Winter break found us in Vermont, where the weather cooperated wonderfully; after some fluffy flurries, the sky cleared and the mercury surged. Traveling farther North this time of year may sound counterintuitive, even masochistic, but the rewards were many. Bright sun and above-freezing air made for wonderful cross-country skiing through the silent woods, on the frozen brook, and around the meadow. A bracing breeze offered a perfect balance to the warm sun, and the cloudless sky was a resplendent cerulean vault. There’s not much better medecine for late-winter malaise than being vigorously outside celebrating the season’s beauty and low-friction environment. And such exertions make for serious appetites.
The first night, I made soup with guinea hen stock we brought up along with some seasoned ground beef left from burgers the day before. I added soy, ginger, and garlic to the meat to move the flavor profile from Merkin to Asian, and formed it into small balls. The stock also got some ginger and garlic, plus miso. I added kale and the meatballs and let it all simmer gently while I cooked a bunch of udon in another pot. Good soup.
Next up I quickly broiled a big salmon fillet that I rubbed with miso and a bit of maple syrup, making a sauce using butter, miso, syrup, and a bit of the soup. This we enjoyed with a bottle of 1986 Château Camensac that friends brought up. Cedary, leathery, supple, elegantly understated: this is why it’s a crime to drink good Bordeaux much younger than 20 years, and why the new processed style of winemaking in the region is such a travesty. I’m glad I kept a few of my ’80s Bordeaux.
The next day I trimmed and cubed a big hunk of venison that my editor gave us back at the offal-off and got it going in a big pot with lots of pre-soaked kidney beans and the usual assortment of aromatics and spices, including coffee, miso, and a bit of maple syrup. It all cooked very low for about 10 hours, until the meat was fully shreddy and the beans were perfectly tender. One of the benefits of a crap electric stove is the ability to do the super-low cook thing without having to use the oven. The chili was very good, and we had it with other friends, who brought a Sine Qua Non “Body and Soul” (their Rousanne-Viognier blend). It’s wonderful wine, and honestly my favorite of all their offerings. The reds seem top-heavy and don’t age that well. Their whites are complex, elegant, decadent, and yet very focused. Very un-Californian, despite the opulence of the fruit.
The next night was simple pasta; without guests to entertain, I felt like relaxing a bit. I did rally to produce a pear tart of very high quality, though. The pears were perfectly ripe, so they softened and blended with the maple syrup and lemon juice I drizzled over them before baking to make a powerfully peary pudding atop the perfectly crisp and buttery crust. The best part of tarts like this is eating the leftovers for breakfast. Thus fortified, I set out for another day of cross-country bliss and promptly fell hard, twisted my leg, felt a pop in my knee, and ruined the rest of the vacation for everyone. Two doctor visits later, I have a brace and a cautiously optimistic diagnosis of a partially torn MCL. If I’m lucky, I’ll be hobbling around for a few weeks and be better in time to plant the garden. If not, well, I’m prepared to accept whatever the Death Panels decide I deserve.