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

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

RECIPE: Krispy Kale Nests with Fried Egg

Kale in Winter 

A great source of winter kale now today in the Pioneer Valley comes from Atlas Farm in S. Deerfield, where greens are grown in hoop-houses when the weather is iffy. Kale is rich in nutrients, cheap to buy, thrives in cold temperature, and acts as an internal scrubby. 

Recipe: Krispy Kale Nests with Fried Egg
Serves 2


1 bunch curly or dinosaur kale (aka lacinato)
2 fried eggs
olive oil
salt and pepper

Remove leaves from the stem and discard stems. Layer the leaves and roll. Cut cross-wise to produce long strips.

Coat the bottom of a cast iron with oil and heat until smoking. Cook in kale batches by dropping a handful of strips into the pan. Add salt and pepper. Keep kale moving over the heat until crisp and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Remove with tongs and drain on paper bag. Place small bird’s nest of kale strips on each plate and gently top with a fried egg.  

Monday, March 7, 2016

Q&A Queen of the Locavores

photo by Mary A. Nelen

If you're like me
you go where the wild food goes. In the fall last year, bluefish were “running” in the waters of the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Massachusetts. I took the ferry to Martha's Vineyard where the fishing derby was in full swing. Grand prize for the biggest fish caught from shore is a new boat. Grand prize from a boat, a new truck. My prize? A meeting with Ali Berlow, a local hero, and queen of the Locavores.

Derby Headquarters was in Edgartown on the docks where anglers raced to weigh-in their fish. Bluefish, false albacore, bonita and stripped bass were brought to a guy in waders standing at a table out on the docks with a big scale and large knife. He weighed each fish and yelled the numbers to a lady inside a rickety building. He then gutted the fish and threw them into a plastic bin. 
What was happening with this bonanza of fresh fish? I turned to the only person I could think of.   

Ali Berlow is publisher of Edible Vineyard and the instigator behind Island Grown and Island Grown Schools, two organizations that support area farmers in their efforts to make a living selling food on the island. She lives on Martha's Vineyard in the summer and in Vermont in the winter. When I visited Ali at her office on the shore road to Oak Bluffs, she greeted me at the door. A tall silver-haired woman in converse sneakers and a thin red thread with a rock at her throat and a dog in her arms was not what I expected. I was smitten. I learned the dog's name was Emma and Ali prefers the word “Eater” to “Locavore” since its more inclusive. 

We sat down on a small couch in her office. Before us on a low table was a copy of her latest book, “The Food Activist Handbook: Big and Small things You Can Do to Help Provide Fresh, Healthy Food for Your Community.” It was festooned with post-it notes. Much of what Ali has accomplished with many others on the island in their efforts to increase local food production and access is a result of a single event.  

VL: You start the book and your work on the island with a potluck supper. Why a potluck?
AB: Everybody has to eat. I reached out to farmers and neighbors and
everybody brought food. Its a great way to bring people together. I
spoke before the group. The dinner was at our home. I brought in a
friend who is a chef to lighten things up.

VL:  Why is poultry a gateway focus for local food activism?
AB: Because slaughtering requires involvement from the Board of Health.
They are the people who concern themselves with restaurant inspection
so education was a big part of the picture.

VL: Did you have snacks at those meetings?
AB: Coffee and donuts, I think.

VL: Can you explain what the map of the community was about.
AB: Have a look at the farms around where you live and determine where
local food is. We started out making a map and developed a coding
system for locating farms and identifying their specialities. 
(see map below)
KEY: Red indicates agricultural activity on Martha's Vineyard 
VL: Your book was compared to the Whole Earth Catalogue, a 70’s
counter culture catalogue for living off the land. What is your
response to that?
AB: I’ll take it! But perhaps the book is more like “Our Bodies Ourselves.”

VL: Schools, how did you break into that world?
AB: There are many ways to work with schools. The key is to look for
opportunity. Don’t be disappointed. First school we approached wanted
compost so we went with that.

Ali Berlow, center. Photo: Bob Hughes 
Before we said good bye I asked about the harvest of Derby fish. Ali said that they usually went to senior citizens on the island. Last year between 5000 and 7000 filets were donated to members of the Councils on Aging.  

The sun was going down and Ali was off to act as a judge at a Chef's Throw-down cooking contest in New Bedford. I later learned the winning entry was for a dish made with an egg-bearing dogfish called Grilled Dogfish, Sugar Pumpkin and Lamb Chorizo with Scrambled Roe and Peach Jam. It was made by Chef Chris Cronin of Little Moss Restaurant in South Dartmouth, MA.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

RECIPE: Banana Bread, the dark side.

Banana bread goes dark with booze and grain.
RECIPE: Banana Bread, the dark side 

The addition of whole grains and bourbon provide a kick that takes banana bread to a whole new level. A bit of real grain fortifies the bourbon and if you can get you hands on some, grind them (in a blender or grain grinder) and sift to remove the larger pieces of bran to help in the rising. If you don’t have wheat berries substitute with whole wheat flour and if you don’t have that, just add two more tablespoons of flour to the recipe. If you don’t have flour, just fry up the bananas and have with yogurt. Dark rum is a good alternative to bourbon. This recipe is adapted from Silver Palate "Good Times" cookbook circa 1985. 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees


1 C white unbleached flour
2 T ground wheat berries, sifted
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 t baking powder
½ t baking soda
1 stick butter, melted. 
¼ C honey mixed
¼ C maple syrup
1 t vanilla
6 T bourbon or dark rum
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
½ C chopped walnuts
½ C golden raisins


sifting implement
loaf pan


Mix ingredients dry ingredients not including walnuts and raisins in a large bowl.  Melt butter in loaf pan in oven while it is pre-heating. In separate bowl whisk eggs together with banana, honey,vanilla, maple syrup and butter. Combine contents of both bowls and mix thoroughly. Pour batter into buttered loaf pan and stir in walnuts and raisins. Bake for 50 minutes. 

