This is the sixteenth in a series of farm reports from our own Tom Hirschfeld, complete with recipes, cooking and gardening tips, and wisdom dispensed.
This week: Why Tom looks for the sweet spot, in the garden and kitchen alike.
Come Hell or High Water
It is the sweet spot that I focus on.
I can’t believe I hadn’t thought about it like this. Of course David Chang, from whom I first heard this thought, put it out there like, “What do you mean, you hadn’t thought about this before?” But then that is what makes him David Chang.
The sweet spot: the area around the center of mass of a bat, racket, or head of a club that is the most effective part with which to hit a ball. In golf, tennis, and baseball, you know when you have hit the sweet spot. You can feel it immediately in your hands and then, almost instantly, the feeling transfers from your hands to your brain and you understand that you have done something perfect.
Everything has a sweet spot. Recognizing it when you find it is half the battle: the genius of Kristen Miglore’s Genius Recipes. It is what great cooks and chefs alike strive and look for simply because it will make their food so much better. It is why we search out fresh vegetables and other foodstuffs at their peak of perfection.
The other half of the battle is being the best cook you can be – learning to find the sweet spot through touch, through smell, through technique. It is knowing when your chicken is perfectly roasted, when its flesh is its most succulent, when its skin is its most crispy. It is knowing when it will taste like, well, really great freaking chicken.
It is just this side of winter and I am obsessed with the garden and all the things I need to do (or: the things that didn’t get done this fall). I need to get the garlic in the ground. I need to till the dirt so the deep cold of winter will kill the harmful bacteria and fungus. I am thinking of the beautiful carrots that may be at their peak, the ones still in the garden buried just inches below the surface in the cold mud of winter.
I pull on my tall boots. With pitchfork and basket in hand, I head out into the mud. At least twice I almost walk right out of my left boot as it suctions to the ground. I keep my feet moving, trying desperately to stay above the surface. When I get to the garden, I dig in and start pulling carrots and mud.
Soon the mud on my hands is so cold I am beginning to think the grit in this slop is glass and it is cutting my hands. Finally they just go numb. I keep digging.
Back in the house the cold water from the spigot burns through the mud like it is boiling. I scrub some carrots and bite into a purple haze.
I stumble back from the sink in amazement and point out into the garden like I am Babe Ruth getting ready to bat, grinning with joy, arching my finger cockily over the left field fence. There is only one way to hit one out of the park -- and anyone who has done it, knows it.
Right now, today, the garden is the protagonist, the hero, the place where these carrots, the one I just bit into, have a big old sweet spot.
1 1/4 pound carrots, rinsed and peeled
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt, plus more for seasoning the puree
1 teaspoon honey
1 bay leaf
3 thyme sprigs
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
Freshly ground white pepper
Want more Tom? See his latest dispatch: A Kinder, Gentler Holiday