Authors Posts by Joyce Wagner

Joyce Wagner

Joyce Wagner

Never underestimate the value of a good front door.

House in North Tisbury, ca. 1987. – Photos by Alison Shaw

You’ve decided to sell. Your kids are grown, and the house is too big. Or the kids are growing, and the house is too small. Or you’ve inherited the family’s summer home, but prefer to spend your vacations in the south of France. Whatever the reason, you’ve got a chore in front of you, and a lot of questions arise. Should I sell it myself? How do I get the best price for my property? What’s the best season to list it? Should I invest in upgrades? Should I hire someone to stage it?
The Times talked to three real estate experts to find out the answers to these questions and more.

Pricing is key
Jim Feiner, owner and principal broker of Feiner Real Estate in Chilmark, proposes, “As a property owner, you are jaded about the value of the property. It’s hard to look at things from a position without emotion — especially if it’s a property you’ve owned for a long time.”

Lisa Stewart, owner of Lighthouse Properties in Edgartown, concurs. “Houses are always more valuable to the sellers than to the buyers because of the emotional attachment,” she says. “A lot of times people hire us to sell their properties, but they don’t listen to us in terms of the value. So you get stuck chasing the market, and it really adds to the days on the market. There have been many times,” she adds, “after a closing, I’ll go back over a client’s folder and see that the home sold for close to the price I originally recommended,”

Choosing an agent/broker
The consensus seems to be that, on-Island, most of the choices in agents/brokers come from word of mouth or other previous relationships, like rentals from the agent or knowing him or her in another context. According to Jim Feiner, “If you’re someone who’s been on Martha’s Vineyard for a while, there’s a high probability that you know more than one real estate broker.”

What’s important is to find an agent with good communication and integrity. “I see our relationship as kind of a partnership,” Lisa Stewart explains. “So it’s nice to have somebody that you trust — that you feel you have good chemistry with.”

As expected, none of the three experts we spoke to recommended an owner/seller situation. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea,” says Jim Feiner. “Reaching the buyers is difficult because most of them are affiliated with a brokerage firm.”

Fred Roven, owner/broker of Martha’s Vineyard Buyers Agents in Edgartown, who looks at the issue from a buyer’s point of view, advises owner/sellers to list with a broker. “It’s the best thing to do,” he says. “It’s the quickest, and provides the best bottom line for the seller.”

Should you have an open house?
“It doesn’t work,” says Lisa Stewart. “It’s done primarily for our sellers. It’s not like in Boston, where people spend weekends going to open houses. You can’t do open houses very easily in the summer, because most houses are occupied or have tenants. You can do an open house in spring and fall, but oftentimes you just sit there for two hours and you get, like, a neighbor or something.”

Clean it up!
To stage or not to stage? Fred Roven says that staging can help, but more important is getting rid of clutter. “Make the house look as spacious as possible,” he advises. “Get rid of oversize furniture. Even get rid of some pieces of furniture that might not be necessary.”

As far as professional staging, Lisa Stewart says yes — but with reservations. “It depends on the property and the price range,” Lisa says, “because that can get expensive. It’s not necessary if what you have there is clean and neat and well presented.”

So, a coat of paint, shampooed carpets, decluttering, raked leaves, and creating a feeling of spaciousness are cheaper and about as effective as out-and-out staging.

Fred Roven touts the value of a good front door. “It’s the first thing people really see or experience when they come into a house,” he says. “If there’s anything at all wrong with the front door, replace it. The color is important. The quality of it is important. An old, rusty metal front door, even on a nice house, could leave someone with a bad feeling about it. It’s one of the few things you can get your money back on when you sell your house.”

To upgrade or not to upgrade

Curb appeal in Edgartown.
Curb appeal in Edgartown.

“People are really looking for updated kitchens and updated bathrooms,” says Fred. “People can paint and refinish floors, but [a complete upgrade] can become a $50,000 to $100,000 expense. Sellers can do it to sell a home — it might help to sell the house quicker— but they will probably not get their money returned on it.”
Jim Feiner states it succinctly: “It depends on the house and the market. If you’re selling at the bottom of the market, I would be less likely to advise people to invest heavily in fixing their houses up. If you’re thinking about selling a house that’s in the upper part of the market — say, in excess of the high hundred-thousands — it depends upon what it requires. Fresh paint? Carpeting? Buyers are more likely to pay a premium for a completely finished house that has nice taste and style versus buying a house with a lot of issues they’re going to have to address. Even though the issues may cost [only] $10,000 or $20,000, there’s the hassle issue that does, in fact, lower their financial motivation — maybe even unconsciously.”

When to sell?
Because the bulk of the real estate market on the Island is second homes, there is a seasonality to the market.

Says Jim Feiner: “Probably the biggest buying season starts in mid-February and goes through till May. People are trying to buy houses that they can move into or rent for the summer. There’s also a fair amount of buying that goes on during the summer, because the houses look their nicest and the most number of people are here, so we end up with a lot of closings in the fall.”


LIttle details matter. Campground House, ca. 1991.
LIttle details matter. Campground House, ca. 1991.

According to Lisa, a good move on the part of the seller is to convey to the broker what she calls “intangibles” — assets that wouldn’t normally be included in the listing. “We have a lot of properties on the Island that have some very neat features that wouldn’t show up in an appraisal,” she says. “Little innuendoes of location, rentability — things like that.”

So, if you made your mortgage and then some with summer rentals, tell your broker. If Ulysses Grant slept in your house after being ejected from the Campgrounds, let her know that. If the property abuts protected land, quiet-seeking buyers will be interested. Two-minute walk from the golf course? Tell her. Zoning laws? Construction rules? Hiking trails? Incredible morning light? Spill!

The bar inside Rockfish in Edgartown. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Restaurants are ever-changing places. Here we’ll keep you updated with the latest moves and shuffles at Island eateries. Have a tip on a new restaurant or staff change? Email us at

Craig Decker, executive chef at Alchemy, has traded in his magic wand for a fishing rod. He’s left his post at Alchemy to take the gastronomical helm at the Coogans’ Rockfish and the Wharf. The lure is the wood oven the Coogans recently purchased for Rockfish. “I’ve always loved the wood oven,” Mr. Decker says. “I love that type of cooking.”

Will Coogan, co-owner of the Wharf and Rockfish, shares Decker’s excitement. “Having Craig Decker here is huge for us,” he says. “We’ll have the opportunity of having the best wood-fired restaurants on the Island.”

Rockfish opens on Friday, March 27 with a new gastropub menu.

This just in: Caleb Lara fills the void left by Nathan Gould when he skipped to the Beach Plum Inn. Mr. Lara, who plied his trade at the Harbor View from 2008 to 2009, is back on-Island as executive chef at the hotel’s two venues — Water Street and Henry’s Hotel Bar.

Says Andrew Bartlett, general manager of the Harbor View: “We’re pleased to have Caleb back on board, and look forward to sharing his culinary talent and experience with the Island’s residents and visitors.”


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Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard event discusses GMOs over waffles.

Martin Dagoberto, co-founder of MA Right to Know, spoke about the current state of GMO labeling laws. – Photo by Joyce Wagner

“I’ve been a gardener on this Island for over 40 years,” says Fran Finnegan, a retired teacher. “And this manipulation of our food supply is frightening,” says Ms. Finnegan while attending the Farmer’s Brunch last Sunday. Sponsored by Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard, the event featured GMO (genetically modified organism) -free food, informational exhibits and four guest speakers on the subject, “Negotiating the Complexities of GMOs — Sourcing Seeds, Feeds, and Foods.”

The topic is a burning one for most of the country, and the Island, with a large population of activists on any number of subjects, is no exception. Judging by their reactions to the information provided at Sunday’s brunch, the participants were firmly in the corner against GMOs. Nonetheless, the gathering was warm, friendly, and appreciative. The food, including two kinds of waffles, greens with sweet potatoes, frittata, and a whipped caramel sauce, was luscious, organic, and plentiful. As this was a “zero waste event,” guests were encouraged to bring nondisposable or recyclable mugs, plates, utensils, and napkins. Morning brews were provided by Chilmark Coffee.

Slow Food Martha’s Vineyard is a chapter of Slow Food USA, part of an international Slow Food network spanning more than 150 countries. It was founded by a group of concerned Islanders after Rick Karney, director of Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, discovered the global organization while speaking at a food producers’ conference in Italy. “I had never even heard of slow food before,” Rick told The Times in a phone interview. “ I went to this conference and was completely overwhelmed by it. It was an epiphany of sorts.” He joined the Slow Food USA chapter in Boston, and found that a number of people from the Island were also members. In 2005, they combined efforts and created a Vineyard chapter.

Attendees of the Farmer's Brunch enjoyed organic food at the Chilmark Community Center. – Photo by Joyce Wagner
Attendees of the Farmer’s Brunch enjoyed organic food at the Chilmark Community Center. – Photo by Joyce Wagner

They started with potluck dinners in private homes. “Sometimes we had a theme night,” Rick recalls, “but often it was just about eating local.” They eventually opened it to a larger group through educational programs, potlucks, and other events.

On Sunday, in the large hall that is Chilmark Community Center, people gathered at tables peppered with cards and table tents with GMO facts and statistics. Conversations concerned that subject matter, gushes about the quality of the brunch, and food in general. One West Tisbury couple, recently washed ashore from Washington, D.C., discussed European countries and the differences in the food culture. A young woman circulated around the tables, dropping off seed packets.

Around 10:30, the crowd settled into a hush. Jan Buhrman of Kitchen Porch Catering took the podium, thanked the donors and members who coordinated the event, and introduced the first speaker, Carol Koury of Sow True Seed Co.

Ms. Koury spoke eloquently, providing definitions of natural and unnatural seeds, the science and challenges behind genetic engineering, and the control of GMOs and seed patents by large food and pharmaceutical corporations. “There are eight large companies that control three-quarters of the seeds sold in the United States,” she avers. She announces the names of those companies while audience members nod with recognition. “Notice that none of those are seed companies,” she points out.

“Farmers have to repurchase those seeds every year,” she adds. “It is illegal for them to save any seeds. They get sued for unintentionally having their crops contaminated.”

Eric Glasgow of the Grey Barn (a certified organic farm that uses non-GMO feeds for its animals) took the podium next. He spoke briefly about what makes a farm organic and how his farm operates under those tenets, concluding with, “The easiest way to avoid GMOs is to eat organic.”

That said, his views on GMOs seem more moderate than most. “Speaking for myself,” he says, “I don’t oppose GMOs on principle, but more as a function of what it represents. I don’t want to reflexively dismiss the science,” he says. “There’s something [called] ‘Golden Rice’ that’s a genetically modified crop, but it was done to basically address the vitamin A deficiencies in the Third World. It was done not by major chemical companies, but by an academic consortium.”

He admits, however, “The danger of GMO is that it represents and supports a system of industrial big agriculture that can be really damaging. It uses a nonsustainable system. GMO is part of that system.”

“It’s a complicated issue,” he says. “There needs to be rules. [Labeling] allows the market forces to act. If people don’t want to buy it, they can act with their pocketbooks.”

Ms. Buhrman talked about organic eggs, the rules that govern the appellation, and cited the corporations that violate those rules. She sourced a Wisconsin-based farm-policy research group, the Cornucopia Institute. “Last month they took 14 of these industries to task,” she said. “They filed a formal legal complaint against all 14. These are operations that are producing milk, meat, and eggs, and they’re all being marketed, allegedly illegally, as organic.”

Healthy, organic snacks decorated the event. – Photo by Joyce Wagner
Healthy, organic snacks decorated the event. – Photo by Joyce Wagner

She continued with a description of the inadequate legal requirements for labeling a product “organic.” “In terms of humane treatment, [chickens] are supposed to be outdoors, they are supposed to be cage-free.” According to Ms. Buhrman, one type of certification does not require that the animals have adequate access to the outdoors, and there is little enforcement of the existing rules. In her words, “These facilities are not farms, they are concrete buildings that can hold up to 1 million chickens. Chickens are given [outside] access through a small door or sometimes on a small porch that can hold less than 1 percent of the animals. This is called ‘free-range.’ This is called ‘cage-free.’”

Martin Dagoberto, co-founder of MA Right to Know, with a degree in biotechnology and genetics, spoke quickly and succinctly about the current state of GMO labeling laws in effect and the progress of proposed laws. He spoke of the efforts of large corporations to distribute false and misleading information regarding GMOs, and the dangers of failure of the states to pass laws regarding transparency. “Unless we have a number of states to set the standard for GMO labeling,” he says, “the basic human right of food choice will be rendered obsolete.”

After a brief question-and-answer session, the brunch ended on a positive note with a raffle of organic foods and food-related products donated by local farms, markets, and individuals.

Afterward, at the door, Fran Finnegan, the retired schoolteacher, professed to having learned a few things during the information-packed morning. “There’s a lot more action from grassroots organizations pushing legislation,” she said. “I was happy to hear that legislative action is being taken.”

It’s six o’clock. Do you know where your dinner is?

John Robert Hill shows off his favorite beef stroganoff recipe. – Photo by Michael Cummo

Even in the slow season, many of us have frantic days where eating is almost an afterthought. If we have more than ourselves to feed, it can become a source of stress in itself. So how do we provide healthy meals for ourselves and our families in limited time, without sacrificing health benefits, eye appeal, and flavor? In this ongoing series, Islanders share their quick, go-to recipes. If you have one you’d like to share, please send it to us at

There’s one in every family — a gluten-free, a vegan, a vegetarian, a salt-free, a carb-free. So what do you do for dinner guests with special dietary restrictions? You could make sure that there is at least one dish that suits them. You could invite them to bring their own food. Or you could leave them out altogether.

John Robert Hill, general manager of The Newes From America in Edgartown, accommodates. He has a vegetarian niece who is a valued part of the weekly dinners that have become almost ritual in John’s extended family.

His go-to recipe, Simple Beef Stroganoff, can be doctored. He explains, “I make a vegan version with fake meat and fake sour cream. I use rice instead of egg noodles.” And because they are quick and easy, both versions are ideal for him to pull together in the small window between work and the gathering.

The more traditional recipe is adapted from one passed down from John’s father. “My parents had a catering company,” John says. “Essentially, I’ve been around food service all my life.” He admits, however, that he’s always been much more interested in the front-of-the-house service part than the prep. But the recipe is also very different from his father’s. “I cheat a little bit,” he admits.

“I don’t go all-out. I marinate very quickly,” he continues. “I put it all in one pan. My dad was all gung-ho crazy. He’d marinate the beef.”

John also likes this recipe because ground beef or leftovers can be substituted. “I always have something hanging around,” he says. “It’s kind of a one-pan wonder.”

Although he has inherited many of his dad’s recipes, John has little time to slog through them. “He was very labor-intensive. His sauerbraten took seven days to make. I have the recipe for it,” he says. “I wish I could make it — the gingersnaps, marinating, et cetera — but I don’t have seven days to dedicate to it.”

Besides, it probably wouldn’t translate well to vegan.

Beef stroganoff served over egg noodles is a simple and delicious meal. – Photo by Michael Cummo
Beef stroganoff served over egg noodles is a simple and delicious meal. – Photo by Michael Cummo

Simple Beef Stroganoff

Serves: 4


2 Tbsp. butter

1 onion, diced

1 cup white wine

1.5 lbs. round steak cut in thin strips (or a vegan alternative)

8 oz. mushrooms, sliced thin

1½ cups sour cream (vegan alternatives available)

1 package of egg noodles

In a skillet, melt the butter and saute the diced onions until transparent.

Add the wine, sliced beef, and mushrooms. Simmer for approx. 20 minutes.

Drain and reserve the liquid.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Add the sour cream and a portion of the saved liquid to desired consistency while stirring on low heat.

Prepare the egg noodles per package directions.

Drain the noodles and serve the Stroganoff mixture over the noodles.

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The online room-rental and accommodations site has proven irresistible to Island homeowners, but critics say there are consequences.

The Airbnb web site.

For last-minute visitors to Martha’s Vineyard and those looking for a bargain rate, and for homeowners who want to supplement their incomes, Airbnb is a boon. Not so enamored of the online rental site are those working to increase the stock of Island affordable housing, and business people who claim it allows competition without taxation. Irrespective, appears to be here to stay.

Airbnb, which began life in 2007 as AirBed & Breakfast, is a user-friendly web site for international room rental. It was founded by Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, who, finding it difficult to meet the rent on their San Francisco apartment, inflated three air mattresses in their living room and rented them out during a hotel-filling conference.

They developed a web site to continue the lucrative short-term rentals of their living room, and eventually expanded to more than 800,000 listings in more than 190 countries, according to the web site. Airbnb became one of the pioneers of what is called a “shared economy,” or “collaborative consumption,” bringing the lodging trade into the average Joe’s or Jane’s private home. Since its inception, Airbnb has inspired other sharing startups, like direct competitors VRBO and HomeAway, and car-sharing companies like Uber, Lyft, and Breeze.

Overflow alternative

On the Vineyard, Airbnb has become an alternative to hotels, motels, and traditional B & Bs. A search of on Feb. 15 for the weekend of Feb. 27 to March 1 (two nights, two guests) produced 70 potential rentals from a $40-per-night private room in Oak Bluffs to a $2,000-per-night entire private home in West Tisbury. The prices in between varied considerably, and were augmented by the service fee charged by Airbnb, and frequently by a cleaning fee.

And there is versatility — even in the summer. A search of Airbnb for the week of June 29 to July 5 produced 68 rentals, from a private room in Edgartown for $95 per night to an entire oceanfront house in Oak Bluffs for $2,542 per night. Also available is a glassed-in private room for $225 per night and a bedroom composed of vintage factory doors for $235 per night (both in Aquinnah), and a sailboat close to the action in Oak Bluffs Harbor at $325 per night.

Megan Ottens-Sargent, who rents out two small bedrooms in her home/art gallery in Aquinnah through Airbnb, used to run what she called a “low-key” traditional B & B. “I was pretty much, and still am, more about overflow,” she said. “I’m not competing with my neighbors’ B & Bs. They would call me when they were booked. That was how I operated before Airbnb.”

A screenshot from Airbnb shows a selection of Island room rentals available on Wednesday of this week.
A screenshot from Airbnb shows a selection of Island room rentals available on Wednesday of this week.

What’s appealing about Airbnb, said users interviewed, is its ease of use to both the host and renter. To book a room or home, a potential renter goes to the web site and fills in the dates, desired location, and number of guests. A variety of filters — price range, room type, amenities, and host language — narrow down the search. A number of options appear in the form of pictures with an inset map that shows the location of each rental. A click on a photo brings up details, renter-generated reviews, and a star rating system that aid the potential renter in finding the ideal property.

It’s about as simple for the host to advertise a rental on the site. Betsy Shands posts two rooms in her Vineyard Haven home on Airbnb. “I was on in 2013 with just one room, and added the second in 2014,” she said.

Ms. Shands found that Airbnb gave her the flexibility to have the rooms available when her children visited in the summer. Dates can be easily blocked out for family visits or off-season trips.

The subscribing process for the host is step-by-step, and includes supporting nontechnical documentation. “It was really easy,” Ms. Shands said. “I don’t fancy myself terribly technical, but I had it up within a few minutes.”

Homeowners can post rules regarding smoking and noise, as well as amenities like availability of Wi-Fi and transportation. And there are reviews of the renters available — a tool hosts may use to turn down a potential renter they may judge to be less than ideal.

It is a luxury not available to inn and hotel owners, who are bound by laws with regard to whom they may turn down and the responsibility to pay taxes.

Not a fair share

John Tiernan, co-owner of the Dockside Inn in Oak Bluffs, is not concerned with the ability of Airbnb to siphon off business. “It’s not about filling rooms,” he said. “Even hotels that are kind of notoriously run down, from the day the kids get out of school in June to the first week of September, should be celebrating 95 or more percent occupancy.”

But what does rankle the Oak Bluffs businessman is the effect of the rental site on available rental-housing stock, and the ability of Airbnb users to operate like an inn without paying an occupancy tax, or any service fee.

“What homeowner on Martha’s Vineyard would want to rent out their home for a year at a reasonable rate, when they know they can just go into business for themselves without town approval, without paying [occupancy] taxes, very easily by just subscribing to Airbnb?” he said.

“It’s brutal,” he continued. “I probably talk to 10 college kids a week that want to come out and work at the hotel. I say, all right, get your housing sorted. Out of the 10, I’ll probably get one call back. It affects every hotel, every retail shop, every bar, every store.”

Mr. Tiernan said as with every Island inn and hotel, a state occupancy tax of 11.7 percent is levied on every stay of 30 days or less. Of that, approximately 5 percent is returned to the town in which the business is located.

“If there’s 1,200 rooms to rent on Martha’s Vineyard, and every taxable hotel room has four guests in it, 5,000 people are staying in occupancy-tax-paying rooms,” he said. “We know that there are 100,000 tourist transients laying their heads on beds every day from basically May through October. When you take that into account, there are 95,000 people that are not paying occupancy tax.”

Mr. Tiernan thinks this represents lost revenue for towns that are already strapped to support services in the summer. “There are as many people visiting Oak Bluffs daily as at Disneyland,” he said, “and we’re trying to clean up with a minute fraction of the crew. I believe that the occupancy tax was designed to offset the impact on a town like Oak Bluffs with an influx of 100,000 people.”

Josh Goldstein, manager of the Mansion House on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, agreed. “We wish the towns would be more aggressive in collecting the occupancy taxes,” he said. “It’s about a town having more money for snow removal, for a new police car, for paving the roads. All the towns are missing out on a big chunk of revenue that could be benefiting all of us.”

“It’s also a safety issue,” he added. “The fire department doesn’t inspect these places; the health department doesn’t inspect these places.”

In response to complaints from the hospitality industry, particularly in Boston, state legislators are beginning to take a look at the provisions of the current occupancy tax.

“No matter how much room tax is, I don’t think it would stop my business,” Megan Ottens-Sargent said. “You raise the rates or add it on. I’m still cheaper than the hotels.”

Betsy Shands agreed. “The formula [Airbnb] came up with really works,” she said. “And more people are tuning into it.”

Other consequences

That formula may also be affecting the availability of affordable rentals. Increasingly, house owners who might have been inclined to rent for the summer or winter and take advantage of a county program designed to make up the difference between affordable and market rates are not renting.

The Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce allows chamber members to post job openings, and allows anyone to post housing openings for those. According to executive director Nancy Gardella, “Housing was at its critical point last year — a crisis point — for both year-round residents looking for housing and seasonal employees.” Is this related to the popularity of Airbnb? “It’s possible,” she said.

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Farm Neck’s executive chef teaches traditional pasta recipes for ACE MV.

A full house of chefs at Carlos Montoya's pasta class for ACE MV. – Photo by Siobhan Beasley

“I have a passion for pasta,” says Carlos Montoya, his dark eyes moving from one eager participant to the next. “There’s something about dough that’s intimate and therapeutic.” The students, paired off and standing at the ready at their work stations, nod agreement. A pot rack with dangling ladles, whisks, tongs, and spatulas hangs over the center of the rectangular tables pushed together to form one. Mr. Montoya proceeds to talk about the fettuccine with kale pesto they’re about to make, informing the class that it’s a basic egg pasta that originated in northern Italy. He talks about ingredients. His favorite flour is Double O — a fluffy Italian import that makes a more velvety noodle. If he’s making pasta to freeze, he’ll use only the yolks of the eggs.

Then the magic commences.

Mr. Montoya creates a wide volcano of flour, cracks four eggs into the crater, sprinkles on salt, and pours in a stream of olive oil. After mixing the eggs, he begins to work flour in from the edges with a fork. When there’s a cohesive mass, he uses a pastry knife (a rectangular blade with a handle the length of the long end) to mush it together. Scraps of wannabe dough litter the table, and Mr. Montoya pulls as much as he can into the bulk. He begins kneading, pushing the dough down with the heels of his hands and folding it over on itself. He emphasizes that the dough should be worked for five to six minutes. The students look on as it becomes a smooth, buttery-yellow ball under his manipulation. He pokes a thumb in. “Look for a little bounce-back,” he says. When he pulls the thumb out, the dough tries to heal itself — the exactly correct reaction. He pushes it aside and covers it with plastic wrap. “Now you do it,” he tells his students.

The class, Artisanal Pasta and Sauces, is a product of Adult and Community Education of MV (ACE MV) and sponsored by Farm Neck Café, where Mr. Montoya is executive chef. Over the course of five weeks in the MVRHS Culinary Arts Kitchen, Mr. Montoya provides instruction for making fettuccine, agnolotti (like a small square ravioli), cavatelli, tortellini, potato gnocchi, and various sauces to go with them. “Basically I’ll be talking about all the traditional sauces that were served with the pastas,” Mr. Montoya explains in an earlier interview, “then do more contemporary, lighter preparations with them.”

Mr. Montoya, originally from New York, has been cooking on the Island since 2010, first at Sweet Life, then Farm Neck. Why the interest in pasta? “I’m really fond of it,” he says. “I worked at an Italian restaurant for a couple of years in my early 20s. It’s something I really enjoy making. At Farm Neck, I use pasta as a side a lot.”

While the students attempt to duplicate Mr. Montoya’s recipe, he makes the rounds, suggesting more flour, a sprinkling of water, pushing harder on the dough. When he gets to the end of the tables, Daniel Athearn of Morning Glory Farm and his sister-in-law, Robin Athearn, have already achieved a round, smooth ball of dough. When someone comments that they worked awfully fast, Robin tips her head toward her cooking partner and says, “Farm boy.”

Finally, the ingredients all come together and sit beneath shiny covers of plastic wrap. Mr. Montoya announces it’s time to make the pesto. Large leafy stalks are handed out, and the students begin to pull bite-size pieces off the stems. Mr. Montoya picks up a stalk, runs his hand down it, and the leaves fall into a bowl. People “ahh” their recognition and begin to follow suit, making quick work of an otherwise tedious chore. Ingredients prepared and assembled, two by two, they approach a pair of food processors and combine the kale with walnuts, oil, salt, and Parmigiano Reggiano. While they wait for their turns, the students chat among themselves while Mr. Montoya peels and chops garlic. Beth Butler talks about why she took the class. “It’s something to do in the winter,” she says. “It sounded interesting. And who doesn’t like pasta?”

Daniel concurs. “My kids eat tons of pasta.”

It turns out that neither he nor his sister-in-law knew the other had signed up for the class. “It’s purely coincidence,” Robin says. A full-time mom with an 18-month-old son and a 2½-year-old daughter, the class is a much-needed night out for her.

Once all the pesto is made, everyone gathers at the front of the room to watch Mr. Montoya roll the pasta. He begins with a rolling pin. He folds. He pushes air out of the dough with his fingers, then cuts off the ragged ends and pushes the dough through the rollers. “Put it through often on the first setting,” he says. “Six or seven times. Then once each on the rest.” When the dough is almost paper-thin, he sends it through the cutting rollers and creates perfect, long, smooth ribbons of pasta, ready for boiling water.

