FITS THE BILL // elspeth

Nora's asleep. Sally and my mom are downstairs, getting ready to go build a fort under the picnic table on the deck. Alex has shoveled out and is making the rounds: checking his parents' house and the restaurants, attempting to shovel them out. Yesterday he made it to the Shack, only to find the upstairs door ripped off and three feet of snow inside. The storm may have missed New York, but we've got at least two feet here and it's still coming down. 

I am cozy upstairs, sipping a cup of hot cocoa and waiting patiently for that banana bread you see up there to cool. It's a recipe I've been meaning to try for a while, and if it tastes as good as it smells and looks (and as good as the batter tasted), I'd say it's a hit. It's from 101cookbooks.com, a riff on the lemony olive oil banana bread I love that Heidi adapted from Melissa Clark. My mom is here for the week, which means she's been doing most of the cooking and I've had time to catch up on old issues of Saveur and Food & Wine and Bon Appétit. Last night she and Alex and I stayed up reading on the couch until almost eleven, an unspeakably late hour in our new Kid World, and I got all sorts of winter cooking inspiration for the weeks ahead.

Hopefully you're also cozied up in a place with heat and power and a full fridge! Here's what I'm eyeing:

Chickpeas & Chard with Poached Eggs for my little greens, beans, and eggie lover.

—We've been looking for something special to do with the first ripe Meyer lemon from our tree, and this Roasted Citrus & Avocado Salad looks just right. Maybe the next one will go into Lazy Mary's Lemon Tart?

—Dreaming of the Beef Bourguignonne Pot Pie in the February issue of Bon Appétit. Hopefully Seawind Meadows will be at the winter farmers' market with some chuck next week.

Miso-Glazed Turnips? Who would have thought. Same goes for Naomi Pomeroy's Celery Soup. Yum!

—A trip down memory lane...Nancy Silverton's excellent-looking recipe for Baked Onions with Fennel Bread Crumbs is inspired by time spent at her second home in the town where we went on our honeymoon—Panicale, Italy.

—GAAH! This Caramelized-Honey Brûlée fits the dessert bill around here. Hardly any refined sugar, a local honey topping, and plenty of Victoria's eggs! The only question is...who has a torch I can borrow?!

—And finally, a kitchen item. If you're looking for a lovely, American-made gift for the cook in your life, these linen dish covers featured in January's issue of Food & Wine are beautiful, washing-machine safe, and look like they'd hold up a whole lot better than the vinyl ones we have. (And if you're into sustainable kitchen goodies, while you're at it check out Massachusetts-made Snack Taxis and Vermont-made Bees Wrap! Both well-loved in our home.)

I think that's all. Nora's squawking for milk, so I'd better go. Happy snow day, friends.


THAT'S IT // elspeth

I didn't really cook this week. Don't get me wrong. I ate! But Sally and Alex were in Maine and Nora drinks milk for a living and so I just...didn't. One night I went up to the restaurant in Provincetown. Another night I went to the movies with Emily and Nicole and we had popcorn and beer for dinner. Saturday our friends Ed and Teresa very kindly had me over. It was so nice. I took a break.

It is good to do this every once in a while, I think. Especially as a parent. I never really understood until Sally started demanding regular meals what the whole cooking-as-drudgery thing was about, but now I get it. I still mostly disagree, but there's a part of me that empathizes. I happen to like cooking, often even to love it, so even when it feels repetitive and mundane I can see past that to a future point of creativity. But if your creativity comes in the form of painting or flower gardening or woodworking, then yeah! the women's movement has been good to you. For goodness sake, express yourself some other way.

But at the same time, I think it's good if we can find a way to love cooking. As a culture, I mean. Because a lot of the drudgery we've given up, in the kitchen and elsewhere, actually has a lot of meaning. To take cooking as an example—but I think you could easily sub in sweeping or splitting wood or blacksmithing or whatever physical task we've given up because it's easier to outsource it or do it with the help of some sort of technology—feeding ourselves is actually pretty important. There are huge health implications to always outsourcing this task, whether it's to a restaurant or a package.

We've been reading Farmer Boy to Sally recently, about the boyhood of Laura Ingalls Wilder's husband Almanzo, and literally his entire life revolves around feeding the family. There's a part where Almanzo and his father are threshing wheat by hand, and Almanzo asks his dad why he doesn't want to rent the new threshing machine. "All it saves is time, son," he says. "And what good is time, with nothing to do?" I read that passage twice, and then I went over it again.

