Sunday, December 30, 2012

Come and Laugh at the Finke!

Do you hear that loud whoooshing sound? That’s the holiday season, nearly over! Whatever are we going to do once we get to the “other side”? No more salty cheese logs, no more fruitcakes, no more strange beers that taste like pine needles!

Fortunately, we don’t have to pack away our “ho-ho-ho’s,” because we here in Central Missouri can go to California’s “Last Comic Standing”! It’s a fundraiser for the historic Finke Theatre—so the cost of the tickets (a measly ten bucks) is a donation to a good cause.

What—you say you don’t know what the Finke Theatre is? Ohhhh people, you need to get out more! The Finke was California, Missouri’s local opera house 125 years ago—most towns of any size boasted at least one opera house—and people went there to see stage shows, musicals, plays, and school events. And yes, there would also be trained professional singers who would tour America, bringing high culture everywhere.

Click here to learn about the history of the Finke Theatre.

And it became a Vaudeville theater and motion-picture house. It was transformed into an art-deco-style movie theater that finally closed its doors in 1978. THEN, an organization called California Progress, Inc. (CPI) started raising funds and renovating the theater—and what a beautiful job they’ve done! Indeed, the work is still ongoing, but the historic landmark was reopened in 2009. It’s used for live performances and as a community center.

Click here to see the lineup for the 2012-2013 season. They have a nice mix of performances (“something for everyone”): magic, music, ragtime piano, storytelling, the annual community play, and more. All in that beautiful, welcoming space. You really should go to one of these shows! (Do you like folk music? Our beloved Cathy Barton and Dave Para, I see, are performing on February 16 . . .)

So what’s this fundraiser about--? Well, CPI is the group that’s been paying for the Finke and its renovations. Click here to learn more about CPI and its plans for the Finke. You see, it’s not just about the Finke as a building—it’s about the revitalization of downtown California, and strengthening that city’s sense of community.

The fundraiser is a “last comic standing” competition: Four standup comics will entertain the audience in 15-20 minute sets, and then the audience gets to vote for first, second, and third place. As an added bonus, there will be three more comics who’ll perform while the voting is going on.

Here’s a Youtube that amounts to a commercial for the event!

Ten bucks! You’ll check out the Finke Theatre, have a fun road trip to California, laugh your buns off, make new friends, and maybe even stop off and get ya some California-made Burger’s ham or sausage! (And do check out the Finke’s other events. You’ll probably want to return!)

When: January 12 (Saturday), 7-9 pm (doors at 6:30)
Where: Finke Theatre (315 N. High St., California, Mo.)
Cost: $10
For tickets: call 913-669-2979

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

My Aunt Carole

We have a special post today! We’re celebrating the birthday of my Aunt Carole, who was born this day in 1932. The day after Christmas! (That’s how she got the name Carole!)

I’m scheduling this to go online (and public) during her birthday party at my cousin’s house in Moniteau County, not far from where Aunt Carole and Uncle Richard live. She asked that everyone bring a homemade card for her.

Time to get creative! Okay: Since she has such a delicious love/hate relationship with computers, I thought it would be fitting (and fun) for her to receive a card with a URL on it, and have her own special place (however humble my offering is) on the Internet devoted to her.

You realize that any verbal sketch of a human being always falls short—and for that I apologize. There’s no way I can satisfactorily characterize Aunt Carole—a woman I’ve known all my forty-seven years, so she’s as much a part of my reality as air and water and earth—so we have to make do with some vignettes showing certain aspects of her that (I think) illustrate what a beautiful and engaging woman she is.

Eclectic Carole

One of the reasons I’m glad I moved back to Missouri is that I’ve gotten to know Aunt Carole and Uncle Richard (hereinafter, “Carole” and “Richard,” to save space) from an adult perspective, and having unrushed time to spend with them. More than ever, I’m impressed by their wide range of interests. They live in a small town—actually, the outskirts of a small town—but they both negate the stereotype of the close-minded small-town citizen. The only thing greater than the breadth of their knowledge is the depth of their curiosity. As you’ll see below, Carole is always trying to understand things better, and she doesn’t set limits on what’s “worth knowing.” It’s all grist for her mill!

Agricultural Carole

It’s not a surprise that someone who lives in a rural area would be a gardener, and Carole, the daughter of lifelong gardeners, is right in there with the best of them. Her garden is in a forest clearing, next to the long gravel drive to her and Richard’s “cabin in the woods,” lovingly called “Touch the Earth.”

Last year, the drought, and Carole’s being hampered by a serious elbow injury that kept her out the garden, limited her veggie output, but let me tell you—the whole family has been spoiled, utterly spoiled, by her summertime gifts of squash, tomatoes, basil, cilantro, lettuce, escarole, peppers, cucumbers, and beans, her glorious nanny beans, a completely stringless heirloom variety passed to her from her mom.

In our first years at our house, she brought us humongous, just-picked kale plants just in time for our holiday cooking. Such beautiful veggies, I almost hated to cook them. I asked how she kept bugs from eating the leaves, and she told me she plucked off the insects by hand. How’s that for organic! Also, the system she invented for coping with late frosts is ingenious—so smart she ought to patent it!

Gardening in the woods presents its own set of challenges, particularly in the form of critters—so Carole has been inventive in ways to thwart herbivores from above and below (deer, rabbits, squirrels, voles, squash bugs, etc.). And yet there is a sign along their driveway, as you approach their house, that says, “CRITTERS WELCOME.” There’s a paradox right there! One of Carole’s fun original stories is about “Wendy Weevil,” who is a type of critter reviled by most farmers but championed by Carole for its place in nature. She understands the balance, embraces the paradox, and fights the good fight of gardeners everywhere.

