By Himanee Gupta-Carlson
Walking outdoors in December carries a special allure. Often, it is cold – but not frigid; damp – but not soaking wet; gray but crisp. It is nature – like a cat – beginning to curl up for the winter’s nap, fully fed and content.
Much of what the Saratoga Farmers’ Market represents in its winter months interacts with this sense of nature. During December particularly, several farmers and vendors of handicraft items are offering special items that invite shoppers to join the indulgence with nature.
Check out the corn husk angels that Bliss White McIntosh has handcrafted from the husks of locally grown popcorn, goldenrod pods, and dried milkweed. Or the intricate “pocket gardens” for office desks, kitchen tables, or other tiny locations created by Kate Brittenham with native species as the focus. Consider the soaps, lip balms, and candles made by Megan Canell of Creations & Spells, and the nature-inspired designs of Gretchen Tisch with the Feathered Antler. And visit Kathleen O’Reilly’s Northern Star Vineyards booth for her Marquette red wine, aged in Washington County oak.
Many of these products come from found items. Behind each lies a storyline intrinsic to nature. McIntosh, for instance, is a gardener and basket maker. When she is not making corn husk angels, she is immersed in such projects as the community garden housed at the Cambridge schools. The garden includes a three sisters planting of the indigenous corn, beans, and squash companion combination. Her three sisters include Blue Hopi corn, red Vermont cranberry beans, and butternut squash. The students celebrated with a colorful harvest feast that included the blue corn, the red beans, and the glorious orange hue of butternut squash soup.
By making angels from husks and silks – essentially the throwaway parts of the corn we eat – McIntosh stretches the life of a plant longer.
That philosophy also infuses Brittenham’s pocket gardens. Brittenham is a Skidmore College graduate who majored in Environmental Studies. Her container gardens for homes, offices, and dorms are composed of native species grown often from seed she collected herself. “I’m a believer in genetic diversity and I want to perpetuate species,” she says. “Making these gardens is one way to prolong life and to build awareness among others.”
The Saratoga Farmers’ Market is at the Lincoln Baths Building in the Saratoga Spa State Park from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through April.
Sirloin Steak with Mushroom Sauce
Pair with Northern Cross Vineyard’s Oaked Marquette
Recipe adapted from Fine Cooking
*Ingredients available at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market
• 2 teaspoons dry mustard
• 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
• 2 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves*
• 1½ teaspoons ground ginger
• 1½ teaspoons sweet paprika
• 1½ pounds sirloin steak cut into 1 inch cubes*
• ½ pound of fresh mushrooms (shiitake and oyster)*
• 2 Tablespoons olive oil
• 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
• 4 scallions, thinly sliced, white and light green parts separated from dark green parts*
• 1 cup dark beer
1. Mix the mustard, brown sugar, thyme, ginger, and paprika in a bowl until well combined. Coat all sides of the steak cubes in the mix.
2. Remove and discard the stems from the mushrooms, clean and slice them ¼ inch thick.
3. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add half the steak and sear them until nicely browned, 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and repeat with remaining steak.
4. Reduce the heat to medium, add 1 Tablespoon of butter to the pan and let it melt. Add the mushrooms, the scallion whites and cook stirring occasionally until the mushrooms soften and brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Pour in the beer. Scrape the bottom of the pan with the spoon, raise the heat to medium high, bring to a boil and cook, uncovered until the liquid is reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Return the steaks and any accumulated juices to the pan, cover tightly with a lid and reduce the heat to a low simmer. Braise, turning the steaks after 8 minutes, until tender and cooked through about 16 minutes total. Transfer the steaks to a cutting board and slice them thinly. Cut the remaining 1 Tablespoon butter into four pieces and swirl them into the sauce. Stir in the scallion greens.