Tag Archives: Christmas

A Very Cranberry Christmas

Chutney in Bowl

Chutney in Bowl

(This article also appeared in the Waterboro Reporter newspaper, soon to be found online, but for now check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TheWaterboroReporter)

Here we are, smack-dab in the middle of another holiday season, singing along with the carols playing non-stop on 94.9 WHOM (if you live in Maine), finishing up our shopping and wrapping of presents, and turning thoughts toward special holiday foods.

Yes, this is the season of Christmas cookies, nut bread, fruit cake, and eggnog. Peanut brittle, peppermint bark, snickerdoodles, and hot cocoa with whipped cream. Depending on our family traditions, we may enjoy turkey, ham, lasagna, baklava, corn-bread stuffing, sweet potato casserole, or those glorious Franco-American pork tourtieres.

And anything cranberry.

In my family, a traditional treat is cranberry bread. My mother serves it on a silver tray at her Christmas Eve dinner of fish chowder and crackers, jello fruit salad, and homemade sour pickles. Cranberries are fun to string together and hang as a garland on the fir tree. Frozen into an ice-ring, cranberries add a splash of color to a holiday punch bowl. Added to champagne cocktails, frozen cranberries not only keep the beverage chilled, but look very pretty rolling around in the glass. (A mint leaf provides good contrast, too!) There are cranberry sauces and jellies, cranberry pancakes, and don’t forget cranberry nut muffins with a little spread of butter to warm up chilly winter mornings.

There is something just so festive about those bright red berries that contrasts with the uber-whiteness of the snowy winter world outside!

As more and more people are coming to realize that eating locally with the seasons makes sense from a health and environmental perspective, here in New England we can feel confident about choosing cranberries in late fall and early winter. According to the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers Association, cranberries–along with blueberries and Concord grapes–are a native North American fruit. Native Americans used the cranberry in a sort of protein bar called pemmican which was made of crushed berries, deer meat, and melted fat. They also used the berry as a dye and as a medicine. Later, American sailors took cranberries with them on sea voyages to stave off scurvy as the cranberry has a high vitamin C content.

Cranberries are also grown commercially right here in Maine. According to the Maine Cooperative Extension, cranberry production is a new “old” industry since cranberries were grown here in the past, disappeared in the first half of the 1900’s, and then experienced a rebirth in the 1990’s when new commercial production began. Last year, I bought a ten-pound box of the ruby-red berries from a local food co-op organized by Ossipee Towns for Sustainability (check out their Facebook page). The group orders from Crown o’ Maine Organic Cooperative which markets products from Maine growers.

I had good intentions when I bought those berries, but somehow after sticking that box in my freezer I forgot about it…until last week. All of a sudden, as we rounded the corner to Christmas, it hit me. Cranberries! I decided I wanted to try making chutney to include in my Christmas dinner menu and also to give as handmade gifts. It doesn’t get much more local than your own kitchen, right?

I searched the internet for a recipe, found one I liked on the Ocean Spray website, gathered my ingredients, and set the pot to boiling. The first batch came out a little more runny than I wanted, but the flavor was tangy-sweet and spicy. Making a few modifications the following evening, I ended up with a firm, spreadable chutney with a glorious dark garnet-red color and just the right blend of spices. I can’t wait to serve this with my Christmas turkey, not to mention all the leftover turkey sandwiches!

If you would like to try it yourself, here is the recipe.

Shelley’s Second-Batch Christmas Cranberry Chutney

1 ½ cup water
1 ½ cup sugar
2 cups frozen Maine cranberries
1 cup vinegar
1 cup raisins
½ cup small dice apple
½ tsp each allspice, ginger, cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves

Put sugar and water together in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring often to avoid sticking. Pour into glass bowls and cool to room temperature. Refrigerate. Stir before serving to show off all that chunky deliciousness.

If you like your chutney more saucy, reduce cooking time. The longer you cook, the more “set” your chutney will become. Happy holidays!

