Monday, September 28, 2009

How To Make Prickly Pear Cactus Jelly Part 3

Be sure the see the first post (How to find and gather) and the second post (how to prepare the fruit and juice).

If you have not made jelly before, please do the safe thing and read up on specific canning methods, with up-to-date instructions before making this. The National Center for Home Food Preservation (linked from my sidebar) is a good place to go to start learning. If you have a dear one who knows how to can, call them and enlist their advice. Call your mom anyway, just for general principles.

Jelly is one of the easiest and safest home-canned foods you can make. I follow the instructions that come in the package of Sure-Jell, which is the brand of powdered pectin I usually use. For this batch I used Can-Jel, which is Kroger's brand, and it came out just fine. "Pectin" is a naturally occuring substance that causes fruit juice to gel when it is cooked with sugar. Apples, especially the peelings, have a great lot of it.

I always add extra pectin to my jellies and jams. I don't use liquid pectin, only the powdered type. However, my recipes all call for powdered pectin - be sure to use the type that your recipe calls for. It does make a difference!

Gather your jars, wash them and sterilize them with boiling water: either put the jars (jars only NOT the lids) in a pot of boiling water for 10 minutes (use canning tongs to remove them), or run them through your dishwasher's "sterilize" cycle. I always sterilize one extra jar just in case I need it.

Set them on an old towel in a handy location so that you will be able to easily ladle the hot liquid jelly into them when the time comes. Right next to the stove works best for me, and is safest. You do not want to be carrying a pot full or even a jar-full of boiling liquid jelly. The towel under the jars is to catch spills.

The Prickly Pear Jelly recipe I use is very similar to recipes for elderberry jelly. It makes about 11 half-pints. Since this recipe calls for 2 boxes of pectin, you could half it but do not double it.
If you need more, make 2 batches. Use only sugar for this recipe - do not reduce the amount of sugar and do not use sugar substitutes.

Only make jelly when you can give it your full attention from start to finish. It won't take long for the actual cooking and putting up but you cannot leave it once you start. So get everything else done in advance, but make sure you have an hour of uninterrupted time and turn the phone off before you turn the stove on.

You will need:
6 cups of prepared Prickly Pear Juice
1/4 cup lemon juice (either fresh or bottled)
9 cups of sugar
2 boxes of powdered pectin
1/2 tsp of butter or margarine (to reduce foaming)

Put your jar lids (the seal part) into a sauce pan of water and heat to boiling. Turn the fire down and keep warm.

Measure the sugar into a large bowl and set aside.

Measure 6 cups of prepared juice into a large spaghetti pot and add 1/4 cup lemon juice. Add both packages of pectin and whisk or stir well. Add 1/2 tsp butter - this will help keep the foam down once the jelly starts boiling hard.

Cook on high heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down.

While stirring, pour all of the sugar in all at once, and keep stirring over high heat until it comes back to a full rolling boil.

Don't take your eyes off it at this point.

Once it is at a full rolling boil, boil it hard for one full minute - this is important, use your timer if you can.

Turn the stove off and remove from hear and keep stirring until the boil dies down. If there is foam on the top, use a metal spoon to skim it off and discard it (I put it into a bowl and use it as my first taste after all the jars are sealed, but you shouldn't have much foam if you put the butter in).

Ladle the jelly into jars to within 1/8" from the top. When they are all filled, wipe off the rims with a wet cloth.

One at a time, get the lids out of the hot water with tongs and put lid and ring onto the jar. Tighten as tight as you can and set back down on a level surface away from drafts.

Repeat with all the jars, setting them close together so they will cool slowly. In about half an hour to an hour you should start hearing the sweet sound of lids popping as they seal.

Don't disturb them til the next day, then you can set them into a sink of clean water and finish getting the jelly off the outside, dry off and label. If they have sealed, they will keep for years.

If the seal didn't tighten they will still keep a long time, but you could either refrigerate those or process them in a boiling water bath if you want (per the recommendations of the NCHFP). Until recently -- oh sometime last week I'm sure -- we sealed jelly with paraffin wax and kept it until we used it up!

Friday, September 25, 2009

How To Make Prickly Pear Cactus Jelly Part 2

The first post told how to find and gather the ripe prickly pears. You might want to refer back to it if you just arrived. This post is part 2: making the juice. Part 3 will explain how to make the jelly.

Preparing the prickly pears: I always singe (pronounced "sinj") the pears before I do anything with them. This helps assure that all those spines are gone. If you have a gas stove, you can do this over a burner. Otherwise, rev up the grill and do it there. You need flames to burn off the spines.

Hold each pear by tongs or a long fork and hold especially the blossom end into the fire, until it stops sparking, then turn and flame the other side, until all sides and top and bottom have been singed. Don't worry about overdoing it - for some reason the skins just never char, so you can keep them in the fire quite a long time if necessary. Set aside into a bowl and flame the next one until all are done.

Next, get a cutting board, sharp knife, your gloves, and tongs or a fork.

They can be eaten raw and you might like the flavor. To eat them that way, singe them and cut off the ends. Using a paring knife, hold the pear with a fork and cut away the peeling and discard. Then, cut the peeled pear in half and, with a spoon, scoop out the seeds - they are
hard and inedible. What is left is tasty raw fruit! You could prepare them this way, then candy them if you like, but I always make jelly.

To make juice so you can make jelly, there is no need to peel them nor to remove the seeds. Just cut the pear into 2 or 3 pieces and drop into a large cooking pot.

When they are all in the pot, add water until the pears are completely covered and an inch or two under water, depending on how many pears you have and how strong you want your juice.

Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for about half an hour. This will give you the juice for your jelly. Strain it into a pot or pitcher, and discard the pulp of the pears (which will have lost their color into the water).

If you need more juice, and there is still a lot of color in the pears, you can add a little more fresh water to them and simmer again to get the last of the flavor from them. (The photo above shows the pears before they have been cooked. The juice is a much richer magenta color after cooking).

You can either make jelly right away or freeze the juice to use later.

Monday's post will have the jelly recipe.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

How To Make Prickly Pear Cactus Jelly Part 1

One of my favorite things to make for Christmas gifts for many years was Prickly Pear Jelly. Devin asked me last year to make some, and Alvina mentioned it last week, so it is in my mind to make some this year. This article will be done in several parts, to cover the process from start to finish: from collecting the ripe prickly pears to beautiful jars of jelly.

The first part is finding the pears (or "tuna" as they are called in Spanish). I usually keep my eyes open throughout the year for sizeable prickly pear patches along county roads or waste places that might be ok to gather in. You can also ask friends with acreage if they have prickly pear cactus on their land, and if they would let you gather some.

We can't pick anything in State Parks or along state highways, but there's no need, really, because in the southwest, even up into Oklahoma, cactus is pretty common.

Once you have located a likely patch, keep your eyes open. Starting in late August or early September, the pears will begin ripening. You know they are ripe when they turn reddish purple. They ripen over time, with different plants turning red at different times Even in the same patch, some fruits will be ripe while others are still green. They will last a long time on the plant if they are not eaten by animals, so you have a little leeway, usually, to gather them.

CAUTION: THEY HAVE THORNS AND HORRIBLE LITTLE HAIR-LIKE SPINES on them, even on the pears!!!! I use a set of tongs to pull them so that I do not have to touch them at all - those little hair spines can get into gloves and are bad news!

I just grasp each ripe pear firmly with the tongs and twist and pull. They come right off. The riper the pear, the easier it will come loose. If your tongs are not strong, you can use them to hold the pear and a long knife to cut them at the base. Either way works fine. Just stay on strong footing and don't even think about trying to get pears from the middle of the patch. Leave those, and only collect the ones you can reach without reaching!!!

Drop them into a heavy paper sack (paper so the spines won't come thru and so you can throw it away when done. Do not reuse the bag as it will have invisible spines in it.

They will keep like this for several days until you are ready to use them. No need to refrigerate at this point.

Tomorrow's post will tell how to prepare them for eating and how to make juice for the jelly.  The third post tells how to make the jelly itself.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Kind of September

Many local wild plants are putting on berries right now. The first two photos show briars andthe third is a wild annual I haven't id'ed yet. You cannot eat either of them! Edible berries ripening now will be in a separate post (Safe Food Handling, you know). Others are blooming for their final hoorah.

The butterflies are going nuts! They will not sit still for a minute, so no pics of them. I saw a little orange one the other day chasing a larger green insect - maybe a grasshopper or a dragonfly - it looked like a sparrow chasing a hawk! The butterfly chased the larger creature into a tree, then turned around and flew back the way it came. It was a sight to see!

A couple of years ago, at Nick's, during the season when his Live Oak tree was blooming, we saw another episode of butterfly behavior. The tree was filled with bees and with butterflies. Not sure what kind of bees but I assume they were honeybees. The butterflies looked a lot like the Hackberry Emperors that come to fruit and melon rinds.

