Monday, May 30, 2011

Hummingbirds, Hoyas... Hippos?

 Well I've been here almost a week and am kind of settling into a routine. I finally unpacked my clothes and got them stowed in my dresser--it's perpetually annoying to look through two boxes and a suitcase when trying to decide what to wear. We spent a lot of time running errands this week: shopping trips, lunch with friends, and a trip to Home Depot to do some new plantings in the back yard. No matter what else is going on, and no matter the weather, I just can't stay away from Balboa Park and the Zoo.

I visited the Zoo yesterday morning, getting there just after 9:00 in an attempt to avoid the worst of the holiday rush. Because it had poured down rain overnight and the sky was still full of clouds, there were far fewer visitors at opening than I expected there to be. An uncrowded Zoo experience is always a good one. My top exhibits, and sometimes the only ones I visit, are the Galapagos tortoises and the Orangutans. Then, depending on how much time I have and how much walking I want to do, I'll stroll down to the pandas and check out some of the aviaries.

Yesterday I stopped in an often-overlooked spot, the Hummingbird Aviary. Hummingbirds may just be my favorite animal (though they certainly fight with horses for first), and I love watching them flit around. There are at least two living in our back yard, but being to experience them just a little closer at the Zoo is certainly worth stopping at the aviary.  The aviary is conveniently provided with benches, where I sat for awhile to watch the birds zoom around. After sitting there for a while I caught sight of a female hummingbird building a nest--how cool is that?! Her chosen nest site is less than two feet from the railing that keeps the public out of the bird area, not the most intelligent choice to try to raise a family of tiny birds. While I will be very surprised if she completes the nest and is able to raise a clutch of little hummers, I did enjoy watching her work yesterday. The nest she is building looks like a ball of lint that you would pull from your dryer and is lined with downy feathers. There are nesting materials available in the aviary, to which she'd flit, work out some hair, and bring it over to her nest. Her beak works as a great weaving tool, similar to the way that people use needles to felt wool. When not working in new hair, lint, wool, etc., she'd wiggle her butt around in a way very unbecoming of a lady, but I'm sure it's important for getting the right shape and compression for the nest. The fiber materials used for her nest are in contrast to one I found last summer in Balboa Park that was slightly smaller and made of mud. All birds have their differences!
Along with the birds in the Hummingbird Aviary, there are a few plants that will catch your eye. The one I found most beautiful is this hoya that was hanging discreetly by the exit. Isn't it just a great color?
And, last but not least, hippos rhinos. These Indian rhinos are brothers and are part of the Backstage Pass experience where Zoo visitors can pay a little extra and get to give them a bath. Yesterday they were chasing each other all around the exhibit and having a few head to head skirmishes. I, and the other visitors watching, were surprised to watch them run full speed into the pool that is in their exhibit. Now, I've seen rhinos wallowing in shallow pools before, but at its deepest point these guys just get their nostrils out of the water, reminding me more of hippos than rhinos.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Yo, where you at?

Though I don't have any amazing fantastic update for you today, no recipes, no photos, I do have updates!
On Monday I drove to San Diego--13 hours in the car, only stopping for gas. I may only be here for a week, or I may be here the whole summer. Currently, I'm hoping for a job in Arcata, so that would require a drive back up the coast.
As soon I as I drove in to San Diego I felt like I was home. Having been here for the past 3 summers, I do know my way around pretty well and had no trouble making it to my Aunt's house without referencing a map or gps. Go my team! The weather here is beautiful. I love the fragrance of the flowers that floats on the breeze, and the sound of songbirds that seems nonstop from the time the sun comes up until it disappears at night. I counted at least 9 different kinds of bird in the back yard this morning, two kinds of butterfly, and a lizard. We also had a resident chipmunk, but I saw him limp over the canyon rim yesterday evening, and I don't think he'll be returning.
There is no internet access at the house, so I've walked to a cafe on the corner of Park and Madison to have some tea and take care of my internet surfing for the night. On the way here I watched as a feral parrot flew a few circuits around the neighborhood, squawking the whole time. It's kind of funny, because I usually consider myself fond of peace and quiet, yet being in this bustling city soothes me and makes me happy.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Try This!

I'll be moving to a new place for the summer, though as of right now I'm not sure what city that will be in. No matter where I end up, I know I'll be leaving this apartment soon. Moving is always a hassle, and if there's one thing I always try to have minimized before I move, it's the food. Eating what I have left in the freezer, not buying groceries the last week before a move, and trying to use up those obscure dry ingredients so I don't have to pack them up. This technique doesn't always work. I have some penne pasta that has lived with me in three different apartments--which means it's pretty old at this point and may not be too yummy.

These Oatmeal Bars were an easy way to use up some of what is left in my kitchen, while satisfying a craving for something sweet.

The recipe is really very simple:
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup agave
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup old-fashioned oats

I began by mixing everything but the oats and chocolate chips in my go-to bowl.
I tried to blend the agave and peanut butter first, then work the rest of the dry stuff in. With a little bit of elbow grease everything was incorporated, and let me tell you, it smelled delicious!

These didn't absolutely need to be baked, and I'm sure I could have sat down with the bowl and ate pretty much the whole thing right then and there, but I chose to stick them in the oven for about 10 minutes at 325 to make them a little more solid. I pressed the oatmeal mixture into a small Pyrex dish, trying to squish it in there well enough that the bars would stay together when finished.

I can't say it much clearer: The end product was delicious. For a long time I've had quite an aversion to cinnamon, but I'm becoming more and more accepting of it. I'll even go so far as to say that without the cinnamon, these oatmeal bars wouldn't have turned out half as tasty as they are. I waited until they'd cooled before slicing myself a bar and having a taste, and I wasn't disappointed! If you need something simple yet sweet, try putting together some oatmeal bars!

Oatmeal Bars
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/3 cup agave
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup old-fashioned oats

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Mix all ingredients except chocolate chips and oats in a medium bowl. Fold in oats and stir well to combine. Sprinkle in chocolate chips and do your best to distribute them throughout the oat mixture.
Press the oat mixture into a greased 8x10 pan, and bake in preheated oven for about 10 minutes. Longer if you prefer your bars crispier.
Allow to cool completely, then slice into bars. Best served with a big glass of milk!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Quinoa Cakes

This week, to my great excitement, I received Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day from Rhonda, a lovely librarian and dear friend. The cookbook's first notable trait is that it is full of vegetarian recipes. It's always frustrating to pick up a cookbook and skip half of the content because I don't eat meat! With only a few exceptions, I can see myself trying every recipe in this book. Once I get settled for the summer, I may do just that.

Today, to break in the new book, I whipped up a batch of Little Quinoa Patties. I didn't quite have everything that the recipe called for, and adjusted it to be gluten free, so my adaptation is a little different than the original.

These are the ingredients I assembled:
4 large eggs, beaten
2.5 cups cooked quinoa
1/2 tsp salt
1 yellow onion, chopped
3/4 cups "breadcrumbs" made from gluten-free cereal
1/2 cup finely chopped broccoli florets
3 cloves finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
1 Tbl caramelized onion (leftover from earlier in the week)

You begin by combining the eggs and quinoa, then stir in the rest of the ingredients, adding the breadcrumbs last. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes before shaping into patties.

 The shaped patties are cooked on the stove in a little bit of olive oil. With the lid on the saute pan, cook for 5-7 minutes per side. I was nervous about under cooking the eggs, so my cakes got a little brown in their pursuit of the correct cooking time.
When finished, they were lovely. Not exactly a flavorful kick in the mouth, even with all that onion and garlic, but tasty none the less. I tried mine with barbecue sauce, sweet and sour sauce, and sour cream. In small amounts, each completed the flavors just fine. I think that if I'd had a stronger cheese on hand, instead of the mozzarella that was used, they'd have been more flavorful.

Overall the recipe was a success and will be added to my arsenal. I don't really like to eat quinoa on its own, so it's nice to have a recipe that it fits so perfectly into.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Carrot Salad

On Tuesday of this week Dr. Pan made the journey south from Pullman to visit HSU and see how the soil fertility course was rounding out the semester. My students put together pretty strong presentations and I was very satisfied with the projects they had put together. Anyway, after class ended and we had toured around Arcata a bit, we went to a Japanese restaurant for dinner. Part of my meal was a little cup of cucumber salad, with some sort of vinegar-based dressing on it. That tasty little salad has left me dwelling on veggie slaws, and led to the yummy carrot creation I just whipped up.

I julienned carrots on the mandolin slicer my aunt gave me for Christmas, which made the job a lot easier! I'd been dreading scraping my knuckles on a box grater, but remembered the mandolin and used it to quickly get the job done.
While rooting around the fridge for my carrots, I came across a cabbage (that's been there for a disturbingly long time). After peeling away the outermost leaves, I ran the cabbage over the mandolin. It didn't come out quite as cleanly as the carrot shreds had, but saved me a little bit of cutting.  
Then, further using what was left in the fridge, I chopped up an apple. I tried to make the pieces pretty small, but next time they'll need to be a bit smaller. Maybe even julienned on the mandolin?

 The dressing was made from 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of sugar, and a pinch of salt.
Then I did a kind of silly thing. Because the bowl I had started the whole process in was too small to distribute the dressing on the salad, I dumped the carrot-cabbage-apple mixture onto my cutting board. It kept me from dirtying another dish, and made mixing quite easy. I just drizzled my dressing over the top, mixed everything around on the board a bit, and put it back into the bowl.

I topped my serving with a little bit of slivered almonds and dug right in! While it was delicious, and definitely exactly what I was craving today, there are a number of things I will change for the future. The olive oil flavor was very noticeable, which means that in the future I'll use less of it, and/or an oil with less flavor. The lemon didn't come through strong enough, so I'll probably bump that amount up. And the apple bits need to be a little smaller if they want to be more conducive with the salad as a whole. Even with those changes noted, it was delicious today!

This sweet little salad goes well with the BBQ tofu I've been cooking up this week. It's super simple: fry tofu on the stove until it's as crunchy as you want it, then pour on the BBQ sauce! I then cook for a little while longer (which probably isn't necessary), before pulling them out of the pan and eating in a taco or alongside some rice. It's a quick and easy way to dress up the otherwise bland tofu!

If you want to make your own Carrot Salad, here is the "recipe" that I went by.
1 cup julienned carrots
1 cup shredded cabbage
1 apple, chopped into small pieces

2-3 Tbl lemon juice
3-5 Tbl extra virgin olive oil
pinch of sugar
pinch of salt

Combine the carrots, cabbage, and apple. In another bowl, make the dressing. Pour over your veggie mixture, top with a few slivered almonds, and enjoy!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Easter Cupcakes!

I have been so busy since Easter that I'm just now getting around to posting about my travels and baking! I drove home the Tuesday before Easter, making the 12 hour trip all at once, and getting in around 4am. I certainly was tired after that! While at home I spent plenty of time with my family, even traveling to Poulsbo on Thursday for a family lunch.  My time at home went by so quickly, and before I knew it we were packing up to go to Aunt Louise's for Easter!

I made some lovely Orange Cream Cupcakes to contribute to the Easter Festivities. The recipe came from my Grandma's old Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, and had a few tweakings by me. I'd share the recipe with y'all, but I seem to have left it behind when I drove south again.

Anyway, from my cupcake batter I made 1 dozen regular-sized cupcakes, and about a dozen minis. The minis were decorated with orange frosting and a candied orange peel, and the larger ones decorated to look like little Easter chicks!

They don't look exactly like fluffy little chicks, but they're cute! The idea comes from Martha Stewart (who has so many broken links I'm not even going to try to show you where I found the idea). You basically turn a cupcake upside down, so the larger part is facing down for a more natural shape, and frost the whole thing. Then roll it in toasted coconut for a feathered look, and add eyes and a beak. Martha also added feet, but that's up to you.

They're shaggy, but cute! And quite yummy, if I may say so myself!


So, super cool thing. While driving south after my trip home to the Seattle area, I stopped at a Botanical Trail along highway 199. For the last few months I've been poking around on the internet, trying to find out where one can go to see the carnivorous plants that are native to Northern California. This botanical trail is one of the few easily accessible areas. And it is super accessible--you pull off the 199, walk for just a few minutes, and you find yourself looking at a vast expanse of pitcher plants.

I was certainly not expecting to see such a magnitude of pitcher plants. Their name is Darlingtonia california, and they're found only in Northern California and Oregon.
You'll notice that the plants look different than most pitcher plants do. Instead of being open at the top to catch rainwater, these pitcher plants curve downward. This explains one where the common name of cobra lily comes from. They do appear to release enzymes to break down prey that is captured inside the plant. Interestingly, the cells inside the pitcher that absorb the nutrients are the same as those that absorb nutrients at the roots.
They are pretty neat, if I may say so myself! I highly recommend that anyone driving on the 199 from Grants Pass to Crescent City try to stop and check it out! The Darlingtonia Trail is only a short walk, and it's a good chance to get out and stretch your legs in the middle of a long drive. The botanical trail signs are about 15 miles NE of Gasquet--pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Backpacking the Lost Coast

I've been away for so long! I'm going to start with the most recent news and work backwards to catch up on what has been going on, so stay tuned!

On Friday Michael and I set out for a 3 day backpacking trip of the Lost Coast trail in the King Range National Wilderness. We returned yesterday (Sunday) sore, sunburnt, and a bit blistered--but what do you expect when you put your body through such demanding terrain!?

Day 1: Mattole Beach Trailhead to Cooskie Creek
Part of the trail is impassable during high tide, so we had to check the tide charts to make sure we could make it to our camping spot before the water got too high. The map showed two creeks we would need to cross before reaching our final destination, Cooskie Creek. As it turns out, there are at least twice as many places where water flows from the hills to the surf as what is shown on the map. Maybe three times as much. This made it kind of frustrating, as almost every time we crossed a stream we wondered a little bit Is this creek on the map?

My rule of thumb: It's only marked on the map as a creek if crossing necessitates taking off your shoes and wading through the water.

Around 6pm I was beginning to get frustrated. We'd gone over so many creeks I could hardly keep it all straight, and there seemed to be many more bumps in the coastline than the map showed. Just when I was beginning to lose hope of finding Cooskie Creek that night, it appeared. That is kind of how it happened--the water flows down through rocks, and from a distance you can't even see it. So we approached this area where the water was flowing out to sea, and looked up into the hills. There it was: the most open, almost meadowy area, perfect for camping overnight.  We scouted around and found a nice little place to set up our tent, with a fire pit and some driftwood benches not far away.  While there was no escaping the wind, Michael still managed to boil water so we could cook dinner, and we made a driftwood fire to enjoy before going to sleep.

Cooskie Creek had this great rock formation, visible from where we set up camp for the night.

This is looking up the ravine from our campsite. The creek is out of view, but flowing along the right side of the picture.
Day 2: Cooskie Creek to Spanish Flat to Randall Creek
Day 2 was a bit intense. We woke up when the sun hit our tent and made the temperatures inside near unbearable. We decided to head further south, once again waiting for the tides to ebb before we had beach to walk on. The plan was to head south to Spanish Ridge Trail, take it inland, and then continue north. As it turns out, finding trails in wilderness areas can be a bit difficult. And by difficult, I mean near impossible. While walking on Spanish Flat, which was covered in blooming wildflowers and the highlight of the day, we found a sign that pointed inland and read Spanish Ridge Trail.

Wildflowers bloom on Spanish Flat.
 The sign pointed directly to three hills, rising in front of us from the flat. After staring at them for awhile, we decided there was a discernable trail over to the right, winding around the side of a hill. The map, I might add, noted that trails on the north end of the wilderness area are often overgrown from low use. The trail we could see looked like what the map was showing--it headed in the right direction, at the right elevation. After following it for awhile, it became apparent that this [hopefully] wasn't the trail, as it suddenly ended at the edge of a ravine. We tried and tried to find the trail, but finally admitted defeat and treked back to the beach to find a campsite for the night. Michael has since checked on Google Earth and is of the opinion that that trail, whatever it was, even though it was marked, was too far north to be the actual Spanish Ridge Trail. We had to backtrack to find a place to camp for the night, and ended up at Randall Creek.

Camp at Randall Creek. The creek runs over on the left, by where Michael is walking.
 Day 3: Randall Creek to Mattole Beach
Randall Creek was on the south end of the area impassable at high tide, so in order for the beach to be clear for hiking north again, we had to wait until high tide had passed. We didn't get onto the trail until about 1:30, and it was very slow going on the sand (as it had been the whole trip). We stopped at Cooskie to cook lunch before continuing on, intent on making it to the trailhead before dark. There is an abandoned lighthouse about 3 miles south of the trailhead, and when we reached it we were able to find a path above the beach that kept us above the sand. That made for much easier walking, though severe headwinds hampered our progress. There were all sorts of neat things littering the beach--shiny abalone shells, rocks with strange holes in them, balls of wax from who knows where, and rusting piles of metal from buoys and other assorted things that were washed up on shore.

Beautiful waterfall, visible from our trek.
 We made it back to Mattole shortly before 8:00 on Sunday night. Souvenirs from the trip: a few shiny rocks and shells, one epic blister on my baby toe, sunburn, windburn, freckles, and sore muscles galore!

The intrepid travelers, safely back at Mattole!