By your hair

Sometimes I've wondered what it's like to be a vegetable that comes up by your hair. Can you see the hands when they're coming? Is the moment of picking precipitated by terrible dread?

I know I probably shouldn't admit this, but these are the sorts of dilemmas I like to mull over in the garden as I weed.

I went out to the cold frame to weed yesterday—believe it or not, (yes!) there are weeds—and found myself wondering over this as I contemplated pulling a radish. I gauged the size of the greens—nearly a foot high, and leafy. They looked full-bodied enough, though I knew there was
 likely to be little in the soil beneath. But I was curious, and so I pulled and was delighted with the little root I found.

This first root was a small radish—a very small radish, to tell the truth. But it wasn't so small as those wisps of carrots you sometimes pull; it had, at the very least, some girth. I took it inside and washed it down, pulled the dirt and snarls from its toes. I yanked off its hair in one swift grip, and scrubbed it down to a nice white coat.

I'd picked some greens outside too, and a pair of purple scallions, and discovered that between the three we had the makings for a salad. I washed the lettuce carefully, mixing a four season red with leafy green, sorrel, and mache. They were baby greens, roughly the length of my fingers, but they had plenty of flavor and good color. Next went the scallions, sliced into tiny, ringlet bites.

Finally, it came time for the radish. I cut off its roots and then its hair, and the body I chopped into slivers. A distinctly fresh smell filled the kitchen, an earthy scent with an air of minerals about it. I threw the tiny slices into the salad, crumbled a bit of goat cheese on top, and dressed it with salt and pepper and a bit of vinaigrette. Greek olives topped it off, and on this second to last day of the year, we sat down to eat our very own green salad.


Serves 2

2 cups mixed greens (red and green lettuce, mache, spinach, and sorrel)
1 small radish, sliced thin
2 scallions, sliced thin
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
2 ounces greek olives, pits removed

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon very sweet vinegar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Mix greens with radish and scallions in a medium size serving bowl. Top with goat cheese and greek olives. Mix oil, vinegars, and salt and pepper into a dressing, and drizzle over the salad. Toss and serve fresh. (This is excellent with winter soup.)


In case of a brunch

We are not quite out of the woods. You may be tiring of sweets, I know, but the season has in it yet a few more days. There's still New Year's Eve and the next day, and though you might be hunkered down at home, then again, you may have a feast to plan.

And just in case it's a brunch, I'm going to offer you a recipe my mother first tried in 1992. I have no idea how she picked it up, or why, for it's pages and pages long, and involved and complicated at that.

But thankfully she did, and she makes it every year now, just once, to be eaten Christmas morning. The recipe makes a triple batch—three pans—and still, we jostle that whole week to get our share. It is dense and chewy and sweet, with just the slightest hint of lemon and a crisp covering of puffy dough. It contains more butter and sugar than is proper to discuss, and it is deliciously, sinfully good.

The cake has a few far flung ingredients—dates, and pecans, that sort of thing—as so many holiday treats do. But it's the season of excess, after all, and if you can find the basics nearby—eggs and butter and flour and milk—I see no reason to resist.

from the Silver Palate Cookbook, by Julee Rosso, Sheila Lukins, and Michael McLaughlin, with a few annotations

Makes three 9- by 13-inch coffee cakes

1 package yeast (2 and 1/4 teaspoons)
1 cup warm milk (105 to 115 degrees F)
3 tablespoons sugar
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/4 cup vegetable shortening (my mother uses butter)
2 whole eggs
1 egg, separated
1 pound butter, softened to room temperature
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups shelled pecans, coarsely chopped
3 cups dates, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 and 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar
2 tablespoons warm honey
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (2 to 3 pieces of fruit)

Dissolve yeast in milk in a small bowl. Stir in granulated sugar and let stand for 10 minutes.

Sift flour and salt together in a large bowl. Cut in vegetable shortening (or butter) until mixture looks like rolled oats. Stir in milk mixture. Beat the whole eggs and egg yolk together, setting aside the white, and stir gently but thoroughly into the dough. Cover with a towel and set aside to rise until tripled, about three hours.

(At this step, every year, my mother decides something has gone terribly wrong. She calls us over to confer; the dough looks like a huge lumpy mass, very wet and heavy and not at all like dough. We worry and worry and worry. It doesn't ever triple, but in the end it always comes out right. We think this may be because we substitute butter for lard, but either way we adore the end result.)

Grease three jelly-roll pans, 9- by 13-inches each. Divide risen dough into thirds, and roll out one piece thinly into a rectangle about three times the size of one of the pans. (At this point, my mother says, you will probably need to use a bit of extra flour in rolling out the dough, as it is so wet.) Slide a pan under the center third of the dough.

Set aside a third of the butter. Divide remaining butter into thirds and spread half of one portion over the center portion of the dough on the pan. Sprinkle 1/3 cup of the brown sugar, 1/3 cup pecans, and 1/2 cup of the chopped dates evenly over the buttered section of the dough. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Fold one side of the dough over the center section. Repeat addition of butter, pecans, dates, sugar, and cinnamon, and fold other side over center section. Repeat with remaining dough and ingredients, and set all three pans aside for 2 and 1/2 to 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix together reserved butter, 1 cup confectioners' sugar, reserved egg white, and warmed honey. Cut three deep decorative slits in the risen coffee cakes, being careful not to cut through the bottom layer. Spread honey mixture evenly over the tops of the cakes with a pastry brush.

Set the pans on the middle rack of the oven and bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until puffed. Cool slightly. Mix together remaining confectioners' sugar and lemon juice and drizzle over the warm cakes. Enjoy at room temperature. These also freeze well, though I doubt they'll make it that far.


