Monday, November 25, 2013

Book Nook - The Big Year

The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik:

I had no idea that Big Years existed until I saw an article in an old magazine (Country Living, actually) and heard about the movie based on the book.  When I came across that old article again recently, I was reminded about Big Years and wanted to read about something completely new to me: the world of birding.

A birder who sets out to see as many different types of birds as possible in North America in one year (the record being 745) is said to be doing a "big year."  There is a huge amount of travel involved, as you can imagine, as well as expense (one of the competitors in the book spent $60,000).  There are quirks that one must try to work around, such as getting the bird identifications correct, and making sure you have some proof that you actually saw this bird, like a witness.  A common bird in your area might end up being tough to find, and you'll spot it several states away.  You'll probably need to charter a helicopter to spot a Himalayan snowcock (and might even have to find it in its mountain home in a snowstorm).  You might return home after days or weeks of non-stop travel, only to receive an urgent phone call that a rare bird you need for your list has been spotted across the country - and you pack your bags and head right out again.

All of these scenarios happened to the three birders in this true story: Greg Miller, Al Levanthin and Sandy Komito.  I'm not sure which is a better description of these three men: determined or insane.  The lengths they go through to find specific birds is mind-boggling to the non-birder.  Birders reading this book, however, will probably find themselves quite envious of some of the rare species found in far-flung places (a great knot at Attu....terns, boobies and noddies at Dry Tortugas).  There are birds spotted in strangers' backyards, birds spotted at the dump, in parking lots, in National Parks, on pelagic trips, in fields in the middle of nowhere.

I was chatting with a birder about this book and he said that birding isn't really competitive.  But I could see how Miller, Lavanthin and Komito fell into serious competition: each was giving up a lot of time and money to see if they could break the record.  They also happened to be competing in 1998, year of El Nino and crazy storms that washed up all sorts of unusual birds on Attu and elsewhere.  They were in the right place at the right time, and would stop at nothing to win.

I think I'll stick to just photographing local birds, but I loved reading about the great lengths some people will go just to spot a once-in-a-lifetime bird.  As the book's title shows, it is an obsession.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {butterscotch pudding}

"Whoa, that's rich.........I like it."

That's what DH had to say when he first tried the butterscotch pudding from the excellent The Craft of Baking.  And they were my thoughts, exactly.

These dreamy little puddings are made with heavy cream (not milk) and egg yolks (not corn starch) - very different from traditional pudding.  You also bake them in a bain-marie.  I wonder if this recipe is identical to pots-de-creme?  Hmmm, I must look into that (and do some baking research to compare as well!).*

One note on the recipe: there must be a typo on the part where you make the butterscotch.  Cooking the sugar/water mixture on high for 15 minutes is a tragic error.  My house smoked up and all was lost about halfway through (the ingredients, that is - not the house!).  So, I re-did the sugar/water combination and set it at medium high and just kept a close eye on it.  Again, about halfway through it was done....but this time it was perfect!

These were delicious both warm and cold - if you can keep them around long enough without being eaten, all they need is a quick stir to restore their consistency.  But it's very difficult to keep them for any length of time after you eat the first one, so this probably won't be of concern.

This is one of my favorite recipes of the year.......I'm never making traditional pudding again!

*I couldn't wait to look up some recipes, so I can tell you - these are pots-de-creme.  Our author just calls them pudding.  I really don't think the word pudding does them justice.  I don't think my photo does them justice either - perhaps I should make them again to re-shoot?  Brilliant idea!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Nook - Do What You Are

Do What You Are: Discover the Perfect Career for You Through the Secrets of Personality Type by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger:

DH found a really funny thing online somewhere that shows you which Harry Potter character you are based on your Myers-Briggs score (I'm Luna Lovegood).  There's also one out there for Star Wars characters (Luke Skywalker here).  We got such a kick out of these, that it got me thinking about Do What You Are, a book that I have pored over in the past and still get out from time to time.

The book starts by giving you a mini Myers-Briggs test to determine your personality type.  There are four dimensions: extraversion vs. introversion; sensing vs. intuition; thinking vs. feeling; judging vs. perceiving.  Your answers in relation to these four areas make up your personality type.  After you determine which type you are, the next part of the book gives a run-down on each type.  There's also some interesting information about your dominant vs. auxiliary function and type in relation to your age.

Then, the next chapters are devoted on more in-depth information about each personality type, specifically how each relates to work.  Examples of individuals with your type are given, as well as your career strengths and weaknesses, what career satisfaction would look like for your specific type, good occupations for your type and pathways to job search success (and potential pitfalls).  This section is really in depth and takes almost the rest of the book.  But this is what you came for: to read all about your own type and how things are for you out in the real world.

Obviously, this book is going to appeal most to people who are looking to make a career move or switch jobs, someone hunting for their very first job, or someone who might wonder what their true calling is.  I used this book a lot when I was first out of college (my edition is older, obviously - I think it's been updated a couple of times since then).  But, even if you don't fall into any of those descriptions career-wise, it's still a really interesting book, and may open your eyes on why you chose the career or job you are in.  For me, I found it very interesting that almost all of the careers I considered at one point are listed in my pages (except for astronaut.....I really wanted to be an astronaut when I was a kid!  It must have been a personality "fling.").

So, which Myers-Briggs type are you?  I'm an INFP - anyone else?


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {pumpkin crisp}

When I made apple crisp earlier this Fall, I wondered if I could find any similar recipes, but with pumpkin.  After some internet searching, I found some interesting recipes for pumpkin crisp that incorporate yellow cake, but nothing like what I was envisioning.  So, I decided to create it myself!

I used the same topping as the apple crisp from Martha Stewart (see the above link).  Why mess with perfection?  Here's what I used for the pumpkin part:

3 pound sugar pumpkin
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon cloves

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cut up the pumpkin into small 1/2 inch cubes.  Toss pumpkin with the rest of the dry ingredients.  Bake pumpkin, without the topping, for 10 minutes.  Add Martha's topping and bake the whole thing for 55-60 minutes (cover with foil about halfway through if it starts to get too brown.  I always have to do this with crisps).

Serve warm - and here's the most important part - with ice cream!  Seriously, the ice cream is a definite must.  The crisp is a little dry because pumpkin doesn't have as much natural juices as other crisp fruit, like apples or peaches.  Also, I like this better the day after I made it.  Letting it sit out for a while gave the flavors a chance to develop and get even better.


Friday, November 15, 2013

The gift of time

Marie Antoinette.....Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.....Vincent Van Gogh.....Sylvia Plath.....Anne Frank.....Joan of Arc.....Princess Diana.....Caravaggio.....John Keats.....Alexander the Great.....

What do all these great historical figures have in common?  They all died at an early age.  And it seems rather strange to look at it this way, but I have spent more time on this Earth than any one of them did.

Earlier this week, I celebrated my birthday......a big one (4-0).  I try very hard not to think about age as a specific number.  Rather, I try to focus on being grateful.  I have something none of these great people had: my forties.  And each of them made a big impact in the short time that they lived; I can only hope and try to make my own impact too.  Entering my forties doesn't feel like "getting old."  It feels like I've been given a remarkable gift, one that, sadly, not everyone is given.  And while some have changed the world in less than 40 years, I've been given a little more time to make a difference.

The best birthday gift ever: the gift of time.  I intend to use it well.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Book Nook - Charmed Life

Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones:

Usually, when I read stories to the Bachsters at night, we're all one big happy group enjoying a great story together.  But with Charmed Life, our oldest just didn't like the book*, so she chose to read by herself in her room while I read it with the other two Bachsters.  And I can see her point: it got off to a slow start.  But once you get into the story, it just takes off and is most amazing.

A little about the story: in the opening chapters, Cat Chant and his older sister Gwendolen, a witch, become orphans.  They go to live with kind Mrs. Sharp, until it is arranged that they live with the very mysterious Chrestomanci and his family in his castle.  There, the children are to receive an education, and Gwendolen magical studies.  But things don't go smoothly for headstrong Gwendolen, and Cat tags along as she plots and schemes one magical act of revenge after another, until things get out of hand and everyone's lives are changed dramatically.

There are elements of Harry Potter in the story (Charmed Life was published in 1977, so it's like the original Harry Potter): there is a mysterious, powerful figure whom people refuse to utter his real name; there are students receiving magical education (and doing magical hocus pocus); there is a main character who is an orphan who isn't aware of who he really is.  I hope I haven't given away too much of the story!

As we started the story, I thought it was interesting, but I could have set it down and been content to start something else.  But after a few chapters, the story gets better, and about halfway through, you're hooked.  Things all come together in a wonderfully unexpected way.  We're along for the ride, and the capable Diana Wynne Jones is our guide.  I actually got chills when the character Janet was introduced: our author knows her craft well and is a pleasure to spend time with (check out Howl's Moving Castle for another great Diana Wynne Jones book).  I'm getting ready to start the second Chrestomanci book, and am very excited to get back to this magical world.


*DD didn't want to join, but as she heard our excitement about the story, and probably overheard some of it, she couldn't help but ask question after question: so what happened to Gwendolen?  Was Chrestomanci good or bad?  I might just leave the book in her room, to see if she'll read it after all.  I hope she does - I hate to think that she's missing out on the fun!   

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {applesauce muffins}

Applesauce muffins with cream-cheese's like having cupcakes for breakfast!

These muffins are so easy to make, and what I really love about them is that the recipe makes a lot - we got 21 muffins.  So, we enjoyed them two days in a row.  And they're easy to customize - I made half the batch without the toasted pecans (in response to Little Dude asking me not to put any in his).  And, if you don't have the time or desire to make homemade applesauce, no problem - you can use store-bought (we did).

Probably the best part, though, is that delicious cream cheese frosting.  As our 8-year-old was licking the frosting bowl, we decided that it would be wonderful with my pumpkin bread (have I shared that recipe yet?).  But not everyone in our house wanted the frosting on their muffin, so we kept it on the side - another way this recipe is so easy to make work for everyone's tastes.  Of course, it's from Martha Stewart (and my favorite issue of Living, October 2004.  I'm keeping this issue forever!).


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Panther - part 2

A few weeks ago I blogged about this little stray kitty we've been taking care of, whom we named Panther.  She has just captured our hearts, this little one.  She has a squeak instead of a meow, she is absolutely tiny (6 pounds, we discovered), has little specs of gray scattered throughout her fur and is quiet a purr-er.

We've been feeding Panther and putting her in our garage at night, all while trying to find a good home for her.  DH and decided that we just can't have a cat right now - it would be way too difficult with Ranger.  One big dog + 2 lizards + all their crickets is enough for us (our 16-year-old cat, Cosmo, passed away in August).  So, we've been trying to find her a good home for a few weeks, by posting her picture everywhere, and telling everyone we know about her.

I feel really fortunate that I was able to secure her a place with a Central Ohio organization called Colony Cats.  They are a no-kill shelter that brings cats to our local pet store for adoption, as well as adopting cats out of their location.  I can't tell you how grateful I am to have her going to Colony Cats, where she will be in good hands while waiting for the right family to adopt her.  And she's such a sweetie, I have no doubt that it won't take long.

Unfortunately, right after Colony Cats contacted me to accept her, there was an accident in our garage during the night - a tire (with the rim) somehow fell on Panther.  When I found her in the morning, her leg was trapped underneath.  I got her out immediately, and she spent the day resting on her bed in the garage.  I'm happy to say that her leg appeared to be fine the next day, and that she was walking around and moving without any difficulties.  I think she might have got hit in the face with the tire as well, but her little face was looking back to normal after her day of rest.  She's a resilient little thing, for certain.  We figure she only has 8 lives left at this point.

This morning, we took Panther to the vet to have her tire-injuries looked at and to get her vaccines and get spayed.  This was the last time we will see her, as she will be at Colony Cats from now on, until she finds her forever-home.  Can I tell you how sad I've been all day to give up this little one who has touched our hearts so very much in just a few weeks?  I thought the Bachsters would have a hard time giving her up, but it turns out, that I'm the one who is missing her the most (and seriously, I'm not even a big "cat person").

It's really amazing how pets can touch our hearts - which brings me to the next subject - Book Nook.  In all my worries about Panther, I forgot to do my usual Monday post.  And this week, I thought the perfect book would be one that celebrates animal warm-fuzzies.

True Love: 24 Surprising Stories of Animal Affection by Rachel Buchholz:

The stories are about animals and their devotion to other animals - siblings, parents, friends and mates for life.  Wild animals, pets and even a toy tortoise are featured.  One of the stories that melted my heart was the story of the mother lion who saved her lion cub.  There's also the goose that protects a Highland bull named Hamish, the brave donkey who rescued her sheep friend from an attacking dog.  Also, Jake the duck who traveled 8 miles through snowstorms and rough terrain to reunite with his true love after Jake was given to a neighboring farm.

There are lots of sweet, heartwarming stories in this little book, all with pictures of these amazing, loving animals.

While we are all missing Panther now, I feel a little better knowing that she is being well taken care of, and that one day soon, the right family will adopt her.  And looking through True Love has lifted my spirits quite a bit, too.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Sunday Brunch - {apple vs. pumpkin}

Pumpkin pie is obligatory in our house every Fall.  And since we went apple picking recently, I wanted to make an apple pie with all our apples.  Making two different kinds of pie within a couple of days of each other gave us the chance to compare which pie we all like better.  It was an apple pie vs. pumpkin pie smackdown!

Our first competitor is a from-scratch apple pie, with a mixture of Winesap and Granny Smith apples.  I used a new recipe for a homemade crust that uses a lot of butter, and one that I immediately over-mixed because the crumbly stage never quite turned into the roll-it-out stage.  But I'm new to pie crust making, so perhaps I did something wrong.  This recipe is from Martha.

Next up is pumpkin pie, a Bach family perennial favorite.  I cheated and used a store-bought crust.  I made two and they were gone in a flash.  The recipe is from Libby.

And the results......3 Bachster votes for pumpkin pie.  1 Rhodesian Ridgeback vote for apple pie (he snatched the last couple of slices from the pan on the counter and gobbled them up while we were away).

3 against 1......pumpkin pie is declared our official winner!

Which do you like better - apple pie or pumpkin pie (or both!)?