Monday, October 31, 2016

Children, adults, dogs, all dressed up for Halloween

All the candy is gone, and the lights are turned off. Another Halloween night of fun.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Best Halloween Candy

Several websites that I read have created lists of their favorite Halloween candy. Of course many responsible writers this year (and every year) have also attacked the terrible habit Americans have of eating candy for every holiday. I decline to listen to them. I love Halloween and all the fun and candy, and I've loved it all my life.

Now it's time to rank the candy -- in particular, the candy that came in my Costco deluxe Halloween candy assortment, of which I bought 2 bags with 300 pieces of candy total, as shown in my own photos below. Starting with my favorite:
My favorite: York Peppermint Patties. Since 300 pieces is more candy than I need for trick-or-treats,
I have removed these and sequestered them for my own later enjoyment as illustrated. I hope the kids at the door will
be happy with the remaining selections: one to a customer!
Tied as my second & third favorites: the two flavors of M&Ms.
Tied for fourth & fifth: Snickers and Milky Way.
Sixth: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.
Seventh: Almond Joy. Costco's finest didn't include Mounds, which I
like slightly better than Almond Joy. Sometimes you feel like a nut.
Sometimes you don't.
Eighth and Ninth in my world: Kit Kat and Twix.
My tenth choice: Amazingly, 100 Grand is new to me. I found it too chewy.
Len, however, likes it a lot. 
Ready for tomorrow night in my biggest mixing bowl: I expect to give away all this -- minus whatever I eat before the kids show up.

Most years I buy Butterfingers, which would be in my ranking up there
with M&Ms, but not quite at the Peppermint Patty level.
However, I don't have any of them this year so this is a screen shot.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

October Picnic

A trip to Watkins Lake to check for migrating water fowl is becoming almost an annual habit. We started at Fusilier Farms produce
stand, where children were picking out their pumpkins and riding on a hay wagon.

We bought pumpkins and squash, onions and garlic, yams and broccoli,
hot peppers and mild peppers, and a bag of honeycrisp apples.

Now that the Watkins Lake area is a State Park, you can have a picnic and birdwatch at the same time. It's
quite a treat to do both in October. We really enjoyed the warmth of the afternoon.

Several species of ducks were there, along with huge numbers of Canada
geese and a few cackling Canadas.

The white specks along the island are actually geese.

The pumpkins and squash that I bought are all the edible variety. After decorating my table for a few days, they'll
go into soups and other dishes. They should keep well until I use them up. You can also see, here, the
sparkly decorative raven I bought as a Halloween decoration, and my Halloween table mat.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Great Pumpkins

Our neighborhood is AGAIN home to two huge and wonderful jack-o-lanterns. The biggest one this year is over 1700 pounds. When I stopped by to photograph them, Jeff, from Greenwheel Lawn Care was raking leaves next door, and agreed to be in the photo to give an idea of the size. This is a great coincidence -- he also posed with the great pumpkins last year because he was also raking there.

Though the pumpkins are heavier this year, they are much plumper -- so not as tall as last year.

Jeff with one of this year's pumpkins. He is 5'10" for comparison.
Both pumpkins in the glorious October sunshine.
I believe that this is actually the heavier of the two pumpkins. The "little" pumpkin would not seem small anywhere else!
The beautifully raked yard next door, with its own Halloween decor.
Jeff and his staff do a wonderful job on our yard too!
The giant Jack-o-Lanterns from last year: taller but not as fat.
Jeff was actually a bit shorter than the pumpkin then.
Six years ago: not nearly as big!  
Our backyard glows with morning sunshine, but I'm afraid this tree will soon drop its leaves.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

What is Art?

The West of the Imagination by William H. Goetzmann and William N. Goetzmann examines the work of a number of artists who depicted the American West. The authors begin with painters in the early 19th century whose paintings documented the first look at the frontier, the far west, and the native Americans' traditional ways of life. They proceed to describe the activity, the subject matter, and the accomplishments of Western painters and eventually photographers.

George Catlin, 1832. Painting of Stu-mick-o-súcks.
I learned of several artists about whom I knew almost nothing, such as George Catlin, who painted portraits of American Indians in the early 19th century, and created the only record of some tribes that died out soon after. I can't begin to list all the fascinating artists and historical insights that were discussed in the book!

One part of the Goetzmann's narrative that I find very interesting is the effort to place these artists in the context of art movements and developments during the century. Many were trained in European art schools; some were immigrants, others born in America. The authors try to value them not only for their documentation of the early West, but also for their accomplishment as artists. I must admit that most of my life as I've looked at these works, I've only seen the documentary side, and I'm now thinking a somewhat different way about their goals and what they created.

I'd like to quote what the authors say at the end of the book, which illustrates what I'm getting at:
"As we come to the conclusion of our survey of the many forms of Western art, it is important to ask the question what have we, or can we learn from it? What can we learn about America and about Americans as well? Western art, as we have seen, embodies many themes and contains, like the West itself, many possibilities. Take nature itself. From the beginning, a large number of Western artists have formed the culmination of a romantic naturalist tradition that reaches back beyond the European romantics like William Wordsworth to a pantheism beyond the edges of history. By creating an object, usually one that condenses a visualization of nature into a single frame, Western artists have created a series of sacred spaces in the American landscape where people go to match their views with artists like Bierstadt and Moran, to effect, like Ansel Adams most recently, the ultimate, sublime connection between art, nature and God." (p. 430)
As I read, I realized how many diverse museums and exhibits I have seen about the West and the artists that depicted it, and found that the book gave me new insights into what I had seen. I also thought quite a bit about the numerous trips through the modern West we have taken. Some of the art exhibits that I want to think about more:
  • At the Tate Modern in London earlier this month I saw an exhibit of work by Georgia O'Keeffe, who is discussed in the book along with several other artists who were her friends such as Ansel Adams. Obviously, this also made me think about trips I've taken to the places she painted such as Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, and Taos, New Mexico. The authors find her work enormously important in capturing the look of the 20th century West.
  • At Brigham Young University Art Museum last May I saw two exhibits: "Branding the American West: Paintings and Films 1900-1950" and "Capturing the Canyons: Artists in the National Parks." Both of these exhibits were very closely related to material in the book, which like the exhibit, describes the interaction of Western stage plays and films with painting and other arts.
  • The St. Louis Art Museum in April, 2015, had an exhibit titled "George Caleb Bingham and the River" which informed me about an important artist -- also represented in the book.
  • The Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth Texas, which I visited in 2003, has collections of Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell, and other painters of the West, especially in the 19th century, were often mentioned in the book.
  • The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., displays a number of works by the early painters of the American West. I always saw them more as documentation than as art. I'll have to take another look!
  • David Bradley, 'Pow Wow Princess, Southwest.'
  • In Santa Fe, I've visited the The Museum of Indian Arts and Culture several times. Most recently, in 2015, I saw an exhibit of the extremely pleasing work of artist David Bradley, whose painting depicts his experience and observations about the life and ironies of Native Americans, often through parody.

    While the Goetzmanns, writing in the early 1980s, acknowledged new political and social trends in the art of Native Americans, they were too early for Bradley, who was just getting his start at the time. I've seen other very recent work by American Indian artists that also showed the sensitivity to modern culture and the total awareness and use of modern idioms. (See this write-up of the Bradley exhibit.)
  • Finally, my recent visit to the Alamo seems relevant -- though the authors find less artistic activity about the Alamo than about the "avalanche of versions of Custer's Last Stand that followed closely upon the event." (p. 84)
I'm hardly capturing my reaction to reading a book that links to so many experiences of the American West, both travel and museum-going. I'm grateful to my friend Olga who gave me this book!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Great British Bake-Off (Contains Spoilers)

You might call me a fanatic lover of the Great British Bake-Off. I've mentioned before how I enjoy the camaraderie of the contestants, the interesting and very British nature of the baking challenges, and the judges' high standards for both flavor and appearance. Most of the baked items are really appetizing and I always wish I could taste them.

In the US, the Bake-Off is called the Great British Baking Show because only Pillsbury can have a bake off. It appears on PBS six months to a year after it shows in England. Well, we couldn't wait so we managed to watch on the BBC using something called a VPN which Len coaxed and coaxed until we saw each show. 

Tonight was the final show of the 2016 series. Furthermore, this is the last of Great British Bake-Off as we know it, because BBC has lost the rights. On the next season of the show, only judge Paul Hollywood will participate -- not judge Mary Berry, and not comediennes Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins. Don't worry: if you aren't a fan these names might easily mean nothing to you, but if you're a fan, you know who I mean. 

Here are some screen shots from this final episode:

The judges Paul and Mary and the comic hosts Mel and Sue. 

