HOW TO SPEND A DAY NOT BUYING AN OVEN – Marilyn Armstrong

I spent most of yesterday not buying a new countertop oven. Probably 7 or 8 hours were consumed looking at and deciding to buy it, then deciding it was too expensive, too cheap, not big enough, too many options I would never use until my brain turned to mush and I gave up for the day and night.

About 6 years ago, I discovered the joy of the countertop convection oven. The first one I bought was an inexpensive medium-sized oven from Waring, reasonably priced at about $75. It lasted two years before the legs fell off, probably from heat exhaustion.

New kitchen faucet!

My electric bill had dropped by 50%. I  had not realized my range was so expensive to run. When the Waring died, I upgraded and got a Kitchen  Aide convection oven. I have used one or the other of these two countertop ovens for everything except for the few times I had company.

When COVID-19 intruded on our lives, I started to bake a bit. I always liked baking, but for a lot of years I was too busy working or too busy being sick. These days, though, I have some time. I need to make better use of it. Although I love taking pictures and writing posts, I also need to do things which get me off the keyboard.

When I baked gingerbread the other day, I had to use the big oven. Ditto for the salty soft warm pretzels. I was either going to invest in a new full-size range or a much bigger countertop oven.

They are making new countertop machines differently than they were six years ago … or even last  year. Many of them are a lot bigger and more powerful. Big enough to cook a 12 to 14 pound turkey.  Most of them can be used as a family oven, convection oven, and/or an air-fryer.

I owned an air-fryer but rarely used it. Recently, I gave it away. Owen has a big one downstairs. How many air fryers does a three-person household need? Even Owen’s doesn’t get used often.

Then, there’s the tale of the wandering Kitchen Aide electric beater. I owned one years ago, but after heart surgery, I couldn’t move it. It weighs almost as much as our Kirby Vacuum which, if you own one or ever owned one, weighs slightly less than a VW bug.

Owen moved back. By now, he had given my Kitchen Aide to Kaity and had gotten a newer one for himself. Meanwhile, I had a Sunbeam mixmaster which was good for most things, but caught on fire attempting to work through whole wheat bread dough. Smoke started pouring out of its motor. After that, I didn’t have an electric mixer and I didn’t bake much.

A couple of weeks ago, Owen gave me his new Kitchen Aide. What goes around, comes around. To create counter space for the mixer, I’ve had to do massive kitchen rearrangement. I threw away a lot of china canisters — even those with sentimental value. I bought stackable containers from small to huge for flour, yeast, spices, sugar, and everything else.

The kitchen looks bigger because finally, there are empty spaces on the counters. I got a big, heavy plastic board for rolling dough or chopping vegetables. I’d have gotten a marble one — they are supposed to be the best for rolling dough — but anything big enough was too heavy to wash in the sink. Besides, I would drop it on my toe. Which would hurt.

Today, I consulted with Owen on oven sizes and finally bought a really big one that is so new it has no ratings. The ratings were making me crazy. So many of them were written by people who blamed the machine for not doing what it wasn’t supposed to do. Or not having the right temperature because they assumed that they should never need to adjust cooking time based on their machine.

You need to know your oven, whatever you are using. One guy said that the package instructions always were wrong and it was the machine’s fault. It apparently never occurred to him to adjust the timing. Package cooking directions — including those in cookbooks — work if you are using the same equipment the cook was using. If you aren’t, then you adjust the temperature up or down until it comes out right.

One guy complained that the baking pan didn’t fit in the shelf slots. Someone had to tell him that he was supposed to put the pan ON the shelf, not on the heating tubes.

So many dummies complaining the oven got hot. Yes, ovens get hot. When they are hot, don’t touch the glass on the door. You will get burned. Very young children figure it out. Even my dogs can tell if something’s hot and keep their noses away from it.

Grown up people aren’t as smart as young children or dogs.

I hope this oven works out. I can finally use my baking pans again and with the air fryer gone, there’s room for a regular toaster again. No matter what anyone says, a countertop oven is not a great toaster.

SPICY GINGERBREAD – Marilyn Armstrong

It’s a sweet bread, not the hard stuff (which is really baked masonry) typically used to build houses, or the dough used for gingerbread people. This is more of a cake, but not as sweet. It’s the one I make when I don’t have enough bananas for banana bread or some other fruit for bread.

It’s easy to make, tastes really good, and goes well with coffee, warm or cold.


SPICY GINGERBREAD


Ingredients:

2-1/4 cups white flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 soft butter or shortening
2 rounded tablespoons sugar (white or light brown)
2 eggs
1 cup molasses
1 cup very hot water

Put the flour, soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves together in a bowl. Set aside. Beat eggs, butter, sugar in mixing bowl. I use a manual eggbeater.

Mix the very hot water with the molasses, then add it and the rest of the ingredients into one big mixing bowl. You can use an electric beater, but don’t overbeat. I usually use a wooden spoon, but that’s because my electric mixer weighs more than my vacuum cleaner, so if I don’t need it, I don’t use it.

The wooden spoon works fine. I’m sure using the beater would make it lighter, though lightness isn’t really what gingerbread is about.

My oven runs cool. I bake it at 400 degrees for 40 minutes, then turn it down to 375 for another 5 minutes. You need to know your oven. If it runs hot, turn the heat down. I can only tell you what I do with my oven, but knowing your own kitchen equipment really helps in producing better food.

