31 July 2008

The Romance of Maple Syrup

Part I: The Romance of Maple Syrup
Manna for the Pioneers
"Captain Charles Sias looked anxiously at the March sun now nearing the horizon. He judged it should be no more than two miles to the new cabin, but after unloading the sled he and his two friends would have to cover the eight miles back to Peacham before dark. The three men hurried as fast as they could on their snowshoes as they made their way through the deep drifts of the trackless forest. Each bent forward slightly as he pulled on the rope which tugged the sled loaded with seven Sias children and provisions. Veering right or left to ease the sled around prickly brush and trees, the men watched constantly for the gashes the captain had made previously on the east side of each tenth tree to mark the way." And thus begins Part I of The Vermont Maple Syrup Cook Book.

Knowing my New England roots, my coworker and friend, Christine, bought this book for me at the Glenview Public Library (they have a great selection of used books for sale). While it's not exactly an antique (copyright 1966 and 1974), it has some old-fashioned and flowery language that aptly transforms a mere cook book into a romance story. The story goes on to reveal how maple syrup rescued the early settlers of Danville, VT in 1784. "History does not record how many times maple syrup saved the early Vermonters from starvation but The Vermont Historical Gazeteer, published in 1867, stated that 'in 1789 sufferings of the time were severe and maple sugar formed the chief article of food. Like the manna of the ancient Hebrews, it was really a providence in the time of hunger and famine. No doubt, those stern old fathers blessed the forest trees that gave them food and life.'"

The book is endearing from its pencil sketch drawings to its last due-date stamp (September 17, 1981) to its heartfelt disclaimer that Vermont has no monopoly on maple trees (which, as a New Hampshirite, I appreciated). The author is clearly enamored with maple syrup. And when reading, it's hard not to feel drawn to the old sugarhouses and maple tree forests littered with taps and pails. I suppose therein lies the romance of maple syrup.

A few recipes:

Rice Pudding
2 cups cooked rice
1 1/3 cups milk
1/2 cup Pure Vermont Maple Syrup
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1/3 cup raisins
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 cup bread crumbs

Drain rice well. Beat together milk, Maple Syrup, salt, butter, and eggs. Add vanilla. Mix this with the rice. Combine raisins and lemon juice, and add to the mixture. Grease baking dish and cover bottom with bread crumbs. Put the rice mixture over this and top with bread crumbs. Bake at 325 degrees until it is set. Serve hot or cold.

Rum Punch
2 oz. lemon juice
1 oz. Pure Vermont Maple Syrup
3 oz. rum
dash of grenadine

Shake well with ice. Pour into a tall glass filled with crushed ice. Decorate it with orange or lemon slices.

29 July 2008

Alternate Routes | Big Sky Country

Montana. I want to go. I think there's some kind of irony in the fact that when you're young and relatively free of responsibilities, you're also relatively free of cash. These are the times when I'd like to pick up and go, and lately, I've had a hankering to hightail it out to Montana. There's something about the open air, beautiful wildlife, rustic cabins, big skies and big mountains that's calling me. I want to rent a little cabin for the week, hike by day and campfire by night. I want to go on a pack trip, where it's me and my horse and the path ahead. I want to breathe the mountain air, feel the sun on my back and head out into the unknown.

All this to say, I certainly don't feel starved for adventure or beauty (albeit of a different kind) in Chicago. Chicago is absolutely wonderful in the summer, and in some ways, I'm happy to stay put for these few precious months. But I can't help but feel drawn to a new place in which I can get lost between blades of grass and mountain paths.

In this "Alternate Routes" series, I hope to explore new places, destinations, things to do and things to see. Some may simply remain on a Wish List until I retire or win the lottery, while I imagine others will be readily available and attainable. Through it all, I hope to
diverge from the main paths ahead and breathe new life along the way.

24 July 2008

Denver's Disappearing Act

Next month, when (or if) you tune in to watch the Democratic National Convention, you need not worry about seeing a potentially "offensive" side of Denver. Nay, Denver has plans to clear downtown streets of homeless people, an effort motivated by supposed security concerns. The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless plans to hand out free tickets and arrange transportation to the movies, the Denver Zoo and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, among other cultural facilities. Day shelters will have expanded hours and big-screen TVs are being donated so the homeless can watch the convention without being harassed. Those who favor the plan have maintained that it is a more humane way to attend to people, while others believe it is just a cover for sprucing up the city.

