Selling seafood by the seashore on Martha’s Vineyard

Life on Martha’s Vineyard revolves around our relationship with the sea. We worry about making time to get to the beach, making boat reservations to get off-Island, and most importantly, making the most of the resources the ocean provides for us. This month we’re helping Island Grown Schools (IGS) highlight seafood as their Harvest of the Month–a sustainable and viable part of our Island economy and history, and a delicious and nutritious addition to our plates.

Hundreds of Island fishermen work through every season, in often dangerous conditions, to guarantee stocked local fish markets and restaurants. These men and women work to assure the livelihood of commercial fishing, and the future of Island fishing families and the trade.

If you don’t personally fish on Martha’s Vineyard you likely know someone that does. Drive by the Menemsha jetty most days and you’ll find fishing enthusiasts of all ages, ‘dropping lines’ into the water, maybe catching mackerel or fluke that they’ll use for lobster bait or that they’ll bake or bread for an easy fish fry. Drive by Edgartown harbor after sundown and you’ll see another contingent of locals jigging for squid. They’ll take it home, clean it, cut it, sauté it and have it for dinner, or even serve to their guests.


Scup is another commonly found fish, but it hasn’t historically been a popular fish to eat here. I was happy to see it recently featured on the menu at Port Hunter in Edgartown–an indication of the restaurant’s creativity and commitment to offering a local catch.  Conch has the same stigma, but Chef Deon Thomas is working to change that with the launch of his new cookbook, Chef Deon’s Island Conch Cookery, which will explore the range of  possibilities of cooking the affordable, sustainable mollusk.

As a food activist I was especially happy to provide my photography services for the book, part of my ongoing commitment to promoting sustainable food practices on Martha’sVineyard.


You can do your part to support the Island seafood economy by asking for the local catch at Island fish markets and restaurants. Quahogs, oysters, scallops, and mussels are especially important aquaculture and make for a delicious and nutritious dinner. IGS’ featured farm, the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, works to preserve and expand the Island’s traditional shellfisheries by farming shellfish from from seed, and we thank them for it. Not only do we benefit from the food and economic boost, but these useful bivalves help provide us with cleaner seas–they serve as a sort of water filtration system, unintentionally ridding water of any pollutants present like herbicides or harmful bacteria.

 

Recently the group also began experimenting with sugar kelp, or seaweed, in hopes of bringing about a new enterprise on the Vineyard, it’s available in limited quantities on-Island so if you see it available you’re in luck!

Stay tuned for my new cookbook Chef Deon’s Island Conch Cookery by Chef Deon Thomas for more inspiration on enjoying local seafood.

 

Enjoy this Simple Fish Ceviche recipe from IGS

Ingredients:

3 haddock, sea bass or any white flakey fish filets

½ cup sweet onion, finely chopped

¼ cup fresh ripe mango, chopped

¼ cup fresh chopped cilantro

¼ cup lime juice

¼ cup lemon juice

½ tsp sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

 

Directions:

If using raw fish: Soak the fish in the lemon juice, lime juice, salt and pepper for 30 minutes – 1 hour. Then cut the fish into small ½ inch bites.

If using cooked fish: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and place fish filets in a lightly oiled baking dish. Sprinkle with some salt and pepper and bake for 12-15 minutes until fish is flaky and moist. When fish is done let it cool completely and cut into small ½ inch bites.

Place remaining ingredients in a medium bowl and toss together with the fish until well combined. Place in refrigerator to marinate until ready to eat. Serve with tortilla chips and sliced avocado and enjoy!

Oh baby! An infant’s first year in photos

If you’re expecting a child, or if you’re the parent of a newborn, you’ve likely been taking a lot of photos. Your camera roll is probably full of shots of your growing baby in utero, or photos of your beloved new infant at every hour, doing their latest, most adorable thing yet. As a photographer I‘ve had the great privilege of documenting many family’s over the years, beginning with the first pregnancy or the first child.

One of my most favorite things to offer expecting parents, or those who have just delivered, is to provide a full year of photography services, from pregnancy or newborn, to the child’s first birthday. ‘Baby’s First Year’ as I call it, is a photographic diary that documents your child’s first year of life. From belly to birth, to your child’s first birthday, the changes during this first full year of life are both dramatic and fleeting. There are so many moments that come and go in a flash, and professional photographs are a great way to showcase your child’s milestones, not to mention they make fantastic gifts for family and friends.

