I ordered my seeds today, which felt like a Herculean leap of faith, a defiant act against the thermometer reading of -2 degrees this morning and an act of knowing.
A leap of faith that the cold will wane and the warmth will flow. A defiant act, because I’m starting to feel a little rebellious here and there about still wearing four layers most days while I sit at my computer in the north corner of my house.
An act of knowing that while on the surface everything feels very much as if it’s still winter, below, where the earth begins to stir at the slightly longer days and the angle of the sun arching higher with each rising, spring waits.
And while we wait, the bread will still get baked and the stews will still be prominent on my menu, as it’s just too chilly to wish for anything but warm and cozy for dinner.
It will only be for a little while longer and before I know it, I’ll be stepping foot onto the deck of the Riggin for our first sail of the season, arms wide and the sun shining warm on my face.
Greens will be in my arms, rhubarb will be overflowing in the garden and tomatoes will be only a month or two from there.
Summer will come. It always does.
But until it does, my stove will be warm from the heat of simmering pots of this and that, and the house will smell of baking bread at least once a week.
Fish Stew With Shiitake Mushrooms
Salt pork is a traditional ingredient in chowder, and while bacon can be substituted, I prefer the salt pork in this recipe. Usually it’s a thick square of salted pork belly, but it can also come from the side or the back fat. Bacon also comes from the pork belly, however it is usually smoked as well as salted, while salt pork does not receive the smoked treatment.
To score salt pork, turn the piece meat-side up (skin-side down). Make deep slices, but don’t cut all the way through, about 1/2-inch apart. Then slice perpendicular to the original cuts to make small squares. When you render the salt pork, always face it scored side down. This offers the most surface area to the heat and renders the fat most effectively.
I can typically find salt pork in the same section of the grocery store as the ham and Canadian bacon. Your local butcher should also have some on hand. If you have a hard time finding salt pork, you can substitute 2 strips of bacon, diced.
1/4 pound salt pork, scored
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large onions, cut into 1-inch chunks; about 5 cups
21/2 pounds large red potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks; about 6 potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup flour
1 cup dried shitake mushrooms, reconstituted with 2 cups boiling water, stems removed and sliced in half or thirds
4 cups clam stock or fish fume
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 pounds flaky white fish such as haddock or cod
1/2 cup finely sliced scallions
Heat a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the salt pork scored-side down and render for 7 to 10 minutes. Add the onions and sweat for another 7 to 10 minutes or until they are translucent. Add the potatoes, salt and pepper. Sweat for another 5 minutes and add the flour. Stir well and then add the mushroom liquid and the stock or fume. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Add the milk, cream and fish whole and simmer until the fish just barely breaks apart. Serve immediately, garnished with scallions.
Serves 8 to 10
Quick Buttermilk Bread
This recipe was given to me by a guest and it has become one of my many staples.
11/2 tablespoons yeast
3/4 cup warm water, 105 to 115 degrees
11/4 cups buttermilk
41/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened, plus a little extra for brushing the top of the loaf
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
Grease 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan. Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large mixer bowl. Add buttermilk, 21/2 cups flour, butter, sugar, baking powder and salt. Blend on low speed, scraping bowl constantly. Beat 2 minutes on medium speed, scraping bowl occasionally. Stir in remaining flour. Dough should remain soft and slightly sticky.
Turn dough onto floured board and knead for 5 minutes. Roll dough into an 18 x 9-inch rectangle. Roll up, beginning at short side, and press each end to seal. Fold ends under the loaf and place seam side down in pan. Brush lightly with 1 teaspoon melted butter.
Let rise in warm place until double, about 1 hour. Dough in center should be about 2 inches above the edge of the pan. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Bake 30 to 35 minutes on rack in lowest position in oven. Remove from pan, brush with butter and cool on wire rack.
Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of “At Home, At Sea.” She can be reached at: