Sunday, January 31, 2010

Stuck at Q

purplish shell

When you play Alfapet (Scrabble in the US) and need a letter starting with Q, how about QUAHOG? I bet that can lead to lots of points. That is what this is. It can become a giant clam, often washed up on sandy shores in winter. This photo is from Sandy Hook in New Jersey, USA, a cold January day. Those purplish edges look nearly unreal and were used by the native Americans for beads. It has an English name too, hard clam, but that sounds not at all as good as quahog. You can eat it and people do, in clam chowder (a kind of soup), stuffed clams, and as fried clam strips you can dip in fiery horse-radishy tomatey cocktail sauce. Wikipedia says: "In fishmarkets there are specialist names for different sizes of this species of clam. The smallest clams are called countnecks, next size up are littlenecks, then topnecks. Above that are the cherrystones, and the largest are called quahogs or chowder clams."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Soft pastell

Det har varit en intensiv målarmånad och jag njuter av att måla pastell.
Lavskrikor trivs i gammal lavrik skog.
(It has been an intensiv month of drawing and I enjoy using the pastels.
Siberian jays like old forests with many lichens.]
I april gjorde vi en resa till Örudden och Landsort och studerade ejdrar och andra fåglar.
[In April we traveled to Örudden and Landsort in the Baltic sea and watched eiders and other birds.]
Skåne är inte bara platt utan har även ett böljande landskap. Jag tycker mycket om våren och inspirerades av den slingrande vägen och blommande hagtornsträd.
[Skåne is not always flat, but can also have a hilly landscape. I love the spring very much and was inspired by the winding road and the flowering hawthorn trees.]

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Pandora is heaven for biologists

Over the Christmas break I saw the 3-D movie Avatar with the kids, and loved it. OK, I admit, I only saw it because I was told that Sigourney Weaver played a botanist. But, it turned out to be a really good movie.

But what surprised me most was that they must have employed some real biologists to work on the movie (see article here). Animals, fungi, and plants were based on shapes and forms that exist on Earth, just in new compositions, combinations, and colors. Take a spiral algae from the ocean and put it on a tree branch in the rain forest. Aquatic hydra colonies are becoming branched fungi. Animals are still vertebrates, but are hexapods instead of tetrapods.

Everything is connected, like a large Gaia, and luminous, like feelings and neurons showing of light. Of course, as a botanist, I can't help think about what they didn't change. Tree trunks and branches are the same, fern leaves and palm stems are just like on Earth - someone needs to do some biometric studies to see if this is likely (especially since humans can't breath the air, but everything else can). But I think it is more a fact of that it is easy to create large masses of green with palm and fern leaves, they are so easily fractalized and scaled up or down.

Seeds that swim like fluorescent jellyfishes in the air - gorgeous!

Of course there was lots of violent action, bad people vs. good people, story lines from Fern Gully, Pocahontas, Save the Earth, Greenpeace, the Iraq War crazy president we finally got rid off, and grassroot heroes. But the real take-home message was: Life is beautiful. That Sigourney Weaver is a botanist is just mentioned once ('she is famous, she write THE flora of Pandora"), but science and biodiversity is portrayed in an unusually accurate way. You can read more about this aspect in this great article in New York Times. (And here is a kind-of-stupid article as a contrast.)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Winterbirds in Sweden

Goosander has stayed where there is hole in the ice this winter. The male has green head and the female is brownheaded. They are big and so beautiful.

Waxvings are found in southern Sweden only in the winter. They breed in Lapland in the north.
Fieldfare is a very common bird this winter. They fly between rowan trees in the thousands and eat the rowanberries.

Cold winter in Sweden

Kylan håller i sig mellan -10° och - 24° och det är dimma i luften. Rimfrosten växer sig flera cm lång på grenarna. Det är otroligt vackert. Sådan kyla under så lång tid minns jag att vi inte haft sedan vi köpte torpet 1965.

{The cold is between -10 C and -24 C, and it is fog in the air. The frost is growing on the branches until it is several centimeters long. It is incredibly beautiful. I can't remember that we have had such cold weather during such a long time since we bought our country house in 1965. (translation by LS. This is the house I spent most of my childhood in.}

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Enkelt är vackert (Simple is beautiful)

Bilden är lånad från Wikimedia. [Photo borrowed from Wikimedia]

En tidig vårlängtan när kylan bitit sig fast i vårt avlånga svenska land. Ute skiner solen och det är -10 grader C. Rimfrosten ligger tät på alla vinterståndare och träd.
Köpte mig en tigerbegonia (Begonia boweri) i blom idag, tycker att blommorna är så söta. Kan en blomma vara enklare? Bladen är mer intrikata, med ögonfrans längs bladkanten och "tigerögon".

