Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spinach Soufflé and Plum Chutney

Television cracks me up, but not always for the intended reasons. I don't know if sitcoms have gotten any smarter since I just don't have time to watch them anymore. But in years past it seemed like they were quite free with employing exaggeration or perpetuation of commonly-held misconceptions about cooking to get a laugh.

One of the recurring themes was someone making a soufflé and being extremely careful not to slam doors or let the baby cry lest the dish instantaneously collapse into an inedible mass. Of course, some tragedy always happened and a despairing cook was left with an opportunity to display their weeping skills before the cut to commercials. I don't buy it. If the egg whites are beaten properly and folded carefully into the sauce and then the whole thing is cooked long enough at the right temperature you're pretty safe during the cooking stage barring a vehicle slamming directly into your oven. Once baked, you easily have several minutes to serve the soufflé before any serious collapsing begins. Our spinach soufflé was delicious if a little dry. The recipe was found online but pretty much paralleled the one in Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Another television cooking farce I remember revolved around someone making chutney. Chutney wasn't then and still isn't a word commonly used in most parts of the United States making it a good subject for laughs. This particular episode ended with an inexplicable explosion from the kitchen followed by the disappointed cook emerging covered in the failed concotion.

I get a kick out of making chutneys to preserve excess fruit for later use as a condiment with meats and curries. One of the easiest things to do is to stir a big whomp of it into rice before cooking--reducing the required amount of water to account for the moisture in it--to make a quick and simple side dish. You'll get an explosion of flavor without blowing up the kitchen!

Here's a recipe I created for a plum chutney. It's very good!

Plum Chutney

2 lb. Plums (after removing stones, cut into small pieces)
1 Cup Rice Vinegar
1 Cup Sugar
1 Clove Garlic (minced)
1 1/2 Cups Carrot (coarsely shredded)
1/2 Cup Raisins
1/2 Tsp Salt
1/2 Tsp Cayenne

Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil stirring occasionally. Reduce heat until mixture is just simmering and cook stirring often until thickened and reduced to half the original volume.

Spread a small spoonful of the chutney on a plate and refrigerate for five minutes to check consistency. If it is still too liquid after this test, continue simmering and testing periodically.

When the chutney has finished cooking, place in 8 oz. sterilized canning jars and process in a boiling water bath for fifteen minutes. Refrigerate after opening and use within eight weeks.

Yields approximately 4 cups.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cherry Blossom Time

Late every April the Sargent Cherry (Prunus sargentii) in my front garden blooms for a few days. Yesterday was unusually hot so the buds that had been slowly opening the day before suddenly burst into full bloom. Sitting under it I could hear the bees buzzing around. Sadly today it is rainy and the blooms may suffer because of it. This seems to happen every year. The unsettled weather of the season gives and also takes away. But I shouldn't complain. I do have pictures of a past year's blooms covered in snow!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I Win!

I managed to delay the final opening and accompanying stench until Mr. Stinxalot could be put outdoors. It smells like a dead animal. Really. 40.5"/103 cm. height above the tuber

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Market Returns!

This morning the Westside Community Farmers' Market started up again for the year. It's a sunny, warm morning and it was great to be able to once again walk the stalls and purchase food directly from the people who produced it.

Today's Haul:

  • Baby Spinach

  • Goat Cheese - Fresh with garlic and dill and the feta

  • Honey

  • Sour Cherry Cake

  • Cherry Almond Cake

  • Tomatoes! - I made it all winter without resorting to the flavorless ones at the grocery store. When I asked the grower if these tasted like tomatoes she said she hadn't tried them yet. I think it's worth taking a chance.

  • Red Cabbage

  • Cucumber

  • Maple Syrup

  • Pork Spare Ribs - These are going to get braised tomorrow evening. So good!

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Beast Grows

It's getting bigger and it's only a coincidence I've weighted it down with a couple of big rocks. I've decided it may be safe enough to keep it outside--barring rain--to avoid choking on it indoors. Its exile in the attic did seem to slow the flower's development but there was some wonky curving as the only light was from a low window on one side.

Amorphophallus konjac

Thursday, April 16, 2009

If It Walks Like A Duck And It Talks Like A Duck

If it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck--it's a duck! We all know that. But what if it perches high in a tree and chirps like, oh, I don't know, some kind of bird, what is it? It's still a duck! It's a Wood Duck (Aix sponsa), actually. I love these things. It was a treat this morning that my "going back to the car" experience was a pair of Wood Ducks up in the sunlight. Made my day. That and the ham salad sandwich.

The missus was a bit more shy.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Flowers for Sunita

My friend, Sunita asked about the photo of emerging buds I posted a while ago. Here they are open and beautiful despite enduring a few inches of wet snow. They are Helleborus niger ssp. Macranthus. I have a few clumps of them planted in the garden and, just like my other Hellebores, now that they've had a couple years to settle in they're starting to flower nicely.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Belted Kingfisher

It was such a nice day I made a point of getting out and walking in the woods both at lunch and after work. On the latter walk I was making my leisurely way down the trail when I spotted something I rarely see on foot--a Belted Kingfisher perching. It seems whenever I see one of these wonderful birds they're in chattering flight along the stream. This one was a real treat and I got to observe it for a long while.

Other birds seen today included a Dark-eyed Junco, a species I'm finding is more skittish than others. They are the first to fly away from under the feeders if I go near the window

I also saw a pair of Black-capped Chickadees inspecting a hole in a log. Looking for a place to call home?

And, would you believe? along the trail I saw a small bird making a familiar call and hopping around on the ground that, due to the state of my vision and the jumble of leaf litter, I couldn't actually see. Having no binoculars I trained my camera on the locus of hopping. It was my new pal the Golden-crowned Kinglet! I've decided to make this my Species of the Month even though such a title doesn't actually exist.

Sunday, April 5, 2009


When I went out in search of the Golden-Crowned Kinglet yesterday I prepared a bit since this would be a new species for me and I wanted to maximize my chances of finding it. Naturally I consulted all my field guides and some online resources to get an idea of what the little chirper looks like. I also hunted up some sound recordings of its vocalizations. I forget exactly when or under what circumstances, but it occurred to me some time last year that there is a breed of birder who is so skilled in identifying birds solely by sound that they count as "found" the ones they hear as well as the ones they see. I do alright with the easy, common ones like Black-capped Chickadees and Northern Cardinals. But if my life depended on standing in the middle of a springtime woodland naming every bird I heard I'd be a goner.

Still, I appreciate the value of hearing as well as seeing in bird identification and hope to keep increasing my own skill. Last summer I saw a Marsh Wren for the first time. On first sighting I wasn't sure that's what it was. But since it kept vocalizing I listened to it carefully and jotted down a description of it's song. Once home, I found some audio clips online that confirmed what I thought. In that process and since then I've found several bird song resources on the Internet that are fun and informative to explore. Sites like the Patuxent Bird Identificaion InfoCenter, Whatbird and the Bird Guide section of Cornell's All About Birds include audio samples in their species description pages. Mangoverde has some audio files from around the world in its World Bird Guide and The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library has an enormous collection of animal sound and video files.

And if you're interested in just ambient recordings from nature, many can be found at The Freesound Project. Here audio recordists from around the world upload sound files of anything and everything for free use with proper credit. It was this site that got me kicking myself for not taking any audio recording equipment with me to Ecuador. I would love to be able to relive the mornings in the cloud forest or on the islands through sound. I may go ahead and get some basic equipment to take with me on this summer's camping trips just to try making some recordings of my own.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Wearing a Golden Crown

This morning I set out to find a specific bird and was almost a little disappointed in how quickly it happened. There have been reports on the local list serve that people are seeing Golden-crowned Kinglets (Regulus satrapa) in the area so I took a very short drive to one of the spots mentioned. I hadn't walked for two minutes down the trail when I caught some motion in a spruce. Moving closer I could see black markings on the head and wing bars that reminded me of the images I'd looked at. Yes, I studied up before I went out. By this point I was 90% sure it was the bird I was seeking. Moving closer it was very actively working its way around the branches of the spruce when suddenly it bowed over straight toward me displaying its bright golden crown. Now I was 100% sure!

Even though the light wasn't great--there is a snowstorm on the way--I took a camera along to practice shooting small, active birds. I want to try to sharpen my currently pathetic picture taking (I wouldn't even call it photography at this point) before the warbler wave hits in a few weeks. Over the remainder of my walk I saw more Golden-crowned Kinglets, several Pine Siskins including a couple sharing food, American Coots and Buffleheads in the lake.