Maine, At Last

Finally. After more than six months of our Manhattan kitchen doubling as a cat hospice, and two months of our Connecticut cocina looking like a set for The Walking Dead (that kitchen renovation!) The One and I got away on vacation to Mount Desert Island, Maine. A true, unplugged, off-the-grid vacation that includes sitting on the dock at Bass Harbor, star gazing, lobster worshipping, crab devouring, and competitive napping.

But first, we had to attend the opening ceremony to our fortnight of play: our annual lobster dinner at the home of our friend Christine Chronis.

Christine ChronisFor the past two summers, Christine has welcomed us with a classic Maine (Maniac? Manian? Mainer?) dinner: crab dip, steamed lobster, corn on the cob, and blueberry cake. This past Saturday, we walked into her home on the edge of Bass Harbor with views of the fisherly goings-on of the locals, and she enveloped us in a cloud of fresh lavender, cigarette smoke, and sweet butter. Christine’s a hugger—the real hardcore kind—and no trip to Maine has officially begun until The One and I are embraced by Mrs. C.

“Where is it?” I asked after bear-hugging her and walking straight through the kitchen and into the sunroom.

“Right there,” she said laughing and pointing to the table. “And I have some Gouda from the Cheese Lady from Prince Edward Island.” Cheese be damned, I thought. It was Christine’s crab dip—arguably one of my favorite foods of all time—that I coveted. It’s creamy, decadently rich, and delightfully lumpy with claw meat. I dispensed with small talk and cocktails and took up temporary residence on her hassock just in front of the dip.

Classic Lobster Meal

“Are you going to leave some for me?” The One asked, not at all jokingly.

“Depends.” And with that, I began dipping the knife, smearing crackers, and stuffing my mouth. I’m not even going to bother with a recipe here because unless you’ve waited in line at a crab-picker’s shack, just yards from the boats, and rushed your oceanic bounty home and made the dip pronto, well, it sucks. I’ve made Christine’s dip at home with all kinds of fresh and canned crab, but never, ever have I come close to what she proffers every year. She’s famous for it, actually. I’m convinced she should open a shack right alongside the pickers and sell her profanely outrageous dip. Even that doyenne of domestication Martha Stewart, who has a house not too far away on Mount Desert Island, would be gobsmacked—it’s that good.

After eating more than half the dip myself—unashamedly, mind you—while Christine demurely ate only one bite and The One dodged a barricade of elbows and forearms, I sat back, sated.

“Lobsters are just a phone call away, whenever you’re ready,” Christine said. Like most folks on the island, she calls in her orders for steamed lobsters to the local pound—in her case, the renowned Thurston’s. I didn’t want to say it, but I was anything but hungry. Three hundred and fifty-six days’ worth of hunger for crab dip had just done me in.

“We can wait a bit,” The One said, and with that I took one last schmear of dip as a toast to Christine’s fabulosity. I mumbled, “Yes,” but my full mouth prevented anything more than what one could consider a primal grunt of assent from escaping my lips.

We chatted about her kids; our one remaining child, Devil Cat; the aches and pains that seem to multiply each year; and cooking. We always talk about cooking. Eventually she made the call, and The One and I picked up the lobsters. As I’ve said before, I don’t like to look my dinner in the eye for fear that it’s memorizing my face so it can chase me down in the afterlife, so I tried to look the other way as I walked in and saw tank after tank filled with beady-eyed ocean bugs just waiting to make a neural imprint of my face. “Hey, look!” I imagined one of them saying to the others. “That’s the son’abitch who took down Gertrude, Elsa, and Brittany.” On our way back to Christine’s, I petted the hot bag asking the girls inside for forgiveness.

Within minutes my penitence was forgotten as I tore into my lobster, ripping it limb from limb, dipping hunks and chunks into clarified butter, and generally turning my brand-new Ralph Lauren shirt into a Jackson Pollock painting.

Being Christine, she wouldn’t tolerate mere corn on the cob as a side dish. No, she carefully sliced off the kernels, milked the cobs (running the back of a knife down the shorn cobs to coax out every last drop of milky corn elixir) and sautéed the kernels in an obscene amount of butter. She’s the only cook (besides me) who salts and peppers her corn. Forgive me Michael Pollan, I know I’m supposed to tsk, tsk anything corn, but it was Zea mays perfection.

Dessert was a simple buttermilk cake studded with tiny Maine blueberries. But Mrs. I-Don’t-Forget-Anything stuck three candles in the cake and presented it to me as a belated birthday cake. I was touched—and guilty. Her birthday is a week before mine, and I forgot completely.

“How much would you like?” she asked, holding her knife against the cake, nudging it left and right, indicating a larger or smaller piece. I, naturally, went with the former, as did The One. We took our cake and nestled into the living room to watch videos of her playing the accordion with some superbly talented musicians. (Oh, did I mention, Christine is quite the salon host.)

With midnight approaching, we said our goodbyes and made plans to get together the next morning for breakfast and a visit to the farmers market in Bar Harbor.

A few minutes later, The One and I pulled into the driveway of the house we’re renting, which is literally a stone’s throw from the cabin owned by the Childs (yes, as in Julia Child), only to find a car with Jersey plates in our space.

Child Family Sign

That’s weird,” I said. I thought maybe it was the house’s owner, who lives down the lane.

“Did you close the windows?” The One asked, pointing to the shuttered and locked living-room windows.

“Uh-huh.”

I tried the door, which we’d left unlocked because we couldn’t locate the key, only to find it locked. We looked at each other. I leaned on the doorbell, and eventually a light from our bedroom came on. We watched through the decorative windows on the side of the door as the silhouette of a man descended the stairs.

“What the f—?” I mumbled.

He reached out his hand and jiggled the doorknob. We stepped back. I looked around for some kind of large branch as a weapon. The door creaked open.

To be continued….

David Leite's signature
Editor’s Note:

[While David takes his sweet time typing up the rest of his tale, no doubt reveling that he’s got us all wondering, we’ve received a number of annoyed comments from readers hollering about his keeping us all in suspense…and one intriguing suggestion from LC devotée Martha in KS, who teased that we ought to ask our readers to write brief endings to the story. Martha in KS, we love the “choose your own ending” approach to David’s shenanigans. Readers, you heard her: Tell us how you think this evening ended for David and The One in a single paragraph or two in a comment below. David will choose the ending he likes the most, and we’ll feature it—along with the actual ending, which David promises me he’s writing RIGHT NOW—in his next The David Blahg post.]

Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Comments
Comments
  1. diannejacob says:

    Damn you. I want to know what happened. I was envying your vacation right up until the end…

  2. Susan says:

    Hey! It’s not enough that you’re on vacation while the rest of us schlep around working or doing other boring stuff…and now you want me to think about that by making me wait for a conclusion to your vaca saga? You’re not a nice man!

  3. Barb says:

    Alright how about sending one of those lobsters to Bruno, AR to this old New England gal

  4. Karen Depp says:

    I am suspecting a Ghost Writer in Residence. Spooky stuff, Fearless Leiter!

  5. Martha in KS says:

    Oh, I visited Bar Harbor 30 yrs. ago & loved it! I think you should ask for your readers to write brief endings to your story. Me first!

    So the door swings open and there is the Queen herself, Martha S. She said “I heard you were in town & wanted to fix you a little something to eat.” There was a table groaning under the weight of the food she’d brought. All you could think of was the amount of the crab dip you’d shoveled down earlier. No way could you eat again before morning. The One smiled, knowing that no one tells M.S. “No”.

  6. Donna Turner says:

    You are driving us all crazy.

  7. victoria2nyc says:

    Can’t wait to hear the rest. A real cliff-hanger!

  8. Of course you are driving me crazy, but more importantly I need Christine’s number. I think we’d get along just fine. After all, I salt and pepper my corn, too!

  9. Ling Teo says:

    ARGH DON’T DO THAT. Hurry up with the next part, already!!

  10. elenits says:

    The ending: you drove to the wrong house!
    Just as I once drove off in someone else’s car….(same model Honda and my key worked for both – )

  11. jamielifesafeast says:

    Funny that I just wrote my very first blog post that left the reader in suspense, waiting for the second half. But although I love a good mystery (just look at my bedside table) I haven’t even gotten there psychologically yet. I am still at the crab dip and the cake…. what a dreamy, heavenly holiday!! Enjoy!

  12. Sofia Reino says:

    It’s 8 am and I’m already starving for that crab dip and lobsters, thank you very much. And worse, now the suspense…. The house was double rented and somehow there is no espace than to sharing those quiet vacation days with some total strangers who do not share any of your interests and create all but quietness and relaxation.

  13. Quinn says:

    I cannot think creatively without crab dip.
    I used to be able to.
    Darn you!

  14. Amy says:

    I am from CT and really want that crab recipe if you can get it for me.

    • David Leite says:

      Amy, I’ve been sworn to secrecy, so, unfortunately, I can’t give it out. But I’ll see what I can do.

  15. I luuuurve your stories :) Some day when I grow up again, maybe I can travel like you do….XX

  16. Mighty unkind to leave us in suspense like that. If this was a book, I would be glued to the pages, sleep be damned, until I found all the answers I needed (or reached the end). Sigh.

    • David Leite says:

      Sarah, didn’t mean to leave you hanging on purpose. But I am on vacation so I’m trying to balance fun with writing! But look for the next post soon.

  17. It’s 2am and I was savoring every word. It was my way of going back home to the coast of Maine for a virtual homesick cure and now I have to wait for the finale??

    Ayuh, I agree with the rest of ‘um, cruel.

