Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A baby giraffe

Not too much to report--I'm still enjoying my last days as a tour bus driver! Things are wrapping up on a positive note, as I've gotten more good feedback from visitors in the past few days than the entire rest of the summer!

I went to work early today to take some photos before my shift. We had a new giraffe calf born on the morning of August 30, so this morning he was less than 36 hours old for the photos. The poor little guy had one of his front hooves tucked under in the womb, so the tendons are hyper extended and his leg bent in a very disturbing way yesterday. Luckily our vet staff wrapped the leg, including a splint (I think), so now he it stays straight when he walks on it instead of bending at terrible angles. They expect the tendons to shrink back to a normal range soon, and he'll be walking like a normal little calf.

The keepers moved the mother giraffe (Nicky) into the barn before the arrival of the vet this morning, leaving the calf outside by himself. The rest of the herd was very quick to check and make sure the calf was ok. Imara, the giraffe to the left in the photo above, is 5 months old. She and the new calf share a father, and she is very interested in this baby! Yesterday morning when I took a tour by Imara was leaning as far over the fence as she could, sticking out her tongue to try to lick the new arrival.

Above: Suricata suricatta, meerkat! They're cute, that's all.

And a Siberian lynx!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Strawberry Quesadilla

I'm going to start this by shouting, "It's SO good to be me!" Life is quite ordinary right now, but I still feel so good about everything! I now have less than two weeks left at the zoo, and I will definitely miss it. I enjoy working nights when the crowds are smaller and everyone is more relaxed, and I imagine that is what the off season would be like. A few days ago I got to watch as a reindeer was walked down the road that leads past the lion and jaguar exhibits in Elephant Odyssey. The jaguar was very interested in this prey animal and came right up against the exhibit fence, much to the delight of everyone on my tour bus. It's funny how life can seem so ordinary, then I have an experience that reminds me that I work at this incredible zoo, and I just feel so excited and happy to be alive.

On a less exciting note, I had a frenectomy on Tuesday. Big word for a periodontist using a tiny little scalpel to cut the piece of skin between my lower lip and gums below my lower teeth. I was so glad to be heavily numbed during the procedure--just feeling the pressure and watching the blood made me cringe. I'm very glad that a nutrition course was required for my degree at WSU, as I learned a lot of things to take with me into the future! Vitamin C is very important for collagen synthesis (think scurvy!), so I've been vitamin C loading to support fast healing of my mouth!
This super sweet morning treat needs some tweaking, but it was a good start!
Today's breakfast creation probably didn't get me as much of the antioxidant as I had planned (vitamin C is very easily destroyed by heat), but it was still pretty yummy. Having some flour tortillas on hand, I chopped up at least a quarter of a cup of semisweet chocolate chips in the food processor (chocolate overload!), then 5 strawberries. The strawberries were spread on the tortilla, and the chocolate on top. I had wayyyy too much chocolate. I warmed it in the pan until the chocolate was melted (this did get pretty messy), then flopped it onto a plate to devour. My next adaptation of this recipe will be to use Nutella instead of chocolate chips. Then I can just make a chocolaty, strawberry wrap!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Wouldn't you just know it, once things finally get interesting it's almost time for me to leave. It's taken me a couple of months to get settled in and now that I finally know a few more people, I have to say goodbye to them! Leaving the great people behind is always the hardest part of moving on.

But you know what's awesome? Being young, single, employed, and full of excitement for every day!
My friend Selena came to visit last week and I got out and did the things that I never do by myself--visiting a couple of bars, getting a major sunburn at Coronado, and playing tourist at the zoo.

When September 8 arrives and my car is packed to start the long drive home, I will be sad to go. But I will also be very excited for the adventures that await!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Great Summer Day

Today was my first day off in a week, and while I didn't have much time to lounge around the house, the out and about activities were quite worthwhile! We had lunch at Bali Hai on Shelter Island to celebrate Aunt Barbara's birthday. It was the best restauraunt meal I've had in a long time! I had a grilled tofu wrap that was pretty delicious, but the atmosphere is what made it great. We chose to sit outside, and that made all the difference. It was pleasantly warm, and we were blocked from the breeze off the bay by the four foot tall plexiglass railing around the whole terrace. Sitting outdoors was significantly quieter than inside the restauraunt, which meant we could actually carry on a conversation! Bali Hai has a spectacular view of the San Diego bay, and we watched two navy ships come through; the USNS Yukon and USS Bonhomme Richard. By the time we got home from lunch it was nearly 5:00, so dinner was certainly going to be late...

After spending a couple of hours reading and relaxing, I finally hauled myself off the couch to find some dinner. We've been buying corn while it's in season, but not doing the best job of eating it. Knowing that there were three ears in the fridge I was about to lose to the damages of time, I threw together some very quick and simple corn cakes. Seriously simple. This is all it takes:
Kernels from 4 ears of corn
1/4 cup flour
1 egg
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
butter for the pan

You could glitz things up a bit by adding chives or spices of some sort, but I was going for fast and easy. I stirred everything until the flour was well incorporated, squishing the corn just a little bit to add some extra binding liquid. Then melt the butter in a frying pan on medium heat, and scoop the corn mixture into your pan by 1/4 cup scoops. Use a spatula to press corn into a patty shape, and cook for about 5 minutes per side.

There was a bit of debate in our house as to what kind of topping these corn cakes required--I had mine with sour cream, but the other two ladies went with butter and syrup, which I think most people would prefer. Overall, this turned out to be one of the simplest (and easiest cleanup!) meals I've made in a long time, and it was tasty and satisfying!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Pain au Chocolat

I recently came across a quote that was attributed to Michael Pollan. It was something along the lines of If you're willing to make it, you can eat it. I might have to get my hands on a copy of Food Rules or In Defense of Food to see if there's more to that quote. No matter who said it, those words do ring true. Costco's chocolate croissants often call to me from the shelves, but I always pass them up because I know that those bulk quantities are more than I need to be consuming, and there are ingredients in them that I don't want to be consuming!

That's what I like about cooking--100% control over the ingredients in my food. Pain au chocolat is nowhere near a health food, but the simple ingredients that went into my lovely batch of butter flaky goodness were are things that start out rather whole and haven't been processed into something we don't recognize. So I followed Pollan's advice--I wanted croissants, so I made them myself!

I was very glad I read through the recipe ahead of time, as making those flaky, buttery layers required rolling and folding the dough 4 times, letting it chill for 30 minutes before each rolling. After the final folding the dough sat in the fridge overnight, waiting for the morning's final rolling, cutting, and shaping. Let's start at the beginning.

For the croissant dough:
3/4 cup warm milk
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1/3 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt

And for the butter layer:
1 cup cold butter
1/4 cup flour
1-3 tablespoons lemon zest

Start by stirring milk and yeast together in a large bowl. (Have a minor freak out when suddenly your dslr lens doesn't appear to be working correctly, hence some odd photos.)
Add eggs, vanilla, and sugar to the yeast bowl--mix well.
Add one cup flour and the salt, again, mix well.
Slowly add remaining flour to dough. (Have another minor freak out as it suddenly seems that there may not be enough flour to complete this recipe. Squeak by with only about 1/2 cup of extra.)
Turn dough out onto floured surface and knead until smooth (about 5 minutes).
Wrap that dough baby in plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge to chill for 30 minutes.

While the dough chills, combine 1 cup cold butter, 1/4 cup flour, and 1 tablespoon of lemon zest. Beat until smooth and set aside for later.
When the 30-minute chilling period has passed, turn dough ball onto lightly-floured surface and roll into a 13'' x 18'' rectangle, about 1/4'' thick. Spread the butter mixture over 2/3 of this rectangle. Fold the remaining 1/3 of the rectangle over, covering half of the butter. Fold the remaining butter side over. Cover dough with plastic wrap, refrigerate for 30 minutes.
You repeat the roll, fold, chill process 2 more times.
After the final folding, put dough in fridge for 5 hours, or overnight. When you return to work, roll dough to 1/4'' thick, then cut into rectangles (mine were about 4'' x 6''), and fold/roll into pain au chocolat shape. I put chocolate in about half of the batch, and left a few others plain. They all came out with just a hint of lemon, so I'd probably add more lemon zest to the butter in the future. Place seam side down on your baking sheet, or they will probably come unrolled in the oven.
Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 14 minutes, until golden brown.
 See how wonderfully flaky they turned out? It is very tempting to dive right in and start eating when your croissants are fresh from the oven, but wait! Cooling gives the butter layers a chance to solidify, which is how you get the most of that flakiness that screams croissant.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Last week I took Mom and Aunt Carol to Balboa Park one morning to visit my favorite spots. When I visit Balboa Park I usually only go as far as the pond in front of the botanical building and find a bench to relax on. I haven't been in a single museum this summer, though there are some cool exhibits right now that I should check out. Maybe I'll take advantage of museum air conditioning with my Thursday and Friday off!

Last summer I discovered that the crown plants near the entrance doors of the botanical building were absolutely loaded with monarch caterpillars. This summer there seem to be fewer of them, but still enough to elicit wonder at the jeweled chrysalises the caterpillars use for their transformations. 

How many caterpillars can you find in the photo? This crown plant was absolutely loaded!
In other news, San Diego has been terribly hot and humid lately. When I got done at the dentist at 10:30 yesterday morning it was already so hot and muggy that I felt like doing nothing but coming home and enjoying the air conditioning. This means that I've been getting a lot of reading done! The first day of each month book publishers make Kindle editions of select titles free to a limited number of readers, so bright and early Monday morning I downloaded a bunch of free books to add to my reading list!  I'm continuing in my zero-cooking trend; the stove makes the kitchen too hot! A 5am cooking session may be required to actually get something done!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Family Visits

The last week has been very eventful--Aunt Carol arrived on July 23 to spend  few days in San Diego, and my mom and sister arrived on the 24th. They visited the Zoo and rode on my tour bus, we spent a morning exploring Balboa Park, spent a few hours at Seaport Village and on the Midway, and mom and Aunt Carol spent more than a few hours looking at family photos and hearing stories from Aunt Doris.

Mel and I found this cute cutout in the Children's Zoo.

On the 28th Mom, Mel and I went to the San Diego Zoo's Safari Park. The day started with a Caravan Safari, where you sit in the back of stake bed truck and cruise around the large field exhibits for two hours. We got to feed giraffes and rhinos! While at the Safari Park I was sure to point out the areas that I worked in last summer, making sure to show mom the gardens that I spent so many hours in.


Feeding lorikeets at the Safari Park.