In the Rearview Mirror

We had a postponed Christmas dinner last night with Laura and her family.

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It was lovely. We toasted with blue champagne, had oysters and shrimp from the grill, country ham on country biscuits and my excellent curried cheese ball while we stood and chatted in Laura’s kitchen.

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I don’t know where Laura was in this photo. On the far right hand side, I think, behind her husband in the Santa hat. Then we made room for tenderloin, potatoes and fresh asparagus sitting at the beautiful dining room table. Laura loves to make a festive table.

I made the desserts. Two Key lime pies at Laura’s request and an apple pie. And because I had eight egg whites left from making the Key lime pies, I made chocolate espresso meringues. I don’t have a pastry bag so dropped the whipped mixture from spoons. They were beautiful and delicious.

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I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I suppose I used to and they always seemed to be about losing weight. But 2017 was a year when I made a concious decision to step away from many volunteer activities. 2018 is going to be a significant birthday for me and I have a third novel to finish. It’s been marinating in my brain for ten years. That’s long enough. I’m getting close to the end of the first draft, but some of my characters seem intent on following roads I didn’t see, and I have to take the time to see what they want to do. They usually turn out to be right.

I suppose part of my decision in 2017 was because of volunteer fatigue. People come to assume that you will keep doing what you’ve always done. But I knew I was putting my own projects on hold and I didn’t want to do that anymore. The other thing is that I am making enjoyment a priority. If I raise my hand to volunteer, is it something I’ll enjoy doing? There are a lot of things in life that just have to be done, but I want to enjoy the things I choose to do.

Writing is one of those things. I find writing to often be an unconcious process. I get centered at my computer, sometimes using a dowsing crystal to help open my brain to the “movie” of my book. Then I write what I see. My friend, Helen, says I’m channeling and I won’t go quite that far. But I do enjoy the process!

In March of 2018 the Bay to Ocean Writing Conference will happen without me being part of the planning. For the past ten years I’ve been on the planning committee doing a variety of year-long tasks. By the time we’d get to conference day I was too tired to attend sessions. In 2018 I will enjoy attending.

Eastern Shore Writers Association is also going on without me. I’ll just be a paid member. Those almost daily hours spent keeping track of membership are now spent writing. I found some membership software to take over for me and the board agreed to the change. It was time that the organization moved in that direction and I gave them a push.

I stepped aside from my role as co-chair of Green Thumb, the St. Michaels Woman’s Club gardening interest group. It was time for new ideas, and there have been some splendid ones.

I did raise my hand to help at the St. Michaels Farmers Market last summer but it was just for an hour or so on Saturdays and an hour to send out a weekly market update. The market is undergoing a restructuring. I don’t know if I’ll raise my hand in 2018. I want to see what’s going to happen to the market before I volunteer.

And last year I was still involved in the organization of the St. Michaels Community Garden. A friend and I have been sharing the responsibilities for about five years. It’s time to pass the torch. We sent out an email asking for volunteers and got radio silence. The next step is to itemize what we do and send that out. Maybe if people see the discrete chunks, some will raise their hands. If people want a community garden it will survive.

I’ll stay connected with my Working Writers Forum. They’ve been reading what I’m working on for eleven years, and they always give me good advice.

Laura and I are hard at work for the Christmas play we’ve been commissioned to write for The Merlin Players in Faribault, Minnesota.  Collaborating with Laura is a priority for me. We both enjoy the process. It’s FUN!

It is now a little after 8 o’clock in the morning on the first day of 2018 and I’ve been up for several hours. I am at my desk and have just pulled up the file of my novel. I can’t wait to see where the story goes this morning.

I’m going to enjoy 2018. #enjoymylife

 

 

 

The Garden Gets Put to Bed

Almost all the leaves are off the trees. This year I’m having a guy come who has a big mulching mower and can dump the mulched leaves where I direct him. Not all goes in the wire corrals I created, but most of it does. His machine makes finer mulch than my little self-propelled mower with a bag. Chris has been here once and I’ll have him do another pass in a few days. Then I can put those mulched leaves on the flower beds and my four raised vegetable beds at home.

I currently have three beds at the St. Michaels Community Garden. One is a bed that nobody wants. It’s under a big maple tree and requires extra attention. It’s planted in garlic at the moment, although I am thinking about planting it with some hardy flowering shrubs next spring. Another bed is covered in heavy black plastic to keep the weeds down. I’ll uncover it in the spring, add some amendments and dig it before planting seeds. The third bed, where I had my tomatoes last summer, was planted at the end of August with fall crops: radishes, turnips, collards and two kinds of kale.

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Last week I put a floating row cover on it. I’m always surprised that most people at the community garden never think about fall crops. Our temps are moderate here on the Eastern Shore. We didn’t have a hard freeze until  two weeks ago. Friday was the first day I had to scrape frost off the car to go to my early morning yoga class. The row cover will allow me to harvest greens all winter long.

