Category Archives: People

MACARONI AND CHEESE AT THE NEW APARTMENT

Still life with ShannonExcept for a few odds and ends in their old apartment, my daughter Shannon and her husband, Mike, are all moved into their new apartment in South Portland. Bless those movers! They certainly took a lot of the stress out of moving. My husband, Clif, and I simply can’t haul couches and chairs up and down stairs, the way we once could.

When we got to South Portland, after the movers were done, Clif and I helped Mike and Shannon set up their bedroom and living room. It’s amazing how much progress we made. While there is still work to be done in both rooms, we did get them arranged so that they were usable and comfortable, even.

Adam, the young landlord, stopped by, and he is so pleased with the colors Mike and Shannon chose for the apartment. In turn, I told him how much I loved the old house and also complimented him on his job refinishing the wood floors.

Smiling, Adam was clearly pleased. “This summer I want to pour as much money as I can into this house.”

For Adam, the house is a labor love, and while it needs work, I expect he will get it back into shape. It will take him a while—he works full time—but he’ll do it.

After getting the living room and bedroom into some kind of order, it was time for dinner. As I wrote in Friday’s post, I spent that day cooking for the first official dinner in their new apartment. I made bread and macaroni and cheese. For dessert, brownies. And just so that it wouldn’t be a complete carb fest, I also brought salad.

Cheers!The finishing touch? Sparkling cider and Champagne glasses for a toast to the new apartment: May they have many, many happy years there.

On the way home that night, Clif and I were a little blue that Mike and Shannon were no longer a quick drive from where we live. But, we know they are where they should be, especially with the high price of gas and for employment opportunities as well. Unfortunately, with the state cutting back, central Maine has few job opportunities.

In addition, there are many things to love about the Portland area: There are lots of great places to eat, it’s close to the ocean, and it’s close to Trader Joe’s, where I’ll be getting a lot of the organic food that I can’t find locally. (Note: This year we are getting into a CSA program with Farmer Kev, but that will be a subject for another post.)

I already have a Portland trip to look forward to. Next Sunday is Mother’s Day, and Shannon and Mike will be making lobster rolls for lunch. After that, we’ll all go for a walk to the ocean. For me, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Now, if only our eldest daughter, Dee, lived within an easy drive so that she could join us.

 

Some notes about macaroni and cheese, and a few suggestions

Shannon loves my macaroni and cheese, and I will admit that it is pretty good. Over the years, I have learned a few tips—a really important one from America’s Test Kitchen. That is, the cheese sauce should be a little runny because when the macaroni and cheese is baked, the pasta swells and absorbs the sauce. If the sauce is too thick, then the effect will be one gloppy dish. Not inedible, but not smooth and nice, either.

Here are the proportions:

9 oz. of uncooked macaroni
2 1/2 cups of milk
2 cups of grated cheddar. (I use one of Cabot’s sharp cheddars.)
3 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of flour
1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg (This adds a lovely flavor.)
Salt and pepper to taste

While I’m at it, I might as well give directions, even though I have included this recipe in one of my old posts. That way, you won’t have to hunt for it.

Cook the macaroni in a big stock pot. Drain when done and set aside in a large bowl. In a big sauce pan, melt the butter, add the four, and whisk until bubbly. Whisk in the milk and then stir until thickened. Another tip: the sauce is done when it leaves a line across the back of a wooden spoon. (It might work with a regular spoon, too, but I always stir with a wooden spoon. Somehow, it just feels better.) Add the cheese and stir until smooth.

Pour the cheese sauce over the macaroni, and mix it up, and then pour into a buttered casserole dish. I always like to tear up a few pieces of bread into crumbs for the top. Bake at 350° for 40 minutes or until the mixture is bubbly.

 

 

 

 

 

LUNCH WITH SHANE AT MIA LINA’S

On Wednesday, I walked into Winthrop to meet Shane, one of the town’s librarians, for lunch at Mia Lina’s. I am happy to report that spring has finally come to central Maine. The grass has turned a bright green, bird song fills the air, water rushes by in the ditches, and the maple trees are in bloom with lovely but modest red flowers. Spring is here, it is here. And even though the day was  gray and damp, the walk, filled with so much to look at and to see, was a pleasant one.

Mia Lina’s is a little pizza place on Main Street, but the food there is better than average. One of my favorite things to order is the chicken teriyaki salad, little chunks of nicely marinated chicken sprinkled over romaine lettuce mixed with other tidbits—cheese, peppers, and olives. A little drizzle of Italian dressing, and you have yourself a pretty good salad. I also love the Lina bread, fresh dough cooked with cheese and served with a side of tomato sauce for dipping. However, although I can eat a whole order by myself, I shouldn’t do so, and I only get Lina bread when I’m with someone who wants to share it with me.

Shane ordered the ravioli, which came with garlic bread, and he said it was tasty.

While the food was good, the conservation was terrific. Shane is about the age of my eldest daughter, but already he is a great conversationalist, a true gift that not everyone has. Shane talks, but he also listens, and because he is devoted to books and music, his mind is lively and interesting.

Along with a little personal chitchat, we talked about what we were reading. Shane just finished reading Swim Back to Me by Ann Packer. Shane spoke about how moved he was by this collection of two novellas and some short stories. As Shane described the opening novella and its two teenage protagonists, he certainly made me want to read it.

In turn, I told him about three books I’ve recently read, which all receive “stars” in my reading journal. The first is Elizabeth Tova Bailey’s The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, a short but soulful memoir about a debilitating pathogen Bailey contracted when she was young, and how, as an invalid, she found solace watching a snail a friend brought to her.

The second is Carl Safina’s The View from Lazy Point. Safina is a marine biologist who can write beautifully and affectingly about the oceans of the world. He also includes stern lectures about overfishing and global warming and controlling our appetites.

Then there is Joan Reardon’s As Always Julia: The Letters of Julia Child & Avis Devoto. The title is self-explanatory, and I hope to soon write a proper book review for this blog.

From there we moved to music—to the great singer/songwriters of the 1970s as well as the wonderful music of the 1990s.

All too soon it was time for Shane to go to the library to begin his shift and for me to return home for household chores.

But a little book and music talk can sure brighten a gray day.

SHANNON’S MOOSEWOOD BIRTHDAY MEAL

Salmon and riceOn Saturday, we celebrated our daughter Shannon’s birthday, and the tradition in our house is for the birthday “boy” or “girl” to choose whatever he or she wants for dinner. Shannon’s choice has remained steady for many years, and it is what she picked for this birthday—Asian fish packets, a recipe from one of my Moosewood cookbooks. This recipe can be made with any fish fillet—Shannon’s favorite is salmon—and it is simple but oh so good. You cook rice, make a soy sauce/ginger marinade, then on foil, put together individual packets of rice topped with fish and marinade. Close those little packets, put them on a cookie sheet, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

The tricky part is getting the marinaded fish and rice out of the packets so that the plated meal looks as elegant as it tastes. It’s best done with two people, and over the years, Clif and I have developed a technique where he scoops with a long spatula, and I slide the dinner plate under the fish and rice at what I hope is just the right moment.

The Moosewood cookbooks for my generation—late baby boomers—are what Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking was to an earlier generation. Just as American cooking “before Julia” was, shall we say, a little on the bland side, so was “before Moosewood” vegetarian cooking. In fact, there is a strikingly similar note between before Julia and before Moosewood. Not that there weren’t exceptions, but onion was about the only ingredient used for flavoring in both of the cooking eras before Julia and before Moosewood. No dill, no basil, very little garlic—heck, hardly any parsley. Forget about cilantro or chili peppers. And vegetarian cooking without spices is a pretty grim affair. Onion simply isn’t enough to overcome the bland heaviness of whole wheat flour and brown rice. It is from this time period that vegetarian cooking gained its bad reputation.

Then along came Moosewood Restaurant, which opened in 1973 in Ithaca, New York, and specialized in vegetarian cooking that was decidedly not bland and boring. It was as if they took Julia Child’s principles and applied them to vegetarian cooking—ingredients that were fresh and of high quality cooked with skill as well as with herbs and spices.

Moosewood is a collective, and on their web page, their description of the collective and the restaurant is very impressive. Do read it if you have a chance. I especially liked “[w]e recognize that we’re not all equally good at everything, nor do we have to be. We find ways to accommodate our differences and play to our individual strengths, while keeping opportunities open and accessible.” My philosophy exactly.

From the restaurant came the many cookbooks that guided my generation toward vegetarian cooking that was pleasing to the palate as well as good for the planet. I have three of their books, and I use them often.

According to their website, “Moosewood was named one of the thirteen most influential restaurants of the 20th Century by Bon Appetit magazine,” and this recognition is well deserved. Even though my philosophy is to stick close to home, I would love to make a pilgrimage to Ithaca to visit Moosewood. Perhaps I will someday.

In the meantime, we will cook from their wonderful cookbooks, not only once a year for Shannon’s birthday, but throughout the year as well.

Addendum: The recipe for the Asian Fish Packets can be found in the Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, book we have featured in this post.

WEEK 14: THE LET THEM EAT BREAD REPORT

Bread CartoonThe Project: To bake and give away at least one loaf of bread each week in 2011.

The Reason: A personal protest against the rampant selfishness of our society.

The Bonus: It’s good spiritual practice.

 

On week 14, I gave a loaf of bread to a young woman named Jenn Currier, who belongs to the Winthrop Green Committee and has been instrumental in organizing the many upcoming Earth Week activities that our town will be offering. (Here is a list of events.) My husband, Clif, and I are helping with the “Mostly Maine Potluck Dinner,” to be held on Earth Day, April 22 at the Winthrop High School. What will we be making for the dinner? A quiche made with smoked cheddar—with the eggs, the milk, and the cheese all coming from Maine. And an apple crisp—apples and butter from Maine. If we can find a good source of dried beans from Maine, Clif would also like to make a chili to bring, and it will include Maine beef, which we know we can get.

But I digress. Jenn Currier is an extremely energetic woman (ah, youth!) with two young children and a big, old house to take care of. She does this with aplomb even while she apologizes for the state of the house. “It’s a house with kids,” she explains. While there are toys in each of the main rooms, Jenn’s home is clean and organized. In other words, there is no need to apologize. In addition to being an integral part of the Green Committee, Jenn works part time at two shops in town—Apple Valley Bookstore and a gift shop called Potatoes.

“My goal is to have a key to every store in Winthrop,” Jenn deadpanned.

“Winthrop domination,” I added.

“That’s right,” she said, laughing.

Last week, there was an Earth Week meeting at her house. Clif and I are a one-car family, and as the meeting was going to take place while Clif was at work, Jenn very nicely offered to come and get me. Who better, then, to receive a loaf of homemade bread? Nobody that I could think of.

 

 

 

TEA AND COOKIES ON A RAINY APRIL DAY

Yesterday was a day of April showers. Actually, it poured. But all the better to take away the last bit of stubborn snow that clings here and there in our yard. Living in the woods is great during the summer, and we are protected from the worst of the winter winds, but it also means that on Narrows Pond Road, our yard is one of the last to lose all its snow.

cookies on plateMy friend Sybil came over for tea and chocolate chip cookies, and nobody can brighten up a gray day like Sybil. She had just returned from a trip to Chicago, where she had visited with her son and her daughter-in-law, who is a choreographer. Indeed, Sybil went to Chicago especially to see her daughter-in-law’s show, and Sybil said it was marvelous. Apparently, even the Chicago Tribune agreed, giving it a very good review.

In May, Sybil will be going to Cornwall, to visit a friend and stay (I think!) for 16 days. “I’m going to bring the Joy of Cooking so that I cook some meals while I’m there,” Sybil said. “That’s a long time to stay with someone. My friend will help me convert the measurements.”

“What a lovely time to be going to England,” I said.

“Yes, the bluebells will be in bloom.”

“Listen for the cuckoos,” I said.

“Don’t you think they sound a lot like our mourning doves?” Sybil asked.

“Maybe a little,” I said. “But it seems to me that cuckoos have a crisper call.”

“I’ll listen for them,” she promised.

From there, we moved on to discuss BBC, specifically Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs. Sybil recalled how during the 1970s, when Upstairs, Downstairs premiered, her children used to come running as soon as they heard the theme for Masterpiece Theatre. “Even my husband, Ray, eventually came to like the show,” Sybil said.

Good for Ray! Let’s just say that not all men like period pieces, and leave it at that.

From Upstairs, Downstairs, which I also loved in the ’70s, it was on to the current remake of Jane Eyre, which is playing at Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville.

“We must go see it before I go to England,” Sybil said.

“Yes,” I replied. An unsurprising note: Clif is not at all keen on seeing Jane Eyre.

All too soon, it was time for Sybil to leave. I packed some chocolate chip cookies for her. “Just give me four!” she instructed. “I have no self-control with those cookies.”

Well, my daughter Dee has said they are my specialty, and I have to admit those cookies are not too bad.

I gave Sybil five. “One for the road,” I said.

Sybil laughed. “One for the road.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TO RI-RA FOR SHANNON’S BIRTHDAY

The bayYesterday, I drove to Portland to meet my friend Kate and my daughter Shannon for a birthday luncheon. We do this three times a year—for each of our birthdays—and Portland is a half-way point for both Kate and me. (Shannon works in Portland so it is very convenient for her.) The birthday “girl” gets to choose the place, and Shannon chose Ri-Ra, an Irish pub right on the water.

As befitting an Irish pub, the wood is dark—cozy rather than gloomy—and there is an upstairs and a downstairs. We like to eat upstairs, by windows that overlook the bay, and because we got there early, Shannon was able to pick a table that was not only by a window but also by the fire, which felt very good on a damp and rainy day. While we waited for Kate, Shannon and I looked out the window as we chatted.  Portland still has a working waterfront, and with its docks and boats and warehouses, the view is interesting rather than lovely, but nevertheless very pleasing to me. Shannon and I saw ducks—eiders, I think—swimming in the bay. We also saw a loon, still wintering on the ocean, but as soon as the inland lakes are clear of ice, I’m sure the loon will move to its summer quarters. (As of today, the ice is still on the ponds and lakes in central Maine. And no peepers yet.) The clouds moved across the sky, and patches of light shone here and there as the weather began to clear.

Kate soon joined us, and we had a good conversation and as well as a good meal.  There were little presents. Both Kate and I like to give homemade goodies as birthday treats, and she made some of her incredible chocolate cookies for lucky Shannon. With my husband’s help, I had made peanut butter balls—a whole pound of them—a favorite of Shannon’s. Then, along with the cookies, Kate gave Shannon some spices and barbecue rubs (I can’t remember the brand) that she especially likes. I gave Shannon some note cards made from pictures that my husband, Clif, had taken.

sandwich on plateThe food came—a rich seafood bisque for Shannon; a pastrami sandwich for Kate, which she proclaimed one of the best she’s ever eaten; and a grilled portobello sandwich with basil, fresh mozzarella, and roasted red peppers for me. My sandwich was so tasty that I started thinking about how I could make a similar sandwich for myself for lunch. (Clif, alas, does not like portobello mushrooms. Silly old thing!)

“I could broil the portobello for a quick lunch,” I said. “The other ingredients are easy to get.”

“Maybe marinate it in some balsamic vinegar,” Kate suggested.

“With chopped garlic,” I said.

“Maybe I’ll come over for lunch,” Kate joked.

Unfortunately, she lives too far to come over for lunch.

When it came to dessert, I decided it was high time to be stern. “Look,” I said, “here is how it usually goes. We order three desserts. I eat mine, and then because I am a glutton who can’t stand to see food go to waste, I finish both of yours as well.”

“Wait a minute!” Kate put in. “We always eat some of your dessert, too. You don’t eat it all by yourself.”

“Maybe I’m exaggerating,” I admitted.

“Just a little,” Shannon said. “As usual.”

“Still, I think we could make do with two desserts, don’t you?”

Yes, they agreed, two desserts would be plenty.

So with some very good Irish tea, we had dessert—chocolate cake and apple in puff pastry. And it was just right.

THE LET THEM EAT BREAD REPORT

Bread CartoonThe Project: To bake and give away at least one loaf of bread each week in 2011. 

The Reason: A personal protest against the rampant selfishness of our society. 

The Bonus: It’s great spiritual practice, as well. 

Loaves of Bread Given Away So Far This Year: 20  (I counted several times, just to be sure I was right.) 

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Actually, last week I goofed with the weeks. (Counting is not my best thing, not even when it’s easy.) I put down that it was week 12 of my Let Them Eat Bread project when really it was week 11. This is week 12. Ah, well!  

This week I gave two loaves of bread away: one to my friend Diane Friese, whom I wrote about in a recent post, and one to my friend Sherry Hanson, who is unfortunately struggling with a recurrence of ovarian cancer. 

I have been friends with Sherry since the early 1990s, and I met her through a group called Maine Media Women. Sherry is one of those rare souls who is both creative and organized. (Those traits often do not occur in the same person.) Her house is shining and clean, but has funky, decorative touches that make it interesting. Sea glass, fish she has made from driftwood, and the color blue ripple through her house. Sherry teaches writing classes, is a fine poet, and has also written nonfiction for various magazines. She runs, she bikes, she roller blades, and Sherry must be as trim now as she was when she was a young adult. 

It seems grossly unfair that this creative, energetic person should be fighting ovarian cancer. As a matter of fact, it is unfair. No other way to put it. But she is, and it’s back on chemotherapy for her, back to not feeling well, back to not living a normal life. 

“But I’m hoping it will give me more time,” she told me. 

Yes, more time. As we age, that is what we all want, and I sure hope Sherry gets it. 

I must say that bread seems like a small thing to give to someone who is quite literally battling for her life.