Grilling Low and Slow

It’s nearly here. The last “hoorah” of summer … Labor Day weekend. It’s an opportunity to call attention to the hard work of the men and women alike who have made this country great. And what better way to celebrate our efforts than to relax and enjoy some treats fresh from the grill.

It looks like you put a lot of work into it, but slow grilling cuts like Boston Butts (pork shoulder) can be a passive, relaxing way to spend a day off and still enjoy a great meal. The foiled-wrapped things on the right are potatoes to accompany the pulled pork.

It’s true summertime is “grilling time.”  But so are spring, fall and winter for anyone who truly enjoys food prepared outdoors. My family prefers the slow-grilled goodness of pork, but they enjoy a nicely-seared beef steak as well. We grill year-round. In fact, I like to do my slow-grilling in the doorway of my detached garage. For a few days afterward each time I open the garage door it smells like a Memphis barbecue restaurant inside.

Now some might say that manning a grill all day is no way to relax. I say hogwash. “Slow grilling” is the perfect marriage of tremendous food prepared with a minimal effort.

In an afternoon I can put in less than an hour of actual hands-on effort and produce enough barbecued meat to feed a couple dozen people or more. And grilling pork products is cost effective. Cuts such as short ribs and Boston Butt roasts (not from the butt at all, but the shoulder of the pig) can often be found for $2 a pound or less. Continue reading

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Fire-Roasted Sweet Corn: Fleeting Taste of Summer

Super-sweet corn- on-the-cob is such an All-American summer tradition. I can’t help but think of slathered-on butter and sea salt.

For the Volunteer Appreciation Picnic at the Creation Museum near Cincinnati, they had a circular stone pit filled with white-hot coals. Laying atop the charcoal briquets were large roasting ears of sweet corn.

Those coals radiated some powerful heat and it was a scorcher of an evening, but the smell of the barbeque and something reminiscent of buttered popcorn wafting on a light breeze was delectable.

When served, the able cook pulled back the long, fibrous leaves (called husks) to reveal the steaming tender/sweet kernels of bi-colored deliciousness, and without removing them, he wrapped them in foil as a handle-of-sorts (no one got charcoal smears on their clothes) . I asked some questions, and the server said those husks act as a ‘steamer’ for the corn. Continue reading

Figs: The Overlooked Fruit

On a dewy morning in early spring we purchased a small fig tree in a gallon pot at our farmer’s market.  That tree is now soaring over seven feet and rewards us with and abundance of sweet chewy figs every August.   This beautiful tree doesn’t ask for much care, just some simple trimming in the winter to stop crossed branches and allow the sun to reach the center fruit buds.

The fresh fruit is great straight from the tree as well as used in a wide variety of both sweet and savory recipes.

Figs and Orange Salad
(Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)
6 cups mixed salad greens
3 green onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon finely shredded orange peel
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 ½ cups of fresh figs cut into wedges Continue reading

Canning Jars: Not just for canning

A chip or ding in the rim of a canning jar means its life of processing food is over. But there are several creative options left before it hits the recycle bin. When preparing for canning, it is a good practice to run your finger around the rim of each jar to make sure they are smooth and will hold a good seal. Jars with even the slightest chip or flaw get marked with an X at our house and go into a separate box.

If the chip risks cutting a finger, filing it down a bit with sandpaper or an emery board will make it safer for its next use. Jars with just a tiny nick can be used to store dried foods like beans or pasta.  You can also store your button collection, old marbles or other notions. Using an old zinc lid for your antique collections adds to the charm. A pint jar can be filled with wax and a wick to create a candle. Since we have a bushel basket full of zinc lids in the old ‘grandpa house’ on our farm, this is another good place to use one for a rustic look.

My absolute favorite use for retired canning jars is to add them to my vase collection. Pints, quarts and half gallon both in clear and the old time blue are an easy and attractive way to arrange flowers to share with others. Adding a ribbon or raffia bow can dress up a clear jar and people don’t feel as guilty about not returning your vase knowing it is just an old canning jar. The blue jars which I have collected from the old grandpa house, farmhouse basement and estate auctions make bouquets look especially nice, as the blue compliments many flowers. We provided flowers from our garden for two weddings this summer. One bride had me arrange the flowers in clear mason jars, and the other wanted 100 blue jars full of flowers! Adding a burlap runner to the tables with the blue jars created a rustically elegant look for the reception (see photos above and at left). So the canning jar look is definitely “in” with brides these days.

Canning jars are definitely a valuable staple at our house, whether they are containing tomato sauce or yogurt or trinkets or flowers. What will you fill your jars with at your house? Be creative, even after they are beyond their canning career.

After the flood…

It’s now been five months since our store flooded. The clean up is long since completed, the store is open, and (except for a few pocket knives) all the flood damaged merchandise has been disposed of or closed out at deep discount prices.

It’s a good time for reflection. Here are some of the things I learned.

You probably don’t have insurance for this.

First and foremost, your insurance doesn’t cover flooding, unless you specifically request it (and neither did ours).

One of the first things I did when I saw the damage caused by the flash flood on February 28, 2011, was call our insurance agent. Unfortunately, flood damage is always part of an optional rider. This is true whether you have commercial or homeowner’s coverage. Although our carrier, Westfield Insurance, worked hard to help us the only thing they could do was give us a check for “backed up drains” and “debris removal”. This covered about 10% of our losses, which exceed $250,000.

