If you think you’ve got it rough shoveling after the latest snow storm, consider the workers on the Casco Bay Lines ferries that run out of Portland every day, delivering passengers and cargo to the islands. The morning shift is the coldest, according to Greg Jukins, a 36-year-old deckhand.

“We start at 5 a.m., and the temperatures can easily be in the single digits or teens,” he said. “A typical shift is 10 hours, so you have to plan for a couple of meals for each shift.”

Those meals have to be warming after time spent on deck, fighting bitter wind and freezing rain. Jukins typically makes a big batch of beef stew at home and heats it up for lunch or dinner, depending on his shift, either on the boat or in the ferry terminal’s break room. If he starts his day at 5 a.m., he eats during his mid-morning break, around 9 a.m.

“We have an electric griddle in the break room and, more days than not, we cook up breakfast sandwiches for the crew topped off with pepper jack cheese and hash browns and really crispy, almost burnt, bacon,” he said. “It’s become a ritual, and I am usually the one cooking. The almost-burnt bacon is the key.”

Jukins – and others who spend a lot of time outdoors in winter – become, by necessity, experts in food that comforts both body and soul during this unfriendliest of seasons. They embrace the cold and the snow, and use food as a kind of edible blanket. Winter food is, as celebrity chef Andrew Zimmern puts it, “food with a hug.”

We spoke with a few winter-loving Mainers about what they eat when they come in from the cold, with the hope that we ordinary, summer-loving mortals can learn something. These winter enthusiasts mentioned soups and stews, as we expected, and also sang the praises of carbs and cheese.

A winter convert

Jennifer Scism, founder and head chef of Good To-Go, a company that makes dehydrated gourmet meals for the camping/outdoorsy set, says she is more of a summer person but – with the help of  “a stewy, slow-cooked something” – is growing to love winter.

Jennifer Scism and her husband, David Koorits, owners of Good To-Go, enjoy a day cross-country skiing. Her go-to winter foods are spicy Moroccan couscous with lamb, and pork pozole. Photo by Brian Threlkeld

Sometimes after a day of skiing she’ll prepare frikadeller (Danish meatballs) and fondue, served with asparagus and boiled red potatoes. Other days, it’s lobster mac and cheese made with homemade lobster stock. Her go-to winter foods, both made in her slow cooker, are spicy Moroccan couscous with lamb, and pork pozole, and she enjoys the latter with the classic accompaniments of avocado, shredded cabbage and lime.

Requirements of the job

Adam McKay, manager of Range Pond State Park in Poland and Androscoggin Riverlands State Park in Turner, spends some 75 percent of his work days outdoors in winter, grooming skiing and snowmobiling trails, plowing parking lots and hosting ice fishing derbies, often in below-freezing temperatures.

“I’m a huge proponent of warm foods this time of year,” he said. “My best friend this time of year is a Crock-Pot.”

McKay is a hunter, so his favorite slow cooker meal is venison, in particular the shoulder roast. He sears the meat, then adds it to the slow cooker with carrots, potatoes, onions and beef stock. “It pulls apart better than any kind of beef roast you would get in a supermarket,” he said.

Since McKay lives in state park housing, he often goes home for lunch, where his other go-to winter meal is grilled cheese and tomato soup. He notes the childhood favorite provides, carbs, protein, dairy and a little veg in the form of the tomato soup. For McKay, winter food is both functional and comforting. Once he’s eaten something warm and sat in front of a wood stove for a half hour or so, he said, “You’re back to baseline, and you’re ready to go again.”

Cheese, please

For Derek Lovitch, who owns and operates Wild Bird Supply in Freeport with his wife, Jeannette, winter warm-up food is all about the cheese. When he and his wife go out birding in the winter – they travel all over the state – after a few bone-chilling hours searching for goldfinches and goldeneyes, they take a break for “a good, hot lunch.”

Derek Lovitch, right, describes waterfowl seen on Merrymeeting Bay to fellow birders. Back home, he’ll cook up a box of Annie’s mac and cheese and spice it up with Peruvian Aji Panca paste. Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

“There’s nothing like a bowl of mac and cheese, or a buttery grilled cheese and a side of fries, to get me back into the field,” he said.

