Saturday, October 23, 2010

The barred owls of October

Owls are often associated with wisdom and intelligence in literature and history. In T.H. White's The Once and Future King, one of the young King Arthur's most influential tutors was Merlin's companion, the owl Archimedes. And we can hardly do better than to follow the path of Pooh and Piglet, whose faith in Owl's brilliance was unwavering, awed as they were by Owl's ability spell his own name: W-O-L.

Last night The Golden Hour lay around us like a soft blanket. We sat on the deck, lingering in the light, when a sudden whoosh of wings burst around us and two barred owls flew past, one landing in the trees beyond our yard, and the other landing mercilessly on a mourning dove. We watched and listened as the two owls vocalized to each other, and before the light faded completely the younger owl swept back across the trees and more or less posed for this picture. I'm able to share it with you thanks to the tireless efforts of my dear old person, who took pity on the terrible photos I've been taking with my phone and bought me a small, miraculous camera, which I must confess I have only the vaguest idea how to use. This explains the appearance of midday, despite the fact that photo was taken at sunset.

Barred owls have been with us since we moved here. Generations of owl babies have doubtless been fed on hapless doves and frogs and snakes hunted and caught in our grass. Years ago, when my dear person worked at night, he actually recorded the bizarre sound he heard in one midnight lunch hour; neither of us had any idea what could possibly make such a sound, but it was clearly in the treetop canopy and clearly bore no resemblance to the "Who? Whooo? Who cooks for you?" owl voices we knew. Now we know firsthand what our National Geographic Complete Birds tells us: this familiar sound is sometimes preceded by "an ascending, agitated barking". The "barking" was the sound Rod recorded. In the years between then and now, the sound has become familiar to our family as we've watched - and heard - those generations of owls.

In the silence left by the departed barred owl family, we grilled brats and roasted potatoes on the grill. This isn't exactly how I made them last night, but this is my latest idea about October roasted potatoes. I'm trying it this weekend, so stay tuned for opinions, but this - a variation on my usual theme - is my plan.

Wash and peel one large white baking potato and one large sweet potato; cut into cubes. Whisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce, mustard and maple syrup with the herbs you prefer. (I know. I wish I COULD give you measurements, but I just can't. It's just not how I cook, except when baking or candy-making. I ordered them so that you can see decreasing proportions of each, because you know what happens if you introduce too much of something, like maple syrup, which will tend to burn as sugar does...well, you know how to cook. I trust you. Do it by trial-end-error. Cooking is messy.) Toss the olive oil mixture and potatoes together and place in cast iron skillet. Cook over indirect heat on your gas grill for an hour or until the potatoes are done. (You could also put the potatoes on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for an hour or so. I prefer the grill because I always prefer cast iron.)

Let me know if you try it, or if you roast potatoes, or what you're eating as fall wraps its arms around us all.

One final note: I cannot say much about this due to the secrecy considerations of the holiday season, but I CAN tell you that my order arrived this week from UltraCuteCrochet. If you haven't looked at her stuff, do it now. If you need presents for loved ones in cold climes, or warm climes if your loved ones, like my dear old person, tend to be cold no matter the temperature. I've ordered from Erin more than once and always been thrilled with the quality of work, the speed of delivery and the amazing joy of a handcrafted, customized work of wearable art. Check it out for yourself.

Eat Here Eatery Disclaimer: Every writer knows the challenge inherent in proofing one's own work. In my case, since The Baby Went to Africa, I have no proofreader. All mistakes are my own. Until he gets back, of course.


  1. Oh, Angie, how lucky you and Rodney are to have the owls grace your yard, especially in the golden hour! I do love the mourning doves also, and don't like to imagine their fate, but it's all a cycle of nature and just as it's 'sposed to be. Owls are so special; I've seen a few of them in my neighborhood throughout the years, but nothing so amazing as having them actually roost (is that what they do?) in my yard. They are lucky, as well, to have you and your family as their stewards.

    Great story!

    Great story!

  2. We have a lot of red tailed hawk (hawks?) around here. I've only seen an owl once. It was gigantic and being terrorized by what looked like a hundred crows. Quite a sight. And sound.

    have a great sunday


  3. Dear Lulu, I've been missing your voice! Glad you liked the owl story, and like you, I was sorry for the poor dove. The good news is, it happened like a lightning strike: almost too fast for the eye to follow.
    Michelle, We see red-tails, too, but they don't seem to live around us as the owls do. It's funny to imagine a hundred crows, telling off a big owl. I've seen a mass audience of birds do that to a snake. The snake was dead but it took the birds awhile to figure it out and they were taking no chances!
    Happy Sunday!

  4. I very much enjoy roasted potatoes when making an actual roast of beef or perhaps leg of lamb. I parboil the potato segments (perhaps 1/4 potato, depending upon size of the original spud) then put them in the roasting pan with the meat for the final 20 or 25 minutes. They absorb some lovely juices, get nice and crispy... lovely.

  5. Suldog, a delicious idea! I've never thought of the parboiling approach but am planning to try it on the next roast of beef. And once again, thank you for your excellent Chicago travelogue (go here to see it for yourselves, dear readers: What a terrific ride it was, even virtually!


Please share your thoughts. If you have trouble getting past the gatekeeper, email and let me know.