Domestic Episodes of a Rodeo Princess

The Blue Sky Farm Summer Bouquet

A photo of Shirley Rodeo VanScoykAhhhhhhhh ... summer!

I've been pushing it this year since April, which makes me feel guilty, because I completely devalued spring.  In my defense, spring was a hurried affair this year, barely here for two weeks after the last cold rains of winter dissolved the remnants of the blizzards, grey and dreary in the pasture, and a heat wave arrived tempting us to wear white before Memorial Day and break out our Lawn MuMus.  Lawn MuMus are big baggy brightly colored dresses that we wear in Honey Brook when we go commando and wander around weeding or staring at livestock.  If bears emerging from hibernation wore clothes, this is what they would choose.

But now, joining the Barn Swallows and the Lightning Bugs, it's no longer ME deciding that Summer has arrived.  There is a bouquet on the table that announces it with the exuberance of debutantes arriving back to the Sorority House.

Summer bouquet close-up

Blue Hydrangeas and Orange Daylilies, or Mophead and Fulva, as we call them here.

Everyone who reads this is a better gardener than I. We don't even have to have a score card. It's not even going to be a contest. I concede. I grew up in a family where all aggression, competition and judgment is channeled into gardening. I gave up long ago in the race to drop Latin Names for species and have the first tomato of the season. I don't even CARE about heirloom seeds and grafting.  I am much better with things that follow me and beg to be fed than I am with things that soundlessly wither and die without water.  That leads me to Mophead and Fulva which you can't apparently neglect to death.

Summer bouquetIn addition to their ability to live through my inattention, they fill up vast amounts of space in the garden if you let them, so you don't have to plant anything else. When they are not blooming with mania, they are green and verdant enough to fill visual expectations of 'landscaping.' They can also withstand assaults by bulldozers and careless roofers:  the hydrangeas and daylillies survived our three year construction phase and will provide the foundation for new gardens we will put in, someday. Also, for some reason, the chickens don't eat them or destroy them.

Summer flowers

You can do a lot with hydrangeas if you really want to. You can change their color by changing the PH of the soil, you can get hundreds of different varieties from GI-normous to petite. I justlove my big blue blooms. Once a guy stopped and asked if he could buy some of mine for his wedding!!! I try to pull the wild grape vines out of mine once a year.  It's the least (yes, actually it is) I can do for them.

There are lots of people who spend their time hybridizing daylilies. In the Eureka Daylily guide, you will find a Daphne Dore Daylily. For her 80th birthday, I found a hybridizer who would name one of his plants for my Mom. In my part of Pennsylvania, the orange variety (Fulva) bloom almost all summer along our roads. In the breeze, they  wildly wave to tourists and residents alike, always happy to see you.

I prefer barn swallows to bluebirds and daylilies to dainty roses: the utility, predictability and toughness of my favorites is what endears them to me. I kind of hope that these qualities endear me to my loved ones, too.

Twister: Tornado Stories

Downed branches

I've never been to Kansas. No skinny legs have ever shriveled up beneath my house. Okay, okay, we do have our share of little people here in the township, but that is a story for another time.

But, I would just like to declare to those in charge ENOUGH WITH THE TORNADOES!

A long long time ago, I was a twenty year old Pennsylvania girl transplanted to an army base a little north of Nashville, Tennessee. I had a brand new baby, two weeks old, and a pilot husband on active duty with the 101st Airborne. He was never home, especially during bad weather, which I was to learn over my three year stay there, occurred every afternoon from April through October.

I got used to the sky turning greenish black in seconds. After you have been warned tornadoes are on the ground about five hundred times, sometimes three or four times a day, you kind of get complacent. Get a "I'm gonna wait to panic til I see the actual funnel cloud" attitude. Until the day you do.

I was in my living room on an afternoon late in May. It was hot. It was humid. My baby son was asleep naked in his playpen. I remember his precious little head looked like a slightly damp egg. I didn't turn on the tv or radio, or play any music for fear of waking him up. We were still getting to know each other. Later I would learn he actually slept better with background noise.

Saying SUDDENLY, forming the thought and the word, does not express how quickly the sky outside the huge windows turned blackish green. No rain one second, the next - hail and rain started driving directly into the panes. I could see my funnel cloud, finally. It was moving slowly, methodically through the valley, I guessed, about a mile away.

