Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Porch and It's Swing, the Family's Social Facilitators

 When I think of Thanksgiving the traditional cuisine immediately comes to mind. Very soon after visualizing the turkey though comes the family and spending time after our meal on the front porch. In my previous posts I have alluded to my family, particularly the maternal half of the family, and the memories I have with my grandparents and the high quality of life I've enjoyed through the time spent with them. Now Dad's side is wonderful and my brother and I have just as many cousins, aunts, and uncles on Dad's side as on Mom's side. Dad's side gave me Grammy and Grampy, whom you may remember from the first post. On Mom's side, however, my brother and I have more cousins about our age and therefore we all really grew up together. Nana and Papa's house has hosted us at Sunday Dinners and many, many holidays. Their vegetable garden acts as the family's green grocer come summertime. And Nana and Papa's house, a big old Victorian, has a long front porch featuring a legendary porch swing!
   A porch swing is a wonderful type of social facilitator. You can sit on one and watch the world pass by. You can have a quick talk with neighbors passing by walking their dogs. You can enjoy the breeze on a hot summer afternoon. You can swing on a porch swing! I don't know who created the porch swing, but God bless whoever made them available to the masses.
  Nana and Papa's porch swing is rather ancient. My cousin Eric and I have sometimes speculated it being original to the house. The chains are rusty and everytime a couple of us sit on the swing we know we may end up on the floor. But, honestly, the story about the two cousins sitting on and breaking the porch swing would make for a funny and popular story at our house!
 The porch and porch swing are used in every season. I've sat on that porch during springtime rainstorms and to watch the leaves fall from the trees in the autumn with Nana by my side. Manys the time a group of us has sat out on the porch enjoying the swing and eating our fast melting ice cream during the summer. On Christmas Eve the porch acts as a smoking room for those in the family enjoying celebratory cigars.
 Porches and porch swings really are part of our American scene. Shockingly though, some people with porches are without porch swings! That's a shame. Rocking chairs are pretty decent substitutes, but very few rocking chairs, aside from those bulky looking "rocking benches," can fit two people at a time. I do love the rocking chair, but a porch swing is a must in my mind if you've got a decent sized front porch. So next Spring, pick up a porch swing as part of your home improvements. You won't regret it.
 In closing, I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your dinner and your friends and family. Be thankful for what you have and those who have fought and fight to make certain our "Freedom from Want" is preserved. Enjoy the spilling of dishes and glasses, the staining of tableclothes, and the yelling at the TV. All those little things are part of the wonderful tradition we call Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Rustic Soup for a Cold Night

Who doesn't love a hearty stew or soup on a cold night? No one I can think of either. Two nights ago  friends of mine, Katie and Silas, were hosting a party they called "Bean Feast" at their family home on the outskirts of town. The catch was that everything eaten had to be based on some sort of bean.
 I was excited to go, but had no idea what to make. On top of not having any inspiration for a dish, I had little in the pantry to play with. And on top of that, a cold New England night was setting in and I was not driving to a grocery store. And the kicker of all this was I realized all these handicaps to my bringing a dish maybe an hour before having to be at the party.
 Thank God for the 1000's of sites on the internet dedicated to fast, easy cooking. After taking stock of what I had in the house and with a recipe for "Quick White Bean Stew with Swiss Chard and Tomatoes (courtesey of," I got to work. Sadly, there was no Swiss Chard in the house and the dish was not working out. At that point my improvisational skills kicked into gear and the recipe I'll give you now is what I came up with. Most of the ingredients should be in your kitchen. If there not, stock. You'll want to make this on a cold night.

Anthony's Cold Night Tuscan Soup

3/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Cloves Garlic (Sliced thinly)
1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper
4 Cups Canned Chopped or Diced Tomatoes
3 Cans of Cannellini Beans (Rinsed and tossed dry)
1 head of Romaine Lettuce
Balsamic Vinegar (To taste)
1 Small Jar of Pesto
3/4 Lbs. Cooked Sweet Italian Sausage (Optional)

 In a pot heat the Olive Oil on a low heat. Add the Garlic and Crushed Red Pepper and cook over a slightly higher heat until the Garlic is a gold color (don't burn it). Dump the Tomatoes (Chopped or Diced, your choice) and bring to a boil, stirring often.
 While the Tomatoes are heating in the pot,  cut the Romaine Lettuce into strips. Place the strips into a bowl and pour some Balsamic Vinegar onto the Lettuce. Stir these to coat the Lettuce and set aside.
 Next add the Cannellini Beans to the pot mixture. Stir these in and bring to a simmer over higher heat for atleast five minutes. Once the the beans looked cooked add in the Romaine Lettuce and let that cook too. Finally, you may lower the heat and stir in a small jar of your preferred brand of Pesto. Add the sausage if you like, or you may keep it Vegetarian.Serve hot with some sort of rustic bread.

