Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fargo watches the river flow, and pics from Farm Sanctuary CA

I always like to start here with a photo, so here's a portrait of the very handsome Ari, one of the goats at Farm Sanctuary's California shelter. That's where I've been most of this month, and we'll get back to California in a moment. Isn't he great?

Here in Fargo we're cautiously optimistic about the flooding situation on the Red River, at least those of us still on dry ground. The crest appears to have come and gone over the weekend, although now the National Weather Service is telling us to expect another crest, at similar levels, in another two weeks. We're in the middle of another blizzard tonight, with more snow expected before the final spring thaw even starts, so the river still has a lot of water coming its way. So far so good, but it looks like we'll be waiting on pins and needles for the next two weeks to see how this ends.

This has been exhausting for everyone, but the spirit here in Fargo, and Moorhead MN on the other side of the river, has been inspiring. Tens of thousands of volunteers from the Fargo-Moorhead area, with many more from around the region, have worked so hard this past week to prepare for the flooding. We've filled around three and half million sandbags, built miles and miles of sandbag dikes, and received so much support and well wishes from around the country.
I'm sitting here tonight watching the snow fall and wind blow, and happy to finally have an evening that doesn't involve filling, tying, tossing, or stacking sandbags. We'll see how things go the next couple of weeks, but we're all looking forward to getting through this.

On the personal front, I got back last week from sunny California, where I spent a couple of weeks volunteering at Farm Sanctuary's shelter near Orland, CA. I was at the FS shelter last year around this time for a month, and I'm so happy I was able to get out there again this year. It was another fantastic experience, and great fun to see all of the animals and folks at the shelter. I stayed at the farm with three other interns on three-month terms - Hi Roxie, Amanda, and Brian! - and they were first rate housemates. Good cooks too - I wish I'd taken some more photos of the food everybody was making, and every evening after work was good fun - thanks everybody!

If you're unfamiliar with Farm Sanctuary, they have two sites in the US, in New York and California. They provide life-long care for rescued animals, and support education for ever-growing numbers of people about the conditions these animals have survived as former commercial commodities. The website is full of information on the animals' stories, ongoing campaigns, and educational resources, so I encourage you to check it out - even better of course would be a visit to one of the sanctuary sites - they have weekend tours throughout the summer, if you get the chance! You'll love it, and I guarantee you'll fall for a few of the resident animals.

Now for some photos - the darlings of the shelter this spring are two lambs, Colvin and Adi (not sure about the spelling), brothers born after their mom Wendy arrived. Here's a picture of Adi - the little brother - running around their yard. He isn't quite sure how to use his legs yet, and I broke out laughing every time he ran around, with legs flying in random directions. He would occasionally launch into a full four-legged leap like this, just jogging around with his brother - that's Wendy at the right.

Below is Ramona pig, digging into a bowl of fresh greens and carrots. Feeding Ramona and her group of pig pals is always gratifying - they get so excited whenever the produce bowls come around, and this disappeared in minutes.

Whitaker calf - another sweetie, waiting to grow a little bigger before he joins the main cattle herd in the pastures.
This is Maya - she arrived at the shelter with pal Rosa last year. She just took a bath in the pond the main pig group shares with the geese and ducks here, and came up to visit and pose for her close-up. Lookin' good.

Here's Rosa - she and Maya sleep cuddled up together in the pig barn every night, and they're pretty adorable. Rosa's fired up about eating a bunch of shredded carrots here. They're as gentle as any friendly dog when it comes to eating treats out of hand.
Finally, my buddy Blue, one of my favorites from the sheep herd. The photo doesn't really convey it, but I always feel good when Blue comes up to see what's going on. He's pretty cool. Blue shares the pasture with the rest of the sheep and goat herd, and they're probably my favorite group of animals at the shelter to spend some free time with. The goats especially are endlessly curious, especially when I have treats like apples or carrots in my pockets. Some of the sheep are a little more wary, but Blue always comes up to say hi.

Thanks as always for reading, and I hope to be back soon in regular recipe/food mode. In the meantime, I have a feeling that the river is going to keep us on our toes for another couple of weeks.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Avocado & Black Grape Salad, Steel Cut Oats, and the elusive Pileated Woodpecker

I love making salads like this for lunch, and they're usually not the result of any planning, just what happens to be on hand. I'm happy for any reason to eat an avocado, and it's paired here with crispy cucumber slices, black grapes, kalamata olives, and walnuts. Most salad dressings I make are experiments in on the spot trial and error, and this one was pretty good. Here's the dressing, more or less:

2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. agave nectar (or sugar)
1 tbsp. capers
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup pineapple juice
salt and black pepper to taste

Winter is oatmeal sesaon, and I can usually carve out a little more time in the cold months to actually cook something for breakfast. Here I tried steel cut oats for the first time, soaked overnight. These were cooked for about a half hour on a low simmer, and still retained some texture - sort of like cooked barley or brown rice. I added yellow and purple raisins during the simmering, so they got nice and plump, along with a sliced dry fig, half a fresh peach, and ground flaxseeds.

I was curious about steel cut oats, but I think the longer cooking time will keep me from replacing regular quick oats, or even slightly longer cooking rolled oats, in my regular breakfast rotation. Good though, and people who know about this stuff say they're really healthy, since they're not processed nearly as much as other oats.

We're now in bird-watching mode, so if that's not your thing you're politely excused :) I do my best to take the pups on a long walk every day, and one of our favorite places in town is Oak Grove park, a beautiful expanse of oak trees on a bend in the Red River near downtown Fargo. In the summer it's a busy frisbee golf course, but I love the winter here because we usually have the whole park to ourselves, so I can let the dogs run around off the leashes. A highlight of the park is the chance to see pileated woodpeckers - today there were two in the park, calling to each other from opposite ends. They're extremely wary of people, but this one kindly let me take a couple of pictures before taking off across the park. They really are amazing animals, and their call is always what tells me they're around - you'll never forget it, and it apparently was the inspiration for Woody the Woodpecker's laugh...

While I was waiting to take a picture, these guys decided to take a breather from tearing around the park. If I can presume to speak for them, this means "forget about the damn birds, let's go play!"

Monday, March 2, 2009

Crusted Eggplant with Orzo-Wild Rice stuffing

I haven't eaten eggplant since last summer, so this FS recipe test was a chance to make stuffed eggplant again. The recipe suggests using mesquite flour to coat the eggplant, but I've found that's a hard ingredient to find in Fargo. Has anybody out there cooked with mesquite flour, or have any ideas on it? I used a matzo meal instead - matzo meal is my usual replacement when recipes call for fine bread crumbs, since most commercial bread crumb products contain eggs and dairy. The stuffing here features walnuts, carrots, orzo, and wild rice - I used a nice multi-rice blend sold in bulk at a local store. Pretty good, and I love the creamy texture of nicely roasted eggplant. As with all stuffings, this one is open to all kinds of variation and experimenting.