I have cooked this in a loaf pan and in the traditional 7X12X2 pan and both work fine, but I have to use my full-size oven. The mini-oven doesn’t seem to work as well for homemade baked goods. If you’re using a glass baking dish, lower the temperature.

I use spray on oil and it seems to work better than smearing it with butter or oil. I even spray it when it  has a nonstick surface. Sometimes nonstick is perfect, but sometimes, a piece of the bottom hangs up and when you flip the pan, half the cake stays in the pan. Grease the pan. Maybe you don’t need it, but why not? You’ll only discover you needed it if you didn’t use it and you baked goods came out ruined.

It’s done when it pulls away from the sides and springs back to your touch. Let it cool so you can handle the pan without protection, then flip it over to cool on a rack. It usually falls right out of the pan, hopefully all in one piece.

Good warm with butter, or honey butter, or by itself.

NEW PRINTING OF AN 1896 COOKBOOK – Marilyn Armstrong

FANNIE FARMER 1896 COOK BOOK:
The Boston Cooking School


The predecessor to all the great Fannie Farmer cookbooks that would be printed over the next 50 years, this was the one I really wanted most. It was out of print for a long time, but now, it’s back in print and also on Kindle. However, cookbooks have to be something I can bring into the kitching without worrying about them getting wet or covered with flour or batter.

I finally ordered it. First, I had to move out some other cookbooks that I don’t use, some of which were duds in the first place. As a warning, never buy any cookbook that starts with “365 Ways to …”  The recipes are typically mediocre and sometimes a lot worse than that. However, whenever I traveled, I always bought one or more cookbooks. Sometimes they turned out to be fantastic. Sometimes uninspiring. I always thought the best souvenir you can bring home from someplace you loved than their food. So I have Caribbean cook books, Maine cookbooks, Cape Cod, Chinese. One book entirely devoted to rice and another devoted to people who can’t cook at all which I hoped would convince my husband to give it a try.

Nope. But he did laugh a lot, so I suppose it was worth the money just for that.

This one is a treasure. It’s available in hardcover. As a book, the only thing wrong with it is that it’s small so the type is small. If you are me, there’s a good deal of squinting involved.

Also (and this is not a problem but the inevitable result of buying a cookbook written before modern kitchens were invented) is you have to figure out how much of something no one uses any more equals whatever it is we use now. For example, how much dry yeast is in a cake of yeast? Answer: about a teaspoon and a quarter of dry yeast.

The book starts off by teaching you how to build a proper fire for baking in a wood-fired stove. I enjoy doing things the old-fashioned way, but not quite that old-fashioned. I wouldn’t mind a gas oven, though. I think natural gas produces a more stable heat with natural convection.

I live in an area where there is no natural gas. If you want gas, you have to buy big canisters and then you are cooking with propane, which is not nearly as hot as natural gas. So electric it is. My oven runs cool and I have learned from hard experience to bake hotter and for at least five to ten minutes longer than the recipe calls for.

One of the nicest things about this cookbook is that the recipes don’t call for any expensive gadgets. An eggbeater is an advanced cooking item in this book and I’m pretty sure most cooks didn’t own one. You needed strong arms and muscular wrists. It also helped if you didn’t mind getting burned a bit. Also, it contains a lot of recipes for everything from Parker House rolls to egg sandwiches.

In the very back of the book are lots of old advertisements for kitchen and other household goods. Hub ranges (wood-fired) and King Arthur Flour, which I still stock and it’s my favorite flour. Some things never change.


It’s available on Amazon and I’m sure elsewhere as well. It’s worth the price at just under $11 in hardcover.


 

LIFE’S A MESS SO LET’S MAKE BREAD – MARILYN ARMSTRONG

Fandango’s Provocative Question #72


From Fandango:

Things are pretty screwed up right now. The world is still dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. The United States now has had almost 1.9 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 108,000 have died due to the virus, far and away more cases and deaths than any other country.

There is significant civil unrest and there are massive protests in the streets all across our country over our inability to come to grips with America’s original sin of slavery and the social and political inequalities that continue to persist 150 years after slavery in America ended.

And the U.S. has a madman for its president who is threatening to deploy the American military against American citizens on American soil.

So for this week’s provocative question, I’m going to try to shift your focus from the depressing to the exciting by asking you this simple question:


Life is insane. I’m emotionally and mentally exhausted and I’m pretty sure so is everyone else. I think if I were 30 years younger, I might be excited and more involved, but I’ve gotten on in years and I don’t have that amount of energy. Not even after a good night’s sleep and I don’t think the energy is coming back in this lifetime.

I want to help more, but I have limits. So, I write. That’s probably what I do best anyway. I write about right and wrong. I try to explain at least some of the history that has brought us to this time and place. I’m glad to help explain how this exploding country didn’t “just happen” because of one or several recent incidents. It has been growing and intermittently exploding since the colonies became the United States.

The last time the rioting started, Garry and I were living in Roxbury, aka “The Bury” which is a Black neighborhood. It is becoming (gradually) more mixed. I was an early mixer. Since Garry had always been the one dark guy in white neighborhoods, I thought it was time for me to be the white one in a Black neighborhood. Our ten years in Roxbury were wonderful. It was a great place to live and if it weren’t for The Big Dig, we might still be there.

Where Main Street ends – Photo: Garry Armstrong

Right now, I’d rather be in this little town. We do not lack our share of nutters and wackos, but I doubt you could get enough people together in one location to have a riot. It’s just not that kind of town although if the water mains go down again, that might see some yelling and carrying-on. As to national events? Everything is too far away to feel relevant to most people here.

We are secluded, surrounded by trees, garden birds, squirrels, raccoons, and flying squirrels. Hawks, owls, and eagles. Bobcats, foxes, and coyotes as well as baby squirrels and chipmunks who look like snacks to the hawks, bobcats, foxes, and coyotes. That’s the way of nature. You can’t blame the predators for getting hungry any more than you can blame the squirrels for eating all the birdseed. It’s just the way it is.

So in the midst of turmoil and trying to survive COVID, I’m home. A lot. In the name of retaining sanity, I’m looking forward to the arrival of my canisters to hold the flour, and a pound of active dry yeast. After which I’m going to bake my way to mental peace.

It’s not exciting. Not world-shaking. No airports or major travel involved. Just warm, yeasty dough and a lot of flour. I’m looking forward to baking — and consuming — the world’s most expensive bread.

ORDERLY – MARILYN ARMSTRONG

After my reasonably successful pretzels, I decided to start baking more. I promise not to get totally crazy, but a few incredible loaves of whole wheat bread might go a long way to fixing what ails me. There’s something wonderfully soothing about kneading bread. Kneading is fundamental. Basic. And you get some really great bread, too.

Kneading not only produces wonderful bread, the smell of which can lure a dead man from his coffin, but it also feels good. You dig your palms into the dough. It oozes up between your fingers. Grab a handful of fresh flour and the dough gets a little less sticky and a little more like warm bread-to-be.

But when you’re digging into the raw dough before it has risen once or twice, it sticks to everything. Flour gets everywhere. When you’re baking, the world knows.

If you ever want to feel totally helpless, get a phone call in the middle of dough prep. You can’t go near a phone or even a doorknob. Until you’re past the sticky, gooey, gluey phase, you are completely immersed in the project.

Your hair and clothing are white from flour. But, after you get the dough ready to rise, put it in a warm place and watch it grow big and puffy. Punch it down and it grows twice as big. One more punch and then you dig the base of your palms into the dough and feel its warmth.

Yeast is warm as it grows. And it smells good, even before baking. Knead it. Not too much, not too little. You can feel when the dough becomes elastic.

Divide it, put it in loaf pans, or if your are shaping the bread yourself, on flat cookie sheets. Bake your heart out. Try not to eat it all in one sitting or for that matter, watch out for hungry friends carrying their own butter.

All of this is great, except that there’s no year or flour in the grocery so I had to order it. And there’s no point in ordering 5 pounds of flour, so I ordered 20 pounds. The price is, ironically, almost the same for a five pounder and 20 pounds.

I ordered four 20-pound flour containers. Two will hold the white flour. Another will hold 10 pounds of whole wheat. The forth will hold something. Birdseed comes immediately to mind.

I’ll try very hard to not mix the birdseed with the flour.

The problem? I got the 20-pounds of white flour today. But I won’t get the containers or yeast until next week. In the meantime, the kitchen is filling up. By the time I add all these canisters, I’m not sure where I can walk. There isn’t much floor space already. maybe it’s time to do something with that old table in the corner.

Do I really need 20 or 30 dog leashes and collars for every dog from a chihuahua to a mastiff? And maybe fifty leashes, many of which are long overdue for retirement?

Eventually, it will all come together and maybe it will keep me from worrying about how we are going to repair the back door, boiler, and the deck.

MAY 2020 – THE CHANGING SEASONS, A DIFFERENT WORLD – MARILYN ARMSTRONG

The Changing Seasons, May 2020


To say that the world is a different place than it was last month and completely different than the month before, AND has almost nothing to do with last spring or even last winter is probably an understatement. I hardly know where to start. Plagues,  riots and warm winter without snow which, in one night, turned into summer.

Whatever comes out of this, it’s going to be different. Possibly very different. Or maybe not. Does anyone know? I sure don’t know.

About The Changing Seasons

The Changing Seasons is a monthly challenge where bloggers around the world share what’s been happening in their month.

If you would like to join in, here are the guidelines:

The Changing Seasons Version One (Photographic):

Each month, post 5-20 photos in a gallery that you feel represent your month

Don’t use photos from your archive. Only new shots.

Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons so that others can find them.

The Changing Seasons Version Two (Choose your favorite format):

Each month, post a photo, recipe, painting, drawing, video, whatever that you feel says something about your month

Don’t use archived stuff. Only new material! Except for maybe this and last month when a lot of us have gotten out of the house much — or at all.

Tag your posts with #MonthlyPhotoChallenge and #TheChangingSeasons so others can find them.

If you do a ping-back to SuLeslie’s post, she can update all the entries with links.

MAKING PRETZELS – Marilyn Armstrong

We like pretzels. One of the things I really miss is fresh warm pretzels, the kind we used to buy at the old mall in Auburn. I don’t know if the mall is open or will open. It was barely functioning before the COVID-19 shutdown. It’s an aging mall in a bad location, not convenient to any major road. Very hard to find, even when you’ve been there often.

Inside the mall

Their two lead stores were Macy’s and Sears and I’m not sure either of those will survive because both are currently in bankruptcy. What they had going for them was a kiosk where you could always get a new watch battery, a LensCrafters, plus another kiosk where they made warm pretzels while you waited. Oh so good.

I wanted pretzels and as it happened, I came across a recipe on a CBS site.

This is the recipe:

Homemade Soft Pretzel Ingredients

1-1/2 cups warm (110° to 115° F) water
1 tablespoon white sugar (Too much sugar — use half that amount)
1 package active dry yeast (2 ½ teaspoons)
22 ounces all-purpose flour, about 4 1/2 cups (1 cup = 8 ounces, so how can 4-1/2 cups = 22 ounces?)
2 teaspoons kosher salt (Don’t measure the salt. Just shake it onto the pretzels and don’t be shy about it)
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil or cooking spray (Cooking spray works better)
10 cups water for boiling the pretzels — not part of the recipe
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt (for topping) (Kosher salt)

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine water, sugar, and yeast, stirring gently to combine. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam.
  2. Add the flour, salt, and butter. Use dough hooks and mix on low speed until combined. Increase to medium speed until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Take a big bowl and oil it. You can use an oil spray. There’s no reason to take it out of one bowl, put it in another, then put it into another bowl that you had to clean. Twice the work for no good reason.  Remove the dough, wipe out the bowl and then oil it with a little vegetable oil or cooking spray. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap,
  4. Cover the bowl and put it in a warm place for about an hour 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size (more or less).
  5. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper or a Silpat sheet. One big cookie sheet is plenty.
  6. Lightly brush with vegetable oil or lightly coat with cooking spray.
  7. Bring the water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.
  8. Gently whisk egg yolk and water together and set aside.
  9. While the water heats up, turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled floured work surface. Oil your hands to keep the dough from sticking. Divide into 8 pieces, as many as seem reasonable.
  10. Roll out each piece of dough into a rope about 24” long. (Do whatever you want!)Make a U-shape with the dough rope, and holding the ends, cross them over each other and press on the bottom of the U to form the shape of a pretzel.
  11. Place on the prepared cookie pan.
  12. Lower the pretzels into the boiling water, one at a time, for about 30 seconds each, turning over with a slotted spoon about half-way through. Remove them from the water using a slotted spoon or spider, allowing excess water to drain off. NOTE: I put in three at a time which was fine.
  13. Brush each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk (I used a small paintbrush) and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes (it took closer to 20 minutes. Just keep an eye on them and you’ll know when they are done.
  14. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Despite the years I spent baking, I had forgotten how much work it is. I also forgot what a mess it makes. At least I had the sense to change my clothing before I started By the time I finished, it was obvious what I’d been doing. Though I’ve washed my hands repeatedly, I’ve still got dough under my nails.

I also, since there is no yeast in the stores, I used yeast I’ve had in the fridge since 2009. You wouldn’t think it would work, but it did.

I didn’t try for the classic pretzel shape. By the time I had gotten to that point, I was ready to nap on the kitchen floor. I just made them into a circle then twisted them. I got better at it as I worked.

I boiled the pretzels, baked the pretzels and we ate ALL the pretzels instead of dinner. Junk food makes a great dinner, especially when it’s your own junk food. I have to find a better recipe. Or maybe I just buy some pretzels, assuming someone is selling them.

Why did I pick the hottest day since last July to bake? All I wanted warm, soft pretzels. Desperation drove me.

THE PRICE OF FOOD, THE COST OF STAYING ALIVE – Marilyn Armstrong

This post started out as a comment to Rich’s piece, but it reminded me of all those years when the Fishery Department in New England begged the fisher-folks to hold back on fishing out the spawning areas. St. George’s banks — which is technically both U.S. and Canadian waters — I think the line runs right through the area. George’s Banks are closed, both by Canadian and American authorities because of overfishing.

If they didn’t close them, there wouldn’t be any fish in the future. Almost all our fish these days is imported. Salmon from Canada where it is farmed, and the rest from Asia.

Our food has more than doubled in price. We could buy a week’s food for the three of us for around $150 before the quarantine. Now it costs MORE than $300. We do have some locally grown food just beginning to show up in the markets and ironically, our farms which have been doing poorly are suddenly a very big deal. We can get (easily) eggs, milk, honey, and strawberries. We have tons of blackberries growing in our own back 40, but it’s even more lethal than our rose bushes and before we can get them, the birds eat all of it.
Squash is coming into season. Also cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, and with a little luck, we’ll have a good year for peaches. Soon (I hope!) we will also have fresh corn. We don’t grow mountains of corn because we have so little flat land, but what we do grow is delicious.

Everything is organic. Not because we are such believes in organic produce, but because we have such a high water level, fertilizer seeps into the aquifer, and if we kill the aquifer, we are all in big, permanent trouble.

We have no slaughterhouses. I’m sure that the individual farms raise a few pigs and beef cattle for personal use, but it doesn’t go to the stores. There is a huge chicken farm nearby. They have a big restaurant (no open right now, of course), but they also sell it in their shop. It costs twice the imported prices but it is very good and their chickens roam free.

Shooting through a wire fence, these are impressionist chickens. Need eggs?

Anyone with a back that works grows acorn squash (by November I’ve overdosed on squash), tomatoes, and onions. Also round, red potatoes. Some people have started growing jalapenos, too. In this limited rural area, summer is the only time you can get fresh local fruits and vegetables. After September and October (apple season — we have gigantic orchards for apples and they are great apples … and the farmers keep cross-breeding new varieties, albeit our local apples are much more expensive than the imported ones. Probably not THIS year!

The cows in the meadow

Not much fish except via Canada where they farm salmon. We used to have wonderful fish, but they overfished the region and it’ll be decades before we can get fish from the ocean again. Our rivers are good for trout — if you like trout and none of us do — and while down on the Cape they are farming lobster, there aren’t enough of them for more than their immediate areas.

