It was quiet when we woke up this morning. Snow quiet. Over night, we received a couple of inches of snow on top of the previous few from the other day. Snow acts as muffler and creates a calm, especially on the weekend when the concern about a nasty work commute isn’t there. Unfortunately, snow gets a bum rap; it just isn’t winter without it.
Today’s was a dry, fluffy snow, which meant the temperatures outside were rather cold. Anyone who’s shoveled snow will quickly remark that it’s better to shovel this snow than the “warmer” weather, heavy wet snow. With the light stuff, one can clear the walkway, driveway and car in a matter of minutes, which is exactly what we did.
It was too pretty outside so we opted to go out for breakfast. Before leaving the house, though, we dressed in our L.L. Bean winter jackets and, most importantly, put on our favorite winter boots: Bogs. We learned about Bogs a few years back from Deb Paisley of Paisley Farm & Greenhouse in West Boxford, MA. We thought, “When a New England farmer recommends a boot, he (or in this case she) knows this from practical use. We picked up ours at the Kittery Trading Post in southern Maine. It’s turned out to be one of the best things we ever did. Though Bogs aren’t from New England, they’re perfect for our region.
With Bogs on and feet warm, we hopped in our S.U.V. Yes, it has four-wheel drive (4WD) to make the journeys around Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut a little easier when the white stuff falls. 4WD, unfortunately, does not turn a New England country road with 14 inches of snow into a flat dry interstate in summer. We see more 4WD vehicles on their roofs during a snowstorm than regular cars. Nonetheless, it helps, but only with a healthy dose of Yankee pragmatism.
We went out, had a great breakfast that included Rhode Island-style jonnycakes with real Vermont maple syrup. After a pleasant and warm trip out into the snow, we’re now back home, sitting by the fire, and happily telling you about it. Thank goodness for warm shoes and four-wheel drive.
Because we travel all over New England, we’re often asked: “How do you know where to drive?” Though we don’t think about it much, we use a combination of process and intuition when we hit the roads of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. On the process side, we have a large number of maps, some quite new and many over 100 years old. We also have smart phones and global positioning system (GPS) devices. Additionally, we maintain several databases of information, much of which includes historical village records as well as primary and secondary research. On the intuition side of the equation, we determine our next turn by looking at architecture, stonewalls, and old roads that often include names of neighboring towns, points of interest, and historic families. Our intuition also guides us to the “A” roads, such as Route 1A.
What’s the significance of an “A” road? To us, it’s where you discover New England. Many “A” roads are original routes through the old towns, villages, and hamlets; it’s where you find classical architecture as well as centuries of history. They’re often the most scenic (and winding) roads as well. Many original New England roads began as old Indian trails or were created by settlers to support commerce and trade. Throughout New England roads such 1A in Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, 12A in Vermont, and 4A in New Hampshire offer visitors a nice retrospective of America before the automobile. Note that the route number and less-frequent, accompanying letter designation did not show up until later.
As the popularity of the automobile in New England increased, cities and towns not only improved old, existing roads, but made new throughways as well. In 1911, the Quebec-Miami International Highway was created as the major north-south travel passage combining old and new roads. It was renamed The Atlantic Highway in New England in 1915. By 1922, improvements and new sections were added and it was renamed Route 1 in New England; the entire route to Florida was called Route 1 by 1926. Route 1 became the commerce route for many New England towns, driving a shift from many of the older routes that would subsequently be renamed “1A.” Though research is limited on the letter designation, one may speculate there were economic motivations for bringing travelers back to the old parts of town. Decades later, the Interstate system in New England was started in the 1950s, with Interstate 95 becoming the bypass (in most parts) to Routes 1 and 1A. Interstate 95 from New England to Florida was completed in 1970.
In this region it’s not unusual to find Route 1A, Route 1, and Interstate 95 in close proximity to one another. Though each of these roads represents different times in New England history, the richest and most interesting is 1A. One of our favorite Route 1A drives is from Salem, MA to York, ME, with short stops in many coastal towns such as Newburyport, MA, and Portsmouth, NH. Be sure not to miss smaller towns along the way, as all have a great deal of history, charm, and things to see. Route 1A is also a cornucopia of site markers, small signs that evoke another era. Recently we stopped at one identifying the “Minister’s Woodlot” from 1660 in Rowley, MA.
Enjoy Route 1A in New England. Catch a flea market. Visit a museum. Nosh on some fried clams. It’s worth the diversion from Route 1 and Interstate 95. Please note that many sections of Route 1A are not contiguous and frequently branch off and back onto Route 1.
Recently, my friend Erica Holthausen and I were fortunate to grab the last two available seats for an Artisan French Bread class at Stone Turtle Baking & Cooking School, a small, family run baking school in Lyman, ME. Stone Turtle is an unpretentious, hidden gem that turns out some wonderfully executed and practical lessons on the art of bread baking. (Hidden indeed as the directions had us turn at an old landmark, roadside stand painted with a weathered Moxie logo.) On this brisk fall day, ten participants surrounded the kitchen’s large rectangular table. The group makeup was diverse: three men and seven women ranging in age from late twenty-something to over seventy years.
The owners Michael and Sandy Jubinsky are native New Englanders originally from Lowell, MA. Michael is a retired engineer, and Sandy, a talented artist specializing in painted porcelain. Both have been cooking, baking, studying and writing about food for more than forty years, which shows as they work harmoniously in the Stone Turtle kitchen. Michael leads the class instruction while sharing his passion and skills for producing all forms of bread, the proverbial staff of life. He is an incredibly patient man, capable of teaching everyone from the novice baker to the more experienced professional. He couples this with a great sense of humor and a vast reservoir of knowledge. Sandy wears a name tag that simply says “The Boss,” and is flanked by the couple’s son, John, who keeps the Le Panyol oven fired up and ready. Together they help move Michael along at a comfortable pace.
Before he embarked on making the bread, Michael quickly noted that one must bake at least 2,000 loaves before feeling success. As daunting as that sounded, he further added that even with that behind him or her, a bread baker will continue to refine skills, striving to improve with each subsequent loaf.
As class began, we were each given equal portions of poolish, a pre-ferment originally used by Polish bakers in the nineteenth century and later adapted by French pâtissiers in pastry making. The purpose of the poolish, which Michael made the evening before, is to improve the bread by increasing the acidity, extending the shelf life, and allowing more depth of flavor to develop prior to mixing the final dough. It is, however, not a sourdough starter.
Everything involved in the entire baking exercise was done by hand -no mixers. The dough, surprisingly damp and sticky, coated everyone’s hands and echoed Michael’s mantra of “wetter is better.” Between the rising, resting and shaping, he demonstrated how to make a variety of French breads along with a few Italian breads. For the latter, he used French techniques to make both a rosemary focaccia and a pizza crust, which we later enjoyed for a delicious lunch.
Much like an old French Citroën deux chevaux automobile, the Le Panyol oven (a.k.a. “the Stone Turtle”) is a labor of love. It requires multiple cycles of heating and cooling over several days to gradually raise the temperature to the desired level for baking. Just as we were preparing to bake the bread, John removed the oven coals and said that no additional heat was necessary; the retained heat, stored in twelve inches of ceramic, would be sufficient. Bake times will often vary because no adjustments are possible once the breads go in.
The class participated in every step of the baking process, right down to a rapid, continuous procession of peels (long handled paddles used to place bread in a deep oven) orchestrated by Michael who carefully placed our risen breads in the hot oven. While waiting for our newly conceived children to finish, we sampled a French boule and a boule d’olive that Michael made earlier in the day. If ours turned out half as good, we were going to be in for a treat!
Much of the baking equipment was handmade out of practicality, which enhanced the charm and rustic feel of the whole experience. The paddle we used to gently roll our risen dough onto the peels was constructed of cedar clapboard donned with pantyhose. It performed flawlessly.
