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March 31, 2008

Cardboard Garden, Part 2

This morning I dragged more cardboard out to my garden. Temperatures in the 40s had melted all the snow so it was easy to pick my way across the frozen ground that crunched under foot. I stepped into the fenced 15 x 20 foot space that in a few short months will be alive with tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, and scallions.


But today it felt like walking through a cemetery. It was still and lifeless. Slabs of flat, brown cardboard covered the bare ground and were frozen into place. I slowly surveyed the blocks of scrap wood I’d placed at regular intervals to anchor the cardboard down. They looked like makeshift headstones marking the modest and untended graves of poor souls whose names had been long forgotten.

Some of the cardboard pieces were wet and limp, and hugged the furrows of last summer’s garden rows. The sturdier pieces – thick, packing boxes made of double wall construction — were still holding their shape, even after all the snow and freezing rain. I wonder how much the cardboard will have disintegrated by the time the weather is warm enough to start planting. I hope I will be able to simply lift the cardboard off the ground and drive it off to Roland and Bill at the local recycling center. My worst fear is that it will have turned into papier maché and will have plastered itself to the ground. I may have created a death mask for my garden.

Merrill Williams is the publisher of Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.

March 28, 2008

“A Chill in the Air”

Maine, the way life should be…vacationland…a tourist’s favorite destination…a summer haven and a winter, well…, not for the faint of heart. Steadfast, stoic, at times chilly and seemingly difficult to warm, often private, Maine and its people may appear on the surface to be molded of the same elements. Powered by a history of people who know the value of their beautiful, yet sometimes hard earned state, Maine is a place where natives often struggle to survive, and folks "from away" come in the summer when things are rosy and warm and spend the money they earned in another state on our lobsters, blueberries, and maple syrup. Only a real Mainer like me could write this respectfully and truthfully and get away with it. What can I say? They love us. They really do. And our economy is grateful.

Melanie Hyatt is an editor at Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine .

March 26, 2008

Oysters–Early American Fast Food

All this talk about good Maine oysters prompts me to point out that oysters have a long and glorious history as early American fast food. Cities like Boston and New York in the early 1800s sported oyster vendors on the streets who sold freshly shucked oysters on the spot, or tossed them on a grill to roast them. Oyster saloons cranked out oyster stews in a jiffy –  some butter, oysters sizzled until the edges curled, some hot milk, and a roll to  go along side, and customers served in jig time.

Modern people are amazed to learn that oysters were packed in New England, fitted into containers that had an ice-filled liner and sent by rail to the West — Chicago, and even further, so popular were they.

In fact, eating oysters at all is pretty amazing. But humankind has been been doing it for millennia: witness the oyster shell heaps in Damariscotta: thousands of years of oysters-by-the-sea with Native populations trekking in annually to gather and eat and eat and eat. Almost anything looks more edible than an oyster, but there you have it. Oysters appear consistently in the top four or five favorite sea foods consumed  by the mid-1700s, right alongside cod, salmon, and lobsters.

Sandy Oliver, Food Historian, Author, MF&L columnist: The Way Things Were

March 24, 2008

Maine Oysters – The Absolute BEST!

I love oysters. I’ve gorged on them at seafood restaurants on the both our east and west coasts. I’ve been fortunate to have experienced oysters from Prince Edward Island, Washington (the state), Oregon, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, various B.C. locations, and innumerable others I can’t recall this moment.

Up until recently, my most favorite "oyster experience" was attending an Oyster Night special event at Chef/Food Author Chris Schlesinger’s wonderful East Coast Grill & Raw Bar in Cambridge, MA. Chris invited two local oyster farmers to bring in car loads of oysters they gathered that very day. He also brought in several wonderful wines specifically selected to enhance the experience of raw oyster gorging. And they did.

Those of us who attended this event were invited to consume as many oysters as we chose from either or both oyster harvester’s supply. Each harvester had their own table, and had a resident shucker in tow. The shuckers worked in an unofficial speed-shucking competition. They attempted to keep up with demand while those of us in attendance waited patiently in one of the lines to get our plates refilled with more of these shellfish gems. Truly just-in-time oysters. How could it get better than that?

Well, both the wonderful mignonette sauce Chris had created (my first experience with a mignonette, which promptly ended my long term association with cocktail sauce) and the wine selection certainly enhanced the experience. AND those attending were given the unforgettable experience of at full two-hour open oyster and wine bar. An oyster lover’s dream. Nirvana. But that’s not all!


After the two-hour open bar window, we all sat down for dinner. True. There was a three-course meal, consisting of — you guessed it — oyster recipes. These were all cooked meals and were the proper ending to the raw oyster and wine extravaganza. I thought I’d never have such a wonderful oyster experience again in this lifetime, and I probably am right about that. At least for the sheer quantity of the experience.

Continue reading “Maine Oysters – The Absolute BEST!” »

March 23, 2008

Still Quirky After All these Years

Cook & Tell here (it’s really just me), unloading a bag of groceries with one hand and balancing a tray of good cheer and chatter with the other.  Now in the hands of subscribers, the March issue of Southport’s Fastest Growing Almost Monthly Kitchen Newsletter (Southport pop., c.700) is growing old (the March issue, not the population.  We never grow old.)  Navigating the shoals of recipe testing for the April issue – that’s the Cook part – while riding the waves of actually writing the thing – the Tell – allows only a tiny slice of time for reliving the past (which, in Cook & Tell lingo, means last month’s issue).  But there’s only so much space in the newsletter, and there’s always more to say.

In anticipation of Maine Maple Day, March 23, when folks can visit sugar houses and watch sap turn into syrup, C&T’s Chocolate Chit-Chat column for March put some maple syrup and chocolate in the same room along with bonding ingredients such as eggs, butter, and flour, and invited readers to watch it all turn into Maple Pecan Brownies.  I don’t make up the recipes; I field the ones that readers send in, unsolicited, combine them with clippings from my own files that might work for a given month’s issue, and narrow down the mass of printed, handwritten, and e-mailed offerings to a manageable pile of possibilities. That chocolate recipe was yet another serendipitous occurrence:  What are the chances of actually finding a certain recipe you clipped probably 20 years ago and stuffed somewhere in any one of a number of oddly labeled folders, paper bags, or shoe boxes – or pasted in one of your scrapbooks, under, what?  Chocolate?  Maple?  Brownies?  Bakery?  I can’t even say I went looking for it.  I just found it.  Yellowed newsprint, just as I had remembered.

Continue reading “Still Quirky After All these Years” »

March 22, 2008

A Memorable Easter

I grew up listening to some truly amazing stories. My grandfather, who just passed away last October of Parkinson’s Disease, was an energetic, creative, and natural storyteller. I  loved and miss him dearly. Right up until the end he was still spinning a hell of a yarn.

He’d have you mesmerized in the first few words. Subsequently, we’d ask him to repeat the same stories over and over, to see if they changed. Never. Neither the story nor the storyteller ever faltered.  And whatever he said was just as fun and exciting time the 25th time we heard it as it was the first. I think now in retrospect that we had asked him to tell them over and over again just so we’d never forget them. My personal, all-time favorite was the one where he celebrated Easter with the Nazis. That one was a family classic that was told every Easter dinner gathering. My grandmother will tell it this year, but it won’t have exactly the same flavor.

Mammy, as we all called him, had served in WWII in the European Theatre. It was Easter morning back at home in the states, and my grandfather was hankering for some fresh eggs. He and some of his men came upon what appeared to be an abandoned farm in Germany. “Maybe we’ll get some eggs after all,” my grandfather said. His men said they wouldn’t have gone in there, but he said, “I have my rifle,” and waltzed in. There in the barn he found the fresh eggs he was dreaming of, plus a few German soldiers! Out of the barn came my grandfather with an army hat full of eggs, and some very scared looking German soldiers.

My grandfather, telling us that had they met at any other time they would’ve been friends, called a momentary peace, inviting the men to an impromptu Easter breakfast. They were apparently hungry and very grateful for some food. My grandfather proceeded to fry up the eggs on the old fashioned stove he stoked up in the unoccupied farm house.  And the men sat down together, as men, not as enemies.

Melanie Hyatt is an editor at Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine .

The Road Less Traveled…

Taking "the road less traveled" often leads us to interesting and wonderful discoveries. For example, the little hole in the wall that is deceiving from the outside and looks more like a pepperoni pizza and Bud light "palace" (not that there is anything wrong with pepperoni Soupnsandwich9278pizza and Bud light!), but turns out to be owned by a chef who is a graduate of the Culinary Arts Institute. His creations are both delicious and original. What a find, and more proof that it is important to look beyond the exterior and see for yourself!

Or, conversely, we tried a restaurant that boasted one of our favorite kinds of foods — middle eastern — only to have the experience dampened by a too-loud vocalist who made conversation all but impossible. Shame on him, and the restaurant, for not managing the sound level. Or how about no music at all? But then maybe he was a relative? But we will return (if we find the vocalist is on vacation), and have another go at the lamb dishes, hummus, grape leaves etc. Oh well, it is all part of the discovery process.

And the visit to the inviting spot in a high end community? The $.50 cookies were just that and less, and the tuna sandwich was inedible, more reminiscent of cat food than Ahi! So, whether it is white table cloths and fancy silver, red-checked table cloths, or no table cloth at all, wait staff decked out in black and white, a single wait person, cafeteria style or take-out, $ or $$$$$, it’s all interesting and worth trying.

Once again, more proof that appearances may be deceiving, and that getting out of our safety zone enriches our lives in many ways, not least of all being humor. We shall continue to take the road less traveled…

Katherine Emory is a columnist for MF&L.

March 18, 2008

Maine Shrimp Tales

I look forward to Saturdays because I can clear out the mudroom that is the repository of all the newspapers and other recyclables that accumulate in our house during the week. BShrimpinbags9468_3y mid-morning I drive a
loaded car to the local dump where I do my part for the environment: paper, bottles, cans, and plastic in one bin, cardboard in another, and real garbage in the big hopper.

It’s at the hopper where enlightenment occurs. Bill and Roland are in charge of the dump, directing where to put stuff so it all goes where it’s supposed to. I’ve learned a lot about single-stream waste from these gentlemen, but I recently got unexpected words of wisdom when I arrived one winter day with a plastic bag full of discarded
shrimp heads and tails.

“So you peeled your own shrimp,” said Bill, eyeing me with both suspicion and disbelief. “Where are you from, anyway?”

“Well, yes,” I stammered. “It’s shrimp season and I couldn’t resist buying five pounds from the roadside peddler. I have a bunch of recipes I’ve waited all year to try.”

“But where are you from?” he persisted, his eyes narrowing.

“I moved here a few years ago,” I replied, dodging the question. I felt guilty of something, but didn’t know what.

“I thought so. Same mistake I made when I moved to Maine,” he explained. “When the season opened, I rushed out and bought 100 pounds of fresh, Maine shrimp. Couldn’t wait to taste them succulent little morsels I’d heard so much about. Took me all day to peel five measly pounds and it was really, hard work! I gave away the remaining 95 pounds I couldn’t face. Broke my heart.”

Now it was my turn to regard him with suspicion and disbelief. “How could you DO that?” I shrieked.Singleshrimp9493 “You walked away from all that shrimp, the best in the world?”

“Not really,” he said, his voice soft. “Like all Mainers, I eat tons of shrimp. I’m just happy to pay more for the processor to peel them for me. Whatever they charge per pound for peeled shrimp, it’s a fair price for all that work. And you’re right about one thing: It’s the best shrimp in the world,” he declared, grabbing my garbage bag from me.

I watched as he pitched the bag into the hopper and started the motor that would crush my shrimp shells into oblivion. I hope they end up as fertilizer.

On the way home, I stopped at the fish peddler’s truck and picked up another bag of just-caught shrimp.

Merrill Williams is the publisher of Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.

“More Shrimp Tails”

Shrimp can be tricky. They really can. But don’t let them get the better of you. Take it from a Mainer and take charge! I’ve heard stories where they’ve gotten one up on those folks from away, a typical Maine prank you gotta watch out for. Take it from me, the suckers can be wrestled to the ground and beaten (or eaten.) Here’s how you show ‘em who’s boss:

1. Buy the sweet things in bulk from a local peddler at the road side, especially best between January and March. They’re cheap then, too. Sometimes as low as .60 cents/lb.  So go ahead, dare to order up about a 5 lb. bag.

2. Now, the folks from away will at first think they’ve just gotten a deal that’s the "bees knees", until they proceed to shell ‘em raw to use. (Most out-a-staters will want to do fancy things like saute ‘em or whatnot, but they’ll get so frustrated they’ll waste about half what they bought, almost guaranteed.) 

3. Don’t shell those things RAW. (Are you kidding me?)

4. See step 5.


5. Boil ‘em alive, like you would a lobstah. Go ahead. Put some water in a big kettle to boil. (I like to throw in a dash of sea salt for added effect in mine.) Let the water hit a rolling boil, then throw the whole darned bag of ‘em in. Then boil ‘em for no longer than a minute.

6. Dump in batches into a colander in your sink. After they cool, it’ll take you no time at all to shell ‘em. Half hour tops for 5lbs. Then you can do your fancy stuff later, or eat em like I like ‘em best. Freshly boiled.

Melanie Hyatt is an editor at Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine .

Shooting Buffalo

It was snowing when we headed inland to Forest Peaslee’s buffalo ranch, the largest in Maine. Like so many places in rural Maine, the ranch doesn’t have an address that Map Quest can track, so we drove along tentatively, looking for signposts and landmarks that Peaslee had described to us.

We had scheduled a photo shoot to get images for a story on buffalo ranches in Maine. The weather was perfect for the photos we had in mind: a snowy winter day with brooding bison standing firm against the elements in a desolate landscape. But what would these icons of the Western plains look like in the Maine woods?


Turning off the highway onto dirt roads that hadn’t been plowed yet, we followed the tracks made by the locals who, we were sure, drove pickups, not PT Cruisers. The low clearance of our little compact put us at eye-level with the snow banks on either side. “Just pray we don’t get stuck,” I said quietly. “Nobody would find us until spring, and I bet our cell phones would be useless out here.”

An overhead wooden sign, hanging Western-style over the deeply
rutted road, announced that we’d finally arrived at Rocky Mountain
Ranch. Another quarter mile and we’d found the subject of our quest:
big, dark brown, wooly bison that glowered at us with black beady eyes.
“They’re gorgeous!” I yelped.  This was a big moment for me: I’d never
seen buffalo up close and personal.

Jim pulled on knee-high insulated boots and trudged slowly over to
the fence with his camera and tripod. The bison eyed him warily,
gathering around a small calf that we later learned was only a couple
of months old. With the snow falling heavily now, and temperatures in
the 20s, Jim stood stock still for several minutes until the small herd
started to graze again, a sign that they were relaxing a bit. Very
slowly, he set up his tripod in two feet of snow and started clicking

Just then, a ranch hand arrived in a huge tractor pulling a load of
hay bales for the animals. He opened the gate so Jim could get even
closer, but when the bison smelled the hay and moved toward us, Jim and
I both retreated behind the fence. “Not a bad idea,” the rancher said.
“These are wild animals and they will never become domesticated. You
shouldn’t trust them completely.”


