When we got to the Eastern Prom yesterday morning before 10, the whole place was buzzing. The entire street that runs along the promenade was blocked off, and men in reflective yellow vests directed cars to park on side streets. On the great lawn that slopes steeply down to the beaches and commands a view of the harbor, bay, and islands, a stage and band shell had been erected with music stands arranged in a fan shape for the Portland Symphony. A gigantic blow-up lobster bobbed in the breeze.
Trash drums lined with blue Portland city trash bags had been placed all around the parking lots, when usually you have to look hard to find even one. Flags and banners flew. The lawn was green and lush and almost empty still, but in a few hours, we’d probably have to fight for a spot on the lawn to watch the fireworks. Down below, along the footpath, a temporary fence was being put up next to the train tracks, evidently so children and drunks couldn’t stumble in front of the little Polar Express train that glides along the bay and back, whistle blowing, smoke puffing, tourists waving from bench seats facing the bay.
After our walk, we went shopping for picnic provisions. We lugged our bags into the kitchen when we got home. I put things away while Brendan sat down and got back to work. He is editing my just-finished book, so I left him to it and started cooking.
The night before, we had made Downeast Duck, the dish we’d envisioned on our walk last week: duck breasts pan-fried until the fat renders, cubed Yukon Gold potatoes cooked in the duck fat till they’re crisp, julienned zucchini poached in butter and chicken broth, and a salad of blanched snap peas in a thyme vinaigrette. I had made a good glaze for the duck: rhubarb, cherries, maple syrup, cognac, thyme, ginger, and red wine, boiled well and pureed in the blender.
There was plenty of glaze left over. To about one third of it, I added equal parts horseradish and ketchup to make an unexpectedly fruity but oddly sublime dipping sauce for large wild-caught shrimp, simmered for 5 minutes with lemon juice, garlic, Old Bay, and a dash of cayenne, then well chilled.
To go alongside the spicy drumsticks, baked in the oven, I made a potato salad with half small yellow, half small red potatoes, boiled till soft, doused in apple cider vinegar, and chilled. To them I added chopped hard-boiled eggs, chopped wrinkled black olives, plenty of capers, the rest of the marinated chopped snap peas from the night before, chopped celery, and an anchovy-mayonnaise dressing. It was crunchy, rich, salty, and savory.
I roasted two bunches of asparagus in salt and peanut oil a hot oven and made a very simple dipping sauce for them, a lemon-garlic-paprika mayonnaise.
By then, Brendan had edited the first chapter. As a reward for both of us, I opened a bottle of cold rosé and poured us each a glass. He went on to Chapter Two; I made dessert. I chopped the rest of the rhubarb and cherries and stewed them in orange and lime juice and a bit of cognac until they were soft and the alcohol had long ago cooked off. I added the rest of the glaze to give the compote some silkiness and a whiff of thyme and ginger. I let it sit on the stove so it would be warm when it was time to eat it with a little maple yogurt on top.
The sky darkened suddenly, as if a gigantic dirigible the size of the peninsula had just parked overhead. Standing up at the counter in the now-dim kitchen, we sampled the shrimp cocktail while I poured us each a second glass of wine, and we got back to it. Brendan finished editing my second chapter just as I finished cleaning the kitchen and packing everything into containers for our picnic.
Then the storm hit. Rain heaved itself out of the sky. Lightning and thunder cracked and boomed and popped, as bright and loud as any fireworks. We went into the twin living rooms and looked out the big front windows at the empty, flashing street, its gutters gushing with rivulets. Treetops bounced and tossed.
We ate our 4th of July picnic on the enormous, poufy, extra-comfy gold couch we inherited from our friend Madeleine and dubbed the QE2. Such a dramatic storm naturally called for a second bottle of wine, so we opened another one, put our feet on the bamboo coffee table I bought on ebay 5 years ago, and set our plates on our laps. We licked chicken grease off our fingers and watched “Friday Night Lights,” which seemed like a nicely patriotic activity. We toasted our country, and New England as well for good measure, and the fact that we live in such a good place.