The First Person in Food Writing

Because I am a part-time food writer, I occasionally read about food.  Nothing gets my morning blood pressure elevated like a boring gastronomic account of soup, butter, or bacon.  But is all food writing worth the paper or bytes consumed to produce it?  I think not.  The current tendency of kitchen dwellers calling their diary entries “food writing” is an unfortunate display of the 21st century disease called “look at my cookies.”  Please…don’t boil some vegetables in a stock pot for an hour, puree it with an immersion blender, and tell me you’ve made soup!  That’s a vegetable smoothie, dearest, not a soup.

Put that in your plastic mobile goblet, aka sippy cup, and take a deep draught.

This morning, I’m thinking of the food writer, Cecily Brownstone.  Brownstone was the Associated Press Food Editor from 1947 until 1986 and her syndicated food features appeared in papers across the United States, including the Lewiston Evening Journal.  Her most memorable recipe is “Country Captain Chicken,” a curried chicken dish that has waxed and waned in popularity since Brownstone first published it.

Brownstone knew how to cook and fortunately, she was also skilled in journalistic forensics.  She traced the curried chicken recipe to an 1857 Philadelphia cookbook and then offered her readers an interpretation by Delmonico chef Alexander Filippini.  The internet is full of articles about Brownstone and this chicken recipe; interestingly, no current food writer or blogger has noted the recipe’s first date of publication.

Brownstone was a friend to Joy of Cooking writers Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker.  They featured it in their classic cooking volume and the 1975 edition prefaces the recipe with “this dish has become a favorite in America, although it probably got its name not from the sea captain who brought the recipe back from the shores, but from the Indian officer who first made him acquainted with it.  So says Cecily Brownstone, a great friend; this is her time-tested formula.”

There.  After a flavorless bowl of vegetable smoothie and two shots of espresso coffee, I’m back on the beam.  2018 is just around the corner and there will be interesting chefs to interview, local food growers and producers to meet, and maybe even a cookbook author speaking interesting words I can put inside quotation marks.

Carry on.

Posted in Cooking and Food | Tagged , , ,

Living in History

On Sunday, December 3, the Ruggles House Society hosted their annual Christmas Tea.  According to Peter Winham, a member of the Ruggles House Society Board of Directors, over 100 visitors attended the event.

Winham and his wife Kathy own Teas of Cherryfield and they provided a variety of restorative beverages for the event.  In addition to their tea business, the Winhams also own The Englishman’s Bed and Breakfast located at 122 Main Street in Cherryfield, a few miles down the road from The Ruggles House.   The bed and breakfast, a two-story Federal style building known as the Archibald-Adams House, is located along the Narraguagus River and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Back in July, when I first visited Columbia Falls and decided to attend the tea, I had only an inkling of the area’s historic credentials.  It was a whimsical idea, taking a car trip in December when the bad weather odds increase exponentially.  But Paul Cousins, Maine meteorologist, predicted “a sublime and unusually mild weekend” and his predictions of fair skies held firm.

I invited a friend, one with Revolutionary War roots dating back to the Battle of Machias and we sallied forth.

Fortunately, since my July visit, I had planted a seed of interest in my friend’s mind, encouraging her to begin her Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) membership.  I told her she might meet a number of DAR members at the Ruggles Tea, and we could even wander around old cemeteries looking for her ancestors.

When we first arrived in the area, we visited the Rock Maple Cemetery in Harrington.  She located the stone of her great-grandfather, George Wellington Stevens.  From a family history written by one of her great aunts, I learned Stevens was a “sturdy heavyset man and he did hard work but was never in a hurry.”

We made it our mantra to not be in a hurry while we were in Washington County.  It was a pleasant respite and in fact, one local woman told us we could slow time to the extent that we could “go back in time” if we visited Jonesport and Beals.

Of course, the allure of reversing time is always of interest to women and so we did visit the suggested idyllic area.

The highlight of the trip came when my friend’s 79-year-old cousin Carole Ann, a DAR since the age of 17, gave us a private tour of the Burnham Tavern in Machias.  The building is significant because it was a meeting place for the local militia prior to the 1775 Battle of Machias.  The Hannah Weston Chapter of the DAR operates the Burnham Tavern today and it’s an interesting repository of information.

After our tour, we took our time heading home and even stopped at the iconic Helen’s Restaurant in Machias for a cup of chowder and a piece of pie.  Cousin Carole Ann provided a wealth of historical information in addition to knowing almost everyone at the restaurant.

Stepping back in time courtesy of Washington County towns is a relaxing off-season practice.  If you have any reason to believe your ancestral roots may be planted in this area, I highly encourage you to visit.  And if you do, take a cue from Grampy Stevens and do not hurry.

Posted in Lady Alone Traveler | Tagged , , , ,

Your Morning Flight

Two years ago, I was drawn to “aspics.”  I wrote a blog post about this old-timey trend I revived in my mind.  I never made an aspic and the gelatin packets still sit on my kitchen counter keeping a silent sentry to another time and food fad.

More recently, I’ve been reading vintage cooking pamphlets before bed.  Other women my age are probably surfing “Stitch” on their mobile devices.

(What is “Stitch?”  Why, it’s an online community “which helps everyone over 50 find the companionship they need” according to the Stitch website.  Surf to it yourself.  And yes, that’s a direct quotation from their site; I did not write the grammatical error.  Besides, no one cares whether it’s “that” or “which” anymore.  The important thing is the “stitch.”)

Flying over the staircase of time, I was intrigued by this promotional undated pamphlet, extolling the virtues of “sandwiches for every occasion.”  It was published for The Cushman Bakery, once located on the corner of Elm and Kennebec Streets in Portland.  Cushman’s was a popular business, noted for its bread trucks that sped along the city streets delivering the staff of life to homes.  It’s hard to believe, but food delivery existed before Jeff Bezos and Amazon.  The brochure says “Cushman’s service to your home is a great time-saver…right at your door you have the undivided attention of a trained salesman who knows that courtesy, clean habits and intelligent service are as important for your satisfaction as fine quality products.”

The inside cover of the brochure featured a photograph of “pretty Miss Yvette Gagne, 1946 Potato Blossom Queen” receiving a loaf of Cushman’s Maine Potato Bread from Mr. E.S. Cushman, Vice-President and Manager of the Cushman Baking Company.  The photo caption noted this loaf was presented to Miss Gagne at a banquet introducing the new bread.

“Keep a good table by keeping Cushman’s Maine Potato Bread on it!  It’s made for New England folks who insist on good bread!”

The brochure featured a forward by Demetria Taylor, a nationally noted food editor for the Parade magazine who also authored a number of cook books.  She wrote:

“Ever since the Earl of Sandwich invented the idea of putting meat between bread slices so that he could eat without interrupting his game of cards, the sandwich named after him has been forever popular as fine fare for all occasions.”

The pamphlet featured almost fifty recipes for tasty treats like “Quick Supper Sandwiches” and “Too-Hot-To-Cook-Sandwiches.”  (Is the latter the Stitch signature sandwich?)

Clubbed, crust-less, or toasted, Cushman’s bread was the foundation of good eating.  And the implication was that these gluten-filled morsels were also the glue of companionship.  No one would eat a “Bridge Luncheon Sandwich” alone.  Nor a “Porch Supper” sandwich.  These sandwiches were meant to be shared.  Please, darling, pack more than one in the lunch box for sharing with co-workers.

There will be more to say about sandwiches in the coming weeks, but for now, I’ll take a ham and cheese on rye for my morning flight of fancy.

Posted in Cooking and Food | Tagged , , , , ,

Pajama Shopping Day

How have the sands of today’s hourglass slipped away without my creaky content making its appearance?  ‘Tis the season.

On Saturday, November 25, the Chamber of Kennebunk, Kennebunkport, and Arundel hosted a Pajama Shopping Day.  When I first saw it online, I was horrified.  Then, I was intrigued.  I looked at the participating businesses and realized I could get a free cup of coffee at H.B. Provisions and some deep discounts on letterpress cards at Ink & Thistle Press.

But wearing pajamas in public?  Readers here know how I feel about “Hobo Couture.”

Readers also know I love letterpress printing.

I rifled through my sleepwear and looked honestly at my leopard print bathrobe.  Was there a way to elevate hobo couture to a new level with style and grace?

I thought the scene would resemble the fabled “Running of the Bulls” in Pamplona, Spain.  I was disappointed.  Nary a flannel-clad shopper could be seen and I inadvertently sat at a regular’s table at H.B. Provisions.

It all worked out, I got my letterpress cards, some free coffee and a half-price lobster omelette.  I took a “selfie” at an iconic tourist location and then motored home.

This morning in the Lewiston Sun Journal, reporter Mark LaFlamme wrote a funny article in his “Street Talk” column.  It was called “Dressed for success:  I hate that.”  He was recently quizzed at a crime-scene about his identify as a reporter based on his attire.  He said “I don’t dress purty, yo.”

In classic LaFlamme style, he outlined why it’s difficult to cover the news wearing a starched shirt and tie.  He said “the problem with being a newspaper reporter is that unless you’re a firmly entrenched State House reporter or something godawful like that, you don’t know from one minute to the next what assignment will fall with a plop onto your plate.  Will I be sent to cover a school committee meeting tonight?  Or will I be required to elbow crawl through a swamp to adequately cover an armed standoff out in West Canker Sore?”

LaFlamme has his Carhartt and I have my leopard print bathrobe.  We do what we must to get our stories.

Posted in Lady Alone Traveler | Tagged , ,

Favorite Things

One of my blog readers is demanding their Wednesday morning post.

Thanksgiving leftovers are one of my favorite things and I’ll bet they’re yours, too.

Because I aim to please, click on the snazzy suit and feast on blogging leftovers.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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No Need to Speed

It was election day yesterday and as some readers know, I filled my mother’s vacated election clerk seat when she retired.  I work at the polls.  The day began at 6:30 a.m. and ended at 9:00 p.m.

As blog reader Loosehead Prop commented after last year’s election cycle:

“The single best defense against fraud at the polls (never mind registration fraud, whole different problem) is the probity of citizens like you who worked the polls everywhere in the country, determined that the polls should be fair, no matter who won.”

It’s a long day at the polls and yet, it is incredibly enjoyable.  According to the final tally from the Lisbon Town Clerk, Twyla Lycette, 31% of the town’s voters cast ballots.  I do not have the breakdown between live voters and absentee ballots, but based on the reported 2,083 state ballots cast, I estimate I saw about 1,500 of my fellow town citizens.  In spite of dire warnings about the loss of community, I enjoy this opportunity to talk with friends and neighbors and meet new people.

I cast my own ballot during a lull at approximately 1:00 p.m.  I voted against the statewide “casino initiative” and I voted for Rick Mason to fill Gina Mason’s vacated District 56 Maine House of Representatives seat.  Mason carried the vote by an undisputed margin.

It was bittersweet to watch Rick’s son Garrett check the final tape from the voting machine when Lycette taped it up for the candidates to check.  The son gave his father a hug, signaling to me that his father had won.

Rick Mason’s opponent claimed the victory resulted from a sympathy vote.  It wasn’t something I would have said, but I am not a politician.  The opponent, clutched in the jaws of defeat for the second time, may have just been a bit hurt.

And so small town time marches on.  It’s Wednesday, I’m waiting for someone to put a piece of siding back on my house and I’m looking forward to another bright post-election November day.

The Basilica series is over and I have a meeting with the Sun Journal editor to talk about a new series.  My “Mason” for Maine House signs are down and I’m thinking about Thanksgiving.

No need to speed, we will get there.

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All Saints’ Day Meatloaf

On Sunday evening, October 29, 2017, tropical storm Philippe wound down and breathed its last over New England.  Philippe’s death rattle rustled Maine, with winds recorded as high as 69 miles per hour at the Portland International Jetport.  Higher wind speeds were recorded at other locations around the region.

Maine Governor Paul LePage issued a state of emergency on Monday, October 30, 2017.  More than half of the state’s population were without power, greater than the number of outages recorded during the epic 1998 “Ice Storm.”

By Tuesday, October 31, 2017, speculation abounded regarding the safety of Halloween festivities.

Here in Lisbon Falls, I was without power for approximately 12 hours.  A piece of siding flew off the roofline’s fascia and a large oak branch fell into my Hosta garden.

My Sunday evening prayer for God’s will and the lone forty-foot pine in my backyard was answered.

I was shocked and stunned to open my bedroom drapes and see more daylight than usual.  Something was missing.  Maine may very well be the “Pine Tree State” and I love it here; nevertheless, I’m much happier to have the state tree in the gully behind my house than splintering my kitchen.

My thoughts on the missing timber can be summed up with a quote from Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul sacristan, Mark Labonte, who once said “we used to have dinosaurs, but we don’t miss them.”

I’m not going to miss that tree, hanging like a reforming wrecking ball over my house.

I didn’t miss the trick or treaters who failed to visit the neighborhood either.  Some local community boosters hosted a Halloween party for the young and young at heart at the MTM Center, a town gathering facility, and it cut into the sugar-addled foot traffic.

I’ve got some surplus candy now.  Not much, but enough to think about.  Not today, though. Today is a day for eating All Saints’ Day Meatloaf, hot from the oven.

How’s that for a segue?

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