Sunday, August 23, 2009

Enormous Insects

I know that Portland has been hit by some crazy 100F+ weather this summer, but generally the climate is cool and not particularly humid - the water tends to remain is just the liquid phase year round - which is not conducive to breeding large or venemous insects. Hallelujah. Pittsburgh is not exactly a fetid rainforest itself, but remember that we're not to many miles north of the Mason Dixon line. Mom and I were terrified by the mouse sized spider we saw hanging out in southern Indiana, and I continue to be shocked when I meet insects larger than an inch. This seems to be the time of year when they start to be around.

The shadow of this two inch grasshopper was projected and enlarged onto the sheer curtain in our front hall.

A half dozen husks of these inch long cicadas (right?) are clustered on the trunk of our maple tree.

Every couple of years I spot a preying mantis or too, and hopefully I'll have a camera handy.
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New York Adventures

Ashley and Auntie went to New York! Ashley and I have been planning to go forever, and people I know keep moving there, but with her working weekends and me working weeks we've never been able to put together a couple of days to make a visit. Finally we decided that even if I couldn't make it, that shouldn't keep Ashley away and planned a semi-impromptu trip. Thanks to Auntie for going with her.

They met a member of the local constabulary, woefully underequipped to deal with today's automotive criminals.

They went out to dinner with Val, one of the first of our friends to move to New York. Congratulations to Val and Jeff one the purchase of their new place! Good luck moving in, unpacking, etc.

They took a boat tour of the local waterways. They saw this tacky french doodad.

They also saw this important link in the solid waste "treatment" process.

But most interestingly they saw this enormous box of netting. Ashley hypothesized that this is where they pen the giant psychic moths that will be deployed to defend the city from attack by enormous radioactive iguana or enormous prehistoric ape. My theory is that it's a golf driving range. Further research may be necessary.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


We've done some work around the house and the yard in the last week or two, and of course we've had plenty of help from the pooch.

Here he is helping out with our tree cleanup, detailed in previous posts. That particular piece of tree was probably "recycled" to the back yard after a day or two.

Our friend Alison just got a new appartment, and we were happy to contribute our futon to the cause. It has been taking up space in our basement for a long time and getting it out has seriously cleared up space that we will soon need as we begin to reconfigure the house for a new occupant. Anyway, while we were securing the frame of the futon to the top of the car, Otto found a snack in the bushes and took it over to the comfiest spot he could find to enjoy it. For a closeup on what he is chewing, see the previous post.

Some recent eating

It always seems to make the parents happy when I reassure them that I'm eating well. I think any recent picture of me should be plenty of evidence of that, but here are some more specific details.

Our tomatoes flourish. The vines drip with fruit and ripen one by one, outward along the stem. I'm now getting about a dozen ripe ones every couple of days with what looks like hundreds on deck.

We've also been getting massive cucumbers from Auntie's garden. For a salad we chopped up cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and some of the mint that grows like a weed along the side of the house and makes that section of lawn my favorite to mow. We also had some fancy shmancy cheeses, greek olives, baguette, and conventional salad.

Just yesterday I harvested a few more cherry tomatoes along with a pile of of basil and oregano from Ashley's herb garden to put on some pizza. We like our pizza crispy and it's always a pain when the yummy toppings slide off, so I took a few precautions against sogginess.

The tomatoes are seedy and juicy, but they are too small to seed individually. What I did was I sliced each one into three pieces and collected them in a medium mixing bowl. I filled the bowl and massaged and swirled the sliced tomatoes under the water. I transferred the tomatoes to a smaller bowl and found the bottom of the larger bowl filled with seeds and gunk. I let the tomatoes drip for a while, drained off the water again and wrapped them in paper towels to absorb what was left.

For the crust I use a just-add-water mix, but I add a little olive oil, and when the ball of dough is formed I toss it in some additional flour. I grease the cookie sheet we use with plenty of olive oil, which adds to the crispiness when its finished, but more importantly acts as a lubricant when I spread out the dough, which helps to get the dough thinner, better distributed, and prevents tears and holes.

