Downsizing

No comments

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

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

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

A typical country scene


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

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

Strasbourg

No comments

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

A typical street of houses in the old section

A very old house opposite the cathedrale

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

Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg

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

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

Salad basket


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

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

Paris

No comments

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

Salad Nicoise

Bees

No comments

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

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

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

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

Time Flies

No comments

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

Concerts

No comments

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

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

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

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

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

This is a magical place and we are sad to be leaving. We have loved being in a real Dominican neighborhood where children play and people live their lives in the street.
We will miss the beach and watching the fishermen. We’ll miss the wonderful food, eating meals on the beach with the glorious green sea rimmed with sand and palm trees arrayed before us. We’ll miss the children playing in the street and the domino players slapping their tiles down with a resounding smack.

A hot domino game

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

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

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

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

Excursions in DR

No comments

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

Inside a cave

Pictoglyph

Limestone island

Mangrove forest

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

Whale mother and baby

Dancing in DR

No comments

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

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

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

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

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

Fishermen Again

No comments

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

Loaded for home


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

Our neighbors

No comments

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

Laundry drying

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

Playground

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

Art

No comments

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

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

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

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

Coconuts

No comments

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

Bars on fishing beach

Fish market on the beach

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

Poking at coconuts

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

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

Fishing Boats

No comments

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

Starting up the beach

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

A typical fishing boat

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

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

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

Life in DR

No comments

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

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

The beach at Las Terrenas

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

Raspberry Strip Cookies

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

Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
¼ cup water

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

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

Birthday Party

No comments

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

Thanksgiving Day

No comments

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

November

No comments

After the frantic pace of September and October, I always think that November will be quiet. When it finally rolls around and I turn the page of my calendar, I see that it is not going to be such a laid back month after all.
There was the Wine and Apple Festival the first weekend, three grandchildren have birthdays coming up, and then there’s Thanksgiving. I also start planning for December, making lists of gifts to buy, cards to send, baking to do.
Thanksgiving dinner when I was growing up always meant Cranberry Relish. My mother’s Cranberry Relish usually was part of a day long orgy of preparation and cooking the day before Thanksgiving. I was often the one turning the crank on the old food grinder. It screwed onto the edge of the kitchen table; a bowl placed on the floor under it to catch the juice dripping down as the fruit was ground. It was an easy recipe but really messy. A package of cranberries, two oranges, rind and all, and two unpeeled apples. It all went through the grinder and then was mixed with a cup of sugar.
The food grinder is long gone but my grandson David still makes it every year in the food processor.
Years ago I found a recipe for Cranberry Apricot Chutney. It now joins David’s relish on the Thanksgiving table. It’s especially good on a turkey and stuffing sandwich. I made it yesterday, we’ll have to sample it a few times before the holiday. I like it with chicken or pork as well as turkey. It is simple to make and keeps well in the refrigerator. It also can be frozen.

Cranberry and Apricot Chutney
12 ounce package of whole cranberries
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup snipped dried apricots
1/4 cup minced ginger root (I love ginger, you can add less if you prefer)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar

In a 3 quart heavy saucepan combine sugar and water. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to boil without stirring.
Stir in cranberries, apricots, vinegar, brown sugar and ginger. Reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, for 15 or 20 minutes or until berries have popped and mixture starts to thicken, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat and allow to cool. Refrigerate but bring to room temperature 30 minutes before serving. Makes 3 ½ cups.

It can also be frozen.

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a fund raiser for the Essex Art Center in Lawrence. The EAC’s focus is to empower children by enabling them to explore their own creative resources, allowing them to recognize their self worth. Lawrence’s schools are consistently rated among the lowest in the state. The EACs after school and summer programs are the only opportunity for many of the students to be introduced to art in it’s many forms. There they are encouraged to express themselves through various creative methods.
I started thinking about the constant appeals for money, goods, and/or time that besiege us continually. Every day the mailbox and email bring pleas from a charity/worthy cause. Food pantries, homeless shelters, medical research, school groups, all sorts of needs close to home. Earthquakes, floods, famine, war, further from us but with us daily in news and TV. Somalia, Haiti, India, Afghanistan, the suffering in the world seems endless.
Altruism is a part of our culture and I believe that Americans are a generous people. I grew up in a family that tithed, giving 10% of before tax income to our church and often nearly that much to other charities. In my father’s old age I helped him with his check book and was surprised at all the $5 checks that went to a long list of charities out of his small social security check and tiny pension.
I’d like to help all those people but I have to choose carefully. I’ve spent time on Charity Navigator and Charity Watch and decided that I will no longer send money to large charities that pay their CEOs huge sums of money and whose fund raising eats up a large amount of the budget. Most of my mail now goes into the recycle bin unopened. I can’t fix all the hunger, disease, and misery in the world and reading about it makes me feel helpless and sad.
I now give whatever money is available to organizations with missions that I feel passionately about and know will use the money wisely.

