Monthly Archives: July 2011


SHZA AST Destiny Hesketh

Destiny Hesketh on Maggie, her American Quarterhorse"

An excerpt from Maine Vanities

Maggie is six years old. She doesn’t drive, but she is a very sweet ride. Maggie is an American quarterhorse, and her registered name is She’s an Asset, and so the plate SHZA AST.

Destiny Hesketh is thirteen years old, and she doesn’t drive either, but she loves to ride Maggie, her best friend and thirteenth birthday gift.

Most days they can be found at Alderbrook Farm, riding, practicing for shows, or just hanging out. Destiny brushes Maggie’s flanks and glances at her mom as she speaks. “I found her online, but I was always finding horses online and asking mom if I could have them.”

Wendy Hesketh nods in agreement, “She would get home from school and go online looking for horses. You couldn’t pull her away.”

“When I found Maggie was available, I couldn’t stop asking for her. Mom and dad had always promised me I could have a horse when I turned thirteen, and my birthday was pretty close,” Destiny explains.

Wendy smiles at her daughter. “I was hoping she would outgrow it, but I should have known better. We brought her to the state fair when she was just a few years old, and all she wanted to do was ride the pony. Candy, arcade games, merry-go-round—none of that could entice her away from the pony ride.”

Destiny agrees, although she says she is not sure she really remembers. “I’ve just always wanted to ride, and to have a pony or a horse. Two weeks after my thirteenth birthday, I was convinced it wasn’t going to happen. But still I would imagine waking up and finding a horse staring at me from the foot of my bed.” She looks at her mom, then confides, ”I know it doesn’t make sense. My bedroom is on the third floor, but I just had this vision of waking up and seeing a horse—my horse—standing at the foot of my bed looking at me.”

Wendy shakes her head and shrugs. “We brought Destiny to the stable, and she just thought we were going riding, that it was a birthday party, and that Maggie was just there for the kids to ride.”
“But you mustn’t forget the bow,” Destiny interrupts. “That gave it away.” Destiny explains, “Mom had put a bow around her neck, and I knew she wouldn’t have done that unless Maggie was really for me. They hadn’t said, but I knew she was mine. I held it until I petted her, and Mom showed me the papers. Then I couldn’t keep it in any more and started to cry.”

Destiny gives Maggie a stroke, and Maggie nudges Destiny with her head.
Destiny is hoping to work with horses all her life. “I want to be a trainer or a chiropractor. I have scoliosis, so I’ve learned about backs and muscle, and cracking my back.
That brings such relief. We have a horse here that needs his back cracked everyday. I get to do it sometimes. I grab his head, shove my chest into his ribs, and crack his back. When he starts making funny sounds with his lips, you know you’ve made him feel good.”

College and a career are both still a long way off, but Destiny clearly knows what she wants her future to hold: learning more about horses, riding skills, anatomy and chiropracty, and an entire horse-filled world.

But until then, the days are long. Riding, grooming, and winning ribbons with Maggie fill them. Call her Maggie, or call her, but ask Destiny if she is an asset in her life, and the quiet smile answers that question.

Excerpt above from from Maine Vanities

Destiny is now 15, and still passionate about horses.

The message of a Maine vanity plate may raise an eyebrow, or a question, or simply cause a smile. But behind each and every plate is a personality, and the rest of the story.

These short portraits capture Maine individuality. There is quirkiness, compassion, and humor. While passions range from skiing to solving Mensa puzzles, and ages from 14 to 91, enthusiasm, curiosity, passion and delight in sharing the story behind their plate and their bit of Maine is the common thread.

Day to day

Meals I would never serve to guests

A brief flurry of cupboard doors, bowls are snatched from the fridge, a quick pass over a gas burner and dinner is on the table. It has no name, came from no tried-and-true recipe, and it can never be duplicated. It is rarer than truffles, as uncommon as mare’s milk, yet far less dear. Bare cupboard feast is the name we use for these meals made with no forethought or shopping lists. Prepared without preparation and presented without ceremony they vie with dinners offered by acclaimed restaurants for palate-pleasing flavor.

The unplanned dinner necessitates pairings otherwise viewed skeptically. First glance might not reveal a meal in the random elements in the cupboard and refrigerator, but there is always a combination that will turn into dinner. How fortunate we are that we are never in a position to state, truthfully, that there is nothing to eat. Those evenings when I have not shopped for dinner and have no meal in mind bring out my greatest and most pleasurable skills as a cook. It may be tempting to simply head into town and go to a restaurant, but the challenge of raiding the cupboard is far more satisfying. It is also a gentle reminder of just how much we have.