For the toppings I use the bare minimum of tomato sauce, then mozzarella and peperoni, then the tomatoes, some onion, and the herbs. Having the veggies on top and not under the cheese helps to evaporate off the extra water and cook the veggies a little better.

Finally, I bake the pizza for twenty minutes at 450, which is much longer than recommended.

The tomatoes on our pizza were a little sour this time, but overall really tasty.

Brigid and Dan made dinner for us for Ashley's birthday. I'm sorry I didn't take any pictures, but I was too busy eating. They grilled marinated salmon, which was very tasty, but probably only about a two on the scale of manly grilling, a boar on a spear over a bonfire of your enemies' longboats being a ten, and a garden burger in the microwave being a one. They also made gazpacho, which we had to restrain Ashley from reheating, and they got this nice tiramisu, which we were unable to restrain Ashly from decorating. Thanks guys!

The dog also got a chance to taste some delicacies yesterday. We think it may have been fermented rabbit on the bone, which is best enjoyed al fresco with a salad of mixed garden greens and a pairing of eau de toilette.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Mid summer garden cooking advice

This is a request to anyone who might know: are there any culinary uses for tall, tough, bitter, flowering lettuce plants?

Go ahead and say "I told you so"

This one goes out to everyone who said "Hey Nick, isn't that tree in your front yard kind of dead?" Well, it's even deader now than it was last winter. Yes, you told me so.

And to all of the people who mocked us for putting a chainsaw on our wedding registry: I told you so!

An enormous branch fell from the tree in (or, we contend, very slightly adjacent to) our front yard. There was minimal damage. The phone line came down, but we don't use that, and the cable line got stretched such that we lost exactly one channel. Electricity was not affected according to the worker from the power company who came out to check on it when Ashley called.

We think this is our neighbors tree, and we wish they had come over to talk to us about it when it fell last week, but they didn't, so today we went ahead and cleaned it up. Four bundles of sticks and branches, three garbage bags of twigs and two sizeable logs later we're back to normal.

Optimistically, the fact that this branch fell towards the house should mean that the tree is now weighted more away from the house instead. Also, we hope that being rotten will mean that it is more likely to crumble piece by piece or collapse into itself than it is to tip and fall far enough to hit the house. Practically, we have no idea. If anyone knows any arborists, maybe they could drop us a line.

We dug out our house papers from their secure and fireproof location behind the paperback sci-fi novels in the office-which-will-soon-be-a-nursery and determined that (a) homeowners insurance is written to discourage homeowners from claiming coverage, (b) the tree is not indicated on the survey drawing we have, (c) the property line is 6' 7" from the edge of the structure and (d) we are covered for the destruction of our house by aircraft, including guided missiles and spacecraft.

We will break out the tape measure and then start figuring out how to contact our neighbors to talk about this in a diplomatic way.


Today I thought I would share a nice trip we had last weekend to the dog park at North Park. But first, I'll experiment with embedding a google map of the location:

View North Park Dog Park in a larger map

Did it work? By my calculations the off leash area is a little under 3.5 acres, an enclosed area of grass, mud, and other unmentionable substances that used to be a paddock for captive deer.

Otto's favorite activity at the park has varied from racing and wrestling, to ball chasing and butt sniffing, but he always likes to start off with a circuit of the perimeter fence, which is basically like Facebook for dogs. Buttbook. P-mail.

He was feeling pretty mellow that day and didn't want to do much chasing. Instead he found a shady spot in a stand of trees and made a friend. This husky was not the one that went on to take a bath in the huge mud puddle at the bottom of the hill.

We wandered over to the other stand of trees where there was a huge dog party, and a couple of other dogs were making friends as well. And who can blame him? That big red hound (not Otto, but with some resemblance) was a beautiful beast with his short shiny hair, taut physique, and friendly floppy face.

Some people didn't think that was appropriate and thought the chihuahua should make friends with a dog that was a little more...vertically compatible. The big red hound (Clifford?) didn't seem to have taken offense.

Otto started feeling the love and thought he'd jump on the table and get in on the action. But then a hawk came screaming over and the chihuahua had to leave.