The students return to their stations and attempt the same. The room quiets with the mood of concentration, and the air is sharp with the scent of garlic. The first roll-through produces chunks of dough in various shapes. Chris McDonald, an attorney, comments, “Uh-oh. I have a situation.” Her dough is not holding together. Mr. Montoya dashes to her side and shows her how to solve the problem. Soon the students have found their rhythm, and while one partner feeds the dough into the rollers, the other catches it on the other end. Chris’ dough emerges perfectly rectangular and smooth. The woman across from her says, “How did you get from your situation to that perfect sheet?”

Chris shrugs.

When all the pasta is rolled and cut, the students move to the stove. Large pots of water boil at several stations, and Mr. Montoya pours his into the one closest to the tables. While that’s cooking, he heats garlic in olive oil in a skillet. He pulls the fettuccine from the water and dumps it into the pan with the garlic. He lobs a tennis ball–size wad of pesto on top and adds a bit of water from the pasta. In the way chefs and no one else can do, he shakes and jerks the pan until the sauce is perfectly mixed with the pasta. When the dish is plated, the ribbons of pasta glisten bright green with olive oil, kale, and specks of walnut.

Now the students rush to the pots of boiling water, anxious to replicate the beautiful dish that Mr. Montoya created. In another 15 minutes, people are sampling their own fettuccine with kale pesto. Every project is a success, and they congratulate one another and laugh at the foibles of the process. Leftovers are packed into the plastic containers the students brought, and the cleanup begins. Dough is scraped from tables. Utensils and pots are washed. Mr. Montoya recommends that the pasta machines be wiped down with paper towels, not immersed in water.

When the borrowed kitchen is clean again, the students file out the door, shouting goodbyes and thanks to their master chef, their arms laden with treats for their families. With even more artisanal pastas and sauces to get through in the next couple of weeks, it’s obvious by their expressions and exuberance that they can’t wait to return.

Kale Pesto

⅓ cup walnuts

3 cups chopped kale

¼ tsp. kosher salt

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil


Toast the walnuts in a dry skillet until lightly browned; let cool. Pulse in a food processor until finely ground.

Add the kale and ¼ tsp. salt, and pulse until finely chopped.

Add the Parmesan, and pulse to combine.

Slowly pour in the olive oil, pulsing to incorporate. Transfer the pesto to a bowl.

by -

A week of food and fellowship.

The group of the volunteers at the West Tisbury Church supper, from left: Miki Badnek, Vicky Bartels, Candy Lincoln, Penny Winter, Marjorie Peirce, Suzanne Fenn, and Martha MacGillivray. – Photo by Larisa Stinga

Where can you go during an Island winter when there’s no place to go? Where do you find a nourishing, quality meal and good companionship when the rock is cold, gray, and seemingly devoid of people? And where do you find all this for free? Seven of the Island’s churches sponsor community suppers — one for each night of the week — and all you have to do is show up. Two are held in Edgartown, two in Vineyard Haven, one in Chilmark, one in West Tisbury, and one in Oak Bluffs. All satisfy the hunger that rumbles the belly and the yearning for socializing in the quiet months of winter.

The suppers began in the 1980s when three of the churches decided that because of a downturn in the economy, there was a need for free, wholesome dinners for those who were out of work for the winter. They began creating the meals, and soon, as many people were coming for the camaraderie as for the food. The other churches jumped on the bandwagon a few years later, until every night of the week was covered.

Recently, Times contributor Joyce Wagner enjoyed a week of community suppers.

Sofia Anthony enjoys lasagna at the Federated Church in Edgartown. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau
Sofia Anthony enjoys lasagna at the Federated Church in Edgartown. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau

Federated Church, Edgartown

Sundays, 12:30 pm to 2 pm

The weekly Sunday lasagna dinner at the Federated Church, now in its third year, is the only supper held at lunchtime. Serving begins at 12:30, but coffee and tea are available for those who arrive early. Pam Butterick, a petite blond with a ready smile, supervises the volunteers in the kitchen.

Pans of lasagna emerged piping hot from the oven. “We’re always prepared to feed at least 48,” Pam informed me. “And we have a whole freezer full of lasagna. Some of it’s homemade and some of it’s Stouffer’s. We combine them, and we always have a vegetarian one.”

Slabs of garlic bread waited atop the stove. A leafy green salad and a kale salad with a homemade dressing waited on the serving table. Mary Jean Miner, a volunteer, told me that they change salads and desserts frequently. “It’s different every week,” she said. “We have fun.”

A group of regulars — Tom and Elise Thomas, Ethel Chapman, Marissa Salomon, and a woman named Mary — welcomed newcomers to the table. As others arrived, they called out greetings. “Here comes Elliott,” Ethel announced. “Maybe he’ll sit with us. He has good stories.” A young woman and her two children, ages 2½ and 6, settled at the other end of the table. The little girl was a good eater, finishing everything on her plate. The boy —not so much.

The food was plentiful and delicious. As everyone leaned back in their seats, volunteers made the rounds with cookies and homemade gingerbread left over from dessert. The remaining salad, lasagna, and garlic bread were spooned into Styrofoam containers and offered to anyone who would like to take some home. Some were given to specific people to take to neighbors and friends who were not able to get to the dinner.

By the end, approximately 24 people were served onsite. Of those, Pam predicted that about half attended out of need and the others came for the socializing. This year the suppers began on the second Sunday of January and will continue through March. “We decided that because that’s the hardest time for people,” Pam explained. “They’re out of work.”

Members of the Federated Church decided to make their community supper at lunchtime on Sundays because, Pam said, “Sundays weren’t covered. No one was doing it on Sunday. And we’re here! We come for church!”

Dessert! – Photo by Larisa Stinga
Dessert! – Photo by Larisa Stinga

Old Whaling Church, Edgartown

Mondays, 5:30 pm

Monday night brought the diners around to the side of the Old Whaling Church, where they entered the Baylies Room, a large, noisy hall. While people clamored for seats, eight volunteers — six of them men — in blue Rotary Club aprons hustled around the kitchen, pulling roast pork with mashed potatoes out of ovens. Usually the Methodist congregation of the Old Whaling church cooks and serve the meal, but once a month the Rotary Club handles the food service. When it’s the Rotarian’s turn, members of the Culinary Arts program prepare the entrée at the high school, and volunteers pick it up and take it to the church. The rest of the meal is donated. Tomato soup, raisin bread and butter, and salad with two dressings already waited on the serving table. The dessert table held three kinds of cake, cupcakes, fruit salad, and a lemon meringue pie that I was betting would go fast.

Liz Villard is in charge of the event. She started the evening with announcements, then turned the floor over to Reverend Richard Rego for grace.

I saw familiar faces from Sunday’s supper: Ethel, Mary, Marissa, and Elliott. Other regulars joined them at a table — Dianne Holt, Lolita Duarte, and two women, Elaine and Carol. The young woman from the Federated Church arrived with her two children, and I recognized other faces around the brightly lighted hall.

This Whaling Church meal is one of the longest-running community suppers. This year will be their 23rd season, and they’ve served more than 70,000 meals in their long history. Karen Burke boasted that she’s been coming for 12 years.

