Category Archives: Notes from the HInterland

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.

Backyard Report: October 3, 2013

Cilantro in bloom
Cilantro in bloom

What a beautiful fall it has been so far. We’ve turned the corner to October, and the lovely warm weather continues with sunny days and cool nights. I do believe that September and October have made up, to some degree, for the 20 straight days we had of rain in June and July. Despite living in Maine, I love warm weather, and every day that it is warm means that there is one less day that I will be cold. (Sorry, Shari—you lover of cold weather—to borrow and twist your words.) More important, every day that it is sunny and warm means there is one less day that we have to use the heat, and with the price of fuel, this is no joking matter. Not for Clif and me, who live on a modest income, and not for the many Maine families who live on far less than we do. So may the warm weather continue through October. There is plenty of time ahead for colder weather and high heating bills.

Despite the warmth, things are definitely winding down in the yard at the little house in the big woods. The gardens look frayed and tattered, and there are few blooms to cheer things up. If I had a sunnier yard, then I could plant more colorful annuals to tide the gardens through this period, but alas, there is simply too much shade here for most annuals to thrive. Well, I live in the woods, which has its own beauty and consolations. Cool, green, and mysterious. Full of creatures that cautiously skirt our house as well as birds that are regular visitors, drawn by the feeders. The squirrels also fall into the latter category, and I must admit I am not as enthusiastic about their visits as I am about the birds’ visits. Still, squirrels are creatures of the forest, and they, too, must earn their living. I just wish their appetites were not so robust.

Thanks to the warm weather, I still have lunch on the patio every day, and I have noticed the absence not only of the hummingbirds, which have left for warmer climes, but also the yellow jackets, which are a real pain, sometimes literally, in the fall. They are drawn by sweet food, and usually in the fall I have to eat quickly—not a hardship for this good eater—and set my plates on another table when I am done. But not this year. What could have happened to the yellow jackets? Did the rainy weather kill them off? While I can’t say that I miss them, their absence does make me uneasy. They are part of the natural cycle of things here in Maine.

Today, another sunny day, I will have my lunch on the patio. There are clothes drying on the line, and after lunch, I’ll clean the big feeder, so that it will be ready for winter and the constant refilling of birdseed. Tonight, there will be homemade chicken soup and cornbread for supper, and I have to admit that even though I love warm weather, it is a fine thing to have soup on a cool night.

Scenes from the backyard with a quick trip down cellar:

Tattered bee balm
Tattered bee balm
The last of the tomatoes
The last of the tomatoes
Leaves on fire
Leaves on fire
Sherlock on the patio
Sherlock on the patio
The last, brave snapdragons
The last, brave snapdragons
Stocked up for the winter with vegetables from Farmer Kev
Stocked up for the winter with vegetables from Farmer Kev

 

A Tempest and an Impromptu Sauce

In yesterday’s post, I complained, a little, about the cool weather we’ve had in the past week or so. Perhaps the weather gods heard me because yesterday was a sizzler, too hot even for me, and by 4:00 in the afternoon, all I could do was lounge on the patio and read North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell. In between reading about Margaret Hale, the snooty young woman from the south of England who goes to live in the dirty, industrial north, I watched for hummingbirds at the feeders. There were none, and it is possible that they have begun their long migration south. No more whizzing of fast-beating wings, no more zipping of iridescent bodies until next summer, and I am always sorry when these ethereal birds are gone.

Luckily, given my propensity for lounging and reading, I had made dinner earlier in the afternoon. My tomato plants—Juliette—did not do as well this year as they have in the past. Too gray and rainy for too long. But I have gotten some to eat with my lunch, and yesterday, I even had enough to make a very small batch of sauce. I washed the tomatoes, dried them, and cut them in half. I tossed them into a bowl with some olive oil and some salt and pepper. Then, I spread them in a 9 x 12 and sprinkled oregano on them. I roasted them at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, until they were very soft and a little brown around the edges. When they had cooled, I blended them in the food processor.

Vegetables for the sauce (I ended up not using the red and green pepper because I didn't have many tomatoes.)
Vegetables for the sauce (I ended up not using the red and green peppers because I didn’t have many tomatoes.)

