Sunday, September 28, 2008


Now when most people think of Toledo, they seem to think of "that place" at the Michigan/Ohio line that slows up traffic flow as they head further south. Or, perhaps they think of Jamie Farr Max Klinger on M*A*S*H. Even people I know who live there describe their hometown with a rousing and enthusiastic "".

From this point forward, however, one must consider it the home of the Maumee Bay Brewing Company. If you like beer, this place is a must.

Prior to Tuesday, I have had 11 of their beers since I was first officially there in the fall of 2005. My 12th beer (#505 overall) was, hands down the best one yet.

The Naked Saison ("Saison" is French for "season") was a spectacular deep amber color as a result of the malt (different malts yield different colors). All told, the drink was the perfect balance of aroma, sweet or floral), taste (sweets and caramels), body (medium or so) and carbonation. The finish had a barely detectable bite of hops (not that "pucker until you fall over" sort of bite you sometimes get).

In my opinion, this is a superior beer. 5 out of 5. No doubt about it.

One thing puzzled me for a short bit. The literature on site mentions that it is "spiced with sugar and seeds of paradise". The sugar part was certainly obvious. But a seed of paradise?

A quick Google search brought up one possibility. Yup, you guessed it. That 'ole botanical favorite of so many people (not me). You know the one. It has a palmate leaf arrangement with serrated margins....

Of course that can't be it, so, it must be Amomum melegueta from Africa's West Coast. They are about the size of a cardamom seed. As I understand it, they taste bad if used as singles. So the solution? Get this: grind it up and add alot! Go figure!

Monday, September 22, 2008

#503 and #504

As you may have gathered, I like beer and have enjoyed it for a few years now. I don't mean I enjoy it like a college guy; I enjoy if for the variety and fun and what it can bring to a meal. I have developed over the years an appreciation for a good food, too. Appetizers, main courses, and the occasional desserts. Those that can pull them off make the world a better place!

So, it was with great delight when I learned last year that the Big Bear Lodge offered the occasional beer dinner. Get this. Five different beers with five courses. What more could a beer snob ask for? Last Thursday, I made it to the beer dinner highlighting beer from the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery.

The zucchini/cheese toasts were okay, but who in the world would have thought that a blue cheese and roasted grape pizzetta would be awesome? It was exactly that! A little 6 inch pizza with blue cheese and grapes! Holy crap! I could have eaten them all night. The Indian Brown Ale appears to be a IPA (India Pale Ale) and brown ale hybrid. While it was a bit cold and bit hard to gather the aroma, it was a well hopped brown ale, basically. Very dark (as you would expect) with lots of caramel and brown sugar tones. A bit on the thick side, it was sweet with a complicated hoppy taste (the IPA part). A fine way to start the evening. I was offered another pizza but knowing I hade four more courses coming, I declined.

Heirloom tomato salad was the next course. It was some lettuce, tomatos (duh!) and parmesian cheese crisps stacked like a sandwich and drizzled with a vinaigrette dressing. While I totally dig tomatos in salsas, for example, this salad did not do much for me. ( The fact I may have some tomato allergy issues didn't help.) Don't get me wrong - it was good - but would have been perfectly okay with a "regular salad."

The "beer", on the other hand, is a must. The Midas Touch Golden Elixir (basically a beer-wine-mead combo) is literally a modern version of an ancient recipe taken from what is believed to be the tomb of King Midas (not the muffler guy). Vessels recovered from the tomb in 1947 were recently analyzed using methods of Molecular Archaeology. It was concluded that the vessels held beer! The known ingredients were turned to the brewers at Dogfish Head and they whipped up the Golden Elixir. The barley, grapes, honey, and saffron all combine to make a super beer. Very very sweet, as you might imagine. Give it a go.

Beer #503 came with the main course: The 90-Minute IPA. It was a deep yellow/orange color, but the first clue for the beer was the aroma. Very "flowery". I knew the hops were really going to come through in the finish just by the smell. It was not particularly dry on the palate, but the finish lingered for longer than I had hoped. Fortunately, thanks to the wizards who planned the meal, the Peach Chicken with fresh Corn Cakes offset the hoppy taste. Straight up, I would give the beer a 4 out of 5. Keep in mind, though: I'm not really an IPA guy so I guess this is good! Scuttlebutt at the dinner said it was $60.00 a case....

By this point, mind you, I was basically done. No, not drunk-done (I'm not in college anymore); it more like "my stomach is going to burst" done. The pizza, toast, salad, and chicken packed me full. Imagine yourself after a Thanksgiving meal, you're not even close. I was hoping the waitstaff could take me to my car on a dolly.

While an unbuckled belt and nap where in order, we pressed on to the Intermezzo: cheese truffles with the End of Summer Harvest Fruits. Basically, cheese balls rolled in stuff and grapes. Blue cheese with bacon, feta cheese with walnuts, and goat cheese with pecans were the main part while the grapes were for palate cleansing between the cheeses and beer. #504 was the Palo Santo Marron. Absolutely fantastic. Palo Santo is a tree from Paraquay. 10,000 gallon vessels made from the wood (which is so heavy it sinks in water) accomodate this beer while it ages to perfection. The color was basically black (think motor oil) and aroma of vanilla was very strong. It was heavy and creamy on the palate. Unfortunatley, in a good way, I can't even begin to describe the taste. Complicated and awesome is an understatement. The finish was smooth. 5 out of 5. Hands down, the best beer of the night.

Dessert (like I had any room for it) was a Plum and Golden Raisen Tart with the Raisin D'Erte. While the tart was great, the beer wasn't. I have had it before. I can't get past the odd color (brown-purple) and the funky taste. Odd ingredients can make for a great beer, but I think raisins should be used in gorps and trail mixes, not beer.

All in all, a fine evening. While this was at least my third beer dinner here, it was the first I went to solo. A tip of the hat and clink of the glass, as my tablemates put it, to my "Brothers and Sisters in beer!"

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Grand Day

The 'ole hawkwatch was wonderful today! Sure, the blue skies were a bit rough (it is hard to see birds at a distance on a blue background), but it was a great day to see one of nature's greatest spectacles.

Over 58,000 Broad-winged Hawks were recorded today (all with their Garmins running well, I'm sure).

A few photos from the day...

Some Osprey were cooperative, too...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Built-in Garmins

I'm a proud owner of a Garmin. You know what they are, right? Those little dashboard jobbers that help people stay on course. They show a little map and even talk to you as you drive. It asks you "Where to?" You push a few buttons. Fastest course or shortest one? Push a few buttons more and, voila: (with that robotic woman's voice) Turn left on Allen Road. Gas on right. I bought one before I went to Texas and I don't regret it. They are super little devices.

Lots of wildlife divide their time between breeding grounds and wintering grounds. Birds especially. Some will even fly to the other end of the planet. They don't use Garmins. Or a Magellan. Or a TomTom. Their GPS is internal. I am not writing here now trying to explain how it works (there is alot we still don't know), but I love to see it in action.

I had the better part of the day to spend at Lake Erie Metropark today. Hawk migration is well underway and I wanted to see what there was to see. It turns out, as some of you well know, Lake Erie Metropark is one of the best places in the United States (if not the Western Hemisphere) to see migrating birds of prey. The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge now manages the count (known from now on as the Detroit River Hawk Watch). You can read about it here.

So today? Well, a little slower than I expected. "Only" 1,266 birds. The picture here shows a few dozen Broad-winged Hawks. Multiply views like this a few times over a few hours and there you have it. Getting hundreds in an hour suddenly isn't so hard!

Each bird has what is basically a built-in Garmin. "Where to?" South America. Fastest or shortest? Yes! It turns out for these birds, the fastest is the shortest! I can hear "her" now: Fly south. At Lake Erie, turn west. Turn left in Michigan and proceed 1,300 miles to Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Continue 2,300 miles to South America.

