Monday, September 29, 2014

Unexpected Treats - Dispatches from Maine

One of the things I enjoy about my regular trips to northern New England is the access to foods that are not readily available back home in Maryland, or have been so adulterated by local variations that they neither taste nor look like what I have come to expect up here. Add to this the fact that more often than not the local bastardizations are significantly more expensive.

Of course there is the ubiquitous Maine lobster which is always easy to find here in Maine and relatively inexpensive, if you buy it direct from a lobster pound along the coast (and for a few dollars more most of them will cook it for you along with a side of steamed clams and an ear of fresh Maine farm corn).  Then there are your lobster rolls, lobster stew, lobster bisque, lobster salad . . . you get the idea.  The indigenous soft-shelled clams referred to almost universally as “steamers” are normally plentiful and inexpensive during the summer months and can be a meal unto themselves.  There are  local mussels, but not to be missed are the large, sea-tangy oysters harvested from several Mid-Coast tidal rivers and estuaries.  I come from Maryland where we have long taken pride in our Chesapeake Bay oysters, but I will be the first to admit that they do not hold a candle lit on both ends to those taken from the Damariscotta River.  Finally, let us not forget Maine blueberry cobbler, early summer strawberries dipped in chocolate, and the omnipresent Whoopie Pies for dessert.  And you can wash everything down with a wide variety of local micro-brewed beers, or if you so prefer, a bottle or can of Moxie.

There are a few other unexpected treats, non-indigenous foods found from time to time in northern New England which are rare if not all together unavailable elsewhere in the United States.  One of the most common is the Québécois dish known as poutine [poo-TIN].  Regular readers of this blog have been treated to a number of postings about my particular affinity for this concoction of fried potatoes covered with melted cheese curds and thick beef gravy.  You can find genuine poutine (it must use cheese curds) in many restaurants, especially those close to the Québec border, or in areas in New England where Québec visitors tend to congregate (Old Orchard Beach, in Maine, and New Hampshire’s Hampton Beach come immediately to mind).  Cheese curds can also be found in many grocery stores so that you can make it at home.  More recently poutine has taken on a certain cachet and one can now find it elsewhere in Canada and the United States.  Québec also offers us Chinese pie (also know as pâté au chinois here in Maine and simply pâté chinois in Québec), a meat pie similar to shepherd’s pie that is often found here in our area of Maine where Quebeckers settled to work in the now defunct textile mills along the Androscoggin and Saco rivers.  Tourtières, a pork pie from Québec traditionally served around Christmas and the New Year, can also be found in the Franco-American communities in Maine and elsewhere in northern New England.  Another Québécois dish in this tradition is cretons [crew-TŌN], a pork pâté similar to the French rillette made from pork scraps left over from butchering which are then cooked in water or milk and mixed with soy, salt and pepper, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, allspice, onion and garlic (similar to the spice mix used in tourtières). Served cold and spread over toast or an English muffin, it is a popular breakfast dish throughout La Belle Province, and if one searches in earnest, it can be found in Maine and New Hampshire.

Another treat you don’t necessarily have to cross the border for is the smoked meats often associated with, but in no way limited to, the established Jewish and Eastern European communities in Montréal, just a very few hours northwest of us here on Sabbathday Lake.  It is not uncommon to find these smoked meats in grocery stores and markets in this part of Maine with its multi-generation Franco-American communities.  I will admit that these smoked meats always taste better when acquired warm and fresh from a Montréal delicatessen, but you should not be fussy if you can find them on this side of the border.   You just have to keep your eyes peeled.  One cannot fathom the excitement when I discover a new meat emporium regardless of where it is located.

This past week I discovered two of them in the Midcoast region here in Maine, both of them less than an hour’s drive from the lake.  Talked about unexpected treats!  The first is Morse’s Kraut Haus, on State Route 220 in rural North Nobleboro; the other is Maurice Bonneau’s Sausage Kitchen on Main Street In Lisbon Falls.  Morse’s has been around for almost a century, while the Sausage Kitchen was established in 1995.,
The former is a product of the central and east European settlements in Lincoln County during the 19th century; the latter inspired by Bonneau whose parents emigrated from Québec in the 1930s just a few years before he was born in Lewiston and where he was raised to become a prominent meatcutter working along side his father.