Bunt cake, and a party

My parents threw us an engagement party yesterday. My mother cooked for days beforehand, pulling ratatouille from the freezer for a deep dish pie, baking crab quiche and a breakfast strata and butternut squash for the soup.

My sister asked over a friend, and the three of us stood in the kitchen carving carrot sticks and deviled eggs and watching the creation of a magnificent strawberry yogurt parfait.

The fishmonger and my father arranged the bar, and at twelve noon, the guests arrived. They were a wonderful crowd—parents and classmates and those beloved since-birth friends. We could hardly believe so many had come to celebrate with us—bringing news and hugs and cupcakes and gifts.

I sat on the sofa with one of the little girls towards the end, exhausted from cooking and chatting and so many friends. She pointed over to a bunt cake on the coffee table before us, and then to the piece almost gone in her hand. "I've had four," she said encouragingly, holding up her tiny, sticky fingers with a thumb pressed carefully into her palm. "One when I got here, and now it's almost time to leave."

I understood her awe. I had been eying the cake too, for several days now, forbidden to touch it before the party began. My mother's friend Rebecca had offered it as a Christmas gift, but it was so beautiful, we'd decided to wait.

It was a bunt cake, mounded with ridges and peaks, and drizzled with a bright white glaze that clung tightly to its sides. It looked heavy, and sweet, perfect with a bitter cup of coffee and cream. Rebecca said she'd found the recipe on the bunt cake pan, a Kaiser Cast mold picked up in Bath the other day. It was called Brown Sugar Spice Cake, from the King Arthur flour company, a medley of apple juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.

She'd thought it would be a disaster; the oven thermometer was broken, and it took nearly two hours to cook through to the center. The batter had been moist—too moist—and so she'd used a little less apple juice than called for, and a bit more flour. She hadn't had any all-spice, so she'd subbed more ginger instead, and the glaze hadn't worked out either. She wanted a thick, visible glaze, not the type that soaks down invisible and thin, and so after the first had disappeared, she'd poured over a layer of sugar cookie icing laced with lemon juice.

She needn't have worried: the cake was splendid, dense, bright, and magnificent. With the first bite my feet stopped aching. I sank into the couch and held up one finger to the little girl beside me. "One," I said. "We've had one cake. But I think, once all this is over, I think I'll bake another." She nodded in agreement, and we sat happily together munching away, Brown Sugar Spice Cake in hand.

Adapted from the King Arthur recipe on Kaiser Cast's 9.5 inch bunt cake pan

Makes one 9.5 inch bunt cake

1 and 1/2 cups soft butter
3 cups light or dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 and 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon all-spice
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
5 large eggs
3 and 1/4 cups flour
1 and 1/2 cups apple sauce or just under 1 and 1/4 cups apple cider
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

1 tablespoon butter
powdered sugar
juice of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 350. Cream the butter with the sugar and mix in the spices. Add one egg and beat until smooth. Scrape bowl and add remaining eggs one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. Do same with the flour, adding it a cup at a time, adding a third of the juice or applesauce with each addition until all of both are mixed. Pour into a well greased bunt cake pan and bake 60 to 65 minutes, or until a piece of straw inserted comes out clean. Let cool completely before adding the glaze.

I always start sugar cookie frosting by melting 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan. When it's warm, I pour in about a cup of powdered sugar and a dash of cream and mix them well. If the mixture is too thin, I add more powdered sugar. If it's too thick, I add more cream and continue adjusting as necessary. In this case you'd do the same, substituting lemon juice for cream. Then pour the glaze over the cake immediately, while the frosting is still warm.


Riches & things

It's a good thing Christmas only comes once a year. It's also a good thing there are leftovers, so that even though it only comes once a year, we can enjoy it for at least a few days afterward.
The things we consumed yesterday! Coffee cake and sticky buns, fried eggs and toast, coffee and wine, and—finally, a black trumpet and lobster risotto.

The risotto was the star. It stole the day, hands down, with flying colors, this new dish. We'd never tried it before; it was a recipe I'd found in Cooking Light, a gift idea they'd had. (I know, the last one was terrible, but they've had so many good ones in the past, that I figured I'd give this one a try. Besides, it's particularly hard to go wrong with thyme, white wine, chicken broth, and rice.)

The gift idea was to give a fancy jar of dried mushrooms and rice, measured into the correct proportions and tied with a satchel of herbs and a copy of the recipe. I had neither the fancy jar nor the herbs, but I did have a very expensive, intoxicating bag of dried black trumpets. We'd picked them up at a farmers' market in Camden, from the Oyster Creek vendors and their farm in Damariscotta. We'd buried our noses in the bag, inhaled, and handed over a big wad of cash. It felt kind of like we were buying the other kind of mushrooms, only these were expensive for their smoky, exotic taste.

Packed into a dressed up Mason jar, they looked almost royal, delicate charcoal horns stacked atop a shimmering heap of rice. I gave them to my father, and though I hadn't planned on giving them as a Christmas dinner, when we started feeling around late in the day for a meal, he immediately brought them up. Between the trumpets and the lobster we'd had planned, we had our holiday feast.

The fishmonger and my father lit a fire in the pit outside, while I chopped onions and garlic. We soaked the mushrooms in chicken broth, letting them expand and release, and heated up a large soup pan. My father poured in the oil and a bit of butter, and in went the onions, the garlic, the rice. (It was the wrong kind of rice, we discovered later, brown basmati, but it filled in nicely for arborio in a pinch.)

My father added wine, reduced it down, and then the mushrooms, thyme, and herbs. He left me in charge of adding the chicken broth, cup by cup, reducing it down, and stirring slowly until all was absorbed. Meanwhile, outside, he and the fishmonger doused the fire with a heap of culls. Lobster tails and claws reddened and charred, while the meat inside slowly cooked.

It took a while—it's a time-to-spare, holiday sort of dish to be sure—but what we ended up with was absolutely delicious. The rice and mushrooms thickened, warm and sticky and steaming, and a few of us, after oohing and ahhing and indulging, went so far as to lick our bowls. The next time you find yourself with a reason to celebrate and a lazy afternoon, I think you should give it a try.

adapted from Cooking Light, November 2008

Serves 6


5 ounces dried black trumpet mushrooms
9 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons oil
1 cup chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups uncooked brown basmati rice
1 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon thyme, dried
1 bay leaf
2 cups cooked lobster meat, chopped
salt & pepper to taste

Soak mushrooms for 30 minutes or until tender in 2 cups of the chicken broth. Pour the rest of the chicken broth into a large bowl, and set aside. Heat butter and oil in a large, heavy bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently. Add rice; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add wine, and cook until absorbed, stirring constantly. Stir in mushrooms, thyme, and bay leaf.

Add broth, 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently until each portion is absorbed. (This process takes a bit longer with brown basmati, but so long as you keep an eye on it, you don't have to be stiriring all the time.) When all the chicken broth has been added and absorbed, season with salt and pepper, add lobster meat, and serve immediately.


A merry Christmas

Popcorn balls are a sticky affair. The syrup sticks to the pan, to the mixing bowl, to the palms of your hands. They drip and ooze and make a mess of all they touch. Without wax paper or plastic wrap, it's hard to imagine how the cook could succeed.

But succeed they have, though not for so long as we tend to imagine. Though some stories place popcorn on the table at the first Thanksgiving, it wasn't until the mid 1800s that it became popular according to food historian and author Andrew Smith.

Still, the association with Christmas was quick. Smith attributes this to children; the tiny, explosive kernels became a holiday favorite both on the table and as a decoration with the little ones. Some families dyed and strung the corn on their trees, others mixed it with sticky molasses and made it into balls. Still others ate the corn as cereal, doused in sugar and cream.

We string it on the tree with cranberries, but up until this year, the white came from a bag. A trip to Maine this fall and one several weeks ago to Martha's Vineyard changed that; in both places, I discovered homegrown popcorn, still drying on the cob. I bought several ears in Maine, and headed over to Martha's Vineyard to learn a bit more about how to grow the stuff.

Rebecca Gilbert, who runs Native Earth Teaching Farm on the island, grows a field of stalks every year for her annual popcorn festival. "We have all the popcorn you can eat," she says. The festival takes place around Columbus Day, but Gilbert saves a few ears for the winter ahead. She showed me the jars she had stored up, and explained that popcorn has to have just the right moisture content in order to pop. If it's too wet, the only remedy is to wait for it to dry, but if it's too dry, a simple sprinkling of water over a pot of kernels will get them making noise.

Rather than string my homegrown popcorn on the tree—it seemed far too special a bunch for that—I made it into balls with maple syrup, boiling the sap down to a thick ribbon with a bit of butter, and pouring it over the popcorn. From there I gathered it into rounds with a piece of waxed paper, squeezing syrup and dry corn together until finally, they stuck. Left out to dry overnight, they formed hard, stiff balls, still sticky but with just enough crunch.

Perhaps this will spark a new tradition: popcorn ornaments, hung high and then devoured from the tree.


Makes about 6 large balls 

Put 1 cup maple syrup and 2 tablespoons butter in a heavy saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the mixture begins to thicken to almost a caramel-like consistency, or if you have a candy thermometer, until it reaches 260 degrees. Do not overcook, as the mixture will harden as it cools. Remove from heat and add 1 teaspoon vanilla. Stir well and pour over 1/2 cup popcorn, popped. Shape into balls using wax paper or plastic wrap and let harden overnight.  


Mexican wedding ball cookies

You can call them whatever you want. polvorones, butterballs, sandies, Russian tea cookies, even. We call them Mexican wedding ball cookies, but it isn't about the name.

It's about the texture. It's about the way butter and confectioner's sugar melt together under the weight of your fingers, clumping into thick, sticky crumbs. It's about the way the solid looking ball crumbles against the roof of your mouth, spilling sweet and buttery all at once over your tongue. It's the hint of cinnamon, sprinkled not once but twice.

The cookies remind me of the scraps left on the plate after a large pile of French toast is gone. We always doused our French toast with confectioner's sugar, rather than maple syrup, as kids, and it would form lumps with the butter. When the toast was gone I would scrape my fork across the plate, catching each lingering lump between the prongs, and sweeping it up into one final bite—deliciously, terribly, impossibly sweet.

Mexican wedding ball cookies are like that. To tell the truth, they're hardly more than confectioner's sugar and butter, first beaten then rolled, then baked and rolled again. There's a bit of flour, a sprinkle of cinnamon, a dash of vanilla, and a pinch of salt, but beyond that, they're mainly just butter and sugar. The only catch is to leave time to chill; rolled out warm, they'll never make it off your palms.


Makes about 2 dozen

Cream 1 cup butter (room temperature) and 1/2 cup confectioner's sugar. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 2 cups flour. Form into two balls, wrap in plastic, and chill for 1 to 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350. Roll dough into bite sized balls. In a wide, shallow bowl, mix 1 cup confectioner's sugar with 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Roll balls in sugar mixture and place on cookie sheet. Bake 15 minutes; remove from oven, let slightly, and roll in sugar mixture again. Let cool and eat, or package up for gifts.


