Hi there. I hope things aren't too hectic at your house, getting ready to cook for five or ten or thirty. Ironically, Thanksgiving week is probably the week we do the least cooking here; we don't host, and the cousins that do host are so organized that they pack everyone home with a mountain of leftovers in tupperware. We spend the days afterward enjoying the glory that is The Mashed Potato-Cranberry Sauce-Gravy-Turkey sandwich. I'm looking forward to it.

In the meantime, though, in the lead up, we've been cooking more the past few days than we have in months. We took a trip to transition from the busy season to the off season, a trip that involved an absolutely worth it but bankrupting amount of eating out, and when we got back I found myself with an overwhelming desire to cook and eat in my own kitchen. I spent the better part of Sunday afternoon making sandwich bread and yogurt and Alice Water's excellent spinach lasagna, and finally a loaf of lemon poppyseed bread. Saturday we tried my friend Sarah's seared halibut with coriander and carrots, only with local haddock instead. Friday I made a bean soup from Nina Planck's excellent Real Food Cookbook, a very plain bean soup I didn't entirely expect to like, but that everyone in our house deemed excellent. Tonight if all goes according to plan we'll be having a seafood stew from Jerusalem. It feels good.

In other highlights, this weekend marks the official start of eggnog season. We'll be kicking it off with a nine-dozen-egg batch of Colonel Miles Cary's eggnog.

The Pilgrims starts tonight on PBS, and National Geographic's take, Saints & Strangers, encores Thanksgiving night.

From the New York Times: choose to be thankful; it will make you happy.

With Black Friday on the horizon, food for thought.

The Orleans Winter Farmers Market starts up December 5th and will run every first and third Saturday of the month through April at the middle school from nine to noon.


A big part of eating locally is being flexible when it comes to ingredients; the market didn't have spinach, but it did have Swiss chard. Here's a riff on Alice Water's original spinach lasagna from The Art of Simple Food. I've found so long as you keep the basic proportions the same, you can use just about any veggie.

1 box lasagna noodles, or an equivalent amount of fresh pasta
2 cups tomato sauce
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
3 tablespoons butter
2 cups milk
olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound mushrooms
1 large bunch Swiss chard
1 cup ricotta cheese
salt to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1-2 balls fresh mozzarella, sliced

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.

Meanwhile, start the béchamel. Melt the butter in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until thick, then cook another minute or two, whisking often, until just slightly golden. Add a small splash of milk; whisk until the sauce thickens and is free of lumps. Continue adding the milk, splash by splash, until the whole two cups have been absorbed into a smooth sauce. Turn the heat down to low, season with salt and pepper, and simmer, stirring often, until you're ready to put the lasagna together. Do not let the sauce cool or it will harden and thicken.

Add the lasagna noodles to the boiling water and cook according to package instructions. Warm up a splash of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, and cook for about thirty seconds, or until fragrant. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they give up their juices. Stir in the Swiss chard, season with salt to taste, cover the pan, and cook for another 5-8 minutes, until wilted. Turn off the heat and set the pan aside.

Mix the ricotta with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt to taste. Stir half of the Parmesan into the béchamel. Drain the pasta and immediately run under cold water to help prevent sticking.

Now assemble the lasagna. Grease a 9 by 13 inch casserole dish. Cover the bottom with a layer of noodles. Next use about 1/3 of the ricotta and tomato sauce to make the next layer, followed by a layer of noodles and a layer of the mushroom and spinach mixture and the béchamel. Continue layering, finishing with a layer of noodles topped with tomato sauce, sliced mozzarella, and a sprinkle of the remaining Parmesan.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden on top and bubbly throughout. Let the lasagna rest for at least 5 and preferable 20-30 minutes. Serve warm.


PERSIMMONS // the local food report

Last January, I gave a talk to the Village Garden Club of Dennis. In the midst of a snowstorm, we talked about landscaping with edible plants. I asked if anyone knew of any unusual food plants growing on the Cape, and at the end of the talk a woman named Susan sought me out. “There is a persimmon tree near my house,” she said.

Persimmons, if you’ve never run into them, are weird fruits. There are different varieties, and one is native to the southeastern United States, but I’ve never seen a tree this far north. I first saw a persimmon trees on my honeymoon in Italy. It was November, the leaves had fallen from the trees, and the fruits poked out from the ends of the bare branches like tiny orange jack-o-lanterns. We'd walked up from our little cottage in the olive grove to the town you see up there, and there were persimmon trees in almost every tidy yard. 

I learned that persimmons are a deep ruddy orange, and about the size of a large apple. The skin has the feel of a tomato, and the flesh inside an unripe one is terrible—astringent and bitter. But a ripe one is a different story altogether: soft and sweet and incredibly juicy.

I told Susan I’d like to find the tree. A week later, I got an email.

Dear Elspeth, she wrote. I needed to check the address of the house in Brewster. It is 1215 Route 6a, a white antique Cape.

I found a phone number for the art gallery next door. The owners said the people who had planted the tree had moved away, and that the current owners didn’t know much about it. They said there had originally been two persimmon trees, but one was killed in a winter storm. They wondered if the other one would make it. I promised to come visit in the spring.

Spring came and went, and summer got busy. Fall arrived, with another note from Susan: I’ve been checking out the persimmon tree as I drive by, she told me. It looks a little stressed, but I’m seeing flashes of orange.

The next Saturday, I drove up Cape. Susan met me at the tree.

She told me she recognized the persimmon from memory when I asked about unusual fruits. She said it reminded her of something in her childhood in New Jersey.

"So I went back to my mom and my aunt, and they said yes indeed my great aunt, great great aunt Neily, Cornelia Lambertson had persimmon trees. They would talk about them being very bitter if you picked them before the first frost, and that’s when they needed to be picked. And they would just stop on their way home from school, and go into the orchard there and pick the persimmons and eat them. They liked 'em."

Not everybody does. When I mentioned to my editor Viki that I was tracking down a persimmon tree, she screwed up her face. But the people who love persimmons are devoted to them. One cookbook author goes so far as to say that if you’ve never sunk a spoon into a soft, oozing persimmon, you are truly missing one of life’s greatest pleasures.

I tried to track down the original homeowners who had planted the Brewster persimmon tree. Susan told me they were from India, and that they'd put in the garden when they started an acupuncture practice and moved into town. Like the gallery owners, Susan said the woman and her husband sold the house a few years ago and moved to Florida, and I found a listing for them in Gainsville. But when I called the number, another woman answered, and said the couple had moved away. She didn’t have a forwarding address, and I haven’t been able to locate them.

I keep wondering wondering why this couple would have planted a persimmon tree so far north. Maybe it reminded her of home, or maybe it was planted for its medicinal uses. The leaves are good for everything from teas to poultices, and the fruit is full of important vitamins and minerals. Or maybe it was simply planted for a love of the flavor, for the experience of sinking into a sumptuous, delicate fruit on a chilly fall day.

I may never know. But for now I’m content with the knowledge that there’s a chance for persimmons here, so far out into the chilly sea.

I don't know anything about cooking with persimmons. But this bresaola-wrapped persimmon with arugula looks wonderful, and persimmon cranberry sauce would be a nice twist on tradition for Thanksgiving!

Also, if you like the idea of trying to plant your own persimmon tree, you can learn more about the different varieties and what they need over here.


COQ AU VIN // elspeth

My computer is on 4 percent battery right now. So extremely quickly, here's what you need to know.

We bought four roosters from our friend Victoria last spring. We stuck them in the freezer, where they sat out the summer madness. The other day when I went down to put in a box of lamb we just purchased from Border Bay Junction Farm, I remembered them and pulled one out. While it thawed I realized I had no idea how to cook a rooster. Did it need special treatment?

