You can give me a lobster roll from any local place serving them during the summer. There’s an incredible Haddock stew at Gilbert’s on Commercial Street in Portland. And I’ve never met a finnan haddie I hadn’t liked, and the sweet Gulf of Maine shrimp are far better than the southern cousins. In short, despite a medically determined avoidance of bivalves, I am a big fan of coastal cuisine.
My in-laws were known for serving bland cuisine. Spicing something up meant adding salt and a tiny amount of pepper. I came from a home where Spanish, Hungarian, and German foods were on the menu daily. Rice, a staple in my family, was a rare item in their home. When served, it was soggy and overcooked—being over-enthused once I tried to introduce them to Spanish rice only to have the entire family leave the table. I’m not that bad a cook.
However, despite blandness, Cora was a good cook. Her cod cakes, lobster stew, boiled lobster, lobster roll, and chowder ranked among the best. But there is one exception. There it is again, that all-important word “but.”
The Cap’n, my father-in-law, loved nothing so much as a couple of lobsters for Sunday dinner; tamale, rolls, salad, and choice of dressing ( Thousand Islands or French). This menu was as unchangeable as the Fourth of July, with one exception. If the Cap’n felt “peckish,” he’d ask for boiled cod and potato. I guess it was comfort food from when he was a child. But even his wife, Cora, and my wife had trouble smacking their lips together over a large serving of boiled cod and potato. I had a problem choking down a small serving. To make this, you boiled the fresh cod filet with potatoes until it was hard to tell the potato mush from the cod mush. I asked what seasoning was available the first time this was served to me. Leftover bacon fat from Sunday Breakfast got drizzled over the plate; if you felt it was needed. Ummm, Ummm! I salted and peppered heavily to get it down.
There is a saying that attitude is the most essential thing we can control in life. And I learned the truth of that saying many times. But I could never learn to adjust my lousy attitude on this item. Calling it food was a criminal act.
I miss many things about living in coastal Maine, but not boiled cod and potato with bacon grease. It is one thing I’ll never cook.