Without thinking, I went to the hallway closet and got out two motorcycle helmets – the kind with the full face? I grabbed my sleeping baby boy, and shoved him into the helmets. Miraculously, there was a roll of duct tape on the coffee table. I used it to strap the helmet together around him. This takes longer to tell than it actually took to do. I sat back down on the steps (WHY do homes in tornado alley never have basements?) and watched as the tornado moved towards us in a freakishly random matter. It reminded me of a huge toddler left to wander at will. Very soon, I couldn't even watch it, because it was so dark, so loud and the rain and debris made it impossible.

Maybe three minutes after I first saw the cloud, the pointy end of it must have been at the bottom of the hill just below my windows. And it bounced.

Bounced up and traveled directly over my house. The wind howled with an agony, everything was vibrating, water started coming in through the cracks around the doors and windows. Yes, it sounded like being under a train. No other way to describe it.

My front door blew open against the hinges. With a commonness of purpose, all the front windows blew out at the same explosive moment. And then it was over, and all was silent.

Of course, the sirens started soon after and because we were on an army base, big green trucks started showing up, unloading people here to help. I didn't have to do a thing, except undo the duct tape and hold my screaming baby boy.

Debris from a tornadoFast forward thirty five years.

It's an afternoon in June. I am sitting in the living room of the house I share with my baby boy, now full grown, with two sons of his own. The darkness of the sky out the windows to the south catch my eye. Hmmm. That's strange. I get up to look. The view out the windows to the northwest is a curtain of rain and wind, moving horizontally across Rt.82. My trashcans fly past the windows. My grandsons are in their part of the house, which I have to reach by going out on my kitchen porch. At the same moment I get to their door, my eldest grandson opens it and says, "Mom called. There is a tornado on the way." I said, "Get your dog and get into the basement." I went back in my house, snapped leashes on my dogs, dragged them out into the howling wind and into the kids' half of the house (because of the construction of the addition, you can't get to the basement of either house from inside my house any more). 

Youngest grandson is pushing their English Bulldog Bob down the basement steps. Apparently dogs do not have a special knowledge of impending danger, because at this moment, all four wanted to stop and sniff butts. Down the basement we all went, the boys and I, and four dogs, climbed over piles of tools and supplies for the construction, and stood at the sliding glass door watching branches and random bits of trash blow past. It occurs to all of us, after a very loud CRACK that it might not be a good idea to be here in front of all the glass, and we get under the steps.

Five or six minutes of the loudest thunder I have heard. Five or six minutes of mysterious crashes and bangs. Here I am, under the steps this time, with the babies of the baby I put in the helmet. My grandsons love that story, the thought of their big strong father inside helmets, duct taped together, to ride out the storm. You would think I was scared. You would assume that I would be anxious about protecting them. You would be wrong.

Broken windowWhat I learned under the steps is that my grandsons are calm, collected and capable during scary times. At 13 and 17, they are mature and even funny when stressed. There was just a feeling of waiting it out, that nothing bad could happen to us. I would rather be in a tornado with them then anyone else I can think of. The dogs were so relaxed, they all laid down, taking the opportunity for a quick nap.

While waiting for the storm to pass, we chatted about how we knew a storm was coming – I told them the trashcans flew past the windows. They told me their mother called to tell them she watched a tractor trailer blown over in the parking lot of her business. They went around and unplugged everything, closed all the windows. And then, went looking for Nana. That would be me.

As suddenly as it came, the storm was gone. We had no electricity, of course. Eldest grandson went across the lawn and checked on the animals in the barn. The horses were already out in the pasture grazing like nothing had happened. The goats don't like being wet, so they were hanging out inside. The chickens were all under the coop, not in it, which we thought strange. Well, except for one Barred Rock, who had ridden it out on the fence behind the coop. We imagined her there, wings unfurled, beak clenched, facing into the fray. She got a new name: Fearsome Bitch!

The three of us sat on the porch in the rockers and enjoyed the breeze. It was about ten degrees cooler! My daughter-in-law arrived home from work, and we surveyed the damage: broken dining room window, huge branch out of the crab apple tree. It was a little like that game you play, where you try to figure out what is different between two pictures. Was this here, was that broken before? A pillow from my bed we find in the side yard. There is a mysterious pile of slate shards that wasn't there before. You can see where the wind ripped the ridge cap off the metal roof, and left it flapping. Upstairs my bed is soaked - I didn't have time to close the windows. There are piles of leaves in the hallway. A bedroom window broken. Some shutters hanging by their hinges. All in all, not too bad for a 150 year old house.

We pile in the car and go on the destruction tour, waving at our neighbors who are out on their lawns or controlling traffic in orange vests. We lose count of the number of trees down, or the miles of cable hanging from broken poles. On our cellphones, we call everyone we know and compare stories. We drive over to check on my daughter-in-law's parents who live about two miles away. They have some trees down, no power and some war stories of their own.

Over and over we say, "Nothing that can't be fixed." It's a feeling of a bullet whizzing by your head. And if this hadn't happened, how exactly would I know, so completely, that my grandsons are tough as nails? And knowing that is a gift to me. The kids are alright.

The Lightening Bug

A photo of Shirley Rodeo VanScoykA couple years ago, on a summer evening, we were entertaining my cousins from Australia out on our deck. This is a blue moon, snow in July, extremely rare occurrence. The last occasion that we were all together was in 1959.

At some point in the evening, there was a pause in the conversation and I realized that my cousin's daughter had slipped off the deck in the darkness and was wandering around the yard with her camera. I asked her what she was doing and she said, "I just must have a snap of these fairy lights!"

Can you imagine suddenly seeing, for the first time, the thousands of sparkling, blinking, frantic tiny lights that are my lightning bugs, in the trees, bushes, grass?

Lightening bugs blinking in the grass

Our farm has a completely amazing population of lightning bugs. Down at the bottom of the pasture, at dusk, they rise out of the ground, swirling, twirling glimmering dots of palest yellow, neon green and blue white, the exact opposite of the blanket of dark. I like to watch as they blink, then disappear, to reappear several feet away. To catch them, you have to guess what direction they go, or be fast enough to snatch them with your hand while they are lit. I think I used to be good at this, because I remember filling mason jars with grass and a twig and then using it as a temporary home for dozens of bugs. As long as I left the lid on the jar, I was allowed to have the jar in my room on my nightstand. I would fall asleep to the glowing semaphore they sent. I hope they found love, if briefly, inside the jar.

Because that is what that light is about. Love.

I took my grandsons down to the display in the pasture one evening. In my best National Geographic Documentary Voice, I explained that the light was a signal, that all the bugs were looking for love. "So," my eldest grandson said, "At some point in evolution, a bug said HEY, I bet if I slap a honking huge light on my ass, the girls will love it?"

He's seventeen.

The stuff that makes a lightning bug light up is called Luciferous, after yes, the Doomed Angel Lucifer, whose name means "Light Bringing." A google search of luciferous reveals that scientists inject this into mice and potatoes. I wanted to see this, so I search for images of glowing mice and blinking french fries but sadly, the pictures of the mice are all about breast cancer and the blinking fries do not exist. But should. I do find pictures of glowing Christmas trees that have been genetically adjusted to have luminescence (I want one) and even someone reading on a park bench at night, lit from above by a glimmering genetically altered mimosa tree. Instead of street lights!

When mixed with oxidizing agent Luminol, the same substance is used at crime scenes. It glows blue in reaction to the iron in blood, revealing trace evidence and sometimes, I guess, speaking for those who can't speak for themselves in the pursuit of truth and justice.

And I wonder ... do people glow?

Of course they do! And don't! How many times have you heard people say that a bride was glowing, or that an evil person had no light in their eyes? Is this just a figure of speech? Not according to Japanese researchers Masaki Kobayashi and Daisuke Kikuchi from the Tohoku Institute of Technology, who, along with Hitoshi Okamurain, "imaged the diurnal change of this ultraweak photon emission with an improved highly sensitive imaging system using cryogenic charge-coupled device (CCD) camera" and took DOZENS of pictures of a glimmering light coming from a human that was 1000 times weaker than our naked eye can see. They postulate that what they captured are metabolic changes that pulse and rhythmically emit light. This light, like the light on a lightning bug, emits no heat, and thermographic images of the same human, taken at the same time, are completely different.

So, no happy glowing mice, no radiant french fries, but there are pictures of glowing humans. I wonder if I have a highly sensitive imaging device inside of me that does see the glow in others at times, but if I have lost the ability through evolution or something similar to the scratches I get on the lenses of my glasses which prevents me from seeing the glow in others always. I am wondering if I can will this ability to the forefront of my life and use it to change my attitude (I will admit to being a judger at times). I experiment with this on the way into work. Instead of feeling anger against the slow moving, enormous SUV meandering down the road like a lost elephant in front of me, causing me to miss the opportunity to speed through three stoplights, I try to visualize the happy vacationing family inside. I fail miserably, succumbing to self serving mini-rage. But I get my point. It's going to require more work to recharge my camera.

