Sunday was Maple Sunday in Maine. This event is held on the fourth Sunday of March every year. Many sugarhouses across the state are open for visitors.
We stopped by Balsam Ridge Christmas Tree Farm, which is only a few miles from out Maine cottage, in Raymond. In the winter, they have Christmas trees. In the spring, they make maple syrup from their sugarbush. It’s a small operation, but it’s very high tech. We watched a demonstration of the evaporator but they stopped collecting sap last week, so it was just pretend. The owner explained about the various steps and technology he uses.
With the climate change we’ve been experiencing, the sap runs earlier, and before the trees bud (which happens earlier and earlier), the taps get turned off. The introduction of technology helps maple syrup producers get the most out of their maples. From the vacuum system which allows more sap to be collected than gravity alone allows, to the reverse osmosis to reduce the water content of the sap before it gets boiled, to the evaporator that boils the syrup until the density is correct.
We enjoyed the samples of maple cotton candy, maple cream, maple butter, and, best of all, maple syrup over vanilla ice cream. We brought home a half gallon of maple syrup and couple pieces of maple fudge.
I like maple flavor, however, I don’t actually like syrup on my pancakes (I’m a jam girl). Howard does, but I do need to come up with some new ideas for using our treasure trove of maple syrup.
Last week, Howard and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. It seems that in the Hallmark world, 25 years is the more significant milestone, but we think two decades is worthy of a big celebration. We’ve been married longer than my own parents were married to each other before they divorced. On the other hand, we have some catching up to do to match my in-laws who have been married for 55 years.
So far, it’s been a wonderful journey, as long as you don’t count that first rocky year. An initially rough road is probably not unexpected when you take two people, relatively independent by nature, both of whom have each been living own their own for a while. Have them combine households into a 687 square foot apartment with a baby grand piano in the living room. Does that sound like a recipe for happiness and bliss? I don’t think so. If we could make it through that, we can probably make it through anything.
Two decades, we had two dinners to celebrate. The first was on the actual day. We went to a local favorite, Daikanyama, a Japanese sushi and noodle restaurant in our town. We usually have a taste of sushi as an appetizer and then have big bowls of noodle soup for dinner, and that’s what we did. It hit the spot.
We also like having special dinners for special occasions. For our “real” celebratory dinner, we picked Hugo’s in Portland, Maine. We went there about five years ago, and that meal has held a place in our Hall of Fame for incredible meals (there are currently only 5 spots, you can see the list here). Our anniversary seemed like a worthy reason to splurge again.
The chef at Hugo’s is Rob Evans. His food is creative, challenging, and interesting, all at the same time. Though I’ve never eaten at the French Laundry, based on what I’ve read about it, his past training under Thomas Keller shows in the menu at his own restaurant, Hugo’s.
We opted for a six-course blind tasting menu with accompanying wine matched to each course. That means we didn’t know what we were going to be served. As each course was served, the delivered dish was described in detail. The ingredients are sourced 98% locally, with all the seafood coming from the Gulf of Maine, so the meal, which changes daily, was about as seasonal as you could get. Many of the courses were things I wouldn’t necessarily have selected from an à la carte menu.
Amazingly, there wasn’t anything served that I wouldn’t or couldn’t eat. (I don’t willingly eat organs, other than the occasional chicken liver, but none were served.) I enjoyed it all. Howard can almost say that too. The only hiccup for him was the final dessert course which was chocolate (good) served with banana cake (not good). I ate his banana cake, so together we finished every morsel. (Teamwork = good foundation for happy marriage)
Certainly, a restaurant like this isn’t for everyone, but we weren’t disappointed by our choice. We were thrilled. It was a worthy spot to celebrate the milestone of two decades of marriage.
Here’s the menu we enjoyed:
Korean BBQ Winter Point Oyster, lightly poached with basil oil, fried garlic and daikon
Wine: Brut Cava (Spain)
Blue Fin Tuna Tartare with tomato water and tomatoes, black trumpet mushrooms, and fennel
Key Lime Cured Sardines with nasturtium, cucumber, radish, and olive oil ice cream
Wine: Albariño (Spain)
Cod Head Stew (cheek, throat, and tongue) with udon noodle, cipollini onion, and maitake mushroom
Wine: Versi Bianco (Italy)
Second Change Farm’s Veal with wild mushrooms, potatoes, consummé, and kohlrabi
Wine: Pinot Noir (New Zealand)
Late Harvest Strawberry Salad with spicy bell pepper granite, mint, and tarragon
Wine: Moscato (California)
Banana Chicory Cake with warm chocolate panna cotta, mascarpone, and curried hazelnuts
Wine: 10 Year Old Malmsey (Portugal)