Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Off to See Yellowstone in Winter

This is a winter photo of Yellowstone from the website. I've never seen Yellowstone in winter, so I decided to trek off this year and see if I can view some American wildlife instead of just African wildlife (the focus of all my recent trips, and the next upcoming one post Yellowstone).

We are going with the National Wildlife Federation, and so far the pre-trip materials and reading list have been impressive. I am looking forward to seeing whether we can view wolves, and seeing what else we come across in the way of wildlife. It will also be my first winter wildlife trip, so I'll get a chance to check out winter gear before heading off in the future to see polar bears and penguins. I'm sure it will be a big change from hiking in the equatorial rainforest! It should also be interesting to be in Yellowstone in the cold and just a few weeks later find myself in Southern Africa again. Another cool thing about this trip: rather than going alone, I'm going with my significant other (he's not a huge travel fan, but actually looking forward to this one).

I'm looking forward to snow-shoeing for the first time, and also dog-sledding! Hopefully I'll be back in early January with some great wildlife and trip photos, and tales of adventure (which hopefully will NOT include a shoulder dislocation in the remote wilderness!)

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Broccoli Recipe for Broccoli Haters

I like more vegetables as I try hard to find ways to prepare them that don't make me gag. As a lifelong vegetable hater, I have to really try to force myself to try new preparations and new vegetables. Substantial progress has been made in the last few years, but it's rare I find a vegetable I actually like - let alone love - as opposed to falling into the category of "I can tolerate it and make myself eat it once in awhile."

This past summer I ate at a restaurant in Portland, OR which had roasted broccoli. I have to say, it was the best dish on the table and it was stunningly good. I never before even liked broccoli, and I loved that broccoli! I made up my mind to find a roasted broccoli recipe and experiment to recreate the masterpiece.

Then I got busy, and might have forgotten about the quest for some time, had it not been for America's Test Kitchen. They came out with a roasted broccoli recipe in the current addition, and I have to say, the results are killer good. You can find the recipe here, but not for long, as after a time you have to subscribe to see their content. So either click and print, or get this month's issue (Jan/Feb 2008).

If you don't already know about America's Test Kitchen, they publish the magazine Cook's Illustrated, and also a number of books, including America's Best Recipes. They are like cooking scientists, they try variation after variation of a recipe to get the perfect mix of ingredients and the perfect preparation. In many years of trying their recipes I have only ever had one that didn't come out 4 or 5 stars. You can count on them for fantastic recipes, to the point that it's the only source of a recipe I would make for guests without trying it out first. If you haven't been getting the magazine, try it out, you'll love it if you like to cook. They also rate kitchen gadgets and equipment.

Unfortunately, they don't include nutrition information, they are not always low-fat )or even most of the time) and they are decidedly not vegan or vegetarian most of the time. They are focused on the best tasting food though, and when you have a craving for a dish you haven't made before they are a great resource.

Their broccoli roasting tests paid off with a fabulous recipe and I challenge even broccoli haters to find it distasteful. It's a dish I actually look forward to eating - despite it being green. Give it a try, you won't be disappointed.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Walking to Work: Fox, Geese, Ducks...

Walking to work in winter can be annoying when it's cold, or even worse, rainy. I have been trying to walk at least three days a week, and it's about 3 miles each way, so I am aiming for at least 18 to 24 miles a week. The walk, mostly along the greenbelt, is very pleasant. Callie comes with me and stays at the office, which we both enjoy a great deal.

This past Wednesday morning we came across a fox in Ann Morrison Park (photo above). The fox checked out Callie and I for a bit and then trotted off. I can't tell if it's the same one that visits our back yard nearly every night, driving the dogs into spasms of protective barking.

Every day there are tons of geese and ducks in the park, and they seem to know Callie is on a leash and no threat. She shows remarkably little interest in them given that she could be prone to want to herd them up. As we approach, they sort of collectively waddle away, slowly.

Although it can be a pain when we walk in 18 degree weather, or rain, overall I like it. The river is gorgeous, the animals are serene, the mountain views are fantastic, and I like watching Callie notice all the squirrels and other dogs and not misbehave and try to chase them! I am doing it for the exercise and to exercise Callie, but it doesn't hurt the whole saving gas/global warming thing either.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Nadia, the Lettuce Loving Cat

Nadia loves vegetables, which seems quite strange since she is a cat. She steals asparagus off our plates and lettuce out of our bowls. (Arugula is her favorite). Last night she went nuts over Spring Mix and wouldn't stop eating mine. She doesn't like dressing, just greens, and she was so hungry for them that she wouldn't relent, so I gave her a small bowl of her own salad. This is a photo of her enjoying it. When she doesn't get lettuce, she grazes on the houseplants. She has literally eaten a few of them to death. I don't know why she seems so interested in vegetables and greens when the other cats won't touch them. Strange little girl.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Good Madagascar Book

Gerald Durrell is a conservationist who spent some time in Madagascar, and this is the story of a trip he and his wife took to try and obtain some animals for zoos. The point was to provide animals for captive breeding programs and to assist in species recovery. While I don't like the idea of removing animals from the wild, I recognize that in some cases captive breeding programs are the only way that species have a hope of recovery. Mr. Durrell has been around for a very long time, and so in a way he is the last of his era of conservation, and looking at how things were done we can only hope they have improved a bit for all concerned. That said, it is a good story.

For one thing, he tells the story of travel in Madagascar without editing or romanticizing it. For example, the many people who met who were killing and eating lemurs, or just killing them, or capturing them, and who upon being told this was illegal said "So what? No one will enforce the law." That was exactly the attitude I observed in the people there as well. I found his observations about the people, places and conditions, though made more than a decade before my trip there, to be quite accurate.

Some aye-ayes were captured, as well as some bamboo lemurs and tortoises. The story of how these animals were captured and how they were cared for an transported is interesting, if a bit bizarre. Carrying baby bamboo lemurs around in baskets and feeding them bananas is not something most conservationists would probably approve of, but what other way to get them to the safety of a zoo when traveling in such a country?

Durell's wit and humor, his love of animals, and his acceptance and observation rather than hatred or judgment about humans makes this book an enjoyable read, though the first chapter got off to a slow start. There is a story about what happens to him while camping when some ducks invade his shower that certainly ought to make anyone laugh out loud - that alone is worth the time to buy or check this book out from the library. This is one of the best books about Madagascar I read when I was trying to learn more about the country.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Animal Intelligence

An interesting article on animal intelligence gives some examples of study results you may not be familiar with. For example, studies on elephants in Amboseli have shown that elephants can distinguish between two different human tribes - very interesting. Many of the other examples given are also fascinating, so if animal intelligence interests you, take a minute to read this.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Long-eared Jerboa: extraordinary desert creature

The long-eared jerboa is endangered and lives in the gobi desert. Noctural and small, this is the first known footage of one of these creatures in the wild. With a pug like nose, a kangaroo like hop, a very long tail, and huge ears, it is a very unique creature, and does not appear to be related to rodents.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Trimming the Tree With Cats

Christmas trees are tough to impossible to have with cats and dogs around. I certainly don't want anything delicate or glass that could get broken and hurt them. The cloth ornaments get eaten, and the wooden ones too. So, I gave up and just put up a plastic tree (why kill a tree for a holiday?). The cats like it because they love to climb around in it. Ophelia is pictured above, but every cat takes their turn climbing, and laying in the branches, popping in and out of various parts of the tree.

Some years I add lights, and I'm sure I could get away with typing ribbons on the tree - the cats would love that. But it's a lot of work without m Such reward - the plain tree looks very nice as it is and watching for glowing cat eyes or little cat heads to poke out from the branches is fun too.
So far they have only tipped the tree over once, and since we put it where it can't hurt anything if it falls, this isn't a big deal.

This year I thought about hanging a clothesline across the living room out of reach of the animals and hanging ornaments across it, or putting lights around the house, but at this point in time I don't feel like I have enough energy to do all that decorating and then undo it a month later, when I have a constant to do list that's at least two pages long as it is. Maybe next year, if I ever get ahead of what needs to be done.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Horses in Blankets

We are having a cold week, and when nights get in the single digits or low teens, I blanket the horses. Even though they are built for cold, I can't stand to have them bear THAT degree of cold without a little comfort. I'm always trying not to leave the blankets on too long, as I don't want them to start shedding their winter coat, but when the nights stay so cold for so long I begin to wonder how long is to long to blanket. This morning when I left to walk to work it was 18 degrees, and I decided to leave the blankets on for today. It's nice to have some winter weather, but at the same time, I get sick of cold fairly quickly.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Play With Your Food

A few years back I got a book for Christmas called "Play With Your Food" about how to make animals out of vegetables. It's unclear whether the point was to encourage kids to eat more veggies or just to make cool veggie garnishes, but either way, it's sort of cute. Recently my mom gave me some radishes I didn't know what to do with, so I made radish mice. (Eyes are peppercorns). I have to say that the radishes did not taste very good, but at least I put them to some use rather than just tossing them as I would otherwise be inclined to do.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Photos from Gabon

These two amazing photos, showing an elephant walking on the beach and then forest elephants and lowland gorillas in the same photo frame, were taken by my friend Shivani Bhalla and are posted here with her permission. She took them on her trip to Gabon, a country in West Africa that I'm dying to go to one of these days. Unfortunately, it remains a little pricey, and tourism is still new, so there are some issues. I looked into going there for my next adventure very carefully, but in the end, for now I am going to have to settle for going to Botswana, Namibia and Zambia for the next Africa trip.

Gabon has ten percent of the country set aside for wildlife parks, and supposedly the wildlife is pristine. It can therefore be hard to see the animals as they are not habituated at all. It is, from all accounts, not a good first trip to Africa, but a great subsequent trip.

I read an amazing account of an english woman who, at 30, traveled to Gabon by herself and eventually became a trader there. The books, Travels in West Africa, by Mary Kingsley, is the amazing true story of how in 1890 this woman explored Gabon in full Victorian dress. Although the writing can be a little dated or thick in places, this is a very interesting story and a good read.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Finally, Some Snow!

We haven't had much snow so far this winter, so it was nice to wake up to some this morning. The horses didn't seem to mind it a bit, and I like this black and white contrast picture, even though you can't see Esmae that well.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Idaho Wolf "Management" Plan Released

Idaho Fish and Game is having a series of public meetings to receive comment on it's wolf "management" plan. The dates and locations of the meetings around the State can be seen here. The Boise meeting is Thursday, Dec. 13th from 5 to 8 p.m. in the Trophy Room at Fish and Game headquarters, 600 S. Walnut St, Boise. All the meetings are being held in a short span of time, so there is very little time for public input, and if you want to be heard, you have to act quickly.

You can view the plan here, and you can also submit your comments online at the same page. Fish & Game is asking for input on some specific components of the plan, but you can comment on any aspect.

The plan is, sadly but not unexpectedly, slanted towards killing rather than protecting. They have decided to have no less than 15 breeding pairs of wolves. This means killing the vast majority of the wolves we have now, and it means keeping the population at very vulnerable levels. Besides, it is not always easy to determine which pairs are breeding, and killing at the levels proposed will vastly alter pack structure and impact breeding. A reading of the plan reveals all kinds of issues - even if you just skim it you can see them. They also plan to allow every kind of hunting you can imagine, including baiting. It's disgusting.

I get that wolves are going to be delisted, and even that at some point they need to be managed to avoid over-population. But to allow the killing at the levels proposed is ludicrous and will undue years of progress and keep wolves on the brink of danger. One epidemic of canine distemper or parvo could have a massive impact on the wolf population. Plus, with wolves there is vastly more motivation for people to poach, as there is a huge hatred of wolves still in play in this state. What will be the fine and punishment for this? Certainly not enough to deter anyone under this plan.

Sigh. It's sad. Take a moment to comment, online or at the meeting. It may not do any good, but it won't hurt, and the more rational people who comment vs. the "kill them all" folks, the better off we all are.

The letter of intro from Otter is a joke. This is the same guy who said that he wanted to be first in line to kill a wolf. The wolves are in deep, deep trouble.

You can read a gray wolf fact sheet to learn more about wolves here. The Defenders of Wildlife have been the greatest voice for the wolves and have had meaningful rancher reimbursement programs during the reintroduction. Contributions are another way to consider helping.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Compassionate Pet Food

I am not one of those people who, having decided to aim for a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, wants to make all of their pets go vegetarian also. I recognize that both dogs and cats are designed to eat meat, and generally considered carnivores not omnivores, despite nibbling on some grass for upset tummies here and there. Although dogs can do well on a vegetarian diet, the veggie pet foods are very expensive, and let's face it, the dogs prefer meat. Research shows that cats actually do not do well on a vegetarian or vegan diet, and need meat for overall health.

So, is there a way to give the pets what they need and still not support factory farming and inhumane treatment of animals? After all, for me the big desire to go vegan is fueled by simply not wanting to kill animals. At least I can try to ensure that the animals were humanely raised and killed, and that they aren't pumped full of antibiotics or other bad stuff that I in turn would be feeding to the pets.

I have been using a brand of pet food called "Pet Promise" for nearly a year now. It's available at Fred Meyer, the Co-op, and theoretically Petco, though my Petco never has it. I'm very happy with it, and so are the cats and dogs. If you visit the company's website you can read about how the food is made, and does not contain any by-products. The meat comes from networks of small family farms, not big commercial factory farms. Much of it is organic. No growth hormones or anti-biotics are used. The animals are humane raised. The company is committed to environmental conservation and appears responsible in all the ways which are important to me.

Is it affordable? Well, it's more than Purina, but it's still manageable. It's cheaper than vegetarian foods I've found locally, and roughly the same price as Canidae, my old brand of choice for dog food. The nutritional composition is about identical as well. Overall it isn't bad, especially since it is calorie rich and your dog doesn't need much of it per day. The cats like both the wet and dry foods, and you can buy the wet food cans in 12 packs, always a convenience, and a savings.

I don't mean to imply that I am critical of people who do use vegetarian pet foods. In fact, if you can afford it and your pet remains in good health and gets the nutrients they need, great! I have a friend with only dogs, not cats, and they eat vegetarian diet and are extremely healthy with gorgeous coats. I don't know anyone who has done so with cats, and from what I have read that is much riskier. However, I personally prefer the middle ground of selecting a pet food company which shares my values and concern for animal welfare. Since I haven't seen them advertising, I wanted to share the news that there is a good company out there to consider when it comes time to feed the pets.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A Bizarre Farm Bureau Poll on Animal Suffering

A friend called my attention to this Reason Magazine blogpost about a recent Farm Bureau poll. It's a strange one - check it out at:

They have made the assumption through some faulty logic that people must not mind animal suffering and tried to justify existing farm conditions with the poll. Their conclusion is that people prefer that 11,500 animals suffer rather than one human. They didn't describe the suffering though - and certainly didn't show it. I bet if I polled the same people but gave them information about the animal suffering vs. the human suffering the result would be different. Also, the suffering to the human appears to be an implied economic one, while the suffering on animals is physical and psychological/emotional. It is interesting also to note that the question supposes there is a new technology which can only help either one human or x number of animals - a ridiculous proposition to begin with. Further, the animal suffering is needlessly inflicted by humans on animals, while presumably the human suffering is not (if it is physical suffering).

On a semi-related note, I was reading a book yesterday that described the killing of some animals for the fur trade by literally sticking a red hot poker up their asses, so as to leave no mark on the skin which would be created by a knife cut, bullet wound, or other means of killing. It seems even poison would be a kinder (though more expensive and therefore apparently ruled out) method of killing than that. The question posed was would women still enjoy wearing fur if they knew how much the animal suffered in death. Obviously, they don't mind buying fur and know the animal died, but knowing HOW it died may well impact their choices. Likewise, people buy factory farmed meat, and don't mind eating other creatures, but if they knew the conditions the animal lived in and the pain it suffered in death (many chickens being literally boiled alive, or other animals being cut apart alive when the machines in the factory don't perform as planned, or hundreds of other examples of suffering) perhaps it would affect their choices. In fact, as more people learn about farming practices more and more people try to buy free range and humane raised meats and organic products.

