Friday, November 29, 2013

Just Food

It seems that most Americans don’t know how to cook or prefer not to cook. They buy thirty-one percent more packaged food than fresh food. Thirty percent of all meals are eaten in the car. Twenty-five percent of Americans eat a fast food meal every day. Only forty-three percent of American families eat a meal together every day. My grandmother would be appalled, my mother would be appalled, and I am appalled. How did this come to pass?

At one time within my memory, everybody cooked, rich and poor alike. I remember sitting in the kitchen of an impoverished schoolmate. Her mother was preparing supper, mixing a flour concoction that I didn’t recognize. What was clear to me, though, was that this family would have a very sparse supper, but a homemade one.

The just food newsletter, which came in the mail yesterday, announces with pride that their food bank is now offering classes that will help their low income clients become more self-sufficient, including cooking classes.

Great, I thought. This is exactly what is needed, a revival of cultural cooking skills. Then I read further.

“Through these classes clients have learned to make chicken noodle soup from scratch, coconut curry chicken with white jasmine rice, cilantro salad, jambalaya, and quinoa salad.”

Hold it! Coconut curry chicken with white jasmine rice? What good will that lesson do for a woman who is trying to feed her family on food stamps? The cheapest jar of curry powder I could find cost $3.69. White jasmine rice, $1.32 per pound. Coconut milk per can, $2. We haven’t even bought the chicken yet.

The white jasmine rice isn’t even nutritious. All that’s left in white rice after processing is starch. All the vitamins and minerals have been discarded. Long grain brown rice costs less ($1.12 per pound) and packs nutrients.

Just a word or two about cilantro salad, which I have never made nor eaten. Every cilantro salad recipe I’ve seen calls for several other expensive ingredients, such as shallots ($4.95 per pound), asparagus, and toasted sesame oil. I'm not even going to discuss jambalaya (shrimp, sausage, chicken, spices, etc.) or quinoa ($6.70 per pound).

It’s not surprising that the cooking classes are the brain child of a former “executive chef” at a local restaurant. Personally, I think the program would do more good if the food bank found a couple of grandmothers from the German Baptist community to teach the classes, grandmothers who have years of experience cooking nutritious meals on a shoestring budget for their families. They know how to make delicious no-frills meals using a few common ingredients, including fresh vegetables and fruit.

A grandmother who knows how to make whole grain bread could help the clients eat more nutritious food for far less money. A five-pound bag of whole wheat flour costs $2.35. It will make two and a half loaves of bread that weigh nearly two pounds. Yeast is 62¢ a .75-ounce packet. Not including the cost of heating the oven, a loaf of whole wheat homemade bread costs less than $2, even if one uses a little honey and oil in the dough. Even better, if the baker has sourdough starter, no yeast is needed.

But what do I know? I’m just an old grandmother. By the way, every few years I buy a two-pound package of Fleischmann's dry yeast for $4.88. This yeast is 15¢ an ounce, while yeast in packets is 84¢ and ounce. It keeps its vitality for years in the freezer.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I'm Down To Just Rolls

For many years Dennis and I hosted Thanksgiving dinner for my extended family. The house was full of happy children and adults. We ate all the traditional dishes, from appetizers to pie. We played games, notably “Honky Touch,” an outdoor running game. Later everybody ate more food.

Those years are over now. Two of the children live far away and the third is going to his mother-in-law’s house for this holiday. My brother and his wife host her extended family. It’s just as well, for I no longer have the stamina to put on a big dinner.

Now only one Thanksgiving tradition remains. I make the rolls I’ve been making since I was in my twenties, although I have modified the recipe over time. I made them today to take to our friends’ house, where we will share their Thanksgiving dinner.

Thanksgiving Dinner Rolls

½ cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar

  cups lukewarm buttermilk
8 tablespoons soft butter
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup sugar
4 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups unbleached flour

Put ½ teaspoon sugar n a large mixing bowl and pour in the lukewarm water. Sprinkle the yeast on the water. Go away and eat breakfast while the yeast proofs. When you come back the yeast will be bubbly.

