Category Archives: Five for Friday

Five for Friday: Chinese Food and Blue, Blue Skies

This week brought us Valentine’s Day. (To my way of thinking, a holiday devoted to chocolate should be celebrated by everyone, single folks as well as couples.)  Even though I was fortunate enough to receive a box of See’s chocolates as an early Valentine’s present, I figured, why not guild the lily and go out to lunch, too? When it comes to having fun, I am not a minimalist. So off to Lucky Gardens we went, for their tasty buffet.

The week was warm, warm, warm, even making it up to 50°F on Thursday. After the cold weather we have had this winter, the air felt positively tropical. Grabbing my wee wonder of a camera, I headed into town to see how things looked by Marancook Lake.

The sky was an impossible blue, so deep, so vivid that it almost looked as though it had been computer generated.

Even though it was warm, and there was open water by the shores, there were still plenty of ice-fishing shacks on the mostly frozen lake.

On the road by the lake, there’s a little bridge, plain and nowhere near as lovely as you would find, say, in Scotland. But if you cross the road, stand on the bridge, and look toward town, you will see a pleasing tableau, a classic New England scene.

If you look closer, you will even see some ducks—mallards, I think—swimming in the open water.

We are over half-way through February, and the days are getting longer. Dusk doesn’t come until 5:30 now, a real bonus to Clif and me as we have gotten to the age where we don’t like driving when it’s dark.

I am always sorry to leave beautiful, snowy February behind. Ahead of us lies the dreary month of March, and I’ll try not to whine too much when it comes.

In the meantime…here’s to the rest of February!

 

 

Advertisements

The Ugly, the Beautiful, and the Welcome

At the beginning of the week, because of a nasty winter rain, the driveway and the walks at our house were treacherous. As I’ve noted many times, in Maine, we loathe rain in the winter. Back in the day, it wasn’t a worry. Now, however, rain in winter is becoming more and more common.

Looking at the icy paths, Clif said, “Time for wood ash.”

“I hate how messy it is,” I replied. “But we don’t want to risk falling.”

So out came the wood ash, making the walks and the driveway safe but ugly and dirty.

Lucky for us, we have a beautiful dog of the north to brighten our day.

Then, just as we were wondering if we were going to have two months of hideous March weather, along came a welcome snowstorm on Wednesday that gave us eight inches of light snow, no rain, no wind, and, best of all, no worries about power outages.

During the storm, here’s a photo I took from my “bathroom blind,” of a junco on top of the bird feeder. I really like the contrast of the dark gray against the white snow. I also like the way you can see the blur of the snowstorm in this photo.

Yesterday morning, with the sun rising and the sky clear, I saw that the storm had wiped away all traces of ugliness. However, this meant work for Clif and Little Green.  Note the wall o’snow at the end of our buried driveway.

The front yard is once again a sea of clean snow.

Exactly right for Maine in February.

 

A Frosting of Snow

Yesterday, for most of the morning, it was spitting snow, as we Mainers like to say. It fell softly on the trees and  the yard.

It frosted our shovel, which we keep handy by the front door.

It frosted the fallen down tip of a branch

and a crow’s beak.

It frosted a beech leaf

and the top of our bird feeder, where this chickadee can stay dry while eating.

Winter can be soft and hard at the same time.

Five for Friday: Cushnoc Brewing Co.—A New, Hip Place in Augusta

According to Wikipedia, Augusta, Maine, with its population of about 19,000, is “the third-least populous state capital in the United States.” ( Vermont’s and South Dakota’s capitals are smaller.) Augusta is also an old city, established in 1629 by English settlers from the Plymouth Colony. Augusta was originally called Cushnoc, from its native American name that means “head of tide.”

However, while Augusta might be small and old, it isn’t quaint. With its major roads blighted by strip development and its empty shell of a main street, Augusta is a charmless city that gives you the feeling  the sky is gray, even when the sun is shining.

