We will be back

Fisher and I just wanted to say that we are home in Maine for a visit for a few days. We are very busy—turning forty quarts of strawberries into homemade jam and celebrating birthdays and anniversaries and 84 years of a long, full life—but we will be back here soon. In the meantime, Fisher has come up with something to keep you entertained: an act in which he stars as himself, balancing a spear of asparagus on his nose.

We'll see you Thursday, everyone.


The Local Food Report: have your cake

You know that saying—you can have your cake, and eat it too? Well, with Marissa Ferry, it's true.

You can have your cupcake, or your rhubarb ginger stout cake, or your panna cotta, and you can know that it was made by an up-and-coming Wellfleet pastry chef who uses as many local ingredients as possible. That way, you can feel good about dessert, and she can too.

Marissa grew up around here—she started baking at Nauset and then went on to the Baking & Pastry Arts program at Johnson and Wales—but she did plenty of traveling before coming home. She's worked under bakers and chefs all over the place—in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, even Orlando. But she's been back on the Cape for a few years now, turning out cupcakes and ice creams and all sorts of other goodies from a space in the basement of the Flying Fish in Wellfleet. She says it's good to be home—that it feels like closing a loop.

Since she arrived, she's been building her foodshed—networking with local farmers, asking for lists of when they'll have rhubarb and blueberries and exactly how long the peaches last. Recently, she even started working with the cheesemakers over at Shy Brothers Farm. They're making this new curd—cloumage—which is sort of like a ricotta/cream cheese/yogurt blend. It's a soft cheese, and it has the same unique tang and creaminess of crème frâiche. Marissa's putting it into panna cotta, and after trying out her recipe for you all last night, I can say without reservation that it's divine.

Of course, that's partially the cheese, but it's also partially Marissa. We serve her desserts where I work at Blackfish, in Truro, and her other creations—things like a ginger stout cake made with Ipswich Stout and served over a local rhubarb compote with a spiced honey ice cream—will also stop you in your tracks. She's always coming up with new combinations—things like this spring's hot honey cake, made with honey from E & T farms and served with lemon confit and chamomile tea ice cream—to fit the seasons. Pretty soon, she'll swap out the spring fruits—strawberries and rhubarb—for the raspberries and blueberries as they get ripe. After that it will be apples and stone fruits, and with any luck, she'll be able to get her hands on some local cherries to make clafouti for the first time this year.

If you're looking for her, look for the Wildflour Bakery sign that will be going up in a few days beside the Flying Fish. Right now, she does all the desserts for them and for Blackfish, and a few catering events and special orders, too. She's good at everything from tarts to ice creams to cupcakes, and of course, panna cotta, too.


This dessert is about as easy and as elegant as they get. It takes maybe 10-15 minutes from start to finish, and there's no baking. Just stir, whisk, and pour. After trying it once, I can't wait to start playing with flavors—maybe almond-raspberry? Blueberry-lemon? Coffee? Peaches with thyme? Of course, the cheese is important; there's a list of local places where you can find Cloumage over here. If you can't get that, crème frâiche will work, but you will need to play around with the amount of gelatin to get the consistency just right.

1 pound Cloumage
1/2 ounce gelatin
1/2 cup cold water
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon orange zest
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
3/4 cup granulated sugar plus 1 tablespoon, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
sliced fresh strawberries and a few torn basil leaves, for topping

Arrange 8 small ramekins on a baking sheet and spoon the cloumage into a large mixing bowl.

Bloom the gelatin. (This is pastry-chef speak for pouring the packet of gelatin into the cold water, stirring, and waiting a bit.)

Pour the cream, orange and lemon zests, sugar, and salt into a medium-size, heavy-bottomed pot. Stir until the sugar dissolves and bring to a simmer. (Do not boil.) Turn the heat off, add the vanilla, and pour this mixture over the cloumage. Add the gelatin and whisk until smooth.

Divide the mixture evenly between the ramekins and put them on the baking sheet into the fridge to set for three hours. About an hour before you're ready to serve, mix the strawberries, remaining tablespoon of sugar, and basil, and leave at room temperature to juice. Serve the panna cotta chilled, with a spoonful of fresh strawberries and basil on top.


Once you start

My friend Emily has told me a lot of secrets. Usually, she tells them to me after a few glasses of wine, and usually, they involve things like the way she feels about Taylor Lautner's abs or the fact that she hasn't washed her hair for a week. But a few months ago, she divulged cold sober that she used to be the delivery girl for her parents' business—selling homegrown sprouts.

According to Emily, growing sprouts is easy, and cheap, and kind of fun. Her job was to tote the bags around to the marketplace and restaurants, walking from back doors on Main Street to the pier and up East Commercial back to town. Her parents, in the meantime, were busy filling clear containers with alfalfa seeds, and getting the growing done.

I went online the night she told me—did you know that you can order not just alfalfa sprouting seeds but also rapini broccoli sprouting seeds and green speckled peas and crimson and green lentils that will turn into sprouts as well? It was a dangerous discovery to make in the middle of the night after a few glasses of wine, but luckily, when the package arrived, there was only one small bag of plain old alfalfa sprouting seeds inside. I didn't get a chance to try them until a few weeks ago, but it's been sprout mania in this house ever since.

Here's how things work:

You arrange a layer of sprout seeds over the bottom of a clear container, like a sandwich-sized Tupperware or maybe a glass pie plate. You wet them ever so slightly, and you check on them every day. You make sure they stay moist and that they're getting plenty of sun, and in a week or two, they get huge. Your only job then is to buy some hummus, and some cheddar, and some nice sandwich bread, put a few slices in the toaster, and slap together lunch. Then, you water the next batch, make a few more sandwiches, squeal with delight, and start again.

I found out recently that you can also do the growing in a very official sprout-growing rig. My mom's friend Genie swears by hers—(once you start growing sprouts, you find out that all sorts of other people have secretly been doing it all along)—and from what I gather it has layers, sort of like stacked trays. They layers have tiny holes so that when you water the sprouts, the excess drains out, so as to keep the sprouts moist without getting them too wet.

However you decide to do things—the fancy way, or with some homemade contraption, or with plain old water and sun—be sure to take this project on. It's fun, and sort of crazy, and of course there's that stack of sandwiches to look forward to when you're done.

P.S. I have been trying to figure out how to make a homemade replacement for hummus with local beans. We have a whole heap of black turtle beans from our grain & bean csa and also a few bags of Jacob's Cattle beans from Wood Prairie Farm—so if you have any ideas, please send them along. Then we could have homegrown sprout sandwiches with locally baked bread and New England cheddar and a homemade local bean spread! I get butterflies just thinking about it.


The Local Food Report: week one

Three weeks—around here, that's how long pea season is.

It makes me a little frantic, to tell you the truth. How am I going to get my fill? Should I call out of work on the last night if I haven't yet fit in, say, that creamy mint and fresh peas pasta dish? Should I be eating peas for breakfast, stuck to a knife with honey, or maybe sautéed with roasted mushrooms, so as not to waste a meal? What if I need to make these crushed peas with smokey sesame dressing twice? Peas are serious business, and I mean to get them done.

This week was week one. David Light (of the Kitchen Garden in Orleans) had Coral peas at the market Saturday, and a line to match. The first sweet, fresh shucking peas of the season were flying off the table at a rate of nearly three pounds a minute, and by the time I got up front, they were almost gone. As a matter of fact—phew!—I got the last pound.

Next week, he says, he'll have more—Lincoln peas, his main crop will be coming in—and this time around, I plan to stock up. I still want to make peas and prosciutto—although given that I haven't seen any local cured meats around here, it might have to be peas and bacon—and I want to make petits pois again at least once this year, and I'm very much hoping to try this spring tabouli recipe before my three weeks are up.

The fact that we only ate a single pound of peas in this whole first week, well, it's a bit disappointing. Luckily, the dish was not. It was fresh and incredibly green, snappy and zingy and with just enough bacon to make it almost rich, too. Plus, it's the kind of recipe you look at and think: all these ingredients are just right this time of year. The markets still have asparagus, the peas are just coming in, butter lettuce is multiplying like mad, and spring onions abound.

So quick—before the window passes—dig in.


I adapted this recipe from one in the spring pasta slideshow online at Bon Appetit.com. When I saw the title, and then the ingredient list, there was really nothing to stand in my way; it looked delicious, and everything I needed was either in our fridge from the market, or growing in the yard. (Ok, except the pig.) It was easy, fast, and fresh, and bright in a very early summer kind of way.

4 slices bacon
1/2 pound spring onions, chopped
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 and 1/2 pounds asparagus, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 cup shelled fresh peas (from about 1 pound peas in pods)
1 pound small shell pasta
olive oil, for drizzling
1 head butter lettuce
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the bacon over medium high heat in a large skillet. When the meat is crisp, remove it and set it aside on a dishtowel to drain. Meanwhile, add the onions to the pan. Sauté them in the bacon fat for 5 to 8 minutes, or until they get soft and translucent. Season with a bit of salt. Deglaze with the white wine by drizzling it around the pan; it should hiss and steam. Simmer until it is reduced by half, then pour in the chicken stock, turn the heat down to a simmer, and set aside.

Cook the asparagus and the peas in a large pot of boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes, or until just tender. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer immediately to a bowl of ice water (this helps the vegetables keep their color and also stops them from over-cooking). Bring the water in the pot back to a boil and add the pasta. Cook for 8-10 minutes, or until al dente; then drain, return to the pot, and toss with olive oil.

Crumble the bacon and sprinkle it into the onion mixture. Add the asparagus and peas to this pan, too, and the butter lettuce. Cook until the vegetables are just hot and the lettuce wilts down. Transfer the pasta to a serving dish, pour this vegetable mixture over top, add Parmesan, and toss well. Serve at once.


Pay dirt

Julie from Brunswick, are you out there?

I hope so, because this post is for you. A while ago, when I told you about the grain CSA we joined this year and the New York-grown spelt that came as part of our share, you wanted to hear more. I promised you that I would look into it, and I know it took a while, but this week, I did. I looked right into the face of a spelt flour, olive oil, homegrown rosemary, and dark chocolate cake, and Julie—we hit pay dirt.

This particular cake comes from a book I've mentioned a few times around here, Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain. It isn't a book that I fell instantly in love with, but the more I've used it, the more I've liked it. And after this cake, I like it even more.

The cake comes from a whole chapter dedicated to spelt flour, because according to Boyce, spelt can be substituted for plain-old whole-wheat flour in just about anything. It does especially well in cakes and muffins, she says, because it has a sort of inherent sweet, cinnamony-ness that bakes into a fine, sturdy crumb and is good at complimenting spice. The spice for this cake—rosemary—might seem odd, but somehow, with the chocolate and the olive oil, it's just right.

The key is to use fresh rosemary and top quality dark chocolate. The first time I made this I used Baker's chocolate, semi-sweet, because it was the only thing we had on hand, and I regretted it with every bite. Semi-sweet turned out to be too sweet—it was 54% cacao—and Baker's turned to out to taste, in big chunks, just the slightest bit like chalk. The second time around I went with two bars of dark chocolate chunks from the Chocolate Sparrow and was much, much happier with that choice. We also put down a dying rosemary plant with the first go-round, and the second time, with sprigs from a fresh pot I planted for the deck, that flavor was much better, too. Last but not least I'd say don't use too strong of an olive oil—something subtle and slightly fruity, maybe, but definitely not the fresh, green kind with bite.

Beyond that, it's fairly hard to go wrong. Boyce said to bake the cake in a tart pan, but since I like nice, moist centers, I made it into a Bundt round instead. I also added a bit more milk than the recipe calls for—spelt cakes tend to be dry, and again, I like mine moist—and I was happy with that tweak, too.

So Julie, here you are: a whole-grain spelt cake and—maybe if we all cross our fingers at once—an afternoon to cozy up with a slice of it in the sun.


The thing that I love about this recipe—which, as explained in the post above, is adapted from Kim Boyce's Olive Oil Cake in Good to the Grain—is how easy it is. It's the type of thing you can whip up in minutes, without any beating or special steps or fuss. I made it the other night in the midst of dinner preparations, and it took only 10 minutes, from thought to oven.

3/4 cup spelt flour
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup olive oil*
1 scant cup whole milk
1 and 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate (about 70% cacao), cut into irregular but roughly 1/2-inch pieces

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a Bundt cake pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs to break them up, then stir in the oil, milk, and rosemary, and mix well. Mix these wet ingredients gently into the flour mixture, stirring until just incorporated. Fold in the chocolate pieces, and pour the batter into the prepared Bundt cake pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the top turns golden brown and begins to crack and the center is still moist but cooked through.

*Note: To make this cake even more local, I thought about using butter instead of olive oil, but decided against it in the end. Substituting butter in recipes that call for oil tends to make things a bit drier—some people say this is because the butter solidifies at room temperature, whereas the oil remains liquid—and since spelt already has a tendency to dry things out, this didn't seem like a good idea. That said, however, I think it might be a risk worth taking. If you decide to experiment, just be sure to melt the butter so that you can mix it in rather than cream it.


The Local Food Report: strawberry land

Welcome to Tony Andrews Farm:

We're in East Falmouth, off Old Meetinghouse Road, and the farm's been here since 1935. Jeff Andrews' father Tony started it with his uncle after coming into town in 1927 from Cape Verde, and at one point, the farm had 23 acres—all strawberry land.

Tony was part of a wave of Portuguese-speaking immigrants that settled East Falmouth in the 20s and 30s. He came in as a crew member on a cargo ship, a three mast schooner that was owned by Rhode Islanders and re-possessed on what was supposed to be a return trip. He found family in Falmouth and started working the cranberry bogs, and eventually, he saved up enough to buy land. His story is a common one; the people who remember still call St. Anthony's the church built by strawberries, and it's true. Strawberries in East Falmouth were big business way back when.

The soil in East Falmouth is what made the industry such a success. It's a coarse, sandy soil called Carver soil, with the high acidity and good drainage that strawberries like. At the height of production, the town grew half of the strawberries consumed in Massachusetts, and was the biggest growing region north of Maryland. (That's according to a recent article in Edible Cape Cod about the history of the strawberry industry in Falmouth; to read more—and it's very interesting, so if I were you I would—head on over here.)

It wasn't until the 40s and 50s that production started going down. Tourism and development were starting to grow on the Cape, and the farmers in East Falmouth started selling off their acres, one by one. It was hard to get workers at picking time, too; Jeff Andrews remembers his parents bringing up families from Rhode Island to pick, and housing them all through June. When even the seasonal workers stopped coming in the 70s and 80s, they decided to open the fields to pick-your-own, and today, that's still how Jeff makes things work.

He's open every morning during the season, from eight a.m. to noon—any later, he says, and he gets determined folks passing out from heat and sun stroke. Mostly it's the old timers that come, but there are also a few young families mixed in. The day I went, Monday, I picked 16 pounds, and my only companion was this gentleman, and his Maxwell can.

If we want the tradition to stick around—if we want to hang on to one of the only commercial strawberry farms left in what was once a strawberry producing town—we'd better step up. Jeff says he won't quit, and he's got three boys, so the farm will keep on no matter what. But I'm guessing it would help if business picked up. He gets a good crowd for pumpkins in the fall and other crops, but strawberries, he says, just keep petering out.

The season's in full swing right now. This week, I picked for my freezer—washed and sliced the berries, sprinkled them with the tiniest bit of sugar, let them juice, and packed them into containers—and I put up 15 pints.

Next week, I'm thinking I'll go for jam.

P.S. The annual Falmouth Strawberry Festival is coming up. It will be held from 10am to 2pm on Saturday, June 19th across the street from the Village Green on the lawn at St. Barnabas church. Jeff says they don't always use his fresh strawberries—because the festival is so late—but they do use them for the jam demonstration. To find out more, head on over here.


One, seven, ten

I can't say this for sure, but I have a feeling Ina Garten is living life right. Or maybe it's more that I think she's eating life right. I think it might be the fact that she is not afraid of butter, or cream, or combining absurd amounts of the two that makes me enjoy her so much. (I have a feeling she'd scoff at a stick of margarine, and I like that.) Whatever else it might be, it most certainly has to do with these chive biscuits.

These particular biscuits are from one of her older cookbooks: Barefoot Contessa Family Style. It's a simple, elegant book in her signature style—quick cooking with good ingredients and minimal fuss. The recipe is a one-bowl, seven-ingredient, ten-minute affair, and the biscuits are buttery, and crumbly, and just chive-y enough. They went into the oven as drop biscuits, and came out as steaming piles of heaven. If I were the type to carry food around in my pockets, these biscuits would be in. They are terribly, addictively good, and when it comes to pulling together a fast, classy dinner, they win.

Also, they make very good use of the one herb we have in abundance right now. The chive plant that has been living, untouched, unwatered, and utterly unloved for the past five years on the deck is thriving, and it is in full bloom. According to my super gardener friend Tracy, if we want to have chives all summer, we need to snap those flowers off. And so last week I gave the chive a haircut, consulted Ina, and we had chive biscuits all around.

Incidentally, if you leave out the chives, this recipe also makes excellent biscuits for strawberry shortcake. If I were you, I'd do what I did, and double the recipe. Then I'd divide the dough in half, take one chunk, green it up with chives, and make biscuits to eat with fried eggs alongside your salad at lunch. When that's done I'd take the other half, bake it plain, pile the sweet biscuits with sliced fresh berries from your garden and whipped cream, and call it a day.

However you work it, you're in for a treat.


I adapted this recipe ever so slightly from Ina Garten's recipe in Barefoot Contessa Family Style. Given the amount of butter and cream they call for, I think it is of the utmost importance to choose your dairy carefully. We're getting ours from Paskamansett Farms in Dartmouth right now; if you go store-bought, for cream I recommend anything anti-biotic- and hormone-free, and for butter I like Kate's of Maine. Whatever you choose, just be sure not to do anything crazy, like, say, throw in a stick of margarine. I don't think Ina would approve.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 scant cup heavy cream
1/2 cup chopped fresh chives

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter and work it in with a pastry cutter until it is in pea-size pieces. Add the heavy cream and stir until just mixed; gently fold in the chives.

Grease a baking sheet and use two spoons to form the dough into drop biscuits roughly an inch and a half in diameter. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and the insides are cooked through. Serve warm.


The Local Food Report: Jersey Knight & Mary Washington

Every Saturday in Orleans, the asparagus at Ron Backer's stand is the first thing to go.

Right now, he has only Jersey Knight spears—from a patch of hybrids he planted back in 1998. The plants are sterile, meaning that they are all male and produce thicker, taller spears. Two years ago, though, when Backer realized that the local food movement was here to stay and his supply started having a hard time keeping up with demand, he planted another patch.

This time, he choose a more traditional asparagus called Mary Washington. Mary is known for her purple-tinged spears, although she won't produce as many big, fat ones. (Traditional asparagus has half male and half female plants, and because the female plants have to put energy into reproduction and going to seed, they produce thinner, smaller spears.) But she will make seedlings, and he can sell these at the market, so he figured it was a pretty fair trade. The Mary Washington patch is up and producing, but before he can pick it'll still be another year.

The thing about asparagus is that you have to wait three years before cutting any spears. As Backer explains it, asparagus grows from the stem, which is essentially a grass stem. The bud matures and grows four to six feet high and then turns into a fern. That fern acts like a photo cell: it captures carbon dioxide and water in the presences of sunlight and turns them into sugar. The sugar compounds into starch and gets sent down to the roots for storage. If you cut the spears before they turn into ferns those first few years, they aren't able to store any energy up. They need at least a few years storage to get off the ground; otherwise, there will never be fat spears.

Of course, once you're ready to pick Backer knows exactly what to do:

His recommendation is to blanch the asparagus, cut some toast, soft-poach an egg, mince some garlic, and finely chop a handful of basil. Then he likes to rub the toast with the garlic, layer the basil and then the egg on top, and finally, drape the spears across. Then he drizzles the whole pile with a bit of nice olive oil, sprinkles it with a few cracks of salt and pepper, and digs in.

After I got home from the market the other day with a bundle of Jersey Knights, I decided to follow the plan. Only I didn't, exactly. Instead of rubbing the toast with minced garlic, I made a garlic-anchovy butter that I'd been eying for a while from the April issue of Martha Stewart Living. I fried my egg instead of poaching it, made sure the yolk was nice and runny, and after I'd spread the toast with plenty of briny butter, layered the egg on top. Then I poached the asparagus until just al dente, sprinkled the whole thing with salt and pepper, and sat took a bite. The egg ran all over the plate, the garlic-anchovy butter melted into the bread, and the asparagus sopped it all up.

All in all, I'd say it was a pretty good plan. So good, in fact, that if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go make it again.


For the bread in this recipe I used a loaf of sourdough from Pain d'Avignon bakery in Hyannis. You could probably use any rustic loaf; the important thing about this recipe is to make sure the asparagus is fresh and the egg is under-cooked, so that the yolk oozes out all over the plate.

1/2 stick butter (1/8 pound)
1 large clove garlic, peeled
3 anchovy fillets (optional)
1 pound asparagus
olive oil
4 eggs
4 large slices sourdough bread
salt and freshly cracked pepper

In a food processor, combine the butter, garlic, and anchovy fillets. Pulse until smooth.

Cover the bottom of a large sauté pan with 1/2-inch of water and bring it to a boil. Lay the asparagus into the water and cover the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the asparagus turns bright green and is just al dente. Turn the heat off, pour the water out, cut the asparagus spears in half, and set aside.

Turn the heat to high under another large sauté pan. When the pan is hot add a splash of oil; once the oil is hot, crack the eggs into the pan. While they fry, toast the bread and get out four plates. Flip the eggs and cook them over-easy; then turn the heat off.

Put a piece of toast on each plate and spread the toast generously with garlic-anchovy butter. Put an egg on each piece of toast and arrange a layer of asparagus spears on top. Sprinkle with a few cracks of salt and pepper, and serve hot.

P.S. My Minolta is back! She arrived last week in excellent condition, and as you can see, I'm happy to have her home.


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