The Local Food Report: Christmas eggnog

This week's Local Food Report is on eggnog. I know! I can't stop talking about it. Neither can my grandmother, who's the one doing the talking in most of this week's show. So go ahead and give it a listen, and maybe make a batch, and I'll see you on Monday, January 3rd, after the holidays.

Have a very happy merry, everyone.


On the stove


This afternoon, I did the Christmas cookie deliveries on foot. I wore ski goggles, and my snow pants, and I'm pretty sure our friend Bob now thinks I'm crazy, but I have to say, it was wonderful out there.

It was also wonderful to come home and take a hot shower and untangle the icicles from my hair. After I did that, Alex and I made another batch of eggnog involving nine cups of Jim Beam, nine cups of milk, and three dozen eggs. That was pretty great too. Now, I'm sitting on the couch next to our tiny balsam tree, watching the fire roar and drinking a beer.

Pretty soon it will be time for dinner—a bowl of James Peterson's red lentil, coconut milk, and garam masala soup with the addition of some sautéed fennel. I don't always like fennel on its own—it's pretty sweet, and it smells way too much like black licorish to be eaten on its own—but in small doses, and cooked down, I think it's excellent. It goes especially well with the spices in this particular garam masala—saffron and turmeric and nutmeg and cinnamon and cardamom and cloves with a little bit of black pepper mixed in. Also, the recipe says you can choose either yogurt or coconut milk as a thickener, but I used half and half, and I think it was the best of both worlds.

You've probably already started cooking, but in case you haven't, I wanted to let you know. Because between the looming holidays, and the requisite bustling, and the perfect silence of the snow, it's just the kind of easy-healthy-good thing you might want to have on the stove.


There aren't so many local ingredients in this soup, but I'm okay with that in ethnic recipes, so long as the basics are from around here. If you're running low, check out the latest news from Buy Fresh Buy Local Cape Cod—there are still several farm stands going strong.

If you don't have fennel, feel free to play around with other vegetables. The original recipe—which comes from the book Splendid Soups by James Peterson—says that in India this soup is often used as a base for a vegetable stew. I think crushed tomatoes would make a nice addition.

[Update, 8pm: Alex had the idea to serve this as daal rather than a soup, and it was a good one. He cooked up a batch of small potatoes, drained them, smashed them with a fork, and poured the soup over top. Yum!]

1 medium-size onion, diced
1 medium-size fennel bulb, diced (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup red lentils
3 cups water
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads, soaked for 15 minutes in 1 tablespoon warm water
1 cup coconut milk or yogurt, or half and half
salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons butter

Sauté the onion, fennel, garlic, thyme, and turmeric in the olive oil over medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes, or until the onions and fennel are tender. Stir in the lentils and the water, bring to a boil, and cover. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.

Stir in the saffron with the water it soaked in along with the coconut milk and/or yogurt. Season with salt to taste. Turn the heat up to medium and bring the soup back to a boil.

In the meantime, sauté the remaining spices in the butter until fragrant. Stir this mixture into the hot soup, and serve at once.


I just wanted to say

That it might be cold, but with a pair of smart-wool tights and thick jeans, hiked up cashmere socks tucked into thinsulate boots, two cotton shirts, a wool sweater, a scarf, a hat, leather mittens, and a down vest on top, it's really not that bad out there. Even the Swiss chard—upright and perky despite a dip into the twenties in the greenhouse last night—seems to agree.

I was worried about it yesterday, so for dinner we made a spur-of-the-moment, balsamic-doused salad with Swiss chard, raw shaved beets, chunks of apple and crumbles of goat cheese, toasted pecans, grated Brussels sprouts, and dried cranberries.

I thought of you.

And it was lovely.

The Local Food Report: deer season

The other day, I saw this sign:

I was at the Wellfleet Mobil, getting gas, wishing my mittens weren't so drafty, when it caught my eye. I was curious, so I asked the man at the cash register who did the checking, and to my surprise, he pointed me to my mechanic, Brian Flannigan. I knew Brian could help with a flat tire or an empty radiator—I did not know that he was in the business of reporting to the state on hunters and their deer.

Apparently, it's a pretty easy thing. Brian says he started doing it because there wasn't a checking station on the Outer Cape—the closest one is at Goose Hummock in Orleans, a bit of a hike for hunters from Provincetown and Wellfleet. He contacted the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, they set him up with a ring of metal tags, and all he really has to report is how many deer come in, whether or not the hunters have proper licenses, and what the sex of the deer is.

The nice thing about this set up is that he gets a pretty good idea of how the season's going locally for White-Tailed Deer. This year has been a good year, he says—plenty of big bucks and a few antlerless deer.

The way the permits work, every state-licensed hunter can shoot up to two deer with antlers. Anterless deer permits are issued by region—meaning that any individual hunter can get as many anterless permits as they want until the region reaches its quota. While an anterless deer can mean either a doe (a female deer) or a button buck (a male deer about six months old that hasn't developed antlers yet), this helps keep populations steady by limiting the number of female deer shot in any given season.

