Brewster beer-bathed steamers with birthday chive batons

At 9:15 pm on the evening of my birthday yesterday, Alex and I finally wrapped up the long list of domestic to-do's I had scrawled on a wish list and handed to him in hopes of receiving a freshly rototilled garden in place of the traditional glinting jewel or Italian cashmere sweater. He seemed to think the trade was an easy one, but by two hours past sundown with orders still barking, I had undoubtably disabused him of that notion. We had turned over the soil, entrenched the fence posts, scrubbed the fridge, vacuumed the house, organized the shed, and painted and hung the new kitchen shelves when we turned rather wearily to each other to face the thought of putting together a meal worthy of celebration.

Luckily, Alex had possessed the good sense earlier in the day to pick up a bag of steamers. They were supposed to have been the primer to a great feast, but we were beyond such fussing at that point; instead we decided to make them the focus. He rinsed them thoroughly, cracked open a growler of Cape Cod Red, poured us each a glass, dumped the rest over the steamers, and left them to soak while we collapsed on the couch for a toast. Several presents (cookbooks, all!), lovely notes, and a half glass of beer later, we were ready to eat. I headed out to the porch to cut a handful of chive batons, and we steamed the sandy clams until just done. Alex lit a pair of beeswax candles, I poured us each a cup of rich salty broth, and we sat down to eat.

The perfectly underdone steamers pulled out of their shells in pieces (as raw clams tend to do) in a delicious array. We dunked the full bellies and rubbery necks into our green-flecked broth, tossed the shells, and within half an hour had packed away the harvest of the day from a Pleasant Bay flat.


Serves 2

Thoroughly rinse 1 lb. steamers. Put in a large soup pot and cover with a dark beer (Cape Cod Red makes an excellent choice). Let soak 1/2 hour. Sprinkle with 8-12 chive shoots, cut into 2-3 inch batons. Steam for 5-10 minutes, or until clams open slightly. Serve hot with a side of broth; dip and enjoy!


Downing Boston brownies in the name of research

I found myself late this afternoon downing two Dancing Deer Baking Co. brownies in the name of research. I found them at the health food store (funny how I managed to avoid the spelt flour and vegan granola...) and brought them home for dessert. Alas, they didn't survive a trip to the office and a very convincingly hungry crowd of co-workers. They did, however, remind me how very lucky I am to have the Cape Cod masses relying on me to perform such delicious tasting duties. The verdict? Just enough chunks, nice and moist, and natural tasting in the way that only a truly
handmade brownie can be. In other words, a great accompaniment to a glass of chilly full-fat milk.

If you want to try baking your own, check out this recipe from Katharine Hepburn. In my mind, she's the brownie queen—this recipe of hers (with a few family modifications) from
New York Cookbook by Molly O'Neill is simple, easy, and sinfully delicious.


Makes 12 brownies

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour an eight inch square baking pan.

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate with 1 stick unsalted butter in a saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup sugar*. Stir in 2 lightly beaten eggs and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and mix until smooth. Add 1/4 cup whole wheat flour, a pinch of salt, and 1 cup chocolate chips and stir until smooth.

Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 20-40 minutes; less time will produce fudgy brownies, longer will make them cake-like.

*Honey will do for a more local twist.

As for the already baked brownies, use the Dancing Deer Baking Co.'s store finder to figure out where you can pick up a package. The company bakes with all-natural ingredients in their rehabilitated early 1900s brick factory at 77 Shirley Street in Boston.


To market in Brooklyn

On NPR the other day, I heard a story on a Brooklyn market working to sell only local, trace-able, and sustainable food. As it happened, I was scheduled to arrive in Manhattan the very next day. With my encouragement, two friends set off with me down the Subway, towards the North 12th Street market, and emerged from beneath the river for an adventure in localism.

The market was easy to find. Located just down the street from a city park, it was nestled into a neighborhood with a close-knit, family feel. As the brainchild of former filmmaker Aaron Woolf, who decided to open up shop after putting out a documentary on frightening world of high fructose corn syrup, Urban Rustic was a place where the story behind food came alive. The walls were lined with hand-built cubbies, each of which offered a food item and a tacked up explanation of the people and place behind it. The tomatoes were from a hothouse in the North Fork of Long Island, the Katchkie Ketchup from Katchkie Farm in Kinderhook, and the milk from the Ronnybrook Farm Dairy in Hudson Valley. It was as good as a corner store could get.

Still, upon leaving we all agreed that it hadn't been quite what we were hoping for. The shelves still boasted the standard eco-chocolate bars, rice from an environmentally friendly farm in California, and mass produced Heinz ketchup. It was clear that the local foods hadn't been enough to take the market all the way—even in a place as populated as New York City—an observation that was less a reflection on Urban Rustic, and more on just how far it is we have to go to make our food choices sustainable.

The hype perhaps had heightened my expectations to an unrealistic point. I was hoping for nothing from beyond a hundred mile radius—an expectation that I suppose was impossibly narrow. But it seems to me that if you're going to do a local market, you ought to go all the way. I'd rather walk into a store with fewer choices that I know are local and devise a meal plan from the available options than have everything at my fingertips, and have to hunt for where it came from. In light of that realization, I realized that perhaps in today's world a corner grocer isn't the spot for me. Until we make the shift on a large scale, Cape fish and farmers' markets still offer a better bet. After all, it doesn't get more local than harbor to home.

