Cecily’s Apples

We have a lot of trees at our place – part of what called us to up and move to Maine. Hemlocks and Balsam Firs shelter the house from west and north winds, sugar maples lend their shade and shower us with color, white birches provide levity. Most of the trees are old, planted by a hand that has long withered, though I fear that we’ll be the ones to outlast them: the giant elm in back, the brittle weeping willow, the towering twin spruce which is well beyond maturity. The only youngsters are two fruit trees planted in the way back, an apple and a peach.

Hairy with suckers, branches stretching toward the sky, the peach tree looks like it has never once been pruned. This spring I prowled it, checking each morning for a hint of blossom, but it turned out barren. We hear that growing peaches on Midcoast Maine is hard.

The apple tree was planted by the previous owner; chosen for her daughter Cecily, she said, when she handed us the key. Hidden from sight behind a fat white pine and planted into clay, it’s small and crooked, growing at an angle. Without something to withstand the wind that always rises with the tide, it didn’t have much chance to turn into an upright tree. My wife and I continued to neglect it. There was so much to do, I didn’t even notice that Cecily’s Apple bloomed. When I finally paid attention, I was surprised to see that it was now supported by a strong, bifurcated stake. And it was bearing fruit. Ugly little things, greenish red, with rough, russet patches… I bit into one and spat it out. The taste was tart bordering on sour, the texture woody. I went back inside.

That was September. On this bright October morning I am greeted by a mound of apples, piled up in the big porcelain washbowl which centers our kitchen island. There are so many, some have rolled down onto the marble slab.

“I was worried about frost with the full moon coming.” My wife gives me her morning smile. “And don’t you think it’s time that you get to know St. Cecilia’s apples?” There’s a quick peck and she’s outside again.

I used to love the Saints when I was little, used to collect their gilded images like trading cards of cars. A Saint for every day, a Saint for each profession, gave me a sense of order and made me feel protected. I proudly claimed my own. I loved the incense and the music, flowers, candles, rustling vestments, I loved the pomp and circumstance. I loved processions, the voices of the congregation warbling in the open air. I loved my shiny Sunday shoes. But each time we’d say grace around the kitchen table I struggled with the words: “Come Jesus, be our guest and bless the food that you have given us.”  I didn’t understand why I should thank him. I knew where our food came from.

I approach the apples slowly – they’re just as ugly as before; russet patches have been joined by warts. I choose one. Next to the stem there is a wormhole. Somebody liked Cecily’s apples, might as well find out why. I cut off a slice. Firm and juicy; all they had to do was ripen. They’re not so bad at all. And their acidity is now counterbalanced by an aromatic sweetness from that extra month of sun.

I measure six big scoops of plain rolled oats into my yellow saucepan, add water and turn the stove on low. Reach under the sink to retrieve the compost bucket and take out the breakfast bowls. While the oatmeal simmers, I prepare two apples just as I’ve done for years. Cut them in half, then into quarters and then carve out the cores. Only this time it’s much slower because I must deal with worms. Each time I think I’ve sliced away an underground canal, a new one opens up. Each time I take a cut, worm excrement, like coarse coffee grounds, spreads across clean apple chunk. It sticks to my fingers. I have to wipe it off. Sometimes I barely yield a sliver and yet, to me, it’s worth the work.

Cut, carve, wipe, slice – somnambulant, but focused repetition, much like a prayer or a chant, it is a rhythm from my childhood. This is what we did, my family and I, on countless summer evenings and well into the fall; we’d clean the mushrooms that we found that day. Chanterelles, boletes and morels, puffballs and young parasols, shaggy manes and chicken of the woods – each one was a treasure, each one had a history. This king bolete, redolent with the earth’s aroma, my father found it partially hidden under beech leaves, anchored into the mossy ground. How he had laughed in pride! Of course the worms had found it, too. These chanterelles I had discovered in a hollow, a family ring of a good dozen, pine needles tucked inside their whorly folds. Remember, this one housed a millipede. Those parasols my mother came across, right behind some birches where she went to rest her bike. Cream-colored caps dabbed with buff concentric scales and crisscrossed by the finest grass blades, each mushroom was a work of art. If we could at all avoid it, we wouldn’t rinse them so as not to water down the flavors. Instead we’d cut, carve, wipe and slice on newspaper spread across our kitchen table, the precious bits into a common pot placed in the center, mushroom refuse growing all around. It often took us hours to clean the fragrant finds, sitting around that kitchen table, my mother, my grandmother and I.

