All posts by Laurie Graves

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

Mid-October, 2014

Colorful boat by colorful leaves on Maranacook Lake
Colorful boat by colorful leaves on Maranacook Lake

We are half way through October, which has been very warm, almost freakishly warm. Good for the heating bills but odd nonetheless to this native Mainer who is used to crisp autumn weather in October. Clif and I still spend a little time on the patio when he gets home from work, and we keep saying, “We won’t be able to do this much longer.”

I have a friend whose birthday is on October 24, and she maintains that by then it is always too cold to sit on the patio or deck. In the old Maine, she was right. Clif and I are wondering if she’ll be right this year.

Warm or not, October is a month of beauty, of red, orange, and yellow  leaves, of bright blue skies. The light is especially fine—golden and at a slant.

Slowly, I am getting the gardens cut back. Once or twice a week I sweep the driveway, but it is a fool’s errand. Several hours later, more leaves have fallen. I have emptied and scrubbed some flower pots, but we still haven’t had a hard frost, and the coleus remains untouched.

Here are some October pictures of the yard at the little house in the big woods:


Coleus, untouched by frost
Coleus, untouched by frost
Silly cat by the parsely
Silly cat by the parsley
Gone by in the front
Ragged garden in the front
Our winter security
Our winter security

“Making” Paper at Dragonfly Studio

IMG_6790Last Saturday, Clif and I went to Readfield to visit Dragonfly Studio, which was participating in Maine Craft Weekend and was therefore hosting an open studio. Tom and Christine Higgins—a painter and paper maker, respectively—share the studio near their home in Readfield. Dragonfly Studio is tucked into the woods and overlooks a distant, glimmering Torsey Lake. A studio with a view, that’s for sure.

A studio with a view
A studio with a view

First we looked at Tom’s paintings—vibrant landscapes, some of which were painted right outside Dragonfly Studio. Clif and I both liked Tom’s work very much, and if our budget were bigger, then there is a high chance a painting would have come home with us. There was one, in particular, that really caught my attention—an autumn painting with a bright blue sky and brilliant flashes of fall leaves. (We did, however, buy a pack of Chris’s lovely cards, one of which will be used for a wedding card this week.)

A glimmer of Torsey Lake
A glimmer of Torsey Lake

Then we looked at Chris’s work—prints, fiber containers, sculpture, and paper on panels. After we admired her work—earthy yet snappy and appealing—she asked, “Do you want to make some paper?”

Why not? I’ve never made paper before. We went outside where Chris had a large pan of water with floating fiber that had been ground in a big machine she keeps in a nearby storage shed. The main fiber was sweet Annie, but Chris had something else mixed with it.  Unfortunately,  I foolishly didn’t take notes, and I don’t remember what else was used.

Chris at the pan
Chris at the pan

I donned a big plastic apron, and with my hands, I swished the fibers back forth, as instructed. When the water was sufficiently churned, a screen was dipped to catch the fibers and strain the water. I lifted the screen, and by gum, I could see the birth of paper unfold before my admiring eyes.

The screens
The screens

The newborn paper was tapped onto newspaper and blotted. (In one sense, it remind me a bit of working with pie dough.) And given to me, still wet, to take home.

“What am I going to do with it?” I mused, not wanting this beautiful, fragrant paper to be stored on a back shelf and forgotten.

“You could write on it or cut into shapes,” Chris suggested.

I could. Or I could try to make a fiber container. I really admired Chris’s, which were filled with dried flowers.

“I could mould it over a plant pot,” I said.

“There’s not enough paper,” Chris said. She gave me two small plastic cups. “Try these.”

And that’s exactly what I did when I got home. I wrapped the wet paper around the cups, crimped the edges a bit, and tied a bit of twine around the bottom, both for looks and to hold its shape. Even wet, my little fiber container looked really good. Perhaps not as good as one of Chris’s, but good enough for me, especially on my first try.

Over the next day or two, I diligently checked my little fiber container as though it were an incubating egg.  (It was in the guest bedroom, with the door closed to keep out curious cats.) Every so often, I would touch the container gently, to see if it was dry. When it seemed dry enough, out came the plastic cups, and there was my fiber container, just the right shape and just waiting for a small bottle with some dried clippings from the garden.

Not only was I very, very pleased with how my container came out, but I started thinking of ways to make them on my own, not from scratch, the way Chris does, but in a more streamlined way with pretty paper and paper mache. Clif even suggested using brown paper bags.

We’ll see. In the meantime, thanks to Chris’s generosity, I have my own fiber container, and every time I go by, I gently touch it and admire it.

My very own fiber container
My very own fiber container




Columbus Day, 2014: Grilled pizza, Rice Krispies Squares, Yellow Jackets, and Shots in the Woods

IMG_6798Yesterday, Columbus Day, was sunny and warm, a perfect day for a visit from Shannon and Mike and their two dogs—Holly and Samara. Because of his work schedule, we haven’t seen Mike for quite a while, not since he started his new job at Craft Beer Cellar. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to state that Mike is a beer connoisseur, and he has developed quite a discriminating palate. He is currently studying to get his cicerone certification, at which point Mike will be a true beer expert.

As I listened to Mike talk about the various types of beer he has tasted and sells, it occurred to me that beer has become as nuanced—and as pricey!—as wine. We’ve come a long way from the days when there was a limited selection of beer at the grocery store, and Heineken was pretty much as good as it got.

Full disclosure: I really don’t like beer at all, and if someone insisted I drink a whole glass, it would be hard to maintain a pleasant expression. Nevertheless, it was fascinating to hear Mike talk about his new job, which he loves, and all the aspects of beer. On the other hand, Clif likes beer, and every time Mike comes, he brings a different variety for Clif to sample. Clif and Mike both know that beer is best enjoyed in moderation, and they never have more than two bottles each any time we get together. On our next trip to Portland, Clif will visit Mike at Craft Beer Cellar, get the official tour, and, of course, buy some beer. Shannon, who also doesn’t like beer, and I will stay behind and take the dogs for a walk.

On Monday, because the day was so fine, we had planned to spend most of it on the patio, but unfortunately, yellow jackets have taken up residency in one of my gardens out front. As soon as the beer, flavored water, chips, and dip came out, the yellow jackets joined us. It’s not much fun swatting yellow jackets and trying to avoid being bitten, so in we went to finish appetizers in the dining room.

However, grilled pizza was on the menu, so we went out with Clif while he grilled it, to keep him company. All of the sweet food stayed inside, and the yellow jackets didn’t bother us much at all. We ate the pizza inside, and when it was done, we decided to try having dessert on the patio. It was late afternoon, and significantly cooler than when we had started with appetizers. We figured it was too chilly for the little biting buzzers.

Our hunch about the yellow jackets was right. It was too cool for them to be buzzing about, and they left us alone as we drank tea and ate Shannon’s Rice Krispies treats. Spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, layered with roasted marshmallows, and dipped in chocolate, these were certainly deluxe Rice Krispie Treats, and they were utterly delicious. Clif and I couldn’t stop with just one.

As we finished dessert, we heard a blast of gunfire from the woods. It’s bird hunting season, and someone was out there trying to rustle up the ultimate free-range supper. Hearing gunshots so close is always disconcerting, and the sound of gunfire set the dogs off into a chorus of barking. Holly, in particular, has a deep, guard-dog bark, and she was quite concerned.

“Let them bark,” I said. “That way, the hunter will know he is not far from a house.”

“This is the one time of year I’m glad I don’t live in the woods,” Shannon said.

I understand how she feels. I don’t like hearing gunshot, either, especially when it’s close. But we’ve lived here for thirty years, and so far no bullets have come whizzing toward the house. When deer season is upon us, I dress in orange and bring the radio outside, cranking it as loud as it will go on a classic rock and roll station. I want hunters to know we are here.

Pizza, Rice Krispies treats, yellow jackets, gun shots. No one was bitten, no one was shot. The food was good, and the company was even better. I would have to say the good definitely outweighed the bad, but I’ll be glad when the yellow jackets go away, and hunting season is over.

A Visit from Darling Baby

There are two darling babies whose lives I follow on Facebook, and they are both under a year old. The babies are the children of young women I have known since they were little girls. It is such a pleasure to watch them become parents and to see the development of their own daughters.

One darling baby lives two states away, and this unfortunately means that I don’t see her very much. But her father, who is a stay-at-home dad, is a fine photographer, and I have the pleasure of seeing many pictures of darling baby as well as some videos.

The other darling baby only lives twenty minutes away, which means I see her on a fairly regular basis. Beth, her grandmother and my friend, has retired and is taking care of this particular darling baby while the parents work. Lucky parents to have such a loving, competent, and energetic person to take care of their child.

Today Beth and darling baby are coming over for a visit.  It’s a fine day, and we’ll be taking a walk to the Narrows. We’ll make quite a procession—Beth, darling baby in her carriage, Liam on his leash, and me.

I’ll be making muffins, either bran or chocolate—I haven’t decided. After the walk we’ll come back for muffins and cider. Darling baby can’t crawl yet, and I won’t have to use the child gates to stop her from tumbling down the cellar stairs, which are open. But that day is soon coming, and when it does, we’ll barricade ourselves in the living room, where all breakable things will be moved to higher ground. Babies love to grab, and it seems to me that the best solution is to just move everything out of reach.  That way, there is less fussing and less chance of darling baby breaking something.

I can’t wait until darling baby is old enough for a snack of her own—animal crackers or some other little treat that her parents approve of. I’ll have them ready for her. I might even nip a couple myself.

One of the good things about having animals is that it really doesn’t matter how many crumbs or uneaten pieces of cookies fall on the rug and floor. I’ve cleaned up worse. Much worse.

But having animals means I have to vacuum frequently, and off I go to get the house ready for darling baby and her grandmother.

A wonderful start to what promises to be a beautiful weekend.

A “Baked Bean” Lentil Dish

IMG_6746One of my favorite cooking and food websites is Food52, where the emphasis is on unfussy food made with inexpensive ingredients that most home cooks have in their kitchens. There are also many vegan and vegetarian dishes, and this goes in the direction in which Clif and I are heading with food. We are both very much concerned with overpopulation, limited resources on our finite planet, and living lightly. (I plan to explore the living lightly concept in future posts, and I am currently reading a book with the apt title Living Lightly.)

Lately, I have become enamoured with red lentils, which are not as, ahem, earthy as the brown lentils. (I have uncharitably referred to the flavor of brown lentils as “muddy,” and Clif is not a fan of them, either.) For our Labor Day get together, I made curried red lentils in my slow cooker—thanks, Susan Poulin, for the terrific recipe!—and they were a big hit. It was the first time I had used red lentils, rather than brown, and I was hooked by their smooth, subtle flavor. Red lentils, I knew, would become a staple at the little house in the big woods as we turn to a plant-based diet.

Therefore when Joe Beef’s Lentils Like Baked Beans recipe was featured on Food52, and I saw the primary ingredient was red lentils, I decided to try it.  I did make some changes. I did not use bacon. No explanation needed, I think. Rather than cooking the lentils on the stove, I cooked them in a slow cooker, which thanks to Shari Burke’s encouragement has become my favorite little appliance. I just tossed everything into the slow cooker, let it come to boil on high, and then turned it down to low so that it could simmer until supper time. I also added more cider vinegar, maple syrup, and ketchup.

Finally, I served it over rice, which is the way I prefer most bean and lentil dishes. While I like lentils and beans, they can set heavy, especially at night, and I find rice lightens the dish. I also sprinkled ground peanuts on top, because, well, nuts and lentils go together like apple and pie.

The results? The lentils did taste a little baked beans, although nobody would ever confuse the two. “Pretty good,” Clif said, going back for seconds. Perhaps not company good—somehow the dish lacked the pizazz I look for when cooking for a gathering—but certainly good enough for a Tuesday night supper. And good enough to make again.

Then there is the price. I figured I used about $2.50 worth of lentils, which were organic. The other ingredients—maple syrup, cider vinegar, dried mustard, oil, onion, garlic, and ketchup—I had on hand, and the small amounts I used certainly didn’t come to more than a dollar or two. There were rice and ground peanuts—again, no more than a dollar or two, and I expect I am estimating on the high side. Even erring on the high side, say, $6 or $7 dollars for the whole meal, which would easily feed six, makes this an extremely economical dish that would fit in with most people’s budgets, even when they are tiny, like ours.

Among foodies, nutritionists, and activists, there has been much talk about the cost of healthy eating in the U.S. , and rightly so. According to the American Institute for Economic Research, food prices have risen 44 percent over the past fourteen years. And salaries? Well, not so much. Nevertheless, in comparison with beef and pork, lentils and other legumes are a great bargain.

For confirmed carnivores, making the transition from meat to legumes is probably not an easy one. However, for those of us with more flexible palates, eating more beans and lentils is a tasty way to eat lower on the food chain. Right now, I have a good supply of black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, and lentils. I will be adding other beans to my stockpile, and I’ll be experimenting with various meatless recipes so that our diet is varied and satisfying.

Stay tuned!


Monday Bike Ride: The Virtues of Goofing Off Plus a Library Update

IMG_6742In my previous post, I extolled the virtues of work and how being absorbed by work can make for a satisfying life. Today I’m going to extol the virtues of goofing off.  As the saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” And Jackie a dull girl, too.

Yesterday, the afternoon was so sunny and fine that even though there was much yard work to do, Clif and I decided to go on a bike ride. “After all,” Clif reasoned, “we won’t have many more days like this.”

No, we won’t. When the temperature dips below 50 degrees, biking is mighty uncomfortable. At least for me.

So off we went, leaving a yard full of leaves to be raked, gardens to be clipped, and wood to be stacked. Our first stop was the library, where we took pictures of the addition. So exciting to see the walls going up!

IMG_6731IMG_6727I also went into the library to pick up a book that I had ordered through interlibrary loan. While I waited in line—Bailey Library is one busy place, that’s for sure—I chatted with Pam, who is on the expansion committee, and we both spoke enthusiastically about the addition’s walls.

On the way out, I found a May 2014 Smithsonian on the discard shelf, and I scooped it up. Both the book and the magazine went into the pack on my bike, and off Clif and I went down Memorial Drive.

Along the way, I had to stop and take a picture of Joan’s mums, which are growing so profusely in her garden that at first I couldn’t believe they were actually mums. But Joan was in her yard, and she assured me that they were indeed mums, started from one pot of plants.

IMG_6734“Have you ever seen anything like that?” I asked her.

“No,” she answered. “Never.”

Neither have I. Must be just the right spot, and how welcome those mums are this time of year when most of the other flowers have gone by.

Down Memorial Drive we went, by shimmering Maranacook Lake. We dodged the water-pipe construction and stopped by the little marsh to take a few pictures. Not much color yet, but the marsh is lovely anyway, whatever the season.

IMG_6735At the end of the road, after going about five miles, we turned around and headed home, stopping to take pictures of the Inch-by-Inch Garden at the grade school.

IMG_6743IMG_6740When we got home, it was still warm enough to have drinks on the patio. “After all,” I said, “we won’t be able to do this much longer.” By the end of October, it’s too cold to sit on the patio, and the furniture must come in.

After drinks, we did do a bit of work. Clif hauled in some wood, I took in the laundry, and we made pancakes and home fries for dinner.

Work and play. The best life, I think, is a mix of the two, where one complements the other, leaving a person both fulfilled and refreshed.





