Clash of traditions: Birds or Beans?

cardinalWe have two traditions that clash with each other on New Year’s Day.

We’re birders and we keep a life list (all the birds we have ever seen in our lifetime) and a year list of all the birds we have seen in a calendar year. Obviously, the life list is on-going and cumulative. And obviously, the year list re-sets each year on January 1. It’s exciting to get up on New Year’s Day and see what birds are visiting our feeders. Of course, most are the same birds that were here yesterday but today it’s as if we haven’t seen them before. Every bird has the chance to be the first bird of the year, though, not all are contenders. Cardinals get up early and often are at the feeders before first light. They’re followed by the juncos, mourning doves and sparrows. Later in the morning, well out of contention for “first” honors come the various woodpeckers, finches, nuthatches and chickadees. We welcome them all but honor the first arrivals by naming each year the “Year of the ______” in our journals.

After breakfast we bundle up and head out for some field birding; usually along the Lake Michigan shoreline from Sheboygan, north to Manitowoc, east to the mouth of the Fox River in Green Bay with field and forests along the way. Depending on the year, the weather and our aging eyes we may total 20-30 species for the day – not a championship tally but a respectable way to start off the birding year.

The Clash!

Beans and Ham Shank simmering

Our other tradition is to eat Red Beans and Rice, a traditional southern dish, to herald the New Year and which you can read more about here. The clash? Beans and Rice take a long time to cook – 3 to 4 hours. It’s hard to stay around the house cooking beans and rice when birds beckon outside.

The solution? Beans and Rice are even better the next day, so we cook up a batch of Beans and Rice on New Year’s Eve day and when we get back from birding on New Year’s Day all we have to do is reheat the beans and cook some fresh rice and enjoy.

We’ll let you know how things turned out.

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Dinner was Served

It has been a week since Curt and I were shopping and cleaning and prepping for our Foodie Group dinner. But last Saturday did finally arrive. There were a few minor blips like forgetting the salad forks (my husband suddenly turned into Emily Post as the salad was served) and not spreading the vegetables out on the dinner plates (that remaining empty area next to the potatoes looked like we missed something). But everything tasted good and there was a lot of lively conservation and laughter, so I think it was a success.

We got so caught up in the cooking and plating and serving that I didn’t take any pictures but here is my table setting. It was fun having the dinner on Valentine’s Day.

tableAnd I know I was being coy about the menu last week but now that all is finished, this is what was served.

UntitledThe salad was very good, the potatoes were interesting, the carrots and beets could have been more attractive though they tasted good, the meat was fine but not special and maybe a little overdone. I could have had a 2nd and a 3rd of dessert but restrained myself. But in my opinion, the star of the evening was the chowder. Curt based the chowder on an escargot/mushroom appetizer he had at Le Petit Chatelet when we were in Paris. This restaurant is right next to the famous “Shakespeare and Company Bookstore.” You can get a glimpse of it in the last seconds of Woody Allen’s movie, “Midnight in Paris.”

credit: Paris for Epicureans, 2014

credit: Paris for Epicureans, 2014

In Paris, Curt’s soup/chowder appetizer arrived with a puff pastry on top and was quite amazing.  Hidden under the puff pastry crust was a rich escargot and mushroom chowder.

Escargot en Croute: le Petit Chatelet, Paris

Escargot en Croute: le Petit Chatelet, Paris

We tried doing the puff pastry top but that was pretty much a failure so our version had puff pastry croutons instead. And since snails are not a widely shared taste treat in our group, Curt used side-stripe shrimp and sea scallops instead. It was truly wonderful. Sorry about the lack of photo but here is the recipe we served.

Seafood & Wild Mushroom Chowder after le Petit Chatelet
serves 6

1 quart corn stock
Mushrooms: 1/2 c. Chanterelle, 1/4 c. Morel,
3/4 c. Chicken of the Woods, 3/4 c. Brown Beech  – all cut into bite-sized pieces
1 large shallot, minced
4 large sea scallops, quartered
12 small shrimp, we used side stripe
1 c. heavy cream
3 c. seafood stock (Swanson’s or homemade)
white pepper
salt
saffron, pinch
2 T. flour
2 T. olive oil
2 T. butter
1 dash hot pepper sauce, like Frank’s

Saute chanterelles in 2 T olive oil till tender, add 2 T. flour and cook to make roux. Add 1 T. butter & remaining mushrooms and saffron.  Cook I minute, stirring. Add corn & seafood stock. Stir to incorporate roux. Simmer 20 minutes. (to this point all can be done ahead)

Add scallops, shrimp & hot pepper sauce, cook 5 minutes.
Add cream & 1 T. butter, bring to a light simmer.

Serve with puff pastry croutons & a drizzle of shellfish oil.

For croutons, just buy a commercial puff pastry. Cut dough into 3/4 inch squares and bake according to directions on the box.

Shellfish oil is made by combining a pile of shrimp, lobster. or crab shells in a sauce pan with 1/2 C. grape seed or canola oil, 1Tbs. tomato paste and 1/2 tsp. of smoked paprika.  Saute for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and let sit until cool.  Strain out the shell bits and reserve the oil for garnish on chowder or soup.

Note: We had corn stock that we made at the end of last summer from fresh corn cobs after we cut off the corn kernels for freezing.

Hope your Valentine’s Day was as fun as ours.

 

It’s Halloweeeeen!!!!!

paprpunkies

“By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes”
Macbeth -William Shakespeare

pappunks3

I love that quote for so many reasons. It is said by the witches in Macbeth who evidently can detect evil in the crackling of their thumbs. How marvelous. It’s like knowing something is going to happen because the hair on the back of your neck (or your thumbs) is standing up. Or that shivery feeling you have when it’s night and you’re curled up in bed reading a Stephen King novel and… you suddenly need to either get up and turn on another light or put the book down and pull the covers over your head.

Ray Bradbury used this quote for the title of his book, Something Wicked this Way Comes.  The story, about a nightmarish carnival coming to a small Midwestern town during the month of October, is a beautiful mix of horror and fantasy.  And it is one of my favorites, not just because it is a wonderful story but how can you not love characters named William Halloway (born one minute before midnight on October 30) and Jim Nightshade (born one minute after midnight on October 31)?  So Halloween being my favorite holiday, yeah, I like this book alot?

So with the best holiday upon us I have just finished my traditional carving of the pumpkins. They are my wards against the dark, against the bumps in the night. They are the sentinels that will guard my door when the wall between the spirit world and our world becomes thin and the spirits can cross over more easily.

Seriously, it’s just fun. Here are this year’s Pumpkin Jacks! Stand strong fellows!

And those guys up top? Paper pumpkins I made for a local group of 3rd and 4th graders.

Morning after Trick or Treat

Morning after Trick or Treat

I love Halloween!

I love Halloween!

Three Punks

Three Punks

Glow Little Glowworm

fwTonight is the night America shoots off millions of dollars worth of fireworks. I’ve always enjoyed the fireworks displays on the 4th even though it’s been years since we have gone to the city center to see the “big show”. We did it on a regular basis when Nathan was little. For many years a friend of ours lived just a few blocks away from the mouth of the Fox River where they shot them off. We would park at her house then walk over with our lawn chairs and sit in a parking lot behind a warehouse.  A couple of years we should have brought umbrellas because the incoming shrapnel was pretty impressive. Huge chunks flying out of the air, and some of them still hot, practically landed in our laps. My son brought home some impressive souvenirs. Other years we would drive down to a park on the bayshore to the east of the city and watch the fireworks over the water. That was pretty cool because they would reflect in the water thus giving us a double show.

As we all got older, Curt wasn’t much interested in going out so it was just Nathan and I, parking along the road or going out on a pier near the University.

Then there was our roof phase. We live on a hill about four miles from the bay of Green Bay. There are no houses or buildings across from our house, just a big field and some trees. We can see a pretty wide expanse of the horizon. Even from the ground we can see fireworks in the air from all the little towns up and down the shore. But up on the roof of our house we could also see over the trees and see Green Bay’s big fireworks’ show.

Tonight, around 9:30, after we returned home from a friend’s house the explosions and the fire in the sky was in fine form. The trees here have gotten pretty tall over the years and I am getting a little old for roof sitting so I thought I would just take a walk down our road and see what I could see.

