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 !



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. 


HONEYBEE HEALTH // the local food report

Heyo ! 

Honeybee health on the Local Food Report today. Give a listen if you can. So many factors involved—travel, nutrition, queen genetics, habitat loss, pathogens and predators, pesticides—the list is long and disarmingly familiar in the way it overlaps with human challenges. Today's interview is with Larry Dapsis, entomologist for the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, and an excellent resource on all things insect. It's part of a mini series on local pollinators, the challenges they face, and what local citizens, farmers, and activists can do to help. Next up: a local beekeeper breeding for resistance against varroa mite.

And quickly, before I go—

Besides pollination and honey, one more reason to care about bees: beeswax. Two beeswax resources I've come to love over the past few years for keeping a low-waste, healthy home: the first is Bee's Wrap—basically a beeswax and linen substitute for plastic cling wrap that you can use over and over again (see below for a photo of a very loved large piece that wraps our daily bread). 

Second is homemade beeswax and olive oil body butter—our local candle shop sells beeswax by the pound. I melt it down and add olive oil in a ratio of 1 part beeswax to 4 parts olive oil, then pour it into jars. (There's a great tutorial on calculating the right ratio for your salve needs here.) It takes about 5 minutes and cools to just the right consistency for dry skin, especially hardworking hands. You can add a few drops of lavender oil or other essential oil for a little scent, but I also love slightly sweet, comforting smell of the beeswax itself.

Happy spring !


NETTLE TEA // elspeth

I'm reading a book my sister recommended, a book that I suppose stores or libraries would file under "self-help," though I'd call it part memoir, part advice, and part history. It's called "Drop the Ball," and it's by a powerhouse of a woman named Tiffany Dufu. I can't say I agree with everything in it—it is tailored to a kind of working woman that in many ways I don't really aspire to be—but still, it resonates. I think that for modern women, and especially working mothers, it's a valuable read. 

It continues the discussion on how women can navigate dual roles as caregivers and breadwinners—the myriad ways we as a society elevate competitive work and devalue caregiving roles—and  how and why we promote the myth that anyone can have or do "it all." (More good writing on that here, here, and especially relevant to the most recent branch of that conversation here.) There is one part, in particular, though, that I really like, and that is about cultivating happiness habits. 

It sounds a little silly when you type it out like that, and it is a little silly that we grown ups have to remember to regularly practice and value activities that bring us joy. It ought to be natural—and for kids, I think, it is—but as we grow up we are slowly taught to squelch and put-off and achieve and go forward. And that is important, of course, but so are the small and sometimes strange things that constitute happiness habits. 

One of the things that gives me joy is allowing myself time to be curious. I am curious about all sorts of random things: can I learn how to fix the zipper on our couch? How would I do it? Would it be hard? What it's like to grow cabbage? Does the Herring River flow in both directions where it connects to the kettle ponds, depending on the tide, or is it always pushed back at a certain point from overflow from springs? What makes the peepers start? Does it mess up your hips to ride side saddle? The questions never end, really. 

I suppose this is why I work as a journalist: some of the time, at least, the process of finding answers to these questions is paid. But it's just as important, I think, to sometimes indulge them simply for the happiness of the habit, for the joy that is cultivating curiosity. 

And so: have you ever made a cup of nettle tea? I learned about stinging nettles as a food source a few years ago, first from my friend Ish and later from a woman named Fiamma. The leaves are packed with vitamins and minerals—in particular magnesium and calcium—and this time of year, they're just what we need. They're up—we saw some yesterday on an Easter walk along the Herring River to see if the fish were running (we didn't spot any)—and I picked a few and put them on a cutting board to dry out, to use for tea. I used to buy nettle tea when I was breastfeeding—it's said to increase milk production—and I got to like the woodsy, licorish-laced flavor. It's nice with mint or lemon leaves and a little bit of honey. It turns out the longer you steep the leaves the more nutritious the tea,  so I started a pot this morning and let it sit til lunch. 

By the time I went to drink it there was an inch of snow on the ground to follow the weekend's sun and fifty degrees—a wet, white invasion I find simultaneously lovely and appalling. On Thursday I put spinach in the ground and lettuce and radishes and sugar snap peas. Will they make it? Probably. It's nice to wonder, though, and to revel in the curiosities.


