Let me introduce Frank McClelland, chef and CEO of the restaurants L’Espalier, Sel de la Terre, and Au Soleil catering. L’Espalier has been a four-star, award-winning, gold-medaled, Zagat-wowed restaurant since the 1980’s. Under Frank’s command, it has been one of the fine dining experience in Boston for years.
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People who know my husband don’t even say hello this time of year; they go right to what matters: “Ya got any yet?”
There are fishermen and there are fishermen, and then there’s my husband, who, upon early July, (It is said that the bluefish arrive on Cape Ann just after St. Peter’s Fiesta), rises every single morning at 4 o’clock and drives to his appointment with the fish, or not. I wake early, too, but by the time I’m having coffee my husband already has stories to tell.
A Sea of Summer Air
And rose and fell the magic Planks
That sailed without a care –
For Captain was the Butterfly
For Helmsman was the Bee
And an entire universe
For the delighted crew.
Ron Abell and Nookie – just Nookie, as in just Prince, just Sting – work for Aramark, the gigantic company contracted by the Red Sox to feed everyone in the ball park. – and I mean everyone: owners, season-ticket holders, big-wigs, little-wigs, everyone from the EMC Club to the bleachers. Everyone except the baseball players, which Ron considers a blessing – “Don’t you think feeding 38,000 people is enough of a headache?”
This afternoon I was walking through our Farmer’s Market to pick up my Cape Ann Fresh Catch share of whole cod. I didn’t have my Again & Again sail bag with me, capable of carrying two weeks worth of produce and a couple of pies. I didn’t even have any money. This stop was all business.
Until I saw this head of lettuce. “That is one gorgeous head of lettuce,” I said to myself. I am a sucker for those ruffled, tight, curls. I could already taste they way a little goat cheese and vinaigrette would throw a coat on those leaves in an even swath, the way they would cup a teaspoon of cold seviche or lobster salad. And then I saw these beautiful, dark green, firm squashes, just an eensy bit on the small side of medium.
I’ll write a check, I thought to myself.
“Can I write -” I started, looking up for the farmer, but instead saw three proud, eager faces. Alanna Peres, 17, Jacob Souza, 17, and Luidwin Amaya, 13, were suddenly scrambling. Bespeckled Luidwin couldn’t remember what kind of lettuce it was, and looked back for help. “Butter,” Jacob said watching protectively from the rear, but Jacob didn’t know anything about checks.
I was still busy eyeing the beautiful produce in front of me, planning a dinner. I reached for a couple of plump jalalpeno peppers, and was eyeing sweet little bundles of herbs chilling in a pan of water. Three sets of hands tried to help me at once, and seemed to be bumping into each other, racing to be polite and helpful.
I heard a voice at my shoulder softly but firmly saying, “someone needs to add it all up while someone else puts it in -” Mom. – Loretta Peres was watching on, calmly waiting to help when something like a check threw the kids off.
Alanna, Jacob, and Luidwin, along with Mark Smith who wasn’t there at the moment, are kids who live in Riverdale Park and they’re “Chill Zone” kids. The Chill Zone is a “youth initiated, youth led” project that intends to address teens in the Gloucester community with too much time, and not enough jobs, and a need to get together. Loretta Peres is Alanna’s mother, but she’s also the Chill Zone Program Coordinator.
Alana, Jacob, Luidwin and Mark, with help from Beacon St. Farm’s Lara Lepionka, have started a garden on an unused piece of land behind the Gloucester Housing authority. Lepionka, with serious help from The Food Project, attained a grant to begin The BackYard Growers Program, meant to teach people how to grow their own food, therefore providing them with better tasting, more nutritional foods, but – just as importantly - building community. Lepionka says gardens build community. They get people outside. They get people talking to each other in their back yards, sharing gardening tips and woes. They make you ache and sweat, but who can argue that these beautiful rosettes of butter lettuce are not worth it?
With Lepionka’s mentoring, these kids are out there clearing, planting, weeding, working very hard on that plot of scrubby earth. Not only do they get a space at the Farmer’s Market to sell their organic produce, (and see lettuce turn into dollar bills, a feat of magic to a city teenager, I’m guessing), but they are able to give back by contributing much of their produce to the Open Door’s Mobile Market, which regularly provides free fruits and vegetables to the Riverdale Park community.
I asked the kids what were their favorite vegetables to eat, and they all confessed to have been loving munching on snap peas that day. Alana said she really liked learning to grow things, and she seemed to be amazed at how much money it saves to growing your own food.
Snacking on snap peas? Saving money? Two good lessons right there for all of us. These kids are doing very well by the School of Backyard Gardening.
More treasures from the children’s garden? Alanna praised her mother’s zucchini bread. Alana’s mother, Loretta Peres, grew up in that other fishing community, New Bedford. She generously shared her mother’s zuchini bread recipe (Loretta adapted it to include whole wheat flour, and says people love it even more now) and a photo of the tattered Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook it came from.
Keep your eyes out for Alanna, Jacob, Luidwin and Mark at the Farmer’s Market in Gloucester on Thursday. I’m going to be there early next week for the snow peas, and promise to have my market bag and my wallet.
Zucchini Nut Cake
? Cup shortening. May substitute vegetable oil
2 ½ cups organic whole wheat flour
1 ? cups sugar
1 ¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups of grated zucchini
? cup buttermilk (don’t have buttermilk, take 2 tablespoons of vinegar, place in measuring cup and then fill with regular milk to make ? cup)
? Cup chopped walnuts
If using shortening, stir till softened. Sift in dry ingredients. Add zucchini and half buttermilk; mix until all flour is dampened. Beat vigorously 2 minutes. Add remaining buttermilk and the eggs; beat 2 minutes longer. Fold in nuts.
