Archive for March, 2012

Alprilla Farm, investing in grains on Cape Ann

Friday, March 30th, 2012


News from Alprilla Farm:  The fresh ginger root will be back, and there’s a new, ten and a half foot wide red toy in the barn – a combine.  That wheat that I helped harvest last summer for about an hour and a half, beneath cloudless August skies, before I couldn’t take it anymore?  – Alprilla Farm has invested in local grains, purchasing a sweet old combine from Michigan to do the harvesting and threshing this year.

I stopped by the farm at lunch time the other day (fresh eggs and scallions that had wintered over in the fields, homemade pickles, toast and homemade raspberry jam, with Tobin’s frothy home-brewed beer) for a visit with Tucker and Tobin.  Noah was away at his girlfriend’s farm in Pennsylvania.

Tucker told me that he and Tobin had played the seasonal lottery that day, and had just planted spinach and barley, saying they weren’t sure if it was too early or not, but they were spinning the wheel.  The ground was surprisingly dry and easy to plow, so they just kept going, turning over 3 acres of land, and it’s still March in New England.

Alprilla Farm CSA Shares are still available.  Along with the various and verdant harvest of vegetables like last year’s, watch for a growing grain industry over there on John Wise Avenue.   Hull-less oats, barley, and red wheat are getting sowed, but this time the red combine will be doing most of the labor.  By summer we could be eating bread baked with local wheat.  When did that happened last?

Cassata Cake

Friday, March 30th, 2012


From a sweetened filling, to a hearty torta, to a singular dish molded in a clay pot, ricotta cheese migrated from Ancient Rome across Northern Europe to be part of many cultures’ Easter tradition.

Meaning “twice-cooked” or the Latin “recocta,” ricotta is not technically a cheese.  Most cheeses are made milk’s protein casein.  Ricotta cheese is made from whey, the liquid leftover after the casein cheese-making process, and in which remains the protein  albumin.  Not to waste a protein, some shepherd a few thousand years ago thought to heat and acidify the whey;  the albumin coagulated and curdled, resulting in a fluffy pile of fresh ricotta cheese.

Supposedly first enjoyed in the Roman countryside, in pastures dotted with sheep and shepherds, (The best ricotta, many say, is sheep’s milk.) Sicilians made the curds a staple.  Torta di Ricotta, a simple ricotta cheese cake, Pastieri Napoletana, a  ricotta pie studded with farro or wheatberries, and Pizza Gaina, the savory ricotta pie richly filled with mortadella and provolone, are all parts of the Sicilian Easter tradition, not to mention cannolis and Cassata.

Easter for the Russian Orthodox means Pashka, a pyramid of sweetened, creamy ricotta cheese – the one molded in a clay pot –  thought to have immigrated with Eastern Europeans to New York City, where it was reborn as New York Style Cheesecake.  Creeping across northern Europe, ricotta emerges in Finnish Easter tradition as “Pasha,” a similar pyramid of sweetened ricotta cheese.

My Easter choice this year will be Cassata, where ricotta cheese is not necessarily a heavy center piece, or a baked wedge, but the luscious chocolate and pistachio-ed filling for a tower of rum-infused sponge cake, all clouded in whipped cream.  Most Italians probably order their Cassatas from a bakery, but this recipe, lifted from a blog, is a simplified version.  While there are steps, none are too complicated, and the result has the magnificence a celebration of rebirth merits.


Cassata Cake from the blog “Elly says Opa”

Cake and filling adapted from Dolce Italiano: Desserts from the Babbo Kitchen by Gina DePalma
Frosting adapted from Tartelette


Sponge Cake Layers:
2 cups cake flour, sifted
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt, plus a pinch for whipping egg whites
8 large eggs, separated
1.5 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
one half cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Rum Soaking Syrup:
2 cups granulated sugar
three quarters cup cold water
one half cup rum

Cake Filling:
3 oz. bittersweet chocolate
three quarters cup shelled whole unsalted pistachios
3 cups fresh, whole-milk ricotta
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
one half tsp. ground cinnamon
zest from 1 medium orange

Stabilized Whipped Cream Frosting:
2 cup heavy cream
one third cup powdered sugar
splash of almond extract
1.25 tsp. powdered gelatin dissolved in 3 Tb. cold water

Preheat the oven to 350°F and position a rack in the center. Lightly grease two 9-by-2-inch round cake pans with butter or nonstick cooking spray, line them with parchment paper, then grease the parchment.

Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, and 1 tsp. salt into a medium bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks and sugar on medium speed until very light and pale yellow in color and doubled in volume. Beat in the vanilla extract, followed by the melted butter. Transfer the egg mixture to a large, clean mixing bowl. Fold in the dry ingredient-quickly and lightly, stopping just before they are fully incorporated.  Clean the whisk attachment and mixing bowl.

Place the egg whites and the pinch of salt in the cleaned bowl of the electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment on medium-high speed, beat the egg whites until firm peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the batter quickly and lightly, incorporate any streaks of dry ingredients that remain.

Evenly divide the batter between the prepared pans, rap the pans against the counter top to eliminate air bubbles. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until they are golden brown, a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, and the cakes have begun to pull away from the sides of the pan. Allow the cakes to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then carefully unmold and set them out to cool completely on a a wire rack.

While the cakes are cooling, prepare the rum syrup:  In a medium saucepan, stir together the sugar, water, and rum. Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring the contents to a boil. Lower the heat and allow the syrup to simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.

Filling: using a microplane or box grater, grate the chocolate into fine, feathery shreds.  Finely chop the pistachios. Place the ricotta, confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon, and orange zest in the bowl of an electric mixer and, using the paddle attachment, beat until the ricotta is creamy and soft (it will remain slightly gritty due to its original consistency). Add the grated chocolate, chopped pistachios, and beat just until combined.

Assembling the cake:  Have ready a 9-inch springform pan. Using a serrated knife, carefully split each cake layer in half horizontally to make four layers. Place one of the layers in the bottom of the pan and, using a pastry brush, moisten it generously and evenly with some of the rum syrup.  Spread the cake layer evenly with 1/3 of the ricotta mixture. Repeat twice with another cake layer, more of the rum syrup, and another third of the ricotta mixture. Place the final cake layer on top and generously brush with the rum syrup. Wrap the springform pan tightly in plastic wrap; this helps the layers fit snugly on top of each other. Chill the cake in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Whipped Cream Frosting:  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream with the sugar until soft peaks, and add in a splash of almond extract. In the meantime, dissolve the gelatin in the microwave (I did it for 20 seconds, but at 30% powder). Slowly pour the gelatin in one steady stream over the whipped cream and continue to whip until firm. If you add your gelatin a little cooled and before the whipped cream is still at soft peaks stage, it should not clump on you.

Decorate your cake with the whipped cream and return the cake to the refrigerator to chill until you are ready to serve it, at least 3 hours.

Maria Speck’s Ricotta Millet Pudding with Warm Raspberry Compote

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

Those buckwheat groats in the back of your pantry?  That quinoa you bought on a whim in Ann Arbor last year?  Realistically, what DO you do with them?  How often do your kids come home begging for millet?

Seek out Maria Speck’s book Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, and they will.  Speck not only has all kinds of real life, practical advice for storing and using these semi-obscure but wildly nutritious grains (starting with a clear, practical chart that lists quick-cooking grains, things that can be mid-week dinners, and slow-cooking grains, the ones you want to save weekend preparations), but her recipes inspire rash trips to the grocery store for ingredients.

There’s nothing 1970’s health foodie about this.  Imagine “Aroma Bread” with Coriander and Fennel.  Greek Style Cornbread with Feta and Thyme.  (Children will come home begging for this one.)  Sesame Crusted Fish Stick with Yogurt Remoulade.  Conchiglie with Lamb and Minted Yogurt.  And one of my favorites – Sardine Tart with Sweet Bell Peppers and Currants. – to name a few.

The flavors and textures chart the world with modern style.  Most of the recipes are straightforward.  Most of the ingredients, including the grains, which most grocery stores keep someplace, are accessible.

I love Speck’s discussion of millet, which she describes as having “an almost comedic inflatable quality.”  The first time I looked at the recipe for Ricotta Millet Pudding I thought I’d have to double it to serve four.  In fact, one half a cup of millet created at least 8 portions of a luscious, raspberry-topped dessert.  A sprinkle of gentle millet texture wrapped in ricotta and whipped cream, this is like the tapioca pudding served in heaven.  Although millet is easily one of the world’s oldest and most nutritious foods, no guest would ever taste this pudding and say “grain.”  They’ll say “ethereal.”





Ricotta Millet Pudding with Warm Raspberry Compote (recipe from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck) serves 6-8


1 cup water
1/2 cup millet
2/3 cup milk (lowfat is fine)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract Pinch of fine sea salt


1 1/2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
1/4 cup sugar

Raspberry Compote

2 1/2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries (no need to thaw) 1/4 cup honey

To prepare the millet, bring the water and millet to a boil in a small saucepan. Decrease the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook until the water is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes. Combine the milk, vanilla, and salt in a small bowl and add to the millet. Return to a simmer, cover, and cook until the milk is absorbed, about 15 minutes more. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Uncover and cool to room temperature.

Once the millet has cooled, make the pudding. Place the ricotta, honey, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a large bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until the ingredients are well incorporated. Loosen the prepared millet with a fork and stir it into the ricotta mixture, breaking up any lumps.

In another large bowl, whip the cream with a handheld mixer, gradually adding the sugar until medium-firm peaks form. Using a rubber spatula, fold the whipped cream into the ricotta-millet mixture in 3 additions. Divide the pudding among 6-8 serving dishes. Chill, covered with plastic wrap, for at least 2 hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, make the raspberry compote. Place the raspberries and honey in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, gently stirring once in a while so as not to crush the berries, until the sauce is hot and berries just warmed through, 5-8 minutes.

To finish, spoon some of the raspberry compote over the chilled ricotta pudding and serve at once.

“Reprinted with permission from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.”


Tangerine Macarons

Saturday, March 24th, 2012



French bakery windows glow with towering pyramids of candy-colored macarons, but the double-decker pastry that’s put France back on the cookie map, after a madeleine lull, was born in Italy.  Catherine de Medici apparently introduced French courts to her hometown favorite when she married the Duc of Orleans in 1533.  (afterward, Henry II).  The French apparently never looked back, and the Italians, dipping another zaleti in the prosecco, seemed ok letting macarons go.  (Macarons and macaroni share the same etymological root, meaning “fine dough.”)

Shauna Hinchen-Joyal and Linda Currier can attest to the magic of macarons, but when they describe the process, one wonders how on earth the pastry survived five hundred years of uneven oven temperatures and humidity.

Hinchen-Joyal and Currier own and operate Tangerine, makers of specialty cakes and fine pastries, in Hamilton, MA.

“It took us about a year to get them (macarons) right,” Hinchen-Joyal told me.  The egg whites have to “age” in the refrigerator.  Exposed to air, the egg white strands “strengthen” and some of the water in them evaporates.  Macarons need a very fine grind of nuts and sugar.  You have to use very good confectionary sugar because the cheap stuff has too much corn starch.

Then there’s the mixing of the nuts and sugar mixture into the egg whites, a process which has a name, “macronage.”

Over-mixed the macronage, the dough runs, and you have flat macarons. Too stiff a macronage, the dough sits up too high, and there’s no gleam to the macarons’ surface.

The oven is the next trial:  air, heat, humidity.  Hinchen-Joyal watches carefully, sometimes opening the oven door to let air flow in while the macarons bake.

“We make lots of these for weddings and events, and we can’t afford to screw up.”  But, she adds, “we still get a bust batch from time to time.”  Macarons are that mercurial.

Tangerine sources as locally as possible:  Taza Chocolate, Privateer Rum, and Cabot Butter for example.  They’re facebook page today boasts some gorgeous arauracana eggs.

Hinchen-Joyal says the flavors are the fun part; they’re inventing new ones everyday:  coconut with sea-salt caramel and ginger,  Meyer lemon with chocolate ganache, Taza Chocolate nibs with chai.

I sampled a box; the quality – the ratio of crack to soft center, of mildly flavored cookie to intensely flavored filling, their freshness, and the gorgeous springtime palette, all said “Ces macarons sont parfait!”   I say save your airfare and buy local macarons.

pssst:  Passover begins April 6; Easter is April 8th.  Macarons have no leavening.



P.O. Box 472

Wenham, MA 01984




Ginger Chicken Thighs with Sweet Potatoes

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012


For years the Silver Palate’s Chicken Marbella has ruled the potluck table.  The easy combination of chicken thighs, prunes, olives etc. so easily assembled with so flavorful a result, won the hearts of everyone who cared about serving good food.

I predict Annie Schennum’s “Oven Baked Chicken with Ginger, Garlic and Sweet Potatoes” is about to dethrone Chicken Marbella as the potluck favorite.



In a shallow roasting pan lay out a batch of bone-in chicken thighs, always great flavor vehicles, toss over them chunks of sweet potatoes, whole cloves of garlic, rosemary leaves, and stem ginger (I’ll get to that in a moment).  Sprinkle all with allspice, salt and pepper, and roast.  Can you smell this yet?  The recipe is like a stop on the Silk Road somewhere between Provence and Istanbul.

After the thighs are crisp and brown, the pan contents are removed to a warm platter, and a luscious sauce is made by deglazing the remains with stock and adding sour cream and mustard.  Here the recipe makes a u-turn back to France.  The rich mustard-nuanced sauce softens with all the flavors from the pan – the ginger, rosemary and allspice – to be a complex, sophisticated dinner that tastes like a Cordon Bleu invention.

In fact, Annie Schennum, who was born and lived most of her life in London, trained at The Cordon Bleu School, and worked there as one of the teachers.   Later, Schennum was chef at the Biras Creek Hotel on Virgin Gorda, in the British Virgin Islands and at a private director’s dining room for an investment bank in the City of London, before leaving professional cooking to raise her four children. She moved from London to the North Shore of Boston in 2004, and lives in Manchester-by-the-Sea.  Although The Stem Ginger Chicken reflects Schennum’s professional good taste and sense, she clipped it years ago from a magazine in an English doctor’s office.



What’s stem ginger and is there a substitute?  Schennum and I had a long discussion about that.  We tasted the contents of the jar she’d brought home in her luggage from Britain.  We poked at a small, golden chunk, analyzed the jar contents, tasted it right out of the jar, and tasted it with the chicken.  We determined it was really nothing more than one inch chunks of peeled fresh ginger cooked in a simple syrup.  You can find stem ginger on line, or in Asian markets, or you can make it yourself, which, too impatient to wait for my ordered jar to arrive, I successfully did.  The recipe follows.

For its ratio of ease to flavor, Schennum’s family long ago dubbed this recipe a “Weekday Winner.”  I think it wins on the weekends, too.


Ginger Chicken Thighs with Sweet Potatoes

serves 4-6


8 chicken thighs, trimmed of excess skin

2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into eight pieces each

8 cloves garlic, peeled

2 tablespoons olive oil

I-2 pieces stem ginger, finely chopped

1 tablespoon stem ginger syrup

2 small sprigs fresh Rosemary, leaves only

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

½ cup chicken broth

¼ cup sour cream

1 level tablespoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 400º F

Put chicken, sweet potatoes, garlic and rosemary leaves into a shallow roasting pan, previously greased with I tablespoon of olive oil. Ensure the pan is sized so the ingredients fit quite snugly.

Drizzle over the remaining tablespoon of oil

Scatter the chopped stem ginger and ginger syrup over the chicken and potatoes

Season well with the allspice, salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toss well to coat

Roast for 40-45 minutes in top half of oven, basting every 15 minutes

When chicken is cooked and golden brown, remove from oven

Transfer chicken and potatoes to a serving dish, keep warm

Using a spoon, skim off surplus fat from roasting pan

Place pan over medium heat and squash the garlic cloves to a pulp

Pour in the chicken broth to de-glaze the pan and bring to a boil

Add the Dijon mustard and sour cream

Stir to combine, let it bubble for a minute, check seasoning

The sauce can then be strained at this stage and poured over the chicken or served separately



To make Stem Ginger


a large knob of fresh ginger, about a cup when peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces

2 cups sugar

2 cups water


Put the sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.  When the sugar dissolves, add the peeled ginger pieces.  Simmer for approximately 25 minutes.  You want the syrup to penetrate the ginger’s fiber.  Let cool and store the ginger and syrup together in a jar.


Home (re)Cycled; The Roving Home Show

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Years ago I walked into a small shop in Rockport, MA called Sycamore Hollow, and had the rare feeling of stumbling both back and forth in esthetic time

The shop’s tenor was a sort of vintage 1930’s school room:  a couple of large pieces of seemingly button-shop kinds of furniture –  pieces with glass cases, slots and crannies displaying a spare collection of objets.  Old school maps hung on the walls, pale blues and greens warmed by that band-aid pink color of Czechoslovakia and the tangerine of Poland.  There was a collection of modern blown-glass jars that added delicacy and air, with a whiff of apothecary.  I’m fairly certain there were branches.  Many of the pieces were vintage finds; some were just finds.  The way it was all assembled was modern, esthetically pukka.

In some ways there wasn’t actually that much to buy in Sycamore Hollow, but I loved dropping in to feel it, wishing it were a room in my house.  I wanted to dress up my home in this arty botanical, formal and natural, vision.  I still love the row of tin doves strung upon a wire I bought from the shop, a layer of decoration meant to do nothing more than quietly inspire a smile.

Sycamore Hollow was owner Sarah Kelly’s terrarium of ideas –  her collections, her small painted things.

A few years ago, Kelly closed the shop, and reopened online as The Roving Home.  In some ways the website is even better than the store, because you can read Sarah’s blog, which makes you realize that part of what made Sycamore Hollow so appealing was what Kelly thinks about.  She doesn’t decorate, she analyzes how and why we decorate, what homes and decor mean to us in the most fundamental ways.  That’s why the shop’s inventory – from a rough, old oar to a linen pillow with a sailboat tenderly swished upon it in paint –  touch at a deeper level.  Kelly assembled her visions with respect for the idea of home, its history, and for our imaginations.  There was so much more going on in that little shop than just things to buy.

Happily for those of us who love her blog but miss walking into Sycamore Hollow, Kelly will be having a show of her work – titled “Home (re)Cycled” at the Tusinski Gallery in Rockport.

Part art gallery, part shop, because Kelly’s ideas of decoration sometimes blur between provocative commentary and great stuff with a price tag hanging from it, the show will have Kelly’s doll houses – her a darker view of domesticity – her vintage shadow boxes, and some pieces from her online store, including the hand-painted Kelly Chinoisserie for which I’m begging.  (Sarah?)

Certain to provoke you to think and/or decorate, the show opens April 21st.

Besides the portrait of Sarah, the beautiful photos in this blog are the work of photographer Esther Mathieu.


Here’s Kelly’s statement on the Home (re)Cycled show:

The influences we have always felt in our homes, a few of  which are the natural world, domestic necessity, the intense human desire for beauty and self-expression, are the same as they have ever been. Now we just incorporate an expanded sense of what it means to be human and inhabit a space. In this way we are always recycling the ideas of our ancestors, connecting with them through our interiors — the primitive beauty of prehistoric cave paintings translated into hand-painted chinoiserie wallcoverings, to name just one example. Home (re)Cycled aims to highlight this connection to our inhabited past while allowing us to see some of these influences — specifically the natural world and the desire for beauty — in new ways.


Home (re)Cycled

at The Karen Tusinski Gallery

2 Main St.

Rockport, MA  978-546-2244


Here’s Sarah, nine months pregnant, singing with her brother, the artist musician Daniel Dye.



The Barefoot Contessa Coconut Cupcakes

Thursday, March 15th, 2012


The Cape Ann Theater Collaborative begins production of Neil Simon’s comedy Rumors at Gorton Theater, formerly home of the Gloucester Stage Co., the weekends of March 23rd and March 30th.  In the comedy a collection of affluent Manhattan couples arrive at their hosts’ apartment, an evening supposed to celebrate the host and hostess’s tenth wedding anniversary, but the servants and the hostess are missing and the host has shot himself in the ear.   A psychologist, the Deputy Mayor of New York City, a politician running for State Senate and wives spend the evening maneuvering guns, each other, the media, the law, and a strange kitchen.  The characters are all self-important if not neurotic wealthy New Yorkers, who, if allowed to leave the stage and go away for the weekend, would certainly end up in the Hamptons, shopping for weekend supplies at 1990’s culinary triumph The Barefoot Contessa.

So, in honor of the upcoming performance, I’m going to remind people of the cookbook author Ina Garten, the way she took a blessedly intuitive sense of style and taste and produced a wildly successful empire, and the beloved, functional Barefoot Contessa cookbooks.

(The original Rumors opened in New York in 1988 and ran for 535 performances.  Chris Baranski won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play. )

In 1978 Ina Garten had been working in the White House Office of Management and Budget.  With no professional experience in the food business, but wanting a distraction from office life, Garten and her husband bought a small specialty food store in the Hamptons, and named it The Barefoot Contessa.  For the next eighteen years, the take-out shop served Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic, Mexican Chicken Soup, Eli’s Asian Salmon, Roasted Shrimp and Orzo to crowds of celebrities who just couldn’t stay away, the shop was so lovely and the food so perfect.  The dishes became as famous as the celebrities who lined up for them.  At the WestHampton Beach shop they would bake 2,000 blueberry muffins on a Saturday morning, and they would be gone by 9:30.

In 1998 Garten sold the shop and began to write cookbooks, which introduced those of us who didn’t summer in the Hamptons to her direct, clear path to style and taste.  The cookbooks became as legendary as the shop.   As almost everyone claimed, the recipes “worked,” perhaps because Garten approached cooking as a woman giving a dinner party, not as a chef or cooking school graduate.  Garten, much like Martha Stewart, invented recipes for the person inviting guests to her home, a person who, along with shopping for and making a delicious meal, needed to get their house clean, the table set, and themselves showered and dressed, different pressures than the white-toqued chef with Brillat Savarin lessons swirling in his sauces.

A word of caution with Barefoot Contessa recipes:  most of them will make you as instantly popular as they made Ina Garten.  I baked her coconut cupcakes for an event once, and spent the next two years repeating the effort.  Every time I was invited to anything I was asked to make those amazing cupcakes.   I’ll be baking them again for the March 24th performance of Rumors, at which refreshments will be served during intermission.  The characters will all be wishing they were in the Hamptons at that point in the production, so we’ll bring a little bit of the Barefoot Contessa to Gloucester.


The Barefoot Contessa Coconut Cupcakes


3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature.

2 cups sugar

5 extra-large eggs at room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 1/2 teaspoons pure almond extract

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup buttermilk

14 ounces sweetened, shredded coconut

For the frosting:

1 pound cream cheese at room temperature

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

1 1/2 pounds confectioners’ sugar, sifted



Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In 3 parts, alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the batter, beginning and ending with the dry. Mix until just combined. Fold in 7 ounces of coconut.

Line a muffin pan with paper liners. Fill each liner to the top with batter. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove to a baking rack and cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the frosting. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, cream together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla and almond extracts. Add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until smooth.

Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle with the remaining coconut.

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012


Before you order garden seeds this year think about this.

It’s the end of August and you have way too many squash.  You’ve given so many away to your friends and family that it’s no longer gracious; it’s mean.

Did you know you can donate them to a local food assistance organization?  Not only are you relieved of pounds of vegetables you just can’t consume, you can feel good about providing fresh local food to people who don’t have regular access to it, and it’s a tax write off.  The food pantry, or soup kitchen, or church kitchen gives you a receipt for whatever is the market value of the donated produce.

A new website, one which Michelle Obama has promoted in her Let’s Move program, makes doing this easy.  Go to, and click on the section for Gardeners:  find a local food pantry if you have food you want to donate.

The results will give you the closest food assistance agencies accepting donated garden produce.  I put in my zip code and The Open Door popped up.


Founded by Gary Oppenheimer, a self-described aging hippie, old geek who hates waste, is being met on the internet with open arms.  Google has donated $480,000 in free advertising.  The Huffington Post declared Oppenheimer “The Greatest Person of the Day.”

CNN, CBS, and Fox news have done stories on

The EPA is looking into using as a resource for eliminating waste.  (A truck spills on Rt. 95, unloading a thousand pounds of carrots that now a grocery store won’t accept.  The clean-up people can go to and find the closest place to donate it.)

FEMA is looking into the importance of for leaving behind an improved local food system once it’s entered a stricken community.

The White House loves;  The average home gardener produces 300 pounds of produce a year.  If one out of ten people donated 2 shopping bags of produce that would mean 200 million pounds of fresh produce getting into our food system. We all should like that.

Here’s another idea:  If you’re having a party, instead of a flower arrangement on the table, arrange beautiful fruits and vegetables, but plan on donating them afterward to your local food assistance organization.

If someone dies, donate their kitchen contents to a shelter.

The only technical part of the operation is that food assistance organizations need to sign up so they’re visible on the website.  It’s easy to do, so if you belong to one, know of one, work for one, make sure your agency is registered on


Photos courtesy of


Oven Fish Chowder

Monday, March 12th, 2012


I’m going to risk being very unpopular and say I’m not a fan of community cookbooks, except one:  The Andover Cookbook.

In most community cookbooks, rarely do the recipes come with introduction or descriptions, or even a mention of how or why the recipe was worthy enough to be included in the collection.  Unless you’re actually a part of the community and have eaten someone’s famous brownies, and – wow – there’s the recipe! – you don’t know where to begin.

The Andover Cookbook was like the Joy of Cooking in my family, my mother adopted so many recipes from it.  I inherited a newer version in my mother’s pile of cookbooks, and began flipping through the pages and tasting my childhood:  The chocolate chip pound cake we had when there were lots of boys around.  The shrimp, green bean, tomato and feta cheese casserole we ate at our little kitchen table on Cape Cod seemingly almost once a month because I loved it.

Last week I made a stab at something that looked ridiculously easy in the cookbook – oven fish chowder.  Throw everything into a pot, put it in the oven, and add warm cream.  There seemed to be all kinds of reasons to try this, easy being the most important that night.

I followed all, served the stew, and sat down to my first genuine Proustian moment.  One spoon of soup and I was at that East Sandwich kitchen table, looking out the window to the snow-covered apple trees, cardinals darting like flung red handkerchiefs at the bird feeder.

I hadn’t remembered the recipe in the cookbook, and I hadn’t remembered my mother even making it, but suddenly I was home.   This was my mother’s stew.  It tasted provincial and refined.  Only my mother could find the easiest recipe in the world which happened to also taste like something one would be served in a Brittany restaurant.

I decided the butter, wine, parsley, bit of clove and the red onions all roasted together account for the French part.  The intelligence in the recipe (efficient + deliciousness) comes from Andover.  The memories are all mine.


Oven Fish Chowder 

serves 6


2 lbs. haddock or cod fillets

2 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced

3 T. parsley chopped

2 1/2 tsp. salt

4 whole cloves

1 garlic clove peeled and crushed

3 medium Bermuda onions, sliced

1/2 cup butter

1/4 tsp. dried dill

1/4 tsp. white pepper

1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth

2 cups boiling water

2 cups light cream



Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put all ingredients, except cream, into a 6 quart casserole.  Cover and bake for one hour.  Heat cream to scalding and add to chowder.  Stir to break up fish.




Irish Kedgeree

Saturday, March 10th, 2012



On page 50 of Irish Country Cooking by Malachi McCormick  is Kedgeree, the ingredients for which are basically long-grain white rice, turmeric, smoked fish, and hardboiled eggs.   On page 49 is Poached Finnan Haddie.  On page 51 is Fried Brown Trout.




How can a culture that makes Beef Tea and Mutton Pie simultaneously invite rice and turmeric into its pantry?  – And make it an Irish menu standard, right there between the recipes for milk-poached smoked fish and fish fried in butter?

Kedgeree is delicious, not unlike Rijstaffel without all the trappings.  The English went to India, tasted a rice and lentil dish called Kchichri,  and brought it back as Kedgeree, which the Irish then borrowed; the Dutch went to Indonesia and brought back Rijstaffel.  (Apparently, Indonesians wiped the Rijstaffel slate clean when the Dutch left; it was too obvious a reminder of the colonization.) Plunked down in the middle of this cookbook, Kedgeree is clearly a cultural detour, another good example of how foods can be footprints, sometimes the only ones left, of a culture’s voyages (if not colonizing).

The recipe called for smoked haddock, but I used hot-smoked salmon – the chunky kind as opposed to the sleek “lox” kind.  The salmon is poached in milk, which makes it softer and less salty.  This unites the dish, adding a richness and heft to the rice that doesn’t scream of smoked fish.  The pink color is also beautiful with the yellows of the rice and eggs.

It would be beautiful in an Easter brunch.




1 cup long-grain white rice

1 1/2 cups cold water

1 teaspoon turmeric

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon white pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 pound poached smoked salmon or haddock

2 cups of milk or enough to cover the fish

1/2 onion, sliced

4 hard-boiled eggs

1 tablespoon chopped parsley



Begin with the fish.  Rinse it under cold water, and then place it in a shallow pan.  Cover with milk and some onion slices, and simmer very gently for fifteen minutes, or until softened.  Drain, reserving a half-cup of milk.

Put the rice, water and turmeric into a saucepan that has a tight-fitting lid.  Bring the water to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer the rice for 17 minutes.

When the rice is done, take it off the heat.  In a separate saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  When melted, add the cooked rice, the peppers and mix.

Flake the salmon or haddock.  Add this to the rice mixture and still in well.

Shell the hard-boiled eggs and cut them in eighths lengthwise.  Remove the yolks, crumble them, and set them aside.  Add the chopped whites of the eggs to the rice, and stir gently.

Put the saucepan back on the stove and heat until the mixture is very hot.  If it all seems too dry, you may add some of the milk left from the fish poaching to moisten it.

Serve hot in bowls with crumbled egg yolks and parsley over the top.