All posts by Laurie Graves

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

From Scones to Ancestors

Yesterday, I made scones, and they weren’t quite the success that I had hoped they would be. As the pictures below indicate, they grew in width rather than height—I can sure identify with that!—and they ended up looking like cookies. I used Alton Brown’s recipe.

Even so, they were surprisingly good—sweet, but not too sweet; tender, even though they were flat; and nicely crisp on top. Not complete failures. Just not what I wanted.

So, to my blogging friends who are familiar with scones: Do you have any idea where I went wrong? I did not overhandle them, but did I cut them too big? Should they have been taller and more narrow? Hard to troubleshoot from afar, I know, but please do feel free to offer suggestions.

On a happier note…I learned some interesting family-tree news from my cousin Carol. Her father and my father were brothers, and on that side of the family, our 7x great-grandfather was a German Jew named Hanss Semele. He was born in 1590 and came to France sometime in the 1600s.

As far as I knew, my family on all sides was French right back to the caveman days, but Carol’s genetic testing proved that this is not so. You never know, do you? (Phew, am I ever glad we didn’t find a plantation slave owner on the family tree. Unlikely, given our French Canadian ancestry, but, as a friend pointed out, this has happened to some people.)

Both Carol and I were tickled by the discovery of Hanss, and in Outside Time, the current YA fantasy book I’m working on, there will be a character named Hanss, in honor of our 7x great-grandfather. When I mentioned this to Carol, she replied, “Isn’t it funny how how close you feel to them once you know they existed?”

So true! Of course, we don’t know what kind of person Hanss was, but in my story, he’ll be a good guy.

Enter March and the Return of Snow-Gauge Clif

Today, I flipped the calendar from February to March, and I said in a grumbling voice, “Oh, boy! Here it comes.”

Long-time readers might recall how much I hate the month of March, and I know many, if not most, Mainers feel the same way. March—damp, muddy, and soggy—is such a miserable month in Maine that it deserves to be labeled a season unto itself. Potholes the size of the Grand Canyon open in our roads, and yesterday I almost lost the car in one not far from our mailbox. (Yay for the Winthrop road crew, who bravely came this morning to fill the hole. I don’t think any of the crew disappeared, never to be found.) Little kids lose their boots in the mud. Adults walk hunched over, waiting for spring. Dear blogging friends, if ever you decide to come to Maine, do not come in March.

For those who have birthdays in this month, thank goodness for you all. I salute you, even though you didn’t have any choice in the matter. You are the bright points in otherwise dismal month.

In anticipation of the March blues, I have filled the month with interesting activities—a concert, a lecture, a movie, a friend over for pizza, See’s chocolates, and—ta, dah!—an anniversary outing. Yes, Clif and I got married in the not-so-lovely month of March. What can I say?  We were both college students and getting married on our spring break seemed like the thing to do. It was the 1970s. We were more casual back then.

This first day of March brings the return of Snow-gauge Clif, who will be making weekly appearances until all the snow is gone, probably sometime in mid-April. He was such a hit last year, that we decided to bring him back.

Here is snow-gauge Clif in the front yard.

And here he is in the backyard.

Will there be more snowstorms this March? Does New York City have the best pizza? You bet there will, and one is slated for Sunday and Monday, eight inches of wet, heavy snow.

Until then, bring on the chocolates, bring on the movies!

Why I Cook and Bake

Recently, on Netflix, Clif and I have been watching a delightful show called I’ll Have What Phil’s Having. Recommended to us by our daughter Shannon, I’ll Have What Phil’s Having is a food and travel show hosted by the enthusiastic Phil Rosenthal, a writer and producer who is perhaps best known for Everybody Loves Raymond. Phil goes to, among other places, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Barcelona, and Paris.

Phil has a passion for food that might even exceed mine, and his expressive face registers pure joy every time he tastes something that is utterly delicious. As Phil is going to wonderful restaurants, small and large, his success rate is very high.  (Although there is one memorable scene with eggs that have been marinating in something less than delectable for way too long.) Warm, kind, generous, and funny, Phil is exactly the kind of food host I want.

Traveling vicariously with Phil, I have actually picked up a few tips for my own cooking, but it was when he went to Paris that my thoughts about food and cooking fell into place. Naturally, in the Paris episode, Phil talked about baguettes, about how bread is so important to the culture that the government actually regulates the flour and the price. The feeling is that all people, regardless of how much money they earn, deserve good bread in specific and good food in general. It is their birthright.

How different this is from the attitude in the United States, where people who live on a tight budget must scrabble to eat well by clipping coupons, shopping sales, compiling a price book, and running to various grocery stores, few of which are nearby and usually involve having a car, another big expense. Especially in Maine, to eat well on a tight budget could almost be considered a part-time job, which is why so many harried folks rely on processed food. When you are working two or three jobs, finding the energy to cook is no easy thing.

And yet, if you live on a shoestring budget, cooking and baking are essential to eating well and eating healthy. What a conundrum!

Although Clif and I live on a shoestring budget, we are very lucky to work from home, where we have the time and flexibility to cook much of our food from scratch.

Last Saturday, I made an apple pie and cinnamon pie knots.

In the afternoon, friends came over, and as we sat around the dining room table, we ate pie and cinnamon knots and other goodies while we discussed books, movies, and politics. A finest kind of afternoon.

This afternoon, I will be making bread. Where I live, there are no good bakeries nearby, and even the not-so-good bread is expensive, costing about $5 a loaf. Therefore, I bake my own bread.

 

I am not sure what kind of seismic cultural shift it would take for Americans to change their thinking about who deserves good, affordable food.  Maybe the gap is too wide and can never be bridged.

But I live in hope.

 

 

 

Looking Up, Looking Down, Looking All Around

In some ways, not much has changed at our little house in the big woods. Snow, snow, everywhere, and yesterday we had a little three-incher of a storm to top things off.

When I look down the road, this is what I see.

Although perhaps it isn’t obvious in this picture, the snowbanks are quite high, and when we back the car out of the driveway, we have to do it slowly and carefully so as not to hit an oncoming car.

Our trusty wheel barrow slumbers in the snow and dreams of spring.

This vigilant squirrel keeps watch in an expanse of shadows and white.

And yet, there is a softening. During the day, the air isn’t as sharp. It doesn’t nip the cheeks and nose the way it did as recently as a week ago.

When I look up, I see the trees are starting to bud.

I look up farther and catch this nuthatch searching for goodies on a dead tree.

For the first time in a long while, my fingers aren’t freezing as I take pictures. While there might be a few more storms to remind us that Winter is still in charge, Spring is tap, tap, tapping on Winter’s shoulder.

Soon, soon.