Thursday, 12 April 2012

Snake Hunt


Today being sunny, I decided that it was time to track down this snake that I saw last week. I decided this mostly because the majority of people I told about the snake didn't believe me, but also because I was just a little ashamed that instead of taking a photograph of the animal, I had run away like a little girl. I thought the best way to prove it would be to retrace my steps across the hill, find one of these snakes and snap a picture. After all, how hard could it be? I was barely fifteen feet onto the path when I stumbled across one last time.

And so I was to be found this afternoon tramping around the grass in the middle of a suburban housing estate, listening for slithering amongst the grass and looking out for flashes of bluey-greeny stuff in the corner of my eye. I proceeded up the path, moving slowly with my head bent and my eyes sharp. It was fairly quiet up there today, which can only be a good thing because, to the uninformed, it must have looked unnervingly like I was sweeping the park for land mines. When another person did hove into view, I simply pretended I was one of them; just a normal person out for a walk in the park, not an immigrant with a score to settle with a snake.

Many times I was convinced I had achieved my goal, only to find that I had tracked down a chocolate bar wrapper or a strip of blue fabric. The amount of bluey-greeny rubbish thrown out on that hill is staggering, that's all I can say. It's also damn near impossible to distinguish between the rustle of tall grass as a snake crawls through it and the rustle of tall grass which has been agitated by a gentle spring breeze. This led to many potential 'gotcha' moments, which instead turned out to be 'standing on a hill eye-balling a rock' moments, which are much less satisfying.

So, no snake photograph today. I saw any number of birds up there; pheasants, crows, cardinals, blackbirds, but, alas, no reptiles of any kind.

The hunt continues.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Holiday Staff

Hello, and happy Easter! Today, a lesson learned about the kind of people available to work over the long weekend.

I walked into town yesterday, because we needed (a) groceries and (b) beer, which I gave up for lent. Because I don't have enough Canadian ID to open a bank account yet, I'm still using English bank card. The cheapest way for me to do this is to draw out a lot of cash and then use that, rather than being charged for each individual transaction.

So my first stop was at the bank. I had never tried to withdraw money from the National Bank before, and was a little surprised when the ATM told me that it could not help me and that I needed to speak to a representative to get my money out. I went to the front desk and explained what I was trying to do. It quickly became apparent that the teller I was dealing with had never been in this situation before and was also unable to access my money, despite what the auto-bank had told me. Instead, I asked where the next nearest bank was located. "Just up the road," she told me. I then asked how long it would take on foot, because I don't drive yet. A look of horror crossed her face. People don't really walk here. "On foot?!? Ohhhhhh, well that'll be about ten minutes if you're on foot."

"Nooo! More like fifteen on foot!" A jerked my head over my shoulder. The woman behind me in the queue had decided mine was a conversation worth having, and wanted to put her two cents in. I didn't think it was all that interesting, but I was clearly in the minority. "But where does he live? Doesn't he drive?" Asked the woman. "It's an English card, but he doesn't drive," explained the bank teller. Obviously it was easier to eject me from the conversation altogether. It's not like it was anything to do with me, anyway. The ladies decided, at length, that my best option was to head in the other direction, and there would be a bank about five or ten minutes down the road. "Good luck!" the teller called after me. Understandable. After all, I did end up walking for a full three minutes before I found that other bank.

And so, cash in wallet, I stopped at the Beer Store to pick up something nice for Easter lunch. When I got to the front of the line, I ordered a four-pack of Alexander Keith's. The girl behind the counter told me that, because it was the long weekend, they were all out of fours. "OK, well then give me six," I replied. It would be a little heavier, I thought, but I didn't have too far to walk. I paid my money and then watched as six individual beers came down the conveyor belt. All I wanted to say was, "Why couldn't you have sold me four of those, instead of making me pay for six?", but instead I chalked it up to experience, collected my six one-packs of  beer and left. After all, I honestly don't mind being up-sold on beer.

Would this have happened on a normal day? Perhaps not. It's more fun this way, anyway.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Post Potato


I promised you a picture and more details if the potatoes went well, so here it is:

It's like a carb lasagne. What a dream pairing.

Dauphinoise potatoes are the crème de la crème of potato products, and I mean that quite literally. There's about 250ml of heavy cream in this photograph, and another 250ml of milk. There are also four rashers of smoked bacon in there. Dauphinoise potatoes don't normally have bacon, but bacon improves everything, especially potato and cheese dishes. I can't recommend this enough, so here's how you make it.

Start by preheating your oven to 375F (190C). Then peel and verrry thinly slice four large potatoes. All the recipes I've seen for this say "3mm" but if you've got a knife that actually measures that, then I envy you. I normally cut them thin enough that if I hold the potato slice by one end I can gently wobble the other. Any thinner and they'll burn, any thicker and you'll need to leave them in the over for ages and all your cream will evaporate.

