Category Archives: Notes from the HInterland

Bright Pictures for a Dreary Day

Because I’ve been on vacation for the past two weeks and haven’t posted much, I thought I would also post these pictures of our yard, our road, and the Narrows. In between storms and weather so frigid my nostrils stuck together when I took a deep breath, we did have a day or so of glorious, bright winter weather, when it wasn’t too cold to enjoy being outside. The dog and I went for a walk on one of those days, and here are some pictures I took.

The snowy little house in the big woods
The snowy little house in the big woods
Buried Toad wonders where the garden is
Buried Toad wonders where the garden is
Snowy gate to the backyard
Snowy gate to the backyard
Ice shack on the Upper Narrows
Ice shack on the Upper Narrows
The last bit of open water on the Lower Narrows
The last bit of open water on the Lower Narrows
The Narrows Pond Road
The Narrows Pond Road

 

 

 

 

Holiday Improvisations

img_5004My-oh-my, the weather has been frightful these past two weeks, which have encompassed Christmas, New Years, and vacation for Clif and me. There have been snow storms; an ice storm that knocked out our power for three days, including Christmas Day; and weather so cold that our dog, who loves snow, only stayed out in the backyard long enough to do his business. And now a driving rain, most unwelcome in January, with the threat of more frigid weather to follow. Something tells me that Clif and I will not be leaving home without our grippers on our shoes.

Despite the bad weather, our holidays were merry, even though there was a fair amount of improvising with food. Instead of our usual cheddar cheese soup on Christmas Eve, we had a soup I had frozen—ginger-carrot soup—along with chickpea patties—also frozen and thawed thanks to the power outtage. Scratch the stuffed shells for Christmas Day. Instead, it was appetizers—bread, crackers, veggies, various cheeses, spreads, and cold cuts. Not my idea of a great Christmas meal, but Shannon, who loves appetizer meals, was delighted.

Somehow, though, everything worked out. Because of the ice-storm brouhaha, my brother and his family couldn’t come over on Christmas Day. They could, however, come over on Friday, and since our power was back on, I could make stuffed shells for them along with a homemade chocolate ice-cream pie.

And the cheddar cheese soup? A New Year’s Eve meal with Shannon, Mike, Dee, and our friends Joel and Alice. So we had the holiday food we love, only pushed later during the week.

I must admit that by the time the holidays were over, I was just plain tuckered out. But Clif and I still had several more vacation days, and in between cleaning the roof and the driveway, we ate more than we should have, we read, we rested, and we watched movies, both at home and at the cinema. (There have been some very good movies this year.)

Now vacation is over, and it’s time to get back on track—with work, with exercise, with eating, and with the many projects that seem to fill our lives. Our current project involves making shelves for Shannon and Mike’s kitchen. Clif, handy guy that he is, will do most of the work. I’ll try not to get in the way too much. And there is also cleaning and decluttering, a never-ending task for me as I’m sure it is for most people.

Onward and upward into 2014. I’m hoping it is a year of family, friends, good food, biking, and creativity.

 

A Find at the Transfer Station—A Red Bike

img_4945Saturday was a busy day full of errands around town—to the library, to Paris Farmers Union, and, most important, to the transfer station. As we were putting some metal in the huge outside recycling bin, we both saw a bike leaning against the bin. The bike was red, an L.L. Bean bike, with a bit of rust on the handle bars but otherwise in seemingly good condition.

Clif and I looked at each, and “Shannon?” I asked. Our daughter does not have a bike, and where she lives in South Portland, there are biking opportunities galore.

“Maybe so,” Clif answered in his Yankee way.

As we looked at the bike, one of the workers stopped as he was driving by in a truck. “You want that bike?” he asked.

“I think we do,” Clif answered.

“Just stop by on the way out and pay $5.”

Five dollars? How could we go wrong? Clif took off the front wheel, and we loaded the bike in the car.

After going to the Transfer Station, we delivered returnable bottles to our friend Steve Knight, who is collecting them for his Heifer Ark Project. (His goal is to collect $6,000 in returnables.) I’ve written about Steven before, but in brief—Steve is a scrounge extraordinaire who makes it his mission to recycle and find usable “trash,” not only for himself but also for friends. Recently, he has scrounged paint for friends and wood for a chicken coop that he is certain his daughter will want to build one day. (I’m sure she will!)

Was Steve impressed with our find? You bet he was, and he slyly implied that if we weren’t vigilant, then that bike would disappear from our car while we talked with his wife, Margy.

On a more serious note, Steve also told us that when he retires in a couple of years, he wants to devote a good deal of his time to scrounging and recycling. (Right now Steve is a chemistry teacher at the high school.)

Clif and I smiled and admitted that when it came to scrounging and recycling, Steve was our mentor. I said, “We frequently ask ourselves, what would Steve do?” And I wasn’t entirely joking.

On the way home, we discussed the bike. Clif has been a biking enthusiast since he was a teenager, and repairing this bike does not daunt him at all. Our goal is to put no more than $50 into it, and if we achieve that goal, then Shannon will have a pretty good bike at a more than decent price.

 

December 12, 2013: The Narrows

img_4926A fine, clear, cold day in the neighborhood. After I bundled up—heavy sweater, leggings under my pants, a hat, which I hate wearing—the dog and I headed to the Narrows. The sky was a deep blue, and a crow followed us, sometimes calling in a high pitched voice, sometimes clicking and clacking. The dog barked, and I smiled. Neither of us understands crow, and not for the first time, I wished I “could talk to the animals.”

Taking pictures at the Narrows, especially on a cold day, requires a bit of juggling. Off come the gloves, to go on the ground beside me. As there is hardly any shoulder by the Narrows, I must shorten the dog’s retractable leash—he does like to leap at cars—and grip it between my knees. Where is the sun? How is the picture framed? With freezing fingers and a dog to worry about, I hardly have time to ask myself these questions. Never mind. Today the light was so good and the Narrows so bright and beautiful that it almost didn’t matter. Any shot would come out well.

After I took pictures, we walked farther on before turning around, when the wind hit us squarely. My face stung, and my eyes watered. The wind parted the dog’s hair, and we pressed forward.

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When I got home, time for a cup of tea. How good it tasted, and despite the cold, how good it felt to get out and go for a walk.

With such beauty around me and the time to enjoy it, I sometimes feel as though I must be one of the luckiest women in Winthrop.

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Trying to Walk by the Snowy Stream

img_4919Today I decided to take a walk by the stream in back of the house. Almost within sight of my backyard, the stream has been beckoning to me as it winds through the dark woods on its way to the Narrows Pond. It has been a long time since I walked along the stream. Today, the snow was not deep in the woods. Today, it was not too cold. So after I made raspberry squares for the library meeting tonight, I found my winter boots and my camera, gathered the dog, and headed out back.

In my imaginings, the dog and I would walk quite a while by the stream. Maybe not down to the Narrows, but at least far enough to leave our house and yard behind. Alas, reality and imaginings don’t always coincide. I hadn’t counted on the snow-covered leaves being so slippery. I hadn’t remembered the banks of the stream being so steep. As I inched my way along, with the dog trotting lightly ahead of me, I looked for a stick to help steady myself. I found one, and as I crossed a hilly ledge that went from one side of the stream to the other, I idly reflected on how much it would cramp Christmas if I fell and broke either an arm or a leg.

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This vision of handicap trumped the vision of walking by the stream, and I decided it was time to turn around. Before I did, I stopped for a bit, listening to the sound of water rushing under a skim of ice. Not far from where I stood, I saw animal tracks—deer and squirrels and who knows what else. Beyond the animal tracks was a great tree that had fallen, reminding me of the bleached skeleton of a whale.

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Slowly, slowly, I made my way back to the house, where I found a package—a Daedalus order—waiting for me. I hadn’t gone very far, but I had heard the stream and had felt the presence of the forest.  I was chilly enough for a cup of tea and ready for a sample of the raspberry bars.

The dog was ready, too, and after sharing a bar with me, he took a nap in his spot by my desk while I wrote this piece.

Next time the dog and I walk in the woods, we will stick to the trails. My knees are simply too stiff to deal with slippery banks. Still, it was a fine thing to stand by the stream and listen to the water and to feel the forest all around me.

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Fun and Busy Mixed with a Serious Reflection

A rainy day in the neighborhood, and outside it looks like dreary March rather than crisp December. Never mind! At least there aren’t power outages and freezing rain, and for that I am grateful. At Chickadee Place—my new “old” name for this house—it is no fun when the power goes out. We have a well, which means no water when there is no power, and we have to use buckets of water to flush the toilets. Since our house nestles in the woods—so cool and pleasant in the summer—we don’t get much natural light, and without power, the house is dark. And, we have an electric stove. So although I always am prepared for power outages—big buckets of water in our cellar, a gas camp stove, oil for lamps, a wood furnace—I never look forward to them.

A busy weekend coming up. On Saturday, there will be the town’s Christmas parade, and the library is actually going to have a float this year. The theme of the float will be books, of course, and I am looking forward to seeing it. After the parade, a bunch of us are gathering at Margy and Steve Knight’s house, where we will come together for one of their fabulous potlucks. Margy and Steve have such a warm, welcoming home, and it’s always such a pleasure to go to one of their potlucks. I will be making a ginger-carrot soup, and I’m also going to try to slide in some homemade bread. No sleeping late tomorrow.

On Sunday, I’m meeting my friends Susan and Joan for brunch in Portland at Petite Jacqueline. We’ll be celebrating not only the holidays and our friendship but also Joan’s birthday. After that, I’ll meet my daughter Shannon for tea and then we’ll meander to the Portland Flea Market. Somewhere amidst all the fun will be a trip to Trader Joe’s to stock up on supplies for the holiday.

Despite all the folderol and frivolity of the season, I have been thinking about more serious matters. Striking fast-food workers have been much in the news lately, and even though I seldom go to fast-food places, my sympathies are squarely with the workers. (No surprise there. I come from a long line of blue-collar Democrats. Where else would my sympathies be?) Working people deserve decent wages, and nowadays, it is impossible to live on $8 (or even less) an hour without government subsidies. Through our taxes, we citizens are helping these workers, and, in effect, subsidizing the fast-food restaurants. As a progressive, I am all for helping workers and society, but do those fast-food restaurants, which make billions of dollars in profits each year, really need my tax-dollar assistance for their workers? I don’t think so.

The same is true for most retail jobs. Wal-Mart is the symbol for all that is big and greedy, and they deserve it. However, they are not alone in their Scrooge-like behavior, and it is the rare job in retail that pays a decent wage. (Even $11 or $12 an hour is not really enough to live comfortably.) Unfortunately, this is also the case for small businesses as well, even when they are making a good profit. (I know this from personal experience.)

Therefore, as we move into this season of Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All, my thoughts are with all the exploited people, not only in this country but also in the world—people who work too hard for too little; people who make it possible for us to buy cheap stuff and to eat cheap food; people who deserve better than what they get but are under the thumb of such an oppressive economic system that their prospects are bleak.

There are glimmers of change. Workers in this country are starting to protest, as well they should. And we should be in solidarity with them.

These glimmers of change give me hope. After all, a great man who just died spent 27 years of his life in prison. He lived in a wicked, wicked regime. Finally he was released and eventually went on to become president of his country.

If Nelson Mandela could achieve the nearly impossible, then our country should be able to come up with a fair and decent economic system for its workers. All of them. Not just those at the top.

Early December and White Bean Soup

IMG_3022Yesterday, Clif and I woke up to find 6 inches of snow in the yard and in the driveway. Clif took out Little Green for the first snow throwing of the season while I shoveled the backyard pathways to the wood pile, the bird feeders, and the compost bins. Liam barked and leaped at the snow as I shoveled, and it made me laugh to watch him.

I am a summer person, but when I get used to the cold, I actually do enjoy winter, that still time of muted colors when the birds crowd the feeder. Tufted titmice, nuthatches, finches, woodpeckers, and last, but certainly not least, the chickadees, my favorites, all come to the backyard feeders. Indeed, we have so many chickadees here that once upon a time I referred to our home as Chickadee Place. As my friend Barbara once observed, chickadees may be plentiful, but they are not common. No, they aren’t, and chickadees are always a welcome sight at the feeder.

White beans are simmering on the stove, and soon I’ll be making a white bean soup in my Crock-Pot. I’ll use fresh sage and thyme that have weathered the cold. I’m thinking of adding the last of the gravy and a bit of leftover chicken stock, so it will be more like a stew than a soup. Celery, onion, garlic, carrots, and mushrooms. Perhaps a sweet yellow pepper. A hearty meal for a cold night. Add homemade bran muffins, and we’ll have a pretty good meal, as Clif might say.

