Kitchen Garden

Apple Time in Iowa

Jonafree apples at Wilson’s Orchard and Farm, Sept. 17, 2021.

Large commercial farms in Iowa don’t grow apples the way they did. Iowa is mostly a corn, soybeans, oats and hay state when it comes to field crops. People don’t often grow apple trees at home either. Apples remain the most significant Iowa fruit crop and there are plenty around if you know where to look.

My backyard apple orchard has five trees. This year two varieties produced, Red Delicious and Earliblaze. Besides eating them fresh, I made apple cider vinegar and applesauce from Earliblaze, which were ready first and are done. I just started the Red Delicious harvest and made apple butter, and apple sauce from them so far. Preserving apples will get us through next year when the harvest is expected to be light. This year we have all the apple nutrition we can use with our own apples. Food in a kitchen garden is about more than nutrition.

To get more variety I went to a local orchard where trees are loaded with fall crop apples. Many varieties are ripe and ready to pick now. It was easy picking as the crowds had not hit them the way they will once autumn arrives Sept. 22.

“The full docket for apples this week includes Crimson Crisp, Jonathon, McIntosh, Cortland, Jonafree, Golden Supreme, Honey Gold, Honeycrisp, Song of September, Blondee, Burgundy, Bonner, Sansa, Cortland, Gala, and Ginger Gold,” according to the weekly marketing email from Wilson’s Orchard and Farm. In addition to apples, the farm began growing pumpkins and flowers which add to the scenic experience. In addition to picking apples I got in my daily exercise walking up and down the hills.

My goal was to come home with six or eight Crimson Crisp apples plus a few other varieties. (I planted a Crimson Crisp apple tree in the back yard and it hasn’t begun to fruit). I came home with a bag full of half a dozen varieties, plus some Honeycrisp for home storage. The flavors are distinctive in each, worth savoring.

People do it all the time yet I don’t know how they eat apples produced in other states and trucked into local grocery stores. Nutritionally they may meet requirements, but OMG! With all the locally grown apples and their diverse, often marvelous qualities why would you? As we eat through the ones I brought home we share and discuss each one. It is an experience of Iowa’s apple season and part of our local culture. At least it can be.

Apple time signals the beginning of autumn and the end of the growing season. It will be a rush to get everything done before snow flies. The main work of food production moves from the vegetable garden to the kitchen as bushels of apples become available. Apple time in Iowa connects us to the cycles of the season. Although the seasons have changed due to planetary warming and the greenhouse effect, we enjoy what persists during apple time.

Living in Society

Blow Out on the Tollway

Illinois Tollway H.E.L.P. trucks.

20 miles east of DeKalb the right rear tire blew out and ruined it. There was a two-inch gash, most likely from hitting something laying on the Illinois Tollway. After the noise, we got off to the shoulder quickly and safely.

When I got out of the car an Illinois Tollway H.E.L.P. truck was already parked behind me with his flashers going. The driver waved me away when I approached the truck, pointing to my car. I got to work cleaning stuff out of the back so I could access the spare tire and tools. The driver said he had a jack and offered it. It was the kind one finds in an auto repair shop and just what was needed. Luckily the spare had enough air pressure to make it to the DeKalb oasis where I fully inflated it.

We made it home safely and Thursday I began calling around for a tire. Ours is a common size and I found one easily. There is a catch. The 2002 Subaru is an all-wheel drive vehicle and to a tire person that means just one shouldn’t be replaced, but all four.

I asked a large tire shop salesperson why all four needed replacement and he said only, “because it is all-wheel drive.” An unsatisfying answer to the former maintenance director of a fleet of thousands of heavy-duty vehicles. He quoted me on a set of Hankook tires, about $600. I told him I had to consider it more as I hadn’t planned on replacing all four. I didn’t like his response to my question.

The next call was to my local mechanic. He took the time to explain why I needed four tires instead of one, having to do with the diameter of all the tires matching when the all-wheel drive function is engaged. He doesn’t keep tires in inventory any longer yet he quoted me two options, including the same Hankook tires the large dealer offered at the same price. “We sell a lot of those,” he said. I scheduled the next available appointment.

It’s good to know as I approach age 70 I can still change a tire while parked on an Interstate Highway. The last time that happened, I was on my way home from work in the Chicago Loop. The Dan Ryan expressway during rush hour can be a scary place to change a tire. They didn’t call them H.E.L.P. trucks back then, but an early equivalent pulled up to alert drivers I was there. I don’t know how the tollway figured the budget for H.E.L.P. trucks yet I’m glad they are there.

