1.31.2017

FOOD & CONNECTIONS // elspeth


Food. To talk about my new favorite mâche salad or the pasta dish we made last night (kale, lots of it, olive oil, linguine)—in some ways, it doesn't feel like the point right now. It's not what we're talking about these days while we cook, it's not what Sally is asking questions about when we sit down to dinner.

It's clear, regardless of your politics, that there are a lot of people struggling in our country right now. The most pointed perspective I've heard since the election is episode #608 from This American Life. Over the course of an hour, reporters visit a young man going to work for the Trump administration, a group of self proclaimed Internet trolls, a border patrol agent, a pair of undocumented siblings who use their DACA status to return briefly to El Salvador, a civil servant at the DOE, and a woman who works in a factory where over half the employees, herself included, are losing their jobs. And what's clear from their voices is that while some of them are Democrats and some are Republicans and some are hopeful and some are angry, almost all of them are worried. 



I hadn't thought much until recently about the way those feelings can go together—hope is such a positive emotion and anger such a negative one—but in many ways, they're simply different expressions of the same underlying current. That current of worry is real, and it's powerful. 

There is no simple way to understand or to assuage this worry. It's complicated. And it's not always in our control. There is so much news circulating, and at such a rapid pace. In a lot of ways, it's overwhelming.

But perhaps because I'm an optimist, I'm starting to feel like maybe all this worry—and the widespread acknowledgement of this worry—is a good thing. We, all of us, should be worried. We have huge problems to tackle, huge divides to cross, huge leaps in understanding and action to make. But I feel like for the first time in my lifetime, everyone is talking about this undercurrent of previously-unspoken worry. There is a willingness to be honest that I have never before encountered, and an acknowledgement that we need to be on our toes, wide awake.

I'm trying to harness this honesty. I have thought a lot about how to do that and what to do with it, and I think there are two things that are important to do right now. The first is to make a list of positive change we believe we can affect in our own communities. My worry has a lot to do with climate change and environmental sustainability, and so my list does too

But the other thing we can do is to try to connect—not just with people we know and understand, but with people we don't know or understand, too. This will be easier for some people and in some places. But it will be equally important everywhere.



And that is why I still believe in the power of food. People connect most easily with a meal in front of them. Neighborhood potlucks, local restaurants, school lunch tables, family dinners, grocery stores, farmers markets—these are places where people make connections.

So in the spirit of building bridges, I will share that recipe for mâche salad. Mâche is a new green to me. I found it last year in the FedCo catalog ("Mâche, Verte de Cambrai. Open-pollinated. A small-seeded, small-leaved strain that performs especially well in cool or cold conditions and is the best kind for overwintering.") and decided to give it a try. It took almost a month to germinate, but it's been harvestable now since November. It grows year round on the Cape, even in our unpredictable winters, even after a snowstorm buries it for a few days. It is a new and unexpected hope. And at a potluck it is unusual, and a great reason to turn to someone you don't know well and start with conversation.

SIMPLE WINTER SALAD

If you don't have mâche, try using a mix of spinach and lettuce, or add some watercress.

1/2 pound mâche, or a mixture of spinach and lettuce
seeds from 1/2 pomegranate
1/2 red onion, sliced into thin ribbons
a handful of crumbled blue cheese
1 avocado, sliced
walnut oil or olive oil and balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
sea salt to taste

Arrange the mâche in a salad bowl. Top with the pomegranate, red onion, blue cheese, and avocado. Drizzle with walnut oil or olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with sea salt to taste. Toss gently and enjoy at once. 

1.04.2017

MAKING BUTTER // elspeth


2017: it is here, we are entering into a brave and terrifying new year. And I'd like to really dig into that, to spend more time here talking about the serious stuff. But first, we need to talk about something wonderful. I.e., butter.

Have you ever made your own butter? It happened, around here, on a lark. We've been getting cream from a local farm—a thick, gloppy, luscious quart of it each week, because that's the only size the farm sells—and using it for coffee and whipping and pouring over thawed, sweet strawberries. But a quart is so much! And since it's not homogenized or pasteurized, it doesn't keep past a week. It doesn't rot, either, but it does slowly sour until it's not what you want for coffee or sweets. (Anyone experienced in sour cream making? Please share!)

