Category Archives: Food

An Odd but Fruitful Fourth

Saturday was the Fourth of July. As Wikipedia puts it, the Fourth is a day, “commemorating the Declaration of Independence of the United States, on July 4, 1776.” As I’m sure most of you know, it is a national holiday.

For Clif and Me, it was the oddest Fourth of July we have ever had. Usually, we host a gathering of family and friends on our patio, and Clif makes his legendary grilled bread. But thanks to Covid-19, no family and friends this year and no grilled bread.

Unfortunately, for the past ten years, the weather has been beastly on the Fourth, very hot and very humid. This year, of course, the weather was absolutely perfect—sunny but not too hot and low humidity.

At around 2:00, Clif and I took to the patio and had grilled Beyond Burgers, a tasty vegetarian substitute for hamburgers. The weather was so fine that we stayed on the patio for the rest of the afternoon.

We talked at great length about food, and how we can eat better to enhance our health. Ever since the pandemic started, both Clif and I have been aware that not only are we at risk because of age but also because of health issues. Clif has type 2 diabetes, and I am overweight.

I have been working diligently at losing weight and am having success. I’ve also been riding my exercise bike five mornings a week, and I’m happy to report that my creaky knees are not as creaky.

On the Fourth, Clif decided it was time to get serious  about controlling his carbohydrate (carb) intake. A friend of ours who has struggled with type 2 diabetes for years is now facing the prospect of going on dialysis. Sobering, to say the least. And this really made Clif think about his own health, not just in this time of Covid-19 but afterward as well.

For the past year and a half, Clif and I have been vegetarians. This might be coming to an end as we add chicken and fish to our diet as we change to a low-carb regimen.  But strangely enough, being vegetarian has given us the courage and confidence to tackle low-carb eating. Giving up meat was not easy for us, but we did it,  and we radically changed the way we eat. Because of this, we know we can change the way we eat again.

Now, Clif is a computer guy, a geek, if you will. Because Clif couldn’t find an online tool for keeping track of carbs that worked the way he thought it should, his response was to create his own carb data base on his computer. The data base allows him to create his own list with net carb numbers and serving size. This makes it easy for Clif to keep track of his daily carb intake. He is aiming for 50 to 60 carbs a day, and yesterday Clif was able to do this and still have beer and nuts on the patio.

So onward, ho, to a new way of eating. One, we hope, that leads to better health.

 

 

 

 

First Lunch on the Patio

On Saturday, the weather was so fine—at least by Maine standards—that Clif and I had our first lunch on the patio. The temperature was about 65°F with a gentle breeze. For two winter-weary elders, it was warm enough for us to leave our jackets inside as we sat and ate.

Clif made potato pancakes for our lunch. In the picture, they look like regular pancakes, but they had a lovely mashed potato and Parmesan taste. We slathered them with butter and liberally sprinkled them with salt. Very tasty indeed. Especially when eaten on the patio.

As we ate, we were treated to all manner of fluttering birds and their spring songs. The wary goldfinches, cheeping loudly, clustered in a big cedar as they waited for us to leave.

But this bird was a little braver. (I’m thinking it’s a flycatcher. Eliza, what do you think?)

And the mourning dove felt perfectly comfortable patrolling for spilled seeds not far from where we sat.

Watching over everything was the backyard Spirit of the Woods.

I know. It’s really a dead tree that should come down before it falls where we don’t want it to fall. But I will be sorry when the tree no longer stands. Not only will we lose the wood spirit, but the birds will lose a place to hunt for tidbits.

But there. For several years, Clif and I have talked about taking that tree down, and still it stands. I am hoping the tree will be there for several more years.

After lunch, I worked on removing leaves from the beds in the front yard. Why is it that outside work is more satisfying than inside housework? It probably has something to with the sun and the sky and the birds, none of which are as present when you are inside.

Later on during the weekend, thanks to technology, I visited with my daughters and my son-in-law, and much of the talk was about politics and the coronavirus.

I also “attended” Rassemblement, a yearly gathering of Franco-American artists, writers, and creatives. Usually it is held at the University of Maine at Orono, but in this time of the coronavirus, it was held virtually.

The theme of this year’s gathering was legacy. This is from the Franco American Programs website: “The dictionary definition of legacy is, ‘Something handed down from an ancestor or a predecessor or from the past.’ As Franco Americans, what was handed down to us? And how does this gift act as both an impetus to create and as a restriction on our creations? What are we handing down to those who come after us? What was and is our legacy?”

Someone—ahem!—might have brought up that one of the legacies of Franco-Americans is that it was a patriarchal ethnic group, with an unhealthy separation of men and women. A spirited discussion ensued.

But more about that later.

 

 

 

 

 

A Nugget of Gold in My Freezer

On Saturday, I delivered a birthday package to the little boy next door. Inside was a toy dinosaur. The boy is crazy about all things dinosaur, and he wants to be a paleontologist when he grows up. Or at least he did the last time I saw him, several months ago. With his mother’s permission, I tucked the package in the family mailbox across the street from their house. As I walked home, I was treated to a bird symphony of spring songs. What a delight!

As I listened the birds’ sweet songs, it seemed to me that things were much the way they have always been in April, with Spring slowly tiptoeing onto our road, into our yard. An illusion, I know. The coronavirus is ripping around the world, leaving death and misery in its wake.

But still. In my back garden bright green shoots of irises and daylilies are emerging.

They are joined by the dark red leaves of evening primroses, which tend to be hogs and need thinning every year. Good thing the yellow flowers are so pretty. I will bring some of the cast-off plants to the birthday boy’s mother.  Last year she said she would like evening primroses for her garden. I can leave a couple of pots at the end of her driveway. (This is the same neighbor who brings eggs and won’t take any payment for them.)

With weather that is sunny and somewhat warm, I long to be out, the first time I’ve felt this way since last fall. Soon it will be hard to sit at my desk and write as the outside calls to me. But I’ll do it. Now that the children are grown, writing is the center of my life. However, my yard and gardens are a close second, and come spring it is never easy to stay inside.

Yesterday, as I was digging around the diminishing supplies in my little chest freezer down cellar, I found a square of Parmesan. If my creaky knees had allowed, I would have jumped for joy. It was like finding a nugget of gold. As I beheld the cheese, one dish immediately came to mind: Spaghetti with fried eggs, introduced to me by the inimitable Mark Bittman.

Bittman describes this dish as something that you turn to when you don’t have much time. Or much in your larder. Readers, it is so much more than that. For someone like me—who loves eggs, olive oil, garlic, and pasta—spaghetti and fried eggs qualifies as an honest-to-gosh treat.

Here are some pictures illustrating the process, which takes no more than a half hour from beginning to end.

First, brown two crushed garlic cloves in olive oil.

Discard the cloves when they are brown and crack four eggs into the olive oil. Simmer the eggs in the oil just until the whites are slightly set but the yolks are not cooked.

Dump this glorious mixture into a pot of piping hot spaghetti and stir until the eggs are broken up. The hot spaghetti will finish cooking the eggs.

Et violà. Top with plenty of grated cheese and lots of pepper for a special meal on a day when you are unconcerned about calories.

Note: For some reason, I don’t have the heart to post coronovirus statistics and the news from afar. Maybe it’s because spring has finally arrived.

Who knows? But for now, anyway, it’s back to writing about life at our home in the woods.

 

 

Doing My Bit

During this time of staying at home—extreme even for a homebody like me—I have been doing a fair amount of ordering online—mostly food to fill in the gaps in my larder. However, there is a twenty-five pound bag of hulled sunflower seeds waiting on the porch. After all, the birds have to eat, too.

Regrettably, most of the packages come from away, as we Mainers would put it.

However, I have been doing my bit to support the local economy.

Item: Absolutely delicious chocolate from a local candy store called Scrummy Afters Candy Shoppe. I’ve written about Scrummy’s before, and I am crazy about their handmade chocolates. Their store in Hallowell, a nearby town, is closed, but the owners are still making chocolates in their commercial kitchen. Those chocolates can be ordered online.

Here is what I ordered—Cashew & Toffee Chews and Salted Caramels.

Clif and I are having a little chocolate every day, trying to make the deliciousness last as long as possible. No doubt, we will order more when this batch is gone.

Item: Spring and Summer farm share from our own Farmer Kev.

It’s not all chocolate and bonbons here at our home in the woods. We also eat lots of fruit and veg. This year we will be well supplied by Farmer Kev, whose family we have known for a long time.

I’ve also written about Farmer Kev, who is an absolute wonder. In brief: The gardening bug bit Kevin when he was young—around twelve or thirteen—when he realized he had a passion for growing food. From his parents’ backyard, Kevin expanded to rented fields and finally to his very own farm. All by the time he was in his early thirties.

Here is a picture of a farm share from a past spring.

To say we are looking forward to Farmer Kev’s fresh, organic vegetables is a big, big understatement.  Clif and I are already dreaming about salads, tomatoes, and corn on the cob. Garlic, onion, and green beans.

We will also get a fall and winter share, which will pretty much take us through the year.

Hail chocolate, spring, and fresh vegetables!

Coronavirus News from Maine

From the Bangor Daily News

Making Whoopie

Rock’s Family Diner in Fort Kent has experienced a drop in revenue as people are staying home to help stop the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19.

“Takeouts have been very slow,” said Peter Pinette, who owns Rock’s along with his wife, Sandra Pelletier Pinette.

Ryan Jandreau, a branch manager at Maine Savings Federal Credit Union in Portland, reached out to Sandra Pelletier Pinette — the mother of one of his high school classmates — hoping she would send him some of the baked goods he enjoyed while growing up.

Within a few days, Jandreau received a dozen of Rock’s homemade chocolate whoopie pies…

Jandreau posted a photo of the whoopie pies on his Facebook page, and before they knew it, the Pinettes were receiving requests from all over the country to ship out the popular Maine treats.

For readers unfamiliar with whoopie pies, here is a picture of delectable whoopie pies from the excellent Bluebird Bakery rather than from Rock’s. I have no doubt that Rock’s whoopie pies are delicious, too.

From Maine CDC

Maine’s number of cases of the coronavirus: 827   (Monday’s numbers: 698 )

Deaths in Maine from Covid-19: 29   (Monday’s numbers: 19)

The News from All Over

I feel as though no national news story can compete with whoopie pies, so I’m only going to post the numbers.

The Latest Numbers

Global Cases: 2,167,955

Global Deaths:  146,055

 

Inspired by Jackie

A day or two ago, my blogging friend Derrick posted a picture of the beautiful pie that his wife Jackie had baked. This, in turn, inspired me to make one of our favorite desserts, cinnamon pie knots.

It felt oh so good to doing something vaguely normal in these not very normal times.

It’s funny. Clif and I are extreme homebodies. Most of our time is spent in our own house working on our various projects. At night, we watch shows on a streaming network and then read before going to sleep. We are the opposite of gadabouts. And yet we feel the strain of sheltering in place as keenly as those who are used to going out on a regular basis. Part of it is because we have a daughter in New York City, the current epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. And, yes, we worry about her. But so far, so good. We also worry about our North Carolina children. So far, so good for them as well.

But we also wonder what the future will hold. How long will it be like this? Right now, we are ordering food online to supplement our stockpile. When will we feel safe about the once simple act of going to the grocery store? Will we have to stay secluded until a vaccine is developed? For a year? For eighteen months?

We have a book—Out of Time—that will be published this fall. We already know that because we can’t go to various shows, this will not be a good year for selling books. We’ve accepted this, and we regularly give thanks that between social security and a pension, we have enough to keep the household running. But when will we be able to get out and sell books? Who knows?

Finally, we watch the news and see the suffering of various folks, those who don’t have jobs anymore; the brave workers who must continue to go out into the world, thus increasing their own chance of getting sick; those whose loved ones have died.

Our hearts go out to them. We feel the pain of not only those in this country but also around the world.

As I wrote in a previous post, there is no them. Only us.

Coronavirus News from Maine

From Maine Public

Way up in northern Maine—land of my ancestors!—a good Samaritan, Hannah Lucas has come up with a unique way to deliver groceries to elderly folks who should be staying put. That is, by dog sled. Mush, noble dogs, mush!

From Maine CDC

Maine’s number of cases of the coronavirus: 432   (Monday’s numbers: 275.)

Deaths in Maine from Covid-19: 9   (Monday’s numbers: 0)

The News from All Over

From Wired Magazine

(Thanks to Tangly Cottage Gardening Journal for sharing this piece on her blog and bringing it to my attention.)

Laurie Penny’s humorous but sharp look at the coronavirus apocalypse:

I was not expecting to be facing this sort of thing in snuggly socks and a dressing gown, thousands of miles from home, trying not to panic and craving a proper cup of tea. This apocalypse is less Danny Boyle and more Douglas Adams.

From the New York Times

More than 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week.

The Latest Numbers

Global Cases: 1,026,974   (Monday’s numbers: 732,153)

Global Deaths53,975  (Monday’s numbers: 34,686)

My own take: It seems my hopes of the coronavirus being contained in Maine were merely wishful thinking.

Waste Not, Want Not

Even before the coronavirus struck—when I could go to the grocery store without fear of contracting COVID-19—I was mindful about food waste. I tried very hard to use all the food we had before it went bad. However, if I’m going to be honest, I have to admit I was not always successful. (Remember what Yoda said about try.)

Mostly it was because I’m not very organized. Some people have a lazer-like focus when it comes to keeping track of what’s in the cupboard and the refrigerator. I am not one of those people. Sometimes food in containers would get pushed to the back of the refrigerator, and when I finally opened them, I would recoil in horror at what I saw. The last few slices of bread would get tucked behind the brand new loaf, and green grew the mold.

But a pandemic has a way of focusing the mind, and now I am absolutely focused on every bit of food that is in the cupboard and refrigerator.  I want to put off going to the grocery store for as long as possible, and I don’t want to waste any of the precious food we have.

This picture tells the story of my old ways.

I bought these rosemary crackers last summer. The fresh date is August 2019, and they were 50% off. I had never had Carr’s rosemary crackers, but I have had other Carr’s crackers and have liked them a lot.  I also like the taste of rosemary. Because the crackers were on sale, I bought several boxes, probably not a wise thing to do if you have never tasted a particular kind of cracker.

I’m sure you can see where this is going. These are probably my least favorite of Carr’s crackers. I don’t hate them, but I certainly don’t love them either. We did go through two boxes, but the box above languished in the back of our closet pantry.

Until last week. When I was going through our food, I found the box and put it in the front of our food cupboard. Yesterday I had some of the crackers with some leftover cheese.

Believe it or not, the crackers are still crisp and are not stale at all. If they had been stale, I would have used a trick I learned from Clif’s mother, who grew up during the Great Depression: Put the crackers on a cookie sheet and bake them at 350° until they are crisp again.

I will be having the crackers again today for my lunch, and even though I’m still not wild about them, I will repeat the process until they are gone.

I am truly sorry that it took a pandemic to make me more mindful about wasting food, and I hope it’s a lesson I don’t forget when this terrible time has passed.

Coronavirus News from Maine

From centralmaine.com:

The Legislature approved a supplemental budget package worth about $76 million Tuesday, with funding earmarked to help the state respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

The package includes funding for the Maine Centers for Disease Control to beef up its workforce, increased rate reimbursements for those working in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, additional funding for adult education programs and job training, and another $38 million for the state’s public schools.

And perhaps most important:

The bill also expands eligibility for unemployment benefits for workers impacted by the virus, while also eliminating the one-week waiting period for benefits to start.

From Maine CDC:

Maine’s number of cases of the coronavirus: 43

From NBC:

Gov. Janet Mills issued an Executive Order Wednesday mandating a statewide ban on dine-in service at restaurants and bars, as well as a ban on gatherings of 10 or more people effective Wednesday at 6 p.m.

 

 

 

Catching Snow As It Falls

Yesterday was a lovely snowy day. Unlike freezing rain or sleet, this is exactly the sort of weather Maine should get in February. Before eating a breakfast of oatmeal and dried cranberries, I grabbed my wee camera and tried to get some pictures of the falling snow.  While easy for the human eye to see, snowflakes are not easy for my camera to catch. (When I was a child, I remember tipping my head back, opening my mouth to the sky and letting the snow sprinkle my tongue.)

Can you spot the snow as it falls against Sparky, our red Honda Fit?

The snow is easier to see here, against the brown of the tree trunks and the red of our little shed and wheelbarrow. With all the red we have around our place, including on our house, you might think red is my favorite color. But it isn’t. Instead, blue is. Go figure.

Here again, the falling snow is visible against the tree trunks in the woods in our backyard.

I couldn’t resist taking a picture of our clothesline, which hasn’t had anything hanging on it since fall. Well, it has something now.

Early afternoon, it stopped snowing, and Clif went out with Little Green to clean the driveway and the walkway.

And what did we have for “suppah,” as we Mainers call it? A vegan beefy stew with Quorn Meatless Grounds and umami-ed with veggie Better Than Bouillon and nutritional yeast. Clif and I might be vegetarians, but we still like that rich gravy taste, and this soup gives us just what we want. I also made biscuits with oat milk to go with the soup.

My Yankee husband’s response? Pretty darned good. And the best thing about this soup is that as the flavors mingle, it’s even better on the second and third day.

