And there is another word beginning with “F” that I’d like to add: fun. There, that describes, for me, the annual The Old Farmer’s Almanac. This is a reintroduction of sorts, as I hadn’t seen the last dozen or so editions.
As I write this, I have a copy of the 2016 book at my side. It’s the so-called Collector’s Edition, meaning it is in hardcover, contains a nice addendum, and was priced at about sixteen dollars. Paperback copies run less but, ah, the splurge, the cost of an indifferent restaurant martini, is worth it.
The first thing I noted is that this will be a leap year. So, as a single guy, I immediately changed my telephone number and e-mail, if you get my drift and supremely unfounded conceit. But, seriously, how can you resist a publication that includes an old saw from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (and I used to stay just down the road from his house in Cambridge, Massachusetts): “Each morning sees some task begin, Each evening sees it close; Something attempted, something done, Has earned a night’s repose.”
Some Task Attempted
It’s a happy task I’m starting, and that is to urge you cooks out there to check out this almanac. A few folks may feel it is written for some grizzled Yankee farmers working the fields like a character in a Van Gogh painting. Well it is a product of New Hampshire’s Yankee Publishing, the gang who are also responsible for that beloved magazine. I look forward to getting Yankee monthly, and almost always sit down and go through it cover to cover when it arrives. That’s perhaps because of my many (many) years of living next door to, and frequent visits to, New England. Plus, I had a nearly-year-long residence in Massachusetts thanks to Uncle Sam. And, most especially, I harbor a deep respect for the style of cooking of the area.
As far as culinary topics, the Almanac is an excellent resource. Even the ads draw me in: “Freeze dry at home,” proclaims one, “...better than canning and dehydrating...retains color, texture and 97% nutrition.” And there is an ad for a kit that instructs one on making a family cookbook (www.morriscookbooks.com). If you own a trove of those dog-eared cookbooks, index cards, or pieces of food-stained paper or clipped recipes, what an opportunity to share these with the extended family.
“New, Useful, and Entertaining Matter”
That’s what the Almanac tries to provide, and provide it does! It is such a fascinating mix of topics so useful for cooks. Here are valuable Kitchen Safety Tips, a Table of Measures, Metric Conversions, a terrifically edited section listing Substitutions for Common Ingredients including a recipe for “making” buttermilk (one tablespoon lemon juice or vinegar added to enough milk to equal one cup). Barring that, use plain yogurt. Or this one, so useful when a recipe lists balsamic vinegar: one tablespoon red or white wine vinegar plus one-half teaspoon sugar, add to a screw top glass jar, and shake like crazy to dissolve the sugar.
Other features are instructive. I don’t know a rod from a reel, but I now know that the best fishing days (listed here) are between a new moon and a full moon, and that, barring clouds, there will be a “supermoon” (it being the closest to earth in so many years) on November 14, 2016. A good day for the last cookout of the season, I’d say. By the way, I can make myself available!
What makes the Almanac a delightful read is the anticipation the turning of a page can bring. A good instance: tucked between the features on bulb-planting and another such as “How Clean is Your Kitchen?” is a story about the infamous Typhoid Mary (1906) who evidently never washed her hands. Not only was she caught spreading the disease and imprisoned, but after her release she did the same sowing-sickness trick again. I wonder how clean her kitchen was?
Parsley Pesto Strata
The Almanac sponsored a “Dips and Spreads Recipe Contest” this past year and this strata won second prize. There were two other winners cited in the article, but this was so simple and used such straightforward ingredients that I tried it (and tweaked it), and am featuring it here in case you need something delicious and even healthful for New Year’s Eve or an Open House. I will use it, and maybe add some smoked salmon strips and lemon zest to the layers. (I’d leave out the Parmesan and add about a tablespoon of finely chopped fresh dill to the pesto.)
For the pesto:
- 2 c. (loosely packed) Italian parsley, without stems
- 3⁄4 c. grated Parmesan cheese (please try to use the imported Parmigiano-Reggiano, for superior taste)
- 1 large clove garlic, peeled and smashed
- 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 slice bread
- 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
- Several grinds of the pepper mill
For the filling:
- 16 oz. Neufchatel cheese, at room temperature
- 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
Combine pesto ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Add additional oil if necessary to create a smooth paste.
Mix the cream cheese and butter together and set aside. Line a rectangular or round container with plastic wrap. Put one-third of the filling on the bottom, followed by one-third of the pesto. Repeat the layers two more times.
Cover and place in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, invert onto a serving dish. Serve with celery, carrot, or fennel sticks, crackers, bagel chips, or toasted baguette slices. Garnish the plate with halved cherry tomatoes on picks for a touch of holiday color. Makes 10-12 servings.
One Final Comment on the Almanac
At the end of the 300-page book is a section entitled “Anecdotes and Pleasantries.” Who can resist such a title? I wasn’t disappointed when I read “How Happy is a Clam?” I now know that you can tell the age of a clam by the bands on the shell, much like the rings on a tree stump. Clams can live as long as 150 years and show no other signs of aging, maintaining “amour” (if you know what I mean) through their life. So the article concludes with the line: “How happy are clams? REAL HAPPY.”
And a Real Happy New Year to you from me and all my chums at Mountain Home.