SHANNON’S WEDDING: AND A FIRST TASTE OF MAPLE SYRUP FOR ONE OF HER GUESTS

August 14th, the day of our daughter Shannon’s wedding, was one of those lovely, clear days that tourists who vacation in Maine dream about. The day was warm, but not too hot, there was hardly a cloud in the bright blue sky, and the humidity was low. All summer brides (and grooms!) wish for such weather for their weddings. 

The actual ceremony was held outside (another reason to be thankful for nice weather) under a large pavilion. Shannon’s boss, who is a justice of the peace, performed the ceremony, and everything was as splendid as the weather. Andrea Maddi, one of the bridesmaids, read an Apache prayer. Claire Hersom, the groom’s aunt, read one of her poems. Then, there was a receiving line, pictures, the meal, and dancing. Lots of dancing. 

In fact, like the preceding week, it all seems a blur—a bit like Christmas where a lot of preparation goes into one day that seems to pass in a flash. Many of the guests have commented on how “glowing” both Shannon and Mike were. How true! They both looked so happy to be getting married. As I have told many of my friends, Mike and Shannon are very devoted to each other, and while it may be old-fashioned and not terribly romantic, I believe it is this devotion that will help them through the hard times that inevitably come into all people’s lives. 

Anyway, a beautiful day for our family and for the many dear friends who came to celebrate it with us. And I am now a mother-in-law. 

However, as a foodie, it would be remiss of me not to relate a conversation I had the following day with a young man named Chris, one of the guests. A small group of us, including Mike and Shannon, went to Riverside Farm Market & Café in Oakland for brunch the day after the wedding. Riverside Market sits on the edge of fields, gardens, and, yes, a vineyard. Beyond the fields, gardens, and vineyard, the Messalonskee river flashes and glitters as it flows by Riverside Market. In an area of Maine known for its pastoral prospects (as well as its mills), it would be hard to find a more pleasing view. 

Along with growing grapes, which is made into wine, Riverside Market grows much of what they serve, and all the food is fresh and well prepared. I love going there for brunch and am especially keen on their eggs Benedict. The poached eggs are plump and perfect, and the hollandaise sauce is smooth and rich. My husband, Clif, sat on one side of me, and Chris, the aforementioned guest, sat on the other. 

Chris now lives in Washington, D.C., but he is originally from Louisiana, where his parents run an organic farm that features grass-fed cattle. Chris is a foodie, and as he had never been to Maine, he was eager to try lobster rolls and real maple syrup, both for the first time. (When our server heard this, she shook her head in surprise. For Mainers, real maple syrup is almost a birthright.) 

On the way to Shannon’s wedding, Chris had stopped in Freeport to have a lobster roll. “But I didn’t get a good one,” he said. 

“Oh, no?” I replied, wondering what was wrong with it. “Tell me about the lobster roll.” 

“Well, it was stuffed full of lobster meat, but there was no sauce, nothing to go on top of it.” 

Spoken like a true son of Louisiana, where most things, even the seafood, are served with some kind of hot, spicy sauce. Laughing, I told Chris that in all likelihood he had had a perfectly fine lobster roll, that we “Yankees” tended to like our seafood straight up and plain, and indeed there is some virtue in this. Too many spices can easily overcome the delicate flavor of seafood, especially when it comes to lobster. Enlightened, Chris vowed to give lobster rolls another try, keeping in mind there would be no spicy sauce on top. 

With maple syrup, which Chris had for the first time with his blueberry pancakes at Riverside Market, it was quite another matter—love at first taste. And a triumph for Maine. A maple-syrup convert. 

So the wedding is now over, and a happy day it was. I hope to have a few pictures, not all of them food related, to post sometime soon.

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BUSY DAYS: SHANNON’S WEDDING

Flowers on tableThis week, as the saying goes, has been a blur. My daughter, Shannon, is getting married on Saturday, and the week has been filled with all manner of folderol as we prepare for the big day. My eldest daughter, Dee, who lives in New York, came home last Saturday so that she could help, and my husband, Clif, has taken the week off.

There are programs to print, favor bags to assemble, a stuff-the-party-favors simple supper to host, a bridesmaid luncheon to prepare, and all the other things that go with a wedding. Simply put, it’s a rather lot of work getting a daughter married, but it is also an event that is bringing great pleasure to the family. Mike, Shannon’s fiancé, loves books and movies and Shakespeare. He fits right in with our family.

For the simple supper, on Thursday, we plan on having burritos, grapes, hummus with pita bread, and all the little accompaniments—salsa, chips, and sour cream. I’m also thinking of making a green salad with apples, goat cheese, and roasted walnuts. For dessert, we will have frosted cocoa squares, easy to make and pretty tasty.

strawberry and kiwi saladOn Friday, for the bridesmaid luncheon, I will be making a chicken tarragon salad, a strawberry and kiwi salad, and little sandwiches with pesto, fresh mozzarella, and tomatoes. For dessert, one of my old standbys—lemon-frosted shortbread.

If we have presence of mind, we will take pictures of the spreads to post on the blog.

Then, it’s on to the rehearsal dinner, which we are not hosting, and the wedding day itself.

Onward and upward!

THREE PIECES ABOUT ICE CREAM

This summer, thanks to Tubby’s, my husband, Clif, and I have spent more on ice cream than we ever have. Normally, we go out a few times each summer for ice cream. Nowadays, with Tubby’s right in town, we try to keep it to a few times a week. As I noted in a previous post, Clif and I ride our bikes nearly every night, and as luck would have it, most of the routes we take seem to go right by Tubby’s. After riding ten, twelve, or eighteen miles, how can we resist stopping? Too often, we don’t, and my favorite flavor is Pucker Up, a lemon ice cream that is the right balance of tart and sweet with an intense lemon flavor. 

However, in the Dining & Wine section of today’s New York Times, I read a piece that gave me a bit of comfort. In “You Scream, I Scream…at the Price of Ice Cream,” Julia Moskin writes about the high price of artisan ice cream and gelato, and how a place called Grom, in Manhattan, charges $5.25 for a small cone. Moskin considers $2.95 for a small cone to be “a relative bargain ” and notes that it is possible to get good ice cream at that price. 

If memory serves me correctly, at Tubby’s a small cone, dubbed a “Baby Bear,” costs about $2.95. Now I can think of it as “a relative bargain” and not feel so bad about indulging a few times a week.  

Also in the Dining & Wine section is a piece about making ice cream—“Egg-Free Ice Cream Lets Flavors Bloom.” And, there is an interactive feature, “Notes from the Ice Cream Taste Test,” where “The Dining section conducted a blind taste test of 11 kinds of strawberry ice cream.” I was a bit surprised by the winner, but then that is often the case with blind taste tests. The unexpected and the cheaper often win.

Well, late summer is here, and what better time is there to enjoy ice cream at a stand where it is made in small batches? Along with summer itself, ice cream is a fleeting joy, too soon gone, but oh so sweet. Fall will be arriving shortly, and after that, well, we know what comes after that. In the meantime, let’s raise our ice creams in tribute to summer, in all its warm, green glory.

ALL ROADS LEAD TO TUBBY’S

Deep summer is here, and although the weather has been hot, it hasn’t, for the most part, been unbearable, the way it has for much of the east coast and, indeed, for much of the country. There has been a pleasing mixture of sun and rain, good for gardens and—especially—good for bicycle riding.

This year, in part to mitigate the effects of being a good eater, I am working at becoming a good biker. I have friends who serve as inspiration—Bob and Kate Johnson, Jim Leavitt, and Don Robbins. All are strong riders who think nothing of going for a twenty-five-mile bike ride.

This spring, I started out gradually, first on an exercise bike and then to the road, where I would ride about four or five miles, usually doing errands around town. Then, when the leg muscles became stronger, I started going farther, down Memorial Drive, by the lake, where the road is relatively flat and the water sparkles in the summer sun. To the end of Memorial Drive and back again is ten miles, and when that became an easy ride, I moved to another route, the Holmes Road route, which is twelve miles with hills—one very long one. Now, that has become routine, and this week I decided the time had come to go even farther, to Monmouth village, an eighteen-mile round trip with several very steep hills.

On Monday, I did it. My friend Claire, who works at home, is my back-up buddy, and I tuck my cell phone in my bike bag, just in case I should collapse in a ditch somewhere. (Fortunately, that hasn’t happened yet.) I also tucked a special sesame nut bar in my bag so that I could have a tasty snack when I reached Monmouth village, home of splendid Cumston Hall, the Shakespearean theater of Maine.

And off I went, on the back road to Monmouth via the Holmes Road, with its long, loping hill. It was a windy day, which made pedaling a little harder, but I was primed and ready for the ride, and I didn’t want to wait for a calmer day. The back road to Monmouth is classic central Maine countryside, with fields, forests, and rolling hills that give the landscape beauty and variety. But, those very same hills are a real challenge to bikers. Still, there is something so fine about pedaling on a sunny day—the blue sky, the moving bike, the motion of legs, the wheels turning, the countryside going by at a good clip, but not too fast. Things can be noticed. The ducks on the pond, the queen Anne’s lace, golden rod, and yes, even the purple loosestrife by the side of the road. A huge patch of yellow and red day lilies. Lush golden and green fields. The dead snake in the road. (A reminder that all is not beautiful.)

But, oh the hills! The way to Cumston Hall had a hill that was long but manageable, and when I pulled into the parking lot, I headed straight for the bench by the ticket booth. That sesame nut bar, sweet and salty, tasted pretty fine, and I rested on that bench for about ten minutes before heading back to Winthrop.

It was on the way back that I encountered “The Hill,” a black, vertical strip of road that reared straight up and almost seemed like a living creature. I saw its broad back as I approached it, and I squinted, wondering aloud, “Is that the road?” Oh, yes it was. All right, then. I took a deep breath, downshifted to the lowest gear, and pedaled. Slowly, slowly, I climbed, wondering if I would have to humiliate myself by walking my bike up the hill. But miracle of miracles, I made it to the top, and when I did, I looked back down its long, dark spine. Did the tail at the end snap a bit? No, of course not. It was just my overactive imagination.

After that, it was back toward Winthrop, down the Annabessacook Road, into town, and straight past Tubby’s. Well, to be honest, not straight past. Readers, I stopped and had a lobster roll, some fries, iced tea, and a small chocolate ice cream (with chocolate chips) for dessert. Seldom has a meal tasted so good, and I want to note that Tubby’s lobster rolls are exactly the way lobster rolls should be—full of fresh lobster with just the barest hint of mayonnaise to keep it together. As I ate, I mused about how all my bike routes seem to go by Tubby’s, and how I seem unable to resist stopping there. Usually it’s just for ice cream, but that is certainly enough.

Hence, the need for biking.

Dennis Price, one of the actors from the Theater at Monmouth, was at Tubby’s, and we chatted a bit. He was duly impressed with my bike ride, and his wife, Molly, was duly impressed with my next challenge—riding to Hallowell for fish and chips at the Liberal Cup, where she just happens to work. It’s about fourteen miles one way, depending on the route, with fiendish hills aplenty.

But first I need to master the road to Monmouth village and that dark hill. When I do, I’ll be ready for Hallowell.

CUPCAKES ARE STILL THE THING

CupcakesI have never been what you might call a cupcake person—pies and donuts are more to my taste—but last summer, when we went to the Taste of Brunswick in Brunswick, Maine, I discovered a cupcake so good that it changed my opinion of them. The cake was moist, dense, and extremely chocolately, and the frosting seemed to be a perfect combination of icing and whipped cream. In fact, I was so taken by these cupcakes, from 111 Maine in Brunswick, that I wrote a long article about cupcakes for Wolf Moon Journal.

Oh, the things I discovered. A woman named Suzanne Rutland claims to have eaten over 50,000 Hostess CupCakes. As a child, she started the Hostess Cup Cake Club, and she still eats four Hostess CupCakes every day. And, no, she doesn’t weigh 300 pounds, the way she should. She is trim and attractive. Unfair, but that’s how life is sometimes.

In the course of my research I found out that there are blogs such as Cupcakes Take the Cake dedicated solely to cupcakes.

In researching the origins, I read that cupcakes might be descendents of fruitcake, baked small. Alan Davidson, from the Oxford Companion to Food, writes about baking batter in cups and even suggests that in the U.S.A. the name might have come from our measuring system, which is based on the cup. He then goes on to describe how small pound cakes were “baked in individual pans [and] were quite popular in the 18th century.” He notes that “Queen Cakes” were an example of this kind of diminutive pound cake, and they “evolved from lighter fruitcakes baked in England.”

There is even a slogan associated with cupcakes: Keep calm and Have a Cupcake. As my husband, Clif, put it, there is a whole cupcake subculture.

