[Beets from the farm, with local butter, September 2008.]
So in early September I went to Maine. I took a 6 a.m. flight from San Francisco by way of New York, and landed up in Portland only a little off-schedule. It was warm enough — most welcome, after the omnipresent coastal fog of home — and I blearily collected my bag after not sleeping much on the cross-country flight. It felt, immediately, good to be there.
My brother and his girlfriend picked up me up and took me straight away to drinks and dinner in Portland. We talked and talked so much I hardly remember what we ate (warmed feta and bread; beet salad; other things I forget; California wine) and then we drove back the hour to the farm where they live, to sit on the lawn looking up at all the stars. I swear I have never, ever seen so many, not even in Pt. Reyes this July and not even on Skye five years ago on my birthday when I lay down in the road to watch them fall and pitch. There was rain predicted for the next few days but for that one night the sky was wind-swept and clear.
I went to bed with the windows wide open, in a soft bed tucked under an alcove. All night long the breeze blew in, warm and sweet because of the hurricane down south. I woke up to clouds and rain and a good breakfast and coffee and wished I’d photographed the garden that morning; in the days following it was sunny, which was appreciated, but the photos lacked that lovely soft light. We ate sun gold tomatoes straight from the vine and swatted at bugs. I took a deep breath: vacation. Later, my brother and I went to a wedding on an island, where we were serenaded by a bagpiper in full kilt and cap; it was terribly windy and romantic except for the mosquitoes. In between ceremony and dinner we spent an hour at a little out-of-the-way pub in Boothbay Harbor drinking Shipyard Ale and devouring onion rings (we’d missed lunch); on the way home it rained and rained and we were soaked through just getting to the car.
It was, to be honest, quite marvelous.
[Breakfast at North Creek, September 2008.]
I’ve mentioned before that Emily is a fantastic cook, and my second morning there she didn’t disappoint. Along with a hot, strong cup of the Blue Bottle coffee I’d brought, she made french toast light and sweet with hints of vanilla and orange (the trick, she told me, was to skip the sugar and flavor it with just fruit — she’s a girl after my own heart). Kurt fried potatoes and we took our plates outside, balancing them carefully on our knees in the side garden, while we discussed what to do that day (a hike in to a near-empty beach, where we ate corn-and-avocado salsa, bread and cheese, maybe a piece of fruit before swimming in the frigid water).
One would think all that sea and sand would have thoroughly worn out even the most intrepid eater — and it did, a bit; I had to take a late-afternoon nap — but no: we drove into Bath and picked up my parents, who’d made the trip out from Northern California as well, and then went to dinner at Clementine restaurant in Brunswick. Oh, that dinner. I asked for a “vegetable plate,” not because the vegetarian option on the menu didn’t look good (egg noodles with vegetables and goat cheese — well, OK, goat cheese, ick) but because I love to put my fate into the hands of the chef and see what he or she will come up with. I was on vacation after all; I felt like whatever I’d receive would be perfectly perfect and, you know, it really was. I was presented with an artfully arranged plate of stacked vegetables tied with ribbons of green, a risotto cake, lightly roasted beets, and a pile of garlicky greens all doused liberally in a rich, parsely-infused wine and butter sauce. It was all so good I could’ve licked my plate — but I refrained and sopped it up with bits of their good bread instead.
[From the farm, September 2008.]
The rest of my time in Maine was spent mostly in Acadia National Park, at Mt. Desert Island on the very northern coast of the continent. If you squinted hard enough you could see Canada in the distance, shining between the blue waves. As it was nearing the end of the season — and probably was the end of the season for most of the summer tourists — everything felt quieter, more subdued and shuttered in. This suited me just fine. We had a less-than-stellar lunch at the Jordan Pond House (although the popovers were delicious and unable to resist as the rain slanted down over the water and the clouds blew silently over the mountains) and a few pretty good dinners in Bar Harbor. But what I remember most was the slate-grey sea and a trip through the pouring rain to a lighthouse on a redly rocky perch, still inhabited though we didn’t see its occupants.
The night before I left for upstate New York, Emily made a good dinner of things mostly from the farm: an assortment of cheeses and bread; venison burgers (I had a veggie patty); sweet, soft, beautifully steamed beets with lots of melted butter; tomatoes sliced and salted; roasted potatoes. We laughed at the dogs and sat long around the table and it was quite, quite difficult to take my leave in the morning.
[Near Seawall Beach, Maine, September 2008.]
I fell in love with Maine a little bit on this trip I think, though I’d certainly been there a few times before. I know, I know — I’ve been passing around my heart quite a lot these past few months: Baltimore, Maine, Rochester, waxing nostalgic about Greece, and it’s true I have been happy elsewhere. I have grand hopes to visit New England in true winter, in the coldest part of January, maybe, to go ice skating on the flooded, frozen field in Bath, though I am a terrible skater. I have some long weekends coming up next year, and as my coastal city receives not a drop of snow the whole year-long — sometimes how I wish for snow days and curling up in front of wood stoves — I might have to make the trek.
Even still, it’s the grandest thing I can think of to be back in my little city by the bay. Every time I leave I think things like what would it be like to live here but then I come home, and I remember. California is in my blood, like a drug I can’t quit and I don’t ever want to leave (except, maybe, for NYC for a year, if I had a purpose there. Or, OK, maybe I’d indulge an old wish to live abroad someday if it was enticing enough though I’d kiss the mountains and promise to come back). This is the perfect time of year here: sun all the day-long and fairly warm. My birthday looms so very soon, and the time change is just around the corner — but for now, I am holding on to summer for a few more days.
In the spirit of my Maine sojourn last month, I offer a late-summer/early fall dish — after all this time I’m finally putting up a recipe; the last real recipe I posted here was back in August! — that we didn’t cook there, but could have. If you’re on the West Coast summer squash is still widely available in the farmers’ markets, and that’s what I used here, though you could swap in any of your preference. I’ve really been loving whole wheat pasta lately and not just because it makes me feel virtuous when I eat it (it fills me up more, somehow) and I love to make it simply tossed with some in-season vegetables. A trick I picked up from somewhere is to save some of the pasta water to help make a bit of a sauce-without-a sauce; when the vegetables are heated through to release their own flavor, you hardly need anything to season the dish except for some salt, pepper, and basil.
I polished off a bowl last night and thought wistfully of my lovely time in Phippsburg, at the little farm there; and Acadia, where the sun seemed to polish the rocks and the wind howled all round the rocky corners. Maine, I’ll see you again soon — in the meantime, I’ll save my pennies and drink lots of strong tea.
Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Late-Summer Vegetables
Whole wheat spaghetti
four cloves garlic, minced
2 cups sun-gold or cherry tomatoes
2 small summer squashed sliced in rounds, then quartered
15 (or so) green beans, ends trimmed and cut into thirds
salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, boil water for pasta. Add about 1/2 package of whole wheat pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve some of the cooking water when draining.
In a saucepan, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and green beans and sautee a few minutes. Add the squash and cook a few minutes more. Add a few glugs of the reserved pasta water to pan, add the tomatoes. Add the basil, salt and pepper and a bit more water to make the whole mix a bit saucy. Cover and let cook a few minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until they are slightly wilted.
In a bowl, toss the pasta with the vegetables. Add a little more salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot, with lots of parmesan cheese.