A Sunny October Sunday of Yard Work and Apple Galette

Leaves everywhere
Leaves everywhere

Saturday brought much-needed rain, and down came leaves and needles to sprinkle the yard—the lawn, the patio, and the driveway.  The rain stayed just the right amount of time so that it wasn’t a dreary nuisance—or worse—and Sunday was bright and warm with a deep blue sky. A day for yard work, for getting pots emptied and washed and stored down cellar. A day for hauling wood.

It was also a day to make apple galette. The day before, I had brought a pie to a potluck at our friends Margy and Steve’s house. The leftovers stayed with them, and Clif and I were feeling a little apple-pie deprived. However, a whole pie is simply too much for Clif and me. While it’s good to have treats on occasion, a whole pie for two people would stretch that occasion from a treat to a trend.

Why not a galette, I thought? It’s like a half of a pie. Probably still way more than Clif and I need, but certainly better than a whole pie. One pie crust, half the filling of a nine-inch pie, and voilà—galette. They are fun to make, too, and their rustic qualities make galettes less fussy than a pie. Mine always come out a little lopsided, but for me that’s just part of the charm.

And after
And after

After lunch, Clif and I each had a piece of still-warm galette. Clif gave it a rare “Really good!” rather than his usual Yankee “Pretty darned good.”

After the galette, we were ready to head outside and work. Our neighbor Denny stopped by as he was walking his dogs, and we talked about politics—we have a Craig Hickman sign on the lawn—and the upcoming elections in November. As we are all Democrats, we are hoping that Mike Michaud will be our next governor.

Denny continued with his walk, and we continued with our chores. The fallen leaves gave the yard a delicious nutty smell, and every once in a while I had to stop to watch the the golden swirl of needles and leaves as they fell from the trees.

I am a homebody, and to me an afternoon spent doing chores is an afternoon well spent. It’s not that I don’t enjoy getting together with friends or reading or going to the movies, but I take real pleasure in doing the everyday things in life.

And a good thing, too. As I’ve mentioned before, everyday things  make up a very big part of my life—of most people’s lives—and if you don’t enjoy them, then life is pretty dreary. This is not to diminish the importance of the breaks in our routine that give life spark but instead to emphasize the importance of being absorbed with everyday matters and chores.

There are many different ways to define happiness. But it seems to me that being absorbed with work, in whatever form it takes, and getting satisfaction from it is one definition of happiness.


Some Thoughts on a Mostly Gray October Day

IMG_6703A chilly, gray October day. Yesterday, thinking it would be sunny—as forecasted—I foolishly hung laundry on the line. Let’s just say that the laundry is still a little damp, and if it’s that way by the end of the day, I will take the clothes off the line and put them on racks in the basement. I’m also cancelling my plans to go on an afternoon bike ride. Too cold! Instead, I’ll spend some time on the exercise bike as I listen to the Diane Rehm show and her Friday round-up of the news.

No doubt some of that round-up will include a discussion of the man who brought the Ebola virus to Texas. I try not to get too anxious about the virus, but I must confess that the Ebola virus, like flesh-eating bacteria, completely freaks me out. In the global world we live in, it was and is inevitable that the disease should spread. I only hope our medical system is better able to cope with it than the systems in West Africa. If ever a case could be made for a strong, concerned, and humane government to become involved in the welfare of its people, then this is it.

Pushing thoughts of Ebola virus away, I am planning ahead for the weekend. Tomorrow morning, Clif and I will be going to Railroad Square to screen a movie—The Longest Distance, a Venezuelan film. Clif and I are part of a committee that plans and hosts a film series called Cinema Explorations. Either at home or at Railroad Square, we watch screeners that have been sent to Railroad Square and then discuss our reactions through email and meetings. Clif and I have been on this committee for about ten years, and we so enjoy the whole process of watching, discussing, sometimes arguing, and then selecting six movies that we hope will appeal to the general public.

