Saturday, May 03, 2003

I may be bummed out about not having a job lined up, but I'm definitely happy about something else: I'm getting my body back. I've been back on my bike from time to time, and today Rick and I spent 3 hours hiking at the Kalamazoo Nature Center. The only remaining problem I have from my early-March surgery is some mild pain that may be related to a nerve injury during the procedure; fortunately, exercise makes it feel better rather than worse. I'm very much aware now that my body is the only one I'll ever get and that I need to make it last.

The bugs were great. Tiger swallowtails, green darners, and tiger beetles on the wing; the usual mama bumbles and honey bees, along with their mimics, buzzing away; a nice little geometrid moth hiding for the day buried in tree bark. The wildflowers are great too; blue-eyed Mary, marsh marigold, white trillium, at least three or four violet species, spring beauty, rue anemone, and blue cohosh. Also saw some turtles, a barn owl, and two way cool water snakes. As for the bad bugs: Reached behind my ear a few minutes ago and retrieved a tick that had undoubtedly been looking for a place to attach since our afternoon walk. THAT one took a swim, as Bill Cosby used to say, "straight down the sewie hole".

I love nature centers, but I often worry that we're spending too much effort, as a culture, on turning nature into a museum exhibit at the same time that we're threatening it on a large scale. Our nature center, for example, is impeccably maintained in the places where maintenance is necessary, and wonderfully wild in the places where wilderness is the whole point. But, all of this comes with two trade-offs. One is an admission fee that would be hefty for a blue-collar family. The other is a location a bit off the beaten path, where families or individuals lacking cars (or good bicycles and riding skills) would have trouble with access. Nature centers have their places, but I'm afraid we rely on them too much to preserve wildlife. Even as a blue-collar kid in the 1960s, I had a big back yard where I could let the bugs and flowers introduce me to science. I'm sure that the natural world has also stimulated many intellects towards the arts and other humanities. Add that to the importance of natural ecosystems to the maintenance of human life on this planet, and we're kidding ourselves if we think that we can cram all of nature into a few exhibits, even though those exhibits may be excellent.

On the book list: Holldobler's and Wilson's The Ants. I've meant to read it for the last decade. Now's my chance. I am completely blown away by the Hymenoptera. They [buzzin'] rule!

(R.I.P., Old Man of the Mountain ....)

Thursday, May 01, 2003

I've never posted a recipe before, but this one's easy, and like all Bug House specialties, it's completely anarchic. Everything in it is "to taste". If there's something in it that you don't like, reduce the amount or leave it out. If there's something in it that you love, add more of it. If there's something you really think needs to be in it that isn't, toss it in and let me know how it works out. Anyway, here's one of our favorite condiments, if you can call something that we routinely scarf down by the pint a "condiment". It's fun to make in either an electric food processor or an elbow-grease-powered chopping jar.

Julie's Pico de Gallo

2 or 3 plum tomatoes
1 large tomatillo
1 small white onion
Hot or mild peppers (see below)
1 generous handful fresh cilantro (don't use the dried stuff)
Fresh lime juice (squeeze 1/4 to 1/2 lime into the mix; don't use the bottled stuff)
Salt to taste (about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon should do it; start light because you can always add more.)
Dash of white or brown sugar (about 1/4 teaspoon)

Cut vegetables into large chunks and place in the food processor. Add other ingredients. Regarding the peppers: Regulate the chemical potency as follows.

For basic, peppy version: 1/2 of a fresh medium-sized jalapeno. (I take the seeds out.)
For fiery version: 1 whole fresh jalapeno (or even more if you're a pyromaniac).
For mild version: Green bell pepper (1/4 to 1/2 of an average size pepper).

Once they're all in the food processor, let 'er rip. I told you it was easy. Great with chips, vegetables, rice, beans, the works.

As an interesting aside: The other night, I made a batch that was almost too hot even for me; it had a whole large jalapeno (minus seeds) in it, and of course you can't judge the heat of any given jalapeno without actually biting into it. Rick and I ate it anyway, with black beans and rice and tortilla chips, and then sliced up a ripe mango for dessert. Then I remembered that a Malaysian-born friend once served us an amazing salad containing cucumbers, onions, ferociously hot raw peppers, and -- sliced mango. I shoveled some of the remaining pico de gallo onto a fresh mango slice, and ... wow! The fruit flavor cut right into the heat, and there was just something about the combination of fresh lime juice, vegetables, and mango that was utterly perfect. (Hey, they combine mangoes, limes, and hot spices in chutneys, right?) I'm not sure I'll ever be able to eat a mango again without a jalapeno chaser. Or vice versa.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

To celebrate our last official Spanish study group meeting, el profesor let us play Jeopardy! in Spanish. We modified the game in order to play with teams instead of individually, but used answer/question sets prepared for a traditional undergrad class. Apparently, Diego had never had contact with quizbowlers before; all I can say is that most of his previous students had never even heard of Angel Falls. Las Abejas defeated Los Coyotes by about 1500 points. Rick (Lucho) stopped the game at one point to look up "toast" in his English-Spanish dictionary. Tengo la cultura por quinientos, Alejo.

Monday, April 28, 2003

Spent the weekend in Indianapolis, and did some uncharacteristically girly things. Saturday morning, there was a ladies' luncheon and fashion show at my in-laws' church. This proved to be more fun than one would ever imagine; the outfits were supplied by a local women's clothier and the models were supplied by the church ladies' clubs. Average age of the models, by my estimate: around 68. For the most part, the clothes were of the sort worn by retirees on vacation cruises. Note that this is not meant to be a disparaging remark. There's a certain look, involving lots of pastels adorned with in-your-face prints and matched to the teeth, that really does flatter sixtysomething ladies on holiday. After the show, I was coerced into trying on one of these ensembles; it was a long skirt and matching short jacket, in pale yellow denim with a print I can only describe as Covered With Bugs. I mean, it included at least three insect orders (nine collection points in Dave's entomology class!) in bright lifelike colors. I'll have to admit to being tempted, but good sense prevailed. The problem was: There was absolutely nowhere that I could ever imagine wearing it. Skirts and dresses are not part of my everyday wardrobe, and on the occasions when I do put one on, it's usually because my activities require business wear (which this outfit certainly wasn't), or else semiformal party wear (which this outfit most definitely wasn't). I suppose I could have kept the outfit in my closet for the next 20 years and then worn it on a cruise, but since going on a cruise is one of those activities that I can't imagine ever being hot to do at any age, I decided to pass.

Also spent much of Sunday afternoon watching a pretty little leafcutter bee provision a cavity nest -- inside a plastic tube that serves as a perch on one of my mother-in-law's bird feeders. My admiration for cavity-nesting Hymenoptera grows daily. Nothing distracted this one -- she even dodged Rick and scooted into the nest while he held and turned the bird feeder in his hands to get a closer look. May her family live long and prosper.