Sour Grapes and Sweet Maine Lobster Chowder Friday, Aug 26 2011 

I had planned on writing today’s post about my visit last week to Maine. Last weekend I taught at Stonewall Kitchen. It’s an amazing facility and they do an absolutely great job. We stayed at the York Harbor Inn. We enjoyed walks on the beach, picnics, and just had a wonderful time. It was truly fantastic.

But then, yesterday morning I opened my inbox with a solicitation to write a post about a specific fast casual restaurant that makes me want to instead write about the current state of food writing.

It got my gander up. It stirred my pot. It burnt my biscuit.

I am a simple creature. I cook, I eat, I write recipes. The last time I used this blog as my soapbox was with Julia and Julie: Yes, the Swap is Intentional. I got all sorts of haters for that one. I usually stifle my comments about recipe development and blogging because it can sound like I have sour grapes and my grapes aren’t sour at all.

I love to write. I love to write almost as much as I love to cook. I write this blog to write. Shauna, author of glutenfreegirl recently said, “She didn’t want visitors or hits, she wanted readers.”

Amen, sister.

As you can see, I don’t accept advertising on my blog. It’s not that I am absurdly purist. And, I write for money. It’s how I make my living. I have a mortgage and bills, too. Truthfully, I flat out don’t like the way ads and banners look. I don’t know that much about them, but my preliminary research shows that one can make $3-10 per 1000 pageviews. I know there are also other ways to monetize your blog. There’s a lot to consider when thinking about advertising. I very well may consider it, but I am not there quite yet.

I guess, the primary reason I don’t advertise is that the main focus of my writing is my cookbooks. I didn’t go blog to book, I went book to blog.

Back to what got me riled up and away from the beauty of Maine….

The email stated they were “looking for influencers to let their readers know about these new value offers.” There were several points of criteria to be met and encouragement to also promote the post with social media like Twitter and Facebook. It was described as limited spots available, so please hurry.

The payment was $20.

I am not sure what is worse, not being paid at all or being paid $20. The whole campaign devalues food writing as a whole.

I would not participate in this, it’s not appropriate for me, regardless of the amount of money.

The part that’s stirred my pot is that this sort of campaign does effect my bottom line. It’s the same attitude that leads a Big Kitchen Appliance Company or Big Food Commodity to create a social media promotion with #giveaways instead of hiring a professional food writer or recipe developer to do real work for a real wage.

Why should they? They can giveaway a ding dang spatula or a coupon for a carton of orange juice and get more bang for their buck — and whether the recipe is original or tested seems to be absolutely, completely irrelevant.

Then, there are even crazier situations in that the Big Food Company essentially wants stone-cold free labor. Dianne Jacob wrote about an totally outrageous request put forth to Amy Sherman from Cooking with Amy in that they wanted her to pay roughly $2000 in expenses for the opportunity to promote her blog…. BTW, I consider Dianne the “Dean of Internet Food Writing.” Her blog out and out states that it’s “Pithy snippets about food writing.” She’s smart, saavy, and has the experience to back it up.

The deal is many bloggers sign up for such promotions and are happy to take the free trips, coupons, and giveaways. I had an earlier situation this week when a food blogger used my recipes for a promotional post for which he was compensated with essentially, $30 of trinkets. He did ask me permission first, but he did not reveal it was a promotional post — or I didn’t catch it if he did.

In the end, it benefited me because he linked to my site and blog, I can chalk it up to marketing, etc etc. It was fine. It promoted my book. I’ve met him in person and we know each other through social media. He seems to be a really nice person, but he was used by the Big Food Company and the Big Food Company essentially got to use my recipes without compensating me.

It’s not all bad. Not by a long shot. There’s a lot of good in the blogosphere. The response to the heart-wrenching situation with Jennifer Perillo brought to the forefront Bloggers without Borders, a non-profit organization helping connect bloggers to one another, and helping them to assist others in need. And, it’s just phenomenal that we now have this self-publishing option. There’s a lot of really talented people that can cook, write, create art through photography — and all of whom are sharing their passion online.

I love what I do. I work hard, but I eat well and I make a decent living writing about food.

So, to be clear, you’ll find no sour grapes here, and I do hope you enjoy my recipe for Sweet Maine Lobster Chowder.

Thanks for listening.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!
VA

SWEET MAINE LOBSTER CHOWDER
Serves 6

This is a wonderfully flavorful summer soup. I have made the crème fraîche optional – after accidentally leaving it out once when I taught it to a class. Surprisingly, I liked it even better!

2 1 1/2 pound lobsters
2 large onions, chopped
2 bay leaves, preferably fresh
Scraped kernels from 8 ears fresh sweet corn (about 4 cups)
3 cups lobster stock (recipe in body of recipe)
1/2 pound bacon, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 rib celery, finely diced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 cup crème fraîche, optional
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 bunch fresh chives, chopped
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large stockpot of salted water to boil. Blanch the lobsters for 4 minutes. Reserve cooking water.

Remove the lobsters from the water; break off the claws and tail. Remove the tomalley from the body. Using kitchen shears cut the lobster tails open and crack open the claws. Remove the lobster meat and cut into bite-size pieces, refrigerate until needed.

