Plenty of huzzah

Good morning, everyone. I hope you had a nice weekend. The rain wasn't very nice, I know, or the misty gray drizzle, but we tried to enjoy ourselves anyways. After all, it's important to send off August with plenty of huzzah. We want it to know how welcome it is to return when the time rolls around again.

And of course, the rain felt pretty good in the kitchen. I can't remember the last time I've actually wanted to turn on the oven and cook, but yesterday, I did. I cranked that bad boy right up and cleaned out the fridge. There were chocolate chip cookies—these ones, with an extra pack of Ghiradelli's for oomph—another batch of roasted carrots and fennel for soup, and finally, Marion Cunningham's stuffed green peppers. Here are the cookies, waiting their turn.

Unfortunately, it isn't the cookies I want to talk about today. What I want to talk about is the stuffed green peppers, and the picture I have for you of them is not nearly so pretty. (I could go into how a certain four-legged, black-haired member of my family has suddenly developed a rather soft spot for vegetables, particularly good-old fashioned ones baked and heaping with sautéed onions and garlic and tomatoes and oregano with a nice hefty slab of mozzarella plopped down on top, but I'm not sure you'd believe me.) The point is, don't judge these things by their picture. Please. They really are a lot tastier than they look.

In case you aren't quite convinced, here is a list of their top-shelf qualities, in order of importance:

1. They have a layer of melted, crispy-where-it-has-dribbled mozzarella on top, which, if you've done your shopping around here, came from the wonderful woman at the Provincetown farmers' market who sells it fresh on the street and who routinely empties your wallet without you noticing because she is That Good.

2. They are filled with sautéed onions and garlic and tomatoes and oregano and chunks of crusty bread.

3. Do we really need to go on here? If you're not convinced yet, then maybe Marion and I just aren't for you. Heck, if you even needed convincing after all that about the mozzarella, then maybe we're not for you. Even my dog thought these were good. And he does not eat vegetables, people, Ever. (Except for raw green beans. He will sit out on the deck and chew through a whole bushel of them as if they were the best marrow filled chew toy you ever licked. But beyond that, I swear, nothing. Especially nothing slippery, like say, baked peppers and garlic and onions and tomatoes sautéed.) Apparently, there are no safe bets anymore.

Anyways, it's a bit sunnier today I know, so you don't have to make them right away. But the next time it starts to drizzle or maybe even get dark, just think about it, okay? You don't need much—not a lot of ingredients or even time. A trip to the farmers' market this weekend might help, and maybe a pair of slippers and a good, colorful apron, but beyond that, you should be good to go. So enjoy the day, and when you get around to it, let me know how this went.


If you've never read any Marion Cunningham, you really ought to. She has a wonderfully old fashioned yet practical take on things, and she delivers it all without a fuss. These peppers are a perfect example—fresh and easy and satisfying but very healthy at the same time. I adapted them a bit to fit what I had in my kitchen—her version does not have bread cubes but uses eggplant, which I didn't have on hand—and she also did without the mozzarella on top. Feel free to play around a bit depending on what you have; so long as you keep the tomato-onion-garlic-oregano flavor base, you have a very good chance of success.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 green bell peppers, halved and seeded
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
1 pint very ripe cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano
1 slice stale crusty bread, cut into small cubes
salt and pepper to taste
2 ounces fresh mozzarella
4 basil leaves for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and use a little bit of the olive oil to grease a pie plate. Drop the pepper halves into a pot of salted boiling water and put a plate on top of them so they stay submerged. Parboil for 4 minutes, remove, and set aside.

In a large sauté pan, heat up the rest of the olive oil over medium high heat. When the pan is warm, add the onions and the garlic and cook for several minutes, or until both begin to get soft. Add the tomatoes and oregano and cook a few minutes more. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add the bread cubes.

Arrange the pepper halves face up in the pie plate and stuff the tomato mixture into each. Top each one with a 1/2-ounce slice of mozzarella and bake for 20 minutes. When you pull them out, put a basil leaf on top of all the mozzarella slices, and enjoy the peppers at once. (Marion says you can also eat them cold, but I can only vouch for them hot.)


