Category Archives: Food

Of Superheroes, Pizza, and Cocktails

The pine pollen is flying, and the mosquitoes are out in force. June has come to Maine, and it’s time to finish the spring gardening chores. Fortunately, today is a bright and beautiful day, and this afternoon Clif and I will be outside.

The last week of May, when our daughter Dee came to visit, was cool and rainy. Still, we had a good time. We are all movie buffs, and the rainy week was a perfect time to go to the cinema as well as watch films on Netflix. Our favorite was Avengers: Endgame. I know. Avengers is a blockbuster movie about comic-book heroes ranging from Spider Man to Thor. But it also addresses one of the most serious issues of our times—overpopulation—in a way that smaller movies seldom do. While Avengers has the usual mega fight at the end of the movie, it also gives the characters plenty of breathing room, allowing them to mourn the terrible loss of having half of Earth’s population wiped out by the supervillain Thanos. (For an economic discussion about Thanos and his plan, check out NPR’s Planet Money.)

I realize I’m going out on a limb here, but it seems to me that nowadays, comic books, fantasy, and science fiction are doing the best at addressing the major issues we face. On the surface, these stories seem to have a lot of folderol and fighting, but underneath they have a moral seriousness and scope missing in most mainstream or literary fiction. I’ve had this discussion in book group and on Facebook. Naturally, I’ve received push back, all of it thoughtful and respectful. The push back hasn’t exactly changed my mind—I continue to think that fantasy, comic books, and science fiction should be taken seriously. However, perhaps not all mainstream stories are entirely vapid, and I was too quick to dismiss an entire genre. Anyway, readers, if you have thoughts about this, please chime in.

Back to last week…

We went to the Kennebec River on a misty, cool day, and Clif took these pictures of the moody river and the bright chairs.

We also went to Cushnoc in Augusta, one of our favorite places to go for pizza.

We had cocktails and beer.

And, of course, pizza.

All in all, a good rainy week.

 

 

Drop Scones Come to Central Maine

Oh, the things I have learned from the wide world of blogging. For example, before I started following Tootlepedal’s excellent blog, I had never heard of drop scones. Tootlepedal lives in Scotland, and he writes about everyday life—music and biking (hence the name Tootlepedal), family, nature, cooking, and friends. In short, all the things I love.

Tootlepedal has given the nickname Dropscone to one of his friends, and at first I thought it was simply a play on words because this particular friend often dropped by with scones. Imagine my surprise when Tootlepedal recently wrote that Dropscone stopped by with drop scones.

“What?” I said to myself. “Drop scones are an actual thing?’

It seems that they are. When I looked up drop scones on the Internet, I discovered that they were what we Americans would call small pancakes.

“Oh, cool!” I said, continuing the conversation with myself. I am a huge fan of pancakes, and I am lucky enough to have a husband who makes delicious pancakes.

Recently, Tootlepedal actually posted a picture of some drop scones delivered by none other than Dropscone. And those drop scones sure did look like pancakes, little but thick.

Filled with a longing for pancakes or drop scones or whatever you want to call them, I said to Clif, “How about if you make some drop scones on Sunday?” (Our friends Joel and Alice were coming over for tea and coffee and conversation.)

“Sure,” Clif said, who’s always ready for a food challenge.

Before Sunday, Clif read a bit about drop scones and decided that unlike his usual pancakes, his drop scones should have some sugar. Following Tootlepedal’s suggestion, Clif also decided that he would use a spoon rather than a ladle to drop the batter into the frying pan.

And so he did.

Here are the cooking drop scones.

Clif made a big plate of them, but they didn’t turn out exactly as he had hoped—he wanted the drop scones to be thicker. Nevertheless, Clif’s drop scones were good enough, and by the time we were done, there were only two drop scones left on the big plate. We certainly tucked to, as we would say in Maine. Because they were officially drop scones, we served them with butter and jam rather than maple syrup.

There is a lesson here. Sometime good enough is just fine.

 

Reinventing the Wheel with a Nutritional Yeast Veggie Broth Mix

For someone who cooks a lot—we eat nearly every meal at home—and for someone who eats a mostly plant-based diet, I can be a little on the slow side. (Occasionally, we do eat eggs and some dairy.) For example, I have just discovered the wonders of nutritional yeast, thanks to our daughter Dee and the vegan cookbook she bought Clif and me for our birthdays. (Yes, she bought us an instant pot, too, which we love.)

