Wednesday, November 16, 2022

3 Of My Favorite Thanksgiving Recipes

 The difference between butternut and buttercup squash is like the difference between night and day. I adore the dryness and more pronounced flavor of buttercup and it stands up to the "liquidy" texture of the applesauce much better than butternut, which is a wetter squash. The yield may be lower in buttercup but remember what the general rule of thumb is for vibrantly colored vegetables? More antioxidant power is headed your way!\

Butternut Squash... Simple!

  • 4 - 5 pound butternut squash, sliced, peeled and seeded
  • 1 (15-ounce) can applesauce
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup or brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon(s) dried ginger
  • 1 pinch dried, ground cloves.

  •  Cover squash with water by 1-inch, cover with lid and cook over medium heat until softened, but not mush, about 10 minutes. Immediately, and carefully, strain.* Let squash sit in strainer until all liquid has drained.

  • Carefully, and with the rounded side of a large spoon, gently push the squash against the sides of the colander, draining even more liquid. Transfer to a large bowl and add remainder of ingredients. Using a potato masher or hand-held electric mixer, mash or beat squash until as smooth as possible. Serve immediately.

  • * If there are only a couple of you dining on this squash recipe, I urge you to cut the squash as directed(although the amount should be halved), place on a microwave safe dish, cover tightly with film wrap and microwave for 3-4 minutes. Do not add any liquid at all, for the natural liquid found inside the squash will suffice in the cooking process. Remove when soft to the touch. Unwrap and there is no need of draining before mashing.

Candied Yams

I think you just may be preparing these salty-sweet gems for your Holiday tables instead of the classic Candied Yams. They really don't take any more time to prepare then the old standby, but the flavor makes any extra work well worth the effort.

  • 6 small sweet potatoes, peeled
  • 1/4 cup brie cheese (or use bleu cheese, crumbled)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried, crushed thyme
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic in oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto
  • 3 tablespoons crushed nuts (your choice)
  • 3 tablespoons minced, dried cranberries
  • 6 tablespoons maple syrup

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Peel potatoes then boil them for about 5 minutes or until starting to soften. Immediately remove from water and let cool enough to handle. Potatoes may not be cooked completely but will finish cooking in the oven.

  • Meanwhile, add the cheese, rosemary, thyme, garlic and black pepper to a bowl. Mash ingredients together until all is well combined: set aside.

  • Once potatoes are slightly cooled, slice potatoes in halve length-wise. Make sure to remember which two halves go together, as you will be sealing up the filling.

  • Using a small spoon, scrape out a shallow path, length-wise down the middle of each side of the potato. .Fill the bottom half each potato with about 1-2 t. of the cheese herb mixture, spreading it evenly throughout the shallow path. Do not over fill the potatoes. Place the top half of the potato over the bottom to form a whole sweet potato. Try to gently work the halves closed so that the stuffing doesn't seep out during the cooking process. Repeat this process with all of the potatoes.

  • Wrap each of the stuffed sweet potatoes with thinly sliced prosciutto, working carefully so the prosciutto doesn't rip. Try to wrap the prosciutto as tightly as possible, using a toothpick if desired(just remember to remove them before serving . Remove potatoes to a wax paper, foil or lined baking pan and bake 15 minutes, or until ham is starting to crisp. Meanwhile, mix together the nuts and cranberries in small bowl. Remove potatoes from oven and sprinkle nut mixture over the top. Drizzle about 1 T. maple syrup and continue cooking another 10 minutes. Remove from oven and serve hot. Enjoy!

10-Minute Snowflake Pudding

Pure white and a refreshingly cool taste, this pudding reminds me of a subtly flavored, creamy peppermint pattie, but with the great taste of spearmint. If preferred, by all means use peppermint extract or oil.

  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 egg whites, beaten
  • 1 -2 teaspoons clear spearmint extract*
  • 3/4 cup white chocolate chips
  • Multi-colored candy canes, for garnish

  • Whisk first 4 ingredients well together in a medium saucepan. Place saucepan over medium heat, stirring almost constantly until scalding and thickened. It will get foamy and start lightly boiling. This is the time to remove it from the stove, taking about 4-5 minutes. Stir in extract and chocolate chips until chips are completely melted. Transfer to a bowl, cover with film wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or until completely cooled and set.

  • When ready to serve, remove from refrigerator and beat, vigorously, until as smooth as possible.

  • Divide among serving dishes, garnish with candy canes and serve.

  • If you are unable to find clear spearmint extract, try oil of spearmint of another clear minty extract or oil. I love to keep this pudding as white as newly fallen snow. One teaspoon extract will give you that perfect, subtle flavor but if you prefer a more robust minty flavor, add 2 teaspoons.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Fall and Food

Well, it looks as if there won't be much in the way of colorful leaves when the National Fall Foliage Week begins the last Sunday of this month. Although there are a few vibrant leaves and quite a collection of them drifting down to my pool(I made a huge mistake placing my pool under the largest elm tree on my property), it is still a great time of year to get on outside with your kids, sans the cell phone. 

See more here about this New England-inspired holiday week. 

In the meantime, we will ease into using the oven now that the cooler fall weather has hit us here in the Northeast. 

Bacon-Jacked Jam   

A friend of mine(actually family)who owns the IGA in Orono, Maine advertised Bacon Jam on sale last week and it was the very first time I have ever seen it for sale. If you haven't ever tried it, you are in for quite a pleasant surprise. 

