All posts by Laurie Graves

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

Two Scares in the Woods

Dusk comes to the Lower Narrows
Dusk comes to the Lower Narrows

Yesterday, Liam and I went for a late afternoon walk. The January dusk was not far away, and the woods were full of shadows. Not good for taking pictures, but moody and mysterious. Because of all the rain, much of the snow was gone, and the brown leaves and needles were slippery underfoot. I was glad I had my trekking pole, especially when I went down the steep hill leading to the water.

My trusty trekking pole
My trusty trekking pole

The dog and I made it without incident to the Lower Narrows. The dog sniffed, and I took pictures, even though the light was not good.  Perhaps it was all the melting and thawing, but the Narrows was especially vocal yesterday. It gurgled, it blubbed, it cracked. One crack was so loud and thunderous that Liam jumped, ran a little ways into the woods, and barked.

I jumped, too, and then smiled, thinking about how our ancient ancestors might have thought there was a spirit making all those sounds, the spirit of the water. From there it was only a short jump to thinking about the great animator Hayao Miyazaki and his wonderful films that thrum with nature spirits—Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, to name a couple. Perhaps the spirit of the Narrows was trying to break free from the icy grip of winter?

On the dog and I went, to a little cove that was hard and frozen. The light wasn’t too bad here, and I took more pictures. As we turned to go home, I saw a dark shape moving through the clearing. “A dog,” I thought, as Liam bounded toward it.

This thought was immediately followed by, “Not a dog. A porcupine!”

“Liam!” I called frantically. “Come here, come here, come here!”

Visions of a muzzle full of porcupine quills raced through my head, and as I called, I waited for the sound of an anguished yelp as Liam got nailed. But the yelp never came. Liam bounded back to me, the porcupine hustled into the woods, and I put the leash on Liam.

As soon as my heart stopped pounding, I thought, “Darn! I wish I could have gotten a picture of that porcupine.”

Well, you can’t have everything, and I was grateful Liam came when he was called. “You saved yourself a lot of hurt,” I said to the dog as we made our way home.

Liam made no reply, and when we far enough away from the porcupine for me to feel that it was safe, I let Liam off his leash. We returned home without further incidence, and I settled on the couch with a cup of tea and a snack of graham crackers with jam. As I sipped tea and ate,  I reflected on our two scares in the woods. Beside me on the couch, the dog begged for bits of graham cracker and jam.

When we go for our walk today, I will be sure to avoid the area where we saw the porcupine.

Spicy Squash Soup Using Mostly Vegetables Grown by Farmer Kev

For the past several years, Clif and I have bought a summer CSA (community supported agriculture) farm share from Farmer Kev, one of our favorite young farmers. In previous posts, I’ve written about Farmer Kev, so I will be brief: He’s still in his twenties, was bit by the farming bug as a young teenager, but doesn’t come from a farming family. Farmer Kev is a friend of the family and is one of the hardest-working young men that I know.

This year, for the first time, Farmer Kev offered a winter CSA farm share, and Clif and I did not hesitate to buy one. As a result, we’ve been getting vegetables that store well over the winter—beets, carrots, potatoes, garlic, and lots and lots of squash. The time had come, I decided, to make a spicy squash soup.

Any squash will do for this soup, but as I had an abundance of acorn squash, that is what I used. The soup is a two-step process because baking acorn squash first is the easiest way to mash it. Even though the hands-on time is minimal, I usually plan to bake the squash one day and make the soup on the following day. This time was no different. I baked the squash on Monday and made the soup on Tuesday.

To bake the squash—I used three—I greased a baking sheet, cut the squash in half, scooped out the seeds, placed the squash face down on the baking sheet, and baked them for an hour or so at 350 degrees.

Ready to be baked
Ready to be baked

When the squash was very soft—I poked it with a fork to test it—I removed the baking sheet from the oven, let the squash cool, and then mashed it into a bowl, which was then stored in the refrigerator until the next day. Note: If you are an early bird, then the baking of the squash and the making of the soup could easily be accomplished in one day.

Scooping and mashing squash
Scooping and mashing squash
Mashed and ready for soup
Mashed and ready for soup

Next came the making of the soup base. For this I used potatoes, carrots, and garlic, all courtesy of Farmer Kev.  (I also used an onion, which, alas, I had to buy at the store.) I sautéed the vegetables, added water and spices, and simmered them for about an hour. When the potatoes and carrots were very soft, I blended the cooked squash into the simmered vegetables.

And then there was soup.

Clif likes his soup to be bulky with either crackers or pasta or some other ingredient to “fill it out,” as he puts it. So I usually cook some pasta to go with puréed soups, and the pasta is added to the bottom of the bowls rather than to the soup itself. That way, the pasta doesn’t swell into something unrecognizable.

I just thought of another reason why I bake the squash the day before. That way, the oven is free for me to make homemade bread to go with the soup.

Hot soup and homemade bread on a cold January night. Pretty darned good, as my Yankee husband might say.

