Authors Posts by Joyce Wagner

Joyce Wagner

Joyce Wagner

Foxwoods is a good bet to start with.

The Seastreak fast ferry shown leaving New Bedford. — Photo courtesy of Seastreak

The good news is, I didn’t lose. Well, not too badly anyway. The bad news is, they’re done for the season. But more good news – they’re going to do it again next year and it’s going to be even more convenient.

On Columbus Day, a friend and I boarded the Seastreak out of Vineyard Haven at 8 am for their monthly (during the season) excursion to Foxwoods. This was such a great deal. For $45 you get round trip ferry to and from New Bedford, roundtrip bus (very comfortable) to and from Foxwoods, a $15 gambling voucher and a voucher good for a free buffet lunch (a $22.50 value). If you’re getting your first Foxwoods Reward card – which you need for the $15 gambling voucher – you also get a scratch ticket for additional gambling funds. Mine was for $5, but one of our fellow gamblers got $20. When you consider that the usual roundtrip charge just for the ferry to and from New Bedford is $70 ($60 for Island residents), this is quite the windfall.

I plied the slots and it was your typical play — 60 cents and win back a dime, except the few times I scored free spins and it brought me nearly back to even. I brought $100 to gamble and came home with $60. My friend – one of the spiritual gurus of the Island – spent most of her time at the Blackjack table. She went home $50 poorer, proving that the Law of Attraction doesn’t always work. But the buffet was huge and she, even as a vegan, found tons of stuff to eat.

This is a good, cheap, and fun day trip for year-rounders who need a break from the Island during the season. They will be starting up again in June and continuing monthly through October. According to John Silvia in the Seastreak office, it will still be $45, but will be scheduled on Saturdays instead of Fridays. And, instead of leaving from Vineyard Haven and returning to Oak Bluffs, it will be in and out of OB.

And…if you have kids…they’re adding a similar excursion to Six Flags New England.

Now, isn’t THAT good luck!

Contact the Seastreak office at 1-800-BOATRIDE (1-800-262-8743) or for details.

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Do we explore cheese, charcuterie, and wine at the Black Sheep, or check out the steak and wine at Winnetu? Maybe eat oysters and drink wine at the Atlantic? Or learn about locavore and northern Italian wines at the Port Hunter? Fortunately, there’s that Grand Tasting at 1 pm, so we’ll get to try out the wares of numerous on- and off-Island chefs. But there’s that Wine and Chocolate Pairings seminar at the same time, right? The tasting runs until five, so maybe we can hit both. But will we miss the chefs’ cooking demos?

That’s the dilemma we face at the second day of the Martha’s Vineyard Food & Wine Festival, held last weekend in Edgartown. So much to do, and all so interesting that we’d need beam-me-up-Scottie technology to do it justice.


Cow tongue, which Morning Glory kitchen manager Pete Gilligan used to cook cider braised beef tongue. — Photo by Michael Cummo


Morning Glory kitchen manager Pete Gilligan plates one of their dishes, crispy pork cheek. — Photo by Michael Cummo


Honeysuckle Oyster Farm owner Nic Turner, left, prepares oysters he harvested early that day. — Photo by Michael Cummo


Freshley harvested oysters prepared by Nic Turner. — Photo by Michael Cummo


Olivia Pattison, of Beetlebung, puts the finishing touch on her spinich tarts. — Photo by Michael Cummo


Spinich tarts with house made ricotta were available courtesy of Beetlebung Farm. — Photo by Michael Cummo


From left, Sophi Thanhauser, Eleanor Fischer and Lila Neubert smile behind their deviled eggs. — Photo by Michael Cummo


Sean Ready reaches for a dish prepared by “lunch ladies.” — Photo by Michael Cummo


From left, Mercedes Ferreira, Raymond Lincoln and Jenny Devivo smile behind an example of the food they provide to up-Island schools in Chilmark and West Tisbury. — Photo by Michael Cummo


Good Night Louise were on hand playing live music. — Photo by Michael Cummo


Chef Justin Melnick of The Terrace describes his bluefish pate, one of three dishes he prepared. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Graphic designer Libby Ellis holds up one of her tee-towels.

Graphic designer Libby Ellis holds up one of her tee-towels. —Photo by Michael Cummo


Heidi Feldman, one of the owners of MV Sea Salt, stands at her booth during the Grand Tasting. — Photo by Michael Cummo


Tom Olcott and Henry Crosby were on hand to represent Motto Sparkling Matchi drink. — Photo by Michael Cummo


Alex and Ani representatives (from left) Paulina Cordova, Vanessa Palacio and Emily Rattenni sold jewlery during the Grand Tasting. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Some of the Alex and Ani jewelry available.

Some of the Alex and Ani jewelry available. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Chef Chris Fischer’s Berkshire pork on focaccia.

Chef Chris Fischer’s Berkshire pork on focaccia. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Tina Miller and chef Chris Fischer.

Tina Miller and chef Chris Fischer. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Matt Reese of Vermont Creamery.

Matt Reese of Vermont Creamery. —Photo by Michael Cummo


Chris Coombs’ Colorado crepes with pork. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Chris Coombs, left, and Ryan Marcoux prepare Colorado crepes filled with pork.

Chris Coombs, left, and Ryan Marcoux prepare Colorado crepes filled with pork. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Victoria Daley, of Water Street Restaurant, smiles behind their chicken livers.

Victoria Daley, of Water Street Restaurant, smiles behind their chicken livers. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Matt Reese of Vermont Creamery hands out some of his cheese.

Matt Reese of Vermont Creamery hands out some of his cheese. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Iain Kelly puts the finishing touches on bluefish pate.

Iain Kelly puts the finishing touches on bluefish pate. —Photo by Michael Cummo


From left, Iain Kelly, Richard Maldonado and Joshua Jackson represented the Terrace. — Photo by Michael Cummo


Jan Buhrman and Gary Stubert, of Stoddard Organic Farm, with their organic chicken liver. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Chef Joseph Montiero with his duck confit tartlets.

Chef Joseph Montiero with his duck confit tartlets. —Photo by Michael Cummo

John Robert Hill, left, and Doug “Bubbles” Sabin.

John Robert Hill, left, and Doug “Bubbles” Sabin. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Semi-crudo flounder.

Semi-crudo flounder. —Photo by Michael Cummo


The Grand Tasting drew a large crowd to the tent on Mayhew Lane. —Photo by Michael Cummo


Chef Jason Santos, right, and Jim McGloin put the finishing touches on their dish. — Photo by Michael Cummo


A twist on deviled eggs. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Jim McGloin

Jim McGloin adds a finishing touch to his samples. —Photo by Michael Cummo


Pouring at the Grand Tasting. —Michael Cummo


Nathan Gould, of Water Street Restaurant, prepared lamb loin and carrot gnudi during a live demonstration. — Photo by Michael Cummo


Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival wine director Dan Michaud MC’d Nathan Gould’s live cooking demonstration. — Photo by Michael Cummo


Nathan Gould, of Water Street Restaurant, prepared lamb loin and carrot gnudi during a live demonstration. — Photo by Michael Cummo

A bluefish before chef Chris Fischer prepared it during a demonstration.

Fresh bluefish in a demonstration by Chris Fischer. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Chef Chris Fischer during a live demonstration at the Grand Tasting.