The oatmeal bubbles softly. I rinse my hands and dry them off. I like to catch it at the moment of perfection, a little gooey, but still liquid, enough to slide from pot to bowl with ease. I top each bowl with Cecily’s Apples, sprinkle on sunflower seeds, a tablespoon of golden flax and, finally, dried cranberries. Just as I pour on maple syrup, my wife comes back inside, her arms filled to overflowing with sunflowers, the last of her beloved crop.

Silently we eat the oatmeal. It’s good and solid, nothing fancy, like our life in Maine. As I savor sweet and creamy, enhanced by nutty and balanced out by tart, I cannot help but ponder the gratitude of middle age. And when I finish, when spoon meets bottom of the bowl, I turn to my wife and say: “Maybe next year, with the proper pruning, the peach tree will bear fruit.”

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October 13, 2008 at 7:34 pm Leave a comment

Cafloutis!

The phone call, as most phone calls do, comes in the middle of full and frantic living. Bills, email, and a shopping list swirl around inside my head. It’s raining, the lawn is overdue, and the tomato bed needs weeding; my wife is nowhere to be seen. I barely listen to the familiar voice, “Yes, plums. My neighbor’s tree came down and I have bushels.” Friendship is just a fifteen minute ride away.

On my drive home, a large paper bag of plums squeezed between groceries and errands, I ponder the fate of fruit like none I’ve ever seen. They’re different, these Friendship plums, reddish and round with shades of pink and purple, but much, much smaller than their cousins from Japan – the plumped up bland kind, the kind you can get anywhere. I tried one when I picked them up. It was light and sweet yet tangy, plummy with an edge of tart. Not a good eating plum; they are too soft, the skin is slightly bitter. Nor would they work with my grandmother’s German sheet cake recipe; much too juicy, and their flesh clings to the pit.

Just as I cross the bridge where tide meets river – rapids to my right and mudflats on my left – a taste floats up: Cafloutis! My former neighbor Dick’s fruit flan. Dick, who always seemed to sense when a sweet treat was needed, emails me his recipes now that we have moved to Maine. He only started baking after his Rosemary died, but took to it just as he took to the computer, patient and with a sense of humor and unafraid to try new things. I find the recipe in my inbox, received almost a year ago. Cafloutis! says the subject line and – in all caps as is his style – VICTOR SAYS YOU WILL OWE HIM A SMPLE OF THE FINISHED PRODUCT.

With a few adjustments for quantity and flavor, Dick’s recipe should work. I print it out and turn the oven to 350, then look for my biggest baking pan. Twelve by eighteen inches, it’s barely large enough to hold eight cups of Friendship plums and the most mellow creamy flan. I slice the fruit into rough chunks and extract the pits, juice running down my arms. Usually, my mind likes resting in the focus of such manual tasks. Not this time. My thoughts keep circling back to Victor and his sweet, unassuming ways. The first time we were introduced, I didn’t really see. A mouth ready to smile, dark eyes that dance, doubly alert in a pale face appearing even paler as he’s completely bald. All I really noticed was a deformation, a slight but obvious dent right at the bottom of his skull.

