My Tribute to Aaron Swartz

January 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

This post is not about an adventure at all, and I apologize if you’re looking for the usual Five Islands folderol. You won’t find it here.

You see, I’m participating in a tribute to a young man, Aaron Swartz, who killed himself on January 11, 2013, in New York. I’m sorry to say that I hadn’t heard of him before Friday. But when I read about Aaron’s amazing work, his passion, and his commitment to making the world a better place, I was moved to tears at the thought that it was all ended too soon. He was only 26 years old. Here’s what Professor Lawrence Lessig said about Aaron:

“Aaron had literally done nothing in his life ‘to make money.’ He was fortunate Reddit turned out as it did, but from his work building the RSS standard, to his work architecting Creative Commons, to his work liberating public records, to his work building a free public library, to his work supporting Change Congress/FixCongressFirst/Rootstrikers, and then Demand Progress, Aaron was always and only working for (at least his conception of) the public good. He was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think? That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying.”

So here’s where my dissertation comes in. Academics all over the world are posting their scholarship online for free as a tribute to Aaron. I don’t have much, just my almost-10-year-old dissertation on criminal women in eighteenth-century England. But I note that if someone wanted to look at it online, they would have to pay $35. So here it is, for free. For Aaron.


To learn more about Aaron and his work, I recommend Tim Lee’s piece in the Washington Post, Aaron Swartz, American Hero. On the injustice of the government’s prosecution of him, see Larry Lessig’s post, Prosecutor as Bully.

Final fish of the fiesta

January 5, 2013 § Leave a comment

(Editor’s note: please forgive formatting issues. I just upgraded my OS and it doesn’t seem to like wordpress.)
I know it sounds crazy, but walking the dogs on a sunny 23° morning, compared to a 1° morning, makes a significant difference (at least to me). It was enough to put a skip in this young man’s step. Unfortunately I threw my back out while skipping. I guess that’s why God gave us canes.
Well, we’ve reached the end of the run here my friends, our seventh fish of the feast. Stretching seven fishes over more than a week is much easier than preparing them all in one evening. It gave me plenty of time to think about the preparation and ingredients, not to mention writing about each one. But there is something very special about doing the Feast on Christmas Eve. So I hope we can do that with friends in the not-too-distant future. But until then, the Week of Seven Fishes will have to do.
Full disclosure, my seventh fish did not turn out as well as I had hoped. As in a traditional Feast, I wanted to end by serving a fish. I found some local halibut at one of our fish markets, and thought it would be the perfect way to cap off the Feast. It was a beautiful piece of fish, now what to do with it.
I wanted a fairly simple preparation, and I wanted to accompany the fish with a caponata. There are many variations on caponata, but the constant is the mixture of cooked vegetables with olives, tomatoes, capers, and herbs. It reminds me a bit of puttanesca, but perhaps not as saucy. I made my caponata with canned artichokes (in water, not oil). I also had a little tomato sauce left in the fridge so preparation was easy. Please note: the recipe for caponata below makes more than you need for two pieces of fish. If you like to snack on straight caponata (like I do) or want some extra for another dish, then make the amount below. If not, cut the amounts by half.
I was disappointed with my preparation of the halibut. At first I thought to roast it, but then I changed my mind and decide to pan fry it. I should have gone with my first thought. While I think the fish can be pan-fried, I should have finished it in a hot oven. Halibut is best cooked all the way through, unlike tuna which is at its best when it’s rare in the middle.
But it wasn’t a complete loss. (Editor’s note: it wasn’t a loss at all. It was delicious.) I cut the filet into smaller pieces and cooked a bit longer in the pan, and it turned out to be a nice dinner. I served it with pan-fried potatoes and roasted carrots with oil and balsamic.
I’ve enjoyed my run here. I think you’ll hear more from me on the blog. One of the local fishermen has promised to get me some scallops with roe intact, and Maine shrimp season starts at the end of the month. So I see more recipes and irreverent commentary coming from yours truly.
Until next time.
Pan-Fried Halibut with Artichoke Caponata
Inspired by: Grilled Fish with Artichoke Caponata, Food and Wine
Serves 2
3 T olive oil
½ celery rib, diced
½ cup chopped yellow onion
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
½ cup prepared tomato sauce
¼ cup dry white wine (or dry vermouth)
2 T white wine vinegar
2-3 canned artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
6-8 pitted green or black olives, chopped
2 T toasted pine nuts
1 t sugar
1 T small capers, drained
Salt and pepper, to taste
3 T parsley
1 12 oz. Halibut filet or other firm white fish
Toast pine nuts in a dry pan until they just start turning light brown. Set aside.
Heat about 1 T olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Add celery and onion cook until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and artichoke hearts and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add tomato sauce, wine, vinegar, olives, pine nuts, sugar, and capers. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Go easy on the salt due to the olives and capers. Simmer until the vegetables are tender and the liquid is reduced, about 8 minutes. Stir in half the parsley and let cool. (You can place caponata in a bowl and microwave before serving if you want it hot.)
Preheat oven to 375. Place the remaining parsley in small bowl with salt and pepper. Add about 2 T oil, combine, and rub over your fish. Heat an oven-safe sauté pan over medium heat. Add a small amount of oil and place fish in pan, flesh side down. Cook about five minutes. Turn fish over and place in the hot oven for about 5-7 minutes (if fish is thick, increase cooking time about 2 minutes). To test for doneness, remove fish from oven and slide knife into fish. If it goes through fish with no resistance at all, it is ready.
Place fish under broiler for a minute or two to brown the top if desired. Plate fish, top with caponata, and drizzle with olive oil.

