Saturday, June 09, 2007

Salad Season

When we returned from our trip, we were greeted with exploding gardens. In the vegetable garden, our Speckled Trout Romaine (Forellenschluss) was ready for harvest. Beo was up for trying some salads as our main course, and we have both found them delightful. This is a wonderful lettuce variety and I highly recommend it. Working on the CSA, I learned how to best prepare lettuce. After harvesting, it should be rinsed in a cold water bath as soon as possible. Make sure to use plenty of water so that any debris can float away from freely-moving leaves. Remove the leaves from the water, drain the water, and rinse any dirt or other undesirable material from the sink or rinse container. This process should be done 3 times to get clean leaves. If you don't currently clean your lettuce this way, you will probably understand why you might want to after seeing your rinse water the first two times. I've been using our first rinse water to water plants outside, the second for inside plants, and the third for the dogs water dishes (heck they drink out of puddles in the mud outside) or to fill pots that need to soak. I just use another container to scoop the water out of the sink, or use a large bowl if I only need to wash a small amount of lettuce. After washing, let the lettuce dry (this will help it stay crisp and retain nutrients--use a salad spinner or lay leaves on clean towels), and store it in a ventilated container in the refrigerator.

We started out with some basic salads. Our radishes were ready too, so the basic formula was lettuce, sliced radishes, and nuts. We like almonds, pecans, and walnuts for a little crunch. For extra protein, we often saute some sliced tempeh with a bit of Bragg's Amino Acids. We've also been doing sliced boiled eggs lately. I do not particularly like eating eggs. I have a personal mindset that just puts me off of them. However I've realized that if I want to eat more locally, eggs are far and away my best vegetarian protein source until we have enough land to grow heirloom beans. That's not in the near future, so for now, eggs it is. We enjoyed the beautiful pear, walnut, and goat cheese salad last week. The pear was our last domestic one we had, and I wanted to really highlight it. I was inspired by a salad Beo and I shared when we were at a restaurant in North Carolina.

You may have a favorite dressing recipe, but try something new to spice up your salads. I recently got some Organic Valley Mexican Blend cheese on sale, so I threw it into a salad with some seasoned black turtle beans, salsa, corn chips, and goat cheese for a Taco Salad. (Forgive the picture, I was in a hurry. My dear family is often waiting to eat while I try to get a good shot of our dinner!) I concocted a basic vinaigrette and added lemon juice and chili powder. It was delicious! To make your own, just use a formula of 2 parts oil to one part vinegar, and add a pinch of salt. You may also want to try a bit of sugar. I have used mustard, lemon juice, garlic, soy sauce, garam masala and more to try to create the right dressing for the salad. Give it a try and enjoy the wonderful greens that are in season now!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Prairie Dogs, Ferrets, and Poison, Oh My!

On our recent trip, one of the animals Sprout and Bird found most captivating was the prairie dog. We spent so much time parked near the edge of their "towns" in the Badlands and Custer State Park, watching their antics. Beo told stories about being in the backcountry of the Badlands the year that Black-footed ferrets were reintroduced to the area. Now more than 200 of these endangered creatures live in and around these same prairie dog towns. It's a success story in the endangered species world. Now the ferrets are threatened again, as cattle ranchers push the Forest Service to expand their prairie dog poisoning programs deeper into federal lands--into the heart of where the ferrets can potentially thrive.

I hope my readers know that I am no (stereotypical) garden-variety tree hugger. I understand the importance of cattle grazing (especially in the face of CAFO expansion) and the need to remove prairie dogs from private lands. Federal lands however, are there for a reason. These areas already permit grazing. In my mind, ranch owners should be able to use the land within its ecological limits, but not dictate how the federal government controls the land. The Forest Service is in part responsible for keeping these ecosystems balanced and preserved. Moving the poisoning program into an area where an endangered species is getting a foothold is foolhardy at best. Our world is under threat from all sides. This is one area where we've done the right thing and tried to set up an ecosystem that belongs. Let's not let business interests throw that away. Please, take the time to read this article, and follow the instructions for contacting the Forest Service to share your thoughts about the plan. My letter is ready to get dropped in the mail.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Yellowstone and Beyond

Things have been a blur the past month. There was much to do with volunteering, work, home, and the gardens. Our trip to Yellowstone was a wonderful respite. My Dad asked us a few months ago if we would like to take this trip with them when my sister flew back from Alaska. We jumped at the chance for a planned family vacation! The last time we took a vacation with my parents and sisters was back when I was in high school, excepting trips to Ohio for Christmas. My Dad planned everything out ahead of time, basically removing all pre-stress from the trip. Believe it or not, what follows is the Readers Digest Version of this journey. Our trip began at my parents house in SD. On the one-year anniversary of my Dad's stroke, we picked up my sisters and their/(ours too) dear friend, and we were off. We visited the famed Corn Palace, the Badlands and stayed in Spearfish the first day. The badlands never cease to awe me, no matter how many times I visit them. We saw Pronghorn, Prairie Dogs, Meadowlarks, Bluebirds, Vultures, and some young Bighorn sheep in the park.
The next morning my fam enjoyed a lovely local coffee shop and a brief drive into Spearfish canyon before meeting up w/ the rest of the family after church and visiting the historic Booth Fish Hatchery. Next we were on to Devils Tower, a truly amazing place. It was and still is sacred to the native people of the land, and on the trail up to the base you will see various offerings and prayer ties in the trees. From there we drove across Wyoming and into Cody. We took the less-traveled Highway 14. It is a STUNNING drive through the mountains, and I highly reccomend it if you ever head out that way. Just be sure to check your brakes before going, and don't forget to brake with your transmission too. The next morning we left Cody for a drive said to be the most beautiful in the country, through the Little Bighorns and into Yellowstone. The drive was definitely exceptional. Yellowstone was much chillier than I'd originally anticipated, but we layered up and were fine. The first day there, we saw Yellowstone Canyon with it's falls, Mammoth Hot Springs, and the mudpots. Mammoth Hot Springs has changed so much since I was last there more than 10 years ago. Many of the springs are now dormant and are a simple chalky white rather than the cascading, shiny colors that I remember. Still, they are impressive and unique.

The wildlife was amazing. We saw elk, birds of all kinds, moose, mule and white tailed deer, a few bison, and a large herd of bison with calves in an incredibly picturesque river valley. Those calves are so darling. Even with all of the little traditional cute things we saw, Bird's favorite throughout the trip was the baby bison. She got a closeup view shortly after we left this herd, as a huge herd came straight down the road we were driving on, all but stopping traffic. I have to tell you--these are some impressive animals. Even as I was trying to get a good shot, I was catching my breath at how awesome they are. They have quite a presence.
We stayed in West Yellowstone and the next morning we were off to the Geyser Basin and Old Faithful after layering up and getting some nice warm sweatshirts for the kids--big so that they could go over all those layers! We saw Old Faithful Lodge and a number of neat smaller geysers before getting to see Old Faithful. It was snowing as we all watched it erupt. It was really cool to get to experience that with not just my parents and sisters again, but all together as a huge family. Sprout absolutely loved that part. From there we headed on to Flagg Ranch, in between the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone. I have to say that this was possibly my favorite part of the trip. My Dad had arranged for us to stay in these great cabins, all close to each other. We were very near the edge of the bluff that the ranch is built on, having been moved out of the river bed in order to expand Grizzly territory! The bluff overlooks the Tetons, and a beautiful expanse in-between where we saw bluebirds as well as many of their cousins, a big bull bison, a moose cow just below our feet, elk, and a coyote, or possibly a wolf--we couldn't be sure. Quite a backyard, at any rate. Right outside our cabin we had a flicker trying to make it's home in the cabin roof nearby, ground squirrels, and on the first morning there, a precious sighting of a pine marten! We heard news of a nearby bear, but a drive to the suggested spots yielded nothing but some stunning views of the mountains. It was still a fun chase. The next day we took a morning hike together, and then Beo and I broke out on our own for a hike into Flagg Canyon. Later we all met up to drive down to a waterfall in the Tetons. We didn't make it to the waterfall, but we had a wonderful afternoon seeing the sights, including a young Griz! We hung out at a streamside for a while, and made some wonderful memories. On our way back we stopped and watched a little sleeping fox alongside dozens of other viewers. That night we had a campfire before heading for bed. It was positively idyllic.
The next morning we went back through Yellowstone, stopping at Moose Falls and the West Thumb Geyser Basin. This was one of my favorite parts of Yellowstone. The hot springs are so beautiful and otherworldly. Next the beautiful drive back to Cody, and the next morning it was on to the Black Hills of South Dakota again. We stopped in Spearfish Canyon to try to find an American Dipper (aka "Water Oozle") in the creek, and sure enough spotted one and enjoyed it for a while. That night we stayed in Hill City and got to see Mount Rushmore at sunset. Sprout was incredibly impressed. The next morning we went to Sylvan Lake for a little hike and through the Needles Highway and across Custer State Park before heading back towards home.

I can't tell you what an incredible experience this trip was for me and for my little ones. I got plenty of chances to practice my photography. If by some chance you didn't get enough of my pictures, you can see some of the 1600+ that I shot at this flickr album. It was great just to be with my family, but moreso it was so great to see the kids as part of a larger family. We had car seats set up so that we could move them between vehicles, everyone helped out with them at meals, bedtimes, playtimes, hikes, entertaining in the car, and even bathroom breaks. It was so neat to see the kids reveling in all of the grown-ups who love them so much. It felt so good. My Dad pointed out that it was pretty amazing for the kid's first visit to Yellowstone to be with a biologist and a geophysicist! ("Ask your auntie" was a standard reply to their many questions!) The trip an incredible way to celebrate my Dad's health. It was a wonderful experience to get to spend time with my family doing something just to be together and go out and appreciate the beauty of nature. I know I'm waxing like aged cheddar here, but it's the truth. We saw an incredible variety of nature and wildlife, and did it all together as a family. In this day and age, that's an incredible gift.
Thanks to everyone who checked in with me during my absence. I'll try to post more regularly! family. I know that in todays day and age, it's something to cherish. Updates on food and the gardens coming soon.