Monday, June 30, 2008

Pickled Garlic Scapes

Every time garlic scapes are mentioned on the internet, pickled scapes come up, so I decided to try making them with the rest of my batch. Starting with a recipe I found for habanero garlic-scape pickles, I went for a simple version so I can try the taste. The only problem is that I used up all my scapes; maybe there will be more at the market next Saturday.

Pickled Garlic Scapes
4 pint canning jars and lids, sterilized
Approximately 5 dozen garlic scapes
5 C white vinegar
3/4 C water
1/2 C pickling (or kosher) salt
2 tsp whole peppercorns
minced hot peppers, optional

Make sure the jars and lids are sterilized first. Combine the vinegar, water, and salt in a pan and start it heating. Then stuff the scapes in the jars. I found it easiest to wrap the scapes into coils and twist the top end around the rest of it, then pile them in the jar; otherwise they come uncoiled and make life a challenge. If you have a small child around, have them place the coils in the jars; smaller hands would make things easier. Divide the peppercorns between jars and add hot peppers if you like; I used about a teaspoon in one jar. When the vinegar is boiling and the salt has dissolved, pour the vinegar over the scapes in one jar and put the lid on right away - the hot scapes will uncoil and try to escape, making it hard to get a good seal. Repeat. Label and refrigerate for at least 10 days before eating. (Or process in a water bath for 10 minutes, label, and store.)

The biggest deterrent to canning is getting out my canner and heating up the water in it - it takes forever. So for experimental pickles this year, I plan to use the refrigerator method; if I like the pickles, I will can them properly next year. We'll see how these turned out in 10 days.

Peonies Bloom

Of all the plants in my garden, my favorite is the peony. I love the big, showy blossoms, and the way they grow even if I don't weed them, and the way they take over a flower bed. Last summer, my son built a retaining wall around the peony bed, and the grey bricks show off the green foliage and pink flowers perfectly. He planted a border of chives between the wall and the peonies; the chive flowers, nearly the same color as the peonies, are just fading as the peonies bloom. But I think the real reason I am so attached to peonies is that I recognize them as a kindred spirit. They need to be well-rooted in order to blossom; they seldom bloom the year they are transplanted, and the longer they are in place, the more they thrive. There is nothing subtle or restrained about a peony flower; they are bright and flamboyant and full of the energy of life.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Allium Quiche

At the farmers' market yesterday, I got five bags of garlic scapes that are now crying out to be used. I had decided to make a quiche for dinner, and started figuring out how to use the scapes; I ended up with a four-allium and cheese quiche that was really good, using the green garlic I bought at the market, some sliced sweet onions I had in the fridge, and some dried chives. I served it with sourdough bread, but a simple salad would probably have been even better.

Allium and Cheese Quiche
Make a quiche crust and line the pan with it.

Chop 4 garlic scapes. Slice half a dozen green garlic (or green onions). Dice 1/2 a sweet onion. Place all in the pan and spread evenly around the crust. Top with enough grated cheese to cover evenly; I used cheddar, but other flavors would work well (or scatter with some crumbled goat cheese).

Beat 4 eggs and add 1/2 cup of milk, a little salt and pepper, dried chives, and some Italian herbs, if you have any on hand. Pour evenly over alliums and cheese.

Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes and serve warm.

Any leftover quiche is good for breakfast.

For the rest of the garlic scapes, I might make some pesto, which freezes well and is tasty with late-summer vegetables, or use them in cooking. But I will probably try pickling them, which sounds like fun. The recipe calls for combining white vinegar and water with a little sugar and salt, heating it and poured it into a canning jar full of scapes. The jar is then closed tight and refrigerated for two weeks. Finding ways to use them in sandwiches, salads, and other dishes could be fun - unless my kids eat them straight from the jar first.

(Allium is the family that includes all the garlic and onion varieties.)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Summer Rhythms

Ski season is marked by driving kids to the ski bus every weekend morning; summer is marked by the farmers' markets. I like to go to the smaller Tuesday evening market at Bogert Park, especially when the municipal band is playing afterwards, but my favorite weekly rhythm is the big Saturday market at the county fairgrounds. When I have time to go unhurried, strolling through the stands in the pavilion is a lovely, calm way to start the weekend. I see old friends and new ones, visit with the woman who sells awesome scones that my kids insist I get, listen the the young musicians and watch an enterprising tap dancer, buy 4"fruit pies for packed lunches (my kids' favorite) and some locally-made hummus, pick up whatever is fresh in vegetables, taste Almatheia's latest flavors of goat cheese, and generally enjoy not being in a hurry. Vegetables are still a little scarce this early in the summer, but I was able to get green garlic (like green onions), lettuce, carrots, and radishes. My favorite find is garlic scapes, which have a very short growing season but freeze beautifully; I bought five bags that I now get to figure out how to use. No matter how much I have to do today, this is a great way to start the day.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Full Rose Bloom

OK, so ten days wasn't even close. The Father's Day rose is already in full bloom and gorgeous. The bushes are a mass of orange blossoms - except for one branch that carries rich yellow flowers.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Rose Scent

I walked into my bedroom this morning and was startled by the scent of rose perfume. I don't have any, and even if I did, how would the bottle get opened? After a moment, I realized that the tea rose beneath my bedroom window had started blooming; as the sun warmed the flowers, the scent was wafting in my window. What a lovely surprise!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Father's Day Rose

The cool, wet spring has lots of plants out of synch with the calendar. In front of our house we have a rose bush, one of those that look more like wild roses than florist roses; in full bloom, it is covered with lush orange flowers with yellow details. In the 16 years since we moved here, it has always bloomed over Father's Day - some years a few early blossoms, some years a handful of late blossoms, and some years covered in flowers. This year, for the first time, there were no flowers for Father's Day. Finally, almost two weeks late, the flowers are just starting to open; it will be gorgeous in about 10 days.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Quiet House

One of the things about homeschooling is that you never get a quiet house all to yourself (except late at night, which makes getting up hard). I have made a point of getting a little time to myself each week, but it is always out, in a coffee shop or lunch with a friend; maybe four times in the last year I have had a half-day at home by myself. Well, this week is different: all four kids are gone all week. They leave the house by 7:45 and don't come home until 4:30 or 5:00, for work or volunteering at summer camps. I'm not sure how I will react to the long quiet... I'd like to think I will be incredibly productive and get all kinds of projects done; but I'm equally likely to end up wandering around the house, wondering where everyone is.

It will be an interesting week.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Chili-Corn Burgers

Needing to stretch 2 pounds of hamburger to feed two more teenage boys, I came up with an interesting twist on hamburgers tonight. I mixed corn and green chili into the meat, which gave me the seven patties I needed, all of decent size, instead of six. Instead of mustard and ketchup, top with salsa or guacamole.

Chili-Corn Burgers
2 pounds of hamburger
1/2 C. corn kernels
1 small can of diced green chilies
1/2 tablespoon of chili powder, adjusted to taste

Combine and form into patties. Cook as usual, adding salt when the burgers are turned over. For cheeseburgers, use cheddar or pepper jack. Serve on a bun with thin slices of sweet onion (such as Walla Walla or Vidalia). Top with salsa, guacamole, black bean sauce, or your favorite Mexican condiment. Serve with tortilla chips and salsa.

(Actually, my inspiration for this was a jar of spicy pickles I wanted to use up - then I forgot to get them out of the fridge, so they are still there, waiting to be used. Sigh.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Wedding Photographers

When did weddings become spectacles rather than ceremonies? We went to a friend's wedding this afternoon, a lovely outdoors wedding in the mountains, and were persistently annoyed by the wanton use of cameras during the ceremony. A surprising number of guests took photos of the ceremony in ways that distracted from the event for anyone behind them. To make matters worse, the professional photographer was everywhere during the ceremony, blocking our view of the couple, circling around behind the minister, all but stepping in between the couple and the minister; he was a pest (and underdressed for the occasion). In his view, the photographs were clearly more important than the guests - unless the latter were useful as props. The emphasis at a wedding used to be on the ceremony and the celebration; now it appears to be one big photo op, as if photographs are the only way to make it real.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Around the World in 80 Dinners

