11/26/2012

Maine’s Elephant Resort

Rosie in retirement. Photo by Barbara Hatch for Hope Elephants

Of all the things we think of when we say Maine, one of the last things would be Asian elephants, right? That changed as of October, 2012  when two of the big mammals took up permanent residency in Hope, Maine, about 1-1/2 hours west and south from SeaCat’s Rest. Veterinarian and former circus elephant trainer Dr. Jim Laurita worked with Rosie and Opal back in the 70′s and decided he wanted to provide for them a comfortable Maine retirement. He raised $100,000, built a huge, 3,120-square-foot heated barn and purchased the necessary veterinary equipment for their care. There were a few negative opinions expressed from an animal rights group, but for the most part the community was supportive. Several fundraisers have already happened and promise to continue to provide for their feeding and upkeep. Check out the Hope Elephants facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/hopeelephants.

Rosie and Jim Laurita. Photo from http://www.facebook.com/hopeelephants

Opal and Rosie’s new home is not a tourist attraction, so if you want to see them or their human caregivers you have to arrange it through the facebook page. They are always ready to accept donations to their non-profit. Future plans do include an education center and a viewing deck, and Dr. Laurita has already allowed school groups to see the elephants. The primary objective is to provide for the elephants and increase awareness of older elephant’s needs in their retirement years. Rosie and Opal are now in their 40′s and may live to 80, so Maine will have the big hungry mammals for a while.

The criticism from In Defense of Animals claimed the new barn and large (1+ acre) paddock was unsafe and inhumane and our climate was inappropriate. Dr. Laurita says elephants encounter snow in their native habitat on occasion and certainly in zoos and some like it, some don’t. Both animals have ongoing health issues and Hope Elephants is equipped to address them. Opal has foot and leg problems while Rosie suffered nerve damage to her shoulder. There are plans for an underwater treadmill. To me, it doesn’t sound like these animals are suffering from being in Maine, and from the photos they seem to enjoy it. Some day I hope to see for myself. Pines,  lupines, apple trees….and elephants!

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11/15/2012

Our County goes Green

Hancock County, Maine, containing Bar Harbor and Lamoine just got a lot greener. According to census figures we have 23,300 households. Eighteen thousand, or 77% of those household’s electricity needs are now matched by the new 34 megawatt Bull Hill Wind Project just 30 miles away from SeaCat’s Rest, atop 600 foot Bull Hill. Of course, the power is fed into the grid so the power goes everywhere, but it still means Hancock County is now a significant energy producer. It only happens when the wind blows, but the engineers at First Wind have done their research and picked a site where there is dependable wind. The success of a wind site can be expressed as the capacity factor, the percentage of rated output that an array produces over time. It’s too soon to know Bull Hill’s, but another First Wind array in Maine, Mars Hill, has achieved 35% according to here.

The substation where voltage is matched to the grid.

On the fourteenth of November, 2012 I traveled to Bull Hill to see this project for myself. It’s a little remote and requires driving over gravel roads for a while, but the site is accessible to all and I recommend that everyone take a look. The land is owned by H. C. Haynes Inc, a timber company and leased to First Wind. Haynes has a policy of allowing access to its lands for recreational purposes, and so the extensive roads servicing the installation are available for visitors at any time. Standing under a 300 foot tower with slowly spinning 150 foot blades is an awesome experience.  Seeing nineteen of them spinning together is humbling. Actually, seeing all nineteen at once is not easy, since each tower is about 1500 feet away from its closest neighbor.

