As we adjust to our new lifestyle of long-term social distancing, we are making a point to check in with friends both near and far, who are all facing different degrees of this new normal.
This week, we are thrilled to hear from a longtime friend of the Creamery, cookbook author, entrepreneur and altogether mom boss to three charming sons, Lucinda Scala Quinn.
Lucinda has always been a master at making something out of nothing. She shared thoughts from her apartment on Manhattan's west side, where she's been cooking non-stop.
Right now, when I close my eyes and picture the place where I want to mind travel, I am transported to Vermont.
The occasion is the annual Vermont Cheesemakers festival -- hosted at the incomparable Shelburne Farms over a beautiful summer weekend in August.
We arrive from New York City after a five-hour drive on highways, back roads, and finally through the gates at Shelburne Farms. We meander down the winding road that curves through the historic grounds, past fields and forests of sweeping meadows, pastureland with grazing animals, and a dairy operation turning out farmstead cheddar cheeses.
The scent of fresh cut grass wafts in from a breeze off Lake Champlain, before finally reaching our destination at the very end of the path. The summer Inn is a transformed gilded-age home perched on the edge of the lake. For three nights, my family vacations without any of the modern trappings we’ve come to rely on; cell phones, air conditioners or computers.
Instead, it’s books, fans, bikes, swims, walks and meals.
There is always a lot of eating, drinking and snacking since Vermont produces the most delicious, consciously produced food products of any state in the country.
Who could have imagined just six or seven months ago, when I sat innocently nibbling soft-ripened goat cheese in Vermont, that we would now be marking six weeks of a state-mandated at-home quarantine.
As we ride out a global pandemic in our apartment in New York City-- an epicenter of this horrible virus-- Vermont sounds like a dream.
Now, I must rely on my cooking to take me traveling.
At first, I drew from the scant pantry stocked with finds from recent trips. There I found year-old dry ancho chilies, beans and masa harina made for a Mexican meal like one eaten in Oaxaca last year. Also, noodles, shitake dry mushrooms and kombu seaweed make a replicate of a memorable soup from a recent visit to Osaka, Japan. This morning I had leftover rice and dal from a beloved page-worn Indian cookbook.
When it came time to procure new raw ingredients like fresh produce, meats, and dairy, a grocery or farmers’ market trip was decidedly out of the question. So, I promised myself to support our local farmers and purveyors with delivery purchases.
Our basics, like flour came from Wild Hive Farm, canned tomatoes from New Jerseys’s own First Field, chicken from D’artagnan and vegetables from Wood Thrush Farm to name a few orders I received in the last couple weeks.
The small, specialty purveyors need our help now more than ever, after all.
Food prices have soared, and my mind is focused on those souls desperately seeking a meal and nutrition during this difficult time, so I’ve been making what sustaining monthly donation to World Central Food Kitchen I can manage.
As for butter, Vermont Creamery has my heart.
I confessed my appreciation for bougie butter in a Washington Post article last year; the preparation led me down a rabbit hole of cooking and tasting every European-style butter available for purchase. I had to assure myself that my Vermont bias was not tainting my taste buds or my judgment.
My quest was to find a better-best multipurpose butter that could easily swap for the commercial brands we’re used to, without the higher butterfat content throwing off the ratios of my favorite recipes. It turns out, that when it comes to butter—fresh and local matters.
Like everyone else these days, I plunge the depths of my pantry daily to feed my family.
In fact, my cookbook Mad Hungry Family, has an entire chapter called Pantry Power, a term I coined long before it was a hashtag. That chapter picked up on a book from 2009 in which I desperately tried to keep my emerging young sons and husband fed three meals a day on a budget.
Making something out of nothing has been my everyday bread and butter practice for years.
Right now it’s the little luxuries I covet, and try to sneak in when no one expects it. Like sweet or savory pie any which way. As long as there is flaky, salty, crust, I can make my quarantined Quinn’s happy by simply marrying pie dough with just about any filling.
All you need for success is a reliable, foolproof recipe. The dough can be made quickly or frozen for future use. With Spring soon unfolding to Summer we have the promise of June strawberries, July Raspberries, and August blueberries before us. No viral pandemic can take that away.
Until then, I’m perfectly happy with any vegetable, fruit or even buttermilk custard that can be wrapped in pie dough, and baked to a trusted, buttery, crispy conclusion. Today, I’m baking Spinach Hand Pies and will dream about a future trip to somewhere I’ve never been before like Turkey or Greece.
Until then, our cookbooks are our airplanes.