Chocolat chaud

There's no use crying over spilt milk.
Isn't that what they say?

But what if it's steaming hot with chocolate and
your breakfast for a day of
and radio
and taxes
and teetering heaps
of paperwork.

Can you cry then over
chocolat chaud
swimming down the drain?


Itching to get back

I have a confession to make. Before I cooked for you this weekend, I hadn’t made a single thing, not one thing, for a week. Actually, I rounded down. Secretly, it was more like eleven days.

It was my official Spring Cooking Strike.

I don't know what came over me, but I felt awfully rebellious. The sun came out, the greenhouse warmed up, and I started itching to be outside. I went over to Cahoon Hollow to check out the waves, dreamt big dreams of orderly brick garden paths and neat picket fences and a brand-new raspberry patch, and frittered away a few lovely afternoons planting tomato seedlings and zucchini seeds and summer squash.

We made our way along with a big puddle of lamb shanks and sauce the fishmonger slaved over last Sunday (thank goodness someone was cooking), and some leftover sourdough bread and frozen carrot soup, and a few dinners at friends' houses. But by Friday, the jig was up. And to tell you the truth, I was itching to get back. I had a recipe for blackberry jam cake to try.

I found it in Carole Walter's book, Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins, & More, as part of my eternal search for the Wedding Cake. It was swirled with nutmeg and cinnamon, just a pinch of cloves, and almost an entire cup of thick, sweet jam. It sounded absolutely perfect for a jumping in endeavor.

It was. It helped with the pantry cleaning that's been going on around here recently—using up some jam, and a good deal of butter and flour and sugar and all that. Plus, it eeked the last drops from a jar of lemon extract, which went into an absolutely scrumptious glaze. It seemed somehow very spring: spicy, sweet, just barely hinting of sprouting grass and bare feet.

Plus, it's just mild enough to pass for a meal at breakfast or a snack come lunch or an after dinner dessert—an awfully important trait these days, when meals have been far and few between.

Happily, I think we may be past that. Or at least we will be, once I finish off this last slice of cake.


I think you could swap a cup or so of the all-purpose flour called for in this recipe for whole-wheat with excellent results, but I didn’t try it on the first go-round. Also, the original recipe called for seedless blackberry preserve, which is fine if that’s what you have, but I think chunky whole berries and seeds add far more character to the finished cake.

for the cake:

2 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk or sour milk
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
3 large eggs
3/4 cup blackberry jam, preferably homemade
1 teaspoon vanilla

for the glaze:

1 tablespoon butter
2-3 tablespoons milk or cream
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon lemon extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-inch bundt pan; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, spices, and salt. Combine buttermilk and baking soda, and let side for about 5 minutes.

In a medium-size mixing bowl, cream butter with both types of sugar. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then add blackberry jam and vanilla. Add the flour mixture and the buttermilk alternately, mixing until just combined after each addition.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, using a spatula to clean the bowl and then smooth flat the surface of the batter in the pan. (It’s important to take the time to do this, otherwise when you flip your cake and place it on the stand, the bottom will be rounded and it will teeter around instead of sitting flat. Trust me; I found this out the hard way.)

Bake for about an hour, or until the cake starts to pull away from the edges of the pan and the top turns golden brown and begins to crack apart. Let it cool in the pan; in the meantime, melt the butter in a small, heavy-bottomed pot and mix in the other ingredients until smooth. If the icing doesn’t seem runny enough, add a bit more cream. Flip the cake onto a plate or cake stand, and drizzle the icing over it into a thin, ribbon-like pattern. Once the icing has hardened, enjoy with a cup of tea.


Name that onion

The other day
on a walk
out of town,
over Uncle Tim's Bridge,
along Pine Point

I found these

growing on the side of the road.
They weren't being tended
and they don't look like ramps
to me.

Any ideas, anyone?

(Because cooked down in butter
and white wine
over pasta
they tasted awfully good.)

I'd like to look for more.


The Local Food Report: bluefin tuna, part 2

Have you ever seen anything like this?

It's an aerial picture of a school of giant bluefin tuna, swimming around the Gulf of Maine. The Large Pelagics Research Center let me borrow it, since I talked with a research director there, Molly Lutcavage, for the radio today.

It's really a pretty amazing idea, that the tuna are so big, and stand out from the ocean so clearly, that someone flying around in a plane could just snap! take a picture and there they are. Like little tadpole-Cheerios, swimming around in the big blue, milky sea.

Lutcavage, along with the New England Aquarium and her group of researchers, studied tuna this way for three years, using spotter pilots from the fishing industry. The spotter pilots' job was to fly around looking for big schools of tuna, and then call the boat captains so they could rev up their engines, grab their nets or harpoons, and head out.

It used to be that only harpoon boats and purse seiners used pilots, but when they started flying for boats with general category licenses, for example rod and reel, whoever got to the fish first could catch most of the quota. In other words, it was first come first serve, and some boats lost out. As you might imagine, this didn't go over very well with a lot of fishermen, and the spotter pilots became so controversial in the late 90s that Lutcavage had to stop using them. Instead, she started tracking giant bluefin with tags.

When she did, she noticed the same thing the fishermen have been noticing: there are a lot fewer big fish around these days, and a lot more juveniles in Cape Cod Bay. The giants are out there, she says, it's just that they're bypassing the whole Gulf of Maine, heading up to Canada or hanging out places like Georges Banks instead.

To try and figure out why, Lutcavage is looking into all kinds of things. Their reproductive cycles, where they spawn, how they interact with their prey. The Center even has a program called Tag a Tiny, aimed at studying the juveniles themselves. The tags track the little tunas' geographic locations, and what the depth and temperature of the water they're swimming in is like. Every little bit of information helps.

If you're interested in knowing more, it's well worth checking out all of the links (in purple) above. Because even though we have a long way to go when it comes to understanding and managing tuna, Lutcavage and her team are learning more by the day.

