Sunday, August 5, 2007

Searing Scallops in Maine

First, I should probably explain how South Freeport, Maine, became the locus of our summer vacations.

Our friend Shelly grew up in this small village on Casco Bay, just up the coast from Portland. By small, I mean a few streets, a post office, an elementary school and a tiny store that also serves as coffee shop and breakfast joint. There's also a marina where the lobster fishermen keep their boats, and for the past generation of so a place known as The Harraseeket, a renowned lobster shack.

When Shelly first invited us to spend time here, it was in a simple cottage on the point located in Deliah Powers Memorial Park, also the local campground. There, we watched her nieces grow up and spent many hours into the night playing darts and drinking Carlings Black Label with Shelly's older brother, Peter, a wounded Vietnam vet and the family cut-up.

Besides Peter, Shelly has an older sister, Nack, a college arts administrator whose youngest daughter is just starting college. There's a younger brother, too, Shannon, a former Navy diver who's married to Meg, a professional baker. Shannon takes care of the family sailboat, now an old wooden Hinckley sloop in excellent condition. Peter's wife, Hank, is a teacher on Cape Cod. Their daughter Loren is a public defender in New York city, planning to marry soon, and daughter Beazie has started college as well.

For the last dozen years or so, a typical day in Maine has gone about like this: Shelly is one of the first up. She starts making muffins with the local blueberries. Her husband, John, fetches all of the available newspapers, including the New York Times, Boston Globe and Portland Gazette, mainly to see what the Boston Red Sox did last night. If the Red Sox win, there usually is a brisk conversation about how they Sox are doing, about the latest star players, and where the dreaded and loathed New York Yankees are in the standings. If the Red Sox lost, it's pretty quiet.

Cereals, fruits and other breakfast making are placed on the dining table for people as they begin to stir and think about filling their bellies. Some people jockey for position in the sole bathroom. There is much newspaper reading, casual conversation about the day prior, the subject of what to have for dinner comes up and what are the plans for sailing that day (?)

Around noon, Peter gets up from his long night of playing darts or whatever and begins managing the coolers. This is no idle task, at least not the way Peter approaches it. There is much shuffling of beverages between the coolers, filling of ice to the proper level, judging quantities of beverages to match the day's planned activities and of course storing of the empties, which are all redeemable for cash here in Maine. When Peter is not around, there is quite a commotion around the issue of coolers.

Sometime in the afternoon the talk of sailing will get serious. There's been a fairly brisk breeze all morning that will inevitably abate later, just as we are making the return leg on the day's sail. In other words, we always get started later than we should, and never get back to the cottage until an hour or two later than when we should have started dinner. It's a grand production, involving at least one sailboat and a Boston Whaler. Typically we choose one of the many islands in Castco Bay for a destination, and if it is to include lunch we will often buy a selection of "Italians" at the local deli, meaning submarine sandwiches with Italian peppers and olive oil, along with many bags of assorted potato chips and pretzels and of course the coolers that Peter has so carefully arranged.

Sometimes we just head over to the hotel at Chebegue Island for a cocktail. But this year we learned the hotel has suddenly closed--again.

Our latest favorite destination is Bustin's Island, not too far from South Freeport. There's a small ferry that makes regular service to Bustin's. There are no automobiles on the island, nor electricity or other utilities. People have solar panels to charge their cell phones and propane to power refrigerators. Otherwise, they spend very quite summers in their cottages taking walks around the island and admiring the view.

Nack and her daughter Lydia have a connection to one of the cottages on Bustin's. That's where Lydia's grandmother lives. This year we were greeted with news that the neighboring cottage burned to the ground recently. A wedding party was staying there. It was cold and they were lighting fires in the fireplace every night. Apparently the wood inside the walls surrounding the fireplace overheated and burst into flame. The wedding party, including a grandmother who was carried out, escaped with just minutes to spare before the place collapsed. The intense heat shattered several windows on the cottage belonging to Lydia's grandmother. Surrounding trees were torched. The fire trucks had trouble pumping water because the tide was out. Mostly they hosed down the neighboring cottages to keep them from burning as well.

The cottage that burned was utterly leveled. Nothing left but the base of the fireplace. However, we were told the bride-to-be returned and, sifting through the rubble, did find the wedding rings.

The girls love the trip to Bustin's because of the rope swing. There's a long rope tied high in the branches of a hickory tree and they push off from the rocks at the shoreline and drop into the water from a height of eight feet or so. The little girls, including my daughter, like to play in the tide pool while the adults sit on the cottage porch and drink their beverages and gossip about this and that.

Yesterday we arrived back in South Freeport late for dinner as usual, except that there were some cold salads already made, including a sesame noodle saddle, a big bowl of tortellini, tabbouleh and a green salad fresh from Meg and Shannon's garden. The only thing left was to cook the six pounds of sea scallops that Hank had brought with her from Cape Cod.

I cooked these as simply as I know how, seasoned with extra-virgin olive oil salt, pepper and usually garlic salt and onion powder, but we didn't have that so I used some Adobo seasoning from the spice rack in the cottage. Coat the bottom of an iron skillet (or two) with olive oil and place over high heat until smoking. Add enough scallops to just cover the bottom of the pan and sear on both sides until the scallops are just barely done. Do this in batches and place the scallops on a large serving platter, garnished with chopped parsley and lemon slices.

Serve with a well-chilled white wine, in this case whatever is in the fridge.




Kevin said...

A nicely drawn story.

Ed Bruske said...

Thanks, Roger...

And Kevin, Maine just seems to put a fella in a story telling mood. What a great time we had...

Eben said...


My name is Colleen. I came across your wonderful blog by googling Bustins in Maine. I am looking to rent a "cottage" for the "off-season" and I am wondering if you would have any leads at all on folks looking to rent?

Also, I am the prep chef at Miyake Restaurant in Portland (Spring Street on the West End). As avid a foodie as you are, you should definitely check us out when you are in town. Also see us in NYT and Boston Globe.

Thank you for your time and the wonderful diversion supplied by your blog!



Holiday in South Africa said...

I will try it.