Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Perfect Polish Pottery

In Poland on an agritour in 2012 I admired whole shops full of traditional Polish pottery, now becoming fashionable in the U.S. and retailed by places like Williams-Sonoma because it's durable, poison-free, microwavable and oven-safe, each piece hand-painted with imaginative, folky, usually abstract designs (often in cobalt blue, and yellow and green) and, for ceramics, Polish pottery is cheap. I wanted it all, but since then I've been seeking a single ideal piece to remind me of the warmth of Poland, where I was very happy, and my Polish roots. Had to be useful, authentic and adorable. Then one day this came up on eBay. A ten-ounce cup circled with folk-style rabbits. Divine.
Polish pottery is called "Boleslawiec" pottery; Boleslawiec is Poland's "ceramics city," famed for natural clay used for ceramics production since the 14th century, and much farther back according to archaeological digs. Thriving factories, destroyed during World War II, were rebuilt and individual artists have their own studios; they are allowed to sign the pieces if they make them from from start to finish. Today's typical Boleslawiec piece, with a cream ground and patterns painted in recognizable colors and styles, is a design created in the last half of the 19th century. "Boleslawiec" is in southwestern Poland (I was in southeastern Poland) and is named for Duke Boleslaw the Tall, son of Wyladyslaw the Exile.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Here's the Beef

When I eat beef I want it organic, pesticide-free and hormone-free, so at a farmer's market on a September morn I approached a farmer seated at a table, just a table in the sun, taking orders for organic beef from her farm 10 miles up the road. I asked about buying a quarter of beef. Couldn't afford it; also it was too much meat for me. The farmer suggested I split a quarter with three friends.

So I put the word out, and three people signed up with me in October, each paying a reservation fee of $25, and were told we could pick up our quarter from the processor in early December. The beef was ready on Nov. 21, we cleared our freezers, and today the four of us drove 25 miles to the processor, each paying $33 directly to the processor. Then we divided between us about 110 lbs of flash-frozen beef. To complete the transaction we will now pay $94 each to the farmer. That's $152 for about 27 lbs. of  local, organic 3/4" cut steaks (t-bone, sirloin, rib eye), roasts, and ground beef. The quarter included 50 lbs of ground beef but only four one-pound packages of stew beef. That cut was not popular so I asked for three of the four pounds of it for my famous slow-cooker beef burritos. Splitting a quarter of beef with three friends was a good idea. Some of my share is shown in the photo.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fossicking a Brachiopod

As a gatherer in a month without mushrooms, vegetables, fruits or nuts, I am drawn to the LaBarque Creek streambed 50 yards away and entertained by fossils from the Ordovician Period -- 400 to 500 million years ago, when Missouri was underwater, specifically warm seawater. I found today the imprint of an ancient living creature, a simple clam-like bivalve called a brachiopod. As the first human being to lay eyes on it I never know what to say. It's an honor to meet this bookmark in time. Did it know it was beautiful?

"Fossicking" is a British-ism for "searching for gemstones among matrix rocks," but I like applying it to the enjoyable pursuit of fossil hunting. Have found fossils of marine plants and coral and creatures such as this brachiopod. Fossicking is made easier by the amazing fact that rocks with fossils and imprints usually lie on the ground fossil-side up.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Blind

Took a new path through the conservation area today -- a really new path, because I know the place well and that path was never there before or I'd have walked it -- and found a secret pond, connected to another larger secret pond. I am charmed by seeing a sudden shine of water between trees and discovering a water feature not on any maps. Here the path seemed to end. While searching the leafy floor of the woods for any further path, I raised my eyes and suddenly saw this blind which I hadn't noticed before. Gee, I wouldn't make a very good deer or rabbit!

A choice hunting spot this was, on a slope above the smaller of the two ponds, in a quiet area far from the road. Its design, placement, and camouflage of genuine oak branches were all the result of much thought by the wily hunters. Some yards away in the classic Missouri oak and hickory forest I also saw a tree stand. It's the season. And now I know how the new path got made.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

As the year ages like fine wine, I woke planning a hike at mid-morning today, then was deluged with messages and calls demanding instant action everywhere at once, and could have worked 16 hours and maybe get through it all, but then I thought about my ancestors who'd say "What foolishness," and after working all morning fixed a nice lunch and furthermore, sat down and ate it, and don't care who knows it. I settled for an afternoon walk at Glassberg Conservation Area, circling its three-acre lake I sometimes fish in. (I didn't fish even once this summer; too busy.) An odd little gem of an island in that lake, you see here.

November hikes must be short and planned. After 2 p.m. the shadows lengthen by the minute; after 3 p.m., about the time this photo was snapped, the hills begin swallowing the sun, and rocks and streambeds exhale icy breath; after 4 p.m., darkness unwraps its chilly lengths and nothing stops it. The bright side: Only five more weeks until the daylight begins lengthening.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Tipi

This fine canvas tipi sits next to the prairieland at Shaw Nature Reserve in Gray Summit, MO every autumn, and every year I enjoy a minute or two of rest in it, admiring it outside and in. The pointed shape supposedly concentrates spiritual energy (think of wizard's caps, or church steeples). I don't know if that's true, but there is indeed a quality about a tipi that takes one's mind off Twitter for a moment.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Sweet and Fatty

Discoveries about the creamy pleated sweet-tasting acorn-sized wild hickory nuts that I have gathered 10 pounds of, the best harvest yet. Each day in the beautiful last hour of daylight, now rare and precious, I comb the lawn and woods and bring home the kernels. Each day the hickory trees and nuts teach me something.


1. If the thick-walled, blackish-green pod won't release the ivory-colored kernel, it's not good to eat anyway.
2. If moisture seeps in, the kernel gets moldy and so does the nut inside. So if the kernel is sprinkled with mold spots, it's not good.
3. If it has just rained and the kernels are only very recently and mildly wet, place them in the oven to dry for 12 minutes at 350 degrees. That will toast them, split the kernels slightly, and scent your whole house.
4. If the nut is spherical it's from a shagbark hickory tree. If it is ovoid it's a pignut hickory. If it resembles a walnut, it's a black hickory.  If it's got a green tight-fitting sheath that won't peel off, that's a bitternut hickory and that one is not edible.
5. Do not leave your basket of hickory nuts outside, because in the morning your trove will be depleted.


1. Place harvested hickory kernels in a cool place. Warmth will make them rancid. I keep 'em outside on the porch.
2. Air-dry the kernels for one week. This dries the shell and it's more likely to come off. I do this on a screen.
3. Before shelling, bring the kernels to room temperature. Chilly nuts are far harder to smash and shell.


1. Place four to ten room-temperature kernels in a plastic zip-lock bag. Airborne shrapnel is therefore contained. Zip the bag 99 percent shut.
2. Smash each kernel with rubber mallet. Using a hammer will pulverize them, so a rubber kitchen mallet is the preferred tool.
3. Open the bag, reach in, grab and save the largest nut pieces.
4. When the largest pieces are out of the bag, take out the smashed shells and use a dental tool to pick out the remaining meat. You decide how much picking you want to do. Then empty the bag of shell fragments and start over.
5. Get in a rhythm and you can extract maybe three ounces of nutmeats per hour.
6. Nobody wants shells in their hickory nuts so be careful that what you're keeping is nutmeats only.
7. Keep one bag that you are positive is only large choice nutmeats without a shred of hard kernel, and give this bag to a good friend.
8. Dumping the shelled nutmeats in water to separate them from any hard shell pieces does not work, at least for me.
9. Microwaving does not help the kernels open. Two minutes of microwaving reduces the nice sweet fatty nutmeat to bitter charcoal.


1. Keep hickory nutmeats refrigerated or frozen in their own small plastic bag or clean glass jar with a lid. And eat them. Great in oatmeal, cookies, muffins, stuffing, on ice cream, or just to savor.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

The End of Solitude

For many reasons I've spent most of my time alone, and I don't mean "unmarried"; I mean in solitude. As an over-50 solo hiker I began limiting myself, because what if I got lost on 4000 acres, or slipped and fell? And always I wished to share my delight in migrating birds or puffball mushrooms or other things I saw on hikes. One year ago I discovered and joined You can find in your locale people coming together to enjoy an shared interest or event they might not attend or enjoy alone. These include wine tasters, paleo-foods enthusiasts, ballroom dancers, history buffs, kayakers, stargazers, playgoers, creative writers, you name it. Joining and meeting are free. My favorite group "Let's Hike" hosts every weekend at least four hiking events to choose from, anywhere between 4 and 35 people on each hike.

"Let's Hike" led me to Missouri conservation areas and parks and trails I didn't know existed; on hikes too rocky, lengthy, or distant or spooky, like Howell Island, to hike alone--and awesome sights such as the Pink Rocks near Fredericktown. Some people are out for exercise, others to see nature; we all chat. November offers perfect hiking: no snow, bugs, heatstroke or below-zero temps, and yes to gorgeous autumn scenery. It's only because of Let's Hike that a photo exists of me the hiker with hiking poles--great for ascents, descents, and rocky paths. Fellow hikers recommended them. Solitude is fine, but I sure do learn a lot from other people.

Friday, November 1, 2013

It's Deer Hunting Season

The first Missouri deer-hunting firearms Youth Weekend begins tomorrow, Nov. 2-3.

Regular November firearms deer season is Nov. 16-26. (Out near here it'll be "bang, bang, bang!" all day.)

Antlerless deer firearms season: Nov. 27-Dec. 8, in selected areas. In my area, hunters can take only one antlerless deer.

Alternative deer-hunting methods: Dec. 21-31. This includes deer-baiting and hunting on food plots.

The second youth deer-hunting firearms weekend: Jan 4-5. (Hey, kids, you can take only one deer.)

Information from I liked the T-shirt.