Friday, August 31, 2012

Thank You, Isaac

Hurricanes are not all bad. It's true that hurricane Isaac has flooded homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi and I'm sorry for that, but its counter-clockwise north heading has brought rain to eastern Kansas, for which I am thankful. We are just on the western edge of Isaac's swirling mass of water.

A gentle rain began early this afternoon and continues into the evening. It's expected to last all night. Moving north, Isaac has lost his punch and now is a gentle old man. He brings exactly what we need – soft, slow rain that soaks into the parched earth. I'm thinking of him as a grandfather, bestowing his blessings.

A New Camera!

For my birthday, which is next week, Dennis bought me a new camera, a Cannon S95. Of course we couldn't wait to try it out, so while I was preparing supper, Dennis was firing away. Here's where the cooking occurs and on the right the location of many of the food pictures I've posted.

Then there's the sink area and my view of the chicken yard from the window. A bag of Gulf shrimp sits on the counter along with the potatoes waiting to be roasted. Yes, that's my bourbon and water sitting between them.

He insisted on taking a shot of me, too. I insisted on including the kitchen god, who always smiles down on the food I prepare.

When I got busy with food preparation Dennis wandered off to the dining room with Annie and the camera.

He also took a photo of the bookcase on the opposite wall.

I'm posting these, not because they are interesting, but because I'm so thrilled with the quality of photos this camera takes. As one last example, here's the shrimp as we were about to dig in.

I had read that Gulf shrimp taste oily from the BP oil disaster, but these shrimp from Galveston tasted as sweet and delicious as Gulf shrimp always have.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Micro Farming Pays Off

A little work, a little investment and a little luck contribute to success in micro farming, even during a drought. We have a small garden, a cold frame, a chicken house with 14 chickens and a good neighbor, Laurie. Some days I'm amazed and a bit overwhelmed by the resulting riches.

Yesterday Dennis gathered nine eggs, eight of them laid in one nest. We have only five old hens but now the little chickens, who have grown into pullets in the five months since they hatched, have started laying eggs. As always, pullet eggs are small. We had six of them scrambled for breakfast along with whole wheat biscuits and homemade strawberry jam. We may be engaged in micro farming, but two-thirds of our breakfast came from Paradise.

For supper last night we made BLTs with cottage cheese on the side. When I began to slice the tomato for our sandwiches I found almost no seeds, just deep red, juicy flesh.

This particular fruit came from the volunteer plant that came up in the corner of the tomato patch. Most tomatoes have an abundance of seeds, but here we have a tomato that is mostly flesh, a characteristic well worth preserving. Right away I decided to save the few seeds for next year's crop. After slicing the tomato I slid the juice and seeds onto a paper towel to dry overnight.

The seeds are so small I circled them with a pen. A big tomato that has only 21 tiny seeds would be a best seller. (I may have missed a few.) Maybe the seeds won't be viable, but next February I'll pick the them off the towel and stick them in some seed-starting medium to see what happens. Maybe it will prove to be a new variety. Maybe not, but that's the fun of this enterprise: seeing what would happen if...

Early this morning Laurie, who is half-owner of the little chickens, stopped by with a big bag of basil from her garden. This year her basil is growing exuberantly while ours is still very small. This year we have an abundance of tomatoes while hers aren't bearing. She gives us basil and we give her tomatoes.

Suddenly my morning schedule changed: I'll be making a modified version of pesto to freeze for winter cooking. If you have an abundance of basil, here's how: put a lot of basil leaves, several cloves of garlic and some olive oil in a food processor and whirl it all together. Spoon the paste into ice cube trays or small containers and freeze them. That's it. These ingredients are useful in soups, sauces and other dishes, such as Dennis' famous Crystal catfish. I'll post that recipe one of these days.

So, hey, we're having fun while hoping Isaac will bring us some rain.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Artistic Endeavor

About two years ago I started a "mask" to be called Grandmother Spider, the second in what I hoped would become a series of figures inspired by Southwestern Native American mythology. The first – Corn Maiden – wasn't quite finished, but I was eager to move on. I had made most of the parts for Grandmother Spider when my wrists became so painful I couldn't work. Here's how far I got with it.

The base is half a gourd, the hair is dryer lint, the eyes are buttons and the legs are wire. There's also a pair of broken granny glasses.

Now that my wrists are strong I can work again and I want to finish this mask. So far I have added a second pair of eyes, mended the glasses, drilled holes for the hanger wire and painted the gourd.

Sometimes art projects roll right along, one step easily following another. When that happens I feel in the groove. This project has been agonizing, though. It took me two months to figure out how to put the glasses back together. I was afraid of ruining them. I thought the glasses would have to be soldered, for which I have neither the tool nor the skill. Then Linda said to glue them.  I used an adhesive called Household Welder. That worked just fine.

Then it seemed right to add two more eyes, because spiders have at least four eyes and as many as eight. I dreaded drilling more holes for the extra pair of eyes. It's so easy to let the drill dance around and ruin the gourd. I hadn't used my Dremmel tool for two years. It was easier than I had feared. I spent a couple of days finding the right buttons for the eyes.

Here's where things stand now.

I'm struggling with the legs. How can I attach them? They seem too flimsy. I considered using the wire legs as armature to be covered with Sculpey, but now I've decided to paper mache them. This decision requires picking up on a craft I haven't used for ages. I'm also concerned about leg placement and how to make it symmetrical.

Will this project ever be finished? Will I ever regain confidence and proceed with a sure hand? I have to remember that sometimes artistic endeavor is arduous, but also that it can come easily. Either way, I mustn't give up. I would always regret it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

First The Bad News...

While we were in Colorado our neighbor Al noticed a dead doe lying in our pasture. He called the Douglas County Sheriff, who sent someone to dispose of the body.

When I heard this news I knew at once that the mother of the fawn had died, leaving our fawn an orphan. The mother had been excruciatingly thin, almost emaciated.

A few days after our return, I spotted the fawn under an old ornamental crabapple near the cedar windbreak. It seemed to be eating the tiny fruit that had fallen to the ground. That was reassuring.

Two days later, though, I saw the fawn heading into the deep woods south of our house. Coyotes roam there, running in packs, baying and hunting for weak creatures like the fawn. What's more, a cougar lives in these woods. I thought the fawn's fate was sealed.

Now, the good news! This afternoon Dennis called me to come to the living room window – the fawn was in the windbreak again. Moreover, it was accompanied by a yearling doe, perhaps its sister. I had seen this doe before, when she and the mother came to drink from the bird bath.

We watched in delight as these two young deer drank deeply from the huge pot of water Dennis has put between rows of trees in the windbreak. The older one continually stopped drinking to check for danger.

After drinking they walked into the edge of our yard. The older one gently licked the head and ears of the baby, just as its mother would have done.

Wildcare had informed us that when a doe dies, other does in the herd will look out for her baby, and now we can attest to that. So we have a tiny herd of two deer. They live in our pasture. We have seen the rings of flattened grass where they sleep.

The drought is an ordeal for wild creatures. The deer can eat dried grass, which is plentiful, but they must have water to survive. We are happily supplying that essential.

After this affectionate grooming the fawn became distracted and didn't notice its sister walking down the windbreak, stopping just inside the trees. The fawn looked up, noticed its sister was gone, then spotted her and bounded, white tail flying, to reach her. Side by side they disappeared beyond the windbreak and into the pasture.

So far, so good for this gentle, vulnerable pair. May angels watch over them as they sleep.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Getting Ready for Fall

This summer's garden is a pitiful sight. The tomato plants at the end of the garden are tall, but several of the plants produce only tiny tomatoes. The peppers, just this side of the tomatoes, have hardly grown and still haven't bloomed.

At the near end of the garden sweet potatoes, replanted three times, are stunted. The vines should have covered this entire area by now.

Still, hope springs eternal. We are preparing to plant a fall garden, believing rain will surely come soon.

This morning Dennis demolished the old cold frame, which has served us for a decade or more. After removing the front board and one of the sides, he moved the rich soil into the wheelbarrow for transport to the garden.

We had to sacrifice the old cold frame because the wood that supported the soil is rotted.

At last Dennis pulled the frame remnants away and we said goodbye to an old friend that provided us with countless winter salads.

Dennis had already repaired the newer cold frame, whose corner had pulled apart. This time he screwed a piece of 2"x4" into the corner.

Manure-rich litter from the chicken house (another benefit of keeping chickens) replenishes the cold frame soil. Here, Dennis is raking out pieces of straw that haven't yet deteriorated.

The last step before planting will be replacement of the old plastic on the lids, a task that has to be done every year. Glass, of course, would be more lasting, but it would make the lids too heavy to lift.

The straw bales served as insulation for the cold frame last winter. We will use them for chicken litter and for garden mulch and get new bales of straw for next winter's insulation. This weathering process helps destroy wheat and weed seeds that otherwise would sprout in the garden.

One source of inspiration for all this preparation is the poke weed growing by the garden fence. It has had no water, yet is nearly as tall as the 12' fence. You can see it in the top photo at the right end of the row of tomato plants. It is indomitable. Perhaps we, too, can persevere.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

New Mental Disorder Announced

Dr. Michael Soft, scholar and ardent observer of human behavior, announced today a newly identified neurosis, Mowing Deprivation Syndrome, or MDS. Soft said the disorder appears only in owners of riding lawnmowers. He has not observed owners of push mowers exhibiting MDS symptoms.

"Those with MDS will mow even if it's dry as a bone and the grass is dormant. In the second phase of the disorder mowers are all on their John Deere tractors, attacking each other because there's nothing left to mow," Soft said. "They're all over the rural roads and suburban subdivisions, searching for a tuft of grass to mow and itching for a fight."

Soft blames the current drought for this outbreak. Mowing is a compulsive need to stake out one's territory in his view. "This behavior is comparable to tomcats out spraying porches. It's all about testosterone...and drought," he said.

This outbreak of MDS will likely subside when rain comes, if it ever comes.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Romas Star in a Red Hot Summer

We planted a variety of tomatoes last spring, including Old German, Abraham Lincoln, Rutgers, Brandywine and Roma. We did not plant a single cherry tomato, although cherry tomatoes appear to be in this photo. Those are merely tiny tomatoes produced on big, strapping vines that we water frequently. Their tiny size is the result of many days over 100º. It's as if the plants felt they'd better hurry to ripen some seeds before they burned up.

Far and away the best performers in the prolonged heat and drought are the five Roma plants. Their fruit is normal size and prolific. Second best is Abraham Lincoln, whose fruit is half-size but still decent for slicing. Third best in terms of production is a volunteer plant from last year's garden, some sort of heirloom tomato. It has produced only four tomatoes, but they are quite large and juicy. That's the big tomato to the left of the yellow object, which is a fruit fly trap.

Because homegrown tomatoes are an essential part of summer, I'll always plant Roma tomatoes, just in case the weather turns hot and dry.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Colorado Peach Pie

You can't believe a word I say. I said I wouldn't post more pie photos, but last night's Colorado peach pie was so delicious I can't resist.

The Filling for a 9-Inch Pie

Four heaping cups of sliced Colorado peaches (3 to 5 peaches, depending on their size)
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

No need to peel the peaches, just wash them and cut them up. Mix the sugar and cornstarch together in a measuring cup, then mix with the peaches. Stir in the almond extract. 

For the crust, see Pie Crust 101, July 31, 2012. (See how flaky the crust is in the photo above.)

I baked this pie at 400º for 45 minutes. Your oven may vary. Just watch for the filling to bubble in the center – that's when it's done.

Hooray for big, juicy, delicious Colorado peaches! They are one of every summer's high points. Look for them in the market around August 1 every year.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Wednesday's temperature was in the high nineties. I went grocery shopping and there in the meat section lay packages of beef shank slices. They were large and meaty. I had been daydreaming about soup, which was ridiculous considering the temperature. Nevertheless, I bought a beef shank and, lo, and behold, the next day's temperature was in the sixties.

Out came the soup pot. After the beef shank browned in a little olive oil I added two cups of water and two teaspoons of beef base. After it came to a boil I turned the heat to low and let it simmer for three hours.

I removed the beef shank to a cutting board and to the broth I added chopped onions, celery, carrots and garlic. I let these cook for a bit while I peeled and chopped some of our pitifully small tomatoes. After adding the tomatoes I decided it was too thick, so I added more water and beef base. While this mix was simmering with a lid on, I suddenly remembered the affinity between beef and barley, so I added 2/3 cup of barley along with the beef, which I shredded with my fingers. It was darned good.

Another cold front moved through this afternoon, so, after a day of rest, the soup had an encore this evening. It was another simple meal, and just as satisfying as all the others. Of course, there is peach pie for dessert, but I've promised myself I won't post any more pie photos.

What if the simultaneous occurrence of my soup urge and the cool weather is not serendipity at all? What if I had a foreknowledge of the cool weather to come? What if by the act of preparing for soup-making I facilitated the cool weather?

Of course I believe no such thing. I believe in serendipity. I'm a devotee of Carl Jung. Still, I might buy soup ingredients again when the weather is hot, just to see.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Too Much Stuff?

This morning I opened my off-season closet, which also houses our vacuum cleaner and things destined for the Social Services League thrift shop, and spied seven summer shirts stored there last fall. (The white one isn't in the photo.)

I had remarked to Dennis earlier that my summer wardrobe seems spare. I've been wearing mostly t-shirts, but had wanted a loose button-up shirt. I had totally forgotten these shirts, but immediately embraced them as dear old friends and newer acquaintances. 

Now, I ask you, do I have too much stuff? Maybe so, but not as much stuff as many other people.

Last Sunday a recently-married young couple showed us around the country home they are building. The walk-in closet in their master bedroom is as large as my entire bedroom. As all four of us were standing in the closet he husband said, "She will have this filled up in no time."

How, I thought, could one person wear all the clothes that would fit in this closet? Would she wear something different every day of the year, maybe changing for dinner? Or does she keep every garment she has ever owned, creating a clothing museum of her life?

When one goes into an old farmhouse one often finds no bedroom closets, but a few hooks on the wall for clothing. The 1920s bungalow I grew up in had two bedrooms, each with a tiny closet two-and-a-half feet wide.

Now we have a surfeit of clothing. Our closets are stuffed with it. Thrift shops are jammed with it. Department stores are burgeoning with it. We send huge bales of it to poorer countries, where a Ugandan boy ends up wearing a K-State t-shirt.

Instead of investing in clothing we could be educating children, building and repairing bridges and providing a safe living environment for the mentally ill who are homeless. We could be doing these things and more if we had tiny closets or only a few hooks on our bedroom walls for clothing.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Goodbye To The Sleeping Elephant

A mountain just down the road from The Trading Post is known as Sleeping Elephant.

We waved goodbye to the Sleeping Elephant on Saturday morning as we headed to Fort Collins, then south to I-70 where we turned east toward home.

As soon as we turned east, with the Rocky Mountains in our rear-view mirror, I breathed a sigh of relief. Don't get me wrong here; I had a happy week at The Trading Post with family and friends, but I'm a woman in love with the plains. The wide, wide sky and the undulating topography give me a sense of peace and belonging.

Kansas is infamously known as flat, flat, flat. That description is inaccurate. Kansas rolls up and down – gently at first, if you're facing east, and then dramatically through the sixty-mile wide Flinthills. These rolling hills are deceptive because as we travel east the elevation is continually falling. Our destination, Baldwin, is more than 4,000 feet lower than Denver and 7,000 feet lower than The Trading Post. The Kansas' landscape is rolling and tilted.

Mountains seem ominous to me, the prairie benign and peaceful. The prairie is an abstraction: black cattle grazing on green and tan grass, backed by a swath of blue; dark green crop circles formed because of irrigation.  It is a feast for my eyes, a simple meal, whereas the mountains are a giant smorgasbord, a surfeit.

I love Paradise, drought or not. It is in the transition zone between prairie and woodland. I love the creek, the thousands of trees, the prairie-like pasture with its wildflowers and grasses. It is the one place on earth where I feel balanced and whole, where I know myself.

Every person has a Paradise, I hope, either physical or imagined. It is the one place on earth where we feel most comfortable, where we find solace and inspiration, where we can be who we are. Paradise is worth hoping for, worth striving for, worth attaining. For some it will be on the prairie, for some the city, for some the small town, and for some at the foot of Sleeping Elephant. May each of us find our Paradise.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Colorado Reflections

Since coming to Colorado ten days ago I have been reading James Michener's Centennial. It's about the northeastern part of Colorado where the Platte River flows. I've been grateful to Michener for beginning the book in prehistory when diplodocus lived here, when the Ancestral Rockies rose out of the earth to thousands of feet and eroded to nothing through the millennia.

I found this perspective comforting. It made me realize that human beings are miniscule blip in time and that inhabitants of the earth, if any, will be vastly different from us. Many life forms have become extinct. We probably will join the ranks.

This summer I've felt that climate change is increasing exponentially and that we can't change it now. We might mitigate it a little. We might start preparing for the day when the oceans rise and wipe out coastal habitations. We might restrict our use of fossil fuels and pour effort into increasing renewable energy sources. We might do a lot of things, but we won't.

Here in Colorado forest fires have raged this summer and some are still smoldering. As it happens both of my Colorado destinations are partially burned – Colorado Springs and the Poudre River Valley. I've seen a lot of skeleton trees, scorched earth and foundations of burned houses. I saw the Poudre River run black after a rain.

These scenes have only reinforced what I've been living through – one of the worst summers in eastern Kansas history. We Americans have fouled not only our own nests but the nests of people all over the world. It saddens me greatly.

But here I am, breathing cool mountain air, enjoying the family gathering and enjoying walks along the river. Sorry, no photos until I get home. I'm at a wifi access cafe ten miles down the mountain. The connection is too slow to upload a photo. Wish I could show how beautiful it is. Wish you were here.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Family Tradition

Family traditions begin almost by accident, at least ours did. Thirty-seven years ago Dennis recalled visiting the Rocky Mountains with a friend's family when he was 11 years old. They went to the Poudre Valley and stayed at The Trading Post, a collection of cabins beside the Cache de la Poudre River. He wanted to go back to try his hand at trout fishing, so we did.

The Trading Post Office and Store

We stayed in a rustic cabin. It was furnished with a bed, a table and two chairs, a sink with cold running water, a two-burner hot plate and a gigantic wood cook stove. Calls of nature took us to the outhouse. Dennis didn't catch many trout, as I recall, but we had a grand time.

Over the years we have returned many times. Friends and family members joined us there. Dennis became a proficient fly fisherman and taught others all the tricks. Now Oz and his sons Grant and Logan are proficient and catch many fish.  My brother Holmes, too, is a regular. Sometimes wives accompany the fishermen; sometimes we don't, but regular as clockwork, male members of our family congregate for fishing the Poudre the first week of August.

Most of us now stay in the Trading Post's modern cabins that have bathrooms and real kitchens. This year will be a banner year, with three wives, one daughter and one girlfriend in attendance in addition to the male fishermen.

I'm going up tomorrow. Some are already there. More are coming. No television, no radio, no internet for more than a week. It's our family tradition.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

How To Be A Dinner Table Cut-Up with Fused Wrists

Having had both wrists fused last year I've gradually learned to accommodate the loss of wrist movement and learned new ways of doing things. The first time I tried to butter my breakfast toast, I was stymied. I had not realized that using a table knife required bending one's wrist.

After several frustrating dining experiences I began to experiment and discovered a new way of holding the knife.

Here's how I used to hold a knife. The only ways to use a knife in this position I would have to either stand up or raise my elbow to the level of my shoulder.

Here's the way I hold it now, the way I hold a pencil or pen. It works just fine and has become second nature to me.

Now I can use a knife at the table without making a spectacle of myself.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

In The Land of Double Rainbows

I couldn't take the Kansas heat and drought any more. I fled to Colorado to stay with Nancy and her family. Every day there's been a thunderstorm. One day there were three. This double rainbow appeared after yesterday's storm. I took the photo standing in Nancy's front yard facing the Colorado College campus.

Only now do I realize how stressful the prolonged heat and drought have been. Back home no one has much appetite and they're not sleeping well. It's a wonder they are keeping their sanity. They are tougher than I am, that's for sure. I hope the rain reaches them soon.