Culinary Sense

Adventures with Food and Life

Archive for the month “September, 2011”

Volunteer Activities

Hey Folks!

As part of my education at NECI, I am required to complete at least 4 hours of community service. Every week, our student services coordinator sends out events and opportunities for students to work or volunteer. Many times this is food-related, such as in soup kitchens, teen food programs, farming/harvesting events, private catering events, and so on. I have already volunteered more than four hours, but continue to volunteer since every event is another window into the industry I’m getting in to.

A couple of weeks ago, I volunteered to cook food for a special dinner a faculty member from NECI put together for residents of Waterbury, VT who had lost property due to the recent flooding. You can read more about it at this blog. It was a really great experience to give my time and skills to people, some of whom had lost everything.

Another recent volunteer activity was at an event put on by the National Wild Turkey Federation. I didn’t know anything about this organization before I went to the event, but from what I understand now, they are mostly comprised of hunters. AND REDNECKS!!!! This is one of the first things the men said when they introduced themselves to me. The event was a fundraiser for the organization. Most of the activities they put on are hunting sports related, including for children and young adults. The organization is also interested in preserving lands for wildlife.

So if you know me at all, you might wonder why I even went to this event. I don’t really support hunting as a sport, and rednecks mostly aren’t my type of people. However, I do support hunting for families as an additional source of food. At any rate, I didn’t know what I was getting into when I signed up. The event was advertised as a “Wild Game Dinner”, and the opportunity to both prepare and taste the different meats. This is what attracted me to the event. I was interested in tasting wild game, and I did! Although the people were extremely disorganized, which I find is a pattern at these kinds of events, I had fun with the men, and made a bear meat stew, and also green beans, caramelized onions, and glazed carrots.

One thing I thought was a shame was that these hunters had managed to hunt bear, deer, moose, and wild turkey, but they weren’t very good cooks. Most of them didn’t know what they were doing. I felt bad that some of the meat was wasted, as it were, because it wasn’t cooked properly: mostly overcooked, using the wrong cooking method for the cut of meat, or not seasoned and flavored in a good way. After all the effort that goes into hunting, what a way for the meat to be treated.

In the end, I tried moose, bear, venison, wild turkey, and even alligator! I liked the wild turkey best; it had a really nice fresh, moist poultry flavor. There were moose meatballs, venison meatballs, various casseroles, deep fried meats (but without any batter, which I thought was odd), and grilled bear and moose. Overall, it was worth the experience. I started thinking of ways to inform hunters about the cuts of meat they were preparing, and how they could be educated in making good tasting food. At least then, the life of the animal and its death would be respected.

~ Carolynn

 

Local Foods Overdose

It's fall!

Hey Folks!

In an effort to experience not only the fall, but also local foods, and foods of Vermont I decided to go apple picking this weekend. The farm I went to is called Burtt’s Apple Orchard. I was especially excited to go because there was a wooden apple hidden somewhere in the orchard. If you find the wooden apple, you could win an ipod or ipad.

The farm itself is in Cabot, VT. And yes, that is where the famous Cabot Cheese comes from. A couple of weeks ago, I visited the Cabot COOP and went on a tour. I bought horseradish cheddar and powdered cheese from the gift shop. The powdered cheese is for popcorn, and is pretty awesome. But the horseradish cheese isn’t so bad, either!

As you can see from the photos, it was an overcast day, but pretty warm. Actually, once I started walking around the orchard, I got very sweaty! It’s the humidity, people.

It’s kind of hard to tell because my camera sucks, but the trees in the background are turning beautiful fall colors.

In any case, there are more kinds of apples than I ever knew existed. There’s Jonamac, Macoun, MacIntosh, Empire, Cortland, Jersey Mac, Hampshire Mac, Galarina, Gala, Golden Delicious, Liberty, Baldwin, Paula Red, and so many more. According to the farmer, the current top apple in the country is Honeycrisp. I got a guide to all the rows of trees, and which apples were ripe.

It was so refreshing to walk through all the rows and see the varied colors and textures of the apples. All the way at end of the farm, I came across a whole bunch of cows!

Aren’t they just the cutest? They all stared at me for a while, and I finally decided to pick up some apples that had fallen to the ground, and throw them under the fence. The cows loved them of course.

I chose some of each of the apples, so that I can taste the differences. It turned out to be about one peck.

Here’s the farm stand where they weighed the apples I picked.

After my sweaty visit to the orchard, I decided to call another farm to see if they were open. This farm is called Applecheek Farm. I’m interested in making my own bacon, duck prosciutto, and other lovely cured things. I already got the special curing salt, now all I need is the meat to process!

