Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sweet thing

The guests, sated with happiness and perhaps too much wine, had all left. We cleaned up what was left of the food, then stumbled to bed, leaving the tables and chairs to be put away in the morning. When I opened the door to let the cat out the next day, I surveyed the clutter of lawn chairs, folding chairs, tables and the odd beer bottle. Sighing, and needing coffee, I stepped out to start the clean up. Then froze. We had had an overnight guest.

Actually, Chester found her first.

He approached with curiosity. She was completely unafraid. I watched as they acknowledged one another. He then strolled off across the lawn and she put her head down and tried to blend into the shade. I had not seen her around the neighborhood. But how could I tell exactly? All fawns look alike to me. I slipped back into the house and quietly shut the door deciding coffee was more important.

It turned out this little girl was one of a set of triplets. The mama didn’t know what to do with her or care for her. Three IS a crowd. She was always the smallest of the siblings. While the others gamboled she hung back. I would rarely see the family together. Mostly she was alone.

As she grew older I would often find her tucked into a corner of the lawn. She developed a special relationship with Chester.

They would sniff each other is if to say hello. She had found a haven I suppose. She never ate any of the ornamental flowers or shrubs, so we never resented her presence. In winter we would give her corn. If you clacked the ears together, she would come bounding over the multiflora rose to see what you had for her. Since she never came close or took food from our hands; we would throw the ears out onto the lawn. She would pick up the ears and with her nimble lips spin the ear then spit out the cob. Then with a flick of her tail she would leap away.

She hung around for about 2 years and then one day disappeared. We noticed her absence and worried. But the next spring she returned with 2 babies in tow. Chester went out to greet them. She only visited once.

We expected her to come in the winter but she didn’t. We thought we saw her once far out in the field, but could not be sure. She was accepted into a herd and no longer came to us.

This was over 10 years ago. Chester passed 5 years ago at the ripe old age of 19. I still miss him.

Here on the mountain, I do not let the cats out. They will never know a deer although many come through the yard. They are beautiful creatures. I just wish they would not eat the flowers.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Morning Coffee

“Catherine, you are an idiot!”

The voice rose above the morning din of the outdoor restaurant. There was a hush as all eyes turned to see what was happening. Yvonne glanced over at the table in the back where the shouting had originated. She and Marion had patiently stood in line and now were shimmying their way to a small un-cleared table. Café Du Monde was crowded as usual. As they waited for the waitress to stop by, Yvonne looked at the plate of beignets that were left on the table. She was hungry and they looked good. She considered taking one. They did not look like they had been touched. Or at least one look untouched. Marion put her hand over Yvonne’s.

“Don’t even think about it!” she hissed.

“What?!?!?!?” Yvonne tried to look hurt.

“You were going to eat one from that dirty plate.”

“Was not.”

The waitress appeared next to the table and gathered the tray full of used paper plates and empty cups.

“What can I get for y’all?”

“Two Café au Lait and some beignets.”

The waitress scurried off to place their order and wait on other tables. Yvonne and Marion sat in silence trying to listen to the street musicians that were being drowned out by the ruckus in the back.

“Catherine why do you always do these things?”

Yvonne looked over again. A woman was looking around her chair and under the table. Her companion was standing red in the face. She gave up whisked her sweater off the chair in defeat only to discover her handbag slung over the back. The man nodded, walked away from her jostling people on his way to the entrance. She followed behind with a tight smile.

The waitress re-appeared carrying a green tray with their coffee and powdered sugar laden donuts.

“Welcome to New Orleans. Enjoy.”

Thoughts after a writing workshop where the word was New Orleans and in anticipation of a business trip in May.

Behind the Bins

For various reasons, I have decided to start a separate birding blog. I want to explore, learn another platform and try a topic specific blog. I may hate it. We'll see. If you are interested, pop over there.

Behind the Bins

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Potato Leek Soup

Cut 4 LEEKS (or whatever comes in a bundle) into 1” pieces and wash well. You can use both the white and light green parts.

Peel and cube 3 large white POTATOES. I usually use Eastern. Because, well, I live in the east and they are cheap.

