March 8, 2021

A la Carte: Apples for the Asking

Photo by Pierpaolo Riondato on Unsplash.

This was another fun food week.

I am, as I mentioned before, tired of my own food. With few exceptions, I am eating my own food almost every day since the end of last March. Oh, sure, some takeout, but it is expensive and not a whole lot better than what I can make at home.

Okay, it can be a whole lot better than I can make at home.

But BTP (before the pandemic), I rarely ate three meals a day, so these days my own food can be caloric, way more caloric, like including chocolate chip cookies I’d frozen warmed up in the microwave.

So this week was nice.

My friend Richard Swanson dropped me off some homemade hot dogs (I never knew anyone who tried to make his own hot dogs). I put the hot dogs into a lightly toasted piece of challah and added some Gulden’s mustard. It was really good. He also made his own mile-high chocolate cake and left a slice of that, too.

Earlier that day, my neighbor and friend, Sue O’Farrell, asked if I liked apple sauce. Who doesn’t like apple sauce?

After dinner she also sent warmed apple crumb dessert. That was good, too. She gave me the recipe for her applesauce. And I found another recipe for baked apples I’d not made.

Here they are.

Apple Sauce

From Sue O’Farrell

5 pounds of apples, peeled, cored and cut up
1 cup water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cups fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Place all the ingredients into a slow cooker set on high for 4 hours. When it was cooled for about 30 minutes, she used an immersion blender to puree the applesauce. (I do not have a stick blender, so I pureed it in my Ninja when the sauce was cooler.) 

Baked Apples

[From some magazine(!), October, 2017]

Yield: 4 servings

4 small Honeycrisp apples, cored and seeded, bottom intact
4 tablespoons softened butter
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ cup chopped walnuts

Mix butter and spices together and fill each apple with butter mixture. Place on a baking pan. Bake at 425 degrees for 20 minutes, until apples are tender. Great with ice cream.

Lee White

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years, but now lives in Groton, Conn.

A la Carte: Crispy Peanut-Chile Chicken with Sweet Potatoes … to Love!

Lee White

I was so thrilled with the roasted sweet potato pie I made last week, that I decided to use sweet potatoes again for a recipe I found in an almost-two-year-old magazine I was about to toss.

This time the recipe called for chicken and sweet potatoes, with the addition of peanut butter and hot chiles.

I had an appointment with my primary doctor in the afternoon (after I had missed the appointment a week ago, having found the appointment card stuck in another food magazine!), so on my way to the new appointment, I picked up some Thai chiles and more cherry tomatoes. I had already thawed the chicken thighs.

This recipe is a true winner. The sweet potatoes, the tangy tomatoes, the hot peppers (feel free to seed them and discard the seeds) and the bland of the chicken made a terrific dinner plus one lunch and another dinner for one.

I think you will love this.

Crispy Peanut-Chile Chicken with Sweet Potatoes
From Fine Cooking, April-May 2019
Yield: serves 4

½ cup peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
2 Thai bird chiles (it says to seed one, but maybe use one and seed that, too)
5 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
4 cloves of garlic, minced
Kosher salt
8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 large onion, chopped
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½ inch dice (about 2 pounds)
7 ounces cherry tomatoes (about 1 cup)
2 ounces (½ cup) shelled roasted salted peanuts, coarsely chopped

Thoroughly combine peanut butter, chiles, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 teaspoons of garlic and ¾ teaspoon salt in a gallon-sized zip-top bag. Lightly sprinkle the chicken thighs and add to the marinade. Refrigerate for 1 hour, massaging every 15 minutes.

Position rack in the center of the oven and heat to 375 degrees. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large ovenproof skillet, preferably cast iron, on medium heat until shimmering.

Add onions, remaining garlic, 2 tablespoons cilantro and ½ teaspoon salt and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion softens and garlic is fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes.

Stir in sweet potatoes. Cover pan and cook until sweet potatoes just start to soften, stirring once, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Remove lid from skillet and add tomatoes. Remove chicken from marinade and place smooth side up over the tomatoes, spooning marina ride on top of each. Scatter with peanuts over the chicken and transfer skillet to the oven.

Cook until chicken reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees, about 30 minutes.

Heat broiler on high, then cook until top of chicken and peanuts turn light golden, 1 to 2 minutes, watching closely so it doesn’t burn.

Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before serving, sprinkle with remaining cilantro.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years, but now lives in Groton, Conn.

Legal News You Can Use: Construction Worker’s Death Illustrates Dangers Within Industry

Almost 20 percent of deaths of US workers, who died on the job in 2019, occurred in the construction industry. Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash.

The January death of a Connecticut construction worker exemplifies the risks, hazards and dangers faced by people employed within this industry. Serious and fatal injuries are not uncommon among construction workers.

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 5,333 U.S. workers who died on the job in 2019, nearly 20 percent of the deaths – 1,061 – occurred in the construction industry.

‘Focus Four Hazards’

In the recent case, the 63-year-old construction worker died at a hospital after sustaining serious injuries in an afternoon fall on Jan. 26. The man reportedly fell roughly 10 ft. into a foundation hole at a home construction site where a crew was working on a basement. (And, as an aside, workers 55 and older accounted for 38 percent of workplace deaths in 2019.)

Annually, construction’s “Focus Four Hazards” – as dubbed by the Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) – comprised roughly 60 percent of the industry’s fatalities. They include:

  • Falls:
    Elevated falls from scaffolding, ladders, structures and falls into holes are among these hazards that can lead to death and debilitating injuries.
  • “Caught-in or in-between” accidents:
    These situations may include the collapses of trenches as well as equipment rollovers.
  • “Struck-by” accidents:
    These may include being struck by construction vehicles or equipment as well as falling objects from a construction site.
  • Electrocution hazards:
    Construction workers are nearly four times more likely to face electrocution than workers in all other industries combined. Powerlines often prove fatal.

Looking to the Future

The construction industry’s focus on safety must continue to take priority among employers. Construction companies must provide the proper training and protective gear to their employees.

Reduction of serious injuries and fatalities within the industry is critical. The lives of working people are in the balance.

This is a sponsored post by 

Editor’s Notes: i) Suisman Shapiro is located at 75 State Street, New London, CT 06320. Their mailing address is 2 Union Plaza, P.O. Box 1591 New London, CT 06320. Visit their website or call 800-499-0145 — lines are open 24 hours a day.

ii) If you are involved in a construction accident, the attorneys at Suisman Shapiro can assist you. Attorney James Berryman of Old Lyme specializes in Workers’ Compensation and can be reached at the number above or at this link.

 

A View from My Porch: The Marquis, Groucho, Sam … and Me

There are several events in American history for which I will always recall where I was, and what I was doing, on those dates. I just added the Jan. 6, 2021 violent attack on the Capitol by domestic terrorists, provoked by a defeated president at the end of his term, to my personal list of infamous events.

Given the above, I decided to reconfirm my values; and so I am looking inward in this essay, which is a tribute to a unique small town. Please bear with me as I share my nostalgia. 

I grew up in Fredonia, N.Y., a college town that sits in the midst of New York’ s western lakes district (my own geographic description). My hometown is less than an hour from three lakes, each of which contributed to my developing world view and sense of history.

Three Lakes

Chautauqua Lake, N.Y. Photo from the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau website.

The first, Chautauqua Lake gave rise, late in the 19th century, to the “Chautauqua Movement”, which became a national forum for discussion of public issues, international relations, literature, and science. William Jennings Bryan, Booker T. Washington, Susan B. Anthony, and Amelia Earhart have all spoken there. 

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivered his historic “I hate war” speech at Chautauqua on Aug. 14, 1936: “I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war”.

The second, Cassadaga Lake, was home to the Lily Dale Assembly, which was a camp and meeting place for Spiritualists and “Freethinkers”. The purpose of the Assembly was to further the science, philosophy, and religion of Spiritualism.

Finally, the third, Lake Erie, produced a generation of environmentalists and ecologists. My experience on its shores began with kayaks, small sailboats, and water skiing. However, in my last summers before leaving for University, the lake was declared “dead” and inaccessible for recreational use. 

Erie was surrounded by agriculture and dairy herds. Its waters became overloaded with nutrients from fertilizer runoff, cattle manure, and poorly managed waste water. Its warm waters became a breeding ground for bacteria that contaminated drinking water and created oxygen-deprived “dead zones” that destroyed the fresh water fishing industry. 

This disaster, coupled with several other similar disasters across the United States, like the June, 1969 oil slick fire on the surface of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River; and the hyper-polluted Charles River in Boston, (featured in the hit song, “Dirty Water”, by the Standells); finally ended with the creation of the EPA in 1970, and the passage of the Clean Water Act, and the joint Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement with Canada, in 1972; all of which resulted in strict regulations on pollutants, sewage treatment, and fertilizer.

These laws also led to eliminating phosphates in laundry detergents and phosphorous in fertilizers.

There has since been some discernible improvement in Lake Erie’s water quality, but, unfortunately, full recovery to a less-spoiled state will still require decades of careful management.

The Marquis:  

The Marquis de Lafayette by Gilbert du Motier. Public Domain.

One could not be a regular patron of Fredonia’s public library without gaining an appreciation for the Marquis de Lafayette’s role in our War of Independence, which included command of American troops at the battle of Yorktown. 

In 1824, at the invitation of President Monroe, he began a farewell tour of the then 24 states, of the United States, travelling by horse-drawn coach and steamboat. 

He arrived in Fredonia on June 4, 1825 to a hero’s welcome.  On his arrival, the Leverett Barker mansion, which eventually became the community’s library, was lighted with several candles at each window. A window sash was scorched. Never repaired or re-painted, a brass marker still commemorates Lafayette’s visit. Ironically, the visit coincided with the ceremonial re-lighting of a gaslight connected to America’s first natural gas well. 

The restored house remains much as it was in 1825, and the library has expanded via a large attached contemporary wing. 

From Fredonia, Lafayette proceeded to Buffalo, via a steamboat on Lake Erie, and he was greeted by a large crowd in the public square that now bears his name; and then, to Boston, where he participated in the 50th anniversary of the battle of Bunker Hill.

Groucho: 

The Marx Brothers made the movie ″Duck Soup″ in 1933, which was set in the mythical kingdom of Freedonia (note the spelling); and the then Fredonia Mayor, Harry B. Hickey, complained to Paramount Pictures: “it is my duty as mayor to question your intentions in using the name of our city in your picture”. 

Groucho Marx in ‘Copacabana (1947).’ Public Domain.

The Marx Brothers quickly and eloquently replied: ″Our advice is that you change the name of your town. It is hurting our picture. What makes you think you are mayor of Fredonia? Do you wear a black moustache, play the harp, speak with an Italian accent or chase girls, like Harpo? We are certain you do not. Therefore, we must be the mayor of Fredonia, not you″. Thus, an historic connection was formed between them and my home town. 

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini also had concerns with the movie, and banned the film in Italy.  Indeed, the Brothers had intended the film to be a farcical representation of fascist regimes, like Mussolini’s.

In 1987, the annual “Freedonia Marxonia: Marx Brothers Film Festival and Symposium” began at The State University of New York at Fredonia.  Each year, in the fall, and near Groucho’s October 2nd birthday, activities are held to honor the Marx Brothers and their relationship to local, national, and film history. The two-day event includes presentations by film historians, “re-interpretation” of movie scenes and locally produced short films by members of the performing arts departments; and the movie themselves, in the restored 1891 Fredonia Opera House. Freedonia Marxonia 2020 was a virtual event.

Sam:

Mark Twain by AF Bradley. Public Domain.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) was part owner and editor of the “Buffalo Express” newspaper from 1869 to 1871. Twain fell in love with Fredonia as an invited speaker in January,1870 at the Normal School. After that lecture, he initiated a move to Fredonia for his mother, sister and niece.

He told his sister “I went in there by night and was out by night, so I saw none of it, but I had an intelligent, attractive audience” for my lecture, “Our Fellow Savages of the Sandwich Islands”; and so, his decision to move his family was based entirely on how that audience had responded to his lecture. 

His family moved to Fredonia in the spring of 1870, and Twain and his wife were frequent visitors. Twain’s sister, Pamelia was one of the first women to join the Woman’s Christian Association in Fredonia, and worked to open the WCA Home for Aged women in 1892. Today, the home still operates as an assisted living facility

Unfortunately, Twain’s memories of life in Fredonia weren’t all positive. Charles L. Webster, of Fredonia, was his business manager, and was eventually named the head of Twain’s publishing company, Charles L. Webster and Co. of New York. It was with Webster and the bankrupting of their shared publishing company that his relationship with Fredonia went awry. 

Scholars believe that the village became the setting for Twain’s novella, “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg”, which was written in 1898. “Hadleyburg enjoys the reputation of being an “incorruptible” town known for its responsible, honest people that are trained to avoid temptation. However, at some point the people of Hadleyburg manage to offend a passing stranger, and he vows to get his revenge by corrupting the town”.

Author’s Closing Thoughts:

My sources for this essay were The Darwin R. Barker Library and Historical Museum, and the archives of the Dunkirk Evening Observer, where, as a twelve-year-old, working in distribution, my interest in journalism first began to develop. If I was maudlin in the above, you can also review another treatise on the subject at John Mellencamp – Small Town Lyrics – Bing

And now, returning to reality, it is my opinion that “The World’s Greatest Deliberative Body” can no longer hold claim to that distinction. Sadly, some members of Congress have been censured for “voting their conscience.” And finally, there are others, who need to search their souls, and then determine whether they helped fuel this siege on the Capitol by perpetuating the notion of a fraudulent election.

God save the United States of America.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A la Carte: A Duo of Delicious Desserts for Dreary Days

Lee White

As promised, as part of February’s Black History Month, I get a chance to make two recipes for this column.

The banana pudding with vanilla wafers has been a favorite for a very long time. As a matter of fact, some years ago I went to a slumber party at Ginger Smiley’s house and we were asked to make our favorite-ever dessert. Mine was a banana pudding. (Ginger, never to be outvoted, blew out the jelly of jelly donuts, added peanut butter cups and shared them warm. Never tasted anything that good before or since).

So, here is a gorgeous dessert—and if you don’t have a trifle bowl, it is just as good layered in a Pyrex pan.

The other, a spiced sweet potato pie, I had never made before, although I have made pumpkin pies a lot. This recipe is beyond delicious. I did not parbake the pie shell, since I never do with a pumpkin pie.  

Sweet potato pie. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Civil Rights Spiced Sweet Potato Pie
From Yankee magazine, January/February 2021
Yield: 8 servings

2 medium sweet potatoes, roasted, peeled and mashed
¾ cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
½ cup sweetened condensed milk
4 tablespoons salted butter, mashed
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 9-inch pastry shell, parbaked (parbaking optional)
Whipped cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, using a standing or handheld mixer, beat mashed sweet potatoes together with brown sugar, condensed milk, butter, flour, spices, salt, eggs and vanilla until well blended and smooth. 

Poor filling into pie shell. It will be full but should not spill over the sides, although I decided to put the pie atop a big piece of aluminum foil. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degree and bake until top is puffed and browned, 20 to 30 minutes more. Cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours. Serve with whipped cream.

The Best Banana Pudding
From AllRecipes.com
Yield: serves 20

1 5-pounce package instant vanilla pudding mix
2 cups cold milk
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 2-ounce container frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 16-ounce package vanilla wafers (I always use Nilla Wafers)
14 bananas, sliced

In a large mixing bowl, beat pudding mix and milk 2 minutes. Blend in condensed milk until smooth. Stir in vanilla and fold in whipped topping. Layer wafers, banana and pudding mixture in a glass serving bowl (also called a trifle bowl).  Chill until serving.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years, but now lives in Groton, Conn.

A la Carte: Celebrate Black History Month by Making ‘Peace Through (Puerto Rican-Style Shepherd’s) Pie,’

Lee White

Even though I was born in New York State, and went to college there, too, I have always considered myself a New England girl. My husband and I met in New York City and we lived in New Jersey for a few years, but as soon as we could, we moved to New England, first to Massachusetts and then to our home in Connecticut.

I have always had a subscription to Yankee magazine and we liked two- or three-day weekends much more than going somewhere for a whole week. On those weekends we would drive to Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire. Two days at a hotel in Boston was divine. As for Rhode Island: we would have dinner at Al Forno or, sometimes, just drive to Providence for dinner on Federal Hill.

These days, with a pandemic and with fewer friends to drive with, I often snuggled into bed with Yankee magazine and dream about the places we had been, or wished we’d visited. 

A few nights ago, after two hours of Longmire on television, I went to bed with the January/February issue of Yankee. It was all about pies.  In a wonderful article by Nadine Nelson about Common Ground, a New Haven, Conn., high school, urban farm and environmental education center, she wrote about Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the Peace Through Pie project, a national nonprofit and communities fundraising movement, in February — Black History Month. 

The article was great, but which pie to make? Samosa-style potpies, root vegetable cheese tart, pear-cranberry cheddar pie with hazelnut crumble, or how about a casserole-like pastelon, a Puerto Rican dish that includes plantains, which are now available in most of our shoreline supermarkets.

Next week another pie: Civil Rights Spiced Sweet Potato Pie, also for Black History Month.

Puerto Rican-Style Shepherd’s Pie

 

From Yankee magazine, January/February 2021

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 ripe plantains (yellow with black spots), peeled and halved crosswise
3 tablespoons salted butter, plus more for the pan (unsalted butter is fine)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 teaspoon adobo seasoning*
1 medium onion, diced
1 small green bell pepper, diced
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon paprika ( preferably smoked)
½ teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup tomato sauce
1/3 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, sliced
2 teaspoons capers (optional)
2 large eggs, beaten
1 ¼ cups shredded Monterey Jack, mozzarella or cheddar cheese

Season a medium pot of water with salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Add plantains and simmer until tender, 15 minutes. Transfer plantains to a bowl and mash with 3 tablespoons butter until smooth. Set mixture aside.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a medium baking dish; set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add beef and adobo seasoning and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until it is browned. Remove beef from pan and transfer to a bowl. Reduce heat to medium and add onions, pepper, cumin, paprika and oregano; cook stirring until translucent, about 6 minutes. Return beef to skillet and add tomato sauce, olives and capers and simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid evaporates. Remove from heat.

To assemble casserole, spread meat mixture in the bottom, Pour eggs over meat mixture, then spread plantains over that. Top with cheese. Bake, uncovered, until cheese is golden brown, 30 minutes.

*I did not have adobo seasoning, but I did have chipotle in adobo, so I used a teaspoon of that instead.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn.

Gardening Tips for February from ‘The English Lady’: So Much to Decide, So Much to Do This Month

Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash.

This winter, as in other winters, when I need a blossom boost, I have enjoyed the fragrance of paper white narcissus that I planted in tall glass vases.

I surrounded the bulbs with seashells from White Sand Beach here in Old Lyme and kept them in a dark cool area keeping them moist as the roots developed.  When the bulb foliage reached about six inches, I introduced the bulbs to indirect light.

The fragrance of this plant is so inviting and each morning on entering my lounge I inhaled their fragrance – so refreshing and uplifting. I keep extra bulbs in a brown paper bag in the vegetable keeper in the refrigerator and these bulbs, I am about to plant as the first blooms have gone by. With this method, I have a succession of bloom and fragrance in my home well into spring.

The Groundhog told us the other day that we have six more weeks of winter and there is much to decide and plan for in our gardens. The warmer refreshing breath of Spring will be here before you know it and we are filled with the anticipation that lives within all gardeners of getting outdoors and hands into the soil.

Lots to look forward to and I am asking respectfully that you garden organically.

In this country and around the world, one can clearly the results of pollution and climate change. And for gardeners, what this crisis is doing to Mother Nature and your own health in the form of poisonous pesticides and herbicides. The main producers of these poisons are Monsanto and other biological monsters who have been decimating our world for profit together with pollution and neglect that is destroying our planet.

We have been able to observe a result of the global warming in the colossal melting of the glaciers and how that has affected polar bears, causing their demise in great numbers through starvation and disease.

Bees, were killed in the millions when the EPA  sprayed over 14 million acres of land during the Trump administration, with these poisonous chemicals. Bees pollinate 70 percent of the world’s food and their demise is our demise. I feel confident that the new  administration will make changes to these practices to keep alive all living creatures on the planet.

Photo by Jenna Lee on Unsplash.

Last year was recorded as the hottest year on record for our planet.  In this country, the drought in the west, that resulted in dry tinder conditions, caused devastating fires that brought death and destruction to many in California, Oregon and Colorado. Extreme weather patterns also caused tornadoes, deadly hurricanes, earthquakes and recorded below zero temperatures this winter, together with heavy snow.

As gardeners our diligence is essential to help counteract these negative changes by using only organic methods of gardening on your own plot of land; what we do is in our garden is an important element in the quest to heal the planet. Through 20 years on my radio show WRCH 100.5 FM and through my Garden Earth lectures, I have received commitments from numerous people to discard all poisonous herbicides and pesticides, and to garden organically. The response had been tremendously positive towards producing healthy gardens grown in healthy soil.

It begins by what you put into the soil for the growth of the plants,  accomplished by adding liberal doses of my favorite stuff –aged manure. Manure either from the farm or in bags from the garden center.

In 1937 Franklin D Roosevelt said that ‘the nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.’

America has not heeded that warning. Precious soils in this country and around the world are being destroyed by dangerous practices in industrialized agriculture and poisonous chemicals, which completely disrupts our eco system and poisoning all living things.

In your own garden you can build and retain a rich growing environment by building the Humus component – we are all carbon-based creatures as is all life on earth. Not only humans but also our soil microbes need carbon to flourish. And to attract carbon from the atmosphere into your soil you need to build the humus component. 

HOW TO BUILD THE HUMUS COMPONENT

Step One:

Do not till soil – tilling breaks up soil structure. Add composted manure three times – beginning in spring when the soil has reached a temperature of 50 degrees.  If the soil has not reached that temperature, the soil organisms are not able to work with the bacteria in the manure to produce nutrients for the roots of the plants.  Purchase a soil thermometer to check the soil’s temperature. 

This year, as we have not experienced deep frost therefore the soil temperature may reach 45 degrees by the end of April to early May.  Add the manure again in July to continue to nourish your growing plants and again in October to protect and nourish your plants through the winter.  Manure is not a fertilizer; it builds soil structure and works with all the soil animals to keep a healthy disease-free growing environment.  

Step Two:

Add wood chips in the form of brown fine bark mulch or wood chips that you produce from your garden of aged wood chips with a combo of leaves, twigs and branches. 

These two major steps build the humus component. If you do this in your garden – not only will you helping to heal the planet but also produce the healthiest of gardens. 

A question I am often asked is, ‘Can I put manure over mulch for example in my July garden?’ The answer is ‘yes’ – the manure together with nature’s moisture and your own irrigation enables the manure to find its way easily into the soil and the roots of your plants.     

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

WHAT EXACTLY DOES HUMUS DO?

Humus acts like a sponge and can hold 90 percent of its weight in water.

Because of its negative charge – plant nutrients stick to humus for nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus and others, which prevents these from washing away – it acts as nature’s slow-release fertilizer throughout the year.

Humus improves soil structure making it loose and friable, which helps plant root in this soil environment better access to nutrients, water and oxygen.

Humus also helps ‘filter’ toxic chemicals from the soil, much like carbon-based water filtration systems filter toxins from your water. 

We cannot control industrialized agricultural practices but in your own garden you can make a difference. Feed the soil and it will feed the plants. 

PLANTING SEEDS

This week I spoke with my friend Ann, who lives in Cheshire, in England, which is next door to my home county of Shropshire. Ann is an avid gardener and she told me that her daffodils are well above the soil and a week ago she started seeds in the greenhouse.

Feb. 20 to March 20 is the time for serious indoor seed planting here. I suggest that you check which garden centers are stocking organic seeds, or go online for the seeds  – one company that I use is “Botanical Interests.”  Do not go overboard when buying packs of seeds as there are about 500 seeds in each packet.

If you do purchase too many, have a remote seed-sharing party with gardening friends and ask them to receive or drop off seeds at your homes while keeping a social distance.

Equipment to have on hand when prepping for seeding

Cheap envelopes, fresh sterilized potting soil mix, and sphagnum moss. Also seed trays, or egg cartons also cardboard milk containers that are cut down work well.  All containers must be scrupulously clean.

Sphagnum moss works well as a planting medium; the moss can prevent a soil-borne fungus that causes “damping off,” which causes seeds to rot before germination.  I have, together with many gardening friends, used this method for years and have lost no seeds due to “damping off.”

For tiny seeds, I use the moss as the planting mix and for larger seeds, I install a topsoil base and a layer of the moss on top of the soil. I mix fine seeds with sand before I sow; this method helps to loosen them up. Soak the seeds overnight before planting and just before planting spray them with warm water, never cold as cold water can delay germination. When they have germinated, water gently.

The best method of watering seedlings is to water from the bottom. But, if you feel you must top water, just mist with a fine sprayer, otherwise you will drown the delicate seeds, washing them out of the planting mix.

Use new sterilized soil when seeding and do not save any leftover soil, add it to houseplants or put it in the garden. Left-over soil from the previous year can develop disease, which can ruin future seedling crops.  If you are growing seedlings on a windowsill, place them on a south- or west-facing sill; seedlings need light and not heat to thrive.

WINTER CARE OF HOUSEPLANTS

Photo by Alena Ganzhela on Unsplash.

My houseplants lift my spirits, even more so in winter when the landscape is rather monochromatic. I talk to my plants enjoying the blooming variety and the different foliage varieties and thank them for cleaning the air in a stuffy home environment.

Keep your houseplants away from draughts and direct heat. If you are able, have humidifiers and air purifiers in the rooms, which will benefit not only the plants but also your own health. Place pebble trays under the plants and keep the pebbles moist for additional humidity.

Spray houseplants every few days with lukewarm water and once every couple of weeks, put the plants in a sink or bathtub and allow water to run freely over the plant to remove dust from the leaves and clean salt residue from the soil. The exception to the spray or soak rule is African violets; violets do not like wet leaves.

Aphids and white fly thrive indoors in winter and an organic sulphur solution called Safer works well to clean the soil of the insect eggs and from the foliage. Perhaps you are fortunate like me to have ladybugs in your home in winter; if so, allow these useful creatures to roam freely; the ladybug menu is aphids and white flies.

The best time to repot houseplants is from April through June but if a plant has become root bound with no visible soil, then you can repot them in February. Water the plant to loosen the roots from the soil, turn it sideways on a newspaper and gently slide it from the pot.

Cut away any dead roots and repot in fresh potting soil in a clean pot that is only two inches larger than the original.  With the plant firmly in place and the soil one inch from the rim, water it gently and do not fertilize with an organic fertilizer until April.  Plants need this dormant period to recharge.

A few suggestions for trouble-free foliage plants in the home are: Rubber plants, Spider plants, Ivy, Philodendron, Monstera and Spaphyllum. If you have a sunny window Aloes, Succulents and Cacti do great and offer enjoyable variety.

Blooming plants sitting side by side with foliage plants, enjoying one another’s company, give one an impression of a miniature garden.

A few suggestions of bloomers are Cyclamen, African Violets, Kalanchoe, Primulas and Paper white narcissus. To prevent pets from chewing on the plants, add some cayenne pepper to the water when watering.  I enjoy using my herbal plants, which sit in a sunny window. My favorites are Rosemary, Basil and Parsley which are great additions to any dish.

POWER TOOLS

Check any power tools that require maintenance or repair. February or March is the time to get them into the repair shop, because as soon as the weather breaks the shops get busy and you may not get your lawn mower back until August.

Check all tools and implements in the garage or shed. If you did not clean them off at the end of last season, plunge the shovels and spades into a bucket of sand; sand is an abrasive and will clean off any leftover soil and manure residue.

Oil the wooden handles of tools with Linseed oil or some inexpensive vegetable oil; oil feeds the wood and keeps the handles splinter free. At the same time, check your hoses and fittings that may have sprung leaks since last year.

Make a shopping list of new tools that are needed – there are lots of sales in late winter for you to get a good deal.  However, I suggest that you buy only quality tools and hoses; the old adage always applies, “You get what you pay for.” Also check that there is enough twine, bamboo rods, and wire ties or nails, bags of manure and peat on hand.

BUYING MANURE

In March or early April when soil and manure are available, purchase bags of composted manure from the garden center or if you have a farm close by that will sell you aged manure, use a small  truck and get a load.  If you decide on that route, ask the farmer for manure from the bottom of the pile – aged stuff.  Manure needs to be at least six months old, as fresh manure will burn your plants.

PAINTING FENCES & MORE

Photo by duong chung on Unsplash.

Check the paintwork on your wooden fences, arbors, decks and any other outdoor wooden structures. Then purchase, paint supplies so that on a dry day in March when you are able to paint, everything will be on hand.

Don’t forget to put paintbrushes on your list – I have a feeling you forgot to clean your old brushes last season, which means they are ‘stiff as a poker’, that being said, remember sandpaper, brush cleaner and whenever possible buy eco-conscious paint.  If you are painting benches and garden seats on a dry day, put them under cover before sundown.

White walls in the greenhouse reflect light so any areas that need retouching, paint with white paint. It’s a great feeling to see how much lighter and brighter the greenhouse is after a touch of paint and the glass cleaned.

However meticulously clean and tidy your greenhouse, you may find that white fly, greenfly and scale insects have found their way inside the greenhouse for warmth, therefore it will be necessary to spray with an organic spray. I mix an organic spray of orange peels in white vinegar and allow it to sit for two weeks before spraying – this works well and is very economical.

TAKE A WALK AROUND THE GARDEN

Walking around a garden that looks good and feels good in mid-winter is a real pick-me-up. Patterns emerge created by paths, walls and hedges. As you walk, enjoy the shapes of shrubs, the shadows of evergreens and the strong silhouettes of tree trunks, enjoying their shape and bark without foliage.

FEED THE BIRDS … AND SQUIRRELS!

Photo by elvis bueno on Unsplash.

Keep the bird feeders full; I love to watch the birds in their quick flights across the garden to alight on the feeders, and their sudden bursts of song when the sun peaks through. It is so much fun to watch the “pecking” order and see the blue jays, who are apt to be bullies and the red cardinals, who, like the blue jays, can be rather territorial, leading the pack. Bring up the rear come the finches and house sparrows. Sometimes a bird appears arrives that I do not recognize and out comes my binoculars and Peterson bird book.

If you notice squirrels swarming the bird feeders, add some cayenne pepper to the birdseed and if that happens, do not be concerned as the heat from the cayenne does not affect birds.  Choose a spot away from the feeders to sprinkle cayenne-free birdseed on the ground so the squirrels can also enjoy a meal.

THE SCENTS OF WINTER

Winter has its own distinctive fragrance, the fog, in the morning when the air is very heavy, thick and damp – a damp even more bone chilling than rain.  I can deal with that now and know in about six weeks I will be inhaling the healthy nose-clearing fragrance of the soil, rich and brown, well-manured or covered with wood mulch, shredded leaves or salt hay.

Winter’s smells are a potpourri, one moment sharp and cold like the north wind, and spring’s flavors are light and sweet.

If you find you have spent year after year throwing good money after bad, it may be time to get a professional design. If that is so, don’t hesitate; if you want work to begin in the spring, a design takes time to complete. You may want to contact my son Ian, whose company LandscapesByIan.com show his creations and who will work with you and your budget.

Have a great month and I’ll see you in your garden in March.

If you have any gardening questions, feel free to email me at MaureenHaseleyJones@gmail.com

A la Carte: Pork in a Pandemic, Roasted with Sauerkraut Gives Lots of Leftovers

Lee White

The pandemic has certainly made my days and weeks disappear.

Has it really been almost 11 months since our children went to school? Last January, would we have understood the phrase “remote learning”? Would we have known what the heck this thing called Zoom is?

Most seasons used to involve food. April meant that first sweet radish, sliced thin on sweet buttered French bread. The first salad made with soft Boston lettuce. The first platter of fried clams or a lobster roll sitting outside at Captain Scott’s or Fred’s Shanty or the Clam Castle. A hamburger or hot dog in someone’s yard on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. Playing boules on summer Sundays.

Sure, I have cooked a lot. Honestly, I have cooked more than I ever thought I would. But so little of what I have cooked has been very seasonal.

Fortunately, I made corn chowder with corn I froze two summers ago. I didn’t bake as much since I’d no dinner parties and I was afraid I’d eat that pie in two days. Why open a bottle of wine when I would forget it in the refrigerator? 

And here I am, foraging in the big freezer in the garage. Wow, a pork roast dated 2019. I always made a pork roast on the last cool day in October. Here it is, almost February 2021, and I hadn’t made one yet.

But here it is. It’s a big one, enough for six to eight people. At the end of the recipe, I tell you how to make casseroles out of the rest.

Roast Pork Dinner … and Leftovers (for another day)

There is only one problem with this great pork and sauerkraut dinner: the pork is roasted over the sauerkraut, so you can’t make gravy from scratch. I use one of the gravy mixes you can buy at the market, preferably Knorr. To do a leftover casserole, make extra vegetables and mashed potatoes.

Yield: 2 for dinner; the casserole will feed 4 to 6 for dinner

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

Large can of sauerkraut
6 pound (about) pork loin, bone-in (make sure butcher breaks chine so chops are easy to cut apart)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Apple sauce (24-ounce or so)
2 to 3 pounds Yukon potatoes
Fresh vegetables (broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts, beans, peas or a combination)
2 envelopes gravy mix

In the sink, place sauerkraut in a colander. With your hands, twist water out of the kraut as much as you can. 

In a large Pyrex baking dish, form sauerkraut into a flat loaf with your hands. Put the pork loin, bone down, onto the kraut. Season with salt and pepper. Place pork and sauerkraut onto the oven and cook for one and one-half or two hours.

Remove from the oven and, using two big forks, put kraut into another baking pan, placing the pork back onto the Pyrex baking dish. Mix apple sauce with sauerkraut in the smaller pan, and place both pans into oven. Bake for another hour.

While pork and kraut bake, make your mashed potatoes, vegetables and gravy mix. Serve.

***

After dinner, create the new casserole(s) in a freezer-safe, oven-safe container by layering the casserole(s) with mashed potatoes, vegetables, sauerkraut and small chunks of pork; pour leftover gravy on top. Place casserole(s) into a jumbo zippered plastic bag and freeze. When ready to serve, thaw, remove zippered plastic bag and roast in a 350 degree oven until hot. Serve with fresh gravy and apple sauce.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn.

Reading Uncertainly? ‘Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science’ by Richard Dawkins

“But I digress …”

Ostensibly a continuation of his autobiography, this engrossing and superbly entertaining ramble by Dr. Dawkins, the noted Oxford zoologist, biologist, and humanist, stretches your knowledge and imagination. Is it possible to read an autobiography that is self-acknowledged as a, “Series of flashbacks, divided into themes, punctuated by digressions and anecdotes,” without losing your place, your mind and your direction?

Certainly!

And oh, those digressions: evidence of a perambulating and ever-curious mind. He drops names in his stories, recollections, and diversions, and it is fascination to follow his mind as it rambles over memory’s landscape, “… flitting like a butterfly as the interest takes me.”

Dawkins warns the reader early in his writing with a poem:

What is Life, if full of stress
We have no freedom to digress?
But if the prospect you enrages
You’d better skip the next few pages!

Neither is he reluctant to throw in a pun, trying to bridge the gap between literature and science, as in, “Où sont les C. P. Snow’s d’antan?” (a corruption of the question of one of France’s most famous poets Francois Villon’s question, Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?, which translates into English as the well-known line, “But where are the snows of yester-year?” taken from Villon’s poem Ballade des dames du temps jadis, which, in turn, roughly translates as, “Ballad of the Ladies of Times Gone By.” C.P. Snow refers to Charles Percy Snow, who was an acclaimed English novelist and physical chemist.)

Charles Darwin and natural selection lie at the core of his studies: ”Natural selection is a miserly economist, invisibly counting the pennies, the nuances of cost and benefit too subtle for us, the observing scientists, to notice,” and “gene survival” is our dominant “utility.”

Dawkins is also known for his acerbic reactions to religious dogma and beliefs, a member of a writing group that includes Bertrand Russell, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris. His conclusion: “I have tried but consistently failed to find anything in theology to be serious about. Yet he is equally candid about the ever-present “limitations of science.”

I’ve read his The Selfish Gene, The God Delusion, and The Greatest Show on Earth, and fully intend to continue to be challenged as well as enlightened by his words. His penultimate chapter, some 120 pages, is a review of the themes from his 12 books:

  • Explaining the gene as a replicator and a vehicle
  • Extending the phenotype
  • Genes as a ‘gigantic colony of viruses,” both amicable and malevolent
  • Survival requires avoiding “being too risk-averse” and being “too laid-back.”
  • Using a “functional story” as a ‘powerful aid to memory.”
  • The sonar of bats (Might he have suspected the global arrival of a coronavirus?)
  • “Only changes have surprise value” and “information is a mathematically precise measure of ‘surprise’ “
  • The “power of cumulative natural selection”
  • A cooperative gene is most likely to survive.
  • The “meme” (pronounced like “cream”) is the “new soup of human culture.”
  • And religion: “We have taken on board a convention that religion is off-limits to criticism.,” something that Dawkins resists. We can and should teach about it but we should never indoctrinate children in any particular religious tradition.

Dr. Dawkins’ parting poem, which speaks volumes of the man and his mind, is:

Still time to gentle that good night.
Time to set the world alight.
Time, yet new rainbows to unweave,
Ere going on Eternity Leave.

Editor’s Note:Brief Candle in the Dark’ by Richard Dawkins was published by HarperCollins, New York 2015.

Felix Kloman

About the Author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008).
A 20-year resident of Lyme, Conn., he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction, a subject which explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there.
For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farm Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings.
His late wife, Ann, was also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visited every summer.

A la Carte: Something Different for Breakfast? Try These Savory Muffins

Lee White

Hopefully, by the time you read this, I will have an appointment for my first (and maybe my second) COVID vaccine, although that may not be the case.

My last missive from VAMS (Vaccine Administration Management System) says, “Thank you for registering … If you have not gotten that notice … ” How in heaven’s sake would someone know that they had not gotten that note if they haven’t gotten it? In any case, everyone I know has gotten an appointment and has had their first inoculation … but not me.

I am probably fine, but I would like the vaccine.

I get tested every seven to 10 days and have been pretty isolated. I am reading two to three books a week and watch too much television (even the documentary about Tiger Woods!), and cook, cook and cook. I have been eating healthy, even though I haven’t lost much weight.

I miss terribly not going out to restaurants and have not gotten much take-out either. I give myself props for that because I do know that good restaurants (and I know we have lots of good restaurants) use good ingredients, including butter, cream and sugar. I use way less of those ingredients.

My daughter Darcy cooks a lot and we talk every day about what we ate for our meals. I like it when I have already eaten so that her dinners don’t make me hungrier. This recipe came from a friend of hers, who had found it in the Jan/Feb issue of Relish.

Darcy, as always, changes ingredients and amounts, too. I do not until I have made it more than once. Overall, the recipe is good, but it needed a bit of sugar, so the one you see has a tablespoon or so of sugar. I did add a bit more broccoli than it called for.

Each morning, I eat one and it holds me until noon or 1 p.m.

Photo by Isabella on Unsplash.

Savory Muffins

Slightly adapted from Relish magazine
Yield: 12 muffins

Prepare a 12-cup muffin tin and use vegetable spray into each. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

1 egg
1 cup milk (2 percent is fine)
¼ cup canola (or any vegetable) oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried mustard
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup frozen or fresh broccoli florets, cooked in boiling water for three minutes, drained and chopped
2 scallions, chopped 

Mix together egg, milk and canola oil. 

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and mustard. 

Add the egg mixture and fold into the dried ingredients. 

Using a rubber spatula, mix in the cheese and broccoli. 

Using a large tablespoon, fill each muffin cup with the batter; slightly flatten each muffin 

Bake about 18 to 22 minutes, until golden and toothpick comes out clean.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn.

A View from My Porch: Thoughts on the Occasion of the Inauguration

The White House on Inauguration Day. All photos by Erin O’Donnell.

At noon on this past Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, President-elect Joseph R. Biden was inaugurated in a ceremony on the West Front of the Capitol. This was the culminating event in what has been a hostile transfer of power from former President Donald Trump to President Biden. 

The Environment:

The then President Trump had claimed, repeatedly and without evidence, that the election result was fraudulent and “stolen” from him. Regrettably, many of his supporters have yet to acknowledge that this claim was untrue.

Consequently, there was a violent and dystopian siege on the Capitol by domestic terrorists, incited by his “Big Lie,” just two weeks before the Inauguration.

Unexpectedly, on Tuesday night, the then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell affirmed that “… the president and other powerful people,” had provoked the violent attacks on the Capitol building. I am uncertain how firm he is in his conviction.

Fortunately, amidst all that turmoil, the Inauguration proceeded forward, albeit with immense security and what was  described officially as a “show of force” in place well in advance of the 20th. 

My outlet, in such chaotic and troubling times, has always been reviewing historic accounts of great men and women. I am a fan of the spoken word. A masterful presentation always stirs me. 

Motorcycles lead the parade up Pennsylvania Avenue following the Inauguration.

I’m going to reflect on the Inauguration in this essay; but, first, I’ll share a few written works and speeches that buoyed me during this chaotic period.

In 2005, a self-described “skinny Kid with a funny name” asserted to the American Library Association’s Annual Conference assembly that “the moment we persuade a child to cross the threshold into a library, we’ve changed their lives forever, and for the better.” The then-Senator Obama also said that “librarians are the ones who’ve been on the frontlines of the fight for privacy and freedom. Libraries remind us that truth isn’t about who yells the loudest, but who has the right information.” 

Likewise, Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library Director Katie Huffman has noted, “Libraries have long served as stewards of free speech, and we are proud and passionate to be a part of that tradition.”

One of my family’s most enduring favorites is “The Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame; in which he recounts the adventures of four friends, Mole, Water Rat, Badger, and the irascible Toad; on the river and in the wild woods. 

A particularly memorable passage, which is slightly abridged here, occurs when Rat convinces land-bound Mole to step into his boat and enjoy a day on the river.

Rat says, “Believe me, my young friend; there is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. In them, or out of them, it doesn’t matter. Nothing seems really to matter; that’s the charm of it. Whether you arrive at your destination, or you reach somewhere else; or whether you never get anywhere at all, you’re always busy.”

Memorable Commencement Speeches:

In his 2014 commencement address at the University of Texas, Austin, retired Four-Star Admiral, William McRaven, provided this advice to the graduates: “If you want to change the world, start off each day by making your bed.”

He added, “You will have completed the first task of the day. That little sense of pride and achievement will encourage you to complete another task; and another, and another. And that will reinforce the fact that even the little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things well, you won’t do the big things well.” 

Prior to appointment as Chancellor of The University of Texas System, his career included service as Head of the U.S. Special Operations Command; where he is known for orchestrating the mission, and leading the Navy SEAL team that conducted the successful 2011 raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.

An international celebrity, and another amphibian, gave the 1996 commencement address at Long Island University’s Southampton College School of Environmental Science. After acknowledging the importance of the environmental sciences in preserving the world’s ecosystems, Kermit the Frog (yes, really!) advised the graduates, “Never lose sight of the fact that you are not just saving the environment; you are saving the homes and lives of so many of my relatives.” He closed his address with the challenge, “You are no longer tadpoles. The time has come for you to drop your tails and leave this swamp.”

President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden walk up Pennsylvania Ave. after the Inauguration on Wednesday, Jan. 20.

Reflections on the Inauguration:

There were several points in this two-day event at which I felt tears welling in my eyes. Thank you, Mr. President, and Madame Vice President. We needed that. 

I have been impressed with President Biden’s religious piety, and his pride in his family’s working-class background. He has experienced great loss in his past. His ability to convert that loss into honest and sincere empathy was demonstrated in his words on Tuesday evening, as the 400 lights around the Lincoln Memorial’s reflecting pool were lit to remember and honor the 400,000 Americans, who have died from COVID-19.

“To heal, we must remember,” Biden said. His predecessor, in contrast, never really acknowledged the tragic loss of life. 

In addition, a magnificent illuminated display of 200,000 American flags stood in the National Mall, to honor the COVID deaths. They were also in recognition of those thousands and thousands of people unable to attend the Inauguration in person amid the pandemic, and due to the intense security put in place after the violent attack on the Capitol.

Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff (third from left) and Vice President Kamala Harris (fourth from left) and their families walk up Pennsylvania Avenue after the Jan. 20 Inauguration.

President Biden was joined on the Capitol platform by former President(s) Barack Obama, George W. Bush, William Clinton, and former Vice President Mike Pence along with the former First (or Second) Ladies. President Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who are age 96 and 93, respectively, were unable to attend the Inauguration, but had called then-President Elect Biden the night before.

President Trump refused to attend the Inauguration and bear witness to the ceremonial transfer of power, thus becoming the first outgoing president in over 150 years to leave the city before his successor had been sworn in. 

In his inaugural address, President Biden recognized the attempted insurrection, but asserted, “Democracy has prevailed.” He called for Americans to unite and confront the perilous challenges before them:- a deadly coronavirus pandemic, economic turmoil and divisions over American leadership.

The then-President-elect had told supporters as he departed from Delaware on Tuesday for Washington and the Inauguration, “These are dark times, but there’s always light.”

Marine One flies over Washington DC carrying former President and First Lady Donald and Melania Trump for the last time.

My hopes for this new Administration:

The President has promised to use the Defense Production Act and redouble the federal government’s support of COVID testing, vaccine production, and vaccine distribution.

He has also promised that the COVID-relief package passed at the end of 2020 was only a down-payment and that greater relief would be on the way. Keep your eye on the ball, Mr. President.

I hope this Administration will move beyond governance by Executive Order and actually pass some legislation.  

Finally, it is time to restore America’s greatness, its dignity, and its world leadership.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A la Carte: Baby, It’s Cold Outside … so it Must be Time for Soup!

Lee White

It has been pretty cold outside and, for that matter, inside my condo. 

I keep my thermostat at 60 degrees, until friends are coming for dinner (which doesn’t happen these days because of the pandemic) or coming to watch the UConn women play basketball (my neighbors don’t have SNY network). When they visit, I turn the heat to 65. They wear their puffy jackets and I offer them down throws.

But to be honest, it has been cold enough that I often turn the heat to 65 during the day. Sometimes I forget to turn it back down at night. By the time I am in bed under my electric blanket and my down comforter, I boil.

So, often, I have to go back downstairs and turn the thermostat down. (I know, I can get a smart thermostat that does this for me, but I keep saying, “Yeah, just another two or three months and it will be warm again.” Also, I am mechanically inept and I don’t know how to put in a new thermostat.

What I do these days to keep myself just warm enough is with food. I make stews and soups and I roast a big chicken every couple of weeks.

This recipe below is from a magazine I had been hoarding for a few months because its cover promised “Time for Soup!” I love lemon soup and this reminded me how much I miss St. Sophia’s Greek Festival in New London.

There I always begin with its lemon soup, choose pastitsio for my entrée and finish with a piece of baklava. I have made baklava myself and maybe I should try pastitsio, too. In the meantime, here is a great recipe for the soup.

Greek Lemon Chicken Orzo Soup
From Food magazine, October, 2020
Yield: serves 4

6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
½ cup orzo
1 large egg plus 2 egg yolks
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about 1 ½ lemons)
1 ¾ cups shredded rotisserie chicken (skin removed)
1 ¾ cups frozen peas and carrots

Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add orzo and cook 2 minutes less than the label directs.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg, yolks, ¾ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper in a medium bowl. Whisk in the lemon juice. Reduce hear under the orzo to low, scoop out 1 cup broth with a ladle and pour it into the egg mixture in a steady stream, whisking with the other hand. Then pour the egg mixture into the saucepan with the remaining broth and orzo in a steady stream, whisking constantly.*

Stir the chicken into the soup, increase the heat to medium and bring it to a gentle simmer, stirring often, Cook stirring, until the soup thickens slightly, about 4 minute. Stir in the peas and carrots and warm through.

*You need to warm up (or temper) your eggs before you add them to the broth or else you’ll get scrambled egg soup! Whisk the eggs with a little hot broth first, then slowly whisk them into the soup.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn.

Reading Uncertainly? ‘Humankind: A Hopeful History’ by Rutger Bregman

Ah! In the midst of a global pandemic and toxic political strife almost everywhere, it is a sheer delight to be encouraged by some optimism.

Rutger Bregman, a Dutch historian, asks some serious questions: are we humans not basically bad, but innately “good? Do crises actually bring out “the best in people” rather than the reverse? Is “resilience . . . universally human”?

He readily acknowledges that we have been immersed for centuries in the idea that we are fatally flawed, an idea thrust on us by religions and many secular ideologies.

“Quite a few religions,” he argues, “take it as a tenet of fact that humans are mired in sin”; that our “news” is a daily drug of negativism, and the annals of our “history” glorifies the “winners” without acknowledging any of the ideas of the losers.

The point of this book: “ … our grim view of humanity is due for radical revision.” He argues “humans, in short, are anything but poker-faced. We constantly leak emotions and are hardwired to relate to the people around us … Our spirits yearn for connection … We are not alone. We have each other.”

His key question: Are humans naturally non-violent, and have we been so for hundreds of thousands of years, or have we evolved, slowly, to be more and more passive? He challenges Stephen Pinker’s thesis, in The Better Angels of Our Nature, that we are slowly and inevitably evolving toward pacific relations.

No, says Bregman: we have always been that way!

He illustrates his argument with numerous fresh analyses of situations and cases, such as the Stanford Prison experiment, the Stanley Milgram “shock” experiment at Yale, the facts about the settlement of Easter Island, an innovative prison modification in Norway, the case of two white South Africans who helped Nelson Mandela, and the famous joint celebration of Christmas Eve by Allied and German troops in December 1914.

So how can we support and enhance this native human instinct? Bregman argues that education continues to be the key: “the freedom to go wherever curiosity leads. To search and discover, to experiment and to create. Not along any lines set out by parents or teachers [or religious and political leaders, I will add.] But just because. For the fun of it.”

This means more contact: “contact engenders more trust, more solidarity, or mutual kindness. Does this mean we should redesign completely our schools? A challenging thought.

Bregman, following many writers, concludes this challenging thesis with “Ten Rules to Live By:” But, being an octogenarian, I find it most difficult to remember more than three things, so here are my three rules, synthesizing his ten:

  1. Doubt almost everything
  2. Be ever curious
  3. Try a different road!

But first, read this book …

Editor’s Note: ‘Humankind’ by Rutger Bregman was published by Little Brown, New York 2020.

Felix Kloman

About the Author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008).
A 20-year resident of Lyme, Conn., he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction, a subject which explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there.
For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farm Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings.
His late wife, Ann, was also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visited every summer.

Gardening Tips for January by The English Lady: New Year, New Chapter, New Opportunities

Paper-white narcissi have a beautiful fragrance. Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash.

Happy New Year everyone!

Recently on Dec. 21,  we experienced the Winter Solstice and turned the corner so that with each day, we move gradually from the dark into the light to a longer, brighter day.

A few weeks ago, I planted my Paper-white Narcissus on pebbles, with just enough pebbles to anchor the bulbs in place or you may use potting soil. I use tall glass vases and it is most important keep the pebbles moist with enough water to cover the bottom of each bulb.

I brought my Rosemary plant indoors in September, Rosemary are not hardy outdoors in our zone six and. I spray the plant twice weekly with water and run a cold-water humidifier and two germ guardian air cleaners with UV lights for personal health and the health of my plants.  

After planting the Paper White Narcissus, I placed them in a dark cool closet until the foliage is about four inches tall. Today I moved them from the dark closet to a cool room with indirect light and where the temperature remains at about 65 degrees. When the buds are almost ready to open, I will place them in a brighter area to be enjoyed, not only for their bloom but also the heady fragrance. which permeates the house.   

The new bloom gets me out of the winter doldrums, which is particularly heavy this year with the pandemic, and anything I can do to lift my spirits is welcome. I know that the severe changes that are occurring with global warming combined with pollution in the air, water and the earth, are severely damaging our planet and I know this year, our new government will begin in earnest to heal our planet for ourselves and the future for our children.    

Your personal contribution to saving our planet is to organically tend the soil with compost, manure and natural brown mulch, which builds the humus component in your soil. Your plants and vegetables will thrive, as will you.  Throughout the year allow your garden to anchor you, connecting heart, body, mind and spirit to Mother Nature’s lifegiving bountiful gifts and spiritual energy.  

The harsh winds of January and February extract moisture from trees and shrubs, especially the evergreens. Winter winds are more harmful to plants than cold temperatures, not only causing plant breakage but also soil erosion. For that reason, it’s helpful to have a few bags of topsoil and mulch in the garage. With these items on hand, any roots can be covered when they become exposed by wind or frost heave. 

Roots exposed to the elements for any length of time can kill the plant, so when you notice exposed roots quickly cover exposed areas with soil and mulch. When spring arrives, and the earth warms up, the plant can be resettled in place together with composted manure and the natural brown mulch to provide protection and nutrition.

On a sunny day in January, take a walk round the garden to breathe in the fresh air and as you walk, make some notes and decide what worked for you last year and what you will never try again. 

Later when back indoors, sitting in your armchair, browse through the catalogues that began arriving a few months ago. You have already begun making lists of plants that you are thinking of buying. However, a word of caution when gazing at the photos, which are meant to tempt you with their lovely but “doctored up” pictures of plants that you feel certain will make your garden sensational this year.   

Don’t be fooled, instead try to make 2021 the year for realistic and organized change. Please do not allow your imagination to go haywire and be caught up in the fantasy of the brightly colored, high maintenance garden pictures shown in the catalogues.  Suit your garden to your lifestyle that will work within your time frame and physical abilities.  If you follow that construct, you will have the time to sit, relax and smell the roses, without being overwhelmed or disappointed.    

As you sit and plan for the coming season, it’s important to keep your budget in mind. It’s hard to believe as you look outside at the uninspiring landscape that in a few months, early spring sunshine and pleasant breezes will warm the soil. When the soil is dry enough to tread on, winter debris may carefully be cleared away. Then with a clean palette you can add that lovely layer of manure and compost (the ratio being three parts manure to onepart compost).

Following those tasks, I find it personally satisfying to make a clean edge on the borders, this simple task makes such a difference to the look of any garden.  With all that prep done, April showers will arrive, the sun shines and you are ready for the fun stuff, the placing and planting!  

For those of you who are vegetable gardeners and look forward to a bountiful year with fruits and vegetables and with rain, extra irrigation and sunshine to produce this delicious bounty. As we advance into spring, we can expect the invasion of the good and bad insects, moles, voles and other critters, which can be dealt with naturally.

Your memory of your garden from last season may be lost in the enthusiasm of a new season, so I am asking you to be kind to yourself, for last year you became overwhelmed with too much gardening, and not enough time to relax and smell the roses. 

Here are some suggestions you might follow to avoid that problem:

  • Send some of your borders back to grass.
  • Make some of the high maintenance perennial borders, into mixed shrub borders. To accomplish this, take out some of the high maintenance perennials and donate them to a worthy cause.
  • Plant small and medium size evergreen shrubs; some green, some blue and some of the lovely evergreen gold variety, amongst the perennials.  To these, add small flowering deciduous trees and shrubs that will begin flowering in April and successively through June. The Carlesii viburnum, also known as Korean Spice is a favorite small shrub of mine, with its white buds that open to a pale pink and that has the most delightful fragrance.
  • Add a Ben Franklin tree with its white cup like blooms and gold center that flowers in August through September.
  • Nestle three Blue Mist shrubs in the mixed border; this plant will delight with purple blooms and fragrant leaves into September.
  • On a fence or trellis, plant white autumn clematis.
  • Add a groundcover as an evergreen framework – my favorite is Myrtle with its glossy leaves and miniature blue flowers that emerge in April.

Do garden fairies live here? Photo by Cosmic Timetraveler on Unsplash.

It is never too soon to introduce your children and grandchildren to the wonders of the garden and as an extra enticement, introduce them to the garden fairies.  Through the years I asked children to draw a picture of the garden fairy and make a list of questions to ask the fairies who live in the wild patch.  We all have a wild patch in the garden; and at this point you are probably saying, “Maureen, my garden is one large ‘wild patch’.

In the interim, the children became so excited and enthused about their lists and pictures of the fairies, for what you have shown them is the transformation of science into magic. These days we seem to have forgotten about fairy tales, dreams and magic; it’s way past time to bring those wonderful energies back into our lives and into the lives of our children.  

In spring and on into summer I would find my children or their friends impatiently checking the garden wanting to see their planting efforts come into bloom. In the vegetable garden they gathered to check what was ready to eat from the produce they had planted.  I have found that this introduction to the garden has inspired these children to enthusiastically plant and tend gardens of their own as adults. 

My son Ian is a great example of this as he has partnered with me through the years in the garden – and thus the old adage that ‘the student is better than the teacher’ has certainly proved to be correct. Ian is a designer par excellence and I invite you to check his website LandscapesbyIan.com and his Facebook page for lovely examples of his work. 

In my March gardening tips, I’ll offer you some suggestions of ornamental trees, shrubs and long blooming perennials. With that list in hand, it is preferable to obtain your plants from local garden centers that carry tried and true plants that will flourish in zone six.   

On the other hand, if you feel that over the years, you have been throwing good money after bad in your garden and despair when you feel that your garden never looks right, get in touch with a landscape company (like my son’s!) who will keep your budget in mind whether you want to do your own work, or wish for a design to install yourself.  

On the other hand, when you are planning your garden for this coming season there are important facts to keep in mind:  

  • What are the plants requirements for sun, shade, soil, and water?
  • Will they survive in this zone, Zone 6?
  • What are the growth patterns of the plants?  Do they grow fast or slow?

Rhododendron Catawbiense is a stunning addition to any garden.

You do not want a 50 ft. tree up against the house with tremendous roots that will play havoc with your house foundation.  Or do you want that lovely but very large, Catawbiense Rhododendron, all 10 ft. of it, climbing through your dining room window in five years? 

To find those facts, either check the plants in a book, on the Internet or read the labels attached to the plants in the nursery. 

Check every aspect of the plant before you buy.  The red or green Lace leaf Japanese maple looks lovely in spring but is it something you can enjoy, without its leaves in the winter?  Personally, I not only enjoy the foliage of plants and trees but also the shape and bark of trees without foliage in winter.  

For those of you just beginning a garden, let us be honest and dispense with the myth that gardening is a relaxing hobby. At the end of that first day of digging, lugging soil, manure and fertilizer, and planting everything at the proper depth; you will feel that you are going to keel over.  

Then you remember that you still need to water the newly-installed plants as you drag your tired body to switch on the hose. Thank goodness, the mulching can wait until tomorrow or next weekend, right? Right!   

Watering by the way can be meditative. Imagine that the hose is your umbilical cord so that as you nourish the earth and the plants, the earth can nourish you. 

By now the sun has gone down, and you trudge indoors muttering to yourself, “What the heck did I get myself into?”  To this comment I say, “You did not have to tackle all of the garden in one day”.  

In gardening, there is always tomorrow, or next week, and even though the label says to plant it by the end of May or June, believe me folks, a few weeks later does not matter, the garden will wait for you.  

You may be saying to yourself at this point, “Maureen are you trying to put us off gardening”? No folks, but I would remiss, as someone who has gardening in my blood (as well as manure) for over 400 years to tell you, however reluctantly, not only the pleasures, but some of the aches and pains.

The idea is not to bite off more than you can chew.  For first time gardeners, don’t scatter your energies all over the garden, tackle and complete one area at a time. That area should be priority one until it is complete.  

If you have a new home with no landscaping, some hardscape may be required.  Hardscape is walls, walkways, patios, ponds, decks and so on. The sound and look of a water feature in the garden is delightful, it need not be elaborate, a fountain is fine – the reflection of water is Mother Nature’s mirror.

If you are not able to do this construction yourself, get in touch with a landscape contractor now, so that a plan can be done now, installed and ready by spring.  I say to connect now as Ian tells me that many landscape products are short on supply this year.   

All of these endeavors mean you getting yourself in shape physically, so get off that couch, put away the catalogues and your plant lists, stretch, then wrap yourself up in warm gear and take that walk.   

As you walk, look at the trees in winter, the elegant shape of them, the lichen on the stonewalls, and the moss tucked in cracks and crevices.  Clear your mind and allow nature’s spirit to surround you.  As you walk, look at a garden or two in your neighborhood; gardens which you have admired when they were in bloom and see what they look like in winter.  

I remember one of my professors when I studied at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew saying, “In winter you can tell a really good landscape by its bones, without the flesh of flora and foliage.” In spring, get in touch with those neighbors whose gardens you admired and ask them some of the secrets of their garden. They will be happy to talk with you not only of their successes but their failures – true gardeners are realists when they speak about their gardens and love to share.  

Well everyone, I’ve given you plenty to think about right now so enjoy your daydreaming of the season to come and I’ll see you next month in your garden.

About the author: Maureen Haseley-Jones, pictured left, is a member of a family of renowned horticultural artisans, whose landscaping heritage dates back to the 17th century. She is one of the founders, together with her son Ian, of, ‘The English Lady Landscape and Home Company.’ Maureen and Ian are landscape designers and garden experts, who believe that everyone deserves to live in an eco-conscious environment and enjoy the pleasure that it brings. Maureen learned her design skills from both her mother and grandmother, and honed her horticultural and construction skills while working in the family nursery and landscape business in the U.K. Her formal horticultural training was undertaken at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in Surrey.
Contact Maureen at maureenhaseleyjones@gmail.com

A View from My Porch: A Primer on Vaccines, Part 2.5: Where Are We With Vaccines? CT’s Distribution Plan, Immunity Questions & More

Editor’s Note: This is a previously unplanned third of three parts of a highly topical essay titled, “A Primer on Vaccines,” by Thomas D. Gotowka. Part 2.5 reviews Connecticut’s readiness to distribute the vaccine, identifies some of the side effects that may be experienced, and considers the acquisition of individual immunity. Read the previous parts of the essay at these links:
A View from My Porch: A Primer on Vaccines: Part 1; “Still Running to Daylight”

A View from My Porch — A Primer on Vaccines: Part 2; “Approaching Daylight”

When Part 2 of this series was published in mid-December, only the Pfizer vaccine had received emergency use authorization (EUA); the FDA then granted Moderna’s EUA on Dec. 18. As a result, we are now in the earliest stages of a massive vaccination campaign that will span the United States; and millions of Americans will reach the vaccination on-deck circle in 2021. 

The COVID “playbook” is still evolving; and guidance will change as the scientific and medical communities discover more about this virus and its reaction to the vaccines. That’s a good thing. 

The COVID Data Remain Troubling:

The first autopsy-confirmed COVID-related death in the United States occurred on Feb. 6, 2020 in Santa Clara County, Calif. Just 10 months later, i.e., by year’s end, over 345,000 Americans had been killed by the virus; and, incredibly, we surpassed 20 million cases, with an increase of more than a million cases in the last week of the year.

Unfortunately, this trend will continue through this dark winter; and, by this morning, Jan. 7, we’ve reached nearly 364,000 American fatalities. Finally, COVID hospitalizations are increasing in Connecticut, and may be evidence of another post-holiday spike.

New Vaccines:

Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash.

Last week, Great Britain became the first country to authorize the use of Astra Zeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine. In addition, a promising vaccine candidate from Johnson & Johnson is proceeding through clinical trials. However, for the foreseeable future, Americans will receive the Pfizer or the Moderna vaccines, both of which require two doses, three or four weeks apart, respectively.

Poorly Executed Federal Vaccine Rollout:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that Operation Warp Speed’s promise to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of December fell remarkably short of goal; and only about 2.8 million people were provided the vaccine — primarily front-line health care workers, and nursing home residents.

Earlier in December, General Gustave Perna, COO of Operation Warp Speed, apologized for a “planning error” that caused dozens of states to receive substantially fewer vaccine doses than were originally promised.

Predictably, the outgoing Administration then announced that, like testing, vaccine distribution will now be the responsibility of the individual states. Transition to the states occurred rapidly, and with only limited assistance and oversight.  There is no plan for logistical support.

They essentially told the states that “this is now your responsibility, figure it out.” Many states will have significant difficulty in meeting this challenge. However, the Coronovirus Relief Bill, which was reluctantly signed into law by the outgoing president at the end of December, includes some financial assistance for the states’ vaccination rollout.  

Vaccine Distribution in CT:

Connecticut began preparing for vaccine distribution well before the candidate vaccines were on the threshold of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) emergency use authorization. 

Governor Lamont had appointed a broad-based Vaccine Advisory Group, who worked with the state’s Department of Health (CT DPH), the local health departments, CDC, and a group of providers and healthcare institutions to develop a phase-based program, which the Governor presented last October. The Governor also stated, at that time, that the state’s goal was to have everyone in the state “who wants a dose” to be vaccinated by early fall of 2021.

You can review the details of CT’s vaccination plan at Phases (ct.gov)

At present, Connecticut is vaccinating people who meet Phase 1a eligibility, which includes front-line healthcare workers, and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. CVS Pharmacy teams began to administer the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in Connecticut skilled nursing facilities on Dec. 21. 

By the end of that month, they had administered more than 50,000 vaccine doses. The role of CVS in Connecticut’s vaccination program is reviewed in: A View from My Porch — A Primer on Vaccines: Part 2; “Approaching Daylight” (LymeLine.com)

By the end of December 2021, more than 50,000 vaccine doses of Coronavirus vaccine had been administered. Photo by Kristine Wook on Unsplash.

Phase 1b:

The Governor has confirmed that Connecticut remains on track to complete Phase 1a by the end of January; and the CDC recently reported that Connecticut is ahead of most states in vaccine distribution. Phase 1b is expected to begin immediately after completing Phase 1a objectives, and will probably extend into June. 

The Governor’s Vaccine Advisory Group has just recommended that Phase 1b target frontline essential workers, residents of congregate settings and those aged 75 and older. This will include teachers, grocery store workers, police officers, food service workers and sanitation workers. 

Congregate settings include homeless shelters, prisons, psychiatric facilities and group homes. The Advisory Group has not yet decided whether this next phase will also include residents, who are under the age of 75, but have underlying health conditions that place them at high-risk of serious illness from COVID-19. It appears that heathy people, ages 65 to 74 years old, may, otherwise, be deferred to Phase 1c.

Side Effects:

The most common side effects for both vaccines include pain and swelling in the arm where you received the injection; fever, chills, fatigue, and headaches, and muscle and joint pain. There was some early concern regarding a few claims of “Bell’s Palsy” following receipt of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine in the clinical trials. (“Bells” is a condition that causes temporary and mild weakness or paralysis of the facial muscles).

This was not considered significant, however, because the incidence rate of the condition in the clinical trial was very comparable to the incidence of Bell’s Palsy in the general population.

Note that the CDC and FDA are monitoring adverse reactions, using a national data collection system. Healthcare professionals are required to report certain adverse events; and vaccine manufacturers are required to report all adverse events that come to their attention. Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) (hhs.gov)

Even you have received the first shot of vaccine, keep wearing your mask until one to two weeks after your second dose.  Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash.

Immunity ETA:

As noted above, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both require two doses, three or four weeks apart, respectively. Based on the current literature, you will have some protection about 12 days after the first dose. 

However, you will not receive the strongest immunity until after the second dose — at least seven days after the second for the Pfizer vaccine; but at least 14 days after the second for the Moderna vaccine. Therefore, it is important that you continue wearing a face mask, practice social distancing until one to two weeks after your second dose.

Questions (Always) Remain:

There is still a need for continuing study. We do not yet know how long vaccines will confer immunity. Although the vaccine may be more than 90 percent effective in blocking the symptoms of COVID-19 at the individual level; it is still unclear whether it will reduce transmission and stop the symptomless spread that accounts for a large portion of cases

Some Final Thoughts:

Vaccinations for the general public are not expected to begin until late-summer but, by then, vaccines will be available in a wide range of healthcare sites: physician’s offices, hospitals, pharmacies, community health centers, and other locations that would normally administer influenza vaccines. Note that Connecticut is not mandating vaccination.  So, it’s an extremely important public health program that requires we “rely on the kindness of strangers.”

As I write this, I am distracted by the televised play-by-play of a violent attack on the Capitol by a group of domestic terrorists, which was apparently instigated and applauded by the outgoing Executive Branch. 

All that said, I believe that Connecticut is well-prepared to carry out this massive vaccination program. Other states are woefully unprepared. For example, Florida has what appears to be a poorly organized, “first come, first served” program.

We must make certain, however — and especially as other states reach readiness — that the vaccine supply line is continually sufficient to meet immediate requirements. 

I’ll close by paraphrasing Queen Elizabeth II: 2020 was without question an “annus horribilis.” Let’s not allow its ‘horrible-ness‘ to spill over any further into 2021.

This is the opinion of Thomas D. Gotowka.

Tom Gotowka

About the author: Tom Gotowka’s entire adult career has been in healthcare. He’ will sit on the Navy side at the Army/Navy football game. He always sit on the crimson side at any Harvard/Yale contest. He enjoys reading historic speeches and considers himself a scholar of the period from FDR through JFK.

A child of AM Radio, he probably knows the lyrics of every rock and roll or folk song published since 1960. He hopes these experiences give readers a sense of what he believes “qualify” him to write this column.

A la Carte: Lee Shares a New, Fun, Easy and ‘Craggy’ Recipe for Scones

Lee White

It was a bit of a sad holiday season. I shared Thanksgiving with my neighbors. They are the only people who have been invited into my condo during the pandemic, other than my daughter, the physical therapist, visiting nurses or a few minutes from friends. I lit the candles on my menorah each of the holiday’s eight days and Sue and Bob and I decided not to spend Christmas dinner together. 

I didn’t do a lot of cookie baking either. In the early part of December, I did stews and pasta sauces (marinara, pink vodka and a marathon of Bolognese). I actually do the last in a cauldron the size of a pot cannibals might choose. But the Bolognese is now down to one 3-quart plastic container in the freezer (I share it) and I am planning to drive to see my daughter-in-law and three of my granddaughters tomorrow. (They get rapid results with their covid tests and I have been negative every week or so since April.)

So right now another batch of Bolognese is cooking downstairs: onions, garlic and carrots along with the pork and beef are in a bottle of pinot gris. In 30 minutes, it will have somewhat evaporated, the milk will be added, then about 200 ounces of tomatoes and the tomato paste will simmer for two or so hours.  

I have, however, been doing some baking. I found a new recipe for scones which was a bit more fun than the recipe I had been using for decades. With this new one, I use my hands to work the butter into the flour mixture, drill a well into the dough and add heavy cream. I mix this batter with my hands, too.

The author says she likes the “cragging” of the scones instead of rolling the dough and using a biscuit cutter to make them all look neat. I like that look. I have made this recipe three times: once with chopped pecans, once with marzipan and once with tiny cinnamon chips.  This is fun and easy, and scones can be frozen, too.

You can’t beat a warm scone with butter and/or jam at any time of the day! Photo by Craig Bradford on Unsplash.

 Any-Fruit or –Nut Scones

Adapted from The Fearless Baker by Erin Jeanne McDowell (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston New York, 2017)

Yield: makes about 18 scones

3 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoons fine sea salt
10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter cut into ½ inch cubes
2 to 2 ½ cups fruit and/or nuts
1 cup heavy cream
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water and small pinch of salt
Sugar for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400 degree with racks in the upper and lower two thirds. Line two half-sheet pans with parchment or Silpat.

In a large bowl, whisk dry ingredients together. Add butter and toss to cubes with flour; cut butter into flour mixture by rubbing them between forefingers and thumbs until the size of peas or walnut halves. Add fruit and/or nuts and toss gently to combine.

Make a well in the middle and pour in cream. Toss mixture with fingers to combine; then knead gently to ensure everything is evenly moistened.

Scoop ¼-inches of dough onto prepared sheet pans. I used my hands to do this, leaving 1 1/2 –inches apart. Brush top with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake scones, switching the sheets from front to back and top to bottom at the halfway mark, for 20 to 22 minutes, until tops and edges are golden brown. Scones can be served warm or at room temperature. They may also be microwaved for 10 to 15 seconds.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn.

Legal News You Can Use: Understanding CT’s New Paid Family & Medical Leave Act

Happy New Year!  Welcome 2021! 

As Connecticut employers bid farewell to the year of “unprecedented times,” not so fast, I say.  This New Year ushers in a significant change in employment law for Connecticut employers of all sizes.  Connecticut has joined a handful of other states in creating a Paid Family and Medical Leave Act (PFMLA) that drastically changes the landscape of family and medical leave in this state.

Prior to the enactment of the PFMLA, Connecticut state law (CT FMLA) required only employers with 75 or more employees to provide 16 weeks of family and medical leave, and the leave could be unpaid.  Similarly, under the Federal FMLA, employers with 50 or more employees were required to provide 12 weeks of leave, paid or unpaid.

For Connecticut employers, however, the PFMLA changes family and medical leave by:

  • eliminating the threshold of a minimum number of employees (75 down to 1);
  • mandating 12 weeks of leave (instead of 16);
  • expanding the range of circumstances for which an employee may take a leave; and
  • providing wage replacement for all employees who take leave.

The PFMLA essentially provides most Connecticut workers with access to paid leave life events previously covered under the current federal and state FMLAs, as well as the Connecticut Family Violence Leave Act (CT FVLA), such as to:

  • To address the worker’s own serious health concern;
  • To care for a child after birth, adoption or foster placement;
  • To provide care to a seriously ill or injured family member;
  • To address qualifying exigencies arising from the foreign deployment of related service-member;
  • To serve as an organ or bone marrow donor; or
  • To address certain matters relating to family violence.

Under the new PFMLA, not only larger employers, but now even small Connecticut employers (with at least one employee), are required to comply with the mandates of the PFMLA.  Of note, the PFMLA generally excludes federal employees, Connecticut and municipal employees who are members of unions, employees of local and regional boards of education, and non-public elementary and secondary school employees.

Aside from employees of excluded employers, all other employees in the State of Connecticut will entitled to paid leave under the PFMLA starting on Jan. 1, 2022. In fact, even those who are self-employed or sole proprietors are eligible to opt-in to the program in certain circumstances where they contribute a portion of their income to the state fund.

How Does the Paid Family Leave Program Work?

The PFMLA authorized and established a quasi-state agency, the Connecticut Paid Leave Authority (“CPLA”), to administer the PFMLA program and trust fund.  The PFMLA program will be funded by employees and voluntary self-enrolled participants through the collection of wage deductions, capped at 0.5% of wages, beginning on Jan. 1, 2021. Payment of benefits to eligible employees will begin on Jan. 1, 2022.

The CPLA is the state-agency that will accepts applications for paid leave benefits, reviews those applications and if approved, administer benefits to eligible employees, those who are self-employed and sole proprietors. The CPLA is also responsible for collecting employee contributions and working with the Office of the Treasurer to properly invest and manage the contributions so that funds are available to pay benefits.

Employers must comply with the PFMLA by either using the state-run program administered by the CPLA or, the PFLMA provides employers with the option to apply to the CPLA for an exemption because the employer opts to provide the PFMLA benefit to their employees through an approved private program that provides all of the same rights, protections and benefits as the PFMLA (e.g. private insurance carriers such as long-term/short-term disability insurance carriers are providing private programs).

Note that an employer’s private plan must also comply with specific application requirements, including the requirement that a majority of the employer’s employees working in Connecticut vote in favor of the private plan. In the event that an employer receives an exemption and provides a private plan, the withholdings from employee paychecks are held by the employer, instead of the CPLA.

The first step for employers is to register their business with the CPLA (registration opened on November 1, 2020) and, if necessary, to apply for an exemption if providing the benefit through a private program.  Please note that third parties, such as payroll providers, may handle the application procedures with the CPLA and there are separate processes for these third parties when registering with the CPLA.

 Why is Jan. 1, 2021 Important to the PFMLA for Connecticut Employers?

When the law was enacted in June, 2019, the Connecticut legislature selected Jan. 1, 2021 as the commencement of the first “phase” of the program. Commencing with the first pay-period following Jan. 1, 2021, the mandatory payroll deductions from employee wages to fund the state program commence and employers not otherwise exempt must begin withholding the required amounts from employee wages and submitting the same to the CPLA.

During this first phase, the program is being seeded through these payroll deductions for one year; however, employees may not apply for benefits under the program until January 1, 2022.

 How Much Will Employees be Paid During PFMLA leave?

Under the PFMLA, an employee will receive a weekly benefit for the full 12 weeks of leave. An additional two weeks may be available for pregnancy-related issues.

If an employee’s weekly wages are less than or equal to the then-current Connecticut minimum wage multiplied by 40, the weekly benefit rate under the PFMLA will be 95 percent of the employee’s average weekly wage.  If an employee’s weekly wages exceed the Connecticut minimum wage multiplied by 40, the weekly benefit rate will be 95 percent of the Connecticut minimum wage multiplied by 40, plus 60 percent of the amount by which the employee’s average weekly wage exceeds the Connecticut minimum wage multiplied by 40. The benefit rate is capped at 60 times the Connecticut minimum wage.

Employers may supplement the paid leave benefits provided by the PFMLA, as long as the total amount received by an employee does not exceed 100 percent of their usual weekly wages.

What Should Employers Be Communicating to Employees Now?

At this time, employers should communicate with employees regarding the payroll deductions that begin Jan. 1, 2021, and regarding the benefits that will be available to them via the PFMLA as of January 1, 2022.  The CPLA provides a poster that may be displayed in your workplace and/or distributed to employees.

Employers and employees alike may refer to the CT Paid Leave Employee Factsheet or may contact Attorney Kristi Kelly at Suisman Shapiro Attorneys-at-Law at kkelly@sswbgg.com or 800-499-0145 to obtain legal advice on this and other employment-related topics.

Senior Moments: A New Year’s Message from our California Correspondent

John Guy LaPlante

Happy New Year, my Friends!

Yes, I’m late, I know. Good intentions sometimes go wrong.  But still I want to wish each and every one of you a happy and prosperous and satisfying New Year!

For more than 99 percent of you this is already 2021, though a tiny number of you are living in far-off lands on a different time clock.

As always, I’ve made my New Year’s resolutions and that’s always a great start.

Sadly 2020 has been an awful year, as we all know. The Covid-19 pandemic has been killing so many and making so many others so terribly ill.

And what a severe impact it has had on business, putting so many people out of work, making it difficult to buy food, pay the electric and water bill or put gas in the car, or make routine payments for the rent or the mortgage or insurance policies of various kinds and so, so many other things. 

And think of all the people who usually travel near and far to spend time with their loved ones. Very difficult this year. For some, impossible.

But my younger son, Mark, a professor of finance at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, made it here to Morro Bay [on the Californian coast] to spend a week with me. He managed that by flying first class, which he normally does not do. He thought there would be more empty seats up there. And he was right.

And think of the difficulty of students from grade school all the way up through graduate school continuing their education because of social distancing imperatives and so forth.

Plus so many other difficulties that do not come readily to mind.

So right now wishing somebody a Happy New Year is really a tough order.

But things are brightening up.

We will very soon have a new president and vice-president …

And out of the blue, so to say, we have had the incredibly good news that we have at least three new vaccines that have proven to be effective! And have been approved! And will begin helping people not many months from now but probably as soon as late spring or so!

Notice those three exclamation marks? They deserve to be there!

This afternoon I stopped by my neighborhood Rite Aid pharmacy and asked the head pharmacist, “When do you think we’ll be getting the vaccine?”

“We’ve been told by late March!”

I considered that very good news.

And soon our Treasury in Washington will be doling out more money to help people get by.   

All which will make the near future easier for life to get back to normal for just about all of us. All things really worth celebrating. I doubt anybody would deny that 

Speaking for myself, I have been most fortunate. Less than a year ago I was living in an assisted living community. A very nice one. But I definitely wanted out because I no longer needed that. 

I wanted  to live a normal life again on my own. And I was judged able to do that. Which  I yearned to do. What a happy day!

And as we know, the news has been full about how Covid-19 has severely affected the life of people in such facilities. So many residents have died as a result. 

And people still living there are going through hell because of new rules imposed to keep them safe. 

Now think about this. Just before moving into that nice place, I was hospitalized with a case of double pneumonia.

And that awful diagnosis plus my very old age made it a nearly sure thing that I would become infected.

But I have been tested and found to be negative. How about that?

Which is very ironic. Because my older son, Athur, age 63, a lawyer, came down with the virus and was hospitalized. As was his wife Marita, a super-duper intensive-care R.N., though more lightly.  

But it will be weeks before they will be able to get back to work.

So again the nasty question comes up.  Why did these two hard workers, whose calling is to help people, become infected, but I, so much older and 99 percent retired, was spared?  Well, anyway so far.

The further good news is that nobody else in my family, who span three generations, has been affected medically or economically. That’s really worth celebrating

In just a few months I will be starting my 93rd year on this earth. And I am still living by myself on my own. But with my loving daughter Monique and son-in-law David living nearby. How fortunate I am!

So let us hope that at the end of this brand-new year of 2021, life will be back to normal for New Year 2022! 

Oh, I want you to know that wherever you are, I’m thinking of you, cheering for you, and hoping that for New Year 2022 all kinds of good things will be coming your way.  And even sooner, I hope.

Editor’s Note: John Guy LaPlante is a veteran writer and journalist, who prior to his move to Morro Bay, Calif., lived in Deep River, Conn. His award-winning columns and articles were previously published in the ‘Main Street News’. He is the author of two books, “Around the World at 75. Alone! Dammit!” and “Asia in 80 Days. Oops, 83! Dammit!” He completed his service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine in early 2010 after a 27-month tour of duty. He was the oldest Peace Corps Volunteer ever to serve. John always welcomes comments on his articles. Email him at johnguylaplante@yahoo.com

Letter From Paris: After 47 Years, UK Leaves EU with ‘Thin’ Post-Brexit Deal

Nicole Prévost Logan

After 47 years of co-habitation, the UK has left the European Union (EU) with a “thin” post-Brexit deal.

An end-of-year need for holiday food delicacies, such as caviar, lobster or foie gras, panic about running short of fresh produce — such as lettuce, combined with the Covid-19 procedure slowing down the traffic, caused spectacular chaos with thousands of trucks lining up on highways or parked in Kent’s makeshift areas.

It was a sort of a preview of what a no-deal Brexit would bring.

The atmosphere in the country was unreal.

On Christmas Eve at four in the afternoon, the news broke: The UK and the European Union (EU) have reached an agreement on a narrow trade deal.  There will not be a “hard Brexit” as everybody had feared, with a brutal departure of the British Isles from the continent.  The two sides will remain friends and look forward to building up a commercial partnership and intensifying cooperation in transport, security, police, nuclear power, research and many other areas.

An 11th hour agreement

Reaching an agreement was quite an accomplishment. As late as Dec. 20, the mood was grim on both sides of the English Channel. On that date I wrote an article, entitled: “Betting on a “thin” Brexit deal”.

As follows, is part of my article:

Time is running out.  The transition period, which followed the departure of the UK from the EU on Jan. 31, 2020, is ending on Dec. 31.  If the two sides – UK and EU – do not reach an agreement by then, the “hard Brexit” will feel like falling off a cliff. The alternative is a “soft” Brexit.

On Dec. 13, 2019 , UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson led a successful campaign, the problem is that he based that campaign on three fateful words: “Get Brexit done”  He locked himself in an impasse,  making it hard for him to negotiate further.  He is under pressure from all sides to satisfy the hard-Brexiter Tories, the business circles rejecting Brexit for fear of a tariff war and  public opinion increasingly against a departure from the EU.   

The impossibility to bridge the positions from both sides of the Channel is clear:  the differences are more than deep. They are existential.  

For the British, sovereignty is paramount and the constraints of the Single Market unacceptable. The EU lies on the principles of the “Schengen Space”, consisting of free movement of people, capital, goods and services. Those principles constitute the main asset of the Single Market and are sacred, declared Christine Okrent, a French seasoned journalist and an authority on foreign affairs.

One should not forget that the UK has never been part of the Schengen “Space” nor of the Eurozone.

“Zanny” Minton  Beddoes, editor-in-chief of the Economist describes the negotiators as “playing on their voters’ audiences”.  It may be true in England, but definitely not in the EU. The EU is not budging from its core proposals, and its 27 members remain totally united. It would be miscalculation on Johnson’s part to count on the EU backing down.  

A hard Brexit would be a lose-lose proposition, but the UK would be more affected. Half its trading activities are with Europe, its economy is intertwined with Europe’s, as Beddoes pointed out. In contrast, Brexit has ceased to be a priority for the EU, commented Christine Okrent

In an interview, Michel Barnier, chief negotiator of the EU, declared that a nine month transition was too short. Most trading agreements take at least five years. He said: “Two prerequisites are needed: a free and fair competition (no “Singapore on the Thames”) and a reciprocal access to markets and waters.” 

I predict – and am going out on a limb now – that enough concessions will take place on both sides to reach a “thin” deal (to use Beddoes’ words ) allowing  the negotiations to continue after Dec. 31.  More time is needed to create a tailor-made arrangement to satisfy the UK and help it access the Customs Union or the European Economic Area (EEA), like Norway.  

Those were my predictions on Dec. 20.

The British Union Jack flag flies alongside the EU flag … but not for much longer. Photo by Rocco Dipoppa on Unsplash.

Back to Dec. 24, when the post-Brexit “deal'” was reached. What was fascinating on that historical day, was to hear, in real time, the comments coming from all sides of the political spectrum as well as reactions from the general public.

Johnson was exultant, raising his arms in a victory gesture. The trilingual Ursula von der Leyen , president of the European Commission was the one to announce (in excellent French) that, “a good, fair, and well balanced” deal has been reached.  Towering over her Michel  Barnier added his voice to the official announcement.  It was thanks to his fairness and persistence, that he made the deal happen.

Declaring, “We have kept our promise,” Johnson continued, “We have taken back the control of our economy. Freed from the EU Single Market bureaucracy, we can act very fast. The rapid vaccination program is an illustration of this. Our relationship with the EU will be comparable to the one between Canada and the EU (CETA).”

This is not exactly accurate however because CETA makes it easier to export both and goods and services, whereas the post-Brexit deal does not include the suppression of tariffs on services. The most important thing for Johnson was to say, “I have done it”.  He did succeed unlike other prime ministers – Thatcher, Major, Cameron and May – who failed in their attempts.

Denis MacShane, a Member of Parliament (MP), Minister of State for Europe under Tony Blair, and formerly a member of the Labor party said the population had had enough and wanted to turn the page of the Brexit.

A professor of the French School of Political Sciences was lukewarm about the deal.  The accord does not warrant taking the champagne out to celebrate, he said.  To lose one member of the EU is a loss, a form of “disintegration”

Reuters press agency announced that the British Parliament was expected to approve the deal. Both Houses will be recalled to vote on the decision on Dec. 30.  Johnson has a comfortable majority of 364 out of 650 in the House of Commons.  Many of the 200 Labor MPs will vote in favor of the agreement since they supported the post-Brexit trade deal from the beginning.

The European Parliament will make its decision known in 2021. The agreement text will have to be translated into 23 languages before being approved by the 27 EU member states.

As a 1,246-page agreement, it will take a while to fully comprehend the complex and lengthy text.

Professor Anand Menon, director of “The UK in a Changing World” Think Tank, commented that the lifting of tariffs and quotas will favor the EU since it is where it has a surplus. France has a surplus of 12 billion in her trade balance with the UK. The biggest amount is food products. 150,00 French companies export them to the UK.  Furthermore 80 percent of food and wine transit through France to reach Great Britain.

Quotas and tariffs will not be imposed on products. However, custom and various administrative formalities and procedures at the borders might become cumbersome for both sides. Times will be difficult in the short term for British companies and a cost of 4 percent of the GDP  is expected.

However, from now on the UK will be free to reach bilateral agreements with outside countries, such as New Zealand for the import of meat.

Tariffs will remain on the services . With the post-Brexit deal, the UK becomes a third country in regards to the EU,  80 percent of its economy is immaterial and tied to services and therefore not part of this post-Brexit deal. In order to exercise its financial activities  and access to the Single Market or the Customs Union, the  “passporting” (meaning selling financial services freely) will no longer be an option unless the UK joins the EEA, as Norway has done.

The main sticky point will be to preserve the level playing field and guarantee fair competition on both sides of the Channel.. This will be resolved by the principle of “managed divergence” the parties reserving the right to retaliate.  In other words any hope of creating a “Singapore on Tames “will be under strict scrutiny by the EU.

Dominic Raab, acabinet minister and conservative MP declared that the provisions included in the agreement  are not the end of the story. The “deal” is a living document that will need to be revisited in the future. The rules will  evolve.

As an example, a system has been put in place to settle litigations and will be re-examined in four years. Next February there will be more rules. Raab added that for the next five or six years, the UK will be working on re-establishing new ties with Europe.

On a positive note for Johnson: the UK will not be bound by judgments made by the European Court of Justice

The Irish border

The Irish premier Micheal Martin approved the fact that a hard border between the two Irelands was avoided ; The Common Travel Area with Great Britain will be maintained ; the deal preserves Ireland’s position in the Single Market, he said, it will avoid quotas and tariffs imposed on farmers, businesses and exporters.

Varadkar, another Irish politician seems also satisfied with the deal. Northern Ireland will remain effectively in the EU Single Market. Custom checks will take place in the Irish Sea instead of on land. Sea.

Still unknown but likely to emerge soon  is the question of Scotland. First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon lashed out at the agreement within minutes.  In 2016, 62 percent of Scottish people voted to remain in Europe.  The Flag of Scotland still flew above the Parliament.  Scotland will probably not wait for the spring to organize another referendum.

Fishing rights

A commercial fishing boat comes into port. Photo by Thomas Millot on Unsplash

Johnson declared, “We have regained the control of our waters.  Although it represents a minute part of the GDP of both sides , this issue occupied a major place in the negotiations because it is essentially the symbol of the British sovereignty.  Barnier knows a lot of about fishing rights.  He was minister of Agriculture and Fishing from 2007 to 2009.

There will be “fishing committees” enforcing control. Johnson demanded that 80 percent of the proceeds from the fishing industry be returned to the UK. He achieved 25 percent, during a transition period of five and a half years.  He will grant 100 millions of UK pounds sterling to help the fishermen.

The fish catch by the Europeans last year was worth 650 million Euros last year. The British waters are richer in fish population than the European waters. The Brits don’t eat much fish. They sell back most of their catch to the EU. During his speech Johnson was wearing a tie covered with fish.

The devil is in the details and annoying changes are going to take place. There will be no more mutual recognition of professional qualifications. British doctors, architects, veterinarians, engineers will have to seek new certification.

Freedom of movement will disappear, and a visa will have to be obtained for a stay longer than 90 days. An EU pet passport will cease to be valid.

The Erasmus student exchange program will not include the UK any more. Instead of a fee of 170 Euros paid to  European universities, foreign students studying in the UK will be charged tens of thousands pounds. To work in England, a permit will be required. In other words a post-Brexit deal will not be “business as usual.”  There will be many changes.

On the last day of 2020, Sky News announced that Johnson’s father, Stanley Johnson, was asking for French nationality.  He is French on his wife’s side and very much a Europhile. In a book coming out later in January, author Christian de Bourbon-Parme has written a biography of Boris Johnson.

Surprisingly, we learn that his name was not Boris but Alexander, that he lived in Belgium when his father was working for the European Commission in 1973. In the book, Johnson is depicted as a person full of humanity. He always loved Europe and was very attached to it — but not the EU.

In spite of of the enthusiastic attitude of the British Prime Minister, the mood was rather somber on both sides of the Channel.

Michel Barnier commented ” There was no winner in this deal. We all lost,” while Ursula von der Leyen added a lyrical note, saying, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

Editor’s Note: This is the opinion of Nicole Prévost Logan.

Nicole Prévost Logan

About the author: Nicole Prévost Logan divides her time between Essex and Paris, spending summers in the former and winters in the latter. She writes a regular column for us from her Paris home where her topics will include politics, economy, social unrest — mostly in France — but also in other European countries. She also covers a variety of art exhibits and the performing arts in Europe. Logan is the author of ‘Forever on the Road: A Franco-American Family’s Thirty Years in the Foreign Service,’ an autobiography of her life as the wife of an overseas diplomat, who lived in 10 foreign countries on three continents. Her experiences during her foreign service life included being in Lebanon when civil war erupted, excavating a medieval city in Moscow and spending a week under house arrest in Guinea.

A la Carte: Lee’s Last Recipe for 2020, Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon

Lee White

I have a good kitchen in my condo although not as nice as the one I had in Old Lyme, where my husband knocked down walls between two rooms, then got rid of a hallway. When he was done, and with help from a carpenter neighbor, that kitchen was 24 ft. by 17 ft., the center island could hold 10 people, my 42-inch gas stove had six burners and there was a separate pantry that held all my ingredients.

Today my stove is electric and I was sure I would ruin my pots and pans, but I have not. It is just a galley kitchen, and most of my foodstuff takes up two-thirds of the hall closet.

But I have lots of kitchen counter space, the kitchen sink is almost as big as the one I had in Old Lyme and I am able, on a shelf under the bay window, to have all my small appliances close by: a big KitchenAid mixer, a Ninja that purees in a fraction of a second, a big and a little Cuisinart, a Rival Crock-Pot, two little grinders (one for spices, one for coffee) and one that has become a favorite, a 6-quart Instant Pot. It sat in its own box for a year, until a friend in Groton came to my house and showed me how to use it. 

Last week, I found some stew meat in the freezer and decided to make my stew in the Instant Pot. Originally, it makes a big mess in the kitchen and takes hours of prep and, sautéeing in a large Le Creuset first on the stovetop and later in the oven. Then it takes more time afterward to reduce the sauce. This time it took less than an hour, and most of that time was allowing the IP to get to pressure. The cooking took 35 minutes. In one pot!

Here’s the recipe:

Beef Bourguignon in the Instant Pot

A delicious dish of Beef Bourguignon. Photo by Slayschips. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Yield: Serves 8 to 10 people 

2 pounds of beef (bought as stew beef or cut from a chuck roast into 2-inch chunks)
Olive oil for sautéeing in the Instant Pot
Flour with salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced
16 ounces sliced mushrooms
2 cans low-sodium beef broth
1 broth can of fairly good red wine
1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed in one 2 tablespoons cold water

Open your Instant Pot and turn it to Sauté and add olive oil.  Place flour, salt and pepper in a large soup bowl. In batches, toss beef and sauté, adding more oil as needed. Place sautéed beef in a large bowl. Add onion, mushrooms and garlic, stirring, until translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Cancel Sauté. Pour in beef broth and red wine and stir. Add beef and stir. Turn lid on and turn on Pressure Cook to 35 minutes. Go watch television or read a book.

It will take maybe 30 minutes to start to Pressure Cook. When it is done, use a bottom of a wooden spoon to allow the steam to disappear.

When you open the lid ladle the vegetables and beef into a big bowl. Turn the Instant Pot to Sauté. When it gets hot, stir in the cornstarch and cold water and stir until thickened. Turn Cancel and add back the beef and vegetables. Season to taste.

Serve over mashed potatoes or egg noodles.

About the author: Lee White has been writing about restaurants and cooking since 1976 and has been extensively published in the Worcester (Mass.) Magazine, The Day, Norwich Bulletin, and Hartford Courant. She currently writes Nibbles and a cooking column called A La Carte for LymeLine.com and the Shore Publishing and the Times newspapers, both of which are owned by The Day. She was a resident of Old Lyme for many years but now lives in Groton, Conn.