Friday, January 2, 2009

A New Bird on New Year's Day

Elly and I had a relaxed and fun New Year's Day, which we spent together at home. It was a "car-free" day, something I plan to track in 2009. Here is a picture of our new cat, Brulee, sprawled in abandon across a new door mat we got mostly so she would have something to lie on in the kitchen. We got the idea after noticing that she likes to lie on a mat in our downstairs bathroom.

This is NOT an invitation for belly-rubbing or any sort of familiarity, we have discovered, but it is a sign that Brulee is happy and comfortable in her new home. (I have checked a few cat books out from the library, and Elly has been busy reading them.)

The first birds I saw New Year's morning were dark-eyed juncos. Other early visitors included mourning doves and cardinals.

I went for a walk around noon and found a spot near some woods not far from our home, by a boulevard in our neighborhood, where the ground was moist from runoff. Birds were thronging around. I first noticed the spot because of all the robins, dozens of them. We've had more robins this winter than I can recall. (They tend to stay year-round, which people who don't get off the beaten track don't realize because they like to hang out in wooded areas where they are able to find grubs and other things to eat in the leaf mold.) I have wondered if the robins might be massing for an assault against the starlings, who they significantly outnumber at present. :-) In addition to the robins I saw cardinals, juncos, gold finches, house finches, white-throated sparrows, chickadees, what might have been a house wren (didn't get a good look) and even a brown creeper, which I haven't seen for quite some time.

Here is a picture I took of the creeper. It's not a great shot, but these are tiny birds that move fast, and they are a challenge to capture with a point and shoot camera, even a good one like my Canon S2 IS. I have thought about upgrading to a digital SLR, but to do much better for this sort of subject a quite expensive lens would be required. Digiscoping a bird like this is no picnic either.

Anyway, the brown creeper was not my new bird -- I've seen them before. I checked our bird log when I got home and found my last recorded observation was almost exactly two years ago, in the same location, on a walk with Samba.

I had been standing in the same spot for about 15 minutes when I heard a high pitched alarm call and the birds started fleeing, a sure sign of a hawk or falcon. I glanced up quickly and, sure enough, a small and beautiful falcon came zipping by and landed high in a cotton wood tree on the other side of the boulevard. I managed to get two decent pictures.

I identified it as a merlin falcon using our Sibley guide based on the eye markings and markings on the sides of its breast. Elly and I have seen kestrels in our neighborhood several times, but this is the first merlin. Based on coloration, I think it is a female. They are slightly smaller than kestrels.

Also while on my walk I noticed this glyph-like arrow chalked on several walk ways. It's a marker identifying a path, to what I don't know. Buried treasure?

When I got home I helped out in the kitchen chopping ginger and garlic. Elly spent much of the day cooking. We always have black-eyed peas (for luck) and collards (for money) on New Year's Day. Elly had the fun idea of using them in Indian recipes this year. We cooked Indian with our niece, Katelyn Monday night and had plenty of leftovers. It takes a long time to cook Indian, and a trick we have learned is to augment leftovers with an additional dish on each subsequent night, which makes dinner faster to prepare and jazzes up the leftovers.

Collards take a lot of prep time because each leaf has to be destemmed, chopped up, and cleaned thoroughly to remove all the sand. They are delicious though and extraordinarily healthy. Elly substituted the collards for spinach and water cress in Deborah Madison's recipe for "Indian-style saute of Cauliflower and Greens" from her book Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

I'm always supposed to remind Elly to soak the black-eyed peas on New Year's Eve, but I always forget. :-) Fortunately, she has found a quick-boil way to prepare dried beans for cooking without a long presoak.

These were used in a recipe for "Curried Black-eyed Peas" from Suvir Saran's Indian Home Cooking, which is one of our most favorite cookbooks. A plus with this recipe, which combined a pureed tomato sauce with yogurt, is it helped us discover the "secret" of a vegetable korma dish from a local Indian restaurant we like.

Adding just two dishes wasn't enough for Elly, who is something of an over-achiever when it comes to culinary pursuits, so she also made a "Curried Lentil Soup" from Paulette Mitchell's book The Spirited Vegetarian. When we try a red we don't like, we just set it aside for cooking. At present, we have something of a backlog in cooking wine and this recipe helped out a little in that department.

The soup is in the covered pot on the far right, so you can't really see it in this picture, all though you can definitely see what the cooktop of a New Year's Day culinary overachiever looks like! We had fun, though. When I wasn't chopping stuff up, I was reading at our kitchen table or taking pictures of Brulee. We also decided to enjoy a bottle of Veuve Cliquot in the afternoon to allow for a bottle of red with dinner. (A bottle of champagne after a bottle of red with dinner is a bit much, even for us.)

And here is the result of all Elly's cooking -- a splendid and healthy New Year's Day Indian dinner.


Elaine said...

That food looks yummy and Brulee also looks gorgeous

Happy New Year!

Fiske said...

Hi Elaine. Thanks for visiting my blog. Elly and I will be looking for homes for Brulee's kittens, so if you know anyone in the KC area who might want a kitten, please let me know. Are you a vegetarian?