On Sunday, my husband, Clif, and I drove to Portland so that we could take our daughter Dee to the bus station for her return trip to New York City. Because the day was relatively warm—almost fifty degrees, albeit somewhat overcast—we decide to head to Crescent Beach in Cape Elizabeth after we dropped Dee off. We packed a thermos of tea as well as pickle and cheese sandwiches on homemade bread for a nice little picnic in the car. Our dog, Liam, loves the beach, and we naturally brought him along.
Somehow, Sunday was the kind of gray day at the ocean that is especially beautiful, where there is a slight misty fog in the background but everything in the foreground is sharply defined. We parked the car at Kettle Cove in a spot where we could watch the ocean as we ate, saving bits of sandwich for Liam.
The water was choppy, and gray clouds met the gray sea. Not far from shore, seagulls perched on a small rock island. Farther out was another island with an outline of “pointed firs.” The tide was high, making the beach small, and near the shore, two divers surfaced near a red flag with a white diagonal slash.
The beach was not crowded, but it was not empty, either. Clif, Liam, and I walked the length of the beach, a mile out and a mile back. We went over rocks and sand and seaweed and rivulets flowing out to the sea. I found a piece of beach glass. The weather was warm enough so that we could tuck our gloves into our pockets.
When we got back to the car, Liam settled in the back. Clif and I had another cup of tea from the thermos, and we contentedly watched the ocean as we drank.
Next time we’ll bring some ginger cookies to go with the tea.
In yesterday’s post, I wrote about a Winthrop Food Matters meeting I went to at Margy and Steve Knight’s house in Winthrop, and I focused on some of the issues that are involved in feeding a community. Today, I want to touch on a less tangible role that food plays (or should play) in all our lives, and that is the role of fellowship.
Before going over to the Knights, I had gone on an eight-mile bike ride, and the day was brisk, typical of late fall in Maine. When I went into the Knights’ house, there was a wood fire burning in the little wood stove in their large kitchen. We were all invited to sit around the table. Steve made tea. I had brought homemade crackers and an olive and rosemary cream-cheese spread. JoEllen Cottrell, the executive director of the Winthrop Food Pantry, brought a walnut cake. Jenn Currier brought bread, and Margy had warm apple sauce simmering on the stove.
In that cozy kitchen—is there any better heat than that which comes from a wood fire?—as I sipped my green tea with honey, ate some walnut cake, and watched as the others dug into my crackers and cream cheese spread, I felt warm and relaxed, happy to be sharing food with these people who cared so much about feeding others.
Craig Hickman, who runs Annabessacook Farm Bed & Breakfast, is temporarily hosting the town’s Hot Meals Kitchen, and the food is served as take-away. Previously, the dinners were held at St. Francis Xavier Hall, where people could sit down and visit with one another as they ate. Craig is an accomplished cook, and I’m sure the take-away food is delicious, but he told us that people really miss the fellowship they had with each other when they ate together in the hall. (With any luck, the Hot Meals Kitchen will soon be back in the hall.)
Food nourishes the body, but it also feeds the soul. Eating together is immensely satisfying, and I suspect this is why so many holidays and celebrations revolve around food. (As long as we don’t eat as though every day is a holiday, these occasional indulgences will do our diets no harm.)
In her review of Richard Wrangham’s Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, Christine Kinneally writes, “But what if the roots of who and what we are lie not in this restless and raw state of nature but in our discovery of the secret to a more sedentary life: the home-cooked meal? That is the bewildering, but brilliant, idea proposed by Richard Wrangham, a Harvard-based biological anthropologist.” According to Wrangham, cooking food in fire brought to early humans all kinds of changes, both physical—smaller jaws and stomachs—and psychological—the notions of trust and companionship that come with sharing a meal.
So let us gather around the table as often as we can, with family, friends, coworkers, and members of our communities. Everybody can bring something, and if you really want to impress the crowd, bring these homemade crackers along with a spread. Somehow, making crackers seems like a process best left to big manufacturers, but in truth, although they are a bit time consuming, these crackers are a snap to make. They also keep well in a tin, which means they can be made well ahead of time.
Adapted from a recipe by Mark Bittman
This morning, I got on my bike—Blue Beauty—and pedaled to downtown Winthrop, about a mile away. I had arranged to meet my friend Judy Johnson at The Flaky Tart, a new, funky café that sells muffins, cookies, scones, whoopie pies, and light lunches. The Flaky Tart only has a few tables, but it’s such a warm place—both the atmosphere and the colors—that all kinds of people are meeting there for lunch or for tea and dessert.