Today will also be a day to take stock of Christmas presents, to assess what I already have and to decide what else I might need. I’ll be placing a Daedalus order, something I always enjoy doing. Good books at reasonable prices. What’s not to like?

As I’ve often noted, we are a family with a modest budget, and, accordingly, our presents are modest. But modest or not, we enjoy giving and receiving them. We plan ahead, we make some of the presents we give, and despite the hecticness of the season, we do our best to make things merry.

No bah humbugs at Chickadee Place.

 

 

 

A Topsy-Turvy Thanksgiving

img_4831The week before Thanksgiving was spent cooking and cleaning, and by the time the big day came, I was prepared. The turkey was thawing in the refrigerator. The gravy was also thawing in the refrigerator. The green bean casserole had been made. Ditto for the yeast rolls. The house was dusted, scrubbed, and vacuumed. All that could be done ahead of time had been done.

Then came the call from Shannon on Thanksgiving Day. Her dog, Holly, was sick. Very sick. Perhaps it was a flu, perhaps Holly had eaten something she shouldn’t. Whatever the case, Holly was too sick to bring and too sick to leave alone for that length of time. Therefore, Mike and Shannon wouldn’t be coming over for dinner.

Because Dee was with Shannon in South Portland, this meant that Clif had to pick her up in Topsham—halfway for both Shannon and Clif. (Mike stayed home with the dog while Shannon brought Dee to Topsham.) While I had done all that I could ahead of time, there were still many last minute things to do, and I was counting on Clif to help me. But there was no way around it. Clif had to fetch Dee, and I had to finish the last of the getting ready by myself.

Nevertheless, all seemed to be going well. Clif picked up Dee. Our friends arrived and settled in the living room with wine, nuts, cheese, and crackers. Then chaos descended as the turkey came out of the oven, and various dishes went from the microwave, where they were heated, to the oven, where they would stay warm. As Dee mashed the potatoes—mounds and mounds of them—bits of potato flew onto the counter and onto her sweater. I juggled dishes from the microwave to the stove and finally to the sideboard in the dining room. Was the candle lit? Yes. Did everyone have water? They did. And more wine as well. Olives, pickles, squash bread? Check, check, check.

We gathered together around the table, and I actually sighed gratefully. Everything tasted good. The food was even vaguely warm.

But later that night, after everyone had left, Clif said, “I didn’t have any stuffing.”

“Oh?” I replied. “Well, maybe your plate was too full and you didn’t have any room.”

“Maybe.”

Then I started thinking about my own plate. Had I eaten any stuffing? I couldn’t remember that I had.

We are a family that loves stuffing, and I had actually made extra, in a casserole dish, as there is never enough in the turkey.

I had a sneaking suspicion about that stuffing, and when I checked, my suspicions were confirmed. Both stuffings, two huge dishes full, were still in the oven, pushed to the back. They had never made it to the sideboard.

And here’s the funny thing. At dinner, our friend Jill had commented on how during a big hectic meal, dishes sometimes were forgotten in the oven. Did Jill miss the stuffing? She didn’t mention it, and I think she would have done so had she noticed its absence. Nevertheless, it was a funny coincidence, especially since it was the first time I had forgotten anything in the oven.

Ah, well. We feasted, we talked, and thanks to the dishwasher, clean up was pretty easy.

And along with all the other leftovers, we had lots of stuffing. Plenty to bring to Shannon when we visited on Saturday, where an almost fully-recovered Holly was happy to see us.

Now, onward to Christmas!

 

 

Walking to the Narrows on a Gray Day: Includes Recipe for Pasta with Sausage, Sage, and Browned Butter

img_4483Yesterday, my dog, Liam, and I took a walk to the Narrows Pond, about a quarter of a mile from our home. The day was gray, and it was sprinkling so lightly that I could hardly feel the drops on my raincoat. In fact, a rather nice day for a walk.

The Narrows Pond comprises the Upper and Lower Narrows, and the word pond does not do justice to these large, sparkling bodies of water. In my mind, ponds are small and what you find behind an old farm house. The Upper and Lower Narrows are more like lakes, and the Lower Narrows is quite deep—over 100 feet in some areas. My understanding is that what makes the Narrows a pond is the number of inlets—one—that flows into it. As with so many other things in life, when it comes to lakes and ponds, size doesn’t matter.

As Liam and I approached the Narrows, two crows sat at the top of a tree, and they called in warning as we walked past them. A string of ducks quacked and flew in their surging way, going from the Lower Narrows to the Upper Narrows. Way out on the water, so far out that I couldn’t see its distinctive profile, came the tremolo of a loon. “Where are you?” it seemed to ask. “Right here, right here,” I answered.

After the walk it was tea time on the couch, with the dog on one side of me and Sherlock, the orange cat, on my lap. Along with the tea—Earl Grey—I had an apple and a few pretzels. For a book, Gladys Taber’s Still Cove Journal.

By the time Clif came home from work—at 6 p.m.—it was dark, and the shades were drawn.  “What would you like for supper?” I asked. “Pasta with sausage, sage, and browned butter? Or, creamed tuna with dill and garlic over baked potatoes?”

Clif hesitated. “They both sound good.”

“What we don’t have tonight, we will have tomorrow.”

“Pasta and sausage, then.”

I suspected that would be his choice. Clif loves pasta, and he loves sausage, even if it is made with turkey rather than pork, as was the case last night. I had four big sausages—as opposed to the breakfast links—as well as plenty of sage growing in a pot outside.

This dish is so easy that it hardly needs a formal recipe, but for clarity’s sake, I’ll provide one anyway. The sage and browned butter over pasta is the base, and many, many things could be added or substituted: Shrimp, chicken, broccoli, mushrooms, and peppers, to name a few. This dish is so good that it qualifies as a company dish. It would go together easily while guests are finishing their wine and appetizers. Then, I guess, you would have to call it dinner rather than supper.

But midweek on a dark, wet night, the pasta with sage, browned butter, and sausage qualifies as supper.

[amd-zlrecipe-recipe:32]

Busy, Busy October: The Walk for Hope and White Chili

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On Fridays, I usually post interesting pieces—most often food related—that I have read on the Internet. But not this week and not next week, either. Between volunteering, writing, cutting back perennials, and washing windows, I just don’t have that much time to read on the computer. And next Friday I’ll be leaving for New York to spend the weekend with my daughter Dee. (However, I still find the time to read my favorite blogs—Down to Earth and Letters from a Hill Farm, to name just a couple.) When November settles in, and the leaves have been raked, I’ll return to my Friday postings. There are a lot of good pieces on the Internet, and I like to think they make up for all the bad that is also posted.

This week has been so warm that I have been able to make a tray and eat on the patio every afternoon. In between reading and eating, I listen to the patter of the leaves as they fall to the ground, and the soft sound reminds me of a light rain. Even though the dog and the two cats join me on the patio, the birds remain undeterred, going from tree to feeder and back to tree with their tasty morsels—black oil sunflower seeds. This is the time of year when the feeder must be filled frequently, and I am out of seed. On Sunday, there will be a trip to Paris Farmer’s Union in Winthrop to get more seed. I just love seeing the flutter of birds in the backyard.

On Saturday, Team Good Eater will be participating in the Walk for Hope, a benefit for MaineGeneral’s Breast Care Program. As I had breast cancer 3 years ago, this is a cause that is very dear to me. The team’s 3 fundraisers are my daughter Shannon, our friend Alice, and me. So far, we have raised over $800, which, to borrow from my Yankee husband, is pretty darned good. A bunch of us will be walking on Saturday—Alice’s husband, Joel; my husband, Clif; our friend Debbie; and the dogs, Holly and Liam, the latter of whom still has a pungent smell as the result of an encounter with a skunk. (Unfortunately, Shannon’s husband, Mike, has to work and won’t be able to join us.)

After the walk, Team Good Eater will come for lunch at the little house in the big woods. I’ll be making a white chili from a recipe I got online, and if it comes out well, I’ll share it on my next post. From Farmer Kev I’ll get spinach and lettuce for a nice local salad. Shannon is bringing bread, and Alice is bringing dessert. We’ll sit at the round table in our dining room and share food and news and stories. We’ll talk about politics, books, and movies.The day is supposed to be lovely, and if so, the dining room will be lit with the glow of golden October. The leaves will continue to patter, and the birds will pick at a mostly empty feeder.

A good cause, fellowship, and food. We’ll have all those things on Saturday.