Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Last Night of Squirrel Awareness Month

I was visting Squirrelman's Blog today and learned that October is squirrel of awareness month. Instead of trick-or-treating (and that happened on the 30th here anyway, you should spend some time being aware of squirrels. If you are reading this in the USA, you are in the country with the greatest squirrel diversity on the planet. I learned this from Squirrelman's odd but informative video clip of the top ten squirrel countries, which is worth a look.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Mystery Squash Season

When we returned from the road trip, the healthiest plants in our garden were the giant squash vines volunteering out of the compost pile. The friend who had been watering considered them summer squash and had picked (and left) monstrous quantities. While they were tasty steamed and then sauteed with sage and sausage, I quickly determined, solely on our inability to keep up with eating the crop, that they should be considered winter squash and they have been ripening on the vine ever since.
The forecast suggests that temperatures could drop tonight (it hasn't frosted yet), and as I looked out at the muted autumnal hillsides this afternoon, I decided to harvest the volunteer mystery squash.

For the first time in my adult life, I have Halloween decorations other than a single jack-o-lantern. The grass is from The Mister's birdseed. I think it looks particularly gruesome with our purple astroturf. But at least the squash will have been admired (or tripped on) by throngs of trick-or-treaters before it returns to the compost pile.

Butternut Squash Season

Winter squash season has arrived here in West Virginia. To one member of our household, this is an event of great joy, as it means, among other tasty things, squash soups and stews. To the other member of our household, winter squash season is a non-event.
As the former, I invite you all to celebrate autumn with a big pot of squash soup. In the past, I considered my curried squash stew to be a converter recipe: one of my recipes, like carrots and parsnips or sweet potato chips or roasted brussel sprouts which convinced anyone who ate it that they didn't really hate the vegetable in question after all. My former roommate Tuscon Trekker, in fact, thinks that my recipe for curried squash stew alone was worth all the hassles of living with me (that I put up with, and actually liked, her smelly cat was just a bonus). The Mister, however, is not a fan and I've actually forgotten how to make the wonderful concoction since living with him.

Pureed squash soups are more to The Mister's liking, or at least tolerance, and this one is almost as good as my famous stew.

1 butternut squash
1 onion
some oil
some chili peppers
some Indian spices
some wine
chicken broth and water
plain non-fat yogurt

Split the squash, remove the seeds and bake (skin side up in a little water) until cooked, about an hour*. Saute the onion in the oil. Add the chili peppers, ginger, turmeric and whatever other Indian spices sound good at the moment. Unlike some squash soups, this one is in no way trying to emulate pumpkin pie, so make sure you spice it so that it is spicy, not just cinnamon-y.

After you have forgotten about everything and the onions and spices have started sticking to the bottom of the pot, deglaze the pan with a bit of wine (cheap port works very well). Scoop out the squash flesh from the skin (which comes easily if you have baked it long enough, but don't scald yourself with the steam) and add the squash to the soup. Add some chicken broth or water or both and let it cook until your house smells wonderful.

Pour the soup into a food processor and puree until smooth. Add some plain yogurt to the quantity you are going to eat right now (yogurt doesn't ruin the leftovers, but leftovers with yogurt need to be watched while re-heated) and puree some more.


*This is the way to roast butternut squash as a straight side dish as well. You can bake a bunch at once and use them at different points throughout the week. Allegedly the soup process is faster if you just stick the squash raw in the soup, but then you need to peel it, which is a real pain, and the roasting really does bring out the flavor. Bake at the temperature of whatever else you have in the oven. I bake squash and apples or pears at the same time, usually at 350, but hotter certainly wouldn't hurt.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Gratuitous Cuteness

I can't make any real connection to rodents, sparkling wine, books or vegetables.

Do penguins count for rodents? Book Update

Some time back I picked up Hippolyte's Island, an illustrated novel by Barbara Hodgson based only on its cover. The book was light and fun. I willingly suspended disbelief where required and I spent some time thinking about penguins and looking at maps of the Southern Ocean after I finished it. The big realization, for me, is that I don't like "illustrated" adult novels. The drawings and pages of log reports in this one are fantastic, but I noticed them far more today exploring on Amazon (from which the image comes) than I did while reading it. A good story shouldn't need such superfluous material.

More recently I read Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen by Tamora Pierce. In reading these fabulous young adult fantasy novels, I noticed that I don't even flip back to the front to look at maps, even though I think that all such novels should have maps. Once into a story I want to read the story.

While reading Trickster's Choice, I spent a great deal of time thinking about how authors introduce readers to the rules of a world when the characters already live there. I was shocked to find the heroine dealing directly with a god a few chapters into the book. The heroine was not at all shocked. Such introductions are easy when the main characters are themselves outsiders (e.g. Harry Potter; Lucy and Edmund; hobbits outside the Shire), but more difficult when the characters understand magic, gifts, magi and gods, but the readers don't. I thought Pierce did a generally good job of this, but I was conscious of my lostness at several points early on. Later I found that Trickster's Choice, while the first book about Alianne, is Pierce's 13th set in Tortall, so many readers do already know the rules.

In any case, Trickster's Choice and Trickster's Queen both come heartily recommended to my fellow young adult fantasy fans. You know who you are. They are no Blue Sword (nothing else is), but they have a fantastic teenage heroine who survives by thinking like a spy. She's just a touch annoyingly good at everything, but she still rings mostly true-- and of course I'm all for anything that suggests that smart girls can also be beautiful and good with a blade. By biggest complaint is that the second book involved a very serious moral dilemma (and some interesting commentary about the collateral losses of a just war) and it was decided by outside forces rather than by the characters. I still want to know what she would have done.

Thanks to Sunflower Spinner for lending me the books.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pop open some house sparkling

The Colorado Rockies, on their way to the World Series, were apparently drinking Domaine Ste. Michelle last night. Good choice, guys. If you're in a "hot streak of epic proportions" well-chilled sparkling wine should hit the spot. And nice playing, too.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Preparation for the winter

Last weekend the Mister and I journeyed into the mountains. Despite temperatures reaching into the 80s (in the mountains, in West Virginia, in October!), smart organisms were preparing for the winter.
Chipmunks were on high alert. Around the Civil War graves at Droop Knob State Park, Eastern Grey Squirrels were chasing walnuts and each other. At Bear Town State Park,
the Red Squirrels stashing acorns and conifer cones wouldn't stop long enough for us to take a clear photo.

The trees were reabsorbing their chlorophyll.
And, at least one bear at Droop Mountain was eating large quantities. Whether he (or she) was absorbing any of the nutrients I have no idea, because he (or she) was certainly piling up the scat on along the trail. We encountered at least 6 large plops in less than a fourth mile of trail. Two were still glistening fresh, two appeared to be the previous day's, and two were still very squishy but growing mold.

Back at home our chipmunks seem especially excitable, our marmot (the local groundhog) is very fat, apparently feasting on chestnuts, and two beaver are building a lodge in the river which is visible from the bridge we cross on the way to work. Winter's coming!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Reprieve for the Chipmunks

It seems that Little Miss Purrful was just slumming with us last week. After 5 days of hanging around our house, and after we gave in and bought a litter box and food dish, the little cat disappeared as mysteriously as she arrived. We think that means she returned to her human family in one of the nearby neighborhoods. While we were most definitely not looking for a cat, and have found most of the local "free kittens" quite resistible, we did completely fall for this one, and even the thought that some family is delighting at her return doesn't console me. Here's another picture of the little heartbreaker.