Sunday, August 30, 2015

Maine Seaweed Festival 2015

I lived in Maine for 16 years but never learned to identify or eat any of the fresh seaweed or sea vegetables from the coast. Back when I was a teenager living in Maine I had only the knowledge to use the knotted wrack (a dominant rockweed species found in Maine) to add them in our clam/lobster bake during the cooking/steaming process. In my family we regularly eat seaweed purchased from the Asian markets for as long as I could remember. As a child living in Vietnam there were 2 popular dishes I enjoyed that used sea vegetables; one was in soups and the other in a cold drink mixed with other hydrated dried and fresh fruits and crushed ice known as "che sam bo luong". More recently I purchased a huge bag of dried dulse from New Brunswick (Canada). I brought it home and used it in soups, appetizers, in stir fries, on pizza, part of a filling for dumplings/ravioli, and many other savory dishes until I ran out.

I was excited to learn that a group of people started a Maine Seaweed Festival. Their mission is 'to raise awareness and educate the public about the impacts Maine macroalgae is having in our local food culture, agriculture & aquaculture industries, as well as academic arts and sciences'. I was unable to attend last year's first event but was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend their 2nd festival this weekend. There were many scientific and educational talks, cooking demos, a seaweed pressing (art) workshop, how to identify the top 10 seaweed in Maine, a parade, live music and many other exciting activities for the day.

Not so surprising, the chef cooking demos seemed to draw a crowd and got some people even excited about eating something new. Frankly, I find that you can pretty much incorporate the sea vegetables, either fresh, dried, pureed or chopped in many of the dishes and drinks. You can also use a little to add as a garnish similar to how you use an herb. Be a little inventive and creative and you may be amazed at what you can do with a dish. Ironically seaweed is not a new food ingredient. Over the years somehow in this part of the country people forgot how to eat it. Perhaps it's due to an abundance of other available foods. Speaking to older people in Maine some actually remember eating it as a child. In some parts of coastal Eastern Canada people continue to eat dried dulse as snacks.

The presentation on how to cultivate sugar kelp from spores by Dr. Charles Yarish and Simona Augyte, both from the Seaweed Marine Biotechnology Lab at the University of Connecticut, was fascinating. The techniques for farming were quite simple and quick to harvest. In 6-7 months you can actually harvest the mature plants. For more detailed step-by step cultivation information, you can access their New England Seaweed Culture Handbook online at http://digitalcommons.uconn.edu/seagrant_weedcult/1/

To wrap up the day a handful of people and I followed Simona Augyte combing the shore to identify different sea vegetation. This session was very informative since I have an interest in harvesting wild food. We were given a set of index cards on a ring with color photos of each of the top 10 seaweed with easy to read key description. The seaweed is broken down to brown, red and green. Simona's lovely daughter was a big help. She happily waded into the cold water to find different types of seaweed for us to identify. It's nice to see a young child that already has an interest in science. My goal for this festival was met as I felt comfortable identifying all of the listed seaweed. Below are photos of the varieties of seaweed that we found on the shore of Maine. My favorite is the hair-like garcilaria. I like the crunchy texture of this fresh red algae. Here is a link on the top 10: Useful species of seaweed grown or harvested in Maine.

To sum up the day's event. I learned that cultivating sea vegetables has many benefits. It's not only tasty and nutritious for human consumption but it's also sustainable, environmentally friendly, provides habitat and can be used to mitigate pollution and coastal erosion. According to Dr. Qingping Zou, a professor from University of Maine, farming in large scale may potentially protect the coast from damage caused by storms.

Below are a few photos I took from the 2015 Maine Seaweed Festival located at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland. Thank you for putting this wonderful event together! For those of you who have never eaten sea vegetables, remember you can add it to any savory or sweet foods and drinks. It's delicious and rich in minerals and vitamins, so give it a try!

Maine Seaweed Festival 2015
a few vendors
seaweed press art
a few food trucks at the event
Maine-ly Meatballs--guess what they have in their balls!
This is a good thing to support!
tents along the waterfront
a poster about Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network (SEANET) program
UConn professor, Dr. Charles Yarish discussed "How Do You Grow Kelp?"
UConn graduate student Simona Augyte
-techniques on how to grow sugar kelp from spores

chef cooking demo using sea vegetable
hydrated sea vegetable wrapped salmon
view of Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse
Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse
Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse

view from Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse
view of Southern Maine Community College and Seaweed Festival

harvesting sea vegetables
Eating horsetail kelp straight from the ocean!
Tasty sea lettuce!
This girl got all of us eating as well!
red algae: laver
green algae: sea lettuce
green algae: sea lettuce
brown algae: horsetail kelp
red algae: dulse
red algae: irish moss
brown algae: bladder wrack
red algae: gracilaria
a few variety of sea vegetation found in coastal Maine
bladder wrack
here are the brown, red and green algae
brown algae: knotted wrack (and periwinkles)
beautiful music from Seagrass

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Maine Mussels in White Wine & Garden Herb Broth (serves 1)

Farm raised Maine mussels are absolutely delicious. They tend to have less of the tiny pearls in them than the wild ones. Although be careful when eating any mussels. You don't want to damage your teeth by biting down on these pearls! I am lucky they are available at my local markets (in coastal New Hampshire) this summer. This week the market seems to have exceptionally large ones, about 2-3 inches in length. Wash the mussels well and discard any with broken shells. I also use kitchen shears to trim the beard so they look pretty when cooked. Some shells may have barnacles (the white raised rough spots on the shell) which is fine. It is impossible to remove them and they will not affect the taste. I used some left over white wine and diced tomatoes to make this tasty dish. I prefer to cook with drinkable wine. I don't enjoy eating overcooked mussels so as soon as most of them open up I remove the pot from heat. Discard any that do not open up. To me this dish is perfect without any added salt. If we have any toasted French bread in the house my husband and I like to soak up some of this sweet broth. I prefer to eat them hot or warm but they are still good when cooled.

Maine Mussels in White Wine & Garden Herb Broth
Maine Mussels in White Wine & Garden Herb Broth (serves 1)

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped (about 1 Tbsp)
About 1 1/2 Tbsp chopped shallot (1 large or 2 small shallots)
2 Tbsp chopped tomato
1/4 cup white wine
2 lbs Maine mussels (or another type of mussels)
A few sprigs of fresh thyme
2 Tbsp chopped fresh Chinese chives, optional

Method:

1) Heat a large pot or wok over medium high heat. Once hot add oil and butter.
2) Once the butter melts add garlic and shallot. Saute about 2 minutes or until the shallot is soft.
3) Add tomato and saute about a minute.
4) Add wine, mussels and thyme. Increase heat until the liquid starts to boil then turn heat down slightly. Cook until the mussels start to open up (approximately 5-6 minutes). Occasionally either take a wooden spoon to stir the mussels or take the whole pot and shuffle/toss the entire contents a few times to help cook evenly. May partially cover the pot or wok to help cook the mussels faster. Add chives about a minute before done and give the pot a good shuffle/toss to blend everything and remove from heat.

*My mother likes to add a drizzle of fish sauce at the end of cooking time. However, I prefer no salt or fish sauce since these mussels release their salty juice.

fresh Maine mussels
photo taken in Newmarket, New Hampshire (2015)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Pan-Fried Swordfish with Lemongrass Marinade (serves 3-4)

My husband likes swordfish so when I heard that the local market just received a shipment of fresh fillets I bought some. My husband has been away on many business trips lately and so I decided to be nice to him and make this. Also I recently accepted a per diem Nurse Practitioner position at a college health center in Boston. It will be my second job since I will continue to work full time at my current job. I figured with our busy lives we may not be eating too many home-cooked meals in the future! Swordfish steaks are very meaty. The texture is similar to shark meat. It is a great fish to pan fry or grill and it will retain its shape and not fall apart after cooking like other fish. Just like anything it is best not to overcook. After about 6-7 minutes of cooking I take a sharp knife and pierce into the thickest part of the meat to check if it is cooked through. For an inch thickness it took me about 8-9 minutes to pan fry using a cast iron pan over my electric stove top. The cast iron pan retains heat well so it cooks faster than other thinner pans. I had some whole lemongrass that I kept in the freezer. The flavor is not as intense and flavorful as freshly harvested ones but it is better than nothing. I cut the lemongrass into thin rings and used a little coffee grinder to grind it. It's a great tool to have in the kitchen. I steamed fresh home-grown beans dropped off by my parents yesterday. This dish is simple, quick and tasty.

ground lemongrass
marinade swordfish steaks
pan-fried swordfish
with lemongrass marinade
Pan-Fried Swordfish with Lemongrass Marinade (serves 3-4)

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp finely chopped lemongrass
2 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp sugar
Sriracha hot sauce (use as little or as much as you prefer), optional
1.5 lbs swordfish, 1 inch thickness (may cut the 2 fillets into 1/2 to yield 4 pieces)
Extra vegetable oil to pan fry
Chopped young chives, garnish

Method:

1) Mix lemongrass, fish sauce, olive oil, sugar, and sriracha hot sauce. Rub this on both sides of clean and dry swordfish pieces.
2) Heat a pan over medium high heat. Once the pan is hot add a few tablespoons of oil for cooking.
3) Place a whole fillet or 2 smaller pieces in once the pan is hot. Turn the heat to medium low and let the pieces cook (total cooking time about 8-10 minutes), turning occasionally so they do not burn.
4) Let the steaks rest for a minute to keep the juices in. If you have a little juice that come out use that to drizzle it over the meat or plate. Garnish with chives. 

*I like to snip my herbs with a pair of kitchen shears over my plate for a quick garnish. Use whatever herbs you have or want. I happen to have lots of young chives from my deck garden.

Lightly Fried Flounder with Sauteed Medley Tomatoes (serves 2)

I came across this beautiful variety of tiny tomatoes at my local market. These colorful tomatoes have a mixture of taste from tartness to sweetness, creating a nice blend of both flavor and visual presentation. I used flounder but you can use another type of mild fish. I dusted the flounder in a little seasoned flour for extra taste. You can just sprinkle a little salt and pepper on each side of the fish if you do not wish to use any flour. Since the flounder fillets are quite thin it took me less than 3 minutes to fry them. I also did not want to overcook the tomatoes to unrecognizable mush. Use any type of herbs you prefer. I have lots chives and scallions growing in pots on my deck so I threw some in at the final stage of cooking, this way they still retain their green color. This dish is quick and makes a nice light lunch. You can serve this with pasta, rice or whatever you prefer.


Lightly Fried Flounder with Sauteed Medley Tomatoes (serves 2)

Ingredients:

Seasoned flour (I used Abbitt's seafood breader mix)
About 4 Tbsp olive oil
2 pieces of flounder fillets (about a pound)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 medium onion, diced
12 oz medley tomatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
2 flat filet of anchovies, mashed
3 Tbsp chopped chives
A small handful of young chives, cut into 1/8 inch lengths
1 Tbsp chopped scallions (green parts only)
Salt to taste

Method:

1) Lightly flour the flounder. Fry each side in medium high heat using about 2 tablespoons of olive oil until golden brown and cooked through. Set aside.
2) Heat about 2 tablespoons of oil in a hot pan. Once the oil is hot add garlic and onion. Saute over medium high heat or until the onion is soft.
2) Add tomatoes and anchovies. Saute about 3 minutes or until the tomatoes are cooked to your liking.
3) Add chives, scallions and salt to taste. Cook about another minute. Remove from heat and pour the sauteed tomatoes over the fried flounder.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

How to Repair a Fishing Rod Tip


How to Repair a Fishing Rod Tip

broken fishing rod tip
Earlier this summer while getting ready to head out fishing I placed my fishing pole diagonally to fit inside my 4-door sedan--a position that worked many times in the past. You may probably guess where this story is heading....as I closed the door I failed to notice that the tip got caught inside the door. Of course when I got to my destination I was horrified to see the tip of the rod was totally broken to a point that was unrepairable even by superglue. I was disappointed at myself for not paying attention to this detail prior to closing the car door. Luckily the fishing pole was still useable and I was able to continue fishing. I even managed to bring home a fish that day! While there I spoke to a few fishermen and to my surprise they admitted this had happened to them in the past! One told me that I can get a replacement tip at the store. On my way to Maine my husband and I stopped in Cabela's. One of the fishing department store staff assisted me with finding the right "rod repair kit". The kit cost less than $8 USD and it came with a glue stick and 3 different size tips. Based on the few repair kits left in the store it seems to me there must be quite a few people suffering similar issues!

rod repair kit
The directions on the back of the kit on how to glue the rod top were straight forward and simple. There were pictures to go along with the write up. I remove the damaged top by heating it for a few seconds. I melt the end of the glue stick for a few seconds and apply it to the rod tip. I heat the area where the two ends meet and slide the top over the glue section. I position the tip top to align with the other eyes on the rod. Once complete I left it alone and even after 10 minutes the tip is quite secure in place and looking as good as new! Now I have 2 more tips left. Hopefully I will not need them but I will store them in my tackle box just in case.

some matches to heat the glue
repaired fishing rod tip--as good as new!!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Reconditioning Cast Iron Cookware in the North Woods of Maine

Recently my brilliant and talented friend Chad posted some photos on restoring a rusty cast iron pan to a beautiful like-new one on Facebook. From the photos I was amazed to see that he was able to restore such a pan using 3 simple items that many people may already have at home! I asked him to be my guest for this post and luckily for us he has agreed to share this story. Thank you Chad for this well-written post!!

Chad was born and raised in Bangor, Maine. A graduate of Bangor High School and Maine Maritime Academy with a bachelors in Power Engineering Technology (he regularly made the Dean's list but he is too humble to tell you!). He has worked and/or traveled in 49 States, 47 countries and 5 continents. He lived in Dabhol, India, and Sabha, Libya. He currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia and St. Clairsville, Ohio with his beautiful family.

Reconditioning Cast Iron Cookware in the North Woods of Maine

young Chad with teddy (Maine, summer 1976)
As a young boy, camping in the woods of Maine…cooking over an open fire was quite common. The four year old boy pictured (above) was me, headed out on our first family camping trip to the North Woods of Maine… teddy bear in tow…in the summer of 1976. It was on this first family camping trip to the north country that my father, Steven, proved himself to be a very crafty individual. We blew tires, got stuck in beaver flowages, were locked behind gates that were open upon entry, but locked when we tried to depart. The most crafty lesson I learned…had nothing to do with catching trout, fending off insects, navigating woods roads or ambiguous, impromptu feats of engineering. It was how he expertly handled that rusty old cast iron pan.

After a morning of successful trout fishing, my father and I returned to camp…and returned hungry. Trout and eggs were on the menu and the only thing standing in our way was the rusty cast iron pan. Dad announced that our catch would be ready in short order, started a fire and moved as though he were preparing to cook. Mom saw the pan and looked to my father with a tilted head and furrowed brow. Even at four years old, I knew what that look meant. Dad smirked as though he was aware of something that we were not and headed to the banks of the lake. With him, he carried one can of Coca-Cola, a box of SOS pads, one can of WD-40…and that rusty 'ol cast iron fry pan. 


WD-40, coca-cola, SOS pad, & rusty cast iron pan
It was there on the lake that Dad explained to me that Coca-Cola was actually a very strong acid. "Acid Strips and Caustic Pits" he said. I had no idea what that meant…but it felt like big boy talk, so I figured it was worth remembering. He poured the Coke into the pan and it fizzed as though it was poured over ice cream. Today, as an engineer, I now know that I witnessed a chemical reaction between oxidized iron and a strong acid. At the time…it simply looked like a rusty Root Beer Float. He poured in half the can and and let it sit for a minute. Then picked up a hand full of gravel and worked it around in circles. He repeated this step again before rinsing out the pan with fresh lake water. Next up was the SOS pads. I asked…"Pops, why didn’t we just wash the pan with the SOS pads like we do after supper?" He went on to explain that the acid removes the rust and the soap "passifies" the iron. Again…I was dumbfounded. All I could think of was a baby’s pacifier and I must have looked confused, as the 'ol man went on to explain, "if you use acid to wash…you have to follow with a caustic…if you don’t do this, you will make it rust worse in the future". Future damage was a concept I could understand, the pH scale…not so much. Along the lines of understanding, pH is a scale that communicates the acidic and caustic effects of a substance. The scale runs from 1 to 14, 1 being the most acidic and 14 being the most caustic. When washing metal with a strong acid, it’s always prudent to follow with a caustic to neutralize the surface of what was washed, and the soap in the SOS pads does the trick. After two strong washings with the SOS and subsequent gravely rinses in the lake…it was time to add heat. 

adding acid to rusty pan
heating the pan in the fire to bring the carbon to the surface
Dad took the pan to the fire ring and simply laid it down in the fire. I looked at him and asked…"Where’s the fish"? He explained we weren’t quite ready for the fish just yet and that heat applied over time would bring the carbon to the surface and we had to do that before we could make the pan really slick. As I grew more and more hungry I noticed that the pan was changing color and starting to look more and more like something we’d want to cook on. After about 10 minutes the pan came out of the fire and was placed on the ground. It appeared Dad was letting it cool just a touch before the he moved on to the WD-40. It was just then that I heard my mother chime in…that if he thought we were eating something lubricated with auto parts cleaner…he had another thing coming. After a shake of the head and a pronounced eye roll (that appeared to earn him a glare from mom) he went on to explain that WD-40 is mostly "fish oil"! Which in turn, earned him a head shake and prolonged eye roll himself. (I was learning more than just cast iron reconditioning at this point) Yet, as things turned out, Dad was using the WD-40 to remove the carbon, the top layer of carbon that had come to the surface during the application of heat. He took the pan back to the lake after a minute or two of cooling and scrubbed the surface with fine gravel, rinsed it off and then…back into the fire the pan went. At this point, the pan was really starting to look good…and I must admit, the 'ol man was looking pretty sharp. After another 10 to 15 minutes of direct heat he took the pan and laid it in the dirt to cool. It was here, he explained, that cast iron needed to cool slowly…and if we placed the cast iron in the lake to cool, it would cool off too fast and become brittle. As a four year old, I didn’t understand how that terrible peanut butter candy my grandmother always carried in her purse came into play. However, as time marched on, I figured out that peanut brittle was named after what happens to rapidly cooled metal…not the other way around…however, I digress. After the cast iron had cooled to the touch dad put some vegetable oil on a rag and wiped the pan down inside and out. I recently replicated this process with an antique cast iron fry pan that I picked up in Searsport, Maine at the Hobby Horse Flea Market. Upon completion, the pan looks fantastic and if stored with a light coat of oil…will maintain its usefulness…for many years and camping trips to come.

beautiful as new
beautiful as new
*All the photos above are courtesy of Chad. Chad tells me his aunt Cindy encourages him to start writing again (something he finds therapeutic).