“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.
The warm honey-glazed beets at Peekamoose remind me of standing on the farm eating a beetroot, warm from the scorching August sun, straight out of the ground. In winter, when there’s a foot or two of snow on the doorstep, and you’ve braved piercing winds and roads covered in dry chalky snow on date night, beetroot warm from the oven, covered in honey and goat’s cheese creme is a mouthwatering treat. Rich, earthy and wholesome, these beets are almost like a dessert as the creme melts into the warm honey sauce, making a juice so luscious you’ll want to slurp it directly off the plate. Scrumptious.
All the things I love and consume regularly like caffeine, chocolate, alcohol and sugar all take a toll on the body; this is especially so if you’re obsessed with tea and have to drink it around the clock. I love a hot toddy or mulled port in the evening by the fire, but If you’re looking for a fragrant winter beverage that is healthful and tasty, try Golden Milk, which I discovered last week at an event at Spillian, where Liza Belle was simmering a pot of the milk on the stove while teaching a group how to make fire cider. This milk will provide a comforting winter warmer with some seriously beneficial ingredients, sweetened with maple syrup, which you can find at presently bustling sap houses all over the region.
2 cups of coconut milk, oat or almond milk
1 tablespoon of grated turmeric root
2 tablespoons of grated, fresh ginger root
I tablespoon of powdered turmeric
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon of maple syrup
1 pinch of ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
Mix together all the ingredients in a pan and gently bring to the boil while stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. Simmer gently on a low boil for about twenty minutes while stirring.
By all accounts, turmeric appears to be one of those miracle foods like Manuka honey or raw cranberry. I know a family member devoted to The People’s Pharmacy who swears by turmeric for burns. In fact, years ago she looked up a remedy for burns online and was instructed to put a popular brand of mustard on a severe burn and cover the area with a bandage. Hours later all traces of the burn were gone and it wasn’t until years later she discovered it was the turmeric used to color the mustard that worked the magic. I have a friend who is drinking turmeric beverages every morning and reports that her memory seems to be improving. A quick search of WebMD reveals that the spice is “believed to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and perhaps even anticancer properties” and “several studies suggest that it might ease symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, like pain and inflammation”. An ancient Indian recipe calls for turmeric and honey in warm milk for cold symptoms and that’s worked for me in the past.
Powdered herbs and spices will keep for a while, but if you want to keep the actual roots of ginger and turmeric but don’t use them that often, you can store them in the freezer and grate them directly into the recipe while you’re preparing a dish. The grated root will thaw immediately once in a warm soup, sauce or drink but won’t be overcooked.
A decent portion of my formative years was spent in the local library where, due to being English born in the seventies, my innocence was cruelly shattered by George Orwell. I don’t think Orwell or Golding is on the syllabus for eleven year olds these days, but for a sensitive soul like myself, the novels 1984 and Animal Farm ruined my taste for literature thereafter, but just being in a library now feels like home. My mother was an avid reader and our weekly trips to the library I will never forget, but sadly I don’t remember reading anything after being assaulted by Lord of the Flies, except for a feeble attempt at some Jane Austen and a lot of Oscar Wilde. Thanks to George, I switched to non-fiction.
“…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.
A wide stretch of electric blue, after a week of low light and vibrant snow storms. Clouds sailing quickly along like they have warmer places to be. So many fresh tracks in the snow made it look like a Million Animal March. Perhaps there was an unofficial wildlife conference last night? 24F by mid-afternoon.
Yesterday was Imbolc, a Gaelic holiday, celebrated by Christians as St Brigid’s Day, marking the first day of Spring. If the snow is low enough, snowdrops traditionally have always appeared at this time. Also yesterday was the third annual World Fire Cider Day and Spillian held a class run by Liza Belle in the ancient tradition of making fire cider. Fire cider is an ancient folk remedy and winter tonic in which curative roots, herbs and spices are steeped in apple cider vinegar. The basic ingredients of fire cider are garlic, horseradish root, jalapeños, habaneros, ginger and onion all finely chopped and covered in apple cider vinegar. To this mix you can add extras like cinnamon, juniper berries, rosemary, thyme, cayenne pepper, blood orange and rose hips, burdock root and turmeric. Last night, we chopped and chatted and went home with a can of fire cider to steep for six weeks.