I arrived in Maine two days ago. Upon arriving, Husband and I settled in for a lobster roll. This unassuming sandwich relies almost exclusively on the flavor of the Maine coast specialty, sweet and tender lobster meat. We ate them quietly while sitting at bar stools along a dock looking out at the boats.
Lobsters come a long way to get into my stomach, and I don’t even know the extent to it. I’ve been reading a bit of The Lobster Coast and just the view I’ve gotten so far is crazy – setting traps, checking traps by hand, taking the lobsters to market, cooking them up and making the lobster rolls. That doesn’t even include the long bottom-dwelling lives of these weird bugs. What stuns me, though, is that it is a supremely local, mostly low-tech industry. Certainly, some electronics are helping lobstermen and lobsterwomen out, but most likely, these lobsters are from somewhere less than 100 miles of where we’re staying in Maine.
I think the combination of the specialness of lobster (I’ve never eaten it, that I can recall, outside of beach towns, and even then, it’s just a bit of lobster meat in bisque) and the intense beauty of the coast here that makes me so impressed by the lines of this particular food system. Sure, lobster is expensive, but it’s also got such a story behind it; between lobsters and tourism, it seems like the Maine economy has taken a few hits over the last two centuries, and those two things always seem to shore it up.
I have also seen some other aquatic life that I don’t (and never would) eat: whales. The baby and momma humpbacks pictured were less than 100 feet from our boat, and it was pretty magical to float alongside as they surfaced, blew air out of their blowholes, and flipped their flukes at us. Maine is magical for many reasons that have nothing to do with food, and I’m trying to eat all the magic up.
A gave me this recipe as part of her wedding gift, which was a recipe book with pages to add all sorts of recipes to it – one of my goals, though not one I’ve been able to complete yet, is to put all the recipes I love onto the extra cards and fill up the book so I have it handy in the kitchen. A is Husband’s cousin, and she represents so much of what I love about his family: she’s a free spirit with an amazing sense of humor who is constantly going on adventures. She travels frequently and whenever I see her I get the biggest hug. Her sense of style is on point but also not like anyone else – she’s one of the most confident people I’ve ever met.
Her chili recipe was exactly what I needed the week before our trip – I needed something hearty and healthy, so I cut up a gazillion veggies for this dish as I listened to a podcast on the benefits of a plant based diet. Granted, I also threw the ground beef in there, but percentage wise, it was a very plant based dish. After two hours of cooking, it was one of the best entrees I’ve made – rich and flavorful but with most of the flavor coming from the veggies and spices and slow cooking, not from a bunch of butter and oil, which tends to be my go-to.
It took all week to finish the big pot, but unlike with most leftovers, I was happy to keep noshing on it throughout the week, happy that when I only had 20 minutes for lunch between engagements I could slip into the house, heat up a bowl, and feel warmed and fed. Good recipes seem to do that, though I’ll caution: this recipe is not for someone who wants the exact same results each time; there are almost no measurements, and while she uses bacon and steak, I used ground beef.
N’s post on her own blog about these buffalo cauliflower balls was the first brainchild for the meatball/”meatball” party. I am not the world’s biggest fan of veggies, and I really cannot do cauliflower; conversely, I would eat macaroni and cheese for every meal if such an option would not quickly make me a very ill woman. So when she described these cauliflower balls this way, I knew I had to try them: “They are so creamy that it’s unbelievable that these contain no cheese! In fact, the only dairy is a tablespoon of unsalted butter. That’s pure cauliflower power. I never want to stop eating these.”
So basically, the party and all the prep and all the other people invited? Yeah, just an excuse for me to get N to make me cauliflower that tastes like macaroni and cheese. She delivered; while I wouldn’t ever compare them to the artery clogging goodness that is Kraft blue box, these were super delicious and far and away the best preparation of cauliflower I’ve ever had. It’s very impressive that they contain no cheese; my friend M and I once tried to make a flour-less pizza crust that was made with cauliflower, but the real base for the recipe was cheese, so it was hardly healthier unless you were just trying to go gluten-free.
I think the combination of flavors was on point as well, because cauliflower on its own is so relentlessly bland that it needed something spicy to make you forget steamed cauliflower. N more than achieved that and created a delicious reason for a dinner party. 🙂 The original recipe was from The Almond Eater, so props go to her as well – wonderful!
I have been ill for a few days. It is not such a big deal, but it is more ill than I’ve been in a long time, and I’ve been surprisingly baby-ish about it. It has made me appreciate more than usual the casual, easy-going buoyancy of my husband’s personality. Two days of my illness were our return days from Maine (terrible timing on my part) so the fact that he was willing to drive a lion’s share of the miles and still make jokes to me as I moaned and groaned about pain really make me once again stunned that I’m so well cared for and he seems to wear it so lightly.