It did ! according to thekitchn.com. It needed to be slow cooked as Coq au Vin! Did I have a recipe? No I did not. But Ina Garten did!

And happily, her recipe was delicious. My only regret is that I did not make biscuits, because they would have been the perfect accompaniment. Two things about the recipe should be noted: if you want to use fresh onions instead of frozen (we did), be sure to add them slightly earlier than Ina asks you to. Also, if you've never cut a chicken into eight pieces you'll need a tutorial. Thomas Keller has a nice one in Ad Hoc at Home. Otherwise we followed Ina's directions to a tee! Happy rooster stewing.



Let me start by saying how much I enjoy coming here. That it feels like an escape in every sense of the word: like alone time, but also like the best kind of friendship, where there are comfortable silences followed by periods of intense discussion. It is hard to get here these days, but in some ways that makes it all the more enjoyable when I'm able.

I didn't get much of note done today. I washed a set of sheets, hung them out in the sun to dry. I vacuumed the house and cleaned out the fridge and put the girls down for a nap by walking them around the neighborhood a few times in the stroller. I folded three loads of laundry. 

But Sally and I had a long conversation about frost heaves, and Nora spent a happy afternoon exploring the grass outside. We made muffins, and talked about what it means to adapt a recipe. We took an idea that didn't fit with our mostly local, no-sugar, no-white flour ingredients, and shaped it into something both healthy and tasty. And while it wasn't inventing a self-driving car, or eradicating diabetes, it was satisfying in the way that so many mundane tasks are. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did.


The basic idea for this recipe comes from The Apple Lover's Cookbook by Amy Traverso. We've made some pretty heavy adaptations, and the result is a muffin that's packed with fruits and veggies but is also wonderfully satisfying and light. They are best warm, served with big pats of cold salty butter.

A note about the apples: I used a Macoun that I got at the Wellfleet Farmers Market. Anything would work, but I think this was an especially nice variety for muffins, because it's simultaneously tart and sweet and is crisp enough to stand up to a little heat. 

2 and 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups grated carrots
1 large apple, unpeeled, cored, and grated
2/3 cup mashed banana 
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
3/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 eggs
3/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 12-cup muffin tin. Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. In a larger bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients. Fold in the dry ingredients until just mixed. Spoon the batter into the prepared tin; you will likely have enough for about 15 muffins. Either bake in two batches, or spoon the remaining batter into a small loaf pan and bake it in there. The muffins will need about 20-25 minutes; bake until just cooked through, taking care not to overcook.

P.S. If you need a good Sunday evening read, try this on motherhood and smartphones. And in case what you need more is a good laugh.


SEPTEMBER 4 // elspeth

School starts Tuesday. In the meantime, we are savoring the last few days of crazy. The thing is, as hot and busy as this summer has been, it has also been wonderfully unplugged. I can count the number of hours I've spent working on a computer at home on two hands and two feet. We've been working hard, both mentally and physically, but it's been a more old-fashioned kind of work. I'm looking forward to more time to write, but I'm going to try and keep this place in my head: more focus, less wandering. Essentials, exploring. Following curiosity. 

On that note, here's what's got me thinking this week:

Crispy peach cobbler with with a side serving of cute baby. Yes, please!

When Did Parents Get So Scared? Lot of food for thought there.

—An update on Patrick and Thomas, and all the research in between.

—Huh. Will service charges or price increases take the place of tipping?

—My mom is raving about this buttermilk squash soup, which means when I finally get around to making it (in five years?), I'll be kicking myself for not getting to it sooner.

Watermelon popsicles with a tiny splash of vodka. 

—And finally, last but not least: what should I make with the last three Meyer lemons from our tree? Help! I've done one tart, but I need something new. Suggestions would be much appreciated, and whatever I end up making, I promise to share.

See you soon friends.



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.


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.



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. 


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
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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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