Friday, February 24, 2012

Winter Gardening

Saturday, February 25

Everybody's talking about the springlike temperatures, including me. And why not? Today was so warm—in the upper fifties to low sixties—I didn't even need a sweater. But how about the sun? Nobody's been talking about the astonishing show it's been putting on this month. Out and about for twenty-two consecutive days, during a period when it normally shines no more than fifty percent of the time. Oh yes, some days, like yesterday, the sun's been visible just half of the day and off duty the rest. And some days, it's been flickering on and off as rapidly as the moving clouds. But many of the days, like this one, it's been luminous from start to finish, as if it were July rather than February.

I've been paying special attention to it not only because of these reports but also because of my gardening. The green world, after all, is a gift of the sun. And when it disappears as it did for almost two months during the flood of '93, the harvest is grim. Dead fruit trees, shriveled grapes, thwarted melon vines, rotting onions, diseased tomato plants, smutty corn. The rains contributed to those problems, of course, but the rain alone would not have been so damaging had it alternated with even brief periods of sunlight. Sometimes, I think the deepening depressiveness of that long dark summer could only have been cured by the long sunny fall that followed.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Winter Sport

Even when the backwaters of our part of the River were still icebound, we would see small flocks of Canada geese—vanguards of the thousands that waited downstate in Little Egypt, conscious of the growing duration and intensity of daylight and chafing to be on their way north. No sooner had ice left the Alton Pool than diving ducks began to arrive—the scaup, goldeneyes, and buffleheads that would soon be augmented by redheads and canvasbacks. Pintails were among the first of the puddle ducks, up from the Lacassine and Sabine country of Southern Louisiana, pulled up the ancient migration routes by clouds of lesser snow geese. Mallards were coming in, too, and in a few weeks the smaller puddlers, the teal and wood ducks, would be arriving. So would the shore birds, the killdeers and sandpipers and the big Caspian terns and delicate least terns, the great blue herons and white herons. On my first crappie expedition of the year, a yellow-crowned night heron stalked to within thirty feet of me and we exchanged unspoken pleasantries—one fisherman to another.

Muskrats and beaver are out again and working; our eagles are gone, but the bull cardinals are hollering from the treetops and Doc Kozicky opines that he'll trade a winter eagle for a spring cardinal any day. From upriver comes word that a near-record walleye has been boated during a late snow squall. Spring, as Horace Walpole once observed, has set in with its usual severity.

We'll take it any way it comes.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Comfort Foods from Iowa

Beef Stroganoff

2 pounds round steak, cut into strips or cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup butter
4 green onions or 1 tablespoon minced onion
5 tablespoons flour
1 can beef broth
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1 6-ounce can mushrooms, drained
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup cooking sherry

Brown seasoned meat in butter; add onion and brown slowly. Stir flour into meat and onions. Add beef broth and bring to boil, stirring constantly. Turn heat to low; stir in mustard. Cover and simmer for 1 hour or until meat is tender. Add mushrooms, sour cream, and sherry. (Heat just to boiling point.) Salt to taste; serve with hot rice or noodles. Serves 6.