I, for one, am hoping we understand enough soon enough that tuna sashimi will never be a distant dream. That's one treat I'd rather not do without.

P.S. All photos here are courtesy of the Large Pelagics Research Center in Durham, New Hampshire. Thank you so, so much!


Crank, and eat

When you're four, the world is a big, big place. It's hard to imagine everything. It's especially hard to imagine what on earth is about to happen when your uncle comes over, toting a bag with a weird looking silver machine and a little book with a woman on the cover who looks like this.

I mean, I've got a good twenty years on four, and even I can't understand why a pasta recipe should come with a picture of a naked, lasagna-noodle-draped Italian goddess on the front. (Something about "wellness," from what it says.)

Luckily, if you're anything like the fishmonger's niece, and you changed the spelling of your name at age three from l-i-l-y (boooring) to l-i-l-i (hello, runway!), you know how to handle these sorts of beyond-the-imagination things. You simply go with them. Whoever that lady is, and whatever it is that machine does, well, you get cranking. Literally.

Because it's a pasta maker. The other afternoon, between the two of them, Lili and the fishmonger kneaded three pounds of flour and fifteen eggs into a whole heap of pasta dough. Then they spent a full two hours cranking out linguine for Saturday night dinner.

I kind of missed the action, but when I showed up around six, I was informed that the meal had been produced by a "sewing machine that makes pasta," and I knew that could only mean something good.

It did.

It was the best batch of homemade pasta our little machine has put out yet, and the simplest, too. Just eggs, and flour, and a whole lot of hard work. (I guess the naked pasta goddess is on to something, after all.) I highly recommend it—especially if you have plenty of family around to help crank, and eat. And a little bit of butter, to spread on top. This homemade pasta is so good, it doesn't even really need sauce.


Normally, I don't measure flour by the pound, but in this case, it's a good idea. Also, use the best eggs you can find.

5 eggs
1 pound of all-purpose flour

Dump the flour onto a work surface and mound it into a compact pile. Form a well in the center, then crack the eggs into the well, one at a time. Using the back of a fork, press the eggs gently into the middle of the well to begin combining them with the flour. Slowly, begin whisking the eggs together, bringing the flour in bit by bit. When the mixture starts to get thick, work it with your hands and knead for four or five minutes. The finished dough should be smooth, not sticky, otherwise it will get stuck in the crank.

Divide the dough into chunks and process according to your machine's instructions. Remember that fresh pasta only needs to cook for a minute or so, depending on how dry it is, and take care not to overcook. Since there's no salt in the dough, it's a good idea to heavily salt your cooking water. Drain and serve warm with butter.


Not one drop

Do you see that bottle right there? The one with the silver shell stopper peeking out? [Hi Nancy! Thank you! We use it every day!] The dark green bottle, with no label. Right beside the pickles, and beneath the horseradish. That's the wine I'd like to talk about today.

That's because I finally received my very first taste of Truro Vineyard's estate-bottled chardonnay. I talked about it here, a while ago, because I was pretty enthralled by the idea that we could grow enough grapes to make our very own wine, even on sandy Cape Cod. Well, I had to be patient, but finally my friend Kristen, whose family owns the vineyard, brought it over for me to try the other day.

I'm proud to say I drank the whole thing myself.

[No! Not all at once. It took several evenings, at least two bathtubs, and exactly 192 pages of a very good book.] But I didn't share. Not. One. Drop.

That's why you need to go on and get your own. If you like chardonnay, I have a feeling you'll like this. Not to mention the special little tingle you'll get from raising your glass to a Cape grown grape. The vineyard doesn't open until April 3, but that day, I recommend you make a trip. Oh! and if there's any chance you could be forced to share, get two. Trust me on this. I had to rule mine with an iron fist.


From your rooftop

Some recipes make you want to run up, copy in hand, and shout them from your rooftop. Of course I have all of about three neighbors, so this metaphor is a bit of a stretch in this case. It'd probably work better in say, New York City, but you know what I mean. There are some recipes everyone should know about.

That's how I've been feeling lately about chicken liver paté.

I know, I know. Liver. Yech! It's slimy and bloody and nobody wants to deal with it. But friends, trust me when I tell you chicken liver paté is worth pulling out your coping skills for. Believe me, I wouldn't ask if it weren't a matter of absolute necessity, because I know how often they come in handy for other things, like taking out very old compost, or finding hairy pudding in the fridge.

The thing is, if you can get past the livers themselves, the process is really actually delightfully easy. And if you've ever been an absolute mess over say, a good foie gras or paté de campagne or even a spread of liverwurst, you're going to find you spend an awful lot of time admiring this paté. It's a genuine masterpiece.

I may be slightly biased by the fact that for several years of my childhood, I ate a liverwurst sandwich as many days a week as I possibly could. This can develop quite a paté hankering in a kid, one that lasts for life. And while I've chosen to blame this affliction on my grandfather, who did the same thing to my father, only much worse, because he did it to him in France, that doesn't really solve the problem. In fact, I think it makes it much harder to escape, sort of like an inherited disease. You see where I'm going with this.

The good news is that even if I turn out to be terribly biased, I went ahead and tested this recipe on a good deal of friends, all of whom loved it, and none of whom admitted to any upbringing so persuasive as this.

As for the cooking, it's easy really. (Just make sure you have plenty of butter on hand.) You simply sauté an onion in butter, set that aside, and cook up the livers in some more butter. Then you add the onions back in with some thyme, and then some sherry, and call it good. The whole mess goes into the food processor, where it gets whirled to creamy perfection, and then you work in another stick of butter, just for good measure.

