bon iver, walnut shortbread, and the rocky maine coast

I can’t stop listening to the new Bon Iver album. It’s been on repeat all day long, approaching my right ear from the nearby stereo console. Calming to the point that I wonder if my heart rate has reached a worrisomely-low level, I’m impressed by this record. Or rather, it’s now become impressed upon me. It has kept the crying cat at bay, and soothed the nine attentive owls that I can spot from my vantage point.

I once told C. Fox that I would someday discuss my living room’s delightful owl lamps. Unfortunately, that day has not yet come.

Bon Iver reminds me of winter. Cold. Minnesota. Hibernating bears. Driving in the car while the freezing wind whips against the windows, and causes them to rattle slightly. And the stark, rocky coastline of Maine, adorned in the same chill blanketing Minnesota, despite a lack of snow. My mind is transported back to over two years ago, as I visited Vacationland for the first time. Noting my pulse quicken as I caught sight of the Atlantic. Hearing the caw of seagulls in a location much more befitting of their name than where I had just come from. Feeling at home despite the utter disconnect I had with the locality.

I wasn’t lucky enough to live along this ofttimes inviting, occasionally dangerous strip of forest-meets-water. I moved inland, which turned my previously land-locked ocean cravings into a truly manic creature all its own. Example A: I have no fewer than five framed photos of picturesque coastline, dotting my home like the countless Maine islands just out of everyday reach.

On fortunate weekends I find myself near enough to the ocean to smell it, touch it, see it, and taste it. Swim in it. Now, as Bon Iver croons in his odd voice, reaching out to me with his saltwatery tendrils of memory, I calm that inner manic ocean-loving creature by thinking of this past weekend, which was spent exploring the Great Wass Island Preserve, a tract of land in Downeast Maine, acquired in 1978 by The Nature Conservancy – who I’ve previously bashed, but do truly appreciate.

Several months ago a simple seashore visit became inextricably linked with shortbread cookies purchased from a well-loved bakery. But as much as I love spending money spendily, I also enjoy making my own versions of my favorite things. In this case, shortbread. Not the ocean; that would be the ultimate in spendily expensive splurging. And by my own version, here, I of course mean Martha Stewart’s version.

Since it appeared in the March 2010 issue of Martha Stewart Living, as one of those clever, innovative punch-out recipe cards, her Walnut Shortbread has been my most frequently made item. It has also been the only item I’ve actually punched out. Gotta keep my ripped-up copies mint, ya know. I have manipulated this recipe in dozens of ways, rarely straying down a path I find distasteful. But after returning home from a trip to the seashore, it was the original recipe that I chose to go with this time around.

Make this shortbread with any nut, or combination of nuts, or mix up the vanilla extract for another flavor persuasion. Whatever it is, I’ve probably tried it with this recipe. Whole wheat flour could also be used here, but to be honest, I’m such a white flour and vanilla kind of girl. This is true – I could have just as easily written about the John Mayer CD that hides out in my bedroom. But…. I didn’t.

And while music may come and go (in a Continuum, one might say?), the ocean will always remain my first true love. Great Wass Island Preserve was a terrific place for spending a quiet day on the Maine coast. Flowering iris littered the shoreline, adjacent to waters from the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of Maine, mixing for the first time. Inland, twisted, stunted specimens of jack pine (Maine’s largest stand, so I hear) were so strange looking that I refused to believe they were indeed jack pine. And if you go, don’t take any wrong turns – Mistake Harbor is located nearby.

Apparently, the loop that we made by taking the Cape Point Trail, then following coastline over to the Mud Hole Trail and back, equated to 5 miles. We stopped to lounge, enjoy a new bottle of SPF 45 that left me with zero sunburn, and swim in a small cove, losing track of time, but enjoying every minute of it. The hike was easy, the sights were marvelous, and after getting home, the shortbread was delicious.

Great Wass Island Preserve {a TNC venture}

Located near Jonesport, Maine

For articles on visiting the GWIP, try the following:

Portland Press Herald: It’s worth the trip
The Great Wass Island Preserve Guide
Cedarholm Garden Bay Inn Hiking Extravaganza Parts One and Two

Walnut Shortbread {recipe from Martha Stewart}

Makes 8 slices

++Ingredients:++

Oil-based cooking spray
1/2 c. walnuts, toasted
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 c. + 3 tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

++Directions:++

Preheat oven to 325° F. Coat an 8-inch round can pan with cooking spray. Grind, or pulse walnuts in a food processor, before transferring them to a bowl. Whisk in flour and salt.

Beat butter, sugar and vanilla until pale and fluffy. Slowly add walnute mixture, and beat until just combined. Transfer dough to pan. Place a piece of plastic wrap on dough, and use it to press the dough evenly into the pan (this will prevent the dough from sticking to your fingers). Cut dough into 8 wedges. Prick all over (7 holes will do) with a wooden skewer or fork – I use a chopstick for this step.

Bake until golden brown and firm in center, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool. Recut wedges. Dust with additional confectioners’ sugar, if desired.

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9 thoughts on “bon iver, walnut shortbread, and the rocky maine coast

  1. There’s nothing I like more than a recipe that you go back to again and again. Wonderful that the recipe seems so flexible, too.

    I’ve been on a bit of a shortbread kick lately actually, so I need to bookmark this page.

    Your shortbread looks absolutely picture perfect. I’d love to come back from a trip and tuck into one of these, with a nice hot cup of tea! :)

  2. My grandma collects owl figurines. Are you secretly my grandma? Can you bring me grandmotherly shortbread? Please? Please?

    I want some warm and bendy from the oven, and the rest cooled to delicious crumbly messy goodness.

    Please.

  3. Julia: A shortbread kick is probably more appropriate to your current climate than mine. I too love to tuck into them with a hot cup of tea by my side, BUT, alas, it’s already too hot for tea this morning.

    While I love having a dependable recipe to come back to as well, it’s also nice to mix it up from time to time. I remember making your olive oil and fennel shortbread, which I should try again as I botched that one a bit. Lots of great shortbread out there!

    Hannah: Noooope, I’m pretty sure I’m not secretly your grandma. Good guess though! Figurines are only one small facet of the owls in my life.

    I suppose I could mail you over some warm and bendy, some crumbly and messy, shortbread. Of course, it might mold in the process. Or turn into a monster of epic messy-bendy-warm-y-crumbly proportions. Besides, this shortbread is never very bendy, or very crumbly. So perhaps the pictures will have to do:)

  4. Years ago, the fabulous Martha had a huge shortbread segment in her magazine. It was beautiful with a basic shortbread cookie and PAGES of different add ins. I love to just look at it and dream of eating all the different flavors.

    Beautiful pictures! Your traveling adventures make me jealous.

    1. sarah, oh that fabulous Martha! This must be before I started following her, or before I developed an interest in shortbread. Because, sho nuff, it used to be my most hated of cookies. I blame all the Girl Scout Trefoils.

      The article you mention sounds lovely. I bet it would make for a great poster collage, were one to laminate the pages side by side and hang it for daily inspiration. Yum yum.

      I apologize for inspiring any jealousy. Know that I haven’t seen much of the American southwest; that on its own, inspires jealousy:)

  5. Wow, “…saltwatery tendrils of memory…”–good one! No comments yet about Bon Iver–perhaps he’s a midwestern fave?
    So, I must say: Bon Iver, incredibly inviting tide pools and shortbread…does life get any better than this?(you lucky girl!)
    His voice does invoke similar sensations in me: coldness, wind, frosty windows…I wonder why that happens?

    1. Mum: I do what I can to live it up out here, between the peering at the tidal pools and the eating of the shortbread!

      Bon Iver is for sure a Midwestern favorite, but he’s also a nationwide indie darling, definitely. Perhaps less commonly a baking, chocolate and travel blog-based darling?

      We both have such vivid memory associations with music. For example, we’re currently listening to Natalie Merchant ooze around vocally (p.s., how did I manage to slip this onto the tape deck, much less, how is it still playing twenty minutes later?); it of course makes me think of minivan rides with you and making fun of that darn German beer tavern-sounding song of hers. And speaking of the minivan, whenever I hear Belle and Sebastian’s The Boy with the Arab Strap, it takes me back to that campsite on the Pacific where you found that half shell (I think) and we discovered the dead mouse, stuck in the tire well. So vivid.

  6. Great Wass Island is going on my list of places to explore in Maine, for sure! The coast has such a vibrance that is absolutely unmatched anywhere inland; I have to get out there at least once a month to maintain my sanity. Said sanity would also be maintained by baking this delicious shortbread–it looks wonderful!

    P.S. Your Bon Iver is currently my Beyonce. Just thought I’d let you know.

    1. Brianne: I know what you mean about coast vs. inland. Honestly, I care about the ocean (or Lake Superior:) waaaaay more than I care about trees. Perhaps that’s wrong for me to say, but… yeah, okay, whatever.

      This is definitely good sanity-shortbread, although perhaps more of a cool-weather recipe. I guess it has been a bit cooler this week. Hah, Beyonce. Check up on that!

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