Monday, March 21, 2011

The Desena Family of Pittsfield, VT (and Tomato Soup!)

On a recent trip to Pittsfield, I was fortunate enough to meet the Desena family.  Joe, a larger than life personality, I had met a couple times previously, but I was looking forward to meeting his wife Courtney and their children Charlie, Jack, and Catherine.  I loved that Courtney played soccer for Penn State and was an active healthy mom of three!  I knew we'd have a lot in common! 

You have heard me rave about Pittsfield in recent posts.  The story how how it's evolved is fascinating!  In the mid 2000's Joe Desena moved Courtney to the small, quaint town where they set out to renovate the old to bring new life to the town. In line with the character of the Green Mountains of Vermont, you find covered bridges alongside 19th century barns remodeled from the ground up and with updated amenities.  Visitors get all the ambiance but with all the modern conveniences of home. On the 300 acres there is a prime wedding venue at Amee Farm as well as some of the finest lodging located just a few miles from the skiing hot spot of Killington. Athletes take full advantage of the 200 miles of scenic and challenging trail running on the mountain. 

Pittsfield has become official headquarters of Peak Races and Peak Camps. These two enterprises both train athletes as well as provide the world’s toughest athletes expertly executed endurance races such as the events put on by Peak as well as the infamous obstacle race the Spartan Race. I was lucky enough to run the Spartan Race in Temecula this year and talked about my experience running the race and my opportunity to meet and interact with the other racers in past blog posts. 

Joe Desena
A look at Joseph’s incredible racing achievements tell the tale of what sets him apart from your typical athlete and shows how committed he is to excellence in athletics. His resume as an athlete gives his company, Spartan Races, a distinction of authenticity that few competing race series can match.  A brief listing of a few of his athletic achievements and you can recognize what an athlete and how unique a person Joe Desena is: The Racing Ahead Conquer Concord Urban Race, New Hampshire 2007 (2nd place all-male), Furnace Creek 508, Death Valley, Expedition Aconcagua in Chile, Peak Snowshoe Marathon, Peak 666 Mountain Bike Race, Ironman Events from Switzerland to Kona, Australia to South Africa, Badwater in Death Valley and dozens of other events are on his list of achievements over the last decade or so.  Now, he lends that expertise to a variety of events he helps design for Spartan including the Death Race

Joe and his wife Courtney were kind enough to let me cook for them in their home while I was in town and I made the 100 Mile Snow Shoe Surprise for the snow shoe and Death Racers on their stove top! Courtney and Joe have three children, Jack, Charlie and Catherine.  Their home is warm and inviting and I truly enjoyed my time I spent in their kitchen.  Friends and neighbors stopped by continuously and everyone was wonderful and hospitable, trying the food and sharing a glass of wine. 

While cooking, Catherine, their youngest, watched all the activity and sorted organic animal cookies offering me elephants out of the pile every few minutes to keep my energy up.  She reminded me of my little Catey and she was a great helper in the kitchen while I worked.  Being in their warm inviting kitchen while the snow fell outside reminded me of the warmth and comfort that homemade clean Tomato Soup brings.  Catherine's cookies inspired some animal crackers as a side, and is a perfect meal shared between friends, old or new.

Catherine's Animal Cracker Tomato Soup
Ingredients:

1 1/2 lbs. ripe tomatoes (approximately 10), cut into quarters
1 red onion, peeled and cut into small pieces
1 yellow onion
1/4 cup garden vegetable baby food
1 medium carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 stick of celery, thinly sliced
1 large sweet potato peeled and cut into chunks
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/2 vegetable bouillon cube
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 tsp. dried basil or mixed herbs
ground black pepper
sea salt
4 tbsp. low-fat milk
4 small springs of fresh basil

Directions:
1.Remove cores from tomato quarters and toss away. Dice the tomatoes.
2.Put olive oil into large saucepan and heat for 20 seconds. Add onions and cook for approximately 3 minutes until onion is tender, stirring often.
3.Add celery and carrot slices and potato chunks to the saucepan. Peel the clove of garlic and crush into the pan. Cook these veggies for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4.Put the 1/2 vegetable bouillon cube in a heatproof container. Add 2 cups of boiling water into the container. Add tomato paste and stir until the bouillon cube is completely dissolved.
5.Add the stock, tomatoes, herbs and pinch of pepper to the saucepan. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat. Add baby food. Cover the saucepan 3/4, leaving a small gap.
6.Let soup bubble gently for approximately 20 minutes. Turn off heat and let cool 10 minutes. Using a hand-held blender, blend soup until smooth – be careful when blending!
7.Add low-fat milk to the soup. Gently reheat until bubbling, then remove from heat.
8.Top soup in bowl with a sprig of fresh basil before serving, if desired.

Eat with some organic, low-fat animal crackers like Annie's Homegrown!
 
So I owe a big "thank you" to the Desena family of Pittsfield and their kindness and hospitality while I was in town!  I hope you enjoy the tomato soup inspired by little Catherine and her organic animal crackers.