Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fried Green Tomatoes

 I draw the line here. I don't like fried green tomatoes. Or, rather, I don't think I like them. I don't remember ever trying them.

 But I know I don't like the smell of an unripe tomato, something similar to the pungent smell of the tomato vine itself. No, tomatoes should be red. I don't even care for yellow tomatoes. Certainly I cannot appreciate green ones.

Mom, on the other hand, does.

 It is early morning - breakfast is just finished - when Mom gets out a skillet and begins working on the basket of green tomatoes I brought in yesterday (by the way, it did not frost as forecast so the garden could have been left alone for a while longer; but never mind). Mom breaks an egg and adds a little milk to make the egg-wash a little lighter. She dips the sliced green tomatoes in the egg and then dusts them in corn meal. That's all there is to the preparation.

 Soon they're sizzling in a frying pan. Mom turns them when one side browns. She'll have some of them for lunch and save the rest for later. Though I am sure I wouldn't like them, I do like the smell of them frying and the browned sides get my attention.

 And yet I can't help but think of these. A tomato must be succulent and a deep red, sliced thickly raw and sprinkled with no more than salt and pepper. I loved remembering how dark Dad made his sliced tomatoes with pepper. He wasn't ready to eat until the slice was nearly black. And even before this, he'd smell the cut slice. Tomatoes had to be just right for Dad. I am somewhat a snob in this regard, too.

 So, it's just 9:30 am. Breakfast dishes are barely done. But Mom has her lunch nearly prepared. She lifts each golden slice onto a white plate. She will have each all to herself.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Processing Parsley

 It's the time of year when the garden comes out. Yesterday I removed the stakes which held the tomatoes and bell peppers and took many of the plants down and chopped them up for compost. I gathered a basket of green tomatoes (Mom will bread and fry them), a few straggler onions and two cantaloupes (will these things ever ripen?).

 Last evening I went back out and picked a nice bunch of fresh parsley. Mom wanted to dry some for winter use. I started these from seed in the spring and, being a new crop, they are still particularly fresh, pungent and green.

 What's the hurry? Sunday morning promises our first frost ... and perhaps even a general freeze. The time is now. Parsley will last beyond a freeze, of course, but I don't think its condition will ever be as good as it is today.

 Here's the basket of parsley I picked yesterday which we're processing today.

 That still in the garden is as luxurious as ever, ready to be picked for a garnish well into winter weather. All this from one packet of seed.

 This year we used the oven drying method. You cut the tenderest parsley (getting rid of the stems) and placed the leaves on parchment paper atop a baking sheet (the paper is merely a clean-up tool and not necessary). The oven needs to be set to the lowest temperature possible. Our oven will not heat at a lower number than 170° so that's what we dried the parsley at. Mom left it in for about two hours.

 When I took the hot sheet out of the oven, I sat it on the stove to cool. The parsley is dry and flaky as can be.

 Here's a close-up of the dried parsley. This is then chopped into small flakes before bottling.

 Last year we hung bunches of fresh parsley from the ceiling of our indoor porch. Though the parsley dried, it turned a sickly grey-brown and we threw all of it out. This time, with speedy drying, the beautiful green color remained.

 The end result of several hours of work are these two small spice jars. We'll enjoy the parsley flakes on potatoes and in soups this winter and think back to the days of spring when these plants first sprouted. Buying the spice is probably cheaper but not half the fun.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Harriet's Desk

 It's an important desk. And it's nearby, in Oxford, Ohio.
 I was appraised of that fact by Jim Saylor, a fellow Miami University student, college buddy and life-long dear friend when a recent issue of The Miamian carried a story about a desk associated with Harriet Beecher Stowe.

 Tom Buhler and I toured the Miami campus on August 17 [click here] but the building that houses the Western College Alumnae Association was closed for a long weekend. I made a note to return.

Bill Schmidt and the desk 

 To be accurate, the desk wasn't owned by Harriet Beecher Stowe. It was actually the desk of Gabriel Tichenor, a one-time Mississippi planter and slave owner who saw the sin in slavery, freed his slaves and moved to the Walnut Hills section of Cincinnati.

 The Stowe's lived in Cincinnati, too, and were friends and neighbors of the Tichenor's. Harriet Beecher Stowe is said to have written "a large portion" of Uncle Tom's Cabin at this very desk.

