How to Catch A Smelt

Hey kids. Want to know what Mainers do in the winter time?

I’ll give you a hint: it’s not going to Dairy Queen.

Or museums. Or lighthouses. Or the beach. Because everything in Maine is closed in the winter.

Everything, that is, except the smelt camps.

…The what camps?

The smelt camps.

Smelting is a form of ice-fishing, apparently, but instead of fishing for… fish, you fish for ‘smelt’. Which is a kind of fish. Even though I’m preeeetty sure it’s actually a kind of metalworking. But all of the Mainers around here insist otherwise, and, well, ‘when in Rome’ and all that, so – fish.

One catches them thus:

1. Trek out onto an icy river. Fear for one’s life.

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2. Seek out a ‘smelt camp’ of tiny, wood-stove-heated huts perched upon the ice.

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3. Precariously make one’s way across this ice and through the camp in search of one’s assigned rental hut.

Continue speaking in the imperative indefinite third person to delude oneself into believing that one is not, in actuality, a veritable Maine redneck, despite the fact that one is actively engaging in the epitome of Maine redneck activities. And enjoying every second of it.

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4. Find one’s hut.

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5. Open a beer. Beer consumption is the primary priority of a smelt camp, followed secondly by generally carousing, followed lastly by the catching of smelt. Priorities are key to a successful day.

It is preferable that the aforementioned fermented grain beverage be a session-level variety drunk out of cans, as the whipping out of one’s fine pilsner glasses with a subsequent discussion of malt profiles and hop characteristics whilst in a smelt camp hut is generally considered ridiculous. …At best. But, if one is in a hurry and one’s wife won’t allow one to spend money on more beer when there is perfectly good, albeit higher-quality bottled, beer in the cellar already, then bottled beer is considered acceptable.

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6. Examine one’s surroundings. The most important element of a properly designed smelting hut is the presence of a crudely hand-built, wood-burning stove. These contraptions are decidedly splendid and fill one’s hut with an astonishing amount of cozy heat – the removal of jackets and assorted layers may be necessary.

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7. Behold the layout of the smelt hut. For perspective, know that the photographer of the picture displayed below was straddling the pile of wood seen in the photo above.

Cozy, ain’t it?

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8. Also, note the contraptiony setup of fishing gear seen on both sides of the wall in the pic above, and shown closer, below:

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These bobbins and hooked line are unwound at varying lengths from the long piece of wood hanging from the ceiling, baited, and plopped into a long rectangle of bottle-green water that has been cut out of the ice on either side of the hut, where they hang out until a smelt comes along and, hopefully, takes a chomp.

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9. Wonder what the bait is.

10. Find out the bait is a sandworm.

11. Commence with being horrified by the appearance of a sandworm.

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12. Stand around taking pictures from a safe distance while someone else pinches off a piece of the ghastly sand centipede alien monster ”worm” and slips it onto the hook.

(I normally love fishing and have no problem baiting hooks, fyi. But there is just something about a worm that looks like a CENTIPEDE that skeeves me out. I cannot stand centipedes.)

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11. Bombs away!

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12. Oops. Untangle one’s line.

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13. Warm one’s fishermanly feet by the fire.

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14. Admire artsy setup of bobbins on the wall. That piece of wood to which they are all attached, by the way, is hung from the ceiling by pieces of bungee cord, so that one can reach up and give it a tug and it will make all of the lines and hooks on one’s beam jiggle a bit, thus enticing the smelt below. Quite clever, really!

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15. Fish on.

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16. Wait.

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(This would also, generally, be when the beer-drinking and carousing come into play.)

17. Four hours later, catch a smelt!

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18. Have it mounted and hung on a placard in one’s study, alongside one’s water buffalo heads and tiger skins from one’s expeditions throughout the Empire.

IMG_5168.png19. Remember that one is actually not a member of the Empire, does not have a study, and lives in rural Maine. Oh yeah.

20. …Embrace it!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nag3u6T4xBA

The Nook Cooks: Chewy Coconut Macaroons

Alright, folks. I’ve got some news.

The bad news: I haven’t posted any recipes for months – not because I haven’t been cooking, but because when I DO cook, which is at least twice a day every day, and attempt to take pictures, I can never bring myself to post them online because they look TERRIBLE because a high proportion of things in my beloved mother-in-law’s kitchen and dining room (I love you, Ginni!) are rockin’ the whole 70′s olive-and-mustard thing, and that just makes everything I photograph – EVERYTHING – look, well, olive and mustard. And somehow cookies and salmon and lasagna just aren’t as appealing when they look like they have a bit of a jaundice thing going on. It’s a problem.

The good news: I am getting better at editing photos EVERY DAY. Including color balance. This means I can actually FIX the jaundice problem. I’m like The Great Magical Bilirubin Light In the Sky, as far as my pictures are concerned. I’m sure they’re extremely thankful. I will be billing their insurance and making a landslide of a profit, too.

The BEST news: Chewy Coconut Macaroons. Because duh.

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That was the Pinterest shot, by the way, in case you didn’t get the really big hint with the artsy layout and the fact that I wrote the recipe name in FOR you so that it will catch people’s eyes as they peruse their feeds (because clearly, without the title, they would have no idea that they were looking at coconut macaroons) and then you’ll feel all warm and fuzzy because someone repinned your pin. You’re welcome. The ‘Pin It’ button is at the bottom of the post. Ahem.

So. Macaroons. Want to know something? I have NEVER made them before. Ever. For some reason I’ve lived my entire life under the impression that they are incredibly hard to make because they’re made with egg whites and, presumably, anything made with egg whites is extraordinarily difficult and easy to mess up because you can underbeat and undercook and overbeat and overcook and put too much sugar in or not enough or run out of cream of tartar because seriously who has that in their pantry on a regular basis anyway or any other thing. So. I never even thought about making macaroons, because it was all just too much.

Want to know something else?

Macaroons are the EASIEST COOKIES I HAVE EVER MADE IN MY ENTIRE LIFE.

I had this random bag of unsweetened shredded coconut from the health food store that I was dying to use in something, because throughout the day I kept stealing pinches of it and munching on the chewy, sweet, coconutty nibs of goodness therein, and I thought it was such a shame I couldn’t just sink my teeth into a mouthful some actual legitimate coconuttily-fantastic recipe.

Then it dawned on me: what’s even chewier, sweeter, and coconuttier (it is too a word, WordPress – enough with the red lines already) than coconut? WHY, COCONUT MACAROONS, OF COURSE.

I decided to forego my fears of egg white failure and try it. The coconut was calling my name. And, in the course of trying it, I learned something delightful – the egg whites in the recipe are simply mixed in with the coconut and sugar and baked.

Did you get that?

 No beating. No rising and falling. No fuss. No terror. All you do is dump, mix, shape, and bake. And what you get are the most heavenly, satisfying coconut macaroons you’ll ever eat: caramelly-crisp on the bottom and the edges, moist and slightly sticky in the middle, chewy all over, and not too cloyingly sweet, like so many commercially made macaroons have a tendency to be.

Perfection.

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I started out with a Martha Stewart recipe that is all over the internets so I won’t bother linking to it in any one place, but I messed with the sugar-coconut ratio because I was afraid it would be too sweet otherwise. So this recipe is my own, sort of. They’re still very, very sweet, but not to the point where you can only eat one. (Believe me. You can definitely, definitely eat more than one.) I drizzled most of mine in extremely dark chocolate to cut the sweetness, and that balanced everything out perfectly. You could also throw in some dark chocolate chips, or even bittersweet chocolate chips, during the mixing process to achieve the same effect.

Bon appechewiness!

Chewy Coconut Macaroons
 
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Quick, easy, and SO DELICIOUS. These would be a great thing to make with kids. And then eat alone, hiding in your closet, so that the kids can’t find you and you can have more for yourself.
Author:
Serves: 24 if you eat one cookie, or… less than that if you have 6 or 7. Which you will. But yeah. It makes about 24 good-sized macaroons.

Ingredients
  • 12 oz shredded or desiccated unsweetened coconut
  • 8 oz granulated sugar
  • 4 egg whites (use the leftover yolks to make zabaglione!)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract, or 1 tsp vanilla and 1 tsp coconut or almond extract
  • ¼ tsp salt (scant) (<-- which is a really strange word if you say it over and over)
  • Optional but highly recommended if you want to be awesome: dark chocolate, either tempered and drizzled or mixed in as chips or hastily shoved into your mouth while you mix all the ingredients together

Instructions
Prep
  1. Do the whole oven preheating thing: 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Woot woot. Toasty.
  2. If you have some parchment paper, spread it out on baking sheets. Now, I have not actually made this recipe withOUT using parchment paper, because parchment paper is the shiz and you should always always always have some in your kitchen, so I don’t know how it will end up if you don’t use any. The cookies might stick. They might not. I don’t know. So go buy some parchment paper immediately and join me in the cool kids’ club.
Mixtasy
  1. Dump everything into a big bowl. Mix it up. Eat chocolate. Celebrate the fact that you will soon be eating the most delicious cookies ever and you didn’t even need to break out an electric mixer.
Shaping
  1. You will need to get your hands wet so that the mixture doesn’t stick while you shape the cookies. So, do that. With water. From the sink.
  2. Grab a hunk of eggy coconutty business, gently pat it into a ball or a patty or a pyramid or the Statue of Liberty or whatever, and put it on your cool kids’ parchment-enrobed baking sheet.
Do A Little Dance (While You Are Waiting For These To Bake)
  1. Stick ‘em in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, ish, or until they are as brown on top as you want them to be.
  2. Let the macaroons cool ON the cookie sheet for 5 minutes to let them firm up a bit. Then gently transfer them to a cooling rack until they are 100% cool. (Then they can be in the cool kids’ club, too.) Store in an airtight container. Laugh at the last sentence because really, who needs to store cookies when they will all inevitably be eaten by end of the day?

Notes
I bake by weight, not volume, whenever possible, because unlike cooking, baking is finicky and you can’t just mess with it and expect a forgiving result. When I weigh things instead of measure them I find that my results are a hundred times more consistent and less liable to fail. If you don’t own a kitchen scale, please do yourself a favor and go buy one, even a cheap one – you will use it ALL THE TIME. And never be able to live without it again.

“Took the Mid[day] Train Goin’ Annnnyyywheeeeeere…”

Since we’ve yet to reside in Maine in the prime of its tourism season, and everything interesting in northern New England is apparently closed from the months of October – May (as we established last week), I’m afraid we haven’t been getting out much theses past few months. However, there is one nifty attraction that actually does function in [most of] the off months: a real, original, running narrow-gauge railway in the rural outpost of Alna. Apparently from the 1890s – 1930s it was an agricultural and mail train, as well as a commuter line, ferrying the working folk from Wiscasset to Albion.

Why is this cool?

Well, for starters, it’s a TRAIN. Like, that you can ride on, and everything. Who doesn’t love trains??
They’re big and clackety and this one even had steam coming out of the top, and when you’re riding one you can pretend that you are living in a later-years Charles Dickens novel, which is something I do roughly eleven times a week. (Usually when I’m engaged in menial servitude washing dishes or sweeping floors. I pretend I’m a poor washerwoman. Or an orphan. Or a poor washerwoman orphan. Chores are SO much more romantic in the context of 19th century literature! Sigh!)

Also, this particular train is awesome because it does in fact run INTO THE WINTER! Well, until December, at any rate. The associated railway museum is open year round, but the trains stop running from Dec – March.

(Umm… and yes, in case you are wondering how I am managing to post pictures of a train-riding excursion in February when the trains supposedly don’t run in February, I may have cheated a little bit and posted pictures that I actually took in December. But it STILL COUNTS. I’m just a little behind in my editing and posting, that’s all…)

Anyway. Without further ado, our adventure:

IMG_0125The train arrives!

IMG_0126Max wasn’t sure WHAT to think at first.

IMG_0128I shouldn’t spoil the magic, but I toootally photoshopped this picture. I know the whole point of photoshopping is to not tell people that what they are looking isn’t the original picture, but I’m so darn proud of my photoshopping skills that I am telling you anyway. Exactly WHAT I photoshopped into or out of this picture, however, is a piece of information I shall carry to the grave. So there.

IMG_0133I photoshopped this too! MWAHAHA. Can you even tell what’s fake?? Yeah, I didn’t think so. ;-) That’s because I’m awesome. Boom.

IMG_0164Tickets, please!

IMG_0173Once we rode the train from one station to the next, we disembarked to find a rad horse and wagon setup, just begging us (by which I mean ME) to further indulge in our (my) Dickensian fantasies. The mud and mist were extremely helpful in enhancing the ambience. So was the driver’s ushanka. (Although that might have been a little more Tolstoy. But that’s okay. There were chores in Tolstoy novels, too.)

IMG_0189Pippi showed Max how to be very brave and touch the scary big horse on its nose.

IMG_0190It was an impressive feat.

After we went on a wagon ride we got to go visit Santa in a little tent he had set up by a warm, crackling bonfire, and he sat with the kids and gave them bells and candy canes. Max ate Catherine’s candy cane, much to her chagrin and vexation. She got back at him by stealing his bell.

Oh, and because we are pretending that this all happened recently in February and not long ago in December, you don’t get to see pictures of any of this. Because, clearly, that would give it away.

IMG_0202Waiting for the train to pick us up for the return trip back to the station. Here she comes!

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This is a February wreath. Not a Christmas wreath. Obviously.

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*sigh* I love this photo. Dickens could tell a damn good story but, really, that whole picture’s-worth-a-thousand-words thing is pretty accurate sometimes, you know?

IMG_0248Back at the museum, checkin’ out the choo-choos.

IMG_0229Max got to ride a handcar! I know the other kid kind of looks like he is made of wax in this particular photo, but he’s real, I promise. We saw him a few weeks before this trip at a model railway convention that we went to (don’t judge me; we already established that trains are rad and don’t forget I have a two year old son and besides, have you ever BEEN to a model railway convention?? THEY ARE AWESOME) and I was enchanted by him and his very authentic looking engineer outfit, which he was also sporting at the convention. The next time I meet him at a locomotive-related event, or in a 19th century novel where he seems like he would also very likely reside, I’ll have to get his name and meet him properly.