Although Winthrop has more than its fair share of places to eat, The Flaky Tart, right in the middle of town, is just what this town needs as a comfortable meeting place for family and friends to gather. In fact, it seems to me that every town needs a café like The Flaky Tart to bring cohesiveness to its community, to make the town more than a mere collection of houses connected by roads. Or even worse, a place you only drive through to get someplace else.
I left home a little early so that I could check out the shops—we only have a few—and perhaps find some birthday and Christmas presents. My first stop was Apple Valley Bookstore, where I did indeed find a gift, which I won’t reveal as family members read this blog. I also found a book that might be a gift or might very well go on my own bookshelves. It’s called Patience & Fortitude: A Roving Chronicle of Book People, Book Places, and Book Culture by Nicholas A. Basbanes. In his prologue, Basbanes writes about Dr. Otto Bettmann, “the creator of a vast archive of photographic material that he had furnished” to publishers of all kinds. Bettmann was also an author and a musician.
Here is what Bettmann had to say about books: “The Chinese have a saying that one picture is worth a thousand words, but I disagree. I believe that one word can be worth a thousand pictures….only reading allows you to penetrate the world. That is the power of the book.”
Yes, it is, and a reminder that the life of the mind is just as important as the life of the physical world. This is not to say that one is superior to the other; merely that both are necessary for human creativity and understanding.
Now, with a quotation like that, how could I resist Patience & Fortitude, which, by the way, are the unofficial names of the lions outside the New York Public Library? Clearly, I couldn’t.
After the bookstore, I went to the Flaky Tart, where Judy was waiting for me, and I had tea and the sweetest little scone—gone in two bites—that I have ever had. The scone was a perfect late-morning snack, small enough so that it wouldn’t interfere either with lunch or with trying to lose weight.
I hadn’t even settled down with my tea when another friend—Debbie Maddi—came in. She had gone for a walk and wanted to see what the Flaky Tart was like. We all chatted a bit, and Debbie left.
Some more people I knew came in, and I must admit I just love being in a place where people drop in for a while before heading on their way.
Judy couldn’t stay long. She and her husband, Paul, are moving into a brand new home at the end of this week, and Judy had many things to do.
Off I went, to a shop called Potato, which sells Maine-made crafts, and I found several gift possibilities. Then, it was time for my daily bike ride, me and Blue Beauty zipping down Memorial Drive and by Marancook Lake, today a gray reflection of the sky. But along the edges of the lake, there were blazes of yellow and orange to brighten the overcast day.
In my last post, I was griping about the cold weather and the short days of October. Then came the weekend and with it weather so wonderful and warm that with only a bit of effort, I could pretend it was still summer. (There were, of course, those shorter days to remind me that it was still fall.) How lucky that my husband, Clif, and I had planned this weekend to visit our friends and biking gurus Bob and Kate in New Hampshire and go biking with them along the coastline. At the beginning of the week, we were sure we’d need to wear fleece and leggings to bike. As it turned out, we could wear T-shirts and shorts. And plenty of sunscreen.
Early Saturday morning, with the bikes strapped to the car and our dog, Liam, in the backseat, we headed south. Our first stop was South Portland, where we dropped off the dog with our daughter Shannon and her husband, Mike. Liam, too, would have a beach day, but in Cape Elizabeth rather than in New Hampshire. With Liam in the loving care of Mike and Shannon, we didn’t have to worry about hurrying back home.
Then it was off to New Hampshire, across the Piscataqua River Bridge to Portsmouth. Clif and I had never been to the New Hampshire coast before. Being Mainers, when we want to go to the ocean, we head for somewhere in Maine. Therefore, we weren’t sure what to expect. Rocky? Sandy? Flat? Hilly? We would find out. From my point of view, any day—especially one so sunny and warm—spent biking with friends by the ocean was bound to be a great day.
We met Bob and Kate in the parking lot of Wallis Sands State Beach in Rye and away we went. From the very start, with the intoxicating smell of the salt air to spur us on, I knew this would be one of those rides that I would always remember. Above, the blue sky and the sun. Alongside the road, purple asters, late roses, and cattails. We passed a marsh with two white swans, elegant and serene. Here we came upon a rocky beach, next a sandy beach. The road curved up and around, giving a broad prospect that looked almost Mediterranean. In the distance, the Isles of Shoals shimmered.
What especially impressed Clif and me was how much of the this coastline is part of the New Hampshire state park system. This means that even “simple folks” can enjoy a day at the seaside, and many, many people were doing just that.
“We never knew how spectacular the New Hampshire coastline is,” I said to Kate at one of our ocean rest stops. “Let’s make this a yearly tradition.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Kate said.
