Friday, August 8, 2014

Kids Art and Nature Camp- Habitat Habitat!

We just finished our first Art and Nature Camp at the North Cascades Basecamp, titled Habitat, Habitat, Habitat.  We had 12 kids join Deirdre Cassidy, Kim Romain-Bondi, and Raechel Youngberg for a great week.  We started our week with nature walks and discussions of habitat, and native wildlife's adaptations to to live in Methow Valley.  Our sketch books came in handy as recorded our observations and created imaginary creatures with a random variety of adaptations, such as long claws, a shadow tail, big ears, round body, and a nut-cracking bill. The kids created incredible paper mache animals based on what we had learned, some with realistic features in the end, and others with folk art colors of their imagination.  Games in the grass and a fair amount of waterplay kept the days fun and cool.   The photo below shows our floating habitat we found in the swimming pond, where we identified 7 species of insects or animals that were using it.  We can't wait for next weeks camp- Native Plants, Trees, Flowers, and Leaves.
Raechel's lesson about how snakes are adapted to different habitats

Busy children were amazingly focused as they started their paper mache animals

Folk art color creations on Nella's snake
Kelley fox is ready for paint
Payten adds detail to her kingfisher masterpiece


floating habitat in the swimming pond


Homemade Apricot Honey Fruit Leather

The Basecamp has been swimming in ripe fruit lately due to our CSA's from Smallwood Harvest Farm. We decided to make a couple of different types of fruit leather the other night but the recipe we will feature is for apricot fruit leather. Homemade fruit leather is an excellent way to use up overly ripe fruit and tastes absolutely amazing any time of the year.

Homemade Apricot Honey Fruit Leather 
For our fruit leather we used a dehydrator but you can easily adjust this recipe to be baked in an oven. Yield: 2 plates fruit leather-about 10 fruit roll ups

8 cups organic ripe apricots
1/2 cup homemade grape juice (you can substitute 1 cup water if necessary)
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1/2 cup organic white sugar 1/2 cup fresh organic honey

1.) Cut apricots in half and remove the pits
2.) Combine apricots, sugar, honey, grape juice, and lime juice in a large sauce pan and place over medium-low heat.
3.) Continuously stir and mash the apricot mixture for 20-30 minutes while it remains on medium-low heat.
4.) Blend mixture in a stand blender until smooth.
5.) Line dehydrator plates with parchment paper
6.) Pour mixture onto lined dehydrator plates, ensure that the mixture spreads evenly over the plates or else dehydrating time will vary between sections.
7.) Dehydrate at 150 degrees F for around around12 hours.

The finished product waiting to be cut up! 
Yum! Fresh apricots and finished fruit leather! 

Watching the landscape heal after a fire

The past month has been the most impactful few weeks the Bondi family has experienced in our 15 years of inhabiting the Methow Valley.  Longer term residents of this valley compare July's wildfire events to the floods of 1948.  As the Methow Conservancy's Executive Director Jason Paulson describes in their monthly e-news, "these fires are writing a new chapter in the ecological and human history of the Methow Valley".

We feel for our Methow Valley friends who were caught in the fire's way.  This chapter in the human history of the Methow Valley is certainly painful and will take years to fully rebuild and move on.  At the same time, this chapter in the ecological history of the valley was long overdue.   The effectiveness of the last century of forest fire policy- Smokey the Bear has spent the last 100 years putting out wildfires- left our our dry ponderosa pine woodlands and open shrub-steppe landscapes ready to burn.  The build up of brush and trees and woody debris made these fires event inevitable. 

One way to watch, assess, and learn about the ecological recovery of the land is to set up a long term monitoring plot.  All you need is a notebook and a pencil, a compass and a camera, and maybe a plant book or two.  The simplest monitoring plot is a "hub and wheel" design- one with a permanent center point and multiple spokes radiating out from the center- where you will take repeatable photographs to document changes over time.  You will want to establish your monitoring plot and take your pictures as soon as possible after the fires.  Do it now!

Locate your center point in a relevant location of significant size, say in the middle of a burned field, open meadow, or pine woodland of an acre or more of size.  A permanent feature such as a boulder, a well casing, or a survey marker makes for a great center point for your plot.  Standing at your center point, use your compass to find the four virtual spokes of North (360°), South (180°), East (90°), and West (270°).  There.  You have a long-term monitoring plot prepared.  If you would like, you can extend a measuring tape out to 10, 20, or even 50 feet and install an end point. Really you just need to be able to repeat your center point and relocated true north, south, east, and west.

In your notebook, write down the date, time, and weather conditions at the time of our monitoring.  You will want to revisit your plot at about the same time each year under similar weather conditions.  Now grab your camera and compass.  To begin, line up your compass along the North spoke, then at a repeatable height (~5.5 feet/head height), hold your camera to take two photographs.  The first should follow the spoke at ~5.5 feet above the ground height to the horizon.  For the second, orient your camera downward to photograph the ground cover along the first 10 feet or so of the spoke.  Next, line up with your compass along the East, South, and West spokes and repeat the photography.  You should end up with eight photos total.  Make sure to write in your notebook how far you zoomed in/out for each photo, and to number each photograph.

These photographs capture the look of the landscape at that point in time.  With each subsequent year of photography taken at the same monitoring plot, you create a long term record of the conditions as they change over time.  You will need at least a year or two to see changes; you might need 10, 20, or even more to see larger scale changes.  Watch for new a sheen of green as grasses grow in.  Watch for the splashes of color from native flowering plants.  You will probably see the new shoots of sprouting shrubs and trees.  A good plant book (visit your local bookstore!) will help identify new plants your see on the ground in your plot!  Over multiple years, these shrubs and trees may obscure the horizon in your photographs.   The more persistent you are the more you will be able to help write this chapter on the ecological recovery of the landscape.

Landscape looking North two days after the fire August 08, 2014

Landscape looking (just west of) North May 23, 2010

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Second Grade Field Trip

This winter we shipped the Methow Valley Elementary second grade class up to the North Cascades Basecamp for a field trip to learn about how animals adapt to winter.  There was a brief introduction in the Ecology Classroom, where Kim introduced myriad different kinds of adaptations, comparing and contrasting them to the methods that humans have developed to cope with the cold.  We all have the same needs to survive, and each creature has its own methods of achieving these basic survival essentials.

She talked about the warm coats humans wear for winter, whereas some animals grow new layers of fur, or hollow fur that traps more heat near the body, and compared our drying, canning, and preserving of foods to the caching that many animals do to keep fed through the sparse, snowy months.

After introducing the kids to the theme of the day, we split up into four groups, which rotated through different stations: The first was in the classroom working on some art projects and word games related to adaptations.  The kids then strapped on snowshoes and got to tromp around the forest surrounding the Basecamp looking for tracks and exploring different animal habitats with Kim and Steve.

Finally they were introduced to the world of subnivean creatures, who burrow under the snow and live in tunnels and dens in the low layer of snow near ground, where the snow provides insulation from the cold winter air and traps the animals' body heat around them.  Burrowing was something the kids could certainly relate to and they grabbed their "claws" (shovels) and got to work excavating the 4-8 foot snow piles around the warming hut with gusto.  We were even able to take some temperature readings in some of the burrows and compare them with the air temperature to see the effects of snow insulation.

Much fun was had by all, and, speaking for myself at least, we learned a lot about how many different ways there are to adapt to the harsh conditions we face.

African Sweet Potato-Peanut Stew

This is a favorite soup!  One can also thicken the recipe to make more of a sauce over forbidden wild black rice on a bed of fresh spinach greens.  Either way, it has the perfect spice combinations for a hearty winter meal.

