Final Asparagus Patch Post

As I was preparing this post I discovered that I do a lot of whining about our asparagus patch. In 2010 I thought for sure that our then 30 year old patch was done, finished, kapoot! Then 3 years later I was amazed at how much asparagus I was picking even though the thistles and weeds had pretty much won the fight for supremacy.

But this year the almost 40 year old patch is really all but dead. There are not just mystery weeds, dandelions, and thistles but trees, invading raspberry canes, grass and lots of Queen Anne’s Lace.

The original patch began at the bottom of the above picture and extended to the edge just before the back field. Grass and dandelions are now the main crop. Curt has been mowing the front area but further back trees and raspberry canes have taken over and we will need a saw before we can mow that part.But as the saying goes, “Hope springs eternal.”  Last week I noticed in the front area a few green stalks that looked different from the other stalks. Sure enough, a few asparagus roots were valiantly trying to survive. So I kept looking, even in the back section. Here are the Magic Eye pictures of asparagus hunting. In each pair, the top picture is of a spear, the 2nd picture has an arrow so you can see the spear. Scroll slowing.Or try this one.

So with enough patience and a little bit of foraging across the road (where some volunteers from somewhere are coming up) we came up with enough for our dinner salad with a few left over for omelets in the morning. Nothing like the 20-25 pounds we used to get when the patch was young but still interesting.

Top bunch was from the old patch, bottom bunch from across the road.

Thanks for sticking with me all these years but enough about asparagus, I hear the garlic crop is doing well.

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Busy Birdy Afternoons

We have two very large windows that face out into a garden that has a wide variety of bird feeders. We have seed, suet, oranges and jelly plus a Hummingbird feeder with sugar nectar. We get a pretty good variety of birds. I was working at the table by these windows yesterday afternoon when I got the idea of documenting just who was visiting our little buffet. So I spent about two hours with my camera at the ready. Some pictures turned out very well, others ..eh. Because this was the afternoon, lighting wasn’t ideal and some birds that visited were too fast for my camera. But here are the ones I managed to catch, mostly regulars and one surprise. Click on pictures to see them larger.

Female & male Rose Breasted Grosbeaks

A variety of sparrows.

Starting upper left clockwise: Chipping Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, House Sparrow, Song Sparrow

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. I’ve put in three pictures because on the left is the male but only when he dipped his head could you see the ruby throat. If he faced into the sun it would have been brighter. The female is on the right.

A shy Red-bellied Woodpecker.

male and female American Goldfinches

The male Cardinal wouldn’t stay long enough for a picture but his lady friend did.

Starting Upper left clockwise: Red Winged Blackbird, Robin, Mourning Dove, Common Grackle

White-breasted Nuthatch

Male and female Downy Woodpeckers

A Pine Siskin who would only give me his backside.

Pine Siskin

Female and male Baltimore Orioles being photo-bombed by a House Finch.

And finally the surprise visitor of the day, a Catbird. These guys do not visit feeders but I guess he was wondering what all the excitement was about.So this is the variety of birds we saw in about a two hour time frame. And these are only the ones I actually was able to photograph. Those who wouldn’t pose: Male Cardinal, Blue Jay, Black Capped Chickadee, Hairy Woodpecker and an Orchard Oriole. Not in the yard but flying by were Canadian Geese and calling from the field across the road, Sandhill Cranes. So check your yard, your life list could easily get much longer.

Nature Notebook Moment with Chickadees

On Wednesday and Thursday this week we went on a birding trip up to Door County which is the long thin peninsula that sticks out on the Ne side of Wisconsin. We had planned this trip about a month ago thinking Spring would have sprung and the birds would have begun their migration. Not strongly but enough that we would see some new birds for the year. Then on April 14th and 15th, Wisconsin got hit with a Spring blizzard. Many birds who were already in town were struggling. Food sources were buried in snow and the wind and cold for that long of a period just didn’t help. We have had late snows in the past but even in March we say, Ah, it will all melt by tomorrow. Not this one. We had huge drifts that made it difficult even to get out the back door much less try to get to the bird feeders. In the days after, many reports of dead birds came in to the bird reporting sites, a lot of them robins. So when we headed north two days ago, we didn’t know what we would find.

