Taste The Coffee

Valley News – Column: Hands-on living in our rustic, ready kitchen


“I’ll heat milk on the stove any morning you ask,” I say to my husband as he again laments that we now have no microwave at our summer residence in Maine. My decision to get rid of it has changed his routine for making a cup of steamy hot chocolate to a process unfamiliar and unacceptable. Sweetening the deal with, “I’ll also put one of yesterday’s scones into the toaster oven for you,” hasn’t helped.

Being the good husband that he is, he needs to figure out how to live with my wish to gain added counter space by taking our large, outdated microwave to the transfer station. Though there may be truth to the warnings that those evil beasts kill nutrients, this didn’t push me to the edge. Nor was it solely the space issue. The fact is that I have changed. Saying goodbye to the microwave represents a different way of thinking about how I cook: I now choose to sauté vegetables with olive oil in a skillet on top of the stove, and I make my morning oatmeal in the orange Le Creuset pan we got as a wedding gift. I’ve grown partial to the familiar and the ordinary.

The cabin in Maine is old, basic and beautiful. It doesn’t bespeak major money or a long family tradition. Rather, it is a statement about our good luck.

About how, when we were New Yorkers, my husband, young daughters, and I happened to visit friends in Maine near the end of a summer and to stumble on a “For Sale” sign. We arrived at the exact right time, when an older couple were determined to sell their place, which was part of a large, log cabin colony built along the Maine coast in the 1920s. Their children were uninterested, and their own lives required moving on from the challenges of boats and the wooded terrain before it became truly difficult.

We had only a little money but all the enthusiasm they could have hoped for. That we made an offer and they made it work explains why, even though we’ve moved to Vermont, we spend summers in Maine. We’re fortunate that kids and grandkids are equally devoted.

The cabin kitchen has barely changed at all — still rustic and very functional. It has all the essentials: sink, stove, fridge, wood cupboards and counters topped with salmon-colored Formica. It also has a prized wooden table typical of the log cabins of the time, made from trees cut from the property.

The now-absent microwave had been purchased at the request of one of the many renters who helped support our folly, to pay the taxes and mortgage. We’ve added a good coffee maker, a second-hand KitchenAid mixer, a food processor and the toaster oven. But never a dishwasher, and now, no more microwave.

Over the years, as vacations from our work allowed and we spent more time at the cabin, I have become deeply attached to the kitchen. Maine is an easy state for buying good ingredients, with strawberries, blackberries and blueberries growing wild or easily available all summer at roadside stands. Local seafood is for sale everywhere. Farmers markets in Maine are as good as those in Vermont, offering cheeses, breads, homegrown meats, jams and vegetables.

From the beginning, we have lured our Iowa family to Maine for visits or, in one case, to actually buy their own log cabin down the road. Persuading lake people from the Midwest to like the ocean was easy. Their fascination with lobster boats pulling traps near our dock in the early mornings drew them out to the porch for coffee and the pancakes or French toast that soon followed. And dinners that included steamers or lobsters became memorable tales to share with friends back home. Turning out good meals has always been a priority, and the kitchen is up to the task.

It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon in Maine as I enter the great room to join my husband, who is settled in a comfy chair with a book, waiting for better weather later in the day. The lights are on and there’s a fire in the fireplace. I’ve just washed up the dishes, piled since breakfast in the old porcelain sink.

“I love that kitchen,” I exclaim. “Strong words,” he notes, and they are. Ever more, I value the hands-on approach to life, and in my cabin kitchen, I get a lot of practice.

Mary K. Otto lives in Norwich.



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Taste The Coffee 2019