Half my growing area every season is given over to the cultivation of garlic (allium sativum). I plant mine in compost enriched raised beds and I prefer the stiff neck type. I enjoy the variety MUSIC, which is both sharp and mild and has about four large cloves in each head of garlic, making it easy to use.
Garlic, like all of the allium family are essentially bulbs. Like a tulip bulb, garlic is planted in the fall at a depth of about 3 to 4 inches and 5 to 6 inches apart. I then cover the garlic beds with a thick layer of straw to protect them from the winter cold as well as the thaws.
It’s always encouraging to see the first green shoots of garlic poke forth before most anything else in Springtime.
When I’m convinced that the weather has warmed and settled, off comes the straw and the garlic shoots quickly thicken. We enjoy using the young, or green, garlic in stir frys and other preparations.
About mid-June it’s time to cut off the curly scapes, which resemble goosenecks. These would develop into a blossom if not cut. The idea is to send the energy of the growing plant downwards to increase the size of the bulb, not divert it upward into flowers and seeds.
About the third week of July, it’s time to pull the garlic out and let it dry in an airy place, eventually clipping the stem off for storage. The fun of growing your own garlic and superior flavor far exceed anything grown commercially
Garlic may be used fresh, cooked, stored, pickled or fermented. Black garlic, which is fermented, and essential in Korean cuisine, is gaining in popularity for reasons of unique umami flavors and health benefits.
Try something unique and satisfying and try planting some garlic yourself this Autumn! You’ll be glad you did.
It’s a Maine tradition that marks the start of the summer season with more. emphasis than the Memorial Day parade.
Our gardens deliver the first peas and new potatoes in early July.. Wonderful Atlantic salmon its available in the market.
Putting it all together in one spectacular meal is a family celebration, with junior shelling the peas, Granddad digging the potatoes and Mother finding the nicest fresh filet of salmon.
We like to fire up the grill, season the fish and place on a new cedar shingle. It all goes on the grill, the cedar burning around the edges and giving the fish a bit of smoke. Yep. Its really works! Quite delicious too.
Add some Romesco sauce …you can fire grill the red peppers for this while the grill is on…. (recipe in Seasonal Recipes) and a handful of fresh chopped dill from the garden.
You’ve got a” summer in Maine “ treat that screams “CELEBRATE SUMMER!”And we will, if it ever stops raining!
It’s early June and I’ve been eating my fresh asparagus for about two weeks. My asparagus bed is now 12 years old. I never tire of it, steamed, blanched or roasted…pureed into a soup or on an Eggs Benedict.
Asparagus as we know it is the sprout of the Asparagus Officinalis, sometimes affectionately called sparrow grass. As with all culinary sprouts (think Belgian endive), this plant is all about the root system. The larger the root system the more it sprouts and produces the stalk we know and love. If left untended, the stalk grows and ferns out, creating a beautiful hedge and small red berries or seeds. Leaving it to grow is a surefire way to increase production for next season.
Growing asparagus requires a lot of preparation. It’s “like digging a grave” as an old and wise woman once said.” You dig a trench, add a lot of organic material, lay in your root bundles, spreading them out for best effect and then wait for a few years. Water, water, water. Seriously. At first all you’ll get is slender shoots, which you leave alone, but as the root systems develop that’s when the magic happens. It’s a long wait, then a short season. It’s no wonder that asparagus is known as a luxury!
Considered a delicacy in many cultures, Spargle, or a type of blanched, white asparagus is widely celebrated throughout Europe… especially in Germany. Festivals are held just to exalt the seasonal vegetable, which is often served topped with Hollandaise, with buttered boiled potatoes and cured ham. And beer… always good beer or a dry white wine such as a German Kabinett.
It is cooked and eaten in much the same way and it’s flavor is similar to the green, if not slightly more bitter. Sometimes with the fatter spears, the bottom part of the stalk is peeled and naturally there is a special tool for this. IF one cannot be found a common vegetable peeler will do.
Now, asparagus is not just a beautiful vegetable and plant. It is a powerhouse of nutrition offering vitamins A, C , Folic acid and plenty of fiber. Honestly, it always smells like it’s flushing something evil out of me, so I hope it is!
Try fresh poached asparagus in season on a smoked salmon Eggs Benedict topped with a tarragon flecked homemade Hollandaise. You can find this recipe under my seasonal recipe blog.
It’s a great reason to get up on a Sunday morning!
These beautiful spring days have us out and about in the back woods of Maine enjoying the wonders of nature. And perhaps foraging.
If you’re lucky and know a little bit about foraging, you may be able to identify a low growing, broad leafed plant, the ramp, a member of the onion or allium family. Sporting just a few broad green leaves and a white or reddish stem, the taste is reminiscent of garlic and onion.. but somehow more sublime. Their taste raw is far more pungent than when cooked. The ramp stands in nicely in quiche , pesto or a compound butter. Sometimes you can spot them in a Farmer’s market. Or a Trader Joes, which its where I got the ramps I used to start my own bed of them! They cannot be farmed, so they are a true wild food .
Ramps are not as prolific in the wild in Maine as they once were. In fact, they’re now protected. So it’s important to note that when foraging anything, never take it all. If we want all the gifts of the woods in the beautiful State of Maine to continue to thrive, we must never be greedy. Conservation begins with every foraging event. Take care to not harvest the root of the plant, but cut some of the leaves to maintain the plants viability.
Here’s the good news… ramps are easy to grow IF you happen to have a spot with fertile, moist soil near a stream lined, with hardwood trees. My wild ramps are coming along splendidly after two years of uninterrupted growth, as you can see in the picture. Once they flower, the leaves disappear and they’re harder for a novice to ID.
Because I am obsessed with the ramp’s flavor, and yet am loathe to use mine fully, I take just one leaf per plant to make my friend Charlotte Davenhill’s famous salted ramp butter. The recipe may be seen on our Seasonal Recipes section of this website.
A crusty loaf of bread and fresh ramp butter … Absolutely decadent.
We flew into Larnaca. Rhymes with Narnia and it was something like a fantasy world at first. From Lanaca on the East side of the island we travelled West to Kouklia where we were hosted by a charming couple who served as our tour guides to historical digs, museums, craft markets, the most wonderfully ’typical” restaurants and tavernas and wineries as well as beaches and sites of distinction.
Talking about wine, the volcanic nature of the soil here makes for some delicious drinking ( and beautiful black sand beaches!) from crisp whites, to pleasing roses to a spectrum of delightfully different and distinctive reds. Grapes that are typical to Cypriot wines include Maratheftiko, Mavro,and Commandaria for reds. For whites Xinisteri may be the most popular. Grand dads, for the most part, gather around a strong glass of OUZO , an aperitif made from the fennel plant.
In a wet spring, such as we experienced in March, the countryside explodes with a carpet of wildflowers….Cupid’s Dart, Nigella, Tulips, Chrysantheum, Cyclamen, Fennel, Rosemary , Thyme and a million different flowers I have no name for….all blooming freely and making the tastiest fodder for the local sheep, goats and cows. You can taste it in the cheeses, honey and yoghurt.
Cyprus is a bread basket, a self sustaining island that does not need to import much so, in fact, it offers beautiful and well priced meats, cereals, dairy, fruit and produce all from “right here.” There is an abundance of fresh and farmed fish, including sea bass and sea bream, calamari and octopus . We enjoyed these offerings in a variety of different preparations. Outdoor grilling is great fun and perfect for whole fish stuffed with lemon and herbs.
Because of the heat of the summer, bread, pastries and long cooked stews (like the famous Kleftiko) are often cooked outside of the home in clay ovens sometimes called Tandoors. Sometimes a special earthenware vessel , or tava, is used for long cooking. It’s a type of red ware.used since ancient times in Cyprus. As a historical aside, the name Kleftiko is rooted in the the word KLEPHT, which means stolen…the word kleptomaniac comes from this word. The mountain rebels from the Greek Revolution or Klephts often cooked their food underground to prevent it form either being stolen or lets the smoke and steam give away their strategic positions.
Pastries, too many to discuss here but were incredibly different and delicious, often made with their world famous Cypriot honey. Oranges also factor into the pastry lineup….we found one dessert made with phyllo dough, oranges and honey for the win! Citrus was growing everywhere and we even spend a day making a bitter orange marmalade.
Dairy: who knew that ice cream was a “thing” in Cyprus? Because of the sweltering summers, it has gotten to be incredibly popular over the last 100 years and unusually rich, a favorite with street vendors, of which there are many. Flavors can be unique too from feta/watermelon to mastic, which is a flavor made from a resin and gently reminiscent of spruce.
Textile arts are prevalent there with weavings and home made clothes abounding. Folkloric wood carved furnishings, sometimes painted or distressed continue being crafted today. Pottery making has been exalted since ancient times and continues to this day.
If you enjoy the abundance of a tropical garden, exuberantly fresh produce and walking into a grocery store smelling of hot, fresh breads and pastry, a visit to Cyprus may be for you. The food and wine is incredible, the people are lovely and if you can’t speak Greek, most everyone will speak English. Costs are relatively low and the weather is nice with two growing seasons. So much to see and do and Spring is the perfect time to do it.
I was fortunate to travel to Peru in the mid 70’s when it was fairly off the beaten track.
