Claws and Effect

They say foodies will do anything for the perfect meal.

I believe it. I just proved it.

We were ending our three-week trek through Maine and Nova Scotia when we got the wacky idea to carry live lobsters home on the plane. Our daughter’s family would enjoy them immensely. Personally, I had eaten so much lobster that my mercury level was probably off the charts and I could happily go a few months without devouring another one. But, the grandchildren. Oh! Would they ever love them!

En route to Portland, where we would fly out the next morning, we returned to our favorite lobster pound near Bar Harbor and packed up four two-pounders and two smaller ones, covered in seaweed, iced and sealed tight. They slept happily parked in our rental overnight in the chilly outside.

At first we worried that the box wouldn’t fit in the overhead or some problem would arise although we had been assured by the airline that it was all right to carry them on. As a matter of fact, the stewardesses begged us to forget and leave them on the plane, and all who saw the “Live Lobsters” on the package cheered us on.

We were scheduled to arrive in New Orleans at 6 p.m. just in time for a 7:30 p.m. lobster dinner. But, as we boarded the plane in Portland, Maine, we discovered that the airline had rerouted us on a different schedule and we, in fact, would not arrive until 8:30 p.m. Too late for grandchildren on a school night. Well, we tried to switch flights, airlines – anything – all to no avail and rested assured that we would move the dinner to the next night since the lobster pound people said the lobsters would live for two days.

All was well, we thought. Until about two-thirds of the way to Atlanta, stewardesses asked for a doctor on the plane, then a certain medicine if anyone was carrying it and then the sad news that we would make an unscheduled landing in Charlotte, N.C.
At least 10 paramedics, doctors, policemen and airline officials paraded in and out of the plane until we were told we could get off the plane for a few minutes. Most of us deplaned and headed directly to the bar across the concourse. Unfortunately, the passenger passed away, and before all of the paperwork was completed, our flight from Atlanta to New Orleans had taken off.

Next, we’re in Atlanta and are told the only flight left to New Orleans that night was about to leave from another terminal a train ride away. So it was good night in an airport hotel in Atlanta, luggage still checked and sleeping for six hours in our clothes. The hotel was good for toothbrushes. Lobsters slept in the room.

The handle on the lobster box had long since broken, and my husband was carrying the bulky box in his arms. We opened the box and added ice that night in the hotel. Next morning, we rewrap the box, creating a handle, only to have airline security take it apart again and peek at our little wet friends. Everyone took an interest and one airline official said she had never seen a live lobster before. We tried to smile in our second-day clothes, hair askew and patience exhausted. Airline personnel, chipper and rested, spent about 20 minutes rewrapping our box and creating another handle.

Could this story have a good ending? I didn’t think so – but it did.

The first thing we did upon arriving home was to cut open the lobster box, finding every single one still kicking. Alive! Dinner is saved!

Was it worth it? It was if you saw the look on our 9-year-old grandson’s face when he lifted a big one out of its seaweed or the site of the happy faces when the shells were cracked and the succulent meat dipped into butter.

There was even resolution to the fact that I wasn’t feeling so well and couldn’t eat most of my lobster. That, added to the children’s leftovers, gave us delicious lobster chowder the next night.

Ah, two perfect meals.

Lobster Chowder
1    pound cooked lobster meat*
4     tablespoons butter
3    tablespoons flour
6    green onions, chopped
4    cups lobster stock made from
      boiling shells, canned lobster
      stock, bottled clam juice or
2    medium potatoes, peeled and
      cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1    cup corn kernels, preferably
      cut from fresh corn
2    cups half-and-half
Salt and freshly ground black
      pepper to taste
1    tablespoon Worcestershire
8    shakes Tabasco
2    tablespoons sherry

Chop lobster meat into 1/2-inch chunks.

 Melt butter in a heavy pot. Add flour and stir to make a blonde roux. Add green onions and sauté until soft. Gradually stir in stock.

Add potatoes, cover and simmer until potatoes are done. If fresh, add corn when adding potatoes; if cooked, add when potatoes are done. Add lobster and remaining ingredients and simmer 10 minutes.

Serve with crackers or hot French bread.

 Serves 4 to 6.

*The easiest way to get lobster meat is to buy frozen lobster tails, preferably when they’re on sale, thaw and boil in salted water for 15 to 20 minutes, depending on size, and remove meat from shell. Or, buy live lobsters and boil in salted water (1/4 cup salt to 1 gallon water) for 15 minutes for small and 20 minutes for large.

Cranberry Sauce With Orange, Ginger, Pineapple and Pecans*
1    cup sugar
2    cups water
1/4    cup maple syrup
1    pound fresh cranberries
1/4    cup fresh orange juice
1/4    cup julienned orange rind
1    tablespoon granted orange
1    tablespoon finely chopped
      fresh ginger
1    tablespoon coarsely
          chopped candied (or crystal-
          lized) ginger
1    cup pecans, or your favorite
      nut, coarsely chopped

Place the sugar and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook 10 to 15 minutes, or until the sugar syrup begins to thicken slightly and turn a pale amber color. Add the maple syrup and the cranberries and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries begin to pop. Add the orange juice, orange rind and orange zest and cook another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the sauce begins to thicken slightly. Add the fresh and crystallized ginger and cook 2 minutes. The sauce should be full of flavor and slightly thickened. (If the sauce still seems thin – remember, it will thicken as it chills – remove the cranberries and flavorings with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Boil the liquid in the pot over a moderate-high heat until it’s thickened slightly, about 10 additional minutes, if needed. Place the cranberries back in the slightly thickened sauce.)

 Remove the sauce from the heat and add nuts, stirring well. Let cool completely. Place in a clean glass jar and cover; refrigerate for up to 10 days or freeze for up to 6 months.

 Makes about 6 cups.

*As a judge in the James Beard cookbook contest last year, I received a number of cookbooks, including two from Maine. So while I’m on the subject, I looked into what people of that chilly state will eat during the holidays and came up with two promising recipes to add to my usual traditional, local dishes. The cranberry sauce sounds luscious and is from Notes from a Maine Kitchen by Kathy Gunst (Down East, publisher.) Equally enticing is a side dish containing sweet potatoes and white potatoes from Maine Classics by Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier (Running Press).

Root Cellar Gratin
6    sweet potatoes, peeled and
        sliced very thin (no more than
        1/8-inch thick)
6    white potatoes, peeled and
         sliced very thin (no more than
         1/8-inch thick)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2    cups heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-by-8-inch, 2-quart casserole. Place a layer of sweet potatoes slightly overlapping each other in the bottom of the casserole. Follow with a layer of white potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Repeat the process, finishing with the sweet potatoes. Pour the heavy cream over the potatoes. Cover the casserole with foil. Bake for 1 hour. Remove the foil from the casserole and bake until the sweet potatoes are golden brown, about 20 more minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Cut the gratin into squares and remove the squares from the casserole with a metal spatula. Serve immediately.

 Serves 6.

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