Too bad Farm Bureau is spending it's time trying to justify rather than reform cruel farming practices. There are many family farmers who care a great deal about the welfare of their animals and are members of that organization - every one of them should complain.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Excellent Vegan Holiday "Nog"

Going vegan, I would miss holiday eggnog - except that now I don't have to, thanks to Silk Soymilk. They have a new product called, appropriately, "Nog," and it's awesome! It does taste like eggnog - rich, deep, silky and pleasant in all ways - but it does not contain any dairy. Even if you aren't vegan, you might consider it simply for the fact it has vastly fewer calories than traditional eggnog and is much healthier. Check out a nutrition comparison between traditional eggnog and "Nog" here. It's not 100% organic, but hey, we can't have everything all at once! I think it's GREAT that they made this product and I certainly appreciate not feeling deprived this holiday season. A five star product in my book! And Fred Meyer carries it, so pick some up and give it a try.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Struggling to Go Vegan: An Update

It's been almost a year since I started trying to "go vegan," starting with "ethical eating," paying attention to where the foods we eat come from and buying only humane raised meat. My goal was to start by being very selective with meat and dairy and eventually phase them out.

I was able to do this for about four months, and by the end of the four months I noticed the following:

1. I not only no longer craved meat, I found it gross, and had no desire at all to eat it, despite having loved meat all my life more than any other food.

2. I missed cheese intensely and never did find a good cheese substitute.

3. When I consumed even a small amount of dairy at a restaurant, I felt ill. It no longer agreed with me.

4. I felt healthier, and had more energy.

5. I learned how to make a variety of food, and I found that our menus had more variety than they did before, as I was always experimenting and trying new items, substitutes, and recipes.

6. I actually liked Boca Burgers more than beef hamburgers! Less greasy, and very good!

I wanted to keep it up, but I went to Africa, and I did not find it possible to continue to eat vegan there. Also, I had a work commitment for a long period of time in a very small town with very limited offerings in both grocery and restaurants. I was extremely busy and simply did not have the time and energy to dedicate to food choices, so I "fell off the vegan wagon" for a period of time. The busy work period lasted until August. In August, I was so tired and drained from that intense work period I simply didn't have the energy to go vegan again, and then I had another trip to Africa, during which I was almost entirely vegetarian, but not vegan.

So, now I am trying to get back to it, phasing out of the house all the meat and dairy products bit by bit, using up the last egg, tossing the last carton of sour cream, etc. We still have a little meat in the freezer, a tiny bit of cheese and a little bit of butter and then the house is back to vegan.

I rather enjoy resuming the search for recipies and substitutes, and the creativity required. It does still take a lot of time and energy, but I know it will get easier with practice. I have also found that in the last year there are some additional resources: vegan podcasts, more vegan recipie websites and cooking shows, and even a local vegan potluck. Whole Foods is coming, but not here yet.

I can't yet claim to be vegan, but I have a renewed enthusiasm for getting there, and I'm glad that we are able to eat vegan much of the time, becoming most of the time, and soon all of the time.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Zamba: A Good Read

Continuing on the book review theme (books always make good Christmas gifts), you might want to check out Zamba. This is the true story of a lion who was raised from a cub and lived his entire life with Ralph Heller, his owner. He starred in movies and TV shows, but he also slept on the bed (one specially made to accommodate both lion and human) and rode int he car (a convertible, resulting in head-turning!)

This book was an enjoyable and easy read, and surprisingly good considering Heller's first book, Modoc, about an elephant, was not nearly as interesting. I think the difference is that in Zamba he is writing from his own experience, and in Modoc he is telling someone else's story. He is best served to stick with his own experience as he tells it far better.

If you are interested in lions, or just animals, I highly recommend this as a nice read. It was interesting to see how Zamba behaved in different situations, and it's clear to see that Heller was a compassionate animal handler in Hollywood who put the welfare of the animals first in an era when many other did not.

You can read more about the book or order it from Amazon here.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

This was my favorite pre-trip reading for Madagascar. Heather Heying is a frog researcher who studied mantella frogs on the island of Nosy Mangabe (my favorite place of the trip). She tells the story of her time in Madagascar on this island, living in a tent. While she did her studies in the 1990's, the island has changed a lot since she was there, largely due to increased tourism.

Her description of the place, the people, and the odd things she discovered about Madagascar was fun to read. This was the only book I read about Madagascar that made me actually want to go there, and I thought she was very honest in her descriptions of both the good and the bad she encountered. If you have any interest in Madagascar at all, I highly recommend this as a good read.

You can read more about the book or order it from Amazon here.