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.
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.
Today I did a studio visit with ceramicist Kelli Cain. I fell in love with Kelli’s work this fall, when I saw it at Field + Supply. She had invited me to visit in person one day, and I had been waiting for the right time. My dad is visiting from out of town this week, and what better than a long drive to show him more of the area. We drove deep into the Catskill Mountains. The traffic all but disappeared. The landscape became hilly farmland. The studio is located down a long dirt driveway, in a converted farmhouse. Kelli had made us tea and cookies, and we chatted while I picked through dozens of her beautiful handmade pieces. I love Kelli’s palette. I love her glazing techniques. Each piece is more beautiful than the last. It was a lovely day, rewarded with a bag full of beautiful treasures that I can’t wait to use in life and in pictures.
I don’t know if I ever bit into a crunchy, salty sea bean when I lived on the shores of the Pacific. I certainly remember walking on them. I remember the crunch and pop of them underfoot.
This summer, while walking with my dad along a rocky beach, near where he lives in British Columbia, I asked him if he knew of any local, wild edibles. “Well, there is sea asparagus,” he said. He gestured down beneath his shoes. He hadn’t eaten it either, but his girlfriend, a poet and a kayaker, knew that if she ever found herself stranded and starving on the Pacific coast, she could eat them. It would be a mighty salty survival food, and my lips still pucker when I think of my first taste. They taste like a sea water reduction.
Chefs love them. And if they love them, there has to be something going on. I set to work harvesting a bowl full with my dad and daughter, and then I looked up recipes. We parboiled them, and flash fried them in butter, garlic and lemon. We did not salt them. I used them to garnish a beautiful wild Pacific salmon my husband cooked. The meal made so much sense, but they are still something of an acquired taste.
Then, because we had far more than we could eat as a garnish, I continued my research. Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook wrote of an experiment dehydrating them. Since my dad just happened to be driving around with a dehydrator in his truck, we gave it a whirl. I have yet to complete the final step in the mortar and pestle to make sea bean salt. I can’t quite imagine ever wanting so much ocean flavor in a dish.
I had one other sea bean experience this year. Days after I returned from the west coast, I found myself shooting a campaign for Neuman’s Kitchen, a high end catering company in NYC. They feed the corporate crowds, and they create extraordinary feasts for benefits. Chef Robb Garceau is a pleasure to work with, and for each of the photoshoots we have done, he visits the Greenmarket early in the morning for inspiration. Imagine my surprise, when one afternoon he suddenly appeared with an herb-salt encrusted Arctic char, a whole variety of beautiful shellfish preparations, and a bowl of pickled sea beans. I do think this is the best way to go. The salt, crunch, and pop of them is just meant to blend with vinegar, and is why sea beans are also known as pickleweed.
As for the dehydrated sea beans in a little baggie on my desk, they await grinding. I keep wondering what to do with the salt once I make it. Could I rim a glass in sea bean dust for an updated version of a Caesar (a classic Canadian cocktail made with clam juice)? How about sea bean salted wine for steamed clams? A dusting on white fish? And then I take a nibble of the now dry (but still very salty) sticks, and I’m right back on the shores of Hornby Island, picking them with my dad.
We just returned from an extended visit to my homeland on the west coast of Canada. A few years ago, when our daughter was born, my husband & I started an annual tradition of renting a big house on the ocean and inviting friends and family to stay with us. It is the most beautiful place I could ever imagine, and we love to share it. It is a place where food literally falls from the trees – apples, walnuts, hickory nuts, grapes, and any number of berries. We cook, eat, and drink. We walk and swim. I photograph everything. It’s refreshing to be in a new place, with different light, and surrounded in ocean-weathered textures.
From where I live in the Hudson Valley, NY, it takes two travel days to reach these Northern Gulf Islands that I love. But it is worth it. Miles and miles of shoreline are uninhabited. And the people who live there are island-folk. They make pottery, they paint, they farm. I will follow up in coming posts with some of the fun cooking projects we did. But for now, a glimpse to the remote islands of Cortes and Hornby.
Sometimes a mini-vacation is all you have time for, and all you need. My in-laws love Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island. They visit at least once a year, and they always ask us along, but between work & life schedules, it’s been about 10 years since Chris and I were there. Earlier this month, we made them very happy when we all found time for a long weekend together. It was my brother-in-law’s 30th birthday, so he and his girlfriend also took time away from their busy jobs in NYC. The drive is just a few hours, the ferry is an hour, and off-season you are rewarded with wide open, empty sandy beaches.
We packed our cars full of our favorite foods to cook (bone-out rib eye steaks & hamburgers from the Applestone Meat Company, endless salads, asparagus and ingredients for another attempt at Béarnaise sauce), and we bought fresh lobsters from the local fish purveyor, Finn’s. We flew kites, walked on the beach, dug holes in the sand, breathed deep of the salty air, grilled, and went to bed early.
I aspire to take more mini-vacations. I want to explore in short bursts. NYC & Brooklyn I see a lot. Boston we visit maybe once a year. Last year we rented a tiny cottage on a bay in Mystic, CT. If anybody can recommend great spots withing a 4-hour driving radius of the Hudson Valley, let me know.
I spent three weeks in my homeland, the West Coast of Canada, this summer. We cooked, ate, swam, took pictures. Most of the time we were with friends and family on the remote Cortes Island, British Columbia – surely one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Our winter holiday in Quebec included a seated dinner of turkey & all-the-trimmings for 27 guests; fresh-from-PEI malpeque oysters on the half-shell (and a braver-than-I-was-at-that-age ten year old); big ole bottles of wine; a Quebecois fiddler & guitar duo; a bonfire in 3-feet of snow; and snow every day of the trip.
This spring we took a trip to Skibbereen, in County Cork, Ireland. We sourced fresh sole, scallops, soda bread, butter, eggs, and great cuts of meat for the grill. We cooked and drank beer in a house that looked like it was built in the 1700s, spent one night at the famous Balleymaloe House, we ate black and white puddings, more rashers and beans than I can remember, and fell in love with Gubbeen cheese. This is what a food photographer & her food stylist friend, and their families do while on vacation!
I spent a week in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, just for fun. Fun, of course, being the photo walks I took in between reading and beach strolls. May is mango season, and I ate the juiciest, freshest mangoes I’ve ever tasted. Below are two grids with my favorite food and street scenes. Puerto Vallarta is totally dependent on tourism, but retains its own identity. It’s a town where you might come across a man running down the street with a severed, skinned bull’s head (below), and three blocks away another man is dressed up like a blue shrimp, trying to lure diners into a restaurant called The Blue Shrimp (not shown).
Hopping around Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with my brother was a blast. He has been bicycling around the world for ten years (favorite stops: Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, India, France, Ireland, and Greece) learning languages and planting trees. His olive skin has turned a darker shade from years of exposure to the sun and elements and he speaks Spanish with a Portuguese accent. Everywhere we ate in Mexico he asked the chefs if his sister could take pictures in the kitchen.