Adventures in Cooking

Three days ago Tim and I packed up our entire lives, squeezed them tightly into a 2001 green Ford Explorer and parted with sunny Snowmass Village, Colorado, where I’ve called home for almost two years now, en route to our final destination of Portland, Oregon.

Oregon Bound

With the windows rolled down blaring tunes from Bob Seger and Paul Simon, we headed out west through Carbondale, Paonia and up through the stunning Red Mountain pass as the skies turned to gray and snow began to fall, heavily, as if to bid us one last farewell to the Mountain State.

Summit of Red Mountain Pass

The descent turned the snowfall into a rain heavy enough to soak the boardbags strapped to the top of the car as we trucked on through Durango, where we were hinted towards a campsite just outside of town that, upon arrival, I deemed too wet and cold to assemble our tent in the darkness of the wilderness.  Thus we drove into the later hours of the night, the mountainous landscape fading into an endlessly flat and seemingly abandoned desert where warmer as it was, felt uncomfortable and unwelcoming to outsiders.  Our eyelids now heavy, we were stuck between a rock and a hard place.  This situation we had found ourselves in, opting to sleep sitting up in our packed car, doors locked, on the side of the highway for the few hours before the sun began to rise, was our first indication that we were surely in for an adventure.

Sunrise in the Arizona Desert

The next two days was smooth sailing with a few bumps along the way, cruising through an empty landscape of red rock formations scattered sparsely with green bushes and barbed wire fences, an occasional small settlement of trailers and abandoned cars to break the monotonous beauty.

Utah/Arizona Desert

We stopped for a few humble meals, to play on the beaches of Sand Hollow and Lake Powell for a few hours and to give the puppy some exercise, but it came easy.

Lake Powell, Arizona/Utah Border

Sand Hollow, Utah

Our car performed well at a steady pace of fifty five miles an hour, no faster, we found a beautiful camping spot among cacti and pink sand dunes, and even came across a place to take a shower and use the wireless connection.

Camping in Ponderosa Grove, Utah Border

Cooking steak and rice for dinner

Yesterday, we arrived in Las Vegas to spend a couple days with Tim’s extended family, where we can enjoy the comforts of normalcy before hitting the road.  Ironically, it was once we stopped moving and regained our sense of comfort that we once again found ourselves underneath that rock: among the walled communities and sprawling streets of North Vegas, the bearing on our car had broken and it needed immediate repair.  Life: 1, Tim and Emma:0.

The unpredictibility of adventure is something that I thrive on.  It’s the spontaneity in adventure that ignite my highest highs and my lowest lows.  It is a feeling that I bask in on my adventurous victories, an overwhelming relief and satisfaction that I can float on after enduring  problematic situations, and at the very least a gripping story that I can one day tell.

It is this adventurous spirit that comes alive when I backpack through another country, when I road trip around the country, and is even even mildly invoked when I do anything outside of my normal routine and comfort zone.  Most recently, though, it’s the way I feel when I step into my kitchen with an idea of what to cook.

My hope is to continue to find adventure in my cooking.  To be spontaneous, to be creative, and to always be thinking on my feet and developing an instinct for which flavors and ingredients pair well together.  And to be okay with setbacks and mistakes in the kitchen.  This is something that I learned first-hand a few days before leaving Snowmass.

It is with this adventurous spirit that I attempted to create a dish the other day and failed miserably.  I boiled sunchokes and purple potatoes in some veggie and beet broth using scraps from previous meals.

Once tender, I threw them in a blender and added the broth, salt and pepper in an attempt to create a pureed soup.  Not only did the purple potatoes combined with the pink beet broth create a strawberry smoothie-like appearance, but it was slimy with an aftertaste of moldy smelly gym socks, literally, that would not leave my mouth even after spitting it out.  I kid you not, it was terrible.  It was foul.  So much so that it went straight the sink without hesitation.  But not without the guilt of wasting and absolutely letting down those beautiful ingredients that I had started with. The low that I felt about my cooking abilities at that moment was a low reminiscent of the time I missed my flight in Costa Rica, when I got on the wrong bus in Ecuador, or when our car broke down in Vegas.

It occurred to me: why is it that in the wonderful world of food blogging nobody ever writes a post about a cooking experience in which they failed miserably?  Inevitably every cook messes up at some point, and it’s those moments in particular in which one learns the most and grows both personally and culinarily.  It’s also this way that I feel about my adventures, that all low moments bring life lessons and memories that shouldn’t be forgotten or thrown to the wayside.

So for now, we are here in Las Vegas and will be here until our car gets fixed.  And you know what?  It could be worse: we could have been stuck out in the middle of the desert with no cell phone reception, fifty miles from anything that even remotely resembles a town to get help.  And with the soup, it could have been worse as well.  I could have been making a meal for my friends or family and royally f***ed up, or my wasted ingredients could have been a whole lot more expensive.  Something my mom always taught me was that sometimes in life you just have to say what the f*** ever, and move on.

And this also goes for the kitchen.  If you mess up, deal with it, learn from it, and move on.

The adventure continues…

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Ingredient of the Week: Sunchokes

Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem Artichokes, first really came onto my radar a few weeks back at The Cheese Shop’s Farm to Table Dinner, where they served a smashed sunchoke and potato side dish.  I had heard of the ingredient a few times here and there, maybe on Food Network, in a blog or at a farmer’s market, but was always so confused by it that there was no getting me near that thing.  Was it a root, similar to a potato that you can boil or bake?  Do you have to cook it or can you eat it raw?  Or is it more of a spicing agent with its similarity in appearance to ginger or fresh turmeric?  Does it have to be peeled or can you eat the skin?  These were all questions that floated into my mind as I was confronted with the ingredient, so overwhelmed by it all that I didn’t dare consider bringing some into my kitchen.

Now that I think about it, I’ve often felt this way about less common ingredients I find at the market.  Similar to celery root (celeriac) or fava beans, my curiousity about ingredients such as sunchokes was overshadowed by my fear of the unknown.  I admit, I’ve been known to judge a book by it’s cover once or twice in my time.  I remember the day a bulb of fennel once growled viciously at me from the shelf of the grocery store, offering a challenge that my insecurities told me was out of my league.  Yet my instinct spoke otherwise: since incorporating it into my cooking I have learned to embrace its licorice-like flavor and crunchy texture, enhanced only by the discovery of its ease and incredible versatility.  It was then that I realized, isn’t the experience of learning new and exciting things perhaps what I love most about cooking?  With this newfound enthusiasm at the forefront of my mind, I grabbed a few sunchokes out of the basket at the Aspen Emporium and Flying Circus and set out to conquer at least one of my fears.

With a little examination and research, I discovered that the sunchoke’s bark really is a lot bigger than its bite.  From reading about the sunchoke, I learned that they are of the tuber family, which also includes potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, ginger, jicama, parsnip, radish, and rutabaga.  Contrary to popular belief, they are not in fact related in any way to the typical artichokes we find in markets.  They are actually, and quite surprisingly, a part of the sunflower plant that grows below the ground.  Nutritionally speaking, sunchokes contain a significant amount of inulin, a carbohydrate linked with a healthy digestive system due to its probiotic (bacteria forming) properties.  They are also high in fiber, B vitamin folate, vitamin C and iron.  Most of these nutrients, however, are found in the skin of the sunchoke, so I recommend cleaning it well and cooking it skin on.

Appearance-wise, sunchokes have a beige or even brown skin and are nobby and similar in size to ginger.  In fact, it would not be unheard of to confuse a sunchoke with a piece of ginger in a market, so be mindful of that when shopping.  In terms of taste, they are nutty, often sweet, and do share some similarities with the flavor of an artichoke (perhaps that is how they got the name?).  They can be treated in the same way as a potato, boiling it to soften and then mash it, baking to a soft on the inside, crispy on the outside consistency, or pan sauteing with other veggies in a stir-fry.  Contrary to the potato, it can be eaten raw, as many recipes call for throwing some thinly shaved sunchoke into a leafy green salad for a fresher take on the tuber.

Simple Roasted Sunchoke

To be honest with you, the original title of this recipe was Roasted Sunchoke Chips but the thin pieces of sunchoke came out soft rather than crunchy and crispy, so I had to change it a bit.  This one is so simple I would hardly count it as a recipe.  Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.  After washing your sunchokes well, chop them into small pieces.  Coat evenly in olive oil, sea salt and pepper and, if you would like, some chopped rosemary.  I have found that the flavors of sunchoke and rosemary work well together.

Spread the pieces evenly on a baking sheet and throw in the oven for fourty five to an hour, until the pieces are nicely browned on the outside and soft with a bite on the inside.  Remove from heat and allow to cool for five minutes before serving.  This works best as a side dish, with maybe some roast chicken or a nice fillet of fish and alongside some fresh veggies.

Repurposing: The Fourth “R”

You’ve heard the expression “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” a million times probably, the Three R’s so commonly stated in anything sustainability-related.  Well, I propose we add a fourth: repurpose.  Sure, this could pertain to the typical recyclables here, but that’s not what I’m referring to.  I’m speaking strictly of the kitchen, where the cooking happens.  Food, specifically, and the incredible amount of waste we (I!) produce unnecessarily.

This is the story of how I came to take a stand against food waste, and how I plan to do my part in repurposing the foods I buy as much as possible.

A few months back an old Snowmass Lifty friend came to visit.  His name is Ian, and he left after the ’10-’11 season in Snowmass to pursue his passion in the culinary art.  He currently works as Sous Chef at Edibles, a top class restaurant in Rochester, NY and is planning to attend an honors program at a culinary school in New York City in the fall.

Skirt steak and green beans over a brussel sprout, bacon and potato hash

Naturally, he cooked two incredibly delicious meals for a gathering of friends while he was in town.  One of them was skirt steak and green beans with a brussel sprout, bacon and potato hash, and the other was a pork tenderloin served over mushroom risotto.  Also naturally, I was right behind him every step of the way, asking a million questions and taking pictures of every little thing he did.

He pan sauteed the potatoes in reserved bacon grease, which he used to flavor many elements of the meal

There was a focus in his eyes that I admired greatly while he cooked.  There was a purpose in his every preparation, and there was an absolute patience that I have yet to develop.  But what struck me the most about the way he cooked was the use of almost every meat scrap he trimmed and every part of the vegetables he diced.  Almost nothing went directly into the trash without being utilized in some way.  He told me that he often saves vegetable scraps from previous meals in a bowl in the fridge, using them to create a broth or sauce when he wants the extra depth of flavors.  “Fat”, he says unfailingly, “equals flavor”.  I assume he would say the same for vegetable skins, scraps and ends as well.  Absolute genius, this kid is!

Into this sauce he added beef fat trimmings, red wine, water, whole peppercorns, bay leaf, the skin and ends of an onion, salt, and butter

It’s this exact mentality that got me thinking about the amount of food we amateur chefs often waste in our preparation of a meal.  I had previously assumed that the fat trimmings and bacon grease should be disposed of immediately.  I never considered repurposing a lemon once the juice was squeezed, or the stem and skin of a vegetable that was not of immediate benefit to the meal.  It makes perfect sense now though, as I learn how to enhance my kitchen experience, that using these bits and pieces in nonconventional ways can not only enhance a flavor profile but also tie the elements of a meal together simply and without over-seasoning, which is crucial to a well-rounded meal.

Then, I stumbled upon the book An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler.  It is a book in which the ideas are as invaluable as they are numerous (and with almost 300 pages, that’s a lot of ideas).   A main theme, I gather, is how to enhance flavors through simple cooking, mostly by repurposing pieces of your last meals to utilize in future cooking.  She says “the bones and shells and peels of things are where a lot of their goodness resides…the skins from onions, green tops from leeks, stems from herbs must all be swept directly into a pot instead of into a garbage.  Along with the bones from a chicken, raw or cooked, they are what it takes to make chicken stock, which you need never buy, once you decide to keep its ingredients instead of throwing them away.” (p. 81).  It makes sense that when you buy a whole ingredient you would want to make the most out of your purchase.  Another suggestion: “save the lovely green murk from the Swiss chard pan to warm the Swiss chard tomorrow, which will be happier for the chance to spend time with yesterday’s more experienced cooking” (p. 82).  This idea is applicable to far more than Swiss chard, just as this book is applicable, clearly, to far more than what I’ve described in this post.  I suggest that you read it.  Like…NOW.

Fat trimmings, skin and bones of meat can, and should, produce the richest broths when boiled in water.  But what about fruits and vegetables?  Citrus peels should be zested before they’re tossed, or further could be combined with sugar and water to produce a citrus simple syrup or be made into a marmalade to spread on some crusty toast.  You can save your fruit and veggie scraps in a small bowl in the fridge for up to a few days when you have the time to boil them in water and strain the ingredients to create a simple, easy and beautiful homemade vegetable broth.  Or take a handful of wilted greens and throw them in a blender with some garlic, a ton of olive oil and some toasted nuts and you’ve got yourself a homemade pesto.  You’re hopefully starting to get the idea here.

A mix of rainbow chard, celery stalks, celery leaves, parsley, and garlic

So, yesterday I found a whole bunch of wilted greens that were somehow forgotten among the kitchen frenzy that exists in this apartment of five.  In the spirit of Ian, I seized the opportunity to do something good for myself, the integrity of the greens and even the environment.  I coursely chopped the bunch, added it to some water in a saucepan and brought it to a boil.  To this mix I added a dash of salt, a couple cloves of whole garlic, and the core and skin of a tomato which I had just blanched for a different recipe.  Once boiling, I reduced the heat to a simmer and allowed it to sit for an hour or so, strained the solids, poured the liquid into a jar and placed it straight into the fridge. Now that I have a flavorful broth available anytime the next meal calls, I can do away with the greens guilt-free, knowing that I was able to repurpose them rather than just throwing them out blindly.

Not only is it the environmentally conscious choice to repurpose your scraps, ends and wilted produce, but it’s also fun to get your creative juices flowing and leads to a more flavorful meal.  Quite importantly, though, and not always considered, it provides each individual ingredient with a purpose greater than one flavor in one meal.  By extracting flavors, nutrients and textures that might otherwise have been thrown out, you are extending the life of a plant or animal.  And for the amount of vitality plants and animals bestow upon us as humans, it’s really the least we can do.

Think about it.

A Thought on Nudity

I have this reoccurring dream where I inexplicably find myself center stage in a large theater.  I gather that I am in some sort of a play, the audience staring intently at myself and my fellow cast mates who reciting lines that I now realize I should have memorized prior to this moment.  I look at my shirtless arms, then down at my bare legs and shoeless feet.  To my surprise, yet not surprisingly, I’m naked.  I’m never really sure what happens next when these dreams occur, and the theater is but one public setting of many that have slipped my memory.  The significance of this dream to me, as well as its memorability, lies most certainly in the fact that I am naked.

It is definitely not on a regular basis that I find myself in public without clothes, yet the feeling that this sort of dream invokes is one that I bet is not unfamiliar to either of us.  Nakedness to me suggests a strong vulnerability, yet not the same intimate vulnerability you expose to one person in a romantic relationship, for instance.  Yes, there is intimacy in the type I speak of, but it’s different.  The kind I’m talking about is that of opening up to everyone, to those who know or think they know you, or maybe to people who do not know you at all.  The act of giving truth of yourself to others through written or spoken word invokes the same feeling as finding yourself alone on stage, naked.

For me, I’ve noticed, there’s a great nakedness about writing this blog.  I feel a sense of intimidation and fear when I advertise my blog for others to see, almost like going on a first date, showing a stranger your messy bedroom or reluctantly raising your hand to provide a thought during a class discussion.  It’s a feeling that I’ve felt many times, even so far as to say that I feel it almost every day.  I’d guess most of us do, really.  Maybe that’s because there’s a certain comfort we grow to discover with the invulnerability of ourselves in society.  Interesting how it then becomes easy, comfortable and rewarding to conform and a challenge to maintain one’s individuality.  In conforming to this ideal, though, we not so much forget as ignore  the importance of staying true to who we each truly are and being able to show that to others.  I, personally, held myself back in this way for quite some time, until I eventually found my life to be rather dull and lacking in passion and creativity.  It’s not that I was doing something I didn’t want to be doing, it’s just that I wasn’t doing anything, really.  This is when I got back into the kitchen, resumed cooking, created this blog, and subsequently am discovering what it means to cook and eat simply.

The goal of eating simply, for me, shares an important congruency to finding comfort in this sort of exposure.   There is sexiness in eating simply, just as there is sexiness in nudity (if you eat simply, that is).  What I mean by eating simply is to consume predominantly fresh or raw, with few ingredients, no chemicals, no synthetics.  To allow the few ingredients in a dish to speak for themselves, rather than masking them with too many (or unnatural) flavors, suggests a vulnerability like that of being naked.

Take a farm fresh egg, for instance.  An egg on its own is modest in that it never once pretended to be anything that it wasn’t.  On the contrary, it continues to endure fabrications of high cholesterol, the bad kind, to this day.  And yet the egg maintains its integrity without fail, providing us with copious amounts of protein and other nutrients unfailingly.  It’s simple, natural, it can stand strong on its own in many different forms, or accompany (no, enhance) any dish quite nicely.  And just as in writing this blog to share with others, there is vulnerability in a farm egg; from the hen’s act of laying the egg to preparing and then consuming the egg.  Needing at most a dash of salt and pepper, a thoughtfully cooked egg is a culinary equivalent to the most beautiful, healthy naked body needing only a shower and maybe some deodorant.

It’s important, I think, to be naked often.  To take off our clothes, regardless of whether someone is looking, and see ourselves in the mirror.  We should be proud to take accountability for ourselves, and to feel comfortable in our own skin and with our own voices.  Now I’m not suggesting to go run around the block completely naked, screaming out the deepest darkest thoughts and obscenities.  Actually, I take that back; just give me a call before you do.

I am suggesting, though, that one of the keys to fulfillment is the ability to regain this sense of comfort in the nude, just as we possessed from the time of birth up until we’re told that it’s inappropriate to live unclothed.  I mean this both literally as well as figuratively, in the way that we should give our most concerted effort to express ourselves vulnerably, and without inhibition.

This, for me at least, starts in the kitchen.


Ingredient of the Week: Fresh Turmeric

In an attempt to expand my mental pantry, I’m going to be selecting an ingredient each week to highlight right here on this blog.  These explorations will likely feature something I’ve never or hardly ever used in my cooking that I may come across at the market or read about on a food blog or book.

To start this project I’d like to introduce you all to fresh turmeric.  I found this root ingredient at the Aspen Emporium and Flying Circus the other day while I was picking up some produce.  At first glance I thought it was ginger root because of the similarity in skin and appearance.  Upon closer look though, I was able to distinguished turmeric by its deep orange color underneath the skin as well as it’s smaller size and less nobby shape in comparison to ginger.   I’ve seen ground turmeric among spice selections at most markets, and in fact have some in the spice cupboard here at home, but fresh turmeric root is something new and entirely different from it’s dried and ground counterpart.  You can find ground turmeric in the spice aisle of most supermarkets, but fresh turmeric can be more difficult to find.  Believe me, it’s worth the hunt.

If you know the difference in flavor between ground ginger and fresh ginger or garlic powder and fresh garlic, then you can understand why fresh turmeric was an exciting find for me.  The freshly grated adds a mild, earthy and almost refreshing flavor to dishes that the dried version absolutely lacks, without being overpowering.  I was warned before purchasing that it is commonly used as a coloring agent in cooking, acting as a naturally yellow dye to many of the products we see in the grocery store today: mustards, curry powders, etc.  After having cooked with it rather carelessly, I now know what they were talking about: the dye is so powerful that it actually stains your skin yellow when you handle it.  For both color and flavor it is an essential component in curries and thus a staple ingredient many Indian, Moroccan and Middle Eastern dishes.

Parsnips, brussel sprouts and red jalapeno with fresh turmeric (check out that color!) served over brown rice with a farm greens salad (these greens were brought home from CRMPI)

Aside from color and flavor, (fresh) turmeric contains the active ingredient curcumin which boasts some incredible health benefits.  Research suggests that in addition to it’s  high antioxidant content, it is also purported to aid in anti-inflammation, lower both blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and may even prevent certain types of cancers.  Other benefits of turmeric (curcumin) include stomach-soothing, antibacterial and liver detoxifying properties.  For these reasons, curcumin can now be found in many health food and alternative medicine stores in powder and pill forms for supplemental use.

Below are two simple recipes featuring fresh turmeric:

Turmeric Kale Chips

Ingredients:

  • 3 or 4 leaves of kale, rinsed, stems removed and roughly chopped (I brought these home from CRMPI)
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • generous grating of fresh turmeric
  • kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • dried chili flakes (optional)

Preheat oven to 425.  In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well to incorporate the oil and spices evenly onto the kale pieces.  

Spread kale on baking sheet and spread out so that the leaves are overlapping as little as possible.  

Bake for 45 to an hour, until the leaves are dried and crispy without any sogginess.  They should not be brown or burnt but rather take on a darker green hue.  Remove from oven, allow to cool for five minutes, and enjoy.

Deviled Farm Eggs with Fresh Turmeric 

I was reminded of my love for deviled eggs at The Cheese Shop’s Farm-to-Table Dinner (they used duck eggs) a few weeks ago, and going by the fairly traditional recipe of curried deviled eggs I was inspired to create my own version using freshly grated turmeric.

Ingredients

  • However many farm eggs you’d like (For a snack portion, I used two of the farm eggs I took home from CRMPI)
  • Mayonnaise, aioli, or anything similar (Vegannaise is also a great healthier option)
  • Dijon mustard
  • Generous grating of fresh turmeric
  • half a scallion, minced (can also use garlic, onion or shallot), also a few more slices for a nice garnish
  • dash of dried chili flakes to taste (you can also use a hot sauce like Tabasco or Cholula if you like the heat)
  • kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • paprika, for garnish

First you must hard boil the eggs.  To do this place the eggs in a saucepan and fill with water so as to immerse the eggs entirely in the water.  Bring the water to a boil on high heat, simmer at a boil for a minute and then turn the heat down low and let simmer for fifteen or so minutes.  My eggs actually took over a half hour simmering, because I live at 8500 feet and they still were just barely cooked through at the fifteen minute mark.  I personally would recommend allowing the eggs to simmer for longer than instructed, but the only way to know is to sacrifice an egg, peel it open and if it’s ready, great; if not, keep them simmering and, alas, savor that soft-boiled deliciousness.  Once the eggs have been cooking for as long as your patience can handle, drain the hot water and re-fill the saucepan with cold water (a few ice cubes speed up the cooling proces) and allow to sit for about 10 minutes as this will ease the already difficult task of peeling the eggs.

Once peeled, slice eggs in half and separate the yolks from the whites.  In a bowl, combine yolks with mayo, mustard, fresh turmeric, scallion, chili flakes, salt and pepper, using a fork to mix and incorporate all ingredients.  The mixture should become silky and soft, rather than chunky, after a few minutes of mixing.  Spoon or pipe the mix back into the whites and top with some sliced scallions and a sprinkle of paprika.

I encourage you all to get out there and give fresh turmeric a try for yourself.  Besides these recipes, I would suggest adding freshly grated turmeric to simply sauteed veggies, or incorporating it into traditional recipes for those extra little kicks of flavor, color, and sheer nutritional value.

CRMPI: A Permaculture Experience

Honey, I’m home!

My sincere apologies for being gone for so long, it’s just that my seasonal job finally ended last week and since then I’ve been doing, well…not much.  You would think that since I’m not too busy these days I have a ton of time cook up a storm in the kitchen, right?  That’s the logical way of thinking, and what I also thought would happen.  It’s strange, though…I have this weird issue where the more I have to do, the more motivated I am to actually get stuff done.  Likewise, the less I have to do, the less likely I am to be productive with my time.  Hence the neglect of my blog.  It will not happen again, promise.

See, when you no longer have a steady income and simultaneously have to save your money for a road trip/big move in a month, there’s only so many free or cheap activities you can do during the off-season to pass the time.  Yes, the mountains are still technically open but if you saw how little snow there is (or should I say slush) you wouldn’t waste your time either.  Thus, my days recently have been filled with long walks with the pups, cooking a little bit here and there but nothing so exciting that it deserves a blog post, reading a fair amount, and accompanying Tim on his rides up the mountain in the snowcat.  I’ve been sleeping in, which is a nice change of pace from the previous five months (how do all you year-round 9-5ers do it?).  Mostly though, it’s a practice in perfecting the art of relaxing.

Yesterday, however, I got the opportunity to do something a little out of the ordinary: accompany Nozomi to her weekly volunteering gig at CRMPI (Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute) to help out and finally learn what this place she speaks so highly of is all about.

CRMPI is a permaculture institute, which is basically fancy way of saying an organic farm that  attempts to maintain a sustainable ecosystem similar to what one might find in nature.  Jerome, the guy who runs the show, has developed  a waste-free, completely organic system in which the animals (including humans) are eating a diet consisting mainly of the greens and fruits that grow in his garden, the waste of which is turned into fertilizer bringing nutrients for the plants to grow.

As simple as this cycle may sound, it takes a strong effort on the part of Jerome, a man of few words despite his vast knowledge in the permaculture field, as well as the volunteers whose time and effort is vital to the success of the institute.

I want to share my photos of this truly inspirational place with you all, just so you may get an idea of what flourishing sustainable agricultural land use looks like.

Nozo and I (above and below) with newborn goats, the newest little additions to the CRMPI family. Just under a few weeks old, these little buggers were probably the cutest animals I have ever seen.

Sarah feeding the baby goats.

Chicken coop.

CRMPI's primary greenhouse and plant nursery. So many different varieties of plants, mostly all edible.

Baby basil. We spent a good amount of the day transplanting these little guys into larger pots so they could have more room to grow.

Beautiful rainbow chard!

Chiles!

Bananas!

Kale of many varieties!

Baby eggplant!

Papayas!

Solar powered dehydrator. Drying carrot slices and various herbs and spices. Such a rad idea

Filming Jerome for the CRMPI website's permaculture tutorials

Nozo's got skillz

There's something about the look and feel of this kitchen I really enjoyed.

For lunch, Stephanie made a delicious salad to go along with some quinoa pasta. Mmm mmm good.

From left: volunteers Sarah, Rosie and Nozomi. We tried to sit outside but the wind made it near impossible. Beautiful day, beautiful view, beautiful ladies.

At the end of the day he sent us home with tons of greens, peppers and a few eggs straight from the chicken coop.  Both last night and tonight I made simple salads using CRMPI’s greens, and this morning I cooked a couple of the farm eggs.  I do believe that my next recipe will include some ingredients from the Institute.  Stay tuned!

An Aspen Farm-to-Table Experience

A few days back, while browsing around The Aspen Emporium and Flying Circus, I saw a flier for a farm-to-table dinner at The Cheese Shop in Aspen.  Considering that “farm to table” is the sustainable food movement I strive to follow as much as possible, it was imperative for me to jump aboard this opportunity.

I enlisted the company of my good friends Vanessa, JB and Clay and tonight we all sat down to a meal so special and inspiring that I felt compelled to share it with you all.

JB and Vanessa (I'm sorry Clay but you didn't make the cut)

This event was put on by Sarah and Andrew Helsley,who took over The Cheese Shop back in December of 2011 and have pledged to maintain the same integrity that the store was originally built upon by carefully selecting the finest local handmade and artisan food products available.  Another significant contributer to the event was Banks Baker, the manager of The Other Side Ranch in Old Snowmass who provided the chicken for the entree course of the meal.  As he described, his ranch is committed entirely to sustainable farming with a predominantly grass-fed diet for all animals, including cows and chickens, and soon to be incorporating Berkshire pigs into the mix as well.  All of his butchering takes place on the premises and he believes very strongly that the treatment of the animals, including diet and exercise, has an incredible affect on the quality and taste of the meat product.  He hopes to move into various other dairy production, such as milk, eggs, cheese, and yogurt in his future endeavors.

The menu was created using entirely local ingredients, including the freshest seasonal produce as well as cheeses from Avalanche Creamery, a company based in Basalt that gets their goat’s milk from Paonia, just outside of the Roaring Fork Valley.

Even the Pinot was local.

deviled duck eggs

The appetizer course was freshly baked bread and raw butter as well as deviled duck eggs, which as I mentioned in previous posts has a far richer flavor and larger yolk than chicken eggs.

arugula and mizuna salad with carrots, turnips, beets

The next course consisted of two salads, an arugula and a spinach.  The arugula and mizuna salad was lightly tossed in olive oil and lemon juice with raw carrots, turnips and beets thinly shaved on top.  I believe they used a mandolin to slice the veggies, a necessary kitchen tool that I must purchase very soon.  The other salad (not pictured) consisted of wilted spinach with Avalanche Creamery Midnight Blue Cheese, turnips and roasted radishes.

tagliatelle with broccoli rabe, cherry tomatoes, chili, garlic lemon and parmesan

The pasta course consisted of freshly made pasta, a simple dough mixture of duck egg, flour, olive oil, salt and pepper pressed to form thin fat noodles.

poached chicken with sorrel and pea shoots, red wine braised chicken, butter braised carrots and bok choy with saffron, olive oil mashed parsnips and sunchokes

Next, we moved onto the entree course (as if this wasn’tenough food already).

goat cheese mousse with walnut streusel and poached apricots

Lastly, a deliciously light and not overly sweet dessert to cap off the meal.

While the food was undoubtedly amazing, it was what I learned tonight that made it a truly special occasion.  I’m realizing more and more that my style of cooking isn’t so much about how you can transform many ingredients into a complex dish, but rather a few simple flavors prepared in a way that can allow the ingredients to shine on their own.  This is the food that I like to eat, and this is how I intend to cook my food.

A big ol’ thanks to The Cheese Shop of Aspen for putting on this delicious production, as well as Vanessa, JB and Clay for coming out to the community dinner with me.