Category Archives: Notes from the HInterland

Spring Brunch and Walks in the Woods

Last weekend, spring showed more of its lovely face. Although there was still snow in the woods, the weather was mild, and the water was running.

Spring rush
Spring rush

On both Saturday and Sunday we went for a walk in the woods to a nearby camp where children come in the summer. Our dog, Liam, can run free, and there are lots of enticing scents for him to sniff. On Saturday, we came upon turkeys, and although Liam wanted to chase them, he was good at coming back when he was called.

Turkey tracks and dog prints
Turkey tracks and dog prints

At the camp, there is a peace trail, with painted rocks lining the trail.

May peace prevail
May peace prevail

But what I especially love are bare branches against a bright blue sky.

img_3269

On Sunday, our daughter Shannon, her husband, Mike, and their dog, Holly, came for brunch and a walk. After a meal of pancakes, apple sauce made with Maine apples, French donuts, and home fries, we headed into the woods to burn off some of that meal.

Into the woods
Into the woods

Holly, the puppy, had an especially good time. She ran and ran for the sheer joy of it, and I remember doing the same thing when I was a child. “Let’s run!” I’d say to my friends, and off we’d go, as fast as we could, until we could run no more.

Holly at rest
Holly at rest

Shannon, Mike, and Holly will be back at the end of the month. The snow will be gone and most of the mud should be dried by then. We’ll head back into the woods, along the wooded path, where barred owls call to each other, back and forth, and the water rushes and dogs can run.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Late March in Pondtown

IMG_3219March in Maine is not the most beautiful time of year. The snow is heavy and gray, and there is so much mud that it sometimes seems as though it is going to pull you down to some dark, unknown kingdom. In fact, last year on a walk, I had to help a young boy get his boot out of the mud at the edge of his driveway. He couldn’t pull it out by himself, and while he hopped on one foot, trying to keep his stocking foot from touching the dirty ground, I pulled and pulled and with great effort yanked the boot from the mud.

However, I live in a pondtown, where there are so many lakes, streams, and ponds that it sometimes seems as though Winthrop is an island. And where there is water, there is beauty. Even in March.

IMG_3220

IMG_3223

IMG_3225

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.

IMG_3121
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.

DSC00337

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.)

IMG_3126

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.

 

A Snowy Walk in the Woods

IMG_3092On Wednesday, I took my dog, Liam, for a walk in the woods. The day was mild, and in my imagination, I caught a faint whiff of sap being boiled into maple syrup. I am always eager for maple syrup season to begin. First of all, I love all things maple, including candy, butter, sugar, donuts, you name it. Second, when it’s maple syrup time, it means that spring is not far away, and despite the mud and the black flies, spring is most welcome in Maine after many months of dark and cold.

The woods in winter are stark and quiet, yet they have their own beauty. Purple shadows slant across the snow between the trees, and the muted colors—dark green, brown, and white—have a pleasing austerity. It’s as though nature has put away her palette and paints and is giving herself a good rest before taking them out again for the exuberance of spring, where the riot of colors—green, yellow, pink—bedazzle the senses.

Liam ranged ahead and then behind me. He seldom stayed by my side. On the snow, he found many interesting things to sniff, and at one point, he found something so enticing that he rolled and rolled and rolled in it. He must have picked up an odor—fortunately I couldn’t smell it—because my cat Sherlock certainly gave him the once over when we returned.

As I walked in the woods, I thought of my son-in-law Mike’s 30th birthday party on Sunday, and what a curious sensation I had while I was there. As Mike blew out the candles on his cake, it was as though I were my mother, instead of myself, watching him. Now, my mother has been dead for nearly 5 years, and I think of her often. But this was different. It  really did seem as though I were her, a bookend, if you will, to E.B. White’s lovely essay, “Once More to the Lake,” when he identified so strongly with his son that he could actually feel what his son was feeling.

I suppose, in a way, it’s not surprising. My husband and I are now the older generation, and as such we are no longer the center of the family, busy juggling career, children, and home. Quite rightly, Shannon, Mike, and our other daughter Dee now hold that center position as we move to the outer edges, watching them deal with the joys and challenges that life brings. In a way, it’s a little sad, but it is also fitting. One thing ends, and another begins.

