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:

Ingredients:
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

Directions:
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

Ingredients:
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

Directions:
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.

Enjoy!

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

Blue Cheese and Butternut Squash Polenta Pie


Ingredients:
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

Directions:
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

Winter Squash Gratin

For 4 servings:

Ingredients:
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bay leaf
6 sage leaves, chiffonade
2 medium large onions, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 to 2 pounds winter squash, butternut
4 slices whole wheat or white bread, crusts removed and torn or chopped into small pieces
3 ounces (1 cup) gruyere cheese
1 1/2 cups warm milk

Directions:
Bring several quarts of water to a boil.  Peel the squash, slice them in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds.  Dice the squash into about 1 1/2" pieces.  Add salt to the water when it has boiled, and then add the squash.  Let the water return to a bowl, simmer for a few minutes and then drain.

Lightly butter an 8x10" gratin dish.  Warm the oil in a sauté pan with the bay leaf and sage, then add the onions.  Cook gently over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the onions are translucent and beginning to brown, about 15 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf.  Season with salt and pepper and spread them over the bottom of the gratin dish.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  To form the gratin, lay the squash over the onions and season with salt and pepper.  Spread the grated cheese over the squash and work into the crevices with your fingers.  Pour in the warm milk and then distribute the bread over the top.  Cover with foil and bake for 1 hour then remove the foil and bake until the squash is tender when pierced with a fork and all the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes more.  Let the gratin settle for a few minutes before service.

Inspired by Cameron Green


Quinoa Chowder with Spinach, Feta, and Scallions




For 4 servings:

Ingredients:
3/4 cup quinoa, rinsed well in a fine sieve
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 jalapeño chile, seeded and finely diced
1 teaspoon ground cumin or to taste
Salt and freshly milled pepper
1/2 pound boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 bunch scallions, including the greens, thinly sliced
3 cups finely sliced spinach
1/4 pound feta cheese
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1 hard-cooked egg, chopped

Directions:
Put the quinoa and 2 quarts water in a pot, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer for 10 minutes.  While it's cooking, dice the vegetables and cheese.  Drain, saving the liquid.  Measure the liquid and add water to make 6 cups if needed.

Heal the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and chile. Cook for about 30 seconds, giving it a quick stir. Add the cumin, 1 teaspoon salt, and the potatoes and cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Don’t let the garlic brown. Add the quinoa water and half the scallions and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Add the quinoa, spinach, and remaining scallions and simmer for 3 minutes more. Turn off the heat and stir in the feta and cilantro. Season the soup with pepper and garnish with the chopped egg.

(from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison)

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Steller Jay Communication and Research

You may have seen me lurking in your neighbors yard or driving up and down Hwy 20 in a Jeep with Montana plates. I'm not lost. I am a visiting PhD student from the University of Montana and I am here to study the Steller's jays of the Methow Valley

My research is focused on how animals communicate about danger and predators and a part of this is trying to figure out how Steller's jays combine two alarm calls and mimicry to encode information about predators.

I use a variety of playbacks to elicit different calls and behaviors at different bird feeders throughout the valley. The research is going well, although because of the mild winter the birds are less dependent on feeders and therefore a little more difficult to work with. However, the people, views and copious amounts of bakeries have eased that frustration. If you see me out and about, feel free to stop me and ask questions and I hope to see most of you at the talk summing up my research here on January 23rd.

Thanks for all of your help and support! 

Community Soup and Presentation:  
January 23, 2014.  Steller's Jay Communication by Alexis Billings, University of Montana PhD student - presentation at the North Cascades Basecamp in Mazama. 5:30pm soup dinner, 6:00pm presentation.  8$/person (bring a friend- $10 for 2).