Suddenly the snow melted, and we no longer light a fire every morning. Instead we're skipping naps left and right to play at the park after school, to plant peas, to drive to Eastham to get an ice cream. Sixty degrees and sunny feels like a birth right. It feels owed, exhilarating. 

It also makes me feel like cleaning. As the weather warmed up I went through every drawer, every shelf, every closet. In the process, I found a lot of interesting and not particularly useful things (seven pairs of goggles, anyone?!). I also found an old polaroid camera—a minolta instant pro I haven't used since Sally was a baby, a camera I love. I stopped using it because getting film was expensive, then impossible, then possible again but not quite the same, and then better but wildly expensive, and so I finally stopped shelling out. Somehow, though, I did so without using up my last two boxes of expired film. I found them, along with the camera, in a box tucked away on my office shelves last week. We used up an entire box in an hour, and it felt like a spending spree, something akin to emptying a bank account or eating chocolate cake with reckless abandon. It felt good. 

We've had the same attitude toward meals recently. Since Nora was born, I've been meal planning. Because of the season, most of these meals have centered heavily on things like grains and beans and potatoes and kale. And frankly, I am sick of grains and beans and potatoes. I am even sick of kale! I want mint and tomatoes and cucumbers and eggplants. And so this week, we cheated. I went to the grocery store and bought tangelos and eggplants and the fixings for a spiced chickpea salad from Jerusalem and a cilantro-avocado salad from Smitten Kitchen. (Holy shit good.) The tomatoes were grown in a hothouse in Maine, but I suspect had they been from Mexico, I would have bought them anyway. We needed some spring.

The last winter farmers' market is this Saturday, and I fully intend to hit it up, bags and baskets and (wintery) shopping list in tow. But I am glad it is the last one. The Orleans summer market opens May 9, and the Wellfleet Market opens with a plant sale May 20th. The Shack opened last night, P.J.'s opens today, and the Flying Fish will have pastries and coffee starting Saturday. We're almost there.


You could wait until the cucumbers and tomatoes and radishes and cilantro start showing up at the markets or pouring out of your garden to make this. In all likelihood, it will taste better then. But you could also go ahead and make it now. It's been a long winter, friends. I am not in a position to judge.

This recipe is adapted from Jerusalem by Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi. It serves 2 in my house, though is says it serves 4. Maybe that's as a side dish?

1 small cucumber (about 1/3 lb)
2 large tomatoes (about 3/4 lb)
a handful of romaine lettuce, chopped
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 red pepper, diced
1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves and stems, finely chopped
a handful of parsley, finely chopped
8 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 and 1/2 tablespoons balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1/2 large or 1 small eggplant, diced
Greek yogurt or sour cream, for serving
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

Toss together the cucumber, tomatoes, romaine, red onion, red pepper, cilantro, and parsley in a serving bowl. In a jar, combine 5 tablespoons olive oil with the lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, and sugar. Shake well and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the salad and toss gently.

Warm up the remaining olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, combine the spices in a wide, shallow bowl and mix well. Add the eggplant and chickpeas and stir to coat. Add the whole mixture, beans, eggplant, spices and all to the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the eggplant is tender.

To serve, put a scoop of salad and a scoop of eggplant mixture side by side in a salad bowl. Top with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt and dig in. Pita bread makes a nice accompaniment.


IN BRIEF // elspeth

I miss being here. Things have been hectic, and I'm very much looking forward to a quiet hour when I get to sit down and write. I'm not sure yet when that's going to happen. In the meantime, I have been taking pictures: Nora's decided she likes food after all (especially coconut curried chicken with sweet potatoes and raisins), the girls and I took a trip to the Vineyard to learn about cheese and rare ducks (hear all about it on this week's Local Food Report!), we made hot cross buns for Easter, and the restaurant opens next weekend. Be back soon. xx


P'TOWN BEAN SEEDS // elspeth

Do you remember Uncle Phil's P'Town Beans? Peter Burgess has seed available again. He wrote me an email this morning:

"Hello Elspeth,

I have several gallons of the P'Town beans available for seed. They have a 94% germination rate, and have been grown properly to avoid hybridization. I'd be happy to give them away again. I ran out last time because they flew away all around the country. If you'd like to promote them again, it's $2 and SASE to: Peter Burgess PO Box 212 North Truro MA 02652.

' . . . it's been a long cold lonely winter . . .
it seems like years since it's been here . . .
Here comes the Sun - dah dah dah dah . . .
And I say, 'It's all right'.'"

