The Local Food Report: the proof is in

Would you like to see something beautiful?

That is a salad I made on Saturday, January 23rd entirely from Massachusetts foods. The green curls are pea tendrils, from Allen Farms in Westport. The maroon slivers and chunks are pickled beets and onions leftover from a big batch our friend Tracy made for our wedding at the end of October, with veggies from her very own garden. She made the pickled carrots, too. The white blobs, believe it or not, are actually not marshmallows, but little Hannahbells. Oh! and I saved the best for last. Those little golden things? Real, live greenhouse-grown pear tomatoes. Debbie Barrett is very proud of those.

If anyone tells you it's impossible to eat locally in New England in the middle of January because you're going to contract scurvy or starve to death or accidentally stab your neighbor for his Florida orange, well, the proof is in the pudding, people. Or the salad. Or whatever. The point is, that rainbow dish up there should get them to pipe down.

Also, our area now officially has two—TWO!—winter farmers' markets. One in Marstons Mills slated to start next Saturday, February 6th at 10am sharp, and another already underway on the third Thursday of every month from 3:30 to 6pm at Plimoth Plantation. When I first heard about both of these, I did a little dance in my seat. The best part it, the Plimoth one even has an online ordering shop so that if you're going to drive all that way, you can make sure you get what you want.

When I first heard about the online store, I was actually a little bit wary to tell you the truth. I was at the annual Cape Cod Buy Fresh Buy Local meeting, sitting in the back drinking my friend Jessie's homemade cranberry syrup-seltzer infusion and trying not to make too much noise eating smoked bluefish, and these two very smart looking women from Plymouth pulled a computer and a laser pointer out. While they talked about the software, and how the farmers submitted what they had, and then got a report back after the customers had ordered about what to bring, I realized that the whole idea made me just the slightest bit nervous. The thing I like about farmers' markets, after all, is that they are by definition very low tech, and rather than involving computers and telephones and wireless internet and e-trading, they involve people and wicker baskets and carrots and dirt. I had this flash-forward nightmare vision of the local food movement going the way of Big Organics, and for a second my mouth got so dry I had to push away my plate.

I thought about their presentation a lot over the next few weeks.

Eventually, I decided that the only way to get over it would be to call them up and see if they might want to talk. And so I did—I got in touch with Barbara Anglin, the market organizer, and Sasha Purpura, one of the farmers—and last week I ended up walking around with my recording gear and my camera and a big bag of fresh carrots and Chinese cabbage and homemade granola in the Plimoth Plantation parking lot. Then I went inside, and the more we talked, the more I was convinced that online ordering was a good idea after all. Here's how they got me convinced.

For starters, they said that their main goal with the online store is to give more people better access to local food. That isn't really a mission statement I can argue with. Secondly, they pointed out that there are a lot of working parents—mostly mothers, so far as they've noticed, but fathers too—who work during market hours, and therefore can never, ever make it there to do the household shop for the week. Even if they have the money and are into it and are willing to pay the price, they either can't get there at all or get there so late that the eggs and the greens and the grapes and all the good stuff have completely disappeared. Also, Barbara and Sasha argued that the online store has the potential to eventually expand what the market has to offer, because Barbara gives all of the farmers a print out every week showing them who put what up and which items sold like hot potatoes and which ones didn't. The vendors will start to see holes or overlaps, Barbara very reasonably predicted, and then they'll start ramping up new varieties and scaling back in places where there's too much overlap. Ultimately, that could lead to a lot of new foods on our plates.

But the most convincing reason they offered is this: Even though the store is geared toward busy, working parents, and even though they estimate that ninety percent of the people using it are busy, working parents, after these busy people pick up their boxes, they still stick around to shop. They wander through the stalls, and say hello to the farmers they ordered from, and usually buy a few other things. In other words, it's the guarantee they're looking for, not a whole different experience. They have time to say hello, but not to arrive ready for a week's shop and find out nothing's there. That's a wonderfully reassuring thing.

As it turns out, a lot of other people think the online store is a good idea, too. There are a few other places using the exact same program, which was put together originally by a market in Plymouth New Hampshire. The New Hampshire folks were the first people to do it, back in 2006, when the Plymouth Area Renewable Energy Initiative decided to brainstorm ways to get people to buy more local food. The thought was that this, in turn, would decrease these households' overall energy use—and a group of local farmers suggested an online marketplace. That's how the first Local Foods Plymouth was born. Right now, there are about six or seven markets in Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, including the one in our Plymouth, using the software. There's also a different online ordering model—Massachusetts Local—at work in the western part of the state.

It's hard to say whether or not the idea will catch on out here. But based on how well it's doing up north, if I were you I'd take a peek.


Plan accordingly

This weekend, I learned two things. The first is that if you would like to stay happily married for a long, long time, you should never, ever attempt to shop for a house. Not even if you aren't altogether serious about it, and especially not if you are just sort of testing the waters to see how much you like the place you're already in. If you do, you will very quickly discover that actually, people who like three bedroom homes are not made for people who like four bedroom homes, and that basements are secretly much more important to certain people than anyone could have ever imagined, and that there is a lot more to discuss than you realized when it comes to a yard. You might also find out that one of you is very, very picky about southern light, and windows, and old, antique-y frames and floors. As a matter of fact, the only pleasant thing that you might discover is that when two people decide to become so completely unreasonable, you can patch things up by making a cake.

That, of course, is the second thing I learned this weekend: I now know how to bake Melt-in-Your-Mouth blueberry cake.

I never knew that a skill like that could come in quite so handy, as in, stop-your-husband-from-running-away handy, but let me tell you, it does. It is a very important thing to have in your repertoire. I wish I'd had it up my sleeve while we were a little bit earlier, because I have a feeling it's the sort of cake that could do things like knock thousands of dollars off of asking prices and expand basements and add built in storage under eaves and make your husband smile and grab your hand, but I can't be sure.

At any rate, Melt-In-Your-Mouth Blueberry Cake's real power comes from the ever mighty butter and sugar and flour trio, the one that has been saving friendships and marriages and whole businesses since just about the start of time. You make it by creaming some butter, adding in some sugar and a spoonful of vanilla and an egg yolk, and then beating up the white with a little bit more sugar until it's stiff. Then when that all is ready to go, you add the behind-the-scenes structure, the flour and the baking soda and a little pinch of salt, you mix the dry ingredients into the wet ones, fold the egg whites in, and finally, at the last possible second, add a whopping two cups of slightly thawed Eastham blueberries. You get the oven hot, and prep two little pans, one to keep for Sunday morning breakfast and one to bring over to your two very good friends who are [finally! at long last!] coming home from their honeymoon, and you bake.

It couldn't be more soothing, or more delightful when it's finally time to sit down and eat.

We polished ours off yesterday, over tea and coffee and sautéed onions and Chinese cabbage and two fried eggs. We talked about Alex's hockey game, and my walk, and the cilantro plant in the window, and even about a piece of land he'd seen for sale, and no one got the least bit cross.

The only disagreeable thing, actually, was how quickly it disappeared. We thought about breaking into our friends' pan, but that didn't seem right, especially given that they've been gone for a month, and that it was a very long month, and that we're really hoping that now that the hullabaloo is over they'll settle down and stay. Stealing cake from honeymooners seemed terribly unsportsmanlike. So all I'll say is that if you make this cake with the intent to share, don't divvy it up. Plan accordingly, and make a double batch, or if you need to, which you might, even bake three.


Adapted from Cooking Down East by Marjorie Standish

This recipe comes from my mother's repertoire. The annotation next to the header in her copy of the book reads, "YES! Made for the blizzard of March '93." I don't remember the storm, seeing as I was only eight at the time, but she says we ate it at night, with the shades up and the lights on in the yard, watching the snow fly wildly around outside. I think it would be equally lovely tonight, watching the trees bend in the wind and the rain.

2 eggs, separated
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup whole milk, buttermilk, or even eggnog in a pinch
2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and butter an 8" by 8" baking pan. Beat the egg whites until they're stiff. Once they have the right consistency, beat in 1/4 cup of the sugar to keep them stiff, and set them aside.

Cream the butter; add the salt and the vanilla. Beat in the remaining sugar, add the egg yolks, and beat until everything is light and creamy. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a small bowl, and add them to the butter mixture alternately with the milk. Gently fold in the beaten egg whites, and then fold in the blueberries. (Doing this last prevents the blueberries from mixing too much with the batter and giving the cake that eerie green color you sometimes notice in overmixed muffins and cakes.)

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes, or a little less if you like your cake slightly gooey and underdone. Serve at room temperature, with a cup of tea.


The Local Food Report: some serious stuff

We have some serious stuff to talk about today. Namely, food safety laws.

Last year, two pieces of legislation came into the picture: the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009 and Senate Bill 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act. Reforming food safety was a big item on Obama's to-do list when he showed up, and after all the hoopla over the peanut contamination and the e. coli in our spinach, everyone around him was more than happy to get to work. The bills' official purposes, respectively, are to amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to improve the safety of food in the global market and to amend the same act with respect to the safety of the food supply. The Food Safety Enhancement Act passed the House last year in July, but the Senate is more interested in S. 510. There's a lot of careful wording in both about importation and adulteration and authorization, and in the Food Safety Enhancement Act at least, a whole section on food tracing. Clearly, they're intended to regulate the big guys.