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Baby C was grumpy about Max eating her candy cane. And because I made fun of the fact that she looked like Rudolph with her red nose.

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…Okay, okay. I know you reeeeally wanted to see the pic of my kids and Santa. Because there is nothing more interesting to another human being than a photograph of some non-relative’s random kids with Santa Claus like they are first ones to ever think of it. So, here you go:

IMG_0192aAmazing. I know. I’m like the Ansel Adams of Santa photographers. (Only with, you know, more colors. And perhaps slightly fewer awe-inspiring Yosemite vistas.)

(Also, Mom, this is mostly for you so you can save it to your iPad and show it off to your friends. You’re welcome.)

Okay, okay, and since we’re apparently all about ruining my elaborate hoaxing today, what with Santa and the March-through-December train coming in February and all, I suppose I can let you in on my photoshopping enigmas, too.

Sigh. So much for trade secrets.

Before:

IMG_0128bAfter!

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Magic.

Oh, and here’s the other one.

Before…

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And after.

IMG_0133SHABLAM.

Also, final secret of the night: I actually use PicMonkey, not Photoshop. Because it’s awesome. And offers a collection of fine mustache overlays. And is extremely user-friendly, which is good news for people like me who are total amateurs at this photography/editing stuff and rely on easy-to-use apps and technology to make us look good. Anyway, I lurv it and highly recommend it, although you might still want to say that you “photoshop” your pictures, because saying “I PicMonkeyed a door into my train car!” just sounds strange. That would be like saying “I need an adhesive bandage for my finger” instead of “I need a Bandaid!” Or “I am going to yahoo Ansel Adams” instead of “I am going to google Ansel Adams”.

“I am going to yahoo Ansel Adams” just sounds… awkward.

Aaaanyway. There you go: something to do the next time you are in Maine in December February!

(That, and pretending you are a picaresque chimneysweep. That is an activity that is available ALL YEAR ROUND, believe it or not. And never, ever gets old.)

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Why I Haven’t Blogged In Two Weeks/Cute Baby Pictures.

(NOTE: Sorry for the crazy formatting in this post. >.< I’m still trying to figure out this WordPress business. Bear with me.)

Ahoy, maties! Apologies for the lengthy inter-post silences… It’s winter, for starters, but blame assignment is manyfold. I usually survive these dark winter months only through an extensive amount of list-making (and obsessive bathroom-cleaning, and spontaneous linen-closet-organizing-at-11-pm-while-in-the-middle-of-brushing-my-teeth-ing)  and, thus, have found that I am apparently only able to start this blog post by making an outline about why it seems to be impossible for me to blog at all. So, behold. An outline. Which is a glorious, neatly categorized form of list. 

Really quickly, though, here are a couple of cute baby pictures, just to keep you here before you run away at the sight of an outline. There are also more AFTER the outline. Those ones can be your incentive for wading through it.

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part 1

part2

Part 3

Part 4

III. I Finally Adjusted to East Coast Time and Now Pass Out In Bed At Like 9:30 Which Means That My Blogging Hours Are Severely Limited. (It’s amazing how much you can get written and edited when you’ve been at it from 9pm-3am. But I must be getting old because I can NOT do it anymore. It’s physically impossible. I HAVE TO SLEEP.)

THE END! There. WHEW. I feel sooooo much better. Remember how I said I survive January every year by writing lists? Yeah. That’s because they’re wonderful. Especially a good outline. Nothing takes the chaos and mess and frayed edges of life and sorts them into bite-sized, tackle-able, checklisty splendor like a good, solid outline. It’s like a spa for my mind. You should try it sometime.

Anyway, that’s why I suck at blogging in January. Luckily, it will be February in exactly eleven minutes, so: here’s to more delicious Nookery in the weeks and months to come!

Oh, and here are the cute baby pictures I promised you. They are all of Max and C-Bit hanging out together, because they do that and they are awesome and also because of the entirety of Section I above. Enjoy.

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Touching Baby C’s head. It’s seriously a reflex for him. He sees it – or senses it – he touches it.

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C: “I appreciate the brotherly affection and all, but must it *always* involve boogers in my hair?”

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Bitty and her posse.

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Blanket Buddies

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See? Reflex.

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Yep. Pretty good team, these two. There could be worse people with whom to be locked in a small house for three months.

<3

Anyhoo. I’m signing off for tonight. Thanks for hanging with me through all of this hibernation business. Chocolate tastes way better than raw seal blubber, anyway.