All posts by Laurie Graves

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

My Birthday

The Kennebec River on a fine September day
The Kennebec River on a fine September day

Today is my birthday, and  with the sun shining and a bright blue sky, what a lovely day it is. I’ve had plenty of treats, but I’m going to slide in a few more as well as visit with my friend Esther. I hope to squeeze in a bike ride, too.

It doesn’t bother me at all to share my age—fifty-seven. After having had breast cancer four years ago, every birthday seems special and worth celebrating.

So off I go, to enjoy this bright day.

Later: A day of visiting. In the morning, it was with Debbie and Dennis, where we discussed library matters and, ahem, politics. Then it was home for lunch on the sunny patio. As I was eating, I saw a hummingbird by the edge of the woods. So they are not gone yet! (Seeing that little darting bird felt like a real gift.) Then it was with my friend Esther for several hours. She suggested that next time I visit we might go out to lunch at a place called the Green Bean Coffee Shop in South China, where on Fridays they make donuts. Yes, indeed.

All in all, a relaxing day that was different from normal routine. There was even a bit of cake.

The view from Esther's house
The view from Esther’s house


Fall, a Time of Subtraction

The ragged garden
The ragged garden

Today is cool and brisk and breezy. Too chilly, I fear, for lunch on the patio, but a very good day for hanging laundry. The hummingbirds seem to be gone for the season, and I am reminded, yet again, what a time of subtraction fall is as various birds head for warmer places For many birds, fall is the time for the great migration, and how far some of them travel. The birding community is agog with this seasonal occurrence, and dedicated birders find migration flyways where the birds group en masse as they go south. Casual birders like me note the comings and goings in our backyards and bid a sad farewell to the summer birds.

This time of year, the gardens are ragged—there is no other word for it. There is a burst of pink here, a sliver of red there, but nothing is really in bloom, and its lovely days are mere July and August memories. But the finches are still cheeping and the males are still bright yellow and the bees are still working what’s left of the bee balm. Grasshoppers jump from tattered leaf to tattered leaf, and the crickets’ songs are loud and sweet.

With its deep blue skies and sunny days, September in Maine is beautiful, and I am glad it is my birth month. I especially love the nutty smell of the various wild plants as they go to seed. The days are still long enough for bike rides when Clif comes home from work. I make sure that vegetables are chopped so that dinner goes together lickety-split when we return at 7:00 or 7:30. The night before, it was turnips and potatoes for patties, and there was fresh homemade bread and green beans to go with the patties. This afternoon, I’ll put chicken, potatoes, and carrots in the slow cooker, and a hot meal will be waiting for us after a cold ride.

This weekend, we are planning our annual Hallowell to Richmond ride, an event I always look forward to. We’ll probably go on Sunday, and I’ll bring my camera so that I can take pictures as we bike along the Kennebec River.

We are nearly half-way through this lovely month, and the next event I eagerly anticipate is the making of apple pies with crisp, fall apples. I’ve already found a couple of people who would like some pie—a whole pie is simply too much for Clif and me. Who knows? Maybe I’ll find some more people who would like pie, and I can make three or four of them.

I do like making apple pies.


Library Stories: Ballinrobe Library, Ireland

The church-library. Photo by Bill Burke.
The church-library. Photo by Bill Burke.

Over the past three years, as I have worked on the committee to build an addition to our town’s library, two things have occurred to me. The first and most obvious one is the importance of libraries, big and small. Maine is very lucky in that most towns, no matter how tiny, have a library. We are doubly lucky that Maine has a terrific interlibrary loan system so that the broader world of books, stories, and ideas is open to the entire library system, regardless of how small a particular library might be. Need I add that libraries are open to all, regardless of status and income? Not really, I know, but I always like to make that plug.

The second thing I have realized is that so many people have library stories, which usually revolve around the importance of libraries in their lives. Often times, the stories also feature some unusual aspect of a library, thus illustrating the ingenuity of towns and librarians and the people who support them.

For sometime now, I’ve been wanting to write a series of posts that feature library stories, and yesterday, on Facebook, I read a library story that made me think now was the time to begin this project.

Shari and Bill Burke, a couple I know, recently moved from Brunswick, Maine, to Ballinrobe, Ireland. Ballinrobe is in County Mayo in the west of Ireland, and it is a small town with a population circa 3,682.

Both Shari and Bill are avid readers, and it didn’t take them long to get a library card from their local library, which is in a converted church complete with a stained-glass window. This is Shari’s library story, which she generously agreed to share on my blog. Her husband Bill took the pictures, which he, in turn, generously agreed to share. In fact, you might say this whole story is one of generosity, which, along with decency, is too often underrated.

Shari wrote, “After lunch this afternoon we headed out with a backpack of books to return to the library and Bill’s jump drive with a document to print. We walked in the bright sunshine to the library, where Bill took a seat at a computer and I went to the desk to return the books. Mary, the librarian, commented on how beautiful the weather has been…. Somehow we ended up talking about a bunch of other stuff and she told me she’s lived in Ballinrobe for 35 years and working at the library for over 20. She said that it used to be located in a tiny thatched building on Cornmarket—I cannot imagine having a library in the building she means—it really is small. They moved into their current location about 17 years ago, all because of a library patron named Dorothy, who had a dog friend named Coco.

“Dorothy was ‘Church of Ireland’ and she was increasingly disturbed by the sorry state of the unused church. She was also a book lover and frequent visitor to the library. One day she approached Mary and asked if the county council might be able to use the old church building as a library. Mary said to talk to them about it. Dorothy did and in the end, Church of Ireland leased it to the Mayo County Council for 1 cent. It needed some restoration work, not least on the stained glass window, which was sent to Dublin piece by piece and cleaned at a cost of 70,000 pounds (this was just before the Euro, I guess).

The stained-glass window and Shari at the table. Photo by Bill Burke.
Shari working, and behind her is the beautiful stained-glass window. Photo by Bill Burke.

“Dorothy, the woman that set the move in motion, continued to use the library a lot. She always came in with Coco and Coco was the only dog allowed in the library. Once, when Mary was away on holiday, her sub told Dorothy that the dog was not allowed in the library and Coco had to be tied up outside. Dorothy was not happy and I’m guessing that Coco wasn’t, either! When Mary returned, she said, ‘Don’t ever do that again! Do you know whose dog that is?’ Coco was never banished again!

“When it became difficult for Dorothy to get into town, Mary would pick her up on her lunch hour and bring Dorothy to town to do her shopping and pick up her library books. When Dorothy was unable to get to the library, Mary brought her books to her. Dorothy was found passed away in her bed with an open library book in her hand and Coco at the end of her bed. Coco died two days later.”

There’s really nothing I can add to this lovely story, so I won’t. Again, many thanks, Shari, for agreeing to share your piece, and Bill, for the pictures.

Inside Ballinrobe Library. Photo by Bill Burke.
Inside Ballinrobe Library. Photo by Bill Burke.




Happy Birthday to Us!

IMG_6534As I wrote in the previous post, Clif and I were on vacation last week. Our daughter Dee, who is from New York, spent the week with us, and we had a lovely time of movies, art museums, galleries, staying on the patio until late at night, and fires in the fire pit.

On Saturday night, we ended our vacation with a grand finale. Both Clif and I have birthdays in September, and Shannon had a birthday celebration for us at her house. The food, of course, was utterly delicious. (I can’t help being a braggy old mom.) We had a spinach-artichoke dip with tortilla chips, kabobs with chicken and lots of different vegetables, rice, and various dipping sauces. And cake, of course.

Vacation is over, Dee has left, and I can’t help feeling a little blue. The days are significantly shorter than they were at their mid-summer peak, and while having dusk arrive at 7:15 p.m. is not too bad, I know what’s coming—the long dark of winter.  No more biking and no more nights on the patio. The hummingbirds will soon be leaving, as will the loons.

Still the weather has been glorious, as it often is in Maine in September. The nights might be a little nippy, but the days are warm and sunny with a sky so blue it brings joy to my heart. Clif and I have vowed to go on bike rides after he gets home from work as long as we have some daylight left.

This upcoming weekend, we will also be going on our annual bike ride from Hallowell to Richmond—about a twenty-three-mile round trip. Afterwards, we’ll stop at the Liberal Cup for a hearty meal.

