WEEKS 6 & 7: THE LET THEM EAT BREAD REPORT

Bread CartoonOn week 6, I gave a loaf of bread, as usual, to my daughter Shannon and her husband, Mike. I also gave one to Beth and John Clark, friends who live in Hartland, Maine, about an hour north from us. This means we don’t see them nearly as often as we would like. Selfishly, I wish all the people I care about lived close to me, ideally within walking or biking distance.

Beth is a professor at Husson College in Bangor, and John is Hartland’s librarian extraordinaire. (Hartland has a very small library, which means John is the library’s only employee, and he does pretty much everything by himself, with help from volunteers, of course.) They are also both fine writers, and my husband and I have been friends with them for nearly twenty years.

Not long ago I received an email from Beth, and she wrote something along the lines of, “Let’s celebrate the end of your radiation treatment. Come to Hartland, and John and I will take you and Clif out for dinner in St. Albans. Then, afterward, we can go to a dessert murder mystery theater.”

Dinner, dessert, and a mystery theater to celebrate the end of radiation treatment? All right! And I responded, “Yes, please!” just as fast as my little fingers could type.

Figuring that Beth and John’s generosity deserved something in turn, I decided to bring them a loaf of bread as well as one of our much-coveted Good Eater Desk Calendars. This I did, and the Clarks were duly grateful.

We ate at the Sunrise Restaurant in St. Albans, which serves homemade yeast rolls and, among other things, mounds of fried seafood, even when you order the small portion. In other words, our kind of place, and being true to my Good Eater moniker, I ate every bit of food on my plate.

Then, it was on to St. Albans Town Hall—a lovely old building complete with a chandelier—for an utterly delightful evening. The event was hosted by the Hartland-St. Albans Lions Club, and the play was Murderous Crossing performed by the Levi Stewart Theater Group, a twenty-five-year-old troupe that draws its members from “the Corinna area.” The play was good, silly fun, and the actors pulled in members of the audience to participate in the murder mystery.

Desserts, gloriously stretched out on long tables by the entrance, were prepared by the “Chatterbox Club ladies of St. Albans.” Readers might sense that here we have wandered into Garrison Keillor territory, and they would not be wrong. But as Keillor himself has intimated, there is something lovely and worthwhile about events, big and small, put on by volunteers and amateurs. (And I mean this in the best and truest sense.) These events bring richness and texture to a community as well as mirth and merriment, and usually for a price that can’t be beat. (In this case, $6 for the play and 50 cents for each dessert.) May such events never go out of style, and may there always be people willing to put in the hard work necessary to make them possible.

And, oh, I wish I had had a little camera tucked in my bag to take photos of the Chatterbox Club ladies and their desserts. With their permission, naturally.  It would have been perfect for the blog. My husband, Clif, has a good camera, but it is big, and we don’t always bring it with us. In fact, we didn’t that night. We are seriously considering getting a little one to keep in my bag, even though it seems excessive to have two cameras.

Now, on to week 7. I am sorry to say that I did not give any bread away on week 7. First my husband, Clif, had the flu, and then, as couples often do, he  kindly shared it with me. I figured nobody would want bread coming from our “plague house,” and to be truthful I just didn’t have the energy to make any. This particular flu was nasty and took the wind from our sails for an entire week. (Yes, we both got flu shots in the fall.)

So, I will need to add a qualification to my Let Them Eat Bread guidelines: It is acceptable to skip a week because of illness. The goal is still to give away 52 loaves of bread in 2011, and as of week 7, I had given away 14 loaves of bread. By hook or by crook, by yeast and by flour, I mean to get to 52 loaves.

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EVENTS AT BOWDOIN COLLEGE: MEET WHAT YOU EAT

Readers who live close to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, might want to check out “Meet what you Eat,” a semester-long series of events highlighting local food. Some of the college’s events are especially for students, but others are for the general public as well. 

Two, in particular, caught my attention: “Consulting the Genius of the Place: Green Business: Doing Well by Doing Good. A public talk by Gary Hirschberg, Stoneyfield Farms, Wednesday, April 13, 7:30 p.m., Kresge Auditorium. Sponsored by Friends of Merrymeeting Bay” and “Maple Syrup Demonstrations.” (To me, it’s always a thrill to see the birth of maple syrup.)

 

WAITING FOR CHOCOLATE

Valentine’s Day is one of my favorite holidays. What’s not to like about a day that celebrates love of all kinds with chocolates and flowers? Valentine’s Day is not as much fuss as either Thanksgiving or Christmas, and it slides sweetly into the middle of February, one of the coldest months in Maine. Come to think of it, maybe Valentine’s Day is my favorite holiday. 

When it comes to politics, I am liberal, but when it comes to chocolates, I am rather conservative. I would never refuse a chocolate, say, flavored with thyme or lavender or topped with salt, but what I really like are old-fashioned chocolates, straight up, with nuts or caramel or toffee in the center. Maple cream is good, too, and so is coconut. 

One of my favorite brands of chocolates is See’s Chocolates, which are not available in Maine and must be ordered. Once, on a business trip, my husband, Clif, brought some home for me, and I’ve been hooked ever since. 

“You know,” I told him, “you never have to wonder what to give me for a present. Christmas, birthday, anniversary. A box of See’s Chocolates will always do the trick.” 

And, of course, for Valentine’s Day. Being a kind and thoughtful husband who does not like to see his wife sulk, Clif ordered me a box of See’s Chocolates for Valentine’s Day. However, even though he ordered them a week ahead of time, the chocolates did not come on February 14th. 

Naturally, Clif had a tracking number, and in this miraculous age of computers, he discovered that my chocolates were in Massachusetts. 

“They’ll arrive on the 15th,” he said. “Sorry!” 

After having gone through breast cancer surgery and radiation treatment, let’s just say that the last thing I was going to brood about was getting chocolates on February 15th rather than on February 14th

“Besides,” I said to Clif. “That’ll give me something special to look forward to on the 15th.” 

All day long I waited, listening for the UPS man and for my dog Liam’s frantic barking when the truck pulled in front of the house. Since Liam is a Sheltie and has been known to bark when a gnat walks across the floor, there were a lot of false alarms, with me hurrying to the door each time Liam barked. 

“At least I’m getting my exercise,” I said to myself after the fourth or fifth time of running to the door. 

Luckily, unlike Godot, the chocolates did arrive. Liam’s barking was especially frantic—trucks really get him going—and when I rushed to the door, there was the box on the porch. Oh, happy day! 

The chocolates came in a red heart-shaped box, which makes them even more special. Quick as can be, I heated up water for tea. After all, what goes better with chocolates than tea? 

Nothing as far as I’m concerned. My first chocolate? A caramel, rich and soft and chewy. And, readers, it was good.

MORE WHOOPIE NEWS

Maine has been making national news in a sweet way as the whoopie pie debate continues. As Maine lawmakers deliberate between making whoopie pies the official state “treat” or “dessert,” publications such as the Wall Street Journal are taking note. The Journal’s piece explores who can rightly lay claim to the whoopie—Pennsylvania or Maine. There’s even a mysterious bakery fire, which destroyed evidence that might have put Maine in the lead. 

And where did the crazy name, “whoopie pie” come from? Nancy Griffin, a Maine writer, maintains it came from a 1928 show tune by Gus Kahn called “Makin’ Whoopee.” And Griffin knows a thing or two about whoopie pies—she’s the author of Making Whoopies: The Official Whoopie Pie Book

But back to the Maine Legislature. The blueberry pie contingency apparently hasn’t thrown in the dishtowel, and according to Maine Public Broadcasting, “Democratic Rep. Donald Pilon of Saco continues to argue that blueberry pies are deserving of special state recognition. ‘I just want to enter into the record Webster’s definition of pie,’ Pilon said. ‘And the definition is ‘a dessert consisting of a filling, as of fruit or custard, in a pastry shell, or topped with pastry, or both.’” 

Pilon plans to add an amendment to the whoopie-pie bill so that blueberry pie will be the state dessert. 

So it will probably come to this: Whoopie pies are likely to be the state treat, and blueberry pie the state dessert.

As for me, treat or dessert, I’ll take both, thank you very much.

WEEK FIVE: THE LET THEM EAT BREAD REPORT

Bread CartoonWith all the brouhaha over my son-in-law Mike’s birthday, the Super Bowl, and leftovers, there was hardly any time for my weekly Let Them Eat Bread Report. But now there’s a slight lull between the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day, and it seemed like a good opportunity to make my bread report.

Last week, I gave away two loaves of bread. One, as always, to daughter Shannon and son-in-law Mike. I also gave one to our neighbors Arnie and Judi Stebbins, who live just up the road from us.

There are two major considerations when it comes to bread made with yeast: It takes at least five hours from beginning to end, and the bread is best the first day it’s made, when it’s tender and moist and practically falls apart in your mouth. Now, the bread I make is a pretty good keeper. The day after, it’s still quite moist, and it’s acceptable, albeit a little dry, even two or three days in. But few things can rival the pleasure of eating a slice of bread soon after it has been baked, and I try very hard to give my bread away not long after it has cooled. I don’t always succeed, but that is my goal.

Because my husband, Clif, and I only have one car, this complicates matters when it comes to giving away fresh bread. But, Judi and Arnie live well within walking distance of our house, and once the bread was cool enough to go into a ziplock, my dog, Liam, and I got ready to make a bread delivery.

By this time it was fairly dark, so along with bundling up to walk on a cold February night, I also donned a reflective vest. There are no streetlights or sidewalks on our street, and I thought, what a bummer it would be to get hit delivering bread. I could just see the headlines: Winthrop Woman and Dog Get Clipped on Bread Mission.

Along with wearing a reflective vest, I also carried a flashlight, and right from the start, when the cars gave me and the dog a wide berth, I felt reassured about my visibility. This meant I could enjoy the crisp, twilight walk, which was absolutely beautiful. The sky was not yet black. Instead it was a deep, deep blue, and it seemed to dip over the fields and the woods. One lone star twinkled in that vast blueness, and it was quite a challenge to admire the sky as well as manage the dog, the flashlight, and the loaf of bread, all the while watching out for oncoming cars. Although multi-tasking has developed a bit of a bad, scattered reputation, in this case it was essential, and the dog and I made it to Arnie and Judi’s house without so much as a nick.

Both the dog and I were invited into the cozy white cape, and we chatted a bit before Liam and I headed back down the hill toward home. While we were talking, Arnie cut a piece of bread, buttered it, and ate it. “Good,” he said.

Good, I thought, going home. Good to give fresh bread to neighbors. Good that they will enjoy it. Good to be out on a cold February night. Good to be alive.

AND THEN THERE WERE LEFTOVERS

mushrooms and red peppersLeftovers is a dreaded word in some households, but not in ours. Granted, there are good leftovers, and there are, shall we say, boring leftovers. However, my husband, Clif, and I are very keen on using and eating the various tidbits that lurk in the refrigerator. There is the usual reason—a dislike of wasting food, which seems both morally wrong and financially stupid. Too many people go hungry in this world, and it feels, well, obscene to throw away food that could have been eaten. It also throwing away money, something both Clif and I have an aversion to.

But there is also the challenge of creatively using leftovers, of making something really tasty using the odd “this and that” tucked in small bowls in the refrigerator.

After the birthday meal—a tempura—we made for our son-in-law Mike, we had quite a few odds and ends leftover. A tiny bit of cut-up chicken breast. Some chopped red peppers, some button mushrooms, and some sweet potato sliced thin. Also, a little sweet and sour sauce that we had used for dipping. A fair amount of white rice.

All this cried out for a stir-fry, and the only question was whether I should make up another batch of sweet and sour sauce. Clif and I considered the leftover sauce. There wasn’t much, but we decided that rather than add it directly into the stir-fry, we could instead drizzle what we had on top of the food when it was on our plates, thereby using what we had rather than making extra.

My original plan had been to use the sweet potatoes in the stir-fry, but Clif and I love roasted sweet potatoes, and we decided to have them as a side instead. I heated the oven to 425°, oiled a cookie sheet, tossed some oil into the bowl of leftover sweet potatoes, and sprinkled them with salt and pepper. I spread the sweet potatoes on the cookie sheet and put them into the oven.

About fifteen or twenty minutes after I put the sweet potatoes in the oven, I started stir-frying. I heated oil in a small frying pan, and I stir-fried the chicken pieces. When the chicken was all white but not cooked through, I heated some oil in a bigger frying pan and added the mushrooms and red peppers. When they were pretty much done, I added a large clove of chopped garlic, the only “extra” ingredient I had to use beside oil and salt and pepper. By then the chicken was done, and I put it, along with its juices, into the vegetables.

While all this had been cooking, the rice was microwaved, and the sweet and sour sauce had been simmering in a little pan on the stove.

chicken and vegetable stir-fry and a drizzle of sweet and sour sauce. Voila! The meal was ready, and what a tasty one, too. On our plates we had a bed of rice, topped with the chicken and vegetable stir-fry and a drizzle of sweet and sour sauce.  The meal was so good, in fact, that it would have been worthwhile to cook it with food that wasn’t leftover. But what a cheap thrill it was to use bits of what we had to make a meal that we ate with gusto and pleasure. As an added bonus, the drizzled sweet and sour sauce was perfect.

We didn’t need any more.

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