One of my absolute favorite recipes is a cabbage, potato soup that is finished with a half cup of nutritional yeast, giving the soup a rich, beefy taste without the beef. Holy cats, it’s good. Even on the third night, I’m not sick of the leftovers.

This is a preamble to my next burst of enlightenment. Recently, I was having tea with my friend Joan, and I was raving about the cabbage, potato soup with nutritional yeast.

“Sound good,” Joan said. “Reminds me of a bouillon mix a friend gave to me. It has nutritional yeast and spices.”

For a while, I didn’t say anything, blinking in astonishment as I thought of the wonders of a bouillon mix made with nutritional yeast and spices—delicious, nutritious, plant based, and frugal. Four of my favorite things.

As soon as I came home, I hit the Internet and immediately found a terrific recipe on a blog called My Plant- Based Family. The veggie broth is easy to make and jazzes up even the simplest meal, such as ramen noodles with soy sauce and sesame oil. Mix one tablespoon of the broth with a cup of hot water and  you have a tasty base that can be used in any soup that calls for chicken or veggie broth.

Recently, I made a batch to give to my friend Beth, and Clif, who has a flair with graphic arts, made a nifty label to go on the jar. As it turned out, the label was so nifty that at first Beth didn’t realize the broth had come from our very own kitchen.

Anyway, I can’t recommend this broth mix enough. Because I am not a fan of a strong onion taste, I don’t put as much onion powder as is suggested in the recipe. (I cut the amount in half.) But if onion is your thing, pile it in.

And say adieu to those expensive boxes of veggie or chicken broth, which—let’s face it—don’t taste all that good.

A Food Store that Actually Smells Like Food: The Gardiner Co-op

On Monday, April 1,  the first day of Earth Month—or April Fool’s, depending on the way your mind runs—Clif and I went to the Gardiner Co-op to buy some bulk items.  Gardiner is about fifteen miles from where we live, and nowadays, we always enjoy going to this up-and-coming city that was once in the doldrums with too many empty storefronts and a shabby main street.

But Gardiner did something that other communities would do well to emulate: It decided to invest in itself by giving grants and tax breaks to small, local businesses. Now the main street is a lively place with restaurants, a donut shop, art studios, and the Gardiner Co-op. Gardiner is a small city to enjoy, with different festivals to celebrate each season.

Because we went on Monday, the main street was quiet, and we were able to get a parking spot not far from the Co-op. On our way, we passed this snappy exhibit at Art Dogs Studios, an arts collective.

Then it was on to the Gardiner Co-op. This shot shows what a lovely old city Gardiner is.

At the Gardiner Co-op, here is the cheery, welcoming sign that greets customers. That is one lively carrot!

There are many things to like about the Gardiner Co-op, but for me, one of the best things is that the store actually smells like food. This might sound silly, but cast your mind back to the various grocery stores where you shop. How many of them actually smell like food? Mostly, they have a generic store smell, and if you closed your eyes, you might not even realize there was food in the store.

While the Gardiner Co-op is small, it is cozy rather than cluttered, and the store is filled with good things to eat—fresh fruit and vegetables, some canned goods, and a fair number of bulk items, including coffee and peanut butter.

Naturally, we brought our own containers, and they where cheerfully weighed by the woman running the store. She praised us for bringing in our own containers. “Wonderful!” the woman said. “Because of this, there will be less plastic going into our landfills.” She smiled at me, and I felt as proud as kindergartner getting a gold star for good behavior.

The Co-op also has a cafe—no doubt this is where some of the good smells are coming from—and next time we go, we will have a cup of soup before we shop.

Here is what we got at the Gardiner Co-op: chickpeas, black beans, nutritional yeast, onion powder, and garlic powder.

Note the perky Renys bag by the jars of food and spices. Renys, an old-timey Department Store, is also in Gardiner, and I bought the bag in honor of Earth Month. This canvas bag is sturdy, roomy, and made in the US, and it will be a wonderful addition to the bags I keep in the car.

Here is a view of the back side. Shameless advertising, I know, but what the heck. As the old saying goes, if it’s true, it ain’t bragging.

