Category Archives: Food for Thought

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?

 

 

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.

 

 

 

The Comfort of Rituals

Nearly nine years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not a happy time, as I’m sure readers can imagine. But when it comes to having breast cancer, I was one of the lucky ones: my cancer was very slow growing, no lymph nodes were infected, and treatment included a lumpectomy and radiation but no chemotherapy. Four years ago, my doctor pronounced me cured, such a sweet word.

Nevertheless, for every yearly mammogram, I am so nervous and jittery that I can barely think of anything else. (Fortunately, York Hospital, the place I go, gives results fifteen or twenty minutes after the mammogram.) But over the years, I have developed some rituals to help with the jitters.

First, I wear these earrings that belonged to my mother, who had breast cancer in the mid-1970s, the beginning of what can only be called an epidemic. I am still inspired by her courage and fortitude in dealing with her cancer at a time when people didn’t really speak of such things.

Then, in the car, I must listen to Vivaldi, even though my natural inclination is for alternative rock. Somehow I am both cheered up and calmed down by Vivaldi’s joyous, exuberant bursts of music punctuated by exquisite tenderness.

Finally, I meet my friend Susan Poulin for lunch at a place called When Pigs Fly.  Susan is an extremely talented performer and comedian. I don’t think I’m exaggerating by calling Susan Poulin one of Maine’s best.  Her alter ego is Ida LeClair, who is from northern Maine, lives in a double-wide, and has a beloved husband named Charlie. Ida’s zest for life can’t be matched, and here she is, ready to go.

Is it any wonder that having lunch with Susan cheers me up?

Now, I know that in truth it doesn’t make a bit of difference if I wear my mother’s earrings, listen to Vivaldi, or have lunch with Susan at When Pigs Fly. What is, will be.

But these things give me comfort, and for that reason, they are important.

And I am happy to report that this year’s mammogram was all clear.

Phew! Onward to year ten.

A Repost of “Buy Indie, Borrow the Big Bestsellers” by Cynthia Reyes

Cynthia Reyes, a writer, blogger, and journalist from Canada, is someone I’ve featured in my blog several times. Most recently, she and her daughter have written the delightful Myrtle’s Game, featuring the delightful purple turtle as she deals with those who would exclude her.

Anyway, Buy Indie, Borrow the Big Bestsellers, her latest post on her blog, exactly captures my philosophy. Cynthia writes, “The way I see it, the bigtime authors will still get my support, via the public library.  Local libraries are among my favourite places on earth and librarians are stars. I borrow the famous books there….But Indie authors and presses need my money. ” And when Cynthia purchase books, they are usually from indie authors and presses.

Hear, hear! I, too, do my best to support indie writers, artists, and other creative types who earn money selling their creations. Readers, I know a lot of you do, too. However, Cynthia’s eloquent words remind us why it’s so important to buy from indie writers and artists.

This post, of course, falls squarely in the department of shameless self-promotion because not only am I an indie author and publisher, but also my book, Library Lost, is featured in Cynthia’s post.

Many thanks, Cynthia!

 

 

Life Running in a Different Direction

“Life ran back and forth, land into people and people back into land, until both were the same.”  –Lura Beam, A Maine Hamlet

Last Sunday, we had very cold weather and eight inches of snow, both standard for Maine in January. Then yesterday, the temperature shot up to 49° Fahrenheit, and the rain came bucketing down, rapping against the windows, slanting into our faces, soaking our coats as we did errands.

Before we left to do errands, Clif threw sunflower seeds on the snow for the ground feeders, which are often birds but in this case were squirrels.

Then the wind came, fortunately not strong enough to knock out our power but strong enough to make it difficult to open our car doors as we went to the various stores.

Last night the rain stopped, the temperature dropped to freezing, and this is what we woke up to.

First, the good. Our front steps are completely clear of ice and snow, no small thing in our shady yard.

Second, the not so good. Our driveway is glare ice.

As are the walkways to and in the backyard.

And the snowbanks are as hard, dirty, and ugly as they are in March. Except this is January.

I started this post with a quotation from the remarkable Lura Beam, a Maine native, writer, educator, and researcher. According to Wikepedia, “Her interests included the poor, minorities, women, education, and the arts. She co-authored two books discussing medical studies on sex adjustment and sex education with Robert Latou Dickinson, and a noted memoir of growing up in turn-of-the-century Marshfield, Maine. She was the long-time companion of Louise Stevens Bryant.

Lura Beam is perhaps best known for her “noted memoir,” A Maine Hamlet. The opening quotation comes from that book, and I was much struck by it.

Like Lura Beam, Clif and I are also Maine natives, going at least five generations back for both of us. We belong to Maine. It is a part of us, and we are a part of it. For most our lives, we knew the rhythms of Maine and moved knowingly through the seasons—the brilliant cold of winter; reluctant spring, which burst in a frenzy of blossoms upon us in May; beautiful summers, not too hot, not too rainy, just right; and the glory of fall, so bright and beautiful with its explosion of yellow, red, and orange leaves.

But now, with climate change, it hardly seems as if we know Maine at all. Summers so hot that we can barely stand it? September being an extension of August? Rain and 49° in January? In what universe? In this one, it seems.

We must adapt. We have no choice. But for Clif and me, two old Mainers, it is very disconcerting.