Category Archives: The Cook

Writing My Way Out of a Paper Bag

Well, well, well. When I took a full-time job last spring, I didn’t really think I would stop writing my blog altogether, but what did I know? Turns out my new job at the Vineyard Gazette Media Group keeps me pretty busy, especially in the writing department. A few months into the job and I was feeling very grateful to my high school English teachers, who gave me a voice, the 5-paragraph essay, and the concept that all hypotheses should be supported with documented facts! What I learned from my college English professors was a bit more vague, partly because I was writing poetry and fiction, but also because I may not have been paying attention 100 percent of the time.

At any rate, my job is great because I get to flex all kinds of writing and editing muscles. Though I’m no reporter, I’ve wound up with a regular column in the newspaper called Off the Menu. This summer I interviewed and profiled chefs across the Island; two of my favorites were this one on the Artcliff’s Gina Stanley and this one on Ben DeForest of the Red Cat. For the winter, I’m writing a looser column, sometimes about a particular ingredient, with a recipe; sometimes about a local food event. I also write features for the magazine (Martha’s Vineyard Magazine); in the issue on newstands now is my piece on the Larder and Jefferson Munroe.

I edit a publication called the Vine, which is a color adjunct to the paper that comes out seven times a year and focuses on people and businesses in the Vineyard community who make it a special place to live. In addition to assigning and editing that content, I write at least one of the features in each issue, too. My favorite so far was this one on 800-square foot dwellings. (I take some of the photos in the Vine too, but the best part of working on this publication is collaborating with talented and energetic photographer Jeanna Petersen Shepard, who took the photo above.) I also write a weekly events newsletter called Island Time (please subscribe!).

I’m also helping my fabulous boss, Jane Seagrave, publisher of the Vineyard Gazette Media Group, with new product development and with some updates to a tourist website called MVOL.com which the company purchased earlier this year.

As far as freelance writing goes, I still contribute the occasional feature to Fine Cooking magazine, like this piece on tomato bread salads from this summer.

And Simple Green Suppers is happily sailing along. Most recently, Outside magazine chose it as one of its best cookbooks for busy adventurers. And the West Elm design blog chose it as one of its ten cookbooks to help you through the busy season. Best of all Simple Green Suppers and my friend Sarah Waldman’s Feeding a Family (both published by the most wonderful Roost Publications) were chosen by the American Booksellers Association to be highlighted in The Indie Next Holiday Gift Guide flier. Half a million copies of the flier were printed and sent out to 11,000 independent bookstores. (And only a handful of cookbooks are on this flier.) Please, please, please, if you are going to buy books for presents this year, support your local independent bookstore.

This week I’m heading to an event at Metro Bis restaurant in Simsbury, Connecticut, where chef Chris Prosperi (who I first met on the radio when I was a guest on Faith Middleton’s The Food Schmooze, which Chris appears on regularly) will cook a five-course menu highlighting recipes from Simple Green Suppers.

My little farmstand puttered along this summer. I did realize with the new job that there was only so much effort I could put into the garden this year, but it gave me the whole summer to get used to the idea that at least for now, the market gardening chapter of my life must close. I have no doubt it will reopen some day, but in the pursuit of keeping a roof over my head and some kibble in Farmer’s bowl, I have to focus on work that returns a little bit more money per hour than the market garden does.

And speaking of roofs, I have a new one to call my own—only it is not on Martha’s Vineyard, where the real estate market left me behind while I was dilly-dallying. But it is all good; I bought a little affordable house in Delaware where my father’s family is from and where I spent summers growing up, and for now my parents will live in it, as it provides them with a one-floor living situation where my Dad can more easily care for my Mom, who is frail. All of my various book collections, kitchen tools, watercolors, photographs, pottery, garden gear—all of the stuff that distinctly defines me as a non-minimalist—now has a home to call its own, and I can stop dragging it around awkwardly from rental to rental, always losing something along the way. Farmer and I will go visit our stuff and my parents every few months, and in the meantime we have moved to a lovely winter rental here on the Vineyard (summer could be interesting; I think Farmer would be okay with tent living?!) and will continue to be optimistic about the possibility of living and working here on my beloved Island for as long as we can.

I truly am grateful for this gift of writing , a skill I was taught 40 years ago that I can still use to market myself today, and hopefully for many years to come. I like to say I can write myself out of a paper bag if I have to. That isn’t a very pretty image, but the point is that it’s a skill, not a talent, and a very useful and versatile one at that.

 

 

Surprise! I’m Writing a New Cookbook!

book covers with typeI know, I know, I’ve been a little quiet here on Sixburnersue, but I promise I have a good excuse. It isn’t just that the farm work has kept me really hopping. I’ve had, well, a little something else to occupy the rest of my “free” time—developing recipes for a new book.

But wait, before you get all ants-in-your-pants-when-can-I-get-one excited…(which of course I am just assuming you will be!), this new cookbook won’t be released until the spring of 2017. But my deadline is in less than four months. That’s why I haven’t even brought it up until now, since it is usually hard for folks to wrap their heads around the way this whole publishing thing works. It takes at least a year for the editing, design, layout, printing…and then the advance marketing to happen once you turn a manuscript in.

But do hold on tight, because this is gonna be a really good one. I am absolutely over the moon that the book will be published by Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications (which I have long admired) and the creator of some of the best looking (and tasting!) cookbooks I’ve seen in the last few years. In fact, Roost just published my fellow islander-cook Sarah Waldman’s first cookbook, Little Bites, and it is smashing. Roost also published the award-winning At Home in the Whole Food Kitchen by Amy Chaplin, and La Tartine Gourmande, by Beatrice Peltre, among others. I am lucky to have a great editor there, and you can’t have a great book without a good editor.

