All posts by Laurie Graves

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

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


Ground Breaking for the Library’s New Addition

IMG_6463Yesterday was a banner day for the Charles M. Bailey Library. There was a ground breaking for the new addition, which if everything goes well, will be completed in April of 2015. It was a day of joy for all of us who have worked so hard on this project—six years for some and three years for me.

IMG_6412As I’ve written previously, there have been low points as well as high points in this expansion campaign. In a town the size of Winthrop—6,200—it is not easy to raise a million dollars (or so!). But  we are getting closer to our goal, and thanks to the town council, which approved a bond for us, we are able to get started now. We have wonderful support from the community, and we also have a terrific group of volunteers who will help us continue with the fundraising we need to do to complete the project. And, I expect new volunteers will join us as time goes by.

So, allow me to blow the celebratory horn. Hooray for Winthrop, hooray for the library, and hooray for all who have helped make this project a reality!


A Mixed Weekend

On Saturday, Clif and I were up bright and early—for us—to set up at the Winthrop Art Fair.

Clif setting up at the fair
Clif setting up at the fair

The weather was good—sunny with clouds, not too windy, not too hot—and while there wasn’t exactly a crush of people, attendance was steady.

Laurie minding the tent
Laurie minding the tent

Unfortunately, sales were disappointing. We sold enough cards to pay for the table fee plus a little extra, but not enough to warrant all the work we put into getting ready for this event as well as the two of us sitting at the fair from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.  Plenty of people came to look at the cards. They told us how pretty they were, but many of them left without buying anything. The cards—at $3 apiece—are a good price, so it wasn’t the cost.

After the fair, Clif and I discussed the disappointing sales. While our cards are nice, perhaps flowers and scenery aren’t unique enough to grab people’s attention. With all the great, affordable, digital equipment that is available, taking good pictures has never been easier. Perhaps fairgoers felt they could take pictures and make their own cards. Or, perhaps people just don’t send cards the way they once did. Who knows?

I realize that Winthrop is not exactly in the hub of things, and my card sales shouldn’t be judged by one fair. On the other hand, my expectations for this fair—the table fee plus $100 extra—weren’t unreasonable, and we fell far short of that.

Alec Hartman, another photographer we know, was there, and his mother told me he did quite well. However, Alec takes unique and snappy pictures of animals, and he does a great job. Most people would not be able to get the shots he takes of bears, chipmunks, and various other animals.

So, now I have to decide how much energy and money I want to put into this because by spending so much time on the cards, I neglected other things, including my writing. I have not made bread for two weeks, I have not kept track of sales in the various grocery stores, and I haven’t been as diligent at clipping coupons. Would my time be better spent doing those things rather than trying to sell cards? I honestly don’t know.

Clif has suggested I try selling cards on Etsy, and I plan on following his advice. I might also do a couple of holiday fairs, where we would not only sell cards but calendars, too.

To make up for the disappointing day on Saturday, we had a delightful day on Sunday at our friends’ home. Jim and Dawna live by a lake, and this is the view from their deck.

IMG_6391We had wine and appetizers on the deck, and the weather even let us eat our meal outside, too. We had grilled chicken, roasted potatoes, and a wonderful salad made with Farmer Kev’s heirloom tomatoes.


As a bonus, this butterfly—a black and white admiral, I think—landed on the deck and stayed there long enough for me to get this shot.

IMG_6402I enjoy taking pictures, and I will continue to do so whether or not I sell cards. But this week I am going to take a break from cards. I will make bread, get the house in order, and maybe even do a little fiction writing.

Then next week I will decide how much time I want to put into selling cards.



Hinterland Photography Goes to the Winthrop Art Fair

IMG_6354On Saturday, Clif and I, of Hinterland Photography, will be setting up shop at the Winthrop Art Fair. The past two weeks have been busy, busy, busy. We now have 225 cards to sell—flowers, animals, scenery, doors, and even some with food. We’ll also have framed photos to sell, ranging from big—11 x 14—to small—4 x 6.

Today will be a day to get all the bits and bobs organized—cash for the cash box, price cards for the framed photos, and all the various things we will need tomorrow. The spare bedroom is cluttered with items for the fair, but most everything is one place, which is good.

Will everything go into our Honda Fit? Or, will we need to make two trips? For this event, it isn’t an issue as the fair’s site—on Winthrop’s Main Street—is about a mile from the little house in the big woods. However, it could be an issue for future fairs. One thing at a time, as Clif and I like to say to each other.

Unfortunately, the weather forecast has gone from dry and sunny, the way it should be in August, to “checkered,” meaning cloudy mixed with a bit of sun with the possibility of showers. Not the best, but not the worst either. At least torrential downpours aren’t predicted, in which case Clif and I wouldn’t go. We would not want our cards and framed photos to be ruined by the rain. We do have a canopy, but it will provide only so much protection.

But checkered we can live with.

So readers, if you live in central Maine and feel like going to the Winthrop Art Fair, do stop by and say hi. The art fair runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.


A Fourth Wedding Anniversary

Mike and Shannon
Mike and Shannon

Last night we had a tempest. There is no other word for it. The rain beat down with a rush and a roar on the little house in the big woods. This downpour was punctuated by lightening and thunder, fortunately not too close.

The storm was still going strong when it was time to let the dog out for his nightly business. When I opened the bulkhead to let him go in the backyard, I was soaked within seconds as the rain beat into our cellar. The dog gave me a look that indicated I was nuts if I thought he was going to venture out in such weather, and in the short time it took me to close the bulkhead, I was wet through to my underwear.

I certainly couldn’t blame the dog for not wanting to go out in the lashing rain. So I read until 1 a.m., and by then the tempest had calmed to a light rain. The dog willing went out and did what he needed to do, after which I gratefully went back to bed and to sleep.

Today, the rain has stopped, and there is blue sky.  As my daughter Shannon has noted, “August 14 is always a good day.” And a special day as well—her and Mike’s wedding anniversary. This year it is their fourth, and depending on the weather and the menu, Shannon and Mike plan to have a celebratory meal at The Well at Jordan’s in Cape Elizabeth.

I’ve never been to The Well, but their website description sounds lovely—a limited, changing menu of about five entrées, and the food is served on picnic tables among the gardens. The prices are even reasonable, ranging from $21 to $24, prices that everyday folks can afford for a special occasion such as an anniversary.

Shannon and Mike, of course, are one of my favorite couples, and on their fourth wedding anniversary, I can’t help but think how lucky we are to have Mike for a son-in-law. Not only is he kind, patient, brave, and good natured, but he loves books, movies, and art, which makes him interesting as well. Clif and I love getting together with Shannon and Mike, where we have wide-ranging conversations that are never boring. What a bonus to have a son-in-law who is not only nice but who is also sharp and a great pleasure to talk with.

Happy fourth anniversary, Shannon and Mike. May you have many, many more.

From the Water’s Edge

Unless the weather is very bad, each day the dog and I take a walk to the Narrows, which comprise two large and lovely ponds, the Upper and the Lower Narrows. In truth, both Narrows are big enough to be mistaken for lakes, and in some parts of the Lower Narrows, the water reaches a depth of one hundred feet.

The Narrows are about a quarter of a mile from the little house in the big woods, and sometimes it takes the dog and me over an hour to go there and come back home again. This is not a walk for exercise—for that I ride my bike—this is a walk for me to look and take pictures and for the dog to sniff and pee.

Why are people drawn to water? Is it because our bodies contain so much of it? According to the U.S. Geological Survey, “the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%.”  That’s a lot of water in one body.

Is it because we instinctively know that water is essential to life, and we are therefore attracted to lakes and rivers?

Whatever the case, many, many people feel the pull of water, and in Winthrop, essentially a bit of land surrounded by lakes and ponds, the population swells in the summer as people come to stay in camps and seasonal homes. The inland influx of people doesn’t compare to to the coast’s influx, but the population increase is noticeable to Winthrop’s merchants, and it really helps them get through the year.

Taking pictures of the Narrows while walking the dog is a tricky affair, and as I’ve noted previously, only a small camera will do. The retractable leash is locked short, and I hold it between my knees when I take pictures. In the winter, gloves must come off, and this further adds to the merry confusion.

Yesterday, I took the following two pictures on our walk:



Here is a picture from today’s rainy walk. (This one’s for you, Shari Burke.)


I’ve been thinking of doing a series of photos called From the Water’s Edge. Clif and I will be participating in a number of craft fairs this fall and winter, and I was thinking the Water’s Edge pictures could be framed and displayed all together on one of the stands Clif has built. Clif has some good water’s edge photos, too, and his could be added as well. Naturally, I would also make cards with the photos.

Often the edge of water—ponds, lakes, rivers, the ocean—is the most interesting place to take pictures. The angle combined with the shoreline plants, rocks, logs, and various other items make for good composition in a picture.

The edge is also a good place for a writer (and a photographer) to be, gazing outward, seeing the view from many angles.


