Thursday, July 31, 2008

Finally! Pancakes!

Yaaaaaaay!! There's finally a solution for people who can't manage to mix Bisquick® and its required liquid additives to make pancake batter! Now Shake 'n' Pour™ relieves lazy and/or ignorant cooks from dirtying a bowl and spoon while allowing them to throw more fucking plastic into the waste stream. Thanks, Betty Crocker!

I couldn't believe it when I saw the commercial. No, scratch that. I totally believe it. Making cooking less and less about effort, quality and flavor is what the world's mass food purveyors is all about. Need proof? The above-mentioned commercial was alternated with a commercial for one of those "you bake it" stores that sells frozen bread dough, cinnamon rolls, pizza crust dough. Yay again! This stuff is expensive for you what you get. And what do you get? A house that smells like you know how to handle yeast whether you do or not and enough palm oil to slaughter an entire troop of orangutans.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Pickle Time!

These chubby beauties caught my eye at the Westside Community Market this morning so I just had to bring them home and introduce them to some brine. I've been wanting to make dill pickles for a while now and this desire has been encouraged by my co-conspirator. He wants to deep fry some. It sounds kind of hillbilly to me but he had them on a recent trip and swears they were wonderful. I've only had fried pickles once and they really weren't that great. It could be because they were pan fried rather than deep fried. Once these have soaked up some pickly goodness for a while we're going to crank up the fryer and find out!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Repellant Memories

My earliest memory of Raid Mosquito Coils is from a trip in my childhood to go camping with my aunt and uncle. In the evening when we'd be gathered around the picnic table playing cards my uncle would blaze up a few and set them around in an effort to keep our blood in our veins. Scents are tightly linked to memories and now whenever I get a whiff of these insect-repelling incense spirals I'm taken back to that time in a north woods campground. The other day I came across this box when I was looking for some protection in my own mosquito-infested garden. It's a vintage piece and I really like the style of the illustration. Even a sparse suburban concrete patio is paradise when there are no bugs! I believe it came from my co-conspirator's parents' house and that we acquired it when the house was sold and cleaned out. Inside the coils were still dry and when I lit one the old memories came back. And, much to my satisfaction, the legion of blood-sucking pests were kept at bay for as long as the smoke lingered.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dinner With Friends

Sadly, absent friends. Tonight's dinner featured calamarata brought to us all the way from Italy by good friends who were fortunate enough to spend an extended time there this spring. As you may guess by the name, calamarata is a pasta named for squid, as in calamari. It's a tube about 2cm in diameter and the same in length and resembles the sliced pieces of a squid's mantle used in so many tasty dishes. We served ours with a quick tomato sauce courtesy of Food and Wine magazine with the addition of *drumroll please* squid pieces! My co-conspirator didn't want to eat any of the bits with tentacles so I scored big time. It was tasty and, more importantly, reminded us of our friends who weren't with us.

In addition to the pasta main course, we put together a salad with local, organic greens and vegetables topped with a dressing of hazelnut and olive oils whisked with gold Modena balsamic and champagne vinegars. The hazelnut oil and balsamic were gifts from another good friend we dearly miss.

And if that's not enough, the croutons on the salad were from yet another friend. They were made with leftover rolls from his graduation party. Tomorrow he's going on a backpacking adventure and we wish him a good trip and a great time.

Thank you, to all our friends that we share our food and time with. It wouldn't be dinner without you!!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

More Birds!

Yesterday I was again reminded of the value for an amateur like me to go out birding with seasoned pros. I went on a public walk where apart from the two leaders I was the only guest. The walk was held by Jefferson/Dodge County Bird Walks and took in Zeloski Marsh. Only two years ago the marsh was a muck farm and the transformation since then has been spectacular. Right now there is a sea of flowers in bloom and the place is literally crawling with wildlife. As we walked along the old roads separating the impoundments at some times there were so many leopard frogs rocketing out of the grass at our feet I was afraid to put my foot down!

There were several birding highlights but for me the best were getting a really good look at my first Dickcissel and the opportunity to add the Great Horned Owl to my life list. When one of the guides pointed out the owl perching on a downed tree in the water my first thought was that it was a raccoon. It was huge! Flocks of Sandhill Cranes and a flyover by a flock of dozens of American White Pelicans were other particularly exciting moments.

The Dickcissel and Great Horned Owl brought my Life List count to 194! Back in December when I set my goal of 200 birds on the list by the end of 2008 I thought I was being somewhat ambitious. But with the assistance of the guides who have led the field trips I've joined I'm closer to that goal than I would have expected back then. Thanks, Brad and Nolan, for the tour of the marsh and also for your ongoing work in conservation and education!!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Something In The Bushes!!

As I put the wheelbarrow away after some light gardening today I spotted this critter in the Euonymus fortuneii 'Vegeta' that is overgrowing the compost bins. It's the pupa of some lepidoptera, which one I have no idea. The black and tan fuzz just above its last shed skin, I presume. I'm going to show it to my entomological consultant and see if he has a notion of its identity.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Local Food: Win Some/Lose Some

Tonight's dinner was delicious featuring almost all local ingredients. Especially delicious to me were the tomatoes drizzled with avocado oil. The oil was obviously not local but came complements of a dear friend who gifted my co-conspirator with a fabulous selection of oils and vinegars from Vom Fass for a special birthday. The entree was a spinach and blueberry salad with blue cheese and grilled chicken breast.

The chicken was the loser. Sadly it was dry and tough. It was inedible. I've ground it up in a food processor and added mayonnaise, onions, olive oil and herbs in an attempt to make an edible chicken salad spread. Tomorrow's lunch will prove whether I wasted my time or not.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Garden Enemy Number One

Cute though he may be, this six-inch three-ounce menace is not at all welcome in my garden. He delights in tunneling planting beds, helping himself to the blueberries, tomatoes and other of the few edibles I try to grow, and hurling plants out of pots. My venus fly trap was just getting ready to bloom and I was looking forward to seeing that. Not so for this horrible rodent. After digging the plant up out of it's pot twice he decided to chew the flower spike into three pieces and then just throw the whole thing on the deck.

I've been fighting the hopeless battle against these adorable rats for some time by humanely trapping them and taking them for "a field trip." I just don't tell them they're not coming back. Last year, in one weekend I relocated fifteen of the little bastards.

A few weeks ago I was around home and had some time so I started setting up the trap and making trips as needed to the drop area. On my second run there was a pedestrian at the preferred spot so I just drove on with plans to find another relocation node. As I rounded a corner I heard the trap roll over in the trunk and was immediately concerned that my little passenger might have gotten hurt.

Then I was concerned that my little passenger might have gotten out of the trap!

A glance in the rear-view mirror confirmed that that was the case. Not only had he been freed from his cell, he had gotten through the hatch somehow and was running back and forth trying to find a way out the rear window.

I quickly pulled over and ran around the back of the car. Seeing him jump down into the rear passenger seat I opened the door on that side and waited for him to jump out. After a few moments he didn't show so I assumed he had seen me and run the other way out the open driver's side door. I got back in the car and headed for home.

Almost immediately I caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. There he was, sitting in the passenger seat looking at me with that "I'm going to kill you!" look that chipmunks are known for. I may have yelped. I don't really know. In any case he leapt onto the dashboard and resumed the frantic back-and-forth scurrying that he'd been perfecting in the rear window. Once more I pulled over and somehow got the passenger door open. Not satisfied to just jump out and flee he instead inched along the edge of the window and then finally made a dramatic leap for freedom.

Fortunately there were no witnesses to the final scene. No, I take that back. I would have liked someone see him hop out the door. It would have been fun to shout "Have fun and I'll be back to pick you up at two!" as he scampered away.