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You won’t guess where I went last week, because it was Cleveland. On the road for work plus a fast visit to show off baby to the in-laws. Eating adventures weren’t on the agenda ’til my intrepid husband spotted a smoker in his sister’s garage, a nice red Brinkman that her hunter husband uses to smoke ducks.

Enter a farmer’s market deep in lettuces, radishes, and beets, and the plot thickened. Strawberries were in. You could smell them as you walked past the tables. But being low on cash, I allocated my scarce resources towards a hunk of pork shoulder instead. The source: Bluebird Meadow Farm, of Sullivan, Ohio, which raises lean Hampshire and Yorkshire pigs on pasture.

Next move was to ditch out on my meeting and get a dry rub going for the meat. Day two, the husband loaded said smoker with hickory chips, slow smoked the meat for the better part of a day, and it’s hard to argue with the results. The finer points of vinegar mops and sweet vs. spicy barbeque sauces I leave to those with more skin in the game.

Recipe: Smoked Pulled Pork

1 tbls cumin / 1 tbls salt / 1 tbls black pepper / 1 tbls chile powder / 1 tbls cayenne / 1 tbls brown sugar / 2 tbls paprika / 3 lbs pork shoulder

Combine spices and rub generously on pork shoulder, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. The following day, dust off your smoker and smoke shoulder over hickory chunks for two hours, fat side up, then wrap in foil and continue slow cooking until internal temperature reaches 185-195 degrees. Meat should pull apart easily. Serve on a soft bun with sauce of choice and coleslaw on the side.

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peaches

It’s so easy adjusting to the good life — defined, for our purposes, as a farmers market with four kinds of nectarines and three types of peaches. With raw flavors this bold, the eating couldn’t be better. Sweet peaches cut into a simple bowl of yogurt made for a perfect breakfast. Sweet-sour nectarines sliced and layered with tangy cooked apricots and vanilla-infused cream made for a delicious dessert.

And don’t forget savory — we marked nectarines quarters on the grill and tossed with a basil and jalapeno vinaigrette. Sounds strange, but I find that smoky heat enriches the the fruit flesh, making them perfect alongside marinated flank steak and chilled soba noodles. Good living, indeed.

Grilled Nectarines

5 nectarines or peaches, about 2 pounds / juice of 1 lime / 1 tsp sugar / 1 tsp ginger, minced /chili paste to taste / 1 tsp fresh basil, sliced thinly

Halve nectarines and remove pits. Stir together remaining ingredients and marinate nectarines 30 minutes, then grill over medium heat until flesh is marked and soft, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, mix together dressing ingredients: 3 tbls rice vinegar / 3 tbls olive oil / 1 tsp jalapeno, minced / 2 tsp fresh basil, chopped / 1 tsp lime juice / 1 tsp sugar / salt & pepper to taste / chili paste to taste

Toss with grilled nectarines and serve in a salad with arugula and watercress, or alongside grilled meat if you like. Adapted from Jerry Traunfeld.

grapes

Wine country isn’t the obvious vacation spot at six months of pregnancy, but I was prepared to gamble that where there’s good wine, there’s good food. So this week we’re in Healdsburg, California, on the cusp of the Russian River Valley, visiting our friends, their dog Bob, and their multiple acres of cabernet and zinfandel vines.

Here in Healdsburg we’re eating like rock stars all day long. The abundance of local food is totally out of hand. At Saturday’s farmers market you were hard pressed to name a distinct season, seeing as how there were lovely bundles of kale and beets — and piles of eggplant, peppers and tomatoes, the latter of which don’t come to our northerly locale ’til early August. When people around these parts invoke food miles, they’re thinking in the double digits. Doesn’t hurt when you can do things like grow your own olives, then press the oil a half-mile down the road.

It’s the first place I’ve been where the hundred-mile diet might not be an exercise in deprivation. I’m enjoying it so much that I can almost convince myself I’m not missing anything good to drink.

view-from-cowhill1

We had the strange and amusing experience, this past week, of vacationing with the very rich on a sunny Carribean isle. We’d gone to celebrate a good friend’s nuptials, and what can I say? The rich live well. Fluffy towels in our marble-clad bathroom were swapped out twice a day. The ice box was refilled thrice daily. The air conditioner ran nonstop, to compensate for windows flung wide open.

A year of green living, wiped out in one fell swoop. And that’s not counting the airplane and boat rides it took to get there.

