Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Milk Pie Redux

 I love old-fashioned recipes and the Pinehaven Milk Pie recipe that comes from my great-grandmother Amelia Schmidt is a hit. For those who have never tried it, it's something along the lines of custard. It's also called a Sugar Pie, even a Transparent Pie by some.

 It's one of those easy-to-make pies whose simplicity doesn't suggest the wonderful taste. I posted the recipe some years ago here.

 This is what it looks like just out of the oven. A couple of days ago Mom made two homemade pie crusts (I opt for the frozen ones). She asked whether I'd like a Milk Pie with one. The other is awaiting a cherry pie filling.
 When the pie is first placed into the over, it's quite liquid and a shield (as shown) is a good idea. But nothing spilled even though the baking pie bubbles and expands when it gets  hot.

 When the pie began to cool, Mom cut a single slice and put it on a dish for my lunch. Looks great, doesn't it? I love the crusty sprinkling of nutmeg not to mention the creamy filling of custard. What's finer than a homemade pie on a late winter's day?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

More Ice

 Winter isn't spent yet. Last night when I crawled into bed, the sky was clearing and a full moon was rising across the field to our east. The headboard of my bed points in that direction so I may always watch a full moon cast a shadow across my bed through the early hours of that special night.
 And because it was clearing, the temperature bottomed out at 12°. Only my south bedroom window responded with the delicate patterns of ice.

 This is the most delicate structure of all, confined to a small section of glass at the bottom of the top pane. It is not extensive. No other window in the house exhibits any ice at all. Look at the variety of the structures, the perfectly straight lines that cross, the pirouettes of ice that seem unsure of which was to turn, the changing angles as the ice builds a pattern.
 In fact, there is no pattern at all. And yet there seems an intricate directive, driven deeper.

 This was shot a few minutes later, just as the sun first touched the pane. The ice will be quickly gone. By 10 am, the air temperature has risen above 20°. Tonight rain is forecast. We will not slip below freezing again in the next few days, The artist retires.

 Five days ago (01/22/13) I took this shot of another window covered with ice. Instead of the delicate patterns I usually see, the window has been ice-washed, a flat monotonous coating of ice. And yet even here, within the flat surface are areas of detail. It's hard to understand how any of this forms.

 If I zoom in on that top structure, the usual delicacy is preserved. Maybe too much moisture was present and the artist was forced to work with a broader brush? And yet it reminds me of the old windows once sold for bathroom use, as a privacy feature. My grandmother had something of this look in her Miamisburg home.
 So, now that the weather is warming, I suppose I'll see no more of this for a while.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Artist at Work

 It's the coldest night of the year - in fact, it was the coldest night in the past four years - and Jack Frost sat down at his glassy canvas and worked while the brutal night wore on. With brief, but heavy, snow showers yesterday as an Arctic cold front plowed through our area, there was ample moisture for Jack to do his work.

 When I went to bed last evening at 9:30 pm, I noticed that the bathroom window had begun to be etched. There were points of ice, merely an outline of the work already underway. I looked through the window at Jupiter and the Moon in the south, in conjunction, and their light sparkled on the icy pane of glass, showing off the work in progress. I went to bed knowing that the morning would present to me most wonderful sights.

 Side-by-side, nature draws straight lines and curlicues. Within an inch of one another, why this here, why this there? The pattern must be set at the atomic level, one spot contains a mote of dust, another an arrangement of water vapor adhering to the glass as the night air cools. Who but nature can draw such intricate patterns, arranged in some random shapes, form without meaning?

 On my bedroom window, a particularly fanciful creation appeared. The night dipped to +5° and with yesterday's snow showers adding just enough moisture, the canvas was set, the pallet prepared.

