Sunday, December 4, 2011

Four and Twenty Blackbirds...

...perched in a tree...

We have been inundated with migrating starlings this past week. At some point a sizable flock decided to take a break in some of our backyard trees.

Alfred Hitchcock, anyone?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bucks and Hawks

So this morning the hubs woke me up with "quick come look in the backyard!" I'm thinking, crap, did it snow? Is the groundhog out there rooting around in the garden again? Is the neighbor doing his weird calisthenics in spandex on the driveway? What?

Turns out it was much bigger than all that. Much bigger. And had antlers. Sharp pointy antlers.

He just laid in the grass for close to an hour, not seeming to be in any great hurry to run off. The sun kept rising in the sky and he still just laid there. When he finally stood up, it was clear why he wasn't running and jumping all over the place - one of his legs was dangling at a weird angle and he clearly wasn't putting a lot of weight on it. It was actually really painful to watch him try and make his way around the yard. He seemed lost, like he wasn't quite sure what to do with himself.

A few nibbles of some honeysuckle and my hostas, and I guess he felt it was finally time to try and move on.

He hobbled down our driveway and up the street and then disappeared. I can only hope that he finds a quiet safe place to rest and let that leg heal. It broke my heart a little to see such a powerful magnificent animal in such pain.

So as if that wasn't enough excitement for one morning, in the midst of our vigil watching the buck, I noticed that our huge hawk was perched in the branches of the silver maple, observing as well.

And then our cheeky mocking bird popped into the picture - I guess he didn't take too kindly to having a hulking raptor of a bird messing with his territory. He comically bounced from limb to limb, challenging the hawk to take a jab, even though he was perhaps 1/6th the size. You've got to hand it to him, he's got pluck.

Yet another reason why I love living in Pleasant Ridge - it's like living in a nature preserve in the middle of the city.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Aardvark Tofu

The hubs and I are officially addicted to one of the tastiest hot sauces we've come across in our almost 30 years, and it's called Secret Aardvark. Leave it to my husband to discover this obscure cult classic - we were lazily watching some sort of "food porn" show on Cooking Channel and they were featuring a sandwich food truck based in Oregon. His curiosity piqued, hubs immediately googled the truck and was taking a peek at their menu when he noticed that they offered Secret Aardvark to accompany all of their dishes. Not only that, but they also sell bottles of it. So what's the big deal? What is this stuff and is it really that good?

Oh yes, yes it is.

Deliciously habanero hot with a flavorful roasted tomato base, this hot sauce has it all. A nice lingering burn with a background of garlic, a little smokiness, and little Caribbean flavor, it's amazing - not too watery, not too thick. And we've gone through four bottles in four weeks. So, of course, we promptly ordered a whole case this week.


We've been hitting paydirt lately with our CSA - lots of greens, cabbage-stuffs, squash, sweet potatoes, and broccoli - delicious fall veg. Since the fridge was getting a little crowded, I decided to throw together an impromptu Chinese-influenced stir fry tonight for dinner. I am proud to say everything in this delicious vegan dish is from our CSA except for the tofu and the cremini mushrooms. Pretty simple to whip up, too:
  • mince a clove or two of fresh garlic and then cut up a small white onion, a handful of cremini mushrooms, several medium-sized heads of bok choy, a bunch of scallions, and a nice fat head of broccoli
  • cut a block of extra firm tofu into cubes
  • pour about a tablespoon of dark sesame oil into a hot wok and saute the onion and mushrooms for a few minutes
  • add in the tofu and drizzle in a round of tamari and several splashes of Secret Aardvark and saute for a few minutes
  • dump in the bok choy, scallions, broccoli, garlic, about 1/4 cup of water, and a spoonful of hoisin sauce
  • keep tossing for a few minutes until the greens are wilted but tender
The Secret Aardvark is clutch in this dish - just be careful, once you try it you'll be hooked ;)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Herbalist

Several weeks ago, in a desire to preserve some of this year's flourishing herbs, I had carefully snipped my way through the garden and filled a large colander full of insanely aromatic sprigs.

I ended up tying three bundles with string, covering them with paper bags to keep off the dust, and hanging them in a cool, dry room upstairs.

  • catnip - for the kitties, of course
  • culinary mix - oregano, rosemary, thyme
  • potpourri mix - bergamot, lavender, hyssop, yarrow, eucalyptus

Today I checked in on the herbs and was pleasantly surprised to find that they had dried nicely. I de-stemmed the dried leaves, gave them a gentle crush, and bottled and bagged them up. The catnip went into a tightly-sealed baggie and has been placed OUT OF THE CATS' REACH; the culinary herbs went straight to the pantry for future dishes; and I divided the potpourri mix between two small muslin bags, perfect for throwing in a closet or room to keep things smelling herby and fresh. I wish you could have smelled the house while I was crushing those leaves...

It worked out perfectly that the herbs were ready, as I needed some dried oregano, rosemary, and thyme for a Sunday night soup I was whipping up. In a fit of CSA-inspired hunger, I created what I am affectionately going to call "Deep Woods Soup", due to the very earthy and hearty ingredients used: Field Roast Apple Sage sausages (cut into coins), leeks, cremini mushrooms, wild rice, kidney beans, garlic, and fresh tatsoi (a delightful Asian green, similar to bok choy).

The base for the soup included a pint of canned tomato juice and a pint of whole tomatoes, as well as the aforementioned herbs and dashes of smoked paprika and cayenne pepper. I must say, this was a definite winner, great for cold fall evenings. Serve it up steaming hot with a few slices of my Aunt Bonnie's oatmeal bread, and ladies and gentlemen, you're in business. Bring on the week!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Heavenly Blue

It's finally here, one of the garden moments I've been waiting for all year - the morning when Clark's Heavenly Blue Morning Glory unfurls its first tender petals.

Last winter when we were knee-deep in snow and frigid dreariness, I was curled inside busy researching seeds for 2011 and came across this listing at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. A true blue is a very rare color to find in the flower world - sure, there are plenty of purples, violets, lavenders, and eggplants, but I'm talking about BLUE. Despite all of the warnings from my mother and other gardeners about how morning glories can simply take over a garden with octopus-like writhing tentacles, I knew I had to give this beauty a chance.

Point, click, buy, sprout, transplant, and wait. I had to stop and catch my breath this morning when I looked outside and finally saw the first vivid swatch of electric blue dotted with a soft lemon yellow center.

Yes, it did sort of end up taking over a corner of the garden, but let's face it, in early fall, many plants are already starting to crisp, brown, and head downhill for the year, anyways. The lush green leaves and bright blue flower cups are a welcome infusion of life, in my opinion. I love the art nouveau-esque coiling and vining of the tendrils.

This plant would be a great choice for a trellis, fenceline, or handrailing.

Kiss the Cook

Something about cold weather moving in that makes a cook want to hunker down in the kitchen and create things...delicious things...

Mocha Dark Chocolate Truffles - homely but divine

Goat Cheese and Balsamic Onion Tart - made with local Capriole goat cheese

Pumpkin Beer Bread - made with The Bruery's "Autumn Maple"

Sprouted Lentils - ok, so these created themselves - if you haven't tried sprouted lentils you need to - they have the peppery nutty bite of lentils and the sweet succulent crunch of fresh pea shoots