Superb Dining At Lansing Farm’s Field Notes In Upstate NY’s Capital Region

Farm to table dining under a festive tent at Lansing Farm in upstate New York

Red leaf lettuce with grilled peaches and focaccia croutons tossed in a blueberry vinaigrette: a perfect salad course

Pork cooked sous vide has a robust sweetness helped along by a sauce of cherries in brown butter, accompanied by spinach sautéed with almonds and grated potatoes, also sautéed

A very flavorful cheese course included accompanying basil pesto, onion jam, chutney of pickled green tomatoes and a currant-cherry IPA jelly

Chef Kyle MacPherson, along with chef Joan Porambo, deserve much praise for bringing superb farm to table dining to the Capital District of upstate NY

Had I wanted more food, I probably could have strolled into the fields just beyond the dining area and helped myself. But that would have meant bypassing the creative, harmonious transformations effected by chefs Joan Porambo and Kyle MacPherson. They’re offering brunches and dinners (they call their farm to table meals Field Notes) at the Lansing Farm on Lishakill Road in Colonie (Albany County) in upstate New York.

The farm market on the premises has been a longtime reason for visiting; picking up your CSA shares is another. Al Lansing is an eighth-generation farmer, and his kids are extending that statistic – which dates back to the original settlers of the once-rural area, but now leaves him running the only remaining farm in this much-transformed suburban town.

It was Al’s idea to do these dinners, says Joan, who speaks with an eagerness that reveals her own enthusiasm but also is a reminder that she’s still got dinners to prepare and serve. Thanks to some family connections, Lansing met with the chefs and persuaded them to relocate from the Stowe, Vermont, restaurants where they were working and create an event that would feature dining on Lansing Farm’s produce, a short walk from the fields and greenhouses where it was grown.

It’s the first dinner of the season, and we visit on a perfect summer evening, with the sun easing behind a greenhouse throughout the course of our meal. The farm greets its visitors with a market building, while the dinner tent sits off to one side. A refectory table salvaged from the historic Yorktowne Hotel (York, PA) is draped in linen and burlap, the latter a series of repurposed bags offering a decorative highlight. It’s set for six, but Joan shrugs off the disappointment. The first time we did this –  which took place last summer – only two people showed up. But the table accommodates twenty, and last year that number was reached.

Iced tea – courtesy Divinitea in Halfmoon (Saratoga County, NY) – is available at a pour-it-yourself station. Sinatra sings uptempo standards in the background. Both chefs welcome the arriving guests, taking turns keeping what’s happening in the kitchen underway.

What’s happening is an amuse-bouche platter, a ritual that kicks off each such meal. Today it’s fried brioche with onion jam and a note of plums; alongside it, tempura of squash blossoms with a dab of aioli and decor of chive blossoms.

This is walking-around food, toothsome morsels that help break the ice as you prepare to share what’s to come. We work with what’s coming in, Joan says. Right now, the greenhouse tomatoes are ripe, so we picked the freshest and newest ones and roasted them with garlic and cream. It’s the first course, a rich soup served in small, handsome bowls, each pumpkin-colored serving topped with a dollop of garlic scape pistou.

Scapes are one of the high points of the early-summer harvest, plucked from the garlic plant before it can flower, a string bean-like item with built-in seasoning. As a tomato accompaniment, it’s perfect. And it soon will reappear in another guise.

Joan is the Sinatra fan. She grew up in Jim Thorpe, PA, and discovered her passion for cooking while preparing meals and desserts for her family – and sharing the enjoyment of the music they like. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 2012, she went to work for Ric Orlando at New World Bistro Bar in Albany, making her way from there to Prohibition Pig in Waterbury, VT, before returning to the Capital Region of upstate New York.

Kyle, meanwhile, grew up in New Hampshire and graduated from the New England Culinary Institute in 2005, after which he worked in Boston before becoming executive chef of the Cliff House at Stowe Resort. But working at Lansing Farm allows him to see, touch, interact and appreciate the produce in real time as it’s grown, which only increases the creative potential of these items.

