Enjoying Coronavirus Stay at Home

Enjoying not surviving.  Staying positive in troubled times.  July, beginning our fifth month of “stay at home.”  No longer mandated in Pennsylvania, in Bucks,  but we are being careful.  No beaches or bars for us just yet.  As Spring turned to Summer I accepted that we would probably not travel.  For us Cape Cod in August is on hold at best.  How can we enjoy, just home.

Most mornings I take a canal walk.  As the weather has gotten hotter (90s today), I walk earlier.  I try to walk to Somers Bridge — missing a day or two of walking makes it quite hard.  Today was fine.

I looked for small pleasures — the blue sky, tall trees, the canal, reflections in the water, chirping birds, a Great Blue, shades of green, shadows and shade, backyards with  Adirondack chaired, fire pits, canoes, fellow travelers, some masked, smiling waving, good morning. I recently read “At Seventy: a journal” by Maine’s May Sarton. She reveled in the small things, flowers in the wild or garden, birds, a call or visit from friends, writing letters to admirers.  Live simply and enjoy each minute.

At home I have scrambled eggs, garden peppers and cheese on the deck.  I grab a new copy of Yankee magazine.  I can take a virtual trip to New England.  There are articles on painters and craftsmen.  The Connecticut Art Trail looks like a neat trip.  The lead article “A World Away: Maine’s spectacular Blue Hill region awaits,” draws my undivided attention.

We first visited the Blue Hill peninsula in the early seventies after reading “The Good Life.”  I wrote to Helen and Scott Nearing (back-to-the-earth prophets) asking if we could visit.  With John and Barbara Paglione and my father we drove north in two VW bugs to a small plexi-glass handyman A-frame built by Bill Lynn from Bristol.  My father snapped a classic photo of us with the Pagliones on the small deck.  Next day we drove to the Nearings.

We went back to the Blue Hills several times. Most recently, about 12 years ago.  The Kwait Brothers Band (now Cabin Dogs) we’re invited to play at a local festival.  Jenny, Rob and baby Eli camped.  Diane and I stayed in a B and B, in Brooklin, not far from the farm where E.B.White wrote “Charlotte’s Web.”  One day we drove to Stonington, stopping in Buck’s Harbor with it’s scenes from Robert McCloskey’s “Morning in Maine.” We also found the Nearing property, now “The Good Life Center” in Brooksville.  What memories, they were building the stone house above when we visited.  Next door we were amazed to see that organic farmer Eliot Coleman was still there.  I couldn’t help but introduce myself, we had visited decades ago.  Oh yes, the festival was fantastic and the Kwait Brothers were a huge success.

Amazing how one Yankee magazine article brings such a rush of memories, a virtual trip in the present and a visit to the past.  From the magazine, I also wrote down Lobster Landing, in Clinton, Connecticut — possible stop on our next trip to Cape Cod.  I discovered two books of interest, Bill Henderson’s “Tower: Faith, Vertigo and Amateur Construction” and Peter Korn’s “Why We Make Things and Why It Matters: the education of a craftsman.” I’ll probably order both, more New England escapes.

Black Bass June 27

We’ve taken fewer trips than I would like.  Several weeks ago we explored Upper Bucks, Nockamixon Lake, and had ice cream at Wow Cow.  Another day we drove around Hunterdon County, NJ above Frenchtown.  Our first outside dining was at Kasey’s near Tinicum Park.  I had a tasty pastrami.  Last week we joined my sister, Vicky and her husband, Ted at the Black Bass for lunch on their outside deck.  Once we got umbrella covering, the setting was delightful.  I had a lobster crab salad.

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Zoubi, a small French restaurant was new to us.  We had a gift certificate and initially I was concerned they might not reopen.  I was wrong, they have been there ten years and were serving weekend dinners.  There is not much indoor seating, just a small bar but there is a charming patio, plants, flowers, rusting doorway.   New Hope was crowded, lots of young couples without masks but we found street parking behind Main and avoided the crowds.  For a while we had the patio to ourselves. Very nice and Diane’s scallops and my tuna with Sobu noodles and eggplant compote were both delicious.  Cocktails, wine, beer, a memorable meal.

Tuesday nights are Lobster nights at the Pineville Tavern.  We planned take out but they said no to the lobster.  So we sat on the patio.  Unfortunately there was no corn but the lobster was tender and sweet.  I passed on the fries and doubled up on the slaw.  Another fantastic meal and although it rained hard the new tent kept us dry.  Dave Sears had recently written about the glut of Maine lobsters (China not buying) so I called him, we were trying to help.  In June we also had two takeouts from the Yardley Inn.  Both times, soft shell crabs (my favorite), asparagus and mashed potatoes.  I might add most all these meals have involved speciality cocktails and dessert — tiramisu several times.   We’ve made a list of about 12 outdoor dining spots; don’t want indoor yet.  July should be busy.

The garden keeps me busy and it’s in pretty good shape.  Still picking greens, new seeds have sprouted.  Peppers, fennel and eggplants are coming in.  Beans, cucumber and squash plants are flowering.  Green tomatoes on some plants.  With time available and a little energy,  I’ve been able to keep the weeds pulled.  I still make daily salads and have done a bit of bread baking.  Not enough.

Afternoons are still devoted to reading.  I’ll save specific titles for another time.  But I’m reading a mix fiction and nonfiction; new books and rereads from the shelves.  If I read in the morning or early afternoon, I’ve been sitting on the deck.  Sometimes it’s just sitting.  It’s not the ocean, bay, beach or special scenery but the yard looks good — a HGP grad is cutting it for me.  I’m thankful for it.  A few days ago a guy in a wheelchair who pushes up Florence Avenue most days said, “You have a nice property.”  Plain, nothing dramatic, but yes nice, particularly in “stay at home.”

I miss people contact the most.  The “hellos” on the canal are nice. Occasionally I cross paths with a local I know.  We might stop and chat a few minutes.  I make telephone calls, regularly to Jenny and my sisters.  Weekly to cousin Ellen and John Paglione.  Actually we’ve been doing Face Time Thursday nights with Pagliones.  And I sometimes check my address book and call former and current HGP friends, guys from college.  It’s like pulling a number out of a hat.  Something sparks a memory of the person, so I call.  Jen, Rob and the kids have visited and Taylor’s have come for drinks and pizza.

I try to shut out the negatives, news of the virus, Trump, politics, controversy about masks, civil rights protests.  Too much FaceBook, newspaper articles, and the nightly news, usually CNN.  But I’m addicted.  I only think about cutting back.  Need more music and movies.

Every day is a challenge.  Go slow. Enjoy.  The small things.  The rituals, traditions, friendships, with a touch of the new, some explorations, a touch of serendipity.  And I’m thankful.

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Gardening

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Gardens were not a part of my first hand experience growing up in Bristol, PA in the 50s and 60s.  We lived in an apartment. There were of course many in Bristol with yards and gardens but not my immediate family.   My Uncle Joe Porfirio (he didn’t Anglicize his name like my grandfather) had a large typical Italian garden on Monroe Street.  Once or twice a year, his daughter Mary would host an all day Sunday Italian picnic.  I’m sure some servings came from the garden.  “Mange, mange.”  We ate and drank all day.

On Mill street across from our apartment, Mr. Mignoni had a back yard garden.  He even had a fig tree which he toppled and buried each year.  When my cousin Bill was cleaning out their house, he offered us Mrs. Mignoni’s canning equipment including dozens of jars (some 2 quarts).  We had them until I disposed of them after a Yardley flood.  There were many other Italians in Bristol with gardens; I don’t remember any in in the Irish neighborhood.

My first experience with gardening was in the early 1970s. At first it was a small flower garden when we lived on Canal Street.  Later it expanded to vegetables when we lived with John and Barbara Paglione outside of New Hope on Old York Road.  We were “back to the earth” not a commune (only 2 couples) but an intentional living community.   John and I were working on the Daniel Brothers farms in Pineville.  Of course we would have a garden.

We borrowed or rented a Roto-tiller.  The yard was big and sunny.  We planted tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, lettuce, cucumbers. There is a photograph of Barbara with a huge bundle of beautiful beets. We tried carrots, potatoes, even corn. What we didn’t grow, we bought in quantity from local farms.  Corn — 100 ears — in a burlap bag from a local farm.   We canned enough tomatoes to last a year (Mrs. M’s jars).

When we moved to Yardley I established a small vegetable garden along the side of the house, railroad tie logs, lots of manure fertilizer.  I grew some crops for several years.  In the back Diane had an herb, flower garden.  Some things never change.  But preoccupied with work, Borough Council and other volunteer organizations, I stopped.

 

 

About fifteen years ago I started gardening again.  About the same time I began making bread, something I did regularly when we lived in New Hope.  Back to the earth, part two, maybe.  I did the required tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, maybe some lettuce.  The railroad ties were gone and no gardening for a few years.  Then I started and the garden area expanded to about 3O0 square feet.

About 10 years ago, we had to remove a large oak in the back yard. More sun; a new garden about 30×20, 600 square feet. Last year I put several 18 inch high 4×4 raised beds in the front. This year I added more.  Currently have a total of 8. Both years my neighbor, a professional gardener got leaf mold and mushroom soil to fill them. Actually in the first year she planted them to show off her gardening business.  She also installed a watering system.

 

I’ve had great harvests the past six or so years.  Sometimes 300 pounds of tomatoes.  We can or freeze.  Some are delicious heirlooms.  We eat peppers but I freeze them to use throughout the year, scrambled eggs.    Sometimes I pickle cukes and/or make sauerkraut from cabbage.   Most years we have lettuce salads daily through June. This year it will last till at least July.

This spring I planted several varieties of lettuce, kale, spinach, bok choi, radishes, swiss chard, peas,  fennel, koholrabi, and beets.  Much more green than we can eat.  My sister Liz, Jenny and friends have been helping.  Also I have tomatoes (maybe 25 plants, this year), peppers (several varieties), beans, several types of eggplants, squash, and cucumbers.  Some years we’ve had sunflowers, pumpkins, or winter squash. Actually the pumpkins and squash have some years sprouted in our compost heap.  Last summer I planted Long Island Cheese pumpkins but they took over the back garden when we went to Cape Cod in July-August.

Several years ago I planted rhubarb (died out) and asparagus, it was great last year but seemed to have died out this year.  Traditionally I haven’t paid a lot of attention to blights or bugs.  Neighbor Chris is helping me.  I just bought a sprayer and pyrethrum organic insecticide and she’s recommended a copper fungicide for tomatoes plants.  Chris has also guided me in planting less, caring more, and increasing variety.  I think it’s taking hold and improved harvests are coming.

Gardening is work. The raised beds do make it a bit easier.  There is the soil preparation and planting, weeding, harvesting and usually preserving.

But it is so rewarding.

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Exploring Food

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We continue cleaning, organizing.  Today Diane gave me a small booklet from a dinner experience at the Blue Hill restaurant at Stone Barns, in Tarrytown, NY.  It was titled, “Field and Pasture: four season journal.”  It showed what was harvested monthly and then served on the restaurant’s menu.

In February, there were javelin parsnips and ice spinach from the field; Berkshire pigs and hen eggs from the pasture; tapping maple trees in the forest; Belgium endive, cardoons, and guanciale from the cellar. In July, garlic, plum tomatoes, fennel, zucchini blossoms, Swiss chard, artichokes, summer squash, carrots, beets, broccoli, head lettuce, etc.  Free range chickens, Dorset lambs, pigs and broad breasted white turkeys, eggs.  Lots more from the greenhouse and cellar.  Each month was different.

Several times on trips to the Hudson Valley, we stopped in Tarrytown to explore The Center for Food and Agriculture at Stone Barns. It was founded in the 1990s by the Rockefeller family, conservationists and organic farmers.  Dan Barber, chef of Blue Hill restaurant in Greenwich Village was hired to open a restaurant in an old barn.  In addition to the main restaurant, there is a small “take out” and a few picnic tables.  We’ve stopped a number of times.  On one stop we had an excellent butternut squash soup, a baloney sandwich (was fantastic, recalled my fried baloney sandwiches when boating with Dr. Schultz on the Delaware River) and tuna on focaccia.  Raisin cake for dessert.   We usually walked around the grounds, planted field, barns and pens with animals being raised for the table.  We also visited the “foodie” gift shop.

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In 2004, we had dinner at the original Blue Hill.  We were in the Village, Washington Square Hotel, for a Cabin Dogs (my son-in-laws band) show at the Lion’s Den, a small dive on Sullivan.  I think Diane recognized the Blue Hill as a destination restaurant.  A week before we made reservations — Rob and Jenny, sister Cissi and husband Louis, Diane and I.  I had oysters — wasn’t paying attention to terroir then.  Complimentary shots of a califlower soup were excellent.  Diane and I had Artic Char (like salmon) in a beet, pine nut,  citrus sauce.  Chocolate flan to finish.  Although we had a good  experience, we only rated the Artic Char as OK.

In 2013 we finally made lunch reservations at Blue Hill,  Stone Barns — the brochure.  Farmer’s feast was either twelve courses for $208; 8 courses for $148; or 5 courses for $108.  I’m usually wary of chef’s choice, price fixe meals but usually willing to try new food experiences.  We chose the five course which turned out to be plenty.  The room layout was stunning.  We sat next to each other facing a center table decorated with flowers and food.  Penguin dressed waiters hovered nearby — surpringly quite unobtrusive and very helpful.  It was fall or early winter, so there were root vegetables.  Our waiter customized courses based on out interests and tastes.

We started with about seven “amuse-bouche” — small tastes, chosen by the chef.  The variety was amazing — blood sausage and beet wafers, pickled asparagus with egg yokes, yogurt granola with grated beet sugar, a tree of salami and chips made from kale, potatoes and of course beets, terrine and capers, beet sushi and beet burgers.  Wow.  We had Jerusalem artichokes and hazelnuts, large scallops (fantastic), beef with carrots and Brussels sprouts (too sweet), soft egg in something.  Then desserts and a sampling of chocolates.  We washed everything down with a sparkling wine — vintage not recorded.  It was expensive, but a fantastic meal, and we learned how to taste and appreciate small bites.  We would return.

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Last week I finished reading, “The Third Plate: field notes on the future of food,” by Dan Barber, Blue Hill’s Chef.  A great read.  Barber embarks on a search — how do we change our food culture to reflect sustainable, good food, and food for all.  Chefs, including himself, buy the best and then take credit for serving the best.  Barber says that’s not enough.   In order to feed all — high yield, mono-culture is not the answer.  He asks “how do we apply a ‘total farm concept,’  mixed, non chemical planting, seed and plants grown for health and taste, integration of the entire ecology of a farm.”  This is the “third plate, ” going beyond the current farm to table movement.

Barber introduces us to a number of people who seem to be contributing to his concept.   In Spain, he meets Eduardo Sousa who is raising geese, allowed them to roam free on the same land as the prized Iberian pigs, grazing on acorns.  No force feeding for these geese; but delicious foie gras. He also learns of and visits a fish farm in Spain where the fish aren’t being fed but are eating naturally in the wild from  a series of canals.  The Sea Bass was fantastic but Dan was also amazed at the taste of the Grey Mullet — not a trendy fish.  He introduces us to Klaas Martens, a grain farmer in New York who explains how good soil contributes to quality and taste.  Anson Mills in South Carolina that is milling historic corn and other grains organically and commercially.

Food books frequently inspire me to grow, cook, or just eat something.  Decades ago I bought “Beautiful Swimmers,” the story of the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab, by William Warner.  I had never had a soft shell crab and couldn’t wait to try one.  I remember asking one of the Giordano boys — South Street Italian market family, when I could get a soft shell?  They were out of season.   It was months later in Cape May, we were visiting with Jerry and Kate Alonzo.  Jerry and I took a walk and bought soft shell sandwiches from a food truck.  Hooked ever since.

Since reading “The Third Plate,” I bought some Iberia jamon (ham from the Spanish acorn fed pigs).  Despana Restaurant and Tapas Cafe in Princeton sells it.  Not cheap.  This week we bought Sea Bass at Hellers seafood market in Warminister — I fully realize it’s not from that sustainable Spanish fish farm but it was oh, so good.  We also got some crab meat and small imported lobsters.

My interest in food is interdisciplinary.  I like gardening, cooking, eating, reading, writing and photographing food.  Diane and I can spend a day driving from farm to farm from market to market in Bucks and New Jersey.  We like to cook but also enjoying eating out.  We have our favorite restaurants (Hamilton’s Grill in Lambertville, The Pineville Tavern) but we also have been trying out new places on weekly lunch explores.

 

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I’m hoping this year my garden can reflect a greater understanding of the total ecology promoted by Barber.  Not exactly “a third plate” but at least a greater awareness.  We recently put in raised beds.  My garden neighbor-partner had the mushroom soil we purchased tested.  It was too rich in nutrients.  She trucked in some leaf compost to cut it. More awareness.    I’ve been reading “Four Season Harvest” by Eliot Coleman, the organic gardener guru we met in Maine in the 1970s.  My food explore continues.

 

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