The blades above my head spun at about 12 RPM, a blade swishing by about every 2 seconds at 128 miles per hour at the tip.  I wanted to ask someone what the turbine’s output was at that speed and soon after I was speaking with a young First Wind worker at the facility’s substation who was kind enough to answer my questions. At 12 RPM he said, the generation was “at rated output” or about 1.8 megawatts. The wind was not that strong on the ground, about 12 MPH here at home, so I was surprised to hear that. The young man, who decided not to have his name mentioned, explained that the site is chosen after several years of monitoring wind speeds and that the model of the turbine is chosen to match the wind resource. The Vesta V100-1.8 MW is a model fitted to lower wind speed sites, reaching rated output at 27 miles per hour. I don’t think the wind was that strong even 300 feet up. At 15 miles per hour the output is 600 kilowatts.

Investment in a wind installation is not a casual affair. Not only does the local population have to be on board ($340,000 per year in taxes and community benefit payments helps), but the project needs to be near an existing power grid so that the overall project cost can be kept reasonable. And then the wind too. Being on top of a hill is a big help. There are other, windier sites in Hancock County, but many are close to the coast and off limits for aesthetic and political reasons. Finally, the young man reported that most people don’t realize that the new wind economy has already pumped a billion dollars into the Maine economy.

The Bull Hill project in some ways resembles a housing development in that there are winding streets and flattened build sites with good drainage and planted grass.  All the power from the turbines goes through buried conduits, so like a fancy development there are no wires overhead. Each turbine sends out its maximum 1.8 megawatt at 34,500 volts. It joins with the output of other turbines and heads to the substation, all underground. At the substation the collected power is boosted to 115,000 volts and joins the grid. The substation is staffed 24 hours a day and so the facility is an ongoing employer, keeping watch of the 19 turbines. I asked about the maintenance of the turbines, specifically if the three hundred foot climb was by ladder. The answer was yes, but there is a “power assist” which is basically a lifting cable clipped onto a harness which makes the climb a little less tiring. I would hate to get to the top and realize I forgot my wrench. Tasks at the top include greasing the gearbox, tightening bolts and checking power connections and output. I was hoping to get an invitation to the top but it was not to be. It’s probably a good thing, I’m not crazy about heights.

Wind power is still controversial. Some people hate the way turbines look and others object because they are supposed to kill bats and birds. Still others claim they are an unreliable and expensive source of power.  I like the way they look and hope the source proves to be viable. I am no expert when it comes to giving an intelligent assessment of this power source, but when I look at those big turbines I know there is wind energy being converted to electricity and I see no smoke. As someone who lives 15 feet above high tide, I need to make sure the Greenland ice sheet doesn’t melt, and it’s certain that humans producing CO2 are not helping. That’s my opinion!

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10/29/2012

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.

from http://www.pemaquidoysters.com/

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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10/14/2012

Maine’s Mushroom Superstar, Sam Ristich

Professor Herb Wagner

My time at University of Michigan’s biological station near Pellston, MI exposed me up close to the culture of academia. Billed as the opportunity for undergraduates to get to know professors one to one in a rustic setting, I found them to be often arrogant, disdainful of undergraduates and eager to turn graduate students into uncredited slaves. An important exception to this was Warren “Herb” Wagner, a name which brings thousands of his former UMich students around the world to a moment of gentle remembrance. Dr. Wagner taught the popular Woody Plants course and did what all great teachers did, get people excited. He died at 80, January 8, 2000 after only a week of absence from his research laboratory.

Sam Ristich from http://www.ruthieristich.com/blog/

But this is not about Herb Wagner, it’s about his Maine mycologist equivalent, Sam Ristich. Since becoming involved with mushrooming in Maine and joining the Maine Mycological Association, I have heard quite a bit about Sam and how he single handedly formed the club and exported his considerable enthusiasm about fungi for many years. Always available for one-on-one and delightfully oblivious to fashion or other social conventions, he stayed active into his 90s, devoting his last 2-1/2 decades to educating Mainers about nature.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1915 to Serbian immigrants, Sam served as a navigator for the US Army Air Force’s Air Transport Command in WWII, starting his working life risking it to deliver planes to dangerous places like Greenland, Burma and the Sahara desert. A marker-filled map of the world chronicles his many achievements at www.samristich.com. After the war he earned his PhD in entomology at Cornell (1950). During 15 years of teaching at the New York Botanical Gardens he founded the Connecticut-Westchester Mycological Association (COMA) and the New Jersey Mycological Association. He and wife Ruth worked for civil rights and were active from 1955 to 1975 with the NAACP and the Unitarian Social Action Committee.

