The Local Food Report: Swamp Maple Syrup

These pancakes are not lookers. I wasn't even sure I should introduce them to you, in fact, and I certainly have no intention of showing you the batter. That would send you running for sure. But they are tasty, and better yet, they're kind of healthy, too. They're made with cornmeal, rather than all flour—hence the thinness, and the funny yellow look.

I don't mean to make them sound so bad. They do frill out sort of nicely around the edges, and even though they're thin, they're not at all difficult to handle in the pan. They're actually more like a cross between a pancake and a crepe, except without all the ruined batches and fuss.

I found them in the Joy of Cooking—you'd be surprised how many odd pancake recipes they have. I'd already tried the four grain flapjacks, and buttermilk just seemed too plain Jane for all of you. Not to mention, cornmeal is one of the few grains produced locally, a big, big plus.

The recipe was simple. It didn't call for anything really wacky, just eggs and butter and cornmeal and flour and sugar and milk, with a bit of baking powder and salt thrown in. And despite the less-than-stunning batter, the finished product was very good at soaking up syrup and butter, which is always a plus in my book.

Which brings me to today's local food report—it's on the sweet stuff. Apparently, not all maple syrup comes from bushy red trees in Vermont. You can tap trees around here—swamp maples, that is. Most books say it's impossible, but a couple in Dartmouth has been doing it for years. They say the syrup is more vanilla-y, and sweeter, but that otherwise the process is pretty much the same. They tap the trees just as you would a sugar maple, and boil down the sap in a ratio of about forty gallons of raw juice to a single gallon of syrup.

It's a lot of work, between the tapping and collecting and the simmering, but they say it's worth it. Just in case you might have a swamp maple outside, you can go here to find out how to identify it, or here, or even here. It might be worth a try, particularly if you plan to keep making the cornmeal pancakes above. They go very, very well with syrup, and vanilla-y syrup in particular I think.


adapted from the Joy of Cooking, 1997 edition

1 and 1/4 cups yellow, stone-ground cornmeal
3/4 cup flour
1 and 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 and 2/3 cup whole milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar or honey or maple syrup
2 large eggs, whisked

Preheat griddle or large casting iron frying pan. In a large bowl, mix cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix the milk, whatever sweetener you choose, the butter, and the eggs. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and mix the whole shebang up. Grease the griddle and pour batter on about 1/4 cup at a time. Keep cooking until you have a nice stack of pancakes, then sit down with maple syrup and butter and enjoy!


Fine by me

Recently, we've been eating an awful lot of cabbage. There's been cabbage slaw, cabbage soup, cabbage salad, sautéed cabbage: you name it, we've made it. Still, squirreled into crisper, there's more.

It kind of makes me want to scream.

Thankfully, my mother called the other day with news of a coleslaw recipe that sounded very, very out of the ordinary. It involved cilantro and lime juice, the perfect antidotes to winter. Not to mention a few staples, like carrots, and olive oil, and scallions, and a bit of sea salt. And that was it. It was meant to rest under fish tacos, but she'd found it so delicious she couldn't help making it into a dish of its own. It sounded simple and easy to say the least.

Even in the greenhouse, I find cilantro this time of year is a bit of a stretch, but truly, there are only so many ways to eat cabbage, and I am just about sick of most of them. If a few southern leaves will help ward off cabin fever, or perhaps even transport us to somewhere tropical (!) — I'm sure it's just fine by me.

The cabbage you want to use is the most delicate you can find. This time of year, we are well into the storage cabbages, but some are more feathery than others, which are more like pale rocks, and are fairly inedible raw. I prefer green cabbage, but a mixture of red and green will also do just fine. It is good to cut the whole head first into halves, and then quarters, and then remove the core while keeping the larger pieces in tact. This way, you can then lay them flat on the cutting board and slice nice, long strips. I think this makes for a much nicer slaw than grated cabbage, which tends to get very soggy very fast.

The scallions came from the greenhouse, and the carrots I simply forgot. In the end I was far too lazy to venture out for lime juice, but cider vinegar did just as well instead, and then it was time for the cilantro.

I love cilantro. Many people find it too squeaky clean or too strong, but I love the way it clears the kitchen air. It makes everything taste new and fresh, even cabbage in the midst of January, and this is a quality to be cherished as it is quite rare. I put in far more cilantro than the recipe called for—perhaps instead of the carrots, I realized later, as a swap.

All in all, it was quite a transporting dish, and we felt almost summery as we ate. Perhaps you will find yourself in Jamaica, or, if you fill your plate, maybe even Mexico.


4 cups cabbage, thinly sliced
3/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 cup scallions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons (at least!) cider vinegar or lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt to taste

Toss all ingredients together in a large bowl. Adjust cider vinegar and sea salt to taste. If you like you can substitute a bit of red cabbage for some of the green, and a half cup or so of grated carrots is very nice too.

Just delightful

Oh! Some weekends are just delightful. Particularly those that consist of ice skating, warm tubs, spiked cocoa, and cakes. Cakes especially.

The trouble is with Mondays. The Mondays that follow tend to be a bit of an upset. When such a rough start is required, the only thing to do is to bring a bit of the weekend along with you to work. Namely, the cake.

This cake is perfect work fare for a variety of reasons. It's small, and compact, and not the least bit messy, and so can be packed into your lunchbox without fear. It's also just the right size for mid-morning coffee break nibbling, or afternoon snacking. (It's okay if you have to unzip your pants after lunch. Just be sure to tuck in extra close to your desk so no neighbors can see.)

