Monday, July 30, 2012

Satisfying our craving.

One of the very best meals we ate in Maine didn't - believe it or not - involve any lobster whatsoever. Mom, Louisa and I had a craving for fried clams, and once again Liz and Skyler helped us find the very best. That's how we (plus Miriam and our friend Reff) ended up headed for lunch at The Slipway in Thomaston, just a hop, skip and a jump from our house on Rackliff Island. (A hop, skip and jump from Rackliff requiring a minimum of 20 minutes in the car, of course.)

The Slipway is, as you could probably tell from its name, located just beside a little slipway a few blocks from downtown Thomaston. There is an indoor dining room, but on the sunny afternoon we ate there, every single patron was seated outside on a deck built over the water. I was feeling in a bit of a celebratory mood, and so I ordered a glass of Prosecco. (Bubbly drinks, you see, go marvelously with shellfish and fried food - a double whammy.) 

After a week of ordering and retrieving lobster rolls from one walk-up window after another, being waited upon at The Slipway felt like an overwhelmingly decadent luxury. The hospitality was top-notch, right now to little details like napkin weights (painted rocks) on each table. 

Louisa and I started with a half-dozen local oysters, delightfully briny and sweet. Then came the main event: fried clam baskets. The fries at The Slipway were the best we ate in Maine, positively fresh and piping hot. And the clams? Amazing. They were whole clams, crispy, chewy strips and fat, tender bellies, tasting of nothing so much as the ocean. The batter was crunchy and light and held tight to the clams - no crumbling messes to be found here. Rounded out with little dishes of tartar sauce, mayonnaise and cole slaw, our lunch was pretty much perfect.

And that's not just the prosecco talking.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Queenie's Treasury

Happy Sunday, readers! A you've probably guessed, my Saturday was a busy one (errands, hair, new glasses, a movie), and so our Treasury is a bit late this week. I've been having one of my summertime vacation home fantasies of late, and so this week's treasury is all about places I'd love to live. (Screw visiting; I'm putting down imaginary roots.)

First up, this gorgeous landscape architecture by Perry Guillot is pure seaside perfection. I can see myself pouring gimlets as I look out over this view, or running through the grasses down to the sandy beach to go clamming, my pants rolled up, bucket in hand. Sigh.

Next, this incredible house, designed by architect Tonkin Liu, sits atop an old building in South London. Can you imagine what it's like to live in a space flooded with light and views like this one? Or to have constant access to so much greenery in the middle of one of the largest, most bustling cities on earth? I sure can. And I like it.

Finally, the stunning Hotel Iturregi, set in Spain's Basque Country, courtesy of the blog So Haute. I want to stroll in that garden, take a dip in that pool, and then top off my day with a cocktail on that terrace. (I'd manage to squeeze some quality reading time in, too, no doubt.) Would it be wrong to start an online charity drive to sponsor the trip? Yes? Oh, well.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Finding our people.

My friend Elizabeth and her husband Skyler were unbelievably generous with their recommendations when it came to all things mid-coast Maine. They've been living in Rockland for about two years now, and they are (being my friends) very into food - good food. And so we basically just did everything they told us to do. That's how we found ourselves at Sweets & Meats one afternoon, a charcuterie and grocery in downtown Rockland, buying cheese, pâté, and baguettes.

The staff were lovely and helpful, offering samples and recommendations as we put together a cheese and meat platter for our hungry houseful of people, right down to the pickled local fiddleheads and housemade pâté de campagne.

On that trip (the first of many), Louisa spied this cucumber soda - which, believe it or not, I'd never heard of, let alone tried. Verdict? Delightfully light, a bit sweet, and very much redolent of cucumber - particularly its most melon-like qualities.

The next morning, a croissant was in order. I went for broke and chose the chocolate version. Topped with dark chocolate shavings, it was perfectly crisp and flaky, and the chocolate filling (bittersweet, I do believe) was still creamy and lush when I gobbled it down at around 10:30 AM. Pretty dang impressive, especially when you consider that we weren't even in France.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

On the island.

The house we rented in Maine was on tiny little Rackliff Island, just off the coast of St. George. The drive from Route 1 (coastal Maine's major thoroughfare) was incredible - rolling fields of wildflowers and grass ending right at the rocky shoreline, dotted here and there with (very happy) cows. A few minutes from the house, we would cross a teeny causeway to reach our island, which was ringed by a single road (with a short little spike off at one point).

Each morning, I got up a bit early and took a run (or, on my one hungover morning, a slogging walk) around the island. The loop was just over two miles long, and one of the best parts of each morning was seeing the signs people have hung in front of their homes. Lots of Mainers name their abodes, and even those who don't take pride in marking the spot.

Love the use of the oar here by the Sharpe family - also good to know where you find a spare one, least your drop yours in the ocean or some such thing.

Harbortop might have been my very favorite, with its billowing sails and evocative font. Who doesn't love a schooner, after all?

And then, of course, there was the house itself. Our backyard led down to an east-facing floating dock, the perfect spot for catching some afternoon rays.

Quite a few sun sessions were had, as you can no doubt tell from my freckles and pink cheeks.

The birds liked the dock, too - we found quite a few broken-open mussel shells dropped there each day. Sadly, digging is currently prohibited in the cove, due to some over-pollution. Hopefully the laughing gulls have better defenses built up than we weak humans, eh?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Lobstah, part two.

It's become a tradition. Each year, for my brother's birthday, my sister-in-law and I collaborate on a kitchen clambake and lobster boil dinner. So, of course we took care of business in Maine this time around. Miriam managed to wrangle us seven lobsters for $35; they were delivered to our door in the trap, and our instructions were to pour some ice over them - or tie them to the dock until dinnertime.

We follow Ina Garten's recipe for this seafood extravaganza. We start off with a giant stockpot, in which we saute leeks and onions, then throw in kielbasa, potatoes, two kinds of clams, mussels, a bottle of white wine, and finally, the lobsters. (You have to dispatch them first, since steaming is a cruel/impractical way to go about things. More on that here.)

The result is an immense pile of delicious, wine-scented seafood, potatoes and sausage. (We strongly recommend going heavy on the sausage and potatoes, as they are remarkably tasty.)

Dessert, of course, is birthday cake. An incredibly reliable, simple, rewarding cake - preferably topped with sparklers in place of candles.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Queenie's Treasury: The caffeinated edition.

Happy weekend, my doves! I've been on something of a Treasury hiatus for a while, for which I heartily apologize. Between the trip to Maine and my brother's actual 30th birthday last week (gougères, chocolate chip cookies, and Vietnamese lettuce wraps for 100 were involved), it's been a bit nutty on this end. But I'm back, baby, and ready to rock. This week, we're all about coffee.

First up, some great tips from the wonderful women of Food52 (assisted by the folks from Craft Coffee) on how to brew the perfect cup. Some highlights? Store coffee at room temperature, not in the freezer or refrigerator. Grind the beans fresh, preferably with a burr grinder. And make sure the water you use is actually below boiling - otherwise you're going to get a bitter brew.

But, kids - it is, after all, summer. Which means that cold coffee is at least as important right now as the hot kind. Thank goodness, then, for Bon Appétit's no-nonsense recipe for cold-brewed coffee concentrate. Keep a mason jar of this in your fridge, and you'll never find yourself settling for Starbucks again. (My favorite beans for cold coffee, by the way, are Brazil Rainha from Joe.)

And, finally, a little something to help you brew your best on the go. I'm a sucker for Intelligentsia's iPhone app, which contains step by step instructions for a variety of brewing methods - extremely helpful during the summer travel season, when you find yourself confronted with a variety of unfamiliar coffee makers in varying locales. (A rental vacation home in Maine, for example.)

Thursday, July 19, 2012


One of the best things about our trip to Maine was that my friends Miles and Hall (who used to live in Manhattan but deserted me to run this incredible lodge) were there, too! They were on the tail end of their winter break (they live in New Zealand), and were spending their last few days in the States in Kennebunkport.

Louisa and I met them in Boothbay, where, surrounded by children smeared in sunscreen and a host of surprisingly avid birdwatchers, we boarded a puffin-watching cruise. Turns out we'd come at just the right time; puffins can be hard to find, but they mate and nest during the first few weeks of July - we'd inadvertently chosen the absolute best week to see as many puffins as we could wish for.

