The Blues are Running!

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One of the highlights of the summer is fishing for bluefish from the shores of Martha’s Vineyard.  Blue fishing is an all day affair, requiring some planning and a bit of commitment.  Each June we load up the car with lunch, snacks, beer, coolers of ice, chairs, rod holders, rods and tackle, towels, beach games and maybe a kite or two, oh, and the kids on top of it all, and we head out for East beach on Chappaquiddick.  To get there we must drive the 20 minutes to Edgartown and queue up in the ferry line to make the short hop to the island off the island.  Once there, we drive until the road turns to sand and stop at the Trustees of the Reservation hut to have them check our sticker.  The Trustees are a statewide conservation organization that manages much of the public lands on Martha’s Vineyard.  Check out their website here for information about this great organization www.thetrustees.org/  They make sure we have paid the price to access the land trust areas, warn us to stay off the roped areas reserved for plover mating, and send us on our way.  From there we let most of the air out of our tires to allow the truck some traction in the deep sand, and off we go, bouncing over the dunes in the back of the pickup.  

Fishing on East beach is a funny thing.  One can cast for hours and never get a bite, or throw in one deadly dick and haul in a fighting blue.  It just depends on if the fish are running.  When they are around, they will hit on almost anything.  Sluggos, plugs, any type of shiny lure. Once one is caught, fisherman up and down the beach run to their rods and the catch is on.  Bluefish are a blast to catch because they are fighters and will regularly take line before you get them to shore.  They like to jump and shake, trying to lose the hook.  Most fishermen use some sort of treble hook to increase their chances of landing a fish. Once on shore, one must use caution unhooking them, as they have very sharp teeth.  Years ago we were taking a picture of my sons after catching some blue fish and, with one of them holding a fish, they both turned toward each other at the same time.  The fish’s teeth raked the eyelid of one boy and cut him open.  He bears the scars to this day.  

I like to catch bluefish as long as we keep are keeping them.  When we decide we have enough for a good feed or two, I’m ready to be done. For a few years I would continue to catch and release them, but they fight so hard and sometimes wear themselves out, and I found I lost the taste for it.  I tried using a single hook, to give them more of a chance, but after awhile I simply decided that If I wasn’t going to eat them, I might as well leave them alone.

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Bluefish get a bad rap as an eating fish, but I’m hear to tell you that, if treated properly, they are one of the best types of fish for eating.  If you have ever bought bluefish in a store, you haven’t really tried bluefish.  They must be eaten fresh, within a day of catching them.  After that they turn from a dusky pink to a sickly blue color and taste oily and, well, fishy.  Furthermore, once caught, they must be bled out and kept on ice.  To bleed them, use a sharp knife right in the middle of the chest up to the throat.  It is a fast way to ease them on their way and it makes the flesh taste better.  Ice them immediately.  If they can be filleted right on the beach, all the better.  The best way to cook the freshest bluefish is right on the grill.  Salt, pepper, skin side down until the flesh is white and flaky.  After that, anyway is a good way.  I have baked it, braised it, fried it and sauteed it with any assortment of herbs and spices.  For a sublime bluefish recipe, check out this link to braised bluefish with saffron risotto.  http://braveapron.com/tag/saffron/.   Leftover bluefish with scrambled eggs is a real morning treat.  Anyway you prepare it, bluefish is a delicacy and one not to be missed in these summer months.  We ate grilled bluefish with summer salad from the garden and roasted sweet potatoes, and finished with a delicate strawberry mousse.  Yummy!

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Strawberry Fields Forever

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June is here and delights are beginning to come in from the garden.  Among the radish and peas, the lettuces and green onion are the strawberries, the most wonderful of all fruits and the one that really makes it feel like summer .  Of all the berries, the strawberries are the earliest and, in my opinion, the tastiest.  At least I say that until early July, when the blueberries are ripening, and then early august when we taste the delectable raspberries and blackberries.  But for now we indulge in the sweet, tangy, indescribably yummy strawberry.

