Well, Earth Week is officially over. (Naturally, my husband, Clif, and I try to be mindful of Earth every week.) And what an enjoyable week. Thanks to the Winthrop Green Committee, our town had a wealth of Earth Week events, for children and adults. There were various workshops, a film festival, a community garden groundbreaking, and a local foods dinner.
For Clif and me, it was great to have the events within minutes of where we live—certainly not a given in central Maine, where everything seems to be 30 to 45 minutes away. We did drive, but the distance was minimal, which made evening activities easy to attend. We also enjoyed the movies, especially The Power of Community, a film about how Cuba coped with severe oil and food shortages when the Soviet Union imploded in the 1990s and therefore stopped supporting Cuba. (Hint: Cuba’s solution rested on community and backyard gardens, primarily using organic methods.) A fascinating movie with lessons for every country, big and small. Finally, it was great connecting with other people in our community who are into “all things green,” and from Priscilla Jenkins we learned that our town’s high school would soon have solar panels on its roof. Oh, happy day! Apparently, the town got a federal grant that covered 90 percent of the cost.
The only disappointment was that the turnout was very small. Just a handful of people came to the movies, the community garden groundbreaking, and the dinner. (However, according to one of the librarians, the children’s “green” programs at the town library were a complete success with a big attendance.) Monika Riney, one of the organizers, was fairly philosophical and said that the Winthrop Green Committee will keep sponsoring events. And Clif and I will keep going to them. Thank you, Winthrop Green Committee, for a terrific week of activities.
Naturally, another one of my favorite events was the community supper on Friday night featuring “mostly Maine food.” No, it wasn’t all Maine—some “outside” ingredients were used—but it’s my guess that it was at least 90 percent Maine food, which is not bad for this time of year. The choices included beef stew; deviled eggs; whole-wheat rolls; a tomato salad with tomatoes from Backyard Farms in Madison, Maine; fiddle heads, for which I’m beginning to develop a real yen; apple crisp; apple pie; and many other treats. Clif and I ate very well. In fact, we stuffed ourselves silly and enjoyed every bite.
The picture below was taken at the community garden groundbreaking, also on Friday, at Annabessacook Farm in Winthrop, Maine. Clif and I considered getting a plot, but with our daughter Shannon’s upcoming wedding in August, we decided we had enough to keep us busy this summer. Maybe next year.
Our own week of mostly Maine dinners went very well, and again, I would estimate that 90 percent of what we ate came from Maine, ranging from the delectable greens from Lakeside Orchards to the haddock caught off the coast of Maine. And, the butter that we browned was Kate’s butter, which, to my knowledge, is the best butter in Maine. Fighting words, perhaps, but I haven’t tasted any better butter, and I’ve had a lot of Maine butter.
Saturday, April 24 was the grand finale, and since we celebrated our daughter Shannon’s birthday that day, we decided to go out with a bang, so to speak. We ended with Maine lobster, dipped in Kate’s butter, and what a way to finish. For Mainers, lobster isn’t quite the delicacy it is for those who live in other states and must pay top dollar. But, it is expensive enough so that it falls into the treat category, especially for families like ours who live on a modest budget. When I was growing up, my extended family, which ranged from middle class to working class, had it once or twice a summer. We all lived inland, and the situation might have been different for families living on the coast. Now that I am an adult, I have followed my family’s pattern, and we have lobster once or twice a summer as well. Shannon was surprised and enjoyed her birthday treat very much. We enjoyed it, too, and in a way it was a present for all of us—me, Mike, and Clif.
When it comes to presents for family friends, I always like to make something by hand, usually food but sometimes beaded earrings or gifts using photos my husband has taken. Shannon is especially keen on the peanut butter balls we make for the holidays, so Clif and I decided to make up a small batch and include them in her bag of birthday goodies. I have also begun making whole-wheat crackers—from a Mark Bittman recipe—and as Shannon loves these crackers, I gave her some of these, too.
Then there is the matter of cake, which doesn’t exactly fall under the category of a birthday gift but rather a birthday necessity, along with ice cream. In truth, I’m not a very good cake maker. Pies, cookies, bread, crackers, peanut butter balls, yes. Cakes, no. They have a tendency to fall, and I sure would love to know what I am doing wrong. At any rate, Shannon wanted a chocolate cake, which I duly made, and as soon as it came out of the oven, I knew it was no prizewinner. While it wasn’t the worst cake I’ve ever made, it definitely had “rising” issues, and especially since I baked it in a 9 x 12 pan, it looked a little flat. Then, when we tried to take it out of the pan, an edge stuck and tore. Cooling on the rack, it looked like one sorry cake.
Clif and I considered our options. I could, of course, have made another cake, but this was an “if worse came to worst” option. I had a lot of cooking to do, and I wasn’t excited about making another cake, especially considering my track record. There would be no guarantees that this cake wouldn’t be flat, too.
“Well, “ Clif said. “We could trim the edges, cut it in half, and make a layer cake out of it. Then, it wouldn’t look so flat. If you make a lot of frosting, we can fill in where we need to.”
“Right!” I agreed, immediately warming to this idea. I am a fan of a cake with a lot of frosting. No thin icing for me. Give me frosting and lots of it. Also, if Clif trimmed the cake, then I would be able to tell what the texture was like. If the texture was coarse, then I would know the cake had fallen too much, and therefore using it, trimmed or not, would not be an option.
I found a very pretty square plate with gilded edges that had belonged to Clif’s mother. Clif made a paper pattern of the plate, cut the cake accordingly, and we discovered the texture was just fine. Relief! I happily mixed up a big batch of chocolate frosting, and fortunately, I make a pretty good frosting. Once the cake was on the plate and frosted, it looked so sweet and elegant that nobody would have suspected that it was a near miss.
Delighted, I looked at this cake, and “Raspberries,” I said. “What this cake needs is raspberries.” Even though the raspberries would come from quite a distance. After all, it was for a birthday, a time for exceptions. And Shannon loves raspberries.
“Yes,” Clif agreed. “Raspberries.”
And so Shannon’s birthday cake, which had a very shaky start, turned out so well that we might just make a birthday tradition of trimming all future birthday cakes to fit the plate. And, if the cakes fall a little, it won’t really matter, as long as the texture is still good.
Below, is a picture of the cake along with a plate of peanut butter balls and a plate of crackers. I wish we had taken a “before” picture of the cake so that the contrast would have a visual record. But we didn’t think of that, and I’m sure readers will be able to imagine what we started out with and how the cake was transformed from an ugly duckling to a lovely swan. Metaphorically speaking, of course.