Like us, our food was shipped in by boat, and we feasted on an endless supply of pineapple and mango and melon, money being no object. Dinners were heavy with meat and cream. No facultative vegetarianism this time around, not with that incredibly tasty mahi mahi caught hours before dinner, then grilled simply with olive oil and herbs.

Truth is, it’s pretty darn easy to slide into the good life. Frighteningly easy. I can’t remember the last time I felt this ambivalent about returning home when a vacation came to it’s end. But for a number of reasons it’s probably a good thing that we didn’t vanish to some far-away desert island. Not least of these was that the best eating came on the trip home, off of a handwritten menu in Puerto Rico. We ate fried pork, yellow rice with pigeon peas, and the freshest grouper you can imagine. The sangria, fragrant with ripe mango, was unforgettable.

So we’re back home now, home being a place where we’re lucky if the towels get washed once in a month. And after a day of facing the music, I’ve returned to my senses.

canoli2

There we were, grounded at Newark, watching helplessly as the day’s last flight to Seattle backed out of the jetway. And the situation was about to get worse. The man at the Continental Airlines counter peered deeply into his computer screen and said, “Air traffic control issue, ma’am. It isn’t our responsibility.” He handed me new boarding passes and $30 worth of meal vouchers. The airline was paying for us to spend the night in the terminal.

While I enjoy a good argument as much as the next person, I came to my senses pretty quickly. In short order Charlie had us booked into a nearby hotel, and we were scheming to hop the train to New York and eat ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar. How long had I been salivating over chef David Chang and his myriad ways with pork? Our timing, which had been very bad all day, was now on the upswing: we arrived in the East Village around 10 pm and slid right into a couple of seats at the bar. While we munched happily on steamed buns stuffed with roasted pork belly, I deliberated over every dish on the menu, finally opting for the house ramen with crispy strands of pork shoulder, more belly, pickled vegetables, and a soft- poached egg.

The ramen came in a deep bowl with dark, steaming broth. Oh, sweet Jesus.

Nirvana.

Just about then our friend Frank walked into the place — we’d phoned him between the hotel and train station — and greeted us warmly. He said, “The best pasticceria in New York is just around the corner, and it’s still open. But not for much longer. ”

“Seriously? The one with those piles of cookies in the window?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, yeah, yeah. That one.” Frank, a third-generation Italian-American, was on pins and needles. He glanced at his watch.

We were out the door and over to Veniero’s pasticceria just in time, munching sfogliatelle for dessert. In the end it was one of the more expensive bowls of $16 ramen a person might opt for, once you add in train and cab fare, five hours in a hotel, and an extra night of dog sitting. But I’m almost inclined to say it was worth it. And it was a small, good thing to tuck into those creamy canolis this morning, not so long after we reached cruising altitude.

trumpet-door

On this week’s agenda was a visit to freezing cold New England and therefore a meal with our friends Evan and Denise at the Black Trumpet, their cozy bistro on a side street in Portsmouth, N.H. We arrived on a sunny, wintry afternoon, just in time to interrupt dinner prep. Right behind us was Walter, the windblown fish guy, who brought swordfish and clams wrapped in butcher paper plus news of a wharf fire. Next through the door was farmer Jean, of Meadow’s Mirth Farm, sporting long curls and a woolen cap, and carrying beautiful green winter squashes. Evan gladly took the squashes and said he’d check in with her at the weekend farmer’s market.

That evening Evan sat down with us to drink a glass of Pinot Grigio, then ordered — and cooked — our meal himself, and the food didn’t stop coming for a very long time. First was a plate of salt cod brandade, followed by veal sweetbreads with brussel sprouts, figs, and bacon he’d smoked at home. Then came local mussels with a decadent bread pudding. A pork rillette with pickled beets and winter chicories. Fresh swordfish, indisputably fresh, with curried red pepper sauce. A fabulous raw goat’s milk cheese from Consider Bardwell Dairy in Vermont. And then Meyer Lemon cheesecake with pomegranate jus that was to die for.

Still the good times felt measured. The tables were half-empty, as they are everywhere across the land these days, and our friends are hunkering down for tough times. Whether a small restaurant devoted to local, seasonal food can make it through the dark winter ahead is anybody’s guess, and that’s a problem not only for people we know and love but also for organic growers, the fish monger, the cheesemaker, and the pig farmer. And this in a community with a vibrant local food scene. Which could mean trouble for local eaters everywhere — trouble for you and me both.

Not long after our plane touched down in San Francisco, a colleague sitting in front of me twisted around and said, “Want to share a cab to the hotel?” We were staying at some fancy pants place on Nob Hill.

