All posts by Laurie Graves

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

The Overlooked, the Unnoticed, the Underappreciated

Last night was a cold one. When I got up this morning, the house was a chilly 55°F, and outside it was even chillier—dead calm and two below zero.

It was cold enough for a frosty garden on the storm window in my bedroom.

But by the time I went outside to take more pictures—around 10:00 a.m.—the temperature had risen to 18°F.  Not balmy, to be sure, but  warm enough to take pictures without wearing gloves.

As many readers know, we live in the woods, and in the winter little cones, twigs, leaves, and branches are blown into the snow. Easy to pass by without seeing their modest beauty.

While I love scenic photography as much as the next person, I have always been interested in nature’s small vignettes—the overlooked, the unnoticed, the underappreciated.

Imagine my delight, then, when thanks to John Poole’s piece on NPR, I came across the photographer Janelle Lynch.

At first glance, you might see a jumble of weeds, a thicket of twigs, a heap of dying leaves. You might be inclined to stop looking at this point.

Janelle Lynch invites you to look closer, and slower. She’d want you to see each image as a world in itself — not an accidental grouping of plant matter, but a well-ordered composition created by nature and fixed in time and space by her 8-by-10-inch large-format camera.

Her implicit message is that one needs only to be still, take your time and pay close attention to find the beauty that surrounds you. But, like meditation, this seemingly simple act is often more difficult than it appears.

How I was drawn by Lynch’s exquisite photos, and how I would love to have a bigger camera, which would allow me to take better pictures.

But I have the camera I have, and despite its small size, my wee camera does a pretty good job of capturing nature’s tiny delights. Therefore, out I will go in weather cold, mild, and hot, looking for the overlooked and making do with what I have. After all, that is the Maine way.

I will, of course, also take pictures that are broader in scope, to give readers a sense of what central Maine is like. But Lynch has inspired me to continue following my inclination for the small.

 

 

 

 

 

A Weekend of Trivia, Chocolate Pretzels, Music, and Friends

What an action-packed weekend we had! It started on Friday morning when Clif dipped pretzels in Ghiradelli chocolate to bring as a treat to trivia night at Van der Brew.

Now what could be better than beer, popcorn, and chocolate-covered pretzels?

I’ll tell you what. During the trivia game, I actually answered a sports question correctly. As I’ve mentioned before, sports is not my thing, and I always dread those questions because I never, never know the answers. Except this time I did. The question was this: Which baseball team won the World Series in 2016 after not having won since 1908? Readers, I almost fell out of my chair. Thanks to Chicagoan Scott Simon, the most excellent host of NPR’s Weekend Edition, I knew it was the Chicago Cubs. (I can still recall how excited Scott Simon was in 2016 when the Cubs won.) Holy cats, I was thrilled that I remembered this. The rest of the night had its ups and downs, but through it all I basked in the glow of my knowledge of the winner of the 2016 World Series.

For someone who lives in the hinterlands, the excitement of Friday night would have been more than enough for one weekend. But, readers, there was more. Much more. On Saturday I went with friends to Mount Vernon (population 1,640) to listen to the Sandy River Ramblers, a blue grass band. All the players and singers were good, but my oh my that mandolin player—Dan Simons—was outstanding. His fingers flew so fast on the strings that I thought my heart was going to break. Here’s a picture of Dan Simons playing the mandolin. Unfortunately, the light was not good, and I wasn’t sitting near the stage.

Then it was Sunday. Friends invited us over for for a late afternoon dinner. Other friends were also invited. We drank wine, we had delicious macaroni and cheese, and one of the best homemade cob salads I have ever eaten. I made my not-so-famous apple crisp. Kittens romped around us as we talked about music, books, and politics. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures.

But what a way to end a terrific weekend.

 

 

Catching Snow As It Falls

Yesterday was a lovely snowy day. Unlike freezing rain or sleet, this is exactly the sort of weather Maine should get in February. Before eating a breakfast of oatmeal and dried cranberries, I grabbed my wee camera and tried to get some pictures of the falling snow.  While easy for the human eye to see, snowflakes are not easy for my camera to catch. (When I was a child, I remember tipping my head back, opening my mouth to the sky and letting the snow sprinkle my tongue.)

Can you spot the snow as it falls against Sparky, our red Honda Fit?

The snow is easier to see here, against the brown of the tree trunks and the red of our little shed and wheelbarrow. With all the red we have around our place, including on our house, you might think red is my favorite color. But it isn’t. Instead, blue is. Go figure.

Here again, the falling snow is visible against the tree trunks in the woods in our backyard.

I couldn’t resist taking a picture of our clothesline, which hasn’t had anything hanging on it since fall. Well, it has something now.

Early afternoon, it stopped snowing, and Clif went out with Little Green to clean the driveway and the walkway.

And what did we have for “suppah,” as we Mainers call it? A vegan beefy stew with Quorn Meatless Grounds and umami-ed with veggie Better Than Bouillon and nutritional yeast. Clif and I might be vegetarians, but we still like that rich gravy taste, and this soup gives us just what we want. I also made biscuits with oat milk to go with the soup.

My Yankee husband’s response? Pretty darned good. And the best thing about this soup is that as the flavors mingle, it’s even better on the second and third day.

No freezing rain. Soup and biscuits for supper. Who could ask for anything more?

 

 

 

Scrummy Afters: Chocolate Front and Center

It is time for another confession: My childhood love of candy has stayed with me as an adult and has even followed me into my senior years. At times, I feel a little foolish to have such a yen for candy, especially chocolate.

I wish I could say that this yearning for candy extended only to high-end chocolate, but that would be a lie. Oh, no. I also enjoy Rolos and Butterfingers, and…well, you get the point. However, I think it would be fair to say that when I can get really good chocolate, I am especially happy, and all thoughts of everyday candy are gone from my mind.

You can imagine my delight—bliss might be a more appropriate word—when seven years ago, a candy shop, Scrummy Afters, came to Hallowell, a city about ten miles from where we live. Hallowell is within the loop of where we occasionally drive, and we stop in from time to time to indulge my passion for high-quality chocolate.

Scrummy Afters has all sorts novelty candy, including many delights from my youth, but what really draws me in is the chocolate they make themselves, which over the years has expanded from a few items to a large selection of delights, including but not limited to turtles, caramels, and toffees.

Our friends Alice and Joel, who are well aware of my candy obsession, very generously gave us a gift certificate to Scrummy Afters for Christmas. Therefore, with a happy heart, I went to this most excellent candy shop about a week ago. Clif, who likes candy well enough but is not as obsessed as I am, came with me and helped select some delicacies to bring home. I could have one of those beauties right now.

Because it was quiet when we went in, I had a chance to talk with one of the owners, Hilary Vallani. (The other owner is her mother, Kim.) Hilary told me that when the store first opened, she had experience in retail but no experience in chocolate making. In school, Hilary studied art—fashion design with a concentration in costume. This focus on art and design is evident throughout the beautifully decorated shop.

A few years in, Hilary took a class and learned about the chemistry, science, and precision of making fine chocolate. Now it is time to go out on a limb: I can without hesitation write that Hilary has mastered the art of chocolate making. I will even go one step further and state that of all the Maine chocolate we have tasted, Hilary’s is the best. Period.

As Clif put it, “The fillings are good, and so are the the shapes. But ultimately,  it’s chocolate front and center.” Here is my take: Scrummy’s chocolate has a fresh, smooth, clean taste. It is creamy and chewy, just the way I like chocolate to be. No matter how good the fillings are, I am not a fan of chocolates with hard, almost tasteless, shells. I like deep, rich chocolate that melts easily in the mouth.

Recently, Scrummy Afters has branched out into making funky chocolate that might even be called edible art.

In addition to making the finest chocolates around, Hilary wants Scrummy Afters to be more than a candy shop. They have sponsored community events, including a Harry Potter scavenger hunt, which I know has become a big hit for the young and the young at heart.

Lucky, lucky us to have a shop with chocolate of this quality. We will be returning soon, very soon.

 

Ice Storm Follow-Up: All Is Well

All the finger crossing must have worked because we did not lose our power. Oh, happy, happy day! However, in southern coastal Maine, where the storms always seem to hit hardest, around 20,000 people lost their power. As much as I love the ocean, I am beginning to think that in this time of climate change, it is best to live a little inland.

Anyway, here was the peaceful scene in our yard this morning when I got up.

Monsieur Crapaud was smiling his enigmatic smile. I bet he, too, is glad the storm wasn’t any worse. You can see that he is edged with a bit of ice, but he does not seem to be any worse for wear.

Finally, our wonderful neighbor across the street cleared the snow away from the front of our mailbox before embarking on his own driveway. He knows the limits of Little Green, our corded electric snow thrower. So nice, so nice!