Sunday, December 27, 2009

Happy New Year

Local Food: Whether you're ready to say goodbye to 2009 or eager to welcome 2010, we all can invest in the New Year. When you celebrate with us this New Year's Eve, you can trust that 79 cents of every food dollar we spend will go to local farmers and artisan producers. A meal with us is in investment in our community, in your friends and neighbors, for the year ahead. Come in and enjoy a few appetizing appetizers, select one of Steven's enticing entrees, or share a sense-ational sweet. His New Year's Eve menu offers an assortment of classic comforts with some special treats. Dinner reservations are available from 5 to 9, and dancing after 10 with Rachael Rice and the Cosmic Americans.

And we are pleased that your holiday giving generated more than $400 from us for the NOFA Farm Share program, thanks to all the gift cards purchased in December.

Local Events: Jeudevine Memorial Library hosts a free viewing of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at 3:00 on Wednesday, December 30.

The Craftsbury Outdoor Center hosts the Craftsbury Classic, with a race for all ages on Sunday, January 3rd. Details available here.

Local News: We've heard the episode of Emeril Green featuring Hardwick will air on Planet Green January 4th at 8:00. We'll keep you posted.

We will be closed January 4th though the 13th. We reopen for dinner on Thursday, January 14, refreshed and ready for a great new year.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Local Food: Just in time for those last harried days before Christmas, the perfect dish to match our bar specials every Monday. Starting this week, Steven presents the ultimate comfort food - grilled cheese with Grafton cheddar on bread baked by Charlie at Patchwork Farm, served with fries and a pint of Switchback, all for $7.00. Pint, wine, and cocktail specials are available every Sunday and Monday. Or bring in a receipt from a local merchant or artist Monday or Tuesday between 2:30 and 5:00, and we'll buy you a cup of coffee or tea.

Local Farms on New Year's Eve: In just over a week, we have the pleasure of sending off a year that offered some historic moments amidst troubling times. As 2009 comes to a close, we hope for an all around better year ahead. Start off on the right foot by welcoming the New Year and investing in 2010. With 79 percent of our food dollars going to local farms and artisans, when you celebrate with us, you're investing in your friends and neighbors for the New Year. Join us for dinner, or come in for the party with Rachael Rice and the Cosmic Americans. Dinner reservations are available from 5-9, and we'll dance in the New Year from 10-12:30.

Gift Cards & Holiday Hours: Give the gift of local food - our gift cards make delicious stocking stuffers. On Wednesday and Thursday, you can purchase Claire's Cards at the Galaxy Bookshop, cash and check only.

We are closed Wednesday, December 23, through Friday December 25 to be with our families. We look forward to welcoming you back on the 26th.

Local Events: Highland Lodge & Ski Touring Center will open for their 36th year of cross country skiing December 24th. Learn more here. Also stop by their Annual Gift Shop Sale through January 4th.

Celebrate the Winter Solstice at 12:47 p.m. on Monday the 21st. Read about the connection between plants, agriculture and humans on the solstice here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Local Food: With all the snow that's finally falling, nothing will chase the chill away like a piping hot pot pie. Filled with a variety of earthy root vegetables including potatoes, carrots, and rutabagas, a splash of Shelburne Vineyard's Cayuga wine, and topped with a buttery, flaky crust made with cornmeal from Butterworks Farm, you can add to Steven's vegetarian pot pie with tofu from Vermont Soy, or turkey from Agape Hill Farm. This homey dish is a great way to take the bite out of a frigid day.

New Year's Eve is just around the corner and we'd love to celebrate with you at Claire's. Dinner reservations available from 5-9, and Rachael Rice and the Cosmic Americans will begin at 10:00 and play through the New Year. It promises to be a fun filled evening. Make your reservation today.

Celebrate the Season: There is still time to plan a holiday party with your friends at work or a family celebration. We can work with you for many different types of events, and our gift certificates are a popular gift that your loved ones can enjoy all year. We donate $10 to the NOFA Farm Share Program for each purchase of $100 in gift certificates for the Holidays.

