A Tra-La-La Kind of Day

Last night I went to bed feeling kind of glum. My joints ached, the day had been flat and unproductive, and I was tired, tired of winter. I vowed to start the next day with a better attitude, to lean into the many tasks I had planned, and to take pleasure in them.

When I woke up, I kept my promise to myself. Full of morning bustle, I made oatmeal, cranberry, and roasted walnut muffins—some for Clif and me and some to give to Pearl and George.

I delivered the muffins late morning. The sky was blue, and it was nearly thirty degrees, with no wind. I had brought my little camera with me, and what should I see at Pearl’s house, but turkeys by her bird  feeder. Had I learned my lesson from a couple days ago? I had not. I took pictures of the turkeys, but as I moved a little closer, these turkeys flew away, the way wild birds normally do.

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On my way home, I stopped by Maranacook Lake, wanting to take pictures of the ice village that springs up every winter—fishing shacks that don’t come in until the spring thaw makes the ice unsafe. As I took pictures, the sun warmed my face, and I needed neither hat nor gloves to keep me warm.

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Revitalized, I did more errands, stopping to take pictures of the ducks on Annabessacook Lake.  By the time I came home, all glum thoughts had been cast aside, and it felt like a tra-la-la kind of day.

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I even started thinking that soon I would be able to hang laundry outside.

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Well, all right. Maybe not in the next few days. But in a month or so, if the mud isn’t too bad in the backyard. I can start by hanging blankets and comforters on the line.

When that day comes, you’ll liable to find me rising like Mary Poppins over the rooftops of Winthrop.

Turkey Trot Trot Trot Or How I Escaped from Wild Turkeys

Waiting
Waiting

Yesterday, on our daily walk, the dog and I turned right rather than left at the end of the driveway, and we headed up the road away from the Narrows. While I never get tired of the beauty of the Narrows, I like to vary our walks. The dog likes it, too—different smells on different walks.

Partway up the long hill that gives me so much trouble on my bike, I looked down a lane that led away from the road, and I saw turkeys. Lots of them. I had my trusty little Cannon tucked in my pocket. Could I get a picture of them before they took fright and hurried away? I decided I would try.

Taking pictures while trying to manage a dog on a leash is always a challenge, especially in the winter when gloves are also an issue, but I have pretty much mastered the process. I throw the gloves on the ground, lock the leash so that it is very short, and put the leash cartridge between my knees.

I took several pictures of the flock, which just stood there and didn’t run at all. This should have given me a clue about their lack of fear, but instead, I thought, “Can I get a little closer for a better shot?”

The flock decides
The flock decides

The dog and I inched down the lane. I took a few pictures, and then the turkeys did indeed begin to move. But rather than hurry away from us, they came toward us. They moved with purpose and assurance and didn’t show any signs of slowing down.

“Oh, no!” I thought. “Those turkeys are going to take me down.” With my creaky knees, I knew there was no chance I could outrun them. Like a deer in the headlights, I watched in awful fascination as the turkeys came closer and closer. I could just see the headlines, “Winthrop Woman felled by turkeys.”

But then something rather wonderful happened. Man’s best friend—or in this case woman’s best friend—came to the rescue. Liam growled at the approaching birds. There was just one growl, but that’s all it took. The turkeys stopped, briskly turned around, and headed the other way.

“Good boy,” I said, patting Liam’s back. He gave me look that indicated it was nothing at all, that he was just doing his job. I put my camera back in my pocket, gathered my gloves, and unlocked the leash. Liam and I continued on our walk, unthreatened by fowl or beast.

Now, I’m exaggerating the turkey threat for comic effect. I expect I would have survived a turkey assault, even though it wouldn’t have been much fun. However, it really did feel like Liam saved the day with his one growl. It made me realize, yet again, how crucial dogs have been to humans over the centuries—for herding, for protection, for keeping other animals away from the farmstead. Even now, when most dogs—at least in the U.S.—are considered pets, they can still unexpectedly show us how  important they are to our well being.

There is no doubt about it. Yesterday, Liam was dog of the day, and how good it felt to walk by his side.

Oh, noble canine
Oh, noble canine

Farewell to February, a Tough but Exquisite Month

IMG_7799I never thought I would write this, but I am actually looking forward to March. In Maine, March is a grim, dreary month that we all somehow get through, even though we often wonder how in the world we do. In March, at the beginning of the month, it still snows, but it’s usually wet and heavy and difficult to shovel. It is cold enough so that we must wear hats and gloves and boots. As the month progresses and the snow melts, it brings what every Mainer loves to hate—mud and lots of it.

But this year, February has been so hard—so snowy, cold, and confining—that March will seem like a relief. The days are getting longer—Daylight Saving Time begins on March 8—and I am hopeful that the temperature will rise to at least thirty degrees. Then, I’ll actually feel like going for walk, even if I still have to wear a hat, gloves, and boots.

A restlessness—commonly known as cabin fever—often comes with February, and it came to me in spades this year. I long to be outside, in my yard, in the woods, on my bike. Instead, I am in my house. Fortunately, I don’t have seasonal affective disorder, so I am not depressed. Just antsy. Getting together with friends helps a lot. So does tea and muffins and brunches, some of which had to be canceled because of the weather.

One thing I will say about February in Maine—it is a beautiful month. Yesterday the dog and I walked to the Narrows, where I took more pictures.

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Farewell, February, you tough but exquisite month. As the warmer weather comes, I’ll push you to the back of my mind, but you will not be forgotten. Every year begins with you and your sister January, another severe month that keeps us on our toes, confines us, and reminds us that weather really does matter.

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Grocery Cart Snooping in a Small Town

IMG_7772On Sundays, we usually call our daughter Dee, who lives in New York. Last Sunday was no different, and it just happened to be the day of the Academy Awards. Clif had decided notions about what he wanted to eat on this big night of movie awards, and let’s just say his choices weren’t exactly healthy—fries and breaded chicken and snack cakes. (All right. I’ll plead guilty when it comes to the snack cakes.)

“I’m sure glad I didn’t meet anyone I knew when I went grocery shopping this afternoon,” I told Dee that night. “Considering what was in my cart, it would have been pretty embarrassing.”

“People look into your cart?” Dee asked. “That’s nosy.”

“It is,” I agreed. “But I do the same thing, so I can’t throw any stones.”

Dee again expressed amazement. Now, you’d think this country girl would know about grocery cart snooping in a small town, but she left Winthrop when she was eighteen, and the only grocery shopping she’s done has been in Manhattan and Brooklyn, where apparently people don’t scope out the groceries in other shoppers’ carts.

On Monday, the day after the Academy Awards, I went grocery shopping for real, and my point was proved. We were low on flour, so I hefted a twenty-five bag of flour into my grocery cart. A woman—someone I didn’t even know—did a double take when she saw the big bag of flour in my cart.

“That’s one big bag of flour,” she said.

“I make bread,” I replied.

“Well, good for you,” she said amiably and continued on her way.

In the produce section another woman, again a complete stranger, looked at the bag of flour and said, “Wow! That’s a lot of flour.”

I smiled sweetly. “I make bread.”

A little while latter, I stopped and chatted with my friend Mary Jane, but she didn’t say a word about the flour. She knows I make bread. No explanation was necessary.

In the pasta aisle, as I was reaching for a bag of egg noodles, I met the first woman who had commented on the flour. “What?” she asked. “You don’t make egg noodles?”

Grinning, I shook my head. “No, I don’t make egg noodles.”

Next Sunday when I call Dee, I will tell her about the various encounters I had on Monday. I will tell her I am not offended by the nosiness of small-town shoppers. On the contrary, it adds texture to life, giving a personal touch to that most mundane of experiences—grocery shopping.

Sometimes, even the cashiers get in on the act when they see something unfamiliar and potentially tasty among my groceries. I am always happy to talk about food, and I gladly tell them about the delicious item in question.

I view these comments as one of the benefits of living in a small town, where a trip to the grocery store almost always guarantees some kind of personal interaction. It makes me feel folded into the community. It makes me feel that I matter as an individual.

In a world where the human population is climbing toward nine billion, this is no small thing.

Around Winthrop on a Cold Day

Despite the extreme cold—with the wind chill factor, the temperature was well below zero all day long—yesterday was errand day.  I went to the library, in its temporary location, to both drop off books and to pick up some that I had ordered through interlibrary loan. I went to Paris Farmers Union to pick up some eggs—they get them from a local woman who keeps hens. Lots of them. What I especially like about the eggs is that the shells are different colors. I just love the variety, and I always save the blue eggs for last.

As is usually the case, I had my trusty little camera with me, and I stopped by “old” Bailey to see how the new addition was coming along. As it turns out, it’s coming along just fine. On time and within budget, as Dale Glidden, head of the steering committee, likes to say.

IMG_7762After that, it was a short drive to the public beach, where I hoped to get some pictures of all the ice-fishing shacks. Instead, this is what I got.

IMG_7767A wall of solid snow. Taller than I am. I could hardly see the lake or the shacks.

I couldn’t resist taking a picture of this sign. I think it’s safe to assume that no one is going to swim between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Or any other time as well.

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Finally, even though my feet were so cold that I could hardly feel them, I took a picture of this tree, with its bare branches against the bright blue sky. Such a beautiful sight, even in the extreme cold.

IMG_7769My last stop was Hannaford to pick up some groceries. I had a couple of very humorous encounters, the kind you only get in a small town.

But that’s a story for another day.

Keeping My New Year’s Resolution

IMG_7760We are just two months into 2015, and I’ve accomplished something I’ve never done before—I am half-way through my New Year’s resolution. Normally, my resolutions start out with a bang, and I make a strong showing in January. Then comes the cold of February, and my enthusiasm begins to flag. By the end of the month, as I desperately long for spring, all those lofty goals I made on New Year’s Eve have fizzled.

But not this year, and with any luck, in a few months, my New Year’s resolution will be fulfilled. Readers are no doubt wondering what my secret is, and being a generous soul, I will share it. The trick is to resolve to do something pleasant rather than something unpleasant. If I had discovered this simple trick years ago, I would have saved myself from a long string of broken resolutions and the resultant guilt.

Here is what I did for this year’s resolution. For our New Year’s Eve gathering, I asked family and friends to make lists of best books and movies read and watched in 2014.  This they did, and I resolved to pick one item—either a book or a movie—from each person’s list to read or watch.

I started with a book Clif recommended—Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede by Bradley Denton. Clif owns the book, which made it an easy one to get started with. I must admit that I never would have read this book if not for my New Year’s resolution. Clif has a weakness for Sci-Fi, the quirkier the better. Me, not so much. However, I absolutely loved this romp of a novel that is a wild blend of Philip K. Dick, Elmore Leonard, and Loony Tunes. At the same time, the central mother-and-son relationship is warm and difficult and moving. In short, it felt real.  And, yes, Buddy Holly was indeed alive and well on Ganymede.

I was off to a great start, and for my second book I chose one from my friend Alice’s list–-Shores of Knowledge by Joyce Appleby. This nonfiction book couldn’t be more different from Buddy Holly. In Shores of Knowledge, Joyce Appleby explores how the discovery of the new world not only brought ill-gotten gains to European countries but how it also expanded them intellectually. New cultures and new species shook a narrow world view that had been carefully cultivated by the Catholic church. In the Shores of Knowledge,  Appleby draws a line from Columbus to Darwin and in between she fills in with journalists and naturalists and what would come to be known as the scientific community.

Last weekend, I read a book  from my son-in-law Mike’s list—Train Dreams by Denis Johnson. This novella follows its main character, Robert Garnier, who comes of age in the early 1900s in Idaho. In the course of  116 pages, Garnier must cope with tragedy, loss, and the wilderness all twined with a touch of the supernatural. Trains, of course, figure heavily in the story. It’s a haunting tale that somehow manages to be both aloof and moving.

