Monday, January 26, 2015

Big Blow

It was an eventful weekend, all centering on the chickens and their habitat. To begin with, Margaret, our oldest and tamest hen, got sick. Normally, when Dennis opens up the hen house in the morning, Margaret follows him outside, waits for him to open the gate, marches into the chicken yard, and starts eating the kitchen scraps Dennis dumps on the ground.  Meanwhile, all the other hens are waiting for Dennis to open their little door, but Margaret has already eaten the choicest offerings.

Saturday, however, Margaret did not follow her normal routine, but stayed in the chicken house, not only when Dennis opened the door, but also all day long, huddled on the roost. When Dennis looked her over he found that her comb was turning black – not a sign of health in a chicken. Sunday she stayed in as well, but crouched on the floor.

Sunday, yesterday, was also the day a powerful cold front moved through, blowing like the dickens out of the north. When Dennis and I went to buy some groceries I had to hold onto his arm as we crossed the parking lot, lest the wind blow me over. (Dennis is far sturdier of this union.)

Back home I looked out the kitchen window and noticed that a walnut tree had blown down in the chicken yard, taking with it a large branch of an adjacent tree, and squashing the twelve-foot-high fence.

At times like this we call on Pam the Intrepid, who owns a chain saw and knows how to use it. Evening was upon us, so it was too late to remedy the situation, but Pam promised to come this morning.

It took Pam and Dennis just one hour to clean up the mess. First, Pam cut the branches hanging over the fence. Dennis loaded the cut pieces into the wheelbarrow and trundled them to the wood pile.

Then Pam went inside the chicken yard to cut up the main trunk.

While she cut up the trunk, Dennis set to repairing the fence.

He had to patch the wire and reattach it to the fence post.

At the end, the fence was repaired and there was a heap of new seasoned fire wood to be split.

As well as a large pile of kindling for fire starting.

All did not end well. I’m sorry to report that Margaret passed away overnight. We will miss her.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Monday, January 19, 2015

Buttered Toast

I grew up in a tiny Missouri town, population 103, about 40 miles east of Kansas City. Sometimes on Saturday morning we went to “The City” in our green Plymouth sedan, my dad at the wheel, cruising at 40 mph on Highway 40 toward our shopping mecca.

Downtown Kansas City then was a busy retail center with locally owned department stores such as Harzfeld’s; Adler’s; The Jones Store Co.; and Emery, Bird, Thayer*. For two hours Mother and I went from store to store, looking for whatever my mother, a clotheshorse, had in mind – high-heeled shoes from Harzfeld’s for her, a coat for me at Adler’s, or white gloves for church at Emery, Bird, Thayer.

All this time my dad, not a shopper, sat in a huge waiting room equipped with comfy leather chairs at Emery, Bird, Thayer. About noon Mother and I met him there and we all went to lunch, sometimes at Myron Green cafeteria or the Forum cafeteria, but often at Emery, Bird, Thayer’s lovely tea room.

One of my most vivid memories of lunching at Emery, Bird, Thayer was the day when, after perusing the menu, I announced that I wanted buttered toast.

“Shirley Carol, you can have buttered toast at home,” my mother scolded. “Order something else.”

I don’t know what I chose in lieu of buttered toast. I only know that I was embarrassed to prefer a lowly, homey food to the more elegant offerings.

Seventy years later I still prefer buttered toast. Now I don’t order it in restaurants because their’s doesn’t hold a candle to the buttered toast I eat at home almost every morning. Still, I’ll always wonder how the buttered toast at Emery, Bird, Thayer would have tasted.

*Although the Emery, Bird, Thayer Co. building was on the National Register of Historic Places, it was torn down in 1971. For a history of store go to,_Bird,_Thayer_Dry_Goods_Company  I borrowed Wikipedia's illustration for this post.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Accidental Bread

“Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Recently when Dennis was out of town I started to make bread. I got as far as dissolving the yeast in warm water when I discovered that the whole wheat canister was nearly empty. I’ve cut white flour to a minimum in my diet and wasn’t about to make white bread. We keep a 25-pound bag of whole wheat flour in the basement and I needed some of it.

The problem was that I hadn’t been to the basement since my knee joint replacement. If I fell on the stairs there would be no one to help me. What the heck, I decided to chance it and went very carefully down the steps. Opening the flour container I was dismayed to find an unopened bag of flour. My arthritic hands couldn’t lift it enough to get at the opening, so I trudged back up the long flight of stairs.

