7.03.2020

ELDERBERRY FLOWERS // elspeth


We’ve been biking a lot lately. We’re down to one car and so while Alex is at work the girls and I make our way through the world on the bucket bike I picked up used when Sally was small. When Nora came along and got big and then bigger I added an electric motor, and so the bike and its four-seatbelt benches are now my de facto minivan.

The girls are used to it by now, the extra layer they’ll want on a trip home from the beach, the book to bring if our destination is far away. I like the speed we travel at on the bike, not as slow as walking but not so hurried as the car. I like what we notice at 15 miles per hour. The other day we were biking home from a swim when I suddenly saw a plant I’d been trying to find for years. I’d looked at pictures of elderberry plants on the computer and in books and friends have told me they forage them here, but every time I’ve brought home a leaf or a flower they’ve been wrong. Suddenly, though, biking home, I saw them everywhere. I was sure.

Elderberry flowers! I called back to the girls. I SEE them!


I wrote a little about seeing on this week’s Local Food Report, about the ways places we think we've known for years can open up in new ways. Last year I discovered wild cherries at my parents' house, in the yard where I played my whole childhood, and this spring I suddenly found they were also in our yard here. It's been making me think about how long it takes to really get to know a place, and about how so many conversations we're having now about land and history and repair are about that knowing. The older I get the more I understand that a year, a decade, a lifetime—these are just drops in a bucket.



Maybe because of the speed and scale of everything else happening in the world right now, we are holding onto familiarity in the kitchen. We’ve made a few new things—an absolute stunner of a tomato-feta-clam-shrimp dish from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem that I’ve had bookmarked for approximately 5 years, and a highly refreshing batch of this sangria with a handful of languishing fruit. Otherwise we’ve been making summer favorites: my mom’s chilled cucumber salad with a little sprinkle of fresh dill, Alex’s heavily red-onioned and dilled potato salad, Molly Wizenberg’s soul-satisfying fudgesicles, chicken salad, pesto pasta, and Raspberry Zinger sun tea. The mulberries are starting, too, which means we’re due for a batch of Berry Ricotta Cake from Standard Baking Co. and maybe some experimenting at my neighbor Sarah’s recommendation with some mulberry wine. (If you have any experience, please report!)

Probably the most exciting thing to happen around here lately, pending the ripening of the wild high bush blueberries, is that one of our hens has gone broody and tonight night we’re planning to sneak in and swap out her unfertilized eggs for 7 or so fertilized beauties from the coop of a friend with roosters. Whether or not we get any live chicks from this experiment remains to be seen, but we’re hoping.


In the meantime, if you do anything with elderberries—or their blooms!—please share. I’m dreaming up a locally foraged version of this amazing winter-support immune syrup now that I’ve discovered both elderberries and wild black cherries growing close to home.

Last but not least, I have some new writing I’m excited about up on Heated. It’s about migratory beekeepers, and the essential work they do to keep our agricultural system running. It’s both crazy that this is the system we’ve developed, and fascinating to learn about how they do their work. I hope you’ll give it a read.

Stay healthy out there, friends.

5.22.2020

AT HOME // elspeth


I have always been a homebody. I like to be at home, and I enjoy the work that happens at home. I don't mind days on end in a small perimeter. And yet this shutdown is so hard, in so many different ways.  

I feel immensely for those stuck inside. For those who are sick, or have lost loved ones, or are struggling to regain easy breathes or the ability to smell and taste. 

And I feel the uneasiness, the uncertainty. 




The uncertainty is big and hard to hold. 

We keep remarking in our house on spring. It is something to hold onto: the daily unfolding, the way each new discovery feels like a gift. We are experiencing each small change like never before. We exclaim with excitement over the return of the hummingbirds, the first foray of the bumblebees, the slow unfolding of the leaves. We wonder if it has been here all along, or if this spring is more magnificent somehow. We don't know. 

I want to sit with that uncertainty for a while. 

It is easy, I know, to dismiss this as privilege. People need to eat, Elspeth! People need money, people need each other. And there is truth in that dismissal. But I don't want to rush back to normal. No change will come from returning to the hurry we were in before. People have not been eating, people have not had enough money, we have not had each other. To return to normal is another kind of privilege, another kind of dismissal.

This pause is the closest we've ever come in my lifetime to real change. It's an invitation: to examine our relationships with each other, with our days, with money, with time, with our world. 


Let's feed people. Let's be generous. And let's take our time, holding the uncertainty. Letting it rise. Letting it take shape.

P.S. We have been cooking. A lot! Every meal, every snack.

—On afternoons when the girls start to feel at loose ends, I've been letting them choose a kitchen project. They pretty much always choose sweets, and the other day Sally lobbied hard for a rhubarb tart. We found one that was a cross between stewed rhubarb and lemon curd all folded into a nut-based crust, and it was SO GOOD. (Notes: we've been trying to cook more with nuts in our kitchen—inspired by the research I've been doing on shifting from perennial grain crops to tree nuts for staple foods, and we swapped the crust ratios here to use 1 cup almond flour and 1/2 cup all-purpose flour.)

—Now that the chickens have ramped up and the garden is coming in, we're overrun with eggs and greens and exploring creative ways to use the abundance! I've been itching for this spanikopita but our local market is out of phyllo dough, so we tried this recipe for "Bastaria," a phyllo-less version. It's like a feta-egg-spinach cobbler, which sounds strange, but is lovely in a homey kind of way. Best of all, it's good hot or room temperature, so it's an easy make-ahead dinner.

—I posted this carrot soup over a decade ago, and I still make it all the time. It's so simple, so quick, so nutritious, and so satisfying. Also, we've been buying bulk with a few other families from our restaurant supplier during the shutdown to both avoid the grocery store and keep a little business headed their way, and when no one else wanted carrots we ended up with a 50 pound bag. Carrot soup !

—While we've mostly been eating seafood for protein, we feel very lucky to still have a few of the chickens we raised last summer in our freezer. We bought a case of cabbages early on, and holy moly if you have a chicken and a cabbage and have yet to enjoy the schmaltzy delight that is a whole chicken on a whole cabbage, don't wait another second.

—Last but not least, Excursion Bars. They're keeping us putting one foot in front of another as we move in tandem. Walnuts! Chocolate! Raisins! Oats. Featured in this week's Provincetown Independent along with a lot of other great local reads.

I think that's it. Big love your way. 

4.09.2020

SPRING FORAGING // the local food report

Friends! I hope you are hanging in there. We are doing well, mostly by the grace of spring. This week on the Local Food Report I reached out to friends all over the Cape about what they're foraging. Together, we compiled a list of what's out there this time of year. The idea is to help you keep yourself healthy and fed during these difficult times. The links are either to old blog posts on these wild edibles, or other websites that have good identification guides. I've added pictures above the entry when I have them, and linked to guides where I don't. Let me know what I've forgotten in the comments! 


WATERCRESS

I only know of one watercress spot near me, (here's a link to an old Local Food Report on that) but I'm sure there are more. In the spot I know of the watercress is growing wild near a fresh water spring that forms a little stream that flows into the Herring River. Watercress does not like stagnant water, so look for it on the edges of fast moving fresh water streams or shallow rivers. It's excellent—peppery and zingy—and I like it best alongside egg salad. Here's an excellent guide to identification.

CHICKWEED

To be honest, I have never picked chickweed, though I see it all over our yard. But so many people swear by it that I felt I had to include it. And I have eaten it in winter salad mixes from my friend Victoria, and enjoyed it. This salad recipe sounds delicious, so maybe now's the time to try!


STINGING NETTLES

This is probably the green I forage most often in spring. It grows in moist soil in disturbed places—look for it along the side of dirt roads or along the banks of rivers, streams, or ponds. It's about the size you see above in most places I've checked recently, which means you're cutting just the small tips of plants. But they add up. They sting! Use gloves, and don't eat them unless they're cooked. My favorite ways to use it are as a substitute for spinach (in just about anything—this minestrone soup, spanikopita, etc) or in pesto. For a nettle pesto, I use this recipe, and it is SO GOOD. My kids can't stop eating it. (Note: if you don't have pine nuts, walnuts are also excellent.) You can also dry nettles and use them all year long to make a delicious and highly nutritious tea.

DAY LILY GREENS

Who knew?! My friend Dave told me last fall you could eat day lily greens, and I tucked them into the category of maybe you can, but I bet you don't want to. Boy was I wrong. They are so, so good! Not raw (bad texture, weird flavor), but cooked. We've already cut ours to the ground once and eaten them sautéed several times with olive oil, onion, and garlic, and they were absolutely delicious. I used them the other day in place of spinach in this lentil soup (which, you might notice, does not call for spinach—I make the recipe as is and then add it), and my kids were none the wiser. You can cut them down to the ground two or three times in the spring without harming the plant—do it when they're about 6-8 inches tall and still tender. There's a good guide over here to harvesting—apparently later in the season you can eat the flowers and the roots, too. Day lilies are one of the first flowers up in our yard, and I'll never curse their abundance again.

HOSTAS

Yes, you read that right. You can eat first-of-the-spring hosta shoots, and apparently, they're delicious. I only learned about this last fall, and mine are barely peeking out the dirt, so I haven't yet been able to give this a try. I fully intend to. Treat them like asparagus, and pick them while they're still short and tightly rolled.

MOREL MUSHROOMS

Yes, there are morels around. You have to know where to look. More on that in this old blog post! Hint: know of any old apple trees?




CINNAMON FERN

I haven't seen any yet, but these should be up soon. You eat them like fiddleheads, which I'm familiar with from a childhood in Maine. More on this old Local Food Report with a forager in Truro, and in a video from my friend Nicole Cormier.



DANDELION GREENS

Most of these are super bitter. But if you find them in good soil—not on the side of the road, but maybe growing in your lawn or garden—they can be pretty tasty. My friend Michael says he makes a dandelion green kimchi—this one looks delicious. And I have sometimes made salads with sweeter ones! One note: Michael says to look for alternating sawblade leaves rather than symmetrical—he swears the symmetrical kind is more bitter. 

POKEWEED

This stuff is everywhere. It'll be up soon, and the early shoots and leaves can be eaten. Do not eat it later on in the season—once it's bigger than about 9 inches or starts turning purple, it can be toxic. But it's delicious when it's young—here's an excellent way to enjoy it with bacon and cornbread.


GARLIC MUSTARD

Once you recognize this plant, you will see it truly everywhere. It's small right now, which is good. Ideally you want to pick it before it flowers. It's best for a pesto—I did a blog post on this a while ago with a recipe. That's Nora above picking some the other day—we mixed it with nettles to combine them for pesto. Delicious! 

ONION GRASS

This stuff is EVERYWHERE. You know that "grass" on the side of the road that sometimes gets curly and looks like chives? That's it. If you dig it up you'll find a little white bulb underneath. It's a wild onion, and it smells strongly of onion/garlic/all things allium. I picked a bunch the other day after my friend Patricia reminded me about them, and they were so, so good sautéed with a handful of nettles and kimchi! I ate them with a piece of homemade sourdough and a fried egg, and for a moment it felt like everything might be okay.


ASPARAGUS

Most "wild" asparagus is really escaped old domesticated asparagus, but since it's so common around here, it's worth adding. Last year for the Local Food Report I dug through the archives of the Eastham Historical Society's oral histories and turned up all kinds of fascinating local history about the plant. If you have it in your garden it should be showing up in a couple weeks, and that's around the same time you'd want to start hunting wild spears on the side of the back roads. It's good so many ways, but I especially love this salad.

TURKEY TAILS & REISHI

These mushrooms are a new-to-me foraging idea from my friend Nicole Cormier. Turkey tails are one of the most common mushrooms in North America, and get their name from their appearance. They're found mainly on dead or dying hardwoods. Reishi are found at the base of hemlock trees, and Nicole says she's found both all over the Cape. They're used to make immune boosting teas and tinctures.

BEACH PEA SHOOTS

These are just coming up in the dunes. Sally was the one who pointed them out to me—"Mom!" she said. "Come look! I bet these are edible." She was totally right. If you eat so many that they make up some ridiculous proportion like 30% of your diet, apparently they can be harmful, but in more reasonable amounts, they're a-ok. We ate them sautéed with little bits of homemade bacon and frozen peas and served them over pasta. YUM. One note: this time of year they're really hard to see, even when you know they're there. So check the dunes....and then keep checking til they jump out at you. They're very well hidden. One more note: soak them, otherwise they're sandy. 

3.26.2020

ISOLATION BREAD // the local food report


Friends. (FRIENDS!) Ahem. Still here, still isolating. Day twelve. An unclear number to go. A friend told me recently she thought she could make it, if only she knew how much longer we had to go. I  remember saying those exact words when I was in labor with Sally. Sadly the answer now seems to be the same as it was then: no one really knows. Onward we go! 

In the meantime, in tiny snatches of time so messy and chaotic the outcome feels like a small miracle, my friend Sarah and I recorded another radio show. Sarah Reynolds North is a professional baker and a kick-ass human being, and of anyone I know she makes hands down the best sourdough. She and her wife and their three kids are, like many of us, home while workplaces are closed. They're marking time with bread, baking a daily loaf. Sarah was kind enough to record her process and share it with all of us. We, too, can eat delicious sourdough! 

Sarah and her family baked that loaf up there, crusty and Earth-shaped and galactic somehow. Sarah will be posting videos this week on her instagram feed @foundbread with tutorials on mixing, folding, shaping, and scoring. If we're really getting into it, she says, we should follow the hashtag #selfisolationsourdough, because there are other bakers sharing tips too. 


In the meantime, here's her recipe for a family loaf. For audio from this week's Local Food Report with Sarah, head on over here, where you'll also find posts of the videos mentioned in the recipe below. I've made six loaves in 12 days, bread consumption here is up 300 percent, and another loaf is rising as I type. I can do this, you can do this. Bacteria and yeast make good company! Bake on, friends. 

SARAH'S BIG FAMILY SOURDOUGH LOAF

EH note: The great thing about sourdough is that all you need is flour, water, and salt. That's it! For info on getting a starter going, see this NYT post. I'll post Sarah's notes on feeding and maintaining a starter below the recipe for this loaf. And don't be intimidated by Sarah's precise measurements—if you've got a kitchen scale, they're easy enough to follow. And if not, there are plenty of tools online to convert measurements from grams or fluid mL to cups. 

What you'll need:

- a dutch oven or cast iron pot that's at least 10" wide and 6" deep
- a big mixing bowl (glass is best so you can watch the fermentation happen!)
- a well maintained starter
- a spatula
- you can use a mixer if you prefer, but this is easy enough to mix with your hands!

Ingredients:

806 grams flour (ideally 50% whole wheat flour and 50% white bread flour)
  • * A note on the flour - I have written this recipe for a high extraction flour (a flour that is milled while sifting only some of the bran out, making it a mostly whole grain flour), so at home it's ideal to use 50% whole wheat flour and 50% bread flour for this recipe. But we are all doing our best with what grocery stores have to offer right now or what's in our cupboard. This will work with whatever combination of wheat flour you have. If you want to add in a little rye flour, give it a try! Or spelt. Or einkorn.
613 mL tap water (not too warm, not too cold)

145 grams of leaven, the starter you made the night before (usually ready after sitting in a 65-70 degree kitchen for 10 hours or so)

23 grams salt

Directions:

MIX: Mix all the ingredients together in a big bowl. (A tip: if you pour the water in your bowl first, the flour is easier to incorporate!) To mix, push your hands into the dough and squeeze your hand into a fist like you're pinching the dough with your whole hand. Do this over and over until all the ingredients are incorporated. It will feel sticky. 

FOLDS: Let the bowl of dough sit with a kitchen towel over it for about 30 minutes. Then fold the dough. (There is a video of this here.) Pull one side of the dough from the edge of the bowl up and over into the middle. Do this four times so all of the dough has been folded into the middle. You'll feel how the dough is still sticky but starting feel more cohesive and stretchy. You're helping the gluten form!

Repeat this in another 30 minutes.

FIRST PROOF: Let the dough continue to rest and rise for another 5-7 hours on the counter (or overnight in the fridge). You're looking for the dough to rise about 30-40% of it's original size. It may not double in size completely, but you want it to feel a little puffy to the touch and look bubbly from the side. If your kitchen is warm, this will happen more quickly!

SHAPE: Scoop the dough out onto a lightly floured counter top and give it a rough fold in half so some of the floured dough is now on the top. Begin to pull the dough towards you with the pinky side of your hand dragging along the counter. (There is a video of this here.) Then let the dough rest for about 30 minutes.

Come back to the dough and flour some counter space next to it. Scoop it up with two hands and place it on the newly floured space. Now with your fingers, push the edges of the dough in and under the dough ball so that you are pushing the dough into the flour underneath. You want a tight smooth surface on the top of the dough before you scoop it up and into a floured bowl with those tucked in edges facing down. 

FINAL PROOF: From this stage you want to give the dough another couple of hours to rise again, or you can put it in the fridge with a lid overnight and bake it in the morning. When you touch the dough with your finger, the shape of your finger should slowly spring back. The dough never gets as full and puffy as a yeasted loaf of bread gets, so be aware of that. Sourdough is a different kind of dough and takes its time, but tastes so much better!

BAKE: Preheat your oven to 490F and put a cast iron pot with the lid into your oven to heat. This technique will give you steam which gives you that crusty and golden colored loaf you're looking for! (If your dough has been in the fridge overnight, take it out while your oven is preheating.) When the oven is ready, pull your pot out of the oven, open the lid and put a small bit of parchment paper down to stop from sticking. Try and move quickly now as you don't want too much heat to escape. Pick the dough straight up out of the bowl and flip it over onto the counter with the bumpy seam side up. And then pick your dough up again to drop it right into the cast iron pot, seam side up. 

Now, another option at this point is to put your dough seam side down onto the counter before you bake it, score it with a very sharp knife or razor blade and put it in cast iron pot with the scored side up, but I find that this rugged floured seam up look comes out beautifully and allows the bread to open up really well during the bake just as well. It's also one less step!

Bake at 490F for 25 minutes with the lid on. Then remove the lid and lower the temperature to 430F for 25 more minutes for the last part of the bake. A good way to tell when the bread is done is by tapping the bottom of the loaf with your finger. You want to hear a hollow sound. You can also test the internal temperature - you're looking for 200F.

Bread cuts best when it's cooled, but I can never wait so if you're like me, dig into it with some butter and enjoy! This bread keeps just fine face down on your counter top for several days. You can also store it in plastic or in the freezer, but plastic creates moisture and it will lose that delicious crust!

*If this loaf of bread is too big for your family to eat within a week, cut it in half and freeze one half. Sourdough has great freezing tolerance. Or, you can divide this recipe fully in half and make a smaller loaf.

MAINTAINING A SOURDOUGH STARTER

To feed your mother in preparation for baking:

25 grams of the mother
100 grams of high protein flour
100 grams water at around 68/70F

Mix with your hands. Let it sit on the counter with a dish cloth over it or a loose lid for 8-10
hours until slightly domed and bubbly.

Temperature is KEY for fermentation. In the summer, you’ll want to use colder water to feed
your starter and if your room gets warmer than 68/70F, your starter will be ready to bake with
sooner! So, consider leaving it to rest in a cooler spot.

If you’re going away:
  • for a week?
    • - feed it before you leave and put it in the fridge where the fermentation slows
  • for a couple of days?
    • - feed it and put it in the fridge, or
    • - feed the starter with less water as that slows down the fermentation as well

3.16.2020

IT HAS ALREADY BEEN TIME // elspeth


Hello friends. How are you doing out there?

I hope you are doing well. I hope you remain in good health and good spirits, and that you have love and supplies to see you through. I hope you have no reason to be lost in grief. It's strange, this thing—the way it is sweeping the world, the ways it is spreading not just germs but also new rules and new normals and new fears. 

I wanted to come here today, though, not to talk about fear. I wanted to notice out loud the other things I see happening: people slowing down, listening to each other, thinking about each other, reaching out, offering care. I am hearing the same thing from friends near and far: how are you? what do you need? how can we support each other?

I am seeing this from our kids, too, from small bodies who I sometimes worry do not know their good fortune, cannot see beyond their own needs. On Saturday these same girls decided to write a bundle of notes to our neighbors. Many people in our town are over 65, and they've absorbed enough for this to make them worried. They rode their bikes around the neighborhood to deliver one note to every house on our street. We have lived here for more than ten years, I realized as we went, but we rarely see most of our neighbors. We do not gather regularly. I'm sure we could all offer a hundred reasons—some people are seasonal, the summers are busy, we all are busy. But they are excuses, really. I think if we're honest the real reason has more to do with the values our culture teaches: we don't want to impose, we don't want to intrude, we respect each other's space, it's good to be busy.


