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April 30, 2008

A Mainer’s Guide to Happiness, Part I

Ah, Spring. Our thoughts should turn warm as our hearts are forecasting the rebirth of all things spring. Every year, I tend to use the equinox as a reminder of the conscious changes I can make to encourage my own mental and physical renewals. Bound your soul forward by listening to its whispers this year. Do some soul searching. Take notes. Then ask yourself a couple of very important questions: Just what am I passionate about? Now how do I make it happen?

I have generated a very partial list of what I need to rediscover, or at least revive. These are in no particular order because they are all important to me and have recently been so neglected.

  1. Walk more. Walk everywhere I can. Use stairs instead of the elevator. Look for a parking space far away from the store I’ll be going into. Exercise.
  2. Write. Everyday. Period. No excuses. Keep journaling, writing poetry, short stories, articles. This is essential to who I am. Write, all right.
  3. Read more. Every writer needs to stimulate her/his brain with good reading. Check out the new, revisit the classics. Whatever, keep reading.
  4. Buy less. Spend less. I am a shopaholic. I am a natural born shopper gone over the edge. I love shoes, and purses, and books, and jewelry, and…you get the idea. If you saw my apartment, you’d really get the idea. Stop with too much retail therapy already!
  5. Clean out my closets, both physically and mentally. Do away with anything I’m not using or haven’t used recently. That includes bad old habits, grudges, disappointments, things from the past I cannot change. When I’m finished, I’ll dump my refuse in the proper receptacle. Recycle, dump, compost, or hit the mental delete button.

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

April 29, 2008

Lessons from the Ferry Beach Ecology School Garden

A warm spring rain falls outside my window, binding me to my computer instead of my garden. The sound of the waves crashing onto the shore, moving in from the foggy horizon of Saco Bay, summons me to tilt my head and reflect on the last couple of weeks. The sun has been shining brightly each day, bringing warmth to my winter-chilled bones and satisfying my need to dig in the soil. After a long Maine winter it is reassuring to see life beginning in the greenhouse. Peas, spinach, and early spring flowers have been planted in the garden. The garlic’s green fingers have awakened and are reaching toward the sky. Spring has finally sprung!

And so has the residential season at the Ferry Beach Ecology School in Saco. We are in the middle of running our fifth week of spring programming, bringing school groups to the coast of Maine to learn about ecology and sustainability. Trained naturalists lead students on ecosystem-based lessons three times a day. They explore the beach, forest, salt marsh, tidal pools, and our small organic garden. The garden is a vital component of our curriculum because it allows us to explore the ecology of food systems with our students. In addition to the garden, we use our four-bin composting system and dining hall to uncover some of the mysteries of our food. All of these puzzle pieces make up our Food for Thought program.

One memory I would like to share occurred about two weeks ago. We had just finished a scrumptious lunch of wholesome homemade pizza with organic tomato sauce. Two students who were part of the after-meal clean-up crew were handed buckets full of orange and banana peels, apple cores, undressed salad, and brown paper napkins. They accompanied us to the compost pile where they dumped and covered the nitrogenous material with handfuls of dried leaves. I then pointed out the well-decomposed pile of sifted compost, explaining that their apple cores would be unrecognizable and added to the garden in about eight weeks. We then ventured into the greenhouse to sample some spinach that had been growing throughout the winter. Their enthusiastic taste buds reassured me that children do like spinach and they will eat fresh, healthy food if they are simply exposed to it. So, introduce your children or your students to nutritious, fresh vegetables. You may be surprised by their reaction!

Stay tuned for more lessons from the Ferry Beach Organic Garden…

Jaime Duval is Assistant Director at Ferry Beach Ecology School.

April 23, 2008

Spring Time at the Blaine House

Greetings to all those gardeners of Maine. I’m writing this post while the outside temperature nears 75 degrees in Augusta on April 23. I’m wondering if our strange weather is an affirmation of “Global Warming” or just the cycles of nature’s weather patterns. I think we’ve by-passed spring and sprinted into summer. The crocus have blossomed, the daffodils and jonquils are showing their best yellows, and the tulips are waiting to show off their buds. The magnolia trees are blooming with their fragrant white flowers. The mourning doves are cooing, the robins are searching for earth worms, and the chickadees are raiding the bird feeder. I just love the sounds, smells, and feeling of spring in Maine.

Continue reading “Spring Time at the Blaine House” »

April 22, 2008

Tequila Nights

Having a meal with friends in a wonderful place — whether it be in my own kitchen or dining room, cooking  outside on the grill, or dining away from home — is one of the great treats of life. I love to marinate a flank steak and cook it on the grill.

My favorite marinade is made with Tequila. This is Harry Anderson’s recipe from the old Guilford B&B. We used to religiously attend their Thursday night dinners which were open to the public and then they went and sold it! I relive those nights with this recipe.

Tequila/Lime Flank Steak
(marinade for 4 steaks)
1/2 cup lime juice
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup tequila
7 cloves garlic, mashed
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon pepper and a “glug” of honey!

Marinate overnight. Grill as desired. Cut flank steak on the diagonal, and enjoy!

Katherine Emory is a columnist for MF&L.

April 20, 2008

One of those yellow ones that begins with a D…

So here’s the deal: I’m not a gardener. 

I have other good qualities. I can bake, tell a story, sew, make a wedding cake. I love to hike and swim and run–on trails, in ponds, on dirt roads. I love flowers and food, the fresh kind that come right out of the dirt. I know what to do with these things. I’ve made a living at it for a long time.

It’s not like I don’t like plants. I have house plants. They have names. I haven’t killed one yet. I have been accused, on occasion, of being a treehugger. And, I admit to having actually done it. Hello, I’m from California. 

Which I think is part of the problem. Everything grows in California. I never thought about it. You just clear a patch of dirt, plant some seeds, and poof! Salad. There are no gardeners in California, just gardens. 

So, imagine my shock when my first garden in Maine didn’t take. Nor did the second one. The third was a riotous patch of weeds. The fourth existed only on paper. Last season’s, grown in a patch of dirt I felt confident could raise the dead, was eaten in a single bingeful night by the island deer. 

Along with my humility, my respect for those who can coax a garden here on the island has grown a hundredfold. It is not effortless. In a place that is mostly rock and water, they have made soil from seaweed, crab shells and kitchen waste. Knowing this, in July I look around and think, these gardens are the most beautiful in the world. These gardeners, magicians.

Not that I’m giving up. I’m learning. And my desire to have a garden far outweighs this slight dread of the amount of work that goes into it. And yet, yesterday: a single, smiling daffodil yawning up from the winter duff. Simple, effortless.

Kate Shaffer is a contributing writer to MF&L, Chocolatier, and resident of Isle au Haut.

April 17, 2008

Dandelion Days

Yesterday spring finally arrived on the coast of Maine. Even if I hadn’t read the news on the thermometer (high 40s when I let the dog out at 8 a.m.), I would have known from the hordes of high school girls who suddenly appeared on the streets of Camden clad in next to nothing, exuberant with the freedom to let pale limbs absorb the sunny warmth. This time of year, my vegetarian offspring complain that there’s nothing to eat—honestly, they say. The greens are all imported from California or, worse yet, Mexico, the root vegetables are getting punky, and the asparagus—well, forget about it because who knows where in the world that’s grown, or under what conditions.

So I’ve been on the prowl for dandelion greens. Haven’t found any yet but they will pop up soon out of leaf-bedraggled lawns and then I may do what my mother always did at this time of the year. Armed with a blunt-ended kitchen knife she ranged over our little acre, cutting the greens off at the root and tossing them into a paper bag. Back in the kitchen, they were picked over laboriously, rinsed in several waters (they’re often very muddy), then cooked to death (“cook the bejesus out of them”), steamed for at least an hour, often with a little cured pork (“with the marrow of a hambone,” says my favorite Maine cookbook). To cut the bitterness, they were always served up with a healthy sprinkle of vinegar. And they are indeed healthy, packed with calcium and Vitamin A, also a great source of iron, I’m told, just what sluggish, winter-tired blood needs to get active once more.

If you harvest your own greens, make sure you’re doing so in an area that has not been sprayed with any herbicides or growth stimulants. Look for the tightly compacted crowns of dandelions with a furl of  unopened buds at the center of the circle of leaves. Cut beneath the plant to take up as much of the tap root as you can—it has its own flavor appeal. Don’t bother with plants that have already put up a flower stalk as they’ll be quite intolerably bitter. And clean them very, very well—until there’s no suggestions of mud in the water.

Some folks like to serve dandelion greens raw in a salad but I think they’re much better, much easier to appreciate, when cooked. Now and then I get a little fancy, a little Mediterranean, with the cooking: once they’re steamed, I chop the greens coarsely, then toss them in a pan with olive oil, garlic, and the merest hint of dried red chili pepper.

You can of course buy cultivated dandelion greens (cultivated, no doubt, in California!) but nothing really beats the pleasure of harvesting your own.

Nancy Harmon Jenkins, cookbook author, food writer, journalist.

April 16, 2008

Garlic and Rotten Eggs

Garlic is relatively new to Yankee cuisine. I love garlic so much that practically every recipe I use, except those for dessert, begins with “fry a little onion and garlic in olive oil….”  But this was not always so.

My mother reported that in the Depression, my grandmother learned how to make spaghetti sauce from an Italian neighbor, and while my gram, grandpa, and mom liked tomato sauce on pasta, mom said, “Of course, your grandmother left out the garlic.” Of course.

Garlic smelled like poverty and foreigners. It was not genteel.

A glimpse of this attitude appears in the 1849 journal of a Yankee sailor who with some shipmates went ashore in the Azores looking for a nice hot meal. After months eating salt beef and hardtack, Nelson Haley and his friends eagerly anticipated the chicken stew  set in the middle of a table laid with a white cloth, plates, flatware and tumblers, with even a bottle of wine set at each place. Alas, after the first mouthful, each fellow laid down his fork and knife, disgusted and disappointed.

Haley wrote, “The one who had cooked it had stuffed it full of garlic, and to all of us, if rotten eggs had been in it, the taste no doubt could not have been worse.” Haley convinced the proprietor to bring a dish of stew made without garlic, but the sailors still could detect the flavor from the cooking pot . Nonetheless, they got it down, probably aided by extra wine served up to soothe their dissatisfaction.

A hundred and fifty years later, Haley’s descendants would likely relish the garlicky stew and maybe even welcome a side of garlic bread.

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

April 14, 2008

Garlic is ……sweet?

It came in the mail today, my carefully selected order of Johnny’s seeds. The calendar says we are a couple- three weeks into Spring, with the box in my hands I walk to the window and look out. The color palette is shades of gray and the naked branches of the swamp maples look stark against the milky sky. I take in my garden paved with yards of black cloth. The bean poles appear as sentries guarding the skeletons of last season’s tomatoes still trapped in their cages. The old iron bedstead that lives life now as my cucumber trellis lies flat, thrown up out of the ground by the winter’s heave. What was last summer’s chard has collapsed into a row of rotting brown leaves and there are dimples of water with ice crusted edges. I watch a fat robin perching on the fence while another works an exposed patch of garden and then, I notice them. I walk outside, crouch down and cock my head to the side and they’re there. Like us tugging at the neck of a wool sweater, the garlic spears through it’s blanket of straw and sheds the winter. In a few months there will be gracefully curled scapes offering themselves for everything from flower arranging to pesto. So it truly is Spring and yes, garlic is sweet.

Diana Santospago is the chef and innkeeper of The Inn at Isle au Haut.

April 12, 2008

A Lamb Meal To Die For

I have to give the nod to Chef Michael Salmon, owner/chef Camden’s Hartstone Inn for my choice. I do enjoy a well prepared lamb dish very much, and would rate a rack of lamb cooked medium-rare with an interesting glaze or sauce among my most favorite entrées.

When we were preparing our restaurant feature, To Market and Home Again, for the Holiday 2006 issue of Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine, we chose Chef Michael as our subject. We traveled around Camden with him to the local Farmer’s Market as he collected the freshest local ingredients he could find for the meal ahead. Then we followed him back to the Hartstone Inn kitchen to watch him prepare his chosen menu, and to document the event.

Lamb7391

Chef Michael chose his Phyllo-Wrapped Double Lamb Chops with Rosemary-Mustard Aioli recipe as the entrée for the meal. We had left the choice of menu to him, and couldn’t have been more pleased with the results. When it was plated up and served, it was one of those "I can’t believe I ate the whole thing" moments. And I wanted more. Absolutely fabulous!

You can find Chef Michael’s recipe for this wonderful lamb entrée along with the rest of this meal (including his recipes for Wild Mushroom Soup with Dry Sherry Cream, his Celeriac Purée, and his Macadamia Nut Guava Tartlet), in our article online at: To Market & Home Again with Chef Michael Salmon

Trust me, this was a meal "to die for" …

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

April 8, 2008

True Brit

Last month I was guest speaker at the meeting of the local chapter of a women’s club. After I told them everything I knew about my newsletter, Cook & Tell, in the allotted thirty minutes, a woman of advanced years stepped up to tell me about her husband, the baker of the family. In an English accent that always endears me to the speaker, no matter what he or she is saying, she told me her husband makes Welsh Cakes for church functions, funerals, and celebrations. “He makes thirty-six dozen at a time,” she said, matter-of-factly.

Oh, Welsh Cakes! I love them. I have a recipe for them in my book, and here was a true Brit with a live-in Welsh Cake baker. I’m guessing he was resting up from filling a major order of the cakes for a church celebration of St. David’s Day, March first, David being the patron saint of Wales. But the baker’s wife was moving along quickly, and I didn’t have a chance to find out how to get his recipe to see how it may have differed from mine. Mine had been sent to me from a friend, in the very early days of Cook & Tell. It was surely as authentic as the one this woman’s husband used; my friend’s friend was as British as he.

Just before the woman slipped out, we did exchange a few words. “I bake them in an electric skillet,” I said, thinking it might seem to her a novel way to cook them. Just to sound super-savvy, I added, “and I turn them a couple of times.” With the voice of authority, she said, “Set the pan at 350º and turn the cakes once. Turning them more than once makes them tough.”

They never seemed tough to me, but what do I know? And who would challenged a Welshman who knocks off 432 little cakes in one fell swoop? The next time I make them (and I’m not waiting until next St. David’s Day), I’ll be drafting somebody to stand beside me and slap my wrist if I make a move to give the little devils a second flip.

They’re cookie-like but more substantial; like biscuits, only much better than biscuits, and I don’t mean British “bikkies,” which correspond to our cookies. If the foregoing makes any sense to you, you may pass “GO” and pick up $200 – or this recipe, whichever comes first:

Welsh Cakes

1 c sugar
1/2 c (each) butter and shortening
3 1/3 c flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1 t (each) nutmeg and salt
1 c currants
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 c milk

Cream the sugar, butter, and shortening. Sift and add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt. Add the currants. Mix the egg and milk together and add, blending well. With floured hands, pat the soft dough flat on a well-floured board and gently roll to 1/3 ” thickness (not thin, like cookies). Cut with a 2″ round cutter. Bake on an electric griddle or skillet, turning twice to brown. I use a 250 degree setting. Our British friend suggests 350 degrees and turns them once, 3 minutes per side. The recipes makes 60 cakes. Only 372 to go!

Karyl Bannister writes and illustrates the newsletter Cook & Tell, published ten times a year.

Best Tacos in Maine, or Anywhere Else

I’ve enjoyed eating tacos many times at many locations. From restaurants to taco stands, from the east to west coasts, and even in Mexico (much spicier) I’ve sampled many different combinations of ingredients and salsas. As expected, I’ve sampled some very good tacos and some not-so-good ones. But I hadn’t expected to find the best tacos I ever tasted right here in Maine. It wasn’t at a restaurant or at a taco stand; rather, a home-cooked meal prepared by best selling novelist Tess Gerritsen at her home in Camden

We were visiting Tess to create one of our "Food of Art" features for the magazine (Holiday 2006), with Tess as the subject. I was caught up in process of photographing the event, while Merill conversed with Tess and her husband Jacob to flush out the article. Tess had mentioned that she would be preparing tacos for lunch, but neither of us had really been thinking about eating at that point. We were having a great time just being there and enjoying the conversation that evolved.

And then it was time for our taco lunch, which Tess prepared for us in her lovely modern kitchen. What a surprise. Not that I didn’t expect the tacos to be good, it’s that I didn’t expect these to be the absolute best tacos I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating, anywhere, anytime. Turns out that Tess grew up in a family of food lovers, has a penchant for Mexican food, pays attention to the details of it all, is quite particular about ingredients, and the right ingredients certainly do make a difference.

Tesstaco_2

Anyway, those tacos were delicious. I had to bite my tongue to keep from grabbing more and more from the serving platters in front of me. I ended up restraining my taco jones, and regret it to this day. But at least I didn’t eat the photo this time!

I wish Tess would take a few months from writing her novels each year and open a part time Taco stand somewhere near our Rockland office. In my wildest dreams, I really don’t expect this to happen. But Tess’s Taco Stand would definitely be a regular lunch spot for me if she did. For now, that’s a very pleasant kind of fiction to think about.

I could tell you a lot more about her tacos, and about Tess and her fascinating background, but you can read our article as well as get her taco recipe in the Holiday 2006 issue of our magazine: Tess’s Tacos

Tess Gerritsen, you make a mean taco!

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

April 3, 2008

We Ate the Photo

Like so many things, it started with the best of intentions. With Waterville’s Freedom Cafe chosen as the inaugural restaurant for “Crossroads,” creative director/resident photographer Jim and I set off one wintry afternoon to pursue the story. With vague MapQuest directions in hand and slush-sloppy roads to navigate, it was nearly dark by the time we got within Waterville city limits. After a brief stopover to grab a shot of bread guru Stu Silverstein (see spring story “Our Daily Bread“), we arrived at last to the Freedom Cafe. Squeezed into the tight kitchen, I scribbled away while owner Janice chatted and cooked. Jim hovered nearby taking photos.

All evening the bubbling pot of gumbo, glistening pork ribs and cornbread, fresh from the oven, had taunted us. As the interview and photo session wound down with a shot of Janice at a table with her finished dishes, we, at long last, tucked into a meal ourselves. The jambalaya was a meal in itself, so full of shrimp and chicken, it was almost better eaten with a fork. Of course, the
generous portions didn’t stop us from inquiring about dessert. Peanut butter, and pecan, to name two, were spectacular but it was the warm white chocolate bread pudding drizzled with bourbon sauce (hot, buttery, and gooey) that set our forks dueling.

As we set back out for Rockland in the dark, we wondered which recipes to publish with the article. “Definitely the
bread pudding,” one of us murmured. It wasn’t until the next day that we realized that the casualty of our appetites had been the photo. And alas, we couldn’t very well publish a recipe without a photo. You’ll just have to take it from us, it was divine.

Ooops8483

From the Staff at Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.