In my vegetable bin, I had lots of good things from Farmer Kev to use in the sauce. Item: one small summer squash. Item: one large clove of garlic. Item: one small yellow pepper. I chopped the pepper and the squash and sautéed them with a tablespoon or so of oil in a small skillet. When they were done, I added the garlic and sautéed this for about 30 seconds. Then I poured the sauce over the vegetables. The sauce seemed a little thick, so I thinned it with a bit of water. I tasted the sauce, and it was certainly good as it was—to me, nothing beats the taste of sauce made with roasted tomatoes—but I had a couple of leftover hamburg patties, and I crumbled them into the skillet. I covered the skillet, and let the sauce simmer for about 45 minutes. Another taste, and I seasoned with salt and pepper.

Simmering sauce
Simmering sauce

Clif and I had the sauce over penne, and we had just finished when lightening began to flash and thunder began to boom. As the rain started to pelt down, I called for the black and white cat, and compact and purposeful, she bolted into the house. Just in time. Hail pelted against the windows, and our power went out, not to come on until 5:30 the next morning. But cats, the dog, and people were snug inside as the rain poured down.

I thought of the people repairing the lines in this fierce storm, and I felt thankful for their steadfastness and hardiness. The power seldom goes out when the weather is good. For us, the loss of power is inconvenient. For those who work on the lines, it is a test of stamina and even bravery. (Would you want to be out in a storm messing around with power lines?)

Anyway, just figured it was time to give credit and thanks to where it was due.

Why Didn’t I Think of That?: Tomato, Chopped Egg, Olive Oil, and Salt and Pepper

img_4043Mid-September is upon us, and Clif and I are thinking about putting up the screens and pulling down the storm windows. Already, we’ve been spot heating, something you can do easily with electric heat, one of our heat sources. Summer is pretty much over, and my lunches on the patio are numbered. I’ve resigned myself to a cold house and colder weather. After all, I live in Maine, not San Diego. I know I need to buck up and bundle up, which I am doing.

Still, despite the colder weather, there are many things to look forward to in September and October: weekend bike rides if the weather allows; apples and apple pie, which I love to make; walks on the beach when we visit Shannon and Mike in South Portland; tomatoes (more about them later); and more time to read Victorian novels.

Not long ago, a friend and I decided to form a Victorian book club of two via email. (My friend lives out of state, and we met at a Franco artists gathering, where we discovered we both loved Dickens.) We started with Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, which I thought was brilliant. Hardy took a hard, deeply flawed man—the mayor—and made him so sympathetic that I actually cried at the end. We are now reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South, which is not as well written as The Mayor, but is still very much worth reading. Again, Margaret, the main character, is flawed—although not as deeply as the mayor—-and like the mayor she is achingly human and therefore a sympathetic character. Next we will be reading The Warden by Anthony Trollope, and I am looking forward to this. Those Victorians knew how to tell a ripping good story that encourages a reader to read on and on when really she should be doing other things such as yard work, housework, or her own writing. At the same time, the Victorian novelists had something to say, larger points to make along with their ripping good stories, and modern writers certainly could learn some things—pacing and compelling characters—from the Victorians.

Now back to tomatoes. The tomatoes, which were in the doldrums because of the cool, rainy weather we had this summer, have now come into their own, and this is definitely a case of better late than never. Oh, how I love tomatoes, and every day I have one along with whatever else I am eating for lunch. Winter tomatoes are not very good, and I am gorging on fresh tomatoes now while I can.

Yesterday, as I was perusing a few recipes on Yahoo, I came across a simple suggestion for using tomatoes, so simple that I can’t believe I didn’t think of it myself as it combines some of my favorite things. In fact, this recipe is so basic that it would make Michael Pollan, that advocate of simple eating, whoop with joy. As the title of this post suggests, this recipe includes a chopped hard-cooked egg, a chopped tomato (half or so of a small one), a splash or two of olive oil, and salt and pepper. Combine everything in a bowl and use the mixture on top of either toasted pita or toasted bread.

After reading this suggestion, I decided to make it for my lunch, and the results were so good that I will be making it not only today but throughout the month, as long as there are fresh tomatoes.

Apples, fresh tomatoes, and Victorian novels all come together to take the sting out of fall and encroaching winter.

 

The Yard Sale

img_4022On Saturday, we had our yard sale, and for the proceeding 3 days, there was a great flurry at the little house in the big woods. Shannon and her dog, Holly, came on Thursday night. (Our dog, Liam, resigned himself to Holly’s exuberant presence. The cats did not.) All day Friday, Shannon and I washed items for the sale and organized what was already washed and packed so that we would be ready for Saturday. When Clif came home from work, he made terrific signs using poster board and stencils. We brought tables around to the front yard. We had money for the cash box. There was an ad in the local paper. Heck, I even swept the driveway. Would the weather hold?

Yes, it did. Saturday was a sunny day, cool in the morning but warm in the afternoon. There was only one problem. Hardly anyone came to the sale. For the most part, the people who did come bought something, and it was gratifying to see our things go with folks who would obviously enjoy them. However, when the day was done, there was a lot to pack in the car to go to Goodwill—it would take two trips to get rid of it all—and let’s just say we didn’t make very much money. We all wondered if perhaps it was too late in the season, and people just weren’t interested in going to a yard sale. There were several other yard sales listed in Winthrop, and I wonder if they did any better than we did.

The ladder of books
The ladder of books

Never mind! As Shannon noted, even though we are a family that can’t sell things and probably will never be rich, we are also a family that likes to look on the bright side. And here is the bright side of the yard sale:

First and foremost, we cleaned a lot of stuff from our basement room, and without the yard sale, we probably wouldn’t have had the motivation to do this. Now that so much has been cleaned from that room, Clif and I will continue the process, doing some each Saturday morning until the room is as clean as we want it to be. I cannot overemphasize what a good feeling this is. Because the room was so cluttered with things we no longer wanted, we could not use that room for anything else. And what would I like to use the basement room for? Why, a pantry, of course, with honest-to-God shelves so that I can buy in bulk and stock up on food when it goes on sale. Although our family is down to just Clif and me, I cook a lot, not just for us but for family and friends as well. Having a pantry that can be easily reached and organized will be, well, a dream come true.

Second, our friends Judy and Paul dropped by, and we got to chat with them.

Third, Tim, Farmer Kev’s father, came over to give us some corn and a melon. He had noticed we weren’t at the farmers market and stopped by to see if we would like some vegetables. When I tried to pay for them, Tim shook his head and waved me off. “Just take them. You’ve been so supportive of Kevin.” I think that very soon there will be a homemade apple pie for Farmer Kev and his family.

Corn and a melon from Farmer Kev
Corn and a melon from Farmer Kev

Fourth, we got to see how impressively easy it is to drop off things at Goodwill in Augusta. They have a special place for donations. You just drive up, and out someone comes with a big cart to collect donations. (This is also a somewhat sobering lesson on how much “stuff,” wanted and unwanted, churns through our society, but that could be a topic for a whole separate post.)

Finally, what a treat to have Shannon and Holly here for 3 days. And even though we worked really hard for those 3 days, we so enjoyed having them with us.

After the yard sale, we gathered on the patio. Clif grilled some burgers, and we steamed Farmer Kev’s corn, which was as sweet as only fresh corn can be. In fact, everything tasted so good. The crickets sang, the dogs ran and barked, and it didn’t start raining until we had long finished the meal and were ready to go inside.

There will be no more yard sales for us, but at least we have made huge progress in decluttering our house.

The dogs look out, wanting to be out front with us
The dogs look out, wanting to be out front with us
Corn and burgers at the end of the day
Corn and burgers at the end of the day
Shannon and Holly
Shannon and Holly

 

 

 

 

Backyard Report: September 5, 2013

By late summer and early fall, the gardens at the little house in the big woods do not look their best. In truth, they are quite frowzy. (My gardens are at their peak in July.) Most of the flowers have gone by, and the slugs and snails have had their way, shredding the leaves of the irises and the hostas. The sweet, green dream of spring is long gone as the season shifts from warm to cool and eventually to very cold. Still, both my husband, Clif, and I agree that it is better to have tattered plants rather than plants that have been shaved down for their winter rest. Eventually it must be done, but I wait as long possible before giving the flowers their winter crew cut. Despite the tattered foliage, early fall still has some visual delights—bright red tomatoes and demure asters. And, on my walk this morning, I noted the large number of unripe winter berries and concluded it will be a good year for them. In late fall, I love to cut them and use them with pine in the box on our little deck.