Woodsy Carole

This is a good place to talk about Carole of the woods, Carole who cuts firewood alongside the menfolks and who has never lost her childlike wonder about the woods. She has a true gift for getting children engaged with nature, too. (I speak from personal experience as well as from observing her with younger relatives.)

When they moved into their cabin, with its nice tract of wooded Ozark landscape, she discovered “stump dirt,” the freshly rotted wood turning to soil at the base of a hollow or dying tree. Apparently this is nature’s best-ever potting soil!

She glories at the wildflowers, dogwoods, and redbuds in springtime, and she’s a champion morel hunter. When Sue and I wanted to learn more about morel hunting, she’s the one we approached. And she and Richard were kind enough to take us on a hunt in their woods, even showing us where the shrooms usually pop up. (Anyone who knows anything about morel hunting, and its secrecy about fungal treasure troves, understands how charitable this was!)

I could go on and on about Carole’s love of nature, but anyone of like mind understands how all-embracing such a love is, and how it influences everyone who knows her. That her kids—my cousins—all grew up loving, and not fearing nature, is a testament to her unqualified appreciation of our natural world.

Socratic Carole

When my cousins grew up and left home, Carole went back to school and got an education degree at MU. She taught high school history at Bunceton for some years, and I often wonder about those farm-bred Bunceton kids, who were undoubtedly bewildered, trying to make sense of what had to be, for them, an unknown teaching approach: I’m sure Aunt Carole employed the Socratic method of questioning in order to stimulate her students to develop critical thinking skills, and get them to practice a fruitful system for their own intellectual explorations. Carole has always been a questioner—of others, and, I think, of herself. Which is always the approach of the wise.

I have to say (with a mischievous grin), this quality of Carole makes her great fun at parties. She is not bashful about talking to anyone, and the conversations are always fun. Her intense interest, in a huge range of subjects, at first surprises people who don’t know her, but as she draws people out, they find themselves engaged in what will become a memorable, and possibly enlightening, conversation.

Intellectual Carole

Carole is a bona fide intellectual, yet unlike other incredibly smart people, she doesn’t act like she’s aware of it. She doesn’t lord it over people, she’s not snooty; she’s simply enthusiastic. Take opera, for example. Remember that television commercial in the seventies of the cowboy riding the plains on horseback, listening to the Metropolitan Opera via his transistor radio stuck hanging from the horn of his saddle? That’s kind of like Carole, listening to some of the greatest performance art of Western culture with sheer enjoyment, oblivious to the fact that most people consider opera something that only “ivory tower” types can appreciate.

Seriously—the Metropolitan Opera’s HD broadcasts are like candy to her. And yeah, after years of listening to the Saturday NPR opera broadcasts, she knows all the stories and everything! (I betcha she can name the opera this picture’s from right off the bat!)

I’ve mentioned her being a history teacher, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that she and Richard are core members of the Moniteau County Historical Society, have created many of the museum’s displays, were deeply involved in writing and editing volumes of local history, and much more.

Weaver Carole

Carole has a low-key, part-time home business in rug-making. She inherited her antique loom from her mom’s family and has used this massive wooden contraption for years to make high-quality, fancy rag rugs and related items. During the California Ham and Turkey Festival (held in mid-September), you can usually find her in the front lobby of the Moniteau County Historical Society Museum, weaving a rug, and encouraging children to try it.

She takes commissions. Often her rugs are made to order, including the color scheme. She recently completed a big placemat and table-runner project for some Mizzou Tigers fans, using all black and gold colors. She’s really good at it! The weave is tight and the rugs incredibly sturdy. (I have one of her rugs, and I hate to step on it!)

Healthy Carole

At this point, it’s hard for me to remember Aunt Carole’s pies when she made them with (shhh!!!) lard—but I do remember them being exquisite, perfect in every way. Ripe, succulent fruits, and tender, perfectly flaky crusts. Naturally, people oohed and aahed over them. But guess what? Carole remains the whole extended family’s uncontested top pie-maker, even after she switched away from such traditional ingredients in favor of heart-healthy ones.

I guess it was in the eighties when the doctors told Richard he needed to lower his cholesterol, sodium, and what-not, and Carole took those instructions seriously. Embracing the challenge (and her husband), she explored healthy cooking methods, new ingredients, and low-fat recipes. So, toss out another small-town stereotype! Carole knows her way around pestos, low-fat soups, pies without lard, and much more. She’s learned how to make “healthy” taste opulent!

In fact, Carole’s become famous for her own special Christmas stollen recipe. We greedily anticipate our annual loaf! While most stollens are butter-laden, papoose-shaped affairs, drizzled with icing or sprinkled with powdered sugar, Carole’s stollen are made in loaf tins and are more breadlike—yet they’re sweet enough, with the fruits and nuts that are de rigueur in stollen, but more substantial. I like to toast a slice, and put butter on it. (Yeah, sometimes I use real butter!) Goes great with grapefruit or sliced oranges!

Multicultural Carole

Missouri’s recently been an appallingly “red” state, but Carole and Richard remain staunchly, steadfastly “blue,” and for that, I’m personally grateful. When others in the family vote “red” and therefore seem willing to sell me and Sue “down the river” in terms of civil rights, Carole and Richard are two who question the deep character flaws of politicians who inflame homophobia in order to attract votes. It’s nice to know that they accept us as a couple, and that they don’t have to perform mental gymnastics on election day in order to reconcile their feelings for us with the way they intend to vote.