Around the World in 80 Dinners, by Cheryl and Bill Jamison, is a book to check out from the public library; it is a fast read and has its entertaining parts, but it isn't worth paying $25 for or adding to your shelves. The idea is interesting: they travel around the world and eat as much good food as possible in a wide variety of countries in three months. Unfortunately, the book reads more like a series of lists than a story: lists of what clothes they took for the trip, where they went, what they saw, what they ate, when they needed their stain stick for food-related mishaps. In only a few places do they develop the narrative into a story with some interest, such as their TV adventures in Hong Kong. The rest of it remains resolutely superficial, with none of the charm or cohesiveness of A Year in Provence or any of Calvin Trillin's writing about searching out unusual foods.

Part of the problem may be that they couldn't decide if they were writing a travel guide (all the hotels and restaurants are listed at the end of each section, with contact information) or a food book or a memoir. They have written travel guides in the past, especially travel-to-eat books, and this reads like one that they have tried to doctor for a wider audience. Unfortunately, they miss. There is little to make this a good book for armchair travelers or foodies. Other than the lists of ingredients in lists of dishes, there is little exploration of the various food traditions; comparisons between related food traditions is limited to a couple of comments in passing, although Creole foods rate a slightly longer discussion. In spite of the advance research that the Jamisons appear to have done regarding each stop, the various hotel rooms get more paragraphs than the cultures they pass through and the end result is very much a sense of "It's Tuesday, so this must be Belgium".

The Jamisons have a few writing quirks that can be irritating, too. They can't decide if they are writing in the first or third person, so they refer to themselves jointly with "us" or "we", but then refer to themselves individually by name, giving a sense that a third person traveled with them and is describing everything. The dialogue is equally off-kilter; they write it the way people write, not the way people speak, making it sound stilted. In many cases, simply getting rid of the quotation marks would improve the way it reads without diminishing the interest or personal touch.

If you want to replicate their journey, the information you need is all here. If you like reading travel guides, this will be a fun book to read. If you prefer good food or travel writing, stick to Mayle or Trillin.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lilacs Perfume the Air

The lilacs are in full bloom now. When I drive through older parts of town with my windows down, their perfume fills the car with the scent of summer.

Magpies provide the sound track for the lilacs' scent. The family that lives in our yard spends at least an hour every morning discussing the day, at full volume; their caws are more musical than crows, but not any quieter. The young magpies look like their parents but are a bit smaller, and they move in less confident ways. They are also much more curious about the house and yard than the adults, and spend more time on our deck. A week ago, a juvenile on the deck ended up inside the house when my daughter opened the door; it took a few minutes to capture it with a towel and get it back outside, where it sat quivering in a corner of the yard for a while before flying away.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Lupine Bloom

The showy wildflowers are all blooming at once. Balsamroot is the most obvious near the mountains, with their bright yellow sunflower flowers. Nearer town, lupine is the most obvious; this is a good year for lupine, and they are showing up in fields I have never noticed them in before. The purple bells of harebells are harder to see, since they don't stand taller than the grass. Flax is normally subtle because the plants don't grow close together and the blue flowers are small, but someone has planted an entire field in flax and it is solid blue. Wild iris are blooming in clumps on the hillsides, wherever there is a moist spot. Phlox grows on drier hillsides, often on road cuts; the small flowers shade from white to lavender.

Garden flowers are enthusiastically blooming, too. Lilacs all over town are in bloom, although my north-facing bushes are holding off a week or two. Bleeding hearts are thriving in my shade garden; the anemones and lilies of the valley will bloom soon.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Why Parents Drink

This came on one of the amusing-item carousels that occur on email. But it really does help put things in perspective as a parent.

A mother passing by her son's bedroom was astonished to see that his bed was nicely made and everything was picked up. Then she saw an envelope, propped up prominently on the pillow that was addressed to Mom. With the worst premonition, she opened the envelope with trembling hands and read the letter.

Dear Mom:
It is with great regret that I'm writing you. I had to elope with my girlfriend because I wanted to avoid a scene with Dad and you. I have been finding real passion with Stacy and she is so nice, but I knew you would not approve of her because of all her piercings, tattoos, tight motorcycle clothes, and the fact that she is much older than I am But she's not only the passion of my life, Mom, she is pregnant. Stacy said that we will be very happy. She owns a trailer in the woods and has a stack of firewood for the whole winter. We share a dream of having many more children.

Stacy has opened my eyes to the fact that marijuana doesn't really hurt anyone. We will be growing it for ourselves and trading it with the other people that live nearby for cocaine and ecstasy. In the meantime, we will pray that science will find a cure for AIDS so Stacy can get better. She deserves it.

Don't worry, Mom. I'm 15 and I know how to take care of myself. Someday I'm sure that we will be back to visit so that you can get to know your grandchildren.

Love,
Your Son John

P.S. Mom, none of the above is true. I'm over at Tommy's house. I just wanted to remind you that there are worse things in life than the report card that's in my center desk drawer.
I love you.......Call me when its safe to come home.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Diary Day

The problem with keeping a diary or journal is deciding what it is. Is it for confiding your deepest, darkest secrets? A place to work through emotional challenges? A record of your life, complete with daily weather reports? A record of the cute and horrible things your kids did? A reservoir of observations of other people, ready to form the basis for a novel or tell-all memoir? A field notebook recording the natural world around you, noting seasonal shifts? A place to keep good quotes and funny comic strips? Or all of the above? I have kept a journal for nearly 25 years now, and it has been all of the above, except the basis for a memoir, at one time or another.

Although my journal usually consists of words upon words, my favorite pages are those when I am drawing the world around me, especially when I can integrate words into the drawing. Hannah Hinchman taught me how to do this with her book A Life in Hand, which showed me how to use a journal to record all of life, both visually and verbally. I have discovered that slowing down to draw something makes me focus on it, and I remember it better even if I never look back at the page; the quality of my drawing is irrelevant (although I have enjoyed seeing it improve over the years). I have drawn lots of nature/field journal pages, but I have also drawn my kids in all stages of growing up (although now that I think about it, not recently); I'm not good at faces so they are all faceless, but the lines of their heads and bodies brings the moment back to me as well as if I had a photograph. When I am agitated, nothing settles me faster than trying to draw something; when I am calm, drawing comes easily.

I think I'll go find something to draw in my journal.

Machine Day

While most machines are designed to make difficult tasks simple, Rube Goldberg's inventions made simple tasks amazingly complex. Half the fun of looking at a Rube Goldberg machine is figuring out exactly how it works. Dozens of arms, wheels, gears, handles, cups, and rods were put in motion by balls, canary cages, pails, boots, bathtubs, paddles, and live animals for simple tasks like squeezing an orange for juice or closing a window.

Here is a video of an over-the-top Rube Goldberg contraption spanning two houses and designed to open a pair of curtains. My favorite Rube Goldberg video is one Honda made to advertise the Accord; all of the components of the machine are car parts, and some advertise car features when they are in action (like the strength of the speakers). There is nothing like looking at Rube Goldberg's machines to make you appreciate the machines that actually simplify our lives.

Buffalo Wings Wrap

I think I borrowed this idea from a restaurant menu description, but I've had it in my head long enough that I'm not sure where it came from. I noticed it because one of my sons loves buffalo wings, and I thought this might make a good dinner for him - which it did (although his accolade was something along the lines of "this is better than I thought it would be"). I used chicken strips from KFC because it was quick and easy, but any decent fried-chicken strips would work well; in fact, leftover chicken would probably work, too. If you don't fry the chicken yourself, this takes about 15 minutes to prepare. If you sliced the veggies at home and stuck everything in a cooler, this would be a good meal on the road (or at a ballgame) where you have access to KFC.

Buffalo Wings Wrap
Place a burrito-sized tortilla on a plate and layer on it (in order):

Very thinly sliced iceberg lettuce (no, don't substitute good lettuce for this; stay authentic)
Celery, sliced into small pieces
Bottled blue-cheese dressing
Chicken strips, warm or hot
Bottled hot-wing sauce (we used Jack Daniels' brand)

Wrap the tortilla around the fillings and eat. The heat will depend on the hot-wing sauce you use and how much you add. One wrap with two pieces of chicken was plenty for me; my teen boys ate two wraps each.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The High Price of Gas

The price of gas has been increasing the number of drive-offs without paying at my local gas station. First they converted the farthest pumps to prepay or prepay after dark. Then today, there was a young man recording the state and license number, manufacturer, make, and color of every car that stopped for gas; he said it was to prevent drive-offs. I don't see him there all the time, so the gas station must have figured out when the highest rate of drive-offs is and scheduled him then. Or maybe it is like police patrols, establishing a presence periodically to remind people to behave. Either way, it has just increased to cost of selling gas for this station.

This is Summer?!?

OK, the calendar says it is summer - or at least it is after Memorial Day, which should count. But the weather gods think that they don't have to pay attention to this until the solstice. They have sent us rain for the last week, which is a good early-summer thing (especially in a region that has been plagued by drought for so long that my kids think that too much green is unnatural), but this morning we woke up to snow:
It won't last long, but it is a dispiriting way to start the day.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Summer in Montana

Today's weather:
8:30 am: sunny
11:30: rain, thunder and lightning
12:00: hail
2:00: snow in town
5:00: sun

That is the entire year's weather in one day. It must be Montana!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Muhammad

Very few men have the chance to completely change the world by their actions; in religions, there has been Abraham, Buddha, Jesus, and, most recently, Mohammad. By the time Muhammad died on June 8, 632, Islam had been created and had started its spread throughout the Arabic world and well beyond it, across northern Africa and southern Europe. The spread of Islam created a unified culture around the Mediterranean, one which valued learning; while Europe retreated to religion in the early Middle Ages, Arabs (mostly Muslims, but not exclusively) continued to work in literature, optics, chemistry, medicine, and mathematics, making great strides such as introducing Arabic numerals, place value, decimal notation, and zero. A number of fundamental terms used in chemistry - alchohol, alembic, alkali, and elixir - are of Islamic origin. Mathematicians translated the Greek classics into Arabic, then advanced the subject; algebra was invented by an Arab, Al-Khwarizmi. Without Islam, without Mohammad, the history of the world would have been very different and much poorer in learning, culture, art, architecture, medicine, and philosophy.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Banana Slugs

The highlight of a cold, wet morning was discovering a banana slug on a tree next to our campsite. I had thought of them as being bright yellow - and many of them are - but this one was green, probably to blend into the dark forest vegetation. Banana slugs are decomposers (like conchs) that eat animal droppings and other dead plant material, and recycle it into soil; in the process, they spread seeds and spores. And here I thought their primary job was to entertain kids!

My son wanted to lick the slug because he had heard that it would make his tongue go numb; I had no idea why this was so, so as an unreasonable mom, I said no. But it turns out he was right, and safely so: the slug's slime contains an anesthetic which temporarily causes moist membranes (like a tongue) to go numb when they come in contact with it. I guess I should have let him lick it, then let him figure out why it worked.

Friday, June 6, 2008

S'mOreos

My youngest son has two loves for dessert: Oreos and s'mores. On a camping trip, with plenty of time to think about s'mores, it was logical for him to come up with s'mOreos. To make one, you open an Oreo and set it to one side (preferably where it won't get stolen by a sibling). Then you toast a marshmallow in the regulation way (more or less charred, depending on your ability). Sandwich the toasted marshmallow in the Oreo cookies, being careful to not break the cookies; if you are clever, you can get two s'mOreos out of one marshmallow when the outer layer slips off the inner core. Eat. They are very sweet, but quite tasty, and there is no melted chocolate to make a mess.

Virtues of Laundromats

Laundromats don't rank high in my list of places to spend time, but as I learned when our water went out last fall, they can be a peaceful place to hide from phone calls and computers. Today I discovered another virtue of laundromats: they are warm and dry. Yesterday the kids got soaked playing in the surf and the rain, and we had no good way to get their jeans dry. This morning, after a cold night of rain, everything was damp and chilly. I had planned to spend a couple hours at a laundromat today anyway, at the halfway point in our trip, and the all-day rain made it a welcome stop. We found a laundromat in Tillamook and enjoyed spending an hour and a half in a warm, dry place; even better was getting all the towels and jeans really dry. Dry clothes makes it easier to face more rain and another damp night.

D-Day

The success of the invasion of Normandy in World War II depended on having the right weather (mild) and the right tide (to carry the ships up onto the beach). When military strategists were planning the invasion, they didn’t know when that would occur, but they had to be able to plan for what would happen before and after the troops landed. So they called whatever day the landing was going to occur on, D-Day (D cleverly meaning "day"). Then they could talk about D-3 (three days before the landing) or D+2 (two days after the landing) and plan out the entire invasion around an unknown date. Similarly, the exact time was H-Hour (although this depended on which assault force was involved). For example, on D-1, bombers would bombard northern France; on D + l, block ships were to be sunk off the beaches to form breakwaters; and at H+6, more troops were brought onto the beach for re-inforcement. Once the actual date and time of the invasion was announced, everyone knew exactly what they had to do and when, and the invasion could run according to plan (to the extent that war ever does).

This use of a letter to stand for a specific but unknown time is the same as in algebra, where x and y stand for specific but unknown numbers. In this case, D+3 = June 9, so D must be June 6. Similarly, if x+3=9, then x must equal 6.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Local Food

One of the joys of traveling is eating local food in someone else's foodshed. Within the constraints of camping out, we are giving it our best shot. In Portland, we stopped at a farm stand on Sauvie Island for fresh strawberries and picked up a jar of dark bing cherry preserves from local berries (now we are trying to figure out how to get more of it). Headed for the coast from Portland, our first stop was the Tillamook Creamery, to show my youngest son the intricate conveyor system they use for packaging the cheese and to pick up lots of squeaky cheese (cheese curds, which Tillamook only sells at the creamery); while we were there, we also succumbed to some Tillamook ice cream, which was worth it.

On the coast, we of course need to eat seafood, so we stopped at a seafood place on a pier near Bay City (Pacific Oysters) and tried a variety of items. We agreed that oysters on the half-shell aren't our favorites, at least not when they are so big that they require two or more bites to eat; we actually prefer Rocky Mountain oysters. The crab and shrimp disappeared quickly, and we made it half way through a bucket of clams before we were too full to eat any more. The hit was the clam chowder, which was so good that we got some to go for later. On the way back, we picked up several pints of Washington cherries from a roadside stand and ate them the rest of the way to the campground and all evening; my kids ate so many that I can't understand why they don't get sick, but they don't. Now they know more about what grows out here, and they have a series of tastes to help them remember the Oregon coast.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Powell's

To a bibliophile, the best reason to go to Portland is Powell's Books, a huge, three-story building that covers a city block with stack upon stack of books new and used, famous and obscure, trendy and idiosyncratic. To avoid the paralysis that such abundance can cause, I had each kid choose a room to start in (from the store map we had from a previous trip); but I forgot to choose a room myself. We spent some time in the rare book room, admiring the odd options, before wandering through the nearby stacks. One of my sons chose Mein Kampf, probably for the shock value as much as curiosity, and I managed to find some intriguing books that I didn't know existed.

On the way out, I availed myself of another big-city experience and bought a street paper, written from the perspective of homeless people and sold by them as a way to make some money. The papers give me a glimpse into how people deal with challenging circumstances; I find them much more interesting to read than the magazines sold in the grocery store check-out lines.

Cheese Day

Cheese is one of those amazing foods that range from comfort food (open-face grilled cheese sandwiches) to challenging tastes (blue cheese and ginger snaps). As M.F.K. Fisher once noted, "Cheese has always been a food that both sophisticated and simple humans love." When I was growing up, cheese came in orange or white, the latter usually with holes, but there is a whole world of tasty options out there, with their own pairings and times. The French have known this for ages: Charles DeGaulle famously asked, "How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?" Of course, with options come snobs: "People who know nothing about cheeses reel away from Camembert, Roquefort, and Stilton because the plebeian proboscis is not equipped to differentiate between the sordid and the sublime." (Harvey Day) But no matter - cheese is still a great part of any meal.

We'll celebrate Cheese Day a day late, when we stop at the Tillamook Creamery tomorrow and pig out on squeaky cheese.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Hydropower

Driving through the Dalles, the central attraction is the huge dam spanning the Columbia River. Although it was built in 1960, it is a reminder of the massive amounts of hydropower that the Northwest produces, and has produced for generations. Although hydropower had been used for eons, it became popular on a large scale at the beginning of World War II, when the US needed additional electricity to power the factories that were producing the machinery the army needed; new dams were a quick and relatively cheap way to add capacity. Most of the new hydropower was concentrated in the northwest, where the Columbia River could supply the electricity needed to process the abundant natural resources, especially aluminium, found in the area; industrial plants - shipyards, steel mills, chemical companies, oil refineries, and automotive and aircraft factories - soon migrated to the area to take advantage of the profitable combination. (Boeing's plants in Seattle are a legacy of this movement.) Even atomic energy installations were located at Hanford, Washington, to make use of the hydropower.

From 1940 through 1945, power plants in the west produced 47 billion kWh of electricity, enough to make:

  • 69,000 airplanes,
  • 79,000 machine guns,
  • 5,000 ships,
  • 7,000,000 aircraft bombs,
  • 5,000 tanks, and
  • 31,000,000 shells.
Hydropower let the United States out-produce Germany in war machinery; it isn't much of a stretch to claim that hydropower from the Columbia River let the United States win the war.

Los Potrillos

One of my goals when we travel by car is to avoid eating at chain restaurants. This isn't so tough when you have time in a place, but when you are on the interstate trying to make good time, it gets trickier. Heading from Boise to near the Dalles on I-84 today, we stopped in Ontario, in the rain, to find food. My son was driving, which gave him some control over where we stopped; he passed the Chinese restaurant and a few other possibilities I mentioned, and kept driving. He finally stopped at Los Potrillos, a Mexican restaurant (with a large parking lot, a consideration when pulling a trailer); it clearly wasn't a chain, so in we went. And we found very good food there. It is run by Mexicans for Mexicans, and we heard more Spanish than English while we ate; on top of being Mexican, the cook was good at his or her job (authentic food can still be bad). Everything we ordered was tasty, and we left the restaurant feeling much happier than we went in, ready for three or four more hours of driving. It took longer than fast food, but it was much more satisfying.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Sand Dunes

I have always thought of sand dunes forming on beaches, where the waves and wind pile the sand up just beyond the edge of the water. But how do inland sand dunes form? Based on the two I have seen, Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado and Bruneau Sand Dune State Park in southern Idaho, they form in a basin where the wind piles sand up near a mountain or rise. The Great Sand Dunes formed in a valley from sand left behind by ancient lakes, which the prevailing wind piles up in front of the mountains; regular opposing winds keep the sand out of the mountains and pile the dunes higher. The Bruneau Dunes are formed by sand-laden wind blowing over a smaller basin and dropping sand; again, regular opposing winds help keep the sand in place and push the dunes higher.

Different wind patterns create different dune shapes. When there is a strong prevailing wind and occasional crosswinds, it creates seif dunes, long and swordlike. Moderate one-way winds produce transverse dunes, long, wavy dunes perdendicular to the wind direction. Strong one-way winds create parabolic dunes where sand is plentiful and barcham dunes where sand is scarce; they are both crescent-shaped, but face opposite directions. The Bruneau Sand Dune is a stellate, or star, dune, created by winds coming from different directions and forming several arms to the dune.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Names for Lava

Lava is weird stuff. Craters of the Moon is a great place to explore hardened lava, since you can walk out on it and even through the tunnels that are left when the outer lava surface cooled and the inside lava flowed on before cooling. Not surprisingly, the terminology used to describe old lava flows mostly comes from Hawai'i, with its long experience of the strange shapes formed when lava cools. Pahoehoe (pa-hoy-hoy) means ropey and describes the sinuous forms basaltic lava takes when it cools slowly; the lava tubes are giant pahoehoe formations.
The other major lava form is a'a (ah-ah), which means hard on the feet; it is made up of sharp-edged clinkers that don't look any fun to cross.

The third type is the most boring both in name and shape: block lava is just about what it sounds like, squarish chunks that look pretty much like rocks everywhere. But it was explosively ejected from the volcano during an eruption, so it has a dramatic history.