Meet Forest Park Owlets Monica and Dalton

Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Forest Park  the Owlman of Forest Park Mark Glenshaw Great Horned Owls
The response to Friday's post, featuring Junko Eccles and her fine-feathered visitor in the wee hours of the morning, has been a heartwarming experience. When Junko saw the post with her picture of the red-tailed hawk she sent it to her friends in Japan hoping it might cheer them up. Over the past couple of days there have been almost 200 hits on my blog from Japan. As anyone who blogs knows, there are days when you wonder why in the world you spend so many hours writing, in my case about life in the CWE? This serendipitous connection with Junko's friends in Japan is one of the best reasons I can think of.

Last Thursday evening Jim and I went over to Forest Park hoping to catch a glimpse of Monica and Dalton (above), the two adorable 6 to 8 week-old owlets recently named by Forest Park Owlman, Mark Glenshaw. They are the offspring of a pair of Great Horned Owls, Charles and Sarah, whom we were introduced to at the beginning of February during an Owl Prowl led by Mark. At the time Sarah was nesting, and while she sat on her eggs Charles hunted for the family. Now the owlets have fledged, meaning they left the nest and have flown haltingly, Mark reports, to a wooded area of the Park not far from their nesting tree. Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Forest Park  the Owlman of Forest Park Mark Glenshaw Great Horned Owls
photo of Monica courtesy of Mark Glenshaw

Mark has been following Charles and Sarah for the past five years, naming their various offspring as a way to tell them apart. Monica is named after his Aunty Mon, a doctor who worked in rural Zimbabwe most of her life, and Dalton, after Dalton Brownell, father of a dedicated owl watcher and friend, Barb Brownell.  Monica, who may or may not be female, is the older and  larger of the siblings. (Interestingly, owl eggs are not laid at the same time, and the female of the species is larger.)

On Thursday evening a crow spied the owlets as they perched not far from each other (see first picture). The crow repeatedly dive-bombed them, creating a lot of ruckus, until their mother (see photo below) swooped in and scared him off. Sarah is their fierce protector and full-time huntress, as they cannot yet feed themselves and won't be able to for some time. Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Forest Park  the Owlman of Forest Park Mark Glenshaw Great Horned Owls

Soon the owlets started making raspy begging noises for dinner. Mark Glenshaw said that when they are a little older they will practice hunting by picking up sticks from the ground, flying back to their perch to shake the sticks up a bit, drop the sticks and start all over again. And they will start catching some juicy bugs on their own soon.

Nicki's Central West End Guide Events, Sightings Forest Park  the Owlman of Forest Park Mark Glenshaw Great Horned Owls

That's the proud papa Charles (above), camouflaged in a fir tree not far from the rest of the family. Charles still hunts for Sarah, bringing her an occasional rabbit, but Sarah hunts for the owlets. Thanks to Mark for sharing his observations with us and for his wonderful pictures, which you can see on his blog.

Mark Glenshaw has graciously agreed to lead two more owl prowls on the next two Saturdays, April 2 and 9 at 6 p.m. He can take ten people at a time. If you are interested, email me through the blog and I'll communicate with The Owlman to let him now how many to expect. You'll get instructions about what to wear and what to bring. As a thank you, Mark asks that the participants send a donation to Forest Park Forever. If you decide to go, you'll be greatly rewarded.

Mark Glenshaw, The Owlman of Forest Park's blog. Owl Prowls, April 2 and April 9 at 6 p.m. Email me at nickisbuzz@gmail.com if you'd like to join either group.

In case you missed it: Behind the scenes at Bissinger’s…how yummy is that?

 

Nicki's Central West End Guide Food and Drink Shop News  Lauren Bacall coffee candies Bissinger's   

I decided to republish this post from last year's Easter season describing my visit to Bissinger's "factory." Recently Bissinger's on Maryland Plaza added early morning coffee and pastries, opening everyday at 6 a.m. Tomorrow morning why not dash in for coffee and pick up some Easter candy too? Not sure that the prices on the chocolates are the same on everything in this original post, but I do know that the 12 oz. solid 38% milk and 55% dark chocolate bunnies are on sale, $9 instead of $15.  

Continuing my posts on Easter goodies, I was searching for a different angle to cover the premier chocolate shop in St. Louis…Bissinger's on Maryland Plaza. Frankly, I was amazed that my request to tour the Bissinger's plant was enthusiastically accepted, and I'm thrilled to share my experience with you. 

Terry Wakefield, Chief Chocolatier at Bissinger's for the past 5 1/2 years was my tour guide. He is a food scientist/engineer who heads Research & Development at Bissinger's production facility located off Vandeventer on Gratiot. My tour began with the photo above showing the original St. Louis "plant" on McPherson, where the chocolates were made by hand in the back room to be sold out front.

