Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Henry's Lobster Cakes

While on a writing spree, I wish I could hook my computer up to an I.V. Why not? It could be the next thing after i-pod and i-phone. I have trouble stopping to eat let alone to cook. Luckily I’m married to an excellent chef.

Henry Flipping Crepes

Henry’s lobster cakes can be made from frozen lobster for those of you from away. Try to get Maine lobster since Maine has the most rigorous regulations to ensure sustainable fishing. Frozen or canned Canadian lobsters could be egg laying females. The brand Henry buys at Hannaford's is packaged in Portland, Maine. Lobsters don't have central nervous systems (like bugs)and are only high in cholestrol if you dip them in butter. Hold the side-order of guilt!

Lobster Cakes:

1 seven ounce tub Cozy Harbor lobstermeat (cooked):
chopped fine.
2 small shallots, very finely chopped
1/4 of a red pepper very finely chopped
1/4 cup regular breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp butter
fresh cilantro, finely chopped
juice of 1 lime
splash of martini/vermouth (optional)
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
Old Bay Seasoning, chili, thyme
evoo (extra virgin olive oil)
Use a non-stick pan (scanpans are great.)

Combine lobster, seasonings & cilantro, breadcrumbs, lime juice and bind w/egg.
Fry shallots and red pepper in evoo at very low heat. Sprinkle w/thyme.
Add cooked shallots + peppers to lobster mixture.
Deglaze pan w/vermouth and add to mixture.
(Refrigerate if needed)
Form into golf-ball sized patties and roll in panko.
Makes about 9 or 10 patties.
Fry till brown in evoo and 2tsp butter.

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce:

3 peppers
2-3 onions
1 clove garlic
1/2 tin Italian tomatoes
1 tbs mango chutney
1 tsp sugar
fresh basil or cilantro (or both)
1/2 tsp crushed coriander seeds
1 tbs evoo,
1/4 tbs balsamic vinegar
1 tbs butter

Toss peppers in 1/2 tbs evoo, 1/2 tsp coriander seeds, S&P.
Roast at 400 for 30 mins.
Caramelize onions: cook in 1 tbs butter, covered, seasoned with thyme and S&P, till liquid releases. Cook uncovered till liquid evaporates.
Add 1 tsp sugar and caramelize till tasty brown.

Melt 1/2 onion with 1/2 tbs evoo in heavy saucepan.
Add garlic, cook 1 min. Add toms, simmer.

Puree 2/3 peppers and 1/2 onions in blender w 1/2 tbs evoo
and 1/4 tbs balsamic vinegar.
Coarsely dice remaining peppers.
Add pepper sauce + chopped peppers to tomato sauce,
w/ mango chutney, basil.
Cook through. Season.

Garnish lobster cakes with cilantro and/or basil. Serve on capellini with a side salad and white Bordeaux:

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


On summer evenings the skies are a bright blue that glows from the horizon and intensifies in hue above. The buildings jump out in sharp relief, looking like you’ve put on glasses for the first time. Low humidity, a gentle sea breeze and a warm sun slow to set mark June in Maine. There’s a quiet peacefulness: a lingering “ahh” after the long winter and before the busy rush of tourist season.

After a day on Popham Beach, we sometimes treat ourselves to dinner in Bath. We don’t go for lobster but for Memphis style barbecue at the Beale Street Grill. Zappy black and white décor, blues posters and Elvis icons are a surprise to find in this historic shipbuilding city. The food is excellent: spicy and smoky with an interesting children’s menu. It’s known for its pulled pork and local brews on tap.

We had stayed late on the beach as the kids swam, and I finished Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Pessl has a bright and original voice that transports you back to the pains of late adolescence with its conflicting desires to judge, mock and fit in.

The narrator, a precocious high school senior called Blue, speaks in erudite footnotes, amusing, but after 500 pages, a bit tiresome. Her ironic observations are hilarious. She dismisses a potential suitor as being born in “the wrong decade” with his perfect, shiny hair earning him the nickname “Chippendales.” You keep reading for the unexpected combinations like the pretty boy’s blond curls on his sweaty forehead described as Cheerios soaked too long in milk.

The weakest part of Pessl's book was the murder or suicide mystery. I don’t think that far-fetched plot line was necessary to drive the narrative. Still, as a first novel by such a young author, it was impressive. I'd recommend this book for young adults more than grown ups.

I might look for a new book at the Bath Book Shop, which in itself is worth a trip to the little city. The cozy store promotes local authors and has an extensive children/YA’s section. The owner is as knowledgeable as the best children’s librarians.

Up the brick sidewalk is Reny’s, an old five-and-dime. Great place to find anything from camping chairs to discounted men’s clothing. At a corner over-looking the Kennebec River is Café Crème, a Wi-Fi hotspot with homey charm, featuring native ice cream. After a reviving espresso, you can browse the trendy boutiques and antique stores or visit the excellent Maine Maritime Museum.

Bath doesn’t appear to have changed much since its high days of being a wealthy ship captain’s town, but it has. Iron naval ships instead of wooden clipper ships are constructed on the Kennebec River that flows deep to the ocean. Charming Victorian and earlier period houses adorn tree-lined streets, but the city is no longer in past century financial boom. Bath Iron Works dominates the skyline and drives the economy that is increasingly becoming dependent on tourism.

Bath is worth a stop off Rt. One, driving east from Brunswick. It encapsulates the Old World meets next generation feeling of mid-coast Maine. It’s as nice a mix as the frozen cappuccinos I wasn’t able to find when I moved north a decade ago. Have I really lived here that long?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Lobster Tales

Mackerel Cove, Bailey Island

I went out with the Marine Patrol to research lobster crime for my second novel. The coast guard rescues people at sea, but enforcing state fishing laws and safety regulations falls under the jurisdiction of the Maine Marine Patrol. These waterfront policemen become part of the community they serve. It’s all about knowing the people and working with them to maintain a sustainable fishery and deter crime.

Allen’s Lobster Pier at Lookout Point

Lobster thieving is common, especially with prices reaching record highs. In January it peaked at $11.00 per pound off the boat. It’s a valuable commodity floating in holding crates, often unlocked, below the docks. The live lobsters are not tagged so they are hard to trace. After a string of recent robberies, most of the wharves now have surveillance cameras. In search of easy money to buy drugs, some crafty criminals cut power lines or don scuba gear.

Marine Patrol Officer Robby Beal at Interstate Lobster Pier

With M.P.O. Robby Beal as my guide, I set out to inspect the lobster wharves. Robby grew up lobstering since age seven with his Dad off Mt. Desert Island. He went to Syracuse University in New York, but the sea called him back to Maine. In yet another small town moment, I discovered that his sister-in-law was my daughter’s teacher.

Robby picked me up in Brunswick and drove south through Harpswell down a narrow neck of land. After days of rain, the sky was washed clean to bleached blue with sixty-degree weather and a gentle breeze. It was fresh as linens on a line. What a day to drive along the coast, stopping at hidden coves riddled with small islands.

Most of the wharves were quiet since it’s early in lobster season that in this region kicks in mid June and lasts through Christmas. Some set traps year round but have to buy an expensive offshore fishing permit. The annual lobster migration follows the warm water from the shallow, tidal coves out to the open seabed. At this time of year, most of the catch are shedders. To grow, lobster shed their hard shell. The soft shell lobsters are easier to eat and sweeter but not worth as much since there is less meat per pound. The old timers know to wait.

Redder shedders hauled up by the Whistlin’ Dixie

Bobby Bibber has been lobstering for over forty years. He makes and maintains his wooden traps. His wife, Marolyn, was painting the rusty parts of their metal traps. Bobby’s family has been fishing in this area since 1650.