Tomorrow has the makings of a wonderful day at the hawkwatch. The flight ended late this afternoon. The cold front has cleared the region (which means favorable winds and rising barometric pressure). It is mid-September which means literally tens of thousands of Broad-winged Hawks have their GPSs programmed for destinations as far away as Brazil and Peru.

I am not suggesting tomorrow will be the flight, but I certainly think there will be a flight worth watching.

Just for grins, even though I know how to get there, I might program my Garmin tomorrow for "Lake Erie Metropark."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

How It All Started

I'm pretty certain the Gray Catbird is one of the most overlooked birds in the state of Michigan. I don't mean overlooked in the sense that they are common and people can't find them. I mean overlooked in the sense that they are common and most people look right past them and ignore them. I never will.

This morning, I had a chance to walk a trail at Lake Erie Metropark. In addition to watching a Sharp-shinned Hawk get totally outclassed by a Northern Flicker in aerial maneuvers and bumbling on the identification of warbler (it was finally decided to be a Tennessee Warbler), I was amazed at how many Gray Catbirds were there. I would estimate 1 billion. Okay, not that many, but they were certainly in abundance.

One cooperative individual decided to sit pretty while I photographed it. While it sat there in the sun, I was really given a chance to appreciate that stunning gray color. Yes, I'm serious - stunning gray color. If you look close, you can see that neat little black cap. You can't look past the chestnut color of the undertail coverts. What a bizarre place for such a cool color.

Of course, for the Catbird, there has to be something more that leads us to its name, right? Yup, they "mew" like a cat. You can listen to it here (but listen through to the end). If that does not sound like a cat, I am not sure what does.

Almost every time I hear one, I am taken back to college. My advisor suggested I take every class possible to round out my classwork for what was anticipated to be a career as a high school biology teacher. By "every class possible", he meant all of Max Adler's classes. He taught a million of those one credit courses, one of which was "Field Bird Study." So for six weeks, every Monday, beginning at 5pm, we would hit the road to a local hotspot in Washtenaw County (I went to school at Eastern Michigan University) and go birding.

I honestly don't recall where we were, but it was either County Farm Park or the Mathai Botanical Gardens. In either case, buried deep in a dense thicket, was a cat mewing. Except it wasn't a cat. It was the Catbird. I can still remember Mr. Adler ( I never called him Max) getting very excited about it. The class stood in amazement as that slick looking gray bird walked out of the tangle and mewed again. Awesome.

Now, some people might wonder why in the world a college guy would care about a bird who thinks its a feline. I can't answer that. I just know I got a kick out of it and wanted to see more. That class was the ticket. I could go on with my list of birds from that first spring as a birder: Eastern Meadowlark, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, White-throated Sparrow, just to name a few. I would spend those warmer spring nights on my porch, sipping a cold ginger ale, (after all, I wasn't yet 21) while flipping through the field guide and wondering if I would see "one of these" or "one of those."

I often think back to where I have been in the past twenty years since college. I have tromped around the Alaskan tundra looking for birds. I have been in 12 foot Atlantic swells in a 60 boat (with most people chumming off the stern) looking for birds. I have hiked to the top of mountains that grow from deserts looking for birds. I've met countless people along the way, some of whom I consider dear friends.

So what in the world would entice me to spend more and more time studying birds? Well, its obvious now, right?

The mewing, little, gray bird with the orange butt.

Thanks, Mr Adler! I sincerely mean that!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Seeing More Red

When is a Redstart not red? When it's yellow.

I had the opportunity to be out and about yesterday. All in all, the day wasn't bad...once the rain passed. I hit the trails at Lake Erie Metropark with camera and bins in hand. While I still have not found that Philiadelphia Vireo, I was with a birder who racked up two more life birds: Black-throated Green Warbler and Wilson's Warbler. Ahhhhhhh, I remember those days. A one mile walk in your home state and you get multiple life birds.

