A FEW MORE PICTURES FROM OUR (BRIEFLY) COLORFUL FALL

It didn’t last long, but at least it was there, however briefly. I didn’t think I took a lot of autumnal pictures, but between August and September, Garry and I too more than 3000 pictures, so I guess we were busier than we thought. I sometimes take a couple of hundred bird pictures in the morning, before coffee! In between the cooking yesterday, I got some great pictures of the last set of orange-billed Cardinals. Each set of fledglings look different than the others. The DNA in these birds is working overtime.

And I still have bunches of River Bend pictures from both me and Garry. So we’ll just celebrate fall a little while longer. It’s still “fallish” outside and the oak leaves are still green.

AND THEN THE WIND BLEW AND THE LIGHTS WENT DARK

I had a nice set of posts planned for this evening until the wind came up and the lights went out. We got a lot of wind which, apparently brought down some trees and although it is usually dark here at night, it was even darker than usual. A few minutes ago the lights came back. We really do need to get a generator. We don’t need one that will run everything in the house, but it needs to run the well pump, the boiler, the hot-water heater, two refrigerators and a small freezer, and a few lights or maybe the television, though the odds are that if the power is out, the cable is also out.

This was going to be a cooking post. I got myself into kitchen “go mode.” I made soft pretzels and potato soup that is close to vichyssoise, but somewhat less delicate and more toothsome.

It all started because we inherited a 5-pound bag of small potatoes. There are not many things I hate doing in the kitchen, but peeling potatoes is one of them. I’d rather wash the floor. It’s that bad. So, in the end, we moved the potatoes to a new home, bought a few big potatoes and I made potato soup.

SOUP INGREDIENTS:

  • Peel and cut-up into little bite-size pieces about 5 cups of potatoes. IF you are going to cream the soup completely, you don’t have to worry about making all the pieces the same size. If you like chunky soup, you can have process the potatoes and put the rest in as pieces. Or, you can leave it all as pieces. I like creaming the whole thing, but sometimes it depends on what I put into it and how much I want to chew. Also, depending on the size of the spud, you’ll need between three and five large Idaho potatoes. We needed three. The remaining two are going to become potato salad to go with dinner tonight.
  • Chop a medium size ( about 1 cup) of onion
  • Chop up one bright pepper. I went with yellow, but red or orange would have been fine too. Anything but green. They are bit acidy for this soup.
  • 3 cups broth (we used lamb broth because we had some frozen, but you can buy broth in the grocery. Get the low-salt variety. It’s easy to add salt, but hard to make it go away.
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons chicken base (powdered chicken stuff)
  • 1/2 pound finely diced bacon. Owen sprung for the expensive stuff that’s more meat than fat. I actually had to add some olive oil because there was very little fat coming off the bacon
  • 1/2 cup half & half or heavy cream or sour cream
  • half a stick of butter
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic

IN A 3 TO 4  QUART SOUP POT: 

  • Fry the chopped up bacon. When the bacon is cooked and nearly crisp, add chopped onions and pepper. Cook until soft.
  • Add the broth, water, and soup base. Bring to a boil.
  • Add the potatoes. Lower heat and simmer from 10 to 15 minutes or until the potatoes are soft to a fork. Try not to overcook the potatoes. Leave a little life in them.

PROCESSING

Set up your food processor — you know, the one in the closet you never use? You might want to let the soup cool a bit. It can be rather lava-like. Pour half the soup into the food processor and crank it up. Pour pureed soup into a big bowl. Add the rest of the soup to the food processor plus the cream or half-and-half or sour cream. Some people use cream cheese. That sounded too sweet for me. Pour it all back into the pot. In theory it needs to be thickened, but it’s already very thick. Nothing liquidy about it, so I didn’t thicken it at all. Any thicker and I could have used it to lay bricks. I turned on the cooker (induction cooker) to very low (simmer is at 2 usually) to keep it warm. It was served with fresh chopped dill and my fresh, soft and salty pretzels. Perfect this time.

