Category Archives: Food

From Scones to Ancestors

Yesterday, I made scones, and they weren’t quite the success that I had hoped they would be. As the pictures below indicate, they grew in width rather than height—I can sure identify with that!—and they ended up looking like cookies. I used Alton Brown’s recipe.

Even so, they were surprisingly good—sweet, but not too sweet; tender, even though they were flat; and nicely crisp on top. Not complete failures. Just not what I wanted.

So, to my blogging friends who are familiar with scones: Do you have any idea where I went wrong? I did not overhandle them, but did I cut them too big? Should they have been taller and more narrow? Hard to troubleshoot from afar, I know, but please do feel free to offer suggestions.

On a happier note…I learned some interesting family-tree news from my cousin Carol. Her father and my father were brothers, and on that side of the family, our 7x great-grandfather was a German Jew named Hanss Semele. He was born in 1590 and came to France sometime in the 1600s.

As far as I knew, my family on all sides was French right back to the caveman days, but Carol’s genetic testing proved that this is not so. You never know, do you? (Phew, am I ever glad we didn’t find a plantation slave owner on the family tree. Unlikely, given our French Canadian ancestry, but, as a friend pointed out, this has happened to some people.)

Both Carol and I were tickled by the discovery of Hanss, and in Outside Time, the current YA fantasy book I’m working on, there will be a character named Hanss, in honor of our 7x great-grandfather. When I mentioned this to Carol, she replied, “Isn’t it funny how how close you feel to them once you know they existed?”

So true! Of course, we don’t know what kind of person Hanss was, but in my story, he’ll be a good guy.

Why I Cook and Bake

Recently, on Netflix, Clif and I have been watching a delightful show called I’ll Have What Phil’s Having. Recommended to us by our daughter Shannon, I’ll Have What Phil’s Having is a food and travel show hosted by the enthusiastic Phil Rosenthal, a writer and producer who is perhaps best known for Everybody Loves Raymond. Phil goes to, among other places, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Barcelona, and Paris.

Phil has a passion for food that might even exceed mine, and his expressive face registers pure joy every time he tastes something that is utterly delicious. As Phil is going to wonderful restaurants, small and large, his success rate is very high.  (Although there is one memorable scene with eggs that have been marinating in something less than delectable for way too long.) Warm, kind, generous, and funny, Phil is exactly the kind of food host I want.

Traveling vicariously with Phil, I have actually picked up a few tips for my own cooking, but it was when he went to Paris that my thoughts about food and cooking fell into place. Naturally, in the Paris episode, Phil talked about baguettes, about how bread is so important to the culture that the government actually regulates the flour and the price. The feeling is that all people, regardless of how much money they earn, deserve good bread in specific and good food in general. It is their birthright.

How different this is from the attitude in the United States, where people who live on a tight budget must scrabble to eat well by clipping coupons, shopping sales, compiling a price book, and running to various grocery stores, few of which are nearby and usually involve having a car, another big expense. Especially in Maine, to eat well on a tight budget could almost be considered a part-time job, which is why so many harried folks rely on processed food. When you are working two or three jobs, finding the energy to cook is no easy thing.

And yet, if you live on a shoestring budget, cooking and baking are essential to eating well and eating healthy. What a conundrum!

Although Clif and I live on a shoestring budget, we are very lucky to work from home, where we have the time and flexibility to cook much of our food from scratch.

Last Saturday, I made an apple pie and cinnamon pie knots.

In the afternoon, friends came over, and as we sat around the dining room table, we ate pie and cinnamon knots and other goodies while we discussed books, movies, and politics. A finest kind of afternoon.

This afternoon, I will be making bread. Where I live, there are no good bakeries nearby, and even the not-so-good bread is expensive, costing about $5 a loaf. Therefore, I bake my own bread.

 

I am not sure what kind of seismic cultural shift it would take for Americans to change their thinking about who deserves good, affordable food.  Maybe the gap is too wide and can never be bridged.

