Pretty surreal

Hi friends. I just wanted to pop in today to tell you some news. It's big news, and I'm not sure how I feel about sharing it in such a public space, but I can't wait any longer. Here goes!

At the end of September, Alex and I are expecting a baby.

I know! We absolutely positively can't wait. He or she is about the size of an heirloom tomato, and is swooshing and kicking all around. It's amazing and exciting, and pretty surreal.

Food-wise, there was a rather dire period back in February and March when I could only stomach popcorn, watermelon, and Hint of Lime Tostitos chips, but that seems to have passed. (Thank goodness!) Things are pretty much back to normal around here, beyond a few extra eggs and steaks and lobster salad rolls. When the farmers market opens in Orleans May 14th (!), we'll see you there.

So thanks, as always, for everything. It feels very good to share.


The weeks to come

All I have to say about yesterday is this:

Finally! I had almost forgotten what it feels like to go outside in a t-shirt, be glad for the breeze off the ocean, and come in after two hours with a ruddy sunburn. Between the warmth and the lamb and the hot cross buns and the family, it was a pretty unbeatable day. I even got my geraniums planted.

Thank you spring.

It was the kind of day, in fact, that makes me feel like a list—an inspiration list, a happy cooking list—to usher in all the good things that come with sunny, cheerful May. The rhubarb and asparagus are up—here's what I'll be making just as soon as they're big enough for a trim:

the Rhubarb & Raspberry Crostata from this month's Bon Appétit, but instead of raspberries some of last year's frozen strawberries that we're still going through
a varation on this with spiced up tomato sauce from the freezer, our own asparagus, and a few of my nieces' eggs

Crab Louie with our own lettuce & asparagus, farmers' market radishes (in Orleans, it's May 14th!), local eggs, & Maine Jonah crab meat (Alex sells it at his markets and I have recently become completely addicted)

—Brooke Dojny's Skillet Rhubarb-Ginger Chutney for spreading on sandwiches with leftover chicken or pork

—something like this Rhubarb-Cranberry Cobbler with our own rhubarb & the last of last fall's cranberries (I'm thinking either a whole wheat biscuit or this cornmeal variation might be nice)
That's all for now, I think. May the weeks to come keep us well fed, warm, and busy.


The Local Food Report: Easter egg hunt

Quick! Put your muck boots on, and your anorak, and just in case, grab a hat. Turn off the lights, load up the woodstove, and let's go. It's egg hunting time.

We'll start at my niece Arabella's, out back in the chicken coop. She's got Buff Orpingtons and Golden-Laced Wyandottes and California Whites, and they lay regular sized, regular looking eggs: tannish, brownish, and whitish, respectively. (The blue one's from an Araucana down the road.

Now hop in the car—watch out for Goodie! (he's the rooster)—and buckle your seat belts. Our next stop is in Harwich, at Heidi Howell's house.

Heidi says we'll know her house by all the birds in the yard—she keeps turkeys, ducks, and geese. Her geese are a rare breed called Sebastopols, with white, long, curly feathers that wave around behind them when they run. They aren't very good layers—her female has only produced one egg, ever. That's it. The turkeys and ducks, on the other hand, are prolific. Here! I found an egg from each. That's the turkey one on the left, all pointed, and the duck's is the greenish one on the right. I picked up the chicken egg for size comparison.

Okay. One more stop. We're going back to Wellfleet, to Victoria Pecoraro's. She says she has a bird that might interest us. It's called the Americana, and it's a hybrid breed derived from the Araucana and something else she can't remember. It's nickname? The Easter Egger! Apparently, it lays eggs in pastel shades from white to pink to blue to green.

I think I even see a lavender in there:

Those dark brown ones are from a chicken called the Welsummer. Don't they look kind of chocolate-y? Victoria says she likes to think of them as not 70% cacao, but just over the milk chocolate line. Sounds better than Cadbury to me.

