Spiran Lodge #98 Nisu

April 21st, 2014



The fragrance of freshly ground cardamom fills the foyer of Spiran Hall in Rockport on the days the ladies of this Scandinavian Club are making Nisu.

Nisu.  Kaffeeleippaa.  Pulla.  By any name this cardamom-flecked buttery loaf means sweet, nostalgic comfort to Rockport and Lanesville Swedes and Finns.   Nisu and coffee are still the staff of life here; every Cape Ann cookbook includes at least three Nisu recipes.

Forty of these redolent loaves were baked by the team at Spiran last week.  Some of the loaf-braiders laughingly claimed they joined Spiran particularly to learn how to make Nisu; these forty loaves would be sold the next morning at the Swedish Pancake Breakfast, an event the Scandinavian club holds twice a year, in the spring and fall.

Spiran Lodge #98, the local order of Vasa, a national Scandinavian organization, was founded in 1906 by altruistic Rockport Swedes as a “sick and death” benefit society.  In its nascence the organization was protectively Swedish.  In 1949 the organization changed the language in which they did business from Swedish to English, making it easier for younger Swedes to participate.  Today, anxious again for people to learn and continue these fading traditions, Vasa is welcoming new members, any nationality.   You can contact Carolyn Rask by email if you’re interested:   crask2@aol.com.

Maybe there’s something in the cardamom; maybe making Nisu is so beautiful a process – old traditions literally rise up in a fragrant bowl of dough – the sense of joy was as thick as the cardamom among the Nisu bakers that day.  All that stirring, kneading and rolling of Nisu, not to mention the hundreds of Plattars – Swedish Pancakes – to be prepared, made Cape Ann Scandinavian culture appear to be happily proceeding into the 21st century.

On June 21st Spiran will hold their Mid-Summer Festival in Harvey Park in Rockport; Swedish meatballs will be served, along with strawberries and cream, and, of course, Nisu and coffee.

Jul Fest – when the blond, straight-backed girl walks the hall wearing a crown of candles – is in early December.  The most cherished Scandinavian classics will be served there.   Only thinning Scandinavian communities like the one on Cape Ann, or the Finnish settlement in W. Barnstable Mass, still make fruit soup, rice pudding (- maddeningly difficult to prepare properly; I’m begging for a Spiran lesson.) and grapenut pudding.  These will be served at Jul Fest, along with a Finnish charcuterie called “Sylta” prepared by Bill Holmes, the recipe for which came from his grandmother.  A time and a culture preserved in a festival, Jul Fest is a true Scandinavian feast of open-faced sandwiches, pickled herring, saffron buns, and, of course, Nisu.  Sniff the air for cardamom, watch for the orange Dala horse on the sidewalk; consider becoming a member.


Many people consider the Spiran version their favorite Nisu recipe; the dough is so flecked with cardamon it is almost amber; these braids shimmer with an egg wash that “cooks” on the hot bread which is then dusted with sugar.  The loaves sell out almost as quickly as they come out of the oven, and for good reason.  Not many sweet breads are as hauntingly fragrant, fluffy in texture, with that sweet crisp outer crumb.  Scandinavian or not, any baker should know this recipe.  Claire Franklin is generously sharing it.

In The Lane’s Cove Cookbook it says that when the Finnish people first came to Lanesville no one knew what the early morning hammering in the kitchen was for.  People learned it was mother, or “Aiti,” pounding the cardamom for a new batch of Nisu.


Spiran Lodge Nisu

makes 4 loaves


2 cups whole milk

2 sticks + 1/2 stick butter, divided

7 eggs

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 teaspoon salt

4 heaping teaspoons cardamom seeds, ground in a spice grinder or small coffee grinder

1 1/2 packages active dry yeast, or 3 1/4 teaspoons

15-18 cups all purpose, unbleached flour


  1. Heat milk and 2 sticks butter until butter melts.  Pour into a low 11”x13” pan to cool.  (leave remaining 1/2 stick of butter out to soften.)
  2.   Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water
  3.   In a very large bowl beat together 6 eggs, 1 cup sugar, salt and cardamon.  Add cooled milk mixture to egg mixture and beat with an electric hand mixer.  (This could be done in a stand mixer, but once you add the flour you will have to transfer the dough to a larger bowl.)  Add yeast and beat well, about five minutes.
  4.   Add flour a little at at time.  Use the mixer to work in the flour beating well after each addition, until the dough is too stiff.  Then continue adding flour, but use your hands (buttered) to work it in.  Keep scraping the bowl with a little bit of dough as you mix.  When dough no longer sticks to the bowl and it is smooth and elastic it is done.  But caution:  the dough will still be soft.
  5.   Using your hands, spread softened butter all over the top and sides of the dough, then turn the dough over in the bowl, and butter the bottom side.
  6.   Cover the dough with a cloth towel, and let rise until double in bulk about 2 hours.
  7.   Punch dough down and form into a ball again.  Using your hands, spread butter again all over the top and sides of the dough, then turn dough over in bowl and butter the bottom sides.
  8.   Cover with a cloth towel and let rise about 2 hours, or until double in bulk.
  9.   Beat remaining egg in a small bowl with a fork to create an egg wash.
  10.   Divide the dough into 4 equal portions by cutting with a large sharp knife.  Divide each dough in half.
  11.   Squeeze the air out of each portion; then roll them them into rolls about 15” long.  Repeat with all the sections.
  12.   Cross two rolls over each other at their centers, so it looks like an “x.”  Pick up each end of the bottom length of dough.  Holding each end in your hands, cross your hands over each other and drop the ends of the dough.  You should have made the bottom dough begin to “knot” the top dough.  Now pick up the other 2 ends of dough.  Holding each end, cross your hands over each other and drop the lengths where your hands arrive.  Now you have knotted the other length.  Now, pick up the lengths that you didn’t just touch, and cross your hands over each other, and drop the lengths.  A new knot.  Continue doing that, always picking up the lengths that you didn’t just touch, until the loaf is completely knotted.  Tuck the spare lengths under the loaf attractively.  Do this to create the remaining 3 loaves of dough.
  13.   Spray four 9”x5” loaf pans with cooking spray.
  14.   Put braided loaves in pan, and brush each loaf with egg wash.  Cover with cloth towel and let rise 1 hour.
  15.   Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  16.   Bake for 30 minutes, or until bread is golden and hollow-sounding when tapped.  Remove from pan to cooling racks immediately.
  17.   While loaves are still hot, brush again with egg wash and then sprinkle with sugar.  Cool for 10 more minutes, and remove from pan.  Finish cooling on racks.


Ricotta and Lemon Muffins

April 8th, 2014



As we sit on the edge of our seats waiting for spring to truly arrive, for the earth to nudge crocuses and daffodils out of their lightless hibernation, for the air temperature to release us from wool and fleece, here’s a recipe to help coax it in.

Not even spring can resist these Ricotta Lemon Muffins.  Irene Pickering gave me the recipe.  Irene also gave me a Meyer Lemon tree.  I picked two lemons from that tree to make these.  Lucky me.



Open one of these muffins warm from the oven; inhale the lemon draft; taste the ephemeral crumb.  This is what lemons want to grow up to be.  These muffins would be a beautiful addition to Easter brunch, but make an extra one, and set it out for Primavera.  We need to do anything we can to get her here.



Ricotta and Lemon Muffins

makes 12 muffins


1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup granulated sugar

2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup part-skim ricotta cheese

½ cup water

1 tablespoon grated lemon rind

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Cooking spray

2 tablespoons Swedish Pearl or turbinado sugar


1.  Preheat oven to 375

2.  Spoon flour into measuring cups; level with a knife.  In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt; make a well in center.  In a separate bowl combine ricotta, water, lemon rind, lemon juice and egg.  Add to flour mixture, stirring just until moist.

3.  Place 12 muffin-cup liners in muffin cups; coat with cooking spray.  Spoon batter into cups.  Sprinkle turbinado sugar over batter.

4.  Bake at 375 for 16 minutes or until a pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Cool 5 minutes in pan on a wire rack.

Viva, Gloucester!

March 18th, 2014



The sun came out last Saturday; thermometers showed a little red, and the cultural riches that make this city unique in the world literally shouted and sang.

Como siamo tutti mute?!”  “Viva, Jesus, Maria, Giu-seeeep-PE!”  The St. Joseph’s Day cheer rang out early in the morning at the Tarantino family gathering, where aunt Emma reigned over the preparations of the St. Joseph’s Day Pasta.


By 10:00 in the morning Jimmy, Laurel, Pauline, and Annette were just finishing rolling five pounds of dough through the pasta machine, and laying the fresh fettucini on clean fresh sheets in the far bedroom to dry.  Emma’s goranza, an enormous kettle of cauliflower, favas, chickpeas, split peas, lentils and fresh fennel, the sauce that would crown the golden strands of pasta for the final St. Joseph’s Day feast, simmered on the stove.

Sal arrived carrying great plastic bags bulging with fresh St. Joseph’s Day rolls – the large fluffy breads from Virgillio’s that bear a cross and sesame seeds; the sesame seeds represent St. Joseph the carpenter’s sawdust.

Relatives kept arriving, some in the back door, some through the front.  “Como siamo tutti mute?!”  “Viva, Jesus, Maria, Giu-seeeep-PE!” The cheer rang out with each arrival.  At 11:00, while the pasta finished drying, everyone took a break.   The table was spread with Octopus Salad, St. Joseph’s rolls, Martha’s antipasto, and oranges, the latter another symbol of the St. Joseph’s Day feast.

The actual St. Joseph’s Day is March 19th, but as that falls on a weekday, the Tarantinos chose to prepare their feast not on a working day.  Mid-march for some may mean “the ides,” but in Gloucester it means family crowding into a kitchen, happy about nothing more complicated than being together and carrying on the simple customs that thread years together.   Golden strands of fresh pasta drying all over the house, oranges, octopus salad, Virgillio’s St. Joseph’s Rolls, and St. Joseph standing at the top of the shining family altar.  These are the St. Joseph’s day customs that repeat each year.  As the pasta is rolled the stories roll, too – stories of when St. Joseph’s Day was down on the Fort, when the prayers to St. Joseph healed a husband or brought a fisherman home, and so a wife promised the saint she would make the pasta for his feast for every year until she couldn’t.  The stories get told, and the customs continue, and everyone connects what happened two generations ago to what may happen tomorrow.




That afternoon, down on the waterfront, a different kind of celebration was happening.  Geno Mondello at The Dory Shop had lit a fire in his woodstove; an over-turned clean wooden dory being built in the middle of his shop served as a table for all the great food that began arriving.



Geno Mondello’s enormous paella – yellow saffron rice glistening in between black mussels -  looked as beautiful as a Dutch painting; it warmed on the wood stove welcoming anyone to grab a bowl and serve themselves.  Celtic music, played by a continuous stream of fishermen and friends, shimmered out the front door, calling at passersby.  Come in; the fire is warm.


As long as the weather stays chilly, wander down to the Harbor Loop on a Saturday and listen for the music.  Mondello says anyone is welcome; bring something to eat, or something to drink, or something to play.

This past Saturday was truly a day to say Viva, Gloucester!

I’ve printed a recipe for St. Joseph’s Day pasta in the past, so this year I am offering a loose interpretation of Geno’s paella, told to me as I stood by the woodstove savoring the hot, saffron rice, listening to Herring Boat Captain Peter Mullens on the accordion.





Geno Mondello’s Paella

adapted to serve 6-8


1/4 cup olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 28 ounce can chopped tomatoes, drained

2 cups commercial rice with saffron

2 pounds mussels

1 pound cherry stones

2 cups chicken stock (additional if necessary)

1 cup seafood stock

a 10 inch section of linguica, sliced into rounds

2 cups frozen peas, defrosted

1 can cannellini beans, rinsed

1 can black beans, rinsed

1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced

1 pound shrimp

1 tablespoon dried parsley

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

salt and pepper to taste




  1. Heat a paella pan, or the largest saute pan available, to medium.  Add olive oil and heat.  Add onion, and cook until it softens, 8-10 minutes.  Add tomatoes, and cook gently for 5 minutes.
  2.   Add the rice, and toss with the onion and tomato.  Cook over medium heat until the rice becomes shiny, about ten minutes.
  3.   Add the mussels and cherry stones, and cover the pan.  (Geno used aluminum foil, as his pan was so large.) Cook until all the seafood is opened, tossing the pan so the rice doesn’t stick.  With a slotted spoon remove the mussels and cherrystones to a bowl, and cover to keep warm while you continue with the rest of the paella.
  4.   With the pan over medium heat, add the stock, the linquica, peas, cannellini beans, black beans, and mushrooms.  Simmer for 20 minutes, or until the rice is cooked, adding more liquid if the pan gets too dry.  Keep the liquid in the pan about 1”, stirring regularly so the rice cooks but does not stick.  Add the shrimp and seasonings, and more liquid if necessary, and cook until the shrimp is pink.
  5.   If the pan is too dry, add more chicken stock or even white wine.  The rice and vegetables should be cooked, and very moist, like a good risotto.  Taste for seasoning.  Add the seafood back into the pan, and cover to warm all.



Finnish Kropsua – golden oven pancake

March 10th, 2014


The Finnish community on Cape Ann thankfully still cherishes their recipe boxes.  Besides Nisu, from some in our generous Finnish community I have recently learned about Sillisalaati, Kalalaatikko, and Vatkatto Marjapuuro:  A salad of cooked carrots, beets, and potato with lamb or other leftover meats.  A salt cod and potato casserole (delicious!).  A whipped pudding made with cranberries and farina, still to be tried.

Some cookbooks with local Finnish recipes are still around, but so beloved, they rarely leave their positions in local kitchens.  These Lanesville cookbooks – The Lanes Cove Cookbook and Recipes and Finnish Specialties – are treasures, filled with the dishes that came out of Finnish ovens in Lanesville a half-century ago, recipes prepared for hard-working husbands heading off for a day in the quarries, even artist husbands heading off to sculpt, for children running in from school, or for coffee with a neighbor.   The recipes in these cookbooks are not just heartbreakingly authentic, but together describe a happy if not hardworking community of artists, granite workers and fishermen.

Betty Erkkila recently offered me her mother’s recipe for Kropsua, the heavenly baked pancake that rises like a golden bowl out of a buttery pie pan.  The recipe is also in the Lanes Cove Cookbook.  What worked in Lanesville in 1954 works here now:  take this golden puff out of the oven in the morning; pour a little maple syrup over it, and make a cold March day less daunting.


Rachel Kielinen’s Finnish Kropsua

serves 4-6


3 tablespoons butter (or, reduce it to 1 tablespoon; both work, one is less rich)

2 eggs

2 cups milk

1 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Put the butter into a deep pie pan, and put the pie pan in the oven to melt the butter.
  2. In a mixer, beat eggs  Add milk, and beat together well.
  3.   In a medium bowl combine flour, sugar and salt.
  4.   Add the flour mixture to the eggs, and beat until smooth, about 1 minutes.
  5.   Pour batter into pie pan.  Butter will come up the sides, and on top of batter.
  6.   Bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until the pancake is puffed and golden.
  7.   Serve immediately plain or with maple syrup


Cornmeal Crusted – Beer Battered Dogfish

February 23rd, 2014


Dogfish, Squalus acanthias, are Marine Stewardship Council Certified, meaning the fishery meets the three overarching principles that the Marine Stewardship Council requires for it to be declared a healthy fishery.  These are the “general” qualifications according to the MSC website:

Principle 1: Sustainable fish stocks
The fishing activity must be at a level which is sustainable for the fish population. Any certified fishery must operate so that fishing can continue indefinitely and is not overexploiting the resources. 

Principle 2: Minimizing environmental impact
Fishing operations should be managed to maintain the structure, productivity, function and diversity of the ecosystem on which the fishery depends.

Principle 3: Effective management
The fishery must meet all local, national and international laws and must have a management system in place to respond to changing circumstances and maintain sustainability.

Dogfish are sharks, which means, among other things, they are cartilaginous, only a spine of cartilage runs down their center, no bones.  Because they have no ribcage, out of water a dogfish would collapse beneath its own weight.  Dogfish are bottom-dwellers, and the longest lived in the shark family; some dogfish live to be centenarians.

Dogfish are delicious, firm flesh, abalone-white, mild to sweet tasting.  There is almost no fish recipe to which dogfish doesn’t kindly adapt.  They come in long thin fillets, about two inches wide, and almost 15 inches long, or the whole fish looks like a long wide tube, a little wider than the cardboard inside a roll of paper towels.


