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Going for the Light

10/08/2012

Esmé. What a little beauty!

When I open the refrigerator, my cat wanders over and seems to want to climb in. She is going for the light. 

            These days, she lives under a kitchen stool, where I have made her a bed of towels and warm fleece. She comes out to eat ravenously and to beg for more. (She also comes out to use her litter, thank goodness.) When she walks around the kitchen, she bumps into walls, stumbles over the dog’s feet or walks under his belly. He pays no attention. Oliver, who is a three-year-old ginger cat, bats her, grabs her neck and makes her growl.

When I put her dish on the floor I tap, tap, tap it to get her attention. Clearly she can’t see it, but she wants her 9-Lives. Every night I pull her onto my lap and despite all the devoured food, she feels like skin and bones, an old lady who can’t keep any weight on her frame. Once on my lap, I jab her with a needle that is attached to a bag of saline. This hydration is keeping her very much alive.

            This little cat is one of a pair of litter mates Laura and I adopted 18 years ago this month. We named them Ichabod Crane and Esmé (for Esmeralda), in celebration of Halloween. Esmé was so small, she could walk under the basset hound we had in those days. The two felines weren’t especially attached to each other, but they were attached to us and Esmé stuck like glue to Sam, the basset. When he was dying in 2001, she slept with him in his bed and stayed by his side as he stumbled about the backyard. I had never seen anything like it.

            I was partial to Ichabod. He was a big, independent cat. Esmé was needier and once she started purring, she drooled. Seep-through-your-jeans kind of drool. Ichabod died last February. He was eating well and so it kind of snuck up on me. One day he wasn’t grooming himself and lost interest in his food. I called the vet for an appointment the next day. That morning he was weak and by the afternoon I decided he was dead. He was stretched out under a chair. I put him in a clothes basket and loaded it into the front seat of the car for his final trip to the vet. I chuckled at the thought of a cop pulling me over. Like a Monty Python bit. Officer, I have a dead cat!

            Esmé has been more difficult. She’s been dying for a lot longer. She has some sort of infection or maybe cancer. She responds to the hydrating and the steroid shots, although I know one day she will stop eating. And that will be that. In the meantime, she is drawn to the light. Sadly for her, it’s just the refrigerator.

Note: Esmé died today. She stopped eating yesterday and then gave up walking. I took her to the vet at noon today and she gently left this earth. A little cat, a little life, a big loss.

29th Birthday Party!

07/26/2012

by Laura Goodbody (guest blogger)

The table, all set and ready for guests

Earlier this week was my [first] 29th birthday. To celebrate, I wanted to have a small party at our home in Boston with friends who live in the area, both old and new. I was lucky enough to have 12 lovely guests arrive at the apartment last Saturday night to start my final 20-something year off right.

When I considered what kind of party I wanted, I thought about incorporating something I love to eat. That was easy: Cheese. As a diabetic, there aren’t many foods I can eat without considering their carb counts and then treating with insulin. However, cheese is one of those foods that is almost all protein and therefore does little in the way of affecting my blood sugar. The fact that I’ve been a cheese-ophile for years, even before getting diabetes, is icing on the cake (whey on the curds?). Additionally, I was inspired by a friend’s birthday party in the winter where a little contest was held to identify wines; I decided it would be fun to have a wine and cheese pairing party (wine being one of my other favorite food interests). 

I knew I could provide a spread of delicious, special, different cheeses, paired with a wine chosen to bring out the flavors of the cheese. But how could I work a game or similar activity into the party? I wanted there to be something for guests to chat and interact about and to have fun with. Two weeks pre-party I came up with this: I’d have two wines accompany each cheese; one would be the recommended or “correct” pairing, and the other not. Guests would get a little ballot and, after tasting both wines with each cheese, guess which was meant to complement the delectable dairy.

The week before the party, I consulted a very helpful and enthusiastic man at the cheese counter of my local Whole Foods Market. He jotted down five ideas for cheeses, the flavors progressing from mild to strong. He recommended  1.5 to 2 ounces of cheese per person and said five varieties is a customary number when making a cheese plate. The day before the party I returned to the cheese counter (aka my happy place) and got to purchasing. These are the cheeses I left with, in the order in which they were served:

So many choices!

  • La Tur. A dense, creamy blend of pasteurized cow, goat and sheep milk from the Piedmont region of Italy. Runny and oozing around the perimeter with a moist, cakey, palette-coating paste, its flavor is earthy and full, with a lingering lactic tang.
  • Bonne Bouche. Hailing from Vermont, this cheese is aged for 4 weeks. Made with pasteurized goat’s milk, the curd is carefully hand-ladled into molds, lightly sprinkled with ash, and aged just long enough to develop a wrinkly rind.
  • Ossau-Iraty. This is a harder cheese made of sheep’s milk in the Aquitaine region of France. Hand-selected for crumble and crunch at 10-12 months, this raw sheep cheese has a distinct flakiness and deep, lingering, caramelized flavor.
  • Clothbound Cheddar. A delicate balance of sharpness, slight nuttiness, and a caramelized sweetness, this cheese comes from Vermont. Produced from the pasteurized milk from a single herd of Holstein cows, this cheese has a firm, slightly crunchy paste that’s never waxy.
  • Colston Bassett Stilton. This is a cow’s milk from Nottinghamshire, England. What makes this variety unique is the use of traditional animal rennet, not to be found from any other Stilon maker. Each bite is exceptionally buttery in texture with a clean, mineral tang.

Now that I had the cheeses, it was time to move on to the wines. I am a white wine drinker so I wanted to pair these mostly with whites or sparkling wines so I could enjoy everything to the fullest. I searched online for recommended pairings and matched them to what my cheese man friend at Whole Foods had suggested. The morning of the party, my husband and I went to the liquor store and enlisted the help of Handsome Scott*, the wine guy. We ended up buying six wines: one for each cheese, then a specific two for the Stilton. Here is what we got, in no particular order:

  • NapaValley Merlot, Angels Landing 2010
  • Cotes de Provence Rose, Domaine Houchart 2011
  • New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Ninety + 2009
  • Gancia Prosecco Brut
  • Graham’s ReservePort, Six Grapes
  • AlexanderValley Cabernet Sauvignon, Baus Family Vineyards 2009

We also purchased a bottle of Ninety + sparkling rose as the prize for the winner of the pairing contest (who happened to be my wine-and-cheese-savvy cousin, Kate). We bought two bottles of each variety which proved to be exactly the right amount for the 14 of us.

Can you guess which wine is meant to be paired with which cheese?  Answers at the bottom!

Next, at home, we created cards that described each cheese and each wine. I pasted these descriptions onto index cards (for the wine) and little table tents (for the cheese). We set up a table on our roof deck, overlooking the gorgeous city of Boston and the Charles River, complete with cheese, wine, a few different kinds of crackers, grapes, and almonds. The result was a lovely, elegant spread that invited everyone to eat, drink, and be cheesy.

Though this party wasn’t quite as inexpensive and low-maintenance as I originally anticipated, it was a really fun way to celebrate my birthday. Everyone loved the competitive aspect, which naturally encouraged conversation among guests. I loved eating tons of cheese and drinking wine for my birthday. This is a great way to enjoy a summer evening and do something a little out of the ordinary.  Bon appétit!Answers to wine & cheese pairing contest:

  • La Tur : Prosecco
  • Bonne Bouche : Sauvignon Blanc
  • Ossau-Iraty : Rose
  • Clothbound Cheddar : Merlot
  • Stilton : Port

*Not his real name.  Most people probably just call him Scott.

copyright © Laura Goodbody

First Summertime Dinner

06/30/2012

(Another wonderful guest post from my fantastic daughter, Laura!)

There are a few ways I know it finally is summer: Wearing flipflops outdoors without worrying about being cold; the end of the schoolyear; and cooking with tomatoes.

Last night we had one of our favorite couple friends over for dinner. We typically go out to eat with these friends, but because Brian and I have two restaurant dinners planned for the weekend, I suggested I cook. Also, I’m on summer vacation so I have a lot of time on my hands, which makes preparing a full dinner much more appealing.

Lisa and Lynn, our guests, are vegetarians which is great, especially this time of year, but Brian and I are solidly carnivores so contemplating a main dish that would please and satisfy us all was a bit of a head scratcher. At first, I was dead set against cooking pasta because I feel like vegetarians must constantly be relegated to eating pasta when they go out to eat, whether at  restaurants or private homes.

