Friday, December 24, 2010

Pine Nut Mouth

A relatively new phenomenon is emerging as people are starting to report strange taste sensations after eating pine nuts.  What is being described as a "taste disturbance" can occur when a person eats pine nuts from China.  For some unknown reason up to 2 days after eating the offending nuts one gets a bitter, metallic taste in the mouth and everything tastes bitter - for up to two weeks.  The symptoms are apparently different for each person and some people have little or no reaction at all.  For people that are affected it can be quite disturbing, but symptoms will disappear without any treatment.

Wikipedia:  Risks of eating pine nuts

The Chinese pine nuts (left) are smaller than the European variety (right) and more rounded and are probably cheaper.  Some people have reported symptoms after eating nuts from Trader Joe's and Ralph's stores in southern California.  My suggestion is to read the labels and if no origin is listed, opt for larger, longer nuts.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

First Snow

Portland had the first real snow storm of the season last night just as evening commuters were on the roads.  During the storm's peak, Portland police were handling 50 traffic accidents throughout the city.   While it usually takes me a half hour to make it home from work, last night it took an extra hour .  Driving in snow takes some finesse and it seems not everyone possesses the delicate touch needed to make their cars behave.  Many Portland streets climb or descend hills, which is particularly difficult especially if one must stop at streetlights.  There are different approaches to deal with this, but the best advice is to keep moving.  If a light is red up ahead, approach slowly so you hopefully won't have to stop completely.  Downhill is even more tricky but slow, slow, slow is best.  If you can avoid the hills, make a detour around the steepest grades.  "For such a small amount of snow, I have never seen such chaos in my 21 years as a police officer," said Lt. Gary Hutcheson, who was the shift commander Monday night for Portland police.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

Turkey day was appropriately spent in the countryside up near Augusta.  Michael lives on 10 acres off the grid in the woods and he provided and expertly roasted the fresh organic turkey.  Neighbor and good friend Jim brought chocolate mouse and acted as photo journalist throughout the food preparation.
Here is the prep of the "soffritto" or "holy trinity" for the stuffing... carrots, onions, and celery.  I also added sage (from the garden), prunes, and I can't recall what else.

This bread recipe contains cottage cheese which keeps it very moist and herbs lend a garden-fresh flavor.  The dough is being rolled into a triad dinner roll.

Otis was totally unimpressed with the spread.

Hey Jim, where is the picture of the finished buffet table?

Our black Friday was really quite white!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

2010 Lobster Chef of the Year

2010 Maine Lobster Chef of the Year Crowned!

Chef Kelly Patrick Farrin - Azure Café, Freeport

Chef Kelly Patrick Farrin - Azure Café, FreeportHerb Grilled Maine Lobster Tail on Arugula with Chive Ricotta  Gnocchi & Corn Milk
Download winning recipe here...

A strong desire to succeed, matched by a true passion for food, motivates the charismatic 27-year old Chef Kelly Patrick Farrin.  Chef Farrin began his mission for the best in culinary arts at age 18 in a small kitchen in Boothbay Harbor, Maine.  He cooked breakfast for the locals and was inspired to a career in the art of food.
Chef Farrin was educated at the New England Culinary Institute (NECI) in Essex, Vermont and earned an Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts in 2008.  NECI gave Chef Farrin intense personal attention from world class Chefs and prepared him to master the culinary field. 

After earning his degree, Chef Farrin packed his bags and moved to Key West, Florida to work under Chef Timothy Pierre Labonte at the Hot Tin Roof on Ocean Key Resort. Here, Farrin served as lead line cook on a menu indicative of the many flavor influences of South Florida.

In 2009, Chef Farrin returned home to Boothbay Harbor, Maine as Sous Chef for the Rocktide Inn. His excitement for fresh local seafood & his modern take on recipes helped the Rocktide grow in popularity. 

In early 2010, Chef Farrin joined the team at Azure in Freeport, Maine working under Executive Chef Christopher Bassett.  At Azure, Chef Farrin uses Maine’s best ingredients to prepare flavorful and creative Italian cuisine.  In his free time, he heads to the Maine coast for a little competitive sailing.  He lives in South Freeport where he can continue to indulge himself in his love for the sea.  

Monday, October 18, 2010

In Praise of Butter

You have heard by now about "brown butter mashed potatoes" haven't you?  If not, then get thee to the kitchen, now!  Just make your mashed potatoes like you normally would (I use buttermilk), but this time brown a big wallop of butter in a pan.  Yes, I said "brown", sort of like burning it.  Heat it slowly, it will begin to foam and bubble as the water boils out, then the milk solids will start to brown.  Medium brown is good but don't let it burn.  Burned butter is bad.  Add that to your mashed with a few squeezes of the garlic press (the garlic will cook in the hot potatoes) and a few strikes of nutmeg across your micro plane.  You will be amazed at the increased complexity of flavors and you family and friends will regard you as the chef de cuisine.

Now, how about cornmeal in your pancakes?  Try it.  You make your pancakes from scratch right?  Flour, egg, baking soda, buttermilk, a little salt and sugar so they will brown.  If you use plain milk, baking powder is the levening agent - its an acid reactive thing.  Mix it all up to the consistency of pancake batter, you know the feel.  Now add a little cornmeal.  It's not so much for taste, but for the slight crunch that adds a little extra pizazz to your already good flapjacks.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Animals of Lewis, Scotland

To be sure the Outer Hebrides islands have a wide variety of animal life, both domestic and wild.  The Scottish Highland Cattle are strange sights as one drives the back roads of this island.  I suppose I have actually eaten one of these when I had the hamburger purchased from the local country store.  I probably wouldn't have had I encountered this gentle beast beforehand.

But of course cattle are not as ubiquitous as sheep.  When the croft farmers were evicted from the island in the great "Clearance" of the 1800's, farming was replaced with sheep farming and on our trip I saw many, many more sheep than people.
Management of the herds is different than anywhere else I've seen.  They roam in vast fenced acreage and are marked with paint according to the owner.  Sometimes the markings show several colors and I imagine color combinations and marking location indicate the owner.  They are not all sheared at once as I've seen in Wales and happens in New Zealand for example.  There are no itinerant shearers that travel in to do the work all at once, so the farmer must shear his own sheep.  By all appearances they never completely shear each sheep.  Perhaps a belly on this one, the neck on another, and  the sides on still another.  This makes for an awfully raggedy-looking flock.  They mostly leave their backs unshorn.

There are deer on the island and lots and lots of rabbits.  It must be heaven for rabbits with all the green grass one could want.  Another animal we didn't see was mink.  It seems that mink fur was farmed on the island and escapees from these farms, and some say, deliberate releasing during the clearance period posed dire habitat destruction for water birds.  Ongoing trapping of mink have resulted in the return of populations of birds at serious risk; arctic tern, common tern, little tern, black throated diver, red throated diver, corncrake, dunlin and ringed plover.

Hedgehogs are also present on the island and they too eat ground nesting bird eggs, but they are not in such numbers to seriously threaten habitat.
There seemed to be hundreds of bird species, but it is difficult to tell when thousands of birds are swooping, diving and floating on the water.  These cormorants were curious as our boat entered a sea cave near Gallen Head.

Sea life is abundant here too with many kinds of fish, lobster, muscles, of course Scottish salmon.  Of the many otters and several dolphin species, one of the most interesting sea animals is the basking shark common in these waters.  It can grow to 25 or 30 feet long and the mouth can open wide for plankton filter feeding that a person could stand inside.  We did not happen to see any on this trip so I pulled this photo off the internet.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Lewis Chess Pieces

The most famous chess sets in the world were found on the island of Lewis, Scotland in 1831.  The nature of the find  is somewhat controversial and among the speculations most favored is that a young boy stole away from a ship in a rowboat in the wee hours of the morning bringing with him the chess pieces in a stone carrying case.   Most likely he was escaping the difficult working conditions on the ship and took the pieces as a way to buy his way to a new future. He was observed by a crofter's employee hiding something in a cave among the sand dunes of Uig beach located just over the green sands in this picture.  The story gets more disjointed at this point with the farm hand killing the boy and stealing the pieces for his own.

Of the 93 pieces found, odd pieces from 5 different complete sets, 11 are in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and the rest are in the British Museum in London.  I was fortunate to view about 30 of the walrus tusk carved animated figures while they were on loan to Edinburgh.  Some pieces had evidence of red dye indicating the two sides were red and white instead of black and white.  These historic relics are the earliest known example the present day configuration of chess in this area of the world.  Earlier versions of chess-like games existed in India, Persia, Portugal, and Spain.

