Life as I know It

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San Luis Obispo, California, and South Bristol, Maine, United States
Author ~ Illustrator ~ Lecturer

Monday, December 31, 2007

New Beginnings

The day we left our old cottage in Cambria, California, was one of the most difficult times of my life.

How was I, a country girl, going to live in a real town with traffic lights, the constant drone of cars, strangers all around me, and a tiny garden? Would I ever see the Pleiades in the night sky? Would I ever have birds visiting me? Would I ever feel at home here when I was used to the wide open spaces at "Seekhaven," my shelter for the past 23 years?

I half heartedly dug into the thick, clay soil at our “new” 1920s Spanish Revival cottage. "Look!" I said to my patient husband, "Even the soil is lousy here. I'm not a city girl." He looked at me and said, "Make this your own paradise. In Cambria, you had the woods surrounding you, but here, YOU can make nature happen."

He was right. I've spent years writing and lecturing about bringing nature into your own piece of the earth, but when faced with city-life I was chickening out. I needed to suck it up and dig in.

I started right outside my new studio. As I sat at my drafting table and painted, all I could see was the bleakness of the back wall of the garage and a scraggly lawn. This little patch is just a few steps from our kitchen, and it would be the perfect place to start the transformation.

First, we bought a tall wall fountain and centered it on the empty garage wall. (Water is the most crucial thing to include for attracting birds and other wildlife). Next, Jeff dug out the lawn and laid out yellow plastic construction tape to delineate where we wanted beds. Even looking out my window and seeing this made me feel more at home.

Instead of rock or wooden borders we decided to visit a stone yard and pick out some thin ledge rock for the edging of the paths and beds.

Jeff hauled a couple of tons of rock and laid them, and then topped the pathway areas with plastic screening to exclude weeds and about a two inch layer of decomposed granite.

I spent days amending the soil, making sure the weeds were banished, and planting. Within a month of constructing and planting the new space, we had this wonderful little garden established. The beds are outlined with my signature fraises des bois planted by my grandchildren.

This is "little town farm," my petite potager. I harvest edible flowers, herbs, vegetables, and an abundance of mini-strawberries and salad greens throughout the year. Look closely and you may see my first robin visiting the wall fountain. I finally feel like I am home again.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Their produce is outstanding in its field

The fields surrounding the hacienda of Beth and George Kendall of Dos Pasos Ranch boasts pumpkins, gourds, and squash that shine through their tangle of prickly leaves like gem stones. Every year I can't wait for the approach of autumn so that I can wander around their barnyard and choose my favorite cucurbits from their vast selection.

Once I get their produce home, I arrange squashy vignettes throughout the house. Their wares are so sculptural and colorful that it is difficult for me to remove them from my tables and counters to cook them. The only consolation is that I always save their seeds–some to roast, some to plant. And, so the cycle continues.

Every fall for the past 5 years, the Kendalls have hosted a squash tasting extravaganza. Dozens of aficionados flock to their home to taste, savor, and finally evaluate the qualities of each chosen variety.

Two years ago we tasted 20 different kinds of squash, but this autumn we narrowed our focus to include only the Hubbard family. They are all nutritious, but some are bland, others richly squashy, stringy, sweet (without adding any sugar or maple syrup), and nutty. Tasting the squash made me feel as though I was time traveling through thousands of years of our agricultural history.

We judged the Green Hubbard, introduced in 1850; The Mini-Green, the New England Blue, introduced in 1909; the Navajo; Sugar; Olive Vert, a French introduction from 1884; the Sibley, Mexican from 1887; the Boston Marrow from Salem, Mass. introduced in1831; Golden Delicious; Guatemala Blue; Tahitian; Fairy; and the Seminole, which dates back to the 1500s. The WINNERS in the best tasting category were Guatemala Blue (my favorite, so sweet tasting it didn't need a drop of sweetener), the Tahitian, and Olive Vert. These three sweethearts won the taste test by a landslide.

Don't be afraid to cook these elegant table decorations, but before cooking the squash, cut them in half and dig out the seeds with a melon baller or ice cream scoop. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, wash the seeds in a colander or sieve to remove strings, pat them dry, spread them in a single layer on a cookie sheet, drizzle with a good quality extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle on sea salt or a mixture of sea salt, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and a pinch of ground cumin. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring the seeds occasionally, and remove them from the oven when they are a light golden color. The seeds are great scattered atop a bowl of squash or tomato soup, eaten as snacks, or included as part of the stuffing for a cooked squash.

Roasted Pumpkin or Squash Soup

2 to 3 cups roasted squash or pumpkin (see directions)
1 large onion, peeled and cut into one inch pieces
4 cups chicken broth
spices (see notes)
2 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup sour cream, creme fraiche, or yogurt
Preheat oven to 350. Cut pumpkin or squash in half, clean out seeds and excess fiber, and place cut side down in roasting pan.  Roast at 350 degrees about 45 minutes to 1 hour or until soft.  Cool slightly. Scoop out cooked flesh and measure for soup. The remainder can be frozen for future use.
Puree onion and roasted squash in a food processor until fine.  Add chicken broth and spices and puree until well blended.  Pour mixture into a heavy bottomed pan and simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes.  Add butter, salt, and pepper to taste and stir until well blended.  Serve with sour cream, creme fraiche, or yogurt swirled into each bowl of soup.
Notes:  Vary spices to suit your taste.  Following are recommendations.
1/4 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp nutmeg or
1 tsp rosemary and 1/2 tsp thyme or
1 tsp chili powder and 1/2 tsp cumin or
2 tsp curry and fresh cilantro sprigs (added at end)

Recipe courtesy of Beth Kendall, Dos Pasos Ranch

Great Sources for Heirloom Squash Seed

Nichols Garden Nursery, Albany, Oregon

Renee's Garden, Felton, California

Seed Savers Exchange, Decorah, Iowa

Start dreaming of your spring garden NOW!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Leafless in South Bristol to ....

Packing, closing, and finally leaving our beloved seaside cottage in Maine is always heart wrenching–this year particularly. The weather was so perfect that we could sit outside for all our meals, rocking in our chairs, mesmerized by the sun glimmering across the waters of John's Bay, and listening to the peaceful sound of waves curling against the shore and shushing their way back into the bay.

Our final act was to hammer the window coverings into place lest we get hit by a powerful hurricane. The house was darkened and cold. As we turned to leave, I said my farewell in the hopes that we can return soon.

The flight (ususally we drive, work, and visit friends across the US) home took 12 hours. That night when we walked through the gates to our "Sunflower House" gardens, the scent of Brugmansia, lemon and lime blossoms, and some unidentifiable sweet aromas wafted through the air. From balsam fir and the rich moistness of the forest floor to the sun drenched gardens of California. What a change.

The first morning home I wandered through the yard and discovered what a fine job my son Noah and granddaughter Sara did with my plants. My Cinderella pumpkin patch (seeds from Renee Shepherd ) almost covered our back yard. Dozens of orange-red pumpkins glowed from under the canopy of foot wide leaves.
I found the pumpkins I had scratched with my grandchildren's names and presented them to the kids that night. They were thrilled with their personalized Autumn pumpkins.

Our gardens (inspired by the walled gardens of Spain and The Cloisters Garden in New York) is alive with flowering vines, herbs, fruit trees, strawberries, and a medley of flowers. I particularly love the 8' tall Indian Spring single hollyhocks running single file down our adobe wall. Nepeta 'Walker's Low,' fringes all of our front garden beds with lacy spires of lavender blooms, and the 'Munstead' and Hidcote lavender, Mexican sage, and pineapple sage continue their showy splash of vibrant colors.

I am harvesting more pumpkins, guavas, the last of my Fuji apples, cucumbers, tomatoes (especially love the pleated little Oaxacan tomato), and scads of 'Painted Lady' runner bean seed pods (also from Renee Shepherd).

More later. The garden calls!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Common Sense & Creativity

Cooking is always equal parts creativity and common sense. I love the challenge of creating something from nothing, blending leftover refrigerator ingredients into a soothing autumn soup or casserole.

I read cookbooks the way others read novels. Some nights I curl up with M.F.K. Fisher, Elizabeth David, and scores of others. I am inspired and encouraged by their writing, but sometimes I am also overwhelmed. That is why I collect and treasure old cookbooks. With all their faults and sins of omission, they seem to me to be usable, personal, and lovable.

One of my favorite cookbooks was written by Florrie M. Locke in 1936, “Recipes from Maine: Mrs. Locke's Dining Porches, Fryeburg, Maine."

Learn the basic batter for fritters and then add your own favorite ingredients


Fritter Batter

1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk
1 egg well beaten

Apple Fritters

Dice 2 medium-sized tart apples. Slip into fritter batter. Fry in deep fat (I use canola) and serve with lemon sauce. I top these fritters with a dollop of ice cream or homemade whipped cream.

Enjoy the simple pleasures of the orchard and the table!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Bangor Book Festival

From October 5th through 7th , the City of Bangor hosted the highest concentration of authors and illustrators to be found anywhere in the state. Over 30 authors contributed their time to the event, which featured a poetry stroll, storytelling, panels, lectures, and book signings. The event was a moveable feast, cropping up in The Briar Patch Bookstore, Lippincott's, and Book Marc’s, and utilizing the attractive premises of the Maine Discovery Museum, the Bloom Bakery, the historic Penobscot Theatre, and several other venues.

