Thursday, October 6, 2016

Meadow Mushroom

Meadow Mushroom, Agaricus campestris, Pittsburgh, 2016

This morning I was out for a bit of a walk when I happened upon a clutch of meadow mushrooms.  For years I've spotted these pink-gilled beauties around the neighborhood, and even in my own yard.  I was able to identify them quite easily (the pink, unattached gills are a dead give away), but to make sure, I still did spore prints.  Today I decided to finally sautee some of them in butter and see how they tasted.  Quite delicious!  I wasn't surprised since by all accounts they are choice eating.  I don't know if I'll bother with picking them again because although I'm quite confident in my proper identification of mushrooms, it still caused a panic attack.  

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Tale of Two Wasps

TOP:  Giant Ichneumon Wasp
BOTTOM:  Horntail Wasp Larva

A few days ago a neighbor offered us some free wood, most of which needed to be split.  I have never been known to reject free wood, no matter how much work has to be done to get it ready for the fireplace.  So, there I was, pounding a star wedge into a chunk of maple with a sledgehammer, when the wood yielded to the efforts and cleaved in two.  To my amazement, in one of the larva chambers bisecting the pieces, a Giant Ichneumon wasp emerged.  I've seen them in the wild many times, but never encountered one while splitting wood, probably because I usually split wood in the fall as opposed to late spring.  I immediately went in the house to grab a camera to document it. 
After photographing the wasp, I began to more closely examine the wood, and found that there was an intact Horntail wasp larva still in its chamber, feasting on the wood.  The complete developmental cycle of these two very different wasps!  The female horntail uses an ovipositor to bore into the wood to insert her egg within, where the growing larva consumes the wood, creating a trail.  Meanwhile, the ichneumon wasp uses her antenna to listen for the horntail larva chomping and moving, and when she finds one, uses her even longer ovipositor to pierce the exterior of the wood and inject her egg into the horntail larva, which it then consumes.  Clearly the ichneumon is a parasitic wasp, but then so is the horntail.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Baby Mantises

Mantis  Babies, Pittsburgh, 2016

This has been a big week mantises, what with the egg case hatching at my house this morning (outisde, on the porch), but also with The Notorious Ruth Bader Ginsberg having the honor of a new species of mantis being named for her.  You go, RBG!
The mantis young that emerged from the hardened egg case this morning completed a cycle started last fall when their father bravely mated with their mother.  Males typically encounter a 25% mortality rate while or following mating as the female will bite off his head given the opportunity.  Sexual cannibalism is common in the insect kingdom as it gives the mother the added protein she needs for optimizing her eggs.  It seems crazy, but what about procreating doesn't come across as bizarre, particularly to someone outside the species.  Who am I to judge the head eating mantises?  The abies are adorable, miniatures of the adults, smartly avoiding the awkward adolescent stage that most insects are forced to endure.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

17 Years And Hello Again

17 Year Cicada, Pittsburgh, PA 2016

It's been awhile since the constant buzz of millions of cicadas filled the air, while the insects themselves filled every available space.  It's been 17 years to be exact.  If you're familiar with the original Star Trek television show, then you know what a phaser set to overload sounds like.  That's exactly what millions of cicadas sound like.  After their extended stay pupating underground, feasting on the roots of deciduous trees, they emerge en masse to mate, and to be eaten.  Birds go crazy to feed on these protein rich bugs, and to share the bounty with their hatchlings.  I've seen robins so fat they can barely take wing.  I'm just trying to keep the dog away from them because she'll gorge herself until she vomits.  Who needs to clean up that mess?

Monday, May 23, 2016

On Not Having Read 'Wild'

Four years ago, in the summer of 2012, my wife and I took our mothers along with us on vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  Caty, my wife, is a planner.  While I spend long, cold winter evenings plotting out the garden for spring, she pours over travel guides to best maximize our vacation experience.  By the time it's time for us to pack up and leave, our route has been carefully mapped, the cooler packed with enough food so that we won't have to go to the grocery store right away, bird watching gear stowed away, clothes chosen for any sort of weather, and books on CD to make the 13 hour drive less hellish and more diversionary.  She'd chosen a Carol Burnett memoir, "This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection" and "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed.  One for the ride down and one for the ride back.  She let me choose which one to start with, and I'd been looking forward to "Wild" for some time, so that went in the CD player in the Subaru when we drove out of range WESA, the NPR station in Pittsburgh.
Everything seemed to be fine, which is that foolproof harbinger of impending doom on any road trip.  Not far into the book Strayed relates the devastating effect her mother's death had on her.  She recounts the cancer diagnosis, and how not long after her mother died.  My own mother's mother died of cancer when I was 4 years old, and I can tell you right now that she never recovered from that loss.  Never.  Listening to Strayed recount her own torturous pain brought all of that emotional rawness and anguish to the surface for my mother.  The backseat gave rise to a low gutteral howl that slowly gained force and became a shattering tearful scream.
"For the love of God, turn that off!  I can't take it anymore!"  She choked out.
Immediately Caty ejected the CD.  I was driving, and my mother was seated directly behind me, the scream and outburst had unnerved me at 75mph on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  Old people, because of hearing loss, tend to speak loudly as it is, so, couple that with how someone talks/shouts when they're distressed, and you have some idea what it was like being enclosed in a small space with someone who's nearly hysterical, and who feels the need to unburden themselves as to why they are hysterical.  To my credit, I kept the car on the road without incident, despite the stress of having my mother unable to control the grief she was reliving afresh, as if 46 years hadn't passed since her mother passed.
When mom finally calmed down, Caty slid in the Carol Burnett memoir.  Thank God for Carol Burnett!!!  Shortly we were all laughing, and the mood lightened.  Of course we had no book on CD to listen to then on the way home, and driving through parts of Virginia you can only find religious radio stations spouting hellfire and hate, but I learned a valuable lesson: On road trips with mom, ONLY bring puff pieces, otherwise...
Even though I've seen the movie 'Wild', I never was able to go back to the book.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Drying Herbs

Ajuga reptans, Bugleweed, Pittsburgh, 2016

Like so many medicinal herbs that I gather in the yard, I didn't plant this, it just grows.  Bugleweed resembles the herb, heal-all (Prunella vulgaris) on steriods, a much larger version, but with many of the same medicinal qualities.  It's so damp because of all the rain we've had lately that when I cut bugleweed and bring it in the house, I lay it out on newspaper to wick up some of the moisture before hanging it to dry. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Mighty Dandelion

Gone To Seed, Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, Pittsburgh, 2016

As a nature lover, I don't have my yard sprayed with toxic chemicals so that all I have is grass.  The consequence of that is a vast proliferation of dandelions, clover, ground ivy, flea bane, etc, which to me is preferable to polluting the air, water, and soil for generations to come just so that the yard appears uniform.  Many of my neighbors do spray, and while I don't harp at them for this practice, sometimes they do needle me about my yard.  I sometimes defend my stance, but other times I don't care enough about the person commenting on the 'weeds' to even respond to them.  I smile and wave, and try to not think less of them.
Over the years I have tried to make use of dandelions, whether in salads, wine, or medicinally, and I find them most useful in the latter of those things.  Dried dandelion root is an excellent liver restorer, perhaps the best in all of herbology.  Meanwhile, as a salad green you have to be careful to pick only the newest of the early leaves or they're too bitter.  You can pick older leaves and blanch them in a couple of changes of water, saute them in olive oil and serve them the same way you would spinach or garlic mustard, but I don't find them to be as pleasing as either spinach or garlic mustard.  As for dandelion wine; it too can be bitter, leaving an unpleasant after taste on the palate, despite how many oranges you add to the vat (most dandelion wine recipes call for oranges to go in the brew to add flavor). 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Clean All The Things!

