Filled with joy

Sally is covered in flour. The sugar cookies are out of the oven and the Angie's dough is rising. The eggnog is half gone, and the rest is in Mason jars ready for Christmas Eve. Tonight we have three parties to go to! Things are good here.

Wherever you are and whatever you celebrate, I hope the next week and a half is filled with joy. Merry Christmas, and I'll see you in the New Year.


The Local Food Report: feta

In the fifteenth century, Charles VI gave dairies in Roquefort, France the exclusive right to the name Roquefort. Cheese made in other parts of the country—even if the same style—had to be come up with their own regional names. The idea was that different geographic regions have different environments that influence the qualities of the foods they produce—each had a unique terroir, "or taste of place." (Remember the Walla Walla onion?)

At any rate, this sort of geographic labeling is common in Europe. All kinds of foods are labeled with their Protected Designation of Origin (PDO)—you've probably seen it on wine and Parmesan cheese. In the U.S., though, we're able to get around it because of something called the Uruguay Round Agreement, which allows countries outside the EU to ignore these labels if they think the cheese name is generic.

Which brings me to feta. In Europe, as of 2002, feta was awarded PDO status. Countries like France and Denmark weren't pleased—they make a lot of feta cheese and argued the name is generic. They now have to call this style of cheese something else. (For an interesting discussion on the history and implications of PDO decisions, check out Cheese and Culture by Paul Kindstedt.)

In the United States, though, we're still free to use the name feta. I ran into a local feta at the West Tisbury Winter Farmers' Market from Mermaid Farm and Dairy in Chilmark during our visit in October, and today's Local Food Report is all about how they make it (click here to listen). Narragansett Creamery in Rhode Island also makes a cows' milk feta brined in sea salt, and in Massachusetts Chase Hill Farm makes a raw cows' milk feta, and Valley View Farm and Shepherd's Gate Dairy make goat milk feta.

Based on what I learned talking with the folks from Mermaid Farm for the show, it sounds like you could make feta at home. Has anyone out there tried it? How did it come out? Any tips?

And finally, a salad. Fresh spinach—still going strong in the outside garden!—sautéed red onion, warm feta. A drizzle of sherry vinegar, a touch of olive oil. A side of toast. Sit down—salt, napkin, fork—tuck in. Winter lunch on a rainy afternoon.


Bon Appétit has a whole arsenal of great winter salad recipes. I found this one tucked near the end and immediately liked it immediately for its simplicity.

1/2 pound fresh spinach, preferably small leaves
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 medium red onion, halved, and cut into 1/3-inch thick wedges with some core attached
7 ounces feta cheese, coarsely crumbled
2 tablespoons Sherry wine vinegar

Wash the spinach, dry it, and put it in a big salad bowl. Warm up 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over high heat. Add the onion and sauté until it starts to brown and get tender—about 6 minutes. Put the onion into the bowl with the spinach. Add the remaining oil and the feta cheese to the skillet and stir until the cheese just starts to melt, about a minute. Turn off the heat, add the vinegar, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the spinach and onion. Toss it—the warmth from the feta and onion should wilt the spinach slightly. Serve immediately. 


And only then

She must wear the helmet. It doesn't matter that we're about to eat, that she hits the back of her now bulky head on the wooden seat back of the high chair, that it makes it hard for her to get the correct angle between spoon and mouth. She wears it all day; it is the first thing she reaches for in the morning when we come downstairs. She knows where it lives, on the hook behind the closet door. 

After I have helped her get it on, she reaches back into the closet. For my helmet. And then I am supposed to put my helmet on. Only then can we go about our day. 

I am suddenly the mother of a toddler; my baby is gone.

This tumbling babbling girl helped me pull the carrots today. According to my garden notebook we planted them on July 27th, back when she was first crawling and chubby-thighed. A hundred and forty three days later she stands next to me, trampling through the spinach patch. 

I've always had trouble with carrots—they germinate but don't survive—but two farmers from Orleans said to soak the seed overnight. It did the trick—kept the moisture in, maybe?—and I had at least 100 sprouts to start. I thinned them out and transplanted a few—they lived, I discovered today, but are uniformly short and stumpy—an inch at most. The rest are between four and eight inches, bright orange and beautiful. I pulled maybe forty today and there are still just as many in the ground.

I've heard you should wait until after a frost to pull carrots. I didn't want to wait too long. We've had a few hard frosts, even freezes. How long until a carrot rots in the ground? The turnips need to come in too, and the rest of the arugula—there are still four rows racing the cold. Then and only then will we move to the stock in the hoophouse: four long perfect rows of salad greens with a patch of kale at the end.

First, though, the carrots. They must be washed and I need to trim the stems. Then we will have supper—fresh fish and a salad, and on the side, my mother's gingered carrots.


I don't know that this is a recipe so much as an idea, but I'll type it out nonetheless. My mother made this for my sister and me all the time when we were kids. I've never tried using fresh ginger, but I imagine it would be delicious.

fresh carrots, washed, trimmed, and cut into thin sticks
brown sugar or maple syrup
powdered ginger
sea salt

Steam or boil the carrots. When they're tender but not quite falling apart, drain the water, keeping the carrots in the pot. Add a pat of butter, which should melt quickly, along with a little spoonful of sugar or maple syrup and a sprinkle of ginger. Salt, taste, and adjust the seasonings as necessary. This makes a great side dish with just about everything, particularly in the winter.


The Local Food Report: all in the turnip family

Thank you, everyone, for all of your input on the Broccoli Problem. It's nice to know that this is a space where we can address these sorts of things and help each other, as a community, to move forward.

In other good news—rejoice vegetable variety enthusiasts!—local markets seem to be rapidly acquiring new (old) members of the turnip family.

That up there is the Scarlet Ohno. I bumped into it at Weston Lant's stand at the Falmouth Farmers' Market, and it is a beaut. In every seed catalog description I've read it's described as a "revival" seed, which refers to the fact that it was reselected from seeds of a Japanese variety by Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seeds. (Seed savers reselect each year—letting the biggest or sweetest or pinkest turnip, or the turnip with whatever other trait they're looking for—go to seed. Then they save the seeds from only these plants to create a new strain.) It's sweet and mild and crisp, and it has hairless, shiny leaves—unusual for a turnip.

Lant also grows rutabagas, called yellow turnips or Swedes, for Swedish turnips. They're a cross between a turnip and a cabbage, and they have the same purple top as Macombers. They're sweeter and creamier than most turnips, and they make a mean Parmesan mash or Rosemary fry

Finally, in new (old) varieties, there's the Hakurei turnip. It's a Japanese variety, very small and smooth and sweet. It was developed in Japan in the 1950s, and full grown, Hakureis are about the size and shape of Cherry Bell radishes. Seed catalogs call them salad turnips, apt since they're best for slicing and eating fresh. But they're also good pickled and excellent roasted or mashed.

Frankly, all these turnip family varieties seem like a good sign for the local food movement. We need all the choice we can get, particularly in the winter, and it's nice to see local farmers reviving old root vegetables to keep us fed. 

Do you grow a favorite turnip or rutabaga? And more importantly, do you like French fries

I thought so.



Let's talk, for a second, about the Broccoli Problem.
Why doesn't anyone grow broccoli? Why is it hardly ever for sale at Cape Cod farmers markets? Why do my parents four hours north get it all the time in their CSA? Are any of you growing it? Is it terribly difficult? Is there a black market I'm missing?

Broccoli  is one of the foods I miss most since I started trying to eat locally. This seems silly! We live in Climate Zone 7. Broccoli is a cold-loving crop, in the same family as cabbage and kale and turnips. I see plenty of those around, but I can count on three fingers the farmers I've run into selling broccoli. (Peter Fossel, Jeff Eldredge, and Andy Pollock, I'm looking at you.) Is it just not profitable? Is it too hard to grow? There must be a reason. If you know it, please. Enlighten me.

In the meantime, the Fedco catalog came in the mail the other day, and unless I hear a good reason not to, I will be ordering 1 gram of "Green King." According to the description, that should take care of my broccoli craving by September 2013. 

Until then, I am cheating. We had a Wellfleet Farmers' Market potluck over here the other night, and Victoria brought a broccoli cheddar soup. We all made soups, in fact—so much that we were able to do a mini soup swap at the end—and I ended up with two pints of the cheddar broccoli. It was so green! So creamy! I couldn't get over the way the little florets—it was mostly pureed—sort of melted in with the cheese. I devoured it, and so did Sally, and the next day we loaded into the car and drove straight to Bradford Natural and caved. I bought two heads of the best broccoli I could find—organic, and grown in the United States—and dug out that recipe my mom's been telling me about from Heidi. I chopped potatoes. I minced garlic. I diced onions and thawed some homemade chicken stock and cut up a head of broccoli. I rummaged around in the fridge until I found a jar of good whole grain mustard, and then I grated a whole heap of sharp cheddar. I made the soup, and it was glorious. 

So friends! Cape Codders! We need broccoli.


As I mentioned up above, the original of this recipe comes from Heidi. I simplified a bit and added chicken stock, but for the most part, it's the same recipe. It's the perfect dinner for a busy week night—I made it in the morning, and Sally and I ate it for lunch and again for dinner with Alex. There were no leftovers.

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil or lard
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
fine grain sea salt
1 and 1/2 cups 1/4-inch potato cubes (I did not peel mine)
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 and 1/2 cups good homemade chicken stock
1 large head broccoli, cut into small florets
1/3 cup grated cheddar, plus more for topping
2 teaspoons whole grain mustard

Melt the butter in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and a big pinch of salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender and translucent. (About 8 minutes.) Stir in the potatoes, cover, and cook for another five minutes, until they start to get soft. Add the garlic, then the chicken stock. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender—about 15-20 minutes. Stir in the broccoli and simmer another five minutes, or until tender. 

At this point, the soup is still pretty chunky. Get out an immersion blender or transfer the whole soup to a blender or food processor and blend until there are still a few little chunks but the big florets and potato chunks are pureed. Add the cheese and mustard and stir well. Taste for salt and add some as needed, then serve hot with toast or croutons, grated cheddar, and a drizzle of olive oil.


Our weekly bread

Can it really be Monday again? Crikey.

I have made the bed. We folded the laundry. We took the dog for a walk, and after breakfast, while Sally helped with the dishes, I baked our weekly bread. Somehow in the 30-maybe-40 minutes that remain of nap time and the two hours (!) my sister-in-law has gifted me this afternoon, I am going to make a radio show, start on a big writing idea, mail in the dog license, fill out Sally's passport application, and organize all my receipts for our tax accountant! Ha! Ha!

While we're in that fantasy world and I am not bound to the schedule of a one-year-old and do not have a revolving to-do list, let's also get a few things accomplished in the kitchen. I'd like to make this lentil stir-fry, and I've also had my eye on this salad of roasted squash, kale, and radishes. We'll churn out a batch of homemade ice cream with the new cream from our milk coop and a jar of Dianne's walnut-infused honey, and maybe, just maybe, we can even get to these butternut squash enchiladas my sister has been raving about. 

Have a good week, friends.


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