31 July 2008


I’m just back from a vacation that included Maine. As soon as we arrived we went to a grocery store and bought milk for the kids, a head of lettuce, a pound of butter, and Geary’s Pale Ale. Then off to the lobster pound for lobsters. We were staying at a friend’s house, and while the pot of water came to a boil I headed to the lake for a swim to rinse off the 600 miles of driving we had just completed. While the lobsters boiled and steamed I changed into clean clothes, and we soon sat down to lobster, a green salad, and ale. Hard shell lobsters were going for around $10/pound and soft shell for $7/pound. Soft shells seem to have less meat, but they’re cheaper, so we bought both.

One of my first years in Maine – back in the late ’80s – lobster was going for $2.99/pound and lobstermen were giving lobsters to food shelves and senior centers rather than sell it at a loss. McDonald’s in the area sold lobster rolls and I’d buy lobster every time I had a day off. We’d head to Popham Beach State Park and with a Coleman two-burner we’d heat a pot with ocean water and cook the lobsters. I’d melt butter in whatever I had, and the beer was cold. Heaven! It still is.

Lobster is a favorite for me and my wife. We eat it annually in Maine and never anywhere else. Cracking the first claw, some of the trapped water squirts out – this time Henry got splashed – and as we pick and pull and suck and pry the meat from its shell, we’re happy to be covered in the salty spray. Lobster is good talking food; we nimbly slowly tear the lobster apart –leg after leg, joint by joint, peering into broken exoskeleton to see if a remaining meat morsel remains entangled in some fractured piece of body part. It’s messy, and we dip our findings in butter, lick our fingers and suck the tide high. We save the tail for last, and crack it from the top with our hands, pressing on the bottom plates, then turn it over, pry open the nearly clear underside and pull out (unsheathe?) a beautiful curled slug of juicy white meat. Dipping the jagged end into butter and taking that first bite of buttery tail meat is revelatory – how such a crustacean feeds us so well is worth thinking about. Rich, moist meat, buttery a la carte, the sea echoes in my mouth and I feel tidal surges as I chew. Chablis? Viognier? Yes, yes, but I’m a sucker for beer, enjoying this time the earthiness, not the ethereality, of such a taste, texture, feel. I chew the sea.

22 July 2008

Rodger and me (Bordeaux and ribeye)

Rodger introduced me to my wife and we were in other's wedding. We met several decades ago and have enjoyed eating and drinking wine the whole time. We shared a house until it burned down, and he visited me in Thailand when I was a Peace Corps volunteer.
I'm visiting our cottage in Ontario now, and yesterday Rodger drove up from Buffalo, bringing his two daughters, a 2000 Haut Bailly from the Pessac-Leognan appellation of Bordeaux, and the best looking ribeyes I've ever seen -- Buffalo, for all its economic woes, has beautiful meat markets. We swam in the beautiful water of Bay Beach and my parents-in-law drove down from Toronto to stay the night with us, too. When we visit our cottage, siblings, friends, and in-laws come and we visit, swim, eat and drink. Mẹ (my mother-in-law) brought a case of mangoes, too.
The 2000 Haut Bailly had a beautiful pencil-lead nose, and was a dark, broody wine with leather and some dark black fruit. The full tannins were soft and there were hints, along with that pencil lead, of other wood underneath. An elegant, earthbound wine. Cooked over very hot charcoal, the beef, simply grilled with salt and pepper, was dazzling with the wine. Tender tender red meat with little chars of fat and browned surfaces. A salad, caramel custard for dessert, an old friend, my in-laws, a long walk on the beach talking with Mẹ about family, tiny shells (not zebra mussels, which seem to have decreased significantly in the past two years) in the sand right at the water’s edge, wispy clouds in blue sky as the sun set, all the memories of summers on this beach and the Milton Avery-like simplicity of water, sky, earth. Along the lake bottom the waves make ridges in the sand, a beautiful symmetrical pattern, and Henry and I looked at them as we waded through ankle deep water. Reading at night while the kids sleep on the porch, a whole novel in two days!

07 July 2008

Fava bean hash

A former dinner club companion once remarked that food was something that had to be put into our gullets.

I love fava beans because they taste good and they're beautiful. I love them young and raw, before they develop the skin that some people like to remove before they eat them. I like them when they're old and dry and need to be soaked. I picked some fresh the other night and before my wife went out she told me there were also a lot of leftovers in the icebox that needed to be used.

Garlic, an onion, and a few carrots all aswish in a glug or two of olive oil. When I made baked beans for the 4th I soaked more than usual dry beans, so I had a tupperware tub full of cooked but unseasoned beans. Into the pan they went with the favas. I was sparing the with tub of tomatoes on the top shelf, and generous with the confit - two big goose gizzards and a meaty duck leg. Tarragon, parsley, salt and pepper, and after simmering for awhile, dinner was ready.

In the end, our former dining companion is right. Food keeps us alive and when we're dog-tired or in a rush we just need something to nourish us. But shouldn't it be something good, and something good for us? Why shouldn't gullet-filling food be healthy and fresh? Why can't fast food load us with the sun-stored energy processed by a leafy green vegetable?

I live in Minnesota and so little of the food eaten in this state is grown here. Why? Have we dulled our palates and sense of difference to such a degree that a beet seems odd? Why aren't fava beans in everyone's repertoire of early summer dishes? They can be planted early, they thrive despite our snowy spring weather, and by late June their pods are bursting with fresh greenosity.

The spell of summer is on me. I can see green from now until November, when snow-covered kale will grace our spuds.

06 July 2008

Baked bean sandwich

We had a block party on the 4th and one table was nearly filled with baked beans. The 5th was even better - I worked hard in the morning setting fence posts, and for lunch I had a cold bean sandwich.

Does anything beat a cold, baked bean sandwich?