IT'S COMING // elspeth

Have you thought about Christmas? Are you ready?

I'm not sure what ready means, exactly, but I feel pretty good about the way things are shaping up. The eggnog is made—in fact, we made it the weekend after Thanksgiving, a six dozen egg batch—and much of it has already been drunk. We had a few friends over for dinner and a "nog-off" in early December, where the showdown was between Colonel Miles' Cary's legendary bourbon nog and our friend Ethan's new-fangled Truro spiced rum nog. They were both so different, and so good, that in the end we decided comparing was a little like trying to decide between apples and oranges, and so instead we played a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity, lost all our dignity, and called it a day. 

Last weekend my parents and sister arrived, and we spent Friday making gingerbread houses with Sally and my nieces and Saturday baking off a batch of sugar cookies, which are now (along with a mason jar of eggnog) en route to my grandmother in Richmond. The only real damper on the festivities has been the amount of disciplining required to contain a three-year-old's candy appetite, and the subsequent feeling of parental failure. I believe (or at least  hope) this is to be expected, but still. It's frustrating. 

Which is why in the remaining seven ! days until the holiday really ramps up, we're going to be eating a lot of vegetables. The menu for this week includes a pretty-looking roasted beet salad from Bon Appétit, a celery Caesar, a turnip bisque from James Peterson's Splendid Soups that will with any luck take care of at least half of the seven pounder in the back of the fridge, and an encore of the kale pomegranate salad that disappeared so quickly the other day. We are trying trying to contain our excitement.

What about you?


LEMON CURD // the local food report

I was looking through old photos today for a shot I thought I remembered of our Meyer lemon tree, to accompany this week's Local Food Report on lemon curd. I couldn't find it. But I did come across this one of my grandmother, and the one below it of Alex on our honeymoon in Italy, and the one below that of my friends Casey and Jess and me, getting ready for our friend Amy's wedding. And in the end, I decided these belonged with this post more, because the people you love are what matters when you're talking about holiday gifts, and that's what we're here to discuss today. 

My family is big on comestible gifts—things that are delicious and wonderful but then after the holidays disappear. For my dad's 60th this year my sister and I gave him "60 Beers for 60 Years," and my sister's boyfriend has come to depend on us for a steady supply of nice bourbon on his birthday and at Christmas. Last year, Alex figured out how to Peri-ship eggnog to my grandmother, and she nearly wept with excitement. And of course, lest you think we only give out alcoholic gifts, I should add that I always make lots of eight ounce jars of strawberry jam and bread and butter pickles, because they make excellent hostess and holiday gifts. 

This year, the Meyer lemon tree that we brought home three—or maybe four?—years ago is finally bearing fruit, and I've been wanting to try homemade lemon curd as a holiday goodie. The only trouble is I've never made it, and as anyone who's ever tried to make a custard can tell you, curds can be tricky. So I called my friend Kim Shkapich, who makes a killer lemon curd, which she sells at farmers' markets and out of her shop, Lola's Local Food Lab, on Main Street. She agreed to share her recipe, and also gave me the following tips.

First of all, she says a good lemon curd is all about adjusting it to your taste. Some recipes call for whole eggs, others a mix of eggs and egg yolks, and others want only yolks. The more yolks you add the more firm the set is and the richer the curd, but this richness also masks the brightness of the fruit. She likes whole eggs, because she doesn't mind a soft set, and she likes a nice light flavor. Then there's the sugar issue—tart? sweet? It's up to you. Finally, you have to decide about the butter, because more makes the custard denser, and less makes it a bit more fluffy. Lemons are sort of a given, though you can play with the standard variety versus Meyers (Kim likes Meyers best, both for their sweet flavor and their bright yellow color). And she likes a lot of zest.

There's also the quality of the ingredients to consider—farm fresh local eggs are best, especially if you can get them before they've been refrigerated, as this tightens up the proteins and makes it trickier to get a nice set—and you want raw, organic sugar and high-fat butter. Organic lemons, too, if you can find them, since you'll be using the zest. 

Kim is a genius on all things chemical, and she gives an excellent run down in this week's show on how the reaction in this recipe works. I'm not going to re-type it all here, because it's so great to hear her explain it, so if you're interested I recommend you listen online

The other thing I wanted to add before we get on to the recipe is that growing Meyer lemons yourself is not all that tricky. The tree is pretty, so it makes a nice winter houseplant, and we move it outside onto the deck in the spring. So long as it gets light and sporadic but deep watering, it seems pretty happy.  The first few years we had it we didn't get any fruit, despite lots of blossoms, but I'm pretty sure this was because it didn't get enough sun when it was inside. We did some renovations last winter that opened up the southern exposure on our house, and as soon as the plant bloomed this year it set lots and lots of tiny fruits. They start out green—I first noticed them in June, or maybe July?—and the biggest ones are just now turning yellow. There are still a lot of small ones on the tree, and I imagine it'll be a few months before those ripen, which makes sense, since Meyer lemons are available in stores from about December through March. So there's an idea, if you're into lemon curd and local food too.


This is a good recipe for beginners. It's nice and light, and not too sweet. Kim uses Meyer lemons, but she says regular lemons also work here just fine.

3 eggs
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
1/2 cup fresh squeezed Meyer lemon juice
6 tablespoons butter
zest of four Meyer lemons

Get out a double boiler. Fill the bottom with water and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, in the top pot, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and lemon juice until very smooth. Warm these up over the boiling water, whisking constantly. Add the butter one tablespoon at a time, and keep whisking. After about four minutes the mixture should start to steam around the edges and thicken, and after about six minutes the steam will be coming from all over the surface and the first tiny bubbles will begin to form. When you see this change happen, the curd will thicken. Immediately remove the pot from the heat—you want the curd somewhere around 165 or 170 degrees, and you do not want it to boil. Stir in the zest, spoon it into jars, and let it cool. The finished product will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. 


SALLY, NORA // elspeth

Some people in my family do not think these two look alike. But! I mean. Did I have the same baby twice? Top: Sally, December 2011. Bottom, Nora, the other day.



It dawned on me recently that I write the most, and often the best, when I am procrastinating. This realization came to me courtesy of Anne Lamott, the author of a number of wonderful books, including the one I've been re-reading before bed, Bird by Bird. It's about her writing process, which involves quite a few jokes at her own expense and a number of references to the ways she avoids writing. And it occurred to me while I was reading a particular passage where she describes sitting down, then getting up to make a few phone calls, then deciding she needed to eat, then finally sitting down again and just sort of staring blankly for a few minutes, that she was also describing my process. 

"I'd try to write a lead, but instead I'd write a couple of dreadful sentences, xx them out, try again, xx everything out, and then feel despair and worry settle on my chest like an x-ray apron. It's over, I'd think, calmly. I'm not going to be able to get the magic to work this time. I'm ruined. I'm through. I'm toast. Maybe, I'd think, I can get my old job back as a clerk-typist. But probably not. I'd get up and study my teeth in the mirror for a while. Then I'd stop, remember to breathe, make a few phone calls, hit the kitchen and chow down. Eventually I'd go back and sit down at my desk, and sigh for the next ten minutes."

I would guess this probably describes a good deal of other writers' processes, too. 

Which is why, instead of doing the writing work I am actually being paid to do, I am here, happily writing for free. (My column is due on Mondays and my radio shows are due on Tuesdays. Have you ever noticed how many of my posts go up on Mondays? This is not a coincidence.) 

Anyway, while I'm here, I'd like to share a recommendation for a roasted Brussels sprout quiche. I found it in the December issue of Food & Wine and made it this afternoon for my friend Sebastian, who just had knee surgery and has literally been fainting from pain. The quiche looks and smells delicious, and because I didn't read the directions carefully, I made enough filling for two regular 9-inch pie crusts, so we'll be having the same thing. I can't wait.


KALE, GLORIOUS KALE // the local food report

Photo Credit: Alison Shaw

I am typing this with one arm. Nora is lying on the other one, asleep, and Sally is napping in the other room. This may seem like a less-than-ideal typing scenario, but it is (much more importantly, I've learned) an excellent thinking scenario, and therefore the typing WILL be managed. Being a working mother of one child, I've decided, is often chaotic and sometimes unmanageable. Being a working mother of two children is decidedly more chaotic, usually unmanageable, and yet somehow twice as important for my sanity. So! Kale.

If you live under this roof, it is no secret how I feel about kale. Specifically, krispy kale, which I make at least once a week, if not twice, often as a quick lunch or last minute dinner. I usually make a double batch, which means we buy a minimum of two bunches of dinosaur kale most weeks, and often three or four, because there are so many other good things to do with kale, too, things that Sally and I agree don't hold a candle to krispy kale, but things that are in their own right excellent and that my poor, krispy-kale-fatigued husband is thrilled to behold. Things like Portuguese kale soup. Sautéed kale with garlic. Kale with eggs and spicy mayo and toast.  

Which is why I'd like to tell you about Cathy Walthers' new book. It's called Kale, Glorious Kale, and she wrote it for people who, like me, are in a kale rut. Apparently there are over 50 different varieties of kale, and many more ways than that to cook with them. Cathy—who lives in West Tisbury on the Vineyard—makes the case for kale as a superfood—it was ranked 1,000 on a scale of 1-1,000 by the ANDI Guide, and also the healthiest veggie out of 83 vegetables by the Center for Science in the Public Interest—so it packs a punch. But it's also just delicious, and good in every meal of the day. There are some eyebrow raisers—brunch and Kale Marys, anyone?—but also a lot of twists on tried and true favorites, like coconut kale smoothies, kale Caesar salad, and kale-kopita. The recipe that looked the most intriguing to me was Cathy's kale granola, which is a genius way to get krispy kale (or really just a sweet basic kale chip) into your breakfast! Aha! 

