Category Archives: Food for Thought

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.

 

 

My Love of the Little Things in My House

Confession time: I am someone who loves little things—call them knickknacks, tchotchkes, whatever—and my house is filled with them. They make me feel cozy, and not surprisingly I think the sparse, modern style is cold and uncomfortable. Everywhere I look in my house, there is something that makes me smile, and here is a small sample of what’s tucked in various rooms.

There is a lovely blue wall ornament that my blogging friend Shari made and sent to me.

A little wolf given to me by my friend Beth.

A handmade glass ornament given to me by mother, who has been dead for ten years. Whenever I look at it, I think of her.

A glass bluebird, given to me by my son-in-law, Mike, sitting in a woven basket given to me by my friend Judy.

A pottery bowl, with my favorite shape—the spiral—given to me by my daughter Dee.

There is a pattern here, I know. These little things were given to me by other people, and they were chosen thoughtfully.  All of them are handmade by somebody, if not the person giving me the gift, and this is true of many of the little things I have tucked here and there.

Time for some qualifications. I understand a dirty, cluttered home can feel as uncomfortable as a sparse one. I also understand that there can too much of a good thing, and in fact, nowadays, I hardly ever bring in anything to add to my collection of little things. Finally, I  understand that from an environmental point of view, buying too much stuff is not good at all.

But bucking the current trend of decluttering, I will not be getting rid of my little things—which bring me so much pleasure—anytime soon.

 

 

 

Apple Crisp to Go

Last weekend was the time for taking down the Christmas decorations.  We did it on Saturday, January 5, which by some reckonings is Twelfth Night. (Others put Twelfth Night on January 6. We don’t have strong feelings about this and are willing to keep an open mind.)

It always makes me a little sad to take down the decorations and to put the tree away. I miss the the ornaments—some fanciful, some homespun, some lovely—and the soft glow of the lights.  Here they are, all packed away. Farewell, my sweets, until next December.

But I really didn’t have time to brood because after the decorations were put away, it was on to the next project—apple crisp, which we brought to our friends Judy and Paul.

We took it hot out of the oven, hence the towel and pan, and at Judy and Paul’s house, the crisp was still warm enough to melt ice cream when it was served. Somehow, apple crisp is such a cozy, satisfying dessert in the winter. Best of all, I am able to get local apples at a nearby orchard well into winter, and I plan on making quite a few apple crisps for friends between now and spring.

At Judy and Paul’s, we talked of many things—politics, American history, and the moral failings of our founding fathers, who pieced together a country but blighted it with slavery. Unfortunately, the ugly repercussions are still being felt today, over 200 years later.

Paul noted that our founding fathers—John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin—did the best that they could. But did they? What would have happened if slavery had not been permitted? No country? Quite likely, but things fell apart less than a hundred years later, with the Civil War. Even afterwards, so many people continued to suffer because of the color of their skin. And still do.

Heavy topics for a January day. Good thing we had apple crisp, ice cream, and tea to lighten the mood.

When we came home from Judy and Paul’s, Clif made some of his delectable homemade French Fries, and we had them with faux chicken nuggets, which are tastier than you might think. Alas, no pictures. I’ll do better next time.

Then we settled down to watch Trevor Nunn’s delightful production of Twelfth Night, filmed in Cornwall and starring, among others, Ben Kingsley and Helena Bonham Carter. We own the DVD and watch it yearly. I think you can guess on which night. A bit of trivia: In Nunn’s Twelfth Night, Kingsley plays the jester, Feste, and I based my own Feste, in Maya and the Book of Everything, on Kingsley’s performance.

Might as well borrow from the best.