One of Eleanor's backyard birds

Backyard Chickens, Locavore Greens, and Food Trucks: A Maine Miscellany

Backyard Chickens (Overheard at the market)

At the farmer’s market on Route One in Rockport last Saturday, a woman stood in the doorway clutching a large cardboard box out of which emerged the distinctive peep of baby chickens, newly hatched.

She had just picked them up from Rose, the energetic daughter of Emma’s Family Farm, purveyors of pork, chicken, eggs and, apparently, live baby birds.

“Diatomaceous earth?” the woman queried, a perceptible note of apprehension in her voice, “I’ve heard that’s good against fleas.”

“Well yes,” said Rose, “but not too much. Too much isn’t good for ’em. Just scatter a bit in their dust holes.”

“Dust holes?” The woman’s voice rose. By now she had attained full-scale agida and was clearly having second thoughts about the whole enterprise. “So how do I make dust holes?”

Rose: “Not to worry—they do it themselves.” She flapped her elbows like chicken wings to illustrate. “They’ll do it all over the place.”

The woman groaned: “Oh great! Just what my husband wanted to hear. I’ve been waiting 40 years for chickens and now I have to worry about dust holes.”

Locavores & Their Greens

In a restaurant the other day I ordered, on the waiter’s recommendation, a plain green salad. “It’s really good,” he said, “it’s made with greens from our garden.” I’d already been shown an album filled with photos of the restaurant’s vaunted garden. Seems they had gone whole-hog, as we say, with the locavore mantra, bought a piece of land, dug it up, seeded it, watered, fertilized, weeded, and done all those things which they ought to have done and none of those things they ought not to have done, in order to serve home-grown organically cultivated food. Or at least lettuce.

Locally sourced. . . .

And the lettuce was delicious, very young, pale green, sweet and tender, the kind old folks around here used to serve with a sprinkle of sugar and a splash of cider vinegar. But it came dotted with small, dark things that, on closer inspection, appeared to be thawed frozen blueberries. And it was served with what the menu called someone’s “Blueberry Vinaigrette.” Fortunately I had asked—as I almost always do—for the dressing to be served on the side because it was inedible. At least to my taste. So acid that it made my gorge rise just to taste it on the tip of a spoon and with a viscous texture that was quite off-putting. I would not say in print what it reminded me of, but it wasn’t pleasant. And it wasn’t all that different from other salad dressings I’ve been offered in other restaurants down through the years—which is how I learned to ask for the dressing on the side.

But what puzzled me was why, having gone to all that trouble and expense, buying the land, digging it up, seeding it, hoeing it in, watering it, weeding it, and finally harvesting it—why, with this delicious result, they (the restaurant owners, the chef, whomever) would ruin it with such a ruinous dressing. And it occurred to me that the people in charge in that restaurant don’t even know how easy it is to make a delicious, simple, tasty dressing that will not mask but rather enhance the bitter-sweet flavors of tender young salad greens and even crisp old ones for that matter. So here’s how to make a simple Mediterranean dressing (actually Eastern Mediterranean—I learned how to make this from a Palestinian cook):

Take about half of a garlic clove and chop it coarsely. Add the garlic bits to the bottom of a salad bowl with a teaspoon or less of sea salt. Using the back of a spoon, crush the garlic and salt together to make a paste. Stir into the paste 3 tablespoons of the finest extra-virgin olive oil that you can afford and then add a tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice or aged wine vinegar. (It doesn’t have to be balsamic vinegar but it should be very tasty—aged sherry vinegar is an excellent choice.) Beat the elements together with a fork, then add well-rinsed and dried salad greens and toss just before serving. And forget about the blueberries.

So easy! (But only the salt and the garlic were local.)

A Fad for Food Trucks

A friend, idling on Facebook, was pondering the state of the times and asking when if ever food trucks might emerge in Maine. Along the lines of (the whines of?): Why do I live in such a backward environment when the WHOLE DAMNED COUNTRY is going mad for food trucks? That is, the part of the country that relies on the NY Times, the Washington Post, and the LA Times for news about food—which isn’t actually the WHOLE damned country just a fad-mad segment that might or might not be significant. And we, in poor old retro Maine, we just stumble along way behind all those hipsters to the south and west of us.

