Sunday, November 29, 2009

Waste Not, Want Not

One of my favorite things about Thanksgiving is the left-overs. In fact, my meal preparations are with that very thing in mind. I grew up in a family of left-overs, not just food, either. We had 'left-over' or hand-me-down clothes, shoes, used furniture (before that was fashionable), and so on. I was one of five children, so there weren't often left-overs from meals, but when there were, they were worth fighting about. I loved meatloaf as a cold sandwich better than when it was first cooked, probably because the grease had all disappeared back into it. One of my sisters would fight over the last tablespoons of cold baked beans for a sandwich; a cup of cold rutabaga with a dollop of mayonnaise was my idea of heaven. The only thing about left-overs I hated as a kid was Red Flannel Hash. Desperate to put enough supper on the table for all of us, my mother would round up every container of this and that from the dark recesses of the refrigerator, some of it inedible. She fried it, then threw in a can of beets to disguise the whole mess in a surreal, ruby colored heap. I wasn't a picky eater, but I dreaded seeing that on the stove. I shoved it around on my plate and dawdled while it got colder and more horrible by the minute. We were made to finish everything served to us, so I often sat for eternity until I choked it all down. Hell and the hash froze over at about the same pace. A couple of years ago, I went with new, Californian acquaintances to a gourmet restaurant where Red Flannel Hash was on the menu. They were enthralled with the name and asked the waiter what was in it. Implying that it was a unique creation by the chef, he listed the ingredients. Sure enough, it was the Red Flannel Hash of my youth with a big price tag, no more than garbage dressed up in beets, a culinary pig in a pinafore. My dinner partners ordered it, savored every morsel and exclaimed over its delightful "New Englandness."
Our Thanksgiving turkey will go a long way toward meals - croquettes, tetrazzini and soups, but I've got my limits. I'll have to be desperate beyond my current imagination to ever eat Red Flannel Hash again. At some point, I'll throw what remains out, though I abhor wasting food. I cooked trout a while back. I didn't like it, so my cooking creativity wouldn't kick in with an idea for what to do with it. The left-overs languished in the refrigerator. My guilt about throwing out good food was eventually overcome by the smell. A whole trout is not easy to dispose of, so I decided to toss it from our pier onto the rocks for the gulls. I don't randomly throw garbage into the ocean, but I thought the trout might as well feed something if not us and it was, after all, fish. I had hardly turned back toward the house when this eagle appeared, eager for the kitchen carrion. Do you suppose it would have responded so quickly to Red Flannel Hash?


  "I'm in the mood for hash."

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ya Win Some, Ya Lose Some...........

Dale Earnhardt said "Ya win some, ya lose some and ya wreck some." Of course, he was talking about NASCAR racing, but I'm talking turkey. For at least thirty years, I've been roasting colossal birds for the holidays. Getting the biggest turkey I could find has always been an ego thing with me. This year it was twenty three pounds. Now I know some of you are going to say "Well, that's not so big! My frail, ancient grandmother cooked a forty pounder!" But bear in mind that we only had eight people eating my dinosaur. This was our first Thanksgiving without either of my children home which was a distressing element for me; I found myself quickly teary over not too much for days prior. So I had to keep myself really busy and cooking a ridiculously large turkey seemed just the thing. I'm a reasonably good cook. Not much in the kitchen intimidates me. James Beard, the famous chef said "The only thing that will make a souffle fall is if it knows you are afraid of it." That is the attitude I employ in all things culinary. The cooking triumvirate which instills terror in the hearts of the novice - pie crust, rice or gravy, come easily to me. But every decade or so, my confidence takes a nap, or I do, while I should be paying attention to the cooking. This was the year for things to go to hell in the kitchen. My race car skidded off the tracks and crashed. Had I made a souffle, it would not have merely fallen but would have blown up! Though the turkey was delicious, it was the ugliest bird I've ever cooked in  my life! It fell off the bone. I don't mean just tender, but literally, fell away from the bone such that it was impossible to carve. All that could be done was to artfully arrange hunks and pieces in a heap on a platter.  Then, there was the gravy. Eventually. The meal was served an hour later than I had told guests to arrive. Additionally, I had lied to at least one guest having said that dinner would be served an hour earlier than I actually intended to serve because that person NEVER gets here on time. The gravy would not thicken no matter what I did to it. I added additional roux, then just plain flour. Then I resorted to corn starch. I had to plead to my new best friend Arrowstarch a second time, too. I had such a rolling boil going on the stove that my face has swollen from a protracted gravy facial! I was thankful that there were several meals worth of just appetizers and that the wine was flowing like Niagara. By the time I served, everyone was so hungry and drunk that I could have served unadorned Spam and preserved my image as a kitchen goddess. I noticed that the leg of one of my good dining room chairs had been gnawed. Initially, I blamed one of my dogs but realized it was probably a guest. Oh well, there is always next year and another race. As Dale said, "Ya win some, ya lose some and ya wreck some."

