Thursday, February 27, 2014


 I'm a sucker for recipes I haven't tried. When I was reading the March/April issue of Yankee Magazine, I found an article entitled "Cornbread Love" by Aimee Seavey. She referenced The Cornbread Gospels by Crescent Dragonwagon.

 Sweet New England Cornbread looked too good to be true. It also looked easy.

 Dragonwagon said of this cornbread: ... "thus does Yankee cornbread quietly offer its own gospel, leaving the preaching and conversation to those who have already partaken of its goodness."

 Here's the batter ready to go into the oven.

Sweet New England Cornbread
Credit: Crescent Dragonwagon - The Cornbread Gospels

1-1/2 cups flour
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
2 large eggs
1-1/2 cup milk

 I've modified the ingredients somewhat: cornmeal for "stone-ground cornmeal"; salt for "kosher or sea salt"; milk for "whole or 2% milk". And though she notes combing ingredients into two separate bowls, I just mixed it all together.

Preheat oven to 425° and grease a 9 x 9" square baking pan. Bake 25-30 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. I found that 25 minutes was sufficient but I turned the broiler on high at that point for an additional minute or so to further brown the top.

 Here's the finished product, a beautiful shade of brown. One edge split which is very common and actually and effect I like. It says "homemade".

 I taste-tested one square and it is delicious. It's not as sweet as I would have thought. Mom loves it, too.

Dear Cracker Jack

Dear Cracker Jack®:

 Your caramel-coated popcorn is as good as ever but the prize is getting sort of small.
 And the peanuts ... where did the peanuts go?

 I'll admit it. I'm a little nostalgic. I remember those tiny cardboard boxes when I was a kid. I'd get off school for the day, stop by the grocery store where my Dad worked, and maybe get a box of Cracker Jack®. This was a special deal, not one of your penny Bazooka gum days.

 A whole box ... to myself. I'd peal the shiny foil outer layer away, push in the scored cardboard and tip that box to my mouth. Heaven! The boy on the box, and his dog (Bingo, right?) looked as happy as I. Maybe I only had a third of a mile walk home from school and the box would barely last that long, but I was happy.

 And then there was that "prize in every box", usually hidden near the bottom. Who would ever open a Cracker Jack® box from the bottom just to get at the prize first? Surely not me. I was too conventional for that. And, don't they say, good things come to those who wait?

 The other day I was at the grocery and I picked up a bag of Cracker Jack®. I'm 64 years old so that alone should make you proud. Same lovely taste. But the peanuts are kind of small in number and the prize ... well the prize ... ain't much!

 Don't I remember as a kid getting physical objects such as a decoder ring? Maybe a plastic soldier? Real baseball cards? Sure, they weren't worth much but they were worth something. I'd think a kid today would expect even more. I know mature men do.

 What I found inside was just paper. This isn't even a card. It's more of a stamp, without the glue.

 I realize my checking account is only paying 4/10 of one percent and if banks can't afford to pay more than that, how can I expect Cracker Jack® to offer more than paper?
 I suppose I can't. So, forget I ever said anything. The popcorn's sure good.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bustin' my Nuts

 Throughout the late summer and well into fall, I pick up black walnuts as they fall from my neighbor's tree. I figured the crop was going to be small but something with the weather, or maybe it was simply the wind, dropped copious quantities of nuts late in the season and I couldn't begin to handle them all.

 "What? More?" Mom would say as I brought home another load.

 Now, of course, she's happy I did. We began processing the nuts a few days ago.

 The nuts are wonderfully meaty and will supply all the black walnuts we'll need for baking in the next year. While we occasionally buy English walnuts, we never buy black walnuts. We can supply our every need from local trees.

 During the winter (since late October), the walnuts have been left to dry in two wicker baskets and one plastic container in the garage. I've begun processing the plastic container first and I poured it out onto newspaper on the garage floor so the nuts could have some air.
 As you can see from the above shot, some of the husks are showing signs of mold. That certainly doesn't hurt the nut meat inside.

 I've begun taking the nuts to our woodpile and hammering the husk there to remove it. The husks make a real mess and they need to be discarded somewhere other than in the garden (some plants will not grow where they've been discarded). So this is my natural workbench where I de-husk eight at a time.
 Why eight? It's a number Mom can conveniently manage every day. I am the official "nut buster" she serves as designated "nut extractor".