All in all, the birding was good. I can't complain. I managed a photo of an American Redstart. Some of you might be wondering "Uhhh, Paul, I don't see red. You travel all over country and you can't even get the colors right on these things?" Well, folks, it is not a breeding male. They happen to be the flashiest black and red you have ever seen, quite frankly. This is either a female or a first year male. I am pretty sure it is a female.

I think the photo could have been crisper. I really dont like that stick that is in the way. I was thinking of cutting it and then waiting patiently for the Redstart to return to the same spot so I could try again.

Ignore that last sentence.

I also managed a shot of a dragonfly. I can say with 100% certainty it is a Meadowhawk: Sympetrum ihavenoclue, I believe. Actually, I am not sure. Meadowhawk? Yes. Beyond that? Dunno. I know it's not a Yellow-legged Meadowhawk, because the legs are not yellow. (Fortunatley for me, Meadowhawks aren't color impaired like Redstarts...which can be yellow, remember?) It is not a Band-winged Meadowhawk (there is hardly enough room for a soloist, let along a whole band). Unfortunately, the face can't be seen, so I can't confirm White-faced vs. Cherry-faced Meadowhawk.

I am sure there are a few lurkers here who probably know. They have real names, but they call themselves "Stylurus" and "Nannothemis" (which happen to be names for various genera of dragonflies) so their true identity can remain hidden. Secret names online often work. Sometime, people try wearing glasses. It worked for Clark Kent, but Lois Lane was clearly an idiot.

I have to work for the remainder of the week. I hope to get some more time on Saturday. Long range outlooks suggest a chance of rain. I have the day off. You know what that means, right? Rain, for sure.....

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Simple But Stunning

Last January, I had the opportunity to go pheasant hunting. I managed to bring home three sets of breast meat. Here I was this morning thinking all had been eaten. But when I reached in the freezer to pull out a frozen chicken breast, I pulled out a pheasant breast instead!

Now, I suspect there are approximately one million ways to cook a pheasant, but I chose what is the best way, or so I have been told.

After cutting the breast fillets away from the keel, coat them with flour. Add liberal amounts of salt and pepper and pan fry in butter.

A third grader can do it.

There is a chance I will be doing more pheasant hunting this winter. I look forward to trying more recipes. I will keep you posted.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Parker No. 555....I Think.....

If you read my post "Time Machines", you know that part of reason I really dig an antique coffee mill is the opportunity to follow pure logic and use field marks to identify it.

All in all, identifying a mill is a lot like identifying a bird, insect, or flower. Various combinations of shape, pattern, and size hopefully lead one to the correct identity. The field guide? The MacMillan Index of Antique Coffee Mills.

A recent addition to my coffee mill collection gave me the chance to put my brain to work. A few things immediately stand out. It is made of wood and is taller than it is wide with dovetailing at the corners. The handle is on the left side. The grinding handle has a wooden knob and a wing nut on the central shaft. The drawer that collects the grounds has a wooden knob, as well. A small metal panel (with signs of japanning) slides counterclockwise to allow access to the hopper on the top front right corner.

So, with all those seemingly disconnected clues, where does one begin?

Read the label.

If you compare my close-up of the label with the original mill photo, you can see that maybe 20% of the label is left. Oh, but there is some key info in the tattered mess. The large letter "P" is obvious. A small tidbit of a second letter is also apparent. Notice that is appears to have a pointed top with a slanted left side. The only letter in the alphabet that looks like that (assuming the entire word is written in the same font) is the letter "A". Notice, too, the "P" is the largest visible letter on the label. Also, if one assumes uniform spacing between letters, the name on the mill has to be a short one vs. a long one. If it was a longer name, the "P" would have to be more to the left to make room on the right, yes? That is just good ole fashioned advertising: make your name the biggest word on the label.

So what coffee mill manufacturer has a short name starting with "PA..."?

