Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Joy of Food in Maine

Greg grinned like Emma in a candy store as we stood in the enormous warehouse of lobsters at Young’s Lobster Pound.  Water circulated through the giant tanks each holding grosses of lobsters of varying sizes.  
“How do we chose?” I asked.
“I don’t think you can make a wrong choice here.  The only decision we have to make is: how many?” Greg said.
“One’s enough for me.”  I ate frugally when we traveled.  (I’d be thin if we stayed on the road.  I blame a house full of inexpensive meals for my fat.)
“Are you kidding? At five dollars a pound, I could eat a hundred dollars worth, but I’ll settle for fifty.”
We ordered five lobsters and a bag of mussels.  We strolled out on the deck while the guys behind the counter caught and steamed our meal.  Twenty miles north of Camden lay the tiny town of Belfast, Maine.  The moon rose above the surrounding mountains and reflected gently on the water of the cove.  Sailboats, dinghies and lobster boats lined the water’s edge.  All fishermen were anchored for the night.  I wondered about the men and women who lived in this remote town.  The ragged coast of Maine had a charm separate from the languid allure of South Carolina’s low country.  Locals dotted the tables on the deck.  It was Friday night and they had brought their own bottles for enjoying with the fresh seafood by the water.  May through October were heavenly months here, but you had hell to pay in the winter.  We spotted several family snow plows already out and ready for winter on our drive up the Maine coast.

My first bite of sweet lobster meat dripping in melted butter was too good to swallow.  I determined to invent a buttered lobster candy as soon as we returned to South Carolina so I could hold this flavor in my mouth as long as possible.  The crisp, light wine washed the taste from my mouth too soon, but complemented the seafood sublimely.  Conversation came to a standstill as Greg and I cracked claws and tails in unison.  The perfection of each bite had me matching Greg’s pace, but I couldn’t match his culinary skill.  He popped the tail off the body with one twist and delighted as he licked up the delicate tomalley before digging into the dense meat of the tail.  Who cares about Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning?  When in Rome…and Maine, the FDA be damned!
Camden’s harbor housed several restaurants tucked along the waterfront.  We chose Fresh hoping to taste fresh, locally sourced food.  The parents ordered lobster rolls while Wyatt and Emma went for the grass-fed hamburgers.  Anabel surprised us all when she chose the catch of the day with a side of brussel sprouts.  Has any parent ever heard a child order brussel sprouts?  I noted the date and the time in case this was a news worthy event.  
Our waitress was curious about our family. “Are you on vacation?”
“Sort of.  We’re homeschooling our kids and teaching them about America from the road,” I said.  People wondered why our kids weren’t in school in October.  It made me uncomfortable at first, but the more we traveled, the more I began to open up about our adventure.  It seemed every time I shared our story we made a connection with someone.

“You’re from Georgia?  Ten years ago, I lived in Alpharetta, Georgia,” said the waitress.
“Our home is just ten miles from Alpharetta.”
“What a coincidence! I think taking a year off to spend with your kids is terrific.  What a great experience for you and your kids!  I have six children myself and would love to spend a year traveling with them.”
“You should do it.  We’re living proof of: if there’s a will, there’s a way.  We sold our car and rented out our home in Georgia to help pay for our travels,” I said.
She surprised me when she said, “Oh, it’s not the money that would stop me. I’d love to do it, but I learned a long time ago that I need to miss my kids.”
I smiled, but thought, “How awful.  I hate to miss my kids.  That’s why we’re doing this- we were missing their childhoods.”
The waitress returned with our food and our discussion ended.  We enjoyed all the food, but the best thing served were the brussel sprouts.  They were blanched and then roasted with garlic, onions and butter.  Anabel got mad at us picking them off her plate.  Who would have thought we’d have a family squabble over eating too many brussel sprouts?
After lunch, we discovered Maine’s Round Top ice cream at Camden Cone.  We tasted samples of each ice cream way too long since I could have ordered each person’s flavor without asking.  We were all drawn to one selection for a personality reason.  I will try the one that is regional thinking it will help me learn more about the area; Greg will go for the most unusual thinking different is better and who knows when he’ll be able to try it again, right?; Anabel will chose the most old-fashioned flavor thinking it may have been eaten in days gone by; Wyatt goes for the messiest because that’s what ten year old boys do; and Emma will choose the one that looks healthy, but really contains the most sugar because she wants to make good choices, but is still just a kid.  Our final flavor decisions were: Vanilla, Strawberry, Ginger, Blueberry and Chocolate. (Can you match who got which?  Submit your answer to The Joy of Food Show 555 Burbank Studios, Los Angeles, California.)
Just when Greg thought there was nothing better than Maine lobster, he discovered the fried clam belly boat in Bar Harbor.  Crisp on the outside yet juicy in the middle, the clams warmed our bellies during our foggy day touring Fisherman’s Bay. We didn’t let a little drizzle stop us from seeing this Christmas Card town.
That evening, with the kids tucked in the room with another pizza, Greg and I explored Bar Harbor’s nightlife. Let the party begin! The town looked ghostly as we walked from restaurant to restaurant sampling local delicacies. One ingredient began to stand out: not lobster… blueberries.  From fried chicken with blueberry sauce and roasted pork with a blueberry wine reduction to wild blueberry beer and fried blueberry pie, I was in blueberry heaven.  At each bar, Greg asked for a blueberry brandy, but no local moonshine was available in town.  If he could sample homemade peach brandy in Georgia, he was sure a Mainer made the blueberry form somewhere…  
Before leaving for Canada, we enjoyed Maine’s famous lobster rolls at Lunt’s Lobster Pound just outside of Acadia National Forest.  Hunks of tail meat covering a fresh roll dotted with spicy mayonnaise satisfied Greg and the kids, but I thought the roll took away from the subtle sweetness of the lobster.  (Please note: this is the first time I have ever preferred a meal without the bread.)
We fell in love with the people and food of this northern state and looked forward to returning when we had more time to get to know it better.  Maybe someone we meet will hook Greg up with some blueberry brandy.