Sunday, March 28, 2010

Oh How Sweet It Is

Oh! Bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble goes the pan,
Furnish sweeter music for the season if you can,
See the golden billows, watch their ebb and flow.
Sweetest joys indeed, we sugar makers know
(Chorus of "Maple Sweet" an early nineteenth century New England folk song -- sung by the musicians at one of the sugarhouses I went to this weekend.)

Well, I'm happy to report that the 27th Annual Maine Maple Sunday/Weekend was sweeter than ever.

On Saturday a.m., I grabbed my rubber boots (and my down jacket!), my littlest child (her first Maine Maple Weekend!) and one of my closest friends and went to my "usual" hang out for sugar house festivities--Goransan's Farm in Dresden.

The yummy smells of breakfast cooking and Hope Hoffman's fiddle music lured us in from the cold into the greenhouse where we dined on the farm's to-die-for pancake breakfast complete with local sausage, potatoes (from their garden), local apple cider and organic coffee. Oh, and pancakes with fresh maple syrup, of course!

(On a side note, a few years ago the farm's barn burned down and a barn raising fundraiser was held. The pancakes served at this fundraiser were made by neighbors -- and they were such a hit that the mix was then packaged and sold. In fear they may stop making it, we have a stash of the mix in our freezer.)

With full tummies and some socializing under our belt, we then poked around in the sugarhouse for a bit. Every year I am so pleasantly reminded of how wonderful these sugarhouses are -- they boast a steamy sweet and woody smell that is just so soothing. It occurred to me that some clever marketer (hmm) might start offering the "Maine Maple Spa Retreat"as a high-end spa treatment -- it is just THAT good.

On Sunday (I know, I know, one would think one day of this would be enough, eh?), I dragged some of my extended family to two sugarhouses in Gorham, Maine. At each of these sugarhouses we checked out their syrup-making techniques and sampled the goods...syrup over ice cream. YUM. And, of course, we stocked up on many maple treats, including maple syrup, maple sugar, maple coated almonds -- even maple smoked cheese. The highlight of the day? It is hard to choose, but I THINK it was watching my mom who had been ever-so-reluctant to go along on this adventure...and somehow has never been to a Maine Maple Sunday (is she really my mother!?!), step out of the car and immediately get into the spirit. With pockets full of her maple purchases she said with a big smile, "another sugarhouse?"

As I'm coming down from this great sugar high, I must say the real treat in this whole weekend is to remember how lucky we are to have people who carry on the syrup-making tradition. It takes a whole lot of work to make just a little bit of syrup. (Honestly, I could devote several blog entries to the syrup making process, including all the interesting factoids such as the fact that it takes a cord of wood to make 30 gallons of syrup.)

Trust me, despite the high cost of the good stuff, no one is getting rich making syrup. But, our world is richer for it without a doubt.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A Sweet Weekend on Tap for Me

I've been a bit out of touch the last few days...busy with my family and anticipating my favorite holiday -- Maine Maple Sunday.

Okay, I know, it isn't really a holiday. But, it SHOULD be.

Maine Maple Sunday, the fourth Sunday of March each year, is the day when sugarhouses around the state open their doors to let everyone join in this annual rite of spring--maple syrup making. As you drive around the state, you'll see steam rising from the sugar houses and have the opportunity to partake in all sorts of maple infused festivities from pancake breakfasts to maple syrup sundaes. The farms will be busy with visitors all decked out in their mud boots and great big smiles. It is a very happy and very sweet day.

I'll report back on my Maine Maple Sunday (which has turned into Maine Maple Weekend in my book) adventures in a couple of days.

In the meantime, check out some of the happenings around the state...and sweet dreams.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Crafternoons with Maine-ly Home

I betcha didn't know that March is National Craft Month (who declared this, I'm not sure...)! Well, it is! And, in the spirit of this, I am going to start having "crafternoons"--an afternoon spent making something. (By the way, I can't take credit for this very clever name--but, I sure do love it!) Don't get too excited, it's not like I'm a craft maven who is going to rock your world with the most exciting crafts, but I hope to occasionally inspire you to craft. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Grow-Your-Own Easter Grass

A few years ago, I started (with the help of my daughter) to grow my own Easter grass. I haven't totally abandoned the commercial Easter grass in its oh-so-fun colors (though I only buy paper grass, not plastic), but I've begun to grow my own grass in festive containers to use as centerpieces. Someday I hope to be organized enough to grow the grass IN the girls Easter baskets and even possibly in some baskets to deliver to others. But, for now, I'm sticking with a few festive containers sprinkled around the house. It's an incredibly easy project -- and a great project to embark on with kids of any ages. Here's the scoop:

What You Need
  • Potting soil (and a small shovel unless you want to use your hands)
  • Containers (Get creative -- pots, buckets, baskets, Easter baskets, egg shells, etc. Note: If you choose to use a basket or something that doesn't hold water, you'll need to line with plastic or cellophane.
  • Grass seed (I use either rye or wheat grass seed/berries which you can typically buy in packets at a good garden supply store.)
  • A spray bottle
  • A sunny spot
  • Prepare your containers (e.g. if you use a basket or another container not designed for water, line with cellophane or plastic).
  • Fill your container(s) with soil.
  • Top soil with seeds. Add another 1/4 inch of soil on top of seed layer.
  • Use a spray bottle to moisten the soil.
  • Place in a sunny spot.
  • Over the next few days, keep an eye on your containers, misting soil as needed in order to keep it moist. 
  • In a week(ish), you'll have a container of grass. These containers of grass make a simple and beautiful centerpiece all on their own--but also look cute decorated with eggs, chicks, ribbons, etc.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Forcing Spring Update

Today is the official day of Spring. Where I am standing, however, Mama Earth seems to have forgotten.

In anticipation of needing Spring before it comes into full bloom, I have been attempting to "force" or rather "invite" Spring into my home with some forced blossoms.

The blooms are SO close, but not in time for the first day of Spring. Boo.

Friday, March 19, 2010


We love to cook and we love to sit down to dinner as a family. Given this, we are especially lucky (I used to try to claim credit to this, but in recent years I've decided it is never wise to claim credit for any parenting-related always seems to come back to haunt you!) to have one daughter (we've yet to see how number two daughter will feel...) who shares our interest in cooking, entertaining and eating. We rarely cook what I would call "kid food", we simply expect our daughter to eat whatever we're eating. And, she does. Every once in a while, however, she sighs and says, "Can't we just have macaroni and cheese?" After a few times of hearing this, I decided that we ought to give her some choice...or at least create a democracy around dinner. So, now after a meal we vote on whether a dinner is a "do over" or not. It has been a huge success--and I'll take total credit for this! In the spirit of this, Maine-ly Home will regularly feature meals that win the "do over" status in our home.  What "do-over-dinners" does your family have? 

This week's "do-over-dinner" is as basic and simple as can be--but it wins "do-over" status every time.

Lentils and Rice

  •  6 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, sliced
  • 1 1/3 cup uncooked lentils (pick over and rinse before using)
  • 3/4 cup long-grain white rice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • plain yogurt (we like Greek-style)
  • 1 lemon
  • 1-2 cups of your favorite tomato sauce
  1. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and saute onions until browned (about 8-10 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside. (If you don't like onions, this can easily be omitted.)
  2. Place lentils in a medium sized saucepan. Cover with water (with a dash of salt). Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes or until beginning to become tender. (I suggest keeping an eye on this as the water can quickly disappear.)
  3. Add rice to pot. Add enough water to cover both the rice and lentils. Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until rice and lentils are tender.
  4. Add onions to the cooked lentils and rice. Serve. We serve in a bowl with a choice of condiments -- lemon slices, plain yogurt and tomato sauce.
(Time Saving Hint: If this sounds good to you, but you don't have the desire to cook lentils, look for cooked lentils in the refrigerated section of Trader Joes and serve with your choice of rice and condiments.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Eggs-axctly What I Was Looking For

I know, I know, it's that egg theme again. :) Crazy egg-obsessed woman.

This time, however, it's all about Easter eggs.

We love decorating Easter eggs. We are not, however, crazy about all those creepy dyes that seem to stay on your hands for weeks. Imagine my delight when I discovered via one of my favorite blogs Soulemama that a new eco- and kid-friendly egg dyeing product has hit the market.

This new product, Eco-Eggs, is an Easter egg coloring kit that uses natural ingredients (e.g. purple sweet potato, paprika, red cabbage and blueberries) to color eggs. The kit also includes soy-crayons for decorating. As if this wasn't exciting enough, I have learned that the kit comes from a Maine company called Eco-Kids

Needless to say, I have ordered the product and I am happy to report it is on its way. Stay tuned for our 2010 egg dyeing adventures...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Caving to the Green

In my last post I mentioned that I had "skipped" St. Patrick's Day. Well, I'm taking that claim back. There will be no St. Patrick's Day Craft Basket, but, I have caved, there will be green.

I have my daughter to thank for this shift in attitude.

In fear of the dreaded St. Patrick's Day pinch (clearly a big topic at school yesterday), my daughter carefully picked out today's outfit -- green from the inside out (I'm wishing I'd taken a picture of her at the bus stop this morning.) But, much to my surprise, she insisted on going to bed in this outfit, "Mama, it will be St. Patrick's Day at midnight while I'm sleeping, and I'm not going to risk getting pinched." And, so, she did. She slept in green from head to toe. Over breakfast she drew pictures of leprachans, shamrocks, rainbows, pots of gold and the word "OUCH". :)

After she loaded the bus with a big smile from behind those green sunglasses, I thought, "How could I not catch the spirit?" I wondered what I could do to surprise her this afternoon. I just couldn't stomach the idea of green food (though I'd glady take a green beer if one was handed to me.) And, then, it donned on me. Play dough. Green play dough. Perfect.