My ‘Baby’s First Year’ package consists of up to six sessions which captures an infant’s progress throughout their first year, including: maternity shoot taken at home or on location on Martha’s Vineyard; newborn at one to three weeks, taken at home, with a focus on the baby’s hands, feet and face; three month photos taken at home, capturing the baby’s first smile, or warm intimate moments including cuddling with mom or nursing; six month photos taken at home or on location, with the baby sitting up, showing off its first tooth or hanging out with dad; nine month photos taken in and outside the home, in a stroller, crawling, grabbing and rolling around; first birthday taken at home with mom, dad and siblings, with cake and a candle.

I recently completed a ‘Baby’s First Year’ shoot with Hazel Lyla, an adorable young girl who lives on Martha’s Vineyard and is beloved by her parents Tara and Domingo.  I was first introduced to the family through Hazel’s grandparents Carrie and Eric, who wanted to gift newborn photos to Hazel’s overjoyed parents. When I suggested the option of ‘Baby’s First Year’ they jumped at the opportunity, deciding to opt for a five session package that would showcase the first year of Hazel’s many early achievements.

I began by capturing Hazel at two weeks old in her home. Tara proved to be a creative and diligent assistant, providing some amazing textures, outfits and props for each of Hazel’s shoots. During the first shoot Hazel’s grandparents were on location as well as her uncle, which allowed me to capture both solo shots of Hazel as well as some gorgeous family photos.

For Hazel’s three month session we selected Polly Hill Arboretum in West Tisbury, which offered an idyllic summer setting to capture Hazel and Tara interacting amidst the natural colors and textures.

Her six month session took place at Morning Glory Farm during the fall, which provided many seasonal, harvest-inspired props including a plethora of pumpkins and gourds that Hazel could grab and interact with.

 

For her nine month session we selected Donaroma’s nursery, a winter wonderland that made for captivating photos of Hazel playing in the snow and enjoying their decorative displays of plants, ornaments and lights.

Finally, Hazel’s one year shoot took place in my photography studio, playing with her parents and grandparents. Grinning from cheek to cheek, I was able to capture Hazel in her most comfortable environment, among her closest family, surrounded by generations of love and adoration.

As I look back on the photographs of Hazel’s first year I am in awe of the young girl she is becoming and the many milestones she’s already surpassed. I am grateful to her parents and grandparents for allowing me into their lives and giving me the chance to get up close and comfortable with Hazel. An album is in the works and I’m thrilled that her family will have Hazel’s first year collection to look back on, to bring years of joy and happiness and a reminder of the incredible journey from her earliest days.

Get in touch if your having a baby or interested in gifting a ‘Baby’s First Year’ package to a friend or family member. Three, four, five and six session packages available as well as a la carte sessions.

Family portraits on Martha’s Vineyard: Locations, locations, locations

As a resident of Martha’s Vineyard for over twenty years, I have had the pleasure of exploring this beautiful, diverse island, and I love sharing this place with my clients. I’ve discovered so many picturesque locations for family portraits and am constantly amazed with the variety of unique settings our Island home offers. 

When a family portrait client first reaches out about their session, I do my best to get to know them in order to determine the most appropriate place to capture their family. Depending on the time of year, the age of their family members, and thetype of background that appeals to them, I can help a family determine the ideal location that best fits their needs.

Martha’s Vineyard is only twenty two by nine miles wide, not to mention it’s surrounded by water on all sides, meaning you don’t have to go very far to find the picture-perfect spot. “Down-Island” is what the locals refer to as the towns of Edgartown, Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven, and these are generally the most accessible family portrait locations, depending on where the family is staying. 

“Up-Island” or the west side of the Island, is usually a longer drive, but is home to some of the most scenic locations on-Island. Sometimes no traveling is required and a family determines that their home away from home is the ideal setting for their Martha’s Vineyard family portraits, offering an even more personal and nostalgic setting.

For those looking to get out of the house take a trip to the south-east tip of the island, In Edgartown’s Katama area, to South Beach, a three mile stretch of pristine beach, and one of my favorite family portrait locations. Separated from the parallel road by a vast swath of dunes, this location is convenient, requires minimal walking, and showcases the natural, raw beauty of Martha’s Vineyard–with expansive views of the Atlantic Ocean and Nantucket Sound. I recommend this location for its sunsets and secluded, yet accessible location.




Nearby in historic downtown Edgartown is Lighthouse Beach, an iconic Island location with boats, beaches, docks, dunes and pathways, making it one of my favorite locations for its diversity of portrait backdrops–not to mention its stunning views of the Edgartown lighthouse, Vineyard Sound and Chappaquiddick Island. For those that don’t know, Chappaquiddick Island or “Chappy” as it’s called locally, is a small peninsula and occasional island (depending on breaches due to storms) located on the eastern end of Edgartown. The Chappy Ferry runs across Edgartown harbor, transporting cars and passengers across the short 527 foot stretch to Chappaquiddick, a rural island with only one main road.



Another “down-island” treasure is the town of Oak Bluffs, which offers a vast array of family portrait locations all within easy walking distance. From the East Chop marina to the Oak Bluffs Harbor, the Flying Horses Carousel, expansive State Beach, scenic Ocean Park, the charming gingerbread cottages and the beloved Jaws Bridge, Oak Bluffs offers a little bit of everything. The Steamship Authority operates seasonally out of Oak Bluffs as well as the Island Queen, Hy-line, Seastreek and Rhode Island Fast Ferry, making it an extremely accessible location for day trippers too.

The next town over, due west, is Vineyard Haven or Tisbury. Historically the area was called “Nobnocket” by the Island’s original settlers, the Wampanoags, and was first referred to by the colonial settlers as “Homes Hole,” and eventually Vineyard Haven. The storied town is home to one of my other favorite locations, Owen Park, a little-known spot with a casual intimate beach and boat dock. An ideal family portrait location, as it allows clients to relax in the sand, play on the grassy hill or pose along the harbor, offering a wide range of backdrops in very close proximity.



For those families who prefer to head “up-Island” and are looking for an authentically Vineyard experience, I recommend a family portrait session in Menemsha, the quintessential fishing village within the town of Chilmark. Classic and charming, Menemsha boasts a wide variety of nautical backdrops for photos: stacks of lobster traps, long-line fishing boats, colorful shacks along the docks, and beautiful Menemsha Beach.




Visitors flock to the beach in the summer for their breathtaking sunsets, where they get a front-row seat at these daily phenomenons, while enjoying the freshest seafood from the village’s local fish markets. A portrait session in Menemsha allows families to connect with each other while appreciating the timelessness and beauty of one of the Vineyard’s most historic harbors.





Even further “up-Island,” is the town of Aquinnah which lines the southwest point of Martha’s Vineyard and offers some of the best landscapes on the entire Island. The town was known as Gay Head until 1997 when it was formerly renamed to Aquinnah, which is Wampanoag for “land under the hill.” Aquinnah has become celebrated as a center of Wampanoag culture, and is known as one of the earliest sites of whaling, where the Wampanoag first harvested whales by harpoons, long before the 19th-century whaling boom on Martha’s Vineyard. Today, Aquinnah is most known for its colorful clay cliffs, perhaps the most striking and well-known natural feature of the Vineyard, and stunning views of Vineyard Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. For families that are up for a little hiking during their visit, Moshup Beach is a must-visit and results in a majestic backdrop that really captures the scenic beauty of Martha’s Vineyard.


Sometimes it’s hard to believe that so many unique settings exist on our small Island–it really is a photographer’s dream. I’m so fortunate to have access to such amazing locations, and nothing makes me happier than sharing them with my clients. Over the years I have collected dozens of other secret spots to keep in my arsenal, and along with the more popular locations, those hidden gems really show off the diversity of the Vineyard, while complementing a family’s dynamic.

Visiting the Island this summer? Get in touch and we’ll work together to discover the most picture-perfect spot for your family’s portraits. 

We’re wild about wild edibles, April’s Harvest of the Month

Spring is upon us and we’re all hungry to get outside. After a long, dreary northeast winter we’re aching for some vitamin D and fresh food. Luckily our friends at Island Grown Schools are highlighting wild edibles as their Harvest of the Month and we’re happy to help them spread the word about delicious, locally available food you can find on Martha’s Vineyard–for free! Now’s the perfect time to get outside and get foraging, your mind and body will thank you.

There’s an air of secrecy that comes with foraging, similar to how the local fisherman are about revealing their spots–they’ll give you pointers and tell you what to look out for, but they’re not telling you exactly where to go. Likewise, we’ll share some tips and let you know what’s out there but it’s on you to hunt it down, plus the pursuit is half the fun! Just make sure you know exactly what you’re doing before you go eating things in the woods.

