“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

No comments

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

No comments

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

No comments

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!

Frankfort Pumpkins 005

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.

October Colors

No comments

These are busy weeks at the orchard. I could use that as an excuse for such a long time between postings but it’s really that I haven’t been inspired to write.

I have had time to read three volumes of the Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante. When I opened the first one, My Brilliant Friend, I was initially put off by three pages listing all the people in the book and their relationship to others. The Italian names seemed like they were nearly the same. Gino and Nino and Alfonso and Antonio just to name a few. Adding to the confusion, the two main characters have their real names and then the names given to them by each other. Confusing? You bet. I decided just to read and forget the complex families and who belonged to which family. I was soon deeply engrossed in the story and got people sorted out.

I would be deep in the fourth and final book, The Story of the Lost Child if I wasn’t so far down on the library waiting list.

It has been a disappointing few weeks for visitors coming to New England for our glorious fall colors. My cousins from Florida drove through upstate New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and all the way north along the Maine coast and saw only a few trees turning yellow. We’re finally getting some lovely colors here in Eastern Massachusetts.DSCN1145

IMG_2420

IMG_2422

Apples, Apples

No comments

After being away for a couple of weeks I walked through the orchard Tuesday morning. The lovely fragrance of ripe apples greeted me. The apples hang heavily from the trees with colors ranging from the yellow/green Gingergolds to the bright red Empires and every shading in between. This morning the heat wave has broken and it feels like apple picking weather. Tomorrow the orchards will be open for pick-your-own and the fall season is officially underway.

20150904_101253

20150904_101321

In the late 1960s crisp cool nights and sunny September days meant it was time to take the children apple picking. The seven of us would pile into the station wagon and head to New Hampshire where we would wander through a forest of large apple trees picking fruit from as high as we could reach. The younger children would be lifted up by Daddy so they could pick. A gallon of cider accompanied us home along with two huge bags of apples.

It didn’t seem hard to get rid of so many apples. Apple pies, apple crisp, apple sauce and apple butter kept the kitchen busy for days. The children’s lunch bags were livened with apples as well as applesauce cookies and bars. We had no idea in those days that we would ever own an orchard. Today our trees are mostly dwarf or semi-dwarf so children can easily pick their apples without an assist from Daddy. I love to see families enjoying a day in the orchard, it makes me a bit nostalgic.

20150904_101438

More dessert

No comments

One of the best food discoveries from our trip to Stockholm was the dessert, Pannacotta. It is apparently an Italian dessert that is quite common but I’d never eaten it. It was so smooth and light and delicious that I kept trying it in different restaurants.

Once home I was determined to replicate it. I found many recipes online. They all stressed how simple it is to make and how versatile it is. Although a simple vanilla flavor it can be served with any kind of fruit or chocolate or other sauces.

Some recipes called for boiling the cream, others said to just bring the cream to a simmer. I’ve always thought that cream shouldn’t be boiled so used the simmer method. My first two attempts fell short.

My first effort was a disappointment. The flavor was perfect but a thin layer had formed on the top disrupting the smoothness that should have been perfect. I tried again using another recipe, this time it didn’t set well enough to unmold although the flavor was again great.

Undaunted, I tried again combining two recipes to achieve success. I softened the gelatin in milk, heated it just enough to melt the gelatin and then removed from the heat and added the other ingredients. The whole process didn’t take more than five minutes. I did have some trouble unmolding the ramekins. I set the base in warm water and ran a thin knife around the edge but it was difficult. Several recipes suggested oiling the molds with a thin coat of oil or butter. I’ll try that next time.

Pannacotta

1 envelope unflavored gelatin
½ cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
2-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place milk in a small saucepan and sprinkle gelatin on top to soften. Once softened, heat milk until just under a simmer. Remove from the heat and stir until the gelatin is fully melted. Add cream, sugar and vanilla and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Allow the mixture to reach room temperature, pour into ramekins or small sauce dishes or wine glasses and refrigerate until set, 4 hours or longer.

Makes 6 servings.

