TEA AT THE GRANGE WITH ESTHER

Yesterday, I went to East Vassalboro to meet my mom’s friend Esther Bernhardt at the Grange. (My mother passed away two years ago, and Esther was her best friend.) My daughter Shannon is getting married this summer, and we will be having her wedding shower at the Grange, which was a central part of my mother’s life. Having the shower at the Grange will be like having a little piece of my mother there.

This particular Grange is lucky enough to have a dedicated group of “Grangers” who have taken loving care of this big, old yellow and white building with its large front porch. Unlike some Granges, this one has not fallen into disrepair. The porch is freshly painted, the inside of the Grange, with its stenciled walls and new curtains, is clean and bright, and the long tables have jaunty red and green checked table coverings.

Natrually, I had been to the Grange before, but I had never really checked out the kitchen facilities, and as the shower is in July, I figured I had better do so. Right from the start, we had planned to have a bridal tea shower—we are a family that is crazy about tea with all the little fixings—and this, of course, means that the food will be cold. I was pleased to discover that the Grange has two refrigerators—plenty of room for cucumber sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches, and ham salad sandwiches. There is also a big gas stove, but aside from heating water for the tea, we won’t really need to use it for much of anything. There are plenty of plates, bowls, cups, platters, and silverware, an eclectic assortment and well used.

In keeping with the rustic nature of the Grange, Shannon’s bridal tea will be a country tea rather than a fancy tea, and I have all sorts of crockery I can fill with flowers to add to the rural charm of the place. I will also be looking for cloth napkins to go with the checked table coverings.

Fortunately, I have lots of people to help me with this shower— Dee, our eldest daughter; Andrea Maddi, Shannon’s maid of honor; our good friend Kate Johnson; Esther Bernhardt; and Claire Hersom, another good friend and Shannon’s soon-to-be aunt. We’ll be making fruit salad, little sandwiches (there will of course be cucumber sandwiches), little pastries, and lots and lots of iced tea. After all, it will be July, and people might prefer to have cold rather than hot tea.

After Esther and I were done looking at the Grange, we fired up the gas stove, made ourselves tea, and took our mugs to the front porch where there are rocking chairs. It was a rainy day, but the porch is wide, and the rain wasn’t a bother. As we rocked and sipped tea, we watch the rain drip from the roof. The Grange sits in the middle of East Vassalboro village and is surrounded by many old homes. We talked a little of the history of the town, of the black smith shop across the street and of the library, celebrating its hundredth anniversary this year. The library started out in the Friends’ Meeting House, eventually moved to a small building that had been a fishing shack (an addition had been added), and is now in a new brick building not far from the Grange. I grew up in this town, went to the library, worked on rummage sales, and have been to many events at the Grange. It is full of history for me, full of memories of my mother.

There can be no better place to have Shannon’s shower, and I know she feels the same way.

Correction—5/24/2010: After reading the post, Shannon reminded me that Andrea will be her bridesmaid, not her maid of honor. Dee will be Shannon’s maid of honor. As Miss Piggy might say, “I knew that.” I just forgot that I did. Oh, my! That certainly qualifies as a distracted mother moment. Let’s just hope there aren’t too many more of them.

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ALL PIE PUBLIC SUPPER

Last Saturday night, my husband, Clif, and I went to an All Pie Public Supper at the Readfield United Methodist Church in Kents Hill.  With its apple orchards, horses, and view of the western Maine mountains, Kents Hill is surely one of the loveliest towns in central Maine. Like the fish chowder luncheon Clif and I went to on Friday, the pie supper was held in a white wooden church, New England style. Long tables were set up in the basement, and there were numbers on each table, indicating serving order. Our table was next to last—I can’t remember if it was number 7 or 8—and we got there slightly before 5:00, when the supper started. We had been told to come early to the pie supper, but apparently it would have been better to come even earlier, say, 4:30 or so, because by the time we got there, all but the two last tables were full. 

No matter. We got our pie—Shepherds’, chicken potpie, and quiche—along with a roll. Salad was gone by the time our table was called. Luckily, there were plenty of desserts, and both Clif and I picked a whoopie pie. He hit the jackpot and got an especially tasty one with peanut butter filling. The main-meal pies were good enough, but not exceptional, the way the fish chowder was at the luncheon we went to the day before at the Congregational Church in Winthrop. (It seems that those men at the Congregational Church really know how to make chowder.) 

What was most interesting about the pie supper was something we learned from a couple sitting across from us. They are from Hamilton, Massachusetts and have a cottage in Mt. Vernon, the town next to Kents Hill. He is a retired math teacher, and she a substitute teacher. We talked about food as we ate, and they told us that at the high school in Hamilton, which has about 700 students, there is an Advanced Chef’s Course for students to take. Apparently, at the end of the school year, the students prepare food for the faculty at the high school, and one year the students focused on appetizers, which were “out of this world.” 

An Advanced Chef Course at a high school. Now, how terrific is that? I wonder if any Maine high schools offer such a course?  I’ve never heard of Advanced Chef Courses in Maine high schools, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I’ll be on the lookout for them and will certainly report back if I hear of any.

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.

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!

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