What happened was very surprising and unexpected, I saw nature’s fireworks – fireflies.  Certainly not as many as I would see when I was a kid, but definitely Fireflies! So cool! There were about 10 to 20 all along the road in the ditch and the nearby field.

credit: Interpolations

credit: Interpolations

I haven’t seen fireflies in years. I had heard that pesticides and loss of habitat and light pollution have caused a great decline in their numbers. When I was a kid living in Chicago the night was filled with “glowworms” in July. My Dad would punch air holes in the lid of a jar for us and then my sister and I would run around, catch the fireflies and put them in the jar. It was our  little “lantern.”

credit: jamelah e./Flickr

credit: jamelah e./Flickr

So tonight, seeing those little lights flickering in the grass just brought all those memories back. It was just wonderful. But I hope catching all those fireflies wasn’t one of the causes of their decline, I don’t remember us letting them go.

Let’s Eat! Sunday Dinner Follow-up

The wait is over. Here is what we did with the salmon, the loin chop and the rest of the meal.

My Mom is ready to eat.

My Mom is ready to eat.

The salmon was marinated in charmoula sauce and then cooked on the grill.

salmon w/ charmoula

salmon w/ charmoula

Charmoula is a tart marinade for fish which we use on eggplant. Today we used it on fish.

CHARMOULA

1 clove garlic
1 tsp.sweet paprika
pinch hot paprika
3/4 tsp  ground cumin
3 Tbls finely chopped cilantro
3 Tbls finely chopped parsley
3 Tbls fresh lemon juice
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

Whisk  all of the ingredients together and drizzle about half over the salmon. Reserve the remainder for the table. Let salmon sit 30 minutes. Curt grilled the salmon on a plank.

Fresh from the grill

Fresh from the grill

Along with the salmon we had asparagus, roasted tomatoes, deviled eggs and cheddar popovers. I was the  person assigned the starch for the meal and I naturally started thinking potatoes, rice or pasta. But sitting in Barnes and Noble, drinking coffee and browsing magazines I came upon this popover recipe. Too cheap to buy the magazine, I scrounged through my purse for a piece of paper and copied it out.  Popovers are a bit scary for me because I never think they are going to poof up but these poofed fine even if they weren’t as cheesy as I would have liked.

Hot popovers

Hot popovers

CHEDDAR POPOVERS

4 large eggs and 2 egg whites
1 3/4 C  milk
1 1/2 C  flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 C  finely grated xtra sharp cheddar
2 Tbls butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put empty popover pans in the oven.

Meanwhile whisk together eggs, whites, milk, flour and salt. Stir in cheddar, set aside.

After the pans have been in the hot oven for about 10 minutes, remove pans, brush cups with butter and put in batter. Return to oven. Bake 25 – 30 minutes. Cut a small slit in each popover and return to oven for an additional 10 minutes. Remove, serve hot. Good as is, better, spread with butter. ( Note: With the cheese my popovers were pretty brown after the initial 25 minutes so I turned off the oven for the additional 10 minutes. Also I had to loosen them with a knife to get them out of the pan so put in plenty of butter of maybe a non-stick spray)

But where you ask is that huge smoked pork loin chop? It was fully cooked so a quick heat through in a pan had it ready in minutes. Truth be told, Curt was going to put it on the grill with the salmon but he forgot. Lucky  for him it didn’t take long on the stove. It was great and plenty leftover for a second meal.

Leftovers for sure.

Leftovers for sure.

How was your Easter dinner?

Rabbit Food or What to Have for Easter Dinner

Holiday dinners. Thanksgiving is always turkey. Christmas is always lasagna. But there are no expectations for Easter around here. Easter may be a high church holiday, pretty major for Christians in the scheme of things but for us it has never been a family gathering kind of day. When our son was little it was fun to color the eggs and hide them with the baskets and other goodies. After church we would find out if we were clever or if everything was discovered in 5 minutes. Usually one or two eggs found good hiding places. And of course it was very important that Dad (who usually was the designated Easter Bunny) remembered where he stashed everything.  You don’t want to find one of those hard-boiled eggs 6 months later.

Well my son is grown and for the last couple of years it has been impossible for him to get home. This year it will be my mother and a friend for dinner. We are not ham eaters for the most part. I like ham but no one else was ever interested and buying a big ham that only I would eat was impractical to say the least. Our fallback is usually chicken.

About a week ago Curt spotted some sockeye salmon in the grocery and knowing that my Mom enjoys salmon he bought some, not thinking of Easter because I don’t eat fish. Okay, I will have a piece of perch now and then and I like scallops and shrimp but those are really not fish. But the more we thought about what to have the more the salmon seemed to be the obvious choice.

salmon2

Three of the four diners would have a wonderful time. I would just ignore them and eat the asparagus and the cheddar popovers and the deviled eggs…unless…I could find an easy to prepare single serving of something just for me.

Flash back to Wednesday and a day trip to Wausau,Wisconsin (about 100 miles one way) to an art museum. Between here and there is a great meat market called Nueske’s. Their applewood smoked bacon is nationally known. Curt wanted to stop to pick up some wieners and a smoked duck breast. Inside, this place smells incredibly good and it was obvious what most people eat on Easter because there was a bunker full of hams, which the clerk said she had filled three times already that day. However they were all huge so I bypassed the bunker and that’s when Curt called me over to the deli case. There they were, in all their porky goodness, smoked pork loin chops.

chop

Dinner is now complete. No rabbit food on our table we are all carnivores and proud of it. Watch for the follow-up post to see how it all worked on Sunday.

No Love Lost, Just Feathers

Valentine’s Day morning. Love is in the air.

A thump! The beating of two hearts in perfect unison?

Below our window, in the snow……an explosion of feathers.

an explosion of feathers!

Blood in the snow…..

dove2

But where are the star-crossed lovers?

hawk

Cuddling under the tree? Sorry, a Cooper’s Hawk and a Mourning Dove do not make good bedfellows. But I’m guessing the hawk will be loving his breakfast. Be happy as a hawk today.

We get Crafty

Tis the season to be crafty or so I gather from my friends who all seem to be on Pinterest. I am not sure what Pinterest is because I fear it may be another one of those computer time suckers and I let the computer suck too much of my time now. So for now, I am steering clear. However, on our own both Curt and I got crafty this holiday season. It’s probably because we are cheap or maybe that we have some extra time on our hands  (those extra hours I didn’t let the computer suck up!) but for minimal money we came up with some nice decorations.

First was the wreath. We have a large wall in our dining/porch area which usually has a large photograph on it and it has been the place where our Christmas tree usually stands. The picture goes into temporary storage. I have been trying to get away with not having a tree so last year I cut red dogwood, put it in a big vase, with lights and balls on it and called it my Christmas tree. Oh the whining! Mostly from my son -who doesn’t live at home but visits on the holidays- and my mother – who just comes over for Christmas Eve. My mother was so distraught last year she stopped at St. Vincent DePaul and bought a 3 foot fake tree and brought it along. It was one of those trees I affectionately call, toilet brush trees. Lovely. So this year we decided to substitute a big wreath for the tree. We would need one between 28 -36 inches in diameter to look good on this wall. I checked shops in town, too small for anything with natural materials, too fake for anything of any decent size. I checked online. A 36 inch wreath with natural plants would cost me between $50 – $80 before shipping. Curt to the rescue. He first bought a base wreath made of grapevine at a local craft store ($6) and some artificial red berries ($4). Then he walked around our yard and cut red dogwood, grapevine, juniper, yew and arborvitae branches. Stuck the dogwood into the base wreath and wired on the greens and berries. Voilà!!!

Wreath detail

Wreath detail

wreath

My turn. I had recently been to a friend’s house and she had a star made of grapevine hanging in her tree. It looked so natural and rustic and I like the idea of having subtle decorations hanging in trees outside. She had purchased this one but by the time I started searching for items like this they were pretty much sold out already. I forget I have to start planning my Christmas decor about a month before Halloween. Crafty Curt suggested wire stars. To accomplish this in a relatively simple way he made me a board with 5 nails positioned in the 5 points of the star. One for a 4 inch star, one for a 5 inch star and one for a 6 inch star. Then just like you draw a 5 point star with a line, I wound wire around the nails.

Star making board

Star making board

So I got all excited, made about 8 stars right away and hung them outside. And ran inside, looked out……and you couldn’t see them at all! Wire stars, even 6 inch wire stars just disappear in all the black sticks and twigs of the tree. Back to the drawing board or rather back to the piles of craft supplies I have amassed over the years where I found a ball of raffia. So back outside,  I collected all the stars, roughly wrapped them with raffia and hung them back up. This time they were visible and what’s great is they will look fine through the winter. Chickadees perched near by make them look even cuter.

star2s

star1

star3

Are we worthy of Pinterest?

And as to the issue of having a tree this year… will the wreath be a sufficient substitute?  Could we put the gifts on a table under the wreath? No. I caved. I  went out and got a real 3 foot tree just in case my mother is working on her own craft project with toilet brushes.

The Leftover Chronicles: Thanksgiving Turkey and Gravy

It didn’t take us long to finish off the leftovers from Thanksgiving. Five containers left with guests, dressing and turkey were on Friday’s lunch menu, turkey sandwiches for Saturday and a dressing/veggie pancake for breakfast on Sunday (like a potato pancake). That left some turkey and gravy on Sunday night. A little rummaging around in the freezer and pantry produced peas, mushrooms, celery, potatoes, onions and a package of puff pastry. Add carrots and you’ve got the makings for a pot pie.

Ingredients
2 C. cooked turkey, boned and skin removed
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into rough chunks
3 medium carrots, cut into rough chunks
1 large onion, peeled and cut into 1″ x 1″ pieces
2 stalks celery, trimmed and cut into 1″ long pieces
1/2 C. fresh mushrooms, cut into 1/8ths
1 C. frozen peas, defrosted
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, defrosted according to package directions

Roux
3 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs flour
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp dried marjoram
Salt and pepper
1 can chicken stock
about 1 C. leftover gravy
Water from blanching the vegetables, sufficient to make the sauce, about 1 – 2 cups.

Pie crust or a biscuit crust would be another good alternative but we happened to have this pack of puff pastry so that was our dough of choice. First, saute onions, celery and mushrooms till soft, about 10 minutes for the onions and celery, less for the mushrooms.

Mushrooms, celery, onions

Par boil the carrots and the potatoes separately till just shy of done. Drain but keep the water. Chop the potatoes, carrots and turkey into good-sized chunks. Not too tiny.

Potatoes, carrots

Turkey

Finally you need something to bind this all together. Make a roux by heating, over medium heat, the oil and flour together until well mixed and the flour just starts to color.  Do not let the flour get dark or burn.  While whisking the roux, add the herbs, left over gravy, chicken stock and some reserved vegetable blanching water. Whisk vigorously to avoid lumps.  Cook over medium heat until the sauce thickens,  adding sufficient reserved water to get a sauce the consistency of pancake syrup.  Set aside.

Roux with vegetable blanching waster waiting to go in.

Combine all of the ingredients (roux, vegetables and turkey) except the pastry topping and put them into a baking dish. Don’t forget the peas.

Cover the mixture with the pastry and bake according the package directions. Our puff pastry didn’t look very brown after the recommended time so we left it in for an additional ten minutes. Bring to table, serve. This was enough for dinner for two plus lunch the following day.

Turkey Pot Pie

PS: You don’t have to wait till next Thanksgiving. Any leftover meat makes a great pot pie.

We’re back!

You probably didn’t know we were gone. We took a birding trip through Road Scholar which was held on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We have a few interesting posts upcoming which will focus on some fun parts of the trip but today is all about what greeted us as we drove up the driveway. I think I have mentioned how I love to cut pumpkins for Halloween.

The punks at Halloween.

When the holiday is done I line up my Jacks across the road to melt gradually into the ditch. This year I just didn’t have time to get them off the porch before we left on our trip. While we were gone there must have been a lot of freezing and thawing or these guys really missed us and became sad. Faces only their creator could love.

 

Star Punk

I’m Okay Punk

I Ate My Face Punk

I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get up Punk

And my personal favorite:            I Am So Depressed Punk

Now my only problem is getting these pumpkin puddles across the road.