Monday, July 25, 2011
The wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo) that live in our valley move to higher ground for nesting and hatching their young, so from about April through most of July we don't see very many down here near the creek bottom. One would think we'd be excited to have them back, but they are so ubiquitous that we've counted as many a one hundred in the pasture behind the house. "And they leave tar-like shit in the driveway and on the porch," said Jay.
I'm not so sure that this area supported the wild turkey before the white man. They certainly didn't live here when I was a kid in the 1950s. It's the "trap and transfer" project about 12 years ago that dropped them into this valley. It might be Merriam's Wild Turkey (M. g. merriami) that live here now, having originally thrived in the Rocky Mountain region, and having a predilection for roosting in ponderosa pines. My mother found them delightful and fed them during the winters. I've been told that she'd stand in the driveway surrounded by dozens of wild turkeys and whitetail deer, tossing out handfuls of cracked corn. She always had an affinity for wild creatures.
But now their population has exploded. Their predators are coyotes, bobcats, cougars, golden eagles, as well as great horned owls, dogs and foxes. Humans are actually the leading predator of wild turkeys. I shouldn't complain about their numbers because we have been asked by hunters to open our land for turkey hunts, but have declined. They do feel safe here - and if Mom were dead, instead of in assisted living with dementia, she'd roll over in her grave at the thought of hunting on her land.
Friday, July 22, 2011
Just about two weeks ago, I got a phone call from my sister with a big announcement - she's getting married in November. Same sort of phone call families receive every day across the country. But, this one was 30 years in the making.
My sister, Mickey, will turn 63 next month. This will be her first marriage. She and her fiance have been living together about 30 years. Thanks to the state legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, on Nov. 19 she and Susan will be married in New York. Due to my own health concerns, Kerry and I won't be going to the wedding, but a friend of Mickey's will be standing in as "best bro." In my toast, I will wish them well, as will Kerry. Perhaps another 30 years, but this time as a married couple.
The wedding will occur less than three months after Kerry's and my 31st wedding anniversary. We didn't need a legislative act for our wedding. Now, at least in New York State, nobody will. And that's a good thing.
Kerry and I find it amusing that many people proclaim - and some probably believe - that same-sex marriage somehow threatens more traditional marriage. I must say that this summer we feel more threatened by wood ticks and mosquitoes.
During the past couple of years, two of our closest neighbors and friends in the valley have gone through divorces. And an old friend is coming to visit with his new girlfriend, several years after he and his wife divorced. All heterosexual marriages of many, many years. A consequence of legalization of same-sex marriage? Don't think so. All still heterosexual; all dating. Me, I'd chalk it up to wood ticks and mosquitoes.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Pigs have provided an interesting subtext to politics in our valley. A few years ago, our neighbor Davey started rearing pigs along with his herd of cattle. Just a few, about six. Davey's north-side neighbors, who wanted to turn their barn into a wedding/special events center, complained about the smell to the state Department of Agriculture. The ag folk dismissed the complaint.
Fast forward a couple of years. After Davey's north-side neighbors lost their agricultural tax exemption, they started laying in livestock - chickens, Highland cattle, and, most recently, Tamworth pigs. A bit of irony in all that.
This morning, while looking out the kitchen window, I saw some strange shapes ambling up our driveway. As they got closer, I recognized their sleek, reddish shapes for what they were - the Tamworth pigs on a jailbreak. Absolutely fearless, they made straight for our recycling bins next to the garage. We have four bins, one each for plastic, cans, newspaper, and mixed paper. The pigs butted, turned over, and rolled on them all. The Rubbermaid Roughneck bins held up well. Only the mixed paper bin opened, and the Tamworths took full advantage the opportunity, rooting through the paper, tearing it up, and scattering it across the front yard.
I called the owner, seemingly waking her, asking if she was missing some pigs. She apologized, and said she'd be right over to get them.
Bored with the paper, the pigs migrated under a barbed wire fence into our lower cattle pasture. After a few minutes, the owner showed up with her Kubota tractor, two grain pails in the tractor bucket. She commented that they were getting too adventurous, crawled through the barbed wire gate and gave her pig call. They came a runnin'. They headed right for her tractor, and she spilled a bit of grain on the ground to get the pigs' attention, and then climbed back up into the driver's seat and led them home through our front gate and back out to the county road. Darn cute pigs!
We live in a rural area, governed by the concept of open range. You come to expect free-range cattle, not free-range pigs. Always something new.
Monday, July 4, 2011
I am reading The White House Cook Book (the 1889 edition) as research for a novel I'm writing. It's a fascinating look into cooking and baking with a wood stove. Some recipes uncommon today make me smile. For instance, when making squirrel soup, you must strain the finished soup through a course colander, "so as to get rid of the squirrels' troublesome little bones."
I worked my way to the desserts. There I found a recipe for apple custard pie with brandy, which I've never sampled, have never seen on a restaurant menu, and appears not to be a staple of the modern cookbook. I suggested to Jay, my gourmet cook husband, that he give it a try. I wanted him to duplicate the recipe, but his being a diabetic made that impossible from the get-go. Besides, he immediately balked at grating the three large pared apples by hand, opting to put them in his Cuisinart and chopping them in short bursts. I compared his result with a bit of apple I had grated, and the consistency was pretty close. The recipe read "to every teacupful of the apple add two eggs well beaten, two tablespoonfuls of fine sugar, one of melted butter, the grated rind and half the juice of one lemon . . ." What in today's measurement is a "teacupful"? Well, look it up on the Internet and the answer is "six oz." Those three large apples added up to four teacups or 24 oz. of apple. Jay substituted Splenda for sugar and bottled grated lemon peel. But when it came to adding "half a wine-glass of brandy" for every teacupful of apple, he simply reached into the cupboard and grabbed a red wine glass. But has the red wine glass changed size during the ensuring years? There was no time for more research. Jay was on a roll. He measured a half wine glass of brandy per teacupful of apple -- the result was that he added three mini-bottles of Christian Brothers brandy. The last ingredient was a teacupful of milk per teacupful of apple. Again we came up short. We use skim milk and I was certain the author expected that rich milk would be used. I took a can of whipped cream from the refrigerator, sprayed it into a measuring cup and added skim milk, then mixed them together. Pretty rich. "Pour into a deep dish lined with paste and bake 30 minutes." Jay had enough for two pies. He poured the thick batter into a prepared Pillsbury crust (he has learned to coat it with egg white so it won't get soggy, just as the author suggested so many years ago) and the remainder into a graham cracker pie crust shell we happened to have on hand. They looked tasty already.
"So, what temperature should I set the oven at?" he asked. "They didn't go by temperature settings," I replied. "At the beginning of the baked goods section, the author says that if you can leave your hand and arm in the oven counting slowly to 20 without being burned, then it's right for baking." He gave me an intense blue look behind his glasses as he absorbed this last bit. "I'll set it at 350 degrees," he decided. We were advised to check the pies with a broom straw to make certain they'd set, but I used a table knife instead. We did leave them in an extra 15 minutes and they looked great when they came out of the oven. "Now let those cool," Jay admonished, "while I mow the lawn." It was hard to wait. I like warm pie. When Jay came in, I'd already put pieces on plates, replete with whipping cream. They were wonderful, though Jay said he thought the brandy flavor overwhelmed the apple and custard flavors. But I think the ladies in my novel will love every brandy-flavored bite.