The place we go for vacation every year, a small island 12 miles off the coast of Maine, is hard to capture in a few words. I realized this as I tried to jot down something on a postcard to a friend, I struggled out a few notes, and finally concluded, "I believe in vacation." And it's true, I do. To get to Monhegan, I have to fly two hours, drive three hours, then take an almost two hour boat ride. It's worth every second, but it's the boat ride that's essential. Each year, even though I've brought a book to read, I end up sitting on the boat and staring out over the ocean, processing all the stresses of daily life, of traffic jams and work conflicts and family foibles and troubles of the heart. And something happens out there in the middle of the ocean, so that when I step off the boat I leave all those things behind, and it's just me and more gorgeous views than you could even count.
The views make eveything on Monhegan noteworthy, having your morning coffee looking at this:
chopping onions with this view from your window:
We eat well on Monhegan, in a way that you can only there: a little bit hard-scrabble, a little bit of work, slightly hodge-podge, a few pristine ingredients, and the appreciation you can have for a meal only after a good long hike.
There's fresh-caught haddock and tiny Maine shrimp, local lobster, home-grown tomatoes, plenty of squash, and a handful of greens pillaged from an out-of-town friend's garden. A salad of stolen lettuces. You have to cook, to work a bit, and to be flexible, substituting for ingredients unavailable in a small island community. But you might end up with something wonderful, like a fish stew tossed together at the last minute. One you didn't photograph, but just sat down and ate, with good wine and family and nothing else on your mind except the sunset and the sound of wind and waves, and what you might cook tomorrow.
(More vacation pictures here)
Improvised Shrimp and Haddock Stew
I originally made this stew using leftover shrimp, and the resulting stew was successful enough that I've left the instructions that way, cooking the shrimp separately. You could also double the shrimp amount, eat it for dinner one night, then make the stew with the leftover the following night. Serves 4.
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 lb tiny Maine shrimp
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons sugar
1 lemon, juice and zest
splash of olive oil
1/2 an onion, diced
2 large ripe summer tomatoes, chopped
2 medium sized haddock fllets, about 1 lb, cut into chunks
water, salt, pepper
1. Sprinkle shrimp lightly with salt, set aside. Heat oil in a saute pan, add the garlic and cook, stirring frequently, over medium heat, until softened but not at all browned. Sprinkle the sugar into the pan and allow to melt and caramelize slightly, do not let it burn. Add the shrimp and saute just until firm and 3/4 curled, only about a minute. Add the lemon juice and zest and stir everything together to combine. Remove from heat and set aside.
2. In a stock pot, heat a splash of olive oil. Add the onion and cook until softened. Add the tomato and allow to cook until broken down and bubbling. Add the fish chunks and enough water to make a soup. Bring to a simmer and cook until the fish is opaque and firm. Stir in the shrimp with its juices and simmer until heated through. Taste for seasoning, serve.