Monday, November 28, 2011

Massacre by the Hedge...

An ominous visitor shows up in the maple tree...

During the first spring that we spent in our house, I installed a post-mounted bird feeder a few feet from our family room window.  We were hoping to attract a nice array of colorful, suburban song birds...  Cardinals, Chick-a-dees, Finches, Nuthatches, Carolina Wrens, and maybe a few Downy Woodpeckers here and there.

My favorites are the Carolina Wrens, along with the three or four varieties of woodpeckers that visit.  As far as woodpeckers go, we've seen Downy Woodpeckers, Hairy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Northern Flickers.

We've even had a few Pterodactyls show up.

Earlier in the year, I was looking out the patio door over my morning coffee, watching my neighbor climbing around his roof.  He was shimmying around the perimeter, cleaning out his gutters with a leaf blower.

Northern Flickers like to scour the ground for ants.
All of a sudden, a large, majestic-looking dinosaur soared into our back yard and settled onto the trunk of one of our maples.

     "Honey," I called out.  "Come look at the Pterodactyl."

     "Um, that's a Pileated Woodpecker," said my wife, as she joined me with her coffee.

     "No...  you're wrong," I said, shaking my head.  "I'm pretty sure that's a Pterodactyl."

After gashing a few splintery caverns in the trunk of the maple, the wondrous dinosaur spread his wings and took flight, disappearing beyond the peak of our neighbor's roof.

I took another sip of coffee and noticed that our cat Mookie was eyeing a chipmunk, which was combing the deck for stray seeds and other edible detritus just outside the sliding glass door.  As the filthy varmint came within a few feet of the house, Mookie sprinted over to the window, almost crashing into the glass.  He continued hissing as he arched his back and clacked his teeth in irritation.

At first, there were only a few chipmunks hanging around the house...  two or three maybe, and perhaps four or five on the weekends.  And I had to admit that they were pretty cute.  While we always scolded the squirrels, referring to them as obese, slovenly parasites, the chipmunks typically received a pass because they were precious and cute.

But now I'm not so sure.

What started as three or four chipmunks has turned into about a dozen or more...  at any one time.


Whenever I fill up the bird feeder, the hoards of chipmunks stream forth from the trees like a wave of plague and filth, bouncing and darting about the yard, stuffing their greedy cheeks with endless amounts of black oil sunflower seed.

And they dig holes and tunnels everywhere.

The other day, I set foot off our back step onto the brick sidewalk, and the bricks below my feet gave way and collapsed into the ground.  After prying up a dozen or so of the surrounding bricks, I uncovered a network of chipmunk burrows and tunnels.  It took me almost an hour to fill and pack dirt and rocks into the tunnels.

Dirty bastards...

Earlier this summer, I relocated the bird feeder about twenty more yards away from the house, in an attempt to draw the filthy little creatures away.  While they spend much more time away from the foundation of our house, they still seem to scurry back there to dig tunnels in the flower beds and store their nuts and seeds under our deck.

Too big to be carried away by the Angel of Death...
I've been trying to think of a way to reduce the chipmunk population around the house.  We've been using a Havahart trap for the wood chucks, but I don't feel like making a trip to the park every five minutes to release a rogue chipmunk.

The other day, nature almost...  ALMOST...  answered my prayers.

I was mowing the lawn on a Saturday afternoon, when I got the eerie feeling that I was being watched.  When I switched off the mower to empty to bag, I looked up in the maple trees around the border of our backyard.

High above in one of the maples was perched a hawk of some sort.  My sister later confirmed that it was either a Cooper's Hawk or a Sharp-Shinned Hawk.  This guy was huge.  It was a monster.  It's piercing eyes were focused directly on me, studying carefully.

Quietly, I went inside to retrieve the camera, and I snapped a few pictures from the back step.  When I returned to the parked mower a few moments later, the hawk was still perched in the same spot.

We stared at each other for another minute, as I strolled over to our lawn waste pile to empty the grass.  After reattaching the empty bag to the mower, I extended a formal invitation to our visitor to stay for dinner.
Still too big to be carried away by the Angel of Death...

     "Help yourself," I offered, gesturing thoughtfully with an outstretched arm towards the five chipmunks that were bouncing around the ground under our seed feeder, just twenty yards away.

     "Take 'em all, if you'd like.  And be sure to come back for dessert."

I started up the mower and continued walking up and down our backyard, cutting the grass in neat rows.  Once every two or three passes, I'd pause to glance at our visitor high up in the maple tree.  After a few minutes, the bird had clearly lost interest in me...  probably realizing that I was just a bit too large to carry away.

After about ten minutes, I had all but forgotten about the hawk.

All of a sudden, it shot like a missile towards the feeder, where the chipmunks were still busy gorging themselves.  But it passed right by the feeder, instead spearing itself into the large hedge on our property line, where about a dozen House Sparrows were perched.

But the third bowl of porridge was juuuuuuuuust right...

The gathering of sparrows collectively squawked and began to scatter in a frenzied panic, but not before the hawk managed to peck a lone sparrow out of the hedge and onto the grass near our deck. I watched in awe as it continued pecking and tearing into its unfortunate prey.

I tiptoed across the back yard towards the hedge, hoping to get a better look.  After about a dozen steps, the hawk noticed me, snatched it up between its talons, and headed up into the air towards the large tree across the street.  It disappeared behind the branches a few moments later.