For the meatball party, Husband had mentioned that he wanted to make sausage balls, so I bought sharp cheddar and spicy sausage, but he hadn’t mentioned any other ingredients to me so I assumed he didn’t need any. When we went to start cooking, he said, “time to find a recipe!” and I had to laugh: I just cannot fly by the seat of my pants like he can. We didn’t have Bisquick, the main starch of choice in the recipe he chose, so we ended up making an approximation of Bisquick from scratch. The sausage cheddar balls turned out wonderfully; the recipe he more-or-less used was this: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/14826/easy-sausage-cheese-balls/.
Sausage balls are also a pro breakfast food, and K, a friend who came to the party and stayed overnight, helped us eat the remaining sausage balls with breakfast toast on our back porch. While Husband didn’t win the competition against many other delicious kinds of meatballs, I am reminded every day how much his easy-going attitude both surprises and saves me from my own overthinking. It’s not a bad thing to associate with such a tasty, crispy, spicy treat.
N and I were having coffee when we came up with the idea for the meatball party. One of the qualities I appreciate in N is that she doesn’t do things halfway. The woman showed up at my house for the party with two kinds of meatless meatballs (all, by the way, the most perfectly round meatballs I have ever seen) two dipping sauces for them, a rice cooker she didn’t need any more as a present for me, two prizes for the winners of our meatball contest, and probably more things I don’t even remember.
N’s food was wonderful, as usual – peanut flavoring is wonderful for making alternative proteins tasty (see 37. M’s Spicy Peanut Soup recipe, for instance), and these were wonderfully spiced as well. I am glad that they had quinoa in them as well, because now I have a rice cooker that, according to N, makes great quinoa. I will have an easier time putting together my own version of these now that I can let the quinoa burble away to itself without my checking to make sure it isn’t burning.
The recipe N used is from the blog The Simple Veganista, and she wrote about them at www.nicosroom.tumblr.com, which is full of the recipes she uses for her cookbook club. You can also read her post on the meatball party and all the fun that was had.
C is an improvization artist, which is a quality I recognize in myself as well. We language-studiers tend to have to be, because when you are trying to express something that hasn’t been expressed before, you’ve got to improvise. C took a recipe for Meatball Bombs, a recipe for Crockpot Turkey Meatballs, improvised which ingredients she had and substituted things that she thought would work well, and created the delicious teeny-tiny-meat-pies that we ate at the meatball party.
A hostess always worries about balance at a dinner party, and I worried that a party with meatballs (even meatless meatballs) as the focal point might be way too heavy. I put out some tiny slider buns so that people would be able to add a little starch to all that protein, but I was relieved when C walked in with meatball bombs because they built the starch into the meatball. They were savory and the pastry was rich enough that they didn’t need to be dripping in sauce to taste good. While I loved all the meatballs (they are all my favorite child), this meatball clearly won my favorite format for a meatball.
I was also impressed that it was a turkey meatball, because I haven’t used turkey as a substitute for beef in many contexts (I’ve never had a turkey burger, for instance) and I was very happy with the richness of it – a dry slice of turkey breast on thanksgiving is definitely not the only format for the good ol’ bird. I want to experiment with turkey as a replacement for some beef because it seems leaner and it gives me an option when beef isn’t on sale but I don’t feel like chicken yet again.
I know I’ve posted a lot about meatballs, but I promise, I’m almost through the party recipes. They were all so good that I want to share them both so I can try them myself and to let you all experience the breadth of meatball goodness at this party. 🙂
J is a friend of a friend, N, who was my co-hostess for the meatball party. J immediately made me happy when I met him (in a donut store, of all places) because he studies math and is easy-going, which are two things that would immediately endear him to Husband. Husband tries hard to be friends with all the English majors I associate with, but he’s got less in common with them. J helped with that, and I was so glad he could come to the party.
J recently bought a deep fryer (!!! how awesome is that??) and so he undertook this recipe for falafel, which turned out brilliantly and was accompanied by a great tahini sauce. It took me back to my most vivid memory of falafel, namely when I was visiting London for the first time. I had spent the entire day roaming the city (very easy t0 do for days on end in London) and had gotten over to the Brick Lane neighborhood. It was full of street markets, graffiti, art, and just general hubbub; I stopped at a falafel stand and got a pita full of warm falafel and lettuce and sauce and it was delicious in that I’ve-walked-10-miles-today-feed-me kind of way; falafel has a simple flavor to me but not a boring one. Every crispy bite of J’s falafel at the party this past weekend was a nice callback to that day of looking at crazy art and trying to find souvenirs that in some way reminded me of the place. In the end, I find that memories of food tend to be my biggest souvenirs from places like London: a brunch burger I ate with an over-easy egg on it, a cup of spiced cider on the banks of the Thames, even a piece of toast, eaten while looking out a window at King’s Cross and miles and miles of houses.
So thanks, J; your falafel clearly carried me away!