Greens are at a peak, and they look beautiful, says Joan, introducing the next course, which features red leaf lettuce with grilled peaches and focaccia croutons, tossed in a blueberry vinaigrette for balanced acidity. I love making focaccia, so that’s fun to use for the salad, and it also has a sprinkling of marigold petals to add a slight bitterness. Eating a delicious salad while gazing at its fields of origin feels right – indulgently right, making peace with Nature right. And, of course, it tastes fresher than anything from the market.

One of the guests brought a bottle of wine – that’s the only way to enjoy strong waters at these events for now – and we sipped in anticipation of the entrée. Our salad plates were cleared and the silver was reset. No need to save your fork, and the reset ritual, as Joan observes, acts as a buffer between courses and makes a formal dinner seem less intimidating.

Kyle presented the next course, and it was impressive. The pork, while not from Lansing Farm, was close enough: it’s one of the hormone-free meats raised and sold by Smith’s Orchard in Ballston Spa (Saratoga County, NY). It was cooked sous vide, which is the process of simmering an item (which is sealed in a bag) in a liquid at the desired finish temperature for the time it takes to reach that temperature. It guarantees no loss of flavor or moisture, and the pork’s robust sweetness practically leaped to the palate, helped along by a sauce of cherries in brown butter. Whatever your feeling about spinach, when it’s freshly harvested and sautéed with almonds, it’s like dessert. And it’s a traditional accompaniment to the Swiss dish rösti, so it was appropriate to see that green, leafy (and nutritious) vegetable alongside the coarsely grated potatoes, parboiled and then sautéed – in cast iron, Kyle explained, with pork fat. Any questions? Not from this diner, just culinary satisfaction.

A cheese course always follows the entrée, and this evening’s farm cheese was made from Battenkill Valley Creamery’s milk. [Battenkill Valley Creamery is a dairy business founded by Donald and Seth McEachron, 4th and 5th generation farmers, respectively, who began processing and bottling milk on their family farm in Salem (Washington County), NY in 2008.] The result is a fresh, pleasant confection that begs for strong-flavored accompaniment, and that’s exactly what it got. Scapes returned to the table, now pickled, alongside pickled red onion and traditional cucumber pickles. And four small jars of a wonderful variety of piquant concoctions: basil pesto with walnuts, a chutney of pickled green tomato, a currant-cherry IPA jelly with robust sweetness, and an onion jam that’s the result of two hours of cooking the stuff in maple syrup. Served with a generous mound of baguette slices, we passed the board around the table trying to pace our caloric intake.

The cheese board stays on the table through dessert, so you can get back to the delicious onion jam (I certainly did), but we paused to make short work of a strawberry pot de crème that boasted just enough tartness to be a good companion to a sweet almond lace cookie. Someone nearby began setting off fireworks, a perfect way to celebrate a meal like this.

Field Notes has added a brunch to the proceedings this summer, and you can view menus and make reservations through their website. And don’t be dismayed if the weather looks lousy: the tent already has withstood inclemency, though in this hot, dry summer, rain seems unlikely though much needed by farmers and gardeners.

Dinners are one seating at 7 PM Saturdays for $65 per person; brunch is a la carte Sundays and runs from 11 to 3. You can also sample chefs Joan Porambo and Kyle Macpherson’s cooking at the Troy Farmer’s Market Saturdays from 9 AM-2 PM, and Tuesdays from 6-9 PM at Rare Form Brewing Company, also in Troy (Rensselaer County), NY. Field Notes at Lansing Farm, 204 Lisha Kill Road, Colonie (Albany County), 802.503.9670, Dinner: one seating at 7 PM Saturdays for $65 per person, Brunch is a la carte Sundays and runs from 11:00AM-3:00PM, www.fieldnotes-ny.com.

