Category Archives: Food for Thought

Resting with a Cat on My Chest, Hoping for an Angel Sitting on My Shoulder

On Sunday evening, this was the scene at our house.

In fact, I wasn’t resting at all but rather reading and commenting on the many blogs I follow. This is always a delight as I can go around the world yet stay on my couch with my cat—the notorious Sherlock,  who certainly knows how to make himself comfortable—and my mug of tea.

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and it was a merry blur of food, family, friends, and movies. We are a family keen on movies, and we saw two over the holidays—Coco, which we liked very much, and Murder on the Orient Express, a remake that got a resounding “Meh!” from all three of us.

Now it’s onward to Christmas, my favorite holiday. There will be Christmas movies to watch, cards to send, goodies to cook, presents to wrap, gatherings to attend, and twinkling lights to set out.

In Maine as well as elsewhere, December is the darkest month of the year, a good time to ponder the Christmas sentiment “Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All.” Unfortunately, we are far from this notion, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t reflect on it, now and for the rest of the year, too.

And if we can slide in a little “ho-ho-ho,” so much the better.  This Christmas song—“We Need a Little Christmas”—perfectly captures the way many of us in the United States feel right now.

Here is a version by the folks from Glee.

I’m hoping to find that little “angel sitting on my shoulder” sometime soon.

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A Time to Be Grateful

As noted in yesterday’s post, in the United States, we celebrate a holiday called Thanksgiving. This holiday always falls on the fourth Thursday in November. It’s a time to eat (usually a lot!) and give thanks for the good things we have.

I’m not going to mince words. For progressives, this has been a very difficult year, and because of this, it hasn’t been easy to count blessings. The worries, ranging from nuclear war to dismantling the Affordable Health Care Act, are not trivial.

Nevertheless, there are blessings to be counted. So far, this country is at peace. So far, the Affordable Health Care stands. So far, there is a free press that hasn’t bent to those in power.

On a more personal level, I have a snug house, a loving family, and a terrific library that allows me to go far while staying home.

I also have a wonderful circle of friends. Today, I want to give special thanks to my blogging friends who have enriched my life is so many ways. Through pictures and words, I travel near and far, I learn new things, and I am immeasurably enriched by the creativity—in all its various aspects— of my blogging friends.

So many, many thanks to all my blogging friends. You not only enrich my life, but you also remind me that there is still much that is good in this world.

 

A Non-Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner

All right. I have a confession to make. I am not a huge fan of Thanksgiving dinner. I know, I know. This makes me sound, well, Un-American. After all, this tradition is in honor of the gathering of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans way back before there were green bean casserole and sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows. As legend has it, in the 1600s, everyone came together to celebrate the harvest festival. (This sounds a little too jolly and pagan for the Pilgrims, but what the heck. Maybe it’s true.)

And so it has gone, with the food changing over the years. When I was young, we had a meat and potato stuffing to go in the turkey and a medley of different vegetables. In the week before Thanksgiving, my mother baked like a crazy person, and her fudge was, in a word, incredible. (I often wish I had a fraction of her energy.)

I am sorry to say that for me, with my sweet teeth—never mind tooth—the fudge was the best part of the meal. I have never liked turkey that much, and mashed potatoes are a little too bland for my taste. Turnip and squash are all right, but my heart doesn’t leap with joy when I see them on the table.

Then there is the work. Oh, there is plenty of it, and everything must come out at the same time and be reasonably warm. Usually, by the time the food is ready, my appetite is nearly gone. After that comes the clean-up, and when it is all over, I feel like lying on the bathroom floor for an extended snooze. (A friend’s mother has done this, and my sympathies are with her.)

Last year, Thanksgiving was particularly rough. Shannon and Mike were in North Carolina, and Clif and I had been working hard on Maya and the Book of Everything. When Thanksgiving was done, I felt even more exhausted than usual, and I was seriously considering going out to eat this Thanksgiving.

But eating out at Thanksgiving is expensive—at least $100, including the tip, for two people—and it’s just not as cozy as being at home. What to do, what to do?

Dee, our New York daughter, is a vegetarian, and it suddenly dawned on me that my life would be significantly better if we had a non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner, say, stuffed shells or baked ziti. Because while I’m not a fan of Thanksgiving dinner, I am a huge fan of all things Italian, and the baked pasta dishes can be—wait for it!—made ahead the day before Thanksgiving.

This notion made me so giddy that I thought, “Well, son of a biscuit, I could even make a chocolate cream pie on Thanksgiving morning if the rest of the food was ready.”

And so settling on stuffed shells, I proposed the alternative Thanksgiving dinner. Dee was all for it. She doesn’t eat turkey anyway, and our friends Alice and Joel, who will join us, are good sports and very flexible. However, now we come to Clif, who LOVES Thanksgiving dinner, but he, too, was a good sport and agreed to my stuffed shell suggestion.

But I could tell he was a little sad, and last night we had a quasi-Thanksgiving dinner of breaded chicken thighs, baked potatoes, corn, and stuffing from a bag. It was pretty darned good, and a snap compared with the real event. Clif’s desire for stuffing was satisfied, and clean-up was no problem at all.

Thus it is that onward, with a lighter heart, I go toward Thanksgiving. The house is reasonably clean, the shopping is done, and we have a plan devised for the rest of it.

I’ll still be making pumpkin bread. After all. But I have a funny feeling that stuffed shells will be a new Thanksgiving tradition in our family.

 

When Life Gives You Bruised Apples, Make Cider

The title of this post is a twist on the old saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” But I live in Maine, and we do not have lemon trees this far north. (When that day happens, not even the most ardent climate denier will be able to refute the facts. ) So instead of lemons, I used apples, a fruit that grows in abundance in Maine.

But what I am really referring to is the Pine Tree Con, a  show we attended in Bangor this past weekend. It was a two-day event featuring all things comic books, fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Clif and I had reserved a vendor’s table. As we had recently had a successful time selling books at The Great Falls Comic Expo, a similar show in Lewiston, we had great hopes for the Pine Tree Con.

Unfortunately, the Pine Tree Con was not only poorly attended, but in addition, those who came, mostly older teenagers and young men, were not at all interested in either Maya and the Book of Everything or Clif’s The Wave of Time.  A few vendors did well, but most did not.

Now here comes the cider part. Even though I didn’t sell many books, I still had fun. Simply put, the vendors who come to such events are a terrific bunch of people. I had a wonderful  time chatting with many of them. The table directly behind me belonged to a snappy young artist named Bob Raymond. His wife and young daughter joined him for much of the event, and as I was alone a lot of the time, they drew me into their warm, friendly orbit. Such a lovely family, and I was sorry to say goodbye to them when the weekend ended.

Then there was Nicholas Anderson, a talented artist and storyteller who has created a series called Planet Ripple, which features a young woman named Minnow, a protagonist with many disabilities, including autism.  On his books’ Amazon Page, in the About the Author section, Nicholas notes that he, too, is on the autism spectrum. So I was very touched when Nicholas came to me, as the event was winding down, to tell me how sorry he was that Maya and the Book of Everything did not receive the same public mention that his Planet Ripple series did. My response? You go, Nicholas! Take the publicity wherever it comes. I am also happy to report that Nicholas sold lots of books at Pine Tree Con. The audience was perfect for his work.

Finally there was Shawn French, a former sports writer who now works on video games, horror movies, and comic books. His Escape from Jesus Island is a tale of cloning gone horribly wrong and is “a twisted retelling of the Book of Revelation.” But not disrespectful, Shawn was quick to add. We had a great discussion about editing and writing, and he even gave me some sound advice: When editing, save what you discard. You might use it some other time.

These are just a few of the artists and writers I met,  but I’ll stop with the three I profiled.

Not surprisingly, I did a little Christmas shopping, and the presents I bought are zippy and local, just perfect for several people on my list.

All in all, even though sales were disappointing, a very sweet cider of a weekend.

 

 

In Praise of Decency and Hard Work

In the United States, this long weekend is Labor Day Weekend, a time to honor those who, well, labor. In the United States, many people work extremely hard, and hats off to them for all that they do to keep this country running—the teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, librarians, shop workers, volunteers, those who work at home, the caregivers. I could go on and on and have left many out.  For those at the very top who sponge so much out of society, I hope they appreciate the hard work that keeps them in place. (Snarky, I know, but appropriate for this time of widening inequality in the United States.)

Labor Day weekend is also a time when we bid a bittersweet farewell to summer. Yes, autumn is lovely, and there is much to look forward to, but barbecues and patio time are coming to an end.

Accordingly, we invited our friends Judy and Paul over for a barbecue on Saturday. Judy is a pie maker extraordinaire, and she brought over a raspberry pie for dessert. I nearly jumped for joy when I saw the pie because although I’m keen on all kinds of berries, raspberries are my favorite. As my 60th birthday is coming right up, I immediately proclaimed that this pie was a birthday pie. What then could Judy do but leave the leftovers with us? However, as she told me that she had two peach pies at home, I figured I was, in fact, doing Judy a favor by keeping the leftover raspberry pie. Or so I tell myself.

For the main meal we had potato salad made with sour cream and turkey bacon; chicken breasts marinated in a lemon, garlic, olive-oil  mixture and brushed with a mustard sauce; and corn drizzled with brown butter. Farewell, farewell sweet summer.

Over dinner, one of the topics that came up was the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas. So many stories of brave, selfless people helping each other without regard for income, skin color, or ethnicity. Pets were rescued, too, which I found particularly cheering.

For the past week, I had been thinking about the heroism in Texas and about how people really do pull together during catastrophes. Now, if we could just do the same thing when there isn’t a catastrophe, in everyday life.

I mentioned this to Paul and Judy.

“Everyday life is hard,” Judy said.

So it is. Most of us can rise to the occasion and be our better selves during a flood or an ice storm or a tornado. But when things settle down, self interest, pettiness, and even greed too often kick in. While we all need to take care of ourselves and our families, it is very easy to cross the line to selfishness, begrudging others what we think we should have as a matter of course. In short, we have trouble being consistently decent to each other.

Decency, a humble concept, is hard work, something that must be continually applied not only to other people but also to how we treat animals, the earth, the water, the air.

Somehow, thinking about hard work and decency seems appropriate for Labor Day Weekend.

 

Three Brave Republicans Save the ACA—At Least for Now

In yesterday’s post, I had indicated that today I would wrap up the movie reviews from last week’s Maine International Film Festival. However, last night’s vote in the U.S. Senate regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA)  made me change my mind. I just have to write, at least a little, about an issue that is important not only to me but also to millions of people in this country.

For those of us who depend upon the Affordable Care Act, what a weird, scary ride it has been since last November and especially this week. A headline from a recent article in the New York Times captures the way so many of us feel: “The war in Congress over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has brought anxiety to the people whose health insurance is at risk.”

Oh, that is to put it mildly. I have been in turmoil about this because  if the Republicans succeed in repealing the ACA, there is no Plan B for me. My husband is retired, and I would not be able to afford health insurance without the ACA. This means I would go without health insurance for a few years until I qualify for Medicare. As a cancer survivor, that is one terrifying thought.

This past week saw the issue brought to a fever-pitch in the U.S. Senate as Republicans did their best to repeal and replace the ACA. (Need I add that the replacement still would have deprived millions of health insurance?) The Republicans hold the Senate by the slimmest majority, and it would take the defection of three Republican senators to stymie their repeal plans. There were two stalwarts—Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and our own Susan Collins of Maine. (Bless her!) One more Republican was needed, and truthfully, I was not optimistic as the Senate voted last night on what was called “skinny repeal.”

But wonder of wonder, John McCain, from Arizona, returned to his maverick roots and  joined Collins and Murkowski in voting no. This was especially poignant as McCain has been recently diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer and had surgery about a week ago.

Who knows where the ACA will go next? But, for now, anyway, those three Republicans have ensured that millions of people will get affordable health insurance and thus affordable health care. Collins, Murkowksi, and McCain must have been under tremendous pressure. Hats off to them for not bending under that pressure.

In honor of those three Republicans as well as the forty-eight Democrats who held strong, here are some pictures of flowers from my gardens.

A day to give thanks, that’s for sure.

 

An Illuminating Week

Last week was a week of illumination, where I learned so much and also had so much fun. I guess you could call it a nearly perfect week of good movies, good food, a wonderful play, a fine lecture, and time spent with my nephew and daughter. Who could ask for anything more?

Once again, I am grateful that we live in a rural area with lakes, rolling hills, and forests yet also have access to plays, art, lectures, and independent movies. This definitely falls under the category of having the best of both worlds. We are also three hours away from Boston and seven hours away from New York City. In short, central Maine rocks.

First, the food. When Dee comes for a visit, one of her favorite meals is a waffle breakfast. I know this is bragging, but Clif’s homemade waffles are pretty darned good. We bring the waffle maker and batter to the dining room table, and out the waffles come, hot and fresh. This time, for sides, we had fresh strawberries and veggie sausages. (Dee is a vegetarian.) We had this breakfast not once, but twice.

Dee is a pizza hound as well as a movie buff, and it seems this pairing is not unusual. Next to Railroad Square Cinema is Grand Central Cafe, which makes pizza in a wood-fired brick oven. I am not a pizza hound, but I have to admit that Grand Central’s pizzas are very tasty.  The pizza featured below, which Clif and I shared, had cheddar, chicken, mushrooms, and barbecue sauce and was served piping hot.

And as far as Clif is concerned, pizza and beer go together the way chocolate and peanut butter do. This particular beer came from Bar Harbor.

Now for the illumination. Colby College, a liberal arts college with an incredible art museum that has become a destination, is a major sponsor of the Maine International Film Festival (MIFF). This year, in conjunction with MIFF showing one of Disney’s most beautiful, films—Bambi—Colby hosted a lecture called “Bambi and the Art of Tyrus Wong” presented by the filmmaker and animation historian John Canemaker.

I had never heard of Tyrus Wong (1910-2016), a Chinese immigrant who suffered poverty, discrimination, lack of recognition, and at a young age, the loss of his mother. Despite the hardships, Wong became an animator extraordinaire who worked on Walt Disney’s Bambi. Wong’s luminous, Asian approach of soft, blended backgrounds enhanced the vivid, memorable characters in this movie.

During the lecture, I also learned that Bambi was based on Felix Salten’s 1923 Austrian novel, Bambi, a Life in the Woods. When I came home, I Googled Felix Salten and discovered that his book “was  one of the first environmental novels ever published.”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend MIFF’s presentation of the movie Bambi, a 35mm Academy Archive print shown on the huge screen at the Waterville Opera House. It meant leaving our dog buddy Liam unattended for too long.

Ah, well! I really can’t complain as I learned two things I didn’t know about—the animation of Tyrus Wong and the Austrian writer Felix Salten.

And I saw some first-rate movies, which I’ll write about tomorrow.