With the spring equinox around the corner, I wanted to pay tribute to the white winter we’ve been having before the last vestiges of snow leave us. It seems like most people here in Maine either love the snow or hate it. I’m one of those who jumps for joy. Sometimes literally! It’s beautiful for photography, and it allows me to have outdoor winter adventures in remote places. A few snowfalls we had this winter really transformed the landscape. On a couple of occasions the trees looked like they had been assaulted by an overzealous cake decorator. On these mornings, I made it a point to go for walks on wooded trails not far from our house. It was hard not to wander around with mouth agape in awe. And then there were the 31 inches (yes, THIRTY ONE) that fell over the course of two days in early February. That may have been the one time I said “enough already!” Winter adventure highlights included a ski trip with friends into the 100-Mile Wilderness and the awesome Little Lyford Pond Camps, snowshoe hikes up two peaks in the White Mountains, and numerous nordic ski outings in Maine and New Hampshire. Here are a selection of some of the sights I saw in my various travels. And with that, I may almost be ready to bid this most peaceful of seasons good-bye. Almost.
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I’ve written before about how easy it is to make goat cheese, but it is worth another post, especially one with pretty pictures! For a few years now, I’ve made goat cheese to give as holiday gifts to close friends. After getting rave reviews from recent recipients, I was reminded again that people should know just how incredibly easy this is to do. It may sound and look impressive (and maybe I should keep people in the dark so they continue to think I’m amazing!), but really, a monkey could do this.
The biggest hurdle (and it’s not very big) is getting the main ingredients: goat’s milk and the chèvre culture. Other materials you will need are a thermometer, colander, slotted spoon and butter muslin (or cheesecloth). If you’re lucky like me and live in Maine, you can likely get fresh unpasteurized goat’s milk at your local farmers’ market (I get mine from Mainely Poultry for $5 per 1/2 gallon) or possibly a health food store/co-op/purveyor of local foods. Culture can come from a number of different sources. I use New England Cheese Making Supply. It works well to start a batch before going to bed at night and then letting it drain over the course of the next day. By that evening, it’s ready to eat! Just so you can see how easy it is, here are instructions based on those from New England Cheese Making Supply (I’m not sure why they left out the “let your spoiled cat lap up the leftover milk” step):
1) Heat 1 gallon of goat’s milk to 86° F.
2) Add 1 packet C20G (the culture) and stir.
3) Cover and let set at 72° F (it will still come out fine if it’s a bit cooler than this) for 12 hours.
4) Ladle curd gently into a butter muslin (or cheese cloth) lined colander.
5) Hang and drain for 6 to 12 hours (depending on desired consistency).
Yup, that’s all there is to it. Once the cheese has drained, you’ll want to mix in a teaspoon or two of sea or kosher salt per gallon of milk to bring out the flavor (and slow the growth of bacteria), and you can add other herbs or spices too. For the holidays, I sprinkled rosemary and red pepper flakes on the surface of the rounds for a festive feel. If you’re giving them as gifts and want to get all Martha Stewarty, you can create a cute label and package too!
Probably because it’s so much fresher than what you would buy from the store, the taste is remarkable. And if you find a reasonably priced source of goat’s milk, it’s definitely financially worth it to make your own…especially when you have a bit of a cheese addiction. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything. A gallon usually makes 5 or 6 rounds about 2½ inches in diameter. I doubt it will still be sitting in anybody’s fridge for very long, but it seems to hold up very well even 10 days later. Give it a try! It’s easy and satisfying, and you’ll impress the hell out of your friends.
I’ve lived in Maine for nine years this month (not including my college years). I adore this state. The landscape, the extent of outdoor activities at my fingertips, the people and the food are all things that make me appreciate the quality of life here. And yet. You knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you? Well, the thing is, this is not my home. Mainers will tell you you’re not a real Mainer unless you were born here, or if they’re being really hard core, if your parents and maybe even your grandparents were also born here. I was born on Long Island (New York, that is), but from the time I was four until I went away to college I lived in Sharon, Conn., a small town of about 3,000 in the northwest corner of the state, near both the New York and Massachusetts borders, an area also known as the Berkshire Hills. This countryside is my home. I can say that with certainty.
My parents still live in the house I grew up in, but between life obligations and a not insignificant drive, we don’t get there very often. More than a year passed between our most recent visits, largely due to our dog’s terminal illness. I feel an almost physical longing for this area when I have been away too long. When I get there, I want to spend as much time as possible outside, as if by being in the forests, fields and mountains and beside the rivers, streams and lakes of my childhood, I can soak up and store the experience until the next time when the batteries can be recharged. It is one of those rare places that has remained largely untouched by big box stores and hideous housing developments. It is still teeming with wildlife and plant life (my parents no longer have a bird feeder out due to the bear population). It is the place that instilled in me a lifelong love of the outdoor world. When people ask me what it’s near I tend to reply “nothing.” And it’s true. I think of it as removed from the rest of the world. I hope it will always be that way.
Below are some mementos from my recent outdoor expeditions in this extraordinarily beautiful place I’m lucky enough to think of as home. (Sorry, I got a little carried away with the long exposure water shots!)
As yesterday was the first day since last winter I’ve worn a hat all day (don’t worry, it’s okay to do crazy stuff like that here in Maine) and the occasional snowflake is gently floating through the air, I thought I’d better get some fall photos posted before the next season is officially upon us. In reviewing some recent food photos and then some snapshots from fall walks in the woods, I was immediately struck by some similarities. I could see many compelling correlations ranging from colors to textures to composition. There are a couple probable reasons for this. I suspect I am drawn to the same hues, surfaces and shapes no matter the subject, but it’s also possible that I draw inspiration from the things I see and photograph in the natural world and then subconsciously mimic those elements in more artificial settings. At least, I sort of hope that’s the case! Either way, I enjoyed the exercise of pairing these photos. And I hope you enjoy viewing them.
An acquaintance who lives one street over posted this notice on Facebook last month: “Neighbors: We have a few hundred pounds of organic, free-range, native, sustainably pollinated Concord grapes fixing to fall off the vines and make a righteous mess. Want?” My answer was, more or less, “I’ll be right over!” First, I have a hard time turning down fresh, free food growing in someone’s yard. Secondly, I’d long thought bunches of wild, deep indigo Concord grapes would be a fantastic photo subject. Thirdly, I seem to have a masochistic desire to complete recipes that involve ridiculously time-consuming, tedious steps, but that result in a very satisfying or unusual end product. So, yes, I basically spent the better part of two days picking and then photographing grapes in various stages of undress, making the jam, and then shooting the pretty purple spread.
Hannah was not kidding when she said they had a few hundred pounds of grapes. The smell immediately hit me when I arrived in her driveway. It was so intense it almost seemed artificial, like grape Kool-Aid scent wafting through the air. The vines stretch from her garage all the way down a fence that extends at least 50 feet along the length of her backyard. When you’re surrounded by these plump, purple orbs, it’s hard not to pop one in your mouth, so, of course, I did. Hannah, knowing what I was in for, waited for my reaction with a bemused smile. The tartness immediately made my lips pucker and my eyes grow wide. Wow! That is some seriously intense grape flavor.
I spent a couple hours arranging and shooting grape clusters and vines in numerous set ups on a metal background, and then began the process of skinning the grapes. This isn’t as hard as it sounds, but it does take a while…especially when you’re skinning 5 pounds of grapes! When they’re ripe, you can just squeeze one end of the fruit between your thumb and forefinger, and it pops right out of its protective coating. The skins and naked fruit were so cool looking that another round of photos ensued. Eventually, I got back to the jam making itself. I used this recipe, though as is my standard practice when making jam, put in half the amount of sugar the recipe calls for. And for a second batch, I used honey instead of sugar, and I much prefer how that tastes. The jam thickened nicely without pectin after about 45 minutes of simmering. The grape flavor is still incredibly intense in jam form, so one does not need much to satisfy the desire for a hint of sweet, tart fruit flavor. A dollop on top of goat cheese on a cracker or a thin schmear on some whole grain toast is about all you need.
If a friend or neighbor has a surplus of these blue-black beauties, or you see them growing on the side of the road, I recommend you run right over and get yourself some antioxidant-rich grape goodness. If a labor-intensive jam isn’t in the cards, try making something simple like juice that could be added to seltzer to make a refreshing homemade grape soda.
Every year I fret over our small garden and think nothing is going to survive, let alone prosper. It is still a revelation to me after several years of growing food that you put seeds or tiny seedlings in the ground, they get bigger, blossom and produce beautiful vegetables! It really is satisfying. And, of course, it’s not quite that simple. I weed, add compost and other organic fertilizer to the soil and the plants, water, use organic pest sprays, etc., but inevitably I get busy with other things and my attention wanes as the season goes on. Despite this, we had and have loads of things to harvest, even beans and brassicas that seemed to be getting ravaged by some pest or another early on bounced back formidably and continue to produce glorious green goodies. (Naturally, not everything thrives. For some reason, despite two successive plantings of carrot seeds, we ended up with a grand total of three carrots!)
This year, for the first time, I started some seeds (kale, eggplant, tomatoes, nasturtiums, and a new hybrid of kale and brussel sprouts called flower sprouts) indoors under a small grow light. I seriously doubted these fragile little plants could endure the torrential downpours that have become the norm, and the occasional cold or hot spells we had this spring and summer, not to mention what seems like an absurdly short growing season. But they did! And that experience was even more satisfying because I was nurturing plants from their birth through to their adult stage, and because we ended up with so much more food than we would have if we had been buying all seedlings, which can get to be expensive. Below are some of the results of these efforts (or lack thereof), which, in case you couldn’t tell, I’m quite proud of! Next year, I promise to have a little more faith in the resiliency of a loved-just-enough garden.
Just a quick midsummer update to alert you to some recent work of mine. First, The New York Times’ interest in Maine continues. (And why shouldn’t it? There’s all kinds of good stuff going on here!) I shot a story on food at summer camps for them a few weeks ago. It ran on the front page of the Dining section, and featured photos from Camp Laurel and Camp Manitou, both in the idyllic Belgrade Lakes area. It was very cool to see kids learning about and eating local food, and cooking their own meals. Another Maine-based food story is in the works this week, so be sure to like Stacey Cramp Photography on Facebook to find out when that is published.
Yankee Magazine‘s July/August issue features an award-winning Maine pie maker in their Best Cook in Town column. I photographed Mary Blenk and her amazing blueberry pie for this piece. It’s not yet online, so you’ll need to get yourself to the newsstand to obtain her highly prized pie recipe!
My work with renowned raw, vegan chef Matthew Kenney on his latest cookbook with Gibbs Smith has been keeping me busy this summer as well. I’m so excited about how the images are turning out for this and can’t wait to share them…in the distant future. Publication is slated for fall 2013 so you’ll just have to be patient.
Last, but not least, I recently did some new shots for long-time client McCabe, Duval + Associates. They redid their web site and it is chock full of fun photos I took of their staff, offices, and most importantly, their canine helpers! It’s always a pleasure to spend time with this creative and entertaining crew.
Summer is in full swing in Maine, something that doesn’t tend to happen until the 4th of July holiday. Then we all scramble to make the most of our two months of warmth and long days of sunshine. Along with warmth and sun comes vigorous garden growth—at least of the things that don’t get devoured by critters and pests who are just as happy about the new greenery as the gardeners are. (Can you tell that I’m just a wee bit angry that my brassicas are getting munched on by tiny green worms?) A few things that have been productive so far in our garden this year are pictured below: purple-top turnips, sugar snap peas and mixed salad greens.
While I found the turnips incredibly photogenic, I was at a loss for something creative to do with them (no, roasting with olive oil and salt does not count). So I requested ideas from Facebook friends, which, much to my delight, was a good move. Turns out FB is good for something besides wasting time! From roasting with garam marsala to grating and putting in a slaw or frittata, there were several excellent suggestions. The one that captured my imagination the most, though, was from Ellen Strickler at Willow Hill Springs Farm. She suggested slicing them thin and drizzling with plum vinegar and sesame oil. I loved the idea of eating them raw and the dressing sounded divine, but I also love turning a salad into a meal in the summer. So with other items I had on hand, I made a salad comprised of our mixed greens (which include lots of lovely Asian greens like tatsoi and pac choi grown from Johnny’s Seeds premium greens mix), the purple-top turnips and Green Spark Farm’s scarlet salad turnips grated, toasted sesame seeds and farm fresh hard-boiled eggs, topped off with the sesame oil plum vinegar dressing. Having grated veggies in a salad completely changes the texture and feel of it, and in a good way I think. I also really like the Asian elements of this dish (daikon would be a great turnip substitute). It makes it just enough different from your standard summer salad that you’ll want to have it over and over again until that pile of purple-top turnips is all gone! And then you’ll mourn their absence.
It’s a typical spring in Southern Maine, which is to say foggy, wet and chilly. But that’s okay. I’ve learned to concentrate on things I have control over. Or at least I’m trying to be more aware of not focusing on things I don’t have any control over! Plus, I love the eeriness of the fog. And all the moisture makes vegetation gorgeously green and promotes growth, as evidenced by Fishbowl Farm’s bounty at the farmers’ market last weekend.
As spring is a time for growth and renewal, it seems an appropriate season to launch my new website. I’m really excited about the extra large images and the ease of navigation, among other things. I can also update it easily, which will mean new work will be added regularly. Check it out and let me know what you think!