Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

May good fortune and beauty fly your way in 2012!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Just ducky, 2!

Just in case  you wondered, here's the last step in the duck banding process.

BioB releases Northern Pintail with new jewelry

Monday, December 12, 2011

Just ducky, thank you!

'Tis the season...
We had a good snow a few days ago that put us up to nearly a third of our average yearly precipitation, yay!! However, the relentless cold that accompanied the front has most of the waterways on the refuge frozen, severely reducing our A+ rating among migrating waterfowl. Already our duck count is down, waaaaay down.

M, B-Dawg and I haven't had the time to duck hunt this season so the prospect of no duck gumbo this winter darkened my thoughts as I drove home from the bi-weekly waterfowl count. I was watching the still-icy road rather carefully when something in my peripheral vision caught my attention... that stubble field was not a pristine white landscape, there were odd brown bumps all over it! I slowed down, grabbed the camera and did a u-turn as soon as it was safe, knowing -- Oh Joy!-- what I would find...

wigeon with pintails slumming off-refuge

Although I haven't been hunting yet, I've had more than few ducks in hand over the last few weeks. My local refuge's biologist (BioJefe) participates in the North American Bird Banding project and this time of year it's all about the ducks. You know that highly prized 'jewelry' waterfowlers everywhere add to their lanyards? This is how it gets there...

BioJefe & BioJ  remove duck from trap

talk sweetly to the mallard hen

'with this ring, I thee... tag in the name of science!'

While we have the ducks in hand, a few non-invasive* measurements are taken...

weighing a female bufflehead
measuring a mallard hen's culmen**

We also take wing, tarsus, and head measurements, and determine whether the bird is an adult or juvenile. All data are reported to the Bird Banding Laboratory.

Occasionally we trap a duck that has been banded before -- a most spectacular drake Mallard banded at the same refuge in 2007 is the oldest one I've seen thus far -- and sometimes we get other waterfowl that are not subject to banding.

not a duck (BioB holds a pied-billed grebe)

What an education this has been, and continues to be! Some have asked, but I have no problem participating in this conservation and species management program and then eating a wonderful bowl of duck gumbo made with birds we harvested ourselves. Hunters and anglers support conservation in myriad ways: through the sale of licenses, tags, stamps, and equipment; donations; political action; countless hours in in the field, stream and ocean; and through groups like Duck Unlimited, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, and the Coastal Conservation Association, just to name a few. Volunteering to help collect the scientific data that forms the basis for waterfowl management is just another way to help ensure their future. My reasons for hunting? Well, that's another post... although I'm pretty sure it's a form of AOH.

If you're lucky enough to bag a tagged duck or goose, or come across any bird with a band, don't forget to report it to You'll get an email or letter telling you what's known about your bird (here are some stories you might be able to top) and the data you submit makes you part of the citizen scientists that make this program a success. If you want to see the stats for banding efforts and recovery by species -- along with some fun trivia -- start here.

*That's right, Intrepid Reader, no ducks are harmed in the collection of this scientific data... although the drake Mallards might disagree based on the criteria for determining whether they are adults or juveniles. Sigh... you can't just take their word for it. 
** that's the top of her bill

Friday, December 9, 2011

To each his/her own...

Just had to share these.

15 in. Black Swarovski Covered Deer Skull
Retail: $3,599.00*

  • Swarovski embellished deer skull
  • One of a kind
  • Authentic skull with natural imperfections
  • Hand-applied black Swarovski crystals
  • Raw, unfinished horns
  • Electro-plating keeps all natural cranial sutures visible
  • Weighs 3 pounds
  • Created in Venice, CA by KIDZAG
  • Dimensions: 14W x 14D x 15H inches
  • Final Sale item - not eligible for return

16 in. Nickel Plated Ram Skull
Retail: $2,199.00

  • Nickel plated ram skull
  • One of a kind
  • Authentic skull with natural imperfections
  • Raw, unfinished horns
  • Electro-plating keeps all natural cranial sutures visible
  • Weighs 3 pounds
  • Created in Venice, CA by KIDZAG
  • Dimensions: 16W x 12D x 8H inches
  • Final Sale item - not eligible for return

8 in. Swarovski Covered Coyote Skull
Retail: $1,099.00

  • Swarovski embellished coyote skull
  • One of a kind
  • Authentic skull with natural imperfections
  • Hand-applied Swarovski crystals
  • Electro-plating keeps all natural cranial sutures visible
  • Weighs 1 pound
  • Created in Venice, CA by KIDZAG
  • Dimensions: 4W x 8D x 4H inches
  • Final Sale item - not eligible for return

from website
KIDZAG - Brand Story:
Growing up in rural Wisconsin, resources were limited, thus KIDZAG's young creative nature required her to use her environment as her canvas and her medium. She and her brother went so far as to exhibit some of the found treasures in a family playhouse, charging a nickel for admission. Her childhood in the country create the milieu that transpires to her current art work.

These (and more!) are on sale (prices reduced!) at This is not an endorsement of the products themselves, Kidzag or but to be fair, if you want 'em, that's where you can get 'em.

*Yes, Intrepid Reader, an entrepreneurial tip just for you: buy a glue gun and a bunch o' crystals; go find those elk sheds you've been meaning to turn into a lamp; make the danged lamp already!; bedazzle it; price it around $1200; repeat with any other appropriate bones, skulls, antlers, hoofs, or horns you might have lying about; set up an etsy account and watch the money roll in.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Figs Preserved!

They survived! Figs in November in the desert SW

Yep. We still have November! This second crop came on weeks ago -- after the last of the really hot days down here -- and have been super slow to ripen. Around mid-October we started to worry that we would lose these favorite gems to the cold nights. Fast forward to November 2 and the fruit feel like they need just a few more days... then M gets home and says he has a feeling that we are in for a hard freeze. Uh oh. Around 7:30 p.m. we head to the garden and use up a few hours of battery life on our head-lamps picking vegetables and covering what we can. Good thing we did...

frozen vegetable section
The bushes that still had figs on them were tented and had their own heat lamp; some of the heirlooms were covered and had minimal damage; everything else was on its own... and suffered (except for the Swiss Chard, which should over-winter just fine). For the next few days we're looking at temperatures in the high 60s so I'll be trimming the surviving plants and ridding the garden of frozen produce. We'll probably continue to tent the figs, sans heat lamp, just to get them a little extra warmth while they finish ripening.

What's that, Intrepid Reader? Yes, I was absent for rather a while. Thanks for coming back to check on how things are going. As a partial explanation, let me just say that having your kitchen in this state

doesn't help when you want to get from here

to here.

Don't get me wrong, I'm very happy we managed to freeze as many quarts of tomatoes, okra, black eyed peas, green beans, etc., as we did, but the lack of adequate facilities meant we couldn't can. No pickled peppers, no ratatouille... so it goes. There's always next year, right?

They say kitchen remodels take twice as long, and cost twice as much, as you thought they would. This 3-4 week project looks like it might take 8* weeks; guess 'they' were right. In the end, I hope I'll be able to say that the costs of missing out on a few jars of homemade goodies were more than offset by the joys of working in a vastly improved kitchen. In fact, I'm pretty sure they will be -- just don't ask me about it for another few months.

As for the rest of my unexplained absence, well... as long as there's not another alien-induced vortex in my house, I should be back to my normal erratic blogging schedule. 

*That's right, Intrepid Reader, the way things are going it might be spatchcock turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

Friday, August 26, 2011

In the Garden

...and in over my head, literally...

i'm 5'5" tall, that's the top of my head and those plants are okra

...and figuratively. I'm squeezed between an upcoming vacation and processing today's garden haul before I leave so I only have time for  a few highlights from this week.

6 different kinds of tomatoes and 2 kinds of eggplant

a good shot of the okra flower still eludes; yes, those are aphids

huh? yep, those are dirty clothes: gardening sarongs and a long sleeved
t-shirt that used to be white; more on dressing for the garden next week

Head on over to No Ordinary Homestead's Garden Life  to continue the celebration. I bet they're not airing dirty laundry.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dog Blog

As I was chopping okra and peeling tomatoes for a summer gumbo last evening, the dog's chicken with green beans* was gently simmering on a back burner and I got to thinkin'...

Random Thoughts about Sleeping with Man's Best Friend and Other Practices
Don't you hate it when people kiss their dogs on the mouth or accept their doggy 'kisses' on the lips while saying stuff like, "Good doggie, mama wuvs you"? I'm sorry, I know people relate to their animals in myriad different ways, but really?! Not to be all Lucy about it, but I know what my dog eats and how he cleans himself. As a kid we heard (although not from my folks), "a dog's mouth is cleaner than a human's."  Again, really ?! So I looked it up. Among others, Life's Little Mysteries (who passes no judgement on the pet kissing practice) tackled the canine oral cleanliness myth and found, "In short, a dog’s mouth is besieged by its own legions of germs, roughly as huge in population as those living in the human mouth and causing a similar array of dental illnesses."

pucker up? "no thanks, human,
I don't know where that mouth has been."
Before I could say, "See?!?!," I ran across an article from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about diseases that can pass from pets to humans through kissing, being licked by, and sharing a bed with them. Here's the introduction to Zoonosis in the Bedroom (Chomel and Sun; 2011), "In most industrialized countries, pets are becoming an integral part of households, sharing human lifestyles, bedrooms, and beds. The estimated percentage of pet owners who allow dogs and cats on their beds is 14%–62%. However, public health risks, including increased emergence of zoonoses, may be associated with such practices." 

While I don't play kissy-face with our animals (for the record, three cats and a dog), the cats do sleep with us. gulp. And I get the occasional the-cat-will-clean-that-spot-for-you licks, I get drooled on pretty regularly and my pants get mistaken for a tissue...what kind of risk are we talking about?

"Zoonotic infections acquired by sleeping with a pet are uncommon. However, severe cases of C. canimorsus infection or plague in humans have been documented. More zoonotic agents that are transmitted by kissing a pet or being licked by a pet have been identified, especially zoonotic pathogens that are commensal in the oral cavity of carnivores, such as Pasteurella spp. and C. canimorsus."  Oh look! The article has a list of diseases you can catch from your dog, cat, rabbit, and other kissable, cuddly critters...can you say, Pasteurellosis?** Cryptosporidiosis? Plague! (Here in the Southwest we know about that one.)

They conclude, "Although uncommon with healthy pets, the risk for transmission of zoonotic agents by close contact between pets and their owners through bed sharing, kissing or licking is real ... Carriage of ectoparasites or internal parasites is certainly of major concern when it comes to this type of behavior. To reduce such risks, pet owners should seek regular veterinary care for their pets."

I'm not an alarmist germaphobe who hates animals and I appreciate the full range of benefits that come with having pets in one's life, I'm just informing myself (and you, Intrepid Reader) about the consequences of some of our behaviors that might, on the surface, seem trivial. Just as I won't be kicking the cats off the bed I don't imagine people who feed treats to their animals mouth-to-mouth or get lick-y kisses all over their face are going to discontinue those practices either. As the authors point out, the slight risks can be mitigated by making sure that your animals are healthy. So do that.

And for my part, the next time I see that kind of wuvy-dovy kissing going on between pets and their owners I'll park the snark and inquire about the health of pet, "What a gorgeous dog! Who's your vet?"

This Stochastic public service announcement is brought to you by:

*No, we're not those kinds of people. This is a pragmatic choice: when chicken is $.87/lb and the green beans are free, this is a cheap way to supplement the dog's regular kibble, especially during hunting season when he's working his tail off. 
**Me neither... not the point.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Mushroom Monday

This weekend we made our third trip to the local mountains to hunt for mushrooms. Yep, "hunt" instead of "forage" because we have no idea where they are, let alone whether there will be enough to collect. Since these mountains are so new to us, and the weather this year so very odd, we've picked a few areas to try to visit with some regularity. Our first two trips yielded...
not a mushroom

not a mushroom

...some spectacular views, glimpses of elk, wildflowers, mule and white-tailed deer, fingerling trout, turkeys and geese; nary a mushroom. Wrong place? Right place, wrong time? Who's to know! We're after the wily and capricious boletes of the southwest so there's just no telling.

Well, actually, there's some fairly educated guessing about habitat and timing going on but still, it feels like we're stalking wild prey. So imagine the adrenaline rush when we saw this on our third outing:

a little orange dome among the young aspen trees, what could it be?

hum... orange-brown cap, cap dry, whitish pore layer, dark scabers on the stalk, stains purple-gray to black when cut

That's right! An Aspen Bolete (Leccinum insigne). The first time we found these a few years ago we knew they were boletes (pores, not gills or teeth) but had only seen the Boletus edulis in hand so we consulted our handy Arora pocket guide to find this notation, "Edibility: excellent, it darkens when cooked." They were the only boletes around at the time so we bagged a few to try and off we went.

