November 15, 2007

Friends I've Never Met...

It's the strangest thing how much you can come to value the friendship of someone you've never met. Now maybe "friendship" seems too strong a word to use, but to me the word expresses a degree of connection beyond mere acquaintance. Alice Goldsmith, a widow who lives here in Maine, has been a faithful reader of this blog since I started writing it, and I value her comments. When I stopped writing for a while she gently chided me, telling me that she missed the entries. She has shared some sorrows and some memories, and for both I thank her.

In the summertime I set out flower bouquets on the rock wall at the foot of our driveway for people to take; they can just help themselves. I love giving away beauty, and I've come to learn how much these flowers often mean to people, folks who wave, drop off a thank you note, or, best of all, pass the flowers on to someone else whose life may need brightening. I seldom know what the men, women and kids who take the flowers look like, I don't often know where they live, whether they went to college, what their dog's name is, or anything whatsoever about them, but we are most definitely friends. There is a connection centered on something important, perhaps essential, to both of us.

I've written before about what community is, what it means, why it is so intrinisically important to us. I think friends we've never met are part of the fabric of a well-woven community, one that can offer warmth whatever chill may come into our individual lives. So on this cold, dreary, November afternoon, I hope you think of several friends you've never actually met, and maybe even think about who might consider you in that way.

As the old saying goes, to have a friend, you have to be friend, but you know something? That doesn't have to mean best buds since kindergarten, or similar backgrounds and shared values.
Friendship can be of this moment and in this place where these two minds have met and come away the better from the connection, no matter how fragile or transitory it may seem.

Thank you for being a friend!


P.S. Next week we'll start on tons of Christmas gift ideas, frugal ideas because it sure looks as though money is going to be tight for just about everyone this year!

November 2, 2007

Salmon... Good, Good for You, But a Bargain?

Salmon, like all omega-rich fish, can be a delicious addition to your menus, especially in winter-hearty dishes. Fresh salmon steaks, canned salmon, and smoked salmon, which I especially like, are readily available year-round; however, while the fresh and canned varieties can be reasonably priced, the fancy fillets of smoked salmon are usually too expensive for an everyday dinner. At one of our local supermarkets (Hannaford in Portland), we've discovered a great buy on trimmings from those fancy fillets of smoked salmon, and not just any brand but Maine's own Ducktrap River. A ONE POUND package of trimmings is $6.95 (hmmmm... or was it $6.99).

Keeping in mind that you only need 3-4 ounces per serving, this offers great nutrition at an even better price. But, of course, the question is, how to use it? On a platter with red onion slices, whole wheat crackers or thin-sliced French bread, cheese (go light here), apple and pear slices, and a few black olives, some capers if you have them... a meal right there.

These bits and pieces - and many are good-sized chunks - of smoked salmon can be used in most recipes calling for any kind of salmon, and salmon chowder made with the smoked pieces is doubly delicious. But my very favorite recipe is one I clipped from our local weekly newspaper, The Notes, years ago. Because I don't eat meat or poultry, this recipe - Kedgeree - has become my favorite St. Patrick's Day alternative to corned-beef-and-cabbage. And YES, I still do cook that for the meat-eaters of my family!

Made with rice, smoked salmon, eggs, and seasonings, Kedgeree is a quick and easy, complete meal and the leftovers - if there are any - are terrific. Just try it once...

Kedgeree (with my modification, of course!)

2 TBSP butter
1/2 - 3/4 c chopped onion (we like more)
1 c white rice (I've tried brown where it's healthier, but... naaaah)
1 generous TBSP curry
2 c water
good sprinkle of both salt and black pepper
4 hard-cooked eggs, sliced or chopped
1/2 to 3/4 lb smoked salmon trimmings, divided
1/4 c lemon juice
1/4 c chopped parsley, plus a bit for the top

In a large fry pan (one for which you have a cover), melt butter over medium heat, add onion, rice and curry powder, then saute, stirring, for 6 minutes. It's really important to do this with the curry to bring out its flavor and heat. Stir in water, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes until rice is cooked and all water is absorbed. Stir in eggs, most of the salmon saving a little to garnish the top, the lemon juice and parsley. I heat through then serve topped with bits and salmon and parsley. I often add oatmeal bread or muffins and a smidge of applesauce. YUM!