Cathy agreed to let me share that recipe here. Oh! And before I go and save what is left of my arm, I also want to mention that there are still farmers markets going on. The West Tisbury market runs through December, the Falmouth market has its last hurrah on Saturday, the Sandwich Winter Farmers' Market will be held twice a month through March, and the brand new (!) Orleans Winter Farmers' Market, of which—full disclosure!—I am on the board, opens this Saturday, December 6th at 9am. I expect there will be hot chai, local eggs and meats and veggies, and most importantly, kale. I'll see you there.


CW: "The combination of kale, oats and nuts is crunchy and satisfying. Everyone likes to much on this as a snack—it doesn't even seem to last until breakfast to top yogurt, mix with fruit or serve with milk. It's easy to vary the nuts and the dried fruit with your favorites.

5 cups curly kale (stripped from stalk, chopped or torn into large bite-size pieces, rinsed and drained well)
6 tablespoons virgin coconut oil, divided (see Cook's Note)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup light brown sugar
6 tablespoons pure maple syrup
3 cups rolled oats
1 cup broken pecans, broken walnuts or sliced almonds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 cup dried cranberries, roughly chopped
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
1/4 cup raisins, roughly chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. 

2. Make sure the kale is well dried. Place the kale in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Knead or massage with your hands until the coconut oil is rubbed on all the leaves. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 5 tablespoons of coconut oil, and the brown sugar, maple syrup and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt. In another bowl, combine the oats, nuts and seeds.

4. Take 2 tablespoons of the wet ingredients and combine with the kale. Rub it over the leaves. Pour the rest over the oat mixture and mix very well until incorporated and the oats are completely covered.

5. Line two 12 x 17-inch baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Place the oats on one sheet, spreading them out evenly, and the kale on the other sheet. (The kale seems to crisp up better separately, but you can mix the kale and oats together and it will work.) Bake all for 25 to 30 minutes, mixing two or three times to prevent the outer edges from burning, and also rotating the pans. I sometimes switch the oven setting to convection bake if the mixture doesn't seem to be crisping up. Remove the kale when it is crispy, but not browned. Remove the oats when they are crispy or nearly crispy and before the nuts are burned. Both will get crispier once they sit on the counter to cool. 

6. When cooled, combine the kale with the oats. Pack into mason jars for storage.

Cook's Note: I've switched to coconut oil instead of canola oil for making granola (though, substitute canola or another vegetable oil if that is what you have). I love the subtle flavor coconut adds, and nutritionists are recommending its healthier properties. In warmer weather, coconut oil looks like an oil, in cooler weather it tends to solidify. For this recipe, if it has solidified, I usually put the jar in a saucepan of hot water until it becomes liquid again. Also, if you mix it with cold maple syrup it tends to solidify again, which makes it hard to coat the oats and kale, so I usually just have the syrup at room temperature or heat it up very slightly before mixing the liquid ingredients."



Things are a bit hectic. But I just wanted to say—isn't it wonderful out there today? I'll take 58 and sunny any day, even if it is December. And also, if you're not completely averse to bitter, if it doesn't make you pucker up even hours later in your sleep, like it does Alex, you might like this salad. I ripped it out from the December 2014 issue of Bon Appetit and have been eating the leftovers for almost a week, even now that the avocados are brown and squishy. Alex and I disagree about a lot of things, though luckily not the important ones, and bitter is one we approach from very different places. I love it; he can't even stomach dark chocolate. So! If you're in his camp, I'm sorry, but if you're in mine, you're in for a treat.


This dressing recipe makes about twice as much as you need for the salad, but it's an excellent dressing for all sorts of sturdy fall salads and keeps well. (It would also be nice drizzled over steamed veggies and rice.) As for the salad, it looks the prettiest on day one, but it's still good for eating for several days.

1/4 cup tahini
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons minced, peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon Sriracha
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 pound mixed bitter greens, such as frisee, escarole, radicchio, and endive
1 clementine, peeled, seeded, and each slice halved
1/2 fennel bulb, shaved
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1 Asian pear, thinly sliced
1 avocado, thinly sliced
runny honey, for drizzling

First make the dressing. Mix the tahini, apple cider vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, Sriracha, and olive oil. Shake well and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Toss the greens, celemtine, fennel, cilantro, mint, and pear with the dressing in a large shallow bowl. Top with the avocado and a drizzle of honey. 


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