Chef Chris Fischer during a live demonstration. —Photo by Michael Cummo

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Lisa Kaplan and Judy Klumick —Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

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Wine and charcuterie pairings at The Black Sheep. —Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

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Lisa Kaplan (rep for K Vintners). —Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

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Chris and Nancy Fisher celebrate their anniversary at The Black Sheep. —Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

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Helen and Leroy Rieselbach at Black Sheep. —Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

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Cheers to a good time at The Port Hunter. —Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

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Jan Buhrman at The Port Hunter. —Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

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Diners at The Port Hunter. —Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

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Jan Buhrman and chef Jeremy Davis of The Port Hunter. —Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

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an Buhrman and Lily Walter discuss Slip Away Farm at The Port Hunter. —Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

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Wine and chocolate pairings by Not Your Sugar Mama's. —Photo by Lisa Vanderhoop

A Rock Star Adventure with Cheese, Charcuterie and Wine

This event is as much about personalities as gastronomy. As Lisa Kaplan, who oversees Charles Smith Wines, K Vinters, and Secco Italian Bubbles of Washington, explains, the “rock star” title comes partially from the bio of vintner Charles Smith, who began his career as an agent for rock talent. His personality and labels are bigger than life — “Kung Fu Girl,” “Boom Boom!” and “Vino.”

But the wines can’t outshine the California cheeses and international charcuterie, selected by The Black Sheep’s Judy Klumick. Nancy Fisher from Weymouth, who, with husband Chris Fisher is enjoying a first year wedding anniversary, is pleasantly surprised by the three chevres. “I was afraid of the goat cheese,” she tells us. “Most goat cheeses are sort of…” She wrinkles her nose to illustrate. “But these are good. They’re not as pungent.”

Encouraged by the delightfully unexpected flavors, she dives right in when the Proscuitto de Parma, Air-Dried Bresola, and Smoked Duck Breast were brought out with three red wines.

After, we ventured out into the sunlight and landed at…

Farm to Plate

At the Port Hunter, Ron Descheneaux of Oak Bluffs and Arlington, Va., gets teased for being the only man at a table full of women. He laughs and indicates an open seat. “There’s still a chance,” he says. The women, only a few of whom knew each other previously, connect quickly and engage in lively banter.

Laura Park of R.I., lifts her eyes from the menu when Amanda Spratley of New Bedford repeats a question. “I’m sorry,” Laura says. “I was distracted by the prospect of a mini-Pavlova with whipped cream, Chilmark blueberries, and birch bark syrup for dessert.” They continue to chat about food and health until Jan Buhrman, Jeremy Davis, Lily Walter, and Michael Goess-Enzenberg step to the microphone to talk about farming on the Island, seeking out local providers, and growing wine at the Manincor estate in Italy.

Everyone at the table raves about the rustic root salad, but the star of the show comes with the next course: the fried Allen Farm egg yolk that sits atop bluefin tuna tartar with Morning Glory purple potato chips, and wasabi greens from Mermaid Farm.

Unfortunately, we can’t stay for mini-Pavlova as we need to get to…

Shucks, it’s oysters!

We arrive at the Atlantic Fish & Chophouse as the event is winding down. Tables are practically overflowing with plates of oyster shells (seminar participants received a dozen each) from Sweet Neck Farms. Tablecloth real estate not covered by plates is occupied by empty wine glasses (eight per taster) until one little bump of hip could create a catastrophe. The previously full glasses were cleverly laid out on paper placemats with the names of the wines in guiding circles.

The participants are engrossed in Dan Michaud’s (of Ruby Wines) animated discussion of white wine vineyards throughout the world. Dan, who is the Festival Wine Director, is silver-haired, bespeckled, and gravelly voiced. His body language unmistakably transmits passion for his subject. Indeed, he seems almost a guru to his audience. They cheer when he ends with a sympathetic quote by Ernest Hemingway about cold white wine and oysters.

We recognize Lee and Gia Sroczenski of Weston and Oak Bluffs from the first seminar. They have, according to fellow foodie Natalie Conroy of West Tisbury, “run away for the day, left their children with their grandmother, and are enjoying a mini-honeymoon.” It’s the Weston’s third M.V. Food and Wine Festival and, when asked their favorite dish so far, they agree in unison, “the oysters.”

The participants reluctantly leave a few uneaten bivalves and continue on to…

The Grand Tasting

“Grand” doesn’t begin to describe it. About every second table is occupied by a wine company. Indeed, all of 26 are listed in the program. We get a second chance to taste the wonderful Manincor Moscato Giallo that we sipped at The Port Hunter, and the reds we missed because we had to skip out. Everywhere, chefs and assistants are doling out generous samples and explaining what’s stacked on what and why and where the ingredients came from. Treats like devilled duck egg with tuna tartare, black olive tapenade, micro greens and chive oil (Jason Santos, Abby Lane, Boston); chicken liver mousse, pickled butternut squash and toasted hazelnuts (Nathan Gould, Water Street, Edgartown); pork belly crepes with fig and lovage (Christopher Coombs, Deuxave, Boston) and duck confit with menjool dates, Spanish blue cheese and a pepper aioli (Rachel Klein, Liquid Art House, Boston). If you walk away hungry, you just aren’t trying.

Tucked in among the chefs and wines are tables touting bottled water, sea salt, soft drinks, health drinks, publications, jewelry, and a raffle.

We hear someone ask a young woman if she’s getting drunk. “No,” she says. I drink and spit.”

We run into the Sroczenskis again and they beam at the excitement and diversity of the offerings. We ask, now that they’ve been to other seminars, what’s the best thing they’ve eaten today. “The oysters,” they say.

“This is our third year with Dan (Michaud),” Lee explains. “Dan, by far, has to be the most intuitive and he explains all the regions.”

“He’s so knowledgeable,” Gia adds. “So passionate.”

We take a break from the crowds in the tent to slip over to the Kelley House for…

Wine & Chocolate Pairings Made by Mama

After the hubbub in the Grand Tasting, this seems a much more subdued event. Participants are assembled at large round tables, a white plate in front of each, dotted with squares of Not Your Sugar Mamas chocolates. Bennett Coffey and Kyleen Keenan of Not Your Sugar Mamas play tag-team with Italian wine specialist Iris DiCicco of Palm Bay International to explain their contributions and why they paired this with that.

Iris talks about the muscato that accompanies the ginger pomegranate chocolate. “It’s a natural pairing,” she explains. “Pomegranates grow in the same region as the grapes.”

There’s an audible group intake of breath, followed by slurps of wine, when the participants taste the piquant ginger in the chocolate.

Then it’s back to the big tent for…

Cooking Demos

While Chef Nathan Gould of Water Street in Edgartown makes magic with gnocchi dough, Swiss chard, and a Vitamix, Dan Michaud relates the story of David Dolginow and Colin Davis, co-founders of Shacksbury Ciders. Their Lost Apple project is an attempt to revive New England’s old cider orchards to create “the perfect cider.”

Nathan pulls a steak from what looks like a vertical fish-tank and explains how it heats the meat to a controlled temperature, so that when the steak is grilled, it will be cooked evenly throughout.

Dan circulates among the audience with bottles of Shacksbury cider. After his first go-round, people hold out glasses with please-sir-I-want-some-more expressions. Someone close by comments that he hopes Dan doesn’t run out before he gets his second taste.

