Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Why Not Thin and Eat?

As I mentioned, we tried something new this year when planting our greens.  Actually we tried two new things.  We tried starting them indoors with the tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc., but they are a bit spindly and small compared to the ones planted directly into the ground.  I think any headstart the indoor greens had over outdoors is quickly negated by the vigor of the outdoor greens.  But that wasn't really what this post was supposed to be about. 
Before - A bed of thick greens with little dirt exposed between plants.   (Left to Right we have:  arugula, spinach, chard, spinach, kale.)
We planted the greens so that they were just two to three inches apart in a square-foot grid and let them grow until the leaves touched.  Then we pulled a few plants until the leaves didn't touch any more.  Then they grew and we waited until they started bumping into each other again and we again thinned them out.  So far we've gotten nearly two pounds of spinach, chard, kale, and arugula.  It is delightful! 
After - thinned greens with room between plants for growth.   (Bottom to Top:  kale, spinach, chard, spinach)
And we still have hearty, robust plants growing out there right now for harvesting later!  I think we will have one more thinning at least before they are spaced to what we have planted them in years past.  This way of planting and thinning is one of those "Why didn't I think of this before!?"  Previously we just had empty space between the plants as we waited for them to grow up.  Now we are using that formerly empty space to produce even more food.  We are pretty stoked about it.
After  (Bottom to Top:  kale, spinach, chard, spinach)
We also seem to have successfully beat out the leafminers who appeared three weeks ago with nearly no loss of crop.  We went out to the garden every morning and evening and checked the leaves of the spinach and chard, crushing the eggs we found.  And now we aren't finding them any more.  It is awesome.   Perseverance pays off, like usual.  Here is hoping the new trend continues, especially now that we have some (normal spring) cooler weather which the greens really prefer.  Thrive little greens!  Thrive!

Matt cleaning and sorting greens on the patio.
And to think that just five years ago I thought I didn't like ANY greens!

Grilled Asparagus

Have you ever had grilled asparagus?
Matt and I had only just this year discovered the absolute deliciousness that is grilled asparagus, of course we didn't really have a barbeque until the middle of last year either.   In any case, if it is new to you, as it was to me you are in for a treat!  I love the taste of grilled things.  We make veggie kababs quite regularly.   The almost smoky, grilled taste adds so much dimension to just about any meal.  Asparagus is especially excellent grilled.  It is tender and tasty even with the simplest of seasonings.
We used to spear our asparagus spears (how is that for confusing terminology?) on a metal kabob skewer as shown in the photos.  However, we recently acquired a slim grilling basket that make the task even easier as you don't have to slide the asparagus onto the skewers, but just lay them inside the basket in a single layer. 
In either case the asparagus are lightly brushed with olive oil and tossed on the grill.  (Larger spears are peeled and the woody ends cut off first.)  Cook them until they just start to show signs of blackening, being flipped halfway through and brushing with oil as needed.  Its usually about five minutes per side.  Remove from grill and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Easy-peasy and quite fast, too.
I want to grow my own asparagus someday.  I mean, a vegetable that comes back every year without planting....what's not to love?!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Be Prepared....

...And if you're not prepared then at least be open to new, innovative ideas. 
Such as wearing plastic newspaper sleeves on your feet so they don't get soaked on the rainy walk home.
It worked!  Double bagged my toes only just started to get wet with just a couple blocks to go.  So, remember that next time you find yourself at work with only Birkenstocks to get you home in a downpour.  And recycle them when you are done!

Sock, Hammer, Rock

If you ever get the change to crack a geode, please do!  It is quite a unique experience.  (They also make great housewarming gifts!  Thanks, Casey.)  If you ever stumble upon a vendor of rocks and stones perhaps ask for an uncracked geode.  They're generally affordable and it is a tremendous deal of fun to take a whack at it with the hammer and see what mysterious crystal formations are inside.
I tried, in vain, to take a photo of the dazzling interior crystals,'ll just have to take my word for it.  That is, until you crack a geode of your own!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Wolf Hunt

So, we're driving along in Yellowstone last weekend.  We'd started the day exploring the Norris Geyser Basin and then had been watching birds near Yellowstone Lake and in Yellowstone River.  We stopped to check out the Mud Volcano and were returning to the campground at Norris for some grub.  We're driving along and out of the corner of my eye I see animals running.  I look over and cannot--CANNOT- believe my eyes.  It is two wolves, one grey and one black, chasing an elk cow.   They are running through the meadow beside the road parallel to the car.  They are running with great intensity, yet at the same time seeming sluggish.  Much slower than I would have expected a run for your life to be.  I am supposing, and it is just supposing, that they had all been running for a while before they broke into the meadow where I saw them.  They seemed a little tired.  But you would tell they were running with every ounce.  It is strange to describe. 

