Ethio-paean

The friendly folks at the family-owned Merkato Grocery and Cafe, an Ethiopian spot in Murphy, Texas, seem keenly aware of the adage that you eat with your eyes first.  Proof: their Vegetarian Sampler!

20170715_192154Three kinds of lentil dishes, collard greens, beets, a potato/carrot stew, green beans, and cabbage sit atop a fluffy injera, a pancake made from fermented teff batter. And the basket holds even more injera, all rolled up and ready to eat.

The injera’s soft, porous texture makes it perfect for scooping up the various heaps of serious yum. Plus, its similarity to the Indian dosa puts it in the category of comfort food for me.

 

Cheep thrills

When it comes to building a home, some say location is everything.

house finch nest

house finch pair

Just ask Mom (right) and Dad (left). Can you guess what birds they are?

house finch nest

Look at their finch-astic creation and its “pebbled” rim.

house finch nest

Tucked in a carport nook

My apartment community has 3 banks of carports with a total of 70 nooks (possible nest sites). Fourteen of those nooks have nests in them. Carports closer to the tree-lined property edge and adjoining field have four times as many nests (12 of 42 nooks) as those near the interior (2 of 28). Makes me wonder if easy access to twigs and leaves (building materials) drove nook selection.

house finch nest

Short on neatness, big on warmth

house finch nest

The other nests are mansions compared to this one, but its Birdie B&B listing reads, “Cozy nook offers eggs-cellent shelter and total privacy.”

house finch nest

Talk about green building!

I walked over to the two adjoining sister properties to check their carports.

house finch nest

That “pebbled” rim again

house finch nest

house finch nest

Active recyclers with a zero carbon footprint

By building nests in carports, house finches enjoy protection from raptors and tree-climbing kitties, as well as shelter from the elements. I’m in awe of the little fliers for their design skills, building prowess, resourcefulness and strategic thinking. And they sing! Their chirpy tweets help me greet each day with a smile.

***

What’s that bird?
I turned to this most awesome field guide to narrow it down.American Bird Conservancy's Field Guide: All the Birds of North America

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The range maps for redpolls, bramblings and Cassin’s finches don’t include Texas, so those birds are out. Besides, the male redpoll has a small red cap, but Dad has a lot more red on his head. So it comes down to purple finch or house finch. Given Dad’s red head and chest (but no red on his back), it’s a house finch pair.

house finch pair

This photogenic pair made identification a snap.

20170620_052236I have an older edition of All the Birds of North America, the American Bird Conservancy’s Field Guide. One of my most loved books. It was prescribed for an Intro to Birding continuing ed class I took at UT Arlington several years ago. I love the guide for ease of identification, water-resistant pages (in case you drop it in a pond), and small check boxes in the index (think life list). Amazon has a newer edition.

All About Birds by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is an amazing online resource. I learned that house finches “nest in a variety of deciduous and coniferous trees as well as on cactus and rock ledges. They also nest in or on buildings, using sites like vents, ledges, street lamps, ivy, and hanging planters.”

The print and online guides were my ID mainstay for the longest time.

But now there’s an app for it!
The magical Merlin Bird ID app (North America) suggests a location-based “bird pack” upon download. Five easy questions on location, date of sighting, bird size, main colors, behavior — and boom! — house finch.

Do I like the precision, speed, and convenience of the app? Absolutely. But I still have a soft corner for the print guide. Using range maps and matching coloration/markings on birds I see to beautiful illustrations works the brain and brings a different kind of thrill. Call it finding as much joy in the journey as in reaching the destination (that’s my bird!).

***

P.S. I made sure to take nest photos when the parents were out foraging so as not to startle or alarm them. As an extra precaution, I took the pics sans flash, and all from below.

Crowley Park, Richardson

On a post-dawn walk through Crowley Park, I noticed it has something for everyone.

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Whether you picnic with friends in the pavilion,

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flop down for some “me” time,

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or hit the trail that circles the park

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for a flower-flecked walk or run,

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you’ll find views that thrill

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and views that soothe.

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Have tots with energy to burn? The park has two play areas, this one ringed with trees.

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Takin’ a breather without robin the bank

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means you sit on a deck

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watching ducks and turtles gather.

At ~58 acres, Crowley Park is the second largest of Richardson’s neighborhood parks. What strikes me is the city’s meticulous care in keeping the place pristine. Add me to Yelpers who love Crowley Park.

***
Correction: In the original post, I stated that Crowley Park is Richardson’s largest. But it isn’t. Breckinridge Park (~417 acres) is. I love Breck, too!
– Gita, 13 May 2017

Daiso detour

Ever been to Daiso? The Japanese chain has four stores in DFW. I popped by their Plano location for rainy day inspiration. Here’s a tiny sampling of the cute stuff on offer.

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thumb-sized toothpick holders

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purrse-friendly prices

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mug shot

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pot shot

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i oink, therefore i ham

Daiso also has stationery, bento boxes, itty bitty dressing bottles, pretty Japanese paper fans, and loads more. Oh, and snacks! And Marukawa fruit-flavored bubble gum 🙂

Lunch for lexophiles

Downtown Dallas offers quite the array of dining options. Three restaurants stand out for their very creative names.

Tortaco, on Ross, melds torta (sandwich, in Mexican cuisine) and taco (a folded, filled tortilla) for a playful portmanteau.
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Living up to its name, the restaurant serves tortas, tacos, and more.
wp-1488242032506.jpgThe Relleno and the Cali Breakfast sans bacon make for a tasty two-taco lunch.

Which Wich uses alliteration to delicious effect.
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Which wich would you like? Step in, grab a brown bag and use the red Sharpies provided to customize your order. Give the cashier your bag, pay, and wait for your just-the-way-you-like-it wich.

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While you can’t go wrong with any of the veggie wiches, the menu includes other types — Turkey, Chicken, Italian, and more — if you’re so inclined.

Finally, the punny gem that inspired this post.

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The Hospitality Sweet, on Ervay
Their tagline: Sweet cakes. Good food.
Based on their chow-worthy Chipotle Black Bean Quinoa Wrap, I’m willing to bet their desserts are equally delish.

Sweetness permeates every aspect of this lovely place.

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Crazy for curry puffs

Here’s a hack of an Indian snack, the curry puff.  I learned it during my grad student days in Austin from another grad student whose aunt knew the shortcuts that kept our tummies happy even if our hearts longed for home.

curry puff ingredients

Before

Curry puffs

After

When I was growing up in Secunderabad, we got curry puffs from city bakeries. Blatantly buttery layers of pastry held assertively seasoned dry vegetable curries made of potatoes, green beans, peas and carrots.

My attempt at a potato version:

Ingredients
Pepperidge Farm puff pastry sheets (pkg contains 2 sheets)
Russet potatoes, 3 medium to large
Olive oil, 3 tablespoons
Medium onion, chopped
Grated ginger, 2 tablespoons
3 green chillies, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Juice of 1 key lime
Chopped cilantro, 2 tablespoons

Turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon, heaped
Sea salt, 1.5 teaspoons or to taste
Black (rock) salt, 1/2 teaspoon (ask for kala namak at the Indian store)
Garam masala, 1 teaspoon

Filling
Can make ahead

  1. Boil potatoes until tender, but not to mash state. Cool, peel, coarse-dice.
  2. Heat oil in pan. When nice and hot, add green chillies, chopped onion, grated ginger, minced garlic, and turmeric. Saute till onions are translucent and raw garlic smell goes away.
  3. Add potatoes and sea salt. Mix it all together and cook until heated through. You’re aiming for a mass that holds together but isn’t wet.
  4. Add garam masala and cook on low to medium heat for a couple minutes.
  5. Remove from heat. Add rock salt, lime juice and cilantro. Stir to combine.
  6. Allow filling to cool to at least room temperature before assembling curry puffs.

Depending on the size of the potatoes, you might end up with more filling than you’ll need for two pastry sheets’ worth of puffs, but the leftovers are good with rotis, in sandwiches, or even as dosa stuffing!

Wrapping

  1. Follow package directions to thaw pastry.
  2. Each sheet has three panels. Make cuts to separate the panels and divide each panel into thirds. You’ll have 9 squares per sheet. So the 2 sheets make 18 puffs.
  3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Gently roll out a single pastry square on a floured surface so it becomes more of a rectangle.
  5. Place a heaped tablespoon of filling on the rectangle. Fold over and press edges together to seal. Optional: press down sealed edges with fork tines.
  6. Repeat for the remaining 17 squares. Place puffs on lightly greased baking trays.
    Currry puffs, ready for the oven
  7. Bake 15 to 20 minutes until puffs are golden-brown. I had to go longer than the 15 minutes suggested on the package, more like 20 min.
  8. Remove trays from oven and allow puffs to cool slightly.
    Curry puffs, baked

Serve with Maggi Hot and Sweet Tomato Chilli Sauce and steaming mugs of ginger chai!

PS>
If you don’t have black (rock) salt, sub with sea salt or table salt.
For the filling, use any dry curry or one of the samosa fillings found here.
Brush puffs with an egg wash before  baking for a beautiful golden sheen.