Milestones

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We are feeling a sense of loss today. Hunton, our youngest grandson, left for college Friday.  Six other grandchildren have also gone away to college but it seems like this one is especially bitter-sweet. He is the only one who had grown up next door to us. We will miss him popping through the door with a “Hi Gramps,” and sprawling his six foot length along the window seat. He and Grampy watch soccer and golf chatting about the players and the teams and the sports.  I listen, enjoying their shared experience.

Watching children and grandchildren grow from infancy to adulthood is a wonderful experience but it comes at a cost of loss. The past nineteen years have flown by so quickly leaving us a bit stunned. This tall handsome young man is the same chubby baby who chortled on our laps, the toddler who shared Grampy’s peanut butter and honey sandwiches at lunch time, the boy who built amazing contraptions out of scraps of wood. He built camps in the marsh and the orchard, created videos of cooking demonstrations and other creative Youtube clips. Star athlete, good student, and a good friend. He awed us by joining his mother and sister in Miranda’s annual concert and later singing in school soirees.

We know that Hunton is beginning an important stage of his life and despite the geographical distance, we are with him all the way.

Hunton visiting his namesake and great-grandfather. With them are cousins Eric Hunton and Jalen Hunton.

Graduation

Skiing Tuckerman’s Ravine                           Skiing, soccer, lacrosse, basketball, all Hunton’s sport

The British Chef taping a video for Youtube.

The heat this summer seems more oppressive than usual. It is hard to find the energy to do much more than the bare essentials. All spring I looked forward to summer bounty from the orchard and gardens and now it seems a bit overwhelming. Peaches still cluster on tree branches despite the bushels that have been harvested. I bought jars to make Peach Freezer Jam but as each day passes I think, “I’ll do it tomorrow”. Our peaches are so ripe that juice drips from my fingers as I eat one. That’s the way peaches should be, sweet and juicy and delicately flavored. I used to be frustrated that I couldn’t buy peaches that were actually ripe. Picking them while still quite firm is better for storing but, to me, a peach has to be soft and juicy. Contrary to common belief, peaches may soften after they’re picked, but they don’t actually ripen more.

Tomatoes, peppers, and onions are just some of the vegetables that call to me. Once upon a time I would have been canning tomatoes, simmering tomato sauce, filling jars with dill pickles and grinding up cucumbers, green tomatoes, peppers and onions for piccalilli. This ennui makes me feel guilty, I should be taking advantage of all this bounty.

Blueberries are still plentiful, blackberries look to be a bumper crop, cherries, currants, and raspberries are finished but looking out the window over my desk, I can see apple trees hanging heavily with apples. I would soon be able to make applesauce and apple pies for the freezer but I won’t. When I had a family of seven to feed, the freezer and fruit cellar shelves couldn’t hold too much food. Now even if I found the ambition to preserve all these wonderful fruits and vegetables, two old people wouldn’t made a dent in them.

Even so, we have fresh blueberries on our cereal, tomatoes daily, salads with lovely greens from the garden and juicy peaches for dessert. I will make the jam, probably peach-blackberry, and put a few bags of sweet corn in the freezer. That’s one of the best vegetables to freeze and one of the easiest. I blanch the ears in boiling water for a minute. Cool them in an ice water bath, cut the kernels off and freeze serving size portions in plastic bags.  Last year I froze mounds of corn on a waxed paper lined tray and then vacuum sealed them. Out of the freezer, I just put the pouch in simmering water and serve when hot.

I found a new vinaigrette recipe that we like a lot. It is made with Balsamic vinegar that is reduced by half by simmering, before being combined with other ingredients. I is a bit more complex and holds up well to spinach and romaine salads.

Balsamic Vinaigrette

1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar
1/2 cups olive oil
1 scant tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 scant tablespoon honey
Salt and pepper to taste

Place vinegar in a small sauce pan and bring to boil. Boil until reduced by half, 3 or 4 minutes. Pour into a bowl with other ingredients and whisk until completely blended. If it seems too thick, thin with a little water. The mustard seems to keep it pretty well emulsified. I usually put it into a glass jar and shake vigorously until it’s blended, then store it in the jar.

 

 

 

I’m certainly not in the Anthony Bourdain or M.F.K. Fisher food adventuring league but I’ve eaten some interesting food in many places around the world.

In the past thirty years, I’ve eaten meals in forty-five different countries and enjoyed most of them. One that stands out as perhaps the best meal I’ve ever eaten wasn’t in Paris or Rome or San Francisco but at The Wheathill, a tiny restaurant in the small town of Bangor, Northern Ireland. It was deceptively simple, slices of perfectly cooked chicken breast with mushrooms and spinach. The chicken was tender, moist and delicious. We were told that it was locally grown chicken, brined and then cooked sous vide. Delicious.

Usually it isn’t the food that is memorable, it is the people who have shared their homes and lives with me. Food is a universal way of bonding with others and I’ve enjoyed some wonderful meals and experiences.

Saki toast in Kyoto. 2005

In Japan I was invited to stay in a Minka, an old traditional Japanese home with sliding walls and tatami mat flooring. After a chilly day visiting temples where I had to remove my shoes and walk barefoot on icy floors, I was warmed by a bath in a deep steaming tub before sitting down to a feast prepared by my hostess Toshie, in a tiny, tiny kitchen. Tofu, mustard greens, meat  and noodles, all separately boiled in a pot at the table. There was also rice with slices of pickled mushrooms and vinegar as well as cucumbers and tomatoes.

Breakfast in Russia, 2008

I’ve been on very few organized tours but in Russia, I took a river cruise from St. Petersburg to Moscow. Along the way the travelers were divided into groups of eight and taken to breakfast in a private home. Natasha and Mama lived in a huge gray concrete apartment block. Despite its dreary exteriour, their tiny apartment was warm and welcoming. They served porridge and blinis with homemade jam for breakfast. Neither Natasha or Mama spoke a word of English but we seemed to communicate. After the meal Mama brought out song sheets and led us in singing. That led to much laughter and fun.

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, 2004

In Kyrgyzstan I joined a Habitat for Humanity work party. We were rehabbing old apartments for several families. I spent two weeks scraping paint off from window casings and scrubbing walls. What made it fun was getting to know the Kyrgyz people. They prepared lunch for us each day. Often it was al fresco, served on the grassy dirt in the courtyard. They laid down a long tablecloth surrounded by rugs and mats for us to sit on They prepared the food in their own homes and often carried by bus, to our work site. The food was always fresh, hot and plentiful. There were bowls of fresh fruit (strawberries, peaches, apricots, sweet cherries and raspberries), cucumbers and tomatoes with dill, and two kinds of bread were always spread the length of the cloth. Meals were sometimes a clear, spicy soup with big chunks of potatoes and carrots with a beef or lamb bone and a bit of meat for flavor. Other times there would be a traditional noodle or rice dish with bits of meat. Everything was served on china dishes accompanied by tea served in china cups.

I’ve had great good fortune in being able to travel and experience different cultures and foods.

Water

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No water! Not a drop for two days.

The sink is full of dirty dishes, drinking water is coming from melted ice cubes (thankfully a good supply in the freezer), the counter has honey all over it from refilling a honey bear. When I made dinner last night, I became aware of how many times I run my hands under water as I’m preparing food. No showers—or hand washing—or  laundry. The toilet is marginal, kept nearly under control by gray water in a barrel outside. We can pour a bucketful down the hopper occasionally.

During the storm last Friday, we heard a crash and thought that lightning had struck nearby but we couldn’t find any damage. Friday evening we realized that we were only getting a trickle of water from the taps and by Saturday morning, no water. We were unable to reach the repair people until this morning. As I write, they are replacing a pump in the well.

Other countries seem to be much more willing to conserve. I’ve noticed that guests visiting us from Japan and Europe turn the shower on to get wet and then turn it off again while they soap and shampoo, then turn it on again for a fast rinse. I’m guilty of standing under a hot shower long after I could have turned it off. I’m reminded of a visit to Australia a few years ago. I stayed in nine different homes over the course of six weeks. In every one, a bucket in the shower collected water for the gardens. Dirty dishes were collected in a pan all day and washed together at the end of the day.

In hotels there is nearly always a sign in the bathroom talking about water usage and asking that guests hang their towels if they will reuse them. We hang them and almost always, they are replaced by fresh towels.

Ipswich has a water ban in place, as do many nearby communities. Most of us read about water shortages and agree with conservation measures but don’t necessarily follow them closely. Our weekend experience has made me much more aware of how much I take water for granted. I’m determined to do better.

 

Wedding

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In 1995 I was volunteering at the International Institute of Boston where I had been trained to teach English as a Second Language. I was assigned to Kleng, a Vietnamese refugee woman. Her husband and four older children were attending classes in ESL but she was at home with a small child.

I went to their Dorchester apartment twice a week for three years. Often the entire family would sit around the table and participate in the lessons. We became great friends and have remained good friends since.

Although Vietnamese, they were members of the Montagnard, a tribal group from the Central Highlands. The Montagnard are Christian and have long been persecuted in Vietnam, especially after the war because had they sided with the Americans.

Dong, the head of the family spent time in prison after the war. As Kleng learned English she told stories of unimaginable hardship. She is a tiny woman, who would climb into the mountains to gather bundles of wood for fuel to cook and then carry them home on her back. When her husband was imprisoned, she carried an infant daughter and ten pounds of rice to visit him weekly. A lengthy bus ride and then a walk of several miles.

Last weekend Max and I were delighted to be invited to the wedding of their daughter Lyia. Lyia was in middle school when the family moved to Boston. By the time she graduated from high school she had become proficient in English and graduated at the top of her class. She went on to college and earned a degree in Graphic Arts and recently graduated from college with a BSN. She and her husband, Dustin, are both registered nurses now.

I’ve been enriched by my relationship with this family and am grateful that they’ve been part of my life.

Kleng with daughter Lyia and her new husband, Dustin

Kleng is wearing a Montagnard traditional dress made for her by her oldest daughter who lives in Vietnam

“Someday people will be able to talk on the phone and see each other at the same time.” My father used to say this during our very brief and expensive telephone calls after I married and moved twenty-five hundred miles away from home.

My father was a milkman with a high school education, He was not a curious or technical minded person. He had been devastated when I moved so far away. I believed that seeing a person over the telephone was a fantasy and wish that he was expressing. It certainly seemed impossible to me.

Now I can Whatsapp my sister in Michigan and talk for an hour for free. I can see her new hairstyle and how she has rearranged her living room.

My granddaughter-in-law can post photos and videos on Instagram and seconds later, I get a ping on my phone letting me know they are there.

