Thursday, October 30, 2014

Let's Talk Pink Camouflage
It used to be that you needed only to wear blue denim to be perfectly in step with Jefferson County high fashion. If you didn't wear blue denim, you carried a blue denim handbag. You had to have blue denim on you somewhere, and the senior women pushed that envelope by accessorizing with Indian turquoise jewelry. Then the sleeveless, zip-front vest became a must-have. I own several, much to the dismay of a city friend who could not help but remark on the coral-colored fleece vest I wore to lunch, although out of concern for city feelings I had left my shooting vest and my hunter-orange one at home. Then everyone who was anyone here bought pit bulls, and people middle-class and above bought bulldogs, which sound kind of the same.

These days you'd better wear UnderArmour. This brand of well-made, hard-wearing technical athletic clothing, $50 for a long-sleeved tee-shirt, sells like hotcakes, especially to the poor, who can now buy it from the farm & home stores that once sold only Dickies and Carhartt pants and John Deere logo wear. Even upper-middle-class Jefferson Countians wear UnderArmour caps. The local youth too cool for Under Armour clothing wear UnderArmour cross-training gym shoes.

Even so, don't come out here this autumn expecting acceptance into the highest circles unless you are wearing UnderArmour camouflage gear, specifically the pattern "Real Tree." Real Tree is carried even by Walmart, and, for the ladies, there's a line of pink "Real Tree" camouflage everything, lounge pants to aprons (see photo) to dinnerware.

Pink camouflage clothing bothers some people. Let me explain: It's the gingham of our time. The pink indicates acceptance of the wearer's femininity ("I am not a feminist") and the camouflage, tacit support for hunting and the U.S.military, and by extension, approval of a gun-toting lifestyle, and by further extension, a passion for the Second Amendment, which in turn conveys distaste for all things Obama. Pink camouflage indicates not only a "stand by your man" philosophy but a rightist form of patriotism. My own pink camouflage item is a ballcap emblazoned with "USA" in case its message isn't clear enough; I wear it hoping to be taken for a native. I like President Obama, but no one can tell. That's my camouflage.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Equivalent of a Twelve-Point Buck

Lost on a hundred acres plus the adjacent Missouri Conservation acreage, beating through downed trees with all my apps' arrows pointing different directions, and bruised and scratched and breathless with no water, I hit my shins on a branch and fell. There's nothing like whirling through the air thinking "!" and landing on one or another body part.

I have two kinds of falls. One is divinity forcing me to see a natural wonder. I found my first morel mushroom after a fall, and blewits (white mushrooms with ice-blue interiors), and tiny amphibians, and foxholes, and rare plants. The other, less common fall, the "stupid fall," teaches me only that I should have watched my step.

Wear your orange in autumn!
Got up all sweaty, thirsty, and breathless and beheld at the foot of a tree the 12-point buck of mushrooms: the unmistakable Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa), a choice edible, a big one. Took a moment to register.

After no rain for six days, "It's probably all dried out and no good," I thought, and pinched one of its featherlike fronds. It was perfectly fresh.

I released the fungus from the ground. No way I was I leaving it! Solid almost all the way through like a cauliflower, it weighed between 15 and 20 pounds. Determined, lugging it along, I escaped the snaggy part of the woods, went down and up ravines so steep they're scary just to look at, and bumbled on home, stopping to rest, gasping and with a backache and a cherry-red face and fearing a heart attack. But some things are worth it.

Although "Hens" can weigh up to 100 pounds, a 20-pounder is a great find by any standard.All evening I roasted the fronds to a lovely brown crispness, and chopped and sauteed the solid white meat and otherwise preserved as much of the find as was reasonable. No way was I not going to show and tell!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Who Was Knocking?

The birdbath needed filling, and I reached to open the porch door to get the watering can and almost set my hand on this huge (five inches?) green creature, Mantis religiosa, or the "praying Mantis" ("mantis" meaning "prophet") clinging to the door and screen. This startling all-green mantis--its coattails resembling folded leaves, as artfully dressed as a geisha--is most likely non-native, a European mantis, the kind kept as a pet. I'm not kidding; it says all over the Internet that praying mantises make "marvelous" pets, I suppose if you don't step on them or suck them up in the vacuum cleaner.

In the autumn, after a summer of growing to adulthood, mantises mate, and the male of the species is puny, skinny, and brown, so I'm guessing this big bold one is an adult female and she's about to mate or has recently done so. The females perform "sexual cannibalism," a spectacle I don't care to see. This is the first time I've looked a mantis in the face. What was she doing at my door today? Did she think there might be males in the house? I left her, returned five minutes later, and she was gone. Could she have had a message for me? What was it? "Be big, green, lean, mean, and beautiful?"

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Oh No; You Must Care For Me

Thought I'd run up some curtains on my Kenmore sewing machine, at purchase guaranteed for 25 years. "Good Lord," I thought, when I asked for and received this as my college-graduation gift, "It's guaranteed until 2003," and by then we'd all be piloting flying saucers. "I might go hungry," I told my parents then, "but with this I'll never go naked." And I never have, although I quit sewing dresses, pants and skirts around 1999, when clothes got so cheap that fabric and notions cost more, and my sewing skills honed in junior high school rusted out. Few things are as piercingly clear as when someone eyes your outfit and says, "Did you make that?" I use this wonderfully-made, solid-state, 23-pound machine rarely and take it totally for granted.

Curtains, however, I can still run up with confidence. Thirty-six years after the purchase and the five free lessons at an urban Sears store, I chose black fleece to insulate my single-pane windows when the cold is deep--as it will be someday soon.
I set to work. Straight seams are no problem. But the needle clanked and stuck, and the thread snarled, amassed on the underside and broke, and the machine whined and resisted and I finally consulted the instruction book, a fascinating object in its own right.

My mechanical masterpiece was asking me to clean and oil it and recalibrate the thread and bobbin tensions, using the tools that came with it. Instead of a blue screen and non-response it spoke and told me in its language, now almost a lost language, that it needed TLC. Just a little. Now it runs sleekly.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Can U Speak Widow?

I meet each week with a club of mature women, educated and accomplished, about half of whom are widowed. We speak a dialect of English called "Widow," featuring these most-favored words:

Straub's (high-end grocery store)

Example: "After my husband died following surgery at the hospital, my terrific niece made arrangements to consign her snickerdoodles to the museum shop to to help pay for what Medicare didn't cover."

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Dutch Oven at Last

My brother-in-law, a garage-sale genius, happened upon boxes containing 5 brand-new 5-1/2 quart enameled cast-iron Dutch ovens manufactured in France by Le Creuset--among the world's most desirable cooking vessels, retailing today for more than $250 each. The owner asked $20 for each, my brother-in-law shelled out, and then asked on Facebook if anybody wanted one. I did! I did! I said next time I was up in Wisconsin I'd pick it up and pay.

My sister of took one of the five, blue to match her kitchen, and selected this sunny color for mine. When I saw it I was so delighted I wanted to roll on the floor, and packed it like a baby in blankets and towels for the ride back to Missouri. For three months I've done nothing but admire it,  and get up the nerve to use this item, coveted for years, almost purchased after our wedding except we chose instead a more practical stainless-steel kettle and never regretted it. But it was not an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven, the kind that outlives its happy owner, who becomes a cookin' fool for roasts, slow-baked beans, oven-cooked stews and all.

To prepare, I took a delightful class in baking artisan bread in a Dutch oven. A large mirror hung over the classroom's workspace so all in the room could see what the instructor did, and we got samples. Today--now that it's baking season--there's bread. Yes, the pot is heavy. But it's not as if I have to carry it in a backpack. I love anything that is both practical and beautiful. If it's food-related, all to the better.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Time is a Guillotine

I don't care for reality, so I really hate X-rays, MRIs, CAT scans and whatnot, and refused to get my neck X-rayed this year after it had been MRI'd last year when they checked to see if the ache might be cancer. All they found was an aging neck. I could have told them that.

Three weeks into my most recent my-neck-hurts treatment, I gave in to my chiropractor and had X-rays. They are not cute. It's arthritis, brought to me by Father Time. And I thought: How lucky! How really very lucky!

It's not arthritis in my hands, which I use to make my living. It's not in my knees or hips, so I can keep walking as always. It's only the neck, and honestly one doesn't have to turn it a heck of a lot except when driving. Exercise will strengthen the muscles and chiropractic will cut down on the snap-crackle-snap. I have BioFreeze spray and a contoured pillow. I'll get by. And now I can predict the weather, just like the old folks used to do!

Did you know your head weighs eight to ten pounds?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Just Making Sure

"What are these pretty red bushes at the roadside?"


"Oh, no! If I touch it, will I get a rash? Are those berries poisonous?"

"You're thinking of poison sumac, which grows in swamps and has white berries. You'll probably never see poison sumac in Missouri. But if you're allergic to cashews or mangoes, stay away from all sumac; sumac is related to them."

"Can I eat the berries?"

"Some people make sumac lemonade by steeping the berries, but these berries are dried out. You have to pick sumac berries in the summer to make the lemonade."

"Is it pronounced soo-mac or shoo-mack?"


"Why? There's no 'H'. There aren't any other words in English like that."

"Don't be so sure."*

*Joke credited to Mark Twain.

Friday, October 3, 2014

The "Do Anything You Want" Day

Last night it rained two inches and I loved getting up this warm sunny morning because rain means good foraging in the woods for you know what. I had tea and checked my horoscope: "Your celestial bank account is so full, why don't you spend some of it? Do exactly what you want; you can afford it." Another horoscope said I'd find romance.

7 pounds of wild edible
Much encouraged, I, baker of irresistible scones and biscotti, satisfied my desire for a scone pan by ordering one online, then took basket and scissors into the hot, humid woods emerging with seven pounds of tasty, heavenly-smelling pink and yellow Laetiporus sulphureus cut from a single downed tree--for eating, it must be obtained very fresh, as soon as possible after rain!--then divvied it up and drove to town to see the chiropractor who fixes my neck. She said she liked fresh wild mushrooms, so I gave her a pound of the choicest. Seeking my romantic prospect, I then lunched at an Italian place: Salad, pizza and red wine. Delicious and I ate the whole pizza myself. Outdoors it was suddenly freezing cold and windy.  Back home I cleaned and sauteed my share of Laetiporus, and then worked for a while, because I enjoy my work. At 4 p.m. I drove 15 miles to a Trader Joe's parking lot for a rendezvous with a fellow forager to whom I delivered a bag containing three fragrant, intoxicating pounds of you know what ("Here's the stuff, man") because I'd scored much more than I could use. And then in the store bought two squat little pie pumpkins and pumpkin-cranberry scone mix. Dear neighbors and friends: Scones are in your near future.

On the drive home I received $2.99 per gallon gasoline and  a golden and purple sunset. Took a photo of my old, crippled outdoor picnic table, now set among gemlike autumn colors. I understood that my romance was with this wonderful world. And food.

And the day's not over yet. . .

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

One Singular Sensation

All creatures here love the sun. Coming back from the mailbox I lifted my eyes and saw this, the local Walking Stick, tricked out like a hickory branch, sunning herself on the pumphouse and communing with her elegant shadow. The boyfriend I saw her with last month? I decided not to ask in case it might get emotional--or she ate him. Besides, in this coupled world, we all must understand that we really are fine when by ourselves.