As a food activist I’ve always been a fan of foraging. Not only are there tremendous health benefits to locally sourced food, but foraging encourages resourcefulness and promotes food security. Plus a journey out to the beach or the woods to go picking brings you closer to the land and its offerings, as well as the seasons and our weather.

In Aquinnah foraging was a way of life, and for many it still is today. When we first moved to Martha’s Vineyard we resided in Gay Head and I became familiar with a lot of the locally available wild edibles. Resident gatherer Kristina Hook-Leslie is a local authority on wild edibles and has amassed a tremendous amount of knowledge since childhood, foraging for everything from wild carrots (Queen Anne’s Lace), to rose hips, grape leaves, sassafras, cranberries, beach plums and more. You can learn a lot just by watching this fantastic video of Kristina foraging in Aquinnah. Her advice for those who want to forage their own wild edibles is to do your homework–make sure you know what you’re picking and be respectful–take only what you need and give thanks to the plants before harvesting.

Personally, one of my favorite things to forage on-Island is stinging nettles. You’ve probably seen them, or accidentally brushed up against them (ouch!). They’re a prickly, leafy green that gets its name from the small, stiff hairs that cover them. They’re one of the first plants that arrive with spring and I’m always careful to wear gloves when picking. When cooked or dried, nettles completely lose their stinging property, making them perfectly safe for consumption. They’re high in vitamin A, C, full of calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium as well as being a high source of protein. They have an earthy wholesome flavor, making them the perfect addition to smoothies, eggs, omelettes, or quiches–you can basically use them in place of spinach or a similar leafy green.

Another thing I do in spring is scout out beach plum plants. They grow all over the Island, along our roadsides, backyards and beaches, and I take note of the most abundant flowers–this later translates to bearing the most plentiful fruit. I then return in late August or early September, when the fruits turn to a deep purple color. My husband Philippe and I use them to make cordial and jam for the holidays. Like most fruits they are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants, and can help strengthen the immune system and lower high blood pressure and cholesterol.

There really are so many wild edibles with impressive health benefits on Martha’s Vineyard, ready for the picking if you know where to look. Obviously we have our namesake grape vines, and there’s no shortage of wild grapes. The grape’s fruit can be eaten raw (just watch out for the seeds) or turned into jams, jellies or wine. And the bountiful grape leaves are perfect for stuffing–steam them and stuff with rice or fish. Rose hips are also scattered about, and the hearty fruit of the rose plant can be turned into jams, and jellies, as well as soup, tea or stewed with meat–plus they’re also a great source of vitamin C.

Rampant too on-Island is sassafras, popularly used for tea or root beer, while providing a boost to the immune system or anti-inflammatory properties when applied to the skin. Lastly, purslane and dandelions are two popular greens most people trample over without giving second thought, and they can both be eaten raw or added to salads and soups for an extra dose of vitamins.

Feeling inspired to step outside and get picking? Just make sure you always know what you are harvesting before you eat it. Island Grown Schools recommends “that you go with someone who is experienced, as some pictures of edible plants can be misleading. And make sure you know the rules about picking wild plants in your area. For example on Martha’s Vineyard fiddleheads should not be harvested because some species are rare and can be difficult to identify, but they are often available at Cronig’s.”

If you’re interested in learning more about wild edibles check out this story I collaborated on with Holly Bellebuono and Catherine Walthers for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine.

Feeling adventurous? Try this wild edible recipe from Island Grown Schools:

Watercress Chimichurri

Ingredients:

1 cup watercress, tightly packed (if foraged- wash well and discard stems)

1 garlic clove

1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

¼ cup sherry vinegar

½ cup olive oil

¾ tsp honey

½ tsp kosher salt or sea salt

¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Place watercress, garlic, red pepper flakes, honey and vinegar in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped, but not pureed (or you can finely chop everything by hand and combine with the vinegar.)

Transfer to a small bowl and add the olive oil, salt and pepper. Combine well. Store in refrigerator until ready to eat. Serve with your favorite sourdough bread or over roasted veggies, tofu, cooked fish, chicken or steak. Enjoy!

 

Randi Baird is a founding member and president of Island Grown Initiative’s Board of Directors and has long been committed to promoting local, sustainable food choices on Martha’s Vineyard.

What spring brings: Life, light and love!

Spring has officially arrived, and I couldn’t be happier–there’s actually a spring in my step. The weather hasn’t quite caught up yet but I’m patiently waiting for the temperatures to rise and the flowers to start blooming. The solitude of winter on Martha’s Vineyard has begun to dissipate, and a noticeable shift in the tempo of the Island is upon us. Spring brings new life and new opportunities, and as far as I’m concerned this is the most wonderful time of the year. Here’s what I’m looking forward to this season:

1. Planting my garden – While the temperatures are still too cold to be planting outside, I’ve been getting things going indoors. Fortunately I have access to an unheated greenhouse, or tunnel, that allows me to begin planting seeds in preparation for moving them outdoors once the weather turns. The tunnel is available to our entire neighborhood and I take full advantage of it, especially during the winter months, by eating kale, mache, chard and arugula.


At the beginning of the month I began by planting spinach, leeks and lettuce–vegetables that can withstand the cooler temperatures. If you’re looking to get your own seeds started I’m a big fan of Johnny Seeds and Fruition Seeds, online retailers of organic, non-GMO seeds that yield beautiful, healthy plants. On Martha’s Vineyard you can also pick up seed packs at our local nurseries including Donaroma’s, SBS, Middletown, and Vineyard Gardens.


Get your own seeds started by referencing Johnny Seeds helpful seed-starting date calculator, which figures out when it’s safe to plant early crops outside based on your area’s last frost date. I’d also recommend picking up a copy of Simple Green Suppers, my cookbook with author Susie Middleton, to get inspired by all of the delicious, veggie based meals she shares. Before you know it the plants will be thriving and I’ll be enjoying a fresh, colorful summer salad with my bounty.

2. Flowers in bloom – I just love when I’m out walking or driving around and bursts of daffodils start to appear, and the purple climbing vines of wisteria, or the arching branches and bright yellow buds of forsythia pop up around town. And the lilac, oh the lilac. It grows like weeds on Martha’s Vineyard and the fragrant, sweet smell is intoxicating.


There’s just something so peaceful and comforting about spring flowers, especially after a harsh New England winter–these natural pops of color simply spread a smile across my face. When I want a real flower fix I head to Polly Hill Arboretum in West Tisbury, one of my favorite places to visit and shoot in the spring. I could spend a whole day just walking the grounds snapping photos of their diverse collection, like their famous North Tisbury azaleas, crabapples, rhododendrons, and magnolias. It’s a great place to breathe deeply, connect with nature, and go to recharge. While the season is still in flux I get my indoor flower fix at Morrice Florist in Vineyard Haven, during their Tulip Tuesday events. Every Tuesday through April they offer fresh bunches of tulips for only $10, a simple pleasure and the price is right! 


3. Shedding some layers – Sure, I love the cozy comforts of winter fashion, but I’ll happily shed my warm sweaters and scarves for lighter, more colorful layers. I’m especially looking forward to the new spring fashion designs from my friend Stina Sayre, a talented, Swedish designer who’s known for the form, function and quality of her versatile pieces. Stina’s spring collections often focus on bright colors and vivid patterns, and after a season of drab, dark colors a few new pieces will be a refreshing addition to my wardrobe.


Another spring fashion treat calls for a scenic drive up to Menemsha to Pandora’s Box, an eclectic boutique of fabulous finds, where beachy meets Vineyard chic and my inner shopaholic let’s loose. Pandora’s Box doesn’t reopen until May but I’m already counting down.


4. Longer days and more light – We can all appreciate the longer days, but as a photographer prolonged, natural light is critical to me and my work. I’m in constant pursuit of the best quality light for my subjects. I love the light in the mornings and late afternoons, as the sun is still rising up and then making its way back down. The added daylight just makes me happier in general, not to mention the warmer temperatures of spring make for tolerable, frequent outdoor shoots.


5. Wedding season – The Island continues to be a sought-after destination for weddings and our popular wedding seasons are typically spring and fall, known as the “shoulder seasons.” As Martha’s Vineyard wedding photographers, our spring wedding season typically gears up in April and this year we’re looking forward to seeing what’s the latest in wedding trends and meeting new couples that are lucky in love. The rebirth of spring corresponds nicely to the new beginnings of the many couples who marry this time of year. Spring is life and life is love!