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