What an action-packed weekend we had! It started on Friday morning when Clif dipped pretzels in Ghiradelli chocolate to bring as a treat to trivia night at Van der Brew.
Now what could be better than beer, popcorn, and chocolate-covered pretzels?
I’ll tell you what. During the trivia game, I actually answered a sports question correctly. As I’ve mentioned before, sports is not my thing, and I always dread those questions because I never, never know the answers. Except this time I did. The question was this: Which baseball team won the World Series in 2016 after not having won since 1908? Readers, I almost fell out of my chair. Thanks to Chicagoan Scott Simon, the most excellent host of NPR’s Weekend Edition, I knew it was the Chicago Cubs. (I can still recall how excited Scott Simon was in 2016 when the Cubs won.) Holy cats, I was thrilled that I remembered this. The rest of the night had its ups and downs, but through it all I basked in the glow of my knowledge of the winner of the 2016 World Series.
For someone who lives in the hinterlands, the excitement of Friday night would have been more than enough for one weekend. But, readers, there was more. Much more. On Saturday I went with friends to Mount Vernon (population 1,640) to listen to the Sandy River Ramblers, a blue grass band. All the players and singers were good, but my oh my that mandolin player—Dan Simons—was outstanding. His fingers flew so fast on the strings that I thought my heart was going to break. Here’s a picture of Dan Simons playing the mandolin. Unfortunately, the light was not good, and I wasn’t sitting near the stage.
Then it was Sunday. Friends invited us over for for a late afternoon dinner. Other friends were also invited. We drank wine, we had delicious macaroni and cheese, and one of the best homemade cob salads I have ever eaten. I made my not-so-famous apple crisp. Kittens romped around us as we talked about music, books, and politics. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures.
But what a way to end a terrific weekend.
It is time for another confession: My childhood love of candy has stayed with me as an adult and has even followed me into my senior years. At times, I feel a little foolish to have such a yen for candy, especially chocolate.
I wish I could say that this yearning for candy extended only to high-end chocolate, but that would be a lie. Oh, no. I also enjoy Rolos and Butterfingers, and…well, you get the point. However, I think it would be fair to say that when I can get really good chocolate, I am especially happy, and all thoughts of everyday candy are gone from my mind.
You can imagine my delight—bliss might be a more appropriate word—when seven years ago, a candy shop, Scrummy Afters, came to Hallowell, a city about ten miles from where we live. Hallowell is within the loop of where we occasionally drive, and we stop in from time to time to indulge my passion for high-quality chocolate.
Scrummy Afters has all sorts novelty candy, including many delights from my youth, but what really draws me in is the chocolate they make themselves, which over the years has expanded from a few items to a large selection of delights, including but not limited to turtles, caramels, and toffees.
Our friends Alice and Joel, who are well aware of my candy obsession, very generously gave us a gift certificate to Scrummy Afters for Christmas. Therefore, with a happy heart, I went to this most excellent candy shop about a week ago. Clif, who likes candy well enough but is not as obsessed as I am, came with me and helped select some delicacies to bring home. I could have one of those beauties right now.
Because it was quiet when we went in, I had a chance to talk with one of the owners, Hilary Vallani. (The other owner is her mother, Kim.) Hilary told me that when the store first opened, she had experience in retail but no experience in chocolate making. In school, Hilary studied art—fashion design with a concentration in costume. This focus on art and design is evident throughout the beautifully decorated shop.
A few years in, Hilary took a class and learned about the chemistry, science, and precision of making fine chocolate. Now it is time to go out on a limb: I can without hesitation write that Hilary has mastered the art of chocolate making. I will even go one step further and state that of all the Maine chocolate we have tasted, Hilary’s is the best. Period.
As Clif put it, “The fillings are good, and so are the the shapes. But ultimately, it’s chocolate front and center.” Here is my take: Scrummy’s chocolate has a fresh, smooth, clean taste. It is creamy and chewy, just the way I like chocolate to be. No matter how good the fillings are, I am not a fan of chocolates with hard, almost tasteless, shells. I like deep, rich chocolate that melts easily in the mouth.
Recently, Scrummy Afters has branched out into making funky chocolate that might even be called edible art.
In addition to making the finest chocolates around, Hilary wants Scrummy Afters to be more than a candy shop. They have sponsored community events, including a Harry Potter scavenger hunt, which I know has become a big hit for the young and the young at heart.
Lucky, lucky us to have a shop with chocolate of this quality. We will be returning soon, very soon.
Last night Clif and I went to Winthrop’s very own Van der Brew for the Dennis Price Comedy Hour. Van der Brew is a huge—but comfortable—place, and it was full, full, full of fans eager to see Dennis’s show.
The line for beer was long, but Clif was patient and eventually got a pint of Lily Bay IPA, which seems to be glowing. No surprise. After all, Van der Brew is a special place.
I have known the buoyant, inimitable Dennis Price for over twenty years. I met him when he was a young intern at the Theater at Monmouth, a summer theater the next town over from us. Dennis is from Virginia, but lucky for us, Dennis decided to stay here, settling in central Maine. Along with acting, Dennis has taught at area high schools and is now the manager of Capital City Improv, where according to its Facebook page, he and his merry band of comics “present world-class improv comedy right before your eyes, ears and funnybones.”
After all, “The world needs more laughter…” It certainly does. As Roger Rabbit put it, “Sometimes in life, it is the only weapon we have.”
And laugh we did as Dennis and company romped, did impersonations, asked trivia questions, and most impressively, perhaps, came up with skits on the spot with prompts from the audience. In particular, their take, wit, and verbal agility in telling a story about the transfer station (once known as “the dump”) had everyone laughing. Holy cats, they were good.
When the humor is lighthearted—as it was last night—it is a wonderful feeling to laugh along with a crowd of people. It lifts the spirits, and if ever there were a time when spirits needed lifting, it is now.
The modest exterior of Van der Brew, previously a Paris Farmers Union (a farm, home and garden center) belies the good vibe of this brewery.
But the sign’s logo says it all: Brew Well. Do Good. Have Fun.
The spirit of this logo infuses the brewery. This is from Van der Brew’s website: “Making great beer isn’t just about the brews. It’s about building community, bringing people together and supporting local businesses and organizations that make our towns great places to live, work and play.”
Yes, yes, and yes, and Van der Brew is certainly making our community a better place.
Confession time: Not to put too fine a point on it, but I am not a beer enthusiast. Instead, I am more of a cocktail girl, and Van der Brew doesn’t serve cocktails or wine—only beer and soft drinks. But Clif is a beer drinker, and the atmosphere, which encourages all ages, is so much fun that a soft drink is just fine with me.
Yesterday we arrived early to get a good table and chairs for our trivia team, the Great Library, named after my very own series of YA fiction. Here are pictures of the interior before the crowds arrived.
And here is a picture of our fearless trivia leader, Nick, who has been leading trivia nights at various places for ten years. Go, Nick!
By the time trivia night started, the place was packed, and there were around eighteen teams. Liz, one of our team members, told me that a couple months ago, on Van der Brew’s first trivia night, there were about six teams. Clearly, the word has spread about Nick’s trivia nights at the brewery.
Along with being a fun night, donations were also taken for the library for a much-needed proposed parking lot nearby. By the end of the night, the box on the stand was filled with donations.
Also, at various times the line for beer and soft drinks was long, which meant Van der Brew also had a good night.
So how did Team Great Library do? Well, I am sorry to report that we weren’t at the top. We bombed on questions regarding sports and geography, but we did pretty well with books and movies. Big surprise! We talked ourselves out of the right answers a couple of times, which was irritating. As a result, we came in ninth, smack dab in the middle.
But we had a lot of fun, and Clif and I will return on February 14 for the next trivia night.
Many thanks, Nick, and many thanks Van der Brew for this fun event that brings our community together.
On Saturday, the Friends of the Bailey Public Library hosted a cookie walk and book sale. Not surprisingly, Clif and I were at the library as soon as the doors opened. We wanted to do our bit to help with this fundraiser. Being more than a little food obsessed, we also wanted to be first in line for the cookies.
Here is how the cookie walk worked: For $5, patrons got a can lined with a plastic bag. Homemade cookies made by volunteers were lined up on tables, and we got to choose which cookies we wanted. The cookies all looked so good that it was quite a process figuring out which cookies to select.
Here I am, with a serious expression on my face, as I think about the lovely cookies. So many tempting choices. (I am happy to report that the cookies tasted as good as they looked. Lots of good bakers in Winthrop. Also, the fundraiser was a great success, raising much-needed money for our wonderful library.)
Clif helped me, and soon we had a bag of cookies. Then, it was time to look at the books. Again, so many temptations, especially when hardcovers went for $1 and paperbacks were $.50. We used great restraint in only picking out six books, and some of those will be going to family members.
This one, however, is staying in our kitchen, at least for a while.
As I’ve written previously, Clif and I are now vegetarians, and although we will probably never be vegans, we are interested in eating a mainly plant-based diet. So this book caught Clif’s attention. The Betty in the title, of course, refers to Betty Crocker, an American icon of everyday cooking for everyday folks.
Full disclosure: I have a Betty Crocker cookbook from the 1970s, and it is my go-to book for cornbread, muffins, banana bread, and chocolate pudding. These recipes are simple but are all made with whole ingredients.
Betty Goes Vegan seems to be designed for people who are on the cusp of vegetarianism. They might like the idea of eliminating meat, but they are unwilling to give up the texture and flavor. The recipes in this book go to great lengths to replicate the experience of eating meat while not actually using meat. Clif and I are not in this category—although we do like faux chicken nuggets with our fries. For the most part, we are perfectly happy to eat legumes and other veggies as long as the meals have flavorful spices.
Still, as Clif pointed out, we’ll be able to get some tips from Betty Goes Vegan, and if we eventually decide it doesn’t need to be a part of our cookbook collection, then we can donate it back to the Friends for a future book sale.
On Sunday, we took Dee to the bus station so that she could return to New York City, where she lives and works. Always so sad to see her go, but what a fun time we had celebrating our birthdays.
Monday was Labor Day in this country. Here is a short explanatory blurb from Wikipedia: “Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September. It honors the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, laws, and well-being of the country. It is the Monday of the long weekend known as Labor Day Weekend. It is recognized as a federal holiday. ”
Very fitting that we should honor laborers who made the workforce a better, safer place. However, for many people it is the long weekend marking the end of summer. Tourists aplenty come to Maine on Labor Day Weekend, but luckily for us, central Maine is not a hot spot for vacationers, and the roads are fairly quiet.
In keeping with our quiet area, we decided that Monday would be a no-car day and that we would bike along Maranacook Lake, one of our favorite places to ride. The day was hot but beautiful, and after our ride, we sat on a bench at Norcross Point to watch the water, the boats, and the sky.
Hydrangeas are in bloom, and I liked the way the blossoms look with the sky as the background.
Also, I liked the way the two bright kayaks punctuated the water. Blue and pink, pink and blue.
As we sat at the park and watched people paddle and swim, we reflected how lucky we were to live in a town where there is ample access to free public areas by the lake. Not every town has this, and in Readfield, the town next to ours, their beach is billed as “a user supported beach.” The town charges $40 per family for an annual permit.
Certainly, $40 is not a great deal of money, but lots of people in central Maine live on a tight budget, and I wonder how many families decide they can’t afford the fee. Much better, in my opinion, to have the beach and the park free for all to enjoy. (I do realize that taxes pay for the maintenance of the Winthrop beach and park, and I am happy to have a portion of my taxes used this way.)
After these musings, Clif and I decided to head home. And what did I see? Leaves just beginning to change color.
It is September, after all, and while the calendar tells us that autumn isn’t here until September 23, the trees are telling us otherwise.
Soon, the most beautiful season of the year will be upon us.
In the meantime, Clif and I will enjoy as many evenings as we can on the patio.
Those days are numbered.