Category Archives: Food

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.

 

Bring on the Fried Veggies!

We are halfway through March. Although we are still buried in snow, there has been a softening in the air, and as Clif noted, last night the temperature didn’t get below freezing. As far as we can recall, the nights have not been this warm since late fall. So spring is coming, even though we have yet to see her pretty face.

In keeping with planning lots of events for this challenging month, Clif and I headed to The Red Barn for an anniversary celebration—forty-two years! We ordered their crisp, perfectly fried vegetables along with fries and, of course, a whoopie pie for dessert.

More than a little stuffed, on to Waterville we went, to the Colby College Museum of Art. There was a print exhibit, and this wonderful Japanese print caught my eye.  It’s by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858) , and how I love this style. My photo doesn’t begin to do justice to this lovely print.

We also saw a strangely compelling short film called Flooded McDonald’s, where, as the title suggests, a “life-size replica of the interior of a McDonald’s” is gradually flooded.  Built in a pool by the artist collective SUPERFLEX,  this McDonald’s was created with such exquisite detail that it looked like the real thing. Clif and I sat and watched as the waters rose slowly in the deserted restaurant. French fries and burgers floated among paper, cups, trays, and straws. Ronald McDonald fell like an old Soviet statue of Lenin, and it bobbed around for a bit before finally sinking to the bottom. Sounds strange, I know, but this video brought forth all kinds of emotions about our consumer culture, trash, and rising waters due to climate change.

Click here if you would like to see the trailer for Flooded McDonald’s.

We are so lucky to have an art museum of this caliber within driving distance of where we live in rural central Maine.

On a more practical level, here is Snow-Gauge Clif to make his weekly appearance until the snow is gone.

In the front yard, I took a long shot so that readers could behold the glory of our driveway.

The backyard looks a little better.  For now.

As you can see, spring is still a month or so away.

March Excitement: Sandwiches, Cake, and Tequila

A few posts ago, I wrote about how miserable it is in Maine in March. I will not belabor the point. I also mentioned that to survive the March doldrums, it is necessary to plan little outings and events to lift the spirits.

Last Saturday turned out to be a banner day for dealing with the March fidgets. My friend Claire and her sister Gail invited me to go  out to lunch with them. We went to Whitefield—a lovely rural community about twenty-five miles from Winthrop—to the Sheepscot General, a farm, store, and cafe in a converted dairy barn. In short, my kind of place.

A friendly snowman greeted us at the entrance.

The store is chockablock full of groceries and handcrafted items. Here is a view from the cafe.

Then there is the food. So very, very tasty. I ordered a tempeh Ruben.  (Clif and I have finally made the jump to vegetarianism. I’ll write more about this in another post. ) This Ruben had marinated tempeh, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and a thousand island dressing. On rye bread, of course.

Readers, that sandwich was utterly delicious. Tangy, sweet, and chewy.  I could have one right now and have been daydreaming about it on and off since Saturday. The day is soon coming when Clif and I will be constructing our own. I will definitely keep you posted.

A sandwich that good deserved a sweet ending, and Claire obliged by buying a piece of cake to generously share with Gail and me.

For this homebody who rarely goes farther than ten miles from her house, this outing would have been more than enough. However, there was another delight to come.

My friend Dawna had called me midweek. She said, “I want to have a tequila tasting party, and I immediately thought of you.”

I laughed a little nervously, not exactly sure if this was the reputation I wanted to have.

Dawna quickly added, “I know how much you like my margaritas.”

I surely do. They are the best in the area. Period.

Dawna continued, “For Christmas, we were given some really good tequila.  I want to make three pitchers—one with the expensive tequila and the other two with less expensive liquor.”

“Count me in,” I replied.

So when I got home from my Whitefield road trip, over Clif and I went to Dawna’s  house.

Here were the three different tequilas she used.

And here are pitchers of margaritas mixed with the three different tequilas.

We sipped small amounts of each one, not once but twice, and there really was a big difference in the way the different mixes tasted. Now, some qualification is necessary. If Dawna had given me a glass of any one of them, I would have been a happy woman. However, in comparison, for me the clear winner was the pitcher in the middle. The drink was smooth, not cloying, just the right amount of sweet. The one on the far right was also good, but a little too tart for my liking. The one on the the left was my least favorite. It had an almost artificial taste, even though there was nothing artificial in it. (Dawna makes her own lime juice base.)

Here is a line-up of what went in each pitcher.

I was chuffed to discover that my preference was for the most expensive liquors. There truly is a marked difference.

So there. Onward, ho, and take that March!

 

 

 

Crazy Mainers and Ice Cream

Not far from where we live is a fabulous ice cream stand called Fielder’s Choice. They make their own ice cream, utterly delicious and reasonably priced. Even by American standards, the servings are huge.

Right after Christmas, Fielder’s Choice closed for a few months, but with spring supposedly on the horizon, they are back. In what has become an annual ritual, Clif and I, along with our friends Claire and Mary Jane, went to Fielder’s Choice for opening day.

Here is Clif, posing by the listings of ice cream. No, he is not a double-fisted ice cream eater. Instead, he is holding my peanut-butter ice cream cone. My absolute favorite.

Note the down jacket Clif is wearing, and the next picture will illustrate why my cone was in no danger of melting. Here, standing by a snow bank on a cold March day, are three lovely Mainers with their ice creams. We northerners sure know how to have fun.

To complete the frosty theme of this post, here is snow-gauge Clif in the front yard.

And in the backyard.

I hate to be pessimistic, but it seems to me that even though Fielder’s Choice has reopened, spring is not right around the corner. Not by a long shot.