Saturday, December 24, 2016

Signs of the season--sausage balls and a lump of coal

Let's get something cleared up from the start--there's the nativity and then there are all those Christmas traditions that really have nothing to do with the nativity.  It seems we do really spend a lot of time on traditions, but traditions can give people a sense of belonging, so I guess that's a good thing, too.  There is supposedly a tradition that a boy or girl who has been bad might receive a lump of coal in his or her stocking.  Darling husband hasn't been all that bad, but I thought it would be a clever idea to wrap a little LED light to look like a lump of coal and put it in his stocking.
What do you think?  Does this look at least a little like a lump of coal?
Another tradition around these parts is cooking sausage balls at Christmas.
Do these look tasty or what!

Hope you're enjoying some traditions this time of year.
And I hope you also have some time to reflect on the nativity.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A wild Christmas tree

I like a live Christmas tree that is also free, so I usually find something in the yard to cut.  This year I found a limb on one of the Leylands that I thought would be suitable.  This particular Leyland is a variegated one which I rooted myself from cuttings I got from someone else's tree about 20 years ago.  (That makes me feel old.)  I cut it myself with my trusty little bow saw.
From one side, it looks fairly reasonable:
From the back side, it looks like a wild thing!  The Leyland cypress is a hybrid, and one of the parents is the Monterey cypress.  I like to imagine this wild thing being a windblown cypress on the Monterey cliffs, perhaps a bit like the iconic Lone Cypress of Pebble Beach.
I noticed there were some scars on the branches from the April 2015 hailstorm.  This tree definitely has character.  I think the variegation gives it a unique look.
Except for two ornaments darling son placed, I decorated the tree myself, though I prevailed upon darling son to provide some live music for me while I did the deed.  He obliged with a nylon string guitar and a nice assortment of well-played Christmas songs.
I always like putting the little wooden horse ornament on.  It was made by my older sister and younger brother many years ago.  It is a thoroughly charming ornament to me.
I have a new ornament to put on the tree this year--an adorable crocheted angel made for me by my friend Lea.  (If the halo is a little crooked, it's probably because the angel was hanging out with Lea and me.)

O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, you surely are a wild thing!


Friday, December 16, 2016

Ice crystals

Ice crystals are interesting to observe this season of the year.  About a week ago, I removed the ice from the top of a bucket I have sitting under the eave of the house.  The crystals on the underside of the ice had formed fascinating patterns.  I tried to take some pictures to illustrate.


Ice crystals are also responsible for some interesting phenomena in the sky.  I frequently see sundogs in the sky, which I'm told are formed by sunlight being refracted by ice crystals in the clouds.  Here are a pair of sundogs I saw one day last week.  I think the second (to the left of the sun) is probably in the cloud of a jet contrail.  Even on otherwise clear days, we are likely to have some jet trails in the sky here, so there is plenty of opportunity to see sundogs. 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Cold front here in NC

Yesterday and today the mild weather we had been enjoying was brought to a rude end with wind chills in the 30's yesterday afternoon.  Darling son came in from work and put a water bottle or a drink in the fridge and noted that he probably could do just as well to put it outside.  I objected because I thought the temperature outside at the time was probably a little warmer than the fridge.  On second thought, it probably wasn't any warmer in the shade, so I said, "It probably is less than 40 degrees in the shade."
Darling son replied, "It's 90 degrees on the corner."
"What corner?"
"Every corner."

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

More pictures of Prestwould Plantation

Here are some more pictures from my visit to Prestwould Plantation in Clarksville, VA.
Here is the mansion itself.  It is made of a light reddish colored sandstone block.  It's interesting to think of the skill and muscle of masons who built the mansion.  The north side of the building faces the drive, and the south side, which looks toward the direction of the river, is the same design. 
The west end of the house also has a porch.
In the 1960's, the Roanoke River (or Staunton--pronounced STANT-en--as it is called in this section) which was about a mile south of this plantation was impounded to create the John Kerr Reservoir.  At the time of the operation of the plantation, the river would have been the means of transporting plantation commodities, such as tobacco, to market.
On the west and northwest sides (and down the hill from the mansion) are several other structures. One is a frame structure which housed slaves.  It started out as a single dwelling, then was made into a duplex to house two families.  Apparently there were other buildings like it in this area of the plantation, but this is the only one that remains.  Built in the 1780's, this building may be one of the oldest of its kinds in the Chesapeake, according to the plantation's registration with the National Park Service.
There were two smoke houses made of stone, one in shambles.

I'm not completely sure about this stone structure which stands on the west side of the mansion.  An "office" is listed amongst the buildings, and perhaps this is the office.  I do know the stone looked warm on a sunny late fall afternoon, and I could imagine sitting against the wall daydreaming.
There was a "loom house," which I thought was an interesting concept.  It also housed slaves upstairs.  Who can imagine all the artistry and skill that was wrought inside that building?  
Here is the kitchen.  I like to imagine what might have been eaten this time of year.  I like to think there were sweet potatoes, collards, cornbread, with some ham for Christmas.  Perhaps there was sorghum molasses and honey for sweeteners.
Here is the little apiary with its straw bee skeps.  I'm supposing this is a replica, and it's a shame it's in such disrepair.  It stands in the garden area to the east of the mansion.  With space for only four skeps, honey would have been a premium commodity I'm thinking.
The garden area is mostly to the east of the house, and this octagonal summer house is situated near the gardens.  I think some romantic novels have the protagonists getting kissed in the summer house.  What do you think--is this a place where one could find a little privacy?
Or is the room below a place where a bully might threaten to banish a younger playmate?  The literature said it was probably a place to store root crops or garden tools.  I'm thinking it might have looked like a dungeon to a kid.  Was an enslaved child who was afraid of spiders and snakes sent here to fetch some root vegetables for the kitchen?
Of course, there were stone walls all around.  I think this is an original finial adorning the front gate.  It is hard to imagine all the work that went into making the walls.
There is lots of history here, but I'm glad to be living with modern freedoms and conveniences myself.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Easy microwave apple crisp for two

I've been experimenting with making a crisp in the microwave.  I'm still tweaking, but this is essentially what I've come up with so far.

Peel, core, and slice about 2 1/2 small McIntosh apples.  Place them in a microwave-safe dish.  (I use a 2-cup bowl.)  I'm a great believer in the maxim "Don't muzzle the ox that treads out the corn," so I taste a little of 3 apples as I go along and, that way, end up with the right amount, leaving enough room for a crust.  In a separate bowl melt 3 1/2 TB salted butter.  Add to that 2 TB sugar, 2 TB plain flour, 2 graham crackers crushed with your hands, 4 TB quick oats.  Stir together with a large spoon, crushing any large crumbs of graham cracker.  If you want, sprinkle just a smidgen of cinnamon over the apples.  Put the topping over the apples and microwave on high 2 minutes.  (My microwave is 1200 watts.) VoilĂ !  (Serves 2 or 3.)
I've done this a couple of times with frozen blueberries as well, but I'm still working on that.  The first time, I thought I should nuke the berries a minute before adding the crust.  When I did that, the 2 additional minutes made the juice of the berries boil up into the crust.  It still tasted great eaten right away, but I thought it might result in a bit of a soggy crust if it sat for a while.  The next time, I just did 2 minutes with the crust and berries together, straight from frozen, but I ended up with some juice floating in the bottom of the bowl.  One difference with the blueberries is that I sprinkle just a little sugar over the blueberries since they are more tart than the apples.  I might try sprinkling just a wee bit of flour with the sugar.
If you try it, let me know how it turns out for you.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Out and about

Yesterday, I had a chance to get out and about with my friend Lea.  It was a refreshing day, so nice to have a change of pace.
Here are some pictures of some sights we saw.

boats at a marina as we cross a bridge
osage orange fruit
 the fall colors of a water oak against a blue sky
a white musk rose, still blooming on Dec. 1 because of the heat retained by the stone wall and stone slabs in a cemetery
 an absolutely lovely ancient white oak
 ancient Eastern red cedars, full of foliage, full of character

Hi Lea, what will we be up to next?