So a few weeks ago we decided to try to preserve it. The most obvious way, of course, is butter—you can't freeze cream and keep it in good shape, but you can quite nicely freeze butter. And it turns out all you need to make it is very cold water, a food processor or electric mixer (or brute strength), some salt, a sieve, and a bowl. In short, things you already have on hand.

After dinner one night I found a tutorial in Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills of Cooking. Alex and I poured the cream into our food processor and let it spin until we got first whipped cream, and then butter globules and buttermilk. This took about 3 minutes. Then we strained out the buttermilk, put the butter globules back in the food processor with some salt, pulsed a few times, and strained it again. Finally we "washed" the butter: put some ice and water in a metal mixing bowl, kneaded the butter globules together in the water like you would bread, dumped the cloudy water, and repeated this process two more times until the water was clear. I'd say from start to finish turning the cream into butter took 10 minutes. We packed the butter into a glass crock, made sure to squeeze out all the water, and put it in the freezer. Then we drove to Maine for a week.


When we got home, we took the butter out of the freezer. I am happy to report that it has done its job well—the cream is preserved—and better still, in butter form, it is stunningly delicious. It is excellent on toast, and better still on homemade biscuits. 

When we went to told Sally what we'd done, how we made it—look! we made our own butter! so, cool, right?!—she shrugged. "I've done that at school before," she said. "It's easy." 

Always putting things in perspective, kids.


TO MAKE BUTTER

1 quart heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon "pickling" (kosher) salt

Pour the cream into a the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor. (A food processor is more powerful and will make the process faster, but both will work.) Beat until it thickens first into whipped cream, then separates into fat globules and buttermilk. Beat in the salt. Place a bowl beneath a sieve and strain the fat from the buttermilk. Return the fat globules to the food processor. Beat for another minute or so, then strain again. Save the buttermilk for baking or another purpose.

Now fill a large metal bowl with cold water and a handful of ice cubes. Use your hands to knead the butter to force out as much buttermilk as possible. (Darina says this is important, as any buttermilk left in the butter will sour and the butter will spoil quickly.) But be careful not to handle the butter for too long with warm hands, or it will liquefy. 

Drain the water, refill the bowl with ice and water, and repeat this process 1-2 times more until the water is not cloudy but instead remains clear. Shape the butter into pats, use a mold, or pack it into a crock. It will keep for at least a week in the fridge, and indefinitely in the freezer. The more careful you are with the washing, the longer it will keep.

11.21.2016

KITCHEN TIP // elspeth

Halloooo out there. It's chilly! Happily, the chickens don't seem to mind. We've got one lady laying and we're waiting semi-patiently for the other six to start. Eggs! And they've got healthy-looking orange yolks. We'll see how long that lasts—you experienced hen-keepers out there, do you notice a change when your chickens are more cooped up over the winter? Do you keep them cooped up over the winter? The leaves are all fallen and a coyote stopped by the other day and I finally decided it's the season for the ladies to stop running around the yard and start staying in their run. We filled it with oak leaves and I'm bringing them food scraps and we're trying to keep them busy hunting around in the dirt, but I'm still wondering if it's the right thing to do. Which is to say: if you do something else, I'd love to hear about it. 


To that end, I have kind of a random tip to share with you today. It's about celery: I don't see it often at farmers markets, so whenever I do I buy a few heads. I break them down and cut off the leaves and trim the ends, and then I slice all the stalks thinly, like you would for stuffing or soup. I do the same thing when I buy the occasional head of celery at the grocery store, because I find I rarely use more than a few stalks for whatever recipe I need it for, and otherwise the rest goes to waste. I put the trimmings in mason jars to freeze for using for stocks and I put the sliced celery in wide mouth mason jars so that I always have some on hand and easily accessible for soups and stuffing and stews. I think of it as a gift to my future self. 

My mother was here recently and remarked that she'd never though of that, and she's thought of just about everything. It inspired me to share.

To that end: I hope you have plenty of turkey and pie and celery coming your way, and somewhere warm to share.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

11.11.2016

ON ROOSTERS, PEACE, AND AGGRESSION // elspeth


We killed two roosters last week. That's not a sentence I ever imagined myself typing, but there you have it. And I can't say I'm sorry. 

