Sunday, January 30, 2022

Jar of Goodness 1.30.22: The Mosses at Painted Rock CA

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for the beautiful mosses and lichens at Painted Rock Conservation Area.

I’ve blogged about the place before, and here’s the official website. If you haven’t been to Painted Rock yet, you should make a point of going there for your next hike.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Jar of Goodness 1.23.22: KOPN

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m thankful for Columbia’s own KOPN radio, which saved my life and continues to make our community interesting, intelligent, and artful.

KOPN is a community-supported, owned, and operated nonprofit radio station based in Columbia, Missouri. It offers a wide variety of news, talk, and music, including syndicated and locally produced material. The best stuff is the product of local volunteer DJs (board shifters), who have a passion about whatever their program is about. I’ve talked about KOPN before. (Several times.)

The programs are incredibly eclectic.

I’ve been a devoted listener of KOPN since about 1981, when I went to festival called Spring Fling. KOPN used to host the festival for several years, centered on Broadway and Ninth streets, closing streets in the heart of downtown Columbia. There were different stages at the festival, with rock, bluegrass, and so on. There were vendors with booths lining the streets: The international MU students group, the Ba’hai people, the local health food co-op and Catalpa Tree Cafe, the anti-death-penalty group, the anti-nukes group, artists, handmade jewelry and tie-dyed clothes, and so much more. Spring Fling provided a one-day festival that displayed the overall culture of KOPN. I felt like I’d found my people. (Indeed, I had.) I went home, turned the dial of my bedroom clock radio to 89.5, and listened to women’s music for the first time: “The Moon of Artemis” was on.

Times have changed. The radio—and radio’s place in our lives—has changed. My tastes in music have changed.

These days, I especially love to listen to KOPN while I’m driving to and from Columbia. Their weekday afternoon drive-time programs are great. The miles go right by.

It seems I’m usually in Columbia on Thursdays, kind of. And I’ve really been enjoying the program “Hepcat’s Holiday,” hosted by Carol Goodnick. It’s a program that was first on the air in 1986. It features jazz, jive, swing, and blues from the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s. Goodnick is an enthusiastic, informative, upbeat DJ.

Recently she did a show that was railroad themed. It was great! A few of the songs she featured were Judy Garland, “On the Atchison, Topeka, and the Santa Fe”; Leadbelly, “Midnight Special” and “Rock Island Line”; Sister Rosetta Tharpe “This Train”; Duke Ellington, “Choo Choo”; Cliff “Ukulele Ike” Edwards, “California, Here I Come”; and the Andrews Sisters, “When the Midnight Choo Choo Leaves for Alabam.”

This is seriously good stuff, vintage music, jazz history, well-curated. “Hepcat’s Holiday” is broadcast live each Thursday from 3 to 5 p.m. Central Time. So if you’re in Central Missouri, just tune your dial to 89.5 and catch the program on your radio.

But no matter where you live, if you go to KOPN’s website, you can not only listen live, but also, in most cases, listen to recent shows, for at least up to two weeks. This means that neither geography nor time zones or scheduling conflicts can interfere with your hearing a particular radio program.

KOPN, by the way, is entering an exciting new period in its fifty-year history. Since it first went on the air in 1973, its studios have been at 915 East Broadway, in the heart of downtown Columbia, although visitors must ascend an imposing flight of stairs from street level. Well, in 2022 KOPN will be moving to a new studio space—one that’s handicapped accessible. In a building that KOPN owns. Though the thought of saying goodbye to what I considered hallowed, historic space is rather sad, this is great news for the station, the organization, the community, the institution.

I encourage you to check out KOPN’s programming. I’m sure you’ll find something you find interesting and enjoyable. Maybe you’ll be inspired to send them a few dollars, like I have, over the years.

Anyway, this is my gratitude jar for the day.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Reflections on Holiday Baking and Gratitude

Here’s an unusual post for you: a letter I sent to my aunt last month. I enclosed it with the box of Christmas cookies I sent her. She financed our new refrigerator back in 2002, soon after we’d bought the house. She’s an excellent cook, a master cookie baker, and I hoped she’d enjoy reading about some of my kitchen adventures and reflections.

Maybe you will, too.

Dear Aunt Ann,

Merry Christmas!

I hope this letter and package finds you well and feeling warm and satisfied this winter. Twenty-twenty-one!

As I packed up your cookies last night, I thought again of the kind comments you have made about my springerle cookies. Mom told me that you’ve said they were “the best you’d ever had” (or something like that). My immediate reaction was to laugh—to snort out a healthy Pshaw!!—because my dilettante, amateur-level cookie-making “explorations” certainly are nowhere near the level of the cookies made by all the grandmothers, great-aunts, aunts, friends, and family of my childhood (including Mom and yourself).

When I was a kid, it seems all the ladies made a good variety of cookies, using recipes they’d used for decades, which were handed down to them from their mothers, grandmothers, friends, and neighbors. They were sure-handed, confident cookie bakers. . . . At least that’s how it seemed to me. If there were any disasters, I sure never knew about it. (Now I know: cookie-making “disasters” stay at home and are not shared, except with children who are none the wiser. Even if the texture or the shape is wrong, the “failures” usually are still delicious. And if they’re really bad, the squirrels and opossums get a Christmas treat!)

. . . And it seems everyone would try out a new recipe each year, just for fun, and for the variety. Like people sometimes say, “throw a lot of ideas at the wall and see what sticks.” Sometimes one of these novel recipes would “stick” and became a new family favorite. Sue’s mom did that a lot and ended up with plenty of kinds of cookies to bake each year!

I was present, as a child, when the venerable “orange balls” recipe joined the family. I keep that cookie alive singlehandedly today for the warm memories it brings to me. The recipe came from the then-secretary of the MU Geography Department—she must’ve brought some orange balls into the office to share, or maybe she made plates of cookies to give as gifts—and Dad got the recipe from her. He and I adopted it as one of our favorites, a dad-and-daughter activity during the holidays. Not having a food processor then, we’d grind the vanilla wavers on the slick, Formica-topped kitchen table using Mom’s wooden rolling pin. It was great fun to sit there and crush up those wafers with Dad! You can’t go wrong with no-bake cookies!

This year, I’ve tried a new recipe. It’s called a “spumoni” cookie, and it has chocolate chips, pistachios, and dried sour cherries. I first had them a few years ago at Kingston, the assisted-living place where Mrs. Ferber was living. The cooks of the cafeteria organized a cookie-exchange party for the residents. The Kingston residents could invite their families, and everyone got to try a variety of cookies fresh-baked in Kingston’s cafeteria kitchen, with live Christmas music by a local-favorite entertainer and his electric piano. There was eggnog, hot chocolate, and coffee. What a fun afternoon that was! All told, Kingston wasn’t perfect (what place can be?), but it’s the kind of place that I would be lucky to live in one day . . . Unfortunately, the night I made the spumoni cookies, I ran out of almond extract, so it has half the amount it should have, plus I kinda overbaked them . . . but what the heck: chocolate! I really love this combination.

I am lucky to have so many family favorites—from both sides of my family, as well as from Sue’s mom, now—to choose from. I’m one of the few who bakes them anymore. Christmas is about the only time I ever make cookies, but boy-howdy, it’s a whirlwind of cookie baking!

The date-nut bars and spice cookies are two of Mrs. Ferber’s longtime favorites. Other Ferber favorites include pecan puffs (“delectabites”), haystacks (so easy to overcook and turn into rocks), peanut butter no-bake cookies (or, as Sue’s brother-in-law blasphemously called them, “yard sausages”—if you don’t know what that means, ask any dog owner), jubilee jumbles (with that magical browned-butter icing), and green-colored spritz cookies in the shape of wreaths (I’ve never attempted those; I lack the equipment and, probably, the temperament). She was also a big candy maker: Fudge! White-chocolate peppermint bark! Buckeye candies! (Mr. Ferber had a sweet tooth!) Mrs. Ferber used to tell stories of growing up during the depression on North Bass Island in Lake Erie, and how she and the neighbor girls would get together to pull taffy.

I find it so interesting to see how recipes change. Great-grandma Thomas’s lebkuchen recipe was passed down to both of my grandmas: her daughter Edna Schroeder, and her neighbor Clara Renner. I’m lucky to have handwritten recipes from all three, so I can track the changes. Wilhelmina Thomas’s recipe called for lard, and a later version, in Grandma Schroeder’s hand, switched it to Crisco. Grandma Renner swapped citron and lemon peel, raisins, and currants with candied mixed fruit and raisins, and she’d grind the fruit in her hand-cranked meat grinder. These are just some of the changes.

And none of them specified what was meant by “molasses.” Maybe it would change in different years, depending on what they could get their hands on. I’ve read that authentic German lebkuchen (gingerbread) are pretty much synonymous with honigkuchen (gingerbread made with honey). In America, German immigrants—if they had access to honey—sold it for cash. Then, for their own baking, they used the more frugal and readily available sorghum molasses (sweet sorghum syrup), which has a bland flavor unlike that of sugarcane molasses (such as Brer Rabbit or Grandma’s). I’ve read that the honey/molasses distinction is one quick way to tell the difference between a German lebkuchen recipe and one from German-American immigrants.

In most recent years, I’ve gone out of my way to find nice, mild sorghum molasses for my leppies. (It’s a trip to the Mennonite store.) But this year, I was inspired to substitute a bit of Brer Rabbit Full Flavor just for fun. I think they taste better for it.

I’ve had to figure out a lot of stuff that wasn’t written in the recipes that have come down to me. I didn’t learn at my grandmas’ knees. It seems they were never baking cookies when we visited, and I wasn’t much interested in cooking, anyway. If I’ve tweaked recipes over the years (as I’m sure they did, too), it’s because I’m merely trying to figure out how to more perfectly match the cookies I remember gobbling up as a child.

Beside all the smudges and spatters, my recipe cards are full of penciled-in notes: “don’t crowd these on the cookie sheets”; “Mom uses margarine”; “2012: this made ___ dozen”; “DOUBLE THIS”; “2 tsp. 4 tsp. ground cardamom (Evelyn Baur doubles it, Yay for cardamom! :-D)”; “dough has to be really stiff, so it hurts your arm to stir”; “don’t double this and use big pan; instead, make two separate batches in 8 x 8 pans.” (Blah, blah, blah. If I didn’t pencil them in, I’d forget them over the course of the following year.)

This year I finally realized that Grandma Renner scooped her flour out of her flour bin or canister with her measuring cup, then used a knife to level the top; whereas I had learned to spoon the flour into the cup before leveling, which makes it fluffy, not packed, so the amount of flour is different. No one ever writes the method for measuring flour on their recipes—you’re just supposed to know. And if you don’t, then you should at least know how stiff the dough should be, and adjust accordingly as you mix it . . . well. As I said, I’m a dilettante. More than twenty years into this, and I’ve finally figured out a key to getting billy goats right. So the first half of this year’s batch of billy goats, once again, spread out flat in the oven, while the second half, after I’d stirred another half-cup of flour into the dough, finally lumped up properly.

And Grandma Renner’s recipe calls for a cup of butter. But Mom told me that she (Mom) always used margarine. Of course, this affects the texture and flavor. So I, myself, split the difference and use a stick of both, to equal one cup. This year, Mom announced my billy goats are on the dry side and suggested I left them in the oven too long, the way she says Grandma Renner routinely critiqued Aunt Lyd’s billy goats. Ah, the relentless pursuit of perfection! Fortunately, it’s nothing that a week sealed up in a tin with half an apple loosely wrapped in wax paper won’t fix.

I think billy goats are my current favorite (the date-nut bars are right up there, too). I love how the dates, black walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla come together to the point where not one of them really tastes the same. It’s a synergistic combination that creates a new flavor, which I like to call “billy goat.” I’ve made “billy goat” pancakes and “billy goat” oat bran muffins. I ought to try a “billy goat” quick bread, too.

While I’m on the subject of black walnuts: as usual, please be advised that some of the nuts were hand-shelled, and even the mechanically shelled ones aren’t perfect. So chew carefully. I’d hate for you to have to make a trip to the dentist.

I’ve recently been paying close attention to recipes in old cookbooks (my favorite bedtime reading) for billy goats and their close relatives, hermits and “rocks.” These chunky-looking drop cookies all have a large proportion of dried fruits (raisins, currants, and/or dates) and nuts (usually pecans, walnuts, black walnuts), and they usually call for at least half the sugar to be brown sugar. They were very popular in the 1930s and 40s among the moms who had taken “domestic science” classes, endured the depression, and viewed themselves very seriously as the manager of their children’s health, as well as the food budget. Billy goats, hermits, and rocks not only taste great but also are relatively healthy, providing actual nutrition, compared to handing your children sugar cookies or candies after school. I see billy goats, hermits, and rocks as the grandmothers of the granola bars and fruit roll-ups so popular today.

Springerles: they’re everyone’s favorite. I was already making them for some years before I found a very old recipe from Great-grandma Thomas, which called for hartshorn (baker’s ammonia, or ammonium carbonate). I’ve never even tried that recipe, though I’ve had plenty of other people’s springerles made with that unusual ingredient—and I think mine are better. They’re lighter. Mine are made from my precious 1949 edition of the Good Housekeeping Cook Book, one of the possessions of Dad’s Cousin Marguerite (Fieker/Donovan/Miskell) that I claimed when the family was emptying her house . . . Although the book’s binding is shot, and the front cover is long gone, still tucked within its thin, brittle pages is the cute, pink-flocked Christmas card from Great Aunt Esther and Uncle Emil that accompanied it when they gave it to her. (What a treasure!) It’s full of great, basic recipes, made with whole foods.