 On Mom's bedroom window, a north-facing one, I always find the most interesting patterns of all. It is this window that Jack Frost prefers, always out of direct sunlight, always the first recipient of winter's storms. And here, as I looked from the bathroom, was a perfect X. Two etched lines converged and crossed there as we slept, nature forming a bulls-eye. Did one line form and then the other? Or did both form at once? They seem equal in width thus probably formed at the same time. Why were the atomic structures not discouraged by their crossing? In this game of Dare, neither blinked but hit head-on.

 Finally, just after 8 am, an east window catches the light of the rising sun. Rather than pretty patterns here, there has formed a smooth, almost monotonous sheet of ice. In minutes, after the sun hits, the ice disintegrates to drops of water, the media shown to be no more than mere water vapor.
 During the night, I first woke at 1 am but did not get up. Mom said she'd check the pipes by running some water into the bathtub near midnight. I waited. When I woke again at 2:30 am, I knew it was my turn. I grabbed my robe and headed down the  steps. I walked into the living room where Mom slept and told her I would check the house. She snored.
 I ran water in the bath tub and the kitchen sink. All was well. I climbed back upstairs and ran water in my bathroom. Again, all was fine. Even in the night, I heard the wind chime singing in the wind. The furnace ran non-stop.
 I crawled back into bed, pulled the quilt over my head, slept soundly until after 7 am. All through the night, the artist worked. This morning I marveled at his industry.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Family Get-Together

 We try to get together with various family members every six months and we usually choose Ron's Restaurant & Catering in Brookville, Ohio as the spot. Good food, an all-you-can-eat buffet ($6.99) and plenty of room for our gathering of eight.

 Mae & Charles Boyer

 Bill & Mary Schmidt

 Joan & Don Boyer

 Lois Masters & Shirley Cluxton

 Bill & Mary Schmidt

Mary Schmidt

 We've been doing this for years. We've lost a few, too: Dad, Ray Cluxton and Bob Masters. I think all of them would be happy, though, that the rest of us continue to tradition.
 So, we'll probably be back in July.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Sunset

 I am upstairs, finishing up, and getting ready to head downstairs and watch the news. I notice, though, an unusual color to the room, as though the sky is beginning to glow. Oddly, the salmon color is mostly to the north, where I observe it through pines, and to the east, where I have an unobstructed view.
 It is odd for the sky to be red in the north. I press my face to the window, look west, and see that it is simply grey, heavily clouded as the entire day has been.
 Then, in a flash, the red color begins to expand, not just in scope but in direction, until the entire sky glows red.
 And then it simply explodes.

January 16, 2013 5:53 pm

 I grab my camera - always at the ready - and I am  running down the steps, terry cloth bathrobe flying behind, and I search for the key to open the back door. I step outside to this: the color has expanded to the west, a breathtaking fire along the undersides of the clouds, streaming gold at the horizon  and an eerie, impossible blue-grey further above. It is as though the sky is cloudy and clear at the same time.
 I take this one picture and then stand there stunned for a whole minute, unable to speak, unable to move. This is a western sunset, one which should have mountains in the distance. And yet I look upon my usual pines, a few deciduous trees and flat farmland that carries as far as the eye can see. This is an impossible sunset for Farmersville.

January 16, 2012 5:54 pm

 I have to wait but a single minute for the colors to peak. The sun is not visible and yet the brightness nearly blinds. It comes from ahead and above. I stand there almost in tears. I am standing beneath molten lava.
 And yet for every red stripe above me, there is an odd corresponding blue-grey. I feel almost as though I must hold onto the ground or be sucked up into the colors.

January 16, 2013 5:55 pm

 Only two minutes have passed since I took my first picture and already the colors begin to fade. Overhead the sky goes cold and grey and the brilliant colors follow the sun over the horizon. It is like watching a waterfall.
 I think: Be always vigilant. Views such as these come and go in an instant.
 As I step back into the house, my robe hardly warm enough for a winter's night, I see the fire dwindling. As I put my shoes away the last ember dies. And yet this brief sunset was one for the books. I don't ever remember a brighter one, one with such odd colors, one with such brilliance.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cinnamon Rolls

 How is it possible to get these out of a tube? Even more importantly, how is it possible to get these into a tube?

