Jewish Penicillin Cures All Ills
GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Spring, despite her reluctance, has finally arrived. The breeze is warm, the ground is soft and everyone I know all over hell and creation is ... sick?
It happens every year around this time, right as I am ready to dive into the dirt and get the garden rolling and right as the kids take their final week of rest before the two-month push to June.
My yearly catastrophic illness began to rear its ugly head at precisely 11 a.m. last Wednesday, while on a pilgrimage to the Bronx Zoo with five of my nieces and nephews and my own two children. What timing.
Lucian, my 7-year-old son, had no sooner shut the car door when he was off like Seabiscuit through the entrance gate. I yelled to him not to even attempt to climb over the fence to "visit" the American bison that seemed to be waiting for him on the other side. The attempted yell morphed quickly into a pathetic, nonthreatening bark.
By the day's end, several thousand dollars' worth of souvenirs and hot dogs and three Pepsis later, things did not improve. In fact, by nightfall I was sweating and no sound came out of me save for raspy squeaks and a spine-rattling cough, complete with phlegm.
By morning, it was official. I tried calling my doctor to make an appointment, but couldn't speak. The receptionist nearly hung up on me, but I managed after several tries to convey my name.
"Oooh my god," he said. "Don't talk. I'm pretty sure I know why you need an appointment."
They got me in early and the waiting room was packed, and very silent. It seemed that all of us poor souls – young, old, man, woman, carpenter and journalist – were there hoping for a cure to our miserable speechlessness. The nurse called my name and I simply smiled at her as she led me to the examining room.
"So what's the problem today, hon?"
I smiled my goofy smile again and wiped the sweat from my neck.
"I ... I ..." I pointed into my throat as if a Smurf had just jumped in. The nurse put her hand up, gesturing for me to stop. I think it hurt her to watch me attempt to speak.
"You sound like everyone else in Berkshire County."
If that's the case, then everyone in Berkshire County needs to know my secret to getting oneself on the mend – and quick. My diagnosis was laryngitis coupled with a sinus infection (and walking pneumonia because I'm lucky that way). As if being unable to speak wasn't bad enough, the coughing further eviscerated my vocal chords and the fever, despite the sun and beautiful sky, made me sweat and shiver at the same time.
What I needed I was not going to find at the prescription counter at Rite-Aid (although I was put on a very strong antibiotic, the side effects of which are almost worse than the illness). What I needed was right across the street from Rite-Aid. My good ol' friend and salvation: soup. Not just any soup, mind you. Nope, this plague was going to require some big guns.
After dropping my deadly horse pill script off at Rite Aid I dragged my sweaty self across the street to Great Barrington Bagel Co. I tried to order, but ended up pointing instead.
"Do you want that soup for here?"
I shook my head and pointed to the giant quart-sized container of chicken and matzo ball soup and gave the woman behind the counter a thumbs up. She handed me the warm amber liquid, filled with bits of chicken, golden matzo balls, carrots, dill and a random scattering of egg noodles. My heart filled with hope that I would be cured by dinner.
It took me a day to get through a quart of the self-proclaimed "Jewish penicillin." My body gathered strength with each slurp. It didn't hurt to eat the matzos, which weren't too salty and eased past my throat. It was almost as if the soup had a life of its own. It knew, or at least somebody at the bagel shop knew, exactly what needed to be done. My body was being nourished from the inside out and all I had to do was let the soup work its ancient magic.
Of course, I did not actually speak until Monday morning, having to conduct interviews via email or, as in the case with Gov. Deval Patrick, who was here on Saturday for a book signing, via written notes and hand gestures. Even the governor winced when I tried to thank him. He was, however, seemingly unafraid to shake my hand. I guess he doesn't mind the bubonic plague.
Or somebody already told him about the soup.
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What's for Lunch?: Chicken & Flatbread at The Hub
We haven't commented on our lunch habits for awhile. We keep meaning to but the constant swirl of news keeps us pretty busy.
But a colleague and I had a chance on Friday to step away from the bustle for a sit-down at The Hub on Main Street in North Adams. We both used to go there too many years back when it was the The Capitol and Sprague workers were lined up to get in on a Thursday.
The Hub's proven pretty popular itself since opening three years ago under Kate and (chef) Matt Schilling. My usual selection to-go is the Grown-Up Grilled Cheese but the specials on Friday were to good to pass up.
Over the years, we've grown to love soup. This is Italian wedding at The Hub; you can also get good soup at Christo's (try the Greek) and Pizza Works on Ashland Street.
My colleague and I both selected a roasted chicken sandwich on herb flatbread with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil aioli dressing.
Verdict: pretty awesome. I'm not a fan of flatbread; it's often hard and chewy. This one was just right and a lot moister than expected. The chicken was pulled and tender, the cheese warm but not overpowering and the dressing, well, perfect. But then I'm a fan for anything with basil in it.
We also had the homemade Italian wedding soup — one of my favorites. The canned version by Progresso is a staple in my pantry. Matt's is far better and the cup was not enough.
We topped it off with homemade bread pudding and cream, another favorite of mine I rarely make anymore. (The kids weren't into it and eating a casseroleful by myself was a weighty affair.) It was served warm and had raisins in it. The texture was just right, not too creamy and not too chunky. It was a good-sized portion but didn't feel heavy.
Kate told us the restaurant will be changing the menu at the beginning of May. They've been experimenting hummus and plan to add a hummus sandwich and salad plate, along with a baby spinach salad. Given Matt changed our mind about flatbread, maybe he'll get us into hummus. We're willing to try.
The Hub also was given a permit last year for outside dining so expect to see some tables on the sidewalk once the weather warms up.
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Area Restaurants & Farmers Go Into the Wild
Morels are one of the many wild edibles found in the Berkshires.
GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — Mud is not the only springtime element running in abundance in Berkshire County; April and May also mark the beginning of wild edibles season.
Many area restaurants, foragers and farmers are taking advantage of nature's bounty, as both a means to educate and to feed a growing number of foodies and locavores.
Ted Dobson, owner of Equinox Farm in Sheffield and co-founder (along with Laura Meister of Farm Girl Farm and Anna Mack of Wild and Cultivated) of Wild Leek Week, said shining the spotlight on nature's harvest is the key to encouraging responsible stewardship and eating well.
"There's a lot more appreciation in general for what grows in the wild," he said in a phone interview. "The whole eating locally and organic farming movement has really encouraged this kind of event. It's very tantalizing because they [ramps, fiddleheads, morels and other wild edibles] only come in season for a few short weeks or a month at most. Wild ancestral breeds always have a flavor that is unadulterated. Culinarily, we are much more attuned to flavor in its native state."
Indeed, the pungent tang of ramps is a draw for many diners and local chefs as is the idea of foraging for food, an activity that Dobson said has long been an integral part of human survival and, more recently, food culture.
"Our history as a species is one of eating from the wild," he said. "In doing so, one needs to be responsible just like with anything else. The idea should be, don't take more than you need. It's common sense. It's important to take a cue from people who are good hunters. They know what role these edibles play in their natural state. We need to be thoughtful, we didn't sow these seeds."
Photo by Austin BanachRamps in the wild.
Although we didn't sow the seed, the literal fruits of foraging labor are on full display this week at area restaurants, as each pays homage to the ramp with unique recipes, lavish meals and drinks.
Cafe Adam is offering the Dirty Ramp Martini (served with Berkshire Mountain Distillers gin or vodka) and Prince Edward Island mussels with ramps, bacon, green peas and Highlawn Farm cream. In addition to these savory appetizers, Mission Bar and Tapas in Pittsfield is holding a "Rampapalooza" five-course wine dinner on Wednesday, April 20, while the Castle Street Cafe is offering a "Redolent Ramp" three-course dinner on Thursday, April 21.
Other participating restaurants have also jumped aboard the ramp ship including Allium, Old in on the Green in New Marlborough, John Andrews in Egremont and Caffe Pomo D'Oro in West Stockbridge.
Area restaurants are not the only promoters of wild things in the Berkshires. Berkshire Farm & Table, an organization bringing Berkshire food culture to the forefront of the sustainable food movement, will present Where the Wild Things Are, a series of eight wild food walks lead by experienced instructors who will focus on responsible harvesting techniques, recipes and the history of foraging in the Berkshires. The walks will take place on four weekends during the month of May and are presented in partnership with Berkshire Grown’s Farmed and Foraged culinary event May 20-22 and are sponsored by the Williams College Sustainable Food and Agriculture Program. Program manager Katherine Millonzi said the high demand for sustainable, local food sources provides a perfect opportunity to raise awareness about sustainable practices.
"It's a chance for the community to get acquainted with what is growing in their landscape and to become familiar with sustainable practices," she said. "Everything about this is coupled with education. What we are trying to do is strike a balance — raising consciousness about people's diet, never taking out more than you put in. It's rooted in a desire to connect people with the food they eat. Taking something out of the earth and preparing it is one of the most beautiful things we can do as humans."
Not to be outdone, the educational arm of the foraging journey is not the only benefit harvesting in the wild.
"It provides a unique and wonderful gastronomic experience," Millonzi said. "It's using all of the senses, not just your brain and connecting your taste buds with your brain. There's diversity built in."
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