Tuesday, February 23, 2021

February Thaw: Weather Journal; 23 January, 2021

By Friday the snow of the week had stopped, leaving us with a landscape that sparkled under a returning sun. The rather perilous walk up the lane to the mailbox in freezing temperatures gave me a few minutes of exercise and bitingly fresh air, but no mail, as once again our rural route was considered too hazardous for the carrier to make his rounds.

Regardless of the weather faithful Willis trudges with me to where our curving driveway meets the lane. He waits to escort me back to the house.

Near the head of the lane overlooking our neighbor's barn.

On Friday evening, switching off my bedside lamp at about 10, it took a moment for me to realize what I was seeing--a spill of moonlight across my bed, stars in the night sky. 
After so many dark cold nights, the reappearance of these celestial familiars was so inspiring that I clambered back out of bed and navigated carefully around furniture to stand at the window, delighting in the glow of the half moon reflecting onto the unmarred white expanse of the west meadow.

Saturday was still cold, but the sun was a constant presence.
The small south-facing sunroom was warm enough for me to retreat there mid-afternoon with a mug of tea, a book, and Edward-cat to share the basket chair.

The heavy fringe of icicles along the roof edge began to melt and drip--slowly at first, increasing as the late afternoon sun beat against the house. 
Shelby-Kitten stationed herself on the windowsill behind the Norfolk Pine, smacking at the glass with her small paws, trying to catch the streams of water on the outer panes.
Every few minutes an icicle gave way with a tiny shatter of sound.

An encouraging sunrise on Sunday morning.

By early-afternoon the east meadow was clear of snow, but the ridges of turned earth in the vegetable garden still held the cold.

Edward-Cat who is lazy and dislikes to exert himself, made one of his infrequent forays outside, traipsing down to the old shed near the western end of our property.
During the long winter when our house was under construction, we lived in a camper/trailer parked across from the shed.  Edward, on warmish days, enjoyed basking on the concrete slab in front of the building. When we moved at last into the new home, Edward often wandered to the shed needing to be coaxed back in the evening.
By 3 p.m. the temperature had soared to 56 F. Rounding up Edward was a perfect excuse to be outside!
J. followed me down the meadow, heard Edward 'answering' our calls from under the building, but the silly cat refused to emerge.
Impatient, J. went inside and thumped on the floor, which caused Edward to rush from under the shed at full speed and hurtle down the ravine. 
[Had J. gone along about his business I expect Edward would eventually have responded to my coaxing and come out.  He is a cat of fuzzy wits and ponderous deliberation.] 

I decided to stay outside. 
The snow had lost its clean sparkle, was settling and rotting into slushy patches. 
On the west wall, plants that had been buried in snow for several days were visible again, browned and battered, but surviving.

 I was turning away from the garden when the slanting sun picked out this glow of purple--pansies lurking beneath the dwarf buddleia.
My feet were starting to feel cold in my wellies; coming inside to regroup I happened to glance through a west window. 
A furry black and white shape was crossing from just below the shed, headed toward the south ravine.

Edward?  Not Edward!

I went quietly out the back door, moved slowly past the edge of the wall garden, cautiously, because I recognized the visiting creature as a skunk!
It made its way with an uneven gait, favoring a rear foot. 
Moving resolutely it disappeared into the deep tangle of the ravine. 

 I waited a few minutes, noting how quickly the air was cooling as the sun slid behind the trees.
The footprints of the skunk lead from under the shed--where earlier Edward had gone into hiding.
I traced the skunk's progress to the edge of the ravine, realizing that the pawprints matched those which had puzzled me earlier in the week.
[This may be the skunk who connected with Dixie-the-dog earlier in the winter.]
It is mating season for skunks--perhaps a litter will be raised under the old shed--not a good thought.

I stayed outside, watching the sky change as the sun slid lower.

Contrails and feathery clouds.

A last molten blaze.

 The western sky still a deep blue.

