Wednesday, July 27, 2016

RECIPE: Blackberry Basil Shrub Cocktail

Time from prep to consumption: 5 minutes
1 shot of vodka (optional)
1 shot of blackberry basil shrub
the rest is seltzer and ice

Basil leaves for garnish.

Combine shrub mixture with optional vodka in a nice tall glass. Fill glass with ice. Top off with seltzer and garnish with sprig of basil. 

Fab for very hot weather....

Extreme Plein Air Part 2

Photographer Alexandra de Steiguer, self-portrait

Alexandra de Steiguer is an artist and a loner. In winter, she moves out to the Isles of Shoals where she works as a winter caretaker. She is an example of "extreme plein air" because when she photographs the craggy profiles of coastal Maine it is sometimes in wind, snow, rain, frost and splashy sea, sometimes all alone.  See Part 1 for the whole story.  Part 2 outlines Alexandra's diet while she captures nature in plein air.

How do you sustain yourself with respect to food when you're out on Star Island in the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire? 

Before I move offshore I make sure to stock up on lots of canned and
dry-goods that I bring with me.  And then Brad Anderson, my
wonderful partner, comes out for short stays periodically throughout
winter to bring fresh veggies and sometimes large jugs of drinking
water if there wasn't enough left on-island to last through winter.
I'm never too concerned about running out of food - even if storms and
large seas keep Brad and the supply boat from coming out for weeks -
because I'm welcome to make use of the stores of food left in the
Oceanic Hotel (one of the few remaining grand hotels of the Victorian
era).  Though when I open one of those institutional-sized cans of
food, I must be fairly resigned to eating that particular thing for
some days to come!

There are also a few gardens on the island and sometimes there are
leftover, late veggies that I'll make use of.  For instance, I spent
last Thanksgiving alone on the island and I had run low of anything
fresh - I think I had two sad-looking carrots in my fridge.  But in
one of the gardens I found a head of cauliflower, perfectly ready to
pick, and so that and some fresh herbs became my Thanksgiving feast.
It was a perfect find on a perfectly quiet, stark and beautiful,
deserted island.

For more information about this photographer, visit her website at

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Basil Diary Day 3: The "Shrub"

basil leaves

Basil Diary Day 3: The "Shrub"

A “shrub” is a wonderful concoction that wakes up seltzer, water or hard liquor with a little bit of fruit and/or herbs.

Dating back to the 15th century, shrubs were a vinegar-based syrup using herbs or fruit. In Colonial times, shrubs became an ingredient in cocktails and soda pop. Because there was no refrigeration, shrub syrup was a way to preserve fruit and herbs.    

RECIPE: Basil Blackberry Shrub  

Time from prep to consumption: 5 – 7 days


2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup blackberries
6 – 8 large basil leaves
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar


Combine the sugar, blackberries and basil in a small bowl. Using a fork, crush the blackberries. Using scissors, cut the leaves into tiny slivers. Combine the berries and slivers of basil with sugar. Let fruit and herbs macerate in sugar at room temperature for an hour or so.

Place the mixture in a small clean mason jar. Add the vinegars. Cover with a tight fitting lid and give it a shake. Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for 5 to 7 days. Give it a good shake once or twice a day. At the end of the 5 to 7 day period, strain mixture. Keeps in fridge for a month.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Extreme Plein Air Part 1

Rocks and Water by Alexandra de Steiguer

Alexandra de Steiguer is an artist and a loner. In winter, she moves out to the Isles of Shoals where she works as a winter caretaker. This is nine miles from the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. One of those islands is Appledore where Childe Hassem painted at the turn of the 19th Century. The island Alexandra lives on in winter is called “Star.”  The photographs here were taken on a medium format camera.

What are the challenges to photographing plein air for you?  

The challenges to shooting outdoors in winter are the same as anyone would encounter, but the special challenge on the island is the wind, and the wind-chill.  During winter the Isles of Shoals are a very windy place - due to the long fetch of water, and - of course the winter westerly gales and occasional fierce nor'easter.  So shooting outdoors there is a rugged experience, but also gratifying as it gets me out into the wildness of the elements, and this tends to give a very humbling perspective.  There, I'm nothing but a small, frail human, as vulnerable as any other species that is spending its winter upon those frozen rocks.  I also really like that feeling because I can sense that we're all in it together - all of us living things that are just doing the best we can under those circumstances.  But of course they're really better adapted to it than I am.  

I've managed to get around the largest technical challenge in that I shoot with an old, medium-format camera (a Mamiya RB67) which is completely manual - it doesn't even have a battery.  (I carry a spot-meter in my pocket to read the light, which keeps it a little warmer).  When the shutter in the lens starts to sound a little slower, or when my film-advance lever freezes, that's when I know it's time to head back in to the warmth of the house, which times out perfectly with my fingers freezing as well.  But that only happens on those extremely cold, below zero days.

The other aspect that can be a little tricky is that the uneven, rocky terrain is sometimes covered with ice.  An extra challenge!

Have you noticed changes in the landscape/your technique over the 19 years you've been photographing the islands?

The landscape doesn't really change that much - except of course on a geologic scale.  But I've witnessed a little of this too, perhaps.  Every so often some of the storms will manage to move and toss the giant granite blocks of the breakwater. But normally the change is more subtle, - the ever changing motion of the sea and the winter lighting, the freezing and thawing landscape.  I'd say the greatest changes are those to the buildings, things like new roofing or fire-exits, or the addition of solar panels.  

My technique over the years is getting a little more refined, but even that hasn't really changed much.  What does evolve is the way that I see. I feel that I'm seeing even more now as the years go by.   I guess the more you fall in love with something, the more you want to look at it, to study it, to absorb all its nuances and to make them a part of yourself in some way.

I live on Star Island (I'm the caretaker there) in winter, and I look over at Appledore from my house. The Appledore staff closes the island up really well for winter, and the buildings are mostly newer and so there's less chance of winter-damage.  I do kayak to all the other island in winter (except Duck Island, its a seal sanctuary) to take a look and to make images, and if anything is amiss I'll report it. 

Winter Ledges, by Alexandra de Steiguer
What is the benefit to you as an artist to return to the same place to work?​

The benefit of returning to the same place is that it continues to teach me how to see clearly; to drop any expectations I might have.  That's really critical.  Each year I try to experience the place all over again as if for the first time, with fresh eyes, but also with the images and memory of all those other years still intact.  It's like any other very long relationship I guess.  I feel very lucky, on these islands I get to participate in my own little slice of their history, and I try to make sure that I do so with eyes open, and with reverence. 

Is solitude a requisite for you?

I think if you'd ask most artists, they would say that solitude is very important to how they create. I guess for me it's exponentially so.  Much of my creativity arrives only after spending long weeks alone.  There's something about that long, undisturbed free-flow of the mind that brings it forth.  For me anyway.  During winters is when I write songs, keep a journal, and make images.   And then the rest of the year I get to explore that experience even further by the creative process of printing the images in my darkroom. 

Do you teach photography?

I don't but for the past few years, ever since my book Small Island, Big Picture came out, I've been giving slideshow/talks to various groups, and this has been another creative outlet - to try to express in words and images (like in the book) the various thoughts that come along when one spends many many winters alone with the natural elements.   As a bit of a loner, it's weird to be presenting in front of groups of people, but it's been very gratifying and people are so welcoming and interested.

Self Portraitby Alexandra de Steiguer
For more information, visit Alex's website at

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Ribbons of Squash, Zucchini and Pure Basil

Photo: Mary A. Nelen 
A cry for help from a friend. Too much basil. She's a pretty good cook. But after making batch after batch of pesto, freezing the pesto she's hit a wall. What to do with the surplus?

One solution is to embrace the basil, use only basil and leave the pine nuts, cheese and garlic for other meals.

Pure Basil with a bit of squash, oil, salt and pepper is just a matter of taking a yellow squash and a zucchini plus some basil, about 8 leaves and creating a nice pile of green and yellow ribbons. Begin with a vegetable peeler for thin strips of squash. Then steam for five minutes.

Remove thin steamed squash from the steamer and gently coat with olive oil. salt, pepper. Finish the dish by taking a small pile of basil leaves, rolling them up into a tube and slicing fine. Thread the ribbons of squash with the basil and serve hot or cold.