Friday, March 28, 2008


I work in the historic downtown warehouse district, and my building is only four short blocks from the Mississippi River. The city has put effort into developing the river in this part of town, so there's a lovely pedestrian walkway all along the water, places to sit, and an old railway bridge across the water that is now a popular path for joggers, pedestrians, and the tourist trolley that runs through the city in the spring and summer.

One day this week, wanting to clear my head, I went to the river at my lunch break. I like walking across the railway bridge for its view of the lock and dam, for the little garden at the far end, and for the ducks and geese that congregate in the warm waters near the power plant along the river's banks. As I was meditating on the things that were bothering me, I looked casually toward one of the small streams that feeds the river by the power plant and locked eyes with an eagle perched in the tree branches. We stared at each other, and I slowly approached his side of the bridge for a closer look. He kept me in his sight as I moved toward him, studying his markings and colors to make sure it was an eagle. And, indeed, when I got home that evening and checked my Peterson field guide, it was indisputable. I'd seen an eagle. A bald eagle.
Turns out the Mississippi River is a major flyway for the birds, who, just like the more prosaic ducks and geese, are attracted to the warm waters near the power plant. The water there is fairly shallow, the fishing is good, and there's even a little sandbar that peaks above the surface--a sort of bird beach. As I continued on my way, I realized I felt happy and lighter in spirit. So next time I feel the weight of human folly, I'm heading back to that spot along the river for the Raptor Cure!

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Every Easter for the last several years, SJG and I have hosted our friend Marion for breakfast at our house. We often make up a small Easter basket for her with her favorite candies. This year the Easter basket was pot roast and mashed potatoes from last night's meal. Marion is almost 94 and doesn't cook much for herself anymore, so she was more excited about her Easter basket than you might imagine.

For Easter breakfast this year, I made my absolute favorite French toast recipe, which I found in the local newspaper many years ago. It requires overnight soaking but is otherwise an easy, no-fail recipe that will wow your guests.

French Toast Extraordinaire

6 eggs
1-1/2 cups half-and-half
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
one day-old baguette or ciabatta loaf, cut into 1-inch slices on the diagonal for maximum surface (you can also buy a fresh baguette or ciabatta, slice it up, and allow the slices to dry for several hours ahead of time)

1) Mix the eggs, cream, vanilla, sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a medium-sized bowl.
2) Arrange the slices of dried bread in a large, shallow baking dish (9 x 13).
3) Pour the egg mixture over the bread and turn the slices at least once to make sure the liquid soaks into each slice. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
4) The next morning, heat the oven to 450 degrees.
5) While the oven is heating, fry the slices of bread in butter on a hot griddle until browned nicely on each side.
6) Transfer the fried slices onto a lightly greased baking sheet (or two) and bake in the hot oven for 5-7 minutes until puffy. Serves 3-4 people.

*Sliced fresh fruit is a lovely accompaniment. We served fresh strawberries this time, along with thick-sliced bacon and freshly squeezed orange juice.

**Notice the tea towel in the photo above? I embroidered it when I was 10 years old. Embroidery is a skill that my mother forced upon my sister and me but for which I am now extremely grateful.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I've been looking for a recipe for shrimp molcajete (public photo above from In surfing for information this morning, it appears that, like SJG and me, many vacationers have been introduced to this lovely dish while in western coastal Mexico or in parts of the American Southwest. Recipes abound for making guacamole or salsa in a molcajete (mortar and pestle), but I found only one recipe--on the BBC website--for making the stewlike dish we had in Mazatlan. My adapted version goes something like this (and doesn't quite match the looks of the photo above, by the way):
2 cloves garlic
1 chipotle chili
1 small onion, chopped
1 bunch fresh coriander
1 small can of chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper, to taste

Meat/Shrimp Base
1-2 chicken breasts, 3/4-1 lb sirloin steak, or 1 lb peeled and deveined shrimp
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1-2 bunches green onions
several whole jalapenos (on the large side), seeded to reduce the heat

8-12 warm flour tortillas
1/2 bunch coriander, chopped
1-2 avocados, sliced
1-2 limes, sliced
1-2 cans refried beans, warmed up

1. FOR THE SALSA: mash the garlic, chili, onion and coriander in a large seasoned molcajete.
2. Add the tomatoes and mix to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Place the molcajete over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Keep warm until ready to serve. (In Mexico, each person gets an individual molcajete, so this step may take up the entire stovetop.)
Caution: the molcajete gets very hot. Use hotpads or kitchen mits to handle.

4. FOR THE BASE: Season the meat or shrimp to taste. Saute in olive oil in a large skillet on the stovetop or grill under the broiler or on an outdoor grill until done. Slice the meat into strips. Shrimp can be served as is.

5. Briefly grill the green onions and the jalapenos on the broiler setting of the oven or on the outdoor grill until nicely browned.

6. TO SERVE: place the meat or shrimp (or combination of the two) in the molcajete(s) with the warm salsa. Drape the grilled onions over the sides (with the onion head in the salsa and the green stems lying over the edge) and garnish with grilled jalapenos, chopped coriander, and sliced avocado. Serve with warmed tortillas and refried beans on the side. As in the photo above, beer is a nice accompanying beverage for this dish. Fresh lime can be squeezed into the beer or over the meat just before eating.

Saturday, March 01, 2008


Last February, in Tucson, you'll remember I was hit by a flying hamburger (see the February 24, 2007, posting entitled "In Such a Landscape"). This year, in Mazatlan, as SJG and I were strolling along the beach on our afternoon walk, I was hit by a fish, released from on high by one of the many gulls for whom our stretch of beach was prime feeding grounds. It was a small white fish, not as lovely as the carp in the print above by Aleah Koury, but a fish all the same. The gull seemed confused and circled above us in search of his lost fish. The sea waters carried it back into the ocean before the gull could retrieve it, and SJG and I moved on, wondering why I seem to be a prime target for these kinds of things.
At work this week, SJG reported the Fish Hit to one of her colleagues. He claims that it's well known that being hit by a fish is very good luck. I did a little googling this morning to see if this is indeed true but didn't easily find anything to confirm the assertion, other than the fact that fish are generally omens of good luck in Asian cultures. I'll have to do a little more research on the Fish Hit in particular, but in the meantime, my googling did turn up a CNN video clip from 2007 that documents a variety of very funny fish hits. Here's the link:
(then click on "Fish Smacked" option to the right of the video screen)
Good luck!