Sunday, August 28, 2022

Jar of Goodness 8.28.22: Native Prairies

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for Missouri’s native tallgrass prairies.

We visited Friendly Prairie and Paintbrush Prairie today (they’re both south of Sedalia). It’s always good to see the flowers.

From a distance, the staggering variety of plants just doesn’t register. You have to wade in there in order to start really seeing things. Each time I go to Friendly Prairie, I see some new plant I didn’t know before. Maybe it should be renamed “Making New Friends Prairie.”

Today’s new friend is slickseed wild bean, Strophostyles leiosperma. I think. There are a few other species in that genus that occur in Missouri, and my pictures don’t show all the characters definitively, but that’s what my money’s on.

I was wading through the grasses, and I just looked down and saw its delicate little tendrils and soft, hairy trifoliate leaves, with oval leaflets, and I thought, What is this new little pea plant? The pods of this demure little legume were only slightly longer than an inch.

Here’s a picture of the prairie taken straight ahead, at eye level. My eyes are well over 5 feet above the ground. The tall stalks are big bluestem (good ol’ Andropogon gerardii), the prime tall grass of the tallgrass prairie. Its flower stalks can reach 8 feet high. Sue’s dad, having read many accounts of pioneers and settlers, used to talk about how crazy it was just to think of American grasses so high. A native of Ohio, he had not ever really seen the tallgrass prairie. So I took lots of pictures like this for him. See? See how high they are? So I still take these pictures.

At Paintbrush Prairie, I noticed an American bluehearts plant abloom. I’ve seen it at Friendly, but not at Paintbrush. Bluehearts is one of those MUAH! *chef’s kiss* wildflowers that pretty much only grow on high-quality native prairie. It’s also a semiparasitic plant, attaching to other plants (usually trees and other woody plants) via the roots and swiping nutrients. Unlike a lot of other parasitic plants, bluehearts does have green chlorophyll and can live okay without a host. And here’s another thing, per MDC’s Field Guide page, “Prairies, by definition, have very few trees. But historically, Missouri’s prairies, glades, savannas, and open woodlands formed a patchwork of open, grassy habitats that were kept open by occasional fires.” You can bet American bluehearts used to take advantage of that patchwork.

American bluehearts is one of the several caterpillar host plants for buckeye butterflies. Yay! And indeed, I saw a common buckeye not long after I spied the bluehearts! Yay! It was on top of a pretty curlytop ironweed plant. Yay! . . . But, hey, it wasn’t moving . . .

Turns out a crab spider was having a happy hunting day! I’m thinking this is a whitebanded crab spider (Misumenoides formosipes) but don’t quote me on that. . . . But yeah, I know. Sad day for the butterfly. But I did notice the butterfly was pretty beat up. Let’s hope it got to mate and create the next generation before its final stroke of luck.

On the subject of insects, there were a lot of grasshoppers flicking around. I managed to capture a picture of this one. No, I don’t know what it is. It’s a juvenile something-something. My first guess is two-striped grasshopper, Melanoplus bivittatus, but seriously, hell’s out for recess on this ID.

Finally, the picture at the top of this post is of wholeleaf rosinweed. It’s sort of become my favorite rosinweed because, well, it don’t get no respect. Unlike compass plant (look at those huge, flat, deeply lobed basal leaves!) . . . and carpenter weed (look at those square stems and opposite, perfoliate leaves!) . . . and prairie dock (look at those gigantic, smooth flower stalks, and those enormous basal leaves!) . . . wholeleaf rosinweed apparently gets written off as “some kind of” sunflower. Its leaves are, well, leaf-shaped.

So that’s the report for today. It’s mainly pictures. If I get behind in posting, it might be that when I’m not working, I’m just out trying to have fun, seeing what I can see. I'm sure you understand.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Jar of Goodness 8.21.22: August 1993

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for August 1993.

That’s when Sue threw caution to the wind, got on a plane, and flew to Helena, Montana, for a vacation. And to visit me. And we’ve never truly been apart since then.

Each August, when the Perseids fly and we start getting a few cool breezes, I think about how in Helena the blanket flowers are having their heyday, the Archie Bray is having their annual Brickyard Bash, we’re quaffing Full Sail Golden Ales at Bert and Ernies and enjoying veggie sandwiches at the Old Windbag, and there’s someplace to go hiking among pine trees. Life was fine on South Raleigh. May we all recognize that today’s fine times are no less golden.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Jar of Goodness 8.14.22: New HVAC System

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for our new HVAC system for Apartment A.

. . . Or, as we usually call it, “the second floor.” We’ve been getting away from calling our first and second floors “Apartment B” and “Apartment A.” Grandma actually rented out the first floor as “Apartment B,” but we have no intentions of renting out any portion of our house. We have very little desire to be landlords.

Note that the rest of the pictures in this post will be "before and after" images

But it still makes all kinds of sense to have separate HVAC systems for the two formerly separate apartments. For one thing—as we learned these past few weeks when the second-floor unit went belly-up—if you have two units, one will still be working when the other one fails.

Or, as I told the fellow who installed our new furnace on Thursday, “It’s like the Klingon physiology: having two hearts means that one can keep beating when the other one is destroyed by an enemy’s bat’leth.” (I was extremely pleased when he smiled knowingly at the citation.)

So, it was expensive, but of course. We are fortunate to have the resources to pay for it. We are fortunate that we’re long-term, service-contract customers of AireServ/Nick Rackers, and they responded promptly when we called them with our air-conditioning emergency. Also, that they loaned us a window unit to help us limp through that last week of humid, 90+ weather.

The installation went off without a hitch. Well, except that the furnace they delivered had been “destroyed” in shipping, so the installation guy installed an identical unit that had arrived with a screwed-up motherboard, so he cannibalized the motherboard from our “destroyed” unit and put it in the otherwise good unit and gave us that.

Oh, and there was a problem with the wiring they needed to fix before they could leave at 5 p.m. But hey, it’s workin’, and we have a ten-year warranty, annnnnd we finally have a humidifier, which will be incredibly lovely this winter.

So, the next question is: which will come next, the new roof or the new car? The roof was supposedly being held up by the hot weather (steep roof + hot weather = hard on the shingles). The holdup on the new car, of course, is the same thing that held up our new refrigerator this year: pandemic supply chain problems.

Aaaaaaannnd we’re supposed to get rain this week.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

My Lemonade Atroci-tea

I admit it: I should not be proud of this . . . but guess what? I kind of am. But this does fit into the category of “childhood culinary atrocity.” Reading it, you’re gonna go “. . . ewwww.”

But not so fast! I recently resurrected this beverage a few weeks ago, when I saw they actually still make Lipton Instant Tea. So I bought a jar! I mixed up my old formula to the best of my memory, and I found it genuinely tasty. In fact, it’s better than I remembered it, which is saying a lot.

This recipe (if you can call it that) dates back to high school, when I used to sometimes bring a lunch, including a big cup for my tea. Here’s how I would make it.

In the morning, or the night before, I prepared a lemon-tea-sugar concentrate ahead of time. I used a small (2 oz.) Tupperware “midget” condiment container for my mix, which was about 1 heaping teaspoon of Lipton Instant Tea (unsweetened), about 1 heaping teaspoon of sugar, and about 1.5 ounces of ReaLemon lemon juice. I’d shake the juice with the tea and sugar, and it would form a sludgy, muddy slurry.

The horror.

It was ugly, but it blended easily with water I’d get from a drinking fountain at school. I guess I’d bring a plastic spoon with me, one that would fit into the cup along with the little Tupperware full of my sludgy stuff. (I don’t remember getting ice at school . . . though maybe I’d get a cup of ice from Taco Bell, across the street, which is where we band kids went for lunch nearly every day.) Or maybe I did without the ice.

(BY THE WAY, I'm using some pictures of old plastic souvenir/giveaway promotional cups from 1980s Columbia in this post. . . . Like, remember when Shakespeare's cups were opaque tan?)

And yeah, it’s gotta be Lipton instant tea, not Nestea. The two taste completely different. Instant tea is, almost by definition, terrible, but of the two brands, Lipton is the only one that’s tolerable. Nestea is the devil. It just is.

No, we didn’t have Nalgene bottles or Yeti sealable cups back then. So I just used one of the ubiquitous big plastic, indestructible cups that restaurants gave out back then. Faddenhappi’s, Harpo’s, Shakespeare’s, etc. You know the type.

I usually used a Harpo's cup, for the Mizzou logo and for the fact that it was from a bar. And what's cooler than the local college bars when you're in high school?

(And gosh, remember Faddenhappi's? I loved that place. They were at 700 E. Broadway and served pizzas and loaded baked potatoes; the same toppings could work for both. They probably also served salads.)

Here’s the fun part about my humble beverage: it’s basically an instant “Arnold Palmer.” An Arnold Palmer is half lemonade and half iced tea. My version simply has less sugar and more lemon, making it extra sour. Even in high school, I liked sour drinks.

No, I would not make this for company. Never. But just for little old me?

Well, let’s say, what if it’s a busy workday, and you don’t really want to spend any time brewing up a pitcher of tea. Or maybe your air-conditioning has gone out, and you want iced tea without turning on the stove, or heating anything. Instant tea is so fast.

In graduate school, I shifted away from instant tea, forever. I made sun tea all the time when I lived in Arizona. I’d get tea in bulk from the local health-food coop. In Montana, I’d set out my jar of sun tea on the back steps. Like any good lesbian, I have kept a cabinet full of boxes of various teas, black and herbal. Until a few weeks ago, I don’t think I have ever purchased instant tea. Once I moved out of my parents’ house, I never bought instant tea.

So, now that I have a jar of powdery brown Lipton Instant Tea, I’ve had fun returning to my old concoction. I’ve been experimenting with adjusting the ratios of the various ingredients. I’ve been discovering that if you put a lot of ice in it, the ice melts and mellows whatever flavor was maybe too dominant. Taking the initial few sips certainly wakes you up. But I can sip on it all afternoon.

So that’s all. Just a little salute to my former self, before I became all “foody” and snooty.

And when you consider I've happily enjoyed dirty martinis (about which a friend of mine once said, "Don't you love them? They taste just like poison!"), this rather sour lemonade-and-iced-tea blend ain't too bad.

Now I’m trying to decide if I should “confess” to more childhood culinary atrocities. What do you think? Did you “cook” things as a juvenile that today, you’d shudder to think of?

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Jar of Goodness 8.7.22: Dad’s Homemade Cookies

. . . The weekly virtual “gratitude jar.”

This week, I’m expressing thanks for Dad’s homemade oatmeal-raisin cookies.

That’s all. Just something simple.


When you’re having a summer of frustrations, and then your air-conditioning goes belly-up, when your dad makes cookies and gives you some . . . it’s just really nice.

Thanks, Dad!

They were delicious.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Baghdad Cream Jell-O Recipe from the Jack Benny Show, 1939

Look, a new retro Jell-O recipe! And it’s a weird one! It’s buried at the end of an old Jack Benny radio program, a.k.a. The Jell-O Show. Jack Benny’s most memorable sponsor was General Foods’ Jell-O, and the program featured lots of ads and jokes about Jell-O. You can find this episode on various YouTubes, but you have to select one that hasn’t removed the ads!

I haven’t been able to find this recipe anywhere else online, except in the audio recordings of the show. I also haven’t seen it in any old Jell-O cookbooks, either. (Maybe for good reason?)

First the context in the show; next the recipe, transcribed directly from the radio program; after that, my review of the dish itself, since I made it.

This recipe is from the Jack Benny episode that played Sunday, March 5, 1939, and featured “A Day at Santa Anita Park” and “Jesse James Part 2.” The former was a chance to crack jokes about Benny’s supposed penny-pinching, centering on his annoyance at having bet and lost two dollars (which we find out weren’t even his own) at the Santa Anita racetrack the day before.

The second part of the program was a spoof of the 1939 film Jesse James that starred Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda, Nancy Kelly, and Randolph Scott. The movie is notorious for its historical inaccuracies, but Benny and Co.’s rendition makes the movie look like a sober historical documentary by comparison. For starters, in the spoof, the two James brothers are named not Jesse and Frank, but Jesse and Juicy. Benny plays Jesse, disguising his voice quite admirably with a deep cowboy drawl; brother “Juicy” is played by Andy Devine, who couldn’t disguise his wheezy, cracking voice if his life depended on it. (“You ought to do something about that voice of yours, Juicy. It sounds like a man with squeaky shoes, walking on oyster shells, eating peanut brittle”!)

Then you come to the part where they give the recipe.

After the Jesse James spoof concludes, announcer Don Wilson reads the recipe and its preceding ad copy. Here’s what he says:

Did you ever look through those intriguing travel booklets they get out nowadays, and find yourself longing for a taste of foreign lands? Well, here’s a dessert with a fascinating foreign flavor, and it’s easy to enjoy right at home. “Baghdad Cream”: a delicious new idea your family will love—for it’s a grand combination of Orange Jell-O with canned pineapple, prunes, and whipped cream . . . and here’s how you make it:

Dissolve 1 package of Orange Jell-O in 1 pint of hot water, and chill until cold and syrupy. Fold in ½ cup of heavy cream, whipped only until thick and shiny. Then add 1 cup of cooked prune pulp and ½ cup of canned crushed pineapple. Mold until firm.

It’s a swell-looking and swell-tasting dessert—a tangy-smooth combination of pineapple and prunes blended with whipped cream and a shimmering mold of Orange Jell-O, with its delicious extra-rich fruit flavor.

So try Baghdad Cream soon! Ask your grocer tomorrow for Orange Jell-O.

So, what do you think? First, and quite obviously, it’s only marginally Iraqi, and hardly “foreign.” (Unless you're thinking of someplace like Bagdad, Kentucky, or Bagdad, Arizona.) The link with “Baghdad” is that it uses prunes, which, along with dates, figs, and apricots, are notable products of Iraq (though today, most prunes sold in our country come from California). But Jell-O, whipping cream, and pineapple—and the whole concept of a Jell-O dessert or salad—is distinctly American.

That this idea could be marketed at all as a “foreign flavor” really makes you question what we think we know today, with all our love of global foods. Until you travel, you don’t really know. When this radio show aired (March 1939), World War II hadn’t started. The United States didn’t enter the war until the end of 1941 . . . but when it was over, American soldiers who had been deployed overseas came back with a better understanding (and appreciation) for “foreign flavors.” This is one of the factors that led to America’s postwar explorations of pizza-pies (“it’s like a huge pancake, topped with a tomato-cheese mixture, and baked until crust is crisp and golden brown”), French cuisine, and chop suey, chow mein, sukiyaki, and other “Oriental” food.

Is it “swell-looking”? Well, the brownish chunks of cooked prunes sank toward the bottom, and I thought the smooth, creamy-looking top surface looked like flesh. Like, it was pretty close to my own skin color, pinkish-yellowish-tan. I will keep this in mind for Halloween molds. It would look incredibly creepy, molded inside a face mask.

It is unclear how you’re supposed to prepare the “cooked prune pulp.” I diced about ¾ cup of prunes, loosely packed, cooked them with about a cup of water, and the result, after about a half hour of simmering, amounted to about 1 cup. I made sure they were chilled before adding them to the Jell-O. I didn’t put them through a blender or food mill, because I thought it would make the whole dessert an ugly brown. I thought that semi-definable chunks of brown would be preferable to a more even blending of orange and brown. But maybe not. Maybe smoothly puréed pulp is the better way to go.

I think the next time I make this, I’ll add a second layer of orange Jell-O that’s clear, and maybe use the rest of the can of crushed pineapple in that part. And no, I didn’t “mold” this dish; I just put it into a 9-by-9-inch Pyrex baking dish. As a crown, a tower, an . . . edifice, it would've looked more interesting. So no wonder it didn’t look like much. Maybe a garnish would have helped.

Is it “swell-tasting”? Actually, yes. If you’re a grown-up, with grown-up tastes, this is really darned good. The unsweetened whipped cream and the fairly mellow sweetness of the prunes take the edge off the Orange Jell-O’s sugary quality. Also, I used crushed pineapple packed in juice (not heavy syrup, which they probably would have used in 1939) ("Juicy James" would approve), and that, too, was another step away from cloying sweetness. It was pretty darn good, and I’ll certainly make it again.

. . . Maybe even at Halloween!

If you’re interested in Jell-O and its relationship with Jack Benny, there’s some really good information in Jell-O: A Biography: the History and Mystery of “America’s Most Famous Dessert,” by Carolyn Wyman (San Diego: Harcourt, 2001).