Good Food


Maine Lobster Lookback: 2013

Taken from the shore at SeaCat’s Rest

The numbers are in. Maine lobster fishers pulled in 125,953,876 pounds in 2013, just one percent under the 2012 total of 127.2 million pounds. No one asked me how much I, as a recreational five trap guy caught, so that number is shy of the real total. Perhaps someone guesstimates the recreational landings. Once again, these landings numbers blow away the notion that a hundred million pounds is a fluke or an unsustainable harvest. I do strongly suspect however, that Maine lobster fishing is more like free range ranching than fishing from the wild, since the catch depends on 200,000,000+ pounds of bait in our traps. Due to informed practices such as strict size limits and the marking and release of egg-bearing females, most lobster end up getting a free meal rather than ending up on dinner plates. Compare this number with the average harvest in most of the middle of the 20th century, twenty million pounds!

happy haul

Isn’t it funny though, that we seem so ready for bad news that when good news comes along we are totally unprepared? Such is the case for the lobster market: an oversupply of perishable soft shell lobsters depresses the prices to the point that fishing is now a very thin-margin business. For four years in the mid 2000s the boat price for lobsters was over $4/ lb, while diesel was from $2-$3/gallon. Now the prices are reversed: fuel tops $4 and the average price in 2013 paid at the dock was $2.89. This is an improvement over 2012, which was $2.69. In 2012 they were making jokes about lobster being cheaper than bologna. So even though the landings number is 1% less, the increase in price resulted in an extra $23 million to the fishers, in 2013.

This price increase over 2012 seems to be purely accidental, perhaps due to the improving economy. There is sentiment to face this good-news landings situation with a little planning. In other words, what can we do to improve the price situation for Maine’s lobster fishers so that they can afford to fish? One answer could be the new Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. Expect to see big bucks spent on promoting Maine lobster in the years ahead. One of the problems is that “Maine lobster” is often used as a generic term for the North American Lobster, Homarus americanus, so we have chain restaurants promoting their “Maine lobsters” from Nova Scotia, etc. (Please don’t write me about how good lobsters from Canada are, I’m not saying they’re not). The new collaborative aims to certify lobsters from Maine so that the public is aware of where their crustacean are from, and reclaim the “Maine lobster” label.

The Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative takes over from Maine Lobster Promotion Council with a bigger budget and more state government involvement. Their slick new website,, has history, info on sustainability, recipes and lots of links to dealers. What it lacks for now are decent videos…I tried to embed one below and all I found were tiny-window versions. Go here to see what I mean.

Another problem is the glut of soft shell lobster in the summer months. They don’t travel well, so we have to eat them here or keep them in pounds until their shells toughen up. However, the vast majority of the catch is processed so that it is available everywhere, year ’round, as frozen meat. Most processing factories are in Canada, but this is changing. In 2012 a shipment of Maine lobsters was stopped at the border by angry Canadian fishers, who saw our cheap prices as undercutting their hard work. The move to establish more Maine processors has accelerated since. At only 10% of the total, Maine lobster processing has room to grow. Time will tell if it will result in higher prices.

I have a feeling that due to our unusually cold winter of 2013/2014 we may see lower landings numbers for 2014. That will raise prices, but will also start the usual chorus of crash prediction, which may undo the new investments. Tune back in a year to see if I’m right!


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Fungus Among Us

2/13, first evidence that mushrooms are developing…

On January 20 of this year I announced my intention to start growing oyster mushrooms using a new non-sterile technique I read about in Fungi Magazine. The technique, perfected by Milton R. Tam of the Puget Sound Mycological Society of Seattle, WA, uses newspaper-based kitty litter and guinea pig chow in which to grow the fungal mycelium of the oyster mushroom. My first batch, started on that date is now doing great and is just a few days away from harvest. I will stretch this blog out a few days so I can give a full report including pictures, yield and cost per lb..

Day three, 2/15/2014

For the first few weeks not much was going on besides the relentless growth of the mycelium through the medium. Think of how soybeans are transformed into tempeh and you get the picture. Gradually the kitty litter turns white with fuzzy growth until almost no more is visible. This happened in a dark closet at less than 70 degrees F. After two weeks I brought the bag out and placed it on the kitchen counter. I waited a week and nothing happened. I looked up pictures on the web of “oyster mushroom primordium” to see if I was missing something. As it turned out, what I was missing was a little more light. The mushrooms need the light to trigger the fruiting process. I switched on a kitchen grow-light and set the timer for 12 hours/day, and that did the trick. Within a few days little white domes appeared in the bags near the holes I had cut. In a matter of hours the domes differentiated into pincushions and each “pin” then grew a cap and started to resemble a tiny mushroom. Each grouping now contains 50 or more individual mushrooms and each bag has about 4 of these groups. They are growing so fast I can almost hear them grow!

Day 4.

Milton Tam’s article said that the primordia would form “5-10 days” after the two week mark, and I was about to give up on day 23, exactly two weeks and 9 days after the start, when the buds first appeared. I have been mixing up bags once a week since the beginning, and I will mix more today. The goal is to have a steady supply; the next week’s bag will start to produce as soon as the previous is done. My big unknown at this point is how long the spawn will last. So far it has lasted almost a month in the fridge. I have attempted to inoculate more grain (wheat), hoping it will outlast the original.

Overall the project is worth doing. With less effort than making a loaf of bread I get a pound of premium mushrooms, although it takes 3-4 weeks. Once you get to the one month mark however, the reward is already sitting on the counter.

Oyster mushrooms are not only tasty, they’re suspected of containing anti-tumor chemicals. One study found they “inhibit growth of colon and breast cancer cells without significant effect on normal cells, and have a potential therapeutic/preventive effect on breast and colon cancer.” (International Journal of Oncology). Oyster mushrooms are rich in protein (up to 30 percent by dry weight), plentiful in B vitamins, have no cholesterol, and have significant levels of the cholesterol-lowering molecule lovastatin — up to 2.8 percent by dry weight (Stamets, 2005, Alarcon, 2003). If that’s not enough they’re anti-bacterial too! The first mushroom-derived antibiotic, pleuromutilin was extracted in the 1950s. This info on health benefits were taken from an article by mushroom guru Paul Stamets here. Paul also stresses that all mushrooms, including oysters, should be thoroughly cooked before eating. I couldn’t agree more; fungi are the chemical factories of the natural world and need to be respected for their niche; their nutritional and medicinal value is unlocked by cooking.

Day 6. Time to harvest!

From mixing up the first bag until harvest took 30 days and yielded one pound. Since each bag took $3.92 in materials, that’s $3.92/lb. I fried up some this morning and had them in an omlet, it was great. Oysters are “al dente” mushrooms, similar to shiitake, not soft and supple like button mushrooms. There is a possibility that the bags will produce a second flush, so I’m leaving them around for a while. I harvested the second bag too but got only 10 ounces. I think this second bag was a little dry, so I’m planning on adding water to all future bags before they bud.

We just had another several inches of snow and spring seems far off, but the kitchen garden is going strong!



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Mushroom Growing Update #1

Here’s a little update on the progress of the fungal network I have induced to grow in my mix of kitty litter and guinea pig food. I have this thing sitting in a cardboard box at room temperature (currently about 68 degrees). The box is to keep light out. It’s been 2 days and I want to see if the oyster mushroom spawn “blazes any substrate like pac man eating dots and ghosts” as one spawn seller has written. My evidence is photographic. Here’s the picture of the bag just after I began.

And here it is today:Note the vigorous growth of the white mycelium. This indicates a successful colonization by the oyster mushroom fungus, since the wrong fuzz would be gray or blue/green. Also, note the condensation of moisture on the top of the bag. This means the process is generating heat. The active breakdown of cellulose is happening, and the reaction is generating heat, moisture and eventually we hope, edible mushrooms! Stay tuned.

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Growing Mushrooms in Maine

Foraging for food is one of my passions. I take to it like others take to hunting or fishing, there’s just something about finding one’s own food that is deeply satisfying. So cultivating mushrooms is a little different; it involves taking found food to the next level. But it’s still fun to produce your own food, especially when that food is….a little strange.


Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus sp.) are considered the “weeds” of the mycological world. They grow vigorously on a variety of media and are even used to mitigate pollution events. One company sells bags of oyster mushroom spawn for the sole purpose of soaking up and converting spilled oil. I don’t think I’d want to eat those mushrooms. The logical place to start then, is with a mushroom species which is super easy to grow and likely to compete with their prices at the grocery store, if you can find them.

The ubiquitous button mushroom, Agaricus bisporus, and maybe the shiitake are often the only fresh mushrooms available at the grocery store. The Agaricus masquerades in several forms: white button, crimini and portabello, but they’re all the same species. Some other species are available dried, but they’re expensive and often come from eastern Europe, where they’re picked from the woods. We hope they don’t misidentify.  Oysters are just as good and I’m going to find out if I can easily and cheaply grow them at home.

About two years ago my daughter gave me an oyster growing kit and I decided to take the next step. I started out by ordering a bunch of growing bags. These are sterile plastic bags with breather patches to let air, but not other spores in. But I was put off by the methodology involving sterilizing a huge amount of straw. In the third world they do this by adding a chemical, which I didn’t want to do. The other option is to boil or steam the straw, which seemed daunting. I imagined dumping a bale of straw into an old drum and boiling it over a campfire. Then there was the preparation of agar petri dishes, building a sterile hood and all the other bother associated with sterile technique. I had better things to do.

This month my Fungi Magazine came to the rescue. In it was an article by Milton Tam describing in detail how to grow oyster mushrooms without sterile technique. At last I had an easy option! The key to this approach is to use easily available growing materials which are already (reasonably) sterile. The process takes advantage of the rapid growth of the Pleurotus mycelia (underground “roots”) to get ahead of any other colonizers. The growth medium is a combination of newspaper-based kitty litter (no, not used!) and vitamin-enriched alfalfa-based guinea pig food. Both these products, from the pet store, are packaged in sealed plastic bags and are, we assume, reasonably sterile. The kitty litter (the brand mentioned was Purina’s Yesterday’s News, but I got another brand) serves as the cellulose base and the guinea pig food provides a nitrogen source. The procedure is to mix up 4 cups of the newspaper-based kitty litter with 4 cups of dechlorinated tap water and let it sit for 10 minutes until the water is absorbed. Then add 1/3 cup of the guinea pig food and  1/2 to 3/4 cup of mushroom grain spawn and mix well. More on getting the spawn in a minute. The mixture is stuffed into a plastic bag. Cut some small (3/4″) slits in the bag for air and place in a dark, cool area (under 70 degrees if possible) and leave for two weeks. This time of year it’s too cold in the basement but as it warms up that will be the place to grow in.

left to right, growing bag, mixing pot, kitty litter, guinea pig food, grain spawn

After two weeks the mycelium should be visible as a network of fine fibers in the mix, sort of like tempeh. At this point the bag needs to come into the (indirect) light and warmth where it will soon pop out mushrooms from the slits you cut. Some sources say that fruiting is encouraged by placing the bag in the fridge for a day (a “cold shock”), so if I don’t see primordia–the tissue growth that precedes mushrooms–I’ll do that. The expected yield is 8-11 ounces. There will probably be a “second flush” of a few more ounces 10 days after the first. Keep the emerging ‘shrooms moist by spraying with water mist.

All the ingredients mixed up. Now the waiting!

Economics: This is of course a fun hobby, so we shouldn’t think of it as a way to avoid grocery bills, but let’s see the numbers anyway. I spent about $33 on kitty litter and guinea pig food. The grain spawn came from Northwest Mycological Consultants in Corvallis, OR (503.753.8198) and cost $35 delivered to Maine. I got 7 lbs, and if you check around, this is a very good price. They don’t have a website, so you have to call them, and they often don’t answer their phones, so you have to leave your name and hang around for them to call back. So that total so far is $68. The grow bags were about 60 cents each. Check back in a few weeks to see what kind of yield I get so I can translate that $68 into pounds of mushrooms. This first batch, which is a double recipe because my bag is so big, ended up costing $3.86 for the ingredients and the bag. A quick scan of fresh oyster prices on line returned from $7.67 to $20/lb, so if I can get a pound out of this batch I’ll be happy as a mushroom in the rain.

My spawn strain is #497, Pleurotus columbinus, a pearl blue-gray oyster. I plan on mixing up a batch once a week so the mushrooms will be in constant supply. Anyway, that’s the plan! I fear that my spawn supply will outlast my rate of use, i.e., spoil, so stay tuned for the exciting updates.

Beware that some spawn companies specialize in mushrooms which are…shall we say, consciousness altering, (usually sold as mushrooms for “microscopic study”) while others cater strictly to customers interested in edible varieties. Some sell both types, but I feel more comfortable ordering from the edible-only folks.


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Maine’s Chanterelles, Our Best Forest Edible

Page 250 of Mushrooms of the Northeast by George Barron

Morel mushrooms used to be my fungal focus in springtime back in Michigan, but the Maine woods just don’t produce them, so for many years I have tried to find a local substitute. Chanterelles now fill that need. My requirements for a morel replacement are:

  1. Easy to spot in the woods. Chanterelles are yellow-golden and stand out “like stars in the black heavens” on the forest floor.
  2. Easy to tell apart from any toxic look-alike. The closest one is the Jack-O-Lantern, Omphalotus illudens, which grow in

    Jack O’ Lantern

    clusters on buried dying wood. These mushrooms are much larger and the gills are much sharper, Chanterelles have blunt, forked ridges rather than gills. Their similarity is decurrent gills/ridges–they run down the stem.  Also, the Jack-O-Lantern is not a killer– it will just make you wish you were dead.

  3. Good eatin’. Chanterelles are known the world over for their awesome flavor. Why go to the trouble of bushwacking through the Maine woods if the reward is only mediocre? They have a fruity aroma and are a delicate addition to eggs or white wine sauces.
  4. Long season. In this sense they beat morels. Chanterelles fruit from early July (as I write this on July 6, there is a cluster next to my stairway to the shore) to late fall.
  5. They stay put. The chanterelle is in a stable symbiotic relationship with trees wherever it grows, it is not a decayer. That means the fruiting bodies (mushrooms) will pop up at least once a year in the same spot. You will not diminish the huge underground part of the chanterelle (mycelium) by picking the mushrooms.
  6. Slow growing. Here’s another way they beat morels. You can leave tiny chanterelles alone and come back in a week and they will be much bigger. Don’t try that with most other ‘shrooms. Bugs don’t like them, but watch out for slugs. We all know here in Maine slugs are at the top, the bottom and everywhere else on the food chain.

The best way to become comfortable with picking wild mushrooms is to take it slow and stick to easily identified species. Get a few good identification books specific to your area (NOT just the internet, do NOT rely on search engine pictures) like George Barron’s Mushrooms of Northeast North America, The National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Mushrooms or Maine’s own Dave Spahr’s Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms of New England and Eastern Canada. Find an expert in the locality who gathers edible mushrooms if possible or join a mushroom club like our Maine Mycological Association. If you’re pretty sure you have an edible mushroom (other people say 100% sure, but are we ever really?) then begin by eating a very small, cooked portion (never eat raw mushrooms from the wild) and waiting to see if you get an adverse reaction, at least 24 hours. Now comes the fun part: You now have found an edible mushroom and you have taken photos and recorded the date and place. Now all you have to do is check the same spot next year or in the case of chanterelles, every week or so until late fall. With a few more species you’re well on your way to becoming a Maine fungal gourmet.

Sadly, the only way most of us have access to chanterelles is by buying dried ones in little bags at outrageous prices from the grocery store. Here’s the sad part: unlike the king bolete (porcini, steinpilz), chanterelles don’t dry well. Their delicate flavor is lost unlike stronger flavored mushrooms. You might as well not bother. However, some grind the dried ones into powder and use it to flavor sauces, but do that with your own harvest, not with store-bought.