Puzzled, I scratched my head and glanced back at the hoard of chipmunks feasting in the grass below the feeder.  They continued scurrying about the backyard with their cheeks stuffed full of seed, unaware that the Angel of Death had just visited the premises.

     Hmmmmm...  Do I need spread barbecue sauce under the feeder?

Take the House Sparrows if you must, but spare the House Finches.
They're too cute to eat...

Of course, if the one or two hawks visiting our yard ultimately prefer birds over chipmunks, I'd much rather they choose the House Sparrows over the wrens, chick-a-dees, finches, or titmice.  House sparrows are one of the more invasive avian species found in backyard habitats and suburban sprawl.

Along with the European Starling, the House Sparrow was introduced to North America by members of the American Acclimatization Society.  This collection of literary douche-bags was obsessed with introducing every European bird ever mentioned by Shakespeare to North American shores.

Looks like a Pterodactyl to me...
(The only picture here I DIDN'T take.)
The first batch of sparrows was released in Brooklyn, New York, in 1851.  Within fifty years, they had reproduced like rabbits on Viagra and spread as far west as the Rockies.  Today, we are blessed to have about 12,488 of them living in our back yard.

These feathered dickheads are notorious for kicking other species of birds from their nests and cavity dwellings.

My sister, who has several nest boxes spread over her ten acres, has administered many a tongue-lashing to numerous House Sparrows over the years, who have molested and bullied her Blue Birds out of their homes.

We don't have any nest boxes in our back yard, but we still witness gangs of House Sparrows swarming in like the plague on a regular basis, monopolizing the seed feeder.

I'd prefer that any visiting hawks place a priority on the chipmunks when planning their dinner menu.  However, if they're craving feathered beings, I don't mind if they pick off a few House Sparrows now and then.

In the meantime, I'll continue to find creative ways to keep the chipmunks away from the house.

The Barn Swallows that moved into my sister's nest boxes can
hold their own against unwanted visitors.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Reality TV...

Still a wretched waste of time

Yesterday afternoon, Betsy came over to my cubicle to let me know about Mikayla’s progress on the most recent episode of Survivor.  Mikayla is the character that I’ve been assigned in our current Survivor office pool.

I don’t actually watch Survivor, and I had no intentions of ever joining the office pool.  However, we had a shortage of participants as the most recent season approached.  On the eve of the season premiere, Betsy approached me and asked if I'd consider joining as an emergency participant.

After some hesitation, I begrudgingly accepted her invitation.

During our cubicle meeting, Betsy let me know that Mikayla is a physically-gifted contestant who’s doing quite well for herself.  When I admit to her that still didn’t watch the show, I still despised the show, and I didn't understand its appeal, she tried her best to explain it to me and get me excited for this season's action.

The following is the conversation that ensued:

Betsy:  "So, there were two teams last night, and they were playing this game where you had to form a circle for each team, and both teams had to try to get this little ball thing into the circle, and--"

Me:  "This is about people trying to survive out in the wilderness...  right?"

Betsy:  (with emphatic hand gestures)  "Yeah, and so both teams were trying to get the little ball thingie into the circle (makes a circle shape with both hands), and the winning team is the one that--"

Me:  "What does forming a circle and getting a little ball into it have to do with surviving in the wilderness?"

Betsy:  (more emphatic hand gestures)  "Well, the surviving out in the wilderness takes place between the games.  On the show itself, they actually hold competitions.  But when they're not doing competitions, they're surviving in the wilderness."

Me:  "Soooo...  it's kind of like Minute to Win It on a deserted island?"

Betsy:  "Um...  sort of?"

Me:  "I hate that show."

Betsy:  "Um..."

Me:   ...

Betsy:  (emphatic hand gestures)  "But they need to have competitions so they can see who has immunity."

Me:  "Immunity...  ?"

Betsy:  "Yes...  Immunity."

Me:  "...from herpes?"

Betsy:  "NO!  Immunity from being voted off."

Me:  "Soooo... instead of going to CVS to get a flu shot, they gain immunity by playing games?"

Betsy:  "Yeah!"  (excited hand gesture)

Me:  ...

Betsy:  "And, it's just fun to see how people interact with each other on the show.  Like this one character...  He's 19 or 20, and he has a wife and kid.  But he's super religious, and he doesn't know how to deal with his feelings for one of the female contestants."

Me:  "Feelings?"

Betsy:  "Well, they're not emotional feelings.  They're more like physiological reactions.  (hand gestures)  Like...  ya know how when you see somebody who you find really attractive, as human beings we're bound to have certain physiological reactions?"  (more hand gestures)

Me:  "He gets boners?"

Betsy(laughing)  "Yeah!"

Me:  "Sooo...  does he... not know how to deal with his boners?"

Betsy:  (laughing)  "No, he doesn't...  And he thinks he's sinning because he's super religious."

Me:  "I'll bet his wife is thrilled that this is all over television for everybody to see."

Betsy:  "Well, they're actually having marital problems anyways."

Me:  "He decided to deal with his marital problems by going on a TV show where he knew he'd be hanging out with women wearing mostly nothing?"

Betsy(laughs)  "Yeah!"

Me:  "And they have a kid?"

Betsy:  "Yeah."

Me:  "But he didn't know he'd be getting boners?"

