31 July 2010

More bad weather

Saturday sunset

It's official. South Dakota has some of the most extreme weather in the country, and we don't consider discussions about the weather to be small talk. We are in the season of hot days and occasional violent evening thunderstorms. Last week the small town of Vivian, SD, made the news with the largest hailstone ever recorded in the US. The stone in question was part of a hailstorm of unimaginable ferocity. Practically no structure was left unscathed.

This has been certified as the largest hailstone on official record. It was apparently not the largest one that actually fell in this storm, just the largest one collected. Photo from the Rapid City Journal.

Here are more more images from the past few weeks.

Storm front sweeping in from the northwest.

Same storm front, view to the east. The temperature dropped 15 degrees in 5 minutes.

Storm coming in over the new building, to be followed by the ritual Dance of the Roof Leak Bucket Brigade. The good news is that our guys seem to have found and fixed all the leaks so far.

26 July 2010

Family recipe Monday: citrus delights

It's been a long, exhausting week of moving large heavy things in boxes, or on pallets, or by the truckload. The new building is filling up quickly. You'd think that we could plan better so that we are not moving large heavy things in the heat of July, but you'd think wrong, because here we are. Next time around, say, in another lifetime, I am going to focus on tiny fossil pollen grains rather than large fossil bones. I'm not giving up the book collecting, however. Some things are worth their weight in, well, weight.

Field season has started and people are coming into the Badlands and Black Hills from all corners--friends from Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Colorado have come through in the last week alone--surveying, working in caves, and collecting yet more large heavy things for the new building. All too soon, it will be time for the 70th Harley-Davidson rally in Sturgis. Hundreds of thousands of bikers--literally--will be roaring through the area for a couple of weeks. The tourists are driving through in high numbers; a large number of them are heading toward Mt. Rushmore and environs. Mt. Rushmore, or MORU in govspeak, is one of the most frequently visited units in the National Park Service. Summer is frenetically busy like this up here every year.

Add to that a stray kitten who is showing no signs of leaving our deck...note to self: schedule that brisk talk with St. Francis soon. We need a kitten like we need a Harley, which is to say not.at.all. She purrs loudly enough to have her own slot in the rally, that's for sure. Stray animals find us at the oddest and most inconvenient times. We still have not found a home for the last kitten we took in temporarily....nine years ago. (Okay, so we never even tried...)

Our last stray: Mel Blanc in Delaware, age six months. Check those feet. He is twice this size now in all dimensions.

But the farmers' market is booming and the produce is wonderful. Last night was a locavores' feast: roast Hutterite chicken, roasted new potatoes with rosemary, and the first young corn of the season, followed by a raspberry cobbler, all locally grown or raised, nothing except the chicken ever refrigerated. The cats are apparently Hutterites themselves, because they thoroughly approved of the chicken. So did the kitten. Maybe I'm using the wrong methods to get her to leave? ...naaahhh...

Summer baking tends to focus on light dishes, desserts that can be served cool, and lots of fruit. Citrus-based treats are particularly appealing right now. Here are a few citrus-based desserts from the Simple Gifts files.The first two are variations on the same theme: orange cake with dried fruit (dates or raisins) included. The first is a sheet cake, the second a tube-pan cake. Notice that both use either juice or peel from citrus fruit, not extract-based flavorings. It's summer. Use the real thing.

Coy’s orange cake
Cream 1/3 cup butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg. Add 2 cups flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 cup raisins, ½ grated lemon rind, 1 grated orange rind, 1 cup buttermilk. Add 1 tsp cinnamon and nuts as desired. Pour into 9”x13” cake pan. Bake in moderate oven until done. For topping, pour ¼ cup lemon juice and 1/2 cup orange juice over 1 cup sugar. Let stand while cake is baking. Blend and pour over cake as soon as removed from oven. Let stand several hours or overnight. Serve with whipped cream.
—Coy McLean Brooks

Orange cake
Cream together 2 cups sugar and 1 cup shortening. Then add 4 eggs, one at a time. Then add 3 T grated orange peel and 1 tsp grated lemon peel. Sift together 4 cups flour, and 1 tsp baking soda. Add this to the mix alternately with 1 ½ cups buttermilk. Then add 1 cup dates, 1 cup nuts (chopped) and 1 cup coconut (a heaping T of flour sprinkled on these will keep them from settling). Bake in tube pan for about 1 hour at 325* to 375* F. Cake should be well browned.

For a change of pace, try these light cookies, which will keep for a week or two. These make thin, crisp cookies (as the name suggests). If you are not a margarine fan, you can experiment with butter to get the texture right. Remember that this recipe was being typed up by my mother in the 1940s, from older recipes, and rationing was on. Margarine was the main option then.

Orange crispies
1 cup margarine
2/3 cup sugar
1 egg
3 to 4 tsp. orange rind
2 ½ cups flour
Pinch salt
½ tsp. baking powder

Grease pan for first cooking. Pinch off tiny bits and mash with fork crosswise. Bake in slow to moderate oven.
--Vada Brooks Johnson

Happy Monday. Need a kitten?

19 July 2010

Family recipe Monday: birds and cobblers

Butterfly at Iron Creek campground in Spearfish Canyon

Whatever plans we had for the weekend were thoroughly disrupted by the announcement of a rare bird in Spearfish Canyon. A lone Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, a native of Mexico and Central America, never previously recorded north of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, is merrily bouncing around the Iron Creek campground in Spearfish Canyon. In the Black Hills of South Dakota. This is a stunning find. If you are familiar with bird people, you know what happens next: you and a few dozen other people spend every daylight hour possible in the canyon waiting for the bird to make an appearance. This particular bird preferred to be heard and not seen, but hear and see (glimpses) we did.

In case you think that I am making up the Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush, a picture by Doug Backlund is posted here. The story of its discovery by Eric Ripma is here. Spearfish Canyon on Sunday was an interesting mix of bicycle racers, pre-Rally Harley riders, and birders from all points of the country.

Orange-billed Nightingale-Thrush photographed by Doug Backlund.

Between that and taking friends and prospective students on tours of the new building, there was little time left in the weekend for kitchen work. This is the sort of weekend on which our family cooks pulled out canned fruit from last year, made up a quick biscuit dough and put together a cobbler. A cobbler is much quicker and easier than a pie. This is another dish with a long history and a variety of aliases, including, as listed on this site, "cobbler, tart, pie, torte, pandowdy, grunt, slump, buckles, crisp, croustade, bird's nest pudding or crow's nest pudding." I particularly liked this line: "They are all homemade and simple to make and rely more on taste than fancy pastry preparation." We tend to use fresh fruit whenever possible.

After a long day of looking for a recalcitrant tiny bird that prefers to act as if it is in the witness protection program, a nice fruit cobbler is very comforting.

Fredericksburg peach cobbler

Pastry for a double-crust 8” pie
8 cups sliced fresh peaches
3 T all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
1 tsp. almond extract
1/3 cup melted butter

Combine the peaches, sugar, flour and nutmeg. Set aside until a syrup forms. Bring the peach mixture to a boil and cook over low heat for 10 minutes or until peaches are tender. Remove from heat and add the almond extract and butter, blending well. Spoon half of the peaches into a lightly buttered 8” square pan and top with an 8” square of pastry (about 1/8” thick). Bake at 475* F for 12 minutes or until the crust is brown. Add the remaining peaches and cut the remaining pastry in strips to arrange in a lattice design over the top. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly browned.

Sally's idiot-proof no-fail Texas cobbler
1 stick of butter
2 cups milk
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1½ tsp salt
3 t baking powder
Cinnamon, nutmeg, mace and/or vanilla to taste
Cinnamon sugar mix
At least 2 cups fresh ripe fruit (peaches, pears, berries, etc.) plus their juice

Preheat the oven to 350*. Place butter in a generous steel, enameled iron or glass baking dish (9x13 is good, but any nice big shallow pan in that general size range is fine) and put it in the oven to melt the butter. If you melt the pan, start over. Meanwhile, combine all other ingredients except the fruit. When the butter has melted, pour the batter over the butter and place the fruit on top. Bake for 30-35 minutes. The pastry will rise up and over the fruit as it bakes. At 25 minutes, sprinkle cinnamon sugar on top and return to oven for 10 minutes. Check crust to be sure it is firm, then turn off the oven and leave cobbler in the oven for another half-hour or so to set up.

Canned or frozen fruit does not work nearly as well in this.

Serving suggestions: if you don’t know how to eat cobbler, with or without ice cream, we can’t help you now.

Happy Monday and good birding to the Spearfish Canyon crew.

14 July 2010

Titanotheres, part III

Baby Emma at the beginning of her first move in 2009

Dad and Mom had been kept in storage for just over a year, because there was no place to put them. The baby brontothere, however, was newborn-brontothere-sized, small enough to move to the museum until the new building was ready. And so we did that, partly to protect her and partly to act as a spokesmodel for the new building plans.

The students were able to pick her up, load her into a truck, and carefully drive her to the museum. We did get a few phone calls from concerned citizens wondering just what kind of animal our students were driving around campus. At least one person flatly refused to believe that it was not alive and was strongly suggesting that we were mistreating livestock. I consider that another tribute, however inadvertent, to Blaschke's genius.

The baby is readied for moving.

Michelle and Red steady the baby on the freight elevator.

The baby is in the museum, ready to be lifted into the exhibit area.

We held a naming contest for the baby, open to school children in the area, complete with a coloring contest. The winning entry was "Emma," selected by three young ladies independently of each other. We kept promising people that Emma would be reunited with her parents when the new building was ready. We hoped that this would be done someday. When the day arrived, however, it was a little emotional on the museum floor when Emma left.

When Mom and Dad were in place, the crew picked up Emma at the museum and brought her over. 15 minutes after she was picked up, the reunion was complete.

Emma is taken off the freight elevator under Red's guidance, less than a year after the last time she was on it.

The forklift is maneuvered carefully under Emma.

Michelle leads Emma's entourage.

Emma enters the building. She never had to leave the forklift and rode serenely like a princess all the way.

The family is reunited, as we promised, as we hoped.

A huge sigh of relief can be heard even now, as all the equipment is gone and the Blaschke brontotheres are in place. Now comes the diorama work. Come see them in September! 

13 July 2010

Titanotheres, part II

Meanwhile, back at the flatbed, Mom Brotothere is waiting patiently...

Moving Dad took a couple of hours. The crew who did this was absolutely magnificent. There was not a wrong or wasted motion, and at no time was he at undue risk. They are used to moving boilers amd machine-shop equipment, so I hope that this was a fun change of pace for them. Still, Dad is very tall, top-heavy, and not level on his feet by any means. It took a while to get him in position, safe and stable.

Mom was a much more calm and cooperative individual. Her only issue is that she is lying down and, er, a bit wide. There were concerns about fitting her through the door, which turned out to be groundless. 45 minutes after leaving the flatbed, she was in place.

Mom starts her forklift ride to the building.

Mom approaches, also with protection strips for her eyes.

Mom enters the atrium.

Mom is on the forklift for the last time. The paint chipping occurred some time ago, but we agreed to hold off on the repairs and infills until the move was complete. That has now been done.  

Mom is up at ledge level.

Reunited on the ledge.

To be continued.....

12 July 2010

Family recipe Monday: art of the soufflé

Cheese and leek souffle, from Elaine's British and Irish Food blog.

Soufflés are surprisingly robust, easy dinner preparations. They can turn leftovers or small amounts of ingredients into impressive meals. Have the ingredients at room temperature and the oven fully heated, then dare to experiment. The key is the stiffness of the egg whites: it's hard to overdo this. That's where the loft comes from. They do not keep, so have everything ready to serve. Don't let the hype deter you from trying your hand at these kitchen wonders.

Gene's mom Dolly had a couple of great recipes with careful directions in her files. Enjoy.

Dolly’s cheese soufflé and variations
Make Thick White Sauce: 4 tbsp. butter, 4 tbsp flour to 1 C milk, adding ¼ tsp. dry mustard, and a dash of cayenne pepper with salt and pepper.

Stir into the hot white sauce 1 C (¼ lb.) shredded sharp cheese. Remove from heat and stir in 3 egg yolks well beaten.

Beat until stiff 3 egg whites with ¼ tsp cream of tartar and fold into the cheese mixture.

Pour into ungreased 1½ qt. casserole (7½”). For High Hat Soufflé, make groove 1" from edge. Set casserole in pan of water 1" deep. Bake until puffed and golden brown. Serve immediately. Can be served with crisp bacon, mushroom or shrimp sauce, etc.

Temperature: 350 degrees (F) Time: 50 to 60 minutes Amount: 4 servings

  • Tomato-Cheese Soufflé: Follow recipe above except use tomato juice in place of the milk.
  • Cheese-&-Corn Soufflé: Follow recipe above except add, with seasonings, 3/4 tsp dry mustard and, with cheese, 1 C drained cooked whole kernel corn and ½ C soft bread crumbs.
  • Cheese-&-Ham Soufflé: Follow recipe above and add, with the cheese, ½ C ground cooked ham.
  • Mushroom-Cheese Soufflé: Follow recipe above and fold in 1 C sautéed finely cut mushrooms into the Cheese Soufflé mixture at the last. Delicious with any seafood sauce.
  • All you have to do - For second servings bake Cheese Soufflé in two 5" to 6" casseroles placing one in the oven 10 minutes after the other and bake only 30 to 35 minutes.
  • For Individual Cheese Soufflés, pour into custard cups and bake only 20 to 25 mins.
--Dolly Shaffner Hess

Mushroom soufflé
24 large mushrooms
1 small onion, finely diced
¾ cup butter
2 T flour
1 cup chicken broth
4 eggs, separated
½ tsp. salt
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Wash, dry and detach stems, but do not peel. Chop stems and 6 whole mushrooms and sauté with the onion in 4 T butter. Make a cream sauce of 2 T butter, flour and broth. Add sautéed mixture. Cool. Beat egg yolks and fold into cream sauce. Season with salt; add more if necessary. Beat egg whites stiff and fold into mixture. Place mushrooms into buttered casserole, hollow side up. Brush with butter. Pour soufflé over. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 350* F until puffed and brown.

Happy Monday.

11 July 2010

Titanotheres, part I

Second-story ledge in the new building, clear for the last time

It's been an incredible couple of weeks in the move to the new building. Last week we stopped moving and started polishing, preening and primping things up for the all-class alumni reunion held every 5 years. You can read more about this event here. Over 500 alumni converged on the new building to see what we had accomplished in the past year. Some of them knew that the building was in the works, but many who did not were drawn up the hill by the sight of...

...this. Look carefully at the building windows and you will see creatures on the ledge. Photo by the Rapid City Journal.

Meet the Blaschke brontothere family, donated to us by the Field Museum last year and carefully kept in storage until now. They will be formally unveiled in a new diorama setting next month, on a ledge over our front door. These are life-sized plaster sculptures, incredibly lifelike, made for the Field in 1931.

Frederick Blaschke poses with the family.

Titanotheres, or brontotheres, were rhinoceros-like mammals (NOT dinosaurs) found in many places, including what is now the White River Badlands area of the Northern Plains. Their fossils have been found in some abundance in South Dakota. In fact, the first fossil collected from the Badlands area is the lower jaw of a titanothere, found by Hiram Prout in 1839 and now housed in the Department of Paleobiology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution.

Hiram Prout's find

Needless to say, what we find are (sometimes) beautifully preserved bones, not whole animals. Part of the science of paleontology is determining, insofar as possible, what creatures our fossils belonged to and what they may have looked like in life. We look at the closest possible modern analogues (in this case, rhinoceroses) and draw what conclusions we can. It is always an incomplete science, with a great deal of inferential reasoning and detective work thrown in. It's like CSI: Cenozoic.

So Blaschke started with what is known....

Brontops robustus, our museum mascot

...and filled in the gaps, magnificently. His works stood behind glass at the Field for the next 70+ years. Darren Naish has great posts about brontotheres here and here.

Times change. The Blaschke brontothere diorama at the Field Museum fell victim to changing tastes and demands. The plan called for them to be removed. Through a chain of wonderful contacts, we were put in touch with the Field and assured them that we would put these marvels on exhibit here, close to the fossils and original stomping grounds of the beasts on which they were modelled. Their sheer size made it impossible to put any of them other than the baby on display in the museum, so they were kept in storage until a suitable place was readied.

Months passed. The building rose. The ledge was modified to accommodate their sheer size. More months passed.

A couple of weeks ago, the big move occurred. Knuckles and hair whitened, hearts palpitated and nerves shot off in all directions like Philadelphia fireworks. The move required a flatbed truck, a small forklift, and piano dollies, which I have been ordered to stop calling oversized roller skates. We closed the building and perimeter because there were so many things that could go wrong in spite of great planning and care. A few of us were allowed to be there with cameras. It turned out to be a wonderful show. No brontotheres were harmed in this move, though a few paleontologists needed restoratives when all was done.

Q: How do you get a 9+' tall sculpture into your shiny new building? A: Take off every door that you possibly can, even though you just put them on.

Dad and Mom Brontothere, aka Fred and Ginger or Levi and Beth, on the flatbed at the end of the parking lot. You can see the guys under them for scale.

Backing up to the new building.

Dad is on the forklift.

Dad approaches the building. I would not want something this size to be facing me this closely in real life, let alone moving toward me, even at this pace.

A closeup to show the incredible detail of the plaster. The strips are protecting his eyes. Blaschke omitted no detail, not even the tiniest--these are rhinoceros taxidermy glass eyes.

Dad enters the atrium on roller skates piano dollies.

Dad is pivoted in place for the final forklift ride.

The forklift approaches.

Dad rises slowly and majestically.

Dad keeps rising. For all of our worries, this turned out to be a problem- and drama-free production.

Dad reaches the ledge and is roller-skated into his final position.This may have been the most unnerving moment of all.  

To be continued.....

05 July 2010

Family recipe Monday: fish

Another summer storm, another summer rainbow

That was one wild week, last week. We moved many large and spectacular things into the new building, which will be the subject of a later post. The crew of staff and students was exhausted by the end of the day Friday, but aglow with a sense of real accomplishment. We are opening an exhibit in the campus art gallery tomorrow, and hosting an open house for alumni all the rest of the week. The new building will be front and center all week, so there won't be much moving going on, just a lot of talking about the building to some of the people who care most about its success.

The farmers' market produce is coming in nicely, too. The first peas and carrots of the season are starting to appear on the stands. Right now the kitchen smells like fresh basil and ripe peaches. Those scents really do go together amazingly well. We picked up chicken tamales and salsa verde at the market for a quick lunch on Saturday, figuring we wouldn't feel much like cooking after a busy morning. It was a good call, and a good reminder that I need to drag out the tamale steamer at the end of the summer and put together a celebratory dinner for everyone who worked on or helped with the move.

For some reason, fish always sounds good in the hot months. Here are some suggestions from the Simple Gifts files.

This recipe is a good one with any whole fish. If you have fresh peas courtesy of the farmers' market, do use those. I'm hoping that the Minnesota contingent weighs in with more on the subject of wild rice, soon.

Red snapper with wild rice stuffing

1 3-lb. fresh or frozen red snapper (with head and tail) or other whole cleaned fish
1 4-oz package wild rice
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
¼ cup butter or margarine
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
2 T sliced green onions
2 T chopped pimientos
½ tsp finely shredded lemon peel (zest)
2 T lemon juice
2 T butter or margarine, melted

Thaw fish, if frozen. Cook rice according to package directions. Cook mushrooms in 1/4 cup butter or margarine till tender. For stuffing, combine cooked rice, cooked mushrooms, peas, onions, pimientos, lemon peel ands juice, 1 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp pepper. Toss lightly. Sprinkle fish cavity with salt. Fill fish cavity with stuffing, patting stuffing to flatten evenly. Tie or skewer fish closed. Place in a greased large shallow baking pan. Brush some of the 2T melted butter over fish. Bake in 350o F oven for 45-60 minutes or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork, brushing occasionally with remaining melted butter. Carefully lift fish to a warm platter. Remove string or skewers. Garnish with lemon slices and bias-sliced green onions, if desired. Makes 6 servings.
--Shirley Johnson Shelton

This is a Brazilian fish recipe given to me by a paleontologist colleague, John White. I wish I could find the original card for this, because he drew the exact size of the garlic clove required (paleontologists are like that). It was, as I recall, no bigger than a good-sized lemon seed. When he says small, he means small. As you can see, this is a recipe that can be easily expanded to fit the size and appetite of the group. It's a winner for a big crowd.

Peixe escabeche

1 lb. fish of any kind per person
1 tsp salt per pound of fish
1 small clove garlic
1 lemon per every 2 lb. fish
8 oz olive oil
1 medium onion per every 2 lb. fish
1 medium tomato per every 1 lb. fish
2 rings of fresh green pepper
1 pinch fresh celery leaves

Put salt into mortar or cup. Cut clove of garlic into tiny cubes and grind into the salt with pestle or blunt end of knife. Squeeze lemon(s) into salt and garlic. Rub mixture all over fish, then place in skillet or stewing pot. Pour enough olive oil over fish to leave about 1/8” on bottom of cooking container. Slice onions and tomatoes over fish. Place the green pepper and pinch of celery leaves on fish. Cover and start on high, then reduce heat. Cook for about 30 minutes. Do not overcook. Serve with rice. Pour the gravy that forms into a gravy bowl--good on rice!
--John White

Finally, here is a Mid-Atlantic Shoreboard classic. From Delaware Seafood Recipes: “One of Delaware’s finest—Years ago this was a meal prepared for the Delaware Bay Pilots before they took command of a vessel heading up Delaware Bay. It can be breakfast, lunch or dinner—any way it is truly an excellent, hearty, rich meal.”

Pilot boat breakfast

6 skinned cod filets (cod is best; however, any lean fish such as striped bass, weakfish or sea bass is a suitable substitution)
6 large potatoes
6 hard-cooked eggs
Melted butter
1 lb broiled bacon
2 diced onions (raw)
Salt and pepper

Peel potatoes and boil until done. Bake or steam fish until done (about 10 minutes). Dice potatoes and cover with cooked fish. Sprinkle bacon pieces and chopped hard-cooked eggs on top. Add raw onions to taste and pour melted butter over all. 3 hearty servings.

Your heart may not thank you for this one as it is written, but you can tweak this recipe in many ways to make it healthier. Bon appetit and happy Monday.