Around the Galaxy: Thanks to everyone who came to enjoy our Judith Jones event last Tuesday. We were lucky to get a few more copies of Judith's book, The Pleasures of Cooking for One from our friends at Norwich Bookstore. You can also find other books from past Our Kitchen Bookshelf events that make great gifts for the food lover and cooks on your list. Our extended holiday hours give you more time to shop before dinner at Claire's - details on the web at

Local Art: Check out our new winter window decorations, courtesy of local artist Sarah Mutrux.

Music Notes: New to Vermont and Sterling College, folk singer/songwriter Chris Dorman joins us Thursday at 7:00.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Celebrating Local Food During the Holidays

From our Kitchen Bookshelf: The Galaxy Bookshop will welcome book editor and author Judith Jones Tuesday, December 8 at 7:00 to read from her new book, The Pleasures of Cooking for One, and talk about her life in food. In addition to her own cookbooks and memoir, Judith was the editor best known for her early work with Julia Child, followed by a career of working with some of the most celebrated chefs and cookbook authors since. Claire's is honored to host a reception following the book signing with the author, with complimentary hors d'oeuvres Steven has prepared from recipes in the book. You can purchase The Pleasures of Cooking for One in advance or on Tuesday for yourself or as a gift.

Gift Certificates: The gift of food says you care, about your loved ones and our community, as nothing could be better than the best local produce and artisan products. We donate $10 to the NOFA Farm Share Program for each purchase of $100 in gift certificates for the Holidays.

Shopping Break: We open afternoons at 2:30 for coffee, bar service, and sweet snacks, with unlimited free wifi, everyday but Wednesday. During the holiday season, bring a receipt from a local merchant or artist, and the coffee or tea will be our gift to you.

Music Notes: Cosa Buena joins us this Thursday December 10 at 7:30 with their Latin-Jazzy acoustic music. This unique quartet weaves the fabric of many different cultures through a careful, creative, playful & artistic ensemble.

Local Food: The Sustainable Jobs Fund, through the new Farm to Plate Initiative, is holding a series of Food Summits around the state on food and the rural economy. Building toward a 10 year strategic plan, Farm to Plate is designed to identify innovative ways to support local food markets, farms, and food related businesses. After a succesful Summit last weak in Orleans, this week's Summit will be held on Thursday in Montpelier - you can find the details at Farm to Plate. We've submitted a letter about our experience, what we've learned in opening and operating a community supported restaurant, and our approach to supporting local food, which we've already posted.

Vermont Farm to Plate Summits

Earlier this year, Vermont House of Representatives members Jason Lorber and Christopher Bray won passage of the new Farm to Plate initiative, designed to build on the "buy local" movement and foster jobs creation and a sustainable rural economy. Now housed within the Sustainable Jobs Fund, state and community leaders are developing a 10 year strategic plan through a series of regional summits, last week in the Northeast Kingdom, and in Montpelier this coming week. For more information about the program, summits, and to take a survey, go to Farm to Plate.

Reports are that the summit in Orleans last Thursday was a success. Since it coincided with our typically busy Thursday night music, we were unable to attend. However, we do have thoughts about our experience and concerns especially about affordability and availability that we wanted to share, so we sent the letter we've included below. As well, we hope to open up a conversation with other Vermont restaurants on cooking local and support for our communities as part of the Farm to Plate planning process. And we'd certainly love to hear what you think - you can email us or share your comments here.

December 2, 2009

Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund
Farm to Plate Initiative Regional Food Summits
Northeast Kingdom

Dear Friends,

As owners and operators of Claire’s Restaurant and Bar in Hardwick, we write with enthusiasm to support the Farm to Plate initiative, planning for a 10 year strategy, and to commend all involved in this work. We also wanted to take this opportunity to encourage both short term and long term planning for cooperative market development to ensure profitability for farm business, availability of local foods, and affordability for Vermonters.

When we began planning for Claire’s in early 2005, we were committed to a mission focused on two goals. The first is to provide a “third place” between home and work, on Main Street, to foster community, provide a gathering space, and promote the Hardwick downtown core. This aspect of our effort has received the enthusiastic support of the Preservation Trust of Vermont, which envisions caf├ęs, restaurants, and food-related business as key ingredients in the revitalization of small town economic and social activity focused on historic downtowns. We open in the afternoon for coffee and bar service, free internet access, and as a space for business and social activity. We have hosted meetings on agriculture policy, book related events, holiday parties, and tours as well as serving lunch for private parties and informational events such as the USDA and NECI tours. We host art on our walls, providing much needed gallery space as well as an opening reception for the artists. We serve “blunch” on Sundays, and dinner 6 nights per week. We decided to close only on Wednesdays, giving both our neighbors and others who work in restaurants a place to dine on Monday and Tuesday nights, when most other establishments in the region are closed.

The second aspect of our mission is closely related to the first, and the most challenging for a restaurant. From the very start, we have been committed to purchasing as much of our ingredients from local farms and artisans as possible, while providing affordable meals to our neighbors. It is an understatement to say that no model exists within the restaurant business for this mission, and so restaurants like our face a variety of challenges. Two examples illustrate:

· Industry standards for food cost and labor ratios are based on large supplier and processed food models, which reduce kitchen labor and inventory costs.

· Standard business practice in terms of ordering and purchasing is based on long run supply for storable goods without regard to season, with increasing efficiency coming from internet ordering and tracking systems as well as quarterly (at most) menu development instead of daily market dependent menus.

Since we planned to purchase only basic dry goods and pantry items such as flour and spices from distributors for our kitchen, we knew we would need a different business model. We estimated higher food and labor ratios to reflect the cost of goods as well as the need for increased labor to transform raw produce directly from the soil into ingredients for a restaurant menu. We anticipated difficulty in sourcing sufficient quantities of food despite the relative bounty produced around Hardwick, and that daily sourcing would require daily menu development. All of this has an impact on the bottom line – the difference between costs and revenues – in a business notorious for slim margins.

We have learned four inter-related facts during our first 18 months of operation.

First, local restaurants are always sourcing ingredients and revising menus. This is a labor intensive process, as it might involve from 15 to 20 farmers and artisans at any given time. All of this is done directly on the phone or in person rather than through the internet, though some price and product sheets are now available via email. This is a boon to our business model, as our focus is on these relationships that promote cooperation and a mutually beneficial approach to the local market, and it has actually resulted in new products or adjustment in the availability of certain types of produce or products. But it is also time consuming for the farms and for the restaurant, and thus increases costs.

Second, sourcing is not always fruitful. By the end of our first winter last year, we were pulling from nearly the bottom of every root cellar within our market. And when a certain crop or product is not available, it is simply not on the menu. This does not include the kinds of products we anticipated ordering from other regions because they are never available locally, including cooking oils and certain grains.

Third, staff is a key ingredient for success. At Claire’s, we are fortunate to have experienced servers who share our enthusiasms, and a team of young trainees in the kitchen we started with little or no culinary experience and are now developing career skills.

Fourth, it will be difficult to transition to canning and storing summer produce for winter use, as this will require a larger upfront investment for the purchase of produce, the rental of industrial kitchen space, the development of recipes, and the hiring of staff, and such a commitment of resources is not readily available.

Overall, we have spent 79 cents of every dollar of our food purchases within 15 miles of the restaurant, with the bulk of the remaining purchases to farms and artisans within Vermont. To date, this has generated $196,480 in direct purchases from producers in our community, and including labor, totaled an economic impact in our community of $493,080. Certainly, for some producers in and around Hardwick, Claire’s is the number one purchaser or near the top. We are not alone in this effort. Hen of the Woods in Waterbury, Blue Bird Tavern and Sugar Snap in South Burlington, Kismet in Montpelier, On the Rise in Richmond, Bee’s Knees in Morrisville, and the Skinny Pancake in Burlington and Montpelier have made similar commitments.

All this is to suggest that a farm to plate model needs to be carefully planned on the basis of three principles: profitability for farmers and food businesses, affordability for Vermonters, and availability of product. State and other investors should carefully consider and plan strategically along these three dimensions.

