Blog Category: Food Photography

The science behind fermented foods, and why we love them

It’s a brand New Year and our friends at Island Grown Schools (IGS) are back with another round of picks for their Harvest of the Month program. Each month, they highlight another locally available crop to feature in Martha’s Vineyard’s local schools, restaurants and grocery stores. This month they’ve set their eyes on fermented foods–and so have we. There’s been a lot of chatter about their health benefits lately, but what exactly are fermented foods and how do they help us? Allow us to divulge.

Fermented foods are just that–fermented. They’re made through the process of natural fermentation which converts carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids using microbes—like yeasts or bacteria. Fermentation might sound like a jazzy new buzzword, but it’s a process that’s been around forever. Ideally, the helpful bacteria from local food and our natural surroundings would make its way to our digestive tract and help us live our best lives. Sadly, a lot of the good stuff is killed off through other cultural habits like antibiotics, pasteurization and sanitization–meaning we can benefit from fermented foods foods now more than ever.

Fermented foods contain the beneficial byproducts of fermentation and create live microbes that boost your gut diversity and support better mental and physical performance. The health benefits of fermented foods are pretty impressive, they can basically improve the function of almost every system in the body.

Have you ever noticed the label on the side of your yogurt that reads “live and active cultures?” It might sound weird but that refers to the living organisms that convert milk to yogurt during fermentation. And that probiotic bacteria that is created is what makes yogurt so good for you. Not only does it improve the health of your digestive system, but it also allows critical nutrients to be more easily utilized by your body. And yogurt isn’t the only winner. Other fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and even sourdough bread can share the same love.

Generally speaking the additional health benefits of fermented foods include strengthening your overall immune system, detoxifying your body from dangerous chemicals and reducing inflammation throughout the body (a common issue often created by many of the sodium rich foods our culture’s diet is so reliant on).

So long story short, eat more fermented foods! On Martha’s Vineyard we’re lucky, yet again, to have access to some truly incredible ones. Make a quick stop at The Larder in Vineyard Haven and you’ll have access to a whole host of locally prepared fermented foods, including sauerkraut, kimchi, and other seasonal specialties prepared by Zephir Plume of Bakehouse Farm. Zephir’s favorite ferment is non-dairy drinking yogurt, which she started bottling herself this year. Look for it under the label Ediblewellness.

Another probiotic rich local favorite is Kulture Club Kombucha, the brainchild of Nina Gordon. Nina uses ethically sourced, locally farmed and foraged organic ingredients whenever possible to create a delicious and nutritious line of kombuchas. Asked how she first started selling it she said “I don’t try to sell the kombucha…I like to share it because kombucha brings me joy, and I’d love it if it brought you joy too. They say there is a gut-brain connection, so maybe all those probiotics are firing off all these good neurotransmitters in me so that I’ll replicate them!” We’ll drink to that.

Maybe you’ve tried kombucha and loved it, or maybe you couldn’t get a taste for it. To that we say, try another flavor. Nina adds “people who are sensitive to acid in general will have trouble with vinegary kombucha, also if you are sensitive to caffeine or have an alcohol allergy you may have trouble. Despite the fact that caffeine levels in kombucha are about one quarter as much as tea, and that there is more alcohol in an overripe banana than in a bottle of kombucha.” If you’re new to drinking kombucha you may want to ease yourself into it, as it effects can be be felt. Nina recommends starting with 2-4oz/day, and increase when you’re more tolerant. She adds “basically listen to your body.”

Need another way to enjoy the benefits of fermented foods? Sink your teeth into a loaf of bread, that’s right–bread. Of course not all breads are created equal, but the fermented sourdough loaves of local baker extraordinaire Olivia Patterson of Cinnamon Starship will do you a lot of favors (while packing a ton of flavor). For starters, Olivia uses local Island grains, from her friend Dan Sternbach of Lost and Found Grain. We asked her, and she explains “there are many benefits to fresh milled wheat, especially the flavor, but because it is so much closer to the source (and minimally processed) it also has more wild yeast present in the grain, providing much more nutrition than commercial flour.” Makes sense, right?

Olivia also uses sourdough starter only and no commercial yeast. Again her method is enlightening. “This means the dough is fermenting with a combination of wild yeast and bacteria, such as lactobacillus (which most people are familiar with as the key ingredient in yogurt). These microscopic friends are found in the air, the flour and on the bakers’ hands. Biodiversity is always beneficial, on farms, in forests and even in bread. Not only does the sourdough make the bread taste better, more complex and rich, but it also has more vitamins than standard bread, a benefit of the digestive process of the starter. The longer fermentation process of sourdough bread also makes in easier to digest because more of the gluten is broken down.” Hungry yet? Olivia’s bread is available at Scottish Bakehouse and Ghost Island Farm every Saturday this time of year. You can also find her at the West Tisbury Farmer’s Market in season.

