Five Little Things

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These guys make me almost as happy as the baby goats!

Sometimes it’s the little things. That’s what this blog is all about: five little things that are making me happy.

First…if you like baby goats (and who doesn’t?), check out the Sunflower Farm barn cam. I’m a little obsessed. Sunflower Farm is a pygmy goat farm near where I live in Maine. The cam shows baby goats being born and generally frolicking. It is (a) highly entertaining, (b) cute off the chart, but (c) a little stressful (for me) to watch. Apparently I’m either a goat wimp or cross-species maternalistic because I get very worried and protective of these baby goats. Warning: this site can be very addictive. And very dramatic. But you really should check it out. Hint: It’s much more exciting with sound turned up so you can hear all the goats bleating!

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It doesn’t look like much yet, but just wait…and yes we do still have some snow

If baby goats are being born, then it must be spring, right? YES! Spring. We finally have spring! There are no leaves on the trees yet (and only a few flowers), but we went from snow last week to 70 degrees this week. Today I saw an Osprey and two Great Blue Herons flying over. Song birds are everywhere. Our temps (and winds) will be all over the place for a while, but I don’t think we’ll get anymore snow until fall—which is the important part—so we can get our garden area ready. This all makes me very, very happy. (Until I saw a fly in the house…no. I won’t complain yet.)

Parchment baked chicken breasts. I usually don’t write about food on my blog, but once in a while I need to. A few months ago I started baking chicken in parchment paper—I put (usually three skinless boneless breasts on a piece of parchment paper, squeeze juice of one lemon onto them, add a few tablespoons of wine, sprinkle with thyme, salt, and pepper, cover with another sheet of parchment, and crimp the edges. Bake until done (usually about 30 minutes), and you’ll have the moistest most delicious, healthiest chicken breasts you’ll ever taste. I’ve also used soy, balsamic, and lemon juice marinade, equally delicious. You can also use this method for fish and vegetables. Cooking Light has a better description of the method—you can find it in this article by Lia Huber.

In case you haven’t been to Google today…you’re in for a fun surprise. In honor of the 155th anniversary of the Pony Express, Google has developed a fun, easy video game. I’ve wasted spent at least half an hour on this today… and I’ve only collected 25 envelopes at best—you have to see it to truly understand. Check it out on Google.

After you finish collecting envelopes, check out today’s post on Writer Unboxed by Therese Walsh. It’s an incredibly helpful blog about multi-tasking—Therese’s third in a series. Therese says this: “If you multitask because you feel you have to in order to stay on top of things; if you’re overwhelmed with too much information and an inability to sort though it all; if you’re losing momentum on your writing projects because there is just too much on your plate… This post is for you.” She goes on to give methods for diagnosing what’s going on (or wrong) with your work habits, strategies for better productivity, and tips and suggestions to be more productive. It’s a really useful and helpful post….

Especially after you’ve been watching baby goats, cleaning your garden, playing Google’s Pony Express game, researching new ways to cook chicken, or generally trying to figure out how to focus more on writing and less on those other non-writing things.

What are some little things making you happy?

Cheers,

Julia

How to Prepare for a “Potentially Historic” Snowstorm

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This is from another (smaller) storm…but you get the drift

The storm is brewing. “Potentially historic,” the forecasters are saying. “Up to two feet.” In Maine, you grow used to this. The storms and the predictions. The rush to the grocery store for bread and milk. It’s kind of a joke (that people focus on pre-storm bread and milk), but it’s based on reality. At least that’s what my checker friend Carol says.

Carol is one of the people I see almost every time I go to the large supermarket in our small town. She’s one of the people I enjoy talking to. She’s engaged with customers, but she’s focused on her job, too. I know she has two sons, twins, who are now adults. She loves reading. She’s always upbeat so I seek her out when I look for which line to stand in.

And I’m not the only one. Yesterday while I was standing in Carol’s line, an elderly woman rolled up behind me in a seated shopping cart. She asked if it was a “14 or fewer” line. I said no. When Carol overheard us, she asked me what the woman had said. When I told her, she smiled and said, “That’s because I’m usually at the 14 or fewer registers.” Because Carol is fast. She’s fast and courteous and positive.

I knew the woman in line in front of me, too. She works for a friend of mine—Mark—who runs a catering business. She’s the best at rolling pie dough than anyone I’ve ever seen. And by best, I mean she can roll perfectly round pie crusts, seemingly effortlessly. Mine? Mine are more like oblongs or amoebas or some other amorphous shape.

Mark is famous (I told Carol) for his chicken pies.

“Oh I know,” Carol said. “Mark and I grew up together. We were like cousins.”

Of course. Everyone knows everyone in our small town. In Maine, too. There are only 1.5 million people in the entire state. Here, we have two degrees of separation (compared to the normal six). You don’t mention the name of someone to another person unless you’re saying something flattering—unless you want a fight or a cold shoulder. And those cold shoulders can last a long time (take it from someone who’s breached the two-degree rule on occasion).

The pie roller paid and left, and Carol started ringing up my purchases.

“You know those leftover edges from your rolled dough?” Carol said. “My mom used to make them into popovers. My mom made the best pies…”

Carol spoke lovingly about her mother’s pies—how they grew all the fruit, how she’d fill the freezer with unbaked pies to be baked mid-winter during a storm. I imagined Carol as a small girl, sitting next to the wood stove eating a piece of blueberry pie that was made from berries she and Mark picked the summer before. They wouldn’t care about the weather outside or a power outage, either, because they’d be warmed by the stove and by all the love that went into that blueberry pie.

I paid for my bread and milk and drove home.

Here’s hoping we don’t lose power—and if we don’t I think I might just bake a pie. I have the ingredients. Carol made sure of it.

How do you prepare for an epic storm…or the threat of one? Do you buy bread and milk?

My Name is Ann, and I’m a Foodie


Ann’s food journal and a few of her HUNDREDS of cookbooks

I am so happy today to welcome my friend Ann as a guest to my blog! I met Ann when I first started blogging two years ago. She had a wonderful cooking blog, and I simply loved all the recipes she posted. We became fast friends. Last year Ann retired from blogging, but we still kept in touch and shared photos and recipes. Recently when I wrote a post about my new Moleskinejournal, I found out, in comments, that Ann keeps a very special kind of journal. I asked her if she would write a guest post about it. Being the generous friend she is, Ann agreed without hesitation, and I couldn’t be happier!
Please enjoy this post by my friend Ann!
About two years ago, I stumbled on Julia’s blog and since then, I’ve made a cozy home here as a devoted reader…and never left. Whodathunk?! A writer, who writes about WRITING who is so…interesting…so captivating?!  I figure that’s the hallmark of a talented writer, and Julia certainly is that!  She is positively MADE of awesome! 

My name is Ann and I am a foodie…

Recently, I came to the realization that canning and bread making are a lost art. I decided to take up the mantle and continue both. Happily, I discovered, both online and in person, that there are pockets of folks who think the same, and I am enjoying the old-fashioned culinary arts.


Speaking of old-fashioned…I have to confess that I adore electronics. I have an e-reader, an iPad, an iPhone, a Macbook, and a regular Mac computer. I keep my calendar, address book and just about everything else online. I haven’t bought a paper book in five years. I have, however, purchased 392 ebooks in that time (I checked…).

There is one exception—and to me, it’s an old-fashioned biggie! When it comes to cooking, I want a paper book. I want to touch it, I want to put tabs on marked pages. I write notes in the margins about the recipe and notate any changes I made. I cook 95% of the time from a cookbook and try 3-5 new recipes each week, so this is helpful to me. Did I mention that I have several HUNDRED cookbooks? 
So, here I am, a foodie chatting with a writer…

….who was gifted a Moleskine journal!


Julia and I started a conversation–via the comments section—about MY journal. The conversation quickly moved onto texts so we could chat more. Since I am a woman of limited interest, my journal is a FOOD journal!

I have a beautiful leather-bound journal where I keep my week’s menu, my grocery list and any party planning I do. When I have a party (or do the occasional catering for a friend), I keep a detailed plan, including the menu, timeline for cooking and setting up…even the table or buffet plate placements.