In the early 1980s Ruth inherited her family’s farm in North Yarmouth, Maine and so they came to our neck of the woods. Many of the current members of MMA remember Sam, his bubbly enthusiasm and trademark expressions; his whoops of excitement and “wonderment” of the natural world.

Sam died during dinner on February 11, 2008 at the age of 92. I was not lucky enough to have known Sam Ristich, but I can tell he was an important figure in Maine history. You can’t get very far into fungi without encountering his name or photographs. There are annual forays named after him and a memorial nature trail in North Yarmouth. He even discovered a new mushroom in 1983, Amanita ristichii. His service for the Northern New England Poison Control Center in identifying mushrooms probably saved many lives. But to me his greatest mark was as a teacher. Like Herb Wagner and Richard Feynman, his legacy will continue forever in the lives of those he inspired. In his own words from http://www.samristich.com/about.html

I loved it! [Teaching] I had the good fortune of being at the right place at the right time and having the motivation to really tap the potential. Somebody said that the greatest of talents is to discover it and develop it in others. And there’re some people who are motivators and know where to find it and how to mine it.

His daughter is working on a film about her father’s life. See a clip below:

F__Microscope Drama from Ruthie Ristich on Vimeo.

Sam Ristich resources on the web used in this article:

  • http://www.samristich.com
  • “Sam’s Corner”, http://www.mushroomthejournal.com/mma/SCCentral.html
  • http://www.ruthieristich.com
  • http://www.mainelymushrooms.org/PagesPublic/Pub_Sam.html
  • (obituary) http://nemfdata.org/samristich.htm

Filed under Acadia, colorful characters, History, Nature by on . 1 Comment.

10/09/2012

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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10/05/2012

Nickeled and Dimed on Your Vacation?

I had a stray thought the other day that I might look into finding a rental accommodation someplace warm this winter for a week. You know, white sands, cabanas, rum drinks, temps over 60. Someone once mentioned Destin, Florida as a good place, so I went to homeaway.com and checked it out. I looked at the map view and tried to pick a place on the beach. However, it seemed every place said “seven minute walk to the shore” (that’s a quarter mile!) even though the pictures of the property showed a beach view from what looked like a deck. The other choices were high rise condos. Right on the shore but you’re in a bee hive 5 stories up. Then there were the prices. $2-4,000+/week. Ouch! I can’t help but think there’s a SeaCat’s Rest of Florida somewhere I haven’t found. A clean, stylish, private two bedroom apartment on the Atlantic or Gulf coast (and I mean REALLY on the coast) for under $1,000/ week.

Then they have this annoying habit of adding extra charges. Cleaning fees. OK, I understand how each rental requires cleaning between guests (believe me, 5 hours), but why should this be an add-on? Is it optional? Could I rent without the cleaning fee if I were willing to wash the laundry, make the beds and scrub and vacuum all surfaces? This is absurd! Why should you lure me into this property and then start adding things which should be included in the quoted price?

Keith Richards
from imdb.com

Damage deposit. Many properties don’t even state the deposit amount in the description. You reserve and then they tell you. Ours is zero. As a renter, I have to trust that the property manager won’t invent some reason to keep some of my three or four-figure deposit. Is this really necessary? Am I Keith Richards*? I have never had a guest at SeaCat’s Rest who broke something and then didn’t offer to pay for it or even went out and bought a replacement without even troubling me with it. People who stay here are decent, maybe I’m spoiled. If Keith Richards stayed here I could sell the broken bits on ebay and recoup the damage. I’m not saying I will never be forced to ask for a damage deposit but so far so good.

Then there’s the coin laundry, detergent, parking and the charge for heating the pool. Nickels and dimes. Hey, if you’re on vacation do you really want to be constantly reminded of how much you’re spending?  No, we don’t have a pool here, just the ocean. But if we did I would figure out a way to heat it without asking for extra. The laundry is free, detergent too. So is the heat, air conditioning, broadband, firewood and cable TV. That’s what a vacation is all about, relaxing and not having to worry about many quarters are in your pocket.

Lodging Tax. Look out,  Florida’s is 11.5% compared to Maine’s 7%. So let’s see how the Florida vacation adds up:

  1. $880/week
  2. Lodging tax of 11.5%=$101.20
  3. Cleaning fee=$150 plus tax of  $17.25= $167.25
  4. shore access– “short walk”
  5. Hidden fees? Security deposit holdbacks? Unknown

Total: $1,148.45(+?)

Here’s what a week in high season will cost you at SeaCat’s Rest:

  1. $880/week
  2. Lodgings tax of 7%= $61.60
  3. Cleaning fee= $0
  4. Shore access=100 feet
  5. Hidden fees and holdbacks= $0.00

Total: $941.60.

Both rentals are the same list price on homeaway, but ours is $206.85 (+?) cheaper when you do the math, and a lot closer to the listed price. And no waiting for a week or more to find out if you get your deposit back.

Are you being nickeled and dimed by your other vacation rental choices? Do the math and read the reviews, you may be the victim of creative pricing! Now if only we could get 80° in January on the Maine coast.

*See Rolling Stone Keith Richards trash his hotel room in this video.

 

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09/22/2012

Lobster Lessons of 2012

The author struggles with banding

After reading all I could both on line and off in preparation for lobster fishing, I can say that I have learned a few valuable unwritten lessons after a summer of the real thing on the coast of Maine. As background, I got my five-trap recreational license in January of 2012. I went into this game thinking it would be a contest between me, the newcomer, and the established network of commercial fishers. Instead, it has been between me and the lobsters. I have not heard a word from any other lobstermen or marine patrol officers since I began.

One of my earliest expectations was that I would be catching an average of one keeper lobster per trap each time I hauled, which I expected to do every two to three days. I got this idea from watching youtube videos. Instead, I have been getting an average of one lobster per five traps. So much for my anticipated problem of having too many lobsters! This provides me with about three lobsters per week, about what I consider a nice amount for our household consumption.

The economics of this activity is dismal. While the cost of electric “fuel” is negligible-2¢  (readers may remember I have an electric lobster boat), the bait is not. Then there’s the time involved. Over an hour to get my one lobster, not to mention the physical effort of hauling traps by hand and cleaning the mud out of my boat.

Still, if given the choice of silently motoring over to my traps on a glassy, sun sparkled ocean or engaged at some other typical human activity, I’ll take the hauling of usually-empty traps any day. This hasn’t stopped me from musing over why my haul is so marginal in a year when there is supposed to be a “glut” of lobsters. The key to better lobster fishing I suspect, is to constantly move traps around. Just watching the trap buoys in front of SeaCat’s Rest tells me that this is exactly what the big boys do. Early summer there were many, now there are very few. Even I have moved mine halfway to Lamoine State Park in an effort to improve the catch. Then there’s the depth issue. People have told me that setting traps in very shallow water is the way to success, that commercial boats can’t get that close to shore, and they miss a bounty of shallow lobsters. I can’t recommend this. I didn’t work for me. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be much correlation between depth and catch. My traps have 35-40 feet of rope which limits them to this depth at high tide. I tend to set them in deep water, but my problem in this is that with only 5 traps there is just no scientific validity to any of my results due to small sample size. If I had 100, 300 or 500 traps I could get a much clearer picture of which traps were successful. As it is, I have to watch the commercial guys for clues about where they set traps.

As for bait, I started out with salted herring, the classic lobster bait. This would disappear in a day or two, mostly from crabs. After going for my third five gallon bucket,  my supplier could no longer sell any to me due to short supply. I switched to hide bait. This is cowhide with its hair removed in a sort of brine which is about 4X as expensive, but is easier to store (requiring no refrigeration) and longer lasting, since even though it smells like a dead animal, it is like eating shoe leather. In fact, it is. I have found that even though the hide lasts a long time, it slowly becomes less stinky and therefore less effective as a bait. I tend to change it about once per week.

Cucumaria frondosa, Maine sea cucumber, from http://www.marlin.ac.uk

I do get interesting stuff in my traps. Besides (usually undersized) lobsters, I get a lot of crabs. I keep the biggest ones for picking. I get an occasional starfish. Some disgusting worms, sea cucumbers and hermit crabs round out the menagerie. Rubber gloves and a pair of tongs come in handy. Sometimes a seal will come by for a closer look or a school of mackerel will swoop around the boat.

As the fall turns colder I will give it up for another year. Next spring I will have my solar panels installed which will enable me to range further, so I will be more aggressive about finding better trap locations. I’d also like to settle the bait questions, finding a dependable supply and figuring out what kind is best. For now I’ll keep fishing until it’s no longer fun, a luxury the commercial guys don’t have. Hat’s off to them! Buy Maine lobsters!

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09/10/2012

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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09/06/2012

How to Pick a Peekytoe Crab

Maine’s peekytoe crabs (Cancer irroratus) were until recently considered a nuisance bycatch, and a thief of lobster bait. They still steal bait but they have gained a respect of sorts (with the cute new name) as a source of delicious meat. Truth be told, it takes a lot of work to get a very small amount of meat from these guys. But with a little picking practice and by carefully choosing only the largest specimens, the sweet, sweet crabmeat is a nice seafood and is a great foundation for crab cakes or crab salad. Warning! You may never go back to the stuff in the can!

In New York City restaurants the peekytoe has achieved star status. Feel like splurging on a $125 dinner? Head over to Le Bernardin Restaurant at 155 W 51st Street and check out their menu:

from le-bernardin.com/dinner/

So if you want to create your own masterpiece with this newly famous Maine crustacean, follow these steps:

  • Pull the body open from the backside.

    Choose crabs in the 1/2 lb (or more) range. They measure close to 5″ across and are a mottled red in color. They turn this color from a more variegated green-brown as they mature, so that’s a good indicator of which ones you should bother with.  I have heard some say that you can break one claw off all crabs and throw the rest back (to grow another) but this disturbs me.

  • Boil crabs for 10 minutes after the water returns to a boil. Now the crabs are almost ready for picking. All they need is to cool off. Run them under cold water or refrigerate them for a while.
  • Use a small hammer and wood block to go after the claws and legs. The meat is as delicate as the shell is brittle, so tap lightly or you will smash the meat and send the shell fragments into it. Try to get the meat out of all the leg and claw segments. If the crab is on the small side you may skip the smaller segments.
  • Body meat after cleaning, ready to pick.

    Break out and clean the center body where the legs attach. There is a surprising amount of meat here. There’s gill, intestine and liver tissue which need to be cleaned off. The yellow stuff is liver and should be rinsed away. This was once considered great for sauces, but is now known to contain toxins, including PSP, paralytic shellfish poison, get rid of it. What you’re left with is a sort of honeycomb of muscles. The honeycomb is made of a very thin shell and can be broken apart with your hands. The hard part is separating these white shell fragments from the white meat. You may need better light!

  • Allow 20-25 minutes per crab to pick. That’s how long it took me. An hour and a half to pick four crabs and I got 6-1/2 oz. of meat. This is a good amount for two people, but you have to decide if it’s worth it. Many hands make lighter work.

