This past weekend was Chris and my annual trip up to Maine to chill out with his family at a house they rent every summer. We used to take the trip by car, but for the past two years, we’ve been taking the quick 40 minute-airplane ride to Portland, followed by the 1.5 hour drive to Pemaquid. Yeahhhh, that’s all well and nice in theory… Quick comparison: 6 hour car ride vs. leaving for the airport at 8:30PM for a 10:30PM flight, just to find out that we’ve been delayed an hour… then an hour+ security line that somehow still left me feeling less-than-secure and actually thankful for the delay since we never would have made our flight had it been on time… then surprised with yet another delay once we made it to the terminal, where we caught a few cocktails before finding out that we could tack on yet another hour to our wait. Nice and tipsy, we finally boarded the plane, only to get delayed on the tarmac for another hour. Luckily, I fell asleep a little after midnight and woke up to find us landing on what MUST have been the shortest landing strip in history judging by the lurching halt that shook me back into awareness around 2:30 AM in the morning. Chris’s entire family had come to pick us up… but that was around 11:30 PM. They were still pretty chipper by the time we arrived and 6 of us piled into their SUV (seats 5) for the 1.5 hour drive to Pemaquid… in a downpour… with everyone exhausted. We probably all should have been frightened, but Chris and I were too tipsy and exhausted to care. At 4AM, we were just happy that we had a nice, warm bed to sleep until noon in. So let’s take the tally again: 6 hour car ride vs. 8 hour plane travel.
By my first basket of fried clams accompanied by a cup of fresh, homemade clam chowder, I could care less how I got to Maine. All I knew was that I was in Maine and I was going to take advantage of as many Maine-related calories as possible. And I don’t want fried clams UNLESS I’m in New England (northern Connecticut counts – especially if we’re at Flanders Fish Market). Even though it was monsooning outside, we all could care less, comforted by hot tea and mass quantities of carbs. By nightfall, the rain stopped just long enough for some grilled lamb, marinated by me in a rosemary-dijon sauce, and grilled-to-medium-rare delight by father-in-law. Of course, family-time always has complications and it’s always a little harder when you marry into family… think of experiencing all of your own family’s quirks for the first time and all at once as a fully formed, fully opinionated adult.
Luckily, Chris’s immediate family and I have definitely come to feel like real family and our choice moments are more amusing to us now than tear-filled. Unfortunately, I’m not quite there yet with Chris’s uncle, who was visiting from Paris. He and I (fueled by 4 bottles of wine) got into a heated “discussion” about his feelings on Food Technology. It went a little like this: he said, “I don’t think what YOU ‘do’ is actually cooking.” If you use any form of technology in the kitchen, he doesn’t consider it cooking… oh, that’s unless he uses that technology (fyi – he told me later that he had a Nespresso machine). He also thinks that if you are a chef (Michelin-starred or not) and use food technology or do any type of avant-garde cooking, that you can’t cook “simple” food. In fact, he doesn’t think Ferran Adrià can roast a chicken… Thank goodness for the wine and love of Chris’s family, because instead of going into a rage blackout, I tried to find humor in his antagonism (which for the record, was contradictory and hypocritical… but I’m over it, obviously).
Chris’s sister, Sophie, jumped to my defense and the conversation detoured into how her uncle had criticized her ratatouille (which he did again when she brought it up) and how he had once also told her that he didn’t want her to play bocce ball on his team because he didn’t want to lose… she was 7 at the time and the match was against her other uncle and brother… He didn’t remember the story, but clearly, she did. Actually, so did Chris for that matter, and he remembers very little outside of sailing rules and our anniversary (the latter because it’s engraved in his wedding ring). Luckily, that little gem of a story ceased our debating, had us laughing in no time, and we all had a final toast to family. As you get older, you start to realize that family is family and it’s more fun to argue with them than anyone else.
The next day was sunny and we filled it with activity to take advantage of the outdoors… and to maybe tire ourselves out enough so we didn’t have the energy for another debate later that night. All those lost calories had to be replaced, though, and I helped myself to blueberry & strawberry waffles, sausage, a few blueberry-infused beers (actually really amazing) chocolate doughnuts, another cup of clam chowder, 3 Pemaquid oysters, clam steamers, a softshell lobster, a cone of homemade butter pecan (with plenty of sass from the most bitter teenager to wield an ice cream scoop that I have ever seen), and a slice of carrot cake.
If you’ve never had softshell lobster (aka “shedder” or “peeler”) straight from a lobster coop before… Ok, so I hate having butter with my lobster. Lobster is so rich and decadent that the last thing it needs is to be coated in flavor-blocking butter. I know, lots of people love it, but I prefer my lobster dipped in a traditional Vietnamese mixture of lemon juice (when lime is unavailable), salt & pepper. These softshell lobsters, however, didn’t need a drop of ANYTHING. I literally ate the tender lobster meat straight out of the shell without one blessed condiment. It was so perfectly sweet and salty. I tried not to let a drop of the flavorful lobster jus go to waste either as I carefully broke my lobster apart and held each separated piece with the break upright so no jus would spill out. Then, I eagerly drank it like an athlete sucking down gatorade. Picture this: me hold up a lobster claw to my mouth, head tilted back, drinking juice out of it like I’m sucking on a sports bottle.
I can expertly take all the meat out of a lobster shell and leave it clean. This knowledge comes from YEARS of eating lobster with my parents, who made it every summer for my brother and I growing up. As far back as I can remember, my parents always steamed 2 lobster per person, even when we were just children. Lobster was a treat and when you get a treat, you indulge like there’s no tomorrow, or rather, like cholesterol doesn’t exist. And I love eating the lobster tomalley – the green stuff that’s caked in the body. Some people hate it and it’s supposed to be bad for you, but all I know is that it tastes SO good. It looks gross, but it has a great personality…
While I was digging into my lobster, I must have zoned out. I didn’t notice the MANY mosquitoes that were swarming around me (many of which got a nice taste of me seasoned with lobster jus), and I definitely didn’t realize that every time I cracked into my lobster, that it thanked me by spraying me with salty lobster liquid and white bits of albumen. Sophie looked at me, covered in lobster debris, and took a paper towel and gently tried to blot the lobster flotsam and jetsam off of me, as if she were a nurse blotting the brow of this lobster surgeon. I briefly looked up and realized what she was doing, but just shrugged and turned my attention back to my lobster before it got too cold.
Our Maine adventure was over too quickly and as we prepared to drive back to Portland (again in a downpour) to catch our flight, we found out that it had been cancelled. The last flight of the day… No worries, Chris’s brother, Alex, was going to drive back to Connecticut anyway, so we hitched a ride and ended up in Connecticut 7 hours later around midnight. Unfortunately, we missed the express train back to the city this morning, but waited on the platform, exhausted, for the next train to arrive. I could have flown to a foreign country with the time spent just trying to travel up and down the east coast, but I doubt that I would have had as good lobster or as blood-pumping discussion anywhere else. And throughout all the chaos, I didn’t rage blackout once… which must mean that my ongoing attempts to be a less-bad-person (vs. a fully good person – BOR-ing), are starting to work. Lobster and less rage. What more could you want from a long weekend?