The old year has slipped so quietly into the past that it’s hard to believe it ever did lurk in the lengthening shadows of shortened days. The sun is brilliant today, possibly adding even more light to the progress of the current presidential campaign. We are in the hectic beginning of the selection of Republican candidates for president, so that lots of light is necessary. The Republicans in their quest to defeat Obama have avoided any thorough discussion of just what policies will be wise if they are lucky enough to win. This is a policy that forbids any sort of specific programming that might suggest where the Republicans fall short by uncovering the empty policy box at the bottom of the shoe cupboard.
I don’t know Republican attitudes toward winter food, but it may be slightly retrograde like their attitude toward taxes. I can easily visualize Republicans eating their bacon and smoking their cigarettes and talking with their mouths full about living in a free country. They don’t mind government in the bedroom as much as they do in the kitchen. To each his own.
Our view here at home on winter food does follow a pattern that nature has provided us with. As the days grow colder the foods that make them seem a little warmer appear more and more in the vegetable bins of the super markts. You find lots of squash and turnips, rhutabegas or “Swedes.” A boiled dinner can be delightful and nourishing. For the number of people in the house you just peel parsnips and potatoes, onions and rhutabegas, quarter a cabbage, cut up celery root; drain when tender and serve on warm plates with tahini instead of butter. Have a mixed bean salad ready to go. You can’t do much better than that. But squash stuffed with apple, onion and lo-fat cheese, is another locovar dish that goes a tad beyond plain satisfaction. And let’s not forget that gift of modern engineering, the slow cooker. Carmelize onions. Prepare a chicken stew and clean up the mess in the morning. By supper time it feels like going to a favorite restaurant with full service. Do not forget that while nature has taken growing weather away from the northeast, it has been busy producing fabulous oranges down south and southwest. Navel oranges, peeled and sliced and sprinkled with purple onion rings, arranged on a platter, make a most elegant picture on the table, while the work to prepare it might easily be handled by your ten year old son or daughter. And we aren’t quite done with the oranges for today. Think a salade composee of sliced beets, sliced oranges and goat cheese on watercress, a perfect complement to sliced roasted chicken on your plate.
Here in Otsego County the locavar movement has been gaining credence. We have fewer and fewer dairies now, and more and more land given over to specialty production. We produce goats for Ramadam, produce for the New York Green Markets, wonderful organic produce for our Farmer’s Market held on Muller Plaza during the summer season. Soil is being revived after the heavy haying of the dairy years. Forests are beginning to take over the tops of the hills. The Otsego County countryside is glorious. I’m reminded of a story Pat Gourlay told me. Pat and her husband were driving a friend from New York upstate on a June afternoon. Isn’t it beautiful, Pat said. And her friend answered, Sure but it’s all been landscaped.
But there is always a new worry popping up. Now we have to protect our beautiful and productive countryside from an evil called hydrofracking, a process for releasing natural gas from the shale deep under the soil surface here. If we aren’t vigilant the heavy machinery will come, will sink wells 10,000 feet deep, pollute water, create traffic jams, and make people rich enough to leave their homes here and go to Florida—or something. Courage, we will do it.
But listen, this is all making me pretty hungry. Betsy, who has been doing most of the cooking since the hip troubles has roasted vegetables planned for my lunch, and I am ready!