Brendan turned 30 on Wednesday. In the late morning, we loaded Dingo into the car and drove to Crescent Beach on the coast of Maine. I had made reservations about a month earlier at a luxury spa-resort that takes dogs. We were in luck that day – it was eighty degrees and sunny. On the hour-plus drive from the White Mountains down to the ocean, we had the eerie feeling that we were in West Texas. The trees were bare, the landscape scrubby, the sky a deep, hot blue.
We arrived at the hotel just two minutes before Brendan’s scheduled “hot stone massage” – one of my presents to him (the others were a banjo and the promise to stop biting the shit out of my cuticles and fingernails for one year) – so he rushed off to “the sanctuary.”
I checked us in and unloaded Dingo’s bed and our backpacks and carried them up to our “spa suite,” an airy, comfortable loftlike affair with enormous windows and a small veranda overlooking the grounds and ocean. The décor was 1990s WASP drab – beige walls, wicker chairs, and a kitchenette with granite countertop. After I’d ordered a bottle of Prosecco and some fruit and cheese from room service, I took Dingo down to the wide, clean beach to reconnoiter and make use of some of the poop bags the hotel had thoughtfully provided for him — along with a doggy beach towel, L.L. Bean blanket, bowls, and a large “turndown treat.”
Brendan came back from his massage laughing. “She put hot pebbles between my toes,” he said. “I felt like a driftwood sculpture.” We sat on our balcony and ate and drank and watched some of the other guests stroll around, sniffing and chatting, peeing on things and making amiable jokes: a genteel New England lesbian couple with their golden retriever, and a cozy sixsome: two white-haired men in polo shirts and khaki shorts, two Spandex workout-pants-wearing women, a yellow Lab, and a King Charles spaniel. We felt as if we were simultaneously in a Fellini film and an Agatha Christie novel in which the murder victim was a purebred dog.
When that bottle was gone, we wanted another one, so we wandered down to the big porch, where we lounged on a wicker sofa while Dingo flirted bravely with the lesbian couple’s leggy redheaded golden. He retreated, as usual, to lie behind me, cowering, when things became too hot for him to handle.
“What kind of dog is he?” one of the lesbians asked.
“A sato?” I said. “A Brooklyn Brown?”
“He’s a mutt,” said Brendan definitively.
“He’s so handsome,” she said.
The Inn by the Sea has a doggy menu, which was the topic of much hilarity among the two of us in the days leading up to our trip. However, my irony vanished when the waiter handed us an actual menu.
“He’ll have the Bird Dog!” I said.
“Not the Meat Roaff?” Brendan asked with mock astonishment.
“The Bird Dog is pretty much what I cook for him at home!” I said. “Chicken and vegetables, but with rice instead of oats.”
Brendan gave me a look of amused affection.
The sun went down; it got chilly. We repaired to the lobby to join several other couples and their dogs, all of whom lay docilely under the tables.
We ordered more Prosecco and looked at the human menu. Since we were splurging, I ordered the lobster, which came with a melting, buttery risotto and vegetables. Brendan requested the filet mignon with lobster, which wasn’t on the menu, but which they agreed to do for him since he was the birthday boy. The food arrived and was fantastic. While we devoured it, Dingo, former street dog that he is, did not nap or loll or mind his own business like the exemplary, well-bred animals all around him. He lay at my feet as directed, but he was on red alert, his eyes trained like gun sights on my mouth as I put food into it, food he hotly wished to be eating himself. He was perfectly polite about it, but raw yearning pulsed in his skull like an idling outboard motor.
Breaking one of the cardinal rules of dog mastery (which I don’t generally do, but this was a special occasion), I slipped him, one by one, two carrot discs and the two lobstertail fans. These he crunched so loudly and happily, the woman at the next table looked over to see what was making that noise. I noticed that her pug was angelically asleep, its buglike head nestled between her feet.
Brendan went to LA last weekend to attend his best friend Richard’s 30th birthday party. He brought Richard a Maine lobster kit: claw crackers, bibs, butter dishes, forks, picks, and sea salt, as well as a few lobster souvenirs from the Portland airport. His real present, however, arrived a couple of days later: two live lobsters sent overnight from a small town in coastal Maine.
During our cocktail hour on our veranda, Richard called, ostensibly to say happy birthday and to consult about the proper way to cook the lobsters, but mostly, I suspected, to tease Brendan about his birthday trip to the “doggy-inn resort,” as Richard called it.
“Dude, it’s great here,” said Brendan. “Just slit the lobsters in half. Be sure to start at the head and stab them right behind the eyes. It’s the most humane way to kill them. Then grill them.”
There was a silence, I assumed because Richard was balking at this idea. I didn’t blame him. Stabbing lobsters in the head is medieval.
“So make lobster Thermidor,” Brendan said. “That way, they’re already dead when you cut them in half.”
In the end, Richard did neither of these things; he made lobster rolls. But we plan to make lobster Thermidor, a dish that would not be out of place in either an Agatha Christie novel or a Fellini film:
Cut two cooked lobsters in half, lengthwise. Cut their meat into bite-sized pieces. Clean and reserve their body shells. In a medium saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add 2 minced shallots and soften, then add 1/2 cup of dry white wine. Reduce by half and add 2/3 cup of heavy cream and ½ cup fish stock; reduce till it starts to thicken. Stir in 2 tablespoons parsley, 2 teaspoons fresh tarragon, a spritz of lemon juice, and ½ teaspoon dry mustard. Stir in ½ cup shredded Gruyere. Add the lobster meat, then divide between the two shells. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup shredded Gruyere and broil until bubbling and golden brown. Serve with wedges of lemon.