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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.

For 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.

“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.

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….

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.]

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