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.
Last year I bought two tiny elderberry bushes from the Catskill Native Nursery, and planted them in a bare patch in my garden. This year they are 10′ tall and loaded with elderflowers. Eventually, I would like to make elderberry syrup, which is a potent anti-viral. But, I have some traveling to do this summer, and it is is possible the precious elderberries will be gobbled by birds before I get to them this year. Still, I wanted to do something special with this amazing plant. So I made elderflower cordial.
Elderflower cordial is simple to make. It requires only the beautiful flower heads, water, sugar, optional citric acid, and the zest and juice of lemons. You can also add orange zest and juice, which I did, for the color. My batch combined two recipes. One is from the River Cottage, and another from Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook.
There is one funny thing about elderflowers. They are either a super-food or potentially toxic. Searching “health benefits of elderflowers” reveals that they contain bioflavonoids and are antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial. Searching “are elderflowers toxic?” tells us the stems and leaves of the elderberry plant contain a cyanide-producing chemical. To put this in context, almonds also contain a cyanide-producing chemical. And we all know rhubarb leaves are toxic, while the juicy stems are delicious. To prepare elderflowers for infusion, you snip away all of the stems and branches. Problem solved.
Still, I tend to err on the side of caution, especially with something new. While I did serve the cordial at a recent cook-out, my cautionary words ensured I had only one unfazed sipper (besides myself). “Well” he said, “They sell it at Ikea.”
Cyanide and box stores aside, elderflower cordial is one of the most aromatic beverages I have ever made or consumed. It is delicate, and seasonal, and I like to think loaded with healthful properties.
This weekend I went on a foraging walk with Dina Falconi. She is the author of the beautiful book, Foraging & Feasting. The walk was a 2-hour introduction to the process of identifying plants. We learned about looking at the macrocosm (the environment) before looking at the microcosm (the plant). We learned about identifying characteristics, leaf and stem patterns, textures, size, and of course the flower. Dina showed us how to crush a leaf and smell it. She showed us how to carefully taste it, if we are not sure.
We spent most of our time with a few edible weeds we found growing at the perimeter of the Berkshire Botanic Garden… garlic mustard (which I was recently introduced to), Gill-over-the ground (eating this helps to draw out heavy metals from the body), and dandelions (the petals! I have to eat the yellow petals).
It was a wonderful morning. And I’m hungry for more.
I am learning to forage, and I am exploring garlic mustard greens. This green grows everywhere. I spot it on the roadside, along my driveway, and in disturbed areas of my garden. I used to pull and compost it as a weed, but this spring, I am pulling it and carrying it into my kitchen. So far, I have eaten it raw, as a pesto, and chopped up into soup. Word is, mustard greens are nutritious. They are also invasive. So, pulling them and eating them solves two problems.
Below, patches of wild mustard greens thrive on slopes around my yard. And my girl, helping to prepare this weed for the kitchen.
Wild thyme, which grows in patches around my yard, prepped for the soup.
An Italian-inspired soup of white beans, onion, garlic, carrot, celery, potato, wild thyme, orzo pasta, and wild mustard greens. The strong flavor of the greens mellows when simmered for a few minutes. They lose the bitterness that is strong when eaten raw.
For my Italian inspired white bean, pasta, and greens soup, I used a couple of sample bottles of a lovely olive oil grown and produced on an Italian villa, and sent to me by my friend who lives there.
Pesto made with roasted walnuts, wild mustard greens, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, and parmesan. Full recipe by Ian Knauer, and more information about these greens, here.
I have been photographing restaurants the past couple of weeks. The NYC EDITION, on Madison Avenue, is an Ian Schrager designed concept, in partnership with the Marriott. I spent three days behind-the-scenes at a VIP event, photographing food & decor. As a New Yorker, I know I’m not supposed to be thrilled by celebrity sightings, but I can’t help myself. It is a little bit thrilling to ride elevators with actors. (Although I did not let them know it.) It was also the week of the Met Gala, so the building was teeming with known personalities.
