Archive for the ‘Maine’ Category

Whole wheat bread

When I lived in Maine I baked bread almost every weekend.  I started because it was such a long drive to a good bakery and I kept it up because there is really not much that makes me happier than the smell of baking bread or the taste of a fresh loaf.

Now that I live in Portland where there are amazing bakeries on just about every corner (well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much) I find I don’t get around to baking as often as I used to.  Last weekend, though, the urge came upon me and I pulled out one of my favorite baking books:  The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book.

The book opens automatically to the recipe I have made most often — a simple whole wheat and buttermilk recipe that has never failed me and that can be used to make beautiful loaves that are perfect for everyday toast or sandwiches or rolls elegant enough for company.

Whole Wheat Buttermilk Bread

(adapted from the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book)

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

½ cup warm water

¾ cup very hot water

¼ cup honey

1 ¼ cups cold buttermilk

4 ½ cups whole wheat flour (all purpose or bread flour is fine)

1 cup white flour (all purpose or bread flour is fine here too)

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

2 – 4 tablespoons butter, cut in to small pieces

1 large egg

1 tablespoon half & half

Dissolve yeast in warm water and set aside until foamy.

Mix hot water, honey and buttermilk in a small bowl or measuring cup; the final mixture should be lukewarm.  Set aside.

Mix flours and salt and place in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Using the dough hook and mixing at medium speed, slowly add yeast/water mixture and buttermilk mixture to the flour.

After all of the liquid has been incorporated, stop the mixer and let the dough sit, covered with a towel, for about 20 minutes.  This will ensure that the flour absorbs all of the liquid.

Restart the mixer and knead on low to medium speed for about 15 minutes.  The dough should be sticky, but should pull away from the sides of the bowl.  If it does not, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time (mixing well after each addition) until it does.  You want this to be a soft dough, so be careful not to add too much additional flour.  Add the butter in small pieces as you near the end of the kneading time.

Shape the dough into a rough ball and place it in an oiled or buttered bowl.  Cover and let rise for about 90 minutes or until you can poke it with a damp finger and the hole doesn’t fill in again.  Gently turn the dough and let rise again, this time for about 45 minutes.

Shape the dough into two loaves and place in oiled/buttered loaf pans.  Cover and let rise a third time.

This dough should rise quite a lot in the pan, so feel free to let it go for at least 45 minutes, if not more.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Whisk egg and half & half together and pass mixture through a small sieve until smooth.  Brush loaves with egg mixture and place in the middle of the preheated oven.

(If you want to make rolls, this recipe will make 9 large or 15 small ones.  Shape the dough into balls after the second rise and let rise again as above.  Brush with egg and half & half mixture.  Bake the rolls at 400 degrees for 15 -20 minutes.)

Bake loaves for 55 minutes or until they sound hollow when tapped.

Cool completely on a rack before slicing and eating.


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More knitted gifts

When I was in Maine in July one of my most enjoyable evenings was spent having dinner with a close friend and her family.  When I arrived at my friend’s house, I was greeted by her two young children who were both eager to show me around.  The house tour was even more fun than most (I am one of those people who loves to see other people’s houses) because of the kids’ enthusiasm and because it was so much fun to see them so grown up and excited to show me their new home.

At the end of the tour my friend’s daughter brought out the hat I had made for her when she was born, and with a little prompting from her mom, remembered that she wanted to ask me if I could make her a new, bigger, pink and purple one.  Of course, it was impossible for me to resist her request.

evashat4 evashat2

Also of course, making one for her required making an even bigger, mostly green one for her brother.


I’ll stop at the Post Office on my way home from work tomorrow.

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lobster, $4.99 a pound

[Updated at end:  August 22, 2009]

On one of the first afternoons I was in Maine I drove past my favorite lobster supplier, Taylor Lobster in Kittery.


This unprepossessing spot was source of lobster for many great dinners at our house (one of which is hilariously described by my talented friend Steve Almond in the short essay collection Death by Pad Thai).


Lobster Pad Thai

Taylor Lobster also supplies lobster to many local restaurants and grocery stores.


While the price of lobster is always lower in Maine than in other states, I was shocked by how inexpensive lobsters were this summer.


A price this low for the public means that lobstermen (there are women who trap lobsters as well, but the language hasn’t caught up with them) are getting as little as $2.35 a pound at the dock.  Newspapers and local radio stations were reporting that lobster fishers were considering what is referred to locally as a “tie-up,” a controversial form of protest which involves leaving boats at the dock for as long as necessary to force the price of lobster higher.


I probably don’t need to tell you that the work of pulling traps is rugged; lobster boats are small, the sea is often rough, and the weather can be exceedingly nasty.  Trap wars and other territorial disputes are not uncommon and current low prices only make these disputes thornier.

Survival in downeast Maine (on islands and along the coast) is intimately tied to the complex life history of the American lobster (Homarus americanus) and to the long and complicated history of the lobster fishery along the northeast coast (one of the best books about both of these topics is The Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson).

Lobstering is also not without environmental controversy; trap lines are thought to be a risk to endangered north Atlantic right whales.  Some suggest that cutting the number of traps would solve this problem and at the same time increase the catch.

Maine lobstermen have survived for years by regulating their own industry (the Maine Lobsterman’s Association was formed in 1954 to support this effort) and I am sure they will weather this storm as they have weathered storms in the past.   I hope that the cost of this one is not the loss of a way of life that has shaped life along the Maine coast for so long.

Update: Well, the Matinicus shooting and lobster fishing crisis have made it to the New York Times almost a month after it was news in Maine (and on this blog!)

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