Willis and I walked back up the meadow in the last glow of light, still intermittently calling for the recalcitrant Edward.
He appeared finally, at nearly dark, heaving himself over the east retaining wall, plodding to the front steps. I hoisted him inside, noting that his legs and belly were wet. His fur smelled of snow and dead leaves. I gave him a rub down with an old towel and served his 'tea'--the portion of tinned food reserved for him when the other cats were fed earlier.

This morning, Tuesday, I drove to the quilt shop at South Fork. The roads were clear with only a scrim of dirty snow along the edges where there is thick shade.
I planned to spend the afternoon downstairs, working again on the quilt in progress.
Sunshine and a temperature of 61 F. lured me outside.
I collected clippers and a large bucket, set about pruning the clumps of nepeta that have sprawled along the east wall garden.  Willis found me, wallowed in the nepeta, swatted at me for attention. 
Although the soil was wet and cold when I tugged at a few weeds, the concrete wall was warm, With the nepeta trimmed into order, I raked lank brown foliage away from the day lilies, admiring the tiny green shoots just above the surface of the soil.
Back out later to collect the sheets that had dried on the lines, and to admire the moon through the dark branches of a tulip poplar. 

With the camera on zoom I chanced a shot toward the east fence line--a strangely foreshortened view across the garden. A lavender/grey sky to mark twilight, and the scent of cold earth--cold, but with a freshness to suggest that soon there will be the new growth of spring.


Friday, February 19, 2021

The Molasses Cookie Conundrum, and Mother's Sour Cream Jumbles

Ginger Doodles, displayed in the kitchen of our Amish Farmhouse, 2016

These are the molasses/ginger cookies which are my stand-by recipe.
The original called for more sugar than I use.
My adaptation follows:

1/2 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. demerara or light brown sugar
1/4 c. molasses
1 egg
1 t. Vanilla
Beat the above until well blended.
2 c. flour sifted with
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 t. ginger
1 t. cinnamon

I use a melon ball sized scoop to drop onto a cookie sheet.
You could use a teaspoon or tablespoon to scoop up dough and roll between your hands if you prefer.
Sprinkle tops of cookies with sugar or a cinnamon/sugar mix;
Bake at 350 for 7-9 minutes--usually the longer time.
Let cool slightly on pan, then remove to wire rack.

Mother's Sour Cream Jumbles
I have not made this recipe, although I remember that my mother made them often. 
The cookies had a soft cake-like texture.
My sister has made them using the recipe on mother's handwritten card.
She felt the cookies were 'dry.'

So, no recommendation from me, but here it is!
1 c. sugar
3/4 cup sour milk or cream*
1/2 c. shortening
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
Sift together and stir in:
2 c. flour
1tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Drop on greased cookie sheet, Bake at 375 until cookies are lightly browned on edges and tops spring back when touched.
*Living next door to my grandfather's dairy farm, our milk came from there as raw milk.  Mother used clabbered sour milk for these cookies.  If I made them now I would use cultured sour cream or yogurt--starting with 1/2 cup, adding extra if needed.
Mother sometimes added raisins to the mix, and the tops were always sprinkled with cinnamon.
Electric Mixers hadn't come into general kitchen use when I was a child [!] so this cookie dough was hand mixed.
The proportion of milk/liquid to flour seems a bit off to me--a rather 'loose' batter.
I recall the cookies as spreading in soft mounds on the cookie sheet.


Thursday, February 18, 2021

Mostly About Snow: Journal Post: 18 February, 2021

Freezing rain, sleet, snow--in a variety of textures, piled one on the other in cold and frozen layers.
On Wednesday, the 2nd pair of boots I tried gave me enough traction to walk carefully around the edges of the lower field. The pine tree near the western boundary was a study in ice.

A pale sunrise heralded a few reluctant beams of light, quickly snuffed out by clouds that began to dump more snow.

Looking onto the east wall garden during a spill of pallid sunlight.