I toss the plums with sugar, about a cup or so, set them aside and, while ten tablespoons of butter melt slowly in a pan, start mixing up the dough. Another cup of sugar, eight eggs, three teaspoons of vanilla, a pinch of salt, plus milk and flour, two and a half cups each; it’s more a liquid than a mass. When Victor moved in next door to keep his Poppa company now that he was alone, the mood transformed from somber into hopeful joy. The men, one old, one young, bonded over baking. Cardamom braids from Finland, Belgian rice custard pie, the layered chocolate glory of Opera cake from Cuba – they traveled the world together, one recipe at a time. We always knew when Vic and Dick were baking: sweet fragrances came wafting across our shared driveway. Then, there would be a phone call, the neighborly clap of a screen door, and Dick would come to our back porch, bearing a sample of their sweet creation on Rosemary’s flowered plate.

“He’s using every pot and pan I have,” he’d say and shrug, amused, and sometimes he would add, “and you should watch him measure and re-measure. Three, four times easily, until he’s sure he’s got it right.” And I would nod, nod in concerned complicity, because by then I knew. Vic was thirteen when he got diagnosed and, though they took the tumor, he had been changed for life.

A sizzle from the stove alarms me: the butter’s more than done. I pour it out into the pan, swirling to coat the sides, and add the sugared plums. Those were the good times, then. Vic held a job, he drove a car. They came to our wedding. They made those little treats. Then, right around the time we moved, the migraines started. The doctors were perplexed. It got so bad that he went in. When they were done, he’d changed for life again.

Careful not to mix the two, I pour the dough onto the plums, hushing pink and purple with creamy yellow flan. Dick’s email says to bake it until it’s lightly browned and a toothpick test right in the middle will come out smooth and clean. I hoist the pan, laden with Cafloutis, onto the middle rack, adjust the timer to forty-five and start cleaning up. Last fall, by the time I got that email, Vic had just relearned to speak. Eating, walking, it took many weeks and he never learnt to drive. This summer he was finally allowed to move back home with Dick; that’s when I saw him last. He was even paler and he looked as though he’d shrunk. His light tenor, halting, wafting, had lost its joyful ring. But his hug was just as warm and real as it had always been. “Good to see you,” we both said and then he went inside. And I got back into my truck and drove home to Maine.

Last month, on another visit, Vic was gone again. Seven weeks was all he had; this time it was worse. “It seems to me that progress is much slower,” Dick worried. “This does not bode well for the future.” All I could do was nod. Nodding, we both stood in our driveway, sharing wordless sorrow. Suddenly, he smiled. “Everybody loves him because he is so kind. Would you believe that even now, people who met him when he worked after school, bagging groceries, still remember Victor? That was twenty years ago!” Resting his arms on top of his small belly, he shifts his weight, rocking from heel to toe. “And do you know that when he came home from rehab we had to bake for all the friends he’d made? Vic had memorized all their names – three floors full of patients and their nurses – and what each one liked best.”

The timer shrills me back into my kitchen. Cafloutis! How could I forget? With a flash of apprehension I open the oven door. Immediately, I am enveloped by a fragrance from another world. And what a sight! Along the edges of the pan the dough has risen wildly and it is golden brown. The center is an undulating sea of creamy yellow flan, each swell kissed by the oven’s sun. It’s flecked with peaks of purple and butter puddles here and there. It is a thing of beauty, enough to feed the world. Who needs a toothpick test – it’s perfect! I hoist it out and let it rest, watching it deflate. As I begin to crown it with powdered sugar dust, the doorbell rings. It’s Pam, Pam of the plums, on her way back to Friendship where she makes her home. Just then, my wife comes through the backdoor, following her nose. I place three pieces of Cafloutis on my good, flowered plates and hand them out with forks.

It’s quiet in the room until my wife lets out a sigh. “This is fantastic.”

“The best I ever had.” Pam sounds almost shocked.

So that I can really taste it, I have to close my eyes. Yes, it’s creamy. Yes, it’s mellow. The dough that rose so wildly on the edges is buttery and mild. The butter on the bottom and the sugar from the plums turned into caramel delight. The flan is just as I remembered, delicate and sweet and yet… there is that tinge of bitter, enough to wake you up. Those Friendship plums, their skins, gave my Cafloutis that contrast which can transubstantiate delight into divine.

“Pam, you never told me what brought down that tree. It’s been raining quite a bit, but I don’t remember storm.”

“There was no storm. This summer the tree bore more than any other year. It split in half and lost its leader, heavy with its own fruit.”

August 17, 2008 at 9:57 am Leave a comment

This Pancake is a Meal

“You mean she didn’t tell you?” Your eyes are wide, your spine unfolds from slouch to straight. We’ve hung around the kitchen island, drinking coffee, yakking, for what feels like hours. You are my guest, you’re hungry now and I was not prepared.

“Don’t worry. So you don’t eat wheat. We’ll figure something out.” Was it really just this April that I encountered spelt? Le Vatout’s first guests, two young women, brought it in their suitcase as if they knew I didn’t have a clue about what they called special diets. Since, I’ve been learning on the job. Slowly, my cupboards filled with foreign matter: decaf, creamer, NutraSweet…

“For me spelt is no solution. It’s the gluten I’m allergic to.”

Slowly, my repertoire extended. “How about hash browns made with fresh potatoes?” I’m thinking crumbled sausage, onions, parsley, a bit of chopped up sage.” My hand opens the top drawer, reaching for my kitchen scissors; my mind turns to my herbs…

“Sorry. I can’t eat nightshades either. Potatoes, tomatoes – they make my knuckles hurt.” You fold yourself back into your body. All loose limbs tied into a knot.

Slowly, my database of guests acquired annotations; does not like spices, prefers her eggs with ketchup, will not drink milk, does not eat meat. I like to accommodate. My proudest moment was a three-course dinner I cooked last month for four. One vegetarian, one no-wheat, one no-salt – one real meal made from real ingredients that satisfied them all. I like rising to a challenge. I like figuring it out. “Well, there is always buckwheat. It is a fruit, you know? I could make blueberry pancakes, just plain old buckwheat, an egg, some milk… ”

“I love buckwheat! But I can’t do dairy, though butter is okay.”

Against my instincts I glance at your sister. She shrugs. “We’re used to this. Just fix what he prefers. I’ll eat whatever you prepare.”

“Now, that’s not fair! You make me out as if I’m hard to please. Aside from dairy, wheat and nightshades I really do eat anything. Even gave you a copy of my favorite cookbook, but no one in this family ever read it, no one ever cared.”

“Nuts. What if I were to add some walnuts? I fear that without milk and flour, the texture will be rubber.”

Slowly you turn back toward me. Your eyes, all cloudy liquid, reveal a hint of glint. “Rice flour maybe…”

“…spelt is all I have.”

“You could add in a banana, that should give it heft.”

I do. It does. And your eyes shine again. But I’m not satisfied. That afternoon I drive to Damariscotta, buy rice flour at Rising Tide.

The next time I make pancakes, I’m in my element. Mush up a ripe banana, mix it with an egg, add a half a cup each of buckwheat and rice flour and some water, stir, add more water and stir again until the texture’s right, substantial, but still pourable. I chop the walnuts while I melt some butter in my favorite pancake pan, pour in my mix and top it with the nuts and a few handfuls of fresh-picked blueberries. I have the flame on high, so quickly the pancake edge starts bubbling and, after a few seconds, the middle starts to set.

Now is the time to flip.

The pancakes of my childhood were large, large as a plate, and plump. They came in many variations and though I was a picky eater, I reveled in them all. My mother liked them savory, with onions and with bacon chunks, served with green salad as a hearty lunch, or – my father’s favorite – topped with chanterelles we foraged in the woods. My grandmother preferred them with slices of tart apples, dusted with cinnamon and sugar and butter puddling on the surface; my grandmother liked sweet. No matter how they cooked them, each pancake was a meal. Their faces when they turned these meal-sized pancakes made the task look daunting. Each a reflection of the other, mouths crimped, eyes narrowed, rumpled brows, they were my archetypes of steely focus. Each followed her completed toss with a determined “So!”

Now, that I’m behind the stove, I find it’s really not that bad. I don’t attempt pan-wielding acrobatics, I just slide a spatula and flip. The buckwheat bottom greets me golden brown and blueberries sizzle in the pan. Another thirty seconds on medium heat and my pancake’s done. I flip it one more time to get it right side up and slide it on your plate. And make the other one.

I serve you both, hang back and watch you drizzle maple syrup, watch you taste the crucial bite. You smile and keep on eating, relaxed and still, but leaning right above your plate. It is your sister who exclaims, “This is delicious!” and she offers me a bite. It is. Fluffy and yet full of texture, rich with banana and with that nutty buckwheat taste, this pancake does not spell “special diet”, this pancake is a meal.

Two days later, as you leave, you hand me a big book. Nourishing Traditions is its title and on the cover is a sun. “This is now my only copy, but you may have it for a while. I’ll be back to get it, maybe later in the fall.”

July 27, 2008 at 8:55 pm Leave a comment

Severely Herbed and Double-Smoked

It’s beautiful outside, crisp, clear and sunny; the birds are full of song. You got up early, snuck out before I had a chance to make you coffee, and by the time you’re back, exhausted, sweaty, I’m on my second cup.

You sink into the wing chair in the corner, staring at the air above the stove. “I am so hungry I don’t know what to do.” A streak of dirt crosses your cheek and you’re still breathing heavily, a rhythmic huff so loud it’s drowning out the birds.

I laugh and rise, rinse out my mug. “Go, take a shower, breakfast will be ready by the time you’re done.”

The situation calls for serious protein. I stick my head into the fridge. I know there is a chunk of bacon, smoked twice until it turned a mellow brown, the color of strong tea. To my delight I found this staple of my childhood – and an array of other German treats – when I discovered Morse’s down the road, home of the famous Morse’s Sauerkraut. I cut the bacon into generous slices, easily a quarter inch. Each cut releases a briny, smoky fragrance that fills the air with memories.

With the bacon slowly sizzling on the stove top, I stroll down to the kitchen garden. All that protein needs to be lightened by some fresh green herbs. Three, four, five stone steps and around the studio corner, I enter into paradise.

This is my first time planting veggies after a break of twenty years. Life in the city hampered growing – not enough sun, not enough space and never ever enough time. My first time living in the country. In early June, the start of planting season, I went wild. Tomatoes, carrots, beans and peppers, parsnips, eggplants, collard greens – the more I planted, the more I craved. Beets, lettuce, cauliflower, arugula, radishes, Swiss chard, and anywhere I found a corner I planted marigolds and herbs.

Meandering through the twelve raised beds of sparkling green and gold, I listen to my inner palate to match up eggs with herbs. I pass by the cilantro, the stronger stuff like tarragon and dill, in favor of a bunch of chives and parsley, but right before I step inside, I catch a glimpse of the perennial stand-by’s we planted near the door, bend down and add a snip or two of thyme, a leaf or three of sage.

The aroma that awaits me in the kitchen is all it takes to make me salivate.

I turn the bacon slices and crack six eggs into a bowl, each yolk a sunny smile. They’re local, laid by chickens that get to live a life that’s not confined. Then I add kosher salt and grind up pepper and whisk the eggs into an even yellow, chop up the herbs and mix them in.

The bacon’s done; crisp, meaty slices that retained their heft. I let it rest on top of paper towels, push down the lever for the toast just as you come back down, all scrubbed and shiny and your hair slicked back. Immediately, your eyes turn to the paper towels. Three steps, your hand is reaching out. You glance at me. I smile and nod.

There is no better bacon than the slice that has been stolen.

I fire up another pan to melt a tablespoon of butter, the secret of good scrambled eggs. In German, they’re called Rührei, stirred eggs, and that’s the second trick. I turn the gas on high and stir, never letting up, until the bottom sticks. At that point I remove the pan, and continue stirring, scraping the sides and mixing until the eggs are done. Light and creamy and severely herbed, this is completely different from the usual diner food.

When you put down your fork your face is lit with pleasure and, just at the clink of silver on the edge of porcelain, the birds resume their song.

July 17, 2008 at 6:48 am Leave a comment

My Mother’s in her Glory

My mother’s in her glory. Finally, she can teach her daughter. Finally, I said yes. Finally, I pay attention. Her voice is clear as glass. “Rinse out four Ball jars – they must be squeaky clean – and put them on a kitchen towel. No, not that one, terry cloth! No, not like that, upside down.”

This is the first time she has come to visit our new home on Midcoast Maine, soon to be opened as a Bed and Breakfast. Her suitcase full of German cookbooks, she came prepared to help. Immediately, she started cleaning that which I considered spotless. She rearranged my kitchen, “Like this! It makes much more sense.” Then, way back in the garden, outside the sauna shed, my mother saw the rhubarb. “What do you think about compote? Your guests will love it.” She stood inside the doorway, sharpened knife in hand. “I’ll show you what to do.” Her large, green eyes were glinting. How could I refuse?

Now we stand side by side, peeling two pounds of crisp, fresh rhubarb, that is I peel, she cuts. Each filament I peel releases rhubarb mist. Each cut an exclamation point. Next to her, on the stove, the compote water simmers, scenting the air with spring. “No more than half an inch of liquid! Add lemon peel, no more than half a lemon. And one cinnamon stick. And now one real pound of sugar. No, not all at once! You must remember, hot liquid always tastes a little sweeter. You have to sample, frequently, to get to when it’s sweet enough.”

Since we started working I’d swear, she’s grown about an inch.

“Here, take these strawberries and slice them. How much is this, a kilogram?” She hands me the container – it’s store-bought, too early for the local crop – and nods with satisfaction when I convert into familiar grams. “See? That’s what I thought. One thousand grams, two German pounds.” She resumes her cutting, the cadence of our lives.

The timer rings. It’s loud, old-fashioned, made from heavy chrome. Two years ago, she sent it as a present, packed between Christmas Stollen and German marzipan. The timer of my childhood, it once had a coat of Bakelite; creamy white when I was young, it yellowed to a grunge with time. She told me on the phone that before she sent it she cleaned it down to chrome. Scraped it with a paring knife. For two weeks, each night, she sat and scraped the kitchen timer while she watched TV. It’s now my prized possession, scraping marks and all.

“Dominika, stop dreaming. It’s been a half an hour. Time to fish them out.” She points a pair of tongs at me, then nods, once, twice at my stove, my pot. When I don’t comprehend, she shakes her head and sighs. “The lemon peel. The cinnamon stick,” and then does it herself. “It’s time to boil the rhubarb. Just for a few minutes, though. Until it softens, see? In with the strawberries, mach schnell. Now we add a little of the liquid to one of the Ball jars, see? Swish it around to heat the bottom, then fill it with compote.”

When my mother concentrates, she gnaws her bottom lip.

“Here, it’s your turn.” She hands me my big ladle, pointing at the jars; nods as I go, repeating every word she’s said already, twitching to my every move.

“No. Not too full. Wait! Yes, that’s good. Enough! Now wipe the rims, inside and out, with a paper towel or you won’t get the lids to open later; they’ll be stuck with that sweet goo. And close the jars. And turn them upside down. No, not here – over in the corner where I put the towel. You have to let them sit untouched for a day or two. Then you can put them upright and they should last you for a year.”

Both our foreheads have a sheen. I sink onto a kitchen stool. She draws a glass of water and drinks it down in a few gulps. Rinses it out and dries it and sits down next to me.

“I can’t wait to try it. I bet you it’s delicious with Vanilla ice cream, the kind we had the other day.”

“Yeah, the one we get from Round Top… but wait – haven’t you made this before?”

She shrugs. “It’s how I can my peaches for the winter, but rhubarb? No. I checked the German cookbooks. Patched it together from two different recipes.

