April 11, 2021

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.

A la Carte: All About Apricots … in a Pie … for Christmas

Lee White

With Christmas just around the corner, we are probably looking toward another different holiday. In my heart of heart, I believe that our next festive holiday, if not Easter, will be Memorial Day weekend with backyard barbecues and parades with marching bands.

I really do believe this.

In the meantime, many of us have been cooking and baking for Christmas. Perhaps dinner will be a baked ham with pineapple and brown sugar, scalloped potatoes, Brussels sprouts with bacon and, of course, pies. My friend Jean Howard, whose son, Lee Howard is my New London Times’ editor, makes an apricot pie that should be awarded medals. She evidently made one for Thanksgiving and Lee and his Libby saved a piece for me.

Jean explained that the recipe is simple, but the dried apricots are important. They must be California apricots, she explained, not the Turkish ones. I looked up the difference. The former are dried whole, without the pits, while the California ones are halved, less sweet but have are more “apricot” flavor. I found them at Trader Joe’s. 

I had never made a dried fruit pie, but I have hydrated fruits for other recipes (and for braising) and love the very intense flavor that hydrating brings to food. I also looked into other recipes and added a few fillips to Jean’s recipe. And, for me, I needed a little more sugar.

I also remembered that my friend, Rose Levy Beranbaum, also reduced fruit liquid to some pies. I also added some grated lemon and a whisper of pure almond extract.

Below is Jean Howard’s recipe for one of the best recipes you will ever make. 

Photo by Maša Žekš on Unsplash.

Jean Howard’s Apricot Pie

Adapted with love from me and Nick Malgieri

1 pound California (or slab) apricots, diced into ½ –inch dice
3 cups water
¾ cups sugar
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon grated lemon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ teaspoon pure almond extract
1 prepared dough for a 8- to 9-inch pie*

Cook apricots and water to a boil in a medium unreactive pan; bring to a boil, remove from the heat and cool for about 2 hours.

Transfer apricots and water to a bowl. Set a strainer over the saucepan in which the apricots soaked and drain the apricots well, letting the liquid fall back into then pan

Combine sugar and flour and whisk the mixture into the apricot liquid. Place pan on low heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a low boil. Stir in zest, butter and almond extract. Pour liquid over apricots and allow to cool.

When ready to assemble and bake the pie, set a rack on the lowest level in the oven and preheat to 375. Roll the dough around the pie pan, saving some for some lattice, if you like. Put the pie in the oven and decrease the temperature to 350 degrees. Bake until filling is simmering, about 45 minutes. 

*Seems like everyone is using a prepared dough these days, but if you would like my recipe, which my late friend, Deb Jensen, gave me, write me at leeawhite@aol.com.

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 with The English Lady for December: “The Last Month so be the Best One”  

Winter is here … so what to do in the garden?

Hello everyone; so much to do and so little time in this holiday season.

Remember to breathe, stretch and take time out for yourself each day. On a pleasant December day, you can be in the garden and you can still plant your spring bulbs. The earth is still workable so enjoy the fresh air and the gentle exercise to work off your Thanksgiving feast and before you indulge in the Holiday festivities. 

Think spring … but plant in winter!  Photo by Sarah Mitchell-Baker on Unsplash.

Plant the bulbs three times as deep as they measure upright.  For example, the Daffodils should be planted nine inches down below the frost line. I suggested last month for you to have a bag of composted manure in the shed or garage to spread around the bulb area after planting.   However, if you do not have the manure right now, then when the bulbs peak up from the soil in spring, you can obtain the composted manure and sprinkle it around the emerging bulbs.

At this moment, I am sitting in my armchair with a delicious cup of Earl Grey tea and from the kitchen I am inhaling the air fragrant with cloves.  This is an old family tradition that each December I fill my great grandmother’s brass saucepan with water – add whole cloves – bring it to the boil, then turn it down to simmer.  The fragrance is wonderful memory of Christmas in the kitchen in gran’s thatched roof cottage on the grounds of our plant nursery in England. 

Back on this side of The Pond, in early winter before heavy snow falls or even on a sunny day with snow on the ground, there are construction projects that can be done – patios, decks, ponds, and dry stonewalls to repair and build. By accomplishing these tasks in winter, you will be ready to plant in spring. 

With that being said, if you are not into heavy work, I suggest you call a landscape company that you trust to give you an estimate for your project. In fact, if you would like get in touch with my son Ian, at LandscapesByIan.com for an estimate or a consult on design for the spring. As Ian tells me that there is a scarcity of building supplies because of the pandemic, which might hinder your projects for your garden, unless you act right now.

Snow fell this week (the photo above shows Lyme Street on Thursday, Dec. 17) so I hope you have the snow shovel handy or perhaps you require a new one? If so, buy a lightweight wood handled and plastic shovel instead of heavy metal. When the storm has passed and you ready for cleanup, don’t load the shovel heavily, scoop lighter loads. You will get done faster and with less aches and pains, or chance of injury.

If you are not able to clear the snow yourself from driveways, walkways and steps; I’m sure there are some teenagers in your neighborhood who would be willing to help you out. We need the moisture of the snow for the soil and our plants and  hope we also get a good amount of rain to carry us through to spring.  

If you have not already done so, mulch and manure around the trunks of roses, mound at least six to nine inches up the stems. As I mentioned earlier, buy a few extra bags of mulch and topsoil and store them in the garage or shed.  

Tie down the long whip like rose canes of climbers to supporting structures so they are not broken off in strong winds. If the shrub roses are planted in an exposed area, cover them with a rose cone or if they are larger, cover lightly with burlap until April.  

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

I just walked into my living room to check on my Amaryllis bulbs – these particular bulbs have striped blooms (see photo above.)  Amaryllis can be enjoyed for a long time with little effort.  As the flower buds begin to open, remove the pollen bearing anthers with tweezers, before they begin to shed, this will add days to the flowering period and remember to water.

Once the bloom is finished, deadhead it, remove the bulb from the soil and let it dry off. Store in a cool dark basement or some other cool dry place at about 55 degrees for ten weeks without watering.  When you want to start it again pot up the bulb tightly in fresh potting soil and begin to water again.  By the way, Amaryllis is poisonous so do not let children or animals eat the flowers.

Outside my kitchen window I can see the holly bush with lovely red berries, some of which I cut to decorate the house.  Holly is a good weather predictor; few berries mean a mild winter, whilst many berries denote a harsh one.  My red and black friends, the ladybugs, have begun to come indoors, earning their keep by consuming white fly and aphids, which often gather on houseplants.   

Photo by Jonathan Diemel on Unsplash.

In my home,  I am planting up my first group of paper white narcissus this week to get a head start on bloom in a few weeks.  I store two dozen bulbs in the vegetable keeper of the refrigerator, away from the food.  I plant half of them now and store the rest in a paper bag in the refrigerator, away from food, to plant later. With this method I will have continuous bloom and fragrance through the winter months. By keeping the bulbs in the refrigerator, they stay dormant, until planted. 

I plant my bulbs in pebbles, with just enough pebbles to anchor the bulbs and enough depth for the roots to grow. Cram a lot of bulbs in the pot so they are touching – the more bulbs, the more vibrant the display. Make sure the bulb pots do not have drainage holes; if they do, cover the holes with shards of broken pots.  

I place the planted bulbs in a dark cool room, keeping the pebbles moist at all times. When the shoots of the narcissus are about six inches tall I take the vases into another cool room on the south side of the house. I place them about six feet away from the window in indirect light where they remain, keeping the pebbles moist until the buds appear. When the buds appear and the stems are about 12 inches tall, bring them into the area of the house to be enjoyed. Still placed about six foot from a sunny window and away from draughts and heat. Keep the soil or pebbles moist.

I know that the stems of paper whites get leggy and often topple over. My tall glass vases do not allow this to occur but if you don’t have tall containers, here is a suggestion to keep the plant upright. An English gardening colleague of mine gave me his ‘gin tip’.  He pours a dessertspoon of gin (not the expensive stuff) on the soil or pebbles around the plants every couple of weeks after he has watered them. This limits the height of the stems so they do not collapse and the gin does not affect the bloom.

On the subject of alcohol, another tip my grandmother whispered is to add a few drops of brandy or port to invigorate potpourri that has gone stale. Personally, I pour a few drops of either lemon oil or lavender oil on the potpourri. 

I know that many of you spread salt on walkways, driveways to thaw ice. However, the salt ruins plants, when it seeps into borders.  Use an alternative like unscented kitty litter or sand that works well. In spring, just hose off steps and paths; the sand and kitty litter are good additions to your soil.

There is still time to prune dead or diseased branches from established deciduous trees and shrubs, its easier task to do at this time of year, as you are able to see what needs to be done without foliage obstructing your view. If you would like to have a fall pruning, call a reputable arborist to give you a quote and whose team will come and use their practiced eyes to give you a great result.    

Last winter, squirrels, raccoons or whoever, got into the birdseed in the milk shed.  I bought out the supermarket’s supply of cayenne pepper that week and sprinkled it everywhere to keep the marauders at bay. This trick will also keep those critters out of your garbage. I also sprinkle cayenne pepper in the bird seeders for the feeders and on the suet blocks – the heat of the pepper does not affect the birds – they do not feel the heat.   

To keep moths and bugs away from cupboards and in clothes, collect some remaining herbs still available perhaps sage and lavender. Tie them into bunches with string and slip over a hanger in your closet or in drawers. I put bunches of dried sage in my closets and drawers just this week. Insects do not like fragrance and will keep away. 

The few bags of soil, mulch and soil in the garage or shed will be useful after a heavy frost. Often the frost heaves plants above the soil and exposes the roots. The plants roots can be covered and protected with the soil and mulch, until they can be resettled again when spring arrives.   

When a plant is knocked askew by wind, ice or snow, do not be in a hurry to straighten it, quite often the plant will bounce back on its own. However, uprooted trees or shrubs should be straightened immediately, staked and mulched, If the ground is frozen, cover the exposed roots with topsoil, and mulch and reset the plant in the spring. When snow is heavy on the branches of the evergreens gently brush the snow off with a broom.  Gently being the operative word.   

When you receive or buy cut flowers during the holiday you want them to last. To accomplish this, vases need to be squeaky clean.  If there is a build up of dirty residue that regular soap and water wont budge, try adding a little coarse sand to dislodge the mucky residue then use soap and rinse well.  For a narrow- or globe-shaped vase, use a bottlebrush. 

Photo by Jessica Johnston on Unsplash.

          

Poinsettias – I get lot of questions about how to keep them alive.  

A close friend has kept the same poinsettia alive for eight years. After blooming, she places the plant in a cool room watering when the top of the soil feels dry, then in late May puts it, in its container in the garden. In September she brings it into her porch and begins gentle watering. 

By November, the blooms appear for yet another holiday season. A combination I enjoy is poinsettias in a container with ivy and forced spring bulbs.  

I was always curious as to how Poinsettias got their name. Last year I heard an old story on that very subject. It goes like this:

In a tiny village in Mexico, the tradition on Christmas Eve was to put gifts before the Crèche at the Church.  A poor young boy, who had nothing to offer, went outside and knelt in the snow praying for a gift to give the newborn king.  Where he knelt, a beautiful plant with vivid scarlet leaves appeared beside him and the boy joyfully presented his gift to the Christ Child.  Thus, Mexicans call the plant Flor de la Noche Buena (Flower of the Holy Night), as many believe the plant resembles the Star of Bethlehem.  Dr Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first minister to Mexico in the 1830’s brought the plant to the United States and it is for him that the plant is now named.’

On a delicious note to end my tips this – I present my recipe for English trifle – a simply scrumptious dessert at Christmas!

ENGLISH TRIFLE

This dessert is made of layers, made over a three-day period; it requires this length of time for each layer to set. I use a nine- inch tall glass bowl, as the appearance of this dessert is as mouth-watering as the taste.  

Ingredients:

2 pints of strawberries or raspberries  (you can use frozen strawberries or raspberries, and omit the sugar)
2 tablespoons of sugar on fresh fruit
1-package ladyfingers or sponge cake or pound cake
1-cup Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry (omit the sherry if you do not want the alcohol) instead use water to make the Jell-O
1 small package strawberry or raspberry-flavored Jell-O
1 small package of vanilla custard mix or Birds English custard (see note)
1 pint whipped cream

Combine washed and drained fresh strawberries/raspberries and sugar in a bowl and set aside at room temperature for about an hour.

In a 9-inch glass bowl, cover the bottom of the bowl with ladyfingers or sponge cake or pound cake, cut into 2-inch slices.  Drain the strawberries, and reserve the juice.  Cover the cake with the fruit.

Add sherry to the reserved fruit juice to make one cup.  Prepare Jell-O using the fruit juice-sherry mixture as the cold-water part of the Jell-O mix, and hot water for the other part.  Pour the Jell-O over the fruit and cake layer, then refrigerate until it sets (usually about two hours or overnight).

When the Jell-O is set, prepare the custard and spread over the cake/fruit/Jell-O layer.  Refrigerate until custard is set.  

The day you serve the trifle spread a thick layer of unsweetened whipped cream over the top.    

If you are serving more people, repeat the cake, fruit, and Jell-O layers and top with the whipped cream.  

The nine-inch bowl serves 6 to 8.

Note: I use Birds English Custard mix, which can be found in specialty food stores and most supermarkets.  

Have a wonderful Holiday and I’ll see you in your garden in January.  Be safe and well and please follow the safety rules of wearing masks, being socially distant and wash hands.

Maureen Haseley-Jones is “The English Lady.”

About the author: Maureen Haseley-Jones 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

Reading Uncertainly? Need a Little Light Reading for These Strange Times? Then Consider ‘Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen’ by P. G. Wodehouse

What can we do when we are besieged by a pandemic, offspring reluctant to visit, political chaos, advancing old age, and weather that no longer permits porch luncheons in a toasty sun?

Bertram “Bertie” Wooster, the English gentleman hero of many of P. G. Wodehouse’s novels about life in England many years back, had the answer: Try “the early dinner, the restful spell with a good book or the crossword puzzle, and so to bed”.

Off I went to the Lyme Library, shoving all my serious stuff under the bed. As Mr. Wooster notes in this novel, “ . . . like all village lending libraries, this one had not bothered much about keeping itself up to date,” so I went back to this Wodehouse tale from 1974. Lyme’s Library is far better endowed!

In Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen Bertie is enticed to visit an older aunt in an English village, when he becomes hopelessly enmeshed with an ex-girlfriend, her gentleman friend, her antiquated father, a cast of outrageous characters, plus, of course, a black cat!

And trying to unravel all this mess is Jeeves, Bertie’s “man”, the calmest and most highly-read person in this ménage.

When Bertie says something outrageous, Jeeves responds, “Indeed, Sir?”

When Bertie stumbles on a valid insight, Jeeves says “Precisely, Sir, Rem acu tetegisti. (Latin for “you have hit the nail on the head” – yes, I had to Google that one!). Bertie’s open-mouth reply to Jeeves’ erudition: ‘Eh?”

What comes out of each character’s mouth seldom corresponds to what is in that mind, creating a steady stream of hilarity. Here are some Bertie-isms from just two pages:

“ . . . managing to free my tongue from the uvula with which it had become entangled, I found speech, as I dare say those Darien fellows did eventually.”

“She uttered a sound rather like an elephant taking its foot out of a mud hole in a Burmese teak forest.”

“My impulse was to tell her Tolstoy was off his onion.”

“She disappeared like an eel into the mud.”

“I was reft of speech!”

“the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as someone called them.”

To Bertie, three in the afternoon is “three pip emma.”

My escape from reality ended too quickly.

I may seek what other Wodehouse books Teresa might be hiding in Lyme . . .

Editor’s Note:Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen’ by P. G. Wodehouse was published by Barkie-Jenkins, London 1974.

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

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two parts of a highly topical essay titled, “A Primer on Vaccines,” by Thomas D. Gotowka. Part 2 considers the complexities of reaching vaccine distribution. The author’s goal is that the reader obtains a fundamental understanding of the vaccine approval process, and recognizes that Americans will be provided a vaccine that is safe and effective. Read the first part of the essay at this link.

The Good News First:

On Dec. 10, an independent Advisory Panel to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), comprised of scientists and medical experts, voted overwhelmingly to endorse Pfizer’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) request. This brings the US to the threshold of a massive vaccination effort against a virus that has now killed over 300,000 Americans.

The Panel concluded that the vaccine appears safe and effective for emergency use in adults, and teenagers, 16 years, and older. Specifically, the Panel ruled that the vaccine’s potential benefits outweigh its risks. 

A day later, FDA staff scientists, as expected, corroborated the Panel’s endorsement, and “greenlighted” use of the Pfizer vaccine.

UPS and FedEx trucks left Pfizer’s Michigan facility at Kalamazoo Sunday morning (Dec. 13), and began delivering the vaccine to nearly 150 distribution centers across the United States; the states began receiving the vaccine early this week. Moderna’s EUA request will be considered on Dec. 17. 

The Panel’s endorsement came, despite allergic reactions observed in two individuals who received the vaccine after Britain launched their emergency vaccination program. A Panel member, Dr. Paul Offit of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said, “There are still some unknowns, but in an emergency, the question is whether you know enough.”

Pfizer has said they have seen no signs of allergic reactions in their trial.

The President-elect called the FDA decision, “A

bright light in a needlessly dark time.”

Distribution Factors:
i) Cold Storage

Although all three of the leading vaccine candidates (i.e., Pfizer, Moderna, and Astra Zeneca) must be kept at low temperatures. Pfizer’s vaccine presents some challenges; and must be kept at minus 94 degrees F, or lower. 

ii) Quantity of Vaccines Available/Number of Doses Required

Both the Pfizer and the prospective Moderna vaccines require two doses, three or four weeks apart, respectively.

Because the results from clinical trials were so favorable, both Pfizer and Moderna began production and warehousing of their vaccines in advance of FDA approval. Pfizer has said it will have about 25 million doses of the two-shot vaccine for the U.S. by the end of December.

Initial supplies will be limited and reserved primarily for health care workers and nursing home residents, with other vulnerable groups next in line until the vaccine becomes more widely available, which will probably not happen until the spring. Moderna will have 20 million doses available. These have been very fluid predictions. 

Distribution Plans:

Last September, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), released a plan for distribution of vaccines across the United States. HHS has contracted with about a dozen pharmacy chains to administer the vaccination programs. 

CVS and Walgreens will be involved in the early stages of the rollout to help vaccinate residents of long-term care facilities. Other participating pharmacies are expected to start later, when more doses become available. Working with pharmacies, most of which already have local patient relationships, will facilitate community-based vaccination programs. 