I hope someday to have guests from Italy or Poland whose favorite activity is to hit the woods and look for mushrooms. I remember when the first Russian fishermen came ashore in the late 1980s everyone assumed they’d go to the bars or retail outlets, instead they took to the woods, looking for mushrooms. I could learn from those folks.

Fiddleheads, clams, chanterelles, lobsters, wild blueberries…don’t miss a taste of Maine on your vacation. If only there were a good way to prepare slugs!

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The Silence of the Clams

Walleye painting by Timothy Knepp

I have just spent over a month in Michigan. Ann Arbor is a great town and has a dazzling array of restaurants, but I found myself avoiding seafood. How fresh can a clam be in Michigan? OK, I’m spoiled. I can go down to the shore here at SeaCat’sRest and dig clams so fresh they don’t have time to scream before I drop them into boiling water. I had to work in the scream thing because I came up with this great title, but in reality I’m just fishing for a reason to use it.

Michigan has great freshwater fish: whitefish, smoked chub, lake trout and my favorite, walleye. But there’s the mercury  problem. Michigan’s fish advisory tells us:


Wow! Scary! The mercury is atmospheric, emitted mostly by coal burning power plants and concentrated in the fat of fish over time. Asia is the biggest polluter by far. Every step in the food chain concentrates the mercury approximately ten times. This is called biomagnification. Therefore a plant eating fish (or mammal) has much less mercury because it doesn’t eat the fat of other animals in which the mercury is concentrated. Mercury is one toxin among many, but it is the most important. Others include PCBs and Dioxins.

Human health risks from methylmercury exposure have been widely documented, and include neurological effects, impaired fetal and infant growth, and possible contributions to cardiovascular disease.…/pdf/sources_to_seafood_report.pdf

So what about fish from salt water? Doesn’t marine fish from Maine’s coastal waters also have unhealthy levels of mercury? Yes and no. True, older, bigger fish like bluefish, swordfish or shark, or fish which spend part of their lives in fresh water like striped bass should not be eaten by pregnant or nursing mothers. Also, the toxin-concentrating part of the Maine Lobster, the tomalley or liver ( the part Julia Child loved to make a sauce out of) should be avoided. But the State of Maine also says, “All other ocean fish and shellfish, including canned fish and shellfish: Pregnant and nursing women, women who may get pregnant and children under 8 years of age can eat no more than 2 meals per week.” That’s pretty liberal compared to the Michigan guidelines. The diluting effect of the vast ocean and the active tidal currents help to spread the toxins out so that Maine coastal seafood is not faced with the toxin uncertainty of freshwater ecosystems. The thing about saltwater fish is that the mercury levels are pretty unvarying. For example, the mercury level of .3 parts per billion is an average for a given species throughout the world’s oceans. If a given species had that level in Lake Michigan it might have twice that in one of Michigan’s interior lakes or rivers. This is because the local environment’s acid levels could be higher, putting more atmospheric mercury into solution.  So the warnings for Michigan’s fish must reflect this by assuming the worst case. Even more restrictive are the government warnings about Maine’s freshwater fish. No fish should be eaten by pregnant women or children under 8 except landlocked salmon or brook trout, one meal per month.

The take away from this brief review of the mercury problem in fish is to 1) observe the consumption guidelines for the fish in question, 2) Make sure the fish comes from a larger body of water and 3) eat young or small fish, and remove the fatty parts. Maine has a low level of mercury inputs, but most mercury comes from the atmosphere anyway. With our strong tidal currents, Maine’s coastal waters have no “hot spots” like an acidic Adirondack lake or industrial harbor. There’s still too much mercury for a perfect world, but as we move away from coal and other fossil fuels, the future looks brighter. As for clams, mercury is not the problem, pollution or red tide (paralytic shellfish poison) is what you call the hotline for: 1-800-232-4733 or 207-624-7727.

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Maine’s Oysters

Maine is synonymous with lobster, but we also produce some of the best oysters (Crassostrea virginica, the Eastern oyster) in the world. In warmer areas oysters can be grown from egg to adult in a year, but in Maine they take three or more years to reach a harvestable size. The extra growing time results superior flavor and texture, firmer meat and a thicker shell. The nexus of the Maine oyster industry is the Damariscotta River, a little short of the halfway point up the coast from the NH border and about 100 miles from SeaCat’s Rest. Maine oysters are expensive but worth it, and people around the country are starting to find out. The Damariscotta River has hosted oysters for thousands of years as revealed by huge 2000 year old midden piles of shells left by Native Americans.

Growing oysters, unlike clams, is not just a process of harvesting a wild creature. The production of our prized bivalves starts with site selection. Oysters are endemic to brackish water, the estuaries of rivers where ocean waters mix with fresh. The fresh water must be clean. Polluted water would not only produce unhealthy oysters, they would taste bad as well. So like a fine wine growing region, specific rivers and even parts of rivers, produce the best oysters. Therefore they must be farmed intensively. Maine has 32 oyster farms. Relying on naturally occurring oysters in prime areas would be like harvesting wild grapes for wine.

The process of farming oysters starts in the hatchery in winter. Mature oysters are induced to produce egg and sperm by manipulating food and water temperature while they lie on trays in tanks . Fertilized eggs are at first free swimming but eventually attach to tiny crushed shells fragment provided by the hatchery. During this growth phase they consume huge amounts of algae, which must be provided in the hatchery. Eventually they achieve “grow out” where they can be transferred to mesh bags out in the river. Here their diet changes to a natural one, and they continue to grow until their size requires larger accommodations.


Some growers keep their oysters in floating crates until they’re ready to harvest, but others transfer their investments to river bottom for a while. This requires either hand harvesting with scuba gear, or a mechanical dredge. Either way, the reward is a superior product, commanding a premium price in New York restaurants. Fortunately, visitors to Maine have the opportunity to sample Maine oysters near the source at a local price. Every September the village of  Damariscotta hosts an Oyster festival. Admission is free and the oysters are plentiful; 15,000 were served in 2012.

The Maine oyster industry is small compared to the lobster industry.  Currently oyster sales amount to $8 or $9 million dollars per year while lobster sales total $340 million. Although Maine oysters are often out-shined by lobsters, the product quality is just as good and they will likely grow in importance in the years to come.  Recent threats from disease and the possibility of hurricane damage still makes oyster farming a gamble, but Maine’s cold winters assure that our oysters attain a sweetness not present in fast-grown southern varieties. If you can afford a few Maine oysters at $1.09 each (supermarket price, 10/29/12) you will be able to enjoy a taste of the  briny-sweetness of Maine.

Our oyster appetizer. Photo by Pat Gray.


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Mushrooms on the Maine Coast

Chicken of the Woods

September and October are great months for learning about and foraging for fungi here in Maine. These past few weeks have been especially fruitful for us, as our freezer is filled with several varieties. My first breakthrough was on September 29, when I found this sulfur shelf, also called Chicken of the Woods, or Laetiporus sulphureus, growing on a dying oak tree.

I am timid about eating wild fungi. I decided to avoid gilled mushrooms because the really toxic killers all have gills. That leaves quite a few edible choices, and a few which can cause gastric upset, but not death. Someday I will be confident enough to pick and eat gilled species, but not now. Each one of my finds were tried with the expectation that they would make me a little sick, (not yet) so small portions and thorough cooking are a must!

The Chicken of the Woods is indeed similar to chicken, with a slightly stringy texture similar to breast meat, but with a mushroomy flavor. It holds up well in stews or sauces and is a great vegetarian alternative. The trick is to use the outer portions and cut around the bug intrusions.

Hydnum repandum, the Hedgehog Mushroom

Another easy target is the hedgehog mushroom, or Hydnum repandum. These look like crusty bread on top but have teeth or tiny icicles under the caps. A cluster of them on the forest floor can be enough for several meals. They taste like portobello. I found this one on October 5th.

On October 6, a foray was scheduled by the Maine Mycological Association at the Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, ME.

Entoloma abotivum

I jumped at the chance to mingle with people who knew mushrooms and didn’t mind the three hour drive. But before I went I found some strange white blobs growing along a dead spruce root on my own property. I remembered a picture in one of my books describing them as aborted entolomas but I thought I would take one along to make sure.

Anything which looks like a blob should be sliced in half to make sure it’s not a deadly Amanita

Armillaria mellea

button, in which case the structure of an embryonic mushroom will be seen. The aborted Entoloma results from the parasitizing of one species by another resulting in sterile growth, but the result is delicious. The other cool thing is that it can be found in large quantities. My harvest was close to five pounds. It has become a favorite!

At the foray I paired up with Dr. Lawrence Leonard, and he conveyed some valuable advice. He taught me to always get a spore print and to look for one under the mushroom in its original spot, on a leaf or another mushroom. He also identified the Honey mushroom, Armillaria mellea, another important edible, and a gilled mushroom. It’s pretty easy to recognize by its prominent annular ring, white spore print from brown gills and clustering habit on wood.

At the end of the foray everybody’s finds were arranged on long tables. I took some photos of some other important edibles. Hen of the Woods, Grifola frondosa is one I wish I had found. It’s similar to the Chicken of the Woods in that it grows under dying oaks, and is very easy to identify. Also easy is the Cauliflower mushroom, Sparassis crispa. Sadly, I can’t report on how either of these taste. Maybe next year.

Grifola frondosa, Hen of the Woods

Sparassis crispa, the Cauliflower Mushroom

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Going Oriental in Ellsworth

I must confess, as a transplant from a bigger city I miss restaurant choices, primarily Asian. People who live in or visit Downeast Maine have the choice of a gamut of local seafood establishments; they can indulge in fish and chips to lobster rolls to elegant bisque. It’s all good but what about sushi, pad Thai or kimchi? Do we have to drive a few hours to find our Asian fix? NO! We have a pretty good choice right here in Ellsworth, Maine.

OK, right off the bat I have to complain about the lack of a Vietnamese restaurant. And the Indians are absent too except for occasional appearances at the Ellsworth farmer’s market. And there are plenty of other cuisines I have not tried: Indonesian, Filipino, Burmese and who knows what else. Still, for a year-round population of 7,764 we have two Thai restaurants, a sushi/Asian restaurant, a new Korean takeout, and a “traditional” Chinese restaurant. Not bad!

Just this summer we had the addition of Yu Takeout, the Korean entry. It is located at 674 US Route 1 in Hancock, just 2-1/2 miles east of Ellsworth, and 6.3 miles from SeaCat’s Rest.  (207) 667-0711 will get you to Sonye or one of her helpers. As of this writing there is no menu on line except the one you see below. This is the third takeout to open in this location. I’d say the third time’s the charm!

Another newly opened restaurant is Shinbashi, at 139 High St in Ellsworth. 207-667-6561. It has been around long enough to have many reviews written about it, and they’re overwhelmingly positive. At first, the beautiful interior and extensive menu brought in so many customers they had a little trouble keeping up, but now they’ve hit their stride and are doing fine. The sushi is the best in town and prices are reasonable. There are many choices for non-sushi lovers too: Chinese, Thai and Japanese dishes. The menu is on line here.

Pronsavanh Soutthivong

The Bangkok

For mainstream Thai, you can’t do better than The Bangkok at 78 Downeast Hwy (US Rt. 1), Ellsworth. Laotian Pronsavanh Soutthivong has been greeting her customers for several decades and now has a beautiful new building. Tripadvisor gives The Bangkok a 4.5 out of 5, and I would give it a 5. Our favorite dishes are the green curry and three king party. Pron knows I like my curry hot. The pad Thai is awesome. 207-667-1324.

The Bangkok’s old location is now filled with another Thai restaurant, Siam Orchid, which has a sister location on Rodick Street in Bar Harbor. I have been to the Bar Harbor restaurant and found it very good, so I am sure the Ellsworth branch is just fine. Alas, I cannot offer a first hand report, but don’t take that as a negative! The Siam Orchid is at 321 High Street, Ellsworth. 207-667-9161

Finally, there’s China Hill at 301 High Street, Ellsworth. 207-667-5308.  I referred above to a “traditional” Chinese restaurant. What I meant to say was “traditional American small town” Chinese restaurant.  This place has a loyal local following and for those who know what I mean it will not be a disappointment. Credit China Hill for being the first taste of far eastern cuisine in the Ellsworth area.  I have eaten there once or twice in the last 20 years and I don’t remember it being as bad as many on-line reviews, but since most rural Chinese restaurant went “buffet” (uncertain-aged food sitting under hot lights) I have steered toward Thai, Japanese or Korean restaurants based on a few bad meals, but not at China Hill. I guess the “all you can eat” crowd will always need their own restaurants, and Chinese buffets certainly fit the bill.

I would love to see a Pho (Vietnamese) restaurant open up in Ellsworth. And an Asian market would be nice too. Maybe the two combined! Hint hint. Still, what we have is pretty good. Remember, there’s more to Downeast dining than lobster rolls!

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Cooking with Lobsters

Our new floating crates have allowed us to accumulate lobsters and crabs for future use.

Now that we have an almost-steady supply of lobsters coming from our five traps in front of SeaCat’s Rest our challenge has been to try all the various way of cooking them. The starting point is the old standby of boiling or steaming and simply eating out of the shell, but this can get messy and makes it hard to have other foods along with it. To do this extraction in the kitchen allows more varied combination with other ingredients. And let’s face it, even something as exotic as Maine lobster can get tiresome if only cooked in one way.

Professor Jim

My friend Prof. Jim has paid a visit every year in summer since time immemorial and has bugged me mercilessly to get my lobster license. He and I create culinary masterpieces involving local ingredients and ethnically warped techniques, so lobsters were an important goal. So far this visit we have indulged in lobster and cabbage tacos, peekytoe crab cauliflower soup, lobster thermidor, lobster ravioli with garlic cognac sauce and lobster spring rolls. During one night of a lobster drought we had to settle for Julia Child’s beef bourguignon, but that’s off topic.

Lobster bisque

A old standby has been lobster bisque. I blogged about it here. It’s a good first step away from boiled lobster and like the others, a good way to stretch your lobster dollar. The lobster tacos were pretty simple, just boil and cut up the meat into small chunks and top with  a blended sour cream, garlic and  jalapeño sauce, with the usual taco vegetables on a flour or corn tortilla. I’ll save the crab recipe for another post.

Now we get to the lobster thermidor, a major star in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The important first step is to make an herb and wine stew to steam the lobster with. This steam stew is later strained and reduced into an awesome cream sauce which is combined with chunks of lobster meat and mushrooms cooked in butter and cognac. We opted out of the recipe’s tomalley (lobster liver) inclusion on the advice of the US Food and Drug Administration. The whole assembly is loaded into lenghtwise-split lobster shells and topped with parmesan cheese  for a final broiling in the oven.

lobster thermidor

I don’t want to reprint the recipe here since there are so many on the web, like here. I can report that the result was a big hit and has the SeaCat seal of approval!

If the thermidor was guilty indulgence, the ravioli was no penance. In fact, we made 24 pasta packets containing 4 lobsters, so a six ravioli serving was a whole lobster! Making the pasta was a big part of the fun. Jim brought a crank pasta roller with him and we motorized it by hacking a bread machine. The finished product looked like something

out of the steam era, but it did work. The filling was crafted with sauteed onions, garlic, parsley, basil, an egg and bread crumbs and of course the meat from four lobsters. The sauce was another seat-of-the-pants cognac cream and scant tomato paste creation. The ravioli was boiled until it floated, drained and presented with a little sauce on top. Ooolala!

Finally we made some lobster spring rolls on our final lobster indulgence night. Lightly pickled vegetables, rice noodles, hoisin sauce, diced lobster meat, whole basil leaves and some killer chile sauce mixed with sesame oil and Thai fish sauce. Ahhh, summer in Maine!


Filed under Acadia, Good Food, Quality of life by on . 3 Comments.