The meat makes feathery centers to a cornmeal crusted fried fish.  It sisters-up with caramelized onions and silken red peppers in a fish fajita; its mild taste and pearly meat are a happy counter to any slowly braised vegetables, or tomato-ey puttanesca, or a spicy cilantro and cumin laced taco.  Dogfish, in fact, given its name, is like the cheerful yellow lab of fish, happy to go along with just about anything you do to it, and lookin’ good all the way.

Fisherman and cookbook author Hank Shaw agrees that dogfish make the best “fish and chips.”

The meat is white as snow, very lean, and firmer even than halibut. And, eaten cold the next day, tastes astonishingly like cold fried chicken.”  

Most of Europe and Asia, the major dogfish markets, think so, too; for years the traditional English fish and chips was always made with dogfish, which leads to it being the poster chid for the whacky results of targeting a species to either save it or fish for it.

Dogfish were considered a threatened species after a glut of over-fishing – all those English fish and chips -  from 1987 – 1996.  NOAA (National Oceanographic Aeronautics Association) applied catch limits to the species in 1997.  In 2010 NOAA declared the dogfish stocks rebuilt.  Harsh quota restrictions lifted.

According to Kris Kristensen of Zeus, Incorporated, the first dogfish processor in Gloucester, 10 million pounds of dogfish were landed in 2011 – 2012, 1.5 million in Gloucester alone.

“And we could have landed a lot more,” Kristensen said.  So the fishery was protected, but the Zeus processor acknowledges that now there are an alarmingly huge bulk of (dog) fish; they consume a huge amount of resources that cod and haddock would be using.”

Gluts, overfishing, quotas, rebounds.  These are the fish tales told when regulations target a species rather than consider the sea’s balanced eco-culture.  Dogfish had a great market in Europe, got overfished, got protected, and now it’s back, trying to be the new darling.  And it SHOULD be the new darling – there’s lots of it, and it tastes good.  Many say that dogfish are the key to the survival of the small boats in Gloucester.  But many also see the absurd yo-yo-ing that comes from focusing on a single species, rather than treating the oceans as a balance of ecology, and applying good fishing practices to its harvest.

Look hard at the recently passed 2014 Farm Bill; Squalus acanthias has a small but nonetheless significant mention; it speaks volumes – Fish is Food! – that a fish is even mentioned on the Farm Bill.  Here’s what that mention looks like:


(c) U.S. ATLANTIC SPINY DOGFISH STUDY.—Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall conduct an economic study on the existing market in the United States for U.S. Atlantic Spiny Dogfish.

No one knows what this really means for the dogfish; will we be seeing it in school lunches soon?  Kris Kristensen, processor of dogfish and other “under-utilized” species like whiting, monkfish and skate, just shrugs when asked what this Farm Bill mention might mean.  In his thick Danish accent, he leans back in his chair, stretches, and says, “who knows…”  There’s a vocal fisherman for you.

The greatest dogfish irony is that dogfish, this star of the fish and chip plate, this Farm Bill face of fishing promise, with its weighty local landings and Marine Stewardship Council badge, is almost impossible to find in retail markets.   Ask, even beg, your fishmonger for some, and if you find it, first make fish and chips.



About cooking it:  the only tip is to first soak the fish for 10 minutes in a bowl of salted water, about 1/4 cup of salt to 3 quarts of water.  Like all sharks, dogfish can have an ammonia scent if not handled properly, meaning gutted immediately, on the boat.  But Kristensen warns says not to soak the fish longer than ten minutes or else the meat will begin to break down.

Disclosure, those are frozen “chips” in my photos, but the dogfish is the real thing.


Cornmeal Crusted – Beer Battered Dogfish

serves 4

2 pounds dogfish fillets


2 cups all-purpose flour + 1 cup flour, divided

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

freshly ground pepper

beer – approximately 2 bottles of your choice – enough to make it the texture of “house paint”

1/4 cup cornmeal


  1. Salt the fish and set it aside at room temperature.  In a dutch oven or electric fryer, heat the oil to 360 degrees.  Preheat your oven to “warm.”  Prepare a cookie sheet with a wire rack on top, and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl mix the flour, seasonings, and beer together, stirring all the while.  Hank Shaw describes the texture you want as “the consistency of house paint, or melted ice cream.”  Let the batter rest for 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl mix together the last 1/2 cup of flour and the cornmeal.
  4. When the batter is ready and the oil hot, dredge the fish in the batter and let the excess drip off for a second or two.  Then roll the dredged fish into the dry flour-cornmeal mixture.
  5. Lay each piece gently into the hot oil.  Allow the end of the fish to fry for a second or so in the oil before you let the whole piece to drop into the oil  This helps prevent the fish from sticking to the bottom of the pot.  Dislodge any pieces that stick to the bottom with a long fork.
  6. Fry in batches until golden brown, about 5-8 minutes.  Remove each to the rack on the cookie sheet, and keep the cookie sheet in the warm oven until all the fish is prepared.

Cookbook writing.

February 16th, 2014

I’ve walked many wharves recently.  The blog posts have slowed, and I skip a column more than occasionally; for my family there are two dinner scripts:  “Here, darlings:  dinner tonight is two variations of Bacalau a Braz, Portuguese crispy fried potatoes with salt cod and creamy scrambled eggs.  For dessert we’re having three versions of Sconset Chocolate Cake.”

Or, this:  “I’ve been reading recipes all day; you expect me to cook something now????  Make a salad.”

Our refrigerator is either stocked with salt cod, kale, potatoes, cabbage, linguica, chorizo, did I mention salt cod?  – mesh bags bulging with fresh oysters, quahogs, steamers, and mussels, along with blueberries, cranberries, chocolate – and salt cod.

Or, else there is nothing but almond milk and apples.

The rolling wake of writing a cookbook lands thus upon my household.

But, we have all become salt cod converted.  Call it baccala, bacalhau, kala, or just salt cod.  Cut into pieces after that required soaking, rolled in rice flour and fried, salt cod becomes a golden, pillowy, crispy gift from the sea.    Those who say salt cod is an entirely different being from its fresh cousin are correct; salt cod is salt cod, a sweet chunk of firm white fish still wearing some ocean.  Fresh cod is more fragile, with a little less body.

In a small Provincetown cookbook dated 1941 the author, Harriet Adams, wrote this:

A booklet I have just read – a very modern booklet – says that to freshen salt fish you should lay it in a kettle of cold water, bring it almost to a boil, drain, refill with water, rebring almost to a boil.  All in all, performing the process four separate times.

The idea, I presume is to persuade your salt fish to imitate the flavor of a fresh one. Well, a fresh fish certainly has its virtue.  But, if we want a fresh fish, it isn’t too difficult to get one.  Remember, a salt fish has a virtue all its own.  If we don’t take steps, they will soon be topping it with Fudge Sauce.  

Let us not give our salt fish velveteen breeches, an Eton collar or an Oxford accent.  But, gentle ladies, let us not be too primitive.  A salt fish really needs freshening.  Some of its salt must really be removed.  And by the length of time that you soak or boil it you are able to control the amount that you remove… But whatever you do to it be sure that you keep the essence, the salt-fish-ness of the fish. Be sure you save the gamey and yet invigorating whiff of that old billy goat – the sea.  

I am having a great time writing this cookbook, which will cover delicious meals right off the boat, along coves, on beaches, in fish shacks, upon Inn porches from New Bedford to Newburyport.  I’ve tallied a full week of hours in local libraries, some of them museum pieces themselves.



If you haven’t been to the Provincetown Public Library, the schooner Rose Dorothea sails through the second floor.

And I’ve found the best place on the North Shore to buy salt cod.  Although I’m hoping my cookbook re-introduces what was once the ingredient that launched explorers around the world, don’t wait for me; the New England Meat Market in Peabody has a beautiful selection of salt cod; find a recipe – Finnish, Portuguese, Italian, or good old Yankee, and start soaking.


Coeur a la Creme

February 2nd, 2014


Valentine’s Day when I was growing up was never about chocolates; we lived on a windy Cape Cod lane lined with cranberry bogs.  The chocolate choices in those days were two:  Schrafts cardboard hearts from the drug store and Russell Stover boxed chocolates ordained as gifts for hospital patients.

My mother made Coeur a la Creme, which even as a child I knew was far more decadent, far more sublime than the chocolates being peddled as Valentine’s fare.  I know now that there are as many Coeur a la Creme recipes are there are hearts to win, but it is basically a lightened, sweetened  cheese mixture – goat cheese, ricotta cheese, cream cheese – placed into a traditional Coeur a la Creme mold.


The mold alone is enough to charm anyone who spends time in a kitchen.  Heart-shaped, ceramic, the mold has holes that allow the “cheese” to drain, becoming a cool, sweet, pillowy dessert that cries “cloak me in raspberries, strew me with flowers.”  Chocolate can only wish to charm the eyes and lips as gloriously as Coeur a la Creme.



The molds are not hard to find; Amazon has plenty, but a simple kitchen colander substitutes perfectly, minus the Valentine’s-ness of having this ceramic heart on your kitchen counter for the week of February 14th.  My recipe is loosely adapted from Ina Garten’s.



Coeur a la Creme 


This should serve 6, but the other evening it served 4 beloved, coeur-charmed Valentines.





a coeur a la creme mold or a colander


6 ounces goat cheese

6 ounces creme fraiche

1 1/4 cups sifter confectioners’ sugar

2 1/2 cups cold heavy cream

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest

seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean

Raspberry and Gran Marnier Sauce, recipe follows

fresh raspberries and blackberries to garnish



Place the goat cheese, creme fraiche, and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on high speed for 2 minutes.  Scrape down the beater and bowl with a rubber spatula and change the beater for the whisk attachment.  With the mixer on low speed, add the heavy cream, vanilla, lemon zest and vanilla bean seeds and beat on high speed until the mixture is very thick, like whipped cream

Wet the cheesecloth, and ring out the excess moisture.  Line a coeur mold or colander with cheesecloth, allowing at least 6-8 inches to hang over the sides.  Set the mold on a plate or the colander in a bowl, allowing space below for the liquid to drain.  Pour the cream mixture into the cheesecloth, and fold the ends over the top.  Refrigerate over night.

To serve, discard the liquid.  Unmold the creme onto a serving plate.  Drizzle the Raspberry Gran Marnier Sauce around the creme.  Garnish with lots of berries.

Raspberry and Gran Marnier Sauce

1 half-pint fresh raspberries

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup seedless raspberry jam

2 tablespoons Gran Marnier


Place raspberries, sugar, and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil.  Lower the heat, and simmer for 4 minutes.  Pour the cooked raspberries, the jam, and orange liqueur into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process until smooth.  Chill.




Haddock Amandine Meuniere, from The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook

January 27th, 2014


Before you write off “Haddock Amandine Meuniere” as your grandmother’s favorite menu choice, know that the cookbook from whence this recipe comes is out of print.  Paperback, third-edition copies on Amazon begin at $60; first edition hard-cover editions go up to $7064.64, plus $3.99 for shipping.  The title – The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook, by Howard Mitchum – is so generic it’s hard to remember.   And yet, Anthony Bourdain declared this the “best seafood cookbook in history.”  Me, too.

Mitchum, born in Winona, Mississippi, divided his years between New Orleans and Provincetown, which says everything about this man’s vivacity, passion, gusto, and devotion to good food.    The short bios that accompany his books online all describe him as an artist, a writer, a chef, and a raconteur, who was also deaf since his teenage years from spinal meningitis.    Mitchum died in Provincetown in 1996.

To read The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook, is to hang out in Provincetown in the days when fisherman brought their trash fish into a bar, and handed it to the wife of the Portuguese owner.  She took the fish into the kitchen, and returned with a steaming skillet of monkfish, squid, clams and linguica, which everyone ate for free.  But you had to be polite – no greediness.  Only the beer cost something.

Mitchum has recipes for roasting whole mackerel on a clean shovel in a coal or wood-burning stove, and he has directions for cooking it with gooseberries.  He has recipes for the colloquial delicacy “fried codfish jawbones,” which looks like fried chicken legs, and, according to him, taste much better, and he has recipes for Lobster Bisque.

From basic to bawdy to genteel, Mitchum’s recipes for everything that comes out of the Provincetown sands or sea all have the stamp of true.  A clambake is best done in galvanized trashcans on top of the stove.  The ultimate celebration of a beautiful striped bass is  “a real striped bass party,” in which the whole fish lies intact upon the table, stuffed with a filling so copious it involves many skillets:  oysters, littlenecks,  shrimp, scallops, salt pork, seasonings and 2 loaves of Portuguese bread.

One of the goals in question is aesthetic.  You want to preserve the beauty of the bass so that when he’s laid out on the table he looks as fresh and alive as if he’d just jumped out of the water.   This is complex and involves a lot of hokus pokus.  You don’t cut off his head or his tail, and you don’t scale him; you carve out his beautiful golden eyeball, and put it in the refrigerator to keep it fresh and sparkling.  Sounds gruesome put it’s part of the rigamarole.

From “Shrimp stuffed Avacados” to “Salt Codfish Hash with Eggs,” Mitchum’s recipes are all democracy, chosen only as the best ways to honor these maritime treasures, whether it means cooking them on the scalding pipe of the ship’s engine, or cloaking them in spinach, butter, breadcrumbs and a jigger of Absinthe.

Declared his most popular dish ever, Haddock Amandine Meuniere has been calling friends to Provincetown for years.  But, the highest praise, Mitchum, admits, is that the Provincetowners themselves – mostly fisherman – love it, too.

“And, brother, when you sell a piece of fish to a Provincetown fisherman you have got it made:  when they dine out in restaurants they usually eat T-bone steaks.  I modestly advertise this on my menu as ‘probably the best piece of fish you will ever eat.’”


Haddock Amandine Meuniere, from The Provincetown Seafood Cookbook

serves 6

6 – 3/4 pound haddock fillets



1/2 pound butter

juice of 2 lemons

1/4 pound sliced natural almonds

4 fresh mushrooms, sliced thinly


Take the haddock fillets and dip them in milk, then dredge them in flour.  Shake off the surplus flour.  Melt the butter in a large skillet, and place the fish in it.  (skin side up if there is skin.)  Cook slowly until brown, then flip it over with a spatula and brown the other side.  Remember, this is a saute, a slow cook, now a hot fry, which would destroy the delicate flavor of the fish.  Remove the fish and place on warm serving plates.  Add the lemon juice to the butter in the pan.  Add the almonds to the pan.  Add the mushrooms.  Raise the heat to medium-high and stir and scrape the bottom and sides of the pan to release any browned crumbs; these are delicious.  Stir until the almonds turn a light golden brown.  (Don’t let them get too brown or they will be bitter.); pour this sauce over the fish and serve immediately, piping hot.



“Dated” Thai Curry Butternut Squash Soup & iphone styling with John Carafoli

January 20th, 2014



“A portion of the plate is all you may need to tell the story.” – John Carafoli.

There are so many dynamic, discerning, educated people in the food world that one easily goes from “nice to meet you” to “let’s go to Umbria, and shave truffles over homemade strangozzi together!”

That’s how I feel about John Carafoli, who is indeed leading a tour, named “Unexpected Umbria,” next October for those lucky enough to sign up quickly.

Carafoli lives in a piccolo blue farm house on Maple St. in W. Barnstable with his partner, John, a cat and a flock of chickens.  Seriously authentic copper polenta pots gleam from big hooks in his kitchen.  He’s got a cupboard full of his own homemade preserves, including something called “savour,” a potent compote of autumn fruits that cooks for nine days.  On the ninth day you add chestnuts.  A recipe from the Sicilian ladies of Sagamore on Cape Cod, with whom Carafoli grew up, this preserve tastes as biblical as it sounds.

Carafoli is a food writer; his most recent literary contribution to cuisine is the Cape Cod Chef’s Table: Extrordinary Recipes from Buzzards Bay To Provincetown For the vivid styling, the beautiful shots of Cape Cod greats and their “best of show,” and for the Crow Farm Blueberry Cake recipe, this book belongs on everyone’s coffee table and kitchen counter.

It’s an elite group in the food industry that can prepare a perfect proscuitto ragu, write a compelling story about it, and take an award-winning picture of it.  Also author of the seminal book on the subject,  Food Photography and Styling, for years Carafoli has been the guy to make Coca Cola look refreshing and Dunkin Donuts look freshly baked.  Carafoli is a premier food stylist, and he makes a delicious proscuitto ragu.

Epicurious recently published a blog on Carafoli’s tips for iphone food styling;   He and I were talking on the phone the other night, scheming Cape Cod and Umbrian tours, and I asked him what he was making for dinner.  Loosely, John gave me this recipe, which seemed like exactly the right meal after a day of  unexpected January blizzard.  I adapted a bit, but as I was preparing it, I considered some of my favorite Carafoli styling tips.


Let the food do what it does naturally. Don’t force it into an unnatural shape.

Use your mistakes to your advantage. Don’t fight them; embrace them! Wayward bits of chopped herbs, noodles that stray beyond the plate, or errant dribbles of sauce all make your food look real.

Experiment with wood, stone, cloth, grass, even paper. Avoid large clunky candles and bulbous wine glasses. Shoot with and without flatware and/or serving spoons. 


Sometimes the raw ingredients are more beautiful than the cooked versions. Photograph your dish at various stages of preparation to find the most compelling image.


The Maple Syrup Pour: Quick-chill the maple syrup in the freezer for about 15 minutes to thicken it up so that it pours more slowly.

My maple syrup pour didn’t work so well, but it’s there.



“Dated” Thai Curry Butternut Squash Soup

serves 4


3 tablespoons coconut oil

1 large sweet onion, cut in eighths

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 cinnamon stick

2 apples, peeled, cored and quartered

1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut in chunks

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 tablespoons red curry paste (dissolved in 2 tablespoons water)

1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk

juice from 2 limes

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoons pepper

1/2 cup loosely chopped dates

1/2 cup toasted pistachios (or almonds or pinenuts)

maple syrup to drizzle on top

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro


  1. Heat a medium sized skillet over medium-low heat and add coconut oil. Once it’s melted, add in the onions, garlic, cinnamon stick with a pinch of salt and stir.   Cook until the onions are soft and almost caramelized.  Remove cinnamon sticks.
  2.   Meanwhile, in a separate pan put the apples and squash in the chicken stock with some salt.  Bring to a fast simmer, and cook until the squash is very soft, about 30 minutes.
  3. In a small glass dish dissolve the curry paste in a bit of warm water, loosely 2 tablespoons.  Then pour the curry paste into the squash.
  4.   Add the coconut milk and the onion mixture to the squash.
  5.   Remove from heat and, with an emulsion mixer or a blender, puree the soup.
  6.   Pour it back into the pot and turn the heat on to medium low. Add in the lime juice, salt and pepper, and stir. Cover and cook the soup for 10 minutes until it’s completely warm. Taste and season additionally if desired.
  7.   On a cutting board, loosely chop the dates and pistachios together.  The dates will get gummy, and hold the chopped nuts together.   Top the soup with generous spoonfuls of this mixture.  Drizzle a small amount of maple syrup on top, and sprinkle with cilantro.

Corn Chowder from Chief Flying Eagle, lunch with Earl Mills, Sr.

January 10th, 2014


The many facets of Chief Flying Eagle, Earl H. Mills Sr. – Wampanoag -  sparkle like sun off the flashing Mashpee herring run in April.

One side of Mills, now eighty-five, is the simple kid who grew up in the town of Mashpee on Cape Cod at a time when mayflowers in the woods signaled spring’s start, and meant money in kids’ pockets when they sold the small fragrant bouquets for 15 cents by the side of the road.  He talks about this in both his cookbook, “The Cape Cod Wampanoag Cookbook” and in his memoir, “Son of Mashpee, reflections of Chief Flying Eagle, a Wampanoag.”

It was a time when a morning in the trout streams and ponds meant smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and pickerel for dinner.  Cape Cod herring were corned or marinated; its roe was sauteed in bacon fat and served with parslied potatoes and creamed-style corn.  (Today only the Wampanoag are allowed to fish for herring.)  Mills’ father knew it was time to smoke the herring by the arrival of the sweet fern in the woods.

Scallop season came in the fall with cranberry picking;  young Mills’ hands would be cut and bleeding after an afternoon of shucking the day’s harvest with friends, although camaraderie and ceviche sampling came with that shucking. “The Scallop Man” passed by every night during the season to collect that day’s harvest, a 10 bushel non-commercial limit.  Mills says that in those days – even hand harvesting – almost everyone got their limit.

“From the time we were eight nor nine years old my brother Elwood and I led fishing and hunting expeditions.  Like our father grandfather and uncles before us, we prepared the boats, baited the hooks, rowed for the better part of the day, and cleaned the fish for the men who hired us as Indian guides.  Our father taught us how to fly cast as well as to use a rod and reel, the clamming rake and the eel spear.  He taught us how to carry a gun safely and how to clean it.  He taught us how to use an ax and a bucksaw and showed us the proper way to clean and cook game.  He taught us skills exactly the way his own father had taught him.”

The Cape woods was flush with quail, partridge, rabbit and deer.

There’s the Cape Cod boy, and there is Mills, the high school star athlete, who went into the army after finishing high school, and from there went to Arnold College to play football and run track.  He was later Athletic director at Falmouth High.

In the army Mills first honestly connected with his Wampanoag heritage; one night at Fort Dix, a group of soldiers were sitting around, and a young Iroquois from New York State got up and started a tribal dance.  A Chippewa from Montana joined him; it was that moment, far from Mashpee, that Mills first recognized his Indian background as something to be celebrated.  When he returned to Mashpee fifteen months later, he went directly to the tribal leaders, and said “teach me.”

In 1956, in the Old Indian Church at Mashpee, Reverend C.C. Wilson and Supreme Sachem Ousa Mequin – Yellow Feather -  declared Mills “Chief Flying Eagle.”

“You receive the Name – Flying Eagle – and, as such – you are in charge of all Council Meetings held by the Indians of Mashpee, MA, and none is above you in any office.”


When I visited Mills in his warm cottage the other day, he made us lunch – corn chowder and lobster salad on a toasted roll.  He was taking a pot of chowder to his daughter who wasn’t feeling well.  Photographs of the recent snow and of grandchildren lay in ordered piles on the kitchen table, ready to be put into weekly letters to friends.  The phone rang a lot – more friends calling to chat.  Mills still corresponds with high school and Arnold College classmates, if not almost everyone else who has had the fortune to know him.  He has five children, many grandchildren, and some great ones.  He even gets along well with his two ex-wives; some would say that alone describes a chiefly character.