Turkey carcass soup

It's bone chilling out there today. Even with the woodstove roaring, the wind is finding its way in under doors. It's skirting through window panes, howling around the eves, and blowing up leaves from the snow.

It's a soup day, in short. Last night's turkey carcass sits nearly devoured on the stove, all bones and skin and bits of untouched meat.

We had an early Christmas feast, to celebrate the arrival of a west coast friend. No matter that she didn't arrive, snowed in still in Seattle, skidding back and forth across the city in taxi after taxi to and from the airport. We missed her terribly, of course, but the turkey was already thawed, the invitations made, and a ten pound Hubbard squash peeled in her honor. There was little left to do but eat.

And my goodness, did we eat. We ate roast potatoes and cranberry sauce, white meat and dark, spinach salad, roasted beets, and goat cheese with bread. There was stuffing with pine nuts and apricots, braised short ribs in a noodle stew, wine and beer and sparkling pomegranate juice to boot. Even when we thought we were through, someone brought out ice cream and a pie, and a bag of cookies, chocolate chip.

Still, though we tried, we didn't quite finish the turkey. We were down in numbers and strength, having counted on the appetite of one more, starved from airport food and the bustle of travel. But it wasn't all bad; there was just enough left over to make my mother's turkey soup.

It isn't really my mother's, I should admit. It's Jane Brody's from her Good Food Book, Turkey Carcass Soup. But my mother's made it so many times, so adopted it as her own, that I've given it over to her in name. It's a hearty soup, perfect for weather like this, even, if need be, excellent warmed over the wood stove.

My mother doesn't quite follow Brody's directions; rather than waste vegetables in the stock, she simply adds the scraps—carrot tops and celery leaves, turnip clippings and onion ends—from what she will sauté later in the soup. She sprinkles it with Parmesan cheese, too, just at the end, for a fuller, richer cup. But overall, the idea's the same, so I'll give you a version that's nearly Brody's, that you can make changes of your own.

adapted from Jane Brody's Good Food Book


My mother recommends doing this on the woodstove, if you have it going already. The temperature is perfect, and you avoid using extra gas or electricity.

Combine in a large pot: 1 turkey carcass, broken into pieces; any left over fat or gravy; 12 cups water, or enough to cover carcass; leaves/tops/scraps from onion, celery, carrots, and turnip (my mother sometimes uses rutabaga, which she finds equally good) you will use for the soup, below; 1 clove garlic, minced; 1 teaspoon salt; 6 sprigs fresh parsley; 1 sprig fresh thyme; 1 bay leaf. Bring to a boil, and simmer partially covered, for 2 to 3 hours. Strain, and skim off the fat. Stock can be used immediately or frozen for use in a future soup.


In a large saucepan, sauté 2 tablespoons minced onion and 1 clove minced garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil until soft. Add 1/2 cup carrots, diced; 1/2 cup turnip or rutabaga, diced; and 1/2 cup celery, diced, and cook, stirring, until soft. Add 1 and 1/2 tablespoons flour, and cook while stirring for another minute. Add 6 to 7 cups turkey stock, 1 teaspoon marjoram, salt and pepper to taste, and 1/3 cup raw barley. Bring the soup to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 1 hour. Add 1 cup diced turkey meat, adjust seasonings to taste, and bring the soup back to a boil. Serve hot with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.


A trade

In theory, and of course in appearance, these cookies are very good. They stack, they are crisp—they tie nicely with a bow. With a cookie cutter on top and left in a friend's mailbox as a surprise, they would be the perfect gift.

I say would because, well, they simply don't taste very good. I made them from a recipe in Cooking Light, which I have to admit I sometimes forget is focused on cutting out the fat. (This cannot ever, I feel I can now say, be a good thing for a cookie.) But they usually do a pretty good job, and I got so sucked in by the idea, the thin, towering stack of crispy vanilla wafers, that I convinced myself they'd be good.

The illusion dissolved last night. I should have known when I didn't lick the bowl; even the batter didn't taste good. I went through the steps anyways, rolling and cutting and rolling again. I baked and cooled them carefully, knowing, I think, all the while that there was no way they'd ever be saved.

The trouble is, I'm still very much in love with the idea. So I figured I'd propose a trade. I'll give you my grandmother's sugar cookie recipe, which—and I know I'm biased, but I think you'll find I'm also entirely correct—really is the best sugar cookie recipe in the world. It is simple, elegant, and easy, and produces cookies so scrumptious they are equally good with or without frosting.

So here you are. If you have any thin, crisp cookies to offer up in exchange, I hope you're willing to share. (I'm thinking in the gingersnap, vanilla-spice vein, but really I'm up for whatever.) Happy cookie baking and gifting.


Makes 2 to 3 dozen
(depending how thin you like them, and what size cookie cutters you choose)

Cream 1 stick butter with 1 cup sugar. Add 2 eggs, well beaten, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3 teaspoons baking powder, and 2 cups flour. Add dry ingredients to wet, and mix until just combined. Form into two balls, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for an hour or several if possible. Roll out (you will need plenty of flour, as the dough starts out very stick), cut into holiday shapes, and bake 8 to 10 minutes at 350 degrees.

If you choose to frost them, I recommend doing with with this basic icing. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small, heavy bottomed pan, add a dash of cream, and pour in powdered sugar, stirring every few seconds or so, until it reaches the desired consistency. As it cools, you may need to add more cream and stir periodically or it will begin to harden as the butter re-solidifies. Add food coloring and sprinkles if you please; peppermint extract also makes a lovely addition.

The Local Food Report: dry-cured sausage

The white stuff, I've been informed, is good. That's a good thing, because there's certainly a lot of it. I went down to see David Schneller's sausage hanging workshop—in a basement cellar behind Abbicci—before the restaurant closed.