The most important thing to remember when you're thinking about serving it is that you should have some good, crusty bread or thin crackers on hand, and definitely some pickled things. Beets and bread n' butter cucumbers both work very well, I think. Cheese, in my opinion, is sort of overkill, but I'll leave that up to you. I can't wait to hear how it goes.


adapted from “A New Bistro on the Block” by Jonathan Levitt in Port City Life September 2008

I misread this recipe the first time I made it and used 8 tablespoons of butter rather than 8 ounces (meaning I put in 1 stick rather than 2). The funny thing is, until I went to type it up, I never even realized anything was amiss, and even my father heartily approved. You can add a bit more butter if you’d like, but there’s certainly no need to double the amount. An extra 4 tablespoons, I think, would be more than enough.

3 tablespoons butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 pound chicken livers*
3 tablespoons dry sherry
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
salt and black pepper to taste

In a large heavy-bottomed skillet, heat up 1 tablespoon of the butter and sauté the onion until translucent and soft. Remove onion and set aside, then in the same pan heat up 2 tablespoons of the butter and cook the chicken livers. They will take about 10 minutes to brown through, and it’s a good idea to stir or flip them occasionally.

When they’re done, return the onions to the pan and add 1 tablespoon of the sherry and the thyme. Bring everything to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and continue cooking for several minutes. Turn off the heat and add the remaining sherry. Transfer the liver mixture to the bowl of a food processor with a metal blade and process it until it’s smooth.

At this point, spoon the liver mixture out into a medium-size bowl and add the butter and salt and pepper. Work the livers and butter with a spatula until the two substances are well-combined. Pack the paté into several small containers or 1 pint container. (The paté will freeze well so long as it’s tightly covered, so if you divvy it between smaller containers, you can spread out the enjoyment a bit.) Serve as a spread on toast or crackers, preferably with pickles.

*I got 3 pounds of livers from Pat's Pastured, a Rhode Island operation, when I went down to the winter farmers' market last month. If you can't find any near you, next time you buy whole chickens from your farmer, make sure you get the livers set aside. He/she might even be willing to give you more from other birds, so long as you ask. If all else fails, I'd call Northeast Family Farms. They have all sorts of goodies, sourced from farms across New England and hand slaughtered at their meat house.


Take a good swig

Phew. What a week. Don't you think?

It's hard to pinpoint why, but I'm finding the whole spring thing a bit exhausting this year, just between you and me. It's like I haven't quite adjusted to those extra hours yet. They offer so much more time to get up and do! It's all a bit taxing, really.

It's exciting, though, too. Spinach and peas are up in the greenhouse, and a little row of radishes just popped up the other day. Most afternoons, we even have to open the door, to let it cool down in there. The temperature's gotten as high as 90 (!), when the sun's out, around noon. I'm thinking of going on a tropical vacation this weekend, right there in the front yard. I'll mix up a pitcher of fizzy grape juice, call a friend or two, and haul out my favorite blue and white polka-dot bikini. Beat that, June!

Springtime also means the simplicity of summer cooking is on the way, and frankly, at the end of a week like this, I can't help but hope it comes soon. Remember the days when breakfast was as simple as a pint of strawberries? When dinner could be a beefsteak tomato, a few slices of homemade mozzarella, basil, and a pinch of sea salt? Honestly, I can't wait for those days to return.

In the meantime, I have something almost as easy for you. When you get home from work this afternoon, crack open a beer (preferably something hoppy, or maybe Belgian-esque, like a Hefeweizen, or an amber ale) take a good swig, and pour the rest into a large soup pot. Grab another beer, and do it again. Add some butter, maybe a sprig of thyme, a squeeze of lemon juice, and an onion, too, for good measure. Now bring it all to a boil, throw in two dozen littlenecks, and in about three minutes, when the shells are open, pat yourself on the back and declare dinner done.

See how easy that was?

Now grab the pot, and haul the whole mess outside to the porch. Crack open a bottle of white wine, take off your shoes, and eat the whole darn thing, flinging the shells into the woods.


2 hoppy beers
1 onion
2 sprigs thyme
2 tablespoons butter
a squeeze of lemon juice
24 littleneck clams

Pour beer into a large soup pot. Add onion, thyme, and butter, and bring to a boil. Throw in clams, soaked and cleaned. Steam 3 minutes, or until shells have just opened. Squirt a bit of lemon juice over top and haul the whole put outside. I like the broth just as much as the clams.

P.S. Did you see the news?!


The Local Food Report: bluefin tuna, part 1

Can you believe this fish?

The fishmonger's grandfather caught it, back in the 70s. That's him, over on the right. It's a bluefin tuna, from Cape Cod Bay. If you squint, you can almost make out the number 6 before the big white 80. Six hundred and eighty pounds, it weighed. Back then, this sort of fish was routine. Look—here's a whole heap of them on a dock. Four in one day!

These days, recreational tuna fishermen are awfully lucky to get one six-hundred-pounder. Four would be an off-the-charts day, kind of a fluke, really. Instead, what they're catching is juveniles—thousands and thousands of small fish.

Now I know how that sounds—catching baby fish, like it's done at night and tuna trades are happening in back alleyways—but it's actually perfectly legal. In Massachusetts, if you're on a recreational boat, you can catch any tuna 27 inches and bigger; it's just that you can't sell them. You are only allowed one adult fish—over 73 inches—a year, and you can't sell that either (only the commercial fishermen can). It takes bluefin about four or five years to reach adulthood, so they're really not babies anyhow. More like angsty teens. Once they reach about 300 pounds, they're called Giants. The biggest one ever caught in Massachusetts was landed in 1984: one thousand, two hundred and twenty-eight pounds.

In the eighties, the industry was still going strong. Even in the nineties; for commercial fisherman, the mid-nineties was the height of it all. The best fish were selling for $40 and $60 a pound. Most of them didn't stick around; instead, brokers sold them to buyers in Japan. The Japanese paid a much higher price than any Americans would, because until recently, we just weren't that into eating tuna. In the sixties, people in Provincetown used to sell it for catfood, for goodness sakes. It was more about sport than dinner.

But now that we've developed a hankering for sushi and sashimi and tuna tartare and all that good stuff, now that we can finally get excited about the Giants as a mealtime sort of thing, the big fish aren't appearing so often. They're up in Canadian waters, while Cape Cod Bay is filled with juveniles.

There are a lot of guesses out there as to why. Robert Fitzpatrick, a tuna broker out of Chatham, says he thinks the shift has at least something to do with herring trawlers. They come in, scoop up all the smaller fish, and there's nothing around for the tuna to eat. Why bother stopping in?

There's also the global population issue. Fishermen are over harvesting in places like the Mediterranean, and even though their oceans seem far away, we share the same pool of fish. So just because we might have good regulations in place and might try to limit our catch, it doesn't necessarily follow that these efforts really help the tuna when they swim over to the other side. They're still toast (or, ahem, sashimi) in the end.

Fitzpatrick says there's also the possiblity that the fish could have moved north due to some sort water warming or environmental change, but that he doesn't subscribe to the global warming "religion," so he's reluctant to pin the movement on just that.

Whatever is causing the shift, it isn't making fishermen around very happy. Whatever imaginary memories you have of tuna boat captains sitting around in gold pajama's, well, you can kiss them goodbye. These days, it's more of a fish-to-fish life.

Still, there is some good news. This fall, there was one spectacular week. Suddenly in early November, two big schools of fish showed up on cod fishing grounds southeast of Chatham's Stage Harbor, at a place the locals call the Figs. Most tuna fisherman had already derigged for the season, but gillnetters out cutting codfish noticed the tuna and sounded the alarm. Over the course of the week, two hundred seventy-nine fish were caught, averaging over six hundred pounds dressed weight. It was quite the show, the biggest we've seen in a long time, Fitzpatrick says.

I'm not going to give you a recipe (it hardly seems right, after a conversation like this), but I do have another perspective on the state of our tuna industry coming up. Next week, I'll be talking with Molly Lutcavage about her study of the fish—from the air, and these days, the sea. It isn't one to miss.

P.S. Even though no one is supposed to be selling those smaller fish—the ones under 73 inches— there's a lot of backdooring going on with restaurants and chefs. If people start squirming when you ask where, specifically, a piece of tuna was caught, and just exactly how big it was, and who got it, or what licensed wholesaler delivered it, I'd choose something else to eat.

P.P.S. All of these pictures are from somewhere around the 1960s or 70s. All of them feature some members of the fishmonger's family, and the top one is of a Dr. Martin Bradford, his grandfather. He won a lot of prizes from the Division of Commerce and Tourism for catching Giant bluefins back then, which is awfully ironic given the state of things today. I never got to meet him, but from what I've heard, he was one heck of a guy. Here he is later on, with a whole life's worth of tuna tails.


The best part

When you write about food for a living and the man you're marrying owns a restaurant, there is quite a bit of pressure to serve everyone at your wedding a Very Good Meal. This feeling is mostly imagined, but a little bit real, and it can make planning the menu a task that takes many, many months.

We certainly haven't gotten very far, though we have managed to amass an absolutely enormous amount of recipe clippings.

It doesn't help that I am very stubborn, and that even though I have relinquished the idea that we will cook our entire rehearsal dinner together (doesn't anyone but me think that would be fun?), I will not give up the right to make my own cake. This adds a lot of To-Dos to the list, like check out wedding cake books from the library, and try every recipe in them, and purchase a cake piping kit, and look for cake stands at the flea market each Sunday, and throw lots of dinner parties so that you're not eating every triple decker by yourself.

Luckily, I don't really mind the list. In fact, it's kind of the best part.

Technically, I'm not going to make the cake alone, either; my bridesmaids are going to help. And there are going to be a few cakes, not just one, in different sizes and flavors. And my best friend's mother owns a bakery, so we'll have the equipment going for us, and plenty of space, and hopefully a few bottles of champagne.

Doing it that way will make things a whole lot easier when it comes to baking the real cakes, but it means lots more work testing recipes now. The other day, I tried an applesauce cake, and though the fishmonger wasn't sure it was wedding material, it was certainly good. At least, it was gone within twenty-four hours, for whatever that's worth—so quickly, I didn't even get to snap its portrait.

I might be kind of biased, if you recall, because I have a pretty serious thing for just about any applesauce cake. But we are getting married in the fall, in the height of applesauce season, and so having at least one apple-themed cake kind of goes without saying, I think.

I found the recipe for this one online after lots and lots of searching, but originally it came from the May 1980 issue of something called "Mailbox News" by a Mrs. Henry Blasi of Michigan. I have no idea what sort of a publication that is, but I'm very thankful for the cake. I made just a single batch, which filled two cake pans. This left room for a layer of icing in between the cakes, and then a good spread on top, but I didn't put any on the sides. That seemed like a bit much. In fact, if you wanted, you could even make this in a loaf tin and eat it for breakfast or snacks—it's kind of like banana bread that way. Either way, I think you'll be glad you gave it a go. Who knows, it just might sneak onto one of those cake platters for the Big Day. We'll have to wait and see.


adapted from Mailbox News, by Mrs. Henry Blasi, May 1980

This cake can be easily frozen once cooled. Just wrap each cake in plastic wrap, then tinfoil, then stick it in the freezer. This makes frosting easier later—not to mention baking ahead of time.

1 and 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon all-spice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 and 1/2 cups applesauce

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a medium-size mixing bowl, cream sugar and butter. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well. In another medium-size bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Add applesauce and dry ingredients alternatively to creamed butter, mixing well after each addition. Spoon batter into 2 greased cake pans, and bake until a cake tester comes out clean (about 30 minutes).

I topped the cake with this icing, but a lemony glaze would work well, too, I think.


New York Grown

I found these for you
at Shaw's
in Orleans

a place
I don't normally go.

I was looking for a slab of tuna
to photograph for the radio.

Wandering through the produce aisle on my way out
(all the bluefin was packed in plastic
and frozen),
I spotted this bag.

There they were:
crisp, red,
New York grown,
lovely pieces of

I guess March
isn't so bad;

after all,
you know what they say
about an apple a day.


Worth saving

I have been fooled by a whole lot of low-fat recipes in my time. As a kid, I drank only skim milk. I often ate 98% lean hamburgers with whole-wheat buns and 50% skim cheddar cheese slices on top, and I liked them quite a bit.

But once I tasted the real things—sharp cheddar, creamy milk, hamburgers with just a smidgen of grease—the jig was up. My parents tried their hardest, but innocence can't last forever, and it was terribly hard to rewind.

Which is why the low-fat waffles I made this weekend didn't fool me one bit. They were clipped from a magazine whose name reads something like Booking Bight and whose March 2007 issue contained a recipe for Gingerbread Waffles as part of the menu for a champagne brunch.

After two whole years of anticipation, you can imagine the let down when they came out sort of floppy and with a distinct lack of oomph. They were good, but I'd been hoping for some va-va-voom, if you know what I mean.

I may have played some part.

First of all, there was the two-year build up, which never helps expectations, and secondly, I did some ingredient swapping here and there. I added in whole-wheat flour where I maybe shouldn't have, substituted candied ginger for the real, fresh thing, and used sour milk instead of buttermilk. Maybe, maybe, if I had kept everything just so, the recipe might have turned out perfectly. But I kind of doubt it.

I think the real problem was that the waffles were low-fat.

I don't make this claim lightly. I've spent an awful lot of Sundays doing research, eating waffles at friends' houses and from my own press, and I've learned that the basic recipe can take almost any sort of milk or fruit or flour variation. Whole-wheat flour, powdered buttermilk, sparkling water, even, can all turn out a mean batch of Belgians. But when you start fudging fat content, well, that's where things start to go downhill.

For starters, the waffles lose their crispness. They get kind of spongy and floppy, better for toasting from the freezer than eating on the spot with a puddle of syrup. They also require a lot more butter spread on top, which sort of defeats the original purpose, if you see what I mean.

I should have seen it coming, what with the applesauce and the canola oil and the fat-free buttermilk.

The good news is, I think the recipe can be salvaged, and handily at that. Anything with a title like Gingerbread Waffles is worth saving, after all. The waffles also have on their side the fact that they used up a good deal of applesauce from the freezer, had a delightful Christmas-morning sort of ring, and popped up bites of candied ginger at all the right times.

I think, in fact, that with their fat back, they're going to be not just average March Sunday keepers, but maybe even New Year's Day or Easter material. So here's a modified recipe. Tweak it further as you'd like, just don't leave out the fat. Once you've lost your innocence, they just won't taste the same.


adapted, ahem, from this recipe, published in this magazine in March 2007

1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 and 1/2 cups sour milk or buttermilk (I'd stick with 2% or whole for best results)
6 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons finely grated peeled ginger
2 eggs, separated
a pinch of cream of tartar
1 cup applesauce
1/3 cup minced candied ginger (optional)

Plug in your waffle press to preheat it, so that as soon as the batter is mixed it'll be ready to go. Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a medium-size bowl, stir together milk, butter, molasses, grated ginger, and both egg yolks. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Sprinkle in the candied ginger, and mix that in too.

In another medium-size mixing bowl, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they form soft peaks. Using a spatula, gently fold the beaten whites into the batter. Ladle about a cup of batter onto the preheated iron, and cook according to manufacturers instructions. (A good rule of thumb is that when the steaming stops, the waffles are ready to come out.) Serve hot with butter and maple syrup, or as the original recipe recommends, champagne and a dollop of lemon curd. Hear, hear!


Still going strong

Some foods simply don't get enough credit. Take these cranberries, for instance.

I bought them in October. October! There've been a few casualties, a crinkled up little black berry here and there, but on the whole, I really can't believe how still-going-strong their mentality is. They simply Do. Not. Quit. I think we ought to throw them an evening ball, or maybe a roller skating party, or some sort of disco dance. At the very least, they deserve to jump into a batch of muffins.

Cape Cod Cranberry Muffins, to be specific—which are from a book my parents gave me as a present last year. Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More, it's called. To tell the truth, it's not my favorite book—the instructions tend to get a little long-winded and wordy for my taste, and lots of times the recipes call for ingredients you'd never, ever have on hand. But sometimes, especially when you're looking for something just a little bit fancy, it has just the thing.

And this morning was one of those times. Because on a Friday morning when your parents and sister have shown up for a visit nearly in the middle of the night and you've stayed up far too late catching up and drinking wine, you need sort of a weekend on a weekday muffin, if you know what I mean.

These were just that. They're not so heavy that you feel like you just tucked away your weekend's allotment of butter, and a bit of whole-wheat flour gives them balance—throws them somewhere between indulgent and stern. They're also not too sweet. In fact, they're a bit too tart, if we're being honest, but I think that could easily be fixed by baking them with egg wash and a sprinkling of sugar over top, or even with a dollop of orange marmalade or apricot jam on the side.

Because otherwise, they're very good, and just the thing to start using up some of those terribly determined cranberries. They have to go sooner or later, and at this point, I'm starting to think now would be a good time for them to politely move on.

I'm guessing you have some hanging around, too, either fresh or frozen. And if you don't, Phoenix Fruit in Orleans has a whole stockpile of berries from a local bog in their freezer, so you can easily pick some up. Either way, you'll be helping to get them on their way so that we'll have plenty of room for strawberries once they arrive. I can't wait!


adapted from Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins, & More by Carole Walter

These muffins are slightly tart, so if that's not your thing, you might want to add another 1/4 cup of sugar or so. The other option is to brush them with an egg wash and sprinkle them with sugar before you bake them, as they often do at commercial bakeries for a sweet, hard top. Or, you could serve them as we did, with a dollop or apricot jam or orange marmalade. I think the marmalade would be best.