Spaghettini con camarones y tomates

January 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

Happy New Year friends. 2013 has arrived in Five Islands with frigid temperatures. When I checked on-line this morning, after the dog walk, the Portland Press Herald said it was 1°. But thankfully it was sunny out so it really only felt like 5°. Dios mio!

I’m not sure I’m cut out for this kind of weather. To me, it’s not the bitter temperatures; it’s the icy roads. I predict at least a few falls for me this year. Also, the sand on the roads inevitably gets caught in the pads of our dogs’ paws (which leads to a very sad 3-legged dance in the middle of the road, sometimes more than one dog at a time), and the snow cover on the ground which most folks say will last for the next 2-3 months. Excuse me? My experiences in southeastern Virginia and Silver Spring did not prepare me for this. Given it’s only January 3rd, I think it’s going to be a long winter for the dogs and me (and for that matter, Amy too). (Editor’s note: Robert does not speak for me. I am shopping for snow shoes and planning to embrace the winter wonderland that is our new home.)

Oh well, pour me another cocktail.

Anyway, while it’s cold outside I like to enjoy the warmth emanating from my kitchen. We’ve almost completed the Week of Seven Fishes. Since I had yet to prepare a proper pasta dish as part of the Feast, I knew one was due. And this pasta is really simple and can be prepared quite easily on just about any night of the week.

The ingredients are basic: dry pasta, tomato sauce, cream or milk, a little parsley, and shrimp. I know I am a broken record, but concerning the shrimp, please buy domestic. The imported are problematic on multiple levels, workers’ rights and the environment at the top of the list. You can get good US shrimp in the frozen section, no problem. It’s a little too early for Maine shrimp, so I had to settle for Gulf shrimp. But they’re pretty tasty too.

While I think this dish is better with a homemade sauce, it could also be done with a good store-bought sauce. And don’t think you can’t buy a store-bought sauce and improve on it at home. Maybe add some herbs, a little garlic powder, and in this case, we want it to be creamy, so add in some cream, half & half, or even milk (not skim milk though). We also want to give it a taste of the sea. That is where the all-important shrimp stock plays a role.

Warm your sauce, cook your pasta a little al dente, combine your ingredients, and you’re ready to go. And if you’re anything like me, a bib comes in handy. Although many of my shirts already have a nice splattered tomato sauce design on them.