Now what? Well, I’d make the sponge using unbleached flour and see how far the whole wheat flour would go toward finishing the dough. When I reached into the cabinet for the whole wheat container I noticed a plastic bag next to it – a bag of spelt flour that I’d bought on my brother’s recommendation, but never used. Ah, ha! I consulted the internet and learned that although spelt is closely related to wheat, spelt flour differs from wheat flour in several respects.  Spelt flour contains more protein than wheat, it absorbs less moisture than wheat, and its gluten breaks down more easily than wheat gluten.

For the bread-maker it is good to know that dough made with a combination of spelt flour and wheat flour will be a wetter dough. It is important to know that the spelt flour should be added last, as it requires a lot less kneading.

I measured the whole wheat flour I had on hand: 2½ cups. I would finish the dough with as much spelt flour as needed, about 2½ cups.

I had little confidence the bread would be fit to eat, but the loaves I eventually pulled from the oven were beautifully shaped. As soon as the bread cooled I sliced the heel from one loaf, buttered it, and ate. It was delicious!

The concensus at our house is that “accidental bread” is superior to 100% whole wheat bread and itmakes extraordinary toast.  I bought more spelt flour and have been making accidental bread ever since. Last time I made the sponge using only two cups of unbleached flour and one cup of whole wheat flour. The bread was just as good. Today I’m making the sponge with one cup of unbleached flour and two cups of whole wheat. I want to know how far I can reduce the less-nutritious unbleached flour. I also want to increase the amount of spelt flour. (Eventually I’ll have it all worked out and will post the recipe.)

Slices of the last loaves of accidental bread were too big to fit in our toaster, so this time I didn't let the loaves rise much above the tops of the pans. Clearly this bread wants to rise because, as you can see in the photo, today's bread had a lot of "oven spring."

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Helping Others; Helping Ourselves

Our eldest grandson and his fiancé, who live in Tucson, wanted to buy a house. Recent law school graduates, they felt it would take years to accumulate enough money for a down payment. They put great effort into improving the house they rent, particularly the yard where they have created a productive garden. If only they could devote that energy to a place of their own.

For several years now Dennis has been promoting intergenerational living as an arrangement preferable to old folks moving to assisted living or retirement communities where they live only with other old people. Research, he says, indicates that old people thrive best when they live with people of all ages.

I happened to know that many houses in Tucson also have little houses called casitas. These are often used as short-term rentals, but they also are ideal for older relatives. Why not offer to provide our grandson with a down payment on a house with casita, a casita that Dennis and I could occupy during the bitterly cold winter months we currently endure in Kansas?

Dennis went for that idea and so did our grandson and his fiancĂ©! We have spent several weeks putting together a deal to purchase a property with not one, but two, casitas. Dennis and I will have the use of both of them, one for cooking, eating, and sleeping and the other for recreational activities – reading, listening to music, sewing, and so forth. Not only will we have the company of our relatives, but we also will be able to volunteer at the elementary school nearby. In my decrepit condition I take great joy in watching kids run and play, and I would love to play grandma to some children the ages of my youngest grandchild, who lives so far away.

Dennis says we can’t live just for ourselves; we have to live for others. In the case of this house purchase, everyone benefits. Our grandson will have a home of his own and we will escape the difficult winter months, returning to Paradise for the gardening season.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Cleaning Thyme

In summer there are so many tasks here in Paradise. Garden harvest comes one wave after another – broccoli, peas, potatoes, green beans, and so forth. Herbs, too, must be harvested before the plants set blossoms. I harvest only oregano and thyme, mostly thyme, because I use it in making many dishes. I cut the top three or four inches of the stems and scatter them on a dishtowel. They sit on the kitchen counter to dry for several days.

The next step is to remove stems from the dried herbs. This is a time-consuming task, one I have little time for in the busy harvest months, so I put the dried herbs in plastic bags and tuck them in the cabinet for later cleaning.

I usually clean the herbs in the autumn, but this year two surgeries occupied my thoughts. Yesterday, Jan. 2, I tackled cleaning a bag of thyme. With Jimmy Dale Gilmore’s Orbiting the Sun playing in the background, I poured the thyme onto a white plate and set to work separating the stems from the leaves.

At the top of the photo is a little heap of stems. At the lower left is the clean pile. At the right is a pile of uncleaned thyme.

I proceed by pulling a little uncleaned thyme toward the center of the plate.

After picking out the stems I slide the leaves into the cleaned pile, and so on until the job is finished.

Finally, I pour the clean thyme into this bottle with identifying label designed by Carol, my youngest child.

It’s gratifying to spend early days of this new year completing just one of a long, long list of tasks left over from 2014. Let this be the year when I can declare on New Year’s Eve, “I got ‘em done!”

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer