Sunday, June 19, 2022

Jar of Goodness 6.19.22: Dad

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for my dad.

Because it’s Father’s Day!

Friday, June 17, 2022

Sunporch Screens

Well, it was about time! Now that we’re having an entire week of 90-plus temperatures, you’d think we would have changed them sooner.

Taking out the storm windows and putting in the screens: This is the easy part! This year, it barely registered a “2” on the cussometer.

The hard part is in fall: attaching the windows on the hooks, not un-attaching them (usually). To get them on the hooks, you have to position the window angled outward and lifted up, just so. And you can’t see it very well. And the storm windows are much heavier than the screens, yet more fragile. So the screens are easier. Lots easier.

And when we’re done, it’s so nice! All that fresh air, and nice breezes. Lois can look out the screens and sniff the air, and watch the birds. It’s so much more interesting with the screens in, like being in a treehouse.

Why the heck did we wait until the middle of June to do this?

Ohhhh it’s a long story. Here are our excuses. First, in April we decided to wait a few weeks because of all the pollen. Man, it was pretty bad again this year. Even Sue was suffering. In previous years, I’ve been able to write my name in the coating of yellow pollen that covers the table and chairs out there. So it just stays cleaner, and the air quality is better, to keep keep the storm windows up through pollen season.

And then we got rains here and there. And the windows are wood. The sunporch frames are wood, too. When it’s damp, it all swells up just enough to make a serious, 5- to 7-degree difference in the cussometer rating, so we’ve learned to wait a few days after the rain is gone to do this procedure. And as it happened, our occasional dry storm-window “windows” never happened at a time when it was convenient for us.

And finally, we’ve spent a lot of time enjoying the backyard, when the weather’s nice, so we haven’t been on the porch much to miss the screens.

Anyway, that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.

We got the screen windows up. Hooray!

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Alfalfa Sprouts in 2022

We used to eat alfalfa sprouts all the time back in the day. We used to be able to buy them at the store, at regular grocery stores. Back in the 1980s, all the salad bars had sprouts. (Remember Roseanne Barr’s Pizza Hut commercial where she talked about “grazing on a delightful array of sprouts and garbayennnzo beans”?) (Well, hey, remember salad bars?)

And all the health food groceries had deli cases with freshly made sandwiches full of alfalfa sprouts. And on the other end of the spectrum, until quite recently (at least) the sandwich chain Jimmy John’s had a sandwich or two that featured alfalfa sprouts . . . though it seems they’ve dropped the sprouts entirely, though.

You used to be able to buy a variety of sprouts, even: onion sprouts, broccoli sprouts, "spicy" sprouts (a blend with radish sprouts, which taste peppery), and clover sprouts. What happened?

Now it seems that sprouts are impossible to get, unless you grow your own. Jimmy John’s had a problem with its sprouts by the name of E. coli; maybe that made people scared of sprouts. (Though that’s silly, because there’ve been plenty of E.coli incidents with pre-packaged lettuce, and people keep buying that. . . . And the problem has more to do with worker hygiene and proper rinsing of the produce than it does with the produce itself.)

Or maybe people decided that sprouts symbolized something that’s uncool today: All that not-indulgent, low-fat food from previous decades’ health food movements. And honestly, I’m guilty of referring to that era’s health foods as “tofu-and-sprouts” cuisine. But it’s one thing to laugh at them as a symbol, but another to actually dislike them.

Or maybe people today have no concept of how to care for their sprouts, once purchased. Unlike grocery store strawberries, they’re not immortal. And you can’t think of a more tender produce item.

. . . Or maybe grocery stores’ produce suppliers can’t provide the right kind of schedule to keep the stores’ stock fresh. And proper care extends to the stores, too: there are times I’ve seen a produce department’s automatic sprayers dripping water into the sprouts’ plastic containers, flooding them, turning them into a mossy brown little swamp.

And yeah, it does seem like the most recent times I’ve seen alfalfa sprouts at the store, they’re old and brownish and wilty, also known as “no good.” No one wants them when they’re bad, but if no one buys them quickly enough, they go south and you can’t sell ’em. Pretty soon, the store has a reputation as “not a place to buy sprouts.”

But guess what? Alfalfa sprouts are ridiculously easy and cheap to grow on your own. They are tasty and nutty. They are a great way to add crunch and nutrients to your sandwiches. And! They contribute to a sandwich’s or burrito’s structural integrity, because they behave like a sponge with sauces, tomatoes, or other slippery ingredients, holding them in place (lettuce, on the other hand, is incredibly slippery and causes your sandwich ingredients to slide right out of the bread). (I hate that so much, I often chop lettuce before putting it on a sandwich, to make it more like sprouts.)

I love to have alfalfa sprouts on three of my favorite health-food sandwiches: tofu salad, brick-a-broc, and ye olde samurai sandwich. But they’re also great on just about any other kind of sandwich. They’re great on peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, even. Yes!

You can also use sprouts on salads, of course, or use them as a garnish on just about anything, because they’re pretty. The original “microgreens.”

Have you ever grown sprouts before? It’s incredibly easy.

Here’s the deal: Go to your local health food store (or go online) and get what you need. There are alternatives, but I use a simple plastic mesh lid—a sprouting lid—created for growing sprouts. The kind I have fits on a wide-mouth one-quart canning jar.

And yeah, you’ll need the jar. And you’ll need the seeds for the sprouts (again, get it at the health food store, where they might just have them in bulk). (Fresher is better.) (And yeah, they make a lot of sprouting seed mixes—it’s not just alfalfa sprouts; you can have fun trying different sprouts.) Oh, and you’ll need a towel and a dish drainer.

If you follow the directions (see my well-used copy, above), a mere tablespoon and a half of alfalfa seeds will become a quart-jar full of sprouts, in about a week. Yes, you will need to tend to them, three times a day. Don’t worry; you don’t even have to open the jar until they’re all done. Three times a day, run some fresh water in through the mesh lid of the jar, swirl it a little to rinse the seeds/sprouts, then turn the jar on its side, at an angle, and let the water drain out. Keep the jar wrapped with a towel (or some other way in the dark) and tilt it at an angle while they’re growing.

I do all this in the dish drainer of my kitchen sink. Because I visit the kitchen sink many times a day, the thrice-daily tending is no problem. I certainly can’t forget them, because there they are.

They really grow rapidly. It's fun to see.

On the last day, give them some light (not too much; you don’t want to cook them via the greenhouse effect), and their tiny little leaves will turn green.

At the end, you’ll want to remove the the brown seed coats that have separated from the sprouts. I use a stock pot: put the sprouts into the pot and run fresh cool water over them. Swish them around a little. The seed coats will float on top while the sprouts swim around below. You can skim away the seed coats, or just pour or flick them off the top. Then, fish out the sprouts (I use my hand) or use a colander, and set them in the colander or on paper towels for a few minutes. Then, transfer them into a plastic bag, and you’re done. If you have extra cold spots in your refrigerator, make sure the sprouts don’t freeze. And use them while they’re fresh.

You’ll be amazed at how delicious they are, and so fresh.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Jar of Goodness 6.5.22: Butterflies of June

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for the butterflies of June.

Really, anyplace flowers are blooming, this time of year, you’ll see butterflies. But today we saw them at Painted Rock Conservation Area; along the drive to the main parking lot, there’s a glade vegetation planting with lots of coneflowers, butterfly weed, and more.

So here are some pictures of a silvery checkerspot and great spangled fritillary. There were many, both butterflies and flowers.

And it just felt magical.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Jar of Goodness 5.29.22: Missouri Wines

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for Missouri wines.

This afternoon we went to Stone Hill for a screening of a new documentary about the history of wine in Missouri, including a big dose of Stone Hill history in Hermann. It’s called Winemaking in Missouri: A Well-Cultivated History, and apparently it will be coming to a PBS station near you soon (starting in St. Louis, eventually being distributed nationally by American Public television).

Seriously, keep an eye out for it. It's well made, well-researched, and well worth watching.

Directed by Cat Neville as part of her tasteMAKERS series, it covers a long, interesting history: How German immigrants brought wine culture with them, how it was a challenge to try to grow European grapes in Missouri, how an invasive root pest introduced to Europe nearly destroyed the wine industry there, but Missourians figured out that North American grape rootstocks were naturally resistant and European grapes could be grafted onto them, saving them from utter destruction. And then, when Missouri wineries were producing the most wine in the country, then came Prohibition. So Missouri wines themselves had to come back from utter destruction.

One of my favorite points made in the movie is that here in Missouri, we don’t grow Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc. Our climate and soils aren’t right for those. BUT! We have the Norton, and we have a number of interesting hybrids of those European grapes with native varieties. So yeah, Missouri wines are not the same as the others. If you drink them expecting them to taste just like the wines made in California or Europe, you’ll be disappointed. . . . But why would you hold such an expectation? And why would you want them to be the same? . . . Variety is the spice of life! Travel broadens the mind! And wine is never about having that same exact delicious flavor again and again and again. That’s for fast-food connoisseurs. No! Wine is about trying and sampling new things. It’s about the journey; making discoveries.

We were a little late, so we missed most of the hors d’oeuvres before the showing, but we got to see the film. Afterward, as people milled about and sifted away, we sat at one of the outdoor picnic tables to enjoy a bottle of Norton.

Even though there had been a formal Q&A session before the film, the Held family and other Stone Hill people were still busy afterward speaking with tons of guests. (You could have figured that people would want to stand around and talk more after viewing the film!) The servers were removing the demolished trays of food, the leftover napkins, the plates. As the place emptied, we waved and did the hip-hip-hooray sign at Betty Held, the honored matriarch of Stone Hill, as she rode away with friends in a van. A little later, Jon and Nathan Held walked by and chatted with us for a while, so we had a really nice conservation with them after all. Truly the highlight of the evening.

John Thorne, my favorite food writer, said that good wines are always worth trying, because you can usually see why some people really like them. They’re interesting. Even if it’s not to your personal taste, you can at least appreciate them for what they are: different. Somebody’s beloved local flavor. “Malbec, for instance,” he says, “is a varietal that tastes rather like ink; a highly rated one tastes like delicious ink.”

Variety is the spice of life. . . . Variety is the spice of life.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Black Walnut Tree

There’s a big old black walnut tree in my parents’ backyard. It’s right in the center, in the back, where the lawn meets the edge of the woods above the drainage ravine.

It was already a giant when they bought the house when I was on the way in sixty-five. All the branches are high out of reach.

Dad hung swings for us from its huge lower limbs when I was a kid.

The night of Saturday, July 26, 1969, a severe storm blew the top out of the tree. A hard day’s work with saws cleared the debris from the lawn. Mom and Dad had plenty of help.

My brother and I didn't particularly help, but we sure had fun that day.

From that windfall and more, my folks used some of the fallen branches and some old blankets and pieces of canvas to build a tepee for us kids in the backyard. So that summer and following years, our yard was popular among the neighborhood kids.

Some of the large sections of walnut became woodworking projects. Mom squirreled away several nice thick pieces. To this day, I use one of the smaller chunks—which I carefully sanded and polished, as a preteen—as an incense burner. There's a public side and a private side.

Then in the late 1970s, Mom learned about juglenone when she tried to grow a tomato back near the tree. The tomato plant grew tall and spindly, and it begrudged us flowers and fruit. At the time, I didn’t care much, since I never cared much for raw tomatoes. (They’re still not a favorite.)

The nutmeats from the tree didn’t amount to much, as too many of them were dried and shriveled to make it worthwhile to crack them open. The squirrels found plenty of them to eat, however, and nested in its branches and ran around, like rollercoaster cars, on its wide, undulating, spreading limbs. Recently, my parents had a clan of gray squirrels with a lot of white patches in their fur, which was fun to see.

There has always been a vertical split in the trunk facing the house. It’s morphed over time into a more rounded hole. But the split was always a curious thing for me. Over the years, it became an entry way for the carpenter ants, bees, snakes, and other animals that have inhabited its hollow interior.

Paul and I used to pick up fallen walnuts and chuck them into the woods, practicing our pitches by aiming for random tree trunks. My fingers turned black from the juices, but I didn't care, since I wasn’t such a girly-girl. Chucking the nuts into the woods served a useful purpose, too, since it made mowing easier, and walking, too, for that matter.

I have so many memories of enjoying the backyard with that big tree providing us shade. It’s still standing, doing fine, its hollow space quite recently a home for a family of barred owls.

It’s truly a grandmother tree, and I thought I’d sing you this little song of praise.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Jar of Goodness 5.15.22: The Black Walnut Tree

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for the black walnut tree that grows in my parents’ backyard.

I’ll tell you more about it in a bit—I’m still cobbling together some pictures to share about it. But today let it suffice to say that it’s the day’s submission into the Jar of Goodness. I’m truly grateful to have grown up in the shadow of such a tree.