The Universal Notebook: Eating well is the best revenge

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Carolyn and I don’t take vacations. We don’t buy expensive cars. We don’t buy fancy clothes. We do buy a lot of books and the occasional piece of art, but we live well within our means. Our one extravagance is probably food.

When we were eating out regularly, some of our favorite restaurants were the Dolphin in Harpswell, Broad Arrow Tavern in Freeport and Frontier here in Brunswick. We’d go to Frontier and make a whole meal out of a couple of cocktails and a skillet full of curried mussels sopped up with pita.

Edgar Allen BeemPre-pandemic, four of my high school buddies used to get together weekly for lunch. We called ourselves the Out to Lunch Bunch. We ate at more than 50 restaurants before two of us died and Covid-19 shut everything down. We were repeat customers at Bay Haven out in Cornish (the best fried seafood in Maine), Bruno’s and DiMillo’s (dependable Italian-American fare and free parking, a rare commodity in Portland), Empire Chinese (the best Chinese in Portland) and Roy’s All-Steak (best melt-in-your mouth burgers) in Auburn.

Before Carolyn retired I prepared most of the weekday meals, but now the kitchen belongs to her. I come up with some meal ideas, do most of the grocery shopping and bring cookbooks home from the library every week to inspire her, but Carolyn does most of the cooking and all of the baking.

Carolyn has a sense of how flavors and ingredients combine. I don’t. Testaments to her good taste in taste were a couple of tangy meals this week — a kimchi and ham stir-fry and a chicken and bok choy in miso dish that was as yummy as she is.

I can cook a little bit, so I won’t starve while Carolyn is away for two weeks in February. My go-to dishes are chili, chowder, meat loaf, fish & chips and a tuna noodle casserole made with Cheez Whiz that no one else in the family will touch. You can throw anything into a chili, chowder or meatloaf.

Oh yes, I also do most of the grilling, but I fear I may be losing my touch since I stopped drinking three years ago. The secret of grilling anything is to have a few beers and just keep moving things around.

Carolyn and I are omnivores of the first order. There isn’t much we don’t eat. But we probably eat more seafood than meat. We indulge ourselves every week or so with lobster, clams, oysters, crab cakes or a whole grilled fish. I’ll stop by Harbour Fish and pick up a striper or branzino. Carolyn will add oil, lemon, herbs and heat. Elegant.

For our 42nd anniversary last month we splurged on drinks and oysters at Freeport Oyster Bar. Pretty pricey but fun on a special occasion. Mostly we get our oysters from a barn in Freeport for a buck apiece.

I do feel appropriately guilty about how much we spend on food. We probably spend twice as much as we need to. It’s that culinary indulgence that prompts me to donate a few bucks to Portland panhandlers each time I stock up on wine, cheese and coffee at Trader Joe’s. We also send checks each Christmas to local food pantries and hunger prevention programs.

Food tastes best when it’s shared, so we have family and friends to dinner fairly often. We eat well, have a few drinks and invariably end up talking about how the world is going to hell. Eating well is the best revenge.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.


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