Friday, December 30, 2011

Watch Yourself, Mr. Illitch

The jolly fat man was good to me a few days ago.  (That sounds awful.  Lets try again.)   

Christmas gifts, were, as usual, very generous.  Lots of good stuff, including cook books, a field guide to houses, a wonderful antique coffee mill, and what is clearly the most awesome gift ever - the gift card.

It absolutely blows me away when I read that 41 billion (with a "B") dollars in gifts cards have not been spent since 2005.  How is that possible?  When I get 'em, my mind starts racing with options.  "This or that? Maybe these or those?"  My head will explode if I don't spend mine in a week.  

So, armed with gift cards for both Crate and Barrel and Williams-Sonoma totaling in excess of 1.9 millions dollars (thanks Mom, Dad, and Becka!), I had some fun....

An egg cookbook. Looks good.  A breakfast cookbook.  Cool.   (I'm gonna fold those omelets correctly if is it the last thing I do, dammit...)

But as some point, a pizza thing took over.  Real pizzas.  REAL pizzas. REAL dough. 

It might have been prompted with a recent conversation.  

A few nights ago, friends were over for pizza. No, not chain pizza stuff.  The homemade stuff. No, not fancy homemade stuff.  Easy homemade stuff. You know... Boboli pizza crusts. They can go a long way.

Neal, a buddy from way back, was asking all sorts of questions (engineers do that sort of stuff).  "Don't you need a pizza stone?"  Well, no. Sure, they're nice, but not needed. Bobolis work on both cookies sheets and the oven rack.

"Don't you need to make the oven really hot?"  Nope.  Bobolis cook at temps any stove can manage.

Neal's questions prompted to me to basically suggest that all that stuff (high temps, stones, etc.) makes pizza making in the home a big pain in the pooper. Who needs all that when I can have Boboli.

So I find it kind of odd that, between the two stores, I found myself getting a pizza stone, a spring-form cake pan (for deep dish pizzas), a pizza pan thingy-ma-bob for easier serving and cutting, and a pizza cookbook, cleverly titled "Pizza".  I can't explain given it my comments to Neal just a few days ago, but it happened.

Oh, this is going to be fun.  

Take Sfinciune, for example.  Sure, the spelling is wacked.  As I understand English, "f" often preceeds "s", but that is not really the point here.  I can't say it, but I think I can make it!

How about the Pizza Bianca  (mozzarella and sage) or the pizza con pere, pecorino, Taleggio, salvia e miele (pear, pecorino, and Taleggio pizza with honey and sage).  Yeah, I'm in.

Sorry Mr. Illitch.  Sure, you own half the sports teams in Detroit, own a pizza empire, and have given generously of your time and money to make Detroit a better place.  

But, there is a new man in town and he's making pizzas........ as soon as he buys a pizza peel...

...and, learns what the hell he's doing.......

(Or maybe I could just use the snow shovel in the garage. It's certainly not getting much use with this mild winter we're having....)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Yup, This Sums It Up!

So I am here doing some final paperwork for the Anchor Bay Christmas Bird Count.  I wrote about it here.

It is such a long day.  Fun. But, horribly long.

A few moments ago, I ran a Google search for "Anchor Bay Christmas Count." I was just interested in whatever I could find.

A few images popped up that might summarize the event.

This is how I feel at the beginning of the day if I don't get enough sleep...

This is how I feel at the end of the day regardless.....

Apparently, Anchor Bay is a distribution company for horror movies......

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rollin'......And Not

Christmas.  It can be so much to so many. Bad family photos.  Superstitions.  Eating too much.  Drinking too much.  Horrible wastes of electricity.  I could keep going.

I wont lie. The gift exchange is nice. I like getting gifts.  I know what I want for Christmas this year.  More on that later.  

For some, like me, the Holidays are also a time to do some birding.

Maybe I have mentioned it already in a previous post, but in case I didn't, the Christmas Bird Count is basically the granddaddy of all bird surveys. On the designated day during the Christmas Holidays (hence the name), teams spread out across a circle 15 miles in diameter.  Each bird is counted (both as a species and individual).  Year after year, numbers can be compared and trends can be detected. Good fun, really. 

So, with the Anchor Bay CBC lined up for this past Saturday, the day started at some stupid hour of the morning.  After the one hour drive, buddy Don Sherwood, co-worker Natalie Ray, and I were near Harson's Island for our traditional 6am breakfast.  Karl Overman joined us, making the team four deep. Harson's Island was our section of the count circle.

Two birds stood out.

The Gray Catbird was simply a super find.  Normally, this time of year, this bird should be in the deep southeastern United States and places like Texas.  While not unheard of this time of year, this bird was certainly comfy in a bush full of berries. I suspect he will be around for a least a few more days.

Eating lunch in San Sousi (the tiny “town” on the island) gave us a chance to study another super bird.    The Iceland Gull, originally spotted by Natalie,  was drifting down the channel.  Backwards.  No real explanation for that one. Seemingly perfectly content, it never budged, flinched or flew. Bizarre if you ask me. Ducks tend to at least sometimes look like there doin' somethin'.    (For you non-birders, notice that the bird does not have black wingtips.  That was a big clue to us that it was not a run-of-the-mill gull!).

55 species is not a bad for a day's work, er....I mean day's fun.  Other nice birds for the day include both Eastern Screech and Great Horned Owls, Horned Grebe, and Carolina WrenHooded Mergs were cool, too.  With the super additions, like the Gull and Catbird, nobody can complain about the day.  

We rolled right along, as you might say.

Well, yes, we can. 

A few months back, I secured a new ride.  Chevy was interested in buying my Saturn Aura and letting me use some money towards a new car. After running the numbers, it would have been stupid for me to pass it up!  With all the positive press the Cruze was getting, I went for it. 

All in all, it is a slick little car.  Chevy put some serious thought in to it so it could get better gas mileage. Tweaks in the aerodynamics were made including cool, little grille shutters that close when the you are in cruising speeds and underbody panels that improve air flow beneath the car.

Plus, the car was designed to be lighter.  Welds were shortened, backseat armrests were ditched and the spare tire was dumped in favor of a can of fix-a-flat and an air compressor. After all, you lug that spare tire around and hardly ever use it. 

It all adds up. Trust me.  Gas mileages run from 35 to 43 mile per gallon depending on what I'm doing.  You can't beat that!

But, ooohhhhh, that spare tire.  You can see where this is going, can't you?

A long story short, horrible sounds came from the wheel well as a chunk of whatever poked my tire.  Pulling over (and swearing a bit, too!), the rear tire was flat.  Very flat. Hugely, immensely flat.  Fix-a-flat does nothing when it pours in the nozzle of the tire and gushes out the hole the size of your finger.

Rolling no more.

Two hours, a tow-truck and a quarter of million dollars later, the car was dumped at the dealership.  Monday morning, they can find me a new tire.

This will all look familiar to them.

A few weeks ago, I was driving and picked up a chunk of metal.  The tire?  Hugely flat. The tow truck.  Time lost.  The exact same story.

Yes, folks, two flat tires in three weeks. 

Frustratingly, I had to bail out of Sunday's Clinton CBC. No can do if car no go.

Fortunately, when  I bought the car, I bought the tire insurance.  Chevy used the low roll-resistance tires from the Volt on the Cruze.  Quite expensive, as I understand.  Any tire replacements or wheel replacements are covered.  So, outside of tow trucks and all, this is costing me a few pennies a month.

So, good birds were had. No complaints there. But dammit, this tire thing is getting old....

This all brings me back to my Christmas wish - maybe Santa can bring me a puncture proof tire that contributes to great gas mileage.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Arctic Gnomes

Texas can be quite a hot place. This past summer, they had a horrible stretch of days with temperatures over 100 degrees. I have visited there in the past and I am telling you the place can be brutal. The combination of high temps and high humidity will suck the life right out of you.

Yesterday,  I sent a picture to my buddy Neal. He lives in Texas. Here it is.

I told him there was a Snowy Owl in the photo and that I would send along better pics later. After all, the image was just taken with my iPhone to set the mood.  (The owl, by the way, is on the roof of the left home to the left of the white pipe.)

His response suggested to me that years of oppressive Texas heat finally got to him. Here it is:

Hmmmmm. Given that it is only a blurry 10x16 pixels, you could make the argument that it is actually a white garden gnome. I see those on roofs all the time. Very common.

He even sent along his heavily cropped image of my original photo. I guess, with electrolytes crashing, sweat in his eyes, and the nonsense of Rick Perry in the background, one might think this is a gnome.

It bothers me to see an otherwise intelligent guy falter due to his environmental stress.

If I could have sent this one, I would have done so.

Or this one...

Or this one. She is clearly picking the leprechaun out of her ear.

Rest assured, my heat-compromised friend, it is a Snowy Owl.

As far as I can tell, this is an immature female.  She would have been born in the early summer of 2011.  In short, not all Snowy Owls are completely white. In fact, few are.  A mostly white individual would be an adult male.  The immature male, immature female, and adult female have varying degrees of barring (those dark marks).  This article sums it up pretty nicely.   (Don't worry about that bursa thing. It is an internal organ that shrinks as they get older.  It is gone by six months of age.  Using that as an aging tool would involve shoving your finger in her butt. I don't advise that...)

As it turns out, this winter is shaping up to be one of the most impressive Snowy Owl irruptions in decades. Reports are pouring in from all over the place (even Hawaii, believe it it not). I have been birding for basically twenty years, and I have not seen anything like it. They are truly everywhere.

I think it is important to note what is really going on here. This bird did not migrate here just 'cuz. Food resources to the north have apparently crashed. With starvation as the only other option, she, and hundreds of others, set a course for a more southern latitude. Stay and die or move along and hopefully get some chow. It is not a temperature thing; it is a food thing.

In this case, this bird is one of three birds hanging out along a stretch of road in Macomb County. I thought it would be fun to pack up the car with friends and family and go check it out.

It turned out to be one of those birding episodes where we did not have to find the bird. Checking the road and seeing nothing of note on our first pass, we saw a group of birders assembled and clearly looking at something. Hell, don't look for the bird - look for the birders!

So will this be my only Snowy Owl of the winter? No way. Not with things shaping up as they have been. I have three Christmas Bird Counts lined up. We'll find more, I'm sure.

I'll be on the lookout, too, for small, white gnomes. I have yet to see any of them. Of course, it is much cooler here in Michigan.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Good 'Guini

A few nights ago, I opted to try a new Jamie Oliver recipe.  I'm not sure what got into me, but I whipped up his Crab Risotto with Lemon, Herbs, and Fennel. Not bad, to be honest.  I think the Pea & Shrimp and Asparagus & Pesto Risottos are much better, but whatever; I tried it.

One little problem. The recipe called for a "small bunch of parsley".  That can't happen in a grocery store. There is no such thing as a "small bunch of parsley".  You get a "dumptruck load of Parsley". 

So great - now what do I do with all those herbs?

During lunch, I was tooting around with the coolest device on the planet (the iPhone for those of you still living in 1972).  For the astounding price of $2.99, I updated one of my recipe applications. has developed an app that basically functions like their website. Gillions of recipes, advice, and all sorts of things people like me will never need.  Plus, after someone posts a recipe and others try it, they can comment and make suggestions. Pretty awesome stuff, really.

One amazing aspect of the app is this - input the ingredients you want to include (or the ones you don't want to include) and it will search the database for the appropriate recipes.  If you input "pasta", "wasp stingers", and "toadstools", it will look for it. How cool is that?

So, after entering "parsley", I quickly scanned the list. Within seconds, I settled on my next dinner: Linguini with a White Clam Sauce. Here is the recipe. Alot of that parsley disappeared. 

Damn good. Really damned good.  Really, really damned good.  Easy to make, too. I followed a suggestion from a person who had already tried it. I added a quarter stick (of butter, not dynamite), and some crushed red pepper flakes.  Did I tell you it was good?  Restaurant quality good. The only thing that could have made it better would have been the use of fresh clams, not canned.

Of course, one of the best beers to go along with seafood is the India Pale Ale.  Why not make it a double?  

The Conniption Fit Double IPA (#1,144) from Atwater Block Brewery was excellent.  At 92 IBU (International Bitterness Units), the outlandishly hoppy finish was a perfect fit for the peculiar tastes of seafood. Slightly paler than an straight-up amber with just  wisp of a head after the pour, the creamy body danced on your tongue. When the hops started to kick, it was big and powerful. I had this meal a few days ago, and I am still getting the lingering hop finish (Not really, but you get my point).  5 out of 5. No doubt about it.

Linguini with a White Clam Sauce and one of the best Double IPAs I have had in a long time.  What a meal!