A professional peekytoe picker (often the wife of a lobsterman) can pick 20 lbs per day. Assuming an eight hour day, that’s 2.5 pounds per hour. At my rate it would take me 3.7 hours to get one pound, so the pros are 9.25 times as fast as me! Remember this when you want to cook with peekytoe. It may be worth it to find a local picker and buy from her, providing she isn’t working exclusively for a fancy NY restaurant! New rules now require pickers to work in a building separate from their house, so many were driven out of business or “underground”. Don’t expect to find one easily. The “Maine crab meat” sold in our supermarkets may contain meat from other species, but it’s not too far off. Make sure it’s fresh.

My 1-1/2 lbs of crabs yielded 6.5 ounces of meat.

Now that you have a quantity of crab meat, what do you do with it? Rather than making crab cakes, I like to feature uses which allow the sweet flavor to shine, like a salad or dip. I also like to plan on using it all up as soon as possible. Crab meat should not be kept for more than 48 hours in the  refrigerator. Here’s a recipe from this site I made last night. It was a hit. I served it over a toasted flour tortilla. I split the ingredients in half due to my small amount of meat.

Serve crab salad with a slice of avocado on salad greens.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cooked cooled crab meat, flaked
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1/4 cup chopped green or red bell pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • mixed salad greens
  • 6 avocado wedges, optional

I also like to make a dip using cream cheese and a bit of mayo. This stuff is mucho rich, so make sure you have a big group to eat it:

  • 0ne package (8 ounces) cream cheese, whipped up with:
  • 2 tbsp Mayo or sour cream or both and
  • 6 oz peekytoe crab meat with
  • the juice from 1/2 lemon or lime and salt to taste.

Mix well and serve with your chips or veggies of choice.

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09/03/2012

North Acadia’s Lake Wood

This is what you will see from the Crooked Road

While looking at a map of Acadia National Park I noticed a small elongated lake I had never heard of, the innocuously named Lake Wood. I don’t think any park literature mentions or directs visitors to this lake, making it a secret spot for avoiding the crowds. Hopefully this post will not reverse its status. The aforementioned map does not show the access road and parking lot serving this gem. In fact there is a well marked road named (amazingly) Lake Wood Pond Road which is on the south side of the Crooked road just about a mile west from Rt 3 in Hulls Cove.

A mention of Lake Wood to locals brings on many stories and memories. It is like it is “their” part of Acadia National Park; a fishing, sunbathing and swimming spot all their own. The skinny end which presents itself as the access trail ends is a passable beach, suitable for swimming or watching little fish and tadpoles among the water lilies. The southern  exposure makes for warm picnics. According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries, the lake is about 16 acres, has a maximum depth of 11 feet and an average depth of 7 feet. That’s 36.5 million gallons. The fish species are brook trout, white sucker, rainbow smelt, banded killifish, minnows, pumpkinseed sunfish and American eel.

View from the beach

Until recently, the eastern shore of the lake belonged to the Town of Bar Harbor. Here, just around the left side of the swimming beach, there are granite cliffs which offer a drop into the water popular with “skinny dippers”. Now the entire lake is surrounded by National Park property and as such, nude bathing and other former activities are discouraged, but not eliminated. The lake has a solid ranger presence and an outhouse, but there are no lifeguards or camping. The trail to the granite outcropping branches off left of the main road just before the parking lot.  This same trail leads to three acre Fawn Pond, an even more remote body of water. Both bodies of water drain the mountains to the south and have an elevation of about 130 feet (Lake Wood) to 200 feet (Fawn Pond). Downhill, their water drains to Hamilton Pond and the Northeast Creek, which is a big wild cranberry area.

Water lilies are getting ready to bloom as of late August.

So folks who come to Acadia National Park and find to their distress that there are just too many people, are not giving the park a chance. Try Lake Wood for a little more isolation. I covered other remote places here. There will be more to come!

Fawn Pond

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