Betsy:  "Um..."

Me:  "Did his wife know he may be getting boners?"

Betsy:  ...

Me:  "I guess I just don't get it..."

Even Bart Simpson knows a thing or two about boners.

My first experience with Survivor came on January 28th, 2001, when the Baltimore Ravens slaughtered the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, by a score of 34-7.

Aside from being one of the most lopsided, unwatchable Super Bowls in recent memory, the other memorable aspect was the repeated commercials for the upcoming debut of ‘Survivor’, which was to be aired immediately following the post-game festivities.

By the end of the first quarter, it was clear that CBS would be shoving this new show down our collective throats for the next four hours.  Even if the game itself turned out to be a debacle, the network was hoping that viewers would stay glued to their televisions through the third and fourth quarters, just to check out the season premier of Survivor.

Based on the commercials that were shown, I really didn't understand the show's potential appeal.  But I stuck around after the post-game coverage and decided to give it a shot.

As it turns out, I was only able to make it through the first twelve minutes of the first episode.  I don't really remember what exactly went down, but I do recall thinking how badly it sucked.

Apparently, most of America disagreed with me, and the show became a big hit.

Sometime around 2006, I decided to give Survivor another chance.  With an open mind, I watched the first seventeen minutes of that year's season premiere.

Again, I don't really remember what went on, but I do recall thinking how badly it sucked.  And the additional five minutes I forced myself to endure (with an open mind) helped me realize that most of the characters on the show were arrogant, self-important pricks.

Thanks to the inexplicable success of Survivor, we're now forced to deal with other wretched reality shows like The Bachelorette, Jersey Whore, and Slutting It Up With Kim Kardashian.

While most of my co-workers don't watch any of these other shows, (save for Evan, who never misses an episode of The Bachelorette), Survivor is still as popular as ever throughout our department, as well as our entire office...  hence, the office pool, which has been running for the last three or four seasons.

As I previously mentioned, I have no idea why people find Survivor remotely interesting...  or even bearable, for that matter.  None of the characters seem to be the kind of people that I'd want to share a beer with at a local bar.  Why CBS thinks that I'd want to spend an hour of my time every week watching them quarrel and squabble amongst themselves out in the wilderness is beyond me.

Again, most of America seems to disagree with me, as the show is apparently as popular as ever.

I’m willing to admit that there are a few reality shows that have something meaningful and worthwhile to contribute to our nation’s television landscape.

I think that there's certainly a place for The Biggest Loser.  With obesity at an all-time high, as well as the alarming lack of knowledge of basic nutritional concepts within our general population, any show that challenges its participants to lose weight by eating a healthy diet, working out, and putting in lots of hard, honest effort is valuable in my book.

And I do have a soft spot for Master Chef.  It's fascinating to watch amateur, home-grown cooks with no professional training compete against each other to produce the best food possible...  all the while with Chef Gordon Ramsey and friends barking encouragement and constructive criticism over everybody's shoulders.

But there’s a big difference between the contestants on Master Chef and those on Survivor.  The contestants on Master Chef actually have a worthwhile gift or talent to share with the world.  Through years of dedication and hard work, they’ve perfected their craft, and they’ve earned their chance to put everything on the line against one another to achieve their culinary dreams.

On the other hand, the contestants on Survivor don’t seem to have any desirable skills or gifts that are worth my time and attention.

Unless I’m missing something, the majority of these contestants seem to be obnoxious, boorish turds.

Of course, some would argue that many of the football players that I watch for hours and hours each Sunday are also selfish and arrogant, and make much more money than they deserve.

Fair enough...  there may be something to that.

But again, most NFL players have gotten to where they are through a lifetime of blood, sweat, and hard work.  And there are quite a few of them who are generous with their time and money and have a lot to contribute to society.

Unfortunately, Survivor just hasn’t clicked for me.

I guess I just need more substance than a collection of dysfunctional, mostly naked characters with their faces painted, gathered around a campfire out in the wilderness for family game night.

I still wish Mikayla the best, but I'll trust Betsy to let me know if she wins.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Got wrinkles?

Last month, I spent quite a bit of time on the Weather Channel's website, checking out the hourly forecast.  When a string of four or five sunny days showed up in the extended outlook, I decided to take a few days off to paint a section of the house, which faces north and doesn't get as much sun.

Before I applied each coat of primer or paint, I'd check the hourly forecast, just to make sure that I was safe from rain for at least another 24 hours.

The more time I spent on the Weather Channel's website, the more I realized that people in Rochester must have problems with wrinkles and premature aging.

Here was my first clue...

Tryouts for the 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre,
Part IX' will be held next month.

Judging from the first picture, this wretched woman certainly had some issues with wrinkles.  After the amazing $4 wrinkle therapy, the wrinkles were gone, and she no longer looked like a burn victim.  However, she still looked miserable...  and ugly.  I guess that Rochester Mom #1 wasn't so clever after all.

It didn't take me long to find the next wrinkle therapy.  Sure enough, I clicked the link for the hourly forecast, and I was presented with the following.

Hmmm...  $5.00.  It was a dollar more expensive, so maybe it worked better than the 'Leatherface' treatment.  But I'm still not sure how rubbing elephant shit all over one's face is supposed to make wrinkles disappear.

Chalk that up as a major FAIL for Rochester Mom #2.