Spaghettini with Shrimp and Creamy Tomato Sauce
Inspired by: Capellini with Shrimp and Creamy Tomato Sauce, Gourmet Magazine
Serves 2

About 2 cups of prepared tomato sauce (if you make homemade, start with a good can of San Marzano tomatoes. They are worth it. That is unless you have fresh tomatoes!)
½ cup cream, half & half, or milk
½ pound of shell on medium-size shrimp
About 1 cup of shrimp stock (instructions below)
1-2 T olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
Parsley, some chopped and some left whole
Cayenne (optional)
Peppers corns (optional)
8 oz. of spaghettini or other pasta you enjoy
Salt and pepper, to taste

Thaw shrimp if necessary and then shell them. Take shells and add them to a medium pot. Cover them with water. Add a smashed garlic clove, pinch of salt, and a few stems of parsley. If you have some whole pepper corns in the cabinet, toss in a few. For a little spice, put in a pinch of cayenne. Bring to boil over medium heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Strain the liquid (preferably using a cheese cloth) into a measuring cup. Reserve.

While stock is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Rinse the pot used for the stock and add pasta sauce. Place over medium heat and stir in about 2/3 cup of shrimp stock. Simmer for at least 15 minutes to work in the flavors of the stock. Add dairy and incorporate into the sauce and keep on a simmer until it’s needed.

Add olive oil to a sauce pan over medium-low heat. Once hot, add shrimp and a little salt and pepper and sauté for about 2-3 minutes per side. Look for a nice color and firmness. Poke the shrimp and if they feel firm, take them out of the pan. Reserve.  Shrimp can be cut in half long ways to make them a bit easier to eat in the pasta.  Shrimp can be kept warm in a 200° oven.

Once there’s a rolling boil on the water, toss in the pasta. I would recommend undercooking the pasta slightly since it will continue to cook when sauce is added. Drain the pasta and quickly add it back into the pot. Don’t let all the water drain out of it. You want it to be wet. Put the pot back on medium-low heat and add in the sauce. Go easy. Don’t submerge the pasta. The goal is an even mix so both the pasta and the sauce can shine.

Take a pair of tongs and plate the pasta in serving bowls. Top with shrimp, parsley, and a drizzle of olive oil.


Brandade with a smoky twist from the Ducktrap

December 31, 2012 § 2 Comments

So, the on-line prediction for Saturday night snow was about an inch. When we awoke, it looked more like six inches on the ground here in Five Islands. (Editor’s note: I’m not sure where Robert got that 1 inch prediction, but it led to a rather exciting road trip on Saturday afternoon. And I believe we got more like 8-10 inches overnight.) Well it is Maine. Break out the snow shovel, and the pain meds. Part of the shoveling included clearing a backyard path for the dogs. Their stumpy legs don’t give them a whole lot of room for “taking care of business” when there is more than about 6 inches or so of snow on the ground.

Thankfully, while I will most likely be shoveling a lot more often here than I did in Silver Spring, the yard is much smaller. So there was plenty of time left in the day to prepare dish number five in the Week of Seven Fishes. Another item we picked up on our Friday night sojourn in Portland was smoked trout. There’s a great company here in Maine called Ducktrap River, that smokes all kinds of seafood. Some of their products were available in the DC area (smoked salmon, smoked mussels), but there are a lot more options up here, smoked trout for example.

So I used it to prepare a brandade for our lunch. Traditionally, the Feast of Seven Fishes includes a salt cod brandade. But all of the salt cod available here (and around DC) is Atlantic cod, which is severely overfished. Given this, I thought a more responsible, but still very tasty, choice would be smoked trout. And I must say it turned out well. But unlike many recipes that call for a 2:1 potato to fish ratio, I used a 1.5:1 ratio to allow the fish to shine. I like this method. I have used cod in brandade before with the 2:1 ratio and it was simply too potato-y.

The recipe makes 2 cups, which would easily make four or more appetizer-sized portions served with bread and/or crackers.

All right, only two more dishes left. But given we have New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in front of us, we won’t do dish six until Wednesday. Tonight we’ll be dining at Bar Lola in Portland. And for New Year’s Day, Amy (being a southern girl) insists on serving a big pot of black eyed peas with a nice ham hock and some kale on the side, all for a prosperous new year.

I feel a pasta dish in our future for Wednesday. Until then, we wish you a Happy New Year.

