Category Archives: Food

Snowy Sunday: Time for Soup and Good Conversation

Yesterday started out as a gray, snowy day. Overnight about four inches of snow fell, which meant Clif had to go out with Little Green to clear the driveway and paths.

Liam, dog of the north, checked out the backyard while Clif worked out front.

Just as Clif finished cleaning the driveway, the sun came out, turning a dull morning into a sparkling day. I have discovered that my bathroom “blind”—where I can open the window and take pictures of birds—also gives me a pleasing vantage point to take shots of the snow and the backyard. As the photos indicate, everything still looks like a winter wonderland, but that is normal for Maine in February.

Here’s a zoom look into the woods, where you can see the snow blowing off the trees.

A snowy day is also a good soup day, and the day before, I had made a white bean soup with chicken sausage, ground turkey, carrots, celery, peppers, and plenty of herbs and spices. That way, all I would need to do was heat the soup when our friend Alice Bolstridge came for lunch.

All right. I also made corn bread, salad, and apple crisp to go with the soup. But the main part of the meal was done and could simmer all morning as I put together the other parts of our lunch.

Alice, a very fine writer, lives in northern Maine, which means we don’t see her very often. But this year, to add some dash to winter, which is even longer up north than it is in central Maine, Alice decided to come to Augusta during the legislative session to acquaint herself with how our state government works. She has rented a room in a lovely old home and goes to various legislative committee meetings, which are open to the public. On occasion, she testifies. Alice even has a blog—Alice on Peace and Justice— where she describes the various sessions she has attended.

No surprise, then, that the afternoon zipped right by as we talked about politics, books, family, and a myriad of other things that cascaded from these subjects. When it was late afternoon, Alice said, “My goodness, I stayed a long time.”

“I’m so glad you did,” I replied.

“There’s no pleasure like good conversation,” Alice said.

“None at all,” I agreed.

Alice is absolutely right. Spring, summer, fall, or winter, there are few pleasures that can compete with having friends over—either for tea or for a meal—and then sit around the dining room table where we talk and eat. It’s a simple pleasure, a respite in a world that is often busy and rushed.

 

 

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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!

 

 

A Tray Full of Treats, A Basket Full of Cat

Yesterday, on a gray, drizzly February Sunday—Oh, how Mainers hate drizzle in the winter—we had friends over for an afternoon of food and good conversation. The food was simple—snacks and pizza—which meant we could chat with our guests without too much fussing in the kitchen.

Before the Super Bowl, on Facebook , I  had discovered an idea for serving snacks. I was so taken with the way the food looked that I decided to try it for this gathering. Really, the idea couldn’t be more simple—array an assortment of snacks on a tray—and here is what I did.

To a combination of crackers, cheese, and crunchy snacks, I added homemade clam dip (upper right-hand corner) and chocolate-covered peanuts that Clif and I had dipped ourselves. It was a fun way of serving appetizers, and I plan on doing this for future gatherings.

Our friends also brought treats to share, and Dawna used a nifty basket to carry hers. Sherlock always loves anything he can climb into, and it didn’t take him long to investigate the empty basket.

After appetizers, we had Clif’s pizza.

And ice cream and pie for dessert. (Alas, I didn’t get a picture.)

It was one of those happy gatherings where six like-minded people ate and talked past dusk right into the night. When our friends were ready to go, I looked at my watch and could hardly believe what I saw—it was 9:45 p.m.

Time really does fly when you’re having fun.

From Fried Chicken to a Golden Marsh

On Saturday, Clif and I went to Augusta, Maine’s small capital city, about ten miles from where we live. It was to be an afternoon of errands. The day was very fine—ridiculously so for Maine in mid-October—and we decided to slide in a couple of diversions to go with our errands.

First, and probably most important, we went to the Red Barn for lunch, and shared a basket of their delicious fried chicken.

Because the day was so warm and sunny, we were able to eat outside at one of the Barn’s many picnic table.  I know the chicken takes front and center stage, but you might have noticed Clif’s Hinterlands Press t-shirt in the background. (A little unplanned advertising of our very own press.) Yes, the day was warm enough to be comfortable outside in a t-shirt.  Let’s just say that the crisp days of autumn have yet to come.

After all that chicken, did we have room for dessert? We did, but not too much, and we split a whoopie pie, Maine’s official state treat. They are wicked good, that’s for sure.

Suitably fueled, we did our errands. My bruised leg is much better, and I think this is in large part due to the arnica gel I have been putting on it. (Xenia, of the blog Whippet Wisdom, suggested doing this. Many thanks!) Nevertheless, I stayed in the car for some of the errands and let Clif do the walking.

After the errands, on the drive home we stopped at a nearby marsh to get some fall pictures.

This marsh falls under the category of “looks are deceiving.” The pictures indicate that this marsh is somewhere off the beaten path, deep in the country, far from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, this marsh is along one side of a busy highway with a wide breakdown lane. A good thing, too, or else it would be impossible to safely take pictures of this beautiful wetland. Even with the relative safety of the breakdown lane, it is not a peaceful area to stop and take pictures. Whiz, whiz, whiz go the cars. Still, it is such a lovely place that I can’t resist stopping, from time to time, to take pictures of the marsh.

Although we need wild places for creatures to live, and I am a firm believer in land and water conservation, I am also grateful to have this marsh off the busy highway between Augusta and Winthrop. I see it whenever we go into town. Every season brings fresh delights to the marsh, and right now it is golden in its autumn glory. Spring and summer bring a progression of light green to dark green, and in winter there is the stark beauty of ice and snow.

In many cases, nature is not an either-or proposition. Nature is all around us, in the wilderness, in the countryside, in suburbs, even in cities. (I’ve been told that Central Park is an excellent place for bird watching.)

All we have to do is look.

 

A Glorious October Day, But No Biking for Me

Yesterday, we got much needed rain, but today the weather has cleared. The day is warm—ridiculously so for Maine in October—and the sky is blue. A perfect day for a bike ride, except that my leg is just not up to it. My right leg, which hit the bar of my bike as I fell, still has a bruise with the circumference of a small grapefruit.  (Fortunately it doesn’t have the mass, only the width. ) I hobble. I rest. I hobble some more. I rest some more.

I am grateful that I didn’t break anything, but I feel a bit glum about not being able to go on bike rides, and I suspect I won’t be able to go on any until next spring. As soon as my leg stops hurting so much, I’ll be riding the exercise bike, that road to nowhere.

Despite my sore leg, I was able to take some pictures this morning, of the sun streaming into the woods and onto the trees. The changing leaves have not been brilliant this year—too warm, too dry?—but still they are lovely.

As the ferns change from green to tan, they light up the woods.

Tomorrow, weather permitting, I hope to get into town, with the car, of course, and take some pictures of trees by the lake.

Spring and fall are such glorious seasons in Maine. Spring has the flush of youth, and it bursts upon us in a rush, with a froth of blossoms and an oh-so tender green. Spring never stays as long as we would like as she runs headlong into summer.

Fall, on the other hand, comes in an aching blaze, and on nice days, there is such a glory of bright leaves and blue sky that you can almost forgive fall for binging the shorter days that eventually lead to cold winter. Almost.

In the fall, our thoughts turn to soup, and I have two of Farmer Kev’s butternut squashes that are begging to be made into soup. I also have some of his onions and garlic. My little garden has a frenzy of herbs, with the oregano being completely out of control.

Clif will help me chop the vegetables and herbs, and who knows? If my leg isn’t too sore, maybe I’ll even make a batch of biscuits to go with the soup. My biscuit recipe comes from my mother, who surely made the best biscuits in Maine, if not New England.

Anyway, these are all things to perk me up. I still wish I could go on a bike ride, but these fine October days, with their beauty, along with the plan for soup and biscuits, chase my glum thoughts away.

 

 

 

In Praise of Decency and Hard Work

In the United States, this long weekend is Labor Day Weekend, a time to honor those who, well, labor. In the United States, many people work extremely hard, and hats off to them for all that they do to keep this country running—the teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, librarians, shop workers, volunteers, those who work at home, the caregivers. I could go on and on and have left many out.  For those at the very top who sponge so much out of society, I hope they appreciate the hard work that keeps them in place. (Snarky, I know, but appropriate for this time of widening inequality in the United States.)

Labor Day weekend is also a time when we bid a bittersweet farewell to summer. Yes, autumn is lovely, and there is much to look forward to, but barbecues and patio time are coming to an end.

Accordingly, we invited our friends Judy and Paul over for a barbecue on Saturday. Judy is a pie maker extraordinaire, and she brought over a raspberry pie for dessert. I nearly jumped for joy when I saw the pie because although I’m keen on all kinds of berries, raspberries are my favorite. As my 60th birthday is coming right up, I immediately proclaimed that this pie was a birthday pie. What then could Judy do but leave the leftovers with us? However, as she told me that she had two peach pies at home, I figured I was, in fact, doing Judy a favor by keeping the leftover raspberry pie. Or so I tell myself.

For the main meal we had potato salad made with sour cream and turkey bacon; chicken breasts marinated in a lemon, garlic, olive-oil  mixture and brushed with a mustard sauce; and corn drizzled with brown butter. Farewell, farewell sweet summer.

Over dinner, one of the topics that came up was the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas. So many stories of brave, selfless people helping each other without regard for income, skin color, or ethnicity. Pets were rescued, too, which I found particularly cheering.

For the past week, I had been thinking about the heroism in Texas and about how people really do pull together during catastrophes. Now, if we could just do the same thing when there isn’t a catastrophe, in everyday life.

I mentioned this to Paul and Judy.

“Everyday life is hard,” Judy said.

So it is. Most of us can rise to the occasion and be our better selves during a flood or an ice storm or a tornado. But when things settle down, self interest, pettiness, and even greed too often kick in. While we all need to take care of ourselves and our families, it is very easy to cross the line to selfishness, begrudging others what we think we should have as a matter of course. In short, we have trouble being consistently decent to each other.

Decency, a humble concept, is hard work, something that must be continually applied not only to other people but also to how we treat animals, the earth, the water, the air.

Somehow, thinking about hard work and decency seems appropriate for Labor Day Weekend.

 

Last Sunday in August

Gone are the songs of the tree frogs and the peepers. Instead, we have the buzzing of grasshoppers and the sweet chorus of the crickets. In Maine, summer—lovely summer!—is coming to an end, and what a nice summer it has been. There have only been a few blisteringly hot days when the temperature climbed to the mid-90s. For the most part, it’s been perfect and sunny, between 75° and 80° during the day, and then cooler nights, just right for sleeping.

While autumn in Maine is oh so fine, I will miss summer evenings on the patio, where Clif and I enjoy a drink or two and listen to music. Already, the days are significantly shorter, and by 6:30 it is a little too cool and damp to enjoy sitting on the patio.

Still, we have a couple of months of warm-enough weather so that we can go on bike rides. And with any luck, we’ll be able to ride some of November. After that, well, no matter how much I bundle up, I am too cold to enjoy a bike ride of any length.

One of things I enjoy most about autumn is the nutty smell of the plants as they dry and go to seed. For someone like me, who has a keen sense of smell, every season has its own aroma, each to be enjoyed—even the cold tang of winter.

To celebrate August and late summer, Clif and I invited a few friends over for wine and appetizers. The weather gods were with us, and we had a fine summer’s day to enjoy being outside. As I was bringing appetizers and plates to the table, I noticed a colorful guest on the lawn. While the pictures aren’t very crisp, they are good enough to share.

After a bit of pecking on the lawn, it was back to a tree, where these beauties can usually be found.

Then, I continued setting the table.

Our friends Denny and Cheryl and Judy—neighbors all—came. We sipped wine, drank beer, ate appetizers, which included Clif’s legendary grilled bread, and talked about dogs, books, movies, television shows, movies, and politics.

The hummingbirds whirred to their feeders filled with sugar water. The finches, titmice, chickadees, cardinals, and woodpeckers fluttered, flew, and chirped as they came to the feeders with sunflower seeds.

Dusk came, and the green shadows deepened. By then, the food was mostly gone, and our guests said their farewells. We all agreed this should be a yearly tradition, a salute to the end of summer and a greeting to autumn.