(Word came November 21 that the doors had suddenly closed, apparently because of hard economic times.)

Nevertheless, I have happy memories of my trip underground. There were steep stairs, a sterile room, a hefty fan, and row upon row of penicillin covered meat. That's what the white stuff is—the good mold, white penicillin. It adds flavor, acidifies the meat, and helps ward off less friendly bacteria as well.

The curing season started back in the fall—when temperatures dropped into the 50s and 60s, and humidity began to hover around 75 percent. This is also when worries over flies desist, and when it becomes expensive to keep around a pig or cow, rather than slaughtering it for meat. The days of fresh pasture and outside living are over, and winter weather requires feed and a barn. As Schneller put it, it's the time when preserving the meat as sausage simply starts to make good economic sense.

His sausage recipe is more science than art. It has to be done in a refrigerator, with all the ingredients kept very cold. He relies not on measurements, but weights, and there are no pinches or sprinklings involved.

That's because making sausage can be scary. It's not the type of thing you want to experiment with if you don't have a plan. Preferably, it's best to have someone overseeing you who's done it before, and knows—so to speak—the lay of the land. This is because the meat starts out raw, and never really gets cooked. Instead it ferments, like sourdough bread or beer, and anyone who's experimented with either knows the process is a bit of a trick. It helps to have a teacher along the way.

(Luckily, most people who make sausage say it's easy to spot one gone wrong. It will lack mold, or have air pockets, or develop brown spots, all signs of botched meat.)

With all that in mind, I offer Schneller's recipe—or basic proportions I should say—and recommend that if you're interested in sausage, you find a mentor before you dig in. At the very least, it will save you wasting some expensive local meat.


10 lbs. pork butt
2 lbs. fat back
2 oz. curing salt
1/2 oz. sugar
1 oz. salt

To read an article on dry-cured sausage about history and safety from the New York Times, visit this link

For more on safety procautions when making sausage, check out this USDA sausage storage & safety chart.

For more info on where to by local meats, check out the "Shop like a local" list to your left.


Pie, again

I warned you, didn't I? The cascade of sugar and butter are still going strong.

Too strong, in fact. The other night we had a fire in the oven, thanks to the pie waxing innocent to your left. It was the frozen blueberries, I think—they're so much juicier than their summer selves.

The pie started out as an experiment. I had leftover dough left over from the pecan pie, and it seemed a shame to let it sit idle in the fridge, especially when there was a party involved.

So I rolled it out, ransacked the house for fruits, and decided on a thawed high bush blueberry and fresh cranberry lattice. I added sugar to taste, a bit more than usual because of the tart fruit, and a handful of flour to hold the berries together (the general rule is 1 tablespoon per cup of fruit, but as the fire proved, with frozen fruit, perhaps it's best to aim for more like 1 and 1/2).

I topped the filling off with lemon and cinnamon, and all seemed well as the pan slid into the oven. It was hardly full, a bit sunken even, so I didn't bother to add a cookie sheet for safety. A half hour later, the room filled suddenly with smoke, the fishmonger cursing and flinging open the doors. I stumbled downstairs, guilty as charged, but luckily, all was saved. He'd scraped the oven, returned the pie to its post, and I even managed to make it to the party on time.

So long as you have a sturdy cookie sheet and a heavy hand with the flour, I highly recommend giving the pie a try.


Makes 1 pie

Roll out a bottom pie crust, drape over 9-inch pan, and let rest. In a large mixing bowl, stir together 2 and 1/2 cups thawed blueberries, 2 and 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, 1 to 1 and 1/2 cups sugar, or to taste, 5 to 7 tablespoons flour, depending on how juicy the berries are, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and a pinch of cinnamon. Mix well and spoon filling into crust. Roll out and weave a lattice top. Bake (over a cookie sheet!) at 425 for 30 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 and bake another 30 minutes, or until crust is golden and filling sets.


The days ahead

Just a warning to you all, if I may: It's almost Christmas time, and it's very likely the next few weeks will consist almost entirely of holiday sweets.

There will be pies, cookies, cakes, perhaps even cordials and candies. But if it's vegetables you're looking for, you may want to wander away for a bit.

It's not the worst thing, however—so many sweets. It might be a bit rough on the waistline, and put your head in the clouds. But when it comes to your wallet, good cheer, even the planet—there are worse things in gift giving than cakes.

Which brings me to the pecan pie. It's the best sort of gifts—twice given—though not in the usual fashion. The pecans arrived the other day in a large box, wrapped up with packing paper and a note. They were an engagement present, my mom's college friend Patty said, to wish us well on our way.

I have to say, they were my favorite yet. (Although to be fair, when your mother sends Miss Manner's and a wedding etiquette note, it isn't too hard to compete.) They were from a long tradition of Smith women, who sold Georgia pecans to raise money for the school's scholarship fund. They were fresh packed just a few weeks ago at a Glennville farm, Patty wrote, not exactly local, but still an east coast agricultural gift.

In the spirit of the holiday season, I was delighted with this foodshed exchange. (This is, after all, the month of extravagance, and it wasn't so very long ago that finding an orange in the tip of your stocking was the most exciting of Christmas morning delights.) I wasted no time calling my mother for a pie recipe, mixing fresh nuts with sugar and eggs. It baked slowly, gelling suddenly, top browned, and I left it to cool overnight.

