Thursday, August 21st, 2014
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.
So 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.
Thursday, August 21st, 2014
So 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.
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.
She 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.
*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.
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…
The 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…
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!
Friday, August 15th, 2014
Over the last few years, watermelon of the seedless variety has seemingly conquered what was once a seed-only market. As a kid (to give you an historical reference here, think the golden years of Michael Jackson and Van Halen), I don’t remember ever devouring a ruby wedge of watermelon that wasn’t bedazzled with dark seeds. Sitting on a porch stoop or picnic table, eating that half-fruit/half-water confection, and silently spitting out slippery seeds, was one of the happy givens of summer. Spitting without consequence was one of the best parts of the experience of eating watermelon, was it not? But then gradually, creepily, the seeds became smaller, thinner, wimpier. Summer after summer they lost their heft and faux bois woodsy coloring, becoming a flimsier, almost translucent version of their former selves, until one day you realize, “hey, what happened to the seeds?”.
At first, it seemed like the cleverest of marketing strategies, right? Along with skim milk and egg white omelets, let’s take away the perceived baddy part of what nature has created—after much time and evolution—to make things more convenient for ourseves. But then, like any good-bad thing, there’s a rub: Take out the seeds, genetically modify any food that nature in its wisdom has made so for probably a very good reason, and something else disappears… In the case of milk, eggs and butter, we’re learning that basically all the good stuff is in that fat. With watermelon, I might extend that argument and say that all the good stuff was because of the seeds, specifically the flavor.
Luckily for me, my CSA farmer is growing terrific heirloom watermelons with the seeds! So we have been happily expectorating the little buggers all over the place, just like the good old days. Do I think that watermelon with seeds in it tastes better? I do. But don’t take my word for it: find yourself a seeded watermelon and taste for yourself.
To be fair, some science has come out saying that there’s nothing to the seed-flavor argument, it’s all in my head (perhaps a result of listening to too much Van Halen). Perhaps. But when I chomp on a purely seeded watermelon I really do feel like it’s the way it should be, in all its messy authenticity. How about you?
And a bonus: If you’ve never read anything by the great Southern writer Eudora Welty, then start with her novel Delta Wedding, which has one of the best scenes with a watermelon I’ve ever read.
Have a good weekend!
Thursday, August 14th, 2014
I just returned from Maine and have a lot to share, as always, about that food paradise of a state (we’ve been going there on summer vacation for seven years, but I still always discover new and amazing things to do and eat). Until I get those posts up and running though, I wanted to share photos of my other favorite summer pastime: Eating ice cream.
So far this summer I have three favorite ice cream shops/parlors/stands, which is not to say that I don’t plan on visiting several more before the first frost.
First up is:
THE BENT SPOON in Princeton, NJ
Of the three ice cream destinations I’m featuring today, this is the most grassrootsy, farm-to-tabley (or as they say, “farm-to-spoon”), with creative and seasonal flavors being what sets them apart. I keep going back for one flavor in particular: sweet New Jersey basil. I swear, it’s amazing—not at all like you’re eating frozen pesto in a cone—just sweet, herbal, and addictive. Bent Spoon was also featured along with KEEPERS in the latest issue of Edible Jersey, which was a thrill for me (I’m hoping it buys me an extra punch on my frequent purchase cone card, but we’ll see).
DORMAN’S DAIRY-DREAM in Thomaston, Maine.
Dorman’s is an old-fashioned roadside stand on Rte. 1 in Maine, just outside of Rockland on the mid-coast, that makes homemade ice cream; which is an important distinction because I’ve learned that many ice cream places customize a pre-made base with their own flavors and add-ins, but don’t actually make the ice cream itself. Unlike Bent Spoon, the flavors at Dorman’s are old school—you will not see a bourbon-beets-marscapone sundae on the menu—with the exception of Grape Nut, something I only ever see in New England (who in the world thought of making a flavor out of a health breakfast cereal, I’d like to know). Dorman’s also makes their own hot fudge which is so good it should be illegal.
ARETHUSA FARM DAIRY in Bantam, Connecticut
The ice cream from Arethusa Dairy— located in bucolic Litchfield County— is so authentic and heirloom-quality, it makes Haagen-Dazs taste like Dairy Queen (no offense to you, Dairy Queen, your chocolate shell dipped soft serve is magical). Created with milk from beloved pure bred cows, who are literally massaged and fawned over on a daily basis (don’t believe me? read THIS piece about the dairy and its fashion-world founders), the proof is in the product: Extremely rich and delicious ice cream in only the most traditional flavors: strawberry, vanilla, coffee (amazing), and the occasional seasonal offering like peach and sour cherry with dark chocolate chips (see above). Arethusa is located a bit off the beaten pathh, but the beautiful shop (where you can also buy the dairy’s milk products) is worth the detour over hill and dale. Did I mention that they make their own waffle cones? Hot, fresh, waffles, cooked and folded into cones right before your eyes…run don’t walk.
Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014
I’ll be in Maine for our annual summer vacay so not posting for awhile…but I will be taking plenty of photos, mostly of food and edible sea creatures.
See you when I return—and in the meantime, I hope you’re having a wonderful summer!