Oh, the delights of summer in the Northeast! My gardens are all in. I planted 3 cottage gardens, a bulb garden, and brought back to life 4 or 5 old forgotten gardens that I discovered tumbling down the back hillside. I’ve been concentrating on balancing a combination of spring, summer, and late summer blooming perennials in my gardens. The list of gardening skills acquired this year is long but the list of gardening questions to research for next season is even longer!
I’ve planted what I hope will someday be a whimsical cottage garden right off the back porch. It is a circular brick patio space that has been there for 200 years and sits up high as the land tumbles down a few tiers of stone walls to the river below. It is such a good space for a beginning gardener like me. I’ve filled the center circle with big pots of herbs…thyme, rosemary, purple basil, oregano, and sage. The rest of the space is divided up into sections with an old unearthed brick circular walkway (that I dug out of layers of muck) that shoots off into rays into the garden. The bricks are old and uneven…the garden rather topsy-turvy looking and quirky…but I love it.
I’ve filled each of those triangular sections with foxgloves, mullens, cosmos, daisies, lavendar, delphiniums, poppies, speedwell, bleeding hearts, yarrow, and irises…all bordered by peonies in the back. Up the road a ways, my lovely gardening friend Megan has many of the same flowers in her garden. Her garden has been established for years now and it is stunning, whimsical, and dreamy…the perfect elements of a cottage garden. Fingers crossed one day mine will take on the same dreaminess and rambling prettiness as her garden.
But, I digress. It is so easy for me to ramble on about my newfound gardening hobby. But, everything is planted, and weeded, and mulched, and fretted over and petted over…so it’s time for some road trips in this gorgeous part of the country we are now fortunate to call home.
We really had no idea that whale watching was possible off of the Atlantic Ocean. That seemed like such a wonderful day trip during this beautiful month of July. I heard about whale watching as I was working on an assignment for the New Hampshire Magazine.
I’m cooking and photographing a dish each month for their new column called Local Dish. The column shows how easy it is to eat locally from farmer’s markets and showcases a seasonal dish. I was visiting various farmer’s markets in my region to see where I could find the freshest seafood because I wanted to make this delicious seafood and tomato broth filled summer stew.
I found the lovely people who own Sander’s Fish Market in the adorable seaside town of Portsmouth, NH. They travel from village market to market with their fresh catch selling to people like us who are little more inland. I bought a plump red netted sack filled with steamer clams gathered from off the coast of Maine: monkfish, known for its sweet lobster-like taste: and big fat prawns.
While I was chatting with Dan & Abbey of Work Song Farm in Hopkinton and buying some of their lettuce, they offered me some of Dan’s mother’s canned tomatoes from her garden for the stew. I was longing to visit some of the farms I am becoming familiar with at the markets, so we arranged for me to drive out deep into the countryside to see where they grow their produce…and to pick up that beautiful jar of Dan’s Mom’s jarred tomatoes.
So over the weekend, after we returned from a lovely day whale watching off the coast of Rye, New Hampshire…we spooned out bowls of luscious Summer Seafood Stew studded with fresh seafood, stewed tomatoes, fragrant fennel, garlic, and thyme.
We booked day tickets easily online on Atlantic Whale Watch. Their big beautiful boat is docked in the quaint little harbor town of Rye. A quick hour from our farmhouse, we arrived in Rye and crunched our wheels over the gravelly parking area right into Rye harbor.
Immediately, as we stepped out toward the harbor, the screeches of the seagulls filled the salt laden air as they swooped in and out from the water. The mood of the area and aromas of the coast were completely different from our bucolic setting at home. Children were hopping from rock to rock along the water’s edge and squealing with delight when they uncovered crabs. Several wobbly little lobster shacks proudly boasted their offerings of fresh lobster rolls on hand scrawled signs. Colorful buoys hung helter-skelter from the grey shingled walls.
Every manner of boats filled the harbor. Little shabby looking row boats clustered and bumped together closest to the shore. Larger more imposing sailboats sat languid in the blue water gracefully bobbing up and down boasting names like Lady Catherine and Moonlighter. We relaxed along the harbor while watching the lobster fishermen load their boats with sturdy square lobster traps.
We boarded the Atlantic Queen II with a very friendly crew and slowly churned out to sea. We really didn’t expect to see any whales. The idea of seeing whales out in the ocean just seemed too fantastical. We figured the day would be spent enjoying the outdoors on the ocean, relaxing on the boat for a few hours, and mingling with the other passengers as we all swapped stories of vacations and boating experiences.
The crew members were delightful. There were young college age interns on the boat who were recording all the various maritime experiences they encountered. They kept up a chat with all of us about various aspects of life on the Atlantic Ocean. One of the crew members walked around and demonstrated for us on her board which type of whales we would be most likely to see that day. Again, we thought we would be fortunate to see just one…from a distance more than likely.
But, not long after we cleared the Isles of Shoals, the boat picked up speed as the captain steered it off to the right. Something seemed to be happening and we all peered out in that direction to see where we were headed. The boat lurched forward like a dog that pulls eagerly on its leash. The waves splashed up higher around the sides as the spray covered our faces. One of the crew directed us all where to look out there. And out there, not far off from the boat, was a whale that glided slowly out of the water just exactly as one might imagine and then effortlessly slipped back in a few seconds later…all right before our eyes.
