8.16.2018

SOUR CREAM ICE CREAM // elspeth


Food tastes better outside. I first learned this eating grilled bagels with cheese on a six-day canoe trip in Ontario, and I've been reminded of it in recent weeks again and again. For the first time since I was fourteen I am not spending July and August working in a restaurant. I am home with the girls at night and we are free, and it feels both wonderful and alien.  

Most nights, we eat simply. We make a pasta salad and sit on the deck out back. We pack a picnic of veggie sticks and crackers and sausage and bike to the beach. We sit next to a fire with hot dogs, then marshmallows, on a stick. 

A few weeks ago, though, we joined in a feast. We met up with friends on the other side of the Cape, who had been planning for weeks, and we drew out a menu on a whiteboard and collected last minute ingredients. The next morning we started a fire early on the beach. Freddi appeared with rebar and a plan for a metal cooking gazebo, and a gaggle of kids watched rapt as he bent it into place. We hung six chickens from it and cooked them for hours, until their skin was golden and fat dripped, hissing, onto a bed of coals. We massaged an octopus and cooked it on top of a wok. We wrapped pears in prosciutto and seared them until the meat was crispy and the fruit was soft. We went swimming, we peeled peaches, we made sour cream ice cream. We swam again.





Most of it was inspired, in one way or another, by a book from Francis Mallmann. If you've heard of him, it's likely from a 2015 Chef's Table episode, where the show heads to his private island in Patagonia to cook with fire. He's a much discussed, much dissected figure, and I won't spend time on that here. (If you're interested, this is as good a place to start as any.) But I will say the man inspires some serious outdoor cooking. 

The friends we cooked with were American, Swiss, Italian, and French. At the end of the evening, Anne, from France, leaned over. "We are so excited to have this American experience," she said. I started to laugh, but then I caught myself. How lovely, I thought. Better to leave it. 

We came home with smoky hair, full bellies, dirty feet. A renewed commitment to outdoor feasts. And that recipe for sour cream ice cream, playing on repeat. 


SOUR CREAM ICE CREAM

I'd never have come across this recipe if it hadn't been for an outrageous amount of leftover sour cream from the Wellfleet Farmers Market corn roast. I looked for all kinds of ways to use it up, and I'm so glad I did, because this is a keeper. The ice cream is excellent on its own but even better alongside summer fruit—think stewed peaches, blueberry pie, or blackberry cobbler. It'll keep a few days in the freezer, but the texture's best a few hours after you've made it. 

2 cups sour cream
1 cup half and half
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Stir all the ingredients together, mixing until the sugar dissolves. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions and then spoon into a container. Put in the freezer to firm up for about six hours before serving. 

7.26.2018

BLUEBERRY PIE // elspeth


Every day I want to get here, and every day something (or someone small) pulls me in another direction. But I can't sleep until I say this: it's one of the best wild blueberry (and huckleberry) seasons I've seen in years. Wherever you see bushes head into the woods, pick all you can, and treat yourself. Pie! Let's savor it while we can.

BLUEBERRY PIE

My mom has made this recipe for years, from her tattered Joy of Cooking. I know I could make it myself, but this year, as usual, I waited for her to show up. It tastes better when we're together. Big, high bush berries are excellent for many things—eating fresh, freezing for muffins and pancakes and smoothies—but for pie I think wild berries are best.

crust for bottom and top of 9-inch pie
5 cups fresh blueberries, preferably small and wild
3/4 cup sugar
3 1/2 to 4 tbsp quick-cooking tapioca
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1/8 tsp salt
1-2 tablespoons butter

First make the crust. (I like this one.) Set aside to chill, then preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Next make the filling: combine the blueberries, sugar, tapioca, lemon juice and zest, and salt. Stir gently and let stand for 15 minutes.

Roll out your bottom pie crust, drape it over the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate, and spoon in the filling. Dot with the butter, roll out the top pie crust, and drape it over top. Use a knife or scissors to trim the crust so that it has an even 1-inch overhang all around. Roll and crimp the extra hanging dough to form a lip of crust around the edge. Cut vents in the top in a design that pleases you.

Bake the pie at 400 for 30 minutes. Slip a baking sheet beneath it, reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake until thick juices bubble through the vents, another 25 to 35 minutes. The original recipe says the pie is best eaten the day it's baked, but I respectfully disagree. It's best eaten the next morning, fully cooled, in pajamas before breakfast.

6.05.2018

BEYOND THE PLATE // elspeth


Hi there. Quickly: there's a symposium this Saturday, June 9th, at Castle Hill in Truro that I'm a part of called Beyond the Plate. It's a gathering on food, writing, and community. Some big names will be there—Ruth Reichl and Bill Sertl and John "Doc" Willoughby—and also a whole host of amazing, kick ass people I know and love who are leading the local food movement around here. There are still a few tickets, and if you're around, I hope you'll consider joining. I'm moderating a panel in the morning with Michael Ceraldi, Sarah Waldman, Ali Berlow, and Drew Locke on "Local Food Choices" and teaching a workshop on putting up the harvest with Sarah Waldman in the afternoon. 

This morning, I spent a long time brainstorming questions for the panel and putting together tips on preserving and producing and getting ready to walk people through a quick batch of strawberry rhubarb jam. In the process I was reminded over and over again of why I believe in local food, why I see it as both a balm and a catalyst for modern society, and why it informs so many aspects of my life. It's good to do that—to zoom out and see the big picture, to remind ourselves why we do what we do each day when we're focused on the smaller tasks at hand. 


At any rate, I'm looking forward to it. If you can't make it there swing by the Wellfleet Farmers Market tomorrow—8 to noon, at the Grove behind the Congo, rain or shine. I'll be there helping a friend man his booth and selling a few odds and ends of my own—the first lettuce ! and radishes and herbs and more rhubarb. Fingers crossed for sun. 

See you back here soon, friends. 

5.30.2018

THE GRIND // the local food report

Two weeks ago on a Friday I pulled Sally out of school after lunch. We played hooky; drove up to Plymouth where I had an interview scheduled with two millers, and learned all about grinding corn.


You can hear the details on this week's Local Food Report—give it a listen, because the Plimouth Grist Mill is an exact replica of the first American grist mill built in that spot in 1636 and present-day millers Kim Van Wormer and Matt Tavares have a great story to tell and know their stuff. But here, in this space, what I want to focus on is the grinds of the corn.

I first starting thinking about this maybe seven or eight years ago, when we joined a grain and bean CSA. Suddenly, our corn was coming to us dried, as field corn. We bought a Kitchen Aid attachment to grind the grains into flours, and most of them were easy—wheat berries to whole wheat, spelt to spelt flour, and on and on. But corn was not that simple. What are grits? I started wondering. How about polenta? Cornmeal? Corn flour? Two years ago, I finally did some experimenting, and figured out how to make grits and cornmeal from dent corn. I've been interested in learning more ever since.

Basically, if you start grinding dent corn (a class of varieties that are easy to mill because of their soft starch) on the coarsest setting of your average home "mill" you get cracked corn—used mostly for chicken feed and making whiskey. 

If you keep going the corn will start to separate into two fairly distinct materials: a fairly fine flour that looks like cornmeal, and bigger, harder pieces. You use a sifter to separate the two, and you get cornmeal and grits. It's important to note that if you're buying store bought cornmeal, usually only stone ground still contains the germ, which is perishable and therefore removed during most commercial processing. It's also delicious and highly nutritious, which is why some people seek out stone ground. If you keep it in your freezer there's no need to worry about the germ going bad; it'll last a good long time. 

Corn flour is easy: it's super fine cornmeal.

And finally, it turns out that polenta is a dish, not an ingredient. In true terms it can be made from any milled grain or starch—even buckwheat or chestnuts—so long as they're cooked into a porridge. But when you see something in a package sold as polenta it's usually a medium grind cornmeal, made from flint corn. Flint corn is harder than dent corn (hard as "flint") and has a very low water content. Because of this it is more resistant to freezing, which means it stores better than dent corn does in places with super cold winters. Apparently it was the only Vermont crop to survive the "Year Without a Summer" in 1816, and while this is admirable, I can't say I'm sorry I missed it.



The corn Kim and Matt are grinding at the Plimouth Plantation mill comes from three places—a farm in Western Mass that grows a fairly traditional, multi-colored Thanksgiving door-decoration style corn, an organic corn from upstate New York, and an heirloom Italian variety called Floriani Red coming from a farm in Westport. The Floriani Red is a flint corn, and as you might guess, its cornmeal is a lovely pinkish color. 

If you get your hands on some, I imagine a strawberry-flecked, bubblegum-hued rendition of this standby cornbread would be excellent. And if you're in the area any time soon, I highly recommend a visit to the Plimouth Grist Mill—it's in town and a very short drive from Plimouth Plantation. Kim and Matt grind on Friday and Saturday afternoons from 1pm to 3pm, and there's plenty to see and learn for all ages.

5.02.2018

PEEP ! // elspeth


Well, the spinach and lettuce and radishes made it through the weird and wacky and occasionally snowy season that around here we call spring. One baby chick did not, but six are still full of vim and vigor and peeping. We buried Pasty Butt—so named for the affliction that killed her—next to Fisher out behind the shed, an arrangement that I doubt he finds particularly fitting. Two lousy days ! I can hear him grumbling. I gave fourteen years ! Apologies, top dog, but a pet cemetery is a pet cemetery. Besides, we thought you might like some company.

At any rate, no new cases of pasty butt and/or latent rooster development forthcoming, we'll be adding six ladies to our egg laying flock this summer. We're down to five birds, who give plenty of eggs in the summer, but over the winter we were averaging a measly egg or two each day. This time I selected two breeds especially known for winter production: New Hampshire Reds and Wyandottes, and to round things out Black Australorps and Barred Rocks. Pasty Butt was to be our mother-hopeful—she was a brahma, known to go broody—but alas, she didn't have the strength.




In the meantime egg production is way up now that the weather has warmed up, and we're finding friends and a variety of in-house ways to conquer five eggs a day. This looks like hard boiled eggs, French toast, breakfast-for-dinner, and most importantly, quiche. The overwintered kale has finally made it's comeback, which means the quiche we're making is Anna's kale, butternut squash, and cheddar version

And while it's still technically "winter" food, there's finally light at the end of the tunnel. Today it was a whopping 76 degrees out. The asparagus popped up Sunday, the sugar snap peas are two inches higher today than they were Monday, and at one point this afternoon I actually contemplated finding a cool body of water to find relief from the heat. Yew !

4.12.2018

JUST MAYBE, SPRING // elspeth

Quickly: I saw my first herring yesterday, picked more nettles for tea, and today it's 53 degrees. Maybe, just maybe, spring is really coming ! (Cross fingers, toes, eyebrows, hair.)


In other news, this week's Local Food Report is another honeybee spotlight: this time a conversation with a Wellfleet beekeeper working to breed honeybee queens adapted to our Cape Cod climate conditions and resistant to the menace that is varroa mite. You can listen over here

And while we're on the topic of hope: there is nothing more endearing and rewarding than encouraging and allowing little hands to be helpful and responsible and to move with purpose. This is a note to my future self: a reminder of the importance of this for those times when it feels too slow or too tough. It is not the easy things that are the most rewarding, for us or for them. 



Finally, if you're in the kitchen this week, these latkes are a killer way to use up the last of the potatoes. The apples at the grocery store have been terrible lately but also cheap—homemade applesauce is a thrifty way to put them to good use and makes an excellent addition. For tomorrow I'm marinating a batch of lamb loin chops and thinking of going hunting for watercress that grows at a friend's house along the Herring River. 

Spring ! I think it's really here. 

4.05.2018

HONEYBEE HEALTH // the local food report

Heyo ! 


