I have written today’s entry in advance as I am at a retreat at the beautiful Garrison Institute (a former monastery) on the Hudson River in Garrison, New York. The Garrison Institute, the brainchild of our friends Jonathan and Diana Rose, is a center for contemplation, action, and transformation. “It is a unique center for leaders, activists and professionals on the front lines of social change to reflect, grow and deepen the connection and insight with which they engage the world.” This particular retreat is called The Whole of the Path: Virtue, Mind-training and Wisdom — cultivating generosity, integrity, attention and compassion. And while this experience is not about food…in a way, it is. Shelley Boris, who heads the kitchens at Garrison, is a very gifted chef. Her intelligence and compassionate approach to cooking is felt by everyone there. Shelley is always mindful of the communal table — which is literally how one eats in the massive, sun-lit dining room. The food is elemental and deeply connected to the earth from which it comes. Most of it local, some grown on the vast property, sustainable, and always nourishing. And while I enjoy eating alone most of the time, it is also nice to share stories and experiences with others around the table. Food is ritual here, three times a day, and in itself is a meditation. Hopefully Shelley will share some of her recipes with me so that I can share them with you. Each meal has its own virtues but I think I like breakfast best. Her cheese biscuits (with scallions) are the best I have ever had and her food is generally so compelling that you feel virtuous with every bite. And the coffee (thank goodness they serve it!) is good and strong.
I look forward to being in touch with you again on Monday morning. Meanwhile, I leave you with a recipe for the weekend:
Cheese Strata with Prosciutto, Basil and Spinach
This is my recipe for an assemble-ahead dish that’s perfect for a weekend brunch. You assemble it the night before (or early in the morning) so that the layers — or striations — of bread, cheese and spinach soak up the egg-and-milk base. Baked for 1 hour, the result is custardy, rich and quiche-like. If you don’t eat pork, you can substitute smoked turkey for the prosciutto, or leave it out altogether — just add a bit more spinach.
3-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
16 slices firm white sliced bread, crusts removed
8 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
4 ounces provolone cheese, shredded
1/4 cup finely minced scallions, white and green parts
4 ounces fresh baby spinach
1/2 cup finely julienned fresh basil
5 extra-large eggs
2 cups half-and-half
1/2 teaspoon Sriracha or hot sauce
Butter a 12-x-7-inch glass or ceramic dish with 1/2 tablespoon of the butter. Cover the bottom with 6 slices of bread, plus 1 slice cut in half to fill the spaces. Evenly cover the bread with half the prosciutto. Sprinkle with half of the feta, provolone, scallions, spinach, and basil. Repeat to make a second layer. Cut the remaining 2 bread slices into 1/4-inch cubes; scatter over the top. Beat together the eggs, half-and-half, and hot sauce. Pour over the strata; press down firmly with a spatula. Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter and drizzle over the top. Cover; refrigerate 5 hours or overnight. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Uncover and bake 1 hour until golden. Serves 8.