Three years ago in May I was crabbing and carrying on and blogging about our 3o year old asparagus patch and how it just didn’t produce like it did in years past. Not sure why I was giving those poor old roots such a hard time, I don’t exactly produce like I did thirty years ago either.
The patch is now three years older and after a hard cold winter and a pretty chilly spring I wasn’t expecting much. So yesterday when Curt waved at me from his riding mower to get my attention and then made a lot of hand gestures and starting doing charades I didn’t know what was going on.
Sounds like – growing, garden, um…breaking, take a break? take a nap? No, break..cut …cut growing things. Then he pointed emphatically toward the far end of the garden and I figured out the message was, “Go pick the asparagus, Sweetie!” I added the sweetie since I’m sure that’s what the squinting and grimacing and the final hand gestures meant.
Down to the garden I trekked, basket and knife in tow. Sure its been warm (finally) and it has rained a bit, but seriously how much could there be amongst the dandelions, the thistles and the migrating raspberry plants in the OLD, decrepit, post-winter patch?
Three and a half pounds worth to be exact. Surprise, surprise. And today, another pound and a half.
So what was the first thing we made with our bounty of green spears? Curt whipped up a couple of omelets that were just perfect. I guess a game of charades was worth it.
Well that leaves about four more pounds and remember, it hasn’t stopped growing. I think gifts for my book group tomorrow will be asparagus. Yep, gift bags of asparagus it is.
And Spargelfest? Well that’s German for asparagus festival of course. Many German cities hold an annual Spargelfest. They crown Asparagus Queens and have asparagus peeling contests and consume copious amounts of beer and wine. Hmm, something to think about for next year.
I know what you’re thinking, where or what is Chesterton, Indiana? Well it’s a small town of about 13,000 people located in the northwest corner of Indiana. It is just south of the Indiana Dunes State Park and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. We were spending a few days there birding and visiting friends before heading on to Ohio for a week of more birding on South Bass Island, Magee Marsh and Point Pelee, Ontario.
I hadn’t scoped out dining options before we arrived and assumed we would be finding the usual fare of chain restaurants. We were dining at our friend’s house on the second night so we had to locate a restaurant for our first night in town. After consulting the telephone book we did discover the typical “chain” restaurants but to our surprise, an interesting selection of Indian, Greek, Chinese, Mexican , Italian and American. We settled on an Italian, Lucrezia, partly because the reviews were very good but maybe also because we have been watching “The Borgias” series on Showtime. Now in the 15th C. I may not have accepted a glass of wine from Lucrezia Borgia but I would go back to her namesake restaurant in a minute. We shared a starter of a creamy risotto with asparagus and shrimp and for mains Curt had Pork Osso Buco and I had Sacchetti – Porcini Mushroom (stuffed “Purses”) w/ shrimp, spinach and vodka cream sauce. All was Primo! Sorry, we didn’t take any pictures.
Lunch the next day was another treat. The Dunes area has many different birding habitats: a bog, a marsh…sand dunes. These areas are intertwined amongst residential and smaller commercial areas. Leaving the Marsh we came around a corner that had a small grocery, a liquor store and a food truck. But not an ordinary food truck but a wood-fired pizza truck!
The food trucks I am familiar with are usually big vans with a walk-up window, this was literally a truck. The tables on the side served as the counter and these guys specialized in pizza. No sandwiches, n0 wraps, no salads – just pizza and drinks.
And these pizzas, although based on traditional pizza combinations, have their own “Stonebaker” twist as you can see from the menu board.
So how do these guys get a great wood-fired pizza lunch out to a walk-up and drive-in crowd quickly? Frozen pre-made pies in a toaster oven? Ha! In the truck, behind where those guys are standing is an actual full brick, wood-fired oven, flames and all. Fire on wheels! The temperature on the oven floor reaches 900˚ (probably more like 1200˚ in the dome) and they told Curt (the pyro amongst us) that although the pizzas take less than 10 minutes to make, they only bake for 90 seconds in the oven. As soon as we placed our orders with the first guy – Curt, ordered a Gotham City – me, a Margherita (fresh basil and tomatoes, mozzarella, olive oil) – the second guy was getting out the crust and applying the ingredients. By the time we paid, got our Goose Island Root Beer and took a seat at one of the picnic tables our pies were in the oven.
Ninety seconds later they were done, being cut and put on a plate. Totally amazing! And really good. Curt especially like the Ricotta on the Gotham, giving it an extra creaminess that played nicely against the spiciness of the pepperoni. Ninety seconds might not seem like a long enough time to cook a pizza, but at 9oo˚ with a thin crust it works, and as you can see the crust and the edges of the pepperoni get nicely browned and crispy and the cheese is melted but not burned.
The observant among you might wonder what “Buffalo” pepperoni is. We did. You might assume it’s some pepperoni twist on the “Buffalo” wing thing that crops up everywhere. That’s what we thought. Well …no. The pizza guy explained that it was a type of pepperoni from Buffalo, NY (same place as the Buffalo wing) and what made it different was that the slices “cupped” up during the baking, allowing the slices to get a nice crispy browned edge. Curt and I both looked at each other and said, “Doesn’t all pepperoni do that?” As you can see in the photo below (and from our comments) that, in fact, that is what happens. Oh well, the pizza was good despite the spurious ingredient description. Now if these guys would just go on the road and come to Wisconsin.
We got back late on Saturday from a week long birding trip in Indiana (2 days) and Ohio (6 days). I’m just starting to recuperate. Don’t get me wrong I love to travel and visit new places and have new experiences but once home it takes awhile to get myself and and my house back to normal. First, we are tired. Everyday was spent hiking or walking somewhere..in dunes, a bog, woods, a marsh, fields. Vacations are seldom relaxing.
Second, there is a mountain of laundry. We packed enough clothes for a week so there was no need to do laundry on the road. I hate using laundromats anyway. I can never figure out those soap dispensing machines and I hate plugging quarters in the dryer every 20 minutes because my clothes are STILL not dry. I can’t imagine washing a quilt or a pile of bath towels. It probably would be cheaper to just buy new.
Anyway while I was doing the laundry on Sunday morning, the issue of food came up. Before we departed we ate down all the leftovers, the bread, the milk, the fruit and any veggies that wouldn’t make it till we got back but I had invited my Mother over for lunch in the afternoon (Mother’s Day) so a list and a grocery run was imperative. Curt got right on that. A menu of bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, potato salad and iced tea would make food preparation easy once we had the actual food.
Fortunately I had cleaned the house before we left so everything was in pretty good shape. Only one little pile of cat puke and a hairball but those were easy since they were pretty dried up by now. Once the suitcases were emptied of clothes, which was now happily agitating in the washer, there were the souvenirs, the piles of pamphlets, maps, electronics (and their many charging cords) to be sorted and dealt with.
Sunday eventually went well, lunch was a success and we collapsed into bed that night feeling pretty organized.
Around 8 this morning, I made a post office run to pick up the mail we had held. It is now 3:00 pm and we have just gotten through all the envelopes, first sorting the junk (big pile) from the important mail (little pile). Then there was the stack of catalogs (BIG pile) and the magazines we actually subscribe to (little pile). Slowly, everything is getting back to normal.
So how was the trip? Wonderful. Of the 125 species we saw, 44 of the birds were new to our yearly list. Curt got four life birds for his list, I got two. But one of the birds we had in common was very special, a whip-poor-will. Found by another birder who pointed it out to the rest of us, we managed to get a photo. Can you spot the bird?
Tomorrow the suitcases get put back in the basement, the remaining errands get run and we get ready to go back out birding because migration is still in full swing and those birds won’t wait for us.
Today is my birthday. It was pretty low key. No piles of presents, no cake, no candles (good thing or we might have burned the house down), no special dinner (well, the chicken, spinach, dried tomato pizza was pretty good).
My Mom gave me a nice card with a sweet monetary gift inside and my sister sent a funny card with dogs on the cover and a close friend included the latest migration news from Colorado in her card. My son forgot completely. My husband wished me a happy birthday after lunch.
I’m not ragging on Curt. We leave on a ten day birding vacation tomorrow and we both have been caught up in all the prep it takes before one can take leave of their abode. Not just the packing but the finishing up of the perishable food, organizing the cat sitter, getting the garbage out, stopping the mail, alerting the neighbors, planting the onions, cleaning the pond…and if Curt had time, mowing the lawn. My birthday present will begin tomorrow when we head out.
But a surprising thing happened this afternoon. I was upstairs packing and Curt yelled my name.
“What!” I yelled back.
“Get down here now!” he replied loudly.
What the heck is going on? I stomped downstairs only to find him on the front porch saying, “It was just here, where did he go?” What, who, where????
And then, there he was, a tiny pure white bird with an orange beak.
Curt had seen him when he went out to finish up his pond cleaning. It had just started to rain and this little guy was on the porch. He kept hopping around on the steps, on the railing, on the porch…but not flying away. He obviously was fairly tame, probably an escaped cage bird. We observed him from the other side of the porch door and so did our cat, Butchie.
Poor Butch. He almost went through the glass a one point. His tail could have given your ankles whiplash if you got too close. But here was the dilemma. This little guy was not going to do very well on his own. Too tame. Also a storm was moving in and the temperature of 70 degrees yesterday had dropped to 40 degrees today. We have not one but two cats and are leaving tomorrow on vacation. There was no way we could bring him in. What to do?
Curt checked to see if he had a cage (turned out, more than one…he’s a packrat). Then to catch the little guy. He almost hopped on Curt’s hand but was a still a bit skittish. So we dropped a cloth over him and gently picked him up. I called the Humane Society Animal Intake line and described what we had. Yes, they took in birds, bring him over. Whew! Once there our little visitor was transferred to a much more spacious cage with water and food and he quickly started eating. They took his picture and would post it on their lost and found page but if no one claimed him they said he would be an easy adoptee. So my birthday became a bird day and very special because of a little lost Zebra Finch.
Cooking will be taking a rest while we go nuts birding. We went cooking crazy last Wednesday with an ambitious dinner of six courses that took us days to organize. Our previous post gave you a glimpse into that culinary feat of strength but now its migration. This past weekend we had temps in the 60′s and 70′s after a long winter. The birds are arriving. The first birdwalk commenced at our local wildlife sanctuary. I didn’t make it out because my knee was giving me trouble but Curt went forth and saw an ovenbird, a green heron, a black-crowned night heron, an eastern towhee and a rusty blackbird. I was jealous but I’m saving my knee for our big trip next week.
Today after I got home from doing errands Curt said, “Fifteen Willets and two Eared Grebes were spotted at the 29 ponds, let’s go!” Off we went. The 29 ponds is a big man-made pond out on highway 29. It used to be just a couple of low areas in a big field that filled with water from the spring rains. Birders flocked out there as interesting birds stopped off as they migrated through. Now the local owner has dug out a pond, landscaped the area and hopes to sell home lots around the perimeter. But he also put in a road so access to the pond area is much better than it used to be. The notice we got about the willets and grebes came through on the American Birding Association list for Wisconsin.
We got the Willets who looked much better through my binoculars than they did through my camera. These guys have blue legs and are about the size of big chickens.
However the Eared Grebes swam close enough for this shot. The female is on the left, the male on the right. Look at those amazing red eyes. They don’t look real. If the sun was shining these birds would be really showing off their bright plumage. Definitely click on the picture to get a good look.
Our quick ride was well worth it. And that guy at the top of the page? A nice bonus, a Northern Shoveler. We’ve seen them before but this one posed for pictures.
If you read much about food – restaurant reviews, foodie magazines, etc – you’ve likely encountered the notion of deconstructed food or rather deconstructed dishes. The idea is to take a familiar dish, take its basic ingredients, and re-imagine the dish by combining them into new forms, textures or combinations to highlight the ingredients in interesting ways while still honoring the idea, and more importantly, the flavors of the original dish. At their best, deconstructed dishes can be a revelation. At their worst, they are pretentious and can be a waste of good food.
My first, first-hand, encounter with deconstructed food was a “Caesar” Salad at Graham Elliot in Chicago. We don’t normally go to, or more accurately can’t afford to, eat a such places. They tend to be in major cities (Green Bay doesn’t make the mark), are hard to get a table at and are generally out of our price range. But we were going to be in Chicago, thought far enough ahead to get a reservation, and decided we would splurge on a dinner at G.E. were I started with his deconstructed “Caesar” salad.
What I had in Chicago was pretty close to what is shown above. The dressing was a smear across the plate, topped with a brioche “crouton” that was filled (a la cream puff) with Parmesan foam, topped with Gem lettuce (a mini head that’s a cross between butter lettuce and Romaine) and finally topped with a light grating of fresh Parmesan and a Spanish white anchovy.
This week we hosted a dinner party and I thought I would tackle a deconstructed dish as a part of the menu (actually, I ended up with two). Rather than follow Graham Elliot’s lead, I decided to let Thomas Keller of the The French Laundry be my guide. We’ve posted some deconstructed ventures before (Eggplant Parm: Deconstructed, Deconstructed Gazpacho and Deconstructed Ravioli) but none of those took on the challenge of transforming one or more of the dish’s components into something beyond what one might find in the original (a la Graham Elliot’s Parmesan foam). Thomas Keller’s version of Caesar salad does that by turning some of the egg found in a traditional Caesar dressing and the Parmesan cheese from the salad into a cheese custard (sort of a savory panna cotta).
He also changes some of the cheese into a crispy cheese wafer, adding a different texture to the salad.
Here’s what I ended up with.
This version presents the dressing as a puddle at the base surrounded with a drizzle of Balsamic glaze, a crouton made from a slice of baguette, a Parmesan custard, a Parmesan crisp, Romaine lettuce and shaved Parmesan. Mr. Keller include an anchovy in his dressing which I eliminated at the request of my better half (I added some good quality Thai fish sauce instead).
On the whole, an interesting “salad”. I don’t think I ruined any food. It certainly took a lot more time to reconstruct this deconstructed presentation that it would to just make a salad. The custard was quite good. The crouton was pretty crunchy. I’m glad I attempted it but probably never again.
I noted above that I tried two deconstructed dishes. The other was dessert – a sort of deconstructed Mound’s bar – coconut crisps, double dark chocolate gelato, coconut gelato and Belgian Chocolate Thins. Only the coconut crisps were made in-house, the remaining parts were from the store. It turned out well – a nice echo of the structure of the salad we started with – crispy discs and other components piled up.
Events are going to have a big effect on dinner around here in the next few days.
First, we are the hosts on Wednesday for the next meeting of our dinner group. We’ve posted about that group before so I’ll provide a link for any newcomers to our blog. We’ve been working on the menu for a while but now it is only 3 days away and things are getting tense. We may have bitten off more that we can chew because we are planning six courses and within those courses are nine new preparations. Just getting the logistics of this together so everything comes to the table in order and on time has us doing virtual walk-throughs. Curt has been doing practice runs on some of the new dishes and I’ve been putting together all of the tableware and silverware needed to serve everyone. We definitely could use some of the maids and footmen from Downton Abbey. They had about twelve in the kitchen serving six in the dining room. We have two in the kitchen serving six in the dining room, two of which are us.
Second, spring is finally emerging, migration has kicked in and the birds are starting to arrive up here in northeastern Wisconsin. From now until mid-May, if birders (that’s us) want to see the maximum number of birds flying through to their even farther northern nesting ground, we have got to get out in the field often. Last week, we did two half days and one whole day. That time added 39 birds to our yearly list. No lifers but all new sightings for this year.
Insert into the week, volunteer obligations, appointments, laundry, sleep, shopping, house-cleaning…well, at the end of the day nether of us is interested in being creative for dinner. That’s when all that food work we did last fall pays off.
As we headed home from birding yesterday afternoon I asked the chef what was for dinner. He had no clue but he knew there were back-ups in the freezer. Dinner portions of moussaka, cabbage rolls and stuffed peppers were some of the choices. Dishes Curt put together when the garden was bountiful and baskets of eggplant and tomatoes sat in the kitchen. Last night we thawed out some of the moussaka.
Tear up some lettuce, add onion and dress with oil and vinegar. Voila!! Dinner. Clean-up was easy too.