(B.A. Nilsson, 7/16/18)

[Editor’s Note (FWB): Field Notes at Lansing Farm is one of 75 listings included in this website’s very special directory for dining on the farm or in the garden, with listings in the United States, Canada, Australia, Denmark, England, Ireland, Sweden & Wales!]

Nature’s Path, Business Winner of Rodale’s 2018 Organic Pioneer Award, Resigns In Protest From The Organic Trade Association

Last month, we reported on the Rodale Institute’s Organic Pioneer Awards for 2018 honoring peach farmer Mas Masumoto, research scientist William Liebhardt, and North America’s largest organic breakfast company, Nature’s Path. This business, founded by Arran and Ratana Stephens and still family-owned, has recently announced its resignation from the Organic Trade Association (OTA).

According to a press release issued by the company, OTA has shifted its commitment from supporting and representing the core principles of the organic food movement to begin pushing a non-organic agenda which threatens the future of organic. The Wikipedia page for the Organic Trade Association sums up criticism of the OTA. Citing the Organic Consumers Association and The Cornucopia Institute (Cornucopia), OTA is viewed by many as an agent of big business interests working to undermine the credibility of the organic movement. 

Similarly, Arran Stephens, Nature’s Path co-CEO, in explaining his company’s resignation from the OTA, noted that giant food corporations, that also happen to own small organic brands, use the OTA to influence policy decisions to protect the best interest of their large non-organic food portfolios. In particular, Stephens points to OTA’s allowing hydroponics to fall under the organic certification label where there is no organic agriculture nor soil present and its support for a vague and misleading national GMO labelling law. (A compelling slogan on Nature’s Path home page is Get Goodness, Not Glyphosates in noting that its organic oats give you all the good stuff and none of the toxins, like glyphosate, in your bowl of granola.)

Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at Wisconsin-based Cornucopia, a nonprofit which acts as a governmental and corporate watchdog in the organic industry, sharing Stephens’ concerns, notes that When there are billions of dollars at stake, time and time again, the OTA has sided with conventional agribusiness interested in liberalizing the working definition of organics. Allowing plants grown in liquid fertilizers to be considered organic, despite the clear requirement in the Organic Foods Production Act that soil fertility (the historic basis for organic plant nutrition) must be maintained or improved, is being legally challenged by Cornucopia.

(Frank W. Barrie, 7/10/18)

It’s Time To Know About the World’s Tiniest Grain: Teff

ACRES USA

The extraordinary Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, NY with its nearly 1000 bins of bulk food offers both brown and ivory teff flours

Teff grain is also available at Honest Weight’s bulk food department

Acres magazine is published monthly by Acres U.S.A., which was established back in 1971. This monthly magazine, known as the Voice of Eco-Agriculture, carries these pithy words of its founder Charles Walters (1926-2009) on its masthead: To be economical, agriculture must be ecological. For more than four decades, the magazine has sought to help farmers, ranchers and market gardeners grow food organically, sustainably, without harmful, toxic chemistry.

Each issue of the magazine is worthy of a careful reading. In a recent issue, a profile of Tenera Grains in Addison (Lenawee County), Michigan caught our eye. Brad and Diane Smith decided a few years ago, when corn prices slumped, to diversify their crops grown on their seventh-generation crop farm. A friend from Ethiopia suggested that they might try growing the world’s tiniest grain teff. The cultivation of teff is believed to have begun between 4,000-1,000 B.C.E. in Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The Oldways Whole Grains Council notes in an article on Tenera Grains, that just one handful of teff seeds is enough to plant an acre and that it can grow from sea level to as high as 3000 meters of altitude and can withstand both droughts and waterlogged soil conditions. It seems likely that this resilient crop will become much more important as effects of global warming become more pronounced.

And the reliable and go-to cookbook, Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker (New York, NY: Scribner, 1997), sings the praises of this flavorful staple grain of Ethiopia, where it is turned into a spongy flat bread called injera: It smells like molasses while cooking, and if mixed with butter, it tastes like cake. Only the size of celery seeds, the iron-rich kernels have a high surface-to center ratio, which makes them high in fiber.

In the United States, teff is sold as a flour, in a pasta, and as a whole grain. This website’s directory of artisanal grains and flours, not part of the commodity grain trade, has three listings of sources of teff for the consumer market: (i) teff flour from Grist and Toll, based in Pasadena, California, (ii) brown teff flour from Camas Country Mill based in Junction City, Oregon; and (iii) brown and ivory teff flours and Teffola, a nutty teff granola, from Tenera Grains in Addison, Michigan.

We recently received word from Diane Smith that Tenera Grains is currently selling their teff flour on Amazon (search Tenera Grains). And she has plans to find additional sources for buckwheat and rolled oats in order to produce her popular Teffola, a nutty teff granola. (Growers of organic buckwheat and rolled oats who see this post should contact Tenera Grains.)

The cookbook Joy of Cooking also includes a creative suggestion from food writer Nao Hauser to cook up the teff grain into a porridge (with three parts water to one part grain), and then spreading it into a baking pan while warm, refrigerate, cut into slices or triangles and bake or fry like polenta toast.

(Frank W. Barrie, July 3, 2018)

List Of Fast Food Frankenstein Concoctions Unfairly Includes A Cheese Dip From Chipotle?

Chipotle’s location at Stuyvesant Plaza (opened nearly 10 years ago), close to the State University at Albany, is a very busy one

The busy counter at the Stuyvesant Plaza Chipotle with an employee in his black Chipotle t-shirt on line for his dinner

A take-away Chipotle Carnitas salad bowl, deconstructed: brown rice, black beans, and delicious carnitas plus fresh lettuce (option for added cheese and salsa declined): $7.60 of fast food packaged in a brown paper bag labeled As Real As It Gets For 25 Years and noting Bye, Bye GMOs.

The cafe at the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, NY has a delicious hot foods buffet, an excellent alternative to typical fast food operations; our dining directories include listings for cafes at food cooperatives throughout the U.S.

Honest Weight’s deli/cafe also offers made-to-order sandwiches

Much Appreciated: Ingredients are carefully described for the dishes served at the Honest Weight’s Hot Buffet

It was big news for the Capital District of New York when Chipotle Mexican Grill decided to open its first upstate New York fast food operation in the Albany metro area, now nearly ten years ago. The All Over Albany blog post publicizing this news back in 2009 noted that Chipotle’s food is good –and it seems like the company makes an effort to not be evil. And in 2018 the company still seems to maintain its values, which appear to go much further than a modest effort to not be evil. Clicking on Chipotle’s website reveals at the top of its home page a tab labeled Food With Integrity that describes its uniqueness in the fast food industry.

The dictionary definition of integrity is spirits-raising: adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. The commitment articulated by Chipotle on what it means by food with integrity is closely aligned with this dictionary definition and is impressive (particularly for a fast food operation, competing in an industry focused on ever increasing profits for shareholders):

Day after day we’re committed to sourcing the very best ingredients we can find and preparing them by hand. To vegetables grown in healthy soil, and pork from pigs allowed to freely root and roam outdoors or in deeply bedded barns. We’re committed because we understand the connection between how food is raised and prepared, and how it tastes. We do it for farmers, animals, the environment, dentists, crane operators, ribbon dancers, magicians, cartographers and you. With every burrito roll or bowl we fill, we’re working to cultivate a better world.

So it came as a bit of a surprise to see a recent article, The Excesses of Fast Food’s Marketing Binges by reporter Tiffany Hsu in the print edition of the New York Times (6/23/18) include Chipotle in a list of six fast food chains, plus Starbuck’s, which are engineering s0-called Frankenstein dishes and drinks in their test kitchens. (This same article on-line on the newspaper’s website has the more descriptive heading of Meat Wrapped in Meat, Doughnut Sandwiches, Want Some of Fast Food’s Big Ideas?) Reporter Hsu goes so far as to write that these fast-food Frankensteins are meant to provoke; many don’t test particularly good. . . But even notoriety draws attention, which can bring in curious customers.

No surprise to this advocate for local and organic food (and knowing how, where and when your food is grown and produced) that Kentucky Fried Chicken’s Double Down, McDonalds’s McRib, Dunkin’ Donuts’ Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich, Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos, Pizza Hut’s Hot Dog Bites Pizza made the NY Times reporter’s list. And Starbuck’s cookies, cereals and candies inspired by it pumpkin spice latte making the list was not a big surprise. But Chipotle appearing on this list was not so easy to process.

What prompted Chipotle’s inclusion? Reporter Hsu’s answer is its Queso, described as a long-requested cheese dip heralded by the company as an all-natural mix of 23 ingredients without the industrial additives common in other versions which was recently quietly adjusted in response to derision that it was grainy and tasteless.

But how is this a Frankenstein concoction? Too many ingredients might be the reasoning, perhaps, since 23 ingredients to make a cheese dip does seem wondrous. But it does not seem quite fair that Chipotle should be lumped in with the Frankenstein concoctions engineered by the other fast food chains, which Hsu writes, use focus groups, scientific engineering, marketing campaigns, and generous helping of sugar and salt to create the potential hit.

Then again, with nearly 2500 locations, now worldwide (in Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, as well as the U.S.), Chipotle has become a huge operation. It will certainly be challenging for Chipotle to please shareholders, desiring ever increasing sales and profits, and at the same time not impair its commitment to food with integrity.

(Frank W. Barrie, 6/28/18)

The New England Farm Depicted In an Artful Summer Exhibit at the Florence Griswold Museum in Lyme, CT

Art and the New England Farm at the Florence Griswold Museum in Lyme, Ct will be on exhibit through 9/16/18

Florence Griswold inherited her family’s home, along with its debts, and survived by taking in artists as boarders, who put down roots as the Old Lyme Art Colony

Art and the New England Farm is on exhibit in the Griswold Museum’s modern Robert & Nancy Krieble Gallery, which opened in 2002, and where the permanent collection is also showcased

Cultivated English hay on top (Edward Volkert, 1871-1935); a load of salt hay depicted in the bottom painting (Mathias Allen, 1871-1938)

Flowering fruit trees: Childe Hassam’s Apple Trees in Bloom, Old Lyme (1909) and on the right, The Orchard at Griswold Farm (1916) by Lucien Abrams

John Henry Twachtman settled into self-reliant, rural life in Lyme and painted his daughter feeding chickens under her mother’s watchful eye

Thomas Nason’s wood engravings are artistic highpoints of the exhibit, including A Deserted Farm (1931), which he would slowly rebuild, living out the principles of self sufficiency, closely identified with rural New England farm life

This summer’s exhibit, Art and the New England Farm (May 11-September 16, 2018) at the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme (New London County), Connecticut confirms the museum’s importance as a destination for art lovers. Located on the southeastern Connecticut coast at the mouth of the Connecticut River (halfway between New York and Boston), the museum has its roots in the Old Lyme Art Colony, which was at the center of American Impressionism at the beginning of the 20th century. At its height during the first 30 years of the 20th Century, 200 painters passed through the colony of artists.

A brief history on the museum’s website describes a twist of fate. Florence Griswold, the youngest child of a once prosperous sea captain inherited the family home along with its debts. To survive, she chose to take in boarders.

Fortunately, during the summer of 1899, one of her visitors was Henry Ward Ranger, a New York artist looking to establish an art colony in the New England countryside. Under Ranger’s leadership, Old Lyme was, for a time, designated the American Barbizon. With the arrival of Childe Hassam in 1903, the focus of the artists colony shifted from Tonalism to Impressionism and became known as the most famous Impressionist artists colony in America, the American Giverny.