Another thing I love about fall is that the apples are in season, which means tart, crunchy apples and homemade apple pie. Then there are the winter squashes and pumpkins, perfect for bread, soups, and muffins.

So we have things to look forward to, even if winter isn’t one of them. In my younger days, when my knees were better, I liked to ski and skate and walk. Winter didn’t seems as confining then. But now, there’s nothing I really like doing outside in the winter.

Never mind! We’ll have friends and family over for brunches and teas. We’ll continue with our decluttering. We’ll watch movies. We’ll get a lot of reading done. (Then again, I read a lot, regardless of the season.)

In the meantime, to borrow from my friend Burni, we’ll squeeze as much as we can out of fall, one of Maine’s best seasons.

Ah, Vacation!

Pretty darn good

This week, our daughter Dee, who lives in New York, has been visiting us, and we at the little house in the big woods are officially on vacation. What a glorious week for it—warm, clear days and cool nights. Really, the weather couldn’t be better.

We had a Labor Day gathering of family and friends, and the weather was so good we were able to spend the entire time on the patio. While the birds fluttered and the crickets sang, we talked about all the things we love to talk about—movies, books, politics. Clif made his famous grilled bread, and everybody dug in as though they hadn’t eaten in weeks. For our friend Diane, the grilled bread was the main attraction, and she was particularly grateful that the weather cooperated so that we could gather on the patio.

The rest of the week has been spent going to movies, art exhibits, and staying on the patio until late at night as we eat, talk, and listen to music. Last night, we made grilled pizza. (Thank you, Kathy Gunst, for the recipe for the homemade dough.) I made a roasted tomato sauce with herbs and tomatoes from my very own garden. To borrow from Clif, the pizza was pretty darned good, if I do say so myself.

For me, the highlight of the week—so far—has been the Bernard Langlais exhibit at Colby College’s Museum of Art. Langlais is a Maine artist best known, perhaps, for his primitive wooden sculptures of animals. Because of this, and—I’ll be honest—because he was from Maine, my perception of Langlais was that he was an untrained, local yokel. “A chainsaw artist,” Sam, at Railroad Square, said when I told her this. Exactly.

Except nothing could be further from the truth. While Langlais might have been local, he was not a yokel, and he certainly wasn’t untrained. His style was diverse, ranging from cubism to abstract, and the exhibit at Colby does a terrific job of showing the dynamic breadth of this very talented artist. The show runs until January 4, and I plan to go back for another look.

Today, we are going to see the movie The Giver. Tomorrow, we’ll be heading to Brunswick to see the exhibits at the Bowdoin College Art Museum. There just might be a trip to Gelato Fiasco before heading to openings at galleries in Gardiner and Hallowell. And, of course, more suppers on the patio.

Ah, vacation!



When Life Gives You Turnips, Make Patties

If I’m going to be honest, then I have to admit that turnips are not my favorite vegetable. Oh, I don’t hate them. If someone serves turnip to me, I can eat it and still maintain a pleasant expression. (But then, that is true with me for most food. I am not a picky eater. I am a good eater.) However, turnips certainly don’t make my taste buds soar the way sugar-snap peas, corn, and cucumbers do.

What to do, then, with the turnips, so hard and white, tucked in the CSA box that Farmer Kev delivered a couple of weeks ago? I had put the turnips in a bowl with water and then had put the bowl in the refrigerator. I change the water every few days, and the turnips have remained plump and hard. But I knew the turnips couldn’t stay this way forever, and the time had come to eat them.

Clif suggested, “Make them into patties.” Clif  loves patties—almost any kind—the way some people love chocolate.

“All right,” I said. I had done this last year, but I hadn’t kept the recipe, so I rooted on the Internet and found one at Simply Recipes. I used that recipe as a guideline, but I made enough changes so that I can safely call it my own.

Because turnip and potatoes cook at different rates, I boiled them  in separate pans—the potatoes took about fifteen minutes and the turnip was closer to twenty. When the vegetables were soft, I drained them, put them in a bowl, and mashed them with a fork. When the potatoes had cooled, I added 2 small cloves of chopped garlic, 1/2 cup of grated cheddar cheese, 1 beaten egg,  1/4 cup of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and several grinds of pepper. Clif, who loves frying patties as well as eating them, dropped them by large spoonfuls into hot oil in a cast-iron frying pan.

