the Maine Event

My dear friend Laura was gracious enough to invite us up to her family’s home in Maine to celebrate her 30th birthday. So after Chicago, off we jetted to Maine. No big deal. Repatriation Summer Tour 2012, we are hardly joking.

Damariscotta River, Maine

Maine is incredible. Filled with beautiful sights and the most delicious food everywhere. Gosh, I know I say I eat delicious food a lot, but in Maine, it’s different. Their tap water tastes sweeter, their berries are bluer, their milk is creamier, and their greens seem like they’re healthier, even! The Foodist knows what I’m talking about.

Lobster Bake_Clam

Flower crown

More on the good food (including my FIRST LOBSTER BAKE!) later. So fun. In the meantime, here are a few more idyllic shots of the woodsy-watery-rugged-sweet-backcountry that is the epitome of Maine.


Maine_On the River

Maine_On the River_2

Maine_General Store

Maine_Lobster Cages

Adventures in Candyland- Hawthorn caramel

I know it was a teeny stretch to call this peanut brittle in a recent post. And I suppose I am stretching yet again in calling the candy I am about to describe a relative of its Western cousin, the caramel. But let’s be open, shall we? After all, in the rules of my food world- if it tastes good, it’s all good.

In Kaiping, there is a local candy derived from the Hawthorn fruit.  Now, my knowledge of the Hawthorn is restricted to wikipedia’s definition, but after tasting this candy I am definitely intrigued to find out more about how and where this berry is used- in addition to it’s actual flavor profile, unmasked by the sugar that I tasted it with.

Upon first impression of the Kaiping specialty, it looks like a hybrid of honey and caramel.  Actually, the first impression is a pretty accurate one. The process to get this syrup is lost on me, and though I’d venture to guess that somehow the fruit juices are extracted and blended with sugar on low heat until the sticky syrup is formed, I can only accurately comment on the final product- something decadently sweet and tacky and delightfully simple.

A large warm pot of the syrup/candy stays, covered, until some lucky person (me!) asks for one stick (for one rmb!). Here, a young boy working at his family’s stand would take one from a pair of disposable chopsticks, as well as a stick which looked like it was picked off the ground and stick both into the vat of sugar syrup. Then he twirled the sticky substance around the chopstick, coaxing it with the blunt stick around itself.

The texture is pretty hard to accurately describe- there is nothing that I could find to equate it to. But be satisfied in knowing that feels pretty much how it looks. Super tacky, and sticky, yet if you lick it with your wet tongue it doesn’t really do anything. It has the feeling and taste of warm taffy, and there is a buttery quality to it like caramel, though I am almost positive there is absolutely no butter in it. The stuff doesn’t ooze like fresh caramel or honey, but rather slowly morphs like partially-dried hot glue. One could potentially bite it off and chew (though it would leave strings of sticky syrup on your chin), but it would surely leave you with a toothache. Overall it’s a super satisfying treat, one which a small amount you see below lasted me about 45minutes worth of tasty entertainment.

Peanut sesame brittle, Chinese-style

As we approached this guy from far away, I thought he was making rice crispy treats.  But we soon hit a wall of aromas that included the sugar, peanuts and sesame at their purest- and my ideas of a chewy rice crispy treat were quick to be dispelled.  But I was not disappointed for long, as I immediately recognized the ‘candy’ that he had displayed in front of him as the Chinese version of peanut brittle.

With a small portable range set up in the back corner of his stall, among sacks of white sugar (not quite the safest setup, I noted), I watched as Brittle Man stirred a piping-hot wok full of sugar syrup with a flat wooden paddle. Without any other tools- no thermometer, no measuring utensils, no fancy stirring gadgets- he mixed peanuts and sesame seeds in with the sugar until a firm-yet-malleable consistency formed. Transferring his piping hot concoction to a flat table, he whipped out two massive blunt cleavers and pushed the peanut-sesame mixture back and forth, folding it over itself again and again.  As the stuff began to cool, Brittle Man patted and formed it into a large thin sheet, finally scoring the surface lightly with thin lines.

We purchased a small Ziploc full of brittle for a snack- it tasted like peanuts and sesame and sugar-precisely what I expected. The thinly-scored brittle surface allowed us to easily break off thin pieces, and we munched on the square rods of brittle as if they were pretzel sticks.