Southern Maine, Season by Season

Saturday, August 1, 2015

High Summer


The month of August earned its name in English from Roman Emperor Augustus. But the character of August is better epitomised by its Irish name: Lúnasa. - See more at:
A site concerned with Irish genealogy puts it very well: "The month of August earned its name from (the) Roman Emperor Augustus. But the character of August is better epitomised by its Irish name: Lunasa." Lunasa was a feast that anticipated the harvest and welcomed the months of plenty with festivals of music, dancing and poetry.

It's true. The year has turned, the nights are lengthening, but the hungry time is over, and the gardens and markets are bursting with produce. Time for a celebration! I've just returned from a visit to the vegetable garden, where changes are afoot, appropriate to the season. The pea vines, which produced magnificently throughout June and July, have finally come out. Their space has been weeded and cultivated, and cool-weather greens (spinach, arugula, and mesclun) have been planted in their places.

The second large picking of haricots verts is also sitting in the kitchen, ready to be washed and turned into pickled green beans, and (with the just-picked cucumbers and first tomatoes) a Salade Nicoise - a summer classic! It's the essence of August: just steamed new potatoes and green beans, freshly chopped cucumbers and tomatoes, and the best canned tuna and cured olives. Maybe a sprinkling of fresh basil, too. And a homemade vinaigrette. With a slice of crusty baguette - who could ask for more?

And, even though it's quite late for them, my roses are just finishing their first true flush of bloom. I spent some time this morning deadheading and pruning them. Later, when it gets cool, I'll work some Epsom salts into the soil around their roots. I also planted one of several passalong plants happily acquired during our recent trip to Vermont and northwestern Massachusetts - an heirloom rose, the Rosa mundi:

Rosa mundi

More about the passalong plants, and the trip, in a moment! 

But first, back to Lunasa, and the notion of celebration in anticipation of the harvest. Lunasa is also the name of a band that plays Irish traditional music; they are actually one of the top traditional ensembles in the world. To celebrate the High Summer festival of Lunasa, what better than a sample of Lunasa's music?

A trip to Vermont

 Mid-July was the perfect time for a summer road trip. We decided to explore western Vermont and the Lake Champlain region, and settled on the lovely college town of Middlebury as our base. We took a leisurely route to Middlebury and visited a good friend in Loudon, New Hampshire for lunch. We also stopped at The Mill in Quechee, Vermont to goggle, amazed, as glassblowers at the Simon Pearce complex fashioned lovely crystal glasses with speed and precision. Here's a photo of the dam at The Mill, just down the hallway from the glass blowing area: 

The dam at Quechee, Vermont, as well as a portion of the reconstructed covered bridge over the Ottauquechee River

After Quechee, the drive was not that long to Middlebury. What a lovely town, set amidst gorgeous farmland. And, of course, another dam - this time at Otter Creek: 

The falls at Otter Creek, Middlebury, Vermont

 We spent one whole day of our time in Vermont visiting the reconstructed Fort Ticonderoga (or, to the French, Fort Carilllon) at the southern tip of Lake Champlain. The French reference is necessary, as the interpreters at the Fort were presenting the Year of the French. The costumes, firearms, and even the martial music hearkened back to the French construction and occupation of the Fort in the 1740's: 

Fife practice, in the main gate to the Fort

French fife and drum corps, circa 1740
 Outside the structure of the Fort lay a marvelous surprise: The King's Garden! It had begun as a vegetable and herb garden for the benefit of the troops stationed at the Fort, but has now grown into an absolutely stunning garden that includes a formal colonial garden, enclosed by a brick wall, as well as open gardens of flowers and fruit and a fenced vegetable plot. Here's a taste of the incredible riches of the Garden: 

Entrance to the formal garden

Pole bean plants trained up high poles! I must try it!

Ripening grapes in the fruit garden

Shasta daises, brilliant red monarda (bee balm) and purple liatris (gayflower)

A border in the Children's Garden contains ageratum, pink snapdragons, red and yellow zinnias, and salvia

Entrance to the formal garden. A colonial-era angel guards the portal.

Gorgeous Oriental lilies in the formal garden

Another group of Oriental lilies are a focal point in the formal gardens
 We also spent some time in Williamstown, Massachusetts - home of the Clark Museum of Art. I must confess I had never heard of the Clark before this, but it was a wonderful experience - the Winslow Homers, and special shows of Van Gogh and James McNeill Whistler's iconic "Arrangement in Grey and Black #1" (AKA Whistler's Mother) were unforgettable. 

The building itself had undergone a recent transformation, and I was enthralled by the patterns made by slanting sunlight and sparkling water within the new structure: 

Reflections from a shallow pool. The Clark, Williamstown, Massachusetts

Slanting sunlight and patterned stone
 We also managed to do some searching in the many antique shops in the area. Here's my find, a vintage postcard of Short Sands Beach, in York, Maine. I know the area well! 

The title is "Fishing Boats, York, Maine". It's probably Short Sands Beach. 

 And then there was the Bridge of Flowers, in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts! One of my favorite places on earth, we've visited it several times over the past few years. We always find something new and wonderful in the plantings that line the Bridge - this year it was a beautiful little collared dahlia - named "Pooh"! Of course I had to order a couple of them for next year's planting. Here's a rendering of "Pooh", admired by one of his friends: 

And then there's the passalong plants. We were delighted to have the opportunity to visit a couple of Paul's old friends in Lanesboro, Massachusetts - antiquarian book experts who are also excellent bluegrass musicians. And terrific gardeners! We enjoyed the gardens, the music, and the delicious food, a passing thunderstorm, and went away enriched by a volunteer of Rosa mundi (see above) as well as a bit of a lovely coral daylily named  ... "Bill Monroe".  Well, it turns out the eponym is not for THAT Bill Monroe - but who cares? A daylily whose name recalls the Father of Bluegrass!! These plants, along with a hollyhock seedling I'd purchased at The King's Garden, made the trip an absolute bonanza for the garden. 

An arrangement of garden flowers

Late July and early August bring the native perennial gooseneck loosestrife into bloom. I first saw this plant at Jordan Pond House in Acadia National Park, and have loved it ever since. We have a huge abundance of this plant, and it makes a wonderful cut flower - its sturdy stems and lush foliage make arrangement easy. Here is some loosestrife in a squat white pottery vase: 

Gooseneck loosestrife - a bit out of focus (sorry ...)


Chocolate Fudge Pops! 

One of my favorite kitchen purchases of this summer season has been my set of frozen pop molds (Zoku Classic molds - highly rated by Bon Appetit! Get 'em on Amazon ...). I've kept some kind of frozen concoction or other in them most of the summer for a sweet snack or chilly dessert.  But my favorite? This unbeatable, incredibly easy and decadent take on an old-fashioned Fudgesicle.  I am a latecomer to the wonders of a Fudgesicle, I'll admit. When I was a kid, chocolate ice cream (and by extension, Fudgesicles) just made my skin crawl. When we visited Bridgeman's in Duluth, on secret ice-cream missions with my grandfather, I'd always let my brothers have the chocolate ice cream from my banana split. Give me vanilla, strawberry, or butter pecan. But NO chocolate ice cream! 

My, how tastes change when we get older ... 

When I saw the article on fudge pops in the New York Times earlier this summer, I knew I just had to try them. I'm glad I did; they are sinfully good. I've made the recipe several times since then, and ... well, I think I just ate the last pop. I need to make more! 

Here's how: 

Take six ounces of good semisweet or bittersweet chocolate - I use Scharffen Berger bits, which you can now sometimes find in the baking aisle of a good supermarket.  If you don't use the bits, just break up six ounces of a good dark chocolate Lindt or Ghiardelli bar. Put the chocolate into a blender. In a heavy sauce pan, whisk together 2 cups whole milk, 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup sugar, and 2 tablespoons cocoa (I use King Arthur's Double Dutch), and heat the mixture until it just comes to a boil. Remove from heat, and add 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (I use my own brew) and a scant 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Pour hot mixture over the chocolate in the blender, and let sit for a minute to soften the chocolate. Blend until thoroughly combined (careful with the hot liquid!). Pour into molds, insert pop sticks, and freeze for 24 hours. I know; it's very hard to wait. 

This recipe makes twice as much as I need to fill my Zoku molds, so I just freeze the rest in a plastic container. You can either thaw it to make more pops once the first batch is gone (I think the second batch is even better than the first) or you can scoop it out and enjoy it as you would chocolate sorbet (which it is, sort of). 

August on a stick! Happy Lunasa.

The month of August earned its name in English from Roman Emperor Augustus. But the character of August is better epitomised by its Irish name: Lúnasa. - See more at:
The month of August earned its name in English from Roman Emperor Augustus. But the character of August is better epitomised by its Irish name: Lúnasa. - See more at:
The month of August earned its name in English from Roman Emperor Augustus. But the character of August is better epitomised by its Irish name: Lúnasa. - See more at:

Thursday, June 25, 2015


From Spring into Summer : A Photo Essay


Calvin is right, as usual
Spring wreath for the front door

A summertime twig wreath, with natural sea stars and sand dollars
The summer solstice is barely past, and we are enjoying the longest days of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The change of seasons is an occasion to enjoy some simple pleasures: the feel of warm sun on bare skin, the taste of the first grilled meats and vegetables of the year, a sweet nap on a warm afternoon, and the multiple sensory stimuli of a well-kept garden.

Oh, and of course, changing the outdoor decor to fit the new season ...

A wispy springtime wreath for the side door

A summery wreath of seashells and oats

A well-kept-garden? Well, sometimes it is. Right now, roses are coming into bloom, the peonies are making a glorious show, and we are about to harvest the first sugar-snap peas. Arugula has already been re-planted and the French breakfast radishes have gone by. Here is a photo of the just-rising peas and their supports, taken about a month and a half  ago:

Sugar-snap peas, surrounded by leaf lettuce and arugula. The support structure is made from red-birch poles, salvaged from tree-thinning in the woods. They are bound together by garden twine. The finial is a terra-cotta beehive!
The spring was glorious in its own way. After the awful winter - 5-6 feet of snow from storms in late January and February - it seemed like forever until the first spring flowers made their appearance. Of course, once they did, their season was over in a flash. Long winters often mean short, delayed springs. To help recall that quick burst of spring brilliance, here are some photos from late April and early May:

Woodland daffodils 

A profusion of bluets in the lawn

Delicate late narcissus; delphinium and white quince in the background

Pansies and multicolored violas for the side entry

Darwin tulips and grape hyacinths clustered in front of a northern magnolia

More tulips, backed by beach roses and a cat who thinks he's hiding

Late-blooming lilacs outside the front door

And into Summer ...

Naturally, early summer's blooms aren't staying long enough, either. The iris have come and gone: 

A really lovely pink German iris
White Siberian iris, with pink peony buds and the last of the Solomon's Seal
And now the peonies and the roses are making their show. Can there be anything more splendid than a lush centerpiece bouquet of peonies? My German grandmother only cultivated two types of flowers in her garden (well, yes, there was the spirea and the bleeding heart, but those didn't count), because she only loved those two types of flowers: gladiolus and peonies. And she grew them expertly. Early-summer dinners in Duluth always featured a bowl of her pink peonies at the center of the table - their fleeting scent somehow gave the fried chicken and green beans and homemade bread an extra savor.  In late August, we celebrated my brother's birthday with a homemade iced white layer cake and a huge crystal vase of multicolored glads.  When I began to work as a florist during high school and college, I was disappointed to find that the floral trade relegated gladiolus to funeral arrangements, or the occasional altar arrangement for a wedding. To me, they always meant high, hot, heady Midwestern summers that were just beginning to fade towards September, school, and schedules. Celebrations, and never sadness. To this day, if I send a funeral arrangement, I will always specify that glads not be used. They are possessed of too much joy for the occasion.