To listen to Food Footprint: A Truly Green Grocer, hosted by NPR's Marianne McCune, click here.


BBQ season: Foxboro grass fed beef burgers with Great Hill blue and raw New England pickles

It is barbecue season at last. The sun is just barely warm enough to merit an open slider and a heaping pile of fiery coals, and the bustle of the season has not yet set in.

We had our first this week. I drove to Foxboro on Saturday morning to do the pick-up at Lawton's Family Farm for my raw milk coop (the closest source of good, grass-fed milk) and to my delight discovered that my farmer had a secret stash of beef as well. She reached into the freezer and handed out 15 pounds of hamburger meat from one of the grass-fed Ayrshires she had slaughtered in the fall right there on the property. I packed it into the coolers around my 36 milk jugs, thanked her heartily, and drove off home to share the good news.

Before the hour was out, Alex had rounded up a crowd of hungry family and friends. He fired up the grille; I baked rolls and sliced Real Pickles from a jar I picked up at Phoenix Fruits in Orleans the other day. The Massachusetts company pickles the old-fashioned way—using lactic acid fermentation rather than vinegar. The distinctly flavored pickles are raw (unpasteurized) and contain little more than cucumbers, water, sea salt, and dill and are said to have a host of health benefits, like greater nutrient content and so-called "good" enzymes.

With the pickles sliced, rolls warm, and burgers hot, I crumbled up a wedge of Great Hill blue cheese. As the sun hit the horizon, we settled across the deck and sat down to dig in. The beef was thickly ground and juicy, the pickles tangy, and the cheese moldy perfection: a wonderful start to the season.

Foxboro grass fed beef burgers with Great Hill blue and raw New England pickles

Serves 4

Mix one pound ground beef with one small chopped onion, 2 tablespoons Worchestershire, 1 egg, and salt and pepper to taste. Form by hand into four quarter pound patties; grille rare.

Slice one organic dill pickle thinly.

Slip a homemade roll underneath the burger and top with pickles and an ounce of Great Hill Blue Cheese. Let melt, and open wide.


Chocolate salty oats

It was the label that caught my eye at the check-out counter at Phoenix Fruits on Wednesday. "Chocolate salty oats," it read. "Handcrafted cookies with a subtly sweet, curiously salty, chocolaty taste." It seemed Cape Cod baker Terri Horn had made a checklist of my favorite tastes and ingredients and baked them into a round, homemade recipe for utter delight.

I grabbed a bag, and threw it on the counter. Within minutes, I was back in the truck, breaking off a crumbly chunk of the deep brown chocolate oats for sampling. By the time I arrived home, my shirt was littered with oats and salt. The cookies tasted thick, hearty, and strangely healthy—almost as though the high quality of the ingredients made for a biscuit with less sugar than the average sweet.

A visit to the Cummaquid based company's website (www.kayakcookies.com) proved this theory had some merit. Horn says the secret is in her small, hand-mixed batches, which allow the cookies to retain the texture and wholesomeness of the organic Canadian oats they are made from. She has the baking ethic of a true local artisan—dedicated to quality, and willing to experiment.

Whether you dig into a package of Kayak Cookies or sprinkle a dash of sea salt on my twist below, I recommend opening up for some salty sweets.


Makes 2 dozen cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together 1 and 3/4 cups whole wheat flour, 3/4 teaspoon baking soda, 3/4 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Beat in a separate bowl: 2 sticks salted butter, 1 and 1/2 cups brown sugar, 1/4 cup white sugar, 2 large eggs, and 2 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla.

Mix together the dry and wet ingredients; then add 2 cups chocolate chips and 3 and 1/2 cups old fashioned oats. Drop the dough onto well-greased cookie sheets and bake for 5-10 minutes, or until almost firm in the center. Grind a half crank of sea salt over each cookie as it comes out of the oven and let cool.


Chesapeake vs. Wellfleet: an oyster showdown

While in Richmond, Virginia this past weekend celebrating my grandmother's 90th birthday, I spent most of my time eating. Sampling the local edibles seemed as good a way as any to tour the city in which my ancestors were born, and so I dug right in. The first stop was The Hardshell, an upscale pub specializing in the local fruti del mar. A painted advertisement for Chesapeake oysters on the brick wall of the bar made it clear that a juxtaposition of the famous Wellfleets and the local breed was inevitable.

The Chesapeake oyster—sometimes called White Gold—has been a staple of the Virginian diet for centuries. The southerners like them steamed, breaded in cornbread, or swimming atop a creamy bisque. And while they're also popular on the half shell, the raw mollusks there seem to be less of a hit than in Wellfleet, where eating them any other way is somewhat of a sin.