If he’s in the Portland area, Lovitch will go for a bowl of Vietnamese pho or – an occasional treat – the lobster mac and cheese at Five Fifty-Five. At home, he’ll open a box of Annie’s mac and cheese – a favorite since high school – and spice it up with Peruvian Aji Panca paste or a homemade hot sauce. (He buys Aji Panca from Vervacious in Portland or Monica’s Chocolates in Lubec.)

Fromage, s’il vous plaît

It turns out the restaurateurs behind Lovitch’s favorite lobster mac and cheese also crave melted cheese come winter. Steve and Michelle Corry, the owners of Five Fifty-Five and Petite Jacqueline in Portland, and their two boys – Finn, 10, and Seamus, 12 – like to sit at the dining table after a day of sledding or skiing, melting slices of cheese on a raclette grill, then draping it over bread and potatoes or steak and sausages. Inspired by Michelle’s French relatives, they include mustards, pickled vegetables and Béarnaise sauce as accoutrements. It’s a great way to continue family time, Michelle Corry says. (If you don’t own a raclette machine, you can get a similar Swiss/melted cheese experience, with fondue, Corry suggests. The Corrys also serve raclette at Petite Jacqueline.)

Restaurateurs Steve and Michelle Corry spent a day on the slopes of Shawnee Peak recently with their sons Finn (second from left) and Seamus. Wintertime food, she says, “has to be really satisfying. You have to know that you ate at the end of it.”  Photo courtesy of Michelle Corry

Another go-to comfort food for the Corrys is Steve’s “kitchen sink soup,” so named by the boys because Corry uses any bits and pieces he uncovers in the kitchen to make it, from leftover stock to beans to sausages.

Michelle Corry says her family wouldn’t survive the season without embracing winter sports. “If you have two boys and you sit inside all day, you’ll go crazy,” she said. But just as important is what she feeds her crew when they come inside. Corry always has the ingredients for “chocolat chaud” – hot chocolate – on hand. Après ski food must be hot and able to replace all the calories just burned off playing on the slopes or lugging a sled uphill multiple times, Michelle Corry says. Wintertime food, she says, “has to be really satisfying. You have to know that you ate at the end of it.”

Carbs for comfort

For Portland’s new mayor, Kate Snyder, it’s all about the carbs. “To me, a salad is never going to be terribly comforting,” she said, “but a warm lasagna or a great plate of spaghetti bolognese or a piece of cake, that’s all carb-based and it’s going to be comforting.”

Snyder and her family love to ski. When her children were little, they took weekly lessons at Shawnee Peak. Later, the family spent weekends skiing together at Saddleback ski resort near Rangeley. Snyder also loves to bake. “I might not have a meal to serve you if you come to my house,” she said, “but I will more likely than not be able to give you a piece of cake.”

Portland Mayor Kate Snyder at home. After a day of skiing, she says, she wants carbs, “a warm lasagna or a great plate of spaghetti bolognese or a piece of cake.” Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

Family favorites for noshing on a winter day include two cookie recipes from Martha Stewart that Snyder still bakes on her 25-year-old cookie sheets: Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies and Spicy Chocolate Cookies. But the number one request from the kids after a cold day on the slopes, Snyder said, was always a Turkey and Sweet Potato Soup, a recipe she found in the pages of Food & Wine. The hearty soup includes green beans and is seasoned with sage, so the magazine described it as “Thanksgiving in a bowl.”

“Everybody liked the whole combination,” Snyder said, “although there were times the bowl would be passed back and the green beans would be sitting at the bottom.”

Snyder said although the family considered the soup “ski food,” the dish also made plenty of appearances on weekdays in winter. “This is something that kind of warms you up and makes you feel nourished,” she said.

Just the thing to stop those teeth from chattering.

Jennifer Scism’s Pork Pozole

Scism adapted this recipe from “Cooking My Way Back Home” by Mitchell Rosenthal.

Serves 8

4 pounds boneless Boston butt, cut into 1-inch cubes

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Grapeseed oil (or another neutral oil)

2 slices bacon, cut into ¼-inch pieces

2 large yellow onions, cut into ½-inch dice

6 garlic cloves, smashed and finely chopped

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 teaspoons oregano

2 bay leaves

2 cinnamon sticks

1 bunch cilantro, washed, leaves picked and set aside, and stems tied together with butcher’s twine

2 quarts low sodium chicken stock

4 dried whole ancho chili peppers

4 dried whole New Mexican chili peppers (or substitute guajillo peppers)

5 (14-ounce) cans hominy, drained

To garnish:

Diced avocado, sliced radishes, cilantro leaves, finely shredded green cabbage, lime wedges

Lightly season the diced pork with salt and pepper. In a tall, heavy-bottomed stock pot, heat 1 tablespoon of oil on medium high until just smoking. Add just enough pork to the pot for a single layer. Do not add too much meat or it will steam rather than brown properly. Brown on all sides and remove to a plate. Repeat, cooking the rest of the meat, adding oil as needed until all the meat has been seared.

Turn the stock pot down to medium and cook the bacon until most of the fat has been rendered. Add the onions, garlic, cumin, coriander, and oregano. Cook until the onions are golden and translucent. Add the meat back to the onion mixture. Add the bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cilantro stems and chicken stock. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer and cover. Skim off the foam every 15 minutes or so.

While the pork is simmering, toast the chili peppers over an open flame. Be careful that they don’t catch fire. (If you don’t have a gas stovetop, place peppers in cast iron pan over high heat and toast until you can smell them slightly smoking.) Once they are toasted, set aside in a small metal bowl. When they’ve cooled, remove and discard the pepper’s seeds and stems. Cover the pepper pieces with boiling water and set aside for 20 minutes. Remove the soaked peppers, reserving the water, and transfer to a tall container. With an immersion blender, blend the peppers, adding some of the water until smooth.

After the pork has been cooking for 1 hour, add the pepper puree and the hominy. Stir well. Cook, uncovered, for another hour. Continue skimming. If the pozole is too thick, add a little water or stock.

To serve, remove the cilantro stems, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks. Ladle pozole into wide, deep bowls and top with desired garnish ingredients.

Steve and Michelle Corry’s Cheese Fondue

If you can’t afford a raclette machine, you can prepare a similarly festive melted cheese meal that’s also from Switzerland – fondue. The best pot in which to make it, according to the Corrys, is steel or cast iron, medium-sized (2 quarts), and with an enameled interior. Enjoy fondue with crusty bread, meats, potatoes or whatever you like, they say.

1 ½ cups shredded Gruyere

1 ½ cups shredded Emmenthaler cheese

½ cup shredded Appenzeller cheese

2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 garlic clove, halved

1 cup dry white wine

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1 dash kirsch, optional

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Pinch nutmeg

Crusty bread, cut into large cubes, to serve

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the three cheeses and toss with the flour.

Rub the inside of the fondue pot with the garlic halves. Add the wine and heat over medium heat until hot, but not boiling. Stir in the lemon juice and kirsch. Add a handful of the combined cheeses at a time to the wine mixture, stirring constantly and not adding more cheese until the previous handful has melted, bubbling gently and has the appearance of a light, creamy sauce. Season the fondue with pepper and nutmeg.

Remove the pot from the heat and place over a gentle burner on the table.

Martha Stewart’s Spicy Chocolate Cookies

Makes about 3 dozen

These cookies are a favorite of Kate Snyder, Portland’s new mayor. Snyder loves to bake and often makes the cookies for her family after they’ve spent the day skiing.

1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

¼ cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (61 percent cacao), chopped (2 1/3 cups)

½ cup turbinado sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Whisk together the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, salt, cayenne and baking soda.

In a separate bowl, beat the butter with the brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla until well combined. Reduce the speed to low and beat in flour mixture until just incorporated. Stir in the chocolate.

Roll the dough into 1-inch balls (each 1 heaping tablespoon). Gently roll each in turbinado sugar to coat; place 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until surface cracks slightly, 11 to 14 minutes. Let cool 5 minutes on sheets, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.


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