Carved in Norway over 800 years ago is further proof that the Norse Vikings were plying the waters of the Western Isles, as the Outer Hebrides is also known, in the eighth to twelfth centuries in their longboats on their way to Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland.  I am amazed to think that  sophisticated carving and sea navigation was happening that early in history.  The pieces have been dated to between 1150 and 1200.

Some have recently challenged that the piece's origins are actually Icelandic, but it seems clear these pieces are true to life of church and military dress and armor of the day that did not exist in Iceland.

The Harry Potter movies used replicas in the filming of chess playing sequences.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Isle of Lewis, Scotland

Our group got up early Saturday morning in Inverness, grabbed some coffee and scones and boarded the bus for a 1.5 hour ride to the west coast ferry terminal.  Like the train, when someone else is driving, you can enjoy the passing landscapes.  It's just that the bus is a little more confining than the train.
So our arrival in the port of Ullapool on the west coast gave us an hour or so to look around and visit the small farmers market where residents of this small town were selling breads, baked goods and even home made pottery, home farmed cheese and honey and other good stuff one could take for eating on the run.  I purchased some smoked sea trout, someone else bought bread and a few other goodies we might enjoy on the ferry ride.

Public transportation in the UK is always on time, so don't be late.  The ferry pulled away from the dock right on schedule and we nested on couches around small tables looking out large picture windows on the port side.  We ordered cappuccinos and settled in for the 3 hour trip to Lewis.  Dolphins played in the waters around us and passengers found their respective spots... some on deck, some in the lounges, and still others in the bar.

The ship nosed up to the dock in Stornaway whereupon the bow raised and cars exited onto the streets of the small city.

Collecting our rental car was a breeze and we were off toward our crofting (small farm) cottage across the island.  Traffic was nearly nonexistent and the further away from Stornaway we drove the more rural the population became.
Settling into our cottage for a week, we unpacked groceries purchased in Stornoway and marveled at the fine position overlooking Loch Roag where our cottage was situated.  These photos are taken from my bedroom window.  I am constantly and pleasantly amazed by being able to choose very nice accommodations over the internet.  The lodging choices on Lewis are limited, especially away from the main town, so we were very lucky to have secured this one.  The secret to getting really good rentals is to plan a year in advance.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

36 Hours or Longer in Portland

I was invited to a birthday dinner last evening in Brunswick, about a half-hour drive from Portland and the home city of Bowdoin College.  The restaurant was Clementine's on the main street where the chef and head of waitstaff, a married couple, honed their skills at the Back Bay Grill, another fine dining opportunity in Portland.

We all chose the prix fixe menu ($25) consisting of six to eight choices for each of the 3 courses, a perfect amount of food.  Starting our evening with martinis set the jovial tone for the rest of our experience.  As each course was served we talked briefly with the waitress where we found out several tidbits about the restaurant and its location perfectly situated between Portland and points north and serves as a meeting point from those two regions.

Our starter course, respectively, was heirloom tomato Caprice saladCaesar Salad Smoked Bacon, Garlic Croutons, Hard Boiled Egg, and Field Greens Salad Buttermilk Blue Cheese, Roasted Walnuts, Oranges, Honey Vinaigrette.

Main: Hand-made Pappardelle Vegetable Bolognese, Basil, Olive Tapenade,  Sautéed Sea Scallops Carrot Purée, Olive Oil Potato, Shaved Fennel Salad, Salmon in Bric Pastry Peas, Radish Salad, Fingerling Potatoes, lemon Vinaigrette.

In an unanimous desert selection we all had: Warm Chocolate Cake Crème Anglaise, Hazelnut Gelato, Mango Coulis.

All this, accompanied with a very nice Ave  Malbec, Mendoza, '08 Argentina   ($24), left us pleasantly satisfied and a little tipsy so we strolled Main Street Brunswick taking note of various tree species, where the roots of the ivy covering a whole back side of a church were rooted and several other rather obscure sights and sounds.

An evening so pleasant with friends I have not had for a long time.  

For more information about Portland's scene, click on the NY Times recent article "36 Hours in Portland".

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Inverness, Scotland

Traveling by train from Edinburgh to Inverness way up to the top of Scotland, we passed through the highlands and mountains that separate the north from the south.  Train travel is a good way to see the countryside while sipping wine and cheese or indulging in something more substantial. We brought along lots of goodies purchased in the Marks and Spenser food store in the Edinburgh station.  I love M&S.

The River Ness flows from Loch Ness through the town of Inverness making a really nice walking possibility on both sides of the river.  After several hours of train ride strolling along the peaceful paths was a welcome activity.  Along the paths we came upon park-like settings with carved wooden benches or perhaps stone wall seats.