Applecheek Farm

Applecheek Farm has cows, pigs, chicken, turkeys, ducks, and probably other animals I don’t know about. I went into the store because I was assured it open until 6 pm, but all I found were two kids and two kittens. The older child, a girl, was kind of in charge, and I asked her about pork belly, but she didn’t really know what I was talking about. So instead of buying anything, or finding their parents who were working somewhere in the fields, I walked around the farm a bit.

Applecheek Farm

French African Guineas

Turkeys

Chicken!

Rooster!

view of the farm

Cows in the background.

Overall, a nice visit. Nice to know where my food comes from, and that the animals at least have a decent life.

That evening, I decided to treat myself to a lovely dinner. I got some local cheeses, ham, and of course some of my apple, plus some beautiful bread. Red Hen Bakery, Jasper Hill, Vermont Butter and Cheese – yum!

Almost all local!

Wine from Chile (not so local, but the cheapest one there).

A successful day in Vermont!

Cheers,

~ Carolynn

p.s.: I didn’t find the wooden apple. 😦

Final thoughts on History and Culture

Hey Folks!

It’s the last week of classes, the term is almost over! That means I will have been here six months already! I’m starting to take toll of all my physical ailments:

sore back (check)

numbness and tingling in fingers (check)

open blisters (check)

exhaustion (check).

Yikes!

 

However, I have to say I LOVE the decision I’ve made to come here. I definitely feel like I have a place in this industry, and can’t wait to start my internship on October 1 at Stowe Mountain Lodge. It’s a pretty fancy place, and I hope to learn a lot of new ingredients, and more about serving local, seasonal cuisine. I’m starting right during leaf season here in Vermont, so we’ll be hella busy!!!!

For my history and culture class, I had to write up a final paper, kind of a summary of what I learned in the class. For your enjoyment, here it is!

~ Carolynn

 

 

“Why is history and culture important to your perception of about food and cuisine?” that brings together all of the class lessons and homework. Please draw upon anything covered in class as well as additional outside work and family and personal experiences.

 

As culinary professionals, we draw upon the knowledge and experience of our teachers, mentors, families, and written and oral histories. To be the best in our field, it is important to learn as much as we can about the history and culture of our food, dishes, cooking methods, cooking equipment, regional and local differences and variations, as well as cultural, dietary, and religious preferences.

So first, we look to the past to learn about what our ancestors ate. With the limited resources available, the hunter and gatherer societies probably struggled to get enough food for every day subsistence. Although we generally think mostly of hunters and the game they were able to kill, daily food needs were fulfilled by gathering roots, nuts, berries, and other ingredients growing wild in their immediate environment. As a result, they were nomadic, constantly in search of better areas.

Once peoples had started growing and cultivating grain, they were able to settle into a certain area and focus specifically on that. For example, if wheat was the main grain, we can expect the people to use wheat and wheat flour in almost every meal. There was probably a basic bread, and also a fermented version, meaning beer. After this, there is more and more varied cultivation, and the beginnings of trade of various goods.

For me, this is where it begins to get interesting. I had never heard of the Columbian Exchange, and was surprised to find how many ingredients were exchanged across the Atlantic. I knew about the potato, but not about the corn, tomato, and peppers that are now so important in Old World cuisine. It’s amazing that staple ingredients are now cultivated on continents where they didn’t originate. For me, the tomato is the staple of Italian food, and to know that it has only recently been incorporated into Italian cuisine is amazing.

As the French were the first to organize themselves professionally, we have many written records of cooking methods, ingredients, and recipes of their cuisine. By keeping track, they were able to improve and refine on previous versions of dishes and recipes. Also, French techniques are now the foundation of the culinary education. Even if you end up cooking non-European food, many of the techniques are transferable. In terms of flavoring and ingredients, by knowing the history and culture of food, you can combine technique with spices and food of the region and come up with something “Mexican” or “Middle Eastern”.

I came to NECI with some experience in the home kitchen, having learned many basic skills from my grandmother and my father. My heritage is German and Italian American, so I know a bit about these cuisines, and they of course mean a lot to me. When I cook, I am always thinking of my family, and of course my heritage is a source of pride for me.

The most important thing I’ve learned in this class is that everything we do today in the culinary world is based on what came before; we cannot neglect to look back as we consider our daily work in the kitchen. The most important thing I’ve learned at NECI is to show up every day and do my best. The most important thing I’ve learning from my family is that cooking with love makes all the difference. When you combine these three components, you can be the best in your field.

 

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