Add the remaining ingredients except for the flour and mis well. Then begin adding flour, starting with the whole wheat, one cup at a time and mixing after each addition. Today, when the air in the house is dry, I used only 2½  cups of unbleached flour.

Dump the mixture onto a floured pastry cloth and knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. Put the dough into a large, oiled bowl, cover with a heavy cloth and go away. The dough will need to rise until it is double in size. You have time to wash some dishes, read the paper, or take a short nap.

When the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a floured cloth and knead it a few times. Working with part of the dough (put the remainder back in the rising bowl and cover it with a cloth so it doesn’t dry out) form the rolls.

This is where the fun begins. You can make cloverleaf rolls, which are three little balls of dough in a buttered muffin cup…

Or crescent rolls….

Use plenty of butter. After all, this holiday comes only once a year. I use a bench scraper to cut the circles into triangles.

I couldn’t figure out how to form a crescent roll and take a photo at the same time, but stating at the wide side I stretch and roll the triangle. Be sure to tuck the tail of the triangle scurely under the roll.

When I’m  down to the last chunk of dough I make cinnamon rolls. Roll the dough into a long rectangle, butter it liberally (remember, it’s only once a year), sprinkle it with brown sugar, cinnamon, and some raisins that you’ve soaked in hot water for a few minutes. Then, starting at a long edge, roll the dough into a coil.

Cut the log into relatively even pieces and put them in a buttered pan. No matter which form you choose to make, cover the rolls with a cloth while they rise again.

After the rolls have risen for about 45 minutes, bake them in a 375º oven for 12 to 15 minutes.

See how the crescent rolls have expanded?

And the cinnamon rolls do the same. After they have cooled I'll drizzle them with a little powdered sugar frosting.

Sorry I didn’t photograph the cloverleaf rolls. I was pooped out and ready for a nap. Yep, I'm down to just rolls, and grateful that I don't have to roast a turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. I hope we all have many reasons to give thanks tomorrow.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Old Dog Learns a New Trick

A few years ago I developed slightly high blood pressure. This puzzled me because my blood pressure had always been quite low.

Like most other older women, I had been advised by my doctor to take 1200 mg. of calcium every day to help prevent bone loss. I faithfully followed his advice.

Then a newsletter called “From The  Heart” came in the mail. Oh, boy! The lead article was about calcium supplements being deposited in our blood vessels, clogging them up, instead of being used to strengthen our bones. That article explained a lot about my health – blood pressure, osteopenia, and calcium supplements were all tied together.

Right away I threw away my calcium supplements, but still I was vulnerable to osteoporosis, a dangerous condition that often leads to crumbling hips.

My friend Linda, a microbiologist and one smart cookie, advised me to derive calcium from animal and fish bones by boiling them in water with vinegar added.

Years ago I had read a New Yorker article, “The Darkening Sea,”* that described the marine life consequences of our increasingly acidic ocean waters. Acid dissolves the shells of marine life. Soon, as oceanic acidity increases, critters with shells will die off, disrupting the food chain for other marine creatures and eventually leading to their demise as well.

Why didn’t I translate that information into adding vinegar to bones when I make broth? Why didn’t I take Linda’s advice sooner? I can’t answer those questions, but yesterday  a little internet research revealed that “Bone broth contains minerals such as calcium, silicon, sulphur, magnesium, phosphorous & trace minerals in an easily assimilable form.” (

Today that poor old turkey breast carcass that has provided us with so many meals this past week is simmering in water once again, but with a tablespoon of cider vinegar added. I plan to use the broth to make another soup.

This old dog has learned a new trick.

 *The New Yorker, Nov. 20, 2006 
Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fun with Flour

Yesterday we finished off the roast turkey breast, along with the dressing, gravy, and mashed potatoes. Small pieces of meat still clung to the bones. Of course I couldn’t let that go to waste, so I simmered the entire breast carcass in a pot of water.

The yield was good broth and enough meat to make turkey noodle soup and to give Annie a treat. After removing the bones from the broth I talked Dennis into chopping onions, carrots, and celery to cook in the broth with a little dried thyme while I picked the meat off the bones.

Now that the vegetables were simmering in the broth I turned to making whole wheat egg noodles. After pricing whole wheat noodles in the grocery store yesterday I had decided to make my own. I’ve made egg noodles before, but not using whole wheat flour. I had a hunch it would be an adventure and I wasn’t wrong.

I put two fluffed-up cups of whole wheat flour into a small mixing bowl and whisked in half a teaspoon of salt. Then I beat two eggs in a separate bowl and poured them into a well in the flour. (Aren't those eggs from our hens a beautiful yellow")

I stirred the eggs into the flour and began adding water, first three tablespoonsful, stirring, then more water, a tablespoonful at a time. Altogether I used seven tablespoonsful of water and that was a tablespoonful too much.

The dough was sticky.

Never mind, I liberally dusted my pastry cloth with unbleached flour and began to roll the dough, continually turning the dough over and dusting with more flour. All rolled out, the dough completely covered my pastry cloth.

Traditionally one should roll the dough up like a jellyroll and cut off thin slices. With this rather wet dough I decided to use my pastry wheel to slice the dough.

Then I ran the pastry cutter in the opposite direction to divide the long strips into shorter sections.

Back to the soup, I added the turkey pieces to the simmering broth. Next came the hard part. Because the noodle dough was so wet, I had to tease apart enough individual noodles to finish the soup, using about one-third of the dough.

Fresh egg noodles need to cook only a few minutes and soon we were sitting down to big bowls of soup.

That left a lot of noodles drying on the pastry cloth. To aid their drying, I flipped the dough, which came up in sections, to hasten the drying process.

This was messy, but fun. I have enough noodles left to make at least two more pots of soup, which will be welcome because our weather has turned mighty cold – predicted low of 8º tonight.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Pass The Dressing, Please

This Thanksgiving we will have dinner at friends’ house. That will be lovely, but Dennis was regretful that we wouldn’t have leftovers, his favorite part of the Thanksgiving tradition. I would miss them, too, especially my favorite parts – dressing and gravy and cranberry sauce. That prompted me to start saving the remnants of our whole wheat bread, leftover biscuits, and cornbread, which are the basis of dressing.

Finally I couldn’t resist any longer. I roasted a turkey breast (two people could never eat a whole turkey) and made dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, and baked squash for last night’s supper.

I make dressing almost exactly the way my mother did. First, she slowly sautéed a considerable amount of chopped onions and celery in butter. These she poured over the broken up breads she had saved, Next she added lots of dried sage and mixed all these together. Finally, she poured in a sufficient amount of turkey broth to moisten the bread cubes, and lightly packed the mixture into a large, shallow baking dish. She never put the dressing inside the bird, but baked it separately.

I’ve changed her "recipe" only to add minced fresh parsley. Yesterday I had no giblets to provide broth, but I found a container of pheasant broth my brother left in our freezer last summer. For the gravy I used chicken broth I’d saved from stewing chicken for salad.

Oh, my, what a tasty supper we had! But, darn it, I forgot to make cranberry sauce.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Monday, November 18, 2013

No Impact Lingers On

Participating in Carol’s No Impact Week didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. I felt certain that I was doing most of the right things to help protect our environment. No Impact week turned that attitude around. I have been doing plenty of things that damage the environment. No Impact Week taught me to look at my behavior and at social customs in a new light.

The first eye-opener, which I’ve already written about, was attending one social gathering after another where huge bags of used plastic were carted away after we ate. What could I do to change that, I wondered. Finally I’ve decided that in the future I will carry my own plate, cup or glass, and utensils and carry them back home with me to wash and use again. I believe that preaching won’t change anyone’s behavior, but maybe a demonstration could.