We mostly birded from the car or stayed on main paths. Trails in the parks were really muddy or still had snow packed on them. Some of our best finds were in flooded fields. The farmer probably wasn’t happy but the birds were enjoying the new lakes. One high note on the trip was in Peninsula Park. Further into the park from the main entrance is a Nature Center. It is a small building where you can talk to a staff person about recent sightings or ask questions about other flora and fauna. That is, when it is staffed. Park funding being constantly cut, doesn’t allow for someone there most times. But there are feeders and a white board where people can record what they have seen in the park.

When we pulled in on Thursday there was no human on site but instead we were greeted by a gang of chickadees. There was a pair of cardinals in the tree and a red breasted nuthatch swooped through. But the chickadees seemed quite friendly and seemed to be hoping we had handouts. Curt found a large can of sunflower seeds around the back of the building and was going to try to call them in. ( We sort of had this idea planted by the Park staffer at the entrance who wanted to know if we were interested in feeding chickadees but we declined). Now it seemed like a good idea. So Curt put seed on his hat and in both his hands and sat on a bench. I went for the camera, just in case.Well it didn’t take very long and in came the chickadees.

Curt waiting for the Chickadees while a Cardinal curiously looks on.

I tried really hard to get shots but those little guys were fast. I managed to get them in each of his hands but even though they also landed on his hat my only shot was one taking off.

Left hand feeder

Right hand feeder

Chickadee taking off from his hat

Then it was my turn. Please ignore the dumb look on my face. I was trying to be as still as possible but still get to see the birds on my hand.

Perched on my thumb.

So cute!

Their little toes tickled, and every time they came in and out there was a little flutter sound. It was so great. The cardinal was also hovering nearby when I sat down but they don’t feed like the chickadees so I put some seed on the bench right next to me and waited. Sure enough, Mr. Cardinal saw this was for him. It was marvelous to see him up close. He stayed for a bit taking in 4-5 seeds unlike the chickadees who grab one and fly off. Curt watched him when he flew and said he was feeding seeds to the female. He came back again. So cool!

Me and my Cardinal friend

It was a great experience. We were so glad the park wasn’t crowded or that a family with 4 kids didn’t come storming up. We might have called in the chickadees, they seemed pretty conditioned. But I don’t think the cardinal would have come in. Hope your encounters with nature are as fun as this.

Honor the Source

We have a dear friend, Kenn, who grew up a hunter in Northeastern Wisconsin. He long ago moved to Washington State but returns almost every fall to hunt for deer with his son and other relatives. Some years the hunt is better than others. Those years, when he is lucky, we are gifted with a piece of venison. This year Kenn appeared at our door on Thanksgiving day with a piece of loin, a prime cut.

The loin was about 1-1/2# and as beautiful a piece of meat as you could want. But what to do with it? I felt that however I prepared it, I should take care to honor the source – both the animal and my friend, the hunter.

A pound and a half of venison loin is pure meat. Aside from the silverskin, there is no loss to trimming. A pound and a half is also too much meat for two people to eat at one sitting. What ever I did would have to take into account the inevitable left-overs in an equally respectful manner.

This is the tale of the first meal from the loin. The two subsequent meals gleaned from the leftovers follow here;

Honor the Source; Thai Venison Salad
Honor the Source; Venison Potato Salad with Garlicky Dressing

Venison loin. Honor the animal. Honor the hunter.

I don’t get to cook venison very often and am always hesitant in doing so for fear of ruining it. It’s not like I can just go down to the grocery and pick up another loin if I screw this one up.  So it’s taken me from Thanksgiving until March to work up the courage and confidence to tackle this.  My plan was to cook the whole loin in the first pass in such a way as to leave myself some leeway in dealing with the rest in the second and third meals.  Rather than roast the loin whole, I cut it into thick medallions as a form of portion control (remember, there’s supposed to be left-overs).  To season the meat I chose a rub that promised to enhance the flavor of the meat without overwhelming it and without limiting too much what I could do with the remaining meat.

