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Musings on Marriage (and Meals)

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.

The Happy Couple

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:

Amuse
Korean BBQ Winter Point Oyster, lightly poached with basil oil, fried garlic and daikon
Wine: Brut Cava (Spain)

1st
Blue Fin Tuna Tartare with tomato water and tomatoes, black trumpet mushrooms, and fennel

2nd
Key Lime Cured Sardines with nasturtium, cucumber, radish, and olive oil ice cream
Wine: Albariño (Spain)

3rd
Cod Head Stew (cheek, throat, and tongue) with udon noodle, cipollini onion, and maitake mushroom
Wine: Versi Bianco (Italy)

4th
Second Change Farm’s Veal with wild mushrooms, potatoes, consummé, and kohlrabi
Wine: Pinot Noir (New Zealand)

5th
Late Harvest Strawberry Salad with spicy bell pepper granite, mint, and tarragon
Wine: Moscato (California)

6th
Banana Chicory Cake with warm chocolate panna cotta, mascarpone, and curried hazelnuts
Wine: 10 Year Old Malmsey (Portugal)

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Life is Good

My motto for the summer is “Life is Good”. For one, this simple motto is a basic truth that applies. For another, my weekend wardrobe features a variety of “Life is Good” T-shirts. I just love their cute designs and the sentiments.

With the unofficial start of summer, our frequent weekend destination is our lake cottage in Maine. Weekends have a busy, yet leisurely, agenda:

  • Waking up slowly with a book
  • Multiple walks with Bella (the dog)
  • A gardening project or two
  • Swimming, canoeing or kayaking, or all three
  • Lots of cooking
  • An outing for ice cream or a visit to a local farm stand or the lobster truck

We made it an extra-long weekend, going up for four days, three with perfect weather. On the cool and cloudy day, we made a trip into Portland, only half an hour away. I was craving the best French fries in the world at Duckfat. Plus, Portland is a great city to wander around.

Duckfat has gotten incredibly popular since our last visit. The wait was 45 minutes to eat inside. For the brave, there was no wait to eat outside. We weren’t dressed appropriately, but we also weren’t patient, and I couldn’t be deterred from my fries. We ate outside. The waitress was savvy and offered us hot drinks while we waited for our food. I had a duck confit panini, and Howard ordered a corned beef tongue Reuben. We shared a cone of frites (fried in duckfat, of course). I can’t say enough about how good those fries are. It was worth braving the elements to avoid the wait.

Other highlights of our Portland excursion were:

  • A visit to Rabelais, a unique cookbook store, both new and used. I was excited to find the book Good Meat by Deborah Krasner for sale. I had heard an interview with the author and knew this book was for us. This book is a wealth of information about sustainable meat, how to find it, how to buy it, and how to cook it. It’s now part of our library.
  • They weren’t sold out of Morning Buns at Standard Bakery, so we picked some up for the next day’s breakfast

As I said, the weekend’s objective is typically lots of relaxation with some projects and cooking mixed in. For a project, I tackled one of the front garden beds. I have a tendency to let flowers go a little wild, even when they don’t belong. I made good progress, in spite of the oppressive humidity and the mosquitoes and black flies. See:

Before

After

We also ate very well. I made two stand-out salads. I also found fiddleheads at the farmstand. The season is all but over, so this was a lucky break.

The first salad is a favorite spring-time potato salad, best served warm. It is a sort of mixture of potato salad with leeks vinaigrette. When asparagus is in season, it’s a must. I love the combination of the sharp tang of the mustard, the silky leeks, the grassy asparagus, and the earthy potatoes. The color is also a great green.

Potato Salad with Leeks and Asparagus
Adapted from this recipe from Food & Wine magazine
Serves 6

2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

1 lb red potatoes
½ lb asparagus,, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
2 leeks, cut in half lengthwise, then into 1-inch lengths (rinsed well)

In a jar, combine the mustard, vinegar, and oil. Shake well to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Scrub the potatoes, and pierce each one a few times with a fork. Place a steamer basket in a medium pot. Fill the pot with water, to just below the bottom of the basket. Place the potatoes in the basket. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and steam the potatoes for 30 minutes or until tender when pierced with a skewer.

At the same time, bring another pot of water to a boil. Cook the asparagus and leeks for 5 minutes. Drain and dry well on a clean dish towel. In a large bowl, toss vegetables with vinaigrette.

After potatoes are cooked, as soon as they are cool enough to handle, cut in half or quarters, then ½-inch slices. Pieces should be about 1 x 1 x ½ inches. Add to the vinaigrette and gently combine to coat with dressing. Adjust seasoning as needed.

Best served warm.

Howard had grilled some sweet Italian sausages, so I used one link in a Spanish-inspired rice salad. Short or medium-grain rice, like arborio, would have been even better, but my Maine pantry isn’t as well stocked. This could be a side dish, though we ate it as the main event for lunch one day.

Rice Salad with Spanish Flavors
Serves 4-6

1 cup long grain rice
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
¼ olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

1 link sweet Italian sausage, cut lengthwise into quarters, then ½-inch slices
½ cup roasted pepper strips
¼ cup chopped olives
¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

Cook the rice according to package instructions.

Add the oil and vinegar to a jar. Shake well until combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

When the rice is cooked, transfer to a large bowl. Gently toss warm rice with the vinaigrette and the remaining ingredients until well combined.

And, finally, the fiddleheads. These are a special treat, so they called for a simple preparation that wouldn’t overshadow the vegetal flavor of these ostrich fern sprouts. I just parboiled the fiddleheads, drained them and dried them, then did a quick sauté in with minced garlic. I find the flavor of fiddleheads to be mildly reminiscent of asparagus, but not exactly. If you’ve never had them before, I recommend that you look out for them next spring and try them!

Sauteed Fiddleheads
Serves 2

½ lb fiddleheads
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. In the meantime, trim off the base ends of the fiddleheads and rub off any brown membranes. When the water is boiling, add the fiddleheads and cook for 4 minutes. Drain and dry well on a clean dish towel. In a medium skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Add the fiddleheads, and cook until warmed through and just starting to brown, about 5 minutes.