This jam is the perfect addition to a gooey American/mild Cheddar cheese sandwich or simply slathered on a homemade English muffin sandwich. This is truly for all bacon lovers.


8 ounces bacon, chopped small

1 apple, peeled, cored and small diced

1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 cup each maple syrup and apple juice

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons Apple Jack, or bourbon, optional 

Add bacon to a saucepan or large skillet and cook over medium heat until as crispy as desired. Carefully drain fat, keeping bacon in pan. Add next 5 ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring well. 

Reduce heat to low and simmer until most liquid has been absorbed, leaving just enough to hold the jam together. Remove from heat and stir in vinegar and Apple Jack, if using. 

Use while warm or transfer to a container, cover and refrigerate until needed.

Puffy Chicken and Dumplings  

One of the most sought after recipes has got to be Chicken and Dumplings. But isn't leftover turkey just as good? I think so! No matter what time of year it is, people have an affinity to this comfort classic, but they also want a simple and economical recipe, especially if uses leftovers. These are the softest dumplings you will ever make. If you have any leftover cooked vegetables, by all means add them right before the dumplings.

Nonstick cooking spray

1 pound cooked chicken(or turkey), chopped

1/2 small onion, minced

2 potatoes, peeled and diced

4 cups chicken broth

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon each salt and black pepper

1/2 teaspoon each dried thyme and rosemary

3/4 cup milk

4 tablespoon butter or margarine, melted

4 tablespoons water

3 tablespoons cornstarch

In a medium saucepan, coat bottom with nonstick cooking spary and place pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook until the onions have softened, stirring often. Add turkey, potatoes and broth. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, make dumplings.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, black pepper, thyme and rosemary. Stir in the milk and melted butter. Set aside. Make cornstarch slurry by mixing water and cornstarch until smooth; set aside. When broth is boiling, cook potatoes until they are just beginnning to soften, called crisp tender. This will take only 10 minutes or so, according to the size of your potatoes. Stir in the cornstarch slurry(see NOTE) until broth has thickened and it is smooth. Reduce heat to low. 

By the rounded tablespoon, dot the top of the stew with dumpling mixture. They will stay floating. When the entire surface is covered with dumplings, place tight-fitting lid over the top and simmer about 12-15 minutes, or until the dumplings have puffed up and are light as a feather when cut open.  Remove cover and serve immediately. 

NOTE: As you can see, I used cornstarch slurry instead of roux(melted butter and flour)as a thickener. I do this because using unlike roux, slurry does is easily and completely stirred into broth to thicken, unlike roux which is almost impossible to stir the clumps smooth when you have other items in the liquid.

Enough for 4 servings(or 1 hungry sole)

Apple Fritter Coffee Cake   

Ever wanted that great taste of apple fritters that you can simply mix, pour and bake? Here you have all that and more! Reminding me of banana bread, this perfect Sunday morning sweet bread can only be topped with that hot cup of coffee. It's Just That Simple!™

Nonstick cooking spray
1/2 cup(1 stick)butter or margarine, softened
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs 
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 large apple
1/2 cup raisins

Grease a 9-inch loaf pan with cooking spray; set aside. Preheat oven to 350-degrees F. 
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until smooth and creamy. Add milk, eggs and lemon juice, continuing to beat until well blended.
In a separate bowl, blend flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Add dry to wet. 

Peel, core and dice apple. Add to flour and butter mixture along with the raisins and continue beating, on low speed, until everything is thoroughly mixed. It does not have to be smooth.
Pour into prepared pan and bake 45-50 minutes, or until cracked on top and it bounces back in the middle when lightly pressed.
Remove from oven, cool slightly, loosen the edges and invert onto a large platter or serving dish.

Hearthside Apple-Sugar Cookie Tart 

Sweetly crisp and reminiscent of the coming Holidays. But why wait? Especially with apples ripe and ready to pick now.

Sugar Cookie Crust:
4 tablespoons butter or margarine, room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
1 beaten egg
1 teaspoon rum extract or vanilla
1 cup flour
Powdered sugar, as needed
Caramelized Apple Topping:
1 large or 2 small apples
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Nonstick cooking spray

Make Sugar Cookie Crust
In a large bowl, add the butter and sugar. With a stout spoon, mix very well. It doesn't have to be smooth and fluffy, just combined well. Add the egg and rum extract, continuing to mix thoroughly. Add the flour and mix until well incorporated. Sprinkle some powdered sugar on a work surface, transfer cookie dough and knead for 30 seconds,  continuing to add powdered sugar as needed to prevent sticking.
 Roll out to about a 1/2-inch thick and large enough to fit into a 9 or 10-inch nonstick, oven-safe skillet. If you don't have nonstick pan, a cast iron pan will work just fine.
Place rolled cookie dough on a sugar-dusted plate and put in refrigerator until needed.
In the meantime, preheat oven to 375-degrees F.  and peel, core and wedge apple(s) to 3/4-inch in thickness; set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter into your 9-10-inch nonstick, oven-safe skillet over medium high heat. When melted, sprinkle both sugars over the butter evenly. Let cook until it becomes a light brown, or amber-colored. Keep an eye on this because once it starts to brown, it can burn in a matter of seconds, and you think baked-on lasagna is hard to clean........
Remove from heat and lay apple wedges in a circular pattern carefully into this sugar syrup using tongs if needed, reduce heat to medium, place back on burner and cook apples for 5 minutes. Carefully flip each apple wedge over, dust with desired amount of cinnamon and  cook an additional 5 minutes. Grab your sugar cookie dough and carefully place it over the apples, pricking the top of it for steam venting. Immediately put the skillet into the oven and bake 12-14 minutes, or until the cookie is starting to brown on top. Immediately remove from oven to rest for 1 minute, NO LONGER. Grab a plate the same size or larger, and immediately before the sugar begins to harden, very carefully invert your creation onto the plate. Spray a pizza cutter with nonstick cooking spray, or use a sharp, non serrated knife that has been sprayed, and cut into wedges. Enjoy while warm or let it cool to form an amazingly crispy, sugary, caramelized crust.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The FRIENDLIEST Town in far

 Between August 1-5, 2022, my 11 year old son and I had the opportunity to spend the week in Rockport, Maine. He was performing with the Bay Chamber Music Schools Envision Program, culminating in a concert on Friday, Aug. 5. Thomas spent between 9-4 each day practicing a couple of pieces and since it took an hour and a half each way, I decided to just hang around town each day rather than travelling back and forth and I sure am glad I least for the most part. 

My first day, or rather I should say my first hour, was spent enjoying the scenery and walks around town as soon as I could find my first cup of coffee. That simple "first step" seemed an easy one until I found it to be the toughest step of all, but more on that in a minute.

Rockport, Maine should be considered a stop over when visiting this neck of the woods in Maine because there is only absolutely nothing to do in Rockport, for adults and children, which is a wicked shame. I found this depressing observation out very soon after walking around. BUT......there were several saving graces that has now changed my mind. The first was a little place called Graffam Brothers Seafood. 

I will tell you much more in short, but first I want to mention the people of Rockport.

I felt as though I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone...honestly! From the moment I turned to walk down the street after seeing Thomas off for the day, the greetings began amongst the seagulls cries. "Good morning", "Howdy" "Hi there" and so many variations of a mornings salutation were immediately offered.....AND EACH WITH A SMILE!!!. Of course being the Yankee I am, I replied in kind, both audibly and with a returning smile. 

Graffam Bros. fish case

Well, maybe it was the fact that I was a stranger. Maybe I just caught everyone on a clear, warm and beautiful Monday morning. Nope, this happened every single minute I was walking around town, no matter what part of town. In fact, at least once a day as I was leisurely strolling about town, a person would actually engage in conversation if I asked about something. For example, one day I asked an elderly lady how far down the road Camden was and after telling me, she asked "Do you have a minute?" Of course I did! She began her 30 minute chat with her very first home purchase some 50 years earlier and ended with he husband passing 2 years before. No, although she may have been lonely, she was extending on a conversation I had begun with her about how beautiful the community was and how friendly the folks were in Rockport. She had honored her hometown with pride and I was happy to spend some time with her. 

I would like to mention just one more lady and her companion that I 'bumped into' while strolling as well, although I could go on and on. As I continued walking toward Camden to see if I could break up my day a little with some shopping, I noticed some beautiful flowering shrubs to my right and a lady tending to them. (I am going to shorten this so you will continue reading without getting bored.) She was a learned lady named Barbara and her companion Bob. Not only had I inquired about her flora but she began schooling me on how to care for, tend to these plants as well as her lifes' educational background. Too long to list here, she was a gem to talk to and Bob was just as cordial to me as well, never letting his facial expression offer anything other than a smile and genuine, small town graciousness. The both were such that I made it a staple to walk by their home every morning on the way to Camden and early afternoon coming from Camden. In fact, they have emailed me since with pictures of their plants as well as the names of them so that I can make some informed decisions here at my home. I look forward to running into both Barbara and Bob each time we visit Rockport and they too, reflect the laid back, productive and cordial, salty atmosphere of this town. Thank you folks!

The very first morning, my first job was to find a cup of coffee. One would think this would be easy but noooooo......There was not one place in this town to find a cup of coffee to start the day. Ordinarily this would have set the tone, but the saving grace was the greetings from everyone around. Everyone told me to walk to Camden if I needed one, which was "only a couple miles down the road". The walking did not bother me one bit. In fact, I had a lot of time on my hands anyway, so off to Camden I went. After rounding the corner where the new library was(a place where I spent a considerable amount of time as well) I spied a seafood market on my left by the name of Graffam Bros. Seafood.

Nothing about coffee in their windows but it couldn't hurt to try. I walked in the front door and of course was immediately greeted by good mornings from patrons and employees. But more importantly, as I looked to my left, it was like that movie moment where the music accentuates a glorious event. There they were, 6 pump cannisters with different coffees in each. A sign next to it stating a $1.25 price.

Walking over I saw some tables just beckoning me to sit down, grab a paper and relax. It reminded me so much of my parents restaurants.
A simple, brightly lit dining room that was more akin to a diner than a seafood market...which was just what I was looking for!

The first encounter I had with a member of the staff was a young transplant from another state in the midwest by the name of Harrison. I new he was a transplant because of our conversation we had when I walked up to the counter.

Finnan Haddie

He was a genuinely nice man who, along with everyone else at Graffam Brothers, greeted customers not only with a natural smile(as opposed to a forced one you often see so early in the morning) but with a willingness to engage with a customer, regardless of how busy he was.

A true gem to Graffams and the community. He stepped out from behind the counter to let me know the different types of coffee and the flavor profiles of all six flavors.

