Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Monsoons Arrive Early

The crazy rains that pummel our little yard...

...flood our modest garden...

...and knock our plants down (so that we have to tie them back up)...

...are called monsoons, here in the southwest. This is a quickie on monsoons excerpted from here:

The moisture in the air forms scattered clouds early in the day. As the day goes on, the sun heats the ground which causes air to rise. As the air rises, it cools, which causes its humidity to condense into towering thunderstorms. As the afternoon fades into evening, the thunderstorms begin their displays of vivid lighting and heavy rain. Often the entire thunderstorm can be seen in the clear air of the West. Haze often hides eastern thunderstorms.

Here's one of those towering thunderstorms starting to build at work last night. Weather....fascinating!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Working Together

So our job schedules now give us only one day per week off together which is a bummer but we've found that we can compress all of our together-fun into that one day. We each have another day off by ourselves to focus on cooking, gardening, etc. It'll do for now!

Jennifer started out on her day off by harvesting basil from our apartment garden and then making a simple yet delicious pesto-pasta dish topped with Roma tomatoes that are also from our garden:

She then made some incredible bread:

...and tasty tea:

Inspired, Steve took his day off and made a double batch of cranberry-pecan (there are a lot of pecan groves around here) oatmeal cookies:

...and a bunch of other stuff including enchiladas, a ton of burritos, and a bunch of grains (butter beans, red beans, rice, and barley):

We also planted five more tomato plants that we got from some great new friends who grow heirloom tomatoes on their farm just outside of Carlsbad.

We now have plenty to eat for the week and lots of interesting tomatoes in our near future!!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Rain, Herps & the Desert

We are entering monsoon season here soon if we are not in it already. Fairly frequent rains have provided the necessary moisture for all sorts of wildflower blooms and greenery. In the photo below ocotillo are fully leafed out and a little pool of water collected after the prior evening's rain. The next day while driving to work we heard some sort of herp singing in a nearby flooded area. We need to investigate this further this weekend. Things happen fast here due to evaporation and lack of frequent replenishing water so we need to be on it!

On the same trail we spotted this sweet fella - a Crevice Spiny Lizard, Sceloporus poinsettii. (This seems right, but any of our expert herp friends please feel free to correct us if this is not so!)

Finally - cacti. Not sure what type, but they are flatter like a pancake and cool.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The garden plants are HUGE!!!!

Look at this photo! Compare it to the photos here and here. We are so amazed at how well our garden plants are doing. The squash and sunflowers are desert adapted (from Native Seeds/SEARCH) and are really thriving. AWESOME.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Zucchini Crisp

"Got zucchini?" The answer to this question is invariably , "yes" for anyone who has planted even one zucchini plant. Zucchini is a super-producer. So that's why we are always on the lookout for new ways to integrate zucchini into our eating. Jennifer found a recipe for Zucchini Crisp in a magazine and then Steve altered it somewhat and here is the morphed version:

Zucchini Crisp:

5 Cups peeled/seeded/sliced zucchini
1/3 Cup sugar
1.5 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 Cup lemon juice
3/4 Cup water

6 T. butter
1/2 Cup flower
1/4 Cup flaxmeal
1/4 Cup wheat bran
1/2 Cup brown sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Here's what Steve did:

Prep. zucchini:

Combine 1/3 cup sugar, cinnamon, lemon juice, and water:

Whisk all that up:

Pour over the zucchini and heat to simmer:

While I waited for the zucchini to heat up, I combined the topping ingredients...

...stirring the dry stuff...

...then cutting-in the butter:

The topping should look like this:

In the mean time, I'd been stirring the zucchini filling...

...until it cooked down like this (zucchini should be just soft, but not mushy):

Now that I had all my stuff ready...

...I poured my zucchini filling into an ungreased 9 in. X 9 in. pan...

...then poured the topping over that:

I spread the topping out evenly:

...and put it into the oven for 45 minutes:

Here it is, finished:

Here's my test-piece:

The verdict? Well, if I had a tree-full of apples to use, I'd probably make apple crisp before I'd make zucchini crisp. I'll see what Jennifer thinks when she gets home from work and we'll report our combined conclusion tomorrow! Of course, this recipe would work fine for other fillings. I'm thinking that substituting a sweeter squash (butternut, sweet dumpling) or just about any fruit would be fine too. The general recipe is a good one for crisp.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Moths and a Sotol

Wonders never cease (that's what Steve's mom always says, anyway, and she's right)! Check out this wonderful pair of moths finding shelter in a wonderfully desert-adapted Sotol plant:

This was in mid-day and it was HOT too. Wonders....

