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Evan Hazard: Dining al fresco at the turn of the seasons

The first three panels of the Aug. 20, 2003 “Arlo and Janis” cartoon depict the couple chatting in a Mexican eatery. No actual dialog is shown, but during the conversation, Janis and Arlo finish off two baskets of taco chips. Then, in panel 4, the waiter arrives with “Dos burritos supremes!” and they realize they’ve overdone the chips.

This happens to me. I like Mexican food, especially burritos. Back in the early days of the former restaurant on the western edge of downtown, when I was still eating like a 25-year-old, Elaine and I would scarf down chips and salsa, and then I’d eat a burrito de pollo grande, slathered with verde sauce, sour cream, and real, chunky guacamole. My metabolic rate, my appetite, and I hope my good sense have all matured since. I have a favorite family-owned Mexican restaurant here and also a smaller one in southeast Minneapolis. But those seductive chips and salsa are still a problem when I eat at either place, usually with friends.

One solution is to doggy box. Another is to get a takeout burrito from a chain Mexican restaurant where they make up ample burritos to order. You can buy taco chips separately, but they don’t “come with.” The burrito, by the way, is also more than an octogenarian on a low-fat diet should eat at one sitting; one trip provides the core of two suppers.

So my request on the second Wednesday in September as I went down the line was for a quezo burrito, made with a wheat tortilla, and chicken, brown rice, black beans, quezo sauce, pico de gallo, cheese, but no sour cream, to go. No beverage; I’d open one at home. Their sour cream is low-fat, but I forgo it. My plain yogurt at home is fat-free, and also, I can spoon it on selectively. It’s in the nature of a made-to-order burrito that the ingredients are not uniformly distributed throughout. If I come to a part that is heavy on the quezo sauce, I don’t put on a dollop of yogurt. Also, the yogurt gives more of a “bite” to the meal than does sour cream. Authentic? Beats me. Delicious? You bet.

The burrito contains rice and beans plus veggies in the pico de gallo, but I like more veggies with a meal, so usually steam a melange of cauliflower or cabbage, fresh onion, sweet pepper, and zucchini, plus microwave cut up tomato or canned diced tomato. Again, this comes to about twice what I want, so half goes in a bowl for another supper.

In summer, the ideal place to eat all this is my home’s small patio. It faces north and is sheltered on three sides by the house, so it is comfortable in moderate winds. That day was a bit cool, 68 degrees at 6:30 pm., but clear and pleasant. So, I fed outdoors on half a chicken quezo burrito and a bowl of veggies, washed down with a Taddy Porter. (If I’d had company, there would have been non-alcoholic alternatives).

When I eat al fresco, I usually see fewer birds than I do from my inside dining nook, where I’m less likely to be noticed. This time of year, I begin to see more flickers than usual, mostly migrants passing through from Manitoba, but none were around that evening. I did see one skein of Canada geese. They were heading south but probably not migrating. They still fly to the hospital grounds to graze or spend the night. And, about 7 pm, way up high a bald eagle soared north. It was too high to discern whether its head was white, so I don’t know if it was at least four years old or a sub-adult.

How do I know it wasn’t just a large soaring hawk, since I had nothing for scale to compare it with. Eagle’s wings are definitely soaring-type wings but, in proportion, they are narrower front-to-back. And they were held flat, not in a shallow V like a vulture’s wings.

Eating, and sometimes reading or keyboarding on the patio is one of “my favorite things,” to quote Julie Andrews. This summer has not been as good as some; too hot, too wet, or too windy. I lunched there Sept. 26 (toasted whole wheat English, one tbs. organic peanut butter, lots of organic dried cranberries in between, glass of skim milk and a banana). Whether I’ll have another chance this year is up for grabs.

EVAN HAZARD, a retired BSU biology professor, also writes “Northland Stargazing” the fourth Friday of each month.