Tater Salad Season

It’s Memorial Day weekend here in the US and the unofficial beginning of the Potato Salad Season. I love potato salad and I have eaten a lot of different kinds and summer just makes it taste better. My Aunt Kate made a great German potato salad, my mother-in-law Jane made a fabulous eggy potato salad. But I even think deli potato salad, though not always the greatest, has its place in the potato salad pantheon. I experimented with a lot of salads over the years hoping to create my own style. Sometimes I tried to copy Jane. Mine was not bad but never like hers. I eventually discovered James Beard’s Old-fashioned Oregon Potato Salad and made that for a while but now I think my salad has evolved into combination of Jane and Jim.

So what to make for this weekend? Mine, Jane’s, Jim’s or something new. Curt follows the New York Times food column and he handed me a printout of Melissa Clark’s Lemon Potato Salad with Mint. Looked interesting, looked easy. I tried it and it is good enough to share. Here goes.

I halved the recipe for the two of us but I am posting the full recipe in case you are having company.

Lemon Potato Salad with Mint

2 lbs potatoes
Juice of one lemon, more for serving
1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 C extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions, more for serving
1/4 C torn mint leaves, more for serving
1/4 tsp Turkish pepper ( I used Aleppo)

All this plus potatoes

All this plus potatoes

Step 1: Boil potatoes in salted water until just tender. Drain and cut potatoes into 1 1/2 inch chunks as soon as you can handle them. Important note: Dressing is going on hot potatoes.

tatersStep 2: In a bowl whisk together lemon juice, salt and olive oil.

Step 3: Transfer hot potatoes to a large bowl and toss with dressing, scallions, mint and pepper. Let cool to room temperature or refrigerate. Just before serving, top with additional lemon juice, scallions, mint and pepper.

Ready to eat

Ready to eat

It was quick and tasted great. We paired it with burgers, done on the grill, and accompanied it with a nice Petit Syrah. burgerI think we have a new favorite but for tomorrow I think I’ll try Jane’s salad with our ribs.

Sturdy and Fuzzy go Birding

sf7Recently we were together with friends who had just returned from a trip to Florida. While there they had seen some unusual birds. Well unusual for Wisconsinites but quite normal for Floridians. One they already had identified as an American Oystercatcher. A cool bird to see. After some description and explanation we determined that the other bird had been an Avocet. Another fine bird to see. Our friends said while they were there a group of birders had also gathered to view the birds. They knew they were birders because the men all had facial hair and outdoor vests or L.L. Bean jackets and the women, dressed similarly, were sturdy.

Guys with facial hair? Sure. Sturdy women? Hmm, should I take offense? I took some pictures of the people watching the birds on some of our trips. You be the judge.

sf4SF3SF8sf5SFsf6I don’t know. Do you see any hairy guys or sturdy women? Well maybe. Below is a picture of us and our friends taken about five years ago. Can you tell which are the birders? I guess Curt is kind of fuzzy and I am much more sturdy than Barbara. Or maybe the binoculars gave us away?




I just Point and Shoot

Well we just got back from another birding trip. This past week we spent about four days hiking or walking or standing in Northwest Ohio at either the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, Metzger Marsh, the Pearson Metropark, Meadowbrook Marsh, the Maumee Bay Wildlife Area and of course the biggie, The Magee Marsh Wildlife Area. We had been to Magee before, about a half day at the end of our Road Scholar Birding Trip to Put-in-Bay and South Bass Island, Ohio about three years ago, so we knew what to expect. Lots of birds and LOTS of birders. The Magee Marsh is managed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and it features 5,000 feet of boardwalk on 2,200 acres of wetland.The ODNR and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory (a private nonprofit) host the Biggest Week in American Birding Festival here every year during the first 2 weeks of May. Why here? Because this is in one of the prime Spring migratory routes for warblers and many other birds. And it is on the shore of Lake Erie so the birds sort of “bunch up” there as they feed and get stoked up for the flight across the lake to their Canada breeding grounds. Thousands of birders show up to view the birds and the boardwalk gets packed at times. There are beginning birders, expert birders, mediocre birders, birder groupies, and then there are the photographers. Not just the amateurs like me with my Powershot SX40 HS Canon but the big boys and girls with the monster cameras and the 300, 400…600, 1000 mm lens. (I think some of them are amateurs too, they just have more money). At times you can find yourself surrounded by thousands and sometimes many tens of thousands of dollars of camera equipment. But what brings everyone down to the same level are the birds.

