Saturday, April 17, 2010


This is a memory painting of the shore in Maine where I grew up. The seaweed on the rocks is cleverly called rockweed. It grows everywhere, but we didn't eat it any more than we ate the lawn. Though central to the local diet, seaweed per se was never eaten, but it was valued. It was turned into the garden as fertilizer and thrown into the pot for flavor when steaming lobsters. As kids, we used to squeeze its bulbs for the paltry pop, hunt under it for the crabs before they found our toes, and mostly slip on it and fall into tide pools. And, as every Mainer knows, it's a critical component of a clambake. Though I've been landlocked for years, the how-to of building a bake is like genetic code to me.

At the risk of drowning in drool, here goes...

First, there is such a thing as a bake master. He/she should have a proven track record, the respect of the entire crew, and the capacity for handling a lot of beer under pressure. The rest of you should do what the boss says at all times.

(Italics mark potentially tragic mistakes.)

Collect a big pile of dry driftwood, a big heavy metal sheet (preferably a ship's hull, the rustier the better) and some buckets of seawater. Put a big piece of canvas out in the water to soak; weigh it down so it doesn't float away. Find a spot above the tide line surrounded by flat rocks, and put some dry stones in it to heat (wet ones will explode). Build a fire on top and keep it stoked until the rocks are redhot. Have a beer or two while you're waiting.

When the rocks are hot and the fire is burning down, put the big metal plate over them, leveled on the flat rocks. (Purists don't bother with the plate, but purists rhymes with tourists who think sand in their food is quaint.) While that's heating up, make the kids fetch big armloads of fresh seaweed and put it all in the buckets full of seawater. Keep it wet, cuz it doesn't smell any better dead than the rest of the stuff does. When the metal is hot, dump plenty of the wet seaweed on the plate and start to alternate layers of it with the food. Once all of the food is well-buried, cover the whole pile with the soaked canvas. In my experience, lobsters are an absolute must. And steamers of course cuz it's called a clambake, some quahogs, mussels, crabs, potatoes, onions, eggs, corn on the cob, and sometimes sausage. Put a large pot of butter near the heat for melting; there can't be too much.

The bake master is in charge of keeping the pile steaming and determining when the lobsters are done. Generally, all the other food will be done then, too, but it doesn't matter cuz over-cooked lobsters are grounds for keel-hauling and/or flat-out mutiny.

(This bake was put together to celebrate the dog formerly known as Cloud. Today she was christened with her new grown-up name, Mme. Clousseau.)

Felicitations, mon petit chou, de M. Garrett!


Melinda said...

For a moment, I was in Maine waiting for the food to finish steaming.

Thank you for the adventure.

You've got a precious dawg there. Looks as though your dog is waiting patiently for someone to fill a bowl.

You've got another beauty here too. Love the clouds a lot, but the do have it etched in your brain.

loriann said...

Your Maine painting shows real feeling.... I guess that's what memory can do. Thanks for sharing the clam bake...will you ever move back to Maine?

Double "D" said...

Gorgeous painting Sam. You continue to surprise me with your direction. This has realistic feel to it but mystic undercurrents.

When I was a kid starting out in the commercial business, the small studio that gave me my first job had me out one late night digging a pit for just such a clam bake. Wood burning all night, then the seafood arrived along with seaweed. All went in the pit then on goes the canvas. We added a little dirt on the edges to hold it down and allow the steam to build up.
Being the new guy in the crew, it was up to me and a few other underlings to pull the canvas off and start pulling stuff from the pit. What a smell. I didn't eat that day!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

That is a gorgeous ( can I still call it a painting even though it's a pastel?) Thought it was a photograph.
I guess your italics are the benefit of having done this a few times.
Mme. Clousseau would be very interested in a bowl and an introduction to your handsome dog.

Katherine van Schoonhoven said...

The painting even smells like the beach! I think that you are a long way from a salty breeze and a clambake, but you can touch it whenever you want it!

SamArtDog said...

Though I should say it to each of you personally, this blogging makes such a wonderful community, I'd like to thank everyone together for your really generous comments. As all of you know, support like that, especially from artists we admire, means everything to any artist's ego.

Though my memory ain't what it used to be (whose is?), I can always harken back to that cove on Little Chebeague Island pretty easily. I can't, however, turn back the clock, wake the dead, or relive the good times. Life's short, so onward! Now's the time to make more new paintings, some new memories and more good friends.

Everyone could use a good bake now and then. If I could ring the ship's bell right now and lift that steamy canvas, we'd ALL be there on the beach with smoke in our eyes, salt on our skin and butter running down our chin. Holy quahog! That would be so much fun!!!

cohen labelle said...

This is very poetic! It figures that it comes from nostalgia and an incredible memory! I guess you have what we allude to as the proverbial memory of an elephant – admired by dogs and human folk such as me.

Jala Pfaff said...

I think it's Mlle. Clousseau, not Mme. I don't think she's known any other dogs biblically.

I'll go for the onions, potatoes and corn, please. The rest of it..ick. (Said the vegetarian who also happens to hate the smell of things that come out of the sea.)

Great painting!

P.S. Wet rocks EXPLODE?!?!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jala for setting the record straight. I haven't known any dogs biblically or in lay terms either.
Mlle. Clousseau

Don Gray said...

What a great description! Thanks for a true insider's insights into a clambake. And the painting resonates with a dream-like sense of a remembered place.

Jala Pfaff said...

See, toldja Little Miss Cloud is still pure.