Parker. No doubt about it.

The following six letters can be seen on the second line: I-M-P-R-O-V. The vertical stem of a seventh letter is apparent, as well. If it is an "E", the word would clearly "Improved" or something of the sort.

The third line clearly starts with an "O" and what might be an "N". Not much to go on. We'll come back to that.

So, using the MacMillan Index, the Parker section starts on page 571. (Really. Remember, this is a book with over 1000 pages.) It should be a simple matter of page turning to find the match. But there was no match. A double check and a triple check turned up nothing. No exact matches.

So, what is close? With a ruler, I measured it out at 6 3/4" x 6 3/4" x 8 1/2". A perfect match for the No. 555 mill (pictured on left and taken from the Index). At least the size is anyway...

Lots of good matches here. The kink in the grinding handle with the wingnut and wooden knob. Check. A handle on left side. Check. The drawer with the wooden pull knob. Check. Dovetailing. Check. Remember the "O-N..." thing? Read the label here. It says "One Pound Mill" right on it. Check! The hopper access is a screw lid on the top front right corner.

Damn. I don't have a screw lid. I have a small panel that slides. So close, but it is not quite there. Also, the dovetailing is different. Mine has fewer "tails." For that matter, the label is different, too. There is no way, in a million years, one can turn what is left of my label to the label shown in the original advertisement.

Well, according to the Index, the seven different types of the "Victor" Wood Canister Mills were made from the late 1870's to the late 1920's, but the label design changed. Aha.

Remember that second line on the label that suggested "Improved"? I think what I have is an improved model (ie: later model) of the No. 555 mill. What was improved? The hopper access. My sliding panel won't come off. How long would it be before someone lost the the screw lid on the earlier models? The more parts that come off the mill, the better the chance they get lost. That is why is can be such a treat to find a mill with all its original parts. Things get lost (lids drawers, or wingnuts) or broken (knobs) and then replaced. What if the manufacturer did a version 2.0, so to speak, to fix a design flaw based on the user's repeated problems? Or, what if it was simply easier for them to make a slide lid instead of a screw lid?

I took a few minutes and did some checking online and found a guy who had the exact same mill. He was also a bit puzzled, but he came to the same conclusion. His is in much better shape, but someone refinished the wood. I am pretty sure that impacts the price of it as a collectible in a negative way. His metal is still nicely jappaned, too, but I still have parts of the label. So, whose is worth more? I have no idea. Knowing a bit about mills, I would think I could easily get $50 for it. Maybe twice that? I can't be sure. I hope to find out soon.

What did I pay for it? $20.o0 at a garage sale.

Saturday Night Addendum: I checked one of my coffee references. Apparently, the Parker No. 555 mill can go for prices ranging from $150 to $220. The upper part of the range would be for those that in good condition while the low range would be those in conditions that are less appealing. How common (or uncommon) a mill is would impact these figures too. So, assuming the low end of $150, my $20 purchase could be unloaded with a profit of over 700%. Ya gotta like that!

Now, if only my retirement funds would do that.......

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ladies, Reds, and Golds

I took the opportunity today to do some birding at Lake Erie Metropark today. It was only one thousand degrees today, but it was manageable.

The main purpose of my birding was to secure another bird for my park list. Sure, the Red Knot was #243. But, late yesterday afternoon, I got #244: American Golden Plover. The fields by the Wave Pool are totally burned out and brown. About a half dozen birds were mixed in with the billions of Killdeer. The photo, taken today, is poor simply as a result of distance lighting, and the clown behind the camera, but you get the point. By the way, Walt found these, too.

The main purpose of my birding today was to secure a Philadelphia Vireo. It would be both a county and park bird for me. It seems like there were multiple birds in the park yesterday, so I figured I would try my luck today. There were none to be had. I did have a reasonably cooperative Red-eyed Vireo. They were all over the place.

A few days back, I also managed a photo of a Painted Lady. Why can't birds be this easy to photograph?