The Local Food Report: with a good dose of pudding

I wish today that I could turn your screen into a real, live scratch-n-sniff. I wish that all through the florescence I could send out silver spoons and white napkins and tiny porcelain bowls, and then, if I could, I would go out ladle in hand and fill them each up with a little dollop of blueberry lemon delight. I could be the world's first Benevolent Online Pudding Fairy. That would be lovely, don't you think?

Unfortunately, instead, you're going to have to content yourself with a recipe. It is a very easy, very high bang-for-your-buck sort of recipe, but still. You do have to go ahead and make it. So that you can get right down to business, here is a shopping list:


1 lemon
all-purpose flour
2 eggs

But hold on. You can't rush out to the store just yet, because before you do, I have to tell you about the blueberry guy. He's where the idea for this recipe really came from, after all—before him and his radio interview it was just my mother's heavenly lemon pudding, no blueberries involved.

His name is Bob Wells, and he's from Eastham. I talked with him the other day at the Orleans Farmers' Market about his carbon negative farm, and how he's actually growing blueberries not just without a carbon footprint, but in a way that sequesters CO2 and puts it back into the ground, and I had to buy a pint. (Actually, I bought four, but there was a long line behind me, so please don't mention that to anyone else. I felt a little greedy.)

The way he does it—and this went waay over my head the first time I heard it, so don't be embarrassed if you need to slow down, or take a nap, or maybe eat a cup of pudding while you sort through it all—is through a process called pyrolisis. Basically, this involves burning biomass, like poison ivy or black locust or really anything else you might find in the woods around here, at very high temperatures with very little oxygen until it turns into a type of charcoal called biochar. The biochar traps the carbon that the plants have sucked up over their lifetimes—the carbon that would normally, in the natural cycle, be released back into the air as CO2 as the plants decompose—and instead puts that carbon in solid form into the ground.

That's where the blueberry plants come in. Bob adds the high-carbon, fine-grained residue to their soil, the carbon is officially sequestered, and the high bush berries thrive.

It sounds like a new idea, and I'd very much like to give Bob the credit, but it's not. Natives in the Amazon were doing it before Columbus arrived—smoldering agricultural waste beneath dirt until it turned into a fine, dark earth—terra preta, in their words. Rather than simply burning what they'd taken from the soil, they returned it in charcoal form—a kind of carbon composting I guess you could say.

Anyways, whether he can take credit or not, the whole carbon negative farming thing is a very good reason to like Bob. The way I figure, if you make lemon pudding with carbon negative blueberries, it kind of offsets the fact that the lemon came from far away. I'm not sure how this reasoning works on any official level, but I'm willing to go with it.

If you're interested in learning more about Bob and his blueberries and biochar, track him down at the market this weekend. He partnered recently with a local blacksmith, Peter Hirst to design and build simple metal burner units so that other small farms can start making biochar, too, and they're planning to teach some seminars in the fall. I'm sure he'd be glad to fill you in. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about the international biochar movement you can head on over here. I think you'll find it's a little overwhelming, but with a good dose of pudding, well worth the ride.


Just so you know, I haven't crunched any numbers on this. But if you take carbon negative blueberries and cook them with a carbon positive lemon, you get carbon nuetral pudding, I think. Beyond that, there are no tricks to this pudding. It is simple as simple can be and pretty heart-stopping, too.

1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
2 eggs, separated
1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Pull out a good sized mixing bowl and whisk together the sugar and the flour. Pour in the milk, the well-beaten egg yolks, the juice of the lemon, its grated rind, and the salt, and stir well. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Then fold them gently into the lemon mixture along with the blueberries. Pour the pudding into a small, deep, well-buttered casserole or baking dish (roughly 6 or 8 inches square and 3 inches deep should do the trick). Bake it in a water bath for about 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a knife comes out clean. Serve at once.