With only a day to enjoy Inverness... our walk along both sides of the river lasted until dinnertime where I had fresh Scottish salmon with lemon and dill...ummm good.  If you go, Inverness deserves more than an afternoon.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Monhegan Island, Maine

I recently spent a day on the artist colony island of Monhegan with several friends.  Three of us arrived at the ferry dock very early after getting up at 4:30 am to show our west coast friends what the sun looks like rising over the Atlantic.  I have to say it is more colorful than rising over land in the west, but the sun going down over the Pacific is equally dramatic.

After arriving at the ferry dock and waiting for two more friends we debated as time grew short if we should disembark to meet our friends and miss the boat or to stay on board and let them fend for themselves until we returned in the late afternoon.  I will demur revealing our decision on the grounds of preserving friendships.  They arrived, running, just minutes before the casting off of the lines, so we did not have to act on our decision.

The boat ride was just an hour long arriving at the only dock on the island.  As we walked up the incline toward the main road where we would decide our hiking direction we encountered several industrious residents selling various crafts such as plastic rope made into door mats and nautical knotting, a young woman playing her violin with the case at her feet for the purpose of tossing coins and bills into.  The first sight of these attempts to sell items of limited interest made me wonder what we had stumbled onto, but things got better as we moved along.

After checking out the eating options available we struck out on a hike around the island to see the cliffs on the far side with the ultimate destination of the high spot where there stands a stone lighthouse.

It was a good day of fresh air, exercise, and beautiful vistas.  There are several galleries selling art by island residents that were difficult to resist.  I recommend a visit if you have time while visiting Maine

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Edinburgh Scotland

Side street off Royal Mile
Green space in city centre   
Edinburgh, Scotland is still cool enough  in mid summer to navigate easily without suffering heat exhaustion like in the more southern parts of Europe.  The tourist crush remains mainly on the Royal Mile in the Old Town and along the shopping district of Princess Street in the New Town.  Any distance off these two heavily trafficked thoroughfares will find you in local neighborhoods with a truer sampling of the real city.  Neighborhood restaurants and pubs are much more pleasant than their touristy counterparts as is true in most big cities.

Elder York Guest House
My recommendation for lodging is Elder York Guest House near the heart of the city.  It is located just a few short blocks from the Waverly train station - airport buses drop a the train station.  Harry and Shirley are very accommodating hosts and provide any kind of breakfast (included) you desire from full Scottish to vegetarian to continental buffet.  Be sure to use the ear plugs you always keep in your travel bag since street noise lasts late into the night and starts early in the morning.  I consider this a small price to pay to be in the center of town.  Rates during my stay was L45 ($67.50 at $1.50 to the pound sterling) per person per night.  In late June and early July the sun sets around 11 pm and rises way too perkily just after 4:30.

If you find you have packed too lightly (OK, that's a dumb statement), there are a ton of charity second hand stores where you can get wooly jumpers (wool sweaters)  for $10 or shirts for $3. Things are expensive in the U.K. and lots of people shop these places to stretch their paychecks   Second hand kilts are only sold in the two "vintage" clothing stores starting at about $40.  If you are thinking you need a kilt, price them first.  You will soon be looking in the vintage stores, but I never found one that fit. .

There are three different double decker city tour buses available to get the lay of the land before you strike out on your own.  Each has a slightly different itinerary and I find them to be an easy way, the lazy person that I am, to get an overview of places or attractions I want to visit later.  The tickets are good for 24 hours and are "hop-on, hop-off" priced at 11 pounds.
Edinburgh Castle
Walking up to the Royal Mile
Tartan weaving

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tornado In Maine

Last night was a weather phenomenon like I've never seen before. Within a mere 45 minutes my rain gauge measured nearly an inch. Because I am fascinated with weather and the intense lightning was cloud-to-cloud instead of ground strikes, I went out to check the gutters. The intensity of rain was such that it penetrated my umbrella and so loud on my umbrella and all around me that no other sound could be heard.

The radio had so many severe weather warnings that I missed the tornado warning for the town in which I work. Today it was confirmed that 3 tornadoes did actually touch down and ran for nearly 5 miles through the woods knocking out power and snapping trees like twigs.

After work today, I went out with a fellow weather lover to survey damage near enough to roads that we could get a peak. Most damage was done in the forest and between houses.