Archive for August, 2012

Bird Banding-First Day of the Fall Season

Adult Male Canada Warbler

Adult Male Canada Warbler

We opened the nets for the first banding of the fall migration this morning.  We all had other commitments so we didn’t stay open long but we had 14 birds and the sanctuary was quite birdy.  We banded 2 Canada Warblers, 2 Black and White Warblers, 1 American Redstart, 1 Red-eyed Vireo, 3 Northern Waterthrushes, 1 Swainson’s Thrush, 1 Veery and 3 Catbirds.  The Canada Warbler was exceedingly handsome.  The Black and White was also beautiful, even though he was a hatch year bird.

Male Black and White Warbler

Male Black and White Warbler

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Again with the Inner Squirrel: Baba Ghanoush, Pesto, Bolognese Sauce and Ketchup

Eleven Pints of Ketchup

Eleven Pints of Ketchup

I’ve been busy, Baba Ganoush, Ketchup, Pesto and Bolognese Sauce.  Baba Ghanoush is a Middle Eastern dish I first had when I visited my friend Terrie in Oregon.  Sad to say, I didn’t get her recipe and now she’s gone, but there are many good ones on-line so I have forged ahead.  The eggplants are going gangbusters this year, thanks to the row covers, and they are the base ingredient for this dish.  It also requires tahini (sesame paste), garlic, olive oil, spices and lemon juice.  When we were in Egypt, they served it with chopped vegetables on the side and you mixed them in and ate it like a salad that’s mostly thick dressing.  I like to spread it on a cracker or pita toast and top it with chopped vegetables, as a canape.  First I roasted the eggplants until they collapsed, then scooped the insides into the food processor and added the other ingredients.  I froze the resulting paste in small plastic containers, so I would have some on hand for parties.

Japanese Eggplants, Don't You Love the Color?

Japanese Eggplants, Don’t You Love the Color?

While I had the food processor out, I harvested some of my bumper crop of basil and made Pesto.  Because I am freezing it, I left out the Parmesan cheese as I believe the consistency changes when it’s frozen. This I froze in small cupcake papers which I supported in an egg tray while they froze and then put the lot into a plastic bag for storage, so easy just to take one out for rice, potatoes or pasta this winter.

Once these are frozen they can be popped out and stored in a plastic bag.

Once these are frozen they can be popped out and stored in a plastic bag.

Bolognese Sauce is my “go to” meal and I make a lot, cooking it up by the vat and freezing it in pint containers, enough for the two of us.  I use my variation of the recipe Marcella Hazan gives in “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” (a Bible!).  It takes a long time to cook as the flavors develop at a slow burble.  This is so worth the effort for the time it saves me when I have a wonderful meal at my fingertips.

This is now ready, having reduced by half on a low simmer

This is now ready, having reduced by half on a low simmer

The other item on my agenda was Ketchup.  Mine is really Chili Sauce, I think, but we call it Ketchup.  For this I get out my Grandmother’s food grinder (Patent 1897) as the processor doesn’t give me the uniformly fine size I like for the peppers and onions, that make it so delightfully chunky.  I can this in pint jars and got 11 pints, enough for a year, maybe more.  I always feel relieved when I finish the Ketchup and the Bolognese.  It would be very hard to get through the winter without them.

I never met my Grandmoter but I thank her every time I use this grinder

I never met my grandmother but I thank her every time I use this grinder

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Fried Zucchini Squash Blossoms

Male Squash Blossoms, Just Picked

Male Squash Blossoms, Just Picked

Fried squash blossoms make a fun and healthy change from bread or potato chips.  Any squash blossom will do but they must be picked in the morning as they close up over the day.  I pick male blossoms, the ones with a slim stem and no little squash forming at the end.  If there’s a bee inside, let her finish collecting her nectar before you snip off the flower.  When you get them inside, snip off the end at the top of the calyx (the green part at the bottom of the flower) and slit the flower up the side so you can lay it out flat.  Wash it very carefully if necessary.

Carefully remove the calyx (green part at the bottom), slit them up the sides and lay them flat.

Carefully remove the calyx (green part at the bottom), slit them up the sides and lay them flat.

Place the flowers on a damp paper towel, roll it up gently and put the roll in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until just ready to use.  Make a simple flour and water batter, stirring in the water until the batter is the consistency of yogurt.  A tempura batter works well too.  I add a teaspoon of soy sauce but it’s not necessary, too many additional flavors mask the delicate flavor of the flowers.  Put about 1/4 inch of vegetable oil in a frying pan and heat until nearly smoking.  Dip each blossom into the batter, covering both sides, shake off excess (very gently) and fry, browning on both sides.

If the oil is very hot, they don't get greasy.

If the oil is very hot, they don’t get greasy.

Sprinkle with salt and serve immediately.  If you get these right, they shatter when you bite them.

Here they are, along with some sliced zucchini bread, as an alternative.

Here they are, along with some sliced zucchini bread, as an alternative.

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Ripen Peppers Before They Rot

Before.  Just enough red so I know it will work.

Before. Just enough red so I know it will work.

I used to wait for my peppers to ripen on the plants, watching them day by day, hoping the bugs wouldn’t get them before they ripened fully, only to be disappointed.  Now I’ve found a foolproof method to outwit the bugs and have plenty of beautiful red peppers for all the recipes I need them for such as Sweet Red Pepper Jam, Hot Dog Relish and one of our favorite cocktail dips, Muhammara.  All you need to do is pick the peppers as soon as they show tinges of red, wash them and place them in a paper bag.  Make sure they are unblemished and no bugs have already made their marks.  Roll down the top to seal the bag, set it on the counter (or someplace at room temperature where you’ll remember it) and check the peppers every morning.  In just a few days, voila!  Red, ripe, perfect peppers.  If you want them to ripen faster, you can put an apple in with them as apples emit ethylene gas which causes fruit to ripen.

Five Days Later, Five Are Ready, Two Need Another Day

Five Days Later, Five Are Ready, Two Need Another Day

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Tapping my Inner Squirrel (Again)

Cooling off and ready for the freezer

Cooling off and ready for the freezer

A "vat" of Minnestrone

A “vat” of Minnestrone

This time it’s soups for the winter.  I was faced with an abundance of crookneck yellow squash and tomatoes so I decided to make a sort of minnestrone, using my freshly harvested onions and garlic and adding some cannelloni beans and Italian sausage for protein.  While I was making soup, I also made some split pea soup (there is a good recipe for basic pea soup on the back of the bag of dried peas).  The only tedious part of the minnestrone is peeling the tomatoes, but two minutes in boiling water splits the skins and they slip off quite easily after the tomatoes are cooled off in cold water.  Both soups begin with olive oil and sliced onions which are sautéed slowly until they turn golden.  Add minced garlic next and saute that for about a minute, then add the protein if you want to use it.

Split pea with diced kielbasa

Split pea with diced kielbasa

Most split pea recipes call for ham bones but I hardly ever have one around so I added diced kielbasa, as I had one still in the freezer from last winter.  Cook the sausage until it loses its pink color.  Now the vegetables:  for the pea soup add diced carrots and celery and saute until they soften.  For the minnestrone, add the cut up squash and peeled tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes start to shed their juices.  At this point herbs and spices are added, thyme and basil for the minnestrone; thyme and bay leaf for the split pea.  I add hot red pepper flakes to both but they aren’t necessary if you don’t like a little “heat.” After the added vegetables have cooked, liquid is added, chicken broth and a cup of vermouth for the split pea and white wine for the minnestrone.  Finally add the dried peas to the split pea (no need to pre-soak) and the beans to the minnestrone (pasta can be added instead).  I used dried beans which I preboiled for a minute and let stand while I finished the other steps of the recipe but canned are fine.  Just be sure to rinse off the soaking water or the can liquid to lessen the effects of the beans.  Simmer until the dried peas are soft (about 45 minutes) and the tomatoes in the minnestrone break down.  Check to see if more salt is needed as there is usually quite a lot in sausage.  I got sixteen quarts of soup.  This will taste so good for lunch as we’re sitting in front of the wood stove on a howling winter day.  [Sorry about combining the instructions, hope it isn’t confusing]

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Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs

The Greater Yellowlegs (left) is much more robust than the delicate Lesser Yellowlegs

The Greater Yellowlegs (left) is much more robust than the delicate Lesser Yellowlegs

I’ve been birding for many years but shorebirds have always been a challenge (all those little sandpipers seemed about the same to me!)  This summer I decided to remedy this shortcoming in my skills and volunteered to help with a shorebird survey which is being conducted by the Audubon Alliance for Coastal Waterbirds.  I asked a friend if I could partner with him as he was excellent at identifying them.  Fortunately he didn’t mind becoming a tutor and he, his wife, my husband and I have had a great time doing these weekly counts of the migrating shorebirds.  Such studies are important as we need to know the areas of our ever shrinking available shoreline habitat that these birds favor during their long migrations.  Last week I managed to take a side-by-side picture of two birds sometimes confused; Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca)and Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) .  It can be a bit of a puzzle if you see a solitary individual standing at a distance, but seeing them together like this shows the delicacy of the Lesser Yellowlegs compared to the much more robust appearing Greater Yellowlegs.  They can also be  identified by their call, the Greater has three sharp, strident whistle-like notes and the Lesser has a weaker call, usually two.  Although the two species are not close relatives (the Greater Yellowlegs is closer to the Greenshank and the Lesser closer to the Willet), they look very similar and both nest in the marshes and wet clearings of the northern Canadian boreal forests.  They migrate south along our shoreline during the summer and fall to their wintering areas, as far away as South America.  It is important that they have safe available shoreline where they can feed, rest up and restore themselves in peace.

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Gazpacho: Refreshing, Easy Summer Lunch

The Perfect Lunch for a Hot Day

The Perfect Lunch for a Hot Day

With all these beautiful tomatoes bursting with flavor and sweltering hot days, Gazpacho is the perfect choice for a cold lunch.   When my husband and I honeymooned in Spain (about 100 years ago!) I ordered Gazpacho almost every day, and almost every day, it was different.  This is to say that there are no rules for this soup so you’re free to use your imagination.  If you have a blender (or a food processor) it takes about five minutes to prepare.  Start with big juicy tomatoes, core out the tough stem end, cut them into quarters and drop them in the blender (no need to peel them).  Blend until they are completely liquified.  Add some salt, a clove of garlic and something acid (lemon juice, wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, white wine or a combination), a little olive oil and a drop or two of tabasco, if you like it.  Pulse these together and add some fresh herbs.  Cilantro is traditional but my husband doesn’t like it so I add basil and parsley.  This is the soup base.  Pour it out into a bowl and chop fresh vegetables to stir in and give it crunch; cucumber, green bell pepper, purple onion and celery are good.  This can be eaten right away but benefits from sitting in the refrigerator for several hours before eating to develop the flavor.  Garnish with chopped chives before serving.  I stirred in the remains of a small container of plain Greek yogurt in my bowl (pictured) but this was just to use it up and it isn’t necessary.

Here it is in the serving container, without the yogurt

Here it is in the serving container, without the yogurt

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