It's also hands down one of the tastiest tea cakes I've ever sampled. I found it in Bon Appétit, smoshed between herb-roasted lamb chops and garlic-smashed potatoes in a collection of family style recipes designed for getting little hands into the kitchen. The picture, I must admit, was what drew me in, but once I arrived, it was love at first site. For starters, the cakes called for lemon curd, one of my very favorite indulgences. In fact, I'd picked up a jar of it over Christmas in the big city and was mocked terribly for the purchase. And then suddenly there it was! A chance to prove its worth.

The recipe was also very simple. No exotic ingredients, no fancy pans. (The perfect heart shape is achieved using a cookie cutter, not a cake pan.) The trickiest thing required was parchment paper, and even for that you can, in a pinch, make do with buttered wax paper. The fact that I managed to clean out a jar of beach plum jelly and one of concord grape was just a bonus in an overall delightful experience. When you have literally tens of jars of different sorts of jams clogging the side door of your refrigerator, every little bit really does help.

Without further ado, I think I'll turn over the recipe to you, so that you can get started just as soon as you can. Use it wisely, and try not to bring too many to work. In the process of writing this, I've already eaten two. I think I'll chalk that up to brainfood.


adapted from Bon Appétit, February 2009

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 stick butter, melted, warm
1 cup whole milk
beach plum jelly (or whatever you've got; raspberry, grape, and cranberry work well too!)
lemon curd
powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a rimmed 18 by 12 by 1-inch baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk together dry ingredients in a medium bowl. In a mixing bowl, beat together eggs, sugar, and vanilla until very plae and thick. (About 5 minutes, according to the folks over at the magazine.) Then beat in the butter and milk, and fold in the dry ingredients. Spread the whole bowl of batter evenly onto the baking sheet. Bake for 20-odd minutes, until the top is golden and the middle cooked through. (Try not to burn the bottom like I did.) Slide the parchment paper off the pan and cool cakes completely on a wire rack.

Using heart shaped cookie cutters (or some other shape—use your imagination if you wish), cut out as many hearts as possible from the cake. Set aside leftover cake for a trifle, or maybe cake-infused ice cream, or simply for snacking. Cut the cakes in half and spread lemon curd on one side, and beach plum jelly on the other. Layer together. Repeat with all remaining cut-outs, then sprinkle powdered sugar over top.


A time and a place

I tried awfully hard to make this look dainty for you. I'm sorry. I really did. But even if you cook meatloaf in a bundt pan, it doesn't come out ladylike. It's lewd and burly, all the same.

I've decided that's okay. There is a time and a place for meatloaf, and afternoon tea just isn't it. It belongs in a logging camp, or maybe at an old-fashioned boarding house, or slapped between two pieces of bread for a real man's sandwich. Or the way we had it: on a Sunday evening with coleslaw and beers, and no pretense of fuss.

This particular meatloaf came from a woman I very much respect, Annie B. Copps, at Yankee, so I suppose there's no reason to worry over presentation too much. (Though I noticed she did not include a photo in the magazine.) She got it from her mom, who considered it a bit déclassé, and but later confessed to liking it quite a bit. As a child, Annie says she often begged for it, and after making it, I understand perfectly why.

It's knock-your-socks off good. It's soft, salty, meaty, and rich—despite the fat drippings that are lost over top of the pan. I can't exactly endorse it as healthy, but that's what Sunday afternoons are for, right? It's a relaxing, belly-aching kind of meal, just the kind you want this time of year. Maybe on the occasion of a football game (even if you pay no attention to the the men in tights), or after a long day outside chasing your dog hopelessly through the sinking dunes.

You start with bread and broth, and then add meat, onions, and eggs. Then you simply season, mold, and bake. It's very simple, really. It's much easier to make, in fact, than say, a real bundt cake, and it's also much less time consuming to bake than it is to find a crowd to devour the thing. It's good, heavenly—but there's only so much meatloaf two people can eat. Even if we each ate a slice every day for a week, I'm entirely certain we could not polish it off. So keep in mind that this recipe requires friends, and keep a phone handy while you bake.


adapted from Yankee magazine, January/February 2009

3 slices white bread
1 cup beef broth
1 pound ground beef
1/2 pound bacon or salt pork, very very finely chopped*
1/2 pound chorizo, very very finely chopped*
1 cup onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup ketchup
1/8 cup mayo
1/8 cup mustard, whole grain
4 bacon strips, uncooked

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put the bread in a small bowl, and pour the broth over it. Let is soak up as much liquid as it can. In a large bowl, knead together the meats. Add bread and broth, onion, garlic, eggs, herbs, and condiments. DO NOT add any salt: the broth, meats, and condiments are plenty salty enough. Salt would be a big, big mistake. Knead by hand (clean hand!) until well mixed. Grease a bundt cake or bread pan, and pack meat mixture in. Arrange bacon strips on top, and bake about an hour. Let rest 20 minutes before serving. Leftovers make excellent sandwiches, particularly with a dollop of coleslaw for a really dirty meal.

*I used a food processor for this, which worked very nicely.


The Local Food Report: Aunt Birdie's Potato Salad

Time was, potato salad was composed mainly of potatoes. In years since, it's grown cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, and eggs, and gotten rather heavy with the mayonnaise.

I don't have a problem with getting gussied up, but neither do I like to every day. I'd guess that's how a ruby-skinned potato feels, too. Today's recipe is from Ruth Reichl—it's her Aunt Birdie's potato salad I toyed with giving you after our last interview—but it seemed better suited somehow to the mood today. We talked a lot this week about the new president, and all Reichl's hopes for him in the realm of food. Given the magnitude of what she's wishing on in terms of food and tax policy from the Obama kitchen, it seemed only fair to keep things straightforward when it came to the cooking itself.

Her Aunt Birdie's potato salad was just the thing. It's simple, spare, and tasty, and it wouldn't mind waiting a few days. (Reichl says she likes it best after three.) It has a very, very short list of ingredients, and even the least dedicated locavore can find the produce involved from a nearby farm in the winter. It sets a very low bar, when it comes to presidential expectations.

