Archive for March, 2012

Ambrose Heath

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Ambrose Heath (1891-1969) was a food writer and broadcaster who wrote over seventy books on food and cooking.  We have amassed upwards of thirty of his titles.  It is lovely to have what we have out and on display instead of cooped up in a box somewhere.  There is obviously more collecting to do if we are to be complete on this author.  I am looking forward to cooking from his books when the kitchen in fully functional.  In the meantime they are lovely to look at, all lined up on the shelf….



Monday, March 26th, 2012

Blood Orange syrup.  I loves me some bubbly water but do not appreciate the over sweetness of most commercially made sodas.  We have one of those home soda system available these days, with a charged canister that delivers the bubbles.  I have been squeezing citrus into my glass but it tends to be more watered down that I desire.  So I decided to make myself some syrup.  Basically it’s zest, juice, sugar and a little water reduced on the stove by about half. The juice/water sugar proportions are about 2:1 liquid to dry.   A good tablespoon or so gives me a delicious soda with just the right blend of bubbles and tang. Ah, refreshment!

Temperate days

Friday, March 23rd, 2012

Mother Nature is one confused broad these days.  She has been showering us with hot sunny days at a time of year when we should be wet, muddy and grey.  I think it will all go back to normal this weekend, but for the past week we have been playing at Summer, before having gone through Spring.

garlic sprouts

The garlic has sprung from it’s cold Winters bed.  We may need to close the garden back up so the chickens can’t get in to scratch at the tender shoots.  My chicken wire defense only partially works. But the green is a welcome sight.  Someone asked me at yoga the other day if I had planted my peas on St. Patrick’s Day.  This is common wisdom further South in New England, I have planted peas this early in other gardens, in other lifetimes.  Here in Maine we wait until Patriots Day, a holiday I was fully unaware of until we moved up here.  It comes right around tax day, a full month later than St. Patty’s.  I suppose if one was bold one could try putting some peas in the ground now.  Our soil was too frozen in the beginning of this week.  By now it has probably warmed up enough for an attempt.  For me however, that entails plotting out where I will plant what for the whole season, as I try to rotate my crops (!?) as much as possible to keep down disease and pests.  Somehow I am just not there yet.  Perhaps in another week or so, after it has gotten cold again, and I am longing for days planting with the sun on my back.  Then I will plot it all out, so the next time it gets even close to warm enough, I can run right out and plant those darling peas.

birthday cake In the meantime, we spent Thursday at home, having made an executive decision to enjoy its lovely weather and forgo our usual Sunday off, as rain is forecast for that day.  Our friend Peter came over for lunch and we sat on the patio, eating, talking and staring out at the still brown field.  We grilled some Scup, or Porgys as our fishmonger compared them. They were delicious.  Just brushed with olive oil, salt & pepper and a few slices of lemon in their cavities. The crackling skin was marvelous, the meat sweet and tender.  Accompanied by a Cauliflower and Red Pepper salad (because it is still March and here in Maine we have fewer fresh vegetable options this time of year) it was a tasty afternoon meal outdoors. The only thing missing was some green, no leaves anywhere with those temps was just plain queer.

We finished up with my new favorite cake, the Brown Sugar Lightning cake from The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider.  It is just as it sounds, brown sugary goodness that comes together lightning fast.  Split, filled with some Mangoes that had been macerating with brown sugar and lime juice, and frosted with whipped cream laced with Greek yogurt (full fat, thank you) and, wait for it, brown sugar.  It was dreamy.  Turns out it was Peter’s birthday, so we didn’t have any candles, and we didn’t sing at him, but it was his birthday cake.

Rabelais Newsletter 3/19/12

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012
These warm days have got me thinking garden.  It was only last week that I ordered my seeds, but they arrived swiftly on our doorstep from some of our favorite seed companies: Fedco Seeds; Johnny’s Selected Seeds and High Mowing Seeds.  We are ready for turning over soil, finding out how the compost survived the winter(?), scraping back mulch coverings.  Out the windows from the back of the house a tinge of red is visible on the tops of trees.  The grass on the edge of our neighbors’ property, the neighbors who mow obsessively, unlike us, is turning green.  Color is returning to the landscape.  The warmer temperatures bring odors of earth and water and sap that I haven’t smelled in months.  It was a very mild winter here in Maine.  Of course now that I say that we will get hit with a late Spring snowstorm… It’s a little hard to believe that Spring is upon us, Tuesday is the vernal equinox, since we barely had any Winter weather to harden us up.  I keep expecting to see the garlic, which I planted very late in mid-November, poking up.  Not yet, but any day now at this rate.

In anticipation of our vegetable garden activities we have registered for a symposium at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC entitled Food and the City. “The intricate interrelationship between urban context and food production, central to the current debate on sustainability, will be the focus of the 2012 Garden and Landscape Studies symposium at Dumbarton Oaks.” We are very excited for this opportunity to learn more about the diverse examples of urban agriculture both in the modern and historical context. If you’re curious about the conference there is more information on their website.

Copper fish pot

If you follow modern farming news you heard how the suit against Monsanto brought by independent American small farmers was dismissed in February. We find this very troubling, mostly because Monsanto is patenting life with many of its seed varieties and then suing small independent farmers when they inadvertently grow similar varieties due to blow over. This issue is better covered in Food Inc. a movie we highly recommend if you want an overview of what’s going on in modern food systems. The suit was a more involved story, but this decision was another example of big business (big farming) squashing the little guy.  What with school systems feeding kids pink slime and all, you have to wonder how they get away with all this.

