The Local Food Report: Local Wednesdays

What would you do with the back half of a pig? I would throw it in the frying pan.

Chef Robert Lionette, who cooks over on the Vineyard, would brine the hams. And throw the bones into a stock for soup, and smoke the smaller pieces for sandwiches. He doesn't let a single scrap of animal go to waste, ever. In fact, it's sort of a motto for him: not just with meat, but with fruits and vegetables too.

It's not exactly surprising knowing his pedigree. When you come from a family that owns a market like Boston's Lionette, you start to espouse these sorts of beliefs. Or rather, you've always held them; they emerge with you, from the womb.

Lionette Market sells local food in the South End all year round, operating on the premise that New England can feed itself. It used to have a café attached, where Robert cooked with the market's supply, but then the neighborhood got all trendy and the rent went up. Instead, he moved to the Vineyard, and started cooking with local food there. He thinks—grab your hats—that not only can New England feed itself, but that the Vineyard can feed itself. He gives a little I-know-I'm-crazy grin when he says it, but you can tell he's not kidding. Not even a little bit.

He's starting, of course, by cooking with local food at the restaurant where he works: Zephrus Restaurant, which belongs to the Mansion House Inn in Vineyard Haven. In the summer, he puts up tomatoes and dries peaches and freezes fruit if he can, but otherwise, he works by the seasons. When I visited a few weeks ago, it was "Local Wednesday;" an evening on which every week Lionette and Island Grown Initiative, a non-profit that works to increase both the supply and demand for locally grown food on the island, team up to serve an all local meal. For these events, local is a 200 mile radius that starts at home.

I had a whelk stew with clams and ricotta dumplings, molasses glazed duck drumettes with smoked duck breast and duck fat roasted fingerling potatoes, and an island dried peach and apple bread pudding. I am still thinking about the peaches and the way they tasted with a little bit of crumbly crust on top and vanilla ice cream dripping down their sides. They were awfully good.

In addition to eating, I also got to meet all kinds of interesting people at dinner, including Ali Berlow, who helped found Island Grown Initiative in 2005. She and a group of farmers and grocers and chefs and educators and parents all got together, and thought: What if we could connect everyone through what they eat?

So far, they've done a pretty amazing job. They post an island map every year to help lead people to producers and farmers, and have taken big steps towards re-establishing a year-round local food network on the island. Their big projects this year include working to get locally grown food into schools, driving around a mobile poultry processing trailor in an effort to provide a safe and legal slaughterhouse for local farmers, and working with the Brazilian community to see what crops from their native country will grow in Vineyard soil. As you can see, it's quite the operation.

Island Grown's partnership with Lionette is an effort to engage the community in the heart of these efforts. I don't know about you, but I am rarely so engaged in anything as when I'm eating a three course gourmet meal. It's a brilliant tactic, I think.

You can find out what's on the menu this week by clicking here, or by calling the restaurant up. And if you want to know more about Ali's organization, you can head on over here. Any other questions, well, you can throw those at me.


The Local Food Report: Paskamansett Farm

There are few things more endearing than an eight-year-old boy who wins a pumpkin pie baking contest, takes his $75 in winnings, and buys a cow. That's what Tom Coutu did.

Today, Tom's in his early twenties. And over the past decade and a half, his herd of cows has only grown. These days, he has more like twenty-two running around. They're not just pets anymore; with his father, Bill, Tom has turned his love of bovines into a business. Bill does the marketing (and the interviews), and Tom sells raw, or un-pasteurized, milk. It's quite the operation.

Neither Tom or Bill knew much about raw milk when they started. Originally, they got into it because of cost, because even though they already owned pasteurizing equipment, it was going to run them $50,000 to get their milk from the cows into the bottles. As Bill puts it, "It was either re-mortgage the farm, or find another way." That other way was raw milk.

Apparently, there's a big market for raw milk around here.

Bill and Tom found out that there's a whole website devoted to getting raw milk legalized, that a lot of people believe it has more good enzymes and bacteria and vitamins than pasteurized milk, and that though it isn't legal to sell in stores, you can sell it straight from the farm. They also found out that there are passionate groups of raw milk believers all over the Cape, and that they would come from as far away as Provincetown to get it. People started putting together milk cooperatives, with a different member driving to do the pick-up each week, and Tom and Bill had a business underway.

I joined one last August, and now, this is where I get my milk each week:

Bill says he thinks there are lots of reasons for this demand. For one, he thinks people want to know where their milk is coming from: meet the farmer, check out the fields, say hello to the cows, that sort of thing. He also thinks they want to have some say in what the cows are fed, and what sort of bottles the milk comes in, and what day they pick it up on, and really feel like they're part of the decision making. And of course, he thinks they like the taste. "Our milk is like a milkshake," he grins.

Of course, he knows there are also reasons farms pasteurize their milk. Raw milk can be scary if it isn't tested routinely for bacteria—whereas pasteurized milk is cooked, raw milk is left as is. That means if the cows udders aren't clean or the milk holding tank has a crack, all sorts of bad microbes could get in. Bill and Tom had a crack in one of their holding tanks last summer, and with the state's testing system, it took three weeks to get the farm back up and running. Afterwards, they bought their own testing equipment, so that these days, they can find the source of a bacteria problem within 24 hours.

Whether or not people are comfortable with raw milk depends on a lot of things. I happen to like it, partly because I think there's something to be said for drinking milk in its natural state, and partly because I like the taste. I especially like the taste in ice cream and milkshakes, because it's much, much creamier than what you get in the store. Bill and Tom's milk has 6 or 7 percent butterfat, as opposed to the 3 percent in conventional grocery whole milk. That gets skimmed a bit, so that dairies can sell things like butter and cream.

One of my favorite things to make with Tom and Bill's milk is caramel ice cream. I found the recipe in a French cookbook, a collection put together by Williams Sonoma, and I made it the other day when the weather was just a little bit warm. We dug a bag of salty pretzels out of the cupboard for dipping, and sat at the dinner table with the doors open, dipping the twists in the sweet, melting cream. If the sun decides to peek out again any time soon, I highly recommend you make a date to do the same.


adapted from The Food of France by Chris Jones, Maria Villegas, and Sarah Randell

Part of what I like about this recipe is that it doesn't make too much. It says it serves four, and it does, but everyone only gets one modest scoop. It's very un-American, I know, but I think that's the way ice cream-eating should be. If you use raw milk, which is not homogenized, you can skim the cream the recipes calls for from the top.

1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cream
3 egg yolks
1 and 1/3 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat all but 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a small, heavy-bottomed pot. As the crystals begin to melt, swirl the liquid so that it browns evenly. Once it turns a deep caramel color, remove from the heat and carefully pour in the cream. It will sputter and look all wrong, but put it back over low heat and keep stirring and the cream and caramel will come together.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and the remaining sugar until light and fluffy. Set aside.

In a separate pot, heat up the milk. When it begins to steam, just before it boils, pour it over the caramel, stirring well. Place the caramel and milk over low heat, and bring these nearly to a boil. (This shouldn't take long, as both ingredients are already hot.) Now whisk in the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Continue cooking until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. (It won't get quite as thick as traditional custard, but that's okay.)

Pour the custard into a bowl, covering the top with plastic wrap so that it doens't form a skin, and refrigerate until cool. Then churn in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer's instructions.

To see more pictures of Tom & Bill Coutu's cows, you can visit their website. To learn more about raw milk, check out the following articles and websites:

A Campaign for Real Milk

Raw Milk Facts
Got Raw Milk? (from the Boston Globe)
Got Raw Milk? Be Very Quiet. (from Time Magazine)

P.S. My computer and I are taking a break from each other for a bit. We'll reunite next Thursday for the Local Food Report post. Enjoy the week, and I'll see you then!


There's time

Is is wrong to eat the same dish every night for a week straight?

If it is, well, we're doomed. We've been eating the same root vegetable and cilantro slaw with Thai fish cakes for dinner for six days now. (Okay, okay. Sometimes we have it for lunch too.) Six days!

In our defense, this meal is good. And the every day part isn't entirely unwarranted. When you boil three pounds of frozen flounder to make fish stock, you can't just throw all that white meat away. It may have lost a little flavor, but that's why fish cakes were invented. With red curry paste, cilantro, sugar, and a pinch of salt, you can make anything come to life. As for the slaw, well; it isn't quite farmers' market season yet. Those root vegetables are still kicking around, and slicing them up very thinly, sprinkling them with cilantro, and drizzling them with a light, lemon-mayo dressing makes them seem much, much more acceptable this time of year. In fact, between the curry-spiced fish cakes and the cilantro-spiked slaw, I've almost been able to imagine myself down to the fish taco street stand we visited on a trip to Sayulita. I'm not quite there, but then again, we're only halfway through the fish. There's time.

If you look very closely at the picture above, you will see the edge of a little white bowl with a peanut dipping sauce peeking out. This mixture of vinegar, sugar, and crushed nuts is essential. It makes the fish cakes just the slightest bit sweet, and it adds crunch. And, well, if you're going to eat something every day for a week, you ought to go all out.


This recipe is a take-off on the traditional Thai fish cakes, Thod Mun Pla. A friend gave us a recipe for those, but since we lacked both string beans and kaffir lime leaves (the two key ingredients) we decided to go with cilantro instead. This turned out to be a very happy decision, as it led us to a recipe we like better yet.

1 pound boiled white fish
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped thin
1 tablespoon red curry paste
1 egg
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
oil/fat for frying

Knead fish, cilantro, curry paste, egg, sugar, and salt by hand in a mixing bowl. Fill a deep, wide pan about an inch full with cooking oil or fat drippings. When the oil is hot, pat the fish mixture into cakes and drop as many will fit into the pan. Cook about 2 minutes each side, or until golden brown. Serve warm over some sort of crunchy slaw, with peanut dipping sauce.


1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup peanuts, crushed

In a saucepan, heat up vinegar and sugar. Bring to a boil, and remove from heat. Add peanuts; mix well and serve.


Treat you well

I think I'm ready. Though for some people an overdose like last Sunday's might take weeks to recover from, well what can I say? It only took me eight days. Turn on your ovens, people. Here comes heirloom chocolate cake.

This cake is one of the richest, fudgiest things I have ever tasted. I never turn down chocolate, not even when it would be a very good idea if I did. In fact, as I type, I'm sitting at my desk drinking hot chocolate milk. I am a devout chocolate sampler, and right now, this cake is at the top of my list.

The secret to its success is so simple I'm not entirely sure I should even tell you, because it will make the cake seem much, much less magical, but here it is: It has 2 sticks of butter, a half a pound of dark chocolate, 5 eggs, and a cup of sugar in it. It would be extremely difficult not to be fudgy with a cast of characters like that. In fact, if anyone manages to make this cake dry, they deserve some sort of Kitchen Disastress medal. I really don't think it's possible.

That said, there is something I should warn you about. This cake does NOT need frosting. I generally don't believe in un-frosted cakes, but please, take my word on this. The first time I made it, a friend and I slathered buttercream on top and were forced to drink an entire bottle of rioja and watch the Twilight DVD as a recovery operation. It wasn't pretty, not then, or the next morning. For the record, rioja headaches and sugar headaches do not cancel each other out. Don't say I didn't tell you so.

But if you don't abuse it, this cake will treat you well. It will treat you especially well after a dinner of fresh spring greens with balsamic dressing and goat cheese and pickles and smoked salmon paté on brittle, homemade crackers, with your friends sitting all around. And then, the next day, it will treat you even better as a snack. It will even treat you well as a birthday present, as my friend Chelsea can attest.


adapted from the Modern Baker by Nick Malgieri

2 sticks butter
8 ounces dark chocolate, cut into small pieces (I used Ghiradelli's 60% cacao chips)
1 cup sugar
5 eggs
1/2 cup flour
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter and the chocolate together. Once they're smooth, whisk in the sugar, and then the eggs, one by one. Sift in the dry ingredients, mix until just combined, and pour the batter into a prepared 9-inch cake pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the edges begin to pull away from the pan. The center should remain fudgy.


Dear Friends,
Do you remember this exercise from when you were a kid?

"If I could be President for a day, I would make sure roadside stands never ran out of apple cider doughnuts and strawberries were always in season."

Well, I've been playing that recently. A lot. I've decided I would also plant celeriac on the White House lawn, and that I would ensure that it was always, always sunny when you wanted to take a walk on the beach, and that every school child sat down to a healthy lunch. I've also decided that I definitely, without a doubt, would not be here, asking you for money to help support the Local Food Report, because public radio would be a universally recognized blessing and all 303,824,640-ish Americans would regularly empty their pockets to ensure the very best coverage possible.

Sadly, I'm not President.

Also, I don't even technically work for a public radio station—the Local Food Report is independently produced by Jay Allison and Viki Merrick of Atlantic Public Media, who very kindly have given me a chance—so even if every American did give loads of money to NPR, we'd still need to come up with some funds.

Which is why I am here, asking you for money.

We need to raise enough to keep this show afloat. It costs us about $350 to produce each week's piece—between travel, time, and splitting the funds between APM and me. We started out, originally, with a grant—one from Open Studio Project through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—but that's run out. We receive some money for distribution to the station, and we are incredibly grateful to have Edible Cape Cod and Truro Vineyards on board as our very (!) first (!) sponsors (!), but we are still a ways from paying the bills.

So if you believe in what we're doing—if you believe in eating locally, in spreading awareness about our edible resources and local food producers, in supporting ourselves and building a community in the process—please help. Anything at all would be awfully generous, and the more people you can get on board, the better.

After all, the whole idea of this is to make a template. If we can raise a successful Local Food Report in our community and spread the word about it, we can get other communities doing this, too. We can create a whole national network of reporters updating their communities on what's growing and what's good, and ultimately offer everyone a much better looking dinner plate. (Or bowl. You know what I mean.)

Once you've thought it over a bit, and taken a deep breath, and shut out the economy and the fact that you've just paid your taxes, what do you say we make this happen. The sooner the better—just click here, or on that purple link up at the top left of the page—and donate away. The money goes to straight to Atlantic Public Media, which will use it for this show only. Oh! and don't forget to spread the word as far and wide as you can. One of these days, we just might find a way to get your aunt in Oklahoma the very same sort of local food programming.

Thank you, thank you, for everything you do. I couldn't ask for a better crowd. And tomorrow, I promise, there will be chocolate cake—rich, fudgy, and easy to make.

All the best,



The music plays

Each Saturday
there's a fiddler
in a bustling, revitalized mill
in the town where I grew up

Brunswick, Maine.

Shoppers barter with farmers
while all the while
the music plays.


The Local Food Report: Bee School

I can imagine enrolling in all sorts of schools. The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. Colombia Journalism School. The Salt Institute. But honey bee school? I had no idea.

As it turns out, it's quite the thing on the Cape. Bee School—put on through the Barnstable County Beekeepers' Association or BCBA—fills up every spring. Its waiting list spills over to next year already, and this season's class doesn't even graduate until early May. Apparently, beekeeping knowledge is in high demand.

There are lots of reasons people want to keep bees: because they love honey, because they have a cranberry bog out back, because their brother wanted to take the class with a friend. You name it, someone's there, and the class covers just about everything, too. Students learn about all the key points in a hive's life cycle, what you need to build a hive, and how to protect the bees from disease and ensure a good honey harvest come fall. As far as tuition goes, it's certainly less than any of the other schools I've been dreaming about. Thirty bucks gets you in the door: handouts, mentoring help, lessons, and all. You even get a BCBA membership!

It seems like there would be a lot of red tape and town regulations to go along with getting a hive, but really, most people have no trouble at all. It can be a bit complicated—laws vary by town—so the best thing to do if you're interested is just walk over to town hall, talk with the health agent, and then give your neighbors a heads up. One woman I spoke with lives next to a pre-school, and even she didn't have any problem enrolling, so I'm willing to bet you have a pretty good shot.

In the event that you check things out with the town and your neighbors and do one day enroll in bee school and end up tending your very own hive (or, ahem, are inspired to buy a big jar of the sweet liquid gold at the farmers' market come May), you'll need something to do with all that honey. There's tea, certainly, and peanut butter and honey sandwiches, but those will only take you so far.

That's why I made you these. They're honey spice squares. (It took me three tries to make them for you, and I'd rather you didn't tell anyone about the first two recipes I tried out. One went directly into the compost and the other tasted much more like chewy cardboard than anything that should rightfully be parading around as a dessert.) But the third—this one's a gem. Soft, sweet, a little bit gooey—just the thing for a blustery afternoon.

It has a few more steps than the other two did, but based on the results, I'd say they're worth it. Plus, the whole mixing process couldn't have taken me more than twenty minutes, tops, and that's really not so much time to spend on a batch of sweet, zesty, ever-so-subtly-spicy squares that will carry you through the afternoons all week.

I got my honey from E & T Farms in Barnstable, but who knows: you just might have your own.


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

for the batter:
2 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 and 1/2 sticks butter
1/4 cup honey
zest of one lemon
2 eggs
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup pecans, broken into small pieces

for the syrup:
1/3 cup honey
juice of one lemon
1/3 cup water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter with the honey and the lemon zest. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside.

Get out another, medium-size mixing bowl, and crack the two eggs in. Beat them on medium high speed until they lighten up, which will take about a minute. Then begin adding the brown sugar as you beat, a few spoonfuls at a time. Beat until everything is well combined, about 2 or 3 minutes.

Turn down the speed and slowly pour in the butter mixture (it should have cooled down some but still be slightly warm). The mixture should thicken as you mix; then add the vanilla. If everything looks curdled, that's okay.

Alternately add the dry ingredients and the sour cream, mixing until just combined after each addition. Fold in 3/4 cup of the pecans with a spatula, and spread the batter evenly into a well-greased 9- by 13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle the rest of the nuts over top, and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the center is set and the cake is a deep amber brown.

Now it's time to make the syrup (I know! We're almost done.) For this, you simply combine the honey, lemon juice, and water in that same small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, and bring them to a slow boil. Turn the heat down, and let the liquid simmer for a few minutes until it thickens somewhat.

Using a toothpick or a skewer, poke holes in the cake at one or two inch intervals. Spoon the warm syrup over top, continuing until every drop is absorbed. Let the cake cool for a few hours before cutting it into squares. If you need to have a hot and toddy while you taste the first one, I completely understand.


A very good laugh

When your grandmother turns 91, there is really only one way to honor the occasion. You bake.

Hopefully you bake her something she likes, but sometimes, you have to take a risk. Things Grandmothers Like don't always fit in gussied up old Verizon boxes. And often, they're prone to terrible breakage, like the sugar cookies my grandmother so desperately loves. That's when you have to go out on a limb, and turn to a new recipe: one for cornmeal and lemon biscotti.

Biscotti, you understand, are much heartier than sugar cookies. The mailman can toss them around, play ball with them for a while, and even stand them on their head mid-transit, and they will still survive perfectly in tact. They also aren't very moist, which means they can keep for a few days without going all stale on you. They're hard and dry by nature, these ones. They make an excellent shipping gift.

It will be nice when your grandmother calls to tell you she likes them, even though they're not sugar cookies. It will be nice when she bites in, squeals with delight, and tells you she has a new favorite snack to dunk in her afternoon tea. It will be especially nice when she says they're a wonderful gift.

But the best part will be when she calls you after ripping the wrapping paper from the box to ask why you've sent her a cell phone. That, I promise, will give both of you a very good laugh.


Normally, I don't really think it's necessary to use a food processor for baked goods, but in this instance, it makes things much, much easier.

1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
10 tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
3/4 cup macadamia nuts
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and pulse several times, unti lthe butter is completely mixed in and the mixture looks powdery. Add the macademia nuts and pulse several times more, or until they're in small chunks.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Stir in the cornmeal mixture with a large wooden spatula, and continue mixing until a soft dough forms. Then form the dough into two balls.

Line a large cookie sheet with tin foil or parchment paper, and make each ball of dough into a cylinder a little shorter than the pan. Place the logs well apart on the pan, and use the palm of your hand to smoosh their tops a bit. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the dough feels firm and is golden brown.

Transfer the baked logs to a cooling rack. Once they're completely cool, use a bread knife to cut them into slices about 1/3 of an inch thick. (You know, biscotti size.) Arrange the slices on the pan, cut side down. Bake (again at 350) until lightly toasted, about 20 minutes. Cool and enjoy.


