Life + Outdoors » North Coast Almanack

Oct. 15-31, 2010

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Oct. 15. To fashion a cucumber into a rose, slice a long, thin strip from end to end (known in some vegetable garnish circles as a tongue) and roll it tightly so that it forms the shape of a rosette. Pinch the bottom together with a toothpick and proceed.

Oct. 16. The only sensible way to dig out a potato is to thrust one's hand in the soil and feel about. Any attempts at spading or forking the soil will only impale the very best potatoes, ruining them for storage. A freshly-dug potato requires almost no cooking; it is astonishing how quickly it melts and begs for butter and salt.

Oct. 17. Birthdate of both Rita Hayworth (in 1918) and Montgomery Clift (in 1920), suggesting that today would be a good day to give birth to effortlessly glamorous girls and devilishly handsome boys.

Oct. 18. A recipe for artificial oysters consists of grated green corn, a beaten egg, flour, butter, salt and pepper. Take a spoonful of batter in the general shape of an oyster, fry it well, and say nothing.

Oct. 19. October is National Applejack Month, which calls for an applejack old-fashioned. Drop a sugar cube in the bottom of a highball glass and splash it well with orange bitters. Crush thoroughly with a muddler or wooden spoon. Drop in two ice cubes and two ounces of Laird's Applejack, then stir well. The traditional garnish is a thin strip of lemon rind, squeezed to express the oils, but a small slice of crisp apple might do as well.

Oct. 20. Look east before sunrise for the approach of Hartley 2, a comet that will venture within about 11 million miles of us, as it does once every seven years or so. It will be expected to stand up to close scrutiny by the Deep Impact spacecraft, which is scheduled to approach within a range of 600 miles, observing outbursts of gas and, with any luck, bits of ice.

Oct. 21. Albert Etter is known for the many varieties of apples he bred on his farm in the Eel River Valley, but he also made many notable early contributions to the field of strawberry breeding. In the 1920s he issued catalogs of his strawberry varieties and sent them to agricultural stations for further testing. He discontinued his strawberry experiments in 1926. His strawberries are said to be available still under the name Ettersburg, although finding them today is nearly impossible and therefore exactly the sort of quest that would appeal to a gardener with a spirit of adventure.

Oct. 22. Full moon, 6:38 p.m.

Oct. 23. From 6:02 a.m. to 6:02 p.m., chemists everywhere celebrate Mole Day, a commemoration of Avogadro's Number, better known as 6.02 x 10^23. A mole, as we all know, is the mass, expressed in grams, whose number is equal to the atomic mass of a molecule. A student in Morgantown, W.V., suggests reciting this pledge on Mole Day: "I pledge allegiance to the mole, to the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, and to the atomic mass for which it stands, one number, most divisible, with atoms and molecules for all."

Oct. 24. The number of persons earning a greater or less portion of their living by writing may be roughly estimated at 100,000, who receive all the way from $100 to $15,000 a year. This statement was made by Sherwin Cody in his book Story-Writing and Journalism in 1905. We are surprised by how accurate his observations remain today.

Oct. 25. The soala is a creature not much larger than an antelope, with two horns protruding from the top of its head like a double-horned unicorn. It was entirely unknown, except to other soalas, until 1992. The range of the soala appears to be restricted to a small forest along the border between Laos and Vietnam. A lone soala recently had the misfortune to wander into a village, where it was captured and turned over to biologists. It died in captivity, perhaps of heartbreak, or loneliness: Scientists worry that there may only be a few dozen left in the world.

Oct. 26. The ingredients of Dr. Pierce's Golden Medical Discovery are reported to include honey, grain extract of poison lettuce, laudanum, diluted alcohol and water. Taken regularly, it is effective for most ailments.

Oct. 27. A man named Rolf Potts recently traveled the world with no luggage whatsoever. He wore a jacket with 18 pockets and a pair of pants with 16 pockets, into which he stuffed a change of underwear, undershirt, and socks, along with a toothbrush and other sundry items. The notion of running through a train station without so much as a shoulder bag is glorious. He quotes John Muir, who said that the best way to pack for a journey was to "throw some tea and bread into an old sack and jump over the back fence."

Oct. 28. The founding of the Czechoslovakian republic in 1918.

Oct. 29. Striga asiatica, or witchweed, is known all too well to farmers in Africa, where it decimates thousands of acres. Its pretty pink flowers release tens of thousands of seeds, all of which remain viable for years. The seeds wait patiently in the soil -- a seed is nothing if not patient -- until the farmer's crops release a hormone into the soil called strigolactone. This triggers Striga to germinate and suck the nutrients out of the very plant that encouraged its birth. Knowing this, crop scientists have set about finding ways to convince plants to stop secreting the hormone. The results of this experiment are unknown at present.

Oct. 30. Fall bulbs should go in the ground now, along with a sprinkling of bone meal. The small fragrant daffodils are, in our opinion, entirely worthwhile and far more rewarding than the larger, unperfumed trumpets.

Oct. 31. To insist that children trudge around a shopping mall clutching fistfuls of candy is a travesty. Send them out into the dark and the cold; have them knock on the doors of the homes of strangers and ask boldly for their treats. The risk is what makes it thrilling, and Halloween without a few genuine thrills is simply another day at the candy store.

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