Friday, November 25, 2011

We Had A Wild Thanksgiving

Last week my brother, Holmes, called. "Sis, we want to come to your house for Thanksgiving and we will do all the work."

That made me happy. Our extended family has come together here to give special thanks for many years. It's a tradition I wasn't able to carry on this year.

He went on, "I've always wanted to have a wild Thanksgiving."

Fine with me.

What he meant was wild venison tenderloin harvested from the Missouri woods. Holmes kept a careful eye on Oz as he carved it hot off the grill.

He also meant wild pheasants from his hunting trip to Nebraska. He used a recipe from Antoine's in New Orleans circa 1924. For the sauce he brought morel mushrooms he gathered and dried last spring along with some shitakis.

He added some madeira and, later, cream before reducing the sauce.

Holden gathered salad greens from the garden. They're not really wild, although some are self-seeded, but they were freshly picked, which makes them close to wild.

Holmes was determined to serve the pheasant under glass, a la Antoine's, but it didn't quite fit.

Eleven of us stuffed ourselves with wild and not so wild food, including dressing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, petite pois, and whole wheat rolls.

The pumpkin pie found the scene amusing...for a while.

Everyone went home about 7:30 that evening, after doing all the work.

Many thanks to my family for carrying on the tradition. It was a wild and wonderful day.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. The first Thanksgiving was for enough food to eat and for peaceful relations between races.

What will we give thanks for tomorrow? Everyone's answer will be a little different. Some have little to be thankful for. Others have perhaps too much. I have a great deal to be thankful for. Here's a short list:

Health Insurance. Without it I would be a helpless invalid.

Skillful Surgeons. Without them I would be a helpless invalid.

Family and Friends. Without them I would be adrift in the world.

Earth. Without it I would starve.

Rain. Without it I would live in a desert.

Occupy. Without it I would have little hope for change.

Books. Without them my life would be limited.

Dennis. Without him....I cannot imagine life without him.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

In The Time of Long Shadows

This is the time of long shadows. Hanging low in the southern sky, the sun elongates shadows of utility poles, trees and houses to twice their size. Driving toward the south we are blinded without sunglasses.

This is the time, too, of relentless grey skies. On these days we crave sunlight and sleep too much. The hens don't lay as many eggs. Everyone seems a bit lethargic and cranky.

Thankfully, even on these overcast days, bright spots remain in the garden. Broccoli heads are forming now.

And the turnips!

With or without row cover (the white stuff) they are thriving despite several night-time temperatures in the low twenties and many below freezing. Here's why: turnips grow wild in Siberia.

I pulled some for our supper tonight. I'll cook both the tops and the roots and give the hens the big outer leaves I reject.

Here it is, November 20, and we're still eating fresh greens grown right here in Paradise. Aint life grand?

Friday, November 18, 2011

No Pie Today

This afternoon, six days before Thanksgiving, I just couldn't wait for some pumpkin pie, so I pulled out the recipe card I wrote at least thirty years ago.

Over the years I've used it so many times it has turned the same color as our yellow countertops. Its splatters, notations and mysterious brown circle attest to its long history.

The penciled in dollar amounts date back to 1979 when I made pumpkin pies to sell at the Lawrence Farmers Market. I was allowing $5 an hour for my labor and even figured in the cost of running the electric oven.

About 15 years ago I quit the evaporated milk and used half-and-half instead.

Somewhere along the line I started buying store brand pumpkin instead of Libby's. Although in 1979 I paid just a quarter for a can of pumpkin, as the card shows, I thought myself lucky to find Hy-Vee pumpkin for seventy-nine cents a can this year. Libby's was priced at a dollar more than that.

Today I mixed up the pie filling and pulled out equipment to make a crust. But wait! Why did we need a crust? Why not just make pumpkin pudding? Maybe pies should be reserved for special occasions, such as Thanksgiving dinner.

So I poured that filling into a souffle baking dish, sprinkled on some cinnamon, set it in a pan of hot water and baked it at 350ยบ for an hour and ten minutes. When it was half-way done, I scattered a little chopped preserved ginger over the top for visual interest and taste surprise.

Now, having eschewed the high-calorie pie crust, I may have a blob of lovely whipped cream on my serving of pudding.

In The Midst of High Unemployment

With the October unemployment rate at nine percent, why did I keep reading about labor shortages? This question keeps nagging at me.

Fruit and vegetable growers were the hardest hit, which is due mostly to the immigration law changes. Hispanic migrant workers seem to be afraid to show up and it appears that most other Americans don't want to do the work, even at $150 a day. The Seattle Times reported on Oct. 31, 2011, "One after another, at a recent emergency meeting in Wenatchee called by the Governor's Office, fruit growers talked about how hard it's been to find workers as the harvest hits its sweet spot." And, "One orchardist recalled how, of the 149 people referred to him earlier in the season by the state's unemployment office, half showed up on the first day, a quarter on the second day. Now, only five remain."

Georgia growers faced a similar situation in the early summer, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Craig Schneider. "The AJC found that some farm owners, especially those who rely on migrant workers, see the July start date of the law coming at them like a wrecking ball. Many of their crops are peaking right now, and they say they are desperate for pickers. Some farms have as few as half the workers they had last year."

I'm hearing such stories directly, too. Last week, the owner of a construction company specializing in remodeling told me he has a hard time finding workers. For example, he recently hired a young woman to work on his crew. The first job was a century-old house whose plaster walls had to be demolished. He told the new hire that the first couple of days would be the worst, with plaster dust everywhere, but after that it was clean work. She quit that afternoon.

Then, just a day later, I heard that so-and-so had taken a night job at a warehouse because her unemployment benefits had run out. I wondered about that – did the job appear just in the nick of time, or had she been holding out for a better job or had she just been enjoying a vacation?

Is it possible that Americans don't want to do hard work? That we are, in fact, unwilling to work hard? Are we really that lazy? How many people drawing unemployment are looking for cushy jobs only?

Just asking, that's all.

It's a topsy-turvy world.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Back Home on The Range

The past few months are rather cloudy in my mind. Pain, followed by narcotics, followed by surgery, followed by pain, followed get the picture. Although each round of narcotics was brief (one to three days), it left me feeling pretty weird. Take stuff like that and you could turn into a nut case; think of Rush Limbaugh who was hooked on the same drug I was taking. 

I didn't feel like myself and probably offended several people by my inappropriate and immodest behavior. Sorry about that.

Finally, though, I feel like myself again. I've been desperate to cook, to bake, to try something new. A day or two ago I ventured into the kitchen again as more than a spectator and advisor. I made biscuits! I made banana nut bread with black walnuts! I cooked up a pot of chicken tortilla soup that tasted marvelous topped with sour cream, avocado and cilantro!

Today I made, for the first time in my life, caramel egg custard. Here it is, cooling in its pan of water. You can't see the caramel, which is on the bottom of each cup, but a little has seeped up in one of those on the right.

After trying to caramelize sugar in a pan on the stove, I gave up. It never even melted. On the good old web I looked for a microwave method and voila!, there it was. Three minutes later the caramelized sugar went into the cups, followed by the custard mixture. Kudos to our "girls," the hens, who produce the orangey-yellow yolks that give the custard its rich color.

I'm back at home in the kitchen, standing at the range, cooking up some grub. Oh, joy!

Downloading the custard photo I found some outdoor shots I must have taken during a recent brief moment of sanity. The first is something I first saw from the living room window. From a distance it might have been a snake or a piece of garden hose. But when I went outside I found it was just a small dead branch from a walnut tree, which had self-pruned during a recent blow.

It broke off one of these walnut trees, probably the center one. 

I took this picture facing east. Notice the pale pink at horizon's edge; that is characteristic of our winter sunsets. The east is a pale reflection of the fiery pink western light in the late afternoon.

It's good to be "Home on The Range" again. That's our state song, you know.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fall Garden

Every spring my dad planted a garden to supply fresh vegetables for our family. Lettuce and radishes were the first to be harvested, followed by green beans and onions, potatoes, corn and tomatoes. He also planted peppers, but always harvested them before they fleshed out. When the first frost hit, that was the end of the garden.

For some reason Dad never planted a fall garden. Maybe he was too busy farming or maybe he didn't know it was possible. No one else in our little town planted one either.

When I started gardening I did it just like Dad did, but I kept reading about fall gardens. Finally the idea of fresh vegetables in the fall overcame my doubts about planting a garden in the heat of August. I planted some fall greens. Oh, they were delicious! Now a fall garden has become traditional for us.

This year's garden is a spot of rich green in an otherwise ocher and russet landscape. The plants have shrugged off several nights of temperatures in the twenties and kept right on growing. The white cloths are row covers that we will use to protect the plants when night time temperatures fall even lower. Yesterday, November 2, I took these photos.

Beyond the parsley are the cruciferous vegetables, then arugula and turnips. 

Little Brussels sprouts are forming along the central stalks.

Cauliflower leaves are curling inward, indicating that a head of cauliflower is forming.

Elsewhere, spinach and lettuce crowd the cold frames where they are protected from freezing nights.

We've been harvesting fresh vegetables for nine months now and expect to continue through this month.  Both Dennis and I were fortunate to grow up in homes where gardening was an integral part of life.  Our dads set us on this path, for which we are thankful.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

They'll Never Pave Our Paradise

Our property, Paradise, is part of a rural subdivision originally platted in lots of three to five acres. We have two lots comprising just a tad under ten acres. The subdivision was formed from a worn-out farm and sits at the end of a long, high ridge in Douglas County. It is shaped like a thumb, with three sides of this little community falling away to Chicken Creek valley. The hillsides are heavily wooded.

Hillsides on the north side are glowing with the russet leaves of large oak trees, but here on the south side all the oaks fell to logging sometime before we moved here in 1975. Our hillside was home to hackberry, elm, redbud, cedar and osage orange trees, but no oaks. Only a logging trail remained to tell the story of the great oaks that once grew here.

Over the ensuing years squirrels have worked to remedy this loss. Gradually oak seedlings began to appear on our hillside. Only at this time of year are they clearly visible. Most other trees have lost their leaves, but the oaks are late to turn and the last to drop their leaves. Looking down from the back deck I see many spots of color.


Wine red

I will not live to see these trees mature, but I take joy in hoping that our great-grandchildren will treasure these trees. Oaks are part of our legacy to them. The oak is a symbol of strength and endurance, qualities those yet-to-be-born children will need to survive in a world where 25 million acres of tropical forest are destroyed every year. Water will be in short supply for the world's population of humans, which will have reached eight billion by the time those children are born. A myriad of other problems will beset them in our rapidly-deteriorating environment.

We do what we can to protect those unborn children and hope for the best.