Wednesday, October 12, 2016

STORY: Nasturtium

photo: Mary A. Nelen
There was something about the tendril....

Nasturtium is a story written for a jewelry catalogue called "Signs of Life" published yearly in Seattle. I was given a photo of a necklace and told to write something about it without mentioning jewelry so I came up with a tale of a flower, a marriage and a crow.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

RECIPE: Fallout Shelter Cornbread

Fallout Shelter Cornbread photo by Mary Nelen

RECIPE: Fallout shelter cornbread.

After many months and really years I’ve finally found the perfect recipe 

for cornbread. Got it from the Pioneer Woman. Not sure who she is but 
witha name like that, she has gotta know how to make cornbread the way
like it; in a skillet. The reason I’ve been laboring so is because
cornbread is a perfect vehicle for Pioneer Valley ingredients.

If you’re reading this I don’t have to tell you that heritage corn,
(non-GMO) corn is grown in Hadley. Its also milled in the Valley
and sold as flour. Yes, that’s right, heritage grain grown in the
loamy soil of Hadley where the soil gets a good soak in a crook of
the Connecticut River. Combining this corn, grown in the Valley, 

dried in the Valley and milled in the Valley with area yogurt, the most 
local of eggs, Cabot butter from Vermont and flour from folks named
L’Etoile at Four Start Farm in Northfield represents all that is great 

about eating where you live.

The fact that my first batch of the Pioneer Woman recipe shaped itself
into the symbol for a fallout shelter may not be purely coincidence. 

The taste of this crispy edged bread in a skillet is the best thing you can 
eat in times of peace or emergency. if Hillary doesn’t get better (as of
this writing, she has phenomena) a fallout shelter might be in our future. 
Stock up.

Here is Pioneer Woman’s recipe for cornbread. Note the inclusion of
baking soda with the wet ingredients rather than the dry. I modified
this this recipe substituting 1/2 C of yogurt for 1 C buttermilk. In
addition, I substituted butter for shortening. Sorry Pioneer Woman!
Larder’s vary depending on what food is local and 

the proclivity of the cook.

RECIPE: Fallout Shelter Cornbread 


1 C cornmeal (NextBarnOver, Hadley MA)

1/2 C flour (Four Star Farms, Northfield MA)

Pinch salt

1T baking powder

1 C milk (Your favorite local brand)

1/2 C yogurt (Side Hill Farm, Hawley MA)

1 egg (your favorite hen(s)

1/2 t baking soda

1/4 cup butter (Cabot creamery, VT)

2 T butter


Preheat oven to 400

Mix dry ingredients

Mix wet ingredients

Heat butter 1/4 C butter in skillet on top of stove

When cooled, add 1/4 C butter to wet ingredients

Mix wet and dry ingredients together

Heat 2 T butter in skillet on top of stove until bubbling

Add batter and leave on burner for one minute

Place skillet in oven

Bake for 25 minutes

Remove when golden brown on sides and firm in center. Enjoy and eat
soon. You never know what tomorrow will bring.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Wonder Not! Bread Festival Parade

Poster Design by Emma Kholmann

The annual Wonder Not! Bread Festival

Sunday, September 18 
11am to 5pm
Hungry Ghost Bread
62 State St in Northampton

Parade at Noon! Musical guests include Beth Fairservis & The Pachamama Puppets will lead Parade along with the Expandable Brass Band! Volunteers needed & wanted to be inside puppets, to pass out bread samples & wheat seeds, to stroll along & saunter en masse down Center, Main & State Streets!

The annual Wonder Not! Bread Festival, includes vendors, music, puppet parade, and, of course, the most local bread possible, right out of the oven! 
Food vendors will include: Chase Hill Farm Cheese, Red Fire Farm, New City Brewery, Beaumont Berries, Behrens Boards, Invisible Cities Apiary, Northampton Olive Oil, Full Moon Ghee & others....

Thursday, September 8, 2016


Plate of the Union Truck Tour, Today 



September 8, 2016 
at 2 pm  
Stonyfield in Londonderry NH

Gary Hirshberg
Chariman, Stonfield Farm
Food Policy Acton Board Member
Evan Mallett
Chef of lack Trumpet Restaurant
Portsmouth NH

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Photo: m a nelen



Monday, August 29, 2016

RECIPE: Tomatillo Huevos Rancheros

tomatillo in morning photo: mary nelen
What to do with these babies once they're harvested? A friend made me this dish one morning with a tortilla, can't remember if it was corn or flour, refried beans, the egg, avocado slices and cheese. This version is a variation on that theme using a local corn taco and some very bright and very fresh tomatillo salsa. Here is breakfast...

RECIPE: Tomatillo Huevos Rancheros
Serves two


Package of Corn tortilla (try to pick up some from Mi Terra sold at various places where you can buy local food in the Pioneer Valley)

Tomatillo Salsa Recipe

Cheese, whatever you have but home made fresh ricotta is great foil for the bright taste of the salsa

Cooking oil, any kind

Fry pan and lid


Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in frying pan. When it is smoking, add one tortilla and flip with fork when it is crisped. Heat the other side and within a minute crack an egg over it. Add several tablespoons of salsa round the egg but not in the yoke. Top with approximately 1/4 cup of cheese and put a lid on the pan. Remove from heat when egg is at desired consistency.

roasting to a crisp! tomatillo and peppers 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Ricotta Cheese How-To

How to make this Ricotta cheese :
New England Cheese Making Supply

Note: Ricotta uses no rennet in its production. Ignore the recipes that call for this. 
Ricotta from Whole Milk
  1. Use whole milk .. The fresher the better
  2. Make a Citric Acid solution.. Add 2 tsp of citric acid per gallon of milk used and dissolve this  in 1 cup cool water. Add 1/2 of this Citric Acid solution to the milk (save the rest of the citric acid). Stir briskly for 5-10 seconds.
  3. Add 1 tsp salt per gallon of milk
  4. Heat the milk slowly on low to med stirring well to prevent scorching
  5. At 165-170F watch for small flakes forming in the milk and the separation into small flaky curds.
    If after a few minutes you do not see the flakes forming, add more of the Citric acid until they form (do this in small 1 Tbsp increments to avoid over acid milk). At this point, when you see the curds, A slower stirring is essential to avoid breaking up the small  bits of curd that have formed. Excess stirring will cause smaller and very granular curds to form. I tend to just roll the milk slowly with a bottom to top stirring motion. 
  6. Continue heating to 190-195F then turn the heat off. The thermal mass of the whey will hold at this temp for quite some time. The higher temp is used here because of the additional proteins found in whole milk vs whey.
  7. As the curds rise, use a perforated ladle to gently move them from the sides to the center of the pot. These clumps of curd will begin to consolidate floating on top of the liquid.
    Let the curds rest for 10-15 min.
    *** This is very important because this is the point where the final Ricotta quality is assured
  8. Ladle the curds gently into draining forms (No cheese cloth should be needed if you were patient in the previous step). Let the curds drain for 15 min up to several hours.
    For a fresh light ricotta, drain it for a short while (until the free whey drainage slows) and chill to below 50F. For a rich, dense and buttery texture allow it to drain for an extended period of time (several hours). before chilling overnight
    Move to a refrigerator or cold room. Consume within 10 days

Thursday, August 25, 2016

RECIPE: Tomatilla Salsa

photo: Mary A. Nelen

Tomatilla Salsa
Yield: 3 cups


2 pounds fresh tomatillos
2 chili peppers, peeled and seeded
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 cup cilantro, fresh, with stems
1 large red onion, coarsely chopped
sea salt, pepper, olive oil


1.    Remove tomatillo husks and rinse under warm water. Slice each tomatillo in half. In a medium sized bowl, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper.

2.    Heat a grill or dry grill pan (with ridges) until smoking hot.

3.    Place the whole chilies, garlic and tomatillo slices, skin side down, on grill or grill pan.

4.    Using tongs, turn garlic and peppers until roasted on all sides. Remove from grill or grill pan.

5.    Flip tomatillo slices when charred, about 6 minutes. Roast cut side of tomatillo another 6 minutes and remove from grill or grill pan.

6.    Place roasted tomatillo slices, chilies, garlic, cilantro and onion in food processor and pulse until texture is roughly blended.  

Serve with chips or as a condiment for tacos.
Note: recipe is a work in progress. Feel free to comment on your results! 

Red Fire Farm Tomato Festival Recipe: Fresh Ricotta and Tomatoes

Ever had real ricotta made by hand? Your own hand for example? 

Join me Saturday at Red Fire Farm in Granby where I'll be making fresh ricotta cheese with raw milk. 2 PM in the barn.  

Heirloom Tomatoes meets Fresh Ricotta Cheese
Serves 2


3 cups fresh arugula
Juice of 1 lemon
4 teaspoons olive oil, divided
2 medium ripe Red Fire tomatoes, sliced
1/2 cup fresh handmade ricotta cheese
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar


Begin by arranging cleaned and stemmed arugula on two plates. Drizzle some lemon juice on the leaves. Then divide tomato slices between plates and add olive oil to each. Top with 1/4 cup of of fresh ricotta on top of each salad. Add more olive oil, salt and pepper and finally a teaspoon of balsamic to finish each dish. Serve immediately.

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....

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