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.

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.

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.”

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.

WORLD SHARING COMES AROUND AGAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

Share Your World – 2-17-2020


How can someone win a gold star (i.e. win your approval and/or admiration) with you?

  1. Make me laugh
  2. Have a real conversation about everything
  3. Use big words
  4. Don’t be a Republican
  5. Read books
  6. Have opinions!

If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?

Read.

Do you have a favorite type of exercise?

Walking around taking pictures and standing in the kitchen trying a new recipe. Today it was Swedish meatballs and they came out really well. Just this once, I had all the items I needed for the recipe. Usually, I’m missing at least one primary ingredient and have to fake it.

The original recipe called for thickening with flour. I used cornstarch which doesn’t clump and I find a lot easier. You can do it however you like.

No faking this time. Now I have to figure out a way to make it easier to prepare. It’s not difficult, just labor-intensive.

Do you sleep with a top sheet? Why or why not?

We sleep with a comforter most of the year. It has a cotton cover and I’m thinking about getting a new cover. I want something brighter.

Cold toes, but a warm comforter!

In the summer, we use a very light comforter. In the winter, we have two heavier ones, but we rarely use the very heavy one. If it’s very cold, we put a light blanket over the comforter and are cozy all night. Bless the geese who contributed their down.

This is your space to write about anything you’d like.   I’m GRATEFUL for your participation in Share Your World, so there’s the “gratitude” hook.

I’m really glad we spent a couple of days out of town. Actually, this has been an unusually social month. Cherrie and Ron and Ellin and Tom and Anton’s concert? It was a real treat and made the painful parts of the month a lot easier to deal with.

EXPRESSIONS #8: A WATCHED POT WILL BOIL – Marilyn Armstrong

Fandango’s February Expressions #8


A watched pot never boils?

Did the speaker of this statement not cook? Because I  guarantee that if there is a fire — electric or gas — under the pot, it will boil. Not only will it boil, but it will also burn, stick, and if you forget about it long enough, be ruined for further use. After this, you can make a terminal decision: Is this pot salvageable or officially trash?

I have forgotten pots long enough to have them burst into flames. I’ve ruined enough pots to make up a set. I didn’t even have to leave the room. Moreover, a husband being IN the room didn’t guarantee that the pot that was in the process of being cooked to death would be seen, stirred, or have the heat reduced or turned off. Of, for that matter, have water added.

Use low heat, but don’t count on it saving your food. Distractions are the death of dinners around the world.

Also, don’t get involved in writing a post, taking a long phone call, feeding the dogs, refilling bird feeders, or vacuuming the living room carpet. It not only will boil, but all the other end-of-the-line events will occur faster than you can imagine. Really, no kidding.

I’ll bet that expression was written by someone who doesn’t cook!

IT’S APPLE SEASON! TIME FOR WALDORF SALAD – Marilyn Armstrong

I’ve always loved Waldorf salad. It was originally made at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in Manhatten in 1893 and it has been really popular ever since,

It’s probably my favorite salad and the only reason I don’t make it more often (it’s pretty easy) because usually, I’m missing a key ingredient. Like apples, walnuts, or celery. In this case, I already had apples and walnuts, so I sent Garry to the store for some sour cream, celery, and raisins.

Some people serve it in layers with lettuce as a “cup” at the base, then the apples, nuts, celery, and raisins plus a big dollop of dressing on top and a drizzle of brown sugar on top. That’s too much like dessert for a dinner dish, at least for me.

It is a great light dinner for a hot summer day, though you really can’t get good apples until September. Crunchy apple are the difference.

What kind of apples? Green, red, yellow, but most important: CRISP. I’m not a big MacIntosh fan. I think they are a bit too mushy. I prefer Gala and Macoun. Even Empires which are maybe a little bit too hard, so you’d probably have to cut them into smaller pieces. You can also use a mix of whatever your favorites happen to be.

Also, I know my husband. He mixes everything anyway, even when I don’t want him to because I think he should taste each item separately. That’s when I’m being fancy, which gets increasingly rare as the years trundle along.

At least one person suggested adding truffles. I have never eaten a truffle. I think a truffle costs more than gold, so I’ll skip it, thanks. It’s not part of the original recipe either. There is an almost unlimited number of ways you can dress this up or down. I like it the way I make it, which is pretty much the same way as it was made in the late 1800s.

A few things have changed over the years, mostly the dressing. People get very creative with the dressing. I don’t get all that creative because I basically like the original recipe, which is mayonnaise. All mayonnaise.

These days, many cooks use vanilla yogurt or plain yogurt. Or sour cream. Or a mixture of sour cream and mayonnaise. I got funky and went with a combination of avocado-oil mayonnaise and sour cream (50-50), but that’s my choice. You can make your own choice.

Also, I used raisins because I prefer them to sliced up grapes.

So here’s my recipe, made the easy way because all of my recipes are easy to make and even easier to clean up afterward. You can serve this as a light dinner or as a side dish. It’s a nice lunch, too.

This recipe makes enough for 4 as a side dish, two as a dinner dish.

Ingredients:

Three apples (green or red or yellow or one of each). Cut them into small pieces. Don’t peel them but remove the core.

1/2 fresh lemon

1/2 cup raisins (dark or yellow, take your pick)

3/4 cup slightly crushed walnuts

Half a cup of very thinly sliced celery

1 egg white

Spice mix: Sugar, a pinch of cumin, a pinch or two of hot paprika. You can sprinkle the spices on the walnuts of put the walnuts in the spices.

Directions:

Cut up the apples. Put them in a bowl. Squeeze the lemon over the apples to keep them from turning brown

Put an egg white in a small dish. Mix the walnuts with the egg white. Pour off any spare egg white. You only need the egg white to make the walnuts sticky enough to put the spices on them.

In a small pan (line the pan with aluminum foil to avoid extra washing), mix the walnuts with the spices and put them in a toaster oven, put them in it for four minutes at medium heat. If you don’t have a toaster oven (doesn’t everyone have one?) you can put them in a full-size oven — or throw them in a pan on the stove (use a little olive oil so they won’t stick). Toast for three or four minutes. NOT longer. Don’t let them burn.

Slice a few small pieces of celery as thin as possible. Throw them in with the apples and mix. When you are done toasting the walnuts, mix them in with the apples too. Add the raisins to the bowl with the apples, celery, and walnuts. Mix.

Dressing:

I used 1 cup of 1/2 cup avocado-oil mayonnaise and 1/2 cup of sour cream.

You are supposed to serve it in a “cup” of Romaine lettuce. I didn’t have any lettuce and it tasted fine free of lettuce. If you prefer using yogurt, that’s okay with me.

We had it for dinner because Garry was starving and this was ready to eat. It was delicious. Garry got over-excited and bit his tongue. Ouch.

Some people serve this with cold cooked chicken and other people add salt and pepper. I forgot the salt and pepper and didn’t miss it. I also didn’t have any chicken. Someone weird suggested adding marshmallows but she must have had too many small children. Marshmallows do NOT belong in a salad.

Finished!

You can add sunflower seeds. You can use pecans or almonds instead of walnuts. Just not peanuts — they have the wrong flavor.  You can get very fancy, but I have no patience for fancy anymore. I’m just glad when things come out well and we enjoy eating it.

If you want more, you can double the recipe, or just add more of each item. It’s easy to make, it tastes great and it’s sort of like a desert, but without all the sugar and fat.