Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Morrisons first morels

Morchella, true morel
If only Teofil's "Paruzchka"  had been interested when he strolled out along the river banks and into wooded areas, she could have learned to distinguish edible  from poisonous mushrooms, but she preferred to gather wild violets and other flowers.  If only Patty had paid attention when Rose went to the woods across from Uncle Carl's she could have learned the same.  But despite being the darling doted upon grandy of my grandparents, I was too busy being a busy child, playing with my dolls and later all the stages of growing up to care about gathering  mushrooms; nope, give me a Klondike bar, Popsicle or better yet, candy.  Their knowledge is lost to me and to the world now, gone forever, irretrievable and how I regret not knowing what my Polish grandparents knew.  

Today and throughout my adult life, I love mushrooms and use them in many dishes from the
A Polish black morel
Christmas Eve Polish mushroom soup for meatless dinner, stroganoff, accompaniment to steaks and even  with kapusta  and kluski (Polish for cabbage & noodles.)  We use mushrooms all year long.  I love to grill the  large portabellas and use them for a sandwich in lieu of meat. But ever since we moved to La Crescent,  each spring we see and hear about morel hunters and harvesters. I had never before heard of morels but sure was curious. Trouble is the morel hunters keep their beds and sources as secret as the moonshiners' stills in the south. There is no taking anyone else along to help search.  Morels are harvested in the woods and especially where trees have fallen then sold to middle men or directly driven to Chicago for a hefty price, sold to the finest grocers for the top scale restaurants.  I tried to purchase some through the local food co-op in La Crosse where specialty items abound, but no luck.  I was doomed to never taste a morel and because Patty is still a part of me, the more I heard and could not have the more frustrated I became.  I know some local mushroom hunters but could not entice them to part with any of their high cash crop so I could indulge my taste buds.  Nope, morels are in such demand that hunters can only supply their contractors for top dollars.   

In researching morels online I learned they grow throughout the country, even in Fairbanks, Alaska.  Wikipedia shares:   Morels have been called by many local names; some of the more colorful include dryland fish, because when sliced lengthwise then breaded and fried, their outline resembles the shape of a fish; hickory chickens, as they are known in many parts of Kentucky; and merkels or miracles, based on a story of how a mountain family was saved from starvation by eating morels. In parts of West Virginia, they are known as "molly moochers." Other common names for morels include sponge mushroom. Genus Morchella is derived from morchel, an old German word for mushroom, while morel itself is derived from the Latin maurus meaning brown.

I also found this information on line and learned that morels even have their own Facebook page.  "Delicate and elusive, morels are a gourmet prize that were once limited to those willing to muck around in the forest in search of these harbingers of spring. Today they are often found at farmers markets and specialty stores. They are fragile, highly perishable, and resist cultivation, so they tend to be pricey.   Morels are usually between two and four inches long, and range in color from pale cream to almost black. The darker the color of the morel, the smokier, nuttier, and earthier the flavor will be."  Oh if only our farmer's market were upscale enough...but La Crescent,  not.  

Flash to a couple weeks ago at our local farmer's market where the ones I call the Mushroom people sell mushrooms of all kinds, buttons, shitake, etc.  There at their table were dried morels!  OMG.  Whatever price they wanted I was willing to pay!  Surely the saints had guided me there, hallelujah!  When I asked how much and they said, "just $3.50 " I knew it was my lucky day." When I asked how to cook the morels, they told me to boil a cup of water to pour over the dried morels to reconstitute  let them sit and soak up the water much as they will for about an hour and then saute them in "plenty" of butter quickly.   They also recommended salt, but I am a freshwater cook so I skipped that.  Jerry on the other hand never saw a salt shaker he didn't like and use vigorously.  

I can report the morels are delicious; the tops resemble sponges and soak in the butter.  They had a stronger taste than other mushrooms and almost earthy.  But delicious.  We had them for dinner along with chicken breast bits and veggie pasta.  Here are photos of the process and the end meal on a plate.  Now I hope the Mushroom people will have more, they sell varied mushrooms and even a stump if one is interested to grow his own.  I know I pay more for their mushrooms than at the store, but they are very fresh and if I were not a devoted customer  before, I am now because they sold me morels and satisfied that nagging curiosity.  
Dried morels soaking in boiled water
Morel broth left in the bowl..beefy looking, I added it to the pan in
which I was sauteeing the morels in butter.