I first started reading up on them after my conversation with Joel Salatin. (The second part of it aired today, which is why we're back to him again, just in case you were wondering.) We were talking about local food, and barriers to accessing local food, and he brought up food safety laws. Anyone who wants to produce their own food, he said, should be allowed to sell it to an end user. I thought about this, and it seemed pretty reasonable, especially if it's just a neighbor selling someone a zucchini or a box of blueberries. Apparently the FDA thinks so too, because right now a farmer can sell un-processed produce straight to a consumer.

But for riskier foods, like meat and seafood and milk and canned tomatoes, this isn't legal. Of course, that seems pretty reasonable too—if risky foods are regulated, we're less likely to get sick. But Salatin's point is that these laws were created to protect us from huge, industrial farms. They aren't scaled appropriately for say, buying a chicken from a small farmer down the street, someone you know and trust and whose kids have been friends with your kids since the second grade. There isn't really a need for ideas like food tracing when the farmer and the consumer live right down the street and drink beers together and have potlucks and feed each other's kids. There also isn't really a need for much government regulation—if the guy starts selling bad chickens, everyone will very quickly find out, and no one will ever buy anything from him again. His business will be efficiently and effectively shut down, without any help from the FDA.

What people like Salatin are worried about with the new bills is that the price and infrastructure prejudice associated with regulations scaled for big operations will hurt the small producers that are actually, in terms of food safety, often our best bet. Scott Soares, our very own Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources Commissioner, has similar concerns. The composition of farms in Massachusetts and New England are typically smaller, he says, and if you apply regulations with a broad brush, they don't fit here. When I called him last week to get a better grip on all of the tricky legal wording and processes involved in the bills, he went a little bit further. On the economic side, he said, large farms can absorb costs like $500 annual fees for tracking and testing and inspecting, but for small family farms, even that small of a cost can break the bank. He thinks that initiatives like the voluntary USDA Good Agricultural Practices checklist might be the best way to keep people safe, if we also want to keep small farms afloat.

If anything passes, though, Soares thinks it will be the Senate bill. He says there are still a lot of questions about it, mostly involving definitions, but that the National Association of State Agricultural Departments (did you even know these sorts of departments existed? !) is working to keep everyone up to speed on what exactly all the wording means, and that at this point, it's a more likely bet than the Food Safety Enhancement Act passed by the House.

I didn't get a chance to ask Salatin about these bills in particular, their wording or their progress, but I have a feeling I know what Salatin would say about them if I had. He believes very strongly that if he wants to look around, smell around, and ask around and opt out of bar-coded, saran-wrapped, food-police-sanctioned food, he should have the right to do so. Period. Whether it's risky, or not.

And I agree with him, from a personal point of view. The tricky part is that not everyone is able or interested or willing to buy food right now from small, local farms, and that in the global arena—in the world of Monsantos and Peanut Corporations of America and Mission Organics—people need protection. After reading through the bills and talking with Soares and Salatin and even a few friends, I've decided that the best we can hope for is this: We need legislation that will let us build a vibrant, thriving, local food network and keep people safe from bigger producers in the meantime.

It will take a lot of talking and writing and rewording and definition checking to make sure that's what we get. If you are interested in keeping up, check in with the people over here every now and again. They're very good about alerting the public when a vote is about to happen, and especially when it involves the rights of consumers to buy from small farms.

! Monday, I think it might be nice to talk about puddings or ice cream or cakes. Don't you think? Enjoy the weekend, and I'll see you then.


We do need pie

Last week, I made a real, honest-to-goodness mincemeat pie.

It had venison in it, and a bunch of spices and fruits, and a thick, flakey crust, and it was staggeringly good. I was just a little bit surprised, I have to admit.

For some people, maybe, the idea that ground meat and sugar and fruit are going to meld together in the oven into something delicious makes total sense. Unfortunately, I have never been one of them. Mincemeat pie, ever since I started watching Friends at the age of about fourteen, has always reminded me of the episode when the cookbook pages get stuck together and Rachel makes half an English trifle and half a shepherd pie. She is a little bit puzzled but puts it all together anyway—a big, layered dessert with ladyfingers, custard, jam, and—horror of horrors—beef sautéed with peas. Then she tries to convince everyone to eat it by telling them it's the same idea as mincemeat pie.

Needless to say, this was not an overly winning introduction.

But the other day, I pulled something out of the freezer labeled "burger '09." Once it had thawed out, Alex informed me that it was actually venison from a deer shot locally, by a friend. It seemed wrong to waste it, and so I called my mother, who called her friend Sally, who said she knew just the thing: mincemeat.

Sally, as it turns out, is a big mincemeat fan. She makes jars and jars of it each December and gives them out as Christmas gifts. She has to bargain for the meat, usually, by giving a jar in exchange, but since most traditional mincemeat recipes make 20 pints of preserves, this is a fairly good trade. She gave my parents a jar a while back, and she told them that the trick is to cut the mincemeat with apples when you make the pie, so that the filling gets the flavor and the heft of the sweet meat preserve but has a solid apple base.

Mostly, this is because an all-mincemeat pie is a little too heavy for most people these days. The recipe Sally uses came from a man named Azel Adams, who used to live in Western Maine, in a place called West Forks. She recorded him on cassette a while back for a book, talking about recipes that kept him going when he worked in the 1920s and 1930s in the winter woods. Mincemeat, apparently, used to be a sort of power food—meat and sugar and fruit slapped between two biscuits for a hearty January lunch. Most of us, as Sally pointed out, don't really need that sort of midday meal to keep us going any more.

But we do need pie. And toned down with apples and served with a hunk of cheddar cheese, mincemeat pie, as it turns out, can sometimes be just the thing.


[for modern-day lightweights]

I adapted this from The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer. In the header of the very old, very dilapidated copy of this book my mother picked up for me a few years back, Fannie calls this recipe "Quick Mincemeat." Based on what Sally told me, I'm guessing this is because traditionally, making mincemeat was a huge, once-a-year production. Whereas most recipes make enough for twenty pies, this one makes filling for only one. For mincemeat beginners, I think that's just enough.

for the mincemeat
1 cup apples, chopped
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup cranberries
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup venison or beef stock
1 cup ground venison, cooked
2 tablespoons fruit jam or jelly (I used cranberry apple, but I'm not sure it matters much)

for the pie:
2 cups mincemeat
5 cups apples, chopped
1 nine-inch pie crust, top and bottom

Combine all of the mincemeat ingredients except the cooked venison and the fruit jam in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Bring everything to a boil over medium heat, and then turn the burner down as low as it goes and simmer the mixture for 45 minutes to an hour. Keep a close eye on it during this time, stirring frequently, as you would a jam. As the mixture loses moisture, it will become increasingly thick and sticky and can burn if you aren't paying attention. When it gets to be the consistency of a runny jam, add the venison and the jam and simmer it for another 15 minutes or so, until it cooks into a nice, thick preserve. Turn off the heat, and allow the mincemeat to cool to room temperature.

To make the pie, first preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Then combine the mincemeat—the recipe above should make about 2 cups—with the 5 cups of sliced apples. Mix the two up well so that the mincemeat coats the apples. Any crust will work, but the best choice would be one that is thick and flaky, and more salty than sweet. Roll out the bottom crust, drape it over the pie plate, and spoon the filling in. Then roll out the top crust and drape it over the filling, making sure to pinch the edges and cut a few slits in the top to let steam out. Bake the pie for 25-30 minutes at 400, then turn the temperature down to 325 and bake another 25-30 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the filling is thick.

Eat the pie warm or at room temperature, served with a thick, sharp slice of cheddar cheese.


The Local Food Report: where we're headed

Do you remember my friend Drew from last week? The one who wants to raise organic, grass-fed chickens in Truro and sell broilers for meat and use the layers for eggs? Well, today I'd like to introduce you to the man who inspired him.

His name is Joel Salatin and in the farming world, he's kind of a big deal. He's the farmer who Michael Pollan profiled in his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, for the chapter about pastured meat, and also the farmer who refused to ship a broiler from where he raised it in the Shenendoah Valley of Virginia to where Pollan lived in Berkeley, California. Pollan wanted to taste the chicken for his book, and Salatin explained that the author was welcome to do so anywhere within a four hour radius of Polyface Farm. Salatin feels very strongly about selling the food he raises only within his local foodshed.

Actually, come to think of it, Salatin feels pretty strongly about most things. He thinks that we're awfully arrogant to think that we can treat the earth the way we do, and to think that it won't have any consequences down the road. There's an old Chinese proverb he likes to quote, something along the lines of if we don't change our direction, we're likely to end up where we're headed. It's as close as he'll come to prophesizing a collapse.

When I met him this fall at Cape Cod Community College, he talked mostly about this arrogance, and the problems he thinks it's caused. He thinks that trying to shortcut nature, particularly when it comes to what we farm and in turn what we eat, is the cause of a lot of our current health problems. He looks at the industrial food system, and the way it has manipulated things like potatoes and corn into chips and soft drinks, and sees a fairly direct link to type two diabetes and obesity. And he looks at recent outbreaks of e. coli and listeria and bovine spongiform encephalopathy and sees a fairly direct link between them and the way we let animals stand around in their own feces eating corn they aren't meant to digest on factory farms. He also sees a connection between our environmental worries—climate change and flooding and drought and all sorts of wacky weather patterns—and the fact that we now use 15 calories of energy to produce a single calorie of food. Food should be a net producer of calories, he says, not a net consumer. Finally, he takes a look at our landscapes and sees a link between suburban sprawl and the Peruvian apples on our tables. If we valued locally grown food, he says, there would be an economic incentive to preserve open space.