This afternoon I'll take pecans and crust to Woods Hole, my contribution to a holiday lunch. The best part is the pecans are now given twice, the merriment well spread out the Cape.


adapted from the Joy of Cooking, both the 1964 & 1975 editions

Makes 1 pie

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Shape a single pie crust (the flakier the better) to fit a 9-inch pan. Flute the edges, and fill the crust with coffee, dry beans, or clean rocks (this will prevent it from bubbling up during cooking or falling in). Prebake for 5 to 7 minutes, and turn the oven down to 375.

In a large mixing bowl, cream 1/4 cup butter and 1 cup brown or white sugar (if you use molasses, it is better to use white, brown if you stick with corn syrup). Beat in 3 eggs, one at a time. Stir in 1/2 cup molasses or light corn syrup, 1 tablespoon rum, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add 1 heaping cup pecans, broken, and pour this filling into the crust.

Bake about 40 minutes or until filling begins to set; remove from the oven immediately as the pie will gel further as it cools. Serve warm or cool with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.


As promised

Here it is, as promised. The apple cider is the secret ingredient; it adds sweetness, depth, and complexity. The heavy cream is important, too, as such rich treats tend to be.

But my favorite thing about this soup is it's simplicity. It is a one pot, one hour soup, both easy and gourmet.

Many thanks to Jerome, and happy Sunday afternoon cooking to you.


Makes 1 gallon

Place 4 turnips (about 3 lbs), quartered, washed, and with ends trimmed, into a large stock pot. Add 1 gallon apple cider and 1/2 stalk celery, bring to a boil, and turn heat down to medium. Continue at a heavy simmer, cooking for 30 minutes or until the turnips are soft when pierced with a fork. Puree in a blender until smooth, return to the pot, and bring to a boil.

Add 1 quart heavy cream slowly, stirring constantly. Bring the soup back to a boil (it will cool as the cream is added), then add salt and pepper to taste. Let the soup rest for at least 30 minutes and up to two days before serving; time will improve the both the profile and the complexity of the flavors. Serve warm and garnish with herb oil (see below).


Bring several cups salted water to a boil, and throw in 1 bunch Italian parsley, stems removed, 1 bunch oregano, and 1 bunch chives. Blanch for 45 seconds, strain herbs from water, and place in an ice bath to cool. Remove herbs, pat dry of water, and puree in a blender with 1 teaspoon ice water from bath. When herb mixture is smooth, add oil slowly until all is incorporated. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Thank you

Thank you, for a wonderful night. You were a great crowd, and I fear we may be spoiled forever.

Last night was the first of what I hope will be many community suppers to come. We were amazed by the turnout and the warmth and the energy, and we hope that, in turn, you enjoyed the food.

To that end, I didn't forget. I know you all were mumbling about a recipe for the turnip bisque. I called Jerome this morning, and he graciously agreed to share. I'm after him about the Brussels sprouts myself, so with any luck, I'll have both for you tomorrow.

For those of you who couldn't make it, we understand of course, but I hope one of these times you'll be there. It was amazing how everything came together—Jerome plating with four helpers in the kitchen as plates clattered and sauces flew; the girls helping Sarah and me ferry to and fro, crashing through saloon doors; fifty-five diners fed from a single lamb and the wealth of the land. We were nervous, then giddy, until finally, come midnight we collapsed.

Today, we woke up and sent nearly a thousand dollars to Safe Harbor. So thank you again, this time on their behalf.


The Local Food Report: hydroponic tomatoes

I never expected tomatoes in December. October, surely, as the last harvest is pulled from the vine. November, maybe, from a sunny windowsill—the last ripened bunch.

But at Cape Abilities Farm in Dennis, they're only just now wrapping up. Tucked just off Route 6A in Dennis lies a greenhouse dedicated entirely to tomates, growing hydroponically.

Bud Hale, the hydroponics coordinator at the farm, makes the system seem easy. Perlite, a type of amorphous volcanic rock, provides the roots with structure, while enhanced water offers the correct blend of nutrients and a greenhouse heated shelter. The season runs from May through mid-December, offering a nice extension for homegrown enthusiasts. "People get tired of the rocks they get in the grocery store," he explains, laughing. "Our goal is to give them a superior tomato."

The farm grows two types of tomato: Trust Beefsteak and Clarence Cluster. They placed 8th and 9th in the Massachusetts Agriculture Competition this August, an achievement of which Bud and others at the farm are very proud. The tomatoes are sweet, firm, red—and always perfectly fresh.

The farm makes a point not to ship off Cape. With such an emphasis on buying local, they believe it's important to sell local as well. They have a salad club, a sort of version of a CSA, where members sign up in the spring, and receive bags of lettuce, tomatoes, and other produce through the season.

Many of the workers who run the salad club have a disability of sorts. They are hired through the larger Cape Abilities non-profit, established forty years ago as a work center providing jobs for the disabled. It's grown and grown and grown. The farm was new two years ago; today over 50 farm hands labor there, perfecting tomatoes, lettuce, and peppers. They pack the salad club bags, sorting vegetables and names and dates.

For now, there is a wait list. But these tomatoes—and their story—might just be worth putting down your name.


Serves 2-3

Slice 3 tomatoes into thin rounds. Layer over the bottom of a pie plate or similar serving dish. Drizzle with the following vinaigrette: 1/4 cup white wine vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil, a pinch of tarragon, a pinch of sugar, and sea salt and pepper to taste.


Lunch with Rebecca

"I don't have a recipe for stuffed quahogs, but I do have a few hints," says Rebecca Gilbert of Martha's Vineyard. I'm sitting at her kitchen table holding my belly, consumed with a platter of her home baked stuffed clams.

I'm here to do an interview on her farm—Native Earth Teaching Farm, in Chilmark—but I've eaten one, two, three clams, now, and I can't leave without advice.