The cruise out to Eastern Egg Rock, a bird sanctuary just outside of Boothbay Harbor, was gorgeous. Lighthouses, craggy, rocky islands (Iconic Maine, hello!) - and harbor porpoise and seals, too! We had delightfully calm seas and a strong, bright sun - not to mention a strong breeze. (Puffin watching is a sweater-mandatory activity, folks.)

And then, there were puffins. So many puffins! Puffins are pretty little (no more than ten inches tall when fully grown), so it was hard to get a good shot of them. The ones here are taking off after spending some time bobbing around in the water. When puffins fly, their wings work so hard that they almost look like they're windmilling them around.

Also, baby puffins? Are called pufflings. I KNOW.

The thing in the front? A buoy. The little white and black dude beyond it? A puffin! A ridiculously cute, adorable, totally worth the time and money puffin.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Cooling off.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that vacationer in possession of an appetite must be in want of an ice cream cone. After all, what is summer vacation if not an excuse to treat ice cream as its very own food group? New Englanders know this instinctively, and ice cream is available pretty much everywhere you turn.

On my first night in Maine, en route to Rockland to stock the fridge, I spotted Dorman's Dairy Dream by the side of Route 1. It was too late to stop (everything in Maine closes by 9 PM, it seems, and Dorman's is no exception), but I made a mental note to visit later in the week, as there was no way something so cute wouldn't be worth a stop.

Turns out, I wasn't wrong. Dorman's flavor list includes classics like peppermint stick, grapenuts, and pistachio, as well as less commonly-seen varieties, such as ginger and orange-pineapple. I chose a small coffee cone, while Louisa went for the peppermint stick. (I thought she was going to go for ginger, but I was wrong. It's nice when even your best friend can surprise you from time to time.) The ice creams were wonderful in an entirely classic way - creamy, rich (but no mouth-coating ickiness), and a bit on the sweet side. Our cones melted quickly in the midday heat, and we slurped up every drop.

A couple of days later, the ice cream craving struck again. My friends Liz and Skylar, who've lived in Rockland for a couple of years now, suggested we stop by Lulu's on Oak Street - so long as it was open. (Lulu's is a seasonal joint, and sometimes doesn't open until later in July.) Lucky for us, it was open, and in spectacular fashion.

Lulu's, it turns out, is a more modern take on the New England creamery concept. Sorbetto, gelato and ice cream are all on offer, and the flavors are a bit wider ranging than those at Dorman's. I went for a small cup with two types of sorbetto: dark chocolate noir, and strawberry balsamic. Both were ridiculously delicious. The strawberry balsamic tasted so strongly of rich aged vinegar and strong berries that I couldn't believe Lulu's captured the flavor in an ice cream. And the chocolate? It was like eating a bittersweet chocolate bar, but in sorbetto form. So, you know, not bad. (And by not bad, I mean amazing.)

My only regret? We visited Lulu's late on Friday, which meant we never had a chance for a return trip.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

To the lighthouse.

Thanks to its famously ragged and craggy coastline, Maine is home to a whole bunch of lighthouses. From the dock outside our house, we could see three lighthouses - one visible to the naked eye during the day, and the other two apparent only via their nighttime beacons.

The closest light to the house was Owl's Head Light, which Nick, Louisa and I visited on our last day in St. George. The lighthouse itself was lovely, but the view down from its base was even better. Picture-perfect Maine, right down to the wildflowers and steep drops.

(Word on the street, by the way, is that the burgers at the Owl's Head General Store, a few minutes' drive from the lighthouse, are the best in the state. I hope to judge for myself soon.)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Let's talk lobster.

When in Maine - unless one is a vegetarian or allergic to shellfish - one must eat lobster. The crustaceans are everywhere. Their caricatures - invariably painted a bright red-orange - stare at you from practically every wall. Retired lobster traps litter the landscape, and buoys marking the ones in use clutter every view of the water. Maine is awash in an embarrassment of lobster riches, and you must partake.

I ate no fewer than five lobsters rolls during our week in Maine. I started off with a whimper (a crappy, overpriced specimen at a restaurant in downtown Rockland), likely because I failed to consume my lobster roll within spitting distance of the Atlantic. This mistake was rectified the following day with a visit to Waterman's Beach Lobster, a famous seafood shack about 15 minutes from our (pretty isolated) rental on Rackliff Island. See that, up there? That's their James Beard award.

