Friday, August 12, 2016

Save the Date: Fresh Ricotta and Tomatillo Salsa Workshop at Red Fire Farm Tomato Festival

Come join me.....

at Red Fire Farm's 16th Annual Tomato Festival on August 27th at Red Fire Farm, 7 Carver Street, Granby, MA.  At 2 pm I will be demonstrating how to make fresh, home made ricotta and tomato salad with basil and tomatillo salsa.    

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Basil Diaries Part 5

Wash, dry, save for later Photo by Mary A. Nelen

Got extra basil? Here’s how to freeze, or dry for use in the dead of winter. Or fall ….

NOTE: Pick basil before it flowers for best flavor. 

Passive Freeze

Remove leaves from stems, wash, dry and place on a baking sheet. Freeze over night (flash-freeze) and remove in the morning. Slip leaves in a plastic bag and keep in the freezer until ready for use later.

Pulsing Freeze  

Remove leaves from steams, wash and dry on a towel or a baking sheet. Begin by placing 1 cup of walnuts or pine nuts in blender or food processor and chop. Add three cups of basil leaves and 3 cloves of garlic.  
(Chopping nuts first and then adding basil maintains the color of the herb.) Pulse while adding 1/2 cup of olive oil until pureed. Pour pureed basil in ice cube tray. Freeze. When frozen, remove from ice cube tray and place basil cubes in a plastic bag for freezing and later use. For a pesto result, add cheese after thawing.

Drying Method

This is nice because its the prettiest method of preserving basil. Pick leaves from your plants and leave them on the stem. Clean and dry. Tie bunches of basil together with string or use a twist tie. Hang from rafters in a cool place that doesn’t get too much sun and is ventilated. In about 3 weeks you will have dried basil. Either leave it there until ready for use or remove leaves from bunch and crumple into a small jar for later use.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

RECIPE: Blackberry Basil Shrub Cocktail

Time from prep to consumption: 5 minutes
1 shot of vodka (optional)
1 shot of blackberry basil shrub
the rest is seltzer and ice

Basil leaves for garnish.

Combine shrub mixture with optional vodka in a nice tall glass. Fill glass with ice. Top off with seltzer and garnish with sprig of basil. 

Fab for very hot weather....

RECIPE: Blackberry Basil Shrub

RECIPE: Blackberry Basil Shrub Cocktail (surprisingly good)

photo: Mary A. Nelen
Time from prep to consumption: 5 minutes
1 shot of vodka (optional)
1 shot of blackberry basil shrub
the rest is seltzer and ice

Basil leaves for garnish.

Combine shrub mixture with optional vodka in a nice tall glass. Fill glass with ice. Top off with seltzer and garnish with sprig of basil.

Fab for very hot weather....

Extreme Plein Air Part 2

Photographer Alexandra de Steiguer, self-portrait

Alexandra de Steiguer is an artist and a loner. In winter, she moves out to the Isles of Shoals where she works as a winter caretaker. She is an example of "extreme plein air" because when she photographs the craggy profiles of coastal Maine it is sometimes in wind, snow, rain, frost and splashy sea, sometimes all alone.  See Part 1 for the whole story.  Part 2 outlines Alexandra's diet while she captures nature in plein air.

How do you sustain yourself with respect to food when you're out on Star Island in the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire? 

Before I move offshore I make sure to stock up on lots of canned and
dry-goods that I bring with me.  And then Brad Anderson, my
wonderful partner, comes out for short stays periodically throughout
winter to bring fresh veggies and sometimes large jugs of drinking
water if there wasn't enough left on-island to last through winter.
I'm never too concerned about running out of food - even if storms and
large seas keep Brad and the supply boat from coming out for weeks -
because I'm welcome to make use of the stores of food left in the
Oceanic Hotel (one of the few remaining grand hotels of the Victorian
era).  Though when I open one of those institutional-sized cans of
food, I must be fairly resigned to eating that particular thing for
some days to come!

There are also a few gardens on the island and sometimes there are
leftover, late veggies that I'll make use of.  For instance, I spent
last Thanksgiving alone on the island and I had run low of anything
fresh - I think I had two sad-looking carrots in my fridge.  But in
one of the gardens I found a head of cauliflower, perfectly ready to
pick, and so that and some fresh herbs became my Thanksgiving feast.
It was a perfect find on a perfectly quiet, stark and beautiful,
deserted island.

For more information about this photographer, visit her website at

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Basil Diary Day 3: The "Shrub"

basil leaves

Basil Diary Day 3: The "Shrub"

A “shrub” is a wonderful concoction that wakes up seltzer, water or hard liquor with a little bit of fruit and/or herbs.

