Sunday, July 29, 2012

Necessity is a Mother, all right!

We were at the vacation house last week. One of the neighbors has been ill and was doing poorly. Our vivacious 9 year-old guest decided we should take cookies to Mr. N.  We laid out all ingredients. We started the process -- while I creamed the sugar and butter, Little Miss did the eggs and vanilla. I opened the flour to measure and the smell hit me like a hammer. It was rancid. Nasty rancid. I should have kept it in the fridge, but for some insane reason did not. It had probably been in the plastic 'keeper' for a year in all kinds of temps between 50 and 80 degrees and did not age well.

Panic set in. It was 8 pm and the nearest grocery store was an hour's drive.  I did not want to put all progress in the fridge and start again tomorrow. Borrowing the flour from the person who will receive the gift is rather bad form. What to do????

Strangely, on the previous trip I brought some Quaker flour tortilla 'mix' and actually remembered to put IT in the fridge. I yanked it out and read. Mercifully it contained everything we needed but hadn't already added to the mix! It worked perfectly and the cookies were great. The neighbors loved them!

In case you have a bunch of flour tortilla mix hunting for a purpose, try chocolate chip cookies. Follow the normal recipe until you get to the dry ingredients (minus sugar), then substitute the same amount of flour tortilla mix for the salt, leavening and flour. 

Next, I think we'll make oatmeal raisin tortilla cookies!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Really interesting website

I really love this website.  It has an amazing amount of information, primarily about the sun, and is updated frequently throughout the day.  Each section teaches something different.  I have become more interested and aware of just how dynamic our star is -- primarily from reading and learning related to info I've found here. 

I had no idea how solar flares travel through space -- first as energy followed by charged particles.  I did not know that the 'solar wind' changes frequently and that the earth is subjected to differing amounts of particles daily.  Sunspots have unique numbers and take about 10 days to traverse the face of the sun -- at least relative to us. Some are fairly benign, others are rip-snorters!

Often photos or animations about interesting and related phenomena, like northern lights or eclipse are included.  Estimates of the potential for X and M class flares and for geomagnetic storms are in the left margin.  A table lists the known asteroids we will encounter soon, and their distance from the earth is expressed in lunar distances.  Other charts I've seen use the solar distance as a reference point, which creates a major challenge in figuring out whether something is actually close, versus just closer than the sun!

OK, so I'm a little geeky sometimes. Maybe so. Just remember, if you check this and teach yourself like I did, then one day if there is an earth-directed X7 flare,  you'll know what it means and be able to react appropriately.

Monday, July 23, 2012

One more thing

My Dad grew up in rural New Mexico in the 1920's.  Then and there, every man over the age of 10 had some kind of firearm, usually for the legless varmints, but sometimes for the ones with legs.  He was already a good shot when he entered ROTC, and became even better serving in North Africa and the European Theater until the end of WWII.  He had the unenviable experience of learning  the serious nature of what firearms can do. In no way did he become a 'control' advocate -- just the opposite. After fighting tyranny, he was convinced of the importance of our 2d Amendment rights.

The first time I remember shooting I was probably 7 or 8.  We lived in rural Virginia. Dad called us all into the back yard, which was a hill behind the house.  He had a galvanized garbage can -- the real solid ones of the late 1950's -- filled with water.  We stood back and he fired one round from a weapon aimed at the can. He then took us up to see the damage and explained about the little hole and the big hole and where the water went.  He also explained that's why we don't play with real weapons, because it will do worse to people.  We then practiced safe handling (with an unloaded weapon!) and did some target shooting with the hill as a backstop.  It wasn't the last time we practiced.

Fast forward to my teen years.  By the time I was 15, I was the only kid left at home.  When my parents went out to evening bridge club or the monthly birthday party for their crowd, Dad handed me a dish towel and the 'Blue Steel Babysitter.'  His instructions were to have it in my hand or next to me at all times and shoot anyone who tried to enter without a key. Good advice. Fortunately, Blue and I spent those occasional nights alone.