Lists

No comments

Lists. My life has been ruled by lists.
Years ago there was the grocery list that I made up every Thursday when the newspaper arrived with the weeks supermarket specials. There were three markets in town and the menu for the next week depended on these specials. The shopping list was divided by market and what to buy where. Next, the list on the refrigerator was consulted. It showed what we had run out of in the past week. That got added depending on which market had the cheapest item. Thursday night, Max put the children to bed while a friend and I shopped. Our big night out for the week.
Also on the refrigerator was the list of chores for each of the five children for the week. This list got rotated weekly. Dish washing one week, emptying the dishwasher the next, setting the table, dusting, you get the picture. There was another list of chores that could be done for cash.
Late in the summer there were lists of each child and what clothes they would need for school. These lists were usually made up on our yearly tenting trip in the Maine woods. That was after I’d made sure that everything we needed for two weeks was checked off the camping list.
On my desk was the list of members in the baby sitting club, and the list of mothers of children in the present child’s pre-school class. Also of course, a list of emergency telephone numbers.
At tax time, the checkbook register for the previous year was scrutinized closely for the lists of deductions. Charitable contributions, interest, taxes, medical expenses, all listed by category. While I was at it, lists of what I had spent on each child’s clothing for the year as well as mine and my husband’s.
Oh yes, I kept lists of dinner parties. The menu, the shopping list for the dinner, and who attended. I couldn’t serve the same thing twice to the same person.
Holidays were major list times. Although I’d given up sending Christmas cards after the fifth baby in seven years, I kept lists of who sent them to us (a good way to track who really cares). The gift lists needed major thought. Each child got an age appropriate book, an item of clothing, the all important “special” gift, and a stocking stuffed with small toys and fun things. Besides the children, there were gifts for assorted other family members.
The cookie list was a big deal. I baked fifteen kinds of Christmas cookies, always the favorites and every year a few new recipes. Following the cookie list was the list of necessary ingredients and then the list of teachers and neighbors who would receive trays of them.
Another important Christmas list was the list of recipients of the Scandinavian Coffee Cakes that I baked for our close friends each year. The cakes were delivered on Christmas Eve day intended to be part of Christmas morning breakfast. That required a baking orgy the day before Christmas Eve to ensure absolute freshness.
My life has progressed, the lists have changed but there seem to be more every year. There are the lists of every book I’ve read since 1986 and every movie I’ve seen since 1988 and the list of books yet to read and films yet to see. There’s the master packing list for travel and the list of all the people that I send postcards to while I’m away.
In the linen drawer is a list of the sixty-plus white linen napkins that I inherited from my mother and grandmother, all categorized by pattern and number. At the rate I now give dinner parties, it should be years before they need to be ironed again.
There are the lists of the Highlights and Lowlights for the year, traditionally done on New Year’s Day. There are no lists of resolutions, it was too discouraging to look back on them.
My computer has more lists than I can ever use, all those bookmarks lists, each with lists of lists. No more notebooks for me, now to bring myself to part with them. Do I really need to know what I served the Gardners in 1973? (Tostadas de Harinas, Duckling with Almond, Amaretto and Apricot Sauce, Rice, Green beans, Grapefruit marinated with Honey, Cardamom, and Brandy, Chocolate Mousse).
Lest you think that lists control my life, I am known at times to be spontaneous. And, one of my five children is able to function well without lists. How does he do it?
A few years ago I found the ultimate in list making. A book titled List Your Self: Listmaking as the Way to Self-Discovery. It has pages and pages of questions like “list the ways the government lies to you,” and “list all the things you can prove are true,” and “what do you like to do after sex”. Given my ability to make lists on my own, one might wonder if I shouldn’t already have reached Self-Discovery!

Pumpkin Time

No comments

Outside the window of my office are the bright orange, rotund vegetables that have become synonymus with Fall. Pumpkins, rows and rows and bins and piles. Pumpkins everywhere and where there are pumpkins, there are children. I can see the delight on the children’s faces when they spy them and watch while loving family members aim cameras at them begging, “smile”.
This year Miranda had a “photo op” area created with corn stalks surrounding bales of hay and pumpkins. I picture thirty years from now, those photos being enjoyed by the children of the little ones happily sitting on a hay bale or among a sea of pumpkins.
I imagine that the pumpkins outside my window will be carved into jack-o-lantern faces, scary or happy or unusual, or be combined with autumn leaves and other symbols of fall to decorate someone’s front porch or dinner table.
Thirty years ago when I started making pies for the orchard those pumpkins presented a huge task for me. First baking them until soft, cutting them open and scooping out the seeds, scraping out the flesh and then pressing it through a sieve until it was finally in a form that could go into a pie. Huge pots of pumpkin puree finally made, I added pumpkin to the list of pies that I could offer for Thanksgiving.
Pumpkins are also good for soup or other desserts. This is a recipe that my granddaughter, Crystal Russell Galvin gave me. It came from her husband’s grandmother, Marie Galvin. Crystal tries to keep one in her freezer for whenever she needs to come up with a yummy dessert.

PUMPKIN ROLL (Marie Galvin version)
Cake :
3 eggs
2/3 cup pumpkin puree (1/3 of a can of pumpkin)
1 cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¾ cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Line 10″x15″ cookie sheet with parchment paper. Mix all ingredients together except nuts. Pour in pan and cover with nuts if you want them. Bake for 15 minutes (my oven is for 12 min so adjust to your oven) immediately turn it over onto a clean tea towel sprinkled with sugar, remove the parchment paper, and roll into a Jelly Roll with towel. Let this cool completely in this position then carefully unroll and spread with filling.

Filling:
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar.
Beat all together and spread on the cooled pumpkin cake. Roll into a jelly roll and refrigerate for several hours. Slice and serve. It also freezes beautifully for last minute serving.

Photo by Elizabeth Thomsen, via Flickr

Birthday Cake

No comments

Hunton’s twelfth birthday was Sunday. Ten year old Cecelia and I were entrusted with baking his birthday cake. As is the custom in our family, the birthday honoree chooses the menu and the cake for the celebration.
Hunton requested a three layer cake. He wanted the bottom layer to be a banana pecan cake, like his dad’s last birthday cake. The next layer was to be chocolate, like his cake last year, and finally a coconut layer. I’m not sure where that idea came from but a search of the Internet finally came up with one that wasn’t just a cake mix with a coconut icing.
Promptly at ten Cecelia arrived and we set about baking. In less than three hours, we had three, two layer cakes cooling.
Hunton’s icing choice was whipped cream, as a lover of whipped cream, it was the perfect choice in my opinion.
Cecelia decorated it with pecan halves and a tasteful scattering of sprinkles. It was very well received. I now have the exact same cake in the freezer and can produce another three layer cake if anyone is interested.

The banana cake recipe came from an old cookbook and has been a family favorite since the early 60s. I’ve tried several others but they don’t compare to the lovely moist, banana flavor of this one.

Banana Nut Layer Cake

2 ½ cups cake flour, sifted before measuring
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
1 cup mashed well-ripened bananas
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¾ cup buttermilk
¾ cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans

Sift flour and soda together. Set aside. Crush bananas to a fine paste, add lemon juice and stir in milk. Set aside. Cream shortening, add sugar gradually and cream well with shortening. Add eggs, one at a time, stir in vanilla.

Add dry ingredients alternately with banana mixture in 3 or 4 portions beginning and ending with flour.

Pour into greased and floured 9 inch baking pans. Bake 28-30 minutes, test with toothpick for doneness. Cool pans on rack 8-10 minutes and then turn cake onto racks.

For as long as I can remember food has been a big focus of my daily life. I think about the next meal or the one I’ve recently eaten or one I’d like in the future. I love thumbing through cookbooks and still check/cook my old favorites frequently. I also look up recipes online, reading all the reviews and often trying something new.
In elementary school, I looked forward to going home for lunch each day, anticipating the leftover stew or chop suey or pickle and bologna sandwich that awaited me. As a young mother I looked forward to Thursday night when Max would stay with the children while I did a week’s shopping. Much of Thursday was spent planning menus for the next week and making up the shopping list based on the weekly supermarket sales.
Today I still start the morning looking forward to the meals of the day. If I’m lucky there will be leftovers for lunch and maybe a new recipe to try for dinner.
Food related articles in magazines and newspapers always get my attention. Recently I read a blog by Tara Parker-Pope in the NY Times called From Farm to Fridge to Garbage Can. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/01/from-farm-to-fridge-to-garbage-can/ She quoted some studies that were mind-boggling. When a survey asked people why they didn’t cook at home they got a variety of answers, time, as expected, was a big factor but 28% of the respondents said they didn’t know how to cook. I’ll go back to that another time.
Another interesting bit of information was the relatively small part of our income that goes to food in the United States. We spend roughly 10% today, down from 25% in 1930 but really striking when compared to countries like Ethiopia where food accounts for 70% of income.
Our food is incredibly inexpensive compared to the rest of the world and yet we waste more than 40% of it according to Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland : How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food. A link took me to a blog he wrote in the Wall Street Journal, Help the Planet : Stop Wasting Food. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703440004575548391291973152.html?
There’s something disturbing about the fact that nearly half of our population is overweight, we throw away nearly half of our food and in other parts of the world, people are starving. There isn’t much I can do to remedy the world’s food inequalties but I can redouble my efforts to make sure that I don’t buy food that we aren’t likely to eat, I can make sure that there isn’t a pepper or a cucumber turning to mush in the back of the fridge or a container of yogurt or piece of cheese growing green stuff. And of course I will compost the scraps that don’t get eaten.

I’ve just had a milestone birthday. I would have been happy not to notice it but after being feted and fussed over, it’s not such a bad thing. It’s absolutely amazing how quickly the years pass, every year seems shorter than the year before.

My birthday greetings came in many forms: in person, handmade, whimsical, sentimental, comical, and via snail mail, Internet, email, and Facebook. Last Sunday I was delighted to be one of the honorees of a joint birthday dinner. My daughter Laura and grandson David both have birthdays a few days before mine. Extra special birthday gifts for me those years.

Mid-week I arrived at my daughter-in-law Susan’s for our occasional game of Bridge to find friends waiting with a tiara crowned with cards, a scrumptious cake, and a cake made of flowers that Mary Pritchard had created. It was stunning.

Cake at 9AM may seem inappropriate but it was very healthy. Nuts and fruit and egg whites, lots of protein and vitamins. There was of course the whipped cream that topped it but that shouldn’t count for too much. I’m sure a nutritionist would agree.

CELEBRATION CAKE
Meringue
2 cups nuts, almonds are good, any kind will work
8 egg whites
Pinch of salt
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

1. Butter two 9 inch springform pans (regular cake pans are not deep enough) and line the bottoms with parchment paper cut to fit. Butter the papers and dust them with flour.
2. Set the oven to 325 degrees.
3. Grind the nuts in a food processor.
4. Beat the egg whites and salt with an electric mixer until they hold stiff peaks. Add the sugar 2 tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and vinegar, then remove the beaters from the bowl.
5. Fold in the ground nuts. Divide the mixture between the prepared pans, smoothing the tops. Bake the cakes for 40 minutes. Carefully remove the sides of the pans and continue baking for another 10 minutes until they are crisp on the outside. (The centers will be soft because of the addition of vinegar to the meringue.)
6. Transfer the cake pans to racks to cool. Slide the cakes off the bottoms of the pans, lift off the parchment papers, and leave the cakes to cool completely.

Filling
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups sliced bananas
Whip 2 cups heavy cream, lightly sweeten (2 tablespoons sugar is enough). Spread one layer with a thin coat of whipped cream, slice bananas over the cream, and cover with another layer of cream. Place the other layer on top and spread with remaining whipped cream.

Chicago Visit

No comments

I took a break from baking and cooking last week and spent several days in Chicago with friends from Boston, London, and Cologne, Germany. I fell in love with the city and its wonderful museums, Lake Michigan, beautiful parks, elegant shops, ethnic neighborhoods bursting with energy and vitality, and so much more. It has all the things that make a great city.

One night we joined 15,000 people at a concert, Stars of the Lyric Opera, at the magnificent Pritzker Pavilion. We picnicked on the grass, listened to the glorious music, and watched a full moon rise over the city. What traveler could ask for more. Another highlight was an architecture tour to the home and studio of Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park. I only had time to see a bit of what the city has to offer, I’m eager to go back for a longer time.

I wish that I could say that the food was also outstanding. We didn’t hit any of the restaurants of the top tier chefs but I’d hoped for something a bit above average. The Chicago deep dish pizza from a place recommended in all of our guide books was a big disappointment. The sauce was bland and the toppings sparse. Not worth the $31 that we paid for it. The famous Chicago hot dog lived up to it’s hype though. A beef dog, dipped in barbecue sauce, grilled over a charcoal fire until dark (the way I like them) and served on a toasted roll with sauteed onions and spicy mustard was one of the bright meals of my visit.

Travel has been one of my passions since getting my first passport at the age of 52. Since then I’ve had the good fortune to be able to visit 43 countries. Early on I started making photo albums of each trip. I’ve posted a bit about markets in Japan and Thailand. Looking through some of the albums this week I found eight that I had put together after a solo, six month, round the world trip nearly twenty years ago.

England was my first stop. I was introduced to pub food, steak and kidney pie and Ploughman’s lunches (crusty bread and butter, strong cheeses, pickled onions, and chutney) all accompanied by a “half” of bitter. Chips (french fries to us) and peas were served with most meals and coffee was served sitting down in a shop with a real china cup and saucer. A request for a coffee-to-go was met with puzzled looks.

Customs were different too. In a pub one ordered at the bar, payed and then food was brought to wherever one was sitting. In restaurants one just chose a table and sat, no waiting to be seated. The more upscale restaurants didn’t open until 7:00 or later and pubs stopped serving lunch at 2:30. I soon learned that if my full English breakfast wasn’t going to hold me until the pubs opened again at 5:30, I’d better be prepared to eat before 2:30.

Tipping was a matter of rounding up a few pence to the next pound. I learned to “mind the gap” when traveling on the London tube (subway), and look both ways multiple times before crossing the street, watching for cars driving on the left side of the street was disorienting.

The next stop was Brussels, my first visit to a non-English speaking country. There I discovered Belgian waffles sold from street-side kiosks, warm, crispy with a sugar coating, and eaten in the hand. The most striking thing about the food there was the way it was displayed in front of the restaurants. I had never seen anything like the street lined with restaurants, each with an elaborate array of foods artistically arranged in the windows or on carts in front of the building.

I don’t know how it suddenly became mid-August. Soon the berries will be gone and we’ll be deep in apples. Last week I realized that I hadn’t made any strawberry or raspberry jam, our favorites, and now it’s too late. For many years I made the freezer version from recipes supplied by Sure Jell or Certo The fruit is simply mixed with sugar and the pectin. No cooking means that it retains the fresh fruit flavor.

The strawberries and raspberries are done but blueberries and blackberries are still fairly plentiful. The blackberry seeds are a bit much so I decided to make jelly. I crushed the berries and then put them in a bag made from layers of cheese cloth. I hung it on a hook and let it drip overnight. The next morning I made the jelly following the Sure Jell recipe for cooked jelly. It turned out well so I thought I’d try some others but that was all the pectin I had bought.

On the Internet I found several recipes for Apricot Preserves and Jam. They all seemed pretty simple. Just fruit and sugar cooked down until it thickens. Off to the orchard where I got the very last apricots in the store. Home again I weighed the fruit. It wasn’t exactly the amount in the recipes so I just used all I had, added some sugar, the juice of a lemon, and a little water and simmered it in a big pot, stirring occasionally, more often as it thickened. I ladled it into jars and did a 10 minute water bath. It turned out beautifully, a little thicker than I might have wished, but good.

Two successes and I was getting into it. I’ve had a recipe for Ginger-Peach Marmalade for years. I’d never made it but I happened to have an orange, a lemon, and some ginger root in the fridge. Back to the orchard for peaches. Everything went into the pot with sugar and soon it was bubbling away. It was a huge success. The different fruits along with the ginger gave it complexity that was especially appealing. I cooked it a little less long and it turned out perfectly.

While this was cooking I chopped up a couple of cups of mint, simmered it in four cups of water and set it aside to steep. I planned to make mint jelly. When I drained the water off, it had turned brown and unattractive. I dumped it all. When I told a friend about the failure. She said I should have added some green food coloring and it would have been fine.

I had been thinking of making some Peach-Blueberry Jam and maybe some Blackberry-Rhubarb (there’s still rhubarb in the freezer) but suddenly, I decided that I’d lost interest in jam.

Until next year!

In past years we struggled to keep berries and veggies fresh in the heat of July. Some of our customers remember when, in desperation, we had fans blowing over ice to keep things cool. Every night anything remaining had to be transported to the cooled basement of the barn, then brought up the morning. This year we are thrilled with our new, brightly lit, chilled room.
The baskets and shelves hold a colorful array of good things to eat. Reds berries, currants, and tomatoes, yellow tomatoes and summer squash, green beans and zucchini, blueberries, black berries and now purple beans.
Purple beans are new to me so I had to try them. I put them in the pot, covered it and cooked them for about five minutes. Surprise, when I uncovered the pot, the beans had turned green. They tasted just like green beans—actually, they had become green beans. Something to do with chemistry and chlorophyll I imagine.
Marini’s wonderful sweet corn is now available in the barn store too. Every year I think that I will freeze some but when I cut the corn off a few ears, it is so messy, I give it up. This year I bought the niftiest gadget that cleanly strips the corn from the cob, and contains it in an attached plastic cup. It’s called a OXO Good Grips Corn Stripper and I got it at Amazon.com.
I pulled out a recipe I’d found some time ago called Cod and Corn Cakes. I followed the recipe until I got to the bread crumbs. In the fridge I had some bread crumbs mixed with freshly grated Parmesan left over from another recipe. The resulting cakes were yummy and I think the cheese gave it just the right extra touch. The recipe can be found at leitesculinaria.com, and searching for Cod and Corn Cakes.

The abundance of fruit and the July heat is doing me in. I can’t keep up with all the recipes I had sworn to try this summer. I bought a freezer a few months ago and have been trying to freeze some of the bounty since it’s too hot for baking. I’m looking forward to extending the taste of summer through the winter.
One of our favorite summer pies is Blueberry Glaze Pie. It calls for a quart of fresh berries, some to be mashed and cooked with sugar, water and cornstarch until thickened, then poured over the remaining fresh berries in a baked pastry shell. I posted the recipe here in July 2009.
Last week, I only had a pint of berries, not enough to make that pie but I did have a seven inch pie shell in the freezer. What to do? Improvise as my mother taught me too many years ago. I found a bit of currant jelly in the back of the fridge, and a little more apricot preserves. Together they made about ½ cup.
I baked the pie shell (only fifteen minutes in the oven), melted the jelly and preserves together in a saucepan on the stove, stirring well. I gently mixed the blueberries into the melted mixture and poured the mix into the shell. It chilled three hours and turned out to be delicious and without a doubt, the easiest pie I ever made.

It’s the season of Farmer’s Markets and roadside stands brimming with fresh fruit and vegetables. At the orchard we are in the midst of our mid-summer abundance and I should be making jam and freezing berries but it’s too hot.
I started thinking about markets that I’ve visited in other countries. One of my favorite pass-times when traveling is to check out the local markets. Some of the most memorable were in Thailand. In every city or village I found fascinating markets.
In Bankok I visited an enormous, high-ceilinged warehouse filled with individual stalls heaped with every imaginable variety of vegetable and fruit. Huge baskets and bags of chilies—red, yellow, green, all sizes. I was told that the tiny green ones are the hottest but I didn’t try them.
I did sample a few new things, two kinds of tamarind, one sort of sweet and sticky, tasting something like a prune and another that was crunchier and not sweet with little flavor. They are both encased in pods looking like fat beans. Another food that I sampled and won’t need to try again was hard boiled egg yolks soaked in a sugar syrup. They were teeth hurting sweet and I’m not a big fan of hard boiled eggs anyway.
One interesting fruit that I tried is the Durian. It is a large fruit with a spiky outer husk and a strong odor. Some have likened it to rotten onions or gym socks. Many hotels and much public transportation in Thailand have banned it. It is native to parts of Southeast Asia. The flesh, once past the odor is surprisingly tasty. It is like a rich custard with a sort of almondy flavor.

Chilies

A market in the city of Chaing Mai, in addition to fruits and vegetables had displays of pig’s snouts, chickens with heads and feet, dried fish, live fish, dead fish, and smoked fish. There were mountains of food.

Chaing Mai Market

Vendors in Chaing Mai Market

In one market a man was preparing “jumping shrimp”, tiny live shrimp mixed with chopped chilies, cilantro, and other herbs. They are scooped up with the fingers and eaten live. Another taste treat that I didn’t try.

The fruit is ripening faster than I can keep up with it. Sweet and sour cherries will be done soon but now the blueberries are ripe. I’ve spent the morning pitting sour cherries. I have several recipes to try and time is short if I want to use fresh cherries.
My first attempt, a Cherry Custard Pie, wasn’t very successful. The recipe calls for baking the cherries in an unbaked pie shell for twenty minutes and then adding a mixture of eggs and heavy cream. Sounds great but one little problem, the amount of cherries called for didn’t fill the pan. The oven heat caused the pastry to slide down the slope of the pie pan so that when I tried to add the custard, there was no crust to put it in. I added it anyway. Now I’m waiting for it to cool to see what turned out. There’s another pie in the oven, hopefully it will turn out right.
After all the years I’ve been cooking it is always a surprise when a recipe that looks like it would be so good ends up not that great. Even failures are usually edible but I want the recipes to be more than just edible.
One of the strawberry recipes looked spectacular and tasted good but wasn’t worth the work. First a cake batter in the bottom of the pan, then a meringue spread over that. It was baked at 350 for twenty minutes. Meringue is usually baked in a low oven for an hour to make it crispy. This one turned out like sponge and pretty tasteless. The cake, berries and cream saved the dessert but another time I’d make separate meringues to layer with the cake and berries.
Pretty impressive looking though.

Strawberry Chantilly Cake

Pavlova

No comments

All Spring we anticipate the first strawberries. The season is so short that we feel like we need to eat them daily. This year, we had our first taste the day before we left for Maine. That meant we missed a week of the very short season.
Once home I was determined to try all of the recipes I’ve gathered over the years. I’m a strawberry snob so I wouldn’t think of buying California or Florida berries. That means a race to see how many recipes I can make in three weeks. Not that we can eat them all. That’s where having lots of family nearby comes in handy.
A strawberry pie made with heavy cream, egg yolks, and gelatin was not bad but not great either (and strawberry pie should be great). Too much gelatin for the rest of the ingredients. A strawberry chiffon pie turned out much better.
Suddenly, while there are still some strawberries (smaller but sweeter) the raspberries and cherries are ripe. Eleven year old Hunton brought us Raspberry Mousse with the very first pint he picked. Since then, he’s made a raspberry pie, raspberry roll-up, and a cherry pie. I helped him with the pastry for the first pie, since then he’s gotten it down pat.
One pretty fail-safe recipe that is usually served with strawberries but is also delicious with raspberries, blueberries, or peaches is pavlova. I’ve always thought that it originated in Australia, Wikipedia says that it was named for the Russian dancer Anna Pavlova. Both Australia and New Zealand claim to have originated it after her performances there. The first time I had it was forty years or so ago in a small shop in Central Square, Cambridge where it was a specialty. Since then I’ve eaten it many times in England and Australia. Little wonder that it is common there, it is one of the easiest desserts ever.

PAVLOVA
3 egg whites
1 teaspoon vinegar
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch

1-1/4 cup heavy cream
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 pint berries

1.On parchment paper draw a nine inch circle and place on baking sheet.
2.Place egg whites and vinegar in mixing bowl and beat until frothy and starting to hold shape. Beat in ½ cup sugar, one tablespoon at a time. Beat until glossy and holding shape.
3.Mix cornstarch with remaining ¼ cup sugar and gently fold into egg white mixture.
4.Spread the mixture on the parchment paper circle, making the edges higher to form a sort of hollow in the center.
5.Bake at 300 degrees for 1 hour. Turn oven off and leave in oven for another thirty minutes.
6.Cool on rack.
7.Beat cream together with 1 teaspoon vanilla and ¼ cup sugar until it holds a soft shape. Spread over Pavlova shell.
8.Top with fruit and serve. Yummy!

Last week I was honored to be invited to a Brownie Bridging Ceremony. Kristen asked me, as a stand in for her real grandmother who lives in Nebraska, to come and see her move from Brownie to Girl Scout. The ceremony was held at the home of her group leader, a beautiful setting overlooking the marsh. There were brightly decorated signs with the Girl Scout Oath and a rainbow signifying the bridge from the little girls group to the older group.
The girls joined for the Pledge of Allegiance, then crossed a wooden bridge, (built by a dad) where they received the badges for their achievements. Their mothers, all once Girl Scouts themselves pinned the new Girl Scout pins to their shirts. The ceremony ended with the girls and mothers joining hands to sing a closing song, while proud fathers and the honorary grammy looked on. It was very sweet. Then all adjourned for a cookout.
I felt very privileged to be invited. It brought back memories of my own move from Brownies to Girl Scouts. It was called a Fly-up then. I remember few of the details from so long ago but I do know that it was held in the Masonic Temple, a rather grand name for a small two story frame structure with one big room below and another upstairs. I know that my mother attended but after that, the memory is gone. I don’t remember ever actually being girl scout so I guess that was the final event for me.

We just returned from a week on Monhegan Island. I’d always wanted to visit the island so when Max joined a week’s painting workshop, it seemed like the ideal time. We had three days of rain and fog before the sun finally appeared. Once sun came out we could appreciate the wild flowers. They were everywhere in full bloom, and spectacular.
We stayed in a charming rustic inn with no electricity in our room (oil lamp lighting, no heat) but terrific food. Many artists make the island their summer headquarters and it’s easy to see why. There doesn’t seem to be anything but picturesque views in every direction no matter where one is on the island. Most of the island is protected land, wild and criss-crossed with trails. Some meander through tall trees with pine needle carpets, others are more rugged and require a bit of effort to get to the magnificent rock cliffs on the south shore.ab
Our rhubarb season has passed but it was growing in huge clumps on Monhegan. I’ve never seen rhubarb looking quite so abundant. Before our crop was finished, I managed to snag about twenty pounds of it. Enough to make a bunch of recipes as well as put some in the freezer. I’m attaching a recipe for the absolutely best Rhubarb Pie.
RHUBARB PIE
4 cups rhubarb cut into ½ inch slices
½ cup brown sugar
½ cup white sugar
Grated rind of one orange
4 tablespoons tapioca
Pastry for 9 inch two crust pie

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

In a large bowl, toss together the rhubarb, sugars, ginger, orange zest and tapioca. Allow to stand while preparing the pastry.

Line a 9 inch pie pan with pastry. Pour filling into the pastry and cover with the top crust. Crimp edges and slash top crust. Glaze if desired, with milk, cream, or orange juice. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 35 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

Notes: I prefer instant tapioca to thicken fruit pies but you can use 3 or 4 tablespoons of flour instead.
If using frozen rhubarb it will need to bake longer.

I went to a garden shop today, the third day in a row that the sun has been out and the temperature over 70 degrees, after weeks of rain, fog, and cold weather. A woman there was complaining about the “unbearable heat”. Perhaps we New Englanders can never be satisfied with the weather but after weeks, months, of snow, more snow, and cold, I don’t mind it being too hot. This cold, gray, foggy May was a real downer. After three days of sun and warm weather, I’m reminded once again of the reason I consider myself one of the luckiest people alive to live in this corner of the country..
New England in the Spring is worth all the snow and cold. The trees leaf out in a riot of color, every imaginable shade of green, some dark reds here and there and then the glorious colors of Spring flowering trees. The magnolias with their huge white, pink tinged blossoms followed by the ornamental plums, the forsythia, the flowering crabs and other trees and shrubs., so much beauty in such a short time. Suddenly the azaleas and rhododendrons are in bloom and Spring has arrived.
Here in the orchard we anxiously hoped for a bit of sun. Bees are necessary for pollinating the crops and full bloom occurred during the most dismal weather. We can only hope that the sun came soon enough to get the bees working.
Happily the asparagus comes up despite the weather and some of the greens like the cool days.
We’re keeping our fingers crossed that the strawberry blossoms will turn into luscious red berries and things will be normal again.
In the meantime, I’m testing rhubarb recipes.

The winter has sped by. I managed to escape the apparently endless snow during my time in Portugal. I had mixed feelings about that, I like snow but I don’t like the cold gray days so Portugal was a great place to spend the winter months. Three months is a long time though and it’s good to be home.
.
We will open on April 30th. There has been a lot of activity here getting things organized, you’ll see some changes that we hope will keep our veggies fresher and enable us to expand our garden.
The greenhouse is full of blossoming tomato plants, baby lettuce, herbs, and chard. Last night I tried a new recipe for Swiss Chard. It was adapted from one of Martha Shulman’s in the New York Times. We loved the blend of flavors and the crunch.

Swiss Chard and Red Peppers

1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons marsala or ginger wine
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced or through press
2 tablespoons minced ginger root
1 pound Swiss Chard
1 red bell pepper, cut in chunks
½ cup diced sweet onion
¼ cup chopped peanuts (optional but good)
¼ cup chopped cilantro (optional but good)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1.Mix soy, wine, and oil together.
2.Cut stems of chard into ½ inch pieces.
3.Cut chard leaves into ½ inch strips, keep separate
4.Heat a large skillet, stir in the garlic and gingerroot for a few seconds, then add the chard stems, red pepper, and onion. Stir a couple of minutes until beginning to soften, then add chard leaves and soy mixture.
5.Stir until the chard leaves are tender, another couple of minutes. Add peanuts and cilantro.

To my delight, Boise, one of our Jamaican workers brought us a gift of ginger wine. It is sweet and gingery and I love to have it over ice cream or splash a little into a sauce.

Bicycle Race

No comments

We had some excitement today to interrupt our usual quiet day. In the morning we started hearing sirens and horns outside our apartment. Later as we went out for our walk to the village we saw that all traffic was being stopped at the corner of our street where the main road passes.
It turns out that today is day five of a major bicycle race through the Algarve. For several hours bicyclists and their accompanying cars and motorcycles roared through town. All traffic through town was stopped and people lined the streets to watch. From our seat in a restaurant in the village square we could see the riders barrel around the corner into town and begin the climb up the hill toward Portimão. This apparently is the Portuguese version of the Tour de France.

