Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In Lieu of Flowers

I'm dedicating this blog post--a piece I wrote two years ago--to a former colleague - who is, as I write this, dying of cancer. This wonderful woman is one of those people (truly) who lights up a room -- whose happy and positive spirit makes this world a better place. As I understand from friends that are with her now, even in pain and in the last days of her life with her friends and family (which includes her 6 year old daughter), she continues to share smiles, laughs and a really positive attitude. Thank you, M, for the joy you have brought to so many in your life. 

When I die, in lieu of flowers, please go to Circus Smirkus.

I am completely serious.

Tonight, along with my family (nearly the whole clan, in fact), I entered The Big Top to witness the phenomenon many of my friends had told me about over the last handful of years.

Sure, when I urged my mom to purchase the tickets for all of us, I was confident it would be a fun evening—but, I was thinking that it would be fun to watch my four year old daughter and her cousins enjoying the show. Never in a million years did I expect to be so captivated myself.

But, for two hours, despite the hard bench beneath my 39 year old behind, I sat smiling and clapping and watching with great anticipation as happy, smiling children—and, fellow kid clowns--juggled, rode unicycles and performed acrobatic stints with ease. I felt the thrill of being a kid in awe--a feeling that one doesn’t get to experience much these days amidst a world with great pressures and a whole lot of downers.

These acrobats, jugglers, clowns and trapeze artists were regular children. Children who decided to enlist in the circus—and, over the course of three weeks they learned these tricks and then began a 70 show tour. Amazing. They were talented—but, above all, they seemed to be having the time of their life.

On our way home, still feeling a tickle of excitement in my belly, we discussed what acts we’d like to undertake if we were going to join the circus. My daughter (4 years old) declared she would be an acrobat, my husband a juggler – and, me, well, a trapeze artist, of course.

At that moment, I whispered to my husband…

…in lieu of flowers when I die, go to Circus Smirkus. Or send someone there.

To me, that’s what heaven would be like—under The Big Top with a bunch of laughing, smiling people.  

This year, in just another week, I'll be going to Circus Smirkus -- and, I'll be smiling and laughing for you, MP.

Eating Sustainably

I'd like to think I was a bit of a locavore before being a locavore was trendy.

Honestly, though, it was anything but intentional. It was just the way life was. We grew up on a tiny hobby farm with chickens who gave us eggs, with a garden that put veggies on our tables, with pigs that became our bacon, with sheep that provided us with--well, lamb and wool--and blueberry fields that filled our muffins! :) Of course, we didn't live entirely on local food...but, a good start, for sure. (By the way, thanks Mom and Dad for doing this!)

But, like most Americans, I've become accustomed to buying whatever food I want (more or less), regardless of whether it is in season or from here or across the planet. But, I am trying to return to a more sustainable way of eating. (I have to tell you - probably deserves a post of its own -- my husband and I cooked an entirely locavore Thanksgiving 2 years ago -- and, it was SO much fun. A bit pricey, but, fun!) I personally think that even doing one or two things a little more sustainably is a HUGE step in the right direction.

In any event, despite my intentions, sometimes it's hard to sort through it all -- all the mixed messages, the contradictions, etc. But, I loved a list (gotta love lists!) I saw from a recent issue of Whole Living. I modified the list some. It was called 50 Ways to Eat Sustainably. Well, I've reduced that number...and I'd like to name it, "A Bunch of More Sustainable Choices".

A Bunch of More Sustainable Choices
  1. Use the whole vegetable. That's right, don't just eat the broccoli florets, but, peel eat the stems too!
  2. Get to the root. Look for loose greens (or other things) with the roots attached. You'll use less (none, actually!) packaging and can either eat or compost the stems.
  3. Be a farmer's market regular. 
  4. Buy heirloom. Sure, buying heirloom is trendy, but it also means the seeds have been passed down for generations and grown in small crops that restore the soil.
  5. Stock up when produce is in season -- then freeze it, pickle it or preserve it. (Then, when you are craving strawberries in January, you can have them, without buying a quart that has been shipped across the country!)
  6. Ask your local farmer for recipes--in all likelihood it will expose you to something new!
  7. Have a farmer's market challenge -- for one week eat only that which you can buy at the local farmer's market!
  8. Buy local eggs.
  9. Put your basement to used as a root cellar--and keep "winter crops" like squash, sweet potatoes, turnips for four to six months.
  10. Join a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm. Don't know where to look? Try www.eatwellguide.com or www.localharvest.org.
  11. Be package conscious. Try to buy things with the least packaging -- or in containers that are recyclable in your community.
  12. Know your milk. Until the USDA revised standards last year, 30 to 40 percent of milk sold in the U.S. that was labeled organic was actually from factory farm-raised cows. Check out your brand of milk at www.sustainable.org
  13. Use unprocessed grains.
  14. Soak beans and grains overnight --it cuts cooking time (and energy use!) in half.
  15. Read labels. 
  16. Buy local bread -- you'll eliminate packaging and a fuel-burning journey. (Chances are the bread is also made with healthier ingredients!)
  17. Make breadcrumbs from stale bread instead of tossing it.
  18. Read PLU codes. If the number on the produce sticker starts with a 9, it's organic.
  19. Cut out processed corn -- 85 percent of corn grown in this country has been genetically modified.
  20. Eat local corn! :)
  21. Wash less wastefully--submerge greens in bowl of water instead of rinsing while the water is running.
  22. Put that cooking water to use. Repurpose that water you used to blanch vegetables (nutrient-rich) in soups or for boiling pasta. (Or, water your plants with it if it is unsalted and oil free.)
  23. Eat safer seafood. 
  24. Buy whole chickens. You can more meat for your money - less waste - and a chance to make stock (see #25!)
  25. Make stock. When you've used up the last of the chicken or turkey, throw the carcass in a pot with enough water to cover--add an onion, a carrot, a celery stalk, a few garlic cloves and a couple of sprigs of herbs. Simmer uncovered for at least 2 hours, occasionally skimming the foam on the top. Strain it, pour into jars, let cool an freeze!
  26. Fill the oven. When you are roasting a chicken or baking a casserole, throw in some vegetables or a loaf of zucchini bread--you'll turn on your oven less!
  27. Pick healthier pots and pans. Skip nonstick pans which are petroleum based.
  28. Have a green BBQ. Use carbon-neutral briquettes such as Green Hearts Natural Charcoal Briquettes.
  29. Be a smart carnivore. Choose antibiotic and hormone free. 
  30. Sweeten with honey--it's renewable and doesn't use the massive amounts of water in production, like sugar.
  31. Try growing something. A pot with an herb. Some lettuce. 
  32. Compost your kitchen scraps.
  33. Drink fair trade or bird-friendly coffee.
  34. Use organic olive oil--most mass produced olive oil is grown with pesticides.
  35. Make your own salad dressing!
  36. Use glass storage containers instead of plastic. 
  37. Wrap baked goods with dishcloths instead of plastic wrap.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Guest Blog: Cupcakes in a Mason Jar

One of the really wonderful things about blogging is that you have an opportunity to "meet" and connect with people who share similar likes, perspectives, etc. That's what it's all about, right?
Well, I had such an opportunity a couple of months ago -- Christina at 2LittleHooligans. Christina, who also resides in New England, is a busy mom of little ones who loves to create things and has a huge appreciation for the outdoors and all things handmade. After a few email exchanges, Christina and I discovered we also share a love of mason jars -- and, when she told me that she bakes things IN mason jars I begged her to guestblog -- and she agreed! (Thank you, Christina!!) 
Cupcakes in Mason Jars: From Christina @ 2Little Hooligans

This has been one of my favorites lately, cupcakes in a canning jar. Its great! You can bake, frost and freeze them right in the jar. Whats even greater, my husband can take them to work and just eat them right out of the jar. It is amazing what you can do with canning jars. I'm pretty much convinced that if you can cook it, then you can cook it in a jar!

To get started you will need:
  • Canning jars ( I prefer to use 1/2 pint, pint jars and jelly jars.)
  • Cupcake recipe and all the ingredients to go along with it.
  • Frosting
  • Non-stick cooking spray.

  • Pre-heat oven to desired temp and prepare cake mix per recipe.
  • Spray jars with non-stick cooking spray.
  • Fill jars 1/3 of the way or a tad bit more. Do not fill more then 1/2 full, as the cupcakes almost double in size.
 Bake jars directly on oven racks. They will bake in less time then usual, so keep checking them.
Bake until cake tester comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely.

Use a cake tester to loosen up the cupcake in the middle.


Push piping bag as far down as possible and squeeze in some frosting.
Finish off with more frosting.
And if the kids are around, you know you are going to have to add some sprinkles!
Lots of them!

I like to use the plastic lids. They are easier and safer with the kids.

As you can tell, I didn't spend time trying to make them cute. The kiddo's were "helping" mommy and they were not going to wait any longer to dig in. So party planning girls out there, I'm leaving this one to you. Let's see them on a dessert table! How cute would these be for a kids birthday party?

While I love cupcakes in a canning jar, I lOVE these ones even more...
Brownie sundaes in a canning jar!
Thanks em for the great tutorial on the umbrellas, we had a good time making them.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Do-Over Snack: Kale Chips

I know, I know...I've gone off the deep end -- kale chips!?!

Well, I'd read a recipe for kale chips on SmittenKitchen a while back.

Then, I read on Facebook that a friend (nice work Raye!) had made them for her boys and they were a hit.

And, then, while reading WholeLiving I saw that kale chips are being packaged and sold. (New York Natural Spicy Miso Kale Chips retail  for $7.50 for a 3.5 oz container.)

It seemed to me that the universe was sending all kinds of signs to try making kale chips. Kind of a bummer, since while I love most greens, I'm not a huge kale fan.

So this weekend at the Bath Farmer's Market (Bath, Maine), I purchased some kale and set to work. See below for details. Super easy -- and, quite yummy, I thought. (My daughter, however, spit them out.)

Roasted Kale Chips

1. Wash kale.
2. Cut out thick stem.
3. Cut or tear leaves into chip size pieces.
4. Toss kale with olive oil.
5. Put olive oil coated kale on baking sheet.
6. Bake @ 350 for 20 minutes.
7. Remove from oven and toss with salt (or, maybe even some spices?).
8. Eat!

Hint: Do not leave out the kale chips on a humid day. My husband said on day 2, "These aren't chips, they are leaves."

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Clear Your Calendars for This Weekend

I could not believe my eyes when I opened the latest issue of Downeast Magazine. I hesitate to think what would have happened if I hadn't gotten this month's issue -- or had delayed in reading it...

I cannot even believe it. But, this weekend is the Central Maine Egg Festival. You know how much I love local eggs, right? Well, a whole festival celebrating local eggs-oh my! Well, it's true. This week (I already missed the Egglympics which included great events like an egg toss and rubber chicken throwing contests.) you can join others for Pittsfield's event of the year - the Central Maine Egg Festival. Like many Maine festivals, the week long schedule includes kids activities, fireworks, a craft fair, local food and much, much more. Check out the schedule!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Do-Over-Dessert: Ice Cream Your Kids Can Make

My husband and I purchased an ice cream ball from LL Bean for my nieces and nephew at least three Christmases ago, and much to my surprise, they have never used it despite the fact that we gave them everything they needed (included flavor extracts and rock salt!), except the cream! (I think my sister's concern for the mess was the rationale for letting it collect dust in her basement.)

In any event, it seemed ridiculous that this hadn't been used -- and I had the perfect opportunity to put it to use-- eight cousins in the backyard!

It really was easy as can be -- just plop the ingredients in and let the kids go nuts. And, they did - at one point, I saw them rolling it down the slide on the swingset! In any event, we made basic vanilla ice cream and it was super-yummy. The kids were super impressed.

So, if you've been thinking about getting one of these, now is the time! I'm envisioning a birthday party activity...or, better yet, a leisurely glass of wine with friends while our kids are busy!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Maine-ly Cousins

Once a year, the cousins (the eight kids that my siblings and I have added to this clan over the last 17 years) gather in Maine. It's a big deal -- and a reliable annual summer event that we all (I suspect that I might be mis-speaking for all our spouses who must, as a result of this great cousin gathering, also be subjected to all our family craziness) look forward to.

Sure, throughout the year, different subsets of this fabulous group of eight get together -- but the whole group (due to significant geographical distance between some of us) only gets together once a year. During the cousin extravaganza - typically a span of a week or two -- there are a lot of activities and gatherings. Beach days. Boating trips. Island trips. Sleepovers. Backyard adventures. Theatrical performances. Baseball games. Oh, and, well, in the spirit of honestly (lest you all think I have the perfect family) melt downs, conflicts, negotiations and moments of desperately wanting the extravaganza to be over.

During Cousin Extravaganza, there is a whole lot of Maine-style living. Sure, in part because that's our style. But, also,  in part, because one of my siblings lives in Hawaii and, well, as any Maine-r who is transplanted would agree, when one returns to Maine there is a whole lot of necessary catching up to do. Concentrated living is what we call this. It comes out in funny ways--like my brother making himself sick nearly every year by consuming lobster in some fashion at least once a day for the entire extravaganza.

Really, despite some of the tensions and exhaustion that accompany this family adventure, it IS one of the things I most look forward to. To see cousins -- ranging from 14 months to 17 years -- playing, bonding, helping each other out -- it is what life is all about.

Like my children, I grew up with (and still have -- though rarely the entire clan) annual gatherings of cousins--complete with joy, conflict and all--and, to this day, I cherish both those memories and those relationships. (One of my cousins is author of the fabulous LoveVermont blog, by the way.)

How about you? Do cousins play a big role in your life?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What's a Girl To Do?

Since forever, I have loved a certain little farmhouse. It is quintessential Maine. A screened in porch, white clapboards, black shutters, a granite slab stoop and a red door. The house sits on an open, sloping piece of land (bordered by trees, of course) that is covered with grass with an occasional granite boulder popping through. Beautiful perennial gardens and a picket fence around the patio in back. And, although you can't see the water from the house, it is just a hop, skip and a jump from the water.
For many years, every time I drive by this particular house I say out loud (just ask my husband for confirmation on this!), "If this house ever goes for sale, I want it. Of course, it never will, because this is - I can tell - one of those houses that stays in a family forever."

I drive by and think about how I'd hang a swing in the big oak tree...about how I'd put in a little vegetable garden...about creating a little home for some chickens...about how sweet those roses must smell...about sipping my coffee on that screened in porch, listening to the seagulls, smelling the nearby sea air.

Well, much to my surprise, when I drove by it this weekend, there was a For Sale sign on the house. It has completely thrown me for a loop. I had this little fantasy...and, now, well, now what!?!

Do you have a house that you dream of?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

iPhone for Birders

If I had an iPhone, I'd definitely want this app.

The National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds is an easy-to-search library of 751 species in the U.S. and Canada. The app includes a range map, multiple calls and photos. And, it's only $20 on itunes.

But, hmm...on second thought, doesn't seem odd--or downright criminal--to be bringing one's cell phone on a birding adventure!?

Fortunately for me, I don't have an iPhone, so I'm not forced to agonize over this....(that's my rationale for my disappointment about no iPhone).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A New Dating Service You've Got to Try

Okay, not really a dating service...

...but, a matchmaking site which helps connect people who have a yard, but no gardening skills with landless folk who just want to grow.

Cool idea, huh? To find or start a yard share in your town, check out www.hyperlocavore.ning.com

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Yarmouth Clam Festival

Each year, on the third weekend of July, the Town of Yarmouth, Maine (along with thousands of volunteers) rolls out its welcome mat with the Yarmouth Clam Festival.

This three day festival includes a fantastic parade (remember, I come from a long heritage of parade watchers...so I KNOW my parades), a wonderful crafts fair (Maine artisans galore!), a carnival, a long list of festival activities (including favorites like firefighter's muster, a clam shucking contest and a canoe/kayak race). And, of course, food. Lots of food, including -- and, no big surprise here - clams, anyway you can imagine. Fried clams. Clam chowder (or, Chow-dah, as it is said here in Maine.). Clam Rolls. Steamers (that's steamed clams for those of you not familiar with the native tongue.)

I've been going to the Yarmouth Clam Festival since I was a little girl. Of course, I've missed some years here and there...but, I have lots of fun memories of this festival -- now celebrating its 45th year!

Will I see you there?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Someone Else Baked the Bread.

{photo via treats of maine}

This weekend we had our first trip to the Bath Farmer's Market in quite a while (we've been away - trust me, if I'm here, I go every week!) -- oh, how I love the Bath Farmer's Market. You'll hear more about this from time to time, like it or not! :)

Of course, I love the wonderful offerings -- organic produce and seedlings, flowers, baked goods, cheese, even handmade goodies like soap and sweaters.

But, I also just love the scene. The market takes place by the river which creates a lovely backdrop. A sense of local abundance abounds. Kids playing on the grass, eating rolls and doughnuts, kids standing in line to buy their honey sticks. Adults with their baskets in hand, buying stuff, and catching up with friends and neighbors. It's all really good stuff.

When I got home from the market on Saturday I emptied my basket and found a loaf of bread. I was struck with surprise. We hadn't bought a loaf of bread (except for an occasional loaf of basic sandwich bread) in 10 months since I started making my own --it was almost foreign to me to see a loaf made by someone else. Turns out, my husband, a huge fan of Borealis Breads, couldn't resist. And, I'm glad. I had a piece last night, toasted with local lime-pepper flavored goat cheese (also from the Farmer's market)--and it was to die for.

If you are in the market for good bread, I highly recommend Borealis Breads. The rustic breads are leavened with a sourdough starter, shaped by hand and baked on a stone hearth. You can find the bread at Borealis' bakery and retail stores located in Portland, Waldoboro and Wells, at farmer's markets and at stores throughout Maine.


Friday, July 9, 2010

Be Happy as a Clam at High Tide

The Yarmouth Clam Festival (gotta love Maine -- small state with lots of really cool festivals!) is just a week away. Not to worry, I'll be sharing more about this in the next few days. But, there is something very important I need to tell you about right away.

Remember me telling you about my friend Katie at the Levity Project?

Well, she is organizing a "flash mob laughter event" at 4 p.m. on the kick-off day at the Yarmouth Clam Festival. Only those that register (a target of 150 people) will get the specific details.

Having participated in other Levity Project events, I can assure you this will be the highlight of  your weekend.

So, if you can be in Yarmouth next Friday (July 16th), register now for this event.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Moxie on Tap

I bet you didn't know that this nation's first mass-marketed soft drink originated from Maine.

It's true.

And, while it wasn't originally called this, it is known as Moxie.

Never heard of it?

Well, there's no better time to come give it a shot -- this weekend is the Annual Moxie Festival in Lisbon Falls, Maine. They'll be fireworks, a parade, a river race, a carnival -- and, of course, plenty o Moxie to be drunk.

A Unique Drink
 One of the key ingredients of Moxie is "Gentian Root Extractive", making Moxie's flavor a bit more bitter than most. Unique, for certain. Curious about the taste? Watch this great YouTube clip.

The Scoop on Moxie
 Maine-r Dr. Augustin Thompson invented Moxie. The original form of Moxie was a patent medicine called "Moxie Nerve Food" (invented in 1876 by Dr. Thompson) which claimed to contain extracts from a rare plants that was supposed to be especially effective against "paralysis, softening of the brain, nervousness and insomnia". After a few years, Thompson added soda water to this concoction and changed the name to "Beverage Moxie Nerve Food." By 1884, Thompson was selling the soda in bottles -- and in bulk fountain soda and it was said to be favored by President Calvin Coolidge. At one point, Moxie's ad campaigns, including an endorsement by Boston Red Sox' Ted Williams, were said to be the driving force behind the soft drink's popularity.

In recent decades, Moxie fell out of favor due to competition from Coca Cola. But, demand still exists in New England -- and the company (now owned by Coca Cola) fields requests from Moxie die-hards across the country.
I have to admit, I've only tasted Moxie once, and, well, it wasn't for me. But, there are enough die-hards out there, that it's worth a shot, if you are so inclined. And, besides, the name is SO cool.

Have a happy and Moxie-filled weekend.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Lovin' It: My New Sprout Watch

The week before last, I was raving about a new product I had seen and read about---Sprout watches--an eco-friendly watch.

It was (and I don't think I misled you here...) a long-distance love.

Truthfully, a love affair with a vision.

Until it changed.

My Sprout watch arrived a few days ago and I'm SO in love.

It's the real deal.


I love everything about it. It is super cute. It is super eco-friendly. And, to make it even more delicious, it arrived in very "green" packaging and a mini grown-your-own grass garden. How super green. :)

Have you gotten your super Sprout watch yet? (And, no, I don't work for Sprout....)

July: A Planner

July promises to be a busy month. Here are some of the things I have planned:
  • Visiting (as frequently as possible) Popham Beach State Park.
  • Weekly trips to the Bath Farmer's Market
  • Kayaking with my husband some early morning while my mom watches our kid (Hint, hint, Mom!).
  • Eating lobster on a dock at places like Five Islands Lobster Company
  • Going to the world's smallest (officially, I'm not positive...) and cutest aquarium--the Maine State Aquarium (located in Boothbay Harbor).
  • Exploring Maine's midcoast in our small, but adventurous little boat known as The Morning Star.
  • Taking my kids to a SeaDogs baseball game.
  • Going to (and having lunch at!) the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
  • Grilling and cooking with the summer's bounty!
  • Checking out the 44th Annual Yarmouth Clam Festival Parade (because I come from a long line of parade junkies and have great childhood memories of this one!)
  • Having cool drinks with good friends on backyard decks and on the shores of Maine.
  • Taking my daughter (because she is the littlest foodie friend I have) on a Maine Foodie Tour courtesy of complimentary tickets from Maine Things to Do.
  • Hosting and visiting with friends and family.
What's on your July planner?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

MainelyHome on BlogHer

I'm super excited to report that one of the posts from Maine-ly home is now appearing in syndication -- on Blogher.Check it out - and please leave a comment (here or on the Blogher site, preferably!) if you are inspired.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

July: By John Updike

A Child's Calendar

In keeping with tradition, here's what John Updike had to say about the month of July....And, in case you've missed my previous pitches, I highly recommend this book -- A Child's Calendar -- accompanied by beautiful illustrations that depict Vermont life.

Ban-bang! Ka-boom!
We celebrate
Our national
Independence date,

The Fourth, with
Firecrackers and
The marching of
The Legion Band.

It makes us think
Of hot dogs, fries, and Coke to drink.

The shade is hot.
The little ants
Are buys, but
Poor Fido pants

And Tabby dozes
In a pool
Of fur she sheds
To keep her cool.