Category Archives: Food for Thought

THROUGH SLEET AND SNOW AND DRIVING RAIN…WE DELIVERED BISCOTTI TO OCCUPY WALL STREET

Tents at Occupy Wall Street
Bad weather at Occupy Wall Street

Let’s just say that when we planned an October trip to go to New York City to visit our daughter, my husband, Clif, and I did not expect to have to cope with a northeaster that alternated between driving snow, sleet, and rain. But, as I’ve become fond of saying, when it comes to the weather, weird is the new normal, and the weather was definitely weird this Saturday.

We knew bad weather was coming, of course, but hearty Mainers that we are, we decided to press on with our plans. It was the weekend of our daughter’s birthday, and we wanted to be there. How bad could it get?, we reasoned. We loaded up the cats with food and water and brought our dog, Liam, to Portland so that he could stay with our daughter Shannon and her husband, Mike. All the animals were well cared for.

As if to mock us, Friday, the day we left, was a beautiful sunny day with a bright blue sky. (The same was true for Sunday, the day we came back.)

The sleeping tents
The sleeping tents

But, oh, Saturday—which just happened to be our daughter’s birthday—with its rain, sleet, and snow. We had it all. Despite the bad weather, we decided to “Keep calm and Carry on” with our plans, which included a trip to Zucotti Park to visit Occupy Wall Street and to donate some homemade biscotti.

When we left Dee’s apartment, the rain was coming down hard, and armed with umbrellas that flipped in the wind, we made it to the subway without too much discomfort. Our first stop was Zucotti Park, and after 40 minutes or so on the subway, we emerged from the underground to a pelting, slanting snow, wet and heavy. We were soaked in minutes and very cold. We took pictures, found the food tent, and donated the biscotti. We got a distracted “Thank you and God bless” from one of the volunteers, but it was clear that nobody was in the mood to chat about food, so we left relatively quickly. (I don’t blame the volunteers at all. It was damned cold to be out there in that park.)

The food tent
The food tent

After that it was on to Chelsea Market, an old factory whose downstairs has been converted to a food market. All the stores are indoors where it is warm and dry, a perfect place to recover from weather that had gone from snow to sleet. By then, my shoes were soaked and so were my gloves. My hair was plastered to my head because I had given my umbrella to Clif while I took pictures of Occupy Wall Street.

We wandered about, checking out the various food places, and decided to stop at Bar Suzette, where crepes are meticulously and creatively made with fillings that range from sweet to savory. Dee got a savory crepe with portobello mushrooms, and Clif and I shared one with Nutella and bananas. Very tasty indeed. (I could have one right one.)

A crepe is born
A crepe is born

Because it was Dee’s birthday, we decided to let her plan the rest of the day.

“Well,” she replied. “You know what I would like to do—a movie, dinner, and another movie.”

As Captain Picard from Star Trek would say, “Make it so.”

We saw In Time, had dinner—our treat—at Spice restaurant, and then saw Margin Call. The movies are very different from each other yet both explore the nature of the greed that seems to be running unchecked in our society. In Time, which could fairly be called a “gourmet popcorn” movie, did it in an alternative reality, allegorical kind of way, where the world was divided between those who had time and those who did not. And I mean this quite literally. When your time ran out—there was some kind of clock on a person’s arm to keep track of such things—then you died. Those at the top hoarded time, keeping it from those at the bottom, who had to scrabble constantly to find time to carry on. Sound familiar? Margin Call was more direct, a morality story about the collapse of a firm obviously based on Lehman Brothers, where everyone is so corrupted by money that they do things they know they shouldn’t do and in fact would rather not do. A quiet but powerful movie.

As we were following our daughter around New York City, I had on odd, haunting thought. When I had her 34 years ago, I never would have guessed that on October 29, 2011 she would be leading the way through New York City, her home, and we would be following.

“What did you envision?” Dee asked when I mentioned this to her.

“Really, nothing,” I said. “We just wanted you to grow up to be healthy and strong.” And creative I might have added, but didn’t since I just thought of it now.

Dee is certainly strong, healthy, and creative, and she just had a birthday we will all remember.

Post Script: After the long ride home, Shannon had a hot meal waiting for us—roast chicken with lemon, thyme, and garlic; roasted potatoes and carrots; salad; and bread. It’s not every day that you find someone who will take care of your dog and who will also cook a lovely meal for you on your return. Lucky us!

