Halloween Owl

This morning someone came by and dressed Social Capital Owl as a rather formal tiger for Halloween. There’s a bowtie involved. . .

The mystery neighbor even taped the ears to the plastic owl “horns” so they’ll stand up to the wind and rain, and took away the summer costume of a child’s yellow sun dress and flower garland. Nice job!

Cumulative gardening

This is a view of the south side of the garden circa 1994. We built the house in ’93 and by June of 94 I had portioned out the land that we cleared to put in a well into garden space. My four-year-old son and I built the little compost bin out of scrap pieces of boarding boards from the house construction, and that’s the same wheelbarrow I used this afternoon, albeit a brighter blue back then. Those are our neighbor’s geese running into the woods that we took down in 2010.

I took this photo earlier today trying to find a like vantage point but not quite getting there because now there’s a cherry tree in the way. I’ve accumulated some plant life over the years but the path is almost in the same place it was twenty years ago. It won’t be there in 2013 – I plan to do that part of the garden over into keyhole beds using Hugelkultur.

 

Sauce Pontchartrain

“Pontchartrain” is a wonderful seafood sauce, to be eaten either on its own in a big wide bowl with plenty of Tabasco or over something else, as long as there is plenty of Tabasco. I’ve had Pontchartrain over broiled catfish, on sourdough toast, over rice, grits, and on one memorable occasion, instead of Hollandaise on poached eggs. I decided to make a batch and post the recipe, but as often happens when I’m eating something delicious, I didn’t take a picture. Instead, here’s a photo of Pontchartrain herself.

The pictures on the left are from the last big flood, in 2005. The Mississippi should crest tonight just below that record high in Memphis. The upper photos in “real color” detail sediment and drift and that thin tan line that looks like a scratch on the photo is the Causeway, the worlds longest bridge at 38 miles and change.

To be honest, this dish isn’t the most picturesque recipe to come out of NOLA. That honor would go to blackened snapper, maybe, or quince paste with beignets.  Pontchartrain sauce is a poor man’s dish, with lots of finely chopped mushrooms and green peppers to fill out the seafood and an overall “lumpy” white appearance. Now that I think about it many of the dishes I loved and learned to make in Louisiana have that look: smothered hare (pale green and lumpy, in its herb sauce), duck’s blood gumbo (you can picture that without help, right?), cheese biscuits (lumpy yellow). All equally delicious, without being particularly photogenic.

Sauce Pontchartrain

3/4 cup green onion or leeks, 1 cup mushrooms, and 1 cup green pepper, chopped fine (I actually whir them briefly, separately, in the food processor. Be careful not to puree.) 2 cloves of garlic, smashed
5 tablespoons butter, in 1 tablespoon pieces and 4 tablespoons flour
1/2 to 1 cup vegetable stock or broth, depending on how much seafood you’re adding, and 1 cup Chardonnay
salt, black pepper, cayenne, and tarragon to taste

2 cups (or more) seafood. It’s easier to throw the dish together if all the fish and shellfish are pre-cooked, but it’s also possible to add raw shrimp and other delicates while the sauce simmers.

Cook the onions, green pepper, mushrooms and garlic in the butter, adding in that order, until the vegetables are soft and “reduced”. Add 3 Tbs flour and stir until the roux thickens, about 2 minutes tops. Add the Chardonnay and stock, blend over a very low heat.  Taste before adding the spices because you may not need to add salt.

Shortly before serving add the seafood to the mix. I generally use cooked leftovers and anything goes: lobster, shrimp, crabmeat, or flaked whitefish, or any combination. Serve as is with beer and crusty bread, or ladle over hot white rice, thick slices of toast, eggs, fish filets, or crumbled milk crackers. Hand around bottles of Hiracha and convince your guests that all the vegetables you need for healthy living are in the sauce.

And all best wishes to those living along the Mother River tonight.

 

Snacks for Thomas

I loved making treats for my son. J. didn’t have any allergies, but some of his friends had to avoid peanuts and it was just easier to discover all the wonderful things I could make without: snacks with fruit, seeds, grain, oats and brown sugar. Occasionally there might be a chocolate chip or three, golden raisins, dried blueberries, good times! Now our friend Thomas is newly peanut-free and we’re happy to contribute.

I don’t have a picture for either of the recipes, so here’s a photo of the Boy, snacking.

Brown Bag Banana Bars, adapted from the King Arthur Flour cookbook

1/2 cup butter, 2/3 cup brown sugar, 1 egg, 1 tsp. vanilla,3 ripe bananas

1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup whole wheat flour,  1/4 cup cornmeal, 2 tsp. baking powder, 1/2 tsp. salt, 2 tbsp. poppy seeds, 3/4 cup raisins (I like the look of golden raisins. Experiment with softened dried blueberries, too.)

In the bowl of a mixer, cream the butter and sugar and add the egg and vanilla. Mash the bananas (which will make about 1-1/2 cups) and stir them in. Combine the flours, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and poppyseeds and stir into creamed mixture until all blended. Add the raisins. Spread in a greased 13 x 9 inch baking pan and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges are golden. Cool on a rack and cut into bars. Makes 3 dozen bars.

 

Oaties

Ingredients: 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar, 1/2 cup rolled oats (not quick-cooking), 1/2 cup raisins or dried cherries, 2 teaspoons fennel seed (optional), 3 tablespoons  butter, melted, 1 large egg, lightly beaten, 1 cup buttermilk. (After you get a feel for these you can really load them up with fruit: fresh raspberries and blueberries with plumped raisins, chunks of papaya or peach, dates, really just about anything.)

Directions; Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, brown sugar, oats, raisins, and fennel seed, if using. In a small bowl, whisk together butter, egg, and buttermilk until combined, then add to flour mixture. Stir until batter is evenly moistened (do not overmix). Drop batter by 1/3 cupfuls, 2 inches apart, onto a greased baking sheet. I use the Silpat for these, because they can be a little sticky. Bake until golden brown, 15 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through. Let scones cool on a wire rack, 5 minutes.

 

 

Visitor

Yesterday morning I looked out at the bird feeder and the finches were lined up on the crossbars staring down at the dinosaur, er, turkey below. Compared to the chickadees, juncos and goldfinches that normally peck around the base of the feeders this was a brontosaurus – huge lumbering body with a long neck and a teeny-tiny head.

I haven’t seen the rest of the flock but we heard the boom-boom of a tom turkey’s courting dance this afternoon from the blueberry field next door.  Maybe next month there will be poults!

Spring!

We’re under a winter storm warning tonight, with 6 to 12″ of snow predicted here and upwards to 20″ in The County. It will be heavy, wet, late-spring snow and there are reminders on the news to keep an eye on flat roofs and swiftly rising streams. I know spring is here, though, because today someone stopped to decorate The Owl.

Owl Baby!

The Kitteredge Brook Rd. Social Capital Owl has a long history; ten years ago I cut down a few small spruce out by the road and left one slender, straight trunk thinking I’d put a bird house there someday. (Spruce is a fast-growing tree here, and if you don’t get them young well, I have a few 70 footers in the garden already from that kind of wishful thinking.)  While I was pondering whether a bird house would be a good idea or not (cats? traffic?) someone came along and nailed a plastic owl to the top.

Not long after that, the owl sported a pair of child’s sunglasses and a very faded lime green bikini. As summer passed into fall a tiny straw hat appeared, a Common Ground Fair t-shirt (with an encore every year after the fair in September), a Halloween costume (my favorite was the pirate outfit complete with tiny parrot), and a Santa hat and wreath. When our son graduated high school the owl sported a tiny mortar board and tassel. Sometimes I go out and retrieve a decoration that is out of season or falling apart, but all the donations are anonymous – even furtive.