At any rate, he had tagged 18 deer as of this morning. With the snow today, he says he's hoping for another. The shotgun and archery seasons are over—archery went from mid-October through the end of November, and shotgun season just ended last week—which means that the hunters out now are using primitive firearms, the kind of old-fashioned guns that involve loading bullets and blackpowder down the barrel.

A long time ago, Brian says he might have tagged thirty or forty deer total each season, but recently, he says he's lucky if he gets over twenty. He says it's not that the deer aren't out there—they are, particularly this year thanks to a good fall for acorns—but that there simply aren't as many hunters getting out. Partially, he blames this on a loss of tradition—fathers and mothers not passing their love of sportsmanship on to their daughters and sons—but he also thinks it has to do with the kind of lifestyles we lead today and the fact that we spend most of our daylight hours at work. When he gets done at the shop, he points out, it's dark. There's no time to get out with a gun and track a buck through the woods.

If you're interested in the shift, check out this MassWildlife chart of deer harvest history. It tracks statewide harvest levels from the present all the way back to 1966. And in case eating and cooking with venison is more your thing, I wanted to remind you about this recipe for mincemeat pie I posted last January. It's hearty, and very festive, and if you happen to have a freezer full of local venison, it would make an excellent treat for the holidays.


Harvest minestrone

Breakfast: one fried egg over easy, from the girls next door + two slices homemade "French style" bread from Beard on Bread made with hard winter wheat from our CSA share + sautéed Brussels Sprouts from Cape Cod Organic Farm (yes, again).

Lunch: homemade minestrone soup, the one my mom ripped out from Cooking Light in September 1999—with Andy's onions + our own butternut squash + our own green beans + Anna's turnip greens + our own crushed tomatoes + my mom's cabbage + herbs from the yard + chicken broth from Drew's bird + Ben's garlic + Darnell's celery + our own carrots, pulled from the greenhouse and straight into the pot.


My mom has been making this recipe forever. I wasn't much for minestrone soup as a kid (I was mostly interested in the Parmesan), but I've found as I've gotten older, it's grown on me. It is an excellent soup to make with summer veggies from the freezer, and it makes a perfect lunch with a piece of toast and some grated cheese on a gray, rainy day like this afternoon.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup diced carrot
3/4 cup thinly sliced celery
3 cups crushed tomatoes
2 cups diced, peeled butternut squash (about 1/2 of the squash)
6 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups thinly sliced green cabbage
2 cups thinly sliced kale, spinach, Swiss chard, or turnip greens
1/2 cup uncooked pasta or cooked grain berries (farro, rye, or wheat berries would work well)
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme

Heat the oil up in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery, and sauté 5-8 minutes, or until tender. Add the crushed tomatoes, butternut, chicken broth, salt, pepper, and garlic and bring everything to a boil. Cover the pot, turn the heat down to low, and let the soup simmer for 2o minutes.

Stir in the green beans, cabbage, greens, and pasta, and cook for another 5-10 minutes, or until the pasta is done. Stir in the herbs. Serve hot, with a slice of crusty bread and a sprinkle of cheese.


The Local Food Report: Dear Brussels Sprouts,

You don't have a very good reputation. I'm sure you know that. I'm sure you've heard the way kids talk about you in the lunch line, the way they snicker, the way even certain adults when they see you, grumble under their breath. But you have defenders out there, true believers. I think you should also know that.

Ed Donovan is one of them. You might have noticed him—he's the one who sits behind the table at the farmers' markets, when Tim Friary puts you up for sale at the Cape Cod Organics Stand. He spends most of his time cracking jokes, shucking corn, but most importantly, he talks you up. The other day, he called you To Die For.

The problem, he says, isn't really you. It's cooks. People who don't know how to handle you boil you or steam you or bake you and you go mushy, boring, tasteless. Or farmers' let you get too big, or pick you before the frost, and you never get that tiny, miraculous sweetness.

The right way to treat you, he says, is to pick you small. Then he says to wash you, drizzle you with olive oil and lemon, sprinkle you with salt and pepper, and crank the oven up. He roasts you at 400 for 20 or 30 minutes, until you're slightly blackened and tender and caramelized all around. Then he thanks you, admires you, and digs in.


This recipe is a little bit different than Ed's (read: it has bacon in it), but the idea is the same. I've been getting local Brussels sprouts recently from Cape Cod Organics Farm, and they usually have them at Crow Farm this time of year, too.

6 strips bacon
1 pound small Brussels sprouts, washed and halved
1/2 red onion, diced
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt to taste
freshly cracked pepper
1/2 cup toasted pecans

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Fry the bacon in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When it's cooked through, transfer it to a dishtowel to drain. Leave the fat in the pan.

Put the Brussels sprouts, red onion, and lemon juice in the pan with the bacon fat and toss well. Season with salt and pepper, and put in the oven to roast for 30 minutes, or until some of the Brussels sprouts are blackened and all are tender. Remove from the oven, and crumble the cooked bacon and the toasted pecans over top. Serve warm.

