Category Archives: Food for the Soul

Circle of Compassion, Trees Against the Sky

img_5108On Tuesday I went to visit my friend Esther. A visit with her is always a delight, and the time just rushed by as we talked, our conversation ranging from topic to topic.

Two parts of our conversation especially stood out. As to be expected, we discussed the recent bombings in Paris and the refugees from Syria. We then broadened the conversation to people fleeing extreme poverty and violence in Central America and Mexico. Esther spoke of how some of her friends are not sympathetic with the plight of the immigrants who make their way to the U.S.

I said, “No matter who you are or what your beliefs, it is easy to love those around you, family and friends.”

Esther agreed. “A small circle.”

“But it’s harder to extend that circle of compassion outward, so that it goes beyond those you know to encompass the state, the country, the world. I sometimes have a hard time with this myself.”

“But that’s what we have to do,” Esther said. “Think of those kids in central America who are leaving home at fifteen or sixteen to come here. They live in slums. They don’t have any opportunities. And when they come north, they are not exactly traveling first class.”

“No, they aren’t. They walk. They ride on the roofs of trains. They rely on smugglers.”

The conversation continued. What if those children were our children or grandchildren? How would we feel to have a son or daughter leave home to go on a long journey he or she might not survive?

“What a terrible thought,” Esther said, no doubt thinking of her own grandchildren.

Yes, a terrible thought. Can we widen our circle of compassion to encompass all children, to acknowledge their basic right to have enough to eat, clean water, shoes, clothes, decent housing, education, health care, books, and even a few toys when they are young? And, as they get older, a positive way to support themselves. (To my way of thinking, digging in dirty, rat-infested trash heaps does not count as a positive way.)

From there, the conversation turned to poverty in general. Esther grew up on a subsistence farm in rural Maine, and she doesn’t mince words—she and her family were poor. When they had baked beans, there often wasn’t enough money to buy hot dogs to go with them. One year, around the holidays, her father sold a steer for $10, and they had “a good Christmas.” They never went hungry, and the taxes were always paid, but there wasn’t much left over. The family just scraped by.

“But,” Esther said, “Every day after the chores were done, my mother and I would take a walk. We’d admire the trees against the sky or what was in bloom.”

“Everyone needs beauty in their lives,” I said, and Esther nodded.

Food for the body, food for the soul. Both aspects need to be fed.

A Franco-American Salon at Susan Poulin’s House

img_5118
The dessert table, with about half the desserts that were brought to the Salon.

On Sunday, I went to Susan (aka Ida LeClair) Poulin’s house for a Franco Salon. A bit of backstory: For the past few years, Franco-American writers, musicians, educators, and story tellers have been getting together once a year for what we call Rassemblement, a gathering. The past couple of years we have met at the Darling Marine Center in beautiful Walpole, Maine. At the gatherings, we read, we perform, we present, we sing, and being Francos, we talk. A lot. At each Rasemblement, there is a wonderful feeling of support, of camaraderie, and a sense—to borrow from Susan—of coming home.

(The history of Franco-Americans in Maine is not a happy story. It’s filled with prejudice and discrimination, ranging from voter suppression to the Klan marching against Francos. By Maine law, French—as it was spoken by Franco-Americans—was stamped out in schools, at work places, and other public institutions, and by the time my generation came, it was mostly gone. No bilingualism for Maine. No, siree.)

Anyway, we all enjoyed being together so much, that someone—perhaps Denis Ledoux?—suggested we get together throughout the year to share our work and support each other. So various people have opened their homes for Franco Salons, and last Sunday Susan Poulin—a talented storyteller and writer—and her husband Gordon Carlisle—a Francophile and a talented artist—opened their home to us.

As a good eater, I must first comment on the food. There were 13 or so of us at the Rasemblement, and I swear we had enough food to feed at least 20, maybe even more. We Francos are taught, at an early age, that to not have enough food at a gathering is a very, very bad thing. Maybe not a mortal sin, but certainly a venial sin. Indeed, to run out of food at a party would be enough to make most Francos twist inside out with mortification.

