Thursday, October 15, 2015

Just Ducky

I love pate de canard. Or at least I love the idea of it. When we lived in England and several Saturday's a year traversed the Channel to Boulogne, France, we always brought home a treasure from the hypermarket. The treasure was frequently something we had either tasted in a restaurant, or something that was so exotic and intriguing we just had to have it! Once we brought home a sweet little 2 piece ceramic duck which contained duck pate - pate de canard. I remember it as being creamy, mellow, and meltingly delicious on toast squares.

Recently our freezer was overflowing with odds and ends stashed there in frantic moments of food preservation, more desirable than waste by throwing away. In preparation for a trip, I committed to clean out the freezers and either using that which was useable, or discarding that which had succumbed to freezer burn or old age. In recent years as our travels have taken us back to France, I've purchased slivers of various types of pate containing at least a small percentage of duck liver, or other indistinguishable parts of duck. Many of these delicious concoctions included mushrooms or citrus or dried fruits and my freezer gleaning also produced a container of white Oregon truffles. The truffles were discovered and dug by grandson Dillon during an early spring landscape project, but travel prevented us from using them, so they ended up stashed in the back of the freezer in no mans land. Determined to use all my freezer findings in something tasty sent me on a mission, but an hours search through cookbooks and the Internet didn't produce a recipe exactly as I had in mind- so taking the best of several, here is the result.

After thawing overnight, the bony bits and broth of duck left from a dinner a few months back went into a saucepan with bay leaf and thyme, and simmered until the meat slid easily off the little bones.

Next, I sautéed shallots, garlic and herbs in olive oil and butter, and added the chopped liver.
Oregon white truffles, below:


As soon as the liver was gently cooked through about 2 tablespoons of cognac, and 1 tablespoon finely grated white truffle with a good grinding of fresh pepper, a little nutmeg and coarse sea salt were all added to the mixture.  

Meanwhile, I pulled all the meat off the bones of the back and neck and wings and tossed them into my Vita Mix -( LOVE my Vita Mix! I could get a job at Costco selling them) -- along with the heart, gizzard, and whatever indistinguishable little organ thingies I found in the stewing pot.

Next, the warm sautéed liver concoction went into the Vita Mix with the meat, and processed to a fine purée. A little added duck broth smoothed out the consistency, and adjustments were made for final seasoning, I packed the paste into a 4" flan ring and chilled. When set, removed from the mold, iced with a little mayonnaise and decorated, it was ready to serve!


It was just ducky! 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

To the End of the Earth and Back

      Realizing at long last the trip of a lifetime, we boarded the Hurtigruten MS Vesteralen and settled into our little cabin.

      From our porthole we could see the final cargo being loaded and cars boarding the bottom deck, the first of dozens of such views we would experience over the next 12 days.
Soon the bell sounded and the announcement was made that the dinner buffet was ready and waiting. The first night on board the evening dinner was informally served buffet style, but from the next night forward we had an assigned table with 6 other Americans, thankfully at the first seating, which was generally at 6:30.
     As we have not experienced a cruise or even a river boat excursion, everything about this trip was new and wonderful and exciting. The Hurtigruten Coastal Voyage vessels are hybrids between ferries, cruise ships, river boats and cargo ships. They service Norwegian towns and villages -most twice each day - from Bergen to Kirkenes. In 1849 Richard With of Tromso recognized a need to transport mail, cargo and people to otherwise difficult to reach locations along the Norwegian coastline, and set about building a business to accommodate that need. 


Here, the cargo doors are open and goods are being loaded.
      One ship leaves Bergen every evening at precisely 20:00, and takes 12 days to make the round trip. The ports of call visited by day on the northbound trip, are visited at night coming south. Passengers making the entire round trip are treated to an amazing variety of geological as well as architectural sights along the way. 

     The Hurtigruten fleet has ships ranging in passenger capacity from 350 to 1100. The Vesteralen capacity is about 500, but she only has 274 berths in about 160 cabins. The rest are accommodated as day passengers. We saw people getting off and on at nearly every port, and I think the number of us that did the round trip was about a hundred fifty or so. 
     Our table mates came from Florida, Chicago, New Hampshire and Minnesota. It was great fun getting to know them all. An interesting bunch with all sorts of backgrounds, hobbies, work and volunteer experience. Apparently the table assignments are made according to language groups, which was nice because we were able to talk to each other. This did not limit any of us however, in getting to know others from France, Germany and Norway, England and Canada, as we had ample opportunities during other mealtimes and on excursions.
 
Monument marking the location of the Arctic Circle
     The tour director on the ship kept us apprised of important landmarks, the appearance of the Northern lights, special activities on board, etc. and arranged excursions for those who were interested. Above is the marker at the Arctic Circle. There are no cabaret shows, swimming pools, spas or casinos on Hurtigruten ships. The entertainment is provided by the raw natural beauty, the ever changing light, and the quaint, colorful and historic towns and villages along the way. We had opportunities to get off the ship several times a day for between 30 minutes and 2 or 3 hours. Some excursions left the ship at one location and rejoined her at another. If a major excursion conflicted with mealtimes, then the schedule was altered to accommodate those on the excursion. 


     As I reflect our 12 days motoring thru the fiords of Norway at a constant, leisurely 15 knots I realize it will take several more posts to share the sights, sounds, experiences and profound affect that going to the End of the Earth and back has had on my mind and heart. 
Stay tuned for the next installation. 



Friday, April 3, 2015

Ahhhh! Spring!

Returning home from the island of eternal summer to the northern land of cool and damp, can be a shock to the senses. Trading flip-flops and sleeveless tops for jeans and sweatshirts could cause serious depression, were it not for what spring brings to the NW garden!

The last few days have been partly sunny and mild, affording the opportunity to confront head-on the healthy crop of weeds that seem to want to creep into every available space in the garden beds. The added bonus for such attention is the breathtaking surprise to find primroses, turning their colorful little flowery faces up to catch the sun and shouting "It's Spring!


A few years ago I started collecting various types and colors of these wonderful, early blooming little harbingers of hope, and although I am miserable at cataloguing and keeping track of the varieties, I do remember from whence some of my little collection came.

 Two years ago, a bestie friend went to the Northwest Perennial Association spring sale, and acquired these old fashioned English Cowslips! They are presently my favorite, as they bring back fond memories of wandering along the English hedgerows during our residence there in the '80's. Being an Arizona girl, primroses were only something I ever read about, or saw in gardening magazines, but having been born in Cleveland, and my grandmother an avid gardener, I suspect I have a latent memory of them there.

"Down in the meadow where the cowslips grow"*
 
This  red primrose was a gift from a friend in my garden club! What a gorgeous color! 

 


 


Another beautiful pink one on the darkest green leaves you have ever seen. Notice the pink stems, too!
And, While Mother Nature had out her paint box, she whipped out a few blue ones !

 
The spring garden is full of wonderful surprises, and each day, nature surprises us with another little something to dazzle our eyes and gladden our hearts. Happy Easter Everyone!
 
 
* Susan Blue, by Kate Greenaway
 
OH, Susan Blue,
How do you do?
Please may I go for a walk with you?
Where shall we go?
Oh, I know–
Down in the meadow where the cowslips grow!
   
 
                          

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Whale of a Tale!

Humpback whales are among the largest mammals on earth, and to be on the water in a small boat within a short distance of them is a peak lifetime thrill.

Ocean Sports offer quality experience whale watches and snorkle trips on the Big Island of Hawaii, and we have been privileged to take two trips with them this month. There is a large whale sanctuary off the coast which stretches from the central Kona Coast to the North Kohala on the west side of the island. Kawaihae sits right in the middle, and we were in touch with the magnificent creatures within minutes of leaving the harbor. The experienced captain, crew and naturalists on board not only got us as close to the whales as is safe for them but also ran an interpretive commentary about the whales we were seeing. 


Our large catamaran, Alala proved a comfortable viewing platform, allowing everyone adequate space to move around and catch views of spouts, bubbles and flukes. With only about 60 passengers on board, we had inside seating, outside seating and standing room against the rails all around the boat. 

Catching good shots  of moving targets is challenging under the best of conditions, but couple that with a moving boat, a slow camera and slower yet reflexes on the part of the photographer, and it is a miracle I was able to catch any pictures at all! 
Humpback whales migrate from the cold arctic waters around Alaska and beyond where they feed all summer, to the warm shallow waters of the tropics where they spend their winters having babies and making whoopie before making the long trek back in the late spring. Females are promiscuous, always choosing the strongest, most virile male as their mate for the next offspring. 

Sometimes already pregnant again, they lead their newborn calves back to the Arctic, nursing them along the way, and teaching them feeding techniques once they arrive in the cold, nutrient rich waters of the higher latitudes. Females lose about 40 percent of their body weight during the migratory, birthing and mating process, making the return to the Arctic necessary for their survival. Bulking up over the summer, and gaining as much as 20,000 pounds, they bring their nearly yearling calves back to the tropics to teach them the route, kiss them good bye and get back to the business of mating or giving birth again. Most females only mate every 2-3 years, but scientists have occasionally observed super-moms that have mated 3 years in a row! Can you imagine giving birth to a 1500 pound baby??? Calves suckle about 50 gallons of milk each day! 

Humpbacks are identified by their distinct and unique markings on the underside of the fluke. We were occasionally able to see these markings:

There are websites which allow the identification of specific whales, if one is intersded in dedicating one time to such endeavors. One such website is: http://www.alaskahumpbacks.org/Catalog/25_50/25-50.htm. I looked for about 12 minutes but couldn't find this one. 
 When the whale activity settled down and it was nearly time to return to shore, a crew member dropped a hydrophone into the water. Silence replaced the jabber of whale watchers, as we listened in wonder to the song of creatures we could not see. My phone voice memo won't load onto blogger, so if you want to hear a real time whale song, click here: http://livewhales.com. 

