Sunday, February 27, 2022

Jar of Goodness 2.27.22: New Fridge

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for finally getting our new refrigerator!

Although in this case, it’s more of a hella-frickin’-looya. Sometimes "gratitude" looks mostly like, "Jeez, I sure am glad that's over!!!"

And it had taken so long, I was starting to think “Well, maybe we don’t really need a refrigerator in our kitchen. Maybe it’s fine just using the one downstairs.”

So yeah, after our old one died in early November, we finally have our new fridge.

As it was, the delivery guys murdered the woodwork on our staircase as they bumped and crashed our old refrigerator down to the front door. We need to get out our wood putty and fix it up soon, because it makes me nauseated to see it. Here's the worst gouge:

So, if you’re getting a new appliance, I recommend hiring actual professional movers to do the moving. Don’t trust the appliance company people at all. I do think that’s the “take-home point.” Or, better yet, get yourself and a good friend on a weightlifting program, so by the time your fridge arrives, you can move it yourself. Okay? Word to the wise.

ANYWAY, at least we have the fridge now, and cooking doesn’t necessarily involve traipsing up and down staircases anymore.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Jar of Goodness 2.20.22: The Katy Trail

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for Missouri’s Katy Trail.

Because even though it was really slushy, it was also really sunny . . . and great to be outside, walking.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Forcing Violets

Are you ready for spring yet? I am.

Back in November and December, this winter was really slow to start, but now that we’ve finally started getting frozen precipitation, we can’t seem to shake it off. We finally got a big snow dump in the middle of January. Then it mostly melted, and then we got more on the first of February. Then that was mostly gone, and now we had snow again on the seventeenth. It wasn’t a lot of snow, but around here it is underlain by about three-fourths of an inch of grainy, icy sleet, which has formed a stubborn, un-shovelable layer on the sidewalks. Geez.

Each time we have gotten snow, people have dutifully cleared roads and parking lots, and we’ve shoveled our sidewalks and driveway and steps (yeah, we have lots of sidewalks, since we live on a corner). In the process, we’ve all created little hills of snow, which last forever, especially where it’s shady.

So, since the first big snow in January, we’ve never really completely gotten rid of the snow before the next dump. This has become kind of unusual for us, especially this late in the year. In fact, in recent years, the middle of February is when I start removing dead plant material from our flower beds, so the daffodils and such can come up in the clear. Because by mid-February, our daffodils are coming; indeed, the ones in front by the house are already at least four inches tall. The front of our house faces due southwest, so it’s sunbaked and amazingly warm, especially as the light and heat are reflected of the front of the house, so those daffodils are practically in a greenhouse, essentially “forced” to develop and bloom ahead of their compatriots elsewhere.

And that’s what I’m getting to: forcing flowers in springtime. It’s really popular to “force” into bloom various bulbs such as narcissus (those extremely fragrant “paperwhites,” for example), other daffodils, and hyacinths. Professionals force them in greenhouses for the trade. Go to your local grocery store floral department and you’ll see examples.

But it’s possible to force plants you find in nature, or in your backyard.

NOTE THAT I AM NOT SUGGESTING YOU DIG WILD PLANTS FROM PUBLIC LANDS OR FROM PROPERTY THAT ISN’T YOURS. . . . Please behave!

But you know . . . our backyard is the opposite of a golf course. And it’s not natural, either. Yards like ours have been called “freedom lawns,” since they’re free of pesticides, herbicides, and unnatural monocultures of high-maintenance turfgrasses. Admittedly, along with our smattering of various lawn grasses, we also have invasive star-of-Bethlehem and a variety of nuisance nonnatives and natives, such as Indian strawberry, creeping Charlie/ground ivy, field pansy, plantains, and common violets of various colors.

It’s the last one that I’m “forcing” this winter. The common violets that grow all over in our backyard develop rather coarse rhizomes at least about an inch long. As a kid digging in the soil of my parents’ backyard, I fancied these were like tiny iris bulbs, and I treasured them.

And I still treasure them; I have a hard time treating them like weeds, so when I’m working in a flower bed, such as my herb garden, I tend to pull out the violet rhizomes and transplant them elsewhere. Can’t bear to toss them into the composter. I really love violets.

So last week, before the latest snow event occurred, I knew where to go in the backyard with my trowel to find a nice big violet rhizome to dig up. I planted it in some fancy potting soil at the bottom of a small fishbowl-shaped, bubble-ball glass vase.

I’m giving it plenty of water, and it gets oodles of sunshine in our front windows. On gray days, I stick it under an intense desk lamp.

And here’s what we’ve got so far. It’s making me happy!

And for the record, here’s where the idea came from: Leonard Hall’s A Journal of the Seasons on an Ozark Farm (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1980), 207.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Jar of Goodness 2.13.22: Adrian’s Island Jefferson City

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for Jefferson City’s new public park on Adrian’s Island.

The park is named Deborah Cooper Park, and the soaring pedestrian bridge linking it to the Missouri State Capitol grounds, and over the Union Pacific tracks, is named the Missouri Bicentennial Bridge. And Adrian’s Island isn’t technically an island, since it’s broadly and clearly connected to land. But Memphis has its “Mud Island,” which is about the same thing.

(Oh, and all you naysayers, who've been against the development of this new park? You know, because it's expensive, and because it'll flood? . . . Well you can kindly stay off it. Go someplace else.)

I’m not going to repeat a bunch of stuff that’s already been covered in the papers and elsewhere.

But I will share some pictures I took of the place on a recent visit. If you haven’t been to see it yet, you really should go. Though until it gets genuinely warm, make sure you dress extra warmly. The breezes can be kind of stiff off the river.

And you do get some nice views of the river. And the Highway 50/63 bridge, too.

The views from the soaring bridge over the tracks are pretty nifty, too. Look for waterfowl and gulls and bald eagles!

At this point, landscaping is nonexistent. They had time before winter to plant several swamp white oaks—yes! Beautiful, poetic, hardy native hardwood! And they applied grass seed to the dirt surfaces, and installed some anti-erosion fencing, but that’s about all. By now, after rains and snow and meltwater, erosion is happening anyway, and they’re going to have their hands full reseeding. Hopefully they won’t make it all be just . . . lawngrass. (Aren't there enough places for people to throw balls around in this city?) But we’ll see.

Okay, and you get good views of the dredging barges and the sand plant across the river, and whatever they’re doing.

I appreciate being able to finally see the railroad cut in the bluff on the north side of the capitol. When you stand at the top of that bluff, by the Signing of the Louisiana Purchase statue, you see the river beyond, and you can kind of see a few of the siding tracks, but apart from the brush and weeds, you can’t get a good sense of the actual bluff and the extent of the tracks. It’s neat to see that perspective.

AND, if you’re into trains, the overpass offers great views of those, too! But that’s another post.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Jar of Goodness 2.6.22: Hope Springs Eternal

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m thankful (I guess . . .) for what turns out to be an optimistic nature in myself. Because here we go again.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Pickled Red Onions

They’re tasty! They’re versatile! They’re not rocket science! Seriously, this is my favorite use of red onions ever. Did I mention they’re beautiful, too? Beautiful . . . onions?

Cooking for two, I’m often left with “half an onion,” and this is a good use for leftover red onion. (Of course, you can use white or yellow onion, but those won’t be as pretty.)

It’s not so much a recipe as an idea that leads to more ideas. Here we go.

Pickled Red Onions: Is This a Recipe?

This will make 1 cup.

Start with a standard 8 oz. (1 cup) Mason jar or equivalent. To prevent your refrigerator from smelling like onions, you want to use a jar that has a good, tight lid. (Since the lid will forever smell like onions, I have one that I use over and over for this purpose.)

You’ll be using half a medium red onion, so cut it in half (pole to pole). Wrap up and put away the half you’re not using. (Maybe you can put it in some fresh pineapple salsa, or cooked kale, or something.)

Then, using your sharpest knife, slice the onion into the thinnest slices you can manage. I like to do the cuts lengthwise (again, pole to pole), but if you want to cut the other way and make thin little half-circles, that’s up to you.

As you’re cutting up the onion, poke the slices into the jar. Pack it pretty tight. Hopefully, it will all fit. (Erf!) Obviously, use your common sense here. Don’t smash it or bust it up too much. After about a day, the onions will have softened up and the liquid increased, so you might be able to stuff the rest into the jar after a few hours. (Or, find another use for the leftovers. Put them in an omelet?)

Red wine vinegar: Pompeian is a decent brand. Gluck that into the onion-filled jar until you see it coming about halfway up the side.

Sugar: add about 1 teaspoon.

Salt: add a good pinch.

Optional: thyme or tarragon are both good choices. But as little dark specks, they kind of detract from the jewel-like brilliance of the pickles.

Hot water: run the faucet so the water gets good and hot. Then use that to fill up the rest of the jar, to cover the onions.

Now, put the lid on the jar (tightly), and shake it like crazy to get the sugar and salt dissolved, and to get the onions kind of separated and well-bathed in the brine.

Store in the refrigerator overnight. Next day, admire the beautiful red color and notice how the texture has softened and yet crisped (the magic of pickling). If you don’t like the flavor, you can amend it to your taste. (Is it too tart? —then add a little more sugar. Etc.)

This will last several weeks in the refrigerator, but you'll eat it up before that.

What’s It Good For?

More like, what isn’t it good for! In a single relish, you get oniony flavor, vinegar tartness, sweet, and salty. Here are some suggestions.

  • As a relish or garnish for anything “Mediterranean.” If you’d have Kalamata olives, hummus, or feta cheese with a meal, serve these as well. It’s outstanding as a garnish. It is very nice on canap├ęs, too.
  • Similarly, it goes well with Mexican foods. It’s great on tacos.
  • On a salad. The pickling takes the edge off of the onions, so you don’t have that disagreeable onion afterburn.
  • On a sandwich. On a hamburger. On a pizza. On a hot dog.
  • As a relish with grilled chicken or seafood.
  • Do you make avocado toast? If you haven’t tried it, you should. It’s an easy, tasty, and healthy light breakfast. There are lots of ways to make it, but one of my favorites is very simple: mix some minced pickled red onions, plus a little of their juice, with the chopped fresh avocado. Maybe add more salt. Garnish with more pickled onions on top. If you have kalonji (nigella) seeds, sprinkle a few of them on, too. Or you could use coarsely ground black or red pepper or chopped fresh cilantro. When serving this for two, I usually present the avocado mix (basically, a guacamole) in the cereal bowl I prepared it in. Then, I divide the whole-grain toasts onto each of our plates, and we spoon the avocado mix onto our toasts as we eat.
  • I haven’t used it in a potato salad, but I’ll bet that would be good, too.