Well, sorry to counter your plaint, Sharon, but we practically invented food trucks here in Maine. Rockland was once clearly the national capital of food trucks, for heaven’s sake. Not the kind that you haul out of some rodent-infested basement in the West 30s and drag up to Rockefeller Center or down to Wall Street daily. No, ours are more or less permanent food trucks and they probably once sold mostly lobster rolls and hot dogs. Is there anyone left old enough to remember Yorkie’s in Camden when it was a hot dog stand parked near where the Rite-Aid drug store is now? Yorkie had been a clown with Ringling Brothers Circus and how he ever fetched up in Camden was anyone’s guess but he made fine hotdogs and they were in great demand.

Wasses Hot Dogs

A worthy successor to the long-gone Yorkie’s is Wasses Wagon near Dunkin’ Donuts, off North Main Street in Rockland. It’s been in the same location for seemingly endless decades and boasts of more than two million hotdogs served over those years. Which is easy to believe as these are far and away the best hotdogs on the coast of Maine, with great crowds attesting to their excellence, drawn each noonday by the fragrance of Wasses onions, frying on the griddle, their odor wafting for blocks around. That’s all they serve–hotdogs and stuff to go with them. Why add to perfection?

Then there’s Dorman’s Dairy Dream on a severely run-down strip of Route One heading for Thomaston. It isn’t exactly a food truck, more like a food shack (and if I were going to be fully confessional I would confess that that’s what most of these places are), where the ice cream is home-made and people apparently drive all the way from Massachusetts to sample it. Locally cherished flavors are ginger and grape-nut (not together, those are two separate flavors), preferably in a sugar cone with jimmies on top.

Down on Rockland’s waterfront, not far from the Thursday farmer’s market, Shell has this “Southwest Grill,” which is a genuine food truck (note the wheels) on blocks.

Who knows why she’s serving sunny south-western tacos, burritos and quesadillas on the fog-bound coast of Maine, but maybe it’s her way of coping with the fog. In any case, they’re darned good and a bargain, too–two terrific pulled-pork tacos for about $8.50, and enough to satisfy two average eaters.

The newest addition to this plethora (I haven’t begun to list all of them) is on Route One heading north, in Glen Cove. J.J.’s Snack Shack has a little of everything–hamburgers and hotdogs in dozens of permutations, plus fried fish (he buys his fish from Jess’s and if you know Jess’s, you know he’s buying good fish), fried clams, falafel (falafel?!? on the coast of Maine?!?), and even poutines, surely the most deplorable export from north of the border, a dish that is truly hard to appreciate if you are not a died-in-the-wool Quebecois–fried potatoes, topped with a viscous and extremely salty meat gravy along with something that looks suspiciously like melted Cheese Whiz. Hard to love, true, but worth experiencing, just to know what our Franco friends are talking about. And J.J.’s even has seating, as you can plainly see–almost a sidewalk terrace with a nice view of Route One.

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  • Reply Nico Jenkins June 25, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    But what about poor old Scott’s in the Reny’s parking lot? Decent lobster roll, and, if you don’t tell anyone, I will admit to eating their haddock sandwich once or twice, which isn’t half bad.
    And Downeast, we now have Bucklyn Coffee which is hand roasted in a food truck and brewed in an old Italian cappuccino maker. Not half bad either!

  • Reply jane carr June 25, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    On Fri, Jun 24, 2011 at 4:46 PM, Jane Carr wrote:
    Food truck issues…There is a food truck (sort of) on the public landing run by one of our selectmen.. the same location that Roy Bennett had his hotdog wagon back in the late 50s..It is all most impossible to get a permit in this area for a moving food truck..lots of regulations and limitations…food truck beside Arlettie Good’s house that serves wraps and smoothies…that one goes to the Union Fair in August..The southwest one on the Rockland waterfront is Tom Manning’s daughter and her son is Josh of Amanda and Josh fame at Nebo Lodge..
    So there…

  • Reply Bonnie Shershow June 25, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    So in agreement on salad dressing! Just made Greek salad with cucumbers, feta, and tomatoes with just good olive oil, salt, and pepper – the acid from the tomatoes was a perfect combination with the oil and voila the perfect balance for a dressing- could not have been better. BANISH BALSAMIC NOW, I SAY!!!

  • Reply nancyharmonjenkins June 27, 2011 at 2:05 am

    Bonnie, you’re so right. I think we tend on the whole to make very acid dressings, way too acid, so you can’t really enjoy a salad with anything else because the acid gets in the way. And then, with premium olive oil, just a whisper of lemon or vinegar is enough to offset, but not conceal, the excellent flavors in the oil.
    And, Jane and Nico, I have to try all these other ones. I thought about Scott’s too, but as I was really writing about Rockland decided to leave it out. But we could do a whole book on food trucks on the coast of Maine, couldn’t we?

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