Merolyn Bibber

The Bibbers still live in an old house overlooking the docks. High property values and soaring taxes have forced the younger lobstermen to commute from inland. The old fishing shacks are torn down and replaced by luxurious summer homes. That’s the worst lobster crime in my book.

Bobby Bibber

The story of Bobby’s childhood was worthy of Dickens. His father had a drinking problem and let his injured wife die of neglect. Bobby and his brother became wards of the state and set to work on a farm. When Bobby was 13 and his brother 14, they heard from the minister that their two sisters were living with their father.

The boys stole the farm pick up truck and went in search of their lost family. When his brother ran a stop sign, the police gave chase. Scared, the boy sped off at 80 mph. He didn’t stop until he lost control and crashed into a tree. The brothers blacked out but, even without seatbelts, survived the impact; the truck did not. It took two wreckers to unwrap it from the tree.

Bobby and his brother fled the crash site and hid in the hills for a week, living off berries. They then headed off to Portland on foot hoping to find work. When the disheveled pair made it to the biggest city in Maine, they were arrested for bank robbery. They were innocent of that crime but not for the stolen truck, driven too far from the farm by a minor. Instead of finding their family, they were sent back to the farm with a criminal record.

After enlisting in the marines, Bobby returned to his old home in Harpswell to fish for lobster. He practiced shooting at eight-penny nails hammered into a tree. He has a .357 pistol and a rifle. That tree is going nowhere.

Bobby’s sharp shooting came in use on the night he awoke to the sound of lobster thieves. He called the state trooper and loaded his pistol with two bullets. He fired a warning shot into the ground, but the thieves jumped into their truck.

I can’t share the rest of the story because a fictionalized version will be in S.A.D. It was a good day of lobstering: I hauled in a salty tale.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Plot Detective

For the second time in the past year I was in the police interrogation room. It’s in the windowless basement over-illuminated by flickering fluorescents. It amused the detective to be on the receiving end of the interrogation. The crimes never happened; they exist only in my mind and on the written page.

Like a character from one of my novels, Detective Mark Waltz of the Brunswick Police Department is not what you would expect. At Bowdoin College, Mark caught the law bug in Dick Morgan’s class on criminal justice. The summer after his junior year, Mark trained to become a foot patrolman at in his New Hampshire hometown.

Mark graduated from Bowdoin with the aim of joining the FBI, but first he would need three years work experience or a law school degree. Mark chose law school. Upon his graduation, the FBI had a hiring freeze.

To pay off his student loans, Mark joined a law practice in Brunswick. After four years, the police chief enticed Mark to join the Brunswick police force as a detective. The pay and benefits were not that different, and Mark missed police work.

Mark described his career change as “having a midlife crisis at age thirty.” He loves being a small town cop and still practices law (but not criminal law) on the side part time. He enjoys the personal connections on his beat and living in a good community to raise a family.

For Moose Crossing I set up an appointment last fall with Mark to discuss a missing child. I had a working mom dilemma. My nine-year-old daughter was home from school due to a teacher’s workshop, but the subject matter of my research made for the worst “take your daughter to work day.” I most certainly couldn’t leave her at home alone so I dropped her off with my husband to sit through student office hours. She learned about Japanese politics while I learned about the most heinous crimes.

I was relieved to hear that in my town, children have gone missing but never kidnapped. Mark talked me through the procedure of a missing person search. An expert can help me find the many branches from every plot twist.

For S.A.D., my second novel, I called once again. “Mark, I need your help. I found a dead body on page one, and I’m not sure what to do with it.”

Mark walked me through the crime scene and all the possible permutations. I don’t think I’ll use the autopsy detail about re-stuffing the organs into a plastic bag like turkey giblets and then sewing up the body for the funeral. Too much gory detail for women’s fiction!

I’m not writing a murder mystery; still, a novel about educational politics and religious fundamentalism could benefit from some drama. I now know what to do with my dead body, assuming this plot line remains in S.A.D.. Anything can happen in between the first and final drafts. Like a detective, it’s my job to uncover the story.

Popham Beach: a setting for SAD