Smoked Trout Brandade
Inspired by: Smoked Trout Brandade, Food and Wine

Makes 2 cups

3-4 T olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/3 cup half and half (can substitute cream or milk here)
12 oz. yellow potatoes, peeled and cut in half
8 oz. smoked trout, flaked and skinned
1 T chopped parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

In a saucepan, cover the potatoes with water and cook until tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain, cool, and put through a ricer.

Preheat oven to 350°.

Heat 2 T olive oil over medium low heat in a skillet (or the same saucepan where you cooked the potatoes). Add garlic and cook for a minute or two. Stir in the flaked trout. Gently stir in riced potatoes. Stir in the milk/cream. Add parsley and salt and pepper to taste.

Spread the brandade in a shallow baking dish. Bake for about 15 minutes or until heated through. Brown the top under the broiler if desired. Drizzle with remaining oil.


Don’t miss the day boat

December 30, 2012 § 2 Comments


After my day of rest, we had two fishes on Feast day number four. However, I am only counting one as officially part of the “Week of Seven Fishes.” (Editor’s note: Why Robert will only count one of the evening’s two “fishes” is a mystery to me, but the chef gets to make the rules of the Feast.)

We drove down to the big city on Friday afternoon and stopped in at the stellar Harbor Fish Market where we picked up oysters and scallops. We got six Beau Soleil oysters from New Brunswick and six Winterpoints from just around the corner in West Bath. The Beau Soleils were small, delicate, and mildly briny. The Winterpoints are big and briny. I prefer the Winterpoints since they are meatier and have a bigger flavor. But both were tasty in their own way. I served them with lemon wedges, Tabasco sauce, and two types of mignonette (one made from red wine vinegar and one of champagne vinegar). We love us some oysters.


The star of the night were the local “day boat” scallops. The Maine scallop season began earlier this month. When fresh scallops are available, they don’t even need to be cooked. A touch of salt and a squeeze of lemon, and pop it in your mouth. Heaven.

But for the Feast, I did a little more preparation, serving them seared on a bed of pea puree. This one was a winner on all fronts, and we give the dish a hearty recommendation. But try to get fresh day boat scallops if you can. Also, please avoid “wet” scallops, which are treated with chemical preservatives.

Dish number five up next.

Seared Scallops with Pea Purée
Serves 4 as an appetizer, 2 as a main course

1 finely chopped shallot
3 T olive oil
1 clove minced garlic
16 oz. bag frozen peas (if they’re in season, and you have fresh, use them. Use 2 cups shelled peas)
1 1/4 cup chicken stock or water (use only 1 cup to start)
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 slices of bacon (save some of the rendered fat)
¼ lemon
10-12 “dry” sea scallops (preferably from Gulf of Maine)
About 1 T unsalted butter
Mint leaves (optional)

Thaw frozen peas. Cook bacon, drain, chop, and reserve. Save a tablespoon of fat for cooking the scallops.

Heat 1 T olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic and cook for about 3 minutes until shallots are soft. Add peas, 1 cup stock, salt, and pepper. Bring to simmer over medium heat. For frozen peas, simmer for 3-4 minutes, a little longer for fresh. If you want to add mint, toss a few leaves in at the end.

Transfer contents to a blender and puree until smooth. Add a bit more stock if you want a thinner puree. Return to saucepan and keep warm on back burner.

Pat scallops dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat butter (and less than 1 T bacon fat if you like) in a saute pan over medium heat. When pan is hot, add scallops. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Be careful not to overcook. You really want them just seared on each side and nearly raw in the center. Spoon the fat/butter mixture over the scallops as they cook.

Spread the puree on your plates and arrange your scallops on top (squeeze lemon over scallops). Crumble bacon over the top and drizzle a little olive oil.

Eat. Enjoy.

Lobster Mushroom Risotto

December 28, 2012 § Leave a comment


We are in the middle of a winter wonderland here in Five Islands. Although we didn’t get too much snow, perhaps 4 inches, it makes our little village look quite picturesque (more than usual, if that’s possible). But the sun is out now and the roads have been plowed, so we are in good shape. We lost power for about 2 hours last night. But as I mentioned yesterday, our generator was gassed up and ready to go. It was our first time using it, and it came through for us. Nothing was going to get in the way of day 3 of the Week of Seven Fishes.

The main Maine crustacean was on display last night, lobster. Day three was all about Lobster and Mushroom Risotto. On Wednesday, Amy and I walked the dogs to the wharf before the storm hit and picked up two 1.5 pound soft-shell lobsters. Thank goodness our friend Libby was at the wharf and ready to sell me some lobsters before the big storm hit. I didn’t want to be unprepared for our Thursday evening feast. After warming up back at home, I thanked the lobsters before steaming them. I let them cool, picked the meat, and then reserved the shells for a key ingredient in my dish, lobster stock.

I picked up some dehydrated chanterelle mushrooms at the Cheese Iron in South Portland (worth the drive for the fabulous cheeses and salumi, by the way), so I thought combining these with lobster would be the way to go. And hey, I was right. The stock is so key here. I made a nice rich lobster stock, and then also reserved the water I used to re-hydrate the mushrooms. This is a great way to get the most out of your ingredients.

If you have made risotto before, you won’t have any problems here. And if you haven’t, just follow the directions and you will be fine. If you don’t want to make stock at home, find a nice fish stock at the store. Get the 32 oz. container. This dish would also work well with shrimp. If you take this route, make sure you buy good shrimp (again, not the cheap imported stuff from Asia) with the shell on. You can use the shells for a great stock. I would buy one pound of shrimp.

I am a huge risotto fan, and I thought the combination of lobster and mushrooms finished with a little cream and butter (say it like Homer: mmmm, butter) was molto buono. This dish was inspired by an Abruzzesse recipe. If you try it, I bet you will be pleased. Make sure you keep it nice and creamy. No dry risotto!

Today is a day of rest for the Feast. I know God works six days straight, but hey, three days straight is my limit. I also don’t have any more fresh fish in the fridge for dish number four. But not to worry, we are headed to Portland tonight. We will pick up whatever looks fresh at the market and be ready for the next dish tomorrow. So stay tuned.

Lobster Mushroom Risotto

(Inspired by Risotto Colle Vongole e Funghi from Food and Memories of Abruzzo by Anna Teresa Callen)
Serves 4

1 cup chopped onion
1 oz. of dehydrated mushrooms (I used chanterelles, but others will do)
1¼ cup arborio rice
1 sliced garlic clove
1-2 1.5 pound lobsters (I had soft-shells, so there was less meat in them than hard shells, but I also did not add all of the meat to the dish. If you want more lobster in the dish, by all means add all the meat!)
1 cup or so of mushroom stock (you’ll get this when rehydrating your mushrooms)
4-5 cups of lobster stock
¼ cup of half and half/heavy cream mixture (optional)
½ tablespoon of butter (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Steam the lobsters. You want them a little under cooked since they will finish cooking in the risotto. For my two 1.5 pound soft-shell lobsters, I steamed them about 8 minutes. If you go longer than this, just don’t add them to your risotto until the very end, when you are only looking for them to be warmed up.

Once done and cooled, pick the meat and reserve the shells for stock. When cleaning the inside of the lobster carcass, rip off the lungs and rinse it off a bit.

I am not particular about making stock. I often use whatever is available. I fill a large pot with water so it covers my shells by a few inches. I then bring it to a simmer and add a big pinch of salt, a garlic clove, celery rib, carrot, leftover onions/leeks, bay leaf, maybe a little fennel, a few pepper corns, and some parsley. I let this simmer anywhere from 60-90 minutes. After straining out the shells and other solids (use a cheese cloth if you have one), I often reduce the stock another 30 minutes or so. It is now set for use with your risotto. You can leave this on a back burner to keep it warm.

To rehydrate your mushrooms, add them to a bowl or measuring cup and cover with hot water. Let steep for 30 minutes and strain them using a cheese cloth. Reserve the liquid. Note: this was a lot of mushrooms for this recipe for four. If you like them, keep this amount. But you could easily get away with rehydrating a ½ ounce or ¾ ounce.