A very real possibility

I realized at lunch the other day that you might have some misconceptions about my husband-to-be. I mean, based on the picture I've painted around here, I can understand how you might think he just sits around popping out diamond rings and bringing home tubs of chocolate chip cookie dough and taking me out for Sunday boat rides. But really people, he has flaws. Take the other day, for instance. He came home to a first-rate afternoon spread of cold gazpacho, white linens, plated silver, a shady deck, and an arugula test salad for the wedding and informed me without a trace of regret after just one bite that he Did Not Like It. He said it perfectly nicely, of course, but it reminded me that he does have a flaw. Somehow, he missed out on the bitter-flavor-appreciation gene.

I first found this out over a bar of dark chocolate. I then rediscovered it over braised endives, a radicchio salad, and my cousin's Italian dandelion greens tossed with the most delicious green goddess dressing.

The man can't stand to put anything even the slightest bit bitter in his mouth.

He tells this story about when he was living in Vietnam, where he ate things like live, beating snake heart without batting an eye, about the time his host mom made bitter gourd soup—and he almost always, at least once or twice during the delivery, says he thought he was going to die. It's a little melodramatic, I think, but when I imagine the way I feel in front any quantity of tapioca pudding, I sort of see what he means. Some things just aren't meant to go down.

The point of all this is to say that even though my groom didn't like the arugula-wheat-berry-cherry-tomato-Parmesan-lemon-juice-calamata-olive wedding salad, I think you will. The exciting part about it—and the reason we started experimenting with it in the first place—is that the wheat berries will be coming from Maine. We're trying to keep our dinner as local as possible, but for a time there, it seemed like an all-Maine grain side was going to be an impossible thing. Then of course enter Katy and my mother and their combined love of Heidi Swanson, and what seemed like a reach was suddenly a very real possibility.

To that end, I'd appreciate any comments or variations or suggestions you might have on this. As you might imagine, I won't be hearing a lot at my table, so whatever goes on at yours, please, please let me know.


This recipe is adapted from one Katy found on 101 Cookbooks. I ordered wheat berries from Wood Prairie Farm in Maine, and they have proven to be an excellent new addition to the grain cupboard.

I changed things up a bit from Heidi's version—added fresh cherry tomatoes since we have them around in droves right now and went a bit heavier on the arugula—but for the most part, hers was a pretty fool proof combo. If you have something else nice you throw in, please let me know. I have a feeling that this version of the salad is just the beginning and there are endless directions in which we could go.

Oh, and where the recipes—there's one for the salad and one for the arugula pesto that dresses it—where they say grated Parmesan, I mean made from a block of cheese with a grater, not the granular type you buy at the store. If you use that, you'll want to use much less as there's a lot more cheese per 1/3 cup.

2 cups wheat berries, cooked and chilled
3 cups arugula, loosely packed
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup calamata olives, pitted and halved
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
4 tablespoons arugula pesto, at room temperature (recipe below)

In a large serving bowl, toss the wheat berries, arugula, cherry tomatoes, and olives with the pesto. Once everything is well-coated, add the Parmesan, season with salt and pepper to taste, and toss lightly once more. Serve at room temperature.


3 cups arugula leaves, packed
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, to taste
3 medium garlic cloves
1/4 cup walnuts
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

Combine everything in a food processor and give it a whirl. Keep going until the pesto is thick and well-blended. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste.


The Local Food Report: reel a striper in

Have you ever caught a striped bass?

I thought I had—in my version of my first date with Alex, at least, that's how things went. We went out on his parents' boat, drove around the harbor, stared awkwardly, fumblingly into each other's eyes, and came home with my very first fish. A striper, and a keeper at that. I even wrote about it over here.

The trouble is, according to Alex—who if we're being honest really knows much, much more about these sorts of things—is that the bass was a bluefish. I wish I could tell you that when he told me that after reading my column I came up with something witty about storytelling and artistic license, but I didn't. Instead, I cursed my lost bass and vowed to go out again and give it another try soon. Of course it's August and the chances of me heading out on a boat with a rod before the quota dwindles away towards September are terribly, terribly small, but a girl can dream.