Squash soup and homemade bread
Squash soup and homemade bread


Spicy Squash Soup
Makes six generous servings

4 medium potatoes, cubed
2 small or 1 large carrot, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
6 tablespoons of oil or butter
6 cups of water
1 teaspoon of dried tarragon
1 teaspoon of celery seed
1 teaspoon of cumin
1/2 teaspoon of white pepper
2 teaspoons of salt or to taste
4 cups of cooked, mashed squash (pumpkin could also be used)

In a large stockpot, heat the oil and add the potatoes, carrots, and onion. Sauté for five minutes and add the garlic, sautéing for 30 seconds. Add the water and the tarragon, celery seed, cumin, white pepper, and salt. Simmer for about an hour, until the vegetables are very soft.

Blend the squash into the cooked vegetables. The best way to do this is with an immersion blender. Set the stockpot in the sink, add the squash to the pot, and blend away in one easy swoop. You don’t have to worry about burning yourself, and you don’t have the mess of blending it in several batches. Whoever invented the immersion blended should be pronounced a hero to home cooks everywhere.

If you don’t have an immersion blender, then use a blender with a glass pitcher, do it in batches, and be careful not to burn yourself.

Then, enjoy!

Mercurial January

At any time of year, the weather in Maine is apt to be temperamental. The morning might start out bright and sunny, but by afternoon the sky is dark and either rain or snow comes, depending on the season.  In the summer, this variability can make biking a little tricksy. The sky is blue, and out you go on your bike, but midway through the ride the sky darkens, thunder rumbles in the background, and you pedal like crazy to get home before the storm comes your way. Sometimes you make it, and sometimes you don’t.

However, it seems to me that when it comes to temperamental months, January must be in the running for top honors. Over the weekend, Clif and I went for a walk on Sunday and Monday, and the two days couldn’t have been more different.

On Sunday, the sky was gray, and a storm was brewing—unfortunately it brought rain, which is most unwelcome in Maine in January. Accordingly, the woods were dim, the Lower Narrows was a dull white, and it seemed as though Clif and I were walking in a black and white world. Nevertheless, snowmobiles buzzed across the Narrows, and people were fishing by their shacks.

The gray Narrows
A white Narrows under a gray sky
Ice fishing in the distance
Ice fishing in the distance
Black and white on white
Black and white on white

Not long after we got home from our walk, the rain came, and the roads became slick, so slick that I skidded the car into a snow bank at the end of our driveway after going to get the Sunday paper at Rite Aid. No harm was done, and I maneuvered the car into the driveway, where the car stayed until Tuesday, when Clif went to work.

By Monday, the sky had cleared, and the woods were bright with dappled sunlight.  On the Narrows, there was a layer of water on the ice, and the fishing shacks were gone. Hauled away, we hope, when it became clear that there would be a lashing rain all day on Sunday. No snowmobiles raced across the the Narrows, and Clif and I could hear the groaning and cracking of the ice.

No more black and white
No more grey and black and white

Gone was the gray and the black and white palette. Now there was a blue tinge to the snow.


Two days in January, one right after another. The weather and the light make every walk visually unique, which is why I can go on the same path day after day and see something different, something of interest.

Nature, in all its variety, never fails to absorb me.

Farmer Kev at Longfellow’s Greenhouses

On Saturday, Longfellow’s Greenhouses in Manchester hosted an Eat Local Winter Farmer’s Market. Our own Farmer Kev was there, and Clif and I stopped by just a half hour before closing time. Even so, there was quite a crowd.


“How did you do?” I asked Farmer Kev.

“Fantastic,” came the reply. “We sold a lot.”

This time of year, Farmer Kev has mostly root crops, and how delicious they are. (This week, I’ll be making a squash soup with his squash, and I’ll post the recipe when I do.)

Farmer Kev talking to customers

Anne Trenholm, another young farmer from Winthrop, was at the farmer’s market with her dairy products, and she was sold out of most everything, include an herbed cheese that is oh so good.

Anne Trenholm of Wholesome Holmstead
Anne Trenholm of Wholesome Holmstead

There were also vendors with baked goods, chocolate, lobster rolls, and olive oils, and they all seemed to be doing a brisk business. Food is quite the draw, especially on a cold January day when you get to stroll through the warm greenhouse, and the scent of flowers mingles with the smell of food.

Longfellow’s will be hosting another Farmer’s Market on January 31, and there will be even more vendors. Farmer Kev will be there, and weather permitting, so will we.

Making, Selling, and Buying Stuff

IMG_7323This morning when I got up, the sun was shining, the sky was blue, and I decided not to wait until the afternoon to take my walk in the woods. Therefore, I ate breakfast, read a few things online, and headed outside midmorning. But by then it was nearly too late. The sky had become cloudy, and the woods were almost too dark for pictures.

An important lesson for this beginning photographer: Go when the light is good. You never know when it will change. Luckily, there were glimmers of sunshine, and I was able to get a couple of nice shots, which I have included in this post.

However, a walk in the woods is never wasted. The cool, quiet of the winter woods always absorbs me while at the same time allowing me to think about things. What I thought about today was a post I read yesterday on Ben Hewett’s blog, where he wrote about the contradictions of not wanting to be part of a consumer society while at the same time wanting to make and sell things.

It’s a conundrum, that’s for sure, and like Ben I struggle with this contradiction. On the one hand, those of us who live in rich countries consume and shop too much. We are depleting natural resources at an alarming rate, and the obvious answer is to stop the excessive shopping.

On the other hand, Ben’s wife makes lovely birch-bark ornaments, and his sons make nifty wooden spoons. Ben writes books and depends upon the sales for his livelihood.  In the interest of not shopping too much, should we not buy their ornaments, spoons, and books?

Closer to home…I have two friends that make jewelry, and I have supported them by buying their earrings. One pair I gave to a friend for her birthday; the other I kept for myself, even though I have a chest full of earrings. To support my friends was good, but did I need another pair of earrings? I certainly did not.

Someday, I hope to  have my own books published, which will use Earth’s resources. Do I want people to buy them? You bet I do.  Clif and I are also planning to make clocks and calendars from photos we take, and, yes, we would like to sell those as well.

Clif and I discussed this last night, but we didn’t come up with any concrete guidelines. We live in a money economy, and we all must find ways to support ourselves. The three chief ways of doing this are growing and selling things; making and selling things; and providing services that people are willing to pay for. The first two involve Earth’s resources, and the last one depends on human resources.

I suppose the most Earth-friendly approach would be to focus on providing services, but to borrow from Jane in Pride and Prejudice, we are not all alike. Many of us like to create things, and our talents don’t necessarily mesh with providing services. Besides, if we all suddenly stampeded  in the direction of providing services, then there would be a glut, and no one would prosper.

Can shopping be sustainable? Can we create and buy without depleting resources? There are a lot of us on this planet, and we might have gone beyond the point where we can do this.

Nevertheless, I wish for Ben and his family to prosper through their endeavors.  Ditto for my friends who make jewelry. And, of course, for Clif and me and our projects.

And maybe learn to create with as many recycled materials as we can?



Liam is Ten

Liam in his Tasmanian devil phase
Liam in his Tasmanian devil phase

Today, our dog, Liam, is ten years old. Right now he is snoozing by my desk, but soon we will be going for a nice long walk in the woods. And luck is with us today. The weather has lost its bite—the frost is even mostly gone from the windows—and it won’t be painful to bundle up and go outside.

I remember bringing Liam home ten years ago, when he hid under the table because he was so scared; when his little head moved back and forth as he watched the pendulum on the kitchen clock; when he raced madly around the house after I gave him his first bath. And after he lost his fear, what a Tasmanian devil Liam was. Lord, just thinking about his seemingly boundless energy makes me tired. Somehow, though, I kept up with him.

At ten, Liam is no longer a Tasmanian devil, but he is still an energetic dog who would like to be out from dawn until dusk. Winter is hard on him, and December, January, February, and March are restless months, even though he gets a nice long walk on all but the coldest days.

But spring is coming, and I do believe it’s his favorite time of year. The winter confinement is over, and Liam can do what he loves best—supervise as I do spring chores. He’d love it, I know, if we had forty acres and he could be out all day with someone working the land.

Instead, Liam has to make do with his fenced-in half acre and a person who likes to putter. Still—and I know it’s dangerous to judge—he seems like a happy dog.

Liam all decked out for a birthday
Liam all decked out for a birthday

Anyway, happy, happy birthday to Liam. May he leap and run and bark for many more years.

Later—We did indeed get out for a nice long walk in the woods. I took my camera with me, as I always do. Both Liam and the woods are so photogenic.

Liam, dog of the north
Liam, dog of the north
Winter leaves and a noble profile
Winter leaves and a noble profile
Little tracks in the woods. I can't resist taking a picture of them.
Little tracks in the snow. I can’t resist taking pictures of them.

Into the Woods after a Little Storm

IMG_7288Yesterday was an especially pretty day to walk in the woods. On Monday, we had a small snowstorm—about four inches—just enough for the hard-packed snow to have a fluffy, glittering cover. As I approached the Narrows, I saw a deep blue that I mistakenly thought was open water. Silly me. The past two weeks have been so cold that the Narrows is iced over. Instead, I was seeing blue shadows on the snow. So lovely.

Blue shadows on the Narrows
Blue shadows on the Narrows

I spied more little tracks left by some woodland creature.

Tracks and more blue shadows
Tracks and more blue shadows

After an hour of looking and walking and taking pictures, I headed home. Sometimes the dog was ahead of me, sometimes he was behind, and periodically he would stop to clean the clumped snow from his paws.

When, I got home, I peeled off layer after layer of clothes, made some Earl Gray tea, and settled at my desk to look at the pictures I had taken.

Somehow, tea tastes especially good after a cold walk.