Pannacotta with raspberry sauce.

Pannacotta with raspberry sauce.

Pannacotta unmolded from ramekin.

Once upon a time, say from the time I was born until my children left home, dessert was a necessary part of every dinner. It could be simple, cookies or some fresh fruit but more often it was pie or cake or some other confection and if it was buried in whipped cream, so much the better. Pineapple Upside Down Cake, warm, moist, spicy gingerbread, strawberry shortcake, all served with whipped cream. Fruit tarts and pies were served with ice cream or if I didn’t have time to bake, a chocolate pudding served warm with vanilla ice cream melting in the center was a favorite.

These days dessert is something we rarely eat. Occasionally Sunday evening is a time for a little ice cream while we watch Masterpiece Theater but pies and cakes and elaborate desserts are only for birthdays or the occasional company meal.

In Sweden we surprised ourselves by frequently ordering dessert. One of the best and the most simple was a Berry Meringue dessert. It consisted of a meringue smothered in lightly sweetened whipped cream, drizzled with a sauce of pureed strawberries and garnished with the fresh fruit.

IMG_8074

Strawberry season is over but we have an abundance of raspberries. I love them but the seeds are a problem for my teeth. I’ve been puréeing them to make a simple sauce. It is easy to make and is great over ice cream or a slice of white cake. I also use it to make a nice summery drink. A spoonful of the purée, vodka and soda stirred with ice in a tall glass.

Raspberry Sauce

Mash fresh or frozen raspberries with sugar to taste. Once the juices have been released purée the fruit in a food processor or with a hand blended. Put the puréed berries into a sieve and use the back of a spoon to push the fruit through leaving the seeds in the sieve.

A pint of berries will make almost a cup of sauce. It will keep several days in the refrigerator and freezes well.

Iceland

No comments

All good things must end and so our adventures in Sweden and Iceland are now just memories. The final part of the trip took us to Iceland where we were awed by the magnificence and grandeur of the landscape. It is vast and rugged and wild and beautiful. I had thought that I’d feel about Iceland much like I feel about Alaska, I’m glad I’ve been there but have no desire to go back. Instead I would eagerly return to Iceland.

I was surprised to learn that the entire population is only 320,000 in an area as large as all of the British Isles combined. Two-thirds of the people live in the greater Reykjavik area. That leaves the remaining residents scattered throughout the country, almost all along the coast. The interior is covered with glaciers and mountains and rock.
Geothermal heating provides most of the heat for homes and industry. Even many of the sidewalks in Reykjavik are heated in the winter to be kept ice free. The country is very young and still changing with glaciers melting and volcanic activity ongoing.
The Icelandic language seems very difficult to me but fortunately nearly everyone there speaks English. The language was brought by the Norwegian and Celtic settlers in the 9th and 10th centuries. Iceland was so isolated that it has had little outside influences to change it. Other Norwegian and Celtic countries languages have been modified over the years by the influence of other European countries.

Moss covered lava fields cover vast areas. Outside of farming areas along the coast, there is little vegetation.

We took two day long tours. Along the way We passed through the town of Selfoss. With a population of 6500 it is the largest “city” outside of the Reykjavik area. That’s only half the population of Ipswich. Wow. It is in an area of rich farmland making it the major shopping area.

One of our tours took us to the popular sites of Gullfoss, Geyser and Thingvellir National Park. All spectacular sights. Geyser is an area of many acres filled with bubbling, boiling springs and geysers. The waterfall Gullfoss is maybe the most popular tourist attraction in Iceland. It has a boardwalk and stairs leading down to viewpoints and a restaurant but has not been otherwise commercialized.

Gullfoss, wider, higher and more powerful than Niagara Falls.

Gullfoss, wider, higher and more powerful than Niagara Falls.

We only stopped in Thingvellir National Park for a brief visit but I was captivated by the landscape. Great cliffs, valley’s, a lake, rivers and huge cracks in the earth. It would have been worth a whole day’s visit. Game of Thrones fans might be interested to know that some scenes were filmed there and in other parts of the country.