It was in some ways a difficult experience, and in other ways not difficult at all. It made me see how true my friend Tamar's words were when she talked with me a few years back for a radio piece I did on slaughter: Killing your own is gut wrenching, she said. Raising them is outstanding

The roosters were problematic—we never intended to have roosters, but two out of our six "hens" turned out to be male. As our two roosters matured they got more and more aggressive, threatening both their ladies and mine. When the girls became afraid to leave the house and I had to fight one off with a pitchfork, we decided the roosters needed to go. 

The processing was fascinating—the plucking and the gutting and the cutting up for a big pot of soup. But Alex did the actual killing, and it was hard to watch. Chickens don't die right away—even if you cut off their heads, well, you know the saying. They move for a few minutes still. I watched, but I wanted to look away.

We wanted the girls to be there: to understand the ceremony of the thing, and to see that this is where meat comes from—from real, live animals. Maybe they're at a good age for it, but they didn't seem perturbed. They wanted to see the heart and the liver, how the feathers pulled out. We built a big fire and boiled a giant pot of water to scald the roosters once Alex had taken off their heads; I did the plucking, he cut around the vent, and I pulled the innards out. While I was at work he and our friends Neily and Patricia from Jamaica made a real "cock soup" with squash and potatoes like we've had when we've visited them in Black River. We roasted the other bird, then served it with veggies and lentils. The girls devoured them with no qualms and asked for Rooster Soup in their lunch the next day. It was both perfectly normal and terribly strange.


The good news is there is peace again in the yard.

It is easy to take peace for granted when you have grown up in peaceful times, too easy sometimes. Today we went to a ceremony to honor the local veterans who have fought to uphold the peaceful country we live in today, the peaceful country I hope we can continue to live in. Shots were fired, not real ones but loud all the same, and just as startling as the ones that killed our birds in our yard. The girls didn't cry but they flinched and grabbed at my legs, and it was a loud reminder of all we take for granted.

So today I want to take a moment to be thankful for peace.

I am grateful to those who fought to establish it and those who fought to keep it and those who are fighting for a peaceful future now. Aggression is scary and unsettling and sometimes necessary. Peace, in most places and at most times, is a miracle. Thank you, to everyone who has helped it come to pass.

10.27.2016

BEN ON GARLIC // the local food report

My friend Ben is pretty into garlic. Obsessive, you might say. He grows 50 varieties and estimates that he plants six or seven HUNDRED garlic plants each year on the tenth of an acre he's carved out on his family's property in East Orleans.

I should clarify: Ben doesn't farm for a living. You might know him as Dr. Chung: self-proclaimed Dentist-by-Day, Farmer-by-Night. He's originally from Taiwan, but he's lived on the Cape for a while—long enough to have six kids and become a regular at the Orleans Farmers Market. 


At any rate, this week for the Local Food Report, Ben and I talked garlic. He told me about when to plant garlic (now), how he likes to eat it (raw), and what varieties he likes best for the Cape. He's written a whole book on the topic: Grow Good Garlic on Cape Cod, which he's selling at his market stand. It's a superbly funny and very informative read.

In the meantime, in case you're itching to get some garlic in the ground, here's some info on what Ben likes to grow:

Chinese Pink: Ben says this variety comes about a month ahead of other hardneck varieties, so it matures in mid June rather than mid to late July. With white outer skins and pinkish inner skins, it's pretty, and has a nice mellow flavor too.

Russian Red: This hardy variety does very well on the Cape. It's got beautiful purple blushes on the skin and stores well into winter. It has a rich, musky flavor and is very spicy when you eat it raw. Ben likes it thinly sliced with some pan fried sausage. Yum!

German White: Excellent storage variety, and few but large cloves per bulb. Easy for chopping! Medium on the spice index.

Elephant: The name says it all. Big, big garlic! Ben's record is .86 pounds and about the size of a softball. Elephant garlic likes our cool northern climate and the flavor is pleasantly mild. 

It's time! Check your farmers market for seed garlic. Tomorrow's task around here is to get ours in the ground. 

10.13.2016

HONEY + HARD CIDER + BOURBON // elspeth


Good morning! Let's talk about cocktails! 