Pan Roasted Venison Medallions with Smoky Chipotle Rub

2 Tbs. brown sugar
1 Tbs. smoked paprika
1 Tbs. sea salt
1 tsp. chipotle chile pepper
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2# venison loin, cut into 6 portions
1 Tbs. duck fat

Mix the dry ingredients and coat the venison medallions well on both sides.  Set aside to rest for several minutes

Coat the venison medallions with smoky chipotle rub

Preheat a well seasoned cast iron skillet to near smoking.  Add the duck fat and tip the skillet to coat the bottom.

Sear the venison in a HOT cast iron pan

Quickly add the venison medallions, spacing them evenly in the pan.  DO NOT MOVE THEM AROUND.

Turn once a nice crust has developed

Leave them sear for 4 or 5 minutes to let a crust develop.  Turn each medallion over and continue to saute for an additional 4 – 5 minutes or until done to your liking – I was shooting for medium-rare.

 

Oops. I always get carried away and forget to take a picture of the finished dish until I’ve eaten half of it.

Remove the venison to a serving plate and let rest 5 minutes.  Serve with a vegetable and a starch of you choosing.  I chose crudites (cucumber, radish and carrot) with a lime dipping salt (2 pts. sea salt, 2 pts. sugar, 1 pt. lime zest – mix well) and purgatory beans cooked grandma style with sage and bay.

When done well, a small piece of venison is satisfying and I hope I was respectful of the animal that provided it and to the hunter who gifted it to us.  Thank you Kenn.

Another Turn of the Page: No Romance for February

“Even though February was the shortest month of the year,
sometimes it seemed like the longest.”
Lorraine Snelling

When you think of February do you think of hearts and candy and flowers and romance? Or is it more like, ‘Another winter month to struggle through, thank the gods it is short’. And then after snow and ice storms and numerous days of below zero wind chills, you start saying, ‘Will it ever end?” If you live in the upper Midwest it is more like the latter. That one day in the middle of the month doesn’t really save the rest of the days. So what to do? Well reading is high on my list. My group, however, is not one for romance and sweetness in their choices of books in the dead of winter. We are more the adventure, war, spies, illness, death and thriller kind of people. How uplifting. Sounds like Finnish Noir. Toss in a few escapist novels and some stories about penguins and elephants and you’ve got the February book offerings. Maybe March will be lighter. Ha!

1. Three Day in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission by Bret Baier (2017) 368p. Bret Baier, the Chief Political Anchor for Fox News Channel and the Anchor and Executive Editor of Special Report with Bret Baier, explores the extraordinary yet underappreciated presidency of Dwight Eisenhower by taking readers into Ike’s last days in power.

2. Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River by Peter Heller (2004) 336p. The author of fiction books: Dog Stars, The Painter and Celine, takes on a true life adventure.He joins an elite kayaking team and chronicles their travels from from the banks of the river to the insane portages up neighboring mountain passes. The Tsangpo falls through one of the deepest gorges in the world and a fabled waterfall on its course gave rise the legend of Shangri-La.

3. Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose by Joe Biden (2017) 272p. When Beau Biden, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and his survival was uncertain, he told his father, Joe Biden, “Promise me, Dad, Give me your word, that no matter what happens, you’re going to be all right.” Joe gave him his word. In this book, he chronicles the year following leading up to his son’s death and his decision not to seek the presidency. A tearful memoir.

4. George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring that Saved the American Revolution by Brian Kilmeade (2013) 235p. This is the incredible true story of six spy’s who helped win the American Revolution. I have heard the AMC series: Turn: Washington’s Spies is better than the book. Maybe you should tune in first.

5. Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II by Vicki Croke (2014) 368p. After serving in the army in the 1920’s, Billy Williams goes to wild, undeveloped Burma to work with elephants. The book is part biography and part nature treatise. Working with the elephants becomes his life’s passion. The book also highlights the many extremes of life in a British Colony: the bugs, the snakes, the malaria, the heat.

6. Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell (2015) 229p. The author’s story of his time 40 years earlier as a house counselor in an Argentine boarding school. While on a trip to the Uraguayan coast, he comes upon hundreds of Magellan penguins that have all been killed by an oil slick – except for one lone penguin, covered in oil, but hanging on to life. He decides to take the penguin back to Argentina and nurse it back to health. 

7. Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn (2018) 427p. A mixture of “Girl on a Train” and “Rear Window.” A pulpy, fast-paced thriller. Not deep, just a page-turner for another one of those long, cold winter days.

8. Tips for Living by Renee Shafransky (2018) 332p. When Nora’s husband, Hugh, announces he is leaving her for his pregnant girlfriend she vows to start her life again and not be dragged down by this terrible situation. Three years later she is working as a newspaper columnist in a small town, when her ex and his now wife move into the same town. Nora’s pain and anger return to her all over again. When her ex-husband and his new wife are found dead in their home, clues seem to point to Nora.

9. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (2017) 505p. A historical novel based on a real-life female spy unit, The Alice Network, that operated in France during World War I.

10. In a Dark House by Deborah Crombie  Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James Series #10 (2005) 384p. Just one book in this series of British Police Procedurals featuring Scotland Yard investigators, Kincaid and James. Our reviewer highly recommends this series which begins with A Share in Death.

11. Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan ( 2017) 288p. A unique story about a man who keeps and catalogs the lost things that he finds. His story and the stories of the others who have lost the items intertwine as the book progresses.

My Little Free Library: Retired, Relocated, Renewed

Wednesday, I said goodbye to my Little Free Library. ( To learn all about Little Free Libraries and see when mine first went out, read this earlier post ). It first went up in June of 2012 on a rural road in the Town of Scott in Wisconsin. Use at first was slow but then we would get the occasional person out for a walk or some kids on bikes. I put a sign at the road with an arrow so people were aware of its existence. Soon a car would stop and books weren’t just taken but dropped off as well. I kept track of what went out and tried to stock my library with a variety to please different tastes. But when you can only get a maximum of 30 books into your little box at one time that variety is slim. Still I would “circulate ” 40 – 50 books in a good year.

The trouble with being on a rural road in Wisconsin is the winter. Because of snowplows my Little Free Library went into storage from November through April, prime reading time for most people in the winter. This spring/summer has been the worst. Maybe 15 books went out and 3 or 4 were dropped off. I had to admit it was time to retire my precious LFL. Two years ago I had redesigned and repainted the library and Curt had come up with a new base idea so I was sure I would have no trouble finding a new steward. Using Facebook as my notice board I found a taker in a few minutes. But when that person discovered it would be difficult to put it on her property and had to decline, it only took about 5 more minutes before the 2nd hand went up. So this past Wednesday we took it down and loaded LFL #1776 into the SUV.

Retirement

The new owner was only 5 minutes away and she had a friend who was handy.

Relocation

On Thursday, the very next day, it was resurrected at its new home. We sent along good visual instructions so once the base was level it went up quickly. The neighbor children immediately came over to help put the books in.

Renewal

The road it is on is called Bay Settlement and it is fairly busy with cars but also bikes and joggers, and scooters, so I expect it will be used and loved. If you live on that road, pay it a visit, I gave the new owner a box of books but she has a lot of her own so it should have a fairly lively collection. It is so close I’ll probably visit it too. Oh, and drop off a book once in awhile too.

 

When in Door County, WI, act like a Bier Zot

A what?

from B.C., Johnny Hart

No, not that Zot.

Translated from the Flemish: Bier = Beer   Zot = Idiot or Crazy :  To be a Beer Idiot or someone Crazy for Beer who goes to the Bier Zot Beer Cafe in Sister Bay, Door County, Wisconsin.

Bier Zot front door ( that space in the right side of picture is Wild Tomato 2 Restaurant) , Menu pic

We discovered this fun place last Friday but it has been there since 2014. We’re a bit slow sometimes. The Bier Zot is a Belgian style Beer Cafe that serves 11 drafts, one cask and 100 bottles of craft and Belgian beers. Couple this with a “European inspired” menu and you’ve got a tasty combination. The restaurant has casual pub style decor with outdoor seating as well.

Now the only way we found this place was through another restaurant, Wild Tomato, owned by the same people, Britt & Sara Unkefer. That restaurant in Fish Creek (further down on the peninsula) serves really great wood fired pizza. We did a short post on it in 2010. Last year the owners decided to open Wild Tomato 2 alongside their Bier Zot so while stopping for pizza at the new location we discovered it (the entrances share a hallway.) On this latest trip our destination was definitely Bier Zot, no pizza distraction.

Once seated the Beer Board offered an interesting selection. The waitress helped us navigate through it. There were full descriptions of the beers in the menu as well.

Curt went with the Ommegang Rosetta, a sour beer that I find hard to take by itself but it goes very well with food. I wanted something in the pale ale range and she suggested Boulevard Tropical Pale (half pour please). On both of these we were allowed a sample before committing to a glass. Our friend Carol was with us and she went with the Ommegang as well.

Ommegang Rosetta and Boulevard Tropical Pale

Next up, food. Now Bier Zot describes itself as a European inspired cafe and for the most part that is true. I saw a lot of German influence ( Thursday night was actually German Night) but there was French influence and some just creative cuisine as well. Find their menu here.

I went with the Chicken Schnitzel Sandwich. Schnitzel is just a pounded, seasoned and breaded meat that is fried. I am sure you are familiar with Wiener Schnitzel which is a breaded veal cutlet. My Chicken Schnitzel was served on a pretzel bun with greens, a yellow heirloom tomato and Dijon horseradish sauce. I liked it.Carol chose the Bier Zot Bratwurst. This was their house recipe brat on pretzel bun accompanied by sauerkraut and Dijon mustard. We can only assume they make these on the premises because it was extra long and it fit the bun, sort of. It had a taste and found it milder than many Wisconsin brats, more like a veal sausage.  I am ordering that next time. Finally Curt started out with a half-dozen Washington State oysters, which seems to be a new addition to the menu, pending availability. He followed that with the Aubergine Zacusca. This was grilled eggplant with tomato, greens, shallots, basil chevré and ground cumin on Naan. Our server told us this was concocted by a former staff member who is Muslim and had a hard time finding anything Halal in the kitchen.  It was a success and  found a permanent home on the menu.  It was excellent.

You can tell we passed our dishes around so everyone could get a taste. Hmm, maybe I’ll have this one next time.All in all it was a very enjoyable lunch and we will return.

One more thing. It took us a minute to figure out what the wooden tables were constructed from…..can you see it? Bleachers. Sturdy and a good reuse. In case you don’t feel like an idiot, Zot can also be translated from Albanian as “god”.  Beer idiot?  Beer god?  Maybe there’s not much difference between the two.

Where Does the Time Go?

End of May we got together with an old friend. He lives in Maryland but was going to be in Wisconsin for a funeral. I estimate it has been over 30 years since we have all seen each other face to face.

We met Jon, and at that time, his wife Molly, when we were in graduate school at Northern Illinois University. Curt was a Graduate student in Ceramics and Jon was one of his ceramics professors. The unusual part was Jon and Curt were the same age, separated by 25 days, Curt being the older. A friendship and a mutual respect developed between the two of them. I got to know Molly better and the four of us became friends. Once we graduated, we left Illinois. There was no email then, no Facebook so  but kept in contact with each other through letters and Christmas cards. Jon and Molly visited us once in Green Bay and we visited them once in Maryland.

