Archive for Random Thoughts

Madagascar: People and Countryside

IMG_3892

The straw hats on the first two people are typical Malagasy wear for men and women.

They are a proud and happy people, close to family and community and friendly to visitors, but they are desperately poor.  The need for food staples like rice and corn are forcing them to devastate the beautiful forests that are home to so many species of wildlife.  We traveled through many areas where we saw smoke rising from burning rain forest, even around the edges of protected National Parks.  In place of the trees were miles and miles of terraced rice paddies.

rice paddies

The main highways are paved but narrow, side roads are dirt and the infrastructure in the National Parks has not been well maintained despite the fact that the visitor fees have just been increased.  It makes a visitor wonder where all that money is going because there are a lot of ecotourists and much wonderful wildlife to attract them.  If the Park Service doesn’t act, their inaction may well have a deleterious effect on that industry. Transportation is difficult as there are few buses.  We encountered many small vehicles such as Zebu drawn jitneys and bicycle pedicabs.  The few buses were astonishingly overcrowded.

IMG_3876

Our accommodations ranged from very nice to scary but the food was universally excellent, much of it influenced by the country’s history as a French colony.  We also were treated to delicious local Malagasy dishes.  Fresh vegetables were seen everywhere at roadside stands and markets, first quality to my gardener’s eye.  The roadside stands changed as we drove along country roads.  One area had water bottles filled with honey for half a mile, another bags of charcoal (another reason for destruction of the rain forest) a third had baskets and so on.

IMG_4044

A roadside bakery. Note that although there is a glass display case, there is no glass in the windows. We saw window glass only in the cities.  There are no chimneys either, even though cooking is done inside the house, mostly on wood or charcoal fired stoves.  It must be extremely smoky (as you can see by the door).

IMG_4154

I found two wonderful baskets in this group of roadside stands. I am now the envy of my fellow grocery shoppers with my reusable bags.

Near the coast most of the houses in the countryside were of mud an wattle construction but as we rode up into the highlands where the weather gets colder, they became more substantial two, even three story brick homes.  Brick making is a cottage industry with all the local red clay soil.  It looked as if someone decided he wanted to build a house and just made the bricks on site.  To fire the bricks, they stack the bricks in such a way as to leave an opening where they can light a fire inside the pile.  The fire burns quite hot, and voila, a stack of fired bricks.

IMG_4049

The people are remarkably ingenious in recycling.  We visited a craft market where a man was making little model bicycles from old brake cables, plastic tubing and empty aerosol cans.  He soldered them over a candle flame.  We saw them making tableware from old 55 gallon oil drums, the list goes on and includes many handcrafts such as paper making and embroidery .

IMG_4143

IMG_4343

We began and ended in Madagascar’s capitol, Antananarivo (Tana) where the Jacaranda tree were in full bloom.  Madagascar is a wonderful place with so much to offer but in desperate need of outside help in the form of infrastructure, education, so many things, and you never hear about it.

IMG_3894

Going home…

 

 

Comments (3) »

A Bittersweet Week

 

pete at 3

Here’s Pete at age three. Look at that jacket! Madras was in style.

This week saw the third anniversary of my oldest son Pete’s death from lung cancer and, two days later, my birthday.  Pete was a smoker, so one could say that he should have known better but there’s no way that rationalization can make those of us who loved him feel any better about it.  He is sorely missed.

He was a natural mechanic with an innate understanding of engines.  I didn’t think he needed a car of his own when he turned 16.  After all, he could use my car and we lived within walking distance of school.  I came home one day to find two VW Beetles in the driveway, one of which was given to him and the other one he had bought for a dollar.  Neither of them ran but I watched in awe as he built a functioning car piece by piece from the two old hulks.

“How do you know how to do this?” I asked.

“It’s just logical, Mom,” he said.

Heaven is a better place with you in it, Pete.  I just hope they have machinery for you to tinker with.

Doug and Marjorie wedding 5-26-12 007

Here he is with his wife, Sue, at our middle son’s wedding. He was about six weeks into his chemo at that point and had lost quite a bit of weight.

Comments (9) »

Pizza from Leftover Sourdough Starter

Even Charlo loved it!

Even Charlo loved it!

I have always hated having to discard some of my sourdough starter when I give it its weekly feeding.  It offends my Yankee sensibilities, but if I didn’t discard some I’d end up with a bathtub full of starter in a few months.  I try hard to plan it so I don’t have to discard any by baking bread or English muffins but every so often it is unavoidable.    Such was the case last week when I had an extra cup of starter after its weekly feed.  I had seen an article by the King Arthur Flour people about using it for pizza crust but their recipe used some of their “Pizza Dough Flavor” and added regular yeast, which I thought unnecessary.  It also used starter that was liquid, whereas I had long ago converted mine to an easier (for me) to manage “Biga” form, similar to bread dough.

A word about my starter.  I visited friends in Montana in 2002 and the husband had created his own starter using grapes. This yeast is less sour than the typical starter which I think is made from the type of yeast used in beer.  I begged him and he promised to send me some.  The first package arrived foaming furiously through the seams in the box and our mailman expressed his doubts as to whether or not it was safe to leave with us.  I wasn’t able to salvage that batch but the second arrived without mishap and my sourdough experience began.  It’s like having another pet.

I tried adapting the King Arthur recipe to my Biga and made the most fabulous pizza dough we have ever eaten.  The link is to the original recipe.  I left out the pizza dough flavor and the yeast and I changed the water to 1  1/4 C (+/-) cool water.  I used bread flour because that is what I use to feed my starter.  Other than these changes to accommodate my Biga, follow the link.  If you have liquid starter, just follow the King Arthur recipe link and you will be amazed.  (Not to mention you’ll be happy not to throw any of your hard-working starter away.)

This is the prebaked crust.  I made it on a cookie sheet.  It's a little tricky to stretch out, but if you proceed a little at a time and let it rest for five or ten minutes between stretchings, it will reach the edges of the cookie sheet (or whatever) in three or four tries.  I prebaked the crust for about 8 minutes because I hate soggy crust.

This is the prebaked crust. I made it on a cookie sheet. It’s a little tricky to stretch out, but if you proceed a little at a time and let it rest for five or ten minutes between stretchings, it will reach the edges of the cookie sheet (or whatever) in three or four tries. I prebaked the crust for about 8 minutes because I hate soggy crust.  I then brushed the top with olive oil and the topped it.  I took it off the cookie sheet for the second baking and just set it on the oven rack.

When it came out of the over after the second bake, the bottom looked like this; lovely, brown and crisp.

When it came out of the over after the second bake, the bottom looked like this; lovely, brown and crisp.

After the olive oil I spread pizza sauce over all, sprinkling it liberally with red pepper flakes.  I then added a layer of mozzarella, then thinly sliced pepperoni sausage and topped it with shredded Parmesan.  I baked it at 450º until the top was browned and bubbly.

After the olive oil I spread pizza sauce over all, sprinkling it liberally with red pepper flakes. I then added a layer of mozzarella, then thinly sliced pepperoni sausage and topped it with shredded Parmesan. I baked it at 450º until the top was browned and bubbly.

Comments (4) »

A Special Gift for Friends and Neighbors

Norwegian Christmas Bread, ready to be gift wrapped.

Norwegian Christmas Bread, ready to be gift wrapped.

It’s always nice to have something homemade to give to neighbors and friends at Christmas and for us that special gift is Norwegian Christmas Bread.  The recipe came to us by means of a friendship in Maine.  We used to stop and have tea with a seventy-ish Norwegian widower on our walk around Ocean Point and once at Christmas he was reminiscing about a special bread his wife used to make.   When I asked to see the recipe, he took out a typewritten page covered in notes he had written in his several failed attempts to make the bread.  He gave me a copy, and the next time we saw him I gave him a loaf.  It’s a dense yeast bread, sweet with candied fruit and currents and fragrant with cardamom. The top is glazed with egg white, giving it a shiny, festive look. The look of joy on his face when he tasted it still raises my spirits every time I think of it.  I was able to relive that joy with a gift of a loaf each year thereafter until he died at age 100.

IMG_2810

Ready for their second rise.

Ready for their second rise.

We make about 40 loaves each year, 10 at a time.  In order to make that much at once we use our antique bread pail (the old Universal #8) and my husband has to turn the crank to knead it, as it’s too hard on my shoulders.  The fun is delivering it around the neighborhood.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to you, my virtual friends.

Comments (3) »

First Parsnips of the Season

Yum!!

Yum!!

We finally had a light frost a couple of days ago.  Frost sweetens winter vegetables like parsnips so I decided could at last harvest some and be confident that they would be tender and sweet.  I chose a simple preparation, just “slabbed” and sauteed in butter until the sugars caramelized and they were easily pierced with a fork.  After enduring months without parsnips, I didn’t want anything fancy, anything that might distract me from their delicate flavor.   I believe parsnips are vastly under-appreciated.  They are best straight from the garden of course, but lacking that, try some from the market.  You may find a new fall favorite.

I also hope none of you thought I was “down” with my Memories of Berlin post.  One son called and told me it seemed so, but I guess I was just being reflective.  Not to worry!  I’m happy!!

Leave a comment »

Memories of the Berlin Wall

Peter and I, in front of the Brandenburg Gate and the burned out Reichstag building, under restoration. (1964)

I’m with Peter in front of the Brandenburg Gate and the burned out Reichstag building, under restoration. (1964)

On this, the 25th anniversary of its demise, I can’t help thinking back to my time in Berlin.  It was the 60’s and the Wall was under construction.  As you can see from the photo, the part in front of the Brandenburg Gate was still separated by concertinas of barbed wire.  My apartment was in Lichterfelde Ost, a district that bordered the East.  The border and a guard tower were less than a kilometer away and I often heard gunfire in the night when the guards shot at fleeing East Germans.  On the day in the photo, I had taken my son Peter down to the border where there was a lovely garden area.

Now the Wall is gone, Peter is gone, that marriage is gone, but today life begins anew as I plant my garlic, in preparation for another year.

 

Comments (2) »

Fledgling Ospreys are Everywhere

He seems a little bewildered.

He acts a little bewildered.

Here in Maine we have several Osprey nests around our house and the chicks have fledged.  They are careening in front of the windows, perching on the roof and whistling in anxiety all day long as they attempt to learn fishing skills and perfect their flight abilities.  Landing seems to be a problem for them.  There is a big, relatively flat rock in front of the house and one young birds has chosen it as a safe spot upon which to flop down.  They will be around for several more weeks, learning their craft, before they migrate south.  They return here in Maine right around tax time.  Our African Grey Parrot is quite adept at attracting their attention when he mimics their call.

The Ospreys were brought back from the brink of extinction when DDT was banned in the US in 1972.  So great is the Osprey’s success, the sight of them could become commonplace, but for me the sight of an Osprey is a reminder of how fragile our environment is and how easy it is for us to make a mistake that has devastating consequences.  The nicotiniod based chemical pesticides appear to be the next DDT and recent scientific research links them to the collapse in bee populations.  I only hope the political will exists in this country to do the right thing.

Safe landing accomplished.

Safe landing accomplished.

 

Comments (1) »

%d bloggers like this: