Posted by: ktzefr | June 26, 2010

Pikas, Hurricanes, and Tagines: Friday’s musing…

Blue hydrangeas from my garden and a pika from the Rockies!

I won this little fellow in a paiku contest last week.   If you would like to know more about pikas and paikus, check out Mud, Mambas, and Mushrooms — a blog by Kurtis Scaletta, author of the terrific middle-grade novel Mudville and the soon-to-be-released Mamba Point.

Also, check out this great video about these little critters that are way too cute to have to work so hard to survive the winter.


Hurricane season officially started on June 1, although the majority of storms have historically come later in the summer and early fall; nearly half of all tropical cyclones occur in September.  I have my ears perked for any signs in the Atlantic and Eastern Caribbean as we’re heading to the islands in a few days.  I love June in the Caribbean…the crowds are gone, the water is super calm and clear and warm, and it’s cooler there (79.5 degrees in Culebra, Puerto Rico) than here (90 degrees in D.C. ) today.  Add to this the almost constant breeze from the tradewinds and you have something akin to perfection.

I was reading about hurricanes the other day in an old issue of Discover magazine (September 2009).  A few interesting facts and figures…

— Our word for these storms comes from Hurakan, a one-legged Mayan deity who supposedly summoned the Great Flood.

— The ancient Mayans were no dummies.  They built their major cities inland away from flooding, showing a better understanding of hurricanes than the engineers who designed the New Orleans waterfront.  (The Mayans of long ago must be shaking their heads in their graves, however, as their modern-day descendants have built their cities, Cancun and other beach resorts, right in the path of hurricanes).

— In 1609 a group of English settlers en route to Virginia were struck by a hurricane and washed ashore at Bermuda, an event that supposedly inspired Shakespeare’s Tempest.

— Due to the earth’s rotation, hurricanes spin counterclockwise north of the equator and clockwise south of it.  No…a flushing toilet does not do the same thing.  Discover attests to it, and so do I.  (A few years ago we stopped and stood on the equator in Ecuador and every kid in the group had to have a quarter — the price to flush the restroom toilets to watch the water go down just like it goes down at home.)

— Most Atlantic hurricanes are born off the western coast of Africa, where warm water and a cool, windy upper atmosphere conspire to create a spiraling storm.

Dust comes swooping across the Atlantic, too.  Every year, according to NASA, several hundred million tons of dust are transported from the African deserts over the Atlantic to the Caribbean.  Much of the coral reef decline in the Caribbean is believed to be a result of pathogens transported in this dust.

A few years ago we were in St. Thomas during one of these heavy dust storms and some people were having serious allergy problems because of it.  We stood at Drake’s Seat near Mountain top and a spot above Magen’s Bay looking out toward all those islands and cays that are so clearly visible most of the year — St. John, the British Virgins, and even St. Croix in the distance — but most were lost in the dust.

Charlotte Amalie Harbor during dust storm...

...on a clear day

— Hurricanes bring torrential rains, violent thunderstorms, and tornadoes.  But their deadliest component by far is the storm surge.  In 1970 a 30-foot storm surge killed 300,000 people in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).  There was a concert for Bangladesh that some folks might remember.  It was the first major rock benefit concert.  (But most of the proceeds were impounded by the IRS until years later).

— The largest known tropical cyclone?  1979’s Typhoon Tip was 1,400 miles stretched across the Pacific (the distance from Dallas to D.C.).  (But that’s nothing compared with the planet Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, a seemingly eternal 400-mile-per-hour hurricane nearly twice the size of our entire planet!)


Dinner time!  What about a spicy chicken tagine?  I bought a tagine a few months back, since I love North African and Mediterranean foods and thought I may as well get a proper cooking pot.  Actually, I just think the tagine is cool looking, kind of like those lucky cone-shaped hats the gnomes wear.  The first time I used it I made Southern sweet potatoes with marshmallows and pecans at Christmastime…


Tempted?  Try this Moroccan recipe for chicken with peaches, rosemary, and ginger (you don’t need a real tagine pot at all; any old casserole pot will do).

2 tablespoons olive oil with a little butter

1 chopped onion

a few sprigs of rosemary

1 1/2 in. piece of fresh ginger, chopped

2 red chiles, seeded and finely chopped

1 or 2 cinnamon sticks

8 chicken thighs

2 cups dried peaches

2 tablespoons honey

1 14 oz can plum tomatoes

salt, pepper, and a bunch of fresh green basil leaves

Heat the oil and butter in a pan, stir the onion, rosemary, ginger, and chiles and saute until the onion softens.  Stir in the cinnamon sticks.  Add the chicken thighs and brown them on both sides.  Toss in the peaches with the honey, then stir in the tomatoes with their juice.  Add a little water if necessary to make sure there’s enough liquid to cover the base of the pan and submerge the peaches.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat.  Cover with a lid and cook gently for 35-40 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Shred the basil leaves and sprinkle them over the chicken.  Serves 4.  (If you would like to use fresh peaches, add them the last 15-20 minutes of cooking time.)


Have a great weekend!


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