Down East 2013 ©
The following story is true.
True, that is, in somewhat the same sense that the things gubernatorial candidates say are true. A few insignificant details may have been slightly altered in order to protect the identities of the innocent subjects. (And to improve the joke.)
Nevertheless, this story mostly really happened and is a good deal more interesting than the things gubernatorial candidates say. Also, a good deal weirder.
One recent spring afternoon, I walked into my local watering hole to find this guy I’ll call Russell sitting at the bar and downing martinis like they were about to be outlawed. I was somewhat surprised, because Russell doesn’t usually hit happy hour during the middle of the work week, and when he does show up, he’s usually accompanied by his wife, who strictly limits his booze intake. On this occasion, she was nowhere to be seen.
In spite of his unrestrained alcohol intake, Russell didn’t look like he was having a good day.
When the bartender asked him if he wanted another drink – which he did – she also asked what was wrong. Since the rest of the patrons had nothing better to do with our time than wallow in someone else’s misery, we eavesdropped.
Russell took a long pull on his fresh martini and said:
“My wife threw out my snow collection.”
“Every year at the end of winter,” Russell continued, “I’d go out in the yard and gather up some snow, and put it in a plastic bag. Then, I freeze it. I had snow samples from the last twenty years.
“And now, it’s all gone. My wife said it was taking up too much room, so she poured it down the drain.”
The bartender made some vaguely sympathetic noises, while slowly edging away toward where I was sitting.
“Did you hear that?” she asked. “He collected snow.”
“I’ve known people who collected rain, but that was in cisterns,” I said. “And it wasn’t really a hobby. And I once met a kid who collected the cardboard rolls inside toilet paper. I think he did it just to annoy his parents. But this snow collecting seems a little stranger.”
Before anyone could ask Russell why he’d started saving snow in the first place, or what precipitated (ha!) his wife’s freezer-cleaning frenzy, he downed the last of his martini and stumbled out the door.
Which is too bad, because I might have been able to help him. While the temperatures that afternoon was hovering in the 70s, making it unlikely poor Russell would find any replacement snow in the immediate vicinity, I knew exactly where he could locate all he’d need to replenish his collection:
Baxter State Park .
According to park officials, there’s still heavy snow on many popular trails, delaying their opening to hikers, possibly until Memorial Day. Given such a bountiful supply, I’m sure no one would have begrudged Russell a few baggies full, particularly if they’d seen how sad he looked.
Russell wasn’t alone in mourning the loss of frozen stuff. He could have found a support group among fans of Red’s Dairy Freeze in South Portland , which was heavily damaged in a fire early on the morning of May 16.
The fire, caused by a malfunctioning fan, left the building mostly intact, but damaged the interior and destroyed equipment. The owners promised to re-open, but it won’t happen soon enough for Red’s legions of loyal fans.
Of whom I’m one. I grew up not far from the place and had my first cone there shortly after it opened in 1952. A trip to Red’s was one of the highlights of the summers of my formative years, at least until I discovered girls and beer.
I’ll be drowning my sorrow in the latter until Red’s returns.
After which I’ll have to think of another excuse.
On to happier events.
For the first time, a Mainer has finished in the top five in the Miss USA pageant , making the state eligible for an additional $43 million in federal stimulus money.
Katherine Ashley Whittier of New Gloucester was named fourth runner-up at the May 16 contest in Las Vegas. Whittier, a former professional basketball player, plans on a career in modeling. As a result of her victory, she was given a collection of antique snow samples in plastic baggies, a pass that lets her into Baxter State Park early, and a gift certificate good for a quart of Red’s latest flavor, Baked Miss Alaska.
More good news: Earlier this year, I posted some comments about the worldwide shortage of Angostura bitters , an essential ingredients in my favorite cocktail, the Manhattan. At that time my friend (and Down East contributing editor) Wayne Curtis  suggested I substitute the blueberry bitters from Sweetgrass Farm Winery and Distillery in Union .
Unfortunately, Sweetgrass was sold out for the season, so I got through the winter by rationing my Angostura supply and occasionally substituting Old Fashion Aromatic Bitters from Fee Brothers , which actually results in an excellent drink, slightly sweeter than Manhattans made with Angostura, with hints of cinnamon and spices. I also experimented with rye Manhattans, spurred on by Portland bartender extraordinaire John Myers , who suggested supplementing the Angostura with a half dash of Peychaud’s bitters .
But I hadn’t forgotten about that stuff from Sweetgrass, and with the arrival of spring and the melting of Russell’s snow collection, I again contacted them. This time they had not only the blueberry in stock, but a cranberry version, too.
I bought them both, operating under the assumption that a collection of bitters is less likely to be poured down the drain than a collection of snow, particularly if your spouse also likes Manhattans.
I can now report that the Sweetgrass blueberry makes a superb cocktail (combine three parts bourbon, one part sweet vermouth, one hearty dash of bitters in a shaker with ice, shake and strain into a cocktail glass, garnishing with a cherry), drier than the Fee, more complex than the Angostura. The cranberry bitters does wonderful things to the rye version (same recipe, except substitute rye for bourbon and cranberry for blueberry, but you probably could have figured that out for yourself).
Having done a considerable amount of experimentation to arrive at these important conclusions, I find that I can no longer work up much sympathy for Russell and his much-mourned snow collection.
After all, the guy is a martini drinker.
Al Diamon accepts e-mails at email@example.com  no matter what your cocktail of choice is.