Monday, September 19, 2011

Moveable Feast: delicious, delicious, delicious

Yesterday afternoon and into the evening was the Green Peas TV “Dinner at Eleanor’s” event – and it was fantastic. The dinner was a fundraiser to benefit The Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill and ARCS, AIDS-Related Community Services, as well as an opportunity for local filmmaker Jane Watson to film another episode for her website, Green Peas TV.
Watson is known for taking celebrated chefs from around the Hudson Valley and the Berkshires and putting them in intriguing locations. They then prepare a themed feast using local ingredients. There are usually about 100 tickets available, the proceeds of which benefit a chosen charity. The whole ordeal, dubbed a “Moveable Feast” by Watson, is then filmed and turned into a webisode.

“I take the chefs out of their restaurants and put them in these unique places for an adventure and the create attention,” Watson, who created Green Peas TV about three years ago, said. “And whatever they’re making has to be local, right down to the butter.” The locations, which have ranged from a bridge to a crumbling castle, create dramatic flair in the films and draw attention to Watson’s cause. The dinners and resulting show are truly local, from the crew to the chefs right down to the ingredients.

“From the Catskills to the Berkshires and everything in between – that whole region is my scope,” Watson said. “My goal is to take this area and brand it as an agri-tourism epicenter on the East Coast.”

Yesterday’s event was no exception to this formula. The dinner was held at Oak Terrace, Eleanor Roosevelt’s childhood home. The house, which has not been regularly inhabited since the Roosevelt’s lived there, stands proudly on grounds overlooking the Hudson River. The facades are in surprisingly good shape, while the interior has a crumbling, neglected feel to it. The empty rooms still hold intricately decorated marble fireplaces and floor-to-ceiling windows but are void of furniture. The basement is especially spooky, and I could not even bring myself to venture into the attic – way too creepy.

The event began inside the house, where a bar was set up, serving a choice of two historic “pre-prohibition” cocktails – FDR’s own recipe for martinis, and a fizzy drink that contained cassis, gin, lemon juice, and a little egg white (also known as a gin-cassis fizz). The result was a light pink color, with a bit of foam on top. I felt very sophisticated drinking it from my champagne flute. From here, one could sip their drink, enjoy a few passed hors d'oeuvres (including a yummy retro curried deviled egg, complete with bacon chip), mingle, and take a self-guided tour of the house.

The dinner itself was served in a tent on the grounds, with a lovely view of the river. Even the mosquitoes couldn’t detract from the charm of it all. The first course, or amuse bouche, was a small bite – a crostini with green peppercorn cheese, garlic confit, and a bacon crisp. The cheese was strong, and the garlic had a mellow flavor from the cooking process. Overall, an excellent way to whet the appetite.

Next came the soup course, an absolutely delicious and thick butternut squash soup with leeks, white beans, and smoky cheddar, drizzled with EVOO. The soup was full of complex flavors and very satisfying. This was my favorite dish; in fact, I spent quite awhile thinking about how I might recreate it.

The main dish was next, consisting of shredded chicken, along with sautéed mushrooms, served on a thick slice of country bread and swimming in a savory sauce. This was a hearty portion, and slightly reminiscent of childhood meals of hot open-faced chicken sammies.

Next, in a truly European style, was the salad course – mixed green topped with sliced apples and pears, candied walnuts, soft goat cheese, and alpine cheese. The pear was perfectly ripe – a rare find for a salad – and the candied walnuts were nice and sweet, a great way to prepare the palate for dessert.

First dinners were presented with a white nectarine sorbet, served in a martini glass and covered with champagne. After this palate cleanser came Harney and Sons “Paris” tea bon bons, beautifully decorated, as is the style of Joshua Needleman, owner and chocolatier at Chocolate Springs Café in Lenox, who prepared the dessert. Finally, each dinner was served a glass on dessert wine (a thick, sweet cassis in this case) and a dark chocolate mousse cake, again, beautifully decorated – so much so that I almost didn’t want to eat it. Almost.

All the courses were served on recyclable, biodegradable plates. Many of the ingredients used in the meal were locally sourced. Also, wine from Clinton Vineyards, based in Clinton Corners, NY, flowed freely throughout the evening – a nice cold white, with smoky, woody undertones – the perfect way to accent the hearty harvest meal.

The webisode will be edited and posted to the Green peas TV website, although it may take awhile – Watson has a lot of projects going on at once! Check out

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fall in the Berkshires!

I love fall! I love the crisp, cool morning, the fresh apples at farm stands and markets (and consequently the smell of apple pie baking), the leaves turning colors – which they already are here in Western Mass. – the clothes, the promise of holidays to come…I love fall! (I also feel like I’ve been on this rant before, probably, oh, about a year ago…)

This morning when I woke up and took the dog out, my breath left little puffs of mist in the air. The Weather Channel informed me that it is going to frost tonight and I better bring my plants in. My apartment is decked out in pumpkins and gourds. And on the way to work I swung by Dunkin Donuts for a coffee and a pumpkin muffin. Life is good.

