Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

My cyclops pumpkin from last night can't talk (cuz he's just a pumpkin). But, if he could say something, it just might be "Happy Halloween!"

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dan, I Am?

Forrest Gump is one of the coolest movies ever.  If you have not seen it, what in the world is wrong with you?  

Spoiler Alert!

Basically, this simpleton, played by Tom Hanks, lives an extraordinary life. He survives a crippling childhood condition, show Elvis moves, plays college football, saves his platoon in Vietnam,  becomes a ping-pong champ, meets multiple Presidents, starts a shrimp company, runs his butt off (multiple cross-country trips), gets rich on Apple computer, marries a trainwreck named Jenny (the love of his whole life), and has a kid with her before she dies.  Great movie.  Tragically sad and very fun at the same time. It is a must see. 

A great character of the movie is Lt. Dan Taylor (left in the picture).  (The fact that Gary Sinese got screwed out of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor is not the point here.)  His whole family has members that have died in all the American wars dating back to the Revolutionary War.  After his platoon got jumped in 'Nam, Forrest Gump saves him.  Lt. Dan loses his legs, falls into depression and over the years refinds himself.  By the end of the movie, he has "new legs" and gets a squeeze.  

A defining moment of his life is when Hurricane Carmen is destroying the Gulf.  Dan, strapped onto the mast of Gump's shrimp boat (they are partners at this point) is challenging the storm.  He is staring life in the face and life can't get him.  All the while, he is rocking and swaying like you would not believe. A lesser person would have died up there, or at least puked their guts out.  

That could have been me this morning.

With license in hand, gear ready to go, and my bow tuned, Kevin and I were to head off to Lenawee county for some deer hunting. With a tree stand lashed tin place about 12 feet off the ground in 15-20 mph winds, I can only imagine that would have been Lt. Dan, rocking and rolling for hours.  Flinging arrows with any hope of accuracy would have been even more silly.  Light rain was moving in the area, too. While light showers do not match the power of a  category 4 hurricane, it would have sucked just the same, I'm sure. Oh, it was quite chilly, too.

Needless to say, we bailed.  With all the obscene weather, the deer likely would have done would we did - change plans. We spent breakfast at Cracker Barrel.   Deer?  They would have likely hunkered down in a bramble or some such thing; those bucks  perhaps looking for their "Jenny."

So, the thought pf swaying trees and rain were enough to keep us out of the woods and prevent me from doing my Lt. Dan Taylor impersonation. 

For now.....

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Big Whoop

(Apparently, this did not post on the 23rd...)

Cranes are cool. No, not these. Okay, those are cool but I'm talking about these

Standing 4 feet tall (!), these gray stunners are sadly not found in Wayne County very often. Oh sure, they can be seen here and there,  but not like that can be a just few counties over.  If you live in Southeast Michigan and want to see thousands of cranes, the Haehnle Sanctuary in Jackson County is just the place to see 'em.   

With Mom and Dad in tow and maps in hand,  I shot off to Jackson County.  It was our intention to cruise farm fields and look for them feeding.  Cruise we did.  Look we did. See them, we did not. Despite  the maps showing all the feeding fields, we As Dad put it, we checked all the right fields, just not the ones with the birds.

The real highlight of the night was not the farm field, but the evening flight. During the fall months, instead of roosting among the corn stubble, the Sandhills take flight and head to the safety of the marsh at the Sanctuary.   Not one. Not even hundreds.  As singles, pairs, or dozens at a time, thousands are recorded by the end of the night.  To add to the spectacle, know that it is not done in silence.  The call of the Sandhill Crane can not really be described as far as I am concerned. Check it out here.  

All that said, there was a "star of the show". Sort of.  37-07, as he is known to researchers, does not quite get it.  He's a Whooping Crane.  Others like him are hundreds of miles away.  As a part of a Federal Project to help this species recover from the brink of extinction, some were basically raised in captivity and released back into the wild.  Ole 37-07 never really got that "migrate with kin folk" idea. Sure, he is one of tallest birds in North America, but he is not tall in brains.  So, each year, he moves between Michigan and Tennessee. That is, as I understand it, NOT AT ALL what the researchers were hoping for. 

As for us, so what.  Mom and Dad were diggin' it.  Lost or not, it is one of the rarest birds on the planet.  With barely over 500 in both the wild and captive populations, who cares if it is lost.  Me?  No, I can not count it on my Michigan list.  Too much Federal involvement with the project means birders can't count it.

As the sun was setting, the marsh was absolutely golden. The sun's angle, the brown marsh vegetation, and some of the distant trees combined for one hell of a sunset. If you look close, in the middle of the marsh, you can see the Whooping Crane. Sorry, it was 1.8 light years away. That was the best I could do!

As all good evening's should, the night ended with a cold one.  A tiny pub in Chelsea was the perfect place for a   Boddington's Pub Ale, with that crafty little widget gizmo, and some wine for the folks.  That was all it took to wash done the spinach and artichoke heart dip.  Damn good fun.

In fact, the night was so fun, I did it all over again on Tuesday night with a good friend!  Damn good fun!  Again!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

#826 - Pumpkin Time!

(Apparently, this did not post on the 13th!)

Autumn and Halloween are awesome.  Free candy.  Parties everywhere.  Fun.  What more could you want?

Oh, yeah.

Pumpkin beer is in season, too.

So many times, the clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg combo will kill you. Pumpkin beers can be pretty dangerous. In fact, as I understand it, some brewers don't even add pumpkins!

#826, the O'Fallon Pumpkin Beer, from the O'Fallon Brewery in Missouri, is what pumpkin beers can and, for the most part, should be.  A medium amber beer with a slight cloudy nature, the well balanced smell of the autumn spices is very welcoming.  On the tongue, add pumpkin to the mix (yes, they add the real thing!) and you have all the aspects of the year's greatest season dancing on your palate.  The finish, is a bit off, I'm afraid, as the beer is not quite sweet enough to stave off the hops and residual cloves.   A hint of those bready tones comes through as well.  All in all, get your hands on this while you can.  Good stuff.  4 out of 5.

That said, while the season is still young, pumpkins in cans can be had year-round, right?  Get two cups of the mushed stuff, add 2/3 cup of brown sugar, with dashes of lemon juice, zest, allspice, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Mix it all up over medium heat for about 20 minutes. It is great stuff on toast and keeps the cold cereal doldrums to a minimum.  Keep it in the fridge.

Ahhhhh, pumpkins....

I Could Tell You.....

While today's forecast called for rain in the afternoon, I thought I would manage my way to the 'ole hawkwatch.  Ya never know what might drift on by....

While I did not see anything new (new species are hard to come by when you park list is at 246 species), I managed to nab a few pictures of a Bald Eagle that was dinkin' around.

What made this shot so cool was the idea that I managed to capture three separate Bald Eagles all at the same moment in time.  Yeah. Really.  I could go on and on about how great I am or how great my gear is.  I could tell you that I climbed a mountain in Nepal (naked and without supplemental oxygen) and learned from some goofy guy in a robe and ugly hair how to lure Bald Eagles in close with a whistle and finger-snap combo.  

Or, I could tell you I learned some good techniques from my buddies Josh, Bruce, and Mike about how to make good photos (as opposed to taking good photos).  I could tell you reading alot goes a long way.  I could tell you to practice and cross your fingers, too. I could also mention that Photoshop has a wonderful little function called "cut and paste" that lets you take snippets of one photo and dump it on to another.

I could also shut up now.

But first, I, I should tell you the most important fact of the day - this young Bald Eagle caught the fish.

Now, I'll shut up.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Pats of Butter

Jamie Oliver is a damned good cook.   His iPhone app has some real keepers.

Last night, I gave a new recipe a go - Pappardelle with mixed mushrooms and mozzarella.  Okay, pappardelle is a just a fat fettucine noodle so I did the easy swap.  A no brainer, right?

But that the hell is a pat of butter?

Well, Mr. Oliver is British and can't do things the way we do them here.  In the same sense that the Brits drive on the wrong side of the road (notice how I said that) and talk funny they apparently measure things funny in the kitchen.  Tablespoons and teaspoons aren't always used.  So, when I needed to melt some butter in the olive oil to saute the mushrooms, I needed to add a "pat of butter".  

It turns out that a pat is about 1 or 2 teaspoons.  So what if I added two tablespoons. It was pretty damned good!

It turns out that Sunday was not the only place I would see gobs of butter. 

Days off in October sometimes mean a walk around the trails at Lake Erie Metropark and then heading over to the hawkwatch.  Sure, today was a record day with over 20,000 Turkey Vultures (and some other goodies) along with good company, but my highlight was my personal time on the trail.

As one might expect around here the first week of October, warbler migration is dwindling while sparrows are picking up steam.  This morning, the best I could muster from a warbler standpoint,  was the Yellow-rumped Warbler.  Code named "butterbutt", they have a little yellow patch on their tush.

But don't let the species total suggest my fun. No way. Dozens at a time were greeting me during my one mile walk.  At one point, I had one literally at my feet. They were truly everywhere.  If I didn't see them, I heard their diagnostic tsup call note.  I'm sure hundreds were on the trail.  

After dozens of botched shots, I was along the final leg of the trail when one bird in particular decided it needed to check me out a bit closer.  

Pats of butter in the kitchen and gobs of butter in the woods. 

How cool is that?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Tradin' Fire For Smoke

Sometimes, even low-key plans get trashed by the weather. 

With friends coming over for some grilling this past Friday, I thought the flaming brandy burgers would go over well.  Sadly, the winds were gusting up to 50mph.  Wind advisories and the whole she-bang.   Throwing a shot of brandy and watching it burst into a blue flame of caramelized joy is certainly fun for this old Boy Scout (we all harbor pyro tendencies), but not in a windstorm.   

Obviously, I am not a total moron. However, had I tried to pour flaming brandy onto a lit grill, I envisioned something bad happening. Maybe it was this bad.  Maybe not.  Any way you look at it, Mother Nature shelved the brandy burgers and I needed to find a new meal.  

Apple-Sauerkraut Port Burgers hit the spot.  Basically, the patties where pork, ground chuck, a bit o' applesauce, and some spices.  Forget ketchup, mustard and pickles.  Basically a relish, sauerkraut, grilled apples, and some spices, including celery seeds, were used as the topping.  Damn good. And I mean damn good.  If you do not have this book, quit yer belly-achin' and get it. 

Unfortunately, the pair of evening beers did not live up to the burgers.  While the burgers were burgerin' on the grill, the Oktoberfest (#809) from the Great Lakes Brewing Company was going over okay.  With a nice amber color and fluffy head, the malts on the nose were what one would expect with this style of drink.  I admit, the finish was hard to get a handle on, but it was certainly worth it.  Nothing crazy, but not a disappointment, either.  A straight up "3" would be very fair, I think.

The Smoked Apple Ale (#810) from Short's Brewing Company, on the other hand, just didn't do it.  Not for me. Not for any guests.  We all sort of looked at each other and wondered what the hell it was.  First, it was over carbonated. A bad or unattended pour, and you would have quite the mess to clean up. The "smoked" aspect was over-powering.  While it did not smell like cheese, it certainly reminded us of smoked gouda or something similar. The tiny perception of apples on the nose was lost in the smoke.  The carbonation came back to grab you on the taste buds, too.  Subtleties of beer are lost when your taste buds are on fire with CO2.  Very disappointing.  A "2".

It was really kinda unfortunate that the Smoked Apple Ale was somewhat rotten.  Apples in the beer and the meal itself seemed like a nice dinner combo.  Then again, it was nice that the smoke was from the beer and not the charred remains of my condo after a grill-brandy-wind mishap......