Phew! Now what are we going to do with all these eggs? Hard-boil them, for one, then make creamed eggs on toast and pickled beet deviled eggs. And I don't know about you, but I'd really like to save one each of the blue, green, pink, chocolate, and lavender colored eggs. How about we poke a needle through the tops and bottoms and blow out the insides? Then we could eat the eggs for brunch. I'm thinking an onion frittata might be nice, and these scrambled egg/avocado/salmon toasts look divine. If we counted ahead, we could even make this dried cherry popover or Big Puffy Pancake, always a favorite in my family.

Okay, time to start my egg dying. We're using beets for red, red cabbage for blue, and turmeric for yellow. I'll let you know how it turns out.


Sure signs

Weee! I am happy to report that I have seen some Sure Signs of Spring. The asparagus we planted last year is up, the raspberries I "pruned" to within an inch of their lives are sprouting green, and the tulips have not only emerged but are sporting buds. To top it off, Fisher and I picked a whole handful of wild onions on our walk the other day:

I'm not sure what kind of wild onions they are—some people seem to call these ramps, and others wild chives—but they look like an oversized scallion to me. The tops get kind of crinkly and curly, which makes them easy to pick out from lawns and hillsides. We found these growing on the side of the road in Truro near Ryder beach—Fisher was sniffing around for a ball, and suddenly, we were foraging for dinner.

The first few times I tried to pull the onions up I just tugged on the top, and the green part broke off while the bulbs stayed squarely, smugly in the ground. Eventually, I figured out that you have to kind of worm your fingers in around them to loosen the soil up before you give a good yank, and then they come right up.

We found a few daffodils, too, and when we got home, we decided it was spring celebration time. The daffodils went into a glass on the table, pasta water went on to boil, and I set about cleaning onions for a rich, buttery sauce.

The sauce I had in mind comes from James Beard's other cookbook, Beard on Pasta. The basic ingredients are butter, more butter, some onions, sugar, and a splash of Madeira wine. In the past I've made it with plain old storage onions, and it was excellent. I had a feeling that with fresh, wild spring onions, it would be absolutely divine. It was.

The thing about onions and butter is that they have an excellent tendency to caramelize. Leave them with some low heat and plenty of time, and they will get soft, and rich, and sweet. Scoop them over pasta and top them with Parmesan, and they will get better still.

Give it a try. You'll see.


I found this recipe from Beard on Pasta via Molly Wizenberg's blog, Orangette. It is simple, hearty, and delicious, and I think best served alongside a simple salad of arugula dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. The onions are robust, and the greens help keep things light.

1 stick butter
1 pound yellow onions, peeled, halved, and sliced about 1/4-inch thick
1/2 pound wild onions, washed and trimmed so that the roots and the green part are gone, leaving just the bulb
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 Madeira
3/4 pound cooked pasta, still hot (I used linguini, but any type is fine)
salt to taste
shaved Parmesan

Warm up the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions (both kinds) and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and translucent. Turn the heat down to a simmer and add the sugar. Let the onions braise slowly for about an hour, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking and keeping an eye out for any burning. They should turn a deep, buttery amber.

Turn the heat up to medium-high, and when the pan seems hot, pour in the wine. Cook for a few minutes, until it's reduced by about half.

Spoon the sauce over the pasta and season with salt to taste. Serve hot with shaved Parmesan.


The Local Food Report: counting herring

What we have to talk about today is depressing. I'm sorry. But it's also important, and unfortunately, the two often seem to go hand in hand. What we have to talk about today is river herring—anadromous species like Bluebacks and Alewives that spend most of their life in the sea and then return via river to the pond where they were born to spawn—and the fact that since 2000, their numbers have dropped by a whopping 90 percent. I know. It's sad.

Photo courtesy David Constance

I knew river herring weren't doing well, but until I talked with Ryan Mann the other day, I didn't realize things were so bad. I met him at the mouth of the Herring River in Harwich, where a dam connects the headwaters to Hinckley Pond. Mann is the Outreach and Stewardship Coodinator for the Harwich Conservation Trust, and this time of year, he heads up a volunteer program helping the state document when the herring arrive, and how many there are. Dutiful volunteers literally stand at the head of the river, counting how many herring make it up into the pond, and record their numbers on a data pad. They count for 10 minutes out of every 80 minute shift, and note the weather and river velocity and water clarity and temperature and anything else that might help. Then they greet the next shift of volunteers and hand over the pad. It goes on from April 1 through May 31.

