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August 31, 2008

Maine Labor Day Thoughts

Maine Labor Day

The traditional holiday signaling the end of summer is upon us. And though we have many more warm days ahead to look forward to this fall (I hope!), Labor Day heralds us into an inevitable transition of the seasons.

I am not looking forward to what the Farmer’s Almanac foretells…

Here we are, the beginning of September, which means what? To everyone, regardless whether they just graduated last spring, or like my Nana, nearly 70 years ago,
it means school starts. The Paperkite2075nostalgia hits us with nearly tangible anxiety. Like a quick, swift kick to the stomach, comes the nervous sting of loss flying in on the last butterfly wings of summer which alight and flutter in the pit of our stomach.

Something new is about to begin…

Back to school sale flyers have been kicking around since the the end of June. I’ve become annoyed with the Halloween masks and fake Christmas trees which never really seem to leave the store shelves anymore.  We are definitely on the move toward fall and it is closer now to us than the lingering, lazy days of summer. And yet with strength, and great irony, we attempt desperately to live in the moment.

Life moves far too fast…

I was just waiting to smell those lilacs, it seemed like forever before my delicate daffodils and tulips made their brief appearance before being drowned out in torrential spring winds and rains, and now hardy mums are staring my squarely in the face. The mornings and evenings are undeniably cooler, and the shadows of fall are already haunting the russet-hinted landscape. I found one bright orange leaf on my front lawn last weekend as testament.

Foreshadowing has begun…

So, before we all think of hunkering down for what’s ahead, bringing wool sweaters out of storage and watching for the first frost, let’s remember to indulge in the season at hand. Labor Day means BBQs, lobster and clam bakes, blueberry pies, country fairs, enjoyment, celebration, relaxation, time with family, the historic last good beach day, the last hurrah… and the pang of regret for all those undone summer plans.

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

August 30, 2008

Maine Lobster Benedict Brunch Surprise

It’s a  regular trip for me on Sundays to drive "all the way" (less than a mile) to downtown Thomaston in order to visit the fabulous Thomaston Cafe and treat myself to Chef Brian Beckett’s wonderful Eggs Benedict for brunch. True, the hollandaise sauce he makes is mostly why I love this brunch item so much. I’ve never tasted better. But it certainly helps that the eggs are always cooked egg-zactly the way I like them (medium, and just a bit runny). Delicious.

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Eggs Benedict at The Thomaston Cafe on Route 1 in Thomaston

Continue reading “Maine Lobster Benedict Brunch Surprise” »

August 29, 2008

Maine Man Video

This link has been bouncing around the internet recently, Maine lobster and all . . . The Maine Man Video

From the staff at Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.

Wassookeag Lake Guacamole

Yet another variation on a theme from Wassookeag Lake! Last night we sat out on the porch with friends listening to the loons, crickets, and tree frogs as we enjoying one of the last warm nights of Maine summer. We drank good wine accompanied by a baked brie with hot pepper jelly and blue taco chips with traditional salsa, pomegranate and black bean salsa, and, of course, our beloved guacamole. That was dinner! And it was just perfect.

Guacamole
3 avocados mashed but still lumpy
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 to ½ cup salsa
2 Tablespons fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon salt
Juice of ½ Lemon or lime, to taste.

Mix in a bowl and enjoy.

Katherine Emory is a columnist for MF&L

August 28, 2008

Linda Greenlaw’s Fisherman’s Bend

LindagreenlawLinda Greenlaw’s latest Jane Bunker Mystery novel, Fisherman’s Bend,
is another fine example of her nautical savvy. Her command of the
language of the ocean is strong,
which translates into a fun and
plausible read. The use of clever Maine similes and metaphors project a
genuine Maine mood, thick as the fog on the coastline. Greenlaw fills
our heads with all the details and facts of a world she knows
intimately, while weaving in a true yarn of a mystery

We also enjoyed the dry Maine humor which helped to round out the
characters. As Mainers, we appreciated this authentic touch. For those
reading the novel who are “from away", it is a refreshing taste of the
salty curmudgeons one often finds here. Hopefully, we will hear more
from Jane Bunker and Linda Greenlaw very soon!

From the staff at Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.

August 27, 2008

An Unforgettable Past

Maine is full of stories and memoirs from farmers and food producers from Bangor to Kittery, and I’ve got a fun, vivid memory to add to the collection.

I started working on my uncle’s dairy farm when I was 13, and I will never forget the first time I saw butter being made. We always started working and processing at 4:00 am sharp. This particular morning, my uncle Roland (who never said more than two words before 8:00 am), poured a couple of 40-quart cans of cream into what looked like a 50-gallon wood drum. The drum then rotated on a shaft which was attached to the center of the drum, so that when he turned it on, the drum turned end to end. This was our “butter churn!” I don’t remember how long it took that day for the cream to turn to butter, but I do remember when my Uncle Roland opened up that drum, seeing all of the butter balls that were floating in the buttermilk.

Continue reading “An Unforgettable Past” »

August 25, 2008

How Does Your Oven Fire?

It is no coincidence that the words hearth and heart are so similar. The hearth has always been the heart of a home. Not only does the fire heat us and awaken our senses, the smell and taste of wood-fired food is indelible.

Using stones, bricks, and/or mud, the people in what is now known as the Czech Republic were using wood-burning bakeovens about 20,000 years ago. They enclosed fires with any material that had mass and would not burn. The basics of those ovens are still true today though modern materials like insulation and firebrick allow ovens to operate more efficiently.

Continue reading “How Does Your Oven Fire?” »

The Zen of Custard

Who doesn’t love real frozen custard? For the best, we head to Hodgman’s Frozen Custard in New Gloucester. It’s known as “Zen Cus” by the locals because those were the letters left after the other lights blew out. And the name “Zen Cus” stuck because it is soooo close to perfection. We have received numerous reports that the Pumpkin Frozen custard is THE best! Established in 1946, this roadside shop is practically an establishment.

Katherine Emory is a columnist for MF&L.

August 24, 2008

The great price debate

It has finally come to pass: pound for pound, lobster is cheaper than steak, and out-of-towners know it. Everyone is aware that food prices have gone up across the board — from asparagus to chicken breasts. But with a strong catch this summer (or, so reports my Harpswell-based father) and lower demand, prices have dropped and dropped.

Nowhere is this more obvious than right-off-the-boat spots in Maine. I used to revel in seeing pricing signs at pounds all over Brunswick, Cundy’s and Bailey and Orr’s Islands. But knowing how much the lobstermen and women must be hurting — with gas prices so high and everyone’s budgets tightening — the more I wish that either restaurants outside of New England would drop their prices to drive UP demand, or that the Maine Turnpike would be overrun with people headed for the coast to attend lobster college and load up live wells in their SUVs’ trunks with 2-pounders. Of course, I only want this to happen when I’m not in town, so if we can have a mini-break in mid-September, that would be best.

In the meantime, I will spread the word: buy lobster while you can get it for less than sirloin. Maine, it’s worth the trip — just don’t forget your cooler and bring some dry ice.

Jessica Strelitz is a contributing writer to Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.

The Plot That Got Away

That little rainy spell really got the weeds growing! Maybe it’s more productive to think of these weeds as biomass production for future compost… 

One good thing about very moist soil is that weeds are easily pulled, so during breaks in the weather, I have been doing just that: pulling and piling weeds, preparing next season’s compost. 

While many weeds are easy to pull, a few are tenacious enough that I prefer to smother them: cover the overgrown area with newspapers, several sheets thick and moistened so that they stay down. Then cover the newspapers with grass clippings — or even with pulled weeds. By next spring, this area will be weed-free, nutrient-rich (from the decomposed grass clippings and weeds) and ready to plant. It takes several months for this weed-killing effort to work, but it’s worth the wait.

Jean English is the editor of MOFGA’s, The Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener.   

August 22, 2008

Our Food Secrets Revealed

Here’s a partial list of the some of the food we’d rather that you didn’t know we like.

Jim Bazin: I wish I had kept a list of the many times I made a dinner meal out of chips and salsa. It never was intentional, but one bite would lead to another, and before I knew it my hunger had been appeased.

Sean Chung: Pickle juice. I find it refreshing, almost tonic, and it keeps the kidney stones away, too.

Katherine Emory: Jelly Beans. In all flavors, except lime and licorice, but I particularly like tropical fruit flavors! So there, it’s out!

Melanie Hyatt: Hmmm. I think people love sharing their weird food tales. I just wish I had some really exotic ones. Back before the days of red tide, dad and I used to dig for quahogs. He’d show me how to find the big holes on the beaches, how to dig deep, and how they’d fight to burrow deeper in the mud. They are big shelled versions of steamers, really. I like that they are a bit chewy when boiled. And I love beef and venison jerky. And rabbit stew is good, too…

Melissa Leiter: As a college student, I eat lots of canned foods and pasta, as well as rice. For variety, I like to spice up my rice and pasta with different condiments like salad dressing, ketchup, and mustard – pretty much whatever is in the fridge – for a little extra flavor.

Merrill Williams: As a kid, I used to reach into the refrigerator and whack slices off a stick of butter and eat them right off the blade of the knife. Today, if I’m home alone in an empty kitchen and desperate for dinner, I can make an entire meal out of crackers and butter. Bad habits die hard.

Thoughts from the staff at Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.

August 21, 2008

Downeast Blueberry Cake

A Downeast recipe from an up country friend…

Lake living is easy, fun, and relaxed – as is our casual
entertaining. It is an unwritten rule that everyone brings some part of
the dinner. The hostess supplies the main dish and drinks and the
guests bring hors d’oeuvres, salads, desserts etc. When there are
eight to ten people involved, it makes it fun for everyone since all
the best recipes arrive at the door. I provide index cards for the
trading of those special dishes. Everyone goes home with new ideas and
the hostess is not exhausted! Last weekend, the winner of the evening
was Downeast Blueberry Cake – a twist on an old Maine favorite.

Continue reading “Downeast Blueberry Cake” »

XYZ’s Jamaica Iced Tea

A visit to the Bar Harbor area deserves a visit to the ranchito known simply as XYZ. This beloved Mexican restaurant in Southwest Harbor serves up rustic fare typical of the food found in the Mexican interior. All the dishes are made from scratch by Bob Hoyt who mans the cooking and Janet Strong who makes the desserts. Their hibiscus iced tea is the perfect antidote for a deep summer thirst. 

Nieve de Jamaica
Hibiscus Iced Tea

2 cups dried Jamaica or Hibiscus flowers
6 cups water
¾ cup sugar
Lime
Mint for garnish

Add flowers and water to saucepan, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes and then use a sieve to discard flowers. Add sugar and lime to taste, mix well, and cool.

Pour tea into a shallow metal pan and place in freezer. Stir after 20 minutes, and then every 15 minutes for approximately 1 ½ hours. When it has a firm, crunchy consistency, cover with foil, and freeze. To serve, scrape with a metal spoon in chilled 6 ounce margarita glasses with a sprig of mint.

Note: Chiles and hibiscus can be purchased online from www.mexgrocer.com

From the staff at Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.

August 20, 2008

Blueberry Meditations

For about half an hour a day for the past month or so, usually in the evenings, I’ve enjoyed my blueberry meditation period, quietly picking fruits from our eight highbush blueberry bushes. The process is simple:  get a quart container, stand at the plant, set part of your brain to “blue or not blue” mode and, while you pick, let the rest of your mind drift. Breathe in the outdoor summer air, breathe out your troubles.  Antioxidants aren’t the only healing properties of blueberries!

Continue reading “Blueberry Meditations” »

The Kneading Conference 2008

Maine has no shortage of professional bakers and many of them gathered in Skowhegan to share their experience and talents at the annual Kneading Conference on August 1st and 2nd. Aimed at  promoting ecological and community sustainability, the conference offered classes on growing and milling grains, bake oven building, as well as local artisan bread techniques.

Stu Silverstein, a recent MF&L subject, and Kendra Michaud, led a half-day Clay Oven Building workshop. Using many of the methods in his book, the pair, along with assistant Ollie Hartman, demonstrated how to build micro-ovens, and afterward each participant built his/her own version. At the end of the class, attendees had their very own outdoor ovens to transport home and fire up with goodies of their choosing.

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Stu Silverstein

From the staff at Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.

 

August 19, 2008

Mushroom Manna

We’re eating basil, beans, and squash, walking past 10 foot hollyhocks and through a sea of fragrant lilies. The dahlias are finally starting to bloom and it appears there may actually be tomatoes.

Nevertheless. Not a good year in the garden, thanks to topsy-turvy weather. Hot when it should have been cool. Cold when it should have been warm. Dry when it should have been wet. Dry again when it should have been moist, and then incessantly rainy in what is usually the driest month of the year.

But oh, the mushrooms! Those rains have made it a VERY good year in the woods. We’re getting all sorts of boletes (just did a taste test with 9 different kinds).

Continue reading “Mushroom Manna” »

The ABCs of Wood-Fired Bakeovens

There are essentially two different wood-fired masonry ovens that are built these days. One design is for baking bread, and one is for roasting foods and pizza. They look pretty much the same from outside, but the oven cores are built and fired differently.

Bread ovens operate on the principal of using the firebrick mass of the oven to store lots of heat from a large fire built on the hearth in the oven. When the fire burns down, the coals are spread over the hearth and the door closed. The oven “soaks” the heat for an hour or two; the ashes are then removed, and the bread is loaded and bakes from the heat retained in the oven from the fire that is now long gone. In order to be able to store enough heat to bake 6-8 batches ofo bread without having to refire the oven, a bread oven needs a thicker deck, ceiling, and walls. Insulation is critical to a retained heat oven, especially one used on a daily basis; the entire thermal mass, that is, all the firebrick from the hearth to the arch, should be very well insulated. This allows the oven to reach higher oven temperatures faster with a longer cooking time.

Continue reading “The ABCs of Wood-Fired Bakeovens” »

August 18, 2008

On sale at my grocery store, and farmers markets everywhere

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It’s blueberry season, and Nancy Harmon Jenkins had a great piece (and several yummy recipes) in the New York Times this weekend about New England’s most delicate, delicious beads of pleasure. But the ones being snapped up by hungry 20-somethings that prowl the aisles of my neighborhood Harris Teeter cannot compare with the same bounty that blankets my mother’s backyard at her house next to Mount Apatite in Auburn, nor the bushes that dot my father’s manicured oceanside home in Harpswell.

This is the first August in several years that I am not able to come home to pick them, spending hours in the precious sun, filling a cereal bowl and staining my fingers. So save some for me and put them in the freezer. I promise to make you a pie when I come up in September, and top it with fresh whipped cream and love.

Jessica Strelitz is a contributing writer to Maine Food & Lifestyle magazine.

August 17, 2008

Tidal Falls Blueberry-Raspberry Squares

And now for a little seasonal something sweet…

Here’s  a lovely height-of-berry season dessert from Tidal Falls Lobster Restaurant in Hancock. For most of the season they use just blueberries, but during the few brief weeks that fresh raspberries are being picked locally, they add both fruits. It’s a versatile dessert – wonderful served as a snack cut in small squares or as a dessert topped with a cloud of whipped cream or a scoop of one of the wonderful artisan vanilla ice creams – and at Tidal Falls is makes the perfect hand-held finish to one of their glorious lobster feasts.

Continue reading “Tidal Falls Blueberry-Raspberry Squares” »

August 14, 2008

Sweet and Sexy

"Sex is good, but not as good as fresh sweet corn."
                                    - Garrison Keillor, author.

One of my favorite musicals is “OKLAHOMA” and it always comes to mind when the time is ripe for the sweet corn harvest. When we drive by the cornfields I am absolutely compelled to break into song. My poor husband puts up with my less than melodious rendition of “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” and when I get to the line “The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye, and it looks like it’s climbing clear up to the sky,” I really hit those notes with great gusto. (Such a patient man, is he.)

Once a summer we sit out on the deck with the soundtrack  from “Oklahoma” blasting (poor neighbors)  and the dinner menu is icy cold white wine and corn on the cob.  That’s it. Full stop. CORN for dinner, with lots of butter, salt and pepper.

For those who feel the need for something more than just the corn itself, here are some delicious recipes that are just begging to include Maine's sweet and sexy corn.

Continue reading “Sweet and Sexy” »