Glorious Weather

 An early spring, January 30, 2011

Got a notice from the water company to trim my hedge around the in-ground meter, so was out yesterday (glorious weather – sunny and 70°) with the hedge clipper.  Noted that the feathery cassia hedge was loaded with tiny buds.  So did a cursory clip and cleanup.  Probably two weeks or so until it blooms.

Wildlife

Reading my OLLI Greek Classics assignment (The Iliad!) yesterday afternoon.  A covey of quail rose, squawking, and my cat, sitting next to me, growled.  A good-sized bobcat lumbered by the fence.  It let out a low growl – had it been stalking the quail and missed?  By the time I had grabbed the camera it was exiting into the brush.

When I went out to get my Sunday Times this morning, two cottontails were cavorting in the front yard.  They stopped, a few yards away, to watch me, but weren’t too afraid.  The other day as I was driving home, two javelinas waited to cross the road.  I was reminded how much I enjoy the desert wildlife.

I grew up on the outskirts of Detroit, where there were birds, squirrels, bees, spiders and mosquitoes.  Fish in the lakes.  And rabbits outside of town.  Period.

It was pretty much the same when I lived in Greenville, SC.  Except I never saw the rabbits, and I did see one chipmunk (in two years!)  But a colleague, who lived out of town, took photos of a bear on her porch.

I enjoyed visiting the Amazon, where a fer-de-lance snake bite killed the head man’s wife.  (It is the most dangerous snake of Central and South America, and causes more human deaths than any other American reptile.)  And I enjoyed the Serengeti safari, where our van was chased by a bull elephant.  But the Sonoran Desert has enough wildlife for me.

Culture

I would love to visit New York again, to see the museums, the performances, music, dance, theater, the reviews of which I read weekly in my New Yorker magazine and the NY Times.  But a friend and I saw the annual quilt show here in Tucson (pictured: Best in Show) and an opening at an art gallery last weekend.  (http://www.davisdominguez.com/current.htm)

Another friend and I enjoyed the musical Wicked a few weeks ago, and last night yet another friend and I went out for Peking duck and happened onto a Chinese New Year celebration, with seven one- or two-child dragons, beautifully crafted.  (I should have taken photos with my cell phone.)  So (maybe) Tucson is enough city for me.

BTW – here is the article from last week’s New Yorker magazine that prompted a Peking duck evening:

Opera Buffet by Mimi Sheraton

When the bass opera singer Hao Jiang Tian packs for a concert tour, he includes CDs, scores, and librettos of the roles he will perform, and what he calls “my dear little piano,” a small Casio synthesizer with a two-and-a-half-octave keyboard that matches his voice range. Special equipment packed by his wife, Dr. Martha Liao, a lapsed biochemist: a lethal-looking meat cleaver, a light but sturdy deep skillet, and two rigid wire cones that hold poultry vertically during roasting.

“After each of Tian’s performances, I cook dinner for friends, and the main course is always Peking duck,” Liao said, explaining the metal cones. “That way, the ducks roast evenly on all sides while the fat melts down into a pan of water below.”

“Martha has cooked at least a thousand ducks in New York alone,” Tian said the other night, as his wife prepared yet another feast for eight. It was a semi-farewell before she and her husband took off on a six-month tour, a schedule that makes it impossible for Tian to sing this season at the Metropolitan Opera, where he has been celebrated for his portrayal of Timur, in “Turandot,” among other roles. He finds the piece especially gratifying because it is set in his native city of Beijing.

The ducks are roasted in the small kitchen of the couple’s apartment near Lincoln Center, where they have lived for twelve years, and which they share with a green parrot named Luke. After they had owned the parrot for twenty-six years, a veterinarian pronounced Luke a female, but the name stuck.

“Then, strangely, Luke began laying eggs,” Liao said. “He-she likes sunflower seeds and Peking duck.

“We try to take an apartment whenever we travel, and hope for a good kitchen,” she went on. “They don’t understand why I want knobs on the kitchen cabinets. That’s where I can hang the ducks by strings for twenty-four hours, so the skin dries. Otherwise, the ducks hang from the shower rod or I sit them on a counter in front of a small electric fan.”

“Wherever they go, there are ducks hanging around,” said Lois B. Morris, the co-author of Tian’s memoir, “Along the Roaring River: My Wild Ride from Mao to the Met.” “In 2007, I lived with them in Central City, Colorado, and between performances they took a few days’ break. I was left alone with the live parrot and three dead ducks hanging over pots to catch the drippings. At least the parrot talked to me.”

Drying the ducks leaves the skin taut so that it separates from the melting fat during roasting, producing glassy-crisp morsels. The dried ducks roast for three hours, after being lacquered with a ginger-and-honey sauce that was something of a secret until Liao divulged it last winter on “The Martha Stewart Show.” The crackling skin, moist duck meat, slivers of cucumbers and scallions, and dabs of fruity hoisin sauce are stuffed into steamed yeast buns.

The duck alone would be a culinary marvel. But Liao serves it as part of a complex meal that usually begins with pork-filled pot stickers, followed, perhaps, by a block of sugar-glazed pork belly, spareribs in a satiny coating of rice flour, black mushrooms, mashed fava beans, spiky white rice balls, and carp flavored with ginger, cilantro, garlic, and soy sauce.

“Tonight is an easy one, because Tian did not sing and everyone was pre-invited,” Liao said. “When there is a concert or opera, I often go backstage and announce, ‘If anyone is hungry, I have food. ’ ” James Levine and Plácido Domingo have been among the appreciative feeders.

During intermissions at the Met, Liao dashes across the street to check on the food’s progress. “Once, I did a little too much basting and turning,” she said, “and friends sitting in my box complained that I smelled of duck grease.”

A recurring problem is finding proper ingredients. “That’s easy in New York, but often I have to improvise,” she said. “In Germany, for example, I use pickled pigs’ knuckles and serve them with fried rice or cabbage. In Italy, I use basil with spicy eggplant and make pesto fried rice. The most difficult things to find are the right ducks. I like what is known as the Long Island or Pekin duck, and I search in other countries to find something close to that.”

Desserts are on the light side, but the sweetest finish is always music. After a recent dinner, Tian sang old Chinese favorites along with a few arias, joined by Bo Yang, a young tenor from western China whom Tian is mentoring. Liao accompanied them on the piano. After “Danny Boy” and “Moon River,” Tian and Bo Yang ended the evening with “Zu Guo Wo Ci Xiang De Mu Qin.” Translation: “My Dear Motherland.”

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3 Responses to “Glorious Weather”

  1. Jim Says:

    Lynne, you are born naturalist; and the Sonoran Desert has more secrets than you can discovered in a lifetime. And the Amazon, with the richest biodiversity on Earth, is a place where every naturalist should devote a least one month of the year to exploration, photography, cultural exchange, and literary enlightenment of the conservationists.

  2. Jim Says:

    P.S. You might enjoy reading of the contributions of Rosa Maria Ruiz, which are described in the lastest issue of the British popular science magazine, New Scientist, as reported by Gaia Vince.

  3. dick Says:

    Lynne,
    We’re having pretty nice weather here too…nothing like in the 70’s though…Alison is expecting another huge blizzard (bigger than the Christmas one) and my friends in Michigan are totally snowed in. Crazy year…
    Dick

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