Thursday, May 29, 2008

red knot red knot red knot

The rufa subspecies of Red Knots are on the fast track to extinction. They migrate over 9,000 miles, from Argentina or Chile at the bottom of South America to the Arctic tundra at the top of North America, and to make that unimaginably long journey, they need a steady supply of food along the way. They make a stopover in Delaware Bay to gorge themselves on horseshoe crab eggs, but horseshoe crab numbers are declining rapidly because we humans are overharvesting them (and, more often than not, just using them as bait). If the knots can't fuel up in Delaware Bay, they can't finish the migration to the breeding grounds to make more knots, or they just starve to death. Red Knots were also hunted extensively in North America in the 19th century and in South America today. Over the past 20 years, Red Knot populations have dropped from 100,000 to 15,000, and they could be gone completely in another couple years.

They are mostly coastal birds, but a few usually pass through the Great Lakes region. Two of them stopped by Duluth today and hung out by the soccer fields in Park Point.

We had to creep along the sand and crouch in the grass and scrub to be able to watch them, although they didn't seem too disturbed by our presence (and cars/bikes/motorcycles kept going down the street maybe 30 feet behind them); at one point they walked within about 10 feet of us. While hiding in the weeds makes birdwatching easier, it makes bird photography more difficult. Most of my non-blurry pictures are slightly goofy shots of preening or bathing.

Or this one, where I miraculously caught one of them mid-blink.

There are people working to save the Red Knots, although it might be too late—they aren't officially listed as an endangered species, so conservation options are somewhat limited. I feel incredibly honored that I got a chance to see them today.

Monday, May 26, 2008

taking a leek in the woods

No, not that kind of leek, this kind of leek.

In the grocery store they're called ramps, but in field guides they're called Wild Leeks, or Allium tricoccum. A wild relative of cultivated leeks, onions, shallots, garlic, and chives, they look like a flamboyant green onion once you dig them up.

They sort of taste like it, too. This was my first year harvesting them, and in the past I'd been warned over and over to be careful, that they are very pungent, that a little goes a long way, and so on. Maybe they get stronger as they age, but the ones I picked had a flavor like a very mild onion with just a little bit of garlicky bite. Euell Gibbons, the patron saint of foraging, says that they are "the sweetest and best of the wild onions," and although I haven't had other kinds of wild onions, I would tend to agree.

Wild leeks are a great introduction to foraging because they are so easy to identify—your nose will tell you if you've found an allium family plant. The leaves come out in the early spring, followed by a single umbel of white flowers later in the summer after the leaves disappear. They grow shady, semi-moist forests, and a lot of what I've read says that they like a rich or sandy soil, but I pulled mine out of thick clay that didn't want to give anything up. I hadn't brought a spade or anything, I was just digging around with a stick and my fingers. This was four days ago; my hands are still dirty.

But look how pretty the leeks are once they're cleaned up.

I harvested seventeen bulbs, ranging in size from finger wide to pencil thin. They cleaned up very quickly—the tough outer skin rubbed off easily under running water. I only used the white bulb and red-purple stem, although the leaves are also edible (I tried one raw; it was tender and mild and had only the very slightest hint of onion—they would probably be a good addition to a tossed green salad) and sautéed them in a couple tablespoons of salted butter until they were just starting to caramelize, then served them with tomato-basil fettuccine. Cooked this way, the leeks were amazing, but the recipe needed more of them.

I'm going to try to get back out and pick more leeks this week, and I might continue on through the summer to see how the flavor changes. But this time I'm picking more than seventeen, and this time I'm bringing a spade.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

being green pays off

I noticed at a gas station yesterday that gas there was up to $3.85 a gallon. The newspaper today says that a few miles up the road in Two Harbors it's $3.94, and across the border in Hurley, Wisconsin, it's $4.25.

Every day I am gladder and gladder that I walk, bike, or bus everywhere I go.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Spiced Ginger Orange Cookies

As promised: cookies. The inclusion of molasses and whole wheat pastry flour make these very slightly more healthy than the average cookie, but don't let that put you off thinking, "Eww, healthy=boring." These cookies are amazing. The fresh orange juice and zest and all the spices really make them sing with flavor. Warning: they are highly addictive. It would be worth your time to make a double batch if you have more than two people in your household. Or if the two people in your household are like me and my girlfriend. I made a batch tonight and they're seriously going to be gone in less than 36 hours.

My recipe is a modified version of Joy of Cooking's Gingersnap recipe. I added the whole wheat pastry flour and jacked up the spices and orange flavoring. You can use pure all-purpose flour if you want, but definitely only use fresh juice and zest. It really makes a huge difference.

Spiced Orange Ginger Cookies

1 cup gold and white or all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
dash salt
a few grinds of black pepper
6 tablespoon butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
scant 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
the juice and zest of 1 orange

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a small bowl, whisk together flours, baking soda and powder, spices, and salt and pepper,

In a medium sized bowl, cream together butter and sugar until fluffy. Add egg, molasses, and orange juice and zest and mix until well combined. Slowly add flour mixture. The dough should be the consistency of thick buttercream frosting.

Form dough into balls about 1 inches across and bake on a greased, lined, or nonstick cookie sheet for 10 to 12 minutes.

new website announcement

Another announcement: A green living website that I've written some articles for just launched, and while it's still rather skeletal, it looks like it will be pretty neat. So go check it out:

Someday I will post actual content here again. Maybe a cookie recipe with pictures later tonight or tomorrow.

Friday, May 16, 2008

new blog announcement

I have stepped into the realm of paid and semi-professional blogging, and have started a blog over at, and I'd really like it if you gave it a visit and would let me know what you think. I'm still fiddling around with it,and am slowly getting used to the wordpress-based interface, but the basic structure is there, and I've got a few posts up.

At All Natural Cat, I'll be writing about safe, healthy, eco-friendly cat care, and will address topics like canned food vs. dry food, indoor vs. outdoor cats, and homemade, recycled, or otherwise green cat toys and furniture. Today I wrote about growing your own catnip.

We've got two kitties (Emily and Bill, at left) that we are trying to raise if not all naturally, at least as naturally as we can. We are inching towards a raw/all-meat diet for the both of them and we're trying to treat illnesses holistically rather than just throwing medication or crappy prescription food at them. I also make many of their toys by hand (okay, most of them are crumpled up paper balls or empty cardboard boxes but, hey, it works).

I'm going to try to post to it every weekday at least. Please stop by and say hi.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

a laundry list of birds (literally)

This isn't the kind of blog where I air my dirty laundry, but I will air my clean laundry.

Ah, spring, when a young woman's fancy turns to hanging laundry out on the line. Okay, there's also gardening. Does it make me weird that all winter I look forward to hanging my laundry outside again in the spring? I don't care.

Seriously, this is one of those instances where the green benefits are completely secondary. Yeah, yeah, it uses way less energy and your clothes will last a lot longer, but then best part is... you get to hang your laundry outside! It smells like outside! Putting your laundry out give you a perfectly valid excuse for puttering around the yard in your PJs in the early morning, when the grass is still wet with dew and the birds are singing. Sure, I could just go have my tea out on the back steps, but there is something especially satisfying about enjoying the weather and the outdoors and being productive at the same time. Maybe it is the Midwesterner/Protestant in me: must work, must keep busy.

Our laundry line is next to the birdfeeders, and amazingly we haven't had any, erm, "accidents" yet. While I was putting my load of laundry out, a chickadee flew back and forth from the feeder in front of me to the honeysuckle behind me again and again, so close that if I was nimble enough I could have reached out and grabbed it; there were a couple more chickadees in the distance singing spring, fee-bee, fee-bee. A White-throated Sparrow pecked at one of the millet sprays we put out, and a White-crowned Sparrow hopped around the bushes and sang at me. A Downy Woodpecker was not so charitable and stopped by only to scold me before flying off again. A flicker called from the tall maple, a pair of robins flew in and sang for a while, and a junco came over to investigate me. A handful of other brave sparrows kicked around in the leaf litter or visited the birdfeeders. I was outside for maybe a grand total of 20 minutes, and there were other birds singing that I didn't see and can't identify by song.

(Oh, and yes, that's a row of cloth handkerchiefs on the front line there. I am that hardcore.)

Friday, May 9, 2008

why I love Duluth #142


Moose in Duluth!

My friend and I were trespassing mildly, walking along the Lakewalk extension that is not officially Lakewalk yet but is instead a muddy path dotted with construction vehicles, and there were these enormous tracks in the mud--six inches long, with a stride of about three feet--that really can't be anything but moose.

This is well into the city, at least a mile and a half from any woodsy area, and to have come from there he would have had to walked down some paved roads all Northern Exposure style. He could have also come into town through the country club (which is mostly golf course) and then walked about a mile down the railroad to leave his tracks in the mud on the Lakewalk extension.

Why? I don't know. This particular moose was probably not the healthiest moose in the world, but apparently there are reports of moose wandering into town on a rare but regular basis. I am positively tickled to live in a city that can house over 80,000 people plus the occasional moose.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

prairie smoke and a towhee

I had some errands to run today, and since it was such a nice spring day, I decided to ride my bike. On my way out I stopped by the Wild Ones planting to see how the Prairie Smoke (Geum triflorium) was coming along, but it's still just buds. I don't think it bursts into its weird smoky flowers until summer. Believe it or not, this plant is related to roses and apples.

The park was full of birds. Lots of Song Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows, and a Hermit Thrush, and some tiny kinglet-sized birds that I never got a good look at. There were also about 50 or so Red-necked Grebes out on the lake.

But the star of the bird-show was this: an Eastern Towhee. Not a rare bird in the grand scheme of things, but apparently rare bird in the Duluth scheme of things--from what I understand, they only get sighted/reported here about once a year.

I was just sort of meandering around the Wild Ones planting looking at columbine sprouts and stuff and then I looked up and there was this colorful bird the size of a big sparrow, and since I'm not sure if I've ever seen one before--certainly not in Duluth--my brain didn't click to what it was right away. Redstart? No. Rose-breasted Grosbeak? No. Shoot, I know I've seen this in books, though. Here is a page with a much better picture than mine. The first time I saw him I easily got within five or ten feet of him with a nice, clear view... but of course then I didn't have my camera with me. Once I got my camera out I only got blurry shots, obscured shots, or butt shots.

There are so many benefits to walking or biking, and this is one of them: you see stuff. I wouldn't have seen any of this if I'd run my errands with a car. When you travel at a human, worldly pace, you get to experience the things of the world: fresh air, sunshine, funny little pink flowers and bright red birds.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


(This is my flower post from a few days ago.)

You know it's spring when the scilla is blooming. This is Siberian Scilla (Scilla siberica), also known by the terrifically ugly name of "squill." Though it grows somewhat wild now, this is not a wildflower exactly, but a garden flower gone astray. It must have been popular at one time, because it grows in yards all over the city, but I don't see it in garden catalogs much any more. It's native to the Old World, and is hardy enough that it really does grow in Siberia, but to the best of my knowledge it's not too invasive or aggressive or harmful in any serious way to our New World natives, and I almost exclusively see it growing in lawns, not in any wildernessy setting. It's kind of hard not to love these super-early spring flowers that bloom before almost anything else, patches of bright blue popping up in drab lawns, marking the old location of a flower garden decades ago.