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reflections on maine: a heaven without strip malls

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Every year, as July turns into August, we make a pilgrimage up north to Maine, specifically Mt. Desert Island and the enchanting wilds of Acadia National Park. Seven days there does wonders to revitalize your mind and spirit. We unplug (thus, no Shelterrific posts for a week), disconnect and take lots of deep breathes to savor the freshest air imaginable. One of the most charming things about MDI is that there are no franchises or chains of any kind (there may be one Rite Aid, but that’s it). You don’t realize the effect constant strip mall signage and box stores collections have on your senses until you step away from them. It’s so delightful to having nothing but locally owned and operated businesses to choose from. Sure, you may have to pay a little more for that gallon of milk, or drive a little farther to get a pint of blueberries, but in the end, you’ll be happier because of it.

At the center of this extremely local-centric region is Acadia, which is truly one of this country’s treasures. (In fact, a USA Today poll recently declared it the most popular national park, which means the house rental demand will be even fiercer next summer!) When you’re in MDI, you weave in and out of the park land all day long. It is the only national park that has private land and small towns scattered throughout, which is a nod to history: It was donated by the Rockfellers about a hundred years ago, and some families still have estates within its boundaries. This year we rented a piece a property overlooking Sommes Sound. There were no car sounds, no lights from neighboring residences, nothing but quiet. Our days were spent exploring the park by foot, boat, or horse-drawn carriage. At night we cooked lobster in a big pot and then made s’mores by the fire pit for dessert.

Here are a few recipes and local wares that have become a part of our lives every summer. Even if you’re not fortunate enough to journey to MDI this year, you can always eat some cobbler and dream.

Real Life Test Kitchen: How To Boil A Live Lobster

Real Life Test Kitchen: Grilled Pizza With Mozzarella and Corn Pesto

Real Life Test Kitchen: Blueberry Crumb Pie

Obsession: Lobster Rope Doormats

Steal This Idea: Rainbow Painted Stairs at The Naturalist’s Notebook In Seal Harbor

real life test kitchen: cardamon-oatmeal ice cream sandwiches

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Have you noticed that home made ice-cream sandwiches seem to be very trendy this summer? I’ve seen them on the pages of several food and fashion magazines, a fad that is very hard to resist! I spotted this recipe for a cardamon-oatmeal ice cream sandwich in the August Food & Wine and decided to give a try. I love anything with cardamon (flashback: the perfect pumpkin muffins). These cookies came out lovely. They were a tad on the crumbly side which made actually eating them by hand with ice cream in the middle pretty messy. I used coffee ice cream which went really nicely with the cookie’s flavor. My recommendation: Skip the sandwich and just put the whole yumminess in a bowl!

Caradmon-Oatmeal Cookie Ice Cream Sandwiches (adapted from Food & Wine)

What You Need:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 pint ice cream, for filling — I suggest coffee flavor!

How To Make:

1. Heat 350° and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Whisk the flour, cardamom, salt and baking soda in a bowl.
2. With an electric mixer in a second bowl, beat the butter with the sugar at medium-high speed until fluffy, one to two minutes. 
At medium speed, beat in the egg. Beat in the buttermilk and vanilla until just smooth, then beat in the dry ingredients. Turn off mixer and fold in the oats stirring by hand.

3. Using an ice cream scoop or a tablespoon measurement, scoop 10 mounds of dough onto each baking sheet, about 
2 inches apart. Bake for 11 to 
13 minutes, until the cookies are puffy and golden brown.
4. Let cool completely on racks afterwards.
5. If making sandwiches, scoop a nice heap of ice cream onto the underside of a cookie. Top with another cookie. Wrap in plastic and freeze until the ice cream is just firm, about 
30 minutes.

rolling with laughter: customized pins add flair to baking

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Isn’t it a wonderful world when a young Polish designer who lives outside of Warsaw can suddenly find herself a design blog darling? I heard about Zuzia Kozerska and her beautiful, engraved baking pins via This Is Colossal and was even more enchanted after clicking through to Zuzia’s Esty page. A baker and a designer, she wanted to make pastries that were fun and delicious without spending an entire weekend slaving over them. Using a laser engraver (take that Star Wars fans!) Zuzia discovered a way to engrave wooden rolling pins with whimsical patterns, like cats, robots, dinosaurs and even charming Polish phrases (like “sto lat” — a birthday greeting which means 100 years). “It all started with my niece birthday, she is absolutely nuts about cats!” says Zuzia on Etsy. “I knew without any hesitations what would be the first pattern I would make.” Made from locally harvested beech wood, the pins cost about $42 plus $13 shipping from Poland. They arrive in a carefully wrapped box with local postage stamps to show off their country origin. Without a doubt, this is going on my holiday gift list — I do have some Polish bakers in my family!

real life test kitchen: easy rhubarb and ginger crumble

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Spring may be teasing us with these hot and cold days, but that doesn’t mean you can’t partake in some fruits of the season. Or should I say, vegetable of the season, since rhubarb is a not a fruit but more like a vibrant cousin of celery. I made this crumble last night, inspired by recipe from Good To Share by Sara Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan. I admit I tossed a few strawberries in — but you don’t need them. I also eye-balled the ingredients because I wanted to make a smaller amount than the recipe called for. This is one that is easy to wing it. Crumble away!

Rhubarb Ginger Crumble — serves 4
What You Need:

4 to 5 stalks of rhubarb cut in 1/2 inch small bites
6 tablespoons of cold butter
1 cup of flour
2/2 cup of light brown sugar
1/3 cup of sugar
1/4 cup of diced crystallized ginger
1 tablespoon of fresh grated ginger
1/2 cup of crushed almonds
1/2 cup sliced strawberries (optional)
Vanilla ice cream – for serving

How to Make
1. Preheat oven to 350. Cut up the rhubarb and strawberries (if adding). Stir it in a bowl with fresh ginger and the granulated sugar. Add sugar slowly — you may not want to use whole amount.
2. In your electric mixer, use pastry blade to mix light brown sugar, flour and 4 tablespoons of butter until, well, crumbly. Add in almonds and crystallized ginger and mix with your hands until moist and clumpy.
3. Pour fruit mixture into a baking dish. Cut up remaining two tablespoons of butter into small pieces and sprinkle around.
4. Cover fruit with the sugar-butter-almond mixture. I like my crumble thick and crunchy, but you can decide how much you want.
5. Bake about 50 minutes or until bubbling and dark brown on top.
6. Cool slightly and serve warmish with ice cream.
7. Repeat all summer long!

Don’t miss another favorite recipe of ours: Easy Berry Crisp.

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real life test kitchen: mandarin olive oil cake

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This winter I’ve been eating clementines like they are potato chips. I always have a bowl at my desk and even toss them in my bag when I’m on the go. This recipe for Mandarin Olive Oil Cake from Real Simple brings my new mini-orange obsession to a whole new delicious level. I’ve made it using clementines and I’ve made it using mandarins. Both are equally yummy. I also poke holes in the cake before I pour on the icing, which I make a little more runny than the magazine called for. That way the sweetness becomes almost like filling, and makes the cake super moist.
Here’s my take:

Mandarin (or Clementine!) Olive Oil Cake

What You Need:

1/2 cup olive oil, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for the pan
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp plus a pinch fine salt
3/4 cup whole milk (I used 1% and it was fine)
2 tbls unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbl finely grated mandarin zest, plus 6 tbls mandarin juice (from about 6 mandarins*)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup confectioners’ sugar (RS called for one and half but I like mine thin)

How To Make:

1. Heat oven to 350° F. Brush an 8½-by-4½-inch loaf pan with oil and dust with flour, tapping out the excess.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and ½ teaspoon salt in a medium bowl; set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil, milk, butter, vanilla, mandarin zest, and 4 tablespoons of the mandarin juice; set aside.

3. Beat the granulated sugar and eggs in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture and the milk mixture alternately, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and mixing well between additions. (The batter will be thin.)

5. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for 30 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

6. Combine the confectioners’ sugar, the remaining mandarin juice, and the remaining pinch of salt in a small bowl; whisk until smooth. (The glaze will be thick.) Poke holes in the cake with kebab skewer. Drizzle the icing over the cooled cake. Let set before serving.