When people discover that Mr. Wonderful and I live in Maine, they ask, “Do you eat lobster everyday?” We don’t. Nor do we eat much moose which is the other Maine icon and staple.
Maine Moose facts: There are more moose in Maine per square mile than anywhere else in North America, including Alaska. One of the most visited spots in mid-state is a huge body of water called Moosehead Lake because it resembles a moose head adorned with a rack of antlers. Winning a permit in the annual lottery for moose hunting is more coveted by Pine Tree staters than a visit from the folks at Publishers Clearing House.
In short, moose matter to Mainers. So when I had a chance to hear and then interview Kate Christensen, the attractive author of HOW TO COOK A MOOSE: A Culinary Memoir, I was psyched. She’s engagingly funny, a savvy and experimental foodie, and refreshingly candid about the peaks and valleys of moving down east after living in New York City for 20 years. (She also weekends at a farmhouse in New Hampshire’s White Mountains with boyfriend Brendan.). Christensen has written six novels, one of which garnered the PEN/Faulkner award in 2008. She recently got her first driver’s license, and she’s 53.
MOOSE is an entertaining read, with original Maine-inspired recipes for Moose Bourguignon, Pasta with Pea Sauce, Wicked-good Lamb Burgers, Lobster Thermidor and Newcomer’s Clam Chowder, all concocted and eaten with wine preferred by Kate and Brendan. But this is not a cookbook! It’s a history and celebration of Maine food and the people who cultivate and cook it.
One chapter spotlights the tastiest donuts you’ll find anywhere, at Leigh Kellis’ Holy Donut shop in Portland. (The donut maker says, “We use all fresh ingredients — organic sugar, Vermont flour, local eggs. And the best chocolate Callebaut super-dark chocolate and Bensdorp cocoa powder. It takes 17 people from start to finish, mixing the dough, hand-shaping each donut, frying them, glazing them. I don’t take any shortcuts.”)
Another chapter focuses on a young oyster farmer, Abigail Carroll, whose oyster farm Nonesuch is now one of the most successful in the state. Kate writes about foraging for black trumpet mushrooms, one of the hardest mushrooms to locate, and also making grilled cheese sandwiches for the lunch crowd at Florence House, a women-only shelter in Portland.
In writing MOOSE, Kate said, “I opened myself up more than usual and stretched out of my typical writerly hermit solitude in the interest of meeting Mainers doing interesting things. The book arose out of my interest in them all and my excitement to discover what this place was where I had landed.” She has nothing but genuine admiration for “this region that’s populated by people with a resourceful ability to make do in hard times, to figure out solutions to seemingly insoluble problems, and to survive.”
It’s always interesting to find out what a gourmet wants for her “last meal,” and Kate had no hesitation stepping right up to the buffet table. She told me, “I would choose to go to the great hereafter with a stomach full of French bistro fare.”
“To start, a dozen raw Belon oysters with mignonette and lemon (accompanied by cold Muscadet), freshly baked sourdough baguette with ice-cold salted butter — it’s my deathbed, forget about the gluten! That would be followed by a tender, juicy medium-rare steak au poivre (served with a rich deep Bordeaux) and crisp frites with aioli, a salad of butter lettuce dressed with a mustard vinaigrette; and for desert, warm flour-less molten chocolate cake (and a splash of Calvados).”
“I wanted to write a book about happiness,” Christensen said, “and I’m proud of the fact that I wrote earnestly, without apology or minimizing my luck.” I savored each chapter! MOOSE is available at Amazon and your local bookstores.