Local authors garner honors

Susie Middleton and Suzan Bellincampi top “best of” lists from NPR and The Boston Globe.

Island authors Susie Middleton and Suzan Bellincampi are honored for their books this year. — Photos courtesy of Susie Middlet

As the year draws to a close, works from the past 12 months have been revisited, and two Island writers have received accolades for their books. Susie Middleton’s part cookbook, part memoir Fresh from the Farm was named among NPR’s Book Concierge, a guide to the great books published in 2014. The book chronicles Ms. Middleton’s adventures in farming and cooking, and is full of seasonal recipes highlighting fresh local food all year long. Ms. Middleton, former chief editor of Fine Cooking magazine, is a food blogger and farmer at West Tisbury’s Green Island Farm. NPR staff and critics selected some 250 of their favorite titles and featured Fresh from the Farm among their cookbook selections. See below for Ms. Middleton’s Big Molasses Crinkle Cookies recipe, as seen in Fresh from the Farm. 

Island author and Felix Neck Director Suzan Bellincampi was also honored for her book Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature by The Boston Globe in their roundup of the best New England books of 2014. Published by Vineyard Stories, Ms. Bellincampi’s book is a fully illustrated guidebook based on the late Anne Hale’s classic natural history book Moraine to Marsh. The book includes trail guides to six favorite Island walks along with directions and sightseeing tips along the way. See below for an excerpt on Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary from Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature.

Big Molasses Crinkle Cookies

Copyright Susie Middleton, from Fresh From the Farm: A Year of Recipes and Stories

This is a softer, chewier version of a childhood favorite. It’s also a bit bigger (as in diameter), since I roll the dough into fairly large balls. They bake out at between 3 and 4 inches across. But you can certainly make smaller cookies; just check to see if they are done after 9 minutes or so. At any size, the cookies are best removed from the oven a little underdone, as they will continue to cook as they cool. The dough needs to be chilled for 45 minutes to an hour, but it can also be chilled overnight if you like. The cookies freeze well, too. Recipe makes 16 4-inch cookies.

2¼ cups (10½ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon ground cloves

Table salt

¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup dark brown sugar

6 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 large egg

¼ cup unsulfured molasses

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and ¼ teaspoon salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter, brown sugar, 2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar, and a pinch of salt. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about a minute. Stop the motor and scrape the sides down. Add the egg and beat on medium speed until combined. With the motor running, slowly add the molasses and the vegetable oil and beat on medium-low speed until well combined. Stop the motor and scrape the sides down. With the motor running on low, spoon in the dry ingredients gradually and mix until just combined (you’ll still see some flour). Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a silicone spatula to finish gently mixing the last bits of flour into the dough.

Chill the dough in the refrigerator for an hour or so.

Heat the oven to 375°F degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment. Put the remaining 4 tablespoons granulated sugar in a shallow bowl. Put a small bowl of water out. Roll the dough into big balls that are about 1½ inches (or a smidge bigger) in diameter. Dip each ball in the sugar and roll around to coat. Put each on the baking sheet. Sprinkle each dough ball with a little water. Repeat, spacing dough balls 4 to 5 inches apart on the baking sheets. (You’ll get 4 to 5 cookies on a sheet pan.)

Bake until the cookies are set around the edges, slightly puffed (they will collapse as they cool), and crackled on the top, 11 to 13 minutes, rotating the baking sheets to opposite racks halfway through cooking. (Smaller cookies will cook in about 10 minutes.) Cool on the baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining dough, putting new parchment on the baking sheets.

Keep the cookies well wrapped in plastic inside a zip-top bag in the freezer or well-wrapped at room temperature for a day or two. To warm cookies, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet in a 350°F oven for 2 to 4 minutes.

The Natural Features of Cedar Tree Neck Sanctuary

Copyright Suzan Bellincampi, from Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature

In this sanctuary a wide diversity of habitats are present: mature woodlands, freshwater ponds and wetlands, a beach, dunes, and a bluff on a headland that projects farther into Vineyard Sound than any other place along the north shore between Gay Head and West Chop. A magnificent panorama of the Elizabeth Islands is visible from the bluff.

The natural features of Cedar Tree Neck are typical of Up-Island and the western moraine and differ from those Down-Island, as seen at Felix Neck. The topography here is steeper. Extensive networks of fresh water and occasional large erratics, boulders left here by the glaciers, are found.

When you walk the trails, the many ridges and valleys in this sanctuary become apparent. Some are preglacial deposits that were folded as the glacier, which acted like a bulldozer, pushed against them. Others were deposits laid down as the ice paused during its uneven retreat.

Many types of freshwater habitats lie within the folds of land: streams, brooks, freshwater ponds, swamps, and bogs—as great a variety of wetlands as can be found in any one area open to the public on Martha’s Vineyard. Plants and associated fauna specific to these habitats are abundant.

The sanctuary’s woodlands are among the most mature woodlands on the Island. Most of the trees are oaks, but characteristic of the western moraine, other tree species live in these older woods. Some of the Vineyard’s finest stands of beech flourish here. Sassafras and hickory grow in the lowland woodlands, while red maple and beetlebung populate the wetter habitats.

Stone walls course through the property. Though they seem to run aimlessly uphill and down through the woodlands, they mark the boundaries of former pas- turelands and remain as testaments to the strong backs and hard work of the early settlers. Many deer live along the north shore where there are open woodlands, development is tightly controlled, and hunting is limited.

You are unlikely to see an abundance of birds in the deep woods during the day. In the daylight hours they frequent edges in search of food, so look for them in hedges, thickets, and along the shoreline. Look and listen for the black-capped chickadee and the white-breasted nuthatch, both year-rounders. Woodpeckers, perhaps the hairy—more likely the smaller downy—will also be about. Keep an eye out for the northern flicker and for the scarlet tanager, an uncommon summer visitor that prefers deciduous woodlands and has been seen and heard along the trails on the upper part of the sanctuary.

The sanctuary has been set aside for wildlife study and preservation, not as a recreational facility. Allow adequate time to explore. Although the shorter walk option takes a bit more than an hour including brief stops at points of interest, this unique refuge invites dalliance to savor the peace and relative solitude.