I felt a great surge of pleasure a couple of days ago walking through the orchard after the earth had just been tilled for the garden. I’ve been watching the tree buds swell, not quite ready to open, and I wear a lighter jacket, but somehow spring still seemed a long way off until I smelled the freshly tilled field. It reminded me of my grandfather’s farm, I had a moment of nostalgia for my childhood.

The orchard work in winter is mostly pruning trees but now there is much to be done. Uncovering the strawberries from their winter straw blanket, picking up brush, fertilizing, pruning the raspberries, planting new trees and berries, all are tasks of early spring. The store is being prepared for opening in a couple of weeks and activity speeds up. Our hard-working Jamaican workers returned on Sunday. We welcome them like old friends, they’ve been coming for so many years. Boisy first came to the orchard twenty-two years ago. We are fortunate to have the same men return year after year.

The past few weeks I’ve been doing a lot of baking. I’ve loved baking all of my life but now that there are only two of us, and we shouldn’t be eating too many goodies, most of what comes from the oven goes next door to the grandchildren. A few days ago I ran across an old recipe from the 60s. It was called Blueberry Crumble, I had some blackberries in the freezer so decided to use them instead of blueberries. The original recipe called for a Jiffy Cake mix but I stirred together the ingredients for a simple cake. Nothing could be easier.

BLACKBERRY CRUMBLE
Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Ingredients
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup milk
2 cups (1 pint) blackberries

Method
1. Melt butter in an 8 inch baking dish. Mix all other ingredients except black berries together and pour over melted butter. Top with berries.
2. Bake for 45 minutes. This is best when served before it cools completely.
Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.

Twenty-five years ago I had the idea of writing a fruit cookbook for the orchard. It became a daunting project. I would work on it diligently for a time, feel overwhelmed, stick it in a box under the bed where it would stay for another year or two until I decided that I really should finish it.
I started it before I’d ever touched a computer. I still have the handwritten recipes, and then the recipes that I transferred to my first computer; a bulky laptop that ran on DOS. It was inherited from my son Matt when he upgraded.
When I retired I again returned to the book only to get frustrated and put it aside once more. Three winters ago I found myself in Portugal needing a project. I resurrected the cookbook and have worked on it the past three winters. It is nearly finished.
Making sure that measurements are correct and that recipes I’ve gathered over the years are actually as good as I remember means I’ve been doing a lot of baking. This morning I have seven different pie crusts in my refrigerator waiting to be rolled out and sampled for texture and flavor. I’ve used them all in the past but want to compare and make sure they are as I remember them. I will roll out and bake a small portion of each for tasting. The rest will go in the freezer for future pies.
This week I have Chocolate Pavlova, Blackberry Surprise, and Raspberry-Almond Bars to make. Putting together a cookbook isn’t quite like putting together a recipe. If I’m baking for the family and don’t have the right ingredient, I can substitute, or use a different sized pan, or experiment with some idea that I think will improve it. Writing it down for someone else to follow means being exact in amounts and detailed in directions.
It is time to leave the computer and get into the kitchen.

Home again and looking forward to spring in New England but first, some final thoughts about our winter in Spain.

I didn’t realize that most of Spain is mountainous. In the south it is dry with barren hills and desert plants. In the north pines grow on the mountain sides and in both places, snowy peaks are often visible in the distance.

A street in Granada with mountains in the distance.

A street in Granada with mountains in the distance.

Everyone smokes! Okay, that’s an exaggeration but coming from the US, the smoking seemed to be endemic. Restaurants and bars no longer allow smoking inside but every restaurant has an outdoor seating area where most people sit. Even in the north where it was cold, the terraces are occupied. If it rains there are awnings to protect the diners.

Bars open at 8 or 9 in the morning. It is where one gets coffee and a toasted baguette or croissant. Each morning we encountered the same people at the little bar where we went each morning after our walk. After a few days we were regulars too. Our coffee arrived as soon as we sat down.

Restaurants open for lunch at 1:30 and close at around 4. They open again for dinner at 8 or 9 at night. Finding meals outside of those times can be difficult but all bars offer tapas, the Spanish snack food or “little bites”.

A huge selection of tapas in a Barcelona Tapas Restaurant

A huge selection of tapas in a Barcelona Tapas Restaurant

Ensaladilla Rusa

Ensaladilla Rusa

Every bar has a row of dishes on display. Fried squid, potatoes with garlic sauce, shrimp (with shells) in garlic, tiny meatballs, Russian salad (a potato salad with lots of mayonnaise), olives, tortillas (a Spanish omelet, sort of like a frittata). The variations seem endless. They may be hot or cold and often come with a slice of good bread. In some bars a free tapas is offered with a drink.

More tapas.  Unlike this restaurant, most bars will have six or eight selections.

More tapas. Unlike this restaurant, most bars will have six or eight selections.

Calamares Fritos

Calamares Fritos

Language differences. We encountered three distinctly different languages. Spanish, Catalan, and Basque. It isn’t just a regional accent or dialect, they are totally different. I’d learned to read a menu fairly well in Spanish until we got to northern Spain. Thank goodness for Google Translate.
Pork chop: Spanish – chuleta de cerdo, Basque – txerri txuleta, Catalan – costella de porc.
Bread: Spanish – pan, Basque – ogia, Catalan – pa.
Egg: Spanish – huevo, Basque – arrautza, Catalan – ou.

Good roads, even the secondary roads are well maintained and marked.

Basque fishing village of Lekeitio seen from our hotel room.

Basque fishing village of Lekeitio seen from our hotel room.


Part of the day's catch in Lekeitio. Part of the day’s catch in Lekeitio.[/caption]

The town center of Chinchon, Spain.  Once a ring for bull fights, now centered by the statue of a horse and surrounded by outdoor cafes a

The town center of Chinchon, Spain. Once a ring for bull fights, now centered by the statue of a horse and surrounded by outdoor cafes a

Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen) El Escorial, Spain Monument to honor the dead of the Spanish Civil War.  It is a huge cathedral hewn out of a mountain with a gigantic cross at the top.  The cross arms can be reached by elevator.

Valle de los Caídos
(Valley of the Fallen)
El Escorial, Spain
Monument to honor the dead of the Spanish Civil War. It is a huge cathedral hewn out of a mountain with a gigantic cross at the top. The cross arms can be reached by elevator.

Goodbye Spain.

This morning I wanted to pinch myself, how is it possible that I’m having coffee at a sidewalk cafe listening to three men sing love songs in French from a bandstand in the middle of the square? I’m always amazed that I’ve ended up with this life. My mother and father had never left Michigan until I moved out of the state. The farthest from Otisville they ever got was visiting me in California and Massachusetts and my uncle in Tennessee.

Earlier in the week we left Spain driving through the tiny country of Andorra and arriving in the town of Ax les Thermes just across the border into France. It is a ski resort in the French Pyrenees. The next day we drove west with the sun glistening on snow capped mountains just south of us.

The Pyrenees from the road crossing southern France.

We have spent the past two nights in the town of St. Jean de Luz, just north of the Spanish border. We found a room overlooking the beach and can sit on our balcony watching the world go by. The sunset our first night here was pretty impressive.

The beach from our balcony

The beach in front of our hotel.

Sunset

It has been nice being able to read signs and menus and understanding just a bit of what’s said. I have to remember to say bon jour and not bueno dias and oui rather than si and merci not gracias, but tomorrow we return to the Catalan region of Spain where they don’t speak French or Spanish and I’m totally at sea.

Other things will change again. Lunch in Spain is 1PM to 4PM but usually no one eats until at least 2PM. Dinner starts at 8:30PM but we’re settled in our room by then. In France, lunch is from Noon to 2PM, dinner 7 or 7:30PM.

One of the delights of travel is finding oneself, unexpectedly, in a wonderful place. In a quest to be near the Monastery of Montserrat without actually staying in the busy touristy village, I found a listing for a hotel in the tiny village of Collbato about thirty miles from Barcelona and at the foot of Montserrat. It turns out to be the only hotel in a medieval village of less than 3000 people. It is the epitome of charm.

We awoke Sunday morning to church bells. It was a bright sunny day, leaving our hotel we discovered that Sunday is market day. Much of the center area was blocked to traffic and occupied by the stalls of vendors of all kinds. Each town seems to have their own market day where vendors set up stalls. We found that true of the south of Spain and it seems to be the case here also.

Collbato Sunday Market with Montserrat in the background

Dried fish

Olives

Huge strawberries and lots of vegetables

Pork of all kinds. A salted pig's head with snout hangs just above the vendor

A village street with the mountain in the distance

Just outside the wall of the town looking across at the mountain

After the market we went for a walk through the village. the streets are narrow, the houses open right onto the street. Just outside the wall we climbed a rugged path to get a stunning view of the mountain. The town is filled with hikers and bicylclists taking the trails up the mountain where there are ancient caves.

The Sagrada Familia is the most famous of Gaudi’s work but there are other structures nearly as impressive. Click on photo to get larger view.

Rooftop with chimneys and water tanks.


Casa Milà is a huge apartment building (1906 – 1910). The most striking thing about it is the roof top designed in undulating waves that echo the different levels of the vaulted attic ceiling. The apartment chimneys look like helmeted knights marching off to battle. Huge water storage tanks are also on the roof. The design looks like a work of art, or a nightmare.

Looking into the interior courtyard from the roof top. The small windows are the attic.

The outside of the Casa Milà apartment building.

Note the balconies

Casa Batllio at night

The interior stairwell allowing light from the skylight. The shades of blue green tiles represent the sea.

The fireplace shows the attention to detail and echos the curved woodwork. Gaudi took his structural strength using shapes from nature.

There are hundreds of these pillars lining the walk ways and holding little balconys.

A huge terrace atop an open area designed to be a market place.

The intended market place with the terrace above.

Inside the open market place, never used as a market. Note the ever present tiles.

The final Gaudi site we visited is the Parc Guell. It was orginally planned as a sort of gated community with 60 villas built on 30 acres up the sides of a steep hill on the outskirts of the city. That never happened but the site has been made into a Gaudi type fantasy, again using nature to form the features. Also, more bright tiles covering many of the structures.