I couldn't have said it better. Happy Monday, friends.


HEN STOCK // elspeth

We pruned the fruit trees today. Big lops off all the upper branches, then thinning out in the middle, then a rather aggressive full body haircut all around. I'm not sure how it will pan out—whether this year there will be more fruit or none—but I'm at peace with whatever happens. "PRUNE FRUIT TREES" has been on my list of things to do for almost a year, and it's finally done.

That's how I've been feeling about things in general recently—let's get them done! And never have to do them again! Specifically, it's how I've been feeling about going to the dump.

I mentioned here a few weeks ago that I've been reading Bea Johnson's blog, Zero Waste Home. (Synopsis: she and her family produce a mere quart of trash a year. She talks about the nitty gritty details, like wrapping-free holidays and wooden toothbrushes.) Soon after I delved into the archives I read the book, and it's reminded me of why I got interested in local food in the first place. I don't want to be part of the problem I spent my entire education learning about. I want to be part of the solution.

Today, inspired by Bea, I did my first intentional zero waste grocery shop—brought bags and jars I already owned, marked the tares and prices of bulk items on them with a washable marker, and emptied all the food into the crisper or more jars when we got home. I was happily surprised with the unpackaged selection: I even found bulk organic jelly beans at our little local natural foods store. 

The feeling I got from bringing home no plastic bags or containers or things that needed to be dealt with once we finish the food was the same as the feeling I get from washing and rewashing the diapers we used for Sally and now Nora. It was a feeling of immense satisfaction, of closing a loop. I realize that to some people that may sound incredibly odd, but there it is. I am the rare breed of person who finds happiness in baby poop.

Also, and a little more normally, I find it in chicken soup. When Victoria sent out an email about buying some of her old laying hens the other day, I ordered four. She dropped them straight from the slaughterhouse to my fridge, and yesterday morning I pulled out the big stock pot and loaded in the birds along with four of Marie's onions, thyme from the recently unearthed plant out front, and carrots that overwintered under the snow in the big garden behind the shed. 

I was counting on the meat being too tough to eat, but even after the birds had simmered for hours, it was good enough for enchiladas or stew. And so in the freezer we have eighteen quart jars of rich, yellow chicken stock and five pints of meat pulled and cut, ready for soup.

Nora just started eating, and so far it's nothing like Sally's rushing, joyful fist after fist. Our second sensitive little soul has now tried and cried over red peppers, avocado, sweet potatoes, roasted chicken, crab cakes, eggs, chicken liver mousse, thawed peaches, whole milk yogurt, a lone French fry, apple slices, and a tiny drop of homemade hot cocoa. I can't tell if it's the process or the flavors that overwhelm her, but she starts out happily grabbing for it, then tasting, bewildered, and finally frustrated, in tears. I keep thinking maybe she's not ready, and that we should stop, but when we don't give her anything off our plates to taste she's equally dismayed.

Perhaps the answer lies in chicken soup.


I am by no means an expert on this topic, but here's what information I've gathered about using old hens to make chicken stock. First, they're fatty. We were going to skim our stock but ultimately couldn't get it to congeal quite enough, so we left the fat in. Victoria says it's good for cooking, just like lard, so if you do manage to get it off the top in solid form, set it aside for your morning eggs and toast. Second, don't discount the meat—based on some recipes I'd read, I figured the meat would be inedible after making stock out of it—flavorless and tough—and while the former was somewhat true, the latter was not. The meat wasn't bursting with flavor, but it certainly didn't taste bad, and chopped up and used for chicken salad or pulled chicken for enchiladas or chicken soup or really anything with some seasoning, it'll do just fine. For our stock we put:

three whole chickens
12 carrots
four halved onions
a handful of thyme sprigs
5 celery stalks
and a handful of peppercorns

into our big lobster pot (16 quart, I believe?) and filled it with cold water almost to the brim. I brought the stock just to a boil, then turned the heat all the way down and let it simmer for the better part of the day—after breakfast-ish until we stopped for a mid-afternoon snack. Then I strained it, let it cool, attempted to let it congeal, gave up, and filled 18 quart mason jars about 2/3 full with beautiful liquid gold. Tomorrow we're going to use the fourth hen to make jerk.


TRIPLOID OYSTERS // the local food report

Like humans, most oysters have two sets of chromosomes (diploid). But what happens when instead, they have three?

You might expect disaster. After all, triploidy happens occasionally in all species, and as we know all too well, for people, it's almost always fatal. But for oysters (and amazingly, all kinds of other foods—think bananas and seedless watermelons), something different happens. The animal doesn't die. In fact, it does the opposite. It grows really, really fast. 

The thing is, regular diploid oysters put a lot of energy into reproduction. Starting in their second year, anytime the water temperature climbs above about 60 degrees F (mid-May through mid-September on the Cape), they're working to spawn. They can spawn multiple times over the course of the season, and each spawn requires a tremendous amount of energy. It can also affect their meat, making it watery and somewhat tough. On this traditional schedule, it takes 3 to 4 years for an oyster to grow to market size.

But triploids aren't worried about spawning. Which means that all the energy a diploid uses to spawn, a triploid can put into growing. Andrew Cummings, whose triploid seed you see up there, says his triploids reach market size in 18 months. In addition to being an economic boon, especially during our busy season, this also helps with disease management. Most diseases around here are cumulative, which means they take time to kill an oyster. The less time oysters are on the grant, the less time they have to get sick.

Andrew is one of the first local oystermen to embrace triploids. In other parts of the country—Virginia, for example—as much as 90 percent of hatchery seed sold is triploid. It's popular. But here, our our wild industry is still so robust that very few people are growing triploids. Because they grow so fast, they require extra handling, which means extra work. 

Also, the science of the process is fairly complicated. It took me an hour long conversation with Andrew, nine emails, a phone call to our local hatchery owner, and a phone call to the inventor of the process to understand exactly what goes on. 

To start with the basics, oysters are broadcast spawners. This means they send sperm and eggs out into the water column, these meet, and make a new organism. Sperm and eggs are both haploid (one set of chromosomes), so when they meet, they make a diploid organism.

To get a triploid, you need to spawn a tetraploid (four sets of chromosomes) with a diploid. There are only a few labs in the world producing tetraploid oysters, and they're made by interrupting regular meiosis using a variety of different techniques ranging from heat to cold to chemicals. Labs interrupt meiosis first in a diploid to get a triploid, and then in a triploid to get a tetraploid. 

This sounds confusing, because the whole premise of triploid oysters is supposed to be that they're sterile. It turns out that rarely, a triploid oyster can produce eggs. But they produce maybe 50,000 to a diploid oyster's 20 or so million—not enough to make the oyster "ripe" and trigger spawning. In other words, these animals have eggs, but they're not fertile. They have to be spawned surgically, in a lab, in order to get a tetraploid.

The hatchery on the Cape, ARC (the Aquaculture Research Center in Dennis), keeps about 20 male tetraploid oysters on hand and spawns these with female diploids that growers bring in for brood stock. I talked with the owner, Dick Kraus, and he said only about 10 to 15 percent of seed sold on the Cape right now is triploid. 

If you love oysters, it's likely you've eaten a triploid at some point. Besides the fact that they tend to appear big and exceptionally healthy, they don't look any different from a diploid oyster. I'm curious to hear—what do you think? And if you have questions, fire away. I asked quite a few, so hopefully I have an answer.

Photo credits for this post go to Ralph Alswang. Thank you to Andrew Cummings for sharing.


FARM CITY // elspeth

Back soon. Very soon. In the meantime, excited about and wanting to share this:

I can't be at the reading—the restaurant opens April 17th, so I'll be there instead—but I will be at the workshop Sunday. See you there?


ON MY TOES // elspeth

Hi there. I've been wanting to stop by, but the girls have kept me on my toes lately. Besides, I don't have much new to share: all we've been making in the kitchen is wilted kale, fried eggs, this bread, this granola, and pot after pot of minestrone soup. Now that I've gotten on board, I can't seem to stop.

We did make a killer batch of peanut butter cookies, which I wrote about for this week's column in the Banner, and in the mornings we're stuck on this buttermilk smoothie with berries from the freezer. Wednesday we leave for Tahoe with my parents, my sister, and her boyfriend (WAHOOO!), so in the meantime we're eating the last strange items from the fridge. (One olive, anyone? Half a soft, mushy apple?) 

While we pack—for temperatures that seem to range from 19 to 65 degrees, which is a challenge all in itself—I've been thinking a lot about this amazing woman. What would it be like if your whole wardrobe fit in a carry-on? Nice, I think, once you got it right. The more people I'm responsible for, the more things we have to take care of, and the less I enjoy the process. I like the idea of downsizing. 

What do you think? Could you live with cocoa as bronzer? Bringing jars every time you go to the market? One quart of annual waste? I'm guessing there is no one size fits all, but I'm curious to hear other people's experiences.

P.S. The arugula is up! We'll see if it ever makes it to salad-cutting size.


