Monday, February 29, 2016

What's going on in my kitchen

Dinner tonight: roast chicken glazed with soy sauce and garlic; salad dressed with a mixture of Asian fish sauce, oil,
and lemon juice; enoki mushrooms briefly sautéed in oil, with soy sauce. Always lots of cooking in my kitchen!

Above are some new and old condiments and ingredients that I find especially useful to have in my kitchen:
  • First, a new ingredient, Asian fish sauce. I used this new item in my salad dressing tonight. It's actually pretty fishy! Made in Vietnam, mostly made out of fish. No sugar! I plan to try more recipes that call for this product.
  • Tomato paste in a tube. I use a squeeze of tomato paste in many, many sauces to add richness of flavor and color. It's one of my most important ingredients, though rarely used in quantity.
  • Balsamic vinegar. Lots of uses! When browning onions, I use a dash of balsamic to make them brown faster, and to add a touch of sweet-sour flavor. When heating ready-made frozen Chinese dumplings, I add a bit of balsamic along with the water that is called for in the package directions. Of course it also goes into salads and occasionally a drizzle on fruits.
  • Peanut sauce. A nice condiment with many foods. We dipped our roast chicken in it tonight. I know you can make your own by blending peanut butter with Sriracha (another good ingredient to have on hand), but I buy it anyway.
  • "Better than Bouillon." A really good instant stock for soups and sauces.
What else has been going on in my kitchen lately?

Just after we returned from Florida, Len did some of his bird editing and
identification at the kitchen counter, but later moved upstairs.
And I have new magnets from the Everglades, the wildlife refuge on Sanibel Island,
and the Ringling Circus Museum, along with older magnets.
Cookbook shelves are next to my refrigerator.
I've been back from my trip to Panama and Florida for almost a week, and I'm still really happy to be cooking in my own kitchen again.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Panama Highlights

My favorite bird: the Trogan. We saw five different species of this bird.
During our trip to Panama, most of my blog posts were very hasty, and though our main activity was watching wildlife, especially birds, I posted very few bird photos. Len has now identified the birds in many of the photos we took, so I wanted to follow up with a few of my favorites, and also follow up with a few of the images from our visit to the Panama Canal.

First, from Len's Flickr set, here are a few bird favorites. (Click on a photo to see all bird photos.)

maesbirds 1 A Masked Tityra, one of many birds I had never heard of before.

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A Rubescent Tiger Heron.

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A Gray-headed Kite.

Birdwatchers in the jungle.
Len exiting the vehicle that took us to most of our destinations.
Our only excursion that wasn't dedicated to birdwatching was to the museum and overlook at the Millaflores Locks on the Panama Canal. Two years ago, when we went through the Panama Canal on the Lindblad ship, we saw these locks from the inside (so to speak). This time, we looked at them from various levels of the large museum building. The exhibits inside were mainly closed, but that was ok, I just wanted to watch the two huge container ships and the one little sightseeing boat go through the canal.

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Small sightseeing boat and big container ship going through the locks in the farther channel.

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An even larger container ship, piled high with containers, in the closer of the two channels.

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The locks as we saw them in 2014 from the Lindblad-National Geographic Sea Lion

Friday, February 26, 2016

Home Cooking

Panama and Florida, where we traveled for over two weeks, were wonderful, but I'm glad to get back to home cooking. I've made several very simple meals since our return on Tuesday, not all of them photo-worthy. A packaged turkey and cheese sandwich? Hard-boiled eggs with mayo? Good but no picture! 

But a simple salad of tuna, garbanzo beans, cucumber, little tomatoes, and sweet-hot peppers seemed pretty enough to include here (above, dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt). It was a contrast to the trip -- though our mainly restaurant meals were enjoyable, I sometimes wanted something simpler.

Baked pasta with cheese and sauce (Trader Joe's Egg Pappardelle Pasta and TJ's sauce layered with goat cheese and mozzarella and baked) was quick and simple but welcome.

Raisin rice (steamed rice tossed with butter, onion, golden raisins, and a bit of candied ginger) made a base for some curried chicken with butternut squash. Served with home-made plum chutney from last fall. Chicken recipe here -- it's not difficult.

Not long after our return from the airport and my first trip to the supermarket, I had my trusty old Crock Pot going with beef shank, carrots, onions, prunes, a can of fire-roasted tomatoes, red wine, and some herbs de Provence. I cooked it overnight, chilled it to skim the fat, and reheated it with sliced mushrooms that were therefore cooked much less than the meat and other vegetables. In the photo you can see the marrow bone as well as the rich brown sauce and still-white mushrooms. I wouldn't have wanted this in the Florida  heat, but there's been lots of snow in Michigan this week.

And I did buy some key lime juice and graham crackers just in case I get up the courage to try key lime pie, the best food invention from Florida that I know of. At the moment as in the picture, these ingredients are just waiting on my pantry shelf!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Man and Nature

Burrowing Owl that lives in a subdivision across from a school in Cape Coral, Florida,
where around 1000 owls nest among houses and other buildings.
Birders roam the subdivision looking for the owls.
Same Burrowing Owl, different angle, on his burrow near the stop sign.
As I traveled around in Florida last week, I generally tried to take wildlife photos that omitted the overwhelming human presence everywhere I went. On the plane I was reading one of Carl Hiaasen's "Skink" books. These are essentially a series of revenge fantasies where the culprits are those responsible for destroying Florida's native wilderness. Corruption and greed drive the destruction of wetlands, coastal areas, beaches, and wildlife without government or other control in every one of the books and the only satisfaction is from the creatively violent way the culprits die -- which is wishful thinking. The bizarre life of the character Skink, who lives in the wilderness and eats roadkill, highlights the strangeness of Hiaasen's Florida vision.

While reading, I began to think about how every opportunity I had to see wildlife was essentially reconstructed, not at all in it's natural state. Even the Corkscrew Swamp native forest: one views it from a boardwalk! I had already been thinking that there's virtually nothing natural and untouched in Florida, though there are many birds, trees, animals, and beautiful wetlands. I decided to find and post the photos I took that captured this collision of man and nature.

Whistling ducks and an ibis with a chain link fence that
protects a sewage settling pond.
A painted bunting at a feeder in Corkscrew Swamp.
At the wildlife refuge on Sanibel Island ospreys nest on the
park floodlights. 
A raccoon scavenging people's trash on the beautiful white sand beach.
Airboat ride in the Everglades: cormorants roosting on a channel marker.
Very few Florida panthers survive. Sometimes I wondered
if there was one panther crossing sign for each of them. 
In Big Cypress preserve, one sees the unspoiled forest from the boardwalk.
Sign for another boardwalk near Flamingo in the Everglades.
The Celery Fields near Sarasota is a beautiful wetland,
restored for flood control and wildlife after many years as agricultural land.
At the famous Anhinga Trail: a crow waiting for crumbs from our lunch.
I previously wrote about Skink here: "Bad Monkey" and "Roadkill Chronicles." From his website: "Since 1985 Hiaasen has been writing a regular column, which at one time or another has pissed off just about everybody in South Florida, including his own bosses."

Monday, February 22, 2016

Goodbye, Florida!

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On our last day in Florida, we spent our time in the Everglades National Park. This is the boardwalk
at West Lake, which goes through a mangrove forest out to the water. We drove down to Flamingo and back to the airport.
We have a fairly early flight in the morning.
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We saw quite a few alligators, but this was the only crocodile we saw. He was big!
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This pretty little bird is probably a pine warbler. He was definitely flying around in a stand of pine trees this morning.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Shrimp and Gator

We couldn't visit the Florida Gulf coast without trying gator... so tonight we ate at a
restaurant called Gator Bites Tail & Ale, not a chain but the only one.

All kinds of gator on the menu. Len ordered a gator quesadilla. I stuck with shrimp,
which I've eaten every day. I love gulf shrimp. And I had key lime pie for dessert.
I really love key lime pie! Thanks, Florida. I plan to work on a recipe when I get home.
Even the tabletop reflects the theme.

My plate of blackened gulf shrimp. Delicious.
And the gator quesadillas which were very tasty, chewy, not that much like chicken.
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Of course we did see a real gator while walking in the national wildlife refuge on Sanibel Island this morning.

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We saw some spoonbills, too.

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And this owl who was mostly asleep, but opened just one eye to check us out.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Corkscrew Swamp

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Baby alligators sitting on their mother's back. Probably the most popular location along the boardwalk!
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Cypress knees. 
The Corkscrew Swamp preserve, owned by the Audubon Society, has one of the last stands of uncut cypress forest remaining in Florida. Almost all the cypress has been cut for timber. The oldest and biggest trees, tall and bearded like Tolkien's ents, are named for the conservationists that managed to save this remnant.
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A little woodpecker on a cypress tree. We have these in our own backyard, but I liked him.
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On the placards along the boardwalk, we read tales of brave rangers who fought poachers in the swamps, brave political acts that shut down hunting for egret plumes, and finally, deals with logging companies that saved this last bit of forest. We didn't expect to see any new birds today,  and didn't see them, but we very much enjoyed our 3 hour walk through the pristine cypress swamps.

The boardwalk through the swamp.
Dinner: Florida shrimp and lobster ravioli.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Ringling Brothers Circus Museum, Sarasota

At the Circus Museum is a miniature model of the entire process of setting up and presenting the circus. Above: the trains. 
Mini-people arriving in their cars.
Preparing a meal for the circus people. Lots of other miniature scenes
show the life of circus people, where they relaxed, practiced, etc.
The dining room for the thousands of circus people.
Frozen custard for the circus goers.

Under the Big Top... a few of the miniature exhibits are able to be in motion.

In the actual circus museum: many costumes and models of performers, including these clown shoes.
The circus museum and miniature model of the huge tents and circus grounds are just amazing.