Another "Tom", Tom Buhler and the desk

 The desk was donated to The Western College for Women by the Tichenor family in the years following the Civil War. That followed the death of Gabriel Tichenor, an early benefactor and trustee of Western College for Women (originally called the Western Female Seminary). According to The Miamian article, "Tichenor was a good friend of the Rev. Daniel Tenney, founder of the seminary."

 The Miamian article goes on to explain how Harriet Beecher Stowe came to use the desk: "Hailing from New England, Mrs. Stowe knew little about the South, which is why, reportedly, she spent a great deal of time at the Tichenor's desk writing and editing while Mr. Tichenor critiqued her anti-slavery manuscript."

 Uncle Tom's Cabin, published in 1852, was one of the instigators of the Civil War. In fact, when President Abraham Lincoln met Stowe at the White House in 1862, he is reported to have said, "So this is the little lady who started this great war." The quote, though, is now considered apocryphal.

The Western College Alumnae Association operates in the museum-like structure. I had written in advance asking whether I might view the desk. A quick reply from Debbie Baker said Patterson Place was open Monday through Friday from 8:30 am to 5 pm and that I was welcome to come.

 And so, on a beautiful autumn day, the trees alive with color, we enjoyed seeing the desk which had such an important part in American history.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Cinnamon Roll/Cake ... beyond belief!

 When I see a recipe on Facebook that interests me, I either post the link on my Timeline or I print the recipe right then and there. I did both in the past two weeks for this delicious cinnamon roll/cake. And now, the recipe is gone.

 Thankfully the printout is right here.. And finally, with some time on my hands this afternoon, I began to mix it up. If a link to the recipe is found, I'll post it at the end of this blog. If not, you'll just have to admire my photographs.

 This is the finished roll ... sweet as can be, an explosion of warm cinnamon.
 If you don't like sweet things, you won't like this. There is a cup of sugar (white) in the batter, another cup (brown) in the topping and yet two more cups (powdered) in the topping. It's also heavy with butter: half a cup in the batter and a full cup in the topping. Don't even think about the calories.

 This is the roll right out of the oven. You "cut" the cinnamon topping into the raw batter with a knife, marbling the roll through and through with sticky cinnamon syrup. The roll comes out of the oven misshapen from these cuts. Pretty as can be.

 Then the glaze is added ... drizzled over the still-warm roll so that it flows down into all the valleys.

 I've removed a slice for "testing" purposes here. I have to tell you, I was a bit dizzy from the delectable taste, the fragrant cinnamon wafting up to my nose. Or maybe it was just the sugar.
 Maybe the recipe is copyrighted and was removed for that reason. Until the link is found, I'll assume that's the case and say no more.

Update: Thanks to Sherry Wead Lummis for locating the original recipe. Check out the Chef in Training website and get the recipe from the source by clicking here. They deserve full credit and visitors to their site for this wonderful roll.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Praying Mantis

 Every autumn I'm lucky enough to come across a praying mantis. As a kid, I'd often find the foamy tan egg cases attached to the stems of weeds. I'm sure they are still plentiful but as an adult, and one with allergies, I seldom go the places where I might still find them.

 This close-up shot is quite clear. Their usual prayer-like posture is evident in this shot. I found this mantis on the wooden milk box beside the garage and picked him up and moved "him" to one of the wooden chairs on our back porch for better observation.

 A full-body view doesn't betray the sex. On the bottom, a male would have nine sections; a female would have just seven (though the female is heavier).

 The mantis stayed around for at least two days, even through a light rain. I'd check on it every time I passed this spot. Many times he had barely moved.

 Though they are ferocious-looking insects, they are not painful biters (though they will latch onto a finger if they mistake it for food). I just use a pair of gloves to move them but it is wholly unnecessary.
 I'd keep this one for a pet but for their need of living insects for food (including each other). Even so, their lifespan is short: never longer than 14 months. More trouble to house and feed than they're worth, especially with winter approaching.
 But I enjoy my usual autumn observations and would miss it if a year rolls around when I do not see this favorite.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Star Wars & Skateboards

 Star Wars and skateboards: what do the two have to do with one another? Very little except to Zac who is an avid collector of both. [Note: Zac's last name and location withheld to protect his privacy - Bill]

 Zac's collection of colorful skateboards is impressive. He's devoted part of his basement to their display, both on the wall and lined up on the floor.

 Zac (l) and Tom

 Tom donated three skateboards to the collection on Saturday. Two were modern Star Wars skateboards. The one Zac is holding is Tom's childhood skateboard. Constructed of wood, it's split a bit on the leading edge. Tom's mother used a marker to identify it on the bottom ("Tommy Joe" - which Tom wasn't too pleased about). Later he added "Thomas Joseph" just below his mother's hand.

Tom's skateboard - circa 1964

 Tom remembers getting the skateboard when he was just eight year old. Yep, half a century ago. It's now a part of Zac's cherished collection.
 Perhaps even more important, Zac is a Star Wars collector. He's also a member of The Ohio Star Wars Collectors Club.
Click here to link to the OSWCC website

 Zac has bookcases full of Star Wars collectibles. He'd make a retail store proud.

The club is in their 17th year.
Tom stayed for a meeting of the club as I headed back to Dayton.

Books by the Banks - 2014

 Yesterday (10/11/14) I attended Books by the Banks in Cincinnati with Tom.

 Their brochure uses a Charlie Harper-inspired poster. It was created exclusively for the event and designed by Matthew Dayler. Charley Harper's son, artist Brett Harper, was there signing posters. Previous year's posters were on display, too.

It's a great way to hear authors speak about their books and meet them in person. It was held at the Duke Energy Convention Center at 525 Elm Street.

 We accessed the convention center from Plum Street, walking from the YMCA. This is a view from the "sky bridge" attached to the center.

 The entrance of the convention center.

 And at the entrance is one of Cincinnati's "Flying Pigs". Look at the pretzel tail. This character represents the Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon, held each year in May.

 I was impressed by the architecture of the convention center.

 This balloon-laden hallway lead to the Books by the Banks exhibition.

 .... where we found crowds of people ...

(That's Tom in the green t-shirt) 

... and more people ....

... and still more people.

 I'm guessing that this character is one of the mascots of the Cincinnati Library. The kids loved him.

 "Congressional Bill" from School House Rock was there. He's known for his song I'm Just a Bill.

 Jeff Alt had a table in the author and book sale pavilion. He's written a number of books on the Appalachian Trail. I read A Walk for Sunshine some years ago and enjoyed it greatly. Recommended reading! Alt walked the entire 2160 mile AT while raising money for Sunshine Home, a facility for developmentally disabled residents in Maumee, Ohio. His brother, Aaron, has cerebral palsy and is a resident there.

 But I came mostly to see Hampton Sides, author of In the Kingdom of Ice which I read last summer.

 Sides is editor-at-large for Outside Magazine and has written for National Geographic, The New Yorker, Esquire, Preservation and Men's Journal. Sides was part of an hour-long question-and-answer session beginning at 11 am. Tom and I attended.

 Jay Stowe (l), editor of Cincinnati Magazine, and Hampton Sides

 This was the only presentation Tom and I attended. Tom said he has a sneezing fit when the presentation began but I didn't even hear it. I must have been too immersed in what was being said. In the Kingdom of Ice, by the way, Sides describes the "Grand and Terrible Polar voyage of the USS Jeanette" begun in 1879.
 I told Sides how much I enjoyed books about the Arctic and the Antarctic and that I usually found myself reading them in the winter. "Maybe I helped cool you down this summer," he said.

Bill Schmidt (l) meets Hampton Sides
Photo Credit: Tom Buhler

 I had Sides sign two books - In the Kingdom of Ice and Ghost Soldiers - both gifts from Tom. Thanks, Tom, you know just what makes me very happy!

 Adam Watkins is an illustrator who we watched give a talk to a group of children. First he read from his book - R is for Robot - and then he showed the children how he drew a robot (the book teaches the alphabet).

 With just a circle, then dark lines, the robot of the book began to appear on the white paper.

 Here's Watkins' table with books ready to sell.

 Watkins' young audience was attentive to his drawing-in-progress.

Loren Long (l) shakes hands with Tom Buhler

Tom brought a bag-full of books to the show and hoped to get them signed by illustrator Loren Long. When we first lined up, Long was leaving for lunch but we returned in half an hour and found Long willing to take the time to sign each.

 Long is author and illustrator of the Otis books. They're New York Times best-sellers.

 Long illustrated President Barack Obama's Of Thee I Sing and Madonna's Mr. Peabody's Apples. He also re-illustrated the classic The Little Engine That Could. Both Tom and I found Long extremely friendly and outgoing. He shook hands with both of us.

The event ran from 10 am to 4 pm. It was free (how could you go wrong?).

 On the way back to the YMCA parking lot, Tom pointed out two Plum Street landmarks:

 Cincinnati City Hall

St. Peter in Chains Cathedral