When we got home M hit the internet to find out more from our other best & trustworthy regional resource, Colorado Mushrooms, "Edibility: edible by some." Uh oh. Reading further:
"The Rocky Mountain Poison Center received occasional reports of serious gastric problems, some requiring hospitalization, from eating moderate amounts of so-called orange caps, usually well cooked, found under aspen in various part of Colorado."
Let's just say those specimens sat a little too long and by the time we got around to them they were bug-eaten and way past their prime. Yeah, that's the story... We ain't afraid of no 'shroom! I do, however, have a strong aversion to the idea of self-induced 'severe gastric distress.'  Which brings us to our specimen above...

Since our first experience with Aspen Boletes we've read up on the issues and we felt like we could make an informed decision: we would go ahead an try this one...just a small piece to see if either of us reacted to it. At least that was the gist of the conversation in the field. We got home and M prepped the mushroom for a simple fry up-- it was a beautiful, not a bug or blemish on it. As he peeled away the scabers from the stalk, "Why don't you see what Vera  has to say."  "Edibility: edible (but see caution). Looks like she wrote the above note in CM." He throws the mushroom into the skillet for a quick dry saute...

dry saute of aspen boletes

"How 'about Kuo? He's kind of conservative when it comes to eating fungus, see what he has to say."

aspen boletes turn to an inky black

Yikes! He has them in Group Three of this poisonous bolete look-alikes!
"Though it is a fact only recently finding its way into the mainstream of mushroom publications, it is a certainty that at least one or two of the orange-capped Leccinum species in North America is mildly poisonous. It is still unclear precisely which species is the culprit (and more than one species may be responsible), but all of them should be avoided."

That was that.

aspen boletes on their way to the local landfill

Maybe we'll revisit Leccinum insigne in a few more years when the experts have worked out the details.

Friday, August 19, 2011

In the Garden

Yes indeed, time is flying by and once again it's Friday, one of the last of the summer. Locals say we should expect the growing season to go well into October and that the cool(er) nights should bring on the tomatoes, finally! We've had enough of the tasty orbs to make Pizza Margherita (a simple 'za with fresh tomatoes and basil and a little cheese) and for eating out of hand but not enough to freeze or can; looks like we're in for a busy fall.

On to the international* celebration that is NOH's Garden Life link-up...

Here's this morning's view of the garden from the roof. The last roof view I posted is from July 22, check out the difference.

view from the roof

I know! After all that worrying about the garden even making it through the heat and bugs I'm slightly embarrassed to say it's now... overgrown. Yep. For most of the plants, the heat and lack of ambient moisture have diverted from reproductive activities to stem and leaf growth all the plant's energies. I have NEVER had tomatoes plants this tall with hardly any fruit on them (those are Matt's Wild Cherry tomatoes behind the chard; a little further in on the right are Celebrity tomatoes, subspecies lycopersicon hulkverde**.) The rattlesnake green beans (all the way toward the back, parallel with the back fence) have formed a thick canopy of tangled vines at the top of the trellis that has stretched out and warped the fencing... if those weren't redwood 4x4s I would be worried about the whole structure coming down.

At ground level, it's a jungle in there.

veg convergence: black-eyed peas and shishito peppers (left) meet wild cherries (right)

The first picture gives you an idea of what I have to walk through. The next two pictures are snapped from the west ends of the rows. Embiggen if you would like to see some of the plants mentioned below; otherwise, you get it: it's a 6' high green thicket that leaves pollen and other stains on your clothes.

 between rows 5 & 4
between rows 2 & 1
Picture details: In Row 5 you see black-eyed peas giving way to okra and toward the end, the Goldman's Italian-American paste tomato has colonized the space between the rows. The Goldman has lots of fruit, none of which has ripened, and actually shares Row 4 with Whopper eggplant, basil, and a few green peppers. Row 2 has Serrano peppers, some exuberant Celebrities, Yellow Pear tomatoes, Matt's Cherry tomatoes and ends with that green hulk of a Celebrity; on the right (Row 1) are the chard and squash with another wayward Celebrity in the foreground.

What's that you say? How many different tomatoes did you plant? Glad you asked.

4 Celebrities; 5 Yellow Pear; 3 Matt's Wild Cherry; 4 Goldman's Italian-American; 7 Sioux; 4 Babywine; and 8 Unknown Heirlooms. Most of the seeds came from Terroir Seeds LLC because they had the most interesting varieties and are based in the Southwest (no, I'm not getting paid for this). Ah... you might be asking how on earth I came to have 'unknown heirlooms' in the garden, the answer: my generous MIL shared seeds from a mixed heirloom tomato package from Park Seed. They'll tell you the package contains Aunt Ruby's German Green, Dixie Golden Giant, Black from Tula, Brandywine Red, Big Rainbow, and Cherokee Purple, but they don't label which is which so we both had an unknown selection. One plant I think we can identify based on location (I made a map), and the color and size of the fruit.

could it be a big rainbow that got stuck in the O- range? (in case you forgot: ROYGBIV)

Because some spots in the garden are so overgrown everyday picking turns into a treasure hunt...

yellow pear tomatoes
serrano peppers

beans in tomatoes (see? it's a tiny matt's cherry all the way on the right)

And, of course, no Friday In the Garden is complete without a flower shot.

chive flower

And something to whet your appetite...

grilled elk leftovers sliced thin to go around sauteed shishito peppers
Happy Friday!

Now I'm off to to NOH to see what Tiffany and Carrie are up to in their gardens...

*It's true, Intrepid reader, some people believe this state is another country: "Can you drink the water there?" "Do you use the dollar?" and my current favorite, "Let me transfer you to the international shipping department..." 
** Yes, I made that up.

Friday, August 12, 2011

In the Garden

I'm thinkin' Fall is in the air: it's cooler in the mornings, the days are noticeably shorter, there are different birds at the refuge as various migrations begin, and maybe, just maybe, it's starting to cool off a bit. The local forecast:
93°F | °C
Isolated ThunderstormsIsolated ThunderstormsScattered ThunderstormsPartly Cloudy

Wind: S at 3 mph

Humidity: 30%98°74°97°71°93°70°95°70°

Ahhhhh... rain. Please rain.

This week the garden delivered its first baskets of peppers, specifically Pimientos de Padron and Shishito Peppers. Yes, I noticed that too, Intrepid Reader, they are both capsicum annums. The Padrons are from the Spanish town of Padron and the Shishitos are Japanese. The Shishitos hit farmers' markets in about 2009 (we 'discovered' them last year...yeah, we're a little slow here) and at about the same time the Pimiento de Padron became a favorite in tapas restaurants. They both taste wonderfully green and are a little spicy, with an occasional hotter pepper making an appearance. To further confuse things, the two peppers are cooked similarly: fry whole peppers in a little olive oil until slightly charred and sprinkle with salt. For us they are still a stand-alone treat*, served hot, cold, or room temperature as a side with grilled meats or on an appetizer plate with cheese, crackers, etc., we haven't used them as an ingredient yet. We were buying them several (expensive) pints at at time from the farmers' market last year and knew we would try to grow them in our very next garden.

Reading through the seed catalogs, the descriptions about size and flavor for these two capsicum annum varieties are slightly different (and there is a price difference!) but I wasn't sure if it was product differentiation, traditional use, or true variants of the same plant. You know me, I bought seeds for both and planted them far enough apart in the garden to discourage any cross-pollination. Would there be a taste difference? Would one grow better than the other? Unfortunately the experimental design was flawed as one group wound up watered by a double soaker hose and the other by a single, can you tell the plants apart?

mystery pepper 1 foliage

mystery pepper 2 foliage
The differences in color are an artifact of the light in the garden so don't go on that. MP 1 has more fruit and blossoms so you might have guessed they are on the double soaker hose. Hum... maybe these will help:

mystery pepper 2 fruit
mystery pepper 1 fruit

They do seem to grow through their blossoms differently and have slightly different pod shapes; a botanist might be able to tell use more but alas, I don't have one in-house. In the taste test the very slight differences in flavor could have been the result of the amount of water they received. Although both batches of peppers had a few hot ones, MP2 had more (probably due to increased capsaicin, related to environmental stressors like little water) and a deeper green flavor. For now it looks like we'll get a pint every other day so the taste tests will continue (I love science!). In the end I'm not sure if the peppers actually are different; guess we'll have to try again next year to find out. (MP1 are the Shishitos; the hotter and less prolific Padrons are MP2.)

And just because... this is Lemon Grass, given to us as a golf pencil-sized root by a local farmer.

look past the lemon grass... and the weeds... what's that?! a very happy Chessie

There is a certain kind of synchronicity (or is it just seasonality?) to the Garden Life, Tiffany is harvesting peppers, too.
Happy Friday!
*Be forewarned, they can be slightly addictive so buy lots at  your local market or better yet, plant a few rows next year!