Hannah’s Voices of Maine column for 0116

Ratatouille

Ingredients:

1 medium eggplant

3 zucchini or summer squash

6 to 8 firm tomatoes (or a 16-ounce can of whole tomatoes)

1 large onion

4 to 6 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic

½ teaspoon oregano

Salt and pepper, to taste

Parmesan cheese

Method:

Peel and cut eggplant into 1-inch cubes. Cube the zucchini. Chop tomatoes. Coarsely slice onion lengthwise. Pour oil into skillet. When hot, sauté zucchini and eggplant. Remove from pan, decrease heat, add onion, tomato, garlic and oregano. Simmer until the onions are limp. Return zucchini and eggplant to skillet and simmer until warm, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve in soup bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

This recipe is a variation by my mom of the Better Homes and Gardens ratatouille recipe. It also was a great way to can all of the tomatoes and use up the huge amounts of zucchini that grew.

Vegetable stew revived kids chilled after sledding

In the early days it was a big hill, just right for sliding for us. Later, they dug a lot of gravel out to sell and made it into a “pit” with steeper sides to slide down.

The hill was big enough for us to slide from the top to the bottom and wish we’d harness-trained our dog Bulova. We dreamed of hooking our sleds on and letting him pull us back to the top. He was a large black shepherd that guarded the yard but wasn’t too interested in helping us get more enjoyment out of sledding. This was really our warm-up hill. Once we had done a few runs there, if we were still up for more, we would head around town.

There were winters the snow piled up and built up a crust so thick your heel couldn’t get through as hard as you might kick. In those conditions, the hill was thrill enough without wandering around town. The bottom of the hill was woods and below that a brook. The woods were to be avoided even if it meant bailing off your sled and running after it later.

The difference with boys and girls was never so apparent growing up as when Shawn would come up to get us to go sliding with him. Shawn was Brad’s younger brother and my sister Em’s age, so they were buddies. Em and I were always up for the adventure but we would both have to use the bathroom one last time before we set out. And then it took us a minute to get all our gear gathered, laid out and put on. Shawn usually got a bit impatient because he was all suited up and waiting. By the time we got out to the hill we were all happy to be cruising on the new snow. The hill was across from Shawn’s and behind our house.

On fast track

Across the street behind Veronica’s house was the bigger hill enjoyed mostly after a couple of good storms. The snowmobile trail ran through the field until Veronica was tired of listening to the buzz of the engines late at night. The trail ran along the ridge of the old cow pasture and exited at the bottom through an old stone wall and barbed wire fence. The snow machines crusted up the trail making it about the fastest run in town on our Paris sleds.

So fast that most days we began the run partway down and rode in pairs to have more weight to go farther or stop when needed. If you were riding solo and were lucky enough to still be on your sled halfway down, you were doing well.

It was easy to feel as if you were flying midway down the hill. There was a jump, really just a big rock covered with snow, to hit near the bottom – if you were able and willing. That was where you would lose your sled if you hadn’t already. Jen and some of the older kids would think of other creative ways to ride their sleds down the hill, like going backwards or head first. We always figured that riding up on our knees in the very front of the sled was brave enough.

Around wood stove

After we’d made a couple trips back to the top of the hill and, by then, our fingers were nearly frozen, we’d trudge back home through the deep snow. The warmth from the wood stove greeted us as we tumbled into the house. We could smell the bread that Mom had rising in the warmer. For lunch she would send us to the cellar to get some of the ratatouille she had put up in the fall. Back in the kitchen, we would pull the blue chowder bowls down from the cupboard, dump the ratatouille in a saucepan, get the Parmesan cheese from the fridge and wait.

As the soup was warming on the wood stove, we’d strip off our now-damp snowsuits, mittens and hats, and heap them on the wooden drying rack. We had an old, iron register cover for the floor that vented the double barrel wood stove in the basement to the rest of the house. The noise of the falling snow sizzling to nothing as it fell from our gear and hit the heat of the stove was a chorus we were happy to listen to. We’d crowd on the register for warmth and then move our chairs around the wood stove to eat. We would relive the morning’s jumps and tumbles, and think about how we’d do it better the next time. Meanwhile, Mom would be kneading the bread dough and letting it rise again in the warmth.

Hannah Hinckley is a writer, veterinary technician, whitewater guide and Pampered Chef kitchen consultant. She lives in Winthrop and may be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


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