SEED ORDERING 2015 // the local food report

Can you believe it's that time already? Contrary to what the DPW director of Eastport, Maine predicts for his town (no sidewalks until July), the mountains of snow WILL melt here. Whether it's next week or next month, we'll be ready! So ready. And in that spirit, I offer you our annual 2015 Seed Ordering Guide. 

This year's advice comes from Helene Simon of Orleans. She grew up in Bolsta, Sweden, just outside of Stockholm, and she comes from a long line of women gardeners. She grows all kinds of Swedish plants—currants, Swedish strawberries, gooseberries—but her favorites are the cold weather tubers. So this year, we're focusing on root vegetables. Here are Helene's picks, starting with potatoes.


E.H. Note: On sourcing potatoes: you can plant them here as early as mid-late March (depending on the season; we'll see about this year), but most companies don't ship until mid-April. I've gotten around this in the past by buying seed potatoes from local farmers or simply using my own leftover storage potatoes, though this is not officially recommended because of the potential for disease.

The Kennebec is exactly what you picture when you think potato. It's white inside, brown on the outside, high yielding, and an excellent all-purpose eating potato. It hails from Presque Isle, Maine, where it was developed in 1941.

Désirée comes from the Netherlands. Red-blushed skin and creamy yellow flesh make it pretty, and it's good in the kitchen for everything from roasting to mashing to salads. Helene particularly likes it because the potatoes tend to be big and store well.

The yellow Finn is a European variety with yellow flesh and skin. It's a solid mid season potato, and it's got very moist flesh, which makes it a top notch pick for baking and topping with butter or sour cream.

You've heard of this one. Big, with thin skin and yellow, waxy flesh, the Yukon Gold is a favorite with chefs because it does well with both dry and wet heat. It was developed in the 1950s by Dutch and Belgian immigrants in Ontario looking for a taste of home.


These are an old favorite. Perfectly round, incredibly sweet, reliable germinators. Helene says to mound soil around the bulb as they grow to get a bigger root.


Very sweet, long, slender, smooth roots. Pale ivory color. Helene says sometimes she has great luck with these, sometimes they get woody, but in general she likes them. Parsnips grow like carrots, so they like a light soil and you can succession plant them from spring through mid summer.

Helene's trying the Javelin for the first time this year because she's looking for a crop to keep in the ground all winter. Parsnips get sweeter after a frost, and this variety can be planted in late summer and left until spring. They're faster growing and bigger than Lancer, so they can get by on a little less sunlight and be harvested once the ground's workable again in March or April.


E.H. Note: I always have trouble with carrots. When I told Helene this, she gave me some tips. She says it's important to have a nice loose soil—she recommends mixing in some peat if yours is heavy—and she also says it's important to go slowly and space the seeds evenly when you're planting. They can only grow big if they have enough room, and thinning can disrupt the roots. To avoid this, she recommends thinning using a pair of scissors—instead of pulling the unwanted carrots out, snip off their greens and they'll die without making their neighbors get uprooted or crooked.

Last year, I planted mine too close, so they're small, but they're still sweet! In fact, I still have a row out there, waiting to be harvested once the snow melts.

Napoli overwinters in the ground well, just like Javelin. It also stores well, so you can pull it in late fall after a frost and keep it in a root cellar all winter long. It's a standard orange carrot: straight, smooth, and cylindrical, with blunt roots and lots of greens on top.

Helene likes these as a fresh-eating, summer carrot. As the name implies, they're incredibly sweet, and they grow fairly long and straight. 


E.H. Note: Kohlrabi isn't technically a root vegetable; it's in the cabbage family. But while it tastes like cabbage, it looks more like an incredibly weird turnip, and it grows more like one too. You can plant kohlrabi in March for an early summer harvest. If you don't know what to do with them, check out this recipe for Coconut Curried Kohlrabi with Swiss Chard from the archives. So good!

This green Kohlrabi gets an early start in the spring—Helene says she often plants hers in March. The pale green balls are ready when they're about 2-3 inches in diameter, and they taste similar to cabbage, only moister and with more crunch.

Happy planting everyone! And if you're interested, past shows on seed ordering and garden prep:


WINTER FRUIT // elspeth

Three is a mercurial age; the amazing thing about having children is that you experience each age again as they go through it. Today was a good day for three. The first day back to school, the day the ballet slippers turned up, the day of the hand-me-down leotard. It came on the heels of a terrible week for three, a week of frustration and tantrums and coughing and tears. We all four were glad for three today.

