Monday, November 02, 2009

Mary Had a Little Lamb... Shannon Had a Lot of Lamb

I'm on the backside of a week living in my new favorite place on the continent - the state of Vermont. Before I came here the only things I knew about Vermont were as follows: it has decent skiing, it's home to Ben & Jerry's, the fall foilage is amazing and, whatever I might have gleaned from sporadic episodes of Newhart back in the late 80’s. Michael Moore, in his latest film Capitalism: A Love Story, also gave me a bit of Moore-style insight (i.e. slightly sensationalized) into what Vermont might offer by way of political views and values when he referred to it as the gay-loviing state – clearly attempting to articulate and simultaneously criticize what he believes to be the mainstream opinion of the rest of the union. To drive his point home, he also interviewed one of Vermont’s Senators, the only independent (i.e. neither Republican nor Democrat) and a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist,which is different than being a social Democrat (e.g. Clinton).

Well, over the course of the last week, I’ve come to determine that I’m living in a little bubble of wonderful cross-pollination. What I mean by that is that, to my eye, Vermont has taken the best of America (entrepreneurialism, independence, work ethic, etc.), married it with the best of Canada (social programs, community orientation, and acceptance), then added in a dash of Europe (delicious cheese and other gastronomic delights which I will attempt to elaborate on in this post!). And voila – you have it all, in one small, but beautiful piece of earth that hugs the Quebec border in more than just the geographical sense.

And that, I do believe, was a rather drawn-out segue into the subject of this post which, quite clearly, is LAMB. As it turns out, raw milk cheese, gay marriage licenses and quirky inn staff are not the only things to be discovered in ‘The Green State’. One can also find themselves in the throes of ecstasy upon discovering that lamb can be sourced locally in North America (admittedly, for a heartbeat I was disappointed that I could no longer use this as an excuse to take a working holiday trip to New Zealand for lamb sampling purposes).

That’s right, on Thursday of last week, I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time and was treated to a most delectable local dinner at a restaurant in Burlington, called Penny Cluse. The restaurant, which typically does breakfast and lunch only, hosts a monthly ‘Dinner Series’ meal, which in this, the month of October, featured lamb, lamb and more lamb.

I really had no idea what to expect of the evening when I was invited by one of the UVM folks I’d met during my first visit to the campus. He (Joe) said ‘ What are you doing Thursday night?’

“Well, as it turns out, since I am new to the country, my social calendar is quite open’ I replied.

‘Perhaps you’d be interested in coming to dinner at the restaurant where my wife is the chef. It’s a farm dinner, it’s delicious. Trust me.’

‘Well, when you put it that way, how could I say no?’

I’m pretty sure this a very inaccurate recollection of our conversation, but in any case, I showed up at Penny Cluse on Thursday evening, ready for whatever gluttonous temptations I would face. The place was packed, people were milling about with wine in one hand and a plate of mouth-wateringly attractive nibbles in the other. My new friend, Joe (who looked very hip Canadian in a fashionable lumberjacke-sque buttom-up shirt) ,waved at me to join him at the buffet table, where people were filling up their plates. Oh OK, if I must. Let the indulgence begin!

He pointed at a mound of what appeared to be very pink ground meat. That’s kibbee. Hmm. Interesting. I’d had kibbee before. It’s a Middle Eastern dish and Rana’s mother, who is Syrian, had made it for her daughter’s bridal shower. It, as I recall, was brown in color. Well, as I quickly learned there are two versions of kibbee – the cooked version and the raw version. So, for the first time in my life, I voluntarily ate raw meat. And it was good. And I’ve not gotten ill. The rest of the buffet appetizers were a blur of deliciousness – the standout being crispy fried chicken skins (yes, JUST the skins!), paired with toast and lamb kidney.

Then, as a group of 50, we sat down for the plated meal at long tables. Oh dear. It started with lamb balls in a lemon soup, with vegetables to accompany. The next plate served up a lovely pinwheel of meat, of which the servers were relaying the ingredients. I neglected to take notes. Or maybe it was the two glasses of red wine I’d already downed. In any case, my head’s a bit fuzzy on that second plate.

Next were the main dishes – served up on sharing platters. Roasted leg of lamb, lamb sausage and some sort of spinach and cheese concoction that rather stringy and sharp (in a good way) were delivered to the table. I conversed with my fellow diners while trying to show restraint in my lamb consumption. It dawned on me, as Joe put a fourth glass of wine in front of me, that I might do better to limit my alcohol consumption as well, but I’d been abstaining from it pre-marathon so decided limitations on food and drink should be limited (to one or the other).

Finally, dessert was delivered to the buffet table. What, they expected that us diners could actually stand up and walk ten feet to get sweets?! Yes, that’s right, I had second thoughts about getting up for dessert – proof that anything is possible in this world! Luckily Joe came to the rescue and delivered a generous slice of ginger cake and a big scoop of on-premise Stout ice cream. Phew.

I was happy as a lamb.

I know that someone with the initials TC will likely give me a bit of hassle for eating a dinner which was not entirely local or organic. That being said, I was assured by Joe that Penny Cluse does source a significant amount of its food from local producers. Many of the diners were also farmers. Really, the way I look at it, this dinner was an opportunity to do some participant observation and scout for potential interviewees for my research study. It was therefore necessary.

What I learned from my observation of the evening is this:

1. Lamb is divine (to quote Jen Mac – why would anyone eat cow when there is lamb available?)
2. Eating together is far, far more enjoyable than eating alone
3. We, individually and collectively, need to celebrate food and those that bring it to our table far more than we currently do.

And that is the end of this lamb’s tale.


Anonymous said...

I think it's great that you make the effort to eat as much local & organic as you can and that you don't deny yourself anything that's not.

Now for the kibbe! Yum! My father will make traditional (i.e. raw) kibbe. He gets the meat from a butcher in the Valley (i.e. Kentville area) that he knows, gets a the best cut of meat and grounds it himself. It's surprisingly heavy. A little olive oil on it and mmmmm delicious!


Shannon Courtney said...

Ack - but I HAVE been denying myself things that aren't for the most part - exhibit # 1 is candy, exhibit # 2 is diet pop, exhibit #3 is oatmeal and boxed cereals. Trust me I AM definitely denying myself when I am preparing my own meals.

That's neat re: kibbe - I was a little worried about the raw thing, but have yet to die. That's a good sign.

fromaway said...

Great story, pictures too?


Anonymous said...

And speaking of raw kibbe I had some tonight! My father knows to call me when he makes it! :o)


Anonymous said...

I guess I should've said the kibbe my father makes is made from beef


Anonymous said...

All sounds scrumptious. Don't think I could do the raw thing but I'm sure it tasted yummy. Any upcoming gourmet events?


Jen said...

Woohoo - I've been quoted! A fine quote it is, too.
Question - can you eat "sheep" or is it always lamb?

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