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

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