Tropical Fruit 2

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

Tropical Fruit

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

Passionfruit

Passionfruit

The good part

The good part


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

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

Settling In

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

Maria's beach restaurant.

Maria’s beach restaurant.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technology

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

Eavesdropping

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

Food Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Broccoli and Red Pepper Slaw

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

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

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

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

Turkey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pumpkin Soup

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

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

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

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

Laura’s Pumpkin Soup

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

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

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

Makes approximately 6 servings.

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

Viewing the wall of gum!

Viewing the wall of gum!


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

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

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

The glass ceiling.

The glass ceiling.

One of the museum galleries. All glass figures.

One of the museum galleries. All glass figures.

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

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

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

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

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

The Kinsol Trestle

The Kinsol Trestle

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

Victoria BC

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

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

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

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

The Sunken Garden

The Sunken Garden

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

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

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

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

The mountains in the clouds

The mountains in the clouds

Viewing mountains from the panorama car.

Viewing mountains from the panorama car.

Sunset in the Rockies

Sunset in the Rockies

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

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

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

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

Inside the state capital building.

Inside the state capital building.

Assiniboine Park

Assiniboine Park

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

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

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

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

September 28,2013

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

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

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

Toronto high rise apartments on the waterfront.

Toronto high rise apartments on the waterfront.

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

Entrance to the Royal Ontario Museum

Entrance to the Royal Ontario Museum

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

AGING

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

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

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

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

Water

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

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

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

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

Community water pipe

Community water pipe


Girl carrying water

Girl carrying water

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

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

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

What I did on My Summer Vacation was often the first assignment of the school year when my children returned to their classes in September. I thought I’d make it the first blog of the school year even though I don’t go to school anymore.
I just returned from eight days in Michigan visiting my sister, Beth. We drove north to see her son’s family in north-central Michigan. His little girls are four and two; they kept us busy. We played games and read stories and entertained them for two days before moving on to our cousin in the western part of the state.

Cousin Paul lives two blocks from Lake Michigan in the charming little town of Frankfort. We spent a day visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park where we watched crazy people run, slide, tumble down the steepest sand dune I’ve ever seen. Once at the bottom they could swim/wade in the lake but then had to make the daunting and treacherous climb back to the top.

Long way down, longer way up!

Long way down, longer way up!


Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park

One evening we went to a Blues concert in a local pub, the next night we lingered over the fabulous Veal Forestiere that Paul had prepared. Breaded veal cutlets browned in butter and served with a Marsala sauce with mushrooms and artichoke hearts. Paul is known for his cooking and meals at his house are always events. His Spinach and Bacon Quiche is the height of decadent breakfast food. His kitchen is the only one where I’ve ever seen half-gallons of heavy cream.

Leaving northern Michigan, we headed for Chicago and some time in the big city. We spent a whirlwind two days, museums, plays, and a Segway Tour along the lakefront. In the evening we could sit on our 7th floor balcony and enjoy the lights of the city. It was an exhilarating and exhausting two days before returning to Ipswich and the Fall season.

The Bean, sculpture in Millennium Park.

The Bean, sculpture in Millennium Park.


Lakefront Tour

Lakefront Tour


Chicago at night from our 7th floor condo room.

Chicago at night from our 7th floor condo room.

Bacon Spinach Quiche

1 unbaked 9-inch pie crust
6 eggs
1½ cups heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups fresh baby spinach, chopped
1 pound bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
1½ cups shredded Swiss or Gruyere cheese

1. Blend eggs, cream, salt and pepper together with a blender or wire whisk.
2. Place chopped spinach, shredded cheese and crumbled bacon into pie crust.
3. Pour egg mixture over it all.
4. Bake at 375 degrees until center is set, 35 to 45 minutes.
5. Allow to set 10 minutes out of the oven before serving.

When we bought the orchard in 1979 we brought some chickens with us from our suburban home in Andover. Since then there have always been chickens here. Two years ago the chickens got lucky. Max built a movable chicken coop atop a wagon bed. During the day the chickens are free to wander freely and scratch for good things to eat. The coop can be moved from place to place assuring that the chickens have a plentiful supply of good things to eat. It gets moved to different parts of the gardens when the crop has finished for the season. They clean away all the vegetable remnants and enrich the soil for next year’s crops.

Completed coop on it's way to the barnyard.

Completed coop on it’s way to the barnyard.


I have a friend who became a vegan for ethical reasons. She felt she could no longer eat animal foods produced in factory farms for the sole purpose of feeding us. She was, however, happy to eat eggs from our pampered chickens. After all, it’s just what they do, we don’t even ask them to.
This year it is time for the shed from 1979 to be replaced. It is being constructed in two parts, in our backyard. When it gets moved to the barnyard it will become one spacious chicken coop. It has double hung windows for light and air and lots of nests to keep the hens from squabbling over them. More happy chickens and more fresh eggs.
Under construction

Under construction

Each time I log onto the orchard website I see my last blog, sadly months out of date. The book is nearing completion and it is no longer taking all my time and focus. Time to enjoy these glorious August days, cool nights and warm sunny days are what the perfect summer weather should be.
On Spring mornings my morning walk to work took me past peach blossoms, then apple blossoms and shortly after, strawberry blossoms. Before I knew it the apples were the size of ping pong balls and the strawberries were ripe. Within a few weeks the raspberries were red and hanging enticingly from the bushes. It was all I could do to keep walking. So many hung under the branches waiting to be picked, but I had to get to work.

So many berries...

So many berries…


Suddenly summer arrives. Fruit and vegetables are ripening faster than we can eat them. It doesn’t matter that it’s too hot to cook because salads are so fresh and easy to make. I add mint leaves or basil leaves to an assortment of greens, blanch pea pods or green beans for a couple of minutes in boiling water, cool quickly in ice water and add to the salad. Sometimes I add slice strawberries or a handful of blueberries. Scallions, cucumbers, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, they all all add their own favor and crunch to the meal. A vinaigrette made with olive oil and a fruit vinegar, some homemade croutons complete the salad. A bit of grilled fish or chicken and it’s a yummy meal.
A couple of weeks ago we had house guests for the weekend. They enjoyed the local meals we shared. Scallops from Ipswich Shellfish, sweet corn from Marini’s and everything else from the orchard. Green beans, a tomato and cucumber salad, and for dessert, blueberry crisp. In the morning we had blueberry peach scones, a fruit salad of blueberries, raspberries, currants, peaches, and apricots along with omelets made from our own eggs.
This recipe makes a nice breakfast treat. The photo was taken when I had fresh sweet cherries.

Claflouti

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Clafluti

Clafluti

Ingredients
1½ cups milk
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
¾ cup flour
3 cups sweet cherries, pitted
¼ cup sugar
Confectioners sugar for dusting on top

Method
1. Place milk, sugar, eggs, vanilla and flour in a blender. Blend at high speed for 1 minute. Pour a ¼-inch layer in the bottom of the baking dish* and place over moderate heat until the batter has set in the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat.
2. Spread the cherries over the batter layer, sprinkle with the ¼ cup sugar and then pour the remaining batter over the cherries.
3. Place in the preheated oven and bake for 55 minutes or until a straw inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Serve warm, sprinkled with confectioners sugar. It will sink slightly as it cools.
Serves 6-8

* A buttered 2-quart ovenproof baking dish or a 9-inch cast iron skillet is perfect.

This is a tribute to my daughter-in-law, Miranda. The Shalin Liu in Rockport rocked last night with the awesome music of Miranda Russell and her band. We joined a capacity crowd to hear the eclectic selection of songs for this year’s concert. Her choices were of a mix of old standards and more recent pieces. Cole Porter’s love song So In Love, a rocking Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, and Paul Simon’s Graceland, were just a few of the pieces showcasing her exceptional range and talent. As in previous concerts she ended with her haunting rendition of La Vie En Rose.
These accolades are justly deserved but the thing that brings me to write this morning is the fact that Miranda is also married to our son Doug; that she combines her amazing talent for music with the equally amazing ability to oversee the of running Russell Orchards, and be an outstanding wife, mom, and daughter.
I’m happy to be one of her biggest fans.

I read the New York Times Opinion pages regularly. From time to time one of the columnists is on “book leave”. I’ve sort of been on book leave. I mentioned early in April that I’ve been working on a book project. It has consumed much of my time, it is nearing completion and I hope to report soon that it has gone to the printer. In the meantime, I may not be too visible in this space.

“The kids wanted pancakes but I’d run out of mix.” This comment was from a young woman I overheard in the supermarket recently. I wanted to stop and lecture her about the ease of making pancakes. Of course I didn’t but it did make me start thinking about pancakes. In fact, the next morning I made some. A big surprise for Grampy. I can’t understand why anyone would buy a mix with ingredients readily found in most kitchens. Aunt Jemima has flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. The mix has to be measured from the box, it’s just as easy to measure some flour, add the other ingredients in a jif and voila, pancake mix.

When my children were at home I usually made big batches of pancake mix in advance. It stores for months on the pantry shelf. When I made the pancakes I added whatever fruit might be in season or even some sliced bananas if nothing else was available. Below is a basic recipe for pancake mix.

PANCAKE MIX
8 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

One cup of mix will make about six 6-inch pancakes.
For each cup of mix, use one egg lightly beaten together with 1 cup of milk and 2 tablespoons of melted butter.
This amount of milk can be more or less, depending on how you like them. More can be used for thinner pancakes, less for thicker cakes.
Add the egg mixture to the dry mix and stir until just moistened. Lumpy is okay, too much mixing toughens the cakes.

I seldom make pancakes any more so I just made enough for one meal. This is my recipe for made-on-the-spot cakes. I added 1/2 cup blueberries from the freezer. It made 8 six-inch pancakes.

PANCAKES
Ingredients
1 ½ cups flour
3 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups milk
1 egg
3 tablespoons melted butter

Method
1. Stir the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt together in a large bowl.
2. Whisk the milk, egg, and melted butter together until well blended.
3. Add the egg mixture to the dry mixture and stir together just until blended. It’s okay if it’s lumpy, over-mixing will cause tough cakes.
4. Spoon the batter onto a lightly buttered griddle or frying pan over medium heat. When bubbles are covering the surface of the pancakes, turn and brown the other side.
Serve hot with syrup or jam or sugar.

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.