“No, dude, I’m taking the BART.”

“Oh. I don’t have the patience for that.” She waved a hand languidly.

“Thirty minutes into the city. Hard to get there much faster.”

“They say, you know, it’s a big hill from the station.”

“Could be.” I glanced down at her three-inch heels, and she sighed.

“Well you’re probably in better shape than me.”

Or something.

I was in San Francisco for work this week and every waking moment was filled with thoughts about where to eat next. You almost couldn’t go wrong. There were the scallops with maitaki mushrooms and Romanesco florets at Gary Danko. Panzanella at 1550 Hyde. A duck and chanterelle ragu at Quince. Creamy yogurt at Boulettes Larder, sprinkled with pistachios and pomegranate seeds and drizzled with raw honey that tasted of grass and herbs. Juicy plums from Frog Hollow Farm. Most of it local, served up with no discernable moral tone, and within shouting distance of my hotel, thanks to suggestions from local food maven Katrina, of Kale for Sale, who had me contemplating each slice of fish besides.

Still, this was a work trip and despite strenuous efforts to the contrary, not every meal was just so. But the thought of getting full on a boxed turkey sandwich just didn’t appeal, and I found myself reaching for the grilled vegetable wrap instead, or the noodles with tofu. The sometime vegetarian strategy was as much a revelation as were the fancy plates, and one I may just adopt next time I’m on the road.

When traveling in New England, local eating sometimes translates as a pit stop at Dunkin’ Donuts and a trip to the big box grocer — even when the accommodations include a kitchen and big-ass organic garden stocked with herbs and vegetables. That’s just how traveling goes. Knowing what’s available locally isn’t something you can easily assimilate from a distance.

After settling in though we began to hear things. We learned about Bob, the local lobsterman. We discovered Steve, who sells his Pemaquid Ale in half-gallon refillable jugs. On a couple of evenings we sampled pies from the lady at Green Hollow Farm up the street. She rolls an impossibly flaky crust and uses seasonal fillings, meaning berries now and apples coming soon, and her business is growing at breakneck speed. Actually, there were a dozen small farms just a stone’s throw from where we were.

So we’ll be back next year, and we’d probably do it even if family weren’t involved. Hell, I’d go back just to hear the crickets and canoe the river again. But it’s a good feeling to learn a little bit about a far away place, and to know that next time we won’t be starting from scratch.

Between rain showers yesterday I hiked down to the lower garden to take stock of the cabbage situation. Most of the heads were the size of bowling balls, and some nocturnal critter had gnawed the largest of the green ones. The purple cabbages were mesmerizing — iridescent leaves, powdery skin. I almost couldn’t lop those pretty heads off.

But it was our turn to cook for the crowd, and if there was purple cabbage in the garden I was determined that it be part of dinner. I had a specific JT recipe in mind, one that I’d adulterated with green cabbage a dozen times. Just how different the two cabbages could be I wasn’t sure; locally available resources, including a 1953 Joy of Cooking, skirted the issue, and a Vegetarian Epicure from the ’70s hardly condescended to mention the humble crop.

So I cooked and sampled as I cooked. The purple leaves lacked the radishy heat of the green, I decided, and I liked how the magenta color stayed vibrant even with prolonged cooking. In the end I thought the recipe played well with cabbages of either race. More important was figuring cooking time; Traunfeld recommends a fast saute but I opted to melt the sweet leaves down to tenderness, leaving just a hint of crunch. So much for hewing exactly to the recipe.

Recipe: Braised Red Cabbage with Apples and Lime

1 sour apple, such as Granny Smith / hot pepper flakes / 1 head purple cabbage, or substitute green / juice of 1 lime / 3 tbls sugar / ½ tsp salt / ½ cup cilantro, chopped

Cut apple into ¼ inch dice. Slice cabbage thinly. Heat skillet over medium-high heat and swirl vegetable oil in pan. When hot, add diced apple and hot pepper flakes to taste. Cook until apple is slightly browned, about 1 minute. Add cabbage, lime juice, sugar, and salt, and mix thoroughly. Reduce heat to low and cook for 30-40 minutes, until cabbage is tender. Remove from heat, correct salt, and toss with cilantro. Adapted from Jerry Traunfeld. Feeds 6-8 as a side dish.

Eat Local Northwest

A food blog documenting the adventures of two friends trying to cook and eat sustainably in Seattle and in Anchorage.