Thursday, October 31, 2013

Too Many Turnip Greens

We’ve had more than three inches of rain in the past three days. The weather pattern was swirling counter-clockwise, warm air flowing up from the Gulf of Mexico meeting cold air coming from the west. Around and around it went, crashing thunderstorms announcing each new downpour. I enjoyed every minute of it, even at 3:00 A.M. today.

Even so, I knew that all the moisture would encourage the turnips to continue growing. They were just the right size for harvest, so Dennis pulled every one of the remaining plants.

Lucky for me we have been eating turnips right along, because even this harvest was a bit dismaying. Using kitchen shears I cut off all the old leaves for the chickens to enjoy. That’s their first bushel basketful beside me.

I reduced the amount of greens to an overflowing sinkful, after accumulating another bushel of leaves for the hens.

Finally I finished cutting out the midribs and chopping the leaves. Now they are simmering with olive oil and garlic. When they are done they won’t amount to much, considering all the labor involved, but they will make several packages to freeze for winter meals.

Considering the amount of time this task took, I probably should have given the chickens all the greens and emulated the squirrel that sat on the deck railing for a long time this morning, apparently enjoying the autumn colors.

Or maybe I should have climbed back on my high horse and continued to rant about the evil of single-use plastic. (If you aren’t familiar with the term “high horse,” Google it.)

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Lazy Cook's Tomato Sauce

Ever since I got the use of my arm back I’ve been freezing tomatoes for winter use. Some people like to simply freeze the whole tomato, but I think tomatoes turn to mush when treated that way. I stick to scalding the tomatoes in boiling water, slipping off the skins, chopping them and cooking them a little before freezing. The cooking kills the enzymes that otherwise continue to work on the tomato cells.

The entire top shelf of our freezer is filled with cottage cheese cartons full of tomatoes. Yesterday, faced with half a peck of ripe Roma tomatoes, I just couldn’t face another tomato preparation session. I had a notion to make tomato sauce, but all the recipes I found called for the scalding and peeling step.

But wait a minute, I thought. Why do the tomatoes have to be peeled? We eat the skins of fresh tomatoes without a thought. I decided to take a different approach. Our tomatoes are grown organically, so there’s no pesticide residue to worry about. I washed the tomatoes, cut off the stem end, cut them in half, scooped out most of the seeds with my finger, and threw them into the food processor. I also put in a couple of small onions, a carrot, some garlic cloves, and a stalk of celery.

I pureed this mélange in three batches, adding each batch to a three-quart pot with a quarter-cup of olive oil. After simmering for two hours, the mixture was reduced by one-third. The result was six cups of slightly chunky, thick tomato sauce.

That’s the lazy cook’s approach and it worked out just fine. One side benefit is that the sauce is loaded with heart-healthy fiber. Another is that it used a lot less electricity. I think it’s a good deal all around.

Now, what am I going to do with the remainder of this year’s tomato crop?

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Thanksgiving, Here We Come

The hard freeze killed the forest of sweet potato vines.

All these leaves collapsed, leaving a tangle of vines. Now the time had come to harvest the crop. Being able to see the vines, one is able to find the exact spot where each plant originated.

Once a main stem has been located, the soil around it can loosened using a potato fork. Pulling away the loosened soil exposes the sweet potatoes. We had  planted some of the slips in a new, unimproved section of the garden. The soil is pure clay loam. It was dry and hard. It’s a good thing for us that sweet potatoes like poor, dry soil. Dennis loosened and pulled away the soil around this plant, revealing its clump of potatoes.

Then, using the trowel, he carefully dug away the soil surrounding the clump.

Although he spent more than ten minutes carefully digging them out, the end of one broke off. These are either Japanese yams or Garnet yams. I can't tell them apart.

This plant, grown in an older part of the garden, where the soil has been amended with organic matter, was much easier to harvest. Dennis merely loosened the soil with the fork, tugged on the plant stem, and pulled the potatoes free.

The main trick to harvesting sweet potatoes is to follow this method and don’t rush it. Still, some will break or be impaled on a tine of the fork. These should be cooked right away because they won’t cure properly. The evening we harvested I cleaned and trimmed the broken ones and boiled them in their skins. After they had been drained and cooled, we peeled them and mashed them with buttermilk. (Yes, buttermilk.) Chopped crystalized ginger gave the dish an extra dimension. It was delicious.

I’ll be making mashed sweet potatoes again several times this coming winter. We have a plentiful supply. The largest ones, all Beauregards, weigh more than two pounds each.

Thanksgiving, here we come.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Back on My High Horse

Yesterday Dennis and I attended a chili supper to benefit the Senior Center in Lawrence. Dennis is a member of the Douglas County Senior Services board so we had to not just buy tickets, but also show up. The people were lovely. They were of all ages but mostly older.

The food was served in plastic bowls and plastic-coated paper plates. The drink glasses were clear plastic and styrofoam. Although a large, open kitchen adjoined the auditorium, not a single real dish or glass was in sight.

Given my recent obsession with plastic it seemed quite right that Dennis found our places to sit at a table facing one of the two 20-gallon trash cans in the large room. For the second day in a row I was appalled by our casual disposal of huge bags of detritus from our social events. I snapped a few photos.

In the good old days we would have carried our used bowls, plates, spoons, forks, and glasses to the kitchen pass-through. In the kitchen busy women and a stray man or two would have been doing the kitchen clean-up. A couple of people would have shuttled the dishes on to the people washing and drying the dishes. A couple more people would be putting everything back in its place, ready to be used again. The kitchen was the scene of camaraderie, teasing, storytelling, and laughter.

How could we have let that go? How could we be so wasteful of not only resources but also opportunity to socialize over a common task?

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Just for Fun

The whites of fresh-laid eggs are rather liquid and tend to run in interesting patterns. This morning I cooked an angel fish egg.

I also cooked a chicken egg.

Hey, it’s Saturday and I can’t tackle serious topics every day of the week. If I don’t laugh occasionally I might turn into a shrew.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Friday, October 25, 2013

In Thrall to Big Oil and Gas

Thrall: the state of being in someone’s power

Most of us, I think, do not realize how deeply we are in thrall to big oil and gas companies. Petroleum products are ubiquitous, and the most obvious of these is plastic, which is made from either natural gas or petroleum.

I’m actually a big fan of plastic – certain kinds of plastic. In my kitchen are three plastic mixing bowls that I use almost daily. They have served me well for many years and show no signs of wearing out. For a person with arthritic hands they are a godsend.

For all my years as a homemaker I have saved sturdy plastic bags that come my way. I use them over and over and over again, and wrote about this habit last year.   Since then I’ve come up in the world and have a special drying rack for them beside my kitchen sink, thanks to my friend Laurie. Someday, when the oil runs out, my plastic bag collection could become family heirlooms.

Single-use plastic is another matter. Grocery bags, plastic wrap, water bottles, and more fall into this category, and they are everywhere. In the United States alone in 2009 we used 102 billion plastic bags. Some are recycled, but many end up floating in the oceans or buried in landfills. God only knows how many plastic water bottles we toss out every day. Only 25 percent of recycled plastic is ever made into anything; the remainder is either incinerated or dumped into landfills. Plastic bags take centuries to decompose.

A movement to ban single-use plastic items is underway. Its most charming expression is this YouTube video, which I hope you will watch. PLASTIC STATE OF MIND (Empire State of Mind Parody).

Now, take a look at some of the more than 6,000 items made from petroleum. from Petroleum.htm Then tell me whether we are in thrall to big oil and gas.

Appalling Addendum:

Shortly after I posted this Dennis and I went to a friend's 70th birthday party. About 25 people attended. We ate roast beef, mashed potatoes, green beans, and salad. Later we had ice cream and cake from a grocery bakery. We ate on plastic plates using plastic knives, forks, and spoons. We drank from plastic glasses and used many paper napkins. When the party ended a 20-gallon trash can, lined with a plastic bag, was filled to the top with our plastic debris.

