While it would be wrong to say that signs of spring are everywhere—daffodils, tulips, and crocuses haven’t even begun to show their beautiful faces—we do have faint glimmers that warmer days have arrived. One of the most exciting signs is that our driveway is nearly ice free. This sounds trivial, I know, but it means that we can walk to our car without wondering each time if we are going to take a flip in the driveway and wind up with something horribly broken that will put us out of commission for weeks and weeks. Yes, those icy driveways add a certain touch of excitement, but it’s the kind we are happy to see leave our lives for another year. The older you get, the more you fear falling. We are not yet at the stage where we worry about broken hips, but broken ankles and wrists are no treats, either.
On Monday, when I walked with the dog, I saw further signs that spring is on its way. The swampy little pond up the road has water as well as ice. I’ll be keeping track of when the ice is completely gone, and I’m anxiously waiting for the peepers. The snow banks have pulled back from the road far enough to please the dog, who loves to sniff, scratch, and do other doggy things on the newly emerged shoulder. (Note: I always keep a plastic bag in my pocket in case clean-ups are necessary.)
But the best thing for me is that I was able to walk without wearing a hat, and I was perfectly comfortable. I hate wearing hats—how glad I was that I didn’t need to be treated with chemo when I had breast cancer last fall—and going hat free is pure pleasure after the long months of “hat confinement.”
Then there are the bird songs, triumphant after a mostly quiet winter. Chickadees lead the chorus, but I’ve also begun hearing tufted titmice, those neat little gray and white birds with the black-drop eyes and the jaunty crests. To me, their calls sound like “phee, phee, phee.” I’ll be hearing more birds as spring progresses.
The coming of spring also means the coming of town budgets, and this unfortunately is not such a happy thing. The country, the state, the towns are all grappling with horrible shortfalls, in Winthrop’s case over a million dollars. How to make up for this lack of money? As the federal government and the state clamp down, the towns feel the full brunt. I can’t speak for other Maine towns, but it seems to me that Winthrop is a no-frills community that still manages to provide decent services—among other things, a relatively good school system, a fire station, police protection, and a wonderful little library that is becoming a cultural hub.
My husband Clif and I went to what will be the beginning of many meetings where the town council decides how in the world it will make do with a million dollars less in its budget. Over and over I wonder how it is that we can be one of the richest countries in the world, and yet little towns have to twist themselves in knots worrying about how they are going to pay the bills. It’s not right that big companies should make such huge profits and yet pay so little. (In some cases, not at all. See US Uncut for more about this.)
While Clif and I are library advocates, we also care about schools and other town matters. We want the town to flourish. We want the younger generation to get a good education. We are concerned about the town and its effect on the environment.
At the meeting, the people with the most intensity spoke the longest and loudest and often repeated themselves, if not endlessly, then frequently. Hats off to the town council for listening so patiently.
After the meeting, it was home for a quick supper of curried chickpeas. Before going to the meeting, I had prepared the mushrooms, garlic, and red pepper. The chickpeas were cooked. All I needed to do was cook the rice, sauté the peppers and garlic, then make the curried yogurt sauce.
As we ate, Clif and I discussed the meeting. We’ll be going to more as the season progresses. We’ll probably be writing letters. In the meantime, there will be ever more signs of spring to cheer us up.
Chickpeas in Curried Yogurt Sauce (Serves 4 or 6, depending on appetites)
This is the kind of recipe where you can use whatever odds and ends you might have in the refrigerator. It is also the kind of recipe my daughter Shannon hates. Except for the sauce, there are few measurements, only guidelines.
Here, more or less, is what I used.
20 oz of mushrooms, sliced
1 half of a red pepper, chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped fine
2 cups of cooked, drained chickpeas, more or less according to taste
Peanuts (I have no clue how many we used. We just threw them in until it seemed right.)
Olive oil for sautéing
For the sauce
1 cup of milk, plus a little more for thinning
1 cup of plain yogurt
4 tablespoons of butter
4 tablespoons of flour
1 ½ teaspoons of curry powder. (Or more according to taste.)Salt and pepper to taste. (This could include red pepper flakes to jazz up the sauce.)
2 cups or so of cooked rice. If you are using white rice, this should be started before the sautéing of the vegetables. If you are using brown rice, start at least 45 minutes ahead of time.
In a large frying pan, sauté the mushrooms in olive oil. I had to do this in two batches. Place in bowl and set aside. In same pan, add more oil and sauté the red pepper until it starts to get soft, but not too soft. Add the garlic and sauté for probably half a minute. Don’t let the garlic burn. Place the red peppers and garlic in a bowl. Have ready the chickpeas and the peanuts.
In a large skillet, melt the butter, add the flour, and stir and sizzle until it’s golden brown. Add the milk all at once, stirring vigorously so that the milk and flour are smooth, and the mixture is bubbling. Turn off the heat and add the yogurt, curry powder, salt and pepper. If the sauce seems too thick, add a little milk until you get a consistency that you like. Turn the heat on very low and add the chickpeas, mushrooms, garlic and red peppers, and peanuts. Heat through, taking care not to bring the mixture to a full boil and thus curdle the yogurt.
Spoon mixture over rice served in individual plates. Or bowls.
Another alternative would be to put the rice in a casserole dish, spoon the curried mixture on top, add some bread crumbs, maybe, and heat through in 350° degree oven.
This is a very flexible dish. Broccoli, onions, celery, and carrots, to name a few, could also be used.