I felt like I’d been misplaced in the cosmos and I belonged in Maine.
Sometimes we are born in our homes and sometimes we find them. Kate Christensen grew up in the Arizona desert, and “always felt alienated by that stark, grandiose, arid land.”
She traveled east, landed in a striving job in New York City, but kept moving, north to New Hampshire and Maine, in search of “trees, shadows, dark places to balance the light… .” She is drawn to the briny, rough, and cold profile of the north.
Through the moves and, in Maine, Christensen found her self as a writer, she found love, and she found community. Her musings on meals mark seasons and emotions, recorded here in recipes, but also in her thoughts about abundance and satisfaction.
The title of, as well as the approach of, her book is inspired by M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf, a record of wartime deprivation that manages to offer real recipes and real foods, taking pleasure from creating something using sensuality and frugality.
But Christensen points out the Maine residents don’t need war to know that life can be hard but sweet. The sweetness Christensen finds is in fresh seafood and wild blueberries, but also in the familiar faces of her Portland friends and neighbors, a crisp, bright day at the beach, or a warm night at home with a bowl of chicken stew.
She recalls the kitchens she’s cooked in–creatively cheap with her Mom trying to feed the family, competitive in New York with her first husband and striving friends, and finally, the most moving–prepping a meal made with local ingredients for a soup kitchen, where it is imperative not to waste limited and donated ingredients, but also to provide pleasure along with sustenance, feeding both the clients and the cook.
Christensen can be a bit romantic about the flinty, stick-to-itiveness of her Yankee neighbors. Her boyfriend is a saint, her neighbors are good, her contractors are honest, the dogs are friendly. Even being snowed in is a pleasure when you don’t have to commute.
But her aim is true when she writes viscerally about the difference between the abstract work of writing and the physical work of cooking, and about the change of seasons. She struggles through mud season, enjoys the warmth under a “mad blue April sky,” and appreciates the “golden, green, blue perfection” of a summer afternoon. And she eats along with the seasons, springtime cockles and asparagus, and summer’s rhubarb pickles or clams with chorizo.
Christensen’s recipes aren’t fancy; they take their real luxury from ingredients like foraged mushrooms and garden-fresh peas, from anchored traditions like molasses sweetened Brown Bread baked in a coffee can, and, most importantly, from taking the time and care to cook them.
Christensen doesn’t open a can of clams for her chowder, she steams open fresh ones and catches their liquor in the broth. There’s nothing like a steamed lobster eaten under a blue sky, but Christensen takes on Lobster Thermidor. She gets a kick from recreating a Gilded Age dish, savoring its romantic name and its “creamy-lobstery-cheesy-spicy” flavors.
The recipes include the regional inevitabilities–lobster, chowder, and blueberries–but also a few challenges, beyond the Lobster Thermidor. Jellied Moose Nose, anyone? Well, maybe not, but any kitchen can accommodate a Classic New England Oyster Dressing, a Black Kettle Farm Vegetable Stew, or Blueberries with Lemon Curd.
But even if you don’t cook Christensen’s exact recipes, you will want to adopt her attitude. Cooking is time well-spent and connects us to ourselves, our families, our communities, and our planet.