Sunday, November 11, 2012

Internet Entertainment (TV and Movies)

In my Nix the Cable post of a few weeks ago, I mentioned how purchasing a digital antennae along with streaming television shows and movies through my laptop (attached to my TV) had provided me with a much cheaper alternative to purchasing cable or satellite. I recently made another purchase to further distance myself from the cost of cable and satellite television, a Roku Streaming Player.

About the size of a man’s wallet, the Roku Streaming Player is a nice piece of entertainment technology. It has wireless capabilities and attaches to your television via an A/V cable RCA to 3.5mm (included) or HDMI cable (not included). The web site advertises 600 channels and counting; however, not all the channels are free. Hulu Plus and Netflix are $7.99 a month (each) which is still a heck of alot cheaper than paying a monthly cable or satellite bill. Amazon Prime, another alternative to watching your favorite shows, is only $79 a year.

The only issue I’ve experienced using the Roku Streaming Player are the sheer number of channels to choose from when looking for something to watch, finding channels that suit me. Thankfully, you can “Add Channels” with the click of a remote, sort of like bookmarking your favorite web sites in a browser, which will allow you to return to your favorites easily.

To date, I’ve watched documentaries about poets, prehistoric snakes, Abraham Lincoln, a concert of Verdi’s Requiem, several cooking shows, along with programs I enjoy that are currently on cable (Fringe, Modern Family, Parks and Recreations, Arrow and more). If you don't want to burn gas to pickup a movie to watch, bypass the video store or Redbox and stream a movie from via your Roku Streaming Player. You can rent a movie from Amazon Instant Video for two to four dollars (depending on the movie) for 24 hours.

Thankfully, networks streaming their programs and movies over the Internet makes Roku a cheaper, viable option for entertainment. Fortunately, Roku and the consumer benefit from this streaming Internet technology.

I’m a huge fan of Japanese hibachi chicken or steak. Here’s a Japanese white sauce recipe that I enjoy using whenever I grill steak or chicken at home.

Japanese White Sauce

20 tablespoons Mayo
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1  Tablespoon melted butter
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon paprika  
dash Cayenne pepper

And finally, a tanka for you to ponder.

from the onset
of the first G-chord
an Alzheimer's patient
lifts her head
to sing

red lights, vol. 1, no. 2, June 2005

Friday, November 2, 2012

Stone Soup

Just as we’re all deciding what to do with the leftover Halloween candy and keeping an eye to looming Thanksgiving preparations, let’s all just sit for a spell and take a deep breath. After all, a trip to any type of retail outlet has told us since late September that Christmas is just around the corner. The commercial push to consume at the expense of all else just takes the shine off the season for me. Here’s what my family does to take back what we love about this time of year, and we do it in grand fashion!

 We start with this...

Well, to be entirely honest, Papa started with this...its a stewpot before the good stuff gets introduced into its depth. More precisely, this is a 100-gallon cast iron stewpot that he scrubbed clean and seasoned in preparation for this weekend’s Brunswick stew. We’ve had more fun in the last two days than we’ve had in the last two months playing pranks on each other, needling Papa while questioning his methods when none of the rest of us would know how to pull this weekend off without him. No matter how well my mom can make homemade pimento cheese for the sandwiches which will accompany that Brunswick stew, no matter how good Deedee’s buttermilk pies will be fresh from the oven, no matter how Lindsay will undoubtedly fill our weekend with laughter leaving us all sore from the mirth, this weekend belongs to my father’s expertise around a stewpot. And don’t think we don’t all try to catch every detail!

We’ll spend this afternoon chopping enough vegetables to earn us a collective berth into the nonexistent Rockingham County Stew Masters Hall of Fame. We’ll de-bone more cooked chickens than we’ll be able to count. Sure, it’s a formidable task to prep and cook 100 gallons of Brunswick stew, but it’ll pay us both now and later.

Today’s sky is gloriously overcast and there’s an unmistakable nip in the air. Wood has been stacked near the stewpot for ready access and it will perfume tomorrow’s early morning. Hopefully our friends and family will arrive early and constantly to take a turn stirring the pot. Conversation will be lively and laughter-filled. Tales told will be tall ones. And the stew will be remarkable! It never, ever disappoints.

Well now, don’t go thinking that I’m going to share the recipe for Papa’s Brunswick stew here because I don’t even have it. We’re still trying to convince him to give my girls a handwritten copy for their family cookbooks, so wish us luck in that regard. But I am giving you my granny’s buttermilk pie recipe along with Deedee’s tweak. And I am asking you to borrow a concept from my poetry friends and me – take a few minutes to focus on the beauty of something small and now. Don’t be pushed. Don’t allow others’ schedules to entirely dictate your own for a few moments. In some way, whether in writing or a soft touch or a song, share that moment with someone. We poets call such moments “stones”. It takes a lot of small stones, those things we have and are commonly, to line our river’s bed. We hold each other together and become something so much larger.

rain drops changing the tone of river stones

Curtis Dunlap
Modern Haiku Volume 39.1 - Winter/Spring 2008

Granny Rona’s Buttermilk Pies
makes 2 

5 eggs
3 cups sugar
1 ½ tbsp. flour
1 cup buttermilk
¾ cups unsalted butter, melted
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of salt
* 7 ounces coconut flakes (Deedee’s optional addition - trust her on this one!)
2 deep-dish pie shells, store-bought or homemade but bring your best intentions!

Mix all ingredients together and pour into unbaked pie shells. Bake at 275 degrees F for 10 minutes; increase oven temperature to 300 degrees F and bake 50 minutes longer.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Frugal in the Kitchen & Books

Susan’s stroll down memory lane last week, revisiting Halloweens of her youth, rekindled a memory I have of reading science fiction, fantasy and horror stories as a boy living in a mobile home in the small community of Shiloh, located a few miles east of Mayodan. My love of reading and writing can be traced back to the summer of ‘69. Momma, ever the thrifty one, purchased a large box of books at a yard sale one weekend. She paid five dollars for the entire lot and I, due to her thoughtfulness, fell in love with reading. While I enjoyed and read every book in that box, I favored science fiction over fantasy and horror, probably because the genre made me think of things that could be possible given time and technological achievements.

While man left his mark on the moon during that summer, I was in no way confined to that mobile home in Shiloh. Those books carried me to mountain tops and ocean depths, beyond the confines of gravity to moons and planets, bridging vast distances between stars, worlds microscopic and macroscopic, through barriers of time and space. Asimov, Bova, Bradbury, Clarke, Heinlein, Herbert, Pohl, were but a few of my captains, who ferried me along with the characters in their books.

Those books piqued my interest in model rocketry. I worked odd jobs that summer, earning money to purchase a model rocket kit complete with a launch pad, rocket, and several small cylinder shaped solid fuel rocket engines. A few months later, one of my teachers at school asked me to talk to my classmates about rocketry. At recess, I was permitted to launch one of my rockets from a designated “safe spot” on the football field. My classmates counted “10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-0 liftoff!” and I pressed the ignition button. My rocket streaked skyward, leaving a trail of white smoke. A few seconds later we heard a distant pop and, soon after, my rocket drifted down via a plastic parachute several yards from where it began its brief journey.

Not bad mileage (for the imagination) for a five dollar box of books. In fact, I think I’m still ferrying along, fueled by my love of reading that began that summer.