In the meantime, you could always head out for me. Couldn't you?

It wouldn't be too tricky. There's a big throng of stripers hanging out in the waters off Race Point, and you could go out from Pamet Harbor or even Provincetown. You'd need to find a boat, of course, and some extra gas and maybe bring a lunch cooler or two, but the sheer number of fish bunched up in that spot would make it worth your while. You'd want to be respectful of the commercial guys down at the docks, even if they seem to have sort of a short temper these days, because they've been dealing with an awful lot of extra traffic thanks to these fish.

And finally, you'd want to have a plan for what to do with the fish once it's caught. That's where, if you'll allow it, I'd like to come in. I might not be able to go out there and reel a striper in, but I can certainly give you a knock-your-socks-off recipe for bass crudo.

Technically, it's Alex's recipe, but I don't think he'll mind if I share. (In any case, the cat already leapt out of the bag in the whole false-bass debacle, so it's a bit late to start keeping secrets now.) It's my absolute favorite recipe for striper there is, and it's also the easiest. All you need is a nice cut of fish—preferably the the thicker head cut without its skin—a few squeezes of lime juice, some cilantro from the garden, and a bottle of hot sauce. Some nice, big crystals of sea salt help too, and peppercorns to grind fresh. Other than that, it will just be you and the bass, sitting down outside with a nice glass of Sancerre.

It's an excellent way to spend an evening, I think. So go ahead, beat me to it—just be sure to tell me all your tall tales about how you caught the fish.


This is a recipe Alex sometimes pulls out at the restaurant, but it's also one we eat at home a lot. It makes enough for four as an appetizer, but if you have a lot of fish lovers in your kitchen, as we pretty much always do, I'd make at least twice as much. The most important part is that the fish be fresh, which, if you're catching your own, shouldn't be an issue in the slightest.

1/2 pound striped bass fillet, skinned (preferably the thicker head cut)
several sprigs cilantro
juice of 1/2 lime
pinch of coarse sea salt
freshly cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

Cutting against the grain of the fish, slice the fillet into strips as thin as possible. Arrange the strips so that they overlap just slightly to form several lines across a large, chilled plate. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and press the strips firmly with the bottom of a cup to flatten the fish. (At this point, you can put the fish in the fridge for several hours and pull it out just before you’re ready to serve.) Remove the wrap and top each piece of bass with a single cilantro leaf. Squeeze the lime juice over the fish and sprinkle it with sea salt and cracked pepper. Drizzle olive oil over top and dot the rim of the plate with Sriracha, to be used as a dipping sauce. Serve at once, maybe with a glass of Sancerre or Fumé Blanc.


To their own devices

Recently, time has sort of been slipping around here. Not really slipping away so much as moving very, very fast, sort of like that Steve Miller Band song that Seal covered in the nineties—slipping into the future. I'm guessing it has something to do with the fact that it's August on Cape Cod and it's awfully hard to take a left on Route 6, let alone get much of anything done, but that's just a guess. Sometimes, the way that time slips around here in the summer can be a little bit scary, like when I think about the fact that I haven't weeded the garden in three weeks or vacuumed the house or even sat down to a proper lunch, but for the most part, it's okay. It seems to have agreed especially well with my atomic red carrots, who have seen not one glimpse of me since I planted them in June.

I came out of the woodwork the other day, a mere three months later, to check on them, and they were perfect. They were sporting big, bushy ponytails up top and long, thin tubers underneath, and they were just the right amount of sweet. They were also just as fiery as advertised on the seed packet, a deep, ruddy orange shade of red. Considering how long they were left to their own devices out there in the dirt, I really couldn't have asked for a better crop.

