Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Old Faithful In The Kitchen

In 1870, the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition to northwest Wyoming, named Old Faithful, now one of the most famous features in North American natural history.  Erupting in 91 minute intervals, it is the name sake for the Old Faithful Historic District in what is now Yellowstone National Park.  

Millions of visitors enjoy watching the eruptions Old Faithful (and others) each year.  

But they don't need to go to Wyoming to see that. They can come to my house.

A few nights ago, I was making dinner for Natalie and I.  The recipe?  Pan-seared Pilsener Sirloin Tips with Herbed Pecan Orzo and Shiitake-Blue Cheese Sauce.  The recipe suggests serving it with a Nut Brown Ale.  (Really. I did not make that up.  Say it again with me - Pan-seared Pilsener Sirloin Tips with Herbed Pecan Orzo and Shiitake-Blue Cheese Sauce.)

The recipe came from "The Best of American Beer and Food" by Lucy Sanders.   Get the book. It is so worth it.

Anyhow, after the tips had finished marinating in the pilsener, (specifically, one from the Frankenmuth Brewery) they were removed from the marinade and placed in a bowl while the olive oil was brought up to temperature in a frying pan.  Per the recipe, the tips were to be pan-seared in the oil, removed and then later slow cooked with mushrooms and broth.

Not wanting to add the tips to the pan one at a time with tongs, I simply dumped the bowl in the pan when the oil was ready.

Holy crap.

In seconds, the pan erupted into a tower of spraying oil and beer. As best as I could tell, the juices had settled into the bottom of the bowl. When I dumped it, all hell broke loose.

While Old Faithful throws water and steam almost 200 feet in the air to the amazement of vacationers, the sight of oil flying 14 inches out of the frying pan was quite horrifying.  While a 4-minute eruption of the geyser might seem kind of short at the park, the 5-second fountain in my kitchen seemed about 5 seconds too long. A quick removal of the pan ended the eruption and I was left with splattered oil on just about everything within 3 feet of the pan. 

I wonder if I could market a geyser in my kitchen and invite local park patrons? Afterall, I could argue I have some things in common with Yellowstone....

(For the record, the meal was outstanding! It was served with the Indian Brown Ale from Dogfish Head Brewing Company. What a fantastic dinner!)

(I also find it interesting that I had another cooking mishap when I tried a different recipe from the same book.  Wow.  I still remember that "mustard gas" like it was yesterday...)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

I See You.....

Not too long ago, Don, Natalie and I did our relaxed sort of Biggish Day.  One of the highlights involved a perched Great Horned Owl.

Without giving away details, this bird seems to be hanging out in the same area.  Our collective wits suggest that this bird (or its mate) has already selected a location to nest.  They are simply waiting for her biology to catch up.

Great Horned Owls don't make their own nests. A Red-tailed Hawk nest from the previous year would suffice. A broken tree top or a tree cavity would do the trick, as well. In any case, their egg laying cycle is waaaaaaay ahead of other birds in the region.  As I type this, I would bet the female has already dumped her first egg.  Yes, folks, the temperature was zero degrees this morning and she is likely hunkered down on the first of the clutch with the proud papa not far away. (To the best of my knowledge, daddy Great Horneds don't pass out cigars.  Stories of them passing out voles wrapped in Zig-Zags  cant be confirmed.)

A few days ago, knowing the opportunity to shoot a silhouette would soon be available, I shot out to the tree after work.  At a distance of almost one hundred yards, I can't get any closer as I cant walk on water (Jesus didn't either,  but that is another story...)

Frustratingly, nice looking skies were to the left, but if I moved right, the bird disappeared into the trunk of the tree.  It was also quite windy, forcing me to shoot at faster shutter speeds than I had hoped.  In any case, I managed.

I hope to get back there in the coming days and secure more images with  different background colors. We'll see what happens.....

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Taste of India


You've heard of it, I'm sure. Indiana Jones was there.  With the tenth largest economy (but third in global purchasing power), the place is becoming an economic dynamo.  At 1.2 billion people (and growing), it now has the second largest population of any country (behind China, of course). 

While a lot of things put India on the map, one thing  I think folks might consider trying is the water.  If you ever get to India, just scoop it up from the nearest creek and enjoy......

No. Wait. Scratch that. 

The food. Yeah, try the food. Don't try the water. Not even from a tap (seriously).  No ice either (seriously).  Try the food.  Sure, travel resources tell you not eat meat from the roadside vendor, but all in all, the tastes of India can be quite nice when prepared in a safe environment.  

For Christmas, I was the recipient of "The Meatball Shop Cookbook". While a book of this sort might be ripe for testicular jokes, I'll spare you.  With over 30 different ball recipes, it is really well done.  Dozens of sauce and salad recipes make for a....uh, well-rounded cookbook. 

Gosh.  Sorry.

Anyhow, the first test ball was the Classic Beef Meatball with Tomato Sauce. That fed Natalie and I for over three days. Seriously.  No, it was not one bowling-ball sized monster. The recipe made 24 balls, but with the sauce and a pound of pasta, we ate well. 

Eager to try the book again, we agreed on the Tandoori Lamb Balls.  Highlighting the exotic flavors from India's culinary  world, it was quite eye catching.   With the combination of lamb, cilantro and a six-spice mix (ginger, cumin, coriander, paprika, tumeric, and cayenne pepper) in the ball itself, any heat and spice-overload was tempered by the yogurt-cilantro dressing.  (Yes, cilantro was in both the ball and sauce.)  For the record, in my photo below, that uranium-looking spice is the tumeric.

I hope it goes without saying that these things were delicious.  (For the record, I refuse to say "dee-lish". I hate that.  Its kinda like when people say "My bad...".  Grrrr.....)

But the India flair for the night did not stop there!

In short, once upon a time, Great Britain ruled India.  By 1947, India had gained independence. Sadly, Great Britain left before they had learned simple plumbing, but that is a story for another time...

During their time as the rulers of India, the Brits had a problem - India was half-way around the world. You need to  remember your world geography and history. The only way to get to India without walking was by boat.  From Great Britain, you had to sail around the south tip of Africa.  There was no route via the Mediterranean until the mid-1800s.  Anything on a boat heading to India would be ship-bound for a very loooong time.  

That included beer, of course.  Even in the sweltering heat of India, the British would have enjoyed a cold one (if they could find it). Getting beer there was a problem. The length of the journey and the heat during trip combined to kill off alot of the beer.  Bacteria would run wild and ruin barrel upon barrel.

Prior to refrigeration and pasteurization, brewers had two weapons in the battle against bacteria - hops and alcohol.  Adding outrageous amounts of hops during the brewing process raised the bitterness considerably. But, it did not stop there.  Before sealing the barrels, even more hops were added. This "dry-hopping" drove the hoppiness through the roof.  

At the same time, sugars were added to the barrel.  With more sugars for the cute,  little yeasties to eat, they were kept busy during weeks at sea.  Of course, more sugars leads to a higher alcohol content which, in turn, leads to a lower chance of bacterial infection.  (It should be mentioned that the yeasts also give off lots of carbon dioxide.  It appears the wooden barrels leaked a bit, preventing the gas build-up from rupturing the seals.)

The result was a new beer style that could handle weeks at sea and weeks more on a shelf in steamy India.   Born from a Pale Ale, the India Pale Ale is a highly hopped, alcoholic, and well carbonated beverage.  Oh yeah, they're excellent, too.

Tag-teaming with the pleasantly spiced Tandoori Lamb Balls, the Professor IPA (#1,387) from Cranker's Brewery in Big Rapids, Michigan is simply awesome. While my beer notes were not detailed (sometimes, I just enjoy and don't scribble notes), the hoppy bite of the style tasted great.  As far as I am concerned, it is a pretty descent representation of the style. Try it if you can find it.

Knowing we were eating a meal with regional spices and washing it down with a style that was basically designed for that region made for a super dining experience.

Knowing we made the meal in the safety of our kitchen (i.e.: we did not have to use water from India) made for a super dining experience (and after-dining experience!), as well.  

Lets here it for water quality!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My Secret Place - Part Deux

My professional travels took me to Flat Rock today. No, really. They did.  I timed it so I had a chance to spend a few minutes at My Secret Place. You know - the place I mentioned yesterday that no one is supposed to know about?  Right there at the Dam? In Flat Rock?  Where everybody feeds the ducks? Yeah, there. Shh.

Anyhow, with much better lighting, I was able to come away with a few more pics.  Those hen Mallards. So cooperative....

It is worth knowing that I have not fed these birds.  I just haven't done it. That is not to say I won't. Maybe I will someday in an attempt to get the birds to do what I need them to do.  If I do, let me be clear - it will not be bread.

For those of you that don't know, while ducks eat bread when it is available, they have no understanding of the bread's nutrition.  White bread is basically junk.  It is metabolically trash for ducks and people alike.  While there are better breads to eat with our dinners, ducks don't understand bread and eat it anyway.  You might liken it to bringing a bucket of Tootsie Rolls to a playground. The kids are gonna eat 'em.  Even after a wrecked belly from all the crud, they will still eat 'em the next day.  

Case in point? While hiding out in my portable, heated, photography blind (it gets 40 mile to the gallon), a car pulled up.  Two woman exited causing the ducks to stir a bit.  Bread came out of the trunk like clowns spilling out of a clown car.  I kid you not - 30 bags at least.  Hamburger buns.  Loaves of bread.  Hot dog buns.  If the ducks didn't get it in time, the gulls did.  

Will I go back? Sure, I will. Will I feed 'em?  Right now, I just don't see a reason to do it. With so many other people doing the feeding, I just don't see a need to bother with it.....

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My Secret Place

A few days ago, Natalie, Don and I did a (to borrow part of a phrase from my buddy Dave) "A Casual Sort of a Bigg-ish Day...But Laid Back Even More So." In the birding world, a Big Day is a single day were birders try to find as many species as possible in 24 hours.  

Our adventure started after sunrise and involved a longer lunch that most Big Day-ers would dare think about. That said, we finished with 64 species officially.  (Don had 66 species as he saw the Rock Pigeons and Horned Larks.)

Anyhow, one easy-to-come-by species was the Mallard Duck.  One location easily had hundreds of the snazzy-looking dabblers.  Upon exiting our vehicle, we were swarmed.  Countless tons of bread, corn, Doritos and other easy-to-throw foods get ditched here.  The ducks, while not hugely intellectual, know enough to realize a car with people getting out might mean food!  

(The fact that most of the food left for the ducks is nutritionally worthless is not the point here.  It also not my point to mention that, while feeding ducks can be fun, spending money on real food to help  starving kids in Detroit would be money better spent.)

I snapped a few pics of the birds as they came in. Only one was really worth a damn. 

Right. The dam.  I forgot to mention that part. Shhhhh.  Don't tell anybody.   I shouldn't tell you this as it is now my secret place.  I'm sure you've seen it, but I'm not going to tell you it is right there in Flat Rock at the Dam on Huron River Drive. Shhhh. A secret.  Don't tell. 

So realizing this place (remember, you know nothing) has a lot of positives for duck photography, I decided to head back there today. 

What a difference a few days can make.

While Saturday was sunny and delightful, today was quite a bit more cloudy. To say I struggled would be an understatement.  I managed, sure, but I can't wait to head back there when the sun is out again.  

After spending a total of 3 hours there (Saturday and  today), I can already see how this place is "dam" near perfect (ahem, sorry).  The birds are abundant, comfortable around people, and often on the move.  In addition, when they approach the shoreline, they fly at you and, during the morning hours, the sun is behind you.  A photographer can't really ask for much more than that!

Needless to say, knowing this secret place (shhhhh...) is literally just a few miles away, I'll be back in the coming days.  

Remember - it's MY secret place. Don't tell a soul.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

George Is BACK!!!

A few months ago, I secured a "Where's George?" bill.  You know how this works, right?  After all, I explained it all here.  

As you might recall, I held on to the bill for a few months.  It was the plan to move this bill as far across the country as possible.  With the initial hit from Rochester, New York in December of 2010, and my input from Michigan in March of 2012, I thought spending it on our Arizona trip would be cool. So I did.  Here's my pic.

A few days ago, someone logged in with my bill....from the Bronx....

Yes, folks, with my all thought and planning, my bill, tucked safely in my wallet for a cross-country trip, was NOT cataloged by anyone until it got to New York. What a total drag. 

From the bill's details, this is what we get:

This bill has traveled 779 Miles in 2 Yrs, 1 Day, 3 Hrs, 38 Mins at an average of 1.1 Miles per day.   It is now 255 Miles from its starting location.
So, that sucks. The truth is this - the bill traveled over 2000 miles from Detroit to southeast Arizona AND THEN traveled over 2,500 miles to get back to New York.

So, they think a whopping 800 miles?   No. Try 4800 miles.  

Any way you look it, it's cool, if not accurate.

Check your bills!