Then the elk turned, the wolves naturally chasing after her, and the three of them ran right over the road not terribly far from our car.  Not like 10 feet or anything, but I bet I could have hit them with a rock easily (you know, if I wanted to).  We'd pulled off the road by this point, along with three other cars (well, actually one of them parked ON the road, but people do that in the park...) to watch as the trio ran in a zig-zag around the meadow on the other side of the road.  The black wolf closed in and took a lunge at the front of the elk.  I don't know if the wolf was going for neck or chest or leg or what because it all happened so fast.  But the elk avoided the lunge and the wolf tumbled off in a small barrel roll through the grass.  Without a moment of hesitation the wolf was up and running again, rejoining the grey wolf as they tailed the elk up the hillside and into the trees where we lost sight of them.  It was a few minutes of total INSANITY.  I wonder how many minutes, really.  Was it two minutes?  Three?  It sure felt longer, but it was probably only a few.
I did manage to snap one decent photo, taken right before the lunge by the black wolf.  I do NOT want to be one of those people who sees everything through my camera so in action packed situations like this I just hold it up and snap away, hoping for the best.  It is more important to really SEE the action live I think.  That said, I do like having a a photo to look at later.  So, this technique seems to cover both desires.
I really wonder who came out on top.  Who would be better off in the trees wolves or elk?  I can argue both ways, but don't know enough about either species to be sure.  Part of me is glad the wolf missed as I am sure it would have been gruesome to see and hear the death, especially from so close.  But, oh MAN!  It would have been FASCINATING, too.  So, an even larger part of me wishes the wolves had taken her down right there in the roadside meadow so I could see what would happen.  How would they go about it?   How long would it take?  Are there other wolves about?  What other critters would try to sneak some when the wolves were meat drunk and sleepy or gone?   It would have been quite the sight I am sure.  The food web in active demonstration.
Same photo, zoomed in a bit.
When the wolves and the elk were gone I just couldn't believe what we'd just seen.  It happened so fast and it was so intense.  I kept coming back to it in my mind (and still am) for the next several days, replaying it.  It was all so improbable.  I mean I felt lucky to witness a wolf in the park just napping in the sunshine (as the guests used to say at the zoo "not doing anything.") a few years ago and that was far, far away and through a spotting scope.  But to see them in action!  On the hunt!  With my naked eyeballs!  Oh, my lucky stars!  They were all amazing.  Not just the wolves either, the elk too.  She would throw out a hoof and kick the wolves on her heels.  She was making them work hard for it, turning this way and that in the meadow trying to lose them.  The energy the animals exuded was electrifying.   I was literally charged by the experience. 

And to think that the whole circle of life drama could have taken place just as magically out in the backcountry, but for whatever reason it happened right out in the open in a roadside meadow and I just happened to be there to witness it. What incredible timing.  I love feeling like I am exactly where I am supposed to be in this world.  It doesn't always happen, but when it does it is worth noting.   Thanks, Universe, for being so awesome.

Harlequin Ducks

We saw two new species of birds in Yellowstone last weekend—Barrow’s Golden Eyes and Harlequin Ducks.  (And another 19 species we’d seen before.)
Those Harlequins have to be the prettiest ducks I’ve ever seen.  Matt still thinks the Wood Duck might win the duck beauty contest, and he might be right, but in the moment, with the Harlequins right in front of me, it seemed the Wood Ducks had been dethroned.
The contrast of dark and light was just spectacular.  I just don’t understand how such beauty could be painted onto a bird.  The perfect circles and lines which you know are made up by subtle variations of feather colors are somehow incomprehensible to me.  It is a miracle of perfect beauty.
Mating procedures seemed to start with a little close swimming, low in the water.
The he popped up on her back, nearly forcing her head underwater.
She did end up completely submerged for a bit.
And then it was over and they went back to serious preening.
There were several soft, and much more subtle females and one mating pair of Harlequins splashing and preening at the LaHardey Rapids.  The male is so obvious in his stunning garb that you could hardly miss him.  We watched them for quite a long time from the riverbank. 

 There was MUCH preening going on.  When you are that fancy looking I guess you want to stay sharp in order to impress all those ladies.  It must have worked.  We watched long enough to observe the pair mate in the water.    We’d also seen the Golden Eye’s mate earlier in the day.  Tis the season.
We were especially excited to see these birds because they don't ever pop up around Billings.  They are sea ducks that only come to the western Montana streams to mate and nest.  The male will head back for the coast in June.  The female and young will stick around until around September.  Harlqeuin Ducks that have been banded in Montana have been found to return to the coasts of British Columbia, Oregon and Washington.
Look at that mohawk!
I always thought the Harlequin Ducks looked stunning in my guidebooks, but I was in no way prepared for just how stunning they really are. 
Bird Sightings:
Canada goose
Black-billed magpie
American robin
Great blue heron
Barrow's golden eye
Mountain bluebird
Sandhill crane
Gray jay
Harlequin duck
Mallard duck
American wigeon
Ring-necked duck
Turkey vulture
Dark eyed junco
Cinnamon teal
Wilson's snipe
Western meadowlark

Non-bird sightings:
Grizzly bear
Golden-mantled ground squirrel

Friday, May 18, 2012

An Unconventional Sandwich Bag

I can't remember the last time I bought ziplock storage bags, but I can remember the last time I used them--you know the ones you wash and use over and over again until they are worn to holes.  But, I am trying to move away from all that disposable and plastic stuff.  The last few ziplocks kicking around my house are quickly dwindling down to none and I've come up with alternatives, such as re-using glass jars.  One of which was this quick little number:
Maybe it wouldn't work in all climates, but a simple tea towel tied with a piece of ribbon kept my PB & J sandwich perfectly until lunchtime when I had the chance to eat it.    I've read sewing projects for making your own sandwich bags, but this seemed, well, much easier.  And I already had all the needed supplies!

I've found that the solutions to our disposable, potentially toxic go-to products are all around if we stop to puzzle it out a bit.  Why not cut down waste and save money at the same time?  And then you also have napkin packed with lunch!

For another idea check out this video demonstration by Max at the Zero Waste Family:  How to Make a Zero Waste Lunch.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


I turned 28 yesterday.  It was an all around great day, too.
I woke early with Matt and I confess rather straight away opened my presents:  a Simpson’s themed board game, a tea kettle, a basket for my bicycle, a sleeping pad for camping.  All excellent gifts for me, things I will use a lot.  Matt had developed a few disposable cameras that I’d never gotten around to having developed over the years. They said “best if processed before 2004” on them.   They contained photos from my high school prom and graduation and lots of hanging out with friends.  I always wondered why I never really ended up with many photos of prom and of me and my pals posing in our caps and gowns.  This explains it.  There were also some great photos from college and just in general lots of good memories.    I was completely surprised. 
Matt prepared a simple yet delicious fresh greens, garlic, and potato burrito for breakfast, one of my favorites after we puttered around in the garden for a while.  

I got a touching card signed by all the students who work for me and some yellow irises from my boss when I arrived at work.  My mom called and sang to me.  I enjoyed my lunch watching the tiny bunnies slurping up dandelions in the sunshine.
I got to duck out of work early because it looked stormy and my boss suggested I should, since it was my birthday and all.  (He didn’t have to tell me twice.)  
I rode my bicycle home under the lightest sprinkles of rain and had a white flour roll that Matt had baked the night before.  Yum.  We rarely have all-white bread.  It is almost shockingly delicious when we do.  I sat on the porch (and it was not stormy by then) and watched the birds.  Hung clothes to dry outside, one of my favorite household “chores.” 
I hoped back on my bicycle and rode down to the brewery (a splendid 5.5 mile cruise almost all downhill) where my friends’ bluegrass band Ted Ness and the Rusty Nails and another bluegrass group The Maverick Sting Stretchers just happened to be playing a show on my birthday.  Awesome.  A concert on my birthday is possibly the best way that I could spend it, the best birthday party I could ask for.  (In 2009 I got to see The Dead play at The Gorge in Washington and it is still one of the best birthdays I can remember.)
I danced barefoot.  I am so happy when I dance barefoot.  I even did a little jitterbugging, something I really don’t do.  I’m much more of a solo, freeform dancer, but at that point in the evening no one else was dancing except me so I figured I’d take him up on it.  He flung and twirled me all over.  It was fun and strange.   I still like dancing by myself better though (To be clear, I like dancing by myself in a crowd of other people dancing….not me by myself in the middle of the dance floor.  I will do that too.  I just have to dance.  If it is bluegrassy or Grateful Dead-esque I just can’t stop my body from moving!   And really once one person starts to dance usually others follow.  I don’t mind being that one person.) 
Lots of my friends were at the show and there were birthday hugs and toasts and beers shared.  Caleb filled my growler for free.  There was a dancing dog (video below).  There were dancing children.  I smiled just about the whole time, I think.

Matt got off in time to come down and hook up with me as I was chatting with the bands and other friends after the show was over and things winding down for the night at the brewery.  He put my bicycle in the back of the car and thus I didn’t have to ride back up hill to home.  It not a terrible uphill ride, but I wasn’t heartbroken to skip it. 
I listened to sweet birthday messages on the answering machine and returned a few calls while Matt fried up french fries and (bean) burgers, served on those delicious all white flour rolls.  Yum….  Burgers and fries might not sound like a decadent birthday meal, but I just about never eat them so it was a special treat for me. 
Derek and Josh came over and we had vanilla cake with buttercreme frosting and polished off the growler and visited.  Derek gave me a George Orwell book I’d never heard of.  Another excellent gift for me.  People know me so well.      
Around midnight Matt and I went to bed and we hit the snooze for an hour before we got up today.  I didn’t sleep in on my birthday, but after such a long, full, fun-filled day I sure wanted to today.
I’m excited about where I am in life.  I feel good about it and am looking forward to the year ahead of me.  28.  Excellent.  Here I go!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Apple Crisp

This post is long overdue.  Linda at Practical Parsimony asked about this recipe...oh, months ago probably.  Well, you know how time flies.... So here at long last it is. 

Apple crisp is one of my favorite desserts and certainly one of the most frequently served at my table.  Its easy.  That's one thing to love about it.  It is a sweet and satisfying dessert that always seems to please without being overly sweet and high in refined sugar.  Its also quite local which I really like.  We can the apples ourselves in the fall and the bulk oats are grown in Montana.  Since we use our canned apples rather then fresh it is also fairly quick to bake up and also pretty cheap since we get the apples for free.  I like finding ways to use lots of what I can produce/procure lots of.  Right now that is fairly limited amount of foods, but apples (apple sauce and canned apples) are something that we've supplied all our needs of for the last couple years and all for the price of a few canning supplies that will probably last a lifetime.  I like that a lot.  It also make me feel like making applesauce cake or crisp a little more often.  I mean, its practically free, right?  And it might be misguided, but I feel better knowing I am at least getting some fruit with my sugar fix. 

There are a few ways one can alter this recipe to their liking and ingredients on hand.  #1 Using canned apples vs. fresh apples, #2 Using some sort dry sweetener (raw cane  sugar, refined, etc.) vs. honey, #3 substituting different types of fruits for apples, depending on what is available.
Apple Crisp

6 - 10 apples, depending on size,cored and chopped (or 1 quart canned apples with syrup)
1 t cinnamon
1/4 C veg oil
1/2 C flour
1/4 - 1/2 C dry sweetener
1 C rolled oats

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Place the apples in a baking dish.  Sprinkle cinnamon on top.  Combine oil, flour, sweetener, and oats in a large bowl.  Sprinkle on top of apples and bake 40-45 minutes or until top is golden.

To use canned apples the recipe is the same it just takes less time to bake because the apples are already cooked, usually 25-30 minutes or so.

To use honey instead of sugar just replace the sugar with 1/3 C honey instead.  It will be a little more gooey since usually you'd subtract some liquid in exchanging the honey, but that isn't really do-able with this recipe aside from using less syrup if using canned apples.  In any event it still turns out yummy and gets very nicely golden because of the honey.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Weekend Wildlife

We certainly were not disappointed with the wildlife watching on our weekend trip to Yellowstone National Park.   Anything but, actually. 

Bird Sightings:
Canada goose
Mountain bluebird
Clark's nutcracker
Red wing black bird
Violet-green swallow
American Robin
Yellow rumped warbler
Northern flicker
Chipping sparrow
Brown-headed cowbird
Sandhill crane
American dipper
Mallard duck
Bald eagle
Great blue heron
Common merganser
Turkey vulture
Tree swallow
Red-tail hawk

Non-bird sightings:
Grizzly bear (This was the first time I've seen a grizzly in the wild.  It was the most perfect experience too...not at all scary!  We saw four of them in the span of an hour--a mother and two cubs from about 300 yards and a lone bear from about 100 yards.  It was INCREDIBLE to watch these magnificent creatures.  And to think their range once cover almost the United States and now they almost exclusively live in or around Yellowstone.)
Uinta ground squirrel
Golden-mantled ground squirrel
Killdeer, wading through the waters at Mammoth Hot Springs.
Violet-Green Swallow
I need to work on my track identifying ability....
Clark's Nutcracker
Golden-Mantled Squirrel eating dandelions
This is an aquatic mat made up of strands of bacteria.  How crazy is that for wildlife?!
Mountain Bluebird (They were everywhere and never fail to take my breath away.)
Grizzly Bear
Raven...who had apparently been fed in the past as he flew right up to our car as we watched bison.  Feeding wildlife is such a bad idea, but I understand how tempting it can be.  None the less....not a good idea.
Bison....they are like lumbering, fuzzy dinosaurs.
 This bison was giving itself a little dust bath.  The video is in sepia colors for some reason.  It was so loud when it slammed itself on the ground!
Coyote, hunting Uinta Ground Squirrels.  While he made a couple pounces he never did get one.
Uinta Ground Squirrel
Sandhill Crane
Common Mergansers
Unless someone was running around off boardwalk and barefoot I tempted to think these are bear tracks, but as mentioned I need to work on that particular naturalist skill.
I wonder what we'll see next time!