As I was having these deep thoughts and watching the dog and snapping pictures of the winter woods, my left leg suddenly sunk to its knee in the thawing snow, and it tipped me enough off-balance so that I fell. Fortunately, I was not hurt, and because I am 65 pounds lighter than I once was, getting up was not a problem.

So onward we went. Unless we have another deep freeze, I probably won’t walk in the woods again until the snow is nearly gone. Nobody likes falling, and the older you get, the less you like it. (My husband can certainly attest to this.)

We made it home without further incident, and after tea and some cozy time on the couch reading the New Yorker, I made corn bread and a shrimp, broccoli, garlic and zucchini stir-fry with soy sauce and sesame oil. On top of the stir-fry were ground peanuts and a splash of a ginger marinade.

IMG_3108

A very good way to end the day.

Here are some pictures from the walk:

IMG_3086

IMG_3089

 IMG_3095

 IMG_3103

 

 

 

 

Getting Ready for Storm Nemo

IMG_2976Today the sky was a deep blue, and although the weather was brisk, it was pleasant being outside. But another one of those storms seems to be making its way toward the Northeast, and this one even has a name—Nemo. Therefore, I duly went to the supermarket—before the rush—to pick up a few things. I didn’t have to buy much. I make it a point to stockpile a fair amount of food, which means I usually have basic supplies on hand. (There is a difference between stockpiling and hoarding, and perhaps in another post I’ll write about the difference between the two.)

I hauled quite a bit of wood for the furnace, and this included sledgehammering some of the bottom layer of frozen wood stuck in the ground. While I did get a wheelbarrow full of wood from my sledgehammering, I must admit that I’m not very good at it. Many of my attempts amounted to nothing more than a few flying splinters of wood, with the log remaining frozen firmly in place. Lastly, using a little handsaw, I sawed some fallen branches I had hauled in from the woods, and got a nice bucket of small logs for my efforts. I am amazing myself with all the things I am learning to do now that my husband, Clif, with his broken wrist, can’t do heavy chores anymore. By the time summer comes, I’ll have arms and legs of steel.

The electric snow-thrower Dee bought us for Christmas is ready, and we even have a 100-foot cord that will allow me to reach the end of the driveway. Downstairs, there are two big buckets of water for the toilet should the power go out, and tonight I’ll be filling my stock pans with water to set on the stove. (If the power does go out, then I’ll be doing a lot of scooping and shovelling.)

But the most important thing I did was to make homemade granola cookies. I figured I needed something to keep my strength up as I shovelled, snow-blowed, and hauled more wood in. Yesterday, I made a big batch of nutty, crunchy granola, using a Mark Bittman recipe, and what should pop into my mind but granola cookies, which I have never made. I had a basic idea of how it should be done—essentially chocolate chip cookies with granola replacing a fair amount of the flour. When I went online to look for a recipe, I discovered that my hunch was right, and I decided to go with this recipe from allrecipes.com. You might call these cookies glorified oatmeal cookies, but the emphasis should be on “glorified.” My nutty, crunchy, coconutty granola gives these cookies a special twist, and I think they just might be my new favorite cookie, beating out plain chocolate chip cookies and gingersnaps. (This last statement is tantamount to heresy in my house, but I like these granola cookies so much that I’m not recanting.)

So come on, Storm Nemo, we’re ready for you. If the gods are smiling on us, we won’t lose our power, I won’t catch Clif’s cold—so far, so good—and we won’t get more than a foot of snow.

One thing is certain, we won’t be going to the Red Barn tomorrow night for supper. That will have to wait until the storm has passed. In the meantime, I can console myself with a granola cookie or two. I’ll have earned them.

 

A Strange, New Year—Welcome, 2013

IMG_2783This holiday season had rather strange bookends—in December, a couple of weeks before Christmas, my husband, Clif, fell down the front steps and broke his wrist. At the other end, on New Year’s Day, when our daughter Dee, who lives in New York, was slated to leave Portland by Concord bus, we learned that the station was closed because of a bomb threat. What to do? How would she get home?

In between, there were snow storms and good movies—The Hobbit, Les Misérables, Argo, Hitchcock, The Queen of Versailles, and Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. We saw some of the movies at the cinema and some at home.

There were also gatherings with friends—one at our daughter Shannon’s house, where we had tacos with pulled pork, beans, and zucchini and mushrooms. Man oh man do I love this dish. We were joined by our friends Bob and Kate, whom we don’t see nearly as often as we would like. (They live out of state.)

On New Year’s Eve, our friends Joel and Alice came over, and I made Marjorie Standish’s oven-cooked beef stew. This is one of my favorite ways of making beef stew. Somehow, the slow cooking in the oven—at 300 degrees—gives this stew a terrific taste that just can’t be replicated in a cockpot. As we don’t eat beef very often, this hearty, homey stew is a real treat for us. I also made a lentil soup, from a recipe in Arthritis magazine, for Dee, who is a vegetarian. Unfortunately, this soup, while edible, was not as tasty as I had hoped.

“It’s best to stick with Moosewood,” Dee advised, and of course she is right. Still, it is good to try new recipes from time to time, even if they don’t always turn out the way you might want.

What else did we eat? On Christmas Eve, a cheddar cheese soup, with broccoli and tortellini. On Christmas Day, stuffed shells using a recipe from Cook’s, but more important, using Sorento ricotta cheese. Most ricotta is bland beyond endurance, and before I made the shells, I had Clif do some ricotta research, something he could do easily with a broken wrist. His findings? Most commercial ricottas—including Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s brands—are bland beyond endurance. Clif’s research indicated Sorento ricotta is an exception. Very good advice! With Sorento ricotta—a little sweet, a little tangy, and smooth—those stuffed shells were real gems.

And what about Dee? Did she make it out of Portland on New Year’s Day, despite the bomb threat? She did indeed. By the time her bus was scheduled to leave, the station had been thoroughly searched and no bombs were found. Dee’s bus left right on time.

In the parking lot was a camera man from one of the news stations—ABC, I think.

“Is the excitement over?” I asked as he began disassembling his camera.

“All over,” he said. “It was some homeless man with a knapsack. But no bomb.”

Well, thank goodness for that! What a strange, often scary world we live in. What to do but go forth as bravely as we can and take comfort in our friends and families, our soups, movies, and stuffed shells? Yes, I know there are many other things we can and should do, but most people can manage the small, homely acts that include generosity and the opening of their homes. To borrow from a science phrase, perhaps it is not sufficient, but it seems to me it is necessary.

 

 

Gobsmacked

It’s been exactly one week after the election, and in that week we’ve had a northeaster rip up the east coast and inflict even more misery on New York and, especially, New Jersey. General Petraeus is involved in the type of scandal that tabloids dream of—an extra-marital affair, threatening emails, and top-level stupidity. But what has especially caught my attention is how conservatives were completely blindsided by Obama’s re-election. It seems they had a complete and unshakable belief that Romney would win. After all, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and other conservative commentators told them so, which meant it must be true.

Except it wasn’t. In a divided country, Obama won by a comfortable margin. Not huge, but comfortable. The numbers had been close for quite some time, but somehow many conservatives didn’t allow for the possibility of an Obama victory. This includes Romney himself, who reportedly didn’t even have a concession speech ready should the unthinkable and the unbelievable—to conservatives—occur.

In short, the Republicans were gobsmacked, and they have been scrabbling furiously ever since last Tuesday. And why were they so gobsmacked? In part because too many conservatives listen only to news channels such as Fox, where they hear the reality according to the Far Right, which all too often doesn’t reflect reality itself. In the reality of the Far Right, minorities don’t count. They might be deviant, pathetic moochers, but they don’t vote in large enough numbers to affect the election. Women don’t count. This allows Far-Right candidates to feel perfectly comfortable saying any number of ignorant, reprehensible things about rape and still feel as though they have women’s votes. This smug confidence even allowed the most radical element to cast aspersions on birth control.  Moderates on both sides don’t count. They can be easily swayed by the Far Right message. Rust belt workers don’t count. Let the auto industry sink, no matter how much damage this will cause. Blue-collar workers in Michigan and Ohio will nonetheless flock to the Republican candidate. After all, isn’t free-market ideology worth the pain? The poor don’t count. Heck, they don’t even vote.

So here we have the world according to the Far Right and Fox News, and it must be so. Except it isn’t. At least not for a sizable majority.

Now it can be said, with some justification, that the National Public Radio and Television crowd have the same kind of echo chamber, and while it’s true that Public Radio and Television have liberal leanings, there are fundamental differences. For the most part, the news anchors are neutral, but most important, both sides of any issue are presented. NPR and PBS have taken a certain amount of heat for this. Many liberals feel as though the truth should be presented and that allowing the other side to air its views just muddles the debate.