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The garden across the alley from this bed is the Wilson Reading Garden at Carpenter Alley which I helped create and maintain. A vacant lot when we started, it’s outside the St. Michaels branch of the Talbot Country Free Library. A winding oyster shell path and benches offer an inviting place to sit and unwind.

The land the Community Garden is on is owned by the town. The town council just approved our second five-year lease. Another friend and I have, for the last four years, been primarily responsible for keeping the Community Garden going. Recently we sent out an email that others needed to step up as we would be stepping away from our leadership roles next year. We got two “thank-you for all you do” emails in response, but no volunteers for the behind the scenes work that keeps the garden going. I’m not sure what will happen.

One of the original goals of the community garden was to create more opportunities for the small black community which borders one side of the garden to interact with the rest of the community (or the other way around). We were more successful with that in the beginning because the pastor of Union United Methodist church was very involved in the garden. A couple of years ago he moved to another church and the new pastor isn’t interested in the community garden project. That is not a criticism. Not everyone is a gardener.

Non-profits ebb and flow. Change happens and sometimes things get better. Sometimes they don’t. We’ll see how interested the community is in continuing to have a Community Garden. In the meantime, I’m off to the garden to harvest red turnips for a dinner party tonight.

 

 

A Busy Weekend

Next year will be the 20th year of the St. Michaels Farmers Market. It was started by a couple of women who then helped start other farmers markets in the area. They called them Fresh Farm Markets and the parent organization provided insurance, organizational help, etc. Fresh Farm Markets are now primarily on the Western Shore (Annapolis, DC, etc.) and this is the last year they will be the umbrella organization for the St. Michaels market. We are in transition this year but have wonderful vendors with terrific products. It’s fun getting to know the farmers.

I volunteered to help get out the weekly market reminders on MailChimp. It was something I knew how to do and enjoy. And my husband and I have been volunteering some Saturdays to help with market set-up. We are scheduled to do that again this weekend. Last Saturday was rainy and I woke up this morning at 3:30 to the sound of rain. It seems to have moved off for now, but even if it rains, people come prepared.

By the time we got to the market at 7:30 it was 65 degrees and not raining. The market was bustling by the time I left at 10. I’d walked over to the Community Garden to take a look at a bed nobody wanted. I’ll weed it this weekend and plant some blue hubbard squash I raised from seed. The beds at the Community Garden are 14 feet long so the plants will have plenty of room to run.

Last week at the Farmers Market I bought a loaf of low gluten bread. What a treat. We don’t keep bread in the house because my husband has gluten sensitivity. We had the last few pieces last night – toasted and topped with homemade guacamole – while we played rummy.

The town will be chockablock this morning. Besides the Farmers Market, it’s the weekend of the St. Michaels Wine Festival. People who live in town have to put up with more than the usual weekend foot traffic – and some drunken shenanigans. We helped one of the first years of the Wine Festival when it was held at the Maritime Museum grounds. Now it is spread all over town at inside venues and tented spaces.We usually don’t go into town on Wine Festival Weekend unless we need to.

This afternoon we are helping with an event to be held at the Avalon Theatre in Easton. It is a fund raiser for the Talbot Interfaith Shelter. People will gather to sing together, raising positive vibrations in our community for this very good cause. Here’s the link to the inspiration. It gives me chills every time I watch it.

I’ll let you know how it turns out. When I get home I’m working in the garden. I have Amish paste tomato plants to get in the ground and my husband is going to mow at the Community Garden. This is the time of year when sometimes the grass needs to be mowed twice a week.

 

Women Who Do Too Much

My friend, Diane Marquette, emailed me after I told her I’d forgotten to do something important. This is what she said…

” ‘Women Who Still Do Too Much,’ like ourselves, cannot keep all the plates spinning all the time. Sometimes stuff’s gonna wobble and break. That’s why there’s glue in the junk drawer.

I appreciated the “still” in what she said. I am trying hard to pare down my commitments so I have more time to write. There are a few more things to do for the Eastern Shore Writers Association and the Bay to Ocean Conference, but then more of my time will be my own. Of course, now that spring is here, the garden is calling…but I am writing every day and the plot for the third book in the Caribbean series is pulling together. I’m thinking about starting to post some excepts from the first book in the series.

Saturday we drove to Philadelphia to take our granddaughter to dinner. She was in town for an Occupational Therapy conference. She lives on the west coast and doesn’t get east very often, so we really enjoyed catching up. I love that we have the same chin! She’s a lovely young woman and we couldn’t be prouder grandparents.

Sunday afternoon I attended a meeting for volunteers at the St. Michaels Farmer’s Market. It’s an important institution in our community for those of us who care about where  are food comes from and how it’s grown or raised. I am excited to see how there can be more linkage between the St. Michaels Community Garden (one of my volunteer activities) and the Farmers Market. Many of us who grow most of our own produce supplement at the Farmers Market. I am stumped by summer squash. My zucchinis and yellow squash never survive squash borers.

Veggie signs went up on Talbot Street this weekend. This is a fun fundraiser for the Farmers Market.Other organizations do similar fund raisers. Before Valentine’s Day we have Hearts on Talbot, we have Jack Russel dog signs before the Jack Russel races at Perry Cabin, and silver stars before Christmas in St. Michaels.

 

There’s always something going on in this wonderful small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

New Year’s Day Bean Soup

My friend, Diane, from my morning yoga class gives us yogis bags of beans at Christmas so we can make New Year’s Day Bean Soup. She told me she started doing this as gifts her children could give their teachers – apparently much to the kid’s chagrin that first year. But then the teachers and friends and neighbors started asking for the bags of beans. I suspect there is some ratio of the different kinds of beans, but the combination has evolved over the years, Diane told me

Their must be fifteen kinds of beans (including black eyed peas for wealth and happiness) in the Ziploc bag which included a recipe sheet. I didn’t realize how beautiful beans could be until I took this photo.

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To make soup, soak the beans overnight, then drain the following morning. Add two quarts of water and a ham hock. The recipe says you don’t have to use a ham hock and you would have a tasty vegetarian version. Diane told me they often use kielbasa.

Bring the beans to a boil and simmer slowly for two hours. Then add 1 large chopped onion, a 28 oz can of tomatoes, and celery and carrots if you’ve got them on hand. Season with1 tsp chili powder, lemon juice, salt and pepper and (the directions say) any other spices that spark your fancy (basil, oregano, etc.).  Remove ham hock, cut up ham and return to the soup.  Simmer slowly for one hour or more. This soup is even better the second day.

Even if you didn’t get a bag of beautiful beans this Christmas, check out your grocery store to see what kinds of beans are on the shelf and make a kettle of nourishing winter goodness. This is a soup that begs for improvisation. I found some forgotten pulled pork in my freezer last week and that’s what I’m going to use instead of a ham hock. I’ll used my canned tomato sauce instead of store bought tomatoes. And I have have a bag of carrots from my garden that grew in wonky shapes. Chopped, they’ll be perfect for this recipe. I might even throw in some finely chopped Red Russian kale from my community garden bed. Oh, and  couple of those Hakurei turnips I harvested before the first hard frost. It’s going to be delicious.

 

 

Green Tomatoes = Chowchow

I had a table full of green tomatoes in the garage after pulling up the tomato plants from my raised beds at the Community Garden. I could have waited for them to ripen (some of them would have) but I needed the table for another project. While sorting through a pile of magazines, I came across a recipe for green tomato Chow Chow. I even had almost all the ingredients in the house.

I needed 3 lbs of green tomatoes, so I pulled out my kitchen scale and the amount of tomatoes I had was just a tad over. Perfect. I pulsed them in the Cuisinart, salted them and put them in a colander to drain.

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While that was happening, I began running my pint canning jars through a quick cycle in the dishwasher.  I pulsed a head of cabbage and 2 large onions in the Cuisinart. (I took a selfie of myself crying over the onions but vanity prevented me from putting it in this blog post.)

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Then 1 hot red pepper from my garden,  and two large red bell peppers – the recipe called for a green one which I didn’t use. I like the pop of color the red peppers added.

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I gathered pickling spices into a piece of cheesecloth, and dumped it all into the biggest stock pot I had.

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Sugar and vinegar were added and it boiled for an hour and a half. I thought it might be mush after cooking it so long, but it wasn’t.

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The house smelled wonderful. Towards the end of that boiling, I got my canner on the stove and started heating water. I used my electric kettle to help the process along. I sterilized my lids and tools and was ready to go as soon as the dishwasher stopped. At the end I had seven pints of green tomato chow chow. A pint and a half went into the fridge and it’s delicious.

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Here’s the recipe if you’re interested.

Green Tomato Chowchow

  • 3 lbs green tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 1 medium head cabbage
  • 1 lb onions (about 3 medium)
  • 2 large sweet red peppers
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped – I used a red pepper from my garden
  • 4 cups cider vinegar
  • 2 3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 tsp mixed pickling spice

Chop tomatoes. Transfer to a strainer and sprinkle with salt. Let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, chop cabbage, onions and red peppers. I chopped onions and cabbage separately in the Cuisinart. Place in a large pot with drained tomatoes and jalapeno. Stir in vinegar and sugar. Place pickling spices on a double thickness of cheesecloth. Gather corners to enclose spices, tie securely with string and add to pan.

Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered until thickened, stirring occasionally, 1 – 1 1/2 hours. Discard the spice bag.

The original recipe called for this to be cooled and refrigerated until used. I put my boiling hot mixture in prepared pint jars and processed in a hot water bath canner for 10 minutes. This made 8 pints with a little more. My canner holds 7 jars, so the remainder went into the fridge.

This is a delicious accompaniment to all kinds of meat. It had a little warmth from the pepper, which is all I wanted. Oh, I also put a clove of garlic in each of the jars I canned. I haven’t opened any of those yet to see what the garlic does to the flavor. I will definitely make green tomato chowchow again next year.

 

 

 

 

Book Club

The Stinky Book Club met last week. We shared what we’d been reading and after dinner, this is what we had for dessert. Laura had two bites and Mary Ann and I inhaled the rest. Chocolate hazelnut gelato. Yum! I think we meet as much for the food as we do to talk about books.

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The list below is what I’ve read in the last two months. Some of these are books recommended by Laura Ambler or Mary Ann Hillier, the other two members of the group. Laura is a very eclectic reader as is Mary Ann who likes sci-fi more than I do. I love getting reviews and recommendations from my friends.

Mary Ann, smart cookie that she is, has a small book in which she enters her thoughts about what she has just read. I try and remember and resort to looking on my Kindle. It tells me something if I can remember the book from it’s title or have to go look at the first couple of pages to remind myself what the story is. I liked some of these books better than others, but all were 4 stars or above although there are a couple that I couldn’t remember reading.Hmmm. Maybe those were 3 stars.

I also am guided by the daily deals Amazon puts in my inbox. I have to say I resent paying more than $10 for an e-book. So I look for deals of the day, deals of the week, and deals of the month. Amazon knows what I’ve bought so they make recommendations and when I find an author I like, such as Catherine Ryan Hyde, I’ll buy any of her novels when they are $1.99. Mary Ann loved the new Harry Potter play and paid full price for it. I’ll wait until the price comes down.

I read a lot in the middle of the night when I wake up and can’t fall back to sleep. Anything too creepy or scary or disturbing is out. One problem is that I have some paper books on my reading list, but they don’t have built in lights for middle of the nights reading. Here’s my list for mid-June through mid-August,

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. I read this because Mary Ann recommended it, and I loved this spare story of how a curmudgeonly widower becomes a hero in his small community with the help of new neighbors who look past his eccentricities.

The Glassblower by Petra Durst Benning. Historical fiction. The daughters of skilled glassblower in a European village of glassblowers have to make their way after their father’s death at a time when women did not blow glass or run the business. I was intrigued enough by the three sisters that I bought the next in the series which follows the sister who went to America.

The Wiregrass – a Novel by Pam Webber. Coming of age in the south in the early 60’s. A group of cousins spend summers with an aunt and uncle and confront racism and child abuse.

Leaving Blythe River by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Another coming of age novel. A young teen hunts for his father (with whom he has a difficult and distant relationship) when his father is lost in remote mountains in the western United States.

Burying the Honeysuckle Girls by Emily Carpenter. The daughter of a “damaged” mother and grandmother searches for how they died.

The Secret History by Donna Tart. I don’t usually read what I consider “literary” novels and this certainly is. Donna Tart wrote The Goldfinch which was enough for me to buy this book when it was offered at a discount on Amazon. It is worth the full price. Tart is an amazing writer and the convoluted story was a page turner.

Still Waters by Viveca Sten. A mystery set somewhere along the coast of Sweden. I didn’t see the ending coming.

A Beautiful Medicine by David Mercier. I read this after taking David’s mindfulness meditation class early in the summer. A truly interesting look at the mind/body connection.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson. This was one I had to go back and look at on my Kindle as I couldn’t remember a thing about it. It was about a man in WW11 – or was it?

Broken Grace by E.C. Diskin. A woman has no memory after a car crash and comes back to dark secrets.

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty. Another “no memory” story. Interesting that I read these back to back. Not intentionally. When the main character falls at the gym she comes back to a world where she believes she is awaiting the birth of her first child. She’s really 39 and getting divorced. Moriarty is really good at the artful blending of the back and current story which is not so easy to do.

The Language of Hoofbeats by Catherine Ryan Hyde. The author of Pay It Forward tells the story of a lesbian couple with adopted and foster kids move across the road from a crotchety, troubled woman with a horse she never lets out of the corral.

Take Me With You by Catherine Ryan Hyde. A burned out teacher taking his son’s ashes to Yellowstone, finds himself taking two half orphans along on the journey while their father is in jail. I really loved this book.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hasseini. Thirty years of Afghan history told through the eyes of two very different women. Troubling but so well done.

After Anna by Alex Locke. A who-done-it mystery in which a child is kidnapped and returned after a week to her separated parents.

Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson. An American author hikes, trains and drives around Great Britain. After a slow start I found myself engaged.

I’m five books into the next month’s cycle before the book club meets again at the end of September. I might try the rum raisin gelato next time.