Mostly, though, I watch my habits at home and have been shocked to see how much water we have thoughtlessly wasted. Our house has powerful water pressure, possibly because we live not far from the Rural Water District Number Two tower. Rinsing dirty dishes used to involve letting a powerful stream of water wash away the debris! That, I must say, was foolish. I was using potable water – a scarce resource in many parts of the word – to do what a little elbow grease would have accomplished in a few seconds. Now we use a wet scrubber to clean off egg yolk and other food debris that would not come off in the dishwasher.

Hand-washing pots and pans and other things not suitable for the dishwasher used to involve half-filling one side of our double sink with hot water and a squirt of liquid dish detergent. Of course I rinsed each washed item with a full stream of hot water. That has changed now. Instead, I select the largest bowl or cooking pot to be washed and run a little hot water and a smaller squirt of dishwashing detergent into it. This vessel become the dishpan in which I wash everything else. Objects don’t need to be completely submerged in dishwater to be cleaned. Even a large pan can be held over the sudsy water to be washed. I also use only a trickle of water to rinse the washed things, and collect several small items to rinse simultaneously.

Next I’m going to purchase a small enamel dishpan, if such things are still made. The ones I remember were big around but rather shallow. When I was a girl ours hung on a nail on the inside of the cabinet below the kitchen sink.

Isn’t it odd how many of the old ways have been lost when they were so smart and frugal?

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Hello and Goodbye

We were very happy when tomato season began. For four months baskets of tomatoes cluttered the snake room and the kitchen, waiting to fully ripen, waiting for me to do something with them. Finally, last week I put the last containers of Roma tomatoes in the basement upright freezer. There was little room for them – the entire top shelf was already full of cartons of tomatoes, with overflow on a lower shelf.

There. That’s done. Only one tomato remained, an Old German that was picked just before the hard freeze. It was very immature and has been slowly ripening. Yesterday I noticed that, although it wasn’t fully ripened, it was beginning to shrivel a bit.

The bottom looked a little better. Old Germans are basically yellow with red striations.

“It’s now or never,” I thought, and sliced it for bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches, the last for this year.

The great thing about gardening is that you plant seeds, watch them grow into vegetables, eat or freeze or can them, and then it’s over just about the time you are sick and tired of dealing of the produce you greeted so enthusiastically months ago. Garden produce receives a hearty hello and a relieved goodbye.

If only all the objects that have come into my life conformed to that cycle, but alas, they do not. Most objects have no season. They linger on long after my interest in them has waned. They are the flotsam and jetsam of life.

Books are my principal burden. Dennis and I both have a weakness for books. We acquire many of them and our house has bookshelves in every room except the bathrooms. Even our dining table is surrounded by books.

If we live to be one hundred we could never read or re-read all of them. Knowing that my days are numbered, I feel the burden of these books. When we are gone what will the children do with all of them? I feel guilty about keeping them, but there are so many I don’t know where to begin.

Ironically, I bought a book to instruct me.

Isn’t that a hoot?

With the help of Ms. Jay, I look forward to bidding some books a relieved goodbye.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Just Asking

Why is it that some people are unable to cut a straight slice of bread from a loaf?

These are probably the same people who can’t cut a pie into six or eight equal pieces. Shoot, they can’t even cut it in two relatively even halves.

Are they the same people who jumble cups and glasses of all sizes together in a cupboard or load a dishwasher haphazardly?

Is there a gene for proportion perception? A gene for organization?

Just asking.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Sick Day

It has been a long time since I’ve been sick, but today I’m feverish, head-achy, and light-headed. Most of the day I’ve been lying in bed, reading a bit, dozing a bit, and lying motionless with my eyes closed.

Seldom is this house utterly quiet. I’m accustomed to the clatter of cooking pots, the ringing telephone, and NPR on the radio. Today, though, I was conscious of the furnace coming on. I could distinguish between the sound of the heat pump and the whisper of air moving through the vents. I noticed a sudden pop as the wooden floor gave up moisture to the drier winter air. I heard a gurgle of my own digestive juices.

But most of the time there were no house or human sounds. I remembered the Simon and Garfunkel song, “The Sounds of Silence.” Truly silence is not entirely silent. It seemed I could hear a faint whoosh, which I took to be the sound of this great orb spinning through space. Along with the whoosh was a faint musical tone, steadily proclaiming the force of life in its myriad forms.

Truth be told, I’ve rather enjoyed being sick, although I hope that tomorrow will be filled with the usual sounds of human activity.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Monday, November 11, 2013

What To Do in Retirement

Some people fall into a black mood when they think about retirement. They say, “I don’t know what I would do with myself.”

These statements amaze me. There are a jillion things one can do if not saddled with an eight-to-five job, or more. But then, I was born to retire. It was my sole ambition.

So, if you’re in a black mood thinking about retirement, I have a few suggestions.

Take up woodcraft.

Go exploring.

Hold a baby.

Learn to knit.

Go fishing.

Haunt the library.

Plant flowers.

Talk to chickens.

By the time you get all these and various other things done, you will be old. Then there is no question about what you will do. You will spend your time visiting doctors, dentists, opthalmologists, and chiropractors. You will go to bed early and worry about your elimination. You will try to remember to take your pills and put in your hearing aids. You will be very busy trying to take care of yourself. Being old is a full-time job.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Sunday, November 10, 2013

It's Finally Over

The 2013 garden is finally over. We finished storing the last of the produce today. I prepared the last Roma tomatoes for freezing. Dennis and I sorted the sweet potatoes, separating the damaged ones from the sound ones. I will prepare the damaged ones first because they won’t keep well. Dennis carried a bushel of the sound ones to the basement, where they will keep all winter. I put the few remaining turnips in the refrigerator vegetable drawer. I sorted the last of the peppers, giving some to the chickens, setting some aside to dry, 

and chopping the remaining ones to sauté with onions.

The only things remaining in the garden are a few kale and Swiss chard plants, surely destined to freeze to death this week, and six parsley plants. Parsley, a biennial, will live through the winter and grow tall seed stalks next summer. We always keep the second-year parsley because it is a favorite food of the black swallowtail butterfly caterpillar.

There’s nothing left for me to do except keep an eye on the cold frame seedlings, which will begin to produce in January or February. Dennis, on the other hand, still has to talk some farmers into letting him have truckloads of manure, which he will spread on the garden to decay under the winter snows.

My back hurts and I’m dog tired, but now I can relax and enjoy the fruits of our labor. Bring on the books. I’m going to read, sew, and cook until March, when the gardening season will begin again.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Friday, November 8, 2013

Remembering Lard

Here’s a piece I wrote sometime in July, 2008. I have a special reason for posting it now, but more about that in a subsequent post.

Remembering Lard

Right out of the chute, let’s recognize the negative connotations of the word “lard.” These connotations can be summed up by citing the epithet “Lardass.”  It’s associated with ugly fat on human bodies.

But my memory of lard is quite different: a pleasant, nostalgic yearning for something I can’t have now. Lard came in a shiny tin can, creamy white and malleable. It was not hydrogenated and had to be stored in a cool place to deter rancidity.

Grandma Holden, standing at the kitchen cabinet with its roll-up door and 25-pound flour bin, would open the flour door and sift more flour into a big bowl that always sat below the sifter. She set the bowl on the enamel counter and made a cavity in the center of the flour using the back of her hand and fingers to push the flour aside. Here’s where the lard comes in: she opened the lard can and dug out a blob with her fingers. She dropped the blob into the flour cavity, added some baking soda and salt and began to break up the lard with her fingers, gradually incorporating flour until a ball of crumbled lard and flour formed. A lot of unused flour remained in the bottom and up the sides of the bowl. Finally she poured in some buttermilk, which she gradually folded into the lard ball, drawing in additional flour as needed. When the mixture reached a consistency that suited her (the standard was never clear to me), she began to pinch off pieces of the biscuit dough, shaping them into biscuits with her fingers, and setting them into the waiting pan. Finally, she put the pan in the oven, and returned the flour bowl to its place below the sifter. Not a crumb of dough remained in the flour, which was perfectly clean and ready for the next batch.

These biscuits were “shorter” than today’s biscuits; that is, they had a higher proportion of shortening to flour than biscuits made by careful measurement following a recipe. They were not as tall, but crisper and more golden. Slathered with butter and sorghum molasses, they were heaven.

With her lovely lard and the flour bowl Grandma also produced tender, flaky piecrusts, using a very similar method of hand-mixing in the flour bowl. No buttermilk, of course, or baking soda; just flour, salt, lard and a little water. When it was time to roll out the crust, she pulled open the flour bin to retrieve the rolling pin, and dusted the enamel counter with flour. She pinched off half the pie dough, quickly formed it into a circle, laid it on the floured counter, turned it over once so the rolling surface would be floury, and rolled a nearly perfect circle of dough.

After the pie was assembled, Grandma trimmed the crust edges with a table knife and fluted the edge with the fingers of her right hand, while her left hand kept the pie pan turning until the fluting was finished. Pie in the oven, Grandma gathered the dough trimmings into a loose ball, rolled it thinly, put it in a baking pan, and sprinkled it with sugar and cinnamon. This confection, warm from the oven, was fair game for anyone who wandered through the kitchen and cared to break off a piece for immediate gratification.

Finally, lovely lard was the medium for fried chicken. When fried chicken was on the dinner menu, Grandma went to the back yard, caught a chicken, whirled it over her head until its head came off in her hand and its body flew through the air, landing somewhere nearby. Often the body would rise up and run about frantically before dropping in a heap. Grandma would have ready a kettle of boiling water, which she fetched from the kitchen. Holding the chicken by its legs, she poured the boiling water over the carcass to loosen the feathers. Then she began plucking the feathers by great handfuls until only goosebumpy skin remained.

Grandma tossed the carcass into a big enamel pan and proceeded to the kitchen to wash and gut the bird, pluck any remaining pinfeathers, and cut it into pieces with a butcher knife. Cutting produced two drumsticks, two thighs, two wings, two back sections, one neck, a wishbone and one breast.

As for the frying, Grandma melted lard in a big cast iron skillet to a depth of an inch. She rolled each chicken piece in flour seasoned with salt and pepper and dropped it into the hot lard. A few minutes later the aroma of frying chicken filled the house, luring children into the kitchen. Stealing a piece of chicken would not have been tolerated, but nibbling the crispy bits of coating that fell off when the chicken was transferred to a platter was overlooked.

After a lifetime of preparing meals, I have yet to make anything as tasty as Grandma’s biscuits, pies, or fried chicken. If only I could get my hands on some creamy white, non-hydrogenated lard!

*A wishbone is a piece cut from the breast nearest the neck, and it was my favorite piece, principally because of the after-dinner ritual of pulling the wishbone apart. The ritual required two people, each holding one side of the wishbone, making a silent wish, and pulling. When the bone broke, the person left holding the  piece with the top of the bone still attached would have her wish come true.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Back to Chickens

Maybe I write too much about chickens, but they are an essential part of our daily lives and it’s hard to ignore them. We visit the chicken yard and house at least three times a day. They have to be let out of their house every morning. Their feed trays have to be filled, their water checked and replenished if needed, their eggs gathered. Then their house has to be locked up after they go to roost, not to prevent them from escaping, but to deter nighttime raiders such as raccoons, weasels, and foxes.

This afternoon, the golden elm leaves lured me outside. Elm leaves usually just turn brown and fall off, but this year they have surprised and delighted us with leaves of pure gold.

After admiring the foliage, I checked on the cold frame seedlings, and naturally gravitated to the chicken estate. I thought the girls might enjoy a couple of scoops of scratch*.

Indeed, a welcoming committee was eagerly awaiting me at the gate to their yard.

Dipping the scoop into the can of scratch reminded me of the days when we kept the food in the big paper bags it comes in. Mice always got into it, ate holes in the bags, and generally made a mess. Finally we had enough sense to put the chickens’ food in covered metal containers. We also keep a bag of crushed oyster shell to supplement the hens' diet. It takes a lot of calcium to make egg shells.

Just two weeks ago Dennis and Laurie, our chicken co-owner, thoroughly cleaned the chicken house. They removed all the straw from nests and floor, scraped chicken droppings off the roost and nest tops, and washed the floor with vinegar. Already fresh manure is building up on the nest box covers, where a few of the hens prefer to roost. Apparently they poop frequently during the night. The concrete blocks make it easy for the hens to hop into the nests.

Chickens are curious birds. This barred rock came into the house to see what I was up to. Seeing the camera, she struck a pose, possibly hoping to be included in a chicken house feature in House Beautiful.

*“Chicken scratch” has a number of meanings, all derived from the mixture of grain and cracked corn that chickens enjoy eating and scratching around in with their clawed feet. “Chicken scratch” also refers to bad handwriting, a style of embroidery, a style of guitar playing, and even dance music developed by  the Tohono O’odham people in southern Arizona.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


When the weather turned chilly Dennis and I were discussing the need for a warmer cover for his bed. I remembered a comforter we bought when we were maintaining a house in Lexington, Kentucky, as well as our house in Paradise. It has been stored in a plastic bag in the basement, and used only when overnight visitors came.

Dennis brought it upstairs, opened the bag, and exclaimed, “There’s a big hole in it!” Sure enough, there it was, an odd oval cut out of the top layer of fabric.

How or when this happened is anybody’s guess, but I suspect a small child with a pair of scissors. Not that I’m naming any names. Maybe it was a poltergeist.

This morning I spent four hours repairing the destruction. This involved finding an appropriate fabric, cutting two patches (one hidden under the other) and sewing the patches over the hole by hand.

I figure it took not more than two minutes for someone to cut the hole. So, let’s see, since I spent four hours repairing it, that’s a ratio of one to one hundred twenty comparing destruction to reconstruction.

Hand sewing leaves a lot of time for thought. I thought about baking a pumpkin pie. I thought about when the rain might hit. I thought about the destruction of our global environment that has occurred in the past sixty or so years, since the conclusion of World War II.

If it takes one hundred twenty times longer to repair destruction than the destruction took, then we are looking at 7,200 years to repair our environment if we get started right away.

Holy moly, I’m not going to talk about that.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Monday, November 4, 2013

I'm Not Going To Talk about That

I’m not going to talk about global climate change any more. When I do, people look at me strangely and change the subject. They would rather talk about their most recent vacation or where they will fly next time. They couldn’t care less about global climate change, which is staring us in the face, while we watch football games on TV or read a really good historical novel.

Not everyone is uncaring, though. Twenty-five percent of Americans favor civil disobedience to protest our government’s lack of action on climate change. A Google search for “climate change civil disobedience” yields 313,000 hits. Some are duplicates, of course, but clearly there’s a powerful movement afoot. I’m not going to talk about that either.

I’m not going to talk about NOAA’s chief scientist, who urges civil disobedience against the burning of coal. I’m not going to mention that the Sierra Club has called for civil disobedience against climate change.  I’m not going to acknowledge that scientists, priests, geologists and many others have been arrested and done jail time for protesting against climate change. Nope, you won’t hear it from me.

Instead I’m going to post pretty pictures of food and pretend that climate change is not serious or even real.

Parsley Salad with Pickled Egg Garnish

 Leek Slices

If you're concerned about climate change, if you hope to preserve the world as we know it for posterity, if you are looking for someone to inspire you to join the protest, don't look to me because I'm not going to talk about that. 

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Endless Garden

My concept of gardening has changed dramatically over the years. When I was a girl, my dad planted in the spring, harvested in the summer, and that was that until the next spring. He never dreamed of planting a fall garden. Dennis’s dad did the same. Consequently, For several years Dennis and I gardened the way our fathers did.

Although I experimented one year using a hot bed for starting broccoli seedlings, our first real break with tradition occurred when I traded my neighbor a printer for a cold frame she built at an Extension Service workshop. Having the luxury of home-grown lettuce in winter made us true believers and we have continued planting cold frames in the fall ever since.

It’s plain to see that the cold frame works like a miniature greenhouse. Look at all the moisture trapped under the lids this morning, some of it running in rivulets down the plastic covers.

Dennis planted kale, baby bok choy, spinach, and lettuce in mid-October, and here are lettuce and baby bok choy seedlings, up and getting their first true leaves.

Still, we needed to replant kale, which didn’t germinate very well, and spinach, which didn’t germinate at all. We accomplished that in half an hour this afternoon. Now all we need is four fresh bales of straw to set around the back and sides of the frame for insulation.

When I ventured into having a fall garden, planting escarole, radicchio, turnips, Swiss chard, and other cool-weather vegetables in early August, we became year-round gardeners. Fall greens are better than spring-planted ones because there’s no hot-weather bitterness to them. They go on and on, even after a frost.

I had been thinking that the big garden was finished for this year, but when I visited it this afternoon, I realized that the big garden is never finished. Something is always growing there, whatever the season. The parsley is going strong, cilantro volunteers are thriving, and dill volunteers are ready to harvest for salad additions.

What’s more, the garlic and shallots planted last month are taking off and will continue to grow any time the winter weather warms. Here the young garlic fronts four remaining leeks that we planted in May. Swiss chard, on the left, is still growing, too.

Gardening is no longer a seasonal affair. It goes on all year, cycling over and over. I wish my dad were here to enjoy it with us. To be truthful, I’d like to show off for him.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer

Friday, November 1, 2013

Another Obsession

I’ve become stubborn in my old age. For one thing, I am stubbornly dedicated to purchasing things made in the good old U.S.A.

Believe me, this obsession doesn't make life easy, but when so many in our county are unemployed, how can a citizen in good conscience buy new goods without knowing where they were made? Luckily, the Internet is a great help.

A few days ago Dennis and I were finishing our usual breakfast of toast and eggs and trying to add honey to the last bites of our toast. The honey, which I had transferred from its original glass bottle into a plastic squeeze bottle, was almost gone, and one couldn’t squeeze that bottle hard enough to get the honey out.

Right then and there I vowed to buy a honey pot, one with a lid that accommodates a dipper. We eat a lot of honey and I could keep a pretty honey pot on the table all the time instead of hiding an ugly plastic bottle in the cabinet.

Here’s where the Internet enters the picture. There was no need to drive from store to store looking for an American-made honey pot; I could shop on line. I searched for "honey pot" and found a jillion of ‘em and, thanks to similarly-obsessed-reader’s comments, I was able to identify those made in other countries. Even France’s famous Le Creuset has its honey pots made in China!

What a waste of energy it would be to transport my new honey pot halfway around the world! I wanted a beautiful honey pot made in the U.S.A., and by persistence I found one. It arrived today, one of a kind made by Rising Sky Artworks in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

I am a relatively happy woman, but don’t think I’ve gotten off my high horse about single-use plastic. Shopping for groceries today I glanced down an aisle I never use and was struck by one side of the entire aisle filled with single-use plastic bottles and aluminum cans.

What a contrast, huh? One lovely, useful thing that will last beyond my lifetime compared to a whole lot of ugly that will never go away.

Copyright 2013 by Shirley Domer