Friday, February 26, 2010

the latest and greatest!

Clouds in the sky at the Great Sand Dunes National Monument, Colorado
Copyright (c) 2008 Wendee Holtcamp

How is it only 10:45pm? It seems like it should be midnight or later. Guess not. I had a quite productive day, crossing several things off my to-do list but not the "most important" thing which I'd identified in the morning to do (work-wise). Well, I guess tomorrow is the day for that!

Doug is now offshore, and after just one day I miss him terribly! I didn't realize how much I would miss him. We normally talk regularly throughout the day and see each other almost daily. Over the past 14 months he's become my closest friend, the one I talk to about everything. We also worked out every day for the last two months (with the exception of maybe a handful of days). So here I am. I am hoping to get a lot of work accomplished while he's gone but I've always found it's easier to leave than to be the one staying behind. Yesterday he called to tell me about the boat, but today he didn't. Wah! Do you hear the tiny violins?

A week ago Friday, I went to Bastrop, Texas to meet up with Dr. Mike Forstner, a genetics professor at Texas State University who has studied the endangered Houston toad for years. We met up around 6pm and started driving around on his normal route, listening for Houston toads as well as other froggies and toadies. Toads have distinctive high-pitched trills and each species of frog and toad has its own unique call. We also got out and walked around a few ponds, and lo and behold, at one we found a single Houston toad! These guys are critically endangered and they only come out with very specific weather conditions. The temp has to be above 50 degrees F, and it was about 55-59 or so, and there he was sitting at the pond edge. No calling though. Mike caught him and took a blood sample, inserted a PIT tag (Passive Integrated Transponder - used to id him when they catch him again) and took measurements.

Anyway that was exciting! I have oodles of interviews to transcribe now... not the most fun part of writing but sort of a mindless task. And the one thing I wanted to get started on today that I failed to do.

But it's not a wasted day because I made some yummy food! Started out the day with my Yoga Inspired Breakfast (I make a batch and save it in the fridge to eat through the week), and then for lunch finished up this absolutely totally flamboyantly delicious and nutritious Cold French Lentil Salad. I made it yesterday but Oh. My. God. I freaking l.o.v.e. this recipe! Something about the Dijon I guess. I made a ocuple substitutions.

Cold French Lentil Salad

1 cup green lentils, sorted and rinsed
1 bay leaf
3 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. dried dill
3 celery stalks, finely diced (1 cup)
1 cup peeled and diced cucumber
1/3 cup finely diced fennel bulb
1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed
1/2 cup diced white onion

1. Bring lentils, bay leaf, and 3 cups water to a boil in saucepan. Reduce heat to medium -low, cover, and simmer 20 minutes, or until lentils are tender. Drain, remove bay leaf, and cool.

2. Whisk together oil, vinegar, garlic, mustard, and dill in bowl. Stir in lentils, celery, cucumber, fennel, corn, and onion. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

NOTES: I used regular plain jane brown lentils rather than green ones (which are more firm when cooked apparently), because that's what I had on hand. I'm all about using what I have, since I love groceries! Though I rarely shop I for clothes or other stuff I have a knack for getting too many groceries. Don't get me wrong, I eat it all but I am on a mission to use up ingredients in my freezer and pantry! Course the need for freshness - ie veggies, milk, cheese etc - never ends. Anyway, onward. I substituted balsamic vinegar since I didn't have red vinegar. It was either that or apple cider vinegar which I also have. I love balsamic so went with that. Verdict: Two Thumbs up! I think the balsamic is what gave it the flavor I just adore, along with the dijon. I cooked the lentils in (organic) beef broth because I had some that I need to use up.

The other thing I made this evening was Ultimate Veggie Fried Rice. I already shared this recipe but last time I made it with millet. This time I used a brown rice-wild rice mix I had leftover in the fridge. It was amazing! Much better than the recipe with millet. I leave you now with a few photos from my last adventure!

A pic of the Houston toad we caught. By we, I mean Mike. :) Copyright (c) 2010 Mike Forstner
The toad's belly. What a cutie! We had an interesting conversation about toad-licking. Copyright (c) 2010 Mike Forstner

A self-portrait at Bastrop State Park, one of the toad's last strongholds. I had interviewed the park superintendent and then took some quiet time with God while sitting overlooking the small lake.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Praising God

Frigatebirds on North Seymour (north of Santa Cruz) in the Galapagos Islands
Copyright (c) 2007 Wendee Holtcamp

Sing, O Daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O Daughter of Jerusalem! The LORD has taken away your punishment, he has turned back your enemy. The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. On that day they will say to Jerusalem, 'Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.' Zephaniah 3:14-17 NIV

Friday, February 19, 2010

more Houston toads!

The other day I went to Houston Zoo's 'Princess Day' - to bring awareness to Houston toad (Bufo houstonenis) conservation. It was a benefit event where young girls could dress up like princesses and come and "kiss" toads in honor of the latest Disney movie The Princess and the Frog. These are some photos I took that day of the event and the toads. So cute! If you look close at the terrarium you can see one of the toads in the corner.

Young kids are so amazing! It's like they're on a spiritual plane that is so close to God, so curious and genuine and intense and mystical and imaginative all wrapped into a cute little bundle.
This toad was in the terrarium at Princess Day and is hidden in the sandy soil which is what they do in the wild. They prefer habitat with sandy soil.

A bullfrog skeleton.
Afterwards, I went to the quarantine facility again to take some more photos. These "mating" (technically amplexing) toads show the size difference between male and female.
Toads have quite variable coloration, and it can change even on a single toad. I think that in breeding season they can become more colorful, like this reddish one, and cold temps make them darker (see below).

This big ol' girl must be pretty darn cold!
Ditto. Same toad, different shot.

If all goes as planned, I'll be heading on another bohemian adventure this weekend! I'm going with conservation biology professor Mike Forstner on surveys to listen and look for Houston toads calling in the moonlight (for the article I'm writing of course). They're found in Bastrop State Park and a few counties around there, and that's pretty much it, in all the world. And they're on a runaway train barreling down a broken track over the abyss.

Lucky for the toads, a brand new (last few years) head-start program atthe Zoo is going to do wonders for them, I think. Toads lay a lot of eggs, which make a lot of tadpoles (though fewer tads than eggs); they invest nothing in the offspring and most die. By taking eggstrands into captivity and raising them until they become juvenile or adult toads, they help many more survive than would in the wild. And then release them back where the eggstrand came from. This program is going to result in many more individuals in the wild, which will mean more will be available to breed to then make more toads. It's still a relatively new project, but very important in a species declining so rapoidly over the past 50 years, and continuing a decline despite Endangered Species Atc protection since 1970. Headstarting has been used for a couple other endangered species including Kemp's Ridley sea turtles (which I wrote about for Defenders Magazine - Surf's Up for These Sea Turtles) and the Plymouth redbelly turtle.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Veggies are good for you!

My lunch today was a yummy salad - romaine lettuce topped with garbanzo beans, cucumber, capers, ground flax seeds, some leftover sauteed bok choy from yesterday, and my favorite low-fat organic ginger dressing (I used to use Annie's Naturals but this is the same dressing from Whole Foods brand). I also made the Indian dish Mujadara which is Lentil, Rice, & Caramelized Onion Pilaf. I halved the recipe but here's the way it was printed in Vegetarian Times.

1 1/2 cups basmati or long-grain brown rice
1/2 tsp. salt, divided
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced (2 cups)
1 15-oz. can brown lentils, rinsed and drained, or 1 1/2 cups cooked brown lentils
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
1 tsp. ground cumin

1. Bring rice, 2 1/4 cups water, and 1/4 tsp. salt to a boil in large saucepan. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 30 minutes, or until rice is tender, and all liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, and let stand 5 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, heat oil in skillet over medium heat. Add onion and remaining 1/4 tsp. salt. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook 30 minutes, or until onion is soft and browned, stirring occasionally.

3. Transfer rice to large bowl, and fluff with fork. Stir in onion, lentils, parsley, thyme, lemon zest, and cumin. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

NOTES: I made my lentils from scratch rather than canned, and used a wild rice/brown rice mix that I cooked using vegetable broth in my steamer. I made the lentils using vegetable broth (rather than water too). In fact I got some bulk mixed-lentils from Whole Foods yesterday and used that instead of just brown lentils. I cooked 1 cup lentils with 1 cup broth & 1 cup water (I wouldve used all broth but I was out). It ended up slightly runny (leftover water) but good enough for government work. ;) I made the wild rice mix because I made enough so I can use the rest in another recipe - Autumn Wild Rice Rissoles.

I love love love roasted red peppers. I use this Veggie Wash to clean my fruis & veggies. Not sure how good it works... anyone know anything about it?
Just cut them into strips, add a touch of olive oil or flax oil and roast at 400. Here I combined red and yellow peppers.
Here's a photo of the collard green coleslaw! I learned that it doesn't keep well. Make a small batch as it starts to sour after about 2 days in the fridge. It's yummy and super healthy!

Washing up the collard greens! Sorry this is out of focus.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

new recipe experimentation!

Cosmos at Green Gulch Zen Center Organic Farm
Copyright (c) 2007 Wendee Holtcamp

I've been continuing my recipe experimentation, which I'm loving though it can take up a lot of time if I'm not careful. Plus I have tons of leftovers that I love, but the kids aren't so fond of everything. And Doug is like, you're becoming vegetarian? What the heck?! Anyway... everyone's fave so far is the chickpea croquettes with Greek topping. That was a big hit with me, Doug, and the kids (well Savi) when I made them plus two vegetarian "wraps" the other night. I LOVED the spicy tofu lettuce wrap, but the kids and Doug preferred the ginger-miso yam wraps. Here are the recipes if you want to try some easy-to-cook and healthy Asian recipes! I halved both recipes since I only had one chunk of tofu.

Spicy Tofu Lettuce Wraps
• 2 tsp. vegetable oil
• 1 medium onion, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
• 1 Tbs. minced fresh ginger
• 1 Tbs. minced lemongrass
• 2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
• 1 lb. extra-firm tofu, crumbled
• 1 8-oz. can water chestnuts, drained and chopped
• 4 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce
• 4 Tbs. hoisin sauce
• 1 to 2 tsp. vegetarian chile sauce, such as vegetarian sriracha
• 16 butter lettuce or iceberg lettuce leaves

1. To make Filling: Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, ginger, lemongrass, and garlic, and cook 7 to 10 minutes, or until onions are soft and beginning to brown. Add tofu and water chestnuts, breaking tofu into small crumbles; cook 4 minutes, or until heated through. Stir in soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and chile sauce. Transfer to serving bowl.
2. Place lettuce leaves on platter, and set out garnishes in small serving bowls. Let guests wrap tofu mixture in lettuce leaves, and top with their choice of garnishes.

My prep notes: I accidentally used, um, slightly too much oil. 1 Tbsp instead of 1 tsp (halved). Oops. But so instead of halving the onion I used the whole thing. The taste was fantastic, so I think it was a success. I also used Bragg's Liquid Aminos, instead of soy sauce. It tastes the same and I think it's healthier! Instead of fresh lemongrass, I have this "Gourmet Gardens" squeezy bottle of lemongrass. If you don't have miso, it's probably not going to matter, but it is a probiotic and healthy for the gut. It is often found by the Asian food section where they make fresh sushi, if your store has one of those. I didn't use any garnishes (supposed to be carrot, green onion, chopped fresh mint and/or chopped peanuts). Though actually come to think of it, I did have some chopped fresh cilantro but I put that on the other wrap. I used both Hoisin sauce and Thai Sweet chili sauce to dip the wraps in, yum!!

Ginger-Miso Yam Wraps
• 2 small yams or sweet potatoes (1 lb.)
• 2 Tbs. white miso paste
• 1 Tbs. smooth peanut butter
• 2 Tbs. finely chopped shallot
• 1 Tbs. minced fresh ginger
• 2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
• 1 cup frozen shelled edamame
• 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
• 6 oz. firm silken tofu, crumbled (1 cup)
• 2 Tbs. chopped cilantro
• 8 collard green leaves, stems removed

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut thin slice off both ends of yams, and poke skins with knife in several places. Bake 50 minutes, or until soft, turning once. Halve yams, and scoop flesh into bowl. Mash in miso and peanut butter.

2. Meanwhile, coat skillet with cooking spray, and heat over medium heat. Sauté shallot, ginger, and garlic 3 minutes, or until soft. Add edamame, 1/4 cup water, and cayenne; cook 3 minutes more. Remove from heat, and stir in tofu,cilantro, and yam mixture. Cool.

3. Place 1 collard green leaf on work surface. Spoon 1/3 cup yam mixture in center of leaf. Roll bottom edge over mixture; tuck in sides. Roll up to top edge. Place, seam-side down, and repeat with remaining ingredients.

My prep notes: I didnt use collard greens but rather romaine lettuce leaves, because I had a 3-pack package and I wanted to use what I had in the fridge. I have some leftover wrap innards (that doesn't sound too appetizing now does it? ha), and just bought collards for this coleslaw recipe so I'm going to try the wrap next with the collards and I'll report back! I used sweet potatoes rather than yams. I always thought they were the same thing, but I learned a couple years ago, they're not! This tasted good, but I thought the chunks of tofu seemed odd, since the recipe doesn't call for them to be cooked just crumbled into the cooked sweet potato mix. I thought maybe if it was blended, so the chunks of tofu weren't visible, it would have been more appealing. I went ahead and briefly pan-fried (in a tiny bit of olive oil that had previously sauteed the onion for the other recipe) the tofu crumbles. I used this sweet chili sauce for dipping, and it was also used in the spicy tofu lettuce wrap recipe.

Here's the other recipe I made yesterday (just had some for lunch). Super healthy and very tasty!

Collard Green Coleslaw
• ½ lb. collard greens, tough stems removed (8 leaves)
• 3 medium carrots, grated (2 cups)
• 1 medium onion, grated (1 cup)
• 1 medium red bell pepper, diced (1 cup)
• ½ cup rice or cider vinegar
• 1/3 cup sugar
• ¼ cup canola oil
• 1 tsp. powdered mustard
• 1 tsp. celery seed
• ½ tsp. salt
• ¼ tsp. ground black pepper

1. Stack 3 or 4 collard leaves flat on work surface. Roll tightly into a cylinder, hold together, and thinly slice to make narrow strips. Coarsely chop strips once sliced. Repeat with remaining collard leaves, and transfer to large bowl. Stir in carrots, onion, and bell pepper.
2. Whisk together vinegar, sugar, oil, mustard, celery seed, salt, and pepper in small saucepan, and bring to a boil, whisking to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat, and pour hot vinegar mixture over collard and vegetable mixture. Stir to coat vegetables with dressing. Season with salt and pepper, if desired. Cover, and chill 4hours or overnight.

PS The key to yummy tasting morning millet breakfast cereal - use a smidge of butter. It really makes the taste come together that all the chopped dried fruit in the world, and even brown sugar or maple syrup doesn't.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Harville Hendrix is a trekkie!

Logan Pass, Glacier National Park
Copyright (c) 2008 Wendee Holtcamp

It's funny how the more I write/blog, the more I seem to have to write! Last night I got the privilege of seeing award-winning author and psychologist Harville Hendrix talk about his new book A New Way to Love (Though it's aimed at married people, the principles apply to all romantic relationships). It's the new name for his workshop called Couplehood as a Spiritual Path, which I participated in at my church in the fall - and blogged about here). Hendrix's NYT bestselling book, Getting the Love You Want, was a watershed book in my life. It is literally life-changing in its impact in both the communication exercises and the information contained within its pages (such as info on the therapy he based on his research - Imago).

He was funnier than I thought he would be! Doug and I were cracking up when he showed a video of he and his wife doing the mirroring dialogue where he shared with her a "caring behavior" he appreciated. It was that he appreciated that she would let him just sit in his office and watch... Star Trek. He was like, "When I'm watching Star Trek, I am not just watching. I am ON the ship." The whole audience was cracking up. The thing is, he was serious! But as he continued the dialogue, he talked about how he was an orphan, and he used to have to sneak and hide to have any private time, even to read a book, or his siblings - who raised him after his parents died when he was 6 - would put him to work. And that's the key to the dialogue, that something very simple that you appreciate is often tied to memories from our childhood. Likewise, with the things that trigger us (aka annoy or frustrate us).

I can hardly believe that I have failed to mention that I got to see one of my all-time favorite authors, and a huge personal inspiration to me - Liz Gilbert (author of the bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love) talk about her new book Committed at the Alley Theatre. I'd read mixed reviews, and I didn't quite know what to think, but when I heard her speak and heard her read the opening bit of it - I fell in love all over again. It's fantastic, she's hilarious, and I'm reading the book at the gym now (the cost of the event included a copy of her new book). It's about how she was forced to marry by the Office of Homeland Security or her boyfriend "Felipe" (who she met at the end of Eat, Pray, Love) would be deported permanently. Neither of them ever wanted to marry again, so it's the book of her becoming accustomed to the idea, their long path to marriage between a U.S. citizen and a Brazilian with Australian citizenship, and research on the customs of marriage, mostly in the West - though she does include interesting conversations from various other cultures of people who she visits, such as the Hmong in Vietnam. I must say, in the first few chapters I'm already intriguied, and I'm shocked to say that it's starting to change my view on marriage. For example, the church actually shunned marriage for the first several hundred centuries after Christ.

As I am inclined to do, I'm reading about 5 books at a time. I had been reading Anne Lamott's novel Crooked Little Heart at the gym until I got hooked on Committed. A friend gave me Lamott's novel when I visited Portland last December (08) during the big snowstorm, and I decided to read. I'm about 2/3 done and it's ok, not great. Lamott is another one of my all-time favorite authors, but I really like her nonfiction stuff such as Bird by Bird (which I use to teach my Advanced Writing Workshop), and Operating Instructions. I'm also listening to the audio-book of The Shack, which my dad sent me as a gift (I"d sent him the print version last Christmas and he liked it so much, he sent me the audio since I rarely have time to read - though getting my butt back to the gym has given me a bit more real reading time again). The Shack is great, but not as amazing as I'd heard from others, in my opinion.

I have two articles in this month's Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine (Feb 2010) and they also have a bio and photo of me in the front of the magazine. That's always fun! The two articles include:

Attack of the Killer Fungus:
Will White Nose Syndrome spread to Texas bats?

Soon, the reason why we have all gathered will become apparent. It’s one of nature’s most beautiful and inspiring spectacles — the nighttime emergence of hundreds of thousands of bats. Bat watching, ­particularly in Austin, has become an international phenomenon. But what if all these bats were to vanish?

And I also have a "3 Days in the Field" travel column in the magazine:

German Jewel
Destination: Fredericksburg.
How do you show Texas to someone who has been living in the big city and hasn’t seen the Lone Star State’s natural beauty since moving here a couple of years ago? That was my challenge. I picked the Hill Country because of its diversity — waterfalls, bats, rocks for climbing, quaint towns, wine country and good food. We chose Fredericksburg as our home base.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

millet and my February resolution

I made my morning breakfast cereal from the millet I cooked in the steamer yesterday, and I'm not too crazy about the texture, honestly. It may be due to the strange way I cooked it (multiple times in the steamer). Being it was my first time cooking it other than tossing it in soup, it well may just be technique. However, I picked up some quinoa (a grain from South America that has no gluten and is SUPER healthy) in bulk at HEB grocery store yesterday ($2 a bag - so cheap!) and tomorrow I'm going this recipe I found - Quinoa-Millet Hot Cereal: A Yoga Inspired breakfast.

What I put on my millet breakfast version this morn: dried blueberries (bought in bulk at HEB - I LOVE Bulk foods!), 1 chopped prune, 1 chopped date, a few chopped pecans cinnamon sprinkles, ground flax seeds, and a touch of maple syrup. I read recently - in Vegetarian Times mag, no big surprise, that pecans have the highest antioxidant level of any nut - and they're the nut I happened to have in my freezer! The flavor of the cereal is good, I only wish it was more gooey like oatmeal, which I love but oats have gluten. So I think the quinoa added to the millet will make it a bit more like oatmeal. We'll see! Later today I'm going to make stir-fried millet using a Zen stir-fried rice recipe. Yummo! Hope it turns out...

I'm off to my Experiencing God bible study this morning. I am really enjoying it. It's only my second week in class, since I missed the first few, but am all caught up in the workbook.

Having successfully achieved what I wanted to with my January clean-purge resolution, I am moving on to my February resolution - work on what comes out of my mouth. I have a lifelong tendency to swear when I'm mad... It waxes and wanes, and often depends on who I hang out with. I'm also sometimes impatient - with myself, with others but to those closest to me... so I'm working on addressing issues calmly and kindly, seeking the Lord in all of these things to draw on His power and strength and not my own. So with that I will leave you with some bible verses I found related to the tongue.

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16: 24

When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. Proverbs 10: 19-20

A fool shows his annoyance at once but a prudent (wo)man overlooks an insult. Proverbs 12:16

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18

He who guards his mouth and his tongue keeps himself from calamity. Proverbs 21:23

My dear brothers, take note of this. Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1:19

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. James 3:3-10

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

adventures in cooking

It's been a morning of cooking and experimentation! This morn I made an early grocery store run so I could cook the next recipe on my list:
Sesame Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges with Broccoli (also from Vegetarian Times magazine).

But first, I had to juice because I had so many vegetables they would hardly fit in my refrigerator! My juicer was still sitting on my countertop from the Master Cleanse (thank God for Jack Lalanne's juicer! That was one most excellent expenditure). I decided to make Dr. Oz' Green Juice. My friend Gia shared this yummy fresh juice with me, and the recipe, a couple years ago and I've made it before but not in a while. Here's the recipe from Oprah Winfrey's website but I halved it.

2 cups spinach
2 cups cucumber (I just used one cucumber)
1 head of celery
1/2 inch or 1 tsp fresh ginger root
1 bunch parsley
2 apples
juice of 1 lime
juice of 1/2 lemon

You can modify it to taste. I added 4 carrots because that was on the recipe Gia gave me (you can't add too many carrots - they give it a nice sweetness). I omitted the parsley because I didn't have any, and I add more ginger root. For my taste buds, the ginger root really makes the drink. I also accidentally used the full amount of lemon/lime while halving the recipe so it was too lemony this time, but still drinkable. It's "a glass of fresh" according to Dr. Oz! You basically throw it all in a juicer - I don't know any other way! I save the pulp in a freezer bag and use it in the veggie (stone) soup I make.

I also tried to cook some millet in my steamer, but little experiment is proving more difficult than imagined. I have used millet for a couple years, but always in soup. It's a grain that doesn't have gluten (the ingredient in wheat, oats, barley that many people are allergic to or that causes digestive problems). The first time I bought and used it, I was like, this looks like bird seed! Then I realized, this IS bird seed! Yep. Millet is the same little round grain that makes up bird seed. Who knew, it's also good for people! I've never made it as you would simply make say rice, so this was quite an experiment. I read that you should not use water but vegetable or chicken broth or it's hopelessly dull. You can use broth even if you intend to use the grain as a breakfast grain cereal, which I do. I used organic chicken broth because I had some that I got super cheap because it was past expiration (not a big deal in a vacuum-sealed container, at least for me).

Well I looked online and it said you can either boil it on the stove, requiring constant supervision (which I'm awful at) or use a steamer. I have a steamer - wha- la! However I usually cook veggies in it not rice or grain.

So the first time I tried to steam the millet, I poured in 1 cup and it was so small it went right through the holes into the container thingie below... I didn't know if this was ok or not but I went with it. Put it on for 30 min or so. After it was done, I looked and the grain was cooked around the edges of the steamer but not in the middle (you can see that in the above picture - to the left is cooked millet, and the rest is uncooked). Grr.

And when I took the inner basket out I realized the chicken broth had caked onto the bit that heats up the steamer. So I cleaned it off and tried again, using the same grain I just threw it all back in the steamer, but this time I put it in the basket. Maybe that is where grains are actually supposed to go?! I guess I should find the directions... I put more water in (no broth this time) and cooked another 40 minutes. This time more was done but still not all! I added another 20 min to the timer and it's finally all done now! I think the conclusion is that a little millet goes a long way, and I probably put too much volume in there. I have some yummy recipes to make this into brakfast cereal, like adding dried fruit (apricots, prunes, raisins, whatever) and nuts. I will also make a recipe using millet and chopped veggies! Will share, when I do.

Back to the main recipe: Sesame Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges with Broccoli
• 4 cups bite-size broccoli florets, halved lengthwise
• 2 small sweet potatoes, each cut into 16 wedges (1 lb.)
• 6 green onions, each cut into 4 segments
• 3 Tbs. toasted sesame oil, divided
• ¼ tsp. coarse salt
• 2 Tbs. orange juice
• 2 Tbs. low-sodium tamari or soy sauce
• 1 Tbs. rice vinegar
• 1 Tbs. mirin
• 1 Tbs. toasted sesame seeds
• 2 tsp. grated fresh ginger
• 1 clove garlic, minced (1 tsp.)
• 6 cups baby spinach (8 oz.)

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place broccoli, sweet potato wedges, and green onions in large bowl. Add 2 Tbs. sesame oil and salt; toss well to coat. Spread vegetables on baking sheet, and roast 20 minutes, turning with spatula 2 or 3 times. Increase oven temperature to 500°F. Roast vegetables 10 minutes more, or until tender and browned.

2. Meanwhile, whisk together orange juice, tamari, rice vinegar, mirin, sesame seeds, ginger, garlic, and remaining 1 Tbs. sesame oil in small bowl. Place spinach in large serving bowl, add roasted vegetables and orange juice mixture, and toss well to mix.

In case you don't know what the heck mirin is, I didn't either! I asked at the grocery store, and discovered mirin is used in Asian cooking and my grocery store sells it over by the fresh sushi, but instead of paying $5 a bottle I decided to look for a substitute. I found that Cooks Thesaurus says 1 Tbsp Mirin = 1 Tbsp dry sherry cooking wine + 1 tsp sugar (I used corn syrup so I didn't have to melt the sugar). You can also use white wine and sugar instead of sherry and sugar.

So how did it turn out? I think my oven cooks high (it's a gas range) and so the broccoli got a bit too browned for my preference but not burnt. I think next time I'll turn down the temp. I sliced the sweet potato wedges about 1/3 inch thick and that turned out to be the perfect thickness as they cooked perfectly in that cooking time. The sauce was delicious! I think my sesame seeds are a bit stale as I've had them in my pantry for years and I finally dragged them out for a recipe! I toasted them in my toaster oven set on the lowest setting (if you put it higher than low, they will burn - I learned this from toasting nuts).

My biggest disapointment was putting the whole thing over spinach. I prefer a saucier veggie mix, and by adding all that spinach you really dilute the flavor of the sauce. It seemed like it was missing something, so I tried adding a few chopped yellow and red bell peppers, but I don't think that went too well with it. So I think overall, this was a 2.5 out of 5. I think if the sesame seeds were not stale, the broccoli didn't get overcooked, and I just put the sauce over the broccoli and sweet potato wedges it would get a 4 or 4.5 out of 5. So I'll have to try again! :) You can learn from my experimentation.

The broccoli and sweet potato wedges in the oven ready to roast!

The final product, over spinach. You can see the yellow and red bell peppers I added into the "salad" -I don't recommend this. I think the veggies would be best with the sauce without salad or anything else. :) If you try it, let me know how it turns out for you!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Endangered Houston toads

Houston toads in the captive breeding program at the Houston Zoo.
Copyright (c) 2010 Wendee Holtcamp

I'm working on an article about Texas' own federally endangered Houston toad. They don't actually live in Houston anymore, but are restricted to a small region of sandy soil habitat north of Houston. A lot of people see Gulf Coast toads all over Houston and think, oh we've got lots of Houston toads! But they're toads in Houston, but not Houston toads! The only Houston toads in Houston are at... the Houston Zoo! And that's exactly where I found myself a couple weeks ago. Biologists there have a captive breeding program, and have started releasing them into the wild over the past couple of years. It's pretty cool stuff. Here are some photos from my trip to the toad quarantine area.

Paul Crump keeps watch over the toads at the zoo.

A row of the toads terrariums.

It looks like he's on stage!

It is almost mating season, and horny toads do what they do best. The females are clearly much larger than the males. This is an "amplexing" male, meaning he grabs the female which stimulates her to release eggs, if she's ready which this gal is clearly not. I also heard a few of the captive toads call!

A few of the toads had gotten infected with a natural fungus found in the environment so they ended up smaller sizes than those that didn't get infected so these guys were kept separate.