Satisfied that the hourly forecast didn't show any rain for at least 24 hours, I knew I'd be able to apply that first coat of primer that afternoon.  But I wondered if I'd be able to apply that first coat of paint the next day, after the primer had cured?

I clicked the link for the 5-day forecast, waiting to find out.

More skin problems.

Aside from alien babies wanting to refinance their mortgages, we now had Rochester Mom #3 putting the smack-down on her wrinkles by dressing up like Zorro.  This particular product didn't have a price listed, so I figured it was probably more expensive...  $8 maybe?

Ooooh...  the next few days looked pretty good.  Sunshine all around.

What about the 10-day forecast?  If I finished up everything in time, I could start another section the following week.

I clicked the link for the 10-day forecast.

Why don't Local Dads ever do anything for Rochester?

More alien babies trying to get out of debt.  And there's another $5 wrinkle therapy from Rochester Mom #4.  $5 seems like a pretty good price...  if you don't mind looking like Glenn Close's understudy in 'Fatal Attraction'.

And finally...

What the %#ck is this woman doing!?

This shallow tramp looks like she's superimposed another woman's face and skin over her allegedly wrinkled visage.

Well that's just great.

Rather than take the time and effort to see a traditional treatment run its course, Rochester Mom #5 suggests that we find somebody with a healthy face, rip it off, and staple it over our own, just to make the problem go away.

This seems like kind of a cheap way out.  And you're ultimately treating and covering up the symptoms, but not doing anything to address the underlying cause of the problem.

That being said, this is probably the only treatment that's covered by the major health insurance companies.  Rochester Mom #5 must work for Excellus.

I have a better suggestion.

Instead of trying to improve our skin by smearing, schlopping, and molesting our faces with everyday household items and other organic matter, maybe we should stop ingesting buckets of dairy and oil with all of our meals, lay off the cigarettes, and do a better job staying away from tanning salons and excessive solar radiation.

If you want something badly enough, you've gotta work for it.

Anyways, who knew that planning around the weather to paint a small section of one's house could be so damn complicated?

The finished product looks great, by the way...  just in case you were wondering.

"Ready when you are, Sargeant Pembry."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thoughts, impressions, and observations from the day of the Kardashian wedding...

This past Saturday, reality TV star Tim Kardashian married New Jersey Nets forward Kris Humphries in a private ceremony just outside of Los Angeles, California.  The wedding was said to have run up a bill of just over 28 million dollars.  Apparently, Jim wore three different dresses during the celebration, all hand-stitched by Vera's Wang.

Obviously, this was an event of monumental proportions.  To celebrate it's significance, I blogged all day long.  Here are some of my thoughts, impressions, and observations from the big day.

8:37 am:  My wife and I woke up to the beautiful, Saturday morning sunshine streaming in through  the bedroom windows.  Our white and gray cat Mookie had jumped onto the bed.  He was whining and meowing, letting us know that he was hungry.  We got out of bed, turned off the window and room fans, and made our way downstairs.

My wife fed the cats while I opened up the family room blinds.  As I opened up several downstairs windows, the crisp morning air rushed into our home, smacking me in the face.  The sounds of the chickadees and cardinals darting playfully about the bird feeder invigorated our souls.

9:02 am:  Time to brew the coffee.  While water from the tap was dripping through the Brita filter, I dumped four scoops of Kenya Kirinyaga AA Kiunyu into the grinder and pressed 'On'.  The snarling and growling of our 12-year old grinder shattered the peaceful tranquility of the morning.

Once the roar of the grinder had sputtered and ceased, I dumped the grounds into a paper filter, set it carefully inside the filter casing, and poured 48 oz of water into the reservoir.  Then, I turned the 'on/off' switch to 'On'.

9:09 am:  As the coffee was brewing, I measured 2 cups of water into a medium-sized pot and turned on the front-right burner on our range to 'HIGH'.  Within five minutes, the water was boiling furiously.  I dumped a half cup of steel-cut oats into the hot water, covered the pot, and removed it from the heat.  When cooking steel-cut oats, it's best to soak them in hot water for about half an hour, before cooking them to completion.

Two of our 87 coffee mugs from Maine...
At this point, the coffee had just about finished dripping through the grounds into the pot.  The glorious smell of the fresh Kenyan brew had taken over the kitchen.

9:20 am:  The coffee was ready.  I screwed the lid onto the stainless steel carafe, shook it around a bit, and then poured coffee into two diner mugs that we had acquired during our travels in Maine.

I waited impatiently, while my wife doctored up her brew with cream and sugar, and then I took my turn.  I took a sip...

Mmmmmmmmmm...  DELICIOUS!!!

The brew was dancing around my palate like a lively billy goat on crack.  Both satisfied, we headed to the couch in the family room.

9:31 am:  We sat down on the couch with our coffee, put our feet up on the coffee table, and turned on the TV to one of the morning shows.  The hosts of the show were discussing the Kardashian wedding, which would be taking place later that day.  I turned to my wife and suggested that we watch 'Die Hard', instead.  She agreed.  I switched the source on the TV remote to 'Composite Input', turned on the DVD player and the big speakers, and popped the 'Die Hard' DVD into the player.

"We have to tell Karl that his oatmeal is ready."
9:50 am:  Just as Hans Gruber mentioned to Fritz that "We have to tell Karl his brother is dead", my wife inquired about the oatmeal.

