My pictures of early fall/late summer at home

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Irrespective of the warm weather, my plants are curling up in preparation of a long winter’s sleep. It makes me sad, I have always hated letting go of summer and I think that I may be a sufferer of seasonal doldrums. The decline in sunlight hours does a number on me. The saving grace for me exists in the kitchen, hearty soups, lasagna, chicken pot pie, all of these wonderfully comforting dishes help banish the winter blues in a big way. I shouldn’t forget all the baking that the future holidays bring to mind such as my dear friend Mary’s annual Christmas cookie swap. I have a lot to look forward to these next few months.

However in the meantime, I will continue enjoying the last vestiges of my garden and all of the gorgeous colors that the cooler weather is bringing to my backyard. I am so very lucky to be able to wake up and see all of the autumnal majesty of the Berkshire mountains right here, up close and personal.

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The Equalizer: A movie review

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I think that Denzel Washington is one of the most gifted actors that we have, I have loved him in every single movie that he has acted in such; as The Book of Eli, Training Days and Man on Fire to name just a few. So surprise, surprise, I loved his performance in The Equalizer.

Everything he did as his character Robert McCall was believable and character driven; his version of Robert McCall had me at the first scene. I think that the trait that I love most about Denzel Washington is his stillness. He can be quiet in his words and his actions without it being boring; that is a a tremendous accomplishment for an actor.

There were two phrases that I loved in the movie. The first was Denzel’s phrase “You have to be what you are in this world” The second was uttered three times by the three villains in the movie “Who are You?” That question was never answered, not that it would have changed their outcome, but it was striking that in the last few seconds of their lives, they felt such a powerful need to know who Denzel was, it goes to show how important identity is to some.

What I found striking about Denzel’s phrase is that he didn’t say what you do in relation as to who you are; he says you have to BE what you are; ergo the question remains “Who are you” and not “what do you do” when it comes to defining you. So even though you might be a bad cop or a lowly clerk; that doesn’t necessarily make it who you are, it is only what you do, nuance.

I wonder how many of us, when asked who we are, reply with what we do. Who am I in this world? Aside from anything that I do, I am first and foremost a nurturer, I have always been, long before having any type of “job”. I am drawn to helping others, I can’t help it, it is who I am. That was my first thought when I asked myself the question so that is who I am. It’s a good thing that I wouldn’t have to play the Equalizer anytime soon, I’d be more inclined to bake the bad guys a cake rather than shoot any of them.

Fantastic movie.

I’m on a culinary roll

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Yesterday I went to our neighborhood vegetable stand on Sunset Rock Road; I love it, it is one of the highlights of summer for me. Barbara, who keeps it so well stocked, works tirelessly all summer long, working her vegetable farm to provide this amazing farm stand.

I came back home with five zucchinis, a bag full of fava beans and curly Kale. It feels so nice to walk down the road and shop for vegetables just picked that morning.

I don’t remember how my idea of trying a make a zucchini gratin/flan came about, but I did flash onto my mother’s way of zucchini with grated cheese, eggs and milk; I would call that my inspirational flashpoint if you will.

I went online, looking at French recipes, there is a great site called 750grammes.com, they have a link that translates the page, so you can read the recipes in English, I don’t need it because I can read French. The only issues I have are the conversions between metric and our measurements and Celsius and Fahrenheit.

The recipe that I found was uncomplicated: sauté an onion, slice the zucchini into thin rounds and sauté them with the onions until everything is nice and golden in color. I ladled the sautéed zucchini and onion mixture in a strainer to drain off any excess liquid because I didn’t want the zucchinis to give off liquid in the flan/gratin while it was baking.

I prepared the gratin baking dish by drizzling a little oil on the bottom and then sprinkled grated Asiago cheese over that, the recipe called for parmesan, but I used asiago instead. I then spread the zucchini/onion mixture out in the dish over the cheese and oil. In a mixing bowl, I cracked three eggs and put 1/2 cup of milk, 1/2 cup of cream, salt, pepper, grated nutmeg and shredded asiago all together and beat it all until it was frothy and poured it on top of the zucchini. I then grated Jarlsberg cheese all over and put it into a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes.

We haven’t tasted it yet, but it sure smells good. I love custard and I love flan, be it of the savory or the sweet kind, I don’t care; there is something about the texture and the flavor of eggs and dairy together that does it for me and my taste buds. I hope that my son and husband like it.

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Experiments with quince

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I was telling my friend Tilly that with my children away from the house, either on tour or at university, I really miss baking and cooking for them; so much so that I fantasized about baking goodies and dropping them off to someone’s house under the cover of darkness just to get my baking fix. Tilly of course had a better plan; look into Food banks, homeless shelters or retirement homes who would benefit from my need to bake. She is such a wonderful friend full of wisdom and common sense.

I can think of someone else, Debbie my best friend, who would be loving a certain type of pie, I have been thinking about it for a while, I just have to coordinate my time to do a home delivery to her house; ever since she moved away from next door, it is hard to cook and bake for her the way I used to when it was only a skip and a jump to her front door.

Anyway just as I was writing back and forth with Tilly, my son came home early from his tour and as soon as he got in, I served him a bowl of soup and got to work on an apple clafoutis.

A clafoutis is essentially a batter type cake with fruit in it; traditionally it is full of pitted cherries, but you can make it with apricots, pears or apples. I chose apples because A. I had five apples waiting in the refrigerator for someone to do something with them and B I had picked a bunch of quince from my quince bush and I wanted to bake them into something, so why not a clafoutis.

The clafoutis batter comprises of 4 eggs, 4 tablespoons of sugar, 2/3 cups of flour( I did 1/3 cup of unbleached flour, 1/3 almond meal) 1 cup of milk ( I used 1 cup of buttermilk) and you whisk these together and pour it over the fruit that is in a buttered pie dish.

I looked through various recipes involving quince and apples and they all pointed to a quince compote which calls for peeling and dicing 4 quince and adding them to 4 cups of water, 1/2 cup of sugar and 2 cinnamon sticks that have come to a boil and the sugar has dissolved and you let them cook for about an hour. The house smelled like Christmas and Thanksgiving.

I pulled the quince off the heat, it looked like compote and tasted sweet with a pleasing note of tart and cinnamon. I gently spread the compote on the bottom of the pie dish and then after I peeled, cored and sliced up the apples, I sautéed them for a few minutes in 2 tablespoons of butter before piling them into the buttered pie dish, that is when I poured the batter over the fruit and put it in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes.

My son has been eating soup and has been eating clafoutis since his return; makes a Maman proud and very happy.

Thank you birds and bumble bees

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These are snapdragons that are growing in the gravel on top of the sand filtered septic system. I have never planted snapdragons before and so I looked them up and discovered that they bloom in cooler weather, they are considered a tender perennial so that means that here in the Northeast; they are annuals for all intents and purposes since they enjoy warmer climes as their permanent home. I learned that bumble bees are the chief pollinators and that since I wasn’t the one who planted their seeds, I can only thank the birds for disseminating these seeds, no matter where they landed.

I do like where the snapdragons ended up, I think that the flowers really pop when contrasted against the pretty stones in the gravel bed. It never fails to delight and amaze me how nature works so harmoniously amongst the plant and animal kingdoms; I only wish that we humans could be as harmonious in turn.

Autumn means soup, at least for me

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Butternut squash soup is one of our favorites and I found the best recipe in an excellent recipe book dedicated to vegetable lovers called the Gardener’s Community Cookbook. The recipe is very simple and I think that I have written about it before; as you can see, it calls for roasted butternut squash, roasted garlic cloves,,diced onions, thyme, sage, both fresh and dried, with chicken stock of course to make it soupy. That is what makes it so easy, the oven does most of the heavy lifting, once the butternut squash is roasted after an hour at 375 degrees, you scoop it out and add it to the sautéed onions that are translucent and you squeeze the roasted garlic out of their skins and after, I let this simmer for a few minutes, stirring all the while, this is when I add the chicken stock and the dried thyme and sage. After that I leave my soup alone to simmer and after a half hour I add the fresh herbs.

One of the best things about making soup at home is how wonderful the house smells while you wait for the soup to fully develop its flavors. I seriously recommend the Gardener’s Community Cookbook to anyone who likes vegetables and is sometimes at a loss as to how to make them in new ways. I love vegetables, but I need help when it comes to making them sometimes, because I have a habit of falling into ruts and while that doesn’t bother me at all, it does get boring for the rest of my family.

Our son just got back from his band’s tour and the first thing that he asked for is a bowl of whatever smells so delicious. So I am finishing this post so that I can ladle up a nice hot bowl of roasted butternut squash soup for my son.

Ode to the Yucca

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My Yucca plants always amaze me. I had never seen a Yucca before I moved into my house; I had heard of them, but I had always thought that they were native to the desert. I googled Yucca and according to Wikipedia they are native to the Southwest and are primarily ornamental plants. So how my Yuccas survive the harsh Western Massachusetts where I live is beyond me.

There was a year where I thought that the big Yucca bush had bitten the dust; something had devoured it from the roots upward and I figured that it would never recover. Au contraire, it came back bigger and stronger than ever. Moreover just a month ago, I took the rake and the clippers to the Yucca to divest it of the oldest leaves and cut away all of the dead weight and as you can see the new crop of blossoms came from the new shoots that erupted shortly after I pruned it.

The little one that is featured by the stone wall; last week I had left for a goner, as you can see I was mistaken. I am amazed at the yucca’s tenacity especially in its non-native environment, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t get watered enough, if bunnies make their nests at its bases or if it doesn’t get much sun; it won’t surrender.

After I took the picture of the tiny Yucca, I turned and saw the prettiest sky behind me off by the white Lilac bush right at my bedroom window and I had to capture it as a picture.

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A hint of spring on the last day of summer

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Last year, I wrote about my lilac bush in the far back that surprised me with new sprigs of lilac late in the autumn season. I thought that it was a fluke, a one time thing. Funny enough, I had to go down to Westfield this morning and as I was driving back, I thought about the lilac bush and I wondered if that weird anomaly would happen again. Guess what, it did! When I got home, I walked Jack for a mile, ate my favorite lunch; smoked salmon with whipped cream cheese on cracked black pepper water crackers and then I vacuumed the pool. After I had finished vacuuming the pool and as I was putting the hose away, I looked up and there they were, sprigs of lilac glistening in the sun in the midst of the fading and browning leaves.

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After I snapped a few pictures, I turned to go back inside and I noticed that the pink roses were still looking happy, especially happy since the Japanese Beetles have not bothered them since it has gotten cooler; the same with my red roses, they are looking all self confident, without a care in the world since those pesky Japanese Beetles fled town with the cooler nights.

This week for being the first week of autumn is setting out to be magnificent, five solid days of 70 degree days and 50 degree nights, can’t complain about that for anything.

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Daily prompt: Brevity pulls

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I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” — Blaise Pascal
Where do you fall on the brevity/verbosity spectrum?

In all of my experience writing, I deeply appreciate Blaise Pascal’s wise words. Prior to blogging, my only experience with writing lay in the academics from elementary school all the way through to graduating from university. I remember learning the structural requirements of term papers, learning proper research techniques and learning the morals and ethics behind sound writing. At first being handed 10 pages writing assignments seemed such a daunting task: how am I going to find the words to fill 10 long pages? But as any skilled and talented writer will attest to, (I can only imagine, not being one myself as of yet), all of this experience is a necessity in order to exercise your writing muscles and develop your skill and voice.

While I was writing at this level, it did give me the opportunity to hone my argumentative skills, my logical progression and the development of a strong narrative that I was able, point by point, build upon a solid foundation of fact.

I thought by this point that I was standing on solid ground by way of writing until I took one course that changed my writing style forever, at least academically. The course funny enough wasn’t even a writing course or an English course, it was a political science course analyzing the Israel/Palestine question. The academic requirements for the course were simple, four 3 pages papers over the course of the class. This was the most difficult writing assignment that I had ever been given, I’ll never forget one of the topics “Explain the dynamics of the wars of 1947, 1953, 1967, 1973 on the region”. Do you know how extraordinarily difficult it is to explain and dissect 30 years of war between two peoples and the ramifications in only 3 pages. It taught me so much in terms of achieving concise and precise language. It taught me how to edit, how to strip away all of the flowery words, all of the hemming and hawing and get to the heart of the matter.

I would not say which is better after all that I have written; academically I would lean more towards brevity and strong precise arguments. However when it comes to personal writings, fictional writings of all genres, I would not criticize long passages of descriptive language, they paint pictures for the reader and that is as important as the ideas that words bring to life.

Basically writing in whatever shape or form is a blessing and a beautiful endeavor.. If you have something inside that wants to be said, put it on paper however long or short you want to make it, as long as it gets written down, that is the most important part.

This is where I leave you : Movie review

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My mother and I went to the movies this evening to see “This is Where I Leave You”. My mother wanted to see it for Jane Fonda and I wanted to see it because I love the entire ensemble cast: Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Connie Briton, Rose Byrne and Timothy Olyphant and other strong character actors, whose names escape me right now, but give solid performances nonetheless.

The story in a nutshell is the dad passes away after a long illness and the siblings, along with the mother, are made to sit shiva. The entire movie is about familial relationships, sibling rivalry, sibling pecking order, role playing, role reversals and expectations.

I left with the feeling of having seen wonderful performances, I shed a few tears at various intervals, and I am glad that my mother and I had gone to see it. After thinking about it for a while, I have to say that Jane Fonda’s performance did it for me. She didn’t miss a beat and she was the mother to them all and a mother to each of them. She nailed the character wonderfully.

If you like movies that explore family dynamics, then definitely go see this one. You will enjoy the time you spend with this family.

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