If you’re inspired and want to get started with more fermented foods in your diet right away look in the refrigerated section of your local grocer for pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir. Check labels for any of the following terms including live, cultured, raw, probiotic, or active. You can also prepare many fermented foods quite easily at home by yourself. IGI recommends checking out Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz as a good DIY reference book for your own creations. Here’s a recipe to get you started.

 

Creamy Miso Dressing

3.5 tbsp white miso paste

3.5 tbsp fresh lemon juice

3 cloves of garlic

1/2 inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled

A few pinches of black pepper

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup avocado oil or regular olive oil

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Store in an airtight jar in the refrigerator.

A behind the scenes look at shooting ‘Whole in One’ a new cookbook by author Ellie Krieger

If you’re a health conscious foodie you’ve likely heard of Ellie Krieger. Ellie is a world renowned nutritionist and New York Times bestselling cookbook author, plus she’s host and executive producer of the Public Television cooking series Ellie’s Real Good Food, and host of Food Network’s hit show Healthy Appetite. On top of that she’s also a James Beard Foundation media award winner, and a regular contributor to the Washington Post–needless to say she’s a dominant presence in the food world! I’ve personally known Ellie for years, and I’ve watched her develop an honest, approachable brand, while remaining devoted to educating her fans on great food and good health–two things I hold in high regard.

Ellie and I have been diligently waiting for the right opportunity to work together and it fortunately came earlier this year when she reached out to me to photograph the images for Whole in One, her new cookbook that will be released in 2019. It will make Ellie’s seventh cookbook and my third, and for me the process has been unparalleled. Working with Ellie has truly been an honor. If you follow her work you know she is a consummate professional, who brings a deep passion and palpable energy to every project (and plate!) she takes on.

We recently wrapped an intensive shoot for the book in her New York City test kitchen and I couldn’t be more excited with what we produced. Along with a very strong, professional team we worked tirelessly, sometimes capturing up to 15 different recipes a day. We visited a local prop house where we scoured through a seemingly endless supply of textiles, ceramics, surfaces and backdrops until we found the perfect design aesthetic for the book.

With the help of our talented prop stylist Maeve Sheridan and skilled food stylist Suzanne Lenzer, we pored over each dish, careful to capture the most mouth watering shots, while maintaining a careful balance between our own creativity and the attainable nature of Ellie’s dishes that she’s come to be known for.

With Whole in One, Ellie focuses on delicious, healthy meals that can be made in a single pot, sheet pan or skillet, ensuring a good meal with limited clean up, that can be easily integrated into your dinnertime routine. Our creative challenge was to showcase both the convenience of these singular meals along with the simple, yet dynamic and thoughtful ingredients at play.

Whole in One is Ellie’s modern take on healthy cooking that’s intended to be approachable and inviting, and we worked hard to represent that visually in every shot. As a chef, dietitian and trusted voice in the world of healthy cooking people turn to Ellie for her expertise and I’m deeply fortunate she turned to me for mine.

Stay tuned for updates on the release of Whole in One, currently scheduled to publish Fall 2019.

*Photo of Ellie Krieger and Randi Baird above, plus all black and white production stills taken by Arletta Charter.

Give it up for the gleaners, the dedicated volunteers picking for progress

October is School Gleaning Month and we’re celebrating just how great and impactful the gleaning program is here on Martha’s Vineyard. So far this year over 200 volunteers have lent their time to Island Grown Initiative’s (IGI) gleaning program, an impressive number and one that reflects a 50% increase since January. With the help of those four hundred plus hands 21,500 pounds of produce have already been recovered already in 2018, putting the program on track to meet (or exceed) last year’s record-breaking harvest–now that’s something to celebrate!

Gleaning is an incredibly useful and sustainable practice that can help offset hunger here on-Island and around the world. Gleaning provides a solution to both hunger and crop waste. Nationwide, 40% of the food that is grown is never eaten, yet one in six Americans suffer from food insecurity. Let that statistic just sink in for a minute. Almost half of all the food we grow is completely wasted and almost 17% of Americans do not have reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. Crazy, huh? And yes, we here on Martha’s Vineyard are affected by that too.

 

Luckily, our team at Island Grown Initiative (IGI) is doing something about it–and they’re doing a lot. In 2009, IGI began a gleaning program to capture crop waste and unsaleable produce from local farms, and there’s dozens of them. Since the program’s inception IGI has rescued 166,000 pounds of produce and counting. Now let that statistic sink in. That’s 166,000 pounds of food that otherwise would have been left to spoil or be tilled over. That otherwise would’ve been wasted and unused, on an Island where food equity is a very real issue.

We can all understand that food waste and hunger go hand in hand. While food scraps and unspoiled produce is being thrown into the trash and hauled to landfills, many families remain desperate for access to fresh food. By gleaning our local farms we are decreasing both hunger and crop waste, and sharing the delicious and nutritious bounty of our friends’ and neighbors’ land. More food gets used, more people get fed, it’s a win-win.

So how does IGI do it? With a lot of help and a lot of hands, and they’re always looking for more. Local gleaners work with farmers to capture excess quality produce that may be a little over ripened, or not as beautiful as what you see in the market. It might be the tail end of the season when farmers need to start making space for the next season’s crop, so “out with the old” it goes. Through the gleaning program that extra food is farmed, picked, and otherwise captured, and delivered for free to those in need, including our elders and children, our schools, and social service agencies like Serving Hands and the Island Food Pantry. No food left behind, and more mouths that can be fed.

The gleaning program requires a lot of work and a lot of time from dedicated volunteers. IGI is always in need of volunteers to help them recover their goal of 30,000 pounds of food his year, and about 1,000 hours of seasonal volunteer time are needed to keep the program viable. The commitment can be as big or as small as you make it. If you only have an hour here and there that time can still make a difference. Whether you come once a week or once a year they’d love to have you, and we’re pretty confident you’ll be happy you did. Many of IGI’s current volunteers have been doing the work for years because of the satisfaction they get for helping their neighbors and the joy of being with others who are doing the same.

Interested in volunteering yet? Click here to sign up to glean. Participating farms include The Allen Farm, Ghost Island Farm, Morning Glory Farm, North Tabor Farm, The Good Farm, Slip Away Farm, Quanaimes Gardens and Whippoorwill Farm.

Food for thought: Giving thanks for IGI’s Community Lunch Program

Summer memories are typically made at the beach, on vacation with friends, at barbeques, or out on the water. This summer, one of my lasting memories will be from my visit to the Boys & Girls Club of Martha’s Vineyard. Last week I had the opportunity to stop by the Club during lunchtime.

There, I witnessed over seventy five campers happily feasting on a locally sourced meal of Morning Glory Farm kale, corn and bbq pulled pork, beans, rice, and ‘power balls’! It was not a special occasion or an end of summer celebration. It was just another day at camp, and just another lunch, but it was special.

Their plentiful plates were provided by Island Grown School’s Community Lunch program, which has been serving the Boys & Girls Club campers all summer–in addition to serving regular lunches at the Oak Bluffs Library, the West Tisbury Library, the Family Center, and the Public Schools English Language Learner Summer Program. That’s a lot of lunches, and a lot of work.

As Board President of Island Grown Initiative I care a lot about food equity within my community, and to see this program in action was incredibly inspiring. Originally the program was designed to help children that receive subsidized school lunches during the year be ensured food throughout the summer.

The program has expanded to help guarantee that the greater community could experience healthy, seasonal, whole-foods based meals, while supporting our local and regional farmers, of which we’re fortunate to have so many! The program has successfully filled the void while school’s out of session this summer, and hundreds of additional mouths have been fed because of it.

From July 7 to August 17 a dedicated team of staff and volunteers has been pumping out locally sourced meals to the Island’s children, elderly, and anyone else who’s wanted to enjoy good, free food. It’s the second year IGI has been able to provide these healthy, delicious lunches during the summer, free, and for all ages. That’s good, clean, free food, available to anyone that needs it five days a week–that’s powerful stuff.

This year the program served even more kids, to accommodate the increasing number of schoolchildren on free or reduced priced meal plans. According to Noli Taylor, community food education director for IGI, more than 40 percent of the student population on Martha’s Vineyard are provided with subsidized lunch, a number that has increased steadily over the years. Despite the affluence of many visitors and residents on Martha’s Vineyard, there are also many families here struggling to provide adequate meals for their children.

With the Community Lunch Program parents could be assured their kids had access to a good meal all week, while elders had an opportunity to get out, get fed, and socialize. Through IGI’s work with the Food Equity Network they realized it wasn’t just the little ones who could benefit from a meal with friends–after all, isn’t it something we all look forward to? Lunches included fresh produce from the Island Grown gleaning program, a la carte offerings, and food that was culturally appropriate, like traditional Brazilian cuisine.

Jean Zdankowski, chef from the Oak Bluffs School, busily prepared the lunches day in and day out this summer, utilizing the culinary arts kitchen at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

Thanks to an incredible crew of dedicated volunteers, which numbered over 100 throughout the season, the program was a major feat of coordination and a relentless commitment. The volunteers I met were beaming with pride and happy to be be a part of the program, not to mention thrilled to be sharing a lot of laughs with the kids.

While summer winds down so will the program, and back to school the children will go. There they’ll be treated to even more meals provided in part by the work of IGI and Island Grown Schools (IGS). The food service directors in each of the Island’s schools work hard to produce school lunches throughout the year, in partnership with IGS and local farms, to offer delicious, nutritious, healthy meals. These programs serve as a constant reminder of the commitment of our community to ensure we have healthy kids eating healthy food–paving the way for a healthier future for Martha’s Vineyard.

 

 

 

Give peas a chance: June’s Harvest of the Month

Generally speaking peas still get a bad rep. Like Brussels Sprouts, some people never warmed up to them, or are burned by childhood memories of their parents trying to force feed them green vegetables. Not on Martha’s Vineyard. Here peas are celebrated and admired, especially among the youth of our community.

This month we’re helping Island Grown Schools (IGS) highlight peas as their Harvest of the Month (HOM). It’s the perfect crop to represent the essence of the HOM program and the value and importance of better connecting kids to their locally available produce. I like to consider peas a gateway vegetable. If you can get your kids to take part in the growing process, and feast on peas (especially easy with the sugar snap variety), you can get them hooked on vegetables all together.

I recently attended a grand tasting event (so to speak) at the West Tisbury School. 

Throughout the month IGS hosts several “taste tests” where they serve the Harvest of the Month as an ingredient in the local school cafeterias, to encourage students to taste it in a new or creative way and understand its flavor potential. 

The farm-to-school movement at the West Tisbury School is an especially impressive program, and Jenny DeVivo, West Tisbury School cafeteria director and rockstar head chef (she used to be a traveling recording artist so that title is two-fold) always makes it fun and interactive.

Morning Glory Farm offers another clever way to encourage participation in pea harvesting with their annual pea contest. Each year the Island’s largest operating farm hosts a “First Peas to the Table” contest inspired by Thomas Jefferson. In the 18th century Jefferson led a contest among his neighbors at Monticello garden every spring to see who could be the first to grow a cup of shelling peas, and the tradition continues on Martha’s Vineyard today.

Now in its fifth year at Morning Glory, the first person to bring a measured cup of mature shelled peas receives a Morning Glory Farm gift certificate, a voucher for a free trip to the salad bar and a delicious risotto prepared by chef Meg Athearn from the winning peas, plus bragging rights of course.

The winner is also crowned, sashed and photographed for Morning Glory’s archives–and posterity–and left to bask in the glory of their delicious achievement! This year Katie Ruppel took the prize.

What’s not to love about peas? Peas are my favorite vegetable to grow in my garden, and are one of the first things I plant once the ground thaws. They get me excited for spring, and the potential of the new season, plus they’re delicious and packed with vitamin K, A, C and fiber, folate, thiamine, protein and iron. They’re easy to throw in salad raw, or simply sautéed with garlic, ginger and sesame oil. Sugar snap peas provide a welcome crunch in rice or stir fry, and shelled peas make a good addition to pasta and risotto.

Tis the season for potlucks, BBQs, and beach picnics, so don’t forget about the powerful pea next time you’re preparing your menus. Try this easy Pea Pesto Salad recipe, prepared by Harvest of the Month chef Gabrielle Chronister, for a fresh, savory side to celebrate the season’s palatable peas.

Pea Pesto Potato Salad

Ingredients:

1 cup green peas (fresh and blanched for 1 minute or frozen and thawed)

1 cup fresh basil

2 ½ tbl nutritional yeast

1 tbl fresh lemon juice

1 medium garlic clove, chopped

1 tsp kosher salt

¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 tbl extra virgin olive oil

1 ½ lbs baby or new potatoes (quartered or sliced in half if small)

Directions:

Place potatoes and ½ tsp of kosher salt in a medium pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer 10-15 minutes until fork tender. Drain potatoes and set aside.

While potatoes are cooking, place remainder of ingredients except olive oil, in a food processor and pulse ingredients until everything is combined and evenly ground. With the machine running, slowly pour olive oil into the mixture and blend until smooth and creamy.

Combine the potatoes with the pesto in a serving dish, making sure all potatoes are coated in pesto. Salt if needed. Top with more nutritional yeast and fresh torn basil. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or plain Greek yogurt. Enjoy!