I looked through a lot of cookbooks and wrote down ideas (stuffed peppers with couscous? a big entree salad? sesame noodles? Shoot, that’s pasta…). I was thumbing through The Garden Entertaining Cookbook by none other than Mary Goodbody (and Barabara Scott-Goodman) and my eye kept being drawn back to the recipe for fettucini with cherry tomatoes and basil. I decided to go with it, succumb to the pasta draw, mainly because I’d be able to make a light, summery cherry tomato sauce.

I couldn’t help but be excited about the prospect of creating a dish with red and yellow cherry tomatoes, the kind that pop in your mouth when you eat them raw, and sweeten up the sauce when cooked and thrown together with pasta. Seeing them washed and halved made me feel supremely summery and I had to photograph them, which is what led to this blog post.

When you decide to open up your copy of The Garden Entertaining Cookbook and try this delicious recipe, a few things to keep in mind: First of all, use fresh pasta but remember to cook it for 1 to 2 minutes only. I overcooked the pasta (or, ah hem, my husband did…but what’s the difference, what’s his is mine and all that) so it was sticky and a little clumpy. We used fresh angel hair, my favorite thickness, and because the sauce is so light it is important to keep it non-sticky and slippery to pick up all the flavor from the sauce.

I also added two things to this wonderful recipe: the tops of a bunch of broccolini and some shallots. The sauce cooks quickly, about 5 to 8 minutes, so timing the pasta is essential. I prepared a simple side salad with an amazingly sweet yellow bell pepper and a garlic-mustard vinaigrette.

Who doesn’t love brownies? These are “customized” with chocolate-covered pretzels scattered on top.

Finally, to make everyone happy and ensure all participants got enough to eat, I made dessert. As much as I love my mom, her recipes, her cooking, and her expertise, I am the first to say that the brownie recipe on the inside of the Baker’s Chocolate box is the all-time best brownie recipe out there. People who use mixes to make brownies frustrate me, not only because I detest baking mixes (thanks for that legacy, Mom!), but because Baker’s one bowl brownies are JUST as easy as any mix from the store! There are just as few steps and 10x the taste. I added some crushed, chocolate-covered pretzels to the top in lieu of nuts; the brownies were a hit. Served alongside some raspberry sorbet, this meal was complete. Summer has officially begun.

Here is my slightly altered version of this lovely recipe:

Fettucine with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil

4 servings

3 pints red and yellow cherry tomatoes, halved

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 large shallot, finely chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 bunch broccolini, stemmed and just the “tree tops” reserved (I blanched them for 1 to 2 minutes to give them a head start, since tomatoes cook faster.)

¼ cup white wine

¼ cup chicken broth

Dried red pepper flakes

Salt & pepper, to taste

2 packages fresh angel hair pasta

Handful + fresh basil leaves

Shaved parmesan cheese

1. Wash and prep the veggies

2. When you’re ready to eat, saute the garlic and shallots in olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Stir and cook about 2 to 3 minutes.

3. Add the tomatoes before the garlic burns. Stir gently and cook for about 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Add the broccolini, wine, and chicken broth. Flavor with red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Lower the heat and let everything cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Add the pasta to a large pot of boiling water. Leave in the boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes only!

6. Serve immediately and garnish with basil and cheese.

copyright © Laura Goodbody

Is Eight Too Many?

06/20/2012

It’s always supper time!

Eight little pigs live in a sizeable, weedy and muddy pen down the hill from my brother’s house. They arrived about six weeks ago and since have done very little but eat. That’s what pigs are meant to do, right? Pack on the pounds as they pound down the chow.

They also sleep, snortling companionably as they shove snouts into flanks, backs, and necks, this way and that. Even in slumber they are vocal creatures. These pigs are still young enough to play tag and chase-me-round-the-feeding-trough, squeaking and squealing as they do. Soon they will be too porky for such nonsense, preferring to loll back in the straggly grass or a muddy patch and doze until the next meal.

 They also escape.

The youngsters aren’t so much hankering to break free; they just imagine the grass might be greener in the neighbor’s yard…or by the chicken coop…or down the road a piece.  When they were tiny, my brother’s neighbor called to say he had rounded up the critters and stowed them in a backyard dog kennel. Dick and Jill transported them home in a dog crate, a few at a time.

It’s a pig’s life

Not too long ago, Dick woke up early on a June morning to find a solo pig munching the grass on the far side of the house from the pen. He went to catch the porker but evidently frightened the little guy, who scurried back to the porcine enclosure lickety-split.

