Mayflower Farm Merguez

After a marathon sausage-stuffing session the Maggio and Bizalion clans proudly present: Image

Don’t miss the chance to eat merguez with mustard, merguez with harissa, merguez on a baguette… and learn how to grill over a wood fire!  Join us Sunday, September 30th, at Bizalion’s Fine Foods at 684 Main Street in Great Barrington, MA, starting at 3 PM.

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Berry Season

Thompson-Finch Farm, in Ancram

If there’s anything that makes you feel the seasons around here, it’s harvesting berries.  Let me explain the progression to you.  Tell me if it rings true.

Asher and I capture the same moment

Strawberry rhubarb balsamic

When raspberries, for example, first come into season you fall head over heels in love. You pick  the lovely things, working your way deeper and deeper into the labyrinth of thorny canes and stinging nettles, swelling with secret pride as you develop small fascinating stings on your fingers and forearms and red stains on the hem of your shirt.  You taste every 4th or 5th berry to see whether this branch holds tartness, sweetness, or floral nectar.  In your heyday you rake in 6 pounds in 45 minutes.
Then you bring your friends.  Extolling the wonders of the bushes you lead them headlong into the prickers, warning them of the perils, perhaps too late.  You urge them to taste.

Maddy at New Economics Institute

You prepare and plan the pie-making.  The ratio of sugar to tart rhubarb and raspberry.  You count on your fingers, following the five-finger rule.  Fruit, sugar, thickener, lemon juice, salt.

Everyone gorges himself.

Finally, with pounds of raspberries frozen in perfect form, yet to be pulverized by frantic freezer foraging, you can feel secure.  You can think about what’s next.

Garlic scapes

The view south from Alford

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Un bacio da Nonna

In March of 2011, my grandmother, Nonnie, packed her suitcases and flew to Barcelona with her friend Nancy.  After a few days visiting museums and rambling down Las Ramblas arm-in-arm (to look more Spanish and therefore avoid pickpockets) they hopped on a train and headed for Nice, where their friends John and Michèle Horton live for half of the year.  I had visited John and Michèle in December, on my way to Rome with Michela, and I was very excited to be invited back in March to spend the weekend with Nonnie, Nancy, and the Hortons.

After a long bus trip from Barcelonnette to Digne and from Digne to Nice, I arrived at the new Gare Routière in Nice, just a few minutes away from the Horton’s house.  I took a minute to enjoy the sunshine and the Mon Oncle-esque rowhouse sticking up taller than the rest, and the next thing I knew Michèle’s little car was zipping around the bend and there was Nonnie!  For six months, I had only interacted with my family through the telephone and Skype, so it sure felt good to get a hug and a kiss from Nonnie, and to be called “schnooky” again.

Michèle drove us the short distance from the bus station into her town, Villefranche, and then up the incredibly steep hill to her house, which her father built when she was a child. Look at the view!

We proceeded to have the most wonderful weekend together.  One evening, Michèle invited us to join her for an English-language bookclub meeting at her friend Nicole’s house just up the chemin.  Boy, were we in for a treat!  Nicole’s house is a recognized architectural landmark–an example of mid-twentieth century design.  Nicole gave us a complete tour.  The building was made of concrete, but the house felt warm and welcoming.  In the kitchen everything was bright red.  It was built in the 80s, but I felt like I had entered a hybrid of To Catch A Thief and North By Northwest.  The only way I can describe it is as a modernist concrete Riviera hunting lodge.

I really enjoyed speaking to our hostess.  She has a daughter who lives in Brooklyn and she herself spent a year in the U.S. as a young woman, so we talked a lot about what it’s like to live in a foreign culture, and the possibilities and impossibilities of assimilation.

In the morning we took a drive across a few borders.  From France, through Monaco, and into Italy.  Driving along the Grande Corniche may have frightened Nonnie a bit, but I felt like we were the Jetsons, zooming along a space-age highway.  When we arrived on the ridge along which the Grande Corniche runs, we could just see the Alpes to the north.

In San Remo we made for the well-known marketplace.  Many French come to San Remo for the markets, so we heard a mix of French and Italian all around us.  Outside there were clothes and housewares and linens.  Inside there were zucchini and fresh artichokes, pesto, salami, mozzerella di buffala, burrata, pecorino… You can probably guess where I dragged Nonnie.

The artichokes had their stems and leaves still on, and the vendors stood at their stall, with thick gloves on, chopping off the spikes.