You can have the biggest lens with the biggest flash.shootYou can have a lens as big as your head.headshotYou can point and point and…camerasand wait and wait and wait, sometimes all day.

camera2But if the bird won’t turn around, this is all you get for your time, your patience and your money. It really doesn’t matter how big your lens is.

Great Horned owlet

Great Horned owlet

Now of course I’m having some fun here. What you see is what nature photographers do, they wait, sometimes for a very long time to get the perfect shot. And they do this in all kinds of weather. That’s where those fabulous shots come from in National Geographic and other such publications. For me, just seeing the bird with my binoculars is enough. And if I am lucky enough to come back the next day and the bird has decided to stay put and turn around, I’ll cross my fingers and just point and shoot.owl2

Rule of thumb: Planting Potatoes

dandelions blooming

Rules of thumb are common guides to navigating everyday life without having to refer to some authority. Wickipedia says the term is thought to originate with carpenters who used the length of the tip of their thumb (approximately 1 inch) as a handy – get it, handy – unit of measure rather than resorting to a ruler. In general, rules of thumb are principles with broad application not intended to be strictly accurate or reliable for every situation. They are easily learned and easily applied for approximately calculating or recalling some value, or for making some determination.

Farmers have many rules of thumb.  One that I remember and invoked today was “Plant you potatoes when dandelions bloom in an open field”.  The logic is that the weather (and soil) is warm enough for the seed potatoes to flourish.  Why in an “open field”?  Because the soil near a foundation is warmer than the soil in a field and dandelions will bloom near a foundation days or weeks earlier than those in a open field where the soil will still be too cool.

These wizened things will sprout in several weeks and yield a nice small but nice crop of Russian Banana potatoes.

These wizened things will sprout in several weeks and yield a small but nice crop of Russian Banana fingerling-type potatoes.

Another Turn of the Page: Mad March Books

“By March, the worst of the winter would be over. The snow would thaw, the rivers begin to run and the world would wake into itself again.
Not that year.
Winter hung in there, like an invalid refusing to die. Day after grey day the ice stayed hard; the world remained unfriendly and cold.”      ― Neil Gaiman, Odd and the Frost Giants


Yes, I know it is April but this is the March list and it still feels like March here in Wisconsin. Gaiman’s quote described this year exactly. Winter is refusing to die. It snowed twice this month around here and more than that in other parts of the state, we just lucked out. This week, the weatherman has forecast 60’s and maybe a 70 by the end of the week and he better be right or there will be people with pitchforks and torches pounding on his door. Realistically we have no choice but to brew up some espresso and crack open a new book and hope that Spring is around the corner.

Here are the mad and crazy books our group enjoyed last month:

A Man called Ove by Fredrik Backman (2012) 337 pages. A grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester (1998) 252 pages. One of the most prolific contributors to the dictionary was Dr. William Chester Minor. Not only a fine wordsmith he was also an insane murderer who sent his submissions from his cell in one of England’s harshest asylums, Broadmoor.

The Hundred-Year Walk : An Armenian Odyssey by Dawn Anahid MacKeen (2016) 339 pages. Just before killing squads in Armenia slaughter his caravan during a forced desert march, Stepan manages to escape, making a perilous six-day trek to the Euphrates River carrying nothing more than two cups of water and one gold coin. After discovering his journals a century later, his granddaughter retraces his steps. A true story.

The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man by W. Bruce Cameron (2014) 336 pages. In this quirky, humorous novel, Ruddy McCann, an all-star football player destined for greatness in the big leagues, has a bad thing happen to him and he ends up as a repo man and part-time bouncer in the bar he co-owns. Oh, and he also hears dead people.

Driving on the Rim by Thomas McGuane (2010) 306 pages. An intimate view into the life of a man who crosses the class barrier in a small town in Montana.              

Til the Well Runs Dry by Lauren Frances Sharma (2014) 400 pages. In a seaside village in Trinidad, Marcia Garcia, a gifted sixteen-year-old seamstress, lives alone, raising two small boys and guarding a family secret. When she meets Farouk Karam, an ambitious young policeman, her life takes a major turn. Their courtship takes them through some historical events which threaten the secret Marcia harbors.

Great Leader and Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and the Young Lieutenant Who Stole his Way to Freedom by Blaine Harden (2015) 304 pages. The true story of how Kim Il Sung grabbed power and plunged his country into war against the United States while the youngest fighter pilot in his air force was playing a game of deception and escape.

The Fox and the Hound: The Birth of American Spying by Donald E. Markle (2013) 265 pages. A book about espionage during the Revolutionary War. A fascinating topic but kind of a slow read.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012) 313 pages. Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has terminal cancer. Then she meets Augustus at a Cancer Kid Support Group. He has come to support a friend but his and Hazel’s lives will never be the same.

Heaven’s Keep by William Kent Krueger (2009) 321 pages. In this, the ninth of the series, Cork O’Connor investigates the disappearance of his wife. This book is a major turning point in the series.

Used Book Sale Treasures

joyThis week is the big used book sale at our library. We posted about it in 2011. The Friends of the Library organize it and it is one of the biggest in the country. They advertise 100,000 books and stuff ( CDs, DVDs, puzzles, etc). This year that number is a bit lower, 90,000?, because of a lot of reasons. None the less, that is a LOT of books but if you dig around and take the time you can find some amazing treasures.

Before we went to the sale I mentioned to Curt that our copy of The Joy of Cooking (revised, copyright 1972) by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker was getting pretty beat up. We got it when we were married and have used it for a lot of basic cooking information, even how to set the table. But the spine is starting to split and it’s pretty spotted with grease and water and whatever else was spattering while the book lie open on the counter.

The Joy of Cooking (1972) pages 580-581

The Joy of Cooking (1972) pages 580-581

Amazingly, at the sale we located two newer copies in the cookbook section of the book sale. Note: Our book sale organizers put things generally into categories which makes it  a lot easier to search for a possible treasure. The copy we settled on was The All New, All Purpose Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker ( rev. ed. 1997) for $2.00. Both of the ladies have passed and Ethan is Irma’s grandson.books

The book is bigger in length and width and contains 1136 pages vs 849 pages in our old copy. The later book has a new illustrator and it seems like fewer illustrations. The older book had quaint illustrations and printed many more to explain a simple process. For instance like pouring the batter for a pancake.

3 steps vs 1 step

3 steps vs 1 step

It still has the chapter on setting the table but a nice addition in the new book is a section on eating with chopsticks.

All about table settings.

All about table settings.

The section on cutting meat goes on and on in the old book. Two full pages for each meat:  beef, veal, pork, lamb. The new book instead has one half page for each.

Bone structure and commercial cuts from a carcass

Bone structure and commercial cuts from a carcass

Finally some chapters have different headings but I don’t think this will cause us too many problems. After all I haven’t had the need to check for fritters or croquettes in quite a while, if ever.headingsSo that was our find of the used book sale. It is a beauty and we will have fun breaking it in, a few spatters here and few spatters there. But you’ll have to excuse me, there are a few other treasures in my book bag that I want to look through.

Let’s see, Wicked Bugs by Amy Stewart, Taken by Robert Crais, The American Girls Handy Book ( Centennial Edition), Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, Betty Crocker’s Bisquick Cookbook….



It’s April. It snowed yesterday. My daffodils that are trying to bud have quickly tucked their heads in. Today the sky was gray and it rained  because luckily the temperature got up to 34, barely. Tonight it is expected to go down to 23. Can this be Spring?

Well the goldfinch guys think it is. They are quickly changing into their Spring plumage in order to woo the ladies. I will trust them and hope for the best.finches

It must be working, that Lady Cardinal looks interested.

Tidying Up

I am usually accused of this when my Honey can’t find something. “Have you been tidying up again? I can’t find my <insert here whatever he is currently looking for>.” I have always bristled at this because yes, sometimes I do tidy up after tripping over shoes or boxes or piles of paper that haven’t been moved for 6 weeks but many times it is he who has put something away and merely has forgotten the location.

So about 2 months ago when I happened on this book at Barnes and Noble (where I had a 10% off coupon on top of the 20% off sticker on the book) I couldn’t resist.

The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up

The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up

Yes, “the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing” by Marie Kondo. Little did I know that this book was currently a big hit. I conveniently missed the #1 New York Times Bestseller sticker. Probably because the 20% off sticker had been stuck over it. In the beginning I thought it would just be a humorous read about someone with OCD who parlayed their condition into a profession and yes, it was that but as I continued to read, there were some interesting approaches to getting rid of a lot of your stuff and organizing the rest.

A lot of it had to do with handling everything. For instance start with your clothes. These get divided into sub-categories and the first is your tops. Find ALL of them and put them in a big pile. Then pick up each one individually and decide if it “sparks joy.” That is, do you like it and will you wear it again. For me, it was also, does it still fit. I tried her approach and like she said, the pile was huge and that was just my tops. Now the fear is, when you are done, will you have anything left? Surprisingly I had two grocery bags and one plastic garbage bag full of tops that I no longer wanted, fit into or wondered why I ever purchased AND I still had a lot left to fill up my drawers. Ms Kondo also gets into folding and organizing so you can find things but that is a whole other post. I kept going with my clothes, my pants (all of my pants), my underwear ( all of my underwear) my socks, (yes all of my socks).

Left: Bags of tops, shirts, etc. Right: pants

Left: Bags of tops, shirts, etc. Right: pants

I even got my Honey to go through his jeans, the too small, the too torn, the too old.

Denim on its way to a Church Youth project

Denim on its way to a Church Youth project

Now if you think this book is probably a boring read, you would be wrong. My first impression of this author being OCD was right. But put on top of that the sensibilities of being Japanese and you have some pretty amusing passages. Take this one on “Storing Socks”, remembering that her profession is organizing people’s stuff.

“I visited the house of a client in her fifties. As always I started with her clothes….when she pulled open her sock drawer, I could not suppress a gasp. It was full of potato-like lumps that rolled about.  She had folded back the tops to form balls and tied her stockings tightly in the middle. I was speechless.”

“Never, ever tie up your stockings. Never, ever, ball up your socks.”

“That’s right. The socks and stockings stored in your drawer are essentially on holiday. They take a brutal beating in their daily work, trapped between your foot and your shoe, enduring pressure and friction to protect your precious feet. The time they spend in your drawer is their only chance to rest. But if they are folded over, balled up, or tied, they are always in a state of tension, their fabric stretched and their elastic pulled.  They roll about and bump into each other every time the drawer is opened and closed. Any socks and stockings unfortunate enough to get pushed to the back of the drawer are often forgotten for so long that their elastic stretches beyond recovery. When the owner finally discovers them and puts them on, it will be too late and they will be relegated to the garbage. What treatment could be worse than this?” – Marie Kondo, ‘the life-changing magic of tidying up’

Funny? yes. But when I looked in my sock drawer I found some pretty old, balled up, stretched out socks that Goodwill wouldn’t even want.They weren’t groaning or moaning but they were headed to the rag bag.

Once I got through most of my clothes I moved on to other categories and she tells you how to divest yourself of everything. CDs, DVDs, makeup, appliances, kitchen goods, spare buttons, warranties, unidentified cords, small change, greeting cards…nothing is overlooked. I decided I could never be as fanatical as the author but I did move on to magazines, CDs, and some books. She gets pretty ruthless with books but the librarian, booklover, book-maker in me couldn’t part with too many. Only one out of eight did not “spark joy” so many stayed on my shelves.

Three of five bags of magazines that went to recycle

Three of five bags of magazines that went to recycle

One important thing she tells you is once you have made your choices on what is going, make it go away. Don’t store it in the basement  “in case you change your mind”, you won’t and it just is taking up a different space. So my old magazines went in the recycle bin, the clothes went to the thrift store, the books got donated to the library booksale. Gone. Out of sight,out of mind.

Curt seems to have caught the tidying bug too because he has been going through his studio/workshop and has declared we will have a rummage sale this summer. So I started tackling my studio too. I think we will call our sale “Artists/Packrats Tidy Up”. So far, this is just two days of sorting. Onward!!

More magazines, yarn, roving, basketry materials

More magazines, yarn, roving, basketry materials

Picadillo Alfredo

Warning! This is an experiment.

The NY Times recently published a recipe by Sam Sifton for Picadillo which he calls the ultimate Cuban comfort food.  Picadillo is a sort of sloppy-Joe kind of stew made from ground meat (picadillo means mince), tomatoes, raisins, olives and liberally seasoned with cinnamon, cumin and other warm spices.  To my taste, it sounds like a Persian inflected dish (who often combine meat, fruit and spices) via Spain (remember, that Arabs held sway in the Iberian peninsula for nearly 700 years).  Mr. Sifton suggests serving it with rice.  OK, but I couldn’t quite get my head around picadillo as a stew.

Recently Jeanne made spinach enchiladas which were quite tasty.  Her enchiladas prompted me to think of picadillo as a stand in for the filling of an enchilada-like presentation.  Of course, I couldn’t follow the typical enchilada routine by covering the filled tortillas with a tomato and chili sauce as the picadillo has plenty of tomatoes in it already.  So, why not invert the order of things?  Enchiladas often have cheese in the filling so why not put the cheese on the outside.  But I didn’t want to just bury the tortillas in shredded cheese.  How about something creamier?  I’ve got it – Alfredo sauce!  I know, it’s not Cuban.  It’s not even Latino.  But it creamy cheesy good.  And you can buy it in a jar, ready to go.

For the picadillo I followed the NY Times recipe to a “T”, just cutting it in half to accommodate our more limited table (and so as to not have too much left over in case my experiment was a bust).


Ingredients (see NY Times recipe for complete list)

Minced garlic, diced Chorizo and chopped onion

Minced garlic, diced chorizo and chopped onion

Beef, tomatoes, onions, chorizo, garlic and seasonings saute away

Beef, tomatoes, onions, chorizo, garlic, raisins, olives and seasonings saute away

Fill tortillas with a geneous 1/4 cup of picadillo mixture

Fill tortillas with a geneous 1/4 cup of picadillo mixture

Put rolled, filled tortillas in a baking dish with a thin layer of Alfredo sauce underneath and a generous layer over the top

Put rolled, filled tortillas in a baking dish with a thin layer of Alfredo sauce underneath and a generous layer over the top

Sprinkle a light layer of grated cheese (I used a Mexican blend but cheddar would be fine).  Bake in a pre-heated oven at 350˚ F. for about 30 minutes or untll the Alfredo sauce is bubbly and lightly browned.

Not pretty but pretty tasty. A little garnish would have been in order but I forgot to take this picture until I was on my second Picadillo Alfredo.

Not pretty but pretty tasty. A little garnish would have been in order but I forgot to take this picture until I was on my second Picadillo Alfredo.

Not much to look at but pretty yummy.  I think the picadillo mixture could serve other purposes – maybe an Cuban sloppy-joe?