Up in the Hudson Valley, I spent a day with a chef in the construction site that will be a West Coast themed restaurant, Redwood. The owner sent me a beautiful mood board, and a note saying her granite counter-tops were not yet installed, and also the locally hand-crafted ceramics she hoped to have ready for our shoot were delayed. So, I packed a sheet of marble into the trunk of my car, and a few beautiful hand-made plates by another local potter with a similar style, and off I went.
In Rhinebeck, I visited the newly renovated dining room at Terrapin. We had a fun day, shooting a bunch of food for their website… a flaming meringue cake, entrées, and apps. The new dining room is filled with gorgeous tables built from reclaimed barn wood, by a local company, Wabi Sabi Wood. I would say I can’t wait to go back, but did go back, two days later, for Mother’s Day. We sat at the bar, drank beer, and felt right at home.
This Easter weekend, we hosted friends and family. Kendra, Joost and their boys joined us from Boston. It’s always a food event when Kendra is around. She is a food stylist I have worked with many times, and when not cooking for the camera, she is cooking for the people she loves. As she and her family traveled from Boston, and I and my family traveled from Brooklyn, Kendra and I texted each other details of the weekend’s menu. She simultaneously texted her friend Jeremy, who sent his favorite recipe for Eastern European goulash, along with an entire printed page of hacks and additions.
We continued to discuss the menu over wine that night. One difference between myself and Kendra is in how we were raised. She is a French-Irish-British hybrid, and was raised in France and Quebec. Her parents excelled at impromptu entertaining – lots of food, lots of libations. As for me, I was raised on a remote property, on an unpaved road, at the ocean’s edge on Vancouver Island, and I don’t remember my parents hosting anyone, ever. We ate well because we ate fresh seafood we caught from the sea, and we grew big vegetable and berry gardens. We never had wine or beer in the house. My grandparents, with their Irish & Russian roots, liked to whoop it up in their younger days (their 50s & early 60s), but later, entertaining became a hassle.
“And what about the flow of the day?” I asked Kendra. I had the night-before jitters. She sipped her wine. “We’ve got this,” she answered. “And let’s have Jim create a house cocktail.”
The menu would be Hungarian Goulash – the meat browned indoors on the stove – and then simmered low and slow over a small fire outside, served with buttered egg noodles, boiled new potatoes with parsley, a composed salad, and an array of vegetable dishes brought by Chris’s parents. Chris’s mom also brought a trifle with orange custard, and sugar cookies she had decorated with a bunch of little girls earlier in the week.
My brother-in-law James was a bartender in Manhattan for many years, and is now a manager at Mother’s Ruin. He created a cheerful Easter cocktail of pear nectar, rosemary-infused agave, vodka and bitters. It paired very well with the shrieks of young children clamoring in the sandbox and chasing jumbo bubbles across the lawn. And it steadied my nerves as I watched my 4-year-old submerge her entire hand into the egg dyes along with the hard boiled eggs.
Guests arrived. I prefer to be involved in a social event with a co-host who thrives in the situation. While I love to host, it doesn’t come naturally. I create lists, plot it out, figure out the serving dishes. It’s also a timing thing, reading the vibe of the crowd, predicting appetites and thirsts. Sometimes I think everyone must be starving. Other times I can’t believe anyone is hungry at all. Kendra carried a roasted beet tart outside, and I followed her. I planned to photograph the tart out by the fire, but I was delayed at the Easter egg painting station, and a few minutes later, the tart had been devoured.
It was a great night. We set out the food buffet-style. People helped themselves. We ate, we drank, and then Kendra and I toasted each other late into the night, around the campfire.
The next day, we headed to our favorite park in the Catskills. We roasted sausages and left-over new potatoes. Our friends brought bread they had made that morning. We set more jumbo bubbles flying and the children chased them. We walked off the meals, got some air. Later that night, Kendra emailed from the road back to Boston. “It was a perfect weekend. What are we cooking over the fire next?”
Last night, the Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook took home the Food52 Piglet Award for 2016. It’s a huge honor to all involved. The judging happens through a bracket system, in which pairs of books compete against each other. Eventually, only two are left. Andrew Zimmern, of Bizarre Foods, made the final ruling. Yotam Ottoleghni helped it through an earlier round. Reading Ottoleghni’s review just about made my year. (Anybody who glances at this blog will know I am a huge fan of his recipes.)
