Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dilly Casserole Bread

I wish this were a 'scratch and sniff' photo.
The Farmhouse Kitchen posted the recipe for this wonderful bread, complete with step-by-step photos. Super simple, and very tasty! The crust has an interesting texture, it crunches when you slice through it. While the inside is soft yet dense. (My crust came out darker than the ones in her photos, but all ovens are different.) A big surprise was the wonderful aroma coming from the oven after about the first fifteen minutes. Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm!
The recipe - Dilly Casserole Bread from Bessie - is a treasured memory for the writer on The Farmhouse Kitchen. Now it is a new favorite for my mother and myself. I'll be making it for my children and grandchildren on my next visit up north.
- Here - is the link to her recipe. If you try it, please let her know!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Buy Nothing Challenge August 2009 - week 4

Ah, the last full week of the Challenge. Upon reflection I could have done much better, but my conclusion is that I still need to refine my definition of "want vs need". I spent a bit of money (one Jefferson and George quintuplets) at a second hand store this week on a handful of vintage aprons, fabric from the 60's, and miscellaneous.

Aside from this wistful (not wasteful) purchase, on two mornings I purchased coffee and bagels on my way to work. And one day I purchased a sandwich and soda for lunch - just to get out of the office since we've been so busy lately. The flesh was weak on all those days. Perhaps I just had too much time on my idle hands?

My necessary purchases of the week were my grocery shopping, gas in the car, and a new mop since the lever on my old one had broken rendering it useless.

It was an interesting month. I will have to work on my spending.

From the cobwebs in my mind

This morning I turned the page of the free calendar from my insurance carrier that hangs on my kitchen wall, which I usually forget to do altogether. But today I was looking forward to leaving hot, humid August and beginning cooler, crisper September. I was immediately surprised by the hulking outline of a moose standing in a crimson and yellow autumn landscape, having expected something more on the cute and innocent tone. Twice in my life I have seen a moose in its natural environment. It is by no means a cuddly animal, having a face that only its mother could love. Interestingly, their immense weight is carried by tall, boney legs.

The first moose that I saw had emerged from the woods to forage near the main road in our small rural town. He stayed in the area for several days, which moose are accustomed to do, grazing along until they leave for new pastures. People from two counties came by to see him, keeping at a safe distance, watching him with cameras and binoculars. He met his end as so often happens, because he did not understand the power of a train.

The second moose was mine, alone. I was driving on a rural road in the waning light of a mid-fall afternoon. As I rounded the corner on a hill a dark form was crossing the gravel. My car had been slowed enough by the incline that I was able to pull over and stop about 30 feet from this creature. I sat there and watched him as he slowly walked to the other side of the street and into the brush, all the time watching me. He ambled along through the scraggly vegetation. Then I saw how amazing Nature is. Even though he was no more than 100 feet from where I sat, his long, knobby legs blended in with the sparse trees and he disappeared. I blinked and stared harder but he was out of sight even though I knew he was still there.

It’s curious that almost two decades later, this is still so vivid in my mind. I rarely think of it but today the unanticipated picture on the calendar brought it right back to me.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Just a bit about my family....

Among my fondest memories were the years I watched our three boys grow. I was able to work from home or work part-time outside of the house for most of their early school years so I was there when the school bus stopped at the end of the driveway, and on sick days, snow days, and school vacations. We may not have had much but I treasure the memories of those days. When we lamented not having any spending money a dear friend admonished us that with our children, we were millionaires. He was right.

For a few years we lived in a big house that was built on a former cornfield. The ground was very sandy, which provided an excellent medium for boys with shovels, buckets, and toy trucks. I can still envision them on a mound of dirt in the sunny backyard, fully engaged in the excavation of their latest design. They spent a great deal of time outdoors, sometimes in sneakers but probably more often in their black muck boots. When these were cast off in our sunroom I would line them up, to be ready for chores or playing in the puddles.

They participated in several sports, along with scouts and 4H. They exhibited rabbits and horses in agricultural fairs. It seemed we were always on the go. But as I remember, they were never bored or got into trouble.

I cooked most meals and desserts at home so they would have wholesome, nourishing food, and in the summer I always made sure there was a huge container of “real” iced tea in the fridge. Our boys would help with special projects in the kitchen, like making cookies. One year they even helped make homemade pasta for Christmas Eve. We made a videotape that year with them delivering cookies in the snow to our neighbors. I laugh and cry when I watch it.

Perhaps my favorite memory is of weekend mornings, when they would all pile on our bed to catch the last few restful minutes before we started our busy day. That’s when I really felt like a millionaire!

Each one grew from the helpless child to the young boy on the riding lawnmower to the teen turning out of the driveway in his own car. Now they have very busy lives. The oldest runs his own business and has a wonderful wife and four beautiful children. The middle son is a chef in NYC who enjoys city life. And the youngest is a student at university, with the world before him. His long-time girlfriend is a sweet gal who we all consider to be a part of our family.

They are good men. Now when we get together I sit back and admire them. Isn't that just like a mom?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

....and abandoned a parking lot.....

What would happen to the Earth if we were gone? How quickly would all traces of mankind disappear?

This is a parking lot that is no longer used since they built a two layer garage at the nearby mall. Overflow parking during the holidays is no longer their problem. Apparently neither is this waste of Nature, which bakes in the hot sun all summer and cannot get a satisfying drink of water under this pavement when it rains.

I noticed this when I took a shorcut on the road that encircles the mall on my way home last week, after continually seeing that many commuters turn in there. A random thought runs through my mind like the tickertape sign in Times Square. I was taken aback by how the most determined of grassy weeds have sprouted in every crack. Just as a dandelion seed looks for a sidewalk crack to grow another dandelion, Nature looks for opportunity to carry on.

Post title concept inspired by lyrics in Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Stone steps

I've never been to the Mediterranean, but these steps conjure images of towns built on the hills overlooking the sea. They're actually in the town were I was born, and while they're a bit unkempt now, the built in planters show the importance of flowers to the original owners many years ago.

This section of town is currenty mostly inhabited by railway commuters. After a day in the city, I'd like to be returning home to the personal touch of cheerful flowers and rustic stonework.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Buy Nothing Challenge August 2009 - week 3

Ah! I made it through this week without buying any non-necessities, thanks to Crunchy Chicken's Buy Nothing Challenge! I did purchase regular groceries (food - necessity) and had to mail a package (postage - necessity). I didn't even use all the gas in the car this week, although I will have to get the weekly fill up tomorrow.....

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It was just a little house...

A non-descript older house sat vacant at the end of the block. An average-sized house, approximately 100 years old, with four wide steps leading up to a good sized front sitting porch. I passed it almost every day for the two years that I've lived here. It was built towards the street side of the corner lot, which allowed for side and back yards big enough to play badmitton or have a nice vegetable garden. Within the past two months someone had removed the siding and put yellow "caution - keep out" tape across the top steps. Three weeks ago it disappeared. Actually, it was demolished and the lawn was ravaged by heavy machinery. Now a pored cement foundation takes up almost the entire lot, with the base of a two car garage towards the back. There's no longer any room for a garden or a porch.

In our quest for architectural dominance, with grand mansions and no lawn to upkeep, we have lost the fine art of sitting on the front porch to chat with passing neighbors. We are no longer connected to our immediate community.

A few years ago I had the pure dumb luck to buy a tiny bungalow with a teensie yard. The house had a large front sitting porch that was merely a few feet from the sidewalk. Everyone who passed by would say hello, and a few would stop to chat. I got to know my neighbors, not just by sight, but by voice, by their dog's names, and by stories. The hairdresser of the former homeowner even stopped to chat about the dear, deceased woman (Rose) whose house I then owned. I was thanked for my dedication to flower gardening since Rose could not take care of the outside for several years prior to her death at 90.

This photo is of the little house that I used to own (Rose's house). It was a great porch.

Long ago, the front porch was a place for neighbors and families to relax, drink lemonade and unwind, a place to talk over the upcoming school year, baseball teams, and local politics. Wouldn't it be nice if we put more value on front porches and less on media rooms with surround sound?

Welcome to my virtual porch. Sit down, I'll get you something cold to drink. Listen to those locusts, they've been buzzing all afternoon. Another scorcher. How's the family?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mom, can I have some money for ice cream?

An enterprising woman in my area has turned a vintage Good Humor ice cream truck ice cream truck. She has some coolers filled with ice and treats, and can be hired to drive over for parties.

There was a Good Humor man who would drive through our neighborhood after dinner time when I was young. All the kids (and some adults) would run out for a toasted almond on a stick or a lemon ice, when they heard the jingling bells coming down the street. And the trucks could be found at the town parks and ballfields on hot afternoons.

And yes, this truck still has the bells on the front.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Second-hand treasures

I love poking through second-hand stores to find bits and pieces of the past. On my road trip last week I found so many interesting things, most of which I could not bring home. However, with the magic of cell phone cameras I was able to bring home the memories.

One of my usual stops in VT is a "recycling" store that carries everything. They carry a variety of used furniture so the incoming college students stop there first, for everything from beds to chairs and wall hangings. Or you can find art supplies such as leftover acrylic paints, or fabric samples from a furniture showroom. They have an extensive record selection and mixed dishware. This weekend they had two player pianos in slight disrepair, and a few small electric organs. Standing near the spare vacuum cleaner hoses was this beautyshop hair dryer, although it's one of those items that only the right person is going to take home.

The next store I visited had enough stuffed inside four walls to fill a small gymnasium. Their pigeon-holed shelves had trinkets from every era; brass from the far East, porcelain figurines, Pyrex and FireKing cookware, apple-peeler/corers, and toasters. Deep inside the store was a rack with clothes including a wetsuit, in case you need one. In one small space was a magazine rack with sheet music. Near that were the books where I picked up an old copy of The Lincoln Reader for my fall-into-winter reading. I also found the shelf where they stored old newspapers, and chose two from 1940 (since I am fascinated by the WWII era) and two from 1963, including the November 23rd copy with headline stating "President Assinated". Amongst my purchases was also a 1974 issue of Time magazine with President Ford's picture and the caption "The Healing Begins", the issue being devoted to the conclusion of the Nixon presidency and renewed hopefulness under President Ford. I passed on two newspapers from 1888 (Yes, 1888!) because they were rolled and so badly stored that they disintegrated into little flaky pieces when touched.

I couldn't get a clear photo from my cellphone camera of this collection hanging from the ceiling, but the large item in the middle is the flour bin from a Hoosier, complete with sifter. In the hour that I was there, I only saw a small portion of the contents. Without air conditioning on a hot, hot day, it became too uncomfortable to linger.

I enjoy glances into the past, perhaps because in the last 100 years we have made such leaps, or progress, through the industrial revolution and technological breakthroughs. In the time before answering machines, we were blissfully unaware if someone was trying to reach us. Now they interrupt us while dining out, wanting to chat about nothing. We have gone from locomotives to the space station. We shopped at small independent groceries back then, now we can enter our order on a website and have it delivered from a computerized warehouse.

However "convenient" life is now, I remember people being more content back then. They may not have had power windows and remote car starters (or even had a car...), but they were happy with what they did have.

I looked at the apple corer and thought of the pies that gadget has made.....

I'm back

As the end of summer nears, time seems to go by faster. This past week is one big blur. To my dismay, I could not slow the hands of the clock as I spent four wonderful days visiting my family in Vermont. The weather was gorgeous, the lake was sparkling, and life was so good.

Saturday morning was spent at Lake Champlain with two sons, one daughter-in-law, one possibly (hopefully) future daughter-in-law, four grandchildren, and a friend. We broke fast with bagels and local cream cheese, washed down with good coffee. There's so much to catch up about; what everyone's been doing, their plans, ideas, thoughts on local and national politics, and just plain fun.

We walked down to a maritime exhibit where the public was invited to board and examine a tugboat, a barge, and a schooner. It was interesting to all of us, but the children really enjoyed it. I think they're ready to start the school year....

There's always something happening at the waterfront. This weekend an art class took advantage of the sun and sailboats...

Vermont is always interesting. Whether it's the whales tales on I-89...

Or an old bus-turned-rv...

Or a rhinoceros crashing out of the second story of a building...

It is welcoming to creative people, and folks who like to be around them. You might see a "rickshaw" being towed by a bicycle, or a small van painted as a pink pig. It's always interesting....and relaxing.

Each morning I awoke to the cheerful birdsongs. Each evening I felt the day slowly give in to the blanket of night. I felt refreshed, not having to look at the clock or answer the phone.

I left for home this morning, driving through the mountains in a dew that hung heavy and sleepy, not wanting to break for the day. It was cool and moist enough to cause goosebumps on my legs, reminding me that next time I drive up, I won't be wearing shorts. This photo was taken at 8:00 a.m. The sun had risen hours ago. I'm sure as I made my way down I-91 towards Massachusetts, the mist gave in and the sun warmed the day.

It's hot here in CT. I've got the fans running. Before I go to sleep, I've got to set out my clothes for work tomorrow. And set the alarm clock. Vacation's over. But I'm looking forward to driving up in the fall......

Buy Nothing Challenge August 2009 - week 2

I must confess my sinful spending this week....
I started out great, Monday through Wednesday I spent nothing.
On Thursday I drove to VT, spent money for gas.
On Friday I scoped out 2 junk shops, spent $7 on my treasures.
On the way home today I stopped at another junk shop and spent $10. Also bought breakfast (bagel, coffee) and lunch (dollar menu) while on the road.
I did have to put more gas in the car than usual since it was a road trip, and I did buy some of the food while I stayed with family.
I expect to get back to normal now. Party's over....

