Sunday, September 28, 2008

Falling for Peaks Island

Summer may be officially over, but that didn't stop Adam and I from hopping the ferry out of Portland and heading to Peaks Island last weekend. After a gorgeous 15 minute ride from the bustling streets of Maine's largest city, we found ourselves in a completely different world, where time moves at a slower pace and bikes reign as the dominant means of transportation. Once on the island, our first stop was the always delicious Cockeyed Gull.

The first thing we did was order drinks. And since we were on an island and I was pining for the summer that came and went too quickly, I decided to order up a piƱa colada. It hit the spot perfectly.

I paired my tropical cocktail with the hummus plate with fresh veggies.

And the veggie stir fry with mung bean noodles.

In addition to the amazing food, the Cockeyed Gull is know for its stellar views of the harbor and the Portland skyline.

After lunch, we rented two bikes and began a leisurely cruise around the island. This laid back community has a loop road that makes an easy bike ride around the whole island. On the way, we stopped to admire the island architecture that ranges from cute cottage to modern mega-mansion.

We stopped in at the wonderfully preserved 5th Maine Regimental Museum, where we learned about the island's history as the "Coney Island of Maine" (about 100 years ago) and as the place where Portland's homeless population was housed (about 50 years ago).

When we got to the island's back shore, we left our bikes by the road and wandered down the narrow trail that leads to the the abandoned military installation known as Battery Steel. This is both a really cool and a really creepy fort to explore. I would have loved a flashlight as we walked through the pitch black tunnel, but all I had was my camera flash to guide us.

Back into the brilliant sunshine, we once again stowed our bikes so we could hang out on one of the back shore's rocky beaches. Because Maine is overflowing with creative people, you can't go anywhere without seeing art. Our rocky coastline is not exception. Behind me you can see the stacked rock sculptures that have become a hallmark of our rock bound beaches.

Anyone can add to the art, as Adam did with a handful of found objects, which included lobster shells, crab parts and an unopened and sun-faded Budweiser can.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Roasted summer tomatoes

Frost crept into Maine this past week, killing off many a tomato plant. Farms near the water and down here in the southern half of the state were mostly spared, so it doesn't spell the complete demise of this year's juicy globes of sunshine. But I can no longer deny the end of summer is near.

At the Portland Farmers' Market, uniformly red and perfectly flawless tomatoes are the exception.

Instead we feast on the sweet goodness of purple, green and yellow beauties that come with the battle scars I know well from my dad's organic garden. With the end of tomato season in sight, I couldn't help but stock up at Saturday's market.

Today with tons of tomatoes in hand, I fired up the oven and roasted a spicy summer sauce. Roasting is a quick way to bring out the sweet tomato flavor and keep the texture of the other vegetables. I add it to sandwiches, on top of baked potatoes and alongside mujaddara.

It will work wherever you enjoy tomato sauce. But, be warned, this recipe is sure to give your tongue a kick.

Hot roasted summer tomatoes

2-3 medium sized heirloom tomatoes
1 organic red onion, sliced
1 bunch organic baby shallots
1 head garlic, peeled and ends trimmed
1 organic jalapeno pepper, sliced
1 organic sweet red pepper, sliced
extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450. Cover bottom of roasting pan with a thin layer of olive oil. Slice each tomato into similarly sized pieces and place in pan. Add red onion. Remove tops from shallots and cut bottom sections into 1 inch chunks. Add to roasting pan. Add garlic cloves and pepper slices. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook for 30-40 minutes. Serves 2.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Going with the grain

I'm fascinated by unusual and heirloom grains, and have been experimenting with some in my kitchen. I find their textures and flavors exciting and have had success using unexpected grains in everything from salads to pilafs.Here are two recent dishes I've cooked up using amaranth and quinoa.

Hot stuffed peppers

4 organic pablano peppers, cored (or regular green, if you can't take the heat)
3/4 cup organic quinoa
1 1/2 cup water
1/2 cup mixed rice (including red and wild, if possible)
1 cup water
1 organic red onion, diced
4 clove organic garlic, diced
4 organic carrots, diced
1 organic heirloom tomato, diced
1 organic sweet red pepper, diced
1/4 cup organic extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp. vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
salt & pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Place peppers in a pan with 1/2 inch of water. Boil on cooktop until bright green and tender, about 5 minutes. Combine quinoa with 1 1/2 cups water and combine rice with 1 cup water in a pot and set over high heat. Bring both pots to boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until all water absorbed. Mix quinoa, rice and remaining ingredients. Stuff inside peppers and place in baking dish. Cook 30 minutes.

Market vegetable & amaranth soup

4 Tbsp. organic extra virgin olive oil
1 large organic onion, diced
1 bunch organic celery, diced (including leaves)
5 organic carrots, diced
8 cups water
1/2 cup amaranth
3 organic white potatoes, diced (with peels on)
4 cloves organic garlic, diced
1 cup fresh shelled organic beans
3 organic heirloom tomatoes, diced
1 organic jalapeno pepper, diced
1 organic sweet red pepper, diced
salt & pepper to taste

Add olive oil to soup pot over medium heat and add onions. Let cook while stirring frequently for five minutes. Add celery and carrots and cook another five minutes. Add water and remaining ingredients. Let simmer, covered for 45 minutes. Serve with a garnish of chopped celery leaves.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The perfect pear sauce

This weekend we escaped to Sunshine Farm for some much needed R&R. We arrived on Sunday night and right away I noticed the overflowing basket of organic pears in the Big Mary kitchen.

The weather-worn fruits clearly came from the orchard, where chemical sprays are taboo.

The next day, I slept in a bit and by the time Adam and I had eaten breakfast and made our way over to Big Mary, the bountiful basket was almost empty.

My dad was rapidly peeling and slicing the pears and plopping them into a pot of water. He boiled the pears down, strained out some of the excess water and then served it. Warm and chunky, the sauce was utterly delicious. Sweet, but not too sweet, with a faint kiss of cooler nights and shorter days.