Virgil Morse began producing and selling sauerkraut in and around Waldoboro in the years leading up to the First World War, and he established Morse’s Sauerkraut, in 1918.  The operation has been in a barn at its current location just up the road in Nobleboro since 1953.  The present owners took over the business in 2000, using the Morse family recipe for sauerkraut while beginning to produce sour garlic and sour mustard pickles.  A small European-style restaurant with five high-back booths and featuring fresh-made perogies, Sauerbraten, cabbage rolls, Späetzle, schnitzels, borscht, and their signature Reuben was added in 2002.  A specialty market and delicatessen were added a year later and it sells a wide variety of cheeses and meats, local artisan breads, mustards, canned and pickled fish, and a cornucopia of spices and seasonings.  Of course, there is also their fresh homemade sauerkraut and pickles.  After lunch (a selection of wurst served on a bed of piping hot slow-cooked sauerkraut flecked with bacon, onions and juniper berries, I wandered through the market eyeing the mouth-watering display of sausages and meats.  It was a minor disappointment to learn that the charcuterie is not local; it is produced by Schaller & Weber in New York City’s Yorkville neighborhood.  Still, I had to remind myself that these first-rate meats are available in a rural barn in Maine.  Beggars need not be picky.

A couple days later we were driving through nearby Lisbon Falls when I spied Maurice  Bonneau’s Sausage Kitchen.  I drive this stretch of Main Street every summer, but this is the first time I recall seeing it.  I had to stop, and I was not disappointed.  The meat counter was loaded with packages of uncooked sausages and other meat products, including ham, bacon, and Québécois-style pork pies - tourtières which are made year round but are much in demand during the Christmas season - made fresh on site by Bonneau and two of his sons.  The Sausage Kitchen is obviously proud of the quality of their meat products, using only all-natural meats (no growth hormones or antibiotics) which are vegetarian-fed and humanely raised and slaughtered.  “My Wurst is Best” claims the sign near the entrance to the shop.  There is a virtual United Nations of sausages to choose from – German Bratwurst and Mettwurst, Cajun andouille, chorizo, Spanish-Creole chaurice, Greek loukaniko, Polish kielbasa, Potuguese linguica, English bangers and so much more.  Happily I noted that Bonneau’s Québec roots are evident in his meat counter.  There are packages of Canadian-style pork breakfast link  sausage flavored with salt, white pepper, ground and rubbed sage, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, thyme, cayenne pepper and parsley with natural maple sugar added for that special flavor.  My happiest discovery was cretons; this is the first place I have found it in Maine in a long time.  Bonneau has polished up the recipe, using only lean, ground pork shoulder instead of scraps. I left the shop with some, as well as a package of trail sticks (they look like Slim Jims but taste oh so much better!), and a hunk of Landjäger (a German MRE), most of which was gone by the end of the day.

I look forward to returning to both of these establishments when we return to Maine next summer.  Thankfully Bonneau’s is not far away and I plan to visit there again next week before we head back to Maryland.  I may just take some of these unexpected treats home with me.

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

“Get Busy Living or Get Busy Dying”: Witnessing Redemption at a Modern Day Shawshank - Dispatches from Maine

Tim Robbins, in The Shawshank Redemption

For several summer we have driven US Route One up the coast of Maine from Kittery to the Canadian border.  This is a heavily traveled corridor, and although it has its moments of breathtaking beauty, for the most part it is a series of small and larger towns with their traffic lights, strip malls, auto dealerships, tourist clap-trap and the like.  In other words, mostly forgettable.  It is a shame, but that is the truth of the matter.  It is way to get where you need to go and not much more.

One notable exception was always the town of Thomaston near where the St. George River flows into the Gulf of Maine.  It has a pleasant little downtown with red brick buildings, stately Victorian homes and lots of trees.  What caught your attention, however, or at least until 2002, was a large and imposing stone edifice standing along US Route 1 on the edge of downtown - the Maine State Prison.  It was in 2002 when it  was closed and demolished after the prison population had been transferred a few miles away to a modern larger facility in Warren.  In a day and age when so many would be happy not to have a maximum security correctional facility in their backyard, the state prison had long been synonymous with Thomaston and many of the townspeople were sorry to see it leave.    