But I live in hope.

 

 

 

A Cardinal, Icicles, and Pancakes

February is winding down, and we still have a lot of snow in our yard. Not at all unusual for central Maine. As we are probably at peak snow—at least we hope we are—snow-gauge Clif will soon be making weekly appearances so that we can have a pictorial record of how long it takes for our yard to be snow-free. Stay tuned for the big excitement in the hinterlands!

At dusk, the cardinals usually come to our feeders for a bite to eat before it gets dark. In my bathroom blind, I snapped a picture of Mr. Cardinal. Unfortunately the light was too low to get a real sharp picture of him, but I know how much readers who don’t have cardinals enjoy seeing shots of them. And this photo gives a sense of the dark evergreens in the forest on the edge of our backyard. This is a northern photo, that’s for sure. And somehow, to me, that flash of red looks so brave against the snowy trees.

Icicles are still hanging from the branches of the shrubs in our front yard. Lovely to see them glitter in the afternoon sun.

On another blog I read, there was a mention of American pancakes and how small and thick they tended to be.  While we do have mini pancakes, better known as silver-dollar pancakes, most pancakes served in American restaurants are large and thin. No surprise as America is the land of the big, especially when it comes to food. Not sure where the rumor of little pancakes came from, but never mind. Big, small, thick, or thin, they are all good.

I am lucky enough to have a husband who makes some of the best pancakes in central Maine. Maybe even the best. After so much thinking about pancakes, I requested them for our supper last weekend. While Clif made pancakes, I fried up some veggie sausages. Pretty darned good, and yes, Clif’s pancakes are thick but not small and utterly delicious.

 

 

 

 

A Sunny Gift on a Cold Day

Normally, I don’t post two pieces on my blog in the same day, but I just received a box of these beauties from my blogging friend, Betsy, all the way from sunny California. So today I am making an exception.

Holy cats, this gift of oranges and lemons made my day! Many, many thanks, Betsy, for  your wonderful generosity. Oh, how beautiful they are.

And to think they grew in Betsy’s own backyard. While I love living in Maine, I have to admit that I would be thrilled beyond description to actually be able to pick oranges in my backyard.

Again, Betsy, thanks so much!

Apple Crisp to Go

Last weekend was the time for taking down the Christmas decorations.  We did it on Saturday, January 5, which by some reckonings is Twelfth Night. (Others put Twelfth Night on January 6. We don’t have strong feelings about this and are willing to keep an open mind.)

It always makes me a little sad to take down the decorations and to put the tree away. I miss the the ornaments—some fanciful, some homespun, some lovely—and the soft glow of the lights.  Here they are, all packed away. Farewell, my sweets, until next December.

But I really didn’t have time to brood because after the decorations were put away, it was on to the next project—apple crisp, which we brought to our friends Judy and Paul.

We took it hot out of the oven, hence the towel and pan, and at Judy and Paul’s house, the crisp was still warm enough to melt ice cream when it was served. Somehow, apple crisp is such a cozy, satisfying dessert in the winter. Best of all, I am able to get local apples at a nearby orchard well into winter, and I plan on making quite a few apple crisps for friends between now and spring.

At Judy and Paul’s, we talked of many things—politics, American history, and the moral failings of our founding fathers, who pieced together a country but blighted it with slavery. Unfortunately, the ugly repercussions are still being felt today, over 200 years later.

Paul noted that our founding fathers—John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin—did the best that they could. But did they? What would have happened if slavery had not been permitted? No country? Quite likely, but things fell apart less than a hundred years later, with the Civil War. Even afterwards, so many people continued to suffer because of the color of their skin. And still do.

Heavy topics for a January day. Good thing we had apple crisp, ice cream, and tea to lighten the mood.

When we came home from Judy and Paul’s, Clif made some of his delectable homemade French Fries, and we had them with faux chicken nuggets, which are tastier than you might think. Alas, no pictures. I’ll do better next time.

Then we settled down to watch Trevor Nunn’s delightful production of Twelfth Night, filmed in Cornwall and starring, among others, Ben Kingsley and Helena Bonham Carter. We own the DVD and watch it yearly. I think you can guess on which night. A bit of trivia: In Nunn’s Twelfth Night, Kingsley plays the jester, Feste, and I based my own Feste, in Maya and the Book of Everything, on Kingsley’s performance.

Might as well borrow from the best.

 

 

Food, Fun, and Folderol

The holidays are over, and our eldest daughter is back home in New York City. What a grand ten days we had with her, and as always, I’m a little blue that all the fun and folderol are over.

We are, ahem, a family that is more than a little obsessed with food. On Christmas Eve, our tradition is to have a homemade cheddar cheese soup that I’ve adapted from a Moosewood recipe. It’s a lovely, rich soup, and we gild the lily, so to speak, by adding broccoli and tortellini.

Dee loves waffles, and whenever she comes, Clif whips up some of his wonderful, light waffles, made at the table and served hot. For a side, we had Morningstar Farms veggie sausages, which are a tasty substitute for the real thing.

For a Christmas present, Clif and I received a gift certificate to one of our favorite restaurants—The Last Unicorn—in Waterville. There was enough on the certificate to treat Dee to lunch, and off we went to Waterville. How festive The Last Unicorn was, and the food, so reasonably priced, was absolutely  scrummy.

Speaking of presents and scrummy…as is our wont, we had a dash of fantasy during this holiday. For Dee, we bought her this confection at  Scrummy Afters for a Christmas present.

It is chocolate, of course, but without too much imagination, one could imagine that a little dragon is starting to crack the egg. Dee couldn’t bear to chop it up, and she brought the whole egg back with her to New York.

This must have been the Year of the Dragon as Dee bought me this adorable ornament to add to my collection.

However, this holiday season wasn’t all food and dragons. We are a family of film buffs, and what better thing to do when the weather is cold than to watch movies? Let’s just say our tastes are what you might call eclectic, ranging from the Transformer movie Bumblebee to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to the fabulous Shakespeare series The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses. (The latter being a DVD set and another Christmas present for Dee.)

And guess what? We liked them all. For those who are tempted to sniff at today’s popular culture, I want to remind you that once upon a time, Shakespeare was part of the popular culture in Elizabethan England.

Now that the holidays are over, it is time to get back to work. Book Three in my Great Library Series is slated to be published in 2020, which seems like a long way into the future. However, as I’ve barely begun working on Chapter one, I’d better chop-chop. A lot of effort goes into writing and publishing a book, and 2020 will be here before I know it.

Happy, happy New Year to all my blogging friends. I wish you good health, good food, good companionship, and lots of creativity.

 

 

 

Celebrating with Seafood and a Whoopie Pie

It’s not every day that you get the first shipment of your new book. Therefore, when the box with copies of Library Lost came in, Clif and I decided to celebrate and go to the Red Barn for some of their delectable seafood and, of course, a whoopie pie. So good and so reasonably priced.

And speaking of Library Lost…my blogging friend Eliza asked how a copy might be ordered. Glad you asked, Eliza! For others who are wondering, all you have to do is click here, and it will take you to our Hinterlands Press website, where you can order a signed copy directly from us. The book can also be ordered through Amazon.

On another subject…the holidays are coming—tomorrow is December 1—and yesterday I went into the woods to gather pine and dried fern stalks for outside arrangements on our little deck.

I went midafternoon when this time of year the sun is setting and the woods are filled with shadows. There were lots of fern stalks by the little stream that runs behind our house and eventually makes its way to the Upper Narrows Pond.

There were some winterberries left, a bright punctuation against the white of winter. Fortunately, I had gathered winterberries a couple of weeks ago, when they were more plentiful.

And I came across this tree, covered with fungi.

Always something to notice in the woods, even in the winter.