New England had the biggest and best fishing fleets in the world. All gone. The fleets are gone and the areas are now filled with private boats. Which is fine, but they don’t bring in fish.

The fisherfolk were warned yearly to NOT go to George’s Banks because that was where they spawned. Garry covered those stories and he always came back shaking his head at the thick-headedness of the fleets. Yes, they’d need to raise prices and wouldn’t be able to bring in the volume of fish they had before, but if they didn’t stop harvesting the fisheries, there would be no more fish at all.

Eventually, when no one cooperated, they closed down the areas about five years ago (maybe it was longer — has swept by so quickly — before there were no more fish to breed. The coast guard patrols the area and there are all these little wars at sea. If we don’t poison the waters, fish will come back — and that’s if we manage to keep the Canadians and Japanese from trawling the areas.

Seafood, the delight of New England is gone. We do get great eggs and butter, though. The milk is great, but we have a lot of people here who have inspected cows, so they don’t homogenize the milk. Garry loves the cream on the top. I stopped buying it.

After Garry steals the cream, even the dogs won’t drink it.

BRING ON THE FRUITS AND VEGGIES – RICH PASCHALL

Hungry Eyes, by Rich Paschall

My father knew all the best buffet restaurants and Swedish Smorgasbords. For a few years, it was a frequent weekend adventure to accompany my father and his wife to a buffet restaurant. There are not as many of these restaurants as there used to be in our area, and we hope the Covid-19 doesn’t kill off the ones that are left.

After we would go through the food line and start eating all the food we had claimed, my father would usually comment that our eyes were larger than our stomachs. This was because it always seemed like we took too much food. It was odd to have eaten so much that we could not go back to get one of the many desserts. That happened to me a number of times.

Apples and other fall fruits on display

It was the same when we went shopping. We were usually cautioned not to go to the supermarket when we were hungry. Our eyes would be bigger than our stomachs and we would put into the cart more things than we needed. This presented a particular problem when we picked up too many perishable products. According to my parents and grandparents, it was a bad thing not to eat the food on your plate or to buy things just to have to throw them away. “Don’t you know there are people starving in ________” (insert third world country here).

I get it. Those are really sad eyes when you have to throw food away. Yes, food has been abundant in this country and it is usually cheap, but no reason to toss it out.  And it may not remain inexpensive as we suffer through a global supply chain problem.

When you pick up those fruits and veggies at the supermarket, you may notice that they have colorful little stickers on them. They may indicate the company selling the goods (Dole, Del Monte, Chiquita, etc). They might have a Produce number to assist the checker when you reach the cash register. They also usually indicate where the item came from.

Your avocados likely came from Mexico. The bananas probably came from Guatemala, but may have come from Honduras or Ecuador. Yes, we do grow a lot of fruits and vegetables here, but how can fresh fruits and vegetables be in the stores year-round when the harvest season is short?  The rest of the year the goods come from other countries, mostly in South and Central America. In fact, more than half of the fruit sold here each year is imported.

Despite the ease of growing tomatoes, we imported 2.3 billion dollars worth from Mexico in 2018. We got them from other countries too. We do love tomatoes! We also got onions, peppers, cucumbers, and other fruits and vegetables from Mexico. Check your labels.

One-third of the vegetables are imported. Yes, we do export some fruits and vegetables, but we import three times as much. Now during this unique situation for global transportation, how do all of these goods get here? Yes, there are some airplane freighters flying to some countries, but that is nowhere near the amount of “lift” needed.

The major airlines of the world all have cargo divisions. Their small commuter planes may take small packages to their destination, but those large widebody passenger aircraft carry a large variety of goods. This is how many commodities move from country to country. What if the planes are not flying? There are not enough airline freighters in the world to move cargo around.

The passenger Boeing 777-300 cargo capacity is 24,000 kilos or 52,910 pounds for Americans. About two-thirds of the belly space is used for cargo on the widebody aircraft. Before Covid-19 a large number of air carriers were flying into every major city in the world. Some places now have no international flights, and some just a few. How do your fruits and vegetables get here? Without passengers, many airlines are not flying at all. A few maintain a limited schedule. Air Canada stated recently that they are flying at 5 percent capacity.

Some of the airlines are flying with just cargo. With no passenger revenue, they must charge a much higher rate to make the flight financially viable. Many places need to move their goods now but are reluctant to pay a significantly higher price. What is the market place to do?

If you are shipping a perishable commodity, you can not wait for prices to go down. You pay whatever rate will get your goods to market, or you let them spoil and throw them out. Plowing your crops into the ground is a sad alternative to paying higher transportation costs.

Colombian airline in bankruptcy

How will those South and Central American fruits and vegetables get to North America? Colombian airline Avianca, a major player in South America and carrier of goods and passengers to Miami, has declared bankruptcy.  The airline has not flown since mid-March. They hope to be in the air again soon, but what about the goods that need to fly now?

Some customers have arranged to sign a Blocked Space Agreement (BSA) and even pay an airline upfront to come into their city. This means they will pay for a certain amount of space on a flight whether they use it or not.  The airline can then attempt to sell the additional space, or space in the other direction in order to cover the remaining costs and turn a profit. What does this mean to you?

If the only alternative for our trading partners to sell their goods is to pay a higher price, then they will do it. The result of that will show up on the supermarket shelf soon.

Last week Air Canada ran an all-cargo flight to Avianca’s home town of Bogota. They will run another soon. They are also running a cargo flight to Buenos Aires and on to Santiago. There was also one to Punta Cana and Montego Bay this week. They will try to work with South American sales teams to maintain some of these routes. Other airlines are attempting all cargo runs as well. No one is offering to move things at pre-COVID-19 prices.


Air Canada has now removed the seats of 4 777-300s and will do the same for one more, plus 4 Airbus 330s.

Sources: “A Surprising Amount of Your Fresh Fruit Actually Comes from Outside the U.S.,” by Abbey White, Food & Wine, foodandwine.com March 14, 2018.
Top Imported Fruits Most Loved by Americans,” by Daniel Workman, World’s Top Experts, worldstopexpert.com April 18, 2020.
Our Fleet & ULDs,” Air Canada Cargo, aircanada.com
Some of the world’s airlines could go bankrupt because of the COVID-19 crisis, according to an aviation consultancy. See the carriers that have already collapsed because of the pandemic.” by David Slotnik, Business Insider, bussinesinsider.com May 12, 2020
See also: “The Global Supply Chain Disruption,” by Rich Paschall, SERENDIPITY, April 15, 2020.
Sending and Receiving Stuff,” by Rich Paschall, SERENDIPITY, May 9, 2020.
Note: I worked in freight forwarding for 35 years. I have worked for Air Canada Cargo for the past year.

INTRODUCING THE POTATO – BY ELLIN CURLEY

When we celebrate the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus on Columbus Day, we should also be celebrating Columbus’s discovery of the potato. More accurately, Columbus’s introduction of the potato from the New World to the Old World. This introduction of New World foods to Europe and the east is known as the “Columbian Exchange”.

Christopher Columbus

The potato, and other native American plants “…transformed cultures, reshuffled politics and spawned new economic systems that then, in a globalizing feedback loop, took root back in the New World as well.” This quote is from an article in the Washington Post on October 8, 2018, titled “Christopher Columbus and the Potato that Changed the World.” The article is by Steve Hendrix.

An example of the potato’s earth-shattering impact is that it helped eliminate famines and fueled a population boom in parts of northern Europe. This made urbanization possible which, in turn, fueled the Industrial Revolution. This population explosion also helped several European nations assert dominion over the world from 1750 to 1950. Thus the potato is also responsible for the rise of Western Europe and its colonies, including America.

But let’s get back to the initial introduction of the potato to skeptical Europeans. The potato spread slowly. At first, it was viewed with suspicion and plagued by misinformation. Initially, some people claimed that the potato was an aphrodisiac. Others believed that it could cause leprosy. When Sir Walter Raleigh brought potatoes into the Elizabethan court, the courtiers tried to smoke the leaves!

Sir Walter Raleigh

It took a while for people to realize what a nutritional bonanza the potato is. It’s filled with complex carbohydrates, amino acids, and vitamins. It is a nutritionally complete diet when paired with milk. It also took time for people to take advantage of the superior productivity and sturdiness of the potato over other agricultural products, like grains.

In the 1600’s, Europeans finally figured out how to successfully cultivate potatoes. The effect was dramatic – the population of places like Ireland, Scandinavia, and other northern regions, increased up to 30%. In a 1744 famine in Prussia, King Frederick the Great ordered his farmers to grow potatoes and ordered the peasants to eat them!

Famines were prevalent in Europe. France had 40 nationwide famines between 1500 and 1800 as well as hundreds and hundreds of local famines. England suffered 17 national and regional famines just between 1523 and 1623. The world could not reliably feed itself.

Enter the potato. Because potatoes are so productive, once everyone started planting them, they became a diet staple. In terms of calories, they effectively doubled Europe’s food supply. For the first time in Western European history, the food problem was solved. By the end of the 18th century, famines almost disappeared in potato country. Before the potato, European living and eating standards were equivalent to today’s Cameroon or Bangladesh.

Another benefit of the potato is that it is easily portable and stays edible for a relatively long time. So potatoes could easily be transported to the cities, fostering their growth. This created an urban factory workforce. Hence, the Industrial Revolution.

In the mid-1700’s, a French man named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier took it upon himself to launch a PR campaign on behalf of the potato. He created publicity stunts to draw attention to his miracle product. For example, he presented an all potato dinner to high society guests. One of them, it is claimed, was Thomas Jefferson. Parmentier also convinced the King and Queen to be seen wearing potato blossoms. His biggest stunt was to plant 40 acres of potatoes at the edge of Paris, knowing that the starving population would steal and eat them.

Antoine-Augustin Parmentier

The potato took such firm root in Europe that by the end of the 18th century, roughly 40% of the Irish people ate no solid food other than potatoes. That was also true of 10-30% of other countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, Prussia, and Poland.

In the mid-1800’s, catastrophe struck. Blights started wiping out the potato crops. In 1845, in Ireland alone, one half to three-quarters of a million acres of potatoes were wiped out. The following years, up until 1852, were even worse. The Great Potato Famine was one of the worst in history in terms of percentage of population lost. Over a million Irish died. A similar famine in the U.S. today would kill 40 million people!

Potato blight

Within a decade, over two million people fled Ireland, over three-quarters of whom came to the United States. That changed the history and demographics of the U.S. And it began the phenomenon of the Melting Pot.

A major commemoration of the potato exists in Germany. A statue of Sir Francis Drake was erected in 1853, although Drake did not, in fact, introduce the potato into Europe. The statue depicts Drake with his right hand on his sword and his left hand holding a potato plant. On the base is the following inscription:


Sir Francis Drake

Dissemination of the potato in Europe
In the year of our Lord 1586.
Millions of people
Who cultivate the earth
Bless his immortal memory.


