Wednesday, December 30, 2009

It's Ice Fishing Time Again

Some ponds (lakes to the rest of us) are frozen enough to support ice-fishing shacks. Surprisingly, just a couple inches of ice supports not only intrepid walkers like me, but these heavy "ice-drinking" wikkiups.

If you don't have an ice shack to keep you "warm" (these don't have smoke stacks, so no stove), there is still good news for the outside fisherman.

No longer must you sit next to an ice hole holding a pole! You set your hook and the trigger of the automatic fishing device. When you get a big one (or a bite) the flag springs up to alert a catch.

When you catch "trash fish", they are just tossed out onto the ice near the hole for the bald eagles to swoop on. They are not released because they endanger the viability of the "good eatin" fish. Anybody know what kind of ugly fish this is?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Holiday Greetings from Portland, Maine

Here is your Christmas card from me to you:

It's that time of year when there's a snap in the frosty air and the snow crunches under foot. I took a little walk.... well, a brisk walk downtown this week to see the always eclectic holiday decorations. The small park beside the Eastland Hotel held strange shaped lights. The cocktail bar at the top of the Eastland is just below the sign for a great view of the city.

Further down the street is a column of balls. The Time and Temperature building display is in the background.

Monument Square, the main downtown square was not so interesting.... just a big tree with tiny lights.

Longfellow Square, on the other hand, had the best display in town. Who knew pink and orange went together??

Friday, December 11, 2009

Down Home Country Meal

I'll admit it, I'm obsessed with eating opportunities.

Saturday was the latest in ongoing fundraiser dinners (called supper, here) I've come to enjoy. This was the Boyscouts hosting a roast beef supper served family style and hence, all-you-can-eat for 8 bucks. Service is always good and well organized. You pay upstairs in the Lions meeting hall, then sit and watch a general interest TV station until there are enough eaters to make a full table of 8. It never takes long to be ushered to a waiting clean table.

The kitchen was full of Lions Club members who prepare the food with frivolity. They must have thought I was a reporter taking these pictures because I had on a Santa hat and just nosed my way in like I owned the place. Everybody was accommodating and let me take pictures as I pleased.

Dishes of food arrived at the table in swift succession and were passed with efficient cooperation of my new dining buddies. We had roast beef, mashed potatoes & gravy, baked carrots with a little brown sugar and cinnamon, cole slaw, rolls & butter. What a spread.

Pies, some home made by scout mothers, others store-bought, were served when everybody at the table had finished their eating orgy. We had our pick of any flavor on offer.

I plan to branch out to been feeds, and mac & cheese suppers.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Brussels Sprouts are Good After All !

I've spent most of my life hating burssel sprouts. As boiled vegetables, they were bitter that no amount of butter and salt could disguise. But just this week I tried roasting them as suggested by two other people who also used to despise the little cabbages. They were GREAT! Just roast em with olive oil, salt and pepper until they start to brown on the outside. They become sweet and creamy, sort of like a roasted onion.
For this recipe of roasted sprouts in butternut squash puree, just click on: GREAT!
They make a nice fall and winter side vegetable loaded with vitimins C and K.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Raindrops on the noggin

With my new rain gauge (thank you Eric) properly mounted on the back porch railing, documentation of Portland's annual 46 inches of precipitation will be easy. That's a full 9 inches more than Seattle! For you statisticians out there, our driest month is Aug. with 3 inches and our wettest month is, whoa, November with 4.75 inches which, by the way, has exceeded our monthly allotment already with a whopping 7.84". I love the rain here because central CA had so little (12 inches/year). It feels so life-giving, fresh and clean in addition to giving reasonable excuse to remain indoors and cook, read, and watch movies. Although Mainers just go about their business in the rain, mostly without hats and sometimes even without a raincoat, I prefer to hole-up, admiring our abundance while warm and dry.
I emptied 1.25 inches from the rain gauge last night and this morning on my way out of the house to work I took this snap and you can (maybe) see there is another three quarters in the center column. the center column records 1 full inch, then overflows into the larger cylinder to be measured after emptying the small column.
For snow measurement, the top funnel and center column are removed and the snow gathered in the large cylinder is melted and measured.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Search for the Berlin Wall

Monday was the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I had recently heard from my friend, the famous techie Eric Evans, that Portland, Maine has its own little section of the wall, so on Monday I went down to the Old Port to take a look. Indeed, there it was standing on Long Wharf near Di Millos Floating Restaurant.

There are 39 places in the U.S. that have sections of the wall, places like the Nixon Library, Reagan Library, and Loyola Marymount University. I can't find any references about how and why Portland got its little piece of perestroika.
As you can see, I had to use flash on the camera at 4:15 pm.
Jay's Oyster Bar is just across the parking lot behind the wall sections, so I popped in for a bakers dozen of "raw and naked" oysters that I've taken a liking to since living here. Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures of the little guys.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Still Fall in Maine

It was 28 degrees this morning. We've already had the first snow, and it is still technically called "fall", and will be called so until the end of December. I, apparently, am the only one taking exception to the conventional nomenclature. I feel like northern New England ought to be an exception, but then, I am reminded that by being "from away" have no authority to challenge anything in Maine. I've also been reminded that I will never be a Mainer, so just stop with the judgements.

OK, so call it whatever you want, but you can't get around the readout of the thermometer and the visual presence of the white stuff.

The car has its "winter" wiper blades, undiluted coolant, 5/30 weight oil, and 150 pounds of sand over the rear wheels, but its still fall in Maine.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fire Hydrants in New England

How am I going to interest you in the differences in fire hydrants here in the east compared to "easy living" western "no snow" states? I'm sure you already know the living here is more difficult and costly than the "tropics".

Yesterday as I was leaving work I saw a service truck at the fire hydrant outside the residence hall where I spent the afternoon. The service guy was pumping water out of the open hydrant so I stopped to ask a few questions as I am prone to do. I already knew that hydrants couldn't have water in them in the winter months or they would freeze, split and break apart.

I just didn't know how it worked, so he explained that the actual valve that provides the water is located five and a half feet below the surface where it doesn't freeze. The column of pipe above this valve has to be evacuated of water before winter and after each use in winter to prevent the freezing problem. So there he was pumping the extra water out of the top column in all the hydrants. They make these hydrants "break-away" so if they are inadvertently hit by a vehicle, they just break off at the surface and no water shoots skyward. He even gave me a brochure and parts list so I could scan it for my blog. What a nice guy! I don't think he gets inquisitive people very often.

Now... just because you suffered through the explanation of fire hydrants, here are a couple pictures from my picture window and the roof of the residence hall I work in.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Fall Foliage in Maine

Reports say that Southern Maine is at 75%f of color for foliage today. It's gettin real pretty around here and I took these pictures on the way to work this morning and a few more were taken here on the campus of the University of Southern Maine. This example of a Japanese Maple tells it all.

This is what hyderangeas look like when they bloom in spring.

After they've matured a bit they trun this color of pink. I don't know if the sun does it or it's just natural maturation process.

I never saw this kind of hydrangea before, but this one is everywhere around here. They grow BIG!

r><div>Is this Boston Ivy? It makes our school look prestigious, no?

The ducks are over in the other pond, ruining an otherwise good shot at Smiling Farms Dairy.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Cumberland County Fair, Maine

It's fair time in New England. This week Eric and I attended our local... and puny I'm told... County fair. I saw some things new to me and some old favorites too.

It rained on Sunday, opening day, and we were too late to see the harness racing where trotters pull the two wheeled buggies. I think you can place bets on them like the horse races I'm used to in Fresno. The track may have been too wet anyway.

It was, indeed, a smal a-"fair" (pun intended) as you can see by the nearly empty main street. So many of the junk food trailers were closed for weather and lack of customers that I could not find a deep fried twinkie or even the normally ubiquitous corndog! What a bust.

No rides were operating and the only noise was a really bad rock band singing off key. But I still loved it.

Eric started our small eating binge with a huge order of french fries which came with hot cheese-like dip and catsup. Maine is somewhat famous... at least in New England... for potato growing, but the boxes thrown out the trailer back door indicated Idaho as their origin. These were huge specimens, but no picture can convey their true size. If you look closely, you can see that they are half the size of Eric's head.

There were big pumpkins which I'm sure aren't the biggest in the country, since our growing season is so short, but they are pretty big. There were squash the same size as the pumpkins, only they were green and resembled a green pumpkin rather than any squash I ever saw.

I'll leave you with something new... a short video of the ox-pull event. These big guys are pulling 2 tons of concrete. As we walked through the draft animal barn, Eric remarked how this looked like a biblical scene.

The big fair, I'm told, is in Fryeburg an hour from Portland. There they have events like skillet throwing (only for women), and logging events like chopping, chainsawing, and bucking.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fresh Pasta & Crappy Mexican Food

I thought of writing a review of the new Taqueria in Portland, but had second thoughts. Mexican food is different here than in CA, so its not my place to judge. This is Maine, that is California.

In any case, "Taqueria" implies a no-frills low-budget place to get filling Mexican tacos, burritos, and other cheap food. I knew our new taqueria failed that score when my too-sweet margarita arrived with a blue plastic swordfish stuck in the drink. A true taqueria wouldn't even serve a margarita... only beer. My fish taco was,well, a little too sweet for my taste. It had a sweet dressed coleslaw inside. Eric and I shared a side of guacamole and chips. Fortunate for me there was a bottle of hot sauce on the table because everything was pretty bland to my California-raised taste buds. In fact when ordering at Thai restaurants I have to order a couple notches hotter than their hottest hot-scale number.
We just had to order a dessert described as "rice-crispy square with papitas and Cotija" (pumpkin seeds and sharp, crumbly goat cheese). It was a description just too bizarre to pass. This shared dessert was restaurant made with carmel instead of marshmallow and pumpkin seeds. They must have been out of cotija. It was really sweet, but not as bad tasting as it sounds.

Eric and I sat at a picnic table outside in cool breezy weather next to a chimeria with a crackling fire. It was kind of cozy and we could see just a sliver of the bay with sailboats appearing for seconds at a time.

The tab including tip for 2 drinks, 2 fish tacos, 1 chips & guac, 1 rice-crispy square = $40

I won't grade it, but my thoughts of what a"taqueria" should be doesn't match what I experienced.

A couple weekends ago I gave a pasta making demonstration for Carol, a friend of Michael's who has had this pasta machine for 35 years and never used it.

She was needing a refresher and I needed to regain my abilities making an egg noodle dough. Italian pasta can be made with or without eggs. I most often opt for the richer recipe.

There are just 2 tricks to pasta making... getting the dough the right consistency, and separating the strands to air dry before boiling.

We succeeded with the dough, but serving seven people, we needed a good pile of fettuccine and had no effective way of hanging the strands.
In the attempt to keep our batches from sticking together we laid them out with flour between layers. This worked only marginally well. We had clumps after cooking, but good enough nevertheless.

Our sauces were San Marzano tomato with kalamata olives and garden fresh pesto. Carol made a huge salad and the wine freely flowed.
It's such fun to cook with friends!
And thanks to Jim for grabbing the camera!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Casco Bay, Portland & Newport, RI

Casco Bay is the large bay that encompasses a long coastline and includes several, well a lot of islands. The port of Portland is part of this larger bay. One sunny Sunday morning recently I paddled along the city's coastline to see what I could see. Here is the rather unsightly hi-rise condo that has killer views over the bay.

One of the 50 or so cruise ships expected this year in port. This tiny one boasts being able to get into small, less touristed moorings.

Old pilings from a long ago burned down pier still stand sentinel beneath the Observatory built in 1807 to view the bay's horizon to hearken the arrival of ships in order to call workers to the docks to unload supplies and operate fish processing plants.

The Cat Ferry, a high-speed catamaran, services Nova Scotia several times a week transporting vehicles and passengers on a 5 hour crossing.

Labor Day in Newport was a pleasant get-away only 3 hours from Portland.

A co-worker asked me along and we stayed with her sister who lives just steps from the water. Small piers make it possible
to get out over the water.
A day at the beach was something I haven't done for a long, long time. The lifeguards were kept busy going after swimmers who ventured out too far. Newport itself was really packed with the last of the tourists of the season, but nevertheless enjoyable to see. When we toured the "mansions" up on the hill, I thought "big houses", but in reality, they really are mansions with grounds as large as parks and gardens to match. There were some very wealthy folks at the turn of the century from New York who found this area to be a suitable summer get away.