There’s a commemorative plaque set into the rock under which he often slept at the summit of Slide. It’s also a favorite of my own being unimaginably stunning in the winter covered in a fluffy white cap with a glassy sky made of silvery blue. Near the summit there’s a crop of pine trees that look like they’ve been severely struck by lightning and, just further on from there, a stand of trees that have been stripped and tossed in the air like a giant had been picking his teeth with them. There are magnificent views and a wide array of trails to take.
It’s good to know when to give up and turn around and yesterday was one of those days. Rusk Mountain, a bushwhack that seemed easy on paper, was an almost vertical ascent the way we went, covered in a layer of thick snow, making it difficult to maintain traction even in snow shoes. After an hour of climbing, slipping, sliding and clinging to tree branches, the final straw was the formiddable rock ledge (pictured above) that greeted me about 20 minutes from the top. There were tracks up the side of this ledge from hikers that were ahead of us, but the snow was crumbly and there were no tree roots or rocks for support. Plus, I was cold, fatigued and we had started too late, so we were in a bit of a rush. Last time I ignored the conditions, I slid 30 feet down a mountain and slammed into a tree. I learned my lesson back then.
Leave it to the inestimable Park Rangers to impress us with their louche cool and a rogue Twitter account – and those fantastic outfits. Get all the other hilarious rogue Twitter accounts here at CNN from NASA and other regional Park Service employees.
Tonight, a Scottish Weekend begins at the historical Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz.
My description of the most breathtakingly beautiful climb on the Catskills 35, Balsam Mountain. My first peak on my mission to hike the Catskills 35, Panther Mountain. By the way, don’t steal signs! Hikers rely on them.
A Writer’s Evening at the Stamford Library, 117 Main Street, Stamford, NY on Monday January 16th at 7pm. Sign up to present your latest work.
Governor Cuomo announced plans to develop a hiking trail across New York State by 2020. The plan include “filling in” gaps between already existing trails in NYS. This amazing trail, once laid, will be the longest in the nation and connect Lake Erie in Buffalo to the Capital Region and New York City to Canada (connecting with the Capital Region).
If you’re interested in hiking the Catskills 35, join the Catskills 3500 Club. Sign up for scheduled hikes. Next week Saturday January 21st, there is a schedule bushwhack (no marked or maintained trail) to North Dome and Sherrill Mountains. Peaks that have no trail are easiest to navigate in winter when there is no foliage blocking your view.
Ted Sheridan is more architect that artist, having designed the cozy studio attached to the house that he and Amy Masters share. He went into architecture because of his love of drawing which he has done since he was young: technical drawing and line drawing in pencil. “Even though computers have taken over the traditional drawing and drafting, I still hand draw a lot of my projects,” he says. As far as his artwork is concerned: “architecture is so controlled and precise, I was looking for ways to work in a medium that would work against that and be unpredictable, not be in control all the time.”
18F at 10am with a dusting of crunchy overnight snow and a very brief, early morning theatrical sky that looked like a rippling New England stormy sea when I went to the local farmer for a gallon of milk, and cleared up by the time I got home.
If you thought farm work ceased over the winter, think again. Before Christmas, Kristi Burnett of Burnett Farms in Bovina Center was figuring out the water system for the pigs: they have a boar, two sows and a couple of piglets to “winterize”. At the beginning of December, the pond had frozen and when they ran the hose, it froze. They put a heater in one of their big cow troughs, so they can pull water out of it. December and January are months during which the Burnetts work out ideas for the forthcoming season. Farmers swap notes and share ideas at community dinners. “You definitely need a bit of rest time, but if you have animals you have to take care of them. The fence goes, water freezes, you carry buckets of grain and you’re slipping. It’s hard.”
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”.
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.