Serves 4


This is my favorite way to eat Brussels sprouts. I first discovered the merits of cooking the Brassica family in butter with cabbage, and I've found the combination produces the same sweet, mellow taste with Brussels sprouts. The oil prevents the butter from burning, allowing you to get the pan HOT.

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound small Brussels sprouts, halved
1/2 cup dry white wine
salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

Melt the butter with the oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat. When the pan is hot—and I mean HOT—add the Brussels sprouts and sauté for 5-8 minutes, or until they start to caramelize and some of the outer layers turn black. Pour in the white wine—it should hiss and almost disappear as it hits the pan. Sauté for a few minutes longer, until all the liquid is cooked off, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve at once, preferably with toast and a fried egg over easy.

Serves 4


Inventory, of the fridge

Prompted by the eternal question: What is for dinner?
  • 5 leeks
  • 1 gallon raw, whole milk
  • 1 pint yogurt, swirled with honey and pumpkin puree and peppered with nutmeg and cinnamon
  • 1 cup leftover oatmeal, cold and lumpy
  • 1/2 pound green beans, thawing, from our garden last year (overlooked?)
  • beets—so many big, earthy, Chioggia beets

It took a while—a few cookbooks, a cup of tea, a brisk, sunny walk—but somehow, from there, we got to this. Happy chilly evening, everyone. I hope you're well fed, and warm.


This recipe comes from the Balthazar Cookbook. I had it on my first visit to the restaurant on our trip last spring to Manhattan, and when I realized today I had all the ingredients, I had to have it again. I have swapped out a few of the fussier ingredients (i.e. sherry wine vinegar) for a slightly simpler salad, but be warned: as far as salads go, it's still on the fancy side. That said, if you prep out a big batch of the separate parts of this salad ahead of time, you can have it as an impromptu lunch or dinner all week.

1 cup walnuts
1 cup olive oil, divided
6 sprigs thyme, divided
4 medium beets
1/2 pound green beens (frozen are fine)
4 leeks, thinly sliced
1/4 cup minus 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sherry (optional)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup walnut oil
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
finely ground black pepper
3/4 pound mixed greens (I used young spinach and red and green lettuces from the garden)
1/4 pound Great Hill blue cheese, cut into 8 pieces

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for about 3 minutes, or until fragrant but not browned.

Pour 1/4 cup of the olive oil onto a plate. Rub the beets in the oil, then wrap each one individually in tinfoil with a sprig of thyme. Bake for an hour, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Cool, peel, dice, and set aside.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Cook the green beans until al dente, about 5 minutes. Remove the beans from the water with a slotted spoon and transfer to an ice bath to cool. Meanwhile, cook the leeks in the reserved (still boiling) water for roughly 10 minutes, or until tender. Remove the beans from the ice bath and set aside, and remove the leeks from the pot with a slotted spoon and transfer to the ice bath to chill. Once cooled, add the leeks to the beets.

Make the salad dressing: whisk together the red wine vinegar, sherry (if using), remaining 3/4 cup olive oil, walnut oil, salt, pepper, and remaining thyme (picked from sprigs). Toss this dressing, to taste, with your mixed greens.

Get out four salad plates. Create a bed of the beet-leek mixture in the center of each and top with a handful of green beans. Layer a handful of the dressed mixed greens on top of that. Lean two wedges of blue cheese on each salad up against the beets. Sprinkle with toasted walnuts, and enjoy at once.


The Local Food Report: season wrap up

It's news day. There's a lot going on in the local food world right now, and I want to make sure we don't miss anything. So here we go—who's open, who's closed, and how to find what where.

1. The last outdoor farmers' market of the season is this Saturday, from noon to 3pm, at Peg Noonan Park in Falmouth. All the regulars will be there.

2. There is a new winter farmers' market in Sandwich, at the American Legion Post 188 on Main Street/Route 130. The next date is Saturday, December 11th, from 9 to noon. Please encourage any growers you know with year-round product to contact Lisa Davis, market manager. Right now the market is heavy on baked goods, but she says the more the merrier. Let's work together to make Cape Cod a community that can support a vibrant winter market!

3. There are still farm stands & fish markets open. Coonamessett Farm in East Falmouth, Cape Abilities Farm in Dennis, and Crow Farm in Sandwich are all open through Christmas Eve, and E & T Farms in West Barnstable and Mac's Seafood in Eastham are open year round.

4. On the meat side of things, I just got an email blast from Miss Scarlett's Blue Ribbon Farm announcing that they have chickens for sale NOW. The pick-ups will be this Sunday, December 5th and Monday, December 6th, and they will be the last chickens until spring. The farm also still has Christmas turkeys for sale.

I think that's it, at least for now. Local food is certainly harder to find this year, but if we stock up when we find it, we can still continue to keep our fridges and tables and root cellars full of Cape Cod food year-round.

I'll be in Falmouth this Saturday, and at the Sandwich market next Saturday. Fingers crossed, I'll see you there.


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