Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 38 Issue 4, - May 22-28, 2008
now in our 38th season

Cooking on the Verge

by Maryjane Mojer
Executive Chef, Bartlett's Ocean View Farm

The hum of the season is palpable.  Even with the recent chill and dampness, you can feel and smell that just beyond the fog the summer heat is lurking; just waiting to burst in.  Walking through town in the early evening, the scents of summer make you slow your step just a bit.  Wandering down Federal Street, you can smell sautéed garlic and herbs wafting through the air. Turn onto Broad Street and the waffle cones and pizza take you back to last summer.  Each day when I drive to and from work, the landscape of the farm changes. Green shoots are taking hold where just that morning there seemed to be only soil.

While the wine festival feels like the kickoff to another season, Memorial Day weekend is the start of summer for me.  I still feel a bit confused that summer officially starts June 21 and ends September 22.  As a kid growing up in a seasonal resort, I always thought summer was Memorial Day to Labor Day; after all, that’s when we were out of school. (Or so it seemed.) I guess it’s selective amnesia, but I just don’t have any memories of being in school after Memorial Day.  This may well explain my grades.

Nowadays, summer is two-fold for me. I have the “season” when I work a whole lot and feed other peoples’ families, and I also have those precious few weeks in September, after Labor Day, when the water is still warm, the beaches empty, and the restaurants still wide open.

Even though the summer here brings a certain frenzy, I do try to take time to escape now and then.  There are, after all, reasons why we live here. Whether you are a first time visitor, a summer resident, or a year ‘rounder, having a good day can be as simple as you make it.

With the many wonderful restaurants here, making (and keeping) a reservation is a smart idea. That said, if you have the time and the flexibility to wander through town and take it as it comes, you can have an amazing and spontaneous adventure.  Stay open to the possibilities and know that you may wind up with a night on the deck at Brant Point Grill or a burrito from Easy Street Cantina.  Both are remarkable in their own right and both have the potential to create summer memories.

With a bit of adaptability, you can have your choice of venues for the evening.  Sunset at Madaket or the Jetties, a trek into the Bird Sanctuary, or watching the fishermen land blues and (hopefully) bass on the south shore are all accessible by bike (and you don’t need to iron your clothes!)

There are so many options for take-out in season.  Anything from a complete clambake or lobster dinner to slices of pizza and great deli sandwiches are available.  Many local restaurants have websites with their menus if you want to plan ahead, or be spontaneous and spend part of a day going from place to place to get a sense of which restaurants appeal to you. We also have several great wine shops on island, each with very knowledgeable staff who can help you select the best bet for your impromptu summer beach supper.

Our beach suppers have really run the gamut.  From full-on clambakes to Henry’s subs to bologna-and-cheese on white bread with iceberg lettuce repacked in the bread bag.  The success of the evening is in your attitude and your company.

One of our favorite beach suppers is an assortment of cold salads with crackers or breads.  Toss some cold drinks into the cooler, grab a blanket, and your dinner is served.

All of the grocery stores and some of the sandwich shops on island have chicken salads, various slaws and potato salads, and some have fried chicken. Making fried chicken is a labor of love, and if spontaneity is your goal, I’ll choose the time with family over the skillet, and for an occasional splurge, I’ll give in to ease.  However, if you have a kitchen and are so inclined, enhancing a store-bought fried or rotisserie chicken, with slaws and salads that are easy to make, store well, and only get better after sitting for a day or two can be your ticket to the best seat in the house.

Aimee’s Bakery on Orange Street had the best potato salad ever.  My best friend was David Rose, the son of the owners.  I always thought there was some big culinary secret to their potato salad.  A dash of celery salt?  Finely chopped onion?  Garlic Powder?  Years later, I was let into the fold by Frank Rose: the secret was Hellmann’s—boiled potatoes and Hellmann’s mayonnaise!  The easiest recipe around.

For my own family, who do not share my passion for mayonnaise, I have a different potato salad recipe.

Roasted Sweet Potato Salad

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees

  •  3 to 5 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • One red pepper, diced
  • One half red onion, diced
  • One tablespoon fresh thyme

(If you would like to just toss fresh thyme still on the stems in the flavor will be that much brighter. Just remember to pull the stems out before serving!)

 Scrub the sweet potatoes.  I don’t peel them, but if you’re not thrilled by the skins, peel away.  Cut the potatoes into one- to two-bite size chunks (remember: they will shrink a bit when you roast them).

Toss all of your vegetables together.  Pour olive oil over the vegetables and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Rather than pouring the mixture onto a roasting pan, I prefer to lift the vegetables out of the bowl. This way, any excess oil is left behind.

Roast your vegetables for 30 minutes or until tender.  While I may make some cringe at the thought, I really, really like my potatoes overdone.  I would go at least 45 minutes myself, because the browned bits and caramelization from the longer cooking only make this better.

When your potatoes are done, remove them from the oven but leave them on the pan to cool.  I like to dress my salad while it’s still warm. This way, the dressing is absorbed by the vegetables, and not just a coating.

Sweet Potato Salad Dressing

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • One teaspoon walnut oil
  • Two tablespoons Rice Wine vinegar
  • One tablespoon orange juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon Dijon Mustard

I make my dressings in small mason jars. The lid fits snug, it makes just the right amount and is easy to store any leftovers.

Mix all of your ingredients, pour over the still slightly warm vegetables and toss to coat. I do like to add some fresh chopped scallions for a crispy, sharp contrast.

I have also been known to mix the vinaigrette with a tablespoon or two of mayonnaises as a reckless act of self-indulgence.

This salad is great still warm, wonderful chilled, and can be made in massive quantities. With grilled chicken or steak, it’s a great side dish, or just by itself (and, yes, leftovers for breakfast.)

This is a year for change for our family. My daughter’s wedding is Labor Day weekend, so this season has a whole different rhythm to it. The weeks after will still be precious, but also bittersweet knowing that this is the last summer with my kids as, well, just kids.  Though they are all taller and certainly wiser than I at times, they are still kids for now and spontaneity is still a possibility.

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