 

Quercus and Lisa Save the Scones

For the past couple of months, I have been trying to make scones. Note the word trying. You might also remember Yoda’s pithy advice about trying.

But readers, try I did. I used one of Alton Brown’s recipes, and although my scones tasted good, they came out flat as a cookie (American for biscuit). This meant I couldn’t easily cut them in half and spread butter on them. And what is the use of making scones if you can’t cut them in half and spread something on them, whether it be butter, jam, or cream? None, as far as I could see.

But being persistent, I didn’t give up. After all, I reasoned, I have a light hand with biscuits (the American kind) and pie crust, and there seemed to be no good reason why I couldn’t make decent scones.

As I have come to do with so many things, I asked my blogging friends for guidance. Lisa, from arlingwords, suggested placing the scones closer together so that they would rise rather than spread. And the inimitable Quercus had three pieces of advice: Add more flour,  use a two-inch cutter, and make sure the dough is thick.

Yesterday, in another attempt to make good scones, I followed Lisa’s  and Quercus’s suggestions. I am happy to report that I finally had success. My scones were light, they could be cut in half, and they were not too sweet but sweet enough.

My scones were square rather than round or triangular, but Quercus had assured me that shape didn’t matter.

Clif, undeterred by their square shape, pronounced the scones “pretty darned good,” which is Yankee for delicious and high praise indeed. After eating one, he hurried back for seconds.

Now that I have figured out how to make good scones, the time has come to make them for friends when they come over for tea or coffee.

 

 

Nobody’s Environmentally Perfect

On Saturday, our friend Diane came over for lunch, and Clif made his tasty pizza. As a hostess present, Diane brought a jar of her delectable applesauce, made from old-timey apples from an orchard in southern Maine. Those apples are so sweet and so good that the sauce doesn’t need any sugar. What a treat!

Mainers are of the opinion that almost anything goes with applesauce—I think it’s because not so long ago, fresh fruit was not easy to get in the winter in this northern state. However, we draw the line when it comes to eating applesauce with  pizza. Instead I made a salad and a homemade vinaigrette. But that night with a supper of egg and toast, we broke into our jar of apple sauce.

After lunch, we settled into the living room, and our talked ranged from politics to the environment. Diane is as keen about green living as we are, and at one time she lived in a solar home on a dirt road in a town so small that it makes Winthrop look big.

So I look to her for green advice. While Clif and I have made good progress with the trash we produce—we’ve cut the amount in half—there are things we still struggle with. One of them is Ziploc bags. We wash and mend them, but eventually there are so many holes in the bags that we must throw them away. And there they are in the landfill for a long, long time.

Slowly, we’re weaning ourselves from Ziplocs. We use jars for leftovers, both in the refrigerator and in the freezer. If we buy rolls or bread—mostly I make my own—we save those wrappers to be reused. But we haven’t quite made the break from  those darned Ziplocs.

I explained this all to Diane, and she said patiently, “Nobody’s environmentally perfect. The important thing is to do the best you can with the resources you have.”

Wise words. As I’ve written before, Clif and I live on a budget as big as a minute, which means we can’t buy as much local and organic food as we would like. But we buy as much as we can afford, and I cook most of our food from scratch.

Both Clif and I are conscious about what we use and what we discard. Because we are Mainers, this is not that hard for us. We were both brought up to keep things until they were so worn that, really, nobody else would want them.

Then, today in Treehugger, I read a piece by Sami Grover that questioned how much difference personal responsibility makes when it comes to tackling climate change. Grover writes, “In a world where unsustainable choices are the default option, where fossil fuels are excessively subsidized, and where environmental costs are not borne by those responsible for the damage, living a truly sustainable life means swimming upstream.”

Even though I like to think that Clif and I are making a difference by living as lightly as we can, in fact we are just two tiny fish “swimming upstream.” Until the system changes, it will indeed be very difficult to turn the tide of global warming. (Thought I’d stick with the water metaphor.)

Nevertheless, Clif and I try to live ever lighter. Somehow we just can’t go back to our old ways when we produced four or five bags of trash a week. A week! Most of it was household garbage—paper, plastic, boxes, food scraps. While we might not be environmentally perfect and perhaps never will be, we have made progress, which gives me hope.

Readers, do you have any thoughts about this?

 

 

March Cookie Madness

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.