The kids' notes were covered in drawings. Inside I helped them ask two simple questions: Are you here? Do you want to connect to support each other? 

The notes we've gotten back make me think that deep down we've all been looking for another kind of excuse. An excuse to connect, to check in, to come closer, to not be so separate. We've been looking for it for a long time, I think. It makes me wonder: is this what it takes?

"It has already been time," healer Dori Midnight writes in her beautiful poem Wash Your Hands. "It is already time that we might want to fly on airplanes less and not go to work when we are sick. It is already time to slow down and feel how scared we are. We are already afraid, we are already living in the time of fires."

That, I thought when I read it. That is what I am feeling.

So far of course is it easy to feel this more than fear—we are lucky, our family is healthy. We are cooking from our pantry and our freezer—sourdough and soups and roasted chickens. We are doing the work we can. We are drinking tea we foraged last summer and building a tree fort and worrying and worrying and trying not to worry. We are thinking of ways to help. We are counting our blessings.


Sally made the card in the photo above last night, after much frustration. When she did, she walked over beaming to show me. "Read inside, Mama," she said. I read it out loud: "I learn how with many failures and tries."

You are right, I told her. We all learn how with many failures and tries. It has already been time to slow down, it has already been time to sing in the streets. We have been trying and failing to re-connect, but we learn how with many failures and tries. We will do our best to stay connected, we will do our best to stay healthy. We will do our best to see the good. We will keep trying.

3.12.2020

MIGRATORY BEEKEEPERS // the local food report

Right now in California, twenty-five hundred miles away, a million acres of almond trees are blooming. A million! Here's what it looks like, in photos from documentary producer Peter Nelson:

Photos Courtesy Peter Nelson
Farming on this scale is difficult for me to imagine, living on Cape Cod. The sea is a mile and a half from my house in either direction; we are a tiny ribbon of a peninsula. A million acres of anything is impossible. And yet it's a very real scale in other parts of the country. 

This week for the Local Food Report I interviewed Peter Nelson. He's from Hudson, New York, and in addition to film-making, he's also a backyard beekeeper. He became fascinated with migratory beekeepers—honeybee keepers who travel all over the country with their bees on semi-trailers—pollinating big crops all over the United States. He made a film about his experience called The Pollinators, and these are stills from the documentary. 


Most people have no idea migratory beekeepers even exist—they do their work at night, moving bees while they're all back in the hive and unloading into orchards and fields in the dark—let alone how important they are to our huge, industrial food system. Almost every migratory hive in the United States is in California right now, pollinating the almonds. Soon enough some of them will be here, unloaded next to the cranberries. They pollinate over 400 crops, some completely dependent on pollinators to set fruit, others with greatly improved yields. One of the migratory beekeeping businesses featured in the film is just north of Boston, and farmers are relying on them more and more as native pollinators struggle.

It turns out here in Massachusetts, bumble bees are more efficient pollinators for crops like cranberries. But while historically the state had 11 species of native bumble bees, today we're down to 7, and all but 1 of those 7 are in decline. Massachusetts now has a Pollinator Plan, and scientists from four New England states have joined together to research and issue recommendations.

The Pollinators is showing this Saturday, March 7th in Woods Hole, and again on Wednesday, April 8th at the Wellfleet Cinemas. Both showings will have a live Q & A with Peter Nelson afterwards. If you're around, it's a fascinating look into a little known seasonal dance.



2.27.2020

GINGER COCONUT CHICKEN SOUP // the local food report


There’s a flu going around. Hacking coughs, sore throats, noses running faster than the cheeks they crown. In our house we’re fighting it every way we can: with summer-dried teas of foraged blackberry leaves and rosehips steeped with local honey. With ice-cold smoothies made from last year’s frozen peaches and mulberries. And of course, chicken soup.

We started raising our own birds for meat three years ago. Our friend Drew raises pastured poultry in Truro, and one August day he delivered 15 just-hatched Freedom Ranger chicks to the moveable pen we built in the backyard. They ate and drank and ate some more, and two months later they were ready for slaughter, full size. We killed and plucked and gutted them, froze them, and took a break from chicken for a while.

There are six left in the freezer from this summer, six that I intended to measure alongside our hunger, to stretch along. But we’ve eaten two in two weeks; we need them now.

The other day I pulled out a bird and let it thaw. I unwrapped it from its plastic bag—I have searched high and low for a size of reusable freezer bag that fits a 4-pound chicken, like the silicone ones they advertise for berries and corn. But no one seems to have invented this one. And so I threw yet more plastic out and cranked the oven on and rubbed the bird with salt and pepper and oil. I cooked it until the skin was tight and bubbling and brown. We ate: white meat for my older daughter and my husband and dark meat for me and my five-year-old. After dinner I pulled the rest of the meat from the bones. I set aside the extra skin in its own container—there’s a salad I like to make with grapefruit, butter lettuce, and avocado, topped with crispy chicken skin.

With the skin sorted and the meat pulled, I put the carcass on to simmer with scraps from the freezer. I dug out a jar crammed with carrot peelings and celery trimmings and an onion that had started to sprout. I left it to simmer until bedtime, then to cool until dawn. 


