Tip #18: Make it a boat


Eggplant. Winter squash. Summer squash. Zucchini. Russet potatoes. Sweet potatoes. Tomatoes.

Fill’em, bake’em, and serve’em.

I am not always interested in a meal that has a bunch of separate components sitting next to each other on the plate. Sometimes, I want my food in one tidy package. (Not the plastic kind, of course.)  When I do not want soup or a casserole, which also fit this craving, I like to stuff and bake (although not necessarily) vegetables. One of the great things about “boats” for dinner is that they are a great way to clean out the refrigerator and use up those odds and ends of nuts, seeds, and grains in the cabinet. In my experience, kids like the whimsy of stuffed vegetables, too.

I grow Carnival Squash–which is shaped like Acorn Squash and prepared the same way, but has a prettier skin and slightly sweeter taste–mainly so that I can fill it. Most often, my go-to filling is a chopped, cooked green, quinoa, scallions, dried fruit, pistachios, and feta. A little crunch and a little chew, a little sweet and a little savory; we love it.

This week, I had sweet potatoes to use. They last forever…until they don’t. We were at that point. There was also a cup of chopped cauliflower, two cups of blanched Swiss chard, the heel of a local nutty-tasting cheese, a cup of a cooked wild rice blend, and some leftover ham in the refrigerator. I not-quite-caramelized an onion, added a clove of garlic and the greens, and cooked them until they were tender. After baking the sweet potatoes, I halved them and hollowed them out (leave about a 1/4″ border of the flesh, so they don’t collapse) and mixed the flesh with the greens and ham. I sprinkled a little cheese in the bottom of each sweet potato half, over-filled them with the mixture, and topped them with the remaining cheese. Back into the oven they went, and dinner was done. The fridge was a little less crowded, too. I call that a win-win.

This method works with any vegetable (or fruit) that has a skin that will hold up after hollowing out. Some of them (most of them) will need to be baked and then hollowed, but tomatoes, zucchini, and summer squash (even cucumbers, filled with a cold salad) can be hollowed out without baking first. A metal spoon is your friend here.

I would not necessarily say that serving dinner in one contained package is less work than the separate components on a plate, (unless you’re combining leftovers) but it is a fun way to mix up what you put on the table each evening.


Back to the strangeness


It is snowing.

Mostly, that makes me want to run around shrieking and throwing things, but I remind myself that tomorrow it is supposed to be 50 degrees and sunny, so the ever-growing coating of white stuff outside my window will disappear rapidly.

It helps. Kind of. I still feel a shriek bubbling up occasionally.

This has been an odd winter-into-spring here in the North Country. Winter never really made an appearance until mid-January, and except for some pretty low temperatures in February and March, it was not ever that cold. Everything is relative, mind you, and “not that cold” hereabouts is in the thirties and forties. Or even twenties when it is a sunny day with no wind. When “cold” can be -27, you take it where you can get it…

Anyway, back to the strangeness. Winter held off until spring this year, and we have had quite a bit of it this April. There has been more snow this month than there was between November and March–at least it feels that way–and about two weeks ago we had a low of 15. Those kinds of temperatures that late in the season can be bad for blooming fruit trees, so I have been holding my breath a bit, waiting to see what will happen. The Nanking cherries are blooming, which is a positive indicator, so I am hopeful.

Today feels especially gray because of the fact that I had been hoping to plant out my cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower, onions and escarole early this week. I am itching to be in the garden and this game of up-and-down with the temperatures is making it hard to decide what is going to be best for the plants. Lots of people accustomed to this kind of thing will point out that today’s snow is a great boost of poor-man’s nitrogen for the garden, so there is that. And there are those 50 degree temperatures with lots of sun moving in for the rest of the week.

With all the gray and white out there, oatmeal seemed like a great breakfast today. We are out of propane for the stove, of course, because that is how life goes. But boiling water in the electric kettle and pouring it over quick oats does a suitable job, so oatmeal with maple and raisins it was. I am hoping the propane delivery will happen before I head to work–they have to get in the house to do a leak check–or there will not be any cooking here for dinner. Or breakfast, again.  But there is coffee, so the general public is safe when I finally venture out there.

Snow in late April. It is awfully pretty, but I am ready for that daffodil, tulip, and lilac kind of beauty.

Zhongguo and Meiguo

My brain is all over the place lately, which makes sitting down to write a challenge. When I’m like this, reading is usually the best way to get myself settled. It seems kind of like a seasonal thing for me; the dramatic shifts between winter and spring and fall and winter appear to unsettle me somehow. I grew up in Florida, so it doesn’t seem like such an odd thing, if I think about it. It takes time for the body to adjust to the new. Although after twelve years, you’d think I’d have it by now…

I just finished reading Simon Winchester’s book, The Man Who Loved China, and I have found myself wondering about all kinds of things that came up in the writing.  (I highly recommend the book.) One thing that I was pondering today was the–seemingly human?–behavior of changing the name of a country so that it fits your own country’s language. For example, in the English-speaking world, we call China, well, China. But in China it is called Zhongguo, and America is Meiguo.  The Finnish call their country Suomi, but in English it is Finland. This seems to be more common than not, which puzzles me a bit.

I think it might have particularly stuck in my mind because last Saturday we had friends (a father and his daughter) over for dinner, and the teenager half of the friends goes to a school with quite a few Chinese exchange students. She mentioned that most of them choose “American” names for their time here. I questioned this, and my husband suggested that it was pretty normal teenage behavior: they want to fit in rather than stick out. He then recounted a story of this first job, busing tables at a Chinese restaurant. When the owner introduced himself, he gave his Chinese name and then said, “But you can call me Vince!”  His name in Chinese was difficult for Americans, so he made it easier for them.

Admittedly, the idea of having a different name for a different place is kind of appealing. When we travel or move to a new location, it’s an opportunity to reinvent ourselves, and a new name can be part of that. But I think more often than not, and this is a totally unscientific opinion, people change their names because it’s harder for the people of the new country to pronounce foreign names. And this seems like kind of a shame to me. Names are important; they’re a big part of who we are, whether or not we think very much about it. It feels…almost disrespectful, I guess…that we might not take the time to learn how to say someone’s name in his or her own language.

I’m probably over-thinking this, as I often do with things I wonder about.

Look out for each other


I am thinking a lot about perception and kindness today. I had some time this afternoon to be busy with my hands and let my mind wander while I was getting seed-starting trays ready to go (outside! in the sun!). It’s one of the things I love about gardening or making a recipe that I know by heart; while my hands are engaged in mechanical tasks, my brain explores all kinds of ideas. I often wind up with answers to questions I’ve been asking.

But today, my brain probably went to kindness because we had Easter brunch at our neighbors’, and then later in the day, when I’d dropped Larry off at the airport, one of those neighbors knew I’d be mopey and came by to chat over a beer on the patio. She even brought the beer! I got to thinking about how in all the places I’ve lived, I’ve most felt the recipient of sincere, invested kindness here. That’s not to say that people in the other places weren’t kind–of course they were. But in this small town, people look out for each other in a way I’ve never experienced elsewhere.

This line of thought led me to the idea of perception, and how whether or not something is actually true matters less than whether or not we perceive it to be true. I have a pretty good memory, but who’s to say I’m not forgetting a place that was just as or more kind than here?  Whether I am or not makes no real difference, because my perception is that kindness is in steady and plentiful supply here, (for which I am eternally grateful).

The idea that perception is usually more important than reality led me to wondering about so many of the awful things in the news lately. I can be a bit Pollyanna sometimes, and so I got to thinking that perhaps if we all chose to perceive each other as equals and worthy and valuable, maybe whether it was really true wouldn’t matter. We’d act on our perceptions, and the Golden Rule of “Treat others as you wish to be treated” would be so much more achievable.

Pollyanna or not, I’m going to work much harder at perceiving everyone around me, even the man running up the back of my legs with his shopping cart or the woman tail-gaiting me down the mountain, as worthy and valuable. If nothing else, I think it will make me feel better.

Which brought me back to kindness. There was a meme going around some time ago that was something to the effect of, “Kindness is like compost. Spread that sh*t around.” And suddenly, I’d come full-circle to that gardening work I was doing with my hands.


It’s gloomy and gray here today, with a decided chill in the air. We’re definitely in that transition time in the spring, when one weekend is great for sitting on the patio with friends, and other weekends the patio has a sheen of ice coating it. But the daffodils grow ever taller, and look like they’ll bloom soon, and I have two teeny crocus flowers poking their heads up in the juniper. They’re tightly closed against today’s gray skies, but the yellow and white buds are cheerful, anyway.

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I took the dogs for a walk over to our neighbor’s sugar bush early this afternoon, and though all ten of our paws are mud-covered, it was a great walk. The air is starting to smell like woods again, instead of just cold, and there was one stretch of path that smelled distinctively of mushrooms and wood-rot. An odd scent to get excited about, I suppose, but it heralds warmer weather and growing things, so it’s a very welcome one.

A few of the celeriac seeds have sprouted, along with some escarole and onions, and I have to remind myself that checking on the growing area every five minutes isn’t going to actually make any other seeds sprout. Although if it did, I’d have a forest of seedlings by now.

Stopping the machine

During the last six or so years I was teaching, I got one or two migraines every month, or more if it was a really bad month. I had gotten them prior to that time, but they weren’t that common. After I left teaching, the migraines stopped. As you might imagine, I didn’t miss them.

Two months ago, I started getting them again. I was puzzled, and started looking for what the cause might be. I think I’ve landed on it: the Republican primaries; in particular, one candidate. When I look at my mental, emotional, and physical reaction to any news about this candidate, I see an elevated level of stress. So while the following is certainly political, it’s also for my health.

In thinking about what might help stop the machine that is this candidate’s campaign, I’ve decided that for my part, I can stop offering him free publicity. He has boasted that he hasn’t had to buy much of it, and he’s right: we’re publicizing him every time we leave him on our televisions, forward or like a post about him–pro or con–on social media, or read an article about him. Simply using his name on social media helps to promote him. Given that the only thing I want to hear about him is that he’s dropped his run for the presidency, I can easily give up all of the above. I’d hear that good news somehow; otherwise, I don’t want to know what malfeasance he’s been up to.

From now on, I’ll be avoiding any articles about him. I’ll also be blocking any posts I see about him on Facebook. If someone is on my “Friends” list, with rare exceptions, they know me well enough to know that there is nothing about this man with which I agree. I don’t need to like posts to prove it. I’ll also be excusing myself from any place that has him on television. This might hamper me socially for a few months, but gardening season is coming. I can live with that. I can also hopefully get fewer migraines.

Except in my own life, alone, I won’t make much difference to his publicity machine. But if more people decided to follow along, I wonder what might happen?

Jumbled wire


Since Larry and I bought our house in the North Country, we’ve logged a lot of miles on 93 and 89 north. For most of the ride, the view is of trees and rock faces and fields, but every so often there are glimpses of New England towns, old farmhouses, and two-lane country roads that turn a bend and disappear into the trees.

Some of the farmhouses that we pass are oldoldold, and one of my favorite things to do is imagine who built them. I wonder about who has lived in them over the years, and what life was like in them before electricity, plumbing, and phone lines reached these out-of-the-way places.  I like to picture the kids trudging out in the morning to milk the cows before school, then coming in to a warm breakfast and a lunch pail all ready for them.

Obviously, my memories are heavily influenced by Little House on the Prairie and Caddie Woodlawn

The land we walked with our neighbor on Sunday used to be part of the farm that our house is on, and it was amazing to learn that an always wet area on the north side of a trail used to be a spring house, and the barbed wire we see occasionally was used to hold in cows. It’s particularly amazing because when you look at the land behind our house, it’s all wooded. It’s sometimes hard to imagine all of that space cleared and used as pasture. I often wonder why whoever stopped farming decided it was time to end it. I used to wonder when, but apparently it was sometime just before the 1960s, which means that the woods have had over 50 years to fill back in.

There’s something comforting, but at the same time hollow-feeling, about the fact that in such a short time, nature has all but erased what humans did there. The only pieces left of the spring house are some jumbled wire and a small pile of rotting wood. It’s enough to get the imagination fired up, though.

(The photo of the original-renovated-barn is a few years old. We don’t have any snow right now; in fact, the grass looks like it’s starting to green. Almost all of the trees in the photo are from within the last 50 years.)

Enduring good


“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing.”

-Clarissa Pinkola Estes

It is easy to watch the news or scroll through Facebook or read the paper–however we get our news–and think that humanity is just plain doomed. And in a sense, we are. As of right now, no one gets to live forever, so we all carry our own little seed of doom around with us. Humans are bad for the planet and we’re bad for each other. According to the news, the only thing we’re particularly good at is destruction.  There is truth here, but it certainly isn’t the whole truth.

Someone shared this Estes quote with me today, and it was like being handed one of those enormous bundles of balloons that I always wished for as a child. If it could carry kids away on adventures in cartoons and storybooks, I wanted it, too. How cool would it be to soar over Mt. Everest without having to climb it…?  I haven’t yet had the opportunity to actually attach myself to a huge bunch of balloons and float away, but hopeful words like this make my brain and heart feel like they are holding tight to those strings.

When I think about all of the problems faced in just my little tiny dot of a town on the map of the world, I am overwhelmed. When I think about the problems faced in schools, in the environment, in our current political climate, in international relations…well, I’m pretty sure my mental overload meter is on red. It is too easy for me to look at the big picture, and think about how powerless I am in the face of it. Estes’s quote reminds me that I don’t have to focus on the entire Metropolitan Museum of Art, but can choose a wing to get to know.

In Estes’s quote, I hear echoes of Mother Theresa. “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” We can contribute to the accumulation of acts and tip the scales toward enduring good.


The beautiful in the ordinary


My friend Lee Ann has days she refers to as “pink stone days.” They are days that are magical, either because of the beautiful in the ordinary, or because they are extraordinary.

I don’t have a name for those kinds of days, but I may need to come up with one. I’ve had two of them this weekend, and it has been magical. Both yesterday and today, the sun was out bright and warm. Yesterday, we had lunch on the patio with friends, and then later walked over to check out their maple sap boiling operation (and got a half gallon of maple syrup! Tapped from the woods just to the northwest of our house!) and go out to dinner. The maple house was built by the neighbor by hand, including the wood burners under his pans. It is a beautiful building, and amazing to see the ingenuity that has gone into the set-up.

Today, we did some outdoor work, took a nice hike with the dogs, had a beer with a friend, and then we were invited by him to walk his land–over 80 acres of wooded hills and vales, with a cold, clear stream running through it.

The walk alone would have been magical, but our friend also narrated what we were seeing. Larry and I have come to rural living late in life, and don’t have the knowledge of the woods and the area around us that many of our neighbors do. When they’re willing to share that knowledge, we are willing students. We learned that where our house sits was probably once under the waters of Lake Champlain, and the ridge above and behind our house was an island. We saw a bear den, coyote den, porcupine tree, (the mound of porcupine poop around its base was about two feet tall at its highest point…needless to say, I’ve never seen anything like it) and deer skeleton that was relatively recently left by the coyotes.

We learned how to approximate the age of a deer by looking at its teeth, and to tell if a skull was male or female. He thought this one might be an approximately six to eight year old female. Her fur was scattered across an area about 25 feet long to the south of the skeleton, and our friend was able to paint us a picture of what the capture, kill, and aftermath might have looked like. It sounds gruesome, but when it is in this kind of setting, where wildlife lives a wild life, it just seems natural (if a little sad).

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There is no doubt in my mind that when I can spend time outside in the sunshine, I am a happier person. To have the opportunity to be with friends and our dogs, learn new things, relax with a few beers on the patio, and enjoy each others company made this a “surrounded by the beautiful in the ordinary” kind of weekend.

Image 3-13-16 at 11.10 PM



Today was the kind of day I wait all winter for: not too warm, so we can gradually get used to being warm, but warm enough to have lunch and a few beers outside with friends. (Hot dogs! On the grill!) The above photo was taken around 4:30 or 5; otherwise, we had abundant sunshine all day.  I haven’t figured out yet whether or not the pink tinge on my face is windburn or a hint of sun, but it’s nice not to look like I dust my face with powdered sugar. Winter pallor: not sexy. On the other hand, it means it’s time to break out the sunscreen again. Not so sorry about that.

I used to think my favorite season was summer, but I’ve come to realize over the last five or so years that the excitement I feel as I walk around the yard greeting the first buds on trees and the plants pushing up through the ground may mean that my favorite season is spring. Daffodils! Tulips! Lilacs!

I’m feeling a little giddy at the thought of all of those flowers.