Honeybee health on the Local Food Report today. Give a listen if you can. So many factors involved—travel, nutrition, queen genetics, habitat loss, pathogens and predators, pesticides—the list is long and disarmingly familiar in the way it overlaps with human challenges. Today's interview is with Larry Dapsis, entomologist for the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, and an excellent resource on all things insect. It's part of a mini series on local pollinators, the challenges they face, and what local citizens, farmers, and activists can do to help. Next up: a local beekeeper breeding for resistance against varroa mite.

And quickly, before I go—

Besides pollination and honey, one more reason to care about bees: beeswax. Two beeswax resources I've come to love over the past few years for keeping a low-waste, healthy home: the first is Bee's Wrap—basically a beeswax and linen substitute for plastic cling wrap that you can use over and over again (see below for a photo of a very loved large piece that wraps our daily bread). 

Second is homemade beeswax and olive oil body butter—our local candle shop sells beeswax by the pound. I melt it down and add olive oil in a ratio of 1 part beeswax to 4 parts olive oil, then pour it into jars. (There's a great tutorial on calculating the right ratio for your salve needs here.) It takes about 5 minutes and cools to just the right consistency for dry skin, especially hardworking hands. You can add a few drops of lavender oil or other essential oil for a little scent, but I also love slightly sweet, comforting smell of the beeswax itself.

Happy spring !



4.02.2018

NETTLE TEA // elspeth


I'm reading a book my sister recommended, a book that I suppose stores or libraries would file under "self-help," though I'd call it part memoir, part advice, and part history. It's called "Drop the Ball," and it's by a powerhouse of a woman named Tiffany Dufu. I can't say I agree with everything in it—it is tailored to a kind of working woman that in many ways I don't really aspire to be—but still, it resonates. I think that for modern women, and especially working mothers, it's a valuable read. 

It continues the discussion on how women can navigate dual roles as caregivers and breadwinners—the myriad ways we as a society elevate competitive work and devalue caregiving roles—and  how and why we promote the myth that anyone can have or do "it all." (More good writing on that here, here, and especially relevant to the most recent branch of that conversation here.) There is one part, in particular, though, that I really like, and that is about cultivating happiness habits. 

It sounds a little silly when you type it out like that, and it is a little silly that we grown ups have to remember to regularly practice and value activities that bring us joy. It ought to be natural—and for kids, I think, it is—but as we grow up we are slowly taught to squelch and put-off and achieve and go forward. And that is important, of course, but so are the small and sometimes strange things that constitute happiness habits. 



One of the things that gives me joy is allowing myself time to be curious. I am curious about all sorts of random things: can I learn how to fix the zipper on our couch? How would I do it? Would it be hard? What it's like to grow cabbage? Does the Herring River flow in both directions where it connects to the kettle ponds, depending on the tide, or is it always pushed back at a certain point from overflow from springs? What makes the peepers start? Does it mess up your hips to ride side saddle? The questions never end, really. 

I suppose this is why I work as a journalist: some of the time, at least, the process of finding answers to these questions is paid. But it's just as important, I think, to sometimes indulge them simply for the happiness of the habit, for the joy that is cultivating curiosity. 

And so: have you ever made a cup of nettle tea? I learned about stinging nettles as a food source a few years ago, first from my friend Ish and later from a woman named Fiamma. The leaves are packed with vitamins and minerals—in particular magnesium and calcium—and this time of year, they're just what we need. They're up—we saw some yesterday on an Easter walk along the Herring River to see if the fish were running (we didn't spot any)—and I picked a few and put them on a cutting board to dry out, to use for tea. I used to buy nettle tea when I was breastfeeding—it's said to increase milk production—and I got to like the woodsy, licorish-laced flavor. It's nice with mint or lemon leaves and a little bit of honey. It turns out the longer you steep the leaves the more nutritious the tea,  so I started a pot this morning and let it sit til lunch. 



By the time I went to drink it there was an inch of snow on the ground to follow the weekend's sun and fifty degrees—a wet, white invasion I find simultaneously lovely and appalling. On Thursday I put spinach in the ground and lettuce and radishes and sugar snap peas. Will they make it? Probably. It's nice to wonder, though, and to revel in the curiosities.

NETTLE TEA

You don't need a recipe for this, but you may need a guide to looking for nettles. They come up around the same time as the crocuses. Here are pictures I took of the leaves. They tend to grow in disturbed areas—think about where you've seen garlic mustard or blackberries or simply look along the side of the road for something with spiky leaves that's deep green. I've found them close to water sources but not in them—maybe 10 or 20 feet away. Think roads near rivers, streams, and fresh water swampy areas. And if you don't see any right away, don't give up. Once you find them you'll start seeing them everywhere—they are a true weed.

As for the tea, pick a bunch of leaves and leave them out on a cutting board overnight to dry. Put them in a jar and when you want to make tea grab a handful, put them in a few cups of water, bring to a boil, and turn off the heat. Steep for 2-10 hours (overnight would be fine)—I like to add either fresh mint leaves or dried leaves from our Meyer lemon tree. Serve piping hot, with a spoonful of honey.

P.S. AHH! I almost forgot to add: they're called stinging nettles because they sting!! Use gloves when you pick or your hands will get red and sore. The stinging feature goes away when the leaves are dried out or boiled, so after that you don't need to worry.

3.22.2018

SPINACH PIE // elspeth

WINTER BEGONE! Or, as Nora once told a coyote: Beat it nerd.



Where I grew up, in Maine, winter was different. It was cold, yes. But it was snowy—snowy straight through from December to mud season. I love snow. Sunny days with snow on the ground are incredibly bright and uplifting, and during a snowstorm the world is at peace, quiet.


Cape Cod winters, with all their rain and grey, are a challenge for me. But we're almost there ( ! ) and in the meantime we'll keep taking our cod liver oil and planting our seedlings and getting mood boosts through fatty fish and chocolate and oysters and dark leafy greens. Which brings me to my friend Sarah's spinach pie:


Sarah wrote a beautiful, clever, delicious cookbook called Feeding a Family, and I can't say enough good things about it. She and I met through our food writing work only to discover our husbands are old friends, and when she was writing the book, she asked me to contribute a few recipes for a seasonal meal. Four families besides her own are featured—one for each season—and two Septembers ago she sent out a photographer and we cooked a late summer harvest meal of ratatouille pie and mint chocolate chip ice cream. The photographs came out beautifully, and we got to share the ice cream, and she sent me a copy of the finished book at press time last winter. 

It's a treasure. It sits on my most-used shelf alongside Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills of Cooking and the Joy of Cooking and Nina Planck's Real Food Cookbook and Ottolenghi's Jerusalem and Plenty and Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain. In the past few weeks alone from Sarah's book I've made a rainy day chickpea stew; a simple dish of red lentils, rice and spinach; pasta with mussels, and a chicken tortilla soup. Finally, the other day, I tried the spanikopita, or spinach pie. 


My mom made spanikopita all the time when my sister and I were kids, but recipes I'd found before always seemed too fussy. Also, we've been aiming for zero waste, or at least much less waste, in our house the past few years, and the necessary ingredients for spanikopita involve a terrible amount of packaging. But no one's perfect, least of all me. The picture, the ingredients—they called me—and when I read that it bakes in a skillet rather than some pan that would need to be scrubbed afterward relentlessly, I was sold, all in.

I'm glad we tried it. It was so good, so satisfying—we all devoured it, and it felt like we all needed it. I'm sure you could make a version with fresh spinach when it comes into season, or now if you're able to get some this time of year at your local market, which many of you probably can. If you do that I guess I'd blanch the spinach first, then wring the water out, and aim for about the same weight.

In the meantime, even if you can't get local spinach, try the recipe anyway. It's easy and addictive and no one's perfect, and one day, when you do come into a supply of local spinach, you'll have a plan.

SKILLET SPANIKOPITA

This recipe comes—with very minor tweaks—from Feeding a Family by Sarah Waldman. Very soon fresh spinach will be in season, but in the meantime frozen works well. This recipe makes plenty of leftovers for our family of four. One note: take the leftovers out of the pan and store them in a glass container, as leaving them in there will give them a metallic taste as they soak up iron from the skillet.

30 ounces frozen spinach, thawed
6 tablespoons butter
1 small yellow onion, minced
2 cups whole-milk ricotta
4 eggs
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
3 tablespoons fresh chopped dill
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
freshly cracked pepper
6 sheets phyllo dough, thawed

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Meanwhile, wring any excess water from the spinach. Add the onions to the butter and sauté until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the spinach, ricotta, eggs, feta, dill, lemon juice, and pepper to taste. Mix well. Melt the remaining butter in a small saucepan.

Lay the first sheet of phyllo dough over the spinach mixture and brush it with melted butter, scrunching up the edges up to fit in the pan. Repeat with remaining sheets of phyllo. Sprinkle a bit of salt on top and put the pie in the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes until heated through and crispy and golden on top.
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P.S. ! Sarah and I will both be part of a day long symposium on food, writing, and community this June at Castle Hill in Truro. There will be panel discussions, workshops, and of course, local eats. Check it out: organizers are calling it Beyond the Plate.  

In addition, I'm teaching a four week writing workshop at Castle Hill, Wednesdays in May. Hope to see you there! 

3.08.2018

HATCHING CHICKS // elspeth


For this week's Local Food Report, I talked with my friend Justine in Truro about hatching chicks. She's got a flock of seventeen chickens—give or take, depending on the raccoons—and last summer, one of her hens went broody. You can hear her story of becoming an accidental chicken breeder on the show.

When I was doing research for the piece, I pulled out my favorite book on raising chickens: The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, by Harvey Ussery.  It's an in-depth, practical book that covers every aspect of chicken husbandry from raising chicks to making and managing your own feed to dealing with aggressive roosters. There are several chapters toward the end on breeding and working with broody hens, and they've got all kinds of fascinating information.


First off, a hen that's gone broody is essentially a hen looking to start a family. She stops laying eggs and instead starts sitting on them and incubating them, and she won't get off until 15 days later, when they hatch. In wild birds of most species, this process is triggered when the female has found and mated with a male. Most birds only lay eggs that are fertile and will only incubate and hatch their own eggs. But after centuries of domesticity, chickens have had most of these natural tendencies suppressed. Most hens don't go broody—they simply lay an egg a day, fertilized or not, and then get up and leave the nest. This is good for egg production, because farmers mainly want to sell eggs, not hatch them. And unlike a wild bird, a broody hen will sit on any chicken's eggs—and even duck eggs!—not just her own. Which means farmers can isolate hens and roosters they want to breed, take these eggs, and set them under a different hen who goes broody and has good mothering instincts. 

According to Mr. Ussery, if you have between eight and twelve hens it only takes one rooster to guarantee virtually 100 percent of the eggs will be fertile. But even up to twenty five hens per rooster, most eggs will still be fertile. You can see why so many roosters hit the soup pot.


Certain breeds of hens are more and less likely to go broody—Old English Games, Nankin, and Silkies are three breeds favored as mothers. Hens are more likely to go broody in the spring or early summer, but it can happen anytime, and some hens will go broody multiple times a year. If a mother hen tries to sit on too many eggs—more than are comfortably covered by her body—all the eggs have a higher chance of mortality, as they need to be kept constantly at her body temperature to survive. Some farmers use a technique call "candling" to hold a light up to developing eggs at night. Broody hens can be aggressive, and the only time a broody hen will allow someone peacefully into the nest is at night, so farmers hold a light up to each egg to see if the chicks are developing inside. If not, they remove the eggs that are duds, because otherwise they can explode and the gunk can coat over and suffocate the remaining eggs, which need to be able to breathe through the membrane of the shell.

Once the babies are born, the mother won't make any effort to save a weak chick or an egg that doesn't hatch. She focuses all her energy on the healthy babies and protects them from the rest of the flock until they're big enough to fend on their own.

For now, we don't have any roosters. (Actually, for the foreseeable future—since our permit from the town very clearly says in all caps NO ROOSTERS!) But if a hen starts going broody, I could get some fertilized eggs from a friend to slip under her. At any rate, I find it all fascinating. Has anyone out there ever hatched their own chicks? Candled eggs? Raised chicken babies? Would love to hear more.

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