Twenty-nine, thirty-six, those are other stories. Are we doing it right? I don't know. It's our first time through. 

We are trying. This weekend we opened the door to the wood room and realized we were almost out. And so we spent Saturday loading and stacking, walking back and forth over the snowy path from pile to door, pile to door. Later that afternoon, we examined the freezer. We found it in good shape—empty enough, but still some lamb, blueberries, ratatouille. Just enough to see us through. Same went for the supply of tired apples in the extra fridge downstairs, the kitchen's wire basket of winter squash.  

I've been trying to come up with new ways to use this food-on-repeat, this food-to-see-us-through. With blueberries, it's too cold for smoothies or icy fruit on cereal, so instead I've been making a compote. I warm up the blueberries in a saucepan, cook them down with a pat of butter and a spoonful of honey. If I have it, I add a squeeze of lemon juice. The resulting sauce is not quite jam, not quite plain fruit. It's good chilled, and it's excellent warm, especially spooned over thick plain yogurt. 

The squash I peel and chop and boil, and then I make the pumpkin custard from Nina Planck's Real Food. There's no sugar in it, just maple syrup, and the rest of the ingredients on the list are whole, good. 

And then of course, there are the apples. They are no longer much good for slicing. They are soft, mushy—baking fruit. I do what my mother did: hollow them out, stuff them with maple syrup and granola and bake them in a dish of water until they get softer still. Top them with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. I peel them and slice them and fry them in the morning with butter and cinnamon, serve them alongside eggs and toast. And I quarter them, sprinkle them with salt, drizzle them with maple syrup, and dot them with butter. Then I fire on the oven and fill the house with the smell of roasting apples til they're soft. I smash them with the back of a wooden spoon, pack them into jars, eat some and tuck the rest into the freezer for Nora's first applesauce. 

It's none of it fancy cooking, not this. But we're three and twenty-nine and older and younger, and at times like this it tastes good.

Is your house full of tired winter fruit? Nina Planck published her recipe for pumpkin custard on her Facebook page, over here. For baked stuffed apples, this is the basic idea but for the stuffing I just use homemade granola, a pat of butter, and a drizzle of maple syrup. The roasted applesauce comes from Judy Rodgers. Fried apples...have you never made these? What can I say...I've got Richmond roots. Feel free to sub maple syrup for the sugar. Finally, my blueberry compote looked a lot like this, only with a pat of butter cooked down too. 


DEEP WINTER // the local food report

Those hairy, gnarled specimens up there are two celeriac roots, also known as turnip-rooted or knob celery. Or celery root. They're not exactly lookers, but they are tasty. The hands holding them belong to Nicole Cormier, founder of Farm Fare Market in Sandwich and a year round CSA with deliveries all over the Cape. 

Surprisingly, Nicole didn't start out looking to sell local food. She comes to the movement as a nutritionist, and she got into this whole business venture when she was on the hunt for an office space. She saw a unit across from Café Chew in Sandwich, and it spoke to her. The only thing was, it had two rooms. She knew what to do with one: turn it into an office where she could see clients and help them fight health issues like diabetes and obesity with food choices. 

But the other room? This was less clear cut. After some thinking, she decided to turn it into a local food pantry. She figured this would help her clients learn about and access nutritionally superior local foods, and she could use it as an educational tool. But pretty quickly the "pantry" took on a life of its own. All sorts of people—clients and the public at large—started coming in to buy what she was stocking. She started a summer CSA, then spring, fall, and winter buying programs. And she added local cheeses, grains, beans, meats and a raw milk club offering on top of the produce. Today, she works with several western Massachusetts farms to source grains and beans, and eight farms along the south coast to source produce. She says the most exciting time is the off-season, because you never know what you're going to find. 

Massachusetts-grown triticale? Who would have thought! Same goes for hydroponically grown herbs and Jerusalem artichokes.

She's not alone in her enthusiasm for local winter foods. Island Grown Farm just started its first winter CSA, which focuses on greens. I've mentioned the Pioneer Valley grain and bean CSA out of Amherst, MA a number of times on this site, and it's going strong. This year they offered fourteen types of New England-grown grains and beans! The Orleans Winter Farmers' Market is off to a successful start, with markets at the middle school on the first and third Saturdays of every month. Cape Cod Organic Farm in Barnstable is running its first heritage-breed pork CSA this winter, and Shared Harvest CSA offers a "Deep Winter" pick-up in Bourne in January and February. Hooray!

You can listen to Nicole talk about her favorite unusual winter veggies on this week's Local Food Report.


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