My taste test revealed why: the salt factor. The briny, cold water flavor I was accustomed to from a Wellfleet was lacking in the Chesapeakes. The warmer waters made for a sweeter, more succulent meat—one better, I discovered, steamed and dipped in butter than raw with a dap of cocktail sauce, and one I would prefer fried over plain any day. While each merited their own following, I left with an even stronger fondness for the oysters of the town I call home.

Oven roasted Hadley butternut squash with back porch rosemary

Butternut squash is a favorite of mine. As I was digging through the produce at Stop n' Shop in Orleans in an attempt to find something locally grown, this sticker caught my eye. It was the same one I had noticed on the Massachusetts grown squash at Trader Joe's several months ago. Based on my observation of several discolored spots and the fact that only four out of the 100-plus butternut squash in the heap were from Plainville Farm, I judged these to be the last of the Hadley harvest and snatched them up.

It's a good thing, because the only other Massachusetts produced items I turned up in the warehouse store were Great Hill Blue Cheese and a bag of boiling onions. Determined not to let this get me down, I returned home to enjoy my spoils. As the cartoon squash had so sanguinely asked me to take it home for dinner, I let it be the main event.

After peeling, chopping, and seasoning the squash with its own seeds and a few sprigs of rosemary from the plant out back, I set the oven to 400 and put the pan in to bake for an hour. When the squash was crisp and the rosemary fragrant, I pulled it out and set the table in celebration of a fall feast that made it to spring.


Serves 2

Preheat oven to 400. Peel and quarter one butternut squash. Scoop out and wash seeds; set aside. Chop squash and spread over bottom of Pyrex or ceramic pie pan. Cover with 3 tablespoons olive oil. Chop 1 tablespoon rosemary and sprinkle over top along with seeds and a good dose of salt.

Bake for 1 hour or until crisp and browned around edges. Enjoy hot.


Sweet escape: Beanstock Toffee Coffee

It has been one of those weeks. My hairy black friend Fisher ate the loaf of homemade bread featured last Tuesday in one fell swoop; I rushed through harried deadlines to write seven articles in seven days; and Alex missed dinner four nights out of seven in an attempt to finish our (still) under renovation kitchen.

Today's adventure in Cape edibles more than made up for lost time, however, as it featured my absolute favorite earthly delight. Homemade ice cream has a hold on my heart few foods possess; the feel of cold cream against hot tongue, waxen sprinkles crunching against hard cone, and sticky drips hitting eager hands is an experience I await all winter long.

After a morning of blood-pumping outdoor labor in the newly warm Cape Cod sun, I headed to the newly established Sweet Escape in Truro for the first scoop of the season. Not only is the ice cream made on site, but the local flavor choices were superb. Beanstalk Espresso Yourself (made with Wellfleet Beanstock coffee), Lavender Fig (the first an abundant area herb), and Cape Cod Cranberry Bog (a cranberry based ice cream with white chocolate chunks and walnut bites) caught my eye, to name a few. In the end, I opted for Coffee Toffee, a twist on the Beanstock blend littered with gargantuan heath chunks. The experience was exactly as marketed: a sweet escape, and well worth the $3.25 I spent on a Skinny.


Brown bread with rosemary butter

Fresh bread is a luxury. This morning, as I sat writing at the dining room table, the smell of baking wheat filled the living room. Alex tiptoed downstairs to find the origin: whole-wheat brown bread.

The bread, part of my weekly effort to keep the two of us in good appetite and locally fed, was inspired by the 20 pound bag of flour that arrived from Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater, Maine on our doorstep several weeks ago. The finely ground hard red wheat kernels were the best and closest source of the grain I could find. Grown on the family farm in the western hills of Maine, they carry both the heartiness and good taste of the region and its growers.

When the braided loaf emerged from the oven, I cut us each a slice and add a dab of butter infused with rosemary from the plant outside our sliding doors. Moistened with milk and honey, the bread was a firm crusted yet soft morning snack.


Makes one braided loaf

Proof 2 and 1/4 teaspoons yeast in 3 tablespoons warm water. When dissolved, add 1 cup warm whole milk, 5 tablespoons olive oil, 1 fresh egg, 3 tablespoons honey, and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix well.

Add 3 and 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour gradually. Knead dough well.

Let rise in a ball in a warm place for an hour, or until doubled in size. Punch down and roll into three strings. Stick dough together at one end and braid like hair. Arrange on baking sheet; let rise again for at least 2 hours. The extra rising time is needed to lighten the heavier whole-wheat dough. Preheat oven to 375 degrees; bake 15-20 minutes or until just brown.


Pour a pint of fresh cream into the blender and set it on low. When a heavy whipped cream forms (3-7 minutes), continue mixing for several more minutes until the mixture separates into solids and liquid (butter and buttermilk). Pour buttermilk into a container. Press the butter using a wooden spatula against the walls of a rough wooden crock for about ten minutes, or until it stops yielding buttermilk. Drain liquid periodically. Pour a very small amount of very cold water into butter and continue working as before until the water runs clean. (Do not skimp on this step, as if buttermilk remains in the solids the butter will go rancid).

Sautée several sprigs rosemary in a half tablespoon butter until fragrant; mix into fresh butter along with one teaspoon sea salt. Enjoy on bread; keep refrigerated.


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