We have flood insurance coverage now. Here in farm country, we call that, “Closing the barn door after the cows have escaped.” But, at least we’ll be ready the next time.

Make sure your policy covers the cost of flood damage, if your home or business is in a low lying area. You should do this even if you’ve never flooded before, which leads me to another thing I learned.

Surprise!

Our store has been in the same location for nearly 60 years. During that time, there have been several torrential downpours that caused flooding. But, none ever came any where near the floor level of our store. (This one crested at 32″ above the floor. If you visit the store today, you can see the “water line” markers we’ve set up.) To see full details on what caused the flood, click here.

We sometimes say that disaster strikes “out of the blue.” This disaster hit us out of gray skies, so “out of the gray” may be more fitting. When this happens, everyone deals with the arbitrary cruelty of it all in different ways.

It was a crushing surprise for me. It didn’t feel much different than hearing of the unexpected death of a close friend would have felt. Continue reading

Apple Adventures

I was lucky enough to move into a house, just a few weeks ago, that not only has a wonderful screened-in porch with a view, but also has three good-sized apple trees in the yard.  I knew about the porch prior to move-in day, but I hadn’t yet noticed the trees, and I was certainly elated when I saw their fruit load.

I asked the owner of the house about the varieties.  She didn’t have any information on them, so I decided that the best choice would be to try an apple from each tree.  I know that many apples don’t sweeten up until after a frost, so august is sometimes too early, but these looked like they had a chance.  When I tried them, I found that one tree had soft-textured, but sweet apples, and one was firmer and sweet, and the third didn’t taste quite as good, either in a sweet or tart way–so I suspect that is a frost-ripening tree.  A few apples from the first two trees had started dropping, so I decided I’d better take advantage of the abundant apples while they’re still around. Continue reading

Carbide Lamps: A real piece of history

The author inherited his grandfather's calcium carbide mining lamp many years ago. It has been a constant source of research, entertainment, and (from time to time) light.

A casual visitor might view it much the same as they would the old camera collection or assortment of unusual stones which line display shelves in my office. Little would they know that the brass carbide mining lamp sitting among the other collectibles was a virtual lifeline for my grandfather, Owen Jones, as he toiled for many years deep in the mines of the Midwest.

Even today, with batteries and electricity and miniature diodes which burn brighter and longer than any monofilament bulb could ever hope to, the carbide lamp or lantern still holds a place in lighting the world. The lamps and lanterns are still a very dependable, consistent bright-burning source of non-electric illumination.

All carbide lamps and lanterns burn acetylene gas (C2H2) which is created on the spot inside the lantern by mixing calcium carbide and water. The calcium carbide is purchased in rock form and any water source will work. The lamps are amazingly simple pieces of technology that use multiple ingredients to (first) make a combustible fuel, and (second) then burn it fairly efficiently with little mess.

My introduction to carbide lamps came when my grandfather passed away when I was 12 years old. As my mom and her siblings struggled to sort out grandpa’s belongings they wanted to find a keepsake treasure for every child and grandchild. For some reason they chose to give me his mining lantern … and I am grateful. For the past 35 years the lamp has been a source of amusement, amazement, research, and, on occasion, a light. Continue reading

Sun Printing

You probably know by now that I’m passionate about photography. I love capturing gorgeous images through the lens of my camera. But I have recently become fascinated with a photographic art form that skips the hardware altogether. Using photosensitive paper and fabrics, you can pare down the photo process to create simple, yet beautiful, “sun prints” (officially called cyanotypes) that seem to evoke the essence of summertime.

Sun printing dates back to the 1800s, when British scientist Anna Atkins created a series of books documenting ferns, algae and other plant life with what she called “cyanotype impressions.” Atkins, who is considered to be history’s first female photographer, placed her collected specimens directly onto treated paper and utilized sunlight to capture delicately detailed white silhouettes on rich blue backgrounds. The same basic procedure is used to create architectural blueprints today, but the artistic potential is limitless, and it’s so easy that kids will love to help create stunning sun-printed stationary, journal covers, quilt squares, silk scarves, T-shirts and more. Continue reading

History in Trees and Pianos

“Thank you, Evelyn.”

I’ve murmured that phrase many times since we moved to our home in the tiny town of Dalton, Ohio. (Dalton is just a stone’s throw from Lehman’s, which is located in the even-tinier village of Kidron.)

I say it each summer when the mimosa tree bursts into bloom. The mimosa – in profuse bloom right now – is truly an unusual tree.  Also called a Persian Silk Tree, it is native to Asia, from Persia east to China and Korea, but can also be found in many states in the U.S. It’s even invasive in some places. However, ours is the only one I have ever seen around here.

According to family lore, Evelyn Amstutz (a beloved local teacher and horticulturist who, with her husband, built our house in the early 1950s) bought the seedling for $1 on a trip down south, brought it home and babied it through the brutal Ohio winters, covering it with burlap until it had toughened enough to withstand the cold. Continue reading

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Picking pecks of peppers? Here are 4 ways to enjoy them.

A staple of the typical vegetable garden, bell peppers come in a wide variety of colors, sizes and heat. And this thick-skinned vegetable is surprisingly versatile. These recipes are designed to make your life easy while enabling you to enjoy the fresh bounty of the garden.

Old-Fashioned Rice-Stuffed Peppers
1 pound ground beef
1/2 cup uncooked long grain white rice
1 cup water
6 green bell peppers
2 (8 ounce) cans tomato sauce (or 2 cups homemade)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning Continue reading