_F3A4361So what’s the book about? “Do tell, do tell!” you say. Well, you know I would have to kill you if I did that. I can tell you that it is a great evolution of my vegetable cooking—from veggies on the side of the plate (Fast, Fresh & Green) to veggies in the middle of the plate (The Fresh & Green Table) to veggies across the seasons (Fresh From the Farm) and now…And now…well, veggies as the driving force in my diet. That’s right (gasp!), in January I transitioned practically seamlessly to a vegetarian diet.

I’m not a big label person, and I also can’t predict the future, so I wouldn’t absolutely say that I will be a 100-percent Vegetarian for the rest of my life. But other than one or two good pieces of fish that have come my way, I’ve not had any meat in 10 months. (I do, of course, still eat eggs). (So technically, I am a pescatarian!) My reasons and thinking on all this are enough to fill another blog and then some, so I will just leave you with this very simple and completely personal concept—I just stopped wanting meat. (This hash’t happened yet with sugar or chocolate.)

But don’t worry, if you know me and my cooking, you’ll know that this new book is still going to be about flavor and technique and enjoying cooking. (And lots of strategy and tips…and, well, okay, I must stop before I give it away.) No fake food or contrived recipes.

 

_MG_1021_MG_0968_MG_1059_MG_1086And I have to tell you the best part—amazing photos! Roost hired Randi Baird (at right), a very talented and versatile photographer who also happens to be a foodie and a veggie lover (and a Vineyarder!). She and I have worked together on food stories on and off over the years, and we are having a total blast creating the look and feel of the photos for this book. Randi’s been shooting vegetables at the farm over the summer—some really stunning shots that I so wish I could show you (teaser above)—and we just completed our first week of shooting finished food shots for the book.

The week of shooting reminded me of the many, many shoots I was present for while I was editor of Fine Cooking, and just like then, this week I had some very nice people to work with, including Randi’s assistant Mary Shea (who took these photos), and my super-cook friend Amy Miller (with me in shots below) who made practically all the food for the photos, while I fussed with the props (and eventually “styled” the food on the plate. And yes, I have that curious concentrating “susie frown” on my face in every photo that Mary took!).

We have another shoot coming up in a few weeks, which is why I wanted to tell you about the book now; then we’ll be able to show you some production action on Instagram during the next shoot.

No matter how you look at it, the most important part of a cookbook, of course, is the recipes. Developing them is not as easy as you might think—which is why I’m most grateful to have my best friend Eliza Peter cross-testing the recipes again—I can’t believe she said yes for a fourth time around! We are over the halfway mark at this point, but wow, still a lot to go in a short amount of time.

There’ll be much more to tell you about the book as the months go by (and do they—so quickly!) but it was time I fessed up about why I haven’t been keeping up with my blogs.

Happy fall!

(Veggie basket photo by Randi Baird. All others below by Mary Shea.)

 

Blue & White and Read All Over: A Blizzard & A Book Party

DSC_2934The snowflakes that began to fall Saturday afternoon were particularly pretty—billowy and crisp and determined. They came on fast and steady, only an hour before we were due to pile all the food in the car and drive down to Bunch of Grapes bookstore. The forecast had said rain first, starting around 6. It was not even 2 o’clock and it was snowing.

Canceling the Fresh from the Farm book party wasn’t an option. Bunch of Grapes in downtown Vineyard Haven (a nice walking town) would stay open through any snowstorm, anyhow. I had made five different recipes to taste, and we’d sent all kinds of invitations out for the event. Both the Martha’s Vineyard Times and the Vineyard Gazette (as well as the Point B Realty blog) had published nice articles during the week about the book, the farm, and the signing event.

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As Roy drove, I let those little negative thoughts come into my head, “Oh, no. No one will want to come out in the snow!” I said to Roy. And he chastisted me. “You wait. You’ll see.”

By the time Dawn Braasch stood up at the front of her bookstore to introduce me, every chair was full and folks were standing around the bookcases. I saw so many friendly faces, and I realized it was very bad of me to underestimate what an incredible community I stumbled into almost six years ago now. Not only did all these folks come to the event, but they withstood listening to me jabber on while a torrent of snowflakes fell outside the big glass windows behind me! Well, at least it was cozy inside (nothing like stacks of books to make you feel safe and warm), and there was food—and wine. But I still have to say thank you (here on sixburnersue is a good place, as I know some of you who were there will be reading this) to everyone for coming out in a snow storm.

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DSC_2910Thinking about all this, I walked around the farm on Sunday morning with my camera. The “blizzard” did not leave us 14 inches—maybe only 6 to 8. And more importantly, it didn’t blow out power, though it did leave a lot of branches down. It also left a plucky aquamarine sky and a cool blue reflection everywhere I looked.

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DSC_2920Beautiful or not, the winter is wearing on everyone. But all over the Island, and I’m sure in lots of other small communities across the snow-splattered country, there are gatherings like the one we had on Saturday, where the lights are on, the hugs are forthcoming, and the snacks are abundant.

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And when all else fails, curling up at home on the couch with a good book is an antidote to all those icicles and chapped cheeks. After the event, a friend of mine, who had bought her 12-year-old daughter her first cookbook at the signing on Saturday, posted a picture of her daughter stretched out on their couch, reading Fresh from the Farm. Looking at that photo, I felt so privileged to be the author of a little girl’s first cookbook. What an honor! I hope that sweet girl has many fun and delicious cooking experiences ahead of her. But I’m pretty sure she does.

DSC_2879 P.S. If you are looking for a signed copy of Fresh from the Farm, please visit or contact Bunch of Grapes. If you want a personalized copy, I can sign it at Bunch of Grapes and they will send it to you, no matter where you are.

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 Photo above courtesy Barbara Welsh