Monday, September 1, 2014

Spaghetti Squash

 I'm a fan of anything from the garden but I have a particular love for spaghetti squash. It's not something we have regularly - and it's not a squash I have ever grown - so it is a special meal we look forward to when we get one. Thanks to Dan Miller for this beautiful squash, homegrown just four miles north of Pinehaven.

Spaghetti Squash - simple and delicious

 I'll show you the finished product first. I prefer eating spaghetti squash as simply as possible. That means adding salt and pepper while baking and adding a pat of margarine when served. That's it. Why drown it in spices and sauces? This way the delicate taste of squash tickles the taste buds.


 The first step is to cut the squash lengthwise. I took it to the garage and laid it on a sheet of newspaper, carefully holding onto the stem as a sort of handle. It takes a large knife to do this right. I then scooped out the seeds and "guts" and brought the two halves back into the house.


 I think the lemon-yellow flesh is perfect. This might be the prettiest squash of all.


 Mom laid the halves in a shallow metal cake pan. Lining it with parchment paper means there's no clean-up afterwards. Here she's rubbing olive oil on the cut sides.


 We like to add a little salt and pepper before the squash is baked. Place this into a 375° oven for about 50 minutes. You'll know when it's done if you can pierce the flesh with a sharp fork. There should be little resistance.


 It's done. 50 minutes have passed and Mom's fork slides into the flesh easily.

 I took the finished squash and scraped the inside flesh with a fork. It comes off like pieces of string. It's ready to eat. The two halves produced two large servings.



Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Soup Party

 Saturday (August 30) Tom and I were invited to a soup party. The idea is this: a large pot is provided, good heat fired underneath and each party-goer arrives with something to add to the pot. The resultant soup cooks while the party is underway and shared later. It's a liquid, edible mystery of sorts: who know what the result is going to be.

 Tom was invited by Marilyn, a fellow employee at an Amazon warehouse.. She and her husband own four wooded acres near Dillsboro, Indiana, complete with large pond. It's twenty feet deep in the middle, cupped between the hills like it grew there naturally (though it was dug), with a  zip line down the middle. It couldn't be a prettier spot for a gathering.


 On our way from Cincinnati, I held the half page typed directions as Tom drove. "Please do not use GPS," Marilyn had written. "It will not get you there." For most of the ride we used the directions alone, until we needed to find "Station Hollow Road". I fired up my cell phone for that little feat. And yes, I used the GPS to get us back on track (but no more).

 As we neared the location, we saw signs taped to trees. "Soup" it said ... hand-lettered and a sure sign that we were progressing. Finally, we turned into the correct driveway and found the sign shown above taped to a tree. "If you have anything heavy," Marilyn wrote, "just come down and we'll pick it up with a 4-wheeler".

 Tom drove down the dirt lane until we saw other cars and a pond nestled deep among the trees.


 Just arrived, Marilyn (l) shows Tom (center) around. That's a bunkhouse in the background.


Marilyn's invitation called the party "kid friendly ... games, fishing and more". True to her words, a number of kids had already taken to the old fashioned swimming hole. At the center of the above picture, one child rides the zip line across the pond.


 Nearest the eating area, a number of small boats and canoes were provided. One, which held four, was paddled by foot.


 Here's the zip line being prepared for another ride. It's a pretty ingenious system. The rider sits atop the orange plastic disk. When the ride is over, and the rider has dropped into the water near the pond's far edge, the apparatus is reeled back in with a fishing pole. It's a heavier duty model (salt water, I think Marilyn said). A mono-filament line runs out with the rider and provides the means to haul the apparatus back for the next ride. Great idea!


 Here's how a ride begins ...


... while in the water a number of kids play on an overturned kayak.


 Beside the iron cauldron where the soup bubbled was a piece of cardboard where the ingredients were listed as they were added. The list grew longer as the afternoon grew later. "It's always fun to see what the soup tastes like," said Marilyn. "It's never the same."


 A homemade "bunk house" sits just up from the pond. What fun it must be to spend night here, in this dark hollow on a summer moonlit night, coyotes howling in the distance.


 The soup bubbled in a large iron pot. It was heated by a wood fire.


 Here's how the soup looked just after 2 pm, barely begun. The soup party ran from 2 pm to 6 pm.


 Tom and I walked some of the trails on the property. This is from the opposite shore from the earlier shots, looking down through the woods at the pond.



 Tom, a former botany major at Miami University, checks out some fungus growing on a downed tree. Tom pointed out sassafras trees (bushes, really ) to me. The leaves look like a mittened hand. He crushed a branch and let me smell the strong root beer scent.


 Thought the afternoon, other guests arrived and the items they brought were added to the soup.
 Marilyn's invitation said, "All we ask is that you bring a vegetable or seasoning for the soup." There was no fresh water at the pond so the vegetables had to be prepared in advance. Bowls, spoons and crackers were provided.

 Bill

 Tom


 Rowing on the opposite shore. There were enough boats for everyone.



 This young guy was manning the zip line reel-in station.


A dock provided a nice diving platform.



 This mother carefully watches her daughter as she tries out a small pink boat. A perfect fit.


 Her son couldn't get enough of the water, either. This is a Tom Sawyer/Huckleberry Finn setting if there ever was one.


 These plastic boats filled often with water and became too heavy to drag on shore. It looks as though a couple of rubber stoppers could prevent that. But maybe the sinking of them is half the fun?

 Bill


 I'm not sure where the greenish mud came from - probably some spot on the pond's bottom - but a couple of boys took great pride in being covered with the slime.


 We had to leave about 4:30 pm so I could get back to Farmersville by 7 pm. That prompted Tom to sample a bowl of the soup before he left.