Friday, June 19, 2009

Morning Glory Prominent a.k.a. Checkered-fringe Prominent

It's caterpillar time again! YAY! Pictured is a morning glory or checkered-fringe prominent according to the source you refer to. This super cool caterpillar is feeding on soapberry tree here in Carlsbad New Mexico, but is quite a generalist and will also feed on basswood, cherry, birch, beech, blackberry, chestnut, dogwood, elm, hackberry, hawthorn, maple, oak, rose, witch hazel, etc. Here's an interesting tidbit: "The caterpillar carves out a leaf notch in which it positions itself. From a distance of a few feet the caterpillar resembles a dead, curled-over leaf edge far more than it does food for a clutch of hungry nestlings." (Caterpillars of Eastern America - David Wagner) The caterpillar will metamorphosis into white,brown & tan colored moth.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

IO Moth

Steve spotted this beautiful moth on the wall of the maintenance building at work a few days ago. A few years back we watched an IO moth caterpillar walking across the Manistee River trail in Michigan. We can't seem to find the photo, but if you Google the name you will find loads of pictures. The caterpillar is covered in irritating spines equivalent to stinging nettles, but longer lasting. Even so, the caterpillar is equally beautiful. When the IO moth wings open two eye spots, one on each hing wing, are visible.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Current Theme: Snakes

The Black-tailed Rattlesnake I saw last week was the first of a number of recent snake happenings around these parts. Here's that rattlesnake again:

And his rattle:

Then, just this morning, I came across this beauty not too far from where I almost stepped on the rattlesnake. This is a Gopher snake (thanks Renee):

A real cutie:

Then another employee at the park saw another species of rattlesnake (I don't recall which - I think there are 3 species in the park).

Then, I heard about this story out of Texas (Big Bend is about 5 hours from here):

USGS Researcher
Rescued After Being Bitten By Copperhead

The park received a satellite phone call at midnight on June 11th from
rangers on a river patrol reporting that a member of their party had been
bitten by a copperhead snake. The group was camped at the Asa Jones
Waterworks in the Lower Canyons section of the Rio Grande Wild & Scenic
River. The victim was a 35-year-old USGS research employee. A park medic
and an EMT-I stabilized him and asked for a helicopter evacuation at first
light. The park arranged for a Border Patrol OH6 helicopter, the only
available helicopter small enough to negotiate the canyon, to fly to the
campsite and transport the man back to the park. He was flown back to Big
Bend NP
and transferred to a medical helicopter for further transport to a
hospital, where he is expected to fully recover. Floating the Lower
Canyons is generally a five- to six-day wilderness experience with little
or no access to the river due to the extensive shear canyons, many over
1,000 feet deep. Communication with the outside world is limited to very
spotty satellite telephone signals. At least four phone calls were
attempted before the message was transmitted and the rescue coordinated.

I'm told that Copperheads are rare this far west but do occur as proven by our unfortunate colleague above!

Not to worry, snakes are a natural and (inherently) valuable resident of our natural areas. I'm just gonna watch my step more closely....

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Zucchini and Basil Earlier Than Expected

The climate here in Carlsbad, NM can feel like a blast furnace at times but we get rewarded with early edibles.

The heat, coupled with early basil and zucchini, got me to thinking about a cold pasta dish. I gathered what I had on hand (basil, zucchini, onion, olive oil, tomatoes and pasta) and came up with this:

Gather up some zucchini, onion, tomato (you get the idea on amounts)...

...and some basil (1/4 C, packed, then chopped):

Saute the (chopped) onion and zucchini with 1/4 Cup olive oil (give or take):

Grate some parmesan while you are waiting for the saute to cook a bit:

Add the tomato and basil, cook a bit longer, add salt and pepper to taste:

With the pasta cooked, the cheese grated and the sauce cooked down, all I need is for Jennifer to get home from work and we'll throw it all together for a quick and easy pasta meal. It'll be waiting in the fridge so we'll probably just eat it cold - which will be perfect for this 100 degree F day !!

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Garden is coming along!

My (Jennifer) mom and sister are on the road back to IN today. We enjoyed such a super nice visit with them and I am sad to see them go but thankful for the trek they made out here to see us. :) Since my lieu days are Friday and Saturday, Steve took this Friday off as well so we can hang out and relax after the super busy week at work. (lots of firsts, but now a few will be seconds and easier - yay!)

Garden Update! Our tiny little garden patch is doing pretty well. I recently stuck a few lemon cucumber seeds in a newly cleared area and they are germinating nicely. We will see how they do setting flower in the June heat.

The chamomile is growing slowly but well. I love this herb!

The basil is also doing really well - we are getting very close to our first pesto batch! YUM.

We only planted two tomato plants this spring because we heard terrible things about growing tomatoes here. The romas are just starting to turn colors. Our beefsteak tomato is a little behind and currently has one tomato growing. No new flowers are setting yet.

The hubbard squash and gourds are growing like crazy. Our fenced area will soon be a solid wall of vegetation. Much prettier I think. :)

Our zucchini are kickin' it! I mean really - lots of flower production and small fruits...

even a big fruit we just found today!

In the next two photos you can see the zucchini completely taking over the path in the foreground and the hubbards & gourds swallowing the fence in the background. The sunflowers are growing a few inches every day too.

Finally - the cats most special treat: catnip. We had to put this crate over the top a week or so ago because the neighborhood cats found the plant and almost destroyed the whole thing by rolling in it. We found lots of little chewed leaves and all sorts of cat hair covering it. Bounder was very suspicious of the smell for a few days. :) Now everyone can enjoy.