 My grandmother was definitely an artist in the kitchen, and in her gardens. I swear she could make anything from scratch, and delighted in doing so. And her flowers were always the talk of the neighborhood. But she dreamed of being a visual artist. Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso were her heroes,  and she enjoyed sharing her artistic sensibilities with her (stunned) daughters-in-law (two of whom were  - and still are - splendid artists in their own right).  I, too, was absolutely amazed to discover this about my elegant, thrifty, and (so I thought) strictly proper grandmother. My (artist) aunt told me one evening when I was visiting her in North Carolina that my grandmother's sense of color, proportion, and composition were impeccable - and that her love for Dali stemmed from the fact that he had all of those same sensibilities, and upended every one of them in his paintings.  It allowed me to appreciate my grandmother as someone as rebellious as I had always been. Maybe that's why she stayed with me, hellion that I was as a girl. I think she may have seen herself in my wildness and stubborn nature. 

So, Grandma, here are some of my peonies and roses. For you. Thank you.

First bloom of the year for Sir Paul McCartney (how can you NOT grow a rose with that name, with that beauty?)

Yellow Chinese tree peony. Just the one, in a treasured glass bowl. It's about 10 inches in diameter.

Beach roses, looking down the greensward.

More beach roses, closer to the house.

Roses and peonies. With a Thai metal rice bowl.

An early-summer treat

I went looking for rhubarb recipes after I scored some local stalks at the supermarket.  I wanted to go beyond the usual strawberry-rhubarb pie (which is delicious, don't get me wrong ...) and found an easy and straightforward recipe for rhubarb sorbet. I'd had rhubarb sorbet with a version of chess pie at a restaurant in Boston recently, and it was the sorbet I had remembered most. Why not give it a try? 

I found this recipe in an old Gourmet magazine (June 2005, for you collectors out there), and it fit the bill nicely. Easy, dairy-free, and luscious. I served it to guests next to a slice of lemon chess pie and a couple of fresh local strawberries. June on a plate! 

Wash, trim, and chop one pound of rhubarb (about 3-4 cups). Add to the fruit 1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup sugar, and one tablespoon light corn syrup. Stir, and allow to macerate for 30 minutes. Then, bring to a slow boil over moderate heat, and simmer until the fruit is very tender, stirring often. This will take 10 to 15 minutes. Puree the mixture in a blender (Take care! It's very hot!) until almost perfectly smooth. Depending on the color of your rhubarb, you may wish to add a small drop of red gel color to the puree; it turns the final sorbet an appetizing light pink. Pour the puree into a metal bowl, and set into a larger bowl of ice and water to cool quickly.  Stir the puree often until it has cooled completely; this may take up to 20 minutes.  Freeze the sorbet in an ice-cream freezer. This takes a while; the change in the texture of the mixture is astonishing - it gets thick and very smooth. When the sorbet is frozen, pack it into a freezer container and allow to ripen for about an hour before serving. The taste is pure sweet rhubarb, but the texture will make you think of the richest ice cream ... all without a drop of milk! 

P.S. : Obscure Literary Reference. Bonus points for those who get it. 


Monday, January 12, 2015

Enter, reading on a book

Occasional reviews of books and such

What's a blog supposed to be? It's a question I've been thinking about about now and again, particularly during the Fall of 2014 when I found neither time nor inspiration enough to write regularly in this space. I will not promise to do more or better in the future - such resolutions are meant to be broken. But I also think that this blog - initially designed to showcase a particular place and its bounty through changing seasons - can also accommodate more than photos of places and things and descriptions of daily life.  Perhaps things such as books and essays, and other items of interest. So this post will inaugurate an occasional series on things I've read, and thought about. I hope that you might be moved to write and comment.

So - here goes.

Since Off Mill features recipes along with photos, it shouldn't surprise anyone that I like to read about cooking and about food. Heck, cookbooks, particularly old ones, are like novels to me: settings of particular places and times. The cookbook writer's characters are the choices of the recipes themselves, and descriptions of the methods and (sometimes) the photos of the finished products provide the plot and drama and resolution.

I am sure I am not the only reader who views cookbooks this way. The proof? The increasing number of memoirs-with-recipes that populate the cookbook shelves at the bookstore and library. The best, of course, are the two collections of essays written by the late Laurie Colwin. Home Cooking and More Home Cooking are not  - strictly speaking - memoirs, but the essays are miniature windows that permit us detailed views of Colwin the writer, the cook, and the sensitive observer of everyday domestic life. These books occupy the pride of place in my cookbook collection; they are (justly) celebrated enough to ensure their reprinting for years to come. If you have not already made their acquaintance, I beg you to do so.

Besides, the writing in these books is the model, in many ways, for the newer entries in the memoir-with-recipes genre. It has been the model for my own food writing, to be sure. I used to write a monthly column for my hometown newspaper (north of Boston) and Laurie's work was always on my desk as I wrote.

I'm sure Molly Wizenberg has done something like this. Ms. Wizenberg's blog Orangette ( is one of those miraculous sites that consistently deliver on their promises, whether tacit or overt. I've been a fan for years, although I've known about the blog more than visited it, courtesy of Ms. Wizenberg's (can I just call her Molly? Privilege of age, and all that ...) now-defunct column in Bon Appetit. The fact that Bon Appetit no longer carries Molly's column, and instead seems to have become an aggressively testosterone-fueled cooking smashdown (as bizarre as that sounds, the reality is worse. More on that later.) is one reason I began to sample the blog. And then search for - and read - her memoirs. There are two of them. The first, A Homemade Life, sounds like a Home Cooking re-run by a twenty-something who has just discovered Laurie Colwin, until you begin to understand that this is a deeply-felt and beautifully-constructed paean to Molly's late father, and to the family life she shared with him and with her quite remarkable mother.

Molly is definitely a good cook. She's adventurous and experimental (qualities that are not the same, although they are frequently used as synonyms. One can be adventurous and just plain sloppy. One can also be experimental and precise, but never venture out of one's comfort zone of favorite tastes.) She works at the craft of writing as avidly as she pursues as the art of cookery. And she's really got a way with the first line that nails the reader's interest to the page. Consider this, from the chapter in A Homemade Life titled "Quite That Magnificent":

               To most people, I guess, turning twenty-one is all about booze. To me, turning twenty-one was all about coconut. Booze is nice, but coconut is chewable, and when push comes to shove, I will always like eating better than drinking. Everyone has their priorities. 

Try putting the book down after THAT elegant reversal of Ogden Nash's storied maxim.

Molly's memoir is written in a style that could be called casual, if it were not so evident that she's labored and rewritten and probably cried over her work. No one can possibly write with such seeming ease on such devastating subjects as the lingering death of a beloved parent - and follow such telling with the precise and bloodless language of a favored recipe - without some serious writing chops. She's not as open about the fact that she knows and delivers good writing as is Gabrielle Hamilton, but that bit of modesty is another of Molly's charms. She's as artless in her self-revelation as she is careful about her sentence construction.

The tale she tells is a very good one, although it's evident about halfway through the book that this will be only the first installment of a series. And the recipes? I'll make all of them. In time.

If Molly's first memoir is tinged with melancholy and terror (leaving a doctoral program! Focusing on a blog for a career, for Pete's sake! Meeting her future husband online! Who does THAT? [snicker]) and grace, her second is a virtual how-to manual for making a restaurant work, from the ground up.

After all, we have all heard the statistic: over half of all new restaurants fail in their first year. There are problems with location, financing, cash flow and budgeting, and of course the vision that makes the great new place in town into the favorite neighborhood haunt.  Well, in Delancey, Molly and her new husband Brandon take on the nay-sayers and create a pizza place that is a smash hit from the first night.

Oh, right, like that happens, you snort. Well, it does. I'd be more skeptical if it were not for the remarkable neighborhood place a mile down the road from me (The Village Tavern, if you want to look it up) that was a sellout on its first night, and has only been building its delicious business ever since. It happens. But it takes a lot of research, work, experimentation, and planning. And every bit of that work - along with all the pitfalls, and (yes) the obsessive focus on getting things right is distilled into the prose of this fast-paced second memoir.

That pacing is only one of the things that sets this book apart from the first. There are also photos in this book, welcome glimpses of the place that becomes the focus as well as the title of the book. And the photos become necessary - since I live across the country from Delancey, it's doubtful I'll ever get to actually see that immense pizza oven.

There are also many fewer recipes in this book. That's a shame, but it also (I think) is a reflection of the fact that Molly's life became much faster-paced as she got married to Brandon, opened a new restaurant, and had their daughter (in that order). We must permit that. But I really longed for the seemingly-casual but careful style of A Homemade Life. I'll return to that book over and over. Yes, much like my treasured books by Laurie Colwin.

Laurie Colwin's and Molly Wizenberg's books are available on as well as in your favorite bricks-and-mortar bookstore. Try the latter first.

P.S.: Extra credit to those who correctly identify the source for the title of this post.

Monday, January 5, 2015

A New Year - and a New Season

A New Year - and a New Season

Yes, again it's that magic time of the year, between the Christmas holidays and mud season ... a Maine winter! And although we have had only about enough snow this winter yet to track a Woozle (see above ...) it's dark and it's cold, and it's blowing - and it's coming. Whatever it turns out to be.  I think I'd prefer a Woozle.

It's also - because the calendar page has turned - a New Year, and that requires some looking back and wondering forward. Photos will help.

Fall was glorious this year -the colors! The temperate weather! I managed to spend Halloween in Maine, and the entryway was primed to be a magnet for young candy-seekers:

Pumpkins, mums, and lanterns - and even a few geraniums hanging on from the summer!

November was all about concerts, harvesting trees, and preparation for Thanksgiving. We had to postpone the family dinner because of an early storm that brought 8 inches of heavy snow and made roads treacherous on the day before the holiday. No matter! We celebrated an intimate dinner on the Day, and enjoyed a family gathering on Saturday.

Table set for an intimate Thanksgiving Day dinner. The family dinner table was no less beautiful but much more crowded!

Paul had helped cut, sort, and bale the harvest on his family's Christmas tree farm in mid-November. He brought home our (gorgeous) Christmas tree, as well as a lovely vireo's nest he discovered in a lane nearby the farm. Here it is:

Vireo nest. To be placed in the Christmas tree!

The snow that fell just before Thanksgiving brought down a number of branches from our white pines, and provided some early Christmas decor for the front step!

Downed branches from a white pine form the basis of a Christmas decoration for the entryway.

The snow, in the beginning, also frosted the stone seat and birdbath on the back patio:

Early in the snowstorm - just a light frosting!

Our Christmas tree went up late, as our annual weekend in Boston came at the end of the semester and the middle of the month. But when it went up, it was the best ever! (as per usual ...). Here is a photo of the ornament that my good friend Cathy Sky sent this year. She finds ornaments of astonishing beauty each year, and our tree is full of her marvelous, and generous, gifts.

A wonderful wire ornament! How inventive. 

Here are a couple of other shots of Christmas decor around the house. First, a gorgeous pink poinsettia:

Poinsettia. More pixellated than I'd hoped the shot to be ... no, I really keep the hall table better dusted than it looks!

And my grand trumpeting angel on the mantel:

Large angel sculpture - about 3.5 feet tall! The wings and trumpet are gilded.

An Arrangement

And last - one of my favorite gifts, from my dear friend Mary Mathis. She has a marvelous eye for blown glass, and this small but beautifully designed vase will be just right for my desk. But here, filled with sea lavender and set on a crisp white tablecloth, it absolutely glows:

Small blown glass vase and sea lavender, left over from the Christmas centerpiece

Some seasonal recipes

Everyone has a favorite holiday recipe or two. I seem to have too many. When December rolls around, I delight in getting out the carefully-saved issues of Gourmet and the specialized cookbooks and idea-filled publications. Their suggestions and my tried-and-true favorites would fill a cookbook, by themselves (now, THERE's an idea ...!) But instead of the indulgences of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, I will instead offer here my most welcome cookbook find of the past couple of months, as well as a delicious and easy citrus dessert from the annals of Gourmet.

(and I'll keep thinking about that Christmas cookbook!)

The first recipe comes from a venerable source, the Southern Junior League Cookbook. My copy has a bit of a tale associated with it. Sometime in 2012 or 2013 (and I will have to look it up to find when) the food magazine Bon Appetit (a poor substitute for Gourmet, but there's slim pickings in the food magazine offerings right now) ran a kind of snarky-hip article about its writers' favorite ... food things. One such thing was the Southern Junior League Cookbook. Now, the cookbook had long been on my radar. I'd run into lots of copies at very reasonable prices at my favorite used book shops, but never had succumbed. It's actually a compendium of a number of publications produced by this particular women's club all over the American south. It contains - as you might expect - the curious mixture of "gracious" entrees (of the chafing-dish variety), cocktail nibbles, outlandish desserts and convenience meals that seem to inhabit most cookbooks produced for school or church fund-raisers. But this book also has some unique and even bizarre recipes.

So this snarky article raved about the cookbook, and I thought to myself - why not? Maybe now is the time to add it to my collection. And I went to peruse several used-book sites to order a copy.

Well. The magazine had to have been on the newsstands for several weeks before I got around to reading this story, and suddenly every used copy of this cookbook (hardback or paperback) was listed at astronomical prices. There was a copy offered on eBay for over $500.00. The better-preserved used copies on Alibris ran up to over $1000.00. Had THAT many people read the article? Hard to believe ... but still.

I placed an order for a book that was listed at a reasonable price on one of the sites - and was informed, after the order had been accepted, that the copy had already been sold. The same thing happened three more times.  Okay, sez I, the book will have to wait.

And wait it did, until this September, when I ventured back on to Alibris to check out the listings for the Southern Junior League Cookbook again. Lo and behold! I could get a very good copy for about $3.00. The craze had passed - and the book was mine.

It's as good as I'd hoped. Real  - um - meaty bedside reading!! And I found a recipe that I just HAD to try: something called Saxapahash. What in the world? It's basically a baked pasta dish with sour cream added.  I can find no etymology for the name on Google, but it is awfully intriguing. Of course, the name became Saxaphone Hash as soon as I made it and served it to my visiting brother-in-law and his wife. But it all got eaten - in a hurry!  You must try it:

Saxaphone Hash (or Saxapahash, from the Southern Junior League Cookbook)

Brown 1 pound of ground chuck in a large skillet, and pour off the liquid water and fat. To the beef, add 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. sugar, a couple of shakes of garlic salt (Penzey's is the best), and a 15-oz. can of tomato sauce, and simmer the mix for about 10 minutes. Chop 6 scallions (the white and light green parts) and blend into 1 cup sour cream and about 4 oz. softened cream cheese. Cook 8 oz. small shaped pasta, such as small shells or elbow macaroni, and drain. In a buttered casserole dish (such as a 13" x 9" baking pan) spread half the cooked pasta, followed by half the cream-cheese mixture, and topped by half of the meat mixture. Repeat the layering. Sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese over the top of the casserole and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

A winter salad of - say - escarole, red onion, and oranges would make an excellent accompaniment to this simple and delicious hot dish.

But what to have for dessert? Here's a recent find from my precious stash of preserved Gourmet magazines. It's simple and quick, as well as delicious:

Orange Sour Cream Cake (from Gourmet, January 2004)

Cream 1 stick softened butter with 3/4 cup sugar until the sugar is dissolved, about 2 minutes. Add 4 tsp. grated orange rind, and 2 eggs (one at a time), beating after each addition. Mix in 1/2 cup sour cream and 1/4 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice.  Mix in 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Mix only until just combined, and pour into a buttered 8" -square baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Sprinkle the top with 10x sugar before serving.

Here's to a bright New Year, full of possibilities! Even if we have to make it through a Maine winter first ...