Suburban Bird Drama

We get a lot of birds around our house in the ‘burbs. I’m not an ornithologist by any stretch, but the longer I live here and the more birds I see, the more I learn about them.

My interest was piqued last weekend as I was getting ready to make huevos rancheros for Sunday brunch. I was banging a few pots together when I heard a thunk and “eek!” from upstairs. I ran up to see what was going on and found Martine in the bedroom all bug-eyed, saying that a bird had crashed into the patio door and then another bird had come along and carried it off. We looked around, and sure enough, there was a bird perched on a TV antenna about 60 metres away with what appeared to be a dead bird dangling from its talons (the fact that our neighbourhood is full of TV antennas is a whole separate discussion).

I grabbed my binoculars and saw that it was a small bird of prey–later identified as a merlin–and he had what appeared to be a dead mourning dove. Speculation from a birding friend is that that the merlin deliberately chased the dove into the patio door.

I ran downstairs and got my camera. It doesn’t have a long lens but I figured maybe I could crop the picture and get something faintly interesting. I came back upstairs and as I was getting the camera ready Martine said “It’s gone!”

I looked over and sure enough, the the TV antenna was empty. A second later I see the merlin flying straight at us at top speed, still clutching the mourning dove. It was being chased by two other birds (unidentified). A second later, just before the merlin crashed into the patio door, it pulled up “top gun” style and whizzed over the house, passing over our heads by just a few feet. It still had the dead dove in its grip.

Not a chance of getting a photo. Everything happened too fast. So I went back to my huevos rancheros knowing Martine and I were not the only ones eating well in the neighbourhood that day.

Spat!

The mourning dove left quite an impression.

Blork’s Own Huevos Rancheros

I love huevos rancheros, but I hate lining up with hipsters to overpay for underperformed ones at the various brunch spots in Montreal. So I applied my usual solution: I made it myself.

Before we move on, I should state that there is no one single definition of huevos rancheros (or more specifically, if there is it has been lost to time, evolution, and Americanization). Every restaurant seems to have its own variation, and sometimes the variations are almost beyond recognition. My inclination is that if your variation is too far off the mark, you should call it something else, as is done with huevos motuleños or huevos divorciados. But if it’s essentially just eggs on tortillas with a tomato-chili sauce and some fixings, then you’ve got huevos rancheros.

Note that traditionally, the eggs are either fried, or poached right in the tomato-chili sauce. But I like mine poached separately, so that’s how my recipe works.

First a photo, and then the recipe:

Blork's Own Huevos Rancheros

Food porn version here (Flickr members only)

Blork’s Own Huevos Rancheros

(Serves 2)

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 4 corn tortillas
  • 3 roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1/2 red or green sweet pepper, diced
  • 1/2 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced (add more if you have a very high tolerance for heat, but be careful because you don’t want to overwhelm the eggs)
  • 1/2 cup of beef or chicken stock (or water)
  • 1 cup grated Monterrey jack or similar cheese
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste

To serve:

  • Guacamole
  • Sour cream
  • Salsa (fresh made, or from a jar)
  • A bit of chopped fresh cilantro

Method

(1) Make the Tomato-chili Sauce

In a saucepan, sauté the onion and sweet peppers in the olive oil for 2 or 3 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook for another 30 seconds or so.

Add the cumin and stir until fragrant (20-30 seconds).

Add the tomatoes and chipotle pepper, and stir-cook for 1 or 2 minutes.

Add the stock/water and tomato paste, lower the heat and cook for 5 or 10 minutes until thick and fragrant. Season with salt & pepper. Add a bit of water if it gets too thick. (It should be the consistency of  a chunky/saucy ketchup.)

(2) Cook the Eggs and Tortillas

Poach the eggs in a large sauce pan with 2-inches of almost-boiling water (with a tsp of white vinegar added). It should take about 3 minutes (longer if  you like them less runny).

While the eggs are poaching, warm up the tortillas in a large non-stick pan, moving them around so they don’t dry out and each one has a turn at the bottom of the stack.

(3) Assemble

Put two tortillas (overlapping) on each plate.

Put a generous couple of spoonfuls of the tomato-chili sauce on top of each pair of tortillas.

Divide the cheese and sprinkle over the warm sauce.

Place two poached eggs on top of each pair of sauced tortillas.

Place a big blob of salsa between the two eggs on each plate.

Add a blob of guacamole and sour cream on the side.

Sprinkle with a bit of chopped fresh cilantro.

Enjoy!

Random Pizza Photo

Apropos of nothing in particular–aside from me being a wee bit hungover from last night’s YULBlog 10th anniversary party (and also wondering if I can write an entire blog post that contains not a single tpyo typo)–I present to you a photograph of a pizza I made last weekend:

Sautéd spinach & garlic, porcini mushrooms, prosciutto,  and a blend of mozzarella and friulano cheeses.

Sautéed spinach & garlic, porcini mushrooms, prosciutto,
and a blend of mozzarella and friulano cheeses.

You might recognize this as a slight variation on the “New Pizza Classic, Chez Blork” from a few weeks ago, and you’d be right. (Note that I did give it a light sprinkle of asiago cheese, but after I took the photo.)

Martin Amis and the Decline of Print Media

Forgive me while I carve a rather meandering path to my point, but it begins last spring when I received in the mail a flyer from the Humber School for Writers. It indicated that Martin Amis would be the headliner, the star instructor, at Humber’s summer workshops for 2009. Martine and I both wondered what exactly that would entail; after all, the Humber School has an impressive curriculum and engages writers of very high calibre as instructors, but the instructors are drawn almost entirely from the pools of Canadian literature. Martin Amis is a big, big gun, but he’s from across the pond. We were both of the opinion that he’d probably fly in for one 90 minute lecture and be done with it.

But no! Mark Medley, a writer for The National Post, was hot on the Martin Amis trail, and he reported in a National Post article dated July 17, 2009 [Update: see Mark’s correction in the comments.] that Amis was there all week, conducting classes like any other instructor. Medley also reported that Amis was quite approachable (when you could find him) and was rather nice.

Now hang a left as we begin to meander. (Or perhaps we’re now coming back to the main trail — I was always bad at orienteering.) Loyal readers of this blog know that I’ve been messing with the blogging media for almost a decade. This blog alone (one of several I have on the go at the moment) has almost 600,000 words scribed into more than 1600 posts. With a blog resumé like that, I could be categorized as very much a fan of all things blog.

So you might think, and if so you wouldn’t be far off the mark. I like blogs for many reasons, including all the standard stuff about democratization of the public blah blah blah, plus it’s nice to see what my blogging friends are up to without having to lift the dreaded telephone, etc. But one thing that has sorely disappointed me when it comes to the blogging form is that most blogs provide only a mediocre reading experience.

There are indeed a few sterling blogs that can be read for the sheer pleasure of the prose, but they are rare. Most blogs are about (a) laffs, (b) straight-up information, or (c) personal gushing and whinging. As a result, most people read blogs to “get a fix” of info or gossip and not for the pleasure of reading.

Print media, on the other hand, can be wonderful. There are, of course, entire forests’ worth of printed tripe and trollop, but the respectable editors and publishers of the world go to great lengths to shape and sculpt their writers’ work into text that doesn’t just inform and entertain, but enthralls with its own beauty.

Put another way, blogs are like street food. Salty, greasy, of questionable hygiene, often overcooked, but cheap and plentiful and in their own way very tasty. But the printed word from a respectable publisher is like the fare from a high end restaurant.

Unless, that is, you live in the 21st century, where even respectable publishers have been slimming their budgets by cleaving off the fluffy unnecessaries such as proofreaders and copy editors. After all, we’ve become so used to reading sloppy web-based text that it seems entirely reasonable to assume no one actually values the good stuff. It’s salt and grease we want, not painstakingly executed sauces and finely crafted plats.

In this I pity Martin Amis, as he’s still alive and has to put up with this decline in the respectable press. I doubt he ran squealing to his local news agent in London when word of Mark Medley’s National Post article came out, but if he did he was probably reduced to tears.

That’s because Mark Medley’s article suffered from a distinct lack of editorial oversight. To wit:

Yo, that long, repetitive sentence (highlighted in yellow) never would have passed Go on my editorial board. And hey, nice typo!

Then there’s this:

Missing sarcastic editor’s note: “as articulate as this?” That long sentence needs to be trimmed, or broken up into two or more sentences in order to be articulate.

It goes on:

Hello, online newspaper! Nice sentence to nowhere!

To be clear, none of this is Mark Medley’s fault. Writing is hard, and very few writers went so unedited in the antediluvian world before blogs. If I had see those errors in a blog post I wouldn’t even have blinked. But this is The National Post!

In a professional context we used to rely on editors and proofreaders to find and correct these problems. But what happens when we start treating newspaper content the same as blog content? (As in, raw, unedited, unpolished.) We get stuff that lacks clarity and focus, carries little authority, and fails to inspire.

Blogs and other forms of so-called “citizen journalism” have an important role to play in our information culture, but it’s a role both in opposition to, and complementary with, the establish mainstream press. But we need both for that dynamic to mean anything.