Augusta wasn’t always like this. My memory goes back far enough to remember when the main street was a bustling place filled with shops and other businesses. Vintage postcards indicate that those major roads, with their current scourge of strip development, were once charming tree-lined streets with lovely homes.

As to be expected, Augusta mostly has chain restaurants, ranging from McDonald’s to Ruby Tuesday. Clif and I don’t eat out very often, but when we do, we mostly go to Hallowell, a little city just outside of Augusta. Hallowell has a snappy collection of restaurants—none of them chains.

However, a new place has come to Augusta’s downtown—Cushnoc Brewing Co., and as its name suggests, it is indeed a brewery.  Cushnoc Brewing also specializes in pizzas baked in a wood-fired oven, and they serve other food including nachos and salads.

On Monday, Clif and I decided to check out Cushnoc Brewing Co. As soon as we went in, we looked around in wonder. Could this place—one that could be considered hip, even—really be in Augusta, Maine, the land of strip development and chain restaurants?

It seems that it could. But as the saying goes, handsome is as handsome does. Here were the most important questions: How was the food, and how was the beer? We ordered a pizza to share, and Clif ordered a beer, All Souls IPA. Clif told me it was light and had a citrus flavor and went down real easy.

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I ordered a root beer, but beer isn’t my thing. In honor of the beer lovers in my family, I’ll leave it at that, and I’ll return to my root beer later.

The pizza—half mushroom and half pepperoni—was one of the best I have ever had. The sauce was slightly sweet, and later I would discover that the secret was balsamic vinegar. The crust was cooked to perfection, and I ate more than I should have.

After Clif and I were done eating, we went to look at the pizza oven, and I was allowed to take  pictures of it. The oven has a name—Stacy—in honor of this building’s previous store, a tempting gift shop where I have bought many things.

Now let us return to my root beer, which had something to set it apart from most soft drinks served in restaurants. (Yes, I know. This is picture number six. Let us consider it a bonus picture.)

Perhaps it isn’t obvious from the photo, but the straw is paper, not plastic, and I consider this to be one baby step in the right direction. In truth, I’m perfectly happy to sip directly from the cup itself, and the next time I go, I’ll tell the server I don’t need a straw. Why waste paper? Nevertheless, Cushnoc Brewing Co. is the only area restaurant I have been to that provides paper straws rather than plastic.

Will this hip place revive Augusta? Only time will tell, but it’s my guess it will give the restaurants in trendy Hallowell a run for their money.

 

 

 

Five for Friday: By the Lake in January

When it comes to the weather, this has been an up and down kind of month. January started out with below zero temperatures, mellowed into nice winter weather, and has now spiked above 40°F. Rain is in the forecast for today, and there’s a foggy mist over snow that has become hard and dirty. Readers, it looks like March out there, and the horror of this is almost too much to bear. As if this weren’t enough, tomorrow the temperature is supposed to take another nose dive, with freezing rain, severe cold, and slippery roads. Even by Maine standards, this is extreme weather.

However, on Wednesday, it was a fine winter’s day, and at dusk, at the golden hour, we went to Norcross Point, a little park in town by Maranacook Lake. In spring, summer, and fall, we park the car there and use the park as a starting point for our bike rides. We always see people launching boats as well as using the many benches and tables to relax and have picnics. Not this time of year.

But with a glowing cerulean sky and an expanse of snow, the park and lake are beautiful and welcoming to snowmobilers and those who like ice fishing.

This picture shows the expanse of snow and sky, and the lake is so covered with snow that you can’t tell where the land ends and the water begins.

Empty benches overlook an ice-fishing shack.

A view of that same shack through the gazebo.

Nobody grilling on a snowy day.

A bare tree against a deep blue sky. One of my favorite subjects.

Here’s hoping that there will be more snow, no more freezing rain, and no more March weather until March.

Five for Friday: Power Regained and More Snowy Pictures

Our power is back, and it was only out for two hours. To say we were thrilled doesn’t begin to describe how we felt when after only a short while, the power whirred back into our house. Is there any sound sweeter than the refrigerator coming back to life? Not after a power outage, there isn’t.

