THANKSGIVING POSTSCRIPT: A NEW TRADITION

A week has passed since Thanksgiving. The turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing are gone. The glazed carrots (thank you, Jill!) are gone. The same is true of the pumpkin and pecan pie (thank you, Carol and Jerry!). Only a bit of cranberry is left, in a small container in the refrigerator, and I plan on spreading some of it on peanut butter and bread for lunch this noon. 

With two oil lanterns and some candles giving the dining room a warm glow in the dim November afternoon, we literally spent hours at the Thanksgiving table, resting after the first round so that we could go back for seconds. And, yes, we all had room for dessert—the aforementioned pies as well as lemon-frosted shortbread. 

After all I had eaten on Thanksgiving, you might think that the Friday after Thanksgiving would have been a day to cut back and eat lightly. You would be wrong. Our friends Carol and Jerry, who are from East Machias, stayed two nights with us so that we could embark on a cultural excursion that would take us from central Maine to Damariscotta and finally to Brunswick, right at lunch time. 

Our first stop was at the secondhand bookshop run by the Skidompha Public Library. Readers, if you are in shooting distance of Damariscotta, do not hesitate. Go to this bookshop. Truly, there is something to suit every reading taste, ranging from poetry to science fiction to romance. The prices are incredibly good as is the selection. My best find was The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, a hardcover in perfect shape for $4. 

Naturally, after a happy hour or so spent browsing and buying used books, we had worked up an appetite, and we headed to the Great Impasta in Brunswick, which, as its name suggests, is an Italian restaurant—small, intimate, and comfortable. We were led to a table with one bench against the wall as well as chairs ringing the table’s outer edge, and we decided we felt very European. The menu came, and Jerry and I both spotted the spaghetti carbonara. It took the two of us approximately 20 seconds to choose the carbonara, in honor of Calvin Trillin and that “Italian guy,” Christopher Columbus. (For more about this, see my previous post Thanksgiving Folderol.) The Great Impasta’s carbonara is, in fact, Alfredo sauce with prosciutto, but what the heck. It tasted good, and Jerry and I decided that whatever the form, carbonara the day after Thanksgiving should become an annual tradition. And so it will. 

After pasta, we went up the street to Gelato Fiasco for what is surely the best gelato in Maine, if not New England. Contented, we ended our trip with a visit to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, which is currently featuring an exhibit with the works of Romare Bearden. 

All in all, quite a day, especially coming right after Thanksgiving. In fact, it was quite a weekend. Clif got his turkey, and I got my carbonara, more or less. This is not the first time I’ve been to a Maine restaurant where Alfredo sauce is referred to as “carbonara.”  Among foodies, there is a great debate about what constitutes “real” cabonara—cream or only eggs. This has got me wondering. Are there any Maine restaurants that use only an egg-based sauce to make carbonara? I shall be on the lookout. But egg-based or Alfredo, I could eat this dish at least once a week. It certainly beats turkey, whatever the day.

Advertisements

THANKSGIVING FOLDEROL

On 74 Narrows Pond Road, Thanksgiving, that day of gluttony, always involves some intense negotiation. It boils down to this: My husband, Clif, has a zeal for roast turkey that goes beyond human reasoning, and he could eat roast turkey any day of the week. I, on the other hand, am iffy about this big bird. No, that is not true. In fact, I’m not at all fond of turkey, with its mound of white breast meat that always turns out to be dry and bland, no matter how it’s cooked. In short, we are a divided family. Clif’s philosophy is: The bigger the turkey, the better.  My philosophy is: Why bother with turkey at all? Why not just go with the writer Calvin Trillin’s proposal and have spaghetti carbonara? (With tongue firmly in cheek, Trillin’s suggestion is that spaghetti carbonara is really the original dish served at Thanksgiving, a little recipe the Native Americans picked up from that “Italian Guy”—Columbus.) 

Thus, a week or two before Thanksgiving, it begins, always with the question: “So, what size turkey should we buy?” This year, I started low, as I always do, knowing I would have to go up. “Eight pounds,” I answered. “After all, there will only be six of us, and one is a vegetarian.” 

“Eight pounds?” Clif gave me a look that suggested that I was only a hairsbreadth away from being as miserly as Scrooge. “Thirty,” he shot back quickly. 

“Thirty?” I was nearly overwhelmed with the horror of that much dry breast meat. “It wouldn’t fit in our roasting pan, not even the big one. What about ten?” 

Clif snorted. “How can we have leftovers with a ten-pound turkey?” For Clif, leftovers are nearly as alluring as the actual Thanksgiving dinner. “Twenty-five!” 

For me, leftovers just mean more of that darned dry meat, but I had to acknowledge he did have a point about a ten-pound turkey. “Twelve!” 

“Twenty!” 

We finally settled on fifteen pounds. Well, all right, since I’m the one who does the grocery shopping, I settled on a fifteen-pound bird, figuring Clif wouldn’t sulk too much when I brought it home. 

He didn’t, but he couldn’t resist making a catty remark about how puny it was, knowing very well that a fifteen-pound turkey hardly qualifies as puny. 

And there it sits, huge and hulking, in our refrigerator. Tomorrow, it will be oiled and stuffed and slid into a hot oven. Soon the house will be fragrant with turkey. Even I have to admit it smells good as it’s cooked. Potatoes will be riced (never mashed in our house!), bread will be sliced, and cranberry sauce will glitter bright red in the cut-glass bowl. 

And I although I would never say this aloud, I have to agree that dry though it is, there is something about turkey that spaghetti carbonara just couldn’t replace. Nevertheless, next year the negotiations will commence, as they always do.  They have become as much of a tradition as turkey.

A TRIBUTE TO SOUP: CURRIED TOMATO SOUP WITH CHICKPEAS AND CAULIFLOWER

“As we honor and pay tribute to soup, I also wish to encourage my readers to use the art of soup making to bring relief to the poor and the hungry near or around us. In ancient times, when monasteries were located within the city walls, monks and nuns provided soup and bread to the poor who daily knocked at their doors. Many monasteries still follow this ancient evangelical practice, and this is where the idea of “soup kitchens” to help the poor originated….Soup making, soup sharing, and soup giving done with love and a selfless spirit can be occasions for endless joy.”
—Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette, Twelve Months of Monastery Soup

Thanks to my daughter Dee, I have a new favorite soup. When we were visiting recently with her in New York, she said, “Next to where I work is a shop that sells a really good tomato soup.” Oh? What kind of tomato soup? “Well, it has chickpeas and cauliflower.” What kind of spicing? “Curry. It was spiced with curry. Do you think you could make it?” Yes, I think I could.

DSC08845I decided to roast the cauliflower, which has a mild—some might even say bland—taste. It seems to me that roasting improves almost any vegetable. From there I would go to onion and garlic, the basis for most soups, followed by a can of tomatoes, a can of chickpeas, and a teaspoon and a half of curry powder as well as a pinch of red pepper flakes. Readers, this is one of the best soups I have ever made. The nutty chickpeas complement the mild cauliflower, and the curry blends with the tomatoes to produce a spicy but smooth flavor. I could eat this soup once a week, and I’ll certainly be making it regularly during the impending months of cold weather, which in Maine stretches through three seasons and at least six months. With so much cold weather, soup can be a great consolation.

I began this piece with a quotation from Twelve Months of Monastery Soups. During the upcoming holiday season, indeed throughout the whole year, we should follow Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette’s advice. Hunger and food insecurity are on the rise in the United States. According to yesterday’s New York Times, “the number of people in households that lacked consistent access to adequate nutrition rose to 49 million in 2008, 13 million more than in the previous year and the most since the federal government began keeping the data 14 years ago.” Surely the richest country in the world can do better than that, and what better way to start than with soup—nutritious, delicious, soothing, and economical.

DSC08851

Curried Tomato Soup with Chickpeas and Cauliflower

1 small onion, chopped fine
3 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
Olive oil
1 ½ teaspoon of curry powder
1 pinch of red pepper flakes (or more, if you like things hot)
1 head of roasted cauliflower
1 (19 oz.) can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 (28 oz.) can of crushed tomatoes
1 can of water, using the tomato can

First, roast the cauliflower. Cut the cauliflower into small pieces, toss with some olive oil and bake at 375°F until the cauliflower is tender and slightly browned, about twenty-five minutes. When the cauliflower has cooled, chop into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

Sauté the garlic and onion for a few minutes in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chickpeas, the tomatoes, the can of water, the curry, and the pepper flakes. Simmer for 45 minutes or so. Add the chopped cauliflower and simmer another ten minutes. Garnish with either sour cream or yogurt if you like, which I always do.

SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT HOMEGROWN, A NEW DOCUMENTARY

At first glance, being a foodie and writing a blog can seem quite focused, maybe even a little narrow. It can easily come down to three things: food, recipes, and impressions, and indeed many good food blogs go no further. But food can be a much broader subject, and foodies everywhere should be concerned with how and where their food is grown.  (They should also be concerned with questions about why some people get too much to eat and why some people don’t get enough, but that’s a topic for another time.) Then, from these concerns spring a larger environmental awareness that spirals inward and outward at the same time. Simply and personally put: How do my eating habits affect me, my town, my state, my country, the world? Naturally, energy use, climate change, pollution, and pesticides are woven into these questions as well. It soon becomes clear that food is a complicated subject that touches many areas of life. 

I thought of this as I watched HomeGrown, a documentary about the Dervaes family, who literally took food matters into their own hands and decided to see how much they could grow in their backyard, which was less than a quarter of an acre.  As it turned out, they could grow 6,000 pounds, enough food not only to feed themselves but also to sell to local restaurants. Because the Dervaes family lives in Pasadena, they have a long growing season and can therefore support themselves with the bounty reaped from their urban homestead. But still, long growing season or not, 6,000 pounds from one quarter of an acre is pretty impressive. In addition, the family lives off the grid, using solar panels and an outdoor solar shower. (Again, the outdoor shower is possible because of where they live.) Their urban homestead also has chickens and goats. There is a website (of course!) called Path to Freedom (http://www.pathtofreedom.com/about), where you can learn more about this remarkable family—a father and three adult children, two daughters and a son. HomeGrown, directed by Robert McFalls, has a website as well. (http://www.homegrown-film.com/about.html) If the movie doesn’t come to a theater near you, it will certainly soon be available through Netflix. 

Now, not every family wants to sell food for a living. Nor should they. After all, we need teachers and librarians and social workers and chefs and factory workers and engineers and doctors. The list is long, and it is no more advisable to have a society with mono-careers than it is to have a farm with mono-crops. But do we really need so many clerks working at Wal-Mart and Home Depot and, yes, even L. L. Bean? Consider this statistic, from November’s Down East magazine. “The most common job in Maine isn’t lobsterman or lumberjack, it’s retail sales clerk, followed closely by cashier; there are more people working in either of those professions than all the fisherman, farmers, and forestry workers combined.” No doubt some of those clerks and cashiers love their work, despite the fact that these jobs pay a low wage and often come without benefits. However, when was the last time you saw a clerk or a cashier who looked pleased as punch to be working in that big box store? Not very often, I suspect. 

But what would happen if, in the thousands and thousand of yards across the country, families started growing food instead of lawns? What if they kept a few chickens? Maybe even a goat or two? What if they began making their own bread and began hanging their laundry on a clothesline?  Would it be possible to live on one income rather than two? Or perhaps two part-time jobs? And, correspondingly, would it be possible to get by with one car rather than two? Would there be more dinners cooked from scratch? What would this do to energy consumption? To food distribution? To the high levels of obesity and diabetes? (Hint: How many farmers are fat?) 

I know. This sounds like a hippie-dippie back-to-nature scheme, and in a way I suppose it is. But it is also a radical shift from the system we have now, where we pretty much totally depend on others for the necessities of life. Let me be clear. I am not suggesting we return to the good old days when nearly everyone lived in the country on a small family farm. There are far too many people to make this feasible, and it is good to have time to pursue other interests and hobbies. To grow or make everything a family uses is labor intensive indeed. Yet how free are we, really, in the two-career home where both adults work outside the home all day and come home too frazzled to cook and enjoy being with their children? How free are we when we depend on Wall Street and big business for our well being? I’m just asking. 

I’d like to suggest that if we grew and cooked more of our own food, then we would in fact be freer and more secure than we are now. (Throw in universal health care and affordable higher education, and families would have even more latitude.) I think it is totally appropriate that the Dervaes family called their website “The Path to Freedom.” 

Finally, let me be clear on one other point. To my way of thinking, “The Path to Freedom” does not mean that it is automatically the woman who stays home to grow the food, bake the bread, and hang out the laundry. Men can do these things as well as women, and with freedom comes flexibility and choice. 

HomeGrown is only fifty-two minutes long, but it certainly raises a lot of issues, both on a personal level and on a larger societal level. I highly recommend this film.

THE NEW YORK TRIP

Well, Clif and I made it “there and back again,” as Bilbo Baggins might say. We love visiting with our daughter, and New York is an exciting city, but it’s oh so tiring for the two country mice from Maine. The drive in and out of Brooklyn is the biggest challenge. The route itself isn’t too bad—it’s fairly straightforward, and our daughter doesn’t live far from the highway—but the traffic is, well, a bit frantic. This makes little things like lane changing and keeping track of where to turn a huge challenge. And a stressful one. But although we had some near misses, we came back with no new dents in the car and only a few more gray hairs. 

