Thursday, September 30, 2010

Flor De Calabaza

Stuffed squash blossoms are one of my summer time favorites. 

12 large zucchini blossoms
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
2 tablespoons onion, minced
1+ tablespoons adobo sauce from canned chipotles
3/4 cups ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons piñon, toasted
olive oil

Saute garlic and onion in olive oil and set to side to cool. 
Gently open blossoms to remove pistils and any insects. Rinse flowers and dry on paper towels. 
In a small bowl mix garilc/onions, cheese, sauce from chipotle chiles, and piñon. 
Using a small spoon fill each squash blossom. Twist the flower tips to seal.
Place blossoms on a greased cookie sheet. Brush each blossom with oil. Bake in 350° oven for 12 to 15 minutes, until lightly browned and crisp.
Serve warm.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Only In Australia

This week's PhotoHunt theme is natural.

Wombats can be found only in Australia.  Unfortunately, they are rather timid and primarily nocturnal, so it is often difficult to observe them in their "natural" habitat. We were lucky enough to come across this guy in Tasmania when he ventured out on a cool afternoon for a feed.
The large, pudgy, burrowing mammals are found across south-eastern Australia and Tasmania. They have sharp claws that they use to dig burrows in open grasslands and eucalyptus forests. They can grow to be a meter in length and weigh between 17-40 kg.
They are marsupials and they give birth to tiny, undeveloped young that crawl into pouches on their mothers' bellies, where they will remain for about five months.  The pouch is different from other marsupials since they face backward so no dirt gets in when it is tunneling.
Wombats do not have many natural predators and man is their greatest enemy. Destruction of their natural habitat as well as hunting, trapping, and poisoning has severely reduced the wombat's population in many areas, and has completely eradicated it in others. In most parts of Australia the wombat is now protected, with the exception of parts of eastern Victoria where it is classified as vermin and often shot.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

This School Is Hot

This week's PhotoHunt theme is school.

Behind the facade of this old School House is The Lost Spring. For many years the hot spring, laden with minerals, was lost but not forgotten; as locals told stories of the healing properties of the heated water which once bubbled up from deep below the surface. For many years Alan Hopping, owner of the 3.5 acres of land where the fabled springs were to have existed, listened to these stories. Alan eventually decided to locate the lost treasure and in 1989--with the help of a local diviner--he began his quest. The project suffered several setbacks but 3 wells and 17 years later Alan's dream of creating a thermal attraction on the Coromandel Peninsula became a reality.
The Lost Spring is located in Whitianga on the coast of Mercury Bay, 208 km from Auckland. Visitors to the resort are able to soak in several sculpted pools that are filled with crystal clear geothermal water that is drawn fro 644 meters below the earth's surface. The grounds have been beautifully landscaped with the lush native plants of the Coromandel Bush.The dense foliage is filled with native birds whose songs intermingle with the soothing sound of the various cascading waterfalls. In addition to relaxing and soaking in the geothermal pools guests are able to revitalize with one of the many treatments that are offered in the day spa, and/or enjoy a meal in the restored Historic Mercury Bay School House. 

Friday, September 17, 2010

He May Look Innocent

When I saw this little guy on the trail I didn't think much of him. It turns out that he is a very toxic little guy.  The Mouse Spider, indigenous to Australia, can be found throughout the continent except in the southern rain forest of Tasmania.
Mouse Spiders are distinguished by the stocky body, long leg-like palps and two knee-like lobes which the fags join in front. The male has a vibrant red head. The spiders measure 1 cm to 3 cm in length so they are not very large, but they can be aggressive. If angered or threatened they will rush backward and forward. During their rushing movement they will open and close their fangs which permits venom to escape. Fortunately, envenoming by this species of spiders are rare.
The home of the Mouse Spider is a burrow, of moderate depth and straight down. Female spiders spend all of their lives in the burrow. 
Mouse Spiders prey mainly on insects, though they can consume small animals. Their primary predators include wasps, bandicoots, centipedes and scorpions. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mmm Mmm Good

My father's garden not only had an abundance of figs this year, but his tomato plants have produced some of the largest tomatoes I have ever seen! One of my favorite summer foods is Gazpacho made with fresh tomatoes straight from the garden.