Indeed, Carole and Richard have welcomed diversity into their family for decades, as my cousins have taken spouses who represent diversity in race and religion and whose children reflect racial and religious diversity as well. In fact, I think Carole and Richard are more than just “accepting” of this diversity—I think they see it as a badge of honor—they’re proud that their kids grew up comfortable enough to reach across subcultural borders, follow their hearts, and not worry about expectations and “shoulds.”

Canoeing Carole

Carole’s favorite thing in the world is to go canoeing on the Current River. In July 2007, she and Richard took Sue and me with them for a day on the river, and we got to see why Carole’s so addicted to it.

Truly, it’s beyond description—the sensation of floating in a narrow vessel sliding with the current downstream, the quietness of the river broken only by the sound of paddles dipping in the water and birds singing in the trees, the lush watercress like green garlands waving below, and the beautiful clear water in a pool just right for swimming on a hot July day.

Carole showed us how she likes to float on her back on the water’s surface, arms outstretched, and let the water carry her gently downstream. Her eyes were closed, her face beatific, her fingers gently outstretched in an unconscious gesture of gratitude, of grace. I think that for her, this is pretty close to nirvana. I had not seen her like this before, and I gained new respect and admiration for her that day.

I understand, now, why Uncle Richard claims that the sure way to get Carole out of a cycle of anxiety or grumpiness is to “get her out on the river!” The river is her cathedral, her holy land, the home of her heart and her soul.

My Aunt Carole

In preparing this post, I kept thinking of my earliest memories of Aunt Carole, which were usually from family parties and get-togethers, usually crowded occasions that felt overwhelming to me as a little kid. (I was always the youngest.) I recall all the adults leaning down to talk to me—big adult faces grinning and asking me questions I had no answers for. Carole was one of these people.

She struck me then as brusque—but then most of the adults seemed that way at parties, since they were essentially taking time out from the more interesting adult conversations to pay attention to me. And Carole often seemed more “intellectual” than “warm”—but maybe that’s more of a reflection of my own kid-self than it is of her.

Anyway, as I’ve gotten to know her better, since my return to Missouri, I’ve come to see more of the caring side of her. I’ve come to realize that one of the big ways she shows her love is by doing things—through actions.

In the last few decades, I’ve seen Aunt Carole, and Richard and my parents, all go through the difficult years of caring for their elderly parents and seeing them through to their passing. It’s not for the faint-hearted, and Carole, with the others in her generation, showed a tenacious, loving grace as she cared for her parents and mother-in-law.

One of my favorite stories about her lovingness and charity, however, is about near-strangers: One time, she brought morels to the old folks at the nursing home. It was all carefully planned and premeditated—she preheated her insulated cooler with hot water bottles, picked a bunch of morels, fried them just so, in the beloved traditional way, then wrapped them quickly, loosely, carefully, stashed them in her prewarmed cooler, then sped out to the nursing home.

Is this “allowed”?! No matter. You know these old folks ate morels for years! She snuck up behind some of the oldtimers, then snaked her hand into their view, waving a fresh-fried morel in front of them: “Ohhh! A mushroom!” The gourmet treats were gobbled up by folks who weren’t able to hunt their own morels anymore. What a delicious surprise! . . . And a thoroughly caring gesture.

And that’s Carole—creative, quirky, full of delicious surprises, challenging, clever, and caring. What an amazing woman! And I’m so proud to be her niece. Happy birthday, Aunt Carole, I hope you have a wonderful day!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

First Snowfall of the Winter

It’s suddenly seeming very Christmassy here in Central Missouri, hallelujah! Naturally, I can be happy about it, since I don’t have to drive anywhere today—but I think a lot of us have felt creeped-out by the lack of snow both this year (we usually get our first dustings of snow around mid-November) and, well, all of last winter. (Climate change, you all—deeply disturbing.)

Anyway, this one or two inches we’re getting today helps give us the feeling that things are set to rights. At least today, when I look out our windows, anyway. (By the way, for similar views during a bigger snowfall, click here.)

It’s remarkably windy today, with 45 mph gusts, which make the snow blow almost horizontally, and stick it to the screens of our storm windows.

The wind and the snow sticking on the windows makes it seem incredibly cold “out there.” But having the Christmas tree up and glowing helps our drafty ol’ house seem a lot warmer. Yeah, the windows are rattling.

I’ve never lived in a house with a fireplace, and for me, the Christmas tree supplies that kind of visual-psychological warmth. (If you don’t know about my family’s Christmas tree/Weihnachtspyramide, click here for the back story.)

This year, especially, the familiarity of that dear ol’ thing is especially welcome, “grounding” me in my place in time, giving me a sense that I somehow can comprehend history and immortality, or eternity. And it feels like a comfort, and it’s especially welcome on a cold day like this, at the end of this solar year, and upon this first blast of snow.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Holiday Distractions

We’re way behind schedule for this year’s holiday preparations. I’m kind of giving up hope that we’ll be able to accomplish the usual baking, decorating, and gift-procuring activities, and once again I think Christmas cards will go by the wayside. I used to send out handmade cards every year, with a “newsletter” included.

Yes, we have excuses. No, I’m not going to go into them. We had a difficult fall and are now in “recovery” mode. We’re basically going through the motions of Christmastime in hopes that the familiar holiday distractions will help us get back to “normal” quicker. And by the time we’re on the other side of the holidays—in January—maybe life will seem more “routine.”

But there are plenty of other distractions. Last weekend, for instance, we put up the tree (the Weinachtspyramide)—two weeks later than we ordinarily do—and my folks came over Sunday evening for a visit, and for soup.

I made a nice, healthy vegan black bean soup. And as I was in the kitchen off and on, Sunday, I noticed activity at our neighbors’ house. Even though we have our nice privacy fence, I have a direct view to the sole entryway to the upstairs apartment in the house just north of us. It’s second-floor to second-floor, and I see them going in and out when I look out my kitchen window, the one right above the sink.

By the way, their door is pathetic. I think the previous owners of the house had installed an indoor-rated door for this outside entry. I think that’s why the outer layers of wood have peeled off during the tenures of two or three renters of that place. The landlord should be ashamed of this door. Surely it’s not up to code. That door says, “Slum, slum, slum.” (And—grimace—I look at it every day.)

Well, Sunday this couple apparently moved out. It didn’t take them long. I don’t think they had a lot of stuff. They are poor.

They’re also messed up—like many people in the low-income housing in Munichburg. “Poor” and “messed up” naturally go hand-in-hand. Sometimes we’re furious at such people, when they disturb our sleep, and our peace, with their inconsiderate, loud “whatever.” Poor doesn’t have to mean “uncouth.”

Anyway, this couple has serious challenges. We weren’t spying on them, but we couldn’t help noticing things. They have two little kids—a baby girl and a boy who’s about three or four. “She” works—I think at a hotel uptown, as a maid or something—and they don’t have a car, so she walks to work every day. “He” has never seemed to have a job.

Actually, for a long time, he seemed to be a pretty good stay-at-home daddy. We decided we like the couple. They’re reasonably quiet, for the most part, and seem to take care of their children.

But “he” has been trouble, off and on; we finally decided he’s fairly worthless as a father and partner. He has some friends or relatives—men—with whom he tends to get reinvolved every once in a while, and they apparently are into drugs, or whatever. They tended to come over and “hang around” with him while she was away at work.

She has kicked his sorry ass out of the house at least once or twice. A few years ago they had a spectacular fight on a Palm Sunday morning—swearing and throwing each other’s stuff out the door. (Remember, this is a second-floor apartment, with just a single rickety-seeming wooden staircase leading up to the small landing outside their door.)

That morning, we were sitting on our back porch, enjoying coffee and breakfast, the pretty spring daylight, the birds chirping, the fresh green that had sprung up everywhere . . .

The fight started with shouting and stamping and slamming doors. Then we watched a boombox sail out the door and heard its brittle crash on the ground below. Then came handfuls of CDs. Then came a blanket and wads of clothing. She was throwing his stuff, and he was throwing hers. Then they went inside and apparently commenced hitting each other.

We didn’t need to call the police for this neighborhood incident, as apparently the people downstairs from this couple had called before us. The cops showed up presently and put an end to the altercation. (As for the junk they threw, it littered the yard for months afterward; no one ever picked it up. The landlord’s brutish yard guy just kicked the stuff aside or simply mowed over it, CDs and all.)

From what we could gather, she had discovered that he’d been involved with those no-good loser friends of his, and (I’ll bet) he had run them out of money, or in some other way betrayed or failed her.

So he was gone for a long time after that—but he came back, apparently somehow mending his ways. And I should also point out that, to this couple’s credit, as far as it’s worth, right before they commenced that big fight, the fellow had quickly carried their little boy (who was then about two) down the steps and put him into their then-car—so that the little guy didn’t have to see his parents fight.

Of course, they shouldn’t have been fighting at all, but considering that they did, it was good of them to try to protect their children from it. You have to give them credit for that.

Anyway, in recent months, they seem to have gotten into a relatively stable pattern. They’ve walked together to pick up their children from daycare. We hear them vacuuming, see them taking out their trash. Doing normal stuff. They have friends and family drop by, we hear talking and laughing, and it’s seemed pretty decent over there.

But we’ve noticed that he seems to have become preoccupied with talking on his cell phone, recently, and not watching the children. Maybe he got into trouble again.

Anyway—on Sunday they moved out. They had plastic storage bins and laundry baskets full of stuff on their landing, and friends to help carry it to awaiting cars. And the landlord showed up. When we saw him standing around up there, walking inside the apartment with them, we knew that was it. Although I’d like to hope that they had accumulated enough income to move into a better place, my guess is they couldn’t make the rent, and he made them move out.

And that was Sunday.

As usual with our neighborhood’s rentals, we wonder what kind of people will move in to replace them. Will they be outright drug dealers? Will they litter their yard with trash? Will they play thumping music incessantly in their house, in their cars? Will they scream curses all the time? Or what? Can we get relatively lucky two times in a row?

We scarcely knew this couple, but we grew used to seeing them. I rather liked them, or at least her—I got the idea that even though they were messed up, they were at least trying. She would probably be much better off if she told him to take a hike. She doesn’t need him. And he would be better off if he grew a backbone and learned to say “no” to his no-good “friends,” got a job, found a direction in life, became a man.

Wonder where they’ve gone, and where they’ll go?

Anyway—I was just trying to make my bean soup and focus on the “joy” of the season—and there they were, carrying their little boxes of stuff down the stairs. It makes me sad that they lost their apartment the week before Christmas. I do wish them well.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

My Mom’s Ham and Bean Soup

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a recipe with you, but with the transition from “red autumn” to “gray autumn,” the installation of the storm windows, the bringing in of the houseplants, and this onslaught, now, of cold, rainy weather, it’s truly feeling like we’ve entered the cold time of year. Winter!

