Monday, September 1st, 2014

Labor Day Salad

freshpick_watermelonHAPPY LABOR DAY! If you’re been invited to a bbq, or are just planning on celebrating at home, I wanted to share a great KEEPERS recipe that is pretty much the perfect summer salad (in my opinion). It’s our watermelon-cucumber salad, and it’s featured this weekend on the healthy-living website Fitbie.

Not only is this summer-salad refreshing, tasty, and super simple to make (because who wants to labor on labor day?); chances are you already have all the ingredients in your kitchen. It’s also the ideal potluck-party offering because it travels well (just keep it chilled as long as you can before serving). The pecorino is optional if you’re skipping dairy; but if you ARE on the dairy train, then you can also substitute another salty-firmish cheese, like feta or manchego (which is especially good).

Hope you have a lovely and leisurely holiday! See you in September.

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Thursday, August 28th, 2014

M-A-I-N-E: The BLT Bar

IMG_4011I’m not lying when I say that, when it’s tomato season (so basically right now), I could happily eat BLT sandwiches everyday, perhaps for every meal. Is there a more perfect arrangement than crisp bacon, juicy tomato, leafy lettuce, and mayonnaise for putting between two slices of bread? Emphatically, no. Lately, I’ve noticed recipes that try to play or improve upon the classic combination, things like a “deconstructed BLT” or fried-green tomato BLT, and I think, “why? why!?”. Why in the world would anyone feel the need to mess around with the ideal thing. It’s nonsense! The most innovative I’ll ever get with my BLT is perhaps switching up the bread, or dusting the tomatoes with some flaky salt. That’s it. Although I do recognize that most people prefer to assemble their versions differently: The order in which they stack the lettuce/bacon/mayo, if the want the bread toasted, etc. To address this issue when we’re in Maine, I make a BLT bar, with all the ingredients arranged separately, so that everyone can assemble to their taste.

IMG_3111I find that a BLT lunch buffet is the ideal way to feed large gatherings, say when your family raids your summer getaway, because you don’t have to prepare a horde of sandwiches yourself, but it’s a little nicer than throwing a plate of cold cuts together. I also love doing this for a picnic—just pack all the ingredients separately and then arrange them on your picnic blanket so that people can help themselves (this also prevents soggy sandwich syndrome).

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IMG_3120This BLT was slightly radical for me because I made it on a baguette rather than my usual toasted white bread. There was a lot more bite and crunch to it, but it was still the sandwich of my dreams because all of the ingredients were at their best-ripest-tastiest. Even though I’m no longer in Maine, I’m going to continue to have my share before summer is out, you should too.

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Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

M-A-I-N-E: Little Shops

IMG_2578You may not think of the midcoast of Maine as retail heaven, but for a certain individual (Do you swoon over letterpress and good card stock? Enjoy fondling antique French farm linens? Swerve and stop anytime you pass a general store?) it’s truly a paradise. Visiting my favorite little stores in Maine has become as much a part of my summer trip as gorging on lobsters and marveling over the tides; and this year I even discovered a couple of new finds to add to my list.

My very first stop is always the stationary and home store Rock Paper Scissors in Wiscasset. Although I’ve been stopping at this artfully-curated shop (see photo above) for several years, this summer was the first time I was able to meet the owner and tell her how much I love her style (I’m a groupie). Her talent is not just in how she selects the stationary, pottery, art, books, jewelry and lovely notions to sell (here’s a photo of this year’s haul, which doesn’t include the Japanese toothbrush with charcoal bristles that I bought and which is now officially the best toothbrush I’ve ever owned…I’m serious):
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Her talent is also in how she arranges them into these mesmerizing tableaus…like her selection of ribbons:
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And then there are the shelves of doodads and whatnots behind the cashier’s desk…

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Right across the street is Marston House, an antique shop and bed and breakfast located in a charmingly rickety old home and carriage house. Paul and Sharon are the couple who own Marston House and they spend half the year in Provence searching for French antiques and renting out properties, and the other half of the year in Maine selling their accumulated wares and renting out their carriage house apartments. Clearly Paul and Sharon have it all figured out. There is much that’s desirable in their store because, like Rock Paper Scissors (whose owner worked at Marston as a teenager), it’s all so mesmerizingly displayed. I ended up buying two cushions made from vintage indigo-dyed fabric and filled with dried lavender, and Belle scored some tiny antique doll house plates.

IMG_2587I wish I had bought those green bottles in the top right corner

IMG_2588Vintage French kitchenwares

IMG_2589Stack of ribbons

IMG_2590A collection of vintage cutting boards

Like any good holiday, we spend a lot of downtime lying on the porch and reading. Luckily for us, our favorite used bookstore is a short walk away. The Lobster Lane Bookshop is not like any other bookstore. First, it’s only open on weekends and during the summer months. Second, it’s located in a former lobster cottage that is more like a shack with windows, perched on the water’ edge. The owner took over the business (which is more a labor of love than a business enterprise, most of the books cost only a quarter) from her mother, who for many years spent weekends filling and selling used books out of the cottage next to her summer home. Although the Bookshop is still an insiders-secret, there is a devoted following: Come Saturday morning, bookworms begin to arrive via bike, car, and foot and leave with bags of books on every imaginable subject, from train collecting to Scandinavian thrillers.

IMG_2647The Lobster Bookstore’s most devoted customer. Note the game face.

IMG_2648Big score: a picture book bio of Tom Terrific.

IMG_3237In the category of new finds that are not new, we took a mini road trip one day when the fog rolled in, to the towns of Freedom, Hope, and Liberty (how cool are those for town names?). In Liberty—a village that reminds me strongly of Walnut Grove— we visited two ancient stores: Liberty Tool Company  and Frapoli’s. Liberty Tool Company is located in an ancient building on the main drag and sells what appears to be every tool ever made. Filed, piled, and tucked away in drawers and baby food jars are thousands of bolts, nuts, screws and nails (see photo above). The arrangement reminded me of carefully organized hoarding, and I imagine that someone who loves screwdrivers and wrenches (the way I love stationary) would be in their happy place.

Frapoli’s is a deeply eccentric antique shop just down the street from the Tool Company, and the owner sells all manner of early-Americana tchotchkes, including vintage cast iron skillets in every size that I now regret not buying.

IMG_3306Last, but certainly not least, is the elegantly simple Trillium Soaps in Rockland. Now, this is not just a soap store—the owners also display and sell a select collection of Belgian linens, enamelware, furniture, art, and things for the home (see above and below):

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But when it comes to soap, they are truly artists…
IMG_3300I realize that not everyone (people I’m related to) can understand getting excited over soaps (which I realize are basically little squares that you use to wash your armpits). But Trillium’s soaps are all made by hand, with the most natural of ingredients including mint, grapefruit, lemongrass, lavender, pine, etc. They’re cut from large blocks that are poured in the workshop right behind the register, and packaged in simple white paper pouches that make a wonderful gift from Maine for a friend. Or a gift for yourself because we all deserve armpits that smell like grapefruit and other lovely things.

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Thursday, August 21st, 2014

M-A-I-N-E: Salad for a Posse

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One of my favorite Maine traditions is when my college roommate comes to visit us with her family. Ali and I met as freshman at Middlebury College and our bond was forged those many years ago during orientation, which was conducted amidst the Green Mountains of rural Vermont. After a forced hike (which I wore white Keds for) we perched on a rock and watched our fellow first years leap off a cliff into a swimming hole the size of a washcloth. It was at this point that one of us looked at the other and said something along the lines of, “what are we doing here?”. Ali was from Bay Ridge, I was from Jersey; neither of us owned a flannel shirt, the campus was swathed in it;  we listened to Prince, our hall mates blasted Spin Doctors. We were a match made in liberal arts heaven (and yes, by the second semester we owned as much flannel as everybody else).

Lucky for me, Ali and her husband Trevor settled down in Maine, so we get to see each other every summer. As our families have grown, so has our lunch, which is usually served buffet style after hours of swimming, digging, running, and soccer-playing. The advantage of the kids being a little older now is that we don’t have to hover over them as they sprint for the dock, and can instead enjoy each others’ company. I also like that it means we can focus on making a lunch that’s appealing to all ages, as opposed to slicing grapes in half and cutting crusts off of grilled cheese.

This year we combined forces and made a mega salad, my version of a Maine Nicoise.  We supplemented the salad with several loves of good crusty bread,  jars of locally fermented vegetables from Gracie’s Garden, seared tuna, and a bottle(s) of chilled rosé (see comment above about not having to hover over your children anymore). By preparing this as a composed salad, the nicoise not only looked gorgeous, but also had the benefit of letting everyone take more or less of what they like (more avocado for one kid, no egg for the adverse, etc.). It’s summer cottage cooking at its finest.

IMG_2945So here is what to put in your Mega-Maine-Nicoise:

On the bottom of a large platter make a layer of butter leaf lettuce (or whatever lettuce you prefer, maybe not arugula though). On top of the lettuce place the following in segments: 6 sliced medium-boiled eggs, 4 large sliced tomatoes (you can use 2 pints of sungold or cherry tomatoes if you have those instead), several strips of crisp bacon (I prefer to cook a whole package of center cut bacon in the oven when making enough for a crowd), 2-3 sliced avocados, crumbled feta, a big bunch of blanched or steamed string beans, and 1-2 sliced red peppers. Sprinkle everything with flaky salt and freshly ground pepper. You can then either drizzle the entire salad with a vinaigrette or serve the dressing on the side. For the dressing I combined: 1 part red wine vinegar (sherry or white wine is fine too), 1 part grapeseed oil, 1 part olive or walnut oil, spoonful of maple syrup, spoonful of dijon, 1 small finely chopped shallot, salt and pepper. *I served the seared tuna on the side so that those who want it, don’t have to fish for it in the salad.

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Thursday, August 21st, 2014

M-A-I-N-E: Breakfast

IMG_2574So here begins the long overdue Maine “the state of food splendor” blog post. I’ve decided to organize these entries into separate posts by theme, or else this would be one monster of a read, and I’m starting with breakfast (obviously).

Yes, the Best Bagels are Found in Maine:

For the past few years we’ve added one essential stop to the beginning of our trip, and I only wish I lived closer because then I could go there everyday for breakfast and they’d know me by name so I’d reach regular (groupie) status; but alas, I have one day a year to savor 158 Pickett Street Cafe in South Portland. I’ve gushed about this bagel nirvana shack before, but it’s worthy of continual awe and admiration. The bagels are made from a coveted starter dough, cooked perfectly (crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside), and then not just topped with beautiful and fresh ingredients like smoked salmon, eggs, prosciutto, jam and housemade hummus, but done so with a rustic-artistic eye (see my salmon bagel above). I also tried their homemade chile-garlic cream cheese for the first time which was just crazy delicious. One other thing I love about Pickett St (besides the good coffee and the charmingly janky backyard patio) is that when you order an everything bagel it’s not the usual bagel patted down with a sad sprinkling of seeds that all fall off when you cut into the thing, but an extremely generous crusting of sesame and poppy seeds, salt and pepper, onion and garlic, so that it is exactly what an everything bagel should be and more.

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Ma Cousine:

I normally do all of the cooking in our Maine rental cottage and I’m not complaining, (maybe just a little bit), because it’s the best kind of cooking—fresh fish, local vegetables, wild berries that need little to improve upon themselves besides some salt, pepper, good olive oil, and lemon juice. But…that’s not to say that I don’t welcome it when someone else comes along and bangs out an amazing meal or two. This year we got super lucky because my cousin Veronique from Paris came with us and she is the best crepe maker in the entire world.
IMG_2685She made us crepes EVERY DAY. We literally gorged on them, slathered with whole milk yogurt from a nearby dairy (see below) and topped with wild blueberries, drizzled with maple syrup, sprinkled with brown sugar and lemon juice, then rolled and sliced. Eating warm, sugary, lemony crepes with Belle and Conor, brought back wonderful memories of my own childhood summers spent in Brussels, and my Belgian grandmother (who is the one who taught Veronique how to make crepes) making them for me every morning. I love how food can do this—it’s the best kind of time machine because it’s edible.

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IMG_2691 *Here is a lovely vintage video of Julia Child making crepes and my one tip is to get a non-stick pan that is a dedicated crepe pan. It may seem indulgent to have a pan just for making crepes, but it makes a huge difference if you want fast, foolproof crepes, and you can also use it for other things like grilled cheese. THIS is the one we used and it was awesome.

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Yes, the Best Dairy Is Also Found in Maine:

Our breakfasts also benefited from a steady flow of Maine dairy products, specifically the raw milk and yogurts we discovered at the Rockport and Belfast Co-Ops from these two local dairies: The Milk House and Swallowtail Farm and Creamery. Maine is so far ahead in terms of raw dairy products that it’s ridiculous. Milkhouse sells milk that is not only non-pasturized, but from Jersey cows (most supermarket milk is from Holstein cows, which is a more prolific milk cow but not as rich and some argue produces a milk that is harder to digest for those who are lactose intolerant). The cream and milk from Milkhouse was so rich and lovely, I don’t think I’ve drunk that much whole milk since the late 80′s when I had a regular Ovaltine habit. I also whipped their cream to add to roadside raspberries…IMG_3108

IMG_3109The yogurt from Swallowtail had a cloud-like, whipped consistency with flavors like  blueberry-lemon and rhubarb. Mixed with co-op granola (and in case you’re wondering why I keep referencing the co-ops, I don’t have a co-op anywhere near where I live in the Jerz, so it makes me crazy excited when I get to shop at one…how do I start a co-op?) for snacking and desserts, the yogurt made us all very happy…
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Next up: a post on my favorite Maine shops, how to cook a lobster outdoors, cocktail spreads, vacation salads for large posses, sunsets, fairy houses, and more!

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