One of the great things about this class at Stone Turtle was that all of the ingredients – including those used in the poolish – are readily available to the non-professional. Some of our flour was locally sourced from Maine’s Aroostook County. The recipes provided will work well for the home baker. For those of us without a Le Panyol at home, Michael also demonstrated impressive results using a standard oven. That’s great, but having a Le Panyol in my own backyard would be a nice Mother’s Day gift. (Hint, hint other Palaverer.)
After cleaning up and saying our goodbyes, Erica and I — along with our beautiful bâtards — returned home. The breads were exceptional. So memorable was this experience that I promptly signed up the other Palaverer for the Artisan Italian class next month. Our Christmas baking should prove interesting.
Thanks to the team at Stone Turtle Baking & Cooking School (Michael, Sandy, and John) for the wonderfully rewarding, educational, and delicious November day in Maine. I have only 1,998 more loaves to go!
Whatever your baking ability, the Le Panyol at Stone Turtle is quite an experience. Finding a little bit of France Down East in Maine made it even better.
OK, full disclosure (in case you haven’t read our story): The Two Palaverers was the name of a tavern in colonial Boston. Though The Two Palaverers is no longer with us, more than a few colonial taverns still dot the New England landscape. Many of the remaining ones are tastefully preserved, but their taps have run dry.
Fortunately, the contemporary New England brew scene is far from running dry. Recently, we had a chance to visit the American Craft Beer Fest at the Seaport World Trade Center in Boston. Our intent was to taste every New England brew we could find. Though we’ve been hunting down craft beers for years, we had the pleasure of being chaperoned by our brother-in-law from Vermont, one of the most passionate craft beer guys we know. We used to think he came down to visit us because he enjoyed Massachusetts, but soon realized it was all a front as he was really just looking for an excuse to get to Andover Liquors, one of the better craft beer retailers in New England.
Here’s the summary: all six New England states are brewing – and brewing well. There is, fortunately, no uniform style. We found IPAs, porters, stouts, lagers, wheat beers, summer ales, etc. If you like your hops beyond the level of an IPA, you’ll have choices there, too. New England beer is like New England herself: historic, diverse, and never boring.
We’d also like to call-out and thank fellow New Englanders Jason and Todd Alström, founders of BeerAdvocate. These brothers, in our opinion, are doing great things not just for New England brewing but for beer in general. In addition to running an informative web site, BeerAdvocate hosted the American Craft Brew Fest. They also wrote one of the best pieces on New England beer that we’ve read. Thanks guys.
-The Two Palaverers
Here is a sampling of New England brewers at the Craft American Brew Fest:
We love oysters. Even better, we’re spoiled by some great offerings from five of our six New England states. (Sorry Vermont.) What’s so interesting is that even though most of our oysters share a common ancestry, they truly take on the characteristics of where they grow. Call it “bivalve terroir.” For us, it provides a different dining experience, as we taste offerings all the way from Damariscotta in Maine to Ned’s Island in Connecticut. We find that mignonette sauce, rather than cocktail sauce, amplifies these regional characteristics and brings the oyster experience to a new level.
Because we can reach the coast of all five New England oysters states in less than 90 minutes, getting fresh shellfish is never an issue. Having children who know how to shuck makes it even better because we can relax on the deck with a bottle of Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine or a local craft brew such as a Harpoon Brewery UFO Hefeweizen. Not surprisingly, our children love oysters too, so our “shuck tax” is about 50 percent. (Note: (1) we only buy from trusted sources and (2) our children were held off until they were older.)
This all sounds great, right? We can end our little oyster tale now on a positive note, but we’re not going to do that. Why? Because we also like going out for oysters. Here’s the rub: we are seeing escalating prices – $3.50 per oyster – at many venues that have raw bars. Let’s do some math. We pay $0.99 retail per oyster, which means wholesale price is likely around $0.50. Even with labor and reasonable discard, how can establishments justify a 600% markup? Restaurant wines don’t command this premium. We’ve been paying about $2.50 per oyster in New York City.
C’mon folks, why such a “raw” deal on one of our regional specialties? You’re doing those of us who love oysters a disservice. Thank goodness there are still plenty of places with raw bars that offer a fair price and give us some great New England oysters.
There is great anticipation among New England food lovers each winter for the upcoming bounty. We’re not talking about oysters, even though they remain one of our favorite local delicacies. We’re talking about shrimp, specifically Maine shrimp, whose arrival is met with ever-increasing fanfare. A recent proclamation on Chowhound captured it well, citing both their wonderful taste and their versatility in a broad range of recipes. What’s surprising is that many in New England aren’t familiar with them, although a recent article from Midcoast Maine Free Press suggests that may be changing. We decided to share our own discovery.
Spending a good deal of time over the years on the bayous of Louisiana and in the Low Country of South Carolina and Georgia changed our perception of shrimp forever. We were introduced to White shrimp, Brown shrimp, Pink shrimp, Royal Reds, etc. Knowing spawning cycles and seasonal patterns was not an exercise in science but rather a necessity for gastronomic indulgence. Buying the right shrimp at the right time from the right vendor was the recipe for the right dish. It spoiled us. We found that not all shrimp was created equal.
Unfortunately, we never gave much thought to local, New England shrimp. Was it lack of marketing? Could it be ignorance on our part? We don’t know, but our epiphany came during a wonderful Chinese New Year meal prepared by some neighbors a couple of years ago. This was the first time we heard about Maine shrimp. They explained that the tiny, sweet, cold water delicacies from the Gulf of Maine were only available in late winter – and only for a very brief time. Our neighbors were fortunate to have a camp on an island off the Maine coast, giving them an upper hand in knowing about this regional specialty.
Intrigued, we immediately began looking for these small crustaceans, but without much success. Then one day late last season, out of the corner of our eyes, we saw them at a local market: tiny, bright, and pink. So colorful in fact that we thought they were cooked, even though they were raw. We didn’t purchase any that day because we had existing dinner plans that evening. The next day we returned only to discover that they were gone, the season brought to an abrupt halt. Just like that. No more Maine shrimp would be arriving that year. Talk about poor timing!
This year we vowed to be more prepared, especially after reading an article about themin The New York Times informing us that the 2010 season would be extended through May. That was welcome news for our culinary mission to find and successfully prepare these little, elusive jewels. And found them we have from Maine to Massachusetts.
So what’s the big deal?
These cold water shrimp are completely different from any shrimp we’ve prepared and eaten. They are extremely delicate, sweet and succulent with a soft, melt-in-the-mouth quality. While many Mainers eat them raw, we prefer them cooked, just quickly enough for them to begin releasing some of their sweet “liquor.” Part of their characteristic charm is the subtlety of their flavor. Also important to us is that they’re from New England. (Perhaps biasing us a bit.) Not all are as enthusiastic as we, though, and Jacqueline Church offers a counter opinion. It wouldn’t be New England without a diversity of views, even if we’re talking about what’s in our own back yard.
Devra First from The Boston Globe referred to them as our own regional bugs. Having lived in the south, we agree with her and regard them as New England’s very own version of the crawfish, crawdads or mud bugs (as those in New Orleans refer to them). Although they visually resemble crawfish in appearance, Maine shrimp are slightly larger in size, lending themselves rather well to crawfish substitution in Southern dishes. Purists may argue this point, as that is where the similarities end, especially since Maine shrimp are from saltwater and crawfsh are from fresh water. Indeed, they are a different species with a different taste, but they certainly work in the kitchen.
We enjoy the flexibility in preparation,with most approaches being rather simple and quick. We either sauté them Spanish style with garlic, oil and a dusting of cayenne or boil them with Old Bay seasoning. Leftovers can be shelled and made into a creative shrimp salad. Shelled shrimp can also be used for such dishes as Low Country shrimp and grits, or for a creative, lemon-infused scampi, which adds a sweetness to the latter much like adding Limoncello would. One other interesting preparation we found is serving them in a stir-fry over coconut scallion rice. With the Maine shrimp in season now, we have them at least once a week. Even our teenage shrimp hater comes back for seconds. One final note on preparation: exercise caution because their small size makes them easy to overcook, so careful preparation is the key.
These little beauties are not expensive and range in price from $3.99 per pound unshelled to $8.99 per pound shelled. Two pounds easily feed a family of four. If you don’t see them, ask your local fishmonger to get them for you. Be sure to specify your preference for shelled or unshelled. With the season extended to May, there is no excuse not to indulge.
-The Two Palaverers
Photos credits: Bangor Daily News, Laura Ciampa, Rob Ciampa
In the early 1980’s, a wave of small independent cheese shops sprung up in the suburbs around New York City. It worked out well for those of us not in the city because traveling into Manhattan was often challenging and – as it is today – very time-consuming. Until then, we were limited to the choices at our local grocery stores, which consisted mostly of the processed, pre-packaged or generic uninspired varieties.
I had the privilege of working at The Better Cheddar Cheese Shop, one of those new, avant-garde purveyors in northern New Jersey. Located at the historic Tice Farm in Woodcliff Lake, the small shop carried cheeses that were exotic and sophisticated to our unseasoned and unrefined palates of the time.
Over time, we became rather busy and our clientele grew. We had both regular local customers as well as those from the city who were escaping for a day in the “country.” (It always seemed more like suburbia and less like “country” to me.) Richard Nixon was a frequent visitor to the farm, having settled in the area after leaving Washington, D.C.
With great enthusiasm, I learned all that I could about cheese, albeit the hard way – by tasting and talking with wholesalers. We didn’t have the books, training or internet so prevalent today. We were excited by our “large” number of imported cheeses, now paltry compared with contemporary cheese counters. On the domestic side, I remember cheddars (Wisconsin, New York and Vermont), some fresh mozzarella, feta, and assorted spreads with cheddar and cream cheese bases.
Sadly, the farm and many like it were replaced by large corporate buildings and homogeneous mini malls. Though I saw many of the small local cheese shops quietly close their doors, I never lost interest in cheese. It is always a thrilling sight and a culinary pleasure for me, whether home or abroad, to walk in to a well-stocked, knowledgeable and friendly cheese shop. It feels like home to me. When I moved to New England decades ago, I was immediately impressed by the regional, budding cheese culture. Surprisingly, it dates back to the English and Dutch settling of North America.
Today, I am especially pleased to see so many more New England cheese artisans practicing this wonderful art, which is a true labor of love. Increasing numbers of these cheese makers travel the globe learning from world renowned cheese masters and incorporating classic styles while leveraging their own unique terroir and indigenous fare. Many are winning national awards. Comparing this growing specialty cheese industry to the evolution of the US wine industry, I think we have much to look forward to as these artisans develop and refine their craft.
New England artisan and farmstead cheeses come from all six states; some producers have been doing this for years, while many are new. I applaud their efforts. Though I haven’t yet tried all the New England cheeses, I am determined to do so. Perhaps it is the locavore in me, but I feel a strong connection, an inherent sense of pride and a good deal pleasure from enjoying cheese produced in my own region of the world.
I encourage cheese lovers to sample and enjoy these creations from New England. Serve them along side your old standbys and international favorites. Ask your cheesemonger to point you toward the local and regional varieties. The more we seek out New England cheeses, the more readily available they will be.
Be sure to take advantage of local cheese offerings when you see them on restaurant menus. Remember that many of the farmstead cheeses are produced from the farm’s own herd and yields are justifiably low. Some are sold exclusively to local restaurants, but many are available retail to the general public.
Though my cheese shop in New Jersey is a fond memory, I am fortunate to benefit from the cheese purveyors and cheese artisans of New England.