Drake statue in Germany

So, as Steve Hendrix said in the Washington Post, “…a small round object sent around the planet … changed the course of human history.”

TIME FOR ANOTHER BREAK – Marilyn Armstrong

For the last few days, my right arm has been getting worse each day. So now, it’s bad enough that I need to stop typing for a day or two. Usually one does it, but sometimes, it takes two. But I might post photographs with only a few words.

And anyone who has an idea how to make a lemon-walnut loaf a little bit lighter, suggestions would be appreciated.


The current recipe is:

  • 1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts)
  • chopped lemon rind
  • two eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • Half a cup of sugar
  • 2 teaspoons powdered baking powder
  • a bit of salt

It rose well and tastes good, though a fresher lemon would have helped and I’m going to have to get a mini chopper for things like lemon rind. But it came out a bit heavy. More baking powder? A bit more flour? Less flour? More sugar? Bake longer? Suggestions will be gratefully taken.

I’m going to post some nice square pictures of flying squirrels, but that is going to be all that arm is going to do for a couple of days. You will survive without me. Given how much I use my hands and arm. It’s amazing it moves at all.

CRUSHED GHIRADELLI CHOCOLATE & THE CRAZY CUOMO KIDS – Marilyn Armstrong

CRUSHED GHIRADELLI CHOCOLATE & THE CRAZY CUOMO KIDS

Andrew Cuomo, New York State’s Governor, seems about as sane and down-to-earth as anyone in government can be. Considering the damage to New York from COVID 19, he’s done about as well as anyone could have done, or at least that’s the way it seems.

Crushed chocolate – a delivery tragedy

In the meantime, his broth Chris and his weirdo wife — well, here’s a clip from the New York Post:

If you thought the antics of CNN blowhard Chris Cuomo could get any more cringe-worthy — his wife, Cristina, has put together a list of preposterous privileged preparations she used to battle COVID-19, including a vitamin IV drip, Peruvian tree bark, and bleach baths.

“Cristina, who herself was diagnosed with coronavirus last week, posted an eye-popping blog titled “The Cuomos’ Corona Protocol” on the website thepuristonline.com, saying, “Here’s what I did to push it out over the week,” adding this is “an opportunity to learn how to keep the immune system up.”

Proving herself to be the Gwyneth Paltrow of herbal medicine, Cristina’s list of supplements not exactly accessible to the common consumer include “Peruvian bark … essential to oxygenate the blood”; glutathione powder, an antioxidant; the medicinal florals xanthium — used to combat allergies and which some Chinese herbalists warn is toxic — and magnolia, used to reduce anxiety and inflammation; plus viracid, which includes black elderberries to boost the immune system.

… In what reads like a piece from The Onion, Cristina adds, “Both days, I added ½ cup of Clorox to my bathwater to combat the radiation and metals in my system and oxygenate it.” Adding a small amount of non-concentrated bleach to a bath is said by some to rid the skin of bacteria. However, doctors say the smell of bleach can trigger asthma and other breathing problems, and it is not recommended for skin with open cuts.

Now Chris Cuomo’s teenage son Mario has coronavirus.”

Who does their grocery shopping? I’m having trouble getting bread and fruit juice, or for that matter, fresh fruit. I haven’t had these kinds of cravings for food since a long-ago pregnancy. Last night there was nothing on earth I wanted more than a bacon and tomato sandwich. Garry concurred. He had two. I had one. A bit of mayo and voila! A sandwich to die for.

I was trying to figure out how to save it, but eventually gave up and tossed it.

Now I am waiting for a chocolate cake. I ordered the chocolate from Amazon — Ghiradelli, the good stuff. They ran over it with their truck so there’s another one on the way. Maybe I’ll make a white cake today. Or better yet, a lemon cake.

Afterward, I can promote it as yet one more yummy way to prevent catching the virus. You don’t even have to create a frosting made of bleach.

I can sell my recipe (I have to create the recipe first), but I used to be good at this until I gave up baking to save myself from morbid obesity. Now, it doesn’t seem to matter as much. I haven’t worn anything except sweat pants for months.

CORONAVIRUS TRENDS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Most of the United States, and much of the rest of the world, are ‘sheltering in place’ because of the Coronavirus pandemic that has swept across the globe. This means that vast numbers of people are cooped up at home, looking for ways to stay entertained, upbeat and sane. I’ve been curious to see what trends in behavior are discernible in this period of mass self quarantine.

I’ve read that online dance parties have been organized with Zoom and other Face-Time style technology. This is a creative and fun way to get exercise as well as a sense of community for people who miss being able to ‘party.’ Pilates and Yoga classes are also continuing on Zoom and other platforms. I have a friend in London who is a Pilates teacher and she says that she’s never been busier – all online! So this trend is not just an American phenomenon, it’s worldwide.

Holidays are inspiring family activities in large numbers. Families are having ‘costume days’, when everyone dresses up for Xmas or Halloween, etc. and they take family photos to send out to friends and family. Along these lines, many bored families are pulling out all the holiday decorations and festooning the house with Xmas lights and Halloween décor. Neighborhoods are organizing holiday ‘parties’ and people are driving around and admiring what their neighbors have done to liven up their homes. This is a great way to create fun, cheer and humor in depressing times.

Online tutors are seeing a surge in demand as are liquor delivery services. Weed stores in California have been deemed ‘essential’ businesses and have also seen an uptick in business. No surprise there!