It all makes a good amount of sense, I think.

But his best point—and the one he uses to try and tip real skeptics over the edge—is that even if we have decided that we're okay with sucking up oil and getting a bad case of salmonella every once in a while, from a community standpoint, we still aren't safe. The idea of a global foodshed—one in which to feed itself our little town of Wellfleet has to rely on imports from five or ten or fifteen other countries, instead of just Barnstable county or maybe Massachusetts or even New England—isn't safe. What if there's a war, or maybe a transportation glitch? Suddenly, we have nothing to eat.

It's pretty scary, if you think about it. It makes me admire people like Salatin and Drew even more, people who are doing what they can—inspiring or learning or coming up with business plans—to try and change the way things work. I read this quote the other day, from Tolstoy. Everyone thinks of changing the world, he said, but no one thinks of changing himself. It's a good point, and a good reminder that sometimes, it's the small actions that count. Sometimes, even, when the pickled beets are homemade from your garden and the eggs come from down the street, actions as small as making up a plate of beet-pickled deviled eggs can make a difference.


adapted from this recipe published in Gourmet, November 2009

If you don't have any pickled beets on hand, check out the original recipe (through that link up above). It gives a step by step for making the pickling juice. If you do have pickled beets on hand, though, the beets make an excellent double appetizer with the eggs.

12 eggs, hard-boiled and peeled
pickling juice from 1 quart pickled beets
1/3 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade
1 tablespoon sweet, whole-grained mustard like Raye's Fall Harvest blend
2 scallions, minced (roughly 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon white pepper
salt to taste

Find a bowl or container that has a cover and will hold all 12 hard-boiled eggs. Put the eggs in the container, pour the pickling juice over top, and put the eggs in the refrigerator to chill for at least two hours. If the pickling juice doesn't quite cover the eggs, spin them every once in a while so that they turn a deep pink color all over.

Pull the container of eggs out of the fridge and pat them dry on a paper towel or old dishcloth. Cut the eggs in half lengthwise and, using a spoon and taking care not to rip the whites, scoop the yolks out into a small mixing bowl. Arrange the whites on a serving platter, face up. Beat the mayonnaise, mustard, scallions, and pepper into the egg yolks, and season with salt to taste. Using either a spoon or a cake piping kit, fill the wholes of the whites with the yolk mixture. Serve chilled.


Most fantastically orange

You know the way Kraft dinner macaroni and cheese tastes on a camping trip? Well, I think I've figured out how to recreate it. It feels sort of like it did when I was fourteen and spent six days paddling the Petawawa, only without all the mosquitoes and the wet sleeping bag. Oh, and we've been eating with my grandmother's silver.

And while generally, as a rule, KD macaroni and cheese tastes better off of bent stainless steel sporks and tin plates, so far, we haven't let that get our spirits down. We also haven't been deterred by the fact that it isn't raining, that we don't have any sandwich bags full of wet, clumpy lemon pepper to sprinkle on top, and that we no longer spend our summers at Camp Northway Lodge. Which, in case you are wondering, is in Algonquin Park, Ontario and is North America's oldest wilderness camp for girls. It was founded by Fannie L. Case in 1906, and there is no electricity or running water, and to this day, every meal is cooked over a big, pot-bellied woodstove.

(Also, in case you're wondering, we has been referring to both me and Alex, and no, he did not attend. He has learned a few camp songs, though, and although he doesn't like to admit it, I'm pretty sure he secretly sometimes practices them on his own.)

At any rate, although neither Alex or I have done any class four rapids recently, and although we don't own a cedar strip canoe, and even though it is only about 18 degrees out and fairly prohibitive of camping activities in general, we have been enjoying quite a bit of macaroni and cheese. Not actual KD, mind you, or even traditional macaroni and cheese, but a pumpkin penne with spinach and goat cheese that will fool you so completely that you may never go back. It's hard to believe, I know, but if you sauté some red onions in a pat of butter, add some pumpkin puree and some milk and salt and a little dash of Sriracha sauce and throw it over penne, you get a big bowl of pasta that tastes alarmingly similar to the warmest, cheesiest, most fantastically orange macaroni and cheese you've ever had. It makes me feel cozy just to type all those adjectives up.

You can imagine how nice it is to actually dig in.

Happily, it's a snap to make. It's the kind of thing you can throw together in fifteen minutes for a working Monday lunch, or even a last minute dinner for company. The key is to have the squash—either a pie pumpkin or a butternut or something in that vein—already baked, so that all you have to do is boil water for pasta and sauté. Recently, we've been keeping a jar of pureed squash on hand at all times in the fridge, partially because some of the pie pumpkins in the basement have been getting soft spots, but also because of how quickly, now that we have this recipe, pureed squash disappears. I don't know about you, but there are only so many sweet squash pies and butternut soups I can eat. This opens up a whole new world, this putting pumpkin on penne.