We rode about 20 miles, and after that we drove to Kate and Bob’s house for showers—how good they felt!—drinks, appetizers, vegetable soup, and apple gingerbread. A feast. It was still so warm that we could sit on the deck and eat and drink and chat.
As the sun set and the dampness settled in, we reluctantly said goodbye and headed back to Maine to pick up our dog and have tea with Mike and Shannon.
All the way back, Clif and I talked about various parts of our bike ride, and the taste of the gingerbread still lingered. (Kate gave me the recipe—it’s from Smitten Kitchen—and I plan on making some this weekend.)
In the distance, we saw a bright light streak across the sky.
Last September, Shane-Malcolm Billings, a new librarian at Winthrop’s Bailey Public Library, started a book group featuring contemporary fiction. Even though I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, I decided to join the group as I figured it would give me something more positive to focus on than breast cancer. I wasn’t sure how many people would join, but it didn’t matter to me whether the group was small or large. Either way, I would be paying close attention to the selected book and then discussing it with others, and this would be a welcome interlude from radiation and fatigue.
As it turned out, I was right about book group. It did give me something positive to focus on, and in addition it served as a sort of ballast, a way to steady myself during a turbulent time. I am an avid reader, and books provide many things for me—pleasure, illumination, information, inspiration, and comfort. (However, not surprisingly, no one book provides all these things.)
It also turned out that book group drew in quite a few readers—all women—and it’s a rare meeting when we don’t have at least 10 people. Often, there are more, and while I don’t have any hard numbers, it seems to me that there must be over 20 people who come at least some of the time, with a solid core who come most of the time.
There has been another bonus for me as well. Over the years, I had stopped reading fiction and had turned to nonfiction. This was not because I didn’t value fiction but rather because I had become more interested in topics covered in nonfiction. The book group’s emphasis on fiction has spurred me to vary my reading diet, so to speak, and as a result I have read, outside of book group, some very fine fiction, including Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand; Emily, Alone; Atonement; Other Voices, Other Rooms;and the Charlie Bone series.
Last night, we had a little party to celebrate our one-year anniversary of book group. A lot of members came—I would say there were at least 20 of us—and we had a potluck with some very tasty food. As part of our celebration, we all chose our favorite book from book group—mine was Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese—and we discussed the difficult but compelling (at least for me) Great House by Nicole Krause.
The potluck was so much fun that I hope we do it again next September for our second-year anniversary. In the meantime, we’ll have more interesting books to read and discuss.
Thank you, Shane, for starting this group, and thank you to all the women who come and make this group so lively, stimulating, and fun. I often disagree with the various opinions, but I always find it fascinating that there can be such a divergence of opinions on the same book.
I’m looking forward to another year of book group.
In my recent post about breast cancer, I mentioned how nervous I was to learn the results of this year’s mammogram. The results, to my great relief, were normal, but I had some anxious days until I got the notice in the mail. In times of stress, some people turn to religion, some turn to food, and others turn to drugs or alcohol. I turn to books, and there are certain authors who calm me down and help me find my balance when I’m feeling frantic for one reason or another. Miss Read, the nom de plume of Dora Saint, is one of those authors. (Ellis Peters, of Brother Cadfael fame, is another.)
Born in 1913—as far as I know she is still alive—Dora Saint is an English writer whose novels revolve around two fictional country villages—Fair Acre and Thrush Green. There is no strong central plot, and there are no murders. Instead, the books chronicle the concerns of various, everyday people, young and old, who live in the villages featured in the books. The countryside is described in loving, glorious detail, and there’s quite a bit about food, too. In fact, fish with parsley sauce is mentioned so frequently that I’m determined to make it sometime soon. But all is not sweetness and light in the Miss Read books. There are deaths, squabbles over how things should be done in the villages, feuds, and resentments. Sometimes, children are neglected. A wife leaves her husband and runs away with the oil man. A husband deserts his wife and child for a lover in France.
Miss Read takes everything in, the bad with the good, and she accepts it all. She is a shrewd but sympathetic writer with a keen appreciation and understanding of human nature.
One of the books I turned to while waiting for my mammogram results was Battles at Thrush Green. It turned out to be the perfect choice. Two elderly women—Winnie Bailey and Dotty Harmer—are discussing their fears. Winnie says, “And you know, Dotty, we all have fears, and I’m beginning to realize that we must accept them and not feel ashamed of them….it does no good to torture oneself with guilt and shame simply because one has fears. We’re right to have fears about some things: evil for instance, and violence and lying, and I’m not going to add to my misery by feeling ashamed of my loneliness.”
Winnie Bailey comforted Dotty Harmer, and she comforted me as well. Come next August, when it’s time for another mammogram, I expect I’ll be turning to Miss Read again.
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