Generally you can serve this soup as is. You can also add other spices. I threw in some rosemary for the smell more than the taste and some Za’atar. Salt and pepper are up to each eater. None of us needed any. I chopped the chives to put on top of the soup for decoration. Other toppings include sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, crumbled bacon, scallions (green onions) or some pretty chopped peppers. You can use whatever you want. We just had it with the chives and forgot about the cheese and sour cream. Oops. We did NOT forget the pretzels.

You can serve this soup chilled or at room temperature. Hot one day, cold the next. This recipe is for one night, four people and it’s really a meal. Very filling. Do NOT serve it before the roast turkey. You’ll wind up with an awful lot of leftover turkey.


SOFT PRETZELS

I’ve modified the recipe a bit. They are softer and a bit stickier. Perfect. The egg “wash” at the end makes the pretzels crisper or softer. I used a lot of egg (and I still had a lot left over). I think ONE egg would be more than enough. The recipe calls for two, but it’s the egg of overkill.

DOUGH

  • 1-1/2 cup of warm (tepid) water
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 packet active dry yeast (2-1/2 teaspoons dry yeast)
  • 4 cups of white flour (down from 4-1/2)
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil (up from 3). Use 2 in the dough and save the other two to put on top of the dough while it rises

Add the dry yeast (1 packet or 2-1/2 teaspoons) to the warm water, salt, and sugar. Let stand for five minutes until it is frothy. Add everything else into your (I hope KitchenAid) mixer with the dough hook attached. Mix 4 or five minutes on low. It will form a dough and you don’t have to knead it. Leave it in the mixing bowl (why get another bowl dirty?). Use the remaining two tablespoons of oil on top of the dough, then cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place (note that SOME recipes refrigerate the dough which makes it much crispier. I don’t. If you’ve been to Philadelphia, these are classic Philly soft pretzels. Add your own favorite mustard or cheese or (ta-da!) soup!

Go sit for a few minutes. Your ankles are probably swollen by now.

BOILING

  • 1 beaten egg for washing the pretzels before adding salt and baking. More eggs means softer pretzels. If you want a little crisp, leave off the egg wash
  • Coarse (Kosher) salt
  • Large pot of boiling (rolling boil) water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda mixed into the water. I have no idea what the baking soda does but I assume it does something.

About an hour after you leave the dough to rise, dump it out of the mixing bowl onto a flat surface, knead a few times (you might need to add a little bit of extra flour) and cut it into 8 pieces. Pretend it’s play dough and roll it into ropes. If you feel creative, you can try to make them look like “real” pretzels. Personally, I gave up and just twist them a bit for decorative purposes. It’s easier to get the twisty ropes onto a big tray. When the water and baking soda are boiling, boil each pretzel into the boiling water for 30 seconds, then lay each piece on the try. When you’re done, paint with the beaten egg and add a lot of coarse (Kosher) salt. We like them very salty, but if you don’t, use less salt. Some people put sugar and cinnamon on them, but if you do that, add a little extra sugar into the dough — at which point you have dessert.

BAKING 

  • 450 F (230 C) (Preheat your oven if it requires preheating) for about 15 minutes. I had to turn the tray so the pretzels browned evenly. I use a countertop oven that run a big cooler than the big oven, so it needs the fifteen minutes. In the big oven, closer to 10 or 12 minutes.
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes. Mine need 14 or 15. I also turn the tray around so they come out evenly browned all around.

I made the pretzels first because they needed more time for the dough to rise and also, if I turn on the induction cooker and the countertop over at the same time, the lights go out. Who knew the lights were going out anyway? Dinner was great and we have leftovers, but not a lot. This recipe is for 4 people and can be doubled or tripled. It’s filling — the essence of comfort food.

PARENTAL ORANGE CARDINALS AND A BIG TEENAGE FLEDGLING

The things that go on in my backyard. My word. The birds have relationships! And babies! My wounded three-legged squirrel is beginning to look healthier, albeit one of his rear legs is not working. He does seem to be managing, though. He climbs all the way up to the deck where he gets good eats, usually twice a day (early in the morning, just before dark in the evening) and water to drink. His tail is regrowing. I’m sorry his rear leg is not healing better, but it does not seem to be infected. There was also a patch on his coat that had been torn out, but that’s growing back too. It’s the bad foot that worries me, but I’m glad to see that he is able to climb all the way up to the deck for a couple of meals a day. That may mean he will survive the winter. And maybe the winter won’t be too bad.

Mama Orange Cardinal – From the feather-color point of view, she looks like a boy, but she is much smaller than the boys. And she hangs out with the fledglings and does motherly bird things.

When the wounded squirrel took off and the tiny chipmunk left, the Orange Cardinal family came for a visit. I’m not actually sure which of the adults is male and female. I’m assuming the one I saw today was Mama because her baby was almost as big as she was and she was doing motherly things to her I’m sorry to say this, but ugly gawky baby. Of all the baby anythings, baby birds are the least adorable. They grow up to be lovely, but my oh my, what plug ugly fledgling. I can only hope this is a “baby swan” thing and one day, this baby will plume into a gorgeous adult.

This may be the second set of fledglings because there were some other very young babies about four or five weeks ago. My current thought is that the current mom of this set of fledglings is daughter of the original big male Orange Cardinal and she bred back to him to produce these eggs. This isn’t unusual with Cardinals since big males collect the ladies and try to keep them to himself. They are highly territorial and one of the interesting things to see are two male cardinals who have accidentally or intentionally flown into the others’ territory. They fight in the air like the airplanes of World War I. It’s quite amazing to see.

I didn’t see Orange dad today, but this is the first day I haven’t seen him. He comes and goes every day. He has a knack for vanishing as soon as I find my camera, but one of these mornings I’ll get him. Time is on my side. Dad has become more red than orange, but his offspring — and I think the current new mom is one of his offspring from earlier in the season. Birds interbreed these days. Maybe it’s lack of a larger flock. I got some interesting pictures and in a few of them, you can see the development of color in the feathers. The Mama Orange Cardinal doesn’t look like a normal Cardinal female. She is a much more solid color than the ladies usually are.

THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I live in the woods so I’m no stranger to the little woodland creatures I share real estate with. So when I entered my bedroom the other night, I wasn’t totally surprised to see that something was off. A vase that is usually on a lamp table in the corner, was now on the floor. And next to it were two, fresh, green acorns. Something, or someone, was clearly afoot.

We’ve found squirrels scampering around other parts of the house before. It presents a problem because we don’t want to hurt the cute little guys but we definitely want them out of the house. Once my husband chased a baby squirrel out of our powder room and straight out the front door. Another time he caught one hiding in the fireplace in a large Tupperware container and deposited him outside, away from the house.

So we assumed we were looking for another squirrel. We searched the bedroom and hallway as well as the second floor laundry room. We found nothing. So we went to sleep.

Around 2:30 AM, we were startled awake by the two dogs leaping off the bed and charging down the hallway, shrieking at top volume. The dogs were in an unusual frenzy and we were on immediate squirrel alert. We turned on the lights and searched the whole second floor but again, found nothing out of the ordinary. So we got back into bed.

Remy

A few minutes later, we clearly heard scratching and scurrying and the dogs went crazy again. We got up and went through the squirrel search routine yet again to find the source of the animal noises we had heard. Nothing. By the third time this happened, we decided to stay in bed and leave the police work to the dogs. This went on for a solid hour. Just as we would start drifting off to sleep, we’d hear scratching and/or stereo dog hysteria in our ears.

Lexi

I wish I had a satisfying ending for this story. But the next night, and every night since then, have been quiet, so maybe the dogs scared our nocturnal guest away and he’ll find another house in which to store acorns. I hope so, because I’m not looking forward to another episode of nighttime drama!

Our two dogs in a quiet moment together.

OCTOBER IS JUST STARTING, BUT IT FEELS OVER

A Photo a Week Challenge: October

Usually we get all the leaf color changes in October, but this year, because of the drought, it showed up in September. So although this is the beginning of October, the color and the pictures come from September. Anyway, it’s only the second of the month, so the likelihood of our having gotten outside to take pictures is pretty small.