Noting that, I said to Kyle, who was standing beside me, "Look at all the trash we have generated. It's headed for the landfill."

His response? "It was worth it."

I doubt that Kyle has thought that through.

On the way home I remarked to Dennis about the amount of trash we left behind. He said the exact same thing had happened at the meeting he had attended at noon. Lunch was served in plastic containers and the utensils were all plastic. There, too, a large trash container was overflowing.

The problem, I fear, is much worse than I had realized.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, October 24, 2013

First Hard Freeze

A hard freeze – 26º – tonight will put an end to several things in the garden. Tomatoes, peppers, and sweet potatoes, all tropical plants, will keel over dead. Swiss chard and beets probably will succumb, as well. Only the turnips (natives of Siberia), kale, leeks, and parsley will survive and continue to grow when the weather warms a bit.

The likelihood of a hard freeze dictated what I would be doing today. Dennis and I picked tomatoes, pulled beets, found a few green beans, cut Swiss chard, and salvaged all the tomatoes and peppers large enough to continue to ripen.

I also cut some kale to cook with the beet greens and Swiss chard.

It’s been a hard day’s work, including wilting greens to freeze and cooking beets to make pickled beets. Luckily, some of the harvest can just sit, waiting to ripen and be eaten.

I’ve done these tasks so many times that I can think of other things while I’m working. Today my mind has turned again and again to the world’s absolute dependence on petroleum and that’s what I will explore in tomorrow’s post.

Right now I’m ready to kick back, have a bourbon and water, and watch the evening news if I can stand it. If I can’t stand it, if the news is too discouraging, I’ll read more of Geraldine Brooks’ fine novel, Year of Wonder.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ten Things

Here are ten things I hope to do today.

1. Turn off my computer and iPad

2. Clean out another drawer or two

3. Walk around outside, breathing crisp fresh air

4. Plant parsley seeds in a pot and set it in a sunny window

5. Bake an apple pie

6. Find a big box to fill with things to take to the Social Service League

7. Write a letter to my grandson Zachary

8. Polish my shoes

9. Read more of Geraldine Brooks’  Year of Wonder

10. Take a nap

Lots of interesting, useful, restful things can happen when one turns off the electronic gadgets.

Pokeweed's Autumn Colors

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Devil Made Me Do It

Fabian Seafood was my downfall on the last day of Low Impact Week. Spring through autumn the Fabian Seafood truck makes a trek north from Galveston, bringing shrimp and other seafood to landlocked towns. Every day the truck swings by an airport to pick up a supply of just-caught seafood. I received an email notice that the truck would be selling shrimp at a car wash in Lawrence last Saturday, the last day of my Low Impact Week.

Having spent several winters on Galveston Island, I longed for a taste of the food so plentiful there, but I was resolute. I would not drive to Lawrence to purchase food from the Gulf of Mexico. I would not.

Saturday morning my friend Kathy, who lives in Lawrence and who knows I love Gulf shrimp, called to say she was going to buy shrimp – the truck was just a few blocks from her house. Should she get some for me, too?

Without hesitation I caved and asked her to get me five pounds. Then rationalization set in. We could keep our tradition of shrimp for Christmas Eve supper. After all, I won’t be going to Galveston this year, so I deserve at least to have a few shrimp. I know, it’s just a bunch of excuses for doing something I shouldn’t have done.

Dennis picked up the shrimp on Sunday. We immediately froze four pounds in water. Then I cooked a pound. (That’s when I realized that a pot of water boils more quickly if it is covered.)

The term "boiled shrimp" is a misnomer. Shrimp doesn’t need to cook much. Recipes that give an exact number of minutes can easily result in over-cooked shrimp. The best way is to drop the shrimp into boiling water. They all sink to the bottom of the pan.

When you see a tail rise to the top, the shrimp is nearly cooked.

When all the shrimp rise to the top, they are done.

Immediately remove them from the water and let them cool. While they cool, stir up some cocktail sauce: ketchup, lemon juice, and as much prepared horseradish as you can tolerate.

Try not to feel guilty when you eat the shrimp. Give the shells to the chickens. Promise yourself you will do better in the future. That’s what I’m doing.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Monday, October 21, 2013

Low Impact Lingers On

Low Impact Week certainly had an impact on me. Some new insight pops up two or three times a day. I see how I could do something differently, just some small thing. For example, last night I set a pot of water on the kitchen stove and turned on the heat. I needed the water to come to a boil before I dropped in some shrimp to cook. (More about that tomorrow.) Remember the saying that a watched pot never boils? I was impatient, waiting for the boil, when a voice in my head said, “Put a lid on it, for Pete’s sake!”

And there you are, an insight. Keeping a lid on the pot hastened the boil and I had saved both time and electricity usage.

It happened again today when I tried to open a little drawer in the bathroom. Something was caught, so I began to pull things out in order to find the obstruction. Gadzooks! No wonder the drawer wouldn’t open. Where did all this stuff come from?

It’s true I had three different facial moisturizers in there, but after I sorted things out, the real culprit emerged. When I have my teeth cleaned the hygienist always hands me a plastic bag full of dental supplies – a small container of floss, a toothbrush, gum stimulators, and a little tube of Crest toothpaste, a brand I never use. Actually, I never use any of these things.

Here’s the insight: I don’t have to accept the dental goody bag. (What is it about human beings that causes us to accept things just because they are free, even if we don’t need or even like them?) If I say “No, thank you,” my bathroom drawer will remain orderly and I’ll have less trash to dispose of. 

Maybe I’ll go a step farther and ask that the cost of the things in the goody bag be deducted from my cleaning bill. I wonder how that will go over?

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Low impact week is over. Did it change our habits? Did it make a difference? Did it save the environment?

Yes, our habits have changed in many small ways. Dennis turns off his computer when he isn’t using it. We don’t run water full blast, and try to use only the amount necessary to clean ourselves and our kitchen. I’ve realized, too, that  I have good shoes and clothing I don’t wear and that I should pass these things along to someone who needs them, instead of leaving them in a closet  gathering dust. I could name more little changes, but one principle sums it up: take only what you really need to live a decent life.

Whether these small life-style changes will make a difference I cannot say. I know only that if all of us made an effort to use fewer resources, human beings might be able to survive into the 22nd Century. We will do what we can and hope that others will, too.

Low impact week certainly did not save the environment. In the end it comes down, not to individual sacrifices, but to our societies’ choices. Can we be good stewards of Earth? Are we willing to try?

For example, if we are willing to do what is best for Earth, we will pump less oil.

And build more wind turbines.

We have hundreds of such choices to make. Future generations depend on our making them.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Low Impact: Reducing Trash

Day six of No Impact Week is give back day. We’re supposed to clean up trash in public places or perform some other community service. The only community service I can perform without driving several miles is to write about trash reduction, which I missed writing about on Monday. I hope this counts.

We ate one of the locally produced bratwurst for supper last night. It was delicious and very tender. A great side benefit was the packaging, a piece of white butcher’s paper. No Styrofoam tray. No plastic wrap, just a piece of paper. Eating local pork and beef will greatly reduce our contribution to the Douglas County landfill.

At the start of this week I vowed to start making my own crackers instead of buying commercial ones. The excessive packaging of store-bought crackers has always dismayed me. I love Back to Nature crackers, but they come in a plastic tray inside a plastic bag inside a sturdy cardboard box.

Today I made a batch of whole-wheat sesame crackers. I spent not more than ten minutes mixing the dough and rolling it out to 1/8-inch thickness. Instead of cutting the dough into pieces on the pastry cloth I lifted it onto a cookie sheet and used a pastry wheel to make individual crackers.

The raggedy edges may bother some people, but not me. The end result looks fine and the raggedy edges I sampled are just as good as Back to Nature crackers. What’s more, homemade crackers are very economical. A box of Back to Nature costs not less than $3.50 and weighs just four ounces. My crackers weighed in at ten ounces, making them worth $8.75. I don’t know the ingredient and oven heating costs, but it couldn’t have been more than $1.