Most of the time we’ve spent our winter in Spain enjoying the local color, taking long walks and sampling Spanish cuisine. A visit from daughter Laura was the perfect excuse for doing a bit of sight-seeing. We started in the very beautiful and cosmopolitan city of Barcelona where some pretty fantastic architecture is to be found.

Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) was a Spanish architect known for his organic curves and bright colored tiles. His great works in Barcelona show the extent of his imagination and genius. We spent a day touring four of his structures.

The Familia Sagrada is Gaudi’s most famous work. He started it in 1883 and worked on it until his death by street car in 1926. Since then his design has been continued with starts and stops. It is not expected to be completed until 2026. Although the interior is nearly finished, there are ten spires still to be built.

When I visited in 2001 there was no roof on the building and the structure pillars were under construction. There were workmen and scaffolding everywhere.

The Passion Facade

The Nativity Facade

These are the only two of the four planned entry facades. They are strikingly different.

It is a vast room. Note the spiral stair at the end leading to a choir loft that nearly encircles the room and holds 1000 singers.

The pillars at the ceiling. Gaudi used the principle of trees to get the strength. The pillars branch at the top. Lights are high up on them, and through hundreds of windows.

A model of the finished cathedral

Another interior view

A painting of the finished catherdral, hopefully in 2026, 143 years under construction.

The final cathedral will have 18 spires. Four will stand at each of the three entrances, rising above these will be four taller towers dedicated to the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. A tower dedicated to Mary will rise higher, to 400 feet, and towering above all, the 560 foot Jesus spire topped with a cross. In the final months of his life Gaudi even slept in the workroom on the site. Under the cathedral are plaster models of all of the details.

On my first visit we exited from the metro, bought a ticket and walked in, 12 years later, we waited twenty minutes in line to get in. Worth it though.

Mojacar Market

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A fun part of visiting foreign countries is seeing the markets. Supermarkets, small shops, open markets, they all are fascinating. Funny because I don’t like to shop and seldom buy anything other than food but it is fun to see how different countries do things.

As in many European countries there are traveling markets. Here in Mojacar market day is Wednesday, in neighboring Gaucherra it’s Thursday, in Vera, Friday. We are staying on the playa (beach) area, the market is in the pueblo (village) at the top of a mountain. Wednesday mornings we take the local bus to the top of the village.

The pueblo is a pretty white washed village built at the top of a steep peak. It has been called the most romantic and picturesque town in south-eastern Spain. We haven’t seen any of the others but it is pretty spectacular. There are 360 degree views from the top overlooking the blue Mediterranean and its beaches from one direction and the snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains in another direction.

Mojacar’s history goes back more than 4000 years. It was at one time a Moorish town on the border of the Muslim and Christian worlds. Watchtowers and fortresses were built to protect the town but it fell to the Christians in a bloody event in 1435. Eventually a pact was made between the Moors, Jews, and Christians allowing them to live in peace together (Wikipedia).

The outdoor cafe in the plaza at the top of the village is the perfect place to have a morning coffee. We gaze at the mountains and small towns in the distance and can see just a glimpse of the Mediterranean from our seats. Then we wind our way down the steep narrow streets and twisting cobbled alleys to the market where we stock up on fresh fruit and vegetables. It is the perfect way to spend a Wednesday morning.

Mojacar Pueblo, Andalucia, Spain

Last week we attended a performance of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. Mid-January seemed like a strange time for a Christmas story but we thought it might be fun. It was performed by a small theater group here in Mojacar, all British.
I grew up listening to the dramatized version on an LP record with actor Ronald Coleman playing Ebeneezer Scrooge. Film versions, Basal Rathbone, George C. Scott, Alistar Sim, all were fine but Ronald Colman’s rich baritone voice and my imagination was the version that for me, made Christmas. We listened to each year while trimming our Christmas tree. Seventy years later I believe I can still recite much of the script with no effort.
The small, 50 seat theater near us played to six sold out performances, we went the last night and had been told how good it was.
Our first surprise was the opening scene where Scrooge’s poor abused, underpaid, clerk, toiling away in the cold room, is Mrs. Cratchit. Bob, the clerk in Dicken’s story is never seen or mentioned.
The ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge to his boyhood and then the last meeting with his young love who tells him he’s changed, he only loves money now. That should be the end of her, but it’s not.
The ghost of Christmas Present takes Ebeneezer to the home of the poor Cratchits where Mrs. Cratchit lives with her five children and her mother.
The characters are adequately played, the five children were great, and the effects achieved with minimal scenery was very impressive. It was the last scene that sent me into shock.
Scrooge’s lost love has become a doctor, still bitter over his selfish quest for riches. She learns of Tiny Tim’s affliction and cures him, as Scrooge turns into a beneficent generous human being the play ends with them kissing and declaring love at last.
Oh My Word!

Our sport of soccer is known as football in the rest of the world, or in Spanish speaking countries, fútbol. American football is only found in the United States.
Max loves the pace and skill of world football and had looked forward to watching games frequently here during our Spanish sojourn. It had been one of his pleasures in the Dominican Republic where we spent last winter.
The apartment we are renting is owned by an Irish couple and is in an area with many English expats. Imagine his disappointment to discover that we don’t get any Spanish or European TV channels here. We get British stations only, and the owners do not subscribe to the sports channel. Not a single game is available here without going to one of the sports bars.
It was a big excitement then to see a poster telling about a fútbol game to be held at Campo Mojacar, the local soccer field, on Sunday morning. We arrived twenty minutes before the game to find a half dozen people in the stands. By the time the game started there were probably fifty spectators.
A loud speaker was blasting 70s pop music, while the players warmed up on the field. I could close my eyes and imagine John Travolta dancing to the Bee Gees.
A fierce wind was blowing down from the mountains behind the playing field causing us to shiver, but we had a clear view of the sea with palm trees in the foreground. We were reminded of shivering through some of the grandchildren’s November soccer games. About the same number of fans also. Nevertheless, it was fun and we’re looking forward to the next one.

Football with the sea in the background

Sunday Lunch

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It was a surprise to arrive in Spain and find that many of the top rated restaurants serve English food, especially for Sunday lunch. There are signs in front of many places advertising Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding or Sunday Carvery.
Most of the restaurants offer daily specials, three courses for a set price, a very reasonable price actually. Recently we had lunch on the sunny terrace of a nice place. For starters I had salad and Max soup. Our main courses were pork loin and chicken breast, both well prepared and delicious. For dessert we had a layered ice cream confection and coffee. With a bottle of the house wine, the check was 30 euros (~$42.).
We’ve been trying to find restaurants specializing in Spanish cooking but we have had Sunday lunch twice at the Kimrick. It is across the street from us in our residential neighborhood. The owner is a friendly man who chats with us in the street.
There are four choices for starters to Sunday lunch, then main course choices of roast beef, pork, or chicken, and finally four dessert choices. We chose the roast beef. Our plates arrived with five slices of roast beef, mashed potatoes, two whole roasted potatoes, roasted parsnips, and Yorkshire pudding. Then, the vegetables arrived in a separate bowl. That held five more vegetables, cabbage, carrots, green beans, cauliflower, and broccoli.
All this food and dessert to follow.
The food was too much but very well done so we returned for another Sunday lunch. I asked for a smaller portion. This time I passed on the starter, only had three slices of roast and one roasted potato…not exactly what I’d consider a small portion.

Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding

We walked down the hill from our apartment this morning to see the sunrise over the sea. It is a lovely sight to watch the gradual lightness turn into streaks of pink and finally the sun appear over the horizon. We enjoyed it with coffee sitting at a little outdoor cafe at the foot of our street.

Our apartment is in Mojacar Playa, about an hour from the city of Almeria in the Andalucia region of Spain. The weather here is in the 60s with bright sun every day. It’s hard to imagine snow and cold at home. We are up a slight hill a five minute walk from the sea, behind us barren mountains are all we can see.

There are wide brick or tile sidewalks for miles with scores of restaurants, bars, cafes, and hotels. It is not too busy this time of year with many places closed for the winter. A nice time to be here. It’s much more a resort area than our previous winter places.

We’ve tried a number of restaurants. Yesterday we had a fabulous lunch at one of them. A couple run it, he’s the chef, Juan, and Renata, is the hostess/waitperson. It was chilly when we went in, I left my jacket on. She noticed and soon had pulled out a heater for me.

I was struck by Renata’s glasses. They come apart at the bridge of the nose. She put them on when she was explaining the menu, otherwise each eyeglass hung separately from a cord around her neck. Magnets hold the two pieces together when she’s wearing them. She said they are quite common, I wonder if they’re available in the States.

At lunch the bread was served with goose drippings left from roasting a goose. They were blended with apples and onions and had a pronounced of sage flavor. To our surprise, it was delicious. I never would have thought of saving the drippings and creating something special with them.

Sunrise in Mojacar

Our street

Hiatus

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Hi-a-tus: Noun 1. a break or interruption in the continuity of a work, series, action, etc.
2. a missing part; gap or lacuna
3. any gap or opening.

There has been a hiatus in this blog. When last I wrote, it was about downsizing. That is over a month ago. A lot has happened since then, not the least the Christmas and New Years holidays. Shortly after my December 5th submission things got a bit difficult. A member of our immediate family was very ill in Intensive Care for nearly two weeks and an extended family member was facing a life threatening illness. It was difficult to think of writing.
The holidays passed in a blur but there were some good things. For the first time in twenty years, Max and I spent Christmas with our five children. It was a joyous occasion marred only by the absence of some grandchildren. Two because of illness and others because of those family obligations that divide families when holidays occur. Grandchildren marry and each family wants the presence of their own child. It becomes his family one year, hers the next. Universal problems I expect.
The holidays are over, a bit of normalcy has returned and I will be writing from Spain for the next few weeks. Health has been restored as much as possible and we are hopeful for good outcomes.

Downsizing, 2

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The task of downsizing goes on.
A couple of months ago I wrote about the pain of deciding what cookbooks I could part with, eighteen cartons of fiction, non-fiction and the cookbooks were sent off to the library and other book depositories. There were lots of other things that had to go so that we could live comfortably in our charming little house. I’ve been able to give much of my furniture away to family members. A carload of assorted things (clothes, dishes, bedding) went to Goodwill, I’ve given things away on Freecycle, I’ve sold things on Craig’s list, and taken a box of treasures to the Granny’s Attic feature of the Ipswich Museum’s holiday celebration.
Parting with my books was probably the most difficult, although I also kept the ones that meant the most to me. I’m now in the process of trying to organize my office space. Lots of papers aren’t needed any longer they’re already stored on the computer.
I finally decided to part with the American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition. I loved that dictionary but must confess that I’ve not looked at it for years, the internet is so much faster and gives me even more choices. Also going is the comprehensive French dictionary that I used to decifer difficult passages. Translate.google.com is so easy to use that the dictionary is passé. I’m not ready yet to part with Roget’s Thesaurus or The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations although everything in them can undoubtedly be found online. I’ll also keep Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. I still look up where the quotation marks go in a sentence and when a colon or semi-colon is used.
Much of our shelf space is taken up with photo albums. One for each year since 1990, and now, working backwards, one for each year back to 1975. I’ve still got the photos from 1975 to 1955 to put into albums. There are another thirty or so of trips that I’ve recorded, along with journals about the trips. These are the life history that I won’t part with although after I’m gone, I don’t know if anyone else will think they’re worth a nod.
It is actually rewarding every time I carry another load of books and papers to the recycle bin. Living in a small space has the advantage of making one take careful assessment of what is important. I have a storage tub filled with odd pieces of china that belonged to one of my grandmothers and some baby clothes that I wore. I have the doll that was my mother’s, passed on to me on my tenth birthday as well as every other doll I ever owned. I don’t see or think about these things from year to year but I’ll never be able to let them go. That task will fall to my children.
For now, my office is looking neater and the bookshelves have some space. There’s some room for a book or two that I find I can’t live without when I wander through Jabberwocky Book Store.

Sunday in Boston

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Trinity Church in Copley Square is an imposing landmark. It is one of Boston’s premier tourist attractions, visited by thousands annually. It is also a thriving church community. I don’t know why in the fifty years that I’ve lived in or near Boston and the dozens of tourists I’ve shown around the city, I’d never entered it until last Sunday.
We took a pre-holiday break (or post Thanksgiving) and spent the weekend in the city. Although we would normally have attended the Arlington Street Church, a congregation of Unitarians like us, we decided to go to Trinity and see what makes it such a hit with visitors. It is as impressive inside as out with the magnificent stained glass windows, vaulted ceiling, and carved wood detail.
The choir anthems and the glorious organ music were worth the visit but the thing that we most enjoyed was the participation of the Nigerian congregation. The Nigerian’s hold their own services in the church at a different time but this past Sunday were active in the 11:15 Sunday morning service. Some of the men wore colorful robes, many of the women were dressed in beautiful dresses of lace or intricate patterns and striking head dresses of brilliant colors elaborately arranged into intricate patterns. At the end of the service they made a processional up the aisle presenting the gifts. As they proceeded back they sang a traditional Nigerian hymn, it was a joyous chant sung with clapping of hands and enthusiasm. It reminded me of the music at the church services I’d attended during my Haitian trips.
Once again I am reminded of the wonderful diversity of our world and it’s traditions.

Trinity Church, photo by Peter Whelerton, York, UK

Thanksgiving is the most American of holidays and one that families of all faiths can embrace. Food is a major component and at this time every year I’m happy to stay in and cook. I don’t actually make the dinner anymore but I contribute something to the meal and even more, it starts me thinking about trying new things. This week I made one of my traditional Thanksgiving recipes, Cranberry Chutney (posted 11/15/2011) and made the pastry for pies. I put an apple pie in the freezer. Once those preparations were done I needed to use up some apples. They were peeled but too few for another pie and had been too many for the one I made, about three cups. I remembered that I had some Stone’s Ginger Wine in the cupboard from our workers who always bring us a bottle when they arrive from Jamaica in the spring. There were possibilities.

I put the apples in a saucepan with a half cup or so of the wine and simmered them. There was also a little piece of ginger root left from another recipe so I minced that fine and added it. Finally the tiniest pinch of red pepper flakes went into the pot. It all simmered until the apples were the consistency of coarse applesauce. Served with a grilled pork chop it turned out to be the perfect compliment to the meat.

While in the mood for experimenting I adapted a recipe for winter squash from a Mark Bittman column in the New York Times. There was half of a butternut squash in the fridge. I peeled it and cut it into slices about ½ inch thick, tossed it with a bit olive oil and salt. spread the slices on a baking sheet and roasted at 375 degrees until soft. I turned the pieces over once as they browned.

In the meantime I chopped ½ an onion, sauteéd it in olive oil until it softened and started to brown, then added a tablespoon of maple syrup and a tablespoon of cider vinegar. This I reduced down, stirring frequently until the mixture was the consistency of thick jam (about 15 minutes). When the squash was soft I mashed it coarsely, added the onion mixture, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Stirred together well and served hot it turned out to be a delicious and different combination. The original recipe called for adding a garnish of chopped mint but our mint hasn’t survived the frosty nights. Yummy anyway.

Bulb Planting

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It’s the time of year to put the garden to bed. We’ve transplanted some perennials, mounded dirt around the roses, covered the fish pond with mesh to keep the leaves out and now we’re looking ahead to spring. That means planting tulip and daffodil bulbs. Last week we bought a couple hundred assorted bulbs to add to the ones we planted last year.
I imagine we aren’t alone in getting carried away with an idea. Before we even started planting those, Max got the idea of planting drifts of daffodils in a large area that he’d had cleared of brush and trees during the summer. Off he went to the bulb store. He returned with another 750 bulbs, daffodils and crocuses.
He borrowed the orchard excavator and soon had dug ten large holes. The daffodils need to be buried six to eight inches deep so they were divided between the holes, then covered with dirt. We planted the crocuses three inches deep in the soft soil on top of them. The excavator was a great way to dig the holes but all of the bulbs had to be placed, one by one. Not easy on aging knees and backs but we got it done. Now we have April to look forward to.
Oh, we do still have the original two hundred or so bulbs still to plant once our aching muscles recover.

A neat way to plant a lot of bulbs

It does help to stay on your feet!

Just a few more to go

Seasons

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In New England seasons mark the passage of time. It seems like only a few weeks ago we were worrying about whether the trees would bloom too early after hot March days and then when it got colder again, whether the bees would come out to pollinate.
The trees did bloom early but escaped the frosts that devastated some other orchards. Asparagus pushed up through the soil and the strawberries ripened. Suddenly we had an abundance of fruit, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cherries, currants, and peaches all at the same time, summer had arrived.
Now the weather is getting cooler, nights with frost, crisp days, and fewer daylight hours. The apples and pears are all in, harvest is over. We are looking forward to November, the Wine and Apple Festival, Thanksgiving and then we close for the year.
Closing the orchard store is the end of one part of our year but the work continues. When winter arrives we’ll be pruning the fruit trees, repairing equipment, caring for animals and making plans for next year. It is a cycle that goes on and on.
A long time ago we lived for a few years in Southern California. While we enjoyed sunshine every day and sending the children out to play mid-winter with only a sweater, we missed the four seasons of our home state of Michigan.
New England turned out to be the perfect place for us to live. Even before we bought the orchard we looked forward to tilling the earth in the spring preparing to plant our garden. Fresh fruit and veggies followed in the summer. We made jams, canned quarts and quarts of tomato juice, ground up cucumbers, peppers, and onions to make piccalilli, and bought peaches by the bushel for the freezer.
By fall we were more than ready for the end of the garden. We raked the fallen leaves while the children jumped into the piles, burying themselves with glee. Days grew colder. The holidays came with all the delights and stresses that go with the season and then in January we looked forward to sledding and skiing and sitting by the fire. Winter was a time for slowing down and introspection, good months for making plans. The seed catalogs arrived and we started planning for spring. It is a cycle I’ve always enjoyed, a life governed by seasons.
Aging has changed my feelings about seasons a bit. I find that I don’t look forward to the changes in the same way. They come faster and faster, spring, summer, autumn, winter, they flash by and that means my life is flashing by. Instead of the eager anticipation of the coming season that I once welcomed I find myself wishing that time would stand still just for a bit. Give me a few more days to enjoy the blazing beauty of the maples. A bit longer to savor the first snowfall, a few weeks of walking under apple blossoms and eating strawberries warm from the sun.

A Full English Breakfast is a pretty amazing feast. We recently returned from a brief visit to the UK where we stayed in a charming B&B and enjoyed this meal. It provided fuel for the entire day. The breakfast begins with a sideboard laden with cereal, museli, dried fruit, fresh fruit, yogurt, and juices. Those are the “starters”. The full English breakfast then comes on a warmed plate filled with eggs, sausage and bacon, grilled mushrooms, beans and a grilled tomato. This is accompanied by several slices of toast with choice of jams.
Throughout England, Scotland, and Ireland this is the standard fare offered in B&Bs and guest houses, although it’s called a Scottish or Irish Cooked Breakfast in those countries.
This has made me think more of the differences in the customs and cultures of different countries’ breakfast foods. At home we have dry cereal and perhaps fruit. In American B&Bs breakfast is often an elaborate array of muffins, sweet breads, and some kind of hot dish. Each establishment tries to make its breakfast unique and special rather than exactly like all the others.
In Southeast Asia the common breakfast served in hotels seemed to be a sort of rice porridge with an egg nestled on top. In Japan I was served rice and miso soup. In Romania breakfast was coarse sausage with a soft cheese and bread (sometimes spread with lard). In Germany we ate a variety of sliced meats, cheese, and dark bread. France does breakfast simply, a coffee and croissant or roll. Breakfast is Mexico also often offers eggs and sausage but they are served with tortillas and hot sauce, or scrambled with chilis and onions.
It means that wherever I travel I look forward to the local food. Some breakfasts are more appealing than others but it’s always fun to try them. I wonder what they’re eating in Mongolia or Mali. I expect I’ll never find out.