Whale watching is just one of the many ways to enjoy this beautiful island, and if you do decide to give it a try while you are visiting here, consider Ocean Adventures. We had two wonderful experiences with them. 


Sunday, March 15, 2015

Where is the sun?

This is our fourth winter trip to the Big Island in as many years, and the coolest and least sunny of all. There is always a little haze to be expected on this side of the island, due to the vog (volcanic smog) that blows across from Kilauea when the wind blows from the southeast. But this year, we have had more cloud cover than usual, which keeps the temperatures down, making pool time less desirable and a light sweater a necessary wardrobe addition. 

Strong surf warnings interrupted our snorkle schedule on Friday, as swimming against the current was difficult. The short amount of time we were able to be in the water, though, allowed sightings of a dozen or more different types of fish, a myriad of colors, shapes and sizes. A juvenile needle fish even turned and looked at me, eyeball to eyeball! 

From the dinner deck of Sam Choys restaurant, we oohed and aahed over a beautiful sunset as it changed from soft peach and mauve to brilliant orange and red. Almost as if the tiki torch was adding fire to the sky! 


Yesterday, we trekked to the wet, rainy, east side of the island and were greeted by brilliant sunshine and a beautiful day enjoying a small fraction of the attractions there. The Hilo farmers market sports about 200 vendors, neatly divided into sections of food, and food related items, artists and craftsmen, souvenir goods, and a small food court. 
Neatly wielding his machete, this fellow was selling fresh coconut milk, conveniently packaged in its own container, untouched by human hands. All you need is a straw! 
This strange fruit is called a pineapple something or another.  Possibly a type of dragon fruit or bread fruit. And Jason was all smiles as he demonstrated and hawked his wiki wiki! As seen on TV - a one size fits all kitchen tool! 
Of course, we bought one, and he threw in two additional tools for making julienne and grating everything from carrots to papaya! 

After lunch we went our separate ways, the guys to the Pacific Tsunami Museum, Judi wandering shops and I went hunting for a ceramics gallery ( surprise)! Reconvening at the parking lot we loaded into the car and headed for Rainbow Falls.
If you don't see the rainbow, it's because it isn't there. Apparently we would have needed to be there in the morning, and this shot was taken about 2 in the afternoon. The falls make an 80 foot drop into a sea green pool, but due to a low flow this time of year, they were a little less than spectacular. The sun was lovely and warm, and the giant philodendrons made a great backdrop for a picture of us. 

The final stop for our day was at the 9600 ft visitor center for the Mauna Kea international telescope site on the summit. The road beyond was closed to vehicle traffic due to icy roads and a 10 ft snow pack on the way up. 
We discovered we can drive back  up to the visitor center on a clear night and see the universe thru large telescopes. The sun was strong this March afternoon at 9600 feet! We found it! 
13,900 ft Mauna Kea in the distance! 






Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Only Conch Farm in the World!

 Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, British West Indies is the home of the only Queen Conch farm in the world. These beautiful animals which sport large, whorled pink shells have become an endangered species due to commercial over fishing. Their meat is prized as a subsistence protein, as well as exotic delicacy. 
 Pile of shells outside a well known conch restaurant.

We enjoyed a very well organized talk and tour at the Caicos Conch Farm, and learned about the life cycle and the complexity of raising these beautiful creatures for the tables of the world. 

Breeding stock queen conch

The mature conch are transported to a location where optimal spawning can take place, the eggs gathered, transported back to the farm, placed in a water column for hatching and metamorphosing into the shell forming stage. As the conch grows, it is monitored, fed, and at 4 years of age is ready to be harvested. 
 
Inside the building are demonstration trays to show us the development of the conch, but small
conch are raised in large pens which sit on the sea bed.

The large pond in the foreground is a water cleaning facility, as no waste water is ever pumped out to sea,  the algaes  that grow there are also used for feeding the conch along with a supplemental feed purchased from Purina. 

In addition to the conch farming operation, the center is now researching deep water fish farming in huge geodesic balls about 80 feet in diameter. The screen surface on the balls keeps the fish in, the waste continually washed away in the deep ocean currents, and predators out. 
To learn more about this fascinating place and theirresearch, visit  http://www.caicosconchfarm.net. 
There is hope!





Friday, January 16, 2015

So Very Very Lucky

We have wonderful friends who invited us to be their guests at a beautiful tropical hideaway on Turks and Caicos, a tiny chain of islands nearest the Dominican Republic and not far from Cuba.
In the middle of this deep blue Atlantic Ocean sits this most beautiful place. The temperature is about 84 in the day time and 70 at night.
Everyone should have the privilege of staying someplace like this at least once!
By this afternoon, all the sun seekers will have filled these chairs.
And who can resist this beautiful water and sand? 
Today is a little cooler and breezier than it has been for the past 3 days but it still beats the 46 degrees at home! 

Anyone up for a little sail? 

Or a stroll thru the beautiful grounds? 
Or maybe, better yet. How about a nap? 

💤