  18. Mo says:

    Love that Gouda from PEI. Been quite a few years since I had some. I’ll have to detour to The Island (as we Maritimers call PEI) the next trip home to Nova Scotia.

    • David Leite says:

      Mo, I’m trying to find out if she ships (Christine says she does), but I can’t seem to confirm that. Stay tuned.

  19. Kim Bultman says:

    Given the Arts section of the newspaper that your lobster is resting on, allow me…

    A disheveled apparition — half man, half ghost — peered suspiciously through the partially opened door. Gaunt, unshaven, dressed in a tattered uniform of unknown vintage, the man appeared sleepy, then alarmed. His eyes widened at the sight of my Pollack spattered shirt. As adrenaline pushed slumber aside, he screamed, “I know who are you are!”

    “Um… you do?” I inquired meekly. “Sir, I beg your pardon, but there appears to be a mistake. We rented this cottage for the weekend.”

    Long pause.

    “Oh, thank heavens,” the apparition replied, relieved. “I thought I was going to be tortured by witnessing another one of your crab dip devouring / lobster limb-ripping / corn savoring sessions.” And with that, he vanished.

    Before I could even dial 911, a squad car pulled into the drive. Two officers and an elderly woman got out. As one officer escorted her to the car with the Jersey plates, the other retrieved a gas can from the trunk of the cruiser.

    “Sorry to bother you so late,” said the first officer after he’d nestled her into the driver’s seat and closed the door, “but we saw this gal wandering alongside the highway a couple miles from here. Said she got lost and ran out of gas.”

    “Looked like she’d seen a ghost,” chuckled the other officer. “That, or she ate too much lobster. Happens to everybody first time they visit.”

    “Hey, ghosts can’t eat, ya know!” joked the first officer. “Must be torture… sheer torture. No wonder I feel like somebody’s breathin’ down my neck every time I eat a lobster roll.”

    “Say… are you fellas all right?”

    I nudged The One through the door and hollered over my shoulder, “Never better! Thanks and good night!”

    Remind me to look for that damn key tomorrow morning.

  20. Ruthie Houghton says:

    I cannot believe that you actually ate lobster cooked with the bands on it… say, how was the taste of rubber, anyway?
    A faux pas no one of your culinary stature should make! tsk tsk!

    • David Leite says:

      Ruthie, all I can say is that that is how the come from the lobster. I certainly took them off before cracking!

  21. leduesorelle says:

    I can attest to the MDI crab — The Lobster Claw Bar Harbor is known for its lobster roll, but their crab one is the best in Maine! Unfortunately, it’s unclear if they reopened this year…

    • David Leite says:

      leduesorelle, there’s been a real dearth of crab this year. So many times we ride by our favorite supplier and….nothing.

  22. Louise Stubblefield says:

    As the door opened, I saw myself, with a bleary eyed the One, staring back at me. Then I woke up and went to eat the wonderful food I had just dreamed of, only this time I had more.

  23. Lisa McNamara says:

    I hope it was the ghosts of Julia and Paul there to welcome you!

    Now then: while in Maine, will you have grapenut pudding? And, if you do, will you post a recipe? Pretty please?

    • David Leite says:

      Ha! Luuuuuuuve that one. I’ve never heard of Grapenut pudding, but if I find it (and I can get the recipe), I’ll post it for you.

      • I find this hard to believe that you’ve never had the ubiquitous grapenut custard. Somerset Creamery makes grapenut ice cream! It is definitely an acquired taste–and a New England one. My 81-year-old mom loves it! There’s a recipe in The New England Clam Shack Cookbook.

        • David Leite says:

          Well, Miss Fortier, you will have to bring me a pint when you come visit next weekend.

          • Okay, will do, but I can’t say it’s my favorite. Who referred to it as Euell Gibbons-y? My feelings exactly. However, those who like it, really like it.

            • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

              As with so many thinks, Suzanne! Sometimes I think taste is more about the memories and associations as it is the actual flavor….

      • Lisa McNamara says:

        The grapenut ice cream is tasty, but the pudding is DIVINE! Seek it, find it, devour it. You really do owe it to yourself!

        • David Leite says:

          Okay, I’ll try. But I gotta tell you it’s sounds so, well, like a soft pile of tree bark!

          • Lisa McNamara says:

            No, no, no…perish the Euell Gibbons thoughts. Think creamy vanilla-y custard atop a kind of malty graham-y crust (but soft, not challengingly crunchy). It is absolutely comforting and unique:)

  24. Penny Wolf says:

    Here is my ending for you.

    The One asks you quickly “This is the correct check in date isn’t it?” As the door slowly opens you detect something familiar from this Midnight Man. Dan?! Is that YOU? Your contractor spied your written vacation options and chose it for himself a week before the 2 of you. You simply were a day early due to all of your commotions.

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