Coming down off my soapbox, I will just re-state our belief in our local farmers and food producers and encourage all to “know your farmer, know your food”.

wall and flyer

Boxes are being unpacked.  Sections are being assigned. This may be hard to believe, but we may still have more books than we have shelf space for.  We are >this far< from announcing our re-opening. The thinking at this point is call it a soft opening.   We’d really like to open our doors to our lovely customers, even though there is still so much to be done to this fantastic space.  Windows are open today and we are anticipating the doors open and the space filled with food and book lovers.

afternoon light in the kitchen
We have recently heard of a couple of local job opportunities.  If you are looking for work, give us a call, or send us an email.

Afternoon light in the Mill.


Calvin Trillin

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

“I never eat in a restaurant that’s over a hundred feet off the ground
and won’t stand still.”

John Dory

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Last nights dinner was a foil roasted John Dory bought from Harbor Fish, one of our all time favorite seafood purveyors.  Have you been there?  If you live in Portland, Maine, it is probably on your circuit.  Even if you are a summer visitor to Maine, you have been to Harbor Fish.  If not, add it to your itinerary.

I had a craving for some fish on Saturday, but only after the possibility for securing such raw ingredients was past.  Sunday morning after yoga I drove over to Custom House wharf.  Arriving at Harbor Fish at 10:30 on a Sunday morning was a new experience for me.  The place was empty, I had it all to myself.  And what an array of choices to be had.  Taking my sweet time, I surveyed all offerings and decided on the whole John Dory which they gutted for me. It is an ugly fish no doubt, spiny and flat with an enormous mouth. But man, was it delicious.

We buttered a big piece of tin foil, lay the fish on it with a couple cloves of garlic, some slices of lemon, salt/pepper, a sprig or two of thyme and a generous lashing of vermouth. In the oven at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes.  Served with some sauteed spinach and eggplant (a vegetable drawer combo if ever there was one) and whole wheat cous cous to soak up the juices form the fish.  Oh my….

I do love living somewhere where this kind of raw ingredient is so fresh, tasty and readily available.

Paint & Oil

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

The cover from a menu for a dinner of the Paint and Oil Club of Portland, Maine, held at the Falmouth Hotel, January 19, 1889.

Some highlights from the menu include:

Blue Points on the half shell

Boiled Chicken Halibut with egg sauce

Roman Punch

Mallard Duck with Currant jelly

Tutti Frutti (I kid you not, printed verbatim on the menu)

Coffee and cigars…

Sounds like a delightful evening.

The Gentlewoman

Monday, March 12th, 2012

“Nature has laid us under the necessity of eating and drinking, but at the same time has endowed us with faculties to choose and prepare the diet that is most salutary and agreeable to our tastes.”

“Refinement belongs only to those whose tastes accord with perfection, and it is beyond all question that the characteristics of those that feed upon half-dressed or spoiled food are barbarous in mind and barbarous in complexion, which is the cause of so many jaundiced complaints that quacks undertake to cure, but which end in weakness, exhaustion, and early death.”

“The great social evil is not that which is talked of by gentlemen in black at midnight meetings; but it is the great evil that besets the English, from the highest to the lowest, every man, woman and child suffers from it, and thousands die or only experience a lingering existence from its neglect.  The great social evil is the want of persons of education and practical knowledge, worthy to be entrusted in the preparation of food with that care and nicety that is practiced in every nation in Europe except England.”

The Gentlewoman

a pseudonymous book

Chapman & Hall, London 1864

New Coke?

Friday, March 9th, 2012

I have been a die-hard fan of the New York Times for my entire life.  However lately there just doesn’t seem to be any there there.  Been reading the Guardian.  They report things the US press misses or is late to.  Such as carcinogens in Coke and Pepsi….

Printed matter

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

Today comes the news that Kodak will discontinue the manufacture of slide film. What does this have to do with books on food, you ask?

If you had visited Rabelais at 86 Middle Street anytime in the past few years there was a good chance you overheard or participated in a conversation about the state of the modern book world. Our decision to shift our focus from predominantly new books (in terms of inventory) to antiquarian books was due to no small part to the trajectory of the modern world of publishing. Don and I have turned this issue over and over in our minds, trying very hard to find some logical or even rational way in. To our minds modern publishers, for the most part, are on a downward spiral, tolling their own death knell before they even get there. They have given away the store to Amazon, who now has them over a barrel and they are walking away from the printed book and it’s sale in brick and mortar shops.

We firmly believe in books, and that they will never go away entirely, Fahrenheit 451 be damned. But their form is changing rapidly, no doubt, and their method of dissemination as well. The super book stores (Barnes & Noble, Borders) killed a large segment of the local independent market. Then the big box stores (Walmart, Costco) undercut the big guys and sent them under, taking along the way another round of indies. Now we hear that Home Depot is discontinuing the sale of books and others are rumored to follow. So where will we buy our books? Well, maybe it doesn’t matter because so many people are reading on electronic devices, be they phones, tablets or Kindles.  For most, these methods will suffice.  But for the rest of us?

This brings me round to the Kodak reference. I have been shooting photos all my life, had a short career as a wedding photographer, before spending a decade as a photo editor at some major magazines. I have a special place in my heart for the craft. When photography first became widely recognized there was much hue and cry that no one would ever paint again, who would need to when you could take an exact likeness of someone with a camera. While painting has changed in some senses in it’s import in society, it has certainly not died as a medium. I am choosing to think the same thing about the physical printed book.

But what does it say about photography that Kodak has declared bankruptcy and they will stop making slide film? Perhaps it just points to how fast our technology is changing these days. People shoot millions of images with their digital cameras, judging by the number of images I see on Facebook. They just don’t need to take the film to the lab and wait for it to be processed any longer. What is the analogy for books? Will the codex go back to an earlier form, created only for the collector? I suppose there are many possible options. I just sincerely hope they stay in the public sphere for any who wants to have access to them.  Rabelais will stand guard.