 I suspect that if a Dad did this today, he'd land in jail. Too bad for all of us.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Just can't stand it

I've tried very hard not to enter into the fray of politics on this blog, but today I'm giving in to the temptation. Every time some mentally unstable person does something insane with a firearm, the media takes an opportunity to gin-up an anti-second amendment furor. I'm sick of it.  Following the awful 2011 Arizona shootings, the media was quick-- and wrong-- to blame conservative lawful gun owners.  Although there is less open and wrongful blame this time, the media and those who prefer a defenseless population are again calling for gun control. PLEASE don't take this rant as any attempt to diminish the tragedy that occurred Friday.

I have seen statistics showing that murders with firearms certainly account for a fair number -- on the order of 11,000 per year nation-wide. Everyone of these was certainly a tragedy.  Who keeps stats on the murders and homicides that were prevented by lawful gun owners? Bet you a nickel that the answer is : NO ONE.  I did find a website that has an estimate based on a small sample, and the estimate is 162,000 per year.  Another website, with an obviously stronger bias increases that estimate by an order of magnitude at well over a million. So restricting weapons ownership would probably increase that annual firearms-related homicide rate if I did my math properly.

Next, let's do the math about rate of illegal fatalities among gun owners.  Just for the sake of the argument, let's assume that all weapons homicides were accomplished by persons with weapons legally owned (which I don't believe for an instant).  The low estimate of gun ownership in the US is 70 million persons. At the current rate of firearms-related homicides it would take 636 years for the rate among US Firearms holders to reach 1% of all current owners.

Strangely, about the same number of alcohol-related automobile deaths (~11,000) occur every year.  Alcohol and automobiles are regulated at an even lower level than firearms ownership.  Why is no one crying out for mandatory breath-testing equipment as standard equipment on all vehicles?  How about raising the legal age to drive to 21 and requiring a 3-day wait for your learner's permit?  Total auto-related deaths exceed 30,000 each year and more than 2 million are injured. That seems like a problem for real focus.

 So back to firearms. Many of the high profile events in the past few years were by people whose family and acquaintances thought were a bit off between the ears. Most of them were not the now-famous "clingers." How about a better methodology to screen for the mentally ill?  Perhaps an easier way for young adults to be referred for mandatory mental health screening to detect schizophrenia onset? Who is calling for that?

Above all, our Founding Fathers held the right of free people to be capable of defending themselves against tyranny to be second only to freedom of expression.  Tyrants world-wide have remarked that the average US citizen's right to bear arms is a deterrent to an invasion of our 'turf.' Let's keep it that way. If there is an organization out there that you believe represents your concerns about these rights, send them a few bucks or join. Let your Senators know to vote against any treaties that would be counter to the 2d Amendment. Stay vigilant, for as goes the 2d Amendment, so go our individual liberty and ultimately our national sovereignty.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Chicken in Wolf's Clothing

This is my enormous golden retriever. Turns out she would be small --for an English Mastiff.  She's not fat according to the Vet.  His little silhouettes of thin, normal and fat put her between thin and normal. She still weighs 80 pounds.  We were hoping for 50.  Most of the time the XL dog is a good thing. People tend to avoid a home with large dogs equipped with a bark that can split your head.

Every year, I forget that she doesn't like thunder at all. Before I retired, most of her thunder-chicken behavior was done in private. Now that I am at home for the wonderful monsoon storms, I'm the recipient of the full fraidy-dog routine. Let me share.

First, as the storms build she sticks to me like glue. Her preferred location is between my legs, even when I 'm standing doing food-prep in the kitchen. Do I need to explain how 80 lbs of dog between your legs and a sharp knife in your hand could be a safety hazard?

As the storm nears, she needs more protection and assurance.  She wants to be in my lap, even if I'm standing.  Forget working on the computer.  It just doesn't work with a dog who wants to be in your lap in an office swivel chair.  When redirected, she crawls under the desk, which is fine until the storm gets a little closer and she decides she needs to dig-in to be safe. After dodging being electrocuted by the dog,  I tried closing the door -- both excluding her from the office and allowing her to den-up in the laundry room.  Both were less than successful. She became frantic and tried to scratch the door down.