While respect for the land that nurtured his people, for his ancestors, and for the generations of family that lovingly surround him grace almost everything he does, Chief Flying Eagle is no grave Indian.  A meltingly lovely tenor, Mills slides in and out of showtunes when he cooks -  “Shoefly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy!  – Makes your heart light and your tummy rowdy!”

Dance moves are necessary to explain exactly why lobster salad (with a little extra lemon) on a toasted hotdog bun express culinary perfection. (Cool sweet lobster.  Acid of lemon.  Warm, crisp outside of roll.  Soft, sweet inside of roll.)  Dance moves – and the guy can dance – are just another verb in the Mills vocabulary.

“My name as a kid was Path Finder,” Mills told me after a flurry of hip shimmies; “I never felt like I was a Flying Eagle,” he admitted, those eyes sparkling like waters running with jumping herring.

In 1972 he opened his own restaurant, The Flume, “near the herring run” in Mashpee.  From 1972 – 2004, The Flume was considered the best place to taste beautifully prepared, honest Cape Cod foods.  Mills learned to cook from his parents, who made feathery fish cakes and a fish stew as complex and flavorful as a soupe de poisson, and working in the best Cape Cod kitchens:  The Coonomesset Inn, Wimpy’s and The Pompenesset Inn.  Far ahead of its time really, The Flume combined the best of traditional restaurant dining with supreme respect for local ingredients. Herring was on the menu, served with cucumbers.

Three of Mills’ five children live in a development he built around the old family homestead; the street is named after his mother, “Emma Oakley Mills Way.”  There are homes on Emma Oakley Mills Way for sisters and nieces, too.   Grandchildren seem to be everywhere.  At the circle, where the road rounds, is a memorial to Ferdinand Wilson Mills and Emma Oakley Mills, his parents, thanking them for their full lives of dedication to the town of Mashpee.

Cooking for Mills is love, art, and heritage.  “My ancestors are with me as I prepare or enjoy favorite foods.  I never make fish cakes and beans without feeling my father is back in the kitchen with me.”

He spent over an hour explaining the fine points of breading shellfish:  never use anything finely ground with clams or oysters; a finely ground meal like flour will absorb too much liquid and turn quickly to mush, not giving the shellfish the delicious “crunch.”  Unsalted saltines are oyster’s ideal breading.

Hold shucked clams in your hands, in a shallow bowl of a little water and the clam liquid.  Gently feel for broken shells, cupping your hands in the liquid beneath the clams.  Lift the clams, again with your hands, gently out of the liquid and into the breading.

“As you want to get the breading on, you want to get it right off again!”  As soon as the clams land in the breading lift them out and shake them a bit to get any excess breading off.  That would be the “too moist” breading that will again make the crust too mushy.

Baked or broiled scallops need only a dusting of breadcrumbs on top because they will take a shorter time to cook.  Oysters and clams need a thicker cover of breadcrumbs, basically to protect them from the heat in the time it takes to cook them.

The “milk,” the white liquid that Bay Scallops release when heated, is lots of flavor, and needs to be saved.  Broiling them is tricky, because that “milk” just runs right out.

Mills understands more about what grows, swims, and moves on Cape Cod than most naturalists.  (He told me that wild blueberry bushes are still alive under the ground, but the overgrowth is too thick to let the plants through; a controlled burn would open up this land to those kinds of Cape Cod plants again.)  He says in Son of Mashpee, “In many ways Mashpee – (the development there, the struggles of the native people to retain their heritage) -  is a microcosm of this country.  To understand Mashpee is to understand our society better.”

There isn’t much that subdues that sparkle in Mills’ eye; mention of the current Wampanoag issues is one.

“My tribe is my family; I deal only with my family now.  Those people (current Wampanoag leaders) don’t understand who we are or what we represent.”

And yet, in “Son of Mashpee” Chief Flying Eagle makes the plea, “In spite of the pain we had had to endure in the past, the Wampanoags ought to participate in shaping the future of this town, so that coming generations will inherit Mashpee with deep imprints of our heritage, our culture and our vision.”

Mills also told me this:  “I don’t know anyone who has had as wonderful a life as I have.”



Earl Mills’ Corn Chowder

serves 10 – 12


Mills says you can use fresh corn or corn “niblets” for this; if you use fresh corn, put the cobs into with the potatoes for added flavor.  He used Delmonte Canned Corn for our chowder; it was one of the best corn chowders I’ve tasted.


4 teaspoons salt

3-4 potatoes, diced

2 medium onions, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil, butter, or margarine

4 tablespoons butter or margarine

4 tablespoons flour

4 cups chicken stock

4 cups corn

3 cups milk, whole or skimmed OR 2 cans evaporated milk

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 green pepper seeded and sliced


Place potatoes and 2 teaspoons of salt in a saucepan with enough water to barely cover the potatoes.  Simmer until tender.  Don’t strain the water.  Set aside.  Saute onions in 2 tablespoons of olive oil butter or margarine.  Cook until soft.  Add to the potatoes and water.


Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter or margarine in a large saucepan.  Add flour and stir over medium heat until mixture (roux) reaches the consistency of corn meal.  Add the chicken stock and the water from the potatoes.  Cook until thickened, whipping continually.  Add the corn and the milk.


Gradually add the potatoes and onions to the thickened mixture.  Continue to simmer and add the additional 2 teaspoons of salt (to taste).  Simmer for 2-3 minutes.  Add fresh ground pepper to taste now or when serving.