Archive for September, 2012

Chanterelles and a Chanterelle Frittata

These golden Chanterelles were nestled in the leaves to the side of a path on our favorite walk

These golden Chanterelles were nestled in the leaves to the side of a path on our favorite walk

[Don’t collect wild mushrooms unless you have an expert with you or are experienced!!!]

We usually take a walk everyday when we are in Maine and today, as we were walking along a wooded path where we often pick blackberries, I spotted a few spots of buttery yellow off to the side.  At first I thought they were leaves but they were too yellow and I realized I had found some Chanterelles.  These are among the choicest of wild mushrooms we find in Maine.  Our search image re-set from blackberries to Chanterelles, we began looking as we walked and soon had enough for a breakfast frittata.

All cleaned and trimmed, ready for the saute pan.

All cleaned and trimmed, ready for the saute pan.

I cleaned them and then sautéed them in butter.  To make the frittata, I first sautéed some onions then added the already sautéed Chanterelles.  I used five eggs (two for each of us and one for the pan), whisked the eggs with a tablespoon of cold water, a teaspoon of fresh thyme and some salt and poured them over the mushroom-onion mixture.  I sprinkled grated Swiss cheese over the top and cooked it very slowly until the edges were showing signs of cooking.  I then ran the pan under the broiler until the frittata puffed and turned a light golden brown.  Because I didn’t want to mask the flavor of the Chanterelles I was sparing in my seasonings, using a mild cheese and just a bit of herb.   The rich buttery mushrooms have a woodsy, sort of fruity taste and we wanted to savor every bite.

Yum!

Yum!

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Monarch Butterfly Migration

Migrating Monarch Butterfly on a Northern Blazing Star plant (Kennebunk Plains, ME)

Migrating Monarch Butterfly on a Northern Blazing Star plant (Liatris scariosa on Kennebunk Plains, ME, which has 80% of the world’s population of this plant).

We had come to Maine for a day or two last week and I was treated to a front row seat on the Monarch Butterfly migration.   I was sitting watching the Northern Gannets through my scope as they performed their spectacular plunge dives into the ocean.  As I watched bird after bird crash into the sea, I became aware of Monarch Butterflies floating by, three or four a minute.  While most butterflies winter over in hibernation, Monarchs have evolved to migrate, more like birds than insects.  The excellent website Journey North has interactive maps to track the Monarch migration, and a check of the map showed me that the peak in Maine was occurring right in front of me.  The Maine birding list serve made note of this in a post from the edge of the Piscataqua River, relating how 500 or more of the butterflies had gathered at a spot on the shore of the river, waiting for more favorable winds before continuing.

These Monarchs I am seeing are thought to be the final generation of the year in the north and will travel as far as Mexico, overwinter there and travel halfway back next spring.  The migrating monarchs are different from the ones we see all summer as they have not reached sexual maturity.  This will happen next spring as they begin the trip north again.  It may take as many as five generations of Monarchs to reach maturity over the next summer before the migration begins again in the fall.  There are many, many unanswered questions about this amazing phenomenon.  The record flight for a Monarch in one day is 265 miles, an almost unbelievable fact.

When we were in Bangor, Maine, just three weeks ago, I had seen many migrating Monarchs and had photographed what was likely to be the last instar (larval stage) of the final generation there on milkweed, its favored host plant.  [Sorry about the photo quality]  Perhaps one of these individuals floating by me was the one I photographed.  The timing would be just about right.

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar on its favorite plant, Milkweed.

Monarch Butterfly Caterpillar on its favorite plant, Milkweed.

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Jammin’ [A Frenzied Two Days Making Jam]

The finsihed product, quarts and quarts of jam

The finished product, quarts and quarts of jam

We eat a lot of jam at our house.  I’ve already made Strawberry Sweet Woodruff, Strawberry Rhubarb, Strawberry Pineapple, Blueberry Rhubarb and Tomato Ginger, but the raspberries are ready at my favorite Pick-Your-Own farm and we set off to fill our baskets.  I have tried growing raspberries but find them unruly to deal with, so we pick ours at this farm where there is no spraying.

The beautiful color of boiling rasperries.

The beautiful color of boiling rasperries.

Raspberry Jam is the easiest, no hulling of berries and no need to wash them, as I know who picked them.  Just crush, measure, add sugar and a little lemon juice and that’s it.  I don’t add as much sugar as many recipes ask for as we don’t like our jam too sweet but this means I need to cook it down a little more.  [See my instructions on how to tell it’s done in the post Ponderosa Lemon Marmalade, March 19, 2012.]  After the jam is done, I ladle it into jars and process it in my canning kettle for 10 minutes, just to ensure the seal.  This step isn’t really necessary but I do it to be on the safe side.

