Thursday, June 24, 2010

Birds of Prey...and a Tortoise

On Monday we had a wonderful presentation at our monthly Master Gardener meeting by Rebecca McKeever of Lone Star Wildlife Rescue. Rebecca is a great speaker -- knowledgeable about a variety of animals, experienced (20 years) as a wildlife rehabilatator, and possessing a great sense of humor -- but the birds still stole the show, as I'm sure was intended! I wish I had written this post immediately while details were fresh in my mind but other events intervened. If you notice something that needs to be corrected or amended, please add a comment!

The first bird of prey we saw was a Great Horned Owl, out on his (or her?) first large group speaking engagement. The goal of rehabilitators is to care for injured animals who can then be released back into the wild. This isn't always possible, if the injury causes lasting effects making it impossible for the animal to function in the wild. When this happens the animal is placed in a facility, or may become an educational ambassador, making trips to speak to school groups, or adult groups like ours. This owl is blind in one eye, and therefore a poor hunter who would not be able to survive in the wild.

We thought this screech owl was a real little cutie, but ssshhhhhh! Rebecca said he thinks he's very scary! Guess what his favorite food is -- cockroaches! That's right! It's a nasty job but someone's gotta do it, and thank goodness!

This is an incredibly beautiful bird -- a White-tailed Hawk named Laredo. The only place in Texas these birds are found is by the Mexican border. Rebecca explained that most wild animals who are brought to a shelter have been injured by contact with humans, rather than natural causes.

Laredo was hit by a car, which is a common cause of injury to animals. The crash broke the "elbow" part of his wing, making it impossible to fly. You can see that he can't extend his left wing like he can the right. Luckily, thanks to LSWR, he found a job on the talk show circuit, and is quite the crowd-pleaser!

This majestic lady is Isabelle, a Red-tailed Hawk. Like Laredo, Isabelle can't fly. Rebecca explained that molting and nesting season has begun, and as Isabelle is a veteran ambassador, she knows full well that she is scheduled to be on vacation, and not out visiting Master Gardeners. This makes her a little hormonal. Did you know that hawks kill with their feet? You don't want to rile Isabelle!

Finally, we had the treat of meeting a Texas Tortoise. This one was found in someone's pocket at the airport, which is illegal as they are a threatened species. Rebecca explained that not only are they susceptible to respiratory infections, they can also carry a disease back to other turtles and tortoises if they are released back into the wild. This article from the Gulf Coast Turtle and Tortoise Society is quite informative about the Texas Tortoise and their plight.
Everyone in attendance seemd to enjoy the presentation very much! The Lone Star Wildlife Rescue is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization existing on tax-deductible donations -- please visit their website for more information about the good work they do!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What do I do with all these tomatoes?

There's really nothing like a homegrown tomato, right? I wait and wait until the first ones are ready, and then I'm inundated! Happens every time! And I'm not complaining!

This year I planted six plants, and I hope you don't think I remember what they are! My dog likes to steal the little plant markers...I should probably go ahead and buy some of the really cute ones I see on Etsy, like metal ones that he can't chew. There are two cherry tomatoes, one is Sungold and the other is Sweet 100, and they are both great and making LOTS of little tomatoes! I have some kind of plum tomato that is also producing like crazy. The tomatoes are very small but very tasty. I have one plant making the biggest tomatoes I've ever grown -- I think it's a Bush Steak. And the other two are...also tomatoes.

Recently I made some bruschetta with roasted tomatoes. It was quite delicious. I had a recipe but I changed it a lot so I'll tell you what I did. I used about 3 pints of tomatoes -- all kinds cut up kind of chunky. I tossed the tomatoes with some minced garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp. sea salt, and 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper. I spread it all out on a jelly roll pan and baked in a 325 degree over for about an hour. Then combine the roasted tomatoes with 1/4 cup of chopped fresh basil (I have a lot of that too!) and 1 Tbsp of red wine vinegar. I sliced some ciabatta and put eight or ten slices on a pan in the broiler and toasted them on one side. Then I took them out, turned them over and spread them with the roasted tomatoes, and then topped them with some shaved parmesan cheese. Back in the broiler just to melt the cheese a little. Voila, and yum!

Here's another recipe I love. I found it last summer in a Country Living magazine, so you may already have it. It's for Tomato Pie. In a way it seems sad to take something so healthy and fat free and turn it into an artery-clogging fattening dish...but oh my, is it good!
Here's what you need:
4 medium tomatoes
1 9" deep dish pie shell, baked
1 cup chopped white onion
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 375. Cut six tomato slices for garnish, set aside. Halve remaining tomatoes, remove seeds, and cut each half into about six wedges. Place half the wedges in bottom of baked pie shell. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup onion, 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper, and 1 Tbsp basil. Stir mayonnaise, Parmesan, and Cheddar together in a small bowl, then spread half of mixture over onion layer. Repeat with remaining tomatoes, 1/2 cup onion, 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper, and 1 Tbsp basil. Add remaining mayonnaise mixture. Place reserved tomato slices in pinwheel design in pie center. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown. If piecrust starts overbrowning, cover edges with foil. Allow pie to cool for 20 minutes before serving.
Pretty much of my favorite ways to eat tomatoes is just sliced with sea salt. Or how about a tomato sandwich with lots of mayo and salt and pepper? Or, best of all, right off the plant!
What are some of your favorite ways to use tomatoes? I need to know!!!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hope Farms

On the last Saturday in May (yes, I'm a little behind!) Charlene and I went out to shop at Hope Farms. Hope Farms is owned by Master Gardener Barbara Lopez, and she's open to the public every weekend in May. She has lots and lots of plants for sale, but probably the best part -- and something you don't get at just any nursery -- is you can see the plants established in her beautiful gardens, and get a very good idea of how they'd do in your own yard.

We were welcomed by Mr. and Mrs. Potman out doing their daily chores. Rumor has it that Barbara doesn't pay them very well even though they're on the job 24/7!

Of course Barbara's there to answer questions and she's VERY knowledgeable! Here she is in the center with two very able helpers, Lucy and Aileen. Check out the adorable aprons made by Lucy's mom! She needs to be on Etsy, right?

At Hope Farms you'll find lots of perennials, gingers, fruit and citrus, but one reason to go is to see her day lilies. Barbara is a true day lily afficianado and she has beds full of them!

Each has a plant stake with its name so if you see one you love, you know what it's called.

Fruit and citrus trees are sold at Hope Frams, and here's living proof that apples can be grown successfully in Montgomery County, Texas! This apple is called "Anna."

And here's one being trained on an espalier.

Charlene was happy with her purchases, and so was I! Among many other things, I finally got an almond verbena which is doing beautifully. I can't wait for mine to bloom as the scent is quite heavenly!

It wasn't very helpful of me to tell you about Hope Farms after the May event is over, but I promise next year to let you know ahead of time! If you live in the area, you will want to go! See you there next May!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Visit with Jamie and Mandy, Part 2

Finally, Part 2! After we left Wild Ginger we went home and packed up and got on the road to Austin. I was sorry that Mandy had missed the height of wildflower season by a few weeks as the Brenham area we passed through is always especially beautiful. Jamie missed most of the scenery but at least I got to wear her sunglasses while she slept! Why can't I keep a pair of sunglasses more than a few weeks??

We were stuffed from lunch and so decided to forego a regular dinner. We took a walk and then spent a low key evening with the laptops. In the morning Jamie had to go to work and Mandy and I went with her.
Jamie works at the Austin Visitor's Center on 6th Street -- the old Grove Drugstore. (See my Etsy page for limited edition prints of this Austin landmark!) She advises tourists on what to do in Austin -- where to go and what to see. She also sells tickets for "the Duck" -- the amphibious vehicle that tours downtown Austin and then glides into Lake Austin for about a 20 minute segment. I've heard so many stories about "duck drama" i.e. grown people crying because the tour is sold out (!) so was curious to see what's the big deal. We got some yummy breakfast tacos on the way to the Visitor's Center, and then looked around at souvenirs and watched Jamie work while we waited for the duck.

Mandy and I boarded and our tour began. We saw the sights of downtown Austin, including many I was not familiar with, so that was interesting and informative. The entertainment aspect was a little lame. The driver/tour guide exhorted the passengers to blow the provided duck calls at pedestrians, who responded with puzzled looks. The driver apparently thought he was auditioning for Don Pardo's job, and after awhile the singsonginess caused me to grit my teeth.
The only moment of drama was when the duck was clambering out of the lake, and it seemed like it might not make it. Jamie informed us later that sometimes that happens, and I'm glad I didn't know it at the time. I would recommend this wacky tour as a fun way to see Austin, especially for families with children.

Mandy appears to be enjoying herself, but I'm not convinced!
When the tour was over Jamie took her lunch hour and we walked over to a local Tex-Mex. Right before we went in I looked across the street and saw something unusual, so I took the picture below. Curious, we crossed the street and approached the group.

Well yes, it WAS a cat riding on a dog! The owner and animals had just arrived in Austin, apparently ready to work the streets and make some money!

No, I was wrong; it's not a cat riding a dog. It's a rat riding a cat riding a dog.

The dog was outfitted with a heavy leather harness for the cat to grip. The rat was free to roam.

The owner/trainer revealed that while there is one dog and one cat, he has several rats. When I put a few dollars in his tip jar he said, "Thanks! The rat needs a new pair of shoes!" Nice to keep one's sense of humor while making a living in such an uncertain way, and with several mouths to feed.
The dog seemed delighted to be there and to get so much admiring attention, and I don't think the rat(s) cared one way or the other. But I gotta say, I think the cat, tethered to the dog with a slim leash, was wishing he could get some other gig.

Ah Austin! The Key West of Texas! Seeing the dog/cat/rat trio was my second favorite thing in Austin. First was spending time with Jamie and Mandy -- love you both! Least favorite? I left my pillow at Jamie's! :-(