Maybe it does. But what it also does is allow liberals and moderates to be aware of conservative and Far-Right points of view, to realize only too well that people in this country have different ways of thinking.

Let’s put it another way. If Romney had won, would so many liberals have been gobsmacked? I doubt it. While we liberals were hopeful and optimistic, most of us did not take this election for granted.

Yesterday, while I was raking, a neighbor who was walking her dog stopped by for a chat while the dogs romped in the backyard. We talked about the election, and she told me that before the election, she had visited an elderly aunt, conservative but beloved. (My neighbor is a moderate Democrat.) My neighbor’s parents had recently died, and the aunt asked, “Will you have to pay a death tax?”

“No,” my neighbor replied. “That’s only for estates over a million dollars. My parents left some money, but nowhere near that much.”

The aunt was silent for a while. “Are you sure?”

Yes, my neighbor assured her aunt, she was sure.

And where does that aunt get her news? Why, from Fox, of course.

Maybe it’s time for the Far Right to start getting their news from NPR and PBS.

Election 2012

Election day is nearly upon us, and there are matters big and small to vote on. At the national level, of course, is the presidential race, with the major candidates being Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Then there is the state level, with Angus King, an independent, running to take Olympia Snowe’s senate seat, and it’s my guess that he will get it. We also have a gay marriage referendum question, and it seems as though it will pass, making Maine the first state to do so by popular vote. On the town level, we have Farmer Craig Hickman hoping to be elected as a state representative, and he is running against one of my neighbors, Scott Davis. We have an exciting library trustee election, where two excellent write-in candidates—Pearl Ames and Maureen Whitestone—are competing for one seat.

No two ways about it, tomorrow is an important day for our country, our state, our town. I will be going to the polls to vote, as I always do. No absentee ballot for me. I like going to the town hall, where the elections are held, and seeing people I know working at the polls. I like going into one of the booths with the striped curtains. In cocooned privacy, I like carefully marking my ballot. Sometimes, in the booth next to me, a child is lolling on the floor by a parent’s feet, and that young child is getting a lesson in civic duty. Then, I like going to the machines, which suck up my ballots, different machines for different ballots, and usually I know the people who are tending the machines. And then, good citizen that I am, I get a sticker for my coat. I voted, the sticker proclaims. Yes, I did.

I don’t often overtly discuss politics on this blog, which is primarily about food and community, but the day before the election seems like a good day to do so. It will perhaps come as no surprise that I will be casting my ballot for Barack Obama. We have many challenges as a country and a planet—climate change, peak oil, and a growing population that threatens to reach 9 billion by 2050. In the rich countries, especially in the U.S., our levels of consumption are out of control. Yet, ironically, more and more people struggle to maintain a comfortable lifestyle as the gap widens between the very wealthy and the rest of us. I could go on and on, but I won’t.

The point is, we need to work together as a country to address these problems, and when I write “we,” I mean individuals and government. Together. Not each person struggling on his or her own with a callous government looking away as people suffer. With his words and actions President Obama understands this, and the federal response to Hurricane Sandy beautifully illustrates his philosophy. Right from the start, the national guard was there when people needed help. Water and supplies were delivered, and there has been nothing like the horror of Katrina, were people were left in squalor, deserted by a government that had a disdain for helping people who were not wealthy campaign donors.

Barack Obama, for all his faults—he is nowhere near as progressive as I would like—grasps that we are all in this together. He knows that the best societies are those where the government pitches in to generously help people when times are hard—as they have after hurricane Sandy—or with matters that are too big for individuals to tackle on their own, matters such as health care, climate change, and education.

I fear a United States that doesn’t come together to address important issues, to look after all its citizens—the weak and the middle class as well as the strong and the rich. I see countries where this is the norm, and the results are not pretty. Countries such as Somalia, Sudan, even India, which is a democracy. Societies where people scrabble furiously just to stay alive. Then I look to the Scandinavian countries, with their generous social policies, where the mission is to ensure that all people have a decent life. And it shows. The Scandinavian countries are productive and forward thinking, leaders not only in literacy but also in green energy. They are not perfect, but I do believe that right now, they are as good as it gets.