4 very ripe tomatoes
1 cucumber (peeled and seeded)
1/2 small sweet onion
1/4 small bell pepper
1 garlic clove
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
salt to taste

Cut a small x in the bottom of each tomato. Quickly dip them into boiling water and then remove the loosened skin. Cut the peeled tomatoes and place in a blender. Add remaining ingredients and blend. I prefer a thick gazpacho so I don't blend it too much.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rocky Mountain High

When we turned into the trailhead parking lot I felt my heart sink and I lost any hope of a peaceful walk in Rocky Mountain National Park when I saw the dozens of parked cars. However, we weren't going to let a crowd deter us and we laced up our boots and hit the trail. 
The well-traveled path gradually left the valley and meanered through the fields of giant granite boulders. The surrounding brown grasses and plants served as a reminder that nearly a month had passed since the last rain. As I looked to the horizon I couldn't help but wonder if the thunderheads in the distance would bring the much needed precipitation.
I was thankful to the repeated switch-backs since the thin air was a bit of a shock. With each step I felt myself breathe a bit harder than I had during my bushwalks of the past year, but my body quickly acclimated and my breathing became more regular.
As the autumn sun gently warmed the air, the giant ponderosas that surrounded us filled the air with their fragrance. It wasn't long before the pine needle covered trail reached the ridge above the Roaring River Canyon. A small river gently flowed below us. Its gentle bubbling sound made it appear harmless; but the errosion devastated banks stood as testimony to the great floods that occurred in 1982. In the distance I saw a small animal jumping amongst the boulders. I wasn't sure but I think it was a beaver. Even though it didn't seem as exotic as the kangaroos I have grown accustomed to meeting on the trail I still took out my camera and tried to snap a picture.
We soon hit a fork in the road. We decided to stay to the left and head to Ypsilon Lake. We figured there would be more people on the shorter trail, but we had not allowed ourselves enough time to complete the trek on the longer trail. To our surprise we encountered only 4 other hikers during our trek.
The forest service had been busy that summer and new log steps quickly led us from the river valley. The giant ponderosas gave way to lodgepole pines that whispered quietly in the gentle breeze. It wasn't long before we reached the famed aspen groves. Amongst their glistening, fluttering green leaves clumps of yellow stood out. It was as though a few trees had taken a tip of one of their branches and dipped it in a can of yellow paint. A gentle reminder that soon thousands of people would flock to the area for a final burst of color, before the forest is blanketed with the snow cover of winter.

After several hours of hiking, the dense forest opened up and before us stood the weather-ravaged craggy Ypsilon Peak. A final  descent brought us to our goal: a subalpine lake nestled between granite rocks and a  forest. As we sat on the shores of the lake admiring the azure blue skies--found only in this part of the world--a cold wind began to blow and I noted the chill on my bare skin. I moved to the sun in hopes of warming up, but my attempts at basking were futile; and we were forced to retreat to the car park reminded that winter will soon arrive in the Rockies.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Theft Of Aboriginal Land

One of Australia's most pristine coastal areas is currently the center of controversy. The land--Walmandany--is located north of Broome in Western Australia and it is currently under control by its Traditional Owners the Jabirrjabirr people. Unfortunately, Walmandany (James Price Point) is a preferred site for a liquefield natural gas processing precinct. Western Australian Premier, Colin Barnett, is expected to start proceedings to acquire land later this week. This move is supported by the WA Government and the Kimberley Land Council on the grounds that development will be good for everyone and that jobs will be brought to the area. However, the reality is that should the proposal proceed it will represent another theft of aboriginal land.
To learn more about this invasion and become involve read Another Invasion by Mick Dodson.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11 Remembered

Today's PhotoHunt theme is anniversary.

When I first saw today's PhotoHunt topic I was going to post a picture of a joyous moment. However, when I realized the date I decided to take a moment to remeber 9/11.
I set out from the house at just past 6:00 am for my early morning run.  As I approached Johnson Field I was greeted by the morning sun just peeking over the Sandia Mountains. With each lap I ran, as the brilliant reds and oranges faded, I had no idea that across the continent there were a series of events unfolding that would impact the world.
When I returned home, I was greeted at the entrance of our yard by my future husband. He grabbed my hand and led me to the back studio. His silence and urgency made me fearful, but it wasn't until I stood in front of the television watching the second airplane crash into the Twin Towers that I understood the severity of the situation. That moment will forever remain etched in my mind, and each time I see a sunrise over the Sandia Mountains I am reminded of the tragedy that  we commemorate today on its ninth anniversary.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Garden Of Edward

This year my father's garden is chock-full of figs. My preferred way of eating them is to pluck one off the tree and sink my teeth in. However, this year my family has taken to throwing them on the grill--an equally tasty treat. Recently, when the invitees for a party went from 6 to 12 overnight we realized  that due to bar-b-que logistics it would be impossible to grill our planned appetizer outside. So I took to the kitchen and made this very tasty treat.

10 figs
Olive oil
2 tablespoons Honey
5 ounces Blue Cheese (crumbly)

Preheat the oven to 400°F

Wash the figs and pat them dry. Cut them in half. Place the figs onto a pan brushed with olive oil.  Brush olive oil onto each fig. Season with salt and bake for 8 minutes.

Drizzle figs with honey. Bake for 3 minutes until they become golden and caramelized. Remove from heat and let cool for a couple of minutes. Place about 1 teaspoon of blue cheese on each fig.  The warm figs will soften the cheese.  

Serve immediately

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

...We Salute You

As we sat in front of the fire on a cold winter day with some of Mark's collegesI was asked if there was anything I had missed out on since our arrival in Australia. I think Mark's jaw just about hit the ground when I stated that my only regret thus far was not attending the AC/DC concert. The only response to my comment was "Why on earth would want to hang out with a bunch of bogans?" Hmmmm, I couldn't deny that the band's music from their "For Those About To Rock" Album strikes a cord with me and causes me to sing along, but It wasn't so much because I wanted to relive my days as a rocker, but rather because the band is Australian.
I am not sure if back in the 80's when I had feathered hair and wore zipperpants I knew that AC/DC hailed from Australia. This fact was quickly brought to my attention when moving to Adelaide when I learned that Bon Scott, lead singer from 1974 until his death in 1980, lived in Adelaide. I've since leaned that the singer spent a good part of his life in Fremantle, Western Australia, and after his death by misadventure--alcohol poisoning--the singer's family interred his ashes in the western port city. I have yet to visit his grave, but on a recent trip to the area I sought out the statue of the iconic legend located at the Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour.
The statue, created by Greg James, isn't hard to find and it is located right across from Circerello's. At first glance the bronze statue appears to be too small to be life-size. However, in real life Bon stood just 157 centimeters tall.
The enternalized singer stands atop an amplifier with a microphone at his mouth,and if you apply a little imagination you can almost hear him belting out Highway to Hell.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


A semester in Mexico wouldn't be complete without a trip to the beach. Of course, my trip would have to be different from the other students who were heading down to Acapulco to party their brains out since it would involve my mother. In fact, I wasn't even a student, it was my mother who was the profé and had taken a group of students down to Morelia to study Spanish.
We really just wanted to hang out quietly, preferably in a hammock, near the water. So we chose the semi-sleepy town of Zihuantanejo. The afternoon we arrived we decided to skip visiting the town. Instead we made ourselves at home at our pension overlooking the Zihuantanejo Bay. With a half dozen terraces with several shade covered hammocks you really couldn't ask for much more.
As afternoon turned to dusk we decided it was time to head out for a bite to eat. At the pension owner's suggestion we headed down to thatched roof restaurant on the beach for our meal. It was off-season and the place was nearly deserted, but we were served a magnificent meal of red snapper by a very friendly staff. The setting couldn't be beat, and after our meal we sat listening to the waves calmly crash against the beach. Eventually, it was time to retire to our pension. We decided to walk the beach under the rays of a full moon.
We were less than 10 minutes into our journey, when a strange track appeared in the sand in front of us. It looked as though something heavy had been dragged from the water. Had it not been for a previous experience I probably would have continued walking, but instead I quickly began to scan the nearby sand dunes.  Sure enough, less than 30 feet from where we stood I spied a dark shape mechanically digging a whole in the sand. I grabbed my mother's arm and began to  repeatedly screech "Oh my God, you know what it is." My tone must have conveyed fear rather than excitement as she began to quickly pull away from me ready to bolt   down the beach.  I pulled her to a stop and informed her that we were about to witness a sea turtle laying her eggs.
Fortunately, I had observed a turtle laying eggs with a guide several years earlier, so I knew how important it was that our presence remain unobtrusive. Once we were sure that the turtle was completely in her hypnotic state of digging we approached her from behind.  For nearly an hour we watched her methodically remove sand from the hole. She then began to drop a dozen or so eggs into the hole. Had we had red cellophane to cover the light we would have had a better view of the actual eggs dropping; I knew that using an unfiltered light would interrupt the process. Once the egg laying was terminated the several hundred pound mother slowly began to refill the whole.  She then slowly made her way back to the water, where she swam away from eggs she would never see again.
As we slowly continued down the beach my mother and I couldn't help but feel that we had been blessed to witness this beautiful natural phenomena.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Fair Show

This past week was the Royal Adelaide Show--aka "The Show" by locals. Two years ago, with less than a week in Adelaide,  I met people who kept insisting I go to the 9 day event. When I asked for a description of The Show I was told about can't be missed amusement rides, tasty treats, and bags.  At the time, the description and the relatively high price tag didn't put the event on my must do list.  Then, last year, with a year of living in Adelaide under our belt, we understood that The Show was what we would call a Fair and consisted of more than deep fried food and roller coasters--though the concept of bags still baffled us. Finally we decided that since we live in a state built on agriculture we decided we needed to mosey on down to the Royal Adelaide Showgrounds for the annual event. 

We were not disappointed as we walked the barnyards and pavilions admiring the state's farmers prize-winning livestock and produce.  We sat in the crowds, cheering on competitions of beauty and strength, for man and beast--horse riding, dog shows, and wood chopping (just to name a few). We had our fill of demonstrations--cooking, sheep sheering, cattle milking and iron-smithing.  

We rounded out the agricultural part of the experience with gourmet food and wine tasting, live entertainment, and art shows. We also put an end to the bag mystery, as we were provided the opportunity to buy promotional themed plastic bags filled with items that ranged from  chips, to candy bars, to toys, to cosmetics. We topped off our Show experience with a walk around the carnival rides eating non-gourmet food.

Yesterday as I reflected on my confusion and conflicts between the seasons, I realized both my homeland and adopted hometown celebrate their annual agricultural event in September.  For those unfamiliar with Australia it may seem strange that an event based on agriculture occurs at the end of winter. However, in a country that suffers from extreme summer temperatures it is during the mild winters when crops are more easily grown and animals are bred. Back in the United States, State Fairs represent the fall harvest. It is a time to celebrate before entering the long cold winter, whereas in Australia The Show signifies the end of the rainy season and the start of the long hot days of summer.  So it doesn't matter if I am in Albuquerque or Adelaide, when September rolls around I can head to the Showgrounds for a Dagwood Dog.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Upside Down and Confused

This past week marked the start of September and I have been in Australia for over 2 years.  One would think that by now I would be accustomed to the fact that the seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are reversed from  what I have known for over 40 years.  However, I continue to struggle with matching the season to its corresponding month. In June I was singing Christmas Carols and I had an urge to make tamales and roast a turkey. I find it interesting how we connect cultural occasions to the length of day and weather conditions  in our place of origin--there is no way I'll be in the Christmas spirit by the time hot days of Australia's December roll around.
In situations that require stating the current month I  have to make a conscious effort to recall information that would normally roll off my tongue. I'm not referring to the simple confusion of August for September. Even during July, the month during which I celebrate my birthday, I have to remind myself that it is July--not January.Thank goodness I don't write checks or I'd really look like an idiot.
Down Under September 1st designates a new season--spring.  I didn't expect change over night. I know that the winds will continue to howl and that rains are possible as we slowly move towards the long and hot days of summer.  However, I continue to be a bit baffled. I can't help but feel that this should be the start of autumn and the football season.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

¡Ay Que Calor!

This week's PhotoHunt theme is hot.

There is no denying it, the Australian Outback heats up during the summer.  When the temperatures soar  over 40° C (100° F) it become a very inhospitable place. The hot and dry temperatures drain the land of moisture and brutal hot winds generate massive wind storms. Under these conditions hundreds--if not thousands--of bush flies flourish in the unbearable heat, and emus and other wildlife head toward the mirages on the horizon. Last January we headed into the outback in the midst of a summer heat-wave. It was one of the most amazing experiences we have had.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Unexpected Discovery

Our first trip to Dryandra was not completely fruitless. On the final leg of our hike, just as we were about to leave the forest for the car-park I spied this "little" guy. I think the primarily nocturnal reptile was trying to escape the heat.  
The non-venomous Carpet Python is named for their beautiful markings. Their color and pattern vary greatly. Eastern populations are pale or dark brown to olive-green, with irregular dark-edged cream to pale yellowish blotches. Other populations can be grey or reddish with darker blotches.
The medium-sized python can grow up to 3.6 meters (12 feet) in length and with up to 15 kilograms.  The average adult measures 2.4 meters (8 feet) long.  
Their diet consists of a variety of birds, bats lizards, and small mammals. They kill their prey by constricting it until it suffocates.  They are often the largest predator in their ecological community. 
You can find carpet pythons in heavily timbered areas from Western Australia through the top Northern Territory, though to the eastern states. They like to hide among leaf litter in tree hollows, logs and rocky crevices.  
If you find yourself in Dryandra in search of numbats you may want to take care because even though the Carpet Python is not venomous they can give a painful bite.    

