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In Maine, Fresh Air, Fresh Food Give Fresh Perspective

A fish taco from Nebo Lodge. Credit: Kathy Gunst

A fish taco from Nebo Lodge. Credit: Kathy Gunst

It wasn’t until we got off the ferry on North Haven, Maine, and started to move on island time that I realized just how badly we needed this break.

North Haven is tiny — roughly 12 miles long and 3 miles wide. It is situated in Penobscot Bay an hour and 10 minute ferry ride (and a mere 12 miles) off the coast of Rockland, Maine.

Our room at Nebo Lodge wasn’t quite ready, so we headed to one of the many beaches on the north side of the island.

Small-town Maine makes everyone feel welcome

North Haven is a place where everyone who drives, walks or bikes by waves hello when you pass on the road. And you wave back. It’s a place with public-access trails across someone’s gorgeous field where you are welcome to park and hike the mowed trail and climb down the ladder onto the secluded beach facing Camden Hills. It’s a place where you won’t see another living soul in sight when you reach the beach. Instead, you share the beach with 10,000 rocks (Maine’s famed rocky shoreline), two yellow kayaks moored to a tree and many seagulls.

A long swim (yes, the water is icy) woke me up and made me feel so good I just kept swimming. Finally, I headed back to my towel to join my husband, and we fell into a deep sleep. Not even the annoying flies or brisk ocean breeze could wake us.

But when I woke and saw where we were (and did an internal check to see how good I felt), I couldn’t believe it was the same day, the same week or even the same month as the one I woke up to this morning.

We stopped in at the North Haven Oyster Co., but no oysters were to be had because of heavy rains. Try tomorrow, said the oysterman, who was slumped in an old chair smoking a cigarette looking like he didn’t have a care in the world.

When we checked in to Nebo Lodge, our home for the next two days, there was freshly made iced tea with lemon and fresh mint leaves as well as paper thin, almost lacy chocolate chip cookies waiting for us. Suddenly, still in my not-quite-dry bathing suit, I realized we were on vacation.

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A skewer of swordfish and grilled bread on a bed of Israeli couscous. Credit: Kathy Gunst

Nebo Lodge is owned by Chellie Pingree, who represents Maine’s 1st District in the U.S. House of Representatives. She’s a woman who fights hard to keep Maine’s food and farming traditions alive, among other important causes. She and daughter Hannah Pingree (also a politician) own the inn. Amanda Hallowell is the talented chef. The food comes from nearby Turner Farm — the island farm Pingree and her husband, Donald Sussman, own — where meat, vegetables, dairy and spectacular flowers are raised.

That night at dinner, at tables decorated with vintage flowered cloth tablecloths and tiny vases full of garden flowers, we sat outside on the porch, no mosquitoes biting our ankles, and started with seared padron peppers in olive oil and Maine sea salt — blistering hot and perfectly cooked. I also rolled up and devoured a Peking duck wrap, with house-pickled radishes, cucumbers and fabulous sticky rice and Sriracha. The harpooned swordfish came on a skewer with chunks of grilled bread on a bed of Israeli couscous. House-made ice cream with a salted caramel sauce ended the meal.

The next morning, we dined on fresh blueberry muffins, Turner Farm yogurt, cereals and fruit. A farm-fresh egg, yolk bright as a garden sunflower, was served with Turner Farm lamb sausage and house-made bread.

Over the next two days, we biked, swam, napped. We ate chowder and lobster rolls, fish sandwiches and ice cream cones. Two days of letting go, Maine style.

By the time we were on the ferry to return home, we were holding hands and smiling, ready to get back to whatever awaited us.

Maine Lobster Roll

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 13 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 2 Lobster Rolls

A classic Maine lobster roll contains fresh lobster meat tossed with mayonnaise and, sometimes, finely chopped celery. That’s it. The salad is stuffed into a buttered and grilled hot dog roll. You can do it the old-time Mainer way, but I happen to like my (slightly yuppie) version better, combining fresh-cooked lobster meat with just a touch of mayonnaise spiked with lemon juice, lemon zest, chives and scallions. And I like serving it on a piece of buttered, grilled baguette because I love the crunch and texture of French bread with the tender lobster meat.

Ingredients

  • 2 one-pound lobsters, or 1 cup cooked lobster meat
  • 1½ to 2 tablespoons mayonnaise (Use 2 tablespoons if you like it creamy, 1½ tablespoons if you like it less creamy.)
  • 1½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon very finely chopped scallions
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 three-inch pieces of baguette or crispy bread, or two hot dog rolls

Directions

  1. Fill a large pot with about 2 to 3 inches water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the lobsters, shell side down, cover and cook for about 11 to 13 minutes, or until a leg pulls out of the body easily. Remove from the boiling water and let cool.
  2. Separate the tail from the body. Using a fork, remove the tail meat from the tail. Crack the claws and remove the meat. Enjoy the bodies. Cut the tail in half lengthwise and remove the thin black vein. Coarsely chop the tail and claw meat and set aside.
  3. In a bowl, mix the mayonnaise, lemon juice, zest, chives, scallions and pepper to taste. Fold in the lobster meat. You can make the lobster salad several hours ahead of time, but not more than three to four hours. Cover and refrigerate.
  4. In a skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Cut the baguette pieces in half lengthwise and brown the inside of the bread in the melted butter until it just begins to turn golden brown. Alternately, melt the butter and brown the hot dog rolls until they begin to turn a golden brown, flipping them over so they get toasted and buttery on both sides.
  5. Divide the lobster mixture between the bread or the rolls.

Notes

To add more crunch or flavor to the lobster salad, you can also add the following: 1 tablespoon drained capers; 2 tablespoons finely chopped celery; lime juice and zest, instead of lemon; buttery, tender lettuce leaves; slices of ripe tomato; a strip of cooked country-style bacon; thin slices of buttery avocado; or very thin slices of red onion.

Main photo: A fish taco from Nebo Lodge. Credit: Kathy Gunst



Kathy Gunst is a James Beard award winning food journalist. She is the Resident Chef for NPR's Here and Now, heard on more than 450 public radio stations, and the author of 15 cookbooks. Based in southern Maine, she teaches food writing and cooking all over the country. 'Soup Swap: Comforting Recipes to Make and Share' from Chronicle Books is her latest cookbook.

 

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