Sunday, April 11, 2021

Spring Walk in the Cemetery


Our oldest cemetery, the Rural Cemetery, is only a ten minute walk away from my home. It's like entering a different world with old crooked trees, birds singing, soft paths and blissful shade. It's an oasis of calm and solitude. Now in spring there is an abundance growth of grasses - everything looks fresh, but soon they will turn brown and mowed so that they don't lend fuel to future wildfires.

The old gravestones tell the history of my city, the names that are so well-known here. Many are beautifully decorated and sometimes small surprises can be found on them.

There are trees that can't keep it straight any longer, fences that broke down a long time ago nd every now and then there are flowers hiding near the gravestones.

I simply love this place. What about you - do you like to visit cemeteries?


Friday, April 2, 2021

Laguna Birds


In my last post I promised to show some of the birds that I had seen during my walk in the laguna a couple weeks ago. It was a beautiful sunny day, but as you can see in the photo above, there was still snow lying on the hills. It's always intriguing to see flowering trees and fields down here and the snow capped hills in the background.

I know that there are quite some Western Bluebirds in the laguna, but I see them only rarely. This time, however, I spotted them every time I walked here.

There were dozens of Song Sparrows in the bushes and grasses. These sparrows truly pay credit to their name - they have such a beautiful song. They may blend into their surroundings, but their singing gives their presence away.

In the trees along the laguna I spotted so many herons that I stopped to count them. One tree was solely populated by Cattle Egrets, some Green Herons were visible, but most of all I saw Black-crowned Night-Herons. The male and female look alike, but it is easy to tell the juveniles apart. There were entire families roosting in the trees.

I love these guys!

The Red-shouldered Hawks were very active that day. Before I saw them I usually heard them, they have a very unique rather high pitched call. One of them was so kind to land in the tree near where I stood watching the Black-crowned Night-Herons. 

After my walk I stopped on the other side of the laguna - I always wanted to explore the area here and I finally did it. While I was happily taking pictures of trees in water I discovered some big white birds swimming in the distance. I first thought they were swans, but when I observed them more closely I though they were behaving differently from swans. I tried to get closer where they were, and when I finally could see them much more clearly I realized that they were American White Pelicans.

I was surprised to see them here. At the ocean I have seen hundreds of Brown Pelicans and I always thought we don't have White Pelicans in Northern California. Well, I stand corrected. This seems to be the farthest North they get in the winter - seeing them North of the Golden Gate is, indeed, very rare, and I think this was an extraordinarily special treat. Once in twenty years...

This was such a wonderful day in the Laguna that was complete after I had discovered the field of mustard on my way back.


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Field of Mustard


It's mustard season in Sonoma County, when the white mustard is blooming in the fields and in the vineyards. It is always a lovely sight that I never get tired of. A few years ago, the Geek and I went into the Dry Creek Valley to photograph the mustard in the vineyards, but this year I was passing this wide field when I returned from my walk in the Laguna. There was a dirt strip by the side of the road where I parked and started shooting the yellow mass.

I was lucky that I had taken my big camera that day, because I wanted to take photos of the birds in the Laguna (those pictures will turn up in this space soon). This was actually the first day this year that I was using the DSLR again. During the pandemic I had become really lazy and was mainly taking pictures with my phone. While I was photographing the birds and now the mustard I realized how much I had missed my big camera.

Mustard belongs to the Brassicaceae family. It is native to Europe, but is so common in North America by now that it is considered "naturalized". It turns up where the soil has been disturbed, I have read that it is good for erosion control and it supresses weeds. Recently I read an article about how it made its way to the California Coast and the findings were surprising. The scientists stated that mustard seeds were found in the bricks that were used to build the missions along El Camino Real and thus got into California. I thought that was an interesting but plausible theory.

The mustard blooming season won't keep for very much longer. When it gets warmer it will disappear from our fields and vineyards. Since it is an annual plant we have to wait until next late winter / early spring to admire it again.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Winter Dishes


Cheese fondue

Today I decided that winter is over - even though we are in the middle of a cold spell that still gives us warm sunny days but chilly nights, mornings and evenings. However, there are so many signs of spring around us that we really can't talk about winter anymore, at least not in this corner of the world.

Therefore, it's time to talk about what we ate in winter. Winter dishes are often a bit heartier than meals during the rest of the year. It seems that the short days and cold nights make us long for more comfort and warmth, and food is just the thing to give us both.

Our traditional New Year's Eve food is cheese fondue. We used to eat it with chunks of bread, but recently we discovered a healthier way to enjoy it - with roasted potatoes and brussels sprouts. It is 100% delicious and we didn't miss the bread one bit!

Baked spanakopita pasta with greens and feta

We love pasta and certainly had our fair share of it over the winter. A lot of these meals were new recipes that I tried out, most of them published in the New York Times. But we also enjoyed old favorites again.

Tortellini with caramelized onions and mushrooms and spinach

Baked spinach artichoke pasta

Lemon chicken with mushrooms and orechiette, an old favorite

Especially in winter I include a lot of veggies in our meals. My favorite place to buy fresh local veggies is the farmers market, but since it is taking place on Saturday mornings I usually cannot go there since I teach that time. However, if there is a Saturday when I don't have to teach I go to the market and my fridge drawer for the veggies is filled to the brim after that.

When I made meatballs I used to take store bought ones, but when I saw a recipe for pork meatballs that are made with ginger, fish sauce and crushed Ritz crackers I had to try that. I paired them with roasted aspargus (a recipe my lovely neighbor gave me) - what can I say? It was D-E-L-I-C-I-O-U-S.

And since I had fresh ginger in the house I made this gingery fried rice with bok choy and mushrooms - that is going to be a new favorite! In addition to everything in the recipe I added some lemon zest and scrambled an egg in at the end. It is cooked in a wok and everything comes together fast and easy.

For the first time I tried Trout Armandine, a recipe I found in our local paper. I first couldn't find trout fillets, but then Trader Joe's started to carry frozen ones - fine with me. I was a bit nervous making these - there really was no need for that, they turned out fine and were super yummy. I will certainly try more dishes with trout fillets.

What about a cheesy spicy black bean bake? Perfect on a cold evening.

Or creamy gnocchi with sundried tomatoes and basil (a family favorite)?

We do like cauliflower - a lot. I'm always on the look-out for new recipes. I found a delicious recipe for roasted garlic parmesan cauliflower. An entire stick of butter goes into the crust - it's heaven! I paired it with Kibbeh, a new item at Trader Joes's that I simply had to try since I love Middle Eastern food (it's good, I can recommend it).

I had quite some leftover of the butter-garlic-parmesan mix. A couple days later I dipped cubes of boneless, skinless chicken thighs in it and "threw" them in a stir-fry with rice noodles and veggies. The remaining leftovers (yes, there still was quite some left) went on top of Alaskan sockeye salmon that I then baked and served with roasted carrots and zucchini a few days later.

My last dish is something that I made just this weekend - leftovers will be served sometime this week. It's a coq au vin rosé - the lighter wine makes it perfect for other seasons as well.

What is your favorite winter food?