Storm Nemo: The Big Clean-Up

IMG_3004Well, I got two of my wishes for Storm Nemo: We didn’t lose our power, and I didn’t catch Clif’s cold. (At least not yet.) My third wish wasn’t granted—I had hoped for 12 inches of snow or less, and we got about 20 inches—but you can’t have everything, and the wishes I did get were really the two most important ones.

But what a lot of work this storm was! First there was the getting ready and then came the big clean-up. Clif couldn’t help because of his broken wrist, so it was me against the elements yesterday, with Liam to bark his encouragement. I spent about three and a half hours moving snow, and thank goodness for the electric snow thrower Dee got us for Christmas. I still had to do a bit of shovelling, but mostly I used Little Green, as I’ve come to call the snow thrower.

After three and a half hours of moving snow, I was just plain pooped. How nice it was to come in for tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches that Clif had fixed and then settle in my cozy bed for a little nap. But my real reward for all that hard work was Clif’s homemade pancakes for supper. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Clif’s homemade pancakes are the best, so good that I’m seldom tempted to order pancakes when I go out for brunch. When I do, I’m always disappointed.

Although I got most of the clean-up done yesterday, I still have more to do today—probably an hour and a half or so. But the sun is shining, we have our power, I don’t have a cold, and the worst is behind me. The Red Barn is also calling—I have that $25 gift certificate. All in all, a good ending to the big storm.

In between cleaning the driveway and the yard, I did find time to take the following pictures:

Our backyard
Our backyard
Not a day for a barbecue
Not a day for a barbecue
Doggie Zhivago
Doggie Zhivago
The front steps
The front steps
Toad in the snow
Toad in the snow
Little Green
Little Green
Pancakes at the end of the day
Pancakes at the end of the day

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Hot Chickity Chicken—Winning a $25 Gift Certificate to the Red Barn in Augusta

IMG_2962The title of this post says it all! On Monday, I won a $25 gift certificate to one of my favorite places to eat—The Red Barn in Augusta, Maine. (I put my Good Eater business card in a bowl for their monthly drawing.) I’ve written about the Red Barn before, about how their seafood and chicken are so good and so fresh and about how the employees are actually paid a living wage. The employees, in turn, are friendly, cheerful, and efficient, which is not always the case with those who work in service-sector jobs. Being paid a decent wage really affects morale, and employees that feel valued give better service. It’s as simple as that. In addition, Laura Benedict, the owner, frequently makes the Red Barn available for fundraisers for area charities and organizations.

Although you can get a lobster roll or grilled fish or chicken sandwiches at the Red Barn, they specialize in fried chicken and seafood, and it is my restaurant of choice for my weekly treat day, where I let myself eat as much as I want without worry of calories. Sometimes I get fried chicken, other times it might be shrimp, but I always order a side of their crisp homemade chips. And to guild the lily, Clif and I often split a homemade whoopie pie for dessert.

Then there are the prices—$10.95 for a lobster roll, $8.75 for a pint of chicken, and $12.25 for a pint of shrimp. I have become so spoiled by the Red Barn’s prices and the quality of their food that I can hardly bring myself to order seafood anywhere else.

Yesterday, I went to the Barn to pick up my gift certificate. The smell of fried seafood, chicken, and chips was so enticing that I could barely restrain myself from ordering right then and there. But I did. Clif has a cold and quite rightly didn’t want to eat out last night. Also, my cheat day is on the weekend, either Saturday or Sunday, and while I could have ordered one of their grilled sandwiches, I had something a little richer in mind. So using all my self restraint, I collected my gift certificate, and as I tucked it into my pocketbook, I glumly reflected on our supper that night—spicy lentils over rice. Now, lentils are very good in their own way, but they certainly can’t compete with the Red Barn’s food. I hurried out the door and didn’t look back.

“Friday,” I said to a sniffling Clif as I picked him up from work—his broken wrist still prevents him from driving. “If the weather and our health allow, we’ll go out to eat on Friday, which, after all, is the start of the weekend.”

Nodding, Clif blew his nose and agreed that by Friday, he should be ready for a meal at the Red Barn.

So until then, I will be daydreaming, at odd moments, about our Friday meal at the Red Barn. I’ll be getting something rather over-the-top, something I’ve never ordered before—a lobster BLT. (Susan Poulin, are you reading this? I know you’re as wild about bacon as I am.) How will lobster go with bacon? I have no idea. Stay tuned, and I’ll let you know.

The Finest Kind of Day: Lunch with Susan and Gordon, Dinner with Shannon and Mike, and New Earrings in the Mail

Saturday was one those finest kind of days, as we say in Maine, where the whole day was filled with one delight after another. First, we met with our friends Susan Poulin and Gordon Carlisle, for lunch at Nosh in Portland and then tea at Whole Foods. Susan and Gordon have managed to do the nearly impossible—make a living through their artistic endeavors. Gordon is a talented painter, muralist, set designer, and composer. He also does funky collages. Heck, he can even sing really well. In my last post, I wrote about Susan, her alter ego Ida LeClair, and “Ida’s” new book, Finding Your Inner Moose.

Oh, the conversation just zipped along! So much so that we had to be reminded to study the menu so that we could order. But order we did, eventually, and in between ordering and eating, we talked about all the things I love to talk about—art, politics, movies, and personal history. Clif even slipped in a bit of computer talk. Gordon told us of a bike trek he went on—many years ago—through Europe. He carried portable art supplies with him, and along the way, he would stop and paint and send the paintings back home to sell.

“What a wonderful thing to have done,” I said.

“Yes,” Gordon replied. “And to have the time and the freedom.”

Something we don’t always have as we grow older, that’s for sure.

We talked about Susan’s book and the many readings she has done over the past several months.

One of the things I especially like about Gordon and Susan is that they are good listeners as well as good conversationalists. They asked us about our lives and our projects, too.

The food at Nosh was a mixed bag, at least for Clif and me. I really liked my burger, which included a garlic sauce, bacon, a fried egg, and blue cheese.

IMG_2936
My burger next to those wonderful fries

Clif was not as impressed with his Chinese barbecue pork sandwich—too much lettuce, not enough pork, and an insipid sauce. The fries, hand-cut and “dusted” with bacon, were a hit all around. Gordon asked me to take a picture of him pointing at a very pink beet dish on his plate, and so I did.

IMG_2935

It was also a bit pricey—$35 for two sandwiches, two soft drinks, and an order of fries. But never mind! Getting together with Susan and Gordon was such a blast that it made up for any culinary disappointments.

After that, it was over to our daughter Shannon and her husband, Mike’s, home for a delectable dinner of roast beef, carrots, and potatoes. Holly the puppy kept us entertained, and there was more movie talk.

A pretty much perfect day for Clif and me, but when I got home, what did I find but a lovely pair of earrings in the mail. They were designed by the talented Joan Vermette of Biddeford, Maine, and the name of her business is Biddeford Bead Lab.

I wore the earrings yesterday, and I am wearing them today. I love them so much that I will probably wear them tomorrow. Here is what they look like.

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Susan, Gordon, and Joan made me reflect on the various talented people I know, people who are living the creative life.  It is a pleasure to support them, in my own little way, to give their presents as gifts, whenever I can, and to even buy myself a thing or two from time to time.

Let’s hear it for the creative life. It’s not always an easy life, but it is a life that is rich in many ways.

 

Book Review: Finding Your Inner Moose by Susan Poulin

IMG_2932In December, when my husband, Clif, broke his wrist before Christmas, it wasn’t long before I started feeling frazzled. By a stroke of organizational good luck—unusual for us—all the presents had been wrapped, but there was still a lot of cooking and cleaning to be done. Fortunately, I could rely on Ida LeClair for advice, who came up with a list of “December De-Stressors,” one of which involves buying pre-made items from the store when you don’t have time to bake or cook. Yes, homemade bread is best, but it was a great relief to just buy bread and English muffins in between chauffeuring Clif to work and to the doctor’s office.

Then there was the time, earlier in the year, when I needed new bras.  I quite naturally turned to Ida, who advised buying two black bras as well as a flesh-colored one. I did as she suggested, and I have been completely happy with my choices.

Clif recently observed, “I’m beginning to think you learned everything you know from Ida.”