The book was written by Jessamyn Rodriquez and Julia Turshen, and it tells the story of a bakery that is also a non-profit social enterprise. The women who apply to train at the Hot Bread Kitchen come from all over the world. They are taught artisan baking and business skills, to help them become successful culinary professionals.
The bakers also share knowledge of specialty breads from their home countries. Things like Persian Nan-e Barbari, Moroccan Msmen, and Ethiopian Injera are baked and sold by the bakery. Between all of this hands-on knowledge, and the writing expertise of Rodriquez and Turshen, it’s no wonder reviewers and judges have been describing the book as a transformative baking tool.
I spent two weeks photographing the bakery, bread, and the mostly-women bakers for this book. I worked with food stylist Erin McDowell, and prop stylist Barb Fritz. It took me about a year to work off the bread-pounds I gained from all of my snacking. And now I just want to bake more. One thing I know for sure: there is nothing so delicious as a buttery, flaky Msmen, hot from the griddle.
This morning I woke to the sound of chirping birds outside my window. The chirps made me think of spring. Spring made me think of summer. Summer made me think of picnics, grilling, and camping. And then I thought of this shoot I did recently for the Applestone Meat Company, showcasing their meats in all of those settings. This was all from beneath a heavy quilt in my bed, mostly with my eyes closed. The reality of the day is that the trees are bare, and the roads are icy. But the birds are returning, and it was a beautiful waking dream.
Salad rice bowls are taking the place of bread and cheese sandwiches in my kitchen this week. I am looking for a lunch formula that is fast and nutrient-dense. The inspiration came from two places. First, I spent a day photographing a new cafe at Google headquarters. In this cafe, plant based foods are the star, with meat & dairy as highlights. Nibbling and tasting through the shoot was one of the healthiest and restorative food days I’ve had in months. Then there was the Healthy-ish January issue of Bon Appétit. There is an article about preparing an exciting mise en place, and then mixing it up all week. It’s so simple. It got me thinking.
I do not like cooking when I’m hungry, I like cooking in advance of hunger. So this weekend, I prepared the pieces. They could be anything, really, but I wanted four distinct sections: protein; fresh veg; flavor-packed sauce or dressing; and rice or other whole grain carb. All the components are pre-prepared, except for the rice. I will drop that into the rice cooker an hour before I eat, so it’s fresh.
Above is what my mise en place looked like, and below are some of the star components. What I love about this system, is the potential for variety. I love making flavor-packed sauces, and often have a bit of something left over in the fridge. The proteins could be chopped chicken, or bacon bits, any kind of fish, tofu, any other kind of bean, or any kind of roasted nut or seed. The carb could be any kind of rice, quinoa, or millet, or rice noodles. You see where I’m going. It’s a formula, but it doesn’t have to get repetitive.
This is what I had on hand, or cooked specifically, for my first week’s rice bowls (appropriately seasoned with salt & pepper).
The proteins: black beans marinated in white wine vinegar, olive oil, shallots; hard boiled eggs; dry roasted peanuts
The fresh: arugula; lettuce; cabbage; roasted orange slices; white onion
Dressing 1: rice vinegar, tamari, sesame oil, olive oil, shallot & orange juice
Dressing 2: olive oil, white wine vinegar, shallots, whole grain mustard
Sauce 1: salsa verde – a grinding and a chopping of shallots, arugula, parsley, toasted almonds, Castelvetrano olives, olive oil, white wine vinegar & lemon juice (found on DesignSponge)
Sauce 2: ginger scallion relish made with ginger, garlic, scallions, oil (a recipe by Bar Chuko in the forthcoming Brooklyn Bar Bites cookbook, which I photographed, and worked from my advance copy)
Sauce 3: quick scallion kimchi made with scallions, salt, garlic, brown sugar, grated ginger, red pepper flakes, sesame oil, sesame seeds, tamari, rice vinegar (a staple in our fridge, adapted from a recipe by David Tanis)
The rice: a wild rice blend, cooked for one hour in a rice cooker
And below are two distinctly different salad rice bowls – one with Asian flavors, and one with Mediterranean flavors. I’m just getting started.