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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Selfie Sunday: Wild Eagle Cruise

When I heard that Lake Coeur d'Alene hosts eagle-watching cruises every weekend in December I immediately knew two things: one, that as a bird lover, I needed to go the first weekend I could, and two, that I'd be going alone. Everyone I know around here is busy with school or family, and since I don't have either of those to occupy my time on the weekends, I embarked on the two-hour drive north to Idaho with my 90s alternative mix CD as my sole companion.

Two hours is a long time to reflect on where I am and what I'm doing. I'm starting to accept that being on my own is a reality of this Palouse living situation. I'm just trying to make the best of it.

But am I seriously taking the whole day to be alone on a cruise in Idaho and look at eagles?

When I got to the lake, I parked the car and walked over to the resort. I bought the tickets from a woman who asked how to spell my last name while my credit card was sitting right in front of her. This was right after she told me the cruise might have been sold out before she found the right button. I asked where I meet the boat but she said she'd tell me after she was done. She promptly forgot to tell me and I had to ask again two minutes later. After I had my tickets in hand and my patience in check, I walked down to the coffee shop I first visited when we stopped in CDA on our moving trip to Pullman. It's a different coffee shop now. The counter guy was rude and sold me a stale cinnamon bun. 

The people in CDA are snooty but not very smart. It makes me glad I live in a place where people are at least friendly and humble. You'll also never see an anti race-mixing rally in Pullman. At least I hope I never see something like that again.

Eventually I made my way to the dock of the bird watching cruise. I figured that since the resort also offers a Santa cruise for kids, that this particular boat would be filled with people like me. People who want to see wild eagles. Maybe some loners with books. An old couple or two, perhaps.

Oh, I was so very wrong.

An over-enthusiastic lady in a Santa hat greeted me at the dock. I stuck out like a sore thumb sitting at a table by myself with my Oscar Wilde book while families of 5 and 10 and 20 started to board, eventually taking over the rest of my table. There were babies spitting up and young moms that talked too loud. I got up and tried to find a quiet spot outside in the cold, but you couldn't go about 10 seconds without wild kids running past and almost knocking you over. 

The boat left the dock and the Christmas music started. Moms loudly asked Dads if they could please go to the bar and get the hot chocolate?! No, not that hot chocolate, that other kind? And a regular for the kids! All 42 of them!

Half an hour later we arrived at the eagle destination. A woman on a microphone pointed out the eagles as she saw them. "There's one right at one o'clock, swooping down," she'd say.

"Teeth! Show mommy teeth when I take your picture! Show teeth you silly knucklehead!!"

I'm straining to get a good look at that first eagle but I'm getting too annoyed. I move to the other side of the boat and go up another flight to the second level.

"Gimme those armpits! I'm gonna tickle those armpits!" 
"Heeheehee! HAHAHA!"

The guide says, "it behooves the female eagle to be larger, because she alone must incubate the eggs for 30 days nonstop," but I can't make out what the rest of what she's saying. The dad came back with the hot chocolates. There is too much excitement. I went back downstairs.

A few adults are blocking the window, but they aren't looking outside. They're in the middle of a conversation about nothing. They're just as bad as the kids. They give me a dirty look for trying to look past them. I don't bother with this spot anymore.

I go back outside and up the stairs again. Now there's a guy on a cell phone. He's talking loudly about his business trip coming up. I went starboard.

I found two guys that had binoculars and SLRs, who actually wanted to see some birds. I stood just close enough to hear them point out the eagles they saw. I could still hear the lady with the Santa hat trying to get a good picture of her kids with armpits and teeth. 

I tell myself not to let this experience mar my feelings about people and Christmas. But right now I don't like people and I certainly am not excited about Christmas. I'm not so wild about kids right now, either.

A tip for future eagle-enthusiasts: You can skip this whole cruise abomination and just set up shop along Beauty Bay. Christmas music optional. Just drive along the lake until you see the guys with fancy cameras on tripods. Pull over there. Bring your own spiked hot chocolate in a flask for your own measured amounts of holiday cheer.

When I saw them, I considered swimming to them and just leaving Oscar Wilde behind.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Selfie Book Club: Of Mice and Men

I have not been handy in the kitchen lately.

In fact, everything seems to go to crap when I try to get dinner started. The utensil drawer broke. I reached for a bowl along the top of the cabinet and the entire shelf came crashing down on me. I tried to make a mascarpone-egg cream for fettuccini and it curdled on contact. I went to get the food processor out of the closet and it fell and shattered -- on the carpet. THE PLASTIC SHATTERED ON CARPET! How is that even possible?

A wise woman put it in perspective and told me "maybe part of you is rebelling against this homemaker stuff you're trying to force on yourself."

I took her words to heart. I'm not the person to greet people at the door with a perfect cake in hand. I'm not going to have a home-cooked dinner on the table when my husband gets home because I WORK TOO! And he gets home when I get home, because I'm the driver, too! I guess I'm trying to pigeonhole myself into something I'm not. But when a city girl gets stuck in a place like Pullman, what else should I do to satisfy the needs of time passing, entertainment and creativity?

I suppose reading books answers some of those questions. Maybe writing about reading takes care of the rest of it.

I've been devouring old classics that I never had a chance to read. Last night I finished the quick novella Of Mice and Men, since I loved Steinbeck's epic East of Eden so much.

"Take a real smart guy and he ain't hardly ever a nice fella."

This line about sums up the text. Big dumb Lennie and smaller, slightly smarter George are off to find the American dream, working together on farms in an attempt to save up and buy their own house on a small plot and live off the "fatta the lan'."

I never knew that this funny cartoon was a parody of this classic. I kept picturing these two knuckleheads out trying to make a living together.

I think this is the right image. I don't know.

Anyway, finishing this book made me sit there and stare at that last Penguin publishing page and try to gather my thoughts. The kind of stewing in your mind that makes you jump when you get caught.

The plotline is so simple, but the themes that lay below the surface are numerous: race, inequality, marriage, friendship/companionship, too much love, not enough love. And dreams. I guess dreams and wishes and wants are the big ones.

Poor Lennie has so much love in his heart that he can't properly express without squishing animals to death. Mice, dogs. Plus one woman. Poor Curley's wife, who didn't even have a name that we knew. She was always looking for attention, and she finally got by getting her neck snapped. Her crime was letting Lennie pet her hair, lovingly brushed to silky perfection.

George did what he felt was right and decent for his friend. Lennie was off looking in the distance repeating the long-repeated dream about a farm with rabbits that will be fed plenty of alfalfa when (spoiler alert) George fixes him the way that stranger fixed 'ol Candy's dog. He aimed that rifle right at the back of the head, where he won't feel nothin'. And so Curley can't come after him.

The dream, the friendship, the giant heart of love! All blown to bits for the poor guy's own good. Lennie dies. Mean Curley lives on. Maybe Steinbeck was saying that Darwinism isn't always on our side. 

"(Lennie) subsided, grumbling to himself, threatening the future cats which might dare to disturb the future rabbits."

Poor Lennie. He might have been a pretty good rabbit-keeper.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Spicy Chipotle Skirt Steak Chili

It's been balmy and mild out for almost-mid-December. No complaints here, as the one snowfall we've had so far had me creeping down Sunnyside Hill sideways for awhile before I gained traction on State Street. Maybe I'll need snow tires after all? Stomping into work that day felt like familiar deja vu. I'm not ready for another round of winter here in ice-slicked and hilly Pullman. And I'm too stubborn for those $900 snow tires anyway. You know, if we all just paid half of that in taxes we could just have the roads plowed in the winter and be done with it. 

Pullman is clearly not a democracy.

Anyway, considering the warmish weather, I didn't have a reason to start craving chili. But there I was at work yesterday thinking about all the things I had back home that I could build into a hearty stew: chipotles in adobo sauce. A skirt steak. Avocado.

I have a hard time staying focused sometimes.

Anyway, I researched a few recipes for inspiration and ran to Dissmore's IGA after work to bulk up on whatever I might be missing (read: beans). I was home and had dinner done in under an hour. Too bad Rob was stuck at school for another 2 hours after that. I guess it gave the flavors time to mellow.

I'd recommend this recipe only if you really like spicy food. Most recipes called for only one of those chipotles, but because it comes in that cute little can that isn't really dividable, I just threw the whole thing in there. The heat is strong, but enjoyable in that way where you keep eating more in order to keep your mouth from that burning thing called oxygen, and the next thing you know you ate it all too fast but you feel sooo satisfied and ready for a bear nap.

I may or may not be battling a mild case of sadness with food and sleep.

Anyway, enjoy the chili!

Spicy Chipotle Skirt Steak Chili with Avocado Topping

1 red onion
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can white beans, rinsed and drained
1 small can of chipotles in adobo sauce
1lb skirt steak, cubed into small pieces
ground cumin
lime juice
2 avocados


Add onion to a food processor and chop to a small dice. Set aside.
Add 1 can of the black beans, tomatoes and chipotles to the food processor and process until smooth. Set that aside too.
Heat a small amount of oil in a dutch oven over high heat. Add steak and cook, stirring, until all the raw color is gone. Remove and set aside.
Add all but about 2 tbs of the red onion to the now empty pan. Season with salt. Cook about 3 minutes, then reduce heat to medium. Season onion with cumin to taste. Add the chipotle mixture along with the white beans, the black beans and the steak. Simmer until the husband gets home. Off the heat, add lime juice, cilantro and salt and pepper, if needed. 

For the avocado topping: mix the remaining onion with 2 diced avocados seasoned with lime juice, cilantro and salt. Top chili bowls with the mixture.

You can also add tortilla chips, sour cream and shredded cheddar to help cool the spicy chili. I only had cheese on hand, but it was glorious.