And what better way to battle the chill than with a nice big pot of ham and bean soup?

File this under “opulent opossum”—it’s one of those simple, homey, perfect things we have here in the Midwest. One of those absolute glories that we take too much for granted these days. It has no gourmet ingredients in it, so it’s not “cool.” Frankly, though, we should be celebrating good ol’ ham and bean soup, holding it up as a healthful, delicious, cherished dish. The food of our people!

This is not a fancy recipe—it’s basic. And for me, it’s home, because this is my mom’s recipe. I’m not sure where it came from originally, but I have noticed the same recipe available online—for example, here.

Maybe it came from the back of a package of beans. Or maybe it’s from a popular cookbook or ladies’ cooking magazine. One time I had ham and bean soup at a café, and it tasted just like this! (Naturally, I thought it was ex-cel-lent soup!) Wherever the recipe first appeared, and regardless of how many other people also use it and call it their family recipe, for me, this is the one. So file it also under “mom recipes”!

We all have foods like this—scenes and images from home waft into the mind just as the cooking aroma penetrates the home. I think of coming home from school on a drizzly fall day, and mom would have this soup on the stove, and corn muffins keeping warm above the stove’s pilot light. Or maybe it’s been a snow day, and my brother and I have spent the afternoon reading comic books or playing outside in the snow. Sometimes, I think of college days, when I’d come home dog tired, and there’d be that soup, which both comforts and revives.

Note: At my mom’s house, the accompaniments always include corn muffins (sure, you can use Jiffy mix), butter, and jam. Or a few little pieces of cheese. Pickles and olives go well, too!

Ham and Bean Soup

2½ cups (16 oz.) dry navy (or northern) beans
3-pound meaty ham bone
3 quarts water

1 cup chopped celery
1½ cups chopped carrots
1¼ cups pared, chopped potato (1 large)
1¼ cups chopped onion (1 large)
½ teaspoon (or more) salt (to taste)
¼ teaspoon pepper
3–4 dashes bottled hot pepper sauce

Rinse beans; place in large Dutch oven with the ham bone and water. Bring to boiling; reduce heat and simmer, covered, till beans are tender, 3 to 3½ hours. Remove ham bone and meat; cool till it can be handled. Coarsely chop meat and return to soup along with the remaining ingredients; discard the bone. Simmer 30 minutes more or till vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Makes about 3½ quarts.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Turnips from Taos!

Turnips—beautiful ones!

This is a belated Thanksgiving post, but it’s no less thankful for the delay. We got a wonderful surprise on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving: a big bucket of gorgeous turnips on our doorstep!

I’d almost forgotten the conversation I had one afternoon this hot summer with one of the fellows working on the new-sidewalks project here along Broadway. It started when I learned he lived in Taos (Missouri) (of course) and asked if he could identify a fellow in a picture I took at a church supper there.

Well, he could! People are tight-knit in those communities. And then we got talking about the Taos harvest festival and how they always serve turnips there, along with the sausage and the turkey and dressing. Turnips! And he mentioned that he grows turnips himself. I told him how much I wish turnips at the store came with the greens still attached, because I like to cook the greens and turnips together, and anyway, how dare they throw away those lovely greens?

And—without any prompting from me, honest—he offered to bring me some turnips! With their greens on ’em! He said he’d just leave a box of them on our doorstep sometime this fall.

We weren’t home Wednesday afternoon when he must have left them, but when we returned in the evening, there they were! Lovely, lovely fresh turnips. Stuffed to overflowing in one of those enormous 5-gallon plastic construction buckets. The greens were as pretty as the creamy-smooth roots.

And I was wondering what sort of vegetable I could serve with Thanksgiving dinner, besides the sticky sweet potatoes and straight-ahead canned green bean casserole. Turnips cooked together with their greens! So lovely!

