Monday, October 20, 2008

Evolution in Indiana

I thought that species took ten thousand years
to gradually evolve new strategies
to deal with shifts in climate or environment,
but after two snow-free years in a row
the local robins all at once decided
to winter here instead of flying south.
I watched them pace my lawn in late November,
debating like small Hamlets with their instincts:
"It's way past time to migrate; why haven't I?"
Since, every fall, a few old feeble ones
decide they'd rather risk starvation here
than drop off dead of fatigue in Alabama,
at first I thought it was their kind I glimpsed
rummaging discarded Christmas trees
for grubs and squabbling with the greedy squirrels
stealing birdseed from my neighbor's feeder.
But then, one drizzly January walk,
I spotted dozens, looking sleek and healthy,
plucking worms who'd washed up on my sidewalk.
Why here, where I was forced to grub for money
all winter long, when they could fly away,
I wondered as they hopped out of my path.
Does flying hurt so much they'd rather shiver
and see the sun once every other week
than perch in palms swayed by an ocean breeze?
If I had wings, I'd use them…and on and on
I muttered as I trudged around the block
in pointless circles, just for exercise,
hands thrust into my pockets, arms tight to sides,
like some huge flightless bird, while overhead
the most successful members of my species
winged effortlessly southward in high Boeings
invisible from our side of the clouds —
we well-fed and hard-working flock of Dodos.

by Richard Cecil from Twenty First Century Blues

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Winter Squash Soup with Sauteed Apples and Beer Bread

Three recipes for the price of one, people!
Serves 4 to 6

You’ll find many types of winter squash. Try something new like delicata, or kabocha for a different texture and flavor than the traditional acorn or butternut squash. A combination of different squashes is my favorite.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 rib celery, very finely chopped
Bouquet garni (1 bay leaf, 1 sage leaf, 2 sprigs of thyme, 10 whole black peppercorns, tied together in cheesecloth)
3 pounds winter squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped
3 cups chicken stock or low-fat, reduced-sodium chicken broth
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tart apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and diced
1 sprig thyme
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
1 teaspoon firmly packed dark brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1. To prepare the soup, in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-low heat until foaming. Add the shallot, garlic, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring frequently, until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes.
2. Add the bouquet garni, squash, and chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat, decrease the heat to low, and simmer until the squash is tender, about 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, to cook the apples, in a skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat. Add the diced apple and remaining sprig of thyme; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the apple is tender and lightly caramelized, about 5 minutes. Set aside and keep warm.
4. Remove the bouquet garni and discard. In the Dutch oven, using an immersion blender, puree the soup to the consistency of your liking – chunkier if you prefer something rustic, smoother for something more refined. Alternatively, ladle the soup into a blender and puree until smooth a little at a time. Add the cream, brown sugar, salt and pepper.
5. Adjust seasoning and ladle immediately into warm bowls and garnish with the sautéed apples.

Beer Bread

Makes one 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf

Different beers produce breads with different flavors and textures. This recipe calls for stout, producing a darker crumb and more complex flavor. It goes well with a hearty stew or pot roast. Lighter ale produces a lighter loaf and would be more appropriate with milder dishes such as this soup.

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the loaf pan
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup ground flax seeds
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh herbs (use rosemary, thyme, tarragon, marjoram, or chives)
1 (12-ounce) bottle stout, at room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Brush one 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan with some of the butter.
2. In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Add the beer and 2 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter, stirring just until combined. (The batter will be somewhat lumpy.)
3. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly, then invert onto the rack to cool until warm. Serve warm or at room temperature.

***There is no fixed recipe for a bouquet garni, although most recipes do include parsley, thyme, and a bay leaf. If you don’t have cheesecloth, use a tea-brewing ball when making a bouquet garni. Just stuff the herbs and peppercorns into the ball.

Recipe by Cristina Paul

Blah-Blah-Blahg: Food For Nought

I feel like Walker Evans with heightened senses (think amplified fly buzzing, a keen awareness of miniscule sounds and movements like the hard swallows that accompany Adam's apple disturbances, clicking of pens, the feathery-butterfly sound of eyelashes touching, and quiet sipping of coffee) while observing folks during my daily commute. Here are some of Mr. Walker's photographs of his fellow commuters. Plus some of my thoughts about the types I've stumbled into, over, but (fortunately) never under while aboard the train.

There are those who shut their eyes tightly so they look like the puckered part of a citrus where the fruit meets the branch. These people usually rock back and forth subtly as if they were trying to sense the motion of the earth while aboard. In their heads, they recite angry, imaginary rosaries and open their eyes just in time to bumble off to their memorized destinations.

There are others who speak your language with "American" accents, but they don't sound like you. They talk like people who leave the TV on, even when they have no iintention of watching or being in the same room as the humming set. It's a comfort to them to busy themselves and nearby strangers with the soundtrack of the quotidian - cereal box words.

Then there are the suspicious coveters. They want whatever you got. These aren't always young, catty women spying another younger, cattier woman's newer designer purse or shoes either. Sometimes they are older foreigners with no carrot-stick incentive to take interest in other people's stuff. They're nondescript limbs attached at acute angles to empty and envious hearts that long for the gadget peeping out of someone's bag, the watch on the arm that is clutching a pole to steady a body that no one will remember.

My least favorite species of commuters are the ailers. I especially despise the sneaky ones who sit next to you or stand above you as you are seated, breathing normally without any visible accoutrements of the sickly. Then BAM like a fart in church, they hack up something mucilaginous, whip out a covert pocket-pack of tissues (or worse, a yellowed hanky) and continue to ooze their diseases through pores, orifices, and contaminated clothing which, by now, have taken on a scent (imagined or real) of the ill. They are the reason I wake up an hour earlier and wait around work reading many chapters before making my way home on a slightly less crowded train.