Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Back to School with Chicken Soup or Ham & Bean Soup

The school Bells are ringing again and it's time to talk about those easy and filling fall soups.  When I went to school, children came home for lunch and then ran back to school just in time for the bell to ring you back into afternoon classes.  Lunch in the winter at our house was always some type of soup and a half sandwich (because it was split with my younger brother for his lunch).

Since so many go to school on buses today and eat their lunches at school, there is nothing wrong with making a pot of soup for when the children return home from school and need a pick-me-up to get ready to do homework.  A cup of soup when you first get home takes the edge off the hunger pains and isn't too much to spoil a good supper.

In the past we have talked about some of the soups made with tomato base.  Today I want to start with one of America's favorite soups, Chicken Soup.  First, we are going to talk about Chicken Dumpling Soup.  You can make many varieties of chicken soup, but when you add that little dough ball, your soup takes on a whole different consistency that tantalizes the pallet.

Basic Chicken Soup can be made and so many other starches can be added to it such as noodles or rice.

Chicken noodle soup or chicken rice soup start with the basic soup recipe that you have from the Chicken Dumpling Soup, but when the soup has simmered for awhile, you add your noodles or rice and let it simmer a while longer.  If you lose too much broth, you just add a little chicken broth or water.

When I was a chat room monitor on a popular bingo site, the subject of Bean Soup with Ham came up.  I offered my recipe in the chat room, line by line and the person who originally asked came back several days later to tell me how good it was.  I make this recipe less often than the others, but my Mom made it after she had  ham for dinner.  One way to stretch a piece of meat into several dinners or lunches.  I found this recipe in my mother-in-law's recipes.  I never really had a recipe from my Mom even though she often made a pot full of one soup or another for the family supper.

Monday, August 29, 2016

First Signs of Fall Coming and the Cicada Song

We have had numerous minute natural changes in the the crops around the area.  The crops are starting to wither on the vines and the leaves are starting to look dry.  Birds are foraging more in the fields for those crops that have turned to seed.

I hear the birds chirping and calling to each other in the yards around me that have family vegetable gardens.  They have taken a rest from my bird feeder and are enjoying the fresh bounty of the season.

As summer skies are lit up by the stars we had a summer display of shooting stars which I haven't seen since I was a Girl Scout at Camp Redwing.  I remember we took our cots out and lined them up around the campfire so that we were facing northeast and waited for the burst of stars to shoot across the sky.  We were told by the news media that this would happen again this week and it did.  I saw just one as I sat on my deck with a cup of coffee contemplating the vastness of the universe.

All of these tiny changes in nature herald the best sign of all that Fall in coming.  I sat out another evening and just as I was falling asleep in my deck rocker, I heard it.  It was a rasping sound.  It was ever so soft and not quite as loud as I have come to know the song of the Cicadas.  Locust is the familiar name that we have given to Cicadas.  These creatures are known to invade crops and destroy them by laying eggs deep into the stalks.  At hottest hour of the day the male Cicada makes a series of clicks that turns into a hum which becomes the distinctive sound of the creatures we call locusts.

The old wives tale is that Fall will start six weeks from the day you hear the first Cicada Song.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Another Season of Winged Visitors

In April, my winter months proved less than rewarding with my feathered friends.  I put out my seeds all winter long and tried several types of feeders when one didn't produce any takers.  I've totally turned over my feeders to two types that another bird enthusiast told me he uses in his yard.

Bird on Sunflower below the feeders
It's been really frustrating to put out the food and see one or two birds from time to time.  I've heard them singing on the house tops and seen a couple of chicadees stop briefly.  They all seem to come once and not return.  Last week I saw a cardinal on the fence across the alley but it never flew over to the feeders.

My neighbors told me that he has seen a lot of cats congregating under my deck and I also saw one sitting under the feeder one evening just about sunset.  I've put out citrus containers hoping to discourage the felines and hoping that my winged visitors return.  I've done my homework online to find out how to turn this around but if anyone knows a way, please comment so that I can continue to enjoy my friends the birds.

Last year's season was productive and I saw a variation of adult sparrows feeding their chicks.  One night I started to leave the deck when I spied a ball of fluff at the bottom of the steps.  I was horrified thinking that a neighborhood cat had gotten to a chick.  It had the tiniest of tails and was not well plumed yet.

Sparrow Chick
I went back up on the deck and sat for a few minutes deciding what to do about the little creature.  Should I pick it up and put it near the feeder?  Out of the corner of my eye I saw it rise up on it's little legs and hop away across my yard towards the fence that separates my yard from my next door neighbors yard.  I was so relieved because from there it spread it's little wings and flew just a few feet to perch on a fence rung before it made it's way across the next yard.

The other success was my attempt at attracting hummingbirds to my yard without using those messy sugar water feeders.

Fuschia Hanging Baskets
Last year, I started out the season by hanging two fuschia baskets in an attempt to attract the delightful birds to my deck area.  When the fuschia plants started to burn out and the flowers started to become fewer, I decided I had to try another method of attracting those spectacular birds that can fly up, down, back and forward.  They are so small and  zip though the air so fast sometimes you question if you saw them at all.  My attempt to winter the fuscia didn't work out so I had to replace them.

Hibiscus that I wintered.
I had better success with the hibiscus and it has bloomed very nicely this year. One thing about hibiscus is that the flowers are so fragile and I had placed the plant near the area where the other birds visit my bird feeder.  I noticed one of the blooms had been knocked off the plant.  The other drawback is that each hibiscus bloom only flowers for one day and then it closes up to fall off the plant.  It took a couple of days.  This year I placed the plant on the top step to my deck where it gets sun and rain but is within my view when I sit out.

hummingbird at hibiscus

I was finally rewarded at twilight one evening when I noticed the tiniest of fluttering around the hibiscus.  It was a hummingbird investigating the cups where the blooms had fallen off.  Hopefully, it will return to give me bird watching pleasure.
Trumpet Honeysuckle

I replaced the fuscia with a scarlet trumpet honeysuckle hanging planter.  I placed it on the hanger closest to my porch and to my amazement it attracted a hummingbird within a half hour of when I put it up.  Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to take a picture of it but it flitted around all of the open trumpets on all sides of the planter and didn't pay any attention to me sitting less than 3 feet away from it.


The chickadees came back in May but I haven't seen them lately even though I hear them when I sit out on the deck.

Cardinal on solar light
My cardinals are back and see an assortment of fledglings and adult birds that come to the feeder.

Goldfinch on feeder

The goldfinches came early summer but have just started coming back in August.

My biggest accomplishment is seeing a bluejay at the feeder.  They are been elusive in the past and only heard warning the other birds when danger was near.

Jaybird on fence across the alley
This year was a bit of a worry since the neighborhood ferrel cat had kittens and was watching them from a vantage point in my yard.  The kittens were just beginning to play like acrobats when Mama decided it was time to take them away to other places to learn their skills of hunting.  I guess she knew how much I love my bird feeders and friends.

Black Crested Titmouse

It's August 30th and I just spotted a new friend.  I thought I had two chicadees coming until I spotted the crest on one of the birds.  It's a Black Crested Titmouse landing on the shepherd's hook that holds the birdfeeder.

I get the greatest feeling of accomplishment when I spy a new breed of visitor to my gardens and bird feeder.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Fond Memories of Putting Up Apples and Figs For The Winter

One of my fondest Fall memories was when we were raising our 7 children.  My husband and I would go to the Farmer's Market early in the Fall and buy 3 baskets of apples.

Apples from the Farmer's Market
I prefer 3 individual kinds of apples (Northern Spy, Machintosh and a green cooking apple which they now call a Granny Smith).  Then we would spend a Saturday sitting around the table peeling, coring and preparing the apples to be put into quart jars for the winter.

Except for the labor involved it is an easy task to prepare the apples so that we could make pies and strudels when there were no more apples.  Today that doesn't happen because the supermarkets carry apples of all varieties in every season but it was a productive day for us as a family.

The jars were prepared in the usual manner by boiling them and then setting them aside.  Once the apples were peeled and cored, they were cut into slices in a rather large bowl and sprinkled with about a third of a cup of sugar and a lot of cinnamon.  The bowl was then covered and put in the microwave for about 15 minutes.

Apples out of the microwave
When the apples came out of the microwave they were put into the waiting jars making sure that there was no air bubbles and set aside to cool.  Once cooled the jar was sealed.  Each jar of apples was marked with the date it was filled.  Once the jars had cooled and were sealed they were put on the shelf in what was once the butler's pantry off the kitchen.  That room stayed cool in winter and kept the jars perfectly.

Applesauce jarred for winter
After we had enough apples for pies and baked goods over the winter we would take the remainder of the apples and run them through the blender to make applesauce to be put aside for winter use also.  The applesauce was put into the jars in the same manner, making sure there were no air bubbles and set aside to cool before sealing.

The apple slices normally lasted until around Christmas time and would be used in strudels for the holiday.  If we were lucky we would have some left over and when the applesauce ran out we would reheat the apple slices and make them into applesauce.  In our family the request for homemade applesauce ran into all the holiday and family gatherings because they liked the homespun variety that I made which I called my "Mountain Sauce" which was almost brown from the abundance of cinnamon.

Figs growing on tree not ripened.
I never made this but my mother-in-law would take grapes and put them up into jams.  That recipe I don't have because it was never written down.  I also found a recipe for fig jam.