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Juno the Whale

27 Aug

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Every night since I was a little girl, I can remember hearing Tom Brokaw’s voice. We watched the Nightly News religiously, and hearing Mr. Brokaw’s voice in the background kind of became part of our family. Now, Brian Williams is our on-the-tube family member, and he and his team have been recently reporting on an issue incredibly close to my heart.

Juno the Whale. I met Juno only a few months ago visiting him at the Mystic Aquarium. He was playful, fun, and such a ham! Just like in the videos that have now gone viral, he truly is a big, white, playful ball of whale. So adorable. Just like his father.

The real connection I have with these beautiful whales is with Naluark, Juno’s father. Naluark is living at the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, CT on a “breeding loan” from the Shedd aquarium. Boy is he ever. That whale can DO IT. So much so, that I was scared for life with a very weird and ever-present curse. I’ll explain.

Years ago, our family took a vacation to one of America’s best cities, Chicago.   We visited all of the local tourist stops, including the Shedd Aquarium. Like Mystic, a main attraction was the Beluga Whale exhibit. We entered the dark room, cool and echo-y with hushed oohs and ahhs. Goosebumps ran up my arms and it smelled clean. I remember the weight of my dad’s hands on my shoulders as I slowly walked closer to the floor-to-ceiling glass of the tank, being careful not to leave fingerprints or patches of breath-fogs as evidence of my awe.

“Susie, Susie, come see this!” My dad’s beckoning arm towards my mom knew something I didn’t. The Belugas, Naluark and his mate, were swimming beautifully. They looked like they were dancing, actually. Twirls, dips, and dives.

The room became thick with silence. I’m sure every chin dropped. And when my confusion at every onlookers’ reaction became my all-too-pre-teen reality, mine dropped, too, and out came a very audible gasp. Maybe it bordered on a scream. I’m not sure; you may have to ask my parents about that. Anywho, I saw Naluark’s thing.   It was… huge.

Being old enough to know what “that” was, and realizing that these animals were doing “it,” I was also still young enough to think it was just plain gross. I too loudly removed myself from what the rest of the crowd saw as a beautiful and rare scene of nature, and clearly and vividly remember the moment to this day.

In fact, this has kind of haunted me in a way – maybe the higher order Beluga whales played a funny little trick because now, at 32-years old, wherever I go, I see animals procreating. Bugs, dogs, monkeys at the zoo, ducks, geckos (man they get loud in the heat of the moment!), and most recently, crabs (I hope they used protection) to name a few.

So this summer, I had a chance to make amends with what I now call “My Beluga Whale,” Naluark. Through the glass, and to the humor and slight embarrassment of my husband and mother in-law, I apologized to my whale for screaming during his intimate moment, and was ironically forgiven in a way by the silliness, smiles, and joy of his son, Juno.

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If you are a follower of the blog, you’ll realize that occasionally, a story has to be told, even if it isn’t around food. So while I do not have a food-connection to my beautiful Belugas, I’ll provide a recipe that’s simply an oldie, but a goody. Just like Naluark.

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Plum Crumb

  • 5 ripe plums, each sliced into 8 pieces.
  • 1 heaping tbsp. flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt, divided
  • ¼ tsp fresh thyme, minced
  • 3 c old fashioned rolled oats
  • 4 tbsp cold butter, cut into chunks
  • 3 oz. gorgonzola cheese
  • ½ c good quality honey

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Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In pie pan, mix the plums with the flour, sugar, thyme, and half of the salt (works out to be about a pinch). Mix until incorporated.   In a separate bowl, and using your hands, mix the oats, butter, cheese, honey, and remaining salt until the mixture is fully incorporated and crumbly. Spread the cheese crumb topping on top of the plums, and bake until browned and crusty on top.

Set aside to cool before digging in (although you will want to because the house will smell just divine).  

Enjoy!

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The Sunshine State?

16 Jul

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Growing up, we moved around a lot.  Every 2-4 years my family and I were packing up and relocating to a new state for my dad’s job, giving us new experiences and new fun.  Each place had its own charm; Bartlesville, OK holds great memories of walking with my mom to pet the horses at the ranch down the street.  And I’ll never forget Brahm’s – it’s still my favorite ice cream shop, and the taste of their burgers lingers in my mouth to this day.  Littleton, CO had the entire genuine western regime one may think of when cowboys ride off in the sunset.  I loved that place – even buried a penny in one of Jenn’s baby jars in the backyard with a note asking the treasure hunter to mail it back to me (I never heard anything).  When I moved out of the house on my own to the painted sky of Arizona, the rumors regarding the magic of the desert are more than true.  There may be nothing more amazingly beautiful than the desert sky (and yes, it is a DRY heat).

But there is one place that never really touched me as home.  I’m not sure why.  Somewhere in the lost cabinet of a house where odd socks and spare change and broken shoelaces go to hideout forever, is a videotape of a very memorable Thanksgiving in Houston, Texas.  We lived in a beautiful home on a cul-de-sac, with a pool and giant kitchen, with wings of the house that we could easily get lost in (which we sometimes did).  Jenn was 4, I was 11, we had recently gotten our dog, Casey, who was truly a wild-ass Texas dog that would run, run, run like a blur of brown and white lightning until we literally had to catch the animal like a greased hog-tie.