This Sharp-shinned Hawk glowered from a tree branch on Thanksgiving Day. It was hunting birds at my feeders.

"When is that turkey going to be done, anyway?????"


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Not Your Grandmother's Loons

The classic, black and white Common Loon is a regular on calendars, wall paper borders, coffee mugs and any chachkee for the tourist trade in North America where there is a body of water. The haunting yodel, which only males produce, can be heard across lakes and ocean coves through out the summer. For some, the shrieking tremolo is frightening and sends shivers up the spine. For others, it's a familiar comfort, the sound of lakeside camping and fishing trips with your dad. Maybe that's why images of Common Loons sell so well. But, they aren't the only loons in town.There are five kinds of loons, Arctic, Pacific, Yellow-billed, Common and Red-throated.

A Common Loon eating a crab, non-breeding plumage.

Red-throated loons, non-breeding plumage.
Red-throated Loons, or Red-throated Divers are the most widely distributed of all the loon family. They are common on the cove where I live in the winter months. I saw five of them two days ago. I sat on the end of my pier for more than an hour to get these photographs. The sun was shining and it was just under 50 degrees. But, the wind kicked up coming off the water and it was COLD! Nonetheless, I had to sit very still for long enough that they forgot I was there. I looked like just part of the peir to them after a while. Each time I needed to move, to blow my nose or something, I had to wait until they dived. While they were under, I met my movement needs, being careful not to clunk on the deck. That would have vibrated down through the pilings into the water. Once, they resurfaced very close to me, so I could get these photographs.

"Is this my good side?"

Red-throated Loons are migratory. They breed and summer in the  arctic circle. Monogamous, they form long term pair bonds which can last a couple of decades. That's a better marriage record than most humans I know! Both sexes build a mud and stick nest on the ground and care for the eggs and young. Though the Red-throated loon is the smallest of all the loons, their young are ready to hit the water in a couple of days. This differs from Common Loons whose babies ride on their backs for a few weeks. All loons are water birds only coming on land to build nests and lay eggs. The legs of the Red-throated loon are set so far back on its body that it can not walk on land. Like all loons, they dive for fish, mollusks, amphibians and crustaceans. Into the 1800's, the Red-throated loon was used to predict the weather. When the "Rain Goose" flew inland and it's cry was short, the weather would be good. When it flew out to sea with a long, wailing cry the weather would be bad. Loons are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and some international treaties as well. Nonetheless, their populations are declining in some places. They have natural predators, but it's thought that fishing nets, habitat destruction and oil spills are the biggest threats to loons.

Thanks to Wikipedia for this information. Click here for more information about loons.

  • Barr, J. F., C. Eberl, and J. W. McIntyre. 2000. Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata). In The Birds of North America, No. 513 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

An Argument For Double Bagging

This is a Little Brown Bat, the most common type of bat in Maine and North America. They frequently roost in buildings, which is how I happen to be able to photograph this one. We have  friends who own a gorgeous, Georgian style home in Bath, 'The City Of Ships.' The house is on the historic register and is appointed with opulent European antiques. It's nearly a museum of finery. However, several times every year, the homeowner calls my husband in a panic because there is a bat in one of the bedrooms. David calmly removes them seeming heroic for doing so, though it's not difficult. After capture, he lets them go away from the house. Last fall, he called me after one of these heroic moments to tell me he had a bat and was bringing it home for me to photograph. Of course, I was thrilled and thought moonily about how much the man loves me to think of me with this gesture. Waiting for him to arrive, I cleaned a Victorian glass display dome I had saved for just this moment. It was my plan to put the bat inside, photograph it then release it after I had my way. When David arrived, I went outside to greet him, ready with my dome. I was smart enough not to make the transfer from wherever David had the bat ensconced to the dome while inside the house. From his pick-up truck, David brought a wadded up towel. He explained that the bat had been inside a drapery. He had plucked if off into the towel. While I waited with the dome, ready to trap the animal, he gingerly unwrapped the folds of towel, one by one. I got more excited with each peeled back fold like watching a wildlife version of Gypsy Rose Lee. Advancing deeper and deeper into the depths of the towel, my breathing quickened, my heart raced! David opened it completely, revealing - NO BAT! I asked "David, where did you have the bat in the truck? Tell me it was in the back, not the cab." David looked at me nervously and then reflexivley at his pantleg. "Uh, no. I had it in the cab, with me, the towel." I shrieked "Oh God! That means it's still  in the truck!" We tore the truck cab apart, a major undertaking as the cab of the truck is a rolling garbage can. On any given day it is stuffed with soda bottles, wrappers, spoiled food, newspapers, clothing, tools, and junk mail. We pulled out and examined every piece of debris, but NO BAT. I was so disappointed. And, I was afraid that the bat had crawled up behind the firewall under the steering wheel, only to one day, climb out on David's leg. But, time went by, and the bat did not appear leaving us with a creepy, unsolved mistery. So this time, when David called to tell me he was on his way with a bat, I demanded that he secure the mammal-laden towel wad into a bag and double bag. He did not argue.

This Little Brown Bat appeared very healthy, even cute, don't you think? My next post will be about bats, this one and all the others and the fate of human kind. If you want instructions on how to remove a bat from your bedroom, watch this.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Last Call - Porcelain Berries

This first photo is of Porcelain Berries (Ampelopsis) which have weaved their way through the last blossoms of Feverfew. Porcelain berries start out deep purple, changing as they age to this incomparable, Wedgwood blue. I suppose birds eat them, though I don't know of that specifically. For humans, they are not edible. They are invasive, like so many berried things I've written about this fall. Ampelopsis is not native to Maine, but to northeast Asia and far east Russia. It spreads by seeds and vegetatively, that is, by pieces of the roots and is regarded as an undesirable, vigorous invader. A gardening friend gave the original plants to me and warned me that the vine is invasive. I was so in love with the surreal color of the berries that I ignored what he said. I coddled that tender root stock and the plant that came to life the first spring. All babies are really cute, which is often what keeps the parents from killing them outright. Of plants it is said that once put into the ground, the first year, they sleep; the second year they creep, then the third year; they leap. My Porcelain Berries are in their third year. Now, I'm beginning to have fear and suspicion that my friend was right. Once your infant has become a toddler and starts having temper tantrums, it's too late to put it back where it came from or do it in without any trace. I'm afraid that is so with my precious Porcelain Berry, too. I had read on line that the vine is invasive in other states such that it is banned to the commercial trade. Still, my friend's garden and my own are the only ones in Maine where I've seen it growing. Now, seedlings are sprouting all over the place in my yard and I have to whack back the vines savagely a couple of times a summer, or it would take over my house. If I was smart, I'd kill it off now while there is still hope. When I look at those wonderful berries, though, I tell myself, "Next year. I'll kill it next year." Then, spring rolls around, the leaves which look like grape leaves, begin to unfurl along the woody vine and I remember the berries that will come in the fall. Like grapes, the flowers are insignificant creamy clusters. If the flowers were all the plant did, it would be easy to execute it. Like the Japanese Barberry in my garden, I'm going to one day be really sorry I didn't snuff it out while I had a fighting chance. My own grown children have no idea how close they came! It's a good thing (I can say this now) that they had such beautiful eyes and looked at me with deepest love and won an occasional award. Perhaps I'll kill it next year.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Are You A Prairie Dogger?

This is a Gunnison's Prairie Dog. I took this photograph on Route 70 just across the Colorado/Utah border. There are five kinds of Prairie Dogs, White-tailed, Black-tailed, Mexican, Utah and Gunnison's. I'm pretty sure this one is Gunnison's because of where I took the photograph. Prairie Dogs are burrowing rodents, a kind of squirrel, actually. They are called Prairie Dogs because they bark. They dig tunnels up to sixteen feet deep and as much as one hundred feet long! They live in enormous colonies called towns, numbering in the thousands and spanning hundreds of acres. Outside of Denver, between the airport and the city, is a colossal Prairie Dog town. Prairie Dogs are very social and kiss when they greet one another. Family groups consist of one male and two to four females. The Mormons in Utah did not invent the polygamy model! Prairie Dogs eat grasses and some insects. As a major prey species for coyotes, foxes and birds of prey, they are an ecological keystone species. Their digging activity turns over soil changing the composition. The grasses that grow there are favored by antelope, deer and bison. The brush that would grow over an area left unchurned by Prairie Dogs is not suitable for grazing. And, the tunnels channel rain to the ground table rather than being lost to runoff and erosion. Without the Prairie Dog, the ecology of many other species would collapse. In corporate America, office buildings filled with cubicles resemble Prairie Dog towns. When a noise or commotion gets the attention of the office workers they pop their heads above the cubicle tops like startled Prairie Dogs. "Prairie Dogging," they pop out of their burrows to see what's going on. Man is the biggest threat to Prairie Dogs due to urban encroachment of habitat and direct removal or poisoning. Perceived competition for livestock grazing land and the mistaken belief that horses step into the burrows have been the motivators. Prairie Dogs are also susceptible to Bubonic plague, Tularemia and Monkey Pox, all transmittable to humans. Before 2003, there was a thriving exotic pet trade in Prairie Dogs which were vacuum sucked out of their burrows. One human case of Monkey Pox was traced back to a Prairie Dog sold at a trade show. Though the Prairie Dog had been infected by an un-quarantined rat imported from Gambia, that was the end of the Prairie Dog pet craze. The Center For Disease Control (CDC) still considers that a major coup in their control of zoonosis. I bet there are a lot of Prairie Doggers at the CDC startled by the sound of imagined threat, something rediculous or perhaps, a vacuum cleaner.

Thanks, in part, to Wikipedia for this information.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ruby Robinson And Visions

Sacred Datura, or Devil's Trumpet is a common wildflower on the Colorado Plateau, the area of the western United States called 'The Four Corners,' where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet. Also called Jimsom Weed, it grows in Maine as a reseeding annual as it does in the West. David once brought seed pods to me from a now forgotten garden. He didn't know what they were but was curious enough to bring them to me. He knew I would know what they were, and indeed, I did. I've had them for a couple of years, but haven't gotten around to planting them. Part of my hold-up, besides just having a brain like Swiss cheese that doesn't retain thoughts for long, is that the plant grows up to four feet tall. I just don't have the room for it. Laden with white, sometimes lavender trumpets, they get so big that they topple over from their own weight unless staked. That's a chore I avoid adding to my gardening concerns since again, I often fail to get around to it. It's just one more thing to do, and once a plant has fallen over, the damage has been done. Plants staked after the fact take on a post Greco-Roman wrestling match look as that's usually what it takes from the gardener. Another reason I have not planted the Datura is that the stems, leaves and seeds are highly poisonous. It is a member of the Nightshade family, just like the Chinese Lanterns  I wrote about recently.  The plant contains alkaloids which you may recognize - atropine, scapolomine and hyoscyamine. The first two are used in anesthesia induction before you get the gas. Even deeply inhaling the heady perfume of the flowers can provoke headaches and dizziness. Specifically, the seeds are hallucinogenic and narcotic with stronger values than LSD, peyote and psyllicibin combined. Native Americans of the West, such as the Yaqui made a tea from the roots, leaves and seeds to induce visions for consciousness expanding exercises.  Carlos Castaneda, in The Teachings Of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way Of Knowledge, wrote of his own experiences trying this stuff out. A very low dose is used to make the hallucinogenic tea, and guaranteed - visions will be had, and possibly permanent psychosis and death if you screw it up.

                                                              Seed pod of Sacred Datura

                        Lovely blossom of Sacred Datura, photo taken in Moab, Utah on Potash Road

I have always disliked Halloween and considered it a nuisance 'holiday', especially when my kids were growing up. I was a good mom and made costumes for my little ones and helped them to assemble their own when they got older. But, I felt dragged into the whole fan fare and was relieved when it was over. I was lucky enough to live in a rural area where very few Trick Or Treaters pestered me. I thought I had become of an age where I could totally opt out, but apparently not. Now, my friends have grandchildren old enough that I'm pulled into the orbit of their Halloween. David and I had to dress up for Halloween this year to humor my friend whose grandson was coming to Trick Or Treat at her house. I was struggling to come up with a costume idea when my friend asked me on the phone, "Well, what do you want to be?" I said, "Filthy %^&* rich!!! And you?" David didn't want to do it at all, which meant his costume responsibilities were foisted onto me, The Wife. My first idea was to be 'Jon And Kate Plus Eight.' I already had a blond wig I could use. I was going to get 8 baby dolls from the dump, tie a length of rope around their necks and drag them behind me. As 'Jon,' David would not have to dress up at all since Jon and Kate just got a divorce, so he didn't matter anymore. However, I could not get the dolls together in time, so I had to bail on that plan. Then, I thought "Ocotomom!" You may recall that woman who gave birth to eight babies a year or so ago. I was going to get eight dolls and duct tape them around my stomach. They would each face outward, arms and legs extended as if pleading for help. I was going to get a pair of those big wax lips we used to get for penny candy (now THAT dates me, doesn't it?). Over-sized red lips would make me look like the Octomom, Natalie Sulia. She claims she never had silicone shot into them to make her look like Angelina Jolie, but I don't believe her. Anyway, that plan was also foiled for lack of time to round up les enfants. So, I had to go with available material and be Ruby Robinson, Star Of Stage And Screen. David was my body guard, 'Bod,' for short. When I asked him how I looked, he said "My dear, you are just a vision of loveliness." I think somebody had been into my datura seed stash.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Last Call- Barb Or Huck?

This photograph was taken on November 1st from our pier looking southward. The land mass on the left is Hermit Island. The red bushes on the right are Huckleberries.

Huckleberries are common here. The leaves turn intense red in the fall accentuating the ledges along the shore. The berries are long gone as they are loved by birds and rodents. Cooper's and Sharp-shinned hawks sit in the trees above these bushes waiting for the rodents and other birds drawn to the berries. Snakes like the rodents, too. I have eaten the Huckleberries myself. Once, I made a pie, too. The berries look much like Blueberries, though they are usually darker - nearly black. Huckleberries are related to blueberries, which are in the Vaccinium family. They are easily distinguished from Blueberries though, as they have 10, comparatively large seeds inside; Blueberries have loads of tiny seeds. The seeds is one of the reasons why I never made more than one pie. Another reason is that I had to pick them and I'm lazy that way. Huckleberries are not cultivated, so unless you happen upon a patch like I have, it's not likely that you would have eaten them. Huckleberries were named for the English Hurtleberry which they resemble. The word 'huckleberry' had numerous slang uses in the 19th century, most often meaning small or insignificant, sometimes kindly or good. The phrase, "I'm your huckleberry" meant just the right person for the job. It's not known for sure, but conventional thinking is that Samuel Clemens named his character 'Huckleberry Finn' because the word huckleberry evoked a thing of small and low character. If you were to ask me, I'd tell you that the berries of the Japanese Barberry seen here are of low character, though they are also stunning this time of year. The birds eat the berries and long ago, yellow die was extracted from the bark and stems. Nonetheless, the Japanese Barberry is on the Department of Agriculture's list of noxious, invasive weeds and should never be planted, though it pains me to admit that I have done so in the past. In fact, these bushes should be ripped out where they have been planted. Again, I have them in my yard and haven't ripped them out. BUT - I'm telling you that YOU should. I'll be sorry one day for leaving them, because they have horrible little thorns that make the shrubs nearly impossible to work around. The thorns are so viscous that the shrubs are used for crime prevention! To deter burglars they are planted under vulnerable windows and as property breaks. I know of a house in Bath located on the corner of a busy intersection where thrives a thick hedge of Barberry. No school child nor meandering drunk would ever think of cutting across the corner of that lot. Samuel Clemens should have named his character Barberry Finn, though I suppose shortened to 'Barb' wouldn't have the same effect as Huck.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Deer Dancing On The Beach

 Directly across the cove from us is Hermit Island (see for more information). The island is largely undeveloped. It has rustic campsites for spectacular ocean side camping. Hunting is not allowed on the island, so the White-tailed deer abound there. The campers love the deer that have become habituated to humans. They are quite tame (the deer, not the campers) which allows for easy viewing. Sand-dollar beach is about 1/4 mile from here. I've become so accustomed to the usual shapes, textures and forms 'across the way,' that I could immediately see the deer from as far away as our house. I did have to use binoculars to count how many there were, though. Thankfully, I've got a telephoto lens long enough to photograph the surface of the moon, so I could get these shots. Otherwise, I would have to be in a boat for this look at deer gamboling across the beach. One winter the snow was so deep that I saw deer over there eating sea weed. They were along the water line on what would be the left side of the photo (north) and were clearly munching on the rock weed. Now, that's desperate. Unless, of course, you are eating California rolls wrapped in knori - throw in a little wasabi paste and pickled ginger, then desperation becomes haute cuisine.