Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Use Your Noodle

Way back when - say the 1940's - Mom was told by her boss to "use your noodle, Mary Catherine" - and I do believe, ever since, she has. She also regularly makes them.
Today, another cold and snowy day, while the wind is gusting into the 30's and the snow passes the window like white smoke, Mom is making dough, gazing out the window to the winter scene before her. Here in the kitchen all is warm and well.
Mom makes a recipe called "Shaker Noodles" from a cookbook entitled The Shaker Cook Book circa 1953. It's a pretty simple dough: flour, salt, margarine, water and an egg. After the dough is made and rolled thin on a pastry cloth, she gives it time to dry somewhat before she cuts it into think strips: noodles! [see the end of this entry for the recipe]

This noodle, I should say, was a great favorite of our Schnauzer's (Ginger). Mom would also make the dog a bowl and she would lap them up and then stand waiting for her beard to be washed. She knew you didn't eat and run! There she would stand, gobbling the noodles. Then we'd hear silence while she stood and waited for the dreaded wash.
But let it be said, Dad and I love the noodles as much as Ginger.

Mom cuts thin noodles with a large knife. Where that thing came from, I don't know, but
sure looks dangerous. I'd expect that knife to be a good prop should someone ever want to stage "Three Blind Mice".

Initially the dough looks like this. She rolls it quite thin and then lets it air dry for a couple of hours. The recipe calls for 15 minutes but Mom's never found that satisfactory. The house is cool and the dough looses its stickiness in that time frame.

And here are the final noodles which Mom holds aloft. The resultant noodle soup - vegetarian, of course - will be our meal tomorrow. Ah, to have something like this to look forward to. Isn't hope a prime ingredient in the best of recipes and the finest days?

Shaker Noodles [The Shaker Cook Book, Caroline Piercy, 1953]
1 cup bread flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soft butter
1 egg
3 tablespoons water
Sift flour onto baking board. From a well in center of flour put in salt, butter, egg and water. Work into a stuff dough. Divide into three portions and roll each very thin. Place rolled dough on napkins and let dry about 15 minutes. Then stack one on top of the other and roll like jelly roll cake. Cut into very fine slices with sharp knife. Let dry a few minutes and boil in salted water. This makes a good substitute for potatoes. Serve with creamed meat or fish. They are also good when boiled or fried and smothered with onions.
Mary Whitcher's Shaker Housekeeper

Now that you've read the original, word for word, let me add some notes from Mom. She merely makes the dough as noted but on a pastry cloth (no napkins!) and generally as a single piece. If it's too wide, she may cut it in half but she doesn't layer the dough. The dough is allowed to rest before slicing into noodles (it would stick to the knife otherwise) and then she always allows the cut noodles to dry overnight, right on the pastry cloth. She never immediately cooks the noddles. The next day, the noodles can be placed in a plastic bag and frozen for use later. And of course we'd never serve the noodles with meat of any kind. The noodles can be seasoned just as well with a vegetarian bouillon (such as Knorr).

Monday, February 15, 2010

Yes, more snow!

Will it ever end? Another Winter Storm Warning and another 3.5" of snow today. This poor cardinal is lucky that we have suet hanging from the tree branch or she'd be without anything to eat. I've watched a squirrel beneath a pine digging for something. Probably a nut he buried last fall? He'd scamper up the tree and then go back to digging. I think that he was warming his feet.

The average snow depth is now 13" here in Farmersville. I can find areas that are lots deeper - and a few that are less - but this seems a number I would use to explain how much snow we have. More than a foot! That's very rare here in southwest Ohio. And we have not had a moment's break since the first storm on 02/05/10.

This shot (below) is looking out our driveway towards Clayton Road. You can see my single path to civilization. Our connection is thin at best.

Finally, the concrete bench we have on the back patio is nearly buried. About 4 p.m. we began losing our DirecTV signal and I went out, dug a path on the opposite side of the porch and brushed the snow out of the dish. That fixed it. A word to the wise: don't mount satellite dishes on the roof or where they're inaccessible. At least not in snowy climates. If you do, you'll have to wait for the snow to melt before you can watch TV again. And with the winter Olympics underway, TV is not something we want to miss.

It's 25 degrees at 4:45 p.m. so it's not particularly cold. Maybe we'll be spared the windy night that's being talked about. If not, if this light snows blows into drifts, I'll never get out of the driveway until spring.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Getting Close

I spend too much time watching the birds feed on the suet outside our kitchen window. If I have free time, that's often where you'll find me. When I know I'll be observing for an extended period, I try to keep my camera nearby.
Today, the Red-bellied Woodpecker seemed less nervous that usual so I enjoyed his antics at length while standing by the kitchen sink. Here's a nice head shot. How about that? He has brown eyes!

A good deal of the credit for picture such as these - besides perseverance - needs to go to today's digital cameras. We can zoom in (this shot was taken at 12X) and we can shoot again and again without wasting any film. And with almost endlessly rechargeable batteries, even that need not be a concern. Once the equipment is bought, photography can be a nearly cost-less hobby.

This male cardinal, too, caught my eye and seemed less skittish today than usual. We've had snow cover for the past ten days so I suppose his food source is effectively cut off. The free handout at the suet feeder must seem too good to be true.
I watch the birds stage themselves on the maple tree and take turns visiting the suet. When one leaves, the next flies across. It's almost an assembly line of hungry birds.
Is there any bird - anywhere - brighter than the male cardinal? There are plenty with more colors, but can any be a more red? This is such a proud bird for Ohio's state bird; I could not have chosen better.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Snow Ice Cream & Orange Peel Candy

Snow Ice Cream? Orange Peel Candy? Let me explain:
When my brother and I were kids, a rare treat was snow ice cream. We'd take a large bowl outside after a fresh snow and scoop it up and bring it inside to Mom. She'd quickly add milk, cream, sugar, vanilla, and who-knows-what-else and make us each bowls of fresh snow ice cream.
Does anyone do that any longer?
I remember vividly when we stopped. We were warned in the 1950's that atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons could easily contaminate the snow with radioactivity. So, fearing cancer or other illnesses, snow ice cream became something that was no more than a memory.
A few years back we resurrected the recipe. No more atmospheric tests and the pollution levels otherwise seemed low enough to give it another shot. I remember how much Dad enjoyed it.
Then, a few days ago, Mom came to the back door while I was out shoveling snow. "If I give you a bowl, how about scooping up some clean snow for me?" she asked.
Soon enough we each had a large helping of snow ice cream. I ate half right away and finished the rest at bedtime with dark chocolate syrup. There were even two more small bowls left and we had those yesterday.
But that's not the end of our long forgotten recipes. Here's another: Candied Orange Peel.

Here's a picture of Mom preparing the (6) oranges (we bought ten naval oranges for $2). She peels them and removes the white pulp. The peels go into salt water (1 tablespoon of salt to 4 cups of water); the peels are held underwater in this solution with a plate (or something heavy enough to keep them submerged). This is left overnight. Then the peels are drained and washed.
Next step: Drain and rinse. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. This is repeated three times (it removes most of the bitter and chemical taste from the peels).
Then use scissors to cut the peelings into strips. These peels (about 2 cups worth), sugar (2 cups) and 1/2 cup of water are placed in a saucepan and heated until the sugar dissolves.
When they've cooked enough, the peels will get translucent. Drain and roll in granulated sugar. Dry on a rack (or on a paper towel). This makes 2 to 2.5 cups of candied orange peel.
Here's what the final candy looks like:

Bright and colorful, the candy is sweet and a little bitter at the same time. One thing is for sure: a small piece is enough at one time. It's a strong candy!
So, now for a good cup of hot coffee - dark and strong - and a nip of a candied orange peel and I'm all set for a pleasant winter evening at Pinehaven.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Nuthatch ... not so common

I tend to place too much emphasis on the flashier birds, those which are larger, brighter or more colorful. And I do that at the detriment of the common and plainer birds that frequent our feeders.
Today, while waiting for a Carolina Wren which has commanded my attention these past few days, I stood at the window and was adjusting my camera when a common Nuthatch landed on the suet. I was taken aback a little, even startled by his uncommon beauty up close.

Actually this is a White-breasted Nuthatch and in the "dime a dozen" category for bird-watchers. And yet I marveled as the simple beauty of this sparrow-sized bird. Such a blend of winter-white and smoky charcoals.
The bird is not particularly easy to photograph as he is never still. Not for one moment! Every position he finds himself in leads to a jerk and a new pose. It is like taking a picture of a squirrel. After several miserable failures, I thought of anticipating his next move. And indeed there was a pattern. Pose one, two, three ... wait ... four! I snapped the picture in advance.
And this time I got him in the classic Nuthatch pose (usually upside down) and always wary of his surroundings.

Up close, he has as delicate a face as his tiny body demands. He is looking at me directly through the kitchen window as I shoot. Am I safe being that close? Yes, so I'll have another nibble. No, so I'd better fly away as fast as I can!
Even when I am working outside shoveling snow on these winter days, I hear the Nuthatch at every hour of the day. It is a chuckle-sound, a tiny short laugh and not the "yank-yank" that bird book suggests. "Yuck-yuck" maybe. The sound reminds me of something I heard as child on a Three Stooges movie.
Truly the name is accurate - NUThatch - even if that is not the reason.
So I will watch for the brighter birds, the uncommon ones and I will lay in wait for the Carolina Wren which seems to be living in our woodpile, but I will also appreciate the common birds that frequent our suet.
In the end, there is nothing common about any of them.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Another Snowstorm!

Another Winter Storm Warning and another half foot?
At noon the snow seems to be changing to rain. It's almost 33 degrees. But earlier today it was all snow and coming down heavily. At my 8 a.m. reading, I had 2" of new snow and 7" on the ground. It depends on where you take your reading because I just shoved this yardstick through the snow on the north side of the house and it reads 6" even after an entire morning's snow. It's accurate for that spot, of course, but I expect on average we have closer to 10".

So, what does it look like here? This shot, taken at the end of our driveway and looking back at the house, shows how deep the snow lies. I have a shovel-width path to the street. It's visible in this picture.

Standing in the same spot as the last shot and looking north on Clayton Road, here's what I see: white which goes on forever. The road has been plowed but there has been little traffic. All area schools are closed.

Another shot looking back at the house. This picture would fit on the front of a Christmas card, I think. If only I sent them.

Below is a shot looking back our driveway. The little dark spot in the snow (almost dead center) is what you can see of my 20" NWS rain gauge. It's sticking up out of the drifted snow ... barely.

This clump of pines is at the northwest side of our property. The two "T's" at the left edge of this shot are our clothes line poles. Beyond is a 40 acre field, alternately planted in soybeans or corn.

A shot of our back porch shows the bales of straw I mentioned a few days ago from a little closer angle.

So at 1 p.m. we are now at 33 degrees and I can see the snow still slowly falling. I suppose additional accumulations will be less for the rain mixed in. Tonight we're to have higher winds, to nearly 40 mph, so I expect tomorrow morning to be a true winter wonderland. If the drifts pile up as I expect, we won't be going anywhere soon.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Wandering Wheels Trip (Part Five)

They're There!
.....Congratulations to Bob & Mike.....

February 9 (2:30 p.m.):
Just got a text message from Key West. They've arrived! Bob says the trip logged out at 417 miles. But, as you can see from the picture above, they're at the extreme southern point and can't go any farther.
Bob's already had a look at Hemingway's house (the outside, anyway).

February 9 (Day 9):

And so the final day is begun. Bob and the group spent the night in Marathon, just above the bridge, and they should be on it as I type. Today's ride will total about 44 miles. Tonight they'll stay at Boyd's Key West Campground, enjoy a final evening together and then prepare for the trip back to Cocoa Beach. They'll have part of the day tomorrow to enjoy Key West and I'm hoping Bob sees Ernest Hemingway's home at least.

As Bob begins his ride this morning, Key West is reporting 72 degrees a little before 9 a.m. They have fair skies, a chance of showers (only 20%) and winds from the south at 15 mph. That'll be a bit annoying as they peddle but they're now pedaling nearly west, not south, so they'll have a side wind.

February 8 (Day 8):

Bob's sent a text massage just after 3:30 p.m. that they were already in camp for the day. Another 30.5 miles on the odometer and a total of about 360. They're staying at the Knights Key Park in Marathon tonight and then tomorrow, it's on to Key West!

Just in front of them is the famous Seven Mile Bridge. Bob sent this picture:

So, tomorrow is the last day of pedaling. It's still 44 miles to where they'll stay in Key West so it'll be a decent day's work. The weather looks to cooperate with a high tomorrow forecast to be 77. The winds will be light (10-15) from the south. Tomorrow night, there's a 40% chance of showers but they should be safely in a tent before any rain falls.
On Wednesday, then, they'll be transported back to Cocoa Beach and their waiting cars and trucks.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Hungry Birds

There's nothing better for a photographer who likes to take pictures of birds than a nice, fluffy snow. Suddenly the natural source of food for the birds is buried and the feeders we hang near our house becomes much more attractive. Take this female cardinal for instance:

She is usually quite skittish about my standing on the other side of the window and watching her feed on the suet. Even today she made it clear that she would have preferred that I back away. But when I didn't, when I was still there every time she landed, she decided to stay and eat. A hungry bird is a photographed bird.

This shot (above) is particularly appealing to me for the way she has her tail feathers spread fan-like. She's merely balancing, of course, but it shows the true coloration so much better: russets, oranges and deep shades of red. The male may be the more striking but the female cannot be overlooked for her spectacular shades.

Here she can be seen with snow attached to her beak. Everything on that side of the window is snow-blasted. It's a harsh, hungry world today.

The pair of Downy Woodpeckers were feeding, too - both the male (here) and the female. They are mostly frightened by the Red-bellied Woodpecker for his great size but they are not in the least afraid of me. They will always stay and feed while I am there. This nearby maple tree serves as a sort of staging area where they'll wait if need be until the last bird moves on. After a short patience, they'll move over to the suet anyway.

Who needs to pay for entertainment while there are creatures like these?

Wandering Wheels Trip (Part Four)

February 7 (Day 7):

The weather's looking pretty good for today's ride. In the GOES satellite image, taken after 9 a.m. this morning, you can see clear skies off the southern coast of Florida. The riders are already beginning their trek down the keys so they are in that "open" area.

Here's a map of today's route which will take them from Key Largo to Long Key, a distance of about 30 miles. Ah, a short day!
About 4:30 p.m. Bob called and said all was well, that the ride was windy and there was open water on both sides of then. He said he was amazed at the shades of blue in the water. It is in the mid-60's. I could easily hear the wind gusting during the call.
He said he'd try to get a few pictures fired north if he could. And within half an hour, when I came upstairs to my PC, there they were.

And here they are. First, here's Mike at rest on a bridge. As today came to a close, the group had logged about 330 miles with 70 or so to go.

Here's another view of a manatee being fed. Bob said he got the chance to give one some lettuce and that the animal's whiskers tickled his hand.

And here's Bob himself. He doesn't look quite so unhappy as in the earlier shot, does he? Of course look at that sky! Clear and sunny with a nice breeze. Who could ask for me (except maybe a calm day)?

This sunset picture was taken last evening (02/06/10) while the group was eating at a restaurant in Key Largo. Couldn't be prettier, huh?

And here's a final look at Robert. With almost 83% of the distance behind him, he has reason to smile. Think of it: he's just 120 miles from Cuba! How about that astronaut-type beard? He looks like he's been aboard an Apollo spacecraft just back from a moon voyage!

February 6 (later);

Bob called and the group is in for the day after a 47 mile ride. They're spending the night at a private residence. He said they were all going out to eat later (in a van). That beats pedaling!
He sent three pictures from today and yesterday. This is of a manatee being fed.

Then he sent a picture of the African Queen. Remember the 1951 movie with Bogart and Hepburn. This is the boat from the movie. And here's how Bob got to see it.

Finally, this is a shot from where they camped last night.

Bob said his cell phone needs charging and I suppose he'd rather eat than send me pictures so we'll let him be for the evening.

February 6 (Day 6):

We got a call from Bob last evening on his cell phone and he said he was in camp but too tired to send pictures. He was hitting the sack. Maybe I'll get more later today?

He had completed a 57 mile day and was facing a ride of 47 miles today. But today will place to riders into the Keys:

Now the ride is one with water on both sides of the route and they'll be open to whatever wind is blowing through. Key Largo (the destination) forecasts a west wind at 15 mph. As I type this (10:30 a.m.), it's 71 degrees there.


First, cries of Winter Storm Watch and then a move to a Winter Storm Warning. I pay attention but I also take the forecast with a grain of salt. It's often wrong.
Yesterday I was pretty sure it was going to be wrong.
Throughout the day the temperature hovered just above freezing and what fell - a mix of sleet, rain and snow - quickly melted as it hit the ground. At bedtime, we had very little snow actually building up on the ground.
But during the night I heard the northeast wind pick up and the rain gutter, which is too near my ear, slow down its constant dripping. I know it had cooled somewhat, but had the rain turned to snow?
It had!

This tree is beside our barn and it is blasted in wet snow which is weighing the branches down. I worry about the power ... but so far, so good.

This close-up shot of a pine shows how heavy the snow was. There's an even 9" on the ground at 8 a.m. (the meltdown figure is a whopping 1.04").

These two trees mark the south end of our property. Just beyond them is Sam's lane, unseen and buried beneath the drifts.

Here's a view of the rear of Pinehaven. The straw bales that you see at the corner of the house are designed to add an extra layer of insulation for our bathroom pipes. It never hurts to be proactive. The snow will add yet another layer of insulation so I am glad for it.
I swept the satellite dish clear of as much snow as I could (the rest is thoroughly frozen onto it). We didn't have any DirecTV signal last night and it's no wonder. When I looked at the dish this morning, the front surface was flat. There would have been little reflected signal getting into the antenna.

Mom's concrete bench on the back porch has deflected snow into a drift. The snow came from the northeast which is approximately the direction this photo was taken.

I took this shot yesterday (02/05/10) to show how the snow was sticking to NE-facing surfaces. This is the corner of our garage.
Before I even climbed out of bed this morning, I heard machinery stop in front of the house (thus nearest my bedroom window) and I got up to see what was going on. It was a neighboring farmer, D.R. Coffman, come with his tractor and snow blower to dig us out. Dear man! Think of the beauty of friendship, the quality of neighbors, especially one who lives a mile away, with nothing more on their mind than assistance.
Will we get out today anyway? I doubt it. It's too nice to stay in and warm.
I did make one trip to the roadway and that was to bungee-cord on our mailbox which had been knocked off its post by a snowplow (twice, in fact; I did this late yesterday, too). The battered mailbox is back in place, through a bit bent and crumpled, but ready for a mail delivery. I doubt it, though. What happened to the motto "neither rain nor snow" ...?
And so we have had our first - and only - substantial snow for the 2009-2010 winter season.

Here's a shot our my "favorite" second floor window, facing the meadow to the north.

And this (above) is a shot out the south-facing living room window. Look especially at the tree in the distance and how flocked it is with snow. The branches are many times their original size.

This shot is taken out the front living room window. In the foreground is an ornamental shrub now thick with white. In the distance is a pine. It conceals the mailbox which is still holding its place on the post. Still no mail.