Many thanks to the Illinois Tollway H.E.L.P. drivers.


Postcards from Iowa #6

Text on the postcard: Stratford, Ontario, Canada The Festival Theatre viewed from across the Avon River is one of three theatres offering an excellent selection of theatrical performances during the Stratford Festival (May to November). Photo Credit: Robert B. Hicks

When our daughter was in middle school we began taking family vacations. They persisted through the summer between junior and senior year in high school.

It began with a week-long trip to Orlando, Florida where we stayed in a motel and made day trips to theme parks, including Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World. It was our first air travel together. For me, vacationing was participation in a great American adventure. It had one foot standing on consumerism and the other on a job that consumed much of my life. While we had only a brief sampling of what Orlando has to offer that first year, it was a positive experience. We made summer vacations annual.

Next was a trip to Colorado where we visited friends and did some mountain sight seeing. We drove among the 14,000-foot peaks and spent the rest of the time visiting people. After that, it was trips to Stratford, Ontario for the Stratford Festival of plays, and everything around them. I don’t recall how many plays we saw but our daughter insisted on meeting the actors to get the program autographed after each one. Vacations in Stratford became something else.

I didn’t realize it then, yet it became clear later, vacations were a crucible for making a life from the raw materials of society. They transitioned us through releasing our child to college and then to the greater challenges of living a creative life. Upon reflection, there are not many creative communities like the one in Stratford. We were fortunate to have had those trips.

It’s hard to say whether we will return to Stratford as a family, or take any kind of vacation. We will always have those summers to remember.

Living in Society

Living with Digital Images

Stones viewed through water.

Among things that have become harder to manage in the digital age are images. It is easy to take photographs with my Samsung mobile device today. Because it’s so easy, and has been for a while, the quantity of images on file is huge.

Every photograph is not important. Most are geared toward editing and posting on line in one of my social platforms, including WordPress. It is unclear what I should keep longer term. The cheap availability of storage suggests there is no need to sort through and delete some of them. While that may be the default process, I want change as I transfer files to my new CPU.

In August I captured 186 images, which is a typical monthly amount. Most of them are photos of garden produce, cooking, books, artwork, and things that happened or places I went. The best solution to reducing the quantity of files is to delete originals after cropping them for posting. Another is decide on the story a series is to tell. For example, I have 12 images related to donating my 1997 Subaru to Iowa Public Radio. They could be reduced to four. The best time to do this is immediately after I download them from my mobile device.

As I transfer thousands of images I plan to go through them all. To get this done I put an item on my daily outline, “work on file transfer.” I don’t know how long it will take yet I’ll work until it is done, a bit each day.

I don’t know the provenance of many of my photos, especially those with political subjects. In 2006-2008 I was getting used to a digital camera as my main image capturing technology. I felt little restraint about downloading photos by others when my own at a specific event were sub-par. I work harder to give credit today, but some of the older digital images are fond, and I have little idea who made them. I try to avoid using them outside my computer.

A main use of the files is in story telling. Before I deleted my Flickr account it was a great platform for story telling. The problem is how to translate those types of online stories into something more meaningful inside our home. When Yahoo had the problem with personal information security, I killed all the related accounts and downloaded the text from the stories on Flickr. It’s not the same.

Photos are a significant part of my autobiographical research. While ten years later I don’t care what I had for dinner on a given Sunday, those photos play a role in daily life, one that should be explored and developed for the story. A few will go into the final book yet the rest are best stored by editing, printing them out, and placing in an album. That’s as big a project as working through the transfer. The file transfer project will, in part, be designed to set up an album-making project for later.

There is no denying quality varied a lot over the more than 50 years I’ve been taking photographs. Sometimes a blurry image is all one has and it must be used for the album or story to make a point. I hope the formats .bmp, .jpg, .jpeg, .tiff, .png, and .tif persist yet there are no guarantees. The main issue going forward is there are a limited number of commercial outlets to print photos. We are tied to whatever those technologies are. It is too expensive to make our own prints on a home printer, except for on special occasions.

As I approach my seventieth birthday I think more about not leaving a large task of image sorting behind when I die. I may want to keep a couple of photos of tomatoes I grew, yet I don’t need a thousand. Likewise, if I can’t remember the name of a person in a photo, there is little reason to keep it. The recycling bin is already getting full.

I’ll be better off by giving this project some measure of thoughtful approach. Now that I’ve started, I hope to persevere until the work is done. The best part will be in actually completing the transfer so I can devote this time to something new. Wish me luck!

Kitchen Garden

My Cookbook

My handwritten cookbook.

During one of our vacations in Stratford, Ontario I bought this bound blank book for reasons then unknown. Eventually, beginning in 2000, I wrote down recipes in it and today the pages are more than half filled.

They are the kind of recipes that are more than improvisational knife and spoon work with me standing in the kitchen, checking the refrigerator and pantry, and whipping up a couple of things for supper.

I return to the cookbook regularly.

First pick of the Red Delicious apples, Sept. 12, 2021.

It is apple time in Iowa and someone asked for apple butter. The first pick of Red Delicious apples will go toward that. I have older jars stored on the shelf but when I gift apple butter, I want it to be this year’s batch.

In 2010 I entered my recipe for apple butter in the cookbook. Back then I made something out of every apple harvested. It was a lot of apple butter, apple sauce and dried apples. There are still a couple old jars hanging around. (They need to be pitched).

Today I give away apples I won’t use. One year I gave 350 pounds to a community supported agriculture project for their members. Another I donated to the food bank. I also offer them to neighbors if interested. The idea is to bring enough into the house to make sure the apple products will last for two years until the next big harvest is expected. I’m done with overshooting that goal, except for apple cider vinegar which keeps a long time.

I have hundreds of printed cookbooks and likely a recipe for every growing, crawling, running, flying, slithering, and swimming thing in the ecosphere. I keep my faves nearby: Rick Bayless, Mario Batali, Julia Child, Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker. I always return to the red-covered bound book I wrote myself for the good things in our life.

Happy cooking!

Living in Society

Miller-Meeks Turned Right

Mariannette Miller-Meeks on the Iowa State Fair Political Soapbox on Aug. 13, 2010. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

During the 2020 primary with the late Bobby Schilling, Mariannette Miller-Meeks was heartless. She took an extremist right turn away from constituents and never came back. 

It is telling about a person’s character that despite a call from Schilling’s son for both campaigns to cease false, negative campaigning, Miller-Meeks persisted. While Schilling was recovering from cancer surgery, Miller-Meeks ran a television ad criticizing him for not supporting the former president. Her ad asserted: “I am pro-life, pro-Trump.” She beat Schilling in the primary then went on to win the general election by six votes.

Since her arrival in Washington, Miller-Meeks has taken one extreme position after another. She adds her name to resolutions and legislation that go nowhere but attract additional extremist Republican co-sponsors.

Her most recent caper was signing a letter saying she won’t vote to raise the debt ceiling along with Republican extremists Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorne, and Devin Nunes, among others.

When her vote mattered to Iowans, as in the American Rescue Plan Act, she opposed it, aligning herself with the Republican caucus rather than helping Iowans. Where is her concern for constituents? I see very little of it.

Is embracing twice-impeached Donald Trump endearing Miller-Meeks to voters? What I do know is we can do better than Mariannette Miller-Meeks as our member of congress.

~ Published in the Cedar Rapids Gazette on Sept. 10, 2021.

Living in Society

Call the Flag Bill What It Is

Mariannette Miller-Meeks on the Iowa State Fair Political Soapbox on Aug. 13, 2010. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

I’m upset about the flag bill, HR 4392, the Flag Standardization Act of 2021.

Why didn’t Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks just call it the “I hate the gay and black people flags act” when she introduced it?

It was bad enough when Republicans reacted to the Secretary of State Antony Blinken announcement he would permit the “LGBT flag” (in April) and the “Black Lives Matter” flag (in May) to fly over U.S. embassies.

Right after President Biden signed an executive order recognizing June as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) Pride Month, the Republican Freedom Caucus skullduggery crew got to work on their own bill, HR 85, the Old Glory Only Act. Joined by such eminent Republican members as Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Louie Gohmert, Madison Cawthorne, and others, the bill had 20 co-sponsors.

It went nowhere.

In the hell’s kitchen of Republican legislation cookery Miller-Meeks’ bill may seem like a compromise. Truth is it is a restoration of the policy of President Donald Trump’s homophobic ban of the LGBT flag on Federal property. We want no part of that.

Don’t Congressional Republicans have better things to do?

~ Published in Little Village on Sept. 9, 2021.

Living in Society

Retro Post – On Sept. 11, 2001

United Airlines Flight 175 hits World Trade Center south tower on Sept. 11, 2001. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

First published at Blog for Iowa on Sept. 11, 2011.

I was scheduled to fly from Moline, Illinois to Philadelphia on Sept. 11, 2001. My flight was cancelled. I returned to the office, and with the other office employees watched the twin towers burning and then collapse on television. I neither understood what happened nor knew what to do. But I turned to a president, one I believed stole the 2000 election, and said that I would support him after this act of terrorism. We all did.

What I remember most from the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001 was my trip to Philadelphia a few days later. The plane was almost empty. As I approached the Eastern Iowa Airport, the radio announcer said President Bush was also heading to Philadelphia on an unannounced trip. Air Force One was already parked at Philadelphia International Airport when I arrived and I drove past it in my rental car heading to Interstate 95. There were hundreds of law enforcement officials stationed along the presidential route.

As I headed North, I passed the presidential motorcade returning to the airport. It was 10:30 a.m. On the radio I discovered that the President was in town fulfilling a campaign promise to visit a women’s shelter. He couldn’t have been in Philadelphia three hours. I shook my head, disappointed that after all that had happened, we were back to politics.

As the hope of getting something done in Washington D.C. this year wanes, and our attention turns to “jobs,” the “Super Committee” and the 2012 Presidential election, we are approaching the tenth anniversary of the event that brought almost everyone in the country together. I am referring to Osama Bin Laden’s successful hijacking of four aircraft and the deaths, destruction and economic damage it brought. It did bring us together, if only for the briefest of moments. Whatever consensus may have existed then, devolved into political gridlock unlike any in living memory.

We know about the deaths that day, and the illnesses of workers at Ground Zero. What we don’t consider enough is the death, destruction and economic damage caused by the United States reaction to Sept. 11, 2001. Hugh Gusterson reports in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, “the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and his collaborator Linda Bilmes estimate that, in funds already disbursed or committed, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have so far cost the American taxpayer… $3.2 trillion.” It is noteworthy that this amount includes $200 billion in interest incurred after the decision to pay for the war with deficit spending. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the United States will incur another $800 billion in interest charges on the war debt by 2020. The wars are costing a lot.

In this month’s issue of The Lancet, Vic Sidel and Barry Levy published an article titled, “Adverse health consequences of U.S. Government responses to the 2001 terrorist attacks.” The article reminds us of the fact that there were more than the dollar costs of these wars. According to the article, as of July 26, 2011 there were 1,568 US Military deaths in Afghanistan and 4,408 in Iraq. There have been tens of thousands of US casualties. Likewise there were many times this number of Afghan and Iraqi deaths. Estimates are that 655,000 Iraqis died in the first 40 months of the Iraq War. Millions of refugees in both countries are on the move as a result of the wars. The health care infrastructure in Iraq was damaged, much of it destroyed. Thousands of villages in Afghanistan and their environs have been destroyed. Of 222,620 US military personnel who returned between May, 2003, and April 2004, 42,506 (19%) reported mental health problems and 68,923 (31%) used mental health services over the first year after they returned home. The article continues, but I have made the point: the cost of our reaction to September 11 was in more than dollars.

As we honor the lives lost and damaged by the terrorist attacks, I hope that for a moment we can include those lost and damaged by our political decision to invade Iraq and to prosecute a war with Afghanistan that no one has been able to win after more than thirty years of fighting.

Once we understand the true cost of war, it seems too high a price.


Postcards From Iowa #5

Reverse side: Personal note postmarked Oklahoma City, July, 8, 1908.

Social media hasn’t helped us stay in touch with friends and acquaintances.

In 2010 I searched for members of my high school class and asked them to join a Facebook group started for our fortieth class reunion. Many joined, but the group is now pretty inactive. Mostly we fell out.

It takes work to maintain a relationship and with all the stuff we have to do just to keep up with society it doesn’t happen. We drift except for those closest to us. I’m coming to a place where that seems okay.

What we yearn for is doing new, interesting, or exciting things. It doesn’t matter if it is with people we’ve known for decades or with those we just met. The arc of our lives isn’t a fixed trajectory. Just because we walked to school with the same group of people during the 1960s, that doesn’t mean the bond was permanent. If I encounter such childhood friends — these days mostly at funerals — we reminisce a bit in the moment and that’s that. We’ve built new lives that diverged from our beginnings.

I favor writing letters to friends and family. Not too much, though. There is an unspoken obligation to write one back and I don’t want to hang that on people I care about. Yet I write a letter from time to time.

This postcard reminded me there are a few people with whom I’d like to re-establish contact. Not that many, though. I have to ask why we fell out in the first place. Sometimes we’ll never know.

Juke Box

Juke Bok — Purple Haze

Yesterday the weather was as good as it gets. Today looks to be more of the same. Wherever you are on this jumping green sphere, have a great day! To get you going, here’s the uniquely talented Jimi Hendrix, who left us too soon.