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Friday, October 28, 2011

Squirrel Splat

"When the frost is on the pumpkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock . . . ."

I had to learn this poem by James Whitcomb Riley when I was in elementary school, although even way back then, we weren’t hearing any gobbling turkeys in our neighborhood. (Well, truthfully, every Thanksgiving, a turkey yard opened a few miles away from our home, so when we drove by, we heard lots of kyoucking and gobbling.) ANYWAY, what I’m trying to say is, the poem evokes autumn.

Autumn: the vibrant yellow, orange and red leaves (or, if you live in Virginia, the mostly dull, brown ones). Fall: the crisp air, the Halloween costumes, the suicidal squirrels.
Squirrel suicide seems to be a local phenomenon, one of those things that, no matter how many box stores you put in, will remain unique to an area. In Princeton, it was dogs sleeping on the sun-warmed residential streets (this was waaay before leash laws). I remember my Mom swerving to avoid them because they wouldn’t move for nothin’. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since.

Here in Northern Virginia, it is squirrel suicide. This is the time of year when the squirrels are industrious, finding and hiding nuts for the winter. Even though I took down our bird feeder several years ago (and, yes, I do remember that I promised you the bird feeder/raccoon story. It will come.), we live in a wooded area, and the squirrels proliferate. Their coats grow thick and shiny with the abundance of the oak acorns.

When we first moved here, I’d be driving to and from work in the Fall, taking the kids to their activities and whatnot, and I’d see little dead blobs of squirrel bodies on the roads. I wondered if people were aiming their cars at the squirrels, or if there were perhaps hundreds of careless drivers. I discovered it was neither. No, something seems to happen around here, something in the weird little squirrel brains. You’ll be driving along, careful as pie, and out from a pile of leaves at the side of the road, a squirrel will throw himself under the wheels of your car. Splat.

It’s disheartening, really. I mean, you can’t avoid ‘em; they’re on a little kamikaze run. Splat, there it is again. Splat. You’d think it would decimate the local squirrel population, but it doesn’t. Every year, there are just as many squirrels as the year before.

Last week, I was sitting on my screened-in porch enjoying the last of the year's warm afternoons, and that blasted squirrel, the one I've written about,l was half-way up the side of the the pine tree scolding and screaming at me. Why doesn’t that one throw himself under a bus, huh? Splat.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Zombie Turning

Dear Followers,
     I know, I know I promised Squirrel Splat next, and I have it all written, but then I got notification of a scary story contest from Fantasy Island Book Publishing (https://www.facebook.com/questions/282275231793975/?qa_ref=qd), and I couldn't resist.  I've never written a scary story before, at least not that I remember (which means not before last month), so this is my maiden voyage.  I hope you enjoy it!  Oh, and please go to the address above and vote for the one you think is the best story (mine, mine, mine! for Pete's sake).  Voting runs Oct 23 - 30.
     Oh, and don't worry:   porch season is over.

Zombie Turning

I was reading the newspaper on the quiet of the screened-in porch. The day was calm, the sky that silky blue before the first cold snap of fall. A blur flashed in the corner of my vision, and a something, no, a person darted in through the screen door. I startled up, barely able to take in much of his -- her? -- appearance. Filthy jeans and a blood-stained shirt made me instinctively pull back. Pasty flesh, bruised eyes, a look of incomprehension on a slack mouth. It spring at me, teeth barred, of all things.

Buster, my black lab, ran from the house through the open, sliding glass door, growling and barking. When I came to consciousness, Buster had chased it off, I assume as both were gone. The attack itself was a blank in my mind.

Obviously the creature had knocked me to the ground. I couldn’t collect my thoughts. I put a hand to my head, and it came away bloody. It had either whacked me on the head with a rock or something, or thrown me to the ground because I had a nasty bump. My arm ached, too, and I saw the marks of a good-sized jaw incised on my upper arm. I’d been out long enough for the rivulets of blood down to my hand to have caked. The damned thing bit me! But why? Why, why, why?

I live in a quiet neighborhood. We have manicured yards. We have old trees. What we don’t have is a weird crime problem.

I blanked out again. When my mind cleared, or semi-cleared really, I was still on the floor. I must be concussed. There’d been a lot about concussions in the news lately; all I had to do was stay awake but quiet. Jay would come home from work in a bit, not more than a few hours, whatever time it was now. He would take me to the emergency room if I needed to go.