Oddly, when we go outside, she calms down immediately, so apparently it's related to being in the house and whatever vibrations she catches. She does not, however, want to be left out alone -- back to frantically clawing the door. Inside, I seem to have two choices that don't make at least one of us crazy.  Both involve being in physical contact with this tiny ball of fur. One is on the sofa with her head on my chest, which means half of her 80 lbs in my lap.  Perhaps she is calmed by the 'momma-dog' heartbeat.  The other is with her on the bed next to me.  This is not my top pick for sooo many reasons. I really wonder what she did when she was home alone.

We tried doggie downers several years ago for long car trips.  Even at higher than recommended doses, they just dis-inhibited her.  She got crazier, so I've not tried them for storm behavior.

The monsoon is less than half over! Any ideas on how to manage a large petrified dog?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Just add water!

Amazing what a little water can do for a landscape!  These datura are a near-favorite. I have seen some with a pale purple lip that I like a smidge better, but these aren't bad!

The desert willow (chilopsis linearis) are everywhere and the scent is amazing. The bright yellow senna are starting to leaf, but no blooms yet. Maybe next time.

These not-so little doves were crowding momma dove last week.
Today, they were gone.

I was working with some environmental contractors from 'Back East' a few years ago.  They were on contract from the DoD, looking to find sites in need of clean-up at the nearby military installation.  Usually these sites are old artillery or bombing ranges. I thought I knew the fort pretty well.  They were planning a trip out to look at sites and wanted to see a specific small arms range that had been inactive for more than a decade.  They were insistent that it needed a review due to the impact craters.  I was confused, because our history showed nothing but pistol use since being built during WWII.

They assured me that the aerial images clearly showed the craters. I asked for an electronic copy and it made me smile.  From the air, these large harvester ant clearings actually do look a lot like the impact craters made by artillery shells. (unless you have a stereo pair) The Easterners came and we took a nice walk through the ant hills.  If you are not familiar with harvester ants, they are large but not particularly aggressive or venomous. If you happen to get in their path, they will mosey up your shoes, onto your leg and up your pants. They have large, powerful jaws and do not liked to be trapped up your pant leg against your undies elastic. I can tell you from personal experience, it will make you drop your pants to get the little monsters out of there once they start biting. Several of the visitors were treated to this little ritual I call the 'ant dance.' Welcome to the desert.   

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Monsoon Walk

Though off to a feeble start locally, the monsoon has begun!  Lots of things to do once the rain starts, like clean out the rain barrel (don't want to empty what's left of that precious spring rain until we're sure), plant more seeds for cooler crops (beeets, rutabagas, parsnips for starters), and take the camera on morning walks.  I'll probably continue this post for a few days, adding new pictures after each walk.  Why? Because new and different beauty and wonder erupt each day for about the first 2 weeks after the monsoon starts.  The landscape transforms radically and it ALWAYS amazes me.

These little guys come out. Any one know what they are? They have really fuzzy antennae that move really fast, so hard to tell whether they have six or eight legs. Obviously Mom Nature is giving us a warning to give them clear path.  They can be up to about half an inch long and wide and only are out while it is very moist from the rain. The tip of the hiking stick is about 1.5 inches in diameter.

Flowers pop up everywhere, some for only a fast bloom and seed cycle.

This delicate little gal has someone's size 10 for scale:

The hardy mesquites, which bloom inconspicuous but heaven-scented earlier in the year, are now loaded with ripening beans.  These are a life-saver to javelina (wild boar relative), rabbits and could be for people if we'd gather and grind more. The flour is nutritious with high complex carbs and proteins -- and adds a carmelly-flavor when mixed with regular or WW flour.

It takes a few rains for the poor cholla to perk up, drop last year's fruit and bloom.

If you look between the cholla branch shadows just below the enter of the photo, you'll see this guy posing for the snapshot:

He/she and about 200 of his/her best friends were partying in the cool, moist desert during our short walk. Wippee! Monsoon is here!

I hope to add two of my monsoon favorites soon: Blooming Sacred Datura and a tarantula!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Keeping ahead of pesky critters

Here are some things I've learned over the last 10 years of country life.  Many of these I learned from my neighbors and from the county agricultural extension agent. I don't like using engineered chemicals if I can avoid them, so many of these 'tips' employ other methods and  'integrated pest management' which helps reduce use of poisons. Even though the linked description is about IPM in commercial agriculture, it also works at home and in the garden!

We had a wet winter a few years ago and by summer everyone in town was overrun with cute little rodents -- mostly field mice and deer mice who reproduced like crazy on the Spring vegetation. We came home from a 2 week trip to find the little devils had been partying like crazy in our house while we were away.  We used the new model plastic snap traps and they worked well -- nailed a couple dozen in our 1200 square foot house. I like these traps (usually find them at ACE) because you don't need to touch the business-end when re-setting. After cleaning up their mess, we also plugged EVERY opening, including the little spaces around where pipes enter and exit the house (usually under the kitchen sink), with  steel wool. Rodents won't chew through it. We also put a heavy screen barrier over the exterior opening to the crawl space even tho the insurance said to leave it 'open' for storm drainage. Also, no more stylish open cabinets. All have well-fitted doors and drawers to exclude mice and bugs.

For the carpenter and borer bees, we nailed some stubs of untreated 2X4's together and drilled the long direction with several 1/2 inch holes about 2 inches deep, each hole about an inch from every other. By placing these blocks around the property, the bees go to them to lay their eggs (less work) rather than excavating holes in our structures.  These bees are good pollinators, so we're both happy now.

I maintain BIG plastic jars of both boric acid and diatomaceous earth. A few sprinkles of these on the garage floor or the back of a kitchen counter will help rid you of insects like ants and 'palmetto bugs' (as the Southern Belles I grew up with called them -- most of us know them as roaches). Sometimes for ants, you'll need to mix the boric acid with honey to interest them. Neither of these will harm humans or pets, but are not as fast as the engineered stuff.

Check out BT for yard pests like elm beetles and mosquitoes. It's a non-toxic bacteria that usually only bothers specific insects. We also do the after-rain patrol to make sure we aren't maintaining extra areas of standing water for the mosquitoes. In addition to a little BT, I keep screens over my rain barrels so that even if I get larvae, they can't get out once they get their wings. A package of mosquito-specific BT cost me about $15 and I use about 2 tablespoons a year, so it should last me about a decade.

Flies? We get the sticky strips from the feed store (pack of 5 for about $2) and when we have flies in the house, we close a room with a strip inside. Move the strip and repeat. It's important to maintain screens over doors and windows-- even if you just staple net fabric from Walmart over the windows. It's cheap and comes in lots of nice colors! Also, make sure your trash is covered and that you keep the basket in the kitchen drain to keep flies from laying eggs in the drain trap. Yuck.

 I plant perennial flowering native species around the garden and orchard -- especially salvia and native Compositae (daisy relatives) varieties. The photo above shows Maximilian daisies that bloom just as the apples ripen. These flowering native plants attract the native and regular migrant birds and good bugs to eat or kill the harmful bugs before they get a foothold in the yard. I did lose some Brussel sprouts to blister beetles this year (most folks were hit a lot harder) but usually have little bug damage. Even my apples and berries have been relatively untouched. Took about three years to add enough natives to fix the bug intrusions. Many of these were gifts from neighbors when they thinned their plants, so the cost has been minimal. The 4 salvia gregii I bought cost about $20 total.  They have dropped seed and I have another 5 plants that I transplanted elsewhere in the yard. I've also given a few off-spring to neighbors. The Max daisies reproduce like rabbits with just a little watering, so a few tubers will fill lots of space in a couple of years.  Lesson learned: DO NOT plant near an adobe wall, or you will have daisies growing from your house.

Fleas and ticks are about the only pests that move me to use engineered chemicals. I really hate them (both the chems and the T&F's), but sometimes they are part of being a dog person.