We watch the news on television. Something he sees makes Max ask, “Where are the Canary Islands?” I’m not exactly sure. I whip out my phone and Google it.

In the 1960s we moved next door to Susan Story Wonson, a lovely woman who had been born in 1886. I often visited her on Sunday afternoons. Her stories charmed me.

Winston Churchill died the month after we moved next to Susan. She made it very clear what she thought of him. “Oh, that dreadful man.” One summer as a little girl her family had traveled by train to Bar Harbor where they stayed at a big resort hotel. Winston Churchill, in his teens then, teased her by tugging at her long, red, ringlets. Seventy-eight years later she still couldn’t abide hearing his name. Even his WWII leadership couldn’t change her opinion of him.

Susan marveled that she had been born to horse and buggy and was now living in the age of jetliners. Telephones, television, space exploration, a man on the moon even.

One of her stories was about her longing for electricity. By the 1940’s most American homes had electricity, but not the Wonsons. Each evening Susan’s father would go to the cellar to stoke the coal furnace and to smoke one pipe. She would carefully rehearse her argument for installing electricity, not the whole house, just one line into the corner of the living room where she could read and sew. He would return to their sitting room, adjust the gas lamp, settle in his wing back chair, and pick up his book. Susan would give her carefully reasoned argument, he would not acknowledge her words and soon retire for the night. He never said no, he just never said anything.

The first thing that Susan did after her father’s death in 1946 was to install electricity throughout the house.

I wonder what Susan would have thought of Snapchat and Whatsapp and Facebook. Sometimes I wonder what I think.

My mom and me with Susan Wonson, Christmas 1970

My father has been gone for fourteen years but I still miss him. He was the sweetest, most gentle man I’ve ever known. Daddy taught me by example. He was a man who always tried to see both sides of an issue. If someone was rude to him he’d say, “I don’t know what kind of a day that man/woman has had, I don’t think they’re mad at me.” My friends have often commented that I wouldn’t know an insult if I was given one. I always assume, like Daddy that they’ve had a hard day.

Driving down a street in town he’d wave at everyone. When I’d ask, “Who is that?” He’d reply, I don’t know but they might know me.”

Daddy was a religious man in the tradition of the old Scottish Presbyterian church. He didn’t believe in shopping on Sunday (it meant you were causing another person to work), or smoking or drinking (defiling the body). He thought card playing was associated with gambling, therefore was wrong, and he believed that dancing led to danger. He had a little booklet describing how dancing could arouse passions.

We waged silent battles around some of these restrictions. I didn’t want to smoke but refused to “take the pledge” (sign a paper saying that I’d never drink alcohol). My friends and I played cards hour after hour and my mother intervened so that I could go to school dances. Daddy never gave up on me and I always tried to please him.

Dancing with my father, 1990

A photo that I’ve always treasured was taken at my nephew Eric’s wedding. I persuaded Daddy to dance with me. His first and only time on a dance floor.

 

Eulogy

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My brother Charles passed away yesterday after a long struggle with COPD. Just a few weeks ago he had moved to South Carolina to live near his son, Brad. Throughout his last week he was surrounded by family. His grandchildren and great-grandchildren visited often, his granddaughter Nicole spent nights by his bedside and his wife Virginia held his hand through the long days. Brad was there at all hours of the day and night. A few weeks ago, in a telephone call, Charlie had said with sadness, that the three of us siblings would probably never be together again. I think he was aware that our sister and I were both there to say goodbye.

Charlie was two years younger than I and had lived in Florida for many years. We both married young and lived in different parts of the country. Over the years we saw each other occasionally, usually at weddings or funerals. The past few years, as his health worsened, I tried to visit him at least once a year.

On those visits we would reminisce about our childhood, share photos of children and grandchildren, play cards, go out to dinner, and take excursions to area attractions. His son and grandchildren lived in other parts of the country. I had never even met his daughter-in-law, Elaine, until two years ago and don’t remember ever meeting his grandchildren.

I watched his family as they surrounded him with love and care. I knew him as my younger brother, a man with a great sense of humor who enjoyed meeting people and playing golf. He was a man who loved to sing he loved to talk. Last week I saw him in a different way, as an adored father and grandfather. A gentle man who had always been there for his family and who would leave a great void in their lives.

I feel privileged to have been able to share in his last hours and sorry that I hadn’t really known the lovely, nurturing side of him.

Charlie and me, June 1940

Charlie, 1956

 

 

 

Charlie ~1953

Family wedding 1999

Any grandparent will tell you that one of the greatest pleasures in life is spending time with grandchildren. Over the years we have delighted in watching our eight grandchildren negotiate their world. There has been much laughter, occasional tears, and always enthusiasm and energy. From preschool sing-alongs and library story hours to soccer games and camping trips, jigsaw puzzles and games, and many excursions, our grandchildren have given us great joy. Our youngest grandchildren, Hunton and his sister Cecelia, have always been a delight. We’ve loved the birthdays and holidays that mark the years for them and our older grandchildren.

Last week we watched proudly as Hunton, graduated from the Waring School. He shared the Founder’s Prize with his friend and classmate, Jackson. The prize is given to a student or students who best uphold the values of the school set forth by the founders. It is a prize that his mother received when she graduated from Waring in 1990.

Jackson and Hunton after receiving their award

Graduation is also a bittersweet time for grandparents as well as parents. The children are ready to go out into the world. Often that means going far away as Hunton will do in August when he leaves for Colorado College. In two years Cecelia will also be making her way in the world.

Over the past few weeks we’ve watched Hunton bring the house down with a rousing “I Am A Pirate King” from The Pirates of Penzance at a school event. His sister Cecelia sang the solo “Laudamus Te” from Vivaldi’s Gloria in the all-school concert, the same solo her mother, Miranda, had sung at the school when she was a student. Given their mother’s talent as well as that of their grandmother Daisy Nell, it is little surprise that Hunton and Cecelia are following in their musical footsteps.

The Pirate King

Hunton after graduation wearing his laurel wreath with sister Cecelia at his side.

 

 

As we watch Hunton and Cecelia move into their adult years, we have other joys awaiting us. Saturday we will celebrate our great-grandson TJ’s first birthday. His sweet sister, two year old Lennin will be there also. In March we welcomed another great-granddaughter, Rowan. We have much fun to look forward to.

 

 

Malta

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Photo albums fill my bookcases. One for every year since 1974 and one for nearly every trip I’ve taken. I have just been going through the photos taken over the winter. Hundreds and I will have to choose a few that are representative.

I’m not sure how we decided to go to Malta but it was a good choice. We were charmed by the island and its history. A rocky limestone cropping in the Mediterranean at the intersection between Europe and North Africa, it was first inhabited 7000 years ago. Although everyone speaks English (it was an English colony for 150 years) Maltese is the language we heard everywhere. It developed through years of invasions by neighboring countries. Most significant influences are Sicilian-Italian and Arabic.

Arial photo of Valletta.  By CatalinBindiu – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51396861

I found this photo online, it gives a good perspective of the city and the country as a whole, although it doesn’t capture the steepness of the city.

We stayed at two different Airbnb apartments in Valletta, the capitol city and another in Burgu, just across the harbor. The first was close to the water which meant that we had to walk up a steep hill to get to any other part of town. All were in old buildings built of, what else, limestone.

The stairs leading down from our first apartment. The steps are worn from hundreds of years of footsteps.

The apartment in Burgu was charming with a kitchen in the cellar, a small balcony off the second floor living space and two steps up to the tiny bathroom. A treacherous climb for two senior travelers.

 

 

 

 

Public transportation was impressive. At the city gates, a fleet of buses go to every corner of the island, few taking more than an hour to get to any location. A forty-five minute bus ride took us to Marsaxlokk a town known for its colorful fishing boats. We had lunch overlooking the harbor.

A typical steep street leading up to the city center. The balconies on the buildings are found all over the island.

 

One day we visited the village of Siggiewi and the Heritage Limestone Park and Gardens. The displays showing how limestone has been cut throughout the ages were fascinating. No machinery was used until after World War II.  There are temples built of limestone that are 6000 years old. It was hard to imagine how those early people could carve stone to make those structures. As we walked back to the bus stop we heard a loud roar, I said it sounded like an elephant trumpeting, Max said it sounded like a lion. We looked back and, it was a lion.

Tulip “Miranda”

Last year when I visited Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, I saw this stunning tulip. I had to have it for my garden. It’s in full bloom now.

 

In early January we were in Las Terrenas, a town in the Dominican Republic. We’ve gone there several winters. It’s a time for reading and relaxing and painting. One thing we have a hard time with in DR is the way trash is disposed of. After a big rain, the beach will be lined with all kinds of debris, mostly plastic and most of that empty bottles. It was nice to see them being put to use.

Christmas tree Las Terrenas style

Later in the month we spent ten days in Jamaica’s Treasure Beach, a quiet part of the country several hours from the big cities and resorts on the island. Denford, who has worked at the orchard for many years met us at the airport to take us to our hotel. It was dark and raining. A three hour trip took us seven hours wandering up and down washboard roads. Denford did an amazing job of avoiding the biggest potholes. There were no road signs to show us the way. No stores were open and when we occasionally saw a person to ask for directions, they didn’t seem to have heard of Treasure Beach. We finally found it by following signs for a restaurant we knew was there.

We spent a day with the JAMS, our collective name for our Jamaican workers. Max had visited them before, twelve years ago. It was my first visit.We met Ivan’s lovely wife Sharon and two of his sons. Then had lunch with Boisie, where we met one of his sons. Bob lives nearby, there we met his sweet daughter and his mother-in-law. Billy and Denford came to see us there. The only one missing was Phillip (Fast Car) who lives some distance from the others. They are now back at the orchard where Boisie is beginning his twenty-ninth year.

Ivan, Denford, Max, Billy, Boisie and Bob in front. Oliver, our driver is on the right with Billy’s brother behind him.

Ivan and Sharon with their son, Ivan Junior

Yesterday morning when we got up, there was a Baltimore Oriole on our deck railing. While eating dinner, we saw the first hummingbird of the season. Our first oriole sighting last year was on April 30th but given the cold spring, we were expecting the birds to be late in arriving. They must have amazing internal clocks that move them north at the same time every year.

Baltimore Oriole, first sighting of the year.

I can see part of the orchard from my window. Yesterday I could see a smattering of peach blossoms, the hot weather was perfect for them. This morning I can see a pink cloud from my desk. The magnolia is about to drop its blossoms and the leaves are appearing. The daffodils have been blooming for a couple of weeks and today, the first of our tulips are opening.

Peach blossoms

Daffodils

First tulip

My roses, alas, didn’t fare so well. I have had nine tea roses for years that were vigorous and gave us glorious roses all summer. This spring, only one looks good. The rest had blackened canes that showed no signs of life. I pruned them all to the ground. This morning, I see leaves appearing from the base of the plant on five of them. Maybe they will make it after all.

Late this afternoon I walked through our gardens again. More tulips are starting to open. I love this time of year when the earth seems to waken, sending an explosion of color to us. The trees burst into different shades of green and spring flowers brighten gardens all through town. Driving along North Main Street today I was awed by a huge magnolia tree. It is already past its true glory but I had to stop and photograph it.

Magnolia on North Main Street.

 

 

 

 

Happy Days

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All kinds of good things happening. It looks like spring might finally have arrived. From my window I can see six inches of tulips leaves poking up in the soil and some of the daffodils look almost ready to bloom. I’m planning to prune my roses today, they don’t look like they’ve done well over the winter.

Grampy and I spent the winter traveling in warmer climes. We came home late in March to be here to welcome another great-granddaughter. Rowan Russell Minter was born March 29th. She is the daughter of our granddaughter Leah. She joins her cousins, Lennin Lou and Trigger John Russell, the children of our grandson, Alex. They make our lives even richer.

Last night, we were blown away by seeing Miranda Russell, our daughter-in-law perform at the Larcom Theater in Beverly. Her yearly concert is something we look forward to. Last night she was joined on stage by her children, Hunton and Cecelia. Perhaps only a grandparent can appreciate the feelings of pride and love that filled my heart, watching them sing.

 Miranda, Cecelia, and Dolly Farha, one of Cecelia’s classmates.

Daisy Nell, Miranda’s mom, Hunton, Cecelia, and Miranda.

 

Miranda, Gareth Buhl, Hunton, Eli Biletch, and Tano Barendsen-Rossi,  Hunton’s classmat

Today’s sunshine, the new baby, the concert, all make me joyful this morning.

The orchard is awakening from a hard winter. Buds are swelling and I can see a tinge of color across the peach trees from my window. The orchard store will open next Saturday, April 28th, a new orchard year begins.

The fragrance of apples as I walked through the orchard jolted me into the realization that summer is waning. Already the nights are cooler and the days just perfect with warm temperatures and low humidity. In the orchard store, the scent of peaches still predominates but that will soon be overpowered by the presence of all kinds of apples.

We spent several weeks traveling in July and August. It was fun but also makes me feel like I’ve missed summer. We hadn’t made travel plans other than my trip to Vieques, One morning Max said, “Let’s go to Nova Scotia,” so we did. We spent several days on Cape Breton Island, the northern part of Nova Scotia. We followed The Cabot Trail,  a drive that follows the stunning coast line around the northern edge of the island. Intrigued by a little dot on the map called Meat Cove we turned down a dirt road that ended at a lovely little cove with a campground and a restaurant. It is on the northernmost  part of Nova Scotia and got its unusual name because it was a stopping place for early seamen to come ashore and hunt game for meat.

 

Cape Breton Island coast.

Nova Scotia was the site of some fierce battles between the French and English, both wanting a foothold in North America. We visited Fort Louisbourg, built by the French as both a fort and a settlement. It was lost to the British who abandoned it when they settled further inland. It was buried over the centuries. It has been excavated and rebuilt to look like the original. We had lunch in a tavern there. Our wine and turkey pie were served in a pewter cup and bowl, our only utensil a pewter spoon. Potatoes were considered poisonous by the French in that period so the vegetables were carrots and turnips.

 

Turkey Pie ala 1744

Prince Edward Island is only an hour away from Nova Scotia by ferry. We spent a day driving through prosperous farmland, charming villages and beautiful beaches. There were also some striking red cliffs in addition to the long red sand beaches. It looks like a lovely place to spend a week.

PEI Cliffs

PEI Beach

 

 

 

The first week of July I spent a few days on the island of Vieques just off the coast of Puerto Rico. The rustic lodge was in the rain forest with the sound of frogs peeping lulled me to sleep and the chirping of birds wakened me. There I feasted on tropical fruits. Every morning the day started with mangoes and starfruit picked from trees just outside our door.

The fruit season here at the orchard starts slowly in June with the queen of fruit, strawberries. Before we get our fill of those, suddenly the raspberries and cherries and blueberries and peaches are ripening. I have blueberries on my cereal, snack on cherries mid-morning, eat a peach for lunch and make raspberries smoothies in the evening. Summer wealth.

Walking through the orchard I see the pears and apples, still small and green but I know that by the end of August they will start to ripen as the summer fruits finish for the year.

There was a time when I would have been baking daily making pies and crisps and rich fruit desserts but I don’t do that much anymore. Lemon squares were always a family favorite. I discovered they are even better with blueberries added. They freeze well so it is worth making some to keep on hand for an occasional treat. I cut them into squares, freeze them on a tray without them touching each other. Once frozen I can put them together in a container.

Lemon Blueberry Squares

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Ingredients 
2 cups flour
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into small pieces

4 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 cups fresh blueberries

Method
1. Mix the flour and the powdered sugar together. Process with the butter in a food processor or cut the chunks of butter into the flour and sugar with a fork or fingers until the dough holds together when pressed.
2. Press the mixture firmly over the bottom of a greased or parchment paper lined 9x13-inch baking pan. Bake in a 350-degree oven until the crust is golden, about 20 to 25 minutes.
3. While the crust is baking mix sugar, flour and baking powder together. Whisk the eggs with the sugar mixture. 
4. Whisk in the lemon juice and lemon peel, then stir in the blueberries.
5. Pour the egg mixture over the browned crust. Return to the oven and bake until the filling is just firm and does not move when the pan is gently nudged, about 25 minutes. 
6. Remove from oven and cool on a rack. 

Cool completely before cutting into bars.

Oh my, June is nearly over. Today we have blue skies, temperature just under 80° and almost no humidity.  A perfect day. Although we’ve had a lot of chilly wet weather earlier in the month is seems to have been fine with our home gardens. The roses are flourishing and shrubs blossoming. Starting with daffodils in April and tulips in May and now the roses, we’ve seen beautiful blooms from every window. I just had to share our bounty!

Daffodil and early tulip

Stunning double red tulip named Miranda!

May tulips

 

Gertrude Jekyll rose

Climbing roses planted last year.

Roses, late June

Three years ago we planted wild flowers in our meadow. They never bloomed, we thought the seed never germinated, then a couple of weeks ago, the meadow was filled with them!

Wildflowers in the meadow

I often find myself commiserating with my peers about how aging isn’t any fun. Just recently I’ve realized that isn’t true. I have as much fun as I’ve ever had. It’s true that there are some physical limits to the things I can do but whatever I do, I have fun.

We’ve just welcomed our first great-grandson, TJ Russell. Yesterday we saw him for the first time, he was four days old. Holding his warm little body in my arms and then watching his fifteen month old sister Lennin give him kisses made me think what a lucky woman I am.

TJ in Great-Grampy's arms

TJ in Great-Grampy’s arms

Monday our 17 year-old grandson Hunton left for six weeks in Europe, his sister Cecelia, 15, will join him in a few weeks. Another granddaughter Leah and her husband William are in the UK for three weeks. Travel is one of my passions, that our grandchildren can travel and be introduced to different lands and cultures fills me with joy.

We are fortunate to have eight wonderful grandchildren. Not all are traveling but they are all an ongoing source of delight. Old age for me has great rewards. Children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Today on Facebook I read something that I could identify with. “You don’t stop having fun when you get old, you get old when you stop having fun.”

It’s true, as long as we have family and friends, theater and movies to enjoy, good food to delight our palate, travels to plan and undertake and books to read, I’ll go on having fun.

A few weeks ago when I went to Pennsylvania we stayed in the town of Intercourse. It is a name that often causes snickers or raised eyebrows. It seems incongruous for a town that is in the heart of  Amish country. Apparently in the 1700s the town was called Cross Key after a tavern by that name, or perhaps because two main roads intersected there or maybe because intercourse was a term used in those days to signify social interaction and support in the community. There seems to be some haziness about the origin of the name. For some reason, the name was changed to Intercourse in 1814. Some time in the 1900s there was an attempt to change the name back to Cross Key, but people in the village didn’t want it changed.

The countryside around the town is farmland with rolling green hills and neat farms every few miles. The farmhouses are large but dwarfed by the bigger barns and silos. The remarkable thing is that many don’t have electricity. I saw farmers plowing their fields with teams of five or six horses and clothes hanging to dry from long clothes lines.

Farms with buggy and car on the same road.

Farms with buggy and car on the same road.

In the village the enclosed black, horse drawn buggies are seen everywhere. They drive the busy highways seemingly undaunted by the cars and trucks speeding along. Scary! The Amish are Christians and believe in living very simply. They are a sect of Anabaptists who came from Germany to avoid discrimination following the Reformation. They eshue modern technology like electricity, tractors and cars although there are some who do use some things like tractors. The Amish dress is simple, the men we saw wore belt-less pants with suspenders and had untrimmed beards. The women were wearing white bonnets and calf length dresses. We saw men, women and children riding kick bikes, sort of like a bicycle without a seat and propelled by kicking.

Village parking lot

Village parking lot

Buggy in Town

Buggy in Town

 

The town itself is comprised of shops selling quilts and food items and rustic furnishings. It is self-described as “quaint”. Friday and Saturday there were hordes of people wandering in and out of the shops. The parking lots were full.

Sunday morning we awoke to a silent town. Every shop and restaurant closed, parking lots empty and the only people we sighted were Amish families, in black suits and dresses, walking to church.

Kick Bike

Kick Bike

 

 

The birds that feed outside our dining room window keep us entertained. Three years ago, for the first time, a Baltimore Oriole arrived in May chirping outside our window.  We were thrilled and immediately set out orange slices and grape jelly. He stayed with us for a few weeks and then disappeared. Since then, one or two come every May. I prepare in anticipation by putting out the orange and jelly the first of May. Last year one arrived with his mate on May 9th. The male glistening black and intensely orange colored, his mate, less bright. Last Saturday, April 29th I put the orange and grape jelly out, not expecting to see the birds for another week or so.  Sunday morning, the 30th, there he was!

Two Baltimore Orioles. I wasn't fast enough to capture the three together.

Two Baltimore Orioles. I wasn’t fast enough to capture the three together.

Yesterday we were excited when three males appeared together. We have counted twenty-four different birds on our feeders but none are so brilliantly colored as the orioles.

Another delight last week as I walked through the orchard was seeing the cherry trees in bloom. I don’t remember ever seeing them so heavily blossomed. The apple trees are nearly at full bloom too. It is a glorious time in the orchard.