Morel barely sauteed in butter on plate, next to 2
penne pasta.  Morels were 2-3 inches long
Morels in skillet with chicken which was cooked ahead
Morels are sauteeing in plenty of butter
The grand meal awaits, morels are top right, above  chicken breast bits, and
a veggies with penne on the left...Divine dinner. Morels worth waiting for. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Walking La Crescent and packing for north

From the hardware store looking down to Main Street
The other direction down the street
 Yesterday afternoon for my walk I trotted  the mile to the grocery store in our "downtown" to get an ingredient for dinner.  It was a great day for walking, coolish but sunny. I considered riding my bike but it was a bit windy, fine when it's at your back but tougher pedaling into the wind especially uphill.   As was expected for a Sunday afternoon La Crescent and streets were fairly deserted; I took my smart phone along and  snapped some pictures of our small quiet town which I jokingly refer to as  Mayberry, actually Barney Fife resides here, a story for another time.  I posted the photos to Facebook but decided to share here too, to update my blog presence.  
One of  three banks in this town, population 5000.
In the 1940's when Jerry was growing up here, this was
the elementary school. 

On my way back home with small bag in hand I stopped to photo our only traffic light at the highway intersection.  Actually not much traffic even on the highways, but here are some photos of that intersection:

Our recent  week of heat wave subsided and now we are enjoying  lovely MN cooler weather, so much so that I wore a sweater over a top yesterday to church.  But I love the cooler air, no complaints here and we feel this is a preview of we expect in August, 50 to 60 degrees. 

Only 11 days until we  depart "north to Alaska" for  which preparation has consumed hours of my thought, planning and staging for packing.  My wardrobe will be all casual, jeans, t's and layers. We were advised to pack a separate suitcase for the  cruise at the tour's end; that bag will be held  on the coaches that will transport us all over on land and delivered to our state room once we are on board our Celebrity Lines Millennium.  We have done cruises in the past and are not impressed now with posing for captain's night or dressing up, in finery galore.  Phooey, been there before, done that, and will opt for casual dining elsewhere on the ship.  We know we will have rainy weather too,  but we are  prepared for that courtesy of our tour company, John Hall's who sent us each our monogrammed, dandy long length (for us short people) wind breaker aka rain jackets. A couple weeks ago when the box arrived with our gear, tote  carry along bags, jackets, tags, luggage tags, itinerary, information, etc  it was like Christmas.    
Staging clothes onto the bed

Putting one guest bedroom to use or staging and packing, or for my wardrobe.  Jerry is quite confident he can get his jeans shirts socks and underwear into his suitcase in no time, and he likely will.  But I must ponder, a tiny bit of bling to go along with ultra casual...and then,  what if I need.. and do not have it......well  the short  answer is "punt" or another 4 letter word would be, "shop."
It's a challenge packing suitcases, limited to weight and all the sort of business travelers who do not drive their own motor homes deal with all the time.  However I am sure that I will meet the demands and after all since he has extra room in his suitcases, I can always use some of that.  I think if I had lived in  an earlier age I would have enjoyed steamer trunks filled to the brim accompanying me on voyages....that is if I were in the right elite traveling class.  

Monday, July 22, 2013

Now when did that happen

It's summer time and that means I drink gallons of iced tea, frequently a  gallon a day.  This glass jug is my go to beverage container because it has a lid and I can grasp it around the neck and easily  put in into and take it out of the refrigerator.  Except today, I almost dropped it.  When did my grip loosen?  When did the jug begin to feel so heavy?

I notice sometimes my grasp is not as strong as it used to be.  I know the arthritis in my hands and fingers has diminished the time I can spend pruning and clipping and requires a rest after an hour.  It used to be I could clip all morning, not so, now I have to pace myself or suffer protests of swelling and pain. And still despite my restraint some knuckles bigger than before on my right hand, and will not shrink down in size.   I think I have learned to deal with my tingles of "Arthuritis" and work around it.  The primary thing being to keep moving.

Nearly losing this jug caught my attention, besides a mess would have been made, this was a warning and another one of those things that happens when we are not looking.  Right now I am on a health kick because the numbers were not so friendly at my annual medical  exam,  a weight gain which I suspected as with my shorts and capris zippers became a bit tighter, my clohes were shrinking.   And that extra 7 ponds is nothing I need; I certainly am not encouraging my body to befriend another fat cell, I fight that with a vengeance all the time, but as with the jug, it crept up unnoticed while we were traveling and having a good time, living the good life. That drove my  fasting blood sugar up above where it had previously hovered in the mid 90's, another warning indicator.  While some MD's might  figure the numbers were not that high, not  prediabetic my MD is with Mayo and takes my health very seriously.  He cautioned,  "do not let this get ahold of your good health..."  Advice I am taking to heart for my heart and body!  My family genetics include  diabetes which I do not want any part of, so I accepted the warning.  My doctor also advised me to participate in the local YMCA fitness counseling and with his RX I will enroll in that when we return from Alaska in September.  I have already contacted them and learned that  the next session begins September  15 so the counselor agreed,  my timing is right on.  While the program resembles weight watchers, and the series of lectures are likely nothing I don't know, the time is right to hear all about it.  I have a local friend, Sue,  who attends the Y now religiously because she did encounter some  pre diabetic warnings on her physical.  We commisserate because we both are married to men who can and do eat and drink whatever they want and not gain weight.  It's not fair, but I  know too having lived this long that life is not fair.  Nevertheless I intend to get a jump on things.    

I have stepped back on track, literally with my mostly morning walks which I'd been neglecting in the heat.  No more, I began to get out of bed when I first awaken instead of retreating back to sleep.  I am up and out the door before the heat dominates the day, if that is before  7:00AM that's what it has to be.  Now that our weeklong heat wave has broken 8:00AM is soon enough out the door.  It's working because my pants  are looser aleready after  two weeks.  While I am  limiting my  food intake  meticulously I also am logging my walks,  getting in between 45 and 60 minutes a day of pure walking, interspersed with some jogging when I get inspired on the track.  That along with other physical activities including some biking and outside chores, gardening, up and down the hill side and domestic duties like vacuuming, floor mops, etc  are working to my advantage.   

This is what happens when we are not looking, aging, things can sneak up on us unaware.. Well, I'm onto it now...wish me luck on our month in Alaska.  I figure hiking  and walking will help me there too, but I will also have to watch and not partake as much as I might wish.  It will be a challenge, but this doesn't get a chance to steal my health.  Nothing is more important.  I intend to keep up with the longevity genetics that abound in my family.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Books, book stores, reading, memberships and customers....

One small shelf of my personal home library which comprises
two walls and two more 6 shelf book cases.

These are but a few of the book I have read.  
I have been a  subscribing member of Barnes and Noble(B&N) ever since we moved here, 8 years now which means I pay an annual fee and in turn receive discounts either online or in the store.  As I consider this I ponder, "why must I pay to spend money?" This is not a unique question and one that Jerry might asking mockingly.   Well, I do enjoy books, reading and bookstores of all sorts. Sadly to me mostly long gone are those wonderful small owner bookstores where one could go and chat and even have a book special ordered, best of all discuss what's new in the publishing world.  Now a days so few people read that most of those eclectic one owner stores were forced out of business.  Think about it, when was the last time you discussed in casual conversation, not at a book club meeting, "what are you reading?"  More likely it's what are you listening to on your download, or what TV shows do you watch, or what movie did you see.  But books, a difficult conversation starter in the general public.   

Yet the reading books links have begun to proliferate on Facebook.  On our snowbird trip this winter I found and "joined" Books A Million (BAM) which has a dominant presence in the South and which is cheaper than B& N.   I immediately preferred BAM because I made a friend my first trip to the first store in Memphis, TN,  Julia, an employee,  mature  woman who loves to read, who went to work there part time to support her  book habit,  and who readily discussed books with me. In fact she recommended several which I  purchased and have read and reviewed on my Book Blog.   I visited other BAM stores and had the same kind of experience, readers work there, the employees are people who know about books and are interested in customers. Maybe it's just the south, but I think it is the culture of the corporation.    

This month I decide whether or not to renew my B& N and likely I will not.  In my  8 years visiting the local  B&N I have never met any employee with whom I could discuss a book,  in fact the employees at the local B&N are off in another world and more concerned about talking amongst themselves. Whenever I deign to ask one to look up an author of a book for me they grudgingly  go to the terminal and more often than not say there is no such book or that they cannot find it or that it is not published or am I sure of the title?    I know darn well there is such a book, because I have read the review in either a newspaper or online  through the B& N notices and may have jotted the title  down but not the author.  So I leave disgusted, not purchasing a book.  BTW  the B&N employees appear of the younger age group and although they look like teenagers to me maybe they are in their 20's or 30's. Regardless they have no customer service training.  Maybe they are  just not interested in customers "of a certain age" or  customers period.  Rarely have I stumbled upon a mature B&N employee who can assist me.    This week I have determined that B&N  must have as their policy, "be clueless toward customers" and there is the final nail in their coffin with me.  After all I can purchase books online through BAM and Amazon, physical copy or download to my tablet,  and of course there is always a book sale to support, and well Sam's Club, Wal Mart when I venture there and even the Woodmen's Supermarket sells books at a discount, with no membership fee.     

My dissatisfaction with B& N has been escalating.  First I changed my email address of record with B&N online in January by accessing my account; this did not make any impression on B& N they continue to use the former email address to send notifications.  I sent follow up customer contact emails to them through my account on their website, no reply.  I gave up and ignored it until this week when I decided to try again using their  website, my account and the online "chat feature."  My mistake, for expecting results after I typed my issue in the  customer box...whoever works on the customer chat line is either inept, unwilling, untrained, or the system does not work. It was frustration.  I sat at my computer screen for a long time while the chat line  said, "I can help you.", "Thank you for your patience,"   "What is your membership number?"  "I will help you.", etc.  Finally I  wrote that I did not intend to spend all day with them and logged off..   I cannot understand why I did not call it quits right then but no, I took one more trip back to the deep well of frustration on another day.  I sent another email to their customer service describing my frustration that they refuse to change my email and describing my frustration with their lack of responsiveness.   I received an automated response that I would hear from them within 24 hours. Hah, I thought.  At last.  But no, the Hah is on me....

I received an email from B&N asking me to call them to discuss this and giving me their hours when I can call their customer service line.  At which I suppose I can waste more time, chatting on the phone at my inconvenience and continue this aggravating process.  But know what, no more for me.  I am done.  I refuse to do business with a company  that obviously does not value me as a "customer."    I figure I am paying them and since they are not responsive I can spend my money elsewhere. Oh what a concept they have not discovered, they need me, I do not need them.   Besides the local store at Christmas time all but moves the book inventory out and sells toys and gadgets of all sorts.  I don't buy toys.  I would buy books, but there are other places to shop and so good bye B& N.  Torture your next customer.    

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Stretch and what thrives in the hot

Stretch sideways
Meet Stretch, our resident pine squirrel, a furry creature who does not seem to be wilting as  are the rest of us in this heat, so unlike south eastern MN summers.  Stretch is so named because he is apt to be spotted stretched over any of the best pickings down at the bird feeders, he has his preferences peanuts to be sure, but also the apple cores and stale bread offerings coated in peanut butter that I toss along to the winged circus creatures.  Stretch can spot an apple tid bit from out of nowhere and immediately flies to the ground from above in the tree tops or below, pounces upon it, stretches out and guards it while chewing on a piece that he snatched amidst his pounce.  He is a remarkable acrobat, a flying squirrel.   Today I was checking  out back camera in pocket seeing what's thriving in  the heat when Stretch appeared; he makes a strange sharp noise to announce his presence; notice his sideways cling, still as can be and there he remained until I left. I have been trying to photo him for a few weeks, his activities can be annoying and yet simultaneously comical.  I suspect that the other squirrels  mostly greys and some black do not share our amusement of him.  In fact when they see him coming they flee; Stretch is the backyard bully and runs off other squirrels twice his size as well as a rabbit and some birds.  He is content to allow the doves to graze with him.  But  mostly when Stretch appears the feathers fly from the birdfeeders. He is small but mighty, from his nose to the end tip of his tail, maybe 10 or 11 inches.  Every year we have one or two of these creatures around,  thankfully not more of them because they do run the roost.  When we first moved here in 2005 we had a pair that confiscated a small birdhouse near the clothes line as their home, such chattering when I was hanging clothes.  Fortunately I spotted them and did not go near their house, where they stayed for a month or two, an unwary hand and I am sure I'd have encountered teeth and a squirrel bite can be dangerous.  Wikipedia says:  Pine squirrels are squirrels of the genus Tamiasciurus. This genus includes three species, the American Red Squirrel T. hudsonicus, the Douglas Squirrel T. douglasii and Mearns's Squirrel T. mearnsi. All are native to North America: pine squirrels can be found in the northern and western United States, most of Canada, Alaska, and northwestern Mexico.

Amaryllis enjoys the heat
But back to the heat, how unnatural for south eastern MN, yet the old timers assure me it was just as hot in the late 30's at times, but back then "we had no air conditioning and we just got used to it."  Used to it, indeed; I know that was the case in western PA  growing up as a child, sleeping on the second floor of a 2 story house with no air conditioning, no fan.  Who ever heard of cooling; go to the basement to cool off but we kids did not seem the least bit bothered.   I can say we were used to it.  For now, I have started my  morning walks earlier and earlier, today 7:00AM and that was even warm as after my hour I had worked up a drench sweat.   There are quite a few of us morning walkers usually about but today I saw only two other women.  I think everyone is either getting out even earlier or giving up the walking in the heat.  But I am engaged on my own health improvement project following my annual medical check up which had warnings, bit of weight gain which I do not need and some upcreep in fasting blood glucose and cholesterol numbers, nothing I have had before but I have not been 68 years old before either.  My Mayo doc advised I take this as a warning and indeed I am.  As he said, "you have really good health, do not let this get away from you."  I take the warning seriously and will be back with normal and below normal reading when he checks me again in December. 

So the week of heat is here which makes us even more so looking forward to our Alaskan journey all of August.  Ahh,,cool and cold, that's for me. But for now, some plants seem to thrive, here are just a few happy bloomers like these tiger lilies and the Russian sage along the side of the house where the sun beats hot in the afternoon:

Back in May when it was wet and windy, I knew summer would come so I visited the local nursery and spotted a new combination of pale yellows in a lemon lime coleus and vanilla marigolds for the back flower box.  I am pleased with the serene calm appearance they present in this weather

Blogger is not cooperating with my posting photos so I am out of here for now....isn't Vanilla lovely?

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The catch up, not Heinz

At the Erie Canal museum, Syracuse, NY
The last remaining lock load building of all the great canals
in the country that were engineering marvels of their day.
Have not fallen off the face of the earth, but have been east and now  home for a month  preparing for next departure to Alaska and playing at catch up with yard work, domestic activities, local community,  friends,  financials, and my blog.    Peculiar testament to how things change, advance, or become more complicated is  that my actions now five years down the highway of life  from when I first started of this blog are not matching the original intent. Not synced as the term is between my phone and tablet.   I created this blog with the intention of it faithfully being the place where I would record our travels at the time we were traveling, so friends and family could track us.  Silly thoughts I had back then because today with life's twisty turns, there is little to no family and those who are do not read this blog. And blogger is undergoing traaaansformations too that require adjustments with some of my software.  Friends track our escapades on Facebook, which is easier to access from my smart phone or tablet as we travel.  Heck it's easier to post a quick line or photo to Facebook while we are at home too.  While Facebook cannot replace blogging, although some FB users treat it as their blog and post on and more, FB has earned its place as the easiest way to stay in touch.  One of those techie changes.  

We had a great trip and a different rally experience at the Syracuse Good Sam RV Rally,  then explored previously unvisited parts of very rural north eastern PA  before swinging back down to home town.  But not once did I post onto this blog the entire time we were gone, you already know that..  We arrived home June 28 and am just now getting my blog on.  Our round trip in motor home with tow car was 2459 miles over 7 states, just about 43 hours driving time in the
Muddy pond and wet hillside 
motor home,  consuming 311.1 gallons of diesel at $1216.45.  There is still over 3/4 of a tank of diesel left  awaiting the next trip.  We did something we usually avoid which was driving toll roads which invested $129.40 in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It was faster moving over all and since this was a destination trip not so much for sight seeing along the way we took the pay route. We also drive a big rig that does not scoot easily down back country lanes and with changing weather conditions and rains, we  did not want to risk getting off the  main interstates and encountering roads  flooding or bridges washing out  as was happening in the east and midwest this June.  

Storm clouds ahead view  from the
I am not opposed to toll roads, because I like the idea that users pay for the privilege and non users do not.  But it  really does not work that way, everyone pays and still the infrastructure maintenance is questionable..  The states collect the tolls and who knows where that money goes because parts of Interstate 80 through Ohio are some of the worst roads in the country.  And then there is my home state of Pennsylvania, where it must be a continuous governmental employment program, roadwork always,  that Pennsylvania turnpike is ever in transition. .  

I have enough digital photos to fill another album and that is another activity for when?  I have complicated my life with these  digital photos, which  while certainly preferable to the old days when  we had to wait for development of photos, I now have flash drives full of pics.  Here again my intentions are to edit, organize  them into albums, and perhaps publish a book or two on Shutterfly,  but my  reality does not catch up to my intentions. Please pass the  Heinz, maybe a good squirt of red here and there would do it.

While many things happened that will provide good stories later continuing the Facebook teasers, I share a couple photos now and am back to what was my  task at hand on the computer, bringing our Quicken up to date with financial postings.   It"s too easy to click and stray the keyboard when sitting in front of the computer and well my lack of  discipline or my wandering attention span take quick advantage of the flick of the mouse.  

Mt Laurel in bloom  Stillwater, PA
This is the Pennsylvania state flower which  I had not seen let alone
smell the bloom for probably 50 years.
Our coach aka rig not quite set up but
 we just got in ahead of the storms
for that day in Indiana 
I was not kidding about the storms and rains this
trip,  here are some dark clouds moving right
in as we stopped for the night in Decatur Indiana.
Midwest downpour is about to begin.