I told him I wanted a coffee that my spoon could stand straight up other words STRONG! Although he told me about the intenseness of one of Carrabassett's coffee, he nudged me toward Jamaican Me Crazy...which was a great choice.

For the next couple of days, I made it a priority to stop here for my morning coffee, with Thursday morning being my most memorable coffee breaks. I decided to walk around this "shop" and see what else they had for sale. I was honestly blown a way! Not only did they have a fresh seafood case(two of them in fact)but the prices of the fish, mollusks, shellfish and seafood were honestly outstanding. 

I again saw Harrison behind the counter and after exchanging greetings again(with the same gratuitousness as the first time I might add)I asked to speak with the manager on duty. After just a minute, a man came up to me, offered his hand in introduction and said he was Leni. I introduced myself as well and he was actually the owner. After a few minutes of banter, he walked with me around his place as I asked him questions about items in his freezer, fish case and dry goods. Now the entire time, he was carrying his money bag, obviously on his way out the door to make his morning deposit, but he still took the time to answer each of my questions and extend the same type of cordiality his employee extended. 

Why did I need to ask him anything? Let me just say I was truly feeling the Yankee blood and the New England food historian part of me coming out. He had finnan haddie in 3-4 pound filets for sale. Other than a great friend and family member of mine in Orono who owns the Orono IGA, by the name of Bob Craft, Leni's store was the only other place I found this childhood(and true New England)favorite. On top of that, he carried salted cod. Not many of you will be familiar with this true Yankee original, but there was a time when families had cod balls or cod cakes or simply salted cod simmered in milk for a weekends meal. And Graffam Bros. had this centuries old staple in a packaging that instantly brought to mind the 1800s. It was sold in real wooden boxes!

He also carried probably the best chowder I have had in a long time, with the prices reflecting pre-supply chain and inflation levels. And his prices were the same across the board. In fact, take a look at his menu board!  He introduced me to one of his cooks, his daughter. He introduced me to another worker, again another daughter. Both just as pleasant as everyone else at Graffams. His dry goods section also reflected a small New England community with local fudge(CHEAP I might add)Bar Harbor Foods products(of which I am intimately knowledgeable of) and a range of Swedish products, including a cracker that easily takes place of the now defunct Crown Pilots for our chowdah. 

I truly could go on and on about this place but will conclude by saying that directly across the street was Graffam Bros. eat outside "picnic" area. I say picnic because that is exactly how I noticed everyne enjoying themselves after getting there food from the shack. No cell phones or any distraction, just families sitting on picnic tables enjoying Graffam Bros. fare. Kudos to you folks for making an out of towner feel at home from your initial greeting to "See you tomorrow".

It was a truly great experience!

I need to give a shout out to Brother Shuckers as well. When Thomas and his musical peers had their lunch down at the shore every day, I happened to stop in at this nondescript food trailer. I immediately saw their chalkboard and in particular the Pub Dog. I grilled hotdog with grilled onions. I asked the owner what the onions were seasoned with, if anything at all. He said only Maple Pepper. I had never heard of it but it sure sounded like a perfect combination. I ordered it while Thomas was playing with his black lab. It was actually the BEST hot dog I have ever EVER had. Kudos to you as well brother Shucker! (And by the way, his menu consisted of shucked oyster......and clams. Something you don't see often. I have forgotten other items but suffice it to say, it was a varied menu and very worthy of my business again and again.....)

Thomases week at the Bay Chamber Music school was just as enjoyable to him. He met some wonderful friends, of which two of them wanted to stay in touch until they see him again next year. Both Josie and Sophie Davis(two of the violin teachers at the school)were a perfect match to not only handle the 20 or so children that attended but were an inspiration to the future musicianship of each.

They made it fun and exciting for Thomas each and every day and that is exactly the point I have been trying to make for some time now. Times have changed since I was a child taking violin lessons. Children have so much technology at their disposal now that easily takes over their interest over instruments.
You have to adapt to the times and the Bay Chamber experience did just that. Thomas thoroughly, and I mean thoroughly, enjoyed interacting with his peers and each of them treated each other with kindness and fun. 

To round off my experience in Rockport?? It was a far cry from the sky high prices in Camden, a huge leap from any culinary mecca found in large cities and if I had known there was a Reny's just around the corner from downtown the first day I was there, there would have not been any reason to walk all the way to Camden each day. 

It was the most friendliest town I have ever visited...anywhere!

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

The Maine Summer Youth Music Camp and others.....

This monologue may rub some of you the wrong way, especially those who deem yourself a tax bracket or two above others simply because you are a teacher of classical music. And that is okay. Read on to understand what I mean.

 I want to vent a minute with regards to this Maine Summer Youth Music Camp(MSYM)held at the University of Maine School of Performing Arts. In particular the Junior Camp held every summer for a week. Click here for more information. 

I was fortunate enough to have been a first violinist in its very first "camp" all the way back in 1972, 50 years ago this July. I was the same age as Thomas is when I attended and we both thought that it would be exciting and very beneficial for him to go to this. I fondly remember attending during the day, eating my lunch outdoors on the grass and just plain having such a wonderful time! Although I was THE youngest one in this orchestra and didn't have a single friend there(because all the others were teens)I still have such wonderful memories because it was just during the day and I was home with my family at I believe 10 year olds should be. 