While he might be exaggerating, he does have a point, but there is only one slight problem with my reliance on Ida LeClair—she doesn’t actually exist. She is the alter-ego of my friend Susan Poulin, a very funny and talented performer who has created a series of theatrical works revolving around Ida. (If any of Susan’s shows come to a theater near you, then don’t hesitate to see them. Not all of them are about Ida, but they are all terrific.)

Susan’s most recent endeavor is a humorous advice book written from Ida LeClair’s point of view, and that book is Finding Your Inner Moose: Ida LeClair’s Guide to Livin’ the Good Life. Ida, who is Franco-American and from the fictional Maine town of Mahoosuc Mills, lives in a “tidy and tastfully decorated double-wide with high school sweetheart Charlie and adorable dog Scamp.” She works as a cashier at the local grocery store, and her best friends are Celeste, Rita, Betty, Dot, and Shirley. She also has a niece, Caitlin, who is as “cute as a button,” and is into “New Agey stuff” such as feng shui. (Ida refers to Caitlin’s New Age interests as “woo-woo.”)

With Caitlin’s help—woo-woo or not—Ida discovered that the moose was her totem, her symbol. (Actually, the moose chose Ida, but that is a story unto itself and best told in Ida’s inimitable voice. So read the book for more details.) Caitlin informs her aunt, “Moose teach us to value ourselves and to reward ourselves for a job done well done.” This certainly clicked with Ida, and she was “off and running” with her Inner Moose book.

Each chapter in Finding Your Inner Moose covers a topic—marriage, friendship, aging, attitude at work, even death. Here is Ida’s take on aging. “”There’s something to be said for aging gracefully, but you don’t hear much about that nowadays. It’s more trendy to fight aging tooth and nail. But I say, let’s bring the ‘aging gracefully’ concept back” Here is her advice about diet and health: “Start from where you are…If you’re waiting for your life to be perfect before you start living it, your life will consist of lots of waiting and not much living.” Then there is the title of her chapter on marriage, which needs no explanation at all: “A Good Marriage Starts with Please and Thank You.”

In each chapter, Charlie and Caitlin get their say, with a little section of their own—Straight Talk from the Barcalounger and Caitlin’s New Age Nook. Again, no explanation needed. Charlie’s masculine voice and Caitlin’s “New Agey” voice make nice counterpoints to Ida’s own earthy voice, which is sassy but wise and warm.

It is not every day that you find a humorous book that is also an honest-to-God self-help book, one that makes you laugh and learn at the same time. Finding Your Inner Moose is such a book. As Charlie puts it, Ida “just loves giving advice to people, whether they ask for it or not.”

That might be the case, but when Ida gives advice, I listen.

 

Creamed Tuna Revisted—And Some Thoughts on How to Cook a Wolf

In Maine, we are having what might be called a good, old-fashioned cold spell, where the temperature barely rises above zero during the day and goes well below zero at night. Add a brisk wind and you have weather so chilly that people barely want to go out to get their mail, much less go for a walk. A hard time for our dog, Liam, who is still energetic at 8 and loves to run and bark in the backyard. Despite the cold, Liam nevertheless gets his chance to run and bark as every day I have to bring in three wheel barrow’s worth of wood for our furnace.

This brisk weather is a good time to make a cup of tea and settle on the couch with a book. This January, I am rereading M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf, first published in 1944. Despite the stiff competition from an increasingly crowded field, Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher (1908–1992) remains one of America’s best food writers. W. H. Auden noted, “I do not know know of anyone in the United States who writes better prose.” This is high praise coming from a great poet, and it is no exaggeration. M.F.K. Fisher wrote beautifully, and, just as important, she had something to say.

How to Cook a Wolf is fortunately metaphorical rather than literal—there are no instructions on how to butcher and roast a wolf.  The book was written during World War II, and it addresses how one might live creatively in a time of shortage. In the second chapter, Fisher quotes her grandmother: “I see that ever since I was married, well over fifty years ago, I have been living on a war budget without realizing it! I never knew before that using common sense in the kitchen was stylish only in emergencies.” Fisher notes that although her “grandmother’s observation need not have been so sardonically phrased…probably it was true then…and it is even more appropriate now.”

Almost 70 years later it is still true. Common sense belongs in the kitchen (and the rest of the house) in good times as well as hard ones. In addition, Fisher’s frugal but common-sense tips are particularly relevant today.

Many of us, even in this richest country in the world, feel as though the “wolf is at the door.” Expenses go up, but for most of us, salaries remain the same. What was once a comfortable income is no longer quite as comfortable. Bills must be paid. Pennies must be pinched. Extras—such as meals out and plays—are often eliminated. While those who have jobs and health care have much to be grateful for, there is no denying the feeling that things aren’t quite as good as they once were, except for the few at the top, where life is better than ever. With Earth’s dwindling resources, increased automation at the work place, and a still-rising population, it is my guess that the wolf will be at the door for quite a while. It seems to me the trick is to acknowledge this and to still live as well as possible. (And, of course, to elect politicians who will address the gross inequality in this country.)

These observations, in turn, bring me to creamed tuna, a thrifty dish my mother often served for supper. She was a child of the Great Depression and knew a thing or two about making do with little. My mother often said of her own grandmother: “Even when it seemed as though there was hardly anything in the cupboards or refrigerator, my grandmother could still put together a warm, tasty meal.”

Cream sauces are not very much in vogue right now, but I must admit to having a fondness for them. Smooth, warm, rich with butter. Really, what’s not to like? All right, they are a little plain and old-fashioned, but what wrong with that?

I loved my mother’s creamed tuna, which she usually served over potatoes. (We are Mainers, after all.) But I wondered, could I jazz it up just a little, so that it would have extra zing? Yes, I could, with garlic and dill, nice additions which lifted the cream sauce from tasty to very tasty. And how about a little sour cream or yogurt to replace some of the milk? Ditto.

Creamed tuna is definitely a family dish and probably not one you would serve to company. However, when the thermometer barely rises above zero, and the wolf seems to be nuzzling the door, creamed tuna on potatoes (or toast) tastes, as my Yankee husband would put it, pretty darned good.

Note about the tuna: Tuna, as I’m sure readers know, can be high in mercury, with albacore being the worst. Chunk light tuna, which is often yellow fin, is lower in mercury and the tuna of choice in our house. Still, it is only an occasional treat for us.

 

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Blueberry Bran Muffins on Inauguration Day

IMG_2892Monday was a fine, cold day, perfect for making blueberry bran muffins to go with soup—Campbell’s Tomato, one of my weaknesses and the only canned soup I really like. After having made the muffins and heated the soup, I settled in the living room with my husband, Clif, so that we could watch the presidential inauguration while we ate our lunch.

There were all the usual things that go with an inauguration—the ceremony, the rituals, the swearing in, the first lady and daughters decked out in their finery, the patriotic songs—done beautifully this time by various singers. (Where else would you hear, on the same stage, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and James Taylor?) A Maine poet—Robert Blanco from Bethel—read a poem that was full of everyday things and working people.

But there were some surprises, too, chiefly President Obama’s speech, which was unabashedly liberal—or progressive, if you will. Despite the luminous delivery, it seemed to me that the president was throwing down the gauntlet to the Republicans. After four years of trying to work with Republicans and having terrible results, Obama made few references to bipartisanship in his speech. Instead, the president spoke of the need for collective action, of how freedom “was not reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.” President Obama noted that truths might be self-evident but they were not self-executing, that we cannot succeed when only a few do very well and when many can hardly make it. He affirmed gay rights, voting rights, and immigration rights. By gum, he even mentioned climate change, sustainable energy, and the environment.

As the columnist Mark Shields put it, this speech marked a change in attitude, from the “me” generation to the “we” generation. I agree, and it is long overdue.

I realize as well as anyone else that a speech is just words and that actions and results are what really count. Still, words do matter. They signal intent, and I felt more hopeful after hearing this speech than I have in a long time. Stiff opposition will likely follow, but President Obama just might surprise us with how much he is able to accomplish. After all, he passed a health care bill, something no previous president has been able to do.

Finally, as with election night when Obama was elected, I was struck by the beautiful diversity of the event. In America, there has always been diversity, it just wasn’t allowed to be visible. Yesterday it was, on the podium and in the crowd. And it was good to behold.

Note: This bran muffin recipe, one of the best I’ve tasted, has already been posted on A Good Eater. But because the recipe section isn’t exactly organized—Clif, are you reading this?—I’ve decided to post it again.

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