Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Water Worry Spoils the Day

This is a perfect early autumn day. The sky is a cloudless blue, the breeze is gentle, the sweet autumn clematis is blooming, and flames of ivy are licking up tree trunks like the start of a forest fire. 

This afternoon we’ll probably get some rain. Here, at the edge of the West, we’re almost always hoping for rain – our most precious resource. Water, it seems, is always on my mind, casting a shadow of gloom over my pleasure in this day.

My concern with water isn’t just about rain to slake our garden’s thirst. My concern is far wider, all because Kyle asked me if the earth’s supply of water is finite and if it can be used up. Last week I wrote a blog post about humans’ misuse of water, “Water, Water Everywhere.”

What worries me even more than human’s misuse of water is that some humans believe that all water should be owned and administered by capitalists. Some water is already owned by capitalists, the guys who produce plastic bottles of water for those of us who can’t be bothered to fill a flask of water to carry with us.

Nestle Waters North America, Inc. owns the rights to several springs in California, an area experiencing drought and scant groundwater. Nestle, producing millions of bottles of water from the springs, deprives the delicate desert ecosystem of water and threatens the water supply of towns. [1]

Nestle CEO, under the guise of water stewardship, has publicly said that corporations should take responsibility for the proper distribution of the earth’s water. [2] Nestle certainly has shown in Southern California that responsible distribution of water means distributing the profits from the sale of bottled water to its shareholders.

Can we actually allow this to happen? It worries me.

Back in the early 1940s, E. B. White wrote:

      “When I was a child people simply looked about them and were moderately happy; today they peer beyond the seven seas, bury themselves waist deep in tidings, and by and large what they hear makes them unutterably sad.” [3}

Nothing has changed, Mr. White. With more news we are ever more sad and can hardly enjoy a beautiful day.

[1] Nestle takes water from drought area in desert

[2] Nestle chairman Peter Brabeck discusses water, The Guardian

[3] E. B. White, One Man’s Meat, c. 1942.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Friday, September 26, 2014

Water, Water, Everywhere

I’ve put off writing this post for a week now. I’m afraid it will expose me as an environmental nutcase.

Cousin Kyle posed the question, “Does water get worn out and is not replaced? Does it disappear completely or only temporarily?

Little did he know that he was setting me off on a rant about water.

I had a hunch that the earth has a finite amount of water and it proved to be correct. In other words, no new water is being created. Our water is constantly being recycled. [1}

Water is becoming scarcer, principally because human beings are using it in so many ways. This is due to the sheer number of people in the world – seven billion and counting. We use water not only domestically, but also agriculturally, and industrially, leaving an enormous amount of water unusable in the future. Think of the wastewater from fracking, which is so contaminated it must be treated and the remains pumped deep underground. [2] Think of agricultural runoff water laced with pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer that contaminate our streams, rivers, and lakes. Monsanto’s herbicide is showing up in human breast milk. [3] All of these uses threaten our drinking water. [3]

And don't get me started on bottled water! The manufacture of the plastic containers for this water require as much as three liters of water per half-liter bottle, far more water than the bottle can contain. [5]

I’ve tried to be dispassionate and rational here.  I’ve been called “a nut” before, so it won’t hurt my feelings if this post prompts another backlash. But, I’m tellin’ ya, we better get our act together on water. All life on earth depends on it.

[1} Is there a way water is created or does the Earth have a finite amount?

[2] Fracking practiced by the oil industry use tremendous amounts of water, which flows back out of the well bearing toxic contaminants.

[3] Threats to drinking water.

[4] Components of Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup has turned up in human breast milk.

[5] How much water does it take to produce one plastic bottle of water?
Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Putting Tomatoes By

Tomato season soon will draw to its end, but in the meantime our plants are still cranking out tomatoes. Because we don’t prune our tomato plants the tomatoes increase in number but decrease in size. Just yesterday I manage to clear most of the heaped-up tomatoes from out kitchen worktable, saving back a dozen to give Barb for making fresh tomato pasta salad. Today Dennis brought in more tomatoes. He picks them when they begin to turn red so the birds won't peck them

I used to can tomatoes by the quart and still have the blue enamel water-bath canner in the basement. I used it once to trap a snake that got into the basement, but haven’t canned tomatoes for several years. It’s much easier to freeze them.

Some people I know say, “You can freeze fresh tomatoes whole. When they thaw, the skins slip right off.” That is true, but the tomato flesh turns into a stringy mess that is difficult to chop.*

I have far better luck by preparing tomatoes for freezing the same way I did for canning. It’s a simple process: drop the tomatoes a small batch at a time into boiling water for a minute. Remove them to a big bowl and let them cool enough to handle. Using a paring knife, cut around the stem, invert the tomato over a cooking pot, and squeeze the pulp out of the skin. Cut each tomato into chunks. When all the tomatoes are skinned, set the pot on a burner and bring the tomatoes to a steady simmer for about 10 minutes. The idea is to begin to break down the cellular structure.

At this point if I were canning tomatoes, I would ladle them into hot, sterilized quart jars, add caps and lids, and process them in a boiling water bath. Now that I’ve switched to freezing, I just set the pot off the burner and wait until the tomatoes have cooled to room temperature.

Old dairy containers of various sizes make great freezer containers. They just need identifying labels taped onto their lids. I will hand-write labels for the three quarts of tomatoes in this batch, but when I’m making a lot of the same thing, I print labels, as when Dennis went on a wild plum jelly-making spree a couple of days ago. Tomorrow we’re planning to make even more, so these labels will come in handy.

Now we’ve frozen 25 containers of tomatoes. This fall, winter, and spring we’ll be going to the basement for tomatoes to add to soups and stews and sauces. Several times we will have home-made cream of tomato soup, remembering the bountiful garden of 2014.

* Green beans, too, that have been completely precooked before freezing taste far better than green beans frozen after only blanching.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

My Legacy

Recently I embarked on my eightieth year as a separate human being. I never envisioned living this long, but here I am, close to being an octogenarian. The time has come to consider what legacy I will leave behind. What have I contributed to the world in all these years?

As it happened, both of my daughters wrote birthday greetings that answered my question. Nancy wrote:

Dear Mother,
I was thinking about my favorite birthday party I ever had: it was when you took me and some of my friends to a park and we all got busy playing in a stream. If only other parents could understand the importance of getting their kids out into nature! Thank you for giving me a love of the outdoors and for appreciating all living things.

Next came a card from Carol, who had just returned from a family camping trip:

Dearest Mom,
…Camping always brings back to memories of camping with you, Nancy, Ozzie and sometimes Holmes and Candace. I wonder how you had the energy to pack up the car nd drive for hours with loud, argumentative children only to arrive at your destination and have to pitch a tent, make a fire, and cook dinner. So much work! Well, it didn’t go unappreciated. Nancy and I were fondly recalling such trips just yesterday.

Thank you for making the effort to get us out into nature. The camping, gardening, gooseberry-picking, morel mushroom-hunting – all of these activities helped foster my love (as it turns out!) of nature and my deep respect for the environment.

So there it is, my legacy. If I haven’t done another worthwhile thing, this is a sufficient legacy.

I had to laugh at Carol’s parenthetical “as it turns out!” She was referring, I’m sure, to a time when I took the children to the Baker Nature Preserve to pick wild gooseberries. As Ozzie, Nancy, and I were picking gooseberries from their thorny branches, mosquitoes swarmed around us. Carol refused to participate in the harvest, but sat on a big rock, declaring, “I hate nature!” Thank goodness her attitude changed.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Pedagogy in the Kitchen

For twelve days now my left hand has been out of commission. Although I’ve graduated from a cast to a splint, I still can’t do any cooking. Dennis, who enjoys good food, has been a willing but inexperienced cook. He asks that I perch on a kitchen stool to guide him. He often became frustrated by my instructions, which I was giving piecemeal, one step at a time.

Yesterday it finally dawned on me that  my approach to cooking lessons was wrong. Instead of giving one step at a time, I should review the entire process before he starts cooking. Then he will know the order of steps, ingredients, and techniques.

I had been hungry for fresh chopped tomatoes in pasta and had worked out in my mind how to make such a dish, so I put the new teaching method to the test. I described the process and then we reviewed the whole thing again.

It went off without a hitch or a moment's frustration.

Summer’s End Pasta

Peel and dice 6 garden ripened Roma tomatoes.
Peel and mince 2 cloves garlic.

Place the tomatoes and garlic in a non-reactive bowl and add at least ¼ cup of first-cold-pressed olive oil. Stir and leave to marinate. If we had used salt a1nd pepper we would have added those ingredients to the marinade.

Dennis likes Italian sausage, so we cut 2 sweet Italian sausage links into bite size slices and put them into a skillet on medium-low heat. (The sausage really isn’t necessary. Leave it out if you prefer.)

Next, the pasta. Put on a pot of salted water to boil. Measure 1 ½ cups whole wheat penne and add it to the boiling water. When the water returns to the boil, set a timer for 10-14 minutes, depending on how soft you want the pasta to be. During this process, remember to stir the sausages occasionally. When the sausage bits are browned, put them in a paper towel bowl to drain.

When the pasta is done, drain the water and immediately pour the pasta into the marinating tomatoes. Add the sausages and stir everything together. 

Next, snip fresh basil leaves over the pasta mix, sprinkle on some parmesan cheese. Toss everything together. Add more basil or parmesan to adjust the balance.

It’s a pretty dish and tastes divine. The cooking lesson was a success and we’re going to use this method of instruction again. Dennis seems excited about becoming a good cook.

 There's a bowl of leftovers, too.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Monday, September 8, 2014


The first thing most of us think of when we hear “windfall” is unexpected good fortune, perhaps an inheritance or a lucky stock return. Windfall originally is ripe fruit blown from `a tree or bush, such as the wild plums Dennis, Marianne, and Oz gathered up on Saturday. No ladders were needed, making the task far easier

Some were easy pickings, having dropped onto wood chip mulch.

Most were in the periwinkle that surrounds the tree.

Marianne added a few under-ripe plums she pulled from the tree branches, hoping they would contribute pectin to the juice we eventually would extract from the fruit.

In less than an hour the toilers accumulated a pailful.

That afternoon Dennis and I washed the plums, discarded a few, and cooked them in two big pots. We put the cooked plums in a jelly bag and let the juice run through, leaving the pulp for the chickens.

Sunday morning we made two batches of jelly. The first batch, made without added pectin, didn’t jell, so we called it syrup. The second batch, made using added pectin, jelled just fine. The end result was gratifying.

This morning Dennis made pancakes which we ate with plum syrup. The taste was heavenly.

Now, thanks to Oz’s and Marianne’s generosity, and to Dennis's hard work, I can check “Make wild plum jelly” off my bucket list.

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hail To the Chef

Colorado peaches are the best. We especially love them in a peach cobbler. Dennis decided to make one this morning. He has never made one before. Isn’t it a beauty?

I usually make our pies and cobblers, but am temporarily unable to do anything in the kitchen.

I wasn’t able to make the cobbler but I sure will be able to eat my share. Hail to the chef!

Copyright 2014 by Shirley Domer