We were invited to meet Peaslee further up the road where a much
larger herd was being introduced to some 15 new head that he’d just
purchased from Missouri. They were all skittish. So were we. When the
newcomers ventured too close to the main herd, they were charged until
they backed off. “If they decided to stampede,” Peaslee said, “you
wouldn’t be safe, even in your car.”

Jim took hundreds of shots, moving carefully and slowly around the
edges of the herd. The buffalo never let him out of their sight. With
every click of the camera, they glared at him, a clear warning that
they were only tolerating the interruption for now.

As the day darkened, the herd retreated into the shadows and became
virtually invisible. We left the ranch, retracing our route through the
snowy woods. Rounding the last corner, the headlights of the car threw
a beam of light on a massive bull standing alone in the dark, his black
face and horns reminding us one last time why these animals deserve our
respect. Jim grabbed one more shot. It was the best image of the day.

Merrill Williams is the publisher of Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine

Buffalo … the REAL Story

I wasn’t afraid of the enormous Bull Buffalo. I stood there and looked him eye-to-eye, not more than 20 feet away. It was my camera that was shaking. Well, maybe my tripod also. But certainly not me.

Being that close to such a magnificent and powerful creature gave me pause to reflect on the fragility of my life in the scheme of natural order. And I thought of the various stories I heard on my many past trips to the West Yellowstone area of Montana. How many tourists had been gored to death by these seemingly peaceful behemoths? I remember the story of a naive foreigneBadassbuffalo8316_2r who tried to climb on the back of one while his wife waited to document his mission with her camera. I believe she was successful in capturing an image of his last adventure among the living. Ride-em cowboy no more.

So I have tons of respect for these magnificent American Bison, and enjoy observing them from a respectful distance. It’s amazing and wonderful to see them alive and well in our wonderful state of Maine, and to reflect on my visits to observe Montana’s Yellowstone buffalo during past summer seasons. They are truly a national treasure: America’s last, free-roaming herd.

So you can imagine my outrage to read today that this winter alone, more than 1,000 wild bison have been killed or shipped to slaughterhouses by the National Park Service and the Montana Department of Livestock. The reason, I read, was to protect a dozen-or-more domestic cattle that graze near the park. It’s because of a theoretical risk of disease transmission from bison to cattle, something that apparently has never happened in a natural setting.

You can read more about this at the NDRC website. I hope enough people speak out and make themselves heard before we endanger yet another of our precious national resources.

Jim Bazin is the creative director of Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine .

A Cardboard Garden

I am experimenting with cardboard. I am laying down large, flat slabs of heavy cardboard over my garden this winter to test a theory. I’ve read that by preventing any light from reaching the soil during the winter, weeds will be prevented from germinating in the spring.

My friend Sean is contributing to my experiment by giving me the boxes from a large flat screen TV, two bookcases, and a queen-sized bed she bought for her new house. I dragged these huge pieces across my backyard and anchored them into place with rocks, chunks of scrap lumber, and some heavy branches that had fallen during a recent windstorm. A blanket of fresh snow the next day ensured the cardboard slabs wouldn’t sail away with the wind and careen into a neighbor’s window.

The best that could come of this experiment, I suppose, is that it actually works and my vegetable garden will be weed-free by May. The worst outcome is that the cardboard has kept all those weeds warm this winter and they will return with a vengeance. I can hear those little buggers laughing now.

Merrill Williams is the publisher of Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.

March 4, 2008

“Plating up” is a term used in restaurant kitchens to describe the last step taken by the culinary team to get the food onto the plate before it is taken out to the dining room.

A similar process takes place behind the scenes of Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine: proof-reading, fact-checking, deciding which sidebar or recipe makes the final cut. And for every story that makes it into print, there is a back-story that deserves to be told. In fact, we have so much more material to share, that’s why we have launched Plating Up. Enjoy.

Merrill Williams is the publisher of Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.