Some of the recipes I post here are created while playing in the kitchen. I think I got my money's worth last weekend when I purchased four large chicken breast (2.88 lbs) for $5.75. After boiling the breast to make chicken salad, it suddenly occurred to me that I should do something with the left over broth. Here’s what I did:

Ad-libbed Black Bean Chicken Soup

I boiled the chicken, removed the breast, left the broth/water in the pot. I then added one shredded chicken breast, two cans (drained) of black beans, a jar of salsa, corn (drained), 16 ounces of veggie juice, sauteed onions, half cup brown rice, two teaspoons chili powder, two teaspoons cumin, two teaspoon onion powder, two teaspoons garlic powder, teaspoon sea salt, teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper and another can of chicken broth and two cups water.

I brought the soup up to a boil then cut it down to medium low and let it simmer for two hours, adding additional water as needed.

With the remaining three breast, I made chicken salad--diced the chicken breast, tossed the chicken into a bowl, added pecans, mayonnaise, red grapes (sliced), diced celery, salt and pepper, stirred everything thoroughly then put the chicken salad in the fridge to chill for a few hours.

My efforts made three quarts of the black bean chicken soup and one quart and one pint of chicken salad. I gifted my neighbor a quart of soup and a pint of the chicken salad.

There’s no fun in being frugal if you don’t share. :)

And finally, a poem for you to pause and consider. Have a great week!


Not so much
the fiery streak
that split the
autumn night
or the impact it made
miles away
as we watched
with awed delight
but the distance
the distance
only to sizzle and fizzle
in the deep

Magnapoets - Issue 5, January 2010

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Going, Going, Gone...

The frost isn’t quite on the pumpkin here in the piedmont of North Carolina but I’ve certainly felt its breath whispering across my nape lately.  Early mornings aren’t yet brisk, but they’ve sent me in search of a pair of socks to warm against my kitchen floor’s chill.  Autumn’s brilliance shows up in varying degrees depending on the type of tree I’m contemplating.  Inducing one reverie after another, careening flocks of migrating birds distract me from a pale daily routine, taking me with them in my imagination.  The pace of my days has changed from a flamenco staccato to a slow and soulfully stroked 12-string guitar’s cadence.  Time moves along just as it should and beautifully at that.  

Unlike other seasons, autumn lends itself especially well  to dwelling on what passes us by.  This week I talked with a young mother and was delighted to learn that her children would attend their grammar school’s Halloween Carnival later this month.  I immediately recalled the smell of my own childhood’s sweaty gymnasium carnival where the locker room had been decorated to pose as a Haunted House (I still jump out of my skin when anyone jumps at me from around a corner).  Someone’s mother dressed as a fortune teller and mused to us in an oddly convincing mix of a southern drawl and a bad composite of southern European accents as she peered into each child’s palm, predicting the great lives we would lead.  Children raced around that gym fueled by overdoses of sugar and their wildly vivid imaginations.  It was All Hallow’s Eve!  How fun that this mother’s children would get to enjoy the same experience I so fondly remembered from my own childhood!  But my trip down memory lane came to an abrupt halt when she told me that bobbing for apples was no longer allowed due to health concerns.  Oh, my.  I understand worries over communicable diseases as well as the next parent, but the death of the apple barrel has hit me surprisingly hard.  

I’ll let the bandwagon of dissent roll right past me without leaving my footprints in its bed.  I’ll spare you the spiel I feel brewing over the apple barrel’s demise, of all those things we’ll miss when we’ve allowed, moreover, asked them to leave us.  How much further will we isolate ourselves until we realize our bubbles are so heavy they can’t catch a breeze?

autumn flannel -
the warmth
of my father’s shirt

Here’s to timely, nostalgic comfort food!

Pumpkin Pie

For Crust:  (best to work with very cold ingredients!)

1 ¼ c. all-purpose flour

½ c. (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter
½ c. powdered confectioner’s sugar

3 tbsp. whipping cream

For Filling:

¾ c. granulated sugar

¼ tsp (generous) salt
1 tbsp. packed brown sugar

16 oz. pumpkin
1 tbsp. cornstarch

¾ c. whipping cream
2 tsp. cinnamon

½ c. sour cream
¾ tsp. ground ginger

3 large eggs, beaten
¼ c. apricot preserves

For Crust:  Preheat oven to 350.  Blend flour and powdered sugar.  Add cold butter which has been cut into small pieces and working quickly so your hands will not melt the small pieces of butter.  Blend with pastry cutter or food processor until flour mixture resembles coarse meal.  Add cold whipping cream until moist clumps form.  Gather dough into ball, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and refrigerate 15-30 minutes.  Roll dough on floured surface to 14-inch round.  Transfer to 9-inch pie plate.  Trim overhang to 1 inch and fold overhang under.  Make cut in edge of crust at ½-inch intervals, bending alternate edge pieces inward.  Freeze for 15 minutes.  Line crust with foil, pressing firmly.  Bake until sides are set, about 10 minutes.  Remove foil and bake until pale brown, about 10 minutes more.  Remove pie from oven and reduce temperature to 325.

Spread preserves over crust.  

For Filling:  Using a whisk, mix sugars, cornstarch, cinnamon, ginger and salt until no lumps remain.  Add pumpkin, whipping cream, sour cream and eggs.  Pour filling on top of preserves.  Bake until filling puffs at edges and center is almost set, about 55 minutes.  Cool on wire rack; cover and chill.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Food Portions and Healthy Living

And we're back...

I was out of town last week and have had a few personal good things going on. Without giving the reader too much information, I’ll say that the move that my daughter and I made to Poet’s Cottage a year ago last month has been one of the best moves I’ve made in my life. We are happy campers and laugh frequently. Methinks life is often what you make of it, we must always strive to make it good.

Okay, an abbreviated post today, but one with a great recipe. Followers of this blog saw in my last post that I’ve started eating healthier, exercising and controlling my food portions--quite the opposite from my Food Portions post on April 1, 2012. So far, I’ve had little to no problem working-in a walk or workout during the course of a day. I’ve discovered that, if you use your imagination, you can be very creative when adopting a healthier lifestyle. Twenty minutes of exercise once or twice a day is easier to manage than thirty to forty minutes at one time during the day. I’ve learned that you don’t have to go overboard on a fitness kick to reap immediate benefits.

The mental benefits of healthier living is something that I’d forgotten about during my decade of inactivity. I feel better about myself. I’m happier, less prone to spiral into a chasm of negativity. While I’ve never been a hothead (seriously, folks, I’m an easy going dude), I’m less prone to become angry over small things now. Perhaps this is the greatest benefit one can reap from a healthier lifestyle. A sullen disposition, overtime, can have adverse affects on your physical and mental well being. And, if you think about it, you’re not doing the people around you any favors by sulking or brooding all the time.

Be thankful and savor the small things life has to offer.

morning prayer...
a wren chimes in
amid the amens

One of the foods that I used to gorge myself on is steak. I still treat myself from time to time, but what used to be one meal has become two or three meals (again, it’s all about controlling your portions). How’s that for frugality! Here’s how I cook a steak when I’m not grilling.

Skillet Seared Steak

Tony’s Creole Seasong
sea salt
garlic powder
olive oil

I firmly believe that a good steak does not need steak sauce. Season a steak properly and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Set your steak out on a counter. Allow the meat to rise to room temperature. This will prevent the steak from becoming tough and chewy.

Rub the steak in olive oil. Coat the steak with the first three ingredients (your dry rub).

Place a cast iron skillet in a 500 degree oven. While the skillet becomes hot in the oven, turn a burner on top of the stove on High heat.

After the skillet becomes hot, remove it from the oven and set it on the burner (leave the oven on).

Sear the steak in the pan for 30 seconds, flip and sear the other side for 30 seconds.

Put the steak in the 500 degree oven. Cook for two minutes. Remove from the oven, flip the steak, put it back in the oven for another two minutes. This will make for a medium rare steak. Add a minute to the level of desired doneness if you’re don’t want a medium rare steak.

By the way, the steaks featured here are chuck eye steaks. They are loaded with flavor and are a lot cheaper than rib eye.

And, no, I didn't eat both steaks. I gave one to a neighbor who was kind enough to share homemade English muffins with me.

I've got great neighbors. :)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Devil's in the Details

I’ve always made as big a fuss as possible over my girls when they’ve fallen ill. A simple common cold was cause to turn our sofa into an oasis of comfort - I’d make it up with bed linens and our softest old quilts and pile it high with pillows. A side table would get parked within easy reach so they’d have the television’s remote control nearby, a stack of “dirty magazines” (i.e., People, Us Weekly, Cosmopolitan - guilty pleasures for the otherwise academically inclined), a box of tissues and something cold to drink. Then I’d start making a pot of chicken soup if I didn’t already have cartons of it stored in the freezer. This habit has followed them into adulthood and their expectations aren’t outrageous - who wouldn’t enjoy just a wee bit of extra consideration when feeling down? Nobody wants someone hovering over them, but a few thoughtful niceties go a long way to improve an otherwise rotten few days of discomfort. You should be able to rely on your loved ones to provide a stroke or two at just the right time.

A few years back when my oldest was living in a neighboring city, she fell ill with a nasty bout of the flu while I was on a trip to California. She’d asked her boyfriend, a chef, to please make her some chicken soup if it wouldn’t be too much trouble. He brought her an offering of sorts. She called me.

Mom, you’re never in a million years going to believe what Rhyan considers a bowl of chicken soup when I’m so sick. @$%#@ Ramen Noodles!” 

“Oh, no. He didn’t. Really?” 

“He’s a @$%#@ CHEF and he brings me RAMEN NOODLES???? I felt rotten and now I feel even worse.” 

Heads up, readers - it’s a really good idea to cover the nuances of what your partner considers “comfort food” at the same time you’re discussing your financial standings, your spending habits, your religious leanings and your political persuasions. Getting it wrong can be life altering. Don’t put yourself into a situation where you have to take a stab at it - get the information up front and in clear terms. And if it’s a chicken soup recipe you’re needing, here’s a fail-proof version. It takes a while to make, so it’s better to cook a big batch and freeze it so you won’t be caught empty handed.

Did I mention that my daughter and I were both sick this week and there wasn’t a drop of soup to be found in either of our houses?

Doghouse Chicken Soup 

Any of your favorite vegetables will work in this recipe - green beans, zucchini, etc. The recipe is also easily doubled or tripled. You can make extra stock by roasting the chicken bones after deboning it after its initial cooking. 

4 quarts water 1 large chicken, cut up, or a large roaster
1 bulb garlic, roasted and removed from paper
2 yellow or white onions, peeled and roughly chopped
4 potatoes, peeled and diced
½ cup chopped celery, about 2 stalks with leaves included
6 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 cup cooked lima beans
½ lb. small pasta (orzo, penne, etc)
Chopped parsley to taste
Chopped rosemary to taste
1 tablespoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Wash the chicken thoroughly and pat dry. Cut up into pieces and put into a large stock pot. Pour in water, add roasted garlic and bring to a boil, skimming off foam. Cook until chicken is tender and falling from the bone. Debone chicken thoroughly, saving aside the bones. Strain the stock by sending it through cheesecloth in a sieve. Discard garlic cloves. Let it cool completely. If making more stock, put reserved bones into a roaster. Roast in a 400-degree oven until charred. Put charred bones into a stock pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for a few hours. Repeat straining process and add to original stock. Refrigerate all of the stock overnight so that fat will rise to the surface. Remove fat and return stock to the stovetop. 

Add the vegetables, herbs, salt and pepper. Cover and let it simmer for roughly 2 ½ hours, adjusting the seasoning to taste. Add pasta and cook until al dente.

And lastly, remember to get your flu shots! Stay healthy and happy!

spring thaw . . .
i run
out of tissues

Saturday, September 22, 2012

New Goals and Wheat Biscuits

A recent visit to my doctor set me to thinking about my health. He commented that I was in good shape for a baby boomer, those of us born between 1946 and 1964. He asked if I exercised regularly and I responded that I’d only done so occasionally in recent years, but that I used to lift weights at least five times a week a decade ago. And then he said something that surprised me. “It shows,” he said. I did not understand his response. Sure, I’m a fairly big guy, but I’m not the beefed-up guy I was ten years ago. I’ve added two inches to my waist since I lifted those weights.

The doctor saw my puzzled look, gave a wry smile and said, “There are a lot of baby boomers who are not as healthy as you. You’ve had three surgeries in ten years, yet you’ve maintained good health. You recovered from your surgeries quicker than some folks; you are still active, a lot of this can be attributed to the fact that you took time to exercise regularly years ago. What you did a decade ago has helped you today. Why don’t you do something today that will benefit you tomorrow?”

Alana, Ian and me (with the shades) ten years ago
For a moment, I thought my doctor had morphed into a motivational speaker. I felt a surge of positive energy. I could not wait to get home and ride my bicycle or lift a dumbbell or two. I drove home, mentally retrieving and cataloging the exercises I used to do, scheduling and juggling times to fit into my schedule where I could ride my bike or lift a few weights. The thought of climbing Hanging Rock again in better shape and in less time than a few weeks ago appealed to me. I would set goals, little records that I could break. I would exercise wisely, always careful to not over do it.

I’ve been exercising regularly now for three weeks and I can already feel the benefits. I have more energy; I feel better about myself and I have a pair of shorts that fit a little better around my waist. :) I will never be in the same physical condition I was a decade ago, but I can damn sure strive to be in better shape than I am today.

Staying motivated has not been a problem. My neighbor, friend and Hanging Rock hiking partner, Deedee and her friend Anna have been exercising too. Sharing healthy recipes and exercise information with friends inspires me further. Seeing their benefits from exercising, shedding pounds, toning-up, feeling better about themselves encourages and motivates me to do the same. Finding people with the same goals for better health and a happier life can help you achieve your goals.

But there is more to improving one's health than riding a bicycle or lifting a few weights for thirty minutes four or five times a week. I’ve also altered my diet slightly, reducing my intake of fatty foods, eating smaller portions, eating more fruits and vegetables. Does this mean I’ll have to give-up biscuits and gravy or steak? No. I can still have the foods I love as long as I eat one or two biscuits instead of four or five or a third or half of a steak instead of the entire cow.

And with that in mind, here’s a healthy biscuit recipe for you to chomp on. :)

Wheat Biscuits

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup milk (or buttermilk)

Whisk flours, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
Cut butter into flour with a pastry blender or knives.
Add milk and stir until a dough is formed (adding a little flour until the dough is no longer sticky).
Roll onto a floured surface and knead a few times
Roll/press with a rolling pin or wine bottle until 1/4 inch thick.
Cut (I use a Mason jar lid) into round biscuit shapes and place on a lightly greased baking sheet.
Bake in a 425°F oven 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

Today is the first day of autumn. Undoubtedly haiku poets will be inspired to pen a haiku or two today. The poem below is one I experienced some years ago and, perhaps, fits nicely into what I talked about today on The Frugal Poet. I think the theme here is certainly the passing of time, but I also think it could mean that we should never give-up. We must always...try.

cycling with my son –
this is the autumn
I fall behind

The Heron's Nest VII:4 - 12, 2005
An Editors’ Choice haiku.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Best Laid Plans

A few weeks ago I happily anticipated my daughter’s birthday weekend in Virginia. I let my imagination gleefully run with the imminent opportunities to create “bumps in the night” while floating down the James River in Virginia with my favorite coven of wild women to see whose imagination would run most rampant, who would scream first, who would scream loudest as we kayaked under a full blue moon. If for some unforeseen reason no opportunity presented itself to create a bit of havoc, then surely our next day’s hike on the Chessie Trail wouldn’t disappoint. Well, so much for that.

