Monday, August 20, 2018

The Field Cricket

The lovely song of the field cricket is heralded this month and its melodic symphony can be heard each evening. Fall is the time for cricket mating and the male, who is the only voice of the cricket, is singing to potential sweethearts. Although the female can not sing, she can hear the song through her ears which are located on her front legs just below her knees.

A shy and reclusive little insect, the cricket rarely makes a public evening appearance until the urgency of mating begins. Following fertilization cricket eggs are deposited in the soil in the autumn soon after the rains begin. They will rest there until time to hatch in the spring; once they are born baby crickets hide during the day. They emerge to eat in the evenings and enjoy grasses, pieces of grain, wool and their favorite snack... book bindings. Apparently the darling cricket will sing, mate, then come inside to eat a good pair of wool pants and a book or two before its life cycle ends.

Photo: An Outdoor Asian Market Selling Cricket Cages

 In China singing crickets are kept as pets in special cages and it is believed they bring a household good fortune... prized specimens fetch amazing prices. In fact the cricket culture in China dates back to the Tang Dynasty from 500 BC to 618 AD. It was during this time the crickets first became respected for their powerful ability to “sing” and a cult formed to capture and cage them. Naturally the obsession escalated and in the Song Dynasty from 960 to 1278 AD the sport “cricket fighting” became popular.

The sport became so popular that China actually produced a Cricket Minister, Jia Shi-Dao who reigned from 1213 to 1275 before being deposed for irresponsibility. Then from 1427 to 1464, a Cricket Emperor, Ming Xuan-Zhong ruled in favor of cricket fighting, making his palace a major tribute to this important insect. Racketeering, gambling, and even suicides were reported over Chinese cricket mania. *This 'mania' was described as a national obsession.

Luckily, the Asian fabric of choice is silk which is unappetizing to crickets for had it been wool the cricket's popularity would have suffered greatly. Years ago I pulled my 'good' white wool, Katherine Hepburn style, very expensive pleated slacks from my closet only to discover one leg was totally destroyed with cricket holes. Now whenever I hear them in the house I track them and gently place them outside to play!  

Monday, August 13, 2018

Grilling Fresh Vegetables

August arrived with traditional heat, making it the most enjoyable month for cookouts and lake side activities. The vegetable gardens are at their zenith so now is the time to eat all the fresh produce available... your body will be grateful for the cleansing. Since most vegetables are 70% to 90% water, they are also a perfect way to lose unwanted pounds.
If you do not have your own garden, there are many Farmers Markets where you can purchase home-grown produce. Supporting local vegetable growers should be a civic duty lest they stop planting and harvesting for us.

This is the time of year that the back yard grill is the best place to cook dinner. Squash, corn, and tomatoes are making their appearance in the garden. Since squash is such an over achiever, it is always a challenge to find new ways to prepare it so this year we’ve grilled it after dipping it in butter. Once it becomes slightly crisp, remove it from the fire and sprinkle it with Parmesan cheese. In fact corn is also easily grilled if wrapped in foil first.

Remember the shish-kebobs that were popular in the 1970’s? They still sell the little wooden skewers at the grocery store quite inexpensively. A collection from the garden can be arranged and grilled with the addition of your choice of meat. Onions, peppers, little new potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and squash, with a little pineapple added for additional flavor, make a wonderful dinner and will not heat up the kitchen.

My parent’s favorite marinade makes any meat choice tasty. They mixed ½ cup red wine, 1 tsp. Worcestershire Sauce, 1 clove garlic (pressed), ½ cup salad oil, ½ tsp. salt, 2 tbs. Ketchup, 1 tbs. sugar, 1 tbs. Vinegar, and ½ tsp cut Rosemary. Then they added any meat cut into squares and let it marinate for several hours. Even inexpensive cuts of beef become tender and delicious when allowed to soak up this combination of flavors.

Alternate the meat with the vegetables on the skewer, broil while turning frequently and basting with the leftover marinade. Not only is this a delicious and complete outdoor meal, but it is also fun if you allow individuals to assemble their own skewer in the combinations of their choice. Plus cleanup is easy; toss the skewers!