But it is an important bar all the same. What if the Obamas ate potato salad in February, rather than on the fourth of July? What if they saved asparagus for April, strawberries for June, and ate their fill of pears in October? What if they not only did these things, but told the world about them, too? Think what a turn our national belly might take.

Aunt Birdie's potato salad isn't much, but it is a place to start. Just in case you haven't quite mustered the courage yet to jump in.


adapted from Ruth Reichl's recipe in her 1971 cookbook, Mmmmm: A Feastiary

3 pounds small potatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 medium onion
1/2 cup cider vinegar

Dice potatoes, leaving skins on. Place in a large pot and cover with water. Boil until tender, then drain and put into a serving bowl. Toss with oil and honey and salt and pepper to taste. Finely chop onion, and mix in. Dilute vinegar slightly with water, bring to a boil in a saucepan, and pour over top. Let sit for several hours, or even several days.

Here are some links for more information on what we covered in today's radio interview:
The Who Farm (remember, the garden on top of a bus?) and Eat the View (check out their video on the history of gardening the White House Lawn).


Onion soup without tears

When there is a new president, it is important to host a luncheon.

Even if it's only you, and your fiancé, and his cousin and his cousin's girlfriend who can attend. And even if you're cooking frantically, on a break from writing at your office across the street, just as the speech begins. Even if you've broken into his other cousin's kitchen to cook without consent; it doesn't matter the circumstance.

There is a new president, and so there ought to be a new recipe for lunch.

Also, it helps to use a new book. We're starting over, you see. From my Christmas pile, I picked Nigel Slater's latest cookbook to start the new term with. It's a kitchen diary, sort of like this one, except he wrote down everything he cooked, every meal, every day, for a year. The photographs are spectacular, and the text enchanting. The only trouble is, the seasons are a bit adrift. For instance, he starts the year like this:

January 8
The first rhubarb

Clearly, he lives in a much friendlier place. Around here, the first rhubarb appears in oh—say, April, probably May. Fat chance of digging any up today. Luckily, his January 11th entry offered something a little more realistic: namely, French onion soup.

I adore French onion soup. It is the absolute perfect evening winter meal: simple, warm, and just substantial enough to get you through the night. It can be made vegetarian, or carnivorous, and it is salty as the sea. Also, at the same time, it is sweet.

Slater's version is simple. It starts with roasting the onions with butter and salt and pepper in the oven, so that the whole experience is pleasantly tear-free. It then requires you to burn off a little white wine, simmer some vegetable stock, and keep the pot of soup warm while toast and Gruyére melt beneath the broiler. It's so easy that all of this can easily be accomplished, even while you are watching a speech on t.v.

I made a few changes—swapping vegetable stock for beef, and Shy Brother's cheese for Gruyére—but mainly, I stuck with his pot. I feel quite sure we'll be making it again.


adapted from The Kitchen Diaries, by Nigel Slater

5 medium onions
3 tablespoons butter
4 ounces (one glass) white wine
6 cups beef or vegetable stock
a loaf of crusty French-style bread
several ounces good melting cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel the onions and cut them in half from tip to root, then lay them in a large, heavy-bottomed pot and add the butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Roast about 30 minutes, or until they are golden and tender. You may want to check on them a few times to see if they need turning.

Put the pot, with the onions, on the stove. Add the wine, and reduce it until the liquid nearly disappears. (As Slater explains, this is because you want the flavor, not the alcohol.) Pour in the stock, bring to a boil, and simmer about 20 minutes.

Just before you're ready to eat, put several slices of French bread beneath the broiler, or in the toaster oven (one slice per bowl of soup). Toast one side, then flip them and toast the other, layering several slices of cheese on top. When the cheese is bubbling and hot, ladle the soup into bowls and rest the cheese toasts on top. Serve immediately, with a spoon and a knife.


As a general rule

We went skiing this weekend. In my book, skiing as a general rule ought to include the following: normally attractive friends totally nonplussed by the fact that their greasy, bodyless hair has taken on the shape of a ski helmet, long underwear so beloved and worn it forms a saggy hammock reaching nearly to your knees, and, most importantly, headbonk medicine.

My father first came up with headbonk medicine when my sister and I were little girls. He was a bit of a ski Nazi. Anytime it snowed, we had to go skiing, or else he would get "ski stress," as my mother referred to the affliction. Growing up in Maine as we did, this meant we went skiing quite a bit. To ensure we skied through all fifty dollars of our day passes, my father kept a supply of Starbursts, Rolos, and miniature Snickers bars in his pockets. Anyone who bonked their head and wanted to go in could be easily enticed into another run with a reach into his jacket.

While I have come to love skiing and no longer require bribery, I still always ski with a good supply of headbonk medicine in my jacket pocket. My favorite kind is Milk Duds, which freeze into brittle lumps of caramel in your pocket and last the entire lift ride slowly melting sugar from your teeth. If you carry enough headbonk medicine, I've even found you can skip lunch on an especially spectacular powder day.

We had one of those Sunday. It snowed nearly a foot while we were out, and it was hardly worth stopping for long. We went in for hot chocolate late morning, and a quick p.b. and j. in the early afternoon, but other than that we were squatting recklessly down the hill and hitting every puffy cloud of fresh snow we could. The Milk Duds got us through the day, and even into the hot tub and through a few bottles of beer, but needless to say they weren't doing much when dinner time rolled around.

Luckily, we'd made a big pot of soup the night before, so all that was left to make was a few sides. It was a haddock and chorizo soup, with corn frozen this summer, and lots and lots of sea scallops, and saffron, and onions, and plenty of garlic. It was salty, warm, and above all, filled you up quite well. But after a day of chocolate, caramel, and elaborate hot drinks, we thought maybe a salad and some bread would be a good idea too.

