07/31/2012

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!

 

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07/22/2012

Small Reach Regatta 2012, Lamoine, ME

Our guests at SeaCat’s Rest sailed this elegant yawl.

Paradise was oozing from the sea and sky for the 2012 Small Reach Regatta at the Lamoine State Park. Our electric lobster boat Eleccentricity was invited to tag along on Saturday, July 21 for the day’s trip to Bean Island. Bean Island is wedged between Hancock Point and Sorrento, about 6 miles due north of Bar Harbor. The day started with little wind, a problem for the majority of participants since they had sailboats. But by 9:30 or 10:00 the wind had freshened to the extent that sailing was possible and even exciting.

We counted 30 boats under sail and a few more rowed. I felt like I was surrounded by butterflies. We kept Eleccentricity at about 4 mph with occasional bursts to get out of the way of a tack and kept up with the fleet just fine. Time commitments  prevented us from going all the way to Bean Island so after rounding the bottom of Lamoine we turned around and headed back. Sadly, this is the last year for the near future that Lamoine State Park will be the venue for the Small Reach Regatta. We will miss it! Happy to meet, sorry to part.

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07/17/2012

Learning from Lobsters in Lamoine

Crabs invading? Eat them!

Slowly I seem to be getting the hang of catching lobsters. At first I used too little bait and only caught crabs. These are the crabs locally known as “peeky toes”, aka rock crabs. After pulling traps and finding only crabs I decided, what the heck, why not eat them?  I collected only the largest and managed to get a few. After boiling, and then an hour of picking the meat out, my six peeky toes yielded 1/2 pound! A lot of work but the crab meat was awesome. I started not feeling so bad about not catching lobsters. On this haul I spontaneously decided to do a little mackerel fishing. I caught one fish and decided to see if the mackerel would do a better job of attracting lobsters. I pulled up a trap I had baited and dropped less than an hour before and there were already 5 crabs in it! The crabs at the bottom of Frenchman Bay are countless and ravenous. They seem to be the main competition for lobsters for bait.

The other important part of this puzzle is that lobsters are mostly nocturnal, so they’re sleeping or chilling out while crabs are actively eating their food. By the time the lobsters are feeling peckish, the crabs have finished off all but the heads and bones. No wonder the lobsters stay away from my traps! The remedy is to put out more food so that there’s enough left for lobsters after nightfall. This means at least one herring in the parlor and two or more in the kitchen (lobster traps are divided into two halves, the parlor which is easy to enter and exit, and the kitchen which leads off from the parlor and is more challenging to enter—and exit). In addition, I have started to leave mostly-eaten bait bags behind so that it will still contribute to the smell of food. This seems to have done the trick, even to the point that the lobsters move in in groups and chase out the crabs. Now we’re talking! The other possible explanation is that the crabs realized I was starting to eat them and decided to leave my traps alone…..not likely.

Success!

Another approach would be to bait my traps at night. So far I have been pulling traps in the mornings so that I can avoid the wind which appears like clockwork as the sun heats the land. The wind in the evenings is less predictable. Still, I may try this.

Today I took my daughter out and she was armed with a camera. The fog was enough to make the distant shore blend into the sea and sky. We had significant numbers of lobsters, but ultimately only two keepers. The commercial lobster fishers are, according to rumor, on “strike” (not going out) so that the price will get higher. We therefore had the bay to ourselves.  It was a great time.

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07/14/2012

A Real Zero-Carbon Maine Lobsterman

Last week I wrote an article predicting I would be the only lobster operation in Maine which was (or will be, when I get my roof panels) operating with a zero-carbon boat. I was premature! Matinicus Island fisherman Nat Hussey beat me to the punch, he’s the real deal, fishing 150 traps. The video below tells the story:

From the Penobscot Marine Museum website, http://www.penobscotmarinemuseum.org. Drawing by Thomas Bernardi.

His approach is different in several ways from mine. First, he started off thinking his craft would be mostly  rowed, so he had a peapod built. The Matinicus peapod is a classic rowing craft and has no resemblance to the modern lobster boat. Nat later added electric propulsion and a trap winch. My boat is more inspired by the modern Maine lobster boat, and power was integrated from the start. I would be hard pressed to row my boat to all my traps, even though I only have 5. My plan was as off-the-wall as Nat’s was traditional. He is intent on recreating the old lobstering ways while I’m thinking high tech. Still, our results are similar: we both get lobsters off the bottom and bring them home without diesel fumes!

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07/08/2012

Electric Lobstering in Lamoine, Maine

Almost two years ago I announced my plan to obtain my recreational lobstering license and build a boat to go with it. I had the audacious plan to power this lobster boat with electricity using a built-in battery bank.  I envisioned the batteries to be charged by solar energy, making it possibly the first zero-carbon lobstering craft in Maine (with the exception of rowed or sailed craft, which I have never seen used for hauling traps).  I am about 2/3 of the way to my goal. I have the license, the traps, the bait, the boat, but not the photovoltaic panels to complete the package. Last winter I built the canopy on which to mount the panels, but because I wanted to see how stable the boat was before adding more weight on the roof, I stopped for the year.

About mid June I relaunched Eleccentricity and she now floats at her mooring in front of SeaCat’s Rest. Around her float five brightly painted buoys marking the locations of my traps. The roof does change the handling characteristics of the boat, and not for the better, but with the advantage of a hauling boom, shade and shelter from rain the trade-off is acceptable. Now if only I could find really light weight panels…

I had imagined, based on the reports heard from other five-trap people, that I would be hauling in huge amounts of lobsters. I have not had that much success. Some claim an average of one lobster per trap. I have been seeing about 1-1/2 lobster per five traps, making the whole enterprise rather hard to justify. I spend an hour and a half putting bait into bags, rowing out to the boat, pulling traps and cleaning old bait bags for about ten dollars worth of lobsters. Obviously, I’m doing something wrong. I have gained a new respect for the hard work of commercial lobster fishers!

My friends remind me, “Hey, you’re catching lobsters. How cool is that?” They’re right of course. To pull tasty seafood from one’s front yard is rather cool. Let’s not forget the clams and mussels on the way to the lobsters. So all I need to do is to keep experimenting: try different bait, different trap locations, different hauling intervals. I will watch and learn from the pros. As for my limited haul, I am planning to build a partially submerged crate for storing live lobsters to allow the accumulation of enough to feed more than one or two people. I’m also planning on fishing for mackerel to see if it is a better bait.

The peak of the lobster season is still ahead. So far there has been a “glut” (not my word) of soft shell or shedder lobsters on the market. One newspaper article claimed the price is below that of bologna. Hmmm. Hopefully, more of them will find their way into my traps. Lobsters, not bologna.

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06/16/2012

Maine’s War of 1812

We are approaching the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. On June 18, 1812 President James Madison signed the declaration of war against Great Britain. This was to be our second war for independence. In Maine, a far eastern backwater (actually part of Massachusetts) surrounded by loyalist colonies New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, war fever was tepid, tempered by familial relations across the borders and a weak federal presence. Castine, Maine was a bulwark of the British with Fort George built and manned by the colonial power continuously from 1690 until the close of the War of Independence. It was the last British outpost surrendered [update...this is disputed by a Michigan friend who says Mackinac Island was occupied by British forces much longer].  In 1814 the Brits returned and once again occupied the fort from September until the following April.

Meanwhile, ordinary Mainers and their friends across the  border cooked up a way to peaceably profit. Privateers are pirates licensed by governments to harass and plunder enemy ships. New Brunswick and Nova Scotia privateers would head to Maine to do their dirty work, but had it worked out so that they would be “captured” by their Maine buddies. Crews would be released back home to collect their insurance, and their cargo and ships would be auctioned off in Maine by the Americans, with kickbacks going across the border. Everybody wins except the insurance companies. There’s a great blog article describing this chapter of Maine history here.

There were hot confrontations too. The most notable was a sea battle in 1813 off Pemaquid between HMS Boxer and USS Enterprise. The battle gained international attention because both captains, the Boxer’s Samuel Blyth and the Enterprise’s William Burrows were killed in the action.  The Enterprise ultimately prevailed and was steered to Portland with the captured Boxer in tow. Both commanders were given an elaborate funeral and laid to rest side by side in Portland’s Eastern Cemetery.  Before dying, William Burrows was offered the dead Blythe’s sword in surrender, but he refused, insisting it be sent to Blythe’s family. “I am satisfied, I die contented,” Captain Burrows exclaimed.

The war raged on. The Penobscot River was the effective new border, meaning our Acadia region was in British control. Britain had plans to rename Maine “New Ireland”, perhaps because it was to the west of Nova Scotia. The Battle of Hampden occurred in August of 1814, concurrent with the retaking of Castine. A particularly brutal British Captain Robert Barrie saw to it that after defeating a small local militia, Mainers would pay for their crimes. His troops sacked the towns of Bangor and Hampden, burning, smashing and looting. When local leaders begged him to show a little humanity he said,

“Humanity! I have none for you. My business is to burn, sink, and destroy. Your town is taken by storm. By the rules of war we ought to lay your village in ashes, and put its inhabitants to the sword. But I will spare your lives, though I mean to burn your houses.”

He only stopped when local leaders promised to deliver unfinished ships to Castine. Still, it was the last minor Maine battle of the War of 1812, by December of 1814 hostilities ended in Maine with the Treaty of Ghent, and the Brits withdrew to prewar borders with the exception of Eastport, which they managed to hold until 1818. From then on, with the minor exception of the Aroostook War, which wasn’t really a war, Maine and the entire US, Great Britain and Canada have been the best of friends.

Baltimore is celebrating the 200th anniversary with a tall ships festival.

In closing, to my family the War of 1812 was important for one other reason, the defection of one Peter Kinsley from the British side, by swimming across the Niagara River. The Dublin native was the founder of Kinsley’s Corners, Ohio (now named New London), and my third great grandfather.

 

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06/10/2012

Maine’s Time Problem

If I would change anything about Maine it would be the time. Not to make more of it, just to move the clocks forward an hour. We would then be on Atlantic time rather than Eastern time. I wake up when the sky gets light, and this time of year that seems to happen before 5:00 AM. Waaaay too early! At the other end it gets dark just after 9:00 PM. Good for fireworks, but still too early for midsummer. And those midwinter afternoons when the sun sets around 4 are not appreciated…

I can travel due west for 1200 miles (as the crow flies) before encountering a time change at the Illinois border. At a latitude of 45 degrees, which we are just under, the circumference of the earth is about 17,600 miles. Since there are 24 time zones that means at latitude 45 there should be one every 17,600/24 or 733.3 miles, not 1200!

Most people think Maine is a thumb of land which sticks up in the north. In reality it is more east than north; the perception is the result of viewing Maine as part of map of the US, where like any map projection the most distortions occur at the edges. Michigan goes further north than Maine, but you’d never know it to look at this map, where the northeast was cut out of a US map, to the right:

Look at this dedicated map of the northeast and you will see Maine start to stretch to the east. Notice on this map how the northern border of NY and VT have become level, but the eastern border of Maine with New Brunswick still tilts to the left as you go north. Now here’s the surprise, that eastern border runs due north and south! This shows that even on a map of New England, Maine is distorted northward.

The reason for this geography tangent is to show evidence for my previous claim that Maine is more eastern than northern, in fact the old ships which used to come from Boston used to be called Downeasters, since the captains knew they were sailing more east than north from Boston, and were sailing downwind.

Today (June 10) the sun rose at 4:41 AM in Eastport, Maine at the eastern end of our time zone. In Marinette, WI at about the same latitude and also at the eastern end of their time zone the sun rose at 5:03 AM. If Maine pushed the Eastern time zone to the NH border, then at the same latitude (Errol, NH) the sun would rise at 4:58 AM, much closer to Marinette’s time.  I don’t know if others have this desire to see Maine go on Atlantic time, my guess is that it would create all sorts of problems initially, but it sure would be nice to sleep in to 7 AM sometime before October. I wonder if I can declare SeaCat’s Rest to be officially on Atlantic time.

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05/28/2012

Eleccentricity Gets a Top

What I unabashedly call Lamoine, Maine’s first electric lobster boat, Eleccentricity, has just received a roof or “dodger” for the future installation of photovoltaic panels. The ultimate goal is to have a zero-emissions motor boat. A side benefit is shelter from the rain and sun, not to mention an elevated platform from which to spot pirate ships.

I put this robust structure together in my garage. Of course it would not fit through the door when assembled (I knew this, really), so after disassembling it and painting or varnishing all the parts I had to devise a way to lift the roof onto the supports.  I had integrated a lifting tab into the roof for this purpose. Two big trees in the driveway gave me the idea that I could run a line between them and hoist the roof high enough to bring the boat under.  The first attempt failed because I used nylon rope which stretched so much the roof only got about five feet off the ground. I quickly replaced the rope with cable and there was zero stretch as the roof climbed about 12 feet. Then I simply maneuvered Eleccentricity under, mindful of my sudden possible death from falling dodger. I forgot to mention my difficulty finding a thing to tie the block-and-tackle line to after hauling the top up. I settled on a hooky thing underneath the bumper of my Honda Fit. I had just used it to pull out a big ornamental plant root ball, but that’s another story.

Anyway, a little jockeying of the boat and backing up of the Fit and the top settled down nicely without me even having to climb into the boat. Since then, I reloaded the 7 batteries and the electric outboard and am nearing launch for the summer of 2012.

One of the pitfalls of designing and building one’s own boat is the knot in your stomach which reminds you of a possible huge mistake. What if the dodger makes the boat so top heavy it flops over in the first strong wind? It does look unstable on the trailer, but I wanted to achieve standing headroom, and I’m not THAT tall. The 400 lbs of batteries in the lowest part of the boat should help, and after all, sailboats are notoriously top heavy. That’s why they have lead keels, and I have a lead keel too. Another concern is the fore-to-aft balance. Last year, without a dodger I found Eleccentricity a little stern-heavy. This put the motor well too far into the water and created more drag than I had hoped for; I was trying for a transom above the waterline.  The extra weight of the dodger (probably about 150 lbs–I didn’t weigh it because I broke the bathroom scale weighing the boat last year) will shift the balance more toward the bow.

The trap hauler shown in inset

Last year when I first launched I wired up the motor in reverse and the steering too. I could only go backwards by steering the wrong way. I am not afraid to look like a fool. This year’s launch may be just as entertaining.

Trap hauling in my driveway

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04/28/2012

Moon Jelly Hatch in Acadia Waters

adult Moon Jelly, see picture credits below

There is currently an abundance of jellyfish in the world’s oceans due to the fact that humans don’t eat them (with a few exceptions), but do eat their competitors. One of the coolest things you can see in a kayak in front of SeaCat’s Rest in May is a hatch of moon jellies, Aurelia aurita. Imagine countless silver dollar sized transparent disks undulating in the waters all around you. Try to catch one on your paddle only to see it slip away, not surprising for something with the consistency of jello.

Moon jellies are one of those life forms you might imagine to find on a different planet or maybe in the ocean of Enceladus, Saturn’s ice-crusted moon. As aliens, they seem to fit the bill: no brain, no heart, no eyes, no lungs or gills, just a flattened sack of fluid with a few differentiated body parts. Pretty simple plan for a 650 million-year success story. At it’s center is what looks like a four leaf-clover, it’s gonads. Unlike our usual picture of jellyfish, the body is more like a disk than a bowl and the stinging tentacles (at least 240 of them) are very small–almost invisible to the naked eye, at least when they’re young. Although they flex their bodies back and forth, their movements do not propel them in any purposeful direction. They flow with the tide and move up and down in the water column by regulating their buoyancy.

captured prey by Moon Jelly, from wikipedia

Their diet consists of plankton, a catch-all term which includes all very small sea creatures such as mollusks, crustaceans, tunicate larvae, rotifers, young polychaetes, protozoans, diatoms and eggs. The tentacles trap the tiny prey and then twist and contract them to pull the creature to its margin, where it is digested. Sea turtles, birds, ocean sunfish and other jellyfish feed on the moon jellies, but even without predation they only live a few months. Jellyfish in general can have a profound effect on fish populations since they eat fish eggs and hatchlings. A big bloom of jellyfish can decimate a fishery, and getting stung by some species is a hazard for humans too, killing 40 people annually. Shark attacks typically kill 8.

Lion's Mane Jelly, see picture credits below.

My kayak outings have uncovered other jellyfish. Occasionally a large reddish mass of jelly will wash up on shore. It’s hard to identify a blob, but it could have been a Lion’s Mane jelly, Cyanea capillata, considered the world’s largest jellyfish. Another time I saw what looked like a gelatinous light bulb. It turned out to be a comb jelly, Bolinopsis infundibulum. This creature is not a true jellyfish and has no stinging tentacles, but looks similar.

Comb Jelly, see picture credits left

We are so lucky to live on the ocean. At our doorstep is the world’s biggest aquarium. And right now it is starting to wake up after a long sleep. The moon jellies are hatching. Pictures and info from Marine Life of the North Atlantic by Andrew J. Martinez

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04/25/2012

Maine is the Most Peaceful State

On April 24 the annual report from the Institute of Economics and Peace ranked Maine as the most peaceful state for the 11th consecutive year, followed by Vermont and New Hampshire. The institute quantifies peace throughout the world in an attempt to show that a peaceful society has profound economic benefits, with the reverse also true.

There are five components on which this peace index is based:

  1. rate of homicide,
  2. rate of violent crime,
  3. police presence,
  4. rate of incarceration and
  5. availability of small arms, or the lack thereof.

For the 20th year, Louisiana is the least peaceful state, and the Detroit metro area the least peaceful urban area. Globally, Iceland ranks as #1 with Somalia at #153, with the U.S. at a disappointing #82. Read more at http://www.visionofhumanity.org

While our low crime rate has long been known, the state ranking poses  some interesting questions, like how does Maine do so well when gun ownership is so high? Our guns are for hunting, and Maine has done a lot to make hunting safer. Handguns remain less-preferred firearms. The study also links education level to peacefulness, but Maine’s average education level is slightly below the national average according to luminafoundation.org. Also, our economy is not the greatest. The study posits that peacefulness should be correlated with an economic benefit, yet even with our 11 years of being #1, Maine average household income is about 90% of the average in the U. S., unchanged since 2000. http://quickfacts.census.gov

There must be other reasons why Maine is such a peaceful state. Could it be the natural beauty of our state? The ample elbow room? The end-of-the-road location? The cool summer breezes? Whatever it is, I’m not leaving. If you want to have a peaceful week in Maine, we still have space on our calendar.

Charts compiled from data at http://www.maine.gov/dps/cim/crime_in_maine/2010contents.htm

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