Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Periwinkles for Dinner?

I bet you didn't know periwinkles are edible! They are a bit of work, since each provides only a tiney morsel, but have a delicate flavor somewhat like mussels. It makes for a fun day, collecting periwinkles to bring home for dinner.

Here's how to prepare them, from cooks.com:
Steamed Periwinkles
1/2 c. salted water

1/4 tsp. thyme
1 clove garlic, mashed
1/2 c. beef bouillon or dry white wine
4 dozen well-scrubbed periwinkles
4 tbsp. butter 
Rinse the periwinkles thoroughly; put all ingredients in pot and bring to a boil; add periwinkles and steam until they can be easily extracted from the shell, about 4 minutes. Serve with melted butter.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Ringo Monogatari

A Tale of Apples

A folkloric tale with modern sly wit. Ringoko must help Henji recover his heart, lost to a mountain witch, if he is to live - but first she must persuade him he wants it back! This adventure story with the faintest blush of romance winds through Japanese mythology in a charming narrative.

I had the good fortune to meet the author, Rebecca Silverman, at her home on North Haven. I first took her for a college student; when she told me she is in fact a professor, I looked again to see that she is older than I thought, well and truly a grown up. She has an ethereal quality which I credit for my first impression, an innocence, as one whose heart is too tender for this world. This was reinforced as I met several of her cats, all rescues of one stripe or another. Rebecca has spent a lot of time in Japan, soaking up the legends. Ringoko, her heroine, though kind, is not tender!

Her sister, Jennifer, illustrated the book - also a magnet for cats in need of love! Jennifer is gregarious and open, a painter as well as an illustrator. In fact the whole family are creatives - their mother is a weaver; their father a potter; another sister, Marjorie Skiva, is the author of Seeking Shelter (and another cat lover!)

This is a unique book by a Maine author, engaging but light, a great summer read.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Day on the East End

Confession: Portland, Maine, is probably my favorite city in the world. I feel a pinch of guilt saying that, because Augusta is my home, and I'm committed to making Augusta the vibrant city it ought to be, but the truth is it's not there yet. Portland, to me, is the perfect size: large enough to have all the benefits of city living, small enough that you'll always meet someone you know downtown.
When I was growing up in Scarborough, a couple of towns over, the East End - Munjoy Hill especially -  was a thoroughly disreputable place. Well, things change! But slowly.

Luckily my work frequently takes me to Portland, usually to the East End. Though adjacent to the Old Port, a shopping and nightlife district wildly popular with tourists and locals alike, Portland's East End remains largely a haunt of townies. The shops there are less tourist-oriented: there are salons and second-hand stores, artists' studio-storefronts, and tiny cafes, and even a couple of little grocery stores.

My day started at Hilltop Coffee, one of several choices I had for my morning java.I could also have chosen either of 2 Coffee by Designs, or the Portland Pottery Cafe. Then I went shopping!

Artists are the earthworms of an economy, going where the conditions are less fertile, preparing the soil so other businesses can thrive. Unfortunately, once an area is thriving, artists are often priced out! The East End is still at that stage where artists can afford to do business there, so I visited several studios.

Willa Wirth Silversmith
Jen Burrell Designs
Laura Fuller Stained Glass
Because it's geared more towards locals, shops on the East End tend to be less spendy than those in the Old Port. I adore second-hand stores: they appeal to the treasure hunter in me, as well as my frugal nature. I visited Cobwebs, Circa Vintage, Carlson and Turner, and two secondhand clothing stores that are recent arrivals: Frock and Urban Vogue.

Urban Vogue
Lunchtime! Though there are lots of good choices, for me it was always gonna be the Portland Pottery Cafe: I know those folks well, as I teach classes at Portland Pottery, the studio next door. What's on offer today?
I had the Strawberry Bliss Salad, from the regular summer menu.

The cafe also sells handmade pottery, including mine
After lunch it's time to visit the real gem of the East End: how many places can boast a neighborhood beach? East End Beach is exactly that. It's a pocket beach on Casco Bay, not large enough to attract the attention of most out-of-state visitors, but Munjoy residents can just wander down the hill for a swim. This was a hot day in July:

Kayakers departing from East End Beach for their Casco Bay adventure

The view from the East End
Artists painting the view

Feeling thirsty after our day in the sun? Well, there's the Hilltop Suprette, or the Rosemont Market, if you're looking for a lemonade. Oh, wait, you were thinking of a libation? The Crow Bar is a fun little dive of a neighborhood bar, or maybe The Snug if you'd rather go a little more upscale. I used to live on the East End, and sometimes I wish I still did. (Only sometimes, Augusta!)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Go Ahead and Eat the Daylilies!

July is when I am most satisfied with my garden. Monarda is blooming, brilliant red; also Black-Eyed Susan, Echinachea, and the ubiquitous daylily. I have several different hybrid varieties, but I think my favorite is the classic orange tiger lily, for its exuberant abundance.

I learned something new this season: daylilies are edible! My friend Kim, an artist with Carriage House Arts & Design in Norridgewock, makes daylily jam! You can also sauté the blossoms for a nutritious side dish. Here are a couple of recipes to try.

Daylily Stir Fry (from Spatulatta.com)

  • A 1 inch piece of ginger root
  • 3 tablespoons of corn oil
  • 1 small can of water chestnuts
  • 2-3 cups daylily buds
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of corn starch
  • 3 tablespoons of water

  1. Peel and grate ginger.
  2. Mix sugar, corn starch and water. Set aside.
  3. Warm pan and add the oil. Get the oil quite hot; a haze will appear.
  4. Add ginger. Sauté about 30 seconds; don't let it oil brown.
  5. Add water chestnuts and daylily buds. Stir fry!
  6. Pour the mixture over the lily buds and turn quickly but gently until all the flower buds are coated with a sauce.
  7. Serve immediately with rice or as a side dish. 
Or, if you've a sweet tooth, try this Daylily Jam, from Tastebook.com:
  • 2 1/2 cups apple juice or white wine
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 oz. liquid pectin (Certo-1 pack)
  • 1 cup fresh petals or buds. Cut off the stems and take out the stamens and pistils
Bring juice to a boil and pour over petals, cover and steep until liquid has cooked. Strain out petals, leaving only liquid. Combine 2 cups of the flower infusion with the sugar, lemon juice and food coloring. Bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as sugar is dissolved, stir in pectin. Return to a rolling boil stirring and boiling for 1 minute. Remove from heat and skim off foam. Let cool slightly and add more flower petals.Pour into sterilized jars. If flowers don’t stay suspended, stir jelly as it cools until petals stay in place. Process in hot water bath (5 minutes) or seal with paraffin.

Monday, July 14, 2014

SAVEUR Discovers Maine Oysters

This will not be news to anyone who lives here, but Sophie Nelson of SAVEUR has discovered, and delighted in, the many varieties of Maine oysters.
pemaquidsYes, oysters taste like the ocean, but the range in flavor produced by unique aquacultures up and down this stretch of coast is a wonderful thing; this is never more clear to me than when I’m eating at Portland’s Eventide Oyster Co., with a craft cocktail in hand, and an icy platter of a dozen Maine oysters before me.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Luck Flower, Liver-Friend

In the untended places, chicory is blooming in Maine.

I name it a weed, but of course a weed is only a plant out of its proper place. (Grass, for example, is the most noxious weed in my perennial bed.) Chicory has been cultivated since antiquity for medicinal uses: it was said to be a "friend of the liver" by the Romans and later used to treat insomnia, eye inflammations, and "passions of the heart." A brew of mashed chicory and honey was used topically (and rather optimistically) to make breast round and firm.

Stuff like that always make me wonder: surely someone would have noticed when their breasts sagged no less as a result of smearing on some poultice. And then I think, "Oh, right, confirmation bias:" the same thing that accounts for continued belief in horoscopes and hauntings. (That, and it's more fun than rational thought...)

Chicory is also likely the Luck-Flower of German mythology, which allowed the bearer to cause mountains to open, in which there were always gold and treasures. The hapless fools in the tales always seem to forget or lose their luck-flower on the way out, but that's not chicory's fault. The plant was also believed to confer on the bearer invisibility, if a number of specific conditions were observed during its cutting.

If your liver needs a friend, or you heart contains passions that need healing, try Chicory leaves boiled for five minutes (to remove bitterness), and then sautéed like spinach, with chopped garlic.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Fresh Berries Are Here!

Strawberries peaked early this year, but we still have wild berries growing our yard. They are tiny but abundantly sweet, and grow with no care at all. Berry-picking is a summer tradition here, and pick-your-own farms abound. Here are a few nearby:
You can find lots more at this link.

Nothing beats berries, all by themselves, but sometimes I dress them up a bit for special occasions.  This cool dessert makes a sweet and healthy treat for your summer entertaining.

It's best to assemble this dessert just before serving. You'll need:

2 32 ounce tubs of vanilla yogurt
1 pint of strawberries
1 squirt can or about 3 cups of whipped cream
Package of vanilla Pizzelle cookies

Rinse and slice your berries. Scoop about a cup of vanilla yogurt into some pretty dessert bowls (like these!) layer sliced berries on top, about 1/2 a cup per serving. Squirt or spoon whipped cream over top.

Break four Pizzelle wafer cookies in half, and tuck two halves side by side into each bowl. Place them points down for a leaf-like decorative shape. Serve immediately. Yummy, healthy, couldn't be better!