The point, I guess, is that I feel lucky. Lucky to choose, most of the time, meaningful work, even if it sometimes feels like drudgery. And also lucky to live in a time and place where I can take a break. I ordered some of these Nikki McClure prints during my down time to put up around the house, because I think they capture the essence of a life built by hand so beautifully. They're from her new book, Collect Raindrops.

Anyway, if cooking's not your thing, or if it scares you, or if it makes you feel inadequate or guilty somehow, I highly recommend reading Jenny Rosenstrach's book. It's called Dinner: A Love Story, and while it's ostensibly a cookbook, I've been reading it sort of like a novel. And I doubt I'm the only one, because in addition to recipes, it's also a very honest look at how one family gets dinner on the table and manages to (most of the time) eat it together. And it's full of strategies for how you, whoever you are or whatever level you're cooking at, can do this too.

Of course, it's just as good a read even if you're already pretty into dinner. I've got the black bean burritos bookmarked, and the fish cakes. The break's been nice. But there's one of Drew's chickens thawing in the sink, and I'm looking forward to getting back into the kitchen.


COMPOST WITH ME // the local food report

Some people aren't that into compost. For the life of me, I can't understand this. Then again, I once participated in a "farm run" that ended with a roll in the compost heap. So! Different strokes for different folks.

At any rate, Mary Ryther is with me. Last spring she started a business called Compost with Me, and the idea is to keep local food waste in the local foodshed. She lives in Falmouth, and right now she picks up compost weekly from 25 residences and 5 businesses. For the residents, she returns them a bag of compost four times a year in exchange for their waste and $25 a month. The numbers change season to season, like most things around here, but the idea stays the same: rather than ship the valuable nutrients in our food waste off Cape, and worse, either burn them or let them rot in a landfill, why not keep them here? Let them feed our farms! Let them feed our people! 

It's a very cool idea, and something I hope we'll be seeing more of now that the state's solid waste food ban has taken effect. (If you haven't heard about this, as of Oct. 1, 2014, the state now prohibits businesses that produce more than a ton of food waste per week from sending this waste to landfills. This affects 1,700 businesses statewide, including places like the Chatham Bars Inn, Shaws, and Stop and Shops on the Cape.) 

It's also something that at least one other business is working on locally. Watt's Family Farm in Sandwich picks up from businesses all over the Cape, produces compost, and then sells it back to local residents and businesses. They also raise turkeys, so the turkey poop is mixed in, and the results are awesome. We got some for our garden last year, an entire dump truck full, and we've never had such a successful season. Hooray for waste!

Here are some other local efforts going on to reduce the impact of our food waste:
Have you heard about any other big efforts? Let us know!


SUNDAY // elspeth

Sometimes I worry about us. I mean, since when do New England schools close because it's chilly? This sort of news makes me want to scream and then go through my family's drawers and make sure we all own proper long underwear, wool sweaters, and turtlenecks. 

Thankfully, some people seem to remember the fun aspects of winter. We went up to Pond Village in Truro this morning, where the ice is frozen. I took a walk around the pond while Alex taught Sally to skate: slow steps, a careful march. Eventually, she gave up and put on her boots to slide with the other toddlers who had shown up, all, encouragingly, in snowsuits, and one particularly brilliantly in a hat layered with a bike helmet. When we got back, Nora sat on the edge tucked into her carseat in a snowsuit and piled with blankets, and I laced up my skates for the first time in years. 

While it turns out I do remember some of my childhood skating lessons (hooray, back crossovers!), I was wobbly at first. The ice was thick, but I'd forgotten how settling ice cracks, and how loud those cracks echo. Other families showed up and ventured out, and while we were all unsteady at first, we pretty quickly got into the rhythm. Some of the dads started a game of pick-up hockey, and before long the ice was covered in skate scratch. It felt like American winter fun circa 1940. 

When we got home, Sally was chilled through. We fought this the way we've been fighting All Things Cold these days: with a warm pot of milk laced with unsweetened cocoa powder and a touch of maple syrup. I'm not going to pretend it's a recipe—even the least well-versed cook can put together a mug of hot cocoa—but it is a recommendation. 

I also recommend, if you're feeling wussy about the cold, getting into Laura Ingalls Wilder. We read The Long Winter aloud last January, when I was in the throes of morning sickness and it snowed every Wednesday, and it made me feel much better about things. Hey! I'd think when I had to walk up the driveway because the car was slipping. At least we don't have to twist hay in an outdoor lean-to to burn in our coal stove while temperatures hover around forty below for months on end! At least the nails in the ceiling above my bed when I wake up aren't frosty!

Perspective is a good thing. And so is cold, and long underwear and hot cocoa and ice skating. I hope you're enjoying it, friends.


GLEANING // the local food report

Gleaning / verb /

extract (information) from various sources.
    "the information is gleaned from press clippings"
collect gradually and bit by bit.
    "objects gleaned from local markets"
historical: gather (leftover grain or other produce) after a harvest.
    "the conditions of farm workers in the 1890s made gleaning essential"

Gleaning is as old as the Torah. Torah law mandates that every person who owns a field must leave something from the harvest for collection by the poor. Mostly, we've given up the tradition. But on Martha's Vineyard, gleaning is alive and well. 

It's another program of Island Grown InitiativeIsland Grown Gleaning—and the day I went to the island to check it out, it was a collaboration between IGG and Island Grown Schools. The entire 8th grade at the Tisbury School was in the fields, divided predictably along gender lines: girls stepping gingerly to keep the mud off their boots, boys pelting each other with mushy or green potatoes. It was clear the kids didn't have much experience harvesting, but it was also clear they had plenty of enthusiasm, and plenty of energy. In less than half an hour they collected 961 pounds of potatoes that would have otherwise gone to waste. They loaded them onto a truck, and the next day they were delivered around the island for Thanksgiving.

This is the kind of thing IGI does a lot of—bring community together around agriculture—and IGG is no exception. The schools are involved, the senior centers, the low-income housing residents. Each year roughly 23,000 pounds of food are rescued from local fields, picked and put up or onto the tables of those in need. Sometimes, those in need are simply families. But other times they're institutions: for instance, the local schools.

Of course, this all begs the question: Why is there so much extra food sitting around unharvested in the first place? Mostly, it's a labor issue. At a certain point it isn't worth it to pay someone to harvest a crop. If half the potatoes are green, say, or too small, or have rotten spots. Or if the green beans in one row are no longer as young and tender as the ones you could pick today for sale. There's plenty of food that's still perfectly good to eat, but to harvest and prepare and sell it is prohibitively expensive.

That's where the few hundred volunteers on IGG's harvest alert email list come in. Usually only somewhere between five and ten show up any given day, but it's almost always enough to get the job done. The day of the potato glean, seven volunteers harvested an additional 1100 pounds of potatoes after the kids had left. That's a lot of food for local families.

Jamie O'Gorman, the program director, says there's another gleaning program based in Waltham (Boston Area Gleaners), but that she doesn't know of any others in the state. But Jamie also says she'd love to see that change. Even if it is collected gradually, and bit by bit, wouldn't it be great to see your community create 23,000 pounds of change?

P.S. For two great locally written pieces on gleaning, check out Ali Berlow's piece in the Huffington Post (Gleaning: A Biblical Act of Generosity)—Berlow is the founder of both IGI and Edible Vineyard—and Marstons Mills blogger Tamar Haspel's post on gleaning cranberries from a local farm.


BROCCOLI & BACON // elspeth

Hello ! from here, where we're still unearthing. We drove home from Maine early Sunday morning and I only just unpacked Alex's slippers and sorted through the mountain of Christmas cards and bills on my desk. We have yet to find a proper home for Sally's new pink princess tent, but if you are small and love Magna Tiles, come on in.

The thing is, I don't want to rush the process. I love January. There is so much organizational energy thrumming around, so much possibility. I love a good list—there's a running tab for the grocery store in the kitchen, and almost always a to-hope-to-do list for the day on the kitchen counter—but in January I start to believe I might actually accomplish all the things on them. And of course, this is the time of year for Big Lists, lists with goals like finishing that hour long radio show I've been working on and listening better to Sally. 

With that in mind, I wanted to offer a recipe for this broccoli and bacon salad. We have always had a rule in our kitchen that we don't make special meals for anyone—that what's served is what's available, and you don't have to eat it but you do have to try it, and you should also be aware that's all there is. This rule comes from a place of love—I hope and believe it will result in healthy, well-rounded eaters. Also, it preserves our sanity. I don't have the time or the energy to cook multiple dinners.

But that doesn't mean I can't keep in mind preferences. I try not to make krispy kale when Alex is around, because I know he's sick of it. Sally and I Can't. Get. Enough ! but we can eat it for lunch and spare him the polite grimace. By the same token, I would never cut into a strawberry rhubarb pie without him, because it's his favorite. 

I read the other day that we don't generally give our children the kind of respect that we demand from them. It resonated, and reminded me of how important it is to listen. This goes for small conversations and big ones, and it also goes for the kitchen. I don't make beets all that often,  both because I find them a pain to peel and cook and because they're just not my favorite. There are plenty of other healthy, delicious foods to choose from. And while I'm not going to plan our meals around Sally's likes and dislikes, it certainly wouldn't hurt to have broccoli and peas and kale a little more often just because she likes them. 

Hence the broccoli salad. Bacon, raisins, and broccoli are three of her favorite foods. She'll love it! I thought. See kid, I'm listening! Turns out she thought the dressing was disgusting and she was deeply offended by the addition of finely chopped onions. She ate the split pea soup and bread that were also on the table instead. But we loved it, and we listened to why she didn't. And the next day for lunch, we had plain, steamed broccoli instead. 


This recipe is adapted from one by Trisha Yearwood, who I am realizing as I type this is first and foremost a country singer. (She's In Love with the Boy!) Had I remembered that before, I might not have tried this, but I'm so glad I did. Turns out not only can the woman belt it out about a one-horse town, she also makes a mean broccoli-bacon salad. I cut down on the sugar and added a little yogurt with the mayo, but mostly this is hers. It's best served right after you add the bacon, so it stays crisp.

5 cups small broccoli florets
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup full fat Greek yogurt
1/2 small white onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
3/4 cup raisins
fine grain sea salt to taste
5 slices bacon, cooked and finely chopped

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the broccoli and cook for 3 minutes, until just tender and bright green. Drain and put in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the mayo, yogurt, onion, sugar, vinegar, and raisins. Drain the broccoli again, shake it well to remove any extra water, and toss with the dressing to coat. Taste for salt and add as needed. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Just before serving, add the bacon and toss well. 


IT'S COMING // elspeth

Have you thought about Christmas? Are you ready?

I'm not sure what ready means, exactly, but I feel pretty good about the way things are shaping up. The eggnog is made—in fact, we made it the weekend after Thanksgiving, a six dozen egg batch—and much of it has already been drunk. We had a few friends over for dinner and a "nog-off" in early December, where the showdown was between Colonel Miles' Cary's legendary bourbon nog and our friend Ethan's new-fangled Truro spiced rum nog. They were both so different, and so good, that in the end we decided comparing was a little like trying to decide between apples and oranges, and so instead we played a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity, lost all our dignity, and called it a day. 

Last weekend my parents and sister arrived, and we spent Friday making gingerbread houses with Sally and my nieces and Saturday baking off a batch of sugar cookies, which are now (along with a mason jar of eggnog) en route to my grandmother in Richmond. The only real damper on the festivities has been the amount of disciplining required to contain a three-year-old's candy appetite, and the subsequent feeling of parental failure. I believe (or at least  hope) this is to be expected, but still. It's frustrating. 

Which is why in the remaining seven ! days until the holiday really ramps up, we're going to be eating a lot of vegetables. The menu for this week includes a pretty-looking roasted beet salad from Bon Appétit, a celery Caesar, a turnip bisque from James Peterson's Splendid Soups that will with any luck take care of at least half of the seven pounder in the back of the fridge, and an encore of the kale pomegranate salad that disappeared so quickly the other day. We are trying trying to contain our excitement.

What about you?


LEMON CURD // the local food report

I was looking through old photos today for a shot I thought I remembered of our Meyer lemon tree, to accompany this week's Local Food Report on lemon curd. I couldn't find it. But I did come across this one of my grandmother, and the one below it of Alex on our honeymoon in Italy, and the one below that of my friends Casey and Jess and me, getting ready for our friend Amy's wedding. And in the end, I decided these belonged with this post more, because the people you love are what matters when you're talking about holiday gifts, and that's what we're here to discuss today. 

My family is big on comestible gifts—things that are delicious and wonderful but then after the holidays disappear. For my dad's 60th this year my sister and I gave him "60 Beers for 60 Years," and my sister's boyfriend has come to depend on us for a steady supply of nice bourbon on his birthday and at Christmas. Last year, Alex figured out how to Peri-ship eggnog to my grandmother, and she nearly wept with excitement. And of course, lest you think we only give out alcoholic gifts, I should add that I always make lots of eight ounce jars of strawberry jam and bread and butter pickles, because they make excellent hostess and holiday gifts. 

This year, the Meyer lemon tree that we brought home three—or maybe four?—years ago is finally bearing fruit, and I've been wanting to try homemade lemon curd as a holiday goodie. The only trouble is I've never made it, and as anyone who's ever tried to make a custard can tell you, curds can be tricky. So I called my friend Kim Shkapich, who makes a killer lemon curd, which she sells at farmers' markets and out of her shop, Lola's Local Food Lab, on Main Street. She agreed to share her recipe, and also gave me the following tips.