You don't need a recipe for this, but you may need a guide to looking for nettles. They come up around the same time as the crocuses. Here are pictures I took of the leaves. They tend to grow in disturbed areas—think about where you've seen garlic mustard or blackberries or simply look along the side of the road for something with spiky leaves that's deep green. I've found them close to water sources but not in them—maybe 10 or 20 feet away. Think roads near rivers, streams, and fresh water swampy areas. And if you don't see any right away, don't give up. Once you find them you'll start seeing them everywhere—they are a true weed.

As for the tea, pick a bunch of leaves and leave them out on a cutting board overnight to dry. Put them in a jar and when you want to make tea grab a handful, put them in a few cups of water, bring to a boil, and turn off the heat. Steep for 2-10 hours (overnight would be fine)—I like to add either fresh mint leaves or dried leaves from our Meyer lemon tree. Serve piping hot, with a spoonful of honey.

P.S. AHH! I almost forgot to add: they're called stinging nettles because they sting!! Use gloves when you pick or your hands will get red and sore. The stinging feature goes away when the leaves are dried out or boiled, so after that you don't need to worry.


SPINACH PIE // elspeth

WINTER BEGONE! Or, as Nora once told a coyote: Beat it nerd.

Where I grew up, in Maine, winter was different. It was cold, yes. But it was snowy—snowy straight through from December to mud season. I love snow. Sunny days with snow on the ground are incredibly bright and uplifting, and during a snowstorm the world is at peace, quiet.

Cape Cod winters, with all their rain and grey, are a challenge for me. But we're almost there ( ! ) and in the meantime we'll keep taking our cod liver oil and planting our seedlings and getting mood boosts through fatty fish and chocolate and oysters and dark leafy greens. Which brings me to my friend Sarah's spinach pie:

Sarah wrote a beautiful, clever, delicious cookbook called Feeding a Family, and I can't say enough good things about it. She and I met through our food writing work only to discover our husbands are old friends, and when she was writing the book, she asked me to contribute a few recipes for a seasonal meal. Four families besides her own are featured—one for each season—and two Septembers ago she sent out a photographer and we cooked a late summer harvest meal of ratatouille pie and mint chocolate chip ice cream. The photographs came out beautifully, and we got to share the ice cream, and she sent me a copy of the finished book at press time last winter. 

It's a treasure. It sits on my most-used shelf alongside Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills of Cooking and the Joy of Cooking and Nina Planck's Real Food Cookbook and Ottolenghi's Jerusalem and Plenty and Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain. In the past few weeks alone from Sarah's book I've made a rainy day chickpea stew; a simple dish of red lentils, rice and spinach; pasta with mussels, and a chicken tortilla soup. Finally, the other day, I tried the spanikopita, or spinach pie. 

My mom made spanikopita all the time when my sister and I were kids, but recipes I'd found before always seemed too fussy. Also, we've been aiming for zero waste, or at least much less waste, in our house the past few years, and the necessary ingredients for spanikopita involve a terrible amount of packaging. But no one's perfect, least of all me. The picture, the ingredients—they called me—and when I read that it bakes in a skillet rather than some pan that would need to be scrubbed afterward relentlessly, I was sold, all in.

I'm glad we tried it. It was so good, so satisfying—we all devoured it, and it felt like we all needed it. I'm sure you could make a version with fresh spinach when it comes into season, or now if you're able to get some this time of year at your local market, which many of you probably can. If you do that I guess I'd blanch the spinach first, then wring the water out, and aim for about the same weight.

In the meantime, even if you can't get local spinach, try the recipe anyway. It's easy and addictive and no one's perfect, and one day, when you do come into a supply of local spinach, you'll have a plan.


This recipe comes—with very minor tweaks—from Feeding a Family by Sarah Waldman. Very soon fresh spinach will be in season, but in the meantime frozen works well. This recipe makes plenty of leftovers for our family of four. One note: take the leftovers out of the pan and store them in a glass container, as leaving them in there will give them a metallic taste as they soak up iron from the skillet.

30 ounces frozen spinach, thawed
6 tablespoons butter
1 small yellow onion, minced
2 cups whole-milk ricotta
4 eggs
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
3 tablespoons fresh chopped dill
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
freshly cracked pepper
6 sheets phyllo dough, thawed

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch cast iron skillet. Meanwhile, wring any excess water from the spinach. Add the onions to the butter and sauté until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the spinach, ricotta, eggs, feta, dill, lemon juice, and pepper to taste. Mix well. Melt the remaining butter in a small saucepan.

Lay the first sheet of phyllo dough over the spinach mixture and brush it with melted butter, scrunching up the edges up to fit in the pan. Repeat with remaining sheets of phyllo. Sprinkle a bit of salt on top and put the pie in the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes until heated through and crispy and golden on top.

P.S. ! Sarah and I will both be part of a day long symposium on food, writing, and community this June at Castle Hill in Truro. There will be panel discussions, workshops, and of course, local eats. Check it out: organizers are calling it Beyond the Plate.  

In addition, I'm teaching a four week writing workshop at Castle Hill, Wednesdays in May. Hope to see you there! 



For this week's Local Food Report, I talked with my friend Justine in Truro about hatching chicks. She's got a flock of seventeen chickens—give or take, depending on the raccoons—and last summer, one of her hens went broody. You can hear her story of becoming an accidental chicken breeder on the show.

When I was doing research for the piece, I pulled out my favorite book on raising chickens: The Small-Scale Poultry Flock, by Harvey Ussery.  It's an in-depth, practical book that covers every aspect of chicken husbandry from raising chicks to making and managing your own feed to dealing with aggressive roosters. There are several chapters toward the end on breeding and working with broody hens, and they've got all kinds of fascinating information.

First off, a hen that's gone broody is essentially a hen looking to start a family. She stops laying eggs and instead starts sitting on them and incubating them, and she won't get off until 15 days later, when they hatch. In wild birds of most species, this process is triggered when the female has found and mated with a male. Most birds only lay eggs that are fertile and will only incubate and hatch their own eggs. But after centuries of domesticity, chickens have had most of these natural tendencies suppressed. Most hens don't go broody—they simply lay an egg a day, fertilized or not, and then get up and leave the nest. This is good for egg production, because farmers mainly want to sell eggs, not hatch them. And unlike a wild bird, a broody hen will sit on any chicken's eggs—and even duck eggs!—not just her own. Which means farmers can isolate hens and roosters they want to breed, take these eggs, and set them under a different hen who goes broody and has good mothering instincts. 

According to Mr. Ussery, if you have between eight and twelve hens it only takes one rooster to guarantee virtually 100 percent of the eggs will be fertile. But even up to twenty five hens per rooster, most eggs will still be fertile. You can see why so many roosters hit the soup pot.

Certain breeds of hens are more and less likely to go broody—Old English Games, Nankin, and Silkies are three breeds favored as mothers. Hens are more likely to go broody in the spring or early summer, but it can happen anytime, and some hens will go broody multiple times a year. If a mother hen tries to sit on too many eggs—more than are comfortably covered by her body—all the eggs have a higher chance of mortality, as they need to be kept constantly at her body temperature to survive. Some farmers use a technique call "candling" to hold a light up to developing eggs at night. Broody hens can be aggressive, and the only time a broody hen will allow someone peacefully into the nest is at night, so farmers hold a light up to each egg to see if the chicks are developing inside. If not, they remove the eggs that are duds, because otherwise they can explode and the gunk can coat over and suffocate the remaining eggs, which need to be able to breathe through the membrane of the shell.

Once the babies are born, the mother won't make any effort to save a weak chick or an egg that doesn't hatch. She focuses all her energy on the healthy babies and protects them from the rest of the flock until they're big enough to fend on their own.

For now, we don't have any roosters. (Actually, for the foreseeable future—since our permit from the town very clearly says in all caps NO ROOSTERS!) But if a hen starts going broody, I could get some fertilized eggs from a friend to slip under her. At any rate, I find it all fascinating. Has anyone out there ever hatched their own chicks? Candled eggs? Raised chicken babies? Would love to hear more.


SALSA & KIMCHI // elspeth

I broke a jar of salsa a few weeks ago in the basement, reaching to put one last Christmas decoration away. It fell behind the shelving where we keep our pickles and wine and jam and dried beans and grains, and the glass shattered. It was awful to clean up—chunks of peppers and glass stuck behind a piece of insulation and on the back of a shelf and tomato juice and vinegar oozing across the concrete. I was furious with myself, but in a strange way it was also nice: to remember the hot day in August when I made it with my friend Audra, our girls running around sticky with peach juice.

Audra and her wife and their girls moved away a few weeks later, only twelve months after they'd come to town. We'd become fast friends, the kind of friends you make for life, and for both generations it was a move that left a hole.

But it was also a friendship cemented on food and place, and those kinds tend to hold. We saw each other in Boston just before Christmas and at our grain and bean CSA pick up a few weeks ago, and this past week here for a walk and some bike tuning instruction and tuna melts. We talked about the proper placement for brake-pads and the best chain lube and the terror that is currently being an American and the parent of a child in school. And we traded jars of kimchi, because last year we made it together but this year our versions are different.

Audra taught me about keeping a food notebook—I'd always kept one for the garden, but I'd never combined it with writing recipes down. Most recipes I use are from cookbooks or blogs or the Internet-at-large, and I catalog the ones I like well enough in my recipe box and weekly column and here. But I now see that there are some recipes that are more organic and fluid and have an element almost of oral history, and that these belong in the garden notebook—the ones that are big and annual and have to do with big leaps of effort to preserve. Just after Christmas when I had time and the right ingredients I called Audra to reference her kimchi notes from last year, and then I pulled out my garden notebook and wrote it all down.

For confidence' sake, I'm going to give you the 2017 and 2018 amounts. Both batches were very different, and both were excellent, and sometimes it's a boost to see that written down. You can see how little it matters if you're off a bit here or there—what's really important is that the salt matches the vegetable weights. Otherwise so long as you follow the gist you can chop and wait and jar and lump kimchi in with the small stuff, and sweat something bigger, something else.

KIMCHI 2017/2018

If you’ve never fermented anything and you don't have a knowledgeable friend to start alongside, I highly recommend the book The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz. It’s a great reference and an excellent confidence booster. That said, once you realize it’s all about salt and patience and pungency, it’s hard to go wrong. The single most important rule of thumb is to add 1 heaping teaspoon salt for each pound of vegetables. This is why quantities here are measured in weight rather than cups. If you have, say, 9 ounces of ginger instead of 7, nothing should go wrong—just try to keep the general proportions similar. And try to buy very fresh and moist looking vegetables—the longer they’ve been in storage, the less water they’ll have in their cells, and you want them to have plenty. You’ll need a 3-gallon crock and a kitchen scale for equipment. One last note: be sure to work with generally clean hands and surfaces, but don't get nutty with worry about it. The 2018 version filled a 3 gallon crock and yielded around a dozen finished quarts.

amounts 2017 // 2018 

5 ounces // 7 ounces ginger, peeled
8 ounces // 7 ounces hot peppers, seeds and stems removed
1 pound 12 ounces // 1 pound 3 ounces peeled garlic
1 pound // 1 pound onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 and 3/4 pounds // 4 pounds carrots, peeled and grated
14 pounds // 9 pounds Napa cabbage, very thinly sliced
5 and 1/2 pounds grated turnips // 1 pound purple cabbage, very thinly sliced 
----------------- // 2 ounces scallions
always ! 1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt per pound of vegetables

First make the “paste.” Put the ginger, hot peppers, and garlic in a food processor and pulse until they form a smooth paste. This is your base, the flavoring for the kimchi. These plants also slow down bacterial growth, which is good for keeping the kimchi relatively shelf-stable and preventing rotting. You can’t really go overboard in terms of safety, it’s more a matter of taste. If you like things really spicy, feel free to add more hot peppers—this makes a kid friendly kimchi, so it’s not particularly spicy.

Set the base aside and start working on chopping. Depending on how distracted you are by other tasks, it takes a long time to slice and grate the remaining veggies—likely a few hours—one reason it’s more fun to make kimchi with a friend! As you chop, put the veggies in a kitchen bowl that fits on your scale. Weigh the bowl ahead of time or zero out the scale if it’s digital, so that you get the weight of the veggies without the bowl. Keep a notepad nearby and make a tally for each pound of veggies each time you fill it up and put the veggies in the crock. As you work add a heaping teaspoon of kosher salt for each pound of veggies, including the paste. Once you’ve got a good mass of veggies in there add the paste and mix everything around with your hands. Keep chopping, adding, salting, and mixing by hand until you’ve exhausted your veggie supply—remember, all the veggie weights don’t need to be exactly as written above as long as you’re adding the teaspoon of salt for each pound.