1 and 3/4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1 and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons mild oil, like canola or olive or walnut or even some sesames
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup orange juice

1 egg lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water
granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Pick over the cranberries, taking out any stems or shriveled berries. Coarsley chop the berries. (I used the food processor, pulsing a few times, for this). In a medium-size bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Remove from heat and add canola oil and sugar, mixing well.

In another medium-size bowl, stir together the 2 eggs and orange juice with a wooden spoon. (I have no idea if it's important that the spoon be wooden—it seems a bit fussy to me—but Walter's directions specifically say to use one, so just in case, I think you should.) Blend in the warm sugar mixture, then add the dry ingredients and stir until just moistened. Gently fold in the cranberries.

Divide the batter evenly between the 12 greased cups of a muffin tin; they should all be just about full. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar, if desired, or for a less sweet muffin, go ahead and bake them as they are. Start paying close attention to their color after 10 minutes or so; they'll probably need more like 15 or 20 before they're golden and cooked through.

Walter says they freeze well, but I doubt they'll make it that far in our house.


The Local Food Report: sweet meats in red sauce

I have a confession to make. You probably think, after all my talk this morning about the edible wonders of slipper shells, that I have actually eaten one of the gastropods. Well, I haven't. Now you know.

I tried, I really did try for you, but I simply couldn't. I did manage to convince myself that they look very similar to littlenecks, which was comforting, but I did not manage to actually throw one down the hatch.

I think it's a texture thing. I replayed Dave Masch's words again and again in my head—I have tasted his home-baked bread, after all—and he is not one to lie when it comes to what tastes good. I ought to trust him; he calls slipper shell meats sweet, chewy, and delicious. Sweet and delicious I could muster, but chewy, I wasn't so sure. Squid has never really been my thing.

Or it could have been learning about all their sex changing that got me. They live in stacks, see, with the bottom snails clinging to things like rocks, shells, and dock pilings. The larger, older animals (snails, technically) on the bottom of the pile are always females, while the smaller, younger ones are top are males. If the females die, the largest male will change gender, and move to the bottom of the stack. They've even made up a word for this. It's called being a sequential hermaphrodite.

Weird, huh?

I'm sure you've seen them—they wash up on the beaches around here all the time—particularly after winter storms. If you walk down towards the water, where the shell line or the swath of rocks is, you can find a bunch. In fact, I had no trouble collecting. Once you get your search image in mind, that's the easy part. It was the eating where I chickened out.

But luckily, Dave Masch was brave enough to try them, not just once, but many times. He's also brave enough to share a recipe he came up with for the things, which I think deserves a big pat on the back. He calls it: "Sweet Meats in Red Sauce," and he says it's quite a masterpiece.

So here it is. I hope you're brave enough to try, and if you are, I hope you'll let us all know how it goes.


by Dave Masch

3 cups tomato sauce, preferably homemade
1 cup slipper shell meats, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons Italian parsley, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
red pepper flakes to taste
1 pound linguine, cooked

Heat up tomato sauce in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add all ingredients but the linguine. Simmer for three minutes and serve over the linguine. [Dave says he likes it quite peppery hot, but how many red pepper flakes you add is definitely a personal choice. Sometimes, he adds Tabasco, too.] "That's all there is to it! Go for it, you won't be sorry," he says.

He has a few other notes. For starters, in order to extract the slipper meats from their shells, you can steam them briefly, for about 2 or 3 minutes in water, white wine, or beer. "You should be able to winkle them out in a trice!"

He also offers a recipe for a nice light tomato sauce, in case you don't have any tucked away. It is comprised simply of one 28-ounce can of whole tomatoes in puree, 2 small sliced onions, salt and pepper to taste, and a teaspoon of dried basil, "or oregano, terragon, or any other herb you fancy." You simply simmer these ingredients together for 20 minutes, stirring frequently, and if you want a smooth sauce, in the end, you puree it. And maybe, if you feel like it, you can add in 4 tablespoons of butter at the end, just for good measure (although if you do that you might not want to tell people it's "light").


To the top

I had something else in mind for you today, but this is so exciting, so big, that I had to pass it along instead.

A month or so ago, at one of the Slow Food dinners held in Eastham, the organization donated the proceeds to a local food pantry. Rather than simply offer the kitchen money (which in all likelihood would be used to purchase food from far away), they set it up instead so that the donation would be used to purchase fresh, healthy seafood from local fishermen. They did the legwork, so that the pantry didn't have to. After all, between cooking and ordering and scheduling, finding the time to track down fishermen is quite understandably a bit too much for most kitchens run by volunteers.

Now our First Lady is encouraging all of us to do the very same. Politics aside, that's a beautiful thing.

Just yesterday, my mother reminded me of Margaret Mead's words. "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." She's right. Slowly, slowly things can begin to change. From the bottom, all the way to the top.

If you're anything like me, you probably can't imagine a happier way to volunteer than to cook. Well—there are plenty of soup kitchens around here. All you have to do to find out what you can offer is ask.

I just called Provincetown, and it couldn't have been easier. I'll let you know not this Friday, but the next, how it goes. I hope you'll keep me posted just the same.

Falmouth Service Center/Meals Program
611 Gifford Street

Calvary Baptist Church/Meals Program
25 Lincoln Ave

Salvation Army/Hyannis Soup Kitchen
100 North Street

Lower Cape Lunch
61 Canal Street

Salvation Army/Plymouth Meals
8 Carver Street

Provincetown Soup Kitchen
11 Shankpainter Road


On days like today

On days like today
and Sunday
and Saturday

[Monday, I think, was a dud]

I can almost imagine
that these

[green, tender, young]

aren't so terribly
far away.


A bit backward

What is it they say? In like a lion, out like a lamb? This March is a bit backward, it seems.

I began the weekend with the best of cooking intentions, but when Saturday and then Sunday dawned warm and sunny, they simply didn't make the cut. Other things did, like dog walking and lettuce planting and beach visits and an afternoon of wine and spinach puffs on a lovely Sandwich porch. Even car vacuuming and house cleaning snuck in there.

But spending all day in the kitchen when March was offering 60 degrees seemed like a terrible waste. I don't have any regrets.

I did manage, once Sunday wound down, to muster the energy for a simple carrot soup. The fridge was empty, after all; I'd eaten through a quart of my mother's homemade minestrone, nearly a cup of sour cream, and far more banana bread than ought to be legal. I had to make something, and carrot soup seemed the easiest thing.

There was a pot of homemade chicken broth on hand, boiled down from the carcass of a bird we ate last week. I had several pounds of carrots still kicking around in the hydrator from goodness knows when, and lots of storage onions tucked away in the basement closet. All that was left was a few sprigs of thyme, and they sat happily potted in the greenhouse outside.

I cried an awful lot during the onion slicing, either because I knew the cold weather was to return today or because storing onions all winter somehow gives them a terrible ability to sting. I don't know which, but it was sort of cathartic in the end.

The whole endeavor—melting butter, sauteing onions, carrots, and thyme, throwing in broth and a pinch of salt—only took about a half an hour, from start to bowl. It's not a demanding soup; you can empty the dishwasher, wash the knives and pots, and generally have most of the cleanup done by the time you're ready to eat.

Late on Sunday afternoon, that's a very good thing.


adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

I always turn to Waters' when I want a meal that is easy to make, requires only a few good ingredients, and will be simple yet elegant all at once. This soup is no exception, and beyond adding a bit more thyme, I really didn't change much.

4 tablespoons salted butter
2 onions, cut in half and then sliced thin
3-4 sprigs thyme
roughly 6 cups carrots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
salt to taste
6 cups chicken broth

Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the onions and thyme once it is hot, and sauté for about 10 minutes over medium-low heat, or until the onions are translucent and soft. Add the carrots and season with salt to taste.

Continue to cook the vegetables together for another 10 minutes or so (Waters points out that cooking the carrots with the onions is important to build flavor, so don't skip ahead to the broth). Once they are fairly soft, add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and leave the soup to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the carrots are cooked to your liking. Serve hot with a good rustic bread and maybe a dollop of sour cream.


Hostess for a day

Have you ever wished you could be a professional, full-time, home-dinner-party-hostess, just for a month or two? That each morning involved waking up, taking stock of your refrigerator and pantry, and planning a menu, a guest list, and decor?

There would be chores involved, certainly. Silver gets tarnished, flowers need refreshing, and dusting when you live in a home with a woodstove seems like the never-ending song of tasks. And of course if being a hostess was the only thing to think about, ever, I suppose you might eventually get bored. But I think it would take me a very, very long time. Because home dinner parties are really my absolute favorite thing.

For starters, there's the fact that you get to spend the morning pouring over cookbooks. You get to pull out a butternut squash, or a container of frozen rhubarb, or a pork shoulder and wonder, what on earth will I do with this? That, in my opinion, is the best part, because no matter what you have, there is always an excellent menu to be made. It simply takes a bit of imagination, and lots of time with those books. Which are some of my favorite inanimate objects to spend a day with. They're more fun than some people and can be awfully talkative, I find.

Then there's the cooking, and the whirlwind of friends and hugs and babies and drinks, and the sitting down to a meal you are offering up to feed the people you love. I really like that part, the food. But the part where I'm afraid I start to sound a bit crazy is right now, when I announce that I like dinner parties so much that I don't even really mind cleaning up. In fact, truth be told, I kind of like the routine. There are always a few women in the kitchen, and between the washing and the drying and the gossiping and the sense of tidiness that ensues, there's something awfully satisfying about that time, too.

I have no idea whether or not this weekend will offer that chance. But if it does, I know exactly what I'll make. Here's an early March menu, in case you find yourself in the lucky seat of host or hostess for a day. You might have to make a trip to the library, of course, but that's the whole fun.

— cocktail hour —

The Old Fashioned, to show off bourbon's charms
from The Essential Cocktail by Dale DeGroff and featured in Gourmet, March 2009

Cracker stacks with Brad's Bread and Butter Pickles and Great Hill Blue Cheese

— dinner —

Butternut Squash in Cream and Cinnamon
from The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food, by Judith Jones

Cod baked in foil with leeks and carrots
from Cook's Illustrated, March & April 2009

— dessert —

Tinky's Cozy Apple-Maple Pudding
from Yankee, March/April 2009


The Local Food Report: a winter market in Rhode Island

If you have never been to a winter farmers' market, I think you should get in your car right now and begin steering toward Pawtucket, Rhode Island, looking for signs like these:

(poster image courtesy of Semap)

Actually, you should probably wait until Saturday morning, since that's the day the Pawtucket market is held, but you know what I mean. I am all business when it comes to this.

Why on earth should you listen?

Well, for starters, if you like cheese, you ought to sit up and pay attention. They have the best ricotta cheese in the world at this market, made by Naragansett Creamery. And if you like nice greens, and liver for making paté, and dried beans, and homemade, homegrown salsa, and artisanal chocolates, and fresh baked bread, you should be there. And if you even begin inching towards your car at the mere mention of trotters (pigs feet! soft! tender! succulent! exotic!) then you should definitely go. Because they have all this stuff, and more.

You should also check out the cooking demonstrations while you're there. Every week, a group of students and a chef from the Johnson & Wales culinary program show up, shop the market, and start cooking something up. They use what they find that day to create an absolutely enticing dish, and then they start handing out the recipe. The day I visited, a guy named Chef David was making a winter veggie hash. It looked very, very good, and so I tucked the recipe flyer into my pocket and made sure to pick up all the ingredients before I made my way home.

In my own kitchen, it was just as good as it had smelled at the market. It's not that the pan-browned potatoes were all that—they weren't groundbreaking or unique, just a typical breakfast hash—but they were a good reminder of what to do with a heap of winter market fixings and a few fresh eggs.

I should add that I sprinkled in a pinch of cumin to mix it up a little and also swapped some of the potatoes for turnips and added in some frozen summer squash, zucchini, and eggplant. Oh! and I sprinkled the piping hot final product with a bit of grated cheddar, which I heartily endorse as a fine touch.

All in all, I'd say hash browns are the perfect way to start a Sunday morning—which, incidentally—dawns right after Saturday's market. Imagine that.


2 cups potatoes, diced
1 cup turnips, diced
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 onion, diced
1 cup chopped zucchini, summer squash, and/or eggplant
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated

In a medium-size bowl, toss potatoes and turnips with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon curry powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat up a large cast iron skillet, and throw in potatoes and turnips. Cook until they begin to soften, stirring occasionally. (This can take 20 to 30 minutes.)

In the same bowl, toss vegetables (mine were frozen, then thawed, then drained to help remove some of the liquid, and chopped finely) with the remaining olive oil, curry powder, salt and pepper to taste, and all of the onion. When the potatoes and turnips are almost done, throw this veggie mixture in and cook for several minutes longer.

Serve hot, with grated cheese sprinkled over top (it should melt and blend in). An egg over easy makes a nice accompaniment, along with a bit of hot sauce.


On certain days

They may not be
in season here
in Wellfleet
Woods Hole.

But in Florida
in the United States of America
they are.


And on certain days in March
in the wake of
too much
frozen applesauce
and slippery strawberries
over yogurt
is good enough for me.

Just don't forget
that they're
a treat.

The skeletons are out

I think there's something you should know. This freezer dredging—it's bringing up some heavy stuff—dragging some skeletons out. Banana skeletons, mainly. A whole ten of them.

There, I said it.

Now you know—I have a problem with banana theft. I don't buy them, generally, or at least I try not to, but we have a lot of house-guests in the summer. They come in with bags and bags of groceries, stay for a night or two, and leave their cereal and bananas behind. The bananas start to go brown, I clap my hands with delight, and I tuck them in to the freezer. The real problem, you see, is banana bread.

I really can't live without it.

I don't remember when I made my first batch—I must have been five or six—but it's always been a favorite in my family. We got our recipe from our friend Bonnie, who somehow got all the ratios just right. It turns out the same lovely loaf each time: moist, sweet, and best just slightly undercooked.

My sister and I used to make banana bread on school nights after dinner, mixers whirring and chunks of butter and sugar zinging off in every direction. (I'm sure my mother was just thrilled, but she never said a word. Thank you mom!) We'd stick it in the oven and sit peering eagerly over the counter top toward the stove as we did our homework, waiting for the moment when we could pull it out, slice, and dig in.

I don't know why I held off succumbing to this ritual with all the bananas I'd hoarded into the freezer for so long, but I think it's at least partially because bananas never seemed like something to write about here. They simply can't pass as a local fruit.

But although they don't grow around here, there is a Wellfleet banana connection you should know about. It might help us come to terms. After all, a Wellfleetian—Lorenzo Dow Baker—started the commercial banana trade in the 1870s. It's only right to pay homage with a loaf of bread every now and again.

At least that's what I plan to tell myself every time I tuck away another stolen piece of fruit.


This recipe is very, very simple. It can be made in a snap—simply cream the butter, add the sugar and the wet ingredients, and then sift the dry ingredients in. The most important part, in my opinion, is that you under cook it so that the center is very soft, but not everyone likes it this way. After I pull the loaf out of the oven, the center always falls quite a bit, but I don't mind. To me, that's a sign it's perfectly done.

1 stick salted butter (I use Kate's from Maine)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 overripe bananas, mashed
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream the butter in a medium-size mixing bowl. Add the sugar and blend until well-mixed, then add the eggs, bananas, and lemon juice. Continue blending until all ingredients are combined. In a separate bowl, sift dry ingredients together. Fold dry ingredients into wet ingredients, taking care not over mix as it will make the bread tough. Pour batter into a greased loaf pan, and bake until the edges are cooked through but the center is still a bit wet, about 35 to 40 minutes. If you like it a bit drier, about 50 minutes should do.


It's time

Life is not always so kind as to give you lemons. Sometimes, it gives you onions instead.

And in March, it gives you the onions you yourself tucked away in late October. It gives you the onions hanging in your downstairs closet in bulging nylon stockings, tucked away from warmth and light. It gives you the ones beginning to sprout unsightly green wigs and soften around the belly a bit.

That's when it's time to make onion relish. Even if you wish you were out on the porch sipping lemonade; I'm sorry, but it's simply not the season for that.

Truly, onion relish can be just as good. It's more of an indoor comfort, to be sure, but spread over hot sourdough toast, or on plain old whole-wheat with a hunk of cheddar melted over top, it is simply divine. Especially on a cold day, when the sky is spitting terrible, icy chunks and is colored a stern, foreboding gray. That is just the sort of afternoon for an onion relish melt.

I found the recipe I use in Cooking Light, and after tweaking it a bit to add back in some of the fat (it's never a good idea to lose too much butter, in my opinion), I found it quite perfect for a day like today. So go unravel your onions, and enjoy.


adapted from Cooking Light magazine, December 2008

Feel free to cut the butter back down to 1 tablespoon, as recommended in Cooking Light. I know a 3 tablespoon increase might seem like a lot, but most recipes for braised onions (which are different in application but similar in cooking concept to this spread) call for close to a stick. So really, a few extra tablespoons is pretty moderate. Plus, think of how much butter you'd put on that bread if there was no relish to spread.

4 tablespoons butter
4 cups sweet storage onions, chopped
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup
freshly ground black pepper

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook it, stirring often, until it is first translucent and then golden brown. Add remaining ingredients, including salt and pepper to taste (keeping in mind that the liquid will evaporate, concentrating the salt, and that chicken broth is salty to begin with), and stir well. Let the mixture simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until it begins to thicken and all the liquid is gone. When it is nice and spreadable (think toast), it's done.


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