Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tortured Produce

Grocery stores in the United States love to torture vegetables. Lettuce often is banded by paper-covered wire known as “twist-tie” that damages the tender leaves. Ironically, the binding reads “Eat more fresh vegetables.” It ought to say “Eat more crushed vegetables.”

By the time I’ve removed the damaged leaves, the chicken bowl is nearly full. (The “chicken bowl” us where we collect kitchen scraps to feed our hens. In most North American households the damaged parts go down a garbage disposal.)

The practice of binding up produce with rubber bands and wires shows great disrespect for the delicacy of fresh vegetables.

A similar disrespect is shown fresh fruit such as pears when the omnipresent bar code sticker is slapped onto the fruit’s outer skin. Removing the sticker often removes a layer of skin or bruises the fruit.

I recall with pleasure the beautiful vegetable displays in the Delft markets. There’s not a rubber band or twist tie to be seen.

The Dutch have more respect for fresh produce than we do. Are Americans alone in the way we torture our vegetables?

Copyright 2014 b Shirley Domer

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Keeping It Together in the Kitchen

I should have been a librarian because I love to categorize, especially in the kitchen. Maybe that’s just the nature of a Virgo at work, but I rationalize that having an organized kitchen is more efficient than trying to cook in chaos.

For example, I have a baking area that includes all the mixing bowls, utensils, tools, measures,  basic dry ingredients, and pans – in short, everything involved in baking except for cooling racks that are located by the oven. Spices are divided into two groups: baking and cooking, the first in the baking area, the second by the stove.

Another area that I categorize is clean up. I do enjoy the luxury of having a dishwasher, but I use it mostly for washing table service such as plates, glasses, flatware, and serving bowls. I load like things together. Not only do they nest together in a way that allows more things to go in, but they also make unloading easier. (OK, maybe I actually suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder.) Here’s the bottom rack.

And here’s the top rack.

And here’s a dishwasher top rack poorly loaded. It started out pretty well, with some like things together, but fell apart at the end.

Almost everything else I wash by hand. Because I hate drying dishes, I  start with the little things. (Note the knife is point side down to avoid injuries.)

Then I wash the medium-sized things.

And finally I add the big things, wipe the counters, wring out the dishcloth, and walk away to read a book.

Who cares whether this is obsessive behavior? Even more than I love to categorize, I  love to read.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Monday, August 25, 2014

Falling Apart

Severe rheumatoid arthritis eventually causes one’s skeleton to fall apart. It doesn’t fall apart all at once, thank the goddess, so there’s usually time between joint losses to have replacement parts put in and other repairs done. The longer I live, though, the faster parts are failing, and right now I need to have repairs done to my left ring finger, my left big toe, and my right knee. I’m now falling apart too fast to keep up with the repairs, none of which can be done at the same time.

Well, one step at a time. I’m gearing up for fusion of the middle joint of my finger four days from now. It’s pretty obvious that it needs to be done.

The recovery time is six weeks, just in time to have a new knee joint put in. Like an old car, I’m always in the shop. Sorry to overdo the metaphors, but I envision my skeleton as an anatomy class skeleton, all  wired together.

Sometimes people ask how I have the courage to have one surgical procedure after another. I can only say that I have two choices: have surgery or become totally disabled. The choice is obvious, and I owe my life to Orthokansas, the orthopedic surgery practice that keeps putting me back together.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Going Bananas

I don’t know how many dead-ripe bananas I’ve given to the chickens. I buy a hand of bananas but the organic ones come in rather large bunches and we never manage to eat them all before they go beyond the pale. We use bananas most often in smoothies made with yogurt (thank you for yogurt, Middle-Easterners), bananas, another fruit such as blueberries, and a dab of honey, but we don’t make smoothies every day. I hated to waste overripe bananas, even on the hens, who, by the way, love bananas, even the peels.

When I was visiting Nancy this summer, she made smoothies for a light lunch. Then, declaring the remaining bananas on the verge of being too ripe, she peeled them, broke them into sections, dropped them into individual plastic bags, and popped them into the freezer. A couple of days later, she made smoothies again, using a frozen banana for each serving. They were delicious.

Today, seeing that our supply of bananas was fully ripe, I followed Nancy’s example.

Thank you, Nancy, for teaching this old dog a new trick.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Making Plum Sauce, Making Do

Once every ten to twelve years I cook up a big batch of plum sauce and store it in the freezer. My recipe is in a little cookbook that came with a wok, and was included because plum sauce is a staple of some Chinese cooking. To my taste, though, plum sauce is a lovely chutney to serve with curried chicken and to use as a topping for curried deviled eggs. The last time I made curried chicken I was dismayed to find that our plum sauce supply was exhausted.

Italian prune plums make the best plum sauce so I’ve been waiting all summer for prune plums to show up in the grocery store produce department. Yesterday, when they did show up, I bought six pounds of them but couldn’t remember what other ingredients I would need to make sauce.

Prune Plums

This morning it turned out that I didn’t have fresh ginger, a chili pepper, or enough brown sugar, but I did have ground ginger, green chili powder, and almost enough brown sugar, which could be supplemented with a little white sugar. Making do with these substitutions saved me a twenty-mile trip to town and back.

Now that a pot of plum sauce is simmering on the stove, our house smells heavenly, and I can sit and rest my weary feet.

Today’s batch could last until I’m ninety, by which time I will be too decrepit to make more. You may want to make some, though, so I’m including the recipe. Remember that this recipe is flexible and forgiving so long as you use prune plums, cider vinegar, and sugar. You can tinker with spices to your heart’s content.

Plum Sauce

5 pounds of prune plums, cut in half and seeded
1 small onion, cut into eighths
2 cups cider vinegar
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 knobs of ginger, peeled and finely chopped (or 1 tablespoon powdered ginger)
1 heaping tablespoon mustard seeds (or 1 or more tablespoons ground mustard)
1 small can of chili peppers, drained (or some chili pepper flakes)
1 small jar of diced pimentos
1 to 4 cloves of garlic, minced

Briefly whirl small batches of the plums and onion in a food processor and dump them into a large cooking vessel. Add the remaining ingredients, stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let the sauce simmer, uncovered, for about 1½  hours, or until the sauce is reduced by about a third and is somewhat thickened. Stir the sauce frequently during the cooking process.

The sauce may be canned or frozen.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Friday, August 8, 2014

Flowers and People

I love to sit on Nancy’s patio enjoying the blue, blue Colorado sky, studying the patterns in the patio stones, and observing the flowers and vines that Nancy cultivates. In addition to flowerbeds she has planters full of annual flowers such as this one full of violas.

The violas have self-seeded in the planters for three or four years now. They have even moved out of the shade into the sunny patio, finding purchase in the cracked cement.

Nancy’s planters also were home to plants like this one. We don’t know its name so we call it Pinky.

Unlike the viola, Pinky prefers the patio and has popped up in the patio’s cement cracks as far away from its original home as twenty feet. Everywhere I look I see tufts of tiny pink flowers.

Sometimes a viola teams up with a Pinky to form a miniature bouquet.

These flowers prefer sun and scanty soil to the shady planter with its rich soil. Now they have found a place where they can thrive. I think people are like flowers in that regard. Each of us seeks a perfect spot where we can be ourselves and realize our potential. For some of us, that’s in a busy city full of excitement and noise. Cities are fun to visit, but myself, I’m more at home in the country where the pace is slow and the only sound is the wind or a calling bird.

We have all heard that we should bloom where we are planted, but maybe we should plant ourselves where we can bloom.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

City Wildlife

Nancy lives on a busy thoroughfare in Colorado Springs, but that doesn’t mean there’s no wildlife in her yard. Three years ago while I was visiting, we planted a Lodi apple tree, but the tree has made little progress, thanks to continual pruning by deer.

Yesterday we were eating our evening meal when Nancy shouted, “No!” and ran out the back door waving her arms at a young doe munching the new growth on the apple tree. Not alarmed, the deer took one more bite before moving on to the compost heap, where she devoured slices of an over-ripe cantaloupe. Even when I approached her with the camera, she was unafraid, and seemed to strike a pose.

This morning another doe appeared and polished off all but the one tall branch of the apple tree.

When she was finished she jumped the chain link fence and trotted down the busy street. Nancy says she has given up hope of ever harvesting an apple in her back yard. It doesn’t seem fair that I live in the country with a large deer population, but have been lucky enough to bring three apple trees to maturity.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer