All posts by Laurie Graves

I write about nature, food, the environment, home, family, community, and people.

Shadows in the Backyard

Yesterday was a glorious winter day—sunny, bright, and warm with a hint that spring might be on the way. Before making soup for our supper and doing a bit of decluttering down cellar, I headed outside to see what was going on in the backyard. The weather was so warm—at least to this Mainer—that no gloves were needed. Or wanted.

Immediately, I was struck by the shadows on the snow.

The broad sweep of blue grey, in the shade, at the far end of the yard,

the wisp of a tiny evergreen tip that had fallen into the snow,

the solid square of the bird feeder favored by the cardinals,

the hook for our hummingbird feeders, tucked down cellar until late spring,

the bulky outline of trees punctuated by the slim slats of the fence at the edge of the woods,

and finally me, with a wave of my hand, to blogging friends near and far.

 

Friday Favorites: Donuts, A New Yorker Piece, Tiny Desk

At the top of this week’s list of favorites is a bag of Mrs. Dunster’s Bakery Donuts we bought at our local supermarket. Once a week, I allow myself a treat day, and for me, a donut connoisseur from way back, there are few treats better than a donut. In all my long years of eating donuts, I have never had  commercial cake donuts better than the ones made by Mrs. Dunster’s.  I will even go one step further: Few local bakeries make better cake donuts than Mrs. Dunster’s does. They have the satisfying heft, tang, and taste of homemade donuts, that special je ne sais quo that is often missing even from locally made donuts.

But here comes the bad news. Mrs. Dunster’s Bakery is located in New Brunswick, Canada, and Maine is the only state in the nation where you can get these nuggets of deliciousness. Maine might be a small, poor, remote state, north of north in the lower 48, but dang we have a good source of commercial donuts readily available at our local supermarkets. Best of all, these donuts freeze beautifully. And a good thing, too, because as much as I love donuts, I am not about to eat a whole bag in one day. While these donuts might be fresh, they are not going to last a whole week in the bread drawer without going dry. So into the freezer they went, where they will wait for future treat days.

Now for a literary pleasure. In this week’s New Yorker, I came across Rivka Galchen’s excellent personal history essay “Better Than a Balloon,” in which she describes what it’s been like to have lived for ten years in a decidedly untrendy neighborhood in New York City, near Port Authority and Penn Station. As someone who has been to both these places many times, I can vouch for the truthfulness of Galchen’s descriptions of the sleaze and the shabbiness of the area. And yet this neighborhood—where people work, live, shop, and eat—is also full of vivid life, a community even, where much is made of Galchen’s young daughter when the two go out and about.

“Better than a Balloon” is New Yorker writing at its finest. Galchen expertly weaves in the personal with her observations of people and place. We get a sense of her and her daughter and this dirty but dear neighborhood that she has called home for a decade. It is a long piece, and I was sorry to come to the end. How often does that happen?

In the United States, February is Black History Month, and from the NPR website, I learned that “NPR Music’s Tiny Desk series will celebrate Black History Month by featuring four weeks of Tiny Desk (home) concerts and playlists by Black artists spanning different genres and generations each week.”

Here is the fabulous Meshell Ndegeocello—quiet, powerful, honest, poetic.

 

Favorites and small pleasures from other bloggers:

From Thistles and Kiwis, an adorable cat puzzle for Valentine’s Day.

From All Things Bright and Beautiful, visual Valentine’s Day treats in Singapore.

From Change is Hard, jaunty daffodils, which always brings a smile.

Spicy Bean Soup for a Cold Winter’s Night

In Maine, notorious for its long stretches of cool and sometimes downright cold weather, we can eat soup eight months out of the year. (If June is rainy and cool, the way it traditionally has been, then make that nine months.)

Fortunately, Clif and I love soup, and we make a big pot at least once a week, which lasts the two of us for several nights. We have many different recipes, which we make in rotation, and this means we have a variety of flavors to enjoy. We are never bored with soup.

Warm, nourishing, filling, frugal, there is so much to like about soup, not the least of which is that it can accommodate many different diet requirements and tastes—vegan, vegetarian, meat-lover, low-carb, low-cal, lower sodium. As an incredible bonus, soup is one of the few dishes that actually tastes better the next day. And the day after that.  Finally, soup is a forgiving medium, well suited for improvisation and seat-of-the-pants cooking. (Yes, that is my style.)

Last night, I made a spicy bean soup, good enough to serve to family and friends. I look forward to the days when we can gather around the table again, and talk about books, politics, movies, television, nature, gardening, and other interesting things. A crusty bread would go perfectly with this soup and so would a green salad with a homemade vinaigrette. For dessert, baked apples with a bit of vanilla ice cream.

Blogging friends, I wish you could join us. Friends who live nearby…after the pandemic! Clif and I are planning to host soup nights on a regular basis.

Here is the basic recipe, which includes kidney beans, peppers, and mushrooms. After that, you could add ground beef, ground chicken, veggie crumbles, Beyond Beef, meat sausage, or veggie sausage. After the broth, beans, and veggies simmered, we added a cup textured vegetable protein (TVP) and a cup of Israeli couscous, both of which gave the soup a satisfying bulk.

Spicy Bean Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons of oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 cups of broth
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 (28 oz) can of diced tomatoes, including liquid
  • 6 cups of cooked kidney beans—4 (15 oz) cans
  • 1 cup mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 cup sweet peppers, diced
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon of chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon of oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon of coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Soy sauce, to taste—I just splash a bit in
  • Add ins: cooked ground beef or chicken, TVP, pasta, rice, couscous, whatever you have on hand or strikes your fancy

Instructions

  1.  Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in large stockpot. Sauté onions for 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for a minute or so. Add broth, water, tomatoes, kidney beans, mushrooms, peppers, tomato paste, and spices, including soy sauce. (If using ground meat, add now.) Simmer for 40 minutes. Taste and add more spices, if so desired.
  2. Ten minutes before serving, add TVP, crumbles, couscous, or pasta. Simmer until done.

 

 

 

Friday Favorites: Fudge, A Tiny Desk Mug, and the Luminous Alicia Keys

An unexpected gift came in the mail yesterday—a box of fudge from Sweet Tooth Fudge. I have long been a fudge enthusiast, and Sweet Tooth Fudge, right here in Winthrop, makes some of the best. Ever. This treat was sent by Shane Malcolm Billings, the much beloved former Adult Services Librarian of our town’s library. On the enclosed card, Shane wrote that he was sorry to learn of Sherlock’s passing and hoped the treat would provide some comfort during a sad time.

How very thoughtful! I really miss our punk of a cat and was moved by Shane’s lovely gesture. Many, many thanks, Shane. And the fudge is utterly delicious.

As for music…I have another Tiny Desk Concert to share. Are you surprised? I am so keen about Tiny Desk Concerts that for Christmas Mike and Shannon got me my very own Tiny Desk Mug, which I regularly use for the many cups of tea I drink during the day.  This mug, sturdy and large, is now one of my favorites, and I use it all the time.

Anyway, this week’s Tiny Desk Concert features the luminous Alicia Keys, who combines an astonishing musicality with warmth and mindfulness. What a musician!

 

Here are some favorites from other blogging  friends:

Thistles and Kiwis, once again, showcases some delicious food she ate this week.

Ju-Lyn at All Things Bright and Beautiful celebrates Chinese New Year during this time of the pandemic: “In the spirit of togetherness, we will usher in the Lunar New Year in the best way we can.” Happy Chinese New Year to you and yours, Ju-Lyn!

Red Tent on Ice

On Saturday, Clif and I took a walk to the Narrows Ponds to see if there was any activity on the frozen water. At 40°F, the weather was reasonably warm—for February—but as we would soon find out, a brisk wind made it feel much colder. Never mind. Clif and I are Mainers, and if we can’t stand a little nippy weather, then we don’t deserve our north-of-north status.

The Narrows Pond Road has some snow, but not as much as it often does this time of year. In February, the banks are usually much higher.

The closer we got to the Narrows, the harder the wind blew. Did I bring the half-fingered gloves so that I could more comfortably take pictures? I did not. Lulled by the balmy temperature on our house’s thermometer, I left the half-fingered gloves at home and wore regular ones. This, of course, meant I had to take off my gloves whenever I snapped a picture. As the old saying goes, we grow too soon old and too late wise.

On the Lower Narrows, there was only one ice fishing shelter—it can hardly be called a shack—and I have never seen anything like it. A smart-looking tent, the shelter gave the impression that the family had set up house on the ice and was going to stay there for rest of the weekend.

A quick look on the Internet was all it took to let me know that ice fishing tents are readily available at a range of prices. I’m not exactly sure why I’ve never noticed one before. Maybe it’s because I don’t walk on the ice anymore and therefore don’t see the variety of shelters?

Anyway, after having seen this snappy shelter on our walk, I’ll be on the lookout for others.

Today, my blogging friend Judy, from New England Garden and Thread, wrote, “I always find it interesting that there are people and houses out on the ice when you can actually see open water…”

Judy, it happens in Maine, too, and here is a broader shot that includes the open water and the red tent shelter, which is no doubt far enough away for safety’s sake. But still.

Ducks, who have no reason to fear thin ice, cluster on the edge and observe the goings-on.

Across the causeway, on the Upper Narrows, there is little open water, only a sliver by the road and culvert.

Oddly enough, there are no ice fishing shacks on this side. Just a wide expanse of snow-covered ice with two shadows watching.

 

 

 

 

Friday Favorite: Little Miss

As many of you know, on Tuesday we had to have Sherlock, one of our cats, put down. Despite Sherlock’s, ahem, challenging ways, we loved him very much. I miss him terribly, and I get a lump in my throat whenever I think about him.

Fortunately, we still have a cat in our household, and this week’s Friday Favorites is dedicated to Sherlock’s litter mate, Ms. Watson, whom we call “Little Miss” because of her gentle nature. (The picture below was taken a couple of summers ago.)

To say that Little Miss’s personality is the polar opposite of Sherlock’s could not be more of an understatement. Gentle, shy, skittish, Little Miss usually runs and hides when friends come to visit. She is affectionate with us, but for over twelve years she was completely overshadowed by her domineering brother. Yet, we love her as dearly as we loved Sherlock, and Little Miss is a great comfort now that he is gone.

“Stay healthy!” I tell her. “Live for many more years.”

Little Miss makes no reply except to blink at me.

Before we took Sherlock to the vets to have him put down, I set him down on the kitchen floor, where he clearly wanted to be, in the middle of things, as always. Little Miss looked at Sherlock, went over to him, and gave him two gentle licks on top of his head. Then she moved away.

A farewell? An acknowledgement of the greatly diminished state Sherlock was in? Yes, I certainly think it was the latter and perhaps the former, too.

For the past few days, Little Miss has definitely been at loose ends, frequently coming into my office to see me, and meowing so that I will pat her, which I gladly do.

A blogging friend asked if we planned to get another cat to keep Little Miss company. I don’t think we will. In fact, I’m not sure if I want another cat when Little Miss goes. It seems that the older I grow, the softer I become, and it breaks my heart to have them put down. In our household, animals seldom, if ever, go in their sleep.

But we shall see. Because we feed the birds, our house is a mouse magnet, and having a cat definitely keeps their numbers down. Plus, a house feels more like a home with a cat or a dog around.

In the meantime, Little Miss brightens our day and makes us smile, reminding us how our fur buddies help to open our hearts and consider creatures other than ourselves.

And, as I noted in my previous post, that is a lesson beyond compare.

 

Here are some favorites and small pleasures from other blogging friends:

From Thistles and Kiwis, a recovering cat, food, and good movies.

All Things Bright and Beautiful features an oh-so-lovely Light to Night festival.

Sherlock, 2008-2021

Today, during a pandemic, during a snowstorm, we had to bring our cat Sherlock to the vets and have him put down. A day or two ago, he had what was most likely a stroke although we didn’t know it at the time.  We noted stiffness in Sherlock’s back leg and thought it might be arthritis. We had planned to mention it to the vet in a spring appointment.

However, by this morning Sherlock was dragging himself around by his front paws, unable to stand or walk. He wouldn’t eat or drink, and we could tell by looking into his eyes that the end could be measured in days rather than months or years. Because of the pandemic, we couldn’t be with Sherlock when he was euthanized, and that was hard. All we could do was watch as the assistant took him away.

We made the right choice, and we know this, but it was not an easy one. Our fur buddies mean a lot to us, and the decision to have one of them put down always fills me with grief, which, in a strange way, seems fitting. To expand love to a creature from another species strikes me as a very, very good thing, especially when you think of how often it is that we don’t even love members of our own species. The  more we can widen our circle of love, the better it is.

Sherlock was not what you would call an easy cat. From the moment I brought him and his litter mate Ms. Watson home, I knew Sherlock was going to be a challenge. That first day, he climbed my back ten times as I tried to work. Not exactly a laid-back cat, and this picture Clif took of Sherlock as a kitten shows his “cat-attitude.” But he sure was cute, wasn’t he?

Sherlock had the lamentable habit of biting the hand that patted him. He was also a bully, and Sherlock kept the meeker Ms. Watson in a constant state of agitation. And yet. As our daughter Shannon put it, Sherlock was a punk, but he could also be very sweet. Yes, he could.  Sherlock loved to lie on my lap on top of “his” special fleece blanket. (Without the blanket, it was no good, and unless the evening was stinking hot, I had the blanket on my lap for him.) Despite the biting, Sherlock was extremely social, and, as our other daughter Dee observed, he always liked to be part of the action and usually attended our Zoom meetings.

At any rate, we loved this punk, and we already miss him.

Here are some pictures of Sherlock from his younger, better days.

Farewell, orange cat!