Monday, August 10, 2009

The Martha's Vineyard Table: A Cookbook Review

When I was a kid, most of my friends played outside, watched cartoons, or read Nancy Drew stories. I devoutly studied fashion magazines.

When I was 10, I remember obsessively
examining a particularly preppy spread of models having fun-in-the-sun in Martha's Vineyard. From that moment, I've wanted nothing more than spend one summer complete where I could stroll the brick sidewalks, sail the beautiful blue waters, ride my bike to a lighthouse, and sip a tasty cocktail from a porch that overlooks the ocean.

This dream began when I lived in Florida. And this dream sounds like something that could have happened in Florida, but the Florida fashion scene didn't have what I wanted: polo shirt dresses, patchwork shorts, a gingham print bikini. A linen dinner dress with a cashmere cardigan to keep me warm from a cool evening breeze on my walk home from a friend's cottage dinner party.

I've never been to Martha's Vineyard. Not yet.

But the dream is alive, especially after upon finding at my country library and reading Jessica B. Harris' The Martha's Vineyard Table.

I figured I had the clothes nailed; now I had to see what the Vineyard food was all about.

I found out quickly I am screwed.

In the tenth grade, after I moved back to Ohio from Florida, I developed a shelled-seafood allergy, the bane of my wanna
be-foodie existence.

Yes, I am one of the unlucky many who must always tell the waiter about my allergy, who gets salmon instead of scallops during celebrity chef 5-course meals or New Year's Eve 8-course meals.

So when I discovered what should have been obvious to me--that shelled seafood is a staple in the Vineyard--Harris' cookbook become more about researching Martha's Vineyard than trying to cook Martha's Vineyard foods in my Ohioan home.

One of the most fun aspects of this cookbook is that each section is paired with a Vineyard neighborhood and some interesting facts or reflections on it. For example, Oak Bluffs is the neighbor described in the "Beverages" section, and smartly so because it is one of the two (Edgartown being the other) wet towns on the the island. Obviously, when we visit Martha's Vineyard FD and I must stay in one of those two neighborhoods.

The other neat feature of this book is before every recipe, there's a brief narrative about that specific dish, whether it's about being a dredger when preparing fried chicken or having an overabundance of lavender that comes in handy when making lavender syrup (photo), my favorite recipe from the book.


6 cups of water
1/2 c dried lavender buds (I got mine from Calico, Sage, and Thyme)
3 cups sugar

Combine water and lavender flowers in a 3-qt saucepan and place over medium heat. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to simmer and simmer for 3-5 min. Remove from heat and let steep for 5 minutes.

Strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, pressing down on the lavender buds to make sure that all of the liquid is released. Return the liquid to the saucepan, add the sugar, and place over low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 min. Raise the heat to medium, bring the syrup to a boil and remove from the heat. Let cool, then decant into sterilized bottles.

Syrup will keep for several weeks. Use it to sweeten tea, lemonade, or gin & tonics (photo).


There are many recipes from this cookbook I plan to try: Spicy Edamame; Curried Chicken Salad; Lavender, Garlic, and Rosemary Leg of Lamb with Spicy Mint Sauce; and Lavender Cookies.

However, I couldn't justifying owning this book. At least not yet. Because of my shelled-seafood allergy and the abundance of shelled-seafood recipes in Jessica B. Harris' The Martha's Vineyard Table, this cookbook, for me, would be more of a gorgeous display cookbook--with mouthwatering pictures of food and dreamy pictures of Vineyard landmarks--than a practical, which, as a beginner cook, I'm more in need of. For those who eat shelled-food regularly I would definitely recommend this fantastic find!

3 1/2 out of 5 stars.

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