 ... and this is what the final product looked like. Tom christened it "delicious". Being vegetarian, it's not something I was able to try as it contained squirrel, venison and groundhog. It also contained pork and beef. The final ingredient list is below:



 Another view of the finished soup. It had been simmering for at least two and a half hours at this point.


 Tom finishes up before we hit the road. What a nice way to spend the day. Marilyn and her family were extremely friendly and the setting was perfect for a gathering of this sort. Let's hope it's an annual event. Surely Tom and I aren't too old to bring swimming trunks next time.



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Mae's" Hosta

 I've told this story before but I'll repeat it here ...

 Many years ago we had a beautiful hosta plant when we lived in Miamisburg. Mae liked it so much she asked for a start. Then, we ended up moving to Moraine and finally to Farmersville. In the moves, we found we no longer had a hosta.

 Mae, of course, suggested we take a start from hers (ours?). Charlie had planted it on the north side of their garage. It was rather neglected there - Charlie, in fact, didn't even know if it was still there at all. I drove over, found the plant quite luxurious even in its isolation, expanding through the chain-link fence into the neighbor's yard.

 I took a small start and planted it in the northern shade of our garage. That flower bed seemed little capable of growing anything for long. It was mostly still bare soil many years after we moved to Pinehaven. Mom grew a few shade-loving herbs there as the spot was opposite and adjacent to our garden. Parsley seemed to grow well there, at least for short periods of time.

 Over the years, I've divided that plant time and again. I'd pierce the roots with a sharp shovel, get another start planted nearby. Over time I filled in the gaps. This year, for the first time, there are no gaps at all. It is a continuous bed of hosta. And now, late August, they are all blooming in a perfect profusion of purple.

Looking west

 I got to thinking about these flowers, at the height of their blooms on Monday, the same day as Mae's funeral. Who would have thought that they'd have reached their peak at this sad time?
 Instead of "hasta la vista" (Spanish for "See you later") we have a "hosta la vista" which, I think, says the same thing.

Looking east

 For those with an eagle eye, the purple in the foreground isn't hosta at all but Russian sage, in bloom with an identical color and on the same day.
 I'm sure I've been working on this flower bed for at least 15 years. Who could imagine that it would reach its perfect peak on this day? It's a natural tribute to my aunt, built entirely by chance.
 But what is chance and what is predestination? I'm sure, unknown to myself, this was being planned all along.



Sunday, August 24, 2014

Stricker's Grove

 Yesterday Tom and I had the pleasure of joining his friends, Nan and David, for an afternoon of fun and relaxation at Stricker's Grove. It's a 25 acre amusement park in Ross, Ohio, closed to the public for most of the year, but available for rent by various groups. Nan's an employee of TriHealth of Cincinnati and this was their annual company get-together.

 I drove to Tom's apartment, parked my car there and then he drove to Stricker's for our 1 pm meeting time. It was a hot, humid day with billowing cumulus clouds that threatened rain ... but never did. When we first got there, attendance was fairly light.

Attendance was light at 1 pm ... but the event lasted until 7 pm
It was crowded by mid-afternoon

David (l) and Tom eat the traditional snow cones upon arriving
All of the food (except ice cream) was free

Gift baskets were available for raffle; you tried for one by leaving a ticket in a bag
for a 4:15 pm drawing

Which to try for? Nan settled for an Italian-themed basket of goodies 

Large grills cook burgers by the hundreds producing a thick smoke screen
They had veggie burgers .. charcoal-grilled and delicious 

We first walked through a line, picked up a plate, napkin and fork and then cold, salad items
Well, the barbecue beans weren't cold when we started but they were when we got to a table

Tom's on the opposite side of the tables from me but doing an exceptional job of loading up 

Food's eaten ... now it's time to check out the amusement rides 

Saw this T-shirt on a female attendant at one of the rides and liked the sentiment
The shirt was for the Honor Flight, serving WWII veterans

First ride, Tilt-A-Whirl
Tom (l-r), Nan, David - I didn't ride on any of the rides 

Lines for various rides were long - this one for the Tilt-A-Whirl 

The "Electric Rainbow" - only Nan rode this one (alone)

"The Tornado" roller coaster

  Construction began in 1990 and was completed in 1993. This wooden roller coaster was "designed by Al Collins and built by Ralph Stricker". According to the amusement park's website, "Ralph Stricker is the only person in the Unites States to build his own roller coaster".

Nan (l) and Tom were the only two of our group brave enough to take a ride on The Tornado
Here they walk to the line where they'll wait their turn 

Shade was at a premium in the park


 I checked the weather radar on my cell phone and found all was clear. Mid-afternoon they gave the temperature as 87° and added "feels like 98°". I believe it. It was a sweltering afternoon, almost too hot to be outside.

Tom and Nan near the top of the biggest drop-off on The Tornado 

And then fall full speed ahead 

This bubbling fountain was the coolest sight in the park 

I watched parents walk up to the fountain, hold small children over the water as the kids paddled in mid-air like dogs. Other adults dipped their own fingers into the water to clean them ... perhaps to remove residue from the free cotton candy?

Nan and Tom once worked together at The Jewish Hospital in Cincinnati.
It's good to see friendships that mature, then last 

A final ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl
Tom and Nan didn't stay off the rides for long

 We left about 4:15 pm and Tom and I arrived back at his apartment about 5 pm. On the way there we stopped at a roadside stand and bought a whole watermelon ($6). It was the seeded variety. "I think they taste better," said Tom. I brought half of it home.
 Traffic wasn't too heavy driving north on I-75. I passed through three showers, one fairly heavy.
 It was a nice day with new friends and a pleasant place to share the time with.
 Thanks, Tom, for asking me; Thanks Nan and David for asking us.