 They're not homemade. They're Pillsbury Flaky Supreme Grands! with Cinnabon cinnamon. You get just five in a tube but each is certainly ample size, even huge.
 We bought them from the dairy case at Kroger's last week. We had a coupon and they were on sale, the perfect combination in our book. So why not try them?
 The tube's shiny wrapper is peeled away and the scored cardboard tube underneath is exposed. One good rap on the side of the kitchen counter and the tube pops open with a satisfying hiss. The dough immediately expands to show each roll, separated from the next by a thin, scored line. At one end of the tube is a plastic container of icing.
 As Mom peeled the cardboard back, I carefully twisted each individual roll from the set and placed them atop a cookie sheet which I had lined with parchment paper. It's a no-clean-up solution.
 The question remains: how do they ever get the rolls inside the tube? I would think it would be a mess and yet they're neatly placed there, one after the other, cinnamon swirled between the layers. It is a marvel of modern engineering that a machine could be made to do this.
 The rolls are excellent, too!

Monday, January 7, 2013

One Year in One Minute

 Last January I had an idea. What if I were to record just one frame from my weather webcam each day? I'd save a year's worth and compile them into a video. So that the year played back in one minute, I'd need to play the frames at a rate of six per second (366 / 6 = 61 seconds). Click here for the result.

January 3, 2013

 Here's an example frame. Each day at 9:15 a.m., I'd grab a single frame. It's didn't matter what the weather was, whether the window was covered in fog, plastered with snow or the sun was shining brightly. At first I recorded the frames manually, numbering each like this: 0101 was January 1, 2012; 1301 was January 1, 2013. I began the project on January 8, 2012 and finished it today (January 7, 2013).

 Because I chose the frame rate to force the year to fit into a minute, individual frames flash by fairly quickly. For that reason, I'm providing contact sheets for each month and with every day labeled. If you see a frame speed by that you'd like to examine more closely, you can find it here.

 I used a D-Link DCS-930L WiFi webcam. The resolution is only 640x480 but that's enough to enjoy the show. The camera is set up in a second floor window facing roughly northwest. The camera is available 24 hours/day (though if there's no light you'll see a black frame) by clicking here. I operate the camera 1.7 miles east of Farmersville, Ohio, in Jackson Township.

 A current view and archived video are available via The Weather Underground by clicking here.

 Most interesting to me is watching the changing angle of the sun as the year unfolds. Also, each season's weather is graphically shown. The grass can be seen greening in the spring and turning a dry brown in the summer (we had a serious drought). The trees leaf out, turn a healthy green and autumn's colors come and the leaves drop. Note distant redbuds showing off their purple flowers in the spring. The shed near the center of the picture was painted late in the summer so you can watch it turns a vivid white.

 Early in the year I automated the process of grabbing the day's frames. I used NirSoft's SeqDownload. Initially I chose 9:15 a.m. for each frame (because I figured I could be home at the time) but once automated it no longer mattered. Noon might have been a better choice.To create the video I used NDW's JCPVideo. And to convert the video from the native AVI format to the tighter WMV I used WinX's AVI to WMV. All the software was free.

 Here then are the contact sheets by month:

January - 2012

February - 2012

March - 2012

April 2012

May - 2012

June - 2012

July - 2012

August - 2012

September - 2012

October - 2012

November - 2012

December - 2012

January - 2013

A Winter Fog

 It is 18° as I walk to the mailbox with a letter. The temperature is cold but not particularly brutal for a January morning. Yet it is one that causes my footsteps to crunch as I head towards Clayton Road. I look across the field to our east as I walk and I see the old Shell farm, half a mile distant, enshrouded in fog. What makes it interesting, though, is that the fog has lifted off the ground, hangs about ten feet up and the first floor of the farmhouse is in the clear. The fog is stratified, spread out in long, thin layers of white, like a bridal veil lifted into the air and shook in a north-south direction.

 It is a magical time, crisp and quiet and without the hint of moving air. The icy fog confirms that.

 I am here to walk, the first time in weeks. Sam's lane has been under the snow and then, when spots seemed to melt, the tracks where I might step had been pressed down by passing trucks into a hard, unnatural ice. There was nowhere to step. But in the past day or two, the afternoon temperature has flirted with the freezing mark, has topped it a few times, and the darker spots in the lane have conspired to give me my walking path back.
 Even so, it is again a cold morning and the walk is crunchy and loud. The corn stubble stands erect and stiff in the early morning light, like soldiers snapped to attention. Mom looked at this photo and was reminded of penguins, standing stiffly on the Antarctic ice, awaiting the sun.
 In the distance, the fog surrounds me, not yet driven away by the sun. It is layered in every direction I turn. Sam's farmhouse sits below a particularly thick sheet of white, his furnace belching steam.

 As I near my turn-around spot, the sun is beginning to shine. The corn casts shadows; the snow itself gives shadows. Blue and pink mix as the day begins.

 Though it will be some hours before the ice begins to melt again, it seems suddenly warmer - if not merely more cheerful - with the sun's golden light. There is hope that the day will moderate, that the sun will give me more spots to step tomorrow. I am not cold, though, but for my feet. The canvas shoes I'm wearing are designed for spring and their out-of-season thinness does not stop the cold.

 At the end of the lane - for I always walk two laps - the maple that stands at the southeast edge of our property seems another soldier bearing the night's cold. It will not have long to wait before this night is ended.

 A woodlot on Venus Road always delays our day in the winter. I look at the published sunrise time and must add a few minutes for the sun to clear these trees. The fog delays this day yet the more.
 But when I end my walk, the sun is bright, the fog has melted away and the day has begun. The weathermen predicts much warmer weather by week's end. 60's? The rest of the blizzard's snow will melt, the weight on the kitchen roof will wash away in the showers and the brown ground will darken the moonless night.
 Who would live anywhere but where the seasons rule? What is the advantage of comfort if it is hidden in boredom? Give me days that swing wildly, seasons that know what they are. Variety is all I ask for.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Winter Break

 It is still cold. Wednesday morning dipped to 10°. Thursday morning dropped to 4°. And yet there is a softness to the air just now, a sort of winter's rest, where the wind quits blowing, the sun shines a little more each day and the temperature strives to get a little higher before the next bitter night.

 I've noticed, too, that there is more light in the sky each morning when I awake. I am a man of schedules and I rise at the same time every day, spend the same minutes eating breakfast and am standing beside the bathroom window, sawing a toothbrush between my lips at the same instant each day. It is not just the snow on the ground affording extra light. It is that the day is growing longer, the sun is ever inching northward.

 I would not have stepped outside last evening for sunset pictures had the day not been sunny and warmer. Though we only topped at freezing, it was a prelude to today when we managed 40°. I could feel that change coming twelve hours before. I was again in the mood to be out.

 As I rounded the garage, white bathrobe hanging below my coat, I saw the icicles, formed daily on the south edge of the garage roof, tinged with the warm colors of sunset, like frozen rainbows. Had I come by but a few minutes later, the icicles would have been in cold shadow and their appeal would have been less striking.

 Behind me, against the west wall of the house and opposite the bathroom, I piled bales of straw last fall, keeping the coldest wind off the bricks, hoping to save the plumbing. Above, another ice dam drips through the day and refreezes each evening encasing the straw in strips of ice, like a prison window. It is doing its job in protecting the pipes, ice itself protecting against ice.

 A few moments more and the sky begins to darken, the January sun feeble and able to offer no heat unless overhead. It is a cold, stark scene. The fields laid out in white, sleeping beneath this crisp unwrinkled sheet for more than a week.