There are programs like this at herring runs all over the Cape—places like Wellfleet, Falmouth, Buzzards Bay, and Mashpee. Across the state and even up and down the Eastern seaboard, volunteers are trying to help scientists and people involved in fisheries management understand how many herring there really are, and why the decline has been so severe.

To understand that, though, we need to back up. River herring have actually been in decline for a while—since about 1960. Here's a diagram from a study done by the Herring Alliance:

As you can see, there's been a pretty steady population drop. In the 80s and 90s, when Massachusetts first started addressing the problem, work was focused on removing physical impediments that might stop the fish—building and repairing fish ladders in dams, cleaning up water quality, making sure water levels in rivers and ponds were high enough when it came time to swim upstream. It certainly helped, but river herring populations were still dropping. Why?

Well, different people will tell you different things, but many people seem to agree it's related to the industrial, mid-water trawling vessels that fish the shores of the Cape for other species, like Atlantic herring (which don't need fresh water spawning as part of their life cycle) and mackerel. River herring, many people think, is bycatch.

Of course, there are regulations against fishing for river herring—taking them from rivers with dip nets, the way people used to each the spring, is illegal, and so is having river herring make up more than a 5 percent of the total catch on bait boats. But it's difficult to regulate bycatch and poaching, and so the river herring keep disappearing.

The hope with the counting programs is that the volunteers will help the state get a handle on what's behind the problem, and give regulators some insight into the fish's lifecycle and migration patterns in order to somehow separate them from the Atlantic herring and mackerel fisheries. As Ryan Mann explained, right now, there's just too much they don't know. Let's hope it works. We've already lost one anadromous fish—the Atlantic Salmon, another important local food source. I'd hate to see river herring be the next to go.

If you're interested in reading more on river herring, I recommend heading over here for a general overview and over here for a more local take. If you're interested in getting involved in the counting in Harwich, contact Ryan Mann at 508.432.3997. Finally, if you're interested in getting involved with the larger issue, here's a list of what you can do from the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen's Association.


We in the fog

Hi! I hope you can hear me through the fog. From where I'm sitting, I can only see about twenty feet out the window. I'm up at Alex's parents' kitchen counter in Truro, and normally, I can see a deck and a thicket of beach plums and then the big, wide arc of Cape Cod Bay. But this morning, when Fisher and I woke up to make tea, we couldn't even see the beach. I tried to let him out, but he took one sniff, turned around, and came back inside to lie down. It's that kind of a day.

We've decided that rather than fight it, we're going to make a batch of butternut squash brownies and chicken noodle soup. Oh! and chicken salad. There's a lot of leftover roast chicken in that fridge.

I don't know if you make your own chicken stock, but I never did until I was shamed into it. In a recipe I wrote a few years back for my column in Maine, I called for for canned chicken stock, and Lee Johnson of Arrowsic was not impressed.

"CANNED??? chicken broth?!" she wrote. "Canned chicken broth costs money and is either very high in sodium or tasteless and it is certainly not local."

She had a point. And so, following her directions, I learned to make stock—strip the carcass, add water, an onion, a bay leaf, and heat. Boil for an hour, maybe two, then cool the broth and drain it. Throw out the bones and put the broth away, then let the fat rise to the top, gel, and skim it off if you like when you go to grab your breakfast milk. (I usually do, but since we buy our chickens from a farmer I trust—my friend Drew—and he raises his birds on pasture, I don't throw it out. I save it for sautéing veggies instead.) Sometimes I freeze it, and on days like today I use it fresh for chicken noodle soup.

