Posts tagged ‘Maine’

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

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!


© 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.