The Girl Who Kicked the Ground-nesting-wasp’s Abode

It’s exactly how it sounds. Today, this particular girl found out that ants are not the only insects who make little hills in the ground.

I suppose as someone who proposes to start her own farming operation it is necessary to become familiar with the hidden dangers of working with the earth.

I was plodding through the grass today (in retrospect, rather like a bull in a china shop) and thought absolutely nothing of stepping on what I assumed was a small ant hill. What followed was mother nature’s version of a Godsmack. I recognized my error almost instantly when I heard a humming sound coming from underfoot. I was frozen in fear. I didn’t know whether to keep my foot where it was (covering the exit to the irate insects’ nest) or to flee the scene like the Knights of the Round Table from the “most foul, cruel and bad tempered rabbit you ever set eyes on.”

After considering how I might go about attaining my life’s goals without taking my foot off the wasps’ nest, I made like the cast of Monty Python’s Holy Grail and ran awaaaaayyyyyy.

I was followed by a stream of wasps for a good 1/4 mile until they either lost interest or realized they had better things to do than chase a wailing human across a field (like rebuild the home I just demolished with a big toe).

I’m calling this the first of many life experiences culminating in “I’ll never make that mistake again.”

[photo credit go to google image]

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A short interlude concerning zucchini

Apparently there’s an age old joke in Maine that goes something like this:

Why do Mainers lock their car doors in the summer?

-To keep people from filling their cars with zucchini. 

In the late summer (squash season!) there’s a very real problem of too much zucchini.

People show up at their neighbors’ homes with buckets of zucchini…

There are tables set up in major junctions with piles of free zucchini…

People just desperately trying to get rid of zucchini.

Last night, we grilled the hell out of a bunch of zucchinis, and I could absolutely imagine doing that once a day for the foreseeable future.

I will do my part to help the poor Mainers with their overstock of zucchini.

Maine is…

Maine is a very unique state. According to craigslist, Maine is one large interconnected region. That is to say, if you go to the craigslist site for Maine, under “cities” you’ll find “Maine.” If you ask a Mainer, they’d agree. A new friend and tattoo artist would tell you it’s because everyone knows each other through someone else. In Chicago we think we have it rough, you can pretty much play the 6 degrees of separation game with anyone you meet (biggest. “small town.” ever.) but in Maine, John would tell you, you can play that game with 2 degrees of separation…with the entire state.

Last time I was in his shop in Old Bay, Portland, delivering bagels from the magnanimous Josh of One fifty Ate (a phenomenal little bagel spot in South Portland) I met a farmer from Freedom, Maine, who knew the farmer I work for and was actually attending a conference with him after John finished working on his tattoo. I’m telling you, this state is one big SMALL town.

Don’t ask why I was delivering bagels from South Portland to Old Bay, it’s just something that happens when you’re in Maine. People do things for each other. Crazy.

So I figured I’d impart some tidbits I’ve picked up so far in Maine.

1. We are far enough North that there are Tim Horton’s here (Canadians or anyone who has spent time in Canada will know what I’m talking about)

Further research indicates that there are various locations across the US, but I happen to associate Tim Horton’s rather strongly with Canada, so I’m leaving this bullet point up.

Doesn't look that terrifying.

2. Everyone (from tattoo artists to farmers and bakers) has a story about a moose. There was apparently a pair of rogue moose terrorizing the tranquil South Portland area, and there are multiple claims out there as to who actually got to kill the moose.

Everyone I’ve encountered thus far has -or knows someone who has- successfully killed a moose and promptly bled and butchered it, stashing the 1200 or so pounds of meat in a freezer somewhere.

I’m assuming that every Mainer has a dedicated freezer that lies empty for years in anticipation of just such an event.

I heard one story about a guy who pulled up behind the site of an unfortunate accident involving a [now deceased] moose on a roadway. Before asking the shaken-up motorist who had just hit the moose if he was alright, the man asked “are you gonna take that home?” He proceeded to tie the thing up on the side of the road with some pulley devices he kept in his truck for just such an occurrence, and bled the thing out and started chopping it up before the Game Commissioner had even arrived on site.

You see, dear reader, there is a Moose Lottery here in Maine. Some folks have been on that list, waiting for their opportunity to take home their very own ton of moose meat, for half their lives. With that, I think I’ve exhausted the moose topic.

I’ll let you all know when I see one, I’ve been told there are black bears in the woods behind the farm! Moose can’t be that far away.

3. Every city outside of Portland is “oh, you know, out towards Unity.”

4. Tides are no joke.

You hear almost as many stories about unsuspecting tourists getting caught on a little inlet that’s closing in on them as the tide rises as you do about moose. 

They do create amazing pools though…that are fun to explore.

4. Maine has got to be the friendliest state I’ve ever visited. People go out of their way to help others. It can be very difficult to get anything accomplished because you end up stopping to chat with everyone you pass.

For instance, I had a long conversation with a man who was driving through town and wanted to know my life story since he didn’t recognize me. After about ten minutes, he was satisfied and pulled away… followed by the 5 cars that were waiting patiently behind him the entire time we were chatting.

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Cooking with friends: experiments with Mirin and Bok Choy

Pumba and I were at it again!

This time we decided to dip our toes into the world of Asian cuisine. Neither of us have much (read any) experience with this region. I did have that stint in Viet Nam, but the most I really got out of that in terms of cooking experience was a familiarity with their produce and some of their sauces. I pretty much made myself dishes I already knew how to cook substituting the Western ingredients I couldn’t find in South East Asia with their closest Asian cousins. You end up with strange dishes like glass noodles with sautéed shrimp and broccoli and pork with custard apple pan sauce.

So Gabs and I each picked a dish we wanted to try (one veg and one fish) and took a whack at preparing them.

Pumba took on the veg because that’s what she predominantly cooks for herself, and after the Wicker Park raw chicken fiasco of 2011, let’s face it, she just doesn’t really get off on cooking things that have the potential to cause food poisoning.

[N.B. It should be noted that thanks to a psychotic burst of energy and angst at 4am, the chicken was thawed,  recooked, then discarded and no one was poisoned.]

So first, the stir-fried bok choy with tofu and mizuna, expertly prepared by my former roommate.

What you’ll need:

  • 3 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
  • 4 teaspoons Asian sesame oil, divided
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar, divided
  • 1 16-ounce container extra-firm tofu, drained
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 baby bok choy, leaves separated
  • 12 cups loosely packed mizuna (about 8 ounces)

I always like to portion out the ingredients I need and prep the stuff that needs chopping or peeling.

So you want to cut up your baby bok choy into pieces you can either easily stuff in your mouth, or about proportional to the pieces of tofu. Dice your fresh ginger and green onions, and then finely chop your garlic. We couldn’t get mizuna so we used baby spinach since mizuna is texturally a lot like spinach (and the taste of spinach pretty much yields to whatever you cook it in.

First she fried the segments of tofu in the peanut oil.

We set those aside on some pieces of paper towel to get rid of any oiliness.

You can then prep your sauce in a small mixing bowl: Whisk 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons sesame oil, and 1/2 teaspoon vinegar.

Then you get to start putting together your flavors for the stir-fry. Add 2 teaspoons sesame oil and place skillet over medium heat. Add green onions, ginger, and garlic.

Once that becomes fragrant (you’ll know when you hit that point, but it takes a little under a minute), add remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce and 3 teaspoons vinegar, then your chopped bok choy. Toss until bok choy wilts. It should take about 2 minutes. We had to use the adult variety of bok choy (that’s all they had at Whole Foods) so it took a little longer. Add mizuna (read spinach) in 2 batches, tossing to wilt before adding more, 1 to 2 minutes per batch. Season greens with salt and pepper.

Then you pretty much throw it all together and it looks something like this.Simple as hell, right? That’s what we thought. We were somewhat daunted by the idea of cooking “asian” food. But we heard from a reliable source that what we made looked (and tasted) pretty great.

On to the black cod with mushrooms and sancho pepper:

We ran into to issues with this dish. Namely, the cod they had a Whole Foods looked sad and disheartened. So we chose a comparable white fish and chalked it up to experimentation in the kitchen. There was no sancho pepper paste either, so we just used Sriracha and cut our losses.

What you’ll need:

For broth

  • 1 cup water
  • 6 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground sansho pepper (sometimes labeled “sansyo“), plus additional for sprinkling, or 1 teaspoon whole Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 shallot, sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced, divided
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 7 ounces fresh enoki mushrooms, cut into 3-inch lengths and spongy base discarded
  • 5 ounces fresh shimeji mushrooms (sometimes called beech mushrooms), spongy base discarded

And the fish, of course.

So prep the veg, then make your broth. It’s super easy, and it fills your kitchen with delightful smells.

Bring water, soy sauce, mirin, sansho pepper (we added a healthy squirt of Sriracha), shallot, and one third of garlic to a boil in a 1- to 2-quart heavy saucepan, then simmer 5 minutes. Let broth stand off heat 10 minutes.

You are going to discard the shallots, which is a painful thing to do since they’ve just spent 10 minutes soaking up all that flavor. So we saved the strained shallots and decided we’d use them on sandwiches or in other dishes.

Once the sauce is made, you sauté the mushrooms in vegetable oil. 

That will go onto another sheet or two of paper towel and rid itself of its unnecessary oils.

Finally, you need to cook the fish. Pat fish dry and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot, then sauté fish, skin side down, turning once, until golden brown, just starting to flake, and just cooked through, about 8 minutes. This depends on the thickness of your fillets and temp of the pan. You don’t want to overcook the fish, but you can tell when the fish is getting done by the color and texture it will take on as you observe the “raw” unflipped side.

Once your fish is cooked. you compile yourself a dish:

Et voilà! You have your meal. Enjoy.

Both recipes can be found at epicurious.com