Thursday, November 29, 2012

Post Penumbral

 We missed - narrowly, though - a penumbral eclipse for the moon yesterday morning. It began about 7:30 am and by then the moon was setting. Those who live west of here, across the western reaches of the US, had a chance to see some of the eclipse, at least.

 So, having no chance at all, I thought I'd watch the moon rise around, see if any of its glory was wiped by shadow. And when the moon rose I was standing in corn stubble, coat pulled about my neck, stars beginning to show overhead.

 Here's a wide view as the moon rose above Pinehaven. The tree just to the right of the moon is the maple beside our kitchen. Pinehaven itself stands nestled in the dark just right of center.

 Walking to the south lawn, Dayton glows to our northeast (left) and a cell phone tower, almost due east of the house, blinks red. It is less than a mile away and often blinks with a blinding white light, perhaps some sort of alarm. Centered in the picture and nestled in the treeline, are several of Dayton's TV stations.
 But overhead is the full moon (actually half a day past full). To its left is Jupiter which seems to have been dragged into the sky by our moon.

 Here's a closer view of the moon and Jupiter, so close they're nearly touching. When I went to bed, the moon was still in the eastern sky and a shaft of golden moonbeams sliced across my bed, head to foot. It was almost too bright to sleep, as though a giant searchlight was shining directly upon me.

 Here's a wider view to Pinehaven's east. As I stood there, the air temperature dropped slowly. It was in the upper 30's when I walked outside and had neared freezing by the time I stepped back indoors.
 And yet, cold as it was, a fall night is a lovely time to walk across the fields, harvested and bare, stepping across the corn stubble with the stars shining overhead. That's when it feels as though we're riding a spaceship (which we are) bound for some novel celestial port. I'm pleased that I can peer through this clear window, marveling at the view, as planets and stars and satellites pass steadily across my view.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thanksgiving - 2012

 Our Thanksgiving this year was especially nice because we had the chance to share it with others. It used to be just Dad, Mom and I. When Dad died last year, it turned into just a two person meal. Even so, Mom went out of her way to make it special, to have food we usually don't have and to have it in impressive quantities for just the two of us.

 This year was different, Doug and Annette Boyer invited us to their house in Miamisburg. Doug is my cousin. Here's a look at our day ...

Mae and Hadley

Sue and Katie

Sue and Hadley





Annette and Doug

A few views of the incredible table.

Doug cuts the pies

Mom and Mae

Mel and Bentley

Katie and Hadley

Mom and I

 Great food, great company, great family ... what could be better for Thanksgiving? This is one we'll remember.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Dad's Duck

 Every family has something of this sort, some object with no value whatsoever but for its sentimentality. And yet it's the type of thing you keep forever, one of the most important objects you own.

 In our case, it's Dad's duck.

 Back when he was born in 1924, I can imagine my grandmother buying this little plastic object. It was wingless but for paint but now, 88 years later, it's still got two legs, held to the body by thin strings. It doesn't sit there on a flat bottom but wobbles on a rounded one. The bill is long gone. A piece of tape covers a crack on its left foot. I wouldn't know it was a duck but for the tiny tail. Was it meant to be used in a bathtub?

 And yet through the years, the plastic duck somehow took on the unlikely tradition of Christmas tree ornament. Each year, the duck would go into the branches of my grandparent's tree and then, when Dad married, it followed him along to his new household.

 When I first saw the duck, it was probably for my first Christmas in 1949. I'm sure I didn't think much of it. For its decorating value, I still don't.

 But every year, when we decorate our Christmas tree, the very first ornament I think of is Dad's duck. It looks sad, all worn out and falling apart as it is, and yet it is the most important ornament we have. We have nothing we hold in higher esteem than this dilapidated piece of plastic.

 In two days, Dad will have been gone for a year and a half. So the ornament now serves as an important link to him. I'd forget decorating for Christmas if it were left up to me. But this morning Mom opened the trunk and began pulling all the decorations out. She can't let it be. She has to decorate for Christmas.

 All I really cared about was Dad's duck. I placed it carefully at the base of the tree (we used to use it at the very peak of our real trees). It wouldn't seem like Christmas without it.

 And without Dad, it still won't.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Night Falls

 I love this time of day, when the sun has set and the world begins to quiet. The traffic slows, the dogs bed down, the world seems to pull the covers higher.

 This was actually the last photo I took last evening. I had finished watching sunset and walked towards the house from the back yard. As I stepped onto the porch, I looked up at the dinner bell, black itself but blackened further by being silhouetted against the dim south sky. The trees stood bare, bony fingers stretched skyward. In the middle, an almost-first quarter moon commanded a spot. I walked inside just as the air began to cool, the traffic began to slow, the barn lot dogs made for their meager houses.

 Yet moments before ...

 The tree besides Sam's lane always catches my gaze at sunset. I've watched it for nearly 26 years now and it is mine in appreciation if not actual title. The sky was smeared with orange ... not so bright, really, but diffuse, pastel, a soft fire burning in the distance.

 Looking closer at that central region, there was a spot, not so easily seen in this photo, where the sunlight had refracted through ice crystal clouds and glowed with a rainbow of colors. All was wiped across the sky by a broad brush, not carefully or precisely, but roughly and abstractly.

 Finally, not yet 5:30 pm (we are just a month from the winter solstice, thus the days are nearly as short as they'll get), the sun has dropped far enough below the horizon to begin losing its influence, withdrawing its light by degrees. Clouds which resemble a thin smoky haze become prominent well above the horizon. Farther overhead, the sky already takes on the darker shades of night.

 It is clouds that make this scene possible. A perfectly clear sky has none of this power.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sunflower Seed Bread

 We love homemade bread. As a kid, I remember Mom making loaves of traditional white bread. I marveled at the dough itself ... soft, warm and pliant to her touch. It seemed - no, it was - a living thing. I loved the yeasty smell, too. As the bread baked, the whole house took on a bakery scent.I drooled just waiting.

 In recent years we've used our automatic breadmaker to process the dough. Then we take the finished dough out, knead it a few times by hand, fold it carefully into a traditional loaf pan and let it rise a final time the old fashioned way. We prefer the normal horizontal loaf to the vertical loaf our breadmaker produces.

 But yesterday, hungry for homemade bread and having neither the time nor the inclination to mess with it, we just gathered the ingredients together, poured them into the breadmaker and stepped away. I forgot how pretty the finished loaf could be.

 The classic white loaf is no more than 3/4cups water, 2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon dry milk, 1-1/2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon margarine and 1-1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast. To this we added about 1/4 cup of salted sunflower seeds (toasted, not raw).

 The breadmaker isn't fast. In fact the entire process from start to finish takes four hours. And yet, being totally hands-off, we can go about our business and come back when the breadmaker beeps. That was at 7 pm last evening.

 The loaf comes out of the breadmaker in this handled pan. It's hot! Because the loaf pan is non-stick coated, only the stirrer intrudes into the loaf of bread from the bottom. It takes a good rap to release it.

 We've never preferred the vertical shape of the loaf except when we are tired and lazy. I think the usual horizontal loaf is easier to slice, too. To make the task a little easier we always butter the outside of the loaf while it is hot. The crust absorbs the butter and softens; the rich, sweetness of the margarine only adds to the heavenly experience of home-baked bread.
 It was 9 pm before the loaf had cooled enough to bag. I slid it down into a zip-lock bag and left it sitting on our wooden cutting board. When Mom got up at 4 am, she took the first slice, toasted it and slathered it with butter. Now that's a good way to start the day.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Those First Cold Nights

  Nights dip now into the lower 20's. The days barely scratch 50° and then only if the sun is out for each hour. There has been a bit of sleet mixed in with the rain and a few errant snowflakes about but, in general, the weather has been quiet this fall.
 I walk each morning with the crunch of frost on new-fallen leaves beneath my feet.

 This sycamore leaf is fringed in white as the early morning sun first touches it. Within fifteen minutes (at most) it is merely wet. The colors of fall fade as the last leaves drop. The trees are now mostly bare.

Our sycamore is the last to lose its leaves. An oak, near the entrance to our driveway, is a close second. While the sycamore stays mostly green - there are a scattering of browns, too - the oak changes to a universal brown, with a leather-like texture. The oak drops its leaves all at once; the sycamore drops them in small lots, metering them out, not giving without a fight.

 As I walk besides Sam's field, weeds still stand tall, not yet broken by the winter wind. The seed heads collect frost, shine like diamonds as I pass. They have not succumbed to winter, merely been dusted with the idea,

 In the middle of the lane, where the tire tracks do not disturb the soil, weeds sprout throughout the growing season. What the mower missed, the cold nights trim. The tiny leaves curl against the cold in a last ditch effort to survive another few days. When the nights get this cold, they fail.

 I suppose I enjoy my walk more now than any time of year. If the wind is not blowing, I am not cold, no matter how far down the temperature drops. I, in fact, open my coat, let the heat escape, take my fingers from my pocket and dangle them at my side, slip the hood from my head, feel the steam rise.
 It is a quiet time with the fields themselves at rest. The last of the insects have been quieted: there is no clicking, no buzzing, no rhythmic drone. The business of life is secreted away, waiting.

 This swale, cut a month or more ago, betrays the mower's path, now etched with white. The grass seems to remember. The heavy wheels make their impression on the earth and are carried up through the stalks to be advertised even as winter nears.
 Mostly, I'm amazed at how low the sun already rides. She is far south of her summer height, casting long shadows even at midday. I walk with my stretched figure billowing behind me, a shadowy sail I carry wherever I go. It is as steady as I.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Cranberry Sauce

It's almost Thanksgiving and we're experimenting. At some time we cut a recipe out of a magazine for a Cranberry and Dried Cherry Sauce. Sounds good, huh?

 The ingredients are pretty simple:

1-12 ounce bag fresh cranberries
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 navel orange cut into small pieces (leave the skin on)
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/4 teaspoon salt

 Combine all ingredients. Cook medium low, stir frequently, for about 10 minutes. Cool before serving.

 The orange pieces make this sauce. Rather than buy dried cherries, we simply used cherry-flavored dried cranberries (Ocean Spray makes them). They're really perfect for this sauce.
 It takes a while to bring the mixture up to temperature and that's when I began the ten minute cooking time. The citrus and cranberries will produce liquid as they cook. Otherwise none is added.

 The final result is above ... about three cups worth of cranberry sauce. It will seem almost jelled as it cools and it will stiffen, too. It's a great tasting sauce, just in time for the holidays.

Coconut Macaroons

 "What are you going to do with all this shredded coconut you bought?" Mom asked me.
 I went a little wild, I'll admit. A recent trip to Big Lots showed me that really fresh coconut was available in a large bag and I couldn't pass up the opportunity. Since that time we've been having coconut on nearly every dessert we've made, even Jello.
 So when Mom got into the freezer yesterday, even after liberally dousing our dessert of pears with coconut, she decided she had looked at it long enough.
 "How about I make coconut macaroons," I asked.
 And so I searched for a recipe. We used to buy coconut macaroons in a box. They were too good to bother with making them from scratch. But in recent years we no longer find the boxed variety. A quick search of the internet gave this award-winning recipe.
 And the result:

 The recipe is ridiculously easy and produces a macaroon similar - though less sweet - than the boxed variety of years gone by. I didn't want the cookies to be "golf ball size" so I cut back a bit and managed to make 21 cookies from a recipe that is supposed to make just a dozen. I had to increase the baking time, too, from 15 minutes to 18 minutes. They should look toasted and golden brown when they're done.

 I made the macaroons to get rid of our excess shredded coconut but found I had to buy more to have enough for the five cups the recipe calls for. Go figure!
 This shot (above) shows all the ingredients mixed. Though the recipe calls for mixing with fingers, I avoid that at all cost. I used a big spoon. The mixture is stiff and requires some force to mix everything properly. Mix the dry ingredients thoroughly before adding the wet. That'll make it easier. Also, I mixed the vanilla flavoring with the sweet evaporated milk before pouring it into the dry ingredients.

Though we have a non-stick baking sheet, I used parchment paper to assist with clean-up. Also, I don't have an ice cream scoop so I used a soup spoon to gather enough mixture for each cookie and helped it off the spoon with a teaspoon. It's really easy to do, though as sticky as you might imagine.
 When the cookies come out of the oven, the insides remain a bit wet. As they cool, they'll absorb that moisture. I cut the used parchment into small strips and layered the cookies in a bowl with a sealing lid. I think now it wouldn't have been necessary. Once cool, they don't seem to stick.
 We kept a few out to eat and froze the rest.