29 August 2011

Family recipe Monday: Late summer, early fall

Cottonwood stars, from New Mexico

Juvenile hawks. Photos courtesy of Tartan Girl

It's the end of August in a long, hot, and (for the Texas and New Mexico clan members) unbelievably dry summer. Everything seems to be moving toward fall much sooner than normal. Up on the northern prairies, the hawks and other migratory birds are gathering with nervous eyes to the south, and the grasses are rapidly browning. 

Tartan Girl shared photos of young hawks hanging out in teenage noisemaker mode in New Mexico. These guys are full-sized and -fledged, but still showing juvenile plumage. This will be their first fall, and they may need to keep moving to find adequate prey. She also shared a photo of the stars to be found at the base of cottonwood twigs. Find a cottonwood and check this out for yourself. 

Fall is in the air, even the hot, dry air. Here is a recipe for apple butter to capture the season.  

Apple butter

For 1/2 peach basket of apples

Peel, quarter and core apples. Put in oven at 200*F. Add 1/2 lb dark brown sugar, 1 T cinnamon, 1/2t allspice, smidge of clove (ground) or one whole clove. Allow to cook down. If not peeled, run it through a food mill. Let cook all day or longer.
--Gene Hess

Note: This goes in a heavy pot or Dutch oven. You may prefer to simmer this on the stovetop.

Happy Monday. Look for the stars wherever you are.

11 August 2011

Ghost buildings

Rattlesnake carved on porch post, Fairburn, South Dakota

The photo series I am calling "Architecture of the Open Places" has topped 1000 shots, most of them taken in the past three years. The focus (so to speak) is on small structures in vast landscapes, tiny blips against endless horizons. I look for the buildings that have held on to an essential character in spite of the ravages of time, weather, and broken dreams. 

South Dakota has always been a hard place to homestead, to farm, to ranch. It is pitiless and merciless. These structures have stood up to the harshness in many ways. Wood has lost any vestiges of paint, metal shows rust in all colors, glass has aged and broken...but something is still there. 

Some entire towns out here are deserted or nearly so, having lost whatever economic driving factor they ever had. The buildings are the last witnesses. I don't know if I find them or if they find me. 

Skulls and masks carved on other porch post

Fairburn, South Dakota

Stove on abandoned hotel porch

Hotel, Fairburn, South Dakota

Church, Pringle, South Dakota

Cabin, Custer County, South Dakota

Storefronts, Ardmore, South Dakota

Cabin, Pringle, South Dakota

Shed, South Dakota

10 August 2011


Coot and cootlets

Catching up here on a couple of months' worth of photos....

Swallow at home

Dragonfly at Whitney Preserve, posing

Cedar waxwing at Whitney Preserve

Upland sandpiper. Yes, it is really that green here on the prairie this year. 

Dragonfly posing

Swainson's hawk keeping track of us

09 August 2011


Tiny cloud leading the advance

Here in no particular order are a few storm shots. It's been a strange summer. I've been using the strongest mental power I can muster to move this down to the Texans, who need the rain so desperately.  

Major storm just grazing the campus

Major storm building

Smoke and storm clouds at sunset

Hail clouds rolling in

08 August 2011

Family recipe Monday: pickled vegetables

Abandoned hotel, Fairburn, South Dakota

Last week may have set a record for the number of miles I have traveled in a 4-day period without ever leaving the state. 1300. 1300 miles, partly to teach a monitoring class, partly to pick up a major donation of fossils that needed to move from one end of the state to another. Week before last, I leased a trailer so that our field leader could bring in a huge plaster-jacketed fossil from Wyoming--one day ahead of heavy rains, as it turned out. I know everyone at the local U-Haul office by name and no longer think twice about driving a heavily loaded moving van. It would be nice if they had better shocks, though. It'd be even nicer if I hadn't been driving a heavily loaded U-Haul with no shocks at the same time that every Harley rider on the planet was on the road headed for Sturgis,weaving in and out of the lanes like enraged hornets. But all worked out well. 

The farmers' markets here are still a little low on produce, but the preserves and canned goods are starting to show up. Rhubarb jam, caramel apple butter, watermelon pickles....the canning season is upon us. I don't know how the older girls managed the hottest activity of the year in the hottest months of the year, but manage they did. 

We are all wondering if there will be apples, chokecherries and wild plums this year after the roller-coaster extremes of the weather. But the vegetable crops look all right for now. Here are a couple of recipes for vegetable preservation that will bring the summer garden to the winter table. 

1 medium head cauliflower, broken into florets
2 cups corn kernels
2 cups green beans, trimmed, cut into 1” lengths
1 each red and green bell peppers, cored, seeded
2 cups yellow wax beans, trimmed, cut into 1” lengths and diced (¼ ”)
2 cups peeled and diced (½”) carrots
1 cup white pearl onions
2 cups diced (½”) celery
2 cups peeled and diced (½”) seeded cucumbers
2 cups fresh lima beans
1 16-oz can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
6 cups white vinegar
6 cups granulated sugar
2 T coarse salt

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and lightly blanch cauliflower until just tender; remove to a large nonreactive pot. Repeat with the remaining 9 vegetables (all except the kidney beans), one at a time. Add the kidney beans, vinegar, sugar and salt to vegetables in the nonreactive pot. Stir and bring to a boil. Once the mixture comes to a boil, remove from heat. Pack the hot vegetables into 4 hot, sterilized quart jars. Process for 15 minutes in a boiling-water bath.

2 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed
4 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
4 large sprigs fresh dill
2 ½  cups cider vinegar
2 ½  cups water
4 T coarse salt

Blanch the green beans in boiling water until tender but still crunchy (about 4 to 6 minutes). Drain. Place 1 clove of garlic, 1/4 tsp. cayenne (or more to taste) and a sprig of dill into each of 4 sterilized pint jars. Pack beans upright into the jars to fit within 1/4” of rim. Bring the vinegar, water and salt to a boil in a nonreactive saucepan. Pour the hot liquid into the jars, leaving ¼ “ of head space. Seal and process the jars in a boiling-water bath for 5 minutes. Store for at least 2 weeks in the refrigerator before serving. Serve cold. 

Happy Monday. Enjoy these shots from an abandoned hotel near here. 

There is preservation by ethanol....not recommended for sign carvers....

...and there is preservation by anything that kills everything. If they ask you to name your poison at this hotel bar, run like a citizen of Tokyo fleeing Godzilla.