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.


SUNDAY // elspeth

I just drank a beer, and we're headed to bed. But I'll be back Tuesday with black raspberries, mint juleps, and ribs. July 5! It's here, friends.


ENGLISH MINT SAUCE // the local food report

Good morning. Although it is 9:38am, Sally and I are in bed and it is pitch black outside. Thunder! Lightening! None of it seems to bother Nora, who's napped through the whole thing. But it has put a damper on my plans to make you fresh mint sauce, in an effort to get some pictures for you. The kitchen is pitch black, and picking the mint means venturing outside. Here's a photo of a nice day in Helen Miranda's mint patch instead:

Helen is the reason we're talking about mint in the first place. She grows five varieties: plain old mint, spearmint, peppermint, orange mint, and lemon balm or balm mint, also known as Melissa. She used to have a fuzzy invasive mint, too, but she's weeded that out, and she also grows catnip (for fun for cats) and hyssop, for chest colds. 

One day this spring she showed me around her garden, and talked me through what she likes to do with each of her mints. Orange = smoothies. Melissa is good for tea and salads. Plain old mint she says you'd use for mint juleps, and she also likes it in salads. Peppermint is tea too, and maybe ice cream. Spearmint she dries for middle eastern dishes, and also uses for a fresh mint sauce and mint jelly. 

Bah, I thought when she first told me about mint jelly. Not my thing. So sweet! So fake green. But of course Helen doesn't make it that way. She does something really cool. She makes apple jelly, which means the sweetness and pectin comes from real fruit. Then she adds mint at the very end, just for flavor. In her words:

"Mint jelly, two ways.

1) Make mint tea with lots of leaves, no stems, as usual. Don't let it sit too long. 10 minutes max... it can get dark and bitter. Strain out leaves. Add apple jelly, made beforehand, until it melts.

2) Make apple jelly as usual. At the stage where the slices of apple have simmered and become soft.

I add a LOT of whole mint leaves (again, no stems) and let them sit in the liquid for about 20 minutes, no heat. I like to use organic apples so that the skin can be included which gives it a nice rosy tinge, if the skin is red."

As for the fresh mint sauce, it's simple. Helen uses good red wine vinegar, sugar, and finely chopped fresh mint leaves. She lets the mixture sit for about an hour before it's time to eat (preferably, lamb). She told me to check the Joy of Cooking for the recipe, so here it is, a little more officially. 


The Joy says that in England, roasted lamb with fresh mint sauce is as traditional as mint jelly is here. This sauce is nice—not so sweet, not so jiggly—instead a thin, bright liquid that goes splendidly with a nice cut of meat. 

1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons boiling water
2 tablespoons minced fresh young mint leaves
8 to 10 tablespoons white wine, rice wine, or red wine vinegar

Stir the sugar and water together in a small bowl until the sugar is dissolved. Add the mint and vinegar and cover. Let sit for 2-3 hours before serving to let the flavors come together. The sauce will keep for a few days, but be aware that the mint will turn brown after a night in the fridge.

P.S. For audio, check in tomorrow! I'll post a link. P.P.S. Soon-mint juleps! With maple syrup! So, so good.



It's been a while. I've been trying to get back here. I made a pea salad that I thought I might share with you, but then it turned out to be totally unremarkable. We made and devoured these strawberry-rhubarb popsicles, but I'd already mentioned them. (Make them! Soon!) We took a trip to Maine, had the best fish chowder I've ever tasted, and have been unable to recreate it since. In between, we've been eating leftovers and at the restaurant and cereal. There was nothing much to report for days.

But then! The girls and I got up early Saturday morning and went strawberry picking in Falmouth. The fields looked terrible. There were weeds everywhere and the berries were tiny, and one older man picking near us spent the entire time complaining about "young people these days" and how they "don't call them the greatest generation." Apparently he thought the latest generation of farmers should have spent more time weeding their fields, and he might be right. But the very nice young woman at the farm stand said their berry plants were severely damaged by frost, and I suspect she and whoever else is running the show there did a cost-benefit analysis and figured there wasn't much use spending a bunch of time weeding plants that were hardly going to produce anyway.

At any rate, I should have thanked the man on the way out, because when I first arrived and saw the state of the fields, I felt the same way. But Sally was thrilled, and despite the fact that the berries were few and far between and incredibly tiny, they were also incredibly sweet. And in between the older man's bouts of complaints, Sally kept piping up with "This is so much fun, isn't it, Mama?" and "I love strawberry picking!" And so after about five minutes I realized we weren't really there for the berries, but for the experience, and I changed my mood accordingly. Nora pluncked down in between some weeds and some berries, and Sally and I spent an hour hunting around for tiny red jewels quite happily. 

I wish I had a picture of the girls leaving the farm, because they were both completely covered in dirt and berry juice, and they looked exactly like old photographs of me and my sister leaving Prout's Neck after berry picking near where I grew up in Maine. We came home with somewhere in the neighborhood of six quarts of strawberries and four quarts of sugar snap peas, and on the ride home we snacked until we got silly. 

I asked the young woman as we left about next year—whether they would be replanting, or if they were letting the fields go—and she said they would be putting in new rows. Maybe next year we'll have enough for jam, or even freezing.

In the meantime, we've been eating our berries the best way I know—sliced up and sprinkled with just a tiny bit of sugar, and then drizzled with heavy cream. Sally requests it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and until the berries run out, I think that's okay. 


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