Thursday, April 30, 2015


Rhubarb season is in full swing and this is the time for pie.

This is an 8-inch pie. I used three cups of ½-inch rhubarb slices, 1 cup of sugar, and 2½ tablespoons of cornstarch for the filling. It is just a bit too juicy, so next time I’ll use 3 tablespoons of cornstarch. (Don't forget to dot the filling with butter before adding the top crust.)

Served with a dollop of vanilla ice cream it was heavenly.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Perfect Spring in Paradise

Paradise is downright paradisiacal these late April days. For once the spring blooming flowers haven’t been blasted by occasional hot winds out of the south, nor have the fruit blossoms been killed by frost. The weather has been consistently cool with a few well-timed rains.

I’ve loved watching the parade of perfect spring blossoms, one kind succeeding another. First came the daffodils and forsythia, then narcissus, then tulips, early, mid-season, and late. A couple of days ago the first humming bird showed up just in time to sip nectar from the opening columbine blossoms. Lilacs have come and gone, and now the purple iris are in their glory along with the more modest wild blue phlox scattered here and there along the woods’ edges.

Dennis’s vegetable garden is going to town, producing rhubarb, early onions, and greens in abundance. He has been thinning the thickly planted lettuce, escarole, and spinach; we’re eating salads of the thinnings that are even better than the baby greens sold in grocery stores.

The apple trees and gooseberry bushes bloomed in abundance and busy bees are making sure every blossom is fertilized. It looks to be a banner year for fruit, including black raspberries and even the newly planted strawberries. Our 17 hens, some of them four years old, are doing a spectacular job, laying a dozen or more eggs every day and bragging about it.

Tonight the spring peepers are croaking down by Chicken Creek and all is right in our world.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Taking Inventory

Strawberry Blossoms

My eightieth birthday is looming at the end of the coming summer. It sits there hunched like a cougar ready to pounce, waiting for its prey. Somehow I never imagined I would live this long. Now I’m watching younger friends pass, while I live on with a continually deteriorating skeleton. This seems a good time to conduct inventory. What have I irretrievably lost? What do I have left and how much of that can I preserve for a few more years?

I hope to keep enough physical ability to engage in some creative pursuits, for without creativity life would seem barren. I’ve already given up many interests – fine sewing, wood carving, gardening, maintaining flower beds and pruning trees. In the kitchen I can’t lift even moderately heavy pots and rely heavily on tools that enable me to open containers and mix and chop things. Lifting a book or a bag of groceries can be a challenge. My hearing is shot and although hearing aids are helpful, they are a long way from perfect. For 38 years I frequented our hilly woods, but haven’t ventured there for almost two years. I no longer feel comfortable driving to or in Kansas City, a mere 40 miles away. The steep basement stairs scare me, especially when I need to carry things upstairs.

So, what is left? I can still walk thanks to hip and knee joint replacements. My eyesight with corrective lenses is still 20/20, although little cataracts are developing. Apparently my mind still works pretty well. I can still cook and bake, especially when someone is around to lift heavy things out of the oven and wash big pots and pans. I can still use my camera and probably could do watercolor paintings if I wanted to. I can write, too, using the thumb of my left hand and all the fingers on my right on the keyboard. I still do my laundry (but can’t put clean sheets on a bed).  I can drive my car around town, do shopping, and visit friends and doctors’ offices. Ironically, except for rheumatoid arthritis there’s nothing wrong with me physically. Most important, I still have loving friends and family with new ones showing up from time to time.

Clearly I cannot be an active participant in most of our rural life in Paradise. I can admire the place. I can photograph. But I can’t do the labor. All of that falls to Dennis, who is no spring chicken himself. Although he is in superb condition he, too, is getting some arthritis and has given up certain chores and activities. We see that our days here are numbered. This is a place for younger people in their prime who can do hard work. It requires active human participation just to keep the woods from overrunning the house, yard, and pasture. We are beginning to plan for selling our home of forty years. We’ve given ourselves a maximum of five years to do that, but realistically we must to do it before a health crisis hits one of us.

We probably won’t see many more springs here so I’m enjoying every aspect of this time of incredible renewal and fleeting beauty.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Vegetarian Pleasures

This vegetarian thing has me in its grip. Oh, I ate a sausage patty for breakfast and enjoyed it, although it was a little too salty. I ate it because I won’t waste good food and there was sausage in the meat and cheese drawer. But interesting ideas about meatless meals keep popping into my head.

My friend and neighbor Laurie went vegetarian a long time ago and is the picture of health. She also serves delicious meals to lucky guests like me. I must have inquired about recipes because she loaned me a few of her favorite cookbooks by Jeanne Lemlin.

As soon as I began exploring the first book, Simple Vegetarian Pleasures, I was intrigued. The recipes seemed familiar to me because they feature ingredients I use frequently and enjoy. These recipes just don’t include meat. Jeanne hardly ever mentions tofu, either. I believe it’s tofu that has prejudiced me against vegetarian food in the past.

The first recipe I tried was “Portobello Mushroom and Caramelized Shallot Omelet.” I picked that one because we still have a lot of nice shallots from last summer’s garden. I also had a log of goat cheese, another of the ingredients. Eggs we have aplenty. All I had to buy was the mushrooms. It was delicious.

The next day, because I still had some goat cheese in the fridge and last summer’s tomatoes in the freezer, I made “Baked Goat Cheese and Tomato Polenta.” I always have Hodgson Mill’s whole-grain cornmeal on hand and was pleased to see that the recipe calls for plain old cornmeal. This dish, too, has been delicious, even as leftovers.

My cookbook library now includes three of Lemlin’s books: Simple Vegetarian Pleasures, Quick Vegetarian Pleasures, and, in today’s mail, Vegetarian Classics. I’m also getting ideas of my own. For example, I want to make the tomato polenta dish using roasted sweet pepper slices, black olives, and feta cheese. That’s probably because I roasted some red and yellow peppers today.

It’s been a chilly, rainy day, so for supper tonight I’m making an extemporaneous soup using black beans and rice left from last night and other ingredients to make a meatless chili. Vegetarian cooking is proving to be fun. I’ve been cooking this way for nine days now and I still haven’t run out of ideas or had to resort to tofu.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Road to Vegetarianism

I grew up in a meat-eating family.  At least twice a day, usually the midday and evening meals (dinner and supper), we ate pork, beef, or chicken, the beef and pork grown on Dad’s farm and the chickens that Grandma raised in our back yard in town. (The farmhouse had burned to the ground, so we bought a house in the village, a half mile from the farm.)

Dad’s hogs had cozy little houses for raising their litters, plenty of dried corn from the corn bin, and a pond with ample mud for wallowing. They lived in hog heaven until the day they died. Dad’s cattle lived in a lush pasture with another pond, good not only for drinking but also for standing in on hot days. Dad’s hogs and cattle had good lives until he loaded one into his truck and took it to Oak Grove to be butchered.

The butcher cut the meat into roasts, chops and other forms, sealed them up in heavy white freezer paper, and stamped then package “Hamburger” or “Pork Chops.” The butchery had a large walk-in freezer room where people could rent freezer space. That’s where our meat was stored.

Once a week or so, Dad drove three miles to Oak Grove to get a supply of meat. Many hot summer days I went along. The temperature difference between the inside of Dad’s truck and the big freezer room was staggering.  We could see our breath. Immediately I was shivering. Dad wore leather gloves when he pulled out the freezer drawer and rummaged for the cuts Mother had requested.

Grandma, who was in charge of chickens, also was in charge of dispatching them. When fried chicken was on the menu, Grandma went outside about an hour before the meal, grabbed a chicken by its head, and swung the bird in a circle. The head popped off, leaving the headless body running around until it collapsed. Quickly Grandma had the carcass de-feathered, gutted, cleaned, cut into pieces, floured, and dropped into a skillet bubbling with hot lard.

These images of how meat animals are raised persisted in my mind for many years, but when Dennis and I began making treks to Colorado through western Kansas, I was shocked to see (and smell) the huge feedlots of cattle living in their own filth, eating feed unsuitable for their ruminant stomachs. That’s when I began to back away from eating beef, but I still had pork and chicken and sometimes fish.

Since then, I’ve learned that most hogs are raised in boxes scarcely larger than their bodies. So are many laying hens. These creatures can’t even walk around. Fish are farmed and fed disgusting things.

I’ve now backed away from mass-produced meat altogether. If we eat beef it is grass fed. If we eat pork or chicken, it was humanely raised. If we eat fish it was wild-caught.  This is hard on the pocketbook. If our old dietary habits were to persist, we would go broke.

One approach to changing dietary habits is to use small amounts of meat to flavor another dish, such as navy beans cooked with a ham hock. I’ve gone that route, but recently I’ve been drawn to making meatless meals, thanks to Laurie, who has been a vegetarian for many years. Laurie serves up delicious meatless meals time and again, meals that provide tastes and textures that delight the palate. Vegetarian recipes had always seemed a bit weird to me, but Laurie introduced me to cookbooks that completely changed my perception of vegetarian food.

Tonight our evening meal will be meatless for the fourth time in as many days. I’m venturing onto the road toward vegetarianism.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer