Friday, June 17, 2011

Would you read this book? An excerpt from a current project

Eighty six years ago, I was born Winona Rose Hargarty, in the shadow of Hidenseek Hill, which, as you may know, is right down the road from Peekaboo Mountain.  I am choosing to write down the story of my life now, as it seems that I may only have a few months, or even weeks, to live. I cannot believe that my most interesting life is ending in this most mundane way. -  But I will write more about things that cannot be changed later.  The important thing now is to capture the highlights for those who will follow me, those who can still learn from my lessons.

Eighty six years ago, I was born Winona Rose Hargarty, in the shadow of Hidenseek Hill, which … Oh dear.  I am repeating myself.  I do that fairly often these days.  Most folks just smile and listen politely. Then, when I am mid-way through the story, it often comes to me: I have told this tale to this person before. I can surmise that fact by the mildly disinterested look on their face, and a trace memory of having seen that look before.
So let me continue to give you a bit of background, pre-history for my life story, if you will.

Soon after they married, my grandfather, Henri Philippe Lepiere, took his bride on a great adventure to Northern Aroostook, Maine.  He was to make his fortune with the Great Aroostook Paper Company. But my meme’, Winona Fern, the first family Winona, died in Grandfather’s arms as she birthed my mother, who was baptized “Winona Rue”, after her mother and the bitter, strong-scented herb.
Life in the North Country was no life for a young girl. The unorganized territory was a wilderness of approximately two thousand, six hundred and sixty eight miles. Even today, it still hosts a population of only 26.5 people, and that translates to one person for every one hundred square miles. Well, perhaps that is somewhat of an exaggeration, as there were few who lived an entirely solitary existence.  Households were comprised of two or more paper mill employees, lumberjack-types who supervised the cutting of great tracks of forest. Occasionally, one of the men would bring a wife, as my grandfather had. When children came along, the wives were ready for more sociable company, and insisted that the family move out and into a more civilized society. Their men would take clerk jobs for Great Aroostook, in the city, ending their big adventures and squelching dreams of a he-man life in the northern territory. Few women remained who could teach my mother the fine arts of sewing, housekeeping or idle chat, as many of the “ladies” who travelled North on their own and stayed-by were those of lesser virtue.

Winona Rue longed for the companionship and comfort of women, and a relief from the oppressive grief that emanated, along with sweat and the scent of last night’s whiskey, from every pore of grandfather’s being.  She could not wait, like the wives who packed up their families and left before her, to go to the “big” city of Portland when she turned 16… 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

While waiting ... An Irish Gal’s Italian Meatballs and Sauce

When one is waiting for life to happen - or the inevitable to pass - it is good to cook.

There is something blessed and calming about the nature of preparing food. Searching for a well-loved recipe passed down from one’s mother, or inventing a new dish of your own – it doesn’t really matter. Whether you enjoy the satisfying rhythm of chopping with a newly sharpened blade, or prefer the whir and speed of your shiny Cuisinart – the “secret ingredient” is the piece of your heart that you add to nourish the bodies and spirits of those you cook for.

With all due respect to my Italian brother-in-law, Skip, and my vegetarian daughters, Julia and Siobhan-- here is my favorite meatball and sauce recipe. (My own!) Make it for your favorite people, for wedding or christening or wake, to celebrate one of life’s most basic pleasures: the comfort and joy of sharing a satisfying meal with the people you love.

An Irish Gal’s Italian Meatballs and Sauce

For the meatballs, you will need:

• Three-quarters of a pound of ground pork

• Three-quarters of a pound of ground beef

• Three large eggs

• Three-quarters of a cup of Italian-style breadcrumbs

• 2 tablespoons of fresh chopped Italian parsley

• 2 cloves of garlic

• One-quarter of a large sweet onion

• 1 rib of celery

• 1 teaspoon Italian-style dried herb seasoning

• 4 tablespoons dry sherry (The real stuff. – NOT “cooking sherry” )

• Extra-virgin olive oil

• Grated parmesan

For the sauce you will need:

• 2 quarts of your favorite pasta sauce. (I like “Prego Traditional” or “Paul Newman’s Marinara”)

• 2 large sweet peppers. 1 green and 1 red, yellow or orange. (For color!)

• The other three-quarters of your large sweet onion

• 2 cloves of garlic

• 3 ribs of celery

• 1 cup dry red wine

• Extra-virgin olive oil

1. Pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees.

2. In your electric mixer bowl, mix the four tablespoons of sherry and Italian bread crumbs. Fluff the breadcrumbs with a fork to make sure that they are all coated with the sherry.

3. While that mixture is resting, take one rib of celery, the quarter onion and the two cloves of garlic and mince – until very, very fine -- in your food processor (or by hand, if you prefer).

4. Heat a large skillet on your stovetop and add a tablespoon of good extra-virgin olive oil. You're going to brown the chopped vegetable mixture in the olive oil.

5. Cook over low to medium heat until all pieces are tender and slightly brown. Set aside to cool.

6. Beat three eggs and add to your breadcrumb and sherry mixture. Turn your mixer on low speed to combine ingredients. (Use bread hook attachment as this will be a very heavy mixture when all ingredients are added.)

7. When your cooked vegetables are cool, you can add to the breadcrumb/egg mixture.

8. Add your meats and continue to blend until all ingredients are incorporated. Form into golf- ball sized balls (about 1 inch) and roll in grated Parmesan.

9. Place the meatballs on a foil-lined baking dish/lasagna pan. Cook for 30 min. in your 325° preheated oven.

10. While the meatballs are cooking in the oven, you can begin to make your sauce.

11. Take your large red pepper and core it and cut into thin slices. Do the same with the green pepper.

12. Take the rest of your large sweet onion and slice that into lengthwise slices.

13. Finely mince two cloves of garlic.

14. You can use the same pan you cooked the meatball veggies in to save prep and clean-up time. – Add 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and cook your peppers, onions and garlic until tender.

15. Add 1 cup of dry red wine and 2 quarts of your favorite prepared spaghetti sauce.

16. Bring to a simmer.

17. After your meatballs have cooked in the oven for about 30 minutes, add them to the sauce to finish cooking. Simmer over low heat for about one hour. (That should be the minimum time you cook!)

18. For more flavor, simmer longer. Be careful to gently stir every once in a while to prevent the meatballs/sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

19. This is excellent to make ahead for your meal the next day, or you can put all or some in your freezer for one of those days that you just don't have time, or energy, to cook.

In my house these days, we typically don’t eat our meatballs with pasta. We make homemade mashed potatoes and put the red gravy over the potatoes. (That must be the “Irish Gal’s" part.) The meatballs, along with a side of steamed green beans, complete our tummy-and-soul-satisfying – and yummy – meal.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Solstice + One

Soltice + One

It is snowing out.


I could

just weep.

The little tit-mouse runs

up the jasmine bush

looking for a berry.

They are

all gone.

It has been

a very




Spring fooled us.

She came along 

for three days

last week.

The ice melted.


The birds

began to chirp.


And everyone


brighter, lighter

when you met them

in the store,

or walking

down the street,

or talking

on the phone.


The alpacas

rolled in the dust,

hidden so long.

They had

been longing

so long

to roll in

that dust.

The dust

that is gone.

Now it's mud.


I could

just weep.


I must

take them water.

I must

take them warm water.

Warm from the tap.


To take away

the chill

sudden return

of winter.

They line up

by the gate.


in long thirsty gulps.

I wonder.

Is it

the water

they crave

the warmth

they need

the hope

of a thaw?


I could

just weep.


has been

a very



Sunday, February 27, 2011

Kate's Key Lime & Blueberry Bread Pudding

When Siobhan was in 5th grade, I had the opportunity to accompany her class on an outing to Plimoth Plantation. I had never been, although I had heard many positives about the place. – The staff not only dressed in authentic colonial garb, but spent months learning the dialect of the early settlers before they began their assignments in the village. Their approach to history education fully embraced and embodied the lives of the pilgrims, as well as the local Wampanoags. Each day when they came to work, they “became” one of those early inhabitants of the Plimoth settlement.

During our tour, we walked the dirt roads of their little enclave on the coast of Massachusetts. We knocked on doors and visited many of the colonists. They were a hardy people; survivors of a perilous trans-Atlantic voyage that took the lives of many of their friends. But they were a generous and thankful people, too, and we were warmly welcomed into several homes. At one such stop, we were invited to help Goody Cabot make a bread pudding for the night’s supper. We broke chunks of course brown bread and soaked it in fresh goat milk, adding precious maple syrup and a little bit of cinnamon, brought from England several years prior. Dried plums were cut and added, too, and then the mixture was transferred to a big, black cook-pot, and set to simmer over a low-burning wood fire. Later in the day, after we had finished the rounds of the village and had visited the camp of the neighboring Wampanoag, we were treated to a sampling of our earlier chore. Simple – and delicious!

Life here in Massachusetts is, thankfully, much easier today. And the bread puddings and custards that come from my kitchen may be significantly different. But the goal is the same – use what is on hand (well mostly) to create a simple, body and soul-nourishing dish that will comfort on a cold winter night in New England.

Kate’s Key Lime & Blueberry Bread Pudding

You will need:

• Stale bread

• Whole milk or half-and-half

• Eggs

• Sugar (I like organic raw or turbinado)

• Fresh berries (or dried cranberries, cherries, raisins, etc.)

• Lemon or lime curd (You can make this yourself. P 737 “Orange or Lemon Sponge Custard”, in my version of Joy of Cooking) OR you can used the pre-made kind. I really like Stonewall Kitchen’s Key Lime or Lemon Curd

• Pure vanilla

• Ground nutmeg or cinnamon

1. Start with about a half loaf of stale bread. It can be white, whole wheat, oatmeal, sourdough. I’m not sure about rye, but if you try it, please let me know.

2. Break into generous chunks, about 1”x1”, and put into a deep baking dish.

3. Add 3 to 4 cups of whole milk or half-and-half, enough to cover the bread and leave about 1” of liquid on top. The bread will expand as it soaks up the milk.

4. Depending on how stale your bread is, cover and put into your refrigerator for 2+ hours – or overnight. You want to make sure that all of those crusts have had ample time to absorb the milk and “tenderize”.

5. When you are ready to assemble, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

6. Use 1 egg for each cup of milk that you added to the bread. Beat well and add ¾ to 1 cup of sugar, depending on how sweet your sweet tooth is. Stir in 1 teaspoon of vanilla and a dash of nutmeg or cinnamon – or both. Your choice.

7. Fold into the bread mixture until well blended.

8. Add about a pint of fresh berries, and again, fold into the mixture being careful not to “mush” the bread or crush the berries.

9. You can actually stop here (well, you have to bake it!) and have a delicious dessert, served with a dollop of whipped cream. BUT, for a special occasion …

10. Add about ½ to ¾ of a jar of lemon or lime curd. Drop by the teaspoon onto the top of your pudding . Then, take a knife and gently swirl through the mixture.

11. Put your baking dish in a “water bath”. (Put about an inch or so of water into a 9”x11” lasagna or cake pan.) Be careful not to get water in the pudding mixture.

12. Now, it’s baking time. Put the pudding in water bath into the oven, which should be pre-heated by now.

13. It will take about 55 – 90 minutes to bake. You can test for done-ness by look and feel. Is the top golden brown and slightly raised in the center? Does the center “spring” when you lightly touch it? If the answer is yes –

14. Remove from your oven and cool for about an hour. You can leave in the water bath, or remove and cool on a rack.

15. This is delicious served warm with a little whipped cream. AND if there are leftovers – you’ve got a wonderful, nutritious breakfast!


Sunday, February 20, 2011

My dear Acquaintance,

I knew, of course, that you would re-surface one day.

I, too, was busy with the grandkids yesterday – taking in “Toy Story on Ice” at the Garden.

My two oldest kids are happily (most days, as are most of us coupled-ones) married, and youngest daughter graduated summa cum laude last May. She is living the Bohemian life with a young painter. Punk rock bands perform in their basement, on the side across from the washer/dryer combo, on alternate Tuesdays.

T. is still working, writing for a small company in North Andover. I got the boot… er - took early retirement in Feb of 09. I’ve been picking up odd free-lance work to pay the bills and buy hay. (Buy hay? you say) And I play with the grandkids every chance I can. They are real, and make me feel more connected to life than any hi-tech job ever did.

We bought a small trailer, a “park model RV”. (Who woulda thunk it? T. in a trailer.) It is parked 1.1 miles from the beach in southern Maine. We’ve spent the last seven summers there, and would love to retire officially in Vacationland. (Although that would surely mean we wouldn’t be travelling south to warm and sunny central MA for winters anymore…)

When I say retire, I mean farm. We now own 19 alpacas, three of the boys – my herdsires – currently reside in our backyard. They’ll go to “work” for the Summer at a farm in NH, in mid-May, and we’ll close up the house here and head up North…

Re: all things in this life – “Hindsight” , as they say…

What would any of us do over, had we only this future-lens to help us understand what we see on any given day?

Cash a couple of your Social Security checks and go to the Bahamas, for heaven’s sake. We’re grandparents; our youth is gone. Buy and take a copy – or I’ll send you one – of “The Dirty Life”. Read it on your sail. And don’t worry your daughters while you are away. Text them when you can, and tell them where you are, and most importantly, that you love them. Then you can come back to the land, with your smooth heels and salty tan, and get all romantic about dirt and connectedness and those beautiful little grandkids.

Before or after you go, you are always welcome to come visit us for an egg sandwich and a very dry martini...

xo me2

p.s. -- Did you know that CW is farming in CT? She raises goats and chickens and has just started to make cheese. S. has some beautiful photos …