Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy Trails

Last year I built this parks-type sign for the trails Rex built on the property he moved to in a neighboring town. He has an open attitude about his trails, i.e. he lets bow-hunters hunt deer and neighbors hike.

Rex lives on the western portion of the lakes district of Hennepin County, Minnesota. It's the western most extent of the Big Woods, and full of glacially-created lakes and wetlands. Driving around a few summers ago, I noticed that this glacially-sculpted landscape would be an excellent location for a woodland trail. I became aware of an arc formed along an esker traveling roughly north to south, extending a short distance from Rex's property. In Google Earth, I mapped out the rough route you see above and below.

Ideally the trail would follow the arc from his trails all the way to the Dakota Rail Trail south of the Gale Woods Farm. But property being as it is, the trail would have to go around the farm field belonging to one of his neighbors. Afterward, it would follow the eastern side of the esker along Little Long Lake and it's string of smaller lakes all the way to the Dakota RT. Once there, you could walk east to the town of Mound, and Rex could even stroll by his old property on Lake Langdon while on his way to town.

Not far to the north is another rail trail, the Luce Line State Trail. From Rex's current trails, we could strike a trail along Painters Creek all the way to an intersection with the Luce Line. Painters Creek is part of the Minnehaha Watershed, and has been straightened or re-routed in places. A hiker following its course from Lake Minnetonka could potentially follow it all the way to Baker Park. Some of the trail would need to be boardwalk as the creek routes through wetland marshes.

I think my inspiration for this trail is the Long Path, the NJ through NY trail that one could hike from Fort Lee, New Jersey all the way to near Albany. Utilizing many public park trails along the way, the path also traverses private property. Where property owners won't provide trail access, hikers must take the roadways. The NY-NJ Trail Conference works with landowners to keep trails off the roads and advises hikers to respect private landowner's wishes.

Could the landowners, private and public, join to create a trail like this? To be continued...

Home Land Security

This is my father-in-law's old family house. Built by my great-grandfather-in-law (ha!), it was in the family for three generations, on a farm of cows and chickens, bees and orchards.

But someone else lives in it now, after it was moved to this location, not far from the original property. The original was built by the family, a set of plans ordered from a Sears catalog.

This is a kid's playground placed at the intersection of the subdivision's lanes. See the paddle-shaped sign front and center?

The town named the playground after my father-in-law, a forlorn tribute to his attempt to have this land preserved as a park or his years on the parks commission. Rex was the kind of child to find delight and discovery in a park of woods and wetlands, not ever in need of a manufactured playscape.

Twenty-eight acres of woodlands and farm was converted to about 70 homes. Names relating to the old landscape were retained for road names, like Sugar Mill Lane or Ladyslipper Circle: Rex had a sap house for making maple syrup, and my mother-in-law, Barbara, grew orchids (ladyslippers) amongst other things.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On a Snowy Sunday Afternoon

Snowflakes are crystal clear.

Each distinct.

Massing on surfaces.

A last dance with art from a period before.

To be torched soon in the burn pit.

Friday, November 20, 2009


In a couple of weeks its Thanksgiving. I find that the meal, that huge surge of food, does not taste quite as good on that day as it does on others. I'll be visiting my mother on the holiday where I will have this stuffing: we call it, phonetically, gaw-n-za. How to spell it, no one knows. I'll be making it this Sunday, stuffed into a chicken or two for us and some friends.

Last Sunday, we had the opening reception for 'reaganography' in Greenpoint. The opening was a success, on turn out alone, and had one surprise visitor: Leonard Lopate. Now Leonard had a show the following Monday that discussed Reagan's influence on the end of the USSR. I couldn't listen, I had to run to work, but I imagined, briefly that he mentioned the show on his show.

Three years ago, I was a voice on the phone during a segment about Thanksgiving recipes with Ruth Reichl and Leonard. I submitted the gaw-n-za recipe. When I engaged Leonard at the opening I didn't mention the Ruth Reichl segment. Two and a half years prior I met Ruth at The MacDowell Colony, mentioned it, but she couldn't recall the segment. I did, however, mention that there must only be 2 degrees between Leonard and 8 million New Yorkers.

While the recipe has remained the same in my mother's cooking, I've been messing with it. This year, little shifts: the rice is basmati, not carolina long grain, the mushrooms are small portobello, not white, and I added to the beef and pork a little bit of lamb over the Jimmy Dean that somehow made it into the recipe. Other years I've added chestnuts and raisins (as my grandfather would have). I think I would like dried cranberries or other dried fruit (apricot?) with a nut, maybe pine or pecan. My mother wouldn't go for these changes, but in spirit it's the same recipe.

The recipe listed on the WNYC website omits one ingredient that seems to go into all my family's cooking: pecorino romano. Its the salty kick in everything they do.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Altered States of Chicken Marsala

I have a recipes for chicken marsala and chicken cacciatore that I often confuse. So what, right. Dinner is a recipe that only resembles its written form, resembling most what I have in the fridge. So here is my chicken marsala/cacciatore, adapted for 2 from what's in the fridge. Original recipes serve 4-6 people

  • Chicken Breast (how much do you got? I only have one, but 4-6 boneless in the original recipe)
  • 2 Red Bell Peppers -sliced (cacciatore -chopped)
  • 1 Large Onion -chopped
  • 1/2 lb. Mushrooms -halved (cacciatore -sliced)
  • 3 Garlic Cloves -pressed or chopped (cacciatore -2 cloves)
  • 1 Lemon
  • 1/4 Cup Chopped Fresh Parsley or 1 TBSP Dry Parsley
  • 1 TBSP Chopped Fresh Basil or 1/4 TSP Dry Basil
  • 1/2 Cup Flour
  • 1/2 Cup Tamari (cacciatore does not call for this)
  • 3/4 Cup Red Wine (that's what I got, but marsala calls for Marsala Wine or 1/2 cup white for cacciatore)
  • 1 14 oz. can whole plum tomatoes or several fresh and skinned (marsala does not call for this)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive Oil

Cacciatore and Marsala call for serving over Brown Rice. I have Whole Wheat Rigatoni, so that's what I am going to use. I also have 3 small white eggplants and two really small purple globe eggplants. I'm going to add those to this as well as some fresh chopped tomatoes.

See, I'm just winging it.


Cut chicken into cubes and squeeze lemon over them. In a bag or bowl, throw the flour and a tsp of salt. Throw in chicken cubes and coat with flour mixture. Now brown the chicken in a skillet primed with the olive oil. When golden brown, set aside. In the same skillet, add the garlic, the onion, peppers, mushrooms, parsley, and basil (and in my case, the eggplant and tomatoes!). Saute for about 5 minutes. Now add the browned chicken, the tamari and wine. Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes. Make sure to have your pasta water boiling or rice cooker on the move so that your starch is ready for the simmering mixture. When done, salt and pepper to taste. If you please, add the grated cheese of your choice. I'll probably add Pecorino Romano, but then who knows -maybe parmeggiano reggiano.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fresh Green Bean and Red Onion Potato Salad

This was a favorite growing up. Still is. You can eat it warm or cold.

  • Fresh Green Beans
  • Red Onion
  • Red Potatoes (or other waxy type)
  • Red Wine Vinegar (or your preference)
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt & Pepper
  • bacon optional

-Boil Potatoes in salted water, drain.
-Saute Red Onions and Green Beans for a few minutes until semi-soft
-Mix together and add olive oil and vinegar to taste.
-Add salt and pepper to taste.

You really can't mess this up unless you dump tons of vinegar in. I like to add a little at a time until its just right. Eat hot or cold. With bacon or not.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Shelly's Berry Crisp with Port Sauce

Yesterday I made a simple dessert for friends with ingredients on hand, plus fresh berries.

6 cups of fresh berries (I used strawberries and blueberries)
1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup flour, dash of cinnamon
mix above together in large bowl and put in greased pie plate

1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter chilled cut into small pieces
dash of salt

Mix above ingredients together with pastry knife until a crumb texture is formed. Pour on top of berries and bake for one hour until bubbly at 350.

If your pie is very full, put foil underneath it to save your oven from the spill over.

While pie is cooking, make port sauce. 2 cups port, 2 tablespoons sugar simmer until it is thick (approx 20 min) then chill.

Serve pie with port sauce drizzled on top. I also added a scoop of vanilla ice cream. A nice summer evening dessert.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Vinegar Pulled Pork

I'm going to adapt this for oven cooking and less servings. I'll put a 3-4 lb pork butt in a covered casserole in the oven at 300 deg. for 4 or more hours.

Serves 10

  • Pork butt or untrimmed end-cut pork shoulder roast, 7 to 9 pounds
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Hickory wood chips, soaked in water for 30 minutes
  • Vinegar Sauce (recipe below)
  • Carolina Coleslaw (recipe below)
  • 8 plain white hamburger buns if you want to sandwich it
1 .Build a charcoal or gas grill for indirect cooking.
2 .Do not trim any excess fat off the meat; this fat will naturally baste the meat and keep it moist during the long cooking time. Brush pork with a thin coating of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside on a clean tray until ready to cook.
3. Before placing the meat on the grill, add the soaked wood chips. Place the chips directly on gray-ashed briquettes or in the smoking box of your gas grill. If you are using a charcoal grill, you will need to add charcoal every hour to maintain the heat.
4. Place the pork in the center of the cooking grate, fat-side up, over indirect low heat. Cover and cook slowly for 4 to 5 hours at 325°F to 350°F, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the middle of the pork registers 190°F to 200°F. The meat should be very tender and falling apart. If there is a bone in the meat, it should come out smooth and clean with no meat clinging to it.
5. Let the meat rest for 20 minutes or until cool enough to handle. Using rubber kitchen gloves, pull the meat from the skin, bones, and fat. Set aside the crispy bits (fat) that have been rendered and look almost burned. Working quickly, shred the chunks of meat with 2 forks and "pulling" the meat into small pieces from the butt. Alternately, you can chop the meat with a cleaver. Chop the reserved crispy bits and mix into the pulled pork. While the meat is still warm, mix with enough Vinegar Sauce to moisten and season the meat (about 3/4 cup).
6. Serve hot, sandwich-style on a hamburger bun and top with coleslaw. Serve more sauce on the side if desired.

Vinegar Sauce

Makes about 3 cups

  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground white pepper
  • 1/2 to 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Mix all ingredients together in a large nonreactive bowl and let sit at least 10 minutes or almost indefinitely, covered in the refrigerator.

OR even simpler just try:
white vinegar, cider vinegar, salt, pepper and tabasco

Carolina Coleslaw

Makes about 3 cups

  • 1 recipe Vinegar Sauce
  • 1 medium head green cabbage, chopped

Toss the sauce and cabbage together until well mixed and not quite wet. You may have sauce left-over. Refrigerate. Let sit for at least 2 hours or overnight before serving.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Strawberry muffins

  • 1-cup all-purpose flour
  • 1-cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2-cup sugar
  • 11/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 1-cup low fat plain yogurt
  • 1/4-cup butter, melted
  • 1-teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup chopped strawberries, fresh or frozen

Preheat oven to 375F. In a bowl, mix together flour, sugar, and baking soda. In another bowl, mix eggs, yogurt, and vanilla. Toss strawberries into the flour mixture. Then pour yogurt mixture into flour mixture and stir. Spoon the batter into a greased muffin pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until tops are golden brown. Makes 12 muffins.

Calories: 150
Fat 5g
Carbohydratess 24g
Protein 4g
Fiber 2g

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Chopper

This past week I moved my wife up to a residency program in "upstate" NY. We went grocery shopping at a place that chops prices. In order to participate in the chopping, we needed to wait on the line for both lottery tickets and the chopping card. It was a long line in this economically depressed area. So I began reading all the hanging signs with neighborly faces, women always, stating how much they chop off their grocery bill by shopping at the chopper. It started to make me feel uncomfortable -all this chopping. The goal in america seems to be to spend as little as possible on food. I know, I grew up this way. My father did the grocery shopping (or was that chopping?), and probably wouldn't let my mother because she would be extravagant in some way or another. He would clip coupons, go to double coupon stores, the whole nine yards of saving on food.

Anyway, the signs made me wish we were saving somewhere other than food. The attitude seems to suggest that calories mattered most, no matter what form. Get those calories cheap! What if the advertising, the zeitgeist of american food shopping was different? Can I tell you, I participated in the chopping zone! Oh, dear, get this one -its cheaper. Chop-chop! Let's chop those prices! I stepped into that environment and I became a chopoholic.

Back in NYC, I have stores that I go to because they are less expensive. A place called Golden Farms (they're all called 'farms' around my neighborhood) has the lowest price on Organic Valley milk (3.79 1/2gal) and Peace (whatever its called) cereals (2.99/box). I think they sell them close to cost just to bring in the customers! But I won't buy meats or much veggies there. I go to a variety of butchers or grocers depending on what I need. The farmer's market has the best vegetables in season, but the prices are much higher. I buy there anyway (Cortelyou farmers are less expensive than Grand Army farmers, but I am so eager by Saturday I go to Grand Army). I spend way more time shopping for food in NYC than I suppose I would if I lived in the suburbs or rurals.

When I was on residency, I found food in Wilton, CT to be really expensive, but completely ordinary. Was it because I had only one choice, one store? I hate food cards, where they sell your info as a trade for a deal on sliced mushrooms once every few weeks (like the chopper). In upstate and western NY, things are hard, it's been a bad economy for 30 years. But there are still many family farms across NY state. I hope they are producing more than corn and soy. If people are willing to spend more on food, locally grown can be a reality in season. If the lowest price is all that matters, then it's unlikely it will come from those farms. It would be unethical to have those upstate farmers producing for a NYC market, while those who live around them still buy frozen or shipped "fresh" from name-a-place. It will be up to the retailers to make the push for local, more expensive food in their stores, although I suppose there will always be a market for cheap food and those who will sell it.

Chop chop.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Glacial Lakes State Park

Last night I had a tornado dream -usually the kind I have when I am deeply bothered by something. The tornado bears down on me, I hold on. This one shook and rattled the concrete building I dreamt myself to be in. I woke up.

Magically, this made me think of last summer's trip to Glacial Lakes State Park in Minnesota's prairie country. I chose this park as my destination because the name of a nearby lake, Minneswaska, was the same name as a lake and state park in the Shawangunks of the New York's Hudson Valley. And the closest town was named Starbuck.

View Larger Map

Minnesota is divided between three distinct regions: northern coniferous forest, prairie, and the western most extent of the eastern deciduous forest (called Big Woods in Minnesota). My trip took me on one of several roads that follow an arc of glacial lakes, or kettles, that remain as reminder of the Wisconsin glacial period (so-so Wiki article). I left the Big Woods and entered the prairie. According to the Minnesota DNR, 98% of Big Woods has been converted to farm land, housing and commercial development and 99.9% of Minnesota prairie has been turned for farm land.

When I neared the park, the land turned from farm to grassland. The road turned from asphalt to gravel.

This landscape was rolling, elevated, scattered stones and boulders about, and grass -lots of grass.

After entering the park, the roadway descends toward a kettle lake. The parking area is surrounded by a glade of trees.

I began walking on the trail that circumnavigates the main kettle lake, called Signalness Lake.
I'm impressed with the oak forest and the feeling like this forest is a hidden pocket in the prairie come farmland. It also strikes me how similar this landscape is to my own Long Island experience with its kettles and oaks.

As you walk down the slope toward the lake, you cross this simple footbridge. It crosses a wetland adjacent to the lake. Among the many plants, milkweed -Asclepias syriaca and what looks like yarrow, Achillea millefolium (native or not???).

I couldn't ID so many of the plants I discovered on this trip, like this one below. It was just above the wetland.

Lakeside, half-way around and looking at my starting location.

Leaving the lakeside I move back uphill toward the drier forest. To the east rolling hills and prairie grassland. Notice how the woodlands are in the depressions in the land, where there is more moisture and protection.

The drier uplands are primarily prairie land. But native sumacs can aggressively fill the slopes without fire as a control agent. Prairie loves fire because it keeps woody plants from taking hold.

Scanning the prairie you see a fabric of grass and other plants.

Closer looking finds brilliant flowers. What is it?

Likely the native coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia.

Hoary Vervain, Verbena stricta

Name this grass.

I know this one because of my time in New Mexico -its Leadplant, Amorpha canescens.

I always enjoy the interpretive signs, especially old disintegrating ones like this explaining how this landscape was formed.