 

WINTHROP FOOD MATTERS: PART ONE—THE ISSUES

Last Sunday, after a chilly October bike ride along Lake Maranacook and its russet-colored shores—somehow we have skipped the blazing colors this year—I rode to Margy and Steve Knight’s house for a Winthrop Food Matters meeting. Various members of the community came to the meeting, and they all were concerned about community, good food, and resilience.

Patrice Putman, who works as director of employee development at MaineGeneral Health, moderated the meeting, and the first issue raised was food insecurity in our community. I have volunteered at the Winthrop Food Pantry for 13 years, and JoEllen Cottrell, the Food Pantry’s new executive director, was at the meeting as well. In addition, Craig Hickman, of Annabessacook Farm Bed & Breakfast, was there. His farm sponsors a private food pantry and is also the temporary home of Winthrop’s Hot Meals Kitchen, which serves free meals on Wednesday to anyone who wants dinner. (Until recently, the Hot Meals Kitchen had been in St. Francis Xavier Hall, which belongs to and is adjacent to the town’s Catholic church. Why the Hot Meals Kitchen is no longer there is a long story worthy of its own post.)

JoEllen, Craig, and I had all come to the same conclusion—due to the horrible economy, more and more people are struggling and therefore need our services. At the same time, inexpensive food from places such as the Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn is becoming harder and harder to get. This, in turn, puts a huge strain on the budgets of food pantries and hot meals kitchens as they must buy more of their food at full price from conventional grocery stores. (The lack of food from The Good Shepherd Food Bank, which has been Winthrop Food Pantry’s mainstay for as long as I’ve volunteered there, would be another subject worthy of an entire post on this blog. ) Craig Hickman put it succinctly: “The excess in the system is drying up.”

From there the discussion turned to having a licensed commercial kitchen in Winthrop, where donated fruit and vegetables could be processed and then given to the Hot Meals Kitchen and to the Winthrop Food Pantry. (Because of federal guidelines, the Food Pantry is unable to accept food canned or preserved by home cooks. Such food must come from a licensed commercial kitchen.)

Various homes for the Hot Meals Kitchen were discussed, from the Winthrop Middle School to an abandoned factory in town to a new building on a piece of land. Craig spoke of how the board of the Hot Meals Kitchen voted to investigate having its own place. “That way, we can control our destiny. We won’t be beholden to anybody,” Craig said. Craig’s feeling was that if everything went according to plan, the Hot Meals Kitchen would soon be back in St. Francis Xavier Hall, giving the board time and space to pursue its goal of building a community center focused on food. (I must admit, I love this idea.)

By the time the meeting concluded, there were plans of action. Margy offered to do research about food processing for food pantries in other communities; JoEllen, of course, will be devoting her time and energy into keeping the shelves stocked at the Winthrop Food Pantry; Steve volunteered to check into the Middle School about the possibility of of having a commercial kitchen there; and Craig and I discussed writing a regular food column for our local paper—the Community Advertiser—so that we could bring various food issues to people’s attention as well as provide seasonal recipes.

Even though the Winthrop Food Matters meeting ended on an upbeat note and the mood throughout was positive, one thing is certain. When it comes to food matters, there are many angles to consider—politics, resources (both food and money), time, and energy. Yet what can be more important than the food we eat and how communities are fed? Our health and well being are inextricably twined with food.

But there are lots of reasons to be hopeful. In Winthrop, the interest in local food has never been greater. Thanks to the many farmers in the area, Winthrop grows some of its own food, and the community makes an earnest effort to provide food for those in need.

Now, onward!

(Tomorrow’s post will be Winthrop Food Matters: Part II—Food and Fellowship)

FOOD AND TOWN

Outside the Flaky Tart
Outside the Flaky Tart

Tuesday was a day that revolved around food and town. First, I rode my bicycle, Blue Beauty, to a Winthrop Food Pantry meeting where we discussed the ongoing problem of rising food prices. Simply put, cheap food is harder to get, and this, of course, is affecting all food pantries, not just the one in Winthrop. However, the Winthrop Food Party is lucky to have an energetic executive director, an equally energetic president, a board that is willing to work with them, and a supportive town. Despite the rising cost of food, the Winthrop Food Pantry will continue to provide good food to those in need.

After the meeting, I met my friend Claire for lunch at the Flaky Tart, a new little café that has opened in town. How I am beginning to love that place, and I am not the only one. Every time I go there, the tables are full, and there is a brisk business for takeout. Claire and I sat on the high stools at a table by the window, where we could see the comings and goings in downtown Winthrop, and I am happy to report that there were indeed people on the street.

For years, Winthrop, like many other towns, has struggled with a downtown that has seemed pretty lifeless. There were a few bright spots—Becky’s Second Time Around, a very nice consignment shop, and Apple Valley Books. The area phone company was also located downtown. I am happy to say that these three establishments are still there.

But lately, things seem to be picking up in downtown Winthrop. A few years ago, a branch of MaineGeneral Medical Center set up shop in an abandoned factory, and this has brought people back into town. Recently, a store called Potato took one of the empty storefronts and has since expanded to the adjacent space. Potato sells Maine crafts, and there is such a nice variety that it is just the place to go for a special gift for a special person. A little while after Potato went in, Pete’s Roast Beef came to town, and although the decor at Pete’s might be described as utilitarian, the place is very clean, the staff is friendly, and the roast beef sandwiches are incredible.

Now there is the Flaky Tart, a place so warm and pretty that it makes you want to linger over your soup or your quiche or your tea or your coffee. Claire and I have decided to meet there once a week, and perhaps other friends will join us.

“My mother taught me how important it is to support your community,” Claire said. “And when I give gifts or eat out, I always start in Winthrop.”

Good advice!

While we were eating, Rosa, one of the owners of the Flaky Tart, came over to show us a golden beet she had just cut in half. “Isn’t it beautiful?” she asked. “It’s from my garden.”

A golden beet
A golden beet

Indeed it was. I had never tasted a golden beet, and I wondered how it compared with traditional ones.

Rosa replied, “They are a little milder, a little sweeter. If you roast some of these, then who needs candy?”

Someday, I hope to try roasting golden beets.

After lunch, Claire and I went to Potato, where we both bought gifts for special people in our lives—our daughters.

I am planning to do as much holiday shopping as possible in Winthrop. In fact, when my daughter Dee, who lives in New York, comes home for Thanksgiving, I am hoping to persuade her to spend Black Friday shopping in Winthrop and to have lunch at the Flaky Tart.

Black Friday in Winthrop. It has a certain ring, doesn’t it?

 

GROWING IN CIRCLES

It’s funny how one thing leads to another. Last week at our town’s Green Committee meeting, Jenn Currier spoke about an upcoming Transition Town meeting that she wants to attend. For some strange reason, I was unfamiliar with the Transition Town movement, but as Jenn explained some of the movement’s goals—food security, the emphasis on community, and resilience in the face of the many challenges we’ll be facing because of climate change and peak oil—I thought it was definitely something I should check into.

Then, today on FaceBook, I received a link—not from Jenn—about Transition Towns, and that link, in turn, lead me to the website Transition Culture, which has the tag-line “an evolving exploration into the head, heart, and hands of energy descent.” Now, you might think that a website that focuses on “energy descent” would be a rather gloomy site, but just the reverse seems to be true. Granted, I’ve only just found Transition Culture, but as far as I can tell, the website’s  mood and tone are buoyant and hopeful. The emphasis is on what can be done and all the good things that can be gained by living, working, creating, and growing food close to home.

Via Transition Culture, I even watched an hour-long show on the computer, and this is something I never do. My time for watching shows is pretty much regulated to an hour or so at night. While there is a place for watching shows in my life, I want it to be a small part, not a big part, of my day. The show I watched today was Town with Nicholas Crane, and the featured town was Totnes, in southern England. Totnes is, of course, a transition town and they are doing some nifty things, including widespread use of solar panels, community festivals, and lots of local food. To justify watching this show, I viewed half of it while I was eating breakfast and half as I ate lunch.

For dessert I watched a very short video called A Story of Transition in 10 objects: Number 4. An Egg. Now, with my love of chickens and eggs, how could I resist this video? Here the focus is on Forres, a town in Scotland, and while I was drawn to the egg, what really caught my attention were the vegetable gardens, planted in a circles. I was fascinated by this layout, which looks like a terrific way to use a relatively small plot, and the circular beds appeared as though they would be very easy to tend while producing quite a bit of food.

I’m not sure if I could use the circular design on my shady plot of land. But I will certainly be thinking about how I might be able to do so because after years of talking about moving to Brunswick—a kicky college community with great restaurants—my husband, Clif, and I have decided to stay right here in Winthrop and to devote ourselves to our house, our yard, and our community.

Another circle, as we are, so to speak, back where we started.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DON’T JUDGE AN APPLE BY ITS LOOKS

Apples for pieLast week at our town’s Green Committee meeting, Gary Dawbin came in with a bag of apples picked from a tree in his yard, and my husband, Clif, and I were the lucky recipients. The apples, as you can see from the photo, would not win any prizes for beauty, but Gary assured me they were good cooking apples, perfect for pies and crisps and, of course, apple sauce. When I got home, I tasted one, and it was indeed very good, a little tart and a little sweet.

On Saturday, a cool, rainy day, I commenced making a pie. I love the whole process of baking an apple pie—cutting the apples, making the dough, and then smelling the apples as they cook.

Making the pie

As Clif just received an ice cream maker for his birthday from our friends Bob and Kate, we decided to make some vanilla ice cream to go with the pie. (I also made bread. A busy cooking day!)

When the pie was done, we were eager to sample a piece. What would these little yellow apples with their bruises and blemishes be like in a pie? After only one bite, Clif and I were in total agreement—this was one of the best apple pies we have ever eaten. Clif got it exactly right when he noted, “The apples have just the right balance of tart and sweet.” (Need I add I was thrilled to make such a good pie with backyard apples?) And the homemade vanilla ice cream just gilded the lily.

Quick as can be, I was on the phone, calling Gary Dawbin to find out more about those apples. Unfortunately, he couldn’t tell me what variety they were, but he knew they were an old heirloom apple planted by Mose B. Sears, one of the owners of the old Winthrop house in which Gary and his wife, Rose, live. Moses B. Sears owned the house in the 1800s, and when I Googled his name, I also learned that Moses was part of the Maine Anti-Slavery Society. Apparently, along with being socially conscious, Moses had such a green thumb that with its apples, plums, grapes, pears, and blackberries, the yard around his house was referred to as “the Garden of Eden.” (This last bit of information about Moses’ Garden of Eden came from Gary.)

“I have more apples,” Gary said, “If you would like some. There is a limit to how many apples Rose and I can eat.”

“Yes, please!” I said, and on Sunday, Gary gave me enough apples for at least two more pies.

Now, there is also a limit to how much pie Clif and I should be eating, so we shared some of the pie with Gary and his wife, Rose, as well as our friends Dawna and Jim Leavitt. Next weekend, I’ll be making more pie and will be sharing that one as well.

Once upon a time, Winthrop was full of apple orchards, and all over town there are vestiges of these old trees, one here, one there, the varieties long forgotten. The trees were planted during a time when people grew a significant amount of their own food, and they are reminders of how much food this town could produce if it wanted to do so. (We are not the only happy recipients of Gary’s apples from this one tree.)

I’ll let Clif have the last word here: “Gary’s tree needs to be grafted so that those apples can carry on.”

 

LUNCH AT THE CORNER ROOM FOR ANOTHER BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION

The Corner Room
The Corner Room

Yesterday, I went to Portland-town to meet my daughter Shannon and our friend Kate for yet another birthday celebration. Man oh man do I love birthdays. Not for me the slinking into the corner as I get older, refusing to celebrate the passing of the years. I have no problem telling people my age—I’ll be 54 on Thursday—and especially after last year’s bout with breast cancer, I feel very grateful to still be around. As my book-group buddy Mona Baker has put it, growing old is a privilege, not a right.

Also, being such a homebody, it was a treat go to the “big city.” I parked my car some distance from the restaurant and took such pleasure in the sights and sounds of Portland—the tall stone buildings, the shops, the blue sky above, and the smells of coffee and food mingling with the smell of the dusty street. And the people—so many people!—some dressed in smart dark suits; a pretty young woman wearing short shorts and what in my day we would have called “shit kickers”; two ragged people—also young—on a bench; a little dog lolling outside a shop. All belonged to the life of this small city.