Who knew that such a small dessert could be so big? But, I thought, surely after a ten- year run, started perhaps by Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City, the cupcake craze would begin to wane. Apparently this is not the case. At least not in New York City. According the Wall Street Journal, not only are cupcakes still going strong, but also they actually might be helping the economy. They are small, sweet, and relatively inexpensive. People aren’t afraid to indulge in them. “‘One segment of the industry that seems to be adding the most outlets is cupcake cafes. This could be a fad, or not,’ Barbara Byrne Denham, chief economist at real-estate services firm Eastern Consolidated, wrote in a report Thursday.”

Well, if cupcakes are a fad, then it’s a long one. And while, for me, cupcakes will never replace donuts and pies, I can’t help but admire their tenacity. After all, how many donut cafes or pie cafes are there?

A RECIPE FROM SHANNON’S SHOWER: ZUCCHINI BREAD

Book  and flowersYesterday, in my post about my daughter Shannon’s wedding shower, I mentioned that I had asked guests to bring a family recipe to be included in a recipe book I had bought. Shannon received many good recipes, and we thought it would be nice to post one (or perhaps more) on the blog.

Shannon picked a zucchini bread recipe brought by her future mother-in-law, Gail Hersom, and it is a good choice. A slice of moist, spicy zucchini bread is very fine indeed. (I can taste it right now.) So fine that the bread alone should be enough to redeem zucchini from the rather bad reputation—unfairly, in my opinion—it has gained over the years.

How to put this delicately? Zucchini is, shall we say, prolific. Very prolific. One hill can produce a lot of zucchinis, and when they are at their peak, yielding more than is seemingly from such a modest-looking plant, desperate gardeners often resort to desperate measures. Bags of zucchinis are abandoned in unlocked cars and on doorsteps. They are foisted on unwilling relatives who don’t have the heart to say no. In short, the zucchini is often considered to be the irresponsible floozy of the vegetable world, and to make matters worse, its abundant offspring have a taste that could kindly be called delicate and might rudely be called boring or bland.

Yet consider the many different ways zucchini can be prepared. There is the aforementioned zucchini bread, and raw zucchini can be grated and frozen in packs to be used for fragrant bread in the winter. Zucchini gives a pleasing bulk to spaghetti sauce. Small zucchini can be sliced and eaten raw with a dip. It can be slightly steamed or sautéed, then used, perhaps with other vegetables, as a topping for rice with a drizzle of tahini. Zucchini can be added to any stir-fry. It can be stuffed. Then there is my favorite way—grilled with other vegetables and stirred into pasta that has been tossed with olive oil, garlic, and chopped herbs. This is good hot or cold, and in the summer my husband, Clif, and I eat it once a week.

Zucchini can be used so many ways that home cooks should embrace this dark green squash rather than recoil in horror from a plant that never seems to stop producing.

So here’s to zucchini in all its glorious abundance.

Zucchini Bread
From the kitchen of Gail Hersom but from her mother

Beat 3 eggs until frothy
Beat in 2 cups sugar, 1 cup of vegetable oil, and 1 tsp of vanilla
Beat until thick and lemon colored
Stir in 2 cups loosely packed coarsely grated zucchini – skin and all
Add 2 cups flour, 1 tsp cinnamon, 2 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking powder, and 1 cup of chopped nuts
Bake in 2 loaf pans well oiled and floured
Bake 350 degrees for 1 hour
Cool 10 minutes before removing from pan

Freezes very well

A WEDDING SHOWER AT THE GRANGE

Flowers in tea tinAt the end of a blazingly hot week, we had Shannon’s wedding shower at the Grange in East Vassalboro. When I write “we,” I certainly do mean “we.” I had so much help that it almost puts me in a daze—albeit a happy one—to think about it. Before the shower even started, my husband, Clif, took off two days from work to help me with various projects, the chief one being to make over twenty little floral arrangements in empty tea tins. Since this was a bridal tea, we decided to make tea-tin floral arrangements as party favors for each guest to take home. Our eldest daughter, Dee, came home last Thursday, and she and Clif spent the better of a day on Friday making the arrangements as well as filling crockery and a brass pitcher with flowers. We wanted the Grange to have a country, floral look, and I think we succeeded.

