A place where I was surrounded by cooking, creativity and learning. A submersion in the language and craft of all things culinary. I needed it. So much of my work happens with me at the helm, so to speak. Me deciding how, what, when, where, from whom and to whom. Most of the time I like this very much. Recently I’d been feeling the need to stretch and learn from someone else, a place where for at least a short while, I got to ask the questions and fill myself up with the answers.
I found it in Renaissance man Neal Foley‘s family kitchen, on Claddagh Farm, in Montville, Maine last weekend. Kate Hill from Camont Farm of Gascony, France was also there to share her considerable 25 years of French cooking wisdom, butchery and practical life skills.
The weekend was about all things duck. How to raise them, how to process (kill) them and how to cook them. The first night, Kate introduced us to a traditional cassoulet made with rind sausage and Toulouse sausage both made that morning by Neal from a pig processed the previous week. The beans were cannelini beans that Neal grew this past summer cooked to buttery, silky perfection among the sausages and duck confit in a casoule, the traditional dish in which to bake cassoulet. The crust was crispy, the beans were unctuous, the sausage was rich and salty and all were combined to perfection with the confit.
The rest of the weekend was equally heavenly as delight after discovery danced on my palate. Lillet, Armangnac, Cahor wines were new and lasting introductions. Homemade bagels too, which I promptly made for myself at home as soon as I returned. Homemade bear claws, which will join the bagels in what I’ll make on the Riggin this summer. And of course, all things duck that are delicious and now awaiting the summer in my pantry – pate de foie, rillettes, confit, Gascon popcorn, duck feet and duck proscuitto which is currently hanging in the barn and which I can not wait to taste.
Then there were the life lessons from Kate, who teaches people younger than she all the time, just as Jon and I do. Lessons that Kate and I found in common even though an ocean separates our classrooms:
1. Even if you are only having soup for dinner, set the table with ALL of the silverware.
2. How to set the table period – yes, the fork goes on the left with the napkin and the spoon with the knife on the right, blade facing the plate, please.
3. Antique linens, while absorbent, are not for wiping up floor spills (or polishing brass).
4. Don’t leave a serving sized portion of food in your mixing bowl. Get a spatula, my dear.
5. When the garbage is full, take it out yourself.
6. If a meal doesn’t turn out perfectly, don’t apologize, make lemonade out of lemons and for goodness sake, have the grace to know that entertaining is only partly about the food.
7. Use ALL of the vegetable, sauce or (in this case) duck. See number 4.
8. Blowing your nose in your napkin? Dude (although Kate did not use the word ‘dude’), that’s what tissues are for.
Sigh. The sails are now in the barn after a m0rning that graced us with sunshine and breeze – perfect for drying sails that had just been soaked by a big front that flew through a few days ago. A little too much breeze for the boat at the dock, but hey, things are dry now. And with that, there’s no more chance for a last minute change of the mind. We are well and truly done for the season.
The end to a season is always met with a mixture of emotions that sway back and forth. There’s the satisfaction and relief to have completed a happy, healthy summer – safe, well-feed, relaxed, ebullient people left our boat time and time again. There’s the looking forward to winter – time, quiet and creative, to work on the business part of the business, birth new ideas, finish unfinished ones, and frankly nap often. (At least that’s what I dream about.) This is the time when I stay on the couch and read one more chapter with the girlies instead of disciplining and structuring my time so much. The end is also a little pensive feeling. We’ve created this terrific team of crew members who all work in concert with each other, learning their part in the orchestra so well, and then we need to let that team separate – to maybe form again next year and perhaps not to be experienced in the same way ever again.
Also, while we do get tired and the season ends just exactly when we are feeling “done,” we also say goodbye to those pieces of being on the water every day that we won’t live again until the days lengthen and the breezes warm. For me it’s the quiet very early in the morning when I awake to light the stove and then watch the sun rise; the coming up on deck to get something from the refrigerator and opening my arms wide to take in the ever-changing, stunning view; the sound of frequent, raucous laughter; singing in the galley; the smell of “wooden boat” which is a mixture of sea and pine tar; and the giddy excitement when the CSA shares arrive at the beginning of every trip.
Before owning the Riggin, Jon and I ran a charter yacht. The bulk of our summers were spent in New England and we were always longing to spend much of that time in Maine waters.
The passing of Andrew Wyeth prompted Jon to post about our first meeting of the Wyeths. My perspective was a little different. The Wyeths were guests of the charterer's and came aboard for dinner. Requests had been made prior to their boarding for Cajun Swordfish and something with garlic and shrimp.
The entire story needs to be prefaced with the fact that I was 3 months pregnant. And with the further fact that while for some the nausea part of the program only happens in the morning and the first three months, for me it happened all the time and for the full 9 months. Biggest triggers? Seafood and garlic.
Soooo. I'm in the galley preparing dinner inbetween undignified trips to the head (bathroom for land folks) in our personal cabin. Cleaning myself up thoroughly every time and returning to my station. Just as I opened the bag of shrimp to begin to marinate it, I felt that lovin' feeling come over me again. Race to the head, quickly but quietly. Do my thing. Clean. Brush teeth.
As I exit the cabin I hear Jon saying, "Let me introduce you to my wife." Oh, God. I climb the companionway steps with a smile plastered on my face and a quip tripping off my tongue. Quickly made my excuses so I could return to the galley to continue cooking dinner. Race to the head…..
Everyone said dinner came out excellent as usual. I took their word for it.
In my efforts to use what I already have in the pantry and the freezer before flitting off to the grocery store for the fresh and new, I found some frozen apples in the back of the freezer. It’s encouraging that I can now see the back of the freezer.
Every fall, the girls and I is pick apples from our and our friends’ trees. Some of are stored, some frozen and the rest turned into a wonderful sweet, fresh cider that we drink through the winter and will enjoy on the boat this summer as well.
When I freeze the apples, I use one of those all-in-one numbers that peels, cores and slices all at once. Sometimes you have to peel a little more skin off by hand because the contraption misses some, but it saves lots of time. I then cut the whole spiral in half and place them in a gallon-size resealable bag with a little lemon juice.
When I use them in pie or cobbler, I just add a little bit more thickener – flour or tapioca – and increase the cooking time by ten minutes or so.
Strawberry Apple Cobbler
Pastry: 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour pinch of salt 5 tablespoons frozen butter 4 tablespoons butter 4 to 5 tablespoons ice water
Filling: 4 green apples, peeled, cored and cut into medium slices 2 cups fresh strawberries, washed, hulled and cut in half 1 cup sugar 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Whipped Cream: 1 cup heavy cream 1/4 teaspoon cinammon 2 teaspoons sugar 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 450º. Grease a non-reactive (enamel or stainless steel) 9×13 baking pan or 10-inch deep dish pie plate. Combine all filling ingredients in baking pan.
To form pastry, place dry ingredients in medium sized bowl and cut butter and shortening in with a pastry knife until mixture resembles corn meal. Add water and form a ball. It should be soft feeling but not at all sticky. Roll out to 1-inch larger than the shape of your baking dish.
Cover the baking pan with the pastry and turn the excess part of the pastry under. Press into the sides of the pan. Make several slits in the top to let steam escape.
Turn the oven down to 425º and bake for 45 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is bubbling around the edges. Serve warm with whipped cream.
With a whisk, whip the cream until almost forming soft peaks and add the sugar and vanilla. Whip until forms firm peaks.