Another Thanksgiving has passed, the snow in Maine came right on time. It’s been another moment of tough decision for people, making as yet a new variant of the Covid virus rocks our world. I chose to stay close, although I am longing for a feeling of connectedness with family.
I was fortunate to be invited to a small Friendsgiving in my neighborhood at Mike and Charlottes’ house.
My friend Charlotte and I are considered a couple of the better cooks in town, so it was indeed a feast for which we were all grateful. I brought the turkey, a locally raised gem…..and the gravy, green beans too. Charlotte made an oyster pan roast ( divine!), and lot of thoughtful side dishes.
Mike chose the wines for each course and we all made pies, a tart Tatin, custard, pumpkin and pecan rounded out the night. We ate and laughed until we all felt like footballs, finishing with a nice Port. We took time for Grace.
Honestly, although I missed my family and extended family of friends there is an abundance of goodness most everywhere in my life, and energy enough to help others in need, which is a year round opportunity, if we’re mindful enough to see it.
Let’s enter into this Holiday season with Yankee ingenuity, even if some store shelves are bare and gas costs more than we’d like it too, a mindful attitude, and full hearts for the many, many things that are right in our lives.
Stay safe and help others when opportunity presents.
In the wild world of catering, the summer catering season was the enthusiastic predecessor to the extended reality of the current covid surge. A few quick and hopeful months of thinking we could gather and celebrate “normally”. That maybe we’d seen the end of “this.”
At Laura Cabot Catering, we were fortunate to enjoy a full schedule these last few months, with a complement of different sorts of events, and many weddings. Eager brides and grooms gamely wearing their “Mr. and Mrs.” matching face masks. People tentatively in a group, revelry taking the edge off.
People hugged, then worried. Family-style dinner service was out of style. Our individual appetizer boxes became very popular. Buffets sported plexiglass sneeze guards and eco-ware took center stage as the washing up of china dishes became less popular and no one wanted to touch someone else’s glass. Branded masks became a thing and folks who had waited a year or more finally were able to have scaled back versions of their parties.
Now that the catering season in Maine is in the rear view mirror, and kids are back in schools where covid is alive and once again spreading, we have to wonder what the next season will bring.
If the number of inquiries pouring in is any indication, it will be rock and roll! We hope without face masks.
In the north country, spring foraging is one of life’s little pleasures.
The earliest greens that can be enjoyed come right out of the meadows, like early dandelion greens or from along Maine’s riverbanks. Now, per riverbanks,I’m talking about fiddleheads. Just after the dandelions go to bloom come fiddlehead ferns. Fiddleheads are the tightly furled shoot of the ostrich fern, reminiscent of the scroll on an instrument, are usually just right to harvest around Mother’s Day. At my restaurant, the Pine Cone Cafe, it was the most requested Mother’s Day treat and we always had it on our brunch menu in May as a rich quiche.
It’s important to be certain of a few things: One, make sure you have the right fern. The wrong one can make you sick. Two, be sure your harvest comes from a very clean area, waterside. There is no sense in eating wild food if it’s not from a clean area. Three, never take it all. We want to replenish the wild areas as the plants presence there serves many purposes, not just ours. Don’t trespass. Don’t eat this fern raw. All that said, fiddleheads have long been a part of a Maine spring and are good in stir fries, quiches, pickled, and so on.
Have ready one unbaked pie shell, your favorite recipe
2 tb soft butter
1-1/2 cup chopped white onion, pinch of salt
2 cups fiddleheads, cleaned of all brown papery stuff, washed twice, drained and steamed until bright
2 cups shredded farmhouse sharp cheddar
Salt, pepper and freshly ground nutmeg
6 eggs, beaten well
1-1/2 cup half and half or light cream
Make a custard of the beaten eggs and cream. Set aside.
Saute the onion until lightly browned, add salt , pepper and nutmeg to taste.
Toss with the cooled, cooked fiddleheads.
Pile into the uncooked pie shell, top with the cheese.
Pour the custard over all, don’t overfill if the custard is too generous. Dust lightly with paprika.
Bake at 350 degrees on a cookie sheet for about 40 minutes or until puffed and set in the center.
Let it rest for a half hour before slicing. Goes well with a crisp salad.
This is a little story about when I was six. My mother was a PA farm girl, studying for her nursing degree in Philadelphia, my Dad a city boy from Philly. He was recently out of the Army and at Temple University on the GI bill. When their worlds collided, they married. Back then there was a huge push towards something new, Suburbia!
My father bought into a brand new development called Cherry Hill, a sweet little house on a decent sized lot with lots of unspoiled woods and meadow around back. Formerly, and remnants still remain, it was rich farmland and horse country. The Garden State, right? We lived there until I graduated high school.
My early days were spent helping my Mother and Grandmother hang out laundry, iron dad’s white shirts, make mud pies and top them with flowers. I should have had an inkling then that food would be my passion.
When Granddad visited with Grandma the focus changed to foraging over housekeeping or making pies. “Hunting” for dandelions was what he called it. One fine spring day, much like this day in May, with Mother’s permission we set out the back door, down the hill to the creek, forged it and up the hill we went into a meadow. I remember it well, although it wasn’t long for this world, as it was earmarked to become a row of upscale track housing. Sadly, it was the last time I recall my grandfather too, as he got sick and passed away fairly soon after.
But then he was hale, handsome and hearty and hell bent on a sack of greens to bring home for my Grandmother, Laura’s hot dandelion greens with bacon. And at that time, the meadow, ringed with old growth trees, was awash in daisies in bud and loads of dandelions before their flowers showed.
Grandpa George showed me how to identify the greens. With his sharp jack knife, he’d pop them out of the ground by the root, also being good to eat, clean them in the field so as not to bring dirt into the kitchen… and Grandma did the rest. I remember those greens done up Pennsylvania Dutch style, cooked until bright green, then dressed with a sharp hot bacon vinaigrette. Grandma called them a Spring tonic.
It was an acquired taste but we loved everything about cooking something we’d “hunted” for… and we still do.
Imagine yourself in Paris on an early spring day, it’s drizzling and the streets are slick with a warm rain…the kind of rain that gentles spring flowers to pop into view. The trees are just greening, small leaves unfurling. You’re on the street, looking at maps with a few student/friends. You’re all seeking a culinary adventure. It’s mid-day and everyone’s hungry.
I was a culinary student at La Varenne in the early 1990’s, one of just a few women in the class. The women in training together became fiercely close as a way of combatting the overwhelmingly male atmosphere. We were hell bent on our success and on wringing the most out of our time in an eternal city. Especially in the realm of culinary experience.
Imagine that one of you has “heard of a place” …it’s been so many years that I now can’t recall the name of it. We strike out to find it. We arrive, the restaurant is gilded in a Belle Epoque way, yet seems acessable and full of diners. There are cute older couples intent on their meals and each other. Fancy ladies with their little dogs….formidable looking waiters who have made a career of this. We’re seated, it’s a miracle. Whoa, looks like we’re going to spend some money but it’s going to be memorable.
We ordered Cremant and a seafood tower, way before they were hip. One friend had a Salad Riche with foil gras and spring greens, heaven on a plate! Another, a lamb stew with spring onions, while a potted canard was another excellent choice. I had Lapin, or the rabbit, presented stewed in the style of a recipe I’ve shared, (See Seasonal Recipes – Lapin a la Moutarde) with turned vegetables (French kitchen “busy work”), young carrots and green chives. A perfect blend of warming and spring thinking.
Ah, April in Paris… a student then, and really, still a student of life.
It’s tradition to say Rabbit, Rabbit at the beginning of each month. I am not sure why.
But, truly in the springtime, a rabbit fricassee over wide noodles with a touch of woodland or garden herbs and grainy mustard transports me to in Paris in April.
Rabbit hasn’t caught on in popularity in America like in France. It tasted mild, much the same as poultry. Honestly, cutting up a rabbit is not harder than cutting up a chicken, once you get over the fact that it’s a rabbit. The technique is much the same: dredging in seasoned flour, a little sautéed shallot, turn once when brown, remove meat and deglaze with white wine, mustard and heavy cream or creme fraiche. Add in fresh chopped thyme, ramps or rosemary at the end to keep it bright.
Served over wide noodles with a big salad, one couldn’t ask for more on a blustery early spring day….for lunch, at a bistro in Paris!
Here is a recipe we prepared when I was a student at La Varenne, in Burgundy,France:
Lapin a la Moutarde
1 small, dressed rabbit, cut into 8 pieces.
Flour, salt and pepper…a little paprika for color
1/2 cup avocado oil
Combine the flour and seasonings, Dredge the rabbit in the flour and set aside. Heat the oil on a medium heat.
1 cup, chopped shallot
2 cups dry white wine, 2 cups rich chicken broth
1 TB whole grain mustard, 2 fresh thyme springs and fresh rosemary or chopped ramps or chives, added last..
1 pound of wide egg noodles, cooked al dente. Keep warm.
Fry the rabbit in medium hot oil, turning once until just cooked through, salt lightly, and set to drain on paper towels.
Pour off most of the oil, and sauté the shallot in the same pan, deglaze with wine and broth, check seasonings. Add the mustard and creme fraiche or heavy cream, and place rabbit back into the pan, cook covered over a low heat for 45 minutes to an hour. Stir occasionally and add more broth if it seems to need it.
When it’s time to serve, choose an impressive platter (make it warm). Add the noodles and top with the rabbit pieces. Taste the gravy and add more creme fraiche and the herbs… give it a stir and pour over the rabbit and noodles. I add even more spring chives and their deconstructed blossoms to the top, to garnish.
Choose a crisp, white Burgundy and enjoy a hearty lunch with friends. Is that the Eiffel Tower I see?