Shopping Local for the Holidays

Sandra Waugh Watercolor of Red Rowboat

Sandra Waugh Watercolor of Red Rowboat

Dear Reader:

How are you doing on your holiday shopping so far? I’ve been taking advantage of lucky opportunities that pop up–like yesterday’s trip to Portland for a Jim Brickman performance at the Portland Museum of Art.

Heading toward the museum for the performance, I noticed a Reny’s department store across from the parking garage. Hello! I don’t get into Portland that often, so the chance to pop into one of the branches of a Maine-owned department store was like an early Christmas present to myself.

Reny's Department Store Logo

Reny’s Department Store Logo

I’m fairly pleased with my local shopping progress this holiday season. I’ve bought books by Maine authors at public readings, handcrafted jewelry from the funkiest little shop--Maine Jewelry and Art--in Bangor on Plaid Friday (local answer to the mall’s Black Friday horror story), c.d.’s directly from musicians at performances (ahem, did you catch that Jim Brickman reference up there?), makeup from a local Avon rep, clothes from that Reny’s excursion yesterday, and a few things at Goodwill.

Fly Fisherman painting by Sandra Waugh

Fly Fisherman painting by Sandra Waugh

I’ve also ordered Christmas cards from my good friend and fine artist, Sandra Waugh, who lives right here in my town. That is her “waughtercolor” at the top of this page, such a cute, little red boat skillfully rendered, floating between sea and sky. This and other select paintings are for sale right now, but Sandra also creates beautiful watercolor portraits of loved ones, children, and pets from photographs you mail to her, like this one of the fly fisherman.

I am in awe of that kind of talent! Please visit her website at http://www.waughtercolors.com/ and/or private message her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/messages/waughtercolors

With the shopping well-underway, I guess it is time to start looking toward decorating the tree and holiday recipes. Food shopping for holiday meals can be a bit challenging (I need an egg source!), and I will write about that in another post as we get closer to Christmas. In the meantime…

I challenge you to buy at least ONE item this year from a local merchant or small-business owner, knowing that when you do so, much more of that money gets sent back into the local economy than if you spent the same $$’s at a mega-corporation. Want more reasons? Visit the Institute for Local Self-Reliance website for the Top 10 Reasons to Support Locally Owned Businesses.

Happy Holiday Shopping, everyone!

Small Town on a Waterway

july 18 2012 084
Little Ossippee River flows to the Saco.

Dear Reader:
Once in awhile I feel the need to remind myself why I started writing this blog in the first place, so I click on James Howard Kunstler’s blog, Clusterf$#k Nation, and get a zap of possible-future angst.

From his blog post, Modernity Bites this week: Find a nice small town on a waterway surrounded by farmland and get ready to have a life.

For Kunstler, this is an optimistic piece of writing, with many sentences starting, “If you are young…”

In other words, his vision of the world is that we are devolving, slowing down, no matter what the yahoos on t.v. say about shale oil and how the U.S.A. is going to be the largest oil producer in the world. But there is good life to be lived even in a “World Made By Hand” (the title of one of Kunstler’s books), and those young enough and strong enough and clever enough to take advantage of opportunities can not only survive, but thrive.

In a post-oil world, we will be much more local–whether we like it or not. Wouldn’t it be wise to begin investing in our local communities now? That is why I encourage you, my dear readers, to shop locally, to get involved in community government and activities, to learn one or two “low-tech” skills. Even as we use technology to discuss these things (hello! blogging here!), we can inhabit, in part, that other world of handmade stuff–clothing, tools, food. Check out a craft fair or two this holiday season. Make something yourself to give to a family member or a friend.

This weekend in my town, we are celebrating our community with an annual event called Village Christmas. There will be two craft fairs, community breakfasts and lunches, hayrides (low-tech transportation!), a parade, raffles, tree lighting, carol-singing, cookie-eating. I’ll post some pictures next week.

How does your community celebrate the solstice season?

Christmas With Kings

11/22/63

Dear Reader:

I woke up this morning to see snow falling outside, just a few light shards of sleety stuff at first but gradually expanding to big, fluffy flakes gently blurring the landscape and coating the dead leaves and still-greenish grass on my front yard. I plodded downstairs and turned on the coffeepot, wrapped a soft blanket around my shoulders, plugged in the Christmas tree lights, and curled into my favorite corner of the couch to read Stephen King’s new book–11/22/63–a time-travel tome, satisfyingly long and hefty. Reading King’s latest book has become a Christmas tradition for me. (When you are a Really Famous Author, your books get released just in time for the shopping season.)

My mother, God-bless-her, buys the latest Stephen King for me every year there is one, sometimes even stands in line at the bookstore in downtown Bangor to get me an autographed copy. When Joe Hill, King’s son, published his first book, she gifted me with HEART-SHAPED BOX. Another year, she bought Tabitha King’s BOOK OF REUBEN because I absolutely adored her novel of high-school hoops and adolescent angst, ONE-ON-ONE.

For my part, I used to buy Hubby the latest book in King’s DARK TOWER series for Christmas, and last year I found a published collection of “superhero” stories, WHO CAN SAVE US NOW?, to give to The Teen . . . edited by one Owen King (he also has a story in the collection), Stephen and Tabitha’s youngest son.

I guess in our house, it just wouldn’t be Christmas without a King-family book under the tree.

I love Stephen King’s later novels. The earlier works were a bit gory and gross for me (but I read them anyway because once you start reading one of King’s stories, you really cannot put them down). My first was SALEM’S LOT. I borrowed it from my friend, Kara, down the road when I was about thirteen or fourteen. Because I suspected my parents might, for the first time, begin to limit my reading choices if they found out their young, impressionable, Christian-schoolgirl daughter was about to read a horror novel with lots of “swears” in it, I decided the most prudent course of action was to read it at night, in bed, under the covers with a flashlight.

I also had hanging on my wall a black and white poster of Scott Baio in his JOANIE LOVES CHACHI days. He’s not smiling, and he’s wearing a sexy leather jacket, be still my heart. (Kara also had a subscription to Teen Beat, and she liked Ralph Macchio so giving me the Scott Baio centerfold poster was fine with her). Needless to say, I loved Scott Baio, but by the time I was halfway through SALEM’S LOT, I had to take that poster off my wall because he looked like a vampire looming over my bed.

That book scared the bejeezus out of me! Last year I decided to read it again, to see if it really was that freaky or if I’d become hardened over the past thirty years. Guess what? It scared the bejeezus out of me again!

The newer King novels, though with their share of gross and gore and thrills and chills, are more meaty. None have outdone THE STAND, of course, but this new one promises to catapult the reader back to the “earlier, gentler” America of the late 1950’s, early 1960’s. Were things really so great back then, I wonder? I suspect King might put a different twist on it than, say, JOANIE LOVES CHACHI or HAPPY DAYS.

While I’m reading about time travel and JFK and Brill Scream (pun intended), you can catch page 7 of my humble Christmas story under the Fiction Corner tab.

Five Golden Pages . . .

Snowy Country Road

Dear Reader:

I have posted page five of “Unlikely Objects” under the Fiction Corner tab, and we are more than halfway through the story. I’m not sure I like my main character all that much. I pity him. I want him to grow up and stop feeling sorry for himself. I love his wife, Sarah. She is stubborn, but kind, creative . . . and she refuses to let Jonathan ruin her Christmas spirit. Jonathan is a bit more sensitive, a bit more dark, gloomy and depressed.

These characters are composites, bits and pieces of people I knew, including myself. Probably more like two sides of myself warring it out on paper.

Who are you more like? Jonathan or Sarah? How would you feel if you truly could not afford to buy a present for the person you loved the most? Would you be cranky or would you make the best of things? Or cranky AND make the best of things?

If you want, drop me a note about it . . . Outside the Box.

Gallery

On the Fourth Day of (My) Christmas (Story)

This gallery contains 1 photos.

Dear Reader: The Christmas tree is decorated with red bows and white turtle-doves and red and white striped candy-canes and all the special ornaments we’ve collected over the almost twenty years of our marriage. I even started wrapping some presents. … Continue reading

The Confession Issue

Ripe On The Vine

Ripe On The Vine

PART ONE

Forgive me, Reader, for I have sinned:

Last weekend I had the overwhelming urge to go shopping and buy some new clothes.

It really isn’t all that complicated. I had broken my foot at the beginning of July, I had lazed around on my butt all summer while the foot healed, and I had gained weight. I simply wanted some pants that fit. And maybe a nice, bright, stylish top to go with. And some pretty earrings. I was in full-blown consumer mode for the first time in months, and I didn’t even try to fight it. I stumbled. Hard.

To cut myself a small break, I did try to find a Mardens (a Maine-person owned company, not a conglomerate-owned company) on my way to the mall. I heard there was one going in on the site of the old Wal-Mart in South Portland. Apparently, Wal-Mart had deserted one cement-block box and built a new one a few hundred yards down the road. Someone told me they were selling the old building to Mardens, but the site was still and bleak as only empty, big-box retail buildings can be, devoid of personality or charm.

Even a ghost-town would have more interesting architecture.

Okay, I may be projecting my guilt onto the Wal-Mart’s of the world rather than owning up to my complicity with them. For one thing, last month the school sent home a list of supplies my daughter is supposed to take with her to the middle school. She needed folders, pens, dry-erase markers, colored pencils, book covers (whatever happened to covering books with paper bags from the grocery store–and what do the kids do with dry-erase markers, anyway? Do they get their own white boards?), and a three-ring binder plus reams of paper to go into said binder. I bought what I could at the Sanford Mardens (pens, loose paper, sticky notes, tape, gluestick), but Dear Daughter had specific requirements when it came to the design of folders and notebooks, i.e. they couldn’t be plain and ordinary. They had to be cool and colorful and funky.

Off to the new Sanford Super Wal-Mart we went. Dear Daughter found what she wanted . . . and I came home with a bunch of spiral-bound and marble-top notebooks for me. How could I resist twenty-cent and fifty-cent notebooks? My conscience screamed at me all the way home, but I kept thinking about how in a post-oil future I’d be happy for a supply of paper. Uh-huh. Justification. Self-delusion. The Wages of Sin.

Maybe I was infected right then by the back-to-school virus that makes one long for new clothes, new shoes, and the latest shade of lipstick advertised in the September VOGUE. Or maybe one sin leads to another. In any case, I didn’t have the strength to resist temptation. One Friday night, despite thunderstorm (and tornado!)warnings, I headed to Macy’s women’s department and checked out the sales racks where a pretty fushia top jumped into my hand. No sooner did I think “khaki pants” did the perfect pair present itself . . . in the right size . . . on the other side of the rack. On the way to the dressing room, I spied a blue, ruffled top on clearance. And wouldn’t you know it? They all fit. If I were superstitious, I’d have thought a devil was aiding and abetting.

Here’s the worst part: It felt so good to be in an air-conditioned store with a smorgasboard of clothing options, soothing music pumping through the sound system, and an attentive saleswoman eager to carry my three sale items to the register, where, with a quick swipe of the credit card, I bought myself a big, warm slice of American Consumerism. After six months of local buying and doing-without, that twenty minutes in Macy’s felt like coming home.

I walked out into the humidity of the parking lot with its circles of brightness cast from the sodium-light streetlamps and wondered if maybe I should simply give in and live the life I was born to, this energy-sucking, high-speed, overabundant, luxurious American middle-class life. It’s an old issue for me, this tug-of-war between the world that is and the world as it used to be and might be again. I never felt totally comfortable with modernity, didn’t trust that it could last or even progress much further, and yet for my forty-one years it has continued and it has progressed.