A crack or fissure in the earth.

A crack or fissure in the earth.

The second tour took us along the south coast. Along the highway on one side was rich green farmland dotted with sheep and horses, on the other side tall cliffs with snow topped mountains in the background. We visited a glacier, two other waterfalls and a black sand beach with an unusual columnar basalt wall at the back.

Black beach with a cave and cliff of vertical rock formations caused by lava flowing and cooling.

Black beach with a cave and cliff of vertical rock formations caused by lava flowing and cooling.

Our final stop was the Skógar Folk Museum. The most interesting feature of the open air museum were the sod covered houses. The houses are of wood but only the fronts are visible. The rest was encased in sod with a few windows peeking through.

Skógar Folk Museum. One of the sod covered houses.

Skógar Folk Museum. One of the sod covered houses.

In addition to reindeer herding, my Swedish friend, Sonja, arranged a unique trip for us. Sixteen women from six countries were introduced to the Sami culture in several ways. We crossed the Arctic Circle on the first day of our trip. We would not stay in hotels or eat meals in restaurants.

Our first night was spent in a small hostel. We drove forty minutes over dirt roads to dinner at the home of Sonja’s cousin Valborg. She had prepared sliced fresh salmon that she had marinated, cheese, three kinds of homemade traditional breads and vegetable soup. The vegetables were grown in her garden and preserved in a cold cellar over the winter. Turnips, carrots, potatoes and onions along with seasonings. Dessert was an assortment of rich pastries that she had baked.

Valborg's home overlooking a lake.

Valborg’s home overlooking a lake.

Dinner at Valborg's home. Tables in the living room and dining room for sixteen.

Dinner at Valborg’s home. Tables in the living room and dining room for sixteen.

Valborg is widowed but still lives alone on the farm where she’s always lived. Although she no longer keeps animals, she still maintains a large garden. Buses from the city, 150 kilometers away come once a week, It takes careful planning to make a shopping excursion. Valborg’s house is painted a dark red which seems to be typical. We saw similar houses every place we went. When we returned to our hostel at midnight, it was still daylight.

Our accommodation for two nights was in the small village of Pelkam, one of the tiny, wide spread villages that dot the vast forests of the north. It was once a thriving Sami community now only three families remain. The last children born in Pelkam were born in the early 1980s. We slept in bunk beds in a small hostel, once a school house. In this remote area children sometimes lived days away from a school. They lived at the school and went home only for Christmas and summer. The Sami women prepared our meals in the hostel kitchen. Breakfasts of oatmeal, sliced ham and cheese and an assortment of breads. Lunch and dinners were meat, reindeer, pork or salmon with vegetables. They must have vast freezers, the village is 70 kilometers from the nearest town with shops or a food market.

The dirt roads and vast forests of Laponia

The dirt roads and vast forest of Laponia

There are very few signs of habitation in this part of the country. Henrik, a Sami reindeer owner led us on a forest walk and explained the needs of the herd. Reindeer live on a kind of lichen that grows on trees in virgin forest. Trees should be at least one hundred years old to support deer herds adequately. The livelihood of the Sami people is being threatened from two directions. There are plans for a huge wind farm in the grazing area and there is widespread deforestation, probably for paper production. The old trees are being replaced with fast growing pines imported from Canada but they don’t provide the right conditions to support the reindeer.

The lichen that feeds the reindeer. It hangs from old trees.

The lichen that feeds the reindeer. It hangs from old trees.

Reindeer herding isn’t the usual sort of topic for Grammy but this was an experience I have to share. I have a friend who is one of the Sami people, the indigenous people of Lapland. Lapland is an area above the Arctic Circle encompassing northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Originally nomadic, the Sami now own and maintain herds of reindeer that range over millions of acres of dense forest. Each spring the reindeer are rounded up so the owners can identify and “notch” the new calves.

My friend arranged for a group of women who are part of an international friendship organization to spend a week visiting the Sami people and learning about the culture. We spent an evening at one of the “round-ups”. It was an amazing experience.

Picture Grammy in the center of several hundred reindeer swirling around while the Sami men lasso the calves to “notch” their ears. We’ve driven 30 or 40 kilometers through the wilderness, over dirt tracks, to a place where there are many cars and trucks along the road. We find a group of people gathered around a camp fire. There are long birch logs covered with deer skins for benches. Reindeer meat is cooking on a round sheet of metal, a grill of sorts. There are many men and women who will be involved in the round-up.

We’ve been invited for supper and to watch the marking of the new calves by the owners. We eat reindeer meat, it’s been lightly smoked, sliced very thin and cooked over the fire. We have salad and potato salad and potato soup, everything is delicious.

After a wait the deer are finally corralled into a small enclosure. The herd has been brought from miles away into a larger enclosure a few nights before and now into a smaller one. Once contained, the men go in with long poles that have a sort of lasso on the end. This herd is owned by a group of five families. Each family has their own reindeer and will claim the calves belonging to their deer. When they identify a calf that belongs to them, they lasso it by the back legs and cut notches in the ears. Every owner has his/her distinctive. patented mark.

The reindeer are totally non-aggressive.  Soon there were small children in the midst of the herd and also fifteen awestruck European and Australian women, and one American. I watched while a calf’s ears were being notched and a four year old girl petted it.

One of the Sami women stirring reindeer meat on the grill.

One of the Sami women stirring reindeer meat on the grill.

The men looking for their own calves.

The men looking for their own calves.

Four year old petting the calf while her uncle and dad hold it and mom snaps a photo.

Four year old petting the calf while her uncle and dad hold it an mom snaps a photo.

This is also the time of year when it is daylight all night. We left late, 11:30PM, the claiming of the calves would go on for hours longer.

Herring

No comments

It’s hard work being a tourist. So many things to see and do, decisions to make and advice to follow but we’re managing.
We are in love with Stockholm, it is a beautiful city with many parks and museums with water every place we turn.
The meals that we’ve eaten have been wonderful, it’s hard to believe that we aren’t seeing any obese people. Everyone seems to be relatively trim and fit. All the walking and cycling must help. I don’t think we see more than one or two really overweight people a day.
Herring is a traditional Swedish food. Here, as elsewhere we’ve visited in Europe, a “starter” seems to be the custom to begin a meal. Much more prevalent than at home I think. Last night we tried a herring starter. It consisted of herring prepared four ways, tiny dishes with a couple of bites of herring in each dish. Pickled, fried Baltic herring, salted, and in a mustard sauce. They were accompanied by tiny warm boiled potatoes, a bit of cream cheese and a bit of a strong cheddar type cheese. All were delicious and just the right amount for two.

We'd eaten some before I thought to take a photo. Too good to wait.

We’d eaten some before I thought to take a photo. Too good to wait.

Stockholm at Midsummer sounded like a fun place to be. A number of years ago I had spent Midsummer’s Eve in Vilnius, the main city of Lithuania. It was a lively place. Shops and museums stayed open all night with concerts and festivities going on throughout. I had imagined this was a custom in the Baltic countries. A celebration of light.
In Stockholm it is decidedly different. Friday though Sunday many shops are closed, including the market where we buy food. We were told that everyone goes out of town for the holiday. Apparently to vacation homes or to visit family.
Plenty of tourists remain in the city however and all the interesting sites are open and busy.
The city of Stockholm is comprised of fourteen islands with Lake Mälaren on one side flowing into the Baltic Sea. We are renting an apartment on the fifth floor of an old building in the Södermalm section of the city. From our window we can see the harbor with ferries criss-crossing to other sections of the city.
Even without Midsummer celebrations, there is a lot happening. There are over 100 museums, enough to keep visitors busy for months. Daylight lingers late into the night, it never gets completely dark. Last night we looked out to see a balloon drifting past a tower just a couple of blocks from the apartment.

The Baltic Sea from our window.

The Baltic Sea from our window.