 The scene alone beckons me to stay, to watch the sun dip beneath the distant trees. Though there is no wind, I give a sudden shudder, more from anticipation of the cold than the actual temperature. A January night falls quickly once it begins.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Don't 'Blow' That Bread

 We've noticed for some time now that many of the loaves of bread we make in our automatic breadmaker have their beautiful tops collapsed while they bake. To combat the problem - thinking the breadmaker itself was at fault - we set the machine to make the dough only and we removed it, kneaded it manually, folded it into a conventional oven pan, let it rise again and baked it normally.

 Trouble is, the top still collapsed.

 We first noticed this with a lovely herb bread, a concoction of chives and cottage cheese. It seemed to produce a beautiful loaf when we tried it years ago. But most recently, the loaf collapsed about 2" when it was baked. It didn't matter whether we let the breadmaker finish the loaf or took it out and baked it in our regular oven.

Now I love a yeasty loaf, light and airy and filled with  the mustiness that yeast gives. I suppose I like it too much, We've found that was the problem, being a little too liberal with the active dry yeast.

The recipe for our one pound loaf calls for 1-1/2 teaspoons of active dry yeast. I did a little research and found when others had this problem with a collapsing loaf, they cut back on the yeast by about 1/3 and the problem was solved.

That's it! I used an even teaspoon this time and the loaf returned to its beautiful rounded shape. If the top isn't mushroomed, it just isn't right. Every one of our last half dozen loafs had collapsed to varying degrees. This one is perfect again.

Who'd have thought the remedy would be so simple? I was adding a little extra yeast, thinking that it was just more of a good thing, a little flavor boost. But it causes the dough to stretch, to inflate beyond normal (and it looks beautiful during this phase!) but once the heat is applied, all that extra volume disappears.

So, lesson learned. Watch the amount of yeast you use. If anything, go a little light. Who's going to complain about using less? The end result is more bread.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Slow Turn

 I am in bed, sound sleep, while this planet turns slowly. It scrolls slowly to me, appropriately at the head of my bed, lifting Orion from the eastern horizon, then a last quarter moon and finally, after I am awake again, the sun. This gentle slide is imperceptible: if I watch the stars seem stationery. But it is bring to me a quarter degree of sky every minute, 15° each hour, and so the view is renewed constantly.The sky, this very world, is changing by the minute.

 When I carry the trash out at 7:45 am, that half a moon hangs now in the southwest, still high in the sky so that I must look upwards to see it. The sky is still dark, the moon a brilliant white. I separate the trash from the recyclables, carry compost to the garden, my feet crunching on re-frozen snow that crusted on this cold night. It is 4°.

 Later, when I am back inside and have warmed, Mom calls me to the kitchen window. The sun has risen but it is still low and shadows of the trees cut across the snowy lawn like black knives. Owing to the low angle, the snow comes into high relief, small pockets thrust down deep, dimples that seemed not there when the sun was high yesterday.

 The sky is reflected blue in the snow, the sun not high enough to cast a golden light. It is still at the edge of night as the sun casts its first light across our north lawn.

Walking to the south living room window, I see already a warmer scene. Colors begin to appear. At the right of this scene our metal well-head pushes through the snow, already sunk from 7" to a mere 3". School is still out for the holiday so there is little traffic. Those who are working have left long ago; those who are not are either in still in bed or, like me, about their early business.

 The planet turns a few more degrees, pulling the sun ever higher in the east. It has already begun its slow move northward, nearly two weeks after the winter solstice, and it is inching slowly higher with each passing day.
 Just risen above the small wooded area on Venus Road, the sun slants shadows low and long. Our mailbox seems twenty feet high. The snow holds a rough texture that will soften as the sun climbs higher.
 Throughout the day the sun will arc across the southern sky. Tomorrow I will find it a few more seconds removed from today's position. It is winter and yet winter is receding behind us. There is hope that spring is just ahead. The promise is written in shadows.