 I made the Vegetarian version as I didn't know if anyone at the party was a Vegetarian. Without the sausage this is still a hearty and filling dish. Next time I'm adding sausage though for my own enjoyment.
 To end the story and this post, I'll tell you that my dish was very popular and we nearly finished the pot. The other dishes served included a bean dip made with roasted red peppers, a bean salad, a great pot of chili, a pasta and bean salad, and bean brownies (these were actually delicious and very chocolatey (spelling?)). After dinner atleast half the party stayed and played boardgames and Taboo and held various conversations until 1 am. Katie and Silas really do show their friends a wonderful, hearty, and casual hospitality that I know I appreciated sincerely. Their thank you card is in the mail now actually.
  Have a great Sunday and feel free to make comments or ask questions anytime.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why We All Need More Day Trips

   First of all, let me apologize for the length of time between posts. I hope to make two new posts happen every week. Of course, some weeks become crazier than others and we end up with less time to fulfill our goals. But here we are at a new post! So please except my apology and enjoy.

   As I often say, we are a people on the move with little time to make "quality" time. The goal of my blog is to give helpful tips and answer questions my friends have, so that we may add special things to our lives that create quality time. One thing that if revived would give us all a "quality of life" increase is the day trip. You may remember these from your more youthful days as things you did with your grandparents. Day trips are fun at any age for any age depending on the destination itself. They do not need to be an all day thing lasting from 6 in the morning until 9 at night. They don't even have to be expensive. A day trip doesn't have to involve a large group of people either. You can take one all by yourself! They just have to be pleasant excursions that get you out of your house. Here are a few examples that I hope give you some ideas for a fun outing or several.

1) When I was about 7 or 8, my mother's parents, Nana and Papa took my brother and I to a monastery about an hour away from our homes in the city. We spent a few hours walking the gardens and chasing each other on the lawns. There were shady trees to rest under and trails to explore. I remember several of the statues in the gardens around the house and that there was a shrine to the Virgin Mother on top of a hill nearby a reflecting pool. After that Nana and Papa took Adam and I out to lunch and then home to our parents.
 The monastery is now sold off and the land was used for subdivisions. I don't think the house even stands any longer. But the memories do carry on nearly 20 years later. That's some quality time!

2) Early last month I coordinated a picnic at a local farm with some friends. It was an ideal early October day and the five of us, plus Kathryn and Mike's puppy Arwen, had a wonderful time! The farm hosts a weekend farmer's market with a bluegrass band and cider donuts, hayrides, apple picking, and a petting zoo to boot. There was plenty to keep us enterained after we had a nice long picnic lunch (We used an old china dinner service I got at a yard sale to help stay "green" and look really elegant too.). There was no admission fee or parking fee so one just had to pay for whatever was picked or had to have at the market. After food for the picnic, cider donuts, food for the animals in the petting zoo, and apple picking I don't think our group spent more than $60.00. And for several hours of entertainment for five people that's money pretty well spent.

3) Last summer I had a day off from work and nothing to do at home. I didn't have a lot of money, so shopping was not a viable option. I didn't know what to do with myself that morning and ended up making a big breakfast. As I chomped that down it occurred to me that I might find some diversions in nearby Portsmouth. I looked online and found that the Wentworth-Coolidge mansion was still opened for tours.
 The place itself is on a charmingly rural dirt road not ten minutes from downtown Porstmouth. When I arrived and found the ticket counter, I was told that New Hampshire residents may tour the mansion for free, quite the pleasant surprise. The was a large group that had started a tour ten minutes before I got there and so I was given the option to join their tour or have a private one. Do I have to tell you I chose the latter?
 Being a history major, I was enthralled to tour the house and hear the stories of the families that had lived there. Since it was a private tour I was able to speak with the guide and focus on certains rooms and articles that really interested me. After my tour was completed I walked the gardens where I found century old Lilac bushes still blooming and an art gallery in the old carriage house.
 I wrapped up my excursion with a side trip to downtown for some tea and people watching. It was a worthwhile afternoon that cost me hardly anything!

4) In early September I took a weekend trip to Albany to visit two wonderful friends of mine. On Saturday Richard and Fred took me to an antique show/flea market about an hour away in Saratoga on the old county fairgrounds. We spent maybe five hours visiting vender after vender (There were well over 150 to peruse) and ended up with a couple treasures for our collections. I remember Fred found a really nice ceramic rooster for the kitchen. Richard got some sheet music. I left the fair with a wooden pedestal for a bronze statue I had at home.
 The fair offered several different, but equally and delightfully greasy, food vendors to choose from. Richard and Fred took me to their "Schnitzel Man" and I had German food for one of the few times in my life; Delicious!
 Our trip fed both or collections and our conversations for the rest of my trip. Aside from the antiques we had to have and the Schnitzel, the only other costs to bare were for tickets and gas to get there. It made for a great day trip!

   And so there are some examples of memorable, and somewhat recent, day trips that I've been lucky enough to enjoy. These trips are a wonderful way to get away from the house without dealing with airport security and keep within budget. I really recommend that if you have out of town guests to entertain or family to spend time with, or friends to reconnect with, or an afternoon by yourself that you go online and look up local attractions in your area. Get out of your house and make some memories! Even if you only walk the beach or local trails or call up a few friends to play ball in the park, those thing will make for good memories and true quality time for yourself and your loved ones. So go out and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

And Everything Stops for Tea (atleast in Durham)

      For the past three years or so I have given in to the rejuvenating custom of "Afternoon Tea" as often as I can. It's been a rewarding habit to pick up and I've had the chance to share in the ritual with dozens of friends and relatives.
    As a child I didn't care for the taste or the temperature of tea. My tongue was always burnt and there wasn't enough sugar in the bowl or honey in the pot to make it bearable. Because of this, when Mom and I went to the neighbor's for Tea, I contented myself with cookies until we left. Both of my grandmothers served tea and coffee with desserts, but as a child I concentrated more on the desserts. Then there came a time when my brother and all our cousins began to drink coffee after our meals together. I found coffee far too bitter for my pallette and adding several lumps of sugar at a time did little to hide the bitterness.
 Luckily, my cousins Jenny and Jon started taking tea after dinner and I found it the lesser of two evils choicewise. It was also kind of fun to build a pyramid of sugar cubes in my cup and watch it dissolve when the hot tea poured in! Later, as a junior at the Univeristy of New hampshire, I joined the Alpha Delta Phi Society and learned the true value of taking Tea when my initiation was held at the chapter house at Brown University.
 When our group arrived at the house we were greeted at the door and invited to take Tea with the chapter. It was a really lovely time. There was hot water and a vast assortment of different teas to choose from. For refreshments there were only cookies, but the food didn't matter in the least. Everyone was friendly and obliging. The students at Brown are a wonderfully creative bunch and the grand piano in the corner of the room was in use that afternoon, filling the room with smiles and delightful tunes. After being initiated as a member in the society I decided to bring these Teas to New Hampshire.
 The summer was spent researching the traditional "Afternoon Teas" of the last couple centuries. A friend from school had just returned from a year at Oxford and he was full of useful information. Saturday mornings were spent yardsaling with my mother and aunt. Mom still describes her horror when she saw me buy a wall (that's right) of old china for use at the Teas. With careful planning and a lot of enthusiasm for my new favorite drink I started planning the program.
 The year that I started the tea program and became "Tea Chair" for my chapter I was merciless. Constantly harassing friends and community members and dragging students and professors alike to the "Community High Teas" my chapter hosted twice a month quickly became my mission. After a month or two people were coming on their own and I really didn't need to drag anyone to Tea anymore. Of course I kept advertising and the Teas grew. On average we hosted atleast two dozen people at any given Tea. These Teas proved to be a great outreach for the chapter to the community. We held an Alzheimer's Awareness Tea as well as a couple theme teas and even a Tea in honor of veteran state politician when Councilor Burton visited campus that first year alone.
 Of course, no program runs completely smoothly, but even with the little bumps experienced it was one of the most rewarding things I've been a part of. Infact, the program still exists! The Granite Chapter of the Alpha Delta Phi Society still holds "Community Teas" and is up to it's third "Tea Chair!" Each Tea Chair has had their own sense of style and taste and has kept some things and changed others, which has enhanced the ritual for chapter's members and friends. It's my hope that the ritual will become a tradition lasting as long as the Granite Chapter itself.
 The ritual of taking "Afternoon Tea" needn't be overly formal or elaborate. When I'm home all by myself at 4 in the afternoon I often brew a pot of tea and place a few cookies or biscuits on a plate, then head to the family room to listen to music or read a bit. Sometimes I share Tea with a friend or two. A couple times I've held larger Teas at our house in the place of expensive cocktail parties. According to Alexandra Stoddard, enjoying a sip of tea is a way in which we renew ourselves and open ourselves up to tranquility. I couldn't agree with her more. Tea has proven a wonderful bonding agent at school and can be enjoyed at the office or in the store too. Invite a few neighbors over for tea on a Sunday afternoon and you won't regret offering your hospitality (depending on the neighbors of course).
 In closing this post, I promise to delve into Teas as I continue writing. There will be menu ideas and anecdotes, as well as tips on china, silver, and parties. For now I just had to share the value I found in taking Tea and the success my chapter has had in hosting our friends at UNH. Infact, this week's "Community Tea" hosted just over a dozen happy, well fed, people!