In fact, Clif and I are well prepared for power outages, even though we hate them. We have plenty of wood for the furnace, stored water in buckets, canned food, oil for the lamps, and good flashlights.  And most important, peanut butter.

We did much of the clean-up yesterday, but there is more to do. At the end of the driveway, we have a wall o’snow left by the road plow. It’s too much for Little Green, and I have to chunk the snow first to make it manageable for the snow thrower and, of course, Clif.  Nature’s gym.

Here are some pictures of the blizzard, as it was happening and afterward.

Yesterday, it wasn’t too cold, but it sure was snowy.

Blizzard or not, the birds must eat.

The entrance at night.

A little guardian by the door.

The front entrance by day. We are certainly tucked in the snow now.

 

 

Five for Friday: Winter and Biscuits

Winter has definitely come to Maine.  Cold air from the Arctic has swept down on the state, leaving frost on the windows, crunchy snow underfoot, and a nip on the cheeks. Though it is cold, it is beautiful, and here are a couple of winter shots to illustrate this.

This is literally right out my bedroom window. All I had to do was open it to get a good picture.

A couple of years ago, a pileated  woodpecker visited this tree in our yard,  pecked with a vengeance, and left these holes behind.  To me, they look like little doorways that need to be shoveled.

Now on to biscuits. Somehow, cold weather encourages baking, and last night’s supper was a classic—biscuits with gravy. The previous night, in a crock-pot,  I had cooked a chicken with potatoes and carrots. With the resulting stock, I made a gravy—two cups stock, 4 tablespoons butter, 4 tablespoons flour—and then added the leftover chicken and vegetables. The stock was so tasty from the spicing—garlic, salt, pepper, sage, thyme—I used for the chicken that no additional flavoring was necessary.

Then came the biscuits, an old-timey recipe from mother who got it from an elderly friend. No one could make biscuits like my mother, but last night’s biscuits came pretty close to being as soft and tender as hers were.

Here they are, hot out of the oven.

A closer look.

Biscuits with the chicken gravy.

I posted the biscuit recipe many years ago, but this blog has lots of new readers, so I’m going to post it again. However, I do have a few tips and comments.

First, because this is an old-timey recipe, the measurements are not precise. Regular spoons from everyday cutlery are used for measuring, and one cup strong means just a dite over a cup. (Shannon, I know how you love such instructions.) Biscuits, unlike pie dough, improve with a bit of additional liquid, hence the one cup strong measurement for the milk. The dough will be very mushy. Let it set for a minute or two, and it will be stiff enough to handle.

Second, handle the dough as little as possible. Put it on a floured counter, sprinkle flour on top of the dough, pat it, flip it, and that’s enough. Remember, these are biscuits,  not bread.

Finally, I use Crisco in my biscuits. I realize that Crisco has fallen from favor, but it provides a taste and texture I like.  (I also use Crisco for pie crusts and gingersnaps.) If Crisco really isn’t your thing, try cutting in cold butter instead. I bet the biscuits will still be tasty.  And if you do use butter instead of Crisco, let me know how the biscuits turn out.

Rochelle’s Old-Timey Biscuits

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of flour
  • 3 heaping tablespoons of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 4 tablespoons of Crisco
  • 1 cup of milk, strong

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Cut in the Crisco until it is well mixed with the flour, and it all looks crumbly.
  4. Stir in the milk. Do not overmix. The dough will be very soft, runny even. Let it rest for a minute or two, and then turn the dough onto a floured counter or board.
  5. Pat the dough with flour and flip it, shaping it to desired thickness.
  6. Using either a glass or a biscuit cutter, cut out the biscuits and place them in an ungreased 8 x 8 pan. Dab the tops with small pieces of cold butter.
  7. Bake for ten or fifteen minutes, until the tops are golden brown.
  8. Serve hot with either butter or gravy. As my Yankee husband observes, pretty darned good.

For a bonus picture, here’s a shot of my counter after the biscuits have been made. Sometimes you’ve got to make a mess to get something good.