Sunday, November 19, 2017

Mr Cookies

 I baked some chocolate chip cookies for my mother this past week. She's in an assisted living home back in Ohio, and like many elderly people, she's developed quite a sweet tooth. She never used to eat too many sugary snacks, but  time has had a way of changing all that. Anyway, I wanted to send her a little something. It wouldn't be very practical to send her down some turkey and stuffing, so I opted for some Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip cookies. I've only baked them once before that I recall. I was baking them for Mom last year, and I had my friend Whitney, the downs syndrome fellow helping me. He had never baked them either, so it was an experience for both of us. While he was stirring the mix, he sneezed right into the bowl. We ended up sending that batch to HIS mother. Fortunately the heat from the oven must have killed any germs. I had the same problem this time that I had last time. I followed the directions to a T, but the cookies kept creeping in to each other. As I recall, the directions said to use a tablespoon of batter per cookie, which I did, but it didn't seem to matter. They were attracted to each other like the two poles of a magnet. They were almost big enough to use as targets for shotguns, like clay pigeons. The difference is that you could eat these. Actually, that's not a bad idea. If cookies were used instead of clay pigeons, after they were shot, you wouldn't have to deal with the mess. Either the birds or raccoons or some other wild animal could come and clean up afterward. They could almost be used for Frisbee's too. In fact they would probably be the perfect size for playing Frisbee golf. As you can see from the forth picture, trying to separate cookies that have an attraction for each other is very difficult. It's like breaking up  a family, very traumatic. At first I thought that I would just eat any of the broken ones. When it became apparent, after about the third giant cookie, that if I ate all the broken ones, not only would I have very few to send to Mom, but I would put on an additional few pounds that I'm trying desperately to keep off. Losing weight in Alaska in the winter is almost a joke. Not only do I spend more time inside sitting around, but I get hit with the double whammy of Thanksgiving and Christmas. To top it off, certain family members think they are showing Jan and I love by sending candy or fudge or cookies. I should send them a picture of us naked so they can see the damage that they've done. I can promise you that never again would we be the recipients of such goodies. Nothing but The Fruit of the Month Club or gym equipment for us. Back to the cookies. When I got near the end of the cookie dough, I was forced to put less on each spoon to kind of stretch it. They actually came out looking pretty good, although by comparison they seemed a little small. On the plus side though, they were easier to get off the baking sheet because I was only trying to remove one at a time. When I was trying to package them for shipment, I had to lift them en-mass into the gallon freezer bag. If I'd tried to separate them, there would have been nothing but crumbs for Mom. This way she can bite off as much as she wants. The Keebler elf I am not, but if my idea of chocolate chip clay pigeons ever catches on, I'll have a full time job in my retirement.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Veterans Day 2017

Today is Veterans Day. It was first celebrated to mark the end of WWI and the Allied victory. In a number of cities across the country there are parades to honor those who have served and who are still serving in the military. A number of restaurants have chosen to honor the vets by serving free meals, including I Hop, Applebees, TGI Friday's, Outback, and Hooters. Apparently there are a number of others as well, not mentioned here. I find that admirable.  Of course, because this is America, and because millions of young men and women have made the sacrifices that it takes to serve in the military, we have enjoyed freedom in this country. That freedom even extends to those who hate the military or the government or the president or people like myself who don't agree with them. I see that Bradley (Chelsea)Manning had something degrading to say, and some students at Brown University felt the need to go around and rip up flags that were set in the ground on the campus. I don't doubt that is some of the milder stuff that has happened. Personally, I'd like to go through and rip them a new one, but they're entitled to their opinions, even as I am. As President Ronald Reagan mentioned, -if those who are protesting got the kind of government that they want, they wouldn't be able to do the things that they're doing. That fact gets lost in all the liberal teaching that is being passed off as an education on so many campuses today. It saddens and frustrates me, and I fear that one day this country will most certainly reap what it has sown and the things that they yearn for, they'll get. I would encourage them to take a good look at Venezuela to see what they can look forward to if they get what they want. In any event, this post isn't about the dissenters and anarchists, it's about the vets. Vice President Pence gave a speech today at Arlington National Cemetery, and one thing stood out to me. He mentioned that the benefits that vets receive aren't entitlements, they've been earned by the sacrifices of the vets and their families. I was very happy to hear him say that. My family has proudly served in the military down through the years, from my grandfather during WWI, to my father at the end of WWII to myself during the Vietnam War, to both of my sons. As the saying goes, freedom isn't free. So, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to my fellow vets, wherever you are. Thank you for your service and sacrifice. God bless and keep you.

Monday, November 6, 2017

My Dog is Sick

 A few weeks ago, Jan and I decided to send in our eleven year old daschund, Rigby, in to the vets. He'd been having problems with peeing on the floor, and getting up two or three times a night to go outside to pee. We noticed that he was drinking an uncommon amount of water as well. Needless to say, the interruptions played havoc with our sleep patterns. Jan was gone for a few weeks, so all the babysitting was left to me. I slept with the bedroom  door slightly cocked open so he could push his way in and wake me up in the night. It wasn't any too restful to say the least. On more than one occasion he pushed open the door after he had already peed on the floor outside my room. Lovely. Anyway, we finally decided to send him in and see what the vet had to say. I was reluctant to send him in, I knew the bill would be a doozy, and I also hate to put him through the trauma of going into a kennel and transporting him on the plane. I'd rather be in the cage myself. I know, I know, he's terribly spoiled. I knew that would happen if I had a dog. I also knew that vet bills would be part of having a pet, and that when a mammal eats, it also produces waste. All things that I didn't want to deal with. Just today I was checking the anti-freeze in the truck when I stepped in a pile. I was really happy to have to find an old tooth brush and give my shoe a thorough cleaning during my lunch hour. I just finished and decided to don my slippers and go back to finish the job. I promptly found another pile hidden in the gravel of the driveway. I love my dog dearly, but I'll never have another. My heart will break when he passes on, but as we enter our golden years, there is less and less gold to go around, and his latest vet bill is going to set us back about $1,000.00. Plus his meds, which apparently he has to be on for the remainder of his life, costs an additional $72.00 a month. The hits just keep on coming folks. The bottom line is that he has Cushing's Disease. I guess it's caused by small tumors on the pituitary gland, causing it to put out too much  cortisol. The end result is the uncommon thirst, the need to urinate frequently, a rather large abdomen (not totally the result of the disease), and some hair loss. As it was, he was already taking thyroid medicine. Two pills a day. He has hypothyroidism. Unbelievably, so do Jan and I. All three of us are taking meds for it. What are the odds? In any event, if things keep going the way they are, all three of us will be sharing  the dog food, because we won't be able to afford both the medicine and food. Isn't life grand?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Trick or Treat?

As most of us who live in the U S know, last night was Halloween. It's a night when multitudes of children dress in costumes and go around the neighborhood knocking on doors and asking for candy. Of course the popular phrase when someone answers the door is "Trick or Treat! I recall years ago hearing from some friends, that the neighborhood where they used to live had one old grouch who, when the kids spouted their usual phrase shouted "Trick!" and poured soup in their bags. No doubt he would have been a candidate for the flaming bag of dog crap landing on his front porch. I have to admit that Halloween isn't my favorite holiday, but I go along with it. I remember it being a highlight of the year when I was a kid, and I don't want to rob other children of the chance to enjoy it. I do, however, like to have a little fun too. Last year when one group of kids came knocking, I answered the door and said that we didn't have any candy, but I'd be glad to give them some meatloaf. The leader of the pack looked a little crestfallen and said he didn't like meatloaf and turned to leave. Of course we stopped him and made sure he left with some more desirable loot. His father was escorting the kids, and couldn't stop laughing. He's mentioned it several times over the course of the year. This year, I thought I'd try something different and offer the kids a choice of Cream of Mushroom soup, a can of spinach or an instant lunch, like a Cup O Noodles. The first kid that knocked on the door was a nice little guy from down the street. When Jan mentioned that we didn't have candy, but we had soup. spinach or Cup O Noodles, he kind of mumbled that he didn't really like noodles. I don't believe he was all that fond of the other two choices either. Fortunately we had a bowl full of more desirable treats to share. We offered the alternate gifts to most of the kids who came knocking, with the exception of those too young, who in later years might be traumatized by the event. There were a few kids who liked the idea of the noodle soup, although no one seemed in the least bit interested in the cream of mushroom. At the end of the night, the same kid who was offered the meat loaf came by. When Jan offered him his choice of alternate treats, he piped in that he wanted the spinach. Since he was the last beggar of the night, I don't doubt that he left with an ample supply of candy, and Jan threw in the can of spinach as well. When he was walking off the porch he exclaimed to his father-"Hey Dad! I got a can of spinach!"  Oh Boy! Snickers and spinach, who could ask for more? Jan and I were both a little surprised that there weren't more kids out and about last night, but I guess that when the treats involve meatloaf, spinach, noodle or mushroom soup, you only attract a certain clientele. In any event, we didn't have to extinguish any flaming bags of excrement last night. Thank God we had some candy in case our other offerings weren't acceptable.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Move Over Smucker's There's a New Kid in Town

crab apples

Weighing them on the scale

Jen doing the tedious work of cutting them up

After they're cooked

Running them through the seive

The final product
  Several weeks ago, as I had mentioned, my daughter, Jen, and I went out on a rainy afternoon and raided the crab apple tree in front of our church. Last year it had actually fallen over because most of the branches were on one side of the tree, and a wind storm had knocked it over. Fortunately, our pastor is a tree person with the U. S. Forest Service, and there is an arborist out at the farm and with the help of some machinery, they managed to right it and secure it with ropes and stakes. They were so successful that the tree bore a bumper crop of fruit this year. I don't know what got into me, I guess that ancient desire to prepare for the upcoming winter, but in any event, I had a hankering for some crab apple jelly. I'm not even sure I've ever eaten crab apple jelly before, but nonetheless, I wanted some, and since I've never seen it on any of the store shelves, I thought I'd make my own. I discovered that it's quite a labor of love. First of course we had to get the crab apples off the tree, which was a feat in itself. I used a ladder, but the tree is located on a hill, which also happens to be lumpy, so standing on the ladder was a real challenge. I convinced Jen to go up the ladder and I would hold it for her. Foolish girl, she should know better. However, I needed her help after the harvest, so made sure to hang on tight, and no one got hurt. It wasn't until after we had tempted fate that I got the brilliant idea to get a rake and a tarp, and rake the tree and catch the fruit when it fell. Oh well, I'll know next time. Once we got the fruit home, it had to be sorted and washed in the sink. Then it had to be cut up. The stems and blossoms had to be removed and any unsightly bruises needed to be taken out. These things aren't much bigger than a marble, so by the time the parts that needed removed, were, there wasn't much to them. Thank God we didn't need to core or peel them or we'd only be left with a whiff of the original fruit. According to the Certo pectin box, we needed to have 3 1/2 pounds of cut up fruit to make a batch of jelly. We got them cut up, weighed, and dropped into a large pan of water and started cooking them. Eventually they were rendered down to a pink mush and they were soft enough to put through a sieve. You can use cheesecloth  too, but fortunately a friend had a sieve we were able to borrow. Once we extracted all the juice we could, we added a packet of Certo and seven and a half cups of sugar. Not a cheap operation. The jars were $12.00 a case, the Certo was $7.00, the sugar was probably another $3.00 or so. A little spendy, but when I did the math, we still came out cheaper than if we were to buy jelly from the store. The whole operation took about  three hours or so, but it was so worth it. I wish that when the kids were little we had done something like this. It was really fun, and I had the pleasure of spending time with my daughter. I still haven't tried the jelly yet. I wanted to use the store bought stuff that was already opened first, and I kind of want to wait until the winter winds start blowing before I crack open a jar, and even in the unlikely event that it tastes like crap, I'll at least have the memory of making it with my daughter, and you can't buy memories in a store.

Friday, October 13, 2017

It's Harvest Time in Hoonah

  I'm not sure what's happening in the rest of the country, but here in Hoonah a harvest of some of the fruits of the land have been taking place lately. Actually, all year long is harvest time here if you consider the different seasons each offers. In the spring, fishing for King Salmon and halibut are on a lot of people's minds. I believe that's when folks go out to get their seaweed from select spots as well. During a large ebb tide, when the water falls below the mean low water mark, or minus tide, certain rocks provide an anchor for a particular kind of seaweed that the natives have harvested for years. I understand that it's high in Iodine which I believe prevents goiters. "Look Ma, no goiters! I've been eating my seaweed." They dry it out and put it in freezer bags and put it in the freezer. I think they like to cook with it in soups and it's popular to have with herring eggs, another spring time favorite. The herring spawn on kelp and rocks and it's a tradition to put spruce branches in the water for the fish to spawn on. One of the local boats makes a trip to Sitka every year to lay branches in the water and harvest the eggs. When he comes back to town, the word spreads and cars line up all over downtown to meet the boat at the city dock. People walk down with garbage bags and plastic totes and whatever else they can find to fill with the eggs. As spring turns to summer, dog salmon and sockeyes start to run. Dog salmon have the biggest eggs of all the salmon and for some folks they are a delicacy. I've tried them cooked in scrambled eggs once out at the farm. We managed to ruin a whole case of eggs  doing that. The fellow whose brilliant idea it was, loved to experiment. He thought that it would provide us with extra protein. That only works if you can eat it. Anyway, water under the bridge. The sockeyes are coveted for their oily flesh, which makes for some excellent smoked fish. A number of people go out and cut down Alder trees to put in their smoke houses.Alder provides a lovely smoke that flavors the salmon with the most delightful taste. I've got a partial case of smoked sockeye in the pantry right now that will be tapped sparingly throughout the winter to try and make it last. Coho salmon run from mid-June until September, and a number of people, especially those without boats, wait until the fish start to run up the rivers where they can catch them from the banks. With the beginning of September, it's the official start of the "R" months, when it's supposed to be safe to eat the clams and cockles that are prolific on the beaches around here. Shellfish are filter feeders and sift out what they need to survive from the water. If the water has something like red tide, the folks that eat the shellfish can contact Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. I guess there's less chance of that happening during the months that have R in them, because the water is colder and the algae is less able to survive.Of course,year round, folks that have boats and pots harvest Dungeness crabs and shrimp, if they can find them. The crabs are fairly easy to catch, the shrimp require a little more skill or luck. Unfortunately, what happens on occasion is that a fellow goes out to check his crab pot and someone else has already been there before him. That always starts off a round of suspicion about various folks who have a reputation of showing up with an uncommon number of crabs. King crabs live in the bay as well, but to the best of my knowledge they aren't allowed to be harvested. I've caught them on a number of occasions when I was halibut fishing, but I'm not allowed to keep them. Sitka Blacktail deer are abundant on the island, and the season opens for bucks only on August 1. Personally I've never hunted them then. They are almost always on top of the mountains during that time and I'm neither young enough, strong enough or ambitious enough to pursue them then. Actually that describes me now as well. Hunting is a lot of work, and I've found that I can go to Costco and get the meat I need for less than the cost of bullets, gasoline, and wear and tear on my body. Of course it's not near as much fun walking through the isles at Costco as it is rambling through the woods, but so far I haven't had to worry about bears when I was shopping. When most folks think of harvest time, they think about pumpkins or Indian corn. We don't grow either here. There is not enough darkness in the summer to grow corn, but if it grew in the winter, we would have bumper crops. I'm not sure why we don't grow pumpkins, I suspect it's too cold and not enough sun. We do grow cherries, apples, plums and lots of berries. Blueberries, salmon berries, raspberries, huckleberries and nagoon berries. The neighbor behind me has a plum tree that produced so many plums the branches were threatening to break from the weight. I've never seen so much fruit on one tree in my life. The cherries didn't fair too well this year, but I think I have some from last year in the freezer still, and a few weeks ago I made a delightful apple crisp out of some apples I picked from Jen's trees a year ago. This year I don't know if there will be enough to make even a pie. Jen and I went up to the church last week and harvested a couple grocery bags full of crab apples from the tree out front. We're going to try to make some crab apple jelly. Of course by the time we figure in the pectin, the sugar, the jars and the work that goes in to harvesting them, each pint will probably be worth about ten dollars, but it's awfully hard to put a price on something you harvest yourself. Bon Appetite!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

October Delight

  This past weekend was absolutely gorgeous. Sunday was the kind of fall day that you want to imprint on your memory and drag out in the middle of January when yet another winter storm is raging and the landscape is covered in snow. I grabbed up Jan and Jen and we took a ride out to False Bay, a delightful little spot down Chatham Strait. We passed over the Spasski River and saw a number of Humpies  enjoying their last hurrah. They were looking pretty washed up, with large splotches of rotting flesh on their bodies and tails all tattered. We were hoping to see some bears or deer, but the only other wildlife that showed themselves were a number of daring squirrels that dashed across the road in front of the truck. It wasn't too much of a feat actually; the truck was unable to pick up speed from the bridge all the way out to False Bay. We couldn't travel twenty feet without running in to a pot hole, and usually not just one, but a whole succession of them. It was like the engineers had used a slice of swiss cheese for a template and applied it to the road. Twenty eight miles of bliss. It took almost two hours to get out there. I think I could have traveled faster if I'd been stuck in a traffic jam in L A. When we were most of the way to our destination we came upon an old Geo or dilapidated Suburu or some such thing parked right in the middle of the road. The owner is a fellow who has been accused a number of times of stealing fuel from various fuel tanks around town. However, he was loading up some firewood into the back of his car, so maybe he's changed fuel sources. I'm fairly sure he isn't the one who felled the tree. It certainly wouldn't make sense to run twenty miles out of town across a pot hole laden road to pick up enough firewood to heat your house for half a day. I'll say this for him, he's an opportunist. In any event, we had to wait until he had finished loading a round into the back seat and pulled over. When we finally arrived at our destination, two local teachers were eating a snack at the picnic tables. They had driven their car part way out and then decided to bike the rest of the way. They finished up and headed on down the road toward the area known locally as meals on wheels because of the large bear population. They didn't have any guns but they seemed confident that the bear spray and  noise makers they had would be adequate.  I guess they were right because I saw their car in town yesterday. The day was bright and sunny but cool so Jan stayed in the truck while Jennifer and I walked along the beach looking for interesting drift. She found a grocery bag and put it to work collecting oyster shells and a few barnacles and a nice piece of driftwood. If she could have, she would have walked half way back to Hoonah on the beach. I know the feeling. I wish my body would allow me to walk further and faster, but my days of long walks have passed, sadly. It's not all bad though. As you age you learn to compensate, and when the chance to go on  a drive on a nice fall day arrives, you take it and thank God for the opportunity. Anyway, it was a day to remember and I was pleased to be able to enjoy it.