Anyway, the tree was so full of both of these that it was humming. And here's the thing: the butterflies were battling with the bees, but the bees weren't stinging. The butterflies were wrestling with the bees: jumping on them and knocking them out of the tree and wrestling
with them on the ground. The bees, on the other hand, were docile and just trying to get back up to the blossoms. It was the most unusual thing. Have you ever heard of such?

Don't forget that now is the time to plant bulbs and fruit trees! I ordered hyacinth, saffron crocus and grape hyacynth bulbs. I planted bulbs last year for the first time and OH MY! They are the best thing since sliced bread. They are easy: just dig a hole and put them in. You can even put different kinds in the same hole, at different depths.

Then in the dreary depths of winter, happy green leaves pop up, followed by flowers that last a long long time. The fragrance of the hyacinths in a vase fills the whole room. It's better than a room full of roses!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Obligatory Cat Post ... and Cat Lore!

This cat in our yard is not our cat. She/he/it belongs to the neighbors but loves to hang out in our yard. She makes us smile to see her.

We are between cats at the moment. when Baby died, we decided against getting another for a while. It's now been the longest either of us has ever gone without a pet. Thanks I'm sure in part to this cat and other animals in town, we still don't feel the need for another yet.

That day will come, but for now it is nice to not have to worry about who will feed the cat and such. Baby really spoiled us, because, even though she was a mostly-in-the-house cat, she got to a point where she only "went" out of doors, so we did not have to keep a litter box! Oh that was wonderful! My expectations for cat behavior will now forever include "asking to go out"!

I learned recently that cats can be used to predict the weather. Other than that when they are wet it is raining, I mean. Heh.

"When a cat washes her face over the ear, tis a sign the weather will be fine and clear." The other indicator in the same vein is if, when you pet the cat, it raises a lot of static. Both of these are because the humidity is low. The drier the air, the more static electricity cat fur will generate. The cat is licking itself to get a bit of moisture into its fur and stop those annoying little flashes of static. Cats groom themselves daily, but this proverb relates to increased grooming, specifically about the face and head.

That one makes so much sense to me. Baby was a long haired cat, and when we lived in West Texas, where it is always dry, her poor fur was always tangled and matted. No matter what we did, or how much we brushed her, her fur was always a mess. But when we moved to the coast, her fur became silky and soft and untangled. As if by magic, we didn't even have to brush her, she was able to attend to her own grooming. The constant humidity gave her a beautiful well-kept coat.

The second bit of lore, you will have to test for yourself. Not having our own cat, we can't observe for ourselves. It is this: you know those times when suddenly, for no reason at all and at a truly random time like the middle of the night, your cat leaps up and dashes madly around the house and over the furniture and skids around corners and leaps and bounds and whizzes around for 3 or 4 minutes and then just as suddenly stops and goes on about her business? When the cat becomes loud and boistrous and carries on - again for no reason?

Well, they say that indicates a storm is brewing. So next time this happens, watch and see if you don't get some kind of bad weather in the next, say, 24 hours or so!

My family was not generally very superstitious. But there were a few superstitions that people held to, and I will mention them from time to time. The old idea that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck was strongly believed. Nandy wrote that when his family moved from
Cornish Ok to West Mountain Tx (near Gilmer) in their covered wagon in 1921, a black cat walked across the road ahead of them. His "Papa" pulled the wagon to the side and waited. He said he would not move until someone else had crossed that spot before him. They ended up
camping there overnight. The photo of the man in overalls is Papa, with Little Grandmother and Auntie Rose, one of Nandy's sisters. Notice how pale her hair was? Nandy was towheaded as a little child too. It was only later his hair turned black.

And as late as when I was a child, Big Grandmother, Mema's mom, turned her car around one day and went around the block to avoid crossing the path of a black cat. The photo with the seashore backdrop is of Big Grandmother and Big Grandaddy and Mema.

Most superstitions that I heard about were considered jokes, and they told them to children as a way of teasing us. But the lore of the black cats was strong and the old folks weren't taking chances! Of course, later on we had a black cat as a pet and I think that dispelled the last of that old belief. :-)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Find the Leaf that Moves

This katydid sat still and let me take his picture from several angles.

His leaf camoflage is pretty good, even tho he is sitting on heart shaped leaves of this wild morning glory.

Today's post is short, lots of work this week. But I gathered Prickly Pears the other day and plan to make jelly from them and post about that later in the week. :-)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Fact of Miracles

God created the Laws of Nature when He created the universe.
He created all our science: He created algebra and geography,
He created physics and the physical,
He created the science of chemistry and true love.

As the Creator of our science, it should not be surprising when God uses the nature He created in the miracles He gives us. Those who think that miracles do not exist or aren’t scientific just don’t know enough science.

It’s a red herring to point to a natural event like a storm as “proof” that it wasn’t a miracle: the miracle is in the storm and in the timing and in the ultimate good results.

Job 26:14 (New International Version)

And these are but the outer fringe of his works;
how faint the whisper we hear of him!
Who then can understand the thunder of his power?

* I originally posted this last year in another place. Seemed a nice time to use it again. :-) Paul took the photo of the waterspout at Magnolia Beach, Calhoun County, Texas in 2006 0r 2007.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Orange Zest, Candied Carrots and Helping Out

Our county has a shared Christian social ministry center that all of the local churches, local businesses, and local people help support. It is called Good Samaritan Ministries ( and includes a food pantry along with other services. People can come once each 30 days and get a grocery cart full of food, enough to feed a family for at least a week
- or more depending on famly size - and usually this even includes fresh frozen meat - even venison!

Volunteers from our church are responsible for the food pantry two days a month, and I try to go and help when I am off. My task is usually to help fill sacks with groceries. It is a lot of fun. Friends from church who are usually busy get a chance to visit with each other, and it is all good.

The people who come for food do not want to be wasteful so there is a bin where they can put back things they will not use. I noticed that one thing a lot of people put back are canned carrots. Plain old canned carrots are not my favorite either. I make a candied carrots dish that is easy to make and most ingredients are in the average pantry.

With permission from Good Samaritan's managers, I bought enough fresh oranges and made enough copies of the recipe to be able to give one to each family on "our" day along with their can(s) of carrots.

This was during a time when oranges were plentiful and on sale at the store, so it did not cost me much to buy the 5 bags necessary to have one for each of the 50 or so families we serve on the days our church works. It was a one-time thing, too, so it did not create expectations or cause a hardship to do this.

Here is my recipe for Candied Orange Carrots:

1 can of carrots
Juice of 1 orange or 1/2 cup of orange juice
1 Tbls of orange "zest"*** if available
1/4 cup sugar or honey (can also substitute brown sugar or syrup of any kind)
Mix together carrots, orange juice, orange zest and sugar or honey.
Simmer uncovered for 10 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with any meal.

If you have Orange Marmalade, or peach or apricot jam, you can mix 1/2 cup of the jam with the carrots instead of using orange juice, peel and sugar.

*** "Zest" is citrus peel - just the orange (or yellow or green) part of the peel. Lemon zest and orange zest are most often called for, but you could make tangerine zest and lime zest. Remove in strips from the orange with a potato peeler or run the whole orange across a grater to
get the zest. There's even a special little tool you can get that takes the peel of in skinny strips.

You can dry or freeze the extra for future use. To dry it, just let it sit out on the counter until it is dry! It will keep for ages in a jar in the pantry. It is useful for cooking and baking with, and is great steeped with hot tea.

I wasn't able to be there that day, but they told me a lot of people thought it sounded good and said they were going to try it. They made extra copies of the recipe and put one into each family's sacks for the whole month.

There's been a 29% increase in the number of families served with food this year at Good Samaritan. It has jumped from around 600 families each month to nearly 800 per month. And there is always a rise at Christmas time, so we can expect that there may be a thousand families
for December in our little county.

Often charities need gifts of our time even more than money. With that many more people to serve, more helpers are needed to fill bags and do paperwork, otherwise people who come for groceries have to sit and wait a long time.

I am sure it is the same in your town. So if you have a little time to spare - even if only once in a while - it will be appreciated.

PS They don't call those graters "knuckle busters" for nothing! Careful not to grate your hand. If you do, the sticker on the fruit makes a handy make-do bandaid. ;-)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Toadstools Not Mushrooms

I love collecting wild foods, and knowing which weeds are edible and how to use them. In the process of this, it is important also to know which plants are dangerous and need to be left alone. I've generally tended to follow the principle that if a good thing has a poisonous look-alike, it's better for me to leave that one alone. There are plenty of good things that are easy to identify and 100% safe to eat.

Toadstools fall into that "leave it alone" category. I don't live in morel country so the only wld mushroom that is reasonably safe isn't something I have access to. The rest of them all have dangerous twins. So we buy ALL our mushrooms in the grocery store.