Diners are very forthcoming about the community suppers — their favorites and least favorites. Most agree that the Chilmark supper is the least populated because of the distance. Elaine leaned over and confided to me, “Too far, too dark, and too many deer.”

By meal’s end, the Rotarians served approximately 30 dinners. Leftovers were available to take home by request.

Brenda Piland takes a plate of food. – Photo by Larisa Stinga
Brenda Piland takes a plate of food. – Photo by Larisa Stinga

Chilmark Community Church, Chilmark

Tuesdays, 5:30 pm

The community supper at the Chilmark Community Church may be distant, but it’s friendly, cozy, and well worth the ride. Although it’s called a “soup supper,” there are other items on the menu. Besides two kinds of homemade soups, chili-mac, macaroni and cheese, devilled eggs, and bread and butter were served. There were four different pies, brownies, and cookies for dessert.

To me, the Chilmark supper seems the most intimate and companionable of the suppers. It’s a smaller venue than the others, and only about 17 people showed up. Pam Goff, the woman in charge, told me, “You caught us on a slow night. Some people are sick and the pastor’s away.”

As expected, the regulars from the previous two dinners didn’t make the trip. Stephanie Brothers, a whirlwind of enthusiasm, shared a table with her 10-year-old daughter, Annabelle, and another charge, Chloe Maley. “Did you know we play Bananagrams after dinner?” she asked me. While one group settled at a round table for conversation, six women gathered around an oblong table and scattered the Bananagrams tiles in the middle. A fast game ensued, with one woman winning most of the rounds.

Bucky Burrows carves the ham, the main entrée of the night at the West Tisbury Church. – Photo by Larisa Stinga
Bucky Burrows carves the ham, the main entrée of the night at the West Tisbury Church. – Photo by Larisa Stinga

West Tisbury Church, West Tisbury

Wednesdays, 5:30 pm

The Wednesday night community supper in West Tisbury is the one most discussed by the regulars. It has the most food, the most people, and is the one most likely to accommodate dietary restrictions. The Reverend Cathlin Baker greeted diners at the door, then we proceeded to numbered tables. When our number was called, we formed a line to the serving table. Last Wednesday, the menu featured 15 dishes, including four different breads, two cornbreads (one gluten-free), ham, two kinds of baked beans (one vegetarian), roasted veggies, and lentil soup. Desserts included three kinds of ice cream with chocolate sauce, spice cake, chocolate zucchini cake, fruit salad, and bread pudding.

All the regulars who skipped Chilmark attended, plus many others. Ben and Rose Runner arrived late with their 3-month-old baby, Benjamin David Runner, who seemed not only unfazed by the noise but happy to be the object of attention of the other diners. Other children zipped around the tables in a sugar rush. The little 2½-year-old girl with the excellent appetite charmed everyone she met.

The West Tisbury dinner is also one of the oldest on the Island, one of the three early participants. According to Marjorie Pierce, chair of the church’s Mission Outreach Board, “Each winter we’ve seen an increasing need and increasing participation. Now 80 [dinners a week] is our average. It’s a stretch for our parish hall, but we make it work.”

Due to the need, the suppers, which used to run through March, will now keep going through April.

Baby Benjamin David Runner having dinner with his mother Rose Runner and his father Benjamin Runner, at the West Tisbury Wednesday dinner.  – Photo by Larisa Stinga
Baby Benjamin David Runner having dinner with his mother Rose Runner and his father Benjamin Runner, at the West Tisbury Wednesday dinner. – Photo by Larisa Stinga

Saint Augustine’s Church, Vineyard Haven

Thursdays, 5 pm

The turnout at St. Augustine’s community supper was small, but featured special guests who came out on the bitterly cold and iced-over evening: Six students from the National Honor Society at the high school showed up to help serve and clean up.

Gail Burke, major-domo of the event, said she thought the small turnout had to do with the ice, and the fear some attendees have of climbing the stairs.

Those who didn’t attend missed out on penne pasta with homemade meat sauce, meatballs, sausage, beef chili, rolls and butter, coffee, lemonade, and tea. Dessert was ice cream and a chocolate cake donated by the Black Dog.

Perhaps because of the weather, some latecomers straggled in, among them the woman with the two children. Conversations were quiet, and centered around Island gossip. In all, about 25 meals were served. “We usually range from 20 to 40,” Gail told me.

Church employee Joe Capobianco, a large man who appears to enjoy his own cooking, prepared the pasta dishes with the help of Joe Vinci, a volunteer. Mr. Capobianco settled at a table to chat, then left early to take food to a volunteer who was ill. He explained, “We don’t usually pack stuff up to go, but we also don’t say no.” The woman with the two children received a large package to go.

This year, once a month, volunteers from the Hebrew Center will be helping with the serving and clean-up.

From left, Federated Church Sunday lunch volunteers Gerry Longeo, Jim Butterick, Pam Butterick, Bill Leete, and Mary-Jean Miner. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau
From left, Federated Church Sunday lunch volunteers Gerry Longeo, Jim Butterick, Pam Butterick, Bill Leete, and Mary-Jean Miner. – Photo by Maria Thibodeau

Grace Church, Vineyard Haven

Fridays, 5 pm

When people think of food and Grace Church, most will think lobster rolls, but Grace’s was one of the first of the weekly suppers. Last Friday they celebrated the Chinese New Year with Asian dishes and a dragon. Perhaps it’s because it’s the weekend and people want to get out, but the parish hall tends to fill to capacity and beyond. For the past three weeks, volunteers have been serving more than 60 meals per night. Last Friday, extra tables were set up, and still many people sat on the window seats to dine.

A whiteboard featured the menu, which included four soups, lo mein, pasta, jambalaya, fried dumplings, brown and white fried rice, rolls, and bread and butter. Desserts included two kinds of brownies, gluten-free banana bread, cookies, and fruit salad. A volunteer circulated with a bowl of fortune cookies, then peppered the tables with noisemakers. Stephanie Brother’s daughter Annabelle was asked to help with the dragon. “Annabelle has been part of the dragon since she was in preschool,” her mother brags, as we all sat in anticipation of the much-discussed dragon.

Then, to the accompaniment of toy drums and tambourines, a papier-mâché and fabric dragon made its way through the tables, into the kitchen, and back again. Six adult legs and one set of 10-year-old’s could be seen beneath the fabric. The 2-year-old girl screamed her disapproval.

Trinity Parish House, Oak Bluffs

Saturdays, 5:30 pm

Saturday night’s community supper was, perhaps, the most casual. Suitably enough for a Saturday, fare was hot dogs and beans, accompanied by corn chowder, salad, cole slaw, potato chips, and ice cream, all excellently prepared and distributed. Karen Rego, chief cook, estimates that they serve an average of 60 to 70 meals and, of those, only about 30% of participants are there due to financial need. “Especially this time of year,” she says, “[people] need the fellowship. Many live alone.”