Liquor deliveries are trending

One trend that brightens my heart is the increase in shelter pet fostering and adopting around the States. Many shelters had to close down their facilities during the pandemic so they put out emergency calls for foster parents to step up and take pets out of the shelters and into their homes on a temporary basis. Some animal shelters in New York City are running out of pets due to a huge surge in applications. One shelter in Bakersfield, CA, had 200 foster applications in 48 hours! They set up a drive-through service to adhere to social distancing rules. Matches between pets and fosters and adopters were made online and then the approved families drove up to the shelter and their dogs or cats were brought out to their cars. Drive through pet adoption! How cool!

Drive through dog fostering

Maybe it’s an increased sense of humanity and compassion today or that people are stuck at home and are bored and want something fun in their lives, like a new pet. Whichever it is, this is a wonderful trend and I hope it continues after people go back to their busy lives.

One way to tell what people are doing at home is to see what they’re buying in large quantities– like flour, yeast, and eggs. Shortages in all these items have been reported recently because there’s been a big boom in home baking and bread making. People can suddenly do time-consuming activities like proofing yeast, monitoring rising dough and meticulously navigating complex cake recipes. Baking is also something parents can do with kids and many families are turning daily baking into a family ritual. There is a therapeutic element to baking; the mindfulness required to bake is soothing and relaxing and stress baking is a healthy way to deal with today’s high level of anxiety. It supposedly gives people a sense of control in a time when we seem to have little control over anything in our lives.

People in large numbers are also turning to puzzles to occupy their time and puzzle makers suddenly can’t keep up with the surge in demand for puzzles. Their sales are more than tenfold what they were before and there is a backlog of orders. It’s beyond what they call ‘Christmas volume.

Another item that is flying off the shelves in record numbers is vegetable seed packets. Seed companies are being swamped by an onslaught of orders from backyard gardeners. People may suddenly see the value of growing their own food in times of potential shortages and in reaching some level of food independence. Or, like with baking, people are looking for productive activities to occupy their time and their children’s time.

This consumer frenzy is focused on vegetables high in nutrients, like kale, spinach, and other quick-growing, leafy greens. All kinds of beans are also big sellers because they’re healthy, easy to grow and versatile in cooking.

So people are getting very creative in the ways that they are choosing to occupy their enforced downtime. It’s encouraging to see some of these quarantine trends and I hope that when social distancing is in the distant past, people will continue to spend family time doing some of these emergency hobbies that popped into their lives in this odd time of crisis.

ANXIETY AND THE CORONAVIRUS – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’ve had an anxiety disorder for as long as I can remember. As a child, I would worry about everything and was afraid of almost everything. My mother, a trained child psychologist, tried to give me a form of cognitive therapy by pointing out to me every time I was ‘awfullizing’ or ‘what iffing.’ She tried to make me realize that my anxieties were irrational and always told me “Don’t bleed until you’re cut!” It actually helped me and by my teen years, I had managed to control the worst and most paralyzing aspects of my daily anxieties, for the most part.

Prozac was the first commonly used anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication to burst onto the market in 1989. I was 40 and my psyche and my life changed dramatically as my anxiety and depression miraculously receded into the background. I still have flare-ups of anxiety and some ongoing anxiety issues, but they usually don’t keep me from being a basically upbeat, positive and relaxed person.

However, I would have thought that the Coronavirus crisis would have triggered my anxieties and thrown them into overdrive. I should have been in the first wave of panic buyers and I should have a closet full of toilet paper, paper towels and pasta. But I don’t. When the first stories came out early on about possible food shortages, a friend convinced me to order 40 cans of Progresso soup. I felt silly afterward and regretted that I had let my anxieties overtake me, but now I’m glad I have several cartons of canned goods in the basement – just in case.

Toilet paper aisles in most stores in New York and CT

Since then, I’ve been relatively calm in the face of the horrific health crisis that is getting worse day by day – and I am only 50 miles from the epicenter in NYC. At 70, I’m also in the higher risk population but I still go out once a week to shop and once a week to get mail at the post office. But that’s it for my forays into the potential virus-infected world.

I’m being careful and ‘sheltering in place’. Surprisingly, I’m not kept up at night by visions of worst-case scenarios swirling around uncontrollably in my head.

I’ve wondered why I’m not more anxiety-riddled than I am and I think the answer is that I’m only consumed with anxiety that reflects my irrational fears. I’m actually pretty good at dealing with real-world crises. I’m better dealing with a scary reality than with my inner demons.

My method of coping is staying up to date with what’s going on and acting accordingly to protect myself and my husband. I’ve read studies that show that people who read and listen to Coronavirus news regularly tend to be more agitated than those who don’t check the news as much. I find that the more I know, the safer I feel. Knowledge is power. So I’m keeping track of cases in my immediate area so when that number goes up dramatically, I can reassess my strategy and maybe place orders for pick up at the supermarket and get my prescriptions delivered by mail.

I believe that I’m doing what’s needed to limit my exposure so I feel relatively safe. I’m healthy and rarely get colds or flu so chances are good if I get it, it will be mild. I’m not consumed with worry that my husband or I will get seriously ill – or that I’ll run out of toilet paper before the stores can restock. Just in case, we also have a bidet!

If one of us gets sick, I’ll deal with it as best I can. I won’t bleed until I’m cut.

So, despite my propensity for anxiety, I seem to be dealing pretty well, psychologically speaking, with this very real, worldwide pandemic.