There is always a variety of pasta. I stock up when at Trader Joe’s, and we are gifted with exotic squid inky linguine or mysterious grains in beautiful packages that we cannot read. Jars of sauces and tapenades are picked up on travels because they looked interesting, but never used because I do not tend to cook with prepared sauces. The freezer usually has a bag or two of mushrooms we have gathered, fish caught, and deer or duck hunted. I suspect I could come up with decent, no, wonderful, dinners for several weeks. And probably feed us, though less pleasingly, for quite a while after that.

Eight pm, we are hungry. I thaw some bass caught by my husband and his grandson, brown it in the herby breadcrumbs left over from topping a layered potato dish and heat the remains of last night’s pasta primavera sauce. Oh, there is that little dish with the seasoned ricotta filling. I stir it into the primavera sauce and slide the browned fish into it. This is topped with some oil-cured olives.

I had cooked too much orzo two nights ago, gauging quantity is not one of my skills. That was warmed and tossed with the olive oil dipping sauce from last night’s bread. The oil, with minced garlic, sage and pepper coated the orzo and served as a bed for the fish. Greens from the garden, a quick mustard-lemon dressing, and dinner was ready. Each bite was a rich burst of disparate, but happy-together flavors. “I wish we could share this,” I say as we eat. But I know unless someone walked through the door right then it would never happen. To recreate this meal I would have to make the ricotta filling, primavera sauce, herbed bread crumbs, and have plenty of bass. This meal will never happen again.

It also only happened because I loathe waste. Leftovers are considered trash food by many. I was once at a dinner and watched as a dozen uneaten jumbo shrimp were scraped into the trash compacter, followed by a plateful of devilled eggs and a bowl of guacamole. “We always make fresh,” my hostess boasted, and “We would never put waste on our gardens, we buy mulch,” she replied when I asked if they had considered composting.

A pantry full of food, however ill-assorted, is not a luxury all are fortunate enough to share. I feel a sense of security when I have drawers and shelves filled with non-perishable food items. Grains, simmer sauces, pickled beets, anchovies, and olives can pair with whatever little dishes of leftover salad dressings or vegetables are in the fridge. While I love menu planning, seeking recipes, shopping, prepping, tasting, and serving, there are usually expectations to be met and guests to please. Making a Bare Cupboard Feast has no pressure. The freedom of creating, and very quickly, is simply fun with no worries. Working with this limited palette in a very short window of time precludes much thought. I think that is its appeal for me. I can spend hours researching recipes, planning a menu, and be knocked for a loop if an essential ingredient is not available and I have to rethink.

The week night scratch meals are created playfully. No time to look things up, I draw on my memory. Like interdisciplinary studies, differing ethnic cooking techniques and flavors meet and work together. The plan is being made as things are pulled off the shelf.

3pm, and we are invited to go boating with friends in an hour. It was suggested we bring a dish. Could dash to town and buy stuff, but there is not really enough time. I had been practicing Bare Cupboard Feasts for about three days, just seeing how far I could go, so the cupboard was really bare. Here it is, and I was asked for the recipe twice.

Bare Cupboard Pasta Salad

Package of trader Joe’s multigrain fuselli with flax
A cup of monkey nuts left from a cocktail party
Last night’s roasted summer squash, eggplant and red pepper
Frozen peas
Garlic (we always have garlic)
Tamari, black bean sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, Zea Salt
Hard-boiled eggs (from lunch)

If you are passing through Otter Creek, stop by some evening. An unplanned guest would be welcome for an unplanned meal!

Day trips Destinations

MOULES Julia Myers

An excerpt from Maine Vanities

Elegant and articulate, Julia Myers speaks with deep affection for the long and arduous days helping her husband run Abandoned Farm, Maine’s first cultivated shellfish operation. Her plate is MOULES, French for mussels. Her husband, writer Edward Myers, had MOSSELS. “Mussels was already taken,” she explained,

Julia Myers loves mussels, and moules.

Julia loved to cook moules marinières. In fact, Julia cooked mussels in every way imaginable, and she would place a discreet ad in the local newspaper announcing what mussel meal would be on the menu that week. The object was to familiarize people with the many wonderful and delicious ways to eat mussels, encouraging them to add the shellfish to their diet, and, of course, to buy them from Abandoned Farm and their vendors. The building where Julia served her meals forth was frequently jammed, with people perched on chair arms, legs dangling from the porch railing. “It was a scramble to be sure we had enough knives and spoons to go around.” It is difficult to imagine this refined and dignified woman sipping Lapsang Souchong out of export china presiding over such off-the-cuff gatherings.