I like to read fashion and shelter magazines, romance novels, and chick lit. I watched the entire run of SEX AND THE CITY, and I just ordered the movie from Netflix and hope to watch it this week. This part of me appreciates our instamatic lifestyle–music at the touch of a button, movies at the click of a mouse, travel at the turn of an ignition key. It’s magic, this life we have here at the edge of the century, and I wonder how many of us actually stop to admire the sheer audacity and brilliance of our modern life even as we ponder the possibility of its ultimate demise.

I’d never heard of personal computer when I was my daughter’s age. The internet hadn’t been developed. A mouse was a little rodent you hoped not to find in your cupboard. Talking to someone on a screen was something from the cartoon The Jetsons, and I remember watching the cartoon and thinking “that will never happen.”

As I type this on my laptop, the little eye of my web cam stares at me, accusingly, like the eye of some techno-god irritated by my lack of faith. Maybe technology will save us, after all, as our oil supplies diminish and we continue on with our consumerish ways. Delusion. Self-deception. Sin?

Is it a sin to want the comforts we’ve enjoyed for so long? I just don’t know for sure. It’s easy to plunk down that credit card and walk out of the mall with new clothes when you don’t stop to think of the third-world worker who made them. When you don’t stop to think about your fellow Americans who lost their jobs when the manufacturing sector closed shop here in the U.S. and moved to those third-world sweat-shop hives. When you refuse to think how those dollars could have been spent supporting a local business struggling to make it in a “flat and crowded” world. (See Thomas Friedman’s book.)

Unfortunately, I thought about those things and suffered pangs of guilt.

Farmer's Market Fare

Farmer's Market Fare

As penance, I headed off to the brand new farmer’s market in Newfield the next morning. The market was set up at Willowbrook, a historical village and museum. At nine in the morning, the vendors were just setting up, and I was charmed by the setting, the goods on display, and the nice people. I came away with a loaf of Anadama Bread from the Brother’s Bakery in Alfred, a bouquet of curly, green kale, some cookies from the Boy Scout troop, and a pair of earrings.
Earrings From Farmer's Market

Earrings From Farmer's Market

For those of you in the neighborhood, the market is open at Willowbrook on Saturdays at nine am. There is also a new farmer’s market that has opened up in South Waterboro, just up the street from the Milk Room. This one is also on Saturdays. I checked it out a few weekends ago, on it’s opening day. Vendors were offerering local produce, homemade charcoal for the grill, ice-cream, pottery, and some hot food items. The Shaker Valley Farmer’s Market even had a band on site to celebrate the day. See this write-up about it in the Waterboro Reporter–our local newspaper.

Rockin' out at the farmer's market

Rockin' out at the farmer's market

What have I learned from all this? The obvious lesson, of course, is that we aren’t perfect. All we can do is try to do the right thing . . . whatever we think is the right thing . . . as often as we can. For me, this means putting on my new clothes and acknowledging the sheer luck of having been born in this place at this time. It means regretting an impulsive and possibly selfish decision to do what came easiest rather than suck it up and wear the old clothes until I found a local option. It means vowing to do better in the weeks and months ahead.

While out and about, I picked up a book of sewing patterns which included a pattern for a pretty, wrap skirt. That’s one step in the right direction. The book is called WEEKEND SEWING: More than 40 Projects and Ideas for Inspired Stitching by Heather Ross. Click here to see the book. Ms. Ross has compiled a lovely bunch of sewing projects including table napkins, an apron, a tunic, kids clothes, and even slippers! She has included patterns that can be traced onto transfer paper. I’ve never done that before, but I’m looking forward to trying. It’s definitely time to get out my dusty sewing machine. Back in college, I used to make some of my own dresses, but then clothes just seemed to get cheaper and cheaper in the stores. The cost of materials was more than buying something premade. Not stopping to think about the reasons why this might be, I simply put away the sewing machine and got on with my role as a Great American Consumer.

But if I’m going to be serious about staying out of the Boxes, I need to start making my own clothes again. Wish me luck!

PART TWO

Fiction. It’s been awhile since I’ve tried it, but in keeping with today’s theme I thought it was only right that I tell you about my latest project. I’m writing a confession magazine story. And I’m having a blast doing so. If you don’t know what a confession magazine is, I’ll fill you in. You know those thin magazines with titles like TRUE STORY and TRUE CONFESSIONS you see in the grocery store next to the teen magazine and crossword puzzle books? Those are confessions mags. Each issue has six or seven stories of varying lengths, all in first person, most following a formula that goes something like: heroine makes a bad decision, heroine digs herself in even deeper, heroine suffers, heroine repents, heroine is redeemed.

These stories aren’t as bad as they sound, actually. They may not be what they purport to be–true–but they can be true to life. Since I haven’t had much drama in my own life, I’m forced to take smidgeons of personal stories I’ve heard over the years and to try to morph them into a story resembling truth. And isn’t that what all fiction is–even the most literary of fiction?

I was thinking about the power of story the other day. Here’s a confession: I listen to Christmas music in the summer. Just the instrumental stuff, but still. I don’t quite know why I get the urge to hear O Holy Night in the middle of August, but there it is. So I was thinking about Christmas and the Christmas story, Jesus’ birth, the angels, the star, the whole deal. I’m not a true believer as I once was, but I have to admit there is something powerful about the story, something that speaks to me even though I think the “truth” of the story is about on par with those of the “true” confession stories. A little bit of reality mixed with alot of desire for order out of chaos.

It struck me that we humans have a deepseated need for story, for the order of story, and if we could only realize that the various religions are all attempting to create that order, telling of a universal truth if not an exact historical one, we might be able to tolerate or even celebrate our religious differences. How many religious stories speak of the god being born, usually under mysterious and magical circumstances, growing, and eventually dying . . . and then being reborn. It’s an old, old story found in many cultures and religions, Christianity obviously included. One could argue that the pre-Christian religious stories were only there to prepare the way for the One True Religion and all those that came after are mere peversions of the same, I suppose, but that’s a stretch for me.

So, the big question. Can we fulfull our human need for spirituality, for order out of chaos, if we lack unquestioning faith in one religion? Or can the story itself be enough?

It seems to me that as adults, we are able to filter what we learn of religion. We take what we need from it and let the more disturbing elements go a little fuzzy and bleary along the edges. Kids don’t have that filter. If they hear it, and if a trusted adult tells them it is The Truth, they’ll believe it. Concretely. Think about the kids being taught in the madrassas in the Middle East right now. Think they have a filter for what they are being taught?

I was taught that one of these days Jesus Christ was going to blow a trumpet, dead Christians would rise out of their graves, live Christians would disappear into the heavens, and all hell was going to break loose here on earth. No filter. For years I lived in fear that my salvation “didn’t take” and that I’d have to live through said hell on earth before being thrown into a fiery pit. Lovely stuff for a bedtime story, right?

Now I have to think that the adults in my life just didn’t realize they were using a filter. They were not going to worry about the supernatural stuff. Not really. There was a mortgage to pay and jobs to do and, well, church to go to. Those prosaic concerns filtered out the usuable stuff like the Ten Commandments from the less usuable stuff like lion-headed locusts in the story.

But what about the kids? I wrote a story about this about six years ago. It’s called Second Coming. I’ll post it under my Fiction Corner, but with a warning for those of you who are strong in your Christian faith. It isn’t pretty. There’s stuff in there that will disturb you. In other words, Read At Your Own Risk, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Since writing that story (and, man, it was cathartic!) I’ve come to a more tolerant view of my Christian upbringing. I can see the beauty and power of the Christian story, so wonderfully encapsulated in the music. Birth, life, death, rebirth. Good stuff.