So, I promptly set to work to make some green play dough for her to play with this afternoon.

Play dough is great. (I remember with great fondness that on my daughter's first day of montessori preschool her teacher had made a bunch of playdough and said with a very serious face, "Play dough is a great ice breaker." So true. I vowed at that moment, I'd host a party someday with loads of play dough on hand.).

If you haven't tried making your own play dough, I HIGHLY recommend it. It is economical; it lasts longer; it contains real stuff; and it is much smoother to play with (oh, and it doesn't make crumbs the way the commercial stuff does) -- and, I'll admit the process of making it, including using food color and kneading is great fun for me.

If you Google "play dough", you'll find lots of homemade playdough recipes including ones that are entirely edible (e.g. peanut butter play dough). My favorite recipe is below. (If you like the idea of homemade play dough, but don't actually want to make it, I encourage you to look on There are many crafters making and selling homemade play dough, including gluten-free versions . There's even a few "play dough of the month" clubs--how fun!)

Homemade Play Dough


* 1 cup water
* 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
* 1/2 cup salt
* 1 tablespoon cream of tartar (This makes the dough last a long time.)
* Food coloring
* Saucepan
* 1 cup flour


1. Combine water, oil, salt, cream of tartar, and food coloring in a saucepan and heat until warm.
2. Remove from heat and add flour.
3. Stir, then knead until smooth.
4. Store this dough in an airtight container or a plastic bag.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Move Over Valentine's Day

It appears that when you are six years old, time isn't measured by calendars, clocks or to-do lists, but rather by holidays. Virtually the minute the clock struck midnight on New Year's Eve, my six year old daughter was already gearing up for Valentine's Day. Honestly, I was a bit stunned since I had been relishing the thought of some holiday down-time.

But, I decided that rather than fight her on this, I'd embrace the whole idea. Now, three or four weeks before a holiday (commercial or religious)or change of season, I'm putting together a holiday/seasonal craft basket. (I'm thinking of doing a separate basket of books.) In large part, I'm collecting things we already have -- appropriate colored pencils, crayons, paper, etc. and then supplementing with a few new things (season or holiday appropriate stickers, for example). The first basket I did was for Valentine's Day -- and it was a HUGE hit. My daughter was cranking out valentine cards and decorations faster than Hallmark.

Now, onto Easter. (I know, I skipped St. Patrick's Day. Truth is, we don't have a lick of Irish in us, so I don't know where to begin. I guess I could have started with green....)

Easter Craft Basket Contents:
-Assorted cardstock in pastel colors (cut in half for
-Easter stickers
-Pastel glitter glue (new purchase)
-Cotton balls (for bunny tails, of course!)
-Assorted pastel pens, pencils, crayons and markers
-Some "inspiration" a photo of a bunny, a drawing of an easter egg, Easter-words
-Some holiday-inspired snacks/treats (jelly beans, of course!)

Friday, March 12, 2010


Man, I'm tired. And, just in time. It is National Sleep Awareness week.

Seriously, did you know that?

Truth is, I'm tired a lot these days, I'm not just rising to the occasion. You see, I'm a mom of a little baby who doesn't believe in napping or sleeping through the night. I find this particularly annoying because I am one of those parents (watch out, I'm getting up on my soapbox)that really thinks that sleep is critical,and that so many parents have let their schedules drive those of their kids, constantly depriving children of their much needed sleep. My husband and I have worked hard to give our older daughter the tools she needs to sleep--and to give her ample time to do so. The result? (Thanks to daughter number two we are starting to doubt whether we can really claim credit.) Our daughter sleeps twelve hours a night pretty consistently.

But, number two...she's giving us a run for our money. We've tried all our tricks and somedays it seems we make some progress - and other days it seems we are spiraling out of control.

Anyhow, in the spirit of National Sleep Awareness Week (and my exhaustion), I'm ordering yet another sleep book.

Have a restful weekend.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Good Eggs

My family has a bit of an obsession with eggs. I never knew this wasn't typical until last year at my Nana's memorial service when 90 percent (don't quote me on this figure) of my family stood up and spoke about all the wonderful-ness of my Nana including her ability to cook the perfect egg. Honestly, even then, it didn't totally strike me as unusual. It was later, when my husband pulled me aside and said somewhat nervously, "I never knew your family had such a thing for eggs." Ah, well, turns out we do.

My obsession with eggs, however, has little to do with how they are cooked (I like them nearly any way they are prepared.) and has more to do with where they came from. I need -- I crave -- I must have local, farm fresh (and ideally free range!) eggs. Good eggs, that's what I call them. There truly is nothing like them. They have a super rich yellow color and a taste that really does make those store-bought eggs seem quite tasteless.

Suffice it to say, when I wasn't able to locate a local source this year (there was a guy who had chickens but his chickens couldn't keep up with the demand), I was pretty crushed. Well, this weekend, things got a whole lot better. The guy whose chickens weren't producing enough six months ago, suddenly has an abundance and he showed up on my doorstep with a gift of two dozen, farm fresh eggs and a promise that I can now have a regular delivery. I think I've died and gone to heaven.

Since then, I periodically open up the fridge and stare at my cardboard containers of eggs and smile. (I know, I'm crazy.) Today, I opened up the fridge and it just didn't seem right -- these special, most delicious eggs clearly needed a better presentation.

And, then, I had an idea.

I had just knitted (just learning to knit - more on this another day) and felted a bowl and hadn't quite figured out what the bowl should hold. Sadly, this felted bowl was holding remotes. I dumped the remotes on the floor and quickly loaded it with eggs. Yup, it was perfect -- a nest for my precious eggs.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An Investment that Really Pays Off

Small Investments with Big Returns. That was the title of a Wall Street Journal article in January 2009. I was lured in -- who wouldn't be? After all, like lots of Americans, I'd lost a lot of money in the market. And, quite frankly, I was rather bitter about it. In my 20s and early 30s I headed all the advice of my parents and others and instead of spending my money, I'd stashed it away for the future. Well, by the look of my portfolio, I would have been better off blowing it on who knows what.

As I read the headline my hopes for retirement were renewed. A hot tip, that's just what I need.

I read a bread maker and make your own bread, get a library card in lieu of buying books, buy a pack of seeds and plant your own herbs and lettuce, buy a coffee maker, coffee and filters and make your coffee at home...Suddenly, I wondered if I'd mistakenly wandered away from But, a double-check of my browser confirmed I was in the right place. I reluctantly (in large part because of the suggestion that I make my own coffee instead of my near daily visits to my favorite coffee shop) read on.

The numbers were astonishing. A $55 bread maker would save $4 a week (easily, if you ask me) on bread, equaling a 280% return. Less than $100 in coffee and coffee making supplies (and a commitment to avoid buying coffee out) would save $1000, a 1000% return. Interesting. I noted to myself that I already owned a library card and I grew my own lettuce and herbs--patted myself on the back for being fiscally smart--and moved on in my reading.

Six months later as I was reading labels on bread bags at the supermarket, the article haunted me. It was becoming increasingly more expensive to buy bread, especially bread that I could feel good about giving my family. I put the bread in my cart and vowed to go home and investigating breadmaking. All my research pointed me to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, a book which promises that breadmaking can be an easy part of your day.

I purchased the book. I read the book. I totally bought into the concept--make big batches of no-knead dough and store in the fridge until you need fresh-baked bread. I promptly purchased a pizza peel, a baking stone and the ingredients.

My First Loaf of Homemade Bread

But, it took six weeks before I got the courage to give breadmaking a try. And, now I can't stop. I'm hooked. I love trying new recipes and am continuously gratified to put fresh bread on the table for family and friends. The WSJ was absolutely right, it was a good investment for a family's budget/bottom line. But, I believe they neglected to calculate what a great investment breadmaking is for your quality of life.

Try it, I dare you.

(By the way, I promise to address the coffee issue in the future.)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Forcing Spring

Spring. The transition period between winter and summer. It inspires images of green, blooming flowers and earth's re-birth.

But, in my life (except for the decade I lived in Washington, DC where Spring really is to die for), Spring is that season that never really comes on time...and rarely ever clearly defines itself.

We see signs. A warm day that inspires us to shed those many winter layers. A crocus poking through the earth. But, those warm days are more often than not followed by a chilly March wind. And, those crocuses, often get suffocated by a Spring snow.

Still, Spring gets under our skin. We look for change. We anticipate growth. And, well, when necessary, we help coax it along. Some call it "forcing". I like to think of it as an invitation.

This year, I'm inviting Spring into my home by forcing blossoms from a nearby cherry tree.

How-To Invite Spring into Your Home
  • Cut blossoms from a tree or bush (apple, cherry, forsythia to name a few) when buds are just beginning to swell.
  • Split bottoms of stems -- or, in my case, use a carrot peeler to take a little of the bark off.
  • Place in a vase or container of your choice.
  • Fill with water.
  • Place in a warm place (but not direct sun).
  • Change water every few days.
  • Wait.
In just a few weeks (maybe four weeks for cherry blossoms), Spring WILL be in your home, ready or not.