One of the highlights of the event for me was the storytelling session by famed and beloved author and illustrator Ashley Bryan, winner of many awards including the Coretta Scott King Award.

Perhaps my favorite hour was spent listening to the poignant and eloquent talk by Allen J. Sockabasin, a cultural leader of the Passamaquoddy tribe, and an author-singer songwriter who has devoted his life to his people. Allen described growing up as an Indian, the prejudices, tribulations, and joys of his life. Then, he picked up his book Thanks to The Animals and read. Author Ed Rice read in English, Allen responded and spoke his own Passamaquoddy language, which he fears is being lost. Allen's voice, as he read to us, sounded like river water running over rocks.

Listen to Allen's voice on the Tilbury House Publishers site and utilize the teacher's guides (scroll to bottom of page). They're great.

The Briar Patch
27 Central St.
Bangor, ME 04401

Lippincott Books
36 Central St
Bangor, ME 04401
(207) 942-4398

Book Marc’s
78 Harlow St
Bangor, ME 04401
(207) 942-3206

Maine Discovery Museum
74 Main St
Bangor, ME 04401
(207) 262-7200

Penobscott Theatre
131 Main St
Bangor, ME 04401
(207) 942-3333

Allen Sockabasin
Peter Dana Pt.
Princeton, ME 04668
(207) 796-2227

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Color of Great Food

One of the best restaurants (family fare) along the coast of Maine is Chase's Daily in Belfast. They offer vegetarian meals and an ever changing array of produce displayed artistically throughout the store portion of the building.

Chase’s Daily
96 Main St
Belfast, ME 04915
(207) 338-0555

Monday, October 1, 2007

An Apple Extravaganza

October is apple season in Maine and the roadside stands, farmer's markets, and even bookstores offer up tastings of our heirloom varieties. In Portland last week, Rabelais Books hosted an apple extravaganza. Apple art work adorned the walls, thousands of cook book titles tempted all of us food bibliophiles, an old fashioned cider press was in full operation, and we feasted on apple pizzas and more.

Rabelais Books
Thought for Food
86 Middle St
Portland, ME 04101
(207) 774-1044

Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Timeless Town

The village of Damariscotta is our home town. I am always amazed by the number of activities going on here through all the seasons. We have great art galleries, shops, and the fabulous Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe with a cadre of well-read staff who help me whenever I need a good read. We have a medley of restaurant choices, a theatre, a fish store, gourmet shops, a real old-fashioned pharmacy with a soda fountain, and people who care about you.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Pemaquid Oyster Festival

The Damariscotta River's Pemaquid oyster beds are farm raised and considered some of the best tasting in the world. To celebrate our valuable crop and to benefit the Edward A. Myers Marine Conservation Fund and our working waterfront the community throws an annual fundraising event that that shouldn't be missed.

Visitors enjoy food, music, historical displays, educational exhibits, and boat rides out to the oyster beds.

I was one of the "celebrity oyster shuckers" and failed miserably at my duties. Not enough strength to do the job, but I “Tom Sawyered” a visitor (photo) into shucking some of them, and then my husband Jeff (not pictured) stepped in and finished my job. I kept all ten fingers.

After the festival we trekked down Main St. to The Damariscotta River Grill to watch the judging of the Pickle Contest. After the judges sampled the 25 entries we tasted each one!

Damariscotta River Grill
155 Main Street
Damariscotta, Maine 04543

Our Harvest Festival is a hoot! Instead of a boat regatta, we have a pumpkin regatta. Brave souls climb into hollowed out giant pumpkins and paddle the icy river water for their lives. Some of them end up in cold water.
(Photos courtesy of Bernie Delisle, Darling & Delisle, Studio Jewelry & Assessories.)

Main Street is lined with more giants, but they're carved, embellished, and sculpted into fantastic works of art.

(Pumpkin Photos by Jeff Prostovich)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Our Version of Paradise

Our porch is our favorite cottage "room." Despite winds, cold, rain, and fog, you'll find us eating all our meals outside, entranced by the ever changing sea, the bald eagles, osprey, loons, eiders, black ducks, kingfishers, and great blue herons who frequent our shore. The chipmunks, red squirrels, and hummingbirds allow us to use their porch although we're frequently scolded.

(Photo courtesy of Lynn Karlin, .Lynn Karlin Photos)

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Market Boat

Our organic groceries and breads arrive each Friday morning in summer at exactly 9 A.M. Long before I see David Berry's Long Island Sound oyster boat glide into Christmas Cove I hear him ringing the old brass school bell that once belonged to his Grandmother. David and his beautiful wife Allison (pictured above) keep the boat loaded with jams and jellies, chutneys and salsas, breads, exquisite vegetables, fruits, and cheeses.

Friday mornings at the dock are a time for all the neighbors to catch up on the island's happenings. Sometimes Milo rides along with David and plays his violin at each landing.