During times of naughtiness, we had a perfect “time-out” spot on the bottom step of our huge, winding staircase.  It was a place, which Jenn found herself maybe a few times, and my mom’s more-than-annoyed modulation of, “Go sit on the step!” during times of post-toddler vs. pre-pubescent sibling rivalry still rings clearly (although now it makes me laugh when I think of it).  Once during an “on the step” time, unknowingly to my mom, Jenn climbed upstairs, grabbed a pillow, blanket, and a Where’s Waldo book.  Maybe it was her 4-yr old way of Sticking it to the Mom, or maybe she really was clever enough to make her time-out experience somewhat enjoyable.  Whatever the reason, after a very prolonged period of quiet, we peeked around the kitchen corner to find Jenn’s legs stretched out the length of the step, book sleepily fallen on her chest, singing the zzz’s (a picture of this moment lies somewhere… Mom, blackmail?).

So maybe it was my I’m-so-cool-because-I’m-in-sixth-grade-so-everything-is-emo-and-everything-I-say-needs-to-have-an-“ugh”-noise-after-it phase of life, but I did NOT like Texas.  The Thanksgiving videotape, where Dad’s deep voice happily booms from behind the camera, where Mom’s smile stretches a mile as she delivers a perfectly browned turkey, where Jenn’s jibber-jabber about giving thanks for the strawberries and a giant chicken, and where we are all dressed for the occasion in the formal dining room, lends only the image of a Martha Stewart Holiday until my face comes into focus.

“Jilly! Where are you on this Thanksgiving?” Dad’s chipper voice was a decent attempt to change his daughter’s sullenness.

“Texas.” Period.  Ugh.  Sulk.

“Texas!” there’s the chipper again, “It doesn’t sound like you like this place so much, hu?”

Cue: another “duh, Dad” face.

Enter: Jenn almost standing on the table in excitement.

“Well, I live in Texas, and I think it’s Woooondderrfulll!!!!!” The exaggerated arm movements and the high-pitched, very fast talking voice that you are probably imagining out of my little sister at that moment are all true.

For a place that brings back so many clearly vivid memories, I never took to it.  I remember the GIANT bugs, and the greenbelt where Casey tripped Dad and cut up his shoulder.  I remember when I had chickenpox so badly during a 90+-degree summer with gagging humidity that the only thing that gave relief was just floating in the pool.  I remember the time where mom flipped out over a gecko and chopped off its tail and the tail flipped around wildly which made her scream even more, so the terrified (I’m sure) tailless gecko scampered into the scale which made the scale end up tossed into the backyard.

And I remember the thunderstorms.  The everyday cracking, pouring, God was power washing the Earth, thunderstorms.

I think all the moving of my youth kind of primed me for this military lifestyle.  As we are now in Florida, I find myself making new memories, cooking new foods, and trying to experience all we can in the short three years we will be here.  But for some reason, Houston keeps percolating in my mind – little blump, blump, blumps of familiar feelings, images, and scents.  Florida is reminding me, more and more, of Houston.

And I like it.

The icing on the cake is the thunderstorms.  Everyday we wake up to bright, goldenrod sunshine pouring in our bedroom windows, but as sure as the rooster roosts, by noon it’s pouring.  At first we were worried about Sig and his reaction to the smack-you-with-a-two-by-four thunder, but our super laid back, Owen Wilson (if he could talk), Oregonian dog did nothing more than raise his head to the noise.  Huh.  That was new.  Yawn.  I’m sure everything is fine.  But I hope it stops raining before I have to poop again.  Sigh.  Stretch.  Sleep.

Since I have been holding the house down these last few weeks as Rob becomes accustomed to his new job and schedule with the Coast Guard, I have felt it is my duty to make this house a home, especially in a place that feels so different to him from Oregon.  Meanwhile, I’m realizing my ease in the transition is that his place feels so familiar to me.

One thing that I know is Rob loves a cookie.  Especially one with chocolate chips, or, if he’s really lucky, the M&M ones Meagan bakes back in Oregon.  Personally, I feel there is something so comforting (and a little naughty) about having a cookie for breakfast, so in an effort to truly make this house feel – and smell – like a home, cookies, albeit somewhat nutritious in my book, needed to be baked (I waited for a daily thunderstorm, so at least having the oven on during the Southern summer felt validated).

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Thus, the Honey Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies were invented.  They are little old-fashioned, two-spoon drop cookies of oat-y goodness, just sweet enough to be a cookie to return to over and over again.  Hearing the, “Babe, it smells good!” as Rob came home made me just as happy to know he was going to enjoy eating them.  Cookies help make a house a home.

So, as I’m coming to the realization that our Sunshine State is really a quite rainy one, it’s ok.  Thanks to Oregon, we are used to the rain.  Thanks to Houston, I’m used to the storms.  And thanks to the Coast Guard, we’ve got many more memories ahead of us.

Enjoy the cookies – preferably on a rainy day.  🙂

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Honey Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies
(makes about 30 small cookies)

  • 1 c all purpose flour
  • ½  c quinoa flour (this adds a nice balance to the sweetness of the honey, as well as some protein – again, great for breakfast)
  • ¾ c old fashioned oats
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp cinnamon
  • 1 stick room temperature, unsalted butter
  • ½ c brown sugar
  • 1/3 c good honey (preferably local – it naturally helps with allergies)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ c mini chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet)
  • *optional: sea salt, or Maldon salt for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix all the dry ingredients, minus the chocolate chips, in a bowl, whisking until combined. 

In a mixer (or using a hand-mixer), cream the butter and brown sugar together until just combined.  Add in the eggs, honey, and vanilla and mix to combine.  Scrape down the edge of the bowl, and in thirds, mix in the dry ingredients.  Once all combined, mix in the mini chocolate chips. 

Using two regular kitchen teaspoons, scoop the dough onto the lined baking sheet, leaving a bit of room for slight spreading.  I fit about 15 cookies on one baking sheet. 

NOTE: If using sea salt or Maldon salt, sprinkle the cookies with just a pinch of salt 3 minutes AFTER they have gone into the oven.  The salt really does add quite a nice, delicate touch to the sweet bites.

Bake for 10-13 minutes, until the bottoms are golden brown, and the tops feel firm.  Place on a cooling rack, and enjoy when your taste buds can’t handle it anymore.  And your house will smell just lovely.

Enjoy! 

They’re Baaaaack!

15 Apr

One of the first things I learned in foraging on the Oregon Coast is that Banana Slugs are delicious.  Might I clarify learned, as in, someone told me so.  My pleasantly surprised, “Oh, I have so many of those in my backyard!” statement lead to the thankful explanation that the backyard ones should NOT be eaten.  Those slugs live off poop.

Needless to say, I have not delved into the wonderful world of Gastropods.

Figures, since Sig donates his fair share of excrement to the earth, and waiting for the sun to dry the ground just enough to collect his donations hasn’t happened, since, well, pigs flew around dropping the money that grew on their barnyard trees.  Thus, the slugs are back!  They kill my rosemary plants every year, wrapping their black, slimy, squidgy bodies up and around the very top branch, leaving not one little pine leaf unslithered.  Blech.  And now they have taken a liking to little Siglet, attaching themselves to his furry shorts every chance they get (maybe to get closer to their food source?).  There’s nothing like the comfort of walking around the house barefoot, until you step on a slug.  Squish.

There are many home remedies for slug removal, the most common being beer.  Can’t you just picture it: good ol’ drunk, fat slugs having their own little frat party until they pass out?  (Don’t worry – no hazing involved.  These are civilized slugs.)  And normally, I’d be all for the drunken explosion of herb destroying slimy bugs, but there’s a big problem: Sig. Loves. Beer.  We’d have dead slugs and a slurring Sig.

So in honor of the fact that I can’t kill the slugs, and Sig can’t have the beer, and Rob is underway and is not allowed to have beer, I decided to make a tasty pub concoction: Honey Oat Beer Bread.  Toasted with a slather of Orange Butter and you’ve got a treat that any person, or slug, or Sig for that matter, would enjoy.

A Caution Tested Through Experience: This bread will make your house smell heavenly while baking.  But, like most breads, it’s best after having cooled quite a bit.  So, have a hanky ready (to wipe the ensuing drool) and consume yourself with a good book to avoid scalding your mouth.

Honey Oat Beer Bread with Mandarin Butter (makes 1 loaf) 

  • 1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
  • 1 c whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 c 5-grain oats, plus more for sprinkling on top (I use Bob’s Red Mill brand) 
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 8 tbsp (1 stick) melted unsalted butter
  • 1/4 + 1/8 c honey
  • 1 bottle good flavorful beer 

Mandarin Butter 

  • 1 stick room temperature butter 
  • 2 mandarin oranges, zest and juice 
  • sprinkle of fine sea salt 

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

To make the butter, using a small spatula, mix all ingredients together until incorporated.  Taste for seasoning.  When mixed, spoon onto a sheet of plastic wrap, and mold into a log.  Put in the fridge to harden.

For the bread, mix all dry ingredients together in a large bowl.  Add 7 tbsp of the melted butter, the honey (tip: it pours and mixes better when warmed; just heat for about 15 seconds in the microwave), and slowly pour in the bottle of beer.  With a heavy whisk, mix together until just combined.  The dough should be loose, but thick.

Pour into a prepared greased and flour-dusted loaf pan.  Top with a sprinkling of oats, and then drizzle with the last tbsp of melted butter.

Bake until golden and when a took pick is inserted, it comes out clean, about 50 minutes.

Let the bread cool, then spread a dollop of Mandarin Butter on top.

Enjoy!

 

 

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