Thursday, August 11, 2016

Looking for Adventure

Last weekend, we went a little crazy and this happened.

We bought ourselves two kayaks.  We're ready for adventure.  Honestly, when I saw the kayaks strapped to the car, I could hear "Born to Be Wild" playing in my head.  I feel a little like a middle-aged cliche, driving a Subaru with kayaks on the roof, but it's going to be fun.  We took them out for their maiden voyage to Shabbona Lake State Park, about thirty minutes away.  It's a small lake, only 318 acres, and is used for fishing and float boats only, no speed boats. Perfect for getting the feel of our new kayaks.  And we weren't the only ones who thought so; we met another middle-aged couple, who had brought their new kayaks to Shabbona for their first trip too.

Hard to paddle in the lily pads, but I wanted a close look at the flowers.

We found an area covered with lily pads and water lilies.  We saw a couple of herons, lots of purple martins and dragonflies.  A lovely, peaceful time.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Sweet Corn

It's sweet corn time here in Illinois.  Every year, I tell myself I'll buy extra corn and freeze it, but I never do.  Only this year, I did!  Last week, I stopped by a local truck/farm stand and picked up four baker's dozen ears of bicolor sweet corn.

The counter became a shucking station.

When I was growing up, my family grew corn in their gardens, and I have lots of memories of my mother and aunt "putting up corn," which meant shucking, washing, cutting off the cob, partially cooking it, cooling it, and putting it in quart freezer boxes.  As I got old enough, I helped out.  First with shucking, but later with the whole job.

Washed and ready to cut off

My grandmother, then my mother and aunt, made what we always called "fried corn."  It is cut off the cob and placed in a non-stick skillet (although I'm sure my grandmother used cast iron as there was no non-stick in her time) with water, butter, salt and pepper.  It is simmered for thirty or more minutes, until it is cooked down and creamy.  No milk or cream is added, however, only the milk from the corn itself.  That dish really is my youth.  I love fried corn.  I even, or actually especially, like it when the corn is not tender and sweet.  Sometimes my parents bought a field corn, trucker's delight, which is not sweet and can be kind of tough.  It became something of a joke in the family because that was actually my favorite for fried corn.

Ready to cook and freeze
It's a fair bit of work, even with only four dozen ears, but it will be so worth it come winter when I can pull a taste of summer out of the freezer.

Ready for the compost pile

Monday, August 1, 2016

Saying Good-Bye

The last two months have been very hard.  The last two weeks even harder.  On July 15, I learned that my older brother, my only sibling, had passed away at age 59.  It was not unexpected.  He had battled stage four renal cancer (metastasized to the spine) for five years.  I remember so clearly the day I found out he had cancer.  It was like someone punched me in the gut.  I went out to the hammock, sat there alone and cried.  Your sibling is you, part of you -- your first friend, your childhood ally (and sometimes enemy), the one who has known you all your life.

In early June, we stopped by my brother's farmhouse in Tennessee.  He lived alone with his dog, Walter, and saw a hospice nurse once a week.  "I don't know if I'll make it until the Fourth of July," he said as we said good-bye at the door.  Three days later, I was on my way back to Tennessee.  He had woken up paralyzed from the chest down due to growth of the tumors.  Even after he was hospitalized in the palliative care unit, he continued to make plans -- I was instructed to bring in his coffee maker, a cart to put by his sink, his laptop, sugar packets, rubber bands, you name it. I was told what to get out of his house -- "You're in charge," he said, then questioned most of my decisions and instructed me in detail via cell phone what tools to pack up and take home to my son.  The big brother until the end.

After two weeks, I came back home.  I had planned to go back to Tennessee the last week of July.  I had the completed paperwork from the veterinarian which would allow Walter to visit him at the hospital already in my car glove compartment.  Then just after midnight on July 15, I got the call.  Even though I knew it would happen, I still felt that it was sudden, unexpected.  I wandered around the house, held Walter's face in my hands and told him how sorry I was that he was now an orphan.  I paid bills, I packed a bag, and I spent the next eight hours alone in the car driving back to Tennessee.  It was the worst drive I've ever had.  As the sun came up on an absolutely gorgeous day, all I could think about was that my brother would never see another sunrise.  That he wouldn't see the beauty of the world again. Even as I thought these things, I still couldn't really believe or understand that my brother was gone.

So good-bye to my brother, my first friend, my childhood co-adventurer and fellow explorer.

On a roadside, somewhere in Germany, around 1961.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Waiting Room Magazine Cuisine

One of the best things about going to the dentist is the magazine rack in the waiting room.  I don't subscribe to many magazines, so being in the waiting room is like getting a glimpse into other worlds -- Midwest Living, Simple, who knows what I'll find?  On Saturday, after chatting with the receptionist a few minutes -- how's the family, how 'bout this weather (snow flurries) -- I settled down with a magazine with lovely pastel Easter eggs on the cover.  Partway through, I came across a recipe for beef brisket that looked fresh and different.  I showed it to the husband; he agreed.  I thumbed through a few more pages.  Then I thought maybe I should write that recipe down, so I started to rummage in my purse for a pen and scrap of paper.  The door opened.  "Come on back."  I hastily put the magazine back in the rack and meekly followed the hygienist.

With my teeth cleaned, X-rays taken, and a figurative pat on the head from the dentist, I returned to the waiting room. The husband was still in the back, so I figured I'd get that recipe.  The magazine was gone!  No pastel Easter eggs to be seen in the rack or on the chairs.  Hummpf.  Some other middle-aged lady (there had been one in the waiting room) had no doubt taken it with her back to the dentist's chair.

When I got home, I began searching online for the recipe.  I didn't know what magazine it was, only that it had Easter eggs on the cover.  I searched for a recipe with the ingredients, and I struck gold.  I found it in Good Housekeeping. The name of the recipe is a mouthful, Soy-Braised Beef and Tomato-Mint Salad.  Here's the link.  

I made it for last night's dinner, and it was a hit.  It's super easy, too, as the beef cooks all day in the crock pot.  I served it, as suggested, with jasmine rice.  Next time, both of us agreed, maybe replace the red onion with green onions or shallots.  The onion flavor was a little strong.  (The husband said this first and he loves onions.)  In the magazine, they used whole mint leaves, which looked prettier, but my mint leaves were gargantuan, so I chopped them.  One important note: I used low sodium soy sauce and it was plenty salty.

photo from Kikkoman web site

Speaking of soy sauce, did you know that much of the Kikkoman soy sauce produced in the U.S. comes from Walworth, Wisconsin?  It's a tiny town just over the Illinois border.  We used to live seven miles from Walworth, so I usually buy Kikkoman.  I remember the first time we drove north on Rt. 14 into Wisconsin and I saw that big Kikkoman plant sitting out in the middle of a field.  Such a surprise.  But it makes sense, since the Midwest grows a lot of soybeans.  Might as well put the plant near the source, right?

Anyway, next time you're at the dentist, keep your eyes open, be sure to have a pen and paper, and don't let anyone snatch your magazine and carry it to the back before you get your recipe.  But if that does happen, there's always the internet.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Garden Time Approaches

It's officially spring according to the calendar and even judging by the temperatures and vegetation here in northern Illinois.  On our morning walks, we've noticed more activity from groundhogs and muskrats.  The robins are back, the chipmunks are out, and a pair of adorable rabbits have made themselves at home in our yard (which, however, has not been great for my flowers).

Bad bunnies!  See how they've been eating the daylilies?  They've also sampled the crocus and pansies.

I'm always thinking about how to improve the general looks of the garden -- what to move, what to add -- and recently I've become kind of enamored of willow fences.  Then the other day, I was in a local home improvement store (Menards) and saw peeled willow screen panels (46" high by 36" wide).  The wheels started turning.

We live in a fairly typical in-town location with neighbors on each side.  Our rear neighbors have a wood stockade fence which provides a perfect screen to the back.  Our side neighbors' yards are more open to ours.  On the east side, we have a small area by the garage that years back we converted from very spotty lawn to purple wintercreeper.  It thrives there.  I have flower beds on either side of the creeper.  My long bed of daylilies, however, just sort of mushes up against the neighbor's yard, which is a combination of ground cover and smallish trees.  I decided the willow screens would be perfect for adding some structure to that area of the garden.

I'm really pleased with how it looks.  Right now, I admit, it does look a little like it's just stuck in space there, but the hydrangea to the rear will leaf out and fill in shortly, and we decided to extend just to the birdhouse as a logical stopping point.  If we had kept going, we would soon have had to wrangle our way around a fair sized walnut tree.  Plus, at $16.99 per panel, six panels seemed like plenty!

We attached each panel to its neighbor with zip ties and anchored each panel into the ground with those green metal plant stakes.  I like the fact that it's not at all permanent and we can easily take it out in the fall (or before if I decide it doesn't work after all).

For the most part, I plan to leave it unadorned, but I may let some morning glory vines grow on it.  I have some sprouting that I hope to train up the birdhouse pole.  Maybe a few on the screen would be nice too.

I'm so glad it's warmed up enough to get outside.  Now when will those daffodils bloom???

Morning glory seedlings!

Monday, January 25, 2016

By the Light

Saturday was our wedding anniversary.  We spent the day in Dubuque, Iowa.  It was our second quick visit to Dubuque, and I have to say, I really like that town -- the bluffs, the river, the architecture.  I need a third visit, an overnight, where I can explore more fully.  I'd like to check out the Shot Tower and ride the Elevator (closed in winter), which is a terrifyingly steep railroad up to a scenic view.  While we didn't get to do much, we were lucky enough to find a terrific place for lunch downtown.  A local recommended a darling little cafe/pub called First and Main.  She also specifically recommended their cheese curds.  She acknowledged that it sounded kind of weird to suggest something so ordinary, but, oh, they were not ordinary at all.  They were the absolutely most amazing, lightly beer-battered, melt-in-your-mouth cheese curds I have ever eaten.  If you're ever in Dubuque . . . .

On the drive home, there was a beautiful sunset.  This is what it looked like at sixty miles an hour.

Then the moon rose.  Many of you saw that moon on Saturday.  I couldn't take my eyes off it; I think I really was a little moonstruck.  Luckily I wasn't driving.  I tried to get a photo of the moon at sixty miles an hour too, but that wasn't working out too well, so finally the husband careened into a side road, and I snapped a quick shot.

More time and camera adjustments would have been better, but we knew Alfie was at home, eagerly awaiting his dinner.  And anyway, this picture is enough to remind me of that enormous moon hitting my eye like a big cheese curd in the sky (or something like that).

Monday, January 11, 2016

Warming Up a Cold Evening

Brrr! Where's that El Nino they promised us this winter? It was four degrees yesterday, so I made a spicy skillet jambalaya to warm us up. I got the recipe from the January issue of Country Living magazine, but I'm sure there are lots of others online. I used chicken andouille sausage, which lowered the fat a little, and added a bit of smoked paprika to up the smokiness of the dish.  It was flavorful, but not too hot.  A warming bowl of jambalaya and later an episode of Downton Abbey -- not bad for a cold, winter evening.

P.S. A digital stove tip: Recently the digital control on my gas stove goofed up. It would not go above 287 degrees. I called the repairman, who came out, unplugged my stove and plugged it back in. Problem solved. Only $76 to unplug the stove. I hope this tip can save someone else a service call charge.