Oh yeah, I thought to myself.  The oatmeal.

We paused the movie and adjourned to the kitchen.  I turned on the front burner and began stirring, while my wife poured her second cup of coffee.  Soon thereafter, I poured my own second cup and took sips between stirs of the oatmeal.

Within ten minutes, the oatmeal had thickened to a satisfying consistency.  I turned off the burner and divided our breakfast between two bowls.  I topped my oatmeal with raw almonds, blueberries from my dad's garden, and maple syrup.  My wife topped hers with brown sugar and walnuts.  Bowls and spoons in hand, we returned to the couch and resumed 'Die Hard'.

10:33 am:  Having both finished our oatmeal, it was time to get ready to go to our local farmer's market.  My wife went to the kitchen to clean up the few dishes from breakfast, and I went upstairs for my morning bowel movement.

No, Dr. Kimball...
For much of the week, my bowel movements had been fairly routine, as my diet had consisted of mostly fruits, vegetables, and grains...  lots of fiber.  Unfortunately, we had both had a whopping large slice of ice cream cake for our nephew's birthday during the previous evening, and I was just now paying the price.

I rarely eat dairy anymore.  As such, my bowel movements have been passing without incident, for the most part.  In his article about constipation, hemorrhoids, and varicose veins, Dr. John McDougall writes the following:
  • "...the stool should be moderately soft and easy to pass without pain or strain.  The accumulation of feces between movements should not reach the point where severe bloating of the intestine and discomfort occur."
While I'd never really experienced 'severe bloating of the intestine', per se, during my meat and dairy-eating days, I do have to admit that my bowel movements weren't always soft, nor easy to pass.

Sometimes they were even 'hard' and 'difficult to pass'.

Now that I've all but given up dairy, I'm happy to report that my bowel movements are efficient, routine, and productive.  However, on the rare occasion that I...  'enjoy'...  some ice cream for a treat, the results can be disastrous.  So it was no surprise that my bowel movement that morning was fairly unpleasant.  I would even go so far as to describe it as 'the train wreck scene from "The Fugitive" in a bucket'.  After evacuation and recovery were complete, I washed my hands, splashed some water on my face, and put in my contact lenses. can't run and hide from lactose intolerance.

10:55 am:  My wife and I hopped into the car and headed across town to the local farmer's market.  We picked up some zucchini and yellow squash and 8 ears of corn for that evening's meal, along with some cherry tomatoes, donut peaches, red potatoes, garlic, green beans, and blueberries.

Our friends were coming for dinner later.  I'd be responsible for grilling the zucchini and corn, and my wife was making baked, stuffed scallops, along with a loaf of homemade artisan bread.  On the way back from the market, we stopped at Wegmans to pick up a few odds and ends.

12:45 pm:  I mowed the lawn.  It was only the second time since June that I'd mowed, since July had been so hot and dry.

3:06 pm:  After taking a break from the yard work to get a few glasses of water, I began trimming the unruly vegetation next to our driveway.  I hauled the scraps to our compost pile in the back yard, along with some weeds that my wife had pulled from the flower garden.

4:29 pm:  I decided to get a snack, since I really hadn't eaten any lunch.  I rooted around through the pantry and found some pita chips.  We still had half a container of roasted red pepper hummus, so I dipped the chips in the hummus.  If you haven't ever tried roasted red pepper hummus, you should.  It's really good.

4:45 pm:  Still snacking in the kitchen, my wife commented that I sort of stunk.  I took a quick whiff of one of my armpits.  She was right.  The smell of sweat mixed with residual runoff from the lavender-scented sunscreen that I'd applied earlier was fairly potent.  I told her that I'd go shower, but that first I wanted a hug.  She said, "No."

I went upstairs and showered.

5:37 pm:  Our friends Will and Jessica arrived.  They're in the process of building a new house and were very excited to show us the architect plans.  I poured glasses of wine for the ladies and cracked open two bottles of Shipyard Export Ales for Will and I.  We adjourned to the deck for awhile to discuss life and watch the orgy of birds at the feeder.

6:10 pm:  I turned on the grill to warm it up.

6:15 pm:  I put 8 ears of corn on the bottom rack of the grill, still in their husks.  They'd been soaking in a large stock pot for the past two hours.

6:20 pm:  I turned each ear of corn a quarter turn.

6:25 pm:  I turned each ear of corn a quarter turn.

6:28 pm:  I watched in awe as one of our resident male Baltimore Orioles flew in and began feeding at the oriole feeder that we'd installed earlier in the summer.  Perching sideways on the feeder hanger, he craned his neck downward and took a number of substantial pecks at the orange half that we'd left.  Then, he took several gulps of grape jelly, which my wife had spread in clumps around the rim of the feeder.  Finally, he cocked his head sideways towards me and let rip with a series of shrill, scolding chirps before taking off for the maple tree at the edge of our property.

6:30 pm:  I turned each ear of corn a quarter turn.

6:35 pm:  My wife brought out the zucchini, which had been marinating in Garlic Expressions dressing since noon.  I moved the corn to the top rack to keep it warm.  Then, I arranged the zucchini on the grill and closed the lid.

6:42 pm:  I turned the zucchini with large, man-sized tongs.  My wife put the scallops in the oven, in individual clam shell dishes.

6:51 pm:  Dinner was ready.  I brought the zucchini and corn inside.  My wife took the scallops out of the oven and sliced the homemade bread.  She placed each of the clam shell dishes on a plate.  We all took a plate and helped ourselves to an ear of corn, a few slices of bread, and some grilled zucchini.

Dinner was absolutely delicious!  The scallops were perfectly cooked in the breadcrumb and stuffing mixture.  The corn was tender and delicate.  And the zucchini was to die for.  Will even commented that he usually doesn't like zucchini, but this zucchini was fantastic.

Like I've said before, you can grill any vegetable you want, and it will be absolutely fantastic.

We stayed on the back deck until about 8:15, when a few mosquitoes started to show up.

8:16 pm:  We went inside to the family room and spread out on the couch and easy chairs.  My wife went into the kitchen to get dessert, while we started watching 'Blazing Saddles'.

8:30 pm:  Dessert was ready.  My wife brought us all our individual servings of peaches layered with crumbled almond Italian cookies and home made whipped cream.  Again, it was absolutely delicious.

8:50 pm:  Will and Jessica had to take off to get their daughter from their babysitter.

9:01 pm:  I helped my wife clean up the dishes and load the dishwasher.  Then, we went back to the couch and popped 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' into the DVD player.

Don't %#cking mess with Lisbeth Salander!

The previous week, we'd watched the Swedish version of 'The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo'.  My wife had tried to read the book earlier in the summer, but she was having a hard time getting into it, even 75 pages in.  I'd never read the book myself, but we both enjoyed the movie immensely.  'The Girl Who Played With Fire' wasn't as good, but we still liked it.

11:15 pm:  We watched the end of the local news, while flossing and brushing our teeth.  I went upstairs to take out my contact lenses.

11:36 pm:  We turned on this week's rerun of Saturday Night Live.

11:54 pm:  We went to bed.

As you can imagine, my thoughts, impressions, and observations from the day of Slim Kardashian's wedding were overwhelmingly positive.  The day was definitely an enjoyable one.

Good coffee in the morning, a productive trip to the farmer's market, beautiful sunshine, some invigorating yard work...  a Baltimore Oriole sighting at the feeder...  dinner and drinks on the deck with good friends...  a delicious dessert made with local peaches...  an enjoyable movie...

For a Saturday during mid-August, you can't do much better.

Hopefully, President and CEO Momma K. is proud of her little FameWhore.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Business Lunch...

Zucchini...  It's what's for dinner!

Do you have a gas grill at the office?

You don't?

Then you really need to request one from management.

Aside from providing the opportunity to cook up a lunch of wholesome, delicious veggies, a community grill gives your fellow employees a good reason NOT to go out and blow twelve dollars plus gas on a fatty, sodium-laced takeout lunch.

If you haven't jumped on the veggie train and still eat meat, that's great too.  But if that's the case, you might want to lay off the ground turkey burgers for awhile.

I was stumbling around the kitchen this past Friday morning while the coffee was brewing, looking for something to take for lunch.  Since I'd be riding my bike to work, I was seeking something lightweight and portable that would easily fit into my miniature backpack.  On days when I ride my bike, I often put leftovers from the previous evening into a small plastic container and toss it into the backpack.

However, the previous evening's dinner was nowhere to be found.

Oven-baked salmon with corn and avocado salsa...  Needless to say, there were no leftovers.

As I foraged through the pantry, I was far from inspired.  But I happened to open the crisper drawer on my second trip through the fridge.

     "A-HA!" I barked.  "Fresh zucchini from the farmer's market.  I can grill them at the office."

I hastily grabbed two medium-sized zucchini, cut off the ends, and sliced them lengthwise into strips.  I placed the strips into a large zipper bag with plans to marinate them for several hours.

Unfortunately, the most recent bottle of Garlic Expressions, the wonderful dressing that we'd discovered almost a month ago and had been using for our veggie marinades, was empty... sitting on the counter, waiting to be tossed into the recycle bin.

Not a problem, I thought to myself.  I can just pick up some marinade at the market down the street.

This stuff is fantastic!  Click HERE to visit their website.

Having a small market within walking distance from the office is another bonus.  On countless occasions, the market has saved my stomach on days when I've had the urge to sell my soul at a dirty takeout joint.

After showering and dressing, I tossed the bag of zucchini into my backpack, along with my belt and thermos of coffee, and headed out the door.

The ride to the office was quite enjoyable.  The temperature was cooler than on previous mornings that I had ridden my bike.  As sweat started trickling down my temples, the lively breeze against my forehead felt invigorating and helped to cool me off .

The route I ride can best be described as 'slightly rolling', with an overall gain of elevation on the way into the office.  The first two miles take me along residential streets and a main route, before I escape to the back roads.  The last two miles take me along one of the many biking and hiking trails in Rochester that have been converted from railroad beds.
I was treated to an unexpected bloody massacre during the final segment of my ride.

As I was pedaling along the trail, I noticed movement behind the tall weeds lining the edge of the field.  All of a sudden, I noticed two eyes gleaming at me from behind the vegetation.  I put on my brakes and skidded to a halt.

From my seat on the bike, I craned my neck and peered over the weeds to get a better look.  I noticed that the creature had something in its mouth...  No, it was actually a beak.  A large red-tailed hawk was enjoying its breakfast.  The unfortunate main course was a badly-mangled squirrel with its innards hanging from its punctured mid-section in ghastly fashion.

     "Oooooooooh," I heard myself exclaim quietly, under my breath.

If you're a squirrel, you might
want to be somewhere else.
We remained still for another minute, watching each other in curiosity.  After a few moments, the hawk began retreating backwards into the field, still shaking its prey violently.  I watched in awe as it disappeared into the meadow before continuing on my way.

Several weeks ago, I had noticed a similar bird perched high above on the electric wires, which accompanied this particular section of the trail.

Perhaps this was the same hawk...  or maybe it was a competitor.

Having a front-row seat to nature's wonders is just another bonus of riding a bike to work.

A few minutes later, I cruised into our office parking lot and wheeled my bike in through the employee entrance.  I left my backpack at my desk, splashed some water on my forehead to cool off, and grabbed a quick drink from the kitchen before heading down the street to the market.

I selected a marinade that was heavy on the balsamic vinegar and molasses and light on the olive oil.  I also grabbed a box of quick oats for my breakfast, along with a packet of Uncle Ben's 90-second whole grain brown rice.  No, it's not as good as the fresh stuff, but it works in a pinch.

As I was heading towards the cash register, the display of fresh, local corn in the produce section caught my eye.

     Hmmmmmmm...  I can grill that, too.

The price of one bunch of corn was six for a dollar.  So I grabbed one.

Not one bunch...  one ear...  of corn.  I guess that's about...  thirty-three cents an ear.

Back at the office, I...

     "How much for a order o' ribs!?"

     "Uh, two-fifty."

     "TWO-FIFTY!  How many ribs do ah get with that!?"

     "Uhhhhh 'bout five."

"Ya got change for uh-HUNDRED!?!?!?"

     "FIVE!  ...  So ah guess that's about...  FIFTY CENTS A RIB, huh?"

     "Yyyyeah about."

     "Well let me get ONE!"

     "Right on...  One order."

     "One order o' ribs!"

     "No-no, no-no...  ONE RIB!"

     "One...  rib...  (?)"

     "I sho' am hungry!"

...I dumped about a cup of dressing into the zipper bag, shook it around a bit to evenly coat all of the zucchini, and put it in the fridge.

One of the biggest misconceptions about a meatless diet is that it somehow limits your mealtime options.  In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.  Once we stopped buying and cooking with beef, pork, and poultry, we discovered all sorts of new and exciting ways to cook with and incorporate fruits, vegetables, and grains into our meals.

As with many other types of cooking, the gas grill becomes much more exciting when you add fresh produce.  When we were still eating meat, the only foods we typically grilled were hamburgers and hot dogs...  occasionally chicken...  maybe a steak now and then.

Waiting for the grill...
Now, we grill anything we want.

Vegetables are so easy.  If they're big and fat, just cut them into thin strips, marinate them in anything you want, and toss them on the grill.  If they're smaller and bite-sized, just marinate them, and toss them in a grill basket or skillet.

And certain vegetables stand in perfectly for traditional meats.

Portobello mushroom caps can be marinated and grilled in place of hamburgers.  Larger carrots can be boiled until slightly tender and marinated overnight, and then grilled like hot dogs the next day.

As for corn, just soak it in water for an hour and toss it on the grill, husk and all, for fifteen to twenty minutes, turning several times during cooking.

Speaking of corn, I began soaking it in a shallow dish at around 12:30.  At quarter of two, I fired up the grill and tossed on the corn, followed by the zucchini.  Twenty minutes later, I loaded up my crispy veggies onto a platter and brought them into our break room.  While my bag-o-rice was steaming in the microwave, I carefully husked the charred ear of corn and topped it with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

When the the bell on the microwave went DING!, I emptied out the bag onto a plate, covered it with the zucchini, and slapped the corn next to it.

I took a bite of corn...

Delicate...  tender...  absolutely delicious!

The zucchini wasn't bad.  While it was cooked perfectly, the balsamic dressing didn't have as much 'zing' as I would have preferred.  But it was still worth the effort.  Next time, I'll make sure that I use the Garlic Expressions.

Really, if you don't have a grill at the office, you need to put in a request with your boss (or your 8 bosses) as soon as possible.

Grilling at the office will make your lunch hour much more enjoyable.

Best of all, your wallet and stomach will thank you.

The balsamic dressing sorta spilled onto the corn,
but that's OK since I didn't have any butter.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Apple Pancakes at the Campground...

Looks like the tide is out.  I could easily sit here
for another four hours and watch it creep towards the shore.

When staying at Mount Desert Campground, there are two different schools of thought that we consider when deciding how to spend our morning hours.

On the one hand, we may have gone to bed the previous evening with visions of a possible eighteen-mile bike ride on the carriage roads, or perhaps a four or five-mile hike spanning several mountain peaks.  The trails in Acadia are set up in a manner that allows you to bag three, four, or even five mountain peaks in a day, if you're feeling ambitious.  In that case, we'll typically get up at the crack of dawn, make a quick pot of coffee, and eat a simple breakfast of granola bars, fruit, or cold cereal.

On the other hand, we may have already tackled the almost-twenty-mile bike ride on the previous day.  In that case, we'll probably spend most of the morning sitting around the campsite in our lounge chairs, sipping coffee, and enjoying an eight-course breakfast.