No freezing rain. Soup and biscuits for supper. Who could ask for anything more?

 

 

 

Scrummy Afters: Chocolate Front and Center

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.

 

A Day of Food, Rest, and Jane Austen

Last Saturday was a busy day filled with a movie—Rashomon—in Waterville; grocery shopping; and then a night out with friends at the fabulous Van der Brew in our very own town of Winthrop. (I wrote about Van der Brew a couple of weeks ago.)

On Sunday, it rained, which is most unwelcome in Maine in January. It could have been worse, of course. We could have gotten freezing rain. Nevertheless, what we expect this time of year is snow. However, with a fire in our wood furnace, Clif and I were snug and warm, and with no pressing engagements, we more or less took the day off.

We started out with egg and toast as we watched the news.

After the news, we moved on to Sanditon, a BBC production of Jane Austen’s last unfinished novel. Through Maine Public Television, we were able to stream three episodes. Although Jane Austen had only written eleven chapters of Sanditon before she became too ill to continue, it was clear that her focus was centered on how commerce was changing England’s culture. Some of Sanditon feels contemporary as certain characters fret about what we would now call venture capital. In addition, there is a West Indian heiress—Miss Lambe—whose mother was a slave. These, apparently, are all elements in the book, and at first the show is relatively faithful to the story.

But then the writer, Andrew Davies, decided to tart things up for a modern audience and throw other elements into the mix. (I won’t give any spoilers in case some of you haven’t watched the show but are planning to later on.) By doing this, Davies has departed from the spirit of Jane Austen, and it feels disrespectful to me. Other choices are downright ludicrous. I do like the actors who play the main characters—Charlotte and Sydney—but I am not sure if this will be enough to keep me watching.

If any of you are following the series, please chime in and let me know what you think.

After watching Sanditon, we were in the mood for something sweet, and decided to make some chocolate-covered peanuts. Very tasty, if I do say so myself.

Now with all these treats, how could we end the day? Why, with veggie sausages and Clif’s homemade pancakes. To borrow from my Yankee husband: Pretty darned good.

After a busy week of working on various projects, it was good to take a whole day off to rest. In Maine, winter is the perfect time to do this. Once spring comes, we will busy working outside, but for now setting aside one day a week to relax feels very good indeed.

 

 

Whoopie Pies and Fudge and Cupcakes, Oh My!

Last weekend, Clif and I took our books to the Waterboro Elementary School Craft Fair, a two-day event.  Because the fair started at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday and was an hour and a half from our home, we had to get up at God-awful o’clock to get there in time to set up before the doors opened. Never mind. We had our thermoses of tea and coffee, which we drained dry, and we had a fantastic time where we sold lots of books.

This was a down-home craft fair with a broad range of items, from knitwear to handmade cutting boards to baked goods. One table in particular—Bluebird Baked Goods— caught my attention.

As I like to say, I don’t have a sweet tooth. Instead, I have a whole mouthful of them. Is it any wonder, then, that I stopped to gape at these gems from Bluebird Baked Goods?

Here’s a closer look.

Readers from New England will immediately recognize that these are whoopie pies, and I am a huge fan of this delectable treat. These particular whoopie pies attracted me because they were so neat and tidy and professional looking. Did I buy one? No, I bought two—one on each day.

Now, handsome is as handsome does, but as it turned out, the whoopie pie was as delicious as it looked. The cake was moist and chocolatey, and the filling was thick and creamy. The best I have ever had, and I have eaten my fair share of whoopie pies.

As the table was only three down from ours, I had ample opportunity to gaze lovingly at those beauties and sample other goodies from Bluebird Baked Goods.

Allie Owen, an extraordinarily gifted young baker, is the owner of Bluebird Baked Goods.

Before the fair started on Sunday, I had an opportunity to chat with Allie and—in Paul Hollywood fashion—shake her hand. She started her business when she was nineteen and has a commercial kitchen in her home. Allie’s mother is her inspiration and her teacher. One of Allie’s favorite pictures is of herself when she was a baby. Sitting on the counter, baby Allie is stirring batter in a bowl. Thus a young baker was born.

Allie told me that she loves playing with sugar. Laughing, she said, “Sugar is my medium.”

And Allie is certainly an artist who also designs custom cakes for weddings, birthdays, and other events.

If only we lived closer to Waterboro!

As we don’t, I’ll be dreaming of those whoopie pies and hoping that we go to another fair where Bluebird Baked Goods has a table.