First of all, she says a good lemon curd is all about adjusting it to your taste. Some recipes call for whole eggs, others a mix of eggs and egg yolks, and others want only yolks. The more yolks you add the more firm the set is and the richer the curd, but this richness also masks the brightness of the fruit. She likes whole eggs, because she doesn't mind a soft set, and she likes a nice light flavor. Then there's the sugar issue—tart? sweet? It's up to you. Finally, you have to decide about the butter, because more makes the custard denser, and less makes it a bit more fluffy. Lemons are sort of a given, though you can play with the standard variety versus Meyers (Kim likes Meyers best, both for their sweet flavor and their bright yellow color). And she likes a lot of zest.

There's also the quality of the ingredients to consider—farm fresh local eggs are best, especially if you can get them before they've been refrigerated, as this tightens up the proteins and makes it trickier to get a nice set—and you want raw, organic sugar and high-fat butter. Organic lemons, too, if you can find them, since you'll be using the zest. 

Kim is a genius on all things chemical, and she gives an excellent run down in this week's show on how the reaction in this recipe works. I'm not going to re-type it all here, because it's so great to hear her explain it, so if you're interested I recommend you listen online

The other thing I wanted to add before we get on to the recipe is that growing Meyer lemons yourself is not all that tricky. The tree is pretty, so it makes a nice winter houseplant, and we move it outside onto the deck in the spring. So long as it gets light and sporadic but deep watering, it seems pretty happy.  The first few years we had it we didn't get any fruit, despite lots of blossoms, but I'm pretty sure this was because it didn't get enough sun when it was inside. We did some renovations last winter that opened up the southern exposure on our house, and as soon as the plant bloomed this year it set lots and lots of tiny fruits. They start out green—I first noticed them in June, or maybe July?—and the biggest ones are just now turning yellow. There are still a lot of small ones on the tree, and I imagine it'll be a few months before those ripen, which makes sense, since Meyer lemons are available in stores from about December through March. So there's an idea, if you're into lemon curd and local food too.


This is a good recipe for beginners. It's nice and light, and not too sweet. Kim uses Meyer lemons, but she says regular lemons also work here just fine.

3 eggs
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
1/2 cup fresh squeezed Meyer lemon juice
6 tablespoons butter
zest of four Meyer lemons

Get out a double boiler. Fill the bottom with water and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, in the top pot, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and lemon juice until very smooth. Warm these up over the boiling water, whisking constantly. Add the butter one tablespoon at a time, and keep whisking. After about four minutes the mixture should start to steam around the edges and thicken, and after about six minutes the steam will be coming from all over the surface and the first tiny bubbles will begin to form. When you see this change happen, the curd will thicken. Immediately remove the pot from the heat—you want the curd somewhere around 165 or 170 degrees, and you do not want it to boil. Stir in the zest, spoon it into jars, and let it cool. The finished product will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. 


SALLY, NORA // elspeth

Some people in my family do not think these two look alike. But! I mean. Did I have the same baby twice? Top: Sally, December 2011. Bottom, Nora, the other day.



It dawned on me recently that I write the most, and often the best, when I am procrastinating. This realization came to me courtesy of Anne Lamott, the author of a number of wonderful books, including the one I've been re-reading before bed, Bird by Bird. It's about her writing process, which involves quite a few jokes at her own expense and a number of references to the ways she avoids writing. And it occurred to me while I was reading a particular passage where she describes sitting down, then getting up to make a few phone calls, then deciding she needed to eat, then finally sitting down again and just sort of staring blankly for a few minutes, that she was also describing my process. 

"I'd try to write a lead, but instead I'd write a couple of dreadful sentences, xx them out, try again, xx everything out, and then feel despair and worry settle on my chest like an x-ray apron. It's over, I'd think, calmly. I'm not going to be able to get the magic to work this time. I'm ruined. I'm through. I'm toast. Maybe, I'd think, I can get my old job back as a clerk-typist. But probably not. I'd get up and study my teeth in the mirror for a while. Then I'd stop, remember to breathe, make a few phone calls, hit the kitchen and chow down. Eventually I'd go back and sit down at my desk, and sigh for the next ten minutes."

I would guess this probably describes a good deal of other writers' processes, too. 

Which is why, instead of doing the writing work I am actually being paid to do, I am here, happily writing for free. (My column is due on Mondays and my radio shows are due on Tuesdays. Have you ever noticed how many of my posts go up on Mondays? This is not a coincidence.) 

Anyway, while I'm here, I'd like to share a recommendation for a roasted Brussels sprout quiche. I found it in the December issue of Food & Wine and made it this afternoon for my friend Sebastian, who just had knee surgery and has literally been fainting from pain. The quiche looks and smells delicious, and because I didn't read the directions carefully, I made enough filling for two regular 9-inch pie crusts, so we'll be having the same thing. I can't wait.


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All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.