While you slice your potatoes, put your cream and milk in a pan and gently heat it through with salt, pepper and some nutmeg. It's very important that you don't let it boil.

Fry some bacon 'til it's crispy and put it to one side. Then cut one or two large cloves of garlic in half and rub them all over the inside of your casserole dish. Line the dish with butter and put a layer of potato slices on the bottom. Then add some bacon and grated cheese, followed by another layer of potato slices. Repeat this until you have four or five layers of potato. Then pour over the warm cream/milk. It should just cover the potatoes. Add some more if you need to.

Put the dish in your preheated oven for 20 minutes. The cream should be bubbling up at the edges by this point. Then remove from the oven, press the potatoes down into the cream with a spatula, grate some more cheese on top if you want (you may as well, there are already about 60,000 calories in the dish) and return to the oven for another 30 minutes. It's done when it's golden and bubbling on top.

Try it. Seriously. And let me know how it goes.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The High Life


The business of job and house hunting goes on. Right now we're looking at renting an apartment downtown, and buying a place at a later date. It's on the 21st floor of the building with great views out over the river and Detroit.

How cool is that? That's right; very. The building also boasts a gym, hot tub and salt water swimming pool, access to which is including in the rent. We could get all that, and our tax and utilities for $850/month (about £540/month), which strikes me as a bargain.

Dauphinoise potatoes tonight. Well, a rough approximation at any rate. I'm pretty sure dauphinoise potatoes aren't supposed to have bacon in them, but bacon improves most dishes. What could go wrong? Photos and more info if they go well!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Condensed soup..?


Apparently, Dr. John T. Dorrance, a chemist with the Campbell Soup Company, invented condensed soup in 1897. I hadn't heard of this, though, until yesterday lunchtime.

It was lunchtime. I had a sandwich. But something was missing. To the cupboard. "What a perfect size for a tin of soup," I thought. "It couldn't be more appropriate." So I opened it up, turned it over and stared in bewilderment at the cylinder of red jelly that slurped out into the pan. At this point, I probably should have gone back to the tin and read the instructions on the side, but that wasn't about to happen. I assumed that Canadian soup was just fundamentally different to soup in the UK and turned the heat on the stove higher than I normally would for soup, on the grounds that it had more work to do making what was in the pan actually look like soup.

It's soup, Jim, but not as we know it.

It took a good five minutes of making the hot tomato jelly bubble in the pan before I gave up and fished the empty soup tin out of the rubbish bin. Well, of course you know how condensed soup works. I had failed to add the crucial ingredient, water. Things resolved themselves fairly quickly after that and I ended up with about three times as much soup as I needed but, on the plus side, I don't need to uncondense my lunch today.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Mike vs. The Great Outdoors #1

Hello, and welcome. Since the move to Canada I've decided that this will be the best way of keeping anybody who's interested up-to-date with what I'm up to, any interesting/exciting news and just random stuff.

So this month, Teresa and I are house-sitting for a friend's parents in Tecumseh. They are spending April in Florida, so we get to treat the house as our own, in return for collecting the mail, keeping the place tidy and cleaning up after the resident cat, and my new best friend, Sidney.

Sid likes being woken up for food. Sid does not like being woken up to have his picture taken.

Today, since it was sunny out, I went for a bit of an explore around the neighbourhood, checking out the local amenities and whatnot. On my way back to the house, I decided to cut across the hilly parkland in the middle of the estate. Half way to the top, I caught a flash of green in the corner of my eye. "Oh, a little lizard," I thought. "I love little lizards. Let's go and have a closer look at it." So I crouched down and moved into the long grass to the side of the path. I got about a foot away before I realised that the little lizard I was approaching was, in fact, quite a bit longer than a lizard and didn't have any legs. It was coiling itself around a fallen branch, staring straight at me. And I think it was rattling. At this point, my cowardice won out over my natural curiosity and I ran off up the hill, suddenly aware that there were lots of these rattling noises coming from the undergrowth on either side of me. So I went home and had a cup of tea. Mike 0 - 1 The Great Outdoors.

I have subsequently decided that it was most likely an Eastern Garter Snake I was having a staring contest with. Although it has recently been found to be venomous,  it lacks an effective delivery system for the venom. The only way it could have poisoned me is if I had allowed it to actively chew on my hand for longer than I normally allow anything to chew on me. Kind of takes the excitement out of the story, but oh well.

Disclaimer: Not the actual snake I saw. I was running that fast it would have come out blurry.

Stay tuned for more news, as and when it happens.