Now, perhaps all is not as it appears to be, and we all know what the media can do to a well-intentioned plan, but seriously? Appearances count, and let me tell you Denver/DNC, you're not looking so good. If it's true that this effort is motivated by a desire to treat the homeless humanely and provide them with options, then it is guileful. Apparently, it is only important to provide options when you're bathing in the national media spotlight. If, on the other hand, this effort is truly motivated by a need to sweep the streets of anything that wouldn't make grandma proud, then government is missing the point.

It is the role of government (of any party) to be for the people, ALL people. And this isn't just what I think--this is what the politicians (and the Constitution) tell us! So I find it ironic that at any convention, and especially at the DNC, there would be a felt need to present a facade. What's the point?

Remember what Lady Liberty tells us? "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Sorry Ms. Liberty, they'll be at the movies.

15 July 2008

The 'F' Words

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. It's all over the news and I only bring it up here to perhaps provoke some thoughts on government intervention (I know, I must be crazy). On NPR this morning, Adam Davidson could not emphasize enough how big a deal this is. He said that years from now, PhD students will be writing dissertations on what is happening at this moment. Today, Ben Bernanke and Henry Paulson will be testifying before Congress to present their case for government action in helping to prevent a fallout of the two mortgage giants.

Those who say yea: Freddie and Fannie have managed to stave off government regulation for years, but it is widely believed that if they were to collapse, it would be disastrous for the economy: housing will continue to slump, foreclosures will rise and the general economy will be thus affected.

Those who say nay: There is a general feeling of wariness in moving toward a reliance on government to bail companies out from any and all risky situations. If government takes the risk out of risky endeavors, then what happens to responsibility?

So, what do you say? Yea or nay?

14 July 2008

Quatorze Juillet

Daigle is French... I think... (right, guys?), so I thought I'd be remiss if I failed to give homage to Bastille Day in light of my new heritage-by-marriage. As I'm sure we all remember from our history lessons, Bastille Day commemorates the storming of the Bastille, a prison that was symbolic of the absolute power of Louis XVI's regime. The storming of the Bastille was to the French what signing the Declaration of Independence was to the Americans: a cry of Revolution.

Prise de la Bastille, by Jean-Pierre-Louis-Laurent Houel

I found this picture here and, well, what can I say? I thought it was cool... and curiously disturbing. As gruesome as it may be, it reflects the reality that revolutions are an expensive business indeed.

13 July 2008


If you've been in our kitchen, then you know that counter space is at a premium. Given the situation, we've done pretty well (Thanksgiving has presented the most need for innovation in prepping, storing and serving space). Shortly after we moved in, Andrew developed plans for building a concrete counter-top table that would serve to almost double our counter space. After undergoing a position change at the Field Museum, a job change to Topiarius, a search for a work shop and a search for material funds, I'm proud to say that he has finished the table.

I am consistently impressed with anyone who can transform unfinished wooden boards into things as aesthetic and practical as beautiful tables, chairs, bookcases, frames... you name it. Regardless of the amount of time, space and money Andrew's endeavors may (or may not) take, I must always remember and be grateful for the fact that his hobbies tend to benefit the both of us (which is more than I can say for my dabbling in horse betting).

05 July 2008


Since a hobby of mine would never necessitate buying a sailboat, for example, that means I must maximize other available resources, like friends who have sailboats. Seriously, tell me that's not a good deal. Several weekends ago, a co-worker of Sarah's offered to take her and some of her friends out on his 30-foot Catalina to cruise around Lake Michigan. Our captain was exceedingly gracious and hospitable, and despite the brief thunderstorm, it was a wonderful opportunity to eat, drink and be merry... matey.

Mr. & Mrs.

Congratulations to Ilona and Derek on their marriage two weeks ago! Ilona and I first became friends at North Park, and it was a privilege to share in their wedding celebration. Andrew and I even tried our hand (or feet as the case may be) at some traditional Assyrian dancing. Best wishes to the both of you!

04 July 2008

One Bet - $2; The Thrill - Priceless

While you can all breathe a sigh of relief that gambling is NOT going to become my hobby, I have to admit that I had one heck of a time at Arlington Park a few weekends ago. I lost $4, but it was totally worth it. Horse racing: a definite hobby potential.