Friday, May 27, 2011

Farmer to Table

Beach season is in full swing, and so is the S & N Bed and Breakfast.  From late spring to early fall friends and family flood our home to enjoy a taste of island life.  While at times I find the constant changing of linens overwhelming, both Chef and I love to have guests stay with us.  It gives us a reason to indulge in both eat and drink, our children the chance to share their hoard of toys, and our pets get the rub downs that they deserve.

Speaking of Bed and Breakfasts, above is the Greyfield Inn.  What is the difference between an inn and a bed & breakfast?  The mealtime.  Inn's serve dinner, while B&B's do not.  Dinner at the Greyfield Inn with the man I love was what I wanted to do the night of my big 30.  It is a little gem tucked away in an oak hammock on Cumberland Island, GA. Built in 1900 by Thomas and Lucy Carnegie for their daughter Margaret, the home was made into an inn in 1962 by her daughter Lucy Ferguson. It is where JFK Jr. was married and wild horses roam. 

Chef and I ventured there at sunset in our little fishing boat for dinner. Doesn't he look dapper? We cruised up the Amelia River and through the Cumberland Sound.  It was my mission to have a day of firsts in celebration of this monumental day, and while I have been to Cumberland Island more times than I can count, this was my first time dining at the award winning inn. 
When we arrived we were greeted on the dock by two young women with lulling southern accents.  They drove us to the inn in a vintage Land Rover Defender,  a vehicle Chef dreams of owning one day.  We bumped up a dirt road to the graceful mansion just in time for drinks at the Honest John where a spread of cocktail fixings awaited.
There is something special about a tiny bar unguarded by a tender, with nothing more than a notebook for patrons to calculate their mischief.  My handsome date made me a gin and tonic, himself a Negroni and we then ventured into the library.
This room immediately filled me with a sense of easy wonder.  It is the kind of space that you could easily sit in silence for hours, or ramble on  in deep conversation in front of a roaring fire listening to jazz.  The tomes that lined the shelves wore the marks of avid readers from generations of life.  If I ever have the luxury of a library at home, this space is what I will use as my inspiration.

We made ourselves another round and headed into the drawing room where some of the other dinner guests were mingling.  We grabbed a few small bites and decided to head to the porch to enjoy the twilight.  I sat on a porch swing with the girth of a daybed, and Chef in a rocking chair.  We searched the grounds for wild horses that drift across the island, but none graced our presence.  The dinner bell rang and we made our way back inside.

One giant table was set in the dining room.  At the Greyfield Inn you dine with whomever is a guest that evening, and on this particular night it was as if the Fates planned the seating chart. There were eight of us dining in total, and two of the couples were farmers.   We were all to sit at one large table in a room with a fire crackling in the hearth.  We were surprised by this style of dining, but happily took our places at the table.

There is a wonderful intimacy that develops amongst strangers sharing a meal.  We quickly fell into conversation with the couple who sat across from us, owners of Deep Creek Ranch.  They supply grass-fed beef to some of the finest restaurants in Orlando, and it was fascinating to talk shop with them.  There was also a pair of farmers from New Jersey, and a couple from Wisconsin as well.  The company was excellent, the four courses were superb, the ambiance was perfection.  

After the meal we made our way down the dark dirt road to the docks and cast off into the night.  There was no moon to speak of and a brisk wind on the water, but we were still warm from the cozy dining room.  The whole evening was wonderfully old fashioned and intimate: from arriving by small boat, to classic cocktails on the porch, to the charm of dining by fire and candle light in a century old home on a small island in the deep south, where hospitality is still more than a mint on your pillow. 

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Fluoride on Tap

Teeth are beyond strange, and I have such respect for folks who spend their days digging around in other people's mouths.  The dental profession is one trade that I will never dabble in.  There is just something about the mouth as an orifice that I find unpalatable.  It is the portal to our innards, lined with bones used for grinding and tearing food.  It is dark, slobbery, stinky.  Gross.

I broke my front tooth Easter Sunday.  Let me rephrase.  I broke off my veneer, a little piece of porcelain no bigger than a press-on pinkie nail that costs as much as some used cars. This is the second time this veneer had broken, the first during a date with Chef early in our relationship.  He had cooked me dinner, which included a beautiful warm boules.  I bit into the crisp crust of the bread, and as I chewed I crunched down on something hard.  I reached into my mouth and pulled out the little white shard, and did not make the connection that it was part of my front tooth until I had flicked it off his balcony.  Needless to say I was mortified.

This Easter it happened during brunch at a friend's house.  My daughter looked at the nub protruding from my gum and she asked, "Mommy is that your horn?"  I replied, "Yes.  It is my unicorn horn."   I was doing my best to rally, but the reality is that when you have a case of pumpkin mouth it is hard to have a sense of humor.  For one thing, you don't want to smile.  At all.

Two days ago I went to the dentist to have a permanent crown put on.   After a good needling, while I sat there waiting for the anesthesia to set I decided to ask my dentist a question that has been bothering me for awhile.  "So what is the deal with Fluoride?  How did they figure out its effects on teeth, and why do some people discourage its use because it is considered a poison?"  

There are many folks who think fluoride should not be in our tap water.  In 2008, the National Kidney Foundation changed their stance from pro-fluoride to neutral on the topic because of concerns of how Fluoride can effect those suffering from renal problems.  The Sierra Club stance is that it should not be mandatory.   The USA is part of only a handful of countries that fluoridates their drinking water, many other nations have tried it in the past but have found it too hard to control the amount of fluoride in the water, a problem we have in the US because it is state regulated thus inconsistent, and some countries just found it too expensive. 

My dentist, who is an amazing doctor...the best dentist I have ever been to, went on to tell me that in the 70's there was a number of studies done on certain populations that had better teeth than others. Turns out in Texas the water in the aquifers that tap water came from have extremely high levels of fluoride naturally.  The people's teeth were stronger than in other parts of the country. They did a controlled study on two groups in New York, one with people drinking un-fluoridated water and one without.  The evidence showed a dramatic difference in how healthy their teeth were.  Her response on the poison factor was that anything ingested in large doses can be harmful, and that the amount of fluoride in tap water is minuscule. Her reasoning was scientific and exact, and she seemed very sure peeping at me over her spectacles.

I didn't tell her that I had used un-fluoridated tooth paste for over a decade now, and had only had two cavities in that time, but also have had a much healthier diet. As a child that ate junk food and drank soda pop like it was my job I suffered terribly with dental issues, even though I brushed twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste.

I didn't tell her that my kids' pediatric dentist told me not to brush their teeth with fluoride because they could ingest it.

A good hour of solid drilling into my face, the deed was done.  My tooth looked like new.  I was glad for modern dentistry...thrilled with it.  But the fluoride issue was on my mind and I asked my dentist why not just brush it on...why do we have to ingest it?  She said the ingestion made the teeth actually grow stronger, while the topical application was just a superficial plus.  Makes sense to me, but the ethics of it are still questionable.  I am not sure if I am comfortable with a government adding medication to its water supply, regardless of how minimal the amount.

Although a little Marinol in the old tap water would probably do most folks in this country a world of good...take the edge off if you know what I mean.

Friday, May 6, 2011

High Five

I know Cinco De Mayo was yesterday, but I just can't help myself.  I love Cinco De Mayo.  Any reason to drink a margarita in the middle of the week is okay in my book. In fact, if you are looking for the perfect libation to celebrate again, perhaps this weekend, this day of liberation go no further.  Go here.

In a nutshell:  Cinco De Mayo is the day when the Mexican people took back their country from the French, the best army in the world during that time period.  It was 1862 and the United States was in the throws of the Civil War unable to help their neighboring country.  Outnumbered two to one the Mexican army defeated the French at the Battle of Pueblo.  They held their own for a year, and then the French took the nation.  But not for long.  In 1867 with our help Mexico was finally independent.

The story of the underdog always intrigues me.  When we were recently in Mexico we had an extraordinary meal at a restaurant named Cetli in Tulum.  The meal was extraordinary in two ways: 1. It was comprised of incredible indigenous ingredients used to create artful, delicious, contemporary plates of food, and 2. Everything was cooked by one person in a kitchen alone, a young woman named Chef Claudia Pèrez.  Cetli had been recommended by the owner of the property we rented and its menu looked fabulous online so I thought it would be a great place to bring Chef.

We eat when we travel.  We eat a lot, and I always do my due diligence in choosing the restaurant, or food stand, or food truck, or whatever it may be that is going to give us the most authentic experiences.  One of the things that really drew me to this restaurant was this dish: Tililtic

Shrimp with huitlachoche, a.k.a. black corn fungus.  I read a review on TripAdvisor that talked about this dish in particular and it really intrigued me.  You may be thinking why black corn fungus?  It is not a phrase that jumps to mind when you think of delicious, but what can I say.  As I mentioned last week in my fascination with microfungi yeast, I have a thing for mushrooms.  I have yet to meet one that I didn't enjoy, one way or another.  This huitlachoche did not disappoint.

When Chef put this in his mouth his immediate thought was the genius behind this 'surf and turf.' The shrimp nestled in this stew of black corn fungus was a perfect composition.   The flavor balance was exceptional, the rich earthiness of the huitlachoche grounded the briney, sweet taste of the shrimp without overwhelming it in the least.  This was our first course of the evening and it set the pace for the rest of the night.

I sat with my back to the kitchen.  The kitchen no bigger than the little closet we work out of at 29 South. Chef had the view of the chef through a screened window in the dining room.  Exceptional female chefs are a rare breed, and this woman Chef Claudia Pèrez is in a class all of her own.  Not only did the woman prepare every dish for every customer by herself that night, but I also spotted her at the sink scrubbing away.  It was a two woman show,  just the chef and a lovely server.  It takes some cajones to run a restaurant of that caliber in such a manner.  Big cajones.

This woman's food is more than memorable.  This dish here,  the house specialty, Chile en Nogada
I will hold it in my heart forever.  Poblano chili stuffed with minced beef with pineapple and raisins, covered with white nut and chesse sauce sprinkled with granada and coriander.  Served with a side of white rice sweetly steamed in a corn husk. A.k.a. perfection.

Like the Mexicans on that fateful day in May, or a chef far outnumbered by her customers, there is something to be said for those working against the odds and coming out on top.  The victory of the underdog is one to be celebrated by all.  This weekend, make this margarita and toast to it!