FISH CHOWDER LUNCHEON AT THE WINTHROP CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH

Yesterday, my husband, Clif, and I rode our bikes to the Winthrop Congregational Church for their monthly fish chowder luncheon. The church is about a mile from where we live, and if it weren’t for the long, low, cunning hill that starts at our house and goes to the end of the road, then the ride would be an easy one. Still, as I have told my friend Claire, I must come to terms with this hill, even though it leaves me panting and gulping by the time I get to the top. By the end of the biking season, I hope to be able to manage the hill with a little more finesse. Once over the hill, it is pretty much downhill all the way to the church, and the main challenge is the ride through town, where the rider must always be vigilant for cars backing out of parking spaces. But Clif and I made it to the church in one piece, found a lamppost where we could lock our bikes, and headed downstairs for chowder. 

Built in 1861, the Winthrop Congregational Church is one of those old, white wooden churches—complete with steeple—for which New England is so famous. Although I was raised as a Catholic and am more familiar with stone churches, I must admit I have a soft spot for spare, white churches. On the street where I grew up in North Vassalboro, Maine, there was one of these simple churches, and when I walked past it, I remember admiring the beauty of the outline of the steeple against the bright blue sky. Somehow, even as a young child, this sight always lifted my spirits. 

According to the Winthrop Congregational Church’s website, its current building started out as a vestry “and was for many years used for the Sunday evening and mid-week services of the Church, as well as for its social events. In 1904 this vestry was raised and fitted with stained glass memorial windows.” Under the vestry went a meeting room and a kitchen, where the fish chowder luncheons are held today, and small stained-glass windows do indeed cast a lovely glow over the room. One more interesting fact about the church. In 1945, the interior of the church was remodeled by a man named Harry Cochrane, who in these parts is something of an architectural wunderkind.  I know I’m digressing, but to get a sense of what Harry Cochrane was capable of at his finest, take a look at Cumston Hall in Monmouth, Maine (population 3,785), right down the road from Winthrop. 

But back to the fish chowder luncheon. For $6.50 each, Clif and I got a piece of pie, water or punch, coffee or tea, homemade biscuits, crackers, pickles, and, of course, fish chowder, made that day by some of the men in the congregation. The fish chowder was everything a fish chowder should be, chockfull with potatoes and fish with the right amount of milk and flavored with just enough onions so that the flavors were enhanced rather than overwhelmed. (There are few sadder things in life than a chowder crammed with so much onion that the delicate flavors of fish and milk are destroyed.) Those men at the church sure know how to make fish chowder. The biscuits, too, were very good, light and moist. If there is a better deal for lunch anywhere in the area, then I don’t know where this place might be. The fish chowder luncheons are served from September through June on the second Friday of the month from 11:30 A.M. to 1:00 P.M.  If you are in the area, do not hesitate to stop at the church for lunch. 

While we were eating, family style at long tables, we struck up a conversation with a woman who was sitting next to us. From her we learned that on Saturday, May 15,  there would be an “All Pie Public Supper at the Readfield United Methodist Church from 5:00 to 6:30.” The cost? Seven dollars. An all pie supper? That’s almost better than fish chowder. When it comes to pie, I am not at all picky. I like almost every kind, and I even think there are some acceptable commercial frozen pies available.  When I asked the woman what kind of pies would be served at the All Pie Public Supper, she answered, “Shepherds’ pie, chicken pie, quiche, berry pies, chocolate pies, and even whoopie pies.” She told us to come early for the best selection. Clif and I will be there.

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THE RETURN OF THE HORSES?

Yesterday, in the blog Henboggle, Ali posted a link to an article in the Waterville Morning Sentinel about a farmer in Troy, Maine, who uses horses rather than a tractor to plow his gardens. It is such a delightful piece that I thought I would also provide a link for Good Eater readers. So here it is: “Going Green with Horse Power”

Although I am a dog lover, horses are high on my list, too. Their beauty, intelligence, and spirit make them irresistible. In addition, nothing makes my heart leap more than pastures and gardens. I just love a pastoral view, which to me is as lovely as the coast for which Maine is so famous. I suppose it’s because I grew up in central Maine, where along with factories there are fields, orchards, and hills, deep green and verdant in the summer. Now, I know that forests are an important part of the Maine landscape and ecosystem, but it seems to me that there is room for both forests and open land in Maine. With good management, we can grow crops and have healthy forests as well. 

As oil becomes more expensive, I wonder if more Maine farmers will turn to horses for plowing. Along with the hard work of plowing, horses also provide petroleum-free fertilizers for fields and gardens. A nearly perfect system. When the Soviet Union fell apart and stopped supporting Cuba, that small island turned back to animals—oxen in their case—for farming. 

How wonderful it would be to regularly see big horses in a pasture or at the plow. To hear the swish of their tails, their whinnies, and the sound they make as they eat grass. To watch the young horses run for the sheer joy of running.

THE WAY THINGS HAVE TURNED OUT

When I was much younger, say, in my twenties or even in my thirties, I never envisioned that my husband, Clif, and I would be living the way we do now. In truth, I didn’t dwell too much on our elder years, but if pressed, I would have guessed that by the time we had reached the ages we are now—early and late fifties—we would be living in a happy little world of travel, meals out, movies, and plays. Maybe not world travel. Maybe not even cross-country travel. But I thought we’d at least be zooming around the Northeast some of the time and hitting the road in Maine a lot of the time, stopping here and there to sample fish and chips, donuts, lobster rolls, and various other Maine delicacies. 

But what a difference twenty or thirty years make. Who would have thought that gas would be nearly $3 a gallon? Or that lunch at most restaurants would be well over $10 a person? Lunch! Or that in 2010, we would spend nearly as much on groceries for two people as we did for five people in 1995? And the final important piece, that salaries would not rise accordingly? 

Directly related to all of this, of course, are the big problems that were simmering in the 1970s and 1980s, which have, if you’ll pardon the expression, come to a boil. Overpopulation, peak oil, and climate change are a trio that can no longer be ignored. The melting of the glaciers and the ice in the Arctic and Greenland is happening much faster than anyone anticipated. To the unhappy trio above, we can add loss of habitat, mass extinctions, droughts, and extreme water shortages. Truly, at times it makes me sick at heart to think of the world we are leaving future generations. 

So, how has this affected two ordinary, aging boomers living in Winthrop, Maine? While we realize that policy changes are desperately needed, that change must happen on a global and national level, we also believe that we should do what we can in our personal lives, however small the impact. First of all, we are deeply committed to only having one car. We can do this because I work at home and live within walking and biking distance of our small town. Second, we question every nonessential trip we make, which means that most of our spare time is pretty much spent in Winthrop. Gone are the days when we flit here and there just for fun. (We make exceptions for family and friends, whom we consider absolutely essential.) Fortunately, Winthrop is a lovely town filled with lakes and ponds. Unfortunately, there are not many cultural events. But, the older we get, the less it takes to entertain us, so most of the time this isn’t an issue. Nevertheless, thank God for Netflix and the public library. I could go on about other changes—not using heat unless the house is colder than 62°F; only using the clothes dryer in emergencies; weaning ourselves from paper towels—but I’m sure you get the idea. We are certainly not the perfect “green team”—there is plenty more we should do—such as adding more insulation to the attic—but we sure are trying to live an environmentally responsible life. 

With all these losses, it would be tempting to focus on how narrow our lives have become. Yet Clif and I are not doing this. (At least not most of the time.) Instead, to borrow from Rocky, a character in the Britcom As Time Goes By, we focus on what we can do. We can ride our bikes along Memorial Drive, a relatively flat road that goes along lovely Marancook Lake. We can go to the fish chowder luncheon held once a month at the Congregational Church in town. In the summer, we can sit on the patio and be surrounded by flowers and birds and whirring insects. We can host potluck lunches and movie nights and have family and friends over for brunch and dinner. I can make bread and crackers. Clif can make waffles and pancakes. We can go to the farmers’ market and buy wonderful food. 

A narrow life, yes, but a strangely rich one, too. It really is funny the way things have turned out.

WHAT WE DID ON MOTHER’S DAY

Mother's Day BrunchMother’s Day at Narrows Pond Road was fairly low-key. Our eldest daughter, Dee, lives in New York City, which is too far for a quick weekend visit. As I’m fond of reminding her, “If you only lived in Boston…” Our youngest daughter, Shannon, and her fiancé, Mike, live about twenty minutes away, but Mike had to work on Sunday, so it turned out to be Shannon, Clif, and me for Mother’s Day. A small gathering but  good nonetheless.

Clif and Shannon made brunch for me, and we had blueberry pancakes, home fries, strawberries with cream, bacon, and sausage. We were so stuffed after this feast that we spent a good deal of the afternoon drowsing on the big sofa in our living room.  There were presents, including a gift certificate to a local nursery; a bird book and matching notecards, sent by Dee; and a picture of a rooster, drawn by Mike. Birds and plants. Along with food, they surely are two of my favorite things.

Cutting SpudsFlip PancakesCooking Home Fries

The day was very cool, but Clif started a fire in our wood furnace, and our “little house in the big woods” was cozy. However, since we are true Mainers, the cool weather did not deter us from going to Wayne to get ice cream at Tubby’s. (For more about Tubby’s, see my post Tubby’s is Coming to Town.)

Tubby’s really is quite the place. In honor of Mother’s Day, all woman eighteen years or older were treated to a free cone, Sundae, or milkshake. Tubby’s homemade ice cream is rich and flavorful, and the flavors have silly names such as “Peppermint Schtick” or “Honey Bee Mine” or “Wum Waisin.” I had a peppermint sundae with hot fudge sauce, which, like the ice cream, was homemade. The portion was ridiculously large, but I, of course, ate every bit. Another nice touch is that all the food is served in paper bowls and baskets, which means they will compost over time. Kudos to Tubby’s for not using plastic serving dishes! We took ours home and burnt them in our wood furnace. Eventually, the ashes will be spread in the garden.Mother's Day Line at Tubbies

Tubby’s also sells light meals, and since Clif is a chili fiend, and the weather was—as we say in Maine—a little brisk, he decided to have chili rather than an ice cream. For a little over $3, Clif got a generous serving of chili, nicely spiced, as far as I was concerned. Clif likes his chili to singe the roof of his mouth and sear his tongue, so it wasn’t quite hot enough for him. However, I expect most people would agree with my assessment and think it was perfectly fine. And although Clif would have liked a little more heat, he enjoyed the chili. We took note of the price of the other meals—hot dogs and sandwiches—and the general price seemed to be $5 or under. The exceptions, of course, were the lobster rolls, which were more like $10. But who expects to get lobster rolls for $5? Not even in central Maine, far away from the quaint coast, would you find such a price.

Well, Tubby’s will soon be coming to Winthrop, and Clif and I are looking forward to this new addition to our town. As I mentioned in my previous Tubby’s post, Clif and I don’t often go out for ice cream, and we don’t eat out  much, either. However, when we do, we’ll be supporting Tubby’s, which not only serves  tasty food, but will also be within walking distance of our house.

On our way to old Tubby’s, we drove by the new Tubby’s, and construction seems to be underway. It looks as though they are putting new siding on the building, and if they are on schedule, their ice cream window will open the end of May. Clif and I will be there for an ice cream as soon as they open.

MOTHER’S DAY

Recently, our friends Bob and Kate Johnson went to North Carolina to visit their daughter, Erin. Bob, Kate, and Erin are all foodies, and while they were together, they did what all good foodies like to do—go to farmers’ markets and cook. Bob took some pictures of Erin and Kate as they went to market, planted herbs, and made dinner. It seemed to me these pictures would make a wonderful post for Mother’s Day, and they graciously agreed to let me use them.

Erin and Kate

Mother and daughter in the herbs

pottng herbs

potting

Erin and Kate  cooking

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers!

MAY 5TH: FIRST WEDNESDAY LUNCH

On the first Wednesday of each month, a group of friends comes over to my house for a potluck lunch. The group usually includes Claire Hersom, Alice Rohman, Sybil Baker, and me, of course. Other friends join as their schedules allow, and we have been trying, in vain, to get Roger Carpentter, Alice’s husband, to join us. It seems that Roger is one popular guy, and he always has lunch dates with other friends and colleagues on first Wednesdays. Someday, perhaps, his busy social life will allow him to have lunch with us. 

I made a quiche with smoked Monterrey Jack, apple muffins, and cinnamon knots for dessert. Alice brought a rice salad, Claire brought a green salad, and Sybil brought a fruit salad. When all the food was placed on the round table in the dining room, there was a lovely abundance, a real feast of simple food prepared in four different kitchens and then shared among friends. Really, I can’t think of a better way to spend lunch, dinner, or anytime.   

We talked about poetry, and I showed everyone a copy of Marcia Brown’s new book, What on Earth, which Marcia recently sent to me. In a state with many fine poets, Marcia is one of the best, and her poems are wise, shrewd, and sympathetic. Mother’s Day is coming right up, and what a great gift this book would be for mother’s who love poetry. What on Earth would be a wonderful gift on any occasion for poetry lovers, and copies can be ordered from Moon Pie Press, the publisher. 

Alice Rohman, an artist as well as a poet, brought some tiny books she has been making. I’m not sure words can do justice to these exquisite yet snappy creations that either fold shut or slip into a little homemade box. The books are a combination of collage and Alice’s artwork, and Sybil summed them up with one word: “Marvelous!” Marvelous they are, and one of my favorites is called Good for You. Two putti, painted by Alice, adorn the cover. The book, accordionlike, folds out to reveal various fruit and vegetables, again done by Alice. Food that is “good for you.” But in the background, she has listed various things that are good for the soul, such as dream and play. A reminder that the spirit as well as the body must be fed. At either end of the book is a cutout of Uncle Sam, shaking his finger, exhorting us to pay attention to things that are good for us. 

Good for us—poetry, tiny art books, potluck lunches with friends. I could certainly add to the list, and in era when so many things are not good for us, it might not be a bad idea to do this. But I will stop here with the promise of returning to this subject in future posts.

FOOD FLOWING FROM HAND TO HAND: 538 PEOPLE AND 1,200 CANS OF FOOD

Recently, I wrote a post about Bowdoin College students organizing a food drive with the goal of collecting 1,200 cans of food and then delivering that food—via a human chain—from the Bowdoin College campus to Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program in Brunswick. The two are roughly a half-mile apart. 

Well, they did it. Here is a link to the Bowdoin Dailey Sun, an online newsletter, where there is a brief article as well as a video clip of the event. When I watched the video, I truly was moved to see all those cans moving from hand to hand, young and old.  A song came to mind—a pun, really—but appropriate nonetheless: “Yes We Can Can.” Especially the two lines “We got to make this land a better land / Than the world in which we live”. 

If I lived in Brunswick, then I would have been there to help pass along the food.

Yes, we can can.

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