Cooking with Linda, in Cuernavaca

I spent a LOT of time taking and editing these videos in Cuernavaca, Mexico a few years ago. I showed how to make three types of salsa: salsa verde, salsa guajillo and hot as a dog’s nose salsa. By the end of the third shoot, I sampled the last chip with habanero salsa, and then the mosquitos started to attack!

Buffet para pelicanos, con Hawaiiano!

While on vacation in Playa Del Carmen, we came across a fisherman, a.k.a. “Hawaiiano”, who showed us a large Coronado fish and what parts were for people and, of course, the pelicans!This fishy scene was part of our daily entertainment on the beach. Everyone, including me, was taking video and photos with their iPhones. Hawaiiano sure was a local celebrity fisherman!

When in Playa…

Ernesto and I have been to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico seven times. Playa del Carmen, or just “Playa” as the locals refer to it, is a coastal resort town in Quintana Roo on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. Playa is located 70 km south of Cancún and 20 km west of the island Cozumel.

Avenida Quinta, a.k.a. 5th Avenue

caravanWe have certainly seen Playa grow into a more commercial resort city, but I think it has its charm intact. There are more convenience stores that sell cheap trinkets and t-shirts, but there are still quaint restaurants and artisanal stores that dominate the avenue. I did notice that some of the local vendors have become more aggressive in trying to draw tourists in to their stores. One particular vendor prodded a tourist by saying, “Hey, where are you from? I have something to show you. Stop! Hey, I said Stop!” Read more

Feeding the Minnesota Birdies in Winter

Who are we attracting to the bird feeder?

The following birds are the most common grazers at the seed buffet in Minnesota.

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A variety of bird food

Black-oil sunflower seed. This seed will attract almost any bird. Birds that can’t crack the seeds themselves will scour the ground under the feeders, picking up bits and pieces. This seed became available in North America in the early 1980s. Birds prefer the outer shell of a black-oil sunflower seed because it is thinner and easier to crack. The kernel inside the shell is larger than the kernel inside a white-or gray-striped sunflower seed, so birds get more food per seed.

Peanuts. Peanuts are a fairly recent trend in bird feeding, at least in North America. Peanut manufacturers and processors have now identified the bird-feeding market as a good place to get rid of the peanuts that are broken or otherwise unfit for human consumption. Woodpeckers, blue jays, nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice will readily visit a feeder for this high-protein, high-energy food. Even cardinals and finches will eat peanuts.

Suet. Suet contains a lot of fat so it serves as an excellent source of energy. Suet cakes are blocks made from suet or a thick substitute mixed with other ingredients, such as corn meal, peanuts, fruits, or even dried insects. Suet is particularly attractive to woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees, jays, and starlings. Wrens, creepers, kinglets, and even cardinals and warblers occasionally visit suet feeders.

Good, mixed seed. Bad mixed seed has a lot of filler in it—junk seeds that most birds won’t eat. Bad mixed seed can include dyed seed meant for pet birds, wheat, and some forms of red milo that only birds in the Desert Southwest seem to eat. Good mixed seed contains sunflower seed, cracked corn, white millet, and perhaps some peanuts. You can also buy the ingredients separately and create your own specialty mix.

Nyjer seed. Nyjer, or thistle, seed is easily consumed by all the small finches—goldfinches, house, purple, and Cassin’s finches, pine siskins, and redpolls. The two most commonly used types of thistle feeders are a tube feeder with small thistle-seed-sized holes, and a thistle sock. A thistle sock is a fine-mesh, synthetic bag that is filled with thistle seed. Small finches are able to cling to this bag and pull seeds out through the bag’s mesh.
Safflower. This white, thin-shelled seed is eaten by many birds and has the reputation for being the favorite food of the northern cardinal.

Cracked corn. Sparrows, blackbirds, jays, doves, quail, and squirrels are just a few of the creatures you can expect at your feeders if you feed cracked corn. Fed in moderation, cracked corn will attract almost any feeder species. Whole corn that is still on the cob is not a good bird food because the kernels are too big and hard for most small birds to digest. Cracked corn is broken up into smaller, more manageable bits.

Mealworms. Most feeder birds, except goldfinches, will eat mealworms if you offer them. Mealworms are available in bait stores, or by mail order. Mealworms aren’t even worms; they are the larval stage of a beetle.

Fruit. Fruit is an important dietary element for birds, but it can be hard to find in many areas in midwinter. Set out grapes, slices of citrus fruits, apple or banana slices, and even melon rinds. If you want to feed raisins, chop them up and soak them in warm water first to soften them up a bit. Offering fruit to tanagers and orioles is a traditional spring and summer feeding strategy, but many winter feeder birds will eat fruit, too.

My Tropical Fix at Como

I love to visit the Como Conservatory, especially in winter. Walking from the car, several inches of glistening snow has fallen on the rolling hills of Como Park. I see the glass monolith in the distance; it’s windows steamed up. As I open the door to this enormous greenhouse, I enter a lush, green jungle that’s humid and inviting. Seeing all of the exotic ferns and variety of tropical plants transports me to a better frame of mind. The orange and white koi swim toward the surface of the black water as if to say hello, with their gaping mouths opening and closing.

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The Marjorie McNeely Conservatory was first opened to the public in 1915. I was surprised to find out that it is open every day of the year. There are several gardens and galleries. Some of my favorites are:

  • the Bonsai gallery, where there are about eight bonsai trees. Most of them have been, as they say, “in training” since 2001.
  • the Fern Room which features a wide array of tree ferns, Bird’s-nest fern, Adiantum, and several others.
  • the North Garden, which houses useful plants such as aloe, bamboo, bananas, cacao, coffee, figs, macadamia, mahogany, manila hemp, manioc and papaya, and
  • the Tropical Encounters Exhibit, featuring animals and plants from Central and South America. The river fish were especially intriguing since they are so much a part of the local culture.

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De Keersmaeker me crazy

A dance review of sorts: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s
Rosas danst Rosas

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It was dark and somewhat warm. The lights slowly came on as each dancer walked toward a point on the back part of the stage. One, then two, then three and the fourth to meet the three. Patience. Several minutes passed as I saw the four dancers from the back in their black tights, freeflowing tan mini skirts and blousey Henley shirts. The music pounded for at least ten more minutes. I knew what kind of performance to expect. It was slow, measured, choreographed to span several minutes in repetitive sequences. It progressively tested my patience as the four dancers moved to the next stage; all of them moving as if they were painstakingly traveling in their sleep. On their backs, the right arm making its way above the head on the floor, sweeping to the side, then pulling over their bodies to start the sequence yet again. They each moved to the foreground to repeat the same sequence. All of them were illuminated by their own spot light. I wondered if they would ever stand after falling and rolling and holding still for such a long time. At last, each dancer made a move toward a standing position, only to fall to the floor and repeat the same sequence.

I get it. It’s almost like going to church as a child and listening to long, tedious sermons that I didn’t really understand. And then there was some movement among the adults as the minister came to a close and everyone stood to releave their back sides and yawned in relief that it was indeed over. But this dance is more zen-like, or shall we say the dance version of Philip Glass. This type of modern dance takes you through so many thoughts and emotions: expectation, pause, fatigue, concentration, annoyance, anger, elation and relief. It IS affective. It tries your patience. The best part is that it doesn’t allow your mind to wander. You are ultimately focused, though fatigued, for the entire performance.

The dancers make what I think is their final movements, until I realize that there are similar patterns coming for the next twenty minutes. They continue to move in a repetitive manner, all in sync, until the last step. The lights go down. It is over. The four dancers bow, leave the stage, and come back several times to a standing ovation. We’ve all experienced this performance together.

Another attempt at Nosh

A restaurant review. I’ll give it 4/5 stars

cornfieldWe’ve been trying to go to Nosh for quite some time. Every time we go, we’ve picked a day when they’re closed. But today we took our usual road trip from Minneapolis, en route toward Lake Pepin, which takes us through some very quaint, but small towns like Maiden Rock, Stockholm and Lake Pepin. There were droves of people waiting for the Harborview Cafe to open at 5pm, so we hit the road toward Nelson and saw the other side of Lake Pepin, on our way to Lake City. We were anticipating another harbor and hopefully a great restaurant.

nosh-signWe saw the familiar harbor in Lake City, with Nosh nudging at its side. Fortunately we got the last table on the second floor, which had a great view of the harbor. We started by sharing a large Belgian beer, followed by a warm beet salad with arugula and candied walnuts. We ordered a good, dirty red until the delicious steamed mussels in a tomato broth arrived with just the right amount of chili heat. We both ordered the Thai red snapper. I thought it would be the typical filet with a side of vegetables, but instead it was a fragrant stew with bok choy and a perfectly spiced broth. Given the fact that it was a sunny, but cool 40 degree day, the hot stew was very comforting.

harborAs with most restaurants, I’m usually hesitant to order dessert, but I thought that if everything was so great up to this point, the dessert would also be fabulous. Not so. I ordered the chocolate mousse with chipotle chiles. It was good, but not anything to write home about. My partner had the chocolate torte with raspberry sauce which was just so-so.

The service was excellent. Everyone involved made an extra effort to make our experience memorable. I hope to return to Nosh when I can enjoy the sunny patio in humid, 90 degree heat, while watching the boats come in to the harbor. I know the food will be good.

Discovering “Mums”

Decorative Perennial Plants for Fall

I always thought “mums” were those plants that you’d bring to your grandma or elderly relative in the retirement home. These temporary annual plants would last all but a few weeks. But after researching “mums”, or as they are supposed to be called, Chrysanthemums, I realized that there’s a huge variety of perennial plants that last from season to season.
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Chrysanthemum, a.k.a. “Mums”

Chrysanthemums, also known as mums, are flowering plants of the genus Chrysanthemum, in the family Asteraceae. They are native to Asia and northeastern Europe. Most species originate from East Asia and the center of diversity is in China. There are about 40 valid species of mums and countless horticultural varieties.

Chrysanthemums were first cultivated in China as a flowering herb, beginning in the 15th century BC. Over 500 plants had been recorded by the year 1630. The flower may have been brought to Japan in the eighth century AD, and the Emperor adopted the flower as his official seal. Chrysanthemums entered American horticulture in 1798 when Colonel John Stevens imported a cultivated variety known as ‘Dark Purple’ from England.

A Variety of Blooms

Chrysanthemum blooms are divided into 13 different bloom forms by the US National Chrysanthemum Society. The bloom forms are defined by the way the ray and disk florets are arranged. Chrysanthemum blooms are composed of many individual flowers (florets), each one capable of producing a seed. The disk florets are in the center of the bloom head, and the ray florets are on the perimeter.
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Reflex form – the disk florets are concealed and the ray florets reflex outwards to create a mop-like appearance.

Pompon form – fully double, of small size, and very globular in form. Single and semidouble blooms have exposed disk florets and one to seven rows of ray florets.

Anemone form – the disk florets are prominent, often raised and overshadowing the ray florets. The spoon-form disk florets are visible.

Spider form – the disk florets are concealed, and the ray florets are tube-like with hooked or barbed ends, hanging loosely around the stem.

Fun Facts about Mums

– A number of formerly state-endowed shrines have adopted a chrysanthemum crest; most notable of these is Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine.
– The term “chrysanthemum” is used to refer to a certain type of fireworks that produce a pattern of trailing sparks similar to a chrysanthemum flower.
– Chrysanthemum plants have been shown to reduce indoor air pollution by the NASA Clean Air Study.
– In some countries of Europe (e.g., France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Croatia), chrysanthemums are symbolic of death and are used only for funerals or on graves. Similarly, in China, Japan and Korea, white chrysanthemums signify grief. In the United States, the flower is usually regarded as positive and cheerful.
Tutankhamen was buried with floral collars of chrysanthemum.

Where to Buy Mums

Garden Harvest Supply – Find a variety of perennial mums for your landscape.

Faribault Growers, Inc. – Growing mums for over 70 years.

Bachman’s – Founded in 1885, Bachman’s is considered one of the largest traditional floral and nursery operations in the world.

Why I love the Fair

When I was a kid, I loved going to the Fair with my Dad. We’d go on the big yellow slide, order a foot long hotdog with all the fixins, take in a few rides in the Midway, and the sun always seemed to be shining. Much later, the Fair wasn’t as appealing. It was all about eating cotton candy, French fries, all you can drink milk and anything deep fried on a stick. The Midway rides weren’t like the real ones at Valleyfair and they didn’t seem all that safe. I thought, “What’s the point of all this?” Why do thousands of people come to this place for a week at the end of summer every single year?”

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Dudes

For the past five years, I’ve looked forward to the MN State Fair and I go at least twice in that week at the end of summer to take photos. I’ve found that this is the best place, even better than all the block parties, to take photos. Here there are all walks of life; young and old, extremely obese to rail thin, disabled, and the most diverse group of people gathered in one place. I really think it’s a good sample of what our city and surrounding communities are all about.

I can see all the different stages of life in people walking by. The young couples enjoy each others’ company, young families balance toddlers on their hips, pushing strollers with the second child, middle-aged sons and daughters wait patiently for their elderly parents, teenage girls giggle with braces on their teeth, short tops and short shorts, and cautiously eye the young boys as they pass.

Young couple

Princess

Before the last stint in the Midway, I make my way toward the big yellow French fries stand. I don’t eat the deep fried pancake breakfast on a stick, but I do indulge in French fries and beer. As the sun reaches the golden hour, I’m in the Midway capturing people on my lens coming toward me; they are completely in the moment and oblivious to being photographed. The rides shine in bright colors as people line up to board the swiveling cars. I’m capturing these active scenes at the end of summer where everyone meets before the school year starts, the next business quarter and the cooler weather marks the first day of Fall.

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Whirl-i-gig

Vegan is spoken here

thekenwoodI went to the Kenwood a couple months ago with a friend after long boarding around Lake of the Isles. I glanced at the menu and found quite a few vegetarian options, but I don’t do dairy so I thought I’d ask if they could create a vegan entree. I knew I may be taking a small risk, but this seemed like a restaurant with a credible chef, or at least a handful of sous chefs who could think on their feet.

The server came over with our generous glasses of red wine and I asked her, “So, do you think the chef could make something vegan for me?” She nodded confidently and reassured me that he could make something really good, but I needed to give him the reins, so to speak. I looked at my friend as the server went to the table across the room, and said, “Hmmm, this could be interesting.”

6837189640_4544be3596_zI saw the plate set in front of me. It was mostly green, with curly ramps piled atop a mix of sautéed wild mushrooms on a bed of toasted barley. There was a fragrant mushroom broth as well. I was pleasantly surprised.

I went back to the Kenwood again with my partner. We sat outside and also had the generous red wine and started with french fries. They had the skins on, which I like, and just enough sea salt. We dared to ask for a vegan entree and our server again said that we needed to let the chef do whatever he thought best. Our steaming plates arrived with a very savory Asian noodle dish with both red and yellow beets, morel mushrooms and a mixture of fresh herbs. Once again, I was happy to try the vegan dish.

I WILL be back!