Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and bling-worms sting,
Lizard's leg and howlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon's blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.

The spell is cast...let the spooky festivities begin...

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Perfect Autumn Day

The morning started with rain. The afternoon was brightened by the sun. Now the rain has returned and the wind has picked up. The bright, golden leaves of maple trees are blowing all through the neighborhood. Hopefully, they will blow out of my yard so I don't have another round of raking and bagging to do next week. If not, I won't mind if doing it on another perfect Autumn day like today!

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Butternut Bisque

I've got lots of squash. My mother has gone away for a month so I have the CSA all to myself for the next month. And oh, man, oh man, the squash is piling up.

I found this recipe for butternut bisque a few years ago and it was appealing to me because there were directions for freezing the leftovers. Unfortunately, I never got around to eating the leftovers because they went into hiding in the very back corner of my (surprisingly small) freezer. Anyway, so this year the plan is to share with my neighbor and it's kind of payback because he brought me a whole sack of honeycrisp apples from the orchard/pumpkin patch he went to a few weeks ago.

I went into a sort of a cooking frenzy on Sunday. The Big D was working on the second coat of paint for our dining room and I was feeling the need to stay away from this one. I spent most of the afternoon in the kitchen making the bisque, some cornbread and later, roasting a chicken. The paint, by the way, is fabulous! It was a $5 Oops paint and I swear I never would have picked a color like this on my own, but it was such a good deal I couldn't pass it up. And, it turned out so incredibly wonderful. It even makes the kitchen paint debacle look a bit better. Man, never again will I paint during a Mercury retrograde!

The bisque is such a lovely shade of orange. I kept thinking Baby is going to love this cuz of the color and the creaminess. I got to pull out my immersion blender to mash all the cooked squash.

The cornbread. My first attempt at it from scratch. I've always done mixes, ones recommended by others who swear by them, but have never liked them as much I wanted to. This one turned out wonderful and I even whipped up some honey butter for spread.

I had to show the image again because I think the color is so beautiful!

Butternut Bisque (adapted from Everyday Foods)

3 Tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2-4 garlic cloves, sliced
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more for garnish (optional)
course salt
1 large butternut squash (about 4 lbs.), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 can (14.5 oz) reduced-sodium chicken broth
3 cups water
1 cup half-and-half
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
sour cream, for serving

1. In a large saucepan, heat butter over medium. Add onion, garlic, thyme, cinnamon, and cayenne. Season with salt, cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 5 to 7 minutes.

2. Add squash, broth, half-and-half, and 3 cups of water. Bring to boil; reduce to a simmer, and cook until squash is tender, about 20 minutes.

3. Blend in blender (in batches) or use an immersion blender to blend until smooth. Stir in lemon juice; season with salt. Serve bisque with sour cream, garnished with cayenne, if desired.
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Monday, October 26, 2009

Co-op Election Day

Today my whole life could change, or, remain exactly the same as it was yesterday and the day before.

Sometime last August I got it into my head to run for the Eastside Co-op Board of Directors. It was the friendly recruiter (and Board member) in the entryway of the store that enticed me. I attended a few board meetings and was duly impressed by the level of expertise and passionate interests present. They all seemed so concerned with many of the things I am interested in. I wanted to be part of this functional, productive group that seemed to be working towards making genuine change in this world and actually making progress towards this goal.

I thought I would join up as there were four open seats. Later I found that the both the Board president and vice-president are also running which makes me very nervous about the prospect of losing these leaders on the Board. There are three other prospective Board members and myself.

I am the first person of color to run for the Board. I can't figure out if that is an advantage or disadvantage. I do know that I have never been successful at such things, thinking primarily here about student council in my younger years, but what the heck. Maybe voting members will see my candidacy as building diversity at the Co-op. And that is the primary thing that I think I can provide - making connections with the diverse communities that make up the Central Avenue Business District.

But, the Co-op is a tight community. Some of the members seems clique-ish to me and that could mean this a tough group to penetrate.

I'm going to try. And if I succeed, this could lead me into a whole new direction in my life. Wish me luck, you'all!
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Friday, October 23, 2009

Eh bien, tant pis!

So, I'm reading Julia Child's "My Life in France," it's a snowy/rainy Friday afternoon, my cravings satiated with vanilla bean ice cream, and suddenly I wander onto this page in a chapter subsection entitled "Never Apologize." After cooking a lunch of vile eggs for a friend, Julia had this to say:

"We ate the lunch with painful politeness and avoided discussing its taste. I made sure not to apologize. This was a rule of mine.

I don't believe in twisting yourself into knots of excuses and explanations over the food you make....Maybe the cat has fallen into the stew, or the lettuce has frozen, or the cake has collapsed--eh bien, tant pis!