“I cooked mussels with cheese, with broccoli, in soup, with pasta. There are hundreds of absolutely lovely ways to prepare mussels, although I do not think tomatoes complement them well at all,” she says decidedly. She also grew vegetables and greens, and made salads and side dishes using fresh organic ingredients. Craig Claiborne, the food critic with The New York Times, came for a meal. “As he left he commented that at least the salad was superb. I guess he was not impressed with my mussels.” But then, it may have been the wrong month. May, Julia maintains, is the only time to have mussels. She leans forward with a gleam and says in a lowered voice, “They are heavy with seed then. My husband used to call from the mussel beds to tell me there was a sex orgy going on, and I should come down. The water would be creamy with milt.”

And with plump, sweet mussels. While she concedes they are fine in June, July and August, it is the May mussels that Julia recalls with such delight. Succulent, ripe, brimming with flavor—memories of those May moules still bring a satisfied smile to her face.

I thank the many who told me the tales behind their plate, and shared a bit of their life. I will be publishing more Maine Vanities in the months to come.

An introduction to the essays:
CLKNPUR, FOTTER, SMAS, TIDWLKR–Maine vanity plates are as individual and intriguing as the people of Maine. Some are straightforward, such as THECAPT or MOMSCAR, some take a moment to decipher–Hi NRG, ME JUIF, and others leaving you wondering for days: 1OFFTAL, 7SEVEN7. But they are all communicating, all sending a message, all extending an invitation to hear a story.

Only eight characters, briefer than a haiku, yet they generate an astounding variety of puns, double entendres, palindromes, good grammar, bad, and simple joyful word play. Letters, numbers, a space or a hyphen, any combination of these is possible, as long as the total number does not exceed eight. So few characters, so many messages–as in many other circumstances Mainer’s are capable of doing a lot with a little.

An astounding percentage of registered Maine license plates are vanity plates. This is due in part to the modest fee the state charges and perhaps in part to the individuality of Mainers. It may also be self-perpetuating. As we drive along being amused or confused it is a small step to then feel the urge to come up with one’s own plate to entertain or perplex, or tell the world something about the person behind the wheel.

Who are these people with the vanity plates, why do they have them? Maine has a large number of cottage industries and self-employed entrepreneurs. Self-promotion means survival, and plates tell a message as you follow them down the road. Many plates promote the business its owner runs, ZCAB, CATER, GARDNR, and WE_BILD.

Vanity plates are also a way to share politics, faith, and hobbies. A sports fan proclaims SOXLVR, or METS_85; a politically-inspired driver a plate boasts VOTER. Family is important to many Mainer’s, and there is GRAMSCR, MOMSCAR, and HZ HRS. For philosophy: DO U LV. Plates involving hobbies include is GOLFR, SKI_NKD, I BOWL, TKE_PICS

Many are names and initials. It is common to have a couple’s initials on each of their cars, his might be KBC_JLC while hers is JLC_KBC. Some defy interpretation, or have more than one. MA2ME, is it Massachusetts to Maine, or Ma to me?

The message of a Maine vanity plate may raise an eyebrow, or a question, or simply cause a smile. But behind each and every plate is a personality, and the rest of the story.

These short portraits capture Maine individuality. There is quirkiness, compassion, and humor. While passions range from skiing to solving Mensa puzzles, and ages from 14 to 91, enthusiasm, curiosity, passion and delight in sharing the story behind their plate and their bit of Maine is the common thread.

It has been inspirational and moving getting to know the people behind these plates and their stories. I am honored that so many plate holders shared their time and their tales. “You are the story keeper,” I was told, and another compared me to a medieval sin eater. I find these descriptions apt. These stories now live inside of me. They are my burden, and my delight. They have uplifted me, exhausted me, made me weep, and filled me with hope and optimism. I hope I can convey half of their poignancy.

Mainer’s have strong personalities, and those who slap their politics and their passions on the rear of the car for all to see, and then give up hours of their time to answer questions, tell their tale, and submit to being photographed, are eloquent examples of this breed. It is a pleasure to pass their tales on.

I am hooked. I can no longer just guess what a plate might mean. I want to track down its owner, move into their world, and listen. There are many more stories out there waiting to be told, and I want to hear them all.

Thank you to all my generous subjects, I treasure your stories and have endeavored to share them with respect and appreciation. I offer apologies if I have made any errors or misinterpreted your tale.


Murphy visits for the Fourth of July

All across America July Fourth is celebrated with flags proudly flying, fireworks, parades and picnics. In Otter Creek the stars and stripes line the street at one home, red white and blue streamers festoon the door of another. The long weekend is also a time for getting the lawn mown, a trip to the beach, and catching up on household projects. Americans can cram a lot into three days. In the spirit of not wasting a minute, I planned to decorate for the Fourth, build an arbor, see fireworks, paint the back basement hatch cover, bike, swim, boat out to a lobsterfest, and picnic with friends. This of course was in addition to the daily routine of weeding, watering and planting that maintaining a garden requires. It could all have been handled quite comfortably, if only Murphy hadn’t come to visit.

The weekend started with dinner on an island, then a long Saturday morning bike ride. Then it was time to tackle a project. The basement hatch is old and wooden, and while it really needs more than a coat of paint, I wanted it spruced up for the weekend. Scraped, swept and washed down, I cut in the edges with glossy black oil paint, and quickly had it looking shiny and fresh. I switched the laundry, cut fresh flowers for the house, came back out and looked at the gravel and grit on the doormat. There was a broom right at hand, so I did a quick left and right sweep, then stilled the broom as I saw a spray of tiny bits land and stick to the side of the hatch. No easy fix, it would have to dry, get sanded and repainted. I moved on.

Summer had started late this year, and because of the cool days, we hadn’t yet put the screen insert on the front door. I had hauled it over to the front steps weeks ago; it was time to put it in. Leaves and grass and pollen had landed on the screen, and I decided it would be easiest to sweep it off after I placed it in the doorframe. I removed the winter glass, and positioned the screen and clipped it in. The pollen began to fall on my face, my arms and my legs, and then it was moving, no, it was crawling all over me. A spider had laid its eggs there, and what seemed like thousands of tiny spiders were swarming on me. After frantic jumping around, head shaking and swatting, I swept the door off and headed in to hang some red white and blue bunting out the upstairs window. This is something I have done for the past three or four years, and is a really easy way to dress up the house. I unsnapped the first screen and pushed it away from the frame about an inch. I began to feed the long strip of fabric out the window with the other hand, when the screen detached from the top of the window. The screen is about four and a half feet tall, and it wobbled in my hand, gravity calling it to drop two stories to the ground below. I did not want it bent or broken so grabbed it with both hands. The banner slipped out and landed, forming a drape across the yellow daylilies beside the door that had given a nesting spider a home. I tried to pull the screen through the window, but it wouldn’t fit. There I squatted, arms out the window holding this big screen.

I used my head and shoulder to push the window open wide enough to maneuver the screen inside. I retrieved the banner, and tried again. This time I had a plan. I would hold the banner inside by pressing against it with my belly, and use both hands to get the window in its upper track. Then I would pull the screen towards me, where it would connect with the banner, and I could clip it in, firmly holding the banner in place between the screen and the bottom edge of the window frame. This was working. The screen teetered, but I pressed it into the top track. Slowly I pulled the bottom toward me to get it completely in the track. The phone rang, I exhaled, my stomach moved, the banner slipped out, slid between the screen and the window edge and landed on the yellow day lilies below.

I got the darn banner, and put it in place. The second one would have to wait.

While upstairs I emptied the wastebasket, tying the little plastic liner bag tightly. I went down, opened the back door and tossed it outside. It would go in the trashcan when I put my shoes on and went out next. The bag was very light, and hit the edge of the step and bounced up. It bounced a bit sideways, too, and stuck, hanging, on the side of the hatch cover, glued to the sticky wet paint just above the grit and gravel bits. “If it can go wrong it will,” is the adage popularized as Murphy’s Law. Yep.

It is with relief I heard my husband said friends had invited us on their boat, and I have to stop work and get ready. We watch the sun set from the middle of Somes Sound, and sip wine as fireworks blaze above our heads. It is late when we are dropped at the dock. It is even later when Triple A gets there to jumpstart our dead battery.

July third: The arbor is finished; the hatch cover paint is dry. We have biked, boated, watched fireworks, weeded, and picnicked. It is Fourth of July Eve, and we are ready for the Fourth, in spite of Murphy. Happy Independence Day, America.