Monthly Archives: August 2011

Summer is SO not over

Contrary to popular opinion, just because school has started, summer is not over. Technically, the last day of summer (this year) is September 23, the day of the autumn equinox.

Personally, though, I gauge the end of summer by two simple facts:

1.) It’s too cold to swim outdoors. Granted, I like to swim in chillier temps and chillier water than most people, but hey, if the Twin Lakes folks will let me in the water, I’m there. (This was a lot easier when the local pool kept its gates open until Labor Day, which has been the routine as long as I can remember. But this year, for some silly reason, they closed on August 20. Still scratching my head over that one.)

2.) I can no longer wear short skirts and sandals to work or shorts and flip flops after work.

That’s it. When those two things are no longer possible, summer has officially ended. At which time, I will fall into a deep depression and dream of meltingly hot, humid days when nothing feels better than jumping into cold water. Ideally, I would live much farther south but that’ll have to wait until retirement. At which time, I plan to move to a hut on the beach. First, though, I have to convince my husband to move with me. If not….I guess we’ll have to compromise.

In the meantime, I’ll stretch summer just as looooooonnnnnggg as possible. For those of you who disagree and are convinced summer is gone, go ahead — put away your swimsuits and get out your winter coats. I’ll catch up with you later. I’m headed for the water……

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Walnut butter replaces addiction for PB

Some addictions are okay to have. Like, for example, nut butters. Until about a year ago, I was addicted to peanut butter because it goes well on just about everything…crackers, bread, ice cream, popcorn. As a kid, my favorite sandwich was peanut butter, honey and raisin. Fortunately, I married someone who loves PB almost as much as I do.

But you won’t find any of that mainstream slimy PB with sugar or hydrogenated oils in our house….only the real stuff — just peanuts and salt. Smooth. And yeah, you have to stir it up before you spread it but hey, it tastes MUCH better.

True to form, our oldest daughter inherited that love. All the way through third grade, she packed her lunch every single day. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The only variation was the type of jelly or jam, which could range from strawberry to raspberry to peach.

Along comes daughter number two. Surely she would share our love for PB. But no. Her very blue eyes in a family of brown/hazel should have been a clue that she would veer from the course we three were following. Try as we might, the only item with peanut butter as an ingredient that would cross her lips were honey milk balls, an amazing concoction of peanut butter, honey, oats and powdered milk (see recipe below).

Fast forward 26 years. Daughter number two and I are perusing the various nut butters in Trader Joe’s. She tells me that her tastes are changing as she gets older and admits that she actually likes peanut butter now. So we started comparing the various nut butters and I realized that like every other store I’ve checked, they don’t carry my new addiction — walnut butter.

About a year ago, my mom and my friend, Mary, introduced me to homemade walnut butter. There weren’t a lot of foods that interested me at the time — I was still recovering from abdominal surgery — but walnut butter appealed to me. I decided to learn to make it, which involved finally learning to use my 30-year-old Cuisinart.

Walnut butter on rice cracker

Walnut butter in Cuisinart

Once I mastered that, I haven’t turned back. I buy walnuts in bulk, dump them in the Cuisinart, add about 1/2 teaspoon salt, and turn it on. About 10 minutes later, I’ve got smooth walnut butter. Which, by the way, goes really well with cinnamon raisin bread (see recipe for bread machine below).

Okay, so like most nuts, walnuts are high in fat. However, like salmon and flaxseed, they’re also high in Omega 3, which among other things can lower the amount of lipids (fats such as cholesterol and triglycerides) circulating in the bloodstream and reduce inflammation throughout the body. So like everything else…eat them in moderation.

Honey Milk Balls
(Makes 2 dozen)
Combine in bowl:
1/2 c. honey

1/2 c. peanut butter (try this with walnut or almond butter)
1 c. dry milk powder
1 c. uncooked rolled oats
Mix well, then knead by hand until blended. Shape into small balls.

Cinnamon Raisin Bread
(For bread machine)
3/4 c. very warm water
1/4 c. applesauce
1/2 c. raisins (Monukkah raisins or other sticky ones, work best)
1 tbsp. olive or canola oil
1 tbsp. honey
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
2 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
1 tbsp. yeast
Put first eight ingredients into bread machine in the order listed above. Make an indentation on the top of the ingredients and add yeast to indentation.
Set machine according to manufacturer’s instructions for baking. I prefer to bake this recipe on the one-hour setting, but that will depend on your machine.

Almost nothing compares to a ground cherry pie

About a month ago, I was inspecting my herb garden and noticed some little green plants that looked vaguely familiar. My fingers itched to yank them out because they WERE NOT HERBS and therefore, DID NOT BELONG.

The capital letters are intended to get the attention of my husband because those green plants BELONG TO HIM. Of course, he knows this, but I just like to rub it in because he has his very own self-described “Man’s Garden” just a few feet away from the herb garden.

What are the little green plants? Ground cherries. Yep, ground cherries…not to be confused in any way with sweet or sour red cherries that grow on trees. Ground cherries are green and each is in a tissue papery husk that looks like a tiny lantern. When they’re ripe, they are yellow, or sort of golden. Never heard of them? Don’t feel bad. Neither had I until I met my husband…kind of like I’d never heard of ham loaf or pan haus (pronounced pawn hawce) — a sort of cornmeal pudding. Of course, he’d never had chiao tzu (jowdza or steamed dumplings if you frequent Chinese restaurants) until he met me. But I digress.

Here’s the thing: The aforementioned little green plants did not originate in the Man’s Garden. Technically, they originated in a woman’s garden, because they were grown in large quantity in my husband’s grandmother’s garden on Columbus Grove Road. The ground cherries he grows are from seeds gleaned from his parents’ garden. His parents got their seeds from Grandma Susan’s garden. Today’s popular “heirloom seeds” have NOTHING on Grandma Susan’s hand-me-downs.

Oddly, a few years ago, the hubs created his very own little “ground cherry” garden behind the A-frame playhouse/tool shed. Then they disappeared and reappeared in an old wooden flower box CLEAR across the yard.

This year, these little guys weaseled their way into my herb garden…sort of in the same way that someone’s morning glories tend to invade the herb garden, and the perennial gardens, and the vegetable garden — which, by the way, died a slow death in July’s heat.

Ground cherries, according to my husband and youngest daughter, are absolutely scrumptious when made into a pie. Actually, Anne would eat them right out of the garden which is probably why there were never enough of them for a pie if Fred didn’t keep an eye on her. While the rest of her college roommates’ parents would send them boxes of cookies, Anne would receive containers of ground cherries.

Papery husk protects ground cherry

Apparently, ground cherries were used by both Native Americans and pioneers, probably in part, because they keep so long when left in the husk. Some people compare them to gooseberries, but my husband would disagree, because he insists that they taste like “NOTHING IN THE WORLD.” Actually, what he really said was:

Ripe ground cherries

“There’s nothing in the world like ground cherry pie. The closest thing might be a Nickel Plate Berkshire steam locomotive roaring down the tracks.”

This probably only makes sense if you really like pie AND trains. Obviously, he does.

His Aunt Ada actually froze and canned ground cherries, so she’d have pies all year around. Sadly, he can only manage them when the ripen in September or October. Here’s Aunt Ada’s recipe.

Ground Cherry Pie

3 cups ground cherries

2/3 cup sugar

2 round tablespoon flour

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Mash and cook the ingredients on the stove until the mix boils.

Place in a small pie shell (not deep dish).

Place a crust on top.

 Bake 30 minutes.

Unfortunately, Aunt Ada never told him the temperature. He’s used 350 degrees.

Up, Up and Away

Yesterday was a special day for several reasons. For one, I got to run a race with my favorite running partner and best bud, Mary Ann Ring. It was our first race together since a Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot in 2009. In the intervening time, injuries and a major health issue prevented us from competing together.

But hey, as runners know, these setbacks merely serve to remind us that we are not invincible and we just have to work to get back to the road. So anyway, yesterday we got to run the Up, Up and Away 5k at the Flag City BalloonFest in Findlay. The race, the 9th Up, Up and Away5k organized by the Findlay Striders, benefited the Hancock County Special Olympics.

Competing together is different than competing against each other. She’s younger than me, so we’re never in the same age group. So our plan is usually just to stick together in our race against “The Others”.

Award made by Special Olympics Athlete

But here’s the thing. She announced to me the night before that she wanted to beat :25:00. Inwardly I groaned. See, I beat that mark a long time ago, but now that I’m older, my times keep getting slower. But who am I to stand in the way of her goal? Rather than wimping out and sending her on her merry little way, my brain simply informed my legs that it was going to be up to them to stick to her side…or at least within a stride or two away.

Besides, I had my own reasons for wanting to do well — thanks to my recent birthday, I’d moved up to the next age group. I’d made the mistake of checking out last year’s age group results, and I knew if I wanted to be competitive, I’d have to stick to Mary’s goal.

It was a perfect day for a race – temp about 63, bearable humidity, lots of cheerful runners, and a bunch of hot air balloons overhead to keep us entertained along the out and back route. This is actually the best kind of route, because you can keep an eye on who’s ahead of you at the turnaround. The one guy we both had our eye on was Mary’s husband, Greg, who had his own goal, so he was flying up ahead of us.

Thanks to Mary’s determination, we met both of our goals — we ended the finish line almost side by side in :24:48, which is an 8-minute pace. Not bad for two old ladies, eh?

But that really wasn’t the best part of the day. That came a little later when together we watched a 15-year-old disabled boy — who had popped out of his wheelchair to participate in the 0ne-mile fun run — complete the race running his heart out. There wasn’t a dry eye in sight.

In the 30 plus years I’ve been running, I’ve been lucky to earn a lot of trophies, most of which are in the attic, gathering dust. But the award I earned yesterday was by far the most meaningful one. It’s a small wooden star pin, adorned with the number “1” and embellished with jewels. What makes it so special?¬† It was made by a Special Olympics Athlete.

Ribbit…croak…there’s a frog in my wading pool!

A few weeks ago, Mr. Frog showed up in our backyard. He very quickly made himself at home in our goldfish pond. I wonder what the goldfish think of him. He sometimes hops out to sit at the edge of the pond, usually hiding among the leaves of the water plants. Of course, as soon as a human approaches, he plops back into the water.

Today we found him swimming in the inflatable wading pool on the patio, doing his little froggie breaststroke around and around. Guess he’s camera shy because he wouldn’t stay still long enough for me to take a photo. Fred finally captured him in a net and I got a photo before we moved him back to the fish pond.

I love frogs. They’re so cute with their big bulging eyes — especially the tiny ones we sometimes find wandering through the gardens and sometimes even in the street at the back of our property. Ever since the girls were little, we’ve always had a little toad house for whatever toads decide to spend the summer with us.

We seem to be a frog-friendly family because a few weeks ago, daughter number 1 and I and the two dogs were exploring the creek behind our house. We heard an odd squeak and saw something jump. At first we thought it was a fish, but the water level wasn’t really high enough for fish to live in. Besides, neither of us had ever heard a fish squeak.

We ventured out into the water, with the dogs watching anxiously from the bank. They don’t like to swim, and the idea that they might follow us into the water probably hinted too closely of a bath. We heard another squeak and suddenly realized there were three frogs within a few feet of us. One went to the left, one forward and the third to the right.

Not willing to leave the creek until we got to see one of them close up (my daughters have inherited their stubborn streaks from me), we headed to the right. About three feet away was the brightest, greenest — sort of lime green like Kermit the Frog on Sesame Street — frog who was either dead or a darn good actor. Of course, as soon as we turned our backs to go fetch a camera, he sprang into action — proving the acting theory.

We never did get a photo even though I went back down without the dogs a few days later to see if I could find them. No such luck. Instead, Lindsay did some Internet searching and came up with this photo that looks exactly the frogs in the creek. This is a Northern Green Frog.

Here’s the question we keep asking: What’s the difference between a toad and a frog?

What do you think?