Plants huddled under snow along the west retaining wall.

Animal tracks viewed from the lower porch. 
I wonder if a visiting possum dragged its bony tail creating that wavering line. 
Trudging through the snow at the edges of the ravines I noted hoofprints of deer, the rounded pawprints of Robert-the-Cat--some other tracks rather worrying--a small mammal--but what?
We've not seen the usual wildlife this winter;  the foxes have been absent for more than a year. 
This morning's sighting of a lone doe picking her way through the snow above the veg garden is the first seen in several months.

Small birds have darted among the seed heads of coneflower, perched on frozen stems, swooped down to land on the back porch. Nellie peers at them with likely evil intentions.
Before the snow came there were robins bouncing and pecking below the west windows.  I fear for them in this prolonged spell of below freezing temperatures. 

Snow fell though the day [Thursday] tapering off at dusk.
I didn't wallow up the lane to the mailbox, suspecting that the mail carrier likely couldn't make his rounds.

The sparrows seem to lack fear of the cats, landing on the front porch to snatch kibble from the dish designated for Willis and Sally, the outdoor cats.
A tufted titmouse joined the sparrows and juncos; the woodpeckers seem to have deserted us. Cardinals flit from the low branches of trees edging the ravines; bluejays are scarce this winter.

The usual household chores took up part of the day before I went downstairs for another session of machine quilting.  
Teasel-cat likes the large downstairs living room and keeps me company there. She and Shelby take turns sitting in front of the floor-length windows to observe the birds flying from the fence to parade across the porch floor.
At 4 P.M. the temperature had risen to 33 F--nearly a heat wave!


Tuesday, February 16, 2021


From time to time Jim remarks that the chewy molasses spice cookies I've been making for years are not 'gingersnaps.'
My mother made cookies, rather soft cake-like ones called 'jumbles,' a chocolate drop cookie, and a soft white 'sour cream' cookie. 
A few times a box of gingersnaps made their way into the house.  I didn't like them.  I recall thin hard rounds with a peppery flavor--not a treat.

I made the mistake on this cold housebound day of wondering aloud if I should bake cookies.
Jim piped up, 'Gingersnaps?'
Having had this discussion numerous times I replied, 'You know that I make molasses cookies. I don't make gingersnaps.'
Jim's lip jutted out, 'I like gingersnaps!'
'No,' I stated with asperity. 'Several years ago you bought a package of gingersnaps--at a ridiculous price--you ate several and the rest went stale because they weren't what you wanted.'

In a huge effort to be agreeable [may it be counted unto me as righteousness!] I googled gingersnap recipes.  After looking at several, nearly all the same, I chose one from King Arthur Flour.  They are experts in the line of bakery, right?

Comparing King A's recipe for 'gingersnaps' with my tried and true 'ginger doodles' there were two slight differences. 
King A. specified that 'shortening' should be used, not butter, in order to turn out 'crisp' cookies.  
So, 3/4 c. of butter-flavored Crisco to the 1/2 cup of butter in my recipe; an extra 1/3 c. flour for King A.

I had my doubts as I tried to blend in that last 1/3 c. of flour, the dough becoming crumbly.  It didn't plop out of my cookie scoop in nice soft mounds--I had to roll and flatten each scoopful by hand.

Jim has disappeared after supper with a handful of the fresh cookies and a glass of milk. To my tentative query of whether they were crisp he replied, rather disparagingly, 'somewhat.'
When pressed he allowed that the so-called gingersnaps are 'good enough.'

I tried one--not at all impressed.  I rate them as dry and crumbly.
When thoroughly cooled I predict they could serve as hockey pucks--or to lob at marauding wildlife.
So much for King Arthur and the bakery experts.

If the weather continues formidable I might make another batch of cookies: Lemon Squares?  Chocolate Chip? Oatmeal Raisin? Even Peanut Butter?
Anything but Ginger Snaps!


Freezing Rain; Snow; Cold! Journal Post 16 Feb, 2021

The sun made a cautious appearance on Sunday, Feb. 7th, at noon, high temp for the day 34 F.
The rest of the week sank into gloomy dark weather, with squalls of freezing rain.

Grass and fallen leaves were coated with ice before the snow began on Monday evening, 15 February.

The sprawling sage plant in the raised bed has blackened with repeated frost.
I will be surprised if the lavender in the pot revives with warmer weather. The feathery leaves of feverfew--in the raised bed and the galvanized tub--have stayed green until this latest onslaught of cold.

A zoom shot from the front porch, looking through the wall garden toward the wonky fence.

Note the tracks of cats, birds, maybe a rabbit below the raised bed--since I can't remove the repeat of this photo.

Snow has sifted down steadily since Monday afternoon.  There is now a coating of snow over a layer of ice making for difficult walking.
A beam of weak sunlight slanted through the east windows during breakfast--hidden behind a layer of steely clouds before I fetched my camera.

Certain small chores need to be done each day regardless of weather--cat litter boxes cleaned, kitchen waste taken out. I pulled on my tall green wellies, bundled up in an old down jacket, wrapped head and neck in a fluffy scarf. I skirted the back porch to drop off the compost bucket, then picked my way past the trellises along the rail fence. 

Green leaves have clung to the shrub roses, leaves which appeared after a late October pruning.
With below freezing temps predicted for at least the remainder of this week, I fear all the plants which had seemed lively will need heavy pruning and a fresh start when spring arrives.
Standing at the east window earlier, coffee mug in hand, I watched a sparrow, feathers fluffed against the cold, trundle along the edge of the wall garden, bouncing through the tangle of nepeta, under the roses, disappearing over the wall. On the back porch later, I surprised several sparrows skittering along the edges of the porch, the prints of their tiny feet creating a trail of embroidery through the thin drifts of snow.

I would like to feed winter birds, but the 'barn cats,' Willis and Sally, are avid hunters; Robert and Nellie when they are outside crouch to watch any birds that unwisely peck their way along the drive.
Feeling sorry for the sparrows, I crushed some 'frosted flakes' of cereal that had spent too long in the pantry and scattered it along the edge of the porch.
Robert and Nellie have gone out and back in numerous times today, disgruntled with the cold and the crusty snow underfoot.

Icicles edging the bird house near the top of the lane.

I crunched up the drive to the common lane which serves the three houses here; by the time I reached the steep dip above the pond I was walking warily. There was no sure footing on the gravel of the lane, crusty snow over a layer of ice.  I picked my way down the slope, trying to walk on the grass verge, even clutching at the icy barbed wire fence to keep from sliding.

The mailbox when I reached it, was coated in a layer of ice. I thumped on it with gloved hand, freeing the latch. The 'flag' was frozen tight. I found a short length of splintery board at the edge of the derelict barn on the opposite side of the lane and used it to pound the ice from the flag until I could raise it.  At that, I would doubt the mail carrier can make his usual rounds, all on twisting narrow back roads. I suspect that each time he braked for a mailbox he would slide past--or risk crashing into the box.

Willis steps daintily toward his dish on the front porch. We have to bring the water bowl in several times per day, bash out the ice and serve fresh water. Snow blows into the kibble feeder.  I've put one out that dispenses kibble through a bottom slot--maybe that will be less apt to clog with snow.

The downstairs living room is cozy when I turn on the heat. Cats come down to sit companionably on the broad windowsill to watch drifting snowflakes--and bouncing sparrows.

