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.

LOCAL EATING WITH PAT RANZONI

As I’m sure readers of this blog have gathered, I am a huge fan of local food, and by extension, of farmers’ markets, vegetable stands, and restaurants that aren’t chains. My reasons are varied. The food is fresher and usually tastes better; the food travels fewer miles and thus doesn’t use as much fossil fuel; the local economy is supported; and perhaps most important, when an area—state, town, or region—can largely feed itself, it has a wonderful security that bolsters it in good times and buffers it in bad times. 

I eat a lot of local food, especially in the summer, but Pat Ranzoni, a friend and a terrific Maine poet, makes me look like a piker when it comes to local eating. Recently, in response to an Earth Day email I sent, Pat wrote and described the various local foods she and her husband, Ed, eat. “Ed just came through the field with his first ever wild Tom turkey and has gone to tag it! Our son called it in which is quite a skill, plus wild turkeys are keenly alert, hard to hunt, so father and son are accepting congratulations. I’m so thankful for their hunting and fishing skills. Between the wild game and fish, and our gardens and foraging, we buy as little as possible at the market. I’m just now finishing up our winter’s supply of sumac wands I boil for Indian lemonade. Sour plant they called it. And we’re eating our best from the dandelions and other new greens—violets, clover and so forth. I read that the Natives in the mid-west used to have clover festivals in celebration of their return in spring—who’d’ve thunk it? Anyway, back to work!” 

Back to work, indeed. What an inspiration Pat and her family are!

PORTLAND-TOWN AND PEACH BUTTER

Last Friday, I met my friend Kate Johnson and my daughter Shannon in Portland—Maine’s largest city—for lunch. This was a big outing for me. Most of my days, and thus my lunches, are spent on Narrows Pond Road, where I live, so going out to lunch is a special treat, especially when it’s over an hour away. The occasion for this lunch was Shannon’s birthday, and Kate and I treated Shannon to a meal and gave her some presents as well.

We had lunch at David’s, which is in Monument Square. The lunches were good enough, but the desserts were outstanding. So delicious, in fact, that it would be worth stopping at David’s just for dessert and tea. We each ordered something different so that we could share, and all of the desserts were equally worth getting—chocolate raspberry torte, pecan and white chocolate torte, and crème brulèe. Being a good eater, I not only ate all the dessert I ordered—the crème brulèe—but I also helped Kate and Shannon finish theirs. What can I say? When I indulge, I indulge.

Not far from where Kate lives in New Hampshire is a Lindt factory where the chocolate is actually made, and accordingly, Kate gave Shannon several bars of chocolate. She also gave her a dessert cookbook. (I think the focus was on pie.) I gave Shannon a pair of earrings I made—with my husband, Clif’s help—that had fresh-water pearls.

Shannon wasn’t the only one who received presents. Kate brought some chocolate for me as well as some peach butter she got on recent trip to North Carolina to visit her daughter, Erin. Now, I might be a northern woman, but I have a love for peaches that borders on obsession. I get them at the grocery store as soon as they come in season, and each summer I badger my friend Judy to bring me back some peaches when she visits family in Connecticut. One of the biggest thrills in my life was when we took our eldest daughter, Dee, to Bard College in New York, and I saw peach orchards for the very first time. All those peach trees! Unfortunately, except for a few microclimates, peach trees do not grow in Maine, and as much as I love this state, there are times when I think I live a little too far north.

In fact, I was very much aware of this peach butter. When visiting her daughter, Kate had sent me an email and had told me about the peach butter. She had also mentioned how she made my mother’s biscuits to go with the peach butter, and I was so moved that I wrote about it for this blog. Therefore, I was thrilled—no, that’s not too strong a word—to be handed a little gift bag with bars of chocolate and a jar of peach butter.

As we lingered over lunch, dessert, and pots of tea, we chatted about this and that and had a wonderful afternoon. But all the while, thoughts of peach butter ran like an undercurrent in the back of my mind, and that night for supper I had poached eggs, toast with homemade bread, and, of course, peach butter—smooth, a little dark, and sweet with a slight tang of cinnamon, even though it’s not listed as one of the ingredients. It reminded me of summers long ago, when my family shopped at a little market in Waterville, a small city in central Maine. On the sidewalk in front of the market, Lee, the owner, set out mellons and peaches in wooden crates, and when it rained, their sweet smell mingled with the hot warmth of the pavement.

Summer time, summer time.

Peach Butter on toast

TUBBY’S IS COMING TO TOWN

tubbies signNext to Winthrop, the town where I live, is a village called Wayne. That’s right, we have a Wayne, Maine, and there is even a T-shirt that pokes fun of this rhyming duo. The front reads: Where the hell is Wayne, Maine? Where indeed? The town’s website tells us that Wayne is 15 miles west of Augusta; that Wayne’s population, according to the 2000 census, is 1,112; and that the town is tucked among “seven lakes and ponds.” This area—Winthrop as well as Wayne—is in one of Maine’s lake districts, where it seems as though there is just as much water as there is land.

With its main street lined with lovely old homes, mostly white, its general store, its “two libraries and two churches,” Wayne is a New England village with a vengeance. (By contrast, Winthrop, with its mishmash of new, old, and abandoned, is its shabby cousin.) Quaint certainly is an apt description of Wayne, and its residents have so much pride in their little village that they have come up with a “Seven Wonders of Wayne” list, which includes a desert (I’m not kidding), the village itself, and the Wing Family Cemetery. But for those who like to eat, what is particularly interesting on that list is a place called Tubby’s Ice Cream.

Now, it must be said that even though Maine is cold from October through May, Mainers love their ice cream. All through the state are various Mom & Pop stands, open only during the few warm months that we call summer, and quite often they make their own ice cream. The quality varies from good enough to so outstandingly fine that ice cream lovers dream of certain stands during the long, cold of winter and count the months until they open. Tubby’s, owned by Skip Strong, is one of those stands that Mainers dream of, where the ice cream is so rich and flavorful that most other ice cream is disappointing in comparison. The ice cream is handmade, and Tubby’s website boasts “All of our ice cream, toppings, and food are made right here in our kitchen from scratch. To make our ice cream we use only the finest cream, sugar, eggs, and natural ingredients.” Well, as the saying goes, it isn’t bragging if it’s true, and Wayne residents are quite right to consider Tubby’s one of its wonders.

Tubbiws Winthrop under constructionOf course, with excellence comes a price, and Tubby’s ice cream is not cheap. I must admit that I remember the taste of the ice cream better than I remember the price, but it seems to me that a small cone will set you back at least $3. However, I soon will have ample opportunity to find out just how expensive a Tubby’s ice cream cone is. It seems that Skip Strong is expanding his Tubby’s empire, and Tubby’s is coming to Winthrop, in a building on its not-so-quaint main street.

There’s a lot I don’t know. I don’t know if Skip Strong will be closing his Wayne branch. (My guess is that he won’t.) I don’t know when Tubby’s in Winthrop will be opening. (On a recent walk, my husband, Clif, and I peeked in the windows, and it still seems as though there is quite a bit of work to do.) I don’t know if Tubby’s will be solely takeout, the way it is in Wayne, or if there will be inside seating. So much to discover! So stay tuned for updates, including some of the silly names that Skip Strong has come up with for his flavors. Like the prices, the names, too, are gone from my memory. Only the remembrance of taste remains.

Clif and I don’t go out for ice cream very often, but when we do, it will be at Tubby’s. It is local, it soon will be within walking distance of where we live, and the ice cream is utterly delicious. I can’t wait.

Update: April 29th, 2010—As Mother’s Day is coming right up, I just called Tubby’s in Wayne to find out if they were open. They are and have been since the end of March. I also asked the young woman I spoke to about the shop in Winthrop. The ice cream window is slated to open the end of May, and the indoor secition will open in a couple of months. Sounds like the Winthrop store will be a year-round operation and that the shop in Wayne will continue to be a seasonal business. As I learn more information, I’ll provide additonal updates.

A BUSY WEEKEND—A VISIT TO A FARM, A LOCAL FOODS DINNER, AND A BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION

Chicken walksWell, Earth Week is officially over. (Naturally, my husband, Clif, and I try to be mindful of Earth every week.) And what an enjoyable week. Thanks to the Winthrop Green Committee, our town had a wealth of Earth Week events, for children and adults. There were various workshops, a film festival, a community garden groundbreaking, and a local foods dinner.

For Clif and me, it was great to have the events within minutes of where we live—certainly not a given in central Maine, where everything seems to be 30 to 45 minutes away. We did drive, but the distance was minimal, which made evening activities easy to attend. We also enjoyed the movies, especially The Power of Community, a film about how Cuba coped with severe oil and food shortages when the Soviet Union imploded in the 1990s and therefore stopped supporting Cuba. (Hint: Cuba’s solution rested on community and backyard gardens, primarily using organic methods.) A fascinating movie with lessons for every country, big and small. Finally, it was great connecting with other people in our community who are into “all things green,” and from Priscilla Jenkins we learned that our town’s high school would soon have solar panels on its roof. Oh, happy day! Apparently, the town got a federal grant that covered 90 percent of the cost.

Community Gardens signThe only disappointment was that the turnout was very small. Just a handful of people came to the movies, the community garden groundbreaking, and the dinner. (However, according to one of the librarians, the children’s “green” programs at the town library were a complete success with a big attendance.) Monika Riney, one of the organizers, was fairly philosophical and said that the Winthrop Green Committee will keep sponsoring events. And Clif and I will keep going to them. Thank you, Winthrop Green Committee, for a terrific week of activities.

Naturally, another one of my favorite events was the community supper on Friday night  featuring “mostly Maine food.” No, it wasn’t all Maine—some “outside” ingredients were used—but it’s my guess that it was at least 90 percent Maine food, which is not bad for this time of year. The choices included beef stew; deviled eggs; whole-wheat rolls; a tomato salad with tomatoes from Backyard Farms in Madison, Maine; fiddle heads, for which I’m beginning to develop a real yen; apple crisp; apple pie; and many other treats. Clif and I ate very well. In fact, we stuffed ourselves silly and enjoyed every bite.

The picture below was taken at the community garden groundbreaking, also on Friday, at Annabessacook Farm in Winthrop, Maine. Clif and I considered getting a plot, but with our daughter Shannon’s upcoming wedding in August, we decided we had enough to keep us busy this summer. Maybe next year.

Garden groundbreakingOur own week of mostly Maine dinners went very well, and again, I would estimate that 90 percent of what we ate came from Maine, ranging from the delectable greens from Lakeside Orchards to the haddock caught off the coast of Maine. And, the butter that we browned was Kate’s butter, which, to my knowledge, is the best butter in Maine. Fighting words, perhaps, but I haven’t tasted any better butter, and I’ve had a lot of Maine butter.

Saturday, April 24 was the grand finale, and since we celebrated our daughter Shannon’s birthday that day, we decided to go out with a bang, so to speak. We ended with Maine lobster, dipped in Kate’s butter, and what a way to finish. For Mainers, lobster isn’t quite the delicacy it is for those who live in other states and must pay top dollar. But, it is expensive enough so that it falls into the treat category, especially for families like ours who live on a modest budget. When I was growing up, my extended family, which ranged from middle class to working class, had it once or twice a summer. We all lived inland, and the situation might have been different for families living on the coast. Now that I am an adult, I have followed my family’s pattern, and we have lobster once or twice a summer as well. Shannon was surprised and enjoyed her birthday treat very much. We enjoyed it, too, and in a way it was a present for all of us—me, Mike, and Clif.

When it comes to presents for family friends, I always like to make something by hand, usually food but sometimes beaded earrings or gifts using photos my husband has taken. Shannon is especially keen on the peanut butter balls we make for the holidays, so Clif and I decided to make up a small batch and include them in her bag of birthday goodies. I have also begun making whole-wheat crackers—from a Mark Bittman recipe—and as Shannon loves these crackers, I gave her some of these, too.

Then there is the matter of cake, which doesn’t exactly fall under the category of a birthday gift but rather a birthday necessity, along with ice cream. In truth, I’m not a very good cake maker. Pies, cookies, bread, crackers, peanut butter balls, yes. Cakes, no. They have a tendency to fall, and I sure would love to know what I am doing wrong. At any rate, Shannon wanted a chocolate cake, which I duly made, and as soon as it came out of the oven, I knew it was no prizewinner. While it wasn’t the worst cake I’ve ever made, it definitely had “rising” issues, and especially since I baked it in a 9 x 12 pan, it looked a little flat. Then, when we tried to take it out of the pan, an edge stuck and tore. Cooling on the rack, it looked like one sorry cake.

Clif and I considered our options. I could, of course, have made another cake, but this was an “if worse came to worst” option. I had a lot of cooking to do, and I wasn’t excited about making another cake, especially considering my track record. There would be no guarantees that this cake wouldn’t be flat, too.

“Well, “ Clif said. “We could trim the edges, cut it in half, and make a layer cake out of it. Then, it wouldn’t look so flat. If you make a lot of frosting, we can fill in where we need to.”

“Right!” I agreed, immediately warming to this idea. I am a fan of a cake with a lot of frosting. No thin icing for me. Give me frosting and lots of it. Also, if Clif trimmed the cake, then I would be able to tell what the texture was like. If the texture was coarse, then I would know the cake had fallen too much, and therefore using it, trimmed or not, would not be an option.

I found a very pretty square plate with gilded edges that had belonged to Clif’s mother. Clif made a paper pattern of the plate, cut the cake accordingly, and we discovered the texture was just fine. Relief! I happily mixed up a big batch of chocolate frosting, and fortunately, I make a pretty good frosting. Once the cake was on the plate and frosted, it looked so sweet and elegant that nobody would have suspected that it was a near miss.

Delighted, I looked at this cake, and “Raspberries,” I said. “What this cake needs is raspberries.” Even though the raspberries would come from quite a distance. After all, it was for a birthday, a time for exceptions. And Shannon loves raspberries.

“Yes,” Clif agreed. “Raspberries.”

And so Shannon’s birthday cake, which had a very shaky start, turned out so well that we might just make a birthday tradition of trimming all future birthday cakes to fit the plate. And, if the cakes fall a little, it won’t really matter, as long as the texture is still good.

Below, is a picture of the cake along with a plate of peanut butter balls and a plate of crackers. I wish we had taken a “before” picture of the cake so that the contrast would have a visual record. But we didn’t think of that, and I’m sure readers will be able to imagine what we started out with and how the cake was transformed from an ugly duckling to a lovely swan. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

cake and treats

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