The Happy Valley

By now you know the drill: I disappear for a while, then show up again talking about a new job, or sharing photos of a new baby. Nope, no new babies, but I do have news: We moved! After 20 years away from Western Mass, I finally made it back home late this spring. And I do mean literally: we’re living with my very dear, very patient, very generous parents until we find a home of our own.

My new gig is in the Donor Relations department at Smith College, where both Sylvie and Miriam went (although they actually met on JDate, for those keeping track). We were very lucky that Rich’s boss asked him to stay and telecommute, so he’s also based in Northampton at a shared workspace.

There were many reasons why I wanted to be in Western Mass: like being closer to my parents, having a house with a yard, and wonderful schools for the girls. Lilli goes to Fort Hill, the early childhood education center through Smith College where arts and crafts is referred to as “staging a provocation”. Bea is at The Little Schoolhouse, a home daycare where they provide the organic bamboo diapers that get composted via bicycle, the milk and yogurt are delivered every day from the farm, and they grow their own fruit. As my New York friend Jason quipped, “You’re living on the set of Portlandia.”

20160807_143038

My commute. I’ll make sure to snap some photos during peak foliage this fall.

When I can, I’ve been taking Lilli to Shabbat Shabloom, a Friday morning sing-along on Abundance Farm. Afterwards we pick flowers on the farm for the dinner table. And of course it’s great to have Shabbat with Oma and Zayde every week. So when I received an offer to review a book called A Month of Sundays: Striding Toward Spiritual Refreshment with Good Food for the Road, I smiled and said I’d love a copy. Sure, the book’s author Paula Hartman and I observe different Days of Rest, but I still get it. The book promises “food for the body as well as the soul” across 31 chapters of reflections and meals. To be honest, most of the recipes didn’t sing to me, and there’s no index, which is somewhat frustrating. But one recipe, for corn fritters, caught my eye.

Lilli at Emily Dickinson Museum

My friend Mark snapped a series of wonderful photos of the girls at The 19th Century Circus – Creatures of Mystery and Bliss, at the Emily Dickinson House in Amherst.

It’s August in Western Mass, which means there is fresh corn, tomatoes and squash wherever you turn. Honest to goodness, you turn down a street and there will be a sign for those foods, grown in someone’s backyard, for sale in the driveway. The farm stand my mom took me to growing up is still going strong, so now I take Lilli to get the corn and tomatoes.

I had actually asked my mom to pick up some corn for a braised corn recipe I bookmarked in another new cookbook, but since I had everything else on hand, I chose to try this one instead. And it was great! The recipe doesn’t call for salt, although I’ve added it, and Rich and Mom both agree it could benefit from some spice. I liked it as is, but I don’t disagree with their input. My mom doesn’t bake and only had self-rising flour in the house, which I knew would work perfectly. I actually had fancy corn meal on hand; someone gave it to me on the Fourth of July, although I have no idea who it was.

This last thing is very important so I will write it in BOLD ALL CAPS: PLEASE BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN FRYING THESE FRITTERS. Fresh corn spurts and jumps about in the pan. You’ll need to wear long sleeves while frying and keep kids and pets out of the kitchen while you make these.

20160803_182803 (1)

Mom’s Corn Fritters Adapted from Month of Sundays by Paula Hartman

Ingredients

½ cup (125 mL) of milk

2 cups (450g) of corn cut from the cob, or 16 ounces (450g) of canned corn

1 cup (225g) of flour

1 cup (225g) of cornmeal

2 teaspoons (9.2g) of baking powder

1 egg

2 Tablespoons (30g) of finely chopped onion

Two pinches salt

Cooking oil

Directions

Beat milk and egg. Add corn and onion to egg mixture. Add dry ingredients alternately. Batter will be stiff.

Heat oil in a large bottomed skillet with sides. (I prefer non-stick for my frying projects; Rich prefers cast-iron. I will leave that up to you.) To test the oil, drop a dot of the batter into the hot oil; if it sizzles, continue by dropping by teaspoons into the skillet. Cook until browned, then turn the fritters over and cook until that side is brown. This should take no more than 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels to remove excess fat.

The recipe says it makes approximately 12 fritters, but I got closer to two dozen using an actual teaspoon that you use to stir your tea.

 

 

(Un)seasonal

kosher vegetarian

“It was like hundreds of gunshots.” That’s how one family friend described the sound of tree branches snapping and falling to the ground last Saturday evening. Western Massachusetts’ best asset, the foliage that people travel from around the world to see, proved to be its undoing during this very early Nor’easter. My little town, Longmeadow, was hit with 12 inches of snow, which fell onto trees still wearing their autumn finest. The combined weight of snow and leaves proved too much for the branches, which took out power lines as they crashed down. Most of the town has been without power since Saturday night. My parents, who had no electricity or heat, were our houseguests until today, when they got word that their power was restored.

One friend from high school reported that her parents said it will be 100 years for our town to once again look like the town we grew up in. A century is a long time, although it’s doable for my town. Settled in 1644, we still celebrate an annual May festival on the town green, a long strip of grass on the outskirts of town that farmers would take their cattle out to pasture on. Lining the green are colonial houses, marked with stars to indicate their historic status. It is believed that John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, once lived in one of those houses. His myth continues, even if many of his trees do not.

In just a few weeks, it will be my 15 year high school reunion. I’m a little nervous to return to see a town so different than the one I left.

This simple recipe is from one of our favorite cooking shows on PBS: Caprial & John’s Kitchen. It’s not just the recipes in the show, but the chemistry this real-life married couple has on screen. Well, calling it chemistry isn’t exactly accurate; it’s more like watching a married couple who have to work, cook, and go home together. There’s a lot of correcting by Caprial to anything John does or says. Example: John will suggest a shortcut to the viewer, which Caprial will promptly veto as a terrible idea. We showed an episode to our friend Ben, a clinical psychologist, and he dubbed them the passive-aggressive chefs. But judging by this recipe, it’s working for them.

Roasted Apples with Shallots and Thyme

5 apples, peeled, cored, halved and sliced into quarters

5 shallots (about ¾ cup), peeled and halved

1/2 Tablespoon of fresh thyme (about 4 sprigs)

2 Tablespoons olive oil

Pinch of salt

Directions

Place a metal pan in the oven and preheat it to 500.

Toss apples, shallots, thyme, olive oil and salt in a bowl. Carefully pour the ingredients into the piping hot pan – it will sizzle – and close the oven door. After 5 minutes, give them a stir with a wooden spoon. Close the door, and check them again in another five minutes and give a stir. Follow up one more time, for a total of 15 cooking minutes. The apples will have softened, many will have completely lost their shape and integrity, making an herbed, savory apple dish. This will make a wonderful side dish for your Thanksgiving table.

UPDATE: I sauteed these leftovers with some frozen pierogies last night for dinner and it was really terrific.