As the patties turned a lovely, golden brown pan, I had a good feeling about them. Surely something so visually appealing would taste good. And readers, they did.

Clif pronounced the patties, “Pretty darned good,” which in Yankee parlance is the equivalent of delicious. We sprinkled salt on top of the cooked patties and spread a dollop of mayonnaise. As I ate my turnip patty,  I not only had a pleasant expression on my face but also a smile. Clif was right. The turnip patties were tasty.

If someone wanted to get fancy, then he or she could make some kind of aioli to go with the patties. But this was a Thursday night supper, and mayonnaise worked just fine. I made corn bread to go with the patties, and a beet green salad with shredded carrots, sunflower seeds, and feta.

I have two more turnips in the bowl of water in the refrigerator, and I know what the turnips’ fate will be—more patties. This year, I’ll keep the recipe, with all its hand-written amendments, and file it in my veggie recipe folder. That way, next year, I’ll know just what to do with turnips.


Turnip and Potato Patties (Adapted from a recipe on

Makes four to six patties

1 1/2 cup of peeled and cubed turnip

1 cup of peeled and diced potatoes

1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic, minced

1 egg, beaten

1/4 cup of flour

1/2 cup of grated cheddar cheese

1/2 teaspoon of salt

Several grinds of pepper

In separate saucepans, boil the turnip and the potatoes. The turnip will take about twenty minutes, and the potatoes will take about fifteen minutes. When the vegetables are very soft, drain them,  combine them in a bowl, and mash them with a fork. When the mashed mixture has cooled, add the garlic, the egg, the flour, the cheese, the salt, and the pepper.

In a heavy frying pan—seasoned cast iron works best—heat about 1/4 inch of oil until it starts to shimmer. Drop the mixture by large spoonfuls into the pan and press them thin, about 1/2 inch. (We used two cast iron frying pans so that we could cook the patties all at once.) Fry the patties until they are a lovely golden brown, about four minutes on each side.

Serve with more salt and pepper. Add a dollop of mayonnaise and rejoice that humble turnip can taste so good.




Library Addition Update: August 27, 2014

IMG_6513For the past three years, I have been working on the library expansion campaign whose goal is to build a much-needed addition for our cramped, little library. The ground breaking commenced a couple of weeks ago, and the project is expected to be done by April. Or so.

It is both wonderful and exciting to see this project become real, with dirt being dug and walls being built. For the next six months I’ll periodically be posting pictures of the progress.

Yesterday, as I was taking pictures, I met Phil Locashio, the very talented architect who is overseeing the expansion. We spoke about how moving it is to be involved with a project that will benefit Winthrop residents long after we are gone. As a rule, only wealthy people are involved with such projects. Everyday people, not so much.

Later, I biked to Joan Wing’s house, and I told her about our conversation. “It gives me goosebumps to think about it,” she said.

Me, too.




Shakshuka for Supper

Last night I made shakshuka for supper.  And what is shakshuka? Basically, it’s a Middle Eastern dish that includes poached eggs in a tomato sauce. I love poached eggs. They are my go-to supper when I have meetings and come home late. I always have them with buttered toast, of course. But until yesterday, I had never even heard of shakshuka. I came across the dish on Food52, a terrific website that features tasty recipes that are relatively simple and inexpensive to make. I saw poached eggs, I saw tomato sauce, and I thought, “This is a meal I am going to like.” I had everything I needed for shakshuka, and I decided to make it last night for supper.

I modified the recipe a bit. As onions bother my stomach unless they are simmered for a very long time—half a day or so—I decided to use green peppers and garlic instead.  For those with a hardier stomach, onions would be great.

But essentially, I followed Kendra Vaculin’s recipe from Food52. My sauce was apparently runnier than the one Kendra made as I was unable to make “four little pockets in the saucy mess” for poaching the eggs. It didn’t matter one bit. The eggs poached beautifully without the pockets. (After all, what could be runnier than water?)

The title for Kendra’s recipe is Shakshuka with Grains and Feta. For the grains I cooked basmati, but quinoa or farro was also suggested. I think couscous would be good, too. For greens, I used beet greens—Farmer Kev’s—but spinach or  Swiss chard or any other green would work just fine.

Now, I’ve waited until last to post the pictures because if I’m going to be honest, I would have to admit that this dish is not particularly photogenic. Kendra was right to call it a mess. But what a glorious mess! It came out exactly the way I hoped it would, with the eggs, the sauce, and the rice blending as a perfect trio. I used a sauce that had oregano, but if I hadn’t I probably would have added some just to give it a little zip.

As I scooped up egg, sauce, and rice, I thought, “What could be finer on a warm summer’s eve than this hearty but economical and simple dish?” Nothing I could think of.

Eggs simmering in sauce
Eggs simmering in sauce


In the dish, over rice
In the dish, over rice


With feta
With feta

Lobster Rolls and Sunset on Bailey Island: A Get Together with Special Friends


Yesterday, I went to Bailey Island, where my friend Sherry Hanson hosted a gathering of old friends. At one time, we all belonged to a group called Maine Media Women, and I’ve know many of the women for twenty years. Sherry, who used to live in Maine, moved to the West Coast last year to be closer to her family. How we all miss her!

Sherry and her husband decided to rent a cottage this August on Bailey Island so that they could stay connected with their Maine friends. They generously bought lobster rolls for us—there were nine—and everyone added something to the feast—wine, crackers, cheese, salads, and homemade strawberry ice cream pie with a strawberry sauce and roasted almonds. (Guess who brought dessert?)

Outside on the deck, we talked, ate lobster rolls—made just right with lots of claw and tail meat and with only a hint of mayonnaise—and admired the sparkling water. The weather couldn’t have been finer—warm with a deep blue sky. Sherry’s sister, Julia, joined us as did, Debbie, a friend from Sherry’s old neighborhood. Then there was Laney, Perian’s daughter. We’ve known Laney since birth, and we all feel like honorary aunties. Laney— lovely, slender, and on the edge of womanhood—is an island girl who keeps hens, sells eggs, and loves to ride horses. Plus, she was willing to run and up and down the long deck stairs to fetch things for her—ahem—mature aunties. A special, special girl.

When the sun set, from all over the island conch shells were blown, horns were tooted, and fire works went off. Apparently this is a summer tradition. What a way to greet dusk and end the day.

Sunset on Bailey Island
Sunset on Bailey Island


Be Careful What You Get Rid Of

IMG_6469The gardens have reached that ragged, tattered phase, that end of August look. The snails have had their way with the iris leaves, which are now in shreds. No real harm has been done to the irises—I know this from past experience—but they look worn out, ready to be clipped back for fall. The daylilies—magnificent this year—are pretty much done blooming, and they are all stalks and yellow leaves.

Even the bee balm, a glorious burst of red for well over a month, looks woebegone as petals fall and Japanese beetles feed on them. Still, there is that spicy bergamot smell coming from the bee balm, and true to its name, it attracts every manner of buzzing bee, from bumble bees to smaller bees whose names I don’t know.

Yesterday, as I ate my lunch on the patio, I watched a hummingbird moth work the phlox. Tufted titmice, chickadees, and woodpeckers came to the feeders at the edge of the patio. A few days ago, I saw a black and white warbler, the first ever at the little house in the big woods. If I were the type of person who kept lists, that bird would have been added lickety-split.

Hummingbirds come to their little red feeder, which I keep well stocked with sugar water. They also love the bee balm as well as the jewelweed, which grows at the edge of the lawn, just before the woods. In early summer, I disliked the jewelweed’s leggy look and invasive ways. I didn’t recognize the plant for what it was, and I pulled much of it out, intending to take care of the rest by summer’s end. However, other tasks called, and the plants left behind lost their legginess and matured into a dark shapely green lit up with a myriad of tiny orange blossoms. Bees and hummingbirds love these flowers, and the plants bob beneath the buzzing, hovering activity.

There is a lesson in all of this—be careful what you pull, be careful what you get rid of. What initially looks leggy and ungainly might very well mature into something bright and lovely and beloved.

Glowing jewelweed
Glowing jewelweed