As you work, since it takes a while, liquid should start coming out of the veggies. By the time you finish there should be enough brine that you can push the veggies down below the liquid level. Don’t panic if this doesn’t happen—wait a few hours, checking periodically, and keep trying to push the veggies below the brine. Once you can, weight them down so they stay there—I use a plate and a large mason jar filled with water—and cover the crock with a clean dishtowel. Leave it to ferment at room temperature, checking periodically, for at least two weeks. You know things are happening when you start seeing bubbles (this is CO2 being released). It should smell pungent and a bit stinky; that’s normal. Taste it every few days until you hit the two week mark. When you’ve passed two weeks and the flavor is to your liking, decant the kimchi into clean jars, making sure each jar has plenty of liquid and the veggies are still below the brine. Don’t tighten the lid all the way—remember this is fermented, and you don’t want the pressure to build up and explode—so leave the lids a little bit unscrewed. Store in a cool place. This time of year it should be fine in a cool spot in the basement; the fridge also works. Enjoy the miracle of fermentation!

I had some keep 6 months, I think Audra's kept it over a year. It truly doesn't seem to go bad.



Quickly, before the girls need picking up and the wood needs stacking and dinner needs chopping and a radio show needs turning in:

Unwrap a loaf of bread. Slice it thin, or as thin as the crumbly, homemade feel of it allows, and slather it with mustard. Dijon or whole grain, whatever you prefer. Cut two thick slabs of extra sharp cheddar and a sweet, juicy Macoun from the farmers' market. Cut off a few thin slices—three will do—and layer them on the mustard. Warm up a big pat of homemade butter in a pan. Transfer the bread and the insides together carefully, so that no cheese or apple escape, and turn the heat to medium, maybe medium low. Cover the pan. Wait—not a distracted wait, no telephone calls or writing or dish washing—just a few minutes, until you hear the faintest sizzle of cheese from under the lid of the pan. Open, flip, and wait again—less this time, a minute, maybe two.

When it's ready both sides are dark and crispy, verging on burnt but not quite there, and the cheese spilling out the sides makes crispy little lace edges in the pan. Now eat, with the rest of the apple and a bitter winter green salad and a glass of milk.

On Saturday, maybe again, with a beer.


Is this a recipe? Maybe, maybe not, but I like to give credit where credit's due, and the inspiration for this sandwich did come from a recipe, one found in The Apple Lover's Cookbook by Amy Traverso. "Pretty much anyone can make an acceptable grilled cheese sandwich," Amy admits. But the combination of sharp cheese, sweet apples, and tangy mustard is unbeatable, particularly with the remaining apple slices, a salad, and a few bread and butter pickles.

butter, for the pan
2 slices bread (I like our homemade Easy Little Bread but a nice sourdough would be good too)
2 teaspoons whole grain mustard
2-3 slices of a crisp, sweet, juicy apple (I love Macouns, still available at the Orleans Winter Farmers Market!)
2 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, sliced

Warm up the butter in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Spread the mustard on one side of the bread. Layer it with apples and cheese, press the remaining slice on top, and transfer carefully to the pan. Cook, covered, for 3-4 minutes, or until the bottom side of the bread is golden and crusty and the cheese has visibly started to melt. Flip and cook another 2ish minutes until the other side is golden and crusty and the cheese starts to drip down the sides of the bread into the pan. Enjoy warm.


We begin again // elspeth

The upheaval of the last year was big. I would say bigger than I imagined, but that's not true. I have an active imagination, and it tends toward the worst. 2017 was roughly on course, or maybe slightly better, than I imagined it would be. The upheaval started out political, but for me as for many I know, it quickly got personal. As in: if I do not believe in this system, in what ways am I perpetuating it? How am I complicit? What can I change?

And so I started last year with a list. I accomplished or at least attempted many of the items on it. Some were small and some were big (keep a careful garden record; get an EV). Some had to do with food, others with community and volunteering. In retrospect, the big things were not necessarily the ones I thought they would be: the electric motor we got for our bucket bike was much simpler and also much more transformative than the electric car: not so much in terms of carbon emissions, but in terms of happiness. The local climate action group I started has morphed into a bigger, better, and more wonderfully unwieldy thing than I'd have thought. "Make something in a crock" turned out to be a resolution about friendship, not food. 

A lot of this last year for me was about walking outside of my comfort zone. I like to feel with others but I prefer to think alone; for me thinking, growing community projects with groups are hard. It challenges me, and I want to keep up with that challenge. But as much this year ended up being about  challenge, it was also about acceptance. I read a great quote sometime back in September about climate change, from an article on eco-anxiety published on Grist.org

"When you feel anxious and out of control in the face of a changing planet, choose the thing that you can do best and most effectively, and then don't let others ruin your faith in it."

It's good advice, not just for climate challenges but for life. There's a big sign above my desk these days. "EMBRACE WHO YOU ARE," it says. It's tacked up next to a photograph of my grandmother at 95 and a hand-drawn sketch of a farm Alex and I visited in November. Below it is a picture of us taken at our staff party in late September. Alex is holding his hand up to stop the camera, and we're jostling each other, laughing. It is late at night and we are in a bar. I put my pants through the laundry the next day without realizing the polaroid was in my pocket, and the picture is tattered around the edges, but our grins and our togetherness are unmarred.

I'm not making out loud or on paper resolutions this year. They haven't changed much from last year's list on the fridge, or the 2013 one still taped up behind my bathroom cabinet door. I know the things I do best and most effectively. Keeping the faith is the challenge, the thing to work on. It's the part that's most important, and also most hard.


9 BIRDS // elspeth

I've been cooking in snatches recently. After dinner, before bed, in the morning while the coffee brews. In these snips of time I've made lemon curd and rosehip jelly and applesauce and homemade bread and toasted pumpkin seeds from the two pumpkins we grew for jack-o-lanterns out front. In another snip of time we planted a couple of hazelnut trees in the spring through the Food Forest Initiative of Cape Cod and discovered one day recently that three tiny hazelnuts were ready for harvest. And two months ago, my friend Drew brought over nine chickens for us to raise for meat. 

Sally helped Alex load them into the moveable pen I built last spring when we got our six layers, before we set them up with a run and a coop. I bought an extra "hen hydrator" and got a few bags of meat bird crumble and in the moments before and after work we fed and watered and moved them. They were certainly a different breed from the layers—it's hard to believe that a chicken can eat and drink and excrete at such a pace. But eat and drink and excrete they did until exactly one week ago our friend Neily and I built a fire and brought a big pot of water to a boil and two by two slit their necks. If you don't want to hear about this, skip down a paragraph. I won't go into too much detail. But I will say it was both a challenging and satisfying day; going into it I had helped with the aftermath of killing a bird twice but had only a vague understanding of the steps. I now feel confident that I could do a reasonably good job of the whole thing, if I needed or wanted to, without help.

Besides the satisfaction, the best part about raising and processing our own birds has been the parts. Neily told me that in Jamaica near where he's from people will help a friend or neighbor kill their birds in exchange for the hearts and the feet and the livers and the other innards, which can be boiled and fed to a dog. Since he brought the knowledge and the rooster-catching-courage I gave him two birds and most of the parts, but I kept a few livers and feet for us. 

Neily instructed me on chicken foot soup, which I'd tried at roadside stands in Jamaica the two times we'd been to visit. It was easy enough: for about 4 feet, he said, you use a couple quarts of water and throw in a few of the necks too for flavor (like you would for stock) and then add scallions, potatoes, thyme, carrots, salt, pepper, and dumplings rolled from water and flour. The potatoes and dumplings break down to thicken up the broth and the feet and necks give it a rich chicken flavor, and after an hour or two of simmering you have a thick, delicious soup. My girls remembered it from last fall, when Neily made it after we had to kill the roosters, and gobbled it up despite having been home for the slaughter the day before. I made chicken liver paté, too, the next night with butter and thyme and brandy and mushrooms, and Nora declared it "very yummy." Still, I couldn't bring myself to roast the one chicken we kept from the freezer until Saturday. 

When we finally did it was excellent: huge and juicy and flavorful and succulent. We ate it with friends at a house on the bay watching the sun set with beer and mashed potatoes and three girls and two babies, and it felt fitting. Some days I'm not sure exactly where I fit into the world—whether I'm meant to be a writer or a farmer or a radio producer or a business owner or a community organizer or maybe a bit of all of these—but I did enjoy raising, processing, and eating these birds. One day, I imagine, I'll know for sure. Or maybe not! But for now, this feels like as solid a knowledge as any.


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