11.12.2019

CRISPY KALE WITH SOBA NOODLES // elspeth


Do you also harbor obsessions with crispy kale and nutritional yeast? For a long time these were two distinct and separate hankerings for me. I've made crispy kale with soy sauce and olive oil and sriracha and sesame oil on repeat for years. And ever since my friend Kristen introduced me to the idea of nutritional yeast on popcorn, I have upped my popcorn intake 87 percent. Popcorn, my mother has long held, can be a meal. I am now a believer.

But the other day when I finally got around to drinking a paper plane on the couch and reading the September issue of Bon App├ętit (yesss thank you daylight savings), I discovered a recipe that combined crispy kale with nutritional yeast. And a tahini sesame sauce! And soba noodles! I haven't been so excited to cook something in ages. The next morning I reported to the grocery store directly after school drop off, bought all the ingredients, picked a last haul of kale from the garden, and made myself lunch at 10am. Alex happened to be working from home for the morning, and we ate soba noodles with crispy kale and nutritional yeast standing up at the kitchen counter in between phone calls and emails and loads of laundry. 



It was so good that I wanted to tell you about it right away, in case you also need a little hit of all things salty, crispy, and delicious. It doesn't feel right to type up the recipe here, since I haven't changed a thing. But if this sounds good to you, it's because it is, and I recommend you head on over to the BA original and make it without delay. 

11.05.2019

ALL IN ALL // Elspeth


Hi, friends. It's been a while. I'm not sure if I'm stopping by or if I'm back, but either way it's nice to say hello. Let's revel in that and see where it goes.

A lot's been happening around here. Our friends started a newspaper—yes, started!—and I've been writing for them about toxic algae blooms and blue marble librarians and a slew of other sobering-but-interesting things. They're on a mission to keep democracy alive with local journalism, and so far it's been an inspiring ride. You can check it out online: The Provincetown Independent.



I've also started freelancing for some other places—I wrote about food waste and making maple syrup for the Boston Globe and most recently tried to make people laugh over at Heated with the tale of the time Alex and I accidentally bought two pigs. (Spoiler alert: SAUSAGE!)

On the radio front my co-host Ali Berlow and I have spent some time with our fantastic editors over at Atlantic Public Media reimagining the scope of the Local Food Report. We'll still be reporting on that perfect tomato variety and foraging for cranberries, but we're also opening things up to talk more with people who are reimagining our food systems. We did our first piece in that vein a couple weeks ago with a farmer who wants to move away from annual crops and solve the climate crisis with trees. Some people reached out to say how much they loved it, and at least one person hated it. We'll see!

To try to hold all this in one space, I built a website over at elspethhay.com. It's where I'll be posting new pieces. Stop on by if you'd like to read.

Last but not least, I am (finally?) getting to work on a cookbook proposal. It's been something I've been tossing around for a long time, in different formats, but I am resolved, once and for all, to get down to it. So far it's been buoying, exciting, and reaffirming. I'm guessing at some point this will give way to frustration, but we're not there yet! Day by day. (Also, now you know. Accountability!)



Other things we have been doing a lot of include: getting in the car to go to a piece of land we bought in Maine (!), foraging in the woods and dunes for all manner of delightful things (blueberries, blackberries, apples, wintergreen, matsutakes, cranberries—frankly, I've been in awe, recently, of the abundance of this place), deep cleaning before the lull of wood-stove season sets in, gathering the last few things from the garden, and killing another few batches of meat chickens. I'm teaching a foraging class at the girls' school, which is the highlight of my week every week.

All in all, things are good and full.

And if you need something for right now—I've got a pot of this bubbling. It started as a way to use up a cut of meat I wasn't familiar with—a top round steak, which looked tough and lean. I've tasted the broth three times since I started writing, it is slowly turning into gravy, and the whole mess smells heavenly.

I hope you are well, and well-fed.

2.28.2019

THE LOCAL FOOD REPORT // seed ordering 2019

Every year around this time on the Local Food Report I talk with a local gardener or farmer about what seed varieties they're ordering for the upcoming season. This year I caught up with Josh Leveque, gardener and horticulturalist. He and his family have a huge terraced garden overlooking Little Harbor in Woods Hole and grow a lot of the food they eat. Here are some of his top picks year after year:

Sun Gold (cherry tomato): These are a perennial favorite at our house. We had an overabundance this past summer and tried dehydrating them for the first time, and that's how Josh says he uses them too. Dried and preserved they are excellent chopped and served over salad, tossed with pasta, or ground to make a filling for ravioli. Plus, they make excellent snacking tomatoes all summer long and the yield is terrific. 


Nancy (lettuce): Josh says he's a sucker for butter lettuces, and we are too. Nancy is planted early and late in the season—it doesn't tolerate heat. It has a well packed heart with unusually thick and crisp leaves. 

Magenta (lettuce): This is a Batavian lettuce, known to be good in the heat and slow to bolt. Magenta has red-tinged leaves with a crisp, green heart. 

Nevada (lettuce): Territorial Seed Co. calls this Batavian "possibly the best in its category." It's got a tall head resistant to tip burn and bolting and stores for longer than other types in the fridge. 

Toma verde (tomatillo): This green fruit matures early. You'll need at least two plants for successful pollination. Excellent for salsa. 

Rio grande (tomatillo): Rio grandes are big and apple-green when they're ripe. This variety is also known for excellent yield. Josh and his family try to freeze two gallons of roasted tomatillos every year for salsas and other recipes. 

De Milpa (tomatillo): These green fruits blush purple when they're ripe, and the husks have dark veins and a light purple blush, too. Excellent for salsa. 

Dagan (Brussels sprout): Holds well in the field—Josh says some varieties the outer leaves have completely fallen apart by harvest time—this one stays upright and good looking. Good yield, and nice medium-larges sprouts. Good flavor too!


Ahi benito (pepper): Flavor like a cross between a tomato and a guava. On a scale from one to ten, heat registers at about a seven. Josh likes these for a fermented hot sauce. 

Red Russian (kale): Many Cape Codders' go-to for kale. I've seen it growing through February and even make it through to put out leaves again come spring after milder winters. Excellent yield and tender leaves. 

Anne (raspberry): This yellow raspberry stands out for its delicate flavor. Sally and I think it's something of a cross between a lemon and an apricot; Josh says at their house it's a family favorite. One note: planting guides say not to plant red, gold (yellow), or purple raspberries within 75 feet of black raspberries, which may be more susceptible to disease and spread these to and from nearby pants. 

12.06.2018

HOMEMADE BACON // the local food report


We are big into math around here these days. (Quick! Nine plus one plus three?) At any rate, five hundred and ninety one long days ago, on Earth Day of 2017, I promised I'd tell you more about making salt pork and bacon. It seems the time has come. 

This week I wrote an essay for the Local Food Report on savory holiday comestibles, specifically preserved meat. As I said to Viki, my editor, when she wondered about the topic—well, apparently this is just the strange kind of bird I am! So there you have it. Sweet is overdone. Comestibles are great. That leaves room for a lot of savory. We accidentally bought two pigs this year (long story) and a cow. We have a freezer full of meat. We need look no further for gifting. 

You can hear the full story on the show (give a listen over here), but what I want to share in this space is a few photos and a recipe. I use the word recipe loosely, because a dry cure is really more of a recommendation than a prescription, and believe it or not it is actually pretty hard to go wrong when you rub a bunch of salt all over a piece of pork belly. In fact there really is no going wrong, so long as you keep it in the fridge. We've let it sit anywhere from a week to a month, and the only thing that "goes wrong" is that it gets more salty. This is nothing that can't be fixed with a soak in some cold water or the good sense to use these saltier bits more sparingly. 

The photo at the very top is some bacon-in-progress that sat in the fridge for a few weeks last year and at the time was about to have its salt brushed off. You can see how much moisture the salt has absorbed—it becomes very wet and heavy. Once we brush off the salt we simply put the bacon in a cloth bag in the cheese drawer of the fridge and let it sit until we're ready to eat. At that point, we give it a little rinse  (or a soak, if it's particularly salty) and pat it dry. It lasts for months and months and months. In fact, we just found some from last year and it's still perfectly good! The miracle of Christmas lives. 


HOMEMADE FRESH BACON (SALT PORK)

This is loosely adapted from Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills of Cooking. I've only ever made this with pork belly, but I can see how loin or shoulder could also work well—the chops we get usually have a nice thick layer of fat around them. 

for each 2.50 lb pork belly (or loin, or shoulder)

10 ounces kosher salt
1/3 cup granulated or brown sugar
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh rosemary, finely chopped

Mix all the dry ingredients together. If the pork has a rind still on it, you can leave it on or cut it off—it will simply make the cure take a bit longer. If the piece of pork belly is very large, cut it into manageable pieces, roughly 6 inches by 8 inches. Rub the cure mixture all over the meat, making sure to get it in every crack and crevice. 

Arrange the meat on a rimmed cookie sheet or casserole dish so that the cure mixture is touching it on all sides—I like to put a bit beneath it as well. Leave in the fridge to cure, checking occasionally to make sure it's still fully covered in salt. The salt will absorb a great deal of moisture; this is normal, in fact it is the whole point. According to Darina pork loin and shoulder only need to cure a few days, whereas pork belly can cure anywhere from a few days to several weeks. The longer you let it sit in the cure, the longer it will stay preserved. 

Once you deem the meat "ready" (you cut off a piece and fry it, and it tastes good, and/or it feels sufficiently dried out to last a good, long time) brush off the salt and store it in a cloth bag in the fridge. Reusable produce bags make just the right vessel. Depending how long you cure the bacon, it can last anywhere from a few weeks up to a year, or even longer. To eat, give it a rinse, slice it up and fry it. If it's too salty let the meat soak for 6 hours and try again. 



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. 

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