Saturday, May 31, 2014

Taking a Break from Sourdough

Ever since last autumn, when I managed to get sourdough starter going, we have been eating homemade whole wheat sourdough bread. The starter has matured to a distinct tanginess. It makes a rather heavy, firm loaf, perfect for cold weather, but now that summer’s here, my palate longs for the lighter texture of bread made with commercial yeast.

I had thought that sourdough starter belonged in the use it or lose it category, but maybe, I thought, it could be suspended and then revived when cold weather comes around again. There were two options– freezing and drying. I decided to try both.

Yesterday, after baking a loaf of sourdough, I fed the starter water and flour as usual. Once it was bubbling nicely, I poured about 2/3 of a cup of starter into a one-cup Tupperware container, labeled it, and stuck it in the freezer.

Later in the afternoon, I spread a thin layer of starter on a sheet of parchment paper and put it in the oven with the light on.

This morning it was shrunken and dried.

The dried starter flaked off the parchment paper in sheets.

The rolling pin and a little elbow grease reduced the big flakes to tiny flakes.

The end result is a tiny bag of desiccated starter that I hope to revive next October when the first frost comes.

In the meantime, we’re going light, taking a break from sourdough.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Taste of Summer

Even though summer hasn’t officially begun, eighty-seven degrees with high humidity calls for one of my favorite summer pleasures – sun tea sweetened with lemon syrup.

In the late morning I filled a half-gallon jar with filtered water, added three family-size tea bags, put a lid on the jar, and set it on the deck railing to catch the sun’s rays all afternoon.

Then I set about making lemon syrup. I had one organic lemon, rather shriveled, so I cut it in half, extracted the juice, and added the two lemon shells to water and sugar. After it boiled for five minutes I set the pan off the stove to cool.

After the syrup cooled I strained the syrup, squeezing all the syrup out of the lemon halves, and added fresh lemon juice. The kitchen Buddha was pleased.

Now we are all set for several days’ worth of iced tea and enough lemon syrup to last through three or four batches of tea.

If you want to enjoy this summer treat, here’s the lemon syrup recipe:

Lemon Syrup

Combine two cups sugar with two cups of water. Add the grated peel of one lemon. (Or, if you have a shriveled lemon, do as I did today. It’s a much easier method.) Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until all the sugar crystals have dissolved, and let it boil for five minutes.

Let the syrup cool and remove the lemon halves,  squeezing out the syrup they contain. Or, if you have used grated lemon peel, strain the syrup into a quart jar. Add ¾ cup fresh lemon juice. Cover and refrigerate the syrup.

Happy summer time!

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Red, White, and Blue

One of the joys of a wildflower garden is the evolving palette of color combinations. This week the flowering is in its red, white, and blue phase. Poppies and penstemon, for example…

Blue spiderwort…

And white spiderwort (popular with the bees)…

I have no idea how the white penstemon and blue spiderwort got into the flower bed, but they are happily multiplying.

Soon the poppies will be finished blooming, but day lilies will open, shifting Nature’s palette to blue and orange. When we plant perennial wildflower gardens we are creating a kaleidoscope, ever shifting, ever delightful to the eye.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Friday, May 23, 2014

Yard Art

Major surgery at age 78 is not undertaken lightly. In fact, in the weeks leading up to my hip joint replacement surgery on May 1, my spirits were low. Feelings of helplessness plagued me and I doubted my ability to make yet another comeback. Going into surgery with doubts does not promote healing.

I knew I had to pull myself out of negative space, so I called Nancy. If anyone can bolster one’s confidence, it’s Nancy. What’s more, she never fails to say something funny and set me laughing. Thanks to her voice over a long distance, my courage returned.

Now, three weeks into recovery, my confidence is back. I can walk without a cane. I ventured out to observe Dennis’s garden this afternoon. I baked a loaf of sourdough bread. I made soup and cornbread. I can get in and out of the car without assistance.

What’s more my sense of whimsy and humor is back. Yesterday on the way back from town I noticed a large green ball resting incongruously in the grass by our county road. Neither Dennis nor I mentioned the ball, but as we drove along, I imagined someone stopping to retrieve that ball. I imagined why that person would want it and what would become of it.

This morning I looked out a front window and was amazed to see the green ball resting on the base of a birdbath whose basin broke years ago.

Dennis confessed that he had gone back to retrieve it. Little had I imagined that ball would end up as yard art at my house. It tickles my funny bone. Now we will watch to see how long it takes the wind to carry the ball to someone else who might need a bit of humor in their life.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Monday, May 19, 2014


I’m calling it foresight, but really it was just dumb luck that we were prepared in an important way for my hip replacement surgery and for aging in general.

Several years ago Dennis and I decided to go to the Lawrence Home Show, where building contractors and suppliers of plumbing, flooring, and other materials related to the home set up information booths about their products and services.  Our being there was an odd choice, because we had no home improvement project in mind.

Wandering down an aisle we came upon a remodeling contractor’s booth hawking remodeling for handicapped accessibility. A personable fellow stopped us and asked if our bathroom was handicapped accessible. Heck, no, it wasn’t, we answered.

Our two-bathroom house had a bathtub on the second floor and a monstrous tub-shower on the first. The tub-shower was one gigantic piece of molded plastic. Both Dennis and I prefer showers and climbed into the tub-shower every day. I often banged my shin climbing in and despised the plastic-coated shelf rack suspended from the fixed shower head. 

In a twinkling we were making an appointment for the bathroom designer to look at our bathroom and create a plan. The upshot is that the bathroom was gutted and rebuilt. The door frame was even enlarged to accommodate a wheelchair. For both Dennis and me, though, the crowning glory was the new walk-in shower, complete with seat, two grab bars, and a European-style removable shower head.

We’ve enjoyed this shower for years now, but have never really needed its accoutrements until my hip replacement surgery two-and-a-half weeks ago. Without this shower I would have had to be content with basin baths for months to come.

After surgery I was required to use a walker to get around, putting no more than 25 percent of my weight on the new hip. Thanks to bathroom remodeling, I could get my walker right to the shower door, take hold of the grab bar, and sit on the bench. The removable shower head made it possible to precisely bathe without injuring my hip.

Now that I’m walking without assistance I can stand in the shower again, but the grab bars are essential for getting in and out.

I’m thankful for our “foresight;” it helps make it possible for us to stay in our beloved home as we age.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Friday, May 16, 2014

Frost Protection

We had not anticipated having to protect our tender garden plants from frost on May 15. Our last frost date used to be May 15, but in recent years our zone has changed from 5 to 6 with a last frost date of April 15. Nonetheless, yesterday’s weather forecast called for night temperatures dipping to 32ยบ F. That is enough to kill tender plants such as potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes.

Late in the afternoon Dennis unearthed our row covers from the barn and broke open a couple of straw bales. He started with the potatoes.

He stretched row covers over the plants and topped them with loose straw. He also put bricks on top of the old coffee cans that shelter the young pepper plants.

Next he scattered straw liberally over the young tomato plants after removing their cages. He hadn't yet protected the ones still in cages at the right when he took this photo.

He threw an old blanket over the stock tank where he had just planted a Sun Gold tomato.

That’s all that was needed. Broccoli, peas, onions, shallots, and garlic are frost hardy.

As it turned out, we thought that only people who live in town had frost. We didn’t see any out here in the hills, but, when Dennis uncovered things this morning, he found the top two inches of the tomatoes were frost-bitten. Because the tomatoes are about a foot tall, they will recover. If Dennis hadn't protected the tender plants, they all would have been ruined.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Monday, May 12, 2014

What If?

One great thing about convalescence is that I have plenty of time to read and think. Sometimes this leads to a mental break-through, a putting-things-together moment, a flash of insight.

It started when my pal Linda sent me a link to “Grammar, Identity, and the Dark Side of the Subjunctive.”* Watching this TEDx video got me thinking about the difference between optimist and pessimism.

The subjunctive is used to express unreality in its various forms ­ our wishes, hopes, judgments, and much more. It expresses our “if only” and our “what if?” If only often looks to the past: “If only I hadn’t developed rheumatoid arthritis, I would be a different woman today.”  That’s the dark side of the subjunctive. What if, on the other hand, often ponders questions about the future, such as“Would strawberries thrive if we planted them in the stock tank?”

Trying to envision life without rheumatoid arthritis would be not only nonproductive, but also embittering, and I refuse to go there. I’m sticking with reality and possibilities, such as picking strawberries without bending to the ground.

In the meantime, my hip is healing well and I’m getting better every day. So, if your hip is worn out and causing misery, what if you get a hip replacement? It is much easier than you may fear.

*Sorry, I can't seem to create a viable link to this presentation, but it's easy to find on YouTube.