Once we grew tired of the market and had made a few purchases, we headed out into the sunshine to find a place to eat.  I tested everybody’s patience, I think, as we looked for a restaurant, because I didn’t want to fall prey to a tourist trap.  I tried to follow my instincts to some good food.

They led us down a little street off of one of the big piazzas, and there we happened upon Cibi & Libri, or Food & Books.  It was a tiny little bookstore and restaurant, with no more than five tables in the place.  We enjoyed the undivided attention of the owner, who was a very welcoming and informative host, and some delicious lunch.

That evening, Nonnie had arranged with Michèle to go into the center of old Nice for dinner, to celebrate my birthday.  Michèle knew just the spot, Le Bistro d’Antoine.  We were led through the bustling restaurant up some stairs and into a lovely little dining room.

We even had cake!

We ended our weekend with a rainy-day stroll down to the water in Villefranche.  Michèle explained that this was a very important port for the Allies at the end of World War II.  We walked around an old fort, where the town hall now resides, and found a chapel decorated by Jean Cocteau.

I discovered that Villefranche is very photogenic in the rain!

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Wait, how did it end? Mayflower Farm Lamb Dinner, Part 2

I never got around to writing about how the lamb dinner actually turned out.  And I never posted any mouthwatering photos of the food or sexy photos of the cooks in action.  Now’s the time to make up for this omission!

Just to recap: way back then in September we did some butchering on my parent’s kitchen counter.  Two whole lambs make a lot of lamb roasts (see below).

After taking care of the butchering on Saturday night we spent Sunday morning banging out a lot of prep.  Among the tasks at hand: battering and roasting Mayflower Farm acorn squash, chopping kale, salt-roasting fingerling potatoes, and baking eight pies.

After all this we were quite ready for “family meal.”  Eder had planned for this and had already gotten a good fire going to grill the livers, hearts, kidneys, and some ribs.

In the afternoon we readied the Cottage for the arrival of our guests.

Then we put on our game faces.

When the guests started to arrive we had cocktails to greet them.  My dad had visited Berkshire Mountain Distillers and bartered lamb for Berkshire Bourbon, Ragged Mountain Rum, and Ice Glen Vodka.  He and Kayla presided over the bar while Eder manned the grill and Mivi, Alex and I made last-minute crème anglaise and sent rounds of deviled eggs out to the guests on the deck.  Maddy, Danielle, and Maeve were our faithful go-betweens.

After cocktail hour it was time to begin dinner service in earnest.  Thank goodness Eder and Alex were there to run things!

We started our guests off with Alex and Eder’s famous gazpacho, dubbed “La Buena.”

Next, we sent out family-style platters and bowls of roasted beets with “green tahini,” kale salad with parmesan-anchovy dressing, and Eder’s asadura stew, a Basque stew made with lamb livers and hearts.  While these dishes were heading out we began plating the roasted lamb with the acorn squash, roasted potatoes, and two sauces: mojo picón and mojo verde.

By that time, Adam Brown and Will Conklin were already in full swing, providing perfectly pitched musical accompaniment to the dining experience.

The Easy Ridin’ Papas. Will Conklin (left) and Adam Brown (right).

When the evening began we were still in the humid grip of August, but as it got dark the chill of a September evening came on, and it seemed fitting that we end our meal with apple pie.  At Alex’s suggestion, I had made “Shaker” apple pie, which is apple pie lightly flavored with rosewater.  It turned out well–a lovely, delicate pie.  Or should I say, pies.

I don’t know why, but I love cutting pie.

It took me this long to write something about the dinner because I was quite overwhelmed by the experience.  It was a brainstorm that turned into a big project and a fantastic meal, and it wouldn’t have happened without a lot of generosity and cooperation.  You could see it as either a simple dinner party or as a celebration of community.

It was exciting to organize because everyone involved brought something of their intelligence or savoir-faire to the project.  The flowers on the table were grown and arranged by Will Ketchum in Stockbridge, who also grew the potatoes on the menu and the garlic we gave as party favors.  He delivered them that morning, and shared coffee and pancakes with us.  Our vegetables came from Indian Line Farm in Egremont, the first Community Supported Agriculture farm in the country.  The lamb was raised in the fields behind the cottage where we ate.  The booze we got by bartering.  The crème anglaise was improvised.  The music was live.

I loved how it turned out that our menu pulled from many corners of the world, making the evening a balance of local and global elements: Basque stew, Menorcan-style battered squash, mojo picón from the Canary Islands, apple pie from the Shakers, wine from Gascogne and Rioja, booze from Sheffield, MA, deviled eggs with Brooklyn-smoked bluefish, Moroccan-spiced meatballs, and a take-off on Caesar salad (which was invented in Tijuana!)

I couldn’t have asked for a better eating, cooking, and learning experience.  My thanks, again, to all who participated.

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While visions of gingerbread danced in my head

Have you ever received a 4 a.m. text message from your boss, asking “Are you looking for a project for your day off?”

Neither had I, until a few weeks ago.

The project Alex had in mind was a gingerbread house to decorate the window of El Quinto Pino.  If I had been in a conscious state when I received this message I might have gone along and made your standard Brothers Grimm-style gingerbread house.  But instead, my sleeping brain plunged into free associations, and when I awoke I had settled on a more Iberian model for my gingerbread house.

Part of my trip to Spain in April was a three-day stay in Barcelona with my traveling companion Andrés and his friends Bernardo and Yolanda.  While we were there, Andrés and I enjoyed an afternoon exploring Parc Güell.  This park was supposed to be a gated community for Barcelona’s wealthy, hidden up in the hills and vegetation above the city.  It was designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí between 1900 and 1914, and like his well-known Sagrada Familia, never finished.  The wealthy fish didn’t bite, so only a few of the planned houses were actually built.  One of these, and the only one Andrés and I were able to enter, was meant to be a “modest” house for the gatekeeper.  The floor plan may actually be modest, but the same cannot be said about the ornamentation.

Detail of the top of the gatekeeper's house at Parc Güell.

I knew I was being pretty ambitious, since I had never made a gingerbread house before, but by the time I was pitching the idea to Alex there was no going back.  I started sketching like crazy, trying to dilute the crazy Gaudi design down to the essentials.  I planned to use icing and candy for the ornamentations.

I turned to the Joy of Cooking for my gingerbread recipe.  Since the gingerbread house in Joy was only about a third of the size of my planned house, I proceeded to make 4 or 5 batches of gingerbread–a very sticky project, and one that uses an astonishing amount of spices.

As soon as possible, I started rolling out the dough on parchment paper and cutting out the pieces according to the patterns I had made the night before.

Right away, I was amazed by how strong the gingerbread was.  I baked huge pieces, 1 foot by 1.5 feet, and they weren’t even that fragile!

After the front and the back of the house were baked, it was time to tackle the curved walls on the sides of the house. I realized that, due to the molasses in the dough, gingerbread doesn’t slouch down on the baking pan the way that other cookies do.  So my dad and I made a mold out of chimney flashing over which I could drape the dough to bake.  The resulting curved walls were probably stronger than the flat walls.

Once the baking was done the meticulous and patience-testing part of the process began: decorating.  I had suspected that decorating is best done while the pieces are still flat and separate; this hunch was confirmed by an experienced gingerbread house architect, Mary Farrell.  After some brainstorming I headed to Economy Candy on Rivington Street in the Lower East Side.

Smarties and button candy

Charms lollipops, smashed into tiles for mosaics

Windows were to be made from sheets of gelatin, gleaned from the kitchen of Txikito.

Even as I began icing the whole thing together, I still didn’t know exactly how the roof would go on.  When I got down to it, though, I realized I had to support it somehow.  A cardboard tube came in handy here, and in a last-minute shopping trip to CVS I found tiny LED lights to string up the central column.  With these in place, I was ready to cement the roof tiles on and start the mosaics.

At that point, all that was left to do was to create the central turrets that give the Parc Güell building its impressive height and interesting proportions.  Here I decided to once again turn to cardboard tubes, the only non-edible pieces of the gingerbread house (other than the Ukrainian-decorated egg that I used to top it all off.)

The finished product made it safe and sound all the way from Brooklyn Heights to the west side of Manhattan.  It’s still up in the window of El Quinto Pino; stop by and see it!

El Quinto Pino: 401 W. 24th Street at 9th Avenue in Manhattan.

 

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The Meat and Bones of the Matter

Time has flown since the Mayflower Farm Lamb Dinner met with rave reviews from diners.  Although it’s been more than a month since the big night, I hope that those who attended are still savoring the memory of the evening.  Perhaps you have even incorporated some of the elements of the dinner into your own culinary repertoire.

In case you’re curious, here’s the first installment in the forthcoming series, “The Making of the Mayflower Farm Lamb Dinner.”

On a humid and gray Saturday morning Kayla and I drove up from Txikito with coolers full of sauces, rubs, vinaigrettes, gazpacho, and meatballs.  With ten items on the menu, we would never have been able to pull off a dinner for 35 without this advance prep in Txikito’s kitchen.

When we arrived in Egremont we found the Cottage filled with baskets of apples, squash, potatoes, beets, and kale from Indian Line Farm, Mayflower Farm, and Three Sisters Farm, and two whole lambs lying in a chest freezer.  In the time before Alex and Eder arrived I pretended I was coming in for a prep shift at Txikito and we started with the basics.  Kayla and I spent the afternoon squeezing lemons, making mayonnaise, and hardboiling Mayflower Farm eggs.

Once Alex and Eder arrived the whirlwind of preparation really began.  They brought their usual bash-boom-bang energy and we started roasting beets and butchering lambs full steam ahead.

As the sun set, we set upon the two whole lambs my dad had picked up from the slaughterhouse earlier in the day.  The first one weighed in at 39 pounds–a hefty difference from the lambs they often roast in the Basque country (when their bones are still small enough to eat!)  But Eder and Alex knew what to do, nonetheless.

One of my inspirations for the lamb dinner was Nate Smith’s “pick-your-part” dinners in Brooklyn, where the chefs cooked one whole animal in a number of different ways.  Along with other old-fashioned, thrifty kitchen practices, cooking the whole animal “nose-to-tail” is all the rage right now in the New York food scene, and I wanted to try it out in the context of Mayflower Farm.

I also just wanted to see a Mayflower Farm lamb whole, and to then take it apart.  We usually get our lamb back from the slaughterhouse already butchered and packaged for sale.  This system is convenient for our customers and us, but hadn’t taught me much about ovine anatomy.

Leading up to the lamb dinner my family might have been a bit wary of the butchering aspect; they thought it would be bloody and messy.  But it turned out the way I hoped; everyone was much more fascinated than revolted. We were only dealing with meat and bones, after all.

Since we were feeding a lot of people we decided to de-bone and roll everything into roasts.  We served the rolled legs of lamb at the lamb dinner, but the breast meat went down to Txikito, where we have confited it and serve it as “Mayflower Farm falda de cordero.”

Photo credit: German Palacio

As Alex started rolling and tying roasts and I plugged along boning-out my first leg of lamb, Eder took on the second whole lamb.

 

I don’t know if this guy had a name in life, but we should have called him Collossus–he had a hang-weight of 51 pounds.  Luckily, Mivi and German arrived at this point, to help us take on the brute.  Mivi has worked at Txikito for two years now, and Alex and Eder invited her up to Mayflower Farm to be their sous-chef for the event.  When they arrived she grabbed an apron, took out her knives, and took on another leg of lamb, while her boyfriend German took up his camera.

Photo credit: German Palacio

Eder took a different approach on the second lamb.  He decided to split this one down the backbone so we could save the ribs for our lunch on Sunday, along with the kidneys, liver, and heart of each lamb.

After the tempest of lamb butchery and before dinner we ran across the street to pull the Indian Line Farm beets out of the oven and peel them.  With that done we could all sit down together over the spaghetti and meatballs that my parents had prepared (a Frankies Spuntino’s recipe) and the whole gang could relax until Sunday morning.

Photo credit: German Palacio

To be continued…

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Don’t miss the “pop-up” event of the season!

Join us for a farm-to-table dinner in the Berkshire Hills, prepared by New York chefs/restauranteurs (and Iron Chef contestants!) Alex Raij and Eder Montero.

If you don’t live too far from Egremont, MA, (and by too far I mean in Europe), I hope you will seriously consider coming to the very special dinner party that I’m planning for September 25th.  I hope that after seriously considering for a brief moment you will make a reservation to join us!

I am thrilled that my bosses from Txikito, the talented chefs Alex Raij and Eder Montero, have agreed to participate, bringing their experience in Basque, Spanish, Japanese, and Mediterranean cuisines to the Berkshires for one night.  Over the next few weeks we will be putting together the menu, ordering produce from Berkshire County farms, and experimenting with Mayflower Farm lamb and wine pairings.  And, of course, I’ll be taking reservations.  To make yours, contact me via email (mayflowerfarmlamb@gmail.com) or phone (347 404 4491).

Don’t hesitate to spread the word to your friends who might be interested by excellent food served in a beautiful setting.

We hope to see you in September!

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