As in mitigation, the states will have a very large role in vaccination. Governor Lamont presented CT’s plan for distribution of the vaccine on October 3rd. CT’s goal is to have everyone in the state “who wants a dose” to be vaccinated by early fall of 2021. The plan was developed by his Vaccine Advisory Group, with oversight from CT DPH. CT DPH has also been actively working with local health departments to organize CT’s distribution and vaccination plan. 

Preparing to vaccinate. Photo by Kristine Wook on Unsplash.

From Here to Immunity:

The World Health Organization has indicated that 70 percent of the population of the United States must be immunized to reach “herd immunity; but because the vaccines are not effective all of the time, the threshold would likely need to be nearly 80 percent, in order to reach a 70 percent rate of successful vaccination.

However, we also know that, even assuming full participation, and full compliance with the two- dose regimen, it will not be until the end of 2021, or early 2022, before we have been able to vaccinate that much of the U. S. population. 

During that extended period, Americans will continue to die unless we stop the spread by simply observing the behaviors that our medical and public health experts have stressed for nearly a year: wear a mask, wash your hands frequently, disinfect common surfaces, avoid crowds, especially indoors, and keep a safe space between yourself and other people who are not from your own household.

I believe that individuals can assume that immunity will occur about two weeks after the second dose of the vaccine. 

Pfizer has said it will have about 25 million doses of the two-shot vaccine for the U.S. by the end of December. Initial supplies will be limited and reserved primarily for health care workers and nursing home residents, with other groups next in line after the vaccine becomes more widely available, which will probably not happen until the spring.

Unanswered Questions:

We do not yet know how long vaccines will confer immunity. The Panel stressed that, although the vaccine’s efficacy is very high, and 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.

The vaccine trials excluded pregnant or breastfeeding women; and largely excluded children under 12 years old.  Consequently, it is not yet clear when the immunizations would be safely available for them. 

Pfizer will provide six months’ follow-up data about safety and side effects as it pursues full approval. “Americans want us to do a scientific review, but I think they also want us to make sure we’re not wasting time on paperwork, in lieu of moving forward to the decision,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said before the Pfizer EUA review meetings.

Was it Too Fast?  

This was not “miraculous.” Rather, “the speed is a reflection of years of work that went before,” stated Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Long before COVID-19 was even on the radar, the groundwork was laid in large part by two different streams of research, one at the NIH, and the other at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition, scientists had already learned a great deal about other coronaviruses from prior SARS and MERS outbreaks. 

“Science and data guided the FDA’s decision,” Commissioner Hahn recently said. “We worked quickly, only because of the urgency of this pandemic, not because of any unwarranted external pressure.” (see below.)

What Happens Now?

The FDA and CDC will monitor the use of the vaccine long after its release, and conduct “active surveillance” of the health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities who were early recipients of the vaccine. The purpose of this monitoring is to identify the rare side effects and adverse reactions that were not seen, even in the very large clinical trials conducted by Pfizer. 

Further, because the trials excluded some groups who might have different types of side effects (above), monitoring enables an additional review of those excluded trial groups who actually then received the vaccine as distribution expanded, presumably with medical advice.

Some Final Thoughts:

America’s systems worked. Teams of scientists and medical experts made vaccine development their highest priority early in this pandemic; and America’s highly respected public health agencies, which include NIH, FDA, and CDC, also stepped up, and acted as though we were in the midst of this century’s greatest threat to the nation’s health. 

This was “deep state”, with all its expertise, moving ahead at optimum speed, despite an Executive Branch throwing brickbats, and unable to acknowledge the growing number of dead Americans. 

Again, we need to develop education and communication strategies to overcome “vaccine hesitancy” (sometimes called anti-vaccination or anti-vax”), if we are ever to reach the threshold required for “herd immunity”.

There has been some concern that vaccine approval was accelerated to fulfill a political goal; and, unfortunately, the outgoing Administration did make threats regarding the timing of the approval.

The Commissioner had already stated “Let me be clear; our career scientists have to make the decision, and they will take the time that’s needed to make the right call”.

After the Panel’s endorsement was announced, The President-elect said “I want to make it clear to the public: You should have confidence in this. There is no political influence. These are first-rate scientists, taking their time, looking at all of the elements that need to be looked at,” Biden told reporters Friday at an event introducing several members of his Cabinet and White House staff.

I am concerned that maskless states like South Dakota, who was content with last week’s 47 percent test positivity rate, will make no effort to educate and encourage vaccination.

The new Administration will also need to deal with the availability of therapeutics for Americans. Some of these experimental drugs, which have been occasionally used on political celebrities, are in such short supply, that some states have set up lotteries to determine which patients would receive a dose.

In closing, we should acknowledge the tens of thousands of volunteers who participated in clinical trials. Pfizer had 44,000; Moderna, 30,000; and Astra Zeneca, 23,000.

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: Happy Hanukkah! Enjoy Latkes with Lee

Lee White

It could be old age, or COVID, or rehabilitation with my new hip or nothing at all. But it feels as if my wonderful daughter was here for two days instead of two weeks. In any case, my new hip is perfect. My hip has given me a new lease on life. I was on my walker for a few days, onto my cane the next week and driving on the third. 

Thanksgiving was as perfect as that holiday can be without any of my family members together. My next-door neighbors and I shared a traditional meal and, for some reason, everything tasted better than it had been in other times. And, of course, there were the sandwiches. Wished I had not tossed off the stuffing by mistake.

My longest drive was to Madison, to see my sweet friends Lisa and Eric and their dog Lucy. We ate outside on a lovely day and when it got a little cooler, Eric plugged into a heat lamp. We ate Lisa’s quiche, roasted potatoes dusted with truffle oil and a bright, green salad of which I couldn’t have enough. Lisa says it is a white balsamic she gets from Fairway. Knowing her, a bottle will be in my mailbox soon.

Now the rest of the holidays are almost here.

Actually, Hanukkah started yesterday, Dec. 10, and so it is time for latkes.

Here is a recipe I have used for years. The recipe calls for using a hand grater for the onions and the onions, but I use a food processor. The only difficult part is wringing out the potato and onion water, but it is a small matter when you get to eat them.

And, by the way, latkes could be for any holiday, or no holiday itself, especially if you add these toppings from the new Food Magazine:

  • pastrami, warmed sauerkraut and spicy mustard
  • egg salad with chopped chives, dill and salmon roe
  • hummus, chopped Kalamata olives and chopped parsley
  • thinly sliced fennel and lemon juice
  • ricotta, a pinch of cayenne and honey
  • gravlax and crème fraiche
  • warmed refried beans, shredded, pickled jalapenos, sour cream and thinly sliced scallion.

Or, at our house, two big bowls of applesauce and sour cream!

My parents told me that whether people eat latkes with apple sauce or sour cream depends on whether their ancestors are from the (richer) German-Spanish-Austrian (apple sauce) or the less-classy Polish or Russian relatives (sour cream). Mine are from the less-classy relatives, but I love and serve both.

Latkes are traditionally served during Hanukkah … but Lee White says they can be served at any time! Photo by Mark Mitchell – Flickr: Potato Latkes, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32143883

Latkes

Yield: serves 8 to 10

6 to 8 large russet potatoes
1 medium onion
2 large eggs
1/4  cup matzoh meal or flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
vegetable oil
salt and pepper, to taste

Peel potatoes and onions. Cut them into chunks that will feed in the feeding tube of the food processor. With the grating disk, grate potatoes and onions into food processor. Place grated potatoes and onions into a colander and push as much liquid out. Then (here’s the hard part), put grated potatoes and onion into a clean dish towel and squeeze, squeeze and squeeze. 

Put squeezed potatoes and onions into a bowl. Mix eggs, flour or matzoh meal and baking powder into the potatoes and onions. Add salt and pepper. 

Heat about an inch of oil into a skillet until fairly hot. Drop tablespoons of mixture into the skillet and fry, turning once. (I sometimes flatten the pancakes a bit.) Drain on paper towels.

You can keep the pancakes warm in a 250 degree oven until ready to serve, but I find that people want to eat them as soon as they come out of the skillet and drained.

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.

The Movie Man: ‘Jingle Jangle, A Christmas Journey – Perhaps a ‘Cult Classic,’ But No Way a ‘True Classic’

Kevin Ganey is ‘The Movie Man.’

While Jingle Jangle A Christmas Journey provides spectacular visual effects, catchy songs, and lovable characters, I fear it will go down in film history as only a cult classic that is adequate at best.

The reason for this being just another Christmas film is the plot: Journey Jangle, granddaughter of legendary toymaker/inventor Jeronicus Jangle, seeks to restore faith in her grandfather, who has become disenchanted after his apprentice Gustafson had stolen his ideas decades earlier.

This is a recycled plot that has been used on a myriad of productions over the years. I could see each detail coming around its respective corner.

For the most part, the casting was great, except for one character: our antagonist, Gustafson, played by legendary comedian Keegan-Michael Key. Because Key has left such a wonderful impression as a goofy comedian, it was difficult for me to accept him portraying a driven villain.

While there are plenty of comedians who have triumphed in dramatic roles (think Robin Williams and Peter Sellers), I do not believe this is the role for which he will achieve that feat.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed watching this flick, and I am sure that there are many who will want to screen it again each holiday season, but I have learned there is a clear difference between enjoying a movie, which is based on reaction, and praising it, which is rooted in artistic criticism.

I elaborated on this in one of my earlier reviews for Hubie Halloween.

Years from now, critics will not lump it together with other Christmas classics such as It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Elf, Home Alone, or even Die Hard.

So for those seeking simple entertainment, indulge … but for those seeking something bigger, look elsewhere!

About the Author: Though no longer a resident of Lyme, Kevin knows he can never sever his roots to the tree of his identity. When not attending to his job in Boston, he is committed to ensuring a better grasp of current (and past) releases of cinema to his home community as he strives to leave his own mark in the same field that has always been his guide to understanding life. If you enjoy his published reviews here on LymeLine.com, follow him on his new website at ‘The City of Cinema and read more of his unique insights into entertainment.

A View from My Porch: A Primer on Vaccines: Part 1; “Still Running to Daylight”

When will the first COVID-19 vaccine be given in the US? Great Britain began their vaccination program, Tuesday, Dec. 8. Photo by CDC on Unsplash.

This essay begins an examination of the development and distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States.

Part 1 reviews the key terminology that one may encounter in the media; and the intense evaluation and approval process that is required for these vaccines before they can be used on Americans. I also identify the important developers and discuss their progress.  

My goal is that, after these two essays, the reader has a basic understanding of the vaccine development process, and recognizes that Americans will be provided vaccines that are safe and effective. Part 2 will cover the complexities of distribution.

The Current Environment:

At the end of November, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published its national “ensemble forecast”, which predicted that COVID deaths in the United States will surge to between 294,000 and 321,000 deaths by Christmas. Further, CDC Director Robert R. Redfield stated that “this winter could be ‘the nation’s most difficult time in our public health history.” 

Nevertheless, there is some very good news ahead. Teams of scientists and medical experts in the United States and Europe made vaccine development their highest priority early in this pandemic and vaccines are on the near horizon. Note that the speed at which these teams progressed from the first cases identified in the United States to vaccine delivery, a little less than a year, is an extraordinary accomplishment.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost infectious disease expert, recently estimated that the first American vaccinations may occur before the end of December, and then continue through the end of 2021. 

The CDC’s advisory panel of medical experts has drafted recommendations regarding groups considered high priority for vaccination. Clearly, there’s more to come on this, but expect that higher priority will be given to those who face the greatest risk: first responders and frontline healthcare workers first; then, residents of long-term care facilities, the elderly, and those with underlying medical conditions; and finally, those involved in essential and critical industries.

Admiral Brett Giroir of the U.S. Public Health Service, stated, “We have to immunize for impact; the rest of America will get it in the second, or third quarter of 2021, but we can maximize our impact right now.” 

Some Important Terminology:

An “ensemble forecast” (above) is a sophisticated analytic technique that combines several independently-developed forecasts into one single, aggregate prediction; which increases the forecast’s reliability and statistical power.  It is similar to a “meta-analysis,” which also combines results from several independent studies to determine overall trends. Note that these both are widely-accepted methods of analysis, and not “smoke and mirrors.”

A “vaccine” stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies in a manner that’s similar to being naturally exposed to the disease; and so, immunity to that disease develops. Vaccines may contain the same causal agents that produce the disease; but in either weakened or dead form (e.g., measles vaccine contains the measles virus.) Some vaccines may contain only a part of the microorganism’s genetic or physical structure. 

“Immunity” is simply protection from an infectious disease. If you are immune to a disease, you are able to resist it, and can be exposed without becoming infected. 

Vaccine “efficacy” is a measure of how well a vaccine works to prevent disease among vaccinated persons, as compared to those who were not vaccinated, but in well-controlled clinical trials.  A 95 percent efficacy means that 95 out of 100 people who received the vaccine in that clinical trial were protected. Another important measure is “effectiveness”, or how well the vaccine actually achieved protection in the real world, with all its vagaries. This may be a lower number.

“Clinical trials” are studies performed by scientists with human subjects, and are aimed at assessing a medical, surgical, or behavioral intervention.

Achieving “herd immunity” is the goal of these vaccine programs; and will occur when a “significant” portion of the population (the “herd”) has been vaccinated. 

Vaccine experts say that the threshold at which enough people have been vaccinated or naturally infected by the virus to reach a herd immunity, won’t be achieved if only 40 or 50 percent of the population receives the vaccine. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), herd immunity against measles requires that 95 percent of the population be vaccinated; for polio, the threshold is closer to 80 percent. They have also stated that 70 percent of the population will need to be immunized to reach “herd immunity” for COVID-19. 

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER):

The CDER is the nation’s primary watchdog for vaccine development. 

Before a drug or a vaccine can be tested in people, the pharmaceutical company must perform laboratory and animal tests to determine how the proposed vaccine works, and whether it’s likely to be safe and work well in humans. If those results show promise, CDER will then authorize a series of tests in people.

Once the test vaccine has been cleared for human tests, at least three additional phases of clinical trials are conducted on volunteers to test vaccine efficacy, determine appropriate dosage, and to assess adverse side effects, etc. The last phase may involve a test group comprising thousands of human volunteers. Note that the Center doesn’t actually test drugs or vaccines itself.

An expert team of physicians, statisticians, chemists, pharmacologists, and other scientists reviews the company’s data; and if this independent review establishes that the vaccine’s health benefits outweigh its risks, the vaccine is approved for use. 

After approval, the FDA will continue to closely monitor the vaccine; and may review batches of the vaccine through the production process, and evaluate the facilities for safety. The FDA will also continue to track vaccine reactions and side effects.

COVID-19 Vaccine Developers:

There are currently three leading candidates competing for FDA approval. The front runners include:

  1. Pfizer, and its German collaborator, BioNTech, whose (BNT162b2) vaccine has an efficacy of 95 percent.
  2. Moderna, a Cambridge, Mass.-based biotechnology company, whose (mRNA-1273) vaccine also reports an efficacy of 95 percent.
  3. AstraZeneca, collaborating with Oxford University in England, whose (ChAdOx1) vaccine has reported an efficacy of 90 percent, based on “interim results” from trials in the UK and Brazil.

The above three are among nearly a dozen companies that had the opportunity to receive some financial support from United States taxpayer dollars for vaccine development as part of “Operation Warp Speed” (OWS). Government financial support was available both to subsidize research and development, or to subsidize production of the vaccine. It has been reported that Moderna received some funding for R&D whereas Pfizer did not.

Current Status:

Both Pfizer and Moderna have applied for Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) from the FDA for their respective vaccines; which, although short of a full-scale approval, is an accelerated review process that would allow them to distribute their vaccines during this public health emergency. The FDA is scheduled to convene on December 10th to consider this the Pfizer request, and a week later for Moderna. 

EUAs are temporary; and the process to receive full FDA approval continues, irrespective of the EUA. 

Some experts had initially expressed concern about using an EUA for a vaccine that would be given to millions of people; but their fear has become more muted as the pandemic continues to kill thousands of Americans. 

The United Kingdom’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has just approved the Pfizer vaccine for emergency use and is expected to quickly initiate their vaccination program in Great Britain. See the Editor’s Note below for latest news on the British vaccination program.

Some Final Thoughts:

This past week, COVID-19 surpassed heart disease as the leading cause of death in United States; and today, Johns Hopkins University reported 285,564 Americans dead from the virus. Despite the calendar, we have been in the midst of what Dr. Fauci referred as a “bleak, dark winter”. 

The courage exhibited by many State governors must be acknowledged. Many implemented those inconvenient mitigation behaviors, while the Executive Branch, in apparent public denial, was sending out conflicting messages that actually endangered State officials. There was no doubt that “the buck stopped there,” right in the State House. 

We will also need to develop strategies to overcome “vaccine hesitancy”, which is sometimes called anti-vaccination or “anti-vax”. This reluctance, or refusal to be vaccinated, or to have one’s children vaccinated against contagious diseases, was identified in 2019 by the WHO as one of the top 10 global health threats. 

To set the record straight:

  • Pfizer did not alter its development schedule and hold their announcement until after the Nov. 3 election.
  • The FDA has not lengthened their review process to postpone vaccine distribution until after the inauguration.

Stephen Hahn, FDA Commissioner, stated unequivocally, “Let me be clear; our career scientists have to make the decision and they will take the time that’s needed to make the right call on this important decision”.

Finally, in the best of all possible Americas, the outgoing president should re-focus his energy through the remainder of his transition out of the White House towards informing us all that we should prepare to receive the vaccine, even if it occurs during the next Administration. 

As always, God save the United States of America.

Editor’s Note: Margaret Keenan, a 90-year-old British grandmother, became the first person in the world to receive a fully-tested COVID-19 vaccine yesterday. She was given the Pfizer/BioNTech shot and that event marked the start of the biggest vaccination campaign in the history of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service ever to be undertaken. 

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.

The Movie Man: ‘The Christmas Chronicles 2’ Misses its Mark

Kevin Ganey is ‘The Movie Man.’

As somebody who looks for originality in nearly every aspect of life, I go into Christmas movies with a great deal of hesitation. And thus I approached The Christmas Chronicles 2.

My concern was justified.

Should anybody seek a Christmas-themed movie with an original take, The Christmas Chronicles 2 does not deliver … even for a sequel. With an abundance of unoriginal, rehashed story-elements, there are plenty of cringe-worthy cheesy moments to go around.

I originally looked forward to this installment, thinking it would be a flick that would be enjoyable in the end. That is, until I started watching it.

The movie depicts a disenchanted former elf named Belsnickel (played by Julian Dennison) hellbent on destroying Christmas, and once he appears to have the upper hand, our hero from the first Christmas Chronicles, Kate Pierce, must rise to the occasion again to save the holiday (one can already groan upon reading these details.)

Kurt Russell reprises his role of Santa Claus in the same manner as he did with the first installment. He defies the traditional depiction of St. Nick: overweight and jolly.

In these movies, the one visual detraction is his size, no longer overweight, but a slim and fit figure. He also is not happy and jolly, but rather a stud; bringing the cool vibes from Russell’s career defining action movies.

He delivers, however, the affectionate and caring Father Christmas traits that we would want in any actor depicting the man we on whom we pin our hopes as little children.

In contrast, the performance of Mrs. Claus (played by Russell’s real-life partner Goldie Hawn) does not deliver, appearing to lack the enthusiasm required for such a role. Russell’s run as Santa is probably the sole redeeming quality of this picture, in my opinion.

There are several appeasing action moments, usually involving Santa’s sled, but not every moment is spared the cheesiness (mainly seen in a sequence involving fighting off elves with a Nerf gun.) But I will concede there is a heartwarming moment or two.

Perhaps I am not taking into account that I am a cinephile and therefore not the target audience (which is most likely young families)?

But I am writing on behalf of all those who seek a good movie. There are moments when we will get excited when a child asks to watch a movie with us, and there are indeed plenty of family-oriented movies that we adults will watch on our own initiative.

But The Christmas Chronicles 2 does not fit either bill. All I can say it merits is an, “Eh, it’s the holiday season and I need to pass the time.”

About the Author: Though no longer a resident of Lyme, Kevin knows he can never sever his roots to the tree of his identity. When not attending to his job in Boston, he is committed to ensuring a better grasp of current (and past) releases of cinema to his home community as he strives to leave his own mark in the same field that has always been his guide to understanding life. If you enjoy his published reviews here on LymeLine.com, follow him on his new website at ‘The City of Cinema and read more of his unique insights into entertainment.

A la Carte: Welcome December With a Wonderful Winter Entrée

Lee White

Many decades ago, we spent a New Jersey weekend with my husband’s friend, a radiologist. I call him my husband’s friend because, once my husband died, I exited that friendship because I basically detested him.

In any case, this man talked about his radiologic partner and noted that he couldn’t stand the partner’s wife. Always curious, I asked what his wife was like. “A bitch,” he said. “Did she work,” I asked. “Nah,” he snorted. “She baked muffins or cookies. Something like that,” I then realized that she was, indeed, Rose Levy Barenbaum, one of the finest pastry chefs in the world and author, at that time, of “The Cake Bible,” the first cookbook that garnered a million dollar advance

Rose and I became friends and are, to this day, very close. Her books line my bookshelves. If you have used any of her books, you can’t miss with her careful recipes, which not only include what to do but what not to do. For a few of her cookbooks, she has asked me to test recipes.

I hope someday she will meet my new friend, Richard Swanson. Richard works at The Day and, if he decided to write cookbooks, all his recipes would be as perfect as Rose’s. He writes every recipe and reworks with every ingredient multiple times. He has entered food contests and wins!

By the time he gives me something to taste, he has probably done the same three or four or 20 times. You will love his wonderful winter entrée. 

Pork Cider Stew with Rutabaga, Potatoes and Cabbage
From Richard Swanson, Waterford, CT

1 ½ pounds pork loin
Olive oil or canola oil
1 ½ cups Vidalia (or sweet) onions
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups diced rutabaga2 cups diced russet potatoes
1 small bag Dole shredded coleslaw mix with carrots (about 4 cups)
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
4 cups apple cider (unfermented)
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon caraway seed
½ teaspoon white pepper

Place 1 tablespoon oil into a Dutch oven and brown pork loin over medium heat (or on the sauté function if you are using your Instant Pot).*

Toss onion and garlic around pork and continue to cook covered until translucent, then pour chicken broth and braise the pork loin for 20 minutes covered.

Remove pork loin and place aside. Pour water, apple cider and spices into the pot and add rutabaga, potatoes and cole slaw mix. (Rich does not add the dressing packet.) Simmer uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes until rutabaga and potatoes are almost fork tender.

In the meantime, dice the pork loin add it to the pot to reheat the meat. To thicken the broth: at the end of the cooking, pull about a cup of the veggies mix out of the mix and blend them with a little bit of broth in a blender or immersion stick blender to make a thick paste. (Lee: I might mix this with a tablespoon of cornstarch and add it to the stew at high heat.)

Add the paste back into the pot and stir. Salt to taste and serve.

*Instant Pot option: you can use the pressure cooker function on the Instant Pot to completely tenderize the pork and cook the vegetables until tender, but be careful you don’t turn the potatoes and rutabaga into mush.

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.

Reading Uncertainly: “Tales From the Ant World” by Edward O. Wilson

Are ants far more important than we humans?

Probably!

That’s my conclusion after reading the latest from this illustrious Professor Emeritus of Harvard with some 33 books to his credit, many of which relate his life-long interest in these creatures

Ants, or the study of myrmecology using the proper scientific terminology, have existed on this earth for some 150 million years, 10 times longer than Homo sapiens. They are survivors of ice ages and hot spells. They operate on this globe in both extreme heat and cold.

Significantly for these times, they are not disease carriers.

They create societies in which females are in complete control (“benevolent matriarchies.”) Males are second-class citizens, primed to exist for one act of reproduction and then depart this life. Ouch!

And, like us, they have traveled from Africa to almost every other spot on earth. They are also “virtuosos of chemical communication,” working together soundlessly. To top it off, they will probably outlive our species by another 50 million years, or at least as this earth exists.

“Ant colonies possess superb resiliency,” suggests Professor Wilson, arguing that we humans should study them more seriously. Compared to the bulk of a human body, an ant is tiny but “ … all the living ants weigh about the same as all we living humans. We don’t go to war against ants, nor do they war against us.”

To Wilson, this proves “an important principle of parasite biology … that the most successful parasite is the one that causes the least damage.” But they are vicious warriors among themselves … very similar to human beings.

Yes, they do travel: ants are great navigators. They manage to move about, “by direct light of the sun and dead reckoning (“dead”  product of “deduced” reckoning) by the spatial gradients of polarized light, spectral composition of light, and the radiant intensity that form cover across the entire vault of the sky.” I do wish I had those capabilities when I navigated my U. S. Navy refrigerator ship across the Pacific some 60-plus years ago!

Can studying ants give us some ideas about the future of human beings? Females in total control — but the “queen” is effectively a slave of the entire colony? Incessant warfare with other colonies? But ultimately, ants are survivors, outlasting us by millions of years.

Read Professor Wilson for some challenging questions.

Editor’s Note: “Tales From the Ant World” by E. O. Wilson was published 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.

A View from My Porch: The ‘Aristocrat of the Silent Screen’, the ‘Bee & Thistle’ … and Other Thoughts

Plans have been announced for the former ‘Bee and Thistle Inn’ to become the new home of the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center. But do you know how this gracious residence ever came to be an inn?  If not, read on …

The recent announcement that the Connecticut Audubon Society had reached an agreement to purchase the Bee & Thistle Inn, and plans to renovate it as the future headquarters for the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center, piqued my curiosity regarding the Inn’s history.

This essay briefly reviews the life of an individual who was fairly instrumental in its founding, the talented and infamous Elsie Ferguson. Note that I had originally written “notorious,” but I believe only one woman in our recent history is deserving of that descriptor. My goal with this essay is to provide readers with something light, given the dismal news regarding the COVID crisis, but please read to the end as I feel obliged to return to that topic there.

Known as “The Aristocrat of the Silent Screen,” this (Public Domain) photo shows Elsie Ferguson in 1913. Image by Herman Mishkin – The Theatre, Vol. 18, July 1913.

Ms. Ferguson was considered by many as the leading Broadway and silent screen actress for much of the first half of the 20th century. She made her debut as a chorus girl in 1900 at the Madison Square Theatre in the musical comedy “The Belle of New York.”

She then starred, or was a cast member, in a remarkable number of productions on Broadway and in London, becoming known as one of the most beautiful and talented women ever to appear on the American stage. She became “the aristocrat of the silent screen”, partly because so many of her roles were elegant society women, and also for her utterly arrogant attitude. 

During the first world war, several Broadway stars organized a campaign to sell Liberty Bonds, both before performances and at events occurring at important New York City venues. Ms. Ferguson once sold $85,000 in bonds in less than an hour, which is about a million and a half today!

After appearing in “The Merchant of Venice” in 1916, she signed her first movie contract with Paramount Pictures, and in a 1917 release, made her silent screen debut in “Barbary Sheep.” After some 25 films made between 1917 and 1929, she made her first and only “talkie”, “Scarlet Pages”, in 1930. 

She was definitely “divaesque” and working with her was difficult. She actually dabbled in socialism in the 1920s, and once stated in an interview, that “… people are struggling and fretting their lives away over questions of food and education. When a man has accumulated more than, say, a million, the moneys made should revert back to those who have contributed to the amassment.” This was ironic, because she was very well-compensated for her work, and had “amassed” a large fortune.

Her personal life was marked with some turmoil; and she was even involved, albeit on the periphery, in events that triggered the murder of architect Stanford White, an utter scoundrel; the news of those events contributed to the novel and eventual Broadway musical, “Ragtime”.

Connecticut:

In 1934, the then 51-year-old Elsie Ferguson married her fourth husband, the wealthy Irish “sportsman” Victor Egan. They bought a farm in Connecticut that same year. They also maintained a home on the French Riviera, splitting their time between the two. 

The Ferguson Farm:

A “Profile” of Ms. Ferguson, published in 2013 by the Florence Griswold Museum, tracked her life to some “welcome seclusion” on that scenic 100-acre estate in East Lyme, “White Gate Farms.” She told a reporter from “The Milwaukee Journal” that she sold 150 of her farm’s eggs each day to the Government. The reporter described the surroundings as “bucolic and luxurious.” During her tenure at White Gate, she was known only as Mrs. Victor Egan. 

When the World War II theater blackout on Broadway lifted in 1943, she made her final appearance, at the age of 60, in “Outrageous Fortune”, which was written by an East Lyme neighbor, Rose Franken. She told the reporter covering her return to the theater that “once people [in Connecticut] recognized her, she would have to be very careful about how she looked; hair and all that sort of thing.”

Victor Egan died in France in 1956, and ‘Widow Ferguson’ spent her remaining years in Connecticut.

The Bee and Thistle Inn:

Her friend and contemporary, Henrietta Greenleaf Lindsay, a Hartford designer, had opened a shop in Old Lyme, and lived nearby in a large home just north of what is now the Florence Griswold Museum. She was also a widow, and rented a few extra bedrooms to guests. Ms. Ferguson suggested that Ms. Lindsay formalize her guest room business and convert her gracious home wholly to a hotel. 

Ms. Lindsay followed that advice, and opened an Inn to the public. In recognition of her friend’s encouragement, the Ferguson Clan’s crest, which included a bee on a thistle, gave the inn its name.”

Elsie Ferguson died in November, 1961, aged 78, at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London with no surviving heirs. Her will directed that her $1.5 to $2 million estate be divided primarily amongst several animal welfare organizations, including NYC’s Animal Medical Center, Bide-A-Wee Home, the ASPCA, and Orphans of the Storm.

She is interred in Old Lyme’s Duck River Cemetery and her grave marker includes the first few lines of Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty.”

Some Final Thoughts

I began this piece on Nov. 19, when we had just passed the one-quarter million mark of Americans dead from COVID-19; and were looking forward to a very “low-touch” Thanksgiving. 

My next essay, “A Primer on Vaccines and Vaccination,” will be the first, in a series focusing on our response to COVID-19; and each successive column will be a thoughtful analysis of the implications of the data published in LymeLine and other media and as such will be the “color commentary.”

We have a massive public health problem, and it’s worsening daily. As I complete this essay on Monday, Nov. 23, We’ve reached 260,402 dead Americans; and yesterday, there were 142,732 new confirmed cases. The seven-day rolling average of 170,856 new cases per day grew nearly 50 percent from two weeks ago. The prediction of a “dark winter” is playing out.  

We are fortunate, however, because vaccines are approaching distribution; but unfortunately, the still-current president remains unwilling to even acknowledge this crisis and model behaviors in front of his constituency that will assist in curbing the further spread of the disease. 

There’s finally some good news regarding the election. Despite the unrelenting and outrageous interference, the states have all certified the election results, and the recalcitrant GSA Administrator has finally checked her math and enabled the formal transition. So, the President-elect finally really is the President-elect.

John Cleese couldn’t have scripted a more ridiculous theater of the absurd than the “The Bad Loser’s Guide to A Peaceful Transition,” which has been shown nearly constantly in primetime before and since the election. 

I pray that Americans’ trust in the election process has not been irrevocably damaged, and that there has been no damage done to the new administration.

As always, 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.