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Buy Nothing Challenge August 2009 - week 1

I joined Crunchy Chicken's Buy Nothing Challenge for August, hoping to keep down the unnecessary spending. Here is the wrap-up of my first week:

$20 in the gas tank - absolutely necessary
$24.50 at the grocery store - food staples, necessary
$6.00 at Goodwill (supplies for a Christmas gift project) - necessary? maybe not, but if this project works it will save me a quite a bit on Christmas gifts
$4.00 at the bagel shop - this was my downfall. Thursday morning I really, REALLY wanted a bagel with cream cheese and a coffee.

Other than that, not bad.

I will be travelling later this week so I'll have to be extra careful with my dollars. It's so easy to spend when you're out on the road.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Friday night at the shore

Some friends invited me along with them to go to Savin Rock tonight, explaining that it was a beach, walking path, park area. Always up for a walk by the shore, I was glad to go. To my surprise, this was no ordinary beach!
There's at least a mile long paved path along a clean sandy shore, with a few piers. The park is well groomed and family friendly.

They later explained that Savin Rock was once an amusement park and summer resort, so when I returned home I did some research on the internet. It turns out that this was one of the largest amusement parks in New England, started back in the Victorian times when people used to arrive by boat or horse drawn buggy, then later by trolley. It had several piers, like Coney Island or the old Atlantic City, and suffered ruin by fires. Laff in the Dark has a great site about the old rides that were there.

Hundreds of people had brought lawn chairs to listen to a band and some folks were dancing, including an elderly gentleman with plenty of energy! He was up there for every song. You can see him to the left of center, below, in a grey suit and dancing with the young woman. :)

There's a section of the park dedicated as a memorial to all those who fought in war for our country, with monuments to all the conflicts. This special one was fascinating - William A. Soderman, armed with a bazooka, defended a crucial road junction in Belgium against several tanks. Imagine the determination and strength it must take to do something like this.

This is another view of the Memorial section. Each of these posts is dedicated to a separate war.

I was slightly uneasy about taking pictures of the people and families there, but there were a lot! Everyone was spending a beautiful summer evening with friends, families, or loved ones. What a wonderful way to ease out of the work week and start the weekend.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Happiness is...

The state of being happy has been weaving its way through my thoughts lately. Even when I’m standing in line at the grocery store, I start thinking of what I was doing at times in my life when I was truly happy. The most interesting commonality with all of them is that I didn’t necessarily recognize my demeanor at the time; I wasn’t trying to be happy. How relieved I was this week when the New York Times published an essay by Tim Kreider entitled Averted Vision. He very eloquently explained what I had been trying to comprehend:

“ - happiness isn’t a goal in itself but is only an aftereffect. It’s the consequence of having lived in the way that we’re supposed to — by which I don’t mean ethically correctly so much as just consciously, fully engaged in the business of living. In this respect it resembles averted vision, a phenomena familiar to backyard astronomers whereby, in order to pick out a very faint star, you have to let your gaze drift casually to the space just next to it; if you look directly at it, it vanishes.” *

My wandering mind focuses on some very specific times in my life which rank up there somewhat below the births of my sons, their graduations, and weddings, and other important family occasions.
I moved out of my parents’ house for one year after high school, and lived completely in the moment. My days and nights were full of doing, being. Even though there were some hard times, I was active and I look back at that as a happy time.
After the children were older and I was on my own again I worked two jobs, tried to keep up with the boys, and still tried to have a little life to myself. My primary employment was demanding mentally and my waitressing wore me out physically. Along with some college courses and learning skills at a new job, I was being responsible for myself again. I spent my spare time with my youngest son; biking, beaching, and rollerblading. Another son worked with me at the restaurant each weekend. The days flew by. Happy days.
At these stages in life what I thought about was how to get by, not the degree of my emotions. Yet upon reflection it seems that the more involved I was in living, the more satisfied I was. So do we, as Mr Kreider states, “experience happiness in retrospect”? Will I someday look at this current time of transition with pleasant memories?
I hope you look back on all your days with a big, contented smile.

*directly quoted from Mr Kreider's column, August 2, 2009.

Local Harvest

With the recent hot weather, the *garden* has begun to bloom! Pepperoncini and Biker Billy now sport respectable fruits. My basil, which was off to a very slow start, now has some medium-sized leaves. The dill and parsley are also doing okay, but the cilantro came up spindly this year. As a “seasoned” gardener, I have found it challenging to grow using containers. It seems that my plants need to stretch their roots in the sun-warmed soil instead of being bound in a potted mixture.