Therefore, there was quantity—breads, cheese, crackers, oranges, and a multitude of desserts—but there was also quality. Oh, there was quality. Susan made two delicious soups—a turkey sausage soup and a peanut stew. She also made a huge salad so delectable that I could have filled up on just that and some of the wonderful bread other guests brought. Part of what made the salad so good was the dressing Susan made, with a high quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar she gets from a local shop. I can truthfully say that I’ve never tasted such a good dressing.

Oh, that salad!
Oh, that salad!

After we finished eating and talking, we settled into the living room. I read a couple of posts from my blog, and Susan read from her “Ida” blog as well. David Morreau and Susann Pelletier read poetry. Michael Parent told a story of the legendary Ti-Jean, sometimes a fool and sometimes a genius. Lucie Therrien sang two songs. Bob Perreault read from his novel, and Denis from a memoir he’s writing about his time in the seminary. Joan Vermette read a portion of an imagined monologue from a long-dead cousin who talks from way beyond the grave. Norman Beaupr√© read a scene from of one his novels.

As I listened, not only did I feel as though I was “at home” with these gifted Franco-Americans, but I also felt proud to be a part of this group, proud to be Franco-American.

Michael Parent's hand digging into dip. He, too, is a good eater.
Michael Parent’s hand digging into dip. He, too, is a good eater.

Diane’s Feast

img_4764Last Saturday, I went to a special dinner that I will always remember. Our friend Diane hosted the dinner as a thank you to her friends who helped her when she fell, broke her elbow, and needed surgery.

“Would you like me to bring apple crisp for dessert?” I asked when Diane invited Clif and me.

“No,” came the answer. “This is my thank you to my friends who were there when I needed them.”

Diane did, however, give us permission to bring wine. Alrighty, then.

Diane is a terrific cook and a wonderful hostess, which means going to her home for dinner is always a great pleasure. But this time she really outdid herself, serving a multi-course, plated meal for eleven of us. Her long table had all its leaves, and it stretched the entire length of the dining room. Candles provided the light, throwing a soft glow on the guests and the food.

There was plenty of wine—Clif and I weren’t the only ones to bring a bottle—and it wasn’t long before the guests glowed as warmly as the candles.

Then came the food, plated and served in courses: mini cheese tarts with carrot and zucchini ribbons; red lentil and winter squash soup; potato, parsnip, and chickpea cakes drizzled with sesame ginger sauce and served with a roasted beet, walnut, and goat cheese salad; and for dessert—pumpkin custard served with sliced apples and an almond-ginger cookie. Oh, my! It was all so good.

Chickpea cakes and salad
Chickpea cakes and salad
Pumpkin custard
Pumpkin custard

Because the meal was served in courses, it stretched over the entire evening, and this meant there was plenty of time to talk with the other guests—kindred spirits, all—about the things we love—books, movies, art, and politics. There were plenty of jokes about how Diane could break an elbow or an arm any old time she wanted, and we would all be there to help, knowing what a fine meal would be waiting for us when Diane had healed.

More seriously, Diane toasted us, her friends who were there when she needed help. We toasted her, a fine cook and hostess as well as a good friend. We were all more than glad to help her when she needed it. After all, that’s what friends are for.

As it happened, I sat at one end of the long table, where I could get a good look at everything—the glowing table, the food, the guests. While I am certainly sorry that Diane fell and broke her elbow, I was so grateful to be invited to this dinner, to this fine night when everyone came together, united by friendship, care, good food, and wine.

Digression: Being Moved by a Movie

This post is going to be a digression, being mostly about art and movies and hardly about food at all. On the other hand, the subject of this post could be considered cultural food, which art in all its wonderful variety—movies, dance, music, theater, literature, visual—most certainly is. At least to me. While we need actual food for the body—and lord knows how food obsessed I am—we also need cultural food or else, as the late great Canadian writer Robertson Davies put it, we will get “cultural rickets.”

I have realized the importance of art since I was a teenager, and I have known it is something I need and crave almost as much as I need food. My husband, Clif, feels the same way, and once upon a time, we were diligent about going to plays and art exhibits. Although we live in rural central Maine, we are within driving distance of many places that host cultural events—the art museums at Colby, Bates, and Bowdoin, the Theater at Monmouth, and the Public Theater, to name a few. Clif and I took full advantage of our many opportunities.

But then, as the saying goes, life happened. The recession hit, and like so many baby boomers, we got hammered. Clif lost his job, but luckily, we did not lose our house. My mother died. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Clif broke his arm. Unfortunately, the usual stuff of life. We rallied, somewhat, from these challenges, but in dealing with all these things, we got stuck in a bit of a rut. Part of it was financial—our budget has never recovered from the hit it took during the recession—but part of it was that we just stopped making the effort. (The college art museums are free. There is no reason not to go to them.) We hunkered down, and home, family, and community became our world.

Now, home, family, and community are not bad things. In fact, they are very good. To use a food metaphor, you might even call them the cake of life. But cake needs frosting, and when I saw the movie Museum Hours,¬† I realized that’s what our life was missing—the frosting—or art, if you will. (Do watch the trailer if you have time.) Several posts back, I wrote about Museum Hours, where a museum guard befriends a Canadian woman who has come to Vienna to be with a cousin who is critically ill. The movie is very leisurely, and much of it was shot in the fabulous Kunsthistorisches Museum. Some of the museum’s art was examined in beautiful detail—in particular work by the painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Vienna is also featured, and the movie’s gist is that art is all around us. It never stops. We just need to take the time to look. I felt as though the movie were talking directly to me and that I’d better darned well find the time and the energy to start looking at art again.

And so I have. To begin our return to art, a couple of weeks ago, Clif and I went to the Colby Museum of Art, where unexpectedly, we met our nephew, Patrick, who is majoring in art. We walked around the museum together, where we looked at art in the fabulous new Alfond-Lunder Family Pavillion. It was one of those special evenings where everything just clicked—the art, the company, and, yes, even the food. (There was a reception with some very tasty appetizers, among them little biscuits with ham and mustard, and chicken with toasted coconut and a tangy dipping sauce.)

It took some effort to do this. We only have 1 car, which meant that I had to bring Clif to work and then pick him up again in the evening. But the evening was terrific, and the effort was worthwhile. A very auspicious return to art.

Museum Hours (2012) Poster

 

 

Old Friends and Change

Last night I met some old friends—Lynne, Sherry, Joyce, Perian, Cindy, and Peggy (and her husband, Mark)—for dinner at Cook’s Lobster House on Bailey’s Island. Cook’s is on a spit of land, and the ocean surrounds the restaurant on 3 sides. While we were eating, the sun set in a clear sky, but as dusk came, a chill mist rolled in, bringing swiftly moving gray clouds. A very, very beautiful place. I ordered a fish sandwich that was so large and so fresh that I could hardly believe the price—$10—and that included fries. Unfortunately, the fries were only so-so—lukewarm and probably not fresh cut. However, with such good fish, the fries were beside the point.

fish sandwich-1

In some ways, the food was beside the point, and for someone who is as obsessed with food as I am, that is quite a statement. I have known most of these women for 20 years. We were all part of Maine Media Women, an organization that supports women in all aspects of the media. Because of the distance—many of us live over an hour away from each other—and busy schedules, we have often been able to meet only once a year. Nevertheless, after knowing each other for such a long time, we have a history together.

However, life brings change, and at 55, I certainly understand this. Two women in the group—Lynne and Sherry—will be moving. Lynne’s move is not that far, and it is likely that we will be able to get together with her at least once a year. But Sherry is moving across country, and while she might come back to visit us, she cannot be a regular part our gatherings, the way she has been.

Still, as much as I understand that things change, last night was bittersweet, a breaking up of the “fellowship,” so to speak. There was an underlying sadness as we ate, even though we joked and laughed and were lively until we said our goodbyes and posed for pictures, at which point there were some tears. One part of our lives was ending, just as another part was beginning for Lynne and Sherry.

Sherry and Lynne
Sherry and Lynne

And so it goes. We come together and support each other as best we can. After 20 years of knowing a group of friends, it seems as though the routine is going to continue forever, but of course it doesn’t. It can’t. Impermanence is a permanent part of life. Nothing lasts forever. Deep down, we all know this, and we try not to think about it too much.

I’m going to end on a more upbeat note, with a little account of an exchange between Perian and me. Before going to Cook’s, we went to Perian’s house for drinks and appetizers. I brought a bottle of Chardonnay and some cashews. When it comes to being frugal, both Perian and I are peas in a pod, as the saying goes, and I don’t remember how the topic came up, but it went something like this:

Me: That Chardonnay is not too bad.

Perian: It’s very good.

Me: Worth the $3.99 I paid for it, don’t you think?

Perian: $3.99?! Where did you get it?

Me: Trader Joe’s.

Perian: I thought you had paid at least $5 for it.

The last of the big-time spenders, as my mother might have said. Oh, Perian and I had a good laugh over that one, the kind of laugh you only can have when you’ve known someone for a long time.

Addendum: For some silly reason—chalk it up to my aging brain—I forgot to mention that Perian’s beautiful daughter, Laney, joined us. Sorry, Laney! You were the brightest star of the gathering.

A Doggone Weekend

The past weekend was hot but packed with good things. On Friday night, Shari and Bill Burke came to our house for grilled pizza. We lit the citronella torches, ate, talked, and sat on the patio until the mosquitoes drove us in, around 8:30 or so. What a great way to end the week.

On Saturday, I went to a brunch to celebrate the birth of Minnie, a sweet little apple blossom of a baby. Minnie is the granddaughter of an old friend, and I have known Minnie’s mother, Heather, since she was a child. How moving it always is to watch young people grow up and take their place in the world. As a bonus, Heather and her husband are foodies, and what a delicious brunch—homemade quiche, green salads, fruit salads, and cupcakes in the shape of a mouse silhouette. Little Minnies. Welcome, Minnie, to this world.

Sweet cupcakes in honor of a sweet baby
Sweet cupcakes in honor of a sweet baby

Finally, this weekend we took care of Holly, our daughter Shannon and her husband, Mike’s, dog. At 7 months old, Holly is sweet and energetic, and we spent much of the time outside, going for the most mosquito-filled walk in the woods that I have ever been on. Fortunately, our backyard is relatively free of those biting nuisances. At least until it gets dark. Between the heat and the time spent outside, we—cats, dogs, and people—were all very tired by the end of this busy but rewarding weekend filled with the thrum of life.

Holly on the patio
Holly on the patio
Her dog buddy Liam
Her dog buddy Liam

Mother’s Day 2013

img_3455On this year’s Mother’s Day, there was a small but jolly gathering at the little house in the big woods. Our daughter Shannon and her dog, Holly, came for a visit and for brunch. (Unfortunately our other daughter, Dee, who lives in New York, couldn’t join us, and Mike, Shannon’s husband, had to work.)

This is a perfect time to be a braggy old mom, and I’m not going to hold back. Shannon has become such an accomplished cook. For brunch she brought French toast that had been soaked in an egg and milk mixture that had just a hint of orange. The toasts were baked and then glazed with a crunchy, melted sugar topping. Oh my, they were good. We also had home fries and bacon, courtesy of my husband, Clif, as well as melon, blueberries, and strawberries. What a feast!

The brunch table
The brunch table
Those French toasts
Those French toasts

After brunch, Shannon and I took the dogs for a walk on a trail in the woods behind our house. (Clif’s leg was bothering him, so he stayed home.) Up the ravine we went. The dogs ran and chased each other. A little frog jumped out of their way, and below us, the stream rushed on its course to the Upper Narrows Pond.

Ready for our walk
Ready for our walk

The day was damp, and when we came back, our feet were thoroughly soaked. Off came the wet shoes, and it was time for tea and dessert, flourless chocolate cupcakes—made by Shannon—served with a whipped cream flavored with white chocolate and peppermint. I had two of them. I couldn’t resist. Flourless cakes are my favorite kind of cakes, and these cupcakes are moist and rich and delectable. Besides, it was Mother’s Day and therefore a cheat day for me. This was no time to be dieting.

Dessert!
Dessert!

Dee and Shannon had given me money to buy flowers for my garden, and after dessert, Shannon and I went to Augusta, where I bought begonias, impatiens, and dwarf snap dragons.

Flowers for the garden
Flowers for the garden

We are a family that absolutely loves these simple but lovely get-togethers. Cooking for each other is one of the ways we express our affection. As I recently remarked to my cousin Carol, food does more than nourish the body. It nourishes the spirit as well.

My spirit was thoroughly nourished on this year’s Mother’s Day. The only way it could have been any better would have been to have Dee and Mike there, too.