Heading Toward Mid-August

We are heading toward mid-August, that sweetest, saddest time of the year when the crickets sing, and summer is winding down. Now it is dark at 8:00 p.m. rather than at 9:00, and to borrow from the writer Susan Cooper, the dark is rising. All around Winthrop, people are rushing to squeeze as much as they can out of the last weeks of summer.  Family and friends from away come to visit. Barbecues are planned. Ditto for bike rides, boat rides, hikes, and swimming.

Little Winthrop, population circa 6,200, has an action-packed weekend coming up. On Saturday, there will be the annual Winthrop Art Fair, and Clif and I have a spot selling photographs and cards. After the fair the Winthrop Rotary will host its annual Family Barbecue & Gumbo to End Hunger. (The proceeds go to various agencies, including the Winthrop Food Pantry.) Clif and I went the year before last, and the food was fantastic. If we’re not too zonked after the Art Fair, then we’ll go this year, too.

On Sunday, the Feather Lungs, a rock band, will be performing at lovely Norcross Point at 2:00 p.m., and featured on bass will be none other than our library director, Richard Fortin. Clif and I are hoping to go to that, too.

In my own backyard, the gardens are starting to look a little tattered, the way they always do this time of year. However, the flox are coming into bloom, and because I am so flower obsessed, I just had to take a picture of them.

IMG_6327I also caught a picture of this woodpecker, and although it is not what you would call a really good photo, it’s not too bad, given I took it with my little Cannon.


My three main obsessions seem to be flowers, food, and birds, and the Narrows—and indeed nature—could be considered my muses. As always, I can’t help but think how lucky I am to live in Winthrop, with the glittering Narrows just down the road, flowers all around, and the backyard aflutter with birds and insects.

In the next few weeks, as August winds down, I’ll be trying to squeeze as much as I can out of this most lovely month.


Cellar Envy

Saturday was a whirlwind of a day where I got up, got dressed, went to the transfer station, stopped at Farmer Kev’s stand for, among other things, red potatoes, went to Hannaford, came home, met Shannon’s new dog, Somara, made a salad with with roasted beets, roasted walnuts, feta, dried cranberries, and romaine, went to a picnic to meet darling baby (and she is a darling!), came home to thankfully discover that the three dogs—Somara, Holly, and Liam—left alone had been as good as can be, brought raspberry bars and other items to the library event at the high school, and came home to fix an anniversary meal for Shannon and Mike. Phew! I was bushed by the time it was all over.

Now, you would think Sunday would have been a day of rest for us, but it was not. Next Saturday is the Winthrop Art Fair, and Clif and I—of Hinterland Photography—will be there selling cards and framed photos. There was—and still is—much to do.

Our friends Dawna and Jim generously agreed to let us use their canopy, and yesterday afternoon we went to their house to fetch it. While we were there, Dawna showed us the little studio she has set up in her cellar. Dawna is an accomplished photographer, and she especially likes still life photography, which to my way of thinking is a difficult form. On the face of it, it seems that nothing could be easier than throwing a few things together—say, a vase with flowers and some rocks—and taking a picture of them. The objects don’t move. The light doesn’t change. But go ahead and try it and see what you get. Every bit of background clutter can find its way into a still life, and while the light doesn’t change, normal lighting in a house tends to be either too dark or too bright. I’ve tried many times to get a good still life picture on our dining room table, and most of the time I’ve failed.

In her cellar, Dawna has a big screen for a backdrop, and she has various lamps and flashes for lighting.  The secret, I think, to taking a good still life is that there has to be a lot of control in the surrounding environment. (Sometimes, of course, you can get lucky and stumble onto a situation where the light is gorgeous, and the display is pleasing. But those times are the exceptions rather than the rule.)

As Dawna showed us her little studio in her cellar, I looked around. The floor was painted and very clean. Everything was stacked neatly on shelves or tucked away in drawers. There was not a cobweb in sight. The same was true for Jim’s side of the cellar, where he keeps his big saw and tools. For Jim, too, is not only an accomplished photographer, but he is also very handy.

Readers, I am not ashamed to admit it. I had cellar envy. The cellar at the little house in the big woods is cluttered and cobwebby. The shelves are either rusted metal or sagging chipboard, and they are just begging to be  replaced. And the floor, well, let’s not talk about the floor. Alas, Clif and I are not as neat and tidy and organized as Jim and Dawna.

Ah, well! We admire it others, that’s for sure, and we do what we can to stem the tide of uncontrolled clutter and cobwebs. But at best it’s a draw.