Sunday, June 28, 2009

Garden Pics

I shot a few more garden pics today (see below) and added them to the Picasa Album at: http://picasaweb.google.com/lulalaney/MinnesotaGardenInMidJune02#.

A dragonfly was particularly photogenic and cooperative. The patterning of the wing veins and their shadow on the leaf below is striking.


Also in the insect theme is this pretty bug seen with eggs on the Columbine seedhead. It is probably some devasting pest, but quite pretty. In the Picasa album, you can see that this one of a mating pair.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Delightful Friday Evening and Congratulations to Tony

Last night after work I went to a delightful dinner hosted by a friend to celebrate a very prestigious award that he received. Antonino, Tony to his friends, and his charming wife Samantha arranged for the dinner for 15 people to be held at a very posh shop (Sopra Sotto) that sells fancy Italian tableware, stemware, etc. The fun part was that the dinner was really a cooking lesson from an Italian chef, Antonio Cecconi, who is based in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St Paul for those of you not familiar with Minnesota). The evening was marvelous with especially selected wines to accompany the dinner courses. We started with a capresse salad served on a piece of cracker bread that had been drizzled with extra virgin olive oil; so simple and so simply alive with taste. As we ate the salad, Antonio told us about cooking in various regions of Italy. I can’t remember the exact order of all that followed (the wine was very good -- ;-)), but as the evening progressed we watched and learned how to make a fresh dressing for a green salad (the key is absolutely fresh herbs) and a marinade for fresh fish. We watched Antonio make linguine from scratch by hand using durum wheat flour, eggs, and a little water. The nice thing about watching someone who knows how to cook and knows how to teach is all the little hints that can make such a difference, like taking a small handful (1 serving) of linguine to form a little nest that can be frozen and used later just like fresh made pasta. Somehow the thought of making pasta from scratch is no longer as intimidating as it once was. Antonio also made an amazing sauce for the linguine using halved cherry tomatoes, garlic, fresh herbs. To this he added shrimp and jumbo fresh scallops. Once the scallops were nearly done, he added fresh tomato sauce and then let the flavors meld for a bit before pouring the entire pan of sauce over the huge serving bowl nearly filled with the fresh cooked linguine. At the same time the tuna and swordfish steaks, which had been marinating for a while, were placed in the sauté pan and cooked to just barely done before being served up alongside the pasta. Oh wait -- I forgot about the most marvelous mussels! The mussels were cooked in wine and served on another kind of wafer thin bread. The trick he showed us with mussels is that you can break apart the 2 shells and use one to scoop out the mussel from the other half and deliver it safely to your mouth. You can also scoop up some of the sauce with the shell. Then the bread below has soaked up the remaining sauce so you can savor every last drop by eating the bread. We ate the mussels after the capresse salad and before the spinach salad. At some point during the preparations and the eating, Antonio showed us a large platter of luscious strawberries that had been cored earlier. To the platter he added a very generous amount of Marsala wine so the berries could soak as we finished the main courses. For dessert, Antonio made a Zabaione sauce to pour over the Marsala-marinated strawberries. And Samantha had prepared lemoncello to accompany the dessert. All of this, along with interesting conversation, good company, surrounded by the lovely shop items made for a delightful and memorable evening. So - congratulations to you, Tony! And thank you for letting me join in the celebration.

Inspired by Antonio’s cooking, Dennis and I decided to try a recipe from his cookbook – polenta with sautéed spinach and pine nuts. We put a Belize spin on it, though. A number of years ago when visiting Tortola, BVI, we had a similar dish of polenta with local greens. They call the polenta "funghi" in the BVI. I had bought a bunch of fresh greens at the Thursday Street Fair Market in downtown Rochester. It looked to me like the greens were amaranth, although the Asian vendor didn’t know what it was called in English. In Belize you can grow amaranth, although there it is called callaloo. He did assure me that Americans do not like it, and he mostly sells it to Asians and Europeans. The massive bunch was $1.00. I also got a large bunch of what he called Thai bok choy. So we used those instead of the spinach and used toasted sesame seeds and sunflower seeds instead of pine nuts. Otherwise, we followed the recipe pretty closely (didn’t have quite enough basil on hand). We paired it with a nice red wine from Tuscany, and it was a delicious meal. I foolishly forgot to take pictures of it, so you will have to take my word for how nicely the dark green amaranth set off the golden polenta. We can add this to our growing repertoire of dishes we will be able to adapt to ingredients easily available in Belize.

Earlier in the day, I took more photos of our garden. Here is a montage of some of them. I added them to the album you can see at http://picasaweb.google.com/lulalaney/MinnesotaGardenInMidJune02#





Friday, June 19, 2009

A little excitment

We have been having some severe weather for the past few days here in the upper Midwest of the US. A couple of evenings ago, we were under a tornado warning in Rochester for quite a few hours. And 35 miles to the south of us a tornado struck the town Austin (famous for being the home of Spam canned meats!). It did considerable damage, but fortunately there was not loss of life. Here are some photos of the damage that were in the newspaper.


The other excitement was the Steve Winwood and Eric Clapton concert that Dennis and I went to in St. Paul last night. That was a fantastic experience. They played together for the entire concert except for a “solo” that each did. Steve’s voice is still super and their guitar skills remain a site to behold and a sound to savor. Our seats were in the stratosphere; we were in the absolute highest row, right up there with the hockey banners. Here are a couple of photos I took with my cell phone that give you an idea of how high we were. The good thing for us was that they had 2 massive rear projection screens so we could actually see what was happening. These and a couple of other cell phone photos can be seen on my Picasa album page: http://picasaweb.google.com/lulalaney/WinwoodClaptonInConcert#


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sunny thoughts on a Dreary Day

It has been a very cool, wet, dreary, and just generally miserable day. To remind myself that the best of summer in MN is yet to come, I revisited some photos I took of our summer garden last July. The 3 wild turkey hens were visiting with their shared broods of 11 chicks, butterflies were swarming the aesclepias, insects were everywhere, and the Jack-in-the-Pulpit had gone to seed. Below are a couple of my favorites and here is a link to the album on Picasa: http://picasaweb.google.com/lulalaney/MNWildlife#

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Colorado, then Georgia

Yesterday, I wrote about our trip to Colorado to go to the Dead concert and to visit some of my family. While we were at my sister’s new place in the wilds of the CO mountains, Dennis particularly wanted to get the details on their solar panel installation, the battery bank, and the inverter for the house current. I had mentioned that they are totally off the grid, just like we are in Belize. But they are able to go a little more high tech than we are. Their house is poured concrete and their south facing window wall is a passive solar collector. This window wall lets sunlight fall on the concrete floor, which is stained a gorgeous deep swirly reddish chestnut color, collect heat and transfer it to the water pipes embedded in the concrete. Then they have a recirculator that pumps the water around so that the shaded floor can be warmed. Very cool system. And their Outback inverter is much more sophisticated than what we have in Belize. We may go with a system similar to theirs when we upgrade to mostly solar after we move to Belize permanently. Right now, we use a diesel generator to charge our battery bank, which is considerably smaller than theirs is. They have a propane generator as a backup to solar. Eventually our diesel will be the backup instead of the primary, but we are not there yet.

We did a lot of hiking while we were there. It was nice and sunny, but the wind was fierce. You can see some of the photos I took if you open my Colorado Mountains album on Picasa (http://picasaweb.google.com/lulalaney/ColoradoMountainsNearFtCollins#
). But here are a few of my favorites.



On Saturday, my nephew, his wife, and their 2 terrific children came for the day. We went hiking to one of their favorite places that they have named “Crystal Mountain”. Crystal Mountain is a huge outcropping of stone that is loaded with quartz crystals. Some of them look like geodes and some are loose faceted obelisks that are clear. Very pretty and loads of fun to search for. We had a picnic lunch there. On our hike back to the house we saw coyote scat with fur and little tiny bones, a mysterious lone little speckled egg in the grass, loads of grasshoppers, and tiny little flowers almost hidden in the grass. It was a great day.

Dennis and I flew back to MN and then almost immediately left for a trip to Georgia. I gave a talk at a conference in Athens, where Dennis and I had lived for many years. We got caught up with old friends while we were there. After that we spent the weekend with my mother, who lives nearby. We spent part of a day with her at a state park in the foothills, Victoria Bryant State Park. Here are links to 2 Picasa albums from that trip:
http://picasaweb.google.com/lulalaney/VictoriaBryantStateParkGA#
http://picasaweb.google.com/lulalaney/WaterLightReflectionShadow#
And below are some of my favorites.







Saturday, June 13, 2009

Colorado in May

Back in May, Dennis and I went to Colorado for a loooong weekend. Our first stop was Denver to go to the (Grateful) Dead concert. Which was beyond fantastic, btw. Dennis had found a nice package deal for hotel with bus transport to and from the concert. The hotel was the newly remodeled Sheraton in downtown Denver. We flew in early enough to check into the hotel, get our wrist bands for the bus and tickets, and get settled in our room on the 19th floor (fantastic veiw of the city and mountains). We still had time to enjoy a nice glass of wine or two along with some bar food, and the weather was nice enough to be on the patio of the bar. The concert was in the Pepsi Center, which doubles as a hockey arena. Our seats were where the hockey penalty box is during games. The Dead were really at the top of their form, musically. I took these photos with my cell phone held above my head, so forgive their shakiness.


The next day we drove to Ft Collins to meet up with my sister and her husband, who were headed from Lousianna for a short stay at their soon-to-be retirement home in the CO mountains. After getting provisioned (food, wine, etc), the four of us were joined by my nephew and his wife, who live in Ft Collins, for lunch. They went back to work after lunch, but the rest of us drove into the mountains for the weekend. My sister's place is on a property easement next to Nature Conservancy wilderness. It is sort of the mountain version of our tropical place in Belize; totally off the grid, takes some effort to get to, surrounded by incredible natural beauty. The layout of their house is even similar to our cabana, with the entire front being one long room with the front wall entirely windows (in our case the room is the veranda and the windows are only screen) overlooking a spectacular view. Both houses are open with the only interior doors being bathroom doors. Each of us had bought our properties at about the same time and designed our house/cabana at the same without knowing the details of the other party. Either great minds think alike, or my sister and I inherited the same crazy gene for living at the edge, or both. ;-) Come to think of it, my brother and other sister have similar tendencies to take the path less traveled.


Later today or tomorrow I will post some photos that I took at their place. Right now I am going to enjoy some of the fabulous early summer weather here in southeastern MN.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Earthquake

In my last blog posting, I had gotten to the part where we had found and bought our property just north of Monkey River Village. We engaged the services of Sam Scott to be our building contractor, which viewed from the post-earthquake perspective, was a brilliant decision. The May 28th earthquake did some real damage to Monkey River Village and to Placencia. Most of the damage in Monkey River Village was due to ground liquification, which allowed the support posts of many houses to sink into the ground up to 8 feet. Some support posts subsided in their entirety, leaving the houses resting flat on the ground. Concrete buildings in Monkey River Village and Placencia also suffered damage with cracks and deep fissures forming. It seems that wooden structures may have fared a little better than concrete because they can flex, give, and skew with the earth’s movements without cracking apart.

So how did the Englishtown buildings fare in the earthquake? Quite well, as it turns out. None of our buildings have structural damage! Perhaps it was all the luck of the draw, but I think we, along with Sue and Chris Harris, have Sam Scott to thank for his 3 dimensional “matrix” support system that kept our buildings from subsiding. The picture below shows how our cabana is supported 12 feet above the ground on the system Sam designed. You can see the cubic spaces defined by the vertical and horizontal concrete supports. The 20 vertical supports are spaced approximately 10 feet on center. What you can’t see is that vertical supports continue into the ground for about 3 feet and have horizontal supports connecting them, also at 3 feet below the surface. This design distributes the weight of the house out over the buried horizontal supports. The weight winds up being distributed over a total of 310 sq feet instead of just 20 sq feet if the horizontal supports were omitted from the design. This means that if a portion of the ground under the cabana becomes liquefied, the remainder of the structure can still support the cabana without anything subsiding. The matrix structure also permits the sand and any liquefied soil to move around and between the supports without producing enough force to crack them. Anyway, that was the theory as Sam explained it to us, and I believe that his theory has been born out. We have 3 buildings with this support and I think Sue and Chris also have at least 3. Now you might think that Englishtown just didn’t have the same sort of shaking that Monkey River Village and Placencia did, but pictures from Sue and Chris’s house showing much of their furniture knocked over indicates that we had a lot of shaking going on in Englishtown too. And both of our docks subsided a foot or more. So all we can say is “Thanks, Sam!”