As for chicken salad, I like mine simple: something crunchy, something nutty, mayo, and some sort of fruit. Today we're doing a Waldorf sort of variation—you know, like the apple salad with walnuts, celery, and yogurt. Except there's chicken, and mayo gets swapped in for the yogurt. It's good.

What do you do with your chickens? Special stocks? Chicken salads? Soups? We in the fog bank would love to hear.


The Local Food Report: live cod

Imagine, just for a second, that you're a cod fisherman. You longline, which means you set a line with a series of baited hooks and send it down with an anchor, and then later, come back to pull it up.

Usually, the fish come in through a roller, fall to the deck, and then you process them by slitting their throats, cutting out their guts, rinsing them, and packing them on ice. You get about $2 a pound.

But if you take a little more time—if you unhook the fish and put them in a tank and keep them alive—you can get $3 a pound. Sound smart? It is.

This is the system fishermen Eric Hesse and Greg Walinski of Sesuit Harbor in Dennis have set up with a Boston company called Wong Trading. Wong Trading distributes to Asian restaurants—mostly chefs in Boston's Chinatown—and these chefs like their fish still swimming. Hesse says it's a cultural thing—they think the fish have a subtler taste when they're served just-gutted, and they're willing to pay for it.

Hesse and Walinski fish on a quota system, which counts the pounds of fish they catch, not the pounds of fish they sell. So if they can sell the whole fish—gutted, on average, a fish usually weighs about 17 percent less—they're making that much more money on their quota. What's more, the chefs like the smaller, single-serving-size fish, which are exactly the ones the regular fillet market doesn't want.

It can be tricky—unhooking fish at night, for instance, is a challenge, as is keeping an eye on hundreds of pounds of live cod—but all in all, it's a pretty cool system. Here's to the ingenuity of our fishermen!


Homemade maple ice cream

Can you see happiness in a pair of hands?

I think so. Especially when they're clutching a pint of homemade maple ice cream, churned from just whole milk, cream, and maple syrup.

I don't know why we haven't talked about this ice cream before. I certainly would never withhold dessert on purpose. I think it's just that it's so routine, so everyday, that I would no more make a fuss over it than I would over my morning bowl of granola. It is my go-to ice cream, and it is so simple that we don't buy ice cream anymore. Really. If you own any sort of mechanized homemade ice cream maker, whipping this recipe up is literally easier than going to the store.

To be fair, it's really more of a formula than a recipe. I learned it from Heidi, over here, who in turn picked it up from a woman named Patricia Wells. You take 2 cups of heavy cream, 1 cup of whole milk, and 1/2 cup of sweetener. (In my experience, honey, maple syrup, and brown or white sugar all work.) If you want to get fancy you can infuse the milk with ginger—ginger ice cream, we've found, makes an excellent accompaniment to pumpkin pie—or add a bit of lemon extract or a pinch of nutmeg. But we usually keep it simple: for apple pie, plain maple; for a berry crisp, honey and a spoonful of vanilla.

Over time, you'll find your own favorites, too. I'd love to hear what you come up with!


Maple is the simplest flavor, because you don't need any extracts, and you also don't need to melt the sweetener with the milk.

(If you use honey or sugar, you will need to heat them with the milk until they dissolve, and then chill the mixture until it gets back down to fridge temp. Another thing to keep in mind is that maple and honey both impart their own particular flavor to the ice cream, which is compatible with some extracts and spices but not with others. Sugar tastes more neutral.)

With maple, you can just grab the cream, milk, and maple straight from the fridge (if your maple isn't refrigerated, you should put 1/2 cup in to chill before you begin), pour them into the ice cream maker, and sit down for dinner. When you're done, the ice cream will be too.

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup maple syrup

Mix all three ingredients in a bowl until thoroughly combined. Pour this mixture into the bowl of an ice cream machine and churn until thoroughly frozen. Eat some now, but also know that the ice cream will improve in flavor and texture over the course of a few days in the freezer. The maple flavor generally becomes more pronounced, and the ice cream firms up.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
All text, photographs, and other original material copyright 2008-2010 by Elspeth Hay unless otherwise noted.