Add oil to a heavy saucepan. Once hot, add your onions and cook 5-7 minutes. Add your garlic and rehydrated mushrooms.  Cook for about a minute and then add your rice and stir to coat it with the oil. I let the rice cook in the oil for about 2 minutes before I start adding my stock.

Add your stock one cup at a time. Since I did not combine my lobster and mushroom stock, I probably had a combination of 80% lobster and 20% mushroom stock for each cup I added to the risotto. Stir the rice and stock to allow the liquid to be absorbed before adding more stock, but this does not have to be constant. Keep the burner at a medium-low setting and just keep your eye on it. You can leave it for a minute or so and nothing bad with happen as long as the burner is not too high!

Keep adding your lobster/mushroom stock as it’s absorbed for 20 minutes or so. You’ll want to add about 5 cups of it in total. Taste your rice to make sure it’s cooked through but still has a little bite to it. You want it a little al dente. When you have incorporated enough stock to reach the right doneness, add the cream and/or half & half and a bit of butter. Stir to incorporate. You want to reach a creamy, slightly soupy consistency. Add the lobster meat and stir gently. I kept some large pieces (tail cut in half and whole knuckles) for presentation on the plate. No cheese is needed here.

Now plate and eat.

Octopuses or octopi

December 27, 2012 § Leave a comment


The winter storm has made its way to Five Islands. We are now intermittently getting rain, sleet, and snow. It’s a lovely mixture best viewed from inside a warm house, on a comfy chair, with a cocktail in hand. A full fridge (which includes a couple lobsters scheduled to be used in dish #3) and full liquor cabinet don’t hurt either. Also, a gassed up generator contributes to our peace of mind.

Last night we ventured into round number two of the “Week of Seven Fishes.” Any guesses on which fish I highlighted this time? Anybody?

Wow, you’re right. It was baby octopus. You are more perceptive than you look. Our friend Tim, who is co-owner and chef of the wonderful Trattoria Athena in Brunswick, acquired several pounds of baby octopus this week. Most of it was for the restaurant, but one pound came home to casa Masciola el norte. I used the octopus in a Mediterranean-style salad. Again, this is a pretty simple recipe, and it doesn’t call for a lot of ingredients. I bet most of you have these in your own well-stocked kitchens.

The most difficult step on this dish was step numero uno, cleaning the buggers. Maybe you’ll buy them already cleaned. If not, there are four steps: slicing the octopus in half just below the eyes; pulling out its guts; removing its little beak; and then removing the skin around the top part (not the tentacles). Tim gave me a quick squid-cleaning lesson the other night after we enjoyed a fantastic Feast of Seven Fishes at Trattoria Athena.


After cleaning the octopi, I sliced them into smaller bits to marinate. It was then quick and easy to prep the rest of the ingredients: celery, hot pepper, parsley, and black olives. Now all that was left was essentially to sauté the octopi in olive oil and garlic, combine with the other ingredients, then plate, serve, and, of course, eat! OK, until tomorrow my friends.

Baby Octopus Salad
(Inspired by Baby Octopus with Garlic and Parsley from Jose Andres’ Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America)

2-3 T virgin olive oil
1 pound baby octopus, cleaned and sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
8-10 black olives, pitted and roughly chopped
½ rib of chopped celery finely chopped, including leaves
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
½ hot pepper of your choosing (seed your pepper for less heat; I used a habanero)
2 T chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt, pepper to taste

After cleaning and slicing your octopi, marinate in 1 T or so of olive oil, a sliced garlic clove, salt, pepper, and a little lemon juice for one hour.

In the meantime, chop the veg, herbs, and olives, and add them to a large bowl with the remaining lemon juice and some olive oil.

In a griddle, add another T of olive oil over a medium high heat along with remaining garlic (and be careful not to burn the garlic). Drain the octopi from the marinade and add them to the griddle. They will still be wet, so it will take them a little longer than usual to cook. I left them on the griddle about five minutes before turning them and then left them another five minutes. I then tasted a small tentacle to determine if they were to my liking. You don’t want them too rubbery or too mushy. Some may want them a little more al dente than others. So taste and find out what you like.

Combine the octopi with all the other ingredients. Plate your salad.