The Backseat Gourmet-Roadtrip Through The N.E. 7 States in 7 Days!- Part 2 of 2

Oh Vermont.  If you have not been to this tiny state yet, GO!  Its gorgeous and green and they have bottles & bottles of maple syrup!  And if thats not enough to sell you, the Ben & Jerry’s factory is a short driving distance from the Cabot cheese factory.  So pack your Lactaid folks, lets get in the car and go East!

My family and I stopped at a small road side shop called Stowe Maple Products that sold pure Vermont maple syrup and other mapley delicious delights.  The owner was on hand to give us samples and educate me with my 14,000 questions.  What I learned & found to be quite helpful: Maple syrup is like a narcotic.

Besides that:

  • Grade A Maple Syrup has a light, medium and dark variety.  What makes their color differ is from the time they were harvested.
  • The harvesting season is only about 4-5 weeks, the earlier its harvested the lighter it is in color.
  • Grade B Maple Syrup is harvested very late in the season and is best used in baking or cooking as it has a hardier and more robust flavor.  While the Grade A variety is best used for drowing your pancakes (and yourself) in.
  • The nutrient content in Grade A and Grade B are the same.

Grade A fancy Vermont Maple Syrup…..its like a drug.

Mini Recipe:

Maple Mustard Salad Dressing

Whisk together 1 tsp dijon mustard, a heavy splash of apple cider vinegar and 2 tblsp maple syrup.  Whisk in 2 tblsp olive oil.  Add a pinch of sea salt & pepper. Toss over a fresh spinach salad with blueberries and thinly sliced red onion.

Our next stop the Ben & Jerry’s Factory.  Of course we HAD to take the tour, however campy & brief, it was quite educational and with the promise of an exclusive flavor sample (strawberry with white chocolate chunks) one would gladly wait in a tourist shop with walls painted like a the posterior of a black and white cow.  Post tour we move on to the ice cream store.  Still full from my early morning shots of maple syrup I decide how many scoops (thats right plural) I should order.  I go with a scoop of my all time fave Chunky Monkey and a scoop of the 7 Layer Coconut.  A genius tropical pairing!  You can take the girl out of the island but you can’t take the ……..

The difficult decision…..chunky monkey & 7 layer coconut bar. Divine!

This place is like Disney World of the north.  Who wouldn’t want to take a photo in this thing?!  Our flavor…….Szunyogh-Murphy Swirl.  A creamy vanilla base , with Hungarian paprika, coconut flakes and and Irish Creme Swirl.  What’s your family flavor??

We were definitely feeling euphoric after our ice cream!

With our blood sugars at full throttle we speed onto Maine and hit up a tucked away lobster shack right on the water.     Harraseeket Lunch & Lobster Company in South Freeport, Maine  is THE  place to get your whole lobster lunches and lobster rolls.  They have been featured on Rachel Ray and were voted one of the top 10 lobster shacks in Maine.  Fishing boats lazily bobbing and birds searching for fall out accompany us on our lobster eating adventure. The vibe is laid back and with no silverware given (the way I like it!)  we dig into this seaside bounty.

Tasty lil out-of-the-way lobster shack right on the water.

Before this trip I had never eaten a lobster roll in my life.  And truth be told this was actually the main reason I packed my bags & left my house.  A lobster roll aficionado and friend said “Don’t even bother unless the bun is toasted!”  And indeed this was.  A toasty roll, layered with lettuce and as you can see, very large, succulent pieces of lobster bathed in a light mayo dressing.  As you can imagine this was well worth leaving the house for!

Missions eat a lobster roll complete!!

This guys life was not taken in vain, oh no, every bit of him was enjoyed.  And never mind the butter dripping down my chin onto my t-shirt, it can stay there….I’m going in for more.

Dig in, no silverware required!

Lessons learned or confirmed from this trip:

  • Even though people seem to be in romantic relationships with their Iphones it proved to be very helpful in directional assistance.
  • Eating local is where its at!  Maple syrup, ice cream, blueberries and lobster…need I say more?
  • My family is pretty functional!  We enjoyed each others company.
  • Hot tubs are awesome.
  • I still don’t need silverware.
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Have You Been Eating Your Ferns Lately?

Have you been eating your ferns lately?  Umm hmm, I didn’t think so.  Well, honestly, me neither.  I came across this magical green known as “ota” in Fijian about a  year ago.  I brought it home & scratched my head, because I had failed to ask two pertinent questions: 1. What the hell is this? and 2. How do I cook it?  A year later I got around to answering those two delicious questions.

The mystical, magical jungle-fern known as ota.

This frilly fern grows in the jungle and can only be found on Saturday at my market when the women from the interior villages come to sell nature’s bounty.  It grows tall, about 2 ½ ft high and along the river banks.  It has a spring like grassy aroma and I feel healthy just looking at it.  I’m sure its nutrient levels are off the charts with blood cleansing chlorophyll being top on the list.  It has this unusual slime factor that many other greens in Fiji also contain.  It makes it so that you feel a slight coating in your mouth, it’s not unpleasant, it’s just…..weird.  Of course like most Fijian dishes it is swimming in a sweet bath of coconut milk which the ginger helps to lighten.  If you are one of those folks that doesn‘t like coconut (you need to get your taste buds checked), you can make this without the coconut milk and just continue to sauté it until it is completely cooked and tender.

What you will need.

I am happy I came back to investigate this jungle fern once again.  I feel good eating it.  My healthy blood and full stomach are equally pleased.

Bubbling cauldron of fern and coconut milk.

Ota Vakalolo
8-9 cups loosely packed ota, or other edible fern
½ onion, chopped,
1 clove garlic, minced,
1 inch thumb ginger, minced
1 small chili, minced
3 cups -coconut milk (mine was homemade which is thinner then canned so you may use 2 cups canned coconut milk and 1 cup water)
2 tsp olive or coconut oil
Sea salt to taste
Lemon wedges, optional

To clean the ota pluck off the top stem and top fronds from the main stem.  Toward the bottom of the stem the other fronds tend to be more woody, so only remove the leaves themselves.  Pinching each side of the frond pull backward to remove leaves.  Wash thoroughly and drain well.

Heat a medium sized stock pot over medium heat and add oil and onion.  Saute until tender about 3-4 minutes.  Add garlic, ginger and chili and sauté another 2 minutes.  Add ota and sauté for 5-8 minutes until tender and wilted.  Add coconut milk and salt, stir to combine.  Cover and simmer over medium low heat stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes until the ferns have softened and the coconut milk has reduced and thickened.

Serve with boiled cassava, lemon wedges and chilies as a garnish.

Mammoth Mollusk is on the Menu…..aka Giant Clam

When I first saw the amorphous, striped blob at the wharf I had no idea what it was.  With raised eyebrows I made my inquiry and was informed it was in Fijian known as vasua, or giant clam.  I thought to myself “Score!  This is so on.”  When I got home, (just to be sure and save myself some potential gastro-intestinal upset), I Googled “Can you eat giant clam?”  The answer to my gastronomic delight was…yes.  I’m going to just come out and say it, it looks, well…uh hmm, slightly vaginal.  But never mind its appearance, its traditional Fijian cuisine and time to experiment.

Gorgeous Colors of the Giant Clam

Going to the local wharf on a mild afternoon when the boats have come in for the day is my bliss.  The small fiber glass boats are brightly painted blue and yellow and the air smells of salt, diesel and fish.  It’s gritty, a little seedy and in a way reminds me of my carnival days.  As I went to buy the giant clam I knelt down to hold it up, inspect and make sure I was getting a good deal.  I spoke with the shoeless, tooth missing, Fijian fisherman who caught it and asked the price and about the best way to prepare it.  As I was doing this a small crowd began to form around me.  Four then five men started making their way to the most unusual sight of a white woman buying something as exotic as giant clam.

The Lautoka Wharf.

I was given at least five methods of preparation but finally decided on one I was comfortable with and could handle solo.  I began to chop it into pieces and discarded some oozy, odd looking bits that I decided were not in my best interest to consume.

Excited About My Experiment!

The flavor of the clam itself is similar to that of a traditional clam but richer.  I would say it tastes more like octopus then clam.  It is chewy of course and has that signature briny flavor from spending every one of its living moments absorbing the sea.  Having it bathe in coconut milk is the utmost of traditional and I enjoy it, but its rich on rich & makes me need to sprawl out belly-up for a Giant nap.  “Vakamiti” is a Fijian method of making raw coconut milk with the addition of salt, onion, lemon juice, chilies, tomatoes and cilantro.  The onion, cilantro and lemon lighten it up and kick the hell out of your taste buds.

I am thrilled with my experiment gone right!  The quantity was far to Giant for me to consume alone so I took the finished product to my Fijian neighbors next door.  When I ran into him the following day and asked “Hey, how was the vasua?”  He replied, “Oh man, juuuust lovely.  You can cook better then one Fijian woman.”

My life is now complete : )

Vasua Vakamiti- Giant Clam in Coconut Milk

Vasua Vakamiti-Giant Clam in Coconut Milk
2 giant clams, approx 4-5lbs, chopped into 1 inch bite sized pieces
2 cups coconut milk
1 small onion, diced
1 tblsp chilies, diced (or your preference of heat)
2 tblsp cilantro, minced
Juice of 2 lemons
Sea salt to taste

Wash clams thoroughly and chop accordingly.  Place in a medium sauce pan and fill with enough water to cover.  Bring to a boil cooking for 8-10 minutes.  Once cooked, drain and cool.

Combine coconut milk through salt and stir to combine.  Add more of any ingredient to your liking, the measurements need not be exact.  Pour coconut mixture over cooked giant clam.  Serve with boiled cassava.

Come On Mom, Not Seaweed Agaaaain….

I came across yet another seaweed that piqued my interest.  It was like nothing I’d ever seen or tried and my inner Indiana Jones was calling. After a lengthy conversation with my seaweed supplier I was convinced it was time to jump in and give lumi a try.  The lumi itself is a unique food with the texture of whiskery yarn and smells strong of brine and the sea. When cooked it dissolves into a gelatinous slime which I realize sounds totally unappetizing, but combine that seaweed slime with coconut milk, onions and ginger and you have a traditional dish to die for!