To make the lobster stock: Using the back of a chef’s knife, crush the head and shells. Using a large saucepan over high heat, combine lobster head and shells and enough of the water used to cook the lobsters to cover, about 2 quarts. Add one onion and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, skim, and reduce to medium low. Simmer, skimming occasionally, until liquid is flavorful, 30 minutes to 1 hour. Pour stock through a fine sieve into a heatproof bowl. Discard the lobster shells and set aside 6 cups of stock. Save the remaining stock for another use.

Using a food processor fitted with a blade attachment, puree 2 cups of the corn with 2 cups of the lobster stock until smooth, set aside.

Using a large saucepan over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain and set aside. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat. Add the remaining onion, remaining corn, celery, and cayenne pepper. Cook until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining 4 cups of lobster stock and corn puree. Stir to combine and simmer until slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. (Remove soup from heat, whisk in the optional crème fraîche.) Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a medium saute pan over medium high heat. Add the reserved lobster meat and sauté just until heated through, about 2 minutes. Ladle the chowder into warm serving bowls. Garnish with lobster meat, bacon, and chives. Serve immediately.

photos by me.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

The Maine Course: Lobster and the End of Summer Tuesday, Sep 1 2009 

Maine Summer

Rocky windswept cliffs capped with lighthouses. Salt soaked ocean breezes. There’s little more beautiful than a summer weekend in Maine reveling in all her glorious beauty. Last weekend I traveled to Stonewall Kitchen to teach and enjoy a brilliant weekend in New England. I want to give a big shout out to Patty and her team. They did a great job and it was absolutely fantastic! We had a sold out class in Maine! And, it wasn’t a bunch of displaced Southerners, either!


DSC_0121

The weather was perfect – crisp and clear for a day or so, then, I am told, a storm was “ordered up” especially for me! (The photo above is of Bald Head Cliff.) I was able to experience tropical storm Danny that produced cold, wet, and nasty weather that was far from tropical for this Southern girl more used to 90 in August. The storm begged for a lunch at Barnacle Billy’s where I shared a steaming bowl of delicious lobster stew and a piping hot basket of steamers.


Barnacle Billy's

I stayed at the The Cliff House Resort and Spa a property that’s been hosting guests for fine Maine summers since 1872. The vista was absolutely breathtaking and the grounds were phenomenal. I wanted a supreme Maine experience, wanted to experience properly cooked lobster, and The Cliff House Resort and Spa was the perfect base. Only 75 miles North of Boston, it truly fit the bill.

CLFAerial

The dining room looks out onto the mighty Atlantic and at night the floodlights illuminate the cliffs for a spectacular setting. I enjoyed shockingly brisk and briny local oysters with a pungently delicious sauce Mignonette for a first course. It was an absolutely perfect way to start the meal. We also had the Peekytoe Crab Cakes with Grain Mustard Cream and of course, steamed lobster with drawn butter served with earthy sweet salt-roasted Maine potatoes. Given my rich and indulgent dinner, I paid a trip to the spa the next day for some exercise, and yes, a little hot stone treatment, which was fantastic as I had never had one before. Many of the spa treatments utilize products from the area, including local blueberries as well as stones and shells from the coastline. While resting in the steam room afterwards I wondered if I was actually perspiring drawn butter.


CLF-DiningRm

Just down the road is Perkin’s Cove, a cluster of shops and art galleries perfect for dawdling away an afternoon. It couldn’t be any more picturesque. It’s more Maine-like than one could ever imagine, as if a Hollywood set decorator crafted the entire scene.

dg-lobster_tower

On Saturday night I dined at MC Perkins Cove owned by chefs Clark Frasier & Mark Gaier, who were nominated by the James Beard Foundation as Best Chefs of the Northeast, 2009. The food couldn’t have been better as we watched the stormy waves crash outside. We started with an incredible seafood tower, continued with perfectly cooked Peekytoe Crab Cakes, enjoyed Southern Fried Chicken Wings (just couldn’t help myself!), and Lobster Mac and Cheese. Huge emphasis on Lobster. Really incredible. Sweet, succulent chunks of lobster married with perfectly cooked macaroni and bathed in a creamy coating of cheesy goodness.

So, check off the Absolute Perfect Maine Weekend on my to-do list. It simply couldn’t have been better. I love immersing myself in a culture, in the food of the region, in the history and flavor of the people. I love eating, breathing, drinking it all in so it soaks into me. Truth be told? I never liked lobster. But, now, I know the truth, I haven’t been having it cooked properly. Up North Maine way, they know what they’re doing, that’s for sure.

I have an idea for you this Labor Day weekend, I want to suggest a little something different than ribs or burgers on the grill. How about some steamed lobster with drawn buttter? I can’t offer you a hot stone treatment, and I am not capable of ordering up fierce storms, and can’t offer briny breezes, but I think steamed lobster would be the perfect way end to your summer.

Bon Appetit, Y’all!

VA


lobster

Lobster Steaming Instructions

Choose a pot large enough to hold all the lobsters comfortably; do not crowd them. A 4- to 5-gallon pot can handle 6 to 8 pounds of lobster. Put 2 inches of seawater or salted water in the bottom of a large kettle. Set a steaming rack inside the pot and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the live lobsters one at a time, cover the pot, and start timing. Halfway through, lift the lid (careful—the steam is hot) and shift the lobsters around so they cook evenly.

If the lobster weighs: Steam:
1 pound 10 minutes
1-1/4 pounds 12 minutes
1-1/2 pounds 14 minutes
1-3/4 pounds 16 minutes
2 pounds 18 minutes

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