Usually one's cooking is better than one thinks it is. And if the food is truly vile, as my ersatz eggs Florentine surely were, then the cook must simply grit her teeth and bear it with a smile--and learn from her mistakes."

The cat has fallen into the stew? Can't say this has ever happened in my kitchen, but I also can't say that something I've cooked hasn't tasted like the cat had fallen in.

Dear, sweet, resilient and reassuring D! He always eats my food with a smile and refuses to hear any apologies I might mutter. Learning from my mistakes is much easier when living with a man like that!
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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Rusk County Trains

We've been told that the town near our Airstream retreat is like a ghost town compared to just 10 years ago. Despite being the county seat, the town is quiet. Wa*lmart just moved into the area so a couple more businesses are gone. The year we moved out there, the area was hit with a tornado so many of the tall, old trees were taken off the main street. The community college closed down. The mine closed about seven years ago and that's when the downhill slide started on a slippery slope to oblivion. There are a few farms left and there is a wonderful river that runs through the town. Parts of the river are damned up so there is a deep reservoir lake on one end. The advantage to us is the the quiet. The lake and river are hardly ever busy, except for maybe some holiday weekends, but those are the weekends we usually stay in the city.

I believe there used to be a lot of logging in the area. Now the woods and forests near the river are managed by the state and logged based on a sustainable plan. Trains still pass through and at some places, there are huge stacks of cut logs awaiting transport.

I find it interesting to think that the train system was one of the first official, national grids. Having a train pass through a town brought along the postal grid and eventually, the electricity grid. Cellphone service just came to the area this summer. We now have cellphone access on our land, something we've lived without since moving into the area in 2004. I'm not sure how I feel about this development.

This train that I photographed was acquired by the town in 1980s. It ran through the area in the 1960s. It sits at the visitor information center which is designed like a train stop. We can view all this while eating at the local restaurant. I think about the images I want to take as I munch on eggs and bacon.

Note the American flag reflected in the windows. It was the perfect time of day to capture that image and it is fitting, I think. Makes me feel nostalgic. So many things that helped build this country are fading away, including this town. Certainly the main businesses such as the copper mine and the logging industry can't be remembered without a certain level of criticism. Now, these are failing industries and along with their fail rests the future of this town.

We ended up in the area because my father-in-law bought the land some twenty-five years ago. There were plans for building a large recreational community with a marina, golf course, horse stables, etc. That builder declared bankruptcy and the plots of land were sold off really cheap ($200/lot). A bunch of Minneapolis cops bought land here at the time. My father-in-law never did anything with the land and gave it to us when he realized how much time we spent camping. We searched and found a bargain classic Airstream and set up our retreat. We had a road and electricity put in, but no water which we bring in with us from the city. We started with two lots but have been lucky to buy three more adjacent to the land. We try to buy whatever supplies we need in town. We bought our DVD player there in an effort to support the local economy. It's a small effort, I know. It's heartbreaking watching this town die down.
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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Airstream Retreat Weekend

We had to leave the city this last weekend. We were having the roof re-shingled on our house and there was a lot of banging and power stapling. They had to add three vents to our roof so there was even some sawing and cutting. Our poor cats are really getting sick and tired of all the work we are having done to our home. We, however, were able to get away to our Airstream retreat.

OK. Alright. I'll admit it. I was too lazy (and cold) to walk away from the fire to get my tripod. So, the picture is a little shaky. Also, I want to try out the shake reduction feature on the camera. Not bad though, I must say, for shooting a shot of the Airstream trailer after the sun had gone down.

It'd been a while since we spent any significant time at our Airstream retreat. The mice moved in and made quite a home for themselves. They like to set up in the stove and poo all over the place, in the drawers and cupboards. Needless to say, the first few hours were spent thoroughly cleaning out the joint. Most of our stuff is stored in air-tight plastic containers which is a necessity if you've got a trailer parked in the woods and yet, the mice find plenty of space to mess up. When we bought the trailer, we had been warned of this from the previous owners and I was mortified, but it is what it is and we gotta deal with it. When we used to retreat more frequently, like every single weekend, the mess didn't get so bad. But, we hadn't been there in over a month and only visited a few times this summer. The place needed to be cleaned, so we cleaned like crazy.

We had the furnace fixed in September, which was an experience that requires a whole post of it's own! But good thing that we did fix it because it was cold this weekend. Nighttime temps were in the thirties. We were all snug and warm in our trailer and so was little mousey who we saw running around when we finally came in for the evening. We were thinking that next time we should bring one of our cats to visit. That might deter the mice from coming into the trailer.

