This summer I spent the better part of July on the west coast of Canada. It was a work trip combined with a family trip. One of the projects I worked on was this short video, which demonstrates how to make a fresh tulsi tincture.
Tulsi, also called Holy Basil, is a sacred plant in India. It has been used for thousands of years for detox, to help alleviate stress, and to increase stamina. My sister uses tulsi in her Ayurvedic practice. My brother grows the herb in his greenhouse at the Earth Lab on Hornby Island. I photograph food stories. We put our passions together and this is one of the projects we created.
I got a call to do some editorial style product photography for PepsiCo. The shoot was to be at their Research & Development headquarters in Vallhalla, NY. This is the center of the world, as far as PepsiCo goes. I am situated in Brooklyn and the Hudson Valley, and so much seems to be right down the road from me. These images will be used to promote two new products from PepsiCo: Pepsi Fire and LemonLemon. Food styling was by Laura Kinsey, with prop styling by Kristine Trevino.
I recently visited the Canoe Hill Restaurant on assignment for Hudson Valley Magazine. The restaurant is owned by Michael DelGrosso and his wife, Lauren Lancaster. They are Hudson Valley transplants, via Brooklyn, where Michael helped create the aesthetic of many of Manhattan’s and Brooklyn’s most beautiful restaurants. I only wish he would bring his eye to Woodstock. I would be a regular.
We grilled tacos in the Catskills this weekend. There was skirt steak from the Applestone Meat Co, Chris’s pickled red onions and salsa, friends brought rhubarb margaritas (genius), kids ate cheese quesadillas and guacamole. We may never grill burgers again.
I returned from a week photographing a cookbook in Montreal and decided to spend a month cooking French food. I turned to a book that is already on my bookshelf: Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
These photos are not examples of what the recipes should technically look like – only what they did look like. But I am excited. The stock that simmered on my stove for two days, eventually became Glace de Viande (meat glaze). We reduced a tablespoon of that glaze with wine and shallots and made Beurre Marchand de Vins (Shallot Butter with Red Wine). We put slabs of it on an inexpensive cut of beef, and transformed the steak into a delicacy.
I am really loving preparing simple ingredients in a different way than my standard, and creating entirely new flavor profiles. I make soup all the time. But Soupe au Pistou (Provencal Vegetable Soup with Garlic, Basil & Herbs) is a fresh take in my kitchen.
I am working on my baking. Now that I have made “cream puff paste,” I will use that basic recipe and make gnocchis.
We hosted Easter weekend for some grown ups and a trio of children. Here are some food memories… Thank you to Kendra McKnight for making mince-meat tarts, home-made raspberry marshmallows, charcuterie, French 75s, lakeside grilled leg of lamb with yogurt-garlic sauce, and so much more. She even delayed her family’s morning departure so she could teach me step-by-step her favorite pie crust recipe.
I am in Montreal this week, photographing a cookbook for Joe Beef. This got me thinking to the year I spent photographing their first cookbook. It was before I had my daughter, and that makes it seem like such a long time ago. Although, she is only 5 years old, and in the scheme of things that is no time at all. I am so excited to be here. This is the 2nd week of a at least a few I will spend with the team on this book. I so look forward to what Fred, Dave, Meredith, Marco, Ari, and the rest of the team (their family has also grown since I was last here) will show me.
Below are some shots I did for their first cookbook.
This winter, I spent some time with Erin McDowell, filming baking videos. These videos will roll out as social media spots in advance of her upcoming cookbook, The Fearless Baker. Erin is an incredible baker, and also a food stylist. I work with her often on shoots for my clients, and last summer she asked me to photograph her own cookbook. We ended up shooting every single recipe, which is unusual. But if you know Erin, you know she is not only fearless, but has boundless enthusiasm and energy. The book will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt this October. Until then, here area a few videos showing the techniques you will find in those pages.
In these deep days of winter, I have been playing around with food motion. It is so much fun. I am becoming obsessed. Here is one video I made, it is a recipe for shrimp scampi, which my husband cooked in honor of the most delicious wild-caught shrimp we found at a local butcher shop. It’s a very simple recipe. It is quick to cook, and it is rich and delicious with crusty bread or pasta. See this video, and a few other examples of food in motion over at my website, www.jennifermay.com
I was recently asked to do some butcher shop meat photography. The Applestone Meat Company wanted pretty much all of their cuts of meat documented. The challenge was to come up with an attractive way to photograph this glorious meat in its raw form. We wanted appetite appeal, and that can be a tough ask from a raw piece of meat. We brainstormed. They suggested white. I suggested marble. We decided to show the raw meat in the very early stages of cooking. The higher end cuts were dressed up in only salt and pepper. Some of the other cuts were given marinades and dry spice rubs.
This butcher shop also produces a lot of sausages – andouille, bratwurst, hot Italian, chorizo, Parmesan and broccoli rabe and many more… well over a dozen different blends. We wanted to show these, but we didn’t want to show them raw with raw ingredients around them. So, we cooked the sausages in a way that reflected their particular characters. One of the butchers at the shop happens to be a trained chef. He and the Applestone team came up with recipes, and he cooked them for the camera.
Look for these images rolling out on the Applestone Meat Company’s website and social media channels in the near future.
On a chilly day in January, I made preserved Meyer lemons. I will give them a shake every day, and in about three weeks they should be ready. I am collecting recipes for pasta, gremolata, roasted potatoes, relish and fish dishes. I am excited to see what new dimension this condiment will bring to the food we cook at home!
We took a quick trip to visit my family and the Hornby Island farm this December. We spent the holidays with friends & family, and we checked in on The Earth Lab, my family’s farm project. This winter, my brother is starting mushrooms in the greenhouse. Sheets of insulating foil are laid out over wood chips and earth, and under that, millions of mushroom spores are developing into mycelium, which look like long white threads. In the spring, my brother will transplant those threads. He is excited about increasing the biodiversity of the forest. I am excited about the possibility of a big harvest during our next visits. I look forward to picking, cooking and eating copious amounts of oyster mushrooms and shiitakes, and another which sounds promising: The Garden Giant.
I have always wanted to explore Nova Scotia. My grandfather grew up in Cape Breton, during the Depression. He wrote a memoir for his family, and it is one of the most powerful stories I have ever read. When Angela’s Ashes became a literary sensation my family and I nodded in unison. Frank McCourt’s story reminded us all of my grandfather’s, William O’Hagan. As a child, he had to help support his family. He gardened with his brother and was compensated in carrot thinnings. His mother bathed the children twice a year, and boiled their clothes. To his classmates, he was known as Stinky Billy. We grandchildren called him Buzz.
How someone could have survived what my grandfather lived through with an endless sense of humor, and whose favorite taste descriptor was “Beautiful,” is beyond me. Home-pickled herring, with a slice of onion, and a smear of mayonnaise on toast: Beautiful. My grandmother’s piroski (a recipe passed down from her mother, who was raised in Russia): Beautiful. Pan-fried cod, steamed clams, grilled salmon… we caught all of these things on the west coast, we ate them, and Buzz declared: Beautiful.
This summer, my husband, daughter and I took an impromptu Nova Scotia road trip. Our route started in Yarmouth, after a 5-hour catamaran ferry ride from Portland, ME. We camped in as many provincial parks as we could. We swam in beautiful beaches along the South Shore. We visited Lunenberg and stocked up on reading material at Lexicon Books. On our way to somewhere else, we found a white sandy beach and swam at the side of the road. We arrived on the Northumberland Shore, walked on red sandy beaches, and swam in the famously warm ocean waters. The rest of our trip took us through Halifax and then along the Bay of Fundy where, in some places, tides rise and retreat 50′ in one cycle.
We sought out seafood. I’m sorry to say it, but we had high expectations and were often disappointed. Of course, I probably should not have ordered lobster poutine at a touristy lobster pound.
Overall, it was an incredible trip. Different, in some ways, than what I had expected. We looked for places to buy fresh seafood near the docks, and found we were out-of-season, or the fish shacks were only open once a week and not on they day we were there. We did not make it to where my grandfather grew up. Cape Breton Island, and the Cabot Trail, await us on a follow up journey. There would be no sense driving a magnificent roadway with a carsick and road-weary child in the back, I figured. More camping awaits us, more beaches.
More than anything, as a west coaster, who only really feels home when I am in sight of an ocean, I think of Buzz. I imagine how he must have felt, when he left the east coast for the west, and made a home on the Pacific.
This July, we returned to my homeland, in Canada’s Pacific Northwest. I have already made a couple of posts about this trip, below, but before the summer completely gets away from me, I wanted to collect a bunch of images together. Below, in order of appearance: The wide open beaches of Tofino, BC. The view from the new family home on Hornby Island, BC (complete with rainbow). My brother, the permaculture farmer. The view from where we stayed 10 nights on Cortes Island, BC. The seaplane that delivered friends from Vancouver. My sister running with her dog. My dad swimming. A last bonfire on the beach. My girl looking out the ferry window. July, Pacific Northwest, I miss you.
I am in the midst of shooting a baking cookbook for Erin McDowell. Erin is a food stylist I work with often. We collaborate on other people’s cookbooks, and she styles food for me when I shoot campaigns for Broccoli Rabe. She cuts no corners! We are currently camped out in a rented house in Woodstock, NY, and by the end of ten days, we will have photographed almost every recipe in her book. Hashtags are #thefearlessbaker and #campcookbook if you want to follow along on Instagram. We are on day 4, and already we have an entire gallery of beautiful images. Here are a couple of outtakes.
Scott noticed them first. “Come here,” he said, beckoning with his finger. “Did you see these?” He pointed to a fig tree in the front yard of our rented house. The figs were just beginning to ripen, and he had picked some to roast with blue cheese, honey & walnuts. After few more days of heat, more figs ripened. Then they began to over-ripen. Sap oozed from their bottoms. “Better use these,” Craig said. He picked a soft one and ate it on the spot.
I had been trying to keep my daughter off of the tree’s slender branches, but once she realized the prizes were fair game, up she went. We picked a basket full, and I roasted them for breakfast. Simple, if you’ve got a tree full of fresh figs nearby. Recipe below.
Honey Roasted Fresh Figs, with Ricotta:
Fresh figs, halved
Butter, a couple of tablespoons
Honey, a couple of tablespoons
Kosher salt, a pinch
Fresh ricotta, for serving
Preheat the oven to 400 F degrees. Lay the halved figs, cut side up, in a baking dish. In a separate pan, melt the butter, honey & salt. Drizzle the syrup over the figs. Roast for 10 – 15 minutes, until hot and bubbling. Serve with fresh ricotta, drizzle on the sauce.
When my brother, Ryan, walks through a forest, he carries a machete. He has spent a great deal of time in Brazil, and there are dangers in those forests greater than brambles. Here in Canada, on Hornby Island, my brother uses his machete to carve out trails through a second-growth forest that had been logged, farmed, and left fallow for decades. My brother is remaking this forest.
Bit by bit, he will make room amongst the standing trees for the new ones he has collected. He has a small fenced area he calls the nursery, and in it are 100 varieties of apple and nut saplings.
He emailed an apple tree catalog to our family in February asking for help narrowing down the choices. But in the end, he grafted one of each. They have names like Pendragon, which is a 12th century red-fleshed cider apple from Wales. There is Kandil Sinap, from Turkey circa 1880, with creamy, yellow porcelain-like skin and a cylindrical shape. The crab apple Wickson is said to be so prolific that the small yellow and red apples will garland a tree with fruit.
I grew up in the forests across the water from Hornby Island. I used to look out my bedroom window, through tall pines, across the Georgia Straight, past Denman Island and the Chrome Island Lighthouse, all the way to Hornby Island. It took two ferries to get there. When I fished with my grandfather, we would jig for cod around its perimeter.
My family has an anchor on Hornby Island now. We visited this July. “What do you want to see?” My brother and sister asked me. “Wild edibles,” I answered.
My brother grabbed his machete, and our small troupe followed him into the woods. We walked through grove after grove of salal. My sister and I picked a basket of the berries and I made a shrub, aka drinking vinegar. This acidified syrup is my summer theme. I have been drinking it in sparkling water. I also made a salad dressing with it, substituting a couple tablespoons of shrub for the sweetness and vinegar I might have added.
Salal berries are a highly localized plant, native to the part of the world where I grew up. I remember them, although I did not eat them. Their dark purple and plump berries are appealing looking, but eaten fresh they are bland and mealy. Heat and a little sweetness brings this fruit to life. I did not believe in tricks like that when I lived here.
I will wait for the apple and nut trees to mature. Plants grow fast in the west coast. I will be back, and often.
This July 4th we were invited to spend the weekend in a pre-Revolutionary house on the other side of the Hudson River. We picked snap peas and flowers at Hearty Roots Farm, blueberries at Grieg’s Farm, and we stumbled upon an undisturbed thicket of black raspberries.
We admired the historic details in the old mansion, known as the 1773 Calendar House. One night, our host filled two enormous brass candelabras with white tapers, poured wine, and told us tales of the Livingston family who used to own the home. We ate in the once-grand dining room, and imagined the time when the house served as a meeting place for Generals of the American Revolution.
As for the picking, I have heard about black raspberries (aka blackcaps) for years but, until now, I have never found or tried them. Not 10 minutes after seeing a beautiful image of them on the Instagram account of the Catskill Native Nursery, we stumbled upon a huge patch. The entire edge of the long and winding driveway at the Calendar House was bordered by bushes loaded with fruit. My friend and I picked the ripest ones, and we transformed them into fruit shrub, aka drinking vinegar.
A shrub is an acidified fruit syrup. Invented before refrigeration, shrubs were originally intended as a way to preserve fruit past the growing season. I have spent most of June making them… strawberry shrub from the ripest strawberries, blackberry-raspberry shrub, and black currant shrub using berries from my garden. The ingredients are berries, sugar, and vinegar. The ratio is approximately 1:1:1. A heated shrub takes about 15 minutes to make. A raw shrub takes about two days, but you don’t have to do anything to it but wait. Here is a page with great information and recipes for shrub making, Here is another one on Food52.
For a refreshing summer drink, I like to splash about a tablespoon into a glass of sparkling water and ice. Shrubs also blend deliciously with spirits for a stronger cocktail.
As for the rest of the weekend, there are so many other little stories to tell. Little stories of life, mirth, and silliness. The morning of July 4th we crossed the river again, and prepared a pizza party for family and friends. But that is another story. Brick pizza oven reveal to come in a following post.