Anyway, I should have dug deeper before taking any further steps because I found out that it was no longer a day session for 5 days. We live over an hour away and I had to have him there by 8 in the morning and could pick him up at 9 at night. So 8 am to 9 pm for a 10 year old was bad enough until I figured in the driving time, which would have made it from 6:30 am to 10:30 every single day! We decided this was simply not conducive to our goal of keeping Thomas interested and happy with the violin. 

I( reached out to Mr. Chris White, director of this program, in order to see if there was anyway whatsoever we could shorten the days so that Thomas could still attend. It was important to him because his conductor, Sascha Zaburdaeva (see her profile here)

is the principal teacher and conductor of this camp and he really does adore her, as I do because she is really REALLY great with children. After emailing and speaking with Mr. White on a couple of occasions, the earliest he could do was 7 pm, which was still not acceptable. I know many of you would feel fine with this but being a 5th generation violinist myself and being taught by my father as well as other teachers, notably Mrs. Lindz and Mrs. Marian McKenney of Bangor, Maine, I understand what it takes to keep children interested, happy, proud and desirous of continuing with the violin, and to layer on so much time on  a child is NOT the way to do it. Things were different back when I was a child because we didn't have electronics to occupy our spare time, therefore the number of music students were triple what it is now. So we need to adapt. We need to fit in enjoyment in the least amount of time so that interest is not lost. 

Well, this type of sentiment was lost with Mr. White, plus it didn't help that he was not the least bit personable....not even close. It just bolsters the persona that classical musicians, teachers and those involved in such, have a "holier than thou" attitude. Even many of the parents I have come across whose child is a musical peer of Thomases in the orchestra have the same type of aloof personality. (I think that is why I smile when they hear Thomas playing, and at only 2 years of learning, he is an advanced student and he takes joy in knowing his playing is above many of his contemporaries who have been playing for more years.)

Couple this with the fact that his excitement is doubled whenever he is playing fiddlin' music! His grandfather, great grandfather, gr. gr. grandfather and gr. gr. gr. grandfather all played fiddlin' music at various grange halls of old in Maine since the mid-1800s and that only causes more of a "nose pointed up" attitude from other parents of classical child musicians. Besides the BSYO, the Bay Chamber Music Schools Envision Workshop in Rockport, Maine in 2 weeks, has given him such joy. He participates not only is discussions in the many forums on this site, but learns a great deal about fiddlin' music, is invited to perform in the myriad of group projects and is helped along by some wonderful members. Even Pierre, fiddlerman himself, is not a stranger when it comes to personally reaching out. A wonderful group and we are lifelong members of this extraordinary site.

It was a shame that I had to pull Thomas from the MSYM camp this year, because those in charge have no clue how to teach. And I am not talking about knowledge, of course they are professionals in their fields. I am talking about changing with the times and understanding how to keep children active and interested in a musical instrument. ....or even caring for that matter. You could be the smartest, most proficient violin teacher in the world, but lack the common sense as to exactly what it takes to make a child happy and want to thrive in this musical atmosphere of today, i.e. classical music. This is not 1970 on back! If the School of Performing Arts, and Mr. White, would have just continued with the day schedule, it would have been more of an incentive for more students to enroll. It was such a pity that Thomas could not have experienced the joy I did...50 years ago.

Now we have the Bay Chamber Music Schools, Envision Program in Rockland. I have enrolled him here and their hours are most appropriate for learning, having fun and keep a child wanting to continue playing. Click here to see more. Josie Davis(see her profile here) has been a peach to talk to. She immediately responds to my emails, answers any and all questions and is superb in making the violin an instrument of pleasure, rather than work. (See an article about her and her sister Sophie here

Sophie and Josie Davis, sisters
 Even though it is still about an hour away, my son can be home for supper, learn from some of the best violinists in Maine, be in the company of his peers and above all, be in the musical care of a lady who obviously is grounded when it comes to children and what is needed to keep them interested in the violin. (I am willing to bet that she has children who mean more to her than sounding classically trained). If not, she should, LOL. 

  Regardless, we are thrilled to be part of this and look forward to many more years of involvement with the Envision program.....maybe even come back when Thomas is a famous violinist "making lots of money on stage"(his words) and perform as a soloist.

My point from all of this? Follow Josie's(and her sisters) way of teaching. Make it enjoyable, fun, exciting and at the same time learn! Don't think this is back a generation when ps4's, cell phones(I threw mine away many years ago and haven't looked back because my moments with Thomas as we are walking downtown, at the park or simply shopping mean more to me than being glued to that darned thing). Don't ever think your child is the best simply because they strictly play classical music. Thomas is advanced because I give him the time for everything else in his life and if he wants to play some downhome fiddlin' double stop reels...have at it. Heck, I might just be slapping my knee while he is doing it! My grandfather, Samuel Bailey, was classically trained at the Boston Conservatory in the 1920s, yet his favorite piece was......Fiddlin' The Fiddle, by Rubinoff. He loved that piece so much that when Rubinoff came to Maine in the 1950s, my grandfather was his guest at the head table when he got up and played Fiddlin' the Fiddle in 12 variations!!! 

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Simple Yankee Way of Life


American and international literature is inundated with images of the old New England home and hearth. From Longfellow's depiction of Priscilla Mullins at her spinning wheel in The Courtship of Miles Standish to the fantastic musings of Harriet Beecher Stowe in Oldtown Folks. Frugality, hard word and dry morality are given "air-time" by Francis Underwood in Quabbin, but with equally warm, satisfying and level-headed principles paralleling. Some may say a Yankee home is the ideal home, a small cottage nestled in amongst the tall pines while the rest of the world whizzes by physically and technologically. In some ways, it is true but I do think that is why home and hearth(not to mention family ties) is so important to us and why New England has always been, and will continue to be, the epitome of comfort food.

Although I must preface my introduction to the New England way of living as relaxed, we are still informed. The domestic images that have enchanted New England writers and artists since time immemorial have been romanticized, but not exaggerated. Even many academic historians display their interpretation of the New England home and hearth with the same colorful representation as Whittier and Jewett. And you know the old adage, there is a grain of truth even in folklore.

Find below a brief account of who we are, for that has directly evolved from where we came from and how we got here. Let me tell you a little story.

During the early part of new England's colonization and well into the 19th century, families cooked in the fireplace. Large kettles or pots were seen in every home. Most of the time, a certain pot was solely used for soap making while boiling and stewing food was done in another. Having a nest of iron pots of different sizes, a gridiron, Dutch oven, skillets of various dimensions along with a spider and bakeware were essential to early cooking. For those who could afford it, brass kettles were often seen in door yards of old filled with pale, white, bubbling homemade soap or fresh tree sap being reduced for the family's year-long sugar needs.

Francis Underwood, author of Quabbin, extolled the "girth" of breakfasts in the late 19th centuries

 ..... "a substantial breakfast that was begun by a preliminary nip of hard cider. This might be followed by ham and eggs, or a salt fish prepared with cream, or of bean porridge(for which a ham bone furnished the stock), or of cold corned beef, with hot potatoes, and usually hot bread(called 'biscuits') resembling muffins; and with sauces, pickles, and other provocatives in plenty."

Although Mr. Underwood was writing fictionally, it truly resembled the breakfasts of a few generations ago.....well, maybe a light breakfast. This author has read accounts of much heartier morning fare. But why so much breakfast? Because Yankee's had much to do.

Harriet Beecher Stowe also mentions food in her Oldtown Folks, "I can inform all whom it may concern that rye and Indian bread, smoking hot, on a cold winter morning, together with savory sausges, pork, and beans, formed a breakfast fit for a king, if the king had earned it by getting up in a cold room, washing in ice-water, tumbling through snow drifts, and foddering cattle." There are also many accounts of family's waking up in the middle of the night or in the morning covered with a fine dusting of snow because of the unchinked openings between the logs of the home.

Harriet's representation of the New England breakfast was more of the norm than Mr. Underwood's, although many of our ancestors subsisted on any leftovers from the night before or simply milk, bread or porridge.

Although we do love our time together nestled around the dinner table and talking about the days events, back a couple of hundred years ago meals were, more often than not, just simply time enough to quench your hunger as opposed to relaxing and gossiping. This way, the days' work could either be started or finished without loosing much time.

The difference between lunch, dinner and supper.

The travelling aristocrats that came here from abroad often demeaned much of what us Yankee's either ate, were employed at or our everyday life habits. Cases in point. In many self written books from the Puritan to the Colonial era by these same affluent and wealthy "tourists", there are narratives about the pewter and ceramic serving dishes of the 'typical' New England family. This was not, and I repeat NOT, what most families ate from . Certainly a single large pewter platter or goblet was seen in many homes, but this was usually an artifact that was handed down from one generation to another or that particular family only was able to afford one. Homemade wooden trenchers were widespread throughout our homes, much to the chagrin of these wealthier travelers from abroad.

Also, the habit of 'taking dinner' in the middle of the day while 'refreshing our bodies' with a small viand(the supper) in the early evening was something often ridiculed by those who were ignorantly blind to our dinnerware. During what we call lunch now, our ancestors piled on the food in the middle of the table for everyone to dig into. And most of the time during this meal(especially in the backwoods of New England and the poorer communities) this consisted of a piece of pork surrounded by boiled beans. Nothing fancy, nothing extravagant, just pure fuel for our bodies. Sure we had cheeses, pies, cakes and various sweet treats, but these were lavished on the household infrequently up until the 19th century. It was from the early 1800s onward that we see variety on the kitchen table because of the prevalence of spices, fruits, sugar and all things that couldn't be grown in New England soil but were either bartered for or shipped into the local "store".

  Lyndon Freeman of Sturbridge, Massachusetts writes(early 1800s):

"At the setting in of winter every farmer was presumed to have at least a pork and beef of sufficient quantity. The larder was well supplied with butter, cheese, applesauce, pickles, sausages, souse, etc. Their dinner commonly consisted of boiled pork or beef or both, potatoes, cabbage, beets, carrots, etc.....A mug of cider was upon the table never forgotten of as all drank as freely as we do of water today. The meat and sauce left of the dinner were hash-up for breakfast the next morning. The supper was usually brown bread and milk for all."

Food was also a way of obtaining much needed supplies for a large family. There truly shouldn't be much of a distinction between bartering and paying from the early New England era. Since few people had actual cash, gong to the "store" to obtain and pay for supplies was usually done with whatever extra the family had. Wool, tools, pots and pans, ironwork and spices were bartered at every store and even this type of system was prevalent among neighbors. I f one family had an abundance of butter or cheese and their neighbors had a good stash of vegetables or rum, you bet neighbors subsisted on each others kindness. Many men would also take in any food items they were blessed with an abundance of to the nearest tavern as well, in exchange for a few nips of rum or port but store barter for barrels of coffee, tea, tools, molasses and flour. Over time, housewives were able to barter for cinnamon, sage, nutmeg, pepper, cloves, mace and many other essential additions in our well known baking repertoire.