Of course, this is not a totally original thought, that people have an energy or a glow that we sense more than see. When the Beatles went on their Magical Mystery Tour, they were looking for 'enlightenment.' Think of the thousands of images from hundreds of religions that show deities and average folks, radiating. I know this, but somehow, I suspect those who talk about it. A further search on the internet shows lots of sites willing to help me see the light, for a price. There's the rub. I just don't like mixing enlightenment with something concrete, like money.

On one web page I find a picture of a mason jar of shining bugs and grass, just like I used to make. And below it, is the etymology of the word blessing. Apparently, in Hebrew, blessing means "go forward.' Hmm. Go forward. Into the light. Where have I heard that before?

It's a smack me into the sunshine and call me Shirley moment. Looking for light, I found a blessing.

I don't know how my cousin's pictures of the fairy lights turned out – that was before digital and phones with cameras. But tonight, if it's still and the fireflies are out, I am going down into the field with my camera to see what I can see. And today, I am going to try to see the light in you.

Image by davedehetre, licensed under Creative Commons.

The Barn Swallows Return

A photo of Shirley Rodeo VanScoykThe barn swallows are back! Every year they arrive here on or around my birthday (April 24th). I was in the yard, thinking about all my birthday surprises. When I glanced skyward, a pair swooped through the open door of the barn.

I get an "all's right with the world" feeling when I see them. What a blessing – animals that come home without me calling, that I don't have to feed, that take care of their babies without my help. They are the cherry on the sundae of my spring! A being that, like my daughter-in-law says, appears just for extra happiness! Aristotle insisted that one swallow (or one happy thing) does not make a spring (or a person happy). Oh, go suck a lemon. As long as there have been happy things, someone has been around to deflate the moment.

This group of barn swallows have, I imagine, been coming to my barn since around 1790. I actually researched this as best I could on the Internet, so I wasn't building idle daydreams on wishes. Something I have been trying lately, as a point of evolution – not rejecting facts because they collide with any convenient theory that I might come up with. And yes, people who care about these things assert that barn swallows have, forever, been following humans around and nesting in their buildings, tolerated for their attractiveness and their voracious appetite for flying insects. Meaning, like camp followers, they migrated with the European settlers from the coasts of the Northeast going from cabin to barn as settlement spread inland. Maybe that first woman who lived here, the one that left her hair pins in the rafters over the fireplace in the basement, watched the barn swallows follow her man's plowing, like I watched them swoop and swirl after Charles as he mowed the field.

I found out this morning as I read up on them a little, that DNA studies show that barn swallows from here colonized the Baikal area of Siberia. This is not a direction that is expected in bird migration circles, but the idea pleases me. You only have to watch them (not count them, analyze them, or catch them and dissect them) to see how errant they are, how they have a wonderful independence that defies gravity and sense to realize that sense and science are only going to explain so much about them, and the rest is left to that plan greater than us.

A barn swallow's life is not all being a happy harbinger of spring. Like all things that eat, a barn swallow is prey to larger species, like the American kestrel, which nests here, too. I'm not the boss here, I don't make all the rules so acceptance of the checks and balances of life is part of my tenancy. I have watched kestrels pluck barn swallows out of the air, but I have also seen the same kestrel fly smack into the barn while chasing a twirling barn swallow aerialist as it flew effortlessly into a tiny crack in the barn siding. Mrs. Kestrel hovered over him in the air, screaming what sounded like the bird version of the Honey Brook Cursing Dance until he picked himself up off the ground and took flight again. Hey, they were just trying to feed their kids.

I wish the kestrels would eat the bluebirds. Oh, stop! I know those are like the Golden Child of bird people, but honestly if you compare that demanding, picky species with all their requirements for special housing and fickle parenting with the barn swallow, WHO is exactly more useful? The barn swallow prefers to rebuild old nests. The babies that are born first in the spring stick around all summer and feed their younger siblings. Your flock begins in the spring with three couples and at the end of the summer you have forty or fifty Cirque De Barn performers doing a show with no matinees. Hours and hours of entertainment, right on the lawn, a useful search for food (bugs) turned ballet. I read they eat TONS of bugs. Those bugs are somebody's baby, too. It's just what happens.