That's where the blue cheese dressing came in. We had sort of a motley assortment of foods in the fridge, but the one thing we had plenty of was blue cheese. We had nearly 10 pounds, in fact, certainly enough to top a salad. So I began whisking an egg yolk while a friend drizzled in olive oil, and before long we had a greenish, virgin oil mayo.

I added a bit of smoked sea salt, a whole wedge of cheese, and a bit of apple cider vinegar. The resulting dressing was certainly not light, but it was very good. It was especially good over a wintry mix of bitter greens, with thinly sliced onions, and nothing else.


1 egg yolk
3/4 cup olive oil
1 small wedge blue cheese
cider vinegar

In a medium sized measuring cup, using a small whisk or fork, beat egg yolk for several seconds. Begin drizzling in olive oil, very, very slowly at first, whisking all the while. As the mixture thickens and turns opaque, begin adding oil more quickly, still whisking constantly. The egg yolk should absorb all 3/4 cups of the oil.

Using this homemade mayonnaise as a base, crumble in blue cheese. Stir well, and add 1 tablespoon cider vinegar. Taste the dressing. Continue adding vinegar to taste, or until it balances out the mayo and blue cheese. You won't need much of this over salad; a little bit goes a long way. It's especially good over endive leaves or spinach tossed with red onion and small pieces of bacon.


Little miss particular

Popovers are picky. They can always think of some little-miss-particular reason not to rise. The ovens too cold, no too hot! they cry. My batter isn't warm enough! you used the wrong flour! you peeked before I had time!

But when you get them right—when they can think of no complaint—oh! are they a delight. They are warm, eggy, flakey, crisp: every nice adjective there is. They pull apart and deflate in your hands. They melt butter into a salty, golden stream, and pour it down their insides. They lap up jam, absorb the sweet, and then hand themselves over, submit.

And on a chilly morning, when it's still blue out, just barely light, there are few things better to have in your hands. They leave a bit of a mess, of course, in their wake, but like any favorite child, they manage to get away with it every time.

There's a laundry list of tricks and rules frustrated bakers have come up with over the years to coerce them into rising. It's said they prefer all-purpose flour, unbleached; large eggs, not cold but warm; and their whole milk at room temperature. They like their wets and their drys mixed separately, then folded gently to combine. They like to have their oven and their pan warmed up before they get in, and they like to sit on the bottom shelf. They like their pan greased but not too oily, lest they slip and their puffed tops fall. And most of all, they like their privacy. They do not like to be peeked at constantly; they prefer you keep the door shut while they go about their business. They rise with steam, and an open door means cold, condensation, and collapse.

If you can manage to keep all this straight, they might just show you a good time.


adapted from the Joy of Cooking, 1997 edition

makes 11 popovers in a standard muffin tin

2 large eggs
1 and 1/4 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup all-purpose flour, unbleached
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, ground

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Grease a popover or muffin pan and set it on the stovetop to warm up. While the oven is just warming up, pour the milk into a small mixing bowl, put the butter in another, grab the eggs, and put all three in the oven to warm up. After 5 to 10 minutes (depending on how quickly your oven warms up), or when they are about room temperature (65 to 70), take them out and whisk all together in the milk bowl. In measuring cup, combine flour and salt. Fold dry ingredients into wet until just mixed (it's no big deal to have a few small lumps).

Pour batter into warm pan, filling 11 wells about 3/4 full with batter, and the remaining one with water to avoid burning the pan. Bake 15 minutes at 450, and 15 to 20 minutes longer at 350. Remove popovers from oven and slit sides immediately with a knife so they don't deflate as they cool. Enjoy hot, with butter and jam.

The Local Food Report: Four Season Farm

This post, I'm afraid, is a bit fraught for me. I'm supposed to write about Four Season Farm, and the guru Eliot Coleman and his spritely, lovely wife Barbara Damrosch, and their penchant for winter gardening. The trouble is, the picture that keeps coming back to me is this.

It's the town closest to the farm, Harborside, Maine, or maybe Brooksville, I can't remember to tell the truth. The picture was taken from the street, peering down a roadside hill, lens teetering out into the mist. It's where the fishmonger and I got engaged. He asked (of course) while we were walking, just minutes before the interview, so that when we showed up for lunch with Eliot and Barbara, I was flustered, to say the least.

But to their credit—or perhaps in testament to my fascination with the idea of growing winter produce in Maine—soon after entering their busy kitchen, I became so enthralled with the couple I just about forgot the ring. I swapped diamonds and white gold for spinach and carrots, and couldn't have been happier with the trade.

It started with lunch. First of all, we had the pleasure of sitting down not only with Barbara and Eliot, but also with their farm hands, a couple who had come over to think about buying a greenhouse, and their adorable, cheeky child. The table was set for twelve and the food cooked entirely on an old-fashioned gas cookstove, complete with a cast iron cooktop and tourquise enamel paint. The first thing I did, of course, was to swoon over it, a sentiment Eliot promptly dismissed. Please don't encourage her! he laughed. It was straight out of a 1930s kitchen, detailing and all, and he seemed to think it should go back.

But then there was lunch, which on November 7th, tasted more like September 28th. It was whole wheat pasta with carrots, Tuscan kale, red pepper, cauliflower, and maybe even broccoli. There was some sort of a lemon tahini sauce on top, which I originally thought was perhaps the only item bought from away, until we went out to get the greenhouse tour and I encountered the lemon tree. Yes, we were in Maine, and yes, it was November, and yes, there it was with three others in a row, churning out Myers like a champ.

This greenhouse was heated, the only one. It had a woodstove and a washing station, so that the workers could scrub the lettuce and carrots for market and still keep their fingers on. The other greenhouses—those with the leeks, the spinach, the candy carrots—were all insulated, but none had heat. They simply relied on a double layer of plastic, with a few inches of air trapped in between, to soak up what radiance they could from the day.

The land was amazing—part of the original Nearing Farm, that Helen and Scott and the back-to-the-landers so revered in the 50s and 60s. Eliot bought a piece and cleared it himself, and today it's a year round commercial farm. He and Barbara sell to local grocers and schools, and in the summer operate an out-of-the-way farm stand. They have interns coming and going, learning their ways of coaxing the land into production come snowfall or hail or rain.

There is certainly a lot to learn, what with tools and techniques and selecting seeds. Luckily, for those of us who can't spend a year on the land, they've written book upon book to inspire. The Winter Harvest Manual and Four Season Harvest I think are the best; they help with picking out spinach and raddicchio and radishes and whatnot, and how to best cover the plants. They span a wide ability range, too, from novice to accomplished hand.

There are a few other resources any aspiring winter gardener should check out: Moveable Greenhouses (in case you're looking to offload some serious bucks), and Grower's Supply if you simply want to get started, sans cash. There are also lots of winter seeds available through Johnny's online, and through FedCo in Maine.

But even if you don't make it this far, there's a winter recipe from Barbara to enjoy—butternut squash and leek soup, with a dash of tomato paste, and a good dose of chicken broth. It's quick, easy, and fantastic, and warm right down to your toes.


adapted from a Barbara Damrosch recipe, published in Food + Wine, February 2003

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 leeks, white and tender green parts only, coarsley chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 quart chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice (3 cups)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
several leaves sage
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream

Melt the butter in a large heavy saucepan. Add the leeks, celery, and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the stock, squash, tomato paste, and sage. Season with salt and pepper and simmer over moderately low heat until all the vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes.

Puree the soup in a blender, then return it to the saucepan. Stir in the cream and cook until just heated through. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot.


Something to wonder at

I made bread the other day. Two big, white, airy loaves, shaped like bakers' hats. They'd been stuffed into heavy bottomed soup pots, rising up in the living room in a parade of bottoms: carmine and orange, handles black.

They came out well, but almost disagreeably so. I'd been banking on sourdough; that's what they were supposed to be, according to the friend who gave me the starter. She'd gotten it from another friend, and had in turn grown enough to share her own and tucked it into the back of my fridge one day. I fed it and fed it and fed it and watered it a bit, and finally I had a fairly good sized hunk of my own. She'd checked me out some books, from the library, and I'd settled on a recipe for farmhouse style bread.

The recipe had promised crusty, earthy, pungent bread, but it hadn't turned out that way. It turned out more like Wonderbread, though I mean that in the best possible way.

It was good, very, very good, but it was not sour, not even in the most hinting of ways. I realized later the recipe wasn't to blame: We simply have mild yeast around here, my friend explained. And in fact, by the time the second loaf was nearly gone (in only a matter of days!), I was pretty much all in for this perfect sandwich 1950s-style bread. It made the lightest toast, and its sandwiches seemed to float around settling into lunch tins like clouds. Plus, I could divide the starter in two, I was informed, and add a bit of acetic acid or orange juice or cider vinegar to some, and develop a punchier strain. Then we could have Wonderbread, or sourdough, either one.

But before I get ahead of myself, I have a starter recipe for you to try. It comes from The Bread Bible, by Beth Henspergers, and it's pretty much a guarantee. It doesn't rely on wild yeast; instead it brings in commercial yeast and yogurt for a bit of a jump start, so it will be less mild than the wild one I inherited several weeks ago, and more reliable at the start. Eventually, I hope to have enough to share, but in the meantime, this will offer some advice on putting together your own. And of coures, I'll want to know how it goes.


adapted from The Bread Bible, by Beth Henspergers

2 cups lukewarn water (90 to 100 degrees F)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast, or 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast, or 1/3 of a .06 ounce cake of fresh yeast*
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk, dry goat milk, or buttermilk powder
1/3 cup plain yogurt
2 cups bread flour

Pour the warm water into a medium bowl. Sprinkle the yeast,* sugar, and milk powder over the surface of the warm water. Stir with a large whisk to dissolve. Stir in the yogurt, then add the flour and beat until well blended. Transfer to a glass jar, ceramic crock, or plastic container; cover loosely with plastic wrap or a double thickness of cheesecloth.

Let stand at warm room temperature for at least 48 hours, whisking the mixture 2 times each day, or up to 4 days depending on how sour you wish the starter. It will be bubbly and begin to ferment. A clear liquid will form on top; stir it back in. On the fourth day, feed with 1/4 cup water and 1/3 cup flour, let stand overnight, then store in the refirgerator, loosely covered. Feed the starter every 2 weeks with equal parts flour and water.

Bring starter to room temperature before using. Remove the amount of starter needed for the sourdough bread recipe. Add 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water to the remaining starter, stirring to incorporate. Let stand at room temperature for 1 day to begin fermenting again, then refrigerate. The starter improves with age. If a pinkish color or strong aroma develops, indicating undesirable airborne pathogens, discard immediately and start anew (this is unlikely, but something to be very careful of).

*Alternatively, you could not add yeast, and wait to see what strains develop on their own. They will; wild yeast is everywhere, it just requires a bit of patience sometimes.


An introduction

Thank you for your patience with the update, everyone. We're back in full gear now, and there's someone I'd like to introduce you to. Everyone, meet the autumn olive.

There is nothing like the discovery of a new fruit. Particularly one that grows in your backyard, in abundance, with very little assistance from you. Technically, she doesn't grow in my backyard, but she can probably be found in many of yours. She's a bit of an interloper, introduced from Asia as a highway weed. She was good for stabilizing soil and had pretty white flowers, too, so she was planted in roadsides' wakes.

