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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Morning Walk

                  An early morning walk begins as I go out the front door, hearing the screen door bang shut behind me. Morning coolness flows around me. I can almost always start out with a sweater.
              First stop... Pooh sticks bridge. If you are Pooh fans, I don't need to explain. If you are not, well (you are definitely missing out!), but here's how you play. Everybody finds a stick, it needs to be unique, so you can tell who's is who's. Then one, two three, GO.. everyone throws their stick into the water. Stop, and look both ways. (Hardly ever a car coming, but just in case).
                        Dash across and hang over the railing to see whose stick came out first! That, my friends is how you play Pooh Sticks. You can even play it by yourself, just throw two sticks in at the same time! Here, down by the river, you will find the mayflowers are opening up,and the little fish are swimming over the rapids.
                  Climb back up the bank and walk across Pooh's bridge. We'll go visit an old.old friend.
           Samuel Kinney, Revolutionary War soldier. He has been peacefully sleeping here in these woods since 1777. I feel that he is not lonely, for the sun shines softly through the pines and the flowers bloom here every spring and a flag flutters in every breeze. At night the stars smile down on him and the moon sails overhead year after year. A path rises, dim, from off the road and you can follow it and come and thank him, for  his gift to us, of freedom and sacrifice.
           We go back to following the river and come to the broken bridge, There was a bridge here once. Why? I never knew. Theres nothing but woods on the other side. Its a quiet place. You can fish here, or have a seat and just daydream.
          Next stop, Stone Landing, where you can launch your canoe, and head up or down the river.
               The shad bush, (or service berry bush), is beginning to bloom along the edges of the woods. Called shad bush because they bloomed the same time as the Shad came swimming up the rivers to spawn. Also called service berries because after the long New England winter when no one could bury their dead, now the ground had thawed  and for all the services, there was these lovely blossoms everywhere to soften the sorrrow.
             Water Loom Pond. Its where I turn around and head back home. Its the back up of the Water Loom Dam. It was built to run the Mills on the Souhegan River. The beautiful river that we have been following on our walk. Just over the hill, still stand the buildings of The Warwick Mills. Still running today, keeping up with the times, making cloth for sail boats, Kevlar, to keep our finest safer, material for NASA and things that are classified and not public knowledge. One of the oldest of the hundreds of New England Mills that once fueled the country.
              The Forsythia blazes yellow in the sunshine, at new homes and old abandoned cellar holes, and the endless stone walls.
                The morning sun casts long shadows across the fields.
                     Back at home, the pear tree bursts with blossoms.
                   When I leave, and when I return, this flag is furling and unfurling in the morning breeze. This flag flew with my son-in-law, Charlie, on a mission in Iraq and was sent to me by his commander. It's a daily reminder to me that freedom is not free. It costs way more than we can ever know. And, I know that it cost tears, it costs strength, not only from the soldier, but also from the soldiers family that stayed behind. It costs years of healing when these brave men do come home, and of course there are those who dont get to come home to heal.A humble thank you to all those , from 1775 to this day, who have given me the freedom to walk in this beautiful place that I call home.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Waiting for Trout Season

           Waiting for trout season? Yes, because then spring is here, for real! Because the river runs through it... through the woods, through the meadow, under the bridge, through the pines, over the rocks, skipping along with a gurgle and a chuckle as it winds its way seaward. Because there is in many a heart, the wild, sharp thrill of a small boy who used to be. The one that could don rubber boots, sans socks, ragged trousers and a denim jacket and head out the door. The one who would pick up a rusty tackle box and a duc-taped together pole and a can of worms that he had dug by the light of the moon and stashed under the porch. The one who went whistling up the hill and over the bank and spent an April day fishing. God bless the ones of us who never lose that heart and mind! The ones who come home skunked, but happy, because they had one on. It got away, but it gave a good fight. The ones that come back with a stringer full, slimy, glossy and flopping. Yes, the ones that dump those in your sink, and clean 'em. The ones that leave a bit of a mess for you to clean up. BUT... But, then, you have trout for supper! Fresh trout. Fresh,clean pure trout from fresh, clean pure hearted fishermen.
                 You had packed that fisherman a lunch, of course, so he's not starving. He can wait a smidgen for someone to cook for him. In the fourteenth century, BC, Archestratus instructs us this way. " Place your fish tenderly in leaves. Tie it up, and push it under hot ashes, bethinking wisely of the time, when it is done, and burn it not up." So thats pretty simple. Here's how I do it:
                  (It helps to have a boy who's not afraid of blood and guts.) When the trout is cleaned , I cut off the head and tail, so it will fit nicely in the pan. Then I butterfly it. Cut sraight down the middle, so it will lie flat. Now get a cast iron skillet smoking hot. Smoking hot, so when you drop in a big dab of butter it smokes and browns nicely.Then lay the fish, skin side down in the smoking butter. Sprinkle liberally with salt, and smokehouse pepper. Cover the skillet and cook about five minutes. If it is ready, it will flake easily with a fork. At this point, you can lift the whole backbone right off, so you have a boneless filet.
                   Turn on your broiler. Brush the top of the fish with a little cream, and sprinkle with fine Ritz crumbs. Take the whole skillet and put it under the broiler, just until the crumb topping is nice and brown. There. You are done!
                 Enjoy. There not much finer eating than this. Need dessert? How about warm caramel
apple cake? Crusty and cinnamony on the edges, gooey caramel appley in the middle, whipped cream melting over the top...
                 Can a rich man dine better than that? I think not!            

Friday, April 13, 2012

Jelly of Violets

           As I was finishing up my raking today, I uncovered sweet, shy violets blooming under a covering of wind blown winter leaves. There they were, looking up at me with their soft purple faces. The dark green leaves compliment them and show them off. Though they look so fragile, yet my rake and I had not damaged them at all. The sunshine gave them sparkle and the april breeze danced with them. I love violets. I like a huge patch, so I can lie down among them, in the warm spring sun, and shut my eyes, and dream of heaven. I have made Jelly of Violets for many years. My   mother in law and her friends would just swoon when I'd give them their own little jar. They all loved violets, too. Old fashioned, they would say, holding the jars to the light and shedding a few tears. They are all gone now, so it's time to pass on the torch.
             Of course you must get right down and dirty to find them. It helps to have a few little girls who are eager to help pick them. It doesn't really take that long to get enough. Bring them in the kitchen and gently wash them. You need three cups of violets, tightly packed. Bring three and one third cups of distilled water to a boil. It is best to use distilled to keep the original color, tap water may change it.  Pour the boiling water over the violets in the jar. Let them steep for twenty-four hours, gently shaking the jar several times. Don't bruise the blossoms, or your infusion will be cloudy. After your twenty-four hours, strain this through damp cheeesecloth. Do not squeeeze or press, just let it strain through naturally.
                                                              Jelly of Violets
                                              3 cups of violet infusion
                                               1 package of powdered pectin
                                                       4 cups sugar
                     You can add strained lemon juice ( for a more magenta color) 1/2 tsp. at a time, until it's the color you want, or a drop of blue food coloring ( if you want it more of a darker violet color), but I like it just how it is.
                     Measure your 3 cups of infusion into a 4 to 6 quart non-reactive pot. Add your powdered pectin, and coloring if you want to do that.
                      Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.
                      Stir in the sugar. Continue to stir constantly and bring it to a full, rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Boil hard for one minute, stirring all the while.
                      Remove from heat. Stir, and skim off any foam.
                      Ladle into hot sterilized jam jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Seal with canning lids. Cool upright on a rack.
                        Makes 4 half pints.
                             This makes a nice gift, people feel really special if they are given one of these beautiful jars of jelly. Can't you taste the sweetness of spring, the essense of flowers? Can't you see the color of love? Can't you feel the pleasure of everything beautiful? Don't you marvel that the damp musky soil, emerging from ice and snow , the dry brown layer of leaf mold, can bring forth such richness of color, and scent, and flavor? I love violets!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sugar Cubes

     I don't think peaople use sugar cubes much any more. I remember them being a staple when my mom served coffee for her guests, back in the day. No one just lounged around the table having mugs, or even to-go cups like we do now. When my mom served coffee, it was a formal, proper sort of deal. The table was set with "company china". There was a cream pitcher, and a sugar bowl. A sugar bowl filled with sugar cubes. Little white squares, hard as chrystal. You used a miniture tongs to get them from the sugar bowl to the coffee cup. They gently slid into that hot, black liquid and dissolved  fairly quickly. The cream, nice thick, real cream, not half and half, not little plastic cups with pull off lids, but thick creammy colored cream. Then the spoons began their gentle stirring, gliding back and forth, around and around, blending sugar and cream and coffee into warm coffee flavored sweetness. Of course there was goodie filled plates, too, cookies and korpuu. Korpuu, that cinamonny crunch so loved by the old Finns. You dunked it in your creammy coffee and then it just melted in your mouth. Probably the forunner of cinnamon swirl lattes, or something! Children were not always seated at company coffee, but given cookies at a table somewhere else. If we were included, it was strictly, as "seen but not heard".We kept our eyes open though, keeping count on who used how many sugar cubes in their cup. Something to commiserate over, afterward. The real joy, though, was when the grown ups were at the door saying good byes, we children would be at the coffee table, scooping up a few sugar cubes before mom came back and shooed us away. Oh, I still recall how that sweeetness just slid over my tongue and coated my tastebuds with wild delight. Funny thing though, I drink my coffee black and hot. No creammy, sweet, warm coffee for me. 
     When I do tea parties for the girls, they love those sugar cubes, too. This is a fun, pretty thing to do, even sweeter.....  You can buy the cake decorations at the store, get them from a bakery, or if you do cake decorating, you can make your own flowers. Then just use a dab of royal icing to glue them on the sugar cubes. It looks really special, everyone oohs and aahs, and when you drop it in your tea, (if you don't digress and pop it in your mouth first) the candy will rise to the top and sit there looking beautiful for a minute before it disolves.