Outside for air and a break, we encounter Laura Park (from the cheese and charcuterie seminar) with her friend Karen Durante of Edgartown and Newbury. We ask if they had a good time.

Laura drops her head back, closes her eyes, and lets out a long sigh. “You can quote me.”

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Two Island women aid detainees in New Mexico.

Lynn Ditchfield, left, and Rebecca McCarthy brought their skill sets to New Mexico. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Government officials threaten them and call them names. They are crowded into insufficient housing with bad food and lack of medical care.They can be kept locked up in a room, with no bed, cot, or cover in frigid conditions for up to seven days. These are women and children,  refugees from Central America, and this is the treatment they receive on this side of the border. But they persevere because the alternative is going back to Honduras, El Salvador, or Guatemala — and likely to incarceration, torture, or death.

Islanders Lynn Ditchfield and Rebecca McCarthy recently volunteered for two weeks in an immigrant detention center in Artesia, New Mexico. On Thursday night, they will share their experiences with the public in a program at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Library (details below).

Ms. Ditchfield, founder and program director of ACE MV, and Ms. McCarthy, an immigration attorney who lives in Vineyard Haven, flew to Albuquerque several weeks ago, and, ultimately, to a makeshift prison in the middle of a desert. Lynn acted as interpreter while Ms. McCarthy assisted detainees in preparing for asylum hearings.

“I heard about it and volunteered,” Ms. McCarthy recalled in an interview with The Times. “I’ve had a lot of experience representing women and children while they’re in custody.”

Ms. Ditchfield had skills that fit right in. “I taught Spanish at MVRHS for 24 years,” she said.

“I think that one of the biggest misconceptions is that all of these women and children are ‘illegal,’ Ms. McCarthy said. “They are lawfully present in the United States while their proceedings remain ongoing. Under immigration law, all of the women and children in the facility have due process rights. Not all of the women will be granted asylum, but if they have suffered past persecution or have a well-founded fear of future persecution upon returning to their country of citizenship, the U.S. is required to hear their claims.”

Although briefed beforehand by attorneys who had already made the trip, the two Islanders were not prepared for what they encountered when they arrived. “The facility is a detention center on a federal law enforcement training center,” Ms. McCarthy said. “It is basically mobile trailers pieced together. The average age of the detained child is six years old. Women describe how their children are not eating and how much weight they have lost. When the facility first opened many of the kids were getting physically ill from the food.”

“There are over 600 people in this makeshift facility made for half that many,” Ms. Ditchfield said. “There is no green area for the kids. They are given two changes of clothing; it has flooded with rain and they are getting sick and unable to change.”

Each day at the detention center began at 6:45 am, and they wrapped up their work on-site at around 6 pm. After a dinner break, they debriefed for a few more hours. After that, they prepared cases for the next day. Their day typically ended around midnight.

When she wasn’t needed for other functions, Ms. Ditchfield frequently gathered detainees for spontaneous English classes. “The hunger of both moms and kids to learn is amazing,” she said.

Ms. Ditchfield detailed some of the frustrations of the women “in process” at the facility. “The process is painfully slow,” she said. “Everyone here has family or friends willing to take them in and even pay a reasonable bond to get them out of detention, but the bonds have been set at ridiculously high rates ($20,000 or $30,000) making it impossible for some.”

“The takeaway from Artesia,” Ms. McCarthy said, “is that this ‘surge’ of women and children to the border is a humanitarian crisis. These are not financial migrants. The women and children in Artesia have not fled Central America because of rumored changes in immigration policy, but are fleeing violence and have viable asylum claims.”

Lynn Ditchfield and Rebecca McCarthy will share Eyewitness Report from the Border: Women and Children in Detention in an ACE forum on Thursday, October 23, 6:30–8 pm at the MVRHS Library. Free with suggested donation. ACE will also offer a winter Human Rights class inspired by the experience.

Jeremy Davis, executive chef at The Port Hunter in Edgartown, made silverside baitfish tacos during the Wild Food Challenge this past Monday. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Martha’s Vineyard has no shortage of restaurants, and behind each one, there’s a top-of-the-line chef. The Times decided to get to know these epicurean wonders, and is presenting its findings in a weekly series.

Jeremy Davis arrived on Island five years ago after a long history of cooking in private clubs across the country. A proponent of the farm-to-plate movement, Jeremy enjoys the privilege of meeting and conversing with the direct providers of his ingredients. He will be discussing the Farm to Plate experience with farmer Lily Walter and chef Jan Burhman at the Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival, Saturday, October 18, at 12 pm at The Port Hunter. For more information, visit

How did you come to be on the Island?

I took the ferry. I heard the place was a real fantasy.

How and when did you start cooking?

When I was 14 years old. It was a little restaurant in Daytona Beach, Florida. Cooking is pretty much the only industry I’ve been interested in. I’ve been doing it as long as I’ve had a job. I just always loved food. It’s a little bit of everything. It’s science, it’s art, it’s history. It’s something you create in your hands and people ingest in their bodies. It’s pretty neat all the way around.

How did you come to be at The Port Hunter?

There was a brand-new restaurant opening up and I just applied to be on the kitchen team. I got hired (as a line cook). That was three years ago. A little while later I moved up to head chef.

Have you ever had a major cooking disaster?

I’ve burnt a lot of bread in my day.

Do you have a dish or a meal that you cooked for something really special?

I cooked a really nice staff party meal for The Red Cat in Oak Bluffs. That night I actually roasted a whole pig and brought it out in the middle of the dining room during dinner service. I put it on the table and fed them fresh pulled-pork tacos. The restaurant was kind of shocked when I brought it out and dropped it on the table. I just kind of peeled back the skin and they took tongs and pulled the pork into some grilled tortilla shells I had. It was a really cool experience.

Favorite dish on your menu?

The vegetable. You get a choice of rice or quinoa. It comes with a black bean ragout, roasted vegetables, and sweet potato hash. You can add an egg or ricotta cheese or tofu. So it’s like a playful dish that the customer can build in their own way. It’s a little different and a vegetarian dish that you can add meat to if you’d like to.

What’s the best single bite you ate in the last week?

Probably the Cuban sandwich from 7a in West Tisbury. That’s probably the best thing I’ve had in a long time.

What do you cook for a romantic evening at home?

I think the most romantic dish is dessert — a little more romantic than actual dinner. I would make cinnamon roll French toast with some fresh berries and whipped cream and maple syrup. I would have that with some champagne and a splash of orange juice.

What are your top five indispensable ingredients?

Fresh fish, fresh veggies, fresh cheese, fresh herbs, and curry.

Do you have a favorite kitchen tool?

My knife. It’s a Japanese Shun knife.

What songs do you listen to when you’ve got the kitchen to yourself or don’t care who hears?

My playlist is every different genre you can think of. Every different sound. I don’t have a preference. I love music. I usually just like to listen to whatever the other guys are prepping to.

What is your idea of a perfect day off on Martha’s Vineyard?

I don’t usually get a day off, but some good time off is if it’s slightly gloomy, rainy, I go out to eat in different restaurants. There are a lot of good chefs on the Island.

If it could be anywhere in the world, where would you open your second restaurant?

Thailand. I love their cuisine. It’s bright, flavorful, it’s crunchy, it’s fresh. Their flavors are far more extreme than any other.

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Go-to seasonal recipes from Island chefs

Andrew Moore, Pumpkins, Egg Tempera, 1996.

The Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival kicks off on Thursday evening at 7 pm at the Ag Hall, with Fresh off the Farm, a “gathering of community and cuisine,” with farm-to-table tastes from Island chefs (and farmers) such as Nathan Gould, and pairings of wine and beer, all to the tunes of Good Night Louise. A portion of the proceeds will benefit Island Grown Schools. For more information:

In honor of all things fresh and local, we asked Island chefs participating in the festival for recipes using their favorite Martha’s Vineyard seasonal ingredients.

Judy Klumick of Black Sheep will host a "Rock Star Adventure of Cheese, Charcuterie and Wine" at Black Sheep for the MV Food and Wine Festival.  —Courtesy Judy Klumick
Judy Klumick of Black Sheep will host a “Rock Star Adventure of Cheese, Charcuterie and Wine” at Black Sheep for the MV Food and Wine Festival. —Courtesy Judy Klumick

Judy Klumick, Black Sheep

Roasted Squash

My favorite fall ingredient has to be anything squash — all varieties. Although I do not actually grow any, my compost usually gives me a few butternut volunteers every year.

I work with squash a lot in the chillier months, making soups, side dishes, etc. One of my favorite side dishes is a butternut squash puree with roasted bananas.

Roast a whole squash ‘til very blistered and soft.

Peel off skin and discard seeds.

Mash with 2 roasted bananas, butter, salt and pepper and a bit of maple syrup too.

This can be topped with a basic toasted pecan streusel if desired, and baked til bubbly.

See Chef Judy’s story here.

Chef-Joseph-Monteiro.jpgJoseph Monteiro, Atlantic Fish and Chop House

Roasted Corn, Leeks, and Island Crab Soup


Island corn, 4 ears, off the cobb

Leeks 2ea, medium diced

Vegetable oil, 1/4 cup

Crab meat, 1 lb

Crab stock, 2 qts

Butter, ¼ lb

Flour, 1/4 lb

Cilantro, 2 oz

Parsley, 1 oz

White wine, 1 cup

Salt and pepper to taste


In a hot skillet add oil corn, and leeks, saute until tender.

Add butter and flour, stir well, until the roux is formed.

Add white wine stir well.

Add stock, bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes.

Add cilantro and parsley.

In a blender, add hot soup and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve in a bowl with lumps of crab on top. Enjoy!

Read Chef Monteiro’s story here.

Jan Buhrman will be at the Port Hunter for a Farm to Table tasting on Saturday, at the MV Food and Wine Festival— File photo by Ralph Stewart
Jan Buhrman will be at the Port Hunter for a Farm to Table tasting on Saturday, at the MV Food and Wine Festival— File photo by Ralph Stewart

Jan Buhrman, The Kitchen Porch

Pumpkin Sauce and Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin is just so darn beautiful this time of year. I love the pink and green pumpkins or the big silver Cinderella pumpkins. The Cinderella pumpkins are the French heirloom whose true name is “Rouge vif D’Etampes” and resemble the pumpkin that transformed into the carriage that carried Cinderella to the ball. Next to all these grand beauties, you’ll find small round “sugar pumpkins” or “pie pumpkins.” Sugar pumpkins are an excellent choice for cooking and baking. These smaller pumpkins have a firm, thin flesh that is much smoother than that of larger pumpkins. They’re perfect for roasting, or making soups or sauces. Pumpkin is one of the widely grown vegetables that is incredibly rich in vital antioxidants: beta-carotene, Vitamin A, and flavonoid poly-phenolic leutin and xanthin.

This recipe for sauce can be used on fresh pasta, poured over sautéed greens, as a dip for veggies, or you can add a can of garbanzo beans, fresh lemon juice and tahini for a pumpkin hummus! Cook several pumpkins at once and freeze for the winter.


3 tsp minced garlic

‪1/2 onion minced

2 cups cooked pumpkin

1 cup stock (chicken or vegetable)

3 tablespoons minced fresh sage sage‬

2 Tbsp minced parsley‬

‪1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds (toast in a dry frying pan on medium-low, stirring frequently, or in a 300 degree oven for 15 minutes)‬

Shaved parmesan

Salt and pepper to taste‬


In a saucepan, combine garlic and onion and sauté for 10 minutes until lightly cooked. Add the pumpkin, stock, and sage. Cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste‬. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more stock. Set aside‬. Serve sprinkled with the toasted almonds, shaved parmesan, and minced parsley if desired‬.

The easiest way to cook pumpkin is to slice in half, scoop out the pumpkin seeds, and rub the flesh with olive oil so it does not stick so easily to pan, and place on a sheet pan flesh side down. Cook for about an hour (3-5 pound pumpkin). If the pumpkin is watery, place the cooked pumpkin in a pan and bring to a slow simmer until it cooks down a bit (20-40 minutes).

Reserve the seeds and pull away most of the flesh from the seeds. The easiest way to do this is to rub the seeds between your fingers, separating them from the flesh. Drizzle the seeds with a bit of olive oil, and spread out evenly on a baking pan. Use any spice you like to flavor your pumpkin seeds. I use soy or curry or maple syrup and sea salt.

Stir the seeds around with your fingers until they’re all well covered in oil and spice. Bake in 350 oven for 15-20 minutes and then toss with a spatula. The pumpkins seeds are cooked when they are lightly browned and a just crispy, some may still be a little bit wet which is fine as they will continue to cook for a few minutes after being removed from the oven.

Sprinkle seeds on the sauce.

Nathan Gould, of the Harbor View, is one of the MV Food and Wine Festival's featured chefs — Eli Dagostino
Nathan Gould, of the Harbor View, is one of the MV Food and Wine Festival’s featured chefs — Eli Dagostino

Nathan Gould, The Harbor View

Chickweed Pesto

Chickweed is one of my favorite wild greens to use in spring and fall, they seem to grow abundantly here on the Vineyard. They have a mild lettuce-like texture with a slight peppery and earthy finish. It acts great in salads, mixed into pasta dishes, as a replacement for greens or sprouts in sandwiches, or a refreshing garnish, but in my opinion, it is best utilized as pesto to mix into a bowl of fresh handmade noodles.


4 cups of chickweed, washed and trimmed of any hard stem, a handful reserved for garnish

½ cup hazelnuts, toasted

1/2 cup macadamia nuts

½ cup romano cheese, freshly grated

4 cloves of garlic

2 lemons, zested, juice from one lemon

½ -3/4 cup Spanish olive oil

½ tsp Fresh ground nutmeg

4 turns, fresh ground pepper, to taste

Martha’s Vineyard Sea Salt, to taste


Combine all ingredients, except olive oil into a vita-mix or high powered food processor.

Start the processor on low and gradually turn up to medium high speed, while slowly pouring the olive oil. Use enough olive oil to create a smooth paste. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix into a bowl of freshly made noodles, my favorite would be cavatelli or something smaller with good surface texture to hold on the sauce. Garnish with additional romano cheese and a few sprigs of chickweed. Enjoy with a light tasting earthy white wine, a Vino Verde or Albarino would pair great.

Read Chef Gould’s story here.

Justin Melnick, one of the chefs in the MV Food and Wine Festival, in the wine cellar at the Charlotte Inn. – photo by Rich Saltzberg
Justin Melnick, one of the chefs in the MV Food and Wine Festival, in the wine cellar at the Charlotte Inn. – photo by Rich Saltzberg

Justin Melnick, The Terrace at the Charlotte Inn

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with a Sage and Walnut Pesto

Nothing says fall to me more than butternut squash. It is a very versatile and delicious ingredient that I like to utilize in many different ways, roasted, purees, soups, gnocchi, etc.



2 ea butternut squash (about 1 lb each)

2 eggs

2-4 cups all purpose flour


1 cup parmigiano reggiano (small chunks, about 1 in.)

1 cup walnuts, toasted (toast in a 300 degree oven on a sheet pan for 20 min.)

1 clove garlic

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 bunch sage


2 T butter

1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano (grated)

Salt and pepper

For the gnocchi: (day before)

Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scoop out seeds and season with salt and olive oil. Roast in a 400 degree oven for 40 min or until tender. Pull the squash out of oven, and scoop flesh into a strainer lined with cheesecloth to drain out excess moisture. Place strainer in a bowl to catch the moisture. Place a weight on top of the squash to press out liquid. Allow squash to drain overnight.

(Next day) Place the drained butternut squash on a table with a small amount of flour. Mix in whole eggs with a fork until smooth. Cut flour in with a bench scraper in three installments until all flour is worked in, (note, more or less flour may be necessary depending on moisture content of squash) Once the dough is together and not too sticky, roll into long rolls (should look like a snake)about ½ inch in diameter. Cut the Gnocchi rolls to approximately ½ inch wide.

*Note: Gnocchi can be made in advance and frozen for later use, and can be cut to whatever size you prefer.

For the pesto:

Place toasted walnuts, parmesan cheese, and garlic clove in a food processor, pulse until a loose paste is formed. This could also be done using a mortar and pestle. Once you have the paste, add sage and oil. Pulse slowly until sage is incorporated. Transfer into a plastic container and refrigerate.

*Note, Pesto can be made up to 3 days in advance, keep refrigerated.

For the sauce:

Bring a large pot of slightly salted water to a rolling boil, and carefully place gnocchi in water. When gnocchi floats it is done. Brown the butter slightly in a sauté pan until a nutty aroma is released (about 2 min.) Add in the pesto and stir to incorporate all the flavors. Add the cooked gnocchi, and sprinkle some parmesan cheese directly into the pan. Stir and serve immediately topped with more parmesan cheese.

Read Chef Melnick’s story here.

Jeremy Davis, of the Port Hunter.
Jeremy Davis, of the Port Hunter.

Jeremy Davis, The Port Hunter

Spaghetti Squash and Black Bean Taco with Mermaid Farm Feta

I love fall, it’s my favorite time of year, especially on this Island. The weather’s beautiful, towns quiet down a bit, leafs turn all kinds of beautiful colors, and there’s still an abundance of delicious produce at the farms. I can’t say I have just one favorite local fall ingredient, because I love to cook with them all. One recipe I have always enjoyed is a spaghetti squash and black bean taco. We have great local spaghetti squash, and everyone loves taco night at home. The spaghetti squash works well in this recipe because it plays like pulled pork (which is my favorite kind of taco).


3 pounds spaghetti squash

2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon coarse salt

Sixteen 6 inch corn tortillas

One 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained very well

4 ounces crumbled mermaid farm feta

1/4 cup finely diced red onion

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves

dash of hot sauce


To cook squash, pre-heat the oven to 375. Cut squash lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.

Place in the oven face down in an oiled half sheet pan, and bake for 35 minutes. Larger squash could take 45 minutes. Once the squash is done cooking and slightly cooled, scrape the flesh with a fork into a mixing bowl and discard skin. In a separate bowl, whisk together lime juice, chili powder, cumin, coriander, and salt. Pour over the spaghetti squash and gently toss. Heat a dry heavy skillet over med-high heat, warm and blister each tortilla shell for 30 seconds on each side. Place each shell with red onion, black beans, squash mixture, crumbled feta, chopped cilantro, and hot sauce if needed. Serve with lime wedges and enjoy

Ed Merck discusses voice health with Heidi Carter. —Photo by Michael Cummo

You speak, and you sound like a longtime smoker with a chest cold. You sing, and it comes out as wavy as South Beach in a hurricane. You laugh, and it’s a cackle worthy of the Wicked Witch of the West — unless you’re a male. Then it’s her younger sister.

What’s happened to your voice? Why, for the first time since adolescence, do you open your mouth and out pop sounds that you’re hard-pressed to identify as your own? You’re aging. And like the skin under your triceps, the muscles in your chin, and the girth around your middle, your voice is getting saggy. There are fixes: injections of fat and other fillers into your vocal cords — even surgery. But these are drastic measures, and given the availability of exercises for vocal fitness, superfluous.

For the last two and a half years, Heidi Carter has been teaching Voice Craft on-Island: a system of vocal exercises for tuning up the speaking voice. According to Ms. Carter, “as with the aging body, you’re working against the forces of time when it comes to vocal work. The goal is to keep the voice limber and as strong as possible. Everything is dependent on correct breathing and a raised soft palate. The two strengthen your core and enable your voice to be resonant, strong, and healthy.”

Ms. Carter is the best advertisement for her services. She speaks with a clear and lilting strength, and gives the impression that she’s well in control of her vocal faculties. A singer since age 13  — first folk, then classical — her background includes several degrees in music-related studies and a stint with the Boston Opera Company chorus (appearing twice at Tanglewood). Other degrees include counseling, geriatric, and disabled work, always with a musical bent.

After a singing career, work with the aged and challenged, and facilitating the building of a cultural center in New York, Ms. Carter decided, 10 years ago, to become a voice teacher. “My students started asking similar questions,” she recalls. “‘Why is my voice getting tight?’ ‘My voice is getting lower.’ ‘I’m losing my vocal range.’ I was hearing this enough that I decided to go on the Internet and see what was up. It hadn’t occurred to me in all my years of singing that the voice ages just like the rest of us.”

Ms. Carter discovered through her research that the deterioration of the voice occurs as follows:

  • The joints and cartilage of the larynx stiffen
  • Muscles and nerve tissues weaken
  • The mucosal layer of the vocal-fold edges depletes
  • Facial and speaking muscles atrophy
  • The craniofacial structure of the head enlarges symmetrically
  • The tongue loses strength
  • Pulmonary functions decrease
  • Respiratory functions weaken
  • Vocal range and pitch change in both men (higher) and women (lower)
  • Lung volume remains the same, but capacity decreases

These discoveries led Ms. Carter to develop Voice Craft, which incorporates exercises for posture, breathing, listening, articulation, expression, and language. There is a lot of overlap.

“You can’t help but improve posture with your breathing,” she explains. “The moment you take a deep breath, yours lungs expand, your ribs expand, your back has to straighten out. So the first thing I do is teach how to improve your posture and strengthen your core.”

She slouches to illustrate. “You notice, if I bend over my voice gets drier-sounding. It’s actually pushing nine little bones together in the larynx, which causes it to calcify.” She notes that many teenagers are beginning to sport this gravelly sound due to slouching at computers, over cell phones, and under backpacks. “They’re deteriorating their voices just like elderly people,” Ms. Carter says.

Listening is a given for vocalizing. Ms. Carter quotes Alfred A. Tomatis, a French pioneer in ear, nose, and throat therapies: “You can’t re-create with your voice what you can’t hear.” But Ms. Carter uses listening in an unexpected way. “We listen to feel what’s going on inside the mouth, and the pharynx, the back of the mouth, the sinuses, and how it’s affecting the rest of the body,” she explains.

Articulation follows, where the voice moves to the front of the face. Ms. Carter says, “The moment you begin to articulate, everything comes forward in your speech, and your voice becomes more and more resonant.”

The class then concentrates on primal sounds, re-experiencing the beauty of vowels and consonants and how they come together. “I want to restore how words are really archetypal,” Ms. Carter says. “The more you express them from an authentic place, the more lively and colorful your voice is.”

“Language is just building on the primal sounds,” she adds.

It may seem to be a lot of work for something as organic as speaking, but, Ms. Carter claims, there are other health benefits to vocal exercises. In the process of posture, listening, and articulation, the bones vibrate and resonate, creating, as Ms. Carter says, “a beautiful sonic massage to the whole body. It brings the body to stasis.”

“The language and expression,” she adds, “are just perks for working on those other things.”

Ms. Carter is currently writing a book on Voice Craft, and is teaching a course for ACE MV at the high school. She also teaches workshops at the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard.

Tips for Maintaining Your Healthy, Youthful Voice:

  • Warm up the voice at least 10 minutes a day
  • Refrain from shouting or unsupported whispering
  • Avoid throat-clearing
  • Maintain abdominal support
  • Sip warm or tepid water
  • Eliminate milk and caffeine from diet
  • Don’t smoke
  • Limit intake of alcoholic beverages
  • Keep an exercise regimen
  • Read aloud
  • Sing in the car and shower, or join a chorus
  • Speak gently
  • Laugh and smile a lot

Dan Sauer, chef and owner of 7a in West Tisbury, specializes in surprising sandwiches. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Martha’s Vineyard has no shortage of restaurants, and behind each one, there’s a top-of-the-line chef. The Times decided to get to know these epicurean wonders, and is presenting its findings in a weekly series. Dan Sauer will be part of this year’s “Fresh off the Farm” event at the M.V. Food and Wine Festival. For more information, visit

Dan Sauer makes lunch an art form. A 1999 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA),

he worked at Oceana Restaurant in New York under the guidance of Chef Rick Moonen. Now, as part owner (with his wife, Wenonah) and executive chef of 7a, he uses locally sourced foods and elevates the lowly sandwich to an eyelid-dropping, intermittent-sighing experience. Located behind Alley’s in West Tisbury, 7a Foods opened in June 2010 and has become a lunch destination for foodie tourists and discriminating year-rounders. Dan Sauer also cooks a mean breakfast.

How did you come to be on the Island?

I was working at Oceana, and a friend of mine was working at Gramercy Tavern and told me about a sous-chef in New York named Marco [Canora] who had a restaurant [La Cucina] on the Vineyard in the summer. He was looking for a cook, so I got an interview with him and got the job. That was in the summer of 2000. I worked for him that whole summer, then went back to New York. My wife and I got married in 2004, and we moved back here about a year later. I was the chef for Outermost Inn in Aquinnah for Hughie Taylor.

How and when did you start cooking?

I started cooking when I was in high school. I worked in a place in Billings, Mont., called Walker’s Grill. That was my first cooking job. I wasn’t very college-bound, to say the least. I had to find something to appease my parents. Culinary school filled that. But from the first day I started, I sort of loved all the action, the pressure, the camaraderie, the s***-talking, and all the things that go on working in a restaurant.

How did you come to open 7a?

It was sort of the thing I did in the off-season at the Outermost for a couple of years. I would make fresh pastas and sauces, soups and sausage, and sell it. I actually started a little Facebook page for it. People would place their orders, and I would deliver them to their houses or a meeting point down-Island. I got interested in growing my own food at the Outermost. We had a garden there that I tended. They already had a garden, but I made it more kitchen-based. The year I left the Outermost Inn, I did the Farmer’s Market and some catering, all under the name 7a Farms. When the Alley’s space became available, I thought it would be a good fit for what I wanted to do. We signed the lease a year after that [end of June 2010].

Have you ever had a major cooking disaster?

Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Several. A big one was at Oceana when I was catering a party. You’re always supposed to make a little bit extra. I thought everything would go fine and I told the chef I made extra and I didn’t. It was 10 sheet pans of sea bass, and I dropped the last one. We didn’t have any other sea bass in the house. I got yelled at quite a bit. We had to give them another kind of fish.

What’s the best single bite you ate in the past week?

Funny you asked. I’m doing a 21-day cleanse with my wife. You can’t eat any meat or protein for the first week. I just made a curried lentil stew last night, because on Day 8 you can start eating that. It’s about the best thing I’ve eaten in a long time.

Was it good because it was good or because you missed it?

A little bit of both, I think.

Favorite dish on your menu?

Right now it’s probably the Heirloom Tomato Sandwich. It’s got heirloom tomatoes and corn relish and goat cheese on our house-made focaccia. With North Tabor Farm greens. A lot of Island stuff. It’s a great time of year for vegetables.

What’s your favorite dish using fall ingredients right now?

My favorite would probably be butternut squash soup, and starting in about a month or so we’ll start doing a fall veggie melt, which is roasted fall vegetables with Gruyere cheese and honey aioli. That’s always a big hit.

What are your top five indispensable ingredients?

Number one, without a doubt, is salt. You can’t cook without it. It’s not just a spice or seasoning. It actually changes the way your taste buds react to food. Proper seasoning is everything.

For number two, I’d probably say olive oil. Cooking with a good olive oil and finishing with a great olive oil is usually how I use it. It adds so much flavor.

Three? Pork. It’s just the best thing in the world. There’s so many things you can do with it. It’s hard to use a cow nose-to-tail because of its actual size, but I can get a half a pig and find ways to use it all throughout the restaurant.

Four? Garlic, I would say. The way you cut it — it can be a paste, it can be sliced, and you can slow-cook it in olive oil. It adds a lot of different flavors. You can utilize it in a lot of different ways.

The last one: acid, I would say. Either citrus or vinegar. It’s essential. It’s another thing that brings flavors together and makes things pop. Squeeze a lemon on something at the end. You may not taste the lemon, but it just brightens up the whole thing.

Do you have a favorite kitchen tool?

Probably my smoker. We make our housemade pastrami in it. I smoke garlic for mayonnaise that I make chicken salad with in the summer. I’m working on a smoked mustard right now for a homemade mustard, smoking the seeds before I make it.

What songs do you listen to when you’ve got the kitchen to yourself or don’t care who hears?

After we close, we definitely listen to the Wu-Tang Clan. During the day, when we’re open for business, we listen to every possible type of music you can imagine. We have Pandora radio stations and it’s a constant source of conversation and arguments and discussion. In the summer, we have a couple of workers from Jamaica, so reggae is definitely a part of it.

What is your idea of a perfect day off on Martha’s Vineyard?

Definitely involves spending time with my wife and two sons [ages 6 and 7] on the beach. Lobsters from Larsen’s and fishing with my oldest son.

If it could be anywhere in the world, where would you open your second restaurant?

Probably Bozeman, Mont. It would give me a reason to be able to go home on a regular basis. It’s not my hometown, but it’s my home state.

What would you be if you weren’t a chef?

Probably in jail.

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Women Empowered paid tribute to three of the Island’s movers and shakers last Saturday among the luscious flavors of brunch at the Harborview. In its third year, the Woman of the Year honorific salutes Island individuals whose work positively impacts Martha’s Vineyard. According to Vivian Stein, board president of Women Empowered, “These are three year-round women who have shown that they really want to make a difference.” This years’ honorees are Judy Crawford, chairman of the board of the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard; Betsy Burmeister, recreational therapy director at Windemere; and Jesse Keller, director of Island programs and education for The Yard.

These women are all about movement — moving the Island forward, keeping seniors moving and engaged during the twilight years of their lives, and opening new creative paths for the Island’s youth.

Judy Crawford. (Courtesy Women Empowered)
Judy Crawford. (Courtesy Women Empowered)

Founded 12 years ago by Kay Flathers (who is no longer an Island resident), Women Empowered was formed to help women (and now also men) in crisis or otherwise stalled begin to press on again, whether it be by offering debt or career counseling, bestowing microloans on small start-ups, or providing tuition assistance. Its goals are mostly accomplished through workshops and one-on-one coaching by a group of volunteers. “Woman of the Year” honors those motivated who also strive, as Ms. Stein explains, “to increase the value the Island brings to people of all ages.”

“This year, they are from three different areas,” she continues, “which is very important. What they have in common is that they are motivated to help Islanders in their own way. Jesse Keller works a lot with children; Betsy Burmeister works with the elderly; and Judy Crawford, well, she’s spread all over. She was instrumental in getting the Y built.”

Betsy Burmeister, honored for her work as recreational therapy director at Windemere, found movement in her own life when she took on the position 17 years ago after working in her department for a year and a half. “When I first came to the department,” she recalls, “I was really kind of quiet and shy. The administrator talked to me about the position. I guess his faith in me gave me confidence I never had before. I really got into it, got excited about it, and wanted to make it a really good place for the residents to come.”

Since taking on the job, she has increased the volunteer staff from six to more than 120, in programs like animal visits, enlisting younger schoolkids to write bios of the patients, bringing high school students in, bringing in plays and musical acts and speakers. “We try to get the residents either out into the community or bring the community in to them,” she explains. “We really try to reach out.”

Judy Crawford’s bailiwick is getting others to move and shake. As chairman of the board of the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard and a founder, member, or officer of other Island organizations, she gets ventures moving forward. When the Y was no more than isolated projects spread around schools and various venues, she helped develop a vision, set goals, enlisted resources, and facilitated the building of the centrally-located, community-oriented Island treasure that has become the Y.

Ms. Crawford explains, “I’m happy on the bigger scale, kind of organizing the long-range vision and then finding people who will take on the pieces that I know have to happen. That’s how the Y got built. It took 17 years. It started as a gleam in a bunch of people’s eyes, but it was a relatively small group that made it happen.”

Jesse Keller. (Photo Courtesy of Women Empowered)
Jesse Keller. (Photo Courtesy of Women Empowered)

Jesse Keller, the most recently settled of the honorees, is also the one most physically involved with movement. After coming to the Island in 2009 for an internship at The Yard, she moved here, took a part-time position there and another at Midnight Farm, and began to work movement magic on the Island. When David White took over the administration of The Yard in 2011 and began clearly defining roles and departments, Ms. Keller was offered the position of director of Island programs and education. This was an ideal situation for the young dancer, a graduate of the University of Ohio with a degree in dance education. “The organization was going through a lot of transition. There was a lot of growth [at The Yard] that was going to happen. I could see that and I wanted to be a part of that,” she explains.

Since then, Ms. Keller has formed movement workshops and programs for children at the Y, at The Yard, and recently, in the Island’s schools. “I am very driven about giving the Island this other language of dance,” she explains. “I do think it could really change our community and help give young people, help give adults, help give young adults all a voice that is very much needed in communicating with the arts.

“Movement is very empowering,” she insists. “I get to feel that every single day as a dancer. The least I can do is pass that on to others within the community.”

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A Movement Workshop for Island Schools.

Young dancers in a Yard program at West Tisbury Elementary. (Photo by Sofia Strempek) — Sofia Strempek

When some of the Island’s children return to school next month, they’ll find an additional “R” to the Three R’s – rhythm.

The 2013 camp Make Kids Dance was such a success that the Yard will be running dance programs in Island schools. (Photo by Sally Cohn)
The 2013 camp Make Kids Dance was such a success that the Yard will be running dance programs in Island schools. (Photo by Sally Cohn)

The Yard – Martha’s Vineyard’s premier proponent of dance – is introducing a program, “Making It,” into the curriculum of Island schools. Working with professional dance troupes from off-Island, kids will learn about movement and building choreography. Created by David White, The Yard’s Artistic and Executive Director, patterned after the Kids Make Dance Camp at The Yard, and administered by Jesse Keller (who teaches a similar workshop at the Y), it will be customized to fit the available time and needs of the participating schools.

While some may consider it frivolous to bring a movement workshop into the syllabi, the program is about much more than dance. Keller explains. “While (the students) definitely learn movement skills, this program is not meant to focus on teaching kids steps. It’s more about the kids’ creativity and how they can link movement to their everyday problem solving, life skills, literary skills, and things like that.”

She cites a week-long workshop they held at the high school in April. “We brought in David Parker and The Bang Group (from New York). They’re a tap and rhythm group but they also work a lot with props. We worked with the students on a piece that the (professional) group performed. They were in Velcro suits. Afterwards, we did our warm-up and split all the kids into teams. We gave them five pieces of different types of Velcro — suits that they could put on, Velcro-covered balls, things like that. The task was to, in a group, learn how to connect and disconnect these in three ways and in movement only.”

According to Keller, not only did the kids learn to work together creatively to accomplish the task and see the everyday objects in a different light, but kids who normally would not associate with each other laughed together and had fun. “They were working with kids that they probably wouldn’t be hanging out with at lunchtime,” Keller explains.

David White further elaborates, “We had kids who were on the autistic spectrum who had aides with them. In the case of those kids who were part of this process, the aides uniformly said that they had never seen their kids so immediately productive in that kind of situation – working in groups, socializing.”

“And the real beauty of it,” Keller adds, “was every single kid in the high school participated.”

Also, by bringing in pros like The Bang Group from New York, the Everett Company from Providence, Rhode Island, and H.T. Chen from Chinatown in New York, the programs expose students to artists who are making a living in their field – a boon to kids faced with career decisions.

After the April workshops (held at several Island schools), and the success of the summer camp, it wasn’t difficult to bring Island schools on board. The Yard already has Chilmark, Edgartown, and Oak Bluffs Schools scheduled. “But,” says Keller, “we’re still having conversations with the (other) public schools, and the Charter School, figuring out what would work for them.” Some schools, like Edgartown, see it as fitting into their physical education curriculum, although it can be used to address particular subjects.