Now, in a lot of places, she's everywhere. A friend introduced me to her in Dartmouth. She'd found her growing on the side of the street. She began incorporating her berries into jams and sorbets, and a strong new friendship was made. Her berries start off sour but turn suddenly sweet, in an early season blackberry sort of way. They stain your mouth and fillsyour teeth with seeds, but she's charming all the same.

When I left, my friend packed me off with a jar of frozen berries and her recipe for sorbet, which I tried out yesterday.

Or rather, I tried the idea. The idea was to mix a syrup simmered from the berries with sugar or honey, but I made a few tweaks and changes along the way. Mainly, I added a dash of heavy cream, and I kept the berries intact, rather than simply using their juice. This tends to make for a bulkier, seedier sorbet, but for some reason, I like it that way.

If you happen to find one of the plants in your backyard, or just in case you have some berries tucked away, here's the recipe.


Autumn olives
heavy cream

Put autumn olives in a saucepan, cover just barely with water, and simmer for about 10 minutes, until the berries are soft. Add sugar to taste, and simmer, stirring, until dissolved. Put berry mixture in the fridge to chill. When it's cool, puree it in the blender with heavy cream to taste. Put finished puree in an ice cream maker, and freeze according to instructions.


Under construction

Please excuse us. We're going to be under renovation for a few days. We're not going to do anything crazy—it's nothing like that. We're simply trying to do a bit of a makeover, of sorts. Mostly, the idea is to make it easier to bring you pictures. Like this:

We've been having a bit of trouble with formatting recently, and the hope is that the renovation will fix all that. So if things seem kind of wonky for a bit, don't worry: they'll soon be fixed. (To that end, if you have any special requests, now's the time to holler 'em out. Because once we're done, I'm going to be pretty sick of changes, I bet.)

Incidentally, we couldn't have decided to renovate at a better time, because as it is, my kitchen is also under construction. It's getting trim, and a baseboard, and new shelves, and all the things it never got when we ripped out the cupboards last fall. It's been kind of a work in progress for a while, and I'm going to be pretty ecstatic when it's just over and done with already.

The only downside is, it's a little tricky to get in there and cook. Hence the bowl of Kashi Heart to Heart I ate from a water glass this morning.

But I did eat it with my creamy, whole milk from Paskamansett Farms and a heap of strawberries I'd thawed from the freezer, which I though made up for the whole situation pretty nicely. And, the milk turned pink and a little bit sweet, which is one of my favorite things. So if you can find something like that to get you through the weekend and hang tight for a bit, we'll be back just as soon as we can.


The Local Food Report: an unlikely collaboration

Welcome to jail. We have a garden out back, a partnership with a nearby farm, and all the fresh, seasonal produce you can eat.

If this sounds like a fantasy—well—it's not. Not on Martha's Vineyard, at least. The inmates at the Dukes County House of Correction—that's the technical word for lock up when you're only there for a minor offense—have teamed up with the Edgartown-based Farm Institute to trade work for lettuce, tomatoes, and squash.

A crew of about 5 or 6 inmates shows up anywhere from 2 to 4 days a week. They get to work with hammers, shovels, and whatever gardening skills they've got, and pitch in with what needs to get done.

The program is one of several funded by a Perkins Grant, along with money from the U.S. Department of Education. If the inmates aren't into gardening, they can also get certified to work in a restaurant, or take classes in the culinary arts. There are other programs, too, for those who aren't interested in food—vocational training for trades like carpentry and construction, and other things like that.

But positions at the Farm Institute are some of the most coveted. The inmates jockey to get in—not just for the gastronomical benefits, but also because the work is outside, fresh. Some liked it so much, in fact, that last year around this time, the Farm Institute helped a group of inmates break ground at the House of Correction, to put in a garden there. They grew salad greens, radishes, tomatoes, peas, onions, and squash—combined with what they got from the Farm Institute, enough to eat something from their own yard just about every day.

The program is great for the Farm—their mission, after all, is to get the community to start thinking in terms of sustainability when it comes to food—and it has obvious benefits for the inmates, too. As one of the guys put it, it keeps them on their toes.

Though most things are shut down at the Farm for the season, there's almost always kale. Baked to a crisp—they call it "Krispy Kale—it's the perfect winter snack. Many thanks to their cooks for being willing to share


recipe courtesy of The Farm Institute

olive oil

reheat the oven to 475 degrees. Cut kale from stalk, rinse clean, and dry. Spread kale over a cookie sheet, and drizzle it with olive oil (or better yet, use an oil mister if you have one). Take care not to use too much oil, or the kale will get soggy rather than crispy. Season with salt to taste. Bake 10 minutes, watching it closely so it doesn't burn. The kale will be green and crispy when it's done; if it turns brown, it's baked too long.


Comfort food

Calzone. Just the word sounds good. And it's been one of those weeks, I'll admit, where a good sounding word is in order. Not to mention a delicious snack.

The calzone wasn't an idea on its own. It was the leftover offspring of the clam pie crust, homeless, with no where to go. I could have saved it, left it in the refrigerator just lying around, but I've found that pie crust, after a few days, just tends to get old. It doesn't roll out quite so well, and it's never as flakey as its young, vibrant self.

So calzoning we went, or trouser-legging, if you're into Italy speak. That's where the word came from—this filled pizza's strange, folded-over shape. Kind of like your pant leg, or so the Italians seem to think.

Anyways, whatever you want to call it, it's an easy success. It used up the pie crust and helped clear a container of homemade tomato sauce from the freezer. (What was I thinking when I made so much!?) Not to mention, it's comfort food. With goat cheese, red wine, bacon, and tomatoes, it's really pretty hard to go wrong.

So given the cold, the gray, and all the rain, I think it's time to break out a good hunk of cheese, the rolling pin, and some frozen tomato sauce tonight. At the very least, comfort food is worth a try.


Serves 2

leftover pie crust (about 1/2 a crust's worth)
3/4 cup tomato sauce, chilled (the thicker the better, otherwise it will leak juice)
2 to 3 ounces goat cheese or mozzarella if you prefer

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out pie crust into a rectangle about twice as long as it is wide. A few inches in from all edges on the side closest to you, spoon thick tomato sauce over a patch of crust reaching nearly halfway down its length. Crumble goat cheese over top. Fold the other half of the crust evenly over top, so that the edges on three sides line up. Close the edges by pressing them together with a fork; be careful not to leave any holes. Cut three slits in the calzone's top, and bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Enjoy warm.


In a clammy sort of way

I've been having sort of a clam moment recently. Clam pie, clam chowder, stuffed clams: I'm starting to feel sort of like Bubba Gump, but in a clammy way.

It started with this article I've been working on, for Cape Cod Life magazine. It's about iconic foods of the Cape and islands, and the more I've thought about it, the more I've ended up with clams. 

Plus, the fishmonger closed up shop recently, so we've been eating the leftover littlenecks and quahogs and cherrystones. I know some people might not agree, but I find clams sort of dreamy, in a swirly, salty kind of way. They're just so ruffly around the edges, and all pastel and pretty and pink.

I also found a great clam cookbook: The Cape Cod Fish & Seafood Cookbook: From Basic to Gourmet. The author, Gillian Drake, seems like a down-to-earth sort of lady. Her recipes are short, simple, and to the point. There's no fuss, and no fancy ingredients to necessitate a trip to the store. With good seafood, veggies, and herbs, you can cook just about anything in the book.
She has baked stuffed clams, clams casino, clam fritters—clams with red sauce, clam casserole, clam quiche. She even has spaghetti con vongole: clam spaghetti with white clam sauce, just in case you really need a fix. I tried out sort of a modified clam pie recipe today, and that really did the trick.

I'm not going to pretend it was easy. It did involve a fire in the oven (although I like to think of this as sort of a pre-requisite for any truly winning recipe) and a lot of hands on time, but it was very, very good. It was also nice and hearty, in a very January way.

So here's my take—it's not quite Gillian's—but it certainly involved hers along the way. I stole a few ideas from a beef pot pie I saw in the Williams Sonoma catalog, too, like the cheese in the crust and baking it bottomless in a shallow Le Creuset dish.

(In retrospect, this was not the best idea. When there's no bottom crust for the top crust to latch on to, the beautifully bunched edges simply slide down the side of the pan. I'm not sure how Williams Sonoma got theirs to work, but according to my smoke detector, that's one of those "Do not try this at home" pictures. That said, the crust that did not slide did turn out beautifully, so if you're up for an adventure, it might be worth a try. I'll count on you to decide accordingly.) 

But beyond the fire and a few lost pieces of crust, the pie came out very handsomely. Not to mention, delicious. 


adapted from the Cape Cod Fish & Seafood Cookbook: From Basic to Gourmet, by Gillian Drake

Serves 4 to 6

24 cherrystone clams
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup salt pork, diced
1 cup onion, diced
1/4 cup celery, finely chopped
1 smallish turnip, diced
1 tablespoon dried thyme, or leaves of 1 sprig if fresh
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 ounce brandy
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

pastry for a 2 crust, 9-inch pie
2 to 3 ounces goat or blue cheese

Shuck or steam open the clams and chop coarsely, saving 1/2 cup of liquor. Heat up over medium heat an approximately 9-inch round, heavy bottomed pot, 3 to 4 inches deep (similar in size to a deep dish pie plate). Add salt pork to the pot and sauté for about a minutes, until the pork begins to render some fat. Then add the onions and celery, and once they're soft (about 5 minutes), the turnips, clams, and thyme too. After sautéing everything together for about 5 minutes, transfer the mixture to a bowl.

Put the pan back on the stove and put in the butter to melt. When it's hot, add the flour slowly, stirring with a whisk until it's absorbed. Add the clam liquor slowly, stirring until every addition is absorbed. Add the cream and brandy in the same manner. Now season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste, simmer for a minute or two, and add the clam mixture back in. Mix well, remove from heat, and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out the pie crust into two very thin layers. On top of one, crumble the cheese in a circle in the center. Put the other layer over top, and roll out a bit more gently. Drape the crust over the pot the clam mixture is in, letting it cave to reach the clams. If you don't want to bake the pie in that pot, transfer the clams to a pie plate and drape crust to cover that. Crimp the edges—very carefully anchoring them on the side and angling them towards the inside of the pot/plate—otherwise they will detach, slide off, and burn. Brush the crust with milk and bake about 30 minutes, or until the filling is thick and the crust is golden. Serve hot.


Venison jerky, and a deer

I had a whole post for you yesterday, but it vanished suddenly with a clumsy click.

It was about a walk we took last night, and how we sighted the prints of a big deer. It was about how the shadows on the snow fell all dark and silent and blue—and how surreal it was to realize that such a big animal lived so nearby.

It was also about the hunt—how we imagined we were stalking it for real, what it might actually feel like to track and kill a deer. Of course, I've never even held a bow, but it was fun to pretend. He took us through swamps and briars and open woods, and finally down an old dirt road that led nearly to the back of our house.

We were amazed he had come so near—a friend was just telling us there isn't much to hunt around here. He says he goes instead to upstate New York, where he finds many more bucks. He says it isn't that you can't find a buck here (the progression of bow to shotgun to powder that starts in October and ended last week certainly gives enough time) but that he'd feel badly, taking one of so few. I'm not convinced they're so scarce, but our tracking adventure made me wonder, made me feel their presence at least.

Oh! And I was telling you about the venison jerky—it would be a shame to forget about that. The same friend who shot the bucks in New York gave us a bundle of his venison Slim Jims to taste. They were a bit softer but still chewy, salty, and not gamy in the least. He had a recipe to share, just in case we ever get that deer. And you can make it with ground beef—a tasty, tasty treat.


10 pounds ground venison meat (the same recipe also works for beef)
jerky seasoning to taste (he gets his from Cabela's)
2 cups vermouth
2 cups brown sugar

Combine ground meat, jerky seasoning, vermouth, and brown sugar in a large bowl, making sure to keep everything cool. Pack mixture into a jerky gun or sausage extruder; it will come out in sticks. Bake in a preheated oven at 200 degrees for 4 hours, until the sticks have the consistency of Slim Jims. They will freeze well, or you can let them cool and stick them in the refrigerator to enjoy within a few weeks.


Into the New Year

This is probably going to sound a bit fantastical. You might even think it's a lie. But it is the truth, I swear.

Remember that Hubbard squash I wrote about on August 25th? Well, it had a sister, and it's made it into the New Year. I got it around that same time, late August, maybe early September. I rubbed it all over with oil, and tucked it into the closet downstairs. I checked it every few weeks, but mostly forgot about it for these months. We were still getting fresh apples and carrots and cabbage, and there was turnip slaw and kale soup to make.

Only now, now that just about everything is closed (come Christmas we bid even Crow Farm adieu), did I venture down to pull it out. It had a few blemishes and rot spots, which I cut out, but for a four-month-old piece of produce, it was looking pretty handsome, I must say. (The onions from October are still firm and hearty, too, but that's a story for another time—perhaps with the company of a bowl of French onion soup.)

And though it had held up so grandly, I thought it might be best roasted and then pureed into soup. My mother made a squash soup over Christmas—Thai-spiced with butternut and coconut milk and a bit of red curry paste. She found it on 101 Cookbooks, an excellent recipe site, and whipped it up for the party the other day.

Given the weather recently (cold and windy, with plenty of snow), I thought it might be good for today. I changed it around a bit, added an onion and some chili flakes and a bit of Sichuan salt. The result was a thick, rich, delicious pot of brilliant orange soup. After a day in the snow outside, I think you'll find it just right.


Makes about 1 quart

1 smallish blue Hubbard squash
olive oil
Sichuan salt, or Sichuan seasonings with a pinch of salt
1 onion
1 can coconut milk (13.5 oz.)
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cumin
chili pepper flakes to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Peel and chop squash into 1-inch chunks. Grease a 9- by 13-inch Pyrex with olive oil. Add squash and a sprinkling of Sichuan salt. Mix well with a spatula and cover. Bake for 20 minutes, remove cover, and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes uncovered.

Dice onion. Saute in olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until translucent. Add squash (and all the salt and olive oil from the pan you can get) and saute for several minutes. Add coconut milk, ginger, cumin, and chili flakes, bring to a boil, and simmer about 10 minutes. Transfer soup to a blender or food processor, and puree. Return to pot and bring back to a boil, adding water as desired to thin. Remove from heat and serve hot.


The Local Food Report: mushroom soup

I have two recipes for you today. Both are from Ruth Reichl, and both are very simple. For those of you who don't know, Reichl is Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet, and former restaurant critic for the New York Times. I had the privilege of speaking with her in November, and the first of two interviews came out on the radio today.

Reichl has claimed in several interviews to be a cook, not a chef, and says that's why she keeps her recipes easy. Regardless of why, they are truly very simple to make. She may not be a chef, but she is a wonderful cook. Happy New Year to all of you, and enjoy.

from Comfort me with Apples, by Ruth Reichl

Serves 4

1/2 pound mushrooms
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 small onion, diced
4 tablespoons flour
1 cup beef broth
2 cups half-and-half
salt, pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 bay leaf

Thinly slice the mushrooms.

Melt the butter in a heavy sauté pan. When the foam subsides, add the onion and sauté until golden. Add the mushrooms and sauté until brown.

Stir in the flour, and then slowly add the broth, stirring constantly.

Heat the half-and-half in a suacepan or in the microwave. Add it to the mushrooms, along with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and bay leaf. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes; do not boil.

Remove the bay leaf and serve.

*I used dried black trumpets from Oyster Creek Mushroom Co. in Maine, pictured above, which I rehydrated for use in the soup.

from Garlic and Sapphires, by Ruth Reichl

Serves 4

1 farm raised chicken, about 3 and 1/2 pounds
1 lemon
Olive oil
3 or 4 smallish Yukon potatoes (or any other variety except russet), each peeled and cut into 8 pieces
1 large onion, cut into 6 pieces
3 or 4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Wash the chicken under running water and pat it dry. Remove and reserve the extra fat from the inside of the chicken. Very gently run your fingers between the breast and the skin, beginning from the neck end, loosening the skin from the breast on both sides. Being careful not to puncture the skin, place the excess fat beneath the skin (the chicken will then baste itself).

Puncture the lemon a few times with a fork, and place it inside the chicken.

Pour enough olive oil into a roasting pan to make a thin film over the bottom. Toss the potatoes, onion, and garlic into the pan and turn until they are covered with olive oil.

If you have a rack, put the chicken on it, breast side up, and place it in the roasting pan (you may have to jiggle things a little to fit it over the potatoes and onions). If you don't, just put the chicken right into the pan. Pour a little olive oil over the chicken, and salt and pepper everything in the pan.

Roast for about 1 hour, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into a thigh reads 170 degrees F. Remove the pan from the oven and let the chicken rest for 10 minutes.

Carve the chicken into serving pieces, surround them with the potatoes, onions, and garlic, and squeeze the lemon over the top.


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