What DOESN'T happen here is messing with nests. One kid, never invited back, decided that the mud nests were hornet's nests and attacked them with a stick. His mother and I don't speak. A horse boarder hung fly strips (completely unnecessary) that snared swallows out of the air and meant I had to drown three in the trough, to put them out of their misery. I put myself out of misery by sending her and her horse packing.

Some experts insist that they mate for life, but apparently that is when the experts are watching. We have the same drama in the barn, eight feet above the ground where their nests are, that we have in the chicken house. Males defend their mate and territory unless they are busy trying to invade some other male's territory and mate with their female. The females have kind of a (press hand back to forehead and appear overcome) boys will be boys attitude about it. I wonder how much T.S. Eliot knew about this, when he wrote "Quando fiam uti chelidon [ut tacere desinam]?" ("When will I be like the swallow, so that I can stop being silent?") in "The Waste Land"? And why did he write it in Latin?

If I ever get another tattoo, it will be a barn swallow. Sailors used to get one after returning home safe after a journey of 5,000 miles and another, if they ever returned after another. Sailors with two swallows were rare. Things happen.

I feel like I am on that second trip.

Hard Boiled Egg Recipes: What to Do with Leftover Dyed Eggs

A photo of Shirley Rodeo VanScoykEaster Monday you might find yourself standing in the kitchen holding a basket of hard boiled eggs with jelly beans stuck to them, wondering what to do. 

Because I am a factoid nutcase, first here are some tips and facts about hard boiled eggs first:

1. The fresher the egg, the harder to peel. The “bubble” at the top of the egg is formed as moisture escapes through the shell and is replaced by air. The bigger the bubble, the older the egg, but also, the easier it is to peel. Here at the farm we do not wash eggs, but store them yucky, because they stay fresher that way. 

2. To peel a hard boiled egg, place a towel on your kitchen counter, smack the egg firmly on to the towel and roll it back and forth so that the cracks spread. If you buy your eggs at a regular grocery store, you should have a pretty easy time removing the egg from the shell without a lot of nicks. Save the not so perfect eggs for egg salad (recipe below) and use the perfect ones for pickling or deviling or both. You can compost the shells, OR you can use them as teeny tiny seed starter pots: put a little potting soil in the half shell, plant a seed and when it sprouts, plant the whole thing.

3. If your egg salads and your deviled eggs have a gray ring in them that sort of makes the yolk look dull, your egg isn’t bad, but your cooking method is. The grayness is caused by a chemical reaction between two natural elements in eggs: sulfur and iron. The egg has actually “rusted.” Put your eggs in a pot big enough so that they are in a single layer, covered with cold water. Place them on your heat, bringing them slowly up to a rolling boil for two minutes. Shut off the heat, and let them sit for 12 minutes. Pour off the hot water and cover the eggs with ice. Let cool for half an hour. Now they will peel perfectly, with no gray.

4. Interesting but useless facts: 60 percent of the 75 billion eggs commercially produced in the United States are used at home, by consumers. 40 percent are used by assorted food service and producing industries. Over 300 billion eggs are produced by the Chinese. Eggs are one of the most popular foods in the world because although fragile, they store well for a couple of weeks without refrigeration in most climates, they are protein dense and hormone free, and are easy to cook and inexpensive. 

The Resurrection of the Pickled Egg

I was first attracted to pickled eggs because they are a beautiful color. I wanted nail polish that color, maybe a blouse. But good ones are also tangy and a very satisfying snack – the additional flavoring being added by spices and beet juice, rather than fats, oils or sugars, so a pickled egg has the same calories as a regular egg, but is Fancy. Good pickled eggs have been soaking in this recipe for at least four days, and the whites are pickled pink all the way to the yellow. Any remaining white is a sign of shame.

Pennsylvania Dutch Red Beet Pickled Eggs

2 15-ounce cans beets, sliced with juice
1 small onion, thinly sliced
12 hard cooked eggs, shelled and left whole
1 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
some fresh dill sprigs
Big mouth old fashioned mason jars (plastic containers may become stained)
Remove beets from beet juice, and put aside. Heat the beet juice, vinegar, sugar in a pan and stir. Bring to just a boil until all ingredients are incorporated. 
Pack eggs loosely in jars. Pour beet liquid over the eggs, put in a sprig of dill, and place lids on jars. Each day for three days, make sure lids are secure and invert jars, to make sure all surfaces of eggs are drenched in juice. You may store these in the fridge or on the counter top – the acidity of the juice should prevent any bacteria from forming. Use within a month, though.

Classic Egg Salad

6 hard-cooked eggs
1/4 cup mayo
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Optional:
minced onion
pickle relish
chopped celery
olives
Mash eggs with other ingredients. Add optional ingredients if you like. Best if used immediately, store in fridge. Serve on toast or in big red pepper halves. 

Deviled eggsThe BEST Deviled Eggs (Simple is better)

6 large boiled eggs
1/4 cup mayo
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
Paprika
Cut whole shelled boiled eggs in half. Gently pop yolks out into a bowl, reserve whites. Mash yolks with mayo, mustard, salt and pepper. Spoon back into egg halves and arrange on platter, sprinkle with paprika.
For a delightful variation, use pickled eggs instead, and add 1 teaspoon fresh horseradish. Garnish with parsley.

Really Good Macaroni, Tuna and Egg Casserole

1 cup elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
1/2 cup red onion
1/4 chopped green pepper
1 cup milk
1 can cream of mushroom soup
2 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoon flour
1 cup frozen mixed vegetables (if you have read previous blogs and have been freezing your restaurant leftovers, this is when you can use them)
1 large can or bag drained, flaked tuna
3 hard boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Bread crumbs, crispy fried onion strings or old potato chip crumbs (again, if you have been gleaning your restaurant bread stuffs, this is the time to use them)
Butter a casserole dish and coat with bread crumbs, onions or potato chips. Put butter in a large skillet over medium heat; add onions and peppers. Cook until onions are softened. Add flour, milk and soup; stir until thickened. Add vegetables, tuna, mixed vegetables, chopped eggs, and cooked macaroni. Taste and add salt and pepper. Put this in prepared casserole, bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees, or until bubbly and browned.

Reduce Waste: How to Use Restaurant Leftovers

A photo of Shirley Rodeo VanScoyk

I am, despite conclusions you might draw from tales being told by me and about me, a fairly conventional, frugal person. I do care about the environment, reducing waste and most especially about food waste in restaurants. It is not lost on me that tough times had by me are not tough in a global sense and that I am blessed to live at a time and place where I have enough to eat, a warm place to sleep and a prospect that tomorrow is probably not going to bring changes to that. But I am also true to me, and not lunching with friends is out of the question. Here are some ways to turn restaurant leftovers into marvelous meals: 

Leftover Fries

This is truly a doggie bag solution. Leftover fries from a restaurant meal make great dog treats. I prefer to get out of the car with the bag, let the dog out in the dog play yard and have a French Fry Happy Dog Scramble. I just open the container and hurl them out. This makes me a goddess to my dog.

Many people don’t bring fries home because of the soggy-ness. If you don’t have a dog or you just really like fries, crisp them up in your George Foreman (GF) the next morning for home fries. If you have a panini maker or a GF, you can also make a nest with the fries by smooshing them together and closing the lid. A little bit of cheese, a poached egg and you have something really impressive! Just don’t look too long at the amount of grease the GF will squeeze out of them, it will only depress you.

Sweet potato fries: crisped up and served with breakfast, drizzled with maple syrup. YUM!

Mashed sweet potatoes: mix in with pancake mix. Make pancakes, serve with maple syrup with warm pecans and broiled goat cheese stuffed peaches.

Mashed Any Other Kind of Potato: mix with pancake batter and make potato pancakes – especially good if the mashed were loaded with bacon, garlic and cheese.

Disposable Garnish or Americans Order but Don’t Eat Vegetables:

Grilled leftover tomatoes, recycled steak, and toasted, day-old restaurant bread.You had the best of intentions when you ordered that steamed harvest mixture. You told yourself that was a healthy decision that would direct the course of your dining experience. That was until your dining companions ordered the MUCHAS GRANDES NACHO ULTIMATE SUPREMO that took three brawny bus-people to carry to your table. Now you are full. Well, don’t send that broccoli, carrot and zucchini mixture to the dumpster in shame. Take it home, take it out of the container and put it in what you are now going to call The Soup Mix Container in your freezer. Everyone in the nation should have one, in the spirit of our grandparents' victory gardens. Each time you get veggies on a plate in a restaurant and you don’t eat them, you will collect them here for future use as veggies for soup. Even if they get a little freezer burnt, it won’t matter in the soup, and if years go by and you don’t use them, at least they don’t smell and you can throw the whole container out without a mask. I also have a yard full of free-range chickens here at the farm that get very excited this time of the year when veggies get thrown their way, but I realize that is not an option for everyone. It should be, but it’s not.