Soooo... Do look for those packages of smoked salmon trimmings at your grocery store as they are good for you AND for your food budget!


October 22, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Trick or Treat

Trick or treat, smell my feet,
Give me something good to eat.

I like apples, grapes and pears,
Or moldy bread, thick with hairs.

Candied toejam, bellybutton lint,
Globs of earwax, dipped in mint.

Jellied snot, spread on toast,
That's the thing I love the most!

For dessert, I think we'll eat,
Slabs of brain, thick and sweet.

So come to my house halloween night,
And give your stomach an awful fright!


October 9, 2007

A Bountiful Year for Apples

Last spring's dreary, rainy weather coupled with concerns about the bee population caused many of us to worry that this would be a poor year for apples. And even though Bert and I only have a half dozen trees, we too, worried. Not to fear! It's been an incredible crop!

Now, what to do with the most - and best - apples our trees have ever produced. We have an antique cider press and - with help - we've turned out gallons and gallons of excellent cider. But, we've run out of steam and containers! There's a ton of applesauce in the freezer, bags and bags of apple slices, leftover apple butter from other years... oh, my! Hmmmm, I haven't made apple leather in a long time and the recipe IS in The Frugal Family Kitchen Book! Needless to say, these apples have become the zuccini of this year's harvest and we're foisting them off onto anyone we can!

I really wish we knew how to winter-keep them, and we do plan to try. We have a root cellar but this fall has been so warm that it's not down to good keeping temperatures yet. Still, we have a number of small buckets for storing apples, some wrapped in newspaper, some in straw, some in sawdust or shavings, all methods recommended by this expert or that.

Do you have any suggestions either for different ways to use yet more apples or how best to winter-keep them? I'd love to hear from you...


February 14, 2007

Oh, The Weather Outside

is Frightful... and predicted to get far worse before it gets much better! Today is most definitely a chowder day. And best of all, we have this dual-fuel stove with gas burners on top and an electric oven. If the power goes out - and it probably will - we've got it covered! I've always made traditional New England chowders, milk- or cream-based, potatoes and onions, fish or clams, and maybe some tried-out salt pork. Those are the recipes I included in The Frugal Family Kitchen Book, good, faithful standbys.

But last fall on a visit to my friend Nancy's, I had a fish chowder that was just excellent. Nancy, who is a super cook, shared the recipe with me and I've made it many times since. First, I'll give you the shared recipe, then I'll tell you how I usually modify didn't think I could really follow a recipe more than once, now did you!?

Fish Chowder

1 1/2 lbs. fish, cut in small pieces
2 TBSP butter
1 or 2 leeks, thinly sliced, rinsed
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 # yellow potatoes, peeled, diced (about 3 medium)
2 carrots, diced
4 c fish stock*** or chicken broth
2 ears fresh corn kernels
1 1/2 c heavy cream
1 TBSP chives

Melt butter, cook leeks about 8 minutes. Add garlic, cook another 1/2 minute. Stir in potatoes, carrots and stock. Bring to a boil, simmer 5 minutes. Add corn, cook five more minutes. Stir in cream, add fish and simmer. Chives on top.

*** FISH STOCK Nancy also introduced me to an invaluable product I'd never seen before: Knorr's Fish Bouillon. In cubes just like chicken, beef, or vegetable bouillon, it adds great depth of flavor. Not easy to find in the stores, but worth the hunt.

Now, I seldom have leeks in the house when the chowder mood hits, so I used lots of chopped onions, then more garlic and whatever kind of potatoes I have on hand. Instead of the fresh corn, I use a generous cupful frozen from our garden last summer. Ahhhh, then there's the cream. I just can't do it! I may use a can of evaporated milk, or any leftover half-and-half. This chowder is very filling, and (without the heavy cream) it offers low-calorie, high nutrition comfort food. It's doubly delicious with homemade English muffins... see the recipe in The Frugal Family Kitchen Book.

Having enjoyed this fish chowder many times now, I'm ready to experiment a little further, making it with clams on this snowy, blowy winter day. I think I have just enough spinach and a few mushrooms, maybe a sprinkling of pecans, for a little salad too. Let it snow, let it snow...


February 11, 2007

What Exactly IS Romantic??

Ahhh, that heart-shaped holiday is coming! Candy, cards, flowers, dinner out...what's your definition of romantic? I'm sure it changes for each of us over a lifetime, that candy conversation heart slipped to you in fourth grade replaced by the single red rose (from "one who knows a love that grows") in high school to perhaps an engagement ring sometime later. Perhaps your most valued valentine is one a small child created for you with far more love than artistry.

I have to admit right off that I'm not a big fan of Valentine's Day - or for that matter, Mother's Day - in their current commericial incarnations. But this year Bert has truly won my heart all over again. We went smelting!

The rivers have finally frozen enough to allow the shacks to be dragged out onto the ice. We had a two-man house about 8' x 8', pretty rustic, one fishing canal called the race hole, lots of jigs and lots of bloodworms. A tiny woodstove battled the wind howling down the river and the huge gaps around the door, keeping us...well okay, parts of us warm at any given moment. I am not in the least bit squeamish about digging and baiting worms for regular fishing season, but there's something about the bloodworms that I really do NOT like. But part of fishing is baiting so after Bert does the first round, I'm on my own with the little bits of bait.

Along the side of the shack over the race hole is a pole the lenght of the shack and from that eight lines hang with lead weights and one or two hooks each. After baiting, you unwind the lines until the weight hits bottom then you re-wind to the depth-off-bottom where the fish are hopefully biting. We were fishing on an incoming tide so as the water rose, we dropped our lines a bit with each re-baiting. It wasn't the best - or the worst - fishing we've ever had, enough bites to keep it interesting with a couple of dozen smelts to take home.

Is it cold out there on the frozen river? Of course! Mostly though just your feet get really cold when you're in the shack. But getting out to the shacks can be downright... nippy! Then after you've stoked the woodstove, you shed a few layers of warmth, settle in with a thermos of coffee and some snacks, and you're ready for fishing. The shacks are close together so you hear how the fish are running for others on either side of you. It's great fun when there's a family next door because the kids always seem to have such a good time. Friday we went for the afternoon, but we've gone most often at night, the winter night sky sparkling clear, the stars twinkling just brilliantly as the tide begins to turn and we begin to make our way back to shore.

Some tides are slow - whether incoming or outgoing - but on some tides you just can't pull the smelts in fast enough. Buckets and buckets full. Then comes the next challenge, for me at those smelts away to those who appreciate them. I don't. (Remember that I am usually only a catch-and-release person!) Bert always fries up "a fine mess" dipped in cornmeal, and luckily, we do know folks who are always eager for any fresh smelts we have to share.

Ahhhh, a frozen river, bloodworms, the howling wind... now THAT'S romantic!


January 26, 2007

The Comfort of an Old Cat

Very unusually, we have been down to just one cat for over a year and a half now, and I really miss having kittens - or more than one cat - in the house. But I have also discovered the comfort of an old cat, one who now gets and gives undivided attention.

Sam will be 14 in March although to look at him you'd think him much younger. He's black and white ( a cow cat!), sleek, muscular, and has the most gorgeous fat tail. Sam came to live with us in late spring 1993 after my brother John's cat had kittens. We couldn't decide which one we wanted and so ended up bringing all three home! Smudge was killed a few years later; Woofie died just last summer.

If I just must take a nap in the afternoon - and some days it IS a must - Sam is right there draped over my shoulder. If I'm reading, he'll occasionally pat my cheek, otherwise he just snuggles. When I sit on the couch to watch the evening news and knit, he is on the pillow behind me with his paw resting on my shoulder, once in a while nuzzling the back of my head. He's in the kitchen with me when I cook, on my desk when I work at the computer, and always in my heart.

Sam is an outdoor cat and even on days like today - it hasn't gotten up to zero yet - he wants out. When the gardening season starts, he'll be right there, catching moles, voles and other little critters AND just visiting.

Right now, Sam is sitting in the morning sun, looking blissfully peaceful. Not only is he a constant comfort, but there's a lot to be learned from an old cat!