And that is how I referred to them when the children were little and learning that "sheep shire" (sorrel) and pepper grass were good to eat. They learned that "toadstools" grow in the yard, and "mushrooms" come from the grocery store.

Referring to them by different names prevented any possible confusion on the part of young minds. The kids then learned easily that even though toadstools and mushrooms might look alike, they are not the same, and the safe way to know which is which, is in knowing where they came from. A trusted source, as it were.

The top three photos were taken in South Carolina earlier this summer. The last one, I took today while I was out gathering ripe prickly pears, about which there will be a post later in the week.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Collecting Vintage Mexican Pottery

Show and tell time! :-) I started collecting old lead-glazed mexican pottery in the late 1970s, back when no one was interested in it. Most of the pieces I like best were made in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. My collection is not huge, because I only keep those pieces that are my favorites. Over the years of course it has become popular and may sometimes be very pricey. But great pieces are still out there, and you can still make a nice collection without much investment.

While it is probably ok to handle it (you can wash your hands after), lead-glazed pots should not be used to serve food. Although the risk of lead leaching into the food is small (most people today in their 50s or older who grew up or lived in the southwest - not to mention Mexico - have eaten out of this stuff before learning it was not wise to do so), it is better to be safe than sorry.

Lead glazes were not used on all old mexican pottery. Many types, including burnished ware, were free of lead. Also, newer redware and yellow-ware pots do not have lead in the glaze and are still beautiful, so they are also an option. "Redware" and "Yellow Ware" refer to the color of the clay the pots are made of. The bean pots below are "redware".

The main thing I love about mexican pottery is that it makes utility beautiful. With each piece, natural talent shows in the way it was painted or formed or glazed. I love when I can see the
fingerprints of the potter or glazer in a finished piece. I love the detailed paintings that reflect natural talent - trained perhaps in pottery but not in art. I love the flaws that make it perfect.

Here are two recent additions to my collection. The little nested ashtray set is just right for Fall decorating, with its black crow. I think it is the only piece I have with a black bird on it (though I
have many with birds - birds are probably my favorite animal in art). I found it in a local secondhand shop.

This ADORABLE little turkey casserole is the latest. He was my birthday present from Paul (Thank you honey!). Our friends had gotten him recently at an auction, and had put him up for sale. So thanks, too, to our friends for selling it!

We used to find chicken and turkey casseroles often, out in West Texas. We sold a lot of them! I only have one chicken casserole and now this turkey one in my collection. Prior to that, the only chicken I had kept for any length of time was a Tlaquepaque one that eventually got too valuable to keep!

Tlaquepaque is the name of a region in Mexico. Mexican pottery - actually nearly all pottery from any country - is classified by the region in which it was made. I am not snobbish about the regions I collect, because monetary value has nothing to do with why I love these pots. So I don't study them and I am no expert. I just buy what I like.

I love them because they were a part of the ordinary work and life of ordinary people. For all of us who live in the Southwest, they are a part of our heritage. Our Melting Pot American Heritage!

12/23/10 - updating to add a new tag and link to a newer post on Mexican Pottery. Thanks for visiting and I hope you'll tell me about your own collection too. :-)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How to Make Poached Eggs and Eggs Benedict

We have always loved Eggs Benedict, but rarely made them. The main work in them is making the hollandaise sauce. We have discovered that packaged Hollandaise Sauce Mix is really excellent - especially if you put a few drops of fresh lemon juice in it to brighten the flavor.

Hollandaise Sauce holds really well, so make it first, according the the package directions. Add 1/2 tsp of fresh lemon juice if you have it, and set aside in its pan. You can reheat it if it cools off.

You will need one half of an English Muffin for each egg. This dish is very rich, so two eggs will probably be more than enough for even the heartiest eater, and one will be sufficient for most.
Split and toast the English Muffins. Butter them if you like, but it is not necessary because of the sauce. Set them onto the plates.

Take Canadian Bacon slices or Ham slices and fry lightly just until warm and lightly browned. I usually use regular ham, since I am more likely to have it on hand. Set one slice on each English Muffin.

Eggs Benedict is made with poached eggs. Poached eggs are cooked in water or steam until the white is set. You can use an egg poaching pan, or if you don't have one, there are a couple of other ways to poach eggs.

I have a pan, pictured in the top photo: a little aluminum pan with a top piece that has round depressions or wells in it to hold the eggs. You put water in the bottom, spray the depressions with cooking spray, break the eggs in to the wells, cook for a few minutes.

One way to poach eggs is to use a ring to contain the egg. You can buy egg rings from restaurant supply houses or make your own. I would have said save tuna cans but they have been redesigned recently and you can no longer remove both top and bottom of the can. You can still do so with the 8 oz cans of pineapple or water chestnuts. Use a can opener and remove both top and bottom from the can. Remove the label, wash well, and save to use in the future for poaching eggs and for cutting out large circles of dough.

Take a small saucepan or skillet and put about an inch of water in it. Add a half teaspoon of vinegar to the water. Bring to a simmer.

Grease the inside of your egg ring can and put it into the water. Crack your egg into a small dish then pour it into the ring without breaking the yolk. Cook as above and use a slotted spoon to remove when done.

The other way is to use a saucepan, with water as above, but with no ring. Instead, once the water has come to a fast simmer, use a spoon to stir the water rapidly so that it spins like water going down a drain and pour the egg into the center of it, then stop stirring. The spinning will help keep the egg white concentrated until it has cooked enough to stay together. This is the way that Thelma (Paul's mother) made poached eggs.

Whatever method you use, keep watching so as not to overcook. When the white is all white,
they are done. If the yellow starts lightening around the edges there isn't a moment to spare. You want the yolk to be runny for this dish - even if you do not usually like runny yolks! That said, you can still use an egg if you accidentally overcook it. Practice will make it easier.

Use a slotted spoon to scoop up the poached egg, shake off excess water, and set it on top of the ham.

Now reheat your Hollandaise sauce if needed and ladle it over the eggs. Use a whisk if necessary to keep it from getting lumpy (mine in the picture got lumpy! Ooops!)

Serve immediately.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Weather Forecasts: How Much Firewood Do We Need This Winter?

Used to, the only thing we had to do to prepare for heating in the winter was to make sure there was a match stick long enough to light the gas furnace of the central heating unit.

We do not have central heat in this house. We have a wood stove for most of our heat, and one of the new things I am learning to do (in addition to learning how to build a fire - that will be fun to write about when winter comes) is to store up enough fuel for the winter.

The first thing I learned was that we had to get wood that was cut in pieces short enough to actually fit into our stove. They can be pretty big around but if they are longer than 21" they will not fit into the fire box.

How often in life does that question "Will it fit?" turn out to be THE essential one?

One of the best sites I found that answered my questions about using wood is Loads of good, helpful information. Our woodstove was in place when we bought the house so their chapter on firewood has been a HUGE help to us.

The wood available in this part of Texas is generally 4 different tree families: Oak, Mesquite, Pecan, Hackberry. Hardwoods burn very hot, soft woods burn very fast. We chose oak, as the best-of-the-best. Oak does not cost any more than other wood in this area. We also have some pecan because it came from having our own trees trimmed. Pecan wood is wonderful for barbequing with. It gives a good flavor to food. We are hoping to use it for that, and stick to the oak for heating.

Wood apparently needs to sit for a while (6 months) after it has been cut so that it can "season" (meaning for it to dry out so it will burn better). So, it should be gotten in advance. We had an opportunity last year to stock up on wood. We had no clue how much volume of wood it would take to keep us warm. As it turned out, the winter was pretty mild, and we used about one cord of wood (a "Cord" is a stack that measures 4' tall by 4' deep by 8' long). We have about 2 cords remaining.

But do we have enough? That question has me looking at long range forecasts.

Texas weather is goofy. Something like 6 different climate regions, 8 different hardiness zones (which do not necessarily coincide with the climate regions), and a squillion little microclimates within it all. Our winters are mild compared to the Northern and Midwest states. The main concern with whether or not it will be a hard winter is whether cold fronts will hang about and keep it cold for a week at a time, or whether it will be so warm that snow won't even stick.

I've found a promising site Called Texas Winter (, also linked from my Blog List, that is focused exclusively on forecasting for this coming winter in Texas. I live right near one of the dividing lines for their snow predictions, but they are predicting good snowfalls for nearly all of Texas! WooHoo! Their forecast is available from the Winter Maps tab on the site.

On the home page, they have various articles that give insight into weather prediction, including historical El Nino effects. It's a good site to follow that is written in plain english with lots of helpful information.

I was going to write about weather signs and lore but this is getting too long! I will write about those later in the week. Thanks so much for reading, and have a wonderful day.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

i thank You God for most this amazing

If you click the photo above, it will get larger and you can read the e.e. cummings poem.