Despite a questionable weather forecast, we made the short drive to Buchanan, VA where the Twin River Outfitters awaited our arrival. After watching a brief video on water safety and ensuring that everyone was properly outfitted with life vests, our river guides offered us the last-minute chance to opt out - rain was indeed forecast for the evening and the trip might prove to be less than expected.

Better-seasoned kayakers and canoers were in our company. They were the ones wearing arrogant demeanors and tee-shirts from previous kayaking adventures, the ones sporting specialized water shoes, the ones who brought their own oars- nothing would deter them from the trip. They talked amongst themselves while we tadpoles strained to catch any information we might deem useful to our impending trip. We heard their comments on that night’s weather - “...after all, it’ll be nothing more than a little rain if it ever shows. We went down Class 4 rapids last weekend...” The coven unanimously agreed that the “devil should take the hindmost” and piled into a repurposed school bus for the short yet winding trip to a point where we’d launched our kayaks and canoes onto the James.

After affixing glow sticks to the cleats on our kayaks, in we went. Having heard the guide’s advice to immediately paddle to the right bank of the river upon launch, my kayak headed a swift and dead left. No amount of furious paddling would extricate me from the river’s current, and I promptly went sideways smack into a rock formation. At least I didn’t capsize the kayak, but I had to wait briefly for the guide to step - yes, I said step - out of his kayak to put my craft aright and give me a gentle push. I’d have bet good money that the river was deep at that point. Humiliating? A little. The hoots from the coven bounced off of both riverbanks but their cheers also met my ears as I finally made some progress to meet up with them downriver.

Dusk quickly turned into dark night as we paddled the five miles back to camp. Rain clouds obscured the full moon and we all became thankful for our glow sticks despite their casting what could be woefully inadequate light. What had started as a soft drizzle had turned into a persistent rainfall. At one point a disembodied voice asked me, “Are you my husband?” I replied, “Nope!” and then giggled to myself. I couldn’t at first discern whose canoe bumped into the back of my kayak but quickly figured it out when I heard from the darkness, “Paddle UP! Why do they let these idiots on the river?” I heard the guide’s authoritative voice warn everyone to again paddle a hard right to avoid a fallen tree in the middle of the water...but I heard it too late. Thankfully, I was able to push myself away from the tree and didn’t require the guide’s help once again. We straggled and dripped safely back to camp, roasted s’mores over a welcome fire and warmed up with cups of hot chocolate. Believe it or not, I was the second craft to pull into basecamp There’s nothing like a hard-driving rain, a bruised ego and smelling home’s camp fire to motivate a soul!

The next day the coven hiked all 7.2 miles of the Chessie Trail on a gloriously warm and sunny day. At the trail’s beginning, signs warned us that we’d cross personal property along the way and asked that we please be respectful, to please not stray from the trail itself in order to meander on said personal property, and to leave the beautiful path as we’d found it (i.e., pick up your own trash). About half way through the hike we encountered cows. Large cows. Very large cows with small calves. It’s amazing how abruptly our constant chatter ceased upon spotting the first one - how gingerly and respectfully we crept past their unblinking stares, how completely oblivious I was to the giant pile of cow poop I’d be forced to wear on my shoes for the rest of the hike. I’d take that trip all over again given the chance, river rocks, fallen trees, cow pies and all. I didn’t even mind unintentionally providing the weekend’s comedic relief. It’s hard to be too full of oneself when you’re surrounded with so much love and laughter.

Cow Pie Cookies

2 cups white sugar
½ cup milk
½ cup unsalted butter
3 cups quick-cooking oatmeal
⅔ cup chunky peanut butter
5 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine sugar, milk and butter. Slowly bring to a boil and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add rest of ingredients. Mix well and immediately drop by spoonfuls onto waxed paper. Cool on waxed paper and store in airtight container.

Finally, a haiku to remind you to enjoy the season, whatever it hands you.

the tug of red clay between my toes blue moon

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Nix the Cable and Stroganoff

Take your monthly cable or satellite bill and multiply it by 12. Does the amount of money you are willing to spend in a year to be entertained or receive news through your television surprise you? Now imagine what you could do with that money if you were to cancel your cable or satellite bill. What a nice chunk of change you could add to your savings or apply toward a vacation.

I don’t have cable or satellite here at Poet’s Cottage, but that doesn’t mean that my daughter and I are unable to watch our favorite television programs. I recently purchased an RCA digital indoor/outdoor antenna for a mere $40. Frankly, I was surprised at the number of channels I receive from such a small antenna. For that one time cost of $40, I have access to four major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS) and a number of other stations. 

But what about the programs I am unable to receive via the antenna? Thankfully, nearly all networks stream their programs free over the Internet nowadays. Usually, there is a slight delay, maybe a day or so, before I’m able to watch on my computer what was broadcast on television. Toss in a few bucks for an HMDI cable and I can connect my computer to my television and watch my favorite shows on a much larger screen. Bottom line, I don’t have to miss episodes of Duck Dynasty or Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

Even a monthly charge of accessing movies and television programs on Hulu Plus and Netflix is far cheaper than a monthly cable bill. 

If you have any questions about digital antennas or connecting your computer to your television to watch programs streamed over the Internet, let me know. I’d be happy to help you save several dollars.

There are alternatives to paying exorbitant prices for cable or satellite TV.

Today marks the anniversary of my becoming a resident at Poet’s Cottage. I want to thank you all for your support and prayers. Sometimes, it is better to move on and make your own happiness rather than expend the energy to change the unchangeable.

Here’s an easy recipe that my daughter and I enjoy:

Crock Pot Stroganoff

2 lbs stew meat
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
3 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce (or to taste)
1 to 2 sweet onions
1 16 ounce sour cream
a package of egg noodles

Add first three ingredients to a crock pot. Cook on low for eight hours. 

Add chopped onions half way through the cooking time.

When the Stroganoff is ready to serve, cook egg noodles according to directions on the package. Turn the crock pot off. Add sour cream and stir thoroughly until well blended. Serve over egg noodles.

You can also serve Crock Pot Stroganoff over mashed potatoes, rice and sliced bread.

I’ll close with a kyoka that was originally published in Prune Juice:

that poor birch tree
scarred with our initials
decades ago . . .
how I wish someone
would chop it down

Prune Juice –  Issue 2, Summer, 2009

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Figs and Flotillas

Curtis’s post of last week on Quick Frugal Trips coordinated nicely with and added a great sense of anticipation about our personal plans to celebrate my youngest daughter’s birthday this very weekend. Deeds was born on Labor Day so it’s always nice for her to have an extended holiday each year on her birthday. Her sister, Linds, has planned an action-packed weekend for us visiting with her in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. And we’ll not miss one bit of fun celebrating richly yet frugally (imagine here my pirouette as I simply adore when the execution of a great plan leaves money in my pocket!)

Friday will find friends and family piling into the jeep for the brief trek to Lindsay’s house. We’ll share a meal that evening with fixings from our pantry - pasta with fire-roasted marinara sauce canned this summer from Papa’s garden. We’ll pack a picnic basket for Saturday morning’s trip to the Maury River in Goshen where we’ll enjoy the area’s extraordinary beauty while swimming in the naturally formed rock pools there. Lunch for six can easily be afforded when I raid the pantry once again to appoint that picnic basket - homemade biscuits, a jar of fig jam, a good wedge of cheese and cold-cut deli meats will make for a filling lunch for us while we laze the day away enjoying stellar company. Saturday evening will find us savoring a full-moon kayak adventure on the James River - we’ll even have a campfire with s’mores afterward. The outfitter assures us that the last half of this trip will allow us to float downriver in the dark. My alter ego, Mommie Dearest, fully intends to exploit every opportunity to see which of our company scares easily! Oh, the anticipation... 

On Sunday we’ll hike the Chessie Trail, a 6 mile rail trail following a roadbed formerly used by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway before ending our day at a wine tasting at Rockbridge Vineyard. We’ll travel no more than 2 hours from our home in North Carolina to spend an entire holiday/birthday weekend costing no more than $300 for six people. But best of all will undoubtedly be the abundance of smiles, laughter and memories on which to later reflect - these are the things which money simply cannot buy.

Drunken Fig Jam

1 lemon
1 orange
4 pounds ripe fresh figs, stemmed, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 9 cups)
4 cups sugar (or 3 cups honey)
¾ cup brandy or Cognac
½ teaspoon kosher salt
slivered almonds (optional)

Zest the lemon and the orange, avoiding white pith. Combine the zest and the juices from the lemon and orange with figs, sugar (or honey), brandy and kosher salt in a heavy, large and deep saucepan; let stand at room temperature for an hour or so, stirring occasionally.

Bring fig mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat to medium; continue to boil until jam thickens and is reduced to about 6 cups, stirring often and occasionally mashing the mixture with a potato masher to crush large fig pieces, about 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in slivered almonds if using them.

Ladle mixture into 6 hot, clean ½-pint glass canning jars, leaving about ¼-inch headspace at top of jars. Remove any air bubbles and wipe the jar rims with a clean cloth. Cover with hot lids and screw on jar bands. Invert on a clean kitchen cloth immediately and let cool on countertop. Once cool, check seals to ensure that jars have indeed sealed. If not, process jars in pot of boiling water for 10 minutes. Store in a cool, dark place up to one year.

Lastly, I hope you’ll enjoy one of my poems written while ruminating the works of one of my favorite poets, Pablo Neruda.

pressing blooms
and Neruda’s explanations -
scent of hibiscus

 A Hundred Gourds, 1:1, December 2011

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Quick Frugal Trips

When I was a small boy, vacations consisted of one day trips to Tweetsie Railroad, Natural Bridge, Guilford Battleground, Dixie or Luray Caverns. My family never vacationed several days at any location. On vacation day, we were up before the roosters, on the road for several hours, stayed a few hours at our destination, then headed back home arriving, quite often, on or around midnight. Exhausted, we’d flop onto our beds and sleep until nigh noon the next day. In fact, I’d never seen the Atlantic Ocean, which was a mere five hours east of where I lived, until I was out of high school.

To this day, I do not know why my family took one day vacations. Perhaps money was an issue, though we never seemed to be in want of anything. We had plenty of clothes, food; we had shelter. Our essential needs were never an issue.

I don’t begrudge my parents for our thrifty one day vacations. I had fun. I often came home with a souvenir though, secretly (ever being the adventurous sort), I did want to see the ocean and walk barefoot on a beach.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with friends when the subject of finding frugal things to do outdoors, not too far from Mayodan, made its way into our conversation. I suggested a hike up Hanging Rock, a mountain located at Hanging Rock State Park in Stokes County. And so, the next day, my friend Deedee Grummett and I packed water and trail mix, drove 30 minutes east of Mayodan and tackled the 1.3 mile hike to the summit. Here are a few photos from our trip:

Deedee conquers the submit

But the park has more to offer as this excerpt from my haibun journal notes:

Hanging Rock

at the summit...
a hawk rides a thermal
below us

We make our way down a winding trail, my neighbor and friend Deedee and me, still in awe of the view we saw minutes ago atop the mountain. We stop by a little museum at the ranger station, whereupon I become fascinated by the Saura Native American exhibit. Fish hooks fashioned out of deer bones, stone knives and axes, an arrow tipped with a stone arrowhead are laid out in a display, necessities to combat a harsh life, but the Native Americans survived here, even thrived. All day we’ve been hiking on what was their home until diseases, introduced by the Europeans, contributed to their demise.

Map in hand, we exit the museum and follow the trail to Cascade Falls. Earlier, we met a park ranger who apologized for the graffiti we would find there. “It’ll be removed in a couple of days,”  he assured us. We hear and sense the falls moments before the trail turns onto a wooden bridge. We cross the bridge, climb down a flight of wooden stairs, turn and smile. The falls are aptly named. Water, fed by a stream 20 to 30 feet above us, cascades down a cliff, flowing over a series of rocks that jut out like rungs on a ladder. We cannot fathom why someone would want to mar a section of rock to our right with paint. We pause for a moment in reverent silence, then slip out of our footwear and wade into a clear mountain pool...

lull of a waterfall...
the hushed whispers
of the ancient ones

Delighted to be in what looks like paradise
Deedee ascending the waterfall
I felt like a kid again climbing those rocks!
I've learned or, perhaps, relearned the merit of one day adventurous trips. Very little money was spent that day. We left the park with a deeper appreciation of what can be explored a few minutes from our homes.

Happy Birthday Deedee!
I'll close with a recipe of one of my favorite foods.

Salmon Cakes


1 can (16 ounces) salmon
1 small onion, finely grated
black pepper, to taste
Old Bay seasoning, to taste
2 large eggs, well beaten
1 to 1 1/2 cups fine dry bread crumbs (or, in a pinch cornmeal will do)
oil for frying

Heat oil in skillet or pan on medium
Drain water from the canned salmon.
Remove the bones, empty salmon into a mixing bowl and flake with a fork.
Add onion, bread crumbs (or cornmeal)
Mash and mix thoroughly
Add eggs and mix thoroughly (to bind it)
Add black pepper and Old Bay seasoning
If the mix looks like it's not binding well, add a little mayonnaise

Spoon into patties. Drop patties into oil and cook from three to four minutes per side. Remove the patties when they're a golden brown, placing them on a plate covered with paper towels to help absorb remaining grease.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sauer Dispositions

Poets are a heterogeneous lot. Some of us seemingly lurk in the periphery of life’s thickness, but don’t be fooled - if we’re lurking, we’re usually observing to better contribute ourselves to the whole of humanity (or, if in a less than sterling temper, to at least remark to ourselves what we think about it all). We don’t always write about the nicest or prettiest moments in life or laud the finest of another’s attributes, but we generally write about whatever “truth” we’ve witnessed and allow readers to draw their own conclusions. Most of the time we carry paper and a pen so that we can scribble some record of what we see or feel, providing ourselves with notes on which to later reflect. But we’ve been known to grab an extra napkin at the local diner and jot down our thoughts if we forgot to bring our journals along. I’ve been known to, when there was neither journal nor napkin within easy reach, scurry until I found something on which to write, yelling all the time to those around me “Don’t talk to me! Don’t talk to me!” so as not to lose a specific mental image. Some of us wield cameras, snapping away, taking photographs in order to closely study life at a more thoughtful pace than a given moment will instantaneously allow. We may be wordsmiths, but I believe our imaginations are generally larger than our vocabularies.

So it went when this picture was taken of the cabbages in Papa’s garden. The plant’s leafy fullness, revealing itself layer by layer but all the while hiding its innermost wealth, still catches my attention when gazing on this photograph. I shared the picture in an email to a dear friend, celebrated artist and poet, Merrill, who used to keep a prolific garden with her husband. She responded wondering what we do with all the cabbage grown. I filled her in on precisely what happens:

“yes, ma'am...we crock it for sauerkraut...but, to your point, that's still a lot of sauerkraut. 

my dad and I have deep and lengthy discussions about...cabbage...and what to do with it, and how to do it. we keep old earthenware crocks in our collective pantry. one point on which we readily agree is the imperative use of those crocks. after that it's "katie, bar the door" - one skirmish after another ensues. 

he likes a small chop, i prefer a larger cut. i'm very handy with a chef’s knife and prefer its use. he's affixed a sharp blade to a hoe handle which he insists does a more efficient job in chopping up all that cabbage. we chop, and disagree... chop, then disagree some more until we finally pile hundreds of handfuls of little green shards into the waiting, clean crocks. 

making sauerkraut requires packing the cabbage in salt. can you imagine the "petite guerre" this summer when he realized that he had run out of morton's table salt and i offered the notion of using my store of sea salt instead? 

over the next few weeks we check the kraut's progress several times. lifting back the leathery mother of mold capping each crock, we spoon into one pungent green darkness after another to sample - is it tart enough? 

my dad shifts his body to allow me room enough to approach the crock with my own tasting spoon: "we shouldn't have used that salt of yours. it don't taste just right." 

i reply, "papa, there's not a thing wrong with that kraut except it's chopped too small. but I think it's ready to put in a jar." 

i never take seriously our disagreements over sauerkraut. the hushed tones of our quarrels are always tempered further by a softness in his eyes as he applies himself to every step of the process. but mostly because i know that once the first killing frost has chilled the air and our garden lies in deep, naked furrows, he'll come through my back door asking me, 

"sue, will you make me some of your little kraut and bacon pies?"

Merrill wisely reminded me that I needed to savor every moment and every difference. “.... that's all there is of life... that's all there needs to be.” 

Sauerkraut and Bacon Pies

½ lb. bacon, diced
2 small yellow onions, peeled and chopped
3 sprigs fresh parsley, leaves removed and chopped
3 small yukon gold potatoes, boiled in their jackets til tender, then peeled
1 quart sauerkraut, rinsed and drained
1 tsp. whole caraway seeds
½ tsp. ground caraway seeds
freshly ground black pepper
1 stick of butter
1 box phyllo dough, thawed
1 ¼ cups sour cream

Put bacon and onions into a large skillet and cook over medium-high heat until bacon is browned but not crisp, about 10 minutes. Stir in parsley and transfer to a large bowl. Coarsely grate potatoes into bowl with bacon mixture. Add drained sauerkraut and whole and ground caraway seeds. Mix well. Season to taste with pepper.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Melt butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat and cook until lightly browned. Pour clarified butter into a small bowl, discarding milk solids.

Unwrap phyllo from its plastic wrap and immediately cover with a damp kitchen towel to prevent its becoming too dry. On your countertop, take one sheet of phyllo (immediately cover the remaining dough with the damp kitchen towel), brush phyllo sheet with clarified butter. Add another layer of phyllo dough, brushing it again with butter. Continue until your pastry is to a desired thickness. Pile sauerkraut mixture evenly into the middle of phyllo, cover with sour cream and fold dough over onto itself, sealing in sauerkraut/sour cream mixture. Brush butter onto the phyllo’s edges. Place pie onto a cookie sheet. Repeat the process until all of the sauerkraut mixture is used.

Bake until pies have flaked and browned. Serve warm with additional sour cream if desired.

While you’re munching on one of the pies, transport yourself to an earlier season:

the drone
of his opinions --
white clover

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pantry Challenge

And....we’re back, after a brief hiatus.

Pantry challenge. Making do with what you have on hand. It’s something that my neighbors Susan and Deedee have taught me in the last year. A pantry challenge doesn’t mean that you have to eat less than satisfying food. You can eat well and save a few dollars by preparing meals with what you already have in-house.

That was my mindset yesterday when I started rummaging through my kitchen looking for something to prepare, something that I could take to work for a couple of days. Among the items I put on my counter were beans, cabbage, smoked sausage, onions, garlic, vegetable juice, beef bouillon cubes, chicken broth, hot peppers, rice and an assortment of canned soups. I put the beans, rice and canned soups back under my kitchen counter and made the following (ad-libbing all the while):

A Frugal Poet’s Crock Pot Smoked Sausage Cabbage Soup

Slice and quarter heart healthy turkey smoked sausage. Sautee the smoked sausage in a little olive oil along with a clove or two of garlic.

While the sausage is sauteeing, toss shredded cabbage, diced onion, veggie juice, water, two beef bouillon cubes, chicken broth into a crock pot. I also added water, a few super chili peppers and about a tablespoon of Cajun seasoning. Turn the crock pot on a high setting (or low if you’re in no hurry). Add the smoked sausage and cook until the cabbage and onions are tender.

Quite often, such meals follow no set recipe, which allows for a little creativity on the part of the cook. The key thing is to season your soup appropriately.

My pantry challenge meal was awesome (if I do say so myself) and would likely be great with a pone of cornbread. I made enough for two quarts of soup, which should last me for at least three days, maybe four.

That’s three or four days that I don’t have to spend money at the grocery store.

If you’ve had a similar experience in preparing a pantry challenge meal, I’d like to hear from you.  Send an email to or leave your recipe and story in the comments section below.

And finally, a poem for dessert...

Why Lester Duncan Drinks

It’s hard to stop drinking
when you find a pint of vodka
under your pillow at night.
That conniving wife of mine
wants to keep me drunk.
Every time I toss out a bottle,
she buys another one and
conveniently places it
where I can find it.

As long as I’m pegged a drunkard
no one will blame her when
she leaves me.

She likes talking to that
fat tax man in town.
I figure she’s got her sights
set on him.
He’s rich, got four cars, a fine house,
and a bad heart.
Well, God Bless ‘em and
good riddance to the both of them.
she’ll probably stick fried chicken
under his pillow.

Rusty Truck June 26, 2011

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Wild Imaginations and Blueberries

My daughter and I have been berry picking twice recently thanks to the generosity of our friend, Kevin, who offered to give us all the blueberries we could pick from his property. Despite that day’s heat index of over 100 degrees, Deeds and I grabbed two pails and squeezed ourselves into Papa’s little 4-wheel drive Beemobile for the short trip “up the mountain” to Kevin’s farm. Now anyone from Mayodan knows there’s not a real mountain for miles around here, but if climbing an incline forces your vehicle to chug at a rate of 3000 RPM before it eases its effort, that’s either good enough to qualify as a “mountain” or you need to have your truck serviced...or both.