The Griswold family home was transformed into the colony’s boarding house, with the property’s barns and outbuildings turned into studios for artists. Grateful for Florence Griswold’s hospitality, artists painted on the walls and doors of the house, and this extraordinary artwork is preserved within the Florence Griswold House today, making the building itself one of the most important aspects of the collection. Also extraordinary is this summer’s carefully curated exhibit, Art and the New England Farm.

The Florence Griswold Museum is a perfect venue for this summer exhibit. The Griswold family long pursued small scale agriculture, and one acre of the 15 acre property was a cultivated fruit orchard of 40 trees (plum, peach, cherry and apple). The artists who boarded with Florence Griswold feasted on delicious fresh food from the property’s small farm.

Kudos to Curator Amy Kurtz Lansing for the informative and detailed labeling of the exhibit and artwork. Credit and recognition is suitably given to James Kent (1867-1931), the Irish born farm manager and the hired (mostly immigrant) farmhands, for their contributions to the sustenance of the artists colony. Artists must eat, and the Old Lyme Art Colony painters ate very well indeed.

The paintings, wood engravings, drawings and photographs, included in the exhibit, are not only the work of artists associated with the Old Lyme Art Colony. The oldest painting, circa 1800, Ezekiel Hersey Derby Farm by Michele Felice Corné depicts the 110-acre (18th century) model farm in Salem, Massachusetts. And 21st century photos by Judy Friday show what goes on at a small New England dairy farm, Tiffany Farms in Lyme, season by season, in order to produce milk.

A painting spotlighted in the exhibit, Seven Miles to Farmington, circa 1853, by George H. Durrie, is also the subject of a praiseworthy online learning resource developed by the museum (and supported by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services) to connect art and history in the classroom. The mysteries behind this iconic work of American art are explored with the intent of changing the way the viewer (of any age) sees this Durrie painting.

One emphasized detail of Seven Miles to Farmington is the canal in the background, which dealt a blow to New England agriculture by reducing the cost of shipping farm products from the west. In a recent book review of Homegrown Whole Grains by Sara Pitzer posted here last month, it was noted that upstate New York was the breadbasket of America until the Erie Canal in the early 19th century opened up the vast and fertile Midwest to cultivation.

Past farming traditions such as salt haying, dependent on old-fashion methods since harvesters waited for dry summer weather and low tide to gather hay from the coastal marshes, are depicted in beautiful paintings. Working against time to cut the grasses and pile them on to gundalows (flat bottomed scows) that could be floated to a farmer’s land, was labor intensive since mechanized equipment could not be utilized.

And the exhibit demonstrates that at the beginning of the 20th century with the establishment of the Old Lyme Art Colony, local agriculture in Lyme and its environs was in steep decline. The exhibit includes images of New England agriculture as hard scrabble and lonely. Thomas Nason’s wood engraving, A Deserted Farm (1931) depicts farm ruins he purchased and would slowly rebuild while living out the principles of self sufficiency, closely identified with New England farm life. Similarly, John Henry Twachtman bought a 17 acre farm he discovered while touring abandoned agricultural properties. Twachtman’s painting of his daughter feeding chickens under the watchful eye of her mother is notable.

Despite the decline in agriculture with the exodus from New England farms to cities or western lands, there are the inspiring paintings of fruit trees in bloom and an enticing still-life of Strawberries (1888) by Charles Ethan Porter. The informative label notes that Porter’s strawberries were a reliable new variety called The Wilson, which allowed large scale production of the delicious fruit.

Art and the New England Farm is an exhibit to savor. A trip this summer to the Florence Griswold Museum in Lyme on the Connecticut coast is highly recommended.

(Frank W. Barrie, 6/19/18)

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