The only trouble, really, with how long they got away from me was that I had to pull them all at once. There was no strategic thinning or extended harvest going on—just 5 pounds of atomic reds staring up from the kitchen sink, all hoping for a salad or a snack or a roast all on the very same day. Of course, I couldn't manage that, so instead, I decided to make a batch of carrot fennel soup. It seemed like the best solution, since I had a tired fennel bulb and a wilting fresh onion and a good amount of garlic on hand that wanted some attention, too.

It turned out to be a very good solution, indeed. The recipe was easy, with little more than a half hour of roasting and a good bout in the blender involved, and the flavors of the carrots and the fennel melded perfectly in the heat. I sat down to a good, proper lunch for the first time in weeks, and even managed to eat some of the scrubbed carrots, too.

Now before any more time slips away—even though if we're being honest I'd love nothing more than to stay here and spend it with you—I had better fork over the recipe already and go get ready for work. Of course, that implies that I'll be able to find a clean shirt and a presentable, if slightly rumpled pair of pants, but I've got my fingers crossed.


This recipe is adapted from one I found in Gourmet last November. Their version called for a bit more fennel, but as I can only take the bulb in small doses, I toned it down a bit. The result was quite nice: a subtly sweet soup with just the right amount of caramel and licorice in the background. I ate it hot when it first came together and then later on chilled, and both ways were good, but given the way the weather's been acting lately, you might want to keep it in the fridge.

1 small fennel bulb with fronds
1 pound small fresh carrots, halved lengthwise
1 medium onion, quartered
1 garlic clove
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon sugar
2 and 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon fennel seeds

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Chop the fennel stalks and fronds from the bulb and set both aside. Slice the bulb into rounds 1/4-inch thick and toss it with the carrots, onion, garlic, 3 tablespoons of oil, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste in a large Pyrex pan. Roast the veggies for about 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all are tender and browned in spots.

At this point, haul out your blender. Put the veggies in along with any oil that might have collected in the pan, and pour in the chicken broth. Blend the whole shebang until you have a smooth, even puree. Transfer the soup to a large pot and let it simmer for a few minutes. (The Gourmet recipe called for another 2 and 1/2 cups of water, which I omitted, so if you feel like thinning your soup, feel free to do so at this point. I thought adding any water would make it way too watery, so I left it out, but who knows. Maybe fiery red atomic carrots aren't so thick?) Season with salt and pepper to taste, and either serve at once or pour into containers to chill.

Before you quit, you still have to make the garnishes. No matter how tired you are, don't skip these, as they really do make the soup. Get the reserved fennel fronds back out and chop until you have about 1 tablespoon of the feathered herb leaves. Grind the fennel seeds in a mortar and pestle, and add the remaining two tablespoons of oil to the ground spice. When it's time to eat the soup, drizzle a bit of oil and sprinkle a few fronds on top.


The Local Food Report: one potato, blue potato

As a kid, I associated each letter of the alphabet with a certain color. A was red, B was blue, C was tan, and so on. (Z, if you must know, was a beautiful, deep forest green.) In my head, when I spelled words out, I could see the colors flying by. My sister's name, Anna, was a blur of red-green-green-red. My mom, Liz, was mostly see-through with a finish of green, and my dad, Jan, was a sort of purple-red-green combo match.

My own name was far more complicated—the letters scribbled out in a long, unwieldy streak. Yellow-white-salmon-blue-yellow-gray-black.

For a while I thought I might be just the slightest bit crazy, but then my sister told me she had an imaginary color-coded alphabet, too. One day, I remember, we got out 52 sheets of paper and wrote out our letters in color for each other to inspect. The colors matched up on roughly half; the others we could not agree on. I have no idea where any of it came from, but X was pea green to my mind, and that was that.

Foods, I used to think, worked the same way. Carrots were orange, tomatoes were red, and blueberries—of course!—were blue. At the grocery store, for the most part, that's still true. But at farmers' markets, it isn't such a sure bet. Enter yellow carrots, green tomatoes, and black radishes. I've seen black raspberries, too, and purple kale and golden beets. The whole Food Is Color Coded theory has really started to fall apart since I started shopping outside. Which leads me to my new friend, the blue potato. Actually, he's really more purple, but we'll let that go.

The Cape Cod blue (or All Blue, as it's technically called) is being grown this year by Ron Backer of Surrey Farms in Brewster. He picked the blues at first because they're colorful and eye-catching and sell like crazy at the markets. Plus they come in around mid-July, in between the early potatoes and the late summer batch, which just so happens to be perfect timing for Ron. But he also decided on them because if he harvests them the right way, he can make them last a month, or maybe even more. He picks them without pulling the plant, by digging his hand into the dirt and feeling around and then—aha!—pinching the purple tubers off. Not every potato variety is amenable to all this reaching-under-its-roots, but the Cape Cod blue seems to tolerate it well. Each week, Ron picks however many pounds of the blue potatoes he thinks he'll sell, and then the next goes back for more. He thinks he has another week or two of this before the gold gives out.

The best part about this picking method is that he can leave the Cape Cod blue plants to self-seed for next year. This saves him the $10 to $15 a pound on seed potatoes, and means that so long as he makes a map of where the crop grew the year before, he can head out in the spring and find a brand new patch of seedlings. Of course, he has to replant them in a new spot in order to avoid pests and diseases (like this year's late blight, which thankfully has yet to hit Ron's farm), but other than that, it's a piece of cake. Transplant, pick, over-winter, and transplant again. Voilá!

All of this easy-pick-and-plant business has given him plenty of time to brainstorm recipes. Like the recipe he came up with for blue potato salad, involving balsamic and peppers and plenty of fresh red onions, sliced.

When I made it I tweaked it a little bit—beefed it up with dill, and mayo, and a little bit of lemon juice—but the basic structure came from Ron. He likes his with a bit of Dijon mustard mixed in, but between the dill and the balsamic I thought we had enough going on. So go ahead—it might not look like your typical potato salad, all russet and cream—but I promise, once you take a bite, you really won't give a hoot.


In addition to being very, very tasty, blue potatoes are also much richer in anti-oxidants than the plain old white or yellow kind. In my book, that gives you license to make yourself one plate of this salad, and then go back for more.

2 and 1/2 pounds blue potatoes, diced, boiled, and cooled
2 fresh red onions, thinly sliced
2 green peppers, chopped fine
1 bunch dill, chopped fine
1 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade
balsamic vinegar to taste (I used 2 tablespoons)
sugar to taste (I used 1 teaspoon)
salt and pepper to taste
a squirt of lemon juice

Pull the cool potatoes out from the fridge and dump them into a large mixing bowl. Add the red onions, the green peppers, and the dill. Measure out the mayonnaise in a large measuring cup and whisk in the balsamic, sugar, salt and pepper, and lemon juice until you have a dressing you like. Pour this dressing over the vegetables and toss well. Serve chilled or at room temperature.


Roll out the welcome mat

Late Saturday night, my parents arrived for a visit. Early Sunday morning I opened the fridge to find this:

Actually, there were two of them, and they were a little more full. My parents certainly know how to get the old welcome mat rolled out, don't they?

My mom made the pies the day before they drove down, in her kitchen at home with the last of the 2008 frozen Maine blueberries. (This was in order to make room for the 2009 specimens, which should arrive within weeks.) She had three helpers borrowed from family friends: one eight years old, one five, and one three. The kitchen got a bit messy, and the sugar was shorted just a smidgen, but all in all, they were a very productive team. They turned out a full six homemade blueberry pies, even with a few crust casualties. (When my mother gave the three year old her own little ball to roll out, she took a few spins with the pin before promptly announcing that her mother had told her she should eat the dough, not roll it. Her mother not being present and this being a blatant fib, my mother had no choice to but chuckle, smile, and say goodbye to that particular chunk of dough.)

A few of the pies went home with the helpers and one stayed in Maine, but the other two—thank goodness!—came to us. And not only that, but one made the trip to Great Island Sunday afternoon for a picnic. Fisher tried to nab a slice from his perch on the bow of the boat, but he ended up with a towel instead. As you can see, that didn't slow him down when it came time to hunt around for crumbs.

I had a hard time refraining from crumb-hunting, myself. Between the afternoon sunshine and the swim off the boat and the walk through the woods and then along the beach to look for perfect oyster shells, I was about ready for another slice of pie, too. Happily, I remembered we had another one at home.

You might want to have one handy, too, seeing as it's August and all. There've been blueberries all over the farmers' markets recently, but if you're going to try and make a pie anything like the one my mother did, I'd go picking for wild ones instead. High bush blueberries are delicious, but they're nothing like the tiny, low-growing ones that carpet the barrens in Maine and the hillsides around here. I prefer the big ones for cereal and snacking, but the tiny ones hands down make a better pie.

At that, I think I'll leave you to it. It is the last day of my parents' visit, and I think you'll agree they deserve to be shown a very, very good time.


Adapted from the Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker

Feel free to use whatever pie crust you like best for this recipe. My favorites are the "Tart and Pie Crust" recipe from Alice Waters' book, The Art of Simple Food or the one Annie B. Copps, editor of Yankee magazine developed for a pumpkin pie article last fall. I think my mother used the one from the Joy of Cooking, which as you saw above, came out perfectly as well.

Beyond the crust, it's all about the berries. Frozen berries are fine as long as they're wild; just be sure to use a bit more tapioca to soak up the extra juice or else the filling won't set. The 2/3 cup of sugar called for below is a bit on the low side, so if you like your pies sweeter I'd use a little more. And last but not least, it's a very, very good idea to bake the pie on top of a cookie sheet with a little lip, as they tend to overflow. Ultimately, my mother's pies did set, but they made a terrible mess of the oven in the process.

one 9-inch pie crust, bottom and top

5 cups blueberries
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon tapioca
1 tablespoon butter

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. In a large mixing bowl, combine the blueberries, sugar, flour, cinnamon, and tapioca. Stir everything together gently and let the mixture sit for about 15 minutes. Pour this filling into the prepared 9-inch pie crust bottom. Cut the butter into tiny pieces and scatter them across the top of the berries. Place the top crust over the berries, roll the sides into a thick rim, and prick the dough with a fork so that the steam can escape while the pie bakes. Bake the pie for 10 minutes at 450; then turn the oven down to 350 and bake it for another half hour, until golden brown.


Fully on board

You know what? It is a good feeling when you have been looking for a wedding caterer for a long, long time, to find one that you like.

It is a good feeling to find a caterer who doesn't flinch when you tell her you might not be able to finalize the menu until a few weeks before the event, as there's a farmer to work with and a potato blight in Maine in full swing. It is an even better feeling when not only does she not flinch, but she gets fully on board.

It will make you nearly ecstatic when she tells you that it's fine to put beets in every course because they are In Season and of course she'd like to peel nine dozen tiny local eggs because actually they give a better mouth feel and wouldn't your family like to help her pull the mozzarella one day?

Finding a caterer like this is a feeling very similar, come to think of it, as the one you get when you meet the man you want to spend the rest of your life with. Between Alex and Katy, I'm not sure things could get much better around here. Or at least, I didn't think so until Katy introduced The Cupcakes. Here, would you like to meet them too?

They are the product of a Ms. Alexandra Mudry, a student at the Culinary Institute of America. (Katy went there too, but I like to say she's from the CIA. It makes her seem a lot less Betty Crocker and a lot more James Bond, don't you think?) Anways, Alexandra came up with the cupcakes when the American Cancer Society decided to host a contest to remake the birthday cake. They were looking for a healthier, more old-fashioned version—one with real ingredients and no preservations and maybe a few less sprinkles and definitely no box mix. (Or maybe they were just looking for something to back up their newly assumed position as the Official Sponsor of Birthdays, but we'll pretend not to notice that.) Because really, I could overlook just about anything for The Cupcakes.

