Friday, December 17, 2010

Where The Wild Goose Goes

Christmas preparations are finished. I've purchased the presents and baked the cookies.

These are hazelnut biscotti for Jayhawk Fan, winner of the plant identification contest.
Extra melted chocolate was the basis of a few peanut clusters.

Now it's time to pack up and follow the geese south. Galveston Island is singing its siren song and a little canal house is waiting for our arrival.

Dennis, a most generous man, provides this great indulgence for my achy bones. In fact, this will be my eighth winter on the Gulf coast. How I love walking the beach day after day! I love the fresh seafood, the shore birds, and the milder weather. After months of gardening, canning and freezing, three months of relaxation will restore my energy for the next busy, fruitful season here in Kansas.

I am a very lucky woman, and I am mindful of the millions of people who are out of work, on the streets, and uncertain of their next meal. May they be helped and protected through the winter.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Soup of The Evening, Beautiful Soup

In winter I always think of lines from a poem by Lewis Carroll:
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Beau - ootiful Soo - oop!
Beau - ootiful Soo - oop!
Soo - oop of the e - e - evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!
Who wouldn't feel like singing when presented with a steaming bowl of soup on a cold winter night? Soup is the best part of winter!

This is a bowl of cabbage soup made from one of the savoy cabbages I nurtured through the fall. I'd never made cabbage soup before and was surprised by the the delicious flavor.

Here's the recipe I made up after studying a variety of cookbooks:

Gently saute half an onion, chopped, and two cloves of garlic, chopped, in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Do this in a big pot. When the onion is translucent, add two quarts of water, four teaspoons of chicken base and bring to a boil. Stir in half a big cabbage, shredded, and two carrots, sliced. Simmer until the cabbage wilts, then add a small can of crushed tomatoes. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Serve it up with a piece of hot cornbread.

If you want more protein, poach a couple of skinless chicken breasts in the water and chicken base before starting the onions and garlic. Remove the chicken and let it cool a bit while you make the soup. Slice or shred the chicken and add it to the soup a few minutes before serving. Snipped parsley would be a nice topping for each bowl.

Making soup is a casual undertaking. Proportions aren't critical. Ingredients may be added or omitted, depending on what is available. You can substitute chicken broth for the water and chicken base. Add celery with the onions and garlic, if you like. Experiment, but rest assured that when icy rain is falling nothing will make you feel better than a beautiful bowl of soup.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Milk of Human Kindness

In 1966, after seven years of marriage, I left my husband. I left him for many reasons, one of which was our inability to communicate. He often said to me, "Don't tell me your troubles, I have troubles of my own." Oddly, when I left, he asked, "Why didn't you tell me you were unhappy?"

My mother encouraged me to go back to school, and I enrolled in a master's program at the University of Kansas to study speech communication and human relations. I wanted to know why human relationships fail.

Finally, after so many years of pondering this question, I've concluded that we humans have two choices. We can choose to be kind or we can choose to be mean-spirited. Most of us have chosen both at one time or another, but most of us also lean strongly one way or the other.

Human kindness stems from compassion, respect, and generosity.

Mean-spiritedness stems from egotism, insecurity, and schadenfreude.

Every day we get to choose which way to go.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Due to popular demand, here is a photo of Victor.

The poor fellow lost his dog-hood on Monday and hasn't been the same since. I apologize to him for showing him not at his best.

Better days are coming. When they do, another photo will be forthcoming.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Don't Let The Green Beans Touch The Mashed Potatoes

When Oz was a little boy, he wanted each item on his plate to be discrete. Often, when I was serving his plate, he would admonish me, "Don't let the green beans touch the mashed potatoes!"

I understood his preference, although, when I was a child, I often mixed mashed potatoes, green beans, gravy, and meat into a disgusting mess in the middle of my plate. Oz was advanced for his age. I was food-taste retarded.

As a bride, I owned a little casserole cookbook and often made a concoction of hot dogs and potatoes with a Campbell's soup binder. In retrospective, it was truly awful, but the best I could do.

Over the many years of my life, I've gradually grown to appreciate simplicity in food.  -- good, fresh ingredients, discrete and beautiful on the plate. Now, Dennis often says, "I love our simple meals." These consist of three or four simply-prepared dishes, arranged separately on the plate, to be mixed or not as the diner wishes.

Dennis, who sometimes eats in elegant restaurants, complains about what he calls "the pile-up." That is the current fashion among chefs to prepare items separately, but pile them in layers on the plate with a little exotic garnish. When served such a meal, Dennis' first task is to deconstruct the chef's creation, separating the mashed potatoes and other items into discrete units.

Recently, having harvested beautiful savoy cabbages from our garden, I decided to make cabbage rolls. I had read about them in cookbooks, but never eaten or even seen them. The cabbage rolls were delicious, but took two-and-a-half hours to prepare. Dennis pronounced them tasty, but added, "Why not just make a meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and sauteed cabbage?"  I couldn't have agreed more.

Thanks, Ozzie Bean, for showing me the way.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

All Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

To me, the spider is a symbol of patience. He prepares his trap. He waits, ready to receive his reward.

Sometimes people don't exhibit this virtue. This morning a car came up behind me on the highway. The driver repeatedly blew her horn, then swerved around me to pass on a hill. I was driving 55. The speed limit was 60. The highway, I knew, intersected with another less than a mile ahead. The other driver and I arrived at the intersection simultaneously.

I was impatient, too, last August when I had been eagerly searching for a dog to take Kazak's place. Finally, although she didn't seem quite right for us, I adopted Uno, who turned out to be unsuited for our way of life. After that bad experience I decided to stop looking and, instead, wait for the right dog to find us.

Both the impatient driver and I wasted a good deal of energy trying to change reality. But now I'm convinced that all good things do come to those who wait. A sweet, gangly golden retriever/Australian shepherd mix was abandoned at a gas station last week, and, after four days, rescued by my friend Barb's neighbor. Barb met the dog and immediately called me. I picked him up right away. He is about a year old. His name is Victor. After he has had a bath I will post his photo.

These experiences have me pondering phrases such as "in the fullness of time" and "when the time is ripe." Patience may be nothing more than allowing events to unfold in the fullness of time.  When our actions can make a difference, the patient person acts. When our actions cannot change a situation, the patient person waits.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

What Does Handicapped Mean?

Does it mean that one travels in a wheelchair?

Wheelchair design by Bob The Builder

Not necessarily!

The Americans with Disabilities Act required that public buildings be accessible to handicapped persons. But Congress didn't remember the "hand" in handicapped.  Some of us can walk around just fine, but our hands, wrists, and shoulders are badly damaged. We can't open heavy doors. We can't lift a skillet, the corner of a mattress, or even a two-quart saucepan. Sliding doors are challenging and a garage door is impossible to move. We struggle to open bottles, pop tops, laundry detergent boxes, or child-proof caps.

Actually, I've noticed that even able-bodied people have difficulty with today's excessive packaging precautions. Luckily, tools are available to help with this problem.

The jar lid vise, scissors, Exacto knife, pliers, pop top lever, and wooden spoon are always close at hand in my house. The wooden spoon is perfect for levering off those plastic rings under milk carton caps. I also use the top of an old rubber glove for gripping things.

These tools are just for opening packaging. The only help for heavy lifting is the kindness of family, friends, and strangers.

Friday, November 26, 2010


I've hosted at least forty Thanksgiving Day dinners in my day, but last year I said, "No more." This year Carol, our youngest, asked if the dinner could be at my house if I didn't have to do any of the work. Of course I agreed. I also agreed to make two pecan pies.

A house cleaner came. Nancy and Todd arrived with Zach and Cleo. Thanksgiving morning Carol came bearing a 23-pound turkey. Carol set to work, with Nancy and me as assistants. I thought the turkey a bit whimsical during the stuffing process.

After the turkey went into the oven, my girls went to the cool entryway to look at the wine.

What a gorgeous smile Nancy has...

but she can't keep from clowning. Carol's smile is pretty dazzling, too.

After that I put the camera away and enjoyed the day with sixteen guests. I hardly did a lick of work. What a great Thanksgiving! 

I hope that everyone who reads this had a lovely holiday, too. May we always remember that we have much to be thankful for.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Ignore All That

We need a new sliding door between the unheated entry room and the back patio. The eaves are configured to admit winter sun and block summer sun from the room. That way the room is cooler in summer and warmer in the winter. Also, the stone floor absorbs heat in the winter and feels cool in the summer. On a sunny winter day we can sit there at a table. On a warm summer day when there's a south breeze, we can sit there at a table. In other words, the room is designed for maximum energy efficiency.