This may take up to four hours.  But really, isn't that the point of camping?

There's plenty to do in Acadia National Park.  However, you could spend your entire day lounging around the campground, and you wouldn't feel guilty about it.
Look at the bubbly foam on top.
You can tell that's freshly roasted.
On the morning after our long bike ride, we did just that.

Our breakfast began as usual, with a mug of freshly brewed coffee.  When it comes to coffee, many folks take shortcuts on their camping trips, settling for a pre-ground, low quality blend of piss-poor robusta coffee, boiled and forced through a cheap campfire percolator.

This is fine...  if you're okay with drinking coffee that tastes like sweat sock and toenail cheese.

I, however, do not enjoy rancid coffee.

Using our Zassenhaus manual burr grinder, along with our large pour-over brewing cone and 60-oz stainless steel thermos, we enjoyed freshly-roasted coffee at the campsite all week long.

The coffee of that particular morning was Guatemala Huehuetenango -Finca La Providencia Dos, courtesy of Sweet Marias, which I'd roasted just four days earlier in my garage.

After we finished our first cup, I fired up the Coleman propane stove and started sauteing the vegetables that were leftover from the previous evening's campfire foil dinners.  Meanwhile, my wife began beating the hell out of six eggs.  When the veggies were ready, she nudged me aside, heated up the non-stick griddle, and assembled a diaper-sized omelet...  which we scarfed down within minutes.

     "Still hungry?" she asked, looking over at me.

     "Yeah," I said, as omelet detritus clung to the corners of my mouth.  "I could probably eat something else."

     "Let's do the pancakes," she suggested.  "We can cook up that apple leftover from yesterday's lunch."

     "Good call," I said.

That roasted veggie omelet wasn't enough.
And here is where I'll explain how to enjoy homemade pancakes at the campground, with very little effort.

As with coffee, many people's idea of making pancakes while camping is to buy the soulless bag of powdered buttermilk mix, dump some into a mixing bowl, and just add water.  While this is certainly convenient, it's not going to win any awards with the Food Network.

On the other hand, there's no need to haul along large bags of flour and sugar, along with containers of baking soda, baking powder, and salt from your home pantry.  Trying to open up a five-star bakery on the rocky banks of beautiful Somes Sound is not the best idea.

It would be messy and complicated, and you'd probably look like a damn fool.

Your best strategy is to mix all of the dry ingredients in pre-measured portions back at home, before you actually leave for your camping trip.  This gives you the best of both worlds, so to speak.

On the day before you leave for the campground, gather a mixing bowl and sifter, along with your measuring cups and spoons, and sift together the following ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup white flour
  • 1/2 cup any other kind of flour (i.e. whole wheat or white whole wheat)
  • 2 TBS sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
Add 1/4 tsp kosher salt and 1 TBS ground flaxseed to the mixture separately and blend in with a wire whisk.  These larger grains may clog your equipment, so you don't want to add them to your sifter.

The view from the fifth mile of our eighteen-mile bike ride.

Once the dry ingredients are blended, simply dump the mixture into a small zipper baggie.

That's your basic dry mix, which will provide enough pancakes for two people.  If you'll be cooking for four, simply double the recipe.

Also, if you think you'll want pancakes on more than one morning, I would recommend putting each batch together separately.  You could try making a giant batch and dividing into portions.  However, you run the risk of a batch of flat, limpid pancakes if all of your baking soda and powder makes it into one portion.

Yeah, I know that sifting is supposed to distribute everything together evenly, but I'd rather not take the chance.

On the morning that you want to make the pancakes, dump one of the bags of pre-mixed dry ingredients into a medium-sized mixing bowl.  In a separate container, combine the following ingredients:
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 cup of soy milk
  • 2 TBSP of light olive oil...  or applesauce.
Fold the wet ingredients into the dry mix until the entire mixture is evenly moist and coated.

Golden and tender.
Those are ready to go!
DO NOT over-mix.  There should still be plenty of lumps in the batter.  Set the mixture aside.

Next, it's time to make the warm apple mixture.  Find that lone apple that's leftover from the previous day's hike.  It's probably sitting at the bottom of your day pack, along with that crushed, half-eaten granola bar.  It may even be somewhat warm.

That's okay.  Just peel it and chop it up into bite-sized chunks.

Then, coat the bottom of a medium saucepan with a thin layer of maple syrup.  Add the apples to the pan, fire up the burner on the Coleman stove to medium, and stir the apples around to coat them with syrup.  Soon, your apple mixture will begin to bubble and boil.  At this point, turn the heat down to low and simmer for about ten minutes.  Once the mixture has thickened, remove the saucepan from the heat.

Now, you can make your pancakes.  Go ahead, move the griddle to the burner and turn the heat back up to medium.  The griddle will be ready when a few drops of water dance and sputter on the hot surface.

At this point, drop small scoopfuls of batter on...  well...  you know how to make pancakes.  If you really want an in-depth discussion on the art of cooking the pancake, see my earlier post about making buttermilk pancakes.

Once they're ready, heap them onto your plate and top with a generous scoop of warm 'n chunky maple-apple mixture.

Take your plate to your camp chair, along with your second cup of coffee, put your feet up, and enjoy your breakfast.

You've earned it.

They were really good.
But we weren't completely full until we had a bowl of oatmeal.