Bake in buttered and floured 9”x13” pan in moderate oven (350?) about 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes in pan. ENJOY!!!
The first thing I have to say is that I didn’t eat these nuts at first. It was the 4th of July, and a bunch of us were going to have a dinner in my garage – which on good days we call a boathouse without a boat. On really good days we call the garage a pavillion. We almost never park cars in it, because it has an amazing view of Rockport Harbor. Better to dine there.
Back to these nuts: It was hot. I’d had a big lunch. We were having chilled glasses of the granita I wrote about three or four posts ago, but this time I added a few long chugs of tequila to the recipe, and I have to say it was divine – light, ethereal, cold, but as it melted our icey starter became teaspoons of tequila. It was like a cocktail coming out of the closet.
My friend, Kate Levesque, mentioned she would contribute a spiced nut mixture she’d been making recently to the evening. Kate has never brought anything to my house that wasn’t delicious and instantly popular, but I imagined something with butter and rosemary that I had eaten way too much of at a Christmas party at some point in my life, and wasn’t too excited by more of the same. Still, I had never known Kate to disappoint.
As the tequila slush began to loosen people, they started to nibble. The nuts were right in front of them. One by one, each person mindlessly reached for a nut, and one by one, the first taste stopped them: “Oh, my,” each said. Then, “what are these things?” I was still sipping tequila, but I paid attention, thinking, there’s something to this.
Not until much later that night, after the others had left and Kate and I had sat for a long time on the garage balcony reviewing the boats going home and the last straggley fireworks, that I was alone in the kitchen cleaning up, and saw the nuts. I had one, and then knew right away what everyone meant. These are NOT your average spiced nuts. For one, there is no butter; the spice mixture is bound with egg white so they are much, much lighter than that hoiday mixture I’m bored with. Sure, this has calorie implications, but the best implication is that they are just crunchier, saltier, sweeter, better than those other spiced nuts. Beware, they are far more addicting: My excuse for eating the rest of them? It was the trailmix I needed working my way through the dishes.
Giving credit where it’s due, Kate acquired the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. Leave it to them.
Cinnamon-Spiced Nuts (Cooks Illustrated)
If you can’t find superfine sugar, process granulated sugar in a food processor for 1 minute.
Serves 8 to 10
1 egg white
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon table salt
1 pound pecans , cashews, walnuts, or whole unblanched almonds
2/3 cup superfine sugar (see headnote)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon coriander
1. Adjust two oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 275 degrees. Whisk the egg white, water, and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the nuts and toss to coat. Drain in a colander for 5 minutes.
2. Mix the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and coriander together. Toss the spices with the drained nuts. Spread the nuts evenly on two parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until the nuts are dry and crisp, about 50 minutes, stirring occasionally and rotating the baking sheets halfway through. Remove from the oven and let the nuts cool completely on the baking sheet, about 30 minutes. Break the nuts apart and serve.
To Make Ahead
The nuts can be stored at room temperature, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, for up to 1 week.
Steve Johnson is the chef and owner at Rendezvous, the bistro-style restaurant in Central Square, Cambridge I’ve written about in The Gloucester Times. (Steve came to my house last winter to make a video – toasted orrechiete with pork and veal meatballs, a dish my family and I devoured in one long mmmmmm that night.)
The number one fact about Rendezvous is the food: it’s great. – Southern France-hearty, North African-interesting, and American-hip without ever striking a flat note, or being empty-trendy. Serious food with roots and integrity.
A second interesting fact, and it’s old news but we all love to mention it: Rendezvous is housed in an old Burger King. I’ve said it before but will point out the pure Cambridgian moment here: A bistro-inspired restaurant succeeds where a fast food joint can’t. Fast-schmast.
The irony goes on: On top of that ole’ Burger King now grows one of the lushest roof-top gardens I’ve ever seen, irrigated with nothing but the restaurant’s dripping air-conditioner unit.
Steve grows serious produce – not just a couple of pots of thyme – for his restaurant while keeping his customers cool – an interesting deviation from the water cycle: Hot customers enter restaurant. Air conditioner cools them, producing a water run-off in the process. Run-off irrigates food which customers have come in to eat.
Steve plants everything in cardboard boxes set in flimsy wooden packing crates. He brings in soil, but also has a composter up on the roof for restaurant scraps. He fills the cardboard boxes with soil, and they fit perfectly into the wooden crate. The boxes sit on the roof around the air-conditioning unit which is constantly dripping water, so the boxes are sitting in about a 1/2 inch of puddled water all the time. The soft cardboard wicks up the water, while the wooden crate holds everything together, because the cardboard will gradually decompose. I tucked my finger down into the soil of one of the crates and it was perfectly cool and moist five inches down.
With fifty-five of these boxes on the roof, a composter and a hand-built cold frame in which he winters-over plants, Steve grows mint, chives, purslane, sage, cutting celery, arugula, beautiful French radishes, potatoes, and the most vibrantly healthy rosemary I’ve ever seen. These rosemary plants are small trees. They couldn’t be healthier or happier in a Provencal potager.
Maybe the aroma of all that “garbure” being served below is being vented over the rosemary, and they think they are in Provence? Or maybe this chunk of Central Square just has some Languedoc karma, but, as the bistro thrives, so does the rosemary. – and everything else.
Still a good song; still a good place to be – when this ole’ world starts getting you down…