Monday, August 13, 2007

Where Art Thou, Small Duck?

About a month ago, my other half and I began noticing a extra-small duck -- probably a Common Pochard (Tafelente in German) -- in Zugerlakeside, Cham. The tail was curtailed, so to speak, and its neck very short and curved. Its bill though was longish and slightly upturned.

Being very energetic and resourceful -- to make up for its size perhaps -- Small Duck caught our attention and charmed us with the way it caught bread pieces and avoided Eurasian coots and mallards by diving under them or hopping over them.

We singled out Small Duck and a sole Carolina Wood duck (yes, that sweet timid fellow) to feed our few leftover bread pieces to. Some people came by with a biggish bag of bread and in the feeding frenzy, Small Duck seldom got a crumb because it was a bit wary of joining the quite violent fray among the swans, coots, mallards and lake gulls.

Small Duck would charm us by paddling furiously towards us whenever we stood by the shore to hurl bread chunks to it. With its relatively big webbed feet, it could manoeuvre its small body very artfully and make sudden turns to gain some space around it. Small Duck knew it needed that advantage to beat the coots and mallards to the bread.

(Right) Small Duck (possibly a Ferruginous) surrounded by Eurasian coots.

In the past few days, after it rained a lot for almost the whole day and night, the lake overflowed at certain places and poured strongly into the river in our small town. We no longer saw Small Duck in the evenings when we took our walks there. This morning, neither did I see it on the lake. I'm worried Small Duck might have been swept upstream into the river.

(Right) The Carolina Wood Duck in spring. It has now a shorter, snazzier 'haircut'.

Wherever Small Duck is, I hope Mother Nature is looking out for it -- in that it is safe and healthy and has enough to eat. Small Duck has stolen our hearts and it is sad not to see him or her anymore.

Below are some portraits I took of my favourite teenage Mute swans. Swan yoga, anyone?

(Above) Can you see light passing through the 'nostrils'?

(Above) This teen pen (female swan) gives a comical front view of her mug -- does it somehow remind you of the front view of an aeroplane?

Update (Aug 19, evening): We were throwing a few pieces of stale bread to the Carolina Wood Duck and the 'Dazy' swans (the three young pens often seem to be in a daze, or 'blur') when I spotted a familiar silhouette backlighted by the evening sun -- curved bill and small body with a short tail. Yes! Small Duck is back on the lake at Villette Park in Cham. Yahoo! She is safe and slightly bigger, at one point raising her small brown body and flapping her tiny wings. We are overjoyed to see her again.


Friday, August 3, 2007

Switzerland's National Day, Gladioli and Pleasing Pancakes

August First is Switzerland's National Day. You can Wiki it if you want to know its colourful history. One interesting point is that it was neutral during the world wars and spies criss-crossed it or were based there, slipping information across its borders with Germany and France. In Somerset Maugham's 'Collected Short Stories: Volume 3', I read of British secret agent Ashenden's adventures while he is stationed in Switzerland.

Maugham's eminently readable spy stories are essentially studies of character and portraiture in words. He is a master at describing and fleshing out grey characters with little judgment or proffering merely wry comment.

Thought I should include a picture of the little town I live in, Cham. Here you can see a golden crown (at left) hanging outside a restaurant, while a double-rainbow arches over a flag.

Also, on account of the national holiday, I would like to present close-ups of one of my favourite flowers grown in der Schweiz, gladioli. (Mrs HBT, here's a tribute to you and the lovely mothers we know.)

Also, as it's still summer, it's a good time to indulge in some pancakes which you can top with fresh red currants (Johannisbeeren) and slices of banana and nectarine or peach.

World-Is-Flat Pancake

3/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup milk or buttermilk (buttermilk makes it fluffier)
1 egg
1 tbs powdered sugar
pinch of salt

Mix flour with baking powder, salt and sugar. Use a handmixer to combine flour mixture, milk and egg. Add 2 tbs water if you want a thinner pancake. Top with fruits of your choice directly after pouring enough dough into a heated and buttered pan to make a big round. Cook for a couple of minutes on medium-low heat. No need to turn over.

If the pancakes are made plain (flipped over once to lightly colour the other side), you can eat them dusted with powdered sugar and powdered cinnamon with applesauce (Apfelmus). Or with honey and a squeeze of lemon. Also tastes wonderful with some chopped mushrooms saute-ed in butter with onions, beef stock and a bit of milk.

Pancake dedicated to Lyrical Lemongrass: "Here's smilin' at you, kid!"

This one's with freckles and a hint of moustache (adolescent spent too much time in the sun?).

My old living-room

My old living-room
In Petaling Jaya, Malaysia

A cherished dream

A cherished dream
To live on a pale beach by a crystal clear sea. (This was taken on the east coast of Johor state, Malaysia.)