Sunday, November 27, 2011

Baby Blue

 The sky is heavy today, a leaden gray, and at times we have a heavy shower. For the most part, it's just one of those wet, what-to-do kind of days. Mom covers her head with a scarf when we are out and professes that the best place for her is to stay in the house. I can't walk while the rain falls so I am inside, too.
 But yesterday ...

 It was 65° as I rounded the pond at the Farmersville-Jackson Twp. Park and, being late in the day - nearly 4 p.m. - the sun was already low in the west. Beautiful cirrus clouds began to overspread the area and I watched as mares tails swept the sky. I could barely drive for watching the sky.
 But the view above is what most took my breath. As the light grew dim and the leafless trees stood black and in dark contrast to the sky, a single pine obstructed my view of the sky. Above and beyond, the clouds moved by at a pace that I could watch. It was a dizzying effect and one that would have required 3D photography to appreciate.
 This view to the south shows the sky already etched with white, delicate patches, waves of moisture, as though looking up at the surface of the sea from below, in clear, warm, tropical waters. Mom was edging her way back to the car or I might have stood there, neck bent, watching the rainy weather building.
 Today it is but 51° as I type this in the mid-afternoon. Cooler, indeed, and unpleasant to be outside. But I know, too, how warm even this will seem in the weeks ahead. November has been spectacular, tracking more than 4° above normal. But it will soon end, winter will loom large and days such as these will be but fading memories. Baby blue ones.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

HSG Getting New Roof

 It's a hefty project, both in dollars and in weight, but the time has come to give the Historical Society of Germantown a new roof.

 Built in 1907 as the Andrew Carnegie Library, the building that now houses the historical society has weathered many a storm. And that's part of the problem. The old  tile roof has seen better days.

 Dick Shaffer, who is completing a two year term at president of the HSG, sees the roof as the culmination of his time at the helm. "The building is not falling down," he said in his column in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Our Heritage, "and to ensure that it doesn't, we are going to put a new roof on it."

 The old tiles are being replaced with identical tiles. The same factory made both sets of tiles..

 I talked with Shaffer today as we stood in front of the building which houses the museum. He said the tiles weigh "about a ton per square". There roof requires 40 squares (a square is a hundred square feet) so there was - and will be - 80,000 pounds of roofing material there.

 The cost for the replacement roof is about $105,000.

 "That may seem high but that includes copper gutters and flashing and restoration of the box gutters and decorative upper portion of the roof," Shaffer wrote. The downspouts, he said, will remain galvanized metal.

 A view from across Plum Street (at the site of the current Germantown Public Library) gives an overview of the work in progress. The old tiles have been removed and are stacked neatly at the base of the building. Today workers are placing weatherproofing on the roof.

 The old tiles seem in generally good shape. Roofing tiles are considered to have a life span of about 50 years but these have been in place for over a century.

 Workers address the chimney on the southeast side of the building. Roof openings, particularly chimneys, tend to leak if extra care is not taken when a building is roofed.

 If the weather cooperates, the new roof is expected to be completed yet this year.


 A week later (12/03/11), the new tiles have been delivered and placed in the yard of the HSG, still plastic-wrapped. Workers have taken advantage of the perfect weather (a 55° high temperature today) and have begun placing the new tiles on the roof.

 Heavy rain is expected to begin tomorrow so it appears anything done today will be all that's accomplished through mid week.


12/04/11: It's raining steadily today, though not so hard (yet), and the work progresses, rain or not. I'd be a little apprehensive about slipping on the wet tiles - not to mention the electrical equipment the guys are using. But I suppose the thrust is to get the work done, as quickly as possible, with two, even three inches of rain expected over the next couple of days.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Grape Wine

 As a college student I used to love making wine. We lived in Miamisburg at the time and had a basement and that's where I turned out some wonderful wines. I'd use fresh fruit when I had enough to make a gallon or I'd use various concentrates, many made just for this purpose. Homemade wine is wonderful and easy to make.
 Recently we made a batch of apricot wine and yesterday I began a gallon of grape.

 This particular wine is as easy as can be. I simply used Welch's frozen grape concentrate as the base. The basic recipe for one gallon is available at many sites on the net but here's all there is to it:

Welch's Grape Wine

2 cans Welch's frozen grape juice concentrate (11.5 ounce per can)
1-1/4 pounds granulated sugar (that's 2.8 cups)
2 teaspoons acid blend
1 teaspoon pectic enzyme
1 teaspoon yeast nutrient
wine yeast (I prefer Montrachet)
water to make 1 gallon

 The odd ingredients are common to wine-makers though you won't find them in your neighborhood grocery store. They're inexpensive, though, and easily ordered on the net. I use Winemakersdepot.

 Here's how to make the wine: dissolve the sugar in a quart of tap water. You can heat it in a pan if you like but I've never found boiling necessary. Add some water to a one gallon glass jug and pour in the Welch's (which you've allowed to melt). Add the sugar water. I use a measuring cup and some more water to dissolve the acid blend, pectic enzyme and yeast nutrient. Pour this into the gallon jug too.
 Before you add the yeast, it's important that the liquid in the jug not be too hot. Let it sit for a few hours until it's room temperature or a little warmer (not above 100° or so). Let the different chemicals meld together. I waited six hours before I added the yeast.
 Prepare the yeast by placing it in warm water (half a packet of Montrachet is perfect). Again, don't have the water warmer than about 100° or you'll kill the yeast. Stir with a plastic spoon (I don't like using metal for this). Pour into the gallon jug with everything else and then add enough additional water to top it off. Leave a couple of inches for a bit of foam to form.
 Plug the top with a fermentation lock. After just 12 hours, this is what you should see:

 It's already bubbling along at quite a nice clip. And, being fall, our house is quite cool ... say 65°.
 The fermentation will drop off over the next couple of weeks. I'll rack the wine off when it's finished (about 30 days) and then age the wine a while in wine bottles to give it a better taste. "Racking" it involves siphoning the wine from the gallon container while leaving the "dregs" (the sediment) still in the jar. I just use a length of plastic aquarium tubing.
 By New Year's Eve we'll be enjoying a taste!

11/24/11: Here's the wine just 24 hours after the last video, showing how the pace of fermentation has increased. I aimed the camera at the tiny bubbles flowing up the inside of the glass jug but you can hear the pop-pop-pop of the fermentation lock. It's beating faster than a clock ...

Later: We finally racked this wine on 02/03/12. That's a l-o-n-g time for wine to process (a month is often enough time) but we continued to have fermentation and we knew we had to let it alone. Finally we were getting a bubble through the fermentation lock very infrequently so we decided to finish up.
 Racking is simply siphoning the wine off the dregs that settle to the bottom of the fermentation vessel. I used aquarium tubing. It's a slow, steady process with such a small diameter tube but it works fine.
 Today (02/04/12) we bottled the wine. I have a capper and we used old (thoroughly washed) beer bottles (see below). Each is just a 12 ounce serving of wine and that's perfect. We got nearly 10 bottles (thus very little was wasted).
 We'll let it age a while ... and then we'll enjoy. A few of these bottles will make great gifts throughout the coming year.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A (Non)Traditional Fruitcake

 So, what does one do with fruit which has been soaking for more than a month on its way to making apricot wine? We'll eat some of it ... morsels of cranberries, blueberries, raisins; slices of oranges and lemons. And the rest of it, we decided, would be nice if used in a fruitcake. It's already alcoholic. Perfect!
 And it worked. Though the fruitcake is hardly of traditional texture, this one is a nice change of pace. It's far lighter - both in weight and in color - that the traditional fruitcake brick. What's not to like about that?

 We'll dribble on some Rock & Rye later but, for now, we've tasted it warm from the oven and christened it not only edible but actually quite nice. Only if you're expecting a usual fruitcake would you be disappointed.
 The recipe we modified is from the 1960's (perhaps even the 50's) and it's one Mom cut from a magazine, she thinks.