I have a small berry patch that I often think takes up too much real estate in my tiny kitchen garden.  Most of the year it looks stringy and sad, almost as if the plants are dead or dying, but not so.   Come May, out come the shoots and flowers that, ever so agonizingly slowly, turn into hard green fruits and then ripen into luscious berries.  I have everbearing plants, which means they produce fruit all summer, although not as prolifically as they do in June.  Come August, they are growing wild and trying to climb down the sides of the raised beds and into the paths.  They are so hearty and vigorous they can root into the deep pine chips I use as mulch on the pathways.  Each year I cut back the runners and plant some back into the bed in the bare spaces, replace some older plants, and reluctantly throw out the rest.  They are so hearty, in fact, that one year I ripped them all up and, not able to throw them out, kept them in a bag in my garage.  Then, regretting my decision, I replanted half of them back into another bed, where they took, and bore berries the same year.

As hearty as they are, strawberries are a funny plant.  They only produce for a few years, and will shoot out runners that can overtake the garden rapidly.  They use an enormous amount of nutrients and therefore should be moved every 3 years or so to a different spot in the garden. They are best heavily mulched, which both keeps the berries out of the mud,and protects the crowns from cold.  They like water, but not too much, and must be in well draining soil.  Weather will affect the crop and determine ripening times; with warmth and abundant sunshine they ripen quickly, rain and clouds cause some delay.  Some varieties do well in containers, and are a good choice for those with not much space, but they must be watered regularly.

Besides eating them fresh on granola or yogurt, one of our favorite things to do with berries is to make ice cream.  Following is a simple and delicious recipe that can’t be beat.  Image

1 pint fresh berries

1 1/2 cups cream, divided

3 egg yolks

2/3 cup sugar

Wash and crush the berries with a potato masher until pulpy.

Heat 1 cup cream in a saucepan over medium heat until bubbles form on the sides of the pan.

Mix together egg yolks 1/2 cup cream, and sugar in a medium bowl

Add the hot cream to the yolk mixture, whisking constantly, and then return the mixture to the pan.  Over medium low heat, whisk the mixture until it becomes thickened, 5-10 minutes.  DO NOT BOIL.  Allow the mixture to cool completely.

When custard is cool, add to an ice cream churn and follow the manufacturer’s directions.  YUM!

Cilantro Sea Scallops

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Scallops are a treasure from the sea, but due to over harvesting, were in declining populations until recently.  Federal regulations that started going into effect in the late 1990s have helped scallops make a huge comeback.  But inshore there are still far fewer sea scallops than there used to be, and so farmed sea scallops are now being harvested in the Northeastern Atlantic and Pacific.   Seafood watchdog groups list them as a good choice for people who eat seafood, as they can be harvested without damage to habitat and have low levels of mercury.  When you purchase scallops, ask your grocer where they came from, as some farmed scallops are imported from Japan!

Here is a super easy recipe for cooking sea scallops that is as healthful as it is delicious.  It should be served with Black rice, which takes longer to cook than white or brown, but is worth the wait, as it is more flavorful and better for you then either of the others.  Lundberg makes a Black Japonica rice that is an heirloom variety, which means it has not been genetically altered.  It is grown in an eco-friendly manner that conserves water, maintains soil integrity and supports a healthy ecosystem.

Cilantro Sea Scallops

3 Tbs Butter

1.5 lbs Fresh Sea Scallops

3 Tbs White wine

3 Tbs fresh chopped cilantro

Sprinkle of salt

Lemon wedges

Brown the butter over high heat in a large saute pan. Add the scallops and allow to brown,  don’t move them around.  When they are cooked about halfway through, maybe 3-4 minutes, flip them over and brown the other side.  After 3 more minutes add the white wine, de-glazing the pan.  Add the cilantro and the salt and toss to coat.  Serve these delectable morsels with black rice and wedges of lemon.

Enjoy!

Cookbooks: We need them.

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I love to read cookbooks.  I collect and read cookbooks like other people read novels.  Not just when I need a recipe, either.  Last fall my mom sent me three cookbooks from her collection that kept me entertained for the whole winter season.  One was called Mediterranean Harvest, one from Mystic, Connecticut, where I spent much of my childhood, and one was a collection of recipes from lighthouse families in and around the Boston area, where my mom spent much of her early life.  I learned the differences between soil compositions in olive growing regions in Europe, the history of Cod fishing in the Atlantic and, well, that lighthouse keepers don’t eat very well.  The point is that good cookbooks have more to offer us than interesting recipes.  They can change how we view our food and shape our relationship with that essential and intricate love affair going on between our mouths and our environment.  That is why it is important to buy actual cookbooks, not just look for recipes online.  While getting a quick idea for something to make for dinner is invaluable, the knowledge, experience and insight that went into that recipe are usually not included.  Without that, we only get half the experience.  Becoming a good cook, and a responsible eater, is more than learning how to make something a certain way.  It is a process we embark on and develop as we eat, as we read, and as we garden and grow.  Go pick out a new cookbook today, and see what you can learn.  Do you have a favorite?  What have you learned from it?  Happy eating!

Pig in a…Bucket?

ImageWhen I was just a girl, maybe ten years old, one spring evening my dad came home with three tiny pink piglets .  We had known they were coming; we had spent the previous weekend renovating our old play house for them to live in.  The playhouse, two stories with a rooftop deck and swing set, had to be essentially chopped in half with a chainsaw to house the little squirmers.   As per the “Law of Ed”,  wherein if one nail is good than two are better, ten being best, the thing had been built like a fortress.  We put the modified house on sledges so we could drag it around with the tractor if they made too much of a mess of it.   It turned out to be quite a nice setup for the piglets.  They had an old pile of blankets in a corner and a nice window, with a ramp up to the door for their tiny legs.  We named them sweet things like Daisy and Maisy and Sunshine.  We loved them.  They were so smart and cute and….pink!

My mother had protested the acquisition of three pigs, saying one pig would be plenty for a family of four.  My father claimed at the time, and I still believe this even if it isn’t true, that pigs need to be in groups of three.  He explained that one pig alone thinks it doesn’t exist  and will not thrive.  Two pigs together look at each other and, seeing one pig, think they are alone and will not thrive.  With three, a pig can look at the other two and say to himself  “that’s me, and I’m in good company”, and they happily go about the business of getting enormous.

And that is exactly what they do.  The tiny pink wigglers who we carried around in our arms and fed with bottles of warm milk grew and grew.  Their tiny pink mouths got teeth.  And they learned how to use them.  In just a few short months the baby pigs went from about 20 pounds to about 400.  No lie.  And in less time than that they became mean.  Mean, mean, mean.

At 10, there was a short time when I was able to hold my own with the pigs, but after a time they could out run and out bite me, not to mention out number me.  Of course I was the one in charge of feeding them.  I can hear my father’s chuckle as he mutters something about “character building” .  Well, those pigs got the best of me.  They were kept in a large area fenced in with a low strand of electric wire.  Pigs are very smart, but the one thing pigs can’t do is jump, so a wire about 18″ off the ground is enough to keep them in place.   They ate just about anything; I think we fed them eggshells, along with any other kitchen scraps we threw away.  It was all mixed in with a bucket of ground corn.  Truly it was slop, and my job was to hop over the wire, run to the trough, dump in the slop,  turn tail and make it back over the wire before they could try to knock me down and bite me.  And if luck was with me, I’d clear the wire without getting a zap! At least that’s how I remember it.  I hated the pigs!

Then one crisp fall afternoon I came home from school and heard a curious sound.  It was a beeping sound coming from the back yard.  Beep, Beep, Beep.  It went on and on and on.  Beep Beep Beep.  I couldn’t figure out what it was, but it was driving me crazy.  I wandered around the barn and the yard and the pond until I finally came to what was making that awful beeping sound.  It was behind the pig house, a backhoe, driving in reverse.  And the backhoe had a chain hanging from it’s scoop that was going down to a steaming 50 gallon bucket.  As I watched, the scoop lifted, and out of the bucket came…. Daisy?  Sunshine?  I couldn’t tell.  It was horrible.  The sight of that huge porcine body suspended over the bucket was absolutely shocking to me, and I will forever associate the sound of a backhoe in reverse with death.

As much as I hated those evil pigs, and had prayed for their immediate demise, I was truly astonished and saddened to see on of them actually dead.  I vowed never to consume even a mouthful of their flesh, even out of spite.

Until, of course, my father introduced me to thick cut home cured maple bacon.  Then I got my revenge.

Tonight we are having Roast Pork Loin with Potatoes.  The pork has been rubbed with a mixture of 1/2 cup agave, 3 tbs honey Dijon, 1 tbs thyme and 1 tbs black pepper.  Rub the pork with half the mixture and roast for 1 hour at 300 F.  Add 3 large cut potatoes dressed with salt, pepper and olive oil to the pan, flip the roast and rub with the rest of the mixture.  Roast about another 45 minutes, or until the internal temp is about 150 F.  Enjoy with a green salad, or steamed kale or spinach.

Cattails. Yum!

I wonder how many people have said or thought that in the last 50 or 100 years.  Not many, I’d bet, but perhaps I’m wrong.  I’d like to be pleasantly surprised and find that it’s more than I think.  I know there is a semi-secretive but emerging group of wild food specialists out there, but I thought they stayed mostly to mushrooms. 

Speaking of pleasantly surprised, I was after my recent cattail adventure. 

Our pond is overrun with cattails, and up to a few days ago I looked on them with disapproval mingled with despair.  Our pond wants to be a swamp again, and the cattails are the first determined step it is taking to revert to its natural state.  In the past we have used a backhoe to dig them out when they got to be too abundant, and on occasion my husband will don full waders and attack them with hoe and shovel, but it seems to be a futile attempt: they continue to populate at an alarming rate.  Well, yesterday I got my revenge.  I went out to the pond, sharp knife in hand, and cut all the new shoots just emerging from the shallows.  I peeled off the outer green stalk, took them home and ATE THEM!  HAHAHAHA!Image

The surprising thing was that they were actually good.  Really.  Good. 

Cattails can be great fun, especially for kids.  Bashing each other with the cigar-like heads and creating a haze of cattail spores is a treasured summer pastime for those with ponds nearby.  The heads can also be used as impromptu torches.  They smoke wildly and make a terrific mess, but it’s still fun.  Then recently I was killing time reading a book called Foraging New England by Tom Seymour and learned that cattails are edible.  I thought I’d give it a try. 

Eating something entirely new can be a daunting experience.  For a few minutes after I ate them, I thought I might get a stomach ache.  Not because I felt funny, but because they were so entirely different.  If someone had served them to me on china and called them something fancy, I might have relished them right off the bat, but plucking them out of the mud and scraping off the tough outer layer, then slicing them on a salad, made me a bit skeptical of their authenticity as food.  I tried to remember the first time I had had endives, or leeks, as they have a similar flavor, but I couldn’t come up with anything.  Then I remembered trying fiddlehead ferns for the first time.  Earthy, delicate and entirely delicious, fiddleheads are one of those strange spring delights that my children anticipate, harvest, cook and serve to us each year.  Finally, after not getting sick, and realizing they tasted pretty good,  I decided that they might have a place in my repertoire of “wild things I eat.”

First I tried them raw.  As I had been thinking about endive, I started there, and made a salad with celery, Bibb lettuce, endive, and sliced cattails.  For protein I added some chopped grilled salmon and some bacon, and topped it with a crumble of chevre and pine nits.  It was entirely delicious.Image

Then I decided to try them cooked.  Everything (in my opinion)  goes with eggs, so I decided on an onion and cattail scramble, served with salt, pepper, and a dash of hot sauce.  (My favorite is homemade, but Cholula is a good store-bought second).  That was a success. The cattails held up well, and didn’t get mushy as I feared.  Next time I’ll try sautéed fennel and cattails with garlic cream sauce as a side.  I even served them to a young friend of my son in a salad and he gobbled them up, not even noticing they were there. Image

 

If you have any nutrition information for cattails, or any tried and true recipes, I would love to hear about them! 

Local, Sustainable, Healthful and Clean

Whenever I consider eating something, I try to stick to some basic rules.  Each one is not hard and fast, and I do tend to make some exceptions, but I try to stick to them most of the time to ensure that my diet stays at least relatively healthful, wholesome and environmentally sound.  My rules are that the majority of what I bring into the kitchen and eat should be from local sources, sustainable, healthful and clean, and by doing this each time I shop or prepare, I know I’m making good choices for myself and my family.

Questions to ask yourself.

Did I grow/harvest/collect/hunt or fish this?

If it came from my garden, or I got it in some other way and know its source, I know it is good for us. Ideally you should be able to answer yes to this question most of the time.

 Could I have grown this?

Maybe I didn’t grow it, but it is something that I could have grown if I had the time/space/energy.  This is a dangerous one because lots of things might have been grown locally, but were in fact planted with genetically modified seed, sprayed with toxins, picked before their prime by exploited workers, packed in non-renewable packaging, and trucked from 1000 miles away, like most veggies we find in the store.  If it passes the “I could have grown it” question, see below.  Anything from a farmers market should answer yes to this question.

 Did it come from my area?

Is it something that has been eaten in season by people from your area for eons? If it’s a kiwi in December, and you don’t live in the tropics, you might want to put it back.

 Did someone I know make this?

This is a good test, and an easy one.  It is a pleasure to answer yes to when you have something special, like a gift of honey, or fish.  If you know who got it and where, it’s probably safe.

 Is it fresh/clean/organic?

Has it been polluted in any way? Is it rotten?  Poisonous?  Has it been cleaned properly? This question rules out lots of stuff in the supermarket.  Most produce items have been treated with pesticides or other chemicals.  Organic is a good choice, but not always enough.   This question also pertains to things you might hunt, fish or gather for yourself, like mushrooms, squid, or rabbit.  I will emphasize that all gatherers should have knowledge about what they are seeking and how to collect and clean it properly.  That is one benefit of technology today.  All the information we need is at our fingertips.

 Is it seasonal?

Most fresh foods should be in season before you decide to put them on your menu.  While there are a multitude of ways to store fresh produce and staples for later times, if you will be eating it fresh, you want to make sure it is in season.  It is one way to insure that it doesn’t come with too high of a carbon price. 

Exceptions

Olive oil is a must in our house, and we try to choose extra virgin organic oil.  For important information on olive oils, check out http://www.truthinoliveoil.com/ The book Extra Virginity has some shocking information.  A must read for olive oil lovers. 

Nuts are another staple.  Almonds, especially, are very beneficial to health, so we usually keep a supply of them in the house.  Good, fairly inexpensive nuts can be found at Trader Joe’s.  

Salt and spices.  Every kitchen need a good supply of fine herbs and spices, and I only grow herbs.  For salt I always use Norton’s coarse kosher salt or natural sea salt, never table salt.  Here is a photo of Trout baked in Salt.  Coated entirely, the salt makes a crust that can be cracked off.  For the recipe, see here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/mario-batali/whole-fish-baked-in-salt-crust-recipe/index.htmlImage

Today I am out to hunt the abundant cattail root.  A delicacy in spring, and a staple for the summer, cattails grow wild in any swampy area throughout New England.  The roots are mild and can be eaten raw, while the new shoots, paired down to reveal the white inner parts, are similar to leeks.  Sauteed with butter and salt, they make an excellent side dish. 

Happy Eating!