Friday, July 30, 2010

Bird Watching

A couple years ago I made this tea cup bird feeder for my yard. I put it right outside my kitchen window so I can watch the birds as I'm preparing and cleaning up after meals and whatnot. There are a few birds, like the Spotted Towhee and the red House Finch who are elusive and can sense if I'm even thinking of grabbing the camera and fly away immediately. Some, however, will stay for a photo op.

This is a male American Goldfinch. At first I thought they were the most beautiful, most amazing birds ever, but American Goldfinches make up about 95% of the birds that eat at the tea cup bird feeder, so they aren't so special anymore.

I can not seem to identify this bird with my "Pocket Naturalist" Portland Birds edition. Anyone know what kind it is? The breast is a rusty color. *UPDATE* Thanks to Natalie, the above mystery bird has been identified as a juvenile black-headed grosbeak; a bird that doesn't even appear on my Portland Pocket Naturalist. Nicely sleuthed Natalie!

This is a BBB, or Boring Brown Bird. I can not identify it with my guide. Maybe it's a female? My guide only pictures the males.

Today this strange bird came to feed at the feeder. He worked hard to actually perch himself on the saucer and it took several tries before he was able to manage it. Luckily I got all his failed attempts on video.

And here he is responding to some noise, maybe from someone standing in the kitchen. Not a graceful getaway, but a getaway all the same.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

How to Be a Boy: Underwear

You just learned the best trick of your life: how to take off your underwear with out removing your pants. This could be the greatest life skill ever learned by man or child and you must share it with everyone.

Start sharing at dinner time. Stand up and announce: "Look what I can do!"

Wiggle, yank and pull to work one side of your underwear down your leg and over your foot. Encourage your 2 brothers to demonstrate their knowledge of this new skill too! Become amazed as your one little brother does it without even standing up. (It helps that his briefs are about 2 sizes too big.)

Ignore the protests of your parents that this is NOT appropriate dinner behavior. They will surely understand once they see the finished result.

And there it is! Your underwear that was moments before exactly where it should be is now dangling from your hand. Wave it around a bit to get the full effect. Sit back down at the dinner table and flop your underwear next to your dinner plate.

For some reason, your parents are not impressed, although your dad does seem to be trying really hard not to smile.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How to Be a Boy: Skipping Rocks

If you are a boy, the perfect time to skip rocks is anytime you see a rock that is near a body of water. It doesn't matter if it's a kind of stinky low tide and the rocks are a little muddy.

It doesn't matter if you just finished boating and haven't taken your life jacket off yet.

It doesn't matter if you are on a boat launch ramp and there are very few rocks around. It's the perfect thing to do to pass the time while you are waiting. Or making others wait for you.

It's the perfect thing to do when you are smack dab in the middle of the most beautiful scenery ever. Or if there are girls walking through the water in front of you, trying to get your attention (which they did, at their own risk, I should mention.)

Skipping rocks is the ultimate boy activity, even for older boys who have grown into dads. You don't have to talk, or you can if you want. You can let your mind wander as you perfect your fling or search for the ultimate rock, allowing deep thoughts to enter and epiphanies to occur. The meaning of life becomes clear, you are at perfect harmony with the universe.

Or, maybe you are just throwing rocks into water.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Jell-o Project: Peaches and Cream and the Parent Trap

After a one week hiatus, the Jell-o Project is back and better than ever. This week's Jell-o is Peaches and Cream (the non-alcoholic version) with what I believe is the ultimate Jell-o ingredient: sweetened condensed milk.

Sweetened condensed milk is such a brilliant Jell-o compliment. It's as if Sharon and Susan have finally met each other at summer camp and have broken out into a rousing rendition of "Let's Get Together" while simultaneously trying to bring their divorced parents back together.

I was confident the taste would win over my family of reluctant taste testers, but to make absolutely sure, I gave each kid a spoonful taste of sweetened condensed milk just in case they were put off by the solid, jiggly, white mass. All three boys gave the plain, sweetened condensed milk a hearty thumbs up.

Dinner time: the moment of truth. Would my family eat the Peaches and Cream Jell-o?


Although no one finished their whole serving, I'm ready to declare Peaches and Cream Jell-o the most successful Jell-o in the Jell-o project to date. Here are the results:

Isaac - ate 10% of the Jell-o and said, "I kind of liked it, kind of in between. Kind of bad and kind of good."

Ethan - ate 70% and said it was pretty good, but would have liked the sweetened condensed milk layer to be thinner. Like paper thin.

Jonah - ate 80% and said it was awesome, just take out the sweetened condensed milk layer.

Robert - ate 85% and said although it was delicious through and through, the idea of eating milk in Jell-o kind of grossed him out. (I'll have to remember not to top his Jell-o with whipped cream anymore.)

Me - ate 200%, as Isaac kindly pointed out, because I had two whole servings.

I admit, the results tend to point to the conclusion that my family just likes plain Jell-o with a little fruit mixed in, so maybe Peaches and Cream Jell-o isn't the success I'm claiming it to be. Maybe it's not the Sharon and Susan of the Jell-o world. On paper, it certainly looks that way...

...until I present, for your consideration, the surprise evidence!

Surprise! Bekah and Aurora stopped by after dinner with a plate of brownies and became the willing recipients of the last two Peaches and Cream Jell-o molds. Not only were they impressed with the restaurant style presentation (their words!), they ate every last bit of their Jell-o and declared it to be delicious. Then Aurora proceeded to wash the dishes.

I have therefore developed the following theories:
Peaches and Cream Jell-o is the Sharon and Susan of the Jell-o world
There is something wrong with the members of my family (missing the Jell-o gene?)
I need an Aurora at my house
Brownies make a delicious bedtime snack

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ice Cream With a "Come Hither" Appeal*

It's a little time consuming to make, but so worth it. Salted caramel ice cream is actually more of a frozen custard. Are you salivating yet? Here's the recipe which I got from Allyson, and which she got from a "gourmet magazine."

1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
2 1/4 cups heavy cream, divided
1/2 tsp flaky sea salt
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs

Heat 1 cup sugar in a dry 10 inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring with a fork to heat sugar evenly, until it starts to melt, then stop stirring and cook, swirling skillet occasionally so sugar melts evenly, until it is dark amber.

Add 1 1/4 cups cream (mixture will splatter) and cook, stirring until all of caramel has dissolved. Transfer to a bowl and stir in sea salt and vanilla. Cool to room temp.

Meanwhile, bring milk, remaining cup of cream, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar just to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, stirring occasionally.

Lightly whisk eggs in a medium bowl, then add half of hot milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour back into saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until custard coats the back of a spoon and registers 170 on an instant-read thermometer. Do not let boil. If lumpy, you can pour it through a fine mesh sieve. Stir in cooled caramel.

Chill custard, stirring occasionally until very cold, 3-6 hours.

Freeze in ice cream maker (it will be quite soft), then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to firm up.

*A quote from the unnamed gourmet magazine.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Exploring the San Juans

Our boat trip started like this....

...and ended like this.

That's what happens when you are cruising along, enjoying a spectacular day in the San Juans and hit large, shallowly submerged rock.

After the initial jolt and checking that everyone was OK, which they were, we were surprised and pleased to hear the motor still working. The boat did not appear to be taking on water, so we continued onto the harbor. Cautiously.

At the harbor, we requested the boat to be hauled out of the water and found an awful gash from bow to stern along with damage to the motor shaft.

We were glad to have arrived into harbor safely and were able to get a ride home after a little wait, sorry to see Sea Walker make her way home behind a truck instead of over the sea.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Jell-o Project: I Pledge Allegiance to Jell-o

Twenty-two of my friends unknowingly became test subjects for my latest Jell-o experiment when I hosted a barbeque last weekend. The recipe for Red, White 'n Blue Salad came to me from Erika and made me wonder what we ever did before blue Jell-o was invented. So inspired was I by the beauty of this Jell-o salad, I went to Target and purchased my first trifle dish.

I couldn't have been more pleased with how it turned out. The blue layer was a bit lumpy looking, but that was because I waited for the jello to set up a bit before adding the blueberries so they wouldn't all sink to the bottom. I think next time I'll just let the blueberries sink. It looked simply lovely sitting on the counter with the other buffet items.

The real test, however, was whether or not people would actually eat it. I got things started by spooning a nice sized portion on my plate. The red and blue layers are nothing more than plain Jell-o with blue berries on the blue layer and raspberries on the red layer. It was the white layer I was a little nervous about. Would people be grossed out that there was sour cream in it?

I came back to the buffet for seconds to find my Jell-o almost completely gone. People were actually eating it! I cringed when the first guest asked me how I made the white layer. As I listed the ingredients, I watched his face carefully for any sign of horror, but it appeared there was none. This ready acceptance of Jell-o was a little confusing for me as I often feel like a mocked Jell-o prophet in my own home. It was good to be among believers for a change.

Later, after our friends had left, I asked the kids what they thought of my red, white and blue masterpiece. Ethan didn't even taste it, so could not comment. Jonah only ate the raspberry layer, but said it was good. Isaac had just one bite of blueberry Jell-o after first making sure there were no actual blueberries in it and said it was ok.

I'm not ready to give up on my little Jell-o non-believers yet. The Jell-o project continues!