Blue, blue, brilliant blue. That’s what the sky in central Maine has been for the past week or so. The weather has been cool at night but warm during the day, warm enough to sit on the patio when I eat lunch. Between that blue sky and the swirl of yellow and orange leaves as they fall on the lawn, the colors are so dazzling that I can hardly focus on my lunch or the book I am reading.
The cool nights, of course, mean fires in the wood furnace in our basement, which is how we heat our entire house. This, in turn, reminds us of the wood that still needs to be stacked. Over the weekend, my husband, Clif, and I made good progress with the woodpile. We are now down to two cords waiting to be stacked, and we have four cords in nice orderly rows not far from the cellar door, where we bring in the wood. It’s a satisfying feeling to survey the stacked wood and to know that we won’t have to worry about heat for the winter. And if there is anything cozier than wood heat, then I haven’t felt it.
Other household duties have included washing the bedding—blankets, quilts, and bedspreads—and hanging them out to dry. Another homely pleasure is watching the laundry flap on the clothesline. It is actually a triple pleasure. First, the visual delight; second, the satisfaction of knowing I am not using fossil fuels to dry my laundry; and third the wonderful, fresh smell that no artificial dryer sheet can ever reproduce. (I wonder if there is a national “hang your laundry outside” month?)
In between hanging laundry, stacking wood, and sweeping leaves from the driveway, Clif and I managed to sneak in a couple of bike rides last weekend, and one of them included a trip to Tubby’s. It is still warm enough to eat outside at the tables, and a surprising number of people were doing just that. (However, Clif and I were the only ones who rode our bikes.)
Soon it will be too cold for ice cream outside, but Tubby’s Restaurant will be opening in three weeks or so. We got a sneak peak at the progress, and with the white wainscoting and tiled entry way, it looks as though Skip Strong, the owner, is doing his usual wonderful job with layout and design. Tubby’s in Winthrop could be a poster child for how to take an older, unattractive building and remodel it so that it is appealing and inviting. A good lesson in this age of strip development and hasty construction. What a waste to tear down all those ugly buildings, and with Tubby’s, Skip Strong has shown that we don’t have to do so.
After ice cream, we came home for more wood stacking. As the sun set, the air became cool. What kind of dinner for a fall night? When I was at Whole Foods in Portland last Friday, I bought a small ham steak—no nitrites, no nitrates, no antibiotics.
“How about ham and eggs?” I asked Clif.
“How about a ham and potato casserole with cheese sauce?” he shot back.
I was just teasing him. I had promised him the ham and cheese casserole, and when we came in from stacking wood, he peeled and cooked potatoes while I made the cheese sauce and cut the ham into small pieces. Into the oven it went, along with one of Farmer Kev’s delicata squash—cut in half, seeded, brushed with canola oil, and sprinkled with a little brown sugar along with a dash of salt and pepper.
A cozy meal for a fall night.
Ham and potato casserole with cheese sauce
Seven or eight large potatoes, peeled and cut in bite-sized chunks
7 oz. of cooked ham steak, cut in small pieces
1 cup of grated cheddar cheese. (The sharper, the better.)
2 cups of milk
4 tablespoons of butter
4 tablespoons of flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the potatoes. When they are slightly tender but not yet done, start making the sauce. Melt the 4 tablespoons of butter in a medium saucepan. Stir in the flour and let the mixture sizzle a bit. (But don’t let it burn!) Gradually whisk in the milk and then with a wooden spoon, stir continuously over medium heat until the sauce is thickened and the sauce leaves a clear line across the back of the spoon. Add the cheese and stir until melted.
By now the potatoes should be done. (If not, set the sauce aside and wait until they are. It shouldn’t be long.) In a large mixing bowl, combine the potatoes, cheese sauce, ham, and salt and pepper. Pour into a large casserole dish. A couple of pieces of bread, torn into small breadcrumbs, are nice on top. Cook in a preheated 375°F oven for 30 minutes or until the mixture is bubbly.
Note: For a vegetarian meal, slightly steamed broccoli could be used instead of ham.