Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sustainable Saturday - A Crisp Thanksgiving

 In the United States, this Thursday is Thanksgiving.

Today, our local newspaper had a front page article on buying local food this Thanksgiving, which I hope to blog about more before Thanksgiving.

Today, though, I wanted to share with you a special apple crisp I made a couple of weeks ago.  I know I blogged about apple crisp earlier this year, but I love it so - and crisp is an easy make ahead recipe during the busy Thanksgiving cooking season.  So, this is one of the several crisp variations I make each fall.

What I used for this latest crisp is something called a Thornberry apple.  This is not a common commercial variety, so you can use any commercial baking apple.  We are so fortunate in upstate New York to live in apple growing country.

And yes, this is the true color of the apple.

Our local pears mostly failed this year, so I can not make a true apple/pear crisp with all local ingredients.  Also, I used blackberries (yes, blackberries) from a local supermarket.  I think either blackberries or blueberries add to the flavor and color of the crisp. 
Apple/Pear Crisp (9 inch square pan, serves 9)

2 pounds baking apples (I will use a Thornberry and some Crispins, a heirloom apple grown locally, when I make this for Thanksgiving).  In the recipe above, I used a pound of apples and a pound pears.  For all my metric readers, two pounds is just about one kg.

4 tbsp brown sugar (you can also use 1 tbsp sucralose as an alternative) (that's about .59 ml)

2 tsp lemon juice (about 10 ml)

1 cup frozen blackberries (I don't thaw them)  This might be 128 g but I really don't know for sure, because I am using cups in a volume sense, not a weight sense.  Sorry, my dear metric readers, you are on your own here and going forward. And as for my British readers. there is this.

Anyway, back to my recipe:
Thornberry apple slices. Trust me, this is the real color.
Peel and slice cored apples and (if you use them), pears. Mix all ingredients together.  Place in a 9 inch square baking dish that has been oiled or buttered.

For the topping, I use this recipe, which is an adaptation of a low-cal topping.  If you prefer, substitute your own topping.


1 cup quick oats
4 tbsp brown sugar
4 tbsp light butter
1/2 tsp freshly ground cinnamon (I used allspice last time - this time I made sure I had cinnamon on hand.  I buy the sticks and grind in a mortar and pestle.  It's worth the extra work.  Wish there was such a thing as smell o'blog).
1 tsp vanilla

Mix all ingredients together and blend well. Top crisp with mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes or until the apple slices are the consistency you want.  Let cool, unless you can't wait to eat it.

I couldn't wait.

The brown item at the lower right is some leftover chocolate pumpkin cake.  I'm tempted to post that recipe Monday as it is the Easiest Cake Ever, except I know my blogging friend Amy in Nebraska will never read my blog again if I post the recipe.  (When she sees said post, she will know why, especially after all my whining on her blog about how I don't like pumpkin.  And actually, I still don't.)

I think apple crisp is even better the second day, so I will make this the day before Thanksgiving.

And now, dear blog readers, I must get crackin' on my NaNoWriMo novel. I am so seriously behind.

Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving (or other fall celebration) dessert recipe? Please share!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Snow Doors

By now, I bet that most everyone in the United States has heard about the terrible snowstorms in the Buffalo, New York area over the past several days.  Some areas received over 51 inches of snow in less than 24 hours.  Others have had so much snow, that their houses are covered in snow.  Many motorists have been stranded.  At least eight people (as of this writing) have died. (I also hasten to assure my readers that New York is a large place, and, as I write this the snow on the ground where I live is....a dusting.

Heavy snowfalls are far from unknown in New York State - in fact, we have an annual competition called the Golden Snowball.  The city where I work (Binghamton) has even won it a couple of times.  But if Buffalo moved its official weather station to Hamburg, for example, they could win it this year without having another flake of snow fall. (I suspect a lot of residents of the area around Lake Erie wish that no more snow would fall this winter.  Anyone for a bunch of surplus snow? You must haul yourself)

Something especially fascinating is what you might call the snow door effect.

There is something awe inspiring about the thought of opening your front door and finding - a wall of snow.  And, in our modern day and age, you can take a picture and have it all over the Internet in seconds.  People take pictures of themselves in front of their snow dog, their toddlers, their dogs.

But there is a different kind of snow door, as I found out about yesterday when some one commented on a blog post I published back in June of 2011.

This house on the edge of property owned (or at least operated) by the Cornell Cooperative Service in Binghamton has a door that is many feet above the ground.  I knew there must be a reason and asked , in June of 2011- did anyone know?  Maybe this once had a second floor outside stairs and porch?  Or maybe Superman rented out the space?