Oh! and we've been putting crumbled up goat cheese on top, which has made things pretty new and exciting, too, and spinach from the greenhouse. Since we're not fourteen any more, I thought a little green might be nice.

I could go on and on, in case you can't tell, about the merits of what we've taken to calling Pumpkin Penne alla KD. I could also tell you a fair bit about rapids, and what it's like to tip over in them every day for six days in a row while it rains and your shorts and t-shirt and underwear are constantly wet, and even what it's like to resort to eating fried uncooked soggy pasta because it has turned back into dough, but I'm not sure any of that would be a good idea, for anyone.

So for your own good, I'm going to sign off, and let you get to your kitchen and your squash and your food processor, and let you start recreating your own camp memories lickety-split. Have fun, everyone.


For the original idea for this recipe, I have to thank Mr. Mark Bittman. As you probably know, he's into doing more with less, and he decided for his book The Best Recipes in the World to try and recreate the taste of Italian squash filled ravioli without having to actually do all the tiny finger work. He thought maybe it would have the same effect to just put the squash filling on the outside of the pasta, as a sauce for penne instead, and boy-oh-boy, it did. The only flaw I could find with the whole thing was that he spiked his sauce with sugar and nutmeg in a way that made it taste more like pumpkin pie filling and less like a savory dish. So instead, I went in a butter-milk-Sriracha-salt-spinach-goat cheese and sauteed red onion direction, and it came out absolutely perfectly—a lot less like pie, and a lot more, in the best way possible, like camp style KD.

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 cup pureed pie pumpkin or butternut squash
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
a pinch of nutmeg
a dash of Sriracha or another spicy chili sauce
salt to taste
1/2 pound pasta—penne, macaroni, or any other bite size shape—cooked and drained
1/2 pound baby spinach, washed and dried
4 ounces goat cheese

Heat up the butter over medium-high heat in the bottom of a medium size, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the red onion and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, or until it becomes soft and translucent. Turn the heat down to a simmer and spoon in the pureed squash, stirring constantly, along with about a third of the milk. Keep adding the milk in splashes (and keep stirring), until it has all been added and absorbed. Now season the sauce with the white pepper, nutmeg, Sriracha, and salt. Add the pasta to the pot and stir it into the sauce, until all of the pieces are completely coated. While the pasta and the sauce are still hot, stir in the spinach. It should wilt a little bit, and sort of melt into the mix. (If it doesn't seem to be shrinking down, try putting a lid on the pot and turning the heat back on low for a minute or so. The steam should do the trick.) Serve the pasta hot, with a few crumbles of goat cheese on top.


The Local Food Report: a Perry Special

I'm sorry if I sounded a little out of sorts the other day. I didn't mean to, but I have a feeling that I might have, and so today I decided to bring you flowers. Tulips, to be specific, a little bit wilted, but from what I've heard it's the thought that counts.

It's just that sometimes, when I spend a little too much time listening to Living on Earth and Science Friday and reading books like Collapse, I get overwhelmed. I wonder what on earth we're supposed to do to get out of the mess we've gotten in, and even if we could figure it out, how we would convince everyone, all at once, to get on board with a colossal community solve. Luckily, this time, just before things got too deep, I ran into my friend Drew. Drew is one of those people who makes you feel like the world is definitely, without a doubt, going to be fine. Not even just fine, but really good, like in an all around a-okay rose bushes and tinted glasses sort of way.

Drew is twenty-one, and he grew up on his family's farm near Corn Hill Beach in Truro. His last name is Locke, but going back his grandfather's name is Perry, and the Perry farm, or Hillside Farms, is usually how people in Truro know the place. The Perrys are the ones that sell homegrown cucumbers and tomatoes and watermelons at their stand on Route 6 in the summertime, and a long time back, they had chicken and eggs and beef, too.

Drew's in school right now—at the Stockbridge Ag program up at UMass Amherst—the program that started the school, and the one his grandfather went to, too. He's all excited about things like pigs raised on restaurant scraps and the Buy Fresh Buy Local movement and Joel Salatin's systems for growing healthy chickens, the so-called "salad bar."

Back when his grandfather ran the farm, in the 50s and 60s, the land supported over 10,000 birds. Half were layers, half were broilers, and they all lived in a big, three story barn. In the winter, when the birds laid too many eggs to sell, Mr. Perry trucked the extras up to Boston. And in the summer, when all the visitors came down, he ran a delivery service around town. Eventually, though, government restrictions got tighter, and the number of birds he was allowed to have shrank down into the hundreds.

Then, in the 80s, there was an event known as the Perry Barbecue. I will spare you the gorey details, but suffice it to say that it involved a storm, and the chickens, and some lightening, and that it was not a very pretty sight. The Box Lunch even named a sandwich after the debacle—the Perry Special, with chicken and bbq sauce—which you can still order to this day. After that, the chicken operation went belly up.

Drew's goal for this summer is to bring at least a few hundred of those chickens back.

He's thought about it a lot. He's done a lot of number scratching and note taking and idea bouncing and regulation studying, and he thinks, he's pretty sure, it can be done. His grandfather is a little bit skeptical—Don't put $4 into a beet you can only sell for $2, he says—and Drew knows it's good advice. Only with a pasture-based system—one that relies on grass instead of purchased feed—he thinks he can make things work. He won't have to rebuild the huge old barn, either, because he plans to graze the chickens rotationally, moving them around the grass in bottomless cages to a new 12' by 12' plot every day. When slaughter time comes, he can hook into the state's new Mobile Poultry Processing Unit, the MPP pilot program, and save himself $30,000 on a slaughterhouse. Then on the business side of things, he'll replicate his grandfather's model—tapping into the market through the farm stand and deliveries. When he talks about it, he breaks into a huge, contagious grin. It's pretty great.

The part that gives me the most hope, though, is the way what Drew's been learning at Stockbridge has shaped what he wants to do. It's easy to wonder, sometimes, just how much of an effect writing something down during a lecture can have—whether or not anyone is really going to do anything with what's on that piece of paper or not. But I think, when I look at what kids I went to college with are doing, people who only graduated three years ago, and what Drew plans to do before he even finishes up, that knowledge is actually shaping our generations' dreams and jobs quite a bit. And that of course, in turn, is shaping what ends up in our kitchens, and on our dinner plates.

With any luck, before long, it will be one of Drew's organic, pastured, Truro-grown and Truro-processed chickens we're cooking up. I can hardly wait.


My mother used to make this chicken, and my sister and I liked it so much we called it The Chicken. What you'll find below isn't so much of a recipe as an off-the-cuff outline, but the good news is you really can't go wrong. The dish comes from my grandmother, who says she has absolutely no idea when she started making it, or why, except that oven fried chicken was all the rage at one point. She says she used to make it in Youngstown, Ohio, when my mother was little, and when I tried to ask her about the details, she said that it's so simple that there really aren't any.

She can see herself making it in their old Youngstown kitchen, she said, turning on the oven and melting the butter in a big Pryrex casserole dish, putting a little bit of flour in a bag with some salt and pepper, and then shaking a few chicken thighs and drumsticks around until everything was properly coated. Then, according to the recipe she wrote out for my mother, she would drop the chicken in the butter, put the whole mess in the oven, and cook the chicken pieces for about a half hour on each side. My mother must have added the herbs at some point, and I have a sneaky feeling she changed the flour to whole-wheat, too. Don't be afraid to do your own improvising, and be sure to let us know how it goes.

4-6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound assorted chicken cuts—a mixture of thighs, wings, and drumsticks works well, because they cook more evenly when they're the same size, and also, thighs tend to be pretty cheap

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Put the butter in a 9" by 13" casserole dish, and stick it into the warming oven until it melts. Combine the flour, herbs, and salt and pepper in a quart-sized plastic bag and mix well. Add the chicken and shake until every piece is well coated with the flour mixture. Arrange the chicken pieces in the casserole dish in the melted butter so that none of the pieces are resting on top of each other. Bake for 25-30 minutes, turn the chicken pieces over, and bake them for another 25-30 minutes, or until crispy and golden, on the other side. Enjoy hot, maybe with a salad or biscuits if you are feeling especially indulgent.

P.S. Up-Cape, there are already a few places to buy locally raised birds. There's Ocean Song Farm in Cummaquid, and also Miss Scarlett's Blue Ribbon Farm in Yarmouth Port (508.420.9748). Just over the bridge, I've gotten very good chicken from Paskamansett Farms in Dartmouth.


Very 2010

On Saturday, we had an absolutely enormous tide. The lumberyard went under, like it always does, and Uncle Tim's bridge had water just up to its planks, and the building I'm sitting in right now—the old Mooney grain barn Alex and his brother turned into a little hub of offices on Duck Creek—our wobbly old red frame dipped its whole northeast corner right into the sea.

After I ran up the sidewalk to the marketplace to buy a roll of film and shot all twenty-four exposures in a matter of eleven minutes, Alex and I just stood at the top of the basement stairs, looking down. We watched as the tide swirled old windows and scrap wood and extension cords around the cement, and as the water rocked sawdust in and out through the crack beneath the old garage door. I wondered if we shouldn't be pumping or mopping or scooping, but I realized there was nothing to do, really, besides wait for the water to give up and retreat.

I have to admit, the thought kind of scared me. I wondered, for a few minutes, what it would mean for our little town—which to begin with is hardly more than a pile of sand and visitors anchored with a few churches and roads and locust trees—what it would mean for us if we all end up changing the world in a way where the sea does not retreat. It was the sort of thought that made me want to walk home, to hang out our laundry by the woodstove and curl up on the couch to look up houses for sale downtown and the Flex bus schedule on the Internet. It was the kind of thought that made me hesitate a second at the sugar bowl, put it back on the shelf, and spoon honey into the bottom of my tea.

It was also the sort of thought that made me feel incredibly thankful and a whole lot braver for knowing all of you. We might not know if the little things we do—buying a pig raised on scraps from a restaurant down the street, or avoiding corn syrup and orange soda, or packing our freezers in July with strawberries and spinach and Swiss chard—are enough to keep the water out, but at least it isn't already coming in under the door.

And so for the New Year, I decided to make a list. I have always liked lists, and fresh start lists in particular, written on crisp, college ruled paper with my friends Katy and Siobhan in mind, who long ago invented a tradition of calling every list The List in order to give it that fresh start ring. So here, in honor of a new year and good friends and pumping and mopping and scooping before it is too late to do any good, is The List for 2010:

—Don't eat meat—any meat—that doesn't come from a place I trust and can name. This, ahem! includes bites of other people's burgers, late night wings and even, I fear, chicken flavored Ramen noodle broth.

—Get so many people excited about this new grain CSA, that they are full again next year and lots of other ones spring up to feed the demand.

—Keep a freezer inventory. Write down what goes in, and when, during the summer, and what comes out, and when, during the winter. Adjust accordingly—put up more strawberries? fewer crushed tomatoes? more beans?

—Keep a garden book for more than the first three days. Like the freezer, write what goes in, and what comes out, and what we liked to eat the most. Again, adjust accordingly.

—Do not, unless it comes from Pan d'Avignon, buy bread; bake it instead. This should be easier once our share of wheat and rye comes from the folks over at Pioneer Valley, but there's still always the option of baking with this flour from Maine.

—Figure out ways to favor honey over sugar for making things sweet, even though I may be one of the only people on the planet to think that honey is just a little bit gross. I used to feel the same way about rice, and although it took years of coaxing, I now, sometimes, eat stir-fries, so I guess there's hope.

—Finally, at least once, take the Flex bus to the Orleans farmers' market. Really, with a good book and a few tote bags and the promise of a treat from the woman who rings the bell, it cannot be that bad. If I like it, do it again the next week, and if that goes well, do it whenever I can. Maybe, if things go really well, get a few of you to come along, and sit altogether with our tomatoes and leeks in the back.

I think that's enough. If this year is good enough to allow me to accomplish every one of those things, it will have been very kind indeed. Plus, I'm hoping you might have a few suggestions, too, and I'll want to tack those onto the end.

Oh! and here's a recipe from James Beard for no-knead, one-rise, all whole-wheat bread, no-sugar-just-honey bread, in case you want to get on board. When I first saw it I was very kind of skeptical, but as it turns out, it's actually quite good. Not in a white bread, 1950s sort of way, but in rustic, moist-toast-and-sweet-butter earthy way that feels very 2010.

New Year's Beard Bread

adapted from Myrtle Allen's Brown Bread, found in James Beard's Beard on Bread

It is really kind of amazing that this bread is bread at all, considering that what we generally think of as bread involves kneading and two rises, minimum. But somehow, it turns out very satisfyingly—like a slightly denser, moister, meatier version of its kneaded counterparts. All in all, considering it involves five minutes of prep time, just under an hour and a half of waiting, and can be made with all local ingredients, I found it well worth my while, if a little unusual.

3 and 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour
2 tablespoons honey
2 cups very warm tap water
1 and 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1 tablespoon salt

Scoop the flour into a large mixing bowl. Put the bowl in a warm place—a gas oven with a pilot light, or next to the woodstove, or an electric oven on very, very low—and leave it there until both the flour and the bowl are warm. Once they are, dissolve the honey in 1/2 cup of the warm water and stir in the yeast. Let it proof for five minutes, or until the mixture starts to rise up and get bubbly.

Add another 1/2 cup of warm water to the yeast mixture, and stir it into the flour along with the salt. Mix well, adding the remaining cup of warm water and more as needed, until the mixture forms a moist, sticky dough. Transfer it into a buttered bread tin, cover it with plastic wrap, and set it in a warm place to rise. When the dough has increased in size by almost a third, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. By the time it is warm, the dough should be a third again its original size, but should not spill over the top of the baking tin.

Bake the loaf for 35-45 minutes, or until the top is a deep brown and sounds hollow when tapped. Turn the oven off, tip the loaf from its pan, and return it to the oven to sit on the rack for another 15 to 20 minutes. This will help the bread develop and more distinct crust. Enjoy warm, with plenty of butter, or the next day alongside a bowl of soup.


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