My seaweed supplier & guru of traditional Fijian cuisine.

I met with my good friend Sala to help me on my seaweed adventure.  Once the lumi was thoroughly rinsed I peeled and grated ginger & Sala opened, more like sawed open, a large can of tuna.  Most locals I have encountered find kitchen gadgets pointless.  Cans are opened by stabbing it with a moderately large knife-saw away and there you have it…can opened.  I gave my friend a can opener to use once and given the blank look on his face I quickly realized he had no idea how to use it.  Such a beautiful thing to share culture through can openers.

I'm REALLY excited about making this seaweed!

We followed the recipe that Sala knew by heart and once she was satisfied the lumi was solid enough we sat down and cut a small triangular slice.  Its texture was silky smooth, moist and a semi solid custard.  The flavor of the tuna was pronounced and the seaweed itself never lost its signature taste of sea salt and brine.

The finished product ready to be dipped in a tangy sauce of lemon juice, ginger and chilies.

A screaming success, I ate it for three days!  This will be on regular rotation of my favorite traditional Fijian meals.

Lumi Vakalolo

1-$2 FJD heap lumi (about 4 cups)
½  large onion, sliced thin
1 -2 inch thumb ginger, peeled and grated
2 coconuts worth coconut milk (rung twice) or about 3 1/2 cups canned
2 tsp sea salt
1 tin of tuna in water, drained (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon
½ inch thumb ginger, peeled and grated
1 tsp hot chilis, chopped

To prepare the seaweed you must thoroughly clean it first.  Pull up thin handfuls and inspect it for other kinds of seaweed, small pieces of coral or dirt.  This must be done carefully and slowly. Remove any unwanted debris and place in a colander.  Let water run through it and move it around so all parts are rinsed by the water.  Once sufficiently rinsed squeeze it dry & let it sit to strain further in the colander.

In a large stock pot bring the coconut milk to a boil over medium high heat.  Once simmering add onions, ginger (and tuna is using), stir to combine. Slowly add lumi one handful at a time, stirring until all lumi has been added.  Stir constantly over medium high heat until the lumi is totally dissolved and when the spoon is lifted it is no longer stringy and is a thick consistency.

At this stage pour the mixture into a shallow 13 x 9 casserole dish or a shallow dish of a similar size.  If you use a smaller dish it will be thicker which is fine, however it will take longer to cool and become solid.  Let the lumi cool at room temperature uncovered for at least 30 -45 minutes.  If you are in a hurry you can place it in the refrigerator to speed this process up.  The lumi is completely set once you can cut it with a knife through it and it will no longer run.  It should be the texture of thick custard.

Squeeze the lemon juice in a small shallow dish and add the grated ginger and chilies.  Stir to combine. Cut lumi into squares or triangles and serve with the lemon juice mixture for dipping.  Serve with boiled cassava.

This may be served cool or at room temperature.  Refrigerate any leftovers for up to 3 days.

Spiritually-Sprouted Moong Salad With Mint

In the past when I read a recipe had a “sprouted” ingredient I just rolled my eyes & thought hippies.  The thought of waiting for my food to be ready three days later while it spiritually sprouted to its enlightened potential was annoying.  If I’m craving something I want it now!  But once I actually tried sprouted moong, I thought maybe it was high time to work on my lesser attribute of patience.

The moong post overnight soak.

These little green gems make me feel like superwoman when I eat it!  Light and crunchy with that signature sprouty grass-green taste, I can eat an entire bowl full guilt free.  And sometimes in Fiji its over 80 degrees by 8am, this in turn means I will be standing nowhere near my stove which makes this a great dish during hot weather months.

Fully enlightened (and sprouted) after its 36 hour meditation.

You can make this salad one hundred different ways.  The one below is what I make most often as these are the local ingredients I have access to.  However, you could always sass it up with some chopped apple and raisins or go Asian with soy sauce and cilantro.  The moong is a blank canvas.

This refreshing and crunchy salad is worth the wait.

Spiritually-Sprouted Moong Salad With Mint
1 cup dry, uncooked moong bean-yields 3 cups sprouted
½ cup onion, diced
¾ cup cucumber, peeled and diced
1 cup carrot, diced
3 tblsp fresh mint leaves, minced
1 tblsp cilantro, minced
Juice of 1 lemon
1 small chili, diced (optional)
Sea salt to taste

Place moong in a pot and submerge completely with filtered water. Cover and let sit unrefrigerated over night or at least 8 hours.  After the soaking, rinse and drain all water.  Cover loosely with a towel or a lid that lets air flow.  Let sit another 24 to 36 hours unrefrigerated.  Once the moong has sprouted fully, rinse it several times and drain.

To assemble salad, add onion through cilantro and toss.  Add lemon juice and salt to taste and stir to combine.  If you find the juice of 1 lemon was not enough you may add more to your liking.  This may be served room temperature but is very refreshing when served chilled.