Waterman's serves their lobster chopped in large - but not giant - chunks, dressed lightly in mayonnaise and what one imagines is tightly guarded combination of spices (I'm guessing small amounts of pepper and salt). The lobster - pulled out of the ocean just beyond those picnic tables up top - is succulent and tender, fresh as can be. The bun - a non-traditional hamburger roll - is toasty and warm, lightly brushed butter. It's a higher bun to lobster ratio than I typically prefer, but the salad itself is pretty marvelous.

The coleslaw, by the way, is also delicious. Sweet and crisp. And the dill-er-iffic potato salad is a way better side than the complimentary bag of Lay's.

The next day, a few of us took a little ride down to Wiscasset, home to the famous Red's Eats, a lobster roll truck so popular it causes traffic jams up and down Route 1 - as well as to Sprague's, the competing shack across the street, which sits on an adorable little dock and is, according to pretty much everything I've read, actually better than Red's. And short lines, to boot!

I did enjoy the Sprague's roll - more on that in a moment - but they're also pretty good at the stuff that comes alongside. The homemade raspberry lemonade, for example? Sweet, tart, refreshing. Summer in a plastic cup.

And they also have fried green beans. I know, I know. They sound weird. But they are not. They are awesome. Verdant and peppery on the inside, crispy and summery fried goodness on the outside. And they come with ranch dressing, which is how you know you're in America.

Speaking of fried America, these are clam fritters. Basically, what we have here are chopped clams, savory dough, and what happens when you cross those two with a deep fryer. The outcome? Chewy, pillowy puffs, lightly scented with clam, perfect for dipping in tartar sauce.

Now we come to the point: Sprague's lobster roll. Of all the rolls I tried last week, Sprague's (which we visited twice) had the best lobster meat. Perfectly cooked, plentiful (they're famous for including the meat of an entire lobster in their rolls), and absolutely delicious. They skew traditional when it comes to the bun, going for a buttered and griddled version of what Louisa has termed a Yankee hot dog bun. Otherwise, nothing touches the roll but lobster. This is an exceptionally pristine version of the classic, with no butter or mayonnaise gracing the meat. Though I usually go in for adornment (at least a little), this roll was still my favorite of the week, mostly because the lobster was just so freaking perfect.

On our way out of the state, we made one last stop for a final meal. Two Lights Lobster Shack is in Cape Elizabeth, and sits perched beneath - you guessed it - two lighthouses. There was much to love at Two Lights - the view, the truly awesome, crinkle-cut fries, the perfectly sour pickle chips. I wanted to love the lobster roll, too - and I did love the sprinkle of paprika and the daub of mayonnaise. But, overall, it just couldn't compare to Sprague's. (Or, frankly, to my ideal mayonnaise-y roll, available here in the city at Pearl Oyster Bar.)

Of course, findings will need to be re-confirmed next summer. Sit tight.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Welcome to Maine!

Well, folks, I'm back. Sigh. I mean, New York is awesome. (Really.) But Maine was so freaking relaxing and sunny and warm and lobster and...yeah. So, I'm back, but don't expect me to be happy about it.

This, right here? This is the dock at the house we rented for the week. You can't see it, but the ramp leads down to a float, which was tailor-made for sunning oneself, reading and drinking cocktails. And thanks to the inhumane heat hovering over half the country last week, temperatures passed 80 almost every day - remarkably warm for Maine in early July.

Right? Perfection.

There are lots of mollusks and the like in Maine. This is just one little patch of beach.

Gimlet in a rental house wine glass, anyone? (Everyone. I copied out the recipe and left it on the bar with some gin, lime juice and simple syrup.)

Moonlight, which lit up our little cove as bright as day. So sparkly.

Can I go back now? No? Well, in that case, steel yourselves for a Maine-related posting spree like you've never seen before. We're going to see some serious lobster rolls, clambakes, ice cream, charcuterie (Yes, charcuterie!)'s going to be epic. My stomach is still recovering.

(Who am I kidding? I've been training for this all my life.)

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