Saturday, May 31, 2008

Reverse 911

The phone rang in the dead of night. My sister picked it up just listening, expecting the worst. Isn’t it always bad at 3AM? The line was dead, yet when she queried Hello? A computer-generated voice identified itself as the Reverse 911 system. There was a tornado cell in her immediate area. She was advised to take cover. She stayed in bed, but flipped on the weather channel to see what was going on. Sure enough there was a red tornado cell over town but it passed north of them. An hour or so later, the phone rang again to announce the all clear.

I had never heard of this type of arrangement before. She said this was her first call. The entire county and maybe the whole state is using it. The amazing thing is that it can pinpoint the danger and call those in the area. I don’t know how this works if you don’t have a published phone number or if you only use a cell phone.

Interesting. Do you have this in your community? I don’t think we do.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Red, White and Blue Potato Salad

Ok. It was one of those impulse buys that I am trying not to do these days. But there was a 1.5 pound bag of new potatoes in red. blue and yellow (not white). I hefted it in my hand, remembering a recipe from a Bon Appetit for Red, White and Blue Potato Salad. The little bag of tri-colored root vegetables went into the cart.

After browsing over 10 years worth of the magazine stashed in my hall closet (I really need to figure out what to do with them.) I found it. It is in the June 2003 issue, page 124 if you have it. I didn't really follow the recipe (because I rarely do). Here is my take on it.

2 cups of low fat Mayo
1 good-sized hand full of chives (fresh from the garden, flower buds attached) chopped
Caper juice from 1 jar of capers
2 T of capers
salt to taste
a few grinds of multi-colored pepper

Mix it all together. I thinned it out with a little (2T) powered buttermilk (I keep it in the freezer, not like the real stuff, but it will do in a pinch) and water.

Boil the unpeeled potatoes in salted water. I cut them in half and threw them all in the pot. The recipe says to boil them all in separate pots. (Maybe because of color bleed? That didn't happen to me. ) Drain them with they are fork-tender. Throw on a few T of white wine vinegar while the potatoes are still hot. (dry white wine works too) I spooned a few tablespoons of dressing on the warm potatoes. Don't forget to add onion. I would have used red but all I had in the house was white.

The recipe for the dressing is for 2 pounds of each color (6 pounds. yikes. I had 1.5 pounds. No, I did not read the whole recipe before I started the process.) So I have extra dressing sitting in a jar in the fridge. Darn. I guess I'll have to get more potatoes.

I made this on a lark and took it for a birding outing gourmet picnic lunch. Yum.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Container vegetable gardening

"Did you put plants in the dog pen?" The neighbor scratched his head. "Huh!"

In addition to all the flower beds, I have been doing container gardening for years. Some of my 16 pots are beautiful handmade Italian terracotta ones, but others are resin and yes, some are the plastic fake terracotta look-a-likes. Every fall I laboriously lug them into the garage to bring out again in May. On a perfect spring day, you can find me in the beds fussing at the weeds and separating perennials or at the various nurseries happily puttering among the rows of pastel annuals and bright perennials, browsing shrubs and stroking ornamental grasses. But this year my pocketbook decided to forego flowers and embrace vegetables. Yes, vegetables.

In the past, vegetable gardening has proved to be a challenge because of the deer and the groundhogs not to mention rocky soil and too many trees. Or rather not enough sun. But last fall some folks from the flatland came up and we took down many trees and hard-pruned the lilacs. This opened up the beds and - the dog pen - to more sun. Attached to my house is an unused dog pen. I have no dog. I considered tearing it down many times, but have never gotten around to it. Now the fence will keep the critters at bay, the stones will provide good drainage and I will have a kitchen garden. Hopefully.

I filled my pots with fresh container dirt (the kind that is lighter and has the water crystals in it.) And after giving some thought to my cooking habits (eclectic at best) and talking with a master gardener (my sister) I decided on tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, eggplant, beans, onions, lemon grass, squash, and a catnip plant for the kitties. My oregano and thyme come back every year and I have parsley volunteers that are taking over the gold mop cypress in the front of the house.

Now all I need is some heat and sun. Hopefully this time next month, I will be eating fresh mescun salad. Oh boy, Ratatouille here I come.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The rumors are true--we have bears

You hear rumors, you know. At this time of year everyone up here on the mountain gossips about them. I hear it at the grocery store while I dawdle in the vegetable section. The neighbor crosses the road as I work in the flowerbeds to tell me what he has heard. Emails fly around too. Someone always knows someone who…. But when it hits the paper, with photos, you know there is something to the story.

Last week a 726-pound black bear was trapped a few miles down the mountain from my house. The local residents complained because someone over there was feeding them. Fish and Game tranked, weighed and released him. One article said they treated a nose injury while another said he was “aversely conditioned” to discourage him from returning to the area for food. What does that mean? Was he admonished severely with a shaken finger; spanked; shot with rubber bullets as he staggered away? Why all the fuss about this bear? His size. Most of our bears are teen-bears 250-300 pounds. At over 700 pounds, he was a big’in and therefore presumably scarier. (I saw a 800 pounder over on Gould Road a few years ago that was soooo big, his belly was almost dragging the ground. Truly a sight to behold—from the safety of the car.)

There are flyers and signs everywhere to remind us about how to live in “bear country”. The free weekly paper publishes helpful tips every spring. Nowhere does it say feeding the bears is OK. In fact there are laws against it. There is a concerted effort to minimize contact. We have all been issued 2 special screw-top heavy plastic “bearcans” to use for garbage and advised not to put it out the night before pick-up. We are told to be aware of our surrounding and not to be stupid. But apparently some people are.

It is hard to forget that we are part of their world and not the reverse when they amble through our backyards or take the path of least resistance and stroll down the street. I have them in my yard not infrequently at dawn and dusk. They have destroyed numerous birdfeeders when I have forgotten to bring them in. They have pooped in my yard, drank from my birdbaths and scared the bejezzus out of me when I come down to the kitchen and find one looking in the window.

Yes, I live in bear county. I am careful when I am outside. I make noise so they know I am around. I do not compost my veggie parings, although it kills me to throw them out. I have made adjustments.

I love to see them and stare with hushed awe as black on black one materializes in the gloom to cut across my lawn nose quivering to go about her day.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Free Rice

I know you have heard about the doubling and tripling of the price of rice around the world. It has been on all the news programs. Then with the disasters in Burma and China that problem is even worse. Heck, I am even concerned about it since rice is my starch of choice. How much is rice by you?

A while ago, I stumbled on this cool vocabulary game that donates rice for each right answer. Free Rice is the sister site to It donates 20 grains of rice through the UN World Food Program. I LOVE it. Have you played the free rice game? Try it and tell me how you do.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tree poem

All That Time
by May Stevenson

I saw two trees embracing.
One leaned on the other
as if to throw her down
But she was the upright one.
Since their twin youth, maybe she
had been pulling him toward her
all that time.

and finally almost uprooted him.
He was the thin, dry, insecure one,
the most wind-warped, you could see.
And where their tops tangled
it looked like he was crying
on her shoulder.
On the other hand, maybe he

had been trying to weaken her,
break her, or at least
make her bend
over backwards for him
just a little bit.
And all that time
she was standing up to him

the best she could.
She was the stubborn,
the straightest one, that's a fact.
But he had been willing
to change himself-
even if it was for the worse-
all that time.

At the top they looked like one
tree, where they were embracing.
It was plain they'd be
always together.

Too late now to part.
When the wind blew, you could hear
them rubbing on each other.

Taken from Good Poems for Hard Times by Garrison Keillor

Friday, May 9, 2008

If I lived in New Orleans, I would be big as a house

CafĂ© du Monde starts serving people at 8am. The take-out line for coffee and beignets stretched out the door. I was 7 minutes early. While I waited for a table a street musician played the theme from Beverly Hillbillies on his guitar. He saw me smiling and rifted through it again. When the staff started taking the chairs off the tables, I chose one close to the street. I ordered world-famous coffee and beignets. (a single serving has 3) Waiting for my order ($7 with tip) I watched a worker across the street hose down the sidewalk. The artists were setting up on Jackson Square. The tourists trickled in. The guitarist started to play Hey Jude. Munching my beignets I joked with a table full of men next to me about the fried dough thing. Ever culture has them. “These taste exactly like zeppoles,” one guy said. “The only thing different is the shape.” I nodded, it was true. On my way out of the restaurant, the guitarist looked up and winked, “Is your name Beverly?” he asked. I tossed some coins in his spittoon.

New Orleans is known for its colorful characters and its food. Some of the most famous chefs have restaurants here. In addition to Cajun fare and traditional Louisiana cuisine, the city also has fabulous ethnic food. An article in a local magazine touts Asian food particularly Vietnamese. While I love all ethnic food, in New Orleans I want Cajun food...Crawfish Etoufee, Jambalaya, Catfish blazingly hot from the giant bottle of Tabasco on the table, gulf shrimp in any form, broiled oysters. And for dessert…bananas foster.

The other interesting quirk about the French Quarter is the go-cup. You can stop at any open air bar and order a drink to go. I cannot tell you the number of people strolling the streets with sweating cups of mango daiquiris, beers or Hurricanes in hand. Not that I would do that, of course…. ;)

Alas, I have not had the opportunity to eat out much. Food has been offered at the conference and I have been working. But I hope to get out for dinner tonight. It is my last night in town

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Big Easy

From an easy flight to the easy and cheap ($15.00) shuttle ride to the hotel, New Orleans has indeed been easy. When I remarked to the hotel staff on check-in how remarkably easy everything has been so far, her face lit up with a big smile and she said, “Welcome to the Big Easy.” I had forgotten that the city is called that.

As soon as I hustled my bags to my room, I dashed out into the warm embrace of the afternoon to re-discover the city. From prior visits I had a general idea where the French Quarter was relative to the hotel. I strolled past the tawdry sex shops and the bars on Bourbon Street peeking into the side streets. I turned onto one where the balconies were invitingly loaded with flowers. Walking generally toward the levee, I poked into shops, watched street performers, read enticing dinner menus posted outside restaurants and got my bearings for the next 3 days. The city is beautiful just like I remembered it. I see no damage from the storm but let’s remember it did not affect the French Quarter. The one thing I did perceive lacking were the tourists or at least the streets were remarkably un-crowded. I would even say people are few and far between, where I remember the streets being full of shoppers and drunks. It’s a shame really. But it was mid-afternoon.

It is also easy to get around in New Orleans. I took the Canal line streetcar to the end of the line--City Park-- to do some birding. The streetcars are wooden open air gems. Everyone takes them from kids going to school, to tourists, to everyday folks. At only $1.25 it is a bargain. Although “Desire” has been retired since right after Tennessee Williams made it famous, I confess to thinking about it as we clattered along. After walking around the park for a couple hours and seeing lots of waterbirds: egrets, nightherons, ibises, terns, swans, ducks, and a few passarines; I got back on the streetcar and came back to the hotel. It was not all play time, I was in New Orleans to work.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Scent of a Lilac

Lean close. Can you smell it? Oops. Careful. There's a bee.

Try this one.

Is there anything sweeter than the smell of a lilac?

New Jersey State Botanical Gardens in Ringwood, NJ has a collection of 200 lilacs planted in the 1920s. They have spent years carefully pruning them so that they are at the right height to allow not only for viewing but more importantly (at least for me) smelling pleasure. The plants start to bloom in late April and peak around Mother’s Day.

We wandered among the heavily scented beds. The sun-warmed blossoms wafted their perfume into the air while we gently lift the heavy panicles to breathe deeply. I overheard conversations about the beauty of these flowers, the exquisite color of those and above all the comparisons of the various scents. Some were sweet, some spicy, others delicate, or woodsy. Families moved from bush to bush to sniff and examine the different shades of color. The flowers were white, violet, blue, lilac, pink, purple and a startling magenta.

I encourage you to go sometime this week to the gardens while the lilacs are at their peak. (They are down by Parking lot B.) It is lovely anytime of the year, but this week is my favorite.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Native Flowering Dogwood

Nothing is prettier in the sparse spring woods than the white clouds of dogwood gleaming through the tender green haze of new leaves. Dogwoods grow in fertile, moist areas in open woods and along roadsides. We have pockets of them up here on the mountain. You can see them from afar. Summer dogwood fruit is eaten by about 40 species of birds and the flower buds are eaten by squirrels and birds like turkey, ruffed grouse, bobwhite, and pheasant. Double click on the photo to open it up. It is a lovely flower.

Festival of the Trees #23

Mike at 10,000 Birds is hosting this month's Festival of the Trees. Pop over and read some of the fascinating posts he has collected. There is science, poetry, photos--something for everyone. I have already learned a few things.