8.11.2015

THE OVERGROWTH, AND ALSO, PUTTANESCA // elspeth


I sat down to come here, to tell you about the overgrowth of tomatoes and the much needed rain and to describe the way Nora smashes the cherry tomatoes in half and then stuffs them against her two lone teeth. But then I started reading about motherhood in Kenya and why our future depends on libraries and frankly I was in such a deep state of relaxation that I got distracted and am almost out of time. 

So I will say it quickly: tomatoes. They're here, in full force. We planted six plants, all courtesy of my friend and Tomato Graft-Master Joe, and they're doing quite well. But the real miracle is the sixty odd volunteers, the ones who grew from the compost we spread somewhat accidentally when we moved the pile this spring. A bobcat came over, to move the shed from the middle of our lawn to the back edge, and in the process it became clear that the compost pile needed to move too. And so the bobcat moved that, and a lot spilled out, and the move must have happened on the exact right day of the year, because a few weeks later we noticed that there was a forest of tomato and squash and corn plants springing up from the area where it had been. Being lazy gardeners and overwhelmed parents, we decided to see what would happen, and so far what has happened has been nothing short of wonderful. To date we have harvested three perfect pumpkins, one red kabucha squash, and ten or fifteen pounds of tomatoes. There are two ears of corn on the way, dozens more pounds of tomatoes, and several tromboncino type squashes. I am never planting the traditional way again.



In the meantime, I have to keep up with the harvest. Nora takes care of the cherry tomatoes pretty handily, with help from Sally, but for the big ones I'm thinking puttanesca. Apparently, we're all doing it wrong, but I aim to do it right, with L.V. Anderson's recipe as a guide. Alex has some bluefish we caught and froze the other day that he wants to cook up, and he promised that if I make the sauce, he'll come home tonight, add the fish, and simmer it off. With any luck by the time I finish dinner service and get home from the restaurant the pasta will be boiled, the sauce will be hot, and we will sit down to our first slow-cooked meal in a while. I'll let you know.

8.04.2015

AUGUST 4 // elspeth


It is perfect here right now. I watch the people on their vacations: reading in a beach chair in the shade; eating together the first night out as a family; grown adults chicken fighting in the pond. It is playful, lovely, languid. I can almost imagine the town from their eyes.

We are living a different kind of summer, the kind that comes with long days but good rewards. Skinny dipping under a full moon after ten hot, sticky hours in the restaurant. A day off catching bluefish and floating around the bay on a blow-up dingy and a boogy board. A garden out of control, offering up a volunteer harvest picked in snatches before breakfast, after work. Piles of laundry in need of folding, dog hair wafting down the stairs, tomato seeds ground into the rug. Girls who need extra attention in the time we have—mama in the morning, daddy before bed. Cutting fish, taking orders, moving tables. Food, beer, bed.


And yet already I am worried the summer is running out, that the Sundays are numbered before the cold weather begins. The tomatoes have just started and I can see them going the way of the strawberries, the sugar snaps. Recently I've been daydreaming about a way to keep it going, about a warm-weather vacation after all this ends. Could we go somewhere then? Early November, after the restaurant closes, the markets slow down? Dauphin Island looks nice. South Carolina, maybe, somewhere outside of Charleston. Sullivan's? I want an extra week of warm days, of naps and walks and reading in a bikini in the sand. I want my girls to know warm weather leisure, the way I did as a kid.

Soon enough, they'll be old enough to go to camp—Northway, in Algonquin, days spent canoe tripping and reading on the dock the way my sister and I did. The two of us joke that we'll go back as kitchen staff for a summer—cook over the woodstove again, torture our girls as the moms who just can't give up camp. And maybe that's part of it, this holding on. My baby's going to walk soon, my three year old is almost four, and I'm not sure I'm ready for this part to end.


But there's nothing I can do to slow it down, nothing I can do to tread water, to make this part extend. So the point, I guess, is this: This time right now is perfect, and I want to savor it. No matter how hot, how busy, how tired, I'm not sure it gets any better than this. There are peaches and blueberries and tomatoes, pond swims and beach days and these two sweet girls. And so every day, no matter what else happens, I want to enjoy it. Every single minute, because who knows if it will ever feel just like this again.


7.26.2015

ALICE'S CHILLED CUCUMBER SALAD // elspeth



Right. It has been exactly seven days, and yet I am still stuck on chilled cucumber salad. Not my mom's anymore, but this time courtesy of Alice Waters, The Art of Simple Food. Not the kind of thing I would normally go for—cream? on cucumbers? And yet. I tried it. Sally tried it. Alex tried it. (Nora was too busy practicing standing up to eat dinner.) And we liked it! Peculiar, refreshing, and delicious. 

ALICE'S CHILLED CUCUMBER SALAD

This recipe is adapted only slightly from the one in Alice Water's excellent cookbook, The Art of Simple Food. I used half and half because that's what Alex keeps on hand for coffee, but I'm sure the heavy cream she calls for is equally good.

2 medium cucumbers
salt
1/4 cup half and half or heavy cream
3 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
freshly cracked pepper
a handful of fresh mint leaves

Peel and slice the cucumbers. Arrange them in a shallow pie plate and sprinkle with salt. Meanwhile, whisk together the cream, olive oil, lemon juice, and pepper. Chop the mint leaves into very thin ribbons. Drain any water that's come out from the cucumbers, then top with the cream mixture and the mint. Serve chilled. 

P.S. While we're on cucumbers, don't forget to make Holly's quick cucumber kimchi! You're welcome.


7.19.2015

SUMMER MUSTS // elspeth


I could kill for this charred corn right now. I have none of the ingredients and it's too late for a trip to the store, but maybe you do? Just saying. In other summer musts: we are coming up on prime time for Caprese salad, and Anna's balsamic glaze recipe is as good as ever. Same goes for my mom's chilled cucumber salad, which I CAN'T BELIEVE I've never shared with you. I make it, no joke, at least three times a week during cucumber season, and yet when I went to link to it from an old blog post, I realized it's not here. Fixing that now. And finally: blueberry picking. I took the girls early Saturday morning and we picked 11 pints in under an hour. Nora ate her body weight in fallen berries, Sally lived up to her name and put exactly three in her container, the rest in her mouth. Hurrah! Summer is here.

LIZ'S CHILLED CUCUMBER SALAD

The nice thing about this salad is anyone with a few backyard cucumber and tomato plants can run out and pick and have dinner on the table. I usually chill the cucumbers and onions in the dressing, then add warm tomatoes just before serving, as tomatoes do not improve in the fridge. Also, this time of year, when the cucumbers are ready but the tomatoes are not, I just skip the tomatoes. It's just as good.

1 medium-large cucumber, thinly sliced
1/2 sweet onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/3 cup white vinegar
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large ripe tomato, sliced

Arrange the cucumber and onion in a large, shallow platter. (My mother always used a pie dish.) Shake together the vinegar, pepper, sugar, salt and olive oil until well mixed. Pour this dressing over the veggies and put in the fridge to chill. Just before serving, slice the tomato and layer it over top.

7.14.2015

WHAT MATTERS // elspeth

In a lot of ways, this is a difficult time of year. How strange is it that we live on a peninsula where no one visits for ten months of the year and everyone visits for the other two? It is hard to properly understand what this kind of life is like unless you live it. The best analogy I can think of is attempting to get through exam week while everyone you know stops in for a drink. Everything here comes at once: the busy time at work, guest rooms overflowing with visitors, the weather for beach days and picnics and gardens, the chance to make enough money to make it through a long, slow winter. It takes a certain kind of person to be okay with this kind of pace; to fit everything most people fit into a year into eight or ten or twelve incredibly, mind-bendingly busy weeks. 


And yet, I wouldn't trade it. Not for anything. We're in it now, fully. The breakfast dishes are sitting in the sink, the house needs to be vacuumed, and I have a mountain of paperwork I ought to stay up well past bedtime doing. But these are all things that need doing year round, constantly. They can wait. Because the sun is also out, it's 87 degrees, and the garden is overflowing with black raspberries. We can only make black raspberry ice cream once a year, and this is the week. 


The recipe I use is the same now—year after year—the one from my friend Andrea in Falmouth. It is simple, easy, sweet. And I still think the same thing every time I try it—I never realized, until I ate a black raspberry, that the purple color and distinctive flavor of black raspberry ice cream come from a real fruit. I always assumed it was like blue raspberry Jolly Ranchers—made up, fake. There's nothing like these berries. 

Black raspberries are hard to find at farmers' markets, even harder to find in stores. But if you can get your hands on some—from a neighbor's yard, from your own, from a farm—make this ice cream, and make it now. There are so many things to fit into a day. There are so many to-dos and deadlines and needs. But this, to me, is what matters, and what makes it all worthwhile.


ANDREA'S BLACK RASPBERRY ICE CREAM

Andrea's original recipe called for 1 and 1/2 cups sugar. I cut it down to 1 cup, and she said since typing it up she has too. It has the same distinctive color and flavor of the black raspberry ice cream you get in stores but is so much better for being simple and fresh.

1 pint black raspberries
scant 1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 lemon, juiced
2 eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk

Mix the black raspberries, half of the sugar, and the lemon juice in a bowl. Put the mixture in the fridge and stir every half hour or so for about 2 hours. Crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk for about two minutes, then add the remaining sugar and whisk it in. Pour in the cream, milk, and any juice from the black raspberry mixture. Pour this mixture into the ice cream maker, and add the remaining black raspberries near the end of the freezing time. Chill for several hours before serving.

7.05.2015

SUNDAY // elspeth


I just drank a beer, and we're headed to bed. But I'll be back Tuesday with black raspberries, mint juleps, and ribs. July 5! It's here, friends.

7.01.2015

ENGLISH MINT SAUCE // the local food report

Good morning. Although it is 9:38am, Sally and I are in bed and it is pitch black outside. Thunder! Lightening! None of it seems to bother Nora, who's napped through the whole thing. But it has put a damper on my plans to make you fresh mint sauce, in an effort to get some pictures for you. The kitchen is pitch black, and picking the mint means venturing outside. Here's a photo of a nice day in Helen Miranda's mint patch instead:


Helen is the reason we're talking about mint in the first place. She grows five varieties: plain old mint, spearmint, peppermint, orange mint, and lemon balm or balm mint, also known as Melissa. She used to have a fuzzy invasive mint, too, but she's weeded that out, and she also grows catnip (for fun for cats) and hyssop, for chest colds. 

One day this spring she showed me around her garden, and talked me through what she likes to do with each of her mints. Orange = smoothies. Melissa is good for tea and salads. Plain old mint she says you'd use for mint juleps, and she also likes it in salads. Peppermint is tea too, and maybe ice cream. Spearmint she dries for middle eastern dishes, and also uses for a fresh mint sauce and mint jelly. 

Bah, I thought when she first told me about mint jelly. Not my thing. So sweet! So fake green. But of course Helen doesn't make it that way. She does something really cool. She makes apple jelly, which means the sweetness and pectin comes from real fruit. Then she adds mint at the very end, just for flavor. In her words:

"Mint jelly, two ways.

1) Make mint tea with lots of leaves, no stems, as usual. Don't let it sit too long. 10 minutes max... it can get dark and bitter. Strain out leaves. Add apple jelly, made beforehand, until it melts.

2) Make apple jelly as usual. At the stage where the slices of apple have simmered and become soft.

I add a LOT of whole mint leaves (again, no stems) and let them sit in the liquid for about 20 minutes, no heat. I like to use organic apples so that the skin can be included which gives it a nice rosy tinge, if the skin is red."


As for the fresh mint sauce, it's simple. Helen uses good red wine vinegar, sugar, and finely chopped fresh mint leaves. She lets the mixture sit for about an hour before it's time to eat (preferably, lamb). She told me to check the Joy of Cooking for the recipe, so here it is, a little more officially. 

ENGLISH FRESH MINT SAUCE

The Joy says that in England, roasted lamb with fresh mint sauce is as traditional as mint jelly is here. This sauce is nice—not so sweet, not so jiggly—instead a thin, bright liquid that goes splendidly with a nice cut of meat. 

1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons boiling water
2 tablespoons minced fresh young mint leaves
8 to 10 tablespoons white wine, rice wine, or red wine vinegar

Stir the sugar and water together in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Add the mint and vinegar and cover. Let sit for 2-3 hours before serving to let the flavors come together. The sauce will keep for a few days, but be aware that the mint will turn brown after a night in the fridge.

P.S. For audio, check in tomorrow! I'll post a link. P.P.S. Soon-mint juleps! With maple syrup! So, so good.

6.22.2015

STRAWBERRIES & CREAM // elspeth

It's been a while. I've been trying to get back here. I made a pea salad that I thought I might share with you, but then it turned out to be totally unremarkable. We made and devoured these strawberry-rhubarb popsicles, but I'd already mentioned them. (Make them! Soon!) We took a trip to Maine, had the best fish chowder I've ever tasted, and have been unable to recreate it since. In between, we've been eating leftovers and at the restaurant and cereal. There was nothing much to report for days.


But then! The girls and I got up early Saturday morning and went strawberry picking in Falmouth. The fields looked terrible. There were weeds everywhere and the berries were tiny, and one older man picking near us spent the entire time complaining about "young people these days" and how they "don't call them the greatest generation." Apparently he thought the latest generation of farmers should have spent more time weeding their fields, and he might be right. But the very nice young woman at the farm stand said their berry plants were severely damaged by frost, and I suspect she and whoever else is running the show there did a cost-benefit analysis and figured there wasn't much use spending a bunch of time weeding plants that were hardly going to produce anyway.

At any rate, I should have thanked the man on the way out, because when I first arrived and saw the state of the fields, I felt the same way. But Sally was thrilled, and despite the fact that the berries were few and far between and incredibly tiny, they were also incredibly sweet. And in between the older man's bouts of complaints, Sally kept piping up with "This is so much fun, isn't it, Mama?" and "I love strawberry picking!" And so after about five minutes I realized we weren't really there for the berries, but for the experience, and I changed my mood accordingly. Nora pluncked down in between some weeds and some berries, and Sally and I spent an hour hunting around for tiny red jewels quite happily. 

I wish I had a picture of the girls leaving the farm, because they were both completely covered in dirt and berry juice, and they looked exactly like old photographs of me and my sister leaving Prout's Neck after berry picking near where I grew up in Maine. We came home with somewhere in the neighborhood of six quarts of strawberries and four quarts of sugar snap peas, and on the ride home we snacked until we got silly. 

I asked the young woman as we left about next year—whether they would be replanting, or if they were letting the fields go—and she said they would be putting in new rows. Maybe next year we'll have enough for jam, or even freezing.


In the meantime, we've been eating our berries the best way I know—sliced up and sprinkled with just a tiny bit of sugar, and then drizzled with heavy cream. Sally requests it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and until the berries run out, I think that's okay. 

6.04.2015

ONE RED // elspeth



Today, as usual, Alex and I were attempting to sleep for ten extra minutes while Sally picked out a piece of fruit from the bowl on the counter and played in the living room downstairs. This sometimes works, often doesn't, but is always worth a try. (Nora is the late-riser around here.) We heard the screen door open, and then things were blissfully quiet for about a minute and a half, and then we heard Sally patter back up the stairs. 

"Mama, Daddy!" she exclaimed. "I have some very exciting news for you this morning!"

She held up the first ripe strawberry, bright red. She decided it was too special to eat. So instead she brought it into school in her Easter basket, passed it around at circle time (where her friend Jacob apparently took a small bite out of it), brought it home, checked to see if I thought it was still okay, and then ate it. Big day for a little strawberry.

Finally, we checked for more ripe berries since the sun was out all day, and we found two! more!

Happy June, friends.


P.S. We're planning to make these strawberry-rhubarb yogurt pops the moment we get our first big haul. YUMMMM !

5.26.2015

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER AND RICOTTA SPAGHETTI // elspeth


Hi. Still recovering from the weekend. So much movement! So many people. But in a good way. And in the aftermath, I do have this to share: a roasted cauliflower and ricotta spaghetti from Real Simple. So good, so easy. And perfect for using up the last of the tomatoes from the freezer. My goal for tomorrow is to get in this year's plants—grafted tomatoes and eggplants—from our friend Joe. Thank you, Joe, for being a more organized gardener than I am. 

In the meantime, things march on. The strawberries are still green but getting bigger, and the raspberries and black raspberries are forming tiny heads. The peas are halfway up their trellis, the arugula's ready to pick, and the rhubarb is already forming seed heads. And asparagus! I am almost sick of it.

I hope all is well in your neck of the woods.



ROASTED CAULIFLOWER AND RICOTTA SPAGHETTI

This recipe is simple and tasty to boot. It serves 4.

1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 pound spaghetti
2 cloves garlic, chopped
28 ounces of diced tomatoes
6 anchovies
fine-grain sea salt and black pepper
1 cup ricotta
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Arrange the cauliflower on a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and roast about 25 minutes, or until golden and tender.

Meanwhile, put on a pot of water for the spaghetti. Bring to a boil and cook according to the maker’s instructions.

Heat the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, anchovies, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 20 minutes.

To serve, put a serving of pasta in each bowl. Top with sauce, ricotta, cauliflower, and pine nuts. Taste and add salt as needed. Enjoy hot.

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