Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Food and the Weather

Here in South Freeport, Maine, each day dawns with thoughts of the next meal. Being one of the first of our party to stumble out of bed in the morning, I've taken it upon myself lately to swing past the local Shaw's grocery to pick up the papers and purchase a few items from the produce section for breakfast. In consideration of the calories consumed the evening previous, I have been preparing a platter of assorted fruits, accompanied by yogurt and cereals for a casual buffet.

Sometimes the plans for lunch--and dinner--have been sketched out days earlier, and frequently involve a trip by sailboat to one of the many small islands that dot Casco Bay. But of course sailing is contingent on the weather, so we pay a great deal of attention to the predictions printed in the newspapers and to the outlook as viewed from the windows of our cottage.

Yesterday was to be one of those days where we loaded up the boats with coolers, chips, lobsters and cooking paraphernalia and headed out into the waters of the bay for a lunchtime lobster fest. The predictions were for clouds, then sun, so we weren't exactly surprised when we found the bay shrouded in mist when we woke in the morning. There was a brisk breeze blowing and we were confident the fog would blow off or burn off as the morning wore on.

But things did not get much better. In fact, they got worse. Instead of preparing for a sail, we quietly settled into activities designed for the indoors. The two teenaged girls focused on a puzzle, some 300 small pieces lying in a jumble on the dining room table, representing a disassembled photograph of the Taj Mahal. Our daughter and her friend Alice occupied themselves with a stack of dominoes, arranging them into various shapes and using them as building blocks. The adults retreated into their books, the whole assembly falling into a lethargic hush, interrupted occasionally by a chuckle or belly laugh instigated by a line in one of the books being read.

The fog had the effect not of drawing us closer together in our small cottage, but of isolating us in our individual worlds of contemplation.

Occasionally one of us would look up from his reading to make another assessment of the weather. Now the wind was driving the mist across the bay in long, ghost-like tatters. Another time it would appear the fog was lifting, and we could see clearly the pine trees on the opposite shore. Spirits would rise in anticipation. But then we'd look about again and the fog had descended more definitively than ever. Visibility was reduced to almost zero. We were locked behind an impenetrable wall of sodden grayness. We retreated back into our reading material.

Around noon , Peter made his usual appearance from the motor home that he has parked at the end of the driveway. Soon he was draining water from our several coolers, retrieving ice from the freezer and refreshing the beers and sodas that are always ready for us on the side porch. Peter's cooler routine is so predictable, you could set your watch by it.

Shannon, who maintains the sailboat, returned from a spin around the harbor in his dinghy to report that things "didn't look good." He had purchased a length of braided Dacron rope to make a docking line for the boat and proceded to unbraid one end and fix a loop in it with his nautical sewing kit.

By this time it had become obvious to all that there would be no lobster feast on the beach this day. Shelly, who is nominally in charge of all plans, although she makes a good game of not being, announced that she still had enough lobster meat from dinner two nights ago to make a few lobster rolls. She began toasting top cut buns on the stove top, then passed around plates of lobster rolls, but without the usual Cape Cod potato chips, since it appeared we had run out and no one was in a mood to drive to the store for more.

The lobster rolls were utterly delicious, the delicate yet unmistakable seafood flavor somehow managing to rise above the buttery brownness of the toasted rolls, and just the right amount of fullness for a midday meal. But then Shelly observed that there was still a considerable amount of roasted pork loin left over from several nights ago and certain to go bad if not eaten. Her husband John and I volunteered to make the ultimate sacrifice, so we were presented with yet another plate of toasted buns, for which I received a severe reprimand from my wife.

It was worth every fat-inducing bite.

Needless to say, we never did make it out in the boat. The wind blew, the fog settled in for good. Peter built a fire in the fireplace. John found a place in a easy chair in front of the fire and never left. The teenagers finished their puzzle and moved on to their scrap book. The little girls scampered off to Alice's house, leaving a mess of dominoes and toys on the dining room table. Visitors came and went. Drifting in and out of wakefulness, I managed to finish a book I've been reading in fits and starts for months, John Thorne's "Simple Food," a marvel of insights and writer's craft.

Soon enough, we'd moved on to cocktails--Bombay Sapphire martinis--and a dinner of New York strip steaks prepared by Shannon on the grill, along with roasted potatoes and green beans from the garden of Shannon and his wife Meg. Shelly and the girls gathered around the dining room table to trim the beans. I blanched them in boiling salted water and, when we were ready to sit, tossed them in a heavy skillet with parsley, mint, butter and extra-virgin olive oil. They were perfectly ripe with exquisite color--so jewel-like it was almost a shame to cook them at all.

But we did, and dinner was a family affair. Then it began to rain...

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