 Once the dry husk is removed, I bring the nuts back into the garage and crack them one-by-one with my vice. I merely crush them so that the meats are visible, drop them into a can and bring them into the house for Mom to work her patient magic. She said she loves this chore.
 The nuts, by the way, must be sufficiently dried for this stage. The husk, if fresh (or at any stage except thoroughly dry) will dye your hands and fingers black and the dye cannot be easily removed. After four months sitting in the garage, the nuts are ready to work. Our neighbors sometime don't process theirs until the following year.

 Here's a shot of Mom working the nut meats out. She uses a standard metal nut cracker and a pick. It's a bit of a tedious process but the result is plenty of nuts for our baked goods in the year ahead.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

King Hawaiian Loaf

 With a recipe for homemade King Hawaiian Rolls & Loaf in hand, I decided to try it. We stopped at the grocery for a can of pineapple juice, the only ingredient we were missing. The recipe I used is available here. I cut the recipe in half, making only a single loaf for testing purposes.

 This is really an easy loaf to make and every step worked out perfectly. The tropical scent of pineapple is wonderful, even during the assembly phase and it lingers even as the loaf is baked and taken out of the oven. The bread is only slightly sweet and should make wonderful toast.

 Here's the end result first:

 And a look inside. Beautiful texture, finely-grained and with the lovely sweet scent of pineapple coming off the slice. The vanilla adds a nice note, too. Don't leave it out.

 This takes about two and a half hours once the ingredients are combined but that's certainly not unusual for any kind of homemade bread.

 Here's the initial mixture (remember, I made just half a recipe). This mixture is not kneaded but rather just left in the mixing bowl and sat in a warm place. Since it's a winter's day, I turned the oven on just long enough to warm it a bit (maybe 100°) and then placed the bowl there for the first hour's rise.

 After an hour the mixture looked like this. It clearly doubles in size. The remaining flour is added to this mixture (it is quite sticky and would be impossible to handle otherwise) and then turned out onto a floured pastry cloth for kneading.

 I added 1/4 cup of flour as I worked the mixture on our pastry cloth. It lightens quite a bit. The dough was of a perfect consistency ... slightly warm, "soft as a babies butt" and it seemed alive (it is) and bounced back as I kneaded it over a dozen times (I didn't count; I just work the dough until it feels right). There is nothing in baking so nice as fresh dough! Bread dough is the sensual part of baking.
 This dough is then shaped and placed in a greased baking pan and allowed to rise another hour. It doubled in that time.

 Here's how the dough looked after the second rise described above. This is a delicate stage and you have to be careful with the loaf. No rough handling! This is the "baby's butt" turned into the whole baby. This loaf is now ready to bake. The instructions say 25-30 minutes. I took this out after 27 minutes as it seemed to be browning nicely on top.

 Turned out of the pan and with a little melted butter added to the top, the loaf will need some cooling time before slicing. Yes, it's hard to wait!

 And here's a top-down view of the completed loaf. Let it sit until it begins to cool (30 minutes to an hour if you can wait that long) and then slice.
 Now, go back up to the top of the page and look at the finished product again. Better yet, bake a loaf!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Touch of Spring

 It seemed we would never get rid of the snow. And yet, almost overnight, it is gone.
 I measured eight inches a week ago. And then we had temperatures into the lower 60's, sunny days and breezes - not to mention rain - and the last of the winter's snow was melted away. Cold memories, those.
 And yet this morning the expansive pooled field behind our house froze over again and looks more like a winter skating rink.

 Just prior to 8 am, the sun was rising and I walked into the field to shoot back towards Pinehaven (just to the left of center). The area of pooled water is large due to Thursday night's 0.64". The ground is still mostly frozen and the water was left with nowhere to go. That, and the added snow-melt, gave us ample moisture for this late-winter's day. In fact, meteorological winter lasts only another six days.

 When I got back to Sam's house, this bright red barn shone beautifully in the early morning sun. That and the clear blue sky and bare trees completes the almost-spring scene. We will have plenty of cold weather ahead but surely the worst is over.
 Dare we hope?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

What lurks out here?

 Our neighbors have mentioned the howls of coyotes in their creek area. I have not heard them. And yet as I walk in and out of their lane, some strange tracks have begun appearing. While they seemed feline to me, others insist they are canine in nature.

 I took this shot of one of the tracks yesterday. The icy mud held the print quite clearly. Though I didn't have anything to measure with me. I placed my shoe beside this track after taking the photo and then measured my shoe when I got home. I put the width of the track in the three to four inch range.

 Today I went armed with my better camera (the first shot was taken with my cell phone) and a yardstick. Trouble was, the showers overnight, and yesterday's thaw, served to erase most of the tracks. I found this one, however:

 This appears to be a double track but it does a better job of showing the nails.
 So, anyone want to offer an opinion? On Facebook, my friends are saying it's probably a dog. If not, a coyote.
 The tracks appeared after my morning walk (about 8 am) and before my late afternoon walk (about 3 pm). I would not expect a coyote to be out in a somewhat visible location during daylight hours.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Star City Soda

 Those of us who grew up in Miamisburg, Ohio, surely all hold one flavorful memory dear: the Star City Bottling Company.

Operated there from 1903 to 1968, the local company produced wonderful sodas in clear bottles. I can remember my Grandpa Paulsen bringing them home by the case, sitting it on the stair landing to their basement and telling me to grab a bottle whenever I wanted.

When the company went out of business, I took one full bottle of orange soda and placed it into storage. Where that was, I couldn't quite remember at first.

 What prompted thoughts of Star City soda was a Facebook post by the Ohio Ghost Town Exploration Co. They recently found an old seven ounce bottle (just the bottle) in New Burlington, Ohio, near the bank of Caeser's Creek off of Route 380, and near the Greene and Clinton County border.

 That certainly prompted me to search for my archived bottle. And I eventually found it, nestled in my bedroom bookcase. It looks to me that the sealed bottle is not quite so full of orange soda as it was 46 years ago. Some evaporation must be taking place through the cork.

 Remember those wonder flavors? The soda's were available in a rainbow of flavors: crystal clear lemon-lime, cream soda, grape, root beer and orange are the first to come to mind. I'm sure there were others.

 Here's a close-up of the cap on my bottle. I'd love to open it and take a sniff. But I won't!

 It looks like there's even a market for these bottles. One eBay listing notes $60. I wonder if it sold? Memories don't come cheap.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pinehaven's Potter

 Mom didn't know anything about Pinehaven yet. She was still two years away. And yet the first pottery items (and still one of only three items) that she made by hand was emblazoned with pine trees. It's as though this "Pinehaven Mug" foretold our coming here.

 Pinehaven Mug - 1985

 Mom remembers attending a class at Wright Patterson Air Force Base with Bob's then-wife, Norma. She remembers little of making the mug other than firing it, painting the pine trees and glazing it. It's been 29 years since she was thus introduced to pottery-making.

 The bottom of the mug is signed: Mary S 85. There seems to be some other identification (Arnet's?) but she has no idea how that got there. Was there a mold involved? The mug certainly looks to be entirely hand-made.

 For a second project, Mom made hanging bells. They're part of a wind chime which she has hanging in the kitchen window. There are three bells, of decreasing size as you rise, each held together by a thin nylon line.

 Here's a close-up of one of the bells. The "clanger" that rings the bell also supports the bell below it. When the assembly gets to moving, it rings a pretty tune. The bells pitch is set by their various sizes, the smallest being the highest.

 So what's the third item Mom made? She doesn't remember. Nor do I. But we'll come across it one of these days and say "Aha!".

Steaming Stew on a Winter's Day

 Last evening, I walked into the kitchen as Mom was preparing vegetables for today's stew. She had been cutting carrots and potatoes and chopping celery (including the leafy tops) before I arrived.

 Carrots, by the way, seem the last of this ages great deals. We bought three (she used two) bulk carrots at a total cost of twenty-four cents. These are long, sturdy carrots, not the stubby thumb-sized ones I've been known to grow.
 And she liberally (too liberally, she says) sprinkled on hot pepper flakes to give the stew some zest.

 Here's today's finished stew ... hot and steamy, right off the stove. The pepper flakes gave it a real bite. Delicious!

 Mom was also cutting a green bell pepper and I stopped and admired the beautiful insides in the late afternoon light. Is there a more sensuous vegetable when laid open like this? I marvel at the shades of summer green, even now in the depths of winter. The ivory seeds, nestled deep inside, seem as though embarrassingly displayed.
 The bell pepper was used to flavor the scalloped corn, an absolutely necessary flavoring in my opinion.

 Yes, the scalloped corn, right out of the oven, has a spoonful missing. That was Mom's taste test. "It's too juicy," she said, but, as I was hungry and didn't much care, she served it anyway. Later she added some more cracker crumbs and we placed it back in the oven for an additional 20 minutes. That worked perfectly to absorb some of the excess moisture.

 In addition Mom heated some leftover baked beans. She baked a few buttermilk biscuits. I washed it all down with a mug of milk and then a cup of coffee.
 And dessert? I had a key lime Greek yogurt and then decided I was still a bit hungry for sweets. Two chocolate chip cookies filled the bill.

 OK, I'm done.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Again ...

 Just when you think you're going to get a break winter returns.

 We've had three days at freezing or above. The snow depth seemed to be lessening a bit. There were even patches in the driveway and on dark surfaces where the snow was showing some melting.

 Then came late yesterday. An inconsequential storm began to intensify and track a little north of the expected path. As the snow flakes began to fall, all I could think of was, "Here we go again."

 We woke to about four new inches of snow this morning. The total depth at several spots I measured was eight inches.

 That's not to say it isn't pretty. Just unwelcome.

 Here's a view out our driveway at about 7:30 am, before Bob arrived to pick me up for breakfast at 8:15 am. By making a few tire tracks in the snow, I'll have an easier time bringing in the mail.

 The rear of the house is piled high with snow. The stack I have against the brick is designed to help keep the pipes in the bathroom from freezing (it works well). The satellite dish probably won't work until I brush the snow free. The path you see at the left of this image was dug so I could get to the rain gauge, bring it in and melt the collected snow and report my daily reading before 8 am.

 The rain gauge is on the left side of this image, nearly buried in snow. Beyond it stretches our back yard, pretty much impassible without high boots. It's hard to believe I'll be mowing this in just a couple of months.

 Looking up from the porch towards our back roof, it holds so much snow that I'm actually worried about the weight supported there. Drifts have piled it up so that they are a couple of feet deep. I suppose it would be more dangerous to go up there and try to shovel it off than to wait for the temperature to slowly do the work for me.

 Looking north towards the woods, this concrete bench is where I feed the songbirds a handful of peanuts every morning. I walk out with half a dozen unsalted peanuts and whistle while I place them there. Immediately the trees begin to vibrate with landing birds, quick to pick up the offered snack. They often come before I've walked very far away.

 By 8 am, the sun is shining and the south side of our house looks almost inviting. My previous footprints have accepted the new snow but they still show in the morning light. I read the electrical meter there every week so we can judge how our energy costs are coming along.

 And on the north side of the house, also facing east, the risen sun casts shadows through the pines and brings the new snow into high relief. It looks warmer than it is (15°). Tonight we'll dip that cold again and then begin a steady warm-up. Monday should bring a wintry mix of sleet, freezing rain and even rain. Tuesday will rise into the mid-40's, Wednesday to 50° and Thursday should top 60°.

 So this scene I've recorded may be soon gone. But then I've said that before.

Later: Like waves in an ocean, Phil Coffman stopped by and plowed out our driveway with his John Deere. He pushes the snow carefully out of the way and to the rear of our drive. It rolls like thunderous surf back there and, I suspect, may outlast winter itself.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Pinehaven - late winter

 It is something of a change, this day with a temperature rising above freezing (it's 36° at 2:30 pm so there's even room for another degree or two's rise). We have been below freezing for the past eleven days - 264 hours - and we counted among those three mornings well below zero.

 We've been -6° twice this month and -3° once.

 So now we're having a bit of a well-deserved break. Call is a "January Thaw" if you will, only a month late.

 Because it's warmer, that means I've donned my coat and taken walks back Sam's lane ... twice. The lane is still mostly snow-covered but slushy and far less slippery than it was yesterday. As I began my afternoon walk, I turned and looked over at Pinehaven, nestled in the snow and below a cloudless sky  ...

 It's still a cold wintry scene but at least today I can be outside without a stocking cap and gloves. While there's no wind and ample sunshine, this was certainly an afternoon to take advantage of. I am happy to get some relief from my cabin fever.

 When I got to the rear of the lane and turned around to walk back out, the thin driveway - plowed by Jared - makes the return trip easy on the legs. The snow probably averages no more than 4" deep at this point but it has an icy crust and is a little hard to walk on.

 Pinehaven is the structure half way up the frame and on the left.

 I should show you a view from two days ago of my rain gauge, seemingly buried behind deep snow. That's not quite the case, though. When our driveway was plowed out last week by our neighbor, the snow was pushed to the back, out of the way of our car, and my rain gauge barely peeked above the top. I dug this path so I could get to it each morning.

 Today that snow has melted quite a bit and patches of our driveway, just like Sam's lane, shows bare gravel in spots. That darkness will contribute to yet more melting, a cavalcade of events. In the days ahead we'll cool again and then we'll have a nice "heat wave". We'll be into the mid-40's by Monday and there's the chance we'll see the thermometer top 50° before next week is out.

 Can I say we finally have hope? The winter of 2014 will be long-remembered but hints of spring are already being felt. The air today carries the scent of thawing earth, at least. That is a welcome start.

Later (02/14/14): I took another nice walk this morning and found the going fairly easy. It was about 20°, though, so colder again. Still, the lane is plowed fairly clean and with the just-risen sun lighting the scene, the sky-reflecting snow seemed a brilliant blue. I enjoy looking for animal tracks: deer and rabbit are most prominent but I see plenty of dog-like tracks, too. Coyotes?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Another Winter Storm

 They just keep coming ... one winter storm after another. Last night's was particularly dangerous because of the possibility of freezing rain. Our long power lines here in the country are easily snapped by the added weight of ice and there seems less incentive to quickly repair lines that service fewer customers. But I went to bed with some satisfaction that the snow would remain snow and we wouldn't have to worry about ice.

 But that was not to be. At midnight I woke with a start and heard the freezing rain tinkling against the east window at the head of my bed. I decided to get up, fill a couple of buckets with water, at least enough to drink and cook with should the power go out for a while.

 When I had finished I walked into the living room and told Mom that we were having heavy freezing rain and I was worried about the power. I decided to spend the rest of the night sleeping on the living room floor so I could light the kerosene heaters if the power failed.

 I also fired up my tablet and saw that the back edge of the precipitation was moving east of us. As I had all my bed clothes already downstairs, I decided to just stay. But I went to "bed" with the satisfaction of knowing things would not get any worse.

 When I read the rain gauge this morning, the melted precipitation measured 0.78". That's a lot for a single storm in February. The snow depth averaged about 4". All of the plowing Jeff did for us, all of the shoveling I completed, has been undone by a single evening's storm. I had the car washed yesterday and it will stay in the garage today anyway.

 The rear of Pinehaven is buried in snow. I've made a path across the back porch to the garage, about three shovelful's wide. That will have to do. The mound you see at the right side of the house is where I've piled snow against the outside of the bathroom in an attempt to keep the coldest air from reaching the pipes. So far, so good.

 Here's a better view of the paths I've made. The wide one leads to the garage. The thin path that leads to the concrete bench in the left foreground is so I can place peanuts there for the birds. I whistle each morning and songbirds arrive in droves. They have been trained to know I'll be there at about 8 a.m.

 Clayton Road (looking north) is amazingly clear of snow but likely as slick as it looks. There is little traffic this morning. I heard the salt truck pass about 12:30 a.m. and the 27° we have this morning must be warm enough for it to do its work. Even so, Valley View schools as are again closed. Kids will be in school extra days in June to make up for all the "calamity" days.

 And Pinehaven sits snugly in the snow this morning. Colder days are just ahead. Thursday night we are supposed to dip to -7°. When will winter end?

Later: After I posted this, our neighbor, Phil Coffman, came by on his John Deere tractor and plowed out our driveway and garage apron. Thanks, Phil!