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Reverse Engineered Beets

Beet, Brookfield Farm, Amherst MA (photo: Mary A. Nelen)
The night before last......
we ate at a new place near us in Kinderhook. On special was a thing of beauty and wonder, a thing I had to try in my own kitchen. This is referred to by a man I know as "Reverse Engineering." Whenever he eats something in a restaurant that he find particularly enjoyable, his wife Robbin goes home and figures out how to cook it, right away. Tom calls it “Reverse Engineering” but I call it love. 

The thing of beauty and wonder was Beet Tartare, a jeweled little tuffet of beets on a bed of arugula. It had a sweetness and a velvet, pliant mouthfeel. Where was the sweetness coming from? Perhaps the frozen earth prompting the beet to produce sugar? Reduced balsamic? Maple Syrup? Pomegranate seeds? And the pliancy? These certainly weren't "tartare" raw beets, or were they?

Reverse engineering began with googling "beets" and "raw" and "salad" and consulting cookbook indexes for “beetroot." What resulted was a co-mingling of technique and what I had in my larder. My recipe for Beet Tartare At Home is restaurant perfect. It uses roasted beets, chopped almonds, onion, garlic and a bit of balsamic/fig syrup from the cupboard. (It must be said that "tartare" is a misnomer. The first taste experience of this dish was sweetness, the kind that comes from roasting winter beets.)

As for the shape of the beet thing of beauty and wonder, I didn’t have molds to create a disk like the one used in the restaurant. Instead I employed those little white dishes that are nice for salt and stuff. Starts with a C? 

You get the picture....So I packed the red mixture into those little white dishes that start with a C and left them in the fridge over night. The next day around dinner time I coaxed the mixture out of the little white dishes....ramekin! (Not something that starts with a C.) 

I placed the each beat disk (thee out of four held their shape) on a little bed of arugula, dressed in oil and white wine vinegar with salt and pepper and then drizzled a bit of balsamic/fig juice on top and it was perfect. Just as good as at the new restaurant, if not, dare I say it, better. 


5 medium-sized beets wrapped in foil and roasted
1/2 C olive oil
1/4 C balsamic vinegar or balsamic/fig syrup
1 garlic clove finely chopped
2T onion finely chopped
2 T almonds finely chopped
3 C arugula dressed lightly in oil and vinegar with salt and pepper 
  1. Peel and chop beets into very tiny cubes.
  2. Mix liquids in bowl.
  3. Combine beets, onion, garlic & nuts with liquids in bowl.
  4. Press mixture into buttered ramekins.
  5. Refrigerate overnight or for 4 hours.
  6. Release mixture from ramekins gently. 
  7. Place on a bed of arugula lightly coated with vinaigrette.
  8. Drizzle beets with balsamic vinegar or balsamic/fig juice if you happen to have it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Vote for Change

“Growing Season: Women in Agriculture and Food Production”
through August 15, 2016,
W.E.B. Du Bois Library, UMass Amherst

How about shut up and get busy as a campaign slogan? You feminists and voters and people for a better world?

Approximately 58% of the 140 students currently in the Sustainable Food and Farming major in the Stockbridge School of Agriculture are women.

On display in at UMass Amherst Special Collections and University Archives, floor 25, are collections that reflect women and food production, including cookbooks focused on preservation and canning; Helen Hunerwadel who taught and advised on agricultural in Burma and Iran in the 1940s and 1950s; and Elizabeth Henderson, an organic farming pioneer and founding member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association.

The UMass Amherst Libraries host “Growing Season: Women in Agriculture and Food Production,” through August 15, 2016, in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library, both on the Lower Level and in Special Collections and University Archives, on Floor 25, at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. The exhibit draws upon the archival collections in Special Collections and University Archives and includes photos, articles, and other artifacts.
For more information, contact Kirstin Kay, 413-545-6843.

Friday, February 5, 2016

"It will happen like this......" 


Photo Show at Robert Floyd
February 6 - 29, 20116
Reception, Sunday 2/7 from 1 pm to 5 pm
Robert Floyd Photo Studio
2 East Street at College Highway (Rt. 10)
Southampton MA

Artists: Mary A. Nelen, Rosemary Polletta, Dan Milberg

Wild Food in WInter

Go where the wild food people go.

Winter Markets. This weekend in Greenfield. Next weekend in the Berkshires. Spring is, well, spring is if not right around the corner, spring is inevitable. And to celebrate wild food and the wilderness in general, join kindred spirits in civic buildings for soup and several encounters with, because they can, fresh greens but also workshops, swapping, hot food, activities for kids and seeds.

Saturday, Feb 6, 2016

GREENFIELD MA: Join CISA at the Greenfield Farmers' Market for a special Winter Fare day with free workshops, hot soup, a Valley Food Swap, and more, plus the amazing range of great local food and crafts that await you monthly at this market. CISA will double all SNAP/Food Stamps up to $10. The market will be at the Greenfield High School at 1 Lenox Ave from 10 am to 1 pm.

Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016

GREAT BARRINGTON MA: Berkshire Grown will host its final winter farmers market of the season with live musical entertainment and Food Adventures will lead hands-on snack-making activities for children. Greenagers will also be on hand selling seeds to help community members start planning their own gardens. From 10 am to 2 pm at 
Monument Valley Middle School, 313 Monument Valley Road.