The other night we had a rain and wind storm and most of the leaves blew down off the trees. It will be interesting to see if winter comes early too.

BLACK & WHITE – PETS AND FARM ANIMALS

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: Pets and Farm Animals

Pets and farm animals, all in black and white. Well, it’s a pretty black & white world we seem to be living in, so why not?

Cee's Black-White

ORANGE CARDINAL BABIES

First there was the big male orange Cardinal. He was orange and he stayed orange. Then along came and orange lady Cardinal and together, they made a few orange baby Cardinals who are growing up. Orange. Now, what’s particularly interesting about this is that they have found other groups of orange Cardinals. They have found a group of them in North Carolina. Cornell University’s Ornithological Department has begun to research orange Cardinals. They are trying to figure out whether or not this is a genuine genetic alteration or has something to do with nutrition or air or water … or something else. Although we are dead broke and in debt and getting even more in debt, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and I signed up for a monthly contribution of $8.00 a month. Not exactly a huge contribution, but I can probably squeeze that much money out of our tiny little budget.

The thing is, more than a billion birds have disappeared over the past 12-years. Maybe more. Originally, it was assumed that the reason for the plunge in bird life was habitation destruction. But now, they are wondering if it isn’t something more than that. We nearly lost our Robins and Blue Jays to viruses and bacterial infections. Many finches have eye infections. Certainly destruction of habitat is a major problem, but it isn’t the only problem. If we don’t research our birds, we won’t have birds and I won’t get to listen to the morning song I hear every summer’s morning.

A NUTHATCH BEFORE THE WIND AND RAIN

Today it was beautiful outside. The trees were golden and orange and red. But tonight, it’s going to rain and the wind shall blow up quite a storm, so there’s a very good chance that by tomorrow night, the leaves will mostly be gone. That is the peril of autumn. Rain and wind or early snow often ruins the display. But we got some good days and I got some lovely new pictures of a nuthatch. Because the autumn is about to pass, all my posts today are visual.

We simply could not watch the debate. We watched maybe five minutes and it was pretty much what we expected. I like the birds much better.

OH THAT FOLIAGE!

FOTD – September 26 – OH THAT FOLIAGE!

I have not had a really great day. Actually, I was doing just fine until suddenly, I wasn’t. I had a great morning and even finally made my banana bread. Different recipe and it came out just about perfect. The the migraine arrived and a few other things, probably connected to having been on antibiotics for close to a month at this point. My innards are not behaving well. To explain how well they aren’t working, we had mac & cheese for dinner. The ultimate, purely American comfort food. But it was comforting.

Garry took pictures yesterday too. I haven’t processed a lot of his yet because I keep falling asleep at the computer. I had a good morning, but the afternoon didn’t go nearly as well. I was hoping the banana bread would make up for the lack of a functional afternoon, but alas. It’s just a banana bread.

So here are pictures and I truly hope they will suffice.

STRANGE OUTCOMES FROM THIS STRANGEST YEAR

Who knew that  2020 would be a wretched excuse for a year? The climate is collapsing. Half of the U.S. is burning down, another quarter is flooded … and we up here in the northeast are 10 inches low on rain. That is a lot of missing rain. Considering that we all live on wells — there is no “city water” here — we are at the point of fearing lest our wells dry up. Meanwhile, all over the world there is a slow-moving but lethal pandemic. It’s not speedy as the 1918-1919 flu epidemic was. It’s probably not going to kill half a million people, but it’s doing pretty well. Europe is beginning to see a resurgence. The rebound that everyone expected seems to be inching up on us. The U.S. has exceeded 200,000 dead as of today, which is the first day of the Autumnal Equinox. We aren’t into our “second wave” because no one is sure we’ve entirely gotten past our first wave.