Balloon drifting past at 13:30PM

Balloon drifting past at 13:30PM

Babies

No comments

We have sweet additions to our barnyard. Daisy a miniature donkey and her baby, Gingergold arrived the end of last week and settled in quickly. Baby Ginger is pretty cute, she wanders away from Mama for a few minutes and then runs back to her. Earlier in the summer our geese presented us with a bunch of little goslings. Watching the babies being shepherded along reminded me of the children’s book, Make Way For Ducklings.

Daisy and Ginger

Daisy and Ginger

Ginger

Ginger

In a few short weeks the orchard has been transformed. From rabbits standing on snow drifts nibbling treetops to trees loaded with tiny apples. Unfortunately full bloom occurred while we were visiting my sister in Michigan so we missed it this year.
The orchard in bloom is a stunning sight. One day there are little fat green buds tipped with white, a few days later there’s an explosion of pink and white blossoms. One would think that after the hard winter the bloom would be later than usual but it was right on schedule in mid-March.
We’ve been gorging on fresh asparagus. It is a treat to be once again eating vegetables a few hours from the garden. Usually I peel the lower ends of the asparagus and quickly cook them in a shallow pan with a little water but occasionally I like to make Asparagus with Butter Sauce and Parmesan Cheese.
This is a recipe that I first had at an Easter dinner eleven years ago. Lorraine Weinberg, a friend from Andover, had prepared it. She shared the recipe with me before she moved to New York City and we lost touch. I don’t think she’d mind my passing it on.


Asparagus with Butter Sauce and Parmesan Cheese

1 pound of asparagus

Peel the tough outer skin from the ends and steam, covered, for 2 to 5 minutes until bright green and just tender. Run under cold water to stop the cooking. Pat the stalks dry and line them in a shallow layer in a baking dish.

Butter Sauce

¼ cup butter
1 clove minced garlic
1 finely chopped shallot
¼ cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice with zest from the lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Drizzle the Asparagus Butter over the asparagus.
Bake at 400 degrees for 5 minutes.
Sprinkle with fresh grated Parmesan cheese
Broil 1 minute until lightly browned
Serve immediately

Last year we were surprised by the arrival of a Baltimore Oriole on May 11th. It was the first one we’d ever seen in our yard. I quickly put out an orange and hoped he’d stay. Only a week with us and then he disappeared.

Last year's oriole

Last year’s oriole

I prepared early this year, putting out an orange slice and grape jelly on May 1. The day before yesterday we were thrilled to see two Baltimore Orioles pecking at the goodies. Max filled the hummingbird feeder last week and kept lamenting that the hummingbirds didn’t seem to be back. Yesterday when I got home from work a hummingbird was perched on the feeder sucking up the nectar. Now if only some bluebirds would notice our bluebird houses.

I’ve never been particularly interested in birds but we have a hanging feeder just outside our window. I must admit that sitting at the breakfast table watching the finches and nuthatches and titmouse and woodpeckers that compete for the four perches on the feeder is a lovely way to start the morning.

Yesterday was Kim the Fishman’s (check my blog from October 2014) day to deliver fish. It was haddock. Last week I had made a recipe with fish coated in a spicy sauce. It overpowered the delicate flavor of the fish. Last night’s dish was a success. I had some crushed cornflakes in the pantry. Mixed with Panko bread crumbs, melted butter, some fresh dill and minced parsley it made a great topping for the haddock.

Corn Flake Encrusted Fish Fillets

2 fish fillets, (haddock, cod or other firm white fish)
1/4 cup crushed cornflakes
1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs (unseasoned)
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon dried dill)
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons white wine (optional)

Pre heat the oven to 425 degrees.
Salt and pepper the fillets. Place them in a lightly oiled baking dish along with the wine. Stir all the other ingredients together until well moistened and mixed. Pat this mixture on the top of the fillets.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until the fish flakes and the topping is browned. The length of baking time depends on the thickness of the fillets.

Our year at the orchard begins this Friday when we open for our 36th season. Courtney and Vanessa have stocked the shelves, Sarah’s getting the kitchen organized and Tina has filled the wine rack. Devan has greens ready in the green house and is getting the garden planted now that the ground is warmer. Snowy white aprons are waiting for the bakers, the floors are gleaming with new surface and wood has been split for the fireplace.
Our Jamaican workers arrived last week. We’re always happy when they return. They are like family after all these years. They came a bit later this year, there wasn’t much they could do with the ground still deep in snow April first when they usually arrive.
We were relieved, once the record breaking snow depth had melted, that the trees survived without major damage. At times snow had almost completely buried the them. This was the first time we ever had rabbits nibbling on the tender tips of tree tops.
While the family here was struggling with the snow, Max and I were basking in the Caribbean sunshine but I spent a lot of time thinking about the orchard and our early days here.
In 1979 there was no bakery, no small fruit and no winery. There was one big barn, no other buildings and no ponds. We opened at the end of August selling apples, pears and cider. We were total novices at farming or running a business. We are good examples of people on a fast learning curve. It was a fun and at times, stressful, venture but when we open Friday we’ll once again be happy that our vision came true.

The back of the barn, 1979. Today the cider mill is here.

The back of the barn, 1979. Today the cider mill is here.

1979.  Today this photo would show the equipment barn, the animal barn and the pond.

1979. Today this photo would show the equipment barn, the animal barn and the pond.

Survivor

No comments

Three years ago when we were in Las Terrenas we were told about a Turkish Survivor TV episode that had been filmed nearby. A local restaurant had provided all meals for their crew. This year, passing that restaurant we see a sign, Closed except for Survivor Crew. The restaurant is one of several with a boardwalk running through. We walk through it and see long tables set up with many places and a buffet that seems to be available all day.

I haven’t been able to find out anything about this group (language deficit) but we’ve seen three boats painted black with big red letters Survivor on the side. They’re often moored along the beach where we walk.

2-20150306_110450

On the road that follows the beach there’s a big lot with a lot of activity. It looks like they are building some kinds of challenging tasks.

3-20150306_133121

4-20150306_133140

A Google search tells me that eighteen countries have filmed Survivor series. The format was developed in 1994 by Charlie Parsons for a United Kingdom TV production company called Planet 24, but the Swedish debut in 1997 was the first production to actually make it to television. An American version called Survivor, started in 2000.

Scenes

No comments

It is surprising how soon we become accustomed to sights that a couple of months ago would have seemed unusual. Two of the people we see nearly daily are the coconut man and the banana lady. The coconut man is tiny, he carrys a burlap bag full of coconuts almost half his size. He must be nearly blind because he’s always led along the beach by a young boy, different ones different days. The banana lady goes up and down the busy streets with her wheelbarrow. We often buy bananas or a mango from her.

The fruit lady's wheelbarrow

The fruit ladys wheelbarrow

We often see this man carrying his little dog and a surf board. The dog stands on the board while the man pushes it along as he swims.

Man and his dog

Man and his dog

The Ipswich building inspector wouldn’t know where to begin and the health inspector would probably close down most of the restaurants in town.
Electricity is cobbled together in some very creative ways.
5-20150207_155639

1-20150226_134815
This is the kitchen at Nana’s Gourmet Kitchen. It is one of the most popular restaurants on the beach. Encouraged by the number of people we see eating there we stopped one day for a meal of perfectly cooked fish and fries. It’s amazing at how good the food is even in the tiniest and most rustic restaurants. I’m convinced that it is because the ingredients are fresh and freshly cooked. There aren’t any microwaved warmed up meals prepared in a central kitchen someplace like our chain restaurants.

Contrasts

No comments

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

The tunnel leading from our front door to the drive.

The tunnel leading from our front door to the drive.

Our front garden

Our front garden

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

Storm sewer uncovered.

Storm sewer uncovered.

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

Empty lot

Empty lot

Condo complex overlooking the beach.

Condo complex overlooking the beach.

Making Friends

No comments

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

Caroli and Friends 2014

Caroli and Friends 2014


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

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

Caroli's drawing for Laura

Caroli’s drawing for Laura

Posing on the beach

Posing on the beach

At the playground with a friend

At the playground with a friend

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

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

2-DSCN1445

1-DSCN1442

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

One of several along this stretch of a main road.

One of several along this stretch of a main road.

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

5-DSCN1459

Our Storm

No comments

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

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

The river cut in sand.

The river cut in sand.


2-IMG_7130
The river had dumped a tremendous amount of debris all along the beach for 100 yards or more. Men were collecting it in bags and dumping it along the road where a truck later came by and picked it up. By yesterday the beach was clean again but it made us aware of how much pollution is probably coming from the river along that part of the beach.
3-IMG_7132

LT could use a recycle program!

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

The little oven

The little oven

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

Empanada res

Empanada res

Our sweet little seat

Our sweet little seat

3-DSCN1426

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

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

Mama and babies

Mama and babies

One of the dozens of blooming plants outside our door.

One of the dozens of blooming plants outside our door.

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

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

Welcome 2015

No comments

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

Pork Pot Roast

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

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

Baltimore

No comments

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

David Russell in front of a Johns Hopkins quad.

David Russell in front of a Johns Hopkins quad.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Inner Harbor

Inner Harbor

A Rant

No comments

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

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

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

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

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

TART RECIPE

No comments

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

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

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

Apple Tart

Apple Tart

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

Fish Cakes

No comments

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

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

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

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

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

Corn and Fish Cakes

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

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

Celebrations

No comments

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

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

Jessalyn and Alex

Jessalyn and Alex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Storm

No comments

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

Whipple House Tree

Whipple House Tree

20140909_150119

20140909_150218

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

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

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

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

The kitchen and dining room.

The kitchen and dining room.

One of the cabins

One of the cabins

Sunrise over the pond

Sunrise over the pond

White Cap Mountain across the pond.

White Cap Mountain across the pond.

A cabin from the pond.

A cabin from the pond.

Waiting for the fishermen.

Waiting for the fishermen.

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

Lovely oysters

Lovely oysters

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

Blueberry Cream Cheese Tart

Blueberry Cream Cheese Tart

Blueberry Cream Cheese Tart

Ingredients
9 inch baked tart shell

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

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

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

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

*Or substitute 1 teaspoon vanilla for the orange.

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

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

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

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

The OXO Good Grip Corn Stripper.

The OXO Good Grip Corn Stripper.

Just be sure fingers are out of the way.

Just be sure fingers are out of the way.

One ear stripped.

One ear stripped.

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

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

This is the sweet little condo unit.

This is the sweet little condo unit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful, right?

Beautiful, right?

It looks good enough to eat!

It looks good enough to eat!

image1-001

Strawberry Angel Food Cake

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

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

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

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

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

Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Serves 10 to12.

Confit

No comments

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

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

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

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

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

Chugging along the canal.

Chugging along the canal.

Enjoying the sun as we leave a lock.

Enjoying the sun as we leave a lock.


At our mooring in Châlons-en-Champagne

At our mooring in Châlons-en-Champagne

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

Shops in Chalon en Champagne

Shops in Châlons-en-Champagne

Old building in Cathedral Square, Strasbourg.

Old building in Cathedral Square, Strasbourg.

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

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

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

Salade Verte aux Gésiers Confits

Salade Verte aux Gésiers Confits

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

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

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

Lover's padlocks

Lover’s padlocks

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

Bicycles waiting for riders near our hotel.

Bicycles waiting for riders near our hotel.

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

IMG_4717-001

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

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

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

Sorbian woman in traditional dress

Sorbian woman in traditional dress

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

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

Spargel

No comments

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

Spargel in the supermarket

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

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

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

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

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

A small remaining section of the Berlin Wall

A small remaining section of the Berlin Wall

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

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

Cecelia, Annie and friend

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

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

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

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

Sticky Buns made in December, baked in April

Sticky Buns made in December, baked in April

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

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

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

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

IMG_4353

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The view from our veranda looking across the pool.

The view from our veranda looking across the pool.

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

Woman selling fruit on the beach.

Woman selling fruit on the beach.

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

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