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.


Kelly said...

I am embarrassed to admit I don't know why your tide is so high. I haven't driven along the beach over my way to see what kind of shape things are in. Is it a factor of the sea levels rising/erosion? A weather pattern?

Kudo's for swearing off unknown meat. I would love to do that but I don't know I could ever stick to it. We will be eating LOTS of beef since a Westport cow is in my freezer, and I no longer buy pork (organic bacon & hotdogs aside). I am cringing as I write this, but buying local free range chicken & sausage is too expensive. There, I said it. I would love to find humanely raised chicken at a happy medium price per pound, I really would. But $20 for a small roaster is just not practical for my family.

Oncapecod said...

Great list. I would be happy just to get out of bed in time to drive to the Orleans Farmers Market before it closes.

Tara said...

My problem is with cured meat! I have a wonderful place where I buy most of our meat (aside from the chickens we raise) that's only five miles from me, but they don't sell any cured meats of any kind. No ham, no bacon, only fresh sausage, no pancetta, etc. For me this is tragic. I've concluded that I will simply have to tackle curing on my own.

Thanks for sharing the bread recipe. I really want an all whole wheat loaf that isn't too heavy or dry. I'll take this one for a spin!

Elspeth said...

Kelly, I'm not sure either. I heard a rumor that there was a "blue moon" over New Year's, so maybe that had something to do with it? I don't think it was global warming related, but you never know.

And yes, free range chicken IS expensive. I've been working on three radio shows coming up about why, and about new efforts on the Cape to get affordable, healthy chicken out there, so be sure to check back.

David, we all have goals. That is a very honorable one indeed! 7:30 is tough on a summer Saturday, I agree.

Tara—that is definitely an issue. When we bought a whole pig, the bacon came un-cured. We were lucky enough to have access to a smoker, so we cured it ourselves, but that isn't a very good solution for everyone. I think that in addition to tackling these things ourselves, we will have to keep telling our farmers & artisans what we want. Someone, eventually, will see the business opportunity and step in.

Thank you all, as always, for being here. I think it's going to be a very good 2010.

All the best,

Kristine said...

Happy new year! Very admirable goals indeed, I have a garden calendar at the back door ready for all the activity in this coming year. So far it has one entry, a turmeric root given by a friend's mother who stayed for a few days.
I am in the wide, brown, dry land of Australia and the challenge is to keep ahead of the drought, floods and fire.
We have ambitions of populating my father-in-law's farm with pigs and chickens in the manner of yesteryear and supplying these fresh and beautiful.

Elspeth said...


It sounds like you have very admirable goals yourself. Turmeric root, huh? I have a feeling that doesn't grow so well up here. Lucky you!

All the best,

Unknown said...

I would be happy just to get out of bed in time to drive to the Orleans Farmers Market

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