Tickling Your Spring Fancy and Tasting the Unique Gins of Maine
Almost every family has one – the meal that is all things to all family members. It’s comfort and celebration, joy and solace, the meal that you want when you’ve been far away, or when your heart is broken, or when you just want to settle in.
Can it be a month already? It can – to the day, in fact. One month ago I began my six-month journey to my 60th birthday. Here are some of the things I’ve learned this month:
Though some may lament Labor Day as the unofficial end of summer, it happens to be one of my favorite times of year – a lovely three-day respite and a gateway to fall.
If you ask me, we are officially entering the most exquisite 8 weeks of the year on the coast of Maine. For most families, school is back in session or about to begin. Summer’s loosey goosey, free form agenda for the past few months, gets corralled as order is restored to even the most chaotic schedules. Parking in downtown Portland is easier, reservations to our favorite restaurants are more readily available. The natives are breathing just a little easier.
And the weather. Who wouldn’t fall in love with Maine when the days are warm, breezy and dry and the nights are cool and clear? Autumn is just beginning to whisper its secrets in your ear as you sleep. Perfect sleeping weather; the phrase was invented for this time of year.
The garden seems to be working overtime for us to get our money’s worth with tomatoes, squashes, tomatillos, peppers, and all kinds of gorgeous flowers. And the bees are working as hard as their wingless gardening counterparts.
At my house, Labor Day calls for a lobster bake, you know all the traditional fixings – steamed lobster and steamers with drawn butter, fresh corn and tomatoes, potatoes. What could be better?
We always cook extra lobsters so there is enough meat for lobster rolls the next day. Nothing could be simpler than a genuine Maine lobster roll. Only two ingredients are absolutely necessary – lobster and a roll.
For authenticity, the lobster must be fresh and the roll must be New England style, the kind that has no crust on the bottom and the top. The best rolls are smeared with butter on the outside, toasted golden brown and delivered to the table still warm.
Some people like their lobster mixed with melted butter, some with a dollop of mayonnaise, some say naked lobster meat is best. Served with potato chips and a cold beer and you are in heaven – Maine style.
For dessert, there’s only one way to go and that’s with an authentic, homemade Whoopie Pie (see below for recipe!). These chocolatey, marshmallowy confections are a Maine tradition and the recipe that follows has been passed down for five generations of Mainahs.
You can thank me after you’ve recovered from your Made-in-Maine food coma!
There are days when you think you look all pretty and regal and you're feeling fairly good about things. Until you realize you have bird shit all over your damn tiara.
It would have been almost impossible to think of a better situation, personally and professionally. Last Thursday I traveled from Portland, Maine across the country to Portland, Oregon. I was headed to the International Food Bloggers Conference, which promised to be a learning and networking experience like no other. Better still, I was there representing the 1200 farm family owners of Cabot Creamery, an IFBC sponsor.
Before things got officially underway, on Thursday evening there was a book party and welcoming get-together at the storied Mother’s Bistro & Bar where early bird attendees sampled delectable local fare and some of the most inventive cocktails I’ve ever encountered.
On the way to the party at Mother’s, I took time to explore downtown Portlandia. This is one seriously cool town, and I only scratched the surface. I really need to go back. Soon.
Friday’s agenda included an opening lunch sponsored by another great farmer-owned cooperative Organic Valley, followed by a schedule of sessions and workshops for 200+ food bloggers of every stripe and level of experience.
On Friday night there was a Gourmet Fair and de facto Swagapalooza (the sponsors were very generous with goodies for the swag bags), with tasting stations to satisfy virtually any culinary inclination. I brought five different Cabot cheddars to sample, including Cabot Clothbound, aged in the Cellars at Jasper Hill. By happy coincidence we were close to the Mionetto Prosecco station and discovered just how great the pairing of quality Italian bubbles and aged cheddar can be.
There is magic that happens when you get a group of like-minded people together to connect with each other and luminaries in their field. The sponsors added sparkle to the proceedings, expanding our knowledge of tools, food, wine and spirits, and resources. There were iconic brands like Wusthof knives, OXO innovative kitchen product and Analon cookware, food brands like USA Pears, Made in Nature dried fruits and Nutive. You can check out the list of other outstanding sponsors here.
Held in one of the great food-centric cities in the country, Portland greeted the far-flung food bloggers with open arms and a vast array of local comestibles and drinks from all over Oregon. The variety, creativity, and genuine joy for the food had us all reaching for keyboards and cameras in a desperate attempt to capture in words and pictures that which should, by rights, be tasted and savored. There’s already been chatter among us about next year…in Seattle!
Having people over for Sunday brunch is just about my favorite way to entertain. It’s easy and if you plan properly, you can get a lot of the work done before hand and enjoy your guests. My go-to brunch dish is this Make-Ahead Brunch Strata. I adapted my recipe from one I found Cabot’s website. It has served me well for years.
The beauty of this dish is its versatility. You can use just about anything handy for the base – stale bread, frozen waffles, frozen hash brown potatoes (thaw and dry first), croutons – whatever strikes your fancy. The same is true for the filling. An all-vegetable version is delicious, as is all meat – bacon, sausage, ground turkey, Canadian bacon. Give it a south-of-the-border twist by adding salsa and chorizo, or a hint of Italy with sun-dried tomatoes and pancetta. Let your imagination go wild.
The other thing I love for brunch can also be made ahead of time, are these crowd-pleasing Cheddar & Sage Corn Muffins which I make in mini muffin tins. Just the right size for a party.
The simplest salad was just outside my kitchen door – cherry tomatoes in cheery colors – combined with fresh basil, the tomatoes’ neighbor in the garden, and fresh mozzarella. Add a spritz of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil and you have a perfect Caprese salad.
There are days, and this is one of them, when I just feel like making my own trail mix.
Whether it’s global warming or just a crazy hot few months, my canine-American companions have suffered this summer from the unusual heat here on the coast of Maine. Luckily, we have the ocean at our doorstep and can dip in the cold Atlantic as the temperatures soar.
Sometimes, however, a dog just needs a frozen treat. There are several on the market, but most seem to be exorbitantly expensive. “How hard could it be to make my own?” I thought. So off I went to my trusty Interwebz machine and did the old googly woogly on “frozen dog treats.” Reader, they are abundant.
I read through the first gazillion and found, not at all to my surprise, they’re all VERY similar. Yogurt, peanut butter, fruit (usually bananas), and maybe a dollop of honey. This I could do.
An aside: I’m not sure why I am so much more freaked out and cautious about making food for my dogs than I am about making food for my friends. I feel like I should call the vet to, well, vet whatever it is I’m making. Why is this? Discuss amongst yourselves.
I made the Frozen Puppy Pops™ in about 3 minutes. Then, because I was feeling all kinds of canine creativity coursing through my core, I grabbed a slice of pork tenderloin left over from the previous night’s dinner, chopped it into tiny, Yorkie sized bites and made another batch; this one was savory.
Were these treats successful? Like crack to a junkie, like chardonnay to Kathie Lee & Hoda, like Jello shots to the cast of Jersey Shore. They’re easy, they’re healthy, and as you watch your pup devour them, they’re endlessly entertaining. Dogs eating fro yo – now that’s funny.
An aside: It appears that dogs get ice cream headaches too.
Just watch their little doggie faces.
Follow the link below for the recipe!
There is a lot of self-reckoning as I approach my 60th birthday, observations and maxims that are guiding me into what I hope is a graceful, but still playful, next chapter.
Following is a list of things I try to keep in mind as I forge on to this new adventure:
- Just because you can still fit into something you wore in college doesn’t mean you should wear it. Unless it’s a necklace.
- Wear less makeup.
- Wear more sunscreen.
- Flirt and laugh with abandon.
- Always have at least one pair of outrageously sexy shoes.
- Be kind to young women. They think it will never happen to them.
- Get a good haircut, but not necessarily a short haircut.
- When the going gets tough, the tough get a mani-pedi.
- Exercise more.
- Argue less.
- Embrace technology. It will make your life easier at every turn.
- Corollary: Befriend a geek.
- Do something that scares the pants off you.
- Apologize. It’s almost never the wrong thing to do.
- It is no longer appropriate to dress up as a sexy anything at Halloween. Nurse. Cat. Maid. It’s over.
- Depend on the kindness of strangers – but be ready to do it yourself.
- Who ever said “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” evidently has never tasted a perfect grilled cheese or a perfect martini.
*I have until February 7, 2013 to arrive at 60 healthy, fit, and full of beans.
SMTS is a record of my journey.
I am, I admit, a little crazy about dogs – mine and other peoples’. I find, for the most part, it’s easier to love canines than humans. I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t a dog in my life. And now there are two – brothers and littermates Murphy and Duncan – who have been endlessly documented on my Facebook page and in random blog posts. I even have a Pinterest Board called “Crazy Dog Lady.” A few years ago there were vast recalls of pet food from China. Dogs were getting sick, and even dying from ingredients found in the dried food. At about the same time, my dog, Murphy, was scratching himself into hotspots and skin infections. The vet diagnosed food allergies and said that terriers are particularly prone to them. The most common allergen for these dogs seems to be wheat and other grains.
The combination of events convinced me that it would be a lot better for my dogs and really not that difficult to make their food. They’re small, they don’t eat much. A batch of food lasts several weeks. And if I made the food, I could control the ingredients. It’s not rocket science. An Internet search guided my recipe development, which was then blessed by my vet. I eliminated grains and supplemented with sweet potatoes for compensatory carbohydrates.
The boys love their food, but who wouldn’t? It’s plain, but wholesome, full of protein, carbohydrates, and lots of veggies. My two-legged boy dropped by the house one day and, as is his habit, went straight to the refrigerator to get something to eat. He was well into the dog food before I told him what it was. “It needs salt,” was his only reaction.
Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist.
Punishing the specialist. I know all about that. For 20 years I was a long-distance runner. I have the compendium of overuse injuries to underscore the punishment of my speciality.
I wanted – and needed – to be rewarded with fitness that would take me, in good health and sound body, into my 60s and beyond.
And so, on the advice of my very smart, very fit daughter, I joined our local CrossFit gym – CrossFit Beacon. The building is like a cathedral to fitness. You enter a narthex, a smaller, low-ceilinged room, passing a phalanx of Concept2 rowing machines and walls decorated with jumping ropes. From there you enter the nave – soaring walls and equipment that draws your eyes upward.
For a newbie, it can be very intimidating.
Except that everyone there is not only impossibly fit, but really, really nice. And welcoming. And positive. And strong.
WOD, snatch, AMRAP, thruster, MetCon. There’s a whole new vocabulary to learn. An observation: what doesn’t sound just a little bit vulgar sounds like shorthand employed by Seal Team 6.
Who better to indoctrinate introduce me to CrossFit culture and ritual than Annie Michel, 55, who has in a few short days become my workout mentor and my role model. Annie’s bona fides are staggering. Last month she took second place in her age group, in the whole freakin’ universe, at the 2012 CrossFit Games.
Annie taught me the basics – snatching and thrusting, double-unders and hang cleans – so I could slip seamlessly into CrossFit classes. At least that was my hope.
Today was my first class. Seamless doesn’t exactly describe my maiden voyage on the good ship CrossFit. Keep in mind that in today’s class I was the oldest participant by at least a couple of decades. (Annie, where were you when I needed you?)
The warm-up was a 400-meter run (thank you, baby jebus), followed by ball slams, then burpees, and ending with side lunges.
Reader, the burpees alone were enough to kill me.
And that was the warm up. It got harder from there. A lot harder. Today, my daughter informed me, with what I believe was unnecessary condescension and eye-rolling, was a particularly easy WOD (workout of the day).
My body is still vibrating with fatigue.
In spite of my weak-kneed and breathless condition, I left the gym knowing I want to get good at this. I’ll work harder and get stronger and make progress. I want to be a badass.
But first I will take my sorry, quivering bod down to the ocean for a good soak.
*I have until February 7, 2013 to arrive at 60 healthy, fit, and full of beans. SMTS is a record of my journey.
Going Primal can be fun…and delicious. Bacon and eggs for breakfast, lots of salads and fresh veggies. Meat! Fish! Chicken! It really isn’t too much of a sacrifice. Until it is.
Because, really, some meals call for that certain special carb. I’ve learned to substitute spaghetti squash for spaghetti – not exactly a fair trade, but it works in a pinch. But let’s face it.
I miss potatoes.
At least I did until I stumbled across a recipe on Pinterest for Mashed Cauliflower. It wasn’t really a recipe, per se, just an observation that mashed or pureed cauliflower is a pretty decent substitute for mashed potatoes.
Reader, they were right.
I tarted mine up a bit, adding Greek yogurt, sharp cheddar and roasted garlic.
Served up next to a flank steak right off the grill and sliced garden tomatoes, this fluffy pile of faux-spuds was Dee. Lish.
Some days my journey to 60 seems like the best kind of adventure, full of challenges and successes, new experiences that enrich my life, people who seem to appear at the behest of a kind a benevolent god who sends me exactly who and what I need, when I need it.
Other times…not so much.
Some days the road to 60 feels like the Bataan Death March, one weary step after another, plodding to a distant and unknowable goal.
The last couple of days have been of the latter variety. But now it’s Friday and there is breathing room on my horizon.
Right now, I’m adjusting to a new/old way of eating. I’ve gone back to following Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint, a system of diet and exercise that is, for me, very effective at maintaining a healthy weight and a good level of fitness.
There’s no denying that when I follow the Blueprint, I look better and I feel better. Still there are things I miss, when I go Primal.
Carbs. I miss carbs. There are very few carbs involved in this healthy eating plan. And carbs have always been my dietary Achilles heel, my downfall, my weakness. For some girls it’s cowboys, for me it’s carbs.
This crazy carb depletion has made me cranky. Very cranky. I needed a healthy way to address my bad mood and I think I found it with these Bacon & Cheddar Deviled Eggs.
And to prove there is serendipity in the universe, I saw my friend Kristin yesterday, and she brought me a dozen fresh eggs, gathered that morning from her chicken coop. How could I not do something fabulous with them?
I’ve taken a classic egg preparation and incorporated what could rightfully be called the Dynamic Duo of food fanatics, young and old. I mean really, who doesn’t like bacon? And cheese? And bacon with cheese? It’s a win/win as far as I’m concerned.
And enough to de-crank my nasty mood.
Here’s the beauty of a deviled egg – it’s a meal-chameleon. Eat it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Any time’s a good time for the Devil!
It's hard to deny your age once you've worn the tiara.
I’m going to let those of you younger than I am, and this is just about anyone reading this post, in on a little secret. It’s something that has taken me the last few years to figure out. Getting old, in addition to being fraught with angst, pain both physical and mental, and loss, is just plain embarrassing.
For reasons both mundane and profound, aging, especially for women in our culture, is a shameful act. Few of us avoid the trap of ageism, assuming the elderly are to be pitied and marginalized. The media tells us if we aren’t young, vital, and lovely to behold, we are less – less important, less valuable, less interesting.
And, to a large degree, I’ve bought into this construct. I’ve fought encroaching old age with all my resources: I color my hair, I Retin-A my skin, I whiten my teeth and laser off my sun spots. I work out. I diet. I look longingly at younger, sleeker, firmer versions of myself. I am clearly not going gentle into that good night.
I’m guilty of perpetuating the negativity we associate with aging, and so with the impending arrival of my 60th birthday, I am making a concerted effort to be kinder to myself and to my brothers and sisters in age.
The first step in this process is proudly reclaiming every year.
Since I turned 50 almost a decade ago, I started to closet the number. On Facebook, I coyly left the year of my birth off my information page. I was slower and slower to offer my age in casual conversation, until the number disappeared, like a shameful one-night stand or a particularly unfortunate haircut.
With this series of posts I will attempt to embrace sixty and find ways, not to turn back the clock, but to relish the time and place I inhabit.
February 7, 1953. I was born when Eisenhower was president, television was black and white, and women of impeccable virtue wore garter belts and stockings (as did my 13-year-old, church-going self). It is a distant, murky time for those of us who lived it. For Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Next, it’s ancient history. To them, I might as well have ridden a stegosaurus to my one room schoolhouse.
I can measure the years in friendships forged and battles won, meals cooked and moves made, races run and risks taken. Experience and just hanging around the planet for sixty years has made me cagey, cautious, and a bit cynical. But it has also made me more generous, less judgmental and slower to anger. Getting old isn’t for sissies, it’s for philosophers, pragmatists and clowns.
My goal in the next six months is to get healthier and fitter, to jettison preconceived notions of ageing and embrace the possibilities that lie before me. As mundane as it sounds, I want to turn sixty without dread or sorrow for what I don’t have, but with joy for a healthy body, a rich life, and a close circle of family and friends.
This is my experiment and my quest. I’ll take all the help and support I can get. Leave me a comment with any ideas, thoughts, suggestions, or words of encouragement. You young people can offer me your boundless energy and optimism. My contemporaries can come along for the ride.
It should be a blast!
It’s been more than six months since the last blog post on my old website. My excuses for not posting are as valid or as lame as any you’ve heard before. Let’s just say life got in the way. The good news, at least for me, is that with this new iteration of my website comes renewed enthusiasm and dedication. It has taken these intervening months to clarify what I want to accomplish with this new format. Having asked myself this question endlessly, in every possible way, I realize there are as many reasons for the new site as there are sections.
Anyone who has met me or visited my home knows what a huge part cooking plays in my life. There will always be a story attached to each recipe I post, a narrative of the how and why of a dish. A change in the new site allows a quick and easy way to navigate to the recipe without the chitchat, for those who want to cut to the chase and get cooking.
My daily photographic meditations on Spring Cove and its ever-changing beauty needed a place to live. They have finally found a home here on this site.
Bette Davis was right, getting old isn’t for sissies. I’m facing sixty with not a little fear and trepidation, but also with a real sense of adventure. Right here, in front of the whole world – or at least those of you who stumble across my website – I will jettison vanity, and sometimes good sense, and go on a quest to kick sixty’s ass. I will share the journey in “Six Months to Sixty,” a chronicle of my attempt, by any means possible, to arrive at this landmark birthday in the best shape I can possibly be, physically, mentally, and emotionally.
My most recent Instagram adventures will live here, for those who want to see my photographic doodles, and my Twitter feed is at the bottom of the home page. If you’re not on Twitter, you may want to visit the feed after a particularly juicy episode of The Bachelor or the Oscars. Things on Twitter can get very funny.
You’ll also find musings on décor, an archive of magazine articles from Running Times and Maine Home+Design, as well as myriad ways to contact me.
I’d love to know what you think about the new site. Leave a comment or drop me an email, Facebook me, Tweet me, send me an Instagram or pin something you like here on Pinterest.
After all, I am a social (media) butterfly.
My daughter has life threatening food allergies. She goes into anaphylactic shock if she has the slightest exposure to any dairy products or eggs. While this makes cooking for her challenging, it also makes for some delicious takes on culinary classics. Take potato salad. I grew up eating, and loving, classic potato salad: boiled potatoes, chopped boiled egg, celery, maybe a little diced onion and pickles, bound together with a mayonnaise dressing.
While American-style potato salad is iconic, it is also calorie dense and can turn lethal at a picnic on a hot summer day. Can you say “food poisoning”?
In creating a potato salad for my daughter that was free of any dairy or eggs, I also found a lighter, healthier version of this family favorite, substituting roasted potatoes for boiled and incorporating vegetables from a summer garden. Tossed with a light olive oil-based vinaigrette not only adds a depth of flavor, it has the advantage of being safe picnic fare on even the hottest summer day.
The great thing about this recipe is how versatile it can be. I love it with fiddleheads and tomatoes early in the summer. You can add zucchini when that bumper crop comes in. My family loves it with fennel and arugula. Let your garden dictate the ingredients and you can’t go wrong.
In which I make an old family favorite.
In which I experiment with a new camera and an old favorite.