So, no hartshorn in the springerles—this is a modern recipe from 1949!—it calls for sifted cake flour, baking powder, eggs, powdered sugar, and grated lemon rind. For anise flavor, it tells you to sprinkle anise seeds on the trays and lay the freshly rolled and cut cookies on them. I soon learned, for a punchier, less haphazard flavor, to use anise extract. Then, a few years ago, shopping at a Mennonite store, I unwittingly purchased anise oil. (You’ve got to read those labels carefully!) That year, they tasted like black jelly beans! (Though . . . some people really liked them that way, so there’s no accounting for taste!)


I should probably end this meditation on Christmas cookie baking, but I want to add one more thought—something that’s been on my mind the last few weeks, as our refrigerator that you bought for us back in 2002 became intermittent, seemed to recover for a week, then finally chilled its last. I’m sure Mom has told you of its demise, that white Frigidaire side-by-side that has served us so well. We picked it out at Lowe’s about a year after buying Grandma’s house. I don’t remember what was wrong with Grandma’s old fridge, but it must have been going south. Our new fridge, though fairly basic by 2002 standards, nevertheless had an ice and water dispenser, and it has always seemed like a luxury to me, a real treat.

I think I recall that when we bought it, it had come with a projected lifespan of about 15 years. (Today, fridges are projected to last for a mere decade, while my parents still have their General Electric from 1965 in their garage as their soda-and-extra-stuff fridge; it’s still going strong!) We have another Frigidaire in our first-floor kitchen that we bought in 2009, when the one down there quit. It’s a no-frills, freezer-top version that has been invaluable as our main fridge has gone kaput.

Mom probably filled you in on some of the details of our finding a new refrigerator. Being very careful to look for fridges that were no larger than our current one, which had been a headache to get up the staircase, we finally ordered a new, very similar Frigidaire, of about the same size, from Lowe’s. Then we had to wait for it to be shipped to Jeff City from their warehouse. Finally, on delivery day, the moving guys (after making several measurements), expressed concern that they wouldn’t be able to get the new fridge up our stairway, so they shook their heads, apologized, and drove off. We never saw the new fridge, and now our old fridge just sits there, silent and empty, in our kitchen.

(I’ve started to put our magnets back on it. I may start using it as extra storage space for pots and pans.)

A few days after the aborted delivery, a Lowe’s appliance manager called and told me they’d scolded the mover guys and said they’d “make” them deliver the fridge—also, that the fridge had a ding in the right side, now, and that’d garner us a 15 percent discount. Or, they could order us a new, ding-less fridge. Hmm. So now the moving guys have hard feelings, and there’s no sign that a manager would accompany them to oversee the job? What about our walls? Also, they wouldn’t be doing any installation (again, Lowe’s). We decided to go shopping again.

We ended up at Columbia’s Downtown Appliance, a locally owned, longtime business that (hooray!) now finally delivers to Jefferson City. Installation included. We picked out a GE that is indeed smaller than the one we have now, and therefore more fitting for our small kitchen, anyway. It still has the ice maker and ice and water dispenser. It’s a French-door model with bottom freezer drawer (which is trendy, but whatever). It’s stainless steel, which doesn’t particularly go with our kitchen, but I recently realized that it’s only our stove that’s white, anyway; our other two appliances (microwave and toaster oven) are stainless, so . . . what the heck. We’ll cover it with magnets, clipped-out comics, and dry-erase “do lists,” anyway.

Given COVID-era supply problems, our new refrigerator won’t be manufactured and available until “late January or early February,” so until then, we’ll be leaning heavily on our first-floor fridge. It’s inconvenient to run downstairs for some eggs for breakfast, but it’s annoying to climb back up to the second-floor kitchen with the eggs and realize I forgot to grab the butter! We are lucky that this happened during winter, since we can use the unheated sunporch for things that are best stored in the cold but don’t require refrigeration—nuts, breads, seeds, sodas, and so on. Mom and Dad have offered to let us put some of our sausage and other frozen meats in their garage freezer. So we’re doing well.

Anyway, it kind of blows my mind that the refrigerator you bought for us has come to an end. It performed well for us, and I’ve never forgotten your kindness and generosity in paying for it. It makes me rather frustrated that something that seems to be in great shape (except for the ugly buzzing the compressor makes if you plug it in) is kaput. It still feels like “my nice new refrigerator.” But it also seems like only yesterday when we moved here! The years have gone by quickly.

But here’s the point I really wanted to make: even though I’m forever grateful for your financial gift in the form of the refrigerator (and all the other gifts you’ve given me over the years, and never properly thanked you for), the gift from you that really touches me most, the one that will never wear out, the one that I cherish above all others, is your kindness and your positive appraisal of my cookies. That means the world to me, coming from you, and I just wanted you to know it.

I hope this holiday season is filled with all your favorite things. Merry Christmas!

The Saga of the Refrigerator: A Holiday Appliance Adventure

Well . . . it’s a good thing our fridge didn’t conk out in July! Why? Because in winter, an unheated sunporch can help take care of chilled foodstuffs that the downstairs “beverage fridge” cannot accommodate.

Meanwhile, here’s a pro tip: try not to need an unusual-size appliance during a pandemic-driven supply shortage.

Here’s the story. During the first week of November, we noticed the fridge was making an intermittent ugly buzzing sound like an electric razor. We hauled out the user manual (because we keep those kinds of things), and realized we were supposed to have periodically cleaned the coils (removing the fridge’s cardboard backing) as well as under the toe plate. So, we did both. They weren’t horribly bad, and we plugged the fridge back in, and it seemed to be fine. Yay! Whew!

Less than a week later, on November 10, the fridge was back to its ugly buzzing, and the stuff in the freezer was thawing out. We hustled stuff into the downstairs fridge and into ice chests and called a repairman. He made it out the next day, diagnosed a possible “oil restriction,” and said there appeared to be enough coolant that, if the restriction could resolve itself, which it seemed to be doing, the fridge might be fine. And so on. (He also fixed our elderly Kenmore dryer from the 1980s, which needed a new roller and was sounding like the jungle drums of the Cannonball Islands. But that’s another story.)

Well, the fridge held out for another week, then it started buzzing and not cooling again. I tried calling the repairman again (I left him a message), but this time he didn’t respond. Time to get a new fridge.

We’d gotten this refrigerator in August 2002, about a year after we bought the house. More on that in another post. But suffice it to say, “way” back in 2002, people were saying “Ohhhh, you know, refrigerators don’t last as long as they used to. They’ll last only about 15 years, you know.” (For perspective: my parents still have their General Electric fridge they’d gotten in 1965 when they moved into their house. But it’s their “second fridge,” now, and lives in their garage. But it’s running strong, and that’s the point. By the way, it’s made out of metal.) (But I digress.)

So our fridge is twenty years old, came with a fifteen-year life expectancy, so we should be satisfied. (Even though it looks perfectly good. It’s hard to wrap my mind around that. When cars wear out, they usually look tired!)

So on November 20, we went to Lowe’s (where we’d gotten our current fridge in ’02) to pick out a new one. Hopefully, we’d find one as much as possible as the old one. Why not? We got our money’s worth out of it. Guess what? Supply chain problems mean that the pickin’s are few. Here are our needs:

  • It can’t be too big, because it needs to get in our front door, up a curving staircase, and fit into a rather small kitchen. Our current fridge, which measures 68 inches tall, 32.5 inches wide, and 28.5 inches deep (NOT including doors or feet), just barely made it up our stairs, with the doors off. It’s a 22.6 cubic foot capacity fridge, on the small side by today’s standards. A smaller fridge would really be okay with us (the purse analogy: the bigger the bag, the more unnecessary stuff you carry around).
  • Side-by-side configuration: because our kitchen is small, smaller doors are optimal. Otherwise, it’s like, “Hey back up; I’m going to open the fridge.”
  • We want an ice maker and dispenser, and preferably a water filter and dispenser. (Why? Because I like my ice, and even after two decades of NOT using ice cube trays, I’m STILL tired of using ice cube trays. I will forever be tired of using ice cube trays.) (And filtered water? Well . . . have you tasted Jeff City water? It’s salty.) Yet built-in ice and water dispensers are generally not available on small, budget, entry-level fridges. That are available in our region.
  • Energy Star is a plus. White exterior a plus (we have a retro-1940s kitchen; but our only other big appliance in there is our white enamel vintage stove, and it’s not exactly a decorator kitchen . . .). But it’s a hard NO to black. I don’t want the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey in my kitchen. Stainless steel? . . . Okay, we can live with that. Whatever.

. . . It was depressing. I guess everyone in Middle America who can afford a fridge with an ice dispenser also has a huge-ass kitchen with acres of space for gigantic refrigerators, all on the ground floor, with enormous, handicap-accessible doorways throughout. Right?

But the salesman at Lowe’s did manage to find a limited number of a model very, very similar to our current one available in their warehouse, wherever that is. (Tennessee? Kansas City? Who knows; I can’t remember.) He encouraged us to snatch it up before they were sold. (Yeah, the ol’ pressure tactic.) But the price was good, eh? And it’s basically what we wanted. It was about the same size, even, which was reassuring, the more I thought about our staircase. It could be shipped to Jeff City in a few weeks.

So, okay! We bought it. We got a $100 discount for applying for (and receiving) a Lowe’s credit card. And we bought the extended warrantee. And we prepaid the delivery fee. Whatever. Let’s just get this done.

So, fast-forward to December 2, when the delivery was to occur. . . . But wait, no, let’s not forget Thanksgiving! Fortunately, the lack of a fridge in our kitchen was not the pain that it might have been, since Mom and Dad had ordered frozen honey-baked ham and turkey, and all the side items, so my contributions were minimal: wine, cranberry Jell-O salad, and a sweet potato pie (that I bought at the store).

Also in there, someone stole our recycling cart off our curb (WTF people??); and Sue had some serious troubles with her truck that got us actually looking around at used car lots, swallowing sticker shock, and starting to face the idea of having to replace it. What stupid planet was in retrograde, anyway!?

The night before the delivery, I performed what amounted to a ritual cleansing of the dead body. I pulled out all the glass shelves, the plastic door caddies, etc., and cleaned and dried it all.

I’m not sure why I did this; maybe a sense of pride? Don’t want the delivery guys to think we’re dirty housekeepers. But no—first, it wasn’t very dirty, anyway. But more, it was out of a sense of appreciation for the fridge. All the good years it gave us. We hosted lots of parties, many for our honored elders when we first got the house. Those were great days, and this fridge played a part.

And I’ve learned a lot about cooking here in this kitchen, here with this fridge as one of my assistants. Sauerbratens; all those Germanic Christmas cookies; Jell-O salads and other retro recipes; Indian dals, curries, sabjis; and so much more. It didn’t have all the bells and whistles, but it had seemed like such a nice refrigerator when we got it; certainly the nicest I’d ever been in charge of, after years of renting apartments. It seemed to deserve more than being dumped out on the curb. It hadn’t betrayed me, you know? It was even kind enough to give us plenty of advance notice, though we’d kind of been in denial.

So, it was December 2, and the delivery guys arrived with their generic rental truck. The salesman had prepared us for this, but unfortunately it was worse than we’d expected. These young men weren’t ready to do anything more than roll the fridge into a big room, tear away the carton, plug it in, and leave. So they looked worriedly at our staircase, used their tape measurers, went back to their truck, came back, shook their heads, and asked if there was another entrance.

I showed them our back porch stairs, which are iffy in a different respect, and then I offered to unscrew the hand railings from the wall along front staircase. “No . . . no . . . too big. Sorry.” I told them in the simplest English words I could find that I’m glad they didn’t try to move it if they weren’t confident. So they drove away, and we never even saw that fridge. Sigh.

Meanwhile, Sue had disconnected the copper water line from the back of the fridge. Of course, she’d turned off the little valve for it under the kitchen sink, but as soon as she detached the line from the back of the fridge, we heard water running: the valve didn’t (and wouldn’t) shut off completely! This, naturally, happened minutes before the mover guys showed up, so we were coping with that while they were here with their tape measurers and their shaking heads (“no, no . . .”). Fortunately, buckets did the trick until our plumber showed up and fixed the leak. He showed up within an hour! (Wow, amazing! Something went right that day!)

So geez, now what. We called another appliance repairman, just to make sure there wasn’t something we could do to extend the life of our current fridge. Even if we had to pay $750 to replace the key mechanical components, maybe it’d be worth it, if it could buy us more years. Well, that guy came the next day, and as soon as we plugged it in, he could tell it was dead, D-E-D-dead.

Then we got a call from the appliance manager guy at Lowe’s. He let us know that the delivery guys had messed up and had gotten chewed out for their failed delivery. By golly, he said, Lowe’s was gonna make those guys deliver it! Oh, also, now the fridge has a dent on it, so they’ll take 15 percent off the price (remember, we’d paid back on November 20). Or, they could order us another one, if we want to wait again. . . . I told him I’d have to think about it.

Seriously, I wanted to find somewhere else. If the Lowe’s guy had told me that a manager would accompany the delivery guys this time, to make sure they did a good job, I might have said yes, but, um . . . no. The take-home point is, in 2021, Lowe’s won’t go to any efforts to deliver anything that might require extra care or work. They outsource deliveries to common laborers. They aren’t as good as professional movers, and they certainly aren’t installers!

So, a month after the trouble started, we were back to square one. Fortunately, we do have a fridge in our first-floor kitchen. That fridge, also bought from Lowe’s, is from April 2009; it’s a freezer-top model with an aftermarket ice maker (no dispenser); we’ve never connected it to a water source. It’s basically a beer-and-wine fridge, handy for when we’re entertaining, marinating sauerbratens, and so on. Even so, we’ve been forced to rely on my parents’ extra fridge for some of our frozen meats. (Oh, the irony: a 1965 fridge is showing up the appliances from the 2000s.)

So online I went. Maybe we should look for a smaller fridge, indeed. It seemed our choices were:

  • Miniature, stylish-but-flimsy, juice-sucking fridges that would have seemed awesome for a few semesters in a dorm back when I was in college (but hardly worthy as a full-time appliance in a kitchen used by adults).
  • Questionable, poorly rated, unknown/international brands that one only sees available online and are not carried by any reputable local dealers.
  • Exceedingly expensive boutique refrigerators that are small and have all the features I want, plus many ridiculous gadgets I absolutely do not want, that are way above our price range. (Seriously, people, what the hell? You need a computer on your fridge, too?)
  • And a variety of major brands fridges that, for some reason or another, seemed like a less-than-perfect fit, that were flat-out unavailable, or that (again) seemed much too expensive.

What the hell do people do when they live in big-city apartments and condos, where space is at a premium? Surely they’re not using college-kid fridges! Are they seriously buying $8,000 refrigerators? I finally started calling around local appliance stores.

I struck out plenty while I was talking to local appliance dealers, but apparently I had just enough luck when I called Columbia’s Downtown Appliance (where my parents get most of their appliances these days, and which still offers bona fide repair service, which is enormously reassuring to both my folks and me). First, lo and behold, they actually do now deliver to Jefferson City! This was not the case in 2002 when we approached them about buying a fridge then.

So, I read off my list of needs to salesman Eric, and by golly, he goes, “I have something like that, sure.” Whaaat?! Well, okay—it’s stainless steel, and it has trendy (and no doubt pricier) French doors with a drawer-style freezer at the bottom—but there it was: a General Electric that’s actually slightly smaller than our current one (which suits me fine), and has a built-in icemaker/dispenser and filtered water dispenser. I’ll be damned!

He found us a unicorn! At this point, the price, which was substantially higher than the Lowe’s option, didn’t seem like such a problem, since we were getting a major brand (with GE considered a more reliable brand than Frigidaire), with the features we wanted (more or less), and—AND—a genuine delivery and installation service.

Sign us up. Still, it did take us some thinking—for us, it’s breathtakingly expensive, and it won’t be available until “late January or early February” (pandemic-driven supply shortages, remember?)—but what were we going to do? So on December 5, we drove to Columbia, looked at some related/same vintage GE fridges, and put down half, with the rest due when the refrigerator arrives. The next day, we went to Lowe’s and got all the stuff about that purchase refunded to the new, otherwise unused Lowe’s card.


And this is how we navigated the holidays, down one refrigerator. We’ve made plenty of trips up and down the stairs, fetching things. It’s a real pain in the butt to think you’ve just retrieved everything for some dish you want to cook, then realize you forgot something. Like, the butter. It brings to life the “efficiency” topic prevalent in so many old cookbooks: “this well-planned floor layout saves time and steps!”

All the flours, nuts, seeds, and such that don’t technically need refrigeration, but benefit from coolness and don’t mind possibly freezing, are living in boxes on our sunporch. We still have stuff in the freezer at my parents’. We threw out a lot of stuff when we started having trouble back in November. We’ve been eating up a lot of the frozen food we might otherwise have kept longer. And we purchase ice for drinks (storing it in a cooler on the sunporch) and buy drinking water in gallon jugs.

And I realized I have a little “grazing” habit. More than once, I’ve found myself absentmindedly opening the fridge out of boredom and a vague sense of hunger. Oops! Oh yeah, it’s dead, duh. I started using it as storage space for club soda and stuff. Why not?

It’s amazing how much space it takes up, dominating the kitchen. Hopefully the new one will fit better overall.

And that, my friends, is my little Christmas story of the fridge. Basically boring, but the ongoing saga has occupied our thoughts and disturbed the processes of daily life, enough to deserve mention. Did we seem distracted, a little frazzled or frustrated this holiday season? This is one reason why.

Hopefully, in a few weeks, I’ll be able to post pictures of our glorious new refrigerator, and we’ll have plenty of reliable cold storage—just in time for our annual Valentine’s sushi meal!

Yeah—keep your fingers crossed!

Salute to the fridge

We bought it for $1009 from Lowe’s on August 19, 2002. The fridge was $797, plus $40 freight and delivery, plus about $120 for a five-year warranty, plus tax. For the record, it’s a Frigidaire FRS23R4AW8, 22.6 cu. ft. side-by-side refrigerator with built-in icemaker, water filter, and dispenser.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Jar of Goodness 1.16.22: The Eggplant Leafrollers

This is my second installment of this, my online, blog-based, virtual “gratitude jar,” inspired by the tradition my brother and his family have been enjoying for years. A simple, weekly recording of something you’re grateful for. A.k.a., a “jar of goodness.” (They even seem to have a little theme song for it.)

So here’s this week’s thing I’m grateful for:

Our visitation this winter by eggplant leafrollers (Lineodes integra). What nifty insects! What a strange little appearance of nature, in the dead of winter.

(Explanation below the picture.)

This was on December 31. I only saw one at first—it was perched in our first-floor bathroom window. I was sure (well, pretty sure) it was a moth, but I couldn’t get it narrowed down to family, much less genus or species. I suspected it was in one of the crambid or pyralid groups, which are both huge families with hundreds of species. I didn’t have the time to march through all the genera on Bugguide, and I’m annoyed by the idea of photo-based digital ID apps, but fortunately someone on an regional insect group got it to genus for me. Hooray!

As caterpillars, eggplant leafrollers eat the leaves of tomato, eggplant, and other members of the nightshade family (yeah, toxic leaves). They roll the leaves, creating a little shelter for themselves while they chew. Aha!

Sue’s reaction was, “NOW I know what’s been eating the Jerusalem cherry plant!” (We have a big, nice potted Solanum pseudocapsicum plant that Sue got as a start from her parents way back when. It has beautifully dark blue-green leaves, bright orange, cherry-size fruits, and a lush, shrubby habit. It comes inside every winter to survive.)

As adults, eggplant leafrollers have a really snazzy pattern on their wings, with a big, uninterrupted brown swoosh running along the forewing. I keep thinking it looks like a brocade or a paisley. They perch at a 45-degree angle to whatever they’re standing on, like they’re doing a pushup, hold their narrow wings out in a V shape, and have the habit of curling their abdomen up into a C shape. The abdomen tip sometimes almost touches the head, making them look like a ring.

So it started with the one eggplant leafroller bopping around in our bathroom, perching on the window, the walls, the towels. Then, in the following week or so, I realized there were about five others on the first floor, in the room with the Jerusalem cherry. Perching on the walls, looking out the windows, standing on the drapes.

For the past few weeks, I’ve had compassion for them, since they’re screwed by Missouri weather and our bringing them indoors. Instead of hibernating, they pupated and emerged, their bodies expecting balmy weather, and now they have nowhere to go. Our house in winter is dreadfully dry. Showering, I would shut the door so steam would build up on the walls; maybe the moth in the bathroom, at least, would get some moisture that way. It always fluttered off when I tried putting water on whatever it was sitting on. Silly thing.

I haven’t seen any of them for a while now, so I guess they’re all kaput, dried up, lying crumpled in the corners of the room, waiting for the vacuum to erase them from all recognizable existence.

Now that they're gone, I kind of miss them.

Anyway, I’m grateful to get to learn about these little fellow earthlings, and the opportunity to show them some charity in the form of moisture and appreciation. I’ll have to look for their compatriots out in the wild next summer.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Jar of Goodness 1.9.22

Also known as a gratitude jar, happiness jar, New Year jar, or (related) friendship jar. It’s something my brother and his family have been doing for years. It’s simple, and you don’t have to buy anything. Just get a big jar (or whatever) (like, a journal or a blog would be fine, I think), and once a week (they do it on a Sunday), everyone in the family writes down, on a slip of paper, something they’re grateful for. And it can be anything. Keep it simple.

Then, at New Year’s, the family opens up the jar and reads the notes, kind of reviewing the goodness of the past year.

I don’t know if you noticed, but my attempt at the “Twelve Days of Thanksgiving” only made it to like, Day 5, because, well, the holidays. Plus each post was kind of an extravaganza. . . . So it’s probably a better idea to cultivate this mindset more regularly, yes?

So I’m going to give this idea a try, only with my blog. Each Sunday, I’ll do a little post about something I’m thankful for.

Here we go, installment number one.

I’m thankful for my brother and his family, and for the many ways they inspire me to be a better person.