Monday, December 14, 2015

Meatless Monday: Back to the Basics

We overdid it a bit when picking apples early in October. By late November the Galas, Ida Reds, and Mutsus were still doing well, but the Macouns and Fujis were starting to get a little soft. I decided to make some applesauce, and my timing couldn’t have been better.



We had a little one with us for a week over Thanksgiving. She was just beginning to explore the world of food.

Her day began with a tiny bowl of oatmeal. On the first morning of the visit I asked her parents' permission and introduced a spoonful of my sauce after her oatmeal was gone. After the first taste she smacked her lips and smiled.

She got applesauce every morning that week. Her eyes lit up when she saw the dish of applesauce, and she flapped her arms in anticipation of a tasty bite.

What a great thing! I had prevented some potential food waste and made myself the apple of my granddaughter’s eye in just a few easy, and I do mean easy, steps. 

There are some kitchen devices meant to streamline the process, but all you really need is a paring knife, a cutting board, a heavy-duty pot, and, of course, some apples. Even in this busy holiday season, you have time for this DIY. After all, who doesn’t love applesauce? 

Here is my recipe.

Nonna’s Applesauce
  • Check your fridge for any apples starting to lose their crispness; the large ones seem to go first. 
  • Go for a mix of varieties if possible. [My friend Polly suggests using at least 3 varieties; I had 5 and it certainly worked for me!]
  • Peel, quarter, and remove the cores of the apples.
  • Cut each quarter into smaller pieces (halves or quarters depending on the apple’s size).
  • Put the apple pieces into an ample-sized pot or saucepan.
  • Add a tablespoon or two of water.
  • Cover the pot with a lid.
  • Bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat and simmer gently until the apples are fork tender.
  • Mash or blend to your desired consistency. [I use a potato masher and opt for chunky style.]
  • No added sugar is necessary.

I made the batch in the photo this morning. It tasted great atop a bowl of plain Greek yogurt, and I expect it will be gone in no time. 

Happy Meatless Monday. Have a great week!


On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Saturday Shorts 12.12.15: Reflections on COP21

One of the messages carried to COP 21, the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, by Professor Dan Esty of Yale is that EVERYONE is part of the solution to climate disruption. His particular mission at COP was to engage the governors and mayors in attendance — the leaders at levels below “heads of state” — who can more easily implement change.

In this post I urge the rest of us to engage as well. COP is heading toward a close. According to the BBC, a “final draft” has been reached. Whatever commitments are finally made, we must all take action. 

We may not be COP 21 delegates, or hold the wealth of Bill Gates and the other 27 investors who created The Breakthrough Energy Coalitionbut each of us can play a part in helping to save our planet.

Here a just a few ideas:

Use less energy in our homes
  • Switch to better lightbulbs
  • Invest in energy-efficient appliances
  • Insulate our attics
  • Caulk leaky windows
  • Turn down our thermostats

Use less energy when we travel
  • Walk more
  • Use alternative transportation
  • Pool our trips when we drive
  • Pay a carbon offset when we fly

… and in this season of excess
  • Shop carefully 
  • Honor a loved one with a gift to a charitable organization instead of a tsotchke
  • WASTE LESS. This includes making good use of our leftovers as former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Michael Dukakis so passionately does. Read the whole story here.

For more ideas, check out a series of posts “Joining Hands for a Better World” I ambitiously wrote 2 years ago as I “counted down to Christmas.” Here is the link to Day 1. The other posts in the series are listed in the green box to the right.


The message is true now more than ever. “Tous ensemble” (all together) we can make a difference!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Meatless Monday: When the Frost is on the Pumpkin, It’s Kale Time!

If tender zucchini or juicy, red tomatoes are what you crave, you’ll be out of luck at the November farmer’s market. But if kale is on your list you will not be disappointed, for kale is a cool weather crop. In fact kale tastes its best when harvested after a hard frost; freezing nights trigger the transformation of some of the plant’s starches into sugars. This is a defense mechanism to keep the plant’s cells from freezing and dehydrating. Carrots do the same thing as this article from The Washington Post explains.


According to information found at Burpee.com, kale can survive temperatures to -10°F. Kale can be grown throughout the winter as far north as the mid-Atlantic states, and in even colder climes if protected by some form of cover.

I am a huge fan of this hardy, readily available green. Check out my Kale Day post to see a short list of its many amazing properties. 

I try to keep some on hand at all times for use in:
AND, here is my tip of the week. 
  • Chopped, steamed kale is an excellent addition to pasta sauce (jarred or homemade). 
Kale veterans among you know that it is essential to remove the tough kale stems from the leaves before using the kale in a recipe. One way to do this is with a sharp knife. Another is to use this nifty tool a friend sent me.

The Chef'n Looseleaf™ Kale & Greens Stripper is a small leaf-shaped plastic tool with various sizes of holes to accommodate the stems of a variety of herbs and greens. You simply insert the stem into one end and pull it through, thus separating the leaf from the stem. This tool has been much reviewed online; not all the reviews are glowing, but it did the trick for me, and it is a lot safer than a knife! With its relatively low cost, small size, and cuteness factor, it has great potential as a stocking stuffer in the weeks ahead. 

That’s it for today. Next week I hope to have some vegetarian and vegan suggestions for your holiday meal planning. Until then, eat well!

On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

Monday, October 5, 2015

Meatless Tuesday, Poultryless Thursday

Since 2003, people around the world have chosen to “go meatless” on Mondays. But were you aware that decades ago Americans were asked by the President to forgo meat on TWO days of the week?

Thanks to the New York Times Learning Network’s On this Day blog for this blast from the past:

On October 5, 1947, President Truman, in the first televised White House address, called on all Americans to refrain from eating meat on Tuesdays and poultry and eggs on Thursdays in order to help stockpile grain for starving citizens in post-WWII Europe.

You can read the original New York Times article here

And thanks to my husband for calling this article to my attention.

Happy Meatless Monday. 


On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Counting Down to Kale Day 2015

Wednesday, October 7 is National Kale Day. NOW is the time to plan your celebration in honor of this amazing leafy vegetable.

Started in October of 2012, National Kale Day exists to celebrate the nutritional benefits of and different ways to cook and prepare kale.

What are the benefits of this nutritional powerhouse?

Just one cup of raw kale contains just 33 calories while providing…
  • 134% of your daily vitamin C needs
  • 684% of your daily vitamin K needs
  • 204% of vitamin A

and is also
  • is an excellent source of calcium and iron

Kale…
  • is a cool weather vegetable with a long growing season, and, in fact tastes even sweeter after a frost.
  • is easy to grow.
  • can be locally sourced when warm weather crops have disappeared from the market.
  • is relatively inexpensive.
  • is “hearty.” When stored in a loose bag in the refrigerator crisper, it can last up to a week. 
  • comes in dozens of colorful varieties.
  • can be prepared in many ways.

To learn more about this superfood, go to the Kale Day website and download the 2015 Kale Hero Toolkit. The kit includes a number of simple, delicious recipes for kale, as well as all you ever wanted to know about this leafy green vegetable. One of my favorite recipes is the one for Fall Cheddar Apple Kale Quesadillas.

In celebration of Kale Day 2015, let me share with you my new favorite kale recipe: Kale Salad with Apples and Cheddar by Martha Rose Shulman in the New York Times.

Have you ever purchased the bagged kale salad complete with dressing packet and wondered how you could replicate it (or even improve on it)? Wonder no more. This is the recipe for you.
A close-up after serving

A few notes:
  • The trickiest part is chopping the kale; I recommend using a knife rather than a blender. 
  • Use curly kale rather than Lacinato (also known as Tuscan or Dinosaur).
  • Be sure to remove the tough stems.
  • I used a Macoun apple and
  • extra sharp cheddar.
  • I tossed in a handful of dried cranberries for extra color.
  • Be sure to mix well at least 15 minutes before serving.

The salad makes four generous servings. It makes a great next day as a leftover although the parmesan won’t be as visible.

I suspect you will say “goodbye” to that bagged mix. This is zestier and so much cheaper. Also, with the nuts and cheese it can make a complete meal.

If you are trying to:
  • Go meatless
  • Support your local farmer
  • Eat cheaply 

or simply 
  • Eat well

Give Kale a try this Wednesday!

Happy Meatless Monday. Happy Kale Day 2015. Have a great week!


On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

Monday, September 21, 2015

Meatless Monday: A Sweet Bite from the Ark of Taste

Now that Fall is suddenly in the air family outings switch from the beach to “Pick-Your-Own” venues.  Here in New England the peach season is pretty much over, but raspberries are still plentiful and apple season is beginning. Many of the venues, including my favorite Bishop’s Orchards, have “orchard” in the name and offer other attractions like corn mazes, petting zoos, and pie. It is easy to find a Pick Your Own venue near you by visiting the Pick Your Own website, where you can find local listings for Pick Your Own (PYO) farms in the US, Canada, Britain and various other locations around the world. 

On a trip to the West last month I had the opportunity to visit a PYO farm, not the “orchard” with which I am most familiar, but rather a “ranch” in Santa Cruz county near Salinas, on the way from Silicon Valley to Monterey. Gizdich Ranch in Watsonville, CA is a family operation, established in 1937. To reach it you turn off Hwy 101 and travel along dusty roads running through commercial berry operations with names I recognized from my supermarket produce aisles back home. 

Gizdich Ranch grows a variety of berries: Olallieberries (June), Boysenberries and Blackberries (Mid June to July), and Strawberries (May-September). Apples: September (3 weeks).They grow 16 varieties of apples but only Red Delicious, Newton Pippins & Golden Delicious are U-pick for 3 weeks in September.

That hot Sunday in late August we were not, however, looking to pick produce. We were in search of the Gizdich’s famous pies. We ended up buying two – one  Very Berry and one Apricot, and sampling a couple of pieces a la mode while we were there. The pie was great, but I was even happier to discover that Gravenstein apples were available in the farm store. I bought a few to enjoy on our family trip. Small in size, they proved to be crisp and both tart and sweet in one bite. Gravensteins ripen in late July, making them one of the earliest varieties of apple to come to market in North America. They are a wonderful all-around apple — excellent to eat and great for pie and sauce.


Gravensteins are an heirloom variety, once a very important part of the economy of the CA coast from Monterey to the Russian River. With 17th century origins in Denmark, they were first planted in Sonoma County in the early 1800s by Russian trappers. There were thousands of Gravenstein orchards in the state by the early 1900s, and the Gravenstein processing industry was born. During WWII applesauce and dried apples from Sebastopol Gravensteins fed the American troops. 

However, Gravensteins have short stems making them difficult to harvest, and they do not store well. Thus many of today's growers have opted to replace them with other varieties.

The wine industry has posed another threat to apples in general. In 2005 low Food USA added the Sebastopol Gravenstein Apple to its Ark of Taste catalog of “delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction” stating, “This fruit is also losing out because of an alarming loss of land, as many orchards are being converted to vineyards or rural estates. During the past six decades, Sonoma County’s Gravenstein orchards have declined by almost 7,000 acres and are currently down to 960 acres. There are only six commercial growers remaining in Sonoma County. Together, their crop totals 15,000 tons of Gravenstein Apples a year.” 

The Sebastopol Gravenstein Apple Presidium formed to promote and protect the farmers who grow these delicious apples. You can read more about it here

Long story short, as far as I know, there are no Gravenstein orchards near me, and I was happy to have the chance to sample an Ark of Taste item and to support an Ark of Taste farmer. For more on the Gravenstein apple, read this NPR blog by Nicole Spiridakis from 2013 (apple recipes included) For other endangered foods from around the world, check out the Ark of Taste catalog. 

Happy Meatless Monday. Have a great week.


On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

Thursday, September 10, 2015

On My Radar 9.10.15

Upcoming September 2015 Events in New Haven (#GSCIA)

Get your Green on, New Haveners! You have no excuse for staying home with the plethora of mostly free events coming up. Some days are so event-full that it will take some planning on your part to hit them all. 

Here you go, in chronological order, starting with this Saturday. 

Saturday, September 12
8-10 am, Quinnipiac Meadows Nature Preserve
1040 Quinnipiac Avenue
HAWK WALK and TALK
Free Event. Sponsored by the New Haven Land Trust
According to the Land Trust, “It's a great time of year to observe hawks and other migrating birds! Bird expert and past president of the New Haven Bird Club Mike Horn will be giving a guided walk at our Quinnipiac Meadows Nature Preserve this Saturday. All are welcome (except out-of-control children). Rain or shine! If you have them, bring binoculars and see you there!”

Also this Saturday…

Saturday, September 12
GREEN EXPO (11 am -5 pm) 
CT FOLK FESTIVAL (11 am -10 pm) – 10 Years Young!
Edgerton Park, located off Whitney Avenue near the Hamden-New Haven town line. Free Admission!  The full program and list of participants is available here. 

Monday, Sept 14
7:30 PM, BAR, 254 Crown Street, New Haven
New Haven Green Drinks meets at a special day and time in order to participate in TRANSPORTATION on TAP, hosted by goNewHavengo, the group that asks you to “Think outside the car.” Eat pizza, drink beer, and learn about transportation in New Haven. Attendees must be 21 or over.

Tuesday, September 15 - Tuesday, December 1
(with a few exceptions)
5:30 - 7:30 PM
DIVERSE VOICES: Environmental Leaders on Climate Change and the Environment
Kroon Hall, 195 Prospect Street, New Haven
The public is invited and welcome to attend this series of lectures offered as FES810 at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. More here. FREE.

The event-full Saturday, September 19 kicks off with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk or bike across the soon to be opened new southbound Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge.

Saturday, September 19
10 am - 3 pm
GRAND OPENING CELEBRATION
on the new Southbound Q-Bridge
Access provided at the intersection of Hamilton Street and Ives Place.
Only pedestrians and bicycles will be allowed on the bridge. The event planners promise family-friendly activities, refreshments, stunning views, and great photo opportunities. More information here

From there it’s just a hop and a skip over to the 6th annual East Rock Festival…

Saturday, September 19
11 am - 7 pm
EAST ROCK FESTIVAL
Orange Street between Willow Street and Cottage Street
This free festival celebrates all the East Rock neighborhood has to offer with food vendors, live music, demos, kids’ activities, and information on area non-profits.

And, if you plan it right, you can quench your thirst for a good cause…

Saturday, September 19
4-7 pm
BEER and OYSTERS in the GARDEN
Fred Cervin Bioregional Garden
608 Whitney Avenue
A fundraiser for the New Haven Land Trust. Standard ticket is $30.00 in advance. Support community gardening, environmental education, and nature preserves. More information is available here

Friday, September 25
5:30 pm (ish) at the flagpole on the New Haven Green
CRITICAL MASS
Critical Mass is a cycling event held on the last Friday of every month. Part of the worldwide Critical Mass movement, New Haven's “Kinder and Less-Critical Mass” is a monthly celebration of bicycling. The ride is generally slow; length may vary. The size of the group can reach 200 in the summer months! 


There ought to be something in here for just about everybody. Get up. Get out. Go New Haveners, Go!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Freebie Friday 8.28.15: Explore the Great Barrier Reef without Getting Wet

Last week Google added Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to the extensive list of modern and ancient world heritage sites that you can explore online as part of Google’s World Wonders Project.

That is correct. You and users across the globe can now travel through The Great Barrier Reef on Google Street View. Google partnered with the Catlin Seaview Survey, who used a special camera to capture the images. The Catlin Seaview Survey is a global study monitoring the health of the world’s coral reefs. According to the survey’s website, there has been a 40% loss of corals around the globe in the last 30 years

The images are beautiful, but the survey’s work could not be more serious. The Catlin Seaview Survey is “creating a baseline record of the world’s coral reefs, in high-resolution 360-degree panoramic vision. It will enable change to be clearly monitored over time and will help scientists, policy makers and the public at large to see and understand the issues reefs are facing and work out what needs to be done to best protect coral reefs now and into the future.”

The partnership with Google is helping to raise awareness of this problem.

The voyage starts here

TGIF. Have a great weekend. 

FYI Why a piñata? Just like a blog link, unless you open it, you won’t know what’s inside.














Friday, August 21, 2015

Ten Things to Love About IKEA

In 2003, I thought I wanted a mall to come to New Haven. I wanted Macy’s back. And a Nordstrom’s. I was tired of having to drive out of town to buy shoes and underwear.

Instead we became the first city in New England to get an IKEA.

I have come to love this store and this company. 

Here are a few of the reasons why:
  • When IKEA installed solar panels on its roof in 2012, it was the largest array of solar panels in the state
  • IKEA is a good source of local jobs and the workers seem happy to work there.
  • Coffee is always free if you join the Family (free membership). 
  • Its restaurant offers a great view of the city (and the I-95 construction project) and is a great place to have a business meeting or a study group.
  • It is the perfect place to burn off some calories when the weather outside is too hot or too cold to go for a long walk. And it is always fun to imagine what it would be like to live in the various sized display “homes” where there always seems to be ample space until you realize the occupants have no personal possessions.
  • IKEA has a convenient “wall” for responsible recycling many types of items including spent CFLs and rechargeable batteries.
  • The grocery section is stocked with a variety of organic products including drinks and jams.
  • As of this month most of their seafood is MSC or ASC certified. 
  • The restaurant now has a VEGAN alternative to the famed meatball plate. Since spring vegetable balls GRÖNSAKSBULLAR have been on the menu. The ingredients will vary with the seasons. The GRÖNSAKSBULLAR currently on the menu have a kale base and come with a side of steamed vegetables and cauliflower “gravy.” Very tasty. Every day can be Meatless Monday at IKEA!

AND…
You can read more about sustainable IKEA here.

I choose IKEA over a mall any day.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Signs of Change 7.31.15

All around New Haven there are signs of change, real signs… 

The Yale campus is dotted with signs proclaiming “Urban Meadow” – patches of landscape, planted with wildflower seeds and sparsely tended. The unkempt appearance of some of these plots may be a little tough to get used to, but this “Meadow” (about a mile from downtown New Haven) is a wonder to behold — a sea of Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) in full bloom. 


Rudbeckia hirta, a plant native to all the lower 48 states, is a member of the aster family. It can tolerate a wide range of soils and temperatures, and has no major insect or disease pests. You can read more about Rudbeckia hirta on this USDA factsheet

Its flowers attract nectar seeking bees, butterflies, and insects. Its seeds attract birds, as the poop-covered sign above attests. The companion website to the movie Queen of the Sun: What are the bees telling us? recommends planting a large volume of the same type of bee-friendly flowers  in your garden or yard to provide bees with forage. One of the suggestions is Rudbeckia hirta.

These plants bloom from June to October. Note that they do tend to crowd out other flowers growing near them. But if you love Black-Eyed Susans, have lots of sun and plenty of space, and don’t have time to weed, Rudbeckia hirta is the plant for you. 

This particular Urban Meadow is located on upper Prospect Street near the northern border of Yale’s main campus, in front of the planetarium, nestled between Farnam Gardens and Betts House.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Meatless Monday: Farro Salad

Summer is for salads, especially now that cucumbers, lettuce, and tomatoes are in plentiful supply at the farmers’ markets. At the end of a long, hot day like today, a salad in the fridge is a welcome sight indeed. 

All it takes to make this happen is a little advance planning when you hear the forecast for a stretch of hot weather.

One option is to prepare extra servings any time you cook a grain and to marinate the leftovers in the refrigerator. Simply add a scoop or two of the marinated grain to your favorite salad, and you will have a satisfying meal. See this past post for some ideas. 

Another option is to prepare a grain salad that you can serve atop a bed of mixed greens. For a  potluck contribution to a Memorial Day picnic, I made this beautiful (and very easy) farro salad  based on a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis found online at the Food Network site.



Farro Salad

Ingredients
  • 4 cups water
  • 10 ounces farro (about 1 1/2 cups) [I used a bag of Trader Joe’s 10 Minute Farro.]
  • Salt to taste [or a vegetable bouillon cube]
  • 1 pound plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped 
  • 1/2 sweet Vidalia onion chopped
  • 1/4 cup snipped fresh chives
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions
  • Combine the water and farro in a medium saucepan. 
  • Add salt or bouillon. 
  • Bring to a boil over high heat. 
  • Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the farro is tender, about 30 minutes for conventional farro, less for the Trader Joe’s. 
  • Drain well, and then transfer to a large bowl to cool.
  • Add the tomatoes, onion, chives, and parsley to the farro, and toss to combine.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper, and olive oil. 
  • Add the vinaigrette to the salad and toss to coat.

The salad can be refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving.

It is delicious served on top of salad greens. With additions such as chopped celery, cucumbers, kalamata olives, or crumbled feta, farro salad can easily become a complete meal. 

If you don’t have any farro on hand, you can substitute orzo or small bowtie pasta, but you will miss out on some nutritional benefits. One serving of farro has 10 grams of protein, 2% of the recommended daily value of calcium, and 19% of the daily value of fiber vs. 7 grams of protein and 8% of fiber for conventional pasta.

Get creative. And enjoy your time outside the kitchen.

Happy Summer! Happy Meatless Monday.

On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”



Wednesday, July 15, 2015

What Have I Been Doing? Where Have I Been?

Nauset Beach Orleans, Massachusetts
I admit that my posts have been a bit sparse so far this year. Last week I had a legitimate excuse. I was away from my desk, relaxing on Cape Cod in a quiet cottage colony on the shores of a kettle pond. While we were there, the sky was mostly blue, it rained mainly at night, and the ocean water was invigorating.

Our arrival in Chatham coincided with the tagging of the first great white shark off its shores, as it has for the last few years. Great whites love to dine on seals, and Chatham has plenty of them.

When the sharks arrive the media is close behind…
Seagulls love the fish pier, too.
Since 1972, seals have been protected by the Marine Mammal Protection ActAround 2005 the population really took off, and with that growth came the sharks. According to one report, there were an estimated 16,000 gray seals on Cape Cod and the islands in 2013, and one marine scientist opined that the population grows some 20% a year. Once a novelty confined to the waters of the fishing pier or lounging on the rocks in the harbor, seals can be spotted swimming off Nauset Beach on most days. As for the sharks, in 2014, 56 individual sharks were identified by shark researcher Greg Skomal

Still, with the exception of the tagging being done by the marine biologists, there have been few close encounters between human and shark in Cape Cod waters. The lifeguards now have a purple flag they can raise to warn of dangerous marine mammals, but we did not see it fly. So far the commonsensical warnings to avoid swimming at dawn and dusk and never with the seals seem to be working.

The town of Chatham decided to celebrate the sharks’ yearly return with signage, t-shirts, screenings of Jaws at the local theater, and Sharks in the Park, an auction sponsored by the Chatham Merchants Association.

Humans checking out the sharks in the park
The week flew by. We explored Chatham and the nearby towns of Harwichport and Brewster, braved the chilly ocean waters in Orleans, read books, played cards and Scrabble, enjoyed many meals on the screened porch while watching birds, and ate onion rings and homemade hermits on the beach. FYI, the hermits did improve with age, but how long they would keep getting better we will never know as this batch is long gone. We even went to a movie in the newly-restored Orpheum Theater — “Inside Out!” [I loved it, but it made me cry.] 

Focaccia transformed
Before we knew it, it was time to think about the trip home. That meant serious late in the week menu planning focused on how to use up the groceries already on hand without buying too much more. Our inventory included red wine, goat cheese, and an excess of bread, in particular a local focaccia purchased at the Chatham farmer’s market. We had olive oil and an excellent cast iron pan. My husband Don thought of creating crunchy sticks by slicing the focaccia into one inch widths and then lengthwise into thirds, which he then toasted over medium heat in the well oiled pan. 

These crisp fingers of bread were delicious and the perfect vehicle for the remaining soft cheese. In fact, they were so good that we brought home the last of the bread and prepared it the same way on Sunday night. For a spread we used some tomato pesto I had stored in the freezer—a little taste of our vacation as we prepared for our first day back.

So here I am, rested, refreshed [at least so far], and ready to blog once more. This is my new mantra.

Look for me again soon. Until then, get out there and enjoy your summer, wherever you are!


  

Monday, June 29, 2015

Meatless Monday: Remembrance of Things Past

For Proust it was “les petite madeleines.” For me, hermits are the sweet treats that evoke intensely happy memories of times gone by. The hermits I crave came not from my mother’s kitchen, however, but from bakeries near the shore. 

Hermits are most commonly bar cookies baked in a cake pan, like brownies, and cut into squares. Packed with chopped nuts and raisins, hermits are redolent of the molasses and pungent spices that flavor them.

These cookies keep extraordinarily well. Hermits have a long history in New England, dating back to the days of the clipper ships when they were packed in tins to accompany sailors as they traveled to distant lands. Many claim their flavor improves with age. 

In recent years, however, they have fallen out of favor. Corner bakeries stopped making them, and even commercial cookie baker Archway dropped hermits from their line. 

Over the past long winter, as I dreamed of warm days at the beach, I scoured my cookbooks and searched the web for the recipe that seemed most like the beloved cookie I remembered. I settled on the recipe found in my Fannie Farmer Cookbook (1984 edition), first published in 1896.

Most of the ingredients were familiar, but the recipe called for mace, the dried covering of the nutmeg. While I could not find mace in the baking section of any supermarket, I was able to get it at Penzey’s.  

One cool, rainy day earlier this month I thought I was all set to give the recipe a try, but I hadn’t read it carefully. There was one other mystery ingredient — cream of tartar. This I was able to find at the local store, but I found myself wondering what exactly this white powder was and why it was essential to this recipe.

Here is what I learned from Wikipedia: “Potassium bitartrate, also known as potassium hydrogen tartrate, with formula KC4H5O6, is a byproduct of winemaking. In cooking it is known as cream of tartar. It is the potassium acid salt of tartaric acid (a carboxylic acid).” It has a number of uses; in my hermit recipe it serves as the acid to activate the baking soda, causing the cookies to rise. [This is an old recipe.]

With the advent of modern baking powder, cream of tartar has been pretty much replaced as a leavening agent, but it remains valuable for a long list of uses from stabilizing egg whites and whipped cream to cleaning metals.

But back to the Hermits. With cream of tartar on hand, here is the recipe I used:

HERMITS
(36 Squares or about 60 Cookies)

Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup raisins or currants [I used raisins.]
  • 1/4 cup chopped nuts [I used walnuts.]
  • 2 cups flour [I substituted whole wheat for 1 cup.]
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup molasses [I used Blackstrap.]
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon mace
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Directions
  • Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  • Grease a 9 x 13inch cake pan or some cookie sheets.
  • Toss the dried fruit and nuts in 1/4 cup of the flour; set aside.
  • Cream the butter; then add the sugar and beat well.
  • Add the salt, eggs, and molasses and beat well.
  • Mix together the remaining 1-3/4 cups flour with the remaining dry ingredients, and beat thoroughly.
  • Stir in the raisins and nuts.
  • Spread in the pan or drop by teaspoonfuls onto the cookie sheets. 
  • Bake only until the top is firm and the center chewy, about 15-20 minutes for the squares, 8-10 minutes for the cookies. [A cake tester inserted into my bars at 15 minutes came out clean.]


A panful of perfect Hermits

The hermits turned out just as I hoped (and remembered). I couldn’t eat just one… The remainders are in a tightly closed tin. I hope to test the theory that they will get even better with age, but I don’t imagine my experiment will last as long as a sea voyage.

Lone hermit on a plate.

I will let you know how it goes.

Hermits should still be a “sometimes treat,” but as cookies go, they are far better for you than most. Blackstrap Molasses, nuts, and raisins are high in fiber and have significant food value. And, If you swap out half the white flour for whole wheat as I did, you will add even more fiber and cut the glycemic index of your cookies, making them even better. 

One more thing, a bit of Hermit trivia. You might be wondering, “Where did this cookie get its name?” There appears to be no definitive answer, but the Old Farmer’s Almanac offers several theories. My favorite one is: “Very likely the old recipe for the hermit cookies goes back to the 12th or 13th century religious hermitages, where these basic ingredients would have been in common usage at bakers’ tables. The terms for those confines — ‘hermite’ from the Old French or ‘heremita,’ from the medieval Latin — may have been assigned to this treat by the residents.”

Happy baking. Happy eating. Happy Summer. Happy Meatless Monday.

On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”