Saturday, March 31, 2012

Ariel and the Stormy Afternoon

I bought this planter a year ago at an estate sale on Whitland Avenue. It was pushed under a table in the garage, and I was lucky no one else had seen it. Here is a closer view-

I believe the face, half hidden ,is that of the sprite" Ariel" -imprisoned inside a tree by an evil witch. In Shakespeare's "The Tempest",Prospero, the exiled Duke, frees the sprite, and Ariel becomes his servant and a conjurer of storms.

And here is Nature, imitating Art on a warm Tennessee spring afternoon. Ariel could not have done it better.

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Estate Sale Diaries-March 30, 2012

I suppose I risk losing my readers' interest before I begin this vignette by writing about stopping at the Mini-Mart to gas up my thirsty truck. But that is where my day began.

I pulled in to the station and found every pump occupied by a car or van, and not one of them attended by a human. This peeved me ,for there is nothing I hate more than getting to an estate sale and ending up last in line outside the door.

But there was no help for me this morning, for the parking lot and pumps were full because of the line of dreamers inside. Every lawn care business crew, every gaggle of repairmen were in the store waiting to buy a 500 million dollar lottery ticket. That the chance of having a Martian at their house for a barbecue was greater than buying a winning ticket did not occur to these people, who probably were promising God and St Peter that they would give the first 100 million away to Charity if they won-

And because of them, I did end up at the end of the estate sale line, though I still took home the painted metal grill I had seen on the estate sale company's website.

The sale was at a condo neighborhood very near the Hall Tract, the newest part of the Warner Parks. The condos were surrounded by forest, and it buffered the sound from Highway 70. This was a serene neighborhood of birdsong, shade, and small gardens-the kind of place that is a reproach to renters such as I, who will never own so fortunate a home. (My upstairs neighbors are constructing a freeway in their apartment. They start working on it and blasting as soon as I go to bed).

Angst, the remains of a migraine, and a paltry bank balance are not good companions at a sale, but this sale was forgiving.

The man who was selling the condo and its contents was neither a reader or a cook, so temptation was small. Lots of contemporary art, Navajo baskets, vases, wall hangings- little that appealed to me. There were two outdoor metal benches I would have been interested in squeezing onto my porch, but they were not cheap, and I could not afford. The kitchen was no bigger than a closet, with room for only one inside. The rest of the space was taken up by a Rival crockpot.

This home, on three levels, with a deck and glass doors facing a ravine of flowering trees, was more gallery than living space. It seemed to have been one man's private museum-

Here are two found objects I brought home-

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spring in Pollen-esia

In Spring, Nashville's atmosphere is 21% oxygen and 79% pollen.

For Nashville lies in a basin. When it rains 15 inches the city fills up and floods. When every bush, tree, and blade of grass blooms at the same time, it fills up with allergens. "Got Pollen?" reads the sign at the White Bridge Road Car Wash.

Bad air means those of us who like to wander up park roads looking for early warblers will be spending our evenings wheezing and our nights sleepless. We may even miss a day of work. But we are not the only ones-

Soccer players, bikers, runners, anyone who inhales will be miserable when the pollen count is over 400.

How unfair that Nature does this in spring, when one can still wander about all day outdoors and not have to hide inside from the soupy suffocation of Nashville's summers. I never thought I would live in a place where one longed for the coming of frost because July and August are so burdensome.

And August brings ragweed!

When I was a child in Connecticut, I remember my mother telling me that towns were sending out the Boy Scouts to pull up Goldenrod. People thought it caused hay fever. Now we know that it is innocent.

And the other evening, as I walked at the park at dusk I listened in vain for the songs of migrant birds. I did not even hear a cardinal call.

The only sound I heard was my own sneezing.

The Barn Swallows came back yesterday. I knew they were at Radnor Lake, for Professor Fekel,a reliable reporter on had reported seeing one.

One moment I went in to get a cup of coffee from a swallow-less day. Five minutes later they were swooping and chittering over the parking sheds. There was a strong south wind , and I am certain it blew them in.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Turnip Slaw

One day last week-a warm, summery day that felt like hot dogs and mustard and fireworks and July, I came back out from my job at the clinic into what the men Inside call the Free World ,and wished I had a charcoal grill to fire up.

But I live by my landlords' rules, and that means no flames. I heated my Cheesy Hot Dogs in the microwave.

I needed a side dish, so I shredded 3 turnips in the food processor, and sauteed them in butter with a little sea salt and cream. They were good, but when they mingled in the mouth with mustard and cheese, they were better.

And that is how I created Turnip Slaw, and its baked relative, Turnip Gratin with mustard, cream, butter, and grated Jarlsberg.

To make the slaw, shred three soft ball sized turnips with your food processor's julienne blade. Then toss the turnips with one to 1 1/2 cups of grated Swiss cheese, a quarter cup of sour cream or Mexican crema, 3 or 4 heaping teaspoons of a Dijon type mustard, and a few tablespoons of melted butter. No added salt is needed. I also added a handful of diced up mini-gherkins. One could also add grated carrot, I suppose.

This is a nice hot weather lunch dish. I ate it today along with Eggplant Parmesan, and sliced Blood Oranges tossed with Olives.

Here is what the Gratin looked like, but that recipe is for another day-

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Scenes Along a Tennessee Country Road- March 24, 2012

These photos were taken on the Pasquo Road, not far from the Loveless Motel and Restaurant. The highway in the distance across the field seen in one picture is the Natchez Trace Parkway.

Friday, March 23, 2012

First Warbler-Percy Warner Park, Nashville. March 23, 2012

I went out with the dogs to Percy Warner Park today expecting I might hear a Parula warbler, for it is usually the first warbler I see, or hear. Instead I heard the Black-throated Green Warbler, an old companion of my youth in rural New Hampshire.

I hear its wheezy whistle, and I am fifty years back in time, walking with my brother, carrying our fishing poles down to the hemlock shaded pools of the Little Sugar River. The State stocked that river with hatchery Rainbow Trout, but the nobler Brook Trout hid downstream in secret places-

I hear this warbler, and I am on the forest edge of an old pasture. A ruffed grouse drums on a log in the distance and two pints of wild strawberries are waiting for me to pick them.

I hear this warbler , and am sad when I think of the brevity of the New England summer, and how the Veery and the Hermit thrush sing nightingale songs that are never heard in Nashville. Yet this small warbler sings for us here,and takes some of us pleasantly to the past-

The War On Human Livelihood- Part 2

Some weeks back I wrote about my local library branch and the employees there who seemed to be colluding with technology to work themselves out of their jobs. Now when I go in to pick up a book from Inter-Library loan ,I don't have to inconvenience myself by talking to anyone or smiling at them. I scan my own books so the library people are free to stand at the desk staring into space or to drag a cart outside to bring in the books from the after hours book deposit bins.

Having been to my local Bank of America twice lately to buy a money order and to deposit a check, I can report that the War is on there as well. The day I went to get the check, a woman I did not recognize was greeting folks coming in and scrutinizing the tellers, who were having the spontaneity stolen from them one customer at a time. I know a script when I see one, for I worked in a place that required a mandatory phone response-

"World's Worst Hospital. This is Nurse Lousy. How may I help you?"

At the bank the tellers now remind you how unnecessary they are and how much easier it would be for everyone if you the customer went on line to bank. Today a young lady reminded me that I could deposit a check any time day or night in the nearest ATM.

"I like seeing people have a job to do", I told her, but I think this went right past her, for again she reminded me that the ATM was superior.

When I go in to the Belle Meade Kroger before 7 am now, I ask the night guy to scan my 1/2 price manager's special even though he tells me everything is self-scan till 0700. He may think I am a pain, but I am looking out for him. What grocery chain would not love to cut him and all his unionized buddies?

First they came for the librarians, then they came for the bank tellers- Hell, even lawyers are out of jobs because do it yourself software is making them obsolete.

What makes you think your job is safe? Even nurses may be replaced by robots for "routine tasks".

As I have said before, never underestimate how much your employer wants an excuse to get rid of you.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Beetle from Oz

Yesterday, while walking up a park road through the woods at Nashville's Edwin Warner Park, I saw something new to me. A beetle under an inch long flying just above the pavement. It would fly, then land, then fly again, keeping just ahead of us in a companionable way, as though leading us into the forest. It was the color of an emerald, or of a Faberge egg.

Since I have misplaced my field guide to the insects ,I typed in "emerald colored beetle" on Google. And I then read about the Emerald Ash Borer, a beetle from Asia that is killing American ash trees.

When I was young I looked out my schoolroom window in Charlestown, New Hampshire, and saw the great elms that lined the town's main road. Are they there now? Or did Dutch Elm Disease, a fungus from the Old World spread by a bark beetle kill them? And I also remember seeing hillsides of trees decimated by Gypsy Moths when I was even younger and living in Connecticut.

I have never seen an American Chestnut, for they were all killed by a blight, and were gone before I was born.

And when I started to garden in Nashville in the early 90s there were no Japanese beetles here.

Now there are.

I have just read that state forestry services are quarantining areas where the beetle is found, trying to keep infected ash wood from being moved state to state. It may not work.

Another example of unintended consequences from Globalization.

Yet- I wanted to be certain what I saw was the Ash borer. And I am happy to say that it was not. The Ash borer was just not green enough-

Happily my green beetle was the Tiger Beetle,and harmless to the Ash tree.

This bright beetle was from Oz not from Hades!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring Equinox-2012. Nashville, Tennessee.

There are no barn swallows here as yet, nor did I hear any spring migrants while walking today.

The oaks are leafing out. Country people used to plant corn when oak buds were as big as a squirrel's ear, though that might be rushing the season. About 5 years ago in April ,Tennessee had a late freeze and gone were the strawberries and the peaches-

I found the giant vinca, or periwinkle, shown in the photo, on the side of a park road. Its flower is twice the size of the blue vinca that has escaped old farmsteads and spread into the forest and around the stones in old cemeteries. I know of another patch of this giant periwinkle growing out at Hidden Lake.

The Spring Equinox also begins the mating season of Nashville's black snakes. I saw several yesterday along the stone walls in Percy Warner Park. Two appeared to be mating. A third seemed to be on the prowl. Stone walls are good places for snakes to live,
for chipmunks and lizards live there as well. I believe these snakes were black racers. The one on the prowl thrummed his tail on some dead leaves, trying to convince me, and my dogs, that he was a rattlesnake! His pretend rattle would be useless against his worst enemies, who do not come on foot. I have seen Barred Owls and Red-tailed Hawks flying off with desperately writhing snakes-

And here is a last photo of Virginia Saxifrage on the shale cliffs at the park.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Nashville- Sunday March 18

Spring is so advanced here that even the azaleas are blooming, and in Nashville, after the azaleas bloom, irises and roses are not far behind. All day I have gone out onto my porch hoping
to hear the chitter of the barn swallows who nest in the parking sheds. reports them in east and south Tennessee, and the Rough-winged and Tree Swallows have been seen here in the city within the past week.

I walked in the increasingly crowded Warner Parks this morning, and saw that most of our Spring Ephemerals- the trilliums,celandine poppies, the dwarf larkspurs- are in bloom. But not for long. When the leaves come, these flowers disappear beneath the ground again to spend the next 10 months asleep in the leaf litter.

And today, I saw four Turkey vultures up close in a half dead tree in the forest. At first I thought this might be a potential nest, but my Sibley bird guide says Turkey Vultures nest on the ground or in hollow stumps. I find it curious that I am seeing so many of this species now, since for years the Black Vulture has been more common, especially out along Highway 100 where it is Deer vs Car every day.

I did pick some Poke weed sprouts today, thinking I would cook and eat them, but as the day wears on, I am not so enthused. When I read about Poke weed in "Wayside Plants" I did not miss the sentence that said parts of the plants are poison. Poison gets my attention every time. Books say the sprouts taste better than asparagus, but I will leave them to folks who can afford a trip to the Emergency Room-

And here are some scenes from a friend's woodland garden.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Silly Season

I am lazy. Out of inertia I have kept AOL as my home page and mailbox. And when I return to posting and the Internet after a week or so of hiatus, I see AOL headlines are as ludicrous as ever. Their celebrity mongering and man bites mosquito stories never stop. There is always a Brianna, or Rhianna, or Sheanna struggling with bad boyfriends, the Sobriety Squad, L.A. judges, or badly placed silicone-

Relief is a click away. Or is it? Today I landed on TheKitchn (their spelling) at the Apartment Therapy website, and found a post about "How to write a Secret Message"  on a lunch pail banana. Presumably one's fourteen year old daughter will be amused by Mom's message, as will the daughter's peers, though I do not think whoever wrote this was far from fourteen herself- 

Or perhaps dear husband will be surprised to see something whimsical in print, such as "Who the hell is Tiffany, and why was she calling to talk to you last night?"

Four Dollars

* This is not a post about politics. It is a post about reality.

If the Democrats  are defeated in November, it will not be by the Republicans. It will be by four dollars.

Four dollars and its multiples.

Four dollars for a gallon of gas. Four dollars for a loaf of bread. Four dollars for four rolls of Scott toilet paper.
Nearly 8  bucks for a pound of bacon.

A pound of bacon!

I walked out of a grocery store last week with two small plastic sacks of essentials. 65 dollars. Made worse by knowing that almost 10 percent of that sixty five was state sales tax. A tax imposed by Neanderthals who run this state. 

One can buy used clothes at Goodwill (as most of  us, Techno-Serfs that we are, will soon be doing) and pay no tax. But not on food!

How do families do it? How do oldsters do it? 

Credit cards? Dumpster diving? Not eating?

"It's the economy, stupid" is one of the world's great truisms, along with Deep Throat's advice on "Following the money".

I am a cynic. I shrug. Are the people we elect our government anyway?

Or are they just shills? Bought and paid for by Goldman- Sachs?

Whose bonuses are multiples of four dollars too, times several hundred thousand or several million.

Oh well, time to cheer ourselves up by going back to posts about Tornado and Flash Flood warnings.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Lesson from History- Joseph Welch vs Senator Joe McCarthy

Here is how a person of honor shames a demagogue  A demagogue not unlike the coarse, slandering, prurient men we see today, attaching themselves like lampreys to our political parties . Enough said.

I Become a Cookbook "Picker".

This little spiral bound cookbook, apparently bought in a Hawaiian gift shop, is worth between $15 and $20.

I bought it for 50 cents at an estate sale yesterday. I bought George Lang's "The Cuisine of Hungary" for 50 cents as well, and it may be worth $30 to $50. Of course finding a buyer is key, but a 19 dollar profit on a fifty cent investment might send me out to start beating the Internet bushes.

So many of the cookbooks left on the last weekend of this three week estate sale were good, though not 21st century. And if I ever decide to sell what I "pick", I know that I will sell these books to collectors , and not to people who want to find recipes. These books will be just artifacts, or decorative props.

For the era of cookbooks is over. There may still be a market for ethnic themes, and recipes from trendy restaurants and chefs, but the general cookbook is done for. Who is going to pick up a cookbook for a meatloaf recipe when they can click through to it on the Internet in seconds?

I saw a home cook on the Cooking Channel's "Foodography", who found all her recipes on web sites, and in return, posted her own at these 21st century Cooking Commons. She sent her original dish-"Lasagna Cupcakes"- out to make its way in the world-

You and I may want to read Elizabeth David, but most people just want to put something on the table that looks home-cooked, and they do not care about gastronomy or culture or history.

Yet even the hot young chefs at their hard to get into restaurants feel some nostalgia at this end of a epoch. I read an interview with a young southern chef named Sean Brock who spoke wistfully of how much he loved Richard Olney's Time-Life series "The Good Cook". Brock missed the care and the patience and the attention to details in the cooking shown in those books.

And this is the reason I will continue to collect and to pick cookbooks, even if I never sell a single one.

* The interview with Sean Brock was in a column called "The Cookbook Shelf" at Eater is a food site about just that. It is devoted not to cooking, but to eating out everywhere- from food trucks to the newest restaurants all over the U.S.

Friday, March 2, 2012

After the Storm- March 2 - Nashville, Tennessee

There was little wind, no thunder, and no lightning in the part of Bellevue where I live. Yet just three miles northwest of here there are trees down, and there is no power. As the storm came in, I stood on my porch and heard the sirens going off. Then I heard a most strange and peculiar sound.

Not the freight train sound that people say a tornado makes, but a pulsating sound- as though a giant thresher was coming over the hill.

It was a great wave of quarter sized hail. It lasted only a few minutes, and then the storm moved toward downtown Nashville.

Here are some photos I took after the weather went through.

Tornado Sirens going off in Nashville

This photo was taken within the last five minutes. It looks southwest toward Williamson County. I can hear the tornado sirens going off now in the suburb of Bellevue. We are in for a rough go-

The Estate Sale Diaries- March 2, 2012

I have been guarding pennies for the last few months, but this morning I splurged and gave myself 20 dollars to take to an estate sale. Not much money, but enough for the last weekend of a sale that has been going on for three weeks.

This sale was in a retirement subdivision that surrounded an assisted living center. It was lightly attended and heavily picked over. One woman there told me the first day of the sale two weekends ago was so crowded no one could move-"That's how much stuff she had", the woman said, speaking of the late owner.

The estate sale people were surprised no one had pushed away the motorized recliner that turned into a lift. Or the motorized hover wheelchair. Nor had anyone bought the commode chair and the other sad debris that comes with failing health-

"All the Smalls are 75% off", the checkout lady told me, and for a few bucks I bought a potato peeler, two wooden spoons, a jello mold, and a tart pan. I also bought these elegant little wire utensils. I can only guess what they were used for-

I picture people sitting around a table dropping shrimp or pieces of meat into hot oil or a fondue pot and lifting them out with these small wire spiders- but who knows.

Their owner is gone now. She will not tell us.

But what she owned speaks for her. The shelves of cookbooks that covered the culinary world from James Beard to California cuisine to the foods of Vietnam. The ornate Chinese cabinet that looked as though it came from an Emperor's palace, the oriental vases and prints, the showy costume jewelry too dated to have sold, the pocketbooks and hats out of fashion.

And then there were the cookbooks-

I paid $2.50 for Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking". Fifty cents for Collier's" Woman's Companion Cookbook", published in 1944 and listed as worth $120 on Bookfinder. James Beard's "The Fireside Cookbook", published in 1949. George Lang's "The Cuisine of Hungary".

A dozen cookbooks in all, and the utensils. $17.50 for the lot.

As I left the sale,people were worrying about the weather. One woman said the schools were closing, and the estate sale people said they might be shutting down early because of the storms. No good can come of bright sun and warm winds and 76 degrees on the second day of March.

I expect the tornado sirens will be going off tonight-