Thursday, September 25, 2008

a virtuous farro salad for (y)our latest health regimen

The recipe that follows is particularly useful for detoxifying the body after too many pancakes. Look, it's so healthy that it has a vegetal glow no matter how many times I fiddle with the colors of my photo.


Farro is a nutty-tasting ancient Italian grain rich with fiber and vitamins. It's the only thing in this salad that I measured so don't fret if you have a big pepper instead of a small one, etc. — you probably won't have the exact same assortment of vegetables on hand so just choose whatever's fresh and brightly-colored and work with that. My only advice is to not take the healthy-health aspect of the salad too far by using beet greens. Yes, they are ultra healthy, but there's something sordid about their dirty-old-velvet texture, and they have so much iron I swear it's all I can taste, a ferric taste like vinegar that's been on the shelf way too long. I've tried hard to like them—in addition to the health benefits, there is the difficulty in throwing away such a voluminous pile of edible greenery—but I didn't realize how poorly my efforts were failing until it hit me that even a generous layer of cheese couldn't distract me from their flaws. I'm much happier with radish greens (remember the radish soup?) so that's what went into the salad.

One unresolved question about the salad: are yellow wax beans as healthy as green beans? I crave them every week during the summer so I'm curious about this. According to some sort of back-alley generic Wiki they are "high in vitamins A and C," but I couldn't find any authoritative answer and I think the Google is broken:

ear wax beans

No matter the answer, don't put those in your salad.

farro salad

serves 3 to 5 people depending on what, if anything, goes with it

1 large handful wax beans, tough ends snapped off
1 cup farro, rinsed under cold running water and drained
1 small bell pepper (orange is nice for color)
the juice of 1 lemon, divided
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 crisp apple, finely chopped (I used a Gala)
2 to 3 tablespoons thinly shaved flavorful hard cheese of your choice (I used pecorino)
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herb of your choice (I used oregano, but I can't think of any other that would be out-of-place here)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
3/4 cup chopped radish greens, or more if they're nice and fresh
4 radishes, finely sliced
2 or 3 scallions, finely chopped

Add a generous pinch of salt (about 1 teaspoon) to a medium-sized pot of water (at least 4 cups, maybe a little more) and bring it to a boil. Blanch the wax beans for just a minute or two and then pull them out with tongs and run them under cold water to stop them from cooking. Set them aside to drain. Add the farro to the pot and bring the water back to a boil. Adjust the heat and cook the farro at a simmer for approximately 25 minutes, or until it's tender. Drain the farro and set it aside to cool.

While the farro is cooking, roast the pepper over a gas burner until it's evenly blistered on the outside. (You'll need metal tongs or a long fork for this). Put the charred pepper in a small bowl and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Let it soften for about 10 minutes; then remove the seeds and finely chop the pepper. (The skin of my pepper wasn't tough to begin with so I charred it lightly and left it on, but if you've got a large, crisp pepper you may wish to char it thoroughly and remove the skin before chopping it).

Whisk together half of the lemon juice, all of the olive oil, and sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Dice the apple and toss it with the other half of the lemon juice to keep if from browning.

In a bowl large enough to hold everything, combine the farro with the remaining ingredients, pour the vinaigrette on top, and give it a few good stirs until everything is thoroughly combined and coated in the dressing.

Monday, September 22, 2008

pizza and movie night chez Tiny Banquet

Pizza and a movie at home: an ideal way to forget about whatever is troubling you at the moment. My troubles with the police were over, but I was in dire need of a break from the constant whirring of election chatter in my internets and my NPR. Maybe it's the fiscal crisis that's working your stomach into a pile of knots? No, not me; I am hopeful it will lead to an exodus of broke-ass bankers from my neighborhood. What I really, really needed was some time away from the terrifying visage of lying liar Sarah Palin, a primitive human being who ought to put a plate in her lip and a bone through her nose and call it a day.

The pizza was a minimalist one based on Gordon Ramsay's recipe for Wild Mushroom, Garlic And Mint Pizza.

minimalist pizza with shiitake mushrooms + pecorino

Not being in an obedient mood, I gave the recipe a quick glance while I was gathering my ingredients together and got some of it wrong during the execution. Mr. Ramsay probably would've had a few words for me. I put the toppings under the cheese because I was worried about the mint and the thinly-sliced mushrooms becoming crunchy in the oven, and because I thought I'd be better off scattering more fresh mint over the top of the cooked pizza anyhow. Also, I have a giant stash of dried shiitake mushrooms that I need to use, so I soaked them in boiling hot water for 30 minutes and used those rather than sautéed fresh ones.

We liked the pizza, but I used pecorino because Mr. Banquet is lactarded and it didn't melt nicely. I'd like to try again with kasseri, which I've used in the past; it's a Greek cheese made with sheep or goats' milk and melts beautifully.

I didn't see the link to Ramsay's recipe for basic pizza dough so I used one I've been relying on for a long time. It doesn't make the best pizza crust I've ever had but it is good, and it's ridiculously easy to make; it comes together in less time than it would take you to locate prepared pizza dough in the grocery store. I keep meaning to try this one because Heidi at 101 Cookbooks makes a very convincing case for its deliciousness, but I wasn't planning ahead and needed a dough that would be ready in half an hour.

pizza with shiitake mushrooms, pecorino and mint

adapted from Gordon Ramsay
makes 2 pizzas that will serve 4 to 6 people

for the dough:

3/4 cup warm water
1 envelope active dry yeast
small pinch of sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little more
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus a tiny bit more for the bowl
a few pinches of semolina or cornmeal for baking

for the pizzas:

2 or 3 good handfuls of dried sliced shiitake mushrooms
boiling hot water to soak them in
1 or 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
approximately 1/4 pound sheeps' milk cheese of your choice, thinly shaved or coarsely grated
at least 3 good handfuls of finely chopped fresh mint, one for each pizza and another for garnish
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)

Put 3/4 cup warm water in a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast on top, and add a small pinch of sugar. Let the yeast bubble up for 2 to 3 minutes. (I think it helps to warm the bowl first by swishing some hot water around in it and dumping it out, but maybe I am being too nice to my dough). When the yeast is dissolved, add the flour, salt and olive oil and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. When this mixture starts to come together and form a dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it until it's smooth. (This whole process shouldn't take more than 5 minutes). Lightly coat the inside of the bowl with a little more olive oil, put the ball of dough back in it, cover it tightly with plastic wrap, and let it rise for approximately 30 minutes, or until it has just about doubled in size.

Bring a medium-sized pan of water to a boil, throw in the mushrooms, turn off the heat, and clamp the lid on. Let them sit for approximately 30 minutes, or until they're thoroughly softened.

Preheat the oven to 400 °F.

Sprinkle 2 pizza pans with a little semolina or cornmeal. (I used one proper pizza pan 12" in diameter plus one quarter-size sheet pan 13" x 9"). Divide the dough in half and roll it out or stretch it to fit the pans.

Drain the mushrooms and squeeze them mercilessly until they're dry. Toss them with the garlic and the tablespoon of olive oil. Divide the mushrooms evenly over the pizza dough, grind plenty of black pepper over the top, and scatter the mint and the cheese over them. Bake the pizzas for approximately 20 minutes, or until they are nicely browned. (It helps to switch the pans around halfway through cooking). Cut the pizza into pieces, scatter more fresh mint over the portions to be eaten right away (and the parsley, if using), and serve at once. There's no sense scattering fresh mint over the whole lot if you're not going to eat it all that night because it will only turn brown and ugly.

In an interesting plot twist, the leftovers were far more exciting than the dinner. First—and most blissful—was a breakfast of leftover pizza warmed in the oven and topped with a fried egg and yet another handful of chopped mint. That's it, voila. Use olive oil to fry the egg, and maybe add a pinch of hot pepper flakes if that will help you face the day.

leftover pizza for breakfast

The remaining pizza got cut up into small squares, topped with thickened yogurt and more fresh mint, and served as a first course. It was still pizza of course but the yogurt and greenery made it feel healthy. I like Ronnybrook Dairy's tangy fat-free yogurt (really, it is likable!), which I thicken by plopping it into a clean coffee filter set in a sieve over a bowl. If you are starting with a thick yogurt already, you are a step ahead and all you need to do is cut up the pizza and the mint.

leftover pizza with yogurt and mint

The movie on our movie night was Billy Liar, a 1963 comedy directed by John Schlesinger. It stars Tom Courtenay as a young man who lives with his mum and dad and grannie, works as a clerk for some undertakers, and has several girlfriends he's engaged to, one of whom is Julie Christie. Here's the trailer:

The protagonist reminded me of Jim Dixon in Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim: a young man uncomfortable in post-war Britain, trying to make it a bit more comfortable with a very very active imagination. But where Jim fantasizes about plunging his adversaries into toilets, pushing things up their noses, and telling them exactly what he thinks of them right to their fat faces, Billy fantasizes about gunning them down. I don't think this works as well as a humorous gag as it might have in 1963, when it didn't happen in real life on a regular basis.

Billy is nonetheless a very likable character and the movie is worth a look-see. There are some very funny scenes—this one, for example, in which Billy prepares to give his notice at work—and there is Julie Christie swinging her handbag on her arm, which you really ought to see.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Rage at the farmers' market!

And in the dog run! I was happily shopping at the Tompkins Square Park greenmarket this morning when Mr. Banquet called from the dog run in the opposite corner of the park. "Could you come over here? The dog took this woman's tennis ball AND SHE'S CALLED THE POLICE." And so began an internal struggle: could I avoid laughing, which would surely enrage the lunatic more? And could I avoid pelting her with my recently-acquired heirloom tomatoes, which are way too expensive to use as weapons? The police arrived at the dog run just a few moments after I did. They didn't seem to understand the risks involved in prying such a thrilling prize from my little peanut's chompy jaws, but they duly noted our offers to buy the petulant lunatic a new tennis ball, which she repeatedly refused. With no other resolution in sight, we agreed to go our separate ways and have a nice day. I returned to the market to finish my shopping and the Ronnybrook Dairy lady told me a rotten bitch of a story that puts mine in perspective: at 6 am this morning, the people from Norwich Meadows Farm were unloading their beautiful, beautiful tomatoes from their truck when a drunken asshole from NJ demanded that they move the flats of tomatoes so he could get his assholemobile out his parking spot without having to use his feeble mind or feeble eyes. When they didn't do this fast enough to please him, he backed his car up, knocked over the tomatoes, and took off. Ronnybrook Dairy lady estimates that he destroyed ABOUT $7,000 WORTH OF TOMATOES. For fuck's sake! I wish every day was like Sunday.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

You may wish to avert your eyes for a moment because we fell off our vegetarian wagon while in Maine

but it’s not lobster I want to talk about; it’s smoked fish. Specifically, smoked haddock (a.k.a. finnan haddie), which plays a central role in two very old-fashioned English recipes that had been gathering metaphorical dust in my collection, curiosities (to me, at least) that I thought I might never have occasion to use: Omelet Arnold Bennett, and kedgeree.

I’d searched for smoked haddock in Manhattan in the past and come home empty-handed: Whole Foods didn’t have it, neither did Dean & Deluca, or Gourmet Garage, or the venerated Russ & Daughters. (I can't recall whether I tried Tea & Sympathy but there's nothing involving haddock on their lunch menu at present). I’d wanted it for a smoked haddock and watercress tart in Tamasin Day-Lewis’s The Art of the Tart. I made the tart anyhow, using Stonington Sea Products smoked Maine shrimp, which, unlike their smoked haddock, are readily available at a grocery nearby. The tart was superb even in its Americanized version but I remained curious about smoked haddock, and I didn’t want to bother attempting either kedgeree or the omelet with a substitute for it. It seemed preferable to tuck these recipes away for some improbable future situation. And there it was on our Vinalhaven vacation, 3 or 4 styrofoam trays of smoked haddock sitting in a refrigerated case at Carver's Harbor Market. Have you ever experienced a sense of culinary now-or-never-ism, in which you recall one of the more obscure recipes in your collection while at once understanding that if you don’t make it now you probably never will? Neither of these recipes is complicated or requires strenuous effort—they’re both simple enough to be taught to even the most sullen hired help at the most remote English country house—but I couldn’t see myself ever making them at any other time.

smoked haddock

Omelet Arnold Bennett

This is almost as English as David Dickinson waggling his eyebrows at you at a car boot sale. I have no idea how I stumbled across this recipe but every time I scrolled past it while on my way to another egg dish in my collection, I would conjure up an unlikely and very specific set of circumstances in which it would be a pleasure to cook and eat this one. Most of these scenarios involved icy rain pounding on the roof, but maybe you have different ideas. Mr. Bennett reportedly simplified matters by demanding that it be made wherever he went.

Arnold Bennet

More than you ever wanted to know about Arnold Bennett's whereabouts, from a 1970's edition of The Oxford Literary Guide to the British Isles I found at the cabin. Another section of the book revealed that Bennett and I have something in common besides a love of omelettes: he briefly practiced law but found it "uncongenial."

He also reportedly liked to eat his omelet late at night but it’s a fine lunch dish too. It's basically a standard omelet with a souffléed layer of smoked haddock and a little grated cheese on top. It’s lighter than it looks but somehow you may wish to spend the rest of the afternoon lying on the sofa with a glass of scotch in order to digest it properly.

Omelette Arnold Bennet

The recipe I used comes from Delia Smith but there are several similar versions out there, including one purporting to be the original from the Savoy Hotel's archives. I departed from Delia's recipe on a few small matters so we'll call this an adaptation.

omelet Arnold Bennet for two
(adapted from Delia Smith)

3 tablespoons heavy cream
8 oz smoked haddock, cut into small bite-sized pieces, any skin and bones removed
fresh ground black pepper, to taste
5 eggs
½ teaspoon all-purpose flour
pinch of fresh ground nutmeg (optional)
1 tablespoon butter
2 to 3 tablespoons grated Gruyère or Parmesan cheese
1 to 2 tablespoons finely-chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)

Bring the cream to a simmer in a small, heavy saucepan and add the smoked haddock. Season it with pepper and let it simmer gently for 5 minutes. (Smoked haddock can be salty so wait until you've had a bite of the finished omelet before seasoning it with salt).

Take one of the eggs and separate the yolk and the white in small bowls. Add the flour to the yolk and beat it well. When the fish is done simmering, turn off the heat and add the egg yolk and flour mixture to the pan, beating continuously until it thickens.

Heat up the broiler very hot.

Whisk the egg white until it is as close as it can get to soft-peak stage. (I find it near impossible to get a single egg white to this stage so I settled for beating the hell out of it until it was very very frothy). Gently fold it into the haddock mixture. (A small silicone spatula is ideal for this).

Beat the 4 eggs well and grate a tiny bit of nutmeg into them as you do. (The nutmeg is optional, but since I began adding it to scrambled eggs and omelettes I've been unable to do without it).

On the stove top, melt the butter in a heavy pan about 8" in diameter. (Enameled cast iron is ideal; do not use a non-stick pan because those should not go under the broiler). When the butter is sizzling but not browned, add the 4 beaten eggs and treat them as you would for any other omelet: let them settle for a few moments, and when they are starting to look cooked at the edge of the pan, gently draw the edges to the center and tilt the pan so that the runny liquid bits are evenly distributed. Do not, however, let this omelet cook all the way through, and do not fold it. When it looks about halfway cooked, turn off the heat and sprinkle the parsley over the top. (Or, leave the parsley aside until the very end and sprinkle it over the cooked omelet; that's up to you). Gently spread the haddock mixture over the top of the omelet using a butter knife or small silicone spatula. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the top and put it under the broiler until it is puffed up and nicely browned (approximately 2 minutes; watch it vigilantly so it doesn't burn).

Cut the omelet into two halves and serve at once. No folding!

Note: If you are interested in reading more about omelettes before moving on to kedgeree, I enthusiastically recommend Peter Hertzmann's article on the subject.


This is arguably even more English than Omelet Arnold Bennett because it was nicked from India: it is kitchari that’s been cozied-up for drafty English country house breakfasts. I’ll let the British Food Trust fill you in on the historical tidbits.


Having now tried kedgeree, it's easy to understand how someone waking up at an English country house and suffering with a hangover, or chilblains, or a gardening injury, or itchy tweeds, or possibly just feeling poorly, would really be looking forward to having it for breakfast. It's light but filling, very easy on the stomach, and it's very attractive on the plate when steaming hot.

I improvised the recipe below based on the British Food Trust article I linked to above because that's all I had with me in the sticks. Not having done any further research at the time, I didn't know that most recipes (e.g., this one) call for simmering the haddock in water or milk or cream before adding it to the rice. Instead I gave the haddock a good stir in the melted butter that I softened the scallions in, and that worked well. If you suspect your fish of being very chewy, by all means simmer it the traditional way. Also: I didn't add any lemon juice or curry powder, but a teaspoon or so of each could be very good.

I didn’t measure anything when I prepared this, and while I've tried to be as precise as I could in writing it down, my sense is that it’s not a recipe one needs to be precise about. By this I mean that you are not going to ruin the dish if you use more or less scallions or parsley or whatever. I think that with some sort of smoking contraption, one could make a very good vegetarian version with smoked shiitake mushrooms. They would have the right texture and—with a little help from tamari sauce?—the depth of flavor to replace the fish, but you’d have to smoke them yourself because I don’t know of anyone who sells them. Of course you could also use lentils instead, as in the many Indian versions.

kedgeree for two

3 tablespoons butter
3 or 4 scallions, washed but not chopped until the last possible moment right before you are ready to use them, at which point you finely chop both the white and green parts
8 ounces smoked haddock, flaked or chopped into small pieces (each just a couple centimeters across)
1 1/2 cups freshly cooked hot white rice, preferably good basmati,* fluffed up but kept covered until you are ready to use it
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped into small pieces
A really generous grinding of very fresh black pepper and a pinch of fine sea salt, to taste
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Melt the butter in a sturdy skillet–enameled cast iron is ideal–and when it starts to sizzle, add the scallions. Give them a few good stirs before adding the smoked haddock. Stir the scallion and haddock mixture about until it is heated through (approximately 3 minutes) and then add the rice, the hard-boiled eggs, the seasoning and the parsley, all of this in rapid succession. Use a fork to thoroughly but delicately mix it all together. (Give it a good stirring but not a brutal one). Serve very hot.

* If you don’t have a really good Indian grocery nearby where you can buy top-quality basmati, I think Tilda is best among supermarket brands. It cooks up better than those ones in hippie-looking packages.

Brandade de Morue

A bonus recipe that’s only semi-related, with an extra-bonus crunchy morsel at the very end. I made this last year when we visited Vinalhaven in August and I found a thrillingly rustic-looking wooden box of wild-caught Canadian salted cod in the market.

salt cod

I’d been wanting to taste brandade again since the first time I’d tried it, when Christine served it at a party and I wanted to sneak off and eat the entire dish in secret. Brandade is a traditional Provençal Christmas dish, but Vinalhaven in August can be cold in the evenings and mornings, and warm brandade on thin slices of toasted baguette was such an ideal thing to eat while gazing at ocean and pine trees that it could easily become a traditional Vinalhaven cocktail snack.

who is going to eat all this brandade?

brandade de morue

This is the sort of recipe you need to taste with great care to get the seasoning just right: salted cod can be excessively salty, but if it isn’t—and if you’ve successfully drawn out most of the salt during soaking—you will need to add more salt later on to bring out the flavors. Also, you should consider the quality of your tap water before you attempt this or any other brandade recipe. You're going to be soaking the fish in several changes of water, and if your tap water doesn't have a pleasant taste for drinking, it won't be good for your brandade either, so use filtered water. The water at the cabin is of very good quality and cold enough to rapidly numb one's fingers, so I opted for the lazy and slightly wasteful soaking method of leaving the fish in a bowl in the sink overnight with a constant stream of cold water trickling into it. It felt like a science project but that's part of the fun. (If you have a cat obviously this method would be no fun for you at all, and your cod will have to have its soak in the refrigerator).

soaking the salt cod

Another comment on the recipe: Try not to be alarmed by the quantity of garlic! You’re not going to eat it, you are just using it to infuse the simmering fish and the olive oil.

Finally, if you are not making this for a group of 6, I recommend scooping the finished brandade into small oven-safe dishes, as seen above. You can eat the leftovers cold but they are so much nicer warm, and this way you can warm up small portions as needed.

brandade de Morue
(recipe from chef Riad Nasr of Balthazar, by way of evil Martha)

Serves 4 to 6

* 1 pound dried salt cod, cut into large pieces
* 4 dried bay leaves
* 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
* 12 sprigs fresh thyme
* 2 heads garlic, halved crosswise, outer paper removed
* 2 cups milk
* 1 cup water
* 1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
* 1/2 cup olive oil
* 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream, warmed
* Garlic confit, for garnish [I skipped this with no regrets]
* Toasted croutons or bread

1. In large bowl, completely cover cod in water, and soak for at least 24 hours, changing water every 2 to 3 hours.

2. Make two bouquets garnis: For each, bunch 2 bay leaves, 1 sprig rosemary, and 6 sprigs thyme together, and tie with kitchen string. In a medium saucepan, place cod with 1 head of garlic, 1 bouquet garni, the milk, and 1 cup water. Over low heat, bring to simmer. Cook until fish is flaky, about 10 minutes. Drain, and discard garlic and bouquet garni. When cool enough to touch, flake fish, and set aside.

3. Place potatoes in medium saucepan, and cover with salted water. Cook potatoes at a simmer until fork-tender, 15 to 20 minutes, and drain.

4. In small saucepan, add oil, remaining head of garlic, and remaining bouquet garni. Over low heat, warm the oil, about 10 minutes. Discard garlic and bouquet garni.

5. Put potatoes through a food mill while still warm. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine potatoes and cod on low speed until just incorporated. Slowly add the infused oil, then add 1 cup cream. Do not overmix, or potatoes will become pasty. [I used a food processor for all of this and it turned out fine, but do be careful not to over-process.]

6. Garnish brandade with remaining 2 tablespoons warm cream and garlic confit. Serve with toasted croutons or bread.

I’m surprised I forgot to publish anything about brandade here last year because I was eager to share what I consider the highest and best use for the leftovers: in shatteringly crisp croquettes, to be served at breakfast or, surprise, with more drinks. With any luck they will be lightly crunchy on the outside with a dreamily fluffy interior, and you will think of them fondly even many months later.

innards of leftover brandade croquette

To make these, peel a russet potato, cut it into 1” pieces, and boil it in salted water until it’s very tender (approximately 12 minutes, but start testing it with the tip of knife after 10 minutes; there should be no resistance when you poke the largest piece through the center). Drain the potato, mash it with a fork, and blend it with however much leftover brandade you want to use. (Approximately one cup should work; the important thing is that the blended mixture should be stiff enough to hold a shape.) I also added a generous pinch of cayenne pepper. Form the mixture into little balls or patties with your hands and dip them in a beaten egg, then in fresh bread crumbs, turning gently to coat both sides. (If you aren't able to make fresh bread crumbs in a food processor, use panko instead). Pan fry the croquettes in a bit of peanut oil that’s been heated very hot but not smoking until they are golden brown on each side and very crisp around the edges. Transfer the cooked croquettes to a plate lined with paper towels to remove any excess oil and serve immediately.

A little chopped parsley on top is very very nice but not absolutely necessary. If you must make the croquettes ahead of time, keep them warm in a moderately hot oven (350° F or so) because they should be steaming hot inside. Really it is best to cook them at the last minute. They only take a few minutes to brown and they taste much better than they will if cooked in advance.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

the FDR to the Hutchinson to I-95 to I-91 to I-84, and so forth

Shouldn't we have left for Vinalhaven by now? I couldn't agree more, and we're finally leaving tomorrow. It's been a long time to wait for pine trees and granite and buoys bobbing in Penobscot Bay, but things have been complicated here.

Last year's post regarding the portable kitchen still looks pretty complete to me, so this year I'm thinking about the other things we drag all the way to Maine. It is a long way! It is 7 hours from Manhattan to Rockland by car, and no one comes 'round with a drinks cart.

Luckier travelers, from superbomba's photostream on Flickr.

Because of the timing of our drive and the ferry schedule, we spend a night in Rockland before we arrive on the island. There's not a lot to do there. There's a wine bar we like for dinner, and a really great little market for picking up things for the cabin at the last minute. There's an unusually attractive movie theater and there's the Farnsworth Museum, but after being in the car all day our minds are thoroughly jellied. The remaining source of entertainment: hotboxing behind the Navigator. Please don't knock on our car window, you'll startle us.

the Navigator

Just kidding, Navigator people!

Early the next morning we try to get on the first ferry out, with our tickets and our dog and our toothbrushes and our iPods and all the rest.

Fact: It is always raining when we leave Rockland.

Once we're there we spend most of our time on the deck, and we like to identify the birds we see. An Audubon guide is essential.

we try to identify the birds we see

We see bald eagles, ospreys, kingfishers and woodpeckers. I intended to get some sort of insect guide this year because I always want to know what I am looking at and it's always a mystery. Can any of you recommend one?

craaaaazy caterpillar

yellow spider

Can't tell you about these; I need a book.

I'm in the market for a guide to mushrooms, too. I know that chanterelles grow on the island; our neighbors there mentioned harvesting them on their property, and many times I've opened a cookbook in the cabin we rent and had a chanterelle recipe clipping land in my lap. So far we've only stumbled across brightly-colored mushrooms that can't possibly be edible, so please light a candle for us or consult your Santería lady on our behalf, etc., because I WANT CHANTERELLES. Lovely frilly chanterelles, not something scarier that would require dialysis after dinner.

A sip of Laphroaig while walking in the woods looking for mushrooms would really contribute to one's sense of well-being, or at least help pickle one's kidneys as a precautionary measure. This tooled leather flask is made to order and has "a protective finish to protect it from drinking binges." I can't believe I don't have one already.

Flask, $60 from Moxie and Oliver on Etsy. It has taken a lot of willpower for me to not order it but I am saving my pennies for a new camera (maybe this one).

Vinalhaven in September is going to be cold in the mornings and evenings, definitely cold enough for sweaters. This is ideal vacation weather as far as I'm concerned. It's hard to look purposeful when it's 80 degrees.


Vladimir and Véra Nabokov on vacation, scanned from Stacy Schiff's Véra.

I recently came across this photo of Lady Rhoda Birley in her garden and it's to blame for the pile of brightly-colored cardigans I'm packing, and my fervent desire to wear them all at once.

Photo of Rhoda Birley from Juncus Effusus on Flickr. I first read about Birley at An Aesthete's Lament, where she was described as "an eccentric Irish beauty and talented gardener." If you know anything about her milliner, please speak up.

The fall APC catalog has me dying to wear a blanket, too.


I didn't want to spend quite so much cheddar on it, though, so instead I ordered a small Hudson’s Bay point blanket.

Hudson's Bay capote blanket, which I say is a jacket, $131 from Woolrich.

I am going to try to pin it together over all my cardigans with one or two of these (pins, $6 on Etsy from A Minor Thread), and if it doesn't look right we'll just have a picnic on it.

yes but what will we be reading?

I try not to bring too many books to Vinalhaven because I never get through as many as I think I will, but what if it rains?

Having finally finished Jude the Obscure, I won't feel bad if I only manage bits and pieces of this-and-that, and many of the books coming with me this year are well-suited for reading a few pages at a time:

Pasolini Stories Nadja Walser Selected Stories

Beaton in the Sixties Against Nature Bishop

I sometimes feel that I shouldn't keep going back to this place that I found just by chance through an ad in the Harvard Crimson. I should probably go to see more art, cathedrals and so on. But I'm so crazy about it that I keep going back. You can see the water, a great expanse of water and fields from the house. Islands are beautiful. Some of them come right up, granite, and then dark firs. North Haven isn't like that exactly, but it's very beautiful. The island is sparsely inhabited and a lot of people who have homes there are fearfully rich. Probably if it weren't for these people the island would be deserted the way a great many Maine islands are, because the village is tiny. But the inhabitants almost all work—they're lobstermen but they work as caretakers . . . The electricity there is rather sketchy. Two summers ago it was one hour on, one hour off. There I was with two electric typewriters and I couldn't keep working. There was a cartoon in the grocery store—it's eighteen miles from the mainland—a man in a hardware store saying, 'I want an extension cord eighteen miles long!'

We have reliable electricity in our cabin but the caretaker is always a lobsterman.

facing Vinalhaven from the North Haven casino

Vinalhaven viewed from the North Haven casino. A casino in this context means a place where people gather before and after dinghy racing, not a garish gambling hall filled with dazed, hippopotamus-shaped tourists clutching plastic buckets of coins in their sweaty paws.

yes but what will we listen to in the car?

I made muxtapes for you, reader, but then muxtape shut down. So I made mixes for you at but — are you sitting? standing then? — they are only 8 tracks each. You and I both need more than that, so there are three of them: the A-side, the A-and-a-half-side, and the B-side. is not the most comfortable way to listen to music, so if you send me a nice email, I will happily send you AN ACTUAL CD. IN THE MAIL. All these songs, on one CD, for you! I will try not to get crumbs and dog hairs in the envelope. Naturally this offer is limited to a reasonable number of persons, to be determined by me. I have maybe four readers (five or six if I publish something that mentions boobs or peen), so there shouldn't be any problem if you want one.

The A-side starts out very calm, as is appropriate for getting off of the FDR and through all that bullshit right after it. We will be sipping coffee and munching breakfast from Sunny & Annie's (Avenue B at 6th St.), and making sure little so-and-so is cozy in the backseat. Mr. Banquet doesn't like The Fall as much as I do so there will be no Fall early in the morning. He likes Joy Division more than I so there's some of that later on. The A-and-a-half-side gets a bit shambolic but it won't make anyone feel super-edgy, I don't think.

NYC to Rockland, A-side
Serge Gainsbourg, Scenic Railway (from Confidentiel)
Orange Juice, Untitled Melody (from You Can't Hide Your Love Forever)
Jeremy Jay, Oh, Bright Young Things (from A Place Where We Could Go)
Young Marble Giants, Brand - New - Life (John Peel session, 1980) (from Colossal Youth - Expanded Edition)
The Jam, That's Entertainment (demo version) (from Snap!)
David Bowie, Drive In Saturday (from Aladdin Sane)
Pylon, Stop It (from Gyrate)
The Monochrome Set, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens (from The Independent Singles Collection)

NYC to Rockland, A-and-a-half-side
Bill Callahan, Day (from Woke on a Whaleheart)
Mrs Pilgrimm, Drop My Name (from Mrs Pilgrimm)
Devendra Banhart, So Long Old Bean (from Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon)
Lee Hazelwood, After Six (from These Boots Are Made for Walkin': The Complete MGM Recordings)
The Fall, Iceland (from Hex Enduction Hour)
Au Pairs, It's Obvious (from Perfect Unpop: Peel Show Hits And Long Lost Lo-Fi Favourites - Vol 1. 1976-80)
Jeremy Jay, Airwalker (from Airwalker)
Orange Juice, Three Cheers for Our Side (from The Glasgow School)

NYC to Rockland, B-side
Buzzcocks, Boredom (from Spiral Scratch)
The Fall, Fiery Jack (from 50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong (39 Golden Greats))
The Kinks, Wicked Annabella (from The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society)
Tyrannosaurus Rex, The Seal of Seasons (from Unicorn (Expanded Edition))
Joy Division, Transmission (from Peel Sessions)
Smog, Ex-Con (from Red Apple Falls)
Johnny Thunders, All By Myself (Live) (from You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory)
Antony and the Johnsons, Fistful of Love (from The Lake EP)