Love, Maine, and Lobstah

Last week, we drove up to Maine regardless of the disappointing forecast. It was midweek with June showers, but it needed to be done, and up here, you really never know with the weather anyway.

Two hours into the road trip, we drove past a shack I had seen on the Food Network’s Diner’s, Drive Ins, and Dives, and after about getting 15 miles closer to where we were really headed, we made an illegal U-turn for the fried whole clams at Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery,ME. Although we snacked on a basket of fried-ness, the batter was light and the fries flavorfully crackled when you bit through. The Food Network has yet to let us down. And Guy Fieri isn’t even one of my favorites.

We reached Portland in time for dinner. I don’t know if it was the misty air or the fact that it was just the guinea pig and I showing our true inner selves that our time spent was really solely invested in food adventures. We tried everything and nothing but creatures found in the ocean, the highlight of it all being lobstah. (That’s not me misspelling; that’s how New Englanders say it.) We saw the Portland headlight and walked its museum, enjoyed some fancy relaxing in a hot tub at a beautiful inn, and toured Boothbay Harbor on a two hour boat cruise, but the before, after, and in betweens all involved feeding our stomachs.

I proved my paranoia of raw oysters being slimy shellfish that slide displeasingly down your throat to be wrong; they are harmless and taste like nothing but an ocean breeze. Baked stuffed oysters on the half shell, however, are nothing to fuss about. In fact, I prefered them raw. How badass of me.

We followed the directions on our paper placemats on how to shell and eat a lobster, nutcracking the pink meat free and dipping it in butter. By the time we were headed back to Hanover, we had gotten quite good at it, ditching the directions and yet managing to unravel claw meat in one solid piece, and sucking the little legs to a complete void.

We had chowdah outside on the dock where it smells like the sea, sitting next to a heater, as we dried from the morning rain. The chowdah was hot and full of bits of clam swimming into our mouths and under our teeth in every spoon. Everything was fresh, dissolving on our tongues with the least bit of effort, simple, and delicious, washed down with Allagash White, a Maine made beer refreshingly light and crisp and summery.

The least of our favorites was the most pretentious. A restaurant off the docks too fancy for flipflops, with a nice ambience, an open kitchen, and higher prices. Yelp reviews raved about their “lobster diavolo”, and that was just what we ordered. The waiter said it was very spicy, something the guinea pig cannot enjoy, so we asked to tame the fire to a lighter spice. After a nano scale ten dollar salad, we were served with a copper pan housing  sauced spaghetti (or linguine- I don’t quite remember) with mussels and clams and scallops and calamari, on which a whole lobster cut in half down the middle was throned upon. The first forkful was not as exciting as the facade. We could not find the spice, or even the salt. It was under-seasoned and over pastaed. The ratio was not right, and it all lacked flavor. After we took our lobstah halves into our own individual plates, I tossed everything with the sea salt that sat on our table and moved the sauce around to coat everyone. It was an improvement, but it did not impress.

Surprisingly, (or not so surprisingly after all), our favorite turned out to be a cash only take out stand next to the high way, with a queu of people risking sunburn for a lobster roll that is well worth any aloe vera seeking pain. Red’s Eats is at the corner right before the road is morphed into a bridge, crossing the water onto the other side. The rolls themselves were buttered and toasted, and piled with lobster meat. Mine had two tails, convincing me that the rumors are true; more than one lobster is put into each roll. They were heavy to lift, leaving us with no choice but to pick from the top and dip pieces into our cup of drawn butter to ease the handling of picking it up and fitting a clean bite into our unlatched mouths. I drizzled the cold meat with the butter, and daubed mayo on the inside of my bun. The bite was perfect. The guinea pig hummed sounds of love in public, loud and without shame. Although I presume he was transported to another world, a world closer to the Muslim paradise of 72 promised virgins, and as far as away to the reality of plastic chairs around umbrellaed plastic tables by the street, and oblivious to the surrounding family with 3 children, the man on his lunch break, and an old couple slowly chewing at a neighboring table, I don’t blame him. It was like an orgy in my mouth- something I’d never experienced before, sweet and buttery that made my heart race and my back arch.

Our stomachs had a really good time, and after we snacked on steamer clams a town north and were driving back down home, we couldn’t fight the urge to stop one last time at Red’s Eats for two lobstah rolls to go, bringing a little bit of Maine to Hanover. And, sitting at my dining table, away from the water and far from the ocean’s gentle gust and saltwater scent,  it still tasted  damn good.

Marrow Me

With pictures and blog entries posted, I have been getting a lot of dinner requests, more than before. Sometimes it will be an implicit “all we get is to see the pictures and have to sit with our mouths watering” hope for an invitation, and at times it will be a more explicit, “so when will you have me over for dinner?”

I had promised an invitation to a friend, a fellow Hanover-residing Iranian, with a double chin and a certain quirkiness, that I believe has derived from his high-capacity brain overloaded with quantum physics, too much for any human to handle.

I had been wanting to make ossobuco for a while, and decided it was the perfect experiment to coincide with his first theintuitiveeater dinner immersion. Little did I know, while ossobuco is what it is because it is supposed to be a relatively cheap and available cut of meat, in this small town of mine, it was neither. Ossobuco literally means “bone with a hole”, and is a cross-cut veal shank, so the marrow-filled bone falls in the middle of the round cut of meat, giving everyone a few teaspoonfuls of marrow to enjoy. It’s a tough cut, supposing why it should be cheap (but nothing in Hanover comes cheap), and tenders with snail paced braising.

I butcher-hopped until I found a young, cute butcher at one of the Co-Ops, avoiding eye-contact with the older, menopausal butcher woman with a frowning crease in her brow and bloodstains on her apron, to fall into the hands of the tall, blue eyed, short but spiky haired butcher boy, that couldn’t help but smile. It isn’t a breeze to find veal, and specially cuts of veal that aren’t clean, boneless cutlets. Americans are spoiled; everything is cleaned and filleted and portioned, and still have I never seen a nation with so many microwavable options in their supermarkets’ freezer aisle. To get a piece of a labor-intensive cut of meat actually requires flirting. At least up here it does.

My sweet tone, innocent smile, and subtly showing crease finding its way upward out from the front of my white racerback top on a remarkably hot day, sent the butcher boy back and forth from the counter to the freezer, until he found a shank, and promised it was all he had. I asked him to cut it into three evenly thick pieces, and took the frozen parcel home to defrost.

Veal shanks need time, and having to defrost them with only a few hours before sunset, was not an assuring feeling but, I can say it was a panic worthwhile. While they defrosted in a bowl of water, I tended to the sauce; carrot, celery, onion, fennel, rosemary and thyme, browning and simmering in splash after splash of white wine, until the bottle was almost empty (1/4 of the lost wine may have been because I had a glass or two myself, but no more; I never cook under the influence). I tied the meat with smoked bacon strips and string, browned it on both sides, then put it in the pureed vegetable bath and covered it with more wine.

The meat was served on guinea pig made cheesy polenta, and sprinkled with parsley and lemon zest. It could have used another hour of solid braising, but would have made the sensation too good to swallow. We used our small spoons to scoop out the marrow from the center bone, a delicate but fatty treat, condensed with rich notes of heartiness. I was swept away. A wonderful last supper option, with those flavors left napping in my mouth I could have died from satisfaction, or a heart attack.

Nothing was left of our plates except for the bone and string, and we were meat-high, all three of us stoned on succulent veal shanks. I did not hear back from my dinner-guest-of-honor until the following Friday, when he texted me, “I finally recovered. Thank you so much for dinner on Sunday. You guys rock!” That was quite a recovery period. We eat like this all the time- well, not all the time.