We had some pieces of oak so the fire was wonderfully warm in the chilly Autumn night. The flames are so mesmerizing and I have been very pleased with the photos of the fire that I have taken over the years. Here are a couple more shots of the fire.

There have been some years where the leaves were a wide range of vibrant colors. A riot of reds and yellows. This year the conditions were not right for this; bright colors require warm days and cool nights. We've had just cold, cold, and some more cold. There were even some days with snow. So the colors were mostly brown and yellow. There were some red but that was speckled with brown.

When the temperature drops it helps to be strategic about cooking. While summer months are filled with outdoor cooking over the fire, winter cooking is mostly done in the trailer. I try to find recipes that require the use of the tiny trailer oven. Tiny it may be but it sure helps in heating the trailer. A pizza is quick and easy to whip up especially when I want to spend most of my time sitting by the fire.

I've found that things tend to burn less if I put them on the top rack of the oven.

It was a great night at the trailer. It's close enough that we can go for just one night. Yet, far enough away that we feel like we've gotten away from it all. And this weekend, getting away from it all was getting away from all the banging and pounding of roof work!
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Monday, October 19, 2009

WAW: Wolf Awareness Week

The third week of October is designated as Wolf Awareness Week. The International Wolf Center puts an emphasis on education in its effort to prevent the extinction of this vital species. Officially, the mission of The International Wolf Center is to advance the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands and the human role in their future. Help support their efforts by donating here or better yet, become a member of the pack! If money is tight right now (as it is for many of us) take up their suggestions for reducing pressure on wildland spaces and contributing to wolf survival:

(1) Reduce, (2) Reuse, (3) Recycle - in that order. The less we humans use the earth's resources, the less pressure we put on the wild species also trying to survive on those same resources.

Be more aware of where your food products are produced. You can help wolves by choosing responsible, environmentally friendly producers who support wolf and wildlands conservation.

Think globally, act locally - get involved in your local environmental projects or volunteer for an environmental organization near you. Everything is connected, so every improvement to the environment ultimately helps wolves.

Visit here to read more about the events in Wolf Awareness Week.

The Big D and I first learned about the International Wolf Center during an anniversary trip to Ely, MN which is where their large interpretative center is located. It was the middle of February, fairly cold and our outdoor activities were limited.

We wandered into the International Wolf Center as tourists and left as members. The wolves in the live wolf exhibit put on quite a show for us that day. Apparently there was a dog in the adjacent parking lot, and after a quick sniff of the air, the wolves gathered together and howled. It was beautiful and eerie. I was happy to be behind the thick, protective glass, but absolutely thrilled to be experiencing the cacophony of natural wolf music.

We didn't know how lucky we were until return visits where either the wolves were away in other parts of the fairly large enclosed area or lazily drowsing in the warming sun.

Our last trip was another sort of thrill as I crouched down in front of the glass to shoot some pictures. It seemed as if the wolf saw me and walked right up. I wasn't expecting her to come so close and I fell backward as she approached the window. I believe her name was Lakota and needless to say, she was beautiful.

There are several wolves and they are affectionately referred to as Ambassadors. In Ely, there are tons of daily programs including films and interactive discussions with staff. The staff are friendly, knowledgeable and provide a wealth of information that really enriches the visit with the wolf pack.

These two lovelies are arctic wolves. Notice the black spots on their tails?

Since our last visit, the Big D and I have taken quite an interest in wolves. Occasionally, at our land in Wisconsin, we hear wolves howling in a distance. We've heard the wolves encounter a flock of geese off in the woods. Once I even saw a pack of wolves off a road near the St. Croix river on our way home to the city. It happened to be the Big D's birthday and I teased him about the idea that the wolves had come out to say hello on his special day.

This video clip is a little shaky and we were at a distance from the wolves, but if you look carefully, you can see five wolves moving around. They knew we were there looking at them. They all stopped and turned to look at us. Then, they seemed to communicate a strategy for leaving the hillside. They seemed incredibly coordinated with each other.

One of these summers, we plan to volunteer at the IWC exhibit at the State Fair. I also want to find a way to contribute my skills in helping this organization. Thus far all I have done is spent an afternoon putting labels and stamps on mailings.

Do you volunteer? If so, where and what do you do? Do you have any tips on getting involved with favorite organizations? This may be Wolf Awareness Week, but it also seems like a good reminder for everyone to evaluate their time schedules and values, and see where good skills can be put towards good causes!
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Sunday, October 18, 2009

October snow

This is an image from earlier this week. We got over two inches of snow. It was so strange to see the snow covering the green leaves of the trees and the autumn remains of the garden. I think it caught the whole region off guard, before neighbors had time to clean gardens, before the critters had time to complete tasks for winter preparation. Thankfully, the snow is gone and with rain coming this way, all the traces should be washed away.
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Friday, October 16, 2009


Alpacas are funny-looking creatures.

On our drive into Wisconsin on Saturday, we encountered several alpaca farms. They had been recently shorn. So, to me, they looked like overgrown poodles. So cute and in so many different colors. I was surprised by the variety. And, I had no idea that it was such a business craze in these parts.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Stillwater moment (ii)

This is another moment captured in Stillwater when we were stopped on the lift bridge. This brought back some really great memories. For my birthday, perhaps 5-6 years ago, the Big D took me for a ride on the gondola. We boarded with a bottle of wine and a guitar. He strummed his guitar and sang for me as the gondolier navigated his way down the St. Croix. The only issue I had was that the trip was far too short. Wish we could have contracted with Gondola Romantica for the entire evening!
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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Fall leaves

Autumn should be about this:

And, this:

But, I tell ya. It's way to early for this:

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Swiss Chard

I'd never eaten Swiss Chard until I started with the CSA. I think it is one of the most beautiful of all the greens. I had no idea that there were so many vitamins and nutrients in chard. This site calls Swiss Chard the "valedictorian" of greens because it's so packed full of good stuff.

Swiss chard is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron, vitamin E and dietary fiber. It is a very good source of copper, calcium, vitamin B2, vitamin B6 and protein. In addition, Swiss chard is a good source of phosphorus, vitamin B1, zinc, folate, biotin, niacin and pantothenic acid.

There are so many health benefits and the site where the quote is from gives a detailed list. Swiss Chard was originally grown in the Mediterranean region and has been eaten as early as the fourth century B.C. I have heard the Greek Isles have the largest number of centenarians and that is largely due to the greens being a main part of their diet. I can see why now that I know more about all that is in chard.

I tried a Swiss Chard Gratin recipe thinking I would use most of the chard. But I only used half and now that I know of all the health benefits I am excited to have another serving of this super food. I doubled the recipe and so, we ended up with lots and lots of leftovers. I'm not a big fan of gratins, but this one I liked so I'm glad to have the leftovers.

As I was cleaning and chopping the chard, I was struck by the vivid and varied colors of the stems. I cooked this up Friday night and for the rest of the weekend, I spotted these colors all over the region. Even though chard is available throughout most of the summer, this batch has imprinted this green in my mind as a Autumn treat because of the Autumn colors in the stems.

Yummy and beautiful! What a great combination!
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Monday, October 12, 2009

Stillwater moment (i)

Yesterday was a chilly Fall day and we made our way across the river slowly, not realizing that there was a festival in the heart of Stillwater. The stop-n-go traffic through town allowed me to capture a few moments such as this one. I only wish I had been sitting there with a warm cup of coffee and my man.

This is the shot "SOOC". I learned a lot with this one photo. I learned about enhancing the colors and straightening the image. What a difference!
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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Week 17

Sometimes I think I should call this "Lotus in Wonderland". My walks in the neighborhood seem so psychedelic. A friend suggested that I try to capture this trippy element with my camera, but I'm not sure this can happen. Here are the images, Baby, from last week. I had to bundle us up in layers because the temps were in the 40s. Rain came in the middle of the week and the chill in the air makes me look forward to snow. Whee! Can't wait for you to meet snow!

Orange is my favorite color. I wonder if you'll like it.

Just down the street from the large Catholic church, there is this garden Buddha. I love that the flowers grown all around him.

This is one of those psychedelic moments. Just walking along, minding my own business, I glance down and suddenly there are bright yellow and black feathers. Makes me think the bird must have been a Steelers fan. Baby, did you know your Mama grew up as a Steelers fan in Indiana, PA?

The bright colors of the trees in the Fall are dazzeling.

These flowers are Steelers fans as well.

I think they put this bench on the boulevard just for me. It's in an odd place and noone ever sits there. Noone except me. And, you, of course.

Oh, goodness, Baby, by the end of the week we got snow. Everything looks different. And it just doesn't look right so early in October. The leaves are still green and hanging on the trees.

I needed just one more week to get the garden prepared for the winter. Hopefully the sun will melt everything away and keep it away for a few weeks. Otherwise, this is going to be one looong winter.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

I am not ready for this!

No. No. No. I am not ready for this! Do you hear me? I'm not ready.

Not yet. Next week, maybe. The day after I clean my garden for the winter. But, not now!

The leaves on the trees are still green. This just isn't right!

Poor fishy. Looks like he's trying to leap right out of the snow.
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