It truly was rather surreal. The children on the boat squealed with unabashed delight. Everyone laughed at their unbridled excitement because they reflected the surprise and delight that we all felt. The crew explained that we saw a Minke whale. They are the smallest of the whales in that area and can seem a bit like the shape of a large dolphin. Small? It looked big enough for eyes.
So the routine began. If the boat lurched forward and churned through the water in a particular direction, we all clutched the side rails and excitedly searched the water for another sighting. All chitchat on the boat hushed until someone called out, “There!“. And then there were more sightings. It was wonderful. We saw probably 5 more Minke whales. Then, after about 30 minutes and farther out into sea, we began noticing sprays of water in the air. A second or two later, a huge whale lumbered above the water line and effortlessly glided back into the depths of the ocean. It was truly thrilling to witness this. The children squealed again…we all laughed again.
The crew gets just as excited as the passengers. A breathless voice came across the speakers telling us that we had just witnessed a Fin whale…the 2nd largest animal on the planet! Over the next hour or so we saw another 5 or 6 Fin whales and a few more Minke whales.
Our expectations were quite satisfied after a few hours of sightings. The brilliance of the sun sparkling on the ocean, the charge of the whale sightings, and the cool breezes that intermingled with sprays of salty ocean water were so relaxing. We settled back in our seats, perhaps a bit of dozing took place, and listened to the hum of the boat and the wailing of the seagulls as we sailed back into Rye Harbor.
Needless to say, after arriving back to the harbor, we all were hungry…for seafood. We drove to nearby Al’s Seafood, a favorite New England summertime destination over in North Hampton and filled our bellies with fried whole belly clams, butter dipped lobster morsels, and thick tender haddock filets.
While I was home over the weekend making my seafood stew, I was delighted that I could put to use my beautiful new wooden spatulas from Mastro Company. Gene, the founder of Mastro, was so inspired by his grandparent’s love of cooking and cooking gadget collecting, that he decided to create a business that would give other home cooks a place to go to pick out quality unique cooking accessories.
From their online shop, I picked out a beautiful set of wooden carved spatulas. I used them to stir my fragrant sliced fennel in hot olive oil as well as gently add stewed tomatoes and herbs to the seafood broth. Gene sources small artisan craftspeople from all over the country that his grandparents would have liked to choose from, and collects his finds into his company store, Mastro. I am so pleased with my new spatulas and am now eyeing some of their lovely hand forged copper products…the measuring cups…swoon.
July has been a beautiful month here in the Northeast. I cannot wait to bring more recipes that I’ve been making along with day trips that we have been taking from Vermont to Massachusetts. One of my favorite recent trips was to a beautiful historic home that included a tour of the family’s gardens. Now that I have an ounce of knowledge about gardening, visiting big beautiful gardens in the Northeast is going to be so exciting. I’ll get out there… and then bring it all back here to share.
A Few Finds of interest:
Mentions in this Post:
Atlantic Whale Watching Company – Rye, New Hampshire
Work Song Farm – Hopkinton, New Hampshire
Al’s Seafood – North Hampton, New Hampshire
Mastro Company – online shop of kitchen goods made by artisanal craftspeople all over the US
Sander’s Fish Market – Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Fennel – Spring Ledge Farm – New London, NH
Garlic – 2 Sisters’ – Canterbury, NH
The Good Loaf – Rosemary and Olive Oil – Milford, NH
- 4 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 1 large fennel bulb, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced, fronds
- reserved for garnish
- 1½ Tbs. tomato paste
- 2 tsp. minced garlic
- ½ cup white wine
- 2 Tbs. Pernod (optional)
- 4 cups vegetable or fish stock
- 1 can (14 oz.) crushed tomatoes
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 large fresh thyme sprig
- 1½ lb. red potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 2 lb. monkfish cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks
- 1½ lb. jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined
- 2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Big thick chunks of french bread
- Warm 2 Tbs. of the olive oil in a Dutch oven on the stove top. Add the onion and fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the wine and Pernod and cook, stirring, until almost reduced, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the stock, tomatoes, bay leaves, thyme and potatoes. Increase the temperature and bring the mixture to a simmer for 30 minutes. The broth can be made a day ahead for richer broth. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until the vegetables are tender about 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, insert a metal steamer into a pot big enough to fit the clams. Fill it with just enough water so it doesn't rise above the etal steam insert. Bring water to a simmer and add the tightly closed steamer clams. Place a lid on top of the pot so clams will steam. Steam for 5-6 minutes or until all shells pop open. Remove clams from steamer. After clams have cooled for 1 minute, use a sharp knife and cut off the "foot" of the clam, wipe the skin off the rim of the shell and replace clam meat back in shell.
- When ready to serve soup, add the shrimp and monkfish to the soup pot and cook until the shrimp are opaque, 2 to 3 minutes. Fold in the parsley.
- Ladle the stew into warmed bowls and add 3-4 steamer clams to each bowl. Garnish with fennel fronts. Serve with any delicious bread to soak up the wonderful juices of the soup.
- Ladle the stew into warmed bowls and garnish with fennel fronds. Serve crostini and aioli alongside. Serves 6.