Profitability is a difficult measure to assess. With a community-centered business and investment model, our goal is to sustain a business in the long term that serves the community and the economy. We believe strongly in the principles of mutual support and cooperative growth, as well as the need and right of each community to set its own priorities and support its own economy. Any measure of profitability must ensure a return to the business as well as the community that provides for sustainability in the long term.

As a principle, affordability is always a challenge when measured against profitability. Our goal is to provide local food that both sustains our farmers economically and feeds them nutritionally. Any planning must ensure that Vermonters of all means have access to local foods for the bulk of their nutritional needs, whether they are dining at home or dining out.

Availability must balance taste, climate, and cost in determining what crops and products can be grown in Vermont, what value can be added to such products, and how this relates to the nutritional needs of our residents. We do not hesitate to cooperate with other regions when doing so is efficient, when the product is necessary to the plate, and when our relationships outside our community are based on the same principles of cooperation and mutuality as within or community. As well, we recognize the vital economic contribution of products grown within our region primarily for export to other markets, as doing so produces jobs and brings resources. However, we would encourage state support to go to those efforts that do not displace the availability of local food in our market for Vermonters and do not undermine the ability of other markets to feed themselves with their own resources.

These three principles of profitability, affordability, and availability are the three pillars of sustainable local food markets. Unlike the national or regional agribusiness model, local sustainable markets are cooperative, mutually beneficial, and look to the long term. Strategic planning is part of this process, as is an accurate census of current farming operations, value added facilities, markets and restaurants, market needs, affordability and availability, as well as imports into our regions and exports from them.

Given the particular challenges facing restaurants outlined above, we consider three things important in terms of new resources for restaurant operations:

· The development of a new business model and cooperative mechanisms so that start ups and existing operators can share knowledge and share in developing solutions;

· Resources for business development to expand access to local food, in particular for the storage of summer crops over the winter, and the training of staff.

· Cooperative mechanisms to ensure long term planning for availability among farmers, markets, and restaurants.

Again, we support the Farm to Plate initiative and look forward to continuing to work on implementation of a long term plan for sustainable food markets in Vermont.


Steven Obranovich
Chef and Owner

Michael Bosia

Linda Ramsdell

Veronica Medwid

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Pies for People Recipes

Pies for People: Local Food and Collaborative Efforts Feed a Community
Butternut squash from High Mowing Seeds, harvested by University of Vermont (UVM) students, transported to Craftsbury’s Pete’s Greens for processing, baked into pies in the Sterling College Kitchen, and delivered to the Hardwick Food Bank. November's second annual Pies for the People set the simple but flavorful squash on a remarkable path from test crop to a holiday feast. You can read more here. And we'd like to share with you our contribution - Steven's recipes for the project.

Butternut Squash and Black Bean Soup
3 Cups black beans, soaked in a gallon of water overnight
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
1 head of garlic, peeled and smashed
10 bay leaves, ground up in spice grinder
1/4 cup of ground cumin, paprika and black pepper
1/8 cup of ground allspice and clove
1T grated nutmeg and ground cinnamon
1 cup of oil of choice or butter
5 onions, peeled and chopped
2 heads of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 quart of butternut squash puree
12 cups chicken stock
salt to taste

Heat a large pot over medium heat with the oil or butter. Add the 5 onions and sweat for 10 minutes. Next add the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes. Then add all the spices and ground bay leaf and cook for a few minutes more. Drain the black beans and add to the onion garlic mixture, along with the squash puree and the chicken stock. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil and stir. Reduce heat and cook to low/medium and cook for 1 hour. Season with salt to taste and add more stock if desired.

Butternut Squash Pie
Yield filling for 1 9" pie
Preheat oven to 350
2 large eggs plus 2 egg yolks
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar or evap. cane juice
1/4 t salt
1/2 t ground ginger and cinnamon
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1/4 t ground black pepper, cardamom and star anise
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cups squash puree
1 1/4 cups cream

Combine eggs, vanilla, sugars, salt and spices in mixer, and process until smooth. Add squash puree, and process until smooth. With machine running, pour in heavy cream, and process to combine. Scrape filling into prebaked shell, and bake until filling is set 2/3 in from perimeter and center still jiggles, about 40 minutes. Remove from oven, and cool to room temperature on rack.