EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of three columns by Black Dinah Chocolatiers co-founder Kate Shaffer.

When I moved to Portland from Isle au Haut in June of last year my must-do list mostly consisted of one item: Go out to eat as often as humanly possible. After living in a place for close to 15 years where the only restaurant in town was, well, my own, I felt that even if I ate out every day for an entire year, I’d barely be scraping the surface of my long overdue training as a Maine-centric food lover.

My husband, Steve, and I – we own Black Dinah Chocolatiers in Westbrook and Isle au Haut – had the almost unbelievable good fortune of scoring an affordable apartment on Munjoy Hill when we moved here. But its one-room efficiency kitchen – with zero cupboard space – did not lend itself to the elaborate cooking projects I used to like to do in my spacious, fully stocked kitchen on the island.

So I left my library of beloved cookbooks behind, gave away most of the contents of my pantry to island neighbors, and gave myself over to enjoying the experience of other people’s cooking.

It’s not hard to find a fabulous meal in Portland, and I quickly found a few favorite spots: a walking-distance cafe to sip my Saturday morning cup over the crossword puzzle, a comfortable place to enjoy a solo beer, a couple of neighborhood bistros that promised reliably impressive meals when guests were in town.

In early September last year, just as the weather was starting to cool, and Portlanders were beginning to realize that summer wouldn’t last forever, I would come back to my apartment after work to find my upstairs neighbors enjoying evening drinks al fresco on the front stoop. Before long, I was joining them. And not long after that, I started to realize that even after working all day every day in the kitchen making chocolates, and despite access to so many fabulous eateries, I missed the pleasure of cooking in my own home. And I missed sharing my own meals with friends.


It’s no accident that I chose a career in food. I love to cook. I love to feed people. Food is how I move through the world, and in a lot of ways, it’s how I communicate. Steve jokes that he can tell what kind of day I had by what I make for dinner. And it’s a big part of how I introduce myself to new friends. Here, taste this. This is who I am.

By late fall, I limited my eating out to a weekly Friday-night splurge, and I began to instead frequent the neighborhood markets. I found several within walking distance of our apartment where I could pick up freshly baked bread, house-made pastas and super-fresh vegetables from nearby farms.

Shops on the Commercial Street wharves promised varieties of seafood outside my comfort zone of island lobster and halibut. I discovered that the winter farmers market was an easy walk downhill, and that the promise of the walk back uphill kept me from going overboard on too many leafy greens, or tiny potatoes, or varieties of beets and carrots, or fresh cheeses.

I began to train myself not to buy ingredients for a week, or even for the month (as was sometimes necessary on the island), but to buy just enough to make simple meals for a couple of days. Untethered from cookbook recipes and a cafe menu, I picked the ingredients that looked the freshest, or inspired an idea, or lent themselves to my small prep space and limited cookware.

I resisted the temptation to equip my kitchen with more pots and pans and baking dishes (there’s no room!), and instead let the tools I owned influence what ended up on our plates. I developed a system, a tiny mise en place, that both fit on my counter and kept our two kitties out of my prep. The meals that emerged were a new thing altogether, a new experience, a part of myself that I had not yet met.

And, to my surprise, I’m learning to cook. Again.



I love Sunday brunch. And, as it turns out, so does the rest of Portland. But if I’m not feeling like braving the lines at one of the city’s fabulous brunch restaurants, I’ll invite a friend or two to our apartment.

The leeks are the star of this dish, and while the bacon and the egg make it a meal, you could omit those, and simply serve the leeks on toasted slices of baguette for a spring appetizer. I use an Italian white for the bread.

Every ingredient in this recipe (except for maybe the wine) can be picked up at a Saturday farmers market, and quickly prepared for a simple Sunday brunch suitable for company.

Serves 4

8 slices bacon


1 pound spring leeks (or 1 large leek)

4 tablespoons butter

Pinch or 2 dried thyme, or 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

Salt and pepper, to taste

Dry white wine, or water

4 large eggs


4 slices bread of your choice

4 tablespoons chevre (goat cheese)

Parsley, chopped

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the bacon on a cookie sheet and bake, turning over once, for 20 to 25 minutes, until it is very crispy. Drain on paper towels.

While the bacon is cooking, halve the leeks lengthwise, and thinly slice the white and pale green parts into half rounds (reserve the dark green tops for stock, if you like). Place the sliced leeks in a colander and rinse away any dirt or grit.

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the thyme, leeks, salt and pepper. Give it all a good stir, lower the heat, and cover the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, adding a little wine or water to keep the pan moist and prevent browning, until the leeks are very soft – about 20 minutes. Taste them. When they are finished they should melt on your tongue.


Meanwhile, toast the bread, and spread each slice with a tablespoon of chevre.

When the leeks and the bacon are done, bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Crack 1 egg into a tea cup, and gently lay it in the boiling water. Repeat with the remaining 3 eggs. Keep the water at a gentle simmer, to prevent the eggs from breaking apart. When the eggs are done (the whites cooked, the yolks still jiggly) lift them from the pan with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels.

Spoon the warm leeks on the chèvre toast, top each with 2 slices of bacon and a poached egg. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley, and serve.

Kate Shaffer and her husband, Steve Shaffer, co-own Black Dinah Chocolatiers in Westbrook and Isle au Haut. Kate Shaffer is the author of “Desserted: Recipes and Tales from an Island Chocolatier.” She can be contacted at: info@BlackDinahChocolatiers.com.

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