The Cupcakes are red velvet cupcakes, the old fashioned kind dyed with beets. They have half whole wheat flour and dark chocolate and even applesauce in the mix, and they are an absolutely stunning color. Sort of like mahogany, only with a bit more red. I've made them with cream cheese frosting, but they're also good with French icing or even a good vanilla buttercream.

As for how they are to make, there's a bit of cooking time involved in roasting the beets and a few odd ingredients to track down, but otherwise, they're a sinch. Plus, once you buy that tiny jar of instant coffee it will last you many, many birthdays. You only have to do the tough shopping once.

And on the presentation side of things, for the wedding we're planning to go to the flea market and stock up on all sizes of cakes stands so that we can stack the cupcakes in small, double-decker circles the way they are below. Not only will it be pretty, but pulling out a piping bag and making a few nice, billowy swirls of frosting on each cupcake will be a whole lot easier than spreading frosting on a crumbling, towering cake.

In fact these cupcakes are so good, so easy, and so pretty, I think they might just be the ones for the big day. What do you say?


adapted from the American Cancer Society's recipe by Ms. Alexandra Mudry

This recipe makes 24 cupcakes. For the wedding, of course, we'll be making a lot more, but for your next birthday party, this size batch should be just right. Also, you might notice that this recipe uses a lot more ingredients than I usually go for, but I think you'll find, as I did, that cupcakes this good are well worth a trip to the store.

8 medium-sized beets
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1/2 cup unsweetend cocoa powder
1/2 cup applesauce
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Peel the beets and trim off their tops and tails. Line a cookie sheet with tinfoil and place the beets on top. Drizzle them with olive oil and bake for about two hours, or until a fork goes into them easily. If you're going to make the cake batter immediately, you can go ahead and leave the oven on as the cake bakes at 375, too.

Puree the beets in a food processor with several tablespoons of water. (One or two should do the trick). Once they're smooth, they're done.

Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake wrappers. In a small, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the chocolate. While it heats up, combine the oil, eggs, egg whites, and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat together until they turn smooth and lighten in color. Add the instant coffee to the melted chocolate and stir until the two are well-mixed. Slowly, beat the chocolate mixture into the eggs, oil, and sugar.

In another mixing bowl, combine the cocoa powder, applesauce, and beet puree. Stir well, and beat this mixture into the egg and chocolate mixture. In yet another bowl (I know, not only are there a lot of ingredients but there will also be a lot of dishes but I swear it will be worth it people, so soldier on!) whisk together the remaining dry ingredients. Fold these gently into the wet ingredients until just combined. (Be careful not to overmix or the cupcakes will get tough and dense.) Pour the batter into the cupcake liners and bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes, or until a piece of straw (my mother used to take hers from a new broom) comes out clean.

Let the cupcakes cool for a few minutes, and then take them out from the pan to cool on a rack. Ice with cream cheese frosting, below.


24 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 and 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar

Beat the cream cheese with the vanilla extract until they are light and smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar, bit by bit, until the whole mixture is creamy and smooth. Be careful not to overmix, or the frosting will be hard to spread. Spoon into a piping bag and ice the cupcakes in whatever decorative, lovely way you see fit.

P.S. If you're wondering why there's no Local Food Report today, it's because the station is doing a pledge drive this week. I went up to Woods Hole to help out yesterday, but they could use yours, too. You can head on over here if you're up for becoming a Cape & Islands NPR member.


Fingers crossed

I just stopped by to say that I was going to bake you a cake today, but the heat intervened, and the way that it makes me feel a little bit woozy, and instead, I decided I had better open all the windows and lie down on the couch.

And maybe after that, fingers crossed, I'll make my way over to Ryder Beach and sneak onto the water trampoline above. Some renters put it up the other day, and it would be awfully nice if they'd let us take a jump or two, don't you think?

Cake would be nice, too, but that'll have to wait until I cool down enough to turn the oven on. By Thursday, I very much hope to have it in hand. I'll see you then.


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