Cool Culinary Finds, High Summer 2021

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Vineyard Confections

Most people, when they think of candy, chocolate first comes to mind. Not so with Paula Karal of Vineyard Confections, who has spent the past year or so perfecting recipes for boutique hard candy, creating all types of flavors in lollipops, sticks, and drops. More recently she has added brittles and caramels to her repertoire.

“My focus at first was on hard candy — how do I get it perfect?” says Karal. “Then the caramels and brittles came off that. I’ve been experimenting with all different combinations, and making up my own recipes. It’s been a matter of trial and error, with a lot of error.” Luckily, Karol is nothing if not persistent, and she has managed to come up with a line of candies that are as visually appealing as they are delicious. 

The lollies and other hard candies come in fun shapes and colors, and sometimes include inlaid designs (the Vineyard outline is a favorite),or visible bits of embedded items like colored coarse sugar, lavender flowers, or tiny pieces of strawberry. The flavors run from the classics to the inventive. For the summer, Vineyard Confections is offering watermelon mint, lemonade, strawberry rhubarb, and violet flavors. The selection varies seasonally.

Karal, whose day job is as a physician’s assistant, found inspiration for her latest endeavor during a visit to her birthplace of Madrid (her father was a serviceman and the family relocated often). There she discovered a little store that sold only violet-flavored hard candy, and she was hooked. Back home in the U.S., when her well-guarded stash of the candies ran out, Karal decided to try making her own, and so Vineyard Confections was born.

The candymaking process appeals to the lifelong healthcare professional’s passion for experimentation. “I really got into the science of hard candy and became obsessed,” she says. “I had so many failures in the beginning. In trying to learn, it’s not actually that easy to find the information. I had to come up with different solutions. It’s never a sure thing. It keeps it interesting for me. ” 

Aesthetics are very important to Karal, who has a background as a potter and painter. “I’m into the visual piece of it, as well as the flavor,” she says. “I focus on the presentation and the freshness of the candy.” 

Along with her classic candies and bubblegum (yes, homemade bubblegum!), Karal offers gift boxes, holiday-themed treats, and special orders — including customized packages for weddings and other occasions. She even makes dog “candy” (they’re really dog biscuits, but don’t tell your pooch). 

Currently Karal is making all of her candies in small amounts in her health-department-registered home kitchen. She notes that her recipes can only really be made successfully in single or double batches. “I’m afraid to try to get too big too soon,” she says. For now, Vineyard Confections can be ordered through the website. Karal hopes to expand availability to other local outlets as early as later this summer.

 

Tea Lane Apothecary

If anyone knows plants, it’s Emma Tobin. Born on the Island, she grew up hanging around and helping out at the family business, Tea Lane Nursery. Her time on the Island instilled a love of nature, especially the botanical world, and informed her decision to learn as much as she could about plants. 

After spending years studying everything from plant and soil science to sustainable food, farming, and clinical herbalism, and co-founding and operating a free, mobile community herbal clinic in Sonoma County, Calif., she embarked on the creation of her own line of botanicals. 

Last year Tobin moved back to the Island, and drawing on her vast knowledge of the healing and regenerative properties of plants, she started making her own herb-infused oils, salves, tinctures, syrups, glycerites, vinegars, and teas. Earlier this year Tobin launched Tea Lane Apothecary, an herbal skincare and remedies company that offers natural aids for everyday needs like sleep, focus, immunity, stress, anxiety, tick/bug repellent, hair, skin, and more.

Whenever possible, Tobin uses plants she has either grown, foraged, or acquired from local farms. The other ingredients she sources from small organic companies. She has set up a home laboratory of sorts where she works her alchemy magic — pressing herbs and making infusions in Mason jars. 

Tobin has found that many of nature’s own remedies can be found growing wild on Island.

Some of the 20-plus plants that she forages — or wildcrafts, as she refers to the undertaking — include rose hips, nettles, plantain, Queen Anne’s lace, red clover, and St. John’s wort. She grows around 15 other beneficial plants in her West Tisbury garden.

Following on her years working outdoors, as a farmer, gardener, landscaper, and lifeguard, Tobin decided to create a specific line of products designed to combat sun damage. The holistic, herbal skincare line Salty as Folk includes a replenishing serum, a toner, and a soothing aftersun spray. 

For now Tobin is selling her line at the Chilmark Flea Market, where she’s likely to spend a good deal of her day talking plants with customers — something she truly enjoys. 

“I’ve been around plants my whole life,” she says. “The plants talk to me.”

 

Among the Flowers Seafood Feasts 

Nothing makes for a more traditional New England summer meal than a full-scale clambake. That’s exactly what Polly Toomey was thinking when she decided to introduce a line of seafood feasts to the dinner menu at her popular Edgartown restaurant Among the Flowers. “We wanted to bring something different to the dinner options in town,” she says.

Customers can order at the takeout window (or call ahead) and grab a feast to go, or they can enjoy dining at the restaurant’s pretty outdoor patio (among the flowers, of course). Each eat-in feast comes in a fun blue bucket, which the staff dumps out onto a tray at your table, while the bucket is reserved for the shells. 

Of course, a traditional clambake is best eaten outdoors, and between the beautiful garden atmosphere of the restaurant’s patio, and with a staff to clean up the inevitable mess, a lobster feast on location makes for the ideal summer evening outing. 

Toomey and her staff offer a variety of options, including the traditional New England clambake (lobster, mussels, steamers, linguica, tri-colored potatoes, and corn on the cob), the Island Shrimp Boil (the full assortment, only with shrimp replacing the lobster), the Cast Net (the previous, minus the clams and mussels), and the unlikely named Cleveland Clambake, which features ¼ roasted chicken in place of the lobster. Toomey says that the Midwestern version of a clambake is indeed a thing, going back to the 1860s. Apparently trains transporting seafood from the East to the West Coast would stop in Cleveland to re-ice. There some of the shellfish made its way onto the tables of the city’s elite, who came up with the idea of a feast incorporating the usual clambake ingredients along with the more locally appropriate chicken. 

Along with the feasts, Among the Flowers is also offering other items at dinnertime, including lobster mac and cheese, hot lobster rolls, clam chowder, stuffed quahogs, a kids’ menu, and a variety of salads. Finish off the classic summer meal, get the restaurant’s famous Strawberry Shortcake, made with fresh-baked biscuits, house strawberry sauce, and real whipped cream, and you can now say that your Vineyard culinary adventure is complete.

 

Jerri Dantzig, glass artist

“Out of the frying pan and into the fire,” is how Jeri Dantzig jokingly refers to her transition from restaurateur to glass artist. After owning and managing the Vineyard Haven waterfront restaurant Stripers for six years, Danzig decided to try something new. She took her first professional glassmaking class at the Corning Glass Museum in 2002, and was hooked. Since then she has continued her glassmaking education, and established a state-of-the-art studio in her home, complete with two kilns, sandblasters, a belt grinder, and a supply of all types and colors of glass.

Dantzig’s fused-glass pieces provide a great way to add some color and a contemporary look to your table. She creates a wide variety of items featuring bold patterns and interesting color combinations. Her line includes cutting boards, bowls, serving pieces, cheese boards, coasters, spoon rests, lazy Susans, and more. She even crafts stained glass windows, sculptural pieces, and custom-order, decorative glass tabletops and seats for stools.

The designs run the gamut from pictorial images (an inlaid Island outline made from colorful crushed glass is a favorite) to stripes, checkerboard patterns or polka dots, to abstract designs. “There isn’t a color I don’t love and haven’t used,” says Dantzig. All of the artist’s pieces are sturdy, can withstand cutting and chopping, are dishwasher-safe, and are not overly fragile. Danzig notes that her regular customers often visit her at the Chilmark Flea Market (she can be found there every Wednesday and Saturday) for wedding and hostess gifts.

The glassmaking process really appeals to the West Tisbury artist in that she finds it equal parts left and right brain. “I love the science of it,” she says. “And I love color. Working with something as vibrant as glass, you really appreciate the color and the quality of light.”

Creating functional art is a natural for Dantzig, who notes that during her long career in the restaurant business, presentation was as important to her as flavor. “People eat with their eyes,” she says, adding with typical wry humor, “which explains why sloppy joes aren’t so popular any more.”