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms

 

It’s that time a year again when everything feels fresh and new. Every day the leaves are bigger on the trees, daffodils sprinkle our vista and to our surprise and delight, there are peach blossoms. We were certain the freeze in March did them in. The orchard opens today and we’re looking forward to seeing all of our old friends again.

Last week I took Amtrak to Pennsylvania to visit a friend. We spent a lovely, warm sunny day at Longwood Gardens wandering along paths that wind through 1077 acres of gardens, woodlands, and meadows in the Brandywine Creek Valley region of Pennsylvania. We saw spectacular displays of spring flowers in huge beds, lingered by the Italian Water Garden and spent a couple of hours in the conservatory. Longwood Gardens is the largest botanical garden in the US and the  conservatory is a huge, ornate greenhouse covering 4.5 acres. It houses thousands of plants in many different habitats.

Pink and White spring flowers

Pink and White spring flowers

Italian Water Garden

Italian Water Garden

Silver Garden in the Conservatory

Silver Garden in the Conservatory

Stunning double red tulip named Miranda!

Stunning double red tulip named Miranda!

We have our own little botanical garden next to our greenhouse here at the orchard. It holds plants of all the different fruits that we grow in the orchard. There are fruit trees and the shrubby fruits like blueberries and currants. Growing close to the ground there are strawberry plants. We want to show how each fruit is grown and in what season.

Thanksgiving

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The Sunday after Thanksgiving is Russell Orchard’s traditional closing date for the year. The apples are all harvested and the cider pressed. It’s a time for reflection and looking ahead. The orchard family will scatter now for the winter. The Russells have some time for a well earned rest before they begin planning for next season at the orchard. I’ll go to the Dominican Republic for a few weeks in the sun and then perhaps travel a bit.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a talk I heard recently.The topic was gratitude. The speaker believed that when we feel gratitude, it enriches us. It is a personal feeling but it also affects those around us. It gives us a chance to think beyond ourselves. It was a good reminder that we have responsibility for the way we think and feel about the things in our lives and in the world. I joined my son Matt’s family for Thanksgiving. I had been asked to give the grace at dinner. As I thought of what I wanted to say, that talk on gratitude prompted my grace.

“We live in uncertain times. We are barraged daily with famine, war, and fear. Thanksgiving is a time for us to remember how much we have to be grateful for. Despite all the turmoil in the last year, we are still the most fortunate people in the world to live in the United States.

We gather today with the beauty of the sea outside our windows, wrapped in the warmth of this home, to share our thanks for the many blessings that are part of our lives. To be here together with our family and friends, is the greatest joy imaginable.”

Reading the newspaper and watching TV news, I feel frustrated that there’s not really anything I can do to “fix” any of the injustices and inequalities I see in this country. In small ways I do whatever I can but it’s important that I remember all the things that make me grateful. Family, friends, good health and not least, I live in America. I want to remember this as 2016 ends and 2017 begins.

 

The annual Polish Picnic occurred in Ipswich a few weeks ago. My friend Ann Fessenden told me that she’d bought some galumpkis at the picnic. “What are galumpkis?” I asked.

It turns out they’re Polish stuffed cabbage. I’ve actually made them a few times but not in many years and I just called them “stuffed cabbage”. They sounded good but as I recall, quite a bit of work. Ann had found a recipe called Lazy Man’s Stuffed Cabbage that tasted as good but was much easier to make.

I made the recipe. It was a big hit, a nice Autumn dish. It made a large amount, enough for a crowd or lots of leftovers. I made a couple of changes, the recipe called for tomato soup to be poured over the top before baking, that didn’t sound so appealing to me. Instead, I used crushed tomatoes and added a few things.

Ingredients

  • Medium size head of cabbage
  • 2 lbs lean ground beef
  • ½ lbs cooked bacon coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 1 medium green pepper
  • ½ cup Italian flavored bread crumbs
  • 1 cup cooked white rice (1/3 – ½ cup uncooked)
  • 1 egg

     

    Sauce

  • 1 large can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven 375 degrees.
  2. Cook rice and set aside to cool.
  3. Coarsely shred the cabbage it thick long pieces and set aside.
  4. Chop the bacon coarsely and saute until crisp. Remove from pan.
  5. Dice the onion and green pepper and saute in the bacon fat. Discard remainder of the fat.
  6. In a large bowl, add meat, bread crumbs, onion, peppers, bacon, rice, egg and salt and pepper.
  7. In a 9X13-inch pan, place a layer of the shredded cabbage so that the bottom of the pan is completely covered.
  8. Add the meat mixture on top of the cabbage and press into the shape of the pan.
  9. Add another layer of cabbage to cover the meat mixture.

Mix tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper together and pour over the casserole. Cover with aluinum foil and bake for two hours until the cabbage has softened and the flavors well blended.

I was a child during WWII and can remember listening to President Roosevelt’s reassuring radio broadcasts. Perhaps that’s why I’ve had a long fascination with the Roosevelt administration and the family. I’ve read many books about the Roosevelts and the War by historians but I recently read three books written by employees.

The first was White House Diary by Henrietta Nesbitt, the housekeeper who came to the White House from Hyde Park. She had been a long time friend of Eleanor Roosevelt.

I enjoyed reading Mrs. Nesbitt’s descriptions of menus, endless teas and luncheons and receptions. It was nothing to have thirty for lunch followed by teas in the afternoon with several thousand attending and then a dinner with another thirty in the evening. There were always house guests in the White House and Mrs. Nesbitt had very definite views about the kings and queens, prime ministers and political men (always men) who visited.

It’s been fun to read about Winston Churchill shuffling around in a one piece jump suit, downing copious amounts of whiskey and talking strategy with the President or Queen Elizabeth’s (the present queens mother) maid asking for hot water bottles to be placed in the queens bed despite Washington temperatures in the 90s and no air-conditioning.

Mrs. Nesbitt’s menus tend toward celery curls and stuffed olives or soup served with saltines. Gelatin salads appeared often and chicken salad seems to be the standard lunch fair for large group. It was the Depression and Mrs. Roosevelt wanted to have what the people of the country were eating.

I liked the White House eggnog recipe. It was served on New Year’s Eve. Twelve eggs beaten with one pound of sugar. Three quarts heavy cream, one half pint rum, a quart of bourbon, brandy and nutmeg to taste. I imagine it wouldn’t take much of that to put one under the table.

Crown Princess Martha, in exile from Norway, came for a long stay after Norway fell to the Nazis. She brought a recipe that became a favorite of President Roosevelt and “earned a place of honor” in Mrs. Nesbitt’s files.

Pig’s Feet in Sour Sauce

Pick out four nice, clean, white pigs’ feet, simmer in salted water until nearly done. Add one-half cup vinegar, two large bay leaves, one medium onion cut in quarters, eight peppercorns, six cloves and cook until tender. Chill overnight, skim fat off the top and bring the sauce to a boil thickening with arrowroot, add perhaps a dash of vinegar and some sugar, and serve with mashed potatoes.

This is one I don’t think I’ll try.

A book by William Rigdon, Sailor in the White House: My 11 Years of Service to Three Presidents was an interesting account of traveling with FDR, HST and Eisenhower.

Alonzo Fields wrote My 21 Years in the White House. He was chief butler and started under President Hoover. He describes the Hoovers always dressing for dinner, even if it was only the two of them. They had seven course meals, formally served, with the butlers standing unobtrusively by while they ate. It was a surprise to him when the Roosevelts moved in, had simple meals and dismissed the servants while they ate.

The three books together entertained me enormously. A bit of history to ponder. I can’t help wondering what White House life is like these days.

Surprises

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A week of surprises and now I’m trying to come back to earth.  Monday last week I arrived home to find my sister Beth in my kitchen, “Surprise!”. Beth lives in Michigan and was last here in May, I hadn’t expected to see her again until next year. She said she had come to take me to lunch on my birthday.

Thursday we went to the Wenham Tea House for lunch and then shopping. I was expecting to go to dinner with Beth and Max at The Market in Annisquam in the evening. We arrived home to find the driveway filled with cars. Surprise, a party! Our neighbors Tom and Mariann had opened their home to the celebration. I was stunned, especially when I saw the people who were there to fete me. Cousins from South Carolina, Michigan and Ohio. Friends from Michigan and Rhode Island, family from Connecticut and New Hampshire all mingling with Massachusetts family and friends from many parts of my life. It was an amazing evening.

There was more, family and friends who couldn’t make it to the party had sent video clips and our Haitian friend in the Dominican Republic sent a greeting with a birthday cake photo. I received online greetings from friends in England, France and Germany. Such riches!

I guess it is a sign of how oblivious I can be to what’s going on around me to realize how many people were so able to keep the whole thing from me. My daughter Laura seems to have orchestrated the event with the help of her brothers and Beth. I am still enjoying the afterglow of that wonderful evening.

Some final words on Food Waste. Yesterday’s New York Times Opinion Page features a debate about how to reduce food waste in the United States. http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2016/09/21/keeping-food-on-the-plate-and-out-of-landfills/ease-hunger-with-a-better-food-rescue-system.  I’ve copied the section that suggests things that we, as consumers can do.

1. Curb overbuying. A packed fridge may be comforting, but rarely do we eat everything in it. Using meal plans, shopping lists, and a little restraint can go a long way.

2. Store smartly. Proper storage can maintain food quality and freshness. Use airtight containers for most foods.

3. Use it up. Eat up everything in your fridge regularly. Frittatas, stir-fries, and soups make great catchall recipes. Or just Google a list of what you have for meal ideas. Designating a special day for this can help — Fridge Fridays, perhaps?

4. Freeze. Almost anything can be frozen and kept fresh: bread (best sliced), milk (shake when thawed), eggs (raw but scrambled), and cheese (shredded for cooking). Don’t forget to freeze leftovers, even if just for a few days.

5. Understand expiration dates. “Use by,” “best by,” “enjoy by” — these are generally not expiration dates but suggestions as to when the product is at its freshest. Most food is often safe to eat days, weeks, even months after those dates.

One thing that has helped me cut down food waste is shopping more frequently. I try to buy only what I know I’ll use in a few days.

We’ve always composted vegetable peels and other food preparation scraps but it’s gotten easier in the past two years. Ipswich and Hamilton both have curbside composting making it easy to save anything no longer edible. Bones, moldy cheese, slimy vegetables, fruit and vegetable peels, all go into the compost as well as tissues and dryer lint and even kitty litter.

