Gourmet rehab

By Eva Murray | Aug 27, 2011

When we arrived home after a week on the mainland, there was chowder waiting.

That meant a lot.

OK, enough being serious. I am certainly serious about the good food that the neighborhood of Matinicus — for of course, once in a while we prove ourselves truly a neighborhood in the best sense of the word — shares among its own. We generally like to celebrate all the important occasions with appropriate gustatory delights; we do a good job with Chinese New Year, the Super Bowl, the Red Dahlia Society annual summer strawberry daiquiri rebellion, all the usual big events. Upon Paul’s and my arrival home we were quickly assured that surviving an accident counted, and freshments would be served.

Word went around that I could only eat soft food. My sore throat had me managing adequately with yogurt, instant breakfast, corn chowder from Hannaford’s deli and Dorman’s milkshakes while on the mainland, but Matinicus could do better than that (well, perhaps excepting Dorman’s). The welcome-home chowder was no amateur production. I had speculated years ago in some article that made its way into “Well Out to Sea” about how most of the chowder cooks on the island are men. Wanda the postmaster (female, and no, she does not prefer the appellation “postmistress”) decided that the “chowder is a man’s work” thing was a load of bunk and proceeded to construct what was advertised as “the best chowder on the island.”

Upon our arrival at the Matinicus airstrip, my forty-seven stitches freshly out, a couple of boxes of instant breakfast in the grocery bag and having just taken my first clear-headed flight in a small Cessna after the July 17 rescue, we were met by Rossi and Gemma, the golden retrievers, and of course their loyal staff Robin, George and Marcia. Robin told us that our supper was waiting at home and that she had strict orders as to how to proceed.

Robin works for Wanda in the post office and understands the chain of command. She took the large pot out of my refrigerator and set it on our kitchen stove. “I got specific instructions about how to warm this up,” she grinned, as if it were such an arcane art, “and supposedly there’s a secret ingredient.” She gently heated and stirred the pot as we grew hungrier moment by moment. Wanda’s chowder had a little bit of everything in it for seafood, a truly luxurious homecoming repast. Along with it came her homemade bread (other people’s homemade bread being a treat for me,) and Natalie’s homemade doughnuts (ditto).

That was only the beginning. Over the next two weeks people kept showing up at the door with comforts and delicacies. We were handed lots of lasagna, prepared in the softer style, without corners and edges. A macaroni and cheese casserole generously fortified with lobster arrived. A pile of single-serving frozen containers of soup arrived. Chocolate pudding appeared — twice. A container of not-too-spicy chili was sent over “for later.” A bowl of hot noodles dripping with oil and freshly-made pesto was delivered, most assuredly for right this minute (that was completely gone in no time). A young girl appeared bearing a large bowl of lobster chowder from an island fisherman — and he just happened to be the cook who won the island’s first “chowder and chili cook-off” a few years ago with his recipe. Good stuff!

A week or so later, after I was back to work, one of this town’s finest cooks came over with a small dish and a funny look on her face. “I’m not sure I could get away with this with everyone, but I thought you’d appreciate it.” She handed me the bowl, which contained — mashed potatoes. One bite became two and in very quick step the whole thing was demolished, because those mashed potatoes were something else. Nothing humble about that dish; freshly dug new potatoes, sweet as candy, cooked and mashed with what seemed like a whole stick of butter, sufficient salt for a hot summer day and some little something more — garlic, maybe? Anyway, such a meal as that, when one is working, and hungry, and still feeling a bit banged up, such an offering is very seriously the finest kind. I tackled it like I was into a hot fudge sundae. My husband called her up on the telephone and simply said, “You nailed it.”

There was more to the homecoming than food. John offered to take on delivering propane for Paul if we needed help. Judy knit me the coolest multi-colored socks, as a non-edible comfort, just for something different. Karen told Hank, “send her poetry,” and so he did. The mile of road from the airstrip to my driveway was decorated with signs, akin to what a small town does for an inspired basketball team. There were plenty that offered variations on “Welcome back,” but there were a few where you had to sort of be there to entirely get it. “Eva 1, Plane 0.”; “Henry needs donuts!”; “Dump Diva returns victorious!”; “Where’s the #$%^ blueberries?”; “Paul can cook!” and, with a spirit of irony that still makes me laugh, “Welcome to Monhegan!” (Was I that badly banged on the head?)

Oh, and one sign alerted me that “Survivor” had called, and I had won lifetime immunity. I think I’ll keep that card around and maybe take it to Town Meeting in the spring. It sounds like it could be useful. At any rate, I’m tempted to milk this recuperation for all it’s worth. I have been entirely spoiled.























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