MEAL PLANNING // elspeth

My sister recently got a job. A big job, as a family nurse practitioner at a practice in rural Maine. My mother has taken to calling her A.P., F.N.P., and Sally asks me on a daily basis to recite to her all the schools she needs to get through before she can be "a doctor like Auntie Anna." Needless to say, as a preschooler, she has a ways to go, but it's good to have dreams. 

One less-than-ideal component of Anna's new job is that it's about an hour commute from where she lives in Portland, which means that four days a week she leaves home bright and early and doesn't return until well into the dinner hour. But the upside of these long days is a boyfriend who's learning to cook, for whom she can leave detailed instructions—very detailed, as in Turn the stove on to high. Get out the big pot. Fill three quarters of the way with water. Cover. Wait until the water boils. Add the box of pasta on the counter, and so on—and arrive home to a hot dinner. She's long been an expert meal planner, and this turn of events has taken her planning to a new level.

It's inspired me to get better about it, too. Alex noted on a recent visit to Anna and Andy's apartment that they have a big chalkboard in their kitchen announcing the week's dinners day by day, and he says that if I put one up, it might make him more likely to arrive home by the alarmingly early hour of 5:30 when we often now find ourselves eating. If someone had told me before I had children that I would ever consider eating before six on a regular basis, I probably would have cried. But I find it oddly comforting now to be done with the dishes and upstairs before seven, which probably means I'm turning into an old lady, which I am also oddly fine with.

At any rate, I tried meal planning last week, and I thought it might be nice to share here what we made. It seems to be a good way to save money on groceries, and also replaces the feeling of panic I sometimes get in the late afternoon when I realize I have nothing planned for dinner (remember Susannah—"Have you figured out dinner yet?") with a feeling of calm soldiering on that requires me only to find the appropriate evening on my list. 

I tend to do my grocery shopping on Wednesdays, since that's the day the Wellfleet Farmers' Market was, but now that it's out of season and the Orleans Winter Farmers' Market (!) is soon to start up, I'm trying to switch over to Saturdays. At any rate, here's this past week's, with some notes about what worked.

WEDNESDAY: Hake, Roasted Cauliflower, & Skillet Cornbread

THURSDAY: Lamb Shanks with Orzo & White Beans from The Joy of Cooking. A good meal for a day when you have a lot of other things to do around the house or at your desk, because all you really have to do is spend a few minutes throwing everything in a pot and then wait while the lamb slowly turns to melty gold in the oven. (Note: I skipped the lemon juice, mint, and harissa.) 


SATURDAY: E & N at girls' night. Unclear what S & A ate, but probably scallops or granola. 

SUNDAY: My mom's crab quiche with broccoli & this herb salad from Bon Appetit. Quiche gets an A+, as usual. Easy to put together because I had a ball of pie dough in the freezer from my mom's last visit. Salad was good, but a little fussy. I didn't make the dressing—just used lemon juice and olive oil, and that worked well. And for dessert, Nina Planck's Pumpkin Custards with Whipped Cream. (Can't find it online—it's from her new Real Food Cookbook—but this is almost identical. And it was gooood.)

MONDAY: Spiced Lamb Patties with Nutty Garlic Sauce from Bon Appetit. Home run! So, so good. And came together in less than half an hour while I was wearing Nora and receiving "help" from Sally. 

TUESDAY: Leftovers. Good to plan for, but doesn't look so good on the chalkboard. We'll see if Alex comes home tonight.

EXTRAS: Easy Little Bread and a batch of Banana Cereal Muffins for after school snacks. 


I bought crab recently because it's supposed to be a good source of Vitamin D, which you need when you're breastfeeding. (And also in general. Check out this graph from the CDC!) My mom's been making this quiche for as long as I can remember, and it's one of my favorite ways to eat crab meat.

1 bottom piecrust
Dijon mustard
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 beaten eggs
1/2 cup milk
6-8 ounces crabmeat (fresh, frozen, or even canned will work)
2 cups shredded Swiss cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the crust until lightly browned (about 10 minutes). I like to use pie weights so that it stays in place, but if you don't have any dry beans also work. Remove pie weights and brush lightly with Dijon mustard. Combine all the remaining ingredients in a bowl, mix well, and pour the mixture into the shell. Bake for another 30 minutes, or until firm. 



It baffles me how two blonde people can produce a child with brown hair, but there you have it. We did. It's also beyond me why the dahlias we planted in May are only now producing big, beautiful blooms, while Gail's (if you live here, you know Gail—she's the one with the stunning stand near the library) are gone by. Also, why don't I buy cauliflower more often?

My mother is a steadfast purchaser of cauliflower. She particularly likes the orange variety, the one you sometimes find at farmers' markets, and she especially likes it roasted with onions and carrots. Roasted vegetables are always good, she'll tell you, but this is the absolute best combination. 

The other day I saw a head and decided to bring it home. I used a bit to try this strange but excellent raw cauliflower salad, and I thought about making a cheesy cauliflower soup, but in the end I am my mother's daughter. And so tonight it's in the oven, roasting with a red onion, a handful of sage leaves from the plant beside the stoop, a drizzle of olive oil, and a pinch of sea salt. 

Though I can't imagine Nora grown—or Sally, for that matter—I can see myself at sixty, waxing poetic to them over the phone about the merits of roasted cauliflower. It's a happy picture, and one I think would very much please my mother.


Do you really need a recipe for this? Probably not. But sometimes it helps to get an idea of the proportions other people are using, so here goes.

1 large head cauliflower, cored and cut into florets
1 red onion, peeled and diced
a large handful of sage leaves
olive oil (about 1/4 cup)
sea salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Toss the cauliflower, onion, and sage together in a 9" by 13" baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake 30-40 minutes, until the veggies are tender and golden at the edges. Serve hot. 


ON BACON // elspeth

I have been doing a lot of reading. Nursing a newborn is good for that—with Sally I alternated between Barbara Delinsky romance novels and baby advice books—and this time I've been making my way through the public library's "Notable Books of 2013" shelf. I started with Five Days At Memorial (incredibly eye opening, and also a gripper), then Men We Reaped (so sad, but also fiercely lovely), and I'm now—and I realize I'm late to the party—almost through Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In

I like it. I started reading it on the same day I rediscovered a blog I love that changed web addresses two years ago, a blog written by a homeschooling mother of four girls. The philosophies behind the two pieces of work couldn't be more different, but both resonate in their own ways. Lean In carries some of my truths—that I am happier, that our home is happier—when I am working outside of it in some capacity, and when I feel valued and respected for that contribution. That things go better when I let go of what scientists apparently term "maternal gatekeeping" and let Alex do his share, his way. But Mead & Daughters speaks to another, competing truth—that I want to be at home at least part time, to allow the girls time for unstructured play, for being outside, for teaching them what my parents taught me—that there can be joy and creativity in the everyday, the mundane. 

There have been several pieces recently questioning the merit of cooking (To Cook or Not to Cook? What if You Just Hate Making Dinner?), and I found some bits more compelling than others. But mostly, I think the crux of the issue is that cooking is only enjoyable when you have the time and energy for it. I don't picture Sheryl Sandberg coming home from a long day at Facebook excited about making dinner, but I also don't know her, and hell, maybe she's as into Dinner: A Love Story as Virginia Heffernan is against it.

Which is all to say: I cook because I like cooking. I think it can be incredibly satisfying and creative work. But it can also be stressful and mundane, and I like take-out and restaurant meals as much as the next person. And like Molly, I don't make more than a few "real" recipes a week. (You know, the ones that look like a proper meal and involve more than about fifteen minutes of effort.) The rest of the time, I'm simply throwing things together on a whim, like pasta and salad, or we're eating leftovers, or we're snacking on beer and what I call "The Charcuterie Plate," which is much less elegant than it sounds and consists mainly of cheese, carrot sticks, olives, and liverwurst. I think it's important to be honest about these kinds of things, because viewing things through a few words and photographs every now and then, it's easy not to get the full picture. We all have enough on our plates without trying to imitate a fictional version of perfect.

And that is where bacon comes in. There are very few dinner dilemmas a package of bacon can't solve. Bacon crumbled on salad, with toast fried in bacon fat. Bacon and beans and greens, with toast fried in bacon fat. Eggs and bacon, with toast fried in bacon fat. You see where I'm going with this. My mom and dad bring us the good stuff from a farm near them in Maine, and I almost always buy a package when I see it at the farmers' market. But I also buy it at the grocery store. If I can find it, I like the applewood smoked cuts from Niman Ranch. We had some for dinner last night, with Swiss chard and onions cooked down in the fat, and thick pieces of swordfish pan-seared in some more of the fat. There was nothing fancy or time-consuming about it. But it tasted good, and it made us happy. And that, I think, is what's important.

KEFIR // the local food report

I'm going to keep this short. You're reading this in late October, but I'm writing to you in early September, trying to finish things up before the baby comes. Which is hopefully not before I get it all done! So without further ado, I'd like to introduce kefir. 

The other day I visited with my neighbor, Helen Miranda Wilson, who happens to be quite the fermenter, and while we were there to talk sauerkraut, I ended up learning about kefir too. It's a fermented dairy product, and like homemade yogurt, it's tangy, tart, and delicious. But it's actually made fairly differently—with kefir grains, which are living organisms, a community of over 30 different types of microbes. 

Yogurt is made by bacteria, too, but unlike with yogurt making bacteria, kefir grains are essentially born—formed from spontaneous symbiosis in the right conditions. They're gelatinous and translucent, and they turn whole milk into a thick, delightful substance excellent for topping with fruit and yogurt. The finished product is amazingly good for you, and the fermentation process is pretty neat.

From here, I'm going to let Helen take the wheel. This is, in her words, with her photos, how to make kefir, once you get your hands on some kefir grains.

From Helen Miranda Wilson, kefir maker, of Wellfleet: 

"When I run out of kefir, I take out the bowl of kefir grains and fermented milk which I have been holding on the bottom shelf of the fridge.

I then strain this mixture through a container, using a stainless steel sieve with a handle. Nonreactive vessels and utensils—stainless steel, glass, plastic or non-lead glazed ceramic—must be used. To push the kefir though the mesh, I stir the kefir and culture grains gently with a hard plastic spatula and also tap the sieve, hard, over the container I'm transferring it to.

Once it's empty, I wash and dry the nonreactive bowl I use to incubate and hold the fermenting mixture in. I add as much whole, organic, cold milk as I want in proportion to how much culture I have. You don't have to scald the milk, etc. as you do with with yogurt: it's so much easier! These scobies are amazingly robust and they don't peter out.

Unfortunately, raw milk and fat free or 2% milk don't make as good a result. Not enough for the culture to eat? Sandor Katz might know why!

I then dump the grains into the milk bowl, give them a good stir, cover them with aluminum foil and put the bowl in a warm place for about 24 hours. I use our gas stove oven which has a pilot light that's always lit and a constant temperature of 85 degrees F.

If you leave the fermenting mixture out in a warm spot, keep checking it after a day: it will still work but may take a bit longer. When the fermentation is complete, it should look more or less like the photo below. The whey will have separated out and it will seem to have curdled a bit. It can look slightly yellow, a bit nasty, but it's not!

The mixture will all be smoothly recombined once it's been strained and stirred. It will then have a thick and creamy consistency and a clean, tangy, wholesome taste that's better than any store-bought kefir I've ever tried.

When it's reached this final stage, I simply store the covered bowl in the fridge. It can sit there for weeks. When the strained batch I'm eating has run out I repeat as above.

You can also eat the delightfully chewy grains. As time passes, the colony grows. For optimal fermentation, you don't want to have more than you can feed in the milk.

Once, I forgot the grains-milk bowl for almost a week in the oven and it seemed too far gone. It smelled off and had some green mold on the top. Some of the grains looked brownish. I picked those out, rinsed the others off with tepid water in a sieve, under the tap, and started over—no problem. Worked fine."


GRATEFULLY // elspeth

A friend told me that when she and her husband were expecting their second child, they asked a nice couple they met at the playground with two kids how much harder it really was. "It can't get much harder, right?" the couple laughed. She moved forward confidently. Then the baby came. The word she now uses to describe how much harder two is than one to friends who ask her is "exponentially." I'm not sure I quite feel this way—going from no baby to rearranging our whole lives around a tiny person's needs and schedules was fairly jarring—but I will say that two is a whole new ball game. I have not accomplished much of anything around here in the past few weeks beyond basic daily necessities: attempt to sleep, attempt to get Sally and Nora to sleep, eat and provide meals, wash the diapers, try to keep Sally from jealousy. Most days we do ok. Other days, mainly the days following nights with both girls waking, are challenging. I am learning to ask for help, to accept it gratefully. It is humbling.

But it's also incredibly nice. I feel lucky to be able to be home for a few months, to be fully present in our daily household rhythms after a summer of chaos and babysitters and longer hours working. I am in the kitchen more than I have been in months; we aren't going out much, and no one's at the restaurants at night anymore working. I am able to focus on what we need—for my reserves, for Nora's milk, for a tired husband, a growing Sally. We are eating well, but simply.

Last night I made a chickpea and chorizo soup inspired by one my mother's friend Julie made us once in Spain. Sally and I roasted a batch of applesauce together (without Nora please Mama, said Sally) with Spartans and Honeycrisps my mother brought down the other afternoon. I soaked the two livers from a chicken my dad cooked while he was here this weekend in milk and breaded and fried them and ate them for lunch yesterday. And for some reason, I can't stop buying and cooking eggplant—mostly roasted, sometimes pan-fried, but always with a generous glug of olive oil and rubbed down with garlic and sea salt. 

The recipe I like best comes from Nigel Slater—from his book The Kitchen Diaries, where he records his daily meals for a year. It's more prose than instruction, and it assumes that the reader knows their way around good ingredients and a kitchen. 

"I slice a couple of eggplant thickly," he writes. "Brush them with olive oil and season their cut sides with black pepper, crushed garlic and crumbled dried oregano, then I bake them on a flat baking sheet in a hot oven till tender and soft. A matter of twenty minutes or so. Whilst the eggplant are still warm, I scatter them with crumbled feta from the Turkish shop down the road, toasted pine nuts and some small, fresh mint leaves from the garden, the pointed variety with no hairs. Then I drizzle the result with more olive oil. Juicy, silky, nutty and warm, it is good, and enough for supper." 

He's making this August 2nd; I've made it at least a dozen times since then. I realize I might be sharing this too late—there were eggplants at the farmers' market last week, but every week I stock up, because I'm not sure when the last morning is they'll appear. I hope they haven't already disappeared.


GARUM // the local food report

What do you do with the skeletons of your small, oily fish? If you're like most people, you probably throw them in the compost. But if you're like Michael Ceraldi (of Ceraldi in Wellfleet), you put them in a bucket, layer them with salt, and leave them in the fridge to ferment. 

What you're looking to make is garum. If this sounds like a stinky process, well, it is. But it used to be even stinkier. Garum is a fermented fish sauce that was wildly popular in Roman times, when it was made in factories by the sea. These factories produced it by leaving fish and salt in vats in the hot sun, leaving them to ferment. First the salt pulled the liquid out of the fish, then the liquid slowly settled into layers and was graded just like olive oil. Rich people bought the expensive top-notch stuff to marinate meats and serve with nice cheeses, and peasants bought the cheap stuff to flavor their porridges. Each port had its own recipe, and there were factories everywhere. They stank, so they were usually outside city walls. 

(Fun garum trivia fact: In 2008, archaeologists found garum residue in Pompeii and used it to confirm the date of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The fish used were bogues, which come in the summer, so they were able to confirm that the volcano blew in August. Cool, huh?)

At any rate, for a while there, garum was as popular as ketchup is today. It was mixed with wine or vinegar, diluted with water and given to soldiers thanks to high protein and B vitamin counts, or mixed with honey to make a sweet condiment. Michael says he likes it best as a marinade for steak, or mixed with honey, thyme, mustard seed, and olive oil to make a sauce for fried chicken or pecorino cheese. It's different than most fish sauces I've had in that it's thin and oily—not thick and syrupy. The smell is similar, though—that intense fishiness that is somehow both terrible and wonderful, but mostly wonderful. A little goes a long way.

It's not a project for everyone, but it's a cool thing to know about. As Michael told me, he likes to know how to make everything from scratch. Because you never know when you might need to churn your own butter, or make your own bread, or bring back garum to the masses. Right?


NORA BRADFORD // elspeth

Hi. As I'm sure you've guessed from the silence, big things have been happening around here. Big things named Nora! I'll be back soon with more, but in the meantime, here she is, stats, frog legs, and all. 

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!


SAUERKRAUT // the local food report

It's pretty, isn't it? You can make it with regular old green cabbage, savoy cabbage, red cabbage. It's about as old as food gets—they say the Tartars took it in their saddlebags to Europe. It started as a way to preserve cabbage—to keep it well past its winter sell-by date—but then people got a taste for it. Today, on top of that, we know how good it is health-wise.

The versions you see up there were made by my neighbor, Helen Miranda Wilson. She started playing around with fermented cabbage about a year ago, and she's hooked. She makes a batch every 2-3 weeks and eats it as a condiment—a little dollop alongside lunch or dinner, nearly every day. As she puts it, "It's good for you, and it's tasty, but it's salty. A little goes a long way."

I've been wanting to learn ever since I got a copy of The Art of Fermentation two Christmases ago. Helen also learned from the book, and under her guidance, I've finally started my first batch. Have you ever tried your hand at sauerkraut? Any tips? Let's share!


This recipe is adapted from this site and Helen's advice. I highly recommend reading through the advice on the webpage before getting started.

one roughly 3 pound cabbage 
1 and 1/2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1/2 to 1 cup water

Remove the heart and finely chop or grate the cabbage. Place in a large bowl. Sprinkle salt on the cabbage (this pulls out water and creates the brine, and also keeps the cabbage crunchy) and add the caraway. Mix well and cover the cabbage with a lid or plate weighted down so that it's tight fitting on top of the cabbage mixture—Helen says a gallon of water in a jug works well. You want the cabbage tightly packed; the weighted cover will help force the water out. Cover with cheesecloth to keep out flies and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.

Check the mixture. If you don't see any brine, or if there's only a little, add enough water to bring the liquid up to the plate. Recover and weight and leave to ferment for several days, tasting periodically. The kraut is ready when you like the flavor—it should be tangy and the texture of the cabbage should be fairly limp. When it's where you want it, move it to a cool part of your basement or the fridge. 


QUICK CUCUMBER KIMCHI // the local food report

Holly North is addicted to kimchi. It started with a problem; her wife Sarah is a baker, and Holly was having trouble digesting bread. Then pizza. Beer. (No !) Finally, a baker from Vermont told her fermented vegetables might be the answer. We don't let our grains ferment long enough, he said, and so we need good bacteria from other fermented foods to help break them down. Reluctantly, Holly tried sauerkraut. It seemed to work. So she thought, why not try eating a little bit of some sort of ferment every day? She did, and slowly she got hooked not only on the digestive benefits, but also on the flavors. Which explains how her fridge came to be completely full of fermentation experiments like the ones you see up there, and most of all full of kimchi.

Kimchi in its most basic form is fermented cabbage. Terrible sounding, Holly acknowledges, but once she tasted it, she got hooked on its pungency. She uses all kinds of different vegetables—daikon radishes, kale stalks, cucumbers—and also seafood like oysters, anchovy paste, and shrimp. The process starts with salting the vegetables, then depending on what they are, letting them sit for more or less time to let the salt start breaking down the skin and letting the lacto-bacteria naturally present colonize and grow. Then Holly packs on seasoning layers like garlic-chile paste, salted shrimp, more veggies, etc. Depending on what she uses, Holly says the kimchis have a different fermentation timeline—cabbages take a while, cucumbers are quick.

The best thing about discovering kimchi, Holly says, is that it's brought about this great culture of food-sharing in her neighborhood. It's hard to make small batches, which means she's constantly trading: kimchi for eggs, kimchi for veggies, kimchi for hot peppers to make more kimchi. It's an ancient food, and one that Holly, for one, thinks is about due for a comeback. Happy fermenting, everyone.


This is Holly's recipe, retyped by me. A few notes from Holly: Because of the nature of cucumbers, this kimchi is best eaten within a week. She likes it best after a couple of days in the fridge, once the fermentation has really gotten going. Also, for containers, you want to use all non-reactive crocks/pots/bowls/jars—whatever you choose. You can use plastic, but be forewarned that the chiles will stain it red!

6 pounds cucumbers 
5 ounces coarse sea salt
1/2 cup rice porridge*
4 ounces fish sauce
3 ounces chopped garlic
1 ounce chopped ginger
1 ounce granulated sugar
3 ounces korean hot chili flakes
1 pound daikon radish (or substitute other hardy radishes), thinly sliced and julienned
1 carrot, thinly sliced and julienned
4 ounces scallions, thinly sliced

Trim the ends off the cucumbers, quarter and cut into 1/2 inch chunks. Sprinkle with 3 ounces of the salt and toss to mix. Set aside for 30 minutes in a stainless steel or glass bowl (you don't want to use anything reactive). Drain the cucumbers, reserving the liquid. At this point you can choose to rinse lightly in filtered water (tap may have chlorine, which kills the beneficial bacteria) and drain if you like a little less salt. 

Combine the rice porridge, fish sauce, garlic, ginger, sugar, chili flakes, and 2 ounces of salt in a crock or glass jar. Add the radish slices, carrot slices, scallions, cucumbers, and reserved salted liquid and toss lightly to mix. 

Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to a week. 

*To make rice porridge: Dissolve 1 tablespoon sweet rice flour in 3/4 cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until it gets thick and "porridgy." Put the pot in an ice bath to cool the porridge quickly. Once completely cool, add to kimchi—do not use hot!


YARD-LONG BEANS // the local food report

My friend Victoria is always growing unusual veggies. She's into okra and fish peppers and round zucchinis and for melons, emerald gems. So when she told me she had some beans I had to see, I headed right over to meet her. She had a measuring tape and a pile of very long skinny beans in emerald green and ruby red, and the first one we pulled out measured nineteen inches. Nineteen!

The varieties are called Orient Wonder and Red Noodle, and as a category they're called yard-long beans. They're popular in Asia, where they're cooked in stir fries or deep fried. You don't want to boil  or steam them, because they're starchier than regular green beans, and cooking them in water makes them lose their snappy texture. Vic likes them not just because they're gorgeous and unusual, but also for this difference—she says she often finds traditional pole beans woody and big, and since these stay pencil thin, they don't have that problem. 

The best way I've found to eat them is fried up with garlic and chili flakes and peanuts. The beans get crispy, the flavors come together with a satisfying, lingering heat, and they're excellent alongside a piece of pan-fried fish or chicken. I didn't make any changes, so rather than reinvent the wheel, I'm going to send you over here, where I found the recipe. Happy frying!


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