March 2012 Archives

03/02/2012

Free Lobster Traps

One of the nice things about living in Maine is that you can often get given stuff for free just by asking. This predates craigslist by several hundred years and is still going strong. All you need to do is be in contact with the right people and be willing to trade work or favors in return when needed. In most cases, the person to be in contact with is not necessarily the owner of what you need, rather the town extrovert, the person who likes to talk and talks to a lot of people, usually in the course of business or volunteer work.  Just mention, “I need some good used lobster traps,” and for a favor, a bottle of wine or the promise of a few lobsters next summer (and the required few months of waiting while your request makes the rounds) you will hit paydirt.

I hit paydirt yesterday when my friend Chuck called to say he negotiated a deal for me. These traps look like they’ve been barely used and if I were to go out and buy new ones, they’d be close to $100 each. They even come with buoys and line. Count me one step closer to pulling in dozens of lobster dinners this summer! In addition, they lend a certain Downeast ambiance to my yard in the off season.

I’ve been reassured by several people that my gear will not be molested by other fishers, which is a big relief. Apparently a local state cop also puts out traps, and in an incident involving underwater cameras, the sole bad boy was caught and will not be re-offending. This is coupled with the growing awareness that traps are lobster feeding stations and more traps means more lobsters. Undersized lobsters come and go for free meals and notched or egg-bearing females and all under- or over-sized lobsters are let go when traps are hauled.

This means I need bait. At least two pounds per pound of legal lobster, at least according to what I’ve heard. Currently in the Maine Legislature there is a bill which will outlaw any bait which “is not part of the lobster’s natural diet”. This limits my bait choices to over-fished herring, which is the usual commercial bait, or whatever I can catch myself. Herring as bait is not willingly sold to 5-trap people like me, so if this bill passes I may be opening tins of tuna or frantically fishing for mackerel. Whatever happens, I’m one step closer now!

Filed under Good Food, Out on the water, Quality of life by on . 3 Comments.

03/12/2012

Maple Syrup from Lamoine, ME

No, it doesn't taste salty because it's near the ocean!

I like to tap our maple trees when I have the time. This year I scaled back to four trees so I wouldn’t have to handle so much sap. Our trees are not sugar maple (Acer saccharum) but red maple (Acer rubrum), considered the second most desirable maple species for syrup. The taste of the syrup is a little different, less “mapley” but still good.

Maple syrup is expensive because its production requires so much fuel. A gallon of syrup comes from 40 gallons of sap, and all that extra water has to be boiled away. This boiling traditionally happens in a sugar shack over a wood fire. Indoor boiling is avoided due to the volume of moisture evolved. The boiling vessel is a large shallow pan with baffles so that sap entering at one end moves slowly through the maze-like pan to where it emerges with most of its water removed. That was the old way. Nowadays boiling is reduced by using reverse osmosis or applying a vacuum by the big producers. They also tap their trees using tubing instead of buckets and applying vacuum to suck the sap out of the trees.

My method is to boil the sap on the kitchen stove with the vent hood going full blast, which is another reason to keep my production low. Each day I dump another four gallons of sap into the pot and boil all day until the level is around 1/2 gallon. With each day of boiling the amount remaining gets sweeter. The smell is intoxicating, and is the real reason I like the process. The memory of a smell is especially evocative.

Today the weather is amazing, with temperatures approaching 60°F, light wind and full sun. The sap is dripping rapidly and I have to assume we are in peak season. The first buckets started appearing on Lamoine’s trees about two weeks ago when we had a warm spell. The next week or so was colder and the flow stopped. The conventional wisdom is that freezing nights need to be followed by warm days, but the warm days can’t just be in the mid 30′s, good flow seems to require days in the high 40′s or more.

Red maple is the first to flower, and the swelling of the buds leading up to that event changes the quality of the sap for the worse, so red maple must be tapped early and ended before the flavor gets bad. With any luck I’ll have a pint or two of syrup for the rest of the year. Good thing we don’t eat a lot of pancakes.

Maine Maple Sunday will be on March 25 this year. This is the day when the public is invited to drop in on any of the many Maine maple syrup producers. Free samples are offered and the process is explained. More info here. Locally, organic farmer Chuck Weber produces enough syrup to offer quarts for sale until it’s gone. If you stay at SeaCat’s Rest, ask me to connect you with Chuck.

Filed under Acadia, Good Food, Lamoine by on . 1 Comment.

03/16/2012

What’s New at SeaCat’s Rest?

We anticipate a busy summer of providing an affordable Maine seaside apartment to our guests. We have made a few improvements since last year, the most important of which is a second well. This was a tough decision since we had to weigh the very existence of the apartment against the substantial cost of the new well. Our own needs were met by the old well, but on a few aggravating and embarrassing occasions we ran out of water during the height of tourist season.  Now that has changed. We no longer need to wring our hands, forgo showers or flushing when we have guests.

We added a little button for guests to push when they are disturbed by activity above their heads. It is basically a doorbell which we hear in our kitchen and tells us to tone down our activity. We don’t get a lot of complaints (actually, only one so far) so it’s more for our peace of mind. Occasionally we have guests who need to catch an early morning flight, so with this little button we will know without the guest having to bother with a phone call or personal visit.

AT&T coverage here is excellent

Since we started the apartment rental, we have included a land line phone. This phone costs us around $20/month and we were under the suspicion that just about nobody used it. Recently, Lamoine got a new cell tower, and it seems every guest uses their cell phone. We can reconnect at any time, but for this year, we are going to wait until we get a request for reconnection from one of our guests. Even with a seasonal connection, we are ahead of the game compared to year-round, so we consider it an important cost savings. Cell coverage remains less than ideal (you may have to stand outside) but that varies by your cell company.  Our US Cellular phone gets only one bar inside and two outside, but our tracfone gets four bars in and out. A Verizon phone will do fine since it’s a Verizon tower. According to company reception maps, t-moble’s reception here is “moderate” (outdoor only), Sprint’s is “off network roaming”, Nextel’s is zero, AT&T’s is excellent. Since we have very good broadband, skype is another possibility.

Digging the soft shell clam

Much of the exciting changes have to do with the shore. First, with the new local law about licensing clamming, the clam population has rebounded. This is great for guests who wish to try their hand at digging clams for a $12 recreational license (from the town office).  Concurrently I have become a much better clam digger, so I am happy to offer free lessons and equipment (you may want to bring your own rubber gloves and boots, but we have some).

The other big news is, of course, my lobster license, boat and traps. I can’t claim to offer the full-blown Maine lobster fishing experience, since at this point I still don’t quite know what I’m doing, but by mid-summer of 2012 I should know more. I will have to check my 5 traps at least every other day, so guests could arrange to come along. Laws forbid any active participation; trap handling, baiting or boat steering, so guests can observe only.

Being involved in providing vacation accommodations is like skipping over all of the stress in most people’s lives. I get to be the one to bring you relaxation and fun and sometimes, show you how to have more. It’s what I want to be when I grow up!

Filed under Acadia, Lamoine, Lodging by on . Comment.