In English (translated by LS): An early longing for spring when the chill is getting a firm hold on our long Swedish country. Outside the sun is shining and it is minus -10 degrees C (about 15 degrees F ). The frost is covering all dead herbs and tree branches. I bought myself a flowering tiger begonia (Begonia boweri) today, I love their cute flowers. Can a flower be more simple? The leaves are more intricate, with 'eye lashes' along their edges and 'tiger eyes'.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

OK snapshot: Tunn is (thin ice)

OK and I took a walk at Plainsboro Preserve near Princeton today, to see if we could find an eagle. We didn't, but we saw thousands of Canada geese in the old quarry lake (here with very thin ice on it), and a little further away were 400 snow geese. Some ruddy ducks ('kopparand') and mallard ducks liked the open water in the ice too. While we were walking we suddenly saw a red fox running towards us and when it finally saw us it veered off into the forest. Soon after another one showed up, also very healthy looking with a very bushy tail. One turned back, and then a third (or maybe fourth) showed up and one of the first foxes didn't like the last one - they screamed and yelped at each other, and then the last one got chased through the forest. I have never heard such loud fox sounds before, it was nearly like screaming birds.

We also saw gorgeous cobolt blue-backed bluebirds, blue jays, yellow-rumped warblers eating bayberries ('porsfrukter'), a mockingbird, goldfinches, mourning doves, red-bellied woodpecker, and traces of beaver parties. It was a really good day.

OK snapshot: Dagens fångst

Today's catch... in the pantry (at our house in NJ, USA, where OK is visiting). Our cat Smokey turns out to be more of a pointer dog than mouse catcher since she marked the presence of the mouse but then refused to catch it, that was left up to me. The mouse was scared to death and refused to move, so it was easy to catch, release (outside) and photograph it. The biodiversity of the fauna of our house is immense... /LS

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New words for real things

Just got a very funny e-mail about the "winners of the Washington Post's annual Mensa Invitational, which once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition". These are hilarious. Some research on the web tells us though that the newspaper Washington Post has no such real competition, however, they are playing along. Apparently this list has circulated on the internet for many years, with readers adding new definitions along the way. Anyway, some of these new words and definitions are very funny. I think bozone might be my favorite, or maybe Belzebug. Here you go, enjoy:

Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.

Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.

Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the Person who doesn't get it.

Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

Decafalon (n.): The gruelling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.

Glibido: All talk and no action.

Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.

Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.

Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Mastering art, cooking, and life...

This is two book reviews, a movie review and a cookbook review all in one post. A few nights ago we watched the movie Julie & Julia, which is based on Julia Child's life. Julia Child died a few years ago, but she was the person that popularized French cooking in home kitchens in America in the 1960s and onwards. She had a TV show, very barebones and very loved, and a personality that I would call 'sprudlande' in Swedish. I don't know how to translate that - maybe like an overjoyed fountain. She LOVED food. In France she went to cooking school, and went from someone that like to eat to someone that could make food you fall in love with. I imagine this at least, since I never tasted anything she cooked... I can't think of any Swedish chef that is as famous in Sweden as Julia Child is in the US.

Mixed in with the story in the movie Julie & Julia is another story about (and by) Julie Powell in post-9/11 New York, who in 2002 decides to start a blog called Julie/Julia Project (nearly the same title as the movie, and nearly the same title as the book published from the blog) about her attempt to cook all recipes in Julia Child's cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking (hereafter MAFC) in one year. That is 524 recipes. She succeeds, but not without lots of marriage and cooking troubles, some that are shown in the movie. Her current blog is here. (Julia Child didn't like the blog project either.)

I have read the blog book by Powell and her original blog, the biography My Life in France about Julia Child's years there in the 1950s, and now seen the movie. But I had never cooked anything out of the classic MAFC cookbook until yesterday when I took PP's mom's copy from 1967 [good vintage] out of the bookshelf and looked up French Onion Soup, which is what we then had for dinner. The soup was great. The recipe was supereasy. But the best part of the cookbook (from the two parts I read) is the foreword. It is wonderfully and uniquely written. Here are some examples (but get your hands on a copy and read the whole thing! and remember this was written in 1961):

This is a book for the servantless American cook who can be unconcerned on occasion with budgets, waistlines, time schedules, children's meals, the parent-chauffeur-den-mother syndrome, or anything else which might interfere with the enjoyment of producing something wonderful to eat. Cooking is not a particularly difficult art, and the more you cook and learn about cooking, the more sense it makes. But like any art it requires practice and experience. The most important ingredient you can bring to it is love of cooking for its own sake.

So here are my reviews:

The cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking: Based on the Foreword and one French Onion Soup recipe, this is a wonderful book. I want to tackle the deboning of a whole duck at some point, but maybe I should start with something simpler first, like roasted duck with orange sauce on page 276. [grade A]

The book, My Life in France: I could have sworn I had reviewed this wonderful biography here in the blog but I am glad I didn't swear on it, because it appears I never did. This is a great book, based on letters and stories. I loved it, and many scenes from this book make it into the movie. You don't have to be a food freak to love this book. It also wonderfully describes the very loving marriage between Paul and Julia Child. [grade A+]

The book, Julie & Julia: This book was also not reviewed on the blog, and I know exactly why. I read the book (which is based on her blog), but I didn't like it too much. A 20-ish woman blogs and whines about everyday life and miseries and successes in her tiny kitchen. The attitude was so different from Julia's attitude to life. I have sympathy, it is just that I didn't think it was great literature or very interesting. (Sorry Julie, if you are reading this... but I don't like swear words in print.] Her husband at the time must have been a very patient and understanding person (and is a great character in the movie). I actually didn't keep the book, I gave it away and I remember forcing my way through some pages. But it lead to something good, the movie... [grade C]

The movie, Julie & Julia: Meryl Streep plays Julia Child and is the best I have ever seen her. Incredible. Just see the movie to see her! Julia's husband Paul, is a wonderful person and done by a great actor. The actress that plays Julie Powell, the blogger, got criticized for being 'too nasty and grumpy' in the movie, but they actually toned her down compared with the book. There are many other great actors as well, so the acting is outstanding. Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, remember that one?), was the director and she is also a former food journalist, and also had part in meshing the two stories together in the script. It works OK, but not great, to move back and forth between France in the 1950s and New York in 2002, and when you are in the New York scenes you just want to get back to France. But I would say New York is rather accurately depicted, after living there myself. The food looks amazing in the movie, it is nearly so you can smell it.

After seeing the movie, I slept bad the night after and woke up repeatedly with yummy images of giant whisks with whipped cream, tarte tatin, and sole in lemon butter... mmmmmm... However, some parts of the movie story made no sense, and were disconnected from the rest of the story, such as the government 'are you a communist'-interview in Washington DC of Paul Child, and the wedding of Julia Child's sister. But overall, it is a great movie, and the married men of both couples are wonderful, wonderful husbands. There is a lot of love in the movie, and not just love of food. Nora Ephron manage to show life and love and the art of living and cooking all at once. So rent it, it is gorgeous.

Grade A for the movie, would have been A+ if not for the lobsters that had to be put in misty cold water (looking like hot water) and "off camera representatives from the American Humane Association monitored the creatures’ health" - come on, guys, there is death and dying of seafood in every restaurant, why does this matter in a movie?! And to all you vegetarians, did you know that plants scream when we cut and cook them too? We just can't hear them. I am all for humane treatments of animals, but not being allowed to throw a lobster in boiling water in a movie is a bit too much. These people should worry more about pink slime in hamburgers. New York Times review here

Real Julia Child (left) and Meryl Streep as Julia Child (right).

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Most recent gadget - bomb proof?

Please welcome our most recent member of our household, the All American Pressure Cooker that I got as a Christmas present. This is not your regular Swedish pressure cooker, this is a bit more exaggerated. You can use it for regular cooking, but also for sterilization of glass jars of preserved fruits, jams, pickles, and tomato sauce (etc.). Canning is in, here in America. No more filled up fridges with 6 jars of Swedish-style pickles! No more dozens of plastic containers with tomato sauce in our freezer. Now it can all be stored at room temperature on a shelf after sterilization. Note the six heavy-duty bolts, and the gauge that goes up to 15 psi. The cooker is about 30 cm across and can take up to 7 jars at the time I think. You can also make beef stew and all the other good foods in it, but they warn you specifically not to cook split pea soup in it - it will clog up the valve :). Thanks PP, for a great Christmas present!

Friday, January 1, 2010

1/1/2010 = 5 stars

A new year have started, quite surprisingly too soon. I wasn't ready, but here it is. We started the year by making Friday night pizza, like so many times before (yum!), and watching the movie Mr. Smith goes to Washington. The movie is from 1939, so it is over 70 years old, but still extremely relevant. I should have seen this a long time ago, it taught me a lot about how Congress works and the politics-as-usual which we still have in the US today. If you haven't seen it, watch it. It is definitely a 5-star movie. James Stewart gives the performance of his life. Happy New Year to all our blog readers, and It's a Wonderful Life we have here on Earth! Sleep well everybody!