Putter away the afternoon

I wish I could spend all day here today. Or maybe just the morning, and then I could putter away the afternoon outside in my greenhouse. Sadly, I have an absolute mountain of work. And another batch of pâte brisée to make.

It wouldn't be entirely untrue, in fact, to blame the short crust dough for the situation my procrastination has put me in. The first time I made it, late the other afternoon, I spent at least two hours thinking up fillings for dinner and dessert. Eggs or rhubarb? Onions or blueberry jam?

I thought at one point we might have to try and fit both savory and sweet into one tart pan: a half quiche half pie sort of deal. Thankfully, I realized we had a quart of ice cream in the freezer, so it never came down to that.

The thing is, the French know what they're doing when it comes to tarts. They mix and match all sorts of fillings with the same, simple crust, which on the one hand makes deciding what to put inside any given tart a Herculean task, but on the other hand, makes for quite a handy go-to dough. Pâte brisée makes for an excellent container, no matter what you want to put inside.

I can't decide for you what you ought to have for dinner tonight, but I can say this: It should involve a batch of short crust dough. Whatever you have on hand, I think you'll find it fits.


adapted from Chez Nous by Lydie Marshall

1 stick butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
a pinch of salt
2 to 3 tablespoons cold water

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Work in butter using a pastry cutter until it is in pieces the size of peas. Add water, and work the dough into a ball using your hands. Roll the dough out on a floured surface until it is about 13 inches in diameter.

Line a 10-inch tart pan with the dough, trimming the excess and pricking the bottom with a fork. Line the dough with a sheet of aluminum foil and fill it with any variety of dry beans. (These beans and the fork pricks will allow you to pre-bake the crust without the dough puffing up, so that you can add the filling later.) Bake for 15 minutes; remove foil and beans and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove from oven; you now have a partially pre-baked tart shell, ready to fill.


In place of cake

Good morning, everyone.

These flowers are a bribe. I'm hoping you'll take them in place of the heirloom chocolate cake I was planning to tell you about today, because honestly, the thought of even talking about it, let alone consuming it, kind of gives me a belly-ache.

If you can't guess why, well, let's just say it has something to do with the Easter basket my mother sent us home from Maine with yesterday. Four and a half hours in the car with a pound of Jordan almonds and jelly beans is way too long for someone like me. I hope you understand.

The good news is, I do want to talk about another kind of beans. Cold bean salad, to be precise. I have been talking about this medley of dried beans and herbs a lot recently, between mouthfuls at lunch and on paper the other day over here. Cold bean salad is my new best friend.

There are lots of reasons for this. The first is that it helps with the pantry cleaning effort I've been enforcing of late. (We have way too many dried and frozen things lurking around the house. Like most of a pig, for one, and a whole heap of icy rhubarb. If you think of a way to combine pork chops and fruit, please let me know.) The second is that it's healthy, but also kind of filling, and very satisfying as a noontime meal if you eat it on homemade crackers with a hunk of good cheese and a jar of pickles nearby.

Lastly, cold bean salad is very easy to make. Beyond soaking and simmering the beans (which hardly counts since you can drink a glass of wine, take a tub, read a chapter of your Italian textbook, get a full night's sleep, and write an article in the meantime), you hardly have to do a thing. Just throw your cooked black turtle and northern white beans in a bowl, douse them with a bit of olive oil and a splash of cider vinegar, and throw a few herbs in, and lunch is on the table.

I hope you'll make friends with cold bean salad as readily as I did, because it may be a few days or even a week before I'm ready to tell you about the cake. The thing is, I want to be really ready when I do, because it's the sort of cake that deserves a proper introduction, the kind heralded by lots of applause and to do. And I just don't have that in me right now. Plus, if your weekend sugar consumption was anything like mine, I think you'll be much happier with cold bean salad today. You'll have to let me know.


2 cups cooked white northern beans
2 cups cooked black turtle beans
1 small onion, sliced thin (about 1 cup) or 1/2 cup chives, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
1/8 cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped finely
pinch of salt
freshly cracked pepper to taste

In a medium-size serving bowl, mix together beans, onion, olive oil, vinegar, and rosemary. Taste and add more vinegar as needed. Season with salt and pepper, and serve slightly chilled.


The Local Food Report: Forbidden Fruit CSA

I don't know about you, but I am the sort of person who dreams about things like coming into a large inheritance of fresh carrots in late March. The mere thought of seeing a hairy, sweet little root plucked from the ground so early in the growing season makes me tingle with delight. Or leeks. I'd take those too. I can only hope one day I will be so lucky as to have the experience myself.

Because although it wasn't me that stumbled happily into this occasion, it is a true story. A few people did; people living in the Dartmouth area who subscribe to Forbidden Fruit Farm's CSA. Very smart people, I think.

I should probably back up. Carrots in late March and an abbreviation that sounds like some sort of top secret, under cover military mission is a lot to drop on you all at once. But CSAs are really very simple. The letters stand for Community Supported Agriculture, and the way they work is that a farmer (like Barbara Purdy at Forbidden Fruit Farm, for instance) offers to sell people shares of the season's harvest. The people pay up front—to help the farmer with the sometimes staggering cost of seeds, and labor, and soil inputs, and equipment that all come piled up at the start of the growing season when there's no income to balance them out—and then in exchange, once the crops start to come up, the members get a weekly pickup of whatever's ripe.

It's a very cool system, I think—not only for the farmer, who essentially gets a start-up loan each spring—but also for the families that participate. For one, they get exposed to a huge variety of new fruits and vegetables each week. (One woman who's a member of the Forbidden Fruit CSA, for instance, said she even got her husband to try celeriac this fall, an event she thought she'd never see.) And also, they get to know their farmer and the other families who participate very well, in a community sort of way. Purdy's CSA has work parties, where the members get together to do things like dig potatoes and make pesto for the freezer, with kids running around helter-skelter with the chickens and adults chatting away, everyone chopping basil while they swap recipes and advice.

It's also affordable. Per week, a full supply of fruits and veggies for a family of four at Forbidden Fruit Farm comes to only $35—an amount that one member observed you could quite easily spend on lettuce at a store like Whole Foods. I don't know about you, but that sounds like a pretty good deal for local, organic produce to me.

Most CSA's only run from about June to September, or maybe October around here. But Purdy's goes almost year round. Pick-ups start in April (this month!) with things like wintered over carrots and leeks and spinach and other hardy greens, and then go full on through the fall, right up through New Year's Day. She even arranges special pick-ups for Thanksgiving and Christmas, so that if you have a whole flock of relatives coming into town, you can stock up on veggies for them, too. Here's what was going on in her greenhouse in mid March:

For some people, the idea of getting a basket every week and having no idea what might be inside could be a bit nervewracking, but I think it sounds like fun. You never know what sorts of new friends you might make with a system like that—human and edible alike.

There are quite a few new CSAs around here—with all sorts of options offering everything from adding in herbs, which makes for a CSA-W, or Wellness CSA, to getting your pick-up basket delivered to your local farmers' market each week. You can put in your area code and find the one closest to you here, if you're interested in signing up.

As for those carrots—if you're wondering what those lucky CSA-ers did with the little delights—well, from what I heard, they cooked them up using a recipe from Cary Isaacs. He's the member with the biggest cranial recipe collection, I gather, and the recipe he offers below—for sesame carrot pasta salad—is very good. I can vouch for it, as you might have gathered from the photo way up above. We made it a few nights ago and ate the whole thing in a mere 24 hours with only two of us to pitch in. With more than two at the table, I highly doubt it would ever make it off the table and into the fridge.


adapted from a recipe by Cary Isaacs of Forbidden Fruit CSA in Dartmouth

I misread this recipe the first time I tried it and turned Isaacs'original creation—a soup—into a pasta salad. I liked the results so much I decided to stick with it, but you could easily revert to the original by simply simmering the first four ingredients—the core of the dressing—with 2 or 3 cups of chicken broth, and then serving the veggies and noodles with the hot broth in a soup bowl.

I also tried a variation using more ginger and a few spoonfuls of peanut butter to make a creamier, zingier dressing, which I loved. If you try that, I recommend ommitting the mushrooms—they don't go well with the nutty taste.

1/4 cup minced ginger
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup chives, thinly sliced
3 cups shredded carrots
1 cup storage cabbage, thinly sliced
a handful of dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated and thinly sliced
1/2 pound pasta, cooked (soba noodles, spaghetti, or any other thin pasta—homemade included!—will work)
sesame oil to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a small mixing bowl and stir together to make a dressing. In a large mixing bowl, toss together the carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, and pasta, and pour as much as you need of the dressing over top. (There may be some extra.) Coat with sesame oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.


The sun is back

One day
these will be
Moons and Stars

sprawling across the lawn.

That day
is very far away right now.

But the sun is back
at least,
helping these Amish heirlooms


The traveling little circle

I don't know quite how to introduce you to these jam rolls, except to say that they remind me of Pacman.

Do you remember that game? Pacman—the traveling little circle with a triangular mouth who runs around eating dots? I didn't spend much time in arcades as a kid, but every time we went skiing, there was a Pacman game in the lobby of the fitness center where we went to use the hot tub. From what I remember, the key is for Pacman to avoid the ghosts, because as he's trying to gobble up dots, they in turn are trying to gobble him up.

Sometimes, I still play online. (Did I really just admit that?) But when you have a batch of jam rolls that look like the ones above, you don't even have to resort to that. You can play Pacman right on the kitchen counter with two free hands. Just make sure no one else is home.

In addition to acting as real live Pacmans, these rolls are also very good for eating. They're nothing like their traditional fried counterpart, so you have to set that idea aside before you start tasting. But if you can do that, they're nice and plump and sweet with hints of vanilla and cardamom, sort of like a hot cross bun. And when you bite in, a bit of jam oozes out, which is delightful so long as you are able to locate a napkin nearby.

They are a lot less nice to make, however, particularly when you have none of the proper equipment. I learned quite quickly during the filling process that a plastic bag with a whole cut in the tip may work as a piping kit when you're frosting sugar cookies, but it doesn't do much for squeezing lumpy blueberry jam into fresh rolls. Just look at the carnage it caused!

The original recipe, which was from Cooking Light, recommends using a ketchup bottle or a pastry bag to push the jelly in, which is advice I would definitely stick to the second time around. I also think these rolls are best toasted, with a little bit of butter, and a dusting of confectioners' sugar on top. All in all, they're very nice to have around, particularly on weekday mornings, when you're in a hurry to get out the door with something moderately healthy in hand.

Just try not to get caught playing Pacman at your desk.


adapted from Cooking Light, December 2008

1 and 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
3/4 cup warm whole milk
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup blueberry jam
1 tablespoon powdered sugar

In a medium-size bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the warm milk. Allow it to proof for five minutes or until the yeast starts to bubble. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of milk and the sugar, butter, cardamom, vanilla, salt, and egg. Beat until thoroughly blended. Add about 2 cups of flour, and mix until smooth. Work in the remaining flour with your hands, and turn the dough out onto the counter top. Knead for about ten minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Put the dough in a large mixing bowl coated with oil or butter, cover with plastic wrap, and leave it to rise for about 2 hours.

When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down and divide it into 16 pieces. Form each piece into a round, smooth ball, and place the balls on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover the balls with plastic wrap and let them rise another hour, or until doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and uncover the balls. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Remove them from the cookie sheet and allow them to cool on a wire rack.

Using the end of a wooden spoon, punch through one side of the rolls (without breaking through a second side) and form a pocket inside. Squeeze about 2 tablespoons of blueberry jam into each roll using a plastic ketchup bottle or a cake piping kit. Sprinkle the rolls with powdered sugar; serve warm with butter.


Make a night of it

When your taxes are due in a mere nine days, it is astounding how many projects you can get done. I believe if you continue with the projects indefinitely this strategy is referred to as tax evasion, but in the short term, it can be awfully productive.

In a mere 48 hours this weekend I managed to clean the house, repaint a deck table, weed the garden, write an essay, drink a bottle of wine, sew an oven mitt, take several very long walks and two tubs, bake a chocolate cake, eat most of said chocolate cake, watch Twilight on DVD, craft and mail two gifts (the contents and recipients of which must be Top Secret, you understand), and eat almost a pint of homemade garlic and herb dip.

It all came crashing to an end yesterday afternoon when my father called and informed me with only a hint of gloom that it was time to meet my new friend Turbo Tax.

Luckily, I still had a few crackers hanging around, and enough garlic dip to get me through the crisis. (Please don't repeat this, but once I made a pot of tea and brought up the last of the chocolate cake, the crackers, and the dip, Turbo Tax and I actually were kind of having fun. My checkbook didn't seem particularly amused, but by the end of the evening, between the sense of accomplishment and the munching, T.T. and I were like old friends. Shhh.)

That said, I think we'll stay friends better if we're the long distance type, the kind you only see, say, once a year or so. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, you know. But not in the case of homemade crackers and dip. Even after a triple batch of crackers and an entire pint of dip, I feel that these two and I could make a night of it again. Soon.

So I'd like to introduce you all to both. The crackers are whole wheat and come from a friend of mine in Maine, a Mr. Bill Huntington. He unveiled them at a Christmas party a few years ago, and they were an instant hit. The garlic dip has a somewhat less intimate story; I found it in the Williams Sonoma catalog. (Have you noticed how many recipes they have in there?) Happily, it's just as good.

Both are also incredibly simple to make. So if you have things to do this week, like, say, avoid tax evasion, there should still be room for these two. They're good companions, I promise. At least when you've got a date with Turbo Tax.


adapted from a recent Williams Sonoma catalog

If you've never roasted garlic, it's quite easy. Cut the tops off the garlic so that the cloves are exposed, wrap the heads in tinfoil, and stick them in the oven the next time you've got the oven going (350 degrees F is a good general rule, but it's okay for the temperature to vary a bit if you're baking something else). Leave them to cook for about a half hour, then pull them out and you're good to go. The pulp also makes a very good spread for toast.

It's a good idea to make this dip ahead of time, because a night in the fridge gives the flavors a chance to leak into the sour cream and mayo, which makes for a much tastier, complex dip.

4 heads garlic, roasted
1 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
a dash of A1 or Worcestershire sauce
1 to 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Squeeze the pulp from the garlic heads. Mash it up with a fork, them combine with remaining ingredients with a whisk in a medium-size mixing bowl. Adjust vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. Serve chilled with crackers (below).


The key to these crackers is to roll them out very, very thin. Otherwise, they won't get crisp. Also, I like to make a double or triple batch, because they tend to go fast.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
1/4 warm water
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
coarse salt

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. In a medium-size bowl, whisk together dry ingredients (except coarse salt). Add in 2 tablespoons of the melted butter, the warm water, and the cider vinegar, and mix thoroughly. Knead this mixture for 1 or 2 minutes, or until it forms a stiff dough.

Shape the dough into a 12-inch cylinder, and using a sharp knife, slice it into 16 pieces. For each piece, sprinkled a bit of coarse salt on your work surface and place the dough cut side down on top. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough until it is almost as thin as you'd like, then flip the dough and repeat until it is wafer thin. (The salt will not only add flavor but should also keep the dough from sticking to your counter top. You can also use seeds, nuts, oats, or even cornmeal instead.) Place the dough onto a cookie sheet and brush its top with some of remaining melted butter.

Repeat for all 16 crackers, and bake for 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden and crisp.


A fair trade

Have you ever met Stephen Skelton? Or, more importantly I suppose, do you like a good homemade duck prosciutto, fresh pasta with steaming ragu, and a perfectly arranged bowl of littlenecks, with a cheese plate for desert?

I thought so. Me too. The other night we held another one of those Community Suppers, with Mary DeBartolo, who heads up the Slow Food chapter around here, and Stephen cooked. It was held at the Wine List in Hyannis, and it was absolutely wonderful. We had forty guests, lots of wine, and especially tasty littlenecks. Sarah Robin from the Flying Fish/Hillcrest Pizza and Chelsea Vivian from Edible Cape Cod and I served, running around in all-black, carrying plates and washing dishes and sneaking into the kitchen for goblets of wine and stolen prosciutto.

If you're wondering why I'm telling you about all this after the fact, well, there are two reasons. The first is to apologize for not letting you know sooner—I plan to be much more proactive about that for future dinners. (I promise. I've even added a little sidebar do-hickey and everything. Just look at me and my html wizardry!) The second is that I have Stephen's recipes for littlenecks, and duck prosciutto, so that you can recreate them at home. I hope you'll think this is a fair trade.

Actually what Stephen has offered are not really recipes, but more like sets of guidelines. He says that's how he likes to cook, and I have to say, I think it's a good way. It's much better to work with a set of well-intentioned directions that leave room for a bit of creativity than stay on the straight and narrow all the time, hopping from recipe to recipe. So here they are—mainly in his words—with a few tweaks here and there.

(Oh! and if you're inspired to try and find him and taste his cooking for yourself, for the next few weeks, he'll be doing demos and dinners at the Wine List. Once May swings around, he's hoping to open up a new venture, a restaurant called "The Glass Onion" in Falmouth. I can't wait to see how it turns out!)


in Stephen Skelton's words:

I encourage people to not follow exact recipes but instead use more or less of what they do or don't like.

There wasn't exactly a recipe for the littlenecks, but more a preference of amounts of olive oil, chopped garlic, rinsed littlenecks, white wine, peeled carrots cut into thin strips, and washed leeks cut into thin strips.

Just heat a pan with a little oil, add the garlic to cook out the raw harshness, add the littlenecks, wine, carrots and leeks. Cover the pan over medium heat and wait for the clams to open. When they are open...enjoy with homemade bread.


in Stephen Skelton's words:

The duck requires a little more care and time; it takes a week to cure.

Trim excess fat from the duck breast, season with a fine grind of black or white pepper. In a container just large enough to hold the breasts in one layer without touching each other, cover the bottom of the container with salt. Lay the duck, skin side down on the salt (do not let the sides of the breast touch each other or the sides of the container). Cover the duck completely with more salt. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Rinse the duck in a bowl of cold water. Discard all of the salt. Dry the duck well with a clean towel. Wrap in cheesecloth, tie with string and hang it (from the handle of a pan or something similar) for one week. It should feel firm but not hard. Slice the duck thin and serve with cranberry juice cooked down into a syrup or another sweet style sauce to offset the salt of the cured duck.

Note: Because the salt has pulled the moisture out of the duck, it does not have to be cooked. This is one of the oldest methods of food preserving.


The Local Food Report: a garden on the White House lawn

Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote you a little p.s. about the news? Well I don't know if you paid it any mind or not, but there was a reason I was so excited. Michelle Obama planted a garden on the White House lawn, or broke ground at least, with the help of 30 fifth graders. That was cool.
But even more exciting was that I had just spoken with Roger Doiron, who's been heading up a campaign urging the new president to plant an organic kitchen garden on the White House lawn since February 2008. He called it "Eat the View."

I'd been following the idea forever, and just after we'd spoken—just after I'd finally gotten the chance to meet him, just like that—the garden became a reality. March 20th, that was the day. I thought it was a pretty exciting coincidence in this small world of ours. I got so into the idea, in fact, that not only did I put together a radio interview with him for you today, but I also drew you the map above.

I know it's hardly as good as the one on the New York Times website, but I tried to make it colorful. It's very heavy on the lettuce, and the spinach, and greens in general, but I'm glad to see they included a section for herbs. Oh! and rhubarb, that's very important—how else will the First Family keep themselves supplied with pie?

The garden isn't actually a very new idea; Roger Doiron will readily acknowledge that. John Adams had a garden on the White House lawn back in 1800, and at one point, President Wilson was even using the grass to graze sheep. (Actually, technically he was using the sheep to trim and fertilize the grass, as part of the war effort to conserve resources. Pretty smart, huh?)

photo courtesy of eattheview.org

Most recently it was Eleanor Roosevelt who planted the area with her Victory garden during World War II. That example proved pretty powerful—at the height of the movement, Americans were growing 40 percent of the country's produce in their backyards. Imagine that!

Doiron thinks this garden—and gardens in other high profile places—could have a similar effect. What with climate change and a healthcare crisis and the overseas wars we're in, some people don't see a garden as all that important, but he thinks it is. He thinks if we follow the First Lady's example it can help us save some money, and we'll be more physically fit, not to mention less dependent on foreign oil. They say the average bite of food in the U.S. travels 1500 miles from field to fork. That's a whole lot of gas we could save.

Whether or not you agree with the premise, it's worth checking out both the new White House garden and the campaign. Our First Lawn is a pretty fascinating place.


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