Fruit Cake

1/4 pound seedless raisins
1/4 pound finely cut dates
1/4 pound finely cut candied citron
1/2 pound finely cut assorted candied fruit
  Note: We dispensed with all of the above and used 1-1/4 pound of the fruit from our apricot wine.
  Mom removed the oranges and lemons first.
1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon each: allspice, cloves and nutmeg
1/3 cup corn oil
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup (we used the "light" version)
2 eggs, well beaten
2 tablespoons orange juice

 Add all the dry ingredients in one bowl and mix them. The fruit, corn syrup, orange juice and eggs go into another bowl. After each was mixed separately, mix them together.
 Turned this into a loaf pan which is first greased and then lined with parchment paper.
 Bake at 250° for 4 - 5 hours (we found 2 hours sufficient; test 'done' with a toothpick)
 Allow to cool. We'll drizzle on some Rock & Rye later. In any case, all fruitcakes seem to improve with age but we enjoyed a slice as soon as it had sufficiently cooled.

 This (above) is how the fruitcake looks going into the oven.

 And after two hours baking time, here's Mom testing the cake with a toothpick to see if it was done. It was. When done, the toothpick will pull out perfectly clean. If there's any wet batter on it, bake longer and check again.
 We have enough fruit to make another fruitcake but we wanted to see how successful we were with this one first. Onward!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Pinehaven Pretzels (soft)

 It's a cloudy, rainy and dismal Sunday afternoon so I put on my baker's hat and decided to try my hand at making soft pretzels. I decided early on not to attempt the traditional recipe which uses lye because it sounds a little unsafe and I don't like the idea of eating it anyway. So I used a compilation of other recipes that promised to make a soft pretzel nearly as good.

 First, the result:

 I'll admit, they look more a cross between a pretzel and a dinner roll. But they're delicious!

 This is the just-made dough before it's risen.

 And here's the dough after it's risen for an hour. It was certainly doubled in size.

 After I took the risen dough from the bowl, I "punched it down" and used my knuckles to beat it down a bit (that's it at the top left). I then cut pieces off, rolled them with my fingers into a rope and then formed the rope into the pretzel shape. I should have made the ropes longer ... perhaps as long as 24". This will allow for a better "gap" between the braids when the rope is shaped into a pretzel.

 Mom said, "Let me try that!" and so she began rolling a rope of her own. It seemed even shorter than mine so I took over, lengthened it and formed it into a pretzel and placed it on a cookie sheet.

 Here's what the "raw" pretzels look like on the cookie sheet. I used a Silverstone(r)-coated (non-stick) cookie sheet and I suppose that would have been good enough. But Mom thought it should be lightly greased so she added a thin layer of Crisco.

Pinehaven Soft Pretzels

3/4 cup warm water (not above 100°)
1/2 package active dry yeast (that's 1-1/4 teaspoons)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 egg (beaten, to spread on unbaked pretzels)

Dissolve the yeast in the water. Pour this into the salt, sugar and flour in a bowl. Stir with a spoon until mixed. Knead on a floured surface until smooth and then form into a ball. Place in a greased bowl in a warm spot for an hour (should double in size). Punch dough down. Form into pretzels. Place on a baking sheet (greased). Spread egg on tops. Salt as desired. Bake at 425° for 15-20 minutes. When the tops are golden brown, they're done.

 For the size pretzels we made, this recipe made only seven. But it's really not much work and homemade is always best.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Mom's Got the Spirit

... but I don't.

 I think Gumby's "Merry Christmas, Dammit" is a better approximation of how I feel about the whole mess. Mom, on the other hand, digs through the ornaments and other Christmas decorations as though she actually enjoys it. To get to those decorations, stored from season to season in an old trunk in the living room, she must first remove Aunt Belle's old (and heavy) Victorian lamp, Mom's clock radio and assorted other paraphernalia. I, of course, am the one charged with removing the lamp (and putting it back when she is done).
 Merry Christmas, Dammit ... indeed!
 The decorations would be better stored indefinitely.
 But Mom's got the spirit and so I must go along. I did, after all, contribute $7 (plus tax) towards the enterprise so I have some, however little, vested interest in it turning out well. I'll show you first how it turned out:

 Last evening, for the first lighting, I went out onto the south lawn and took this shot looking back towards our enclosed porch. OK, it looks lovely, right? Humbug!
 What was my $7 contribution? I bought a digital timer to control the lights: on at 5 p.m., off at 11 p.m. In the winter the porch is quite cold and I didn't want to have to go in and out turning the lights on and off. Besides the only outlet is in the basement and that is even more of a hassle. So I bought a timer, programmed it and will not have to mess with any of it again until she decides (on December 26) to take it all down.

 Mom began the project two days ago. I brought the artificial tree in from the garage. We keep it there enclosed in two plastic garbage bags. I helped her dig the ornaments out of the trunk (twice). She had finished and then decided the tree "wasn't quite full enough". So off came the lamp and out came the boxes of ornaments again.

 Here's a view of the decoration in progress. Mom takes the whole event quite seriously. Our little artificial tree isn't much, is it? We've always set it up in the living room but it's so disruptive that I suggested this year we put it on the porch. Last year, with Dad being ill, we didn't put it up at all. We can see it from the dining room window; cars passing the house can see it as they come north on S. Clayton Road.

 So this part of the holidays in done for another year. That, in fact, is the best part of it. Getting it over and done with.
 Last night, as I turned to climb the stairs to bed, the dining room was lit from without by these colorful tiny lights. They were pretty; I'll give Mom that. But for myself, I'd never mess with any of it.
 Humbug, indeed!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A November Spring

 "Was that thunder?"
 Mom and I looked at each other across the darkened living room last evening. We both sat in silence as we listened for another. First a flash to the southwest and then a rolling far-off boom. "It's going to storm," we both say.
 It's not as though it wasn't expected. During the afternoon, peaks of sun drove the temperature up to 72°, a balmy spring-like day (the record was 76° in 1909). The winds were light and clouds were the only spoiler.
 By the time Mom and I came home from a visit with Mae and Charles, I walked into the backyard and enjoyed the sun sinking behind the pines. It did not have the look of rain in the near future.

 The night before was wet: 0.39". By early evening the rain had set in again and it came in waves. On radar, thin bands of red, running southwest/northeast, slid east-northeast on both sides of us and spared us the heaviest weather.But the lightning sputtered all around and the thunder rolled across the open fields. A tornado watch was in effect to 8 p.m. Another 0.38" fell.
 This has been a memorable November for its ease. We are being played with, I'm afraid. I always remember Dad talking about the Great Blizzard of 1950, how early November was exceedingly warm and how the great storm arrived in the late month. Dad and Mom, and Mae and Charlie, too, were going to Clifty Falls (Madison, IN) after Thanksgiving in honor of Mom and Dad's anniversary (they were married 11/24/1945). They dropped me off at my grandparents and set off. They were turned around by the storm and came home and stayed at our home on 11th Street instead.
 I meanwhile, enjoyed my time at grandma and grandpa's, riding through the house on my grandfather's shoulder, looking out the front window at the snow piling up at a ferocious clip.
 And so I think of that month 61 years ago and wonder whether this one offers some similarities?
 A warm, wet mid-November day with lightning and thunder and a tornado watch to boot.. What can that spell for the forecast but snow? Lots of snow.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Spaghetti Squash

 We've never had a spaghetti squash before but thanks to neighbor Marie and Tom Eby (of Tom's Maze fame), we were treated to a whole assortment of fine gourds: cushaw, butternut, acorn and spaghetti. I'm always anxious to try new dishes so I was happy to read a few reviews of how they're prepared. The best, in my way of thinking, is here.

 We've stored them outside - right on the concrete bench you see here - because it's been nice and cool. We simply made use of the free refrigeration. The spaghetti squash, by the way, is the yellow gourd on the right back.
 Preparing it for baking was simple. I cut it lengthwise, removing both the top and bottom first, and then scooped out the seeds and "innards". It's like removing the seeds from a pumpkin. We saved some of the seeds on a paper towel; I'll dry them and then place them in an envelope and plant them next spring.

 I placed the two gutted halves in a cake pan, dribbled olive oil in each half and spread it around the cut surfaces with my finger. Then I lightly salted and liberally sprinkled pepper on the squash. The pan was not oiled. I turned the squash over, placing each half cut side down, and baked it in a 400° oven for 40 minutes. To make sure it was properly done, I thrust a sharp knife through the skin. It slid easily through the flesh.

 The baked squash now converts rapidly to vegetable spaghetti by pulling a fork through the flesh. Every bit, right up to the skin, converts easily to spaghetti. I'd say it should be eaten right away, while it's fresh and hot.

 Each half converts to a full bowl of spaghetti. I know it can be layered in cheese, ladled with tomato sauce, etc. but I wanted to taste the unburdened gourd. So I added a little butter and another sprinkling of salt and scarfed it down just as you see it here.
 Delicious! There's really nothing to it and the gourd made two meals in no time at all.

Friday, November 11, 2011

As the Day Ends

 It's been a busy day, mostly mowing. Who ever heard of mowing in the Dayton area in November? Who ever heard of doing it twice? Yet that's how much of my day was spent, cutting the too-long grass before it was too late to do anything about it. It wasn't the winter ahead that scared me but the work I'd be making myself next spring.
 Now, evening, I'm treading in wet shoes, green with grass stains, and so it doesn't matter that I walk back to the field to watch the sun set. The grass is gaining a layer of dew already but the shoes are still wet and I figure the shoes are already ruined. So stand here with me and watch the sun go down. It is the best thing to do at the moment.

 There, to the south of Sam's house, the sun is already nestled in the branches. I have arrived none too soon.

 How quickly it seems to fall with the horizon as reference. You can see it dip between the branches, leaping one by one as it falls to the ground.

 And then it is nearly hidden, gone for more than half a day. Another cold night lies ahead.

 When the sun has dipped beneath the horizon, the clouds, still high enough to receive its glow, shine in the chilly sky. I can feel the dampness gather beneath my toes.

 And as a few minutes more pass, even the afterglow quiets, and a few birds sing as they search out a roost.

 The final show is an abstract painting, brushed across the bottoms of clouds. It is time for me to go in, too, and call it a day.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Jay's Story

 In years past, while Dad was still well, he took great joy in feeding a blue jay. Each morning he'd walk out to the garage, perhaps to dust the car, and he'd never forget to open a plastic bag of unsalted peanuts and lay a handful on the concrete bench on the back porch.
 Some mornings, even while he was still in bed, we'd hear jay screaming from the treetops. "Peanuts!" he seemed to say. "It's time for my peanuts!".
 I had not thought about Jay other than to note the number of jays has been increasing as winter approaches. But a couple of weeks ago, as I worked beneath the pines digging weeds, a jay landed high on a branch and began to call. I paid him no attention. But pretty soon he dropped down beside my head - so close I could have reached up and grabbed him - and let out a piercing call that nearly broke my eardrums. It was then I remembered Dad feeding them.
 So when Mom and I were shopping last weekend, we bought a bag of unsalted peanuts still in the shell. One morning early this week I placed a few on the concrete bench. Within minutes a jay appeared and began taking them.

 Each morning since, I have never failed to lay peanuts on the bench. Quickly we've heard Jay scream from the meadow and arrive for his treat. Yesterday I lay in wait in the garage, camera in hand (I left the door stand open) and aimed at the bench. Here he is getting his last nut.
 But as I stood there and watched at close range, I noticed that there was more than one jay. As soon as one flew away, another landed. No wonder the peanuts don't last long.
 Still, I will keep feeding this family, both for my own enjoyment and in memory of Dad. It made him happy to see the joy of the jays. It makes me happy, too.