Then: Curt and Jon

But over the years the cards and letters got fewer, life happened, as it does, and we lost track of each other. A few years ago I found Jon (or he found me) on Facebook. Our mutual interest in birds, love of food and Jon’s connection to Wisconsin (he was born here) brought us together. He was going to be in LaCrosse in May and then planned on doing some camping in Door County, so we knew this was the time to rekindle an old friendship. In the intervening years there has been homes in 5 states, 3 children raised (He-2, Us-1), careers built, a divorce, less hair, gray acquired and a couple of retirements. But here we were again eating and talking and laughing.

Now: Curt and Jon

Funny thing with good friends, the conversation picked up like we just saw each other yesterday. And with that many years gone by we had a lot of catching up to do.

Peru comes to NE Wisconsin: Pisco Mar

Back in November, our friend Carol shared a newspaper clipping with us about a new Peruvian restaurant opening in Appleton (WI), a nearby city. Always on the lookout for new culinary adventures this was a possible contender. My first impression was that there was lots of fish, not my favorite. But we all agreed that maybe we should give it a chance sometime. Then the article got shuffled into a pile of papers and was moved and kicked around until last week when we and our friend planned a trip down to Appleton (about 45 minutes away) for a museum exhibit. Carol said, Why don’t we go later in the afternoon and then try that Peruvian restaurant for dinner? So destination ‘Pisco Mar’ was on.

First impressions were good. It was nicely decorated, warm colors, Peruvian art on the walls. Good variety of seating and even some outdoor tables.

Pisco Mar, outside and inside

After ordering drinks (pisco sours) we perused the menu. Lots of appetizers, small plates and main courses. In order to maximize our first time here we all decided it was going to be a dinner of sharing from the first two sections. If all was good we would try main entrees on the next visit.

So first choices were Crab Cakes w/baby arugula aji aioli, rocoto sauce and Beef Carpaccio w/ lemon vinaigrette, baby arugula capers, shaved Parmesan.
Both were excellent. The two Crab Cakes were softer than I like but the flavor was very good. Rocoto is a red chili pepper that is a staple in Peruvian cuisine. The sauce is a combination of a paste from these peppers combined with mayo, lime, vinegar and dry mustard. I loved the Carpaccio, beef sliced super thin. Frankly I was sorry I had to share this one.

While we were enjoying these and deciding what to order next our waitress brought a complimentary bowl of crispy homemade potato chips with a chili mayo dip to the table. She said they were from blue potatoes that are white inside. Really good.
Feeling the need for some greens we ordered a Kale Salad. Quite nice with radishes, cherry tomatoes, avocado, shaved Parmesan and pine nuts tossed in a lemon vinaigrette. It was a pretty large bowl, easily shared by three, or four. Pictured is just a serving on my plate.After more discussion we decided to go with two more dishes, Peruvian Ceviche Mixto (fish, shrimp, octopus, scallops) and Empanadas Criollas. The Ceviche came with plaintain chips (very tasty) and large corn (interesting). This was a huge plate of food and could have served as a main. Maybe all three of us could have finished it but since I am not a fan of octopus or fish there was some leftover. Carol and Curt liked it, there was just too much after already having four previous small plates. Empanadas are a puff pastry with a filling; we went with ground beef. These came with a chimichurri sauce. The pastry was a bit soft but at the same time very flaky. with very nice preparation and an interesting combination of flavors.

By now we were pretty full so when our waitress arrived with the dessert menu I was ready to pass. Just coffee please. But Carol wanted to try it all and thought we should have dessert just so we could make a full report on the dining experience. One order of Doughnuts please.

Ping pong ball sized doughnut holes, light and fluffy inside, vanilla sugar coated on the outside and served with Peruvian sweet cream.

There were six and yes, I ate two and loved the sweet cream as well. My advice, leave room for dessert.

Before I end, just a little background on the co-owners. Laura Saintgoers has previously operated restaurants for 11 years in Appleton and Miami. While in Miami she met and joined up with Hugo Torres, a native of Honduras, who spent five years learning and cooking Peruvian cuisine under a chef from Peru. Lucky for us they decided to come up to Wisconsin instead of trying to insert themselves into the overcrowded restaurant scene in Miami.

Here is a peek at the main entrees on the menu. We definitely want to go back. Want to join us?