Dating back to the 15th century, shrubs were a vinegar-based syrup using herbs or fruit. In Colonial times, shrubs became an ingredient in cocktails and soda pop. Because there was no refrigeration, shrub syrup was a way to preserve fruit and herbs.    

RECIPE: Basil Blackberry Shrub  

Time from prep to consumption: 5 – 7 days


2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup blackberries
6 – 8 large basil leaves
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar


Combine the sugar, blackberries and basil in a small bowl. Using a fork, crush the blackberries. Using scissors, cut the leaves into tiny slivers. Combine the berries and slivers of basil with sugar. Let fruit and herbs macerate in sugar at room temperature for an hour or so.

Place the mixture in a small clean mason jar. Add the vinegars. Cover with a tight fitting lid and give it a shake. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for 5 to 7 days. Give it a good shake once or twice a day. At the end of the 5 to 7 day period, strain mixture. Keeps in fridge for a month.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Extreme Plein Air Part 1

Rocks and Water by Alexandra de Steiguer

Alexandra de Steiguer is an artist and a loner. In winter, she moves out to the Isles of Shoals where she works as a winter caretaker. This is nine miles from the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. One of those islands is Appledore where Childe Hassem painted at the turn of the 19th Century. The island Alexandra lives on in winter is called “Star.”  The photographs here were taken on a medium format camera.

What are the challenges to photographing plein air for you?  

The challenges to shooting outdoors in winter are the same as anyone would encounter, but the special challenge on the island is the wind, and the wind-chill.  During winter the Isles of Shoals are a very windy place - due to the long fetch of water, and - of course the winter westerly gales and occasional fierce nor'easter.  So shooting outdoors there is a rugged experience, but also gratifying as it gets me out into the wildness of the elements, and this tends to give a very humbling perspective.  There, I'm nothing but a small, frail human, as vulnerable as any other species that is spending its winter upon those frozen rocks.  I also really like that feeling because I can sense that we're all in it together - all of us living things that are just doing the best we can under those circumstances.  But of course they're really better adapted to it than I am.  

I've managed to get around the largest technical challenge in that I shoot with an old, medium-format camera (a Mamiya RB67) which is completely manual - it doesn't even have a battery.  (I carry a spot-meter in my pocket to read the light, which keeps it a little warmer).  When the shutter in the lens starts to sound a little slower, or when my film-advance lever freezes, that's when I know it's time to head back in to the warmth of the house, which times out perfectly with my fingers freezing as well.  But that only happens on those extremely cold, below zero days.

The other aspect that can be a little tricky is that the uneven, rocky terrain is sometimes covered with ice.  An extra challenge!

Have you noticed changes in the landscape/your technique over the 19 years you've been photographing the islands?

The landscape doesn't really change that much - except of course on a geologic scale.  But I've witnessed a little of this too, perhaps.  Every so often some of the storms will manage to move and toss the giant granite blocks of the breakwater. But normally the change is more subtle, - the ever changing motion of the sea and the winter lighting, the freezing and thawing landscape.  I'd say the greatest changes are those to the buildings, things like new roofing or fire-exits, or the addition of solar panels.  

My technique over the years is getting a little more refined, but even that hasn't really changed much.  What does evolve is the way that I see. I feel that I'm seeing even more now as the years go by.   I guess the more you fall in love with something, the more you want to look at it, to study it, to absorb all its nuances and to make them a part of yourself in some way.

I live on Star Island (I'm the caretaker there) in winter, and I look over at Appledore from my house. The Appledore staff closes the island up really well for winter, and the buildings are mostly newer and so there's less chance of winter-damage.  I do kayak to all the other island in winter (except Duck Island, its a seal sanctuary) to take a look and to make images, and if anything is amiss I'll report it. 

Winter Ledges, by Alexandra de Steiguer
What is the benefit to you as an artist to return to the same place to work?​

The benefit of returning to the same place is that it continues to teach me how to see clearly; to drop any expectations I might have.  That's really critical.  Each year I try to experience the place all over again as if for the first time, with fresh eyes, but also with the images and memory of all those other years still intact.  It's like any other very long relationship I guess.  I feel very lucky, on these islands I get to participate in my own little slice of their history, and I try to make sure that I do so with eyes open, and with reverence. 

Is solitude a requisite for you?

I think if you'd ask most artists, they would say that solitude is very important to how they create. I guess for me it's exponentially so.  Much of my creativity arrives only after spending long weeks alone.  There's something about that long, undisturbed free-flow of the mind that brings it forth.  For me anyway.  During winters is when I write songs, keep a journal, and make images.   And then the rest of the year I get to explore that experience even further by the creative process of printing the images in my darkroom. 

Do you teach photography?