Courtesy Hyperbole and a Half

Though I could've started a couple of months ago, this week I am finally spring cleaning.  It's such an exhaustive, all encompassing, undertaking that I do usually stall on it for as long as humanly possible.  Well, no more!  I am cleaning ALL of the things!  The window screens were particularly filthy, infused with the airborne fine particulates common around coal burning power plants.  The rag was as black as Donald Trump's soul. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Bilateral Vomitation Center

Of all the mysteries that remain of the human brain, the seat that controls vomiting is not one of them.  Buried deep within the reticular formation of the medulla, that archaic reptilian complex , the bilateral vomitation center reacts to stimuli sent from the digestive tract signalling nausea.  Depending on how great the nausea is, a tipping point may be reached where retching, or heaving, begins, usually followed by vomiting.  Anyone who has ever vomited knows how singularly unpleasant an experience this is, and typically most people who aren't bulimic try to avoid this action at all costs.  I remember one episode as a child, crouching before the toilet, my mother holding my head, and me begging, "No more, no more,"  but there is no bargaining with something that's an involuntary function.  It's going to do what it's going to do, completely oblivious to your suffering, while you languish in the hell of your awareness.
*As a footnote, while writing this my mother called me to tell me that she's got the stomach flu that's going around and was up half the night vomiting.  When I tried to explain to her how this all functions, she said that she had to go.  Knowledge is power! 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Memorial Bicycle

Memorial Bicycle, Pittsburgh, 2015

For all of its hills and river valleys, Pittsburgh has a vibrant biking community.  This bike memorial was placed here on Forbes Avenue, across from the Carnegie Music Hall, for a woman who was killed last October in a chain reaction crash.  Given how the artificial flowers haven't faded yet, I'd venture to say that this memorial is rather new.  I hope the city leaves it there for a bit before removing it (as they do with all of the other bike memorials).  I think that it's good for the collective unconscious to be needled with the brevity of all things.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

2 Violets

Two Violets, Pittsburgh, 2016

While on a walk, I came upon a clutch of downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens) with a more common purple cousin nearby (V. reichenbachiana).  You have to love spring!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Plum Hard Cider

Plum Hard Cider

A few (several?) months ago I attempted to make hard cider out of plums.  Yesterday while I listened to the Pirate game (Pirates eventually won, beating Arizona 12-10 in 13 innings) on the radio I sampled the effort.  It was very good, better than I'd hoped, given that it was a first attempt, using a fruit I'd never used before.  Sometimes when you make a hard cider out of anything other than apples, the result can be cloying, as when I made berry/cherry hard cider.
Here is the recipe I devised for the plum hard cider:
4 lbs plums run through the food processor
1/2 gallon of organic apple juice
3C granulated sugar
1/2t of dry white wine yeast

Heat enough fruit juice to dissolve all of the sugar.  Let cool to room temperature, transfer to a 1 gallon glass fermenting tank (I use a glass jug), sprinkle the yeast over the top of the juice, affix bung and airlock.  The brew should start bubbling within 24 hrs.  Allow to ferment in the glass jug for 2-3 weeks, then siphon into a clean glass jug, reaffix bung and airlock, and allow to rest for 2 weeks.  This clarifies the cider.  After the two weeks have passed you're ready to bottle the cider.  Because cider can be volatile, I use bottles with a pressure seal cap, this locks in the carbonation perfectly. 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Wild Plum

Prunus americana, wild plum, Pittsburgh, 2016

A couple of years ago I planted a native wild plum tree on the west side of the driveway.  I mention this because we're about to get the driveway repaved and the retaining walls on both sides of the drive rebuilt - I fear for the little plum tree.  I'm debating whether or not to move it.  It's not too tall, only about five feet high, and I've read that its roots are shallow, tending to branch out laterally as opposed to sending down a deep taproot.  It would've been best to move it before its sap started running and it blossomed and leafed out, while it was still dormant, but those days are gone.  I just don't want to kill it, not now, not when it might actually start producing fruit finally.  Oh, poor tree, I fret for your future.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Vintage Crown Royal


I think that I've mentioned that my mother is preparing to put her house on the market and move to a smaller space.  Currently she's living in my great-grandparents' farmhouse (1882), and that place is fairly full of multi-generational stuff.  Not a day goes by without mom calling me and asking if I want this thing or that thing.  Today she asked if I wanted this old bottle of Crown Royal that had belonged to my grandfather.  I just figured that it was an empty bottle, some commemorative or collectible bottle that he kept after the fact of the contents.   But no, a bottle of whiskey older than me, unopened.  Who does that?  Keep booze around for decades?  I'm sure that it's wonderfully smooth after 56 yrs at rest in the cellar, but after a little research I also learned that it's worth between $250-$300 US!  I can't drink this.  I have to either sell it or pass it along to someone else in the family, who would probably drink it.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Sweet Crab Apple

Malus coronaria, Sweet Crab Apple, Pittsburgh, 2016

There are only four species of apple that are native to North America, and M. coronaria is one of them.  While on a hike at Beechwood Farms this past weekend, we came upon dozens of crab apple trees in full, glorious bloom.  The nature reserve at Beechwood is rife with deer, which probably contributes to the distribution and proliferation of the trees.  A local boy scout troop keeps a bee hive at the reserve, and the bees were buzzing around the sweet blossoms.
Still, the day wasn't all sunshine and petals as I discovered a tick on my wife when we got home, which I quickly and thoroughly removed.  Unfortunately we both somehow missed the tick on me, not removing it until the next day, and then only partially as it broke apart.  Since only 1% of ticks are infected with Lyme Disease, I'm not too concerned, and we did treat the wound as suggested by the CDC, but we'll still keep an eye on the area for the next couple of weeks.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Princess Frida

What would a Frida Kahlo imagined animated Disney movie look like?  I think that it would be gruesome and awesome and filled monkeys.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Would-be Horror Props

Back in the early to mid-1960s, if you saved enough Chex cereal box tops, you could get a scarecrow doll.  I grew up with this doll in my parents' house, and now that my mother continues to slowly down size, I have it.  A disturbing bit of marketing memorabilia, a vintage nightmare inducer from my youth.  My mother has a lot of things - A LOT, but she's not a hoarder, per se, just someone who has a difficult time getting rid of things, letting go of those anchors to the past.  Thank God she's a neat freak or she would be a hoarder.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Death And Maidens

Bargello Museum, Firenza, IT, 2006

There's an article up on the website  io9 discussing the evolution and influence of fan fiction within the female/female pairing genre that somehow digresses into the current hot topic of the killing off of lesbian characters in American television shows.  There are a spate of lesbian deaths occurring right now, only one on a show that I watch (adieu, Denise, I knew your fate in "The Walking Dead" comic, but foolishly held out hope regardless), so my outrage is tempered by my ignorance, which is as it should be.  I don't watch 'The 100' or 'Empire' or 'The Vampire Diaries', and can't comment on anything about them.  Do I want to see more lesbian characters on shows who don't end up dead?  Of course, and preferably on shows I watch.  But basically I was disappointed that the io9 piece so quickly went from the magic that was femslash back in its hey day of the late 90s, early 00s, into a full de-evolution into yet another article bemoaning this horrible trend currently cutting a bloody swath across queer representation in television.  I agree.  Stop killing the lesbians!  But can't we also talk about other things relevant to us?  Can't we go ahead and bask in that warm glow of a Janeway/7 of 9 pairing that made so much more sense than the canon of the show, particularly when they stuck poor Seven in the end with Chakotay?  Or all of those Uber adventures that Xena and Gabrielle shared, although they weren't technically Xena and Gabby, but two women in a completely different setting and time who happened to look exactly like our heroines and shared their personality traits as well.  I don't know a lesbian of my generation who didn't read - or write - f/f fanfiction.  It filled a void left gaping by tv and movies of the time.  We'd discuss these alternative universes together incessantly in chatrooms, in email groups, wherever we could find each other.  It was an extremely important community to me at a time when my first marriage was ending and I was coming out as a lesbian.  It was a lifeline, a beacon, and something that couldn't be taken away from me by the whims of a showrunner who for ratings sake have two women kiss, and then kill one of them.  In the fanfiction world, no matter what happened on the show, it couldn't penetrate the bubble that encompassed and protected this realm.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Mushroom ID

