Canoe Hill Restaurant in the Hudson Valley

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.

Canoe Hill Restaurant bar

cherries at bar

homemade butter on toast

lemons in bowl canoe hill restaurant

whole fish on plate

canoe hill restaurant interior

Cooking Julia Child’s Recipes

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.

meat glaze jennifer may food photography
A white stock, which boiled on my stove for two days.
meat glaze jennifer may food photography
The stock, after two days of boiling, before it cooled in the fridge.
meat glaze jennifer may food photography
The meat glaze, after cooling in the fridge overnight.
meat glaze jennifer may photography
The stock, as a red wine reduction. We then used it to make an infused butter.

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.

vegetable soup jennifer may photo
Soupe au Pistou
pistou jennifer may food
The tomato, garlic, parmesan, and fresh basil pistou for the soup

I am working on my baking. Now that I have made “cream puff paste,” I will use that basic recipe and make gnocchis.

onion quiche jennifer may photo
Onion quiche in a “short crust”
cheese puffs julia child jennifer may food photography
Preparing the “cream puff paste” for baking
cooking julia child
Cheese puffs

Easter Weekend

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.

raspberry marshmallows jennifer may food photographer nyc
Making home-made raspberry marshmallows
mince meat tarts easter weekend
Mince-meat tarts
Aperol Spritz Easter Weekend
Aperol Spritz and pastry dough remnants
wood fired pizza
Margherita pizza in the backyard wood-fired pizza oven

Joe Beef Cookbook

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.

joe beef smoker photo

joe beef montreal joe beef restaurant joe beef kitchen jennifer may joe beef montreal jennifer may photo

Baking Videos for Social Media

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.

Food Motion – Shrimp Scampi

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

Butcher Shop Meat Photography

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.

Butcher Shop Meat Photography NYC

Butcher Shop Meat Photography NYC

Butcher Shop Meat Photography sausage

Butcher Shop Meat Photography Jennifer May

Preserved Meyer Lemons

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!

preserved meyer lemons recipe nyc food photographer

Black Raspberries & Fruit Shrubs

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.

black raspberries Jennifer May

picking wild black raspberries

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.

Blackcap Raspberries by Jennifer May

black raspberry syrup shrub

black raspberry shrub

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.

blueberries at Greig's Farms
Picking blueberries at Grieg’s Farm
blueberries at Greig's Farms
Looking across the Hudson River Valley to the Catskill Mountains, from the blueberry fields at Greig’s Farm

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.

Elderflower Cordial from Elderberry Bushes

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.

elderflowers

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.

elderflower

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.

elderflower
Elderflowers plucked from their potentially toxic stems
infusing elderflower cordial
An infusion of elderflowers, orange zest & juice, lemon zest & juice, sugar and water
elderflower cordial
The strained & cooled elderflower cordial
elderflower cordial
Elderflower cordial diluted into a beverage with sparkling water, and ice

Foraging Walk with Dina Falconi

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.

foraging walk

Easter Weekend

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.

Hungarian goulash over an open fire jennifer may food photographer
Hungarian goulash over an open fire

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.”

cooking over an open fire

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.

painting easter eggs
Brother-in-law James created this house cocktail with pear nectar, rosemary-infused agave, vodka and bitters.

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.

painting easter eggs

painting easter 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.

beet tart on board
Remnants of a roasted beet tart with quince glaze, made by Kendra
easter weekend feast
Easter buffet of fire-simmered Hungarian goulash, buttered egg noodles, boiled new potatoes, and a selection of vegetable sides

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?”

 

NYC Food Photographer home baked bread
Our friends Derek and Kelly made this bread and brought the bunny board
day at the park
Our favorite park in the Catskills for Sunday picnics
sausages and potatoes on grill
Day 2: Grilled sausages and new potatoes

blowing huge bubblesblowing huge bubbles

blowing huge bubbles

boy chases bubble

chasing bubbles in the park

face painting with children

dock over lake and mountains

father and son on dock

families walking in the woods
Strolling through the forest with my little on on my shoulders

child's hand reaches for Easter cookies

 

The Food52 Piglet Award

Food52 Piglet Award logoLast 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.

Hot Bread Kitchen dough

Challah process NYC Food Photographer

stollen piglet 2016 winner

monkey bread piglet 2016

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.

