Monday, January 28, 2019

Having the Cake and Eating It

Vowing never to post any "personal" photos anymore after this, but my neighbor Terri made and brought me this birthday cake, chocolate pound cake with buttercream frosting, carefully piped bit by bit maybe 1000 times, for the most realistic bunbun I ever ate. We enjoyed slices of its butt with tea while Terri, an artist, explained that she once was a professional cake-maker, creating huge and ornate holiday and wedding cakes to order. Terri took this photo, too.

Notice that the bunbun sits on its plate among green buttercream grass featuring tiny forget-me-not flowers. Nobody ever made me a cake like this in my entire life. We had lunch at the Roemer Topf in Mascoutah, Illinois, that day, one of the best German restaurants I've ever dined at, serving schnitzel, spaetzle topped with swiss-type cheese, mushroom sauce, smoked pork chops, pea soup, bock beer (for me), Bavarian Gemutlichkeit and everything. Eastern Missouri now appears to be void of such places; not even Hermann has a thoroughly German restaurant anymore. Must go to Illinois, and I totally recommend the Roemer Topf.

Can't help loving German food. Terri grew up with a genuine Oma and Opa. I grew up among European refugees including German women who married Slavs after the war and came to the U.S. Those ladies served that Kartoffeln und Sauerbraten und wurst und strudeln and you name it and we first-generation Americans ate it up like a hundred yards of chitlins. (A "Roemer Topf" is a covered clay cooking dish. There's one sitting on the bar at the Roemer Topf.)

Saturday, January 26, 2019

It's Not January, Unless

Fern vs Ice? No, Fern and Ice together.
.  .  . unless, on a rather temperate January day in the Divine woods, among its cliffs, ravines, craggy dropoffs, brooks and pools, placing myself in unnecessary physical danger, I crawl, sidle and mud-slide toward a vantage point to photograph a frozen waterfall hoping for a photo more eloquent than most. I feel a responsibility because no one else will ever see these moments in rugged eastern Missouri nature unless I photograph and share.

Beneath the ice, fresh water comes to life.
I love this time of year, anticipating spring's potential, so I chose as my theme "signs of spring."Although it's a bit early yet, an optimist will see what she or he wants to see -- and find it.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Women's Kitchen Wisdom

I taught my mother exactly two things. One was to line her baking pans with parchment paper. Mom baked a universe of goodies in her time and on a visit to AZ while she was baking I said, "I line my pans with parchment paper." "Foof," said Mom, "I don't need parchment paper," implying I was foolish and extravagant. I said, "You must like scraping and scrubbing pans, then."

Came back to visit two years later and she was using parchment paper. I said nothing. The other thing I taught her was to use an apron. She was 80. She never liked using the dishwasher, did her dishes by hand, and never let them air dry because she could not bear to see even a water glass on the counter or in the sink because it was not put away. Before I started drying dishes I said, "Do you have any aprons?" She said, Why? I said, "To keep my front dry. Otherwise my clothes get all damp with dirty dishwater." She had aprons never used -- people give women gifts of aprons just as they used to give lace-trimmed handkerchiefs -- and I put one on as I would at my Divine home, and the next time I visited her she wore an apron to do dishes, and that was all the effect I ever had on her.
Buy these trash cans or you do not have the right to call yourself female.

My sister and I trade practical kitchen gifts. Seeing that she had in the kitchen a horrid and fraying little cheapo aluminum sink-strainer I got her a stainless-steel sink strainer from that would last forever. She said thank you and I said, "When you are doing dishes and you see this, if you remember, say a prayer for me." She mailed me awesome dishtowels printed with bunnies and later sent my treasured Reddy Kilowatt magnetic potholders and a faux LeCreuset enameled cast iron dutch oven that is exactly like the real thing. This past Christmas, horrified by her discolored and fragrant Rubbermaid kitchen and bathroom trash cans I pulled out my phone and ordered for her Automatic Touchless Infrared steel trash cans like mine, that open and close automatically with an electric eye and stay tight and smell-free, from Amazon Prime. 

One time my sister visited and I explained my rice cooker (a gift from another woman I thought I'd never use. I use it all the time). Now that my sister has one she serves rice much more often, and also at my recommendation buys and cooks the jasmine rice that actually has flavor.

My sister has an InstaPot now, can't praise it enough, and wanted to send me one for my birthday. I said I would rather have a microwave egg poacher. A friend I breakfast with orders poached eggs and I began making them about a year ago, but even piercing the yolk and taking all other precautions, three times out of four my egg exploded inside the microwave. The egg poacher came today. I had already eaten my egg for the day, and can hardly wait for tomorrow to try it out.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Herbs in January

In January, hunting green herbs seems like an oddity and luxury, but every winter here the land grants me free chives -- unfailingly, and as much as I can scissor. Often the clumps are sticking up through snow, the only greenery in a black-and-white landscape. Today there's no snow, and hunting (I needed two ounces) felt like heaven.

They grow wild mainly in areas where the soil is disturbed by mowing, and seem to like slopes, the wetter the better.

How generous these onion-grass plants are! In winter this grass enhances a butter sauce for fish or gets sprinkled on carrot soup. By mid-March, pinkish-white bulbs have formed underground: spring onions, which I pull and use like scallions, both the green and the white, and while I do that I awaken worms and nightcrawlers whom I'm delighted to have as company. In early autumn when the onion "heads" are formed, I can harvest their tendrils, which are garlicky.

Some people want to, and fight to, clear their yards of onion grass! Why?

Friday, January 4, 2019

The Middle

Thought about it -- but this is all I think about, so here it is. I trimmed the photos to reduce TMI and here's the evidence of the shrinking and much stronger middle. I attend 2 or 3 classes a week at a studio called Barre3. Began in the first week of October 2018 because strenuous exercise helps me beat the winter short-daylight cold-outside people-are-dying blues, and the "senior" classes I took were too easy and held at hours that affected my workday. One-hour barre classes are given from 6 a.m. to 6:15 p.m., and I attend when work and energy and drive time allow. Gosh, the endorphin rush and pink face after the hour is over! Guaranteed unretouched homemade photos. Bother you? Imagine it like a January thaw.
After 2 classes
after 6 classes
After 11 classes
After 16 classes
That last photo was taken in mid-December. I'm even stronger through the core today while eating, holiday-style, twice or thrice the normal allotment of cookies and pastries.

Recovering from my very first session took a week. Now it's only two days. I'm the worst participant and must clutch the barre for dear life or fall over, but am game. This sport is less social than the senior scene; most attendees are young wives or mothers, and an occasional youngun wears a tee saying "Sweating for the Wedding." In all the classes so far I have seen exactly four men, one the instructor's husband. I'm among the few over-60s.