Category Archives: Living in Place

Mother’s Day 2013

img_3455On this year’s Mother’s Day, there was a small but jolly gathering at the little house in the big woods. Our daughter Shannon and her dog, Holly, came for a visit and for brunch. (Unfortunately our other daughter, Dee, who lives in New York, couldn’t join us, and Mike, Shannon’s husband, had to work.)

This is a perfect time to be a braggy old mom, and I’m not going to hold back. Shannon has become such an accomplished cook. For brunch she brought French toast that had been soaked in an egg and milk mixture that had just a hint of orange. The toasts were baked and then glazed with a crunchy, melted sugar topping. Oh my, they were good. We also had home fries and bacon, courtesy of my husband, Clif, as well as melon, blueberries, and strawberries. What a feast!

The brunch table
The brunch table
Those French toasts
Those French toasts

After brunch, Shannon and I took the dogs for a walk on a trail in the woods behind our house. (Clif’s leg was bothering him, so he stayed home.) Up the ravine we went. The dogs ran and chased each other. A little frog jumped out of their way, and below us, the stream rushed on its course to the Upper Narrows Pond.

Ready for our walk
Ready for our walk

The day was damp, and when we came back, our feet were thoroughly soaked. Off came the wet shoes, and it was time for tea and dessert, flourless chocolate cupcakes—made by Shannon—served with a whipped cream flavored with white chocolate and peppermint. I had two of them. I couldn’t resist. Flourless cakes are my favorite kind of cakes, and these cupcakes are moist and rich and delectable. Besides, it was Mother’s Day and therefore a cheat day for me. This was no time to be dieting.

Dessert!
Dessert!

Dee and Shannon had given me money to buy flowers for my garden, and after dessert, Shannon and I went to Augusta, where I bought begonias, impatiens, and dwarf snap dragons.

Flowers for the garden
Flowers for the garden

We are a family that absolutely loves these simple but lovely get-togethers. Cooking for each other is one of the ways we express our affection. As I recently remarked to my cousin Carol, food does more than nourish the body. It nourishes the spirit as well.

My spirit was thoroughly nourished on this year’s Mother’s Day. The only way it could have been any better would have been to have Dee and Mike there, too.

A Woods Walk on a Gray Day in May

img_3450Today was a gray day with much-needed rain. In between showers, my husband, Clif, our dog, Liam, and I went for a woods walk. The ground was muddy underfoot, and above us a raptor flew, its high-pitched calls echoing around us. Was it a hawk? Was it an osprey? Unfortunately, I don’t know bird calls well enough to distinguish the different raptors.

Various spring flowers are in bloom. In contrast to the circling raptor, the flowers are close to the ground. But like the raptor, the flowers are hard to see, and often only those who have “flower radar” can spot these modest little jewels of the forest.

 

 

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Chickpea Burgers on a Sunny Day

Yesterday was supposed to be a rainy day, but instead it was sunny, warm, and dry. The sky was bright blue.

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The weather was perfect for hanging blankets on the line.

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And for having lunch on the patio, one of my favorite places.

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In central Maine, it is very dry, and we really need rain, but I have to admit I was not sorry to have this sunny day. Along with eating on the patio, I went for a bike ride, worked in the garden, and thoroughly enjoyed the fine weather.

I also went to the library to make more packets for the library expansion team. Our library is planning a 1.3 million dollar expansion, and we are almost at the $500,00 mark in a little over a year of fund raising. Among other duties, I have volunteered to put together the expansion packets given to prospective donors. Spring must be having a softening effect on pocketbooks because lately the donations have been coming in at a brisk clip, and I can hardly keep up with the demand for expansion packets. Go, Winthrop!

And what to make for dinner on such a fine day? Why, chickpea burgers and home fries, that’s what. My husband, Clif, has been longing for some kind of bean burger, and as I had leftover basil from a great deal at Shaw’s—-99 cents on the discount rack—I decided to make a Mediterranean-type burger, akin to falafel, using chickpeas and feta cheese along with the basil. The burgers were such a success that Clif called them “pretty darned good” and went back for seconds.

A bit of advice for an otherwise very simple recipe—when frying the burgers in a skillet with about 1/4 inch of olive oil, set a timer for 5 minutes as soon as you place the patties in the pan. (Use a medium heat.) Then don’t touch those patties. Leave them alone. This is very difficult for someone like me who loves to fiddle with food as it cooks. However, if you leave the patties alone and flip them after 5 minutes, then you will have a gorgeous, crispy brown crust. Another five minutes on the other side—again, no fiddling—will give you an equally gorgeous flip side. What else? Wet your hands to make the patties—the mixture is sticky. If it is too sticky, add more rolled oats. (I had to do this last night.) If it is not sticky enough, add a bit of water.

Clif and I had the usual condiments—mayonnaise and mustard—but if you have some plain yogurt, lemon, and cilantro on hand then you could make a nice little yogurt sauce to go with these burgers. But anyway you serve them, they are good.