Alcohol Inky, Coprinus atramentarius, Pittsburgh, 2016

A couple of days ago the weather was mild, sunny, spring-like.  Of course that's all gone to hell and the winter we never had is being visited upon us.  Still, while out walking the dog when it was nice, I discovered these mushrooms growing on an old oak tree stump.  I picked a couple so that I could identify them when I got home.  It's uncommon for any mushroom that isn't in the Coprinus family to have a purely black spore print, so that was my first clue in identifying it.  Even the darkest mushroom spore prints are either brown or a deep purplish-brown, not black.  This one is truly black.  The alcohol inky mushroom is so-called because while it is deemed 'edible', if you consume it and booze, it generally leads to severe gastro distress.  How much you drink dictates how ill you will become.  Typically I only eat wild mushrooms that my friend Al picks.  That man knows his mushrooms!  And since I always, always, have wine with dinner, I would never, ever tempt fate with anything in the Coprinus line.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Moore Is Less

Henry Moore Reclining Figure, Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, 2014

Over on Hyperallergic they've got a piece up about students at Columbia University in NYC objecting to the proposed installation of one of Moore's many, and only slightly varied, 'Reclining Figure' statues.  I would like to chime in on the argument and add my opinion:  The hideous female form aesthetic has become the single most tired and trite movement in all of the art world.  It should be laid to rest, at least for awhile, until something approaching objectivity can enter the conversation.  It's just so colossally common that it lacks the ability to draw in the eye.  Infact, when I was at the Columbus Museum of Art two years ago, had I not had to wait outside to meet a friend, I would've walked right passed the Moore statue without so much as a glance.  Is that what we want from these huge public pieces?  For them to be ignored?  I say warehouse the whole lot and revisit them in a hundred years.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Bald-Faced Hornet Wing

A Microscropic Study of  Dolichovespula maculata, 2016

Last fall I found a dead Bald-faced Hornet on the porch and I put it in a small jar for later examination.  Today is that vague later.  I was doing some microscope work anyway, trying to tease some mushroom mycelium free from the dirt it was growing in to try and get a better look at the network of it, without much luck (it kept tearing apart and all I got were shots of fuzzy dirt), so I looked to the hornet wing instead.  These photos are all of the right forewing.  For more information on parts of an insect wing, click here.  What's interesting is the number of hairs, because to the naked eye the wing appears nearly translucent, no visible hairs.  And then also, there is the structure of the wing, that while the venation appears to be a patchwork, this is the regular form.   

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Say A Little Prayer Before Cannibalizing Your Siblings

Praying Mantis Cocoon, 2016

We've had some very mild weather, and while doing some much needed yard work, my wife came across this cocoon attached to a branch she'd just pruned.  Instead of tossing it into the giant paper yard waste bag, she gave it to me.  True love!  Anyway, I wasn't sure exactly what sort of insect had constructed this cocoon, but a quick google search righted my ignorance.  And as always happens when you come across something new, I learned about the life cycle of praying mantis:  egg, nymph, adult.  Pretty basic, and only remarkable in that while a nymph they are classified as hemimetabolic, as they under go an incomplete metamorphosis.  A nymph praying mantis looks exactly like the adult counterpart, only very small.  Typically an insect in the nymph stage looks nothing like the adult it will become.  So, in time, 100-200 mini-mantids will hatch from this cocoon and begin fleeing the jar lest they get eaten by their siblings.  I've taken the jar outside because ideally they'll hatch when the ambient temperature is conducive to supporting insect life.  I've also made it easy for them to escape the jar, although I hope that I get to witness their emergence as I would like to direct some of them to certain areas of my garden - to keep down pest insects, especially those blasted cabbage butterflies and their young!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Mushroom ID

Pholiota aurivella, Golden Scaly Cap Mushroom, Inedible

I was having a very difficult time identifying this mushroom and took to for help.  Literally within minutes someone pointed me in the right direction.  In the mushroom identification books I have they don't focus on that scaly top, which you kind of have to do because it's truly a dead give away.  One thing I've learned about the most helpful identification books is that an illustration often serves better than a photograph because an illustration can pay special attention to a a certain feature unique to a species.

Friday, March 18, 2016

In Its Time, The Sea Will Come To You

Two years ago we vacationed on the shore in Delaware, staying in a dune-hugger cottage on a narrow spit of sand between the bay and an expansive estuary.  It was quiet, few other cottages, and fewer still other vacationers.  The wildlife was the draw for us, the abundance of birds was astounding.
This summer we're returning to Delaware, this time staying in Broadkill Beach, which is much more popular than Prime Hook, where we stayed last time.  It's impossible to be at the beach, at least for me, and not think of sea-level rise and what this means for communities on this shifting front line.  Depending on how quickly the glaciers of Antarctica and Greenland continue to melt, nearly all of the seaside towns on the Delaware Bay will be under water.  This will effect man much more than nature, as I believe that the wildlife will simply adapt, and the terrain is in a constant state of flux regardless.  It lends a sort of bitter sweetness to the experience, being in a place that can't remain.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


After a meeting at a gallery, my son and I stopped for lunch at Arby's.  Somebody had some fun with my name.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Illma Gore, Artist

Make America Great Again, Illma Gore artist

Where do we draw the line?  Is there a line? (there is no line)  Body shaming someone as loathesome as Donald Trump might make some people feel empathy for a person who himself lacks any shred of empathy.  That aside, mocking and hideous representations of nudes is hardly anything new in the art world.  It's only that we so seldom see a male portrayed so unflatteringly.  It's common, oh so very common, for women to be rendered as utter monsters.  Case in point:  De Kooning's 'Woman' -
Charming, I'm sure, but also the stuff of nightmares.  I'm so little interested in what these sorts of paintings are trying get at employing spurious 'form', and the only real interest I do have is in the level of misogyny that the artist engaged in.
Art has always been used to express both the obvious and the hidden recesses of the human psyche.  It's been used to lash out, and whether that's a righteous attack or blasphemy, depends solely on your perspective.  While I find the Micro Penis Trump amusing because I find him to be so terrible a Presidential candidate, I also recognize my own hypocrisy because I don't think that body shaming is ever valid.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Fiddlehead Ferns

Fiddlehead Ferns, Zelienople, 2015

As soon as the frigid winter temps end in spring, fiddlehead ferns emerge, coiled and fuzzy, easy to spot, ripe for the picking.  Their flavor is not for everyone as they can be bitter, but if prepared properly, they add a taste profile you won't find anywhere else.  I think that work particularly well in stir fry. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager, 1995

Years ago, when my sons were very young, but old enough to accompany me, I did volunteer field research tracking scarlet tanagers for The Cornell School of Ornithology.  They equipped me with an audio cassette of various scarlet tanager calls (male, female, mating, territorial), and also sound-a-like calls from other birds so that I could differentiate between them, and various forms to fill out and a USGS map of my area.  We were located in the Beaver Falls Quadrangle at that time, in an old growth-ish wooded area that a creek wound through, with some farmland nearby.  From what I'd read, this should be prime scarlet tanager territory, and it was.  One morning the boys and I set out on the path through the woods that followed the creek.  After a few hundred yards I stopped and played the female mating call on a hand held cassette player.  Almost immediately there was a return call from high in the trees.  The scarlet tanager is small, but the male is so brilliant in color that he's easy to pick out.  I was lucky enough to also get a picture of him for the file of info I was collecting.  I kept playing the female call to see if I could get him to come closer to our position, when suddenly there was a female scarlet tanager giving the territorial call.  Huzzah!  I didn't get a picture of her, and in fact I could only pick her out fleetingly amongst the branches and leaves as she blends very well into the background.
Of all the volunteer field research I've done, the summer the boys and I tracked scarlet tanagers was  by far our most rewarding and successful.

My oldest son became very adept at spotting specific birds.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Memorial Ruins

Memorial Ruins, Trinity Church, Pittsburgh, Downtown

This memorial predates the construction of current Trinity Episcopal Cathedral (1870-1872) by about 50 years.  It's so weathered, with pieces missing, that I'm not even sure of its original purpose.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Snap Shot 1960

The Farm, 1960*

My great-grandfather with his favorite hunting beagle, Queenie, an unknown woman kneeling, and my great-grandmother.  I've been thinking a lot about great-grandmother lately because last week, after I made vegetable stock with kitchen scrap greens, I used that stock to make potato soup.  Grandma used to make me potato soup all the time.  We lived across a hay field from the farm, and my younger sister and I spent a lot of time with our great-grandparents.  Grandma always had M&Ms in her apron pockets, and she'd cook whatever you were hungry for, at any time.  For me it was always either buttered macaroni or potato soup.  She called me 'dough belly', and it wasn't because I was fat.
*This picture was taken two years before I was born.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Balloons In Crisis

Mylar Balloons Stuck in Maple Trees, Pittsburgh, 2016

The destructive impact of released balloons is long standing, yet the practice continues.  Across the street from my house, in the neighbor's backyard, snagged high in the upper branches of a mature Norway Maple tree, flutter three mylar balloons, either released on purpose or escapees.  Either way, after several severe wind storms over the last month that failed to free them, it seems that they will remain in my line of sight for quite some time.  Visual pollution.  A clutter to my wonder when I watch the daily journey of the murder of crows fly from the south, over the tree topped hills, mean north.  So many crows, sometimes over a hundred.  Now when I watch them, I see those three mylar balloons, and I'm annoyed that they're there, and that they'll remain there for who knows how long.  Sure, there are certain elements of irony and ennui with trapped balloons, even a mirroring of the meaning of all existence.  If the balloons were there for only one day, then I would have an appreciation for what they represent, but six weeks on...If that tree were mine, I'd cut it down.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Soup Stock from Kitchen Scraps

Thursday evenings we have my mother-in-law over for dinner.  If the weather's too treacherous for her to drive, I make a casserole and we take dinner to her.  We've been doing this for five and a half years, since her husband died.  She's a sweet woman, but something of an introvert, and we just wanted to make sure that she got out more than her weekly trip to church. 
For tomorrow night's supper I'm making a Tuscan soup and it calls for 4 cups of chicken broth.  I was looking around the fridge and saw some bok choy (2 large bunches) and half a bag of baby spinach that are a bit past their prime, so I chopped those up, added three large carrots, a large onion, crushed garlic, four chicken bullion cups, black pepper, and enough water (about 6 cups) to cover the whole thing in a stock pot.   It's simmering as I type this and smells divine.  Fresh stock for soup is so much better than store bought, and not much work.  I particularly love the addition of bok choy because it adds a very mild cabbage-y flavor and plays perfectly off of the onion and carrot.  It's so rich and hearty.  This will be a perfect base for the Tuscan soup tomorrow.

Monday, February 29, 2016

False Turkey Tail

False Turkey Tail Mushroom, Stereum ostrea, Pittsburgh, 2016

Recently I blogged about Turkey Tail Mushrooms and their medicinal value, and so there is the need to blog about the look alike to Trametes versicolor, False Turkey Tail (Stereum ostrea).  On the top view, it does closely resemble true turkey tail, but on the under side it's smooth, lacking the obvious pores that the authentic turkey tail always has.  While not poisonous, Stereum ostrea is considered inedible, and lacking in medicinal properties as well.  While there would be no dire consequences in confusing the two, you would miss out on the health benefits gained from the real thing.
As a side note:  I made Trametes versicolor tea on Saturday.  I steeped 3g of dried turkey tail in 2C of simmering water for two hours.  The flavor was what you would expect, slightly mushroomy and woody.  Not unpleasant, and my wife suggested that I try adding a bit of these mushrooms to the pot when I make vegetable stock.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Turn Tail And Run With It

Trametes versicolor, dorsal and ventral views, Pittsburgh, Feb., 2016

Growing on a Norway Maple (Acer platanoides) stump in the backyard is a colony of turkey tail polypores (Trametes versicolor).  I cut one free and brought in to do a photo study of it.  A fine specimen, pliable and fresh, as with age they tend to become woody and hardened.  Then, I started to do a bit of digging into the function and uses of T. versicolor.  Times like these the internet is really a wondrous thing, such a wealth of information, things that the identification books don't provide.  Of course, you still have to be wary of where and how you get your information, and the veracity of the claims made.  Just because it's on the internet doesn't make it accurate.
I was surprised to discover that T. versicolor has been widely studied in Japan, China, and South Korea as a cancer treatment, most specifically for stomach, colorectal, esophageal, and breast cancers.   My thinking with mushrooms and assorted fungi in the treatment of any ailment, is that it is most effective as a preventative measure, to keep you from getting a disease in the first place.
I'm going to dry some T. versicolor and make a tea of it.  The rule of thumb with mushroom teas is that 1 ounce of dried mushrooms produces 1 gallon of tea.