Contrasts

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It’s hard to get our heads around the kind of winter that Ipswich is experiencing and our warm days in the tropics. We’ve had a few days of heavy rain but it is always warm and doesn’t last long. I’m sure the view of our house in Ipswich is only too familiar but I have to note the contrast between it and our house here.

The tunnel leading from our front door to the drive.

The tunnel leading from our front door to the drive.

Our front garden

Our front garden

Yesterday we had torrential rains that flooded the ground and walkway to the house. Standing on the porch it felt like we were in a boat. The rain stopped and within 20 minutes the water had disappeared. It took longer for the street to drain. The cover to the storm sewer in front got popped up by the force of the water. The cyclists and quad drivers and cars and trucks hardly seem to notice but swerve around them.

Storm sewer uncovered.

Storm sewer uncovered.

We’re continually struck by the contrasts here in town. Some of the most striking are the mixture of affluence and poverty in close proximity. The road along the beach has empty uncared for properties next to upscale resort hotels. There are two large partially completed structures along the road that have not changed in the past three years.

Empty lot

Empty lot

Condo complex overlooking the beach.

Condo complex overlooking the beach.

Making Friends

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A year ago when we were in Las Terrenas, we made friends with Caroli a little six year old girl who lived a few doors from us. Her father is Swiss and her mother Dominican. She speaks both French and Spanish. She often came by with her Dominican cousins. Laura spoke to her in French, she’d translate for the other children.

Caroli and Friends 2014

Caroli and Friends 2014


She and her friends loved to perform for us in the pool. We could see them from the veranda where they’d run around the edges and jump in, always looking to be sure we were looking.
It wasn’t long before she was going on errands with Laura and coming by in the evening to visit us. They became great friends.

Over the summer, Laura bought a condo right next door to Caroli. When she returned to Las Terrenas in December, Caroli became her shadow. She did a drawing for Laura that hangs on our refrigerator. Our two houses side by side.

Caroli's drawing for Laura

Caroli’s drawing for Laura

Posing on the beach

Posing on the beach

At the playground with a friend

At the playground with a friend

A few days ago she came to ask when Laura will be here. “Two weeks,” I said.
She jumped up and down clapping her hands.

Our daily walks on the beach are pretty much the same each day. We pass other walkers, sunbathers on chaises in front of the hotels and a few beach side bars. A few days ago we came across two unusual sights, children making sand structures. Although there are often children on the beach, it was the first time we’d seen them creating.

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Last week we walked along the main road along the beach going out of town. Trees provided shade from the hot sun. Near a beach front park we noticed gaping holes in the road. The lids had been removed from the storm sewers. White paint circled them apparently as a warning. The motorbikes, quads and cars seemed to avoid them but they seemed pretty scary to me. We were later told that the lids get pried off for use as grills in the adjacent park.

One of several along this stretch of a main road.

One of several along this stretch of a main road.

At the back of our complex is a usually empty field. It contains grass and palm trees and shrubs all growing wild. From time to time we hear mooing and discover cows grazing there. Other days there is no sign of them.
Walking home from the beach a few days ago the cows suddenly trotted into the middle of the main road, ambled through a busy intersection and headed toward the beach. How they got from that field, around several buildings and a short road was a puzzle. More puzzling was how they would get rounded up and returned to wherever they belong.

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Our Storm

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We’ve been watching the news from the snowy Northeast. I’m a little sorry to be missing it, I like snow when it’s fresh and white and the sun glistens off on it. I don’t like it when it gets dirty and sloppy and it’s still cold.

We had our own version of bad weather here in Las Terrenas. A tropical storm blew in Wednesday evening with thunder and lightening and torrential rain. It lasted all night and showers continued through yesterday and today. The temperature this afternoon was a chilly 74°F.
Thursday afternoon we walked to the beach. The river that flows into the sea near us is usually a trickle and meanders along the sand. After the storm a huge cut had been made in the sand and the river was wider than we’ve ever seen.

The river cut in sand.

The river cut in sand.


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The river had dumped a tremendous amount of debris all along the beach for 100 yards or more. Men were collecting it in bags and dumping it along the road where a truck later came by and picked it up. By yesterday the beach was clean again but it made us aware of how much pollution is probably coming from the river along that part of the beach.
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LT could use a recycle program!

Just outside our gate is a relatively new complex built in the old colonial style with caramel colored stucco buildings, terra cotta tiled court yards and pillars. There are a few shops, a restaurant and an intriguing little oven that sits on a stand in front of one of the shops. A hand written sign leans against a post. It says Empanadas al horno: Res, Pollo, Cerdo, et Vegetal. It is deserted during the day but about 7PM there is always activity. Tiny round tables and stools are pulled onto the walk in front of the shop and we pass people eating and drinking a glass of wine or beer.

The little oven

The little oven

We’ve been curious about this place and passing it almost daily for the past two winters but never stopped until one recent evening. We’d taken a long walk on the beach. When we passed the little oven we decided to stop. We were shown to the back and seated on little sofas overlooking the courtyard. The empanadas arrived steaming hot from the oven and delicious. Pollo (chicken) was mixed with vegetables, wrapped in pastry and baked. The res (beef) was similar but spicy too. Both were great. We are now fans of empanadas al horno. They deliver too but not for us. We couldn’t telephone an order in Spanish but no matter, it’s a few steps away.

Empanada res

Empanada res

Our sweet little seat

Our sweet little seat

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Las Terrenas has many hazards to make me cautious. There are zooming motor bikes, irregular sidewalks or the occasional gaping hole in the walk to name a few but I never expected to be injured by a cat.
We had gone out for a birthday dinner Saturday night at a charming beach restaurant in the Pueblo des Pescados. We stood waiting to be shown to a table when, to my astonishment, I felt a sharp pain in the lower part of my calf. I turned around just in time to see tail vanish under the edge of a long white tablecloth. Looking down at my leg there were four puncture wounds with blood oozing from them.
I had stepped on a cat sprawled across the floor where I didn’t see it.
Once seated a lovely young wait person wearing a long white gown knelt in front of me and swabbed the wounds with antiseptic.
Dinner was delicious and I seem to be healing nicely.

The cat was gray and white I was told but I didn’t get a photo. I did get a sweet photo of a mother chicken with her little chicks.

Mama and babies

Mama and babies

One of the dozens of blooming plants outside our door.

One of the dozens of blooming plants outside our door.

It's a hard life. A swim and then a swing

It’s a hard life. A swim and then a swing

Welcome 2015

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It’s a long time since I’ve made New Years resolutions. I never seemed to get past the first couple of weeks without breaking them. The past few years I’ve tried to spend some time on New Years Day thinking of the highlights and lowlights of the year. I’ve been so lucky that the highlights always out number the low ones.
One highlight has been communicating with people important to me who live far away. The Internet and email have made it possible to keep in touch with family and with friends scattered across the country and the world. Once upon a time I wrote letters. Early in our marriage we moved across the country to California. Frequent letters kept me in contact with the people I loved. In those days long distance telephone calls were way above our budget. As time passed, the letters became less frequent as the arrival of children and community commitments made it more difficult to find the time. Now it takes no time at all to dash a note off to someone.
Highlights were many in 2014. I had a week with my sister on three occasions, always at the top of a highlight list. Another big event was our grandson Alex’s marriage to the lovely Jessalyn in September. There were so many other good times with family and friends that they’d take a page to mention.
For an intrepid traveler, 2014 was an especially good year. Two trips to the Dominican Republic, Maine, Florida, Michigan, Baltimore, New York City, Cape Cod, Berlin and France.
Lowlights were Max’s need to have a pacemaker and an injured shoulder that I sustained while swimming. The saddest news of the year was the end of our granddaughter Crystal’s marriage. We are hoping that this will be a year of good things for her.
Yesterday I finished my year end tasks at the orchard and tomorrow I will join Max in the sunny Caribbean for the winter months. I’m already planning trips for the spring and summer. The planning is almost as much fun as the travel itself.
To start the year I’m posting a recipe that I made this week. It was once a staple at our table but it’s been years since I’ve used packaged and canned food. I remembered how much the family had loved it and decided to ignore all the chemicals that go into processed food. It turned out just as I remembered. Delicious.

Pork Pot Roast

3 or 4 pound pork loin roast (a beef roast is just as good)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 packet dried onion soup mix
Pepper to taste

Put the roast in a deep casserole or Dutch oven. Dump the soup mixes on top. Add ½ can of water, cover tightly and bake at 250 degrees for 3½ hours. The soups make a rich gravy to pour over mashed potatoes and the low oven temperature keeps the meat from drying out.

Baltimore

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The closing of the orchard is the perfect time for a short get-away. It’s also the time of year I try to get together with my best friend, Theresa, who lives in West Virginia. Our yearly excursion took us to Baltimore this year. This was my first visit there. I’ve decided that the “Charm City” label that Baltimore has given itself is appropriate. We were intrigued by the architecture and the diversity of the many neighborhoods.
The highlight of our trip was a tour of the Johns Hopkins University Campus where my grandson David is a Junior. It is a sprawling campus of red brick buildings and grassy quads. It looks like so many of our New England campuses.

David Russell in front of a Johns Hopkins quad.

David Russell in front of a Johns Hopkins quad.


Baltimore reminded us of Boston, not surprising since both are old cities with populations close to 650,000. They both have been major seaports and the harbor areas of both have been developed into tourist attractions with restaurants and shops, walkways and a lovely skyline. We were surprised to learn that Baltimore’s Inner Harbor was the second leading port of entry for immigrants to the United States.

One thing that impressed us was the Charm City Circulator, a free bus that runs every 15 minutes on three different routes throughout the city. It was full of local people going about their business as well as tourists. An idea that Boston might emulate. There is also an extensive metro and bus system.

We spent most of one day visiting the B&O Railway Museum. It was a fascinating glimpse into the history of rail in the US. Nearby we visited the Irish Railway Workers House Museum, a small house where a railroad worker lived with his family of six children. It is furnished in the period of the mid-nineteenth century. We learned about the Irish immigrants and their lives. I was so engrossed in the stories the docents were telling that I didn’t even get a photo.

The Tenement Museum in New York is a favorite of mine. Both show how immigrants lived in the 1800s but in New York people were stacked in tiny flats on many floors. In Baltimore the immigrants had their own little houses, tiny but with their own back yard and some space around them. They could have their own privy and not have to share with several other families.

One of the very first rail cars in America. Stage coach on wheels.

One of the very first rail cars in America. Stage coach on wheels.

Inner Harbor

Inner Harbor

A Rant

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The past few months I’ve realized that I’m “tuning out” as far as keeping up with world news. Between the Middle-East, the Ukraine and other hot spots, I just don’t want to read or hear about it anymore. I read about failing infrastructure, corporation lobbies buying government and melting glaciers. Our returning veterans aren’t being taken care of and private companies are getting 50% of our foreign aid. I read about congressmen and women who don’t have any time to govern because most of their time is spent raising money for the next election. I feel angry and frustrated and helpless and there’s not a thing I can do. I vote but over half of eligible Americans are too apathetic to vote. As a whole nation, we get what we deserve but the affected individuals don’t.

I’m overloaded. The 24 hour news cycle means TV news has become a forum for opinion, not news. Every channel has it’s own list of pundits who expound with authority, each contradicting another. Who knew there are so many foundations and think-tanks and research organizations, each with its experts? Perhaps the worst of all is that the same news clips get played over and over and there is a frantic attempt to get the latest update on stories that have no update.

l I long for the days when Huntley and Brinkley appeared on TV at six and eleven to give us an update on world events. The daily newspaper elaborated on the major news and let us know what was happening locally.

Okay, I don’t watch TV news anymore with the exception of the Daily Show and Newshour. I read the on-line version of the Boston Globe for local news and check out the opinion pages of the New York Times.

I love newspapers and once read the Globe from the first page to the last. Now I scan for interesting bit and try to ignore the parts that make me feel that I’ve lived too long.

TART RECIPE

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I learned to make pies by watching my mother and grandmothers. The pastry was a pretty straightforward affair, a three to one ratio of flour to shortening (ex: 1½ cups flour to ½ cup shortening) with just enough water to hold it all together, 2½ to3 tablespoons per cup of flour.
Don’t work it too much, roll out on a floured surface and fit into pie plate. The fillings were another matter, as simple as some fruit and sugar or as elaborate as Strawberry Chiffon Pie or layers of different flavors and textures.
Over the years I’ve tried dozens of pie crust recipes. I’ve used all-purpose flour and pastry flour and whole wheat flour; butter, margerine, Crisco, and lard for the shortening and substituted vodka or cream or egg for the water. I’ve used different ratios of shortening to flour or used two different shortenings in the same crust. Most were good, some better than others.
Last week I found one that I’d never tried before. It was from the Cook’s Illustrated October issue and was a winner. The shortening (butter) is melted and mixed with the flour, no water needed to toughen the gluten in the flour. The result is a crunchy, yummy pastry. It makes a rich tart dough that is pressed into the pan rather than being rolled out. It is sturdy enough to prevent the edges sliding down the sides of the pan when it’s pre-baked before filling. It makes the use of pie weights unnecessary.
I used it as the base for a French Apple Tart and served it to two friends who are fabulous bakers. It got raves all around. I pass it on to you with thanks to Cook’s Illustrated.

Rich Tart Crust
1-1/3 cups flour
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Melt the butter.
2. Stir the flour, sugar and salt together.
3. Stir the butter into the flour mixture until thoroughly mixed.
4. Press the mixture into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Use two-thirds of the dough for the bottom. Press the remaining dough around the fluted edges of the pan. Press to make and even thickness.
5. Set tart pan on a baking sheet. Bake in a 350 degree oven until deep golden brown.
This tart shell can be filled with a cold filling or can hold a filling that needs to be baked.

Apple Tart

Apple Tart

The apples for this tart were pre-cooked on top of the stove for ten minutes. I tossed the slices with a tablespoon of butter and 2 tablespoons of water in a covered 12-inch skillet. This softened them enough to allow them to be arranged in the spiral and to shorten the baking time. I baked the tart for about 30 minutes. The top was glazed with a bit of melted apricot preserves and placed under the broiler for a couple of minutes.

Fish Cakes

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“Did I ever tell you I like fish,” Max would say whenever we passed the fish counter in the supermarket. His way of suggesting we buy fish. I like fish but cooking it can be pretty monotonous. I can bake it or fry it but feel like it’s a bit boring. I have developed some recipes for scallops but fish has been a challenge.

Laura, our daughter occasionally offered me fresh fish that she had gotten from “Kim the fishman”. He brought it to her house and put it in the refrigerator while she was away at work. I should get some I’d think but didn’t do anything about it. It wasn’t until Laura sent me his email address and a blog post about Kim that I contacted him. http://dianecarnevale.blogspot.com/2014/02/kims-fabled-fish-route.html. For the past month we’ve been enjoying the fish that Kim leaves in our fridge each Wednesday morning.

In my childhood fish was either fried fresh lake perch with a gazillion bones, small and sweet but hard to eat, or frozen fish, not the breaded fish sticks that one of my grandchildren considers “fish” but just frozen fillets that my mother cooked some forgettable way.

My sister remembers with some clarity my first attempt to cook fresh sole. She was ten and I was newly married. I dipped the fish in flour and fried it, and fried it and fried it. When I attempted to scrape it out of the pan, it was a crumbled mess. My husband looked at it and said, “I can’t eat that mess”. I left the table crying and my sister never forgot. It was some time before I attempted fish again and not until I’d turned to my cookbooks to discover that fish needs quick cooking and gentle treatment.

A few months ago I found a recipe for fish cakes with corn that I’ve adapted. It has become a favorite meal as well as being a recipe that can be frozen and pulled out when time is short.

Corn and Fish Cakes

Ingredients
1/2 pound fish fillet (I use haddock, salmon or cod, anything will work)
Salt and pepper
1 cup corn kernels
1 large russet potato, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks (8- 10 ounces)
1/2 tablespoon butter
2 – 3 slices bacon, minced
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 1 cup)
1/4 – 1/2 cup onion, minced
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1 egg, beaten
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
Oil for pan frying the cakes

1. Cook the fish quickly. I lay it in a frying pan with a little water and simmer until just done,3-4 minutes.
2. Boil the potato is salted water until fork-tender. Mash the potato coarsely with the butter.
3. Cook the bacon over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the bacon is crisp and the fat has rendered. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel and set aside. Sauté the bell pepper and onion in the fat for 5 to 8 minutes, until softened. If the corn is fresh and uncooked add it and sauté for an additional 1 to 2 minutes. (Not necessary if it is frozen or canned). Allow to cool.
4. Beat the egg in a large bowl. Add the fish (coarsely flaked), potatoes, bacon, onion–corn–bell pepper mixture, bread crumbs, cheese, red pepper, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Use a 1/4-cup dry measuring cup to form the mixture into 1/2-inch-thick cakes. Refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to one day. (Freeze excess uncooked cakes for another day)
5. To cook the fish cakes, heat 1/4 inch of canola oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking. Fry the cakes in batches, for about 3 minutes per side.
Makes 8-10 cakes

Celebrations

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This is my favorite time of year. From my desk I can look out over the orchard and watch people arriving by the wagonload to pick apples and enjoy the change of season. Picking apples is a great family activity. When our children were growing up we usually made a trip to Applecrest Farm in New Hampshire to pick. Once home I made apple pies and applesauce and apple crisp and the children carried an apple in their lunch bag. Little did I know that one day I would own an apple orchard where families would come for fun and fruit. These days our son Doug and his wife Miranda own the orchard but I’m still here to see other families enjoying a yearly ritual.

A big event took place in our family last weekend. Our grandson Alex was married on a beach overlooking Lake Winnisquam in New Hampshire last Saturday. The weather was perfect, guests swam and played on the beach early in the day and then gathered at 4PM for the ceremony. The trees lining the lake were already in glorious fall colors making the perfect backdrop for the occasion.

Jessalyn and Alex

Jessalyn and Alex

Weddings provide the perfect opportunity to get together with people we love and sometimes don’t see often. My sister Beth came out from Michigan along with her son, his wife and two little girls. In addition to the wedding, we celebrated two birthdays. It was a busy week and went by all too quickly.

“Why is that big house here on this farm?”

As I left my office in the old farmhouse yesterday I was surrounded by children here for a school tour. They looked to be six or seven years old and had arrived by bus from an inner city school. They had taken a hay ride, picked their apples, visited the animals and were happily preparing to head back to Boston.

I was greeted with big smiles and that question as I came out the door. My first impulse was to explain that I was working in an office in the house but that wasn’t really an answer. “Because farms always need a place for the farmer to live.”

I couldn’t get the question out of my mind. I’ve tried to think of how children learn about farms if they have never seen one. We sell many farm/animal related books in the farm store. I looked through them and found only one that had a picture of a house and it wasn’t mentioned. Devan, our garden manager, related a similar story that occurred when she was running a garden project with low-income pre-schoolers a few years ago. Shown a plant bearing yellow wax beans she asked the children if they knew what they were. The resounding reply “french fries”!

When my first grandchildren were little I was living in Boston. I remember their awe and delight when they first entered the subway or climbed aboard a city bus with me. They were fascinated by all the people and loved to stand on the subway, trying to maintain their balance as the train swayed along the tracks.

I wonder if these children’s visit to the farm, seeing apples growing on trees rather than a supermarket display, watching animals live in the barnyard and encountering a farmhouse will alter their perceptions as much as visiting the city did for my grandchildren.

The Storm

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Growing up in the midwest we were familiar with violent storms and tornados. It was before television but when an especially strong storm was expected my father would sit up all night monitoring the radio weather report. We were warned that if he woke us my brother and I were to run to the cellar, a dirt floored basement area that held a furnace and a coal bin. I thought he was an alarmist until the year I was sixteen when a tornado destroyed a community near our village with the loss of over 100 lives.
Last Saturday Ipswich made the news with a microburst that came through during a thunderstorm. For anyone not familiar with a microburst, it is a sudden change in air current causing brief spurts of wind sometimes over 100mph. The highest winds seldom last more than a few minutes but can do almost as much damage as a tornado.
We watched as the wind whipped across the orchard while the deafening thunder made us jump and lightning lit the sky. We were without electricity for several hours but escaped the worst effects. Town officials said the storms cut a line of damage through the town, with several trees down, more than 60 roads at least partially blocked, and some homes damaged. Devan, the orchard garden manager had a terrifying few minutes when she left work just before the storm and her car was suddenly surrounded by crashing trees and falling branches.
Sunday morning found clean up crews trying to get the roads cleared and electricity restored.
One of he most impressive sights was the huge tree that fell across the road between the Whipple and Heard Houses, part of the Ipswich Museum. The photos I got were taken after most of the clean up but the giant root ball turned out of the earth from a Pin Oak that must have been decades or more old.

Whipple House Tree

Whipple House Tree

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Our days and weeks seem to pass in a flash. It is nice to remember that there are places where life goes on at a more leisurely pace.

We just returned from Maine where we celebrated our middle son Doug’s birthday at West Branch Pond Camps in Kokajo, Maine.  The camps are ten miles off the main road, down a dirt road, sometimes nearly a track, deep in the Maine woods. It’s comprised of a few log cabins, built prior to 1900. They line the water’s edge while White Cap mountain rises across the pond and wild flowers grow all around.

We first went to West Branch Pond Camps more than 40 years ago during camping trips to Moosehead Lake.  A local man recommended it for trout fishing and moose spotting and for the roast beef dinners served on Thursday evenings.  One treat of those camping trips was a day at WBPC ending with dinner. A few years later we gave up tenting to stay at the camps. The log cabins haven’t changed much but now have indoor plumbing. Meal times are announced by a bell mounted on the roof of the dining room and rung by pulling a rope. Thursday night is still roast beef night and Sunday dinner is still roast turkey with all the trimmings. A walk past the kitchen window brings welcome scents of baking bread and fruit pies cooling on the table.

The same family has owned it since 1910, the current owners, Eric and Mildred Stirling, are the fourth generation. Our weekend took us back in time to those quieter years when telephone service was sporadic, there were no cell phones or computers and we were virtually inaccessible for two weeks every summer. Our days were spent fishing, hiking or just reading on the porch. Outside of a few minor improvements, (indoor plumbing), not much has changed. The cabins are heated by wood burning stoves, the generator provides electricity until 10PM and the loons still call across the pond.

The kitchen and dining room.

The kitchen and dining room.

One of the cabins

One of the cabins

Sunrise over the pond

Sunrise over the pond

White Cap Mountain across the pond.

White Cap Mountain across the pond.

A cabin from the pond.

A cabin from the pond.

Waiting for the fishermen.

Waiting for the fishermen.

I’m embarrassed to say that I have lived in Massachusetts for 54 years and never eaten oysters— until the weekend before last. I was invited to celebrate my friend Sadie’s birthday in East Dennis on Cape Cod. Gail, another friend came up from Rhode Island where her son-in-law is an oyster farmer. She brought a big bag of oysters fresh from the sea. After watching her struggle to open them, I couldn’t refuse to try them. Delicious! They were sweet and tasted of the sea. I preferred them with just a few drops of lemon, the cocktail sauce overpowered the fresh flavor. I discovered what I’ve been missing all these years.

Lovely oysters

Lovely oysters

Later in the week I had the pleasure of lunching with old friends, Katja and Nicole, along with my granddaughter Leah at Perwinkle’s in Essex. We came back to my house for tea and dessert. I had started to make a blackberry tart and had it partially complete when I dashed to the orchard for blackberries only to find that I was too early, they hadn’t been picked yet. Quick switch, it was turned into a blueberry tart combining two recipes. It was a hit.

Blueberry Cream Cheese Tart

Blueberry Cream Cheese Tart

Blueberry Cream Cheese Tart

Ingredients
9 inch baked tart shell

3 cups blueberries
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
1½ tablespoon cornstarch

Set aside two cups of berries. Mash remaining 1 cup of the blueberries with the sugar and bring to a boil in a saucepan. When the sugar is dissolved add the cornstarch dissolved in the water. Stir constantly over the heat until thickened and clear. Set aside to cool while making the cream cheese filling.

8 ounces cream cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
1 grated orange rind*
1 tablespoons orange juice*

Allow cream cheese to soften out of the refrigerator and then beat all ingredients together until smooth. Spread in the bottom of the pre-baked tart shell. Pour reserved berries over the top and then pour the thickened sauce over them. It can be still warm but not hot. Refrigerate for at least three hours.

*Or substitute 1 teaspoon vanilla for the orange.

It’s always hard to decide which vegetable is most welcome when it ripens. The first asparagus from the garden welcomes spring. It’s followed by the sugar snap peas, so sweet and good it’s hard to get enough of them. Suddenly tomatoes are ripe leading to BLTs and fresh salsa and often, just slices with a bit of basil chopped on top. Now we are enjoying sweet corn, another vegetable that I think is only good fresh from the summer farm. We don’t have room to grow it ourselves but it is delivered fresh daily from the Marini Farm, another Ipswich landmark.

When we planted our first garden in the mid-1960s I read that sweet corn should be picked just before cooking. I faithfully followed that directive. Just before the rest of our dinner was ready, I picked the corn, husked it and put it in a pot of cold water. I brought the water to a boil, boiled for three minutes and it was ready to serve with butter and salt and pepper. For family meals we simply rolled our corn in a stick of butter. Company meals we resorted to spreading the butter with a knife.

Freezing the surplus corn was a messy, laborious task. No matter how sharp the knife or how carefully I cut, the kernels seemed to fly in all directions. I stopped freezing corn for many years but two summers ago I found a gadget that makes stripping the corn from the cob a breeze. We don’t gnaw the corn cob any more to enjoy the sweet crunchy kernels. I remove the corn, put it in a pan with a little butter and cook for three minutes. Voila, it’s done. No muss, no fuss. Now the freezer gets vacuum sealed bags of sweet kernels to enjoy during the winter.

The gadget is the OXO Good Grip Corn Stripper. It is easy to use and holds the kernels from one ear of corn, about 1/2 cup. It’s easy to empty and comes apart for cleaning.

The OXO Good Grip Corn Stripper.

The OXO Good Grip Corn Stripper.

Just be sure fingers are out of the way.

Just be sure fingers are out of the way.

One ear stripped.

One ear stripped.

We’ve left the land of raspberries and blueberries for a week of pineapple and papaya. Our daughter Laura has bought a little place in Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic. She and I arrived yesterday for a short visit. The weather is just a bit hotter than home and sticky but the beach is gorgeous and the town unchanged except there are not nearly as many tourists.

Laura is hoping to rent it occasionally to people seeking a place to get away from the responsibilities of life. Our friend Junior, the young gardener we met last winter greeted warmly this morning and a short time later returned with a bouquet of flowers that he’d cut from the garden.

This is the sweet little condo unit.

This is the sweet little condo unit.

The view from our porch this morning. It is a tropical garden.

The view from our porch this morning. It is a tropical garden.

This beautiful cactus had just a few blooms when we left in March.

This beautiful cactus had just a few blooms when we left in March.

This cactus is spectacular, covered with blossoms. I had no idea cacti could be so colorful.

This cactus is spectacular, covered with blossoms. I had no idea cacti could be so colorful.

We’ve been making lists and lists. The house is furnished with the requisite beds, chairs, etc. but there are no dishes or linens or kitchen supplies. Tomorrow we plan on a shopping trip to Santo Domingo.

Strawberries start our fruit season on the orchard. The first berries are large and beautiful and full of strawberry flavor but it is those that come this time of year that are best. The berries are smaller and it takes more to fill a basket but they are as sweet as candy. The best ever, especially when eaten warm from the sun.
A few days ago Hunton picked a flat of berries and then had to decide what to do with them. Strawberry shortcake and jam were definite but he decided to make a Strawberry Angel Cake. This is one of the recipes from my new cookbook.

He didn’t have the preferred angel food cake pan with the removable bottom so he used a bundt pan. I was sure he wouldn’t be able to get the cake out intact, but he succeeded. I took some photos as he proceeded.

Pull gently leaving a good inch or so around the edges and at the bottom.

Pull gently leaving a good inch or so around the edges and at the bottom.

Once the cake is completely cool, it is taken apart, filled with a strawberry, whipped cream mixture and reassembled. The final result is lovely to look at and even more delicious to eat.

The inside of the cake is pulled out and the shell ready to be filled.

The inside of the cake is pulled out and the shell ready to be filled.

The top is replaced and it's ready for frosting.

The top is replaced and it’s ready for frosting.

Beautiful, right?

Beautiful, right?

It looks good enough to eat!

It looks good enough to eat!

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Strawberry Angel Food Cake

This recipe has been a Russell family specialty for fifty-five years. Its origin is long forgotten, but I remember my mother making it when I was a girl in Otisville, Michigan. It’s best with a homemade Angel Food Cake, but these days using a dozen egg whites leaves a dozen egg yolks. Once upon a time I could use them but not now. I use a boxed Angel Food Cake.

Ingredients
Angel Food Cake baked according to the directions on the box (or homemade)

1 small (3oz) package strawberry gelatin
2 cups heavy cream
l quart fresh strawberries or l pound package whole frozen berries, thawed and drained.
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Method
1. Dissolve gelatin using ¾ cup boiling water. When the gelatin granules are all melted, add 1 cup ice water. Chill until consistency of egg whites.
2. Whip ½ cup heavy cream.
3. Slice fresh strawberries (frozen may be used whole). Whip gelatin one or two minutes with electric mixer.
4. Remove the mixer and fold whipped cream and strawberries into the gelatin. Refrigerate while preparing the cake.

Assembling the cake
1. With a serrated knife, slice one inch from the top of the cake and reserve.
2. Gently pull inside of cake out in chunks but taking care to leave outer edges intact.
3. Fill center hole with cake chunks and then spoon gelatin mixture into the cake shell alternating with cake chunks.
4. Replace top slice of cake. Chill at least four hours.
5. An hour or two before serving, combine remaining 1½ cups heavy cream with 3 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla and whip until stiff enough to hold a shape. Frost the cake with this mixture.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Serves 10 to12.

Confit

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Chef Efren’s description of making a confit was so simple that I had to try it. In France duck is common in all the markets. One can buy duck legs or duck breast easily but here I see only whole frozen ducks in the market and then only occasionally. The duck legs are cooked slowly, entirely submerged in duck fat. Something that is also readily available in French markets.

I had no duck but I had a turkey thigh in the freezer and no duck fat but I do have olive oil, an acceptable substitute according to Efren.

I placed the thigh in a deep pot just large enough to hold it. I added enough olive oil to submerge it, added herbs, then brought it to a boil. Once hot I lowered the temperature until it was barely simmering. After four hours it turned out tender and flavorful and delicious. It would probably work well in a slow cooker or 200 degree oven too. I’m going to try it again with chicken gizzards.

According to my web research this was one way meats were preserved before refrigeration. Once cooked for a long time there are no longer bacteria in the meat. If it is left totally submerged in the fat so that bacteria has no access to it, it will keep for months on a cupboard shelf. The meat could be taken out a bit at a time to be used.
I’m not planning to keep meat on a kitchen shelf but I did save the oil to use another day.

The final week of our European trip was spent on a hotel barge on a canal parallel to the Marne River in the Champagne area of France. The Merganser II was built in the 1930s. Its purpose originally would have been carrying freight. There are 5000 miles of navigable waterways in France. At one time canals and rivers were the highways of the country, today most of them are used for pleasure.
The Merganser was restored by Robin Purdue, an Englishman with a love of barges. It holds a maximum of eight passengers and crew of three although on our trip we were only four. We enjoyed chugging along the canals, going through dozens of locks and spending part of each day and night moored near a village or town. We didn’t bicycle along the towpath as we could have but we did walk from lock to lock when they were close together.

Chugging along the canal.

Chugging along the canal.

Enjoying the sun as we leave a lock.

Enjoying the sun as we leave a lock.


At our mooring in Châlons-en-Champagne

At our mooring in Châlons-en-Champagne

We were struck by the architecture of the region. In many of the villages and towns there were very old houses in the style that we thought of as Tudor. In France it is called architecture rurale champenoise. The rural architecture of Champagne. We had seen similar architecture in northern German villages as well as Strasbourg. In Medieval times houses and buildings of ordinary people were typically timber framed. The frame was usually filled with wattle and daub but occasionally with brick.

Shops in Chalon en Champagne

Shops in Châlons-en-Champagne

Old building in Cathedral Square, Strasbourg.

Old building in Cathedral Square, Strasbourg.

Our host Robin's house in a village near Vitry-le-francois.

Our host Robin’s house in a village near Vitry-le-francois.

Sunday dinner was a special meal in my childhood. During the years of WWII meat was rationed, a pound of hamburger could make two meals for our family of four and meatless meals were a necessity, not something chosen for health or ethical reasons. But Sunday dinner was different, always meat and often chicken from the flock that my grandmother kept. Our extended family would gather and enjoy a huge meal of chicken, mashed potatoes, vegetables, hot rolls and fruit pie or chocolate cake. My cousin Francis, my brother and I, always vied for the gizzard. It was our favorite part of the bird.
I had forgotten about my love of gizzards until I traveled in France ten years ago. I ordered a salad without knowing what I was getting. It was topped with sauteed gizzards. I’d never forgotten it but never tried to replicate it. Last week, once again in France, I was delighted to find Salade Verte aux Gésiers Confits on a menu. It was delicious, several different greens, tiny fresh haricot verte (green beans) and warm gizzards topped with a simple vinaigrette.

Salade Verte aux Gésiers Confits

Salade Verte aux Gésiers Confits

A few days later we boarded the barge Merganser II for a six day canal trip in the Champagne countryside. The description of the trip showed photos of wonderful looking French food, it helped us decide on that trip. Efren, the young Spanish chef served our first meal aboard. It was Confit de Canard. Leg of duck so moist and tender and flavorful that I knew we had chosen our trip well. All the meals that we enjoyed aboard the barge were exceptional but the duck was the highlight for me. The night before we departed for home Efren gave me a tutorial on preparing confit de canard or any other kind of meat. I can’t wait to try it.

Two years ago when we came to Paris our friend Betsey highly recommended the Brasserie Balzar for a meal. We didn’t make it that trip so decided to have lunch there our one day in the city. It has survived since 1886, undergoing updating over the years. The restaurant is elegantly understated, very simply decorated with starched white tablecloths covering tables placed tightly together. The waitstaff have to pull out the entire table for the person sitting at the back to be seated. They are all dressed in black trousers or skirts with white shirts and black vests with long white aprons wrapped around their waists as they did in photos taken in the 1920s. It was fun to eat in a traditional Paris brasserie.

Walking back to our hotel we crossed a bridge to the Ile de Cite. The bridge railings on both sides held thousands of padlocks bearing the names of lovers. I first saw this on a bridge in Buenos Aries several years ago. A custom that I haven’t seen in the US.

Lover's padlocks

Lover’s padlocks

Many cities are now providing bicycles as transportation around the city. I don’t know if Paris started this but there are banks of bicycles every two or three blocks and we see riders everywhere.

Bicycles waiting for riders near our hotel.

Bicycles waiting for riders near our hotel.

Turning a corner in our walk, we encountered the most wonderful scent, butter and baking. Patisseries and boulangeries are on nearly every block but this one held the most amazing array of pastries. A mound of raspberries, strawberries and currants dusted with sugar atop a circle of flaky pastry and a layer of some other confection was stunning to look at and stunning to see the price. 42 euros or the equivalent of nearly $58. It was to serve six. We did not try that one.

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I ate too much in Germany but it was always different and good. We were a group of 50 so the meals were prearranged with only vegetarians or people with food allergies receiving different foods. We ate Turkish; Italian, three kinds of raviolis, all without meat but delicious; Vietnamese; traditional German meatballs with boiled potatoes in the Dutch Quarter of Postsdam, Schnitzel with spargel in an upscale restaurant in Oranienberg after visiting the horrific concentration work camp of Sachsenhausen, lamb on skewers, goulash with noodles, so many different foods.

One of our final excursions was a punt trip on the Spreewald. “The Spreewald (German for “Spree Woods”) It was designated a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1991. It is known for its traditional irrigation system which consists of more than 200 small channels. The landscape was shaped during the ice-age. It was fascinating to learn that people live on these small channels, mail delivery even comes by by boat.

We were met by a local woman who is a member of the Sorbian people who have inhabited this area for centuries. She gave a bit of history including how the local people are trying to keep the traditional language. She was wearing a traditional dress that she had made herself with elaborate embroidery. She said that it takes her 40 minutes to dress.

Sorbian woman in traditional dress

Sorbian woman in traditional dress

After punting for two hours through narrow streams lined with ferns, tall trees and no other signs of habitation, we came to a river/canal side pub with canoes and kayaks pulled ashore and many tables outside and inside. We were served with a blini (pancake) with a bit of applesauce and whipped cream. IMG_4592-001

This was a snack before we reached our final destination with a meal of traditional German food. In my case a pork loin with a dumpling and vegetables.

Spargel

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It is white asparagus season in Germany. I’d seen it in jars in the US but had no idea exactly what makes white asparagus white and would never have known the reverence of the Germans for this vegetable if I hadn’t been here during the season, April to mid-June. It is featured on many menus, we had spargel soup, delicious and certainly enhanced with lots of butter, schnitzel with spargel, and spargel in salad. Whenever it is served, it is the highlight of the dish. Unlike our green stalks, often slender, these are uniformly fat and of the same length. Their flavor is mild.

Spargel in the supermarket

Spargel in the supermarket
Spargel at the Saturday market in Berlin Spargel at the Saturday market in Berlin

“White asparagus are those that haven’t yet broken the surface of the ground and haven’t yet been touched by sunlight. They are harvested when the tips of the asparagus plants just start to lift the dirt on the ground’s surface. They remain white because they are not yet exposed to sunlight. White asparagus are particularly mild in taste and are a favorite of Germans.” http://www.germanfoodguide.com/spargel.cfm

The white asparagus that I had at several meals was good but I don’t think it has nearly the flavor of our asparagus but it is clearly an important harbinger of Spring in Germany.

This is my first time in Berlin. I’m with a group of 50 women from eight different countries who have gathered to celebrate the 30th anniversary of 5W, the wonderful women’s friendship organization that I first joined in 1994. 5W stands for Women Welcome Women World Wide, one of the husbands refers to it as World Wide Wild Women Welcome.

It has been a busy week of meeting old friends, making new friends and exploring this interesting city. It is the largest city in Germany, the capitol but still a million fewer residents than before WWII. I’m learning lots of history about Berlin and Germany. The division of Berlin following WWII, the Berlin Wall and the final reunification of the city is a tribute to human resilience. These events all happened in my memory, that makes it especially interesting. I was taking a French class in Boston in 1989 when the Wall fell. There were German students in the class who were lamenting that they couldn’t be in Berlin for the most historic happening in their lives.

A small remaining section of the Berlin Wall

A small remaining section of the Berlin Wall

This doesn’t look so impressive today but there were actually two walls some 30 yards apart, enclosing an area known as ‘no man’s land’, patrolled by armed guards who were to shoot anyone trying to cross the area. The wall was 100 miles long and completely encircled the city of West Berlin. The city had been 95% destroyed by bombing during the war. It lacks the charm of many old European cities, the buildings are newer and modern but it is a vital and lively city.

Sunday morning we were treated to a concert in our garden. Cecelia and her friend Annie arrived with their instruments and serenaded us. The sun was warm, the grass was emerald green, tulips and azaleas were in bloom and the music lovely. What a wonderful way to start a day.

Cecelia, Annie and friend

It’s been a month of special musical events. First Miranda gave a knockout performance at Shalin Liu in Rockport singing jazz, folk, rock, country and old standards. A few days later went to the Boston Lyric Opera to hear I Puritani and after Sunday morning’s concert I went to Boston to hear my friend Nicole sing with the Mystic Choral. Finally last night Cecelia performed two pieces at her cello recital. For someone who can’t make music, it is a joy to have such richness in my life.

I’m completely tone deaf. I enjoy music but can’t carry a tune and never ever try to sing. I spent my childhood cringing while my mother loudly sang the hymns in church. It wasn’t until I was much older that I could admire her courage. She loved the songs and enjoyed singing them. I inherited many admirable traits from my mother, unfortunately also her inability to sing.

The orchard is abuzz with activity. Lots of new trees being planted, the final pruning of small fruits is underway and the store shelves are being stocked. I felt sorry for the men as they planted peach trees in the cold rain Saturday.

I’ve not written since returning from the warm weather. It’s time to get back to a routine. I just took some sticky buns out of the oven that I’d made before Christmas. I found a recipe in Cook’s Illustrated that told how to make rolls, let them rise in the pan and then cover tightly with foil and freeze. I’d forgotten about them until I was digging around in the freezer a couple of weeks ago.

Sticky Buns made in December, baked in April

Sticky Buns made in December, baked in April

They are baked still tightly covered with foil for 30 minutes and then uncovered and baked another 15 or 20 minutes until nicely browned. They’re baked with a glaze in the bottom of the pan but then another glaze of brown sugar, butter and pecans is spooned over the top. They turned out well. Now I can make ahead and know that everything doesn’t have to be done the day I want a treat.

My last post (It’s A Hard Life)I showed a photo of the orphaned puppy that Laura brought home from the Dominican Republic. She weighed six pounds, she was lethargic and had mange. Her black coat was full of big patches where the hair was gone. She’s now over twenty pounds, her coat is glossy and she’s full of energy and curiosity. She’s a joy.

It's hard to get her to be still long enough for a photo

It’s hard to get her to be still long enough for a photo

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This is my last week in Las Terrenas. It’s too soon to leave. The weather has been perfect all winter. It’s been hard for us to imagine what the Massachusetts contingent has experienced.

We had two visits in February, the time passed all too quickly. Our daughter Laura visited and took home an orphaned puppy. A week later our son Aaron and his friend Nancy were here for a week. It was nice having them all with us.

Popi, Laura's new love. One lucky little puppy.

Popi, Laura’s new love. One lucky little puppy.

A few final observations on life here. I’ve mentioned the motorbikes that are the main mode of transportation along with quads. They are everywhere, zig-zagging through the narrow streets, competing with SUVs and pedestrians for space. Children sit in front of their parents on the bikes and I’ve only seen a half dozen people wearing helmets in the entire time I’ve been here. Vehicles park wherever they can find a spot, either side of the street, on the sidewalk, in any open space. It is chaotic but seems to work.

Yesterday we saw a man pressing sugar cane through an interesting contraption. Unfortunately I didn’t have the camera with me. He gave us some of the juice to drink. It was a pale green watery liquid and was delicious. It was sweet but not intensely so, and had a grassy flavor. We liked it a lot.

The gardens around our house are beautiful, flowers just bloom and bloom. Every place we look are blossoms of bougainvillea and hibiscus and orchids. Many of the flowers are unlike any we’ve ever seen.

The view from our veranda looking across the pool.

The view from our veranda looking across the pool.

My final French lesson will be Monday morning. I think my comprehension has improved and my vocabulary for sure but learning a new language is hard, at least for me. Spanish and French are widely spoken here but we also go to a German restaurant frequented by many Germans. There is also an Italian community. We never seem to get it quite right, should we be saying si or oui or merci or gracias or danke or… We’re very good at Hola though.

Woman selling fruit on the beach.

Woman selling fruit on the beach.

spectacular flower that grows in our garden. Wikipedia calls it a Lobster flower.

spectacular flower that grows in our garden. Wikipedia calls it a Lobster flower.

Tropical Fruit 2

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Laura arrived on Saturday. Sunday she made quite an impression on one of the men who works in the garden here. He brought her a bouquet of Bougainvillaea blossoms on Sunday. Last evening he appeared with a big bag of a totally new fruit. He doesn’t speak English but made eating motions before giving it to us.
Thank goodness for Wikipedia, it took us some time but we found it. It’s botanical name, for anyone interested, is Syzygium samarangense. It apparently has many names depending on where it’s grown. Water Apple, Rose Apple, Wax Apple, Love Apple, and many more. We don’t know what it’s called here but it has no relationship to roses or apples botanically.
The flesh slightly sweet, with a very mild but pleasant flavor. The high water content probably is responsible for that. The entire fruit is eaten with the exception of the pit.
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I’m going to take photos of all those strange fruits at the fruit stand and look them up. We should be more adventuresome.

Tropical Fruit

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In my last blog I wrote about the lack of fresh vegetables here in Las Terrenas. What I didn’t properly appreciate is the tremendous variety of fruit. At our local fruit stand there are so many things that we don’t recognize. I did find Passionfruit and it turned out to be delicious.

Passionfruit

Passionfruit

The good part

The good part


A little tart like citrus but the flavor is exquisite.
Wikipedia said that the fruit is purple but ours are more a dull yellow or light brown. Maybe a different kind. They’re simple to eat. Cut in half and scoop out the inner seeds and flesh, throw away the rind. Wikipedia is great for finding fruits but then Youtube has videos showing what to do with it. I’m trying to remember the world without the Internet.

It’s only when traveling in a developing country that one can truly appreciate the variety and quality of food available to us at home. There we find fruits and vegetables of every imaginable kind from countries some of us have never visited or perhaps known existed. It is very different here in DR. There is one well stocked supermarket where good meat and staples like rice and coffee and cleaning supplies are available. There are dozens of small mom and pop markets lining the streets. We shop at one where we can buy unrefrigerated boxed milk, cereal and wine. Eggs are never refrigerated here.
It surprises us that in this lush and fertile country, fresh vegetables are difficult to find. Tomatoes and peppers are plentiful and excellent but no green vegetables. Occasionally we find a few green beans or a head of broccoli but they are limp and tired looking. Iceberg lettuce is available at some of the stands but the heads are tiny and limp.
Bananas are plentiful and everywhere as are pineapples, limes and oranges. Guava and avocado are also sold, in the market, at street stalls and from basins carried on the heads of young women on the beach.
We had some passionfruit juice a few days ago. It led to a discussion, Max insisted it was a blend of juices, I thought it was a distinct fruit. Wikipedia to the rescue. It is the fruit that I kept seeing at the fruit stalls and didn’t recognize. They are light brown, smooth and oval, like an egg, about the size of a lemon, and have a stem at the end. According to Wiki, they are one of the most delicious fruits in the world. Hmmm, I’ll check that out.
The thing about food here that impresses us the most, whether we are eating at a tiny local cantina, a beach shack or one of the more upscale restaurants. The food is always excellent. Fish is a few hours out of the water, meat well cooked and everything delicious. Meals always come with a simple salad (iceberg lettuce and tomatoes) and french fries, or home fries or rice. I’m convinced that the reason everything is so good is that it is freshly prepared for every meal. We aren’t being served mass produced meals or pre-frozen fries. We don’t mind that it takes a bit longer to prepare, we sit with our feet in the sand and watch the waves and the boats and people walking the beach.

Settling In

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It’s two weeks since I arrived in the tropics. Days are taking on a routine. In the morning we often walk a mile down the beach and swim for a bit, stop at a beach-side restaurant for a coffee or a beer or lunch and then home. Afternoons Max paints or watches soccer, I read or write. Occasionally we swim in the pool right outside our door.
Our stimulation comes from watching the swirl of activity about us when we leave our little enclave. We often have lunch at a little shack on the beach where we can watch the fishermen bring their catch in. Most of the fish is then sold from a table on the beach.

Maria's beach restaurant.

Maria’s beach restaurant.


The food from Maria’s kitchen, always fresh fish, is invariably good but I’d hate to have the Ipswich Board of Health take a look at it, or the dozens of other little eateries that line the beach and streets.
Since our time here two years ago the new highway, opened shortly before our arrival then, has opened this whole area to development. New hotels are going up and villas are being built in the hills on the edge of town. It seems like every third building along the main part of town houses a real estate office. It is a shock to see the prices, $500,000 to a million US dollars is common. We’ve been told that buying in the Dominican Republic is easy for foreigners, unlike many countries that have made buying a process with endless red tape and extra expense.
At the same time, there are no zoning laws or any kind of community planning. Before I got here Max had written to say there was a huge concrete cruise ship under construction. I thought he meant a concrete pier for cruise ships although the beach for miles in every direction is shallow. He did mean a concrete ship. It is a few doors down from our gate, a few steps from the beach. It will apparently house apartments and shops and is one of two being planned next to each other.
A concrete cruise ship on land. No danger of this one ever sinking.

A concrete cruise ship on land. No danger of this one ever sinking.

Monday afternoon, bundled into my down coat, gloves and boots I ventured out to do some errands in Ipswich. Cars courteously stopped for pedestrians crossing the street and at the intersection of Market and 133/1A the usual progression of cars criss-cross with driver’s halting to allow left turns in front of them and waving vehicles into traffic. People passed each other with a nod or smile. All very civilized in a wintery New England village.

Twenty-four hours later I’m sitting on the open porch of a small cantina wearing a sleeveless blouse and sandals. The narrow street is teeming with people, men in jeans and tee shirts, women in form fitting dresses or tight shorts and tops with spaghetti straps. They pass in two or threes, stopping every few steps to greet another person or group.

Loud music is playing from the shop next door adding to the sounds from a steady stream of motor bikes, four wheeled ATVs, and SUVs that pass in front of us. I see no discernible order. They zig-zag, around each other with abandon. Pedestrians stroll in the midst of traffic in the places where the sidewalk narrows to bypass a post or structure. In other places dumpsters occupy the sidewalk sending pedestrians into the traffic. In the midst of all the apparent chaos, dogs wander aimlessly. Although it is a one way street motor bikes are frequently weaving their way in the opposite direction.

I sip my drink and enjoy the ambiance of a different world.

Preparations for Christmas are in full swing and it is bringing up memories of past Christmases. There have been a lot of them but some have stayed with me through all these years. As a child there was the excitement of anticipation, knowing that Santa would be arriving and knowing that I’d never get to sleep and then, suddenly it would be Christmas morning.
There were pageants at our little church where I would get to be a shepherd wearing an old bed sheet costume. I’d always hoped to be the angel but someone more angelic than I always got the part. Santa would arrive with gifts for every child, how did he even know that I’d be there? On Christmas morning we opened our gifts and had a special breakfast. Later in the day my family would join aunts, uncles, and cousins at our grandparents for a quiet meal. There was never a tree at their house and festivities were subdued. Gifts were practical and usually included handknit mittens from Aunt Ruth. A gift not properly appreciated.
When my our own children were small there were no grandparents or aunts and uncles nearby. We started our own rituals. Christmas Eve we went to an early service at our Unitarian church and then came home to sit by the fire, have eggnog and cookies and admire our tree.
I tried to do my shopping early and would hide the children’s gifts at our elderly neighbor’s house. After the children were sleeping we’d retrieve them, wrap or assemble as needed and then fall asleep in the wee hours only to be roused early by five excited faces. Santa had left filled stockings on their beds but no one was allowed downstairs until everyone was up and ready to descend.
Family Christmas Eve celebrations have continued through the years as our children became adults and added grandchildren to the family. Different members of the family have hosted our evening. This year, for the first time in many years, everyone will come to me. My grandson Hunton helped with the tree and dinner preparation is underway.
Many years ago we stopped exchanging gifts with everyone in the family (it’s a big family) and instead started a Yankee Swap with originality highly prized. One year the hot gift was a bag of potatoes that ten year old Hunton had grown in his garden.
As I started to write this I discovered that I could write pages and pages about past Christmases. An exercise that perhaps I will do one day but for now, I’m wishing happy Christmas 2014 to all.

Technology

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It turns out that my new “smart phone” is only as smart as its owner. I get daily messages that I need to enter a password to get to my Google account. I didn’t know that I have a Google account and have no clue what the password might be. I have a gmail account but that doesn’t seem to work. I’d like to just have that message stop appearing but can’t figure out how to do it.
The phone is loaded with all kinds of apps. I know that five year olds have got these things all figured out but for someone who lived most of her life with dial and then key pad telephones, trying to get on top of this is a constant frustration.
This has gotten me thinking about the impact of technology on my life.
For most of my adult life the Boston Globe was on the doorstep when I wakened. I read it with breakfast, breaking news was only a few hours old. Keeping in touch with far flung family and friends was by mail and I enjoyed both writing and receiving letters. If I needed clothes or an appliance, I visited stores until I found what I was looking for. I found movie schedules in the newspaper and used the library for researching travel or financial information.
The Internet sneaked into my life and routine via my children who insisted that I have a computer. I was connected at first by dial-up. It took a long time for a site to download and there wasn’t a lot to be found so it didn’t seem to make much of an impact on my life except that I could write on it rather than writing everything in longhand.
And then, insidiously, the Internet has taken over my life. I wake up usually as the sun comes up, make my coffee, check email, read the New York Times online, read a friend’s blog and then have breakfast before leaving for the orchard. Later in the day I check email, write emails, do some online shopping, see what’s playing at any of the theaters in the area, look up a recipe, check with Orbitz and Expedia and Kayak to see what kind of plane fares are available for a possible trip… The list of things that take up my time is endless.
I see an author interviewed on TV and immediately have to look her/him up and see what s/he’s written and how it’s been received by critics and readers. Any discussion or disagreement can be clarified by a quick check with Wikipedia.
Back to my smart phone, the one place that the Internet couldn’t call to me was when I was out of the house. Now it seems that I can be connected 24/7 via my Samsung Galaxy something or other. Perhaps my inability to be able to figure out its bells and whistles is my way of keeping just a bit of my life grounded in the moment.

Eavesdropping

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Traveling alone is something that I’ve always enjoyed. One of the pleasures is being able to eavesdrop on the lives of others. That doesn’t usually happen when traveling with a companion.
I spent several days in New York City in the past week participating in a medical research study. I stayed in an area unfrequented by tourists and delighted in leaving my hotel in the morning to mingle with fathers or mothers walking their children to school, shop keepers putting out signs for the day’s specials and a general sense of local people going about their lives.
In a restaurant one evening my table was very near one occupied by two women. I had started to read my book but couldn’t concentrate. The voice of one was very compelling, I couldn’t help but listen. Current films were discussed. The new Woody Allen movie led to an animated discussion of his relationship with Mia Farrow and subsequent marriage to her adopted daughter. They moved on to JFK and his family. Who was married to whom, Jackie’s bloody dress after the assassination, Teddy’s wild youth and his transition to becoming a powerful and respected Senate leader, Joan’s alcoholism and what happened to her. This led to a discussion of the Kennedy sisters, who married well, who was an alcoholic, Kathleen’s ill-fated marriage to nobility and early death. and Rosemary’s institutionalization. Oh, and Rose’s reputation for being a tough lady.
Another day I sat near two people on a bus, obviously strangers who had struck up a conversation. Both immigrants. She was from Austria, living in the US for 30 years but only becoming a citizen last year. She talked of visiting her father in Austria each year. He’s 100 years old and still gardens. He’s currently deciding what to plant next spring when he’ll be 101, a true role model for optimism. The other member of the conversation was a man from Ireland, obvious from his strong brogue. He’s been here 16 years but isn’t a citizen.
There was also the woman who brought her son, maybe ten years old, into a little cafe for some sugar “loading” before a medical exam, they bought soda and a pastry and then she kept asking if he was going to “crash”. While he was loading up on sugar, she read a Glamour Magazine.
The five hour trip back to Boston by bus was broken by a rest stop at a fast food restaurant. Two buses had arrived at nearly the same time. In line for service one driver was telling another how to overcome his high blood pressure.
“No regular salt, only sea salt, no sugar, only maple sirup or agave, no white flour, no meat: no pork, beef, turkey, chicken, no meat. In two weeks your body will have reset and your blood pressure will be fine.”
The advice giver asked for a cup of hot water. The other driver with high blood pressure ordered a burger and fries.
I’m home again with people I know but I did enjoy my brief peak into the lives of strangers.

Food Writing

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What do Julia Child, Ruth Reichl, Robert Farrar Capon and MFK Fisher have in common? The obvious answer is that they wrote about food but it is much more than that. They wrote exquisitely about food. A talent, a gift even, that I envy. When I write I try to get the grammar right and avoid cliches (not always successfully) but I feel inarticulate when I attempt to describe the nuances and pleasure that food gives me

Cookbooks and recipes have fascinated me since my teens but it was Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1961 that made me think of how food was described. In a recipe for roast chicken she wrote, “a juicy, brown, buttery, crisp-skinned, heavenly bird…does entail [such] a greed for perfection that one is under compulsion to hover over the bird, listen to it, above all see that it is continually basted…” I immediately wanted to produce such a masterpiece.

A few years later I read Robert Farrar Capon’s 1969 cookbook, The Supper of the Lamb. It is a cookbook but also a treatise on life. The book disappeared long ago but I’ve never forgotten his description of peeling an onion layer by layer and observing the shimmering, opalescent, glossy surface. In fact, I’ve just found that it has been reprinted and I’m going order it just to read that chapter again.

MFK Fisher wrote several autobiographical books, not exactly about food but what she had eaten and drunk is on every page. In The Gastronomical Me in 1943 she wrote of an apple tart that she ate in France, “Papazi produced his weekly triumph of a tart as big as a cartwheel, with all the apple slices lying back to belly to back in whorls and swoops…” In another place she writes about a pudding she made as a child. She thought it looked too plain so she decorated it with blackberries, “Its cool perfection leaped into sudden prettiness, like Miss America when the winning ribbon is hung across her high-breasted symmetry”.

Ruth Reichl, once the New York Times food critic’s book Garlic and Sapphires is filled with descriptions that make words like delicious and yummy trite and dull. About one restaurant she says,
“Each meal is a roller coaster of sensations.” Whether she’s describing a terrible meal, “the lobster was a scrawny thing, and it had been a long time since he had walked around a refrigerator or anything else.” or the memory of preferring the bones from the steaks her father pan seared “I’d bring the bone up to my face until the aroma—animal and mineral, dirt and rock—was flooding my senses…the meat closest to the bone was smooth as satin, and sweet. It tasted like nothing else on earth…”
She uses lovely metaphors, about a soup she had been served she wrote, “He dipped a ladle into a tureen and spilled the contents into the bowl, releasing a torrent of garlic that cascaded, a waterfall of scent, just beneath my nose.” Beautiful!

Now that I’ve looked back at these books, I must read them again, and a number of others that writing this have made me remember.

My desk at home sits in front of a big window where I can watch the orchard through the seasons. Now that it is November the trees in the front yard have a few brown leaves clinging to their branches while the apple trees beyond are still thick with leaves but they have turned yellow and will soon join the apples that fell to the ground during the picking season.

It won’t be long before all the branches that I can see will be bare and perhaps snow covered. They have their own beauty and I try to enjoy the sight knowing that it won’t be long before the days again begin to lengthen and the tree buds will begin to swell in anticipation of spring. An ageless cycle.

It’s the time of year that makes me want to put some soup on to simmer and bake some bread. I have some of the rich turkey stock that I simmered a couple of weeks ago. I’ll use that with some bits of leftover turkey from the freezer saved just for soup. Whatever vegetables I have in the refrigerator will get added but for sure onions, celery and carrots. The great thing about soup is that it’s a good way to use up tired vegetables that aren’t good enough for salad. Maybe I’ll add a can of black beans or some rice or a potato to make it heartier but for sure it will be delicious accompanied by bread warm from the oven.

Now that I think about it, another option to bread is Beth’s Whole Wheat Rolls. My sister Beth makes these every year for holiday dinners. There is never even one left for a sandwich the next day. They’d be perfect with soup.

Beth’s Whole Wheat Rolls
2 packages yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 stick butter, melted
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup honey, or sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
4 – 5 cups flour, (I usually use 1 to 1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour and 3 to 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour). Half and half works fine too.

Soften yeast in in the 1/4 cup water. Mix everything else but flour together, stir in yeast and then flour. Knead on a floured surface until smooth and no longer sticky. (I use the Kitchen Aid mixer for this step but kneading by hand is good for getting rid of aggression) Place in a large oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel. Let raise until double. Form into rolls, let raise again. Bake in 375 degree oven 20-25 minutes. Makes 2 to 2-1/2 dozen

(I roll them into balls, dip in melted butter and bake in a 9×13 pan or round cake pans. They can be baked individually in muffin cups too. That would take less time to bake.)

Lists of healthy foods abound on the Internet these days. One food that’s found on all of them is broccoli. My introduction to broccoli didn’t make it onto my favorite foods list but over the years it has made it there.

I grew up in a small mid-western town during and just after WWII. Vegetables came from my grandfather’s garden, little farm stands at the end of farm driveways or cans. The corner grocer usually had some iceberg lettuce and root vegetables. I had never eaten broccoli until I was sixteen and visited an aunt who lived in the city. In our family we were served family style. Bowls of food on the table with each person serving themselves. At Aunt Myrtle’s house, she served plates of food that she prepared in the kitchen. In front of my plate she placed small bowl of sickly green mush. I was told that it was broccoli. I managed to get it down but it was a long time before I ate broccoli again.

Eventually I discovered how to cook it and it became a favorite vegetable although I’ve never really liked the flower part, perhaps because of my introduction. I like the stems. It works out well when I’m cooking for Max and me, he gets the flower part and I get the stems. I was delighted then to find a recipe in the New York Times using broccoli stems for a spicy broccoli and red pepper slaw. I tweaked it considerably and will share the resulting recipe. It’s good!

Broccoli and Red Pepper Slaw

3 cups shredded broccoli stems (4 to 5 large stems)
1 red bell pepper, cut in thin 2-inch julienne
½ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup chopped fresh mint leaves

2 tablespoons wine or fruit vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons minced or grated fresh ginger
1 small garlic clove, minced or puréed (optional)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
3 tablespoons olive oil

Place the shredded broccoli, julienned pepper, cilantro and mint in a bowl.
Whisk the remaining ingredients together, pour over the broccoli mixture and toss.
This is good the next day too.

An interesting bit of trivia from Wikipedia. “The word broccoli, from the Italian plural of broccolo, refers to “the flowering top of a cabbage”.

Turkey

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One of the tasks my mother insisted every woman should know was how to cut up a chicken. Our Sunday dinner was frequently chicken that had been bought from a farmer on Saturday. Often it still had pin feathers to be plucked out and then it would be singed over the open flame of the gas stove (little hairs were sometimes abundant on the wings) and then cut into pieces.

It was a good skill to know later when I was preparing food my family. Whole chickens were much cheaper that parts and scraps could be simmered to make stock for soup.

Fast forward fifty years and I’m using my chicken cutting skill to dismember an enormous turkey. We grow our turkeys large here at the orchard. Unfortunately there aren’t that many occasions during the year when twenty people come to dinner and need a thirty pound turkey. Thus I spent the afternoon struggling with three well sharpened knives and a very large bird.

At the end of the day I had two 2-pound drumsticks, two thigh roasts, pounds and pounds of cutlets and enough scraps for several packages of ground turkey. Best of all, the bones and bits went into my stock pot with an onion, celery stalks and leaves, a couple cloves of garlic, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, salt, pepper and a handful of fresh sage from my garden. It simmered all night on a very low fire. In the morning I strained all the solids out and reduced the liquid by about half. The bones and scraps went into the compost. I’m left with two quarts of lovely, intensely flavored stock for soup or to enhance gravies.

Everything is now tucked safely away in the freezer for future dinners.

Turkey Gravy for Thanksgiving dinner
Turkey gravy doesn’t need a recipe but here’s the way I do it. It can be done the day before to make dinner preparation easier. The first thing is to make a stock from the giblets.

Place the turkey neck and giblets in a pot with enough water to cover.
Add:
1 onion
1 stalk celery
1 carrot
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper
½ teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon sage
Simmer all ingredients together until the meat is tender, a couple of hours or so. Remove the turkey meat from the broth. Puree the remaining vegetables with the broth, either in a blender of with an immersion blender. This helps thicken the final gravy as well as adding flavor. Pull the meat from the neck, chop the heart and gizzard and add them. (I omit the liver in this step) This can be done a day ahead and refrigerated.

Roast the turkey. Remove from the roasting pan and cover with foil. I put several tea towels on over the foil to keep the heat in while the turkey rests and reabsorbs the juices.

Whisk together until smooth ½ cup of flour and 1 cup of water. Reserve.

Pour the drippings into a bowl letting the fat rise to the top. Deglaze the pan with a couple of cups of chicken stock scraping up all the brown bits in the bottom of the pan. (I use my rich turkey stock here instead of chicken stock) Spoon most of the fat off the drippings and discard. Pour the drippings back into the roasting pan. Add the reserved puree/stock made from the giblets. Heat until bubbling. Add salt and pepper to taste. If it looks like it isn’t enough gravy, add more chicken stock and simmer a few minutes to meld the flavors.

Stirring constantly, slowly pour the flour/water mixture into the gravy until it is the desired consistency.
Serve hot!

Pumpkin Soup

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The sudden drop in temperature makes it perfect soup weather. Yesterday I made Creamy Cauliflower Soup from a recent Cooks Illustrated. It is good but the white color reminds me of the Cream of Wheat breakfast cereal that I used to make for the children. Not that appetizing.

Most often I make soup with leftover chicken or turkey, simmering the bones with onions and herbs, adding any meat scraps and any vegetables that are in the refrigerator. It turns out differently each time but always flavorful and warming.

The bins of pumpkins and squash at the orchard are reminders that this is the season for Pumpkin Soup. I like to cut a couple of small sugar pumpkins in half, brush the cut edges with a little olive oil and roast them cut side down. By the time it they are tender, the pumpkin touching the roasting pan has caramelized adding depth to the flavor.

This is my daughter Laura’s recipe. It is a hearty soup, a meal itself with some good crusty bread and butter. You can substitute the pumpkin with any winter squash, such as buttercup or acorn. Once the pumpkin is cooked, the soup comes together very quickly.

Laura’s Pumpkin Soup

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Ingredients
1 small onion
2 tablespoon olive oil
4-5 cups cooked pumpkin (approximately 2 small sugar pumpkins)
2 cups water or stock
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon red pepper (optional)
2 cups cream (can be heavy or light cream or milk depending on taste)
Pepper to taste
Chopped parsley or croutons for garnish

Method
1. Halve the pumpkins, scoop out the pulp and seeds and place face down in a baking pan with a little water on the bottom. Bake for about 45 minutes or until a fork slides easily into the flesh of the pumpkins. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to the point of handling.
2. Chop the onion finely and, using the olive oil, sauté on the stovetop on a medium-low flame for about 5 minutes or until the onions are translucent. Take care not to brown them too much. You want them soft but not crispy.
3. Scoop out the cooked pumpkin from the skins and place in a soup pot over a medium-low flame.
4. Add the onions, water, nutmeg, red pepper, salt and pepper and stir well. If the mixture seems too dry you can add more water. It should be the consistency of porridge.
5. Cook the mixture for about 3 to 4 minutes, stirring regularly.
6. Reduce flame to low and add the cream. Stir into the mixture and heat long enough for the soup to become hot. Serve with parsley or crouton garnish.
For a creamy soup, use a food processor or an immersible blender after step 4 to purée the mixture.

Makes approximately 6 servings.

Our final destination was Seattle. We traveled on the Victoria Clipper, the ferry from Victoria to Seattle. On the trip we met a Seattle tour guide who suggested so many places to visit there but our time was limited. We did the usual tourist things and a few other things that she’d suggested.
We had a nice lunch at Matts at the Market, a small restaurant on the third floor of one of the old market buildings. Out of the window there is a tiny view of the harbor. The cooking is all done in the open and from our table we watched the most amazing dissection of celery stalks.
The young man (I wonder if he’s called a sous chef?) had a pile of celery and a peeler. He painstakingly peeled each stalk of all the strings and placed them in a container. We thought perhaps they go in Bloody Marys. Not so, the next step was to cut them in half and then slice them horizontally, not an easy task with something as small as a stripped piece of celery. I kept thinking that he’d end up slicing his fingers. The top slice, very thin was put in one container and the now very slender and short stalks in another. The final step was to take these and make diagonal cuts the entire length making pieces perhaps ¼ inches long. When he had finished, (a forty-five minute process) a large pile of celery had been reduced to a one pound deli container of little pieces. I can’t imagine what they are used for but this must be the most expensive celery in history.
Another notable thing, he had a glove on one hand but used both equally in handling the celery. I wonder what the Board of Health would make of that.
Wandering down to the harbor from the market through an alley we passed an unusual sight, the outside wall of a building covered with wads of gum as high as one (someone tall) could reach.

Viewing the wall of gum!

Viewing the wall of gum!


We had made reservations for lunch at the Sky City Restaurant in the Space Needle. Before lunch we visited the Chihuly Glass House and Garden. Dale Chihuly’s glass has to be one of the most amazing artistic displays I’ve seen. I had seen an exhibit at the Franklin Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio several years ago. His glass sculptures were nestled in the gardens there. I’d also seen some of his pieces in other museums but this display was astonishing.
There were eight galleries featuring major pieces, a glass house that he designed based on conservatories in England and other parts of the world, and a garden with an array of glass forms derived from nature and his imagination. This exhibit was worth the trip to Seattle if we hadn’t seen anything else.

The GLass House with the garden in the foreground and the glass tree in the background.

The GLass House with the garden in the foreground and the glass tree in the background.

The glass ceiling.

The glass ceiling.

One of the museum galleries. All glass figures.

One of the museum galleries. All glass figures.

Full sized boats filled with glass. This is similar to an installation in Venice.

Full sized boats filled with glass. This is similar to an installation in Venice.

Vancouver Island turns out to be a fascinating place. I guess I find it so because it is huge, sparsely settled, and is the location of Victoria, British Columbia’s capitol city. Yesterday we decided to go off the beaten path and take an excursion to the less well known and traveled part of the island. Once out of the city the terrain is heavily wooded, mountainous, and for long stretches largely uninhabited.

We hoped to find some quaint little fishing villages along the coast but the one we finally found, Cowichan Bay, was sixty kilometers from the city. Although there were many shrimp boats in the little harbor, most of the boats were pleasure boats. There were sea kayaking lessons and whale watches available.

Heading inland we passed a few areas with some scattered houses but only two that appeared to be actual communities. We had been told about an old railroad trestle that has been incorporated into plans for a 16000 kilometer Cross Canada hiking trail. It is not far from a Shawnigan Lake where among the tall pines we could see holiday cottages. The Kinsol Trestle is reached by an easy one kilometer walk along the old railroad bed. It is an impressive sight. We walked across it and could look down into the deep ravine it covers.

The Kinsol Trestle

The Kinsol Trestle

We’ve learned that Vancouver Island is the worlds 43rd largest island at 300 miles long and 60 miles wide. It has a population of less than 700,000. Half of those people live in the Greater Victoria area. The only other large city is Nanaimo with a population of 80,000. All the other cities/towns have populations from about 12,000 to a couple of hundred. It is largely a pristine wilderness with many parks for camping, fishing and hiking. An outdoor lovers paradise.

Victoria BC

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Our train pulled in to Vancouver on time Wednesday morning. We spent one rainy day there doing a less than informative trolley tour. Early Thursday morning we took a bus and ferry to Vancouver Island. I didn’t know that the huge city of Vancouver is on the mainland but the Capital of British Columbia is Victoria, a small city (78,000) at the southern tip of Vancouver Island and a 50 minute bus ride, 95 minute ferry ride and another 40 minute bus ride from Vancouver city.

Our B&B is three blocks from the seafront and six blocks from the harbor and center of town. I found it purely by accident but it is a perfect spot from which to explore the city. The Parliament buildings and the Royal BC Museum are just down the street as well as the very impressive old Empress Hotel. The architecture of the old buildings reminds me of Christchurch, New Zealand. I’ve heard Christchurch described as being more British that Britain.

Walking to the center and back we’re struck by the way everyone we meet says good morning or hello. It’s what we found when we visited American towns in the south although not in cities. I’m reminded of Ipswich in the way that motorists stop for pedestrians. On the other hand, pedestrians wait patiently at traffic signals for the walk sign. Such a civilized custom.

This morning we rented a car and drove to the Butchart Gardens about thirty minutes from Victoria. It is a Canadian National Historic Site and apparently world famous. The gardens cover 55 acres of what was a 130 acre estate. A limestone quarry on the property supported the owners cement company. His wife wanted to beautify it and over the years designed and planted multiple formal gardens including Japanese and Italian. The most interesting is the Sunken Garden that has been developed in the abandoned quarry. The view from the top is stunning. Once in the garden and looking up at the ivy and plant covered limestone walls it is equally impressive. I’ve visited gardens in many parts of the world but don’t think I’ve seen anything to match this one.

The Sunken Garden

The Sunken Garden

October 1
This morning we watched an old promotional movie for Canadian Rail passenger service in 1960. The voiceover narration describes the luxury and modern convenience aboard the train and shows the train passing through magnificent countryside. The people on board are dressed for a special occasion. Men in suits and ties, women in dresses, many with hats, children wearing their best clothes and everyone appearing to be having a wonderful time.

Our impression is that long distance passenger rail in Canada has suffered much as it has in the US. The cross country train that we are riding only makes three trips a week most of the year and in the winter only two. Our compartment is tiny and cramped but the beds are comfortable and the meals have been excellent. The train staff are attentive and helpful. It is clear though that passenger trains are secondary to the freight service. We spend long stretches of time on sidings while freight trains of a hundred cars or more race by. Other times we crawl along so that trains can pass us at a high speed.

Edmonton was another surprise today. It is approached from the east through miles of refineries and oil wells. It seems like a much larger city than Winnipeg but unlike the other cities we’ve been through, the station is far out of the city. It is nothing like the grand old stations that we’ve passed through. It is a small brick building that wouldn’t be out of place in some little British town.

In Edmondton a Panorama car was added to the train. We sat there as we entered the Rockies. Unfortunately the bright sun of earlier in the week was gone. It was cloudy with mist now and again. The mountains were striking but the photos we took didn’t turn out all that well. Max had hoped to get a few good ones as subjects for his winter painting. Late in the day the sun finally broke through giving us a short time to admire the snow capped peaks gleaming in the light. We were able to watch the sun slide behind the mountains.

The mountains in the clouds

The mountains in the clouds

Viewing mountains from the panorama car.

Viewing mountains from the panorama car.

Sunset in the Rockies

Sunset in the Rockies

winter painting. Late in the day the sun finally broke through giving us a short time to admire the snow capped peaks gleaming in the light. We were able to watch the sun slide behind the mountains.

The city sprawl of Toronto is extensive. It takes a while to be clear of it but eventually all we see are trees, predominantly birch but lots of pine also. Now at the end of October the leaves are yellow and gold. The brilliant reds and oranges that complement the yellows in our New England foliage season are missing here.

The woods are dense, relieved often by ponds, streams and marshes. There are long stretches without roads or any sign of habitation. Occasionally we passed a village, some small houses with pick-up trucks in the drive, unpaved roads and, little sign of any prosperity. They looked more like fishing camps. After so much wilderness we arrived in Winnipeg the capital of the province of Manitoba. I am embarrassed at how little I know about Canada’s geography and history other than as it was intertwined with ours when the British, French and American’s were fighting over the northeast territory.

Winnipeg is a thriving and metropolitan city of 750,000 people, over half of the population of the entire province. There are wide streets and boulevards with few buildings over eight or ten stories high. We took advantage of a four hour layover in Winnipeg to take a short tour of the city. We visited the Capital building, an imposing building of Manitoba limestone, marble from Vermont and Italy with classical design and a majestic dome, walked in a lovely park with fall flowers in full bloom and visited the Basilica of St. Boniface, a strikingly modern church built within the facade of one that burned down many years ago.

Inside the state capital building.

Inside the state capital building.

Assiniboine Park

Assiniboine Park

The downtown area around Union Station has become a huge complex of shops and restaurants with cobbled streets, a skating rink and a skate boarding park. It is part of a renovation of the old railroad buildings. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights museum is under construction to be completed in 2014. It will be the first Canadian National Museum that is located in the national capital of Ottawa.

Like Toronto, Winnipeg has a hugely diverse population with 50 distinctly different ethnic neighborhoods. Canada with it’s vast space and stable government must be an attractive place for immigrants. Immigrants are only part of the ethnic diversity. The indigenous people of Canada are divided loosely into three groups, First Nations, Inuit and Metis. The Metis are people of mixed blood from the early days when the French and other Europeans married into the indigenous population. These groups have many sub-groups, all contributing their own customs and culture.

The altar in St. Boniface Basilica. The central figure represents Christ with open welcoming arms.

The altar in St. Boniface Basilica. The central figure represents Christ with open welcoming arms.

September 28,2013

A train trip across Canada is one of the things we’ve often talked about doing today, we are doing it. We flew to Toronto and spent a night there before boarding the train at 10PM, just in time to get into bed.

It had been thirty years since I was in Toronto. I remembered it as a big, clean city with a lot of energy. It is still that but right now there is a huge building boom going on with whole sections of the center of the city blocked off to traffic while a new waterfront renovation takes place. There will be new parks and street configurations with bike lanes and walking paths. Looking skyward, there are 187 high rise buildings under construction. We were told that 102 of them will be condominiums. Cranes dominate the skyline.

Standing on the waterfront one looks across to an island that looks barely inhabited. It is a huge park, turning back toward the city, skyscrapers dominateIMG_3721-001

Toronto high rise apartments on the waterfront.

Toronto high rise apartments on the waterfront.

We took a very crowded Hop-On-Hop-Off tour of the city stopping at the Royal Ontario Museum. It is an impressive museum that would take days to appreciate. We spent our time viewing two exhibits on early Canada. One featured the lives of the indigenous peoples, the other the struggles between the French, British and Americans to gain control of the vast territory that is Canada. The museum has a spectacular entrance.

Entrance to the Royal Ontario Museum

Entrance to the Royal Ontario Museum

We’d hoped to have lunch at the CN Tower but it was fully booked. We should have guessed that one doesn’t walk in and be seated. The Tower complex was aswarm with tourists from all over the world.
Listening to the different languages it would be easy to imagine being in a European or Asian country.
In fact, the tour guide said that Toronto is the most ethnically diverse city in North America. Even tiny African and Asian countries seem to have their own neighborhoods contributing to a wealth of different cuisines and traditions.

AGING

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My birthday is rapidly approaching and I greet it with some uneasy reflections. It’s no longer possible for me to convince myself that I’m in late middle age. The truth is, I’m old. The surprising thing to me is that I don’t feel old. I don’t run up and down stairs anymore and my energy level lags at times but I feel the same as I’ve always felt.

All my life I’ve looked forward to the future as in “someday I want to visit China” or, “I’m looking forward to returning to India with a tour”, or even “Maybe next year I can go back to Haiti with the medical team”. It is a hard thing to admit to myself that most of those things will never happen. Reality is that perhaps I will get to China someday but it looks unlikely.

In addition to bringing my birthday, September has always been a time of beginnings for me. The start of the school year after the less hectic days of summer when I was a girl, the scramble to get five children equipped for a new year when they were young, my own return to studies after they were grown and later gearing up for the Fall season at the orchard. It was a time for making plans and looking forward.

These crisp, clear, Autumn days bring those memories flooding back with the anticipation of new experiences and plans to be made for someday. Someday, however, has become a briefer span of time. After years of talking about taking the train across Canada Max and I decided it was time to stop talking and do it. Friday leave for Toronto to get the train for Vancouver, BC. While we’re traveling maybe I can start planning a China trip.

Water

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Wednesday afternoon we suddenly had no water. One minute water was flowing from the tap, the next it was not. Water at our house comes from a well and the pump was broken. No one would be able to replace it until morning.

It is surprising and disconcerting to realize how dependent we are on having water always available. I ate a peach and reached for the tap to rinse my sticky fingers, oops, I forgot. No water. No way to flush or shower on a steamy afternoon. No way to brush my teeth.

Our son Jason came to the rescue with a bucket holding three or four gallons of water, enough to get us through the night. We went out for dinner, made a cup of tea, brushed our teeth and by the time we got up in the morning, the repair man had arrived.

The brief few hours that we were without water reminded me of the times I worked in Haiti. There was a shower, cold water only, in the place where I stayed. We had an ample supply of water that was filtered through a system of purification and poured from a five gallon bucket. We were the lucky ones.

Community water pipe

Community water pipe


Girl carrying water

Girl carrying water

Across the street from our housing was a concrete wall. A pipe sticking out of it carried a stream of water. All day women and children lined up with buckets to get water for their families. Once the buckets were filled, they placed them on their heads to carry home.

Driving through the countryside we watched people bathing in irrigation ditches. Something as seemingly simple as having water always available was foreign to the Haitians living in the small villages and towns.

Maybe it is a good thing once in a while to have something we take for granted not be available. I don’t want to forget what a truly privileged life I lead.