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First Barbecue of 2013 – Simple Potato Salad

img_3405May, with all its green and flowery pleasures, is here, and how delightful it is after a fairly cold winter. We have had a stretch of warm, sunny days that have been good for any number of activities—biking, gardening, other yard work, and best of all, having a barbecue on the patio. Not only has the weather been glorious, but—miracle of miracles—the black flies aren’t too bad this year. I’m not sure why this is the case—perhaps it’s been too dry for them to flourish—but whatever the reason, I am grateful. How nice it is to work outside or sit on the patio and not be enveloped by a swarm of little biting bugs. Most seasons, my husband, Clif, and I have to resort to bug spray, but this year, not so much.

Clif and I are notorious homebodies. For both of us, home is best, and nowhere is it better than on our patio in our own backyard. We are always thoroughly cheered when we can bring up the patio furniture from the basement, give the tables and chairs a good wiping, and have as many meals as possible on the patio during spring, summer, and fall.

On Saturday night, we had our first real barbecue of the season, and it was one of those meals where everything just came together, where there was a real flow. Cooking isn’t always this way, but when it is, what a pleasure. As with all good meals, a bit of planning was involved, and for our first barbecue, I thought a simple potato salad would be in order. Our usual potato salad includes sour cream and bacon, but I had neither of those ingredients. However, I did have a vinaigrette to put on the warm potatoes as well as mayonnaise and mustard. And eggs. What is potato salad without eggs?

Right after breakfast, I cooked the potatoes in a big pan and the eggs in a smaller one. When the potatoes were done, I drizzled them with the vinaigrette—in this case one of Newman’s bottled Italian dressings.  (I have made this potato salad with both a homemade vinaigrette and a bottled one, and truly, I couldn’t tell the difference.) Then I put the potatoes in a big bowl in the refrigerator, the eggs in a smaller bowl, and I pretty much forgot about them for the rest of the day.

Around 5:30, it was time to put the evening meal together. First, the potato salad. I cut up the eggs and mixed them with the potatoes. I added a few tablespoons of mayonnaise, a teaspoon and a half of mustard, salt and pepper to taste, and voilà—a simple potato salad. Onion lovers could add fresh onions, but neither my husband nor I are keen on raw onions.

Earlier in the day, I had also taken out some chicken tenders, and my husband put together a rub consisting of chili powder, cumin, salt, and pepper to go on the tenders. What to go with chicken and potato salad? Why, homemade biscuits, of course. Finally, for a colorful side, steamed peas.

While my biscuits weren’t as fluffy as my mother’s—they never are—everything tasted “pretty darned good,” as Clif put it. The chicken was moist and spicy, the biscuits were tender enough, and the potato salad had a pleasing tang, even though it didn’t have sour cream.

Welcome spring, welcome summer! In the months to come, we’ll be having many more meals on the patio. Some will be for just Clif and me, but we will also have friends and family over from time to time. We have a nice backyard, and we like to share it.

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas…

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Snow dog behind the fence

But the problem, of course, is that it is the first day of spring. You’d never guess it by looking at our little house in the big woods. There is snow everywhere, and this morning my husband, Clif, took out Little Green so that he could clean the driveway before going to work. Meanwhile, I had my trusty blue shovel, cleaning the steps, both front and back, the path to the gas tank, and the end of the driveway, which had a ridge of snow left by the plow.

On the plus side: The snow was light and fluffy and easy to clean. We did not lose our power. And last night night, as the snow came down, falling softly, softly falling (I borrowed this from James Joyce), Clif and I had a candle-lit dinner in our dining room. Yesterday was the actual date of our wedding anniversary, and we weren’t about to let a little late snow dampen our spirits. Along with wine, we had a quiche made from smoked cheddar, glazed carrots, olive-oil toast made from homemade bread, and raspberry bars for dessert. On Pandora, we listened to a Bela Flecks pathway.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. Soon it will melt, and spring chores, in all their busy glory, will be upon us.

Clif, with Little Green, first thing this morning
Clif, with Little Green, first thing this morning
The backyard at dawn
The backyard at dawn
Little guardian of the backyard
Little guardian of the backyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snow, Snow, and More Snow

IMG_3120Another snowstorm hit central Maine over the weekend, and it brought about a foot of snow. In January, the ground was bare. In February, not so much. Except for the dangerous driving conditions, which prevented us from seeing our nephew’s play, I really don’t mind the snow and the attendant clean-up. This might sound strange, but I actually like outside chores, and it makes me laugh to see the dog leap and jump and twist as he tries to catch the shovelled snow. Also, with enough shovelling, I feel as though I have earned an extra piece of chocolate as well as a snack of popcorn, and foodie that I am, this gives me extra motivation.

I am happy to report that with this storm, Clif decided that his wrist was strong enough so that he could help with clean-up. He’s been itching to give Little Green, our electric snow-thrower, a whirl, and I said, “Go for it.”

Go for it, he did, cleaning the whole driveway while I shovelled the paths out back to the woodpile, bird feeders, and compost bins. I also cleaned the steps and the walkway. It all went so quickly that I almost felt as though I hadn’t worked enough for that extra piece of chocolate and the popcorn.

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Clif at the helm of Little Green

“Of course you have,” Clif said when I mentioned this to him, and, I needed little encouragement to indulge.

Today the sky is a beautiful blue, and our yard is a winter wonderland.

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There is more cleaning up to do, and soon the dog and I will be out there, each doing our respective chores—me shovelling, him barking and jumping. Before I go out, I’ll have a homemade banana muffin and a cup of tea. (There’s not enough work out there for extra chocolate and popcorn.)

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I’ve been thinking about our suppers this week, and I’m going to try my hand at coming up with my own meatloaf, using ground chicken, garlic, chili sauce, liquid smoke, egg, and bread crumbs. Also, I’ll be making, for the first time, a toasted chickpea and carrot soup courtesy of Smitten Kitchen.

I’ll be writing about how each dish turns out.

 

Saturday, October 20—A Gray But Busy Day

Saturday was a gray day, but it didn’t matter as it was filled with many pleasing things to do. Our friend Diane had invited us to her home for dinner that evening, so first on the list was making an apple pie to bring for dessert.

Then it was off to the library to bring a birthday present to Shane, librarian extraordinaire and the leader of our library’s book group, The Title Waves. And what did I get him? A book of course—Crampton Hodnet by Barbara Pym. While my husband, Clif and I were at the library, we admired the new slate roof that is in the process of being installed.

After that, Clif and I went to Longfellow’s Greenhouses to look at the display of fairy gardens. Was I smitten? Indeed I was, and I immediately beginning thinking about making a couple of fairy gardens for a problem spot—dry shade—that I have in my own yard.

Finally, it was off to Diane’s Café, as Diane herself dubbed it, where she was not only a warm and gracious hostess, as always, but where she also went all out with snappy decorating and presentation.

The food was delicious, and what a warm, wonderful time we had around that table. There were 8 of us—my daughter Shannon and her husband, Mike; Alice and Joel Johnson; Sybil Baker, Clif and me; and of course Diane. We are such kindred spirits that the conversation just flowed from movies to books to politics to personal history. Sybil told us of the time she spent at school in England in the late 1940s, where food was still rationed but because she was a minor, she was allowed one egg a week as well as an orange and a banana.

And on this gray day I felt so lucky to live in Winthrop, to make apple pie, to have a great library, to go see the fairy gardens, and to have such wonderful friends.

My Garden—October 18, 2012

Today the sky is gray, and certain weather reports have a tempest coming our way. Other reports are more moderate, merely promising us rain and drizzle. At any rate, we shall see.

Yesterday was a glorious day, and I spent some time cutting back my perennials.  Silly gardener that I am, I even like the way some of the plants look as they are winding down for their winter rest. Nothing showy, nothing beautiful, but worth noticing nonetheless, and I don’t cut everything down, leaving plants with pods and dark seeds to give interest to the fall and winter garden.

Pictures from my October garden:

 

The Yard in October

Note: From my friend Kate, I got the notion of how important it is to live in place, to be completely immersed in the area that you live. I was going to do a multi-part series about living in place, but I believe this notion is so important that it deserves a category of its own, one that can be explored on a regular basis. While a Living in Place category might be similar to a Community category, there are some differences. Community, at least to me, focuses on the human element. It’s the way we come together to make our towns, cities, and, yes, even suburbs places of resilience that nourish people in good times and bad. Living in Place is more about the land, the environment, and I truly believe that only when we fully live in place do we begun to take care of the land, the water, and the air. Thanks so much, Kate, for planting this seed, so to speak.

 

In Maine, October is a tumultuous month, one of lashing rain, falling leaves, frost, brilliant blue skies, and air so crisp and clear that it makes you glad to be alive. It is a bright month of orange, red, and yellow. It is also somewhat sad. Lovely, warm summer has come to an end. The time for lunch on the patio will soon be over. Even on our little acre in the big woods, there is much to be done. The gardens need to be cut down, the leaves raked, the wood stacked.

Yesterday, was a very satisfying day of emptying pots with flowers and herbs that had been blackened by frost. It was warm enough so that scrubbing those pots was no hardship. It was also a day of hanging sheets, blankets, and quilts on the line. I feel a sense of urgency on every nice day to keep that clothesline full of sheets and blankets. Soon, it will be too cold to do so, and everything will go in the basement to dry. But until then…

Here are some pictures I took yesterday.

Blue quilt on the line
Blue quilt on the line
The sky above the patio
The sky above the patio
Temple dog in the brown leaves
Temple dog in the brown leaves
A full bird bath
A full bird bath