It’s Sunday here in Ferragudo. We’ve just returned from a 3km walk to the nearby city of Portimão. It is still cool but sunny and clear with fluffy white clouds. During the week many restaurants are open only in the evening but Sundays are different. Sunday is when the shops close and families get together. Restaurants are filled with children, parents, and grandparents all sharing lengthy meals.
As we walked across the bridge into Portimão we could see on a street under the bridge, an open air kitchen where fresh fish was being gutted (sorry for the graphic description), rinsed, doused with olive oil and a handful of salt, and then placed on a charcoal grill. We decided we had to go there.
The restaurant was crowded but we found a place at a long table. Max asked for Sea Bass, the waitress explained that they were very big and charged for by the kilo. 44 euros per kilo in fact. He chose a Silver Bream instead. I thought I’d try the fried prawns, not the best choice as it turned out.
It is customary at the beginning of every meal to be served a group of dishes. There is always bread and butter along with small containers of sardine paste, much like our little containers of jam. Olives are usual along with marinated carrot slices. Today there was also a dish of chick peas with onions, garlic, and tuna. These are appetisers and charged for unless one sends them back.
We were brought a bowl of salad. Chopped tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, and roasted peppers dressed with olive oil, vinegar, and sea salt.
Max’s fish was perfectly grilled and exceptional but my prawns were less successful. They arrived, fully intact, rosy-red in a pan with oil and garlic. There is no way to eat a whole prawn except with fingers, and then not easily. The head has to be pulled off and then the legs and shell peeled away. With all that work one gets a little meat.
At the table next to us a Portuguese couple were sharing a big pan of a sort of stew, chunks of smoked meat with tiny clams in a savory sauce. After asking them about it, I was urged to share a bit. It was delicious. That began a pleasant meal of conversation and laughter, trying to make ourselves understood. The man spoke a little English from working on cruise ships twenty years ago, his wife had only a few words but we managed to communicate. Our meal ended with them giving us a recipe for his favorite dessert, Arroz Doce (Sweet Rice) or, as we know it, Rice Pudding.
All in all, it’s been a perfectly delightful day.

After all the rather smug emails I’ve sent home to New England, buried under snow, it has turned cold and cloudy here. Yesterday we kept warm with a roaring fire in the fireplace. We had just gotten around to getting some wood.
This morning we decided a brisk walk would be a good way to warm up. We walked through a cemetery, just up the hill from us. It is not at all like cemeteries in the US. The graves are partially raised on marble or concrete. Most have a large vase of artificial flowers and a marble “book” inscribed with the name and dates of the individual buried there. Many also have photos.

Tombstones

One section of the cemetery is lined with small “houses” each containing the remains of a family. Looking through a little window we can see caskets on either side, like bunk beds. The caskets are not as deep as the ones we see in the US. They are covered with ornate cloths, some lace, others fringed. In some there was a chair between the two tiers of caskets.

Family tombs


Another section of the cemetery holds a long wall of stacked glass doors, behind each a space just large enough for a single casket, again covered by a cloth.

Space saver tombs

The separate family tombs reminded me of the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. It contains a whole village of family tombs.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina

I’ve been fascinated with cemeteries since childhood. Perhaps it is the result of being the granddaughter of a funeral director but Smith Hill Cemetery, in Otisville, Michigan was a place I visited often growing up. Generations of my family were buried there and visiting the graves from time to time was expected. In addition, my father sometimes helped to dig graves and my grandfather was the overseer. In my travels around the world, I’ve discovered incredibly diverse ways to honor the dead. In Thailand, Vietnam, France, Belgium, Kenya, and Romania all have been different and meaningful in that culture.

Imagine spending months in a country where the only television programs come from another country many countries and languages away. Here in Ferragudo, on the southern coast of Portugal, we are living in a complex that seems to be mostly owned by British and rented by British. We are unable to get any Portuguese TV channels and hence, no sports.
The only programs that we get are reruns of old British drama and sitcoms. The better ones we’ve seen before on PBS, sans commercials. We also get British CNN and Sky News but everything is interrupted frequently for commercial breaks. Max had looked forward to coming to Europe so that he would be able to watch world football, the kind we know as soccer. What frustration! We looked into subscribing to a local channel or a British channel that carries sports but it seems that a satellite dish is needed and they aren’t allowed in our complex.
There is a good side to not having television sports though, I don’t have to listen to it.
We have are enjoying Heartbeat, a series that ran for 18 years, from 1992 to 2010 but takes place in the 60s. It has some great music as well as a charming cast of characters and situations. It is on nightly after our early dinner.
Not much excitement here but we certainly can’t fault the beautiful weather and village.

Fish

No comments

Ferragudo is a fishing village. Early in the morning the main street, which runs along the water, is filled with small fishing boats bringing in their catch. Chefs from the restaurants come to get the freshest fish for the day along with housewives. The market is bustling for a few hours. Later in the day we pass it and see the steel tables and floor being hosed down until the next day’s fish arrive.
Restaurants all offer a variety of grilled fish, most popular are Sea Bass and Sea Bream. It is a bit disconcerting to sit down in a restaurant, as we did yesterday, and have a big basket of fish brought to the table for us to choose which ones we’d like. A short time later they arrived back at our table grilled to perfection with the head and tail intact. Then the task of boning them began. Max seems to be better at it than I am. I manage to get a bone or two in every mouthful. They are delicious however with crispy skin rubbed with oil and coarse salt.
In a more posh restaurant we were served fish, boned at our table. It was carried out with a flair by a waiter in a white apron over his black trousers and white shirt. Using a fish knife, a fork, and a big spoon, he deftly removed the flesh from the bones. The only time I haven’t gotten a bone for each bite.