Howdy! The Hostest withthe Mostest Dirty Dishes in her Kitchen is back. We've had back-to-back houseguests this week, and more fun in that lax week between Christmas and New Year's that I can remember. First came Clay Taylor, one of my oldest friends from Connecticut days. I think we met in 1982, when we were both really skinny proto-professional birders. We shared many a dinner and rare bird sightings, and it has been a delight to watch Clay grow up, have kids, and get a real job (for me, one out of three of those apply) with Swarovski Optik as their birding specialist. As a result, we get to see Clay several times a year, more than we see my family, for goodness' sake, as we haunt many of the same birding festivals. It's such a treat to have him visit, though! We could yak around the clock, and nearly did. Here's Clay, with Baker alap. If you visit us, you have to put up with having a 20-lb Boston unexpectedly launch himself into your lap. So far, nobody's objected. Clay's adorable red-headed daughter Gracie, just 13, was a perfect match for Phoebe.To top off all the fun, Clay and Gracie rolled up in a rented PT Cruiser, a car that has achieved cult status in our family. We play a game we call PT Loser, in which we all try to spot the cars and blurt out their color and any special features before anyone else spots it. It makes trips go much faster. Extra points for flames, wood sides, or the omnipresent Dangling Dice. Phoebe and I had a fashion shoot in the Taylor's fabulous Loser.
'Twas not to be long before my even longer-lost friend from college, Martha Weiss, showed up with wonderful husband Josh Rosenthal and beyond-adorable daughters Annie and Isabel. The kids formed a pack and played Extreme Hide and Seek in our cavernous and confusing house, occasionally getting themselves so well-hidden as to need adult intervention. Martha came packing menorah, candles, Hanukah geld, and little presents for everyone. Our kids heartily embraced this new ritual, and loved lighting the candles and searching for their presents afterward.
Martha is a self-described "lapsed botanist" who is breaking new ground in the field of insect learning and behavior. Her doctoral dissertation was on butterfly learning, wherein she shed new light on color-changing flowers, the signals they send to pollinators, and the speed and alacrity with which butterflies pick up on those signals. From there, she has become fascinated with caterpillars, especially those, like the skippers, that construct houses for themselves. Management of their own droppings is a problem for sedentary larvae, and Martha is studying the various ways the caterpillars clean house. Silver-spotted skipper larvae can shoot a poop pellet as much as five feet--ptoooo! Learning things like this makes my canary chirp, and we had the most fascinating, never-ending conversations about bug behavior, and the many parallels with bird behavior. Our poop-shooting discussion segued into a dissertation on fecal sacs--all this over dinner. We decided that two days and nights exploring such topics just wasn't enough, so we're making plans for a week this coming summer.A luna moth pancake. Easier to eat than to make. Martha took orders from the kids.
One of the things I love most about Martha is the creativity and flair that she brings to the most pedestrian activities. Cooking with Martha is an adventure; it was she who first showed me how to pop sesame seeds (like tiny popcorn!), who introduced me to red quinoa (the little embryos in the seeds spiral out when it's steamed), who gave me my first Granny Smith apple in 1977. Friends with whom one has a history are priceless treasures. To have our children emailing madly back and forth in advance of their visit, and then playing giddily together in our home, is a joy beyond measure.
A train pancake for a very excited Liam. His mommy never made an interesting pancake in her life before now. Thanks so much, Martha. I'll remember you next Sunday, when I'm trying to make a railroad trestle out of Bisquick.