Now, last weekend I drove all the way out to Starbucks for a pumpkin cream cheese muffin. As I am sure I have rambled on about in the past, I LOVE these muffins and look forward to them all year. And I have to say, this was really a disappointment. Starbucks is not exactly next door – it’s about a 20-25 minute drive, usually including a bit of traffic. Since I moved a few months ago, I have gone through serious Starbucks withdrawal – like, I need an IV in the crook of my arm. So anyway, actually driving up and going to Starbucks is a much bigger deal than it used to be. This Starbucks is pretty small, kind of out of the way, and overall pretty lame. But I am ecstatic that pumpkin cream cheese muffins were out on the shelves, and I promptly ordered one. My coffee was good; the muffin, not so much. It seemed like it wasn’t quite baked through, and was sorely lacking in the candied pumpkin seed department. I ate the top (always the best part anyway, right?) and offered the rest to the dog. No takers – this from a dog that licks his own butt. Seriously. So from now on its Dunkin Donuts pumpkin muffins. Not quite the same, and no cream cheese, but good nonetheless, and much less expensive and out of the way.

Also last weekend, I had the opportunity to judge an apple pie baking contest that was sponsored by King Arthur flour! Ah, the hidden perks of being a journalist. It was really fun, even though judging meant I didn’t get to enter. And really, I should have – not to sound cocky or anything, but my pie would’ve blown them away. There were a lot of yummy pies, but many of them were so heavy on the spices (esp. the nutmeg) that one could barely taste the apples. And I believe that a pie should really showcase the apples – esp. considering the area we live in.

Oh, and finally, the last bit of news – my dad is coming to visit in a couple weeks! I have big plans for us – a visit to Viva for tapas, Chez Nous for a French dinner, a glorified min-Thanksgiving Sunday night, hiking, shopping. Its gonna be legen – wait for it – dary!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Follow me on Twitter!

Yes, I am totally behind the times, but I finally set up a Twitter account. Follow me @Allie3601!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Moveable Feast, as they say

So, I just wanted to write and share with everyone an upcoming opportunity that I’m really psyched about. I covered this event for the paper, and in the process got an invite (and a comped ticket, which at $125 is no small feat!).
To summarize: Green Peas TV, a regional online cooking show that travels around the Berkshires, the Hudson Valley, and the northwest tip of Connecticut, takes celebrated local chefs and puts them in unique locales to prepare an elaborate dinner (and by “unique” I mean things like an bridge over the Hudson, an abandoned castle, and more), and just sits back to see what happens. The dinners, dubbed by creator Jane Watson as “moveable feasts,” are then filmed and turned into webisodes. As she explained to me, “I take the chefs out of their restaurants and put them in these unique places for an adventure and the create attention. And whatever they’re making has to be local, right down to the butter.”
The next moveable feast will feature Joshua Needleman, owner and chocolatier at Chocolate Springs Café in Lenox, MA, along with other regional chefs. The event, featuring historic cocktails, a five-course harvest feast, dessert wine and chocolate pairings, and an exclusive historic house tour, will be held at Eleanor Roosevelt’s little-known childhood home, Oak Terrace (which is not usually open to the public), on September 18. Watson describes Oak Terrace as “a creepy old house” full of history. “No one has lived here since the Roosevelt’s and nothing has been done to the inside,” she said. “Back in the 1800s, they built houses so well, it is in surprisingly good shape.” She mentioned the massive fireplaces and giant windows overlooking the Catskills as neat aspects of the house.
There is also a fascinating back story associated with the feast’s location. Dinner at Eleanor’s: A Moveable Feast will celebrate the relationship between the Roosevelt and Morgenthau families. Henry Morgenthau, Jr., was the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury and governor of the Federal Farm Board during the administration of FDR. Eleanor and Morgenthau’s wife, Elinor, developed a friendship based on similar social and political concerns and the Roosevelts made frequent visits to the Morgenthaus’ Fishkill Farms in East Fishkill. Eleanor maintained a lifelong commitment to farmers and farming in the Hudson Valley. Much of the food for the upcoming feast will be sourced from Fishkill Farm, bringing everything “full circle,” Watson said.
As you can see, this is a really unique event (quintessentially Berkshires, as I’ve taken to saying). According to Watson, past guests have included food editors from The New York Times and The Boston Globe, the Zagats – yes, those Zagats – and other well-known members of the foodie circle. And guess who’s going to the next dinner? Like you really need to guess…