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Becoming a part of the Valley’s Food Culture

August 21, 2010

Leaving New York City, in so many ways, means leaving food. Food, for many of us, (dare I say most?) is the bane of our existence. We “treat” ourselves to it, find retreat in preparing a meal at the end of the day (some of us more than others), pour creative energies into imagining combinations and preparing menus, or just plain revel in its immense capacity to ignite our senses, if none of the above. Food has its own character and culture in each place, each country, each state, each city or county, that it is prepared in. And New York City’s food culture and character is an endless one in that it is most defined by the breadth of its borders.

Often a person who identifies with being a “New Yorker,” as if there could ever be one definition, identifies with the bountiful food diversity of the boroughs. Greek in Astoria (if you live there, please say you’ve been to Taverna Kyclades! Can you say grilled octopus?), noodle shops dripping down the southern tip of Eldridge street (Super Taste is my and Jewells’ fav, but surely the ones where you can’t read the sign are just as good), local goods on the backs of bicycles in Brooklyn, fried chicken in Harlem or equally as excellent in the Williamsburg dive Commodore (we think the secret is deep-frying in pork fat), all manner of French pastries (after much searching, I might settle on the best croissant at the Boulangerie of Brasserie Cognac)…essentially, to be a New Yorker is to have all of this food diversity at your fingertips, whether you celebrate and lavish yourself in it or not (if not, shame on you!). But as my memory salivates, I am reminded again, that each place has its own amazing food culture. And I am learning to embrace my own here, Shenandoah Valley style.

Our fresh produce kitchen work table. Is this the garden fare, or a 17th century Dutch painting? We have fresh potatoes, first of the season Stayman apples, plums and peaches from Paugh’s Orchard, and numerous kinds of tomatoes from the Mill Creek and Becky’s Garden.

A Gardener's Feast for the Eyes

One of the amazing parts of joining the Bowman family on South Middle Road is that to Jason’s mom Becky, a garden is always communal. Her garden becomes mine, and “mine” (well, the one jason planted before I came! So his!) becomes hers. This community around food and our labor in it is just so beautiful and inviting. I joined at the tail end of planting season, and will probably do most of my learning of planting next spring. However, in the meantime, I get the joys of their labor, as well as joining Becky and Janet,who is the single non-Bowman farm employee, in their gardens and learning from them! Here are some of Becky’s first potatoes that we dug up, with Kaela’s help when she was visiting in July. If anyone hasn’t been to the gym in a while, just come on over and help us dig up some potatoes! That’ll do it!

First Crop of Potatoes

The food culture of the summer here is, well, whatever’s in season. And it gives birth to some creations in the kitchen, because it’s  like a challenge with certain stipulations and limitations. You’ve got peaches, tomatoes, beets, blackberries…GO! Make dinner using them all up before they go bad, without eating the same old thing every night! So we had local porkchops from the young farmers who are our neighbors Jordan and Laura Green, braised with peaches and red onions accompanied by a yellow tomato steak and israeli couscous salad with beets, followed with a mini-blackberry pie. I’ve got to say, I have a new love for the combination of peaches and purple onions when braised together in the oven!

Roasted Local Pork and Local Peach Feast

Yellow German Tomato with Israeli Couscous and Beets from the Garden

Peach, blackberry, tomato and jalepeno salsa, all fresh picked that day. None of it was left the next day for lunch or to spread on toast for breakfast! With only two of us, man can we eat! Jason is finishing off some red wine blackberry jam with brie before the meal.

Roasted Peach, Blackberry and Tomato Salsa

Now this is a funny thing: Purslane. Also known as Verdolaga, Pigweek, Little Hogweed, or Pusley, or if you live here in Shenandoah County, Invasive-Annoying-Get-out-of-my-Garden Weed! It grows, literally, like wild fire, and can be hard to pull up. Turns out its eaten like spinach or other heartier leafy greens in numerous other cultures including in Greece, Mexico, and much of Europe and Asia. And, this is delightful to know, it has the highest Omega-3 levels of any leafy plant! It also contains vitamins (mainly vitamin A, vitamin C, and some vitamin B and carotenoids), as well as dietary minerals, such as magnesium, calcium, potassium and iron. All that in a weed that nobody wants in their garden! Well, I’m in luck, cause the news is out that that crazy red head from the city eats that firey weed in the garden–leave it on her doorstep! Free food is a wonderful thing.

(Below is my farmer’s market purslane before I knew I could get it free from my neighbors!)

Local Pork and Farmer's Market Purslane

Now, if you have a squash plant, as most gardeners do, you know it gets tiresome to eat so many squash when they are in season. I hear the joke around here is to always lock your doors when you go into town to the bank, post office, or grocery store–if you don’t, you may climb back into your ride to find a massive bag of squash as your uninvited passenger!

So, if you get tired of eating all those squash in your garden, or if you have access to squash blossoms at your local farmer’s market, fry yourself up a little mezze platter–but do it quickly! These beautiful bites of delicate flavor won’t last long and must be cooked same day, or next day at best! These here are the male blossoms (remove the stamen before eating); the female blossoms have a small squash growing beneath them which are also delicious to eat!

Squash Blossom Mezze Plate

How do you use all that corn? Or cucumber? Or cantaloupe? Or tomatoes?

Not that I’m complaining. Having all of this good, fresh food is like a little heaven. And I KNOW come winter, I’ll be wining for just one beautiful, flavorful, yellow stripped tomato for a dripping sandwich. But right now, the challenge to diversify is on. So corn comes off the cob and into salads as often as it stays on. Here we sauteed it with basil, garlic, red onion tomato and shrimp. The cantaloupe, an endless flow of which appear on my lawn each morning before I wake from Janet, are ripe with goodness, and will attract a houseful of flies if not eaten in a day. How many ways, exactly, can you eat cantaloupe? Many, I’m sure. With the scampi, we made a cantalope tomato bocconcini caprese salad. Is it still caprese if not made in Capri? Well, we have the spirit of Capri, no doubt, on the Rudy Farm tonight!

Shrimp and Corn Basil Scampi

Melon and Shrimp Dinner

Melon Tomato Bocconcini Caprese Salad

Jason has surprised himself by not longing for a big hunk of meat each night, but after a while, both of us were definitely gearing up for some red to devour like the good carnivores that we can be at times. So I made my first trip to the butcher that is actually only three doors down from our house. Gore’s Meat Market, one of two butchers within a couple of minutes driving distance, had a wonderful menu of meat, local or from Pennsylvania, with a special on Bone-in Ribeye Steaks. So Bone-In Ribeye it was! It was great to meet and get to know the local butchers who really know their cuts!  They sent me home with a small treat of some loose pork sausage and a half pound of dutch butter. It pays to “Know your Neighbors!” They also had some good leads on getting fresh goat’s milk… I suppose we’ll see where that dream leads to!

A true man’s meal… Wile sat respectfully by, but no doubt his nose was working overdrive!

A Man's Meal

And of course, more ways to use corn (corn salad with wheatberries and black beans) and tomatoes (yellow bruschetta with red wine and balsamic). Thank God for the broiler, when your husband hasn’t yet set up your grill!

Bruschetta, Bone-In Ribeye Steak and Corn Blackbean Salad

Of course, even dessert can be a way to use up the veggies. Among the desserts we’ve secretly feasted on, usually way too late at night, I have enjoyed using my zucchini in something other than zucchini fritters. Here we have a Zucchini Olive Oil Cake with Pecans and Lime Cinnamon Cream Cheese frosting. The olive oil flavor undoubtedly invoke the feeling of a breezy Italian evening dining out in the piazza enjoying espresso e qualcosa di dolce. Who needs the plane fare to to the boot-shaped wonder of a country, when you can add some olive oil to your cake? (That’s a rhetorical question…we all know the answer!).

Zucchini Olive Oil Cake with Lime Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

And so as I long for fresh sushi, cold soba noodles, Luke’s lobster rolls (who doesn’t miss crustaceans when they are born in New England and now live in the landlocked mountains?), arepas from Caracas, some excellent pad see ew (Carly, can you and the baby bird eat some extra for Auntie Harrigan?) or a long brunch of dim sum, I am reminded that I have the joy of learning about, embracing and being challenged by a beautiful local food culture here in the Valley.

5" Round makes the Perfect 2 Person Cake!

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Jewells permalink
    August 22, 2010 6:27 pm

    Wow, sister! You cook so pretty! Makes me hungry, and dare I say, “home” sick? I found imported buckwheat soba at fairway when you’re ready to introduce Uncle Phillip to Japanese cuisine! I love your blog. I want to wrestle Wylie (and brother bear), and I want to sleep in my room with the plush all white bed (no wallpaper please!)

    • September 2, 2010 12:08 pm

      I suppose a part of the Valley will always be your home–you’re a Virginia girl at least in part! Little secret, we have buckwheat soba here to in Hburg…we’ve been eating it with peanuts and cucumbers till the cucumber plant went dry! Wile is waiting to meet you!

  2. Leandra permalink
    August 27, 2010 5:07 pm

    Harrigan…Your blog NEARLY brought me to tears with its beauty, no joke!!!! Looking forward to more. BRAVO

    • September 2, 2010 12:07 pm

      Leandra, you hav to be one of the most positive people I know! Thanks for the excitement–coming from you, blog and food lover, it means a lot! xoxo

  3. Vanessa Bouche permalink
    September 9, 2010 12:13 pm

    Ok, my mouth is watering like crazy. These culinary creations are absolutely indulgent. When can I come and partake? You are SO creatively talented, it amazes me.

  4. Dad permalink
    September 14, 2010 12:16 pm

    Hi Harrigan,

    Just read “Becoming a part of the Valley’s Food Culture”. It is terrific!!!!! I think you have something going here, maybe one of the NY publications would believe that their subscribers would like this kind of a piece. Between your descriptions and photos I think you could get people hungry enough to run right out to the restaurants that you plug.

    Can’t wait to get there and enjoy some of this good stuff.


    P.S. Wile is sure lookin good.

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