David White sees it as fitting into almost any area of the curriculum. He views movement as a potential science lab. “Dance is three things,” he explains, “Take one material thing, the body, take two immaterial things, space and time, and you mash them up. That’s a physics problem.” He also considers it a cultural lesson. “Chilmark School is looking to do an ancient China thing,” he relates, “And we’re bringing in H.T. Chen and his company from Chinatown.”

The program at Edgartown School will work with fifth and either seventh or eighth graders, one day a week, for one period, spread over ten week. Teachers will be consulted on a continuing basis throughout the program. “That’s where we’re gauging our success,” says Keller. “Being in very close contact with the teachers during the entire process.” They’ll be asked how it’s affecting their day, if they’re seeing changes in the students. If they’re seeing more focus. In addition, an in-depth questionnaire will be filled out by the teachers and principals at the end of the program.

During the April workshop, the physical education teacher asked the students to journal throughout the process and that helped shape the current program.

Ultimately, it’s fairly certain that every student will take away something from “Making It.” David White explains, “Movement and dance provides a different kind of creativity, a different kind of firing of neurons in the brain, that can stimulate all sorts of things in the intelligences and aptitudes of these kids in other areas.”

And it builds confidence. “It’s made so that every kid can succeed,” Keller says. “Every kid can do it.”

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They raise funds and explore timeless issues of communication.

The entire cast and production team of Spring Awakening. — Photo by Lynn Christoffers

Wendla desperately begs her mother to tell her how women conceive. Martha has no one to confide in that she is being sexually abused by her father. Moritz’s father greets the news that his son has failed in school with a selfish diatribe of what will people think. These characters from the musical “Spring Awakening,” teens in late 19th century Germany, struggle to find a sympathetic ear among the adults in their lives.

As do many of the Island’s teens.

Parents were an integral part of the production. Here, Barbara Binder and Michele Ortlip, Director.
Parents were an integral part of the production. Here, Barbara Binder and Michele Ortlip, Director.

Fortunately, a synchronicity of sorts has recently occurred on Island to address that very issue. A group of Island teens found relevance to their own lives and those of their friends in the Steven Slater/Duncan Sheik production of “Spring Awakening” — so much so that they pulled together to mount the production on the Vineyard. Meanwhile, a group of Island organizations drew together to form the Island Wide Youth Collaborative (IWYC) in response to the recent rise in awareness of stress and mental health issues beleaguering Island youth.

Recent MVRHS graduate Sam Permar relates how the Island production came about. “When I was in seventh grade, I saw the show in a national tour. I fell in love with it. Since then, it’s been my dream to do the show. It was the most thought-out and detailed expression of young adults’ emotions and experiences. In a lot of other shows they seemed more touched upon and not so real to me. But this was the first time I saw something that really stuck with me because of how real it was and how scary.”

The musical, a multiple Tony winner, follows the German teens through the isolation and issues of their lives, including homosexuality, teen pregnancy and abortion, sexual abuse, suicide, and the angst of dealing with blossoming bodies and sexuality. The issues these adolescents experienced more than 110 years ago (the current production was taken from a play written by Frank Wedekind in 1890 or 91) mirror the obstacles current teens face in their everyday lives.

In his senior year, Sam Permar approached his mother, psychologist Jane Dreeben, and suggested that, because his peers were all about the right age to populate the roles in the show, it would be a good time to produce the show on the Vineyard. Jane had also seen a touring production and agreed. “(MVRHS) did ‘Cats’ last spring and he (Sam) and a number of high school students were involved in that show. Part of what came out of that show is that there is really an extraordinarily large and capable group of actors and performers and singers. They could all sort of do everything. ‘Cats’ was, to a large degree, a student generated and run show. So we were like ‘what would it take to do it?’”

Sarah Ortlip-Sommers, a good friend of Sam’s and also a cast member of “Cats,” joined the conversations. Her mother, Michele Ortlip, enjoyed a long-time career in show business, casting many professional stage and film productions. “Jane Dreeben approached me,” Michele recalls. “She said, ‘How can we put this play together?’ We (Sam, Sarah, Jane, and Michele) discussed it and decided that even though it happens in the 1800s, the issues in the play of communication between parents and their children are very relevant.”

Early on, due mostly to Sam’s prodding, it was decided that the production would be a benefit. He modestly demurs, “It wasn’t only my idea. We decided to do it as a fundraiser within the first few weeks of the process. When we were talking about the creative side, we thought what if we somehow did the show as a benefit for adolescents who are going through these exact struggles on the Island? We could creatively express those struggles, but also benefit those people.”

“It seems as if all of the stars aligned for it to happen together,” Michele recalls. “While we were discussing the play and its relevancy to today’s youth and parents, M.V. Community Services, the Youth Task Force, the YMCA, and the regional school system were forming this coalition. We met with the Youth Task Force who immediately came on board as a sponsor.”

The coalition became the Island Wide Youth Collaborative (IWYC), whose goal is to coordinate services among providers of professional support for young people on the Island so that the services remain consistent, convenient, and Island-centered. What could have been more apropos than the Collaborative supporting the show and vice-versa?

Donations of rehearsal space, poster design, ticket printing and other incidentals came from the IWYC. Soon, it seemed, everyone began talking about the production, and other organizations became involved.

Sydney Johnson and her father, Music Director, Eric Johnson.
Sydney Johnson and her father, Music Director, Eric Johnson.

And, although the concept reached out to encompass the Island, it also became very much a family affair. Eric Johnson, professional musician and owner/operator of Tisberry Frozen Yogurt and father of Sydney Johnson (cast as Thea), volunteered to be music director at his busiest time of the year. Sam Permar’s older sister Tessa choreographed, with Sophia Nelson (who played Ilse) assisting. Sam acted as assistant director to Michele. Darby Patterson’s (she played Martha) father, Geoff, designed and worked lights.

However, even with a proliferation of adult involvement, it remained the kids’ show. “The whole process was student driven,” Jane relates. “The young people did most of the process of creating the show. Michele and I very consciously asked them to do a lot. At times we functioned more as mentors than leaders. They were involved in decisions on every level.”

More importantly, parents and teens were communicating. Given the controversial and troubling nature of the subject matter, parents of the participating teens were called to alert them of the shocking scenes that are inherent in the play and many discussions were held during rehearsals.

Barbara Dworkin Binder and Robert Dutton played all of the adult roles and few of them were sympathetic characters. Barbara, lured out of a ten-year retirement from acting, explains, “You had a heightened awareness of everyone who was on stage with you because of the communication. Some of the material was difficult to watch other people do, and to act. We felt terrible for the characters we were playing. You want to elevate your children. These parents were squashing and shaming. We always had a lot of open discussion about how we were feeling, why we were feeling that way. It’s hard to understand the kinds of things some of the characters went through and especially for the teenagers to understand this kind of cruelty.”

Michele concurs. “It fostered a lot of discussion with our kids and the kids that were around. During rehearsals there was a lot of, ‘What is this scene about?’ I would say there was a lot of growth.”

At this point, being so close to the production’s end, it would be difficult to project how the play affected communication between the teens and adults in the audience, but undoubtedly it opened some doors. And maybe, just maybe, the play’s support for the IWYC won’t just be financial.