After the movie, we have to zip back home so that I can make an apple pie for a potluck we’re attending. Our friend Margy, who throughout the year hosts potlucks at her home, is hosting this one for Craig Hickman, who is running to be reelected to the Maine house for District 82, which comprises Winthrop and the neighboring town of Readfield. Craig will be bringing signs, and we’ll gladly take one to put on our lawn.

When Craig ran two years, against a very nice man who is from the area, I wasn’t sure if he would win. Craig is most definitely “from away” as we say in Maine, and I wondered how clannish Winthrop and Readfield would be. However, Craig, who is both outgoing and hard working, soon become involved with the community—with the soup kitchen, with Rotary, with the Theater at Monmouth, to name a few organizations. To know Craig is to like and respect him, and although he is a Democrat, he appeals to both parties and, of course, to Independents.

How nice to live in a town where both parties are respected, and voters frequently vote for candidates who are not in their party. This tolerance, along with the natural beauty of the area, is one of the things I especially love about Winthrop.

As I finished writing this piece, the sun came out. Maybe there is hope for my laundry after all.

Enter October

IMG_6678Once upon a time, August used to be my favorite month. The days were hot and dry, the nights were cool, and the mosquitoes were pretty much gone. But as with so many other things, August in Maine seems to have changed—it’s rainier, muggier, and filled with mosquitoes. I was not surprised to read in the Boston Globe that in Maine “precipitation has increased by more than 10 percent, with the worst storms bringing significantly more rain and snow.”  Yes, indeed, and those of us who were born here and have stayed here will find ourselves nodding in agreement.

September, on the other hand, appears to have removed itself from the rainy cycle. In fact it almost seems as though it’s the new August. The days are sunny, dry, and, if not hot, then at least warm. The nights are cool. The mosquitoes are pretty much gone. This September was nothing short of glorious, with plenty of days for bike riding, sitting on the patio, and listening to the crickets sing and the loons call.

But like all good things, September had to come to an end, and now we have October, which I am hoping will also be good, albeit in a cooler way. There is no more bike riding when Clif gets home from work. However, we do sit on the patio for a bit before heading in to make supper. By seven o’clock, it’s dark, and we now pull down all the shades to make the house feel cosier and warmer.

The leaves are falling, and I spend a fair amount of time sweeping the driveway and patio. The hummingbirds are long gone, but the year-round residents—the nuthatches, chickadees, finches, titmice, woodpeckers—still make a jolly flutter and racket as they come to the bird feeders.

Yesterday, I began cutting back the perennials, a daunting task now that my knees are so creaky. “If you didn’t have so many gardens, then it wouldn’t be so bad,” Clif reminds me.

Yes, yes. I know. But I love my gardens, and I will continue to tend them until I can’t anymore. (I hope that day is a long way off.) As with any other task, once I get started, it somehow doesn’t seem as bad.  I began as I always do, with the hostas around the stump in the front yard. This afternoon, which promises to be nice, I’ll do some more cutting, and by the end of the month, all the gardens will be cut back, waiting for the big freeze that will harden the ground. And then snow. If the past few years are any indication, then there will be plenty of it.

While I am sorry to see the end of September, I must admit that I like October—the apples, the fall harvest, the turning leaves, the birth month of my eldest daughter. All these things make it special.

This time of year, I really enjoy making apple pies for family and friends. Macoun apples—so crunchy, so sweet, so tart—are ready, and I have been greedily eating two a day. (To keep the doctor really far away?)

The trees are already splashed with color, and I am looking forward to bike rides by Lake Maranacook when the trees are in a dazzling blaze. While it might be too dark to ride when Clif comes home from work, we can still ride on weekends, and I take rides by myself in the afternoon.

Pumpkin soup, pumpkin bread, pumpkin muffins. Stews of all sorts, and there’s a new red lentil recipe that I want to try out in the next week or so.

And who knows? Maybe the weather will even allow us to grill a pizza or two before it becomes too cold to eat on the patio.

Dare I hope that October is the new September?