The 7% solution

Did you know that only 7% of us in the US don’t use an electrical appliance to dry  our laundry?

A and J at the bungalow, S. Portland, 1992

After thinking about it, I couldn’t say that 7% of us technically use a “clothesline” because I can only hang laundry outside for 1/3 of the year. When it’s cold and damp (easily 2/3 of the year) we have an Amish “finger” contraption that hangs on the wall by the woodstove. Growing up my son referred to it as the “clothes toaster” which is fairly apt – when the tiny woodstove is going full bore it only takes about 20 minutes to dry a rack of laundry.

I love it when I can hang a full load of laundry (or two, or three) outside on the line. Yes, the texture of line-dried towels is a little rough, but soon enough the dryer version begins to feel a little slimy. I have nothing but sympathy for folks who have no place to string a line indoors or out but for the rest of us – get with the new program! Your clothes will last longer, and so will the ozone layer.

There’s even a handy website (when is there not?) to get started with facts and hints: Project Laundry List. See you out in the yard on the next nice day!

Friday reading

Snow is pelting down outside my windows. It looks like flour from that big old can sifter my mother used to have – absolutely useless for anything but making industrial loaves of bread, it spread flour thick and wide. And to bring that metaphor back to cases, there will be a lot of shoveling going on later this afternoon.

The writer at Beyond the Dooryard is seeing the same snow out her windows over on Frenchman’s Hill. And although (or perhaps because) she has little ones, she has already finished her first post for the day. My child is all grown up and away so I’ve actually had a chance to read and be fascinated by her morning links. Then I decided to join in the fun.

Cherie and I both work in philanthropy, so she’ll be happy to know that I’m reading in our field. This is Abe Saur’s article on funding wound care and exorcisms in post-disaster Haiti. It has inspired me to practice a little voodoo of my own, in terms of letter-writing.

Thanks, Cherie!

Night off

My family is on the road tonight and it’s been a long day, so instead of doing anything productive I’m sitting at the kitchen table reading old cookbooks. I’m learning about chicken and dumplings, the proper use of marjoram with fish (don’t over do it), all the various uses of lard and how to roll out pie crust in the 1860’s. I found this bill being used as a bookmark in the pie section and had admire the fine copperplate hand of the person making out a list of gas fixture parts for great grandfather Miller’s wife’s father in NYC.

Wikipedia Commons has a photo of a display of Archer and Pancoast chandeliers – very impressive! I’ll keep reading, and see what else I run across.

The Clamdigger

The “Fisherman’s Voice” has an article by Lee Wilbur about our friend and neighbor, Richard A. (Rat) Taylor;

Richard is perhaps the historical epitome of what we like to feel Maine people are made of—people who have made their living with hard work, no nonsense, and a healthy dose of ingenuity.

Here’s a link to part 1 in August, and part 2 in the September issue. It’s a good read about what it’s like to make your living with your hands in this century or any other – clamdigging hasn’t changed all that much. I did a post about Rat’s presence on our road, including his sign,  last year. This year the sign is bigger and better and I’m hoping it’s a trend.

The Green Season

This has been the perfect year to grow lettuces. It was an early spring that warmed the soil and the hot afternoons have been broken up by cool rain at night – just like Camelot, as my mother used to say. I grow salad ingredients close to the house. They are convenient to pick at the last minute before dinner and the location makes it less tempting to the deer.  So far.

I plant the lettuces very thickly to discourage weeds and keep the roots shaded. The picture above features Red Salad Bowl (very aptly named, in the bowl), Fedco’s mesclun mix in the front of the raised bed and Bull’s Blood beet greens in the back. My dooryard can be hot on a sunny afternoon, so the bed below is shaded by a young “Good Barn” sambucus.

Greens also make a good cover for larger and slower-maturing plants like these King Siegfried leeks. We have harvested quite a few heads of “Flashy Green” lettuce from this bed and I plan to replant this weekend with seedlings from the hoop house. I try to start a new batch every week to keep the rotation going.

While I often stop and consider whether growing my own produce is cost efficient, lettuce is always a no-brainer. One eighty cent “A” sized package from Fedco produces a season of nutrition with very little effort on the part of the gardener. Five packets of different varieties extend the season to the absolute limit with types that will grow (under mulch) until Thanksgiving and flavors to please everyone in the family.  Go green!

Social Capital – the business model

I was down in the village last Saturday, doing errands and enjoying the relative peace and quiet now that most of the folks from away are well, away. It occurred to me that two of my favorite businesses in town are right next to each other, on a cul-de-sac off Cottage Street.

Cadillac Avenue is a short, narrow, heavily rutted dead end that opens up into a dirt lot facing the backs of other buildings on three sides.  Not a promising piece of real estate, but very expensive nonetheless, just by being located in down town Bar Harbor. To one side of the dirt lot sits The Bagel Factory, where Agnes S. makes bagels. Agnes makes the best bagels in the world, but she does not tolerate stupidity, arrogance, sloth or bad manners. You may be able to get a bagel – or a salmon and mozzarella pizza, or a tempeh and goat cheese sandwich with ripe pears – or you may get kicked to the curb. Agnes is one of the finest human beings you will ever have a chance to meet – don’t screw up.

bagel factory

Just to the left of The Bagel Factory is Ahlblad’s Picture Framing or, as the sign says, “hlblad’s”. Nobody cares about the sign. All of Raymond Strout’s customers find their way by word of mouth and are willing to wait unspecified amounts of time for a frame and treatment of Raymond’s choosing. Martha Stewart deals with Raymond when she’s in town and so do countless collectors of old maps, antique prints and fragile photographs. His skill with molding is matched by his taste, and his memory for every piece of visual art and every customer that has ever passed through his door is perfect – an infinitely accommodating human database of art. Which must help him find what he needs amid the epic clutter of his shop.


But no one finds Raymond or Agnes through their web presence – they don’t have any. These stores barely have phone numbers, only appear on Google maps if you already know how to spell “(A)hlblad”, and are only open on the kind of schedule that needs to be memorized after long familiarity. You have to know someone who knows someone – someone on a budget who used to live in Paris and has a thing for reading Antonin Artaud over a bagel and a cup of hot cider, and therefore knows Agnes. Even then, you might arrive and find that the bagels are sold out and Raymond isn’t answering the bell. If you know a place like this, you’ll just shake your head and vow to come earlier next time.

No, he does not sell rats.

RATS clamsThis is the sign at the bottom of our road. RAT sells great clams, mussels and cherry stones (a small, dark clam) but his signage is maybe not as clear as it could be. We live half a mile up this road and RAT lives a little ways further on. Every summer we explain the sign, and the lack of rodents, to tourists who stop by the driveway while we’re out gardening.  You were going to ask, right? No, you cannot buy rats here. No. Today I had TWO cars stop and ask about the rats. It’s going to be a long summer.

And the clams have to drive slowly, too.


Poverty Cake



Tonight we’ll have a central Asian rice stew (because I have everything on hand, including two cups of cooked rice from last night’s curry), with Poverty Cake for dessert.  Poverty Cake was a staple of my mother’s family during The War and was too good to let go when times got just marginally better in the fifties and sixties. I remember this cake sitting on the counter at the house on Tunxis Avenue, the dark brown of the cake showing through the brilliant white frosting on one slice – because my mother liked her’s plain.

This recipe is for the dark, rather chocolately version that includes cocoa. You can skip the cocoa and up the spices a little bit and it will still be very good. Some people prefer it this way. My family used Crisco, but my uncles preferred it sans cocoa and with bacon fat or lard for the shortening.  My own variation is to add chocolate chips, and I’ve made it that way for decades so that’s how my family expects it.  Obviously this recipe is a blank canvas on which to paint your wildest cake dreams, or something. It also packs well in a lunchbox.

Poverty Cake (from a recipe card in my mother’s handwriting)

Grease and flour a tube pan, regular size – not a Bundt pan. This isn’t a huge cake, which is another of it charms.

In a medium saucepan combine 1 C water, 1 C sugar, 1 C seeded raisins (can you buy non-seeded raisins nowadays?), 1 heaping Tbsp shortening (whatever), 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp cloves, 3 Tbsp cocoa (optional) 1 tsp salt. Boil without stirring for 5 minutes. Cool. (The cooling part is important. If you’re in a hurry go out and put the pan in a snowbank or something like I’m going to in a minute. If the mixture is still hot when you put in the flour and baking soda you’ll end up with little white sour clumps in the finished cake.)

Add 1 3/4 C flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp vanilla and about a cup of chocolate chips (optional). Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes, or until firm and glossy.

Frosting: A heap of confectioners sugar (about half a bag), add 3 Tbs melted butter and enough milk to make it spreadable. If you’re planning a vegan version, use Earthsource or another soy margarine and almond or soy milk, or follow in my mother’s footsteps and enjoy it without frosting.