It’s summertime in Maine, finally, after a long, cold, rainy spring. We’ve been on a bit of an eating and drinking binge around here, as usual. Lately, a theme seems to be emerging: pink.
Last weekend, Brendan’s best friends visited us from Washington D.C. and Oakland. Suriya is a diplomat-in-training, about to be assigned to her first foreign-service post. Richard is a documentary filmmaker whose movie, “Music Man Murray,” is winning awards; his girlfriend, Caitlin, is an NPR announcer in the Bay Area with a following that includes a bona-fide stalker.
Naturally, we fed our illustrious guests the finest pink food and drink: we sat in the sunshine on clean, wide, sandy Ferry Beach in Cape Elizabeth and ate lobster rolls and drank chilled rosé as we gradually all turned the same color as our lunch, except Suriya, who was already tan, and is olive-skinned anyway. For breakfast, I made strawberry smoothies, cold, creamy, and the color of our sunburns. For dinner one night, I made shrimp tacos: the shrimp, marinated in a lot of garlic and red pepper flakes and lime juice, turned hot pink in the skillet. Dingo, who is fond of shrimp shells, enjoyed his own little pinkfest underfoot.
I flew down to New York on Tuesday for three nights to hawk the paperback of “The Astral,” and the first thing I did when I arrived was to head to Balthazar, like a homing pigeon, for oysters and steak tartare. Their tartare is the best in the world. It is a lovely shade of pink, and it’s rich and flavorful and so fresh I could feel a beating cow’s heart somewhere in the vicinity of my lunch.
When I got back to Portland on Friday, Brendan took me to lunch in a shady square in the middle of town. We sat outside, Dingo under the table, and ate lobster Caesar salads and drank a bottle of very cold, very good rosé. Overhead, leaves rustled in a clean, ocean-scented breeze and seagulls made their cranky announcements to one another in the sunlight. Painted on the wall of the building in whose courtyard we sat was a trompe l’oeuil mural that made it look like the side of a church in Brugges. A homeless woman yelled something. A group of tattooed local kids busked on a nearby bench with banjo, guitar, and accordion. They sounded really good, as most musicians here do. Many dogs walked by with their people.
“We live in Maine,” I announced, as I do occasionally, enjoying the oddness of it – neither of us ever expected to live here, not by a long shot, and yet, now that we do, it feels inevitable.
“We live in Maine,” Brendan agreed.
The next night, we ate clams on the half-shell and steak. The raw clams were the color of pale-pink rosebuds, and the inner walls of the medium rare, thinly sliced meat were labia-pink and juicy.
Last night, we went to Happy Hour at the nearby New Orleans place. They have dollar oysters; yesterday’s dozen came with a strawberry mignonette that was the most beautiful pink I’ve ever seen – dusky rose, still a little foamy from the blender. The vinegar and strawberries gave a sweet-tart gloss to the briny-sweet oysters. The insides of the oyster shells were nacreous pale pink. We ordered a tequila cocktail called an Afterglow: it’s not pink, technically, it’s a rosy-orangey red, but it’s made of passionfruit juice and thinly sliced hot Thai peppers, and it tasted pink, at least to me.
At the Japanese place on the corner, where we eat as often as we can afford it, we’ve been ordering pink food lately, too: the Salmon Lady roll, which comes with sliced toasted almonds and pink house-made spicy mayonnaise on top, and the tuna tataki salad of quiveringly fresh pink-red rare fish with vibrant green mesclun.
Pink is a festive color, girly. It’s the most erotic color, gentle but hot. Pale, it’s the color of velvety flower petals and lips and the tips of tongues and fleshy folds and sexy underwear and bubbles blown by bubblegum-chewing Lolitas. Darker on the spectrum, it’s the color of courtesans in push-up corsets in boudoirs draped in satin. The animal kingdom celebrates pink with the exotic and gorgeous and strange: coral cornsnakes, flamingos, octopi, and starfish. Elephants, hippos, dolphins, and monkeys (and poodles) come in pink. In food and drink, it’s the color of summer.
In a large bowl, mix 2 cups of finely chopped watermelon and watermelon juice with the following, all minced: 1 cored red pepper, 1 large, cored, peeled, very ripe tomato, half a red onion, hot red pepper to taste, 1 cored peeled cucumber. Add a good splash of red wine vinegar and another of olive oil, salt and black pepper to taste. Chill well.
Ladle into 2 bowls, garnish with minced fresh basil if desired, and serve with chilled Provençal rosé. Follow with shrimp cocktail, then thick slices of grilled pork tenderloin with boiled new little pink potatoes and steamed red chard. For dessert, serve warm rhubarb compote with strawberry ice cream on top and a bottle of Lambrusco.