Many of Trinity’s entrées are purchased with donations from Cash & Carry or Stop and Shop, and Island Food Products and Stop and Shop occasionally donate groceries. Almost all the regulars attend, presumably because it’s Saturday night and the venue is centrally located. But there’s no denying there’s love that goes into the preparation of the simple food.

“I cook,” Karen told me, “as if everyone was at my home eating.”

Virginia Munro plates servings of Slow Cooker Indian Chicken Curry which she's prepared for the class. -Photos by Michael Cummo

Dust off that old, slow Crock-Pot that you received years ago as a wedding gift. Scour the thrift shops for discarded ones. Sneak into your mother-in-law’s basement and snatch one. Slow cooking is back and, as performed by Virginia Munro, flies way beyond the standard chili and chicken stew.

Ms. Munro, adult programs director for the Edgartown Library and longtime cooking and dining aficionado, makes it her mission to take her favorite recipes and transform them into slow-cooker wonders. She has begun to share her prowess once a month during the winter with demos at the library.

For January, she demonstrated Slow Cooker Indian Chicken Curry, adapted from Islander Uma Datta’s recipe.

Virginia Munro shares tips and recipes for the Crock-Pot.
Virginia Munro shares tips and recipes for the Crock-Pot.

Although we remember slow cookers best as the most duplicated wedding shower gift of the 1970s, it was actually patented in 1940 by its inventor, Irving Naxon. Then called the Naxon Beanery, the design was sold in the early ’70s to Rival Manufacturing, which rechristened it the Crock-Pot. At that time women were beginning to work outside the home, and since microwaves were not yet available to consumers, it was a terrific solution for preparing a meal: Dump the ingredients into the liner in the morning, arrive home to a fully cooked and hearty meal. As Ms. Munro explains it, “Put it together in 15 minutes before work and it’s like Mummy has been cooking all day.”

Early slow cookers had one knob and two settings — “on” and “off.” Now, enjoying a comeback, they are available with removable inserts, multiple settings, computer timing, and a variety of accessories. According to, 83% of families owned a slow cooker in 2011. No wonder Ms. Munro enjoyed a capacity crowd at her January demo.

The lower level of the library — not really equipped for cooking — became a temporary kitchen with a double hot plate, sauté pans, a cutting board and knives, and a large slow-cooker sitting atop a bookcase. The 12 or so viewers (a good turnout for an especially cold day) lined up chairs along a narrow aisle. The sightlines were surprisingly good. Ms. Munro began by apologizing. “This is my first cooking demo in about 20 years,” she confessed. “But now I’m so much better a cook.”

While Ms. Munro was sautéing chicken and chopping onion, garlic, ginger, and cilantro, she explained how she discovered slow cooking. “With all the great [dairy] farms on the Island,” she said, “I wanted to start making my own yogurt. It went from there to all of the special things I like to cook with.” She cited the French sour-cream-like crème fraîche as an example: “I wouldn’t give you two cents for what’s available in the supermarket, and it’s expensive. But you can make your own in a slow cooker.”

She also advocates using the slow cooker in summer, instead of heating up the kitchen. On low heat, the cooker gives off about the same amount of heat as a 75-watt light bulb. At high, it’s about the equivalent of a 300-watt light bulb — still a lot less than a standard oven would produce. And, she adds, slow-cooked meals freeze well.

The participants asked questions and nodded their enthusiasm as Ms. Munro cooked.  Almost as one, they inhaled the piquant aroma when she warmed the spices in the sauté pan. Mouths begin to water and midday stomachs growled. Everything was in the pot and ready for its one-hour stint on high before the heat was lowered for the duration.

Virginia Munro prepares the ingredients for Slow Cooker Indian Chicken Curry, one of her favorite Crock-Pot recipes.
Virginia Munro prepares the ingredients for Slow Cooker Indian Chicken Curry, one of her favorite Crock-Pot recipes.

Sampling of the finished product is de rigueur at cooking classes and demos, but unfortunately, a slow-cooked recipe can’t be rushed, and of course, no one was going to stay the four hours until completion. Ms. Munro had that covered. She’d made a batch of the Indian Chicken Curry the night before, and the viewers were treated to lunch-size portions of the recipe — accompanied by rice and two kinds of Indian bread.

Eyes closed and heads fell back in appreciation of the flavors. Some oohed. Others ahhed. All agreed that the dish has a nice spicy kick, but not enough to alienate the pepper-phobic.

As napkins wiped the last of the sauce from mouths, Ms. Munro invited all to return on Feb. 12, when she’ll be demonstrating Slow-Cooked Beef Bourguignon in honor of Valentine’s Day. It’s a recipe she adapted from the famous one by Julia Child.

As the participants leave, one woman remarks that the 20-year absence did not seem to make a difference in Ms. Munro’s demo skills. “She’s a great teacher AND a great cook.”

Slow Cooker Indian Chicken Curry

Adapted for the crockpot from Uma Datta’s recipe

Serves 6–8

2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 tsp. salt
½ cup cooking oil (canola recommended)
1½ cup chopped onion
1 Tbs. minced garlic
1½ Tbs. minced fresh ginger root
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 Tbs. curry powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tsp. garam masala
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 cup hot water or chicken broth
1 cup plain yogurt
2 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. cilantro (reserve one tbsp. for garnish)
salt to taste


  1. Quarter the chicken thighs and sprinkle with 2 tsp. salt. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat; brown chicken in oil. Transfer the browned chicken to slow-cooker insert.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium high; add the onions, garlic, and ginger to the oil remaining in the skillet and cook, continuously stirring, until the onions wilt (about 5 minutes). Add to slow-cooker insert. Drain (do not rinse) tomatoes and add to insert — spread evenly.
  3. Mix the curry powder, cumin, turmeric, coriander, cayenne pepper, garam masala, lemon juice, and 1 cup hot water (or broth) well in a mixing cup and then add to slow cooker. Stir well for one minute.
  4. Cook on HIGH for 1 hour.
  5. Add yogurt, butter, and 1 Tbs. of chopped cilantro. Stir well, stirring the chicken until coated with the sauce, and cook on LOW for 4 hours.
  6. Garnish with 1 Tbs. chopped cilantro. Serve with basmati rice.

    Slow Cooker Indian Chicken Curry is served over basmati rice and accompanied by bread.
    Slow Cooker Indian Chicken Curry is served over basmati rice and accompanied by bread.

Making dinner a family affair.

MVRHS Culinary Arts teacher Jack O'Malley shares one of his favorite go-to recipes. – Photo by Michael Cummo

If you have a last-minute, go-to dish for a Fast Supper story you’d like to share, please send it to us at

It seems almost a requirement for developing chefs to have had a grandmother who was a fabulous cook to provide inspiration. That prerequisite is present in spades with the high school’s longtime culinary arts teacher, Jack O’Malley. “She was always trying new recipes, new ethnic cuisine,” Jack recalls. “She lived in Boston, so she had access to different ethnic markets.” And he cooked with her, although he’s not certain when he began; “I just always remember being involved,” he says.