This year our benevolent government is offering a tax credit for replacement of doors and windows with more energy efficient ones. Now, here's the rub (and my beef): the glass must be coated with something that cuts down on UV rays. That's so the sun won't heat up rooms. For our room, which is configured to do the same thing, but also  allows the sun to warm the room in winter, this is not a good choice.

This sort of bureaucratic foolishness irks me, but I'm going to ignore all that and rejoice in the fruits of our labor for today.

The chickens are providing a plentiful supply of beautiful eggs, some of them jumbo size.

Today I cut the first savoy cabbage.

Now the sun is setting, and it's time to shut up the chickens.

To heck with tax credits.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ode to Kale

Here's to kale, ideal food.
It's so dark green it makes me shiver.
Eating it improves my mood,
My heart, my lungs, my tortured liver.

Now is the time when kale holds sway.
Tomatoes, green beans, peas, or corn
Could not survive this wintry day,
But kale just loves a frosty morn.

Mince a big, fat garlic clove,
Rinse the kale and chop a bunch,
Simmer them slowly on the stove,
And eat a healthful, tasty lunch.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chris Cuts A Swath

Last week Chris and I were in the pasture, considering how to restore the native grasses to the graded area around the new barn. He said, "If I had a scythe, I could cut the grasses, lay them on the bare soil to hold it in place, and the seeds would fall into the soil."

"Follow me," I said.

Thirty years ago I bought a scythe at a shop specializing in old tools. For many years it has been hanging in an elm tree. The blade was rusted, the wooden handle pale and dry.

"It's yours," I said. Chris beamed and loaded it in his car.

Today he came back with the scythe, cleaned of rust, sharpened and oiled.

Off he went to the pasture.

What a pleasure it is to unite an object with a person who will care for it and use it! This is my new hobby.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Passing On

Well, Sandi died last week. She valiantly fought lung cancer for three years, but lost.

It was a lunch with Sandi and Barb that inspired my post on August 8, The End. I wanted to ask Sandi about her views on death, but my sense was that she simply refused to acknowledge it as a possibility. Instead we talked about ailments in a general sense and laughed a good deal as illustrated in this photo of my two guests.

I've reached the age of losing friends and neighbors. Each person has her own style of passing, but so far no one has talked about the process. Some, like Sandi, fight against the tide. Others, like my friend Ann, just lie down and ride it out without complaint.

A recent death-like experience of passing out made me think that death might not be as bad as I feared. Of course I had no opportunity to anticipate the event. That surely would be a different experience. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I treasure memories of those who have passed before me and take great pleasure in being with those who are still here to be loved and cherished.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Good-Bye To All That

Once upon a time, I liked to get dressed up. Shoes were especially important for some reason, and I was a sucker for fancy ones. It started when I was still in college with a pair of expensive white linen sling-back spike heels, decorated on the toes with mink fur.  I couldn't afford them, but relished wearing them on dinner dates and feeling glamorous.

Over the years I bought a lot of silly shoes, ending with this pair. Was it in the eighties? Who knows, but the soles are barely scuffed.  I suspected that this was my last pair of frivolous shoes and sentimentally kept them in a box for all these years.

I wasn't ready to give up that part of my self-image, I guess. Now I am. I no longer identify with the woman who wore these shoes and they've lost their charm. My footwear passion is still powerful, but has turned to good garden clogs and house slippers with arch support.

The golden slippers, size 10 2A, are available to anyone who will love them.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The First Hard Freeze

The average first frost date is October 15, but we coasted through to October 28 without dipping that low. Finally, that day the forecast called for a hard freeze, the temperature falling to 28 degrees. We went into action.

First, I photographed the mums, which I feared would be destroyed by the freezing temperature.

Then we headed to the garden to harvest tomatoes, peppers, zinnias, dill, and cilantro.

Finally, we gathered old blankets and tarps to cover the cabbages, escarole, and kale. By then our fingers were icy so we put on gloves.

I was pretty sure the kale would survive, but a hard freeze of several hours would kill the cabbages, and maybe the escarole. The next morning, when the thermometer rose above 32 degrees, I removed the covers.

The plants were as perky as ever, and now will have several more days to grow. What's more, the cilantro and dill were unscathed.

It was a different story for tomatoes, peppers, basil, marigolds, and zinnias. Toast, every one of them. We're down to the hard-core fall crops now.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Moving Into The Pole Barn

We were amazed by the speed of construction. It took two days.

After the concrete floor was poured, it had to cure for a week. Then, move-in day!

All this stuff came out of the garage. Now there's room for my car.

After everything was stashed away, there was still plenty of room. Dennis and Butch discussed putting up shelves.

Finally, the truck, mower and tiller have a home.

Later, Chris and I sowed clover, coneflower, gayfeather, yucca, indian grass, and false sunflower seeds in the bare areas. Dennis is gradually spreading the gravel to make a driveway and paths to the doors.

Hooray! We got 'er done.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fall Gardening

When I was growing up, my dad, a farmer, always planted a garden in the spring. He grew lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, sweet corn, green beans, and peppers (which he always harvested too soon). By mid-August the garden was finished until the next spring.

As an adult, I followed my dad's gardening practices, but a couple of years ago I decided to try a fall garden, which I had read about, but never seen. The results were spectacular and delicious.

It seems odd to be starting seeds in pots in July, but that is when I start savoy cabbage, escarole, and raddichio seedlings. This year I forgot to start raddichio, but the escarole and cabbages are thriving in the cooler weather.

Every morning the cabbage heads are laden with dew. The cabbages are getting so large they are dwarfing the escarole plants which are almost two feet wide.

Kale was another late planting. It's progressing more slowly, interspersed with volunteer dill. Normally we wouldn't have dill and cilantro in late October, but this year we are blessed with no frost so far.

Almost miraculous are the numerous butterfly caterpillars that feast on the dill and, in this photo, on a forgotten carrot that has now bloomed. These caterpillars will over-winter in garden litter, and emerge as butterflies in the spring.

Meanwhile, in the cold frames, lettuce, spinach, and arugula are up and gaining a toe hold. We should have fresh homegrown salad for Thanksgiving as well as spinach salad in February.

Dad would have enjoyed this fall bounty. I wish he were still here to share it with us. When he was farming, he would have been hand-picking field corn in late October, with the work horses, Babe and Belle, patiently pulling the wagon forward as he progressed down the row. How life has changed.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Day Did Not Begin Well

While I was busy destroying three eggs over easy, which became eggs over with difficulty, the pancakes were burning. Then the spatula refused to work properly again.

"S***," I shouted, threw the spatula at the wall, and stormed out of the kitchen.

Dennis appeared shocked, but I felt much better and soon enjoyed a mangled egg and two salvaged pancakes.

The day turned out to be lovely.

P.S. Look at the spatula. It's bigger than the griddle! No wonder I have trouble manipulating it. Who do they make these giant tools for, anyway?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Meet Morris

A strange little accumulation of sticks decorated with an upended glue trap in the garage told us that moving Mabel to an abandoned barn did not end our pack rat problems. Dennis set the Havahart trap again. Sure enough, Morris showed up the next morning.

What makes us think this isn't Mabel, returned home? This little creature behaved in a different manner from Mabel. (See Mabel Takes The Bait, September 21, 2010.) He was subdued, even timid, whereas Mabel was a live wire who shunned the camera. Morris seemed resigned.

Dennis drove Morris to the abandoned barn where he left Mabel last month, and released him. We imagine that Mabel greeted Morris with, "Where have you been? What took you so long?"

What worries me is that she may also have asked, "How are the kids?"

Thursday, October 21, 2010

I Give Up

Problems seem to arrive in little spates, like guests arriving at a party. That's how it's been here in Paradise all week. One problem after another knocked at our door.

I had planned to drive to Colorado to visit Nancy, Todd, Zach, and Cleo, but what seems like a host of failing machines and structures delayed me.

The MacBook Pro computer Dennis gave me for my birthday went away on Monday for a heart transplant at Apple and still has not come home.

The clothes dryer was making such a terrible screeching noise that on Monday I shopped for a new one, which will arrive next Monday.

On Tuesday the sliding door to our patio wouldn't close completely and now must be replaced, which calls for requesting bids from contractors.

The heat pump, which was maintained just two months ago, began vibrating and squeaking on Wednesday, prompting another service call.

Also on Wednesday, when I took my CRV in for wheel alignment, I learned that first I need to buy new tires, which will require some shopping around.

That's when I threw up my hands and said, "I give up. Someday I will get to Colorado, but it won't be this week."

I came home, ate a big bowl of beef stew and some biscuits, and went to bed for a long nap.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Why I Grow Escarole

In July I started seeds of savoy cabbage and broad-leaf escarole and against all logic set the seedlings in the garden in August's blazing heat. That they could survive the heat and insect assaults and grow to maturity before a hard freeze seems improbable -- and yet they do.

This morning Dennis brought a head of escarole in from the garden.

I took down the American Brasserie cookbook and opened it to Tramonto's Sausage, White Bean and Escarole Stew. I had soaked some navy beans overnight and cooked them this morning. I chopped garlic and measured dried New Mexico chiles.

The recipe calls for tomatoes. These late tomatoes from the garden don't look so hot, but they're way better than the grocery store fake tomatoes. (The pimento peppers don't go in the soup. They just happened to be there.)

Kathy and her cousins Linda and Deb had come to visit, so Deb was drafted to chop escarole.

As if that weren't contribution enough, she volunteered to brown the sweet Italian sausage.

After the other ingredients were added and it simmered for a while to swap the juices around, the soup was ready.

Then it was time for lunch. Dennis became the photographer.

The soup was so good that Deb and Linda wanted copies of the recipe. (Kathy already had it.)

Today I couldn't add parsley because the butterfly caterpillars ate it all, and I didn't have Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on. It was still delicious. (The recipe also calls for butter, which isn't needed.)

This is my favorite soup and the sole reason I grow escarole. And I have to add that the soup tasted even better in this superb company.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Quintessential Fall Supper

The cold front that made my bones hurt for the past two days has finally arrived. It blew in late this afternoon. Yellow leaves flew in the wind. The temperature dropped dramatically from the eighties to the sixties. Indian summer is  in a hiatus, or perhaps done for good.

The weather change called for our favorite early autumn supper: country sausage, fried apples, biscuits and gravy.

The gravy is an infrequent indulgence, but it really makes the meal, which is a perfect marriage of tastes: the tart sweetness of Johnathon apples, braised in butter and simmered with a sprinkle of brown sugar and cinnamon, counterbalanced by peppery cream gravy, crunchy biscuits and sage-scented sausage patties.

Both of us ate with relish, leaving nothing but three biscuits. Tomorrow we will eat responsibly, but tonight we celebrate. The moon is waxing, the air is cool, frogs are croaking by the creek, and all is well.

Non-Stick Rant

Yep, I'm out of sorts over something again. This time it's non-stick 9"x9" baking pans. I use this size pan for cornbread. I serve it from the pan and don't turn it out on a cooling rack.

Sometimes an eager would-be eater grabs a knife to cut the cornbread, scratching the pan with every cut, then uses a metal spatula to remove a piece. After washing, the pan rusts. There goes another non-stick pan. (I use them to hold little pots of seedlings.)

This steel pan was not inexpensive. In case the brand is not evident, here's a close-up...

Hunting for a replacement I can find a plethora of brands, all with with non-stick coating, which I have vowed never to waste money on again. Glass pans don't seem to come in 9"x9" size.

I believe it is a conspiracy among bakeware manufacturers. As long as they all make only non-stick pans, they're assured repeat customers. Not this one, though. I'm boycotting them.

If anyone can tell me where I might find the pan I want, a suitable reward will be forthcoming.

Pole Barn Construction

Thursday afternoon four men came and augered holes for the pole barn poles. Friday morning a truck delivered a pile of materials. Friday afternoon the four men returned and began arranging pieces of metal siding around the building pad.

Dennis came home mid-afternoon to see what was happening. Our neighbor Al and his corgis stopped by, too. The poles were up and the big holes filled with dirt around them.

Next, up went the walls.

After the crew left for the day, I went back to check their progress. These guys are fast.

The big empty space will be filled with an overhead door. That's where our pick-up will be parked. Another overhead door on the south side will accommodate parking of mower and tiller. A person door will give access to a potting/garden tool area with a window. The building is just 24' x 24'.

Except for pouring the concrete floor, the pole barn will be finished on Monday. We're pretty excited.