Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Best Meal Possibly Ever Eaten

The last day of our California vacation gave us the best meal I've possibly ever eaten. 

When you think California you think fresh and organic and food brimming with vital nutrients. It is some of this which made the meal special.

The other surely bigger part of it is that Al and our son put the meal on the table, having caught the salmon that was the star of this final supper of the trip.

The two have fished together just as, in previous turn, Al fished with his father. Their best times, which have centered around the boat and fishing, are too many to count. 

When career moves took our son to far places Al gamely continued fishing on his own. Accustomed to a fishing buddy, and then without one, you adjust but the catches are perhaps never again quite as fun.

The spring visit was a chance for Al and our son to do some sea fishing. They've talked of doing this for a long time. They missed a chance some years ago and resolved to make up that lost opportunity.

On this fishing expedition they were after salmon. The only day that could be fit in was the day before we flew back. 

The forecast originally called for rain. We hoped for pleasant conditions. The weather, waffling back and forth, decided to go for perfect. 

There couldn't have been a nicer day to be on the water with the itch of fish to catch and the ocean breezes blowing soft.

The two started out in the dark to get to the charter boat for early departure. They were a fishing party of six. Everyone was as excited as school boys on extended recess.

The king salmon were biting that day. All caught at least one, some two. Our guys did well for themselves. They phoned to say it would be salmon steaks for dinner tonight.

Our son said he'd take care of the meal. Setting the table was easy to do. We wandered onto the deck while the kitchen filled with activity. 

I call the deck the orangerie. There may not be such a word but deck doesn't begin to cover the delight of this outdoor space with citrus trees in tubs and the potted herbs which I diligently watered and turned toward the sun during our visit.

The call to dinner came shortly. Salmon steaks don't take long. Our son brought the platter to the table. 

Next he came with a Rice a Roni hot dish with broccoli and cheese. Raw sugar snap peas, crisp green counterpoint to the steaks, arrived in a separate bowl.

The meal was a pleasure. The steaks were sublime. We ate, laughed, helped ourselves to seconds. Give me the recipe I implored. How did you do this? You got it just right.

It made me feel like a question asked of Bon Appetit. "Can you get me the recipe for _______. We were visiting ______ and my _______ took me to ________ for my/ our __________. Everything was delicious but I can't get my mind off the ________. You have my forever gratitude if you can get them to share the recipe with me."

Bon Appetit goes to work and procures the recipe from the restaurant or inn or B & B where the 5th or 50th anniversary or birthday celebration or business trip meal for one or girls weekend away was had. 

The recipes, generously delineated by those contacted, are a treat to read. The full directions make it easy to imagine the finished presentation which has so captivated the diner.

This is how directions for California King Salmon Steaks might look if a request to the magazine had actually been put in and the recipe had gone into print.

 "Dust fresh salmon steaks with bread crumbs. Brush lightly with dijon mustard and place on cookie sheet on rack in preheated oven. Bake until done."

To assist in gauging oven time think of it as "the length of approximately one glass of wine or bottle of beer or two."  No timer was set. There was no paying exact attention to bake time. All seemed to be ready when we were.

Eat healthy and enjoy. Bon appetit!

Ro Giencke - April 25, 2012

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Of monarch butterflies

Constancy of weather is my idea of perfect.

Switch on the sun machine, hold the temperature at seventy-five, wall off the wind and you have one happy girl. It's pure and simple bliss.

All this is the antithesis of a typical Minnesota spring. April, for instance, exhibits almost every possible combination of weather.

To make things even more interesting these conditions can be concurrent with each other. Like this past weekend, which ran the gamut of tornado sightings to snowfall.

A habitual early riser I'm "up and at'em" as was the call that my dad woke us to on Saturday mornings when some of us would rather have slept in.

It was this early training to shake a leg and get up, or my own general makeup, that gets my feet on the floor fast well before the others.

That's most of the time. There are mornings like today, however, when it takes easing into the day to get the motor running. I attribute this to the weather.

I learned long ago that I'm susceptible to weather changes. My body regards shifts in weather disruptive. It bears with but doesn't enjoy rapid turnabouts. In the Midwest where weather is mostly variable it can make for some disjointed days for me.

I take my cue from how I feel. Don't push the river, a phrase heard long ago, and leaving me puzzled then as to what it means, now is very clear.

There are times to go with the flow. Move with the day and it gets me to the end just as I wind up doing every other day.

This was such a day. I was going at it easy like. It occurred to me to look through my folders where ideas are saved for reviewing.

Al and I have been talking about creating a butterfly garden. I was sure we had material put away that addressed this subject.

Our interest in butterfly gardening goes way back. This latest enthusiasm stems from our trip to California.

We were in butterfly country. Central and southern California are wintering grounds of the delightful monarchs who add so much to our northern summer in their short adult span with us.

The sign we read at a California state beach told about the overwintering monarchs. Nearby on private property a colony of monarchs, or cluster as they're referred to, hibernate in a eucalyptus grove.

Monarchs make the trip of some 2500 miles from Canada and northern and eastern United States to California and Mexico in the fall. They rest in the southern climate for six to eight months.

This qualifies butterflies as long term snowbirds. In comparison the rest of us are lightweights. There's nothing too strenuous about our getting there. (No wing fatigue at any rate.) And we don't stay nearly as long.

The butterflies - arriving well before most of us show up - are among the last to leave. They're great tourism promoters and wonderful guests.

The eucalyptus tree in California is as essential to the welfare of the monarchs as the lowly milkweed is in the Midwest. In their summer home the caterpillars, also called larvae, feed upon the milkweed plant.

The eucalyptus tree and the milkweed, taken as symbols of the monarch butterfly, will either help ensure their survival or, by their loss and eradication, hasten a diminished population.

Wintering monarchs mate in the new year prior to their return voyage in the spring.
In the north they lay their eggs which hatch as caterpillars. Then comes the pupae stage before their metamorphosis into butterflies.

It's an amazing generational sequence. I'm glad it's their butterfly DNA and not ours that's at work here.

Monarchs alight on our imagination with their handsome appearance and airy grace. These orange and black butterflies are so beautiful with their strong soaring flight.

We're disarmed at their agility. They float and flit among summer blooms in our gardens. They epitomize freedom and spontaneity as they cartwheel through our yards on fine summer afternoons.

We marvel at the instinct that propels their flights. We fear for their vulnerability as they complete the distance through the elements, their energy sucked up in the mission which is to arrive safely. Not privy to human logic they follow nature's rule within them.

We're concerned as their habitat shrinks exponentially. The milkweed plant everywhere is disappearing.

Cities push out at the edges where fields once grew and weeds like milkweed flourished. Homeowners tidy their lawns with chemicals.

Dandelions (which Al calls the urban rose) are among the weeds we seek to oust. Only in certain places do they remain to weave sunshine into the green blades of grass.

Herbicide-resistant crops, pesticide use and zealous lawn care may or may not be factors in the dwindling monarch numbers. Studies are being done.

Certainly changes to butterfly habitat and bad weather, which has occurred in large outbreaks in recent years, play a part.

These insects - for such they are - are valiant. But they're not indestructible. Their armor is mighty thin.

Driving Pacific Coast Highway 1 earlier this month we stopped at awesome Ragged Point. The clifftop setting, with the ocean surf thunderously white and blue far below, and the plunging California slopes on the other side of the road, take your breath away.

We took in the views and walked the serene landscaped grounds of the classy inn. We could have settled in for a week and chucked the rest of our itinerary.

I was looking outward to the Pacific. Al with his camera was looking upward. He was seeing butterflies.

He said the monarchs looked bedraggled. They were doing half-hearted semicircles around some of the tall flowering beauties he had first put his camera lens on.

Maybe it was the coastal wind that was giving them a hammering. Perhaps they were preparing for the flight north. They were testing their wings.

They might have wondered if the long haul was worth it. Yet they'd be ready when the signal went out.

"The butterflies are beat," I echoed Al's observation. "It stands to reason." I surveyed this southern gateway to the Big Sur. I was mentally turning the pages of On the Road, the mid twentieth century classic by Jack Kerouac.

The Beat generation, epitomized by Kerouac through his life and writings, is powerfully associated with Big Sur country. He and others spent time here finding themselves or losing themselves and maybe some of each.

Their lives were as heady as the redwoods and as deep and dark as the canyons that run with spring torrents.

The stories punched out on Kerouac's typewriter delivered a new literary style. It fit with the seismic shift of American consciousness as post-war became the cold war era.

I read that Kerouac is the one who said his generation was beat. The Beat Generation name took hold for this group of poets, darers, dreamers, defiant roaring types who lyricized, lived largely and loosely and were part of the watershed for change.

If these Ragged Point monarch butterflies were beat I shall choose to believe it was the coastal winds and not social angst wearing them out that day.

Delving into my files the material on butterfly gardening was never located. It doesn't matter. Everything is online these days.

We have enough information for a butterfly garden start. Butterflies need flowers that produce nectar. Basic stuff but hey! now we know.

Flowers that require sunlight attract more butterflies. (I take note of this tip.) Butterflies are attracted to flowers by their color. Plant swaths of flowers of similar hues and you make it more inviting for them.

Provide milkweed plants (necessary for the larvae). Introduce Joe Pye weed which butterflies plain like.

Salvia works, so does bee balm. Asters and zinnias in the late summer and fall. English lavender draws butterflies. Lantana does too.

Monarchs are liquid feeders. Besides nectaring on flowers they appreciate a water source in the vicinity.

Certain shrubs and fruit bearing trees have a place in butterfly gardens. They're food, shade and protection from rain and wind all in one.

We have a garden spot picked out. It's where we took the big cottonwood tree down. For our shady yard it's the sunniest area we have to go with.

The overgrown daylily bed may have to go. This in itself is a good thing. It has run rampant over the other plantings.

In its place the cosmos and purple coneflowers will grow. And monarch butterflies, adrift on gentle air currents, will pause to refresh at the colorful buffet.

Ro Giencke - April 17, 2012

Monday, April 9, 2012

Pride of Madeira

We've been in California. A friend, hearing of our plans for Easter, understood how ideal the timing was going to be.

She said she always thought it'd be neat to be somewhere you can walk out of church in your Easter finery into the sunshine with kids waiting on the green grass for the Easter egg hunt like the movie Steel Magnolias.

She's a poet. She catches the essence of things. She catches, too, the hunger in the northland at this time of year to be seasonally caught up with the rest of the world. Blooming time is necessary to the proper feeding of the soul.

We arranged the family visit to include some California travel. We enjoy going back to favorite spots. We add new places each time, widening the familiarity which makes the West seem more and more a second home.

The coastal hills are green or getting there. A wet March, following a severely dry winter, was turning hills a Celtic green. The brilliant color, with wild golden mustard intermixed, was mystical in appearance as if seen in a dream.

The weekend storm which followed our arrival kicked up high seas, some of the roughest in years. Al was pleased to get pictures of some really high waves and seabird shots. Throw in a Pacific sunset and a full moon at night and the proverbial cup was pretty much full.

Knowing my liking for local history my son gave me a book which tells the California story through a combination of archaeological, documentary and oral history research.

It was through this gift I learned that California as a name goes back four hundred years. It surfaces as a name less than twenty years after the first voyage of Columbus to America.

California was depicted as an imaginary island to the right of the Indies in a novel published in Spain in 1510.

When Spanish sailors came upon what is now California, distant and isolated from the Mexican mainland, with a geographical location they mistook as an island, it was put on the map as such.

It was given the name of the imaginary island - a place of fabulous riches - and the name California stuck.

The riches of the fictional island might be regarded as a prophecy of the wealth that was to shower upon its namesake. Gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill at Coloma on January 24, 1848 and the gold rush to California began.

The real richness of California remains its natural beauty. Come in April and you strike the Mother Lode.

California in April is an oasis of beauty. It's a composite of everything in flower. The perfume is heavy in the air even as you stand on a busy city street.

We delighted in primroses, pansies, snapdragons, geraniums, bright sprinklings of daisies, roses and calla lilies.There were California poppies, the fragrant California lilac known as ceanothus, lavender and rosemary hedges and cherry blooms.

One flower previously unknown to us took center stage on our travels.
Considerable energy went into tracking down the name of this gorgeous flower seen in many coastal gardens.

Without actually ringing doorbells to query the homeowners we did buttonhole many others asking if they knew what this exquisite flower is.

The flowers are blue, or you might say blue-lavender. The blossoms are very tiny but tiered together in cone-like clusters they look like blue wands. They're gracefully erect and elegant as if knowing what scene stealers they are.

They grow to some height. They're great proportion for smaller plantings with which they share space. Finally, at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, we were able to find out their name.

Our cruise of discovery didn't lead us to the Indies but to Madeira, an island of beautiful aspect in the Atlantic off the coast of Portugal.

The enchanting flower called Pride of Madeira is native to this island. California is one of the few places that match the conditions found on Madeira for the flower to thrive.

Exploration can be in oceans or gardens or any place where curiosity is set free. The search to find the name of this plant, to give its beauty even more meaning to us, made our time in California compellingly complete.

Ro Giencke - April 9, 2012