While they “played” with the flowers, I brewed tea. Literally, gallons and gallons of it. With Clif’s help, I had come up with a procedure: Make a double batch of tea in the big teapot; put the teapot in the refrigerator to cool; when the tea was lukewarm, pour half into a pitcher; add water to the teapot and the pitcher; pour tea from each into a gallon jug and put it in the refrigerator. I know this sounds fairly straightforward, but each batch, from beginning to end, took quite a bit of time, and I had to really hustle to be sure I had enough tea for twenty-four guests or so. And, because tea will go bad, I couldn’t make it too far ahead of time. With diligence, I did manage to brew more than enough tea—peppermint and black—for everyone.

In between making tea, I also made a double batch of cinnamon pie knots and lemon frosted shortbread. Compared with making all that tea, those two desserts were a snap.

There were, of course, other details to attend to—packing the napkins, tablecloth, sugar, lemons, and so many other things that on the day of the shower, our little Corolla was so full that all the way to the Grange, I had to hold the cookie sheet of shortbread in my lap, and Dee had to straddle a big jug of iced tea.

Grange Tables with flowersOn Saturday, the day of the shower, Dee and I got to the Grange very early. The older I get, the less I can hurry, and I like to give myself plenty of time to get things ready. Dee immediately started setting the long tables, and when she was done, the Grange looked absolutely charming. The red napkins and the tea tins with flowers complemented the country look of the Grange, with its dark woodwork, clean white walls, and red- and green-checked table coverings. I’ve written about the Grange in another post, so I won’t go into a lot of detail except to quote my friend Diane who said, “This place has a great energy.” Yes, it does.

The Grange has a big kitchen, complete with an old slate sink, and while Dee was setting the tables, I organized the various counters so that when the first wave of helpers came, they could start making sandwiches. My mom’s friend Esther was there to let us in—she only lives a couple of miles from the Grange—and help clean. Then came Kate Johnson, Andrea Maddi (a friend of Shannon’s since first grade), Claire Hersom (the groom’s aunt), and Gail Hersom (the groom’s mother.) What followed was a flurry of sandwich making—cucumber, ham salad, and pesto, fresh mozzarella, and tomatoes on sliced baguettes. Esther went home and brought her egg salad rolls. Lemons were sliced. Sugar bowls were filled. Plates were rinsed, wiped, and set aside. Desserts were set in platters so that they would be ready to serve after the sandwich course.

Oh, the desserts! Two kinds of moist chocolate cookies, lemon squares, coconut bars, blueberry cake, and, of course, the shortbread and pie knots.

My sister-in-law Rose came with a big bowl of fruit salad for the first course. My friend Diane helped serve the fruit. Shannon arrived, looking very fetching in a new sundress. A short time later, the shower began, first with the fruit salad, then with the sandwiches, and finally with the dazzling desserts.

Shannon at her shower

Then there were the presents, a whole long table of them. We cleared a large space so that we could all be circled around Shannon as she opened the presents that would start her on her married life. Can it be any surprise that most of the gifts she received were kitchen presents, and very, very nice ones? Shannon will be able to ditch her dented old pots and pans and have a well-stocked kitchen.

One of the nicest presents came from my mother’s friend Esther, and it is one that will last only a few days. In her garden, Esther has some lilies that belonged to my mother, and on the gift she brought for Shannon, Esther attached one of the lilies along with a card explaining the lily’s significance. Shannon read the card aloud, and when she was done, there were plenty of sniffles in the room.

On the invitations, I had asked each of the guests to bring a family recipe for a recipe book I had bought. The book has plastic sleeves where the recipes can be tucked, and the book had been placed on a table upfront. Before the shower started, the guests put their recipes into the book. My contribution was Mom’s tourtière pie recipe, written in her own hand. Tourtière is a Franco-American dish, a spicy meat pie that we have for Christmas every year.

We didn’t use any paper plates or cups, and while this was exactly right for the tea and for the environment, I couldn’t help but wonder if Dee and I would be at the Grange until 9:00 P.M. or even later, washing and drying dishes. Instead, we were out by 6:30. As soon as the shower was over, a cadre of ten women or so sprang into action. Dishes were washed and wiped; food was divided so that the extras could go home with the various guests and helpers; floors were swept; tables and counters washed. When the hot water ran out for washing dishes, water was heated on the old gas stove. All I had to do was supervise and help bring presents to Shannon’s car.

Even today, the following Wednesday, I am still floored by it all. It felt like part of a tradition, ancient and nurturing, where women come together to help each other. (I know men have similar traditions.) As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, this is the best of the old days, so appropriate for the Grange. If only my mother had lived long enough to be part of it.

So, the shower is over. Now onward to the wedding in August!

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