Camden, Maine isn’t called the ‘Jewel of the Mid-Coast’ for nothing. The town, the picturesque harbor and the gracious old houses, many now converted to B&Bs or inns, are charming without overkill. There are numerous restaurants of every type and for every budget. And then there are the nearby museums.
In 1940, Andrew Wyeth married Betsy James in Maine. Through Betsy, he met Christina Olson, the model for his painting, Christina’s World, which hangs in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, ME, has work by many artists but the big deal is their Wyeth collection, part of which hangs in an adjacent church that is now sort of a museum annex. The whole shebang is terrific. I found the Olson House in Cushing, ME, where Christina and her brother, Alvarao, lived even more fascinating because it’s so personal.
In Wyeth’s painting, Christina lies towards the bottom of a large hillside looking towards her house. The picture omits the huge lilac bushes in the yard as well as Christina’s flower garden and the sense of scale is very different. In reality, the yard is next to the house, small and flat. (Christina had a never-really-diagnosed neuromuscular disease that, over time, left her unable to walk. A true Mainer, she mostly refused a wheelchair.)
Today, the house has been very carefully ‘brought back’; not restored in the traditional sense but the layers of grime on the walls have been removed and falling-apart floorboards replaced. Christina’s stove shines brightly which, according to the docent, it did not do when in use. Geraniums still sit in the windows as they do in one of the Wyeth paintings and the front door opens onto stencils of leaves on the floor, painted either by Betsy Wyeth herself or at her instigation, to indicate leaves the wind would bring in.
Nearby is the Owl’s Head Transportation Museum in—you guessed it—Owl’s Head, ME. It displays old cars including a large MG collection; aircraft like the Kitty Hawk Flyer and something called an ornithopter, technically an aircraft that moves by flapping its wings. This ornithopter has wings made of feathers, a tad too close to the Icarus thing for me. There are also old bicycles, fire engines, engines to make machinery function and a ‘gift shop’ where I passed on a aviator hat because it made me look too much like Snoopy minus the scarf.
In addition to viewing, a lot of time was also given to sailing on Penobscot Bay in a schooner captained by the man who built her and eating–orange and lobster salad, cioppino, crab sandwiches, blueberry pancakes, stuffed lobster…
Making cioppino isn’t the work of a moment but it’s a great party dish if you want to go to the effort. Of course, you could order it in Maine (or at a good seafood restaurant anywhere–or in San Francisco where it may have originated.)
A (Relatively Easy) Cioppin0
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 fresh red chile pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
2 t dried basil
1 t dried oregano
1 t dried thyme
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 8 oz can tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
1 pinch paprika
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 cup white wine
1 10 ounce can minced clams, drained with juice reserved
25 mussels, cleaned and debearded (meaning you scrub off all the black, hangy stuff)
10 ounces scallops
1 pound cod fillets, cubed
In a large pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil, and saute the onion, garlic, bell pepper, and chile pepper until tender. Add parsley, salt and pepper, basil, oregano, thyme, tomatoes, tomato sauce, water, paprika, cayenne pepper, and juice from the clams. Stir well, reduce heat, and simmer 1 to 2 hours, adding wine a little at a time.
About 10 minutes before serving, add clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, and cod. Turn the heat up slightly and stir. When the seafood is cooked through (the mussels will have opened, the shrimp turned pink, and the cod will be flaky), it’s ready to serve. Pass crusty bread to sop it up with.