Category Archives: Food for Thought

The Pull of Abandoned Places

This was a weekend of selling books, and what a good weekend it was. We went to two shows—the Summer Arts Festival in our own little town of Winthrop and the Sunday Indie Market at the Baxter Brewing Company’s Pub in Lewiston. The Summer Arts Festival was fun, and we sold lots of books. Other vendors did well, too, and as I’ve noted before, it means a lot to us when people come to these events and buy what we have created.

However, a big highlight of the weekend was the setting of the Sunday Indie Market in Lewiston, a huge mill complex that is slowly being renovated, where shabby is juxtaposed with new. Clif and I are both drawn to buildings that have been abandoned. Somehow, in their neglect, these buildings acquire a dignity that they often didn’t have when they were in better repair.

For many people, Maine is a state of quaint seaside villages that caters to those who are from away, as we say here. The coast is certainly one beautiful aspect of the state. However, Clif and I were born inland—in Bangor and Waterville—two communities that do not give Maine its quaint reputation. We are old enough to remember when these cities were filled with factories and were more than a little gritty. These places feel like home to us.

Once upon a time, Lewiston was also a city of mills and factory workers.

Here is the gate at the pub, where the Sunday Indie Market was held.

We set up a booth on one side of the walkway. Behind us were shiny  new silos and old bricks.

Across from us, green growth reached up to cover neglect,

and water rushed by.

From afar, the walkway almost looks as though a mural has been painted on it. But here is one of Clif’s photo that takes a closer look and reveals peeling rather than painting.

Finally, old next to new.

While we love nature as much as the next Mainer, these half-abandoned places exert an almost gravitational pull on us, and we had mixed feelings when we heard that the rest of this mill complex was slated for renovation. I know. I know. We really don’t want these factories to fall to the ground, and we want them to be useful once more.

But gussied up, the buildings lose their striking visual appeal. Good for the community, perhaps, but not so good for photography.

 

A New Way to Look at the Fourth

It was another scorcher of a Fourth with temps in the 90s in the shade, and the humidity was high, too. Fortunately, the week before the Fourth was cool, which meant preparing for our annual  get-together was not as arduous as it has been in past years. (On Facebook last year, I wrote that July 3 was so hot that I felt like one of Dali’s melting clocks, which by the way I have seen at MOMA. The picture was much smaller than I had expected. Life is often like that, isn’t it?)

The heat did have one good effect—it kept the mosquitoes down so that we were able to gather on our patio rather than in our dining room. Here is a picture of the table filled with good food made by my friends and me.  A tip of the hat from Diane.

And because of the heat, we had plenty to drink, kept cold in ice.

On the Fourth, it is customary to honor the past and the hard work of those who came before us. At our gathering this year, we did something different. Instead, we praised the younger generation for their grit, courage, and levelheadedness. We have left a terrible mess for them to deal with, and it makes my heart ache to think about it. While every generation has its slackers—ours certainly did, too—so far I am encouraged by the upcoming generations that are rejecting cars, McMansions, and food chains such as Applebee’s. (Let’s face it. The food is terrible and overpriced at Applebee’s.)

Therefore, let the bells ring for the younger folks, the promise of a better future. And know that in this corner of Maine, in the woods, Clif and I will be living as lightly as we can to “be the change we wish to see.”

We will also vote, of course. That almost goes without saying. And in September of this year, Clif and I will join the youth in their Global Climate Strike.

Onward, ho, and creaky knees be damned!

 

 

 

 

Some Thoughts about Plastic from the Snail of Happiness

Nowadays, plastic is everywhere—in our homes, in our businesses, in our landscapes, in our oceans. It is a fact of everyday life. Because of its inability to breakdown, plastic has been called the devil’s resin. I am trying, with limited success, to reduce the amount of plastic that I use, and I am sure this is true for a lot of readers.

Recently, Jan, from the blog The Snail of Happiness, wrote a post about plastic and how it might be used appropriately. She has agreed to let me link to this thought-provoking post.

Here are the first two paragraphs from Jan’s piece:

Today I want to discuss plastic… it’s in the news a lot at the moment and it is always portrayed as being evil. Well, I want to say that I disagree. Please stick with me on this and I’ll explain why I’m worried about the huge number of “plastic-free [insert town name here]” initiatives that are springing up and the way that plastic is presented currently in the media.

Language is very important, what we call things affects the way we perceive them. Call it “global warming” and the immediate image (in the UK at least) is nicer summers; call it “climate change” and that just means things are going to be different, and, after all, we all know that “a change is as good as a rest”; but call it “catastrophic climate breakdown” and there are no comfortable images to hide behind. See what I mean?

Click here to read the full piece and Jan’s take on the use of plastic in the modern world.

In some ways, Jan has made me reconsider my position on plastic. But her piece has also emphasized what I think is the need for a circular economy, where materials are seldom discarded and instead reused for other things. This should be done as locally as possible as shipping trash to China is rubbish. And could local centers, where material is recycled and remade into useful items, actually be a boon to towns and cities? A sort of mini resurgence in manufacturing? Maybe so.

Anyway, thank you, Jan, for this terrific piece.

 

 

A Spark on Water Street in Augusta

Once upon a time, towns and small cities in Maine were thriving, busy places. Maine is a state with many rivers, and along those rivers were factories that made shoes, spun wool, and produced paper. There was a downside: Those factories polluted the water and the air. But they also provided good jobs. Then, in the 1970s and 1980s, the factories left, one by one, to go to places where there was cheaper labor, first in the southern part of the United States and then out of the country all together.

The devastating effect of this on Maine, a small, rural state with only a million people, cannot be overstated. No big tech companies rushed in to fill the void, the way they have in more populous states in southern New England. Therefore, young people left—Maine has the largest percentage of senior citizens in the country.  Many of those who stayed behind pieced together a patchwork life of part-time work.  Or, full-time jobs that barely pay enough to raise a family, buy a house, and pay for a college education. (Hannaford Supermarkets is one of the largest employers in Maine, along with Wal-Mart.)

Not surprisingly, when the great factories fell silent, once flourishing downtowns went into a tailspin. Business after business closed, and all over Maine there were so many empty store fronts that Tim Sample, a Maine humorist, joked about the “Vacant Building Festival” in Eastport, Maine, where the locals supposedly quip that “If you could buy a Greyhound bus ticket with a food stamp, we’d all be outta here.”

Funny, but ouch, and this applies to much of Maine, not just to Eastport.  It certainly applies to central Maine, to Augusta, the state capital, whose downtown on Water Street has been moribund for so long that only an old timer like me remembers when it was thriving.

However, lately there have been sparks of life on Water Street, and those sparks have burst into a little flame. Appropriately enough, Cushnoc Brewing Co., a brewery that also serves pizza baked in a wood-fired oven, seems to have been one of the first to light the spark in Augusta. (My son-in-law Michael maintains that breweries have done a lot to revive communities. Perhaps he is right.)

Along with Cushnoc came other businesses—Otto’s, Circa 1885, and most recently Huiskamer Coffee House, where we went on Saturday to hear our friend Claire Hersom read poetry along with Jay Franzel and Bob MacLaughlin.

Huiskamer Coffee House is a delight. There are couches, comfortable chairs, tables, and Vermeer and Mondrian prints. (What a contrast between the two artists!)  Wonder of wonders, there was good tea—Harney & Sons—as well as good coffee. Grace Fecteau, one of the owners, let us use our own mugs for tea and coffee, but there are ceramic mugs and plates.

Here is a view of the coffee house from our table.

And here is a picture of the delightful Claire.

As the poets read, subjects ranged from the Red Sox to back country roads to being poor in Maine. To having a father with Alzheimer. Some of the poetry was intense, some of it was funny, and all of it was close to the bone.

How nice that the coffee house was full of people listening to poetry. Tea and coffee were drunk, scones and soup eaten.

When Clif and I left, it was still light out, and on Water Street, there were cars parked on both sides of the road. People walked on the sidewalk.

Even five years ago, Water Street was deserted on nights and weekends. Not anymore.

May this spark continue to grow.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

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?