And let out a horrifying squeal that had no end.

He was caught, little cloven hoofs entangled in the plastic mesh fence of the electrified fence installed to keep wandering swine from, well, wandering. Didn’t work too well on the way out but sure packed a punch on the return trip. The screeching was loud, piercing, pitiful.

Even after the electricity was shut off, the piglet wouldn’t stop yelping and squirming, struggling as he was to be liberated. Finally, home again on the right side of the fence, the wailing became a whimper and then it stopped, supplanted by contented snorts. Time to eat!

My brother started his pig-raising venture with four porkies. Last year, he had six and this year eight. This group is by far the most adventurous and rambunctious. And Dick is wondering if eight is too many.

copyright © Mary Goodbody

photos copyright © Richard Goodbody

And Now There Are Eight (Pigs)

05/17/2012

Could you be cuter?

Again with the pigs? As a food writer by trade, I should write about food on the shelf, not on the hoof, but these little guys fascinate me. You have to admit: they are damn cute!

My brother Dick and his wife Jill have a farrow of eight Berkshire piglets racing around the enclosure in front of their house. Yes. Little pigs “race” as they play some sort of piggy tag, spindly tails straight out, whiplashing back and forth. And then they roll into each other, squealing and leaping, delighted to be alive. Big grin, big time.

After they frolic, they eat. After they eat, they sleep piled on top of each other, squirming to get a comfy spot, head to tail, belly to back, front to rear. Inside their pig pen, Dick built a small structure made from abandoned plywood and similar materials. Jill calls it the pigs’ favela, a shanty town of sorts to protect them from too much rain and a hot summer sun.

This year, Dick rigged up a waterer so that they always have access to cool, fresh water. He also installed an automatic feeder. Both will allow them to leave the little guys for a night or two without having to ask someone to water and feed them. Trouble is, the piglets tramp in the watering bucket, filling it with a layer of squishy mud. But, if you’re a pig, this might be as tasty as Kool-Aid or Juicy Juice.

Nice digs!

Berkshires are a snazzy breed and recommended for what a lot of folks call hobby farms. They are easy to raise and their meat is splendid. Apparently, Oliver Cromwell’s men brought the tasty pigs to the attention of the greater English population after spending a cold winter in the shire of Berk near Reading.  The pork was one of the few highlights during those snowy days and chilly nights.  At that time the hogs had sandy hair, but after being deliberately crossbred with some Siamese and Chinese swine, they not only tasted better but developed their characteristic black and white markings.

Without doubt, Oliver C. would chafe at how blissfully the English aristocracy adopted these pigs as their swine-ish standard bearers. QueenVictoria is credited with breeding a magnificent male called Ace of Spades, who weighed in at 1,000 pounds and sired many a line of hogs.  For generations, a drift (herd? team? all correct terms) of Berkshires grazed on the grounds of Windsor Castle. They say that the best of the lot was named “Windsor Castle.”

A farrow of happy Berks

Dick says this is the last year he is going to raise pigs. Why? I don’t like to kill them, he says.

Who can argue with that? It’s not easy to send them off to their fate, but of course, these porkers are a lot more fortunate than most. They have plenty of room, fresh air, good food, and clean water. I have eaten a lot of meat in my lifetime and will undoubtedly eat a lot more, but it’s getting harder to swallow, the more I learn about factory farming.

Therefore, I am pleased to know these eight cuties. I will watch them grow as the summer progresses, knowing they are living in a kind of porcine heaven,  and won’t fret too much over the inevitable. A full grown pig is not sweet and cuddly,  E.B. White’s Wilbur notwithstanding. They are raised for one reason only and I accept that.

 In the meantime, these little Berks are something to smile about.

copyright © Mary Goodbody

photos copyright © Richard Goodbody

Horses on a Dairy Farm

04/05/2012

The horses arrive in a gigantic horse hauler

Earlier this week, Kara arrived with 30 horses. Yes, that’s right. She owns 30 horses and they needed a home. We have the land, if not the horse barn, and so she and her husband Paul are stashing their equine in our pastures for the summer while they look for a more suitable long-term abode. A few of her horses need shelter and they are going in the old calf barn, hastily refitted for horses.

Kara and Paul walked the property at least twice before the horse vans arrived, yet even so some of our fencing, originally erected for cows, was inadequate for the horses. There were missing gates, electric wiring that wasn’t grounded and so didn’t work (or is it the other way around?), and two hissing geese sitting on eggs in the barn.

 Horses don’t like geese. Or at least they don’t like anything that hisses.

And then there were the pigs. A few of Matt’s pigs were in the most secure part of the barn and Kara was not happy about it. Horses don’t really like to share their quarters and so the pigs had to go.

Matt is moving toPennsylvania with Tara, little Alice and his cows (but never the pigs) and there is some overlap between his leaving and Kara’s arrival. He got rid of the pigs and the geese. I don’t know how or where but as long as the horses are happy, I am not asking too many questions.

Another horse arrives in New Jersey!

Kara’s horses include a couple of thoroughbreds who are not yet broken as well as some old, abandoned horses who are close to breaking. The thoroughbreds may well become racehorses, while the old chargers will live out their lives under Kara’s care. Twelve of the horses are rescues, looking for “forever homes.” The rest are hers.

Walking to their new home

Kara and Paul know how to train racehorses, which is exciting. I don’t think they will be trained in our pastures but they might start to learn about bridles, saddles and cinches this summer.

Clearly I know very little about horses. Ours has always been a cattle farm.

Yet, when I was a girl, we had two horses named Sugar and Mexie. Big gentle nags that would allow a couple kids to straddle their broad backs as we wandered the fields. Later, after Sugar died, Corky arrived. He was a somewhat spirited palomino that I loved to ride.

I haven’t been on a horse in a long time. I would love to try, although I will probably be frightened. Kara says she has a big, gentle giant of a horse I might want to ride. Really? What’s his name?

Comanche.

Looking forward to meeting you, Comanche!

copyright © Mary Goodbody

A Delicious Disaster

01/04/2012

As fancy as it gets at the farm

After all the years I have lived, the meals I have cooked, and the cookbooks I have written, you’d think I’d know how important it is to plan before you cook. This doesn’t have to be tedious, but it’s helpful if you know what you are going to do before you do it.

Right?

Christmas Eve dinner is a fancy one at the farm — or as fancy as anything at the farm can be. Good china, the crystal wine glasses from Ireland, and matching red napkins used pretty much only once a year. This year we decided to have pork, roasted potatoes, wilted greens, and a green salad.  My sister and I bought what we needed but when it came to the pork I asked Dick and Jill if I could take a roast from their freezer.

Trouble was, when I dived into the freezer there wasn’t that much pork. This year’s animals were sold went to friends and so the pickins’ were slim: a very large loin or a reasonably sized pork shoulder. I went for the shoulder.

I let it defrost overnight in the refrigerator and the next day made a rub with whatever I could find in the rather scanty spice cupboard: paprika, 5-spice powder, thyme, and cayenne as well as salt and pepper. The roast sat out for about 90 minutes, nicely and liberally rubbed, and then I put it in a slow oven.

Here is where I went terribly wrong. I had no real idea how much the roast weighed. I figured four or five pounds, an educated guess. I also guessed it would need 20 minutes to the pound. I never checked to see if it was completely thawed. Boy, did I go wrong.

The oven at the farm is old and unreliable. It doesn’t hold its heat too evenly. Plus, it’s the only oven we have, and so the roast shared it with the potatoes, which we removed for some hors d’oeuvres that needed heating. The door was opened and closed, the heat raised and lowered. The roast looked great, it smelled better. Appetites were whetted.

potatoes ready for the oven

I hung out in the kitchen swilling a very strong old fashioned and checking the temperature of the meat more often then I should have. Finally! The thermometer registered 150°F. Yea! Dinner was served.

The family meandered from living room to dining room. The screen was put in front of the fire, wine glasses were filled, and the salad was tossed.

I let the pork rest for a few minutes and then carved it. Two or three slices in. Pink, pink pork! And so it went for the next 30 minutes. The pork was put back in the oven, my good-natured family ate small pieces of pork alongside their larger helpings of potatoes, greens, and salad. I jumped up and down from my seat, slicing more pork from the roast until I hit the pink meat near the center. Back to the oven.

It was comical. But it was inexcusable. I know better. I was being lazy. I was relying on magical cooking. Pork shoulder should be braised, cooked slowly and cooked long.

In the end, the meat was tasty, but it was not what I had hoped. I can’t say it wasn’t what I had planned because I didn’t plan.

My mistake.

Copyright © Mary Goodbody

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