Even when a writer is in book jail, or sweating over interminable edits, or wishing there were a nearby pub somewhere in the midst of rural Maine, meals are a necessity. True, we often eat at our desks, laboring over crumb-strewn keyboards that by the end of the book could be boiled for soup, but sometimes we need to stretch. We rise, see if we can still touch our toes, punch the air a few times to show who’s boss, and head for the kitchen. Is there anything to eat? Something quick, because the deadline looms? Something comforting because writing is stressful?
What are Maine Crime Writer’s go-to recipes when the body as well as the soul needs to be nourished?
Kate Flora: This really isn’t a summer recipe, it is more along the lines of quick fix comfort food. I scrub a potato and throw it in the microwave. While it is cooking, I cook some bacon in my trusty cast iron frying pam. I drain the bacon on a paper towel while I saute a large sweet onion in the bacon fat. When the potato is done, I chop it up and throw it in with the onion, cooking until it begins to get crisp and brown. Then I take it off the burner, top it with lots of shredded cheddar, crumble the bacon over it, and bake it in a hot oven for about 15 minutes.
You can add eggs, making it more of a frittata, or sprinkle it with chopped chives. Or basically whatever you want. Bottom line? This is decadent, delicious, and will send your cholesterol levels off the chart.
Lea Wait: Aunt Nettie, in my Shadows series, is a wonderful, traditional Maine, cook. Here’s her recipe for Blueberry Cake with Lemon Sauce, a recipe I learned from my grandmother.
Ingredients for Cake: 1/3 cup room temperature butter, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 2 room temperature eggs, 1/2 cup milk, 1 1/4 cups flour. 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 2+ cups wild blueberries mixed with 1/2 cup flour. Butter sheet cake pan or two 8-inch cake pans. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Cream together butter and sugar. Beat eggs, and add to creamed mixture. Add vanilla and milk. Stir. Then add flour, salt and baking powder. Pour into prepared pan(s) and bake 20-25 minutes, until toothpick inserted in middle of cakes comes out clean. Cool. Cut in squares and pour lemon sauce on top when served.
Lemon Sauce: 1 1/2 cups sugar, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 2 cups boiling water, 4 tablespoons butter. juice of 1 lemon, pinch of salt and pinch of nutmeg. Mix sugar and cornstarch. Gradually add boiling water. Boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add lemon juice, butter, nutmeg and salt. Stir well. Pour over individual pieces f blueberry cake. Sauce may be served hot or cold; refrigerated, it will keep for several days and may be reheated. (Aunt Nettie and my grandmother preferred it warm.)
John Clark: We don’t have a particular recipe to pass on, but with two big gardens, making supper is often a matter of what’s ripe. Right now, we’re awash in yellow cherry tomatoes, striped Armenian cukes, leaf lettuce, cauliflower, more broccoli than we know what to do with, summer squash, potatoes and rainbow chard. These guarantee a fresh salad almost every night as well as creamy soups and stir fries.
Even more satisfying are daily fruit smoothies. I’m blending whatever fruit is ready with some store bought varieties. Thus far they’ve included wild blueberries, tart cherries, three varieties of raspberries and blackberries. These get blended with grapes, nectarines, plums, peaches, and bananas. A little half and half, plus low fat vanilla yogurt and Voila! Instant decadence. Yesterday I made just over a gallon of cider from the Macintosh drops down back. This weekend, I’ll do the same with apples from two other trees.
Maureen Milliken: I’m half Italian, so “comfort food” is redundant. I’ve had a crazy summer, and spend a lot of time in a co-working space or at the USM library working, which means lots of sandwiches from home or spending money I don’t have on local fare.
My go-to breakfast though is something my mom always used to eat when I was a kid and it grossed me out. Now I can’t start the morning without it. She used to do it on wheat bread (I think), but I take a couple Eggo multi-grain waffles, toast them, spread them with ricotta cheese (whole milk, naturally), top that with wild Maine blueberries, a little pinch of brown sugar and some cinnamon, bake it in the oven at 420 degrees for about five minutes. Best breakfast ever and tastes great with my morning French press pot of Green Mountain Dark Magic coffee.
I’ve also been eating way too much Gifford’s ice cream.
I also have a quick summer Maine food story while I have your ear.
I am not a fan of lobster. Not at all, they look creepy, it’s too much work for the amount of food, and I always feel like I can see the look of accusation and dismay at being boiled alive in their beady little eyes as they sit on the plate.
But I’m not here to bury lobster, but to praise it.
My cousin, Jean, her husband Simon, and their kids Christian and James were visiting from Tanzania recently. We took them to Mom’s favorite restaurant, the Good Table in Cape Elizabeth. The boys insisted on ordering lobster, which they’d never had.
They loved it and had a ball. It’s a good thing my sister Liz was there, because she was the only one in our party of nine who knew the proper way to crack that baby open.
By the way, I also made them a mean blueberry and strawberry cobbler, topped with Gifford’s vanilla ice cream.
It’s Maine, it’s summer. Mangia.
Susan Vaughan: Summer in Maine means to me all things blueberry. Blueberries on cereal, blueberry pancakes, even blueberries by the spoonful.
But I’m sharing here my recipe for Blueberry Nut Dessert. For those allergic to nuts, simply skip them. This is a super easy recipe that can also be made with apples, but takes a tad longer to bake.
Sprinkle in buttered 9-inch pie pan 1 1/2 to 2 cups berries, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and a pinch of cinnamon. Combine 1 egg, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup flour, 1/3 cup melted butter, and 1/3 to 1/2 cup chopped nuts. Spread the egg mixture over the berries. Bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes and serve with whipping cream or ice cream.
Bruce Robert Coffin: You might be surprised to learn that I actually enjoy cooking. Unfortunately the only things I like to create are cold weather entrees like cheesecakes and homemade spaghetti sauce with fresh tomatoes and garlic. But since this is summer and no one is ready to utter the W word just yet, let’s stick to something I do enjoy eating during the warm weather. Lobster! More specifically, lobster rolls. And where does a guy from Maine go to satisfy his craving for the crustaceans from the deep? Why Red’s Eats in Wiscasset of course! A soft slightly toasted roll overflowing with meaty lobstery goodness. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice over it. Mmm. I’ll save you a place in line!
Brenda Buchanan here, with a suggestion to try one of my summer faves—tabouli.
I don’t tend to follow recipes in a formal way, but the derivation here is my old friend, the Moosewood Cookbook.
Use your own instincts on the relative amounts of each ingredient. Personally, I use a heavy hand with the parsley, lemon and mint.
Here goes: Put a cup of coarse bulghur into a good-sized glass bowl. Pour in a cup and a half of boiling water. Then set a plate on top of the bowl for about a half hour to let the bulghur absorb the water. Then chop a big bunch of parsley, or better yet, throw it in the food processor and give it a good whirl. I like my tabouli parsley-forward, so I’m talking two or three bunches of the size you would buy at the supermarket if you don’t grow your own.
Do the same chopping ritual with a generous handful of mint leaves, and three or four cloves of garlic. When the bulghur has absorbed the water, squeeze the juice of three or more lemons over it, and add about 1/4 cup of good olive oil. Grind some black pepper over this and add some sea salt.
Toss with the parsley/mint/garlic. Add a bunch of halved cherry tomatoes, some crumbled feta, nice olives and a can of rinsed garbanzo beans. This really works as a side dish to grilled lamb, but dances well with chicken and salmon, too. And it is perfectly fine all by itself.
Jessie: This is something fast and easy for which I almost always have the ingredients on hand and which tastes great hot or at room temperature. I grab a bag of chopped, washed and ready to cook kale and I toss it into a large pan with a bit of olive oil. As soon as it turns bright green and wilts I add a large, rinsed and drained can of kidney beans. As soon as those are heated through I crumble on a generous helping of feta cheese and a few lasings of Sriracha sauce. Delicious for any meal in any season!