It's not too early. You need to gather ingredients: bourbon. Hard cider (I like Downeast, from Boston). Bitters. Cherries (Luxardo!). And most importantly, honey.

My friends Ed and Teresa started keeping bees a few years ago. And this fall, I signed on as their beekeeping apprentice. (You can hear all about getting the hive ready for fall on this week's Local Food Report.) The plan is I'll follow them and the bees through the winter, spring, and summer until finally we get to the honey harvest, and hopefully by then I'll understand enough to start my own hive.

In the meantime, I'm already thinking about what we'll do with the honey. I've been substituting honey in recipes that call for sugar or maple syrup, to see what works and what doesn't. And last night we had a big hit: what I'm calling a Fizzy Bourbon Spritz.

It works like this. You put two dashes of bitters in a cup. You add a teaspoon full of honey, preferably very fresh, very runny honey. You stir until it's dissolved. You add an ounce of bourbon (or rye) and three ounces of hard cider and give it another stir. You add ice. You garnish with a cherry. You enjoy!

It's quite a nice way to end the day—refreshing, a little bit pink, and excellent sipped on the couch, in front of the first fire of the season. Hello, fall!


FIZZY BOURBON SPRITZ

I actually used Bulleit Rye the first time I made this, but it's adapted from the Maker's Mark website, and it's good with a nice bourbon too. Make sure your honey is runny so it dissolves well.

2 dashes bitters, such as Angostura
1 teaspoon runny honey
1 ounce bourbon, such as Bulleit or Maker's Mark
3 ounces hard cider, such as Downeast
optional: a cherry, such as Luxardo, to garnish

Put two dashes bitters in a cup. Add the honey and stir until dissolved. Add the bourbon and cider, stir well, and pour into another glass filled with ice. Garnish with a cherry and serve at once.

10.01.2016

CLAMBAKE // elspeth


Gather friends. Dig a hole on the beach. Load rocks. Load wood. Light it on fire.


Wait; eat oysters; drink beer. Three or four hours later, get a wheelbarrow and bring down the lobsters and clams. Remove the bags, the bands.


Dive for seaweed. Collect it in fish totes. Wet the tarp.


Layer: Hot rocks. Seaweed. Lobsters, clams, potatoes, sausage, onions. More seaweed. Tarp.


Wait; eat oysters; drink beer.


Then in a fury: fling off the tarp. Fill the wheelbarrow with food! Crack the lobsters! Melt the butter! Set the table, grab the napkins, get the plates and forks.

Eat with friends.

8.25.2016

SMOKED BLUEFISH // elspeth


I've been trying to get here to tell you this for weeks. There is no quiet time for sitting, no stolen moments of peace. There are sections and specials and service and cleaning and closing up and attempting sleep. There are two girls each morning ready to play, and laundry and cooking and a house to sweep. But! there are Saturdays: outside, all four of us, on the boat or at the beach. 

One Saturday in late July, we took the boat into the bay. We had gear and ice and a picnic of scallop burritos and lemonade, and we set up the rods, trolling. We got a hit and then it was one after another, right in the thick of a school of bluefish. Alex caught one and Sally hooked one and lost it, and finally I got to reel one in. We had three keepers by the end of an hour, and Alex bled them out and iced them down right away.



We had way more than we could eat that day, though we fried a few fillets in bacon fat for dinner. We brined the rest in soy sauce and salt and brown sugar. After a few hours we took it out and laid it on a big cookie rack on dish towels in the fridge. I was worried about how long it would have to sit—I couldn't get to it for 3 days, maybe 4—but Alex said the drying out is the whole point. You want it to be sticky to the touch, "tacky," and when it is it's time to smoke.


The smoker we have came from a yard sale, and it's electric. It doesn't seal quite right in spots, but Alex has fixed it up with rope and strategic duct tape, and with a pan of water in the bottom and plenty of soaked hickory chips it makes plenty of smoke and most stays in. There are two round racks that fit into the middle, and they fit our roughly 10 pounds of bluefish just right. I sprinkled a little bit of brown sugar on top when I put the fillets in, and an hour and a half later they were done. We ate a lot, and froze a lot, and last Saturday we caught three more. The fillets have been brined and dried, and today we're firing up the smoker again.

I am now a woman who can not only catch but smoke her own fish! Full of surprises, this life. Hope you're enjoying it out there.

SMOKED BLUEFISH

I looked at a bunch of brines online when I was searching for a recipe, and they all seem pretty similar. I made a gallon of brine to cover the fillets from 3 fish—about 10-12 pounds worth. This recipe makes a little over a quart, so adjust as needed. You need only enough to cover the fish.

Also: No smoker? No problem. Check out this article on how to use your grill.

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1/4 cup kosher or pickling salt
3-4 crushed bay leaves
2 tablespoons mustard seed
1 tablespoon peppercorns
2-3 pounds fresh bluefish fillets

Mix the brine and pour it over the fish. You want the fish completely covered. Brine for 4-6 hours in the fridge. Set up a cooling rack that will fit in the fridge and cover it with dish towels. Take the fish out of the brine and lay the fillets in a single layer on the towels over the cooling rack. Let dry, refrigerated, for 2-4 days. When the fish is tacky to the touch, arrange it on a single layer on the rack of a smoker. Try to arrange it by thickness as thicker fillets will need longer than thinner pieces. Sprinkle each piece with brown sugar and smoke at 200 degrees F for roughly 2 hours, or until golden brown with a moist but firm, flaky texture. Cool to room temperature, then devour at once, or freeze and eat later.

7.16.2016

GRILLED ZUCCHINI SALAD // elspeth


Reader Bruce, wherever you are out there, thank you for the suggestion. I am now hooked on Ray Bradbury, halfway through Dandelion Wine. The spine of the book with the library tag calls it SCI-FI, which I am still trying to understand. Leo is trying to build a happiness machine, yes, and it's 1920 and the world is on the point of tipping straight into the mechanized future. But kids and dogs are running free all over town and Mrs. Bentley is buying everyone chocolate popsicles from the ice cream truck and the smell of fresh cut grass makes Grandfather sing. Aren't these the things that real, every day summer are and should be all about? Yes, I say, definitely.


Also, grilling. Fridays recently we've been cooking outside, because whether there are friends around or it's just us it keeps seeming like the right thing to do. I've been buying hot dogs from Tim at Cape Cod Organic Farm and ground beef from Seawind Meadows and today I went out on a limb and got some ribs and linguica from Tim. Grilling lends itself nicely to fridge cleanup, so Fridays before the Saturday market I've been pulling out the last asparagus and the handful of fresh onions and the last ear of corn and forgotten bags of green beans. Last night I searched around for a proper recipe that might work through a bunch of basil and two zucchinis and a bag of arugula, and what we came up with was a pesto and balsamic dressed salad straight off the grill. We ate it alongside hamburgers packed with more basil and some garlic, and Nora discovered the wonder that is anything dipped in mayo. Afterward we hosed her down and read some Uncle Wiggily, and now, finally, I have a proper recipe for you. 

GRILLED ZUCCHINI SALAD

The inspiration for this salad came from a grilled zucchini and summer squash dish in the July 1999 issue of Bon Appétit. Balsamic and pesto go surprisingly well together, and the chickpeas make it a bit more filling.

2 medium zucchinis, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch thick strips lengthwise
olive oil
sea salt to taste
leaves from 1 large bunch basil
3 large cloves garlic
1/3-1/2 cup fresh Parmesan, thinly grated or sliced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 large handfuls of arugula
1/3 cup chickpeas or other white beans

Arrange the zucchini slices in a large baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and grill, turning occasionally, until tender and blackened in spots, about 10 minutes. 

Meanwhile, make the pesto by pulsing together the basil, garlic, Parmesan, and 1/3 cup olive oil in a food processor. Season with sea salt to taste. Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a small bowl and mix in 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of pesto. Check the consistency: if you want it a bit runnier, add more oil, if you want it thicker, add more pesto. Set aside remaining pesto for another use (pasta, caprese salad, sandwich spread, etc.).

Arrange the arugula evenly in a serving dish. Sprinkle the chickpeas over the greens and layer the grilled zucchini on top. Drizzle with the balsamic and the pesto-oil mixture and toss lightly before serving. 

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