The prison was originally constructed in Thomaston in 1824, just four years after Maine separated from Massachusetts to become a state of its own.  Built on what was then called Limestone Hill, many of the inmates worked in the adjacent quarries and on area farms.  The original prison burned in 1923 and was replaced by that imposing structure I came to recognize on frequent trips through Thomaston.  But now it too is gone; an ever distant memory.  Today the site of the old prison is a large, grassy field, but a corner of the original outer wall has been preserved to remind people what once stood there in the heart of Thomaston . . . that and the Maine Prison Store and Showroom on Main Street adjacent to the site of the old prison. 

Our visits to Thomaston over the years have usually included a stop at the Prison Store where we marvel at a large selection of wooden boxes of all sizes and shapes, cutting boards and other kitchen items, cribbage boards, toys and various wooden products, including tables, chairs, and other furniture items crafted by the inmates in the prison workshops.  Simple in design, most everything evidences quality workmanship . . . at very reasonable prices.  The store is run by Department of Corrections officers assisted by inmate trustees who carefully wrap and bag each purchase.  I am always struck by how friendly, polite and personable each of the CO’s and inmates are.  When my son was much younger he was fascinated by the inmates working in the store, often admiring their evocative tattoos.  These men are clearly proud of the workmanship of the items for sale and their opportunities to interact with the customers.  I have always come away with a good feeling that those who find themselves incarcerated, for whatever reason, are being trained with marketable skills and able to feel that, when the time comes, they will be able to enjoy useful and productive lives and careers on the outside.

I freely admit that these frequent yet brief visits to the Prison Store in Thomaston have been my only exposure to the Maine State Prison system.  Well, that is not completely true.  I have also seen the 1994 Frank Darabont film, The Shawshank Redemption, based of Stephen King’s novella, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (1982).
The film tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a banker from Maine played by Tim Robbins, who is convicted of a double murder in 1947 and sentenced to life in the fictional Shawshank Prison (references to this prison are found in several of King's fictional works).  There he meets Red, another lifer played by Morgan Freeman, and they form an odd yet interesting alliance as they both try to cope with their incarceration in different ways.  There is, however, a major difference between them besides the color of their skin.  Andy believes he is innocent and falsely imprisoned.  Red knows he is guilty of the crime for which he was convicted yet continues to tell the parole board to no avail that he has been rehabilitated knowing full well it is probably not true.  Red paints for Andy a rather hopeless future for the inmates of Shawshank; “when they put you in that cell . . . and those bars slam home . . . that’s when you know it’s for real.  A whole life blown away in the blink of an eye.  Nothing left but all the time in the world to think about it.”  But Andy, despite his pleas of innocence, refuses to give up hope (the subtitle of the novella is “Hope Springs Eternal”).  “Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”  If you are able to keep hope alive, even while incarcerated with little chance of parole, there is a small piece of freedom no one can ever take away from you.  Andy establishes a prison library and helps other inmates get their high school diplomas.  This is Andy’s redemption; he is able to preserve his integrity and self-worth when confronted by what almost anyone would believe to be a hopeless situation.  Perhaps in his own way Red see the wisdom in this.  “Like I said, a man will do anything to keep his mind occupied.” 

A couple days ago I had my own personal Shawshank moment, a chance to see beyond the walls of the new Maine State Prison in Warren.  A good friend of mine and fellow historian who teaches at the University of Maine at Augusta, and who for the past three years has taught classes in the Maine State Prison College Program administered by the University College of Rockland, invited me to speak to his class in Holocaust studies.  Over the years I have spoken to other classes he has taught elsewhere and I was more than happy to oblige a good friend.  A two-hour drive from our summer place on the lake, I was up at the crack of dawn for that very familiar drive up US Route One.  I was able to enjoy a palette of autumn colors once the sun rose above the Gulf of Maine before I arrived at the new prison facility in Warren.

There was no doubt I was in a maximum security prison.  I was limited as far as what I could take in with me, I was issued a visitor’s identity card and a “man down device,” a personal safety alarm I could use if I ever felt my safety had been compromised.  We were escorted through a series of secure doors having to sign in each time.  Once in the interior courtyard ringed with high fences topped with coils of razor-sharp concertina wire, we were escorted to the nearby education building.  Inside it looked like many schools I have walked through in my time . . . offices, classrooms, a gymnasium.   Still, there was no forgetting where I was.  All one had to do was look through any window at the high fences and concertina wire.

Soon the inmates/students arrived in the classroom, most of them with smiles on their faces.  They seemed to be very happy to be there.  Many of them walked right up to me and shook my hand and told me how glad they were that I had come to speak to their class.  They took their seats, opened up their notebooks, and waited for me to say something.  They had come to learn.  They all had read a couple of my articles given to them earlier in the course, and after I spoke off the cuff for an hour or so I open the floor to questions.  Unlike many classrooms I have sat in front of where the students looked at their feet, or out the window, or worse yet, at me with vacant stares, these men came loaded for bear.  I was peppered with intelligent, well-formulated questions for the next hour or so . . . and it could have easily gone on for another hour or more.  As they filed out of classroom at the end of our session just about every one of them came up to me again to shake my hand and to thank me for coming.  I could honestly tell them that the pleasure was entirely mine.

My return to the outside world followed my entry in reverse.  Once again the fences and the concertina wire reminded me where I was.  I would be returning to my car and my trip back down US Route One to the lake.  The men with whom I had shared a fascinating and educating morning (for me as much as for them) would be returning to their cells.  At the end of the day there is no escaping the reality of their situation.

After we left the prison my friend and I shared lunch nearby and he told me a little more about the education program at the prison which offers a high school completion program and various vocational options, as well as a college program leading to Associates and Bachelors degrees in Liberal Studies granted by the University of Maine at Augusta.  The latter program is fully funded  through the Sunshine Lady Foundation established in 1996 by Doris Buffett, the sister of billionaire Warren Buffett, who is a strong believer in education as a means of reducing and eliminating recidivism.  The Maine State Prison is one of four maximum security prisons in the nation with full-tuition college programs funded by the Foundation; it does not cost the Maine taxpayer a single cent.  My friend also told me that those who have completed the college program in Warren and who were finally released have stayed on the outside.  It appears the program is working just fine.  The inmates chosen for the program undergo a rigorous selection process.  They learn because they want to learn.  Not to my surprise, my friend added that his students in the program are perhaps the finest and most motivated he has ever taught.  High praise indeed. 

Many of these men will remain incarcerated for a long time as they repay a debt to society whose laws they chose to violate.  And there is no doubt that many of them will face a rough road once they do get out.  There will always be those on the outside who will think these men are no better now than they were when they went in.  But they will know better.  Unlike Red in the film, they will realize their entire lives have not been blown away in the wink of an eye.  They will respect their self-worth and will know they have the education and the tools to make a go of it on the outside.  Better yet, they will do whatever it takes to make certain they never go back to the dead end that prison has meant for so many like Red who came before them who did not have the opportunities offered to them.

Perhaps it is too easy for those incarcerated to think they are lost.  Many remain angry men believing they have been locked away and forgotten, that there is no chance for any sort of redemption.  The men I met and talked with have made another choice, and probably the more difficult one.  They have taken a negative and are turning it into a positive.  Prison is not the end of the road, but the beginning of a new one.  In The Shawshank Redemption, Red tells Andy he doesn’t think he can ever make it on the outside.  But Andy knows better when faced with prison or freedom: “I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”  I had the honor of sharing a morning with a few men who have made that choice.  I wish each and every one of them all the success in the world when they rejoin it.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

300 Posts Since November 2008

Yesterday's posting of "Why I Am Boycotting Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer" marks the 300th posting to this blogspot since it inauguration on November 25, 2008.  I never in my wildest dreams thought I would still be doing this almost six years later.  I have been pleased with the results and to date there have been approximately 147,000 hits from 136 countries and territories on six continents.

If you are new to this blogspot, please take a few moments to check it out.  I post fairly regularly, and you might find some interesting links, photos, and other marginalia in the sidebar on the left.

Once again I wish to thank everyone who has visited my blogspot over the past six years and I hope you will continue to drop by to check out my latest random notes from the edge of America.  I think I am just getting started.

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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Why I Am Boycotting Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer - Dispatches from Maine

A couple of nights ago I stopped by Cloutier’s quick stop market in New Gloucester’s  Upper Village to pick up a couple 24 ounce  Pabst Blue Ribbon tall silos.  Regular readers of this blog may recall an earlier posting [“Living in the Past - Retro Beers,” August 13, 2010] in which I designated PBR as “my official ‘Beer of Summer.’”  To the chagrin of many, including my own son, I have always liked PBR, the “American Style Premium Lager,” long before it became hip and cool in more recent years.  I cut my beer drinking teeth on the stuff so many decades ago when both PBR and I both resided in Milwaukee.  And I have been drinking it ever since, even after both of us had departed the Cream City for warmer climes.  PBR and I go way back!

Yet something strange happened when I stopped to buy beer the other night.  I had already taken two PBR tall silos out of the beer cave when I suddenly returned them and retrieved another brand.  I am not really sure why, but I did.  The next day I read for the first time that Oasis Beverages, Russia’s largest “independent” international beverage producer, had announced the previous day that it had acquired Pabst Brewing Company from its Los-Angeles based owner for a reported $750 million dollars.  Although the exact details of the purchase have not yet been revealed, the previous owner in LA is making a nice half billion dollar profit on a four year investment. Included in the deal, along with PBR, are other well-known American brands - Lone Star, Schiltz, Old Milwaukee, Blatz, Rainier, Olympia, Old Style, Strohs, and Colt 45.  Christ, even Natty Bo and Schmidt’s are part of the deal!  Isn’t capitalism grand?  So perhaps it was kismet that I put those PBR tall silos back in the beer cave.  There was a change in the Force. 

In announcing the purchase, the chairman of Oasis Beverages called PBR “the quintessential American brand — it represents individualism, egalitarianism and freedom of expression — all the things that make this country [the USA] great.”  He added that “the opportunity to work with the company’s treasure trove of iconic brands . . . is a dream come true.”  Too bad there is so little individualism, egalitarianism and freedom of expression left in Putin’s Russia.  That dream died as he guides Russia back to one-man rule and its old expansionist ways.  Just ask the good people of Ukraine and the Crimea. 

Oasis Beverages was founded in Russia  in 2008, and it operates six breweries and soft drink plants there, as well as in Kazakhstan, Belarus, Ukraine, and throughout Eastern Europe.  The company produces several of its own brands of beers, juice and an energy drink, and it imports brands into Russia, including Heineken, Chimay and Perrier.  Oasis has promised that production will remain in Los Angeles.  “It will be an honor to work with Pabst’s dedicated employees and partner distributors as we continue to build the business.”  Maybe so, but PBR and the others included in the deal are no longer American beers in my book no matter how you look at them.  Even if they are brewed in the USA, buy one of them and the profits eventually go to Putin’s gang in Moscow.  I seldom if ever drink most of these beers, but I have been a faithful drinker of PBR over four decades . . . even when it moved out of Milwaukee . . . and believe me, that was bad enough.

Sorry to say but I will not drink another drop of this tainted brew.  Perhaps there is a silver lining in this dark cloud, however.  At least my son will no longer look at me with disappointment in his eye while questioning my taste in beer.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Watching George Watch Us - Dispatches from Maine

We have had a new neighbor this summer on True’s Point.  Actually he may have been here before but somehow he escaped our attention.  No longer; there is no way to miss him this year.  I am not speaking of someone residing in one of the handful of seasonal cottages here on the eastern shoreline of Sabbathday Lake.  I am talking about George, an Eastern chipmunk, who has taken up residence under our main deck with a series of nearby satellite burrows.  There are a lot of chipmunks around here, but George seems to have taken a particular interest in us.

We have another neighbor or visitor although we have never seen it and are not quite certain what it is; it will from time to time announce its presence with a night deposit of scat on the deck.  I’m quite certain that it is not George, but if it is, he needs some serious fiber . . . I’m talking major, serious fiber . . . in his regular diet of acorns and other edible detritus he is finding scattered around the cottage (the acorns have been falling for weeks and sound like gunfire when they hit the roof).  George will, however, leave partially chewed nuts and shell fragments on the deck for us to clean up.  I think he does it out of spite.  For the past couple of weeks we have had a small pumpkin sitting on our front stoop and I am surprised George hasn’t found it yet.  Then again, he would never be able to fit it into one of his cheek pouches which can expand to three times the size of his head.  Still, he continues to fill them to almost bursting as he stocks his larder for the coming winter when all of this will be under several inches of snow and ice for several months.  There he will sleep and eat until spring returns.

Chipmunks are constant neighbors and we are always hearing them clicking and  chattering with each other as they scamper about while going about their important business.  But George frequently takes time out of his busy schedule to tell us just what he thinks about us as neighbors.  I will often find him on the deck looking at us with disapproval as we go about our own business.  Until our arrival here in late June he had the whole place to himself and was not used to the clumping of human footsteps above his burrow.  We try to be good neighbors, but he will frequently get aggravated with us and will run off to a safe distance where he will go up on his hind legs and “chit . . . chit . . . chit” at us and let us know exactly what he thinks of this unacceptable situation.

Most of the time, however, we watch George as he power shops for his winter larder where he will cache his booty in his multi-chambered underground burrow and tunnel system accessed by a series of small holes I am finding everywhere around the cottage.  We will leave the lake in two weeks and George will once again have the place to himself.  I doubt he will miss us, but I will miss watching him watching us.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Lincoln Logs Come to Maine - Dispatches from Maine

One of my favorite playthings when I was young was a set of Lincoln Logs.  They came in a long, round tube with a metal bottom and a pry-off lid and the contents gave me hours of enjoyment when I was growing up.  There were various sizes of notched redwood logs and other pieces, some painted green for the roof, and always a bright red block for the chimney.  And one could always buy more if something larger than a simple log cabin was intended.

Lincoln Logs © was the brain child of John Lloyd Wright (1892-1972), the estranged second son of Frank Lloyd Wright.  Himself an architect of some note, John Lloyd came up with the idea for the toy while working with his father on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.  He launched the Red Square Toy Company (later J.L. Wright Manufacturing) when he returned home to the United States.  The Lincoln Log concept dates from 1916, and production began two years later.  Wright received a patent in 1920 which he later sold.  The production of wooden pieces continued into the 1970s when the misguided decision to make the pieces out of plastic was a complete and utter failure.  One wonders if the young Abraham Lincoln’s father sat him on his knee one day and looked him in the eye: “I want to say one word to you.  Just one word . . . are you listening?  Plastics.  There is a great future in plastics.”  No, I don’t think so.  You can’t make a log cabin out of plastic.  So production of Lincoln Logs once again relied on wood, and after almost a century of production it entered the National Toy Hall of Fame in 1999. 

A couple of days ago K’NEX of Hatfield, Pennsylvania, the company that currently manufactures and distributes Lincoln Logs under license from the Rhode Island based toy company Hasbro, announced that it was happily moving production from China back to the United States and to the State of Maine.  The governor (he who shall not be named), who likes to tell everyone that “Maine is Open for Business,” was quick to announce the move and welcome Lincoln Logs to the Pine Tree State where local wood will be used in the production (there are no redwoods here . . . and who wants to cut down a redwood in the first place?).

Pride Manufacturing, a wood manufacturing company in the Waldo County hamlet of  Burnham, which employs around 130 souls and until now was known primarily for its wooden golf tees and cigar tips, will produce the wood pieces which will then be sent to K’NEX, in Pennsylvania (they also manufacture Tinkertoys), for painting, packaging, and distribution.  Production is ramping up in Burnham and should be going full tilt by November, adding between five and ten new employees at the Burnham plant.

I can see why the governor is so excited.

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Monday, September 15, 2014

Drinking Cowboy Coffee - Dispatches from Maine

I like strong coffee.  Strong, black coffee.  The stronger the better; the kind in which the spoon stands up on its own if it doesn’t dissolve completely.  You get the idea.

At home I usually brew my mugs in a coffee maker, for heavy duty mornings, but otherwise I make it a mug (a big mug) at a time, pouring hot water through rough-ground coffee in a filter.  In either case, it seems too much trouble for a cuppa. 

I wonder why I just don’t make it “cowboy style.”  It is as simple as throwing coffee grounds loose into a coffee pot and letting it boil to the proper strength.  Throw in some egg shells to help settle the grounds to the bottom and you are ready to go in a very few minutes.  And it usually tastes better than coffee brewed with a lot more hoopla than is really necessary.  Unfortunately one does have to make more coffee than one might normally drink as cowboy coffee is not “good to the last drop” . . . unless one likes to chew the last few gulps.  Even some of the earlier servings may be a bit silted at the bottom of the cup.

So this morning I eschewed the filter and treated myself to a couple salubrious cups of joe sans filter.  Talk about a wake-up call!  It is not something I would do every morning, but variety is the spice of life.  Now if I can only get down off the ceiling.

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Get Off My Damn Bumper Redux - Dispatches from Maine

We have been in Maine almost three months and I feel the need to redux this posting from about this time last year. I love Maine, but cannot fathom the local sport of tailgating.

“The way life should be” . . . that is what the welcome signs say when you enter the State of Maine.  I have always agreed with this sentiment; it is the reason we have been coming back here regularly for the past quarter of a century, and Maine has been our default summer residence since 2010.  I like it here!  And why not?  The people are friendly, even to those of us “from away.”  The pace of life is good.

With the exception of the Maine Turnpike (Interstate 95) from the New Hampshire border to Portland (a distance of roughly 50 miles), or the mostly two-lane US Route One running along the entire coast of Maine, there is very little traffic on the roads and nobody seems to be in a terrible hurry to get wherever they are going.  Coming from the environs of a Type A city like Washington, DC, this is a noticeable and welcome respite from the hurry up and wait traffic clogging its streets.

That said, what is with this local obsession with tailgating . . . driving so close to the rear end of a vehicle that the driver of said vehicle cannot see the bumper, sometimes even the headlights of the tailgater?  What’s the big rush?  Where’s the fire?   Slow down and back off and enjoy the way life ought to be before it ends prematurely for both of us.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

We Were All Americans Then - Dispatches from Maine

This morning I feel far removed from that day none of us will ever forget.  Whereas the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 made the United States one with a world already at war for over two years, the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 made the world one with the United States.  And for a brief moment there an empathetic spirit of world-wide solidarity as the French newspaper Le Monde ran a headline, “We are all Americans now.”  It is a shame it was so short-lived.   Where is that solidarity now when the world needs it most?

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Monday, September 1, 2014

What a Summer It Has Been So Far - Dispatches from Maine

We have been in Maine for nine weeks so far and oh, and what a summer it has been.  I have read 26 books; organized and given two lectures - on the Holocaust, delivered in Augusta, and on the Indian Stream Republic, delivered in Colebrook, New Hampshire; drafted two more lectures to give in September - on war crimes prosecutions, at the Maine State Prison in Warren, and on the American Revolution in Maine before our local historical society here in New Gloucester; worked on the drafts of two novellas and read from one at the Monhegan Island library (and I will read again at our local library this month); drafted an outline for a short story; written 25 letters and several postcards; driven roughly 4500 miles since leaving home in June, exploring the back roads of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, with a quick weekend trip to northern New Jersey and back for a wedding; taken roughly four thousand photographs; met a very famous artist (Jamie Wyeth) and hob-nobbed with others; eaten several lobsters and dozens of clams . . . and a few Whoopie Pies, but who is counting?; had dinner a couple tables away from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; seen two moose and lots of other wildlife; spent another week on Monhegan Island (our 15th year to do so); had friends and neighbors from home stop to visit while others stayed for a few days to share our tranquility here on Sabbathday Lake. And still, there have been long periods of quiet and solitude.

Better yet, we still have five weeks to go before we must return home to Maryland.  My mom will visit for a week (her fifth summer to do so), and we plan to return to Monhegan Island for the annual “Trap Day,” when the local lobstermen set their traps for their winter fishing season.  We look forward to more peace and tranquility as we watch autumn arrive in Maine.  People always asks me why we return to Maine every summer - this is our 27th year here.  Now you know why.

Check out the "Looking Toward Portugal" Facebook page for more information and photos.