It’s also a resource when I want to re-make a recipe. Rather than search through all the books—which is it’s own kind of fun. I flip through my journal to the time I made the recipe, and I have the title, the date I made it, and what book and page number it’s on!

Flipping through my journal gives me a tremendous amount of pleasure and a great sense of accomplishment. I cheered Julia on with starting a journal…any journal!  Whatever you’re interested in, keeping a record of your time is never a waste of it. I am a richer person because of my little brown leather bound book, and I know Julia will enjoy her new Moleskine.

I also wanted to share another favorite. I think everyone has their favorite cookbook…here is mine! I love thisbook so much that if I’m stranded on a deserted island, THIS is the book I’d take with me!  This book has it all!  I love, LOVE it!  When it doubt, I run home to this book!  (This is not a paid endorsement—I’m a small fry who adores this book—no one’s paying me or twisting my arm, I promise!)

Julia asked if I was willing to make a recipe for you, and I did from my favorite cookbook. I made the classic (dare I say old-fashioned?) Quiche Lorraine. The classics are called that for a reason. This recipe is deceptively simple, but packs a real flavor punch. Rather than take up a bunch of room with the recipe, here’s the link!




…And here are a couple more iPhone shots (just a small sampling!) of what I’ve been canning lately!



Thanks a gazillion, bajillion Julia for letting me guest post on one of my favorite blogs, you really do rock, girlfriend! You rock, too, Ann! I love your journal even more now that I’ve seen the photos, and I love quiche and can’t wait to make the Quiche Lorraine! Your canning photos are wonderful, too…
Please let us know in comments: What’s your favorite recipe or cookbook? Do you keep a journal? Ann and I would love to hear all about your cooking, recipes, cookbooks and journals!


Cheers,
Julia & Ann

A Halfway Day: a post and a recipe

It’s an unsettled kind of day. It’s raining. Or is it snowing? I can see some snow on the ground, accumulated under some of the bushes—but it looks like rain coming out of the sky. Either way it’s gray and dreary.

I’m also ripping my house apart because I lost a credit card…actually the one in my wallet expired in 2011 (I don’t use it that often), but my husband’s expires in 2014. That means I never put the new one in my wallet, and it’s somewhere in the house—I can’t find it, but I need to. I doubt the expired one will work as even half a credit card (if there is such a thing).

Now, the tenth of December, I’m halfway in the holiday spirit, too, but halfway not. We have lights up but no tree (that will be after our two kids are home). Growing up I had an estranged Jewish father and a Christian mother, so we only celebrated Christmas. As I got older, and re-connected with relatives, our family celebrated Hanukkah too. I love lighting the Menorah and preparing latkes. But I also love decorating the Christmas tree.

See what I mean? A halfway day and a halfway month.

Kind of like my writing. Right now I’m halfway there to deciding to self-publish my newly-completed mystery. And I’m doing research for my almost-ready-to-start-writing WIP. I have one foot in self-publishing, one foot still in querying, one hand writing, one hand researching. It’s an exciting kind of time in a terrifying, breakneck, busy kind of way…

So this weekend I did what any sensible uncertain person with too much to do does—I baked cookies. Four kinds to be precise. If you follow me on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook you might have seen my photos, labeled Cookies Rounds 1 through 4: Black Walnut Sandies, Classic Sugar Cookies, Almond Spritzes, and Molasses Crackles. I posted a photo of the last ones on Facebook, and Leah Singer (if you haven’t visited her blog Leah’s Thoughts, you should, it’s awesome!) asked if she could have the recipe. It follows this post.

If you, like me, are having an unsettled, uncertain, half raining-half snowing kind of month…maybe you should bake some cookies! (And just know you’re not alone.)

Cheers,

Julia

Molasses Crackle Cookies

2-2/3 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 cup stick margarine, softened (I’ve also used butter)

4 Tablespoons molasses

1 large egg

granulated sugar for rolling (I have also used red sugar around holiday times)

1. Combine first 6 ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Cream brown sugar, margarine, molasses, and egg. Add dry ingredients and mix until blended. Gently press mixture into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill two hours.

2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

3. Shape dough into smooth, small balls (about 3/4 inch in diameter), then roll in granulated sugar. Place balls 3 inches apart on a baking sheet (I line with parchment paper). Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from pan then cool on a wire rack.

Yield: approximately 6 dozen cookies – I know it sounds like a lot but they go fast, and they are a favorite among friends who receive them for gifts!

If You Give a Blogger a Pie….


This is my first “real” blog in three weeks. Not counting the coast videos or the scientific reports on crows.

I love blogging but it’s kind of falling by the wayside as I’ve focused on my Work-in-Progress, on Thanksgiving, now on Christmas countdown. And the problem is the longer I’m away the more I miss it but the more unsure I feel. Kind of like when you haven’t seen someone in a long time: how will they feel about me now?

And that’s exactly how I’m feeling: how will they (and when I say they, I mean you) feel about me now. Sure, I can write about crows, about Canada geese on Casco Bay, about the sunset and the moon and the tides. But can I write about feelings, about writing….can I still write a blog?

Which made me think: what exactly is a blog? And what makes me think I have anything at all to add to the 145 million other blogs out there. Which made me realize: this is crazy. It’s the same question I’ve been asking since my very first blog post. And which reminded me that this is the way I always am when I’ve waited too long to do anything.

Like make a pie crust. When I made the pumpkin pie this year for Thanksgiving, I was afraid. I love making pie crusts and I used to make them all the time—when my daughter was in her last year of high school I made a quiche every single Sunday. But since she left for college, I haven’t. And I lost my mojo. (Haha, I just love to use that word even though I don’t really know what it means, see second definition in urban dictionary.) Or I thought I lost my mojo (haha again).

But I didn’t. I remembered how to make the pie crust—and it was one of the best pumpkin pies ever. And then two days after Thanksgiving I made a quiche, and that was pretty spectacular, too, if I do say so myself.

And then it hit me. I really didn’t ever forget how to make the pie crust, and I really haven’t forgotten how to blog, either. It’s all coming back. Right? And next time I promise a real blog, whatever that is, or maybe a quiche.


Do you ever doubt your ability to blog or wonder if you really have anything to add to the blogging world?

Cheers,
Julia

Cooking Blog Wannabe

In my next blogging life I want to have a cooking blog. Or a gardening blog. Or maybe a little of both.

If you read my blog very often, you know that I am an avid gardener and cook. We have a modest vegetable garden that supplies a goodly amount of food—and that, combined with my love of cooking, produces some amazingly fresh and delicious meals.

This season has been a challenge because it’s been colder and rainier than normal—so until today we’ve only had a handful of veggies from the garden: some snowpeas (but only a few), some lettuce (but no arugula), and a few radishes (but most went to seed).

But today? We harvested a meal!

Today’s harvest: potatoes and spring onions.

And I cooked: a potato-onion scramble.

The key to this recipe is to have very fresh ingredients and to cook them quickly.

The ingredients: Nine freshly harvested new potatoes (the most exciting part, because it’s the first time we’ve grown potatoes!!), five spring onions, two cloves of garlic (smushed), 1/4 teaspoon rosemary (my rosemary died over the winter so I used dried), 4 eggs (MEH (My Engineer Husband) said next we’ll raise chickens. I think he was joking), 1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, 1/2 Tablespoon olive oil, 1 Tablespoon butter.

The method: Cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces; boil in water until just-barely soft to the bite. Meanwhile, melt butter in a no-stick skillet; add olive oil. Drain potatoes and add to the skillet. When potatoes are done (taste to check) and slightly crisped on the outside, add the spring onions and garlic and rosemary to the skillet and cook briefly. Add egg and scramble until almost set then add the cheese to melt. Serve immediately!

 

Serves two generously and deliciously! 

What are you cooking today? Is there another kind of blog you dream about writing?


Cheers,
Julia

Lasagna and Other Creative Endeavors

Yesterday I made lasagna.


Most of the ingredients sat in the refrigerator for almost two weeks: the homemade tomato sauce from the last of last summer’s tomatoes, the ricotta cheese, the eggs, the parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, and the Italian sausage.