Really the choice couldn’t be clearer. Why is that so many people don’t see this? It will always be a mystery to me, and I can only hope that those of us who perceive that we have to work together—together!—to make the country, this planet, a decent place to live—will prevail tomorrow.

 

 

Living in Place: Part One—the Case for Staying Close to Home

Notes from the Hinterland

In my last post, I wrote about Clif’s birthday and our bike ride from Hallowell to Richmond and then back again, a trip of about 20 miles. We rode along the Kennebec River, which, as I have noted before, is not mighty but is beautiful nonetheless. I also included pictures.

In the comment section, our friend Kate wrote, “What a beautiful part of the world to live in and live in it, you and Clif do, with such honor and joy and love.”

What a wonderful comment! And it gave me the idea for this post, the notion of living in place, of being totally immersed in the area in which you live, and then loving that area, warts and all.

Naturally, qualifiers are in order. Some places are harder to love than other places—poor, war-torn countries where just getting through the day is a struggle; countries with repressive governments; countries with nonexistent social services; countries where education is not a right for all children. In such places, people often want to get out, and for good reason.

However, in the United States, a significant number of us are lucky enough to live in communities that are safe and at least have some social services. (Yes, I know that there are exceptions here as well, and I will get into this in a future post.) We have public education that is open to all children, not just the privileged few who can afford it. As for food…while food insecurity is an issue for some people, for many, many people, even those living on a modest income, the issue is not eating too much rather than not having enough to eat. Hence, our obesity epidemic.

My crystal ball is no more accurate than the next person’s, but in the upcoming years, we, as a country and as a planet, are likely to face some significant challenges as a result of climate change and energy costs. In Maine, gas for the car is nearly $4 a gallon, and I do think it’s safe to say that the days of cheap gas are over. At the same time, the world is getting warmer, climate change is here, and this means that even if we can afford higher gas prices, we should limit the driving we do. Everyone who owns a car, and I mean everyone—environmentalists do not get a pass on this—is part of the problem.

Now, staying close to home by choice does not sound like the most exiting way to live. We are a restless species. We like to see what’s around the next bend, so to speak, and there is no denying that travel can be very broadening.  Yet in an increasing hot world with finite resources, staying close home is what most of us should do most of the time. Sorry, but barring a Mr. Fusion that runs on garbage and can be strapped to a car, that’s just the way it is. Another qualifier: Visiting with family and friends gets a pass, but even then, we should make every effort to visit them in as sustainable a way as possible.

So how do we make a rich, rewarding life for ourselves if we stay close to home most of the time? Here is where I return to Kate’s comment: By living in our communities with honor, love, and joy, by becoming immersed in where we live, by noticing all that is around us, by becoming involved in civic events, which even the smallest, most rural communities have. So many good things could happen to this country, to this world, if we began to cherish our communities—the people, the plants, the animals, the lakes, the rivers, the forests, the fields. If you live in an urban setting, this can even include the sidewalks and the pavement. I was born in a small city, and as a young child, I have a vivid memory of going to the market. Under a canopy, there were crates of fruit on the sidewalk. It had just rained, and the smell of wet pavement mingled with the smell of peaches and melons. For me, it was the smell of summer, and I loved that smell. In fact, I still do on the occasions that I am by a city market when it rains.

In my next post, I will write about my area—Winthrop, Augusta, and central Maine—and I hope these posts get you thinking about your area and ways that you can become immersed in it.

Late Summer

Notes from the Hinterland

In New England, is there a time more bittersweet than late August or early September? Summer is not quite gone, and fall hasn’t really arrived. Often, the days are warm, but the nights are cool. The gardens are producing abundantly, and there is a glorious outburst of tomatoes, potatoes, squash, and corn. Dinner still revolves around fresh vegetables, and how sorry I will be when that is over. I love soup, but nothing can take the place of those succulent vegetables, picked just hours before they are eaten.

The humming birds are still here, but I know they will be gone in the next week or so. I am always amazed to think about how these ethereal creatures can migrate so far. Such strength, despite its diminutive size.

My gardens always look their best in July and are more than a little ragged this time of year. But, the coleus look fine, and they will for another month or so, until the frost nips them. And the orange cat always looks fine as he stretches out by the coleus.

September. A time of endings and beginnings. Beautiful but a little sad.