I don't but for the past few years, ever since my book Small Island, Big Picture came out, I've been giving slideshow/talks to various groups, and this has been another creative outlet - to try to express in words and images (like in the book) the various thoughts that come along when one spends many many winters alone with the natural elements.   As a bit of a loner, it's weird to be presenting in front of groups of people, but it's been very gratifying and people are so welcoming and interested.

Self Portraitby Alexandra de Steiguer
For more information, visit Alex's website at

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Ribbons of Squash, Zucchini and Pure Basil

Photo: Mary A. Nelen 
A cry for help from a friend. Too much basil. She's a pretty good cook. But after making batch after batch of pesto, freezing the pesto she's hit a wall. What to do with the surplus?

One solution is to embrace the basil, use only basil and leave the pine nuts, cheese and garlic for other meals.

Pure Basil with a bit of squash, oil, salt and pepper is just a matter of taking a yellow squash and a zucchini plus some basil, about 8 leaves and creating a nice pile of green and yellow ribbons. Begin with a vegetable peeler for thin strips of squash. Then steam for five minutes.

Remove thin steamed squash from the steamer and gently coat with olive oil. salt, pepper. Finish the dish by taking a small pile of basil leaves, rolling them up into a tube and slicing fine. Thread the ribbons of squash with the basil and serve hot or cold.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

RECIPE: Fresh Strawberries and Ricotta Cheese

RECIPE: Fresh Strawberries and Ricotta Cheese

Pretty basic. Raw milk from Upinngil Farm, Strawberries from Upinngil farm. 

Pick the strawberries and go home and prepare to make the easiest cheese there is. All you need is a strong interest in cheese, fat and all that entails. In addition to that, a nice big stock pot, a thermometer that goes up to 200 degrees, citric acid from the hardware store (or online), some cheese cloth and a gallon of raw milk, or regular whole milk. Mint would be nice as a garnish if it is up yet in your yard.

This recipe for the Cheese Queen who is never wrong about these things.  

Strawberries with Fresh Ricotta

1- quart fresh, local strawberries
1- gallon whole milk
4- tablespoons fresh mint leaves
2- tablespoons grade b maple syrup
1- cup cool water
2- teaspoons citric acid


1- Food Thermometer that goes to 200 degrees
Cheese Cloth
Slotted Spoon

Dissolve citric acid in water and stir. Pour gallon of milk into a stock pot. Stir in ½ cup of the citric acid into the milk. Heat milk on low to medium and stir to prevent scorching. Tiny curds will begin to appear as they separate from the whey. Bring the mixture to between 180 and 190 degrees. When the mixture gets to the temperature range, the curds will become much more fluffy and rise to the top of the pan. When the whey is no longer milky, remove from the heat. Let the curds and whey rest for ten minutes in the stock pot off the heat so they continue to set.

Line colander with cheese cloth and place over a pan. Slowly remove curds from stock pot with slotted spoon and place into colander with a slotted spoon. Work slowly to prevent the curd from breaking up. When you have all of the curd collected, take the corners of the cheese cloth and tie together to create a small hammock for the cheese. Hang from the faucet of your sink or over a wooden spoon straddling over a bowl. Allow to drain for between 10 minutes and several hours depending on the consistency you desire. The longer it rests, the more dense the cheese becomes.

Wash strawberries and slice in half, length wise, removing the stem. Set aside four sprigs of mint for garnish and cut the rest of the mint into thin ribbons by rolling them and slicing width-wise. Combine mint, strawberries and maple syrup and heat over a small flame. Cook down until the sauce is somewhat thickened, about 10 minutes. Take off heat and cool down

Scoop ricotta like ice cream into small bowls and drizzle the strawberry sauce over it. Garnish each plate with a big strawberry and some mint leaves.  

Saturday, June 4, 2016


Photo: Mary Nelen©
It's back and in its last weeks. Grass, Hadley Style. Old timers can tell which side of the river it comes from, just from the taste. Try this recipe for Hadley Grass Soup and you will taste the Valley.

There is nothing in it but a Valley potato, yogurt from Valley cows, chicken broth from a local chicken and asparagus from a field in Hadley


RECIPE: Hadley Grass Soup (4 servings)

1 bunch Hadley asparagus
1/2 C + 1/4 C local, whole milk yogurt
2 C homemade chicken broth, unsalted 
Trim ends of asparagus and cut into 1" pieces. Place in boiling water and cook for 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat. Set aside 4 asparagus tips for garnish. When cool, blend asparagus and broth in food processor. Reheat before serving.  When soup is warm, turn off heat and stir in 1/2 C yogurt. Serve in bowls and garnish each with a dollop of yogurt topped with an asparagus tip.  
One serving  - 96 calories, 1.6 g fat, 11.3 g carbohydrates, 9.6 g protein, 3.5 g fiber, 0 mg sodium

Saturday, May 7, 2016

RECIPE: Wholegrain Waffles Local

Wheat. Photo by Mary Nelen
Local Whole Grain Waffles 


2 large eggs

1 cup milk

¾ cup yogurt, Side Hill Farm, Hawley MA

¼ cup oil or melted butter

1 tablespoon honey (optional)

½ teaspoon cinnamon, ground from sticks if you have it 

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 ½ cups local whole-wheat flour, Upingill Farm, Gill MA 

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 pinch salt


1. Whisk together the eggs, milk, oil, optional honey, cinnamon, and baking soda in a large mixing bowl. 

2. Add in the flour, baking powder, and salt and whisk together just until the large lumps disappear.

3.  Before heating the waffle iron, lightly oil the griddle. When it is nice and hot, ladle batter onto the center of the iron. Follow the instructions that came with your waffle maker to know how long it should be cooked (mine takes about 4 minutes each).

4. Top with local maple syrup and seasonal fruit


RECIPE: Skillet Cornbread

Corn, Hadley MA. Photo, Mary Nelen 

Skillet Cornbread


1 1/4 cups coarsely ground cornmeal (NextBarn Over Farm, Hadley MA)
3/4 cup white flour, organic if possible
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup whole milk
1 cup plain, whole milk yogurt (Side Hill Yogurt)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 stick butter


1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and place a 9-inch cast iron skillet inside with the butter in it to melt. (Keep an eye on it to avoid burning butter.)

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, flour, honey, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

3. Remove skillet from oven, pour butter in to a bowl or jar.

4. Whisk milk, yogurt, and eggs in a bowl to make batter.

5. Whisk melted butter into the batter.

6. Pour the batter into the skillet and place it in the center of the oven.

7. Bake until the center is firm and a toothpick placed in the middle of the bread comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.

8. Cool for 10 minutes before eating.

9. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

RECIPE: Bake bread with local wheat for true happiness

the famous "no knead" recipe using Pioneer Valley wheat

After eight years of collaboration .....

between growers and bakers in the Pioneer Valley, we can enjoy bread made from local grains at bakeries. For hard core locavores who want to bake their own, look for fresh milled flour from Four Star Farm of Northfield MA or from Cliff Hatch at Upinngil Farm in Gill MA. These days Four Star is milling flour from Bolted Warthog, a hard red winter wheat. Some of the bran is sifted out. This makes for a better rise of the bread. 

Baking your own bread is one of the most soulful things you will ever do. It also comes to about $2 a loaf, when you get right down to it.  Here is the world's easiest bread recipe. All you need is time, an oven, a good pan and the will to be happy. 

Bread Recipe - No Knead (Adapted from Jim Lahey of Sullivan St. Bakery)
This looks complicated but when you've made the bread several times, it will feel more like a 3 step recipe than 15 steps. 


3 cups Bolted Warthog hard red winter wheat, Four Star Farm, Northfield MA
1/2 tsp of active dry (grocery stores - check expiration date) or dry bakers yeast (natural food store - less shelf life)
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2  cup spring or filtered water (or less)
bran for dusting (not essential, flour works also)


4-1/2 or 5-1/2 quart cast iron pan with lid
oven that can go to 475
oven mitts

  1. Mix dry ingredients with hands or wooden spoon, add water and combine. Dough will be wet and shaggy. 
  2. Cover and let rest for 14 to 20 hours. This is the first rise. 
  3. To prepare for the second rise, generously flour a work surface.
  4. Generously dust your hands with flour to work with the dough. 
  5. Scape the dough gently onto the work surface and lift the edges of the dough toward the center to form a ball. 
  6. Dust a dish towel (not terrycloth) with bran or flour and place the dough on it seam side down.
  7. Wrap the dough it the dish towel and place in a warmish spot (74 to 80 degrees) for 1 to 2 hours. 
  8. The dough is ready when it springs back when you stick your finger in it.
  9. Thirty minutes before the end of the second rise, preheat oven to 500 and place empty cast iron pan with lid in the lower third of the oven.
  10. After heating pan with lid for 30 minutes, pull out rack and remove lid from pan with a pot holder.
  11. Slide the dough from the dish towel into the pan. If you have such a thing, use a razor to make your initial in the dough. Replace lid. 
  12. Bake for 30 minutes.
  13. Remove lid and bake for another 10-20 minutes for deep chestnut (but not burned) color.
  14. Remove from oven and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes. Very important!
  15. Enjoy with butter and a good buddy.

Pioneer Valley Bakeries that sell bread made with local grain:

Hungry GhostNorthampton MA - 8-Grain Loaf and other loaves, as well as crackers  
Bread Euhporia, Haydenville MA - Granary Loaf