Food Waste II

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I am in an Irish pub eating cottage pie, one of my favorites. I’ve eaten less than a third and I’m stuffed. “I wish the portions weren’t always so big,” I say to the waitperson. “They didn’t used to be,” she replies. “It’s because of the American tourists.”

Sometime in the late 1960s I went out to lunch with an elderly neighbor. I was amused when she ate half of her meal and then pulled a plastic bag out of her purse and tucked away the rest of her lunch for another day. In those days, portions were reasonable and few people couldn’t finish a meal.

Today we’re offered a 12-16-ounce steak, twice as much as most people should be eating usually preceded by a big basket of bread with butter or olive oil. Fat 8-ounce burgers are served on a huge roll with a side of fries. Fish and chips a local favorite comes as a plate heaped with deep fried fish, fries and onion rings, it can come to over 2000 calories, as many as most people should consume in a day. And then, if we can’t finish the meal, we’re offered a take-away box. Although some restaurants are changing to recycle-able waxed boxes for take out, it is still too often packaged in styrofoam, not a recyclable material.

Portion comparison 1950 and today

Portion comparison 1950 and today

A few weeks ago my order of Chicken Marsala arrived in a large bowl full of linguine with four large slices of chicken breast on top, all glazed with a rich sauce. I brought the extra home, it made a meal for two and I ended up putting some of the pasta in the compost bin. It was still too much. I always come home with leftovers and I like leftovers but I’d much prefer to finish my dinner. I was taught to clean my plate. I don’t remember a restaurant meal in the past ten years when that’s been possible. No, a correction, there are two places we go that offer half portions. I know that many people order one entree to share but if we are out for a nice dinner, we like to make our own choices.

Portion Distortion

Portion Distortion

 I sometimes order from the appetizer menu but even that seems to be up-sized. Not long ago an appetizer of potato skins with cheese and bacon was six huge baked potato halves with most of the potato still in the skin. Another time when I asked if I could be served small portions, I was offered the children’s menu. I sometimes ask the waitperson to tell their managers that it would be nice if half portions were offered. Once I was told that I should go to a competitor, an answer I don’t imagine a manager would appreciate.

If I had the energy I’d try to start a movement encouraging every person who finds portions too big to tell the manager. I’ll continue with my own campaign.

The Department of Agriculture found that in 1970 25% of American food expenditure was for food eaten away from home. A Bloomberg report in April 2015 reported that spending on food away from home had now surpassed food consumed at home. Dining out has become more common, perhaps because there are more two-income families, more women working and the increase in fast food restaurants. That doesn’t explain why portions have grown.

Food Waste

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I’m on my soapbox here.

I’ve read a number of articles recently that discuss food production, consumption and waste. It doesn’t seem to be high on the radar of many people. Water and energy use are major issues but few consider the amounts of both needed to produce food and how they are also wasted.

  • One third of the planet’s food is wasted, enough to feed two billion people.
  • In the United States, six billion pounds of fruit and vegetables are wasted every year. They are either not harvested or unsold because they don’t look perfect.
  • Globally 46% of fruits and vegetables never make it from farm to fork.
  • In California’s Salinas Valley thousands of tons of fresh greens are trashed because they don’t have sufficient shelf life to ship.
  • The United States wastes thirty to forty percent of the food produced while one in seven people has food insecurity.*

In small pockets of the world a few people are trying to actively use food that would be wasted. I’ve read about chefs who are raising awareness by creating dishes using vegetables that are misshapen or blemished. Others are donating extra food to community kitchens where food is prepared for the homeless. At a resort in Las Vegas edible food scraps are sent to a pig farm where they’re fed to the animals.

  • In North America and Europe research has indicated that 620 to 660 pounds of food per person is wasted every year. A third of that is wasted by consumers. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates.
  • In sub-Saharan Africa and Asia the waste is less that half of that. Most of the waste there do to a lack of technology. Inadequate refrigeration or ability to process food efficiently.

Supermarkets throw away huge amounts of food that has passed the “sell-by” date. Restaurants have to discard tons of partially eaten meals. In Britain, the Sustainable Restaurant Association surveyed London restaurants and found that about a pound of food per customer per meal was wasted. Two-thirds in preparation and another third by the customer.

Not too long ago I was astonished watching a friend going through the refrigerator and throwing out anything that was out of date. Sour cream, three days past the date, unopened; cream cheese, unopened; a barely used half-gallon of milk, all tossed in the bin. Those dates don’t indicate that food is no longer edible. Most foods are safely used long past the dates. Throw them out only if the odor is off or there is visible spoilage.

*Too Good to Waste, National Geographic, March 2016

When I leave the office every day, I make a detour through the veggie room picking up some corn or tomatoes or berries. Whatever looks good. Thursday I found purslane bundles in the refrigerated case. I’d never heard of it. A brief research told me that it is a weed often used as a vegetable. After trying it in potato salad, I’m a new fan. It also made a great addition to a tossed green salad with its crunchy, sort of spicy flavor.

“Common in our yards but little known in the North American kitchen, purslane is both delicious and exceptionally nutritious. is the most frequently reported “weed” species in the world. It can grow anywhere that has at least a two-month growing season. Purslane is somewhat crunchy and has a slight lemony taste. Some people liken it to watercress or spinach, and it can substitute for spinach in many recipes. Young, raw leaves and stems are tender and are good in salads and sandwiches. They can also be lightly steamed or stir-fried. ” Mother Earth News, April/May 2005, by Frances Robinson. Purslane is also good for you. It tops the list of plants high in vitamin E and an essential omega-3 fatty acid.. Purslane provides six times more vitamin E than spinach and seven times more beta carotene than carrots. It’s also rich in vitamin C, magnesium, riboflavin, potassium and phosphorus.

What’s not to like!

Potato Salad with Purslane

Ingredients

3 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced
4 plum tomatoes
1/4 pound purslane
1 large cucumber—peeled, halved the long way, seeded and cut into half-moons
1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, (more or less depending on tastes)
1/2 cup chopped mint

Vinaigrette of choice*

  1. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook until just tender, about 12 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large shallow bowl.

  2. Season with salt and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the dressing. Allow to cool. Layer the onions over the potatoes, followed by the purslane, cucumber, tomato, red pepper flakes and mint. Just before serving, pour a bit more dressing over the salad and toss well.

    *My Favorite Vinaigrette

    1/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
    1 tablespoon sherry vinegar*
    1-1/2 teaspoons coarse Dijon mustard
    1/3 cup grapeseed oil**
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    ¼ teaspoon sugar
    Salt and pepper

    Place all ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously.

    * Or raspberry vinegar or seasoned rice vinegar
    ** I like grapeseed oil for salad dressings and cooking It is light and nearly tasteless with a high smoking point when sauteing with it.

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Emily’s Garden was the name of a writing retreat I attended last weekend in the historic village of Essex, New York on Lake Champlain. This lovely garden was designed with the poet Emily Dickinson’s garden in mind.

The retreat was held at the home of author and university teacher Kate Moses. I joined Kate, her colleague Elizabeth Cohen and five aspiring writers. They taught us a lot about writing but the food was what made the weekend memorable. Kate made everything from scratch with local ingredients, many flavored with herbs from her garden. We were greeted with a menu for the weekend. This was just the first meal.

Welcome Meet and Greet Cocktails and Appetizers
Cucumber & Elderflower gin and tonics, wine, beer
Cherry pico-de-gallo
Fresh local cheeses with crostini
Elizabeth’s hummus & homemade pita chips
Spiced olives
Prosciutto crisps

Local cheeses with fresh figs

Local cheeses with fresh figs and cherries

Dinner
Panade (Provencale gratin of bread, tomatoes, rainbow chard)
Watermelon salad with nectarines, radishes, mint, fetaLocal greens
Tuna Confit with white beans
Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Plum Sorbet
Fresh fruit tart

There was home cured salmon for lunch with chevre and sorrel pesto; homemade Greek yogurt and granola for breakfast; Lemon-Lime Shortbread and zucchini bread for snacks and much more. Besides the plum sorbet, there was silky smooth intensely dark chocolate ice cream and  buttermilk cinnamon ice cream, perfect for someone like me whose favorite food is ice cream.
A real standout was the pound cake, is was so rich and flavorful that the tiniest slice was enough to send everyone into silent awe while eating it.

Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze

Brown Sugar Pound Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze

Heat

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The heat this summer has been reminding me of my childhood. There was no air conditioning in those days and Michigan could be brutally hot in July. I remember lying in front of my bedroom window at night, trying to get the smallest puff of a breeze.

The sound of those summers was hearing the drone of the announcer giving the play-by-play of the Detroit Tiger’s baseball team while Grandpa sat in his shirt sleeves with his ear next to the radio. He was seldom without a suit jacket but it was a concession to the temperature. Never short sleeves though.

During World War II my father worked at AC Sparkplugs as a tool and die maker. The factories were sweltering. As soon as he got home we would climb into the 1934 Ford and drive a mile to Picnic Lake, a small weed surrounded pond with a tiny sandy beach area. We didn’t have a shower (or bathtub for that matter), it was where he could wash off the factory grime and sweat. Once the war was over he left the shop and worked as a carpenter. I don’t remember him every going swimming again.

One of our occasional summer treats was homemade ice cream. My brother Charles and I would go with Daddy to buy a big chunk of ice. When we got home he put it in a burlap bag and beat on it with the flat side of an ax. When It was crushed enough, Mamma would bring out the tall gallon-sized can that she’d filled with a mixture of eggs, sugar, vanilla, cream and milk.

The container fit into the bottom of a bigger wooden barrel-type container. The can held a paddle that attached to a heavy metal gear with a crank on the side. This fit over the top of the barrel. When that was all in place, Charlie and I started scooping ice into the space around the can. A layer of ice and then a layer of rock salt and then another layer of ice. Near the top we had to be careful with the salt. It was important that it not get into the container and spoil the ice cream.

In the beginning Daddy let us turn the crank but when the cream started to freeze, it was too hard for us. He had to take over. When it was too stiff to turn any longer. He took the can out of the icy water and into the kitchen. We hovered near Mamma’s elbows, each with a spoon, while she pulled the ice cream covered paddle out of the center. Those first few bites were the best. The sweet, creamy, vanilla flavor along with the slightly icy consistency was my favorite food.

After graduation from high school, I worked as a service representative for Bell Telephone in Detroit. My desk was in a huge room with sixty other women. If the temperature reached 90 degrees we were sent home. Supervisors stayed to take calls. When the thermometer reached the high eighties we’d keep our fingers crossed that it would reach 90.

Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream

5 eggs
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 quart heavy cream
Milk

Beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla, add cream and pour into a one gallon freezer can. Add milk to withing three inches of the top.

Place in freezing tub. Layer ice and salt while turning the crank constantly. Stop when it’s too stiff to turn.

Summer 1953, not so hot this day.

Summer 1953, not so hot this day.

 

It is fun to travel and fun to come home. We arrived late Tuesday night after missing a connection and hanging out for five hours in the Toronto airport before getting another flight.

Here are a few of the photos (out of hundreds). We traveled south from Dublin sort of following the coast. We were as far south as Cobh in Co. Cork, west to the Dingle Peninsula in Kerry, up through Galway, Mayo and Donegal before turning east into Northern Ireland. We stayed in Derry and then in Bangor, east of Belfast, before returning to Dublin and then home. The entire country was green, green, green.

We visited castles and ruins and a couple of museums but mostly enjoyed the beauty of the countryside and the friendliness of the people.

Dingle Peninsula

Dingle Peninsula

These rock lined fields are typical of this part of the country. We were told that long ago each field had a separate name. Note the road, it is narrow with little room for vehicles to pass. I was driving and didn’t want to meet a tour bus on one of these curves.

A stone house on the Dingle Peninsula

A stone house on the Dingle Peninsula

We would like to have gone into this building and asked about how a roof made of stone is constructed and works in the wind and rain of the area but it was closed.

Father Dyer's Folk Village in Glencolumbkille, Co. Donegal

Fisherman’s cottage in Father McDyer’s Folk Village in Glencolumbkille, Co. Donegal. It is one room with an open fire at one end with a hole in the roof for smoke to escape.

The Folk Village Museum is a cluster of several small cottages, called a ‘clachan’, perched on a hillside overlooking the sandy curve of Glen Bay Beach in the Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking area) of South West Donegal. It was started by a priest, Father McDyer. At the time of Father McDyer’s arrival in 1951 the parish of Glencolmcille was suffering from a long-standing cycle of unemployment and emigration. Over the next three decades Father McDyer worked to help break this cycle, lobbying for amenities, organising community projects and supporting the development of local industries, many of which, like the Folk Village, are still successful today. (quoted from website) It shows a glimpse into daily life in past centuries. It was a hard life.

We had never seen this kind of thatching before. The ceiling of the houses are bog wood (wood dug from under the peat bogs, left there eons ago when there were forests). Thatch is laid over that and secured with ropes made from twisting together local materials.

Open fireplace in one room cottage.

                                  Open fireplace in one room cottage.

 

 

 

Map of Ireland made of stone from each county.

                         Map of Ireland made of stone from each county.

This map is striking and the women in the visitor’s center were excited about it. It had just been dedicated two days before we were there. Each county provided the stone for their representation. Note the Gaelic county names.

 

 

A hedge school. When the English ruled the country it was forbidden to speak or teach Gaelic. It would be taught in these little hidden spaces.

A hedge school. When the English ruled the country it was forbidden to speak or teach Gaelic. It would be taught in these little hidden spaces.

 

 

 

Several areas along the west coast are Gaelic speaking. The road signs are in Gaelic and English. We were surprised to find that people living there speak Gaelic, or Irish as some call it, in their every day lives.

A field with drying peat. We kept seeing fields with mounds. It took us some time to realize that after the peat is cut, the brick sized pieces are made into little pyramids and left to dry.

A field with drying peat. We kept seeing fields with mounds. It took us some time to realize that after the peat is cut, the brick sized pieces are made into little pyramids and left to dry.

 

We’ll be heading home in a few days. I have so much to say about our Irish adventure but need to organize my thoughts. I’ve mentioned the weather. I’ll mention it again because our photos can’t do justice to the beauty of the country. So often we see the sun shining across spectacular landscapes but can’t stop to get a photo. The sun and rain change within minutes. We can be driving in a heavy rain and ahead of us the sun is shining. It seems like the most striking photos are under gray skies.

Today we drove along the Causeway Route from Carrickfergus to Bushmills.The road winds along the coast with great views of cliffs and mountains ahead. I was driving and happy to be hugging the left side of the road. In many places the right lane had only a stone wall between it and a drop into water. It looked like it would be an unpleasant roll down a rock cliff.

The road we took is also a bicycle route. It didn’t look like much fun to be cycling in the rain with gale force winds one area. It was also scary to be driving on a narrow, curving road with a cliff on one side and drop off on the other and turn a curve to discover a number of cyclists. Slow to a crawl and wait for a place where there’s a little visibility of oncoming traffic.

Easier to go through than around.

Easier to go through than around.

Farms and the sea

                               Farms and the sea

Cliffs along Causeway Coast Highway.

                                Cliffs along Causeway Coast Highway.

 

Travel is always interesting and often educational. By chance we’ve ended up in a place where a special event is occurring. Today we are in the Northern Ireland town of Carrickfergus. July 1 is the centennial of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. It was the Great War, WWI, and 20,000 British soldiers lost their lives in the first day of the battle. It continued for months with far more casualties.

There have been many memorials on TV today from different places in the UK. Here in Northern Ireland this is a big occasion. A major coast highway, A2, was closed for a parade that would start at 7PM. This was followed by a laying of wreaths at a memorial site and then an outdoor concert next to the castle.

Weather here is amazing. The sun shines, ten minutes later there’s a downpour and then the sun is out again. Watching people queue for the concert we see everyone wearing rain gear and carrying umbrellas although the sky is blue and the sun shines.

Parade in Carrickfergus

Parade in Carrickfergus

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Ireland is so green! So many shades of green. Understandable since there is a mix of sun and rain every day since we’ve been here. The south was notable for narrow roads lined with hedgerows right to the edge of the road making it difficult to see what was behind them. Hillsides are divided into different fields by rock walls.

Approaching Galway is an area called The Burren. It is a vast area of limestone pavements where only some alpine plants grow. It’s been said that the area “yields neither water enough to drown a man, nor tree to hang him in, nor soil enough to bury him.”

We’ve traveled north though Gaelic speaking country with wide vistas and no hedgerows or stone divided pastures. There are mountains and lakes (loughs) and spectacular scenery.

There is much to say and many photos to share but the computer I’m using is a problem. I’ll have to recreate the trip with photos when we get home next week. Incredible scenery, friendly people, ancient history. A great trip.

Dingle

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The Dingle Peninsula is reputed to have some of Ireland’s most stunning scenery.  We are in a Dingle hotel overlooking the harbor but we can’t attest to that. We’re in the midst of what, in Ipswich, we’d call a Nor’easter. Gale force winds, upside down rain and no visibility. No matter, the people are friendly, the food good and we aren’t on any schedule.

View of the Dingle Harbor today.

View of the Dingle Harbor today. Even the water is hidden, no sign of the mountains behind.

We are wending our way north along the coast and will end up in Belfast. I’m sure we’ll see some beautiful country.

Earlier in the week we toured the Jameson’s Distillery in Midleton. We had been given plastic raincoats in case it rained during the tour. It didn’t but the rain gear came in handy today when we ventured out for lunch. Umbrellas were useless in the wind. Across from the restaurant we watched disappointed travelers disembark from tour buses. There were probably fifteen or twenty buses. The Dingle Peninsula was to have been one of the highlights of the tour.

Our accommodations have varied from a posh hotel to pleasant B&Bs and an old seaside hotel that had seen better days. The town of Tramore reminded us of Salisbury beach with lots of rides and arcades. The TV in our room made us think of our first TV given to us by Max’s parents in 1956 when they moved California and gave us theirs. It had a 15-inch screen and was black and white. This one had color.

TV at O'Shea's Hotel

          TV at O’Shea’s Hotel, Tramore, Ireland

Watching a Euro 2016 football game on it was a challenge. We could follow the white dot (the ball) and see figures in different colors running around. The details weren’t so clear.

While we were out for lunch we bought a basket of local strawberries in honor of today’s Strawberry Festival at home.

I wrote last week about the joy of anticipation and planning a trip. Twenty-five years ago I spent two years planning a six month round-the-world trip. I read travel guides and essays, wrote away for brochures and information, telephoned airlines and travel agents and spent hours on the research. I took a class on solo travel and went to lectures by travelers. I joined Hostelling International and Servas, an international hosting organization. To join Servas required a lengthy application with an essay about myself and an interview with a member.

I carried cash to change into foreign currency and joined American Express where I could write personal checks at any of their offices worldwide to obtain more funds. I left a list of cities where friends and family could send mail to me through General Delivery.

At the airport of each country I bought a Lonely Planet Guide Book. It gave all the information needed for that part of the trip. They were heavy so I had to abandon each one as I left the country to move on.

Early this May I started planning a month long trip to Ireland. I booked our flight, car rental and first three nights accommodation online after a few hours of research. We’ll use the road atlas of Ireland but mostly we will be depending on the internet. We’ll get cash in euros or pounds (Northern Ireland) from ATMs. Google Maps will get us from one place to another, We’ll send and receive emails to keep in touch and check the Boston Globe website to keep up with what’s happening in the world. (But, I will not read anything about Donald Trump or the election coverage).

Technology has changed so much of our world but I wonder if it has taken away some of the sense of adventure from travel.

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer” Anonymous

The planning and anticipation of travel is a pleasant and important part of a trip. This summer we will be spending a few weeks in Ireland. I’ve spent hours on the internet, have several books including the AA Ireland Road Atlas showing the tiniest villages and roads. I’ve an old DK Ireland Guide book from a trip thirteen years ago and a new DK Backroads of Ireland. I have Rick Steves’ latest book on Northern Ireland and three maps (probably not needed with the atlas). I will take along Ireland: A Traveler’s Literary Companion. It has excerpts from works by 15 Irish writers.

My daughter teases me about my traveling library. She says my books take up most of my bag. This has changed a bit. I can now carry books on my Kindle but not the guide books. They definitely need to be paper.

Ireland seems to have gained a reputation as a foodie country with several cooking school offering classes to visitors. I’m looking forward to checking that out. On my visit in 2000 I was amazed to twice be served a plate of food bearing three kinds of potatoes. There were mashed, boiled and fries in addition to meat and the ubiquitous cabbage.

On previous visits the pubs were wonderful places to hear music and meet local people but thick cigarette smoke made it less fun than it might have been. It seemed like everyone smoked, there were always teenagers sitting in the corners of the pubs puffing away. A few months after my last visit, smoking in workplaces was banned (March 2004) making Ireland the first country in the world to institute an outright ban on smoking in workplaces, this included all pubs. I was amazed that it could actually happen there.

A friend who has a B&B in Ireland gave me this recipe.

Irish Soda Bread

4 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup butter

1 egg, unbeaten

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

1 cup raisins

1-1/2 cups buttermilk

Sift together all dry ingredients except for baking soda. Cut in the butter. (Go through with fingers.) Add raisins. Add milk, egg, and baking soda. Mix, not completely, just until moist. Knead for a few minutes- not too much. Place in a casserole dish. Brush with egg yolk. Bake for one hour at 375ºF.

Friday night we went to the Hart House for dinner. I was craving comfort food, something they do well. We were seated at a table for two in the far end of the tavern section. The room was nearly full and busy but in our corner we were able to chat and enjoy the meal.

In the opposite corner a couple who were probably in their early forties were sitting. There was nothing in particular about them that caught my attention. They seemed relaxed and comfortable. I had a brief thought that they were out for an evening without the children, or perhaps they weren’t married and it was a date. The only thing that I noticed was that after they finished their meal they didn’t leave. They ordered a second glass of wine and continued talking. They left just as our check was brought to the table.

We gave our credit card to the waitress. When she returned she told us that the couple who had just left had paid for our (not inexpensive) meal. She didn’t know who they were and they’d asked her to wait until they had gone before telling us.

We were stunned! Why? I tried to imagine what had caused that couple to chose us. Were we especially animated? Was it our age? Did they somehow know who we are? Were they friends of one of our children? I don’t imagine we will ever know but such an unexpected gesture made us feel happy and grateful as well as puzzled. It was a lovely gift. If that nice couple should read this…thank you.

Last weekend was a highlight of the year for us. We were once again blown away by Miranda Russell’s annual show. One song was to have been sung by three generations. Miranda’s mom Daisy Nell and her daughter Cecelia had planned a trio with Cecelia also accompanying on the cello. Unfortunately Daisy developed laryngitis and couldn’t sing. There was a quick rearrangement and Miranda’s son Hunton was pressed into making his stage debut singing one of the parts.

It was a thrill to see our grandchildren performing but there were more reasons for thinking the weekend was special. My sister Beth visited from Michigan for the show and our great-granddaughter Lennin came for an afternoon visit (accompanied by mom Jessalyn and dad Alex).

Las week our grandson David graduated from college and although we weren’t able to get to Baltimore for the event, we did have a chance to see and toast him on Monday.  In the past five days I’ve seen all five of my children, and five of my eight grandchildren. It’s a good life!

For the past two years we’ve had brief visits by Baltimore Orioles, they’ve come and stayed a few days and then disappeared. This year we got their favorite treats, orange halves and grape jelly out the first of April. There was no activity until two weeks ago when a flash of orange caught our eye. We now seem to have two pair coming to dine as well as a grosbeak who appears to like grape jelly better than the sunflower seed we put out.

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Loss

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One of the difficult things about getting older is the number of friends and family that we begin to lose. Last week our dear cousin Marlene died after a brief illness. She was a stunningly beautiful blonde of a certain age (as the French say) who was a talented artist, fabulous cook, devoted wife and so much more. Her genealogy research had expanded to include over a thousand family members and she had recently completed all the documentation necessary to prove that she was descended from John Alden. She had just been accepted as a member of the Mayflower Society.

Marlene and her husband, my cousin, lived in Jackson Michigan but her heart belonged in New England where her ancestors had lived. They made yearly pilgrimages to Massachusetts researching family and enjoying Crane Beach, Rockport, Exeter, New Hampshire and Cape Cod.

Marlene was happiest when entertaining with beautiful china and flower arrangements and sparkling crystal. When we visited even breakfast was served in style. She was known as an excellent cook but it was her pies that made her famous in her part of the world. She thought nothing of baking five or ten pies for a party so that each guest would have their favorite.

Marlene is one of a growing number of friends and family who have gone from our lives in the past few years. It is inevitable but sad and brings up my own feelings about mortality. I’m determined to live each day to the fullest. I think sometimes of my friend of the 1970s, Charlotte Martin, who was in her eighties. She said that she was so grateful for her young friends since all her contemporaries were gone. I’m fortunate that I not only have young friends but also grandchildren.

A couple of Marlene’s recipes:

Marlene’s Chocolate Trifle

1 package of Fudge Brownie Mix (or your own brownie recipe)

¼ cup of praline or coffee liqueur

1 can of chocolate pudding (or your own recipe)

8 Heath Bars

1 cup heavy cream

1. Bake brownies in a 9×13-inch pan. When done prick the top with a fork at one-inch intervals and pour the liqueur over the top. Set aside to cool completely.

2. When the brownies are cool, crumble and put half into a trifle bowl.

3. Spread ½ the chocolate pudding on top.

4. Break the candy bars (pounding them with a rolling pin works well) and put half of them over the pudding.

5. Whip the cream until soft peaks form. Spread ½ over the candy layer.

6. Repeat layers ending with whipped cream.

Chill at least 8 hours. It can also be frozen.

Marlene’s recipe calls for mixes but I always make my own. I add nuts along with the candy bars, she crushes peppermint candy to garnish the top. Any way, it is rich and delicious.

Marlene’s Oriental Salad

½ head Napa cabbage

½ head Bok Choy

Some romaine

2 packages Ramen noodles (Do not use the seasoning packets)

8 ounces slivered almonds

1 ounce sesame seeds

1 stick butter

1 bunch of green onions, chopped fine

1. Lightly brown almonds in a frying pan.

2. Melt butter in another pan and brown crumbled noodles. Remove from heat and add almonds and seeds. Set aside to cool.

Prepare greens and onions. Just before serving, toss all together with the cooled dressing.

Dressing:

¾ cup virgin olive oil

¼ cup vinegar

½ cup sugar

1 teaspoon soy sauce

In sauce pan combine all ingredients. Boil one minute then cool.

I recently spent a a couple of days in Washington DC. It is one of my favorite cities and a nearly equal distance away from Boston and Beckley, West Virginia where my best friend Theresa lives. We try to get together at least once a year. We both came by train, eight hour trips. The ride along the coast of Connecticut is one of the nicest parts of the trip where the tracks go along the water for some distance.

We spent a day in the National Achives researching families. Theresa’s mother came from Croatia and my great-grandparents from Scotland. Several years ago I went to the Archives and found census records and other documentation that I photo copied. This time we discovered that most of what we were looking for is already available from home on our own computers. Familysearch.org is free and has lots of documents that can be downloaded. Ancestry.com allows free searches but a membership allows access to nearly all the material available on line.

My big discovery was the Last Will and Testament of my fifth great-grandfather, Elijah Look. My family is from Michigan so I was always interested in the fact that my ancestors had once lived on Martha’s Vineyard. His grandfather, Thomas, was born in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1646. It is hard for me to imagine what his life would have been like. I haven’t been able to find records that might tell when the family migrated to the US.

One of the newer museums in DC, opened in 2004, is the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. It covers native populations of both North and South America and has fascinating exhibits of the many cultures. The exterior of the building is striking from every direction. It is close to the Capitol and the Botanical Garden.

Spectacular exterior of the American Indian Museum

                                  Spectacular exterior of the American Indian Museum

 Night time view!

                  Night time view!

The Mitsitam Native Foods Cafe in the museum is interesting and original. It features indigenous food from the Western Hemisphere. Five different stations reflect food from each region. Northwest Coastal has Cedar-plank Roasted salmon with side dishes that use ingredients from the area. Great Plains features Smoked Bison Loin with Huckleberry Reduction and Wild Rice and Watercress Salad. Northern Woodlands serves Maple Brined Turkey and Roasted Sunchoke, Quince and Wild Onion Dressing. South America, and Meso America are the other areas. I had a taco made with chicken simmered with plantains and a salad of jicama and chayote. All good and new to me. Theresa opted for turkey with wild mushroom roasted yellow beets.

In the Botanical Garden. It's still too early for many blooms.

                                                                                                                                          In the Botanical Garden. It’s still too early for many blooms.

 

 

From my desk window I can see clumps of yellow and white daffodils, our magnolia tree in bloom and the guys, finally here from Jamaica, pruning the raspberry bushes. I think spring is finally here. It is nice to look over the orchard and see what is there today compared with what we started with thirty-seven years ago. Nine hundred sixty-year old apple trees and a few pears have been replaced by thousands of apple trees, peaches, apricots, cherries and five kinds of berries.

In 1979 there was no bakery, no winery, no vegetables and one small sales room. We sold pre-bagged apples, some jams and preserves and a little candy. Everything was displayed on four or five two tiered stands painted bright green. Our cash “register” was a drawer in a little table. One of the first priorities was renewing the orchard. We planted hundreds of tiny new apple trees only to see them being eaten by deer. A deer proof fence had to be built around the orchard. There were barns to be built and new refrigeration equipment added. The projects seemed never ending.

So much joy and so much angst has gone into making the orchard what it is today. One of our greatest joys is watching the orchard continue to grow and change under Doug and Miranda’s stewardship.

The photo below shows the barn before the large addition that now holds the cold room, ice cream and a loading dock. The barns aren’t built yet.

The gas pump still stands but nothing else remains the same.

The gas pump still stands but nothing else remains the same.

The barn in 1979

The barn in 1979

Apples on display, 1979

Apples on display, 1979

The photo below shows the area were the greenhouse now sits. It is being prepared for planting. With a few exceptions, all the old apple trees have been replaced.

In the beginning.

In the beginning.

Spring ?

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The calendar says it is April, the lilacs are beginning to leaf out, the apple buds are swelling and our daffodils are in bloom. There are other signs of spring; Down River Ice Cream is has reopened, Periwinkle in Essex is open again and we’re getting flyers and emails telling us what shows are coming to the Gloucester Stage Company this summer. So why did I wake up this morning to winter?
It reminds me of April 1, 1997 when I wakened to find the snow on my street was three feet deep. I needed to be at the hospital to relieve the night nurse. it was impossible to walk so I skied to the bus stop only to find no buses were running. Maybe I should be happy that there are only a couple of inches today.

The orchard will be opening on the first of May. Devan has been busy in the greenhouse getting the tomatoes in and preparing to plant for early crops. Bosie and the guys will arrive in a couple of weeks to begin work in the orchard. Vanessa and Courtney are helping to get the store in order for opening an Jason is taking inventory of the winery and planning what will be needed for this year. All these activities mean spring at Russell Orchards.

Not especially a spring activity but I’ve been making granola. It’s my variation of a recipe I found online. Everyone who has eaten any has raved about it so I pass it on here.

Yummy Granola

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups nuts and/or seeds (I’ve used walnuts, pecans, slivered almonds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds usually two or three different kinds)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup vegetable or olive oil (I use grape seed oil)
½ cup maple syrup (honey can be used but I like maple best)
1½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

Optional mix-ins: dried cranberries, raisins, finely chopped apricots or chocolate chips

Instructions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a large, rimmed baking sheet* with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, combine the oats, nuts and/or seeds, salt and cinnamon. Stir to blend.
2. Mix the oil, maple syrup (or honey) and vanilla together. Pour over oats, mix well, until every oat and nut is lightly coated. Pour the granola onto your prepared pan and spread it in an even layer. Bake about 15 minutes. Stir in the coconut flakes and return to the oven until golden, another 15 minutes or so. Watch carefully that it doesn’t start to burn. The granola will crisp up as it cools.
3. Let the granola cool completely, Stir in the dried fruit and/or chocolate chips if using them. Store the granola in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 to 2 weeks. It can also be frozen.

*I use a half-sheet pan, 18″x13″. A smaller pan would need longer baking time or two smaller pans might need less baking times. Watch closely.

Christmas in DR was pretty low key. The shops catering to Europeans had twinkling lights and some holiday displays but the local shops looked pretty much the same as usual. The town park had a straw nativity, strange for us to see it with the surf in the background.

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Snowman on a street corner.

Snowman on a street corner.

A family from Slovenia neighbors were staying next door to us with a teenage girl and an adorable five year old boy. The only Christmas music we heard was from their house. The little boy sang Jingle Bells as he jumped in the pool. Christmas Eve they had visitors for a festive dinner.

We celebrated with dinner at a local restaurant and watched an old movie with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope spending Christmas in an old English castle. It must have been from the 70s, they were not young men. Jokes and music, fun to watch.

Yesterday there was a huge influx of people arriving in town to spend this week leading up to New Year’s. The beach hotels are filling, at one end of town there seem to older French people, at the other end there are many families with young children, also primarily French.

One of two or three trees we've seen.

One of two or three trees we’ve seen.

“Bento is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. A traditional bento holds rice, fish or meat, with pickled or cooked vegetables, usually in a box-shaped container.” (Wikipedia)

A bento box in the Dominican Republic? Yes indeed, it was my first meal after arriving last week in DR. I’ve eaten picnics from bento boxes in Japan but it was a surprise in this part of the world. A new restaurant, Caffé Leopard has opened close to our house. The special for the day was an Italian Bento Box. It sounded intriguing, it turned out to be attractive to look at and tasty. I hadn’t thought to bring my camera so a description is the best I can do.

Four red and black lacquered dishes filled a square box, also red and black. The first dish held a small portion of Eggplant Parmesan, beautifully seasoned and delicious. The next dish contained thin slices of roast beef with a mirepoix garnish. A slice of a pasta loaf was in the third dish. The pasta had been layered with a light creamy cheese sauce and garnished with fresh peas. The final dish held small tomatoes, cut in half and dressed lightly with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. A tiny square dish was in the center of the others and held freshly grated cheese. It was a memorable meal, delicious and pleasing to the eye.

Photo Memories

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It’s raining this morning, only a few oak leaves cling to the trees and it is pretty dismal outside. I’m cheering myself up by putting photos in my 2015 album. Twenty-four years ago I started making a photo album for every year. Since then, I’ve gone back through boxes of old photos to make albums of the previous years. It is a wonderful way to retrieve the past.

Very few of the old pictures were dated. I’ve always enjoyed puzzles, reconstructing photo albums by year has been an interesting exercise in puzzle solving. Was that photo of the children taken in Montreal or Halifax? Was it 1969 or 1971? Did we camp that year at Mt Blue State Park on Webb Lake or was it Lily Bay State Park on Moosehead Lake? And does it matter? Only to me I suspect.

My family teases me, why have I lined book shelves with photo albums they wonder. In addition to yearly albums, I have others from each of my trips. I tell them that when I get really old, I will spend my days reviewing my life. They wonder why, in this era of digital photography I bother having prints made to tuck into a book. They take up space, they sit unopened from month to month but it gives me satisfaction to see them waiting, holding my life between their covers.

In fact, my albums get frequent use. It means I can date events accurately, I just have to check a couple of albums to find whether my nephew married in 1999 or 2000, I can find the year that I took Crystal and Leah to Michigan or which year Jason’s family lived in Florida. I suppose these facts aren’t really important but they keep me oriented and sometimes solve family arguments.

When I flip through an album, I see pictures from events long forgotten, a party with colleagues taken the Christmas of 1996 takes me back to that day, I remember conversations and even some of the food. I see pictures from the year my brother and his family visited, I thought they never visited came to Massachusetts. There are photos of a trip I took with Sherry in 1986, she’s been gone many years now. Family gatherings, camping trips, holidays, people and events, these books hold the history of my life and my family. I treasure them.

1956 Camping in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, my first camping trip.

1956 Camping in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, my first camping trip.

1960 Mom and Dad in front of Dad's milk truck.

1960 Mom and Dad in front of Dad’s milk truck.

1964 The kitchen stove in the first house we owned.

1964 The kitchen stove in the first house we bought.

1979 The orchard sign when we bought the farm.

1979 The orchard sign when we bought the farm.

1992 Alex's farm truck.

1992 Alex’s farm truck.

More Apples

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A few weeks ago my sister visited from Michigan. Our usual breakfast is cereal but I thought I’d like to do something a bit nicer for one morning. I made a German Apple Pancake, a family favorite that I had put in the Grammy’s Kitchen cookbook. Unfortunately, I forgot to add the flour. We had something like an apple omelet, edible but not what I’d planned.

Last week I tried again, this time combining parts of the original recipe with another from the book, Apple Puff Oven Flapjack. This one was a success.

This has been a bumper apple season so for anyone with a surplus, I’m sending along my adapted recipe.

Puffy Apple Pancake

Preheat oven to 425 degrees
Ingredients
3 tablespoons of butter
3 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1-2 tart apples
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Method
1. Make the batter in a blender, or in mixing bowl with whisk. Beat together the eggs, milk, flour, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon. Reserve brown sugar for topping. Let stand while preparing apples.
2. Peel apples and slice thinly.
3. Melt the butter in a 9 or 10 inch oven proof skillet. (A well seasoned iron skillet is perfect) Place the apple slices in the butter.
4. Return to the oven until the apples sizzle. Don’t brown them.
5. Pour the batter over the apples and sprinkle with brown sugar.
6. Bake 20-25 minutes until puffed and brown. Serve immediately dusted with powdered sugar.

A melon baller is the perfect tool for coring apples.

A melon baller is the perfect tool for coring apples.

Going into the oven.

Going into the oven.

Let's eat!

Let’s eat!

Halloween

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Halloween is now second only to Christmas for the amount of money spent on candy, decorations and costumes in the US and Canada. The custom appears to have come to North America with the Scottish and Irish immigrants in the early 20th century. In the past two decades it has spread to Europe and Australia, much to the dismay of many people there who oppose the embracing of American pop culture.

The origin of Halloween goes back to ancient Ireland and Scotland. The pagan Celts held the Festival of Samhain at the end of October. It signified the end of the harvest season and a time to take stock of supplies for the winter months. The souls of the dead were supposed to revisit their homes on this day. Huge bonfires would be lit and people started wearing ugly masks to confuse the the spirits and keep the dead from identifying them. Over the years the festival came to have a sinister significance with ghost, witches, goblins and demons of all kinds believed to be wandering about. Turnips were hollowed out and a light placed in them to act as lanterns.

There are many variations of a Celtic myth where an unsavory character named Stingy Jack made a deal with the Devil so that he would never go to hell. When Jack died, God would not let such a scoundrel into heaven and the Devil would not allow him into hell. The Devil gave him an ember of coal and sent him away. Jack placed it in a carved out turnip and has been roaming the earth ever since, Jack o’ the lantern.

The carving of jack-o-lanterns has become a major part of the holiday and a symbol of the season. A cousin who lives in Frankfort, Michigan sent photos of the pumpkin carving competition in his town.

Frankfort takes its jack-o-lanterns seriously!

Frankfort takes its jack-o-lanterns seriously!

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Frankfort Pumpkins 007

One of the great pleasures of living in Ipswich is the wealth of community activities and the enthusiastic participation of its people. I grew up in a small town but lived for some time in cities. Although there is so much available in a city, theater, music, museums, etc. Small towns have a kind of energy that is special.

The Fourth of July Parade, Old Ipswich Days, Strawberry Festivals, Concerts at the Castle, Tuesday Nights Downtown, the Chowderfest and Ipswich Illuminated are just some of the events that bring neighbors and friends together..

I went to Ipswich Illuminated last night. It was truly a community event with crowds of people walking along the river and across the Hall-Haskell Visitor Center’s green on paths lit by paper bag lanterns. The river was aglow with bonfires fed constantly by a fleet of nearly invisible kayakers. Individuals could light a “Wish Candle” and have it set afloat to move with the current and tide. It was magical to see the hundreds of little lights floating in the water around the bonfires.

Live music, art, poetry, food and people having fun. Children and adults danced and laughed and enjoyed the night. Best of all for me was running into old friends and acquaintances that I seldom see.

Orv Giddings and his band playing on the Riverwalk in front of the wonderful murals depicting the history of Ipswich

Orv Giddings and his band playing on the Riverwalk in front of the wonderful murals depicting the history of Ipswich

Bonfires and floating wishes in the river.

Bonfires and floating wishes in the river.

Paper lanterns at Sawmill Point.

Paper lanterns at Sawmill Point.

At Sawmill Point the music of Ben Staples and Friends had everyone tapping their toes.

At Sawmill Point the music of Ben Staples and Friends had everyone tapping their toes.

A photograph has the power to evoke memories in a way that few other things do.

Last week we found a photo taken in December 1979 in front of the orchard barn. It was the year we bought the farm. The sign on the doors say Goodale Orchards. It wasn’t until another ten years that we officially changed the name to Russell Orchards.

It is a December day, I’m certain because there is a wreath a door. Max is standing in front with an old tractor and a pick-up truck. Studying the picture, I’m transported back to those early years. It was an exciting and scary time for us. In June we had left behind our comfortable suburban life in Andover and moved with children and animals to Ipswich. Our farming lives began.

That December the store was open every day. All of the apples were bagged for sale. The store itself was the ell that we now call the wine tasting room. There was no heat, each day I shivered while I bagged a couple dozen five and ten pound bags of apples and arranged them on the shelves along with jugs of cider. I left a basket with $25. in change on the counter. Business was too sparse to actually spend the day in the store, customers came in, helped themselves and left their payment in the basket. Periodically I’d come from the house to retrieve it.

Barn

The back of the barn. The cider mill was added here in 1982.

The back of the barn. The cider mill was added here in 1982.

The gas pump still stands but nothing else remains the same.

The gas pump still stands but nothing else remains the same.