All posts by Laurie Graves

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

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.


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.

The Two Faces of the Narrows

IMG_7742I live about a quarter of a mile from the Upper and Lower Narrows Pond. I have lived here for thirty years, and I have never been able to figure out why they are called ponds. The catchment area is 8.5 square miles, and the water is 106 feet at its deepest.

It seems I am not the only one who thinks these bodies of water are too deep and too large to be considered ponds. There is a description of the Narrows Pond in Wikipedia, and it is so charmingly written that I can’t resist sharing the entire paragraph: “Narrows Pond is actually two small twin lakes in Winthrop, Maine. They are Upper and Lower Narrows Pond, and are divided by a very narrow isthmus, hence the name. The isthmus is traversed by Narrows Pond Road, and a culvert connects the two lakes. People in canoes or kayaks can travel between the two lakes, though only by ducking first.”

Most days, the dog and I walk to the Narrows, either by road or through the woods. Right now the snow is too deep in the woods, and as I don’t have snowshoes, I must stick to the road. In a way, I don’t mind because the prospect from the isthmus is so pleasing and photogenic that it’s hard to get a bad shot.

Yesterday, when Liam and I went to the Narrows, it was though I was looking at two entities with completely different personalities. The sky over the Upper Narrows was blue, which made everything bright and cheerful.

The Sunny Upper Narrows

On the other hand, the sky over the Lower Narrows was gray, which gave it a frowning, moody look. The Upper and Lower Narrows reminded me of two siblings who are complete opposites, as siblings often are, yet each with a special beauty.

The Moody Lower Narrows
The Moody Lower Narrows

I know, I know. One should not anthropomorphize nature, but this seems to be a weakness of mine. While I respect science and facts, my mind tends toward flights of fancy. Fortunately, I do know the difference between fact and fancy and seldom, if ever, confuse them.

And as long as I am able to tell the two apart, I will not feel guilty about letting my mind take whatever fanciful flight it wants.









A Day Off

IMG_7731When you work at home, there is really no time off. Somehow, even when I take a break from writing, chores find a way of insinuating themselves into the day, and there always seems to be just one more thing to do. However, every once in a while, I decide I need to have a personal Sabbath day and put chores on hold.

Yesterday was such a day. For various reasons, I was frazzled and yearned for a day of rest. So I took the day off, and the only chore I did was laundry.

When such days are rare, they are truly a treat. Yesterday, it was sheer bliss to take as much time as I wanted to read the various blogs I follow; to relax on the couch and read We took to the Woods, a book my friend Mary Jane let me borrow; to eat whatever junky snack I felt like having; to walk with the dog to the Narrows and take some pictures.



Supper was simple—scrambled eggs with smoked Gouda, toast, and fries. There was hardly any prep time involved.

By the end of my day off, I felt rested—joyful, even—and ready to tackle the various projects I had put on hold.

In truth, I love my busy schedule and wouldn’t want too many days off. But every now and then it is good to slow down, relax, and recharge.


A Sweet but Frugal Valentine’s Day

Keebler, eat your heart out
Keebler, eat your heart out

At the little house in the big woods, we love holidays. While it would be inaccurate to assert that we celebrate every single one, Clif and I certainly do what we can to bring mirth and merriment into our lives on many of those special days.

However, because of our green-bean ways and our modest budget, our celebrations are always frugal. With Valentine’s Day, it is no different.

To get us in the mood for this sweet holiday, I made some chocolate-covered graham crackers.  Yes, I know that I can buy  packaged chocolate-covered graham crackers at the store, but mine are so much better that all I can say is, Keebler, eat your heart out. (I use Ghiradelli chocolate and a name brand graham cracker.)

Tomorrow, before the blizzard—but let’s not talk about that—I’ll go to the store for smoked cheddar from Pineland Farms for a quiche I’m planning to make. I’ll also pick up  some kind of special nut, probably cashews, to go with drinks ahead of time. We’ll have homemade brownies for dessert.

While the blizzard swirls outside, I’ll set the table and light the candles. We’ll listen to music—probably some kind of alternative rock. When it comes to music, Clif and I are surprisingly and uncharacteristically hip. Afterwards, we’ll settle in the living room and watch either Strictly Ballroom or Room with a View or Enchanted April.

The whole meal, from drinks and nibbles to dessert will cost the two of us no more than $15. That comes to $7.50 each, about the price of a fast-food meal, but ever so much tastier. Not too bad, as my Yankee husband might say. In the end, holidays don’t have to be expensive to be fun. With every fête, Clif and I prove this point.

While Valentine’s Day has traditionally been for couples and school children, I like to extend it by sending a few cards to family and friends. There are many kinds of love, and all should be celebrated.

A very happy Valentine’s Day to all, and if you’re single, be sure to do something sweet (but frugal!) for yourself.

The photo I used for this years Valentine’s card. I froze my little fingers making that bird-seed heart in the backyard.
The photo I used for this years Valentine’s card. I froze my little fingers making that bird-seed heart in the backyard.