Except, then—when I spent so much time on blogging that I never got around to making the lasagna—we had pasta with Italian sausage and tomato sauce a few days ago. So, last weekend, I had to go to the store and buy: more tomato sauce (the garden sauce was almost gone) and spinach (this time the lasagna would be all veggie).


As I mixed all the cheeses together in a large aluminum bowl, I thought about how much I love cooking. Aside from the obvious reason: that I love to create delicious, healthy food for my family, I also like to cook because, for me, it is a highly creative endeavor. I usually don’t cook from recipes, but even when I do, I take liberties based on my own experience and sensibilities.

After I put the lasagna in the oven, I went back to my computer to continue writing. I felt energized and more creative, and I was incredibly productive! As blogging becomes more-and-more incorporated into my daily schedule, I can start re-incorporating the other creative things I like to do, like: photography, knitting, sewing, gardening, and cooking, too. And this will only help make me even more creative in my writing.


What are some other non-writing creative things do you like to do? Do you find that doing these activities make you more productive in your writing? Or does it just cut down on the writing time you have?

Cheers,
Julia

For the Love of Cooking

I love to cook. I suppose it’s one of the best things I got from my mother: the knack for cooking good food and the right food at the right time.

When I was a child, I helped my mother with the cooking. Okay, the truth is that my mother worked, and from the time I was about 10 years old, I cooked dinner for the whole family three times a week. By myself. And at holidays? I was practically an indentured servant for the two huge holiday parties my mother always put on.

At the time, I was not a fan. I mean, what 10-year-old girl in her right mind would rather be cooking dinner than playing with her friends? And my mother was exacting; it had to be a complete meal: meat/fish/protein, grain, green vegetable, yellow or orange fruit or vegetable, and salad. Every night.

But, boy did I learn to cook a meal and cook it well:

  • The rabbit, that I didn’t want to cook, but it was there for me to prepare for dinner. (Julia Child led me through her recipe, and she’s been my friend ever since.) When I tried to refuse to eat it at the meal, my mother replied: “The French eat it, you were born in France, you can eat it, pretend it’s chicken if you have to.”
  • The family recipe for creamed spinach and bacon casserole that broke the blender every Christmas Eve (not to be confused with the Cranberry Ice family recipe that we made every Christmas Day with the new blender we bought late on Christmas Eve). Some of my best memories of my mother are when we laughed as conspirators in the kitchen every year.
  • The best (and simplest to make) baked macaroni and cheese you’ll ever taste, that my own kids adore.
  • The one-pot-meals we made on camp stoves in rustic kitchens in Kenya (yes, they still met all the food group specifications).
  • The knowledge that I can make a nutritious, complete, and delicious meal out of a crazy empty refrigerator.

I also collect recipes, especially recipes that remind me of people. When I make the recipes of my mother’s, I sense her in the kitchen, stirring whatever’s in the pot with the tip of her paring knife (her famous cooking technique).

But in addition to my mother, I think of others whose recipes I’ve collected:

  • Carolyn’s Krautburgers—that always remind me of sitting on her deck in Colorado, watching her dogs romp through the fields and laughing for hours with a wonderful friend!
  • Tatjana’s delicious pumpkin swirl cake and muffins. Lunch of bagels with melted cheese and tossed salad with garlic vinaigrette, followed by Cassis liqueur and conversation that goes on until dusk (and truth be told, you never want to end).
  • Aunt Marsha’s matzo ball soup and potato latkes—both melt in your mouth—served with generous portions of love, affection, and dancing at holidays.
  • Ramon’s beans and rice—simple to make, delicious, and utterly nutritious—from a high school friend’s friend from Mexico. Now a family favorite.
  • My Russian grandmother’s stuffed cabbage; my Ohio grandmother’s black walnut cookies, made from nuts from the tree in her garden.

Each dish has a story, shared with deep love and affection. As I prepare them, I remember the cook who first made them for me. And I don’t know which is better, the taste or the memory. Both are equally delicious and nourishing.

Cheers,

Julia

p.s. What are the foods that bring back memories for you? Are there recipes or foods that remind you of people or places?