Here’s the recipe. Maybe you can figure the cost.

Whole Wheat - Sesame Crackers

1½ cups whole wheat flour
¼ cup soy flour
¼ cup sesame seeds
½ t. salt
¼ cup oil
½ cup cold water

Add oil to dry ingredients, then water, enough to make pie dough consistency. Mix well. Roll to 1/8-inch thickness. Place on ungreased baking sheet. Prick with a fork and cut in diamonds or squares with pizza cutter.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

I’ve always known that homemade is better and more economical than commercially produced food, but now I realize its additional advantage of significant trash reduction.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Friday, October 18, 2013

Hot and Cold Ruination

Day six of No Impact Week emphasizes water conservation, a subject dear to my heart.

I think hot and cold running water may have become our ruination. Long ago, when people had to carry water from a stream or cistern or well into their houses, they were much more conservative in their use of that life-sustaining substance.

When I was a girl we had running water in the house. It came from a back-yard cistern that was replenished only from rain that fell on our roof. Whenever rain came, even in the dead of night, Dad allowed the gutters to flow into the yard just long enough to cleanse the roof. Then he donned a raincoat and went outside to redirect the gutter water into the cistern.

Water conservation was always on our minds. Mother used two dishpans full of water for washing dishes, one for washing and one for rinsing. This same water was carried outside to water flowerbeds in clement weather. No more than two inches of water was allowed in the bathtub. Only Dad, whose farm work involved getting dirty every day, took a daily bath. For daily clean-up we put a rubber stopper in the bathroom lavatory and ran a little water in it to wash our faces and other body parts. Brushing teeth involved one glass of water and no more. We washed our hair in a small enamel basin in the kitchen sink. No one even dreamed of watering a lawn.

These conservative practices were aided by the way we got hot water. It was years before we had a water heater in the basement. All our hot water came from the teakettle heated on the kitchen stove. Carrying hot water to the bathtub a kettleful at a time discouraged excessive use of cold water for bathing, too.

Everything is different with hot and cold running water supplied by municipal water treatment plants. Here in Paradise we have water from Rural Water District Number Two's big blue water tower.

Dennis enjoys a long hot shower every morning, as do at least two million other Americans, assuming that at least two-thirds of our population practices this habit. We use the bathroom lavatory like a shower, letting water run continuously while we wash our hands and faces and brush our teeth. We rinse dishes under running water before loading them into the dishwasher. Single faucets that serve up both hot and cold water have made things even worse. If the faucet last emitted hot water and we want cold, we let the hot water run out until the cold comes through, and vice versa. Easy come, easy go.

Water is our most precious resource and only one percent of earth's finite water supply is fresh, drinkable water. Without it life would be unsustainable, yet we use it profligately not just in our homes but also in industry, manufacturing, cooling nuclear reactors, agriculture, and recreation. Now fracking is further despoiling our water resources and rapidly depleting the Ogallala aquifer, which lies beneath the Great Plains and which many people depend on for their household water. The aquifer accumulated over millions of years, but we will use it all up in this century.

Ah, what fools we mortals be.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Low Impact Week, Day Four

No Impact Week was halfway over before I discovered that each day has a different emphasis. I feel bad about having driven to town and back on Tuesday, which was supposed to emphasize walking or biking everywhere. Maybe traveling on a foot-powered scooter would qualify, too.

I made up for Tuesday on Wednesday – local food day. The way I figure, food you already have on hand should qualify as local food, even if it includes dried cranberries. I made a big batch of granola. The best thing I can claim about the granola is that all the ingredients were purchased in bulk sections of grocery stores, so there’s no packaging waste and there are no empty cartons from prepared cereals to recycle.

For lunch we had potato leek soup with fresh parsley garnish. I’m happy to say that everything in it except a bit of half and half came from our garden.

Finally, I prepared a basket of Roma tomatoes for freezing.

They scalded for 30 to 45 seconds in boiling water.

Then they went into a bowl of ice water to keep them from getting mushy.

The tomato skins slipped right off. Then I cut each fruit into smaller pieces, and simmered them to stop their natural enzymes’ action. After they cooled I put them in old cottage cheese cartons and froze them. I was thinking tomato bisque soup, vegetable soup, pasta sauce, chili, and a favorite, tomatoes baked with breadcrumbs and butter.

These three principles guided me:
            Use what you have,
            Eat what is fresh, and
            Preserve the surplus.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Doing Penance

What fools we mortals be, especially when city folk move to the country. Even though Dennis and I were farmers’ kids, neither of us had ever actually lived in the country. Both of our farmer fathers lived in towns (very, very little towns) and drove to the country to tend to their farms.

We thought we were country savvy. We knew when wheat is planted and when soybeans are harvested. We knew a little about vegetable gardening, but mostly about garden produce. Both of us had roamed the countryside as kids, playing in the hayloft, fishing in the pond, feeding the hogs dried corn on the cob, gathering walnuts and gooseberries.

We weren’t as smart as we thought we were. One of the first things I did was cut the thick stem of a bittersweet vine that had climbed to a treetop. I wanted the berries to be accessible for cutting and I assumed that if I cut the vine trunk it would put up new growth from its roots. Wrong. With one swift lop I had killed it.

In those early days, humbled, I sought wisdom from the Agriculture Extension Service, which has a presence in every county in this country. Our Extension has a whole roomful of bulletins on every imaginable aspect of farming, gardening, living in the country, bee-keeping, and more, all free for the taking. I loaded up and studied them carefully.

One bulletin was about establishing a windbreak. I wanted one at the north end of our pasture. Through the Douglas County Extension Service I acquired an inexpensive bundle of 25 Austrian pine seedlings for creating a windbreak. Dennis and I planted most of the 12-inch seedlings all along the north road and plugged the extras into our front yard. Country folk all around were doing the same. One couple planted 100 pines. The trees showed up in town, too, in nurseries and lawns.

The trees grew tall over 37 years and even reproduced. But about ten years ago, Austrian pines began dying all over the county. The Lawrence Journal World explained this phenomenon: “Tip blight, pine wilt and dothistroma needle blight are especially problematic in the Midwest because of temperature and moisture fluctuations.” The news story also pointed out that Austrian pines are non-native and are ill suited to our climate. Our trees also were dying from a borer that penetrated the trunk and literally sapped the tree. We paid handsomely to have several dead ones cut down, but many remained and have been dying one by one.

Yesterday we paid penance for our foolishness. A nice man brought a big machine and jerked all the remaining pines up by their roots. He piled the pasture pines in a great heap and will come back to burn them after they have dried, preferably when there’s snow on the ground.

Here’s the heap with Indian grass and big bluestem in the foreground.

Here’s where they came from.

I have a plan for the pine’s offspring, too. Pam, my right-hand woman, will harvest them to sell as Christmas trees. Then we will be done with Austrian pines.

About the time we planted the pines, we also paid regular autumn visits to the Black Jack Prairie, a patch of native prairie carved with wagon ruts of the Santa Fe Trail. We gathered seeds of the grasses and forbs and scattered them in our pasture, which had been planted with brome grass. We hoped to restore the five-acre pasture to a native prairie. Nearly forty years later, this prairie recreation has increased exponentially. Indian grass and big bluestem abound, some over seven feet tall, along with Kansas gayfeather, rattlesnake master, blue sage, white indigo, black-eyed susan, and eleven kinds of milkweed.

Indian Grass Seed Head

All these plants are loaded with seeds. Here are two gayfeather blooms gone to seed.

Gayfeather Seed Heads

This morning Dennis walked into our prairie and collected two pounds of seeds to scatter over the disrupted pasture area. There are lots more where these came from.

Whew, what a price to pay for misplaced trust and our own ignoranceI We’re doing penance for that.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer