Stopping for Turkeys

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Your standard work day. Did some good work, offered my knowledge and labor, learned some things. Heading south toward home. Near Burlington, some traffic. Not bad, considering, but not quick. The traffic loosened as I moved south into more rural territory. Then the car in front of me braked, more quickly than for just a turn off the main road.

It was turkeys. A whole gaggle of them crossing the road. Well, not a gaggle. That’s geese. You could call it a flock. They are birds. Call it a rafter. Seriously. A group of turkeys is called a rafter. Once upon a time it was a raft, I guess. Then it got colloquialized.

Anyway, this rafter crossed the road. There were eight or nine of them. Or ten. I maybe didn’t see all of them. The majority of them ambled from west to east and blended into the trees. Three of them hung out on the other side, pecking at the grass. Cars started moving again.

Turkeys have made a comeback in recent decades. They once were booted entirely out of Vermont, but they came back. Now they are everywhere in the state. Still, it isn’t every day that one must pause in one’s vehicle to let them waddle across the byway. Lucky me today.

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Another Try at a Pie

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Well it looked good. And it tasted good. But it was still too runny. The last time I made a pie it was delish, but just not holding together. The apples were soft. The crust was flaky. But inside, liquid oozed around the apples. Today I tried again with a new recipe (thanks, Mom) but it still didn’t stay together well.

Last time I used cornstarch as a thickener. That makes for a smoother pie, so I’ve heard. This recipe calls for flour as a thickener. It worked just as well as far as I can tell, but did it work well enough? I am just not sure.

My theory at this point is that my lack of patience is the problem. When I took this pie out of the oven I placed it on a cooling rack. I let it sit for about a half hour. I thought that was long enough. But my family was eager to dig in, as was I. So I sliced it open to find it was not all that cohesive. It seemed cool enough–warm but not hot. But I splashed some of the filling onto my hand. That burned.

I may need to approach pie baking differently, give it more time. I had planned to make this one a couple of hours before dinner. But then I took my daughter to the movies with friends. And I made some chili. The pie had plenty of time to bake and some time to cool. Apparently, my cooling time was not adequate.

We only ate half the pie tonight. The rest, at this point, is in the refrigerator. In the morning I will have to see how it is doing. I am sure my children will insist on pie for breakfast. Call it bad parenting if you want but I am going to let them have it. I mean, it’s for science. If it is cohesive enough at breakfast, I will have proved my theory.  Thanks, Kids!

Update 10/16: I had some of that pie tonight, about 24 hours after I first pulled it from the oven. It was, granted, pretty cooled in the fridge, but it was also pretty held together. Even after a minute in the microwave it seemed to have no runniness. Inconclusive. But it was still dang tasty!

Rain and Then Sun on a Walk

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Today my wife and I went out for a walk. It was late morning. It had been raining, really just showers on and off, but the rain had let up so we thought a walk would do nicely. We were in a dry weather window, so we ambled up the road. It was a tad muddy. A couple of new houses are being built nearby and the road has been getting chopped up a bit. I wore the wrong shoes. Crocs. Not the best for a damp gravel byway.

My poor choice of shoes didn’t matter in the end anyway. As we walked through the woods, looking out at the field, I asked “Do you think that is rain coming our way or just wind?” The answer: “I think it might be rain.” The sky in the west was dark. That dry weather window closed quickly.

It rained steadily and then harder, and harder. And it kept coming down. Deluge. We got soaked. We stood under some trees for a bit, although that hardly helped. We turned around for home. It kept raining. Before we got back to the house the sun broke through. Blue sky and wind. If we had waited a half hour longer to begin we would have missed that downpour. But our day would have been less interesting.

The foliage has been turning. It is not at its most brilliant yet, but it is still a sight. With cool air, and yellows and oranges sprouting among the trees, autumn is sliding on in, excusing herself to step in front of summer. As we walked the last stretch to the house, we got to see some of her beauty. Autumn wasn’t showing off, mind you, but she is dressing itself up lately. Even with my Crocs squishing and my shorts soggy, I couldn’t help but admire how good she was looking today.

Butterflies and Asters

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Asters are blooming like crazy right now: Purple Aster, New England Aster, Fleabane. Black-Eyed Susans are done. Touch-Me-Nots are gone. Dandelions? Haven’t seen them. Asters rule the fields these days.

I don’t know my butterflies well. I have thought many a time that I should learn them. I got some exposure to learning them on a trip this summer the butterfly garden at the Fairbanks Museum in Saint Johnsbury. They had a tent full of them with signage to show what was what. I don’t remember squat from that. Poor student, I guess.

The butterflies in the photo above are American Ladies. I had to look that up. I might be able to tell a Viceroy from a Monarch, but don’t trust me too much. I know there is more than one Swallowtail in Vermont. Can’t tell them apart though. But I tell you this: they are just cool-looking.

It is kind of nice to simply not know the names of things. There is real pleasure in being able to look at an insect, or a plant or a bird, and to know its name. To name something is the beginning of getting to know it, to knowing more than just its name. However, there can be just as much joy in simply wondering at a thing, in watching and seeing with ignorant eyes, in being present to observe.

A sunrise does not have a name, but it is beautiful. We can watch the sky change and the clouds trudge along in their pinkness and just feel awe. We do not have to create a name for snow on trees to find it wondrous. So it is with butterflies. I am curious about what they all are, what makes them different, where they go in winter, what flowers they prefer–all of that starts with naming them. But I do not need to name them to find them wondrous. They dance, unnamed, among the asters I might be able to name, and I feel like kid. “That is so cool!” I say aloud. And that is enough.

 

Pie Time

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Last weekend we picked some apples. If you are not one to frequent an orchard to pick your own apples then you might not know how easy it is to pick too many. One bag is easy to fill, especially when the apples are the size of grapefruits, so it is tempting to fill a second, and a third. Even though there were several of us on this particular trip, adults and youth types, we did not pick too many. Pat on the back for us.

We did, however, pick enough to make an apple pie. I have been using a variation of the same recipe now for years. It is a tasty pie, no doubt. The crust, with a bit of dried mustard and cheddar cheese baked right in, is spot on. It is a good crust. And the filling tastes great–robust apple flavor, not too sweet. But the consistency I just can’t nail.

This recipe calls for two tablespoons of corn starch to thicken the filling. I used the recommended number of apples, and I tried not to add only the humongo ones. More apples means more moisture which means more starch is required to absorb the excess liquid. I know this. So even though the number of apples in my pie matched that in the recipe, I doubled the corn starch. I was going to add only one extra tablespoon but I added two just to be on the safe side.

But the dang thing was still way too runny. I even let it sit a while so it would not flow out just because it was too hot. So, like a late New Year’s resolution, I have decided to just bag this recipe and to find another. This one stinks. I am always afraid I will add too much corn starch and it always comes out runny. Lame, I tell you. Lame. So from here on out I toss that filling recipe into the bin. I’ll keep the crust, but the filling? Ain’t happenin’ no more.

So I am on the hunt for a new apple pie recipe. I have a few in books on the shelf, and I will certainly give the pie recipes in them a try. I guess I will need to just get baking to try a few. Do you have a tried and true recipe that makes the apples pop on your tongue and is just sweet enough? You let me know. I’m game. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Dino S. Aur

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Several years ago the dinosaur came. He lived with some friends but we helped him to find his way into curious locations at their house when we visited. At some point he ended up in a curious location at our house. He has been tucked under blankets and buried in a flower bed. He keeps coming around.

When he ended up here, our duty was to make sure he made it back to their house, and vice versa. One time he was mailed to us baked into a cake. He did not fare so well and had to go into physical therapy. This was documented in a photo book. He came with us on a trip to Utah and joined us in all our adventures, including a zip line, hiking, mountain biking, a trip to get ice cream. He got a girlfriend on that trip. Those adventures were documented in a series of Facebook posts.

The topper to that series was the flight home. We asked the crew if we could take a photo of them with the dinosaur. They did us one better. They took Dino and a camera into the cockpit and, once we were airborne, took a video of Dino and his partner flying the plane. Sweet.

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The last time he left us he dramatically flew from the car as I exited our friends’ driveway. When we next went to visit them he ended up hiding in the glove box of our car for the ride home. Now he is with us again. I am documenting his life in Vermont (Girlfriend status? Couldn’t tell you) on Instagram. Follow him at Dino.S.Aur. Let’s see what happens.

Monarchs on Milkweed

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We typically have some milkweed growing in our field. For the past couple of years I have made a point to try to leave some standing when I mow. Since Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweed I wanted to make sure they can keep doing their thing.  For the past couple of years we have had no Monarch caterpillars on that milkweed.

This year I wanted to just mow everything. Saving the milkweed means saving some of the wild parsnip, and I want that stuff gone. So I just cut it all. The milkweed, however, perhaps because I mowed early enough, came back. And now we have Monarchs.

We found a caterpillar in a neighboring field recently and that made us more vigilant in searching our own. We found one caterpillar, then another, then another. Yesterday my spouse and I took a walk down the road. On the way out we found half a dozen on milkweed plants along our driveway. On our way back we looked again. We found eleven.

I am not sure if they are just doing better this year, or maybe cutting the milkweed actually helped. Maybe the younger plants are more appealing to them. In any case, those critters are thriving in our field. And they are cool-looking–wiggly and fat and striped with those waving antennae. Looking through the milkweed now is like searching for treasure. Plump, squishy, pre-butterfly treasure.

Before long those caterpillars will hole up for a bit and pop out of cocoons as butterflies. Then they will haul their fragile little selves down to Mexico for the winter. That is amazing, and don’t you even think it isn’t. The milkweed will go to seed after the butterflies depart. The seed pops will burst with floating white seed parachutes. I will crack open the pods and toss those seeds to the wind.  All of us in the house do this every year. We try to spread the milkweed to help the Monarchs. Apparently it helped last time.

Today it has been raining. I am sure the caterpillars are tucked under leaves, chewing their way through their own roofs. We have mostly stayed inside–reading, doing Algebra homework, paying bills, cobbling together lunch. Tomorrow we will look again for those yellow and white and black wrigglers. Finding eleven of them at once was a household record. I am hoping we can break it.