For families to have bread or cakes, some type of meal was needed. Be it wheat, rye or corn, all three needed to me ground. And in the winter when the rivers and streams of New England froze, this was next to impossible for a community to do. In order to keep a supply on hand, you either had to plant plenty of corn to dry  and bring to the grist mill before winter or barter.

Some type of leavening was also needed for baking and this was rather easy to keep on hand, even the poorest of homes. Skimming the top barm from a barrel of cider usually did the trick for light and airy breads well as pinching a knob of dough from one unbaked loaf to keep for the next batch. Then another pinch would be taken from that loaf for the next. On and on this frugality occurred and now you know where us Yankee's get if from. There is even an account in my family of  Ol'  Gus Bailey who dipped his spoon in a pile of "new fallen snow" and mixed it in with biscuit batter in a lumber camp to leaven these white must-haves with baked beans. Did it work? Sure did!

Baking day was but once a week for those who had an oven built into their fireplaces. For those who didn't, this is where neighbors came in handy yet again! Many families had their own Dutch ovens though, because of the scarcity of neighbors in many rural communities. These were shallow iron kettles that stood over coals with three legs and were fitted with a deep lid onto which hot coals would be piled in order to offer all-around heat. Can you imagine puddings, pastries, cakes, gingerbreads, custards and cobblers baked this way?  I certainly would love to take a trip back in time just for one day not only to taste what was cooking on the open hearth but to sample the cheeses that were homemade, with not one tasting like the other.

Churning and cheese days were also a chore that, although needed to be done, was not met with open arms. With the females of the home obtaining the milk, this was just the beginning. The pails needed to be scrubbed first, then the milk was to be scalded, skimmed and churned. The butter then had to be worked and that was no easy chore.

Sarah Emery, an ancestor of mine, relates:

"In those summer days, when my recollection first opens, mother and aunt Sarah rose in the early dawn, and taking the well-scoured wooden pails from the bench by the back door, repaired to the cow yard behind the barn. We owned six cows; my grandmother four. Having milked the ten cows, the milk was strained, their fires built, and breakfast prepared...The milk being from the ten cows, my mother made cheese four days. Aunt Sarah having the milk the remainder of the week. In this way, good-sized cheeses were obtained. The curd having been broken into the basket, the dishes were washed, and unless there was washing or other extra work, the house was righted. By the time this was done, the curd was ready for the (cheese) press....After dinner the cheeses were turned and rubbed." The cheese would then be stored in the buttery.

More commonly known, at the time, as a buttery, this room was generally the cellar where the cool air was needed in order to set the pans of milk and ripen the  cheese. Many rural families denoted a lean-to as a buttery as well, using their cellar for vegetables and cider. But the cheeses were always kept down in this "root cellar" for keeping throughout the winter to prevent freezing, while meats were kept in these lean-to's.

There is nothing that irks me more than reading that meat and fish were not that plentiful for our ancestors. Many famous historians have mentioned that it was a rare treat for the man of the house to have any wild life barreled up for his family. That ranks right up there with another historical inaccuracy purveyed by most of the history professors and authors of New England life, which is that us Yankee's very seldom lived in log cabins. Absolutely rubbish this Yankee avers to both.

It is true that our Puritan ancestors relied heavily on salted meat and fish, but as the generations passed, fresh meat and fish was more the staple because of better guns and methods of fishing and trapping. Although historians say that fresh meat was hard for our 18th and 19th century forefathers to find, not only is this inaccurate, but we were still salting our meats for winter preservation. Why? Mostly because we always made sure our family's were secure in every aspect, but especially being fed. It was far better to have more than not enough and with such large families and hard work for everyone in the household, extra food was still not the norm.

When it was butchering time, usually in the late fall when the weather here in New England was cold enough to preserve without much salt, everyone helped with the slaughter. From cleaning the tripe, trying out tallow and lard, getting the head and feet ready for making headcheese or foot pies, cleaning out the intestines for sausage casings and cutting the meat into family-sized portions for preservation in fat or salt. Hams were salted as well, to ready it for the smoke house and fish was cleaned and hung from the rafters to dry out.

I am not ashamed to say that our poorer ancestors(as many of mine were) along with the more remote populations, forest creatures of every type were caught, trapped and shot for consumption. I have so many hand-written notes and recipes from my ancestors for partridges, quails, woodchucks, beaver, squirrel, birds of all types, musquash, rat, porcupine and skunks, to name a few.

The same holds true for our lakes, streams, rivers and ocean. My father(right up until the day he died) always prepared eel the same way, he said, our great great great grandmother did during the Revolutionary War period. I remember well Dad stringing up the eel on the side of the house and ,with a dry cloth and sharp knife, he would draw the skin from the tail end to the head. Gutting it was done while suspended, and leaving the head intact. He would then skewer that bad boy with a long, green stick from the woods behind our house and "barbecue" it over an open fire. To this day, that is the only way I will thoroughly enjoy eel.

Try this on for size! Did you know that lobsters were so plentiful in the early days of New England that many families, including the poorer farming households, looked at lobsters with disdain. The reason? Because before the over-harvesting of these delectables, these crustaceans literally littered our shoreline. They would wash up on shore by the hundreds, along the many miles of New England. After a number of years of the free-for-all taking, families simply stopped snatching them up because they 'had their fill'. I just can't imagine ever getting sick of lobsters, but then again I have never had the pleasure of eating them day in and day out.

It is easy to imagine the basis of our New England standby of codfish cakes and codfish balls every Saturday night and Sunday mornings. Fish of all sorts was that important and available throughout our waterways. The most abundant, believe it or not, was salmon, shad, mackerel and smelts. Unlike meat, fish could not be frozen to preserve. Salting or drying had to be accomplished in order to store for the winter when it was simply too much work to dig through the ice to fish. The most amazing dish I have ever eaten that was prepared according to an old-time "receipt" book was Cod Scootin 'Long the Shore. It was prepared by cutting up cod and placing in a cast iron skillet that is been greased with some bacon. On top of it lay some diced potatoes, beets, onions and some salt pork. Drizzle some oil over the top, salt and pepper liberally and cover. Baked in an oven until done. This classic Yankee dish rivals any Michelin-star meal served anywhere. Fish was often served or cooked with vegetables during our Yankee beginnings because of the salt used to cure fish. Vegetables seemed to take the 'bite' out of this spice.

I have had the pleasure of visiting my ancestors homes, although all that is left are their "root cellars", which were rock lined cellar holes. I have found two of them, one made by the hands of my great great grandfather(Josiah Bailey, 1778-1869) and his father(Nathaniel Bayley, 1740-1796). I just stand at the edge of each hole and marvel at the work it must have taken to not only dig the hole but roll these boulders into it to make these cellars. And to top it all off, within 20 feet of each was their rock lined water well. Now THAT was a marvel of engineering. One of them is at least 30 feet deep and lined with rocks that are still solidly intact unto this day(2013).

In these root cellars, our fore-families kept their apples, cabbage, pumpkins, turnip, beans, peas, beans, potatoes, carrots and squash. They would easily last the entire winter without softening in the least bit. As for the corn, we dug corn holes, or potato holes as some have referred in journals of old, in order to keep corn from shriveling up too fast. Although we dried much of our corn harvest for grinding, corn could be kept better by covering with birch bark and pine boughs, then covered with a layer of dirt to keep the wild-life from scavenging. This method was taught to us from our Native American friends. In fact, my ancestor, Nathaniel Bailey, was stabbed to death in 1796 by a Native American after digging a corn hole. He had agreed to pay a Passamaquoddy Indian in rum if he helped with the harvest and storage of corn in one of these corn holes. One night when the rum was all imbibed by the Passamaquoddy, he came back to Nathaniel's cabin on top of Bailey Hill in Baileyville, Maine and wanted more rum. Not having any left, the Native American began to get angry and stabbed Nathaniel to death.

My book, above and here on Amazon, tells Nathaniel's complete story for  the first time. An Amazing Journey also includes a treasure trove of information about life in New England from the 1600s to the 1800s, from the eyes of the backwoods family and those who eked out an existence. 

With regards to fruit and berries, there is no shortage of literature written about our love of all things naturally sweet. Pumpkins, of course, were the number one staple in our kitchen for generations. A seeded out whole pumpkin roasted in the embers of a fireplace, then removed and warm milk from the family's dairy cow poured into the center was a real treat with everyone.

Apples, of course, would be a very close second. When apple picking time was at hand, not only would they be baked in pies, made into applesauce and squeezed for cider and eaten as is, strings of sliced apples filled every home that dotted our landscape. When dried, they could be used for an entire year in everything from savory dishes to sweet. Apple Pie, and Apple Cider Pie, is truly not only an American dish, but a proud Yankee offering to the world.

It is funny to read journal entries of New England family's when they regale of the joy of sharing certain fruits with neighbors. Now you need to remember that many fruits that we take for granted today were simply too expensive and hard to find centuries ago.

In one entry, Ruth Bascom treats her neighbors to a delicacy. In August "sent a piece of our great Savannah Watermelon, which we received 2 or 3 weeks ago cut today and distributed a part to our neighbors."

Even up to my father's day, born in 1938, he would always add an orange to our Christmas stockings growing up in the 1960s. He followed that tradition to the day he died in 2001. I asked him why? Since oranges could be had anytime I wanted to take a trip to the supermarket, yet he made it a point to add one to my stocking every year. His answer was pure Yankee. "When I was a kid" he glumly explained "We didn't have the money to buy much fresh fruit. So when we did get  them, it was a treat. And oranges were too expensive, so my father used to buy them once a year and put them in our stocking".

Cooking and recipes was something that was passed down from one generation to another. I am aftraid that this custom is becoming more scarce as the years zoom by. In this generation, eating out seems to be more of the norm than preparing a meal and eating in. 

Many people thought cookbooks were a waste of money(again, a Yankee dread) because everything you needed to know was taught to you. One needn't measure by the teaspoon or cup. Simply add a pat of butter the size of an egg or scoop out flour with your teacup. You either cooked something over a fire or in a low, moderate or hot oven. Only the upper class, who wanted to indulge with food that was being enjoyed by their equally wealthy English counterparts, began the idea of purchasing cookbooks usually written by someone across the pond in the early days. It wasn't until Amelia Simmons, in 1796, that an American author had made such a great impact on the cookbook craze. What made her cookbook so successful was that she incorporated many ingredients and recipes with the New England housewife in mind. Johnny Cake and Indian Slapjacks are among the recipes that drew even the poorer families to purchase