Food. To talk about my new favorite mâche salad or the pasta dish we made last night (kale, lots of it, olive oil, linguine)—in some ways, it doesn't feel like the point right now. It's not what we're talking about these days while we cook, it's not what Sally is asking questions about when we sit down to dinner.

It's clear, regardless of your politics, that there are a lot of people struggling in our country right now. The most pointed perspective I've heard since the election is episode #608 from This American Life. Over the course of an hour, reporters visit a young man going to work for the Trump administration, a group of self proclaimed Internet trolls, a border patrol agent, a pair of undocumented siblings who use their DACA status to return briefly to El Salvador, a civil servant at the DOE, and a woman who works in a factory where over half the employees, herself included, are losing their jobs. And what's clear from their voices is that while some of them are Democrats and some are Republicans and some are hopeful and some are angry, almost all of them are worried. 

I hadn't thought much until recently about the way those feelings can go together—hope is such a positive emotion and anger such a negative one—but in many ways, they're simply different expressions of the same underlying current. That current of worry is real, and it's powerful. 

There is no simple way to understand or to assuage this worry. It's complicated. And it's not always in our control. There is so much news circulating, and at such a rapid pace. In a lot of ways, it's overwhelming.

But perhaps because I'm an optimist, I'm starting to feel like maybe all this worry—and the widespread acknowledgement of this worry—is a good thing. We, all of us, should be worried. We have huge problems to tackle, huge divides to cross, huge leaps in understanding and action to make. But I feel like for the first time in my lifetime, everyone is talking about this undercurrent of previously-unspoken worry. There is a willingness to be honest that I have never before encountered, and an acknowledgement that we need to be on our toes, wide awake.

I'm trying to harness this honesty. I have thought a lot about how to do that and what to do with it, and I think there are two things that are important to do right now. The first is to make a list of positive change we believe we can affect in our own communities. My worry has a lot to do with climate change and environmental sustainability, and so my list does too

But the other thing we can do is to try to connect—not just with people we know and understand, but with people we don't know or understand, too. This will be easier for some people and in some places. But it will be equally important everywhere.

And that is why I still believe in the power of food. People connect most easily with a meal in front of them. Neighborhood potlucks, local restaurants, school lunch tables, family dinners, grocery stores, farmers markets—these are places where people make connections.

So in the spirit of building bridges, I will share that recipe for mâche salad. Mâche is a new green to me. I found it last year in the FedCo catalog ("Mâche, Verte de Cambrai. Open-pollinated. A small-seeded, small-leaved strain that performs especially well in cool or cold conditions and is the best kind for overwintering.") and decided to give it a try. It took almost a month to germinate, but it's been harvestable now since November. It grows year round on the Cape, even in our unpredictable winters, even after a snowstorm buries it for a few days. It is a new and unexpected hope. And at a potluck it is unusual, and a great reason to turn to someone you don't know well and start with conversation.


If you don't have mâche, try using a mix of spinach and lettuce, or add some watercress.

1/2 pound mâche, or a mixture of spinach and lettuce
seeds from 1/2 pomegranate
1/2 red onion, sliced into thin ribbons
a handful of crumbled blue cheese
1 avocado, sliced
walnut oil or olive oil and balsamic vinegar, for drizzling
sea salt to taste

Arrange the mâche in a salad bowl. Top with the pomegranate, red onion, blue cheese, and avocado. Drizzle with walnut oil or olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with sea salt to taste. Toss gently and enjoy at once. 


MAKING BUTTER // elspeth

2017: it is here, we are entering into a brave and terrifying new year. And I'd like to really dig into that, to spend more time here talking about the serious stuff. But first, we need to talk about something wonderful. I.e., butter.

Have you ever made your own butter? It happened, around here, on a lark. We've been getting cream from a local farm—a thick, gloppy, luscious quart of it each week, because that's the only size the farm sells—and using it for coffee and whipping and pouring over thawed, sweet strawberries. But a quart is so much! And since it's not homogenized or pasteurized, it doesn't keep past a week. It doesn't rot, either, but it does slowly sour until it's not what you want for coffee or sweets. (Anyone experienced in sour cream making? Please share!)

So a few weeks ago we decided to try to preserve it. The most obvious way, of course, is butter—you can't freeze cream and keep it in good shape, but you can quite nicely freeze butter. And it turns out all you need to make it is very cold water, a food processor or electric mixer (or brute strength), some salt, a sieve, and a bowl. In short, things you already have on hand.

After dinner one night I found a tutorial in Darina Allen's Forgotten Skills of Cooking. Alex and I poured the cream into our food processor and let it spin until we got first whipped cream, and then butter globules and buttermilk. This took about 3 minutes. Then we strained out the buttermilk, put the butter globules back in the food processor with some salt, pulsed a few times, and strained it again. Finally we "washed" the butter: put some ice and water in a metal mixing bowl, kneaded the butter globules together in the water like you would bread, dumped the cloudy water, and repeated this process two more times until the water was clear. I'd say from start to finish turning the cream into butter took 10 minutes. We packed the butter into a glass crock, made sure to squeeze out all the water, and put it in the freezer. Then we drove to Maine for a week.

When we got home, we took the butter out of the freezer. I am happy to report that it has done its job well—the cream is preserved—and better still, in butter form, it is stunningly delicious. It is excellent on toast, and better still on homemade biscuits. 

When we went to told Sally what we'd done, how we made it—look! we made our own butter! so, cool, right?!—she shrugged. "I've done that at school before," she said. "It's easy." 

Always putting things in perspective, kids.


1 quart heavy cream
3/4 teaspoon "pickling" (kosher) salt

Pour the cream into a the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor. (A food processor is more powerful and will make the process faster, but both will work.) Beat until it thickens first into whipped cream, then separates into fat globules and buttermilk. Beat in the salt. Place a bowl beneath a sieve and strain the fat from the buttermilk. Return the fat globules to the food processor. Beat for another minute or so, then strain again. Save the buttermilk for baking or another purpose.

Now fill a large metal bowl with cold water and a handful of ice cubes. Use your hands to knead the butter to force out as much buttermilk as possible. (Darina says this is important, as any buttermilk left in the butter will sour and the butter will spoil quickly.) But be careful not to handle the butter for too long with warm hands, or it will liquefy. 

Drain the water, refill the bowl with ice and water, and repeat this process 1-2 times more until the water is not cloudy but instead remains clear. Shape the butter into pats, use a mold, or pack it into a crock. It will keep for at least a week in the fridge, and indefinitely in the freezer. The more careful you are with the washing, the longer it will keep.


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