Happily, she's willing. "Use good white bread," she begins. "Most things I like whole grain, but this is an important exception." It must be dry, she explains, or else it won't crumble well. The quahogs must be fresh, and steamed open, then chopped into bite size bits. (She traded bacon for hers). Add chopped onions—very fine—or even better, leeks. Other vegetables can be added now, too, but only if you wish.

Most important of all is the fat. The onions in the stuffies I devoured for lunch were fried in bacon fat from one of teh farm's Berkshire pigs. Along with bacon, bread, and veggies, these clams have marjoram and thyme. "Oh! and a pinch of 'slap ya mama,'" says Rebecca, "it's a Cajun spice mix from Louisiana."

She mixes in a big bowl with salt and pepper, and an egg or two for binding. If it needs more liquid, she advises, add clam some juice to keep things mois; it should be like meatloaf in texture. Of course the final steps are easy—pack, bake, and enjoy. But best of all, she says, they can be frozen and saved. "In fact," she admits as I leave, "that's what we ate today."

If they're that good frozen, imagine how lovely they'd be fresh. I can't give you a recipe as she doesn't have one, but here are some basic proportions:

4 slices dry bread : 12 large quahogs : 2-3 slices bacon, with fat : 1 large onion : 1 egg.

I hope you'll give it a shot.



I know this may look like plain jane applesauce, but it's not. It has pizazz, and fire and spice. It bites.

And that's a good thing, because to be honest, I was getting a bit tired of plain jane. It's been apple season for a while now, and we were overdue for a change.

Insert cranberries. Tart, saucy, firm—the perfect antidote to jane. Colorful, too, in this drab and dreary weather.

They were just what was called for, given the quality of the apples in the fridge. The once firm balls were terrible: mushy, mealy, soft. They had every quality I dislike in an apple, redeemed only by a bit of sweetness and a fine red coat. Luckily, they could still be cooked, and with the company of cranberries, well enough to hope this simple act would save them.

Oh, did it save them. It turned them from white to pink. It kicked up sweet with tart, textured soft with firm, swept out undertones of September crisp. It was not plain jane. Even the skeptic in my house agreed; this was very good applesauce.

It was easy, too, same as any plain jane. Meld fruit, water, and heat, and you really can't go wrong. Along with a food mill and two strong arms, this is all you need. A jar goes a long way for storage, and a nice big bowl helps for snacking. Beyond that, it's cranberries and a few bad apples. So don't work too hard, and enjoy.


Makes 1 quart

Place 5 to 6 apples, medium size, soft, and sweet, in a large soup pot. Add 1 cup cranberries, fresh, and 1/2 cup quince, sliced (optional). Cover bottom of pot with about 1 to 2 inches water, cover, and bring to a boil. Turn heat down to medium low, and continue cooking until fruit is soft. Crank through a food mill with a bowl beneath to catch the sauce. Serve warm or cold, or, if you're as strange as me, sometimes with a splash of cream.


Cabbages, meet wok

Last night, we made Chinese. We were given a bag of chow mein noodles by a friend the other day, and decided to break in our wok.

We started with heat and oil, added long, thin slices of onion, and several cloves of garlic. When they began to sweat and the kitchen to warm with steam, we added cabbage—lots of it, both green and white—cut in the same long, slender strips.

Slowly, everything cooked. I tossed and stirred until my arms felt weak, tongs in one hand and wooden spatula in the other. We boiled the noodles, quickly, then added them to the wilted vegetables. In went soy sauce and a bit of water and salt, and oyster sauce at just the last minute. The kitchen filled with the sweet, tangy scent of American Chinese food, and we sat down to struggle with chopsticks and eat.

The best part was, like any good American Chinese, it tasted even better cold the next day.


Serves 10, or 2 for a few days

In a large wok, heat up 4 tablespoons olive oil. When hot, add 1 cup (2 medium) thinly sliced onions, cut into long strips. Mince 4 cloves garlic; add once onion is translucent. Chop 1/2 of a medium sized red cabbage and 1/2 of a large green storage cabbage into long, thin strips (about 8 cups total). Sauté cabbage with onions, garlic, and 1/2 cup soy sauce until all are soft and translucent.

In a separate pot, throw 3 cups dry chow mein noodles into boiling water. Cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until tender. Drain and add to wok, tossing with tongs until well mixed with vegetables. Add 1/3 cup oyster sauce, stir well, and cook 1 minute longer. Turn off heat and serve hot.


One last thing

Before I let go of Williamsburg, there's one last thing I have to share. The Christmas wreaths were up when we visited, and nearly all were made from food.

The wreaths represent only what the colonial inhabitants would have had—either through imports or from their own land. They showcased garlic and pineapples and cinnamon, apples, dried chili peppers and pine. There were feathers from the tails of ringed neck pheasants (lost, it's likely, to dinner). From the sea came scallop shells and oysters, and from away dried pomegranates, oranges, and limes.

Or so I imagined as we walked. Turns out, while the ingredients were available, nobody hung them on their doors. Imagine affording a pineapple, and leaving it to be ravaged by squirrels and rot. The tradition began instead in the 1920s, with a colonial revival sweeping the country's decor, and a bit more wealth to spare. They're called Della Robbia wreaths, after the style 15th century Italian sculptor Luca della Robbia, who framed his subjects in garlands of flowers and fruit.

Still the wreaths were beautiful, stark and pleasantly absent of ribbon, tinsel, and wire. My grandmother remembers making them, stringing together pine boughs and fruit. The fruit I cannot sacrifice; a fresh local apple is too much to waste. But cinnamon, garlic, and chili peppers—with these I plan to make a wreath. I don't know from experience, but I'm guessing they're less likely to be eaten, given the dried goods are potent rather than sweet.