Peel and chop 1 ONION. Can be yellow or white. Red will turn the soup a funky color.

Boil BROTH or water and pour 3 cups over the vegetables. It is nicer with broth, but you can use water too. Cover and boil for 35 minutes. OK. Maybe not 35 minutes to the second, but until they are done.

Mash or blend the vegetables. (I use one of those hand-held blender things.)

Add Salt and Pepper to taste. I also throw in a little marjoram.

Add 3 cups scalded MILK. Return the soup to a boil.

Here is the secret ingredient: EVAPORATED MILK.

I substitute one of the cups of regular milk with a can of evaporated milk.

Yum. Enjoy. I know what I am having for dinner.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Yellow Gate

On the road down the mountain in the middle of a narrow blind S curve there is a small yellow gate. I drive past it at least twice a day. It intrigues me. It is never open. It has 2 cement steps leading to it and beyond it a path towards a house. The front door of the house matches the gate. No one comes or goes from that house. Yet it is not abandoned or even very old. Why would they have put a gate in the middle of an S curve that cannot possibly be used?

I have stopped my car many times in the middle of the curve (keeping one eye out for cars) and photographed the gate. The shots are clear, crisp, perfectly composed and bad everytime. It has gotten to the point that I slip into the S, roll down the window, snap a few shots and drive on. I do it regularly-both coming and going. There is no reason for this gate to not be photogenic. I don’t get it. It is not ugly. It is like those people that always blink in pictures or turn their faces away.

In the spring the gate and the Forsythia hedge are TOO garish. In the summer the gate shouts out its strident color from the tall green arching branches of the Forsythia. It is not a meek mild-mannered quiet sort of gate. But one that demands attention every time you go into the S. It is almost like a flashing yellow caution light. Perhaps that is why it is bright sunshine yellow. You cannot miss it.

One morning after a winter storm I slipped into the S curve. The gate was surrounded and covered in fresh snow. It looked subdued in the gray winter light. I rolled down the window and snapped a few shots as usual. That night when I got home I discovered I finally had a good shot. Several days later when the snow melted a little, the gate was back to its unattractive self.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Little Night Magic

Eight pairs of eyes watched as the sky blushed and the sun slunk further toward the horizon. Eight pairs of binoculars scanned every movement of the dozen or so Harriers that coursed back and forth over the marsh. Seeking. Hoping. Flocks of geese arrowed their way home for the night unnoticed. The wind blew damp and cold across the water. The excitement was palatable.

The birders had arrived singly and in pairs to witness the magical transition of day to night. They talked quietly among themselves. One man was there for the first time this year. Another and his wife were visiting from England. One woman had been there before and knew what to expect. We were winding up a fruitful day of birding and were not yet ready to go home.

The sun finally sunk behind the hill and a different bird appeared far out over the water. They all strained to make out the bird in the gloaming. Was it a Harrier? Hmmm, maybe not. Does it have a white rump? Yes? No? No! Could it be?

Ala Ka Zam! As if by magic the Harriers disappeared and were replaced by Short-Eared Owls. First there was one far in the distance. Then several others were scrutinized for field marks. Finally one flew above the dark hills into the fading glow of the sunset. The bird’s silhouette and its barking call clinched the ID. A collective sigh mingled with the clouds of breath.

The birders stayed in the dropping temperatures stomping their feet until it was too dark to see. The barking stopped and the birds flew off silently now into the full dark to hunt for their daily mouse. The birders slowly got into their cars to go home for their own evening meal. The last to leave, we relinquished the nighttime marsh to the denizens of the dark.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tucson Guide

I am tickled that one of my photos has been selected for inclusion in the newly released fourth edition of the Schmap Tucson Guide:

Mission San Xavier del Bac

They found me on Flickr and asked me to submit the photo. Sorta cool, no? I wish I had known about this site when I was going to Tucson. But, now you do. Hurry go click and see.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Narnian adventure outpost

Did you ever read the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (one of the Narnia books) by CS Lewis? Doesn't this remind you of the lamp post in the middle of the forest?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Batten down the hatches, it's gonna blow

As I bent over to reach the carton of olives from the corner of the cart, I heard from the register behind me, “They are saying 3-6”. I reared up and whirled around to look wildly at the man calmly swiping his credit card. I glared, then quickly turned around. I looked askance at the girl scanning my groceries.


“Oh,” she said, “I heard 6-10”

I gulped. And looked out the windows at the blue sky.


“Sunday night into Monday.”


“That’s what I heard.”

Isn’t it amazing that when someone mentions numbers, just plain numbers, everyone know exactly what they are referring to? It also makes us anxious. Or, at least it makes me anxious. 6-10 is is not 27 but it is worth talking about. Speaking of which, I gotta go call someone, and get gas, and go back to the store....

Saturday, January 12, 2008


Pine Grosbeak in Sullivan County, NY eating crab apples. And I was afraid we wouldn't find them. Silly me. We also saw dozens of Common Redpolls. While I saw nothing new today, thanks to my travel companion and all the folks who gave the detailed directions I had a great winter birding day.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Brussels Sprout Evangelist

Ok, people, why do you hate Brussels Sprouts?

Here is the trick. Take off the sketchy leaves. Cut an X in the bottom. Saute the sprouts and some chopped shallots in a frying pan until the shallots are translucent and the sprouts have some brown spots. Pour in a can of chicken broth, cover and simmer until fork tender.

Yummy. yummy. yummy. My family can't get enough of them no matter how many we make. Well...we did actually have a few left over at Christmas, but we made a gallon bag full for heavens sake.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Picky Reader

I caught myself standing in front of the fridge again with the door open. I shut the door and went to stand in the pantry. There was all this food in the house yet nothing to eat. Or at least nothing I was interested in. Obviously I was not hungry but worse - bored.

Since I don’t have TV, with the 83 channels to endless flip through for hours at a time, I went upstairs to the library. When I moved into my house, I set up one of the spare bedrooms as a library or I suppose you could call it a study. I painted it a Ralph Lauren color called Balmoral Red with an iridescent Mother of Pearl ceiling. It is like sitting in a glass of red wine. Truly lovely. One long wall is covered with bookcases, full to the brim. The books are not only standing 2 rows deep but they are crammed flat onto of the top of the rows. There are books on the tippy top of the cases and on the floor next to the shelves. Honestly, They are starting to accumulate in corners like drifts of snow against the back of the house.

There are hundreds of books here, but nothing to read. I stood in the library much like I stood in the pantry. I picked up first one book, then another. I wandered into the bedroom to root around under the bed pulling out forgotten volumes. I rifled the piles next to the bed. I even looked under the pillows, where I sometimes hide books from the cats, one of who is a book biter, well to be really correct, more of a chewer.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of un-read books around, but nothing grabbed me. Not a single volume fell on my foot demanding to be read. I am one of those people that need to “be in the mood” to read something. I guess I am a picky reader, like some people are picky eaters.

As a fall-back position, I am going to browse a collection of short stories called All Aunt Hagar’s Children. Short stories are perfect for when I am unsettled, have a short attention span or am bored to tears.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Bringin' Home a Baby Bumblebee....

$2.95! I pulled in.

“Fill it with regular. Thanks.”

While I waited for my tank to fill, I glanced over at the shopping plaza across the street. I was struck by all the gulls swirling around the parking lot. I had not seen many gulls there before, so it was interesting and unusual. There were not just one or two, but dozens. I assumed they were Ring-billed Gulls. I was too far away to see any field marks clearly, so I sat enjoying the movement of the white birds against the clear blue sky.

As I watched them, I noticed 5 vultures riding a thermal above the gulls. I always look at vultures, because sometimes even this far north there may be Black Vultures. The vultures circled closer to the where I was parked and as they banked I clearly saw the wing patches flashing in the sunlight. They also have a fat blunt look to the wing. Black Vultures are much more, hmmmm, flappy than Turkey Vultures. They soar less. These looked as if they were having a great time.

They chased and played in and out of the trees and around telephone poles. One vulture repeatedly dive-bombed another one. I watched as they flew first this way and then that. I wondered if they were a family group. Or, maybe it’s mating season for vultures? Off in the distance tiny pepper specks of Turkey Vultures rocked on the wind, above it all. Almost stately compared to the frenetic activity of their smaller cousins.

I remember how excited I was the first time I saw a Black Vulture in Florida. Then, about 10 years ago I started to see them occasionally in central Jersey. Curious, but cool. Now they are here all season long like Turkey Vultures. There are less of them, but they are here.

Do not dismiss vultures. They provide a much needed service.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Christmas Aerobics

Clump, clump, clump down the stairs to the basement to gather the empty bags and boxes for the nativity scene.

Clump, clump, clump up the stairs to the living room to wrap the kings, shepard, donkey, ox and the entire flock of sheep and put them away for another year. The holy family gets its own little box. I had a pang when I stuffed in the Baby Jesus.

Clump, clump, clump back down the stairs carrying the bag full of nativity boxes in one hand and the hefty manger in the other. Whew. I gathered up the empty black trash bags for all of the garland.

Clump, clump, clump up the stairs to the foyer. I had previously staged most of the decorations in a gigantic pile on the sofa in the living room. I stuffed all the inside garland into one bag and the outside garland into another. Huh, what was the 3rd empty bag for? I tossed the bags of garland down the basement stairs only to discover that I had to go down anyway to gather yet more boxes and bags for the wreaths.

Clump, clump, clump down the stairs. My, I am starting to get a little winded.

After much to-ing and fro-ing or maybe up-ing and down-ing. The first floor was devoid of any hint of the holiday. I went from room to room to check. Ah, but remember the tree was on the second floor in the library.

Puff, puff, puff, back up the stairs. I had taken off most of the ornaments but I never taken take down the tree or put things away until after Epiphany (a hang over from my childhood, I guess.) I took off the lights and pulled apart the tree. Ah, the ease of the fake tree.

Clump, clump, clump down 2 flights of stairs now with the sections of the tree and tree stand. (whose idea was it to put the tree on the 2nd floor, anyway!) In the basement, I pulled out all of the Christmas tubs and riffled through them. Hmmm, there seemed to be one missing.

Clump, clump, clump up two flights of stairs, I discovered that I was smart enough to leave the winter ornament tub in the library closet. I wrapped the breakable ornaments, re-boxed the crocheted snowflakes and tottered down the 2 flights of stairs one un-seen step at a time with the heavy tub.

Finally a little duct tape on the plastic tree skirt bag, several more flights of stairs and DONE for another year!

I need a cool down and stretch after all that work. sigh. I guess I’ll vacuum.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Good luck in the New Year

Do you do something for good luck on New Year's eve or day?

I had overnight guests on New Year’s eve. At brunch on New Year’s day (lox, bagels, mimosas) we fell to talking about good luck foods (and the mysterious banging in the night…but that is for another time.) Ros said for him it was lentils. Ah yes, I have read that eating lentils is supposed to bring money in the new year. They supposedly resemble coins. Another guest said for her, it was herring on New Year’s Eve. She even brought a small jar with her. We all ate some. (If someone is offering good luck, how can you refuse?) I have another friend that was born down south and swears by black-eyed peas. A spoon-full is all it takes.

My family has eaten pork and sauerkraut for New Year’s Day since I was small. I have no idea why it started or with whom. And why pork? Well, one theory is that pigs root forward into the new year. (You should never eat chicken on New Year’s Day. Chickens scratch backward. Ooooh, bad.) Silly perhaps, but who am I to shake my fist in the eye of the new year or the good luck gods?

Here is how I do it. Mound the sauerkraut (I use the stuff in the bag not the can) in the center of large oblong pan. Place the rack of ribs folded over sliced onions on top of the kraut. Put on a little S&P. You can also put some peeled potatoes around the kraut. Bake until the meat falls off the bone. Maybe 2 hours.

Another traditional good luck strategy is to have a large dark-haired man be the first person to enter the house in the new year. It is called first footing. One of my guests was large, dark, handsome and obliging. Good luck to all of you in the coming year.