No one ever seems to be able to finish one of those huge onion blossoms, either. Make sure you take whatever is left home – use it as topping on mac and cheese, mashed potatoes or other casseroles. Why buy expensive and puny canned fried onions when you have some of these in the freezer – use them in your green bean casserole. Very Delux!

Salad Doesn’t Keep

Of course it doesn’t if you keep it as salad! Leftover iceberg salad is perfect for grilled panini! If it’s got cherry tomatoes, cheese, egg, onion, carrot and salad dressing on it, it’s all you need to top a grilled ham or turkey sandwich. You don’t even need to add mayo. If it’s spinach, well, it’s spinach, and you can add it to your Soup Mix Container in the freezer or wilt in a fry pan and serve as a side with steak. Caesar salad is fantastic stuffed into a tuna salad sandwich and grilled.

Proteins Are Better The Day After

Order your steak a degree less well done than you usually do, eat the parts around the edges that came to the table the way you like it, and save the pinky center for later.  That way it won’t be overcooked when you recycle it as Eggs Benedict spiced up with salsa, hot sauce, slices of steak and creamy queso over English muffin.

Since most of the chicken you get in restaurants is breast meat, which tends to dry out when recooked, put that in the freezer for soup. I use a separate container.

Seafood? C’mon really? Leftover lobster, shrimp or crab meat? Here’s a challenge. Take home leftover shells from clams, oysters and other shellfish like lobster and shrimp. See if you can get everyone at the table to donate their flotsam and jetsam by promising them a great dinner at your house later. When you get home, put them right in the freezer and the next day, make a fish stock:

Shells, meat and bones from various Fish and Shellfish, breading, seasoning and all
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 large yellow onion, sliced or chopped
1 carrot, roughly sliced or chopped
1 celery stalk, roughly sliced or chopped
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 sprigs of thyme
Several sprigs parsley
1 bay leaf
10-15 whole peppercorns
2 teaspoons salt
This is best made in a crockpot plugged in on your porch or garage, because it’s gonna smell fishy, and you don’t want it to boil. Crush the larger shells with a rolling pin before putting them in. When nicely reduced, strain through a double layer of clean, old nylon stocking or cheesecloth. You now have absolutely delicious broth for bisque (which never should have lumps of anything to be a true bisque) or chowder. This time you will look like a Goddess to your friends when you invite them back.

Now that you have no shame, take the bread!

The best bread pudding I ever had was made in my grandmother’s kitchen in Brisbane, Australia. A tropical climate meant shopping for perishables every day, and all bread scraps went into pudding almost every afternoon. We had it with sweet, strong tea and good conversation, an edible memory. Of course, you can take all your old bread and make bread crumbs either in a food processor or by crushing them with your handy rolling pin – great for frying, crunchy topping, thickening cassolettes or stews. This lasts best in the freezer unless the bread was very stale. Or feed it to those chickens….

Desserts

I hardly ever order dessert, so I don’t usually have it left over, but I can imagine trifles made with leftover cake and cheesecake, and fried pies and satisfying midnight forages to the old Frigidaire.

I am hoping that as this idea catches on, I see more containers brought from home pulled out right at the table. What do you do with your leftovers?

Driving in Snow: Not Gonna Go No Mo

A photo of Shirley Rodeo VanScoykI am not good at driving in snow. At least I am honest about it, or at least aware of it. I think people who think they are good at driving in snow aren’t aware that luck has a good deal to do with not getting stuck in a ditch, probably more than skill. And you could have a four wheel drive, 4,000-pound vehicle with traction lock front and back, an 18-inch clearance, chains and studs, and somebody driving a 1983 Bonneville with bald tires will come around a corner, slide sideways and mess you up. Or not.

Snow and cars do not mix

But back to me. I have had two fairly serious accidents in the snow. The first one was in a 1977 Chevrolet Chevette. The only explanation I can offer for the following sequence of events is that I was young. You see, I was on a mission to find a copy of the Delaware yellow pages, so I could find a talent agent in Delaware who had hula dancers. I was trying to start a public relations/events business (which was as doomed as my trip that day), and I worked myself up into such a lather about locating those dancers that I got in the car during a terrible storm and drove the twenty miles down to my Mum’s to get the book. This was way before the internet. I don’t remember why I had my one year old Irish setter/golden retriever mix puppy next to me on the front seat. On the way home, a tractor trailer jackknifed in front of me on a four lane highway. I slid into a guard rail instead of the tractor trailer. Because this was before seat belt awareness, I smacked my head sharply into the steering wheel, enough to see stars.