How did we fit in there?
Gardening and preserving said garden’s harvest is a summer-long family affair for us but we don’t grow blueberries. Quite truthfully, summers past have found us too busy with our own garden to accept such “U Pick” offers for free fruit and vegetables from our friends, so we’ve missed having fresh blueberries until this year. Deeds and I were simply beside ourselves with anticipation as we sped in the Beemobile past two particularly brazen farm dogs hell bent on biting our truck’s tires as we interloped on their patch of country road. We laughed as we banged our heads on the Beemobile’s rooftop when the truck’s tires found the deep ruts carved into the packed, red clay down by Kevin’s farm pond. Imagine our excitement once we entered a clearing and saw not blueberry bushes but something that much more resembled a grove of blueberry trees! Kevin’s berry bushes are ancient and beautifully wild.

Each with our own pail, Deeds and I lumbered out of the truck and agreed on who would pick where - she on one side of a row of bushes, me on the other. Our chatter quickly faded under the hot sun as we applied ourselves to the task at hand. Our intermittent exchanges dealt primarily with musing over where we’d last placed our water bottle or the precise nature of what either of us had just felt crawl across our feet while we stood knee-deep in a thicket in flip flops. Deeds gifted me with one of the best belly laughs I’ve enjoyed in a long time when she shrieked unintelligibly and bolted from the thicket swearing at an errant branch that tickled her arm, feeling ominously like a spider. We frequently wiped sweat from our brows and felt our shirts cling to our backs. We heard frogs splash in the nearby pond and listened to their throaty belches echo across the water. The sharp ping of blueberries hitting our pails’ bottoms soon turned into a soft patter as the fruit’s harvest deepened with our efforts. We tuned into the earth’s summertime song of buzzing insects, inquisitive birds and leaves rustling as an afternoon thunderstorm approached warning us to finish our work quickly. It was a hot, dirty job but more than worth the effort expended. Laboring in comfortable silence alongside my daughter was as good to me as the awesome cupcakes I baked later.

Blueberry Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream Frosting

For the cupcakes:
2 cups fresh blueberries, divided
1 ⅛ cups + 1 tsp sugar
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 large eggs
4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 425 F. Line muffin tin with foil or paper muffin sleeves.

Bring 1 cup blueberries and 1 tsp sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, mashing berries with spoon or potato masher. Cook until the berries have broken down and the mixture thickens, stirring frequently. Let cool to room temperature.

Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk the eggs and remaining sugar together in a medium bowl until thick. Whisk in melted butter and oil until just combined. Whisk in buttermilk and vanilla until just combined. Fold egg mixture and remaining cup of blueberries into the flour mixture until just moistened. Batter should be lumpy so be careful not to overmix.

Divide batter equally across prepared muffin cups, filling each cup entirely. Spoon a scant teaspoonful of cooked blueberry mixture into the center of each cup of batter. Bake until golden and slightly firm, about 18 minutes.

For the frosting:
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 ¾ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 generous pinch salt.

Combine butter, sugar and salt, mixing well. Add lemon juice, zest and vanilla extract. Beat on high speed of electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Frost cooled blueberry cupcakes.

And finally, a haiku plucked on that day -

berry picking -
my daughter wishes
herself taller

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cobbler and Aunt Grace

I’ve had my Aunt Grace on my mind lately. She passed away a few years ago, living a good, full, long life. Aunt Grace was one of eleven siblings (including my father) who grew up on a tobacco farm during The Great Depression. Being frugal was never a choice for a lot of people at that time. Frugality was a necessity. You simply had to make ends meet. You had to stretch your food dollars, rely on gardening and canning vegetables and, quite often, hunt or fish for your next meal; if you didn’t do these things, you would go hungry.

I’m ashamed to say that I don’t think I paused long enough to savor the times I spent at Aunt Grace’s table. I visited Aunt Grace nearly every weekend during the 60s and 70s. As a young boy, I suppose I didn’t think that a time would come when I would not dine at Aunt Grace’s table, which makes the memories of her and her kitchen all the more special to me.

I recall a snowy day spent squirrel hunting with my dad and uncles Bill and Herbert. I enjoyed such outings, especially when I became old enough to carry and use a gun of my own. What started out as a great adventure in my young eager mind quickly became a cold and wet miserable ordeal by the end of the day. Having no luck at finding game, the four of us retraced our steps back to Aunt Grace’s kitchen. We were famished when we sat down at the supper table, nigh starving in fact. Aunt Grace didn’t disappoint in delivering a fine frugal meal that warmed us from the inside out. We gorged ourselves on crackling cornbread, pinto beans, creases with a side of bacon. For dessert, we had peach cobbler, fresh from the oven, with a dollop of vanilla ice cream added on top. Aunt Grace knew that I enjoyed watching that ice cream melt into the cobbler.

If time travel were possible, sitting down to a wonderful meal prepared by Aunt Grace would be high on my to do list and I’d savor every moment and every morsel of food.

Okay, I’ve bitten the bullet. I listened to my sensei and bought self-rising flour. Life is about learning and this ole dawg has learned to make a decent cherry cobbler. I’ve been told to follow the cuppa, cuppa, cuppa rule when making cobbler, which translates to 1 cup of self-rising flour, 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of milk. I followed the cuppa rule, but added ½ teaspoon each of nutmeg and cinnamon into the mix.

Here’s the recipe I used for the cobbler in the picture. 

Cherry Cobbler

1 cup of sugar
1 cup of self rising flour
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup of milk
1 stick butter
1 can cherries

Place stick of butter into a casserole dish or pan. Put the butter and casserole dish into a 325 degree heated oven. While the butter is melting, thoroughly mix the first four ingredients. Add milk, continue stirring.

After the butter has melted, pour mixture into the casserole dish. Spread cherries on top and bake for about an hour or until the cobbler is a golden brown.

Grace Departing

When it’s time for me to go,
I want to exit
like Aunt Grace
being the oldest,
raised eleven siblings
after her mother died of pneumonia.
She breathed her last breath
one evening
sitting in a recliner
surrounded by loved ones,
watching a favorite TV program.
Her final words:
"No, I’m not ready for bed;
I feel so good,
I think I’ll sit here a little while longer."

The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature - October 2010 edition

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Peach Pits and Pitfalls

I’ll have you know that somebody stole my peaches!  Yep, picked every single one of them straight off of the tree the week I’d begun more closely monitoring their progress.  Mind you, I didn’t count them - Papa told me years ago that counting the fruit before it ripens on a tree will surely cause it to fall off before you can eat it.  While I still don’t believe that particular tale, it’s the honest truth that every peach I’d excitedly watched begin to blush and become plump was gone.  Not one left.  I was stomping and hopping mad! 

What kind of person would do such a thing?  I can’t fathom that someone truly hungry and down on his luck would steal every piece of fruit growing on a tree promising a bumper crop.  I like to think he’d have taken just enough to eat right now and maybe a few to keep for the days ahead.  It can only be pure meanness and greed driving somebody to do such a thing.  And to top it all off, those peaches might have looked just the right color, blushing red with well developed clefts, but that fruit was as green as a gourd on the inside!  You’d think when the thief touched the first piece to throw it into whatever he planned to haul it off in he’d have noticed that it was a mite too firm - you couldn’t have bruised it if you tried hard!  Those peaches would have served a better purpose at batting practice than in a cobbler or pie.  Well, if whoever took them is reading this, remember that you reap what you sow (well, most of the time unless someone steals what you sowed).

It hasn’t taken me very long to get over this little episode despite the fumes that are nigh leaping off of the first two paragraphs written here.  A friend of Papa’s visited to gift us with an entire bushel of the prettiest peaches you’ve ever seen.  Fruit Thief, observe!  I could smell how ripe and sweet those peaches were before Sam ever made it to my back porch with them.  As I picked through the fruit while profusely thanking Sam for his thoughtful generosity, I couldn’t resist biting into one.  The peach’s warm syrup trickled down my chin and bled around my fingers.  Juicy stains bloomed all over the front of my tee shirt -  yum!  I immediately began thinking about who I could share such a bountiful gift with - Curtis usually gets the first such phone call but he’d already demonstrated that fruit cobbler ain’t exactly his forte.  Maybe he could figure out simply slicing and freezing some of them.

From where I stand on this little patch of Carolina red dirt, I see honest friends from almost every angle (as long as I’m not looking at my peach tree).  While I grilled tomatoes and other vegetables for preserving salsa, tomato bisque and marinara sauce, I used a beautiful hand-forged roasting pan gifted to me by my wildly talented friend, David Collins.  Much to the consternation of our parents, David and I gave each other haircuts when we were childhood friends.   (Do yourself a favor and visit his website at  There’s precious little this man doesn’t know how to make! Oh, and he’s a much better blacksmith than barber.)   Just yesterday Curtis ran barefoot across the street from his house to mine to lend me a volume of haiku written by an author who had gifted him with an autographed copy.  My new neighbor, Lisa, dropped by last night to keep me company in the kitchen while I canned marinara sauce and brought a pint of preserved pears from her mother’s pantry.  Every week I correspond with a circle of haijin (haiku poets) where we freely share our work and offer friendly, constructive critiques in an effort to become better at what we do as poets and artists.  What a wonderful world!  (unless you’re looking at my peach tree)...

Roasted Tomato Bisque

6 lbs. vine ripe tomatoes
4 cups yellow onion, diced
3 cups carrots, chopped
2 sticks butter
1 gallon chicken stock
10 ounces tomato paste
1 cup fresh basil, minced
½ cup fresh parsley, minced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
½ tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
*1 quart heavy cream (optional)
3 cups celery, chopped
⅓ cup garlic cloves, chopped

Toss all vegetables in olive oil and liberally sprinkle with kosher salt.  Roast on a fire grill until slightly charred (can be done in a very hot oven but fire-roasting is better!)  It helps to roast tomatoes separately from the other vegetables as tomatoes produce so much juice.

Melt butter in a large stock pot.  Saute garlic about 4 minutes (don’t burn it!)  Add all roasted vegetables, except tomatoes.  Cook until tender.  Add tomato paste and cook about 10 minutes more.

Add tomatoes and chicken stock.  Toss in herbs and simmer about ½ hour.  Cool.  Puree soup until very smooth in a chinois or blender.  Be careful if you’re using a blender as hot liquids expand when whirring about and will burn you.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove lumps.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  *Slowly add cream if using it.

Garnish with a good-quality shaved parmesan and croutons if desired.

And, finally, a haibun to mull over...


my granny was a small bird of a woman with a sweet way about her unless crossed. she never grew to be more than five feet tall, but made up for her size with her actions. she divorced my granddaddy back when women didn't do such things, and raised two daughters with the help of her mother. she worked in the cotton mill for a meager living and took in extra sewing when she could find the work. when i was going through my divorce and the most abusive details of my marriage's demise came to light, she offered, "Let me kill him. I'm old and have lived a good life."

red stitches
across a field
of plain muslin

Contemporary Haibun Online (December 31, 2010, vol 6 no 4)
Republished in Contemporary Haibun 12, edited by Jim Kacian, Bruce Ross, and Ken Jones. Winchester, VA: Red Moon Press, 2011. 5.25" x 8.25", perfect bound, 112 pp. ISBN: 978-1-893959-099-6. $17 USD.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Frugality, Phish and Peppers

Team Frugal. I like the sound of that. In the time that I have been at Poet’s Cottage, I’ve come to realize that I’m not the only one who has taken an interest in becoming more frugal in our day-to-day spending. The other day my daughter, Alana, opened the refrigerator door, looked inside, then said, “You’ve got to stop wasting money, Daddy.”

Surprised, I asked, “What do you mean?”

“Apparently, you didn’t pay attention at the grocery store. You bought two containers of buttermilk instead of a container of regular milk and a container of buttermilk.”

“Noooooo, I’m fairly sure I bought regular milk and buttermilk,” I said, defending myself, to which Alana, delighted at having an opportunity to point out my error, reached into the fridge and produced two half gallons of buttermilk.

I made a lot of cornbread that weekend, gifting two pones to a couple of my neighbors. I dislike wasting anything, especially buttermilk.

Frugality extends beyond the kitchen into other areas of our home and, at times, can save significant amounts of money. Alana and I have been diligent in turning-off unnecessary lights. During the cold winter months, we’ve been great about keeping the doors to our home closed, reducing our gas and electric bill.

A few months ago, I received a notice from Duke Energy stating that my electric bill would be reduced by $40 (I’m on the year-round average payment plan). The reduction was directly related to our attempts at saving energy in our home. Susan’s daughter, Deedee, suggested that we put our $40 savings aside each month for a travel fund. If you put things in perspective and consider Deedee’s suggestion, saving energy in our home could pay for a beach trip.

Frugality definitely has its benefits.

My daughter will be 13 years old tomorrow, but I’m the one who feels like he’s been gifted a birthday present: A highly intelligent, caring, witty, beautiful, frugal daughter. :)

A few notes from this week:

Susan has been canning veggies from her father’s garden nonstop for the last three or four weeks. I offered to write for Frugal Poet today, giving her a break from wordsmithing. (I ain’t crazy. There’s a chance I could be gifted a jar or two of veggie goodness!)

I received a phone call the other day that could have been an attempt at infecting my computer. I’m very cautious when I receive phone calls from people asking me to connect to a web site. Here’s the gist of my conversation with the “computer security expert”:

Curtis [answering the phone]: Bartle Doo?
Phone Guy: Excuse me?
Curtis: I said, "Bartle Doo?"
Phone Guy: Yes, well, my name is Raj and I work for Microsoft Security...
Curtis: Microsoft Security? Isn't that an oxymoron?
Phone Guy: I'm sorry?
Curtis: Don't be sorry. It's not your fault that Microsoft makes the most insecure operating systems on the face of the planet.
Phone Guy: Well, I'm calling to...
Curtis: ...In fact, I'm installing Linux on an old laptop as we speak...
Phone Guy: Linux?
Curtis: Yes, it's a free operating system and it's more secure than Windows. You should try it! [Phone Guy starts laughing...]. Seriously, go home, download Linux -- there are many varieties -- and install it over Windows! You'll be a helluva lot less prone to computer viruses.
Phone Guy [laughing]: Yes, well...thank you...[and he hangs-up the phone]

Bottom line, be wary of phone calls that could be attempts at phishing your private information or infecting your computer.

I had surgery a year ago today. I penned this poem a few days after my surgery:


i am told
my thyroid was shaped
like a butterfly,
a butterfly whose wings
had grown disfigured
with lesions

a surgeon’s
skilled hand
untethered my butterfly
a smiley face scar
on my throat

--Curtis Dunlap (July 27, 2010)

Susan gifted me with enough jalapeno peppers for 4 ½ pints. I canned what you see in the picture. Here’s the recipe I used.

3 parts white vinegar to 1 part apple cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon sugar (per jar)
1 teaspoon canning salt (per jar)
1 clove garlic (per jar)

If you don’t know how to prepare your jars and lids, leave me a note in the comments section below. It’s easier than that cobbler recipe I attempted last week. :)