Category Archives: Food

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.

 

 

Nibbles and Tidbits

When Clif and I were younger and my knees weren’t as creaky, we liked nothing better than to cook up a storm and to have people over for dinner. Sometimes the gatherings were smallish—eight to ten people—and sometimes they were largish—twenty or more. Those were the days when I got out of bed like a shot and could zoom through the day.

Sad to say, but those days are gone. I keep busy with my writing, my gardens, and my home, but I don’t have the zip of my younger years. Nevertheless, we still like having people come over for a visit. Somehow, it is cozier to gather in a home than it is to meet in a restaurant, no matter how casual the place.

As the saying goes, where there is a will, there is a way, and we have figured out how to entertain so that it doesn’t take a toll on my creaky knees. Our first strategy has been to have people come over midafternoon for tea and coffee. Most of our friends are retired and now have a flexible schedule. Making up a batch of bars, muffins, or quick bread is no problem at all, and what a pleasure it is to gather around the dining room table and talk. Also, a midafternoon event usually gives me enough time to write in the morning, which is something I do six days a week.

Our second strategy, for friends who have not retired, is to have a nibbles and tidbits gathering late afternoon, around 3:30 or 4:00. On Saturday, this is what we did, and here is what we served.

I am happy to report that the tomatoes and cucumbers came from my little back garden.

Last Saturday, we invited our friend Jill over. Years ago, Jill came to Maine from New York City, and how we met her is an interesting story.

When our daughter Dee graduated from Bard College, she decided to move to New York City. Her first job was with Macmillan Publishing, and one of her first bosses was Jill.

One day, when we were talking on the phone to Dee, she said, “Guess what? My boss Jill is moving to Maine.”

Really? To Maine from New York City?

“Yeah,” Dee continued. “And she’s planning on moving to central Maine, in the Waterville/Augusta area, where you live.”

What the heck is she going to do here?

“She’s going to work for Thorndike Press in Waterville. They publish large print books.”

Well, son of a biscuit. That was the last thing we expected to hear, and we wondered how someone who lived in Manhattan would adjust to living in central Maine.

As it turned out, Jill has adjusted just fine and loves it here. Over the years, we have become friends, and we always look forward to getting together with her.

On Saturday, Jill brought over chips, salsa, and an utterly delicious homemade guacamole, which we scoffed down. (Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of her lovely tray of food.) We talked into the early evening, the conversation ranging from family to politics to books.

We didn’t solve the problems of the world, but we sure made a stab at it.

But one thing is certain—having nibbles and tidbits with friends  is a fine way to entertain.

 

 

 

Beyond Burgers

The heat and high humidity have returned, and like an unwelcome guest they don’t show any signs of leaving soon. Clif and I push on without an air conditioner. At what point, I wonder, will one seem like a necessity?

As it is, we’re both in a twiz. Yes, I made that word up as a stand-in for feeling muddled because it’s too darned hot. Not a good feeling as Clif and I both work from home and like to keep the house and yard in some semblance of order.

But enough of that. On to the real subject of the piece, which is our foray into Beyond Burgers, produced by the company Beyond Meat. Before I get started, I want to assure readers that we are getting absolutely nothing from the company, not even a coupon for our next visit to the grocery store. Beyond Meat has  no knowledge of this blog, and the views I will express are certainly my own.

A bit of a backstory for new readers: For several years, Clif and I have been inching toward vegetarianism. First we gave up pork and beef. (We never ate lamb or goat.) Next came chicken. Initially, we stopped eating meat and chicken for environmental reasons, but as new studies indicate how animals have an emotional life, we also became concerned about the ethics. (We still eat eggs and dairy, but that will be a subject for another post.)

Now that we are no longer eating animal flesh of any sort, do we miss it? We do. I won’t deny it. Clif is a sausage hound, and chicken salad is one of my favorites. While beans and pasta are tasty, sometimes we just want the chew and taste of meat. After all, we’ve eaten meat since we were young.

Fortunately, this is an excellent time to be a vegetarian. More and more companies are developing products that have some resemblance to the taste and texture of meat. These products are getting better all the time and have a much smaller carbon footprint than meat does.

We have a mid-sized grocery store near our house, and not long ago they started carrying Beyond Burgers. The Beyond Meat website describes these burgers as “[t]he world’s first plant-based burger that looks, cooks, and satisfies like beef without GMOs, soy, or gluten.”

Clif and I wondered if this description was simply hype. Or, did the Beyond Burgers actually taste like meat? We resolved to find out, and last week we bought some Beyond Burgers.

Clif decided to grill them as that is how we like burgers best.

So far, so good. They look actually burgers, don’t you think?

Now, onto the bun, with pickles and other condiments.

But how did they taste? if Clif and I had been given these burgers without any explanation at somebody’s cookout,  I doubt we would have known they were veggie patties. The burgers had a moist, smoky, downright beefy taste with even a light pink tinge in the middle.

In short, they were excellent, and I could have one right now. (Clif and I are thinking of getting some for our supper.)

The only downside is that Beyond Burgers are expensive—$6 for two patties.  Still, $6 for two people is cheaper than eating out, and we feel it is not extravagant to have these burgers once a week (or so) during the summer.

So tell me, blogging friends, have you had Beyond Burgers? And, if you have, what did you think of them?

Next on the docket will be faux chicken strips to make salad or stir  fries. I will be sure to keep you all posted.