Hot Bread Kitchen portrait

Tacos toppings

Injera Ethiopian

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.

bakery at Hot Bread Kitchen
The retail space & cafe at Harlem’s Hot Bread Kitchen Bakery
Hot Bread Kitchen location
The Hot Bread Kitchen bakery & retail space is located under a busy commuter train in Harlem.

Food52 Piglet Award

Applestone Meat Company

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.

Applestone Meat Company breakfast setting food photography Jennifer May

Applestone Meat Company grilling picnic Jennifer May photo

Salad Rice Bowls

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.

salad rice bowls

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.

salsa verde
Salsa Verde
quick scallion kimchi
Quick Scallion Kimchi, adapted from a recipe by David Tanis
hard boiled eggs
Hard boiled eggs
roasted citrus orange
Roasted oranges

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.

salad rice bowls
Salad rice bowl with an Asian flair features quick scallion kimchi, dry roasted peanuts, cabbage, lettuce, and a dressing of rice vinegar, orange juice & tamari
salad rice bowls
Salad rice bowl with a Mediterranean bend features marinated beans, salsa verde, arugula, white onion, roasted citrus, and a dressing of olive oil, white wine vinegar, shallot and mustard

 

Kelli Cain, Ceramicist

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.

studio visit kelli cain ceramics
Ceramicist Kelli Cain in her studio in the Catskill Mountains

studio visit kelli cain ceramics

studio visit kelli cain ceramics

studio visit kelli cain ceramics

studio visit kelli cain ceramics

catskills road

Fresh Winter Salads


With the end of the holidays, winter salads are on my mind. The more vegetables I eat, the better I feel. I miss the salad bowls of summer, but it doesn’t feel quite right to eat mesclun greens and lettuce in the depth of winter. Here are three of my favorite winter salads, using winter vegetables. I have been chopping and serving these all week.

Raw kale salad – so easy, except for the chopping. You really have to chop, and it has to be done by hand. After that, mix in a dressing of olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic if you like, shaved parmesan and toasted pine nuts. As a side, my daughter and I made Indian puffy bread – Poori – which was entertaining to watch puff up in hot oil.

Raw kale salad NYC food photographer

Raw shaved Brussels sprouts salad – this is a variation of a recipe I found on Food52. Thinly slice some purple onion and soak in a bowl of water to mellow the sharp onion flavor (drain after about 30 minutes). Peel away the outer layers of a couple of large handful of Brussels sprouts. Slice the cleaned sprouts thin on a mandoline. Make a dressing with olive oil, fresh lemon juice, honey, whole grain mustard, salt & pepper. Toss together along with some grated Pecorino Romano. Eat straight away.

winter salads NYC food photographer

Shaved raw carrot salad – I found this one in Nigel Slater‘s Tender. Thinly slice raw carrots, mix in fresh grapefruit & lime juice, olive oil, shaved hot peppers, salt, pepper, and toss in some torn leaves of cilantro.

raw carrot salad food photographer Jennifer May

I feel like I’ve only just begun.

Cookbook Club, Holiday Party Edition

The Blue Mountain Cookbook Club met again, and this time featured The Cocktail Party: Eat, Drink, Play, Recover. We met at Paul & Anthony’s house, and between us I think we cooked just about every recipe in the book.  Our hosts made infused vodkas (cucumber, apple, dill, raspberry) and a make-your-own taco bar. The rest of us brought eggnog, black bean cakes, arancini, mac-n-cheese cupcakes, pastrami sandwich muffins, mini meatballs, spicy pigs-in-blankets, and champagne Jell-o shots. And then we had a secret Santa cookbook gift exchange. I scored a vintage 1982 copy of Martha Stewart‘s Entertaining, and an autographed copy of Simply Nigela from Woodstock’s Golden Notebook. Another prize was a 1997 issue of Cooking with the Young and the Restless. I would say cookbooks have really changed over the years, but another contemporary book was the as-seen-on-tv Dump Cakes cookbook. (“Stop mixing & measuring…Just Dump. Now you can make homemade cake for your family in minutes!”) Nice.

Cookbook Club food photographer Jennifer May

Cookbook Club food photographer Jennifer May

Cookbook Club food photographer Jennifer May

Cookbook Club food photographer Jennifer May

Cookbook Club food photographer Jennifer May

Cookbook Club food photographer Jennifer May

Cookbook Club food photographer Jennifer May

Cookbook Club food photographer Jennifer May

Cookbook Club food photographer Jennifer May

Cookbook Club food photographer Jennifer May

Autumn Feast (Thanksgiving) 2015

The holiday spirit took over this November. We invited 14 people for a 3-course dinner at our cottage in the Catskills, and it was the most successful party we have ever hosted. I have so many memories of Thanksgiving pasts where frenzied hosts burn themselves on steam and pot-handles, curse over last-minute gravy and cold vegetables, and knock over piles of pans in the sink. This time, we accepted the offers of everyone who wanted to contribute. And, we cooked almost everything in advance. I am a list-maker, and I set to it.

NYC food photographer Manhattan
Mini-cocktails in lovely glassware keeps the party festive and the guests steady on their feet
lists NYC food photographer
My final notes, after a week of planning.

A week before the day, we built our menu around what we knew people would be bringing. One brought pumpkin pies & green beans, one brought a box of wine and a strawberry cheesecake from Junior’s, one brought home-made cranberry sauce and a tray of roasted vegetables, one brought 120 oysters & two sauces, one brought bite-sized smoked salmon & creme fresh blinis and a salad, and to round out the house-cocktail we had planned, another surprised us by showing up with his entire bar and bar-tending tools.

In the days leading up to the feast, Chris dry-brined two 12-pound turkeys in salt, rosemary and lemon, according to a recipe by Melissa Clark. I followed Mark Bittman’s recipe for make-ahead gravy (make a killer turkey stock, make gravy, store in fridge, reheat before serving and whisk in the turkey drippings = no stress and delicious). We had a vegetarian coming, and I made a vegetarian mushroom-thyme gravy from Food52. We made two vegetarian dips from Martha Stewart’s Appetizer‘s book. We made Alton Brown’s pickled beets. I stored it all in glass mason jars in the fridge. The morning of, Chris made a vegetarian stuffing (with all the bread, butter, mushrooms, apple cider, apples, and celery & sage, no one missed stock or sausage).

The day before, we rented bar tables, chairs & table cloths. The living room became the dining room, and the dining room became the bar. The bonfire in the forest became the oyster station. I picked a bouquet of dried flowers and berries from the yard, counted cutlery, chose serving dishes and stuck post-it notes all over them. I raided my boxes of pretty glassware, silver, and platters that I use on photo shoots. I boiled the napkins and ironed them, and at that point I knew I was about to go too far.

glassware NYC food photographer

The day of, guests arrived at 2pm, we started with oysters & cocktails. Dinner unfolded seamlessly. As hosts, we were able to enjoy the party with a minimum of last-minute details. Chris and I agreed on a bar-limit to adhere to before the turkey was carved.

NYC food photographer oysters
Uncle Ian shucked PEI Carr’s Oysters for hours beside the bonfire
NYC food photographer oysters
Fresh PEI oysters, with cocktail sauce, beside a bonfire, on an unseasonably warm day. It is an embarrassment of riches.
NYC food portrait photographer
I wish I had taken more portraits. At least Ro’s fluffy sweater, pink nails, and glowing smile stopped me in my tracks.
NYC food photographer negroni
Bartender Jon kept them flowing
turkeys NYC food photographer
Two smaller turkeys instead of one large makes for more succulent meat.
Thanksgiving NYC food photographer
One thing I learned from Chris’s grandmother: do everything you can in advance.

moon NYC food photographer

At the end of dinner, guests helped load the dishwasher and rinse for the next load. We had coffee and sweets, and went back out to the bonfire beneath the moon. The party was over by about 10 p.m., which served us well, because we did it all again the next day, and the next…. Oysters, and turkey sandwiches at Jon & Juliet’s house the next day, and on day three back to our house for turkey soup and bruschetta.

I snapped photos here and there. Mostly I seem to have taken photos of drinks. I was probably a little bit busier than I remember. But it’s a rare feeling after three days of hosting to feel more refreshed than tired, and I want to remember the keys, and repeat.

manhattan NYC food photographer
Tradition dictates we move the party to Jon & Juliet’s house for day two.
oysters NYC food photographer
Me and my girl. She is squeezing a lemon over an oyster. I thought she might eat it, but she preferred to prepare them for us.

 

 

Food stories in New York's Hudson Valley and beyond from photographer Jennifer May