My head hurt. A lot. And I was scared. Really. When the cops and emergency workers arrived, I had my hand pressed against my forehead. The policeman told me I had to move my hand so he could see how badly I was hurt. I explained to him that I could not remove my hand, or my brains would shoot out all over the dashboard. He explained that if I was that badly hurt, I wouldn't be able to tell him that. Well, that made sense. I removed my hand and I didn't even have a knot or a bruise. That was embarrassing.

Years later, I was on my way to work in my 1986 Lincoln Town Car. It was not 1986 – it was more like 1998. I loved this car, but no one else did. It was huge – sort of battle cruiser class. It was black with a red leather interior which gave it a pathetic, trying to be sexy quality. My husband always said that it handled like a sled, which ironically made it terrible in the snow – you could only go straight. I missed a curve on a small hill, ended up with the front of the car buried in a snowbank, and again – this time because I sit too close to the wheel – banged my face into the steering wheel, putting my teeth through my lower lip. I got out of the car, stood in the road with blood dripping down my chin.

The first person to arrive is my daughter-in-law’s brother. He gets out of his truck, hands me a tissue and says, “Did you get thrown from the car?” I reply, “Gnaw – fly dumb they flap?” Which is, when you have a flapping bottom lip, “No, why would you say that?” He points to my sweater, which is covered with hay and grass. I fed the horses right before I got in the car, carrying the hay into the barn and me being me, had not brushed it off. At this point, the ambulance arrives, I am whisked off to the emergency room, and the first thing the attending asks me is, “Were you thrown from the car?” while he points to my sweater. They stitch me up, each person involved with this asking upon entering the room, “Were you thrown from the car?” The nurse calls my husband who says he can’t come to the hospital to drive me home, finally getting in touch with my mother who picks me up and says, “Oh my! Were you thrown from the car?” She drops me in the driveway at the farm, I climb the stairs, wake up my son, who looks at me, sweater covered with grass and hay and now blood and the snipped ends of sutures and he says, “Why did you wake me up?”

This is how I learned the hard way not to drive in bad weather. I won’t even go out now BEFORE the storm hits.

No matter how many advisories, predictions of significant inconveniences, potential threats, winter mixes, hazardous conditions, frequent gusts, failing visibilities, threats to life or property, lake effects, sustained wind velocities, or even non-existent temperature warnings associated with blizzards they might declare, and no matter how many parka wearing, coyote fur hooded intern reporters they strap to telephone poles all over the Delaware Valley, weather reporters can not frighten me into going to the grocery store. What the heck is a ROVING Penn Dot Crew anyway?

All those alarmists who foam at the mouth when some high pressure system meets a low pressure one over a body of water and starts sucking up moisture and pairs up with gale force winds and begins to careen up from the south can save it. Won’t work on me now. OH, I’ve gotten in line at Croppers with 24 rolls of Scott Toliet Paper, 6 loaves of Meyers Italian Bread, 4 dozen eggs, 3 frozen lobster tails, and a pound of brown sugar just in case I want to bake something (which I never do). Not to mention the dog and cat food, chips, salsa, pretzels, soda, hot cocoa mix, matches, candles,bottled water, and chocolate I’ve lugged into the house. I will not wander down aisles this time imagining that I will make huge crock pots of steamy messes that I can post about to admiring Friends on Facebook. In the past I have reacted to weather warnings by spending hundreds of dollars on food that I really didn’t need, I’ve also gotten in line at the gas station and the hardware store to buy shovels, salt, chains, gloves, boots, windshield cleaner, radiator fluid and kerosene.

But not any more.

I’ve declared a moratorium on this kind of knee jerk catastrophe avoidance activity. Not only do I have most of the stuff from other binges still in my closets and pantry, but I am just fed up with the lines. I thought about it, realized that I have never, in 57 years, been snowed in for more than 24 hours. I’ve never been without electricity for more than 10 hours. And if I had, all that food would have gone bad anyway. Also, as I’ve gotten older, I have just decided not to go out. And for the duration of this storm and all future ones, on the extremely rare occasion that I will get stuck at my house due to weather, I am going to relish it. I will consider it a demonstration of character and faith that this time, I will live on the Girl Scout cookies, canned tomato soup and frozen pizzas that I already have.

So there.