Saturday, June 30, 2012

Loons calling

We hoped the loons would call while we were at the cabin. Some of our family has never heard them in real life. Their rising calls are so unearthly and haunting they make me feel like someone is calling and approaching from some nearby, unseen dimension.

For several days last week, a pair with two babies, dove and fished not far off the end of the dock.

We were fascinated by their parenting and could have watched for hours. Maybe we did. There were times when the babies rode the back of a parent as it swam. Perhaps they were tired? Or maybe just because. Most of the time one parent stayed on the surface to guard while the other one hunted. Diving beneath the surface, he would disappear for minutes, then suddenly pop up twenty yards away trailing weeds and a snail in his beak. Swimming toward the babies he would shake off the weeds, expertly turn the snail without losing it, crack it slightly and present it soft side first. Other times they returned with small fish that were greedily devoured. Hour after hour they did this. The babies would often put their heads under the water to look for their mom and dad as if to see what the heck the hold-up was and whether it was going to be snails or minnows this time.

Eagles, cormorants, herons – anything that could possibly be a predator flying past caused these beautiful red-eyed birds to give out warning calls. They were so close to the dock we could feel their mournful wails echo off the lake. When danger was perceived, one parent would quickly swim away, calling, as if he was a decoy. The other would swim close to the babies who stayed usually remained on the surface unless the risk escalated, then they dove, like when two eagles circled overhead.

One afternoon Shaun, our son-in-law, took the boys out in the canoe and unintentionally headed toward the loon family. The mother quickly rounded up the children and the father charged the canoe calling out warnings. It was so brave and so quixotic, who wouldn’t admire his willingness to fend off a great monster to save his children?  Oh right. Am I getting too anthropomorphic? No. Certainly not.
This was the family of loons about fifty feet away. Not a good pic, but you get the idea.
That’s our youngest granddaughter, Ava Lou watching with us. The water is about 3 feet deep there. And no, she didn’t have her life jacket on, but like good loon parents, we were keeping a sharp eye. You can see Denis poised to grab her. She had no fear.

 Here's a link from the Ornitology Dept at Cornell that has a nice description and sound of the Common Loon.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Gluten/Dairy Free Cilantro Lime Sauce

Tomorrow we are leaving for the cabin for a few days. Some of our family will be joining us and we are really looking forward to seeing them. Since the cabin is about 30 miles from town we plan food ahead and hope we don’t have to resort to eating bony little crappies and burdock roots. So I am doing some make-ahead recipes. Denis wants to do an antipasto plate and asked me make this cool sauce to go with it.

Seems like more and more people, well at least ones I know, (our family included) have food issues, like needing to be gluten-free or dairy-free. Two reasons to like this sauce. Plus it goes well with grilled chicken or fish or fresh vegetable sticks or even chips. Gasp.

I was surprised to find it in Food & Wine Magazine (May Issue) in a column about chefs’ favorite off-the-path cafes. One of them mentioned Brasa in St. Paul and I recognized it, more surprise, surprise. That’s a big no-no for me. That I would not only recognize, but have eaten at a place they recommend? I love to hate that publication because they can make an idolatry out of pig bellies, and of course wouldn’t allow me to enter their precious establishments because I wear Land’s End sandals. Anyway, Brasa’s is a place we’ve often eaten at because it’s affordable, and we like their faux Caribbean menu and rotisserie chicken that comes with a sauce accompaniment. So what do you know, they publish the recipe for the sauce! And now I have to temper my judgment. Sorry. Sorry.

Creamy Cilantro Lime Sauce is quick and easy to make. You can cut back on the heat by getting milder peppers or reducing the amount. Last time I made it, it was so hot we had to cut the heat by adding more mayonnaise. And what is weird? Denis LIKES it even though he HATES cilantro. 

Creamy Cilantro Lime Sauce

2 large jalapenos, seeded and chopped (I cut back on this. Too many Scandinavians around here.)
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
2 T minced fresh ginger
2 T minced onion
1 T fresh lime juice
¼ c. water
1 c. mayonnaise
1.4 c. finely chopped cilantro
In a blender, puree the peppers, garlic, ginger, onion, lime juice and water until smooth.Add the moy and cilantro and pulse a few times. Season with salt. Serve. Will keep in refrigerator for several days. I can’t say how long. Mine has kept a week. It also makes a good salad dressing.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Smoke your pipes

Last Sunday Denis and I spent a lazy afternoon sitting outside a coffee shop reading and people watching. I enjoy imagining their lives and wondering if I’d make it in life if I were them. At a small table directly across from us just a few feet away on the sidewalk a hip young couple, whose eccentricities were obvious, sat down – a feast for the eyes. I especially liked the guy’s shiny leather huraches and her black leotards and spiky heels. He got out a pipe, filled it, tamped it down and lit it with a vintage lighter. Then he surprised me by leaning toward her cupping his  hand over hers to light her pipe. As they sat smoking, she pulled out a small chess board and they became engrossed in a game.
 It was a busy street, lots of pedestrians and traffic, many stopping at Izzy’s Ice Cream shop a few doors up. The pace was slow and peaceful. Then, the parking spot opened right in front of us and four Harley hogs growled into the space and backed in at an angle so their rear wheels touched the curb. Although I can put a story on a person, I don’t like to think of people tightly woven into stereo types simply because they ride Harleys or wear huraches. Perhaps I kid myself. These four looked like aging gang members. The one who bumped the edge of the sidewalk about two feet from where the couple sat nearly flattened them as he revved his engine so it backfired and coughed a stinking black cloud over all of us. As he swung his leg off  we heard him say, “There, that’ll teach you to respect me.”

All I did was raise my eyebrows, but my imagined response was far more violent. Such small incidents help me understand why people go to war. I can’t help but think of so many places in the world that desperately need peace and justice and it’s not coming as far as I can see. But there will come a day, please, God. “The Lord will cause men to ehar his majestic voice and will make them see his arm coming down with raging anger and consuming fire.” (Isaiah 30:30)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Chickadees leave the nest

Eight babies hatched. You can't see them all here.
Peeping in through the hole.

This week the baby chickadees flew the nest. Although we watched closely, we missed the launch. Yesterday morning they were gone. Eight babies seems like a huge family for two little birds. By the end, the parents were looking very haggard. All day long they played tag team coming with bugs and wiggly, green worms and dee-dee-deeing one another.  Every other day we climbed the ladder, lifted the lid and looked inside to see their progress. We tried to do it when the adults weren’t around, but sometimes they caught us and by the sound of their scoldings they would've liked to thrash us to death.

They are fledged out. Note the bits of green moss at the edges.

From inside our screened in porch we could watch the parents flit in and out.
After they left, I took the house down to clean out the nest. It was clearly the work of artisans and professionals. It had at least three inches of green moss padding the bottom and a finely woven nest on top. Wool snatched from the clothesline, hair, downy feathers and bits of shredded bark were some of the materials that made up their cunning little home.

My mother once told me that the Ojibway Indians, who lived on an island near her parents when she was growing up, used to line their babies’ cradle boards with moss. Later, I learned that moss is very absorbent and has antiseptic qualities. I’m guessing our baby chickadees did not get diaper rash. There is so much knowledge like this that we’ve lost to modernity. I miss them. It’s possible another pair will raise another family yet this summer.