Three books down, one book and two movies to go. Earlier, I made light of this resolution, calling it pleasant, and certainly it is giving me pleasure to fulfill this resolution. But it is also doing something else—broadening my horizons and encouraging me to stretch beyond the books and movies I would normally read and watch.

Maybe, just maybe, even though this resolution is pleasant, it is also worthwhile.

 

 

 

North African Ragout

IMG_7713Thanks to Farmer Kev and his winter CSA program, I have lots and lots of summer squash and zucchini in packets piled so high there is barely room for anything else in the freezer.

Accordingly, I’ve been making batches of minestrone soup, which not only uses the zucchini and squash but also frozen beans, another item from the CSA.

Minestrone soup is good. We love it, but we also love some variety, and in the nick of time, Farmer Kev sent a recipe for an Italian ragout that used squash and zucchini, along with frozen peppers, yet again another item from the CSA. The recipe involved roasting the vegetables with garlic, blending them, adding tomatoes and spices, and cooking it some more until you have a tasty ragout to serve over rice, pasta, couscous, or whatever.

As much as I love Italian dishes—they are, in fact, a favorite—with this dish my mind somehow turned to North Africa—to cumin, cinnamon, and a little smoked paprika. Chickpeas would be added after the mixture was blended, and toasted almonds on top when the ragout was served over couscous.

So out of the freezer came the squash, zucchini, and peppers and into the roaster they went with garlic and onion.

IMG_7695When they had roasted for about forty-five minutes, I blended them with an immersion blender. However, I made two mistakes: I had not cut the squash, peppers, and zukes into chunks, and I did not let the mixture cool down enough. The result was a hot, splattery mess, where the vegetables more or less had to be mashed with the blender. Next time I make this dish—and there will be a next time—I will be sure to cut everything into chunks before roasting.

IMG_7699After the vegetables were blended, I added chickpeas, the spices, and tomatoes.

IMG_7707I put the cover on the roaster and let the mixture cook in the oven for another forty-five minutes. When the ragout was steaming hot, I served it over couscous and sprinkled toasted almonds on top. The results? “Pretty darned good,” my husband said as he went back for seconds.

Yes, indeed, and somehow the ragout managed to be smooth and spicy at the same time.

Now, I know that not everyone has a freezer full of vegetables, courtesy of Farmer Kev, but I have no doubt that this recipe could be made with fresh vegetables, cut in chunks and roasted longer, until very soft. In the heat of summer, when these vegetables abound, this dish could even be made in the Crock-Pot, starting first thing in the morning, then blending and adding as the day progressed.

Next time I make this dish, I will try the Crock-Pot method, just to see how it turns out. In the meantime, we have several meals of North African ragout, and after having used so many packets of frozen vegetables, there is even room in the freezer for a couple of Ziploc bags of ragout, to be taken out on cold but busy days.

North African Ragout
Adapted from a Farmer Kev Recipe

1lb of zucchini, cut in big chunks
2lbs of yellow summer squash, cut in big chunks
1lb of sweet peppers, cut in big chunks
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 medium onion, cut in big chunks
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large roasting pan, combine all the vegetables and sprinkle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast, uncovered for 45 minutes or so until the vegetables are very soft.

Remove the pan from the oven, turn the heat down to 350 degrees, and let the mixture cool. Using an immersion blender, blend vegetables to a consistency you like. (Leaving it a little chunky works just fine.)

In a medium mixing bowl combine:

1 28oz can of diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt (or more, to taste)
1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika
1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes (or more, if you like it really hot).
2 cups of cooked chickpeas

Pour over the blended vegetables, mix to combine, cover, and return the roaster to the oven. Bake for another 45 minutes and add more spicing, if so desired.

Serve over couscous or rice. Top with roasted almonds, and pretend you are somewhere warm where the air smells of spices.

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