I've heard Tim Friary still has some garlic, at Cape Cod Organic Farm; the chili peppers you must already have saved. Cinnamon is shipped in to Atlantic Spice Co., and the twigs you can find in the woods. If any of you manage a wreath, I'd love to see it here.


Colonial gardens

I stepped back in time yesterday. Through the gates of Colonial Williamsburg, down the streets stacked with firewood and kindling, past row upon row of neat clapboard homes.

I remembered coming as a child, spending hours in the apothecary shop pining after leeches and vials. My sister and I paraded around in white lace bonnets and tri-cornered hats, longing to go back in time.

But I didn't remember the gardens. Tucked behind each house, they were neat, orderly, precise. They were full, too, even in December, laid out with collard greens, lettuces, and turnips. There were big, bushy hedges of rosemary, walkways laced with thyme, full rows of flat parsley for a garnishes or stocks. There were cabbages and spinach, and scallions, too.

Of course the climate is milder there, a far cry from the winters of Wellfleet or Maine. But it still required a little innovation. They had glass cloche, —bell jars—blown to cover plants in need of a shelter from the cold. Remembered from France, they did well on the New World's soil, warming vulnerable seedlings like these broccoli.

They had hoop houses, too, though I could not determine what the shelter was made from. Was it some sort of leather? Pigs' skin? Cloth oiled to translucence? "It looked like dirty plastic," laughed my mother, but we both knew that couldn't be true. I called the Williamsburg office, the directors of all things colonial, but so far they haven't come up with an answer. You'll be the first to know, of course, if they do.

For now, I'm content with planning my garden in zig-zags and orderly rows, filled with wonderful heirlooms like curly endive and Jefferson's beloved tennis ball lettuce. Just in case you're thinking along those lines, too, these pictures are for early inspiration.


The Local Food Report: bay scallops

I jumped from boat to boat, down the docks in Wellfleet Harbor, looking for the Sadie Mae. "She's a big boat," the fishmonger had said, "white and loaded up with a dredger."

I was looking for a bucket of bay scallops a local fisherman had left me. They're hard to get in the shell, at least in fish markets nowadays.

I understand why, of course—the tiny, sweet abductor muscle really is the the best part—but there's plenty of other good meat to be had. Taken as a whole the bay scallop's not too different from a mussel or a clam, just sweeter and a bit more robust. Steamed and dipped in butter it grows better still.

I suppose how you cook it depends upon the occasion: for Christmas perhaps just the sweetest meat, but for the average evening I think I'd eat the whole shebang. At the least, it would be nice to have the option.

When I finally found the bucket, the scallops were chattering away. One snapped shut, and then another, out-clapping each other with a splash. I scooped up five for dinner, and tucked them into the car.

Shortly they were no longer clapping—thrown instead into a bit of seawater to steam. They quieted down and surrendered, mouths gaping and suddenly still. I watched them reveal their frills—all lace and delicacy around the edge. I took them out, gently, and placed them on the table to wait. With garlic minced and butter melted, I sauteed the two together until soft. The scallops and I sat, admiring each other briefly for a moment, and then it was time to eat.


Serves 2

Bring 1 cup fish stock or seawater to a boil in a wide, heavy-bottomed pot. Put in 8 to 10 bay scallops, soaked, scrubbed, and in the shell, and steam covered until the shells open (about 1 to 2 minutes). (You will probably have to ask your fishmonger to get these for you in advance.) Mince 2 cloves garlic and saute in 4 tablespoons sweet butter. Keep warm and use for dipping.


Glidden's Island Seafood, Nantucket 508.228.0912
Lobster's Live, Falmouth 800.628.0045
Mac's Seafood, Truro 508.349.9409
Swan River Seafood, Dennisport 508.398.2340
The Net Result, Martha's Vineyard 508.693.6071


Legend in a nutshell

When we arrived last night in Richmond, it was the peanuts that first caught my eye. There they were on my grandmother's table, the Virginia Diner logo emblazoned scarlet on the box.

My grandmother's always loved these peanuts. They used to come from an old refurbished railroad car, opened as a diner in 1929. They handed out peanuts instead of after dinner mints, and soon everybody was calling for them. Before long calls turned to mail order.

My grandmother's package always arrives around Christmastime, wrapped in brown paper with golden tins sealed shut. We pack them into the freezer, where they remain perfectly crisp until celebration is officially declared.

I peered down to see who'd sent them so early. There was no name, no address—a surprise. I held the box up, shook it—peanuts to be sure. I sniffed it a moment, and without thinking tore into the cardboard. The box fell away, and suddenly I'd opened the tin lid. I got a knife, carved out the seal, and dug my hands into the salty pile.

These, I thought to myself as I ate, are peanuts. I popped one into my mouth, and then another. I poured out a handful onto a plate before I could stop. The salt coated my hands, my cheeks, as I sunk my teeth into the crisp, oily nuts. I shouldn't have opened them, I well knew, but it was impossible to put them away. There I was, come to bring comfort, and instead robbing my grandmother of her favorite snack.

"You look like a puppy that just chewed up a toy," declared my mother when she and my grandmother returned. Apparently, I was looking guilty. "I was saving those for Christmas!" my grandmother chastised. "But I 'spose I should've known better than to leave them out."

She certainly should have. But in the end it didn't matter much, for the surprise was intended after all for us. We'll take them home for Christmas, with a few handfuls missing a bit early. They may not exactly be local—but that's what makes them a treat—a holiday trade between foodsheds.

For more about Virginia Diner peanuts, or to place a Christmas order, click here: 
Virginia Diner Peanuts or call 1.888.VA.DINER.


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