“I thought this was how Oma taught you…”

She laughs out loud. “Your grandmother? You’re kidding. Yeah, Oma’s rhubarb was the best. But I could never take instruction from her when I was young.”

My mother’s bright eyes mellow and she smiles at something far away. “I bet you Oma’s sitting right now on her cloud nine, laughing that I made rhubarb – so hard she’s almost falling off.”

May 17, 2008 at 11:13 pm Leave a comment

A Taste of Maine

“Do you like shrimp?” My neighbor Bob is at the door, in his hand an empty, clean container, in his eyes that twinkle that he gets when he can pay us back in kind.

“How was the meatloaf? Did you notice it was made with turkey and porcini?” I relieve him of the plastic and ask him in, even though my head is full with numbers. It’s time to chat, business plans will have to wait.

We started this last fall, right after we had moved to Maine, and it’s become a game. He used to making a living digging clams and worms, but now he is disabled and lives alone next door. I’m sure cooking for one must be a drag, so when I make a special meal, a big one, and if it’s manly food, a roast, a stew, maybe some mashed potatoes, we share. Then he returns the favor. Chicken soup with dumplings brought us a plant stand painted lavender, a slice of ham with greens and candied sweet potatoes yielded a pair of dish rags, crocheted in pink and blue. When he ran out of stuff to give he turned to food as well, a box of store brand garlic toast, a huge can of Chow Mein. My lack of enthusiasm over his last offering must be displayed right on my face.

“They’re from the ocean,” he assures me. “No shells. The lady picks them really good.”

Reluctantly – the garlic toast was awful – I agree to give him and his food another try. That evening he brings a pound of shrimp in an old-fashioned Tupperware container; it’s orange with a star burst etched onto its lid. I pop it and am greeted by a clean breeze from the ocean and a sparkling sight. These little shrimp, they are so fresh, each is surrounded by a ring of bubbles like a translucent chain of pearls. They are so pure and sweet, so rosy and so glistening, curled up little buds of life, little cherubs, they remind me of a baby’s bottom. I can’t resist; I try one raw. Delicate and tender, the taste is without par.

I sauté them briefly in olive oil and butter, with just a hint of garlic, a smidgen of red pepper and slivers of fresh lemon grass. As soon as they release their liquid, I turn off the stove. I serve them over angel hair, made from Jerusalem artichoke which is more delicate and tender and complements the shrimp. The rest I turn into a salad with scallions and the tiniest bits of celery, a little sour cream, some home-made mayonnaise. Talk about a taste of Maine!

Right after the feast I look up Maine shrimp on the Internet. Apparently they’re famous beyond the borders of New England and for more than their delightful taste: Pandalus borealis so love the cold waters of the Gulf of Maine they stay here their entire lives, onshore as juveniles then, when they’re one year old, they move offshore where all of them mature as males. But once they’re three they change again, this time into females, and in the winter all those females, bearing eggs, move back inshore to spawn. What an ingenious trick of nature to maximize their yield. And what luck for hungry Mainers – all that tasty protein plus D, the sunshine vitamin, right when we need it most.

“Where did you get these, they’re so much better than the store.” I call up Bob before I finish reading. Why bother with the facts and words when the story can be told by taste?

I can almost hear him beam. “Up the street, in Dutch Neck. You know where all the fishermen live? I can get you more. They’re cheap, but the season’s almost over.”

“If only I could buy up all they have, freeze them for our summer guests. I can just imagine omelet with shrimp, or pancakes… But there’s no space. We just went shopping…”

“My freezer’s empty. You can store them here.”

That’s how I ended up with five pounds of shrimp, frozen at the moment of perfection when they’re as fresh and rosy as a baby’s bottom, and with my first taste of community in Maine.

March 23, 2008 at 11:16 am Leave a comment


Stories Inspired by Food

... and stories about food inspired by life. This collection is a work in progress, a reflection of what happens when a writer becomes an innkeeper and when time and food come together to grow into a creative experience. Enjoy!

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© 2008. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Dominika Spetsmann and Cecily's Apples with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.