I pushed myself up cautiously to sit in the Adirondack chair and rested a moment. Buster came back, up to the screen door. My stomach growled. For a bleary second, I thought about taking a bite out of Buster. Okay, my head was worse than I thought; that was just sick. I leaned over to push open the door. Instead of rushing eagerly through, he dropped his to his forepaws, his tail low and still. He growled.
“Good dog,” I croaked, but he yowled and fled. I must really be a mess.

My scratchy throat emphasized that I was thirsty. I thought I could make it inside to the kitchen for some water. I should stave off dehydration no matter how difficult getting to the sink might be. I edged through the sliding glass door and along the wall. I was feeling pretty dizzy, and if I had to, I could simply slide down the wall without risking hitting my head again. I made it all right, though, and turned on the tap, the water streaming. I looked at it puddled in my cupped hand. Then I didn’t feel like drinking after all.

My stomach growled again. I turned slowly, trying to keep the slight equilibrium I had, and opened the refrigerator door to survey the contents. I thought maybe some yogurt, something that would slide down easily. No, that wasn’t appealing. I had some hamburger in there. I pulled the package and stuck a fingernail into the plastic wrapping, poking at it, but it didn’t look very appetizing, either, its snake-like curls red and dead.

My head was worse now, and I felt my concentration zooming in and out of focus. I thought I’d go wash my face and rest until Jay got home.

The head injury must have done something to my coordination. I was having trouble with my balance as I lurched down the hall and into the bathroom. I held myself up by pushing on the counter, and glanced into the mirror.

For the flicker of an eye, I thought it was the creature staring back, the creature that bit me. My eyes were bruised and blank, my skin ashen. My stomach growled again. My head seemed buzzier but my needs clearer. Why was I standing here? I was confused. I was so hungry. Jay would be home soon. I smiled; the image in the mirror grimaced back.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Golden Apple

Paris gave the golden apple lovliest-goddess-prize to Aphrodite. Why? So he could marry the most beautiful woman in the world. Thus began the heartache of the Trojan war. *sighs deeply* I never understood it. I never understood the big deal of the golden apple until I experienced Pomme d'Or in Grand Pre, Nova Scotia.

We visited the gorgeous Grand Pre National Park which features a museum with mini-videos of various aspects of Acadian life: one of costumed people reaping hay with scythes and building a hay rack; one of women spinning; one of men weaving green branching through saplings to form a fishing weir. In that video, the Bay of Fundy tide floods and recedes (off camera), and you see the people return to the weir to pluck the fish, waist-high, from the woven pockets. We saw the commemorative church that has a series of murals (picture below) telling the story of the Acadian diaspora and where a cat named Evangeline comes in every morning to rest on a blue pillow.

                                                    Men are being forced on a boat while the
                                                    women and girls (and cat) are left behind.
Outside the church, a path leads you to a reconstruction of an Acadian house, its back windows opening down slope across the salt marshes to the bay. Out front door is a thriving kitchen garden and an apple orchard. It was a drizzly morning, no one was near-by. I know because I glanced around before plucking the low-hanging fruit, a small red apple. I have never tasted such an apple, sweet and tart at once, its sugar calling me back for one more bite.

The Acadians were French settlers, so naturally they brought grape vines with them. The vineyard of Grand Pre takes advantage of all the conditions that allow grapes, apples, all crops to flourish.

Close your eyes.  Picture the color gold, real gold. Now infuse it with sunshine, and, at the edges watch the gold fade to pure light. Pour it in a pretty wine glass. (If you really closed your eyes, you can open them now.  Hey! OPEN THEM!)

Put your nose in the glass and inhale just the faintest smell of crisp apples, sweet and tart at the same time.

Sip. You’re tasting sweet apples and tart, with an alcohol conveyance, sliding over your tongue to the back of your mouth and down with just a hint of sugar calling you back. That is Grand Pre’s golden dessert wine, Pomme d’Or, the Golden Apple.

Turns out there’s an old law. Don’t you hate those old laws? Canada passed this law in an agreement with the US to protect Americans from the sins of liquor during Prohibition. Now you can’t get a couple of bottles of Pomme d’Or (calling you back, calling you back) shipped to the States. What’s that, you say? Prohibition was done away with almost 100 years ago? And you think a government might have changed the law? *sigh*

On our last night in Nova Scotia, we ate a delectable dinner at Chives in Halifax. I concluded my meal not with chocolate cake, not with pie, but with a glass of Pomme d”Or. It was a perfect dessert all by itself (although it paired deliciously with a bite of Steve’s coffee ice cream with caramel sauce), and I’LL NEVER GET TO TASTE IT AGAIN! Is this the definition of pleasure and pain?

                                                   Evangeline on her pillow in the church.
                                              This is how I feel after a glass of Pomme d'Or.
                                            (My sister took this picture.  :)  )
(This will be my last post about Nova Scotia, cheer or sigh, depending on your reaction to that. Next post will be about Squirrel Splat - and that’s not a pot pie.)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Eating in Paradise

I never knew much about Acadia, Nova Scotia, no more than that Longfellow's mawkishly sentimental poem Evangeline was set there because it says so right in the poem.  And, to be honest, I never really read much of the poem.  While we were driving the Cabot Trail, I downloaded it (oh, I LOVE my Kindle) and figured I'd have it read by the time we got to Grand Pre where the Canadian National Park commemorates the forced evacuation of the Acadians.  (Lousiana - Acadians - cajins:  oh, I learned so much on this trip! But I'm not spoon-feeding you; go look it up yourself.) Who  isn't familiar with Evangeline’s opening lines:

     This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, Bearded with moss, and in
     garments green, indistinct in the twilight. . . .
Sounds familiar now, doesn't it?

     Then Evangeline lighted the brazen lamp on the table, Filled, till it overflowed, the pewter tandark with
     home-brewed Nut-brown ale, that was famed for its strength in the village of Grand-Pre. . . .
There are orchards and corn fields, flax grows and fish are plucked, chest high, from the fishing weir.
It all gains flavor (heh, heh) when you're reading it while breakfasting on Strawberry Croissant French toast at the English Garden B&B in Indian Brook.

When he sees her, Evangeline's true love Gabriel, "knew not which beat the louder, his heart or the knocker of iron." My heart beat pretty loudly at a little restaurant outside Halifax where I ate seafood chowder in a broth so clear that you can't imagine how it holds all the flavor.

In Acadia (originally a translation of Arcadia, meaning paradise),
     Billowy bays of grass ever rolling in shadow and sunshine, Bright with luxuriant clusters of roses and
     purple amorphas. Over them wandered the buffalo herds, and the elk and the roebuck; Over them
    wandered the wolves, and herds of riderless horses. . . .

It must have been a magnificent countryside indeed that can still produce the dinner I had at the Blomidon Inn In Wolfeville:
     Lobster chowder with the meat of two lobster claws floating in cream.
     Halibut caught five minutes before being poached in lobster broth with more lumps of lobster dotting its
     skin.
     A waffle with a large (FINALLY, someone realizes the inportance of a serving of ice cream sizeable
     enough to have some with every bite of its accompanyment), drizzled with raspberry sauce and smeared
     with chocolate ganache.

I can shed a tear when I read,
     Still stands the forest primeval; but far away from its shadow, Side by side, in their nameless graves, the
     lovers are sleeping.

     List to the mournful tradition still sung by the pines of the forest; List to a Tale of Love in Acadie, home of
     the happy.
Mournful and happy.  *sigh*  I'll no longer be eating
sweet beet risoto (Restaurant Le Caveau at the Grand Pre wintery)
or
seafood fritters, crisp on the outside and meltingly delicious on the inside (same place)
or
lobster salad that must have contained an entire lobster on a fresh roll (Grand Banker in Lunenburg).

No more scallops sauted to a caramelized crunch (Anapolis Royal, little German restaurant, not the one by the amazing Historic Gardens, but the one waaay down the street).  Won't be able to sneak a sweet (oh, so sweet) apple off the tree at the National Park in Grand Pre. 
Who loves Acadia now, eh?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

I Was Invited

My neighbor Cynthia is a fantastic cook, fantastic, eager and knowledgeable. Those of you who actually know me, know that that makes it all the more amazing that this week, while she was so busy and exhausted, she asked me to guest blog for her. Her blog is all about cooking (and life) and is called the Minivan Cook. If you'd like to read about Nova Scotian breakfast (with recipe) of Strawberry Croissant French Toast, click here: http://bit.ly/n4zurO