Friday, July 19, 2013

Forty? Seventy? Aren't they basically the same?

Back home in California and happy to be here, yammering goats and very small mountain of work notwithstanding. 

But one last post about the New England sojourn:

Last week, Isabel and I drove up to Maine to visit my friend Mary who lives in an old farmhouse full of eclectic furniture, art, and textiles that shouldn’t work together but do: Oriental rugs, Marimekko tablecloths, midcentury modern dining room set, flea market paintings, relief maps, collections of plastic wildcats and old padlocks. I love her house. I mention the decor because I started thinking there’s a strong correlation between how a person puts together a house and how she (or he) cooks
None of the dishes Mary served us for dinner should have worked together, but it was a perfect meal. This is what she served: lobster bisque, lobster tacos, chicken tagine. No vegetable, no salad. You aren’t going to see this lineup in the “menu suggestions” of any cookbook and that's a problem with cookbooks. 

But the recipes? They came out of cookbooks and no complaints there.
-lobster bisque. You'll find this 1881 recipe on page 108 of The Essential New York Times Cookbook. I've never cooked lobster and probably never will as lobster = unthinkable luxury in California, but for people who live or vacation in coastal New England, the book is widely available in libraries. It's outstanding, so you should consider buying it and I'm starting to think my mother-in-law's beach house needs a copy. Of this lovely bisque, Amanda Hesser writes: "Everything about the soup is subtle. The lobster flavor is pure but discreet. The sweetness of the Sauternes echoes that of the shellfish, and save for a little zing of cayenne, all the flavors are elegant and restrained." Mary substituted 1% milk for the whole milk Hesser calls for and Okanagan ice wine for the Sauternes. If I could only eat one soup for the rest of my life, this would be it.  

-lobster tacos. This recipe from Mark Miller’s Tacos entails marinating lobster, avocado, and chunks of ripe mango in lime juice and olive oil. You then fold this into soft corn tortillas with some soft lettuce and finish with truffle oil. Mary used pineapple instead of mango and omitted the truffle oil and the tacos were my second favorite part of the meal. I loved them, but loved the bisque more. The recipe is here.

-chicken tagine. In one of Kate Christensen's novels, a 74-year-old woman seduces a 40-year-old man by serving him this chicken tagine, and Christensen includes the recipe in Blue Plate Specialher new memoir. Way to raise expectations! I took a few bites of the tagine and it was very good, but I was too full of lobster to give it my full attention. Isabel, however, loved it and ate thirds. Later, I asked, “Do you think the chicken was really good enough that a 70-year-old woman could use it to seduce a 40-year old man?” She stared at me with precisely the expression you'd expect on the face of a 16-year-old  when her mother asks such a ludicrous question. She said, “No? I don’t know.” And looked away, presumably so I’d shut up.  

If you're curious, the recipe is on Christensen's web site

After dinner, Mary said, “I didn’t even offer anyone dessert!” But that’s what made the dinner so great. Dessert would have been conventional and too much.


  1. I didn't realize lobster was cheap over there. I guess that's fair. We have avocados falling off of trees and dungeness crab.

    I'm interested to hear if you've been using your pizza oven this summer? I had a pizza party last night and made one I haven't heard of before: ratatouille pizza with chevre and olives. I bought the chevre, and thought of you as I did, briefly debating whether I should buy goat milk at Trader Joe's and make my own, then administering a quick mental slap across my face and shoulder shake to make myself see reason. Your oven came out great and I'd love to hear what you've been pulling out of it when you're not gallivanting off to the east coast to eat lobster bisque ;)

    1. Well, Kristin, just this morning when I was lying in bed thinking about what I needed to do this week, I thought: PLASTER OVEN.
      I've done nothing with the oven since its maiden firing last fall, but vow to before the end of July. Momentum is all.

    2. I used Quickwall Surface Bonding Cement from OSH plus the acrylic fortifier to make it more water resistant. It worked really perfectly. And it took no more than an hour for two people to mix and apply it. I tried following the advice in the Earth Oven book, but it looked awful and cracked terribly and was not meant to be rained on, either, according to Kiko Denzer. I wasn't willing to build a wooden house around my oven, nor was I willing to keep it covered with an ugly tarp, so I bought this stuff and have been very happy with its performance.

  2. This post transported me with that menu description. I love lobster, yet where I live it is too expensive and not usually of very good quality. I will be dreaming of lobster tonight, hopefully. I am closer to 70 than 40, so I will answer the question - not even close, but I wish it were otherwise. I will have to try the tangine when it is cooler. It sounds divine. I can just imagine Isabel's face when you asked that question! How revolting! Adults having sex, especially old, wrinkled adults, mother, please!

  3. I'm having a hard time imagining pineapple with lobster but I'd still love to try it.

  4. Every year when we go back to New England, I swear I'm going to eat nothing but lobster the entire time. It never quite happens. At least this year I had a lobster roll at the Legal Seafoods in Logan Airport on the way out.

    Kristin above has a great point. I need to train myself to love crab more than lobster, then I will live a life of pure abundance. For a Pacific Northwesterner, I do not crave nearly enough salmon, crab, or bivalves.

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