In sixth grade, he won a blue ribbon for his construction of a bombe or bombe glacée(a molded ice cream, whipped cream, and fruit dessert) from her recipe. He began cooking in a diner while he was still in high school, and was running small family restaurants by the time he was 20. After finishing culinary arts school, he returned to his grandmother to cook her a dinner. He used her hand-cranked pasta machine to make angel-hair linguine for her. “At the end of the meal, she gave me her pasta machine,” he relates with pride. He later inherited her “cookbook,” a collection of 3 by 5 cards: “One of my aunts found them. It’s a huge binding.” He was paging through it recently, and rediscovered his blue-ribbon recipe.

Now, Jack’s own kids — twin 15-year-old boys and an 11-year-old girl (another boy, 20, is away at college) — cook along with him and his wife at home. “All three love to cook,” he says. “We divide up the prep.”

Because the kids are also active in extracurricular activities like horseback riding and basketball, dinnertime is hectic at the O’Malley house. “I have to round them up, feed them dinner, and get them started on homework,” Jack explains. The following recipe, Shrimp Vittorio, fills the bill for quick and easy. “Except for the shrimp, I usually have all the ingredients on hand,” Jack says. “And you can now buy the shrimp already peeled and deveined.”

This recipe also has sentimental value. “When my wife and I were first married, we’d go to this restaurant and it was on the menu. I adapted it. It kind of reminds me of when we were first married, didn’t have kids, and were able to go out to eat.”

There’s a smile in his voice. “My wife really liked it then, and now, too.”

Shrimp Vittorio

1 lb. penne pasta

1 Tbs.  canola oil

1 1b., or approximately 21–25, jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 tsp. minced garlic

2 Tbs. sundried tomatoes sliced in thin strips (packed in oil is easier)

2 oz. vodka

1 cup heavy cream

1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

2 oz. Parmesan cheese

2 Tbs. basil chiffonade (sliced in thin strips)

Salt and black pepper to taste


  1. Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil: add penne and cook until al dente.
  2. Drain pasta, reserving one cup of water.
  3. In large sauté pan heat oil; place in shrimp (do not overcrowd; if necessary, sauté in two batches).
  4. Cook shrimp on first side until they release from the pan; turn over; cook again for one minute. Do not overcook shrimp — they will finish in the sauce.
  5. Remove shrimp from pan; return pan to heat; add garlic and sundried tomatoes; continue to cook for another minute.
  6. Remove pan from heat; deglaze with vodka (carefully put back on heat or it will ignite).
  7. Reduce liquid by half; add cream and crushed red pepper; return shrimp to pan.
  8. Cook for another minute; add cooked pasta and Parmesan cheese. Return to heat, then add reserved pasta water to achieve desired sauce consistency. Plate individual pasta bowls and garnish with basil.

Leslie Hewson gives dinner ingredients a second chance.

The Hewsons' last-minute meal calls for leftovers plus rice, garlic, salsa, cheese, jalapeño, sour cream, and tortillas. – Photo by Michael Cummo

If you have a last-minute, go-to dish for a Fast Supper story you’d like to share, please send it to us at

Leslie and Douglas Hewson’s secret for a quick and satisfying dinner is leftovers. “If you want to put together a meal in five or 10 minutes, you have to know what you have to work with,” Leslie explains. “You have to look at what you have. We always have leftover rice or a piece of sirloin or a chicken breast or the carcass of a roast chicken.”

Leslie and Douglas Hewson are the parents of two daughters, Haley, 21 years old and living on her own, and Emily, 15. Leslie discovered the recipe for Arroz con Carne or Pollo about nine years ago, and was taken by its appeal to her girls. “It’s an old recipe,” she says. “They like all those [ingredients], so why not put it together? It’s easy, and it’s a one-pot deal.” She likes to supplement it with a salad or one of their girls’ favorite vegetables.

Leslie laughs as she recounts her daughters’ differing relationships with the dish. “[Haley’s] taken this recipe to her apartment, and she’s like ‘Oh! I can cook now!’ which I find hilarious. She doesn’t really cook. The little one seems to be more kitcheny. She has a recipe book. The first recipe she put in the book was rice. The second is the rice dish.” In fact, Emily ungrudgingly helps out in the kitchen. Leslie knows that if she has to dash out to the store, she can depend on Emily to start the potatoes or rice. “She’s really good at sides,” Leslie boasts.

Leslie and Douglas Hewson, along with their daughter Emily, enjoy their favorite last-minute meal of Arroz con Pollo. – Photo by Michael Cummo
Leslie and Douglas Hewson, along with their daughter Emily, enjoy their favorite last-minute meal of Arroz con Pollo. – Photo by Michael Cummo

The Hewsons have been in the food business for 30 years, starting in their teens. On-Island since 1998, Douglas came here to work for the Black Dog, and Leslie eventually joined the staff. He is currently executive chef at Offshore Ale. Leslie is the seasonal pastry chef for L’Etoile and Offshore Ale.

The winter presents some culinary challenges for the couple. Leslie explains, “In the fall and winter, I’ve got a minimal amount of time to feed [Emily]. She has to be picked up at the high school at 5:30. You get out of work at 5:00. It’s a small amount of time — the night’s already slipping away. You know she’s going to be hungry, and if you don’t feed them, how do you get them to do their homework? You don’t want to feed your kids at eight — which we were doing in the summertime. I know she’ll eat [the Arroz]. If she had her way, she’d put it on the schedule every week.”

But Leslie seems a bit embarrassed about the simplicity of the dish. “I know that my culinary skills have been reduced,” she says with a chuckle, “but there’s something noble about just making sure your kids have proper nutrition.”

Arroz con Carne or Pollo

Serves 4

4 cups fresh or leftover rice (use less water if making fresh, to allow for salsa liquid)

¼ onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced


1 cup leftover protein:  sirloin, chicken breast, roast chicken

Pinch red pepper flake (optional)

1 jar favorite salsa

1 cup loosely-packed mixed cheese: jack, cheddar, muenster, mozzarella

Salt and pepper


Minced jalapeño

Sour cream

Black beans

Diced squash

Tortilla chips


Look in fridge. See what you have. Proceed.

Retrieve a big pan.

Prepare protein by cutting or pulling bite-size pieces. If the protein is already cold, follow directions. If it is fresh, add at the end just before cheese step.

On medium-high heat, sauté onion and garlic in oil (pepper flake optional) until soft and golden. Add protein and stir 2 minutes. Add rice, salsa, and any optional items. This is where the big pan comes in. … Stir the rice mixture till salsa is evenly distributed. Add more salsa if not wet enough. Add ⅔ cup cheese. Stir. Turn off heat. Top with remaining ⅓ cup cheese, cover with a lid or place entire pan under broiler and melt cheese.

“It’s OK to eat out of the pan, says my 15-year-old.”