Contestant Candice.
The tent where the competition takes place.
Judges Paul and Mary with an example of today's "technical challenge," a Victoria Sandwich --
a very British layer cake composed of two layers of cake put together with jam and cream.
Mary Berry -- a famous cookbook author that I had not encountered
until I watched the show.
A "Royal Picnic" -- the last challenge for the final three contestants required them to bake in five hours
the following items: sausage rolls in flaky pastry, little quiches, savory scones, fruit tartlettes, and a chocolate cake!

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Treats and Scary Things for Halloween

Supermarket in Ireland, Halloween treats.
More Irish Trick or Treats.

Gift shop display, Wildflower Center, Texas.
Really scary scene, Goliad, Texas.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

You don't want to read this book.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple is pretty much a rehash of the material she invented for her earlier book Where'd You Go, Bernadette, except that the earlier book is better. Both books are funny, and Today Will Be Different was not a bad one to read on one of my recent plane rides. Still, I found the humor a bit tiring, especially the second time -- jokes about well-off dissatisfied older mothers who go to Starbucks and have emotional challenges and used to have a great career and don't like the school rules and stuff like that. And I found the plots of the two books much too much alike, though I won't spoil them by explaining that.

Just don't bother. If you haven't read either book, I suggest Bernadette. If you have read it already, I suggest you find something else.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

More Trader Joe's Hacks

Trader Joe's Potstickers and Wontons

The label says this package contains 9 servings
but they would be little tiny servings.
I say the package serves two as a lunch main dish.
                                     --Product photos from TJ's website.
Use Trader Joe's potstickers or wontons for a quick lunch. Here's the secret for preparing them: after briefly browning the still-frozen pot stickers in a little bit of oil as the instructions say, add just a little balsamic vinegar to the pan so that they brown evenly. Cook them until they are hot inside -- the label says they are already fully cooked. A friend of mine whose family originated in China told me to do this balsamic vinegar trick. Serve sriracha and/or soy sauce for dipping.

Of course you can make your own potstickers or wontons, but maybe you don't have time and need a quick lunch or a dinner appetizer.

Quick Salad

On the side for lunch, how about a cucumber salad? Sprinkle sliced cucumbers with a little bit of Red Boat fish sauce and soy sauce -- or other Asian sauces if you like. You can include sliced bell pepper, hot pepper, tomatoes, scallions, or whatever other veggies you like in the salad. The TJ stores where I've shopped always have an adequate selection. Clearly, you can also buy vegetables and Asian sauce at any other market.

If you are really pressed for time, you can use packaged salad veggies like slaw mix, though I don't think these are as good as freshly sliced veggies. This is one area where I think a bit of work is worth it! I'm not a fan of bottled salad dressing either; mixing it up is just too easy.

Trader Joe's Meatballs

Of course you can use Trader Joe's meatballs in meatball sandwiches or in spaghetti or cut in half on a home-made pizza. That's obvious. But have you thought about putting them in soup? Not quite so obvious -- in fact, I'd call it a hack.

Brown vegetables like onions and carrots in butter; add TJ's tomato soup and barely
bring it to a boil Add TJ's frozen turkey meatballs and season with smoky paprika.
Simmer soup until meatballs are hot.
Or pick your own flavors of soup, meatballs, spices, and vegetables.

Trader Joe's Banh Mi Sandwiches  

One recipe for a Banh Mi sandwich calls for pâté and sliced roast pork on French rolls with mayo, pickled vegetables, and condiments. TJ's truffle mousse pâté and their packages of pork loins (two per package, cook them yourself) have been great for this, along with TJ's crusty rolls and the cauliflower and carrot pickles from TJ's refrigerator case. It seemed like everything that a Banh Mi sandwich needed could be found at TJ's.

Another hack: when I used up some of the vegetables in the jar, I chopped some carrots into small baton-shaped pieces and added them to the light brine with the rest of the veggies. This is the kind of carrots you are supposed to use in Banh Mi sandwiches.

The trouble is that you never can be sure your TJ's will have any particular product the next time you want it. Sure, things like steak, milk and salsa are probably always going to be there, but the exact kind of salsa you liked last week might disappear, or even the exact kind of steak. Today TJ's didn't have any packaged unseasoned pork loins, and I have no idea if they'll get more, or for that matter, if they'll always have the pâté either. But if you find these items, enjoy a sandwich!