The big event on this trip was the Brooklyn Flea Market, or the Flea, as it’s known in the city. Although it’s not too far from the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where we’ve been several times, it took us a while to find the Flea, but find it we did. It’s quite the event—150 vendors in an empty lot—and it attracts a big crowd.

The Flea
The Flea

As to be expected with a flea market, there was a fair amount of what we Mainers would call “junk,” stuff like that wonderful speckled vase Aunt May gave you for Christmas thirty years ago. It was ugly then, and it is ugly now. But maybe just maybe someone will decide a speckled vase is exactly the thing they want for that retro look. You never know. And no doubt along with that speckled vase there were other more attractive items. However, as our own house has enough gewgaws to clutter the shelves, nooks, and crannies of several homes, we prudently stayed away from most of the actual flea market fare. 

There were a fair number of crafts people at the Flea, and they sold jewelry—some of it very, very tempting—T-shirts, and art. There was a vendor selling some old book illustrations, and my favorite was of humpback whales with the wonderful caption “Humpback Whales Disporting.” That one almost came home with me. 

But, of course, I was mostly interested in the food. I had, not necessarily in this order, a madeleine (Why ever did Proust make such a fuss over them?); a cannoli, tasty but not as good as the ones in the shop by Dee’s apartment; a sample of some of McClure’s garlic pickles (I bought a jar to bring to our friends Bob and Kate); a bite of Dee’s chocolate scone (too dry), and a nibble of Clif’s “Asia dog” hot dog, a wiener topped with Asian spices (one nibble was definitely enough). For me, the winner of the day was an unexpected candidate, one that I hadn’t really considered when I perused the vendors’ list.  It was a fish taco from Choncho’s Tacos. 

Fish Taco at the Flea
Fish Taco at the Flea

Fish tacos are not common in central Maine, and to this Mainer, who loves fish, they just weren’t that appealing. But as I sat resting on the stone bleachers directly behind Choncho’s Tacos, it seemed to me that it might be worth reconsidering my stance. I watched as fresh fish was dipped in batter and fried to puffy goodness in very small batches. Once out of the hot oil, those golden fish nuggets were placed in a small, soft corn tortilla shell, drizzled with a mayo and yogurt dressing, and then sprinkled with cilantro and shredded red cabbage. It wasn’t long before Clif was sent to wait in the fish taco line. While I limited myself to one, I could have easily eaten two of them, and I will never be indifferent to fish tacos again.

By the time we left the Flea, it was midafternoon, and after spending more time wandering around a very crowded Union Square, we had Thai food for dinner (good, but not great) before heading to a movie at Angelika Film Center. (The movie was Collapse, a documentary about a journalist named Michael Ruppert, who seemed slightly unhinged but nevertheless had it mostly right about peak oil, energy use, and overpopulation.) 

On Sunday, after a bagel breakfast (there’s a shop right around the corner from Dee), we reluctantly said our goodbyes, and headed back to Maine, holding our breaths as we drove on I-278 out of Brooklyn, taking care not to inadvertently zip through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel into lower Manhattan or make any number of wrong turns that would take us from our I-278 lifeline. At times it was a squeaker, but we made it, and there is no lovelier sign to a Mainer than one that reads “I-95 North.” 

We arrived at Bob and Kate’s house at midafternoon, where we had salad, spiced pork sandwiches, and a rich, dense chocolate cake that just might be the chocolate cake that dessert lovers around the world dream about but so seldom get. Was it the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had? Without further testing, it would be hard to say, but it’s certainly in the running. 

From Maine to New York to fish tacos to New Hampshire to sheer chocolate delight. All in all, quite a trip.

TO THE BIG APPLE

This weekend, Clif and I are heading to New York City to visit our eldest daughter, Dee. The primary attraction, of course, is seeing our daughter, and we would go wherever she lived, even if it meant flying, my least favorite way of traveling. (I hate being in the sky. As a Virgo, I am an earthbound creature.) But I can’t deny that New York City is an added bonus. For the food obsessed, it’s the equivalent of hitting the jackpot. Just down the street from where Dee lives, there’s a shop that sells the best cannolis I’ve ever had, with an incredibly crunchy shell stuffed with a creamy filling that hovers on the edge of liquid and solid. So good, so good! There is also a bagel shop and a Chinese takeout that has decent food, much better, in fact, than what you can get in central Maine. All these delights are in one single block in Brooklyn, and there are so many other pearls on the necklace, so to speak that I am positively giddy with anticipation. 

This time, our plan on Saturday is to visit the Brooklyn Flea Market or the Brooklyn Flea, as it is called in the city. (http://brownstoner.com/brooklynflea/)  From their website, here is a description of the Saturday Flea: “The Fort Greene Flea is outdoors at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, on Lafayette Ave. between Clermont and Vanderbilt Ave., and features 150+ vendors of vintage furniture, clothing, collectibles and antiques, as well as new jewelry, art and crafts by local artisans, plus delicious food. It is open from 10am to 5pm—rain or shine—every Saturday.” There is also another Brooklyn Flea, on Sundays, by the famed Brooklyn Bridge, but according to the website, the Flea will soon be heading indoors for the winter. 

I’ve nothing against vintage furniture, clothing, collectables, and antiques, and I readily admit to loving art and crafts by local artisans, but naturally it is the “delicious food” that is the real draw for me. In the New York Times, I’ve read all about the food at the Brooklyn Flea, and I can’t wait to sample some of the offerings from vendors such as Asia Dog, Nunu Chocolates, and Pizza Motto, to name a few. 

Dee’s birthday was last week, and we’ll also be taking her out to dinner—given that we aren’t too stuffed after eating at the Flea. She’s picked a Thai restaurant, always a good choice. I’ve heard a rumor that the restaurant she’s chosen even serves sticky rice, which is not common in Thai restaurants in Maine.

Finally, as if all this weren’t enough, on the way home we will be visiting with our friends Bob and Kate Johnson in New Hampshire, and Kate will be “cooking a pork loin roast with spices that is made to cool and slice for sandwiches with apple butter on one side; mustard on the other; a salad with a homemade dressing; and a chocolate cake …[from] Cook’s Illustrated.” 

My mouth is watering. 

I’ll be reporting on all these delights next week.

HUNTING SEASON BEGINS

In Maine, November is deer hunting season, and for that month we have to wear bright orange whenever we go for a walk, indeed whenever we go out in our own backyard. Our house is tucked into the woods, and our land abuts a rather large watershed that the town owns so that the Narrows Pond, a body of water as big as some lakes, is protected. The watershed is basically acres and acres of undeveloped woods and is home to all sorts of animals—foxes, fishers, stoats, bears, coyotes, and deer. Lots of deer. This, of course, means that we have lots of hunters in those woods in November. Often, we hear gunshots, and occasionally I see a man with a gun walking just beyond our property line. Once, I watched as a deer rushed by, and the fleeing creature was followed by gunfire so loud that I felt as though I was in a war zone. 

In all fairness I must state that not once has a bullet hit our house nor have we ever felt a bullet whiz by us. Nevertheless, I have very mixed feelings about hunting. Even though I am a fifth-generation Mainer and come from a family of hunters, I am on edge the entire month of November. I don’t like the idea of men with guns roaming the woods in back of my house. The woods are thick, visibility is limited, and it would be easy to lose track of where the houses are, especially if a hunter was seized with “deer fever.” I don’t like the sound of gunfire. Every time shots go off, my stomach jumps. I resent having to wear orange in my own backyard, a place where I should feel safe and secure. But I don’t. Not in November, and when I go out to rake leaves, not only do I wear orange but I also bring a radio with me. I have it set on a rock and roll station, and I crank up the volume, figuring that the noise will alert hunters to the fact that they are near a house. I don’t like seeing dead deer on the tops of cars. In short, there is nothing about hunting season that I like. 

And yet… I eat meat, mostly chicken, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t like steak, and I have a zeal for pork that I figure must be encoded in my Franco-American DNA. But I don’t want my meat to resemble an animal in any way—no feathers, no fur, no snouts, no feet. I want my meat clean and packaged. I can’t conceive of ever butchering an animal or tracking one down to shoot it. However, even as I write this, I know it’s not strictly true. Under the right circumstances—motivated by enough hunger—I could probably do it. Fortunately, I am not in a position where I have to kill the animals I eat, so I let others do it for me. They have a name for this sort of attitude, and it begins with H

So who has it right? The one who is willing to kill a deer and deal with hoof, fur, and blood? Or the one who is perfectly happy to eat meat as long as she isn’t reminded where it comes from?  The notion of food, which includes hunting, is fraught with such slippery questions that seem to have no clear answers. 

Someday, my husband, Clif, and I will move, not because of hunting season but because the house is too big for us take care of. However, when we do move, it will be to a village where no hunting is allowed, and I don’t have to on guard for the entire month of November. Until then, I’ll be wearing orange, and I’ll be listening to loud rock and roll on the radio. And counting the days until December comes.

A blog about nature, home, community, books, writing, the environment, food, and rural life.