These techniques take a little discipline at first, but we've found that in the long run they make you less dependent on engineered chemicals, cost much less and possibly reduce exposures to 'stuff' with scary warning labels.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Killer Guacamole

RETIRED AND RESTED!! Here's my first topic of the new era:

I tend to be a purist about some things. Until recently, guacamole was one of those things.  No chili, jalapenos, chipotle, etc..  Guacamole is a fire-stopper -- not a fire-starter -- for your mouth when included in spicy Central American food. If there were more than 5 ingredients, including the avocados, it was not for me. Recently that's changed -- but only a smidgen. Sorry about no picture, but we ate it all so fast I didn't get one!

My 'traditional' recipe was taught to my mother in the 1930's in Las Cruces, a New Mexico town along the Rio Grande near Mexico -- long before simple Mexican food became haute cuisine. Here it is: Decide how many avocados you plan to use. I usually estimate 1 per 2 people, plus "one for the pot." Selecting the fruit is key here. DO NOT use rotten avocados.  Some people think that 'soft' means past the point of use for anything else. Absolutely not! This 'beyond use' selection technique actually requires hot chilis to distract you from the taste of rotten avocado!  The fruit should not be more than 1 day past optimum for use in a green salad. Flesh should be bright green, not olive or brown. Cut out any brown flesh. If you are ripening hard fruit ahead of time, leave them in a paper bag on the counter and check TWICE a day. Once a fruit has a tiny give of softness, put it in the fridge. Use within a couple of days. 

To prepare, before touching those perfectly-ripened avocados, start the other ingredients working. For each medium to large avocado to be used, in a glass or other non-metal bowl add about 1 tablespoon of finely chopped onion, a pinch of real dehydrated garlic powder (Penzey's recommended), large pinches of salt and freshly-ground black pepper and between 2 teaspoons and 1 Tablespoon of fresh lime juice.  Don't use garlic salt. Don't use cayenne or any other hot pepper in lieu of the black pepper. Fresh lemon juice is OK. In a pinch the frozen or reconstituted, but ONLY if it really tastes like lemons or limes -- not the 'name brand' that tastes like neither.

Mix these ingredients and then start to work on your avocados. WASH them to prevent introducing something nasty from the skins into your dish. remove the little hard stem. Cut in half the long way and then do it again so you have long quarters. Peel and then slice about 3/8 inch thick chunks perpendicular to the length to get thick little chunks. As you add more avocado slices, turn the mixture over to let the lime juice slow the browning of the fruit.

When all fruit is cut and in the bowl, take a fork and lightly mash. Do not use power tools. There should still be chunks of avocado visible. Taste with whatever chip you are using, or just taste if it is to be an accompaniment to salad or (my favorite) a plain cheese quesadilla. Adjust the salt and acid to a nice balance that accentuates the avocado flavor.

If you are not serving immediately, smooth the top of the mixture with the back of a spoon and squeeze a smidge more lime juice over the top. Lay a sheet of Saran wrap directly on the mixture so that the lime juice holds the wrap down. Tuck into the edges of the bowl. This air-tight cover will keep the guac GREEN all over for several hours in the fridge.

Some people like to add chopped red tomato for color, but I have a different preference.  I plan ahead and have a grill-roasted ear of sweet yellow corn in the fridge, left over from the previous night's grilled dinner. For up to 12 ounces of avocado, add about half and ear of this wonderful corn cut from the cob and mixed in.  If you are making a big batch of guac, add the corn from the whole ear.  We eat this with toasted tortilla chips, cheese quesadillas, grilled meat, fish or just by itself. It's really good.

 Another fabulous variation on Guacamole is from El Cid, a long-vanished restaurant in northern Sonora, Mexico. It is a guacamole rustica. Everything is very coarsely chopped -- sweet white onion, seeded red tomato flesh and the avocado. Chunks should be no larger than a quarter and no smaller than a nickel. There should be a little more avocado than tomato or onion. Don't mash the avocado at all. Pile this festive goodness in the center of a large platter, squeeze lime juice over the pile and then lightly salt and pepper.  Surround with toasted tortilla chips and wedges of lime. Serve immediately.