I am resolutely working on this long packed away project. Quilt blocks deliberately made from worn shirts, after the manner of great-grandmother Eliza's quilt. 
I'm not really admiring this. Eliza's quilt had many tiny calico prints, a few muted checks and plaids. The shirts I collected [while in Wyoming] were of brighter colors, the plaids impossible to match from one triangle to another.  
I was determined that this would be a 'make do' quilt such as the original, not one I would send off to be professionally machine quilted.  I had the light blue chambray for the sashing, the backing is cut from a king-sized sheet--the fitted mate to it long since worn out. I'm using a thin poly batting recommended for machine quilting.
It took a bit of experimenting to set up my Janome for this task. I found the extension table for it, fitted on the walking foot and discovered a serpentine stitch. 
The process is termed 'quilt as you go'--something I've felt I should try, but didn't want to use on a finer quilt. I chose to put my 36 blocks together in 9 groups of 4--less hand finishing on the back of the quilt.

The process works, after a fashion.  Its a killer strain on shoulders and neck! The layered pieces have to be guided with a hand on either side of the seamline being followed--and I found it difficult to keep the walking foot directed down the exact center of the seam. 
This quilt when finished will be the sort that one might throw over a chair on the porch or spread on the ground for a picnic, fold across the sofa to catch cat hair.  A work of art it is not!
With 8 more units to quilt, I'm expecting to be heartily tired of the thing--but too much work went into the careful piecing of the blocks to abandon it.
I can consider it a useful challenge during these days of feeling house-bound by the inclement weather.


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Plodding Sort of Weather: Journal Post

I need the reminder that there have been a few sunny hours this month!  Most morning temperatures have been below the freezing mark without much moderation through the day. 
There has been intermittent drizzle, frost and a chilly wind that stings my face on the way to and from the mailbox.
A scrim of snow remained on our neighbor's north-canted birdhouse roof after a sunny afternoon melted the light dusting that clung to the lane and the edges of the ravines.

On a sunny day there is still the suggestion of green beneath the bleached tawny hues of the meadow grass. 

A path of sunlight across the pond.

A sunrise stained with ochre and pale rose soon faded into another day of pewter clouds.

I've spent several afternoon hours downstairs in the big living room, resolutely finishing the quilt blocks for a project that seemed like a good idea at the time. I turn on the heat, select some CD's, putter back upstairs to fetch a mug of tea, lay out the colorful patches beside the sewing machine.

Shelby is basking in a spill of sunlight on the windowsill, posing with the wooden cats.

Shelby cuddled in a basket with fabric cats for company.

Teasel likes this spot under the plant table in the sunroom.
Its a pleasant nook when the afternoon sun streams in. I moved one of the basket chairs out there as a place to escape with a book and a mug of tea--but only if the sun shines.

The last two butternut squash became a comforting creamy soup--made with coconut milk, a dash of curry. a dollop of butter.

Lemon meringue pie inspired by a friend's gift of fresh eggs.

I drove to the South Fork shops on Tuesday, needing ingredients for salads. Of late mealtimes have gotten scattery, Jim wanting 'breakfast' at a later time than I do. It results in each of us rummaging in the fridge for something to warm up, or getting out eggs, canned fruit, cottage cheese.

Jim fries up great messes of eggs, potatoes, beef hot dogs--takes them to eat in front of his TV. 
It makes for a rather constant clean-up in the kitchen.
I hope that some sort of schedule will resume with warmer weather.

I wondered what Jim was planning when he gathered up some lengths of lumber which have been lurking in my craft storage room downstairs. The rack for firewood which he created is a much tidier option than the clutter previously around the stove.

Cold rain overnight, a skim of crackly ice on the front steps. 
I walked down to the cat litter dump, my boots skittering on icy leaves, hearing the crunch of frozen grass along the edges of the lane.
It was late afternoon before I went to the mailbox, choosing a time when the drizzle of rain had slacked off. Temperatures that hover near freezing are mild compared to those of long winters in New England and Wyoming--still I'm happy to come inside from the cold, to pass the hours in desultory puttering.

I bring a seed catalog to the table with my lunch, a pen to circle the items of interest.
I hope for a mild sunny afternoon to do a bit of pruning, to prod at the cold earth in anticipation of a new growing season.