“Right now there are probably millions of towels being washed in hotels [around the world]. And imagine the tonnes of water and millions of watts of electricity that are used day in and day out.”
This is the sign in the bathroom of the hotel where we are staying in England.
This sign or a similar one has been posted in every hotel that I’ve stayed in for the past several years. These hotels have been in European countries, England, the Caribbean and in states across the USA. They all request that if I want towels replaced, leave them on the floor. If I’ll use them again, hang them.
I carefully hang them on the provided racks and without fail, I arrive to find they’ve been whisked away and replaced by clean towels.
I’ve brought this to the attention of the staff, written letters to management, and posted my rant on travel forums. My query/complain is often met with the equivalent of a shrug or ignorance of the problem. Once I was told that it was new staff who hadn’t been properly trained and once that it was old staff who hadn’t learned the new policy.
It’s a great policy if it would actually be implemented.
An additional comment on water conservation. I’ve notice that visiting friends from Europe, Australia and Japan turn the shower on briefly, soap, and then turn the water on briefly again to wash off the soap. Given their awareness of water conservation it surprises me to find that the towel practice is the same there as here. New towels daily regardless.
This particular rant comes up now because we are on a short visit to England where the towels have been replaced three days in a row despite our requests to leave them.
This seems like such a painless way to conserve resources that I’m continually frustrated, it makes so much sense.

“Right now there are probably millions of towels being washed in hotels [around the world]. And imagine the tonnes of water and millions of watts of electricity that are used day in and day out.”
This is the sign in the bathroom of the hotel where we are staying in England.
This sign or a similar one has been posted in every hotel that I’ve stayed in for the past several years. These hotels have been in European countries, England, the Caribbean and in states across the USA. They all request that if I want towels replaced, leave them on the floor. If I’ll use them again, hang them.
I carefully hang them on the provided racks and without fail, I arrive to find they’ve been whisked away and replaced by clean towels.
I’ve brought this to the attention of the staff, written letters to management, and posted my rant on travel forums. My query/complain is often met with the equivalent of a shrug or ignorance of the problem. Once I was told that it was new staff who hadn’t been properly trained and once that it was old staff who hadn’t learned the new policy.
It’s a great policy if it would actually be implemented.
An additional comment on water conservation. I’ve noticed that some if my visitors from Europe, Australia and Japan turn the shower on briefly, soap, and then turn the water on briefly again to rinse off the soap. Given their awareness of water conservation it surprises me to find that the towel practice is the same their countries as it is in the US. New towels daily regardless.
This particular rant comes up now because we are on a short visit to England where the towels have been replaced three days in a row despite our requests to leave them.
This seems like such a painless way to conserve resources that I’m continually frustrated, it makes so much sense.

One of the great pleasures of travel is experiencing the food and customs of other cultures. A recent surprise email from a friend in Kyrgyzstan reminded me of our experience there a few years ago.
We had volunteered with Habitat for Humanity. For two weeks we scraped paint, stripped wallpaper, plastered ceilings and painted. We were rehabbing crumbling apartments in the old six story concrete apartment blocks found all through the once USSR countries.
Lunch each day was provided by the families who would be living in the apartments. In addition to our group of 16 there were Kyrgyz people working with us. The families providing lunch for 25 or so workers cooked it in their tiny apartments on primitive stoves. They brought it to us in battered old vehicles or on city buses. Shortly before lunch time the food started arriving. Rugs were spread out on the ground, a table cloth down the center, and the food arranged the length of it. We sat on the rugs or pillows, not easy for most Americans, especially those of us on the upper end of the age scale.
They provided a veritable feast each day. Heaping bowls of rice and shredded carrots with chunks of lamb or chicken, bowls of slaw, shredded radishes and cucumber, tomatoes and cucumber with dill, plates of dried apricots, raisins and whole walnuts. Or some days heaping bowls of fresh strawberries. Two kinds of bread, little fried bread triangles and large flat loaves with poppy seeds, each person tearing off what they wanted from it. We served ourselves on china plates with metal utensils and drank hot tea made in a samovar as we watched.
The magnitude of the meal and the rugs, dishes, and food that had been brought and then needed to be carried away was a source of amazement to our group accustomed to the throw-away Western way of picnicking.
We also had the interesting experience of trying Kymys, the Kyrgyz national drink made from fermented mare’s milk. Most of us tried it in keeping with the local custom, that to refuse offends. It has a sour taste, not unlike beer but an after taste that would have to be an acquired taste.

Samovar

Lunch al fresco

A Tribute

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It’s been several weeks since I’ve updated this blog. Three weeks ago I went to Michigan to visit my younger sister and ended up being there for her husband’s final illness. His health had not been good for many years but this summer was especially difficult for him. In the end he succumbed to a hospital contracted staph infection.
My brother-in-law Gene Doerr was a man with a great sense of humor who adored his family, especially his grandchildren. Every time his granddaughter made a good play in her softball games he’d loudly proclaim, “That’s my granddaughter.” He boasted about them all with such pride that one couldn’t help but love him for it.
We shared an interest in books and genealogy and funny stories. He loved golf and spent his past few winters golfing in Florida, an interest that I found puzzling but it was shared by his wife, my sister.
He was a special man and will be greatly missed, not only by his family but by his legions of friends. The thing that made him most special to me was that he made my sister happy.

Ode To Julia

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Julia Child probably had the greatest influence on my culinary aspirations and accomplishment. Last week was the 100th anniversary of her birth. Television and newspapers have been celebrating her life with a series interviews with people who knew her and reruns of her early French Chef shows. I’ve been thinking of how she changed my whole way of thinking about food.
I grew up in a small Michigan town. Cookbooks weren’t necessary, our mothers cooked the same things their mothers had cooked. Friends shared recipes on handwritten index cards. Gelatin salads and casseroles featuring canned soups were just coming into vogue fueled by the new focus on packaged foods. It was a time of Penny Suppers in the church basement featuring meat loaf, scalloped potatoes and coleslaw prepared by the women of the church and carried to the event in baskets. Sunday dinners were chicken and dumplings or a chuck roast baked until it fell apart.
My mother could stretch a pound of hamburger to feed a dozen people and a can of salmon took many different guises. These were the years following World War II. The pressure cooker was the miracle convenience of the day. My father didn’t like “tough” meat so on the rare occasions when we had steak, into the pressure cooker it went. It came out as easy to cut as butter and as tasteless as an over cooked hamburger.
Julia and Mastering the Art of French Cooking came into my life as a Christmas gift in 1962. I was hooked. It was the beginning of an education and a quest for new and different foods. There were obstacles. Nowhere could I find the cheese for the Quiche au Fromage de Gruyère. I scoured the shops in nearby Lawrence and then into Boston’s North End. Alas, the North End had many cheeses unknown to me but not Gruyère, nor could anyone tell me what might be an acceptable substitute. I’d never bought a mushroom but the Boeuf Bourginion required them. It turned out they were delicious.
It was years before I found capers or artichokes or endive and I never did find (or look for to tell the truth) sweetbreads.
I soon acquired an assortment of wooden spoons and wire whisks and longed for a copper bowl for beating egg whites (quite beyond my budget). I did get the Julia recommended omelet pan for my birthday one year as well as a charlotte mold.
Who could resist Julia’s description of roasting a chicken? “to produce 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, and that it is done to just the proper turn.” Never let it be said that I neglected a chicken or the opportunity to make something outstanding.
The Veau Prince Orloff (Veal Gratinéed with Onions and Mushrooms) was worth the time it took but it’s been years since I’ve made it. On the other hand, the Suprêmes de Volaille À Brun (Chicken Breasts Sautéed in Butter) and the Crème Pâtissière (Custard Filling) have become old stand-bys.
Watching reruns of The French Chef this past week has brought back memories of many fabulous meals and what fun it was just watching Julia and reading Mastering the Art.

Crème Pâtissière
This is my version of Julia’s recipe. I’ve learned that it can be made just as well with fewer steps. To a purist it might not be quite the same but it’s incredibly rich, easy, and good.

2/3 cup granulated sugar
5 egg yolks
½ cup flour
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon butter
1-1/2 tablespoon vanilla or 2 tablespoons rum, orange liqueur, or instant coffee.

1. Place sugar and egg yolks in a blender and blend until pale yellow.
2. Add flour and blend until it is completely absorbed, scraping sides often.
3. Dribble the milk into the blender as it is going.
4. Pour into a sauce pan and set over moderately high heat. Stir constantly with a wire whip or wooden spoon. It will become lumpy but smooth out as you beat it. When it reaches the boil turn the heat down a bit and cook 2 or 3 minutes to cook the flour.
5. Remove from heat and stir in butter and flavoring.
6. Cool
This makes a wonderful filling for a cream pie, just slice bananas between two layers of the cream or top with fresh berries. It’s also good for cream puffs and eclairs and anything else you might think of.