The story of the Bissingers, a German chocolate-making family, began in the 1600's. At that time the family lived in Paris and made confections that were the favorite of King Louis XIV, the Sun King. Later, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte bestowed the title: "Candy Maker of the Empire" on the family. The Bissingers left Europe in 1845 and settled in Cincinnati, continuing to make candies there. After Karl Sr. died, his widow Mary became the first female owner of a chocolate company in the United States. Karl Jr. decided to spread his wings and moved to St. Louis. He opened the store on McPherson in 1927, where it remained for the next 80 years until the move to Maryland Plaza in 2007.  Nicki's Central West End Guide Food and Drink Shop News  Lauren Bacall coffee candies Bissinger's
This is the kitchen where the candies are made, using recipes that are at least 200 years old. The copper pots, which are as old as the recipes, transfer heat very rapidly and are used when making cremes, truffles, fondants and caramel (see below).  Nicki's Central West End Guide Food and Drink Shop News  Lauren Bacall coffee candies Bissinger's
The large tray in front holds blocks of caramel that are cut into squares before being covered in chocolate. The gigantic tray in the background holds bear claws as they are cooling. From the pile of pecans on top of that tray, It was obvious that Bissingers does not skimp on ingredients.Nicki's Central West End Guide Food and Drink Shop News  Lauren Bacall coffee candies Bissinger's

After the caramels (these are vanilla, there are also chocolate, raspberry, etc.) are cut into squares they are put on a cold conveyor belt that coats the bottoms in chocolate as they head to the chocolate "enrober," which is made in Germany.Nicki's Central West End Guide Food and Drink Shop News  Lauren Bacall coffee candies Bissinger's

Here's the part of the process that makes you wish you were a caramel. Bissinger's prides itself on using only the best ingredients and that's what makes their confections stand out.
 Nicki's Central West End Guide Food and Drink Shop News  Lauren Bacall coffee candies Bissinger's
Donna (above) is signing the vanilla caramels by picking up a corner of wet chocolate and drawing a "v" on top. Each kind of chocolate gets a different signature. Donna is one of several "stripers" and has a distinctive "hand." Everyone in the plant can tell who is striping on a particular day. Nicki's Central West End Guide Food and Drink Shop News  Lauren Bacall coffee candies Bissinger's   

Little chocolate bunnies awaiting packaging—boxes of six are $11. Nicki's Central West End Guide Food and Drink Shop News  Lauren Bacall coffee candies Bissinger's   
The "ultimate rabbit" had just been unmolded and placed in a box ready to be shipped out. He is solid chocolate and weighs 11 pounds—known around the plant as "Harvey." The dark chocolate pattern is hand-painted in the bunny mold and left to set before milk chocolate is added. This item is in the stores, but call ahead to be sure of availability, $123.Nicki's Central West End Guide Food and Drink Shop News  Lauren Bacall coffee candies Bissinger's
Terry showed me a tray of business cards that a local company ordered for an event. Anything can be written in chocolate, and to illustrate his point he pulled out this white chocolate bar imprinted with a photo of Lauren Bacall. The actress is a big fan and has been a loyal customer for years. Nicki's Central West End Guide Food and Drink Shop News  Lauren Bacall coffee candies Bissinger's
These ladies are assembling chocolate assortments for shipment to the stores or available through Bissinger's internet catalog. The plant produces 200 products at this time of year, there are about 400 products in all. Nicki's Central West End Guide Food and Drink Shop News  Lauren Bacall coffee candies Bissinger's   
Ever wonder how a company such as this comes up with new products? Put samples in the employee lunchroom (there are 38 to 40 employees in the production facility) and see what gets eaten. So this year Bissinger's introduced bunny ears in milk or dark chocolate, a set of 4 is $8…why is it that the ears are the best part? Another new product is the 100 calorie chocolate bar. Nicki's Central West End Guide Food and Drink Shop News  Lauren Bacall coffee candies Bissinger's   
The tour ended with Eric in shipping. He packages about 600 orders a day right now. At Christmastime there are sometimes 1600 to 1800 packages shipped out of the plant each day. Terry says they will probably be hand-delivering last-minute Easter orders to the three stores around town as late as Saturday…even the Easter bunny sometimes procrastinates!

Bissinger's, 32 Maryland Plaza, Mon. to Weds. 6 a.m. -6 p.m., Thurs. 6 a.m. -10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 6 a.m. -Midnight, Sun. 6 a.m.- 8 p.m. (314) 367-7750. Closed Easter Sunday.