And then there was the low window on the first floor, on the right.  Somehow, this seemed so....unbalanced.

Well, I found out yesterday what this second floor door is.

It is a snow door, put there for cases when the snow got so high, you need to get out through the second story of your house.

So clever and yet - I never guessed.

A door to nowhere - unless you live in snow country, in which case you may be more than happy to have this door in your house.

Does your area have a special invention that helps live life where you are?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Penmanship and History

Recently, someone left a comment on my blog about the dying art of penmanship.  That inspired me to repeat a post from one of my Civil War Sunday blog series.

It would be a terrible thing, in my opinion, if we lost the ability to read historic documents.  However,, fewer and fewer schools are teaching cursive writing.  And, what about "penmanship" - something that is also a dying art in our age of texting and typing?

I had to practice penmanship in school.  It was a hated part of my education and my handwriting is a mix of print and cursive today. But, I read cursive fluently. My son, who is in his mid 20's, never learned cursive, but he was exposed to it.  If he has children?  My understanding is, they won't learn cursive at all.

With some minor edits, I present:

Civil War Sunday - Civil War Penmanship and Dr. Charles Leale

This past week, some exciting news was announced - the report of the first doctor to reach Abraham Lincoln after he was shot was found.  The doctor was Dr. Charles Leale,a doctor who had seen Lincoln speak several days before.  For some reason, Lincoln's face fascinated him and he decided to go to Ford Theatre that fateful night of April 14, 1865, to study Lincoln further.  Accounts say he was only about 40 feet away from Mr. Lincoln when he witnessed the assassination.

Of course, it is always exciting for historians to have a source document found.  But, to me, what is more exciting is the availability online of the document itself.

For example, doctors have wondered if Lincoln's life could have been saved by modern medicine. As of 2007, the answer would have been "yes but with a lot of brain damage".  Now, we have an exact account of the medical measures taken.

From my point of view, though, what fascinated me the most was the document itself.  If you look at it, you will see it is beautifully written.  Not only is the writing that of an educated man, but the quality of penmanship is breathtaking to the modern reader.  For example, I would never win an award for my penmanship.

Handwriting was a common form of communication during the Civil War, 150 years ago.  Those fortunate enough to be schooled spent countless hours practicing penmanship.  There were no typewriters commercially available (to the best of my knowledge) until right after the Civil War, although typewriters had been invented.  Many documents were handwritten.   Part of judging how educated a person was consisted of judging that person's penmanship.

Each side, Federal and Confederate, wrote countless letters, battle orders, and the like. Some kept diaries. Most all of these were handwritten.

What I found is that there were two main styles of writing during the Civil War era, "Copperplate script" and "Spencerian script."  I am not a graphic designer, but it seems from the small amount of research I did that both scripts, in one form or another, are still quite alive and well.

Even the instructions provided for Spencerian script sing to me.

With penmanship an instinctive skill, the writer was free to express his thoughts - and I could imagine the thoughts of Dr. Charles Leale flowing as he wrote about the fateful night of April 14 and morning of April 15, 1865. He did not talk about that night, the night he spent holding the dying President's hand, for years.  He  made his observations public in 1909, the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, in a speech called "Lincoln's Last Hours".

Dr. Charles Leale died in 1932, one of the last living witnesses to the assassination.

Have you learned calligraphy?  Do you mourn the removal of cursive handwriting from elementary school curriculum?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Fall Fancies - November Rain

The last few days, people in my part of upstate New York have been fortunate.  Some two hours from us is an epic snowstorm.  We've escaped the worst of the "polar vortex" blast of ice cold November weather.

Before I settle into my post, I want to thank everyone who has commented on my blog this month.  I haven't responded too many times to the comments that much (NaNoWriMo is a great excuse) but know that I appreciate each and every one of you. Thank you!

My guest photographer friend, who lives out in the countryside near Binghamton, New York, was taken by her dog on a walk earlier this week.  I wanted to share with you what they found.

My friend is fascinated by the hollies on her land, which are glowing a beautiful red.

In the snow, her dog plays hide and go seek, sort of.  Can you see the dog?
Hollies from a distance, as a nearby pond starts to ice over.  The foggy, sleety, rainy conditions mute the colors.  This is so like November around here.
So unlike the same pond, a different angle, in late September and early October, but the November picture has its own kind of beauty.

Thinking of "November Rain" makes me think of a song from 1991.  Its music just seems so...Novemberish.

The cold has settled in where I live.  What's the weather like where you live? 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The World's Oldest

A Mental Floss article inspired me to find the oldest examples of some modern technology.  I've been toying on and off with having an occasional series on obsolete technology - one of my son's interests.

Some technology is a lot older than we think.  Other technology, such as the television, took the combined effort of many over many years.

The oldest recorded voice (from what I can find online) - April 9, 1860. No, it wasn't recorded by Thomas Edison's phonograph, which wasn't invented until around 1877.  Rather, this was recorded by a French invention called the Phonautograph, patented in 1857. The problem is, there was no way to play these recordings back at the time and the recordings were lost - until 2008, when several were found.

Here is the  Pantelegraph- a precurser to the fax machine - put into use in the early 1860's (this above is a replica).

The first automobile?  If you count a self propelled steam tractor as an "automobile", the first auto dates from 1769.  If you don't, the first modern auto dates from 1885.

The first battery?  Could be 1799, which seems to be the most accepted date.

But, some claim, the battery was invented much, much earlier.

The first air conditioner?  Well, the Chinese invented the rotary fan prior to 1313 A.D.   The modern air conditioner? Possibly in 1902.

And the first computer? Well, that depends on what you call a computer.

If you consider something called the Difference Engine developed by Charles Babbage in 1822 as being the first computer - unfortunately it was never built completely until 1991, as Babbage could never get funding for his invention.

Finally, the first passenger elevator?  1743, for King Louis XV, although lifts existed long before then.

And then is the technology of my childhood (I am 61) so much of which my 20-something son has never used:  typewriters, rotary phones, onion paper, telegraphs, and more.  That is the kind of stuff I would want to blog about - along with items such as wire recorders (ever hear of those), eight-track tapes, floppy discs, and cassettes.

Makes me wish we still had our son's Apple IIe....

Would you want to see a series on recent obsolete technology?

Monday, November 17, 2014

A Random Act of Kindness to Remember

Yesterday, shopping for a card for a friend who is about to undergo surgery on Wednesday, I received a random act of kindness that was so special, that both of us ended up hugging and crying right in the middle of the store.  I don't know the name of this woman, but I am tearing up again just thinking of her.

I don't know if I will ever meet her again (I only shop in this local store, a gift shop, several times a year) but if not, I hope she finds out, somehow, how much what she did meant to me.  And, may she receive much goodness in her life. (It's too soon, but one day I'd like to blog about it.)

In November of 2010, I also experienced a random act of kindness.  I've experienced some since but this one, in a way, also was special.  Maybe, I shouldn't say this one was special - all of them are special.  But, I wonder how the man in this story is doing.  Is he better off?  Despite what must have been hard times for him, he had such an upbeat attitude.

As we approach the Thanksgiving season here in the United States, , I need to remind myself that I have a lot to be grateful for.

Since this post was written, so much has happened in my life, and in the lives of those I love.

Have you ever experienced a random act of kindness?  I'd love to hear about it in the comments.
I saw something inspiring, as we get closer to the Thanksgiving season, this afternoon.

I had gotten out of work early for a couple of appointments.  After the appointments, spouse decided we should get our Thanksgiving turkey.  We did so, and then remembered that a nearby Aldi had good sales on fresh cranberries and also celery.

I don't know if you have an Aldi's where you live.  If you do, it is an interesting concept.  Aldi is actually a huge chain in Germany, with stores in various stores on the Continent and also in Great Britain.  In the United States, for some reason, they initially came in as a "bargain" store, with (in my opinion) dirty, ill lit stores.  I would not shop there for years.  You couldn't get a shopping cart without paying a deposit. You had to bag things yourself (and if you didn't bring bags, they would gladly sell them to you.)  The employees "did it all", the same people doing store cleanup, stocking, and cash register.

When my son took German in school, his teacher came in one day with an Aldi ad from Germany.  What a difference!  Aldi in Germany is almost like a combination grocery/department store.  But meanwhile, back in upstate NY...

Due to that ad, we gave them another shot.  'They had seriously upgraded the stores in the meantime, with better lighting and edible produce. So we do shop there on and off, depending on the sales. You can't beat their prices, although I don't think I would ever buy fresh meat there.  But they do have a number of really decent store brands (they sell very little national brands, if you care about that-I don't) and when they have specials on German food....well, they are German.

At one time, their target clientele, to be blunt, was lower income people.  But now with the economy, you find a lot of middle class people in there too.  Times are hard.  I'm grateful for the Johnson City Aldi.  (they've even opened a second store just to the north of Binghamton).

Anyway, there we were getting ready to check out.  We only had three items.  The line was long, although the lines there tend to move quickly.  The person at the back of the line had an overflowing cart. "Here, go ahead of me."  The next person also let us in, and also let go ahead of him a person right behind us who had two items.  His clothes were a little dirty and he walked like he had a stiff leg, with a limp.

We struck up a conversation with the man with the limp.  He had some extra money because he had sold two cars at auction today.  He had been up since 5 am.  It was a good day for him, because he was able to buy another car to fix up and sell.  Best of all, it was his birthday.  He couldn't see why he should spend $30. at Texas Roadhouse [a steakhouse chain in the U.S.] when he could buy some frozen steaks and cook him at home (we don't know if he had a loved one waiting for him.  I hope so).  He was so glad to be spared a few extra minutes on line, so he could get home and rest.

I hope this gentleman had a wonderful rest of the day, due to this random act of kindness.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Civil War Sunday- War is Hell

Since many of my readers are not from the United States, here are some fast facts about Atlanta, Georgia.

1.  It is the cosmopolitan capital city of the state of Georgia. 
2.  Population of the city proper is about 448,000 but its metropolitan area's population is around 6.1 million - and the major traffic jams there bear testimony to that.
3.  Among many other things, it is known as the home city of The Weather Channel, CNN, Home Depot, Delta Air Lines, Turner Broadcasting, Coca-Cola, and many other corporations.  You may have heard of some of these.
4.  150 years ago yesterday, a Civil War event, the thought of which still brings pain to so many,  began in Atlanta, Georgia.

If you don't think Sherman's March to the Sea isn't well remembered in the former Confederate states (which include Georgia), I will tell you a true story.

I am a native of New York State. I lived some years in the South (Florida, Arkansas), but most of my life has been spent between New York City and upstate New York.

Several years ago, my husband and I visited Charleston, South Carolina (the first state to secede from the Union, in late 1860), where the Civil War began in April of 1861.  A fellow blogger recommended we go to a Civil War reenactment being held near Charleston during our visit, and asked us to look up a reenactor she knew.  We did this, and found the man, who was giving a talk to a number of people attending the reenactment, which had not yet begun.

The reenactment wasn't for one particular battle, but combined several battles fought in the Charleston area.

This knowledgeable man was talking about aspects of the Civil War and answering questions.  We asked some questions, and it must have been obvious to the other people in the group that we were from the North - our heavy New York accents gave that away. (You never do lose the accent of the New York City area). All was going well - until the reenactor started to talk about Sherman's March.

The temperature suddenly dropped about 20 degrees and, at least to me, it was like everyone was looking at my spouse and me. The looks were not friendly.

We left the discussion and walked elsewhere.

It doesn't matter how educated you are about the Civil War.  If you only know four things about the Civil War, they might just be the bombardment of Ft. Sumter that started the war, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address and....Sherman's March to the Sea, which started in Atlanta on November 15, 1864 and concluded in Savannah, Georgia on December 21, 1864.

If you've never heard of the Battle of Atlanta - well, chances are you have heard of it (at least in fiction). It is part of the famed movie Gone with the Wind.

Prior to the March starting, Union troops had captured Atlanta in September, 1864.  Sherman ordered  the city burned. 

When Sherman gave the order that the city be evacuated and burned, the Mayor of Atlanta appealed to Sherman to reverse his decision.   This was Sherman's response. 

This is not easy reading.  But war is not easy for anyone.

After spending some time in Tennessee and Alabama, Sherman split his troops into two parts. With 60,000 men under his command, the March began.

In the March, (known as the Savannah Campaign by historians), Union Major General William Sherman's aim was to destroy the capacity of the Confederate South for waging war.   He succeeded in that aim by marching across Georgia, destroying much in his path. As far as the innocent civilians that got in the way, their livestock and food was stolen and (if they resisted) their houses were burned.  And, 150 years later, the after effects of that campaign still linger psychologically.

Ironically, if you ever hear the expression "War is Hell", try this quote from General Sherman:

“It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell.”

Sherman died on February 14, 1891.  His funeral, in St. Louis, was attended by thousands.  Flags flew at half staff.  One of his pallbearers was former Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston. 

Johnston had surrendered his troops to Sherman near Durham, North Carolina, not long before the war ended.

Johnston contracted pneumonia at the funeral and died a little more than a month later.