Friday, February 15, 2008

Lots o' stuff.

We had a nice Valentine's evening...the shrimp scampi and crab cakes both came out quite nicely, and then we had sugar-snap peas on the side, and chocolate-chip cookies for dessert.

The crab cake recipe is from a book called
Lean Beach Cuisine that I picked up on a trip to the Outer Banks five or six years ago. The recipe called for coriander, which I didn't have on hand, so I put in a sprinkle of Old Bay instead. I made half the recipe, and that made 4 ample-sized cakes, of which we only managed to eat 1 1/2. Since even medium-quality crabmeat is pricey, it's nice to know you don't have to use a whole pound, unless you're feeding a real crowd.

Chesapeake Coconut Crab Cakes

1 pound fresh lump crabmeat
1/4 cup egg substitute or egg whites (I just tossed in a whole egg)
1/2 cup finely crushed fat-free potato chips
2 tablespoons shredded coconut, toasted
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
2 tablespoons light mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried coriander

Pick over the crab meat to make sure all the shell fragments have been removed. Gently combine all the ingredients in a medium bowl, and shape into 8 patties about 1/2" thick. Place crab cakes on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. (I just used Reynolds Release foil, and they came right off.) Broil about 6 inches under the heat until the top browns. (This took five minutes for me.) Turn and brown the other side. (Another five minutes.) Serve immediately.

It wasn't till I started typing this in that I noticed the coconut needed to be toasted. This may have been why I couldn't taste it at all in the crab cakes! Other than that, they were good. I
especially liked that you could broil them and completely remove the need for frying in oil.

I'm home today doing laundry and getting some things ready for a short trip to my brother's house tomorrow, so I have a few minutes to post some more pictures.

So in mid-December, Todd had to go do some work at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, and I went along so that we could leave from there to do our holiday traveling. We were in Aberdeen for five days.

Now, Aberdeen is a tiny town with not a lot to recommend it, so I spent my days about five minutes down the road at a slightly larger town called Havre de Grace.

From my one year of high school French, I assumed the town's name was pronounced "Hahv d' Grah." But knowing that we Americans usually butcher our foreign-language-named towns (Cairo, IL = "Cay-ro"; Versaillles, MO = "Ver-sayles"), I asked at the visitors center how to say the name. Sure enough, round those parts, it's pronounced "Hav-er de Grace."

And Americans wonder why the French look down their noses at us!

Lafayette himself named the town, which sits at the spot where the Susquehanna River flows into the Chesapeake Bay. The settlement grew up around the ferry service that took travelers
from Virginia and Maryland up to Philadelphia and New York, which means that every Colonial and Revolutionary War bigwig came through there. He stopped in and mentioned that the spot reminded him of Le Havre in France, so when the townspeople incorporated the town several years later, they named it Havre de Grace, or "harbor of grace."

I really enjoyed exploring this little town. It reminded me so much of several other small old river towns I've known in my life--specifically, Marietta, Ohio, where I went to college, and Hannibal, Missouri, where I was born and where my dad's family still lives. A little shabby, its days of glory and importance long since past, but still clinging to its history and community.

So every day that week I would head into Havre de Grace and stroll the streets. I quickly found
my daily lunch spot and my afternoon coffee spot.

This is where I sat and ate lunch every day that week. The restaurant is called MacGregor's Restaurant and Tavern, and it sits on a bluff looking over the railroad bridge across the Susquehanna. I can't begin to describe how oddly relaxing it was to sit there and watch the tiny commuter trains go back and forth over the bridge. The food was good, too. I didn't intend to eat there every single day, but there was just something about the place.

The town has a couple of used bookstores--Todd and I like to sniff out the used bookstores first thing when we go somewhere new. This one was fantastic, the Courtyard Bookshop.

It was this little nest of rooms crammed with books. Not so crammed that you couldn't browse, but the shelves were full. And I had just the best conversation with the owner, an older gentleman who's a real booklover (of course), a Vietnam veteran, a Democrat (we sniffed out each other's political leanings first thing), and just a terrifically articulate, smart gentleman.

We chatted for a while, and then I headed back into the nest of rooms, and just lost myself for a good hour and a half. When I surfaced with an armload of books to buy, it felt like I was coming up from a deep sea-dive or a very long nap. I had to try to remember where I was, what day it was, I'd been so lost in books. What a great feeling.

Here's me on a street corner:

Havre de Grace's downtown proper is about five blocks long and two blocks deep, so I came past this corner quite a few times as I tramped around over four days' time. I had this feeling that all the locals in the restaurants and coffee shops were saying, "Who's that woman in the red coat and how did she just suddenly appear here? And why am I seeing her everywhere I look?"

Because the locals all know each other quite well. Every store and shop I entered, there was a little knot of people chatting and gossiping and laughing. I've never lived in a small town, but that made me wish I did.

The town has built a wonderful boardwalk that runs from the marina to the lighthouse. Here's the spot where the river meets the bay:

This was the one sunny day we had that week, and it was so pretty by the river.

Looking back at the marina, where I was parked:

The walkway to the lighthouse:

Same spot, but looking right, toward the river:

Such a pretty, pretty day. I love that winter sunshine.

The Concord Point lighthouse is the absolute cutest thing I ever did see. I sent a postcard of it to my niece Kylie, and told her that if Santa had a lighthouse at the North Pole, this would be it, and the elves would be the lighthouse keepers.

The lighthouse is only 36 feet tall, and it was built in 1827. The man who became the first lighthouse keeper was John O'Neill, an Irish immigrant who was a hero of the War of 1812. He helped defend the town from British warships out in the bay until he was captured. His 15-year-old daughter rowed a boat out to the prisoner ship and pleaded with the captain to release her father. The captain did, and gave the daughter a gold snuffbox because he was so impressed with her bravery.

Hard to imagine this quiet little town full of booming artillery and flying cannonballs! Here are a few more pics I snapped just walking around.

I always tell myself that I'm going to start collecting pictures of those "ghost signs" on old brick buildings...they're just so neat.

So it was a relaxing way to start our holiday traveling, a real luxury to be able to take a few days and just explore. The last day, Todd was done with his work, and I was able to take him around and show him all the places I'd found, which was doubly enjoyable!