Category Archives: Food

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.

Alas, Poor Cabbage

On Wednesday, Clif and I set up our canopy and book display at the Gardiner Farmers Market, held at the lovely, expansive common on the hill above downtown. The Gardiner Common—or Green, as it is often called in New England—is a wonderful place for children.  The Common is large enough so that parents do not have to worry about children  running into the road. There are swings and slides, and on hot days, a fountain to play in.

We were next to a vendor—Mike from Andrews Farm—with the most gorgeous array of veggies.

Here is a picture of Clif staring pensively at one of our purchases.

All in all, it was a relaxing day. There were no mosquitoes—praise be!—and the day was fine, warm but not too hot. We sold some books and prints. We listened to children play. We watched people walk their dogs. We bought a cabbage and some sugar snap peas, both of which we used in a stir-fry last night. Utterly delicious.

We have reserved another date in August to return to this farmers market, and we are looking forward to going back to the beautiful Gardiner Common.

 

 

The Good, the Bad, and the Windy

On Saturday, we went to Steep Falls Farmers Market with our books and display. As the title indicates, it was an up and down kind of day.

Being a person who likes to look on the bright side of life, I’ll start with the good.

First, it was a gloriously sunny day—it had rained the day before— and the Steep Falls Farmers Market is on a pretty green complete with a gazebo.

Here we are all set up.

Here’s a longer view of the green.

And our books and prints started out looking pretty.

Now comes the bad. I am going to borrow from another crafter by noting that we had to get up at God-awful-o’clock in the morning to get to Steep Falls—over an hour from where we live—and set up by 8:30.  (The market opens at 9:00.) To put it mildly, I am not a morning person. By the time we were set up and I had the first sip of tea from my thermos, I felt as though I had been whacked between the eyes with a 2 x 4. In short, not exactly my usual perky self. (Go ahead, morning folks. Yuck it up.)

Then came the windy. Apparently, the green is in a breezy spot in town, and because it had rained the day before, the wind was even worse than usual. A particularly strong gust knocked over our canopy and bent one of the legs. It swept our books and prints and most everything else off the table. Fortunately, none of our items are breakable, and aside from the canopy’s leg, nothing was damaged.

However, no longer did we have a pretty display where our books and prints were neatly arranged. Instead, everything was higgedly-piggedly, set out for easy protection from the wind rather than for any kind of order. (No, I did not get pictures of the brouhaha.)

By the time the end of the fair rolled around, we were just plain tuckered out.

But I don’t want to finish on that note because something very good happened to perk up what was an extremely trying day. Across the green from us, Feathers and Scale Farm had a booth, and as their business card proclaims, they sell “soap, milk, cheese, and all things goat.”

Just before the market ended, Wes Woodman—who owns the farm with his wife, Carissa Larsen—brought over two puddings for us. One was a luscious chocolate, and the other was an even more luscious vanilla. What a cool, delicious treat! I can taste it still, and I could have some right now.

Here is a picture of Wes Woodman by his booth.

Readers, if you are ever come across some of Feathers and Scale Farm’s delectable products, do not hesitate to buy them.

Thanks, Wes. for the scrummy treats.

 

 

 

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?