Shannon and Kate were waiting for me in The Corner Room, a compact but cozy restaurant specializing in tasty Italian food. I had been looking forward to trying their eggplant Parmesan sandwich, but for some reason they were out of the ingredients. So I chose the prosciutto panino, and it was very good indeed. Since it was my birthday, I allowed myself a side order of fries, hand-cut but disappointingly lukewarm. Nevertheless, I ate them all.

Hand-cut fries and prosciutto panino
Hand-cut fries and prosciutto panino

There were more presents—a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated magazine from Shannon and a beautiful glass bowl made from recycled glass from Kate as well as a little bluebird for my bird collection.

A note about presents: Over the past few years, my husband, Clif, and I have made a real effort to limit the amount of “stuff” that we buy. (If you came into our home you’d never know it, but that’s because, as I like to joke, our house is like a black hole—what comes in doesn’t go out.) Our decision to reduce the amount of stuff we buy is both a financial one and a philosophical one. With Earth’s limited resources and an ever-growing population, we feel as though we should live as lightly as possible.

But here’s an unexpected bonus—when you don’t buy very much for yourself, you really, really appreciate the presents you receive. While I realize this is not true for everyone, affluence and excessive shopping can combine to produce a jaded attitude toward presents. I have seen it in some people who have everything they could possibly want and are therefore hard to please. In our more affluent days, I don’t think I was ever jaded, but when I was shopping frequently, getting new things was not as special as it is now.

Does it really need to be said that the best presents are love and friendship from family and friends? Sure, it does. In short, I am thankful for all presents, tangible and intangible.

WHAT I DID FOR TWO AND A HALF WEEKS IN WINTHROP: INCLUDES RECIPE FOR SALMON PATTIES WITH BASIL AND GARLIC

Salmon patties on red plateYesterday, I helped my friend Sybil pack and sort as she enters the final phase of moving from a condo to an apartment. Because my husband, Clif, and I are a one-car family, I had to take him to work so that I could use the car. On the way, I noticed a couple of new things—a portion of the road was torn up, and the Burger King was completely demolished. (Naturally, a new one is being built to replace it.)

“Do you know,” I said to Clif, “that I haven’t been out of Winthrop in two and a half weeks?”

He just shook his head and smiled. “If I didn’t have to go to work every day, the same would probably be true for me.”

Clif and I certainly are prime examples of homebodies. When I mentioned my two-and-a-half week stint to a friend, her response was, “My, Lord! What did you do?”

This started me thinking. What did I do in Winthrop—population 6,000—for two and a half weeks? Every day that it was nice, I went on a ten-mile bike ride, on a route that takes me by a shimmering lake where loons call to each other. Clif and I went to the town’s book sale, art show, and lobster roll luncheon, all of which I wrote about in a previous post. I went to an author talk—given by Sarah Braunstein—and to book group at Bailey Public Library. I volunteered at our local food pantry. I made bread for family and friends. I met my friend Barbara Penrod for lunch at a restaurant in town where the food is not great, but it is good enough. I wrote pieces for this blog, and I made good progress on the children’s fantasy novel I’m writing—Maya and the Book of Everything.

While I didn’t physically go very far, I kept in touch with family and friends via the Internet. I read about Ali’s garden at the blog Henbogle, and I got suggestions for good books to read from Nan at her blog, Letters from a Hill Farm. I traveled through various books to an unnamed city in England where the battle between good and evil is fought not only in a boarding school but also in families (Charlie Bone and the Shadow by Jenny Nimmo); to Pittsburgh where I followed an old woman through the seasons as she deals with aging, family matters, and the inevitable disappointments that life brings (Emily, Alone by Stewart O’Nan); and I explored the nature of “tick-tock” time and “time alive” in The Magicians by J. B. Priestley.

Then, of course, there was Irene to prepare for and the resulting power outage.

I even developed a couple of new recipes, one of which I’ll share in this post. This recipe—salmon patties with basil and garlic—came about because I had leftover garlic and basil mashed potatoes. I decided to make salmon patties out of them, and Clif and I liked them so much that we both agreed it would be worthwhile to make the garlic and basil mashed potatoes especially for the patties and not just because we had leftovers.

All in all, it was a busy two and a half weeks even though I didn’t leave Winthrop.

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Frying the patty