Monday, May 30, 2016

Bake Your Bacon

The word “bacon” doesn’t have anything to do with baking, but baking is by far the best way to prepare the traditional breakfast meat. I made some this morning.

After turning on the oven to 400º, I laid the bacon strips on a grill pan saved from a long-defunct toaster oven.

I put the pan in the oven right away, not waiting for the temperature to reach 375º. I didn’t time the baking, but it took somewhere between ten and fifteen minutes. (Thick-sliced bacon would have taken longer.) The result was perfectly cooked crispy meat.

The meat hardly shrank and its fat collected in the pan beneath the grill. Baked bacon doesn’t need turning, so the cook is free to make scrambled eggs, set the table, or read the paper. The grill is easy to clean, too, after a brief soak in hot, soapy water.

Baked bacon is definitely the way to go.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Supper to Dinner and Back Again

As the daughter of a farmer I grew up calling the noon meal “dinner” and the evening meal “supper.” Dad got up early to feed the hogs and milk the cow. He came back to the house for breakfast before heading back out to hitch up Babe and Belle, our big, gentle workhorses and plow fields, cut hay, or harvest corn by hand as the team slowly followed him down the row, pulling the wagon that slowly filled with golden ears.

By noontime Dad needed a serious infusion of calories. He returned to the house to fuel up on a substantial meal such as pan-fried steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, biscuits, gravy, and, in the summer, sliced tomatoes from his garden. That prepared him for a full afternoon of work that ended only when he had again milked the cow.

It was only right that we ate our dinner in the middle of the day, for “dinner” is defined as “the main meal of the day.”

Only when I was grown up and employed at Hallmark as a greeting card writer did I start calling my midday meal in the employees’ cafeteria “lunch” and my evening meal “dinner,” as all people with desk jobs tend to do.

Then, decades later, when both Dennis and I had retired, I returned to calling our evening meal “supper,” defined as “an evening meal, typically a light or informal one.” That fits our evening repasts to a T.

Supper consists of three items, occasionally only two. Last evening’s supper consisted of bean soup,

cornbread baked in the iron skillet, (that little brown spot is a morsel of bacon)

and salad fresh from the garden.

We still call our morning meal “breakfast,’ which has grown more substantial since we don’t have to rush off to jobs, and we still call our midday meal “lunch,” even when it’s only a smoothie or some guacamole and chips. 

“Dinner” has dropped completely from my vocabulary. Now that we are old and our metabolism has slowed, all of our meals are too spare and simple to merit the name. Frankly, I'm relieved. Not having to make a dinner takes the pressure off the cook It's all in the semantics. Supper is a snap but dinner is a chore.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Monday, May 16, 2016

Happy Families

Family can be harmonious or contentious, but more often are a mix of these extremes. The happiest families not only accept individual differences, they celebrate and reward them. If one sibling is a halfback and the other a chess player, that’s great! We have the brains and the brawn. If one can’t carry a tune, but another is asked to sing solos at church, that’s fine. The one who can’t carry a tune writes sonnets or can identify every plant in the woods. It all balances out. The key to harmony is to appreciate and embrace each family member’s unique traits.

Similarly, each family member has something to benefit the family.  One person can fix things that break or quit working. Another is your go-to for financial advice. Others bake delicious bread, keep the pantry stocked, mow the lawn, make us laugh, carry out the recycling and trash, and much more. Again, the key to harmony is to acknowledge and show appreciation for each person’s contributions.

The happiest families often shower one another with affection. We hug, we kiss, we pat, we tousle, we high five, we hold hands, we snuggle. We like each other and we sacrifice for each other. We all love each other, although the ones who give the most love are the best loved.

The contentious family operates differently.  Family members keep careful score of perceived slights, engage in constant competition for attention and approval, tease and taunt other family members, free load on the others’ labors and gifts, argue bitterly, carp endlessly, or try to turn family members against each other. Some families engage in a shifting mosaic of shunning first one person, then another. Some families play one-ups-man, comparing income, education, job achievements, and marital success. Favorite sons or daughters are treated better than others, their achievement lauded and others pointedly compared unfavorably to them.

We can either boost each other up or knock each other down. We can choose to be happy families or unhappy families. It’s pretty clear to me that the happiest, most confident, sweetest children come from harmonious, affectionate families, and from homes where each member is treated with respect. Hey, it’s worth putting up with one other just to have great kids around.

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Farewell to Annie

Our beloved Annie died on Friday. She was a big yellow dog of undetermined age and breed. She came to live with us quite by accident when Dennis dropped by to visit a friend whose companion rides her bike to work via the Kansas River levee. A starving dog had followed her home several miles along the levee to their country home. They already had two large dogs, and asked Dennis if he needed a dog. As it happened we had lost our beloved Gus to cancer a year or so before, and Dennis readily agreed to bring the starving dog home with him.

I will never forget my surprise when Dennis came leading her into my sewing room. She was so thin her I could see every rib. Moreover, her nipples were quite large, indicating that she had recently given birth to pups. She was so pitiful, so sweet, that my heart instantly responded. Of course we would give this dog a home! It was my privilege to name her and I chose “Sweet Annie.”

When Dennis took her for examination and inoculations, the vet estimated that she was two years old. Annie was with us for nine years. She was tolerant of children, protective of us, and a sworn enemy of squirrels, although she never managed to catch one. She was terrified by thunder and came to us for protection when a storm swept through. She was a good traveler and accompanied us on many trips around the county – Colorado, Mississippi, Texas, and, most recently, to Arizona, where she made friends with Zucca, an Airedale much younger than Annie.

One the trip home Annie had a hard time getting into the car. She had arthritis in her hips. Once we were home in Kansas, Annie never regained her vitality. Although she greeted each morning with a barked warning to any possible intruders, she spend most of her time lying on her bed, waiting for Dennis to come home. For Annie, Dennis was the alpha dog, and when he arrived in the evening, she came to life and greeted him with great enthusiasm. She unfailingly slept by his bedside, even on the next-to-last night of her life, laboriously climbing the stairs to be near him.

Recently Annie lost her appetite for dog food, but still loved anything we offered her from our table. The last few days she failed to show up for the evening meal. On the advice of Bob, Dennis’s brother who is a vet, I cooked hamburger and brown rice for her. Then, even though the weather was cool, she began to constantly pant. On Friday, while Dennis was away from home, Annie came into the room where I was working and lay down beside me. After I petted her she walked to the door where she always waited for Dennis, lay down, and died. When Dennis came home he buried her in the pasture where she had spend many happy hours.

Annie was my friend, but I could never convince her to tell me the story of her previous life. Even so, I know that she must have suffered loss, rejection, fear, and pain. I am thankful to have shared our home with her and given her love and nourishment.

The house seems empty without her quiet presence, and I still sometimes think I hear her toenails clicking on the hardwood floors. It’s consoling to imagine Annie is in dog heaven with Kazak, her old buddy, futilely chasing squirrels.

(See “The Almost Perfect Dog,” Nov. 13, 2012)

Copyright 2015 by Shirley Domer