I also bought peaches and Concord grapes in the Farm Store.  I need the peaches for more Peach Chutney and I want to make some Peach Jam.  I often make Ginger Peach, but just having made Ginger Tomato, I make regular Peach Jam with a spice ball of cinnamon sticks and cloves to add flavor.  I also grate in an apple as peaches don’t have much pectin and I don’t like to use the artificial commercially available pectin.

Peach Jam cooking down

Peach Jam cooking down

Grape jelly in the making.

Grape jelly in the making.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the grapes, I’ve adapted a recipe from my Mother-in-law’s old 1954 Joy of Cooking which I inherited upon her death.  It’s also spiced with cinnamon and cloves but it cuts the cloying sweetness of the grapes with vinegar and is a jelly, so quite a different flavor from the Peach Jam.  To make the jelly, remove the grapes from their stems and cook them down with a little water, then drain them through layers of cheesecloth or a jelly bag.  Resist the temptation to squeeze out every drop of juice, or the jelly will be cloudy.  I let it drain overnight, then measure the juice and add the other ingredients.  Happiness is a full jam cupboard!

Jam enough for the whole year.

Jam enough for the whole year.

Boiling raspberries, sugar and lemon juice

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The Garden is Full of Yellowthroats

These little guys were too quick for my camera skills!

These little guys were too quick for my camera skills!

I know, the photo is terrible.  Sorry about that.  These little guys are very quick and I didn’t want to scare them so I am very circumspect as I watch.  There were about 20 of them, gleaning insects from my vegetables.  These are Common Yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas) and they are migrating through Connecticut in large numbers right now.  They need their nourishment more than I need to pick a few tomatoes for our salad.  They’re on their way south, as far as Panama, to spend the winter.  The males remind me of little highwaymen with their black masks and I often think, how can such an attactive little warbler be called “common.”

I sit on my bench and watch them working the garden for about 10 minutes, enjoying their acrobatics as they flit around the wire cages I use to prop up the tomato plants.  They move on, little by little, and I am left alone in the garden.  I pick the tomatoes and return to make my salad, enriched.

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In Memory of Rocky: On the Death of Our Cockatiel

This is a life-sized "bust" watrcolor I painted of Rocky a few years ago.  I glued one of his real crest feathers on the painting.

This is a life-sized “bust” watrcolor I painted of Rocky a few years ago. I glued one of his real crest feathers on the painting.

ROCKY

[This essay was written four years ago]

 

“C’m ‘ere, little guy.”   Our 20-year-old son gently talked the frightened Cockatiel into his hand.  “I won’t hurt you.”  Our son was at a cycling race in New Britain with 300 other cyclists plus hundreds of spectators and, out of nowhere, the little bird had chosen him.  He broke a piece off his burger roll and used it to coax the bird into a paper bag, closing it and rolling down the top to seal it.  I arrived home to find the bird happily eating millet seeds in a cage long since vacated by a deceased parakeet.  Our son was the “bird whisperer” in our family.  Birds seemed to know he was a good person.  Three times escaped birds had come to him for rescue so this new bird did not surprise us.  The Cockatiel was a sweet little thing, grey coloration as in the wild with little orange cheek patches, a perky yellow crest and lively eyes.  He was missing his tail, possibly from an encounter with a cat during his period of freedom.  I took him out of the cage and he nestled happily in the crook of my neck.  I scritched him around his head and thought about the poor person he had escaped from.  “We have to try to find his owner,”  I said.  “This is such a sweet bird.  Someone out there is frantic with worry.”

I placed an ad in the New Britain paper:  “Lost bird found, Stanley Park, New Britain, June 25th.  Call x [our telephone number] to identify.”  The calls started coming in.  “The world is full of escaped birds,” I marveled after more than 20 calls.  People asked about parrots of all species.  A few of the callers were missing Cockatiels.  One caller had a distinctive foreign accent:  “I’m a breeder and my sister-in-law was taking care of my birds over the weekend.  She let my Lutino escape,” the woman said.  Lutino’s are yellow, I thought.

“This bird is grey, not a Lutino, and it is an obvious pet.  It can’t be your bird,” I said.  Another caller had left a window open while cleaning their Cockatiel’s cage two weeks before and the bird had escaped.  They had given up hope and replaced the bird but were eager to drive the sixty miles, just to see if their bird was safe.  When they arrived their little boy, a Down syndrome child, ran to the cage “Rocky!” he shouted.  The parents looked the bird over carefully.  “It’s not Rocky,” they said.

“It’s been several days and the owner hasn’t come forward,” I said.  “I don’t mind if you take him since your little boy thinks it’s his bird.”  They declined, having replaced their Rocky but we now had a name that suited him.

The woman with the accent called again:  “My grey, pet Cockatiel escaped,” she said.  You sneaky person, I thought.  You just want to make some money on a hand raised Cockatiel.  I tried to play it cool. “What was the number on the leg band?”  “Oh, I didn’t write it down,” she said.  “Well, this can’t be your bird.  This bird doesn’t have a leg band,” I told her, feeling a little smug.  Two weeks later we were having lunch when she called again.  “My normal grey, pet Cockatiel without a leg band escaped.”  Still playing the game I said “Well, come and identify it.  If he’s your pet, he’ll come to you.”  “Where are you?” she asked.  “All the way down near New York City,” a white lie.  “Aren’t you going to bring it up here for me?”  “No.  I have gone to some expense here, placing ads and making long distance calls.  If you love this bird, come and identify him.”  “Oh, forget it,”  she said.  And so, we got to keep little Rocky.

Our other bird, an African Grey parrot named Charlo, was jealous at first, nipping at Rocky when he thought we weren’t looking.  Despite this unfriendly behavior, Rocky looked up to him and Charlo grudgingly accepted Rocky after it was clear that he regarded Charlo as flock leader.  It took about six months but I gradually weaned Rocky off nutrient poor millet and onto a balanced pelleted food called Pretty Bird, especially designed for Cockatiels.  As the years went by Rocky’s tail was never able to grow back and he looked rather egg-like without it.  He would grow a feather or two but it would break off before reaching full growth.  Mealtimes were his favorites.  The birds would both sit with us at the table and share our food.  Whereas Charlo liked his pasta with sauce and wouldn’t eat his pancake unless it had butter and syrup, Rocky would only eat them plain.  They both gathered around my husband’s cold cereal each morning, eating from his bowl and sharing our English muffins (Rocky’s with no jam; Charlo’s with jam and butter.)

Over the next ten years Rocky and Charlo shared our meals, our vacations, our lives.  One evening Rocky was on his perch when he shuddered and fell on the floor.  I rushed to pick him up and cradled him in my hand.  He was limp but came around after a minute or two.  “What do you think happened?” I asked my physician husband.  “I don’t know, maybe a stroke, certainly a seizure.”  Rocky seemed fine but a few months later it happened again. This time he began bleeding from his mouth and continued having convulsions that racked his tiny body.  My husband examined Rocky and noticed small golden crystals that had collected in his irises.  He felt there was nothing a veterinarian could do in this life or death situation and we decided to wait to see if Rocky made it through the night before seeking help.  I kept vigil all night, talking softly to Rocky who was tucked inside my bathrobe for warmth.  I loved this little bundle of feathers.  What could possibly be happening?  The seizures came frequently at first then lessened.  In the morning he seemed better and I took him to the bird Vet. “This is a very old bird,” the Vet said, “maybe in his mid-twenties.  I’ll do a blood test and we’ll see if we can find out what’s happening with him.”  The blood test showed an extremely high uric acid level.  “Your bird has gout,” he said.  “Gout??”  I thought of dissipated Englishmen in dank manor houses.  “What are you feeding him?”  “I feed him Pretty Bird, especially designed for Cockatiels.” I felt defensive.  “He also shares our table food.”   “Well, the Pretty Bird is killing him.  It’s too rich.  We can medicate for gout but, as to his diet, he’s so elderly, I’d feed him just millet and the table food.  It’s not a real healthy diet but they love it so.  Stop the Pretty Bird and let him be happy.  Even in good health you can’t expect him to live more than a couple more years.”

The medication he prescribed was Allopurinol, which is what humans get for gout except they get one tablet a day.  Rocky gets one tablet a month which is ground up and dissolved in pediatric syrup.  After the third month Rocky’s uric acid level had dropped by more than half and the crystals had cleared from his eyes.  “It’s working,” the Vet said.  “Just keep it up.”  My husband wrote a prescription for 100 Allopurinol tablets made out for “Rocky Bird,” enough for eight years, and we got a pint bottle of the syrup.  That was more than four years ago.  I just bought the second pint bottle of syrup and he’s used up nearly fifty tablets.  His feet are crippled up with gout now and we have a wide heated perch in his cage to warm them.  Every morning he hobbles over to me for tickles after he has his bit of English muffin (without jam or butter) because he can no longer move his foot up to scratch his head.  Charlo looks on and says “Rocky loves tickles,” as Rocky peeps in contentment.  I sometimes wonder about his beginnings, what his owners were like and what his first name was and I rejoice at how much tiny Rocky has enriched our lives, filling the nest vacated by our three sons.

Epilogue

Rocky died this past Tuesday, September 11th, 17½ years after he came to us.  Toward the end of his life, he could no longer perch and he must have been in some pain but he was always cheerful and loved his muffin and tickles.  He lived nearly eight years after his gout diagnosis and may have been as old as thirty, a long life for a Cockatiel.  Charlo had been looking at the empty cage and saying “Rocky, do you want to come out?” but now we have stored the cage in the barn and have nothing but memories of this sweet little bird.  He is so missed.

Rocky loved tickles...

Rocky loved tickles…

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What’s For Dinner? [Beef Curry]

It looks a little messy but tasts terrific.

It looks a little messy but tastes terrific.

After a week on Grand Manan and a week of seafood, we were ready for steak.  We grilled a London broil and ate half, but what to do with the rest?  I decided to make my version of curry, quick and easy, but I believe  it retains an air of authenticity in part due to my use of coconut milk as the liquid.  First saute onions in oil (the Indians use ghee but I use olive oil) then add minced garlic, the sliced leftover meat (beef, chicken, lamb…) and pieces of apple.

The basic ingredients, beef, apple, onion, garlic and spices.

The basic ingredients, beef, apple, onion, garlic and spices.

When these ingredients have been sautéed for about five minutes, add the curry powder.  I like to use a combination of sweet and hot curry powders from Penzey’s  but any good quality curry powder will do.  Add it to your taste.  I use one teaspoon hot and two teaspoons sweet which gives it a bit of a bite but doesn’t make your eyes water.  The powder is mixed with the sautéed apple, meat, onions and garlic and toasted in the pan for about a minute.  Turn the heat to low and then add a can of coconut milk.  I find it in the International section of the grocery store and buy the “lite” version to avoid extra calories.

The spices have been added and toasted, it's now time for the coconut milk.

The spices have been added and toasted, it’s now time for the coconut milk.

Let this combination simmer while you boil some rice (basmati is traditional) and assemble the side dishes.  I use my homemade peach chutney, toasted coconut flakes, chopped pistachios and papadums which are also found in the International section of the grocery.  These are a type of bread that comes in flat rounds.  You brush them lightly with oil and microwave them for 45 seconds.  The coconut and pistachios can be made up ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator.  I made a version of Caprese salad to go with everything (talk about culture confusion, but I’m an American.  It’s allowed!)  As a final touch, I sprinkle a dusting of cinnamon over the top.

Clockwise, from my plate: papadum, salad, chutney, toasted coconut, chopped pistachios, curry and rice.

Clockwise, from my plate: papadum, salad, chutney, toasted coconut, chopped pistachios, curry and rice.

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Visit to Orono Bog

Stunted Tamarack Trees with their silvery-blue foliage add to the ethereal beauty of the bog.

Stunted Tamarack Trees with their silvery-blue foliage add to the ethereal beauty of the bog.

I hadn’t visited a bog since I was a girl at summer camp in Waterboro, Maine, so I was eagerly anticipating this experience.  That bog of my campgirl days was a spongy walk across a wilderness filled with strange carnivorous plants and stinging insects (it must have been June, black fly season).  I remember sinking through the fragile surface and getting my shoes wet.  The Orono Bog, part of Bangor City Forest, was a planned stop on the way to Grand Manan, a diversion so we could rest and get in some birding.

The fog enhanced each strand of the Orb Weaver's endeavor.

The fog enhanced each strand of the Orb Weaver’s endeavor.

The bog was made accessible to the public through volunteer labor.  They constructed a floating boardwalk, a mile long and accessible to those using wheelchairs, so the fragile surface would be protected.   The bog was formed as the glaciers melted and the sea retreated, leaving behind a highly acidic lake.  As the lake dried, the environment favored the growth of spaghnum (or peat) moss.  The acidic soil stunts tree growth and supports plants such as Pitcher Plants, Sundew, Bog Cranberry, Cotton Plant and the like.  The boardwalk has frequent informative signs and many benches where walkers can relax and enjoy the views.

The Pitcher Plants display a riot of fall color.

The Pitcher Plants display a riot of fall color.

We didn’t have a very large bird list on the bog itself and there were very few insects.  There were flocks of cedar waxwings, some robins and a few other species but there was a soft mist over all that gave the experience an other-worldly feeling.  The pagan tribes of early Europe feared bogs (hence the name Bogeyman) and gave human sacrifices to protect themselves.  I could almost understand this as I walked, but to me it was more magical than frightening.

The little white tufts of the Cotton Plants dotted the landscape.

The little white tufts of the Cotton Plants dotted the landscape.

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