Anyway, it’s all good. I’ll be using a lot of this in a fahita and salsa dinner this weekend. Going from planter to dinner plate within minutes. How *local* can you get? :)

And whatever else I need can always be found at the farmers’ market.

Monday, August 3, 2009


Earlier this summer I took a road trip to a bookstore in Niantic, CT. Not your everyday bookstore, but the Bookbarn and its second location, the Bookbarn Downtown. The original Bookbarn occupies a two-story house, several out-buildings and kiosks. They opened the additional storefront location in town to accomodate the size of the inventory.

The photo above was snapped from my phone in the Downtown store. The path you see here weaves through sections of music, cooking, history, religion, great writers (Shakespeare, amongst them) and so much more. Crafts and a large fiction collection are in the main Bookbarn, along with poetry, the childrens section, self-help, and books to tell you anything you want to know about gardening.

One of the best things about books is that you don't have to read the latest one. You can be entertained by something written before you were born. Writings over a century old can describe a place so vividly you will feel that you have walked across the town square and felt the cool evening breeze there. While it's worthwhile to keep up with the latest ideas, it's also good to keep these "previously loved" books in circulation.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Dear old Golden Rule days

I wish I could have seen this school when it was young and busy. I'm fascinated by the separate entrances for BOYS and GIRLS, on opposite sides of the building. Would there have been separate classrooms, too?

Can you just imagine the line of students with their books and bagged lunches, waiting to go inside? Of course, the boys were unruly and noisy while the girls were prim and proper.....or maybe not. :)

I can picture wooden desks in evenly spaced rows, and a big map that unrolls over the blackboard. And there was that faint smell of the custodians' mop when you walked past their closet, single-file, of course. And skinny little paper straws that would collapse if you weren't careful when drinking from the milk cartons. And a library full of wonderful story books.

When I was in grade school and junior high, girls still had to wear dresses (or skirts). I remember that in the early grades when it was snowy and cold, we would tuck our dress into corduroy pull-on pants till we got to school, then take the pants off when we arrived and hang them with our coats until it was time to go home.

The boys all had these black rubber boots that had a type of "buckle" on the front to make them snug so their feet and shoes would stay dry.

A new school was built a block away to replace this one. There had been a community meeting about the fate of this building, which I didn't know about until after it had occurred. I hope it can have a new, useful life.

Reading, and writing, and 'rithmatic, taught to the tune of a hickory stick......

Sunshine on a rainy day

I live in a city. I can complain about the taxes, noise, dirt (not the soil kind), crime, and traffic, but there are lots of nice things here. This road median is over a mile of bright yellow flowers. It's cheery even on a rainy day!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The secret life of frozen basil

I'd like to pass along a tip that I learned from watching my mother many years ago. She had this method of freezing parsley and basil so that she would have it year-round. She was a young girl during the depression, and had to take over household duties at 16 when her mother died prematurely. So she took on growing, canning, and preserving whatever she could.

Below are photos, and I apologize for the quality - it's hard to show how this is done with one hand on the camera.

Needed; herbs, small squares of aluminum foil, zipper-style bags

After cleaning and drying the herbs, gather a handful that you can squeeze into a tight golfball size lump.

(Note: I am right-handed. Reverse positions if you are left-handed.)

Transfer the bunch into the center of a square of foil, quickly covering the herbs and keeping them packed as tightly as possible.

Pinch the loose ends of foil and cover the opening.

Store in labeled, zipper-style bags in your freezer. To use, peel the end flap back enough to "shave" off the herbs into your stew, potato salad, or other epicurean delight. Fold the flap back over the herbs to protect from freezer burn.

I have kept basil, parsely, dill, and cilantro for almost a year (or until completely used up.) Try it with a small batch of extra herbs this year. If it works for you, then you'll have a neat trick for your harvest from next year's garden or farmers' market. Happy cooking!

You are welcome to pass this on information, however if you do, then please link to this post or otherwise mention that you heard it from me. Thank you!


The news report lamented that so far this summer we have not had a single day with the temperature hitting 90 degrees. Oh, darn! Anyone in southern CT can tell you it's been a bear of a summer. Even though we have been hovering around the mid-80's, it has been HUMID. Every other day a thunderstorm will pass through and add to the stickiness.

So it was a pleasant surprise when this sudden downpour came through around suppertime yesterday and cooled things off. It was the type of rain that I've seen in Florida, quick and heavy. Afterwards the air was cool and comfortable. It was the first pleasant night for sleeping that we've had in a long time.