The economy is in tatters pretty much everywhere and there has been an international rise of nationalism. Trump is the worst, but Boris Johnson isn’t far behind. Why is it that when the world is at its most fragile, the autocrats and dictators seem to crawl out of every corner. And for even more obscure reason, we (and I don’t mean me or you, but “we” in a far more general sense) seem to accept this as normal. Maybe not initially, but ultimately we get tired of fighting the battle to be free.

Are we free? When was the last time you felt a real sense of freedom? I’m 73 and I’ve been buried under financial, emotional, legal, and child-rearing issues for my entire life. I have cooked every night and am still mostly cooking. I’m worn thin. Yet between my feelings of loss for the world that used to be normal and my very real sense of despair that we are losing the wilds and even our weather, I have weird periods of optimism. Garry says he has this feeling he never loses that ‘something wonderful is going to happen.’ He doesn’t know what it will be, but something.

Today I learned that the prices of houses in this area have gone up by nearly 20% since last year. Why? Because people want to get out of the city, get out of the crowded suburbs. Get out of there little plots of lawn and garage and move to someplace where there’s room between them and their neighbors. In other words, here. It turns out that living in the boonies, which no one wanted 20 years ago is now what everyone wants. Houses just like this one are selling like well, hotcakes. I’ve always wondered where hotcakes are selling so well, but that is a question I’ll never get answered.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Our house in winter

The problem is I don’t want to leave the neighborhood. For all the problems of living in a small town with too little business and far too few facilities, I love the wildness of it. I love fresh corn and the friendly cows and goats and horses. What I really want is the same house I live in, but flat. Without stairs. I’m not sure that this is a viable option, but not having those stairs to haul myself up — and Garry’s getting to the “hauling” stage himself — would make life so much easier for both of us. And I don’t want to lose my woods and my birds and my squirrels. Even though there are many repairs this house needs, it is still saleable now that we’ve installed a new boiler. The other things it needs are basically small, but that was a biggie.

The house today

 

So for all the terrible things that happen, some little piece of good happens too. It’s not a big thing. Not something ‘wonderful,’ but not bad either. It’s nice to be in the black (not racist, just bookkeeping) for a change. I’m not sure what we will do. My best guess is that we will stay here because we don’t want to leave the area and maybe getting a better chair lift would solve the problem. The idea of moving is terrifying anyway. I remember when we moved here thinking they will have to bury me here because I’m never moving again.

I guess we’ll see if that turns out for be true.

VOTE YES ON ONE !

I know there are a lot of important issues. COVID-19. Climate change. Anything having to do with Prez 45 and/or any of his cohorts. The collapse of our and the international economy. Systemic racism and an out of control police department. Pointless wars. Destruction of our national parks . I can’t even list them. I get dizzy and physically ill.

But here’s an easy one for you, if you happen to live in Massachusetts:


VOTE YES ON ONE!


What, you ask, is ONE? It’s the big car dealers effort to make it impossible for you to get your car serviced wherever you want to get it serviced because they want all the money for themselves. Not only would this cost you a lot more money for repairs, but the dealers are not equipped to handle that many cars for servicing.

The thing is:

THERE IS NO PERSONAL DATA ENCODED IN YOUR CAR’S KEYS OR COMPUTER. Not to mention that when you put our car in for servicing, you are already giving the mechanic your keys, registration, and YOUR CAR. If you are that concerned about what your mechanic is going to do with your car and all that personal information — which you just handed to him — why are you giving him your vehicle, your phone number, and your registration? They don’t need to go searching for your data. You have already given him all of it. No one is going to work on your car without this information, not even an oil change or or an inspection. None of this information is encoded anywhere in your car. Not in its computer, circuitry, keys, or anywhere else. But it is on your registration and anything missing is on your driver’s license — which you also have to hand over.

Every time you need work done on your car, you are giving away all the information anyone who wants to rip you off could possibly need. There is no information in your car which would enable someone to take control of your car — or cause you to crash. Or attract sexual molesters to your home. No one needs to go searching for it in your keys (it’s not IN your keys) or in your engine’s computer (it’s not in there, either). If you have a bad feeling about the guy working on your car, go somewhere else to get work done on it.

That’s the joy of saying “YES” to ONE. You can go wherever you want.


VOTE YES ON ONE!


Your car’s functional data (engine, parts, etc.) isn’t a secret now nor has it ever been. Anything locked in your cars circuitry has to do with the functioning of your car’s engine and its parts. As far as the rest of it goes, you’ve already your mechanic your phone number, address, registration, AND keys, so what are you worrying about? And why? If you vote no on ONE, what you are doing is putting about 20.000 mechanics out of work, closing all the private garages in Massachusetts. Now your dealer can really rip you off. Again. At a time like this with so much unemployment, is this the best time to take a whole profession and eliminate it so the big dealers can be the ONLY ones who can work on your car? What if you live in the country? What if you bought your car in another state? What if you traveled a long distance to get your car at the best price — and now you’re stuck trying to find some dealer willing to work on your vehicle?

If they pass this law, you will be forced to line up at a dealer to get any work done on your car. As it stands right now, if you have work to be done under warranty, it can be months before you get them to find a date. Ever tried to get a recall notice dealt with? They never have the part and if it’s important, you can be driving around for months waiting for them to get around to you.  No matter what work you get done at the dealer, it always costs more than it ought. If you want “standard” work (oil changes, tire rotation, tune ups, etc.) done on your car, your dealer will charge you at least twice as much as a local mechanic would charge AND take a lot longer to boot.

How much do you trust your dealer? Or your dealer’s worker’s mechanics? Do you believe they are less likely to rip you off than the guy you’ve been going to for years? Why would you think that?


VOTE YES ON ONE!


Yes means “Yes, I want the freedom to take my car to anyone I want. I don’t want to be trapped by my dealer.”

We may not have a lot of power in this world, but at least we can still choose where we get our cars fixed. Freedom has to start somewhere.

THE BIRDS ARE EATING LIKE CRAZY

I’ve been feeding birds for a few years now and I’m pretty used to their feeding habits. Generally, they come in groups. Flocks of Goldfinches, a couple of Cardinals — orange or red and some orange babies, too. Lots of Nuthatches. The odd Blue Jay. Catbirds. Bluebirds. The other kind of Nuthatch. A few wandering Warblers of the green variety. Some miscellaneous birds I don’t always recognize and of course, a fair number of woodpeckers. Sparrows. Carolina Wrens. These days, a few Robins have come back. They were hit by a virus and went missing for a while. As did the Blue Jays.

Big Woodpecker

This year, we haven’t had the huge number Brown-Headed Cowbirds we had last year. We had a few at the beginning of the season, but none since. We also haven’t had as many squirrels — regular Gray Eastern Squirrels — but we’ve had quite a few Red Squirrels and a few Least Chipmunks. No full-size chipmunks.

Putting water out on the deck has helped too. With all the small wet areas dried up during this drought, the birds and the squirrels all come a drink from the bowl. I fill it every other day, washing it out in between fillings. And now, every morning when I look out the window, I see dozens of birds. All different kinds. Instead of the flocks and sets, they come dashing in, hitting the feeders as if they’ve never seen food before. Many of them have gotten quite fat, so roly-poly that you wonder how they can sit on the edge of the feeder and actually get their beaks in there for the food. They look like brightly feathered tennis balls. Especially the Cardinals are hefty eaters!

I know the Goldfinches are eating a lot because in October they will fly to Toronto (or nearby) to breed, then, in December, come back here again. I sometimes think we are the last safe patch for the birds, saving this last little bit of greenery. It makes me sad because I know when I am not here to feed them, no one will feed them and they will die as so many others have already done. That’s why I urge as many of you as I can to feed them. Feed the birds and feed the squirrels. If we are lucky enough to restore this world, it would be very nice to have some living things in it from these times.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I was reading a book called “A Boy And His Dog At the End of the World,” by C. A. Fletcher who is also the narrator. I couldn’t finish it. It was beautifully written and very well read, but it was painful to hear. I am already brooding over the destruction of our planet and there’s only so much sadness I can deal with. Twenty-twenty has not been a good year.