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Archive for February, 2009

Board resting perpendicular to hill showing how much it has risen in the last few weeks.

Board resting perpendicular to hill showing how much it has risen in the last few weeks.

Something strange is happening in my yard. I’m not sure what to make of it. You see, there is a strip of lawn on the east side that was flat. In fact, it has always been the only part of my yard that is flat. Because of this, it’s the site where we set up canopies and chairs when we have get-togethers in warmer weather. I think we even did some lawn bowling there one summer. Why? Because it’s flat – real flat. Flatter than the proverbial pancake. You put a level on it and the bubble floats in the middle. It’s the kind of “broke” a person with absolutely no money would be. You know, like a giant skillet came crashing down upon it. Or like the sound a G string on a guitar makes when it’s a tad under-tightened. A straight line connecting two points on a plane, directly across from each other, would have nothing on this lawn. If you traveled back to the pre-Columbus years of the early fifteenth century and described this little stretch of grass to the average person, he would have said, “Oh, like the world, right?”

I just want to drive home the point that it was a flat level area. Always has been since we built our home here about ten years ago. Flat. Flat flat flat.

Then I noticed something when I pulled up to the house a couple of weeks ago. What was once a level strip is now a hill; a small hill, but a hill – and it’s been growing! The photo above shows that it’s about a foot high now. It runs along the length of that strip for about twenty feet. It was not there last summer! Believe me, I would have noticed. When I mow the lawn I save that area for last, because it’s the easiest to mow after about an hour of pushing the lawn mower up and down hills. You know, because of it’s flatness…

So what’s going on? Am I witnessing plate tectonics along the New England coast? Could this be the beginnings of a new volcano? Is there a really big mole tunneling beneath?

I have a theory, but won’t know if it’s correct until spring. This little area rests just west of an elevated area in the yard. That elevated area is often wet, in fact, I have cranberries thriving along its edge. When we first built the house, that level strip used to flood. I had to dig a trench to carry the water away from the foundation. I am thinking that water has collected beneath the lawn and froze in this long, cold winter. This is likely a wicked big frost heave.

So, I could be looking at one soggy patch of grass this spring. Time will tell…

Postscript: July 21 – Meant to tell ya’ll, it’s all been long flat a’gin…

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Betsy watching a Bald Eagle sitting on the ice.

Betsy watching a Bald Eagle sitting on the ice.

Betsy and I went eagling on Saturday. It was the first relatively warm day in a couple of weeks and we had to take advantage of it.

The Bald Eagles come to the Connecticut River from Maine and the northern provinces every winter. They seek out open water where they fish, and sometimes do a little duck hunting. It’s a regular phenomenon that draws thousands of eagle watchers every year.

This is the sub-adult Bald Eagle Betsy's looking at in the above picture.

This is the sub-adult Bald Eagle Betsy's looking at in the above picture.

I usually lead tours for different groups interested in seeing these striking raptors. There is nothing like watching someone see their very first eagle. This is a bird many have seen pictures of, and of course recognize as our national symbol, but have never imagined they’d actually get to see – and up close!

I took a break from leading trips this year, but still needed to get my fix in. The way I see it is if these birds are going to go through the trouble of migrating to an area within twenty minutes of my home, I owe it to myself to see them.

It’s good medicine.

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White-footed Mouse tracks

White-footed Mouse tracks

There are mouse tracks all over the snow in my yard. I’m pretty sure they are made by White-footed Mice, since that’s the species I come across throughout the year. They spend most of the time beneath the snow, but venture out in the evening.

The mouse tracks are often accompanied by another set of larger tracks, these made by our Jack Russell, Maddy.

Maddy tracks

Maddy tracks

Being a terrier, Maddy lives the dream of one day catching one of these little varmints. She knows they’re under there, and is intent on ferreting them out. She actually snaps the twigs growing out above their stronghold, with her teeth, in order to make the tunneling easier. It’s an action I imagine is on the edge of the use of tools. It reminds me of film I’ve seen of crows using sticks to forage. It shows a capacity for problem solving.

Maddy's rump

Maddy's rump

She hasn’t caught a mouse yet, at least that I’m aware of, but the dream lives on. I’m not quite sure who I’m rooting for. I’ve got nothing against the little mousies, but there’s a part of me that would love to see Maddy’s tenacity rewarded.

"There will come a day..."

Incidentally, I wrote and illustrated a children’s book about the life cycle of the White-footed Mouse (“A Mouse’s Life – Scholastic). I guess that’s why I feel a certain affinity for them.

From "A Mouse's Life" (John Himmelman, Scholastic)
From “A Mouse’s Life (John Himmelman – Scholastic)

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Mak’n Chili

chiliCooking chili is a ritual. It is all about the process, which for me, a highly goal driven man, is a welcome change of pace. Here’s how it goes:

    1) Empty the sink and clear the counters (Must have a clean, wide playing field)

    2) Set all the ingredients out on the counters. Admire them. They will soon join to create a force of deliciosity.

    3) Place laptop on counter – safely away from the action. Cue up a “The Honeymooners” DVD.

    4) Break out the tall fancy beer glass for the imminent black & tans (Guinness and Harp or Sam Adams Cherry Wheat).

    5) Get crackin’!

Chef of the Future

Chef of the Future

The Honeymooners is a vital component to the process. It still makes me laugh out loud, even though I can recite every line before it is spoken. There’s something comforting about it. I think it adds to the quality of the comfort food I’m making. A happy cook cooks well, no?

The black and tans are also vital, for much the same rationale. The reason for this particular selection is that one of the ingredients of the chili is Guinness Stout. One for the chili… a couple for the cook… And, not surprisingly, as they go down, the laughs at Ralph and Norton go up.

Black & Tan - this one made with Cherry Wheat Ale

Black & Tan - this one made with Cherry Wheat Ale

I probably make a chili about four or five times a year. In February, I enter the Killingworth Lions Chili Cookoff. I won last year with the recipe below (it was the first year I experimented with adding the potatoes). *This year’s contest is on February 4 – the chili’s bubbling away as I type this.

Chili Recipe:

1 1/2 – 2 pounds of ground beef (or turkey)
1 1/2 onion – diced
2 small potatoes (gnocchi works, too – try it!) – cubed
Heaping teaspoon of minced garlic
1 can of black beans
1 can of pinto beans
1 large can of diced tomatoes or tomato sauce (sometimes another smaller can is added)
2 cans of tomato paste
1 (4.5 oz) can or chopped green chilies (sometimes 2 cans)
2 tablespoons of chili powder (give or take)
A few dashes of Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons of ground cumin (sometimes more, sometimes less)
1 to 2 teaspoons of ground red pepper
1 teaspoon of hot paprika
1 teaspoon of hot sauce
Half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon
Salt to taste

1 РLightly saut̩ the diced potatoes in a teaspoon of chili powder, half an onion, and a little vegetable oil. This sears in the flavor and keeps them from getting mushy from cooking too long.

2 – Cook the meat until it is no longer pink. If you are using turkey, cook it in beef broth (half can – other half goes in the the main mix) and Worcestershire sauce. If I happen to have steak sauce on hand, I’ll add a few dollops. Jack Daniel’s steak sauce is best.

3 – Combine ingredients in a crock pot and cook on low. I tend to go easy on the hot spices in the beginning, adding them in small amounts as the concoction cooks. It’s always easier to add than subtract. Stir when you think about it – but with a wooden spoon (oh, I don’t know – it’s kind of a Mexican Zen thing).

I generally cook it slowly for 2-3 days until it’s pretty thick. I think the cooling process overnight, followed by the next day’s reheating intensifies the flavor. There are some foods that taste better as leftovers – chili’s in that category.

*Postscript (2/4/09) – It won!

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