On pumpkins

I was halfway through Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle before I had to return it. One of her points is that we urban folks can be pretty ignorant about food and where it comes from. I’m fortunate to live in a part of the country where a lot of people are skilled at preparing indigenous plants and animals.

For example, Susan called me this evening and said, “We’re carving pumpkins. Would you like to come over?”

“Can I bring my pumpkin?” I asked. She knows I want to make a pumpkin ice cream pie for work this Friday.

“Oh, sure,” she said, sounding a little perplexed. “Do you want to cook it here?”

“Cook it? Do I have to?”

“Well, yes.”

“But I just want the goop for the pie.”

“You don’t use the goop. You cook the pumpkin like a squash.”

“Get out of here.” I had no idea.

So anyway, I disemboweled the pumpkin and cut the hard part into chunks, which Susan put into her pressure cooker (she has every kitchen tool imaginable–she’s the Norm Abrams of the kitchen). While it was cooking I separated the seeds from the pulp (what I was calling the goop) and washed them off. That was something easy I could handle. After pressure cooking it, we cut off the skin and put the pumpkin into this hand cranked sieve that purees it into a bowl.

I haven’t cut up a pumpkin since I was a kid. I asked Susan why the inside of my pumpkin looked different from hers. Apparently, there are carving pumpkins (hers) and cooking pumpkins (mine). I asked her if there were special pumpkins for making pumpkin seeds and she gave me this look.

I sat at her counter looking at my processed pumpkin: a quart and half of orange puree and maybe a cup of seeds. I am roasting the seeds as I type. I felt bad for some reason. Because pumpkins remind me of heads (because after all that’s what we make of them when we’re not cooking them). Imagine pumpkins did this to us? Scooped out our brains and pulverized our pulpy bodies and roasted the bones. It’s so barbaric, especially to do it all in front of another pumpkin.

It was all very educational.

Great fifth graders

I had an awesome group of fifth graders on a tour today. They were well-behaved, smart, and asked excellent questions. One of them even stumped me with a question. The teacher was cooperative and very engaged in what the kids were doing. I get so jazzed when I get a group like that. I wish they could all be so good.

It’s probably my last guided tour for a while. The last of our seasonal guides are finished this week, so we won’t be scheduling any more school groups. I’ll dig in for another long, quiet winter.

Weekend with the parents

My folks are in town and we’re taking it easy so far today. I took the day off on Friday and we went up to Brucemore, a historic mansion in Cedar Rapids. The house is in excellent condition and the visitor center exhibits are nice-looking. There’s a little too much of the “wonderful rich white people” interpretation in the exhibits instead of placing these industrialists in the context of their times. One owner was a real playboy: he had a pet lion and a “Tahiti Room” in the basement with gambling equipment and statues of Polynesian women. He also was an avid home-movie maker so we got to see him in action at play.

Susan joined us for a drive up to Dubuque on Saturday. We stopped in Bellevue on the Mississippi River for lunch. One picture that got away: A big tractor pulling a cart around town with a wedding party in it. After we saw that, I told my parents, “Now you’ve seen Iowa.”

After the excitement in Bellevue, we finally made it up to Dubuque for brief visit to the Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. The sun was setting and a lot of the blooms were over, but there were some late-blossoming flowers that were still brilliant.

Bring back Tommy

The jury’s been out for a while, but I like last year’s Tommy Lasorda ads for the baseball playoffs better than this year’s Dane Cook ads. He’s got a funny stand-up act but he doesn’t get me excited about baseball. The only thing better about the new spots is that they show some baseball action.

Early birds

A flock of grackles appeared this morning in the fruit tree that reaches up to my third floor window. They were after the little red and yellow berries, I thought. One bird was tugging at a stringy thing just below my window. It was part of an abandoned bird nest. I never noticed it. Next spring I’ll look to see if anything returns to it.

Like sacking Rome

I’m shook up. It looks like the Yankees are going to replace Joe Torre. They’re going to find someone better? I don’t know what kind of manager Don Mattingly would be, and I don’t think Tony La Russa or Bobby Valentine would be a good fit with The Boss. Joe Girardi, who was also mentioned in the AP article linked from this post, might be a good choice.

My mom, the most underrated baseball sage in America, commented, “It might be good because it shakes things up.” Shake things up indeed.

Paper boy

As one of my many job duties, I write our park’s news releases and then I send them to long list of local and state media. The news releases announce events, programs, closures, and other stuff we want people to know. Often a local paper will print all or part of the news release verbatim as a blurb somewhere. They usually don’t attach a name to it, but in today’s (Iowa City) Press-Citizen they actually gave it me a by-line. Though only in the print edition, the on-line version pays no such courtesy. Which is fine because it’s public information and I don’t expect personal credit. But it was pretty cool.

Notes on a game

God help me but no matter how hard I try and no matter how good they are I just cannot root for the Red Sox. Manny Ramirez is one reason. The guy is 35 years old but has shoulder-length dreadlocks and a durag and his pockets turned inside-out and runs around celebrating a solo home run with his team losing the game and the playoffs. How do you get behind guy like that? I don’t care if he hits.

Go Indians, or better yet, go Rockies. I’ll go with Colorado only because my family lives there and I aspire to live there also. Mostly I’m rooting for Joe Torre to keep his job.

It started out as good old-fashioned playoffs pitchers’ duel between two doo-doo pitchers, and then degenerated in the fifth inning to a (one-inning) slug-fest. Both starters were gone before six innings were over.

I can’t explain the degeneration in pitching over the last couple of years. Starters can’t get past the sixth inning. Managers and pitching coaches put them on a 100-pitch limit, if they make it that far. They’re reverse-conditioning them. And if economics is the reason–protecting their expensive investments from injury or overuse–that argument falls apart when you consider the teams are paying these pitchers more and more to do less and less. Kyle Farnsworth is making $5 million-plus a year to pitch no more than one inning per game and no more frequently than one day in a row. Not only that, but when the starters can’t finish six innings, you need to have five or six really good relief pitchers if you want to finish games and win them. You used to be able to get away with three or four. The Yankees kept twelve pitchers on their roster most of the year, when ten used to suffice. I’d like to see the statistics that prove emptying the bullpen every night for specialized match-ups is resulting in lower scores or fewer injuries. It’s totally absurd.

Herbs and squashes

Susan’s mother has a little herb garden in her backyard and she let me pick a few. I’m drying them over my sink.

She also had a bumper crop of acorn squashes and pumpkins. So now I have five acorn squashes and one medium pumpkin. The pumpkin is bigger than my head, but was one of her smaller ones, so it’s a “cooking pumpkin”. God only know what I’m going to do with all that pumpkin.

Weekend in the country

Susan invited me to spend the weekend with her and her family on her parents’ farm. The weather was pretty gray and rainy and gave us an excuse to relax inside for a couple of days. The rain delayed the harvesting of the soybeans and corn, otherwise I might have gotten a ride on the combine.

Hawk Watch Weekend

We went up to Effigy Mounds for the annual Hawk Watch and explored around the Mississippi River on Saturday. Friday night we stayed in a nice bed and breakfast in McGregor (in fact a BB&B–bed, breakfast, and bridle) with a great view of the river. It’s been hot, like summer instead of a crisp, sunny October. It’s a little early for great foliage in northeastern Iowa, but it’s a very pretty area.

Hawk Watch reminded me of just how rusty my birding skills have become. Hawks were never my strong point, but I can hardly tell one from another any more. I can tell eagles from vultures from hawks but that’s about it. Some of the folks there would spot something flying 600 feet overhead and say “Oh, that’s a female Cooper’s hawk.” I’m a long way from that, but maybe I could still out-duel a couple of these folks on the seashore.

We crossed the Mississippi into Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin–my first time setting foot in America’s Dairyland–to find a pick-you-own-apples orchard. That was fun. If I ever did that in upstate New York I don’t recall it. I do recall picking pumpkins on Long Island, something we could have done at this orchard also. But Susan’s got five freak-sized pumpkins from her parents’ garden at home. Anyway, we came away with about three-eighths of a bushel for eight and a half bucks. They’re good apples, too, but I felt like I was covered in pesticides after going through the orchard.

After very good hamburgers in Elkader, we stopped in Amish country near Jesup to see Susan’s friend, who was milking sixty goats with her niece when we got there. Susan got to milk one. This was interesting. A gate opens at the end of the milking room and twenty pregnant goats come marching in single file like soldiers onto a long platform and, one by one, stick their heads into the stocks to eat goat food from a bucket. The women stand and milk the goats while they eat. They make it look easy, but Susan had a really hard time getting milk to come out. When they’re all milked the gate opens and the goats march out again. I don’t know how they get the goats to behave so orderly. I guess like anyone in captivity they must get to know the routine after a while. I have no photos of this because the Amish don’t like having their pictures taken.

The desperate listener

So I haven’t seen an actual playoff game yet, mostly because I don’t have cable. But Friday night we were driving up to McGregor. From a previous trip, I knew we could get a Cleveland station on AM radio, so I tuned in and listened through the static to the eleven-inning heart breaker at the Jake. Susan got to see me in all of my play-off engrossed glory, swearing at the radio and such.

I’m sure the Yankees are just setting the stage for a glorious comeback at The Stadium.

The young and the old

I’m at that age where I start to notice the youngness of other adults. For example, this summer I heard about rookie baseball player whose idol growing up was Derek Jeter. I thought, “Derek Jeter? He’s my age!” Ugh.

But anyway, nothing made me feel so young like the seminar I attended on Friday on the future of country school preservation. Most of the people there were quite elderly– folks interested in restoring their community one-room schools. Over lunch one old man was telling me about his trip to Jamestown, Virginia this summer. I said I had gone there when I was a kid. “Last week?” he retorted.

Pit stop at the library

I’m so clever. I biked downtown for a haircut and while I was there I remembered that the library was holding a book for me. Since I didn’t put my baskets or bag on my bike, how would I carry the book? Why, I took off my belt and strapped the book to the rack with it. The knowledge that my brain still works really got the endorphins going.

By the way, the book is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver.

Homecoming parade

I’ve mentioned before that Iowa takes amateur football way, way too seriously. Well this evening was the City High Homecoming Parade. I joined Susan for a picnic as we watched along First Avenue. I went, as I told her, “to be with you and to see if there’s anything dementedly midwestern.” Two of her kids were marching with delegations from their schools. It was short and sweet and fun. A man and woman dressed as a cake and cupcake scooted alongside their colorful float on Segways. They earned first prize in my book.

Elementary school students carry a cardboard Go Little Hawks banner as a little girl with City High painted on her face in red watches.

A man dressed as a piece of cake, zips by a rainbow-colored bakery float at the City High homecoming parade.

Baseball on the brain

The playoffs are officially underway and I’ve got baseball on the brain. I see the Yankees are going without a lefty in their bullpen in favor of a couple of impressive rookies. That’s a gutsy move by Joe, but since middle relief is their weakness, he might be vindicated by leaving the dead weight off the roster.

I’m more excited about the post-season than usual. Maybe it’s because the Yankees really had to struggle this year to get there. All of the American League teams are very good and pretty evenly matched, though the Yankees probably have the worst pitching of the four, a disadvantage which may offset their finishing the season hot. The National League teams aren’t as good, but each one had to fight for playoff spots down to the end.

Let the wild rumpus begin

October begins! The Colorado-San Diego game just ended: 13 innings and the Rockies scored the winning run against no less than Trevor Hoffman on a play at the plate. It now looks like Holliday never touched the plate, but the game’s over now.

I’m going to be parking my fat ass in front of every game I can for the next month. Good stuff.