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Tortilla Spanish Style

One of my favorite dishes to make for a party is a Tortilla Española. Except for its shape a Spanish "tortilla" has nothing in common with its Mexican counterpart. A Spanish tortilla is a very yummy potato omelet. It is a bit more difficult to prepare than an ordinary omelet, but it is well worth the effort.  


1 cup olive oil
4 large potatoes.
1 large onion (thinly sliced)
4 large eggs

Peel and thinly slice potatoes and onions. Heat oil in a 9-inch skillet (preferably nonstick and fairly deep). Add potatoes and onions, one at a time to prevent sticking, to form layers. Slowly cook over medium flame. As potato/onion mixtures cooks be sure to occasionally lift and turn mixture, rotating the bottom layers to the top, to prevent potatoes from clumping and/or sticking.  Cook until tender and translucent.
In a large bowl hand-beat the eggs.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Remove the potatoes from the skillet and drain them. Drain pan and reserve oil. Add potato mixture to eggs, pressing the potatoes down so that they are completely covered by egg.  Let the mixture sit 15 minutes.
While egg mixture sits make sure that nothing is stuck to bottom of skillet.  Add a couple of tablespoons of the reserved oil and heat until smoking.  Add the egg mixture and spread in pan.  Lower the heat to medium.  Give pan a shake to make sure it doesn't stick. Cook until underside begin to brown and the top begins to solidify.  
Place an inverted plate, the same size as the skillet, and flip the tortilla out onto the plate. Heat one tablespoon reserved oil to smoking, then lower heat to medium. Slide the tortilla back into the pan to finish cooking brown the other side. 
Transfer to serving platter.  Slice into 1-inch square or wedges and serve either hot or cold.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hunting For Numbats

Oh! How I wanted to go to Monkey Mia, but our previous trip to Western Australia had taught me that 700+ km was just too far. So I hit the tourist office and tried to find something a little closer. As I perused the pamphlets of day excursions, one donning a striped chipmunk-like critter caught my eye. I read through the brochure I could barely contain my excitement.  Less than 2 hours from Perth was Dryandra Woodland--home of the numbat. I made up my mind and the following Sunday we were going on a numbat hunt.
As we sat on the portico of a local cafe eating a big brekkie we knew the day was gonna be a hottie.  The sun was still low on the horizon, but the temperature in the shade was already becoming unbearable. But I wasn't going to let a little heat deter me; I was determined to see a numbat.
We found relief from the heat in the air-conditioned car as we followed the Great Southern Highway south.  We slowly made our way out of one of the world's most isolated cities and began to cross the wheat belt.  For miles on end we passed through the fields of heavy-headed, golden, sun-dried wheat stalks. As I looked out the window at the horizon it was hard to believe that somewhere in the distance we would find a magnificent wandoo forest--the remnant of a time before farming. Fortunately, the brochure didn't lie and about 1.5 hours outside of Perth a forest appeared on the horizon.  
The final approach to the trail we had planned to hike, was on an unsealed road.  As we turned off the air-con and rolled down the windows we were greeted with a blast of hot air.  It was well into the upper 30's.  We weren't too worried since the trail we were going to walk was short--only 5.5 km--and we had our hats, sunnies, sunblock and plenty of water.  

As we hit the trail I was taken back by the beauty that surrounded me. The variety and contrast of the trees was extraordinary. We passed through groves of powderbarks (with their powder skin cover), rock sheoak (with their dense weeping foliage), salmon gum (with their creamy orange trunks), and banksia (with their twisted and gnarled trunks). The meandering trail slowly climbed the laterite breakaways--rocky, flat-topped hills. Eventually, we re-entered the open woodland. Here amongst the hollow fallen trees I searched for the small marsupial found only in this part of the world. Unfortunately, probably due to the heat, this normally diurnal animal was nowhere to be found.  I couldn't help but feel disappointed as the circular trail returned us to our car. However, with the national park's proximity to Perth I new that we would one day return.