I’m not sure of this fellow’s name, so I’m asking the concrete contractor to tell me, so I can write and thank him. What a sweetheart, for him to remember, and to be so generous!

~~~Such beautiful turnips! Thank you, kind sir, for now, until I can write you a thank-you letter directly!

A note: I took these pictures this morning, so the greens have wilted somewhat. And there were lots more; remember I cooked some on Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

University Press What?

University Press Week. It’s a nationwide celebration and information-fest: University Press Week. Why? Because America’s university presses do the work of God, and no one seems to know what a university press even is.

This summer in Missouri, we almost lost our state’s treasured, foremost scholarly publisher, the University of Missouri Press.

You all, if I didn’t blog very much this summer, one reason was that I was incredibly distracted—distraught—pulling my hair out—over the despicable news coming from University Hall in Columbia. The administrators tried to shut down the press!

I want to make two points here.

First, send them money. I mean, hallelujah! The UM System administrators changed their minds and the University of Missouri Press has been saved! But although the press was in decent economic shape before the debacle happened, the administrators’ summer-long gutting of the press created a barrel of new problems. And money will help.

An anonymous donor has stepped up and offered to match all gifts made to the University of Missouri Press—THIS WEEK—so you’ve got until Nov. 17 (Saturday!) to take advantage of this opportunity. A $100 gift becomes $200. A $500 gift becomes a thousand. And so on. (Up to $10,000.)

These contributions will be added to the Press’s endowment, helping to ensure the Press will be financially secure, and able to keep publishing important books well into the future.

And your contribution is tax-deductible! Click here for a link to the Press’s contributions website. By the way, since the clock is ticking, I’m pret-ty sure they would be happy to accept your contribution over the phone: 573-882-7641.

Second, educate yourself and others about what university presses are. “University Press Week” is being observed nationwide. If you’re a tax-paying citizen, you should know about the great value you get from your state’s flagship university press. I suggest you start by perusing the University of Missouri Press’s blog.

This week their blog includes a post explaining why we need university presses—listen! Every citizen ought to understand these points, since most state university presses are publicly funded and contribute in major, solid ways to our state and national culture and knowledge (click here to go to that post).

A disclaimer, or whatever: I used to work at the University of Missouri Press, yep. I was an editor there for thirteen years and was laid off in 2008 when they had to make budget cuts. I was the editor with the least seniority, so my position was cut. It hurt tremendously to be laid off, and although I can’t help but still be kinda sore about that situation, my appreciation of the Press, its staff, and their mission hasn’t wavered.

And no, I'm not getting anything out of this blog post. It's not like they're paying me or anything. I simply, genuinely care. I don't believe in "trickle down" economics, but I do believe in percolating, infusing, disseminating knowledge.

Now, get out your checkbook or credit card, and go to the University of Missouri Press’s contributions page.

And I thank you deeply.

P.S. A note on the books I've chosen to highlight here in pictures. The University of Missouri Press has been publishing important books for more than half a century. I'll bet you've seen some of these, maybe even have a copy on your shelves somewhere. Or perhaps you should check them out! Here's the link to the Press's online catalog.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Storm Windows Cussometer Report, 2012

Last weekend we took out the screens and put in the storm windows. As you know, in our lil’ ol’ National Register home, doors and windows that fit perfectly in 1931 don’t quite fit soundly any more. So we need a “cussometer” to keep track of the ongoing storm-window fittage issues.

“Issues,” as you know, is the twenty-first-century way of saying problems.

But we just expect it at this point. We build in time for planing, sanding, Dremeling (if necessary) surfaces of parts that won’t fit. And we keep notes on how much of a bitch it is each year! Hence the “cussometer.”

This year, we were dumbfounded at how easy it was! The biggest worry is always the biggest storm window, the one facing north. It’s at least forty pounds, it doesn’t fit easily on its two little hooks, and it’s far too high above the back porch stairs to even see well (much less manipulate from outside).

We just expect it to be a pain, but this year, it simply went on its little hooks and slid right into place. We secured the hooks inside, and stared at each other in disbelief. Wow!

Why was it so easy this year!? We chalked it up to the drought, and the settling and resettling of our back porch. Well, the drought was good for something! It rated a zero on the cussometer. A zero!

Then, we did the three little side windows, that face east. These are easy-peasy. Being smaller, they’re lighter, plus we can reach them from outside, from the top portion of the porch steps, which go right past them.

And uh-oh! We had celebrated a too early! The last window to go in simply didn’t have enough space. What the heck? It’s usually the easiest one of all! So we had to go to the basement for the planer to make the window narrower. It took a while, but at least it wasn’t on a window that was heavy or impossible to access from the outside. But it did take a couple of hours . . .

Oh, well. At least it’s done, and the cold air we’re getting now will be outside and not in.

Are your storm windows in? Are you keeping warm? I hope so! Because it sure looks like winter’s arrived now!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October Twenty-Fourth

Greetings, everyone! Once again, I must apologize for my absences. As in the past, absence from blogging means that I've been preoccupied with something else. For the past month, in particular, Sue and I have been busy with one of our cats, Genji, who is struggling. Actually, he's doing pretty well, considering that his illness will eventually (and possibly soon) mean the end of him, but his relative comfort these days is due in large part to the efforts of Sue and me. We use a miniblender to liquify canned food, and we try to feed him just about whenever he's hungry. Then, we wipe his mouth, shirt front, and the kitchen floor. There is pain medicine twice a day. And well, you know . . . we're simply keeping an eye on him, and offering him a lap when he wants it, and trying to make sure he knows he's cared for, and that we love him.

When I get behind in my "journal-journal" (the real one, that's made of paper), I have traditionally used a technique I call "Newsflashes." It's a silly but effective way for me to cover as many subjects as possible, giving myself permission to treat each subject as a "headline." (I'm really not fitted for this Internet-Twitter-ADHD-cursory-shallow style of writing.) So maybe I ought to try that today. I'll omit the silly little lightning-bolt "icon" I would draw beside each statement, if I were writing in my actual journal. Here goes.

TODAY IT'S MY BIRTHDAY. Forty-seven! As Rose O'Neill remarked on her sixtieth, "How roguish!" Well, I'm just glad we have nice weather, that water flows out of the tap today, and that we're going out somewhere for dinner. I don't even know where yet! (I get to decide!)

GREAT NEWS ABOUT THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI PRESS. All summer long, people have been outraged about the efforts by a few at the University of Missouri to hijack and dismantle Missouri's number-one book publisher, which happens to belong to the people of the State of Missouri. Fortunately, after months of receiving all kinds of public pressure, the administrators have--amazingly!--reversed their decision. But a great deal of damage was done. Press staff numbers are at an all-time low, and the disturbance in operations means that they're scrambling to rebuild their forthcoming list of titles.

I was looking to see if I had any pictures of the press or its staff to share with you. Most people don't know what "book publishing" looks like. Really, it's a bunch of people staring at computers. But to give you an idea of the change in the press in the past few years, here's a picture of the staff as of 2008, before nearly all the layoffs and downsizing began (copied from p. ix of University of Missouri Press: 50 Years of Excellence, 1958-2008). As far as I can tell, the total staff today numbers seven. Seven!!

But yes, the most recent news about the press has been particularly encouraging, so I'd like to encourage you to contribute to the press's future. Here's a link for making a tax-deductible donation. (Yes: My birthday wish is that you'd send a check to the University of Missouri Press!)

Also, browse their catalog and buy a book! Indeed, the books are available in print or electronic formats, and have been for years.

YARD WORK: MOVING THE IRIS. This has been my project the last few weekends. The catalyst was that my dad gave me a bushel of surprise lily bulbs: "If you can't find places for them, just throw them in a compost pile." (As if.) Back when Sue and I got our beloved privacy fence, we moved a bunch of iris to a less-than-optimal place under a tree, right on the corner. (I told you about our hardy heirloom irises.)

My plan was to remove the irises from under the tree and put the surprise lilies there. Those irises, then, could go into an expanded existing (more appropriate) iris bed. (It was expanded because of our new sidewalks and driveway--remember?) The iris, I think, will do well in their new location.

I also rescued some poor little iris bulbs from one of the local nonresident landlord's properties. They'd been mowed off regularly by his "lawn-scalper," but I think they should strengthen and revive. I look forward to seeing what color they are, once they're able to bloom again!

And you know how bulbs are--they always take up more space than you think they will. So I ended up digging up about a half of one of our backyard beds, too, and--sort of--reorganizing it, including some of the extra bulbs: Regular irises go "here," surprise lilies go "here," and Siberian (or are they Japanese?--oh, whatever!) irises go "here." And I made an attempt to segregate that variegated "bishop's weed" stuff (Aegopodium podagraria). We'll see how that goes!

THE NEW SIDEWALKS: UPDATE. Yep, they're lovely, all up and down Broadway. Despite the months of bare dirt due to the construction, heat, and drought, the grass they planted (once it started raining again) has taken off. It's looking really good! Compare the pictures below to the ones I posted earlier!

BREAKING NEWS: PHIDIPPUS AUDAX OBSERVED IN HOME OFFICE! Or, as they say in the guidebooks, a "bold jumping spider." I love the scientific name, though. Phidippus sounds like some Classical Greek playwright, and audax stands for "audacious." And these little characters are audacious! I get the idea they're as curious about us as we are about them. Naturally, I carefully trapped him with a cup and a piece of junkmail and escorted him outside. Below are a few pictures of a P. audax I took in 2008, while it perched on the hood of my car. Aren't the iridescent green chelicerae nifty? What a cool little fella!

If you're a regular reader, you know how I've grown to love spiders!

Well, that's enough "updating" for now--I have plenty more I want to write about, but I have a bunch of other stuff I want to do today!

Monday, October 8, 2012

“Super Farmer Olympic Games” in Vienna, Mo.

Well, this is different: The Visitation Inter-Parish [Catholic] Church in Vienna, Missouri, is sponsoring a “different” kind of fall festival. They call it the “Super Farmer Olympic Games,” and it’ll be held on Saturday, October 20. In Vienna. Missouri.

Here is the flier.

There’s an $8 admission charge ($5 for kids 6–12; ages 5 and under free).

I don’t know how long they’ve been holding this contest. Apparently it’s going to be like those lumberjack contests in the North Woods, where all the “events” revolve around some occupation-specific task, like log-rolling, tree chopping, sawing logs, etc.

Events in the Super Farmer Olympic Games include a “bale toss” as well as a “round bale push,” “gathering eggs,” a wheelbarrow race, “watering the livestock,” and more. If you want to participate, you have to preregister. Otherwise, this is obviously a “spectator sport.”

There will be food and drink available. Afterward, a DJ service from Meta, Jam Pak’d, will provide music for a dance.

If we go, we’ll certainly bring our cameras!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Some Favorite Central Missouri Appetizers

In my previous post I had the audacity to suggest to you what I think are some of the best concerts and plays coming up this fall. (Yeah, all my top picks happen to be in Columbia!)

Whether it’s jazz or classical, theater or the opening of an art show, one of the reasons Sue and I love the fall is because that’s when all these excellent cultural series start up again. We love going to hear orchestras and jazz musicians. And best of all, we love to make a “night” out of it.

And part of that “night” is getting some delicious chow and libation before or after the concert. Nothing heavy—just tasty and delightful. Appetizers are just the thing!

Some of our long-time favorite appetizer-places are gone (Felini and its Greek-dip plate; Village Wine and Cheese’s goat cheese, honey, and dried fruit appetizer . . . ahh . . .), so we’ve had to find new places. Here are some current favorites.

Crostini Platter, Teller’s Gallery and Bar (820 E. Broadway, Columbia). The Crostini Platter is the perfect light meal for two. The menu describes it thus: “Toasted parmesan bread [slices] with roasted red bell pepper spread, peppercorn encrusted goat cheese, pesto, olives [both Greek and California black], tomatoes, and pepperoncinis.” The parmesan-toasted bread is tasty enough on its own, but the “schmears” are delicious, too. All the parts harmonize well, and it’s a pretty platter, besides.

I think you should enjoy a glass of good white wine with this. They have other good appetizers, too: Try the baked brie in puff pastry with honey and walnuts (with assorted crackers and fresh fruit); and the fried artichoke hearts (with chipotle aioli). Note: Teller’s house martini is fantastically “dirty”! If you love dirty martinis, you’ll love Teller’s.

Portabella Mushroom Fries, Paddy Malone’s Irish Pub (700 W. Main, Jefferson City). It’s an Irish pub, so in addition to all that Guinness, Harp, Smithwick’s, and whiskey-whiskey-whiskey, there’s a lot of fried stuff on the menu, particularly among the appetizers. (They do fried stuff well, here! And they even deep-fry burgers!) We’re partial to the Portabella Mushroom Fries because they’re big, meaty, and the beer batter coating is nice and crispy. Naturally, great beer is the perfect accompaniment to anything at Paddy Malone’s. To my Columbia friends: Seriously, you need to try this place. From the perfectly tapped Guinness to the fish and chips to the mushy peas and Dublin coddle, they do it right here. And it’s in a historic building that practically hums with history.

Italian Nachos, Sophia’s (Southern European Influenced Cuisine) (3915 S. Providence, Columbia). There are so many dishes on the Sophia’s menu to love (the Godiva Ahi Tuna is heaven!)—and appetizers, antipasti, and tapas are specialties—you can’t really go wrong if you’re wanting a small plate of something. The hardest part is making a selection among all the excellent choices. But a couple appetizers stand out.

The Italian Nachos at first seem odd, but are really addictive: “Fried pasta chips piled high with asiago, marinara, roasted red peppers, scallions, black olives, and your choice of chicken or sausage” (get the sausage). The “pasta chips” are light and crispy, and the whole thing is a fun, grown-up twist on Mexican-style nachos with their gooey orange fakey cheese. We also love Sophia’s Spinach and Portobello Quesadillas, which are made with tomato tortillas. The cumin mayonnaise that it comes with—well—I could almost take a bath in it! You should get wine with these appetizers—and Sophia’s has an excellent list!

Spicy Boiled Shrimp, ECCO Lounge (703 Jefferson St., Jefferson City). Again, there are a lot of good appetizers here, including fried green pepper rings dusted with powdered sugar; soft pretzel sticks; and huge, huge, beer-battered fried onion rings. Many people loooove the German Potato Nachos (though I honestly can’t decide if I like them or not). But I point out the spicy, boiled, peel-n-eat shrimp (served hot or cold, with cocktail sauce) because of the venerable-ness of it: The ECCO’s been serving this dish for at least fifty years, and yes, although better beers exist, Stag is the thing that pairs best. Because it’s ven-er-a-ble. You can order a half or whole pound of the shrimp, and you can get it as a meal, too, which comes with a salad and choice of baked potato, fries, spaghetti, veggies of the day, or rice pilaf.

(By the way, ECCO has been voted to have the best burgers in town, and their specials and salads are excellent, too.)

Appetizer Platter, India’s House (1101 E. Broadway, Columbia). You know I love Indian food, right? But you may not know that Indian folks are in love with finger snacks! “Street food” such as aloo chaat (spicy fried potato chunks) is extremely popular, and appetizers are a big part of India’s famously opulent, elaborate, multicourse meals. They are also popular at afternoon tea. India’s House’s Appetizer Platter is a good way to get acquainted with some of the famous Indian appetizers, with a sampling of pakoras (chicken, cheese, and vegetable, all fried in a spicy batter made with garbanzo flour) and samosas (which are sort of like little pyramidal fried burritos filled with spicy potatoes and peas). The condiments are chutneys: tamarand (which is sweet/sour) and cilantro/mint (which is more spicy). You can also order mango chutney or raita (a cucumber-yogurt-based sauce similar to Greek tzatziki), too.

Beer usually goes well with fried things, but if we’re just having the appetizer as a light meal, I often enjoy a glass of iced rose milk (a divine beverage on a hot day) or a mango lassi (like a mango-yogurt smoothie)—the creaminess harmonizes with the spices. If the weather’s cold, I’ll savor a warm cup of masala chai (Indian spiced tea) instead. The rose milk is pictured here:

Brock’s Green Pepper Rings, Murry’s Restaurant (3107 Green Meadows Way, Columbia). It might seem weird to fry up some green pepper rings the way you’d do onion rings, then sprinkle powdered sugar on them, but it really works! The sugar brings out the sweetness of the bell peppers, and the more you eat, the more you want.

Actually, Murry’s has a ton of good appetizers, such as the Blue Chips Cheese Bread (hot, gooey, grilled cheese bread with bleu cheese and shrimps), Fried Oysters, Sautéed Artichoke Hearts, and—get this—Sardines and Crackers. Maybe you haven’t had sardines in a while, but maybe it’s time you tried ’em again. Grandpa was no dummy: They go really well with a cold brewski and a bit of horseradish sauce! The wine list is excellent, too, so perhaps you’d like a nice glass of Chateau St. Jean fumé blanc—? And glory, it all goes well with good jazz!

Alligator Eggs, Shorty Pants Lounge (1680 Autumn Ln., Osage Beach; by boat, Mile Marker 21.2, Lake of the Ozarks). Shorty Pants is off the beaten path, but worth discovering! Cajun food’s the specialty, and drinking is encouraged—you know—to help with all that spicy stuff! The appetizers are really good. We like the Fried Green Tomatoes, the Crab Cakes, and the fried Duck Tenders served with Cajun blue cheese sauce. Here are the Fried Green Tomatoes:

But the real standout on the “Starters” menu is the “Alligator Eggs”: “Baked jalapeno peppers stuffed with a four-cheese blend and wrapped in prosciutto [and finished in the oven], served with a sweet raspberry-habanero sauce.” Yes, they’re spicy, and yes, they’re awesome!