Servings for 6:

3 cloves garlic
2 cups (loosely packed) fresh cilantro leaves and stems
3 cups (28 ounces) canned and undrained tomatoes (whole or diced)
1/2 cup creamy or chunky peanut butter
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper (or cayenne pepper)
Sea salt
1 cup water
3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks (regular potatoes work well too)
2 1/2 cups (15 to 19 ounces) garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups (16 ounces) garden frozen whole or cut green beans

1.  In blender or food processor with knife blade attached, blend garlic, cilantro, tomatoes with their juice, peanut butter, cumin, cinnamon, ground red pepper, and 3/4 teaspoon salt until pureed.

2.  Into 4 1/2- to 6-quart slow-cooker bowl, pour peanut-butter mixture; stir in water.  Add sweet potatoes and garbanzo beans; stir to combine.  Cover slow cooker with lid and cook as manufacturer directs on low setting 8 to 10 hours or on high setting 4 to 5 hours or until potatoes are very tender.

3.  About 10 minutes before sweet potato mixture is done, cook green beans as label directs.  Gently stir green beans into stew.

Baked Oatmeal

Serves 6 generously, or 12 as part of a larger spread

2 cups  rolled oats
1/2 cup  walnut pieces, toasted and chopped
1/3 cup natural cane sugar or maple syrup, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Scant 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
2 cups  milk
1 large egg
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 ripe bananas, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups / 6.5oz / 185g huckleberries, blueberries, or mixed berries

Preheat the oven to 375F / 190C with a rack in the top third of the oven.  Generously butter the inside of an 8-inch / 20cm square baking dish.

In a bowl, mix together the oats, half the walnuts, the sugar, if using, the baking powder, cinnamon, and salt.

In another bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, if using, the milk, egg, half of the butter, and the vanilla.

Arrange the bananas in a single layer in the bottom of the prepared baking dish.  Sprinkle two-thirds of the berries over the top.  Cover the fruit with the oat mixture.  Slowly drizzle the milk mixture over the oats. Gently give the baking dish a couple thwacks on the countertop to make sure the milk moves through the oats.  Scatter the remaining berries and remaining walnuts across the top.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the top is nicely golden and the oat mixture has set.  Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.  Drizzle the remaining melted butter on the top and serve.  Sprinkle with a bit more sugar or drizzle with maple syrup if you want it a bit sweeter.


from Super Natural Every Day: Well-Loved Recipes from My Natural Foods Kitchen by Heidi Swanson

Blue Cheese and Butternut Squash Polenta Pie

3 cups water
1 1/4 cups coarse ground polenta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 cups peeled and diced butternut or other orange squash
1/2 cup bleu or feta cheese
10 roasted tomatoes
8 ounces shredded mozzarella
Chopped walnuts

1.  Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan and whisk in polenta, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt, garlic and lemon zest.  Nice to add in grated Parmesan cheese if you like at this stage as well.  Stir for five minutes over medium-low heat before pouring into a 9-by-18-inch baking sheet brushed with olive oil.  Cool for an hour in the fridge.

2.  Cube and bake a butternut or other sweet and orange squash for 20+ minutes at 375 degrees, until soft but still firm.

3.  To roast tomatoes: Put fresh, whole tomatoes on a cookie sheet, and drizzle with olive oil and sea salt. Let roast in the oven for 20 minutes on 400 degrees F. or until golden brown and starting to carmelize.  Remove, keeping juices for the lasagna.

4. Remove cooled polenta from the fridge and brush with olive oil.  Evenly spread squash, roasted tomatoes with juices, 1/2 cup bleu cheese and shredded mozzarella over the polenta. 

5.  Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 375 degrees.  Finish by removing foil and baking until top is golden brown (10 to 15 minutes).

Garnish with chopped walnuts.  Although we serve this dish without a top like an open face polenta pie, you can also reserve 1/2 of the polenta to cover the pie and now call it a lasagna! 

**inspired from ultra runner Geoff Roes in Outside Magazine