My personal feeling is that the good old days were anything but, and that social capital as a concept in modern society reflects nothing but wishful thinking by the formerly powerful and well-connected. I will admit, however, that it has worked wonders on a plastic owl.

Mystery

Wednesday was a snow day. My office was closed, schools were closed, State offices. The gas station at the One-Stop was open but only because that’s a point of pride for those particular “WE NEVER CLOSE” folks. Someone skidded into one of the pumps; not hard enough to cause an explosion but there’s enough damage that it’s being held together with duct tape so perhaps closing would have been a good idea, but whatever. I had the whole day off and to celebrate we rearranged the furniture.

We built our house in 1993.  That’s the royal “we”; my partner swung the hammer, laid pipe and ran conduit while I kept us fed and out from underfoot. We moved in over Easter weekend in 1994 and then took several trips south to Portland to retrieve furniture from a storage locker. The television, kitchen table, mattresses and what-all went in piecemeal and wherever they landed, there they stayed. We haven’t changed the layout of what is essentially one large first floor room with two bedrooms and a bath on the second floor for fifteen years and it was time for a change.

I don’t have any recent “before” pictures, but this is what the south end of the house looked like when we moved in.

Yesterday’s reconfiguring of the room went well. We exchanged enough pieces that we could get the rug up, vacuumed and turned around, we dusted and teased out the snarl of wires behind the rack of computer paraphernalia, and threw out four big bags of garbage. I went in to work the next day and talked about the changes; “The sofa looks really nice in the new living room area!”,  and that’s where this post comes in. People who have been to dinner at my house have never noticed that we had a sofa.

It’s a whale of a thing, our sofa – truly. Long enough to lie down on, ornate and covered with green and striped horsehair upholstery with the tufted back and geegaws, I would not have thought you could miss it. Or the chandelier, which also got me blank looks. “You have a chandelier?”.

I hereby admit that our previous floor plan (I can’t call it interior design) was deeply flawed if there was enough stuff in the way to hide furniture of this magnitude in only 600 square feet (minus the stairwell). And I feel compelled to provide pictures of the new arrangement even though there is no proof, I guess, that I didn’t go out and purchase these things after the fact. You’ll just have to come over for dinner again and see if the sofa looks familiar.

I found I couldn’t take a picture of the chandelier (36″ in diameter, stained glass waterlily pattern) without dusting it, which is going to have to wait until I finish this batch of cinnamon chili cupcakes with chipoltle ganache for the Town Hill Chili Fest tomorrow night. Until then, you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Friday reading

Snow is pelting down outside my windows. It looks like flour from that big old can sifter my mother used to have – absolutely useless for anything but making industrial loaves of bread, it spread flour thick and wide. And to bring that metaphor back to cases, there will be a lot of shoveling going on later this afternoon.

The writer at Beyond the Dooryard is seeing the same snow out her windows over on Frenchman’s Hill. And although (or perhaps because) she has little ones, she has already finished her first post for the day. My child is all grown up and away so I’ve actually had a chance to read and be fascinated by her morning links. Then I decided to join in the fun.

Cherie and I both work in philanthropy, so she’ll be happy to know that I’m reading in our field. This is Abe Saur’s article on funding wound care and exorcisms in post-disaster Haiti. It has inspired me to practice a little voodoo of my own, in terms of letter-writing.

Thanks, Cherie!

The Clamdigger

The “Fisherman’s Voice” has an article by Lee Wilbur about our friend and neighbor, Richard A. (Rat) Taylor;

Richard is perhaps the historical epitome of what we like to feel Maine people are made of—people who have made their living with hard work, no nonsense, and a healthy dose of ingenuity.

Here’s a link to part 1 in August, and part 2 in the September issue. It’s a good read about what it’s like to make your living with your hands in this century or any other – clamdigging hasn’t changed all that much. I did a post about Rat’s presence on our road, including his sign,  last year. This year the sign is bigger and better and I’m hoping it’s a trend.