Not Dead Yet

I can’t believe it has been almost a month since I last posted any recipes, book notes, inspiring stories or general ramblings. What have I been doing? A friend of mine emailed me wondering if I was well since she hadn’t seen any postings. Well, let me rack my brain, what have I been doing?

Since we last talked on March 8…

• I have attended two different book groups.
• Sold two journals, one was a custom order so I had to build that one.
Brushed the cat
• Worked on a brain hat for the March for Science. ( I made Pussy Hats so I know I can  make Brain hats)
• Got the taxes done
• Worked the Big Book Sale at my library
My son was home and he brushed the cat.
• Raked lawn (we had one warm day)
• Baked a batch of ‘They Might Be Breakfast’ cookies (from Dorie’s Cookies by Dorie Greenspan)
• Baked Raisin Bars (same as above)
• Continued at the Health Club 2x a week exercising and strengthening my new knee
Brushed the cat.
• Got on an embroidery craze. (Worked on my Stitch a Day project and finished one auxiliary project and started another)
• Binge watched season 3 of Grace and Frankie.
• Binge watched Season 3 of Chef’s Table
Brushed the cat. (Damn! She should be bald by now.)
• Read or listened to 8 books (3 graphic novels, 3 audio books, 2 book books)
• Got my hair cut
• Went to the chiropractor
• Did a little birding, (added grackle, cowbird, sandhill crane, black duck, hooded merganser, northern shoveler, killdeer, redhead duck, lesser scaup, song sparrow, ringneck duck, coot and white pelican to my 2017 list)

Starting upper left: custom journal, Chef’s Table, Raking, Stitch a Day, The Cat, Cookies, Hooded Merganser, Book Sale Boxes, Knitting brains, Leg Press, Embroidery 1, Embroidery 2, Reading, The Cat again!

And then when you add in all those pesky weekly and daily chores like washing dishes laundry and grocery shopping…well, I guess I’ve been busy. So to my friend in Colorado, I’m alive, sort of busy, but nothing too exciting. Unless you count filling up a grocery bag with cat hair exciting. Hmm, I think we can build a new kitten from all that hair.

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Spring?

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.

Finding Birds: Migration 2015

If reading about birds bores the heck out of you, the next four posts are going to put you to sleep. I’ll see you readers in about a week. For the rest of you, today we started a five day birding trip across Wisconsin from Green Bay to Eau Claire. From there we are visiting wildlife areas from Grantsburg, WI down to Wyalusing. Hopefully we will be seeing a lot of birds and some of them will pose for pictures.

Here are today’s highlights. First stop was Bergstrom Marsh off of highway 54 near Black Creek. This is a pretty big marsh where in the past we have seen ten different waterfowl at one time, short-eared owls and black terns. Today wasn’t that dramatic but we had some nice sightings.

First, goslings have hatched. We saw at least four different clutches with Mom and Dad guarding their every move. Even though I was in the car this gander is questioning my right to look at him and his.

"You looking at me?"

“You looking at me?”

Further into the marsh we came upon white pelicans. On the left a large group was flying over and then came in for a landing. Here is one hitting the water.landingOn the right, there was a group just swimming on the water. At first I couldn’t figure what was happening because I was just looking at them without my binoculars. Pelicans are pretty big so you can see them easily with the naked eye. But until I raised the binoculars I didn’t realize they were feeding. And on top of that, it was breezy and the wind was blowing their tale feathers as they raised their rumps into the air. So cool.

Bottoms up!

Bottoms up!

Finally the new bird we saw for our yearly list was one of the best, a yellow headed blackbird. They sit a long way off on the cattails so having a good zoom lens is a must. This was the best shot but I think you get the idea. Let’s hope the next couple of days are as successful.

A jewel in the marsh

A jewel in the marsh

Let the Birding Begin!

statesignTruth be told we have been birding since January 1 when we looked out our window and saw downy woodpeckers and juncos and chickadees sitting on our bird feeders. But now we are on the edge of the spring migration and all those birds that went south for the winter (smart birds) are starting their trek north, back to the breeding grounds. So if you are a birder, you need to get out a couple of times a week this time of year to glimpse these travelers. Many will stay in Wisconsin, many will continue on. Catching a sight of the ones who will head further north is the goal.

Weather of course plays a big roll and many areas got snow yesterday and the birds don’t like it anymore than we do. Snow doesn’t stay long this time of year but its still cold at night and the insects aren’t waking up yet. The birds who enjoy a bug or two for dinner will be coming much later. Fortunately, we have a lot of open water right now which makes this a prime time to find waterfowl.

It was mild today by Wisconsin’s standards ( lower 50’s, little wind) so we drove out to a big marsh near here. They recently put up a new sign. The snow was gone by the time we arrived.

sign

If you decide to try a trip like this make sure you have binoculars. Why? Because most birds don’t sit in the ditch right next to the car. Oh, some do, sometimes. But this is usually your view.

water

This is pretty close to what you see with the naked eye. But put the binoculars up to your eye and wa-la!!! You can see differences in those specks and actually identify them. This next picture was shot with a zoom lens and then I cropped the heck out of it on the computer. But if you were looking through your binocs you would see something like this and it would be less grainy.

from left to right: American Coot, Redhead, Gadwall, American Coot

from left to right: American Coot, Redhead, Gadwall, American Coot

Here’s another shot of the marsh.

marsh

And here is my camera shot, cropped and enlarged.

ring-necked ducks

ring-necked ducks

Yeah, I know what you are saying, where is the ring on their necks? Got me. This one confuses me every time I see it. It has a ring around his bill but his name is ring-neck. Just roll with it. Trust me there are a lot of oddly named species. For instance, you can hardly see the pale pink belly on the Red-bellied woodpecker who happens to have a large red patch on the back of his head but ‘redheaded’ woodpecker was already taken.

Final tally today of new birds for this year (not lifers just the first sightings for this year):

– 8 – American Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal, Gadwall, Ring-necked duck, Eastern Phoebe, White Pelican, American Coot, Great Blue Heron.

Additional sightings today but not firsts: – 14 – Cardinal, Tree Sparrow, Canada Goose, Mallard, Kestrel, Red-wing Blackbird, European Starling, Pigeon, Grackle, Redhead duck, Sandhill Crane, Turkey Vulture, American Robin, Bald Eagle.

Stay-tuned. We have two birding trips scheduled for May. Early May – Mississippi Flyway/Western Wisconsin. Late May – New Brunswick, Canada.

Eating the Babies

Spring came late to Northeast Wisconsin which means the crops are just getting started. This is a good thing because what you get when you go to the Farmer’s Market are the babies: the baby carrots, the baby beets, little fresh peas, tiny zucchini, spring onions and mushrooms.

Farmer's Market bounty

Farmer’s Market bounty

Mix those sweet little veggies with cherry tomatoes and tiny peppers and little celery sticks and you have the essential ingredients for a Vegetables a la Grecque.

Vegetables a la Grecque

Vegetables a la Grecque

Marinade:

4 cups water
1 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbls salt
2 cloves garlic, whole, bruised
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
grindings of black pepper
One thick slice of onion

Put all the above together in a shallow pan and simmer for fifteen minutes. With a slotted spoon scoop out all of the solid stuff. Poach the vegetables in the remaining liquid till they are tender but firm. Do them individually since different vegetables cook at different rates. The zucchini and mushrooms should go last since they really soak up the marinade. And If you use beets do them last otherwise your poaching liquid and all the other vegetables will be pink.

Arrange the poached vegetables in a serving dish, pour some marinade over the top and let cool.

Add a nice grilled piece of chicken, some crusty bread and you’ve got a great summer dinner.

Note: Cherry tomatoes don’t poach well, serve them on the side.

Note 2: Later in the summer, add green beans.

 

 

 

Another Turn of the Page – It’s Spring in Wisconsin!

Always read something that will make you look good

if you die in the middle of it.

–P.J. O’Rourke

home-img

Yes it’s spring in Wisconsin. That has nothing whatsoever to do with this month’s list of books even though they do look cheery in their mostly green and yellow covers. No I just like reaffirming that spring is here. Sure in two days it might be gone, maybe a crazy freak snowstorm will move in… but for now…the sun, she is shining; the breeze, he is blowing warm air around; and me, I be smiling. Okay before I start singing and skipping down the road let’s get down to the books for April.

Anita, who just got back from Arizona and the Balkans (she’s an eclectic traveler) told us all about a really good author of historical fiction, Dorothy Dunnett. I’ve heard of her ( it’s the librarian in me) but I bet there are a bunch of you who have not. So if you like romance and history and Scottish noblemen, check out The Lymond Chronicles.

Here are this month’s round table submissions:

Attic4-14The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (2011) 322 pages. A girl recently emancipated from the foster care system takes a job in a flower shop where she realizes she has a gift for helping others through her flowers and their arrangements. Inspiration for this book stems from the Victorian language of flowers where you chose certain blooms  that expressed your feelings, your romantic intentions, your personality.

My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918) 232 pages. It seems like every month someone reads a classic. H.L. Mencken claimed this was one of the best American novels ever written. The book traces the story of a Bohemian family as they settle on the Great Plains in Nebraska.

Flight from Berlin by David John (2012) 384 pages. A cynical English reporter and a beautiful, headstrong, American Olympic hopeful are caught in a lethal game of international espionage during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Debut novel by this author.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (2014) 373 pages. Kidd’s latest takes place in the south of the 19th century and follows the lives of two women, Sarah Grimke, who on her eleventh birthday receives the gift of a handmaid (household slave), Hetty “Handful” Grimke. We follow the next 35 years of their lives.

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah (2007) 229 pages.  The story is set in Sierra Leone in the early 1990’s. The author, Ishmael, is just a young boy of twelve when his village is attacked by rebel troops. Ishmael finds himself orphaned and on the run until he is recruited. This story is probably the toughest read this month but Ishmael does overcome the early horrors in his life.

The Heist by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg (2013) 320 pages. Evanovich is determined to break away from Stephanie Plum and this one might do it. This little caper features new characters Nick Fox ,the best con around, and Kate O’Hare, ex-Navy SEAL, current FBI agent. After Kate busts Nick, part of his penance is to work with the FBI capturing other cons. Entertaining and just good fun.

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (1996) 214 pages. Wendy picked this book up because Bea presented Nicholas Sparks at last month’s meeting. Bea liked the book but forgot to mention that in Sparks’ books the sap runs freely. Wendy would like those hours of her life back. Hey, if you’re a sucker for really sweet romantic tearjerkers, this one is for you.

The Absolutely True Story of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie (2007) 230 pages. This is categorized as a Young Adult book but don’t let that stop you. Alexie is a Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, and a great writer. His writing is serious, soulful and humorous as hell. In this book, Arnold Spirit, Jr., a Spokane Indian teenage boy narrates this story about how he took his future into his own hands. The only way for him to do it however was to leave his troubled school on the reservation and transfer to an all-white high school in a town nearby. You’ll learn at lot about life on the Rez and a lot about the strength of family and heritage.

The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric (1945) 318 pages. We finish our list with your history lesson of the month. This book depicts the suffering history has imposed upon the people of Bosnia from the late 16th century to the beginning of WWI. Though a work of fiction, the author’s research is extensive and thorough.

Be nice to a librarian this week. Good reading!

Did you miss Me? I’ve been birding.

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

Black-bellied Whistling Ducks

We’ve been taking one big birding trip every year. A trip where we actually fly away from Wisconsin and try to find some birds that we would never see here in the Midwest. It’s fun, it is usually warmer and we get to expand our life list. One of the other people on this trip (obviously a beginner) asked what a life list is, so for the rest of you newbies, this is the list of all the birds you have seen for the first time. According to Audubon there are more than 800 species in the US, 654 are native to the United States. In 1998, Sandy Komito, set the current record of 745 species seen in one year. A man named Neil Hayward may have beat that record in 2013 with 747 birds, but his list is still being verified. My personal life list is about 420 but I’ve been working at it for 30 years.

Our previous trips have taken us to Southern Arizona, Southern Texas (Brownsville area), the Outer Banks of North Carolina and Magee Marsh and South Bass Island in Ohio so this year we picked Florida to get some birds and some warm weather. We were right about the birds but not the weather. Don’t get me wrong, it was warmer than Wisconsin but mostly upper 60’s and rainy. However the birds totally made up for the weather. So let me give you some highlights with a few of the pictures we managed to get.

This is the migration and breeding season in Florida so a lot is going on. The birds are either putting on a show to get a little action…

egret

Great White Egret displaying for the gals.

brpelican

Brown Pelicans: the left is in breeding plumage

or they are hiding out, guarding a nest or feeding young.

Can you see see the Black-crowned Night Heron?

Can you see the Black-crowned Night Heron?

A zoom lens was necessary to pick this Green Heron out of the reeds

A zoom lens was necessary to pick this Green Heron out of the reeds

The Nanday Parakeet blends in very well.

The Nanday Parakeet blends in very well. This guy was about 30 feet up.

A Limpkin w/ a snail. He was a long way off and behind tall grass.

A Limpkin w/ a snail. He was a long way off and behind tall grass.

I really had to zoom to get that last picture above. He was a long way off and behind grass. I cropped the heck out of the picture so you could see this interesting bird. Click on the picture to enlarge, it looks very painterly.

There were even some star-crossed lovers. Who am I to judge?

White Pelican & Double crested Cormorant

White Pelican & Double crested Cormorant

All in all it was a great trip. It finally got into the lower 70’s by the end of the week and the sun appeared on the day we left. Florida is a nice place to visit and out of the 120 species we saw, 10 of those were life birds for us. But I would never live there because even warm weather can’t make up for fire ants, snakes and these guys.

Taken from a bridge and I did not zoom in very much, he was big.

Taken from a bridge and I did not zoom in very much, he was big.

1 hole-unfurn, 25 sq in, bay view

We told you about the pair of American Kestrels that were thinking about setting up house in the tree in front of our house. Well, we were away for a week and weren’t sure if they began nesting there or not. We’ve seen the male around but not the female – so if they’re nesting she’s most certainly in the nest cavity and won’t come out for a while.
In the mean time, however, another couple has shown interest in one of the same cavities. The evening after we returned a pair of Wood Ducks showed up and started looking around. We didn’t think they’d move in because the hole seemed too small for her to get into but it was interesting to watch them explore the hole.

Male Wood Duck aloofly observing his mate checking out a possible nest cavity

Female Wood Duck checking things out

"Looks like a pretty tight fit"

This tree seriously needs to be cut down or trimmed but the rental activity has had us reconsidering its worth to the neighborhood.

Update: This post was written about a week ago and since then the ducks have moved on but the Kestrels have taken up residence. He continues to keep vigil on the wire, he’s been hassled by Grackles and he has been hovering around the cavity. Last night he enjoyed a dinner of garter snake. We’ll keep you posted.

snake for dinner

Love is in the Air

A pair of Kestrels on a wire

Our hobby of birding is just beginning to get exciting again. Sure we look for birds during the winter but all we normally see are the usual suspects who aren’t rich enough to have a second home in South America. But now that spring is in the air, new faces are slowly arriving, breeding plumage is starting to shine and nest-building is getting into gear. We are preparing to head south soon to see some of the birds who have already crossed the border and are in the prime viewing areas of southeast Arizona.

But in the meantime we have had an exciting bird event right here in our front yard. We have a pair of kestrels who appear to be setting up housekeeping in an old box elder tree. Now this tree is a real eyesore. It has branches growing in weird angles, some of them still leaf out but more are dead, rotten and hollow.

"Unit 1" in lower knob in center of picture

It has been struck by lightning and has lost numerous branches in windstorms. The wind is really whipping today and as I write this there is some scary swaying going on. But even with all of those faults we just don’t want to cut it down because it has great nest cavities and attracts a lot of woodpeckers.

Recently we noticed a female kestrel checking out one of the holes. In she went and in a few minutes flew off. On the following day she was back and checked out a different hole. This one must have had the right furnishings and a new paint job because she came back with the male who also went inside to see the place.

Entrance to "Unit 1"

Since then there has been relatively a lot of activity. We aren’t certain which hole has been settled on because they visit both cavities on different days. For those who aren’t birders a kestrel is the smallest falcon who is usually spotted sitting alone on a roadside wire or fencepost waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting insect or small mammal. But these two have been in and out of the holes, perching on various limbs of the tree, and sitting side by side on the telephone wire. Looks like courtship to me.

Female Kestrel

Male Kestrel

The happy couple (male on the right)

Checking out the view from "Unit 2"

Checking out a third space that the woodpeckers still have under construction

What has surprised us the most is that the other birds who frequent our feeders haven’t been put off by a pair of falcons moving into the neighborhood. I still see goldfinches, house finches, red-winged blackbirds and various woodpeckers. Chickadees however, have made themselves scarce. Curt is hoping the kestrels will decide to stay. He remembers a nesting pair in a tree in our backyard quite a few years ago. That was the year the population of mice and nine line ground squirrels plummeted. So here’s hoping.

Sparrow’s Grass


‘Tis the season for Asparagus.  We have a 30-year old bed (of two 25-foot rows) that produces about a pound of asparagus spears every day for six weeks or so (when it was a much younger bed, we could pick 2-1/2 pounds or more a day).  We are definitely of the mind that you should only eat FRESH asparagus, not frozen which has a mushy texture and absolutely not canned which is something only slightly removed from what the cat horked up.  When it’s asparagus season, we eat it a lot, maybe not every day, but certainly frequently and whenever we want to.  We also sell some and give away quite a bit.

But, we do run into asparagus fatigue.  How many ways can you prepare asparagus?  Our favorite way is roasted – lightly coated with olive oil (spraying it with a good olive oil cooking spray is the easiest way) and roasted for about 10 minutes (less for thin spears, maybe a little more for really fat spears) at 400 degrees, lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Roasting eliminates the potential for slippery, watery asparagus – roasting turns it sweet with a nice firm but cooked texture.

Asparagus steamer

Steamed is second best.  A few years ago we invested in a proper asparagus steamer, which is also great for steaming up to 7 ears of corn.  This unusual looking pot is tall  and narrow with a basket liner. The basket lets you take the asparagus out all in one fell swoop.  Because the asparagus (or corn) steam with the toughest part towards the bottom it almost eliminates the problem of overcooking.  We don’t boil asparagus because it comes out watery and it hard to get the whole spear evenly cooked – either the base is under-cooked or the tip is over-cooked.

One of our favorite fall-back and easy preparations is an improved variation on a starter we first had at Coquette Cafe in Milwaukee.  Roasted asparagus topped with a poached egg, a few shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano and a sprinkle of crispy Prosciutto paired with a simple salad and some toasted crusty bread.  It makes a nice lunch or light supper.

Asparagus with poached egg, Parmigiano and Prosiutto

Roast Asparagus with egg, Parmigiano and Prosciutto.

Cut or snap asparagus to consistent length.  Lightly coat with extra virgin olive oil and roast in 400 degree oven for 10 minutes until the scales on the tips start to lightly brown.

Poach eggs following your favorite procedure – about 6 minutes or until the yolk is done to your taste.  We prefer the yolk to be slightly runny.

Cut Prosciutto into pieces about 1/2 the size of a postage stamp.  Toast over low/medium heat in a dry saute pan, shaking frequently, until it starts to darken and gets a little dry.  Set aside to cool, the Prosciutto will get crispier as it cools.

Serve with a bed of asparagus, topped with the poached egg.  Add a few shavings of Parmigiano and a generous sprinkling of Prosciutto.  Serve with a slice of toasted crusty bread (like Ciabatta or other good country-style bread) and a simple green salad.