Here are some pictures from the backyard:

Tattered leaves and spent bee balm
Tattered leaves and spent bee balm
Asters at the edge of our lawn
Asters at the edge of our lawn
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Tomatoes ready to be picked

On another subject…This weekend, we will be having what I have dubbed The Great Yard Sale. For the past couple weeks, I have been busy sorting and pricing items to put in the Great Sale. It is absolutely amazing what we have accumulated over the nearly 30 years we have lived in this house. I like to joke that our house is like a black hole—-what gets sucked in, stays in, and nothing escapes. Holy guacamole! The most incredible thing is that when this sale is over, and items either have been sold or have been given to Goodwill, our house will look virtually the same. No one would ever guess how much we have cleaned out. A sobering lesson on the tendency to accumulate “stuff” over the years.

My daughter Shannon will be joining us, and she has been doing some sorting of her own. She and her dog, Holly, will be staying with us for the next couple days, and it will be a treat to have them here, even though we will be working like crazy getting ready for the sale.

The weather forecast is good for this weekend. Fingers crossed that we sell lots of items and that those items will go to homes where people really enjoy them. (I admit to having a pang or two when I think about getting rid of so many sweet little things. But…)

So, I will not be blogging until next week, after the Great Sale is over. Readers, wish us luck.

 

Riding Our Bikes on an August Evening

img_3935Last night, as soon as my husband, Clif, came home from work, we went on a bike ride. The heat of the day had subsided, and the air was lovely and warm, perfect for riding in a T-shirt. Up our road we went, past some old apple trees that have already begun dropping their fruit and past a field with hay that had just been cut. Big rolls of hay were lined by the edge, and they looked like the backs of large, slumbering animals.

We went on our usual route, on Memorial Drive, which goes by Maranacook Lake, and the water shimmered and rippled in the setting sun. All along the drive, people were grilling their supper. We always have our supper after our bike ride, and the smoky smell of cooking meat was irresistible to us, making us even more hungry than we already were.

Our town’s moto is “Winthrop Plays Outside,” and we even have nifty little signs, many on Memorial Drive, proclaiming this.

“Winthrop also cooks,” I called to Clif as we passed yet another house with a smoking grill.

“And sometimes they cook outside,” Clif called back.

What a town! Not only do we play outside, but we also cook outside.

We continued down the drive. I waved to a couple sitting on their porch overlooking the lake, and they waved back. We slowed down to chat with another couple who was walking 3 dogs—a border collie, a puggle, and a terrier. The puggle was their dog, and they were dogsitting the other two. I expected the border collie to lunge for us as we pulled away from them and picked up speed, but instead it was the terrier. Fortunately, they were all on leashes and under control.

We went our 5 miles and headed back. Even though we were hungry, we took a few minutes to sit at the public beach and watch the water and the swimmers. We smiled as we listened to the exuberant shrieks of the children as they splashed and played.

We live only a mile from the beach, so it was a short ride back to our home and to our supper. We passed Mia Lina’s, and the smell of pizza was just as enticing as the smell of grilled meat.

“Let’s stop for pizza on Friday,” I said.

“Sounds good,” Clif replied.

As we topped the hill of our road, the big orange moon, oddly enough called a blue moon, rose just over the horizon. As we sped down the hill, the moon gazed serenely down on us, and it was so beautiful and fantastical that it seemed as though it had come directly from a George Méliès movie. No wonder the moon is a constant inspiration, spanning generations and centuries.

No grilled meat or pizza were waiting for us when we got home, but there was freshly baked corn bread, cold chicken, and pasta with vegetables. After a 10 mile bike ride, we were both good eaters, savoring every bite.

August, Here We Come

Barbara's plate of goodies
Barbara’s plate of goodies

My husband, Clif, and I have made an August resolution. We have decided to squeeze out as much fun and enjoyment as we can from this last month of summer. We both know what’s around the corner—-many, many months of dark and cold where we spend way too much time inside. So this month, our philosophy is this: let us bike when we can and eat on the patio as often as possible. In addition, we want to go to the summer art exhibits and get together with family and friends. (But then again, we always like to get together with family and friends, regardless of the time of year.)

The month is still new, and already we are off to a good start. Last weekend, we went to the Portland Museum of Art to see the William S. Paley Collection: A Taste for Modernism. Our son-in-law, Mike, joined us as did our nephew, Patrick, who is majoring in art at the University of Maine at Orono. We spent an absorbing hour or so looking at works by Picasso, Matisse, Cézanne, Rodin, and many other artists from that period. I especially enjoyed hearing Mike’s and Patrick’s take on art. Both young men have a terrific feel for art, and they bring a fresh perspective when they look and comment.

On Sunday, our friends Margy and Steve came over for a barbecue. The day started out sunny and warm, but this summer, the rain never stays away for very long, and on Sunday it came just before Margy and Steve arrived. Never mind! When we saw the sky turn gray and heard the thunder rumbling nearby, Clif quickly made some of his legendary grilled bread, which we all ate inside while it poured outside. However, by the time we had finished with wine, beer, grilled bread, and other appetizers, the rain had stopped, and the sun came out. With towels to mop up the water, we went to the patio for grilled chicken and grilled zucchini topped with feta and a sprinkle of thyme. We also had Farmer Kev’s new red potatoes and his green beans. Lots of good talk about theater, politics, and other matters. Then back in we went for dessert—-Margy’s tasty banana bread and my homemade vanilla ice cream.

Yesterday, I went to my friend Barbara’s house for talk, tea, and dessert. She served a selection of goodies, and while they were all tasty, her chocolate chip pie was especially good. Because the chocolate chip pie is a Hannaford recipe—unfortunately it’s not on their website—I can’t really share it with you, but this recipe from Southern Food comes close. The Hannaford recipe uses 1 cup of brown sugar rather than the granulated sugar and an extra teaspoon of vanilla. It cooks at a very low temp—300 degrees—for 55 minutes to an hour. The taste is similar to that of pecan pie, but not as rich. I plan on making it for our next gathering.

So August, here we come. A great beginning to what is usually a beautiful month.

Backyard Report: August 1, 2013

The bee balm abloom
The bee balm abloom

August is here, and at the little house in the big woods, it is a month of promise. So far, it has been a terrible summer with either too much rain or too much heat. However, the past few days have been lovely—hot, dry days and cool evenings—and it has felt as though the end of July was getting ready for August, usually one of the most beautiful months in Maine. My husband, Clif, and I sure hope August will be true to form this year.

Because of the weather, we’ve hardly ridden our bikes, but with the first of August, we are filled with determination—that we will ride most every day and then plan a couple of long treks at the end of the month. We’ll pack our granola bars and our lunch, and off we will go. This year we want to ride around Lake Cobboseecontee, which spans 5 towns—Manchester, Winthrop, Monmouth, West Gardiner, and Monmouth. It’s a long, long lake, but what makes this ride a challenge isn’t the distance but rather the hills. It’s got some big ones, that’s for sure.

We also want to host a couple of gatherings on our patio. Fresh vegetables are coming into their own, and I have plans for grilled zucchini stuffed with feta, fresh thyme, and honey. Our friends Steve and Margy are coming over on Sunday, and we hope to have a leisurely afternoon on the patio, starting with grilled bread and ending with dessert.

Right now in the backyard, the bee balm is in bloom as are the dwarf snap dragons. The flowers are abuzz with insects, some beneficial to the garden—the bees—and some not so beneficial—the Japanese beetles. Hummingbirds whizz from the trees to the feeders, and grasshoppers pop from the flowers to the patio. In my little vegetable patch, there are cucumbers and tomatoes, which I will have with my lunch today as I sit on the patio and read my New Yorker.

Why can’t August last longer?

A sunflower, grown from a stray seed from the feeder
A sunflower, grown from a stray seed from the feeder
Temple dog with the dwarf snapdragons
Temple dog with the dwarf snapdragons
Catnap
Catnap
The fair Juliette
The fair Juliette
Green, green, green
Green, green, green
A visitor
A visitor

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013: A Gathering at the Little House in the Big Woods

Potatoes marinating with vinaigrette for the potato salad
Potatoes marinating with vinaigrette for the potato salad

August is right around the corner, and the crickets and grasshoppers have begun their late summer songs. I love sitting on the patio and being surrounded by those songs. With the swirl of voices, the backyard feels so alive.

However, there is not much time for sitting on the patio today. My husband, Clif, and I are hosting a potluck gathering for some of the people he works with. One of them even offered to bring lobster for lobster rolls. How could I refuse an offer like that?

Soon, I’ll be making potato salad and getting the house ready. It looks as though the weather is going to be good. Could it be that we will actually have one whole day without rain? Maybe so. After all, August is usually one of the loveliest months in Maine. With the way this summer has gone, all bets are off, but I’m hoping this August will be true to form, and we will have hot, dry days and lovely cool nights.