Saturday, April 02, 2011

The last ONCE of Winter (the last meal for me?)

When I started cancer treatment, I knew I might reach a point at which eating would be at best unpleasant and at worst impossible. Once treatment is over, there will still be a chunk of time before my tastebuds returned (and some tastes may change completely).

Result: I have to assume that any really good meal could be my last, and therefore all opportunities for really good meals should be pounced upon and devoured.

Which is how I ended up claiming (in pathetic tones), "This might be the last chance I have to eat well" at the Bloc 11 pop-up, Journeyman and Craigie on Main. And then going out and eating, happily, elsewhere.

Okay, but this time I'm serious. I just finished seven of 35 radiation treatments, and already feel sore-throated and dry-mouthed. And it's going to get worse before it gets better.

So I was delighted that I was still in good shape for The Last ONCE of Winter, another of JJ Gonson's wild rides into local, seasonal dining. This ten-course extravaganza was slated to include some of the dishes featured at Valhalla, which I missed.

(Read about previous adventures with Cuisine en Locale's One Night Culinary Events.)

We trudged through a late (and quite unnecessary) snow shower and arrived to a table of glistening oysters. Which I can't eat right now — boo!

But they were being shucked by the lovely Trevor, who first introduced me to JJ and also to the fab Five Corners Kitchen in Marblehead — yaay!

As usual, the menu for the evening was upon the blackboard with extra notes. Don't worry if you can't read it; I'll walk you through.

First up, some lovely lamb from Stillman's Farm, with sweet roasted beets and a yogurt sauce (the note says, "It's a sheep/goat's milk mix! It's so good and you can get it in Belmont!").

Next, mussels in a bourride broth of garlic, tomatoes, wine and beer. I wasn't sure whether I should eat the mussels, given my allegedly compromised immune system. But they smelled so frickin' good that I couldn't just let them sit there.

From bourride we moved on to bunny, braised in tomatillos, fall-apart tender, and combined with Baer's beans. If dried beans are better than canned, Baer's are better dried beans than most dried beans. This was a perfect winter dish.

And then: ribs! Juicy Stillman's pork, marinated in apple cider, served with purple potatoes. Take a moment to admire the fat.

And take another moment to admire some of the chefs working on the ribs.

Next: porridge, cheese and onion flavor. For realsies. This was apparently a big hit at Valhalla. It's hard to describe, so I'll let the Lovely Locavore Ladies take care of the details.

And then a lovely piece of beef brisket with pureed root veggies (heavy on sweet parsnips) and pickled beets that carried a hint of fennel.

Next up, fishcakes. I'm not entirely sure why the menu ran this way — from oysters to lamb to beef to fish, rather than starting light and ending rich and heavy — but after so much big meat, the fish worked well. On top of which, I'm a sucker for fishcakes.

These came with young greens and flowers from NorthStar Farm in Westport that had been picked and driven into Somerville, through the snow, just for us to eat.

By this time, eight courses in, we were all flagging. The room was warm (how warm? I had to take off my hair) and the hour was late. And yet somehow, JJ managed to get us to take a (belated) seventh-inning stretch. I'm disappointed that my camera failed me for once, as I was sure I'd captured video of 40-some people singing "Sweet Caroline" while JJ danced wildly in the kitchen.

You'll just have to take my word for it.

Next came a sorbet to cleanse the palate, featuring last year's peaches. There was a little too much Pernod (or some other anis liqueur) for my taste; I'd have preferred to get a clearer promise of summer flavor. But perhaps that was the point. We're still too far from peach season. For now we just get a cloudy hint of what's to come.

And finally, a lovely selection of cheeses. Before:

After (or perhaps, before demolition):

By this point I was fading, so remember only that there was Bayley Hazen Blue from Jasper Hill, plus a fabulous, nutty 10-year-old Gouda, and some others whose names I don't recall but made me think of Yma Dream.

The next day, when I went for my radiation treatment, the technician asked, "How's your appetite? Any loss of tastebuds?"

I just smiled.

Huge thanks to JJ and her pirate crew!

And congrats to Janna for attending her tenth ONCE!

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Blogger CG said...

Carolyn -
It was so nice to see you there, but way too brief of an encounter! Thank you for introducing me to ONCE through your blog - my table was almost all newbies and we enjoyed the meal immensely.
And, glad to hear you are still eating and enjoying it!

12:24 PM  
Blogger adele said...

I am now two parts hungry and one part homesick. Local rabbit - JJ's trying to kill me with envy, I swear!

Glad to hear your tastebuds are still in the game!

2:03 PM  
Anonymous JJ said...

There is absolutely no one's taste buds I would rather satisfy. You tell them to hurry up and grow back and we will do that peach granita up right for you in August!
Love you, xj

10:32 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Heard about your blog from the dietician. About to start same treatment (no induction) tomorrow. Enjoying eating here in Cambridge while the taste buds last.

Determined to do real food even if I need a tube.

5:31 PM  

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