It’s amazing to think that one can live in one area for fifty years and miss some of it’s richness. When we arrived in Massachusetts with our little family we set about to see everything. The Freedom Trail, Martha’s Vineyard, the coast of Maine, Battleship Cove in Fall River, the Boston Museums. We had a membership to Sturbridge Village and the Children’s Museum and thought nothing of spending a day driving to New Hampshire or Vermont to check out the possibilities.
We were disbelieving when our neighbors, born and brought up in the same town, had never been to most of the places we loved to visit.
Fast forward to the present. In the past ten years I’ve discovered how much we’ve actually missed. The disconcerting thing is that it is often foreign visitors who’ve made me aware.
A Japanese visitor wanted to go to the Lousia May Alcott House in Concord, a place that I’d always intended to visit. Her books had been my absolute favorites when I was a girl. Somehow I’d never gotten there. I enjoyed it completely.
A guest from Germany suggested Castle in the Clouds in Moultonborough, New Hampshire
Again, I’d passed it countless times and wondered about it but never stopped. We went and had a delightful time seeing the house and walking the beautiful grounds.
Halibut Point State Park in Rockport was just a sign we passed when I took visitors on the “tourist route”, the drive where I show guests Essex/Manchester/Gloucester/Rockport/Annisquam, the Cape Ann highlights. We stopped when a visitor said they’d heard it was worth a visit, it’s now become a favorite walk and place to take friends.
A visitor from Spain wanted to see the Crowninshield Bentley House in Salem. Another great place to visit if you like historic houses, which I do.
My friend Gail from London is in Boston for three weeks. Yesterday she suggested a visit to the Gropius House in Lincoln, a place I didn’t know existed although it’s been a museum since 1984. An interesting house and furnishings with a fascinating history.
She’s already attended a concert at a local library and we plan a trip to the Fuller Craft Center in Brockton, another place I’d never heard of. We’ll also attend a night of opera on the Esplanade next week something she read about in her research for her stay.
Shizuko from Japan is visiting us in September, she just wrote to ask if we can visit “the shore where nobody’s there”, a line from Anne Morrow’s book A Gift from the Sea. I’m looking forward to getting the book and discovering where Anne Morrow finds this place. We will try to go there, or at least a place that has a similar feel.
It’s taken a while for me to realize that I’m missing much of what the Northshore of Massachusetts has to offer. I’m now on a quest to remedy that. It shouldn’t take foreigners to remind us of what a wealth of treasures are available so close to home.

Downsizing

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It seems ironic that we spend a good portion of our lives accumulating things and then spend more years trying to get rid of things. Downsizing, divesting, whatever it’s called is a lot of work.
Books are a good example. I had filled a wall of bookcases and reached the point of getting rid of one any time I bought another. Now I’m faced with the task of putting them all in a much smaller place along with the ones that Max has accumulated.
There are the dozens of cookbooks that I’ve treasured and spattered with grease and batter over the years. It seems impossible to part with them but if I’m truthful with myself, I mostly find recipes on the Internet these days. I’ve copied many or my favorites from the books to my computer. It’s so much easier to find them.
I can probably give up the many volume set of Woman’s Day cookbooks with all the Christmas cookie recipes I made each year, I only do a few old standbys anymore. And I can part with the Lobster Tales Cookbook, and the two volume Encyclopedia of Cooking, Dr. Oetker’s German Cookery (did I ever even open it?) and the Best of Bon Appetit.
The Moosewood cookbook stays as does The Silver Palate duo, and battered as it is, The Joy of Cooking, my bible when I married. Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volumes I and II stay for sure, but not her later cookbooks.
The decision to keep or not keep takes on a huge emotional significance. James Beard’s Bread Book hasn’t been opened for more years than I can remember but it was the source of the bread recipes we made, 8 or 10 loaves at a time, Saturday mornings when our children were growing up. I’ll let it go.
I adored reading Feasts for All Seasons by Roy Andries De Groot even though I may never have made a recipe from it. It has to stay. (Note: I just looked it up on the Internet and a copy in good condition is priced at $155!)
The Andover Cookbook stays despite the broken plastic spiral binding, too many favorites in it, The Alaskan Heritage Seafood Book goes, as does The Art of Fine Baking by Paula Peck. My days of spending an entire day making an elaborate dessert are over.
I’ll keep The Blue Strawberry Cookbook by James Haller. It brings back memories of many wonderful meals at the tiny restaurant on Ceres Street in Portsmouth. It’s gone now but we discovered it soon after it opened in 1970 and it became our favorite place for special dinners. It was our first experience with a prix fixe menu, we were very impressed. The same starter, soup, and salad were served to everyone. There were only three choices of entrée: meat, poultry, or seafood prepared in an unexpected way, and then dessert was always fresh strawberries for dipping into sour cream and brown sugar..
The two chefs cooked in a minuscule kitchen, visible when entering the restaurant, and then served the food themselves from big platters. They described it as it was presented. We were awed by the unusual combinations like Five Minute Breast of Chicken in a Sour Cream Sauce with Fried Peaches and Zucchini or Mixed Fruit in a Roquefort Meringue.
The Full title of the book was The Blue Strawberry Cookbook: Cooking (Brilliantly) Without Recipes. No specific recipes just ideas for putting foods together. Haller believed that recipes imply rules and stifle creativity. Here’s one from the book.
POTATOES STUFFED WITH GREENS
Take any kind of greens, spinach, beet greens, chard, etc. Chop into small pieces and cook them until just wilted.
Bake some potatoes. When done cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the potato keeping the skins intact. Mash the potatoes with the greens and pile the mixture back into the shells.
Bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 15 or 20 minutes. Haller doesn’t say to but I’d put in salt and pepper and sprinkle a little grated cheese on the top.

Home again from our European holiday. It is always nice to go away and nice to come home. Our last ten days was spent in Germany traveling by car part of the time and visiting a friend in Munich for several days.
Things that impressed us:
Both France and Germany seem to be incredibly energy conscious. The first thing that we noticed was the size of the cars. In Paris it seemed like every tenth one was a Smart Car and the biggest ones we saw were about the size of a mid-sized Ford or Toyota sedan. This was also true in Germany. Amazingly, we didn’t see an SUV the entire three weeks. I have read that American car makers produce small highly efficient cars for the European market but not in the US. Hmm, given the much greater distances we travel in this country one might think it would be the other way around.
Train travel is fast and frequent between cities and a network of buses seem to connect all the towns and villages. Solar panels cover the roofs of barns and houses and in some places, entire fields are covered with the panels.
Bicycles are everywhere, well marked bike paths in the cities are filled with bikers. We had to be on guard that we weren’t walking in one since it was new to us. It’s common to see shoppers, with baskets attached to the bike, carrying the marketing home. We were astonished to see broad bike paths and many cyclers along the edges of fields in the countryside miles from any town or village. Driving on switch-backs through the mountains of the Black Forest area, there were the same well used bike paths.
I couldn’t help but think of how hard it has been trying to get a bike/walking path from town to Crane Beach.

Driving through the countryside, forests, mountains, and small towns, was one of our favorite things. Outside Munich we were taken to an old monastery and then to a charming village with a view of high mountains in the distance. Everywhere there were bright flower blooming on balconies and in front of shops.

A typical country scene


In many towns we saw what our hostess called “May Sticks” a literal translation from German to English. We would call them May Poles. In southern Bavaria they are painted blue and white and often have symbols of the local trades along the sides. It is also the custom in some villages for lads from another village to try to steal it necessitating close watch over it by the locals.

A May Pole in Munich's Viktualienmarkt, a daily food market in the center of the city

Strasbourg

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Paris is big and grand and enchanting, Strasbourg is small and charming. It is filled with 16th century houses and lots of tourists but still small enough to walk to through the entire old section.

A typical street of houses in the old section

A very old house opposite the cathedrale

Our hotel was in the Cathedrale Square. The cathedrale itself dates from the 13th century.

Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg

“it is widely considered to be among the finest examples of high, or late, Gothic architecture. At 142 metres (466 feet), it was the world’s tallest building from 1647 to 1874, when it was surpassed by St. Nikolai’s Church, Hamburg. Today it is the sixth-tallest church in the world.” (Wikipedia)
Our first morning we were wakened by bells, very loud bells, beginning at 7AM. It sounded like they were in our room. First the cathedrale and then other churches in the immediate vicinity. It wasn’t a place for sleeping in.
We had been hoping for great food in Paris but had our first really fabulous meal in Strasbourg. I had pork ribs in a honey-rosemary sauce with potatoes au gratin, Max had pork tenderloin in a rocquforte sauce.
Strolling after dinner we happened on an Oompah Band, a dozen men in uniforms playing in a little square. It was a nice way to end an evening in balmy Strasbourg.

The typical restaurant that we’ve found in Paris is small and intimate and doesn’t open until 7:30 or 8. People seem to spend the entire evening over their meal. There isn’t any pressure from the wait staff to “turn the table over”. It’s not unusual to see people still lingering over wine or coffee close to midnight.
Thursday night we had a different experience. We went to a restaurant recommended by a friend of Max’s. Nos Ancêtres Les Gaulois. It has atmosphere with a capital A. We were led through several small rooms with irregular stone floors on different levels. A boar’s head and swords adorn the thick stone walls and animal skins are attached to the open beams of the ceiling. The tables are small and only a few inches apart. They were set with red and white checked napkins, cutlery, and an empty pottery pitcher.
The pitcher is to fill with red wine from kegs at the end of the room. There was a steady stream of diners passing our table for refills. There’s a small “starter’s bar” with an assortment of pickles and olives, paté, and an assortment of sausages. The salad comes in the form of a large basket containing an astonishing bouquet of vegetables. Each table has a small bottle of vinegarette but the task of preparing the food is up to the diner.

Salad basket


Our basket was shared with a table of Russians in town for a convention. They showed us how to pull what we wanted, slice with the steak knives that come on each table and assemble our own salad.
The main course, le plat in French was a choice of beef, lamb, or duck served with a baked potato and sour cream. This was followed by a cheese platter and then a choice of four desserts. We chose lemon sorbet frozen into a lemon.
A guitar player arrived eventually, roving the room and playing lively music. The room was filled with, I’m guessing, mainly tourists. As the wine flowed, the music encouraged much singing and applause. It wasn’t the best food in Paris but fun and a different experience for us.

We’re nearly a week in Paris. We’ve been visiting the obligatory tourist sites, Notre Dame, Les Invalides, Rodin, and the Louvre. We’ve also been exploring the neighborhood of our apartment. On the weekend there was a “marché du pays”, one of the wonderful markets that appear in different areas with vendors of all sorts. A table with a dozen kinds of olives, another with twenty different cheeses, fish of all sorts, vegetables, fruits, baked goods, pates, clothing, it’s hard to describe but fascinating and fun.
The weather has been cloudy with many showers and occasional downpours. That means the photos aren’t great but we’ve been able to move about with little discomfort. To our dismay, our ATM cards aren’t working here. We’ve traveled around the world, Japan, Argentina, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, for twenty odd years relying on ATM withdrawals and here in one of the biggest cities in the world, we can’t get cash. Fortunately we did get some euros before leaving home.
The pastries available at the patisseries are amazing. Fruit tartes piled high with whipped cream, cream puffs, madeleines. Even the tarte aux pomme (apple pie) is very different from ours. They don’t use spices other than vanilla and it is an open tart with the apples sliced and arranged in a spiral that looks pretty. It’s often served with whipped cream. When I get home I’ll post a recipe that I think in a winner.
We walked, and walked, and walked, to the Tour de Eiffel (Eiffel Tower) today under cloudy skies. It’s a pretty impressive structure. We bypassed the long lines waiting to ride to the top in an elevator and didn’t even consider climbing the stairs. It was enough to walk under it and imagine the engineering that went into designing such a structure in 1889 when it became the entrance arch to the World’s Fair. It’s the most paid visited site in the world (Wikipedia).
Musée

Paris

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It’s Saturday morning in Paris and we are happily settled in an apartment in the 17th arrondissement, one of the 20 neighborhoods that make up Paris proper. Our apartment is up three flights of stairs, 58 in all according to Max who’s been counting them.
We are enjoying the fact that we are surrounded by people who live here not by legions of tourists. Paris is an easy city to navigate so we can be nearly any place we want to go via a short bus or metro ride.
One of the most striking thing we’ve notice is the size of cars. Dozens of Smart Cars and Minis and not one single SUV to be seen, not even a small one. We watched a car park in a spot that was clearly too small. It backed in until it was touching the car behind it and then just pushed it back far enough to fit in the space. Amazing
Paris has a system of bicycle rentals, the Vélib, that provides bike rentals automatically. We see rows of gray bikes parked along the streets attached to posts. A credit card subscription for a day or a week allows access to a bike from one of the 1800 locations in greater Paris. It can be ridden anyplace in the city and docked in a different station.
These bikes are seen being ridden everywhere and motorscooters are also common.
So far I don’t have much to report about food. We’ve visited a couple of markets for cheese and fruit and bought some fresh baguettes from the boulangerie. I had a lovely Nicoise salad yesterday in a posh restaurant near the Louvre. Quail’s eggs, tiny green beans, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, olives, anchovies, and slices of rare tuna served in a huge lettuce basket and dressed with a coarse mustardy dressing.

Salad Nicoise

Bees

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The very unusual weather of this spring made us very much aware of the importance of bees. Without them there would be no fruit since pollination requires that they do their thing, traveling from blossom to blossom carrying pollen. The fruit blooms came early followed by cold days when bees didn’t venture outside their hives.
Our first experience with bees was in the late 1960s when, for some unremembered reason, Max decided to keep bees. He built the hives and the beeswax frames that the bees use to construct cells for holding the honey. He sent off for a queen and some bees to support her. Their arrival at the post office meant an immediate call to pick them up. Soon we had acquired veiled hats, gloves, and a smoker, used to lull the bees when inspecting the hive.
We joined the Essex County Beekeeper’s Association and attended their meetings at Essex Agricultural School where each meeting started with a rousing rendition of “Oh There’s Honey in the Rock”. Other beekeepers were generous with suggestions and advice.
In the winter we mixed sugar syrup to feed them and in the fall, harvested the honey using a hand cranked centrifugal extractor, a very sticky process. Soon we had two hives and a plenitude of honey.
Crises arose from time to time when, for some reason, the whole colony would decide to find a more attractive site. A swarm of bees requires quick action. One time I called Max home from work to collect them from where they’d settled in a huge buzzing ball on a neighbor’s shrub. Loading an empty hive on a wheelbarrow, he placed it under the swarm and then shook the branch to encourage them to drop into it.
In addition to having a generous supply of honey we had great resources for our children’s science projects.
We were pleased when in his middle school years our grandson David started keeping bees, selling the honey at local fairs earning spending money and contributing to community charities.
We no longer think of bees as a fun hobby. Without them, we’d have no fruit. Although we personally no longer manage bees, they are crucial to the success of the orchard. We have two beekeepers who keep many hives at the farm, extracting the honey and selling it back to us for our customers.
Bees are fascinating creatures. Wikipedia has a wealth of information for anyone wanting to learn more.

Cecelia's Bee, her 4th grade art sand painting

Last November I wrote some of my thoughts and frustrations about the constant barrage of appeals for money from charitable organizations. The ones that I have chosen to support are ones where I am sure my money is being well spent. Most but not all of these are local.
The topic of charitable giving came up again this morning when I received the Annual Report from the organization Kiva. Although I believe there are some very good large charities it is hard to sort out the ones that are most effective. Some time ago I read a Nicholas Kristoff column in the New York Times telling about Kiva. Since then I have contributed some of my donations to it.
Kiva loans small amounts to people around the world who have no other access to capital. I have loaned money in $25 increments to women struggling to start small home based businesses or farmers who need money for fertilizer or animals, or shopkeepers who need more products to sell. My money is added to that from other donors to meet the need of the individual. The best thing about it is that the money is a loan, not a gift. It is paid back over a specified period of time. When it is repaid, I have the option of getting the money back or re-loaning it. It is a nearly painless way of giving, really the gift that keeps giving.
The Annual Report is rare as such reports go because it is a fascinating description of the work of the organization. They have the highest rating from Charity Watch and pride themselves on transparency. The report may be found at www.kiva.org under Updates.
Along with Kiva I should mention the other international charity that I think is well worth while. I volunteered in a medical clinic in a Haitian village for several years. I know that every dollar donated goes to provide medical supplies and pay the salaries of the Haitian staff who work there. American volunteers pay their own way and the young doctor who founded the clinic and continues to be it’s director and guiding force receives no compensation. Haiti has long been the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and since the earthquake the people are only more desperate. www.healingartmissions.org

It’s time for the first harvest of the year. It isn’t rhubarb, asparagus or strawberries that starts our harvest season but dandelions. This unusual winter and early spring hasn’t been kind to the berries and fruit trees but the dandelions are thriving. Anyone passing by can’t help to notice the cheerful yellow flowers blooming in the grassy areas of the parking lot.
Dandelions are surely the easiest crop that we grow. They just come up year after year with no help from us. When Max decided to start the winery it seemed fortuitous that there in the parking lot was a crop ready for harvesting.
Dandelions are found all over the world and have been widely valued centuries. The young leaves are eaten in salads or sautéed as a vegetable. Their flavor is a bit like endive or chicory. They are as rich in vitamins and minerals as any other food available. The roots are edible and used to be made into tonics believed to make one healthier in general and were specifically prized for treating gall-bladder and liver ailments.
Dandelions in this country appear to have been introduced by European settlers. Dandelion wine was probably first made in Europe but became a popular drink for homesteaders and farmers across the country.
In 1964 when we bought our first home, a Victorian cottage built in 1848, we discovered several bottles of dandelion wine in the old fruit cellar. It had been bottled in 1924. We were curious and somewhat apprehensively opened a bottle to sample. It was a very sweet drink with an unusual flavor. That was our introduction to dandelion wine.
Fast forward to Goodale (Russell) Orchards and the beginnings of the winery. It seemed only natural to take advantage of a crop that never needed to be planted or fertilized or cared for. It grew with no help from us and was just waiting to be harvested.
The flowers are picked, mixed with raisins, sugar, and water and allowed to steep for several days. They are then pressed to extract the flavors. The resulting liquid is placed in vats for the process of fermentation to begin. The finished wine is a smooth, slightly sweet, dessert wine that has become an important addition to our traditional fruit wines.

Time Flies

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Thirty-three years ago this month we started restoring and renovating Russell Orchards. At that time it was called Goodale Orchards, a name it had carried for fifty-nine years. In 2000 we decided that it was time to give it our name.
We were a suburban family; an aerospace engineer, a nurse, and five nearly adult children. Other than weekend gardening we hadn’t given much thought to farming but Max was looking for a career change and this was it. The whole family pitched in to get things operating. Our four sons worked after school and then during the summer, our daughter was committed to another summer job but her boy friend came to stay and work.
Well-managed orchards are replanted every twenty years or so on a rotating basis. Our trees had been planted in l920. The hurricane of 1938 had taken down half of the trees and those remaining needed constant attention.
Apple trees must be pruned in the winter, thinned in the summer and watched vigilantly for signs of insects and disease. Mice nibble at the roots and poison ivy left unchecked will strangle the trees. We knew nothing about this but we learned.
We joined the Essex County Fruit Growers Association and the New York and New England Apple Institute. We subscribed to Fruit Grower, Vegetable Grower, Farm Journal, and Farm Wife News, journals we had not even imagined existed. We discovered a whole sub-culture to which we suddenly belonged. Other growers were generous with their advice and support.
It was fortunate that Max had worked summers during college as a mechanic and had taught our sons the intricacies of engines. The tractors nearly qualified as antiques. They needed constant attention to be coaxed into pulling the nearly as decrepit sprayer and mower.
The orchard store opened in September with apples, cider, some preserves, and candy. There have been tremendous changes over the years as anyone familiar with the orchard can attest. There were struggles but also great satisfaction along the way.
Our 34th season is about to begin. Four years ago we were thrilled to be able to turn the orchard over to our son Doug and his wife Miranda. Perhaps in another twenty-five or thirty years it will be one of their children, Cecelia or Hunton who will be running the orchard.

Concerts

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Last week we joined a sell-out crowd to hear Miranda’s concert at the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport. For the second year in a row she mesmerized the audience in that beautiful venue with her repertoire of rock, folk, and ballads. Several people mentioned to me that she just gets better and better. It’s hard to imagine a more satisfying evening of song. Strangers sitting next to me said they were stunned by her performance, they had only read about her and decided to come. I casually mentioned that she’s my daughter-in-law. It’s such fun to have a real celebrity in the family.

Earlier in the week we attended the Ipswich Schools String Orchestra Concert. Our own fourth graders Cecelia on the cello and Kristen on the violin did a great job. They only started playing their instruments last fall and we were impressed with the progress they’ve made in such a short time..
In the elementary grades Winthrop and Doyon students played together, but each grade, fourth, fifth, and sixth played with their own grade. All the middle school students played together, and then the high school students played. It was a delight to hear the progression from year to year. The high school orchestra was sensational.

All in all, it was a wonderful musical week for the Russell family.

We arrived home just in time for 80 degree temperatures, it felt hotter than it was in DR. I’ve been catching up and getting settled but before I begin writing about life here in Ipswich I’m sending a piece that I wrote from Florida while we were enroute home.

We are in the land of sprawling sub-divisions, strip malls, 8 lane highways and Early Bird Specials. There is also lots of sunshine, palm trees and sand. This is Florida. We’ve come to the conclusion that one reason we don’t care much for Florida is that everywhere we go, people look too much like us, a reminder of our passing years.
I am stunned by the amount of wealth that seems concentrated here. Huge homes line the coast limiting public access to the water in many areas. Yachts and sail boats fill the marinas and line the canals. I wonder how in the world so many people in such a small part of the world have so much money. At the same time, it’s apparent that one doesn’t need wealth to live here, less affluent communities are abound inland.
For the past thirty years we’ve had family living in Florida; occasionally we visit them. It’s easy to disparage the lifestyle here and feel smug about living in beautiful New England where we have villages and variety and the changing of the seasons. This trip I’ve come to see Florida in a less harsh light. I can’t imagine ever living here but looking around at the the Snow Birds who spend winters here or the people of modest means who have retired here I’m seeing things differently.
The license plates tell a story Central Florida. Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, this is a place where mid-western farmers and factory workers and laborers who have worked hard all their lives can have their time in the sun. Great wealth is here but it’s also a place where a Social Security income can suffice. Whether in RV parks or gated communities retired people can enjoy a comfortable lifestyle in a comfortable climate.
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This is a magical place and we are sad to be leaving. We have loved being in a real Dominican neighborhood where children play and people live their lives in the street.
We will miss the beach and watching the fishermen. We’ll miss the wonderful food, eating meals on the beach with the glorious green sea rimmed with sand and palm trees arrayed before us. We’ll miss the children playing in the street and the domino players slapping their tiles down with a resounding smack.

A hot domino game

We won’t miss the constant buzz of motor scooters, motor cycles, and quads, (the four wheeled cycles that are the choice of the French expats) that fill the streets. But we have grown accustomed to these vehicles, marveling at the complete absence of helmets. Parents transporting children on them is common. Today we saw a family of four on a small motorcycle.
We’ll remember the bottle tree a short distance from us and the truck filled with sneakers and shoes for sale that sits just around the corner near the one piled high with oranges and plantains.

Bottle tree, an new way to recycle and decorate for Christmas too.

We’ll remember the store in the center of town where a man hand rolls cigars with tobacco from Equador and Connecticut while displaying cigarette packs loudly proclaiming that Smoking Kills.

After packing Max’s paintings this morning we went to the little thatch-roofed French cafe at the end of our street for lunch. In an overgrown field on the opposite corner (on Las Terrenas’ main street) a game of baseball has been going on for the past three days. Today it has cows in it. It has had cows periodically since we arrived. Where they come from and where they go is a puzzle but no baseball today. Later this afternoon we’ll go to the center of town for some ice cream, made on the premises of a small shop and take our final walk on the beach.

Excursions in DR

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Las Terrenas is a perfect place for tanning on a beach or eating great food but it is also possible to take part in lots of other activities. Diving, windsurfing, kiteboarding, horseback riding, snorkeling, and hiking are all readily available as well as excursions to the beautiful Los Haitises National Park and the hidden beaches of Rincon and Madame.
We planned a trip to Rincon and Madame beaches for snorkeling and a lobster cookout but it was canceled for rain. A trip to Los Haitises was more successful. There was only one other English speaking person with Laura and me so we had a boat and guide all to ourselves.
Los Haitises teems with birds and has huge mangrove forests. The coast is lined with caves, some can be entered by boat, others by walking. One cave held pictoglyphs and pectoglyphs believed to be at least over 500 years old. Limestone islands rise along the coastline. Much to our dismay, our boat driver took great pleasure zooming around them at full speed in our small boat.

Inside a cave

Pictoglyph

Limestone island

Mangrove forest

Our whale watch was less successful. It was raining much of the day with huge swells in the sea. We saw very little whale activity and between the rain and the drenching from the waves, we arrived home soaked through. Our rainjackets did manage to keep us dry from the waist up. Despite those things, we had a fun day.

Whale mother and baby

Dancing in DR

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Our daughter Laura left on Monday after two weeks with us. Our usual schedule (rut perhaps) was drastically altered. She was eager to be doing things and I was happy to join her. We went on excursions, checked out the nightlife and stayed up late watching old movies on TV.

Laura took some dance lessons at Salsa Caribe, a nearby dance school. The teachers there encouraged her to check out the local dance club. It is on the main street of town at the corner of our little street. We’ve heard the music nightly since we arrived but never seen it in action.

She and I went out at 10:PM, the music was blasting and there were several couples dancing, a few others at the ubiquitous plastic tables and chairs scattered about the cavernous room. As we watched, the room slowly filled. Laura held her own doing the Salsa, the Merengue, and the Bachata with several different partners. At least that’s what she said the dances were, they looked the same to me.

By the time we left at 11:30 the room was packed and things were just getting started. Back in our apartment, we heard the music until long after 3:AM

A night or two later Laura was able to practice her Salsa again with the husband of a British woman I met here. It looks like fun.

Fishermen Again

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The fishermen hold endless fascination for us. As I wrote before, several times a week we end our beach walk/swim with a drink at the little cafe on the sand where the fishermen roll their boats up. Once the boats are high out of the water a man will hoist the engine on his shoulder and walk off to put it in the back of a little pickup. I mentioned a boat engine being carried on a motor scooter. I took a photo of it a couple of days ago.

Loaded for home


One of the fishermen unchained a motor scooter from the palm tree that it rested on and drove it close to the boat. He lifted a five gallon gas can and put it in front of him over the scooter engine. Another man hoisted the boat engine across the seat behind the driver with the steering stick tucked under the drivers arm. Finally, another five gallon bucket, maybe a bait bucket, was slipped over one side of the handlebars and the man drove away.

Our neighbors

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The street that runs behind our apartment is a poor neighborhood. Tiny houses line one side of the street. On the other side is a sort of wooded area. It has tall palm trees and lots of shorter vegetation. A triple barbed wire fence encloses it and is used as the clothesline for the women in the houses. There appears to be a communal washing machine that sits in front of one of the houses.

Laundry drying

The ground under the trees is bare dirt with dead palm fronds scattered across it. This is the playground for the young children. Today when we passed it appeared that they’d built a lean-to camp and were happily playing under the lean-to. Another time a table and some plastic chairs were inside the fence. Children were gathered around watching men playing a spirited game of dominoes.

Playground

Often a group of boys are playing marbles in the middle of the street, or having a rousing game of baseball using a stick and some seed pods that are about the size of a lime. It is fun to watch the enjoyment that they create for themselves.
Last night we took a walk on the beach early in the evening. Walking home at dusk we found the entire street filled with people. Chairs had been brought out and groups of adults were gathered in front of their houses. Their conversation and laughter was accompanied by music emanating from many of the houses.
Children were playing in the street, I couldn’t tell if they were organized games but seemed to be having a wonderful time. The occasional car or motor-scooter would come zooming down the street, the children would scatter and then resume their play.
It is moments like these that make our stay in Las Terrenas such a special experience for us.

Art

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This seems to be a town of artists. The streets are lined with paintings; everywhere we look we see paintings. Giant paintings, they are huge, I can’t imagine how large a room/house would have to be to hang one. There are paintings in small tourist type shops but mostly they hang on the sides of buildings, on temporary walls or stand along the street leaning against walls and buildings.

For the most part the style is similar. Bright primary colors and bold outlines with little depth or perspective. It is similar to the art I saw in Haiti. I don’t know enough about art to know how to describe the paintings so I did some research. I think it would be best described as naïve art. That seems to be a term applied to the art of artists who are largely untrained. There are serious artists here also, their work can be seen in some small galleries.

Twice we’ve seen paintings being transported via a motor scooter. It is a two man operation. The rider has a four by six foot painting or two roped crosswise behind him. A second man rides on the back and is holding onto the painting so that it’s wedged between the two men. They go slowly.

Max has befriended one of the painters, he’s one of the few people we’ve met who speaks English. When Max said he’d like to buy a small painting before we leave he refused insisting it would have to be a gift because they’re friends. No resolution has been reached.

Coconuts

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Another beautiful day. We walked on the beach, Max swam and then we watched some of the fishing boats come in. I took a picture of the little bar/restaurants lining the beach. There are more elegant places but we like this place because of the local color.

Bars on fishing beach

Fish market on the beach

Walking down the beach we came across a man with a very long pole knocking coconuts out of the Palm trees. His pole was made up of four very long bamboo poles tied together. He poked at a cluster of coconuts high up in the trees. One or sometimes several would come falling down. Some rolled down the beach into the sea. One of his helpers would run into the surf and spear them, one by one with a machete.

Poking at coconuts

The road runs along the beach with the tall coconut palms between the road and beach. The coconut gathers heap them in pile along the road and then carry them away in their little pickups.

Waiting for pickup. Notice the erosion along the beach. It drops a couple of feet leaving roots exposed.

Fishing Boats

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Along the beach here in Las Terrenas there are a series of little bar/restaurants with a few plastic tables and chairs in the sand. We like to sit there and watch the fishing boats come in. They start arriving late in the morning. The horizon is clear and then a dot appears. They get closer zig-zagging among the reefs that are visible in the clear green water. One man stands in the front, the other is running the motor. They come in one or two at a time.
As they approach shore men, who have been hanging out on the beach, start taking six foot lengths of sewer pipe to the water’s edge. The boats come straight up to the beach, lifting their motors as they get near. The fishermen jump out and joined by any other man who’s around, they lift the front of the boat onto the makeshift rollers.
As one roller is left behind, it gets moved to the front. Finally, high and dry, the rollers get abandoned until the next boat approaches.

Starting up the beach

The boats are simple, about 18 feet long, fairly deep, and other than a couple of benches across, bare of fittings. There is no sign of life jackets or for that matter, fishing poles. Burlap bags hold the gear, most likely nets of some kind.

A typical fishing boat

Some of the boats only seem to have one or two fish, others as many as eight or ten large fish. Some have caught what appear to be red snapper, they are much smaller. Once on shore the fish are moved from the boats to some tables in the sand that comprise the fish market. The gear gets moved from the boats to old pickup trucks also parked on the sand and the men then wait around for the other boats to arrive.

Two fish. We don't know what kind they are

Yesterday fourteen boats eventually arrived and were safely stowed on shore. The men hoisted the outboard motors onto the waiting pickups. On man strapped his outboard onto the back of a motorbike. By shortly after noon, the fishermen were gone and the fish market doing a brisk business.

Life in DR

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Days pass slowly here in the sunshine. We take a walk each morning and sometimes have lunch at one of the many little restaurants nearby. We like a little French bistro on the corner of our street.
There is a tiny bar and a few tables and chairs under a thatched roof. The menu is in French, written on a blackboard. The waitress is a sweet young Dominican woman who only speaks Spanish. This makes ordering interesting. I can read most of the menu but if we order in French she doesn’t understand. She tries to clarify in Spanish and we don’t understand.
Fortunately the French woman who is the apparent owner comes to our rescue. She interprets my bad French into Spanish, says a few words in English, we all smile and nod and when our food arrives it is invariably good.
Our apartment is spacious and comfortable but the kitchen leaves much to be desired. The gas stove is tiny and requires a match to light. The two pots have small handles on both sides but there are no pot holders so trying to manipulate them without getting burned is a challenge. We’ve been unable to find a saucepan with a long handle in any of the shops, or potholders. A folded towel has to make do.
There are a few dishes, some tableware with plastic handles that are wobbly and the dullest knives in existence. It all makes eating out very attractive. I’ve done a few one pot meals however. The most successful was a sort of pork osso bucco. A pork shank simmered for several hours in white wine, onion, red pepper, salt and pepper. At the end I added a potato and a carrot. Not bad.

2012 is here, a new year, a chance to see new things, try new foods, meet new people be open to adventures. Happy New Year.
It’s already mid-January and my last post was Christmas Cookies. Christmas was a fun time with the family and suffice it to say I’m a bit behind in posting.
The week after flew by and I was caught up in getting the house ready to close up and packing for my trip south. Last week I arrived in the Dominican Republic where we’ve rented an apartment for the next few weeks.
Max had come the first of December to stay in a town on the Samana Peninsula directly north of the major city of Santo Domingo. He met me in Santo Domingo for a few days of sightseeing before heading to our stay in Las Terrenas.
It has the slightest resemblance to Ferragudo in Portugal’s Algarve region where we spent last winter. It has beautiful beaches and fishermen who come in daily selling fresh fish right off the boats. There are small shops where we can buy groceries but there the resemblance ends. Ferragudo was definitely very European, this is very Latin.
The streets are filled with activity, people walking or just hanging out, women washing clothes on their doorsteps and hanging them to dry on fences or bushes, children playing marbles in the middle of the road, dogs wandering about. Tiny shops and restaurants line the main street. Motor scooters, ATVs, trucks, cars, music issuing from shops and homes and the occasional pickup truck with a loudspeaker bringing messages in Spanish all add to the cacophony.
The spectacular beaches, pristine waters, and perfect climate make it a draw for tourists. For the adventurous there is snorkeling, horseback riding, and many other activities. The main street is lined with shops selling crafts, tee shirts, postcards and other things ubiquitous in tourist areas. It is not as highly developed as some of the big resort areas however, so it still feels like a small town.
We’ve been interested to discover a large French community here, apparently ex-pats. We’ve eaten in several excellent French restaurants and often have coffee at a small French boulangerie.
One of the best things about travel is being immersed in a new culture. We are enjoying getting to know this one a bit.

The beach at Las Terrenas

One of the Christmas traditions that I enjoy is making Christmas cookies. When the children were in elementary school I spent weeks making cookies and freezing them. The last day of school before the holidays an array of a dozen different kinds of cookies were arranged on trays and taken to their teachers. The year after Aaron, our youngest, moved on to Junior High, I met one of his elementary school teachers who bemoaned the fact that there would be no more cookie trays from the Russell children.
Another event that became a tradition during those years were cookie parties. Each child could invite four or five of his or her friends to decorate cookies. The parties were scheduled an hour apart and lasted an hour so that an any one time there were no more than six present. The week before the party I made endless batches of cookie dough, rolled it and cut out Christmas trees, stars, bells, reindeer, Santa’s and angels. A few gingerbread men too.
On the day of the party I beat up batches of icing, tinted it different colors and set them out with bowls of different kinds of sprinkles and and small candies. Each child decorated a dozen or so cookies and went home with a plateful of his/her creations.
I tried many different cookies over the years but a few became special favorites. Pecan Sandies and Angel Bars from Joy of Cooking and Raspberry Strip Cookies from a long ago cookbook were always included.

Raspberry Strip Cookies

1 cup soft butter (2 sticks)
½ cup sugar
3 cups flour
Raspberry jam

Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
¼ cup water

Beat the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Gradually beat flour into the butter mixture. The mixture will be crumbly, use your hands to form into a smooth dough. This will happen with the warmth of your hands.
Roll the dough into logs about ½ inch in diameter and the length of the baking sheet. Place on a baking sheet a little distance apart. With your little finger or knife handle make a groove the the length of the logs. Bake in 375 degree oven for ten minutes. Remove and fill the groove with raspberry jam. Return to the oven and bake another ten minutes until the dough is set and light golden.
While the cookies are baking stir the powdered sugar and water together.
As soon as the cookies come out of the oven brush them with the glaze. Cut the warm logs diagonally into cookies about 1 inch wide. Cool on cookie sheet set on a wire rack.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, catalogs and fliers in every mail delivery exhorting us to buy, buy, buy. I know it’s good for the economy but just where does this fit with Christmas? You know, peace on earth, goodwill to men. I understand that Christmas sales can make the difference between success or failure for retail businesses but would people really not buy the same things if they waited to shop on Friday morning?
Stores opening at 4AM used to seem crazy to me but opening on Thanksgiving evening somehow made me sad. Thanksgiving is one holiday that can be enjoyed by people of all faiths, or none. It is a time when families gather to enjoy, or not, each other’s company. To end a day like that with a shopping trip seems to negate the holiday in some way. That doesn’t even take into account all the people who have to end their holiday by going to work.
I know that for many people shopping is entertainment. That’s fine if that’s what they enjoy but it’s hard for me to understand why it has to be done on Thanksgiving Day.
I stopped at Northshore Mall last week for something I hadn’t been able to find locally. Counters were piled high with clothing, sporting equipment, notions, jewelry, every imaginable item that could be a gift. There were long lines of people with arms full of items waiting to be checked out. I’m sure that the shoppers want to find a gift that will please the recipient but I wonder how many of those same items will be in line for return or exchange the week after Christmas.
I admit that I’ve become increasingly cynical. Like many older people, I remember when Christmas was a very different celebration. As long as I’m having this little rant, Christmas decorations going up right after Halloween and Christmas music being played in every store until it becomes meaningless background noise are two more of the things that seem to make Christmas season less enjoyable over the years. Anticipation is part of the pleasure and shouldn’t be spread over months.

Birthday Party

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Birthdays are special occasions and in our family most of them seem to come in a relatively short period of time. From August 25 to November 30 we have thirteen birthdays to celebrate. This year the celebrant’s ages ranged from 75 to 10. Wednesday was the last birthday until January.
Cecelia is ten. The occasion was marked by a gathering of six grandparents, an uncle and an aunt, along with her mom and dad and brother. Before dinner she approached each of us to say that at dinner she would be making an announcement and hoped we would all be quiet (we can be a noisy bunch) and listen.
When we were seated she stood and requested our attention. She reached into a bag at her side and pulled out a script that she had prepared earlier. “First, I want to thank Daddy for making me chocolate chip pancakes in the shape of a C this morning”. She gave him a painting that she’d made. “Thank you Mommy for not getting mad when I got up so early and being so nice to me.” Mommy received a wrapped handmade gift. Referring to her list she thanked each person at the table for something she valued about them and gave them an original drawing or painting. My gift was a snowflake intricately cut from white paper and encased in it’s own Cecelia-made envelope. “I want to thank Grammy for the cake that she baked for me, at least I think that she baked one for me.”
Is it little wonder that being a grandparent is such a joy?

Thanksgiving Day

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The pies are cooling on the counter and we’ll leave soon to join our Andover family for a day of feasting and fun. It has been years since I’ve gotten up at dawn to stuff the turkey and get it in the oven. One of the benefits of having the next generation host dinner.
I stopped making Thanksgiving dinner in 1980. It was our second year on the farm and the first year that we sold pies. After baking pies all night we just wanted to go to bed. It has become the custom for different family members to spend the holiday with their partner’s families. The Russells gather enfamille on Christmas Eve.
For many years we have joined our son Matt’s family for Thanksgiving. Two other families join us as well as our daughter Laura. This year we are happy to have granddaughter Leah with us for the first time in eight years and her husband William for the first time ever.
Dinner is a communal project. Susan prepares the traditional turkey and stuffing. Others bring their special dishes. After dinner we are joined by another family or two and hold a Yankee Swap with silly gifts. It is a lot of fun with much hilarity. Dessert comes after the swap and we end the day sitting in front of the fire enjoying each other’s company. A perfect holiday.
We have so much to be thankful for.