The next morning as the sun comes up orangey pink over the kitchen windowsill I wake the girls for school and while they breakfast I make soup. I grate ginger, crack open a can of coconut milk, pour in full-fat homemade chicken stock. Nina Planck’s Real Food Cookbook reminds me that coconut milk is rich in lauric acid, an antiviral fatty acid also found in breast milk. This luscious soup, she says, is the ultimate cold-and-flu therapy.

I tweak it a bit. I add red curry paste and rice and frozen corn. I thicken it with meat pulled from the carcass, salt it, and serve it hot. It soothes our throats and cuts into our coughs. It’s time to order this spring’s birds from the hatchery, I think. To raise on summer bugs and grass for another winter’s colds and coughs.

GINGER COCONUT CHICKEN SOUP

This recipe is adapted from Nina Planck's Real Food Cookbook. Her original is more of a broth; I added some chunks to make it feel more like a meal. Ginger and lemon are known immune boosters; Planck points out that coconut milk is too, rich in lauric acid, "the antiviral fatty acid found in breast milk (and required, by law, to be in infant formula) that gives newborns immunity." Also, and most importantly, it's delicious. I start this soup by making a roast chicken for dinner, then broth and soup from the carcass the next day. 

one 1-inch piece fresh ginger
juice of 1 lemon
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
4 cups unsweetened, full-fat coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon red curry paste
1/2 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup dry brown rice
2 cups frozen corn
2 cups chopped/pulled chicken meat
optional: chopped cilantro, for garnish

With the skin on, grate the ginger as fine as your grater will allow. Combine the grated ginger, lemon juice, chicken stock, coconut milk, red curry paste, chili flakes, salt, and brown rice in a large soup pot. Warm over medium high heat until the mixture comes to a boil. Turn down to low and simmer, covered, for roughly 30 minutes, or until the rice is cooked through. Stir in the corn and chicken and serve piping hot. Garnish with cilantro if you like, or, if you are Nora, simply eat the garnish alongside the soup by the fistful. Huzzah!

1.16.2020

KALE LATKES // the local food report


Five years ago, in the fall of 2014, I interviewed Cathy Walthers of Martha's Vineyard about her new cookbook Kale, Glorious Kale. This was around the same time you started seeing people in those gray t-shirts that say KALE instead of YALE. Apparently it's also the year that marked the start of a worldwide kale seed shortage, a problem that, if the dates of news articles offer any insight, appears to have been resolved. 

In the meantime, our intake of kale has remained steady and high. We grow a variety from Fedco called Dwarf Blue Curled Scotch, which seems to do better for some reason than the Lacinato kale in the never-ending battle against cabbage moths. We do not have any serious winter production going this year, but it's often at the farmers market and is nearly always the best looking winter green at our tiny local grocery shop. 

The other day, hunting around for a Local Food Report repeat, I dug up my conversation with Cathy (give a listen here), and reached out to her about trying a new recipe to post with a re-airing of the piece. She responded with kale latkes, I spent the afternoon finely chopping kale and onions and grating potatoes, and Alex and the girls and I spent the evening gobbling up crispy, salty cakes of delight. 


One exciting thing about making latkes that I don't think I'd ever seen before is the way the potato starch settles at the bottom of the bowl. Cathy has you grate the potatoes and soak them in water for 10 minutes before gently pulling them out and wringing the water from them. Then you let the water stand a bit while you mix the grated potatoes, chopped kale, and onion. When you go to pour off the water there's a pile of pure white potato starch settled at the bottom of the bowl, which you mix with eggs and flour and finally with the veggies, which I am assuming (minus the kale) is standard latke protocol. Still, I'd never seen potato starch in this form before, and it felt like sitting down with an old friend only to discover something totally new. 

The girls devoured these, including my 8-year-old green-hater. Alex suggested they'd be good with a piece of fish on top, which I think is genius. I'd add they'd be great with a fried egg, and we ate them with Cathy's yogurt-dill dip and a side of homemade applesauce. However you go about it, they're excellent. 


POTATO KALE LATKES

EH notes: I am printing this recipe exactly as Cathy sent it. I did make a few changes. I fried my latkes in a cast iron skillet in homemade lard, which likely added some crispiness and slight (delicious) pork flavor. Also, I can't remember what kind of potatoes we grew, but they were yellow and medium sized (maybe Kennebec?—they look right and are a favorite) and those are what I used, not Idaho. I used whole wheat flour in place of all-purpose. And last but not least, for the sauce I used full fat Greek yogurt, not sour cream, and was out of horseradish so didn't add any, though I think it would be delicious.

Makes about 18

Potatoes and kale have a natural affinity; the kale adds a character and flavor to regular potato latkes. Read the recipe through before starting so you understand about using the starch from the water the potatoes soak in; it keeps these potato pancakes from absorbing oil so they can stay crispy. These can also be served for dinner with beef, chicken or fish, and/or at breakfast or brunch with anything. Any leftovers reheat nicely the next day, reheated in a skillet with a smidgeon of melted butter.

2 pounds Idaho potatoes
3 cups kale, stalks removed, finely chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil
Salt
1/2 cup finely minced onion (about 1/2 onion)
1/4 cup flour
2 large eggs

Olive oil, peanut oil or butter for cooking


Dill Sour Cream

1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh chopped dill
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish (optional)
Salt and fresh pepper

1. Place the chopped kale in a large bowl and add 2 teaspoons olive oil and 2 pinches of salt. Massage kale for 2 to 3 minutes. If it seems moist, use a few paper towels to absorb any excess moisture.

2. Peel the potatoes. Either grate the potatoes with a box grater, or quarter lengthwise and use the shredder attachment on the food processor. You should have about 6 cups. Place grated potatoes in a bowl of water for 10 minutes or so. Line a bowl with a clean kitchen towel or two layers of paper towels. Lift the potatoes out a handful at a time, squeezing out the water with your hands over the soaking bowl as you go, and place into the clean towel or paper towels. Save the bowl with the soaking water and potato starch, and let potato starch settle to the bottom (this might take a few minutes). Squeeze the towel to soak up excess moisture from potatoes getting them as dry as possible. Add potatoes to the kale, along with the minced onion.

3. Pour off the water in the soaking bowl, leaving white potato starch at the bottom of the bowl (there will be up to 3 or 4 tablespoons). Add the eggs and flour to the starch, and mix with a fork. Add this mix to the latkes. Season with salt.

4. Heat one or two large skillets (non-stick work nicely) over medium high and coat the bottom with about a tablespoon of olive oil or a mix of olive oil and a little butter. Pack a 1/4 measuring cup with the potato-kale mix. Unmold into the skillet, without crowding, and gently flatten each with a spatula. Pan fry until latke is golden, then gently flip and cook the other side, about 10-14 minutes in total. Repeat with the remaining latkes. (Sometimes I make a test latke to help find the right level of salt). Place latkes on a baking sheet lined with paper towels in a 200-degree oven to keep warm, until ready to serve. Serve with sour cream mixed with the chopped dill and horseradish.

12.17.2019

HAZELNUT SHORTBREAD // elspeth


A few years ago, we planted a couple of hazelnut trees. I didn't think much of it—they were given to me by a friend, as part of an effort to reintroduce native nut trees to Cape Cod. If we all plant a few in our yards, the idea goes, animals will help scatter the nuts, and over time, these perennial food sources will be reintroduced to our local woods. 

I hate nutella, the only food I've ever associated with hazelnuts. (Which is pathetic. I know!) I liked the idea of the nuts spreading, but it wasn't until I found a few growing on our one-year-old seedlings that I got excited about the idea of eating hazelnuts. And even then, we harvested the handful of nuts, cracked them, ate them, and quickly forgot. 


But in the summer of 2018, a friend was cleaning out her freezer and asked me if I could use a bag of hazelnut flour. Sure! I said, rule number one of that summer being: never turn down free food. It sat until the holidays untouched. Then last December, I volunteered to bake 75 cookies for the Tuesday night church supper in town. 

I thought about making my grandmother’s sugar cookies—rolling out dough and cutting it into shapes and baking them and icing them with cheerful white and green and red—but frankly, it was 8:30pm on a Sunday, and the thought of dusting the kitchen in flour just after I’d finished a deep clean made me want to sit down with a glass of eggnog and forget the whole thing. 

I poured the eggnog—just a small glass, to help with the thinking—and started wondering if I might be able to use that hazelnut meal. I thought about other favorite cookies from my grandmother’s kitchen: Raleigh Tavern gingerbread, orange drop cookies, Sue Wilson’s Scottish shortbread.  Shortbread! Shortbread is excellent with ground nuts. And you can roll it into a log and slice it—no flour and rolling pin. 

I abandoned my grandmother and Sue Wilson and went straight to the highly trusted resource that is Bob’s Red Mill. (Trusted? Well, sort of. But they do have an incentive to put out recipes we’d all make again.) I’m glad I did. It is difficult to go wrong shortbread, but this one was better than most. The cookies were sturdy and buttery, with just the right amount of give. 

Recently I've been doing a series of Local Food Reports and articles on the promise of tree crops (give a listen to this week's piece over here if you want to dive in). Max Paschall of Shelterwood Forest Farm, who I spoke with this week and last, is a big believer in the promise of hazelnuts. He thinks they could feed the world, as a staple crop for carbohydrates and oils. 

My trees are tiny; hazelnuts are not a big local staple right now in my yard or in the community at large. But I think it's just as important to start building demand and figuring out what to do with the local food of the future as it is to work within what's available right now. So—hazelnut shortbread! and happy, merry. See you in the promise of a new year. 


HAZELNUT SHORTBREAD COOKIES 

This recipe is adapted, slightly, from the folks over at Bob’s Red Mill. I compared the butter/sugar/flour ratio to my grandmother’s shortbread—hers had a bit more sugar, but otherwise they’re quite similar. The original of this recipe didn’t give quantities; this makes about 15-20 pieces of shortbread. 

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter at room temperature 
1/4 cup granulated sugar 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1/8 teaspoon fine grain sea salt 
1/2 cup hazelnut meal 
1 cup all-purpose flour 

Cream the butter well in a stand mixer. Add the sugar, vanilla, and salt and continue to beat until well mixed. Add the hazelnut meal and then beat in the flour in several additions. Form the dough into a log. 

Here the recipe instructs us to wrap it in plastic wrap; I’d encourage you to invest in some Beeswrap (or make your own!), a reusable alternative. It’s made from beeswax, linen, coconut oil, and a few other natural ingredients. It costs more up front but less over the long run, it smells nice, it doesn’t infuse your food with a bunch of plastic toxins, and when you decide it’s tired and it’s time to throw it out in a few years you can use it as a fire starter or put it in the compost. Win-win-win-win! 

At any rate, protect your dough with whatever wrap you choose and chill it for at least 30 minutes or up to a few days. Cut it into 1/8-inch thick slices and bake at 350 degrees F for 10-15 minutes. My oven’s wonky and the cookies are thin, so at the 8-10 minute mark start watching for golden edges like a hawk. Transfer to a wire rack to cool and then just try to show restraint. 

11.27.2019

EATING ACORNS // the local food report

Friends! Happy almost Thanksgiving. I'm thinking this year about perspective: historical, personal.  What shifts in our awareness can mean for our relationships with each other, with the past, with the living world around us. 


Recently I learned that acorns are edible. Edible! My whole life I've understood them to be poisonous, fit only for pigs or squirrels. I grew up surrounded by oak trees and live now in a forest almost exclusively of oaks. We have cleared oaks on our property to make way for "food," never realizing that they were already providing. I'd always seen the oak forest around us as prohibitive to farming, in the way of our ability to feed ourselves. It turns out this is simply one more part of the narrative our culture has constructed: that resources are scarce, that it's us against nature. The falsity of this story hits me often—but never in such a clear, practical way as it has through the acorn lens. It sounds strange to say it out loud, but there it is. It's been a huge shift.

I'm writing about this in other places—I'm working on a piece right now for Heated on our approach to agriculture, and my recent Local Food Reports have been focused on agro-forestry, and the ways we think about farming staple foods. I've been reading a lot, too—about our stories, and about new ways of looking at ourselves and our world. I wonder: what else are we not seeing in our search for confirmation bias? 




I just finished teaching an after school class on foraging at Sally's school, and for our final day we had a feast. I made two acorn-flour-laced dishes from nuts I'd gathered with the kids, and while I wasn't sure what they'd think of them, they came back for another helping again and again. 

If you want to try processing and eating acorns, I recommend first giving a listen to last week's Local Food Report. Like olives, acorns need a little processing before they're good to eat. (There's also an excellent how-to on The People's Path website.) Acorns are generally processed into either grits (more coarse) or flour (more fine). The recipes below call for one or the other. Also, acorns take longer than corn or other grains to release their starch, so be patient if you're making something like stew or pudding.

I hope tomorrow is filled with good food, gratitude, and love. And in the off chance you've either made or can get your hands on some acorn flour, here are a few dishes to ponder. What a crazy world of discovery and abundance. 

NEW ENGLAND ACORN COOPERATIVE PUDDING


EH note: This is so good! I had no idea what to expect but both in consistency and flavor it impressed me. Also, I eat everything, but if you've got gluten and dairy restrictions, it's a pudding-lover's dream! 

1 can whole coconut milk
2 free range eggs
1/3 cup sugar OR 1/4 cup honey (EH note: I used honey)
1/4 cup fresh local acorn flour
1 teaspoon vanilla bean past (EH note: I used vanilla extract, same amount)

Warm the coconut milk in a medium sized pot on the stovetop and stir in the sugar. When the sugar is thoroughly dissolved using medium heat, sprinkle in the acorn flour. Stir frequently until the mixture begins to slightly bubble. Set the timer for 5 minutes and continue stirring (eyeball it—acorn flour takes longer to thicken than other starches).

Beat the 2 eggs in a bowl. At the end of 5 minutes, remove the pot from the stove and slowly and thoroughly mix in 2 or 3 ladles of the mixture into the bowl with the beaten eggs. Pour the egg mixture into the pot and mix well. Put the pot back on the heat and stir until the mixture slightly bubbles again. Reduce heat and cook for 5 minutes more. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.

Pour into dish (or bowls) to cool on the counter, then in fridge.


ACORN-FLOUR THICKENED BEEF STEW

I'm not going to type this one out here, as I found it on The People's Path website, and I want to make sure you go straight to the source. Scroll down past the processing instructions, past the venison stew, and to "Acorn Stew." Yum! Yum! Looking at the ingredients I thought, how could this possibly be good? Just beef and water and acorn flour? But it is so flavorful and has excellent texture. Highly recommended. Also, I think you could totally add some other veggies or greens once you've experimented a bit. After my success with this I tried thickening a regular-old beef pot roast with acorn flour at the end, and my family gave it rave reviews. It makes the broth into a kind of chicken-pot-pie like gravy, which around here is a major win. 


ACORN APPLE OAT BARS

EH note: This recipe is courtesy Jasmine Tanguay, who is a member of the New England Acorn Cooperative. I met her at a processing workshop and tasted these bars, which are excellent. The recipe makes 12 bars.

4 apples, thinly sliced (pears work great too)
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 cup wheat flour
1 cup leached ground acorns (grits, meal, or flour)
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, melted

Remove the core and thinly slice apples. Place apple slices in a large bowl and mix in sugar, cornstarch, and cinnamon. Preheat oven to 350˚F.

In another bowl, combine flour, acorns, oats, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, and butter. Mix until crumbly. Line a large 9x12 or 9x13-inch baking dish with parchment paper and pour ⅔ of the oats mixture in the bottom of the pan, pressing firmly to pack it down. Pour fruit mixture over the crust and spread in an even layer. Pour the remaining oat mixture over the top and spread evenly.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown.

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