Lima was our first stop after flying in over the spectacular Nasca ruins, which really do beg the question concerning extra terrestrial life. Enourmous works of inspired art appearing to the airplane viewer.The ultimate goal was Machu Pichu, but it became more about holding down any food rather than eating it there due to altitude sickness, despite coca tea!
Lima was a rainbow from the very wealthy neighborhoods , like Mira Flores, to the barrios and everything in between. The street foods were amazing and varied from colorful “to-go” dishes featuring beets and avocado, to quinoa preparations( often found in graves as food for the afterlife) interesting drinks including maca ( or Peruvian Ginseng) to Pisco Sours.
Let’s talk about Pisco Sours, the national drink, a white brandy. Pisco is a study in itself. Like wine different kinds present different features. It can be smooth and floral …..or a lot rougher in it’s cheaper forms.
We frequented Lima’s Hotel Boulevard , a grand dining room, in a grand hotel where lunch was an event. There I learned to love conchitas. While conchita means shell in Spanish, these tasty local scallops were served barley broiled in their shells ,with their roe, and dressed with lime and hot peppers, sometimes parmesan cheese.
But my biggest infatuation was with SEVICHE. In Maine , in the winter, our local sea scallops are wonderful and Seviche is a fresh and lean way to enjoy them.
Please see our SEASONAL RECIPE for one of my favorite variations.
Wanna get Scrod? Well, you could at Durgin- Park in Boston’s Faneuil Hall.
Or at least you could while it was open. It closed 3 years ago at the age of 193!
You could also get abused by their surly waitresses…famous for it and seemingly having some fun with it too. Call them terribly rude, but they have a reputation to uphold!
The restaurant began in 1827 as a small dining room in a market house near the waterfront. It grew over the years becoming more recently ,a multi-level extravaganza featuring the Gaslight Bar and a comedy club. It operated continuously until the pandemic did it in .It was a hallmark of traditional Yankee cooking.
Once a “must-see” on any tour of Boston, and a long time family favorite of tourists and many local families alike including the Boston Cabots, it sported a menu unique both in it’s inclusiveness and in it’s adherence to tradition. They’ve enjoyed a fiercely devoted following over the generations for their Yankee cooking and large portions.
Known initially as a seafood restaurant , they also featured nice hand cut steaks, dry-aged prime rib and New England favorites such as Yankee Pot Roast,corn bread and baked beans. Their Indian pudding was scrumptious and practically unchanged since Colonial times, except for the vanilla ice cream.
Of course there was lobster and all manner of seafood…but the only nod to a vegetarian was called humorously “The Bale Of Hay”. A vegetarian at the time of my visit I had to laugh…four different vegetables and a potato made up the plate. But kudos to them for offering it. It wasn’t notable but it wasn’t bad.
The property is now owned by a restaurant group and there is talk of a re-opening using some of their original staff …fingers crossed for another round of good natured abuse and fresh fish.
Now that my father has passed, I have to dig a little deeper for fans of our family fruitcake, he and I loved it the best. I suppose it’s almost time to Kick the Fruitcake!
Every year I’d make him a couple of large ones for Christmas, heavy with rum and studded with all manner of fruits and nuts
I think this family tradition all started with my Great Aunt Marie, who was Austrian and a fantastic baker. She was a sister of my Grand dad’s on my father’s side and, boy, did they love good food!
Dad used to tell us stories of living as a boy in Europe. He loved the sour cherry pies, and farm fresh food, the big vegetable garden at the house where he grew up. This house was in a village near the edge of a forest in Austria. He loved to tell of the mornings he got lucky and was able to hop on the back rail of a horse drawn sleigh, bells jingling, to get him to school on time. He was perennially late and that never changed. But he was never later to dinner.
Both his Mother and Aunt were terrific cooks and bakers. Often Aunt Marie would bake well ahead for the holidays and bury her fruitcakes in powdered sugar until the proper day arrived. They do keep very well, being well imbibed with spirits and stay surprisingly moist for a long period of time. They were savored judiciously due to their richness. She also made a special pepper cookie called Pfeffernuise, literally “pepper nuts” which us kids loved to dunk when she made them for us a generation later. Hard as rocks, but full of flavor!
My Dad’s Mom,who loved to visit me in Maine, used to describe my 1970’s lifestyle as similar to the way they lived back then. She described Christmas in Austria with a deep dark forest, hooting owls in snowy fir trees, the sound of snow sliding of their peaked metal roof and chickens to feed. The prized Christmas goose for the table was her domain. Her job was to catch and kill it and prepare it for roasting. She made her own feather beds.
The picture I still have in my mind is chalet-like, one of extreme coziness: prosperity, honest work, a full larder and a beloved dog by a roaring fire.
My father kept the memories of these women and this life alive and passed them on to me, which is why I’ll make fruitcake anyway this season…for remembrance.
Mingle the bold colors and 1980’s vibe of the past with a eco-sensibilities and the concern for sustainability so prevalent with today’s couples and you’re on trend for this season and next. Maybe GREEN is the new and predominant color?
Here at Laura Cabot Catering, we enjoy allowing the season’s bounty to drive a menu. What ingredients are “of the moment”? What feels appropriate to the time, occasion and place? Are their elements of shared experiences or travel the wedding couple would like to employ? How can we infuse a menu with terroir, or a real feel of the land and or sea?
Certainly wine is known for terroir, but how about oysters, for instance. The waters which sustain them also give them unique mineralogy and flavor and here in Maine we are blessed with so many expert growers and sea farmers. I feel the same way about seaweed and use it judiciously in my cooking and presentation.
Along the same line, the carrots grown in my gardens taste much different that those from a different farm. Supporting our boutique farms is a passion of mine personally and I love to incorporate this into my wedding menus.
Speaking of trends, I have noticed discussions on the re-emergence of bows in wedding couture, but unless we’re discussing farfalle pasta I am not including them in the menu conversation. I do see a renewed uptick of interest in grazing tables. Super sized and elaborate charcuterie boards with antipasti elements are a specialty here at Laura Cabot Catering. Also, small plates are seeing a comeback and are such a fun way to taste many things as well as mingle without getting overly full.
For my ideas on a larger scale crowd pleasing menu that checks all the boxes, I’ll use an example of a wildly popular menu we presented at a Fall island wedding event this past season. It features a raw bar with Islesboro oysters and Gulf shrimp representing the two domiciles of this particular family I was serving . We also had charcuterie as a stationed appetizer.
Passed items were varied to include some seasonal aspects (butternut, late season spinach) as well as dietary concerns such as Veganism and an allergy to tree nuts.
We offered a plated salad course, which served to upscale “the feel” of more service with an eye to budget and coupled that with rustic breads and butter, always a good way to “break the ice” with dining table companions.
The buffet, which was a two sided affair to move the crowd gracefully, offered three entrees, a bespoke heritage herbed pork loin roast with Demi glace and morels, an “airline” chicken preparation, topped with Caponata (optional) and a vegetarian, gluten free and vegan Ratatouille (Parmesan on the side). Sides were a mixed rice pilaf, local parsley potato and a medley of seasonal farm vegetables. I find that creative and hearty side dishes are one way to satisfy many different diets and tastes and preferences. We’ve also deliberately moved to the use of very good oils for cooking and finishing our foods as another way to please our very discriminating clientele.
Although this next season marks our fortieth at Laura Cabot Catering, every season brings it’s lessons, trends, challenges and triumphs. And we love every bit of it and all the wonderful families we have yet to serve.
“Imagine there’s no hunger. It’s easy if you try.”
John Lennon wrote those words decades ago. It’s more relevant now than ever. The gap between those who have and those who have not has never been greater. Climate change is only making it worse, the feeling is urgent. These changing times are wreaking havoc in so many fragile communities and food systems all over the world.
I’m a believer in positive thinking and envisioning our blue planet as an ecosystem that can benefit from elevated intention and, of course, deliberate and focused action. Gratitude has a place in this. Being grateful not only helps those around you to feel love, it creates abundance. Creative thinking will find the solutions for hunger and replace it with the mindset of abundance and the systems needed to support this.
Love makes a difference and can guide our actions. Raising vibration sounds scarily hokey, but I think it works. This means taking the high road mentally and spiritually and it’s not always easy. It begins at home and with ourselves in the most mundane of ways. We can get snagged and stuck in all manner of negativity…until we see it for what it is…then, and only then, can we affect change.
Once we know we’re in a neutral place, rather than a loaded one, we’re free. Free to act responsibly, creatively and to serve others. Karma Yoga. Free to feel deeply, create deeply and connect deeply with others. Which ultimately serves us and our relationships pretty well. It’s then easy to see how interconnected we all are. That feeling of connection is something I believe we all seek. It is understanding, tolerance, happiness, contentment and satisfaction over fear, illness and separation.
If everyone could do this, we’d all be making better decisions in our microcosm and in our larger world, our macrocosm . We’d realize the action, the pathway, which is uniquely ours to effect goodness. Why not seek out a charitable organization that truly works for people in need rather than it’s administration and donate? There are exhaustive lists available on the better ones to choose. Shine a light on an issue near to your heart, be it the ocean or the air, hunger in Afghanistan, or in your community. Dance with children or create a reading circle for elders, learn about hospice….or even learn to meditate!
May your winter and New Year be filled with crystalline clarity, love and grace.
Remember, a moment of stillness can be very illuminating!