Island cookbook authors & the importance of dinnerText by Kelly Chase | Photography by Elizabeth Cecil and Randi Baird
Two cookbook authors encountered separate obstacles when it came to preparing the final meal of the day. Susie Middleton faced the challenge of coming up with fresh and flavorful vegetarian meals each night. Sarah Waldman had to feed her family of four. Yet the two prevailed under a common philosophy—a delicious dinner made with your own two hands is of the utmost importance to a great quality of life.
Middleton and Waldman have another thing in common, too. They both live year-round on Martha’s Vineyard, which lacks street lights and big box stores, but boasts easy access to the outdoors and a close-knit, creative community. Island isolation has its challenges when it comes to filling the pantry and setting the table, but both authors found ways to create a year’s worth of healthy, tasty recipes.
In the early afternoon, I walk to Sarah Waldman’s home through the neighborhood of blooming gardens on Vineyard Haven. Her home is undeniably occupied by a young family of four: By the front door, there’s a collection of dried beach discoveries. Inside, mismatched bowls and plates are stacked on shelves beside a window that overlooks the backyard. Colorful drawings are proudly taped up. As we sit at her kitchen table, with a smudge of glitter on it, she tells me about her cookbook, “Feeding a Family: A Real-Life Plan for Making Dinner Work.”
Waldman is a nutritionist.
Her philosophy is to cook a range of whole foods. She’s also a mom to two young sons and an ingredient that seems to always be lacking among parents is time. “Between work, school and life, I continually have to dig really deep to figure out how to pull this dinner thing off, night after night,” she writes. “The struggle to feed a family is real, and I know I’m not alone.”
Sympathizing with busy families everywhere, Waldman makes a case and a master plan for cooking the last meal of the day. “What I encourage myself and other people to do is to give cooking for yourself and planning meals as much importance as you do other things in your family.” The same amount of time you dedicate to planning schedules around soccer games should go into planning and having your family meal. That simple act also teaches your ever-observant kids what to value themselves.
Waldman has tips, too, for picky eaters, for involving the whole family in meal prep, and for selecting a time of day that works for you to make food. “I also don’t cook dinner every night. We cook three or four dinners a week and we’ll have leftovers or something simple from the pantry like pasta or rice and beans or egg sandwiches, and one night we’ll get some kind of takeout and eat it outside at the beach,” says Waldman.
Waldman’s book is personal and filled with photographs of her family and family recipes, such as grandma’s skirt steak and her flounder with pink salad. She features longer Sunday suppers that require more prep, but can be perfect to unwind over the weekend. She also has entries from four guest families, as well as tips and tricks about nutrition and reasons to gather. “I hope that it is very helpful in terms of concrete ideas and how to formulate a plan that will work around a family dynamic of how to eat dinner together more often,” says Waldman. “I wanted it to be useful in a real world, but I also want it to be fun to look at and beautiful and have family friendly recipes that you haven’t seen everywhere else.”
Beet and Potato Hash with Eggs
1 pound beets (any color), peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
1½ pounds Yukon gold or Red Bliss potatoes, peeled
(if they have thick skin), scrubbed, and cut into ½-inch dice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs
1. In a 12-inch cast iron skillet, cover the diced beets and potatoes with water and bring to a strong simmer over medium heat. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 7 minutes, then drain them and wipe out the skillet. 2. Heat the oil in the same skillet over medium-high heat. Add the boiled beets and potatoes, chopped onion, and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Cook until the potatoes begin to turn golden, about 8 minutes (tossing frequently). Stir in the parsley. Reduce the heat to medium. Make 4 wide wells in the hash. Crack 1 egg into each well and season the eggs with pinches of salt and grinds of pepper. Loosely cover the skillet with a sheet of aluminum foil. Continue to cook until the egg whites are set but the yolks are still runny, about 6 minutes. If the bottom of the hash appears to be cooking too quickly, turn the heat to medium-low. Serve with a big bottle of hot sauce and a green salad.
Fall Meatball Subs
Serves 4 • Makes 15 medium-size meatballs
¾ pound each ground turkey and pork
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
½ cup finely ground fresh bread crumbs
¼ cup whole milk
½ medium apple, peeled and grated
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon kosher salt; 8 grinds of black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 cups favorite marinara sauce
4 long French rolls, split
Parmesan cheese, for serving
1. Combine the turkey and pork in a mixing bowl. 2. Heat 1 teaspoon of the olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, apple, and carrot; cook briefly until wilted, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside. 3. Combine the bread crumbs and milk in a large bowl. Add the meat, onion and apple mixture, cumin, salt, pepper, and parsley. Mix well. Roll the mixture into golf ball–size rounds and set them aside. You should have 15 meatballs. 4. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs, cook for 5 minutes, then flip them and cook for another 5 minutes or until browned. Add the marinara sauce to the skillet and bring it to a simmer, then cover and cook for about 10 minutes or until the sauce has thickened slightly. 5. To serve, toast the rolls and brush the insides with a little olive oil. Pile the meatballs and sauce into the toasted rolls, top with some Parmesan, and enjoy.
Baked Apple Cider Donuts
3 tablespoons canola oil, plus more
for brushing the pan
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder1½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 large egg, beaten
2/3 cup coconut sugar
½ cup apple butter
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup spiced apple cider
1/3 cup plain full-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 to 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
¼ cup pure cane sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Brush a donut pan with canola oil. (If you don’t have a donut pan, these also make yummy mini muffins or small loaf cakes.) 2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, coconut sugar, apple butter, maple syrup, cider, yogurt and 3 tablespoons of canola oil. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir just until moistened. 3. Spoon 2 tablespoons of batter into each donut round (don’t fill the batter to the top or it will overflow). 4. Bake the donuts for 10 minutes, until puffed and golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven, loosen the edges and invert the doughnuts onto a wire rack to cool. Wipe out the pan and then re-coat it with canola oil. Repeat the baking process with the remaining batter to make a total of 12 donuts. 5. For a special topping, brush the baked donuts with maple syrup and sprinkle them with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.
Simple Green Suppers
Photographs by Randi Baird
On a bright summer morning, I meet Susie Middleton at a coffee shop in Vineyard Haven before she returns to work at a new position as special projects editor at the Vineyard Gazette and Martha’s Vineyard magazine. “Simple Green Suppers” is Middleton’s fourth book and her first vegetarian book.
As a cook, former food magazine editor, farmer and author, Middleton was by no means a novice, but her new vegetarian diet came with a culinary challenge. “I found myself with a real conundrum of fixing a simple vegetarian meal every night and I realized there’s quite a bit of strategy involved in that,” she says.
“Simple Green Suppers” offers tips and techniques for creating a successful vegetarian kitchen. Middleton suggests making items ahead of time, such as sauces and dressings, to plan for the busy work week. She also helps you get organized in the kitchen—think mason jars full of dry grains and beans lining an open shelf. Her light tone throughout the book feels like she’s a really good friend, good enough to help you clean out your pantry and your fridge.
Learning to cook a delicious meal is empowering, but standing in front of ingredients you have never seen before can be daunting. Middleton understands this, which is why she adds a pinch of humor. Her light-hearted handholding through the chopping and stir-frying is her way of giving back. “One of the things I can do is to help people learn to cook, and to do that, you have to make it fun.”
Ramen-esque noodles in rich vegetable broth
4 to 5 ounces dried Chinese curly wheat noodles or
baked ramen noodles
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus 2 pinches
1 tablespoon white (shiro) miso
1 tablespoon low-sodium tamari
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
3 cups late-season vegetables, sliced or chopped into
similar-size pieces (a combination of four or five of the
following: bell peppers, onions or shallots, mushrooms,
eggplant, cauliflower or broccoli, bok choy, napa cabbage,
and/or red or green cabbage)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
3 cups rich vegetable broth
2 soft-cooked eggs or poached eggs
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 to 2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
1/4 to 1/3 cup sliced scallions (any parts)
1. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil and cook the noodles until done, about 2 minutes. Drain them well in a colander and rinse briefly under cold water. Let dry a bit in the colander, then transfer to a medium bowl and season with a big pinch of the salt. 2. Whisk together the miso, tamari, sesame oil and 2 tablespoons of water. Set aside. 3. In a medium Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat the grapeseed oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the vegetables and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are browned in places and starting to shrink but still a little bit firm, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the ginger and cook, stirring, until just softened and fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the rich vegetable broth and bring to a boil, then turn off the heat. Whisk the miso mixture into the hot broth and remove the pot from the stove. 4. Divide the cooked noodles between two wide, deep soup bowls and ladle the broth and vegetables over all. Add 1 egg to each bowl and season the eggs with a pinch of salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Garnish with generous amounts of chopped cilantro, sesame seeds and scallions. Serve right away with a fork, spoon and napkin.
Grilled Naan “Pizza”
2 large naans (4 to 5 ounces each) or 4 small naans
(3 ounces each), thawed if frozen
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt or coarse sea salt
2/3 cup whipped lemon-thyme feta (see cookbook for recipe)
1 to 1½ cups Quick-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
(see cookbook for recipe)
1 small or 1/2 large slicing cucumber, unpeeled,
cut into very thin slices
2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil, mint, or oregano,
or small whole leaves
1. Preheat a gas grill to medium or medium-high heat. If using the larger naans, cut each in half crosswise so that you have four half-moon shaped pieces. Brush the naans with oil on both sides and sprinkle with salt. 2. Put the naans directly on the grill grate and cook just until grill marks appear and the bottom is starting to turn golden, 1½ to 2 minutes. Flip over and cook for 1 more minute. (You want the naan to be grilled enough on the first side to begin losing its flexibility, but not so much that it gets stiff. Leave the second side somewhat soft.) Remove from the grill. 3. While the naans are still hot, spread one side of each piece with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the whipped feta. Arrange an equal portion of the roasted tomatoes (slightly overlapping for a pretty look if you like) over the feta, leaving some of the feta peeking out around the edges. Arrange enough cucumber slices, slightly overlapping, to cover the tomatoes on each “pizza.” Sprinkle the cucumber with salt, drizzle with a little olive oil and garnish each with 1/2 tablespoon of the fresh herbs. Eat right away.
Grilled Peach, Red Onion and Arugula Salad with Grilled Croutons and Sun Gold Tomatoes
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons maple syrup
Four 1-inch-thick slices
of ciabatta bread
1 medium red onion, cut crosswise
into ½-inch-thick slices
2 ripe-but-firm peaches or nectarines,
cut in half and pitted
Extra-virgin olive oil
1½ cups halved Sun Gold tomatoes
or other colorful cherry tomatoes
4 to 5 cups arugula
3 to 4 tablespoons crème fraîche
or sour cream (optional)
1. Preheat a gas grill to medium heat. 2. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, lime juice, maple syrup and a big pinch of salt and set aside. 3. Arrange the bread slices, onion slices and peach halves and brush both sides generously with olive oil and season with a little salt. 4. Arrange the bread and the onion slices on the grill. Cover and cook until the bread is golden and marked on the bottom, about 2 minutes each side. Once the onions have grill marks, turn them over and continue cooking until the other side is marked, 3 to 4 minutes more. Remove the onions from the grill and wrap them in aluminum foil to help them finish cooking through. 5. Arrange the peaches (cut-side down) on the grill and cook until grill marks form, 3 to 4 minutes. (Try not to move the fruit for the first 3 minutes.) Rotate the peaches 90 degrees (to make cross-hatch grill marks) and continue cooking for another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the peaches from the grill. 6. Cut each slice of grilled bread into 8 to 12 pieces and put the pieces in a large bowl. Add the tomatoes, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the balsamic mixture and toss well. 7. Arrange the arugula loosely on a large serving platter. Place peach halves over the arugula. Drop the tomato-bread mixture all around the peaches. Separate the grilled onion rings and arrange them over the salad. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with as much of the remaining balsamic mixture as you like. 8. When serving the salad onto plates, garnish each portion with a dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream (if desired), to be tossed in individually for a creamy finish.
Both authors found themselves looking for a particular way of life and seem to have found it on the Vineyard.
Susie Middleton explained after 11 years of a stressful job, she decided it was time for a change and hopped on a ferry. After a few months, she decided to stay. “I think something deep inside of me, after visiting it over the years, had recognized that this place was very special and that I might be really happy here,” says Middleton. She relishes the accessibility of the outdoors and the abundance of coastline and trails on the 96 square-mile island. “It is a bigger island than most people realize—it’s six towns, but the access to the natural world is so immediate. I love being able to drive by the beach every day and to walk across the street and be on a land bank trail.”
For SarahWaldman, whose mother spent time here, she had only fond memories of the island. After living in Providence, Rhode Island, the move she and her husband made five years ago was an intentional life shift for their sons. “People know my kids everywhere we go—the library, the bank, the grocery store. It really feels like their home, not just this house, but this whole island,” she says. Waldman talks about the number of family farms on the island and kids being able to be kids. “I think just for two little boys to have this kind of childhood—they fish, they surf, they crab, they pond skate in the winter,” she says. “If they choose to leave when they are teenagers, that’s fine, totally up to them, but this is really the place I want them to have this part of their lives to be free and explore the world on their own.”
Family, food, connecting to nature and each other are all good philosophies for building a life in a specific place. They also happen to be good reasons to pull a chair up to the table each night. You have all the tools and explanations, so, what’s for dinner tonight?
“Simple Green Suppers” photographer Randi Baird lives on the island. Pieces of pottery were made by local ceramists and a few Vineyard homes were borrowed for photo shoots. “Feeding a Family” was shot over the course of a year by Vineyard-based photographer Elizabeth Cecil. Tying the two together was Roost Books editor Jennifer Urban Brown, who is, naturally, originally from the Vineyard. In April, the community gathered for a launch party at Morrice Florist, Brown’s sister Emily Coulter’s floral shop. “It was fun for the community because people in this community enjoy supporting each other and there’s a lot of pride in homegrown talent and so people show up and support,” says Susie Middleton.