The poet e.e. cummings was a Christian. All of his work is colored with his belief in Jesus Christ, and some of his most passionate poetry expresses his encompassing faith. He was no prude, no traditionalist, and his writing is shocking. And oh after all these years so many of his poems still make me weep with joy!

More of his poems can be found on the internet, but there may be errors ( or ideological edits) in transcription, so if you like his work, buy it in book form. Ignore commentary and read the poems.

If you are discouraged, looking for hope, for truth, for meaning, spend a day or a weekend reading the poems of e e cummings, and come away renewed, restored, and refreshed for a beautiful future.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Thrifty Happiness: Red Points used Wisely

Brookshire's has pork chops on sale for 99 cents a pound! Even though there is a limit, I was able to get enough to put away 6 packages of 4 chops each for a sum total of about $9.50. Talk about wise use of "red points"! I am so pleased.

"Red points" is a phrase from the days of Rationing during WWII in the 1940's. The war actually started in September 1939, but the US did not enter the war until after we were attacked by Japan in December 1941. So this month is the 60th anniversary of World War II.

Since everyone was fighting each other, imports and exports were all interrupted. This, along with the need to switch manufacturing from plowshares to swords, meant shortages for many types of goods. We'll talk about the great dearth of toys and how Americans (including Mema and Nandy) responded to that on another day.

Thus, during the war, the government set up a rationing system to help spread out limited supplies so that everyone could have their share. There were points for gasoline, tires, sugar, butter, shoes - and meat. Red points were for meat. Thrifty wives used their red points carefully so as to stretch their meat budget as far as they could. They sort of rationed themselves in the use of their ration books.

You can learn more about how rationing actually worked, in the PBS program "1940s House". It is available from Netflix. Not all of the period house series are good but this one is, because the family made every effort to be true to the times and to really live as a London family would have lived during the Blitz. Although it is set in England, many elements of the time were the same here in the USA.

Aren't these spoons neat? One is engraved "Thrifty" and one "Happiness". I have had them for so long that I don't remember where I got them. Originally, they probably came in oatmeal or laundry soap or as a grocery store promotion on the 1940s or 1950s. I always watch for others with industrious mottos on them but have never found any more.

Friday, September 11, 2009

In Memoriam: The September 11 2001 Attack on the USA

My country, 'tis of Thee Lyrics
by Samuel F. Smith - 1832

My country, 'tis of Thee,
Sweet Land of Liberty
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims' pride,
From every mountain side
Let Freedom ring.

My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills,
My heart with rapture thrills
Like that above.

Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
Sweet Freedom's song;
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.

Our fathers' God to Thee,
Author of Liberty,
To thee we sing,
Long may our land be bright
With Freedom's holy light,
Protect us by thy might
Great God, our King.

Our glorious Land to-day,
'Neath Education's sway,
Soars upward still.
Its hills of learning fair,
Whose bounties all may share,
behold them everywhere
On vale and hill!

Thy safeguard, Liberty,
The school shall ever be,
Our Nation's pride!
No tyrant hand shall smite,
While with encircling might
All here are taught the Right
With Truth allied.

Beneath Heaven's gracious will
The stars of progress still
Our course do sway;
In unity sublime
To broader heights we climb,
Triumphant over Time,
God speeds our way!

Grand birthright of our sires,
Our altars and our fires
Keep we still pure!
Our starry flag unfurled,
The hope of all the world,
In peace and light impearled,
God hold secure!

Valerie Ethan Duncan Arguello Midland Texas

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Weather Signs & Lore: Predicting Rain and Storms

Maybe it is my age, or maybe it is because of gardening, but I have gotten interested in the weather, and specifically in "weather signs". Not signs as in superstitions, but legitimate observation of natural events.

It started when we lived on the coast. We would notice some days that there would be a strong smell in the air: we called it "stinky beach". As it turned out, that is a nearly foolproof sign of coming rain within 24 to 48 hours. It is caused by changing atmospheric pressure and affects not only bodies of water on land but also underground: drains (and your garbage disposal) will also "stink to high heaven".

We also learned on the coast just how very true the old Lore Poem is:
"Red sky at morning, sailors take warning,
Red sky at night, sailors' delight."
This is another that science has proven to be true. If the sunset is a glorious thing of beautiful red skies, you can expect the following day to be clear. If you wake to a magnificent sunrise that turns the eastern sky red, it WILL rain that day - and in fact may storm.

Nearly everyone has observed that birds fly lower in the sky, congregate in the trees and huddle down prior to a rain.

We've all also noticed "flies sticking". This was in fact the most common bit of weather lore I heard during my childhood. When houseflies get sluggish and come sit on the screens, people would say "The flies are sticking - it is going to rain". And sure enough, a thunderstorm would come up. You'll notice the humidity is high and heat oppressive during these times as well.

An Easter-related bit of lore that I heard this year for the first time is "If it rains on Easter, it will rain for seven Sundays". This year it rained on the night of Holy Saturday, and we had rain
within 36 hours of Sunday for 6 out of the next 7 Sundays. So there might be some truth to this one.

We had thunder last night, and got 1/8" of rain. It is cloudy this morning and we have a chance to have more. The crickets and frogs are singing, the cicadas are humming, and the birds are sitting in the trees singing this morning at 9:43 AM. The squirrels are staying put, but there's just enough of their clicketty chatter to know they are there. It's a beautiful noise.

Our friends at Lake Brownwood really need rain for their water supplies, so we are hoping it will pour buckets!


091109 9:53 am Edited to add: It started raining at 9:22 last night and rained throughout the night. We have gotten a little over 1" so far and it is still misting rain today.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

More Deer Than Ever

Can you see the deer in this photo? I took this Sunday morning. There were a lot of deer out and about but this was the only one I could get a picture of. They have been coming into town and eating on my garden too (they looooooove Swiss Chard yum yum!), but only at night so I don't see them. The photo further down is of deer tracks in my garden.

We've had enough rain that they have plenty of food (plus people put out corn for them). I don't know why they are still coming into town in the summer (they usually only move around like this in the winter), unless it is that newly erected game fences on some ranches is changing the trail routes they take in their daily rounds.

People here say deer will not travel more than 600 acres from where they were born. Maybe it is true that they prefer to be homebodies. Although they may not migrate, I bet they will travel farther when necessary to locate food or water, or mates or cover.

I am told that deer are only recent to this area. People who grew up in the country here never saw deer until the 1970s. There are different stories about why this is, including one that says they were imported in the mid-century from South Texas by a bunch of old cowboys who herded them into canyons then ROPED them and loaded them up and brought them up here to stock the territory! Wow! Talk about tough! Can you imagine roping wild deer?!?

I wonder if it is related to the increasing numbers of other animals, like racoons, opossums, foxes, armadillos: that more of the wild creatures are adapting to living in the vicinity of people?

Now if we can just start seeing more horned toads again, that would be a great thing!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

How to Organize a Chest Type Freezer Part 2

When I looked around the net for tips on organizing a freezer, three great ideas were to use stackable tubs, to separate beef, pork, and chicken, and to color code. To this I added my own preference to stand things upright in the bins, like a filing cabinet. That way I can see everything in each bin at a glance. Think vertically.

I measured everything, length, depth, width, including the width of the step in the bottom of the freezer, to be sure I would get bins that fit. I found these at the Dollar store in with the school supplies for $2 each. It would also be very easy to just use heavy cardboard boxes - cut hand-holds in the sides and don't worry about color coding.

Here are the first three baskets. We have a lot more beef than anything else right now and I separated the ground beef to its own tub. I put it in the bottom one just because. :-)

Here is the second tier. The chicken is on the left - there's only room for one basket on that side, because it sits on top of the step, and the basket that came with the freezer will fit over it. I put vegetables in the middle one. I filled the space in the back (outside the bins that are just a couple inches too short) with the large bags of blackberries and okra, standing upright. Those are large enough they will not fall over and get lost and since it is only those two things I will not forget they are there.

We don't have much chicken right now so packaged cheese (a good sale) filled the rest of that bin. It is important to fill all the space - the freezer will use less electricity and hold the cold better if things are packed tightly together. If you don't have enough food in it to fill the freezer, store bags of ice or gallons of frozen water, then you can remove them as needed to make room for food. Just be sure you can still close the lid effortlessly so that it will seal properly.

The top bins are for small packets, odd sizes, and things we will want to get to right away. Later on, when I have more packages of bell peppers, I'll probably give them their own bag that can sit down in one of the lower bins so they won't be exposed to warm air when we open it.

Speaking of warmth, this freezer will need to be defrosted once each year or two. It will hold the food far better than self-defrosting ones that work by actually warming up the sides of the freezer enough to melt the frost. It is no trouble to defrost it myself, plus that is good incentive to use up the food that is in there so we do not waste.

Right now, this arrangement looks good. We will see over time how well it actually works in practice.


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