I attended my first "food-swapping" event last Saturday at the Pawling Farmers Market. This hot new foodie trend brings cooks, gardeners and gatherers together to share their surplus of homemade, homegrown or foraged foods with each other. No money changes hands. Swaps enable direct trades to take place between attendees. Inspired by a renewed interest in home growing, canning, preserving and cooking, the swap concept was introduced back in March 2010 in Brooklyn when Kate Payne, author of "The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking," set up the first food-swapping event. Through social media and blogging, it took off across the country, through the Midwest and onward, until, finally, Emily Ho in Los Angeles started the Food Swap Network. Now active in England and Scandinavia as well as in continental Europe and recently Brazil, food swapping has become an international phenomenon.
Millbrook Vineyards and Winery received the 2013 Best Overall Hudson Valley Wine award for its 2012 Tocai Friulano, Saturday at the Hudson Valley Wine & Food Festival in Rhinebeck. The award was presented to the winery by Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, because Governor Andrew Cuomo who had planned to make a surprise visit to the event to promote his "Taste NY" initiative, had to cancel due to a personal issue.
When I first received my invitation from Governor Cuomo to attend the Hudson Valley Wine & Food Festival in Rhinebeck, I fully expected a gathering of the very best in upscale wining and dining in our lovely Hudson Valley. Little did I know how wrong I was. Thousands stood in the long lines in front of the New York State winemaker booths with their wine glasses in hand, waiting to sample the latest vintages. (I tried a few and came back to Millbrook Winery’s, which was my favorite among those I tasted.) The food tended more toward burgers, corn dogs, pizza, chicken wings and shish-kebab than anything I would want to write about. Yet the trip was made worthwhile by my discovery of Italian chef Carmela Decker, owner of Senza Glutine, and her biscotti. I tasted and bought her gluten-free chocolate-espresso and also her almond biscotti.
Last week we drove to a small mountain village St. Chély d'Aubrac in Auvergne. It is on a pilgrimage trail, so many a hiker is spotted with a backpack and walking stick, stopping at cafes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Our three days here would not be as rustic as that. We were visiting our friends François and Martine at their country home. It is a stone house and garden overlooking a mountain stream. The soothing sound of the water rushing by adds to the ambiance. The interior has been redone and has all of the space and comfort of a modern home, furnished with a charming mixture of traditional and modern pieces. They welcomed us with a simple but tasty dinner at home. Grilled baby lamb chops (lamb was naturally raised in nearby Lozere). As a side dish, we ate sautéed zucchini with Cantal cheese melted on top. I would soon discover that melting Cantal cheese (or tomme fraîche) into or on top of various dishes is an important element of Auvergne cuisine.
Full disclosure: Gerard represented Domaine Laroche in the United States for 15 years. We have witnessed the impressive expansion and eventual merger of this magnificent winery and remained friends with Michel and Gwenael throughout the last quarter of a century. We stopped in Chablis to spend 24 hours with them and learn about their new adventure. We were honored to be among the first to taste the very first vintage of Le Domaine d’Henri (it was actually the third bottle Michel opened). This wine, the product of his 50 years experience producing fine wine in Chablis, represents the true taste—the distinctive crisp, clean mineral feel of the Chardonnay grape when grown in the soil of Chablis. As I enjoyed a glass or two, I took the opportunity to interview Michel.
On our first day in France, Gerard and I went to the local outdoor market. It is a relatively small market situated in the suburbs of Paris. Half of the stands were closed because it is August, yet there were two fishmongers, three fruit- and vegetable sellers, two butchers, one poultry vendor, a baker, and a dairy- and cheese specialist. The fruit stands seemed to go on forever, with a vast array of peaches, berries and plums—many kinds of plums, each sweeter than the next. It was a feast for the eyes. The fishmonger had more kinds of fish than I could recognize, and of course, the coquilles St-Jacques (scallops) still had their corals on them. It seems that we prudes in America cut off the corals because they are the roe (eggs) and the semen of these hermaphrodites. The French, fearing no such association with reproduction, enjoy both the muscle and the coral.
By the time you read this article, Gerard and I will be in France on a three-week whirlwind tour visiting friends and family, from which I will be reporting on my culinary experiences. I expect them to be good—even exceptional, as most of our friends and family are true foodies. But in addition to describing wonderful dishes and giving a few recipes, I shall be looking into a couple of specific aspects of French food in 2013.
When tomatoes are good, they are very, very good. Mid-July to mid-September is when they are usually best. Gerard and I eat them